Hey, remember that time Marvel responded to complaints about diversity and created books with people of color and women as the leads, and even hired women to write the books with the women characters? You know, forty-three years ago, back in 1972?
Honestly? Me neither. I was all of six then, and although I want to imagine otherwise, it looks like the comic book bug didn’t bite, infect, and rewrite my central nervous system with its own miswired genetic material until around 1974.
For added authenticity (or gimmickry, depending on one’s level of cynicism), each of the three new titles was to be written by a woman. Unfortunately, there was none presently writing for Marvel, so Thomas improvised. He drafted his wife, Jeanie, Hulk artist Herb Trimpe’s new wife, Linda Fite, and comic conventioneer Phil Seuling’s wife, Carole. [Stan] Lee came up with all three concepts the same day, and the titles spoke for themselves: Night Nurse, The Claws of the Cat, and Shanna the She-Devil. In the year of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and the launch of Ms. magazine, Marvel’s tales of candy stripers, cat-suited sexpots, and jungle queens could hardly be called revolutionary.
I adore Howe’s book, and while the skepticism here is probably appropriate, it did make me wonder. How hard would it be to write a paragraph casting many of Marvel’s recent moves in the same light? (For those playing at home, the answer is not hard at all.)
(More behind the jump because, of course, I do tend to go on, don’t I?) Continue reading →
Okay, that’s not exactly true. But, although I compared the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four to the Fab Four in the latest episode of Baxter Building in terms of modern audiences’ inability to fully comprehend what it would’ve been like to experience them as they were coming out for the first time — scroll down and find it for yourselves, Whatnauts — I’ve actually been struggling with a similar thing when it comes to an entirely different series recently, thanks to a long-overdue trip through Alan Moore’s (Saga of The) Swamp Thing run.
I’d read bits and pieces of this before — the opening issues at least three or four times, in ultimately-abandoned attempts to get through the series, and the “American Gothic” issues more than once as well, due to my misguided belief that Moore and my shared love of DC continuity meant we could work it out somehow — but this was the first time that I’d ever made it from start to finish, and a lot of the material was brand new to me… almost. Continue reading →
We’re back, and despite the uneven quality of the issues we’re discussing and our health issues, surprisingly raring to go. Following the example of our first episode, this episode we’re again spending two-and-a-half hours discussing 12 of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’sFantastic Four (13, really; we throw in the first annual, as well). For those with very long commutes, you’re welcome. For everyone else, we’re sorry. You know the drill by now: show notes below, and for those who would rather use a podcast provider of choice, you can find the episode on Stitcher and iTunes. Strap in!
0:00:00-0:02:09: The theme song that never was, some introductions of sorts, and what we’re reading this time around: for those following along at home, we’re going through Fantastic Four #13-24 and Annual #1 in this episode. 0:02:10-08:12:00: Jeff and I talk about how rough this second year of the book is compared with the first. If the first year was filled with the shock of the new, the second is filled with the shock of watching two creators keep returning to the same ideas (and, in many cases, work against each other whether accidentally and otherwise). Also, I name Kirby as the author of the Fantastic Four, which I’m sure is going to upset a lot of people. Sorry!
0:08:13:00-0:11:28: The greatness that is Fantastic Four #13, which is notable if nothing else for the Steve Ditko inks over Jack Kirby’s pencils — which Jeff calls, entirely reasonably, “phenomenal.” We also talk about the ways in which the different inkers over the course of the next 12 issues change the look of the book dramatically. 0:11:29-0:18:54: The ways in which FF #13 just blows the earlier issues out of the water in terms of content: this isn’t just the first appearance of the Red Ghost and his Indescribable Super-Apes, but also the Watcher and the Blue Area of the Moon! It’s also the source of inspiration for Uncanny X-Men #137 many years later — and perhaps Jim Shooter’s first Secret Wars, as Jeff points out. (Trigger warning: This isn’t the only Secret Wars reference in the episode.) Also discussed: Are the Fantastic Four just apes, when it comes down to it? Is making the Red Ghost into an analog of the Invisible Girl homophobic, sexist or both? And the gloriousness of Stan and Jack’s accidental meta-narratives!
0:18:55-0:32:34: The fourteenth issue of the series is so dull that even the issue’s title sounds tired and apologetic. That said, there’s a fun (if unintentional) shout-out to the previous appearance of the Sub-Mariner as we see the growth of the FF’s celebrity in the Marvel Universe, even if they should arguably be treated with far more respect having just become the first humans to ever make it to the moon and back. Jeff also talks about the shift of the series from a monster comic to one with “a teenager’s point of view” on the world, and a conversation about the first time that you can really see Lee and Kirby visibly fight over what’s actually happening on the page, and the Sub-Mariner doesn’t want to just be friends.
0:32:35-0:55:11: Pop quiz, hotshots: If something isn’t animal, vegetable or mineral, what is it? Stan Lee has the answer! (Or maybe not.) Fantastic Four #15 also gets to revisit the opening of the series’ very first issue and show how they’ve all changed, and demonstrate why Stan Lee’s attempts to reposition Kirby’s very obvious ideas turn Reed into a bit of a dick, and also undermine what Lee’s trying to do in general. Plus, are arsonist organ grinder’s monkeys the new space dinosaurs, and to what extent do the Fantastic Four represent the chaos of the new disrupting the order of the old world, and just how important is human kindness to the success of the Fantastic Four (Spoilers: Very, and we’ll come back to that). All this and the secret identity of Reed Richard’s first child — and it’s not Franklin. 0:55:12-1:04:41: There are so many reasons why Fantastic Four #16 should be exciting, and we list them all, but let’s be honest: the very presence of Ant-Man — “a character on whom Stan Lee’s hyperbole does not work,” as Jeff puts it — dooms it entirely, even though he’s created Google Alerts four decades early.
1:04:42-1:06:42: “Scullery Maid Sue is the Hottest Sue,” says Jeff Lester. Judge for yourself, dear whatnauts — and when I say “judge,” I mean “judge Jeff for feeling that.”
1:06:43-1:16:07:Fantastic Four #17 reveals the canonical connection between the Marvel Universe and the movie Weird Science, and that might be the most interesting thing about it. Has mid-run apathy hit Stan and Jack or Jeff and I? (Let’s just say that maybe some of these early issues weren’t made to be read in a large number at once.) What gets my attention, however, is the extraordinary disguise skills of Doctor Doom, and what that says about the lack of observational skills for the Fantastic Four. It’s the second issue in a row where it fails to add up to the sum of its parts, and we talk about why that happens to be. If you’ve ever wondered who the world’s greatest martial artist is, then the answer is here!
1:16:08-1:26:42: One of the strangest things about Fantastic Four #18 is the oddness of seeing a Skrull — even the Super Skrull, who’s making his first appearance in this story — lifting something up while standing on the thing that he’s lifting. How…? Why…? It’s never explained, so let’s put it down to weird alien science. It’s another relatively underwhelming issue filled with goofy and fun stuff, and we identify the format rut that Lee and Kirby have fallen into so far in this run. Has our modern perspective ruined our enjoyment of these comics? Spinning off that idea, Jeff has a FF/Beatles story that’s not only enjoyable in its own right, but illustrative of a cliche that keeps popping up in these stories to date, and we go on to talk about whether or not Kirby was “ready” to tell long form stories just yet, or whether his monster comics experience is informing his pacing (both in terms of plot and visuals) too much even at this point.
1:26:43-1:36:04: What makes Fantastic Four #19 so great? For me, it’s the lack of research into spelling and the nonsensical plot resolution. For Jeff, it’s the presence of a letter from Steve Gerber (that predicts his future relationship with Marvel) and the impact that he believes this issue had on a young Chris Claremont. What’s that? A BDSM-themed issue of FF? Well… maybe not entirely, but there’s a birth of a trope here, when it comes to Marvel Comics. Also, Stan Lee’s lack of nautical knowledge is revealed in an unexpected manner, and whether or not this is the turning point for Sue Storm being given a little bit more agency.
1:36:05- : I really, really enjoyed Fantastic Four #20 a lot, in large part because the origin of the Molecule Man feels like something that Will Eisner had come up with for The Spirit. Meanwhile, Jeff finds a lot to say about the issue as a metaphor for the plight of the comic book artist and wonders whether that’s actually there or not. (There’s another Secret Wars reference in here.) Out of nowhere, Lee and Kirby are working together better than they have been for some issues, and the result is something rather special, with thematic connections to what’s come before… and that’s before we get to the letters page! 1:46:45-1:58:34: The first Fantastic Four Annual turns out to be the best Sub-Mariner story yet, thanks to some great narrative tricks and Kirby getting the space to stretch out, and suddenly discovering a strong sense of pacing for the first time in the FF. We also get the origin of the Atlantean race, another wonderful disguise and proof that the Fantastic Four are bad at vacations. Oh, and New York is pretty much overrun by an invading force off-panel, too. If Namor never really worked for you as a character before, this is the comic that’ll turn you around on him. No, honestly.
1:58:35-2:07:32: What is the most horrific thing about Fantastic Four #21? Adolf Hitler as the villain? The sight of the team torn apart by hate? No, it’s George Bell’s splash page inks, because what the hell:
Bell’s inks get a bit of discussion, because I am very much not a fan, but before too long, we’re discussing why this issue just doesn’t work as well as it should: how do you do Hitler vs. the FF wrong? By forgetting that your characters normally don’t like each other, apparently. Does Stan Lee get pacifism wrong? (The answer is yes.) 2:07:33-2:14:10: The Mole Man returns in Fantastic Four #22, and if that seems just a little underwhelming… it’s probably because you read the issue as well. On the plus side, Sue Storm gets more to do — Reed tells her to, obviously, because female agency isn’t a thing just yet! — and there’re more letters page names that you might remember.
2:14:11-2:21:50: We’re closing in on the end of the episode, so we rush right into Fantastic Four #23, which is the all-too-early return of Doctor Doom in such a way that just cheapens everything about the character. But there’s also the chance to see the Fantastic Four act like children, more of Stan Lee’s Alpha Male worship and the depth of which these issues influenced Jim Shooter more than anyone could have guessed.
2:21:51-2:29:30: Stan Lee’s hard sell for Fantastic Four #24 gives the game away about how unsuccessful this issue is, although Jeff and I have so much love for it that it surprises even us. As much as we don’t like it, it turns out that “The Infant Terrible” might be the biggest Kirby theme writ large, which means that we end up talking ourselves into loving it — despite that fact that, yet again, there’s a whiff of Secret Wars II about proceedings. I swear, this episode wasn’t sponsored by Jim Shooter. (He only pays in old Solar, Man of The Atom back issues, anyway.)
2:29:31-end: As Mike Nesmith once so poignantly put it, “looks like we made it to the end.” If, admittedly, an end that we had to rush to because of real-world concerns. As ever, thank you all for listening — we’re here for you on this Internet at Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, where there are 95 brave souls making this very podcast happen.
Next week, it’s a “regular” Wait, What?, but everyone reading along should keep going with Fantastic Four in the meantime — the next Baxter Building, covering #25-36 and Annual #2, will be along before you know it. Excelsior!
(Yes, I know I should do five thoughts, really, but we’re recording the second episode of Baxter Building today, and I’ve got to get caught up.)
One. This collection of comics exists for reasons I can only guess at. Issued in 2013, this sorta flimsy trade paperback collects DC Comics Presents issues #27-28, #36, and #43, as well as Superman Annual #11, the classic “For The Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Mongul, created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin, is basically the DC re-skin of Marvel’s Thanos, who is himself Jim Starlin’s analogue for DC’s Darkseid—and it says too many revelatory things about me that I eschew the mercenary zeal of someone ripping off their own rip-off when it’s someone like Rob Liefeld but exalt it when it’s Jim Starlin—so, like Thanos, Mongul is basically a guy with death’s head grin and shit-ton of muscles but also a bunch of crafty plans and tools and a tendency to start the game when he’s already at your one-yard line.
As I said, I can only guess at why this collection actually exists. Was Mongul a thing in 2013? Or did DC issue a trade paperback because after Marvel’s success with The Avengers, Thanos was indeed a thing and here was a chance to cash in on second hand library trade paperback curiosity? My only-slightly-more-sensible alternate theory is that the movie Man of Steel was released in 2013 and DC needed to get a lot of Superman trade paperbacks into print and anything that at all resembled the tone of the Zack Snyder film had that much more pull of stuff that didn’t.
This thought occurred to me after reading the punch ‘em up of “For The Man Who Has Everything,” where an enraged Superman cuts loose against Mongul, tearing apart a huge chunk of the Fortress of Solitude in the process. Reading it this time around, the fight kinda reminded me of the no-holds-barred Supes-vs.-Zod finale of Man Of Steel. You, as a reader, are supposed to be kind of terrified of it, this fight makes clear in a way the movie’s fight didn’t.
Two. The pre-Crisis DC Universe was kind of like an old high school yearbook, one which creators and readers would sit down and flip through from time to time. The nostalgia was part of the machinery at this point.
Well, either that, or there was a certain je ne sais Alzheimers motif going on. I mean, in this slender trade paperback alone, check out this banner:
and this story title:
and this (unresolved) cliffhanger:
Throw in Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow and it’s not hard to imagine the pre-Crisis DC Universe as a doddery academic type, the kind that pats down his pants pockets and wonders “Whatever happened to that idea I had for a cross-dimensional wormhole spitting out imperfect duplicates onto a planet where people could only communicate by clutching telepathic grass?” No wonder the tone of the New52 imperiled so much distress and embarrassment? Nobody wants to see an absent-minded academic pull on some leather pants and suddenly start talking about how *edgy* he is!
Three. And this is how I figured out the importance of The Legion of Super-Heroes to pre-Crisis DC. After all, the Legion are first and foremost as a bunch of kids in the far future who basically sat around and asked “Whatever happened to…” and then would go back in time to find out.
The Legion is so Ouroborian it’s a miracle they weren’t invented by Borges. Starting out as perhaps the most brilliantly transparent shills to comic book readers ever created—they are literally a super-powered fandom—they went on to embody the perils presented by an industry populated by the fans devoted to the source material they now shepherd.
Take, for example, this collection’s reprint of DC Comics Presents #43, wherein The Legion of Super-Heroes have to help Superman defeat the combined menace of Mongul and the Sun-Eater, but not before debating whether or not in doing so they will create a time paradox: “Jimmy Olsen has called us for help. We have to decide if we should answer. Should we risk upsetting the laws of time travel?” For two pages, the Legion debates helping with exactly the kind of missing-the-point commitment to exactitude that editors might debate approving the use of characters in a crossover.
It’s hard for me not to see this kind of thing as being deleterious to the story’s excitement. At one point, Brainiac 5 points out, “we have no risk of changing the past by interfering—our history clearly shows the earth survives. We only put only our lives at hazard!” which I guess does a great job of establishing the Legion’s heroic bonafides but definitely dampens the dramatic stakes as far as the earth and sun-eating is concerned. And yet, this kind of thing is precisely the stuff Legion fans used to chow down on before the future became its own deep cosmology and the LSH had more to do than just plot another trip in the time bubble. “Do we dare change time?” asks The Legion, just as Paul Levitz, in writing this issue, must’ve asked himself with a shiver, “Do I dare bring back Ferro Lad?” (Ferro Lad, who had first died protecting the future from the Sun-Eater, is actually described more thoroughly and with more complexity than Mongul.)
At the end, when Superman weeps for the death of Wildfire, it’s suggested that there are mysterious holes in Superman’s power of total recall. (The Legion have to remind him that (a) Wildfire is just energy, and therefore can’t be killed, and (b) Wildfire is a total asshole, and nobody should be sad at the prospect of Wildfire dying.)
“Whatever Happened to Superman’s Perfect Memory?” is the question suggested by the end of DC Comics Presents #43, but it is a question for another story, another story that seems oblivious to its own obsession with obliviousness, where the only two events worth crafting a story around are the trauma of forgetting and the joy of remembering, the two strongest events for a comic book collector, each capable of being felt with no more than the touch of a longbox.
Brett Ewins was never one of my favorite creators, but he was responsible for many of my favorite comics. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy his work — there’s something about his line that made his figures wonderfully flat and iconically “comic book”-y to me in a way that other creators couldn’t manage, from his Anderson, Psi Division stuff onwards — but outside of Bad Company, one of my favorite 2000AD strips of all time, his work never really appeared on anything that I fell in love with, if that makes sense.
But he did the bulk of Rogue Trooper strips when I wasn’t reading 2000AD, keeping the character around for when I’d return with Steve Dillon et al running things. And he did the first solo series for Anderson Psi Division (complete with some impressively blunt swipes from Brian Bolland’s Dredd work), another strip I’d adore after his departure — and, somewhere long after the fact, his version of Anderson has become my internal default for some reason.
And much more importantly, he was one of the creators/original editors for Deadline. I’ve spoken about this in the podcast, I think, but Deadline was one of those titles that saved me from walking away from comics when I discovered it. It was where Jamie Hewlett and Philip Bond made their names, as well as creators like Shaky Kane, Nick Abadzis, Glyn Dillon and countless others; it was where I first read Evan Dorkin and Love & Rockets, even if I didn’t quite get that latter one for years afterwards.
More than that, Deadline was a gateway to all manner of different things, for me (and, I suspect, many others; I’m fairly sure that early ‘90s comics like Revolver, with Rogan Gosh and Morrison/Hughes’ Dare come as a result of Deadline’s success, as are a bunch of Vertigo projects and so on and so on); I followed Milligan from Deadline to Shade the Changing Man. I followed Abadzis from Deadline to, years later, Laika, and Glyn Dillon even later to The Nao of Brown, all of which are some of my favorite comics ever. And I’m not sure I would have checked any of them out without Deadline. Without Brett Ewins.
(One of the strange things about Ewins’ career stalling out when it did, mostly due to illness, was that I don’t feel as if he ever really “broke through” in the U.S.; I’m imagining that many people reading this might be more familiar with his Skreemer mini-series from DC than anything else he did, which feels wrong. Without Ewins, you don’t have Gorillaz, you know?)
I never met him, I don’t think — it’s possible that I did at a Glasgow Comic Convention back in 1989 or 1990, but I don’t really remember and even if I did, I definitely wouldn’t have said anything beyond a mumbled, nervous “hello” — and he’s not even really someone that I could honest say that I’d paid a lot of attention to in recent years outside of reading, with some concern, about his health worries and run-ins with the law. (I didn’t even know The Art of Brett Ewins existed, although I now want to read it and feel ghoulish about admitting that.)
Reading about his death this morning, though, I felt both sad and grateful for everything that he’d given me, or at least helped me find, without knowing it. He might not have been a favorite creator, but he helped shape my tastes in ways that I still don’t understand.
Don’t worry; he looks even more like Clint Eastwood later.
Ahhh, binge-reading. Long before people started to bragfess to losing entire weekends to Breaking Bad on Netflix, we were there: supine in our beds or our floors, bunched into the corner of the couch or the comfy chair, a huge stack of single issues or trades allowing us to melt time like it was so much wax.
Just the other day—yesterday, in fact—I found myself with two-thirds of the prerequisites for a binge-reading marathon: I had eight hours of air travel, and I was suffering from a powerhouse of a cold, so my desire and ability to carry on conversations were curtailed. (Having said “two-thirds,” I realize I don’t actually know what that last prerequisite is: a relationship ending? Sustained unemployment? A college semester with an undemanding class load? No idea.) I had the iPad and a ton of comics downloaded to the iPad—wait, maybe that’s the third prerequisite?—and after a certain amount of dithering around, I finally settled on one of my big post-holiday purchases, the entire Max run of Garth Ennis’ The Punisher.
(This turned out stupidly long so let’s throw this behind the jump, eh? It’s what the long-lost primitive people of the Internet used to refer to as a Long Read.)
So I was talking to a comic industry professional the other day — someone who’d undoubtedly be amused that I described them that way, but still — about the June DC launches announced last week, and they made the suggestion that said launches were doomed to failure, and a sign that DC had given up competing with Marvel in any meaningful way.
When they said that, I had this moment of No, that’s too cynical, there’s an audience for this, but my optimism and faith in the comics industry was quickly dashed by the announcement, hours later, of Marvel’s A-Force — a new Avengers book that repeats the all-female gimmick of Brian Wood’s X-Men, but this time with a nonsensical name (Did X-Force sound this dumb when it launched? Probably) and a Secret Wars tie-in. Sound ridiculous and kind of flat? Perhaps, but according to some folks at some websites I know, the traffic and engagement for that story way outstripped the DC announcements.
Something about that stung; the announcement of 24 new series, including some genuinely unexpected choices both in terms of content (A new Prez series? Even with the Green Team revival awhile back, who the hell saw that coming?) and creators, apparently effortlessly eclipsed by what’s essentially a run of the mill Avengers launch?
(It’s not entirely run of the mill, I know that — G. Willow Wilson and Margueritte Bennett is a great co-writing team, and the all-female gimmick is going to remain a potent one considering the growing interest in superhero diversity and the oppressive lack of same in the industry today. But still: 24 new series, including Annie Wu and Irene Koh on Black Canary or David Walker writing Cyborg, and people are really more excited about a new Avengers book…?)
At first I thought it was more evidence of Marvel’s dominance of the market, and the subsequent (weird, laughable) belief in many minds that anything with the Marvel logo is inherently superior to the alternative, but I’m not so convinced anymore; the apparent lack of interest surrounding the Garth Ennis Secret Wars book, or the M.O.D.O.K. book feels very telling, as well. It’s not a bias towards Marvel at the cost of anything else, it’s… something else. A conservatism towards the known, an eagerness to embrace brand names.
The response to the Sony/Marvel Spider-Man movie news reinforced this. Such excitement over the fact that, hey, that company that makes the superhero movies we love is making this other superhero movie series that we want to love but don’t: seeing headlines, written without irony, saying “This Changes Everything.”
All of which is to say: part of me is almost glad that these new stories were announced at a time when Jeff and I wouldn’t have a chance to talk about them on the podcast; instead of feeling excited by things that I really should be — and was, in the case of the DC announcements, before I realized how little people apparently cared about getting what they say they want — I just feel distanced from it all, and somewhat grumpy towards comics fandom as a whole.
Of course, when Marvel finally gets around to announcing Secret Wars: Englehartworld, just watch me change my tune so fast your head will spin.
Obviously, I’ve become hooked on embedding YouTube clips in our browser. Dunno why, and I think it’s arguable that it’s more than a little insulting to put video in a comics podcast blog but…eh. I’m sure it’s a phase I’ll grow out of.
Anyway, welcome from the far-flung past! This is being posted from the road as the missus and I find ourselves on the rocky shoals of uncertainty (not the most beguiling name, but it’s hard to beat the hotel rates) for a few days. (And yes, that means no recording this week so no podcast next week but Graeme and I promise to make it up to you. We really, really do.)
So, let’s jump in with those show notes, shall we? Please note that: (a) this was recorded the evening *before* DC broke the Internet with its list of new titles and new creative teams so…if you’re hoping to hear our reactions to that news, you’re kind of out of luck?, and (b) if you want to have a player-free link to this episode, and you don’t like iTunes, or our RSS feed, or Stitcher, then go to the first comment and copy and paste it. I realized Graeme did a kind of neat thing with the first ep. of Baxter Building where he just linked to the dang episode. Was that a thing you guys liked? Should I start doing that? Please let us know until we muster the time, resources, and wherewithal to handle The WordPress Podcasting Template Nobody Likes.
That said, tally-ho, hey?
00:00-22:27: Greetings from Plague Central! Graeme has a very congested update about Portland being “Lurgy Town.” We hope you like listening to discussions about illness, hypochondria, Graeme’s health care, and Jeff’s very apparent worry that he is the latter. Believe it or not, this very long non-comics discussion pays off later. Comics talk more or less enters the equation with a discussion of “Little Annie Fanny” around the 16:28 mark.
To be fair to Kurtzman & Elder, there were a few stunning pages I passed up due to size consideration…
22:27-25:41: As Graeme puts it, “To sum up: I’m sick; Jeff’s going on a trip next week.” So consider yourself officially warned that next week will be a skip week, and that although Graeme qualifies for the “Hefner,” Jeff will be lucky if he can get covered under the “Guccione.” Which is finally, somehow, the proper transition to discuss… 25:41-29:18: COMICS! First up: Locke & Key! Graeme’s read it, Jeff hasn’t, so of course guess who monopolizes the conversation about it? (Hint: it’s not Graeme.)
Pretty, right? Clearly, Graeme is on to something…
29:18-42:26: And then, that silliness, out of the way, we both get to talk about Nameless #1 by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn, and also how we think Morrison is in full-on personal renaissance mode what with his work also on Multiversity and Annihilator.
Yup, I reused the image from Graeme’s review…
Jeff references a post by Marc Singer that most definitely does not agree. But although we dive into that more later, this section is very much our appreciation for this very strong first issue that is strangely joyful, and far less forced than Morrison’s earlier similar-in-some-ways, dissimilar-in-many-other-ways Happy. Jeff also thinks if you liked Nameless #1, you should check out the excellent words-without-pictures book Love Is the Law by Nick Mamatas.
Really, there’s no topping the phrase “Krakkin Ex,” is there?
42:26-1:09:10: As mentioned above, The Multiversity Guidebook! by Grant Morrison, and a slew of artists including great stuff by Marcus To (Chibi and Atomic Batman!) and Paulo Siqueira (Earth Kirby!). We talk about their great work briefly, but we also have ideas about the Empty Hand and what it means, both in-story and most especially thematically? We try to dig in deep about what we think it all means and how we think it’s all going to end.
(I love that Superman’s face looks like it’s been drawn by Gilbert Hernandez…)
1:09:10-1:26:49: You’d think there’d be a modern-rock band called Ridiculous, wouldn’t you? So that DJs on boring radio stations could go, “And now, moving from Ridiculous to Sublime…”? Like, wouldn’t you get at least some kind of sustained royalties out of that considering the fact that radio stations still play Sublime songs for some insane reason? Anyway, we went from talking about The Multiversity Guidebook to Superman #38 by Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr. so maybe you can figure out where my head was at to start thinking about things ridiculous and sublime. NOTE: Full spoilers for Superman #38, in case you’re worried about that kind of thing. HISTORICAL NOTE: this podcast wrapped a mere hour before Geoff Johns announced he was leaving Superman with issue #39, which I think would’ve greatly changed the tenor of our conversation (well, it certainly would’ve changed Jeff’s point of view) but, eh, what can you do? Also, I’m sure you’ve seen the list of all the new teams and titles coming from DC. THAT got announced a mere twelve hours after we recorded. So yeah, we’re pretty much a charming historical document already…albeit one that discusses Superman’s new power, Jimmy Olsen’s new role, and much more. I only wish we could’ve talked about how exciting the possibility of Gene Yang writing Superman is. Discussed instead: the “superhero vs. his clothes” trope; Scott Lobdell stories; Futures End vs. Earth 2: World’s End vs. Batman Eternal vs. the DC All Access page about Batman Eternal; and more.
And then, much arguing between Graeme and Jeff ensued….
1:26:49-2:05:55: FEINT! Jeff was supposed to run down a list of comics he’s read recently, but instead steers discussion to Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor, out now and available from First Second. Also discussed: the mastery of Understanding Comics; the misfiring of Reinventing Comics, and the mystery of Making Comics (well, partial mystery in that Jeff hasn’t read it but Graeme has), the P.R. blitz around The Sculptor, and finally a very long discussion about the book, including Jeff and Graeme arguing about just about everything, related to the book, despite having very similar takes. Yayyyyy!
So, there you have it, yeah? Check out the first comment if you need that link, go back to Ep. 167 and listen to enter and win our Rogue Trooper contest, and thank you for listening! We shall return in two weeks with the next ep. of Baxter Building (listen to our first episode if you haven’t, or read issues #13-24 along with us), and then more Waiting and Whating than you can shake a longbox at!
I can’t really say I’m looking forward to Netflix’s Daredevil TV miniseries, but I have a certain ghoulish anticipation for it. Or maybe I should say I had a ghoulish anticipation for it because after watching the trailer above, I’m realizing how dreary the show promises to be. In that way, although Daredevil (the Netflix show) reminds me of Daredevil (the movie) and Daredevil (TheIncredible Hulk stealth pilot with Rex Smith)—and even Daredevil (the comic book)—it mostly reminds me of Showgirls (the motion picture), which I saw in the theater on first release. Showgirls taught me some very important lessons about the nature of camp, one of which is I’m apparently neither cruel enough or masochistic enough to appreciate it in its modern incarnation: turns out it’s just as hard for me to laugh with filmmakers with a cruel sense of humor as it is for me to laugh at filmmakers with no sense of humor at all.
And hoo boy, does Netdevil appear to fall into the latter category. In its first eleven seconds, the trailer jams in three cliched images—the anonymous waterfront meeting, the rain-slickened streets, and the confession in church—of which the only innovation is the blind man’s cane wavering over those aforementioned rain-slickened streets. Before the ninety seconds are through, we get diseased urban landscapes a la David Fincher, some pretty unconvincing wirework, a bunch of explosions, somebody stabbed a lot, stealth appearances by Stick and The Kingpin, concerned looking white people with bad haircuts (Karen and Foggy?), and a shot of Daredevil lifting himself from a puddle with blood drooling out his mouth. It’s enough to make a guy nostalgic for an atrocious playground flirt/fight.
Look, I was enamored of Joe Carnahan’s sizzle reel as anyone (the NC-17 version of which is below):
but part of what makes it so exciting and smart is that it very specifically positions itself as a period piece. I adore Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil—both runs, the miniseries, the graphic novels, that single issue drawn by John Buscema, all of it—but part of what makes it work so well is how he saw New York as a location barely a half step up from hell. (Miller grew up drawing crime comics, but coming to New York City and getting mugged was one of the best things to happen to his career.)
And it’s not a New York that exists in that way anymore: judging from its trailer, Netdevil is filmed in modern-day New York, a city that might as well be its anemic twin, Vancouver: these days, Daredevil would be busting up the thugs at Josie’s Hot Yoga, tossing Turk and Grotto through the window of The Apple Store.
But I doubt he will be. Instead, he’ll be struggling with his violent nature in stock situations at stock locations, a black pair of tights pulled over his head so that we can all sit in front of our monitors exasperated that the criminals can’t figure out his secret superpower.
After watching the trailer I tweeted:
Wow, that Daredevil trailer worked for me. That montage of him beating up crooks and bouncing off flagpoles while “I’m A Believer” plays?
which I’m sure those who know Graeme’s musical taste will recognize as my blatant attempt to get him to talk to me on Twitter about it. It didn’t work—poor guy was probably busy having to turn his thoughts into three different think pieces at the same time—but I did get a few other replies which took my idea and made it even better
@Lazybastid I was most surprised by the black and yellow boiler suit and devil-may-care smile. — Matt Maxwell (@highway_62) February 4, 2015
Part of this may just be us olds having a laugh, but it did make me wonder. In the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s colossal success, why not make something a little more candy-colored and fun than what we’re getting?
Not only does Marvel have arguably very little to lose in this whole TV deal, it actually has even less to lose with material be co-funded and shown on Netflix. Unlike Agents of SHIELD, there’s no need to spin lukewarm or cooling ratings. They have the freedom to make the material a little more offbeat than what one might expect from a superhero crime show. Some of Marvel’s fans are quick to compare every move of the company to DC and Warner Brothers such that the latter always looks bad compared to the former: what would be a bigger tweak to DC’s nose than making a show much closer to Batman ’66 as DC grumbles and rumbles on about Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice?
Doing so would also give Marvel someplace to go with Daredevil, in that a second season could then start to make things darker, closer to Miller’s run. And by the time you get to Season Three or Four, you can move toward something like “Born Again”…or you’re well positioned to do something like Ann Nocenti’s run, where the darkness and the absurdity freely intermingled. Or both. And maybe one of the other characters in Netflix’s The Defenders will be the trickster character, the one who gets the laugh lines…but hearing them from the blind guy might’ve worked.
Miller brought Daredevil to some very, very dark places, but part of what made it all the darker for me was how colorful and dumb previous issues of the book had been and how much they could move back to that place. It made Daredevil the genuine undiagnosed bipolar superhero, upbeat and joking in one run, curled in a gutter in the next…and the extent to which that went untreated, undiagnosed, and unaddressed was to me far more haunting and meaningful than “I like to beat people up because I’m the child of a boxer and a nun.”
But we’ll see. Ninety seconds do not a thirteen episode series make, right? But, as always—and in some ways, now more than ever—I’m glad we had the comics before the world got the movie… and the stealth pilot… and the TV show.
I’ll be honest: I have started, and then discarded, attempts to write about Nameless #1 countless times today. Maybe somewhere in the region of ten attempts so far? I keep on starting and thinking I know, I’ll say this and then, somehow, everything goes south.
As frustrating as that is, it also feels oddly fitting; one of the things I really appreciated about the issue was how chaotic it felt, how it seemingly tumbles from one set-up to another in its initial pages, as if it’s unsure of what the book is going to be before deciding (Is it a Scottish Hellblazer? Is it an Inception rip-off-slash-parody where the nature of reality is going to be constantly upended? Is it another of Grant Morrison’s attempts to revive the entertainment of his youth by reappropriating images out of context and hoping that their significance will resonate nonetheless? Maybe it’s all of those and more). It’s not as if this issue really rejects analysis, but it’s almost intentionally constructed to find ways to try and twist away from it if at all possible.
And, really, that careening out of control feeling was one of the things I liked so much about the issue; the idea that I didn’t know where it was going next, or even if Morrison and artist Chris Burnham knew themselves — were they trying on ideas and high concepts like clothes, discarding what didn’t really suit them as I read? Burnham’s art (and especially his art with Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring, which is outstanding here) is another plus, taking the playfulness and formalism of their Batman, Incorporated work further here, while managing to evoke the creepiness that that title hinted at at its best. There’s a lot of beautiful, subtle stuff going on that’s hidden by the boldness on show elsewhere — look at the way the panel layout gets more inventive and unexpected when the story heads away from “reality,” and check how that impacts the color palette, for example — but look at what Burnham and Fairbairn do when they are more firmly rooted in reality, it’s just great stuff.
And that’s not even what I liked most about the issue. No, what I liked most — as silly as it sounds — was the Scottishness of the whole thing. Recognizing locations at a couple of times, or the way the dialogue of the main character feels so very Scottish in a way that Morrison rarely attempts. There’s a line early on in the book (one I won’t reproduce here, because it contains a word some find offensive and I don’t want to appall) that can only work in a Scottish accent in my head, and it was the line at which my interest went from Maybe this will be okay, in a weird horror kind of way to What is Morrison doing here? This is something else. It was a sign of things (or, at least, my interest level) to come.
It struck me, reading and re-reading Nameless #1 that Morrison is in yet another career renaissance right now; this, and last week’s Multiversity Guidebook and the run of Annihilator so far, are works that feel as energized and vital as anything he’s done in the last decade, surprisingly. Whatever was weighing him down in the last few years — the experience of working inside the beginnings of the New 52, perhaps, or just personal stuff that fed into his work — feels absent, with these new books seeming more exciting (and more varied!) than the output of men half his age.
It could all go wrong. In fact, it’s tempting to be snarky and say that Morrison has demonstrated that at some point in all of his projects, it will, even if he’ll inevitably pull everything together in a satisfying way in the end. But for now, Nameless feels like another interesting comic that delivers what you expect in ways you don’t expect it from a writer who’s rediscovered his taste for doing that very thing, working with artists who are ready to take whatever he gives them and match him in terms of intensity and inventiveness. Even if it’s hard for me to write about it, it’s definitely something worth reading.