This weekend, for reasons I couldn’t really begin to explain, I found myself reading the Joe Fixit era of The Incredible Hulk in its entirety. For those without long memories, that was the point of Peter David’s The Incredible Hulk run where, having been assumed dead by the world at large, the grey, intelligent, snarky Hulk found himself in Las Vegas, working as a bouncer in a casino. It only lasted just over a year, and even in the middle of that, there’s a fairly dramatic status quo change — the Hulk gets fired from his job, and Banner becomes the dominant personality again in terms of the book’s focus — but re-reading it this time around, I got to thinking about this run, and how it relates to modern Marvel. Continue reading
38:44-51:51: We discuss the first issue of Prez by Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell. Jeff and Graeme both like it, but Jeff finds some parts of the first issue very problematic. As a comparison/contrast, Graeme has read the first issue of Constantine: The Hellblazer #1 by Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV, and Riley Rossmo. It’s intriguing for Graeme, especially in the way it doesn’t quite work (ditto for Dr. Fate #1) but in a way he can’t figure out why? Even more intriguing to Graeme is Doomed #1 by Scott Lobdell and Javier Fernandez which Graeme thinks is actually “a pretty fucking good Spider-Man comic.” [??!!]
51:51-58:30: Both Graeme and Jeff have read All-Star Section Eight #1 by Garth Ennis and Jonathan (!!) McCrea, which is (to use the episode’s special phrase) very odd. There’s some hilarious metafictional hijinks we’re trying to wrap our brains around that seem very intentional but there’s also something a bit awkward about the book. “It reads like somebody’s first comic book,” to paraphrase Graeme, who has a great take on the hijinks despite accurately pointing out that some of the humor seems very, very…lazy? Quite the headscratcher.
We will see you in seven (or even sooner, if you come back for our individual posts)! And look to the first comment in this post if you just want a straight link for you to copy and paste into the player of your choice. Spa fon!
Overall, it’s been a pretty great week for good news—subsidies for The Affordable Care Act upheld, gay marriage legal a nationwide right, Evangeline Lilly shitting on recent Ant Man comics—but, me being me, there’s a piece of unsubstantiated news (gossip, if you will) that has me in a tizzy. Comixology 4.0 is coming, and it plans to integrate a social media platform into the app.
Assuming this is true, I can only respond:
I have, at various points on the podcast, talked about my love of what I call “trashy” books — that is, quick reads that are like prose popcorn movies, fast-paced and filled with spectacle, if not exactly the most challenging of reads. I come, then, to share my newfound love for a trilogy of books so absolutely wonderful on those terms that I devoured each one in less than a day each. Whatnauts, prepare to meet Charlie Hardie. Continue reading
You heard me. Last week, my brother came to town and stayed with us. So instead of sitting down with that pile of comics I had you all vote on (and believe me, everyone’s comments made for great reading for me: that was clearly the greatest admission of defeat I’ve ever made (and believe me, I’ve made plenty)), we went to the Pinball Museum in Alameda, and Great America down in Santa Clara, and saw movies. I read an issue and a half of Prez–because, come on, it’s Prez!–but that’s about it.
But, in true 21st Century fashion, I am not acknowledging failure, I am pivoting to a point of strength. Between the movies I saw this week, and the few I’ve caught over the last month or so, I figured that rather than inflicting upon you hasty, ill-conceived capsule reviews of comics, I could lavish you with les petit cadeaux of cinematic insight. (Just kidding: they’re also hasty and ill-conceived.)
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014): I don’t know if it’s just me being an old fart or generally indecisive, but I think I’ve watched more movies on the HBO app in six months than I have in the past eighteen on Netflix where, even as I bemoan the preponderance of TV shows, I nevertheless watch way more episodic TV than standalone flicks. There’s something about a much smaller list of rotating films (as opposed to Netflix’s increasingly disingenuous “because you liked Tarkovsky’s Solaris, we recommend Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!” approach) I find much easier to access. Or maybe it’s just that HBO has the lock on recent bigger budget films I was too lazy to see in the theater?
And, in fact, Days of Future Past was indeed the first of the five X-Men movies I didn’t see when it was out, though not (purely) from laziness. No, as the the run-up to this film’s theatrical release unraveled into a P.R. nightmare, I realized that although I’d seen all the other X-Men movies, I hadn’t really enjoyed any of them overall, only scattered bits here and there.
And although neither of Singer’s first two contributions to the series were the inept shitshow X-Men: The Last Stand had been, they’ve grown moribund in my memory. Singer cops everything I find most odious about Steven Spielberg—syrupy lighting, melodramatic soundtrack, the pouting of paper-thin characters; it’s as if Singer’s favorite Spielberg film was the “Kick The Can” segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie—without bringing any of the guy’s intellectual rigor to the material. (SS may be a greedy panderer who sold out his ridiculously comprehensive talents for dollars and popularity, but he’s still scarily good at running wires of subtext through his movies and grounding them to a zeitgeist that often hasn’t even manifested before production.)
By contrast, it’s not like Singer is a real-life Senor Spielbergo–although I wish he was because that bit is twenty years old and it still makes me laugh–but his thematic concerns are painfully obvious, at best fringed with irony but frequently something flat and leaden. X-Men: First Class had been largely dull, but at least dull in a randy way, as if director Matthew Vaughn was a one-man fanfic community, unable to decide which pairing he shipped the most. If Vaughn had been onboard for Days of Future Past, I might have shown up for a bargain matinee. But, no.
Anyway. It was on HBO and the missus was agreeable. And…yup. Turgid and mostly dull. Way too much fan service. Too many characters given no motivation other than “hey, you are about to die.” Michael Fassbender being clearly pissed about having to do green screen work. James McAvoy selling his character’s thin and contrived situation through sheer talent alone. Hugh Jackman continuing to overdo his workout routine to the point where he looks like a man who’s replaced all the major veins in his body with Silly Straws. A truly abysmal treatment of Jennifer Lawrence and her character by making the corruptibility of Mystique’s soul the movie’s mcguffin which it then discards (along with the character) literally two minutes after she fulfills her part of the plot. (I won’t even bore you with the historical inaccuracies and the way that moving the story back to the ’70s borks the tone of the Claremont/Byrne original: all that is part and parcel of making this movie bridge the two franchises.)
I know the big, seemingly endless action setpieces of today’s movies are an attempt to present something that demands to be seen on the big screen, but at this point it almost feels more like a genuine self-expression from this generation of big time Hollywood filmmakers: obsessive workaholics, they might really believe the purest expression of character is all that doing, all the dashing around, all that causing of explosions. If they really believed people could simply care about other people for who they were, would the filmmakers have been able to risen to the top of Hollywood?
Having said all of the above, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Singer consistently frames his shots in interesting ways that made this pretty watchable in a minute-by-minute kind of way. And as many, many people have noted before me, his scene with Quicksilver is a perfect little gem, one that shows how good Singer can be with music when he’s not laying on the faux-John Williams “ta-da-DUMP-duh-da! (blatz, blatz!)” soundtrack. (I thought his usage of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was also quite good.)
And for a dude who always sets his cruise control to “leaden sense of wonder,” Singer can share Spielberg’s sly sense of wit (or at least won’t smother it outright), as when Magneto insists that JFK was a mutant or the Beast boasts that he’s set up a control room where he can monitor all three networks and PBS.
Overall, it wasn’t as bad as James Mangold’s The Wolverine—and jesus, James Mangold, there’s a guy whose entire filmography is going to be used by future generations to epitomize the word “turgid”—but that’s a little bit like saying hitting your funny bone isn’t as bad as having one of those Amazon penis fish swim up your urethra. (In case you can’t pick up what I’m laying down: The Wolverine was really bad, you guys.)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015): I finally caught a screening of this, months after watching the trailer and declaring, “I will see that opening day!” And despite seeing it in a theater so dingy my brother and I are still trying to figure out how they got scratches on a digital filmprint, I did indeed adore it. It’s action-packed and visually dazzling and jammed with gorgeous practical effects (though I admit my eyes were easily fooled).
It’s strange to see Miller return after such a long absence from a franchise he created and absolutely nail it—I was a little bit worried this would be his Phantom Menace, or his Escape from L.A.—although I think it helped that he had a take on it that scratched his joyously nihilist itch while also rubbing his humanist belly.
Consequently, it felt like there was a lot of Sergio Leone in this (a dude who also tried to temper his talent his portrait for amoral action pictures with his larger political concerns), but some of that is also down to setpieces like the fight between Furiosa, Max, the brides, and Nux, which takes the kind of jockeying for advantage you see in a Leone western and pushes it to somewhere between a Jackie Chan fight and a Three Stooges routine.
It also helps Miller is so willing to integrate stuff from those he influenced. I find it almost impossible to believe he hasn’t spent some time at Burning Man—where a real-life honest-to-god Thunderdome has been a staple for years—what with Fury Road’s flaming guitar being kissing cousins to Black Rock City’s famous flaming tuba.
Even better, Miller collaborated closely on Fury Road with comics powerhouse Brendan McCarthy, who’s talked about how much a fan he was of the Mad Max movies. In so many ways, Fury Road‘s mix of dour dystopia and lushly deranged visuals make it a 2000 AD movie Dredd was only able to dream of being: even now, I can think back on the movie and imagine it in five page episodes.
One thing that I find really interesting (and frankly pretty sad) is that the movie has done pretty lackluster box office here in the U.S. (Jurassic World made nearly as much in its second weekend alone as Fury Road’s entire domestic gross to date.) Maybe that’s because so many of the fans of the original movie are my age or older (and therefore will be super-glad to watch it when it hits their HBO app eleven months from now), but I would’ve thought an over-the-top car movie in the age of The Fast And The Furious franchise could’ve charted much higher here in the U.S., even with its dystopic premise (which of course hasn’t hurt The Hunger Games movies at all).
Maybe it was a marketing thing, but I also wonder if it’s because American audiences are deeply uncomfortable with “pure cinema,” movies that are so assured in their visual storytelling dialogue is minimal or non-existent. So many American action films come slathered in talk mayo, which I always chalked up to the filmmakers trying to convince themselves they’re making something important but now I’m wondering if all the breathlesslly dunderheaded chatter in a Transformers movie is there because dudes like Bay are aware of precisely how antsy American movie viewers can get if there’s not a steady stream of mouth noises.
Anyway, Mad Max: Fury Road. Entirely worth catching if you still can—and, again, if you’re an old school 2000 AD fan, I’d say it’s almost mandatory viewing.
INSIDE OUT (2015): For whatever reason, I’m largely indifferent to Pixar—out of their fifteen full-length films, I’ve seen nine (a surprise as I would’ve put the number around six)—which is a little bit like saying I’m indifferent to gold, or sunshine, or food.
Nonetheless, although I quite enjoyed it, I find it a little weird how everyone is talking about how crazily original the movie is. The film’s structure yoinks most of its moves right from the original Toy Story: a child’s adoring caretaker finally learns how to share the child with her opposite number after the two of them get knocked outside their comfort zone. It really shouldn’t be a point against Pixar for re-using a formula they perfected, but I really don’t really see why they should get a lot of credit for originality, either
Honestly, what Inside Out has going for it is how well it takes its premise and fleshes it out—not so much the idea of a group of emotions running a person (which only kinda of half-worked for me) but how it uses that as a jumping-off point to conceptualize our internal lives. What other animated movies would use as an entire premise for an animated film—the caves of the subconscious, or the movie studio where dreams were made, the nearly forgotten imaginary friend wandering around the backwoods of a person’s brain—Inside Out throws it all in, a type of generosity that also ensures nothing gets overworked. And because Pixar is so ridiculously good about marrying its premise to its setting to its structure, the whole thing frequently feels like a rich, dizzying skylark rather than a feature working overtime to distract you from the frailty of its central conceit.
In a way, it’s a bit like Mad Max: Fury Road: both films are so confident and generous in their worldbuilding, complaining about the weaknesses in either feels more than a little churlish. And while churlish is my middle name, it is nice to see two summer films that don’t have the stink of formulaic torpor to them. It’s exactly the kind of thing that makes me more willing to get off the couch.
Stealing a leaf out of the ol’ Jeff Lester playbook this week, I’m eschewing a longform rant in favor of a trio of quick capsule reviews, which you can find under the jump. Otherwise, scroll below for a brand new Baxter Building…! Continue reading
Previously on Baxter Building: After four episodes of build-up, we reached what Jeff and I both agreed was “The Good Stuff” with the fifth episode of the podcast, as Joe Sinnott joined Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and readers met Galactus, the Silver Surfer and the Black Panther within six months of each other. On the minus side, they also met Klaw, but more about him later.
0:00:00-0:08:40: Did we say that we had reached The Good Stuff? Perhaps we were a little too hasty; as we go from Fantastic Four #54-60 (with Fantastic Four Annual #4 in there too), it turns out that we hit a really strange period where the series either loses focus or unsuccessfully tries to shift focus, and goes from a series about four characters who are part of a super-family of adventurers to something where… members of the Fantastic Four happen to be around while other things are happening. Or, in the case of the long-running Inhumans subplot throughout these issues, aren’t around while other things are happening.
0:08:41-0:14:22: The Inhumans attempting to escape the Great Refuge isn’t the only subplot that runs across the issues we’re reading this time around; there’s also Johnny and Wyatt searching for a way to free the Inhumans, and it’s a plot that goes nowhere. Jeff and I discuss the confounding lack of plot development in that subplot, which… spoilers, I guess? But perhaps that’s implied by the entire podcast. Is it a compromise between what Lee and Kirby wanted to do with the book, a la Tales of Asgard in their Thor series, or something else? “Listeners, we’re really going to get to #54 soon,” I say at one point, not having any idea of how wrong I am.
0:14:23-0:17:06: After all, why get to the issues we’re supposed to be talking about, when we can talk about the way that the book has shifted into a very strange narrative model where stories flow between issues somewhat formlessly, even as the multiple running plots are constructed very haphazardly within each individual issue?
0:17:07-0:36:02: Finally, we start with #54, “Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye—!” and find ourselves plunged into an opening sequence that Jeff describes as “elegant” in the ease with which it introduces all of the characters for new readers. It’s a sign of things to come, as we’re heading into a run of issues where the individual sequences work well, but the issues don’t hold together that well as a whole. Considering the issue almost immediately cuts to the Inhumans after introducing the FF, launching a storyline that doesn’t make the most amount of sense, to be polite. Prepare for Jeff to ruin your appreciation of the Inhumans forever, as he makes a very convincing case that they’re actually the world’s greatest white trash family. “It’s basically just them arguing in their trailer park for five issues,” he says, and oh God, he’s so right. Also while Jeff’s making good points, he describes the Black Panther as personifying the “magical negro” trope starting this issue, and he’s not wrong — and, sadly, he’s not exactly alone in that. Poor, abandoned Wyatt Wingfoot and his abandoned mystery.
0:36:03-0:50:22: Hey, you know that sequence in Jurassic World where they roll around in that bubble? Look, Jack Kirby invented it almost 50 years ago, before moving into images that are so abstract that Stan Lee had to earn his money with some wonderful exposition. But thankfully, all of that leads to the debut of Prester John, who might have a great first panel but disappoints in almost every other respect, especially when it comes to his purpose in this story. Is that because, as Jeff argues, Kirby is more excited by designing things than telling a story? Also, are the Thing and the Human Torch actually bad guys — or, at least, anti-heroes — when outside the influence of Mr. Fantastic? And, while we’re asking questions, why does this issue fall so flat?
0:50:23-1:04:23: Hey, kids! Remember that we all loved Ben Grimm? What if he was revealed to be even more of a self-obsessed bully than we’d previously thought? FF #55, “When Strikes The Silver Surfer!” delivers the least appealing Thing yet, despite Stan Lee’s attempt to keep things as heroic as possible. Jealous? Cowardly? Spiteful? That’s Ben in this issue, and… yeah. (Unrelated: God knows what happens to my accent when pretending to be Ben’s inner monologue during this. Seriously, I have no idea.) Also: what is wrong with this picture? The answer may surprise Jeff Lester:
What is more important: Anatomy or the essential Ben Grimmness of his look?
1:04:24-1:16:21: How much of a mess is Fantastic Four Annual #4? Spoiler: Very, but at least it gives us an excuse to talk about Irving Forbush and Not Brand Ecch (To correct something I say on the podcast, the Not Brand Ecch Masterworks collection is actually available later this month.) Honestly, though, that might be the highlight of this issue despite the return of the original Human Torch, because if any Fantastic Four comic by Lee and Kirby ever felt like a contractual obligation, it’s this one. Overactive verbiage, the Mad Thinker’s worst invention ever and there’s still little to be said in favor of this issue. (The Carl Burgos story Jeff refers to can be found here, by the way. Oh, and Here, My Dear, too.)
1:16:22-1:36:54: Hey, it’s the return of Klaw! Despite the amazing design of his new look — and it is amazing, one of my favorite Kirby looks — Fantastic Four #56 is a mess, thanks to a story that really doesn’t make any sense when you think about it too hard. But there are some wonderful sound effects (“SPLANG!”), a nonsensical interlude with Wyatt, Johnny and Lockjaw that allows Stan Lee to air his inner racist stereotypes one more time, and a resolution that reminds the reader that the FF would be toast if it wasn’t for the generosity of the Black Panther, we find some stuff to talk about nonetheless. Also, Jeff shares his rewriting of the Inhumans plot from these issues, and it’s a lot better than what’s actually going on. On the plus side, we both agreed that this panel was a thing of beauty:
1:36:55-1:50:36: Despite Jeff being unsure about the quality of the next four issues — for entirely reasonable reasons, it has to be said — there’s a lot of greatness to be found in Fantastic Four #57, including some genuinely amazing Kirby/Sinnott artwork and great action sequences with the Sandman. Oh, and Doctor Doom steals the Power Cosmic from the Silver Surfer, launching what might be my favorite Doctor Doom story ever, but Jeff is not convinced, and it’s all down to a difference in the way we see the character. Latverian politics and character flaws are discussed! Jeff tries to convince me that Jack Kirby is subtweeting Stan Lee in the plot lines again! A piece of comic book trivia entirely unrelated to the Fantastic Four is clarified! Really, it’s all here, true believers!
1:50:37-2:04:59: With Doctor Doom now more powerful than ever before, what do you think he does? If you guessed “Made it rain in New York City,” then congratulations; you’re just as mundane as Doom. With Lee and Kirby trying to avoid the obvious “Hey, Doctor Doom could literally just kill the FF in a second” direction, Jeff and I talk about what Doom does in Fantastic Four #58 instead — is he attacking the characters on an emotional and thematic level, or is he just being a trickster because he’s ultimately nowhere near as impressive as he thinks he is? Are all the Doctor Doom stories all the same story, or am I just biased because my introduction to the character was the original Secret Wars? (I also make a prediction about what’ll happen at the end of the current Secret Wars series, because there’s nothing like saying dumb shit that will seem even dumber when it doesn’t happen months from now.)
2:05:00-2:18:19: Even though the Fantastic Four are still busy dealing with Doctor Doom, FF #59 is really about the climax of the Inhumans subplot from the last few issues, and everyone that’s been looking for a logical progression of events might be left wanting, as spectacular as it undoubtedly is. That said, this is the issue that reveals what Doom does with magic power when he’s not distracted by the Fantastic Four, and in the process reveals the hidden connection between The Thrilling Adventure Hour and the FF. (Spoilers: It’s K of the Cosmos.)
2:18:20-2:36:52: It’s taken quite some time, but Fantastic Four #60 brings everything we could’ve wanted; for Jeff, an end to this storyline, and for me, the climactic battle between the FF and Cosmicly-Powered Doom, complete with size-changing arms:
There’s a lot to suggest that Kirby, especially, was hitting some kind of wall in this issue — not only is there some unusual perspective in the artwork, but the pacing of the plot is seriously off, with an unnecessary Inhumans sequence and a wrap-up that happens almost entirely in exposition. Spinning off from that, we end up talking about whether or not Kirby was interested in the very idea of godlike power being a worthwhile pursuit for villains at all, and if not, whether that’s a sign of an innate faith in humanity as a whole. Weighty topics introduced way too late into an already lengthy podcast, you might say (and you’d be right). Also revealed: What the new FF movie gets right. We were surprised. Oh, and because I said I’d post it…
2:36:53-end: What a long, strange trip it’s been, with some long, strange comics covered along the way. Next time, we’ll be covering FF #61-67, when things get right back on track (Honest). Until then, you can find us on Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, and we’re also on Stitcher and iTunes for those who’d rather listen that way. If you’ve managed to make it this far into the show notes, God Bless You for your patience, and may you find the Power Cosmic within yourself as soon as possible.
This week finds me with a very weird problem on my hands. As you know if you follow me at this space, every week I give some capsule reviews of what I’ve been reading the previous week. However, for whatever reason, the last seven days have found me reading no comics except the batch of Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four books we just covered for the latest Baxter Building (which will be colliding with your ears in the next day or two). And that’s pretty much it? Seriously, I read a small chunk of stuff just the other day that hopefully will become a larger thing but…I really don’t have anything to say about it now.
This leaves me with nothing to really talk about? And the insane thing about that is I’ve got great comics coming out my ears, just tons of stuff I’ve been stockpiling (that’s what we hoarders call it: “stockpiling”) I literally don’t know what to read next.
Which brings me to, really, this crazy plan: I’ll describe the stuff I have sitting around and you tell me what I should read next. Totally great, right? (Unless nobody suggests anything, thus rendering me contractually illiterate.)
So here’s what’s hanging around.
Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy
The Sitch: I checked this out of the public library and, no joke, it’s been due back for over a month. After I renewed it twice. And still have yet to read it. I’m totally an awful person, and I actually feel a certain mixture of relief and dread about confessing this here. On the one hand, I can completely come clean, which hopefully will get me off my ass and either read and return the book, or just return it.
The Stuff: Clearly, this is a Marvel collection designed to cash in on the rampant success of the film, and it collects all the early Star-Lord stories from his first apperance in Marvel Preview #4 up to a three issue miniseries from the early ’90s. that makes this book awesome, either in an ironic way or the just plain awesome way. It’s ironic-awesome because someone who does make it a point to get this because they’re a big fan of the movie and want to know more about that smart-ass Star-Lord guy will undoubtedly be delighted to encounter this humorless, quasi-prickish space opera hero who looks like a duck when he wears his helmet. I read Legendary Star-Lord #3 on Marvel Unlimited the other day and whatever else you can say about it, that dude sounds and looks like the Chris Pratt Star-Lord (so much so, it felt like I was reading a comic book where they’d licensed the property rather than a comic book property owned by the publisher. Kinda weird).
But for people like me, this collection is genuinely awesome because it has the Earl Norem cover from Marvel Super-Special #10 which I had as a kid, as well as material by dudes like Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Gene Colan, Tom Sutton, and the art team of Bill Sienkiewicz and Bob McLeod (whaaa?) that I have never read.
That was enough to get me to check it out. But has it been enough to get me to read it? Nnnnnnnope.
Pluses: I get to return this to library and not feel like it totally wasted everyone’s time.
Minuses: What if I start liking that duck helmet?
The Sitch: Humanoids recently published this ginormous hardcover collecting the complete first “season” of the science fiction epic by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez. They don’t specify what issues or other collections said season might comprise, but it’s 536 pages so clearly that’s more like Oregon autumn than like Oregon summer.
The Stuff: I read at least a chunk of this material in the early Aughts when Humanoids was publishing this stuff monthly (before DC licensed it and blew everything to hell) and I dug it: it’s kind of like an European version of New Gods, mythological space opera, but since it’s done by Jodorowsky, it’s less of a grand Manichean opera and (as I remember it) a Freud-infused fantasia, where each Metabaron achieves a level of individuality and mastery only by overcoming the status quo set in place by their heroic parent and in turn sets in place a new status quo for their kin to overthrow in turn. The great thing about Jodorowsky is how he approaches such potentially complex material with a directness that borders on the hyper-absurd. It’s great stuff but a little of it goes a long way (or at least was great in monthly chunks) and here I worry that here there is so much of it that it’ll go a comparatively short way. And truth be told, Jodo’s film work is now super-available, so it might be more entertaining and enlightening just to pop in the DVD of The Holy Mountain again.
Pluses: I get to read the adventures of a dude more-than-aptly-named “Steelhead.”
Minuses: What if by mastering this material, I end up inspiring revolution at the hands of an internet comic critic considered to be my own metaphorical offspring?
The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song
The Sitch: My friend John loaned this to me, no joke, two or three years ago? We are both fans of Mr. David Lasky, whose early issues of his self-published Boom Boom blew our minds, and John quite liked this graphic novel by Lasky and Frank M. Young portraying the life and times of the first superstar group of country music. John and I see each other at least once a week for lunch and I don’t even know if he even remembers I have this, and I’m terrified to bring it up because I don’t want to admit I still haven’t gotten around to reading it.
The Stuff: Well, as mentioned above, it’s a biography of the Carter Family, which doesn’t mean much to me other than, whenever I think about this book, I always think about Reese Witherspoon playing June Carter in Walk The Line and how that movie was, really, pretty god-damned overrated. In fact, between The Wolverine, Walk The Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Identity, and Girl, Interrupted, I’m unsure if there’s a director as committed to the stultifying as James Mangold. I never saw Knight & Day but learning now that he was the director, I no longer regret it.
Pluses: I can return this book to John! Who either will go “oh, that’s where it was!” or “Oh no, I don’t need this back. It was a gift,” thus rendering my intermittent anxiety about having this all the more absurd.
Minuses: What if I get really into early country music, and start walking around wearing vests and bowties and an R. Crumb hat and waiting for someone to mention Mumford & Sons or Taylor Swift so I can start lecturing them about the “real” country music? I’m trying to draw my douche line at my stupid beard.
Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon
The Sitch: As podcast listeners may remember, I quite dug Kon’s Opus which was a recommended read by Whatnaut Eric Rupe. And maybe no more than a month after that discussion here comes this lovely looking book published by Vertical (who has an excellent rack record when it comes to publishing lovely looking books) collecting all of Kon’s short work from the mid- to late-80s. It’s 414 or so pages, and much, much more portable than The Metabarons.
The Stuff: Dunno. Haven’t done anything with it since I bought it, other than move it from location to location on the credenza where I keep my recent comic stuff. But one thing that is pretty interesting to note on a flip-through is how, since these are short stories, dense the pages look: the full page shot of something resonant looks really absent here. Instead, Kon returns again and again to a tight eight panel spread: three panels on the top tier, two panels on the center tier, and three panels on the tier, with a frequent seven panel variation where a single panel (sometimes a reaction shot) takes up the center tier. I can’t remember if this is something I read or something Mark Waid actually told me in person, but I remember he advised keeping an odd number of panels on the page, usually five or seven, because it gave the artist a lot of freedom to lay out the page in ways that kept things feeling fresh. But Kon really does a lot with eight panels, and it allows him to play around with the density of action, usually with the two panel tier being an opportunity for a breath or even a reversal before the action picks up again. Looks pretty fresh to me!
Pluses: Due to his untimely death, Kon has a comparatively small body of work. I could become well-read on his work!
Minuses: These days, I feel like I’m in to slice-of-life manga like Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru or Yotsuba&! or Sun-Ken Rock.
Barbarella and The Wrath Of The Minute-Eater
The Sitch: I was amped when this smaller edition came out from Humanoids earlier this year. I haven’t been able to get into those super-sized artist editions that everyone with any taste has been digging so much, namely because I have no place to store them: we could pretty much partition off our living room with two of them. So yeah, this much-smaller-but-still-a-hardcover edition is definitely more my size, although all it’s been doing for several months is looking kind of lonely on my shelf until it was joined by The Metabarons.
The Stuff: I feel like most of us are familiar with the movie which, albeit pretty damn tongue-in-cheek, appears to be a mostly faithful adaptation of this strip by Jean-Claude Forest. So I don’t know if you really need me to repeat the whole “she’s a space adventurer who spends a lot of time naked in the kind of fantasy settings Edgar Rice Burroughs used to create except even less scientifically sound” premise (although I should point out that from the few pages I read, the Barbarella of the comics is much more of a deliberate sensualist than the quasi-naive thing Jane Fonda’s Barbarella had going on). A big deal was made about the translation being by Kelly Sue DeConnick and I thought it was pretty great that was being used as a selling point for the book.
In fact, I would’ve loved an essay by DeConnick here about the challenge of adapting the work for a modern audience. Instead, there’s a short historical essay impeccably written by Paul Gravett and an even shorter “introduction” by Nicolas Winding Refn that reads like it was dictated into his iPhone while in the drive-through of an In & Out before receiving a more pressing phone call.
Related Fun Fact That Has Nothing To Do With Duran Duran: If I might namedrop even more outrageously than I did above, I ended up having drinks with Brian K. Vaughan and Ian Brill once (at least) a few years ago (and also Brian Hibbs and Garth Ennis, but those two are thick as thieves and pretty much stranded BKV with Brill and me) and Mr. Vaughan mentioned one of his possible gigs at the time was a screenplay for Barbarella, the option for which someone in Hollywood had clearly paid too much for, and this was at a time when Scarlett Johansson was apparently a name being bandied about. Imagine that, won’t you? Barbarella, starring Scarlet Johannson in a screenplay written by Brian K. Vaughan. I wonder what the Metacritic scores were in the universe next door where that one got made.
(And for bonus points, compare/contrast Forest’s extremely science-light/fantasy rich setting with Saga, the work that Vaughan did go on to create a few years later. Until typing this anecdote out just now, it never occurred to me to consider the possible influence of the former on the latter and yet it seems non-insubstantial, right?
Pluses: Saga-influence aside, Barbarella seems like a pretty light read.
Minuses: What if I really like it? It’s not like Barbarella books are growing on trees.
The Professor and Mary Ann
Humiliatingly enough, I had at least six more options, five of which were digital (of which I always like the convenience, plus it’s so damn easy to screenshot), but I totally much ran out of space/time to write them up:
- Solanin by Inio Asano, which apparently is back in print or at least CE was able to get from its distributors again;
- The four volumes of Shirow Masamune’s Appleseed (as well as Appleseed: Hypernotes) which I bought on the Dark Horse digital app the last time they did a big sale;
- The remaing twenty-plus issues I need to read of Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX run which I bought from Comixology;
- The first forty issues of Hitman, also by Garth Ennis and also on Comixology;
- The two volumes of Ludwig by Osamu Tezuka which I have digital copies of thanks to backing the Kickstarter;
- Or, on the Marvel Unlimited app, The Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan run on Tomb of Dracula, of which I’ve read embarassingly little.
So. What do you think? Of the above, what should I read? And for bonus points, what are you the most incredulous about me having left unread until now?
Ho, ho, howdy, Whatnauts and True Believers of all stripes! As you can see, Graeme just put in a lovely little contribution to our website, so I decided to make this post image-free so as to take up less room (and because I’m sweating a big deadline, so….you’ll forgive me this once, right?)
00:00-13:42: Greetings from your anxious friends, Jeff and Graeme, currently recovering from a hell of a week over at McMillan Manors. So of course, Jeff decides it’s the perfect time to interrogate Graeme about his reading habits: how does Graeme read so much? And when the hell does he find time to do it? It’s a hard-hitting investigation, Wait, What? style! Graeme recommends a book to Jeff, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, which is a book that Jeff really, really needs. Also discussed: why Jeff hasn’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, why we like people except when they’re around, spontaneity as a counterpoint to planning, Jeff’s terrible work habits, how Graeme McMillan got his groove back, and we all learn just how accurate Graeme’s nickname as “The Hardest Working Man on the Internet,” and more.
13:42-23:24: Oh, but don’t worry we have comics to start talking about: in particular, we have Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels, a book so big Graeme is worried it would turn out to be a dog-killing vanity project. And yet, as it turns out, Graeme thinks it is is very, very good with excellent new comics from Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine (or is that a reprint), Guy Delisle, Kate Beaton, and many more. (Jeff, for his part, is so consumed with envy he can’t really speak.) The book is costly but it’s about the price of ten copies of Secret Wars #3 and, according to Graeme, you will get more than ten times the amount of enjoyment. Or, as Jeff asks, will you? Certainly if you’re Graeme (or Jeff) but what about others? Sadly, we aren’t able to render the perfect irreducible unit of comic book comparison but for a second, we do consider giving it a go, but only after a certain amount of quasi-reviewing/quasi-gabbing from Jeff about Secret Wars #3.
23:24-25:18: Graeme has also read all of the Swords of Sorrow crossover over at Dynamite, and has surprisingly positive things to say about the Swords of Sorrow: Chaos Special by Mairghread Scott and Mirka Andolfo. But does he like them $3.99 worth? Hmm…
25:18-49:39: And, on a related note (inspired by Jeff thinking that there’s a chance that people may not have to pay $3.99 for the book if it ends up on sale at Comixology, not that he ever bothers to say that aloud), Jeff asks Graeme to handicap the first three weeks of The New DC52 Universe sale happening over at Comixology. Turns out Graeme has already read a big ol’ chunk of the New 52 titles: what would he recommend? And what books are DC offering to put on sale that don’t actually exist? Although this will get posted just as the first week of the sale is ending, we have weeks two and three covered for you, wonder if there’s going to be a week four, brief reminiscing over the Dr. Fate run by J.M. DeMatteis and Shawn McManus; some love for the Jeff Lemire scripted issues of Justice League Dark; the Tom Taylor stuff from Earth-2; Prez #1-4 (YES, GOD, YES); the first 40 issues of Hitman; Graeme points out some flaws in Jeff’s compulsive buying tendencies; and the paradox of DC offering up a big sale of New52 issues to get us excited about the “DC You” launch when, frankly, the DC You launch is a corrective to titles that weren’t working under the New52. It’s a little bit of “you like this? Well, great, here’s a bunch of stuff you *won’t* like!” Although, as Graeme points out, the series does serve as an inexpensive way to fill in the backstory for DC You books people enjoy but are jumping in cold, and he follows this up with some discussion of The Batgirl of Burnside trade by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, and Maris Wicks.
49:39-1:05:58: But then there’s stuff like all those issues of Omega Men which are tonally inconsistent with the new first issue by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda, which Graeme has read about and also recommends. In fact, Graeme read all of the DC You launches from the first week and is very, very positive about them overall. (Jeff, for his part, dug the book he picked up: Bizarro #1 by Heath Corson, Gustavo Duarte, and Peter Pantazis.) But Graeme also has praise for Midnighter (which he says looks amazing), Action Comics, and (not a DC You title but still enjoyable) Justice League #41 by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok; and then we return to talking about the first issue of Omega Men some more, some parts of the discussion guided by the interview Graeme did with writer Tom King for Wired.
1:05:58-1:18:36: From one galactic rebellion to another, Jeff has read Star Wars issues #4-6 by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin. WARNING: JEFF SPOILS THE BIG REVEAL IN ISSUE #6. We discuss action figure fun, a very odd Watchmen shout-out, the difference between fan-service and suffocating nostalgia (if there is one), the embarrassment of mixing up Kyle Katarn and Dash Rendar, the Venn diagram of good superhero comic, and more.
1:18:36-1:44:22: Pivoting from that, we discuss the All-New, All-Different Marvel announcements and Marvel’s attempt to get publicity without actually announcing anything. Graeme runs it down for us. Also a discussion about Secret Wars running late leads to much rampant speculation on Jeff’s part about reasons for some of the odder delays in Marvel’s schedule. Also discussed: the backsliding of diversity in mainstream comics; the company that won’t be reported on; taking the phrase how the sausage is made to ludicrously literal extremes; and more.
1:44:22-1:55:20: But enough of that! Let’s talk about comics! Jeff has read the first issue of Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, is kinda coolish about it, but unpacks the first issue in detail for Graeme. Jeff has also read issue #5 of The Humans by Keenan Marshall Keller, Tom Neely, and Kristina Collantes, which he describes in less detail but frankly enjoyed much more than Providence; Bizarro #1 (as mentioned above); and Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions #1 and #2 by Bob Fingerman (also reviewed by Jeff here).
1:55:20-end: For the second time in two episodes, Jeff starts sounding weird on Graeme’s side so we decide to call it a day. And so….closing comments! Was this our most bifurcated podcast ever? If so…we’re sorry? Come back next week for a Baxter Building podcast, and feel free to read Fantastic Four issues #54-60 (plus Annual #4) to experience the episode in 5-D! Mortality and Tote Bags in Vienna! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! Itunes! ] Twitter together (t) and separately: Graeme and Jeff! Tumblr! And, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 104 patrons make this whole thing possible!
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The problem, really, is that the name was just asking for trouble.
“All-New, All-Different Marvel” is branding that makes sense from a couple of angles — firstly, it teases novelty, which is what people always say they want, even if the reality (especially in comics) is something altogether different. And then, there’s the fact that it’s (ironically?) a recycled tagline, re-using the descriptor of a comic run that started 40 years ago. Nostalgia always sells in comics, especially when it’s nostalgia repurposed to sell anti-nostalgia… or something.
It was obvious from the start that what was going to on offer from Marvel’s post-Secret Wars line wasn’t going to be the kind of genuinely new thing that All-New, All-Different X-Men had been in the 1970s (Actually new characters! Unusually geographic diversity in leads, as awkward and cliched as that could be! Writing that spun the Marvel formula out in new directions!), because… well, that’s not what Marvel is really about anymore, for one thing. That the branding was essentially re-using the All-New Marvel Now branding from a couple years ago was another; a reminder that these annual relaunches are the norm now, more about repositioning/relaunching the big names and padding the line with some less obvious fare in the vague hope that something turns into the next Hawkeye. This isn’t anything new, not really; it’s literally business as usual since 2012 for Marvel.
And yet, despite that, what we know about All-New, All-Different Marvel seems impressively same-old same-old. The most surprising thing about the first teaser image, I thought at the time wasn’t the appearance of Red Wolf (Nothing to do with his appearance, although this is definitely worth a read, more than he was filling the by-now-traditional spot on Marvel teaser images of “The Character You Wouldn’t Expect To See Standing Alongside The A-Listers,” AKA That Guy Whose Book Will Be Cancelled Within The Next Twelve Months), but that there weren’t any Inhumans to be found. Could Marvel have learned its lesson that the fans really don’t care?
Why, of course not; when the second teaser was released less than 24 hours later, it was chalk full of Inhumans, because of course it was. Just like the announcement that All-New, All-Different Marvel was going to see somewhere in the region of 55-60 new launches — remember when people thought DC’s New 52 was too many books, and were entirely right? — the two teasers added up to the feeling that ANAD Marvel will be just like the Marvel we’ve had for the last few years, only moreso.
And then, this weekend, the first of the new series was announced (Well, the first that wasn’t already known as continuing after Secret Wars‘ raft of try-outs, at least; A-Force was already a given to go on), and… it was The Invincible Iron Man. Because nothing says “All-New, All-Different” than a comic with exactly the same title as one that launched in 1968. Or, for that matter, a title that’s already been re-used in recent years. Yes, that’s right; the first announced title from All-New, All-Different Marvel is actually the third volume of that exact title.
But, that’s okay, right? I mean, we’re on something like Captain America Vol. 9 by now, right? It’s really about the creators, and I’m sure it’s going to be some exciting new talent who have never worked together before and can bring something new to the character and… oh, it’s Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez, who have been working together for the last few years on Ultimate Spider-Man. And, you know, nothing against either of them, or even the two of them as a team, because Ultimate Spider-Man has been pretty damn strong, but… this is the first announcement for an All-New, All-Different Marvel? This is how you launch the line and try to get people excited about things? “It’s Iron Man, done by the guys who’ve managed to make Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man a solid, selling around 30,000 copies a month book for the last few years.” Really?
There will, of course, be bigger announcements; there have to be, surely (Something has to be announced on The View, after all, not to mention the various comic convention panels across the next few months). But between the Secret Wars delays — actually, way more than just Secret Wars titles; the list of delayed Marvel books over the next months is amazing — and the underwhelming nature of the next big Marvel relaunch, it’s odd to watch the House of Ideas stumble so publicly, and seemingly without any obvious reason. Isn’t this kind of unforced error normally what we expect from DC?