Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Picked Up Yesterday

Mome, Summer 2005, Fantagraphics Books
Sarnath Bannerjee, Corridor: A Graphic Novel, Penguin Books, 2004

Monday, November 28, 2005

Last Week's Comics

Catwoman #49, DC Comics
With an assist from Stretchy McShapeshift, Selina Kyle uses up another of her lives, is "resurrected", and proceeds to efficiently clear Gotham's East End of its recently aquired rogues gallery. Zatanna's appearance on the final page makes things interesting, indeed. Batman's question from a recent issue of the JLA gains heightened relevance: how did Catwoman become a friend and ally after decades of being one of his fiercest adversaries? I guess a simple change of heart won't cut it in the present DC universe.

Rex Libris, #1 & 2, Slave Labor Graphics
I can't praise this title enough. This is an enjoyable (and basically indescribable) comic for people who love books and libraries. Rex, Simon, Hypatia and Circe: I look forward to future adventures and developments!

Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4, DC Comics
My favorite amongst Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory series. Zatanna is such an interesting character: boundless power; the best intentions; several bad choices. Layers and layers of guilt (and the legacy of a mythically powerful father who died saving the universe) constrain her. Another compressed and dense storyline from Morrison (no surprise, and no complaints from me), with well-matched artwork. While issue 3 had the big "reveal" at the end, and this one had the quite satisfying magico-psychic battle the series was building towards, for my money, the interaction between Zatanna, Cassandra Craft, and Misty Kilgore in issue 2 was the high point of the mini-series.

She-Hulk #2, Marvel Comics
A trial with jurors from the past, one of whom is Clint Barton; Jennifer Walters' plan to warn him of his impending death; Ms. Walters' very complicated domestic arrangements. This issue turns upside down some of what we thought we learned about Jennifer's life after the cataclysm at the close of last year's run. I'm happy to say that rather than having been tied into a neat bundle, things in the She-Hulk's life are messy and still developing.

Solo #7: Mike Allred, DC Comics
Allred's self-professed love-note to DC's silver age. Senseless stories; plots "solved' by dream sequences; a really loud party that gathers in every possible teen-aged side-kick: immense fun!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Amazon Called

Charles Burns, Black Hole, (Pantheon, 2005)
NYX/X-23: Innocence Lost, (Marvel, 2005)
Charles M. Shultz, The Complete Peanuts 1957-8, (Fantagraphics, 2005)

Thoughts on Keaton

Seeing Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr tonight reminded me of several things:

(1) The movie is a skilled homage to the vaudevillian world of his parents and his youth. The pace is fast, the characters familiar, and the effects phenomenal.

(2) Sherlock Jr, along with the wider corpus of Keaton's work from the 20s, established a grammar of film comedy, whose influence is unmistakeable, even to the present day.

(3) Like all great art, Sherlock Jr is at its core about our shared experience of being human; something that, when described, can sound so simple, but in practice ends up being anything but.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Good News X2

(1) An area film preservation society will be screening Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr (1924) tomorrow night. I look forward very much to seeing this movie in a theater on a large screen. As an added bonus, Cops (1922) and One Week (1920) will also be shown.
(2) I've recently learned that Marvel Comics will be publishing a new X-Statix miniseries, beginning in January. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred created an enjoyable and quirky group of characters and stories with X-Force (issues 116-129; 2002) and X-Statix (1-26; 2002-4). The writing was quite inspired, pillorying the genre's most tired conventions, while at the same time remaining aware of, and true to, the traditions of the original X-Men books. (For example, the X-Force series concludes with a story-arc that nimbly parodies and pays homage to the the influential "Deathstar Rising" story from X-Men #99.) I eagerly await X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beyond Compare: Krazy Kat

Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and Officer Pup, the main characters in George Herriman's (1880-1944) remarkable comic strip, inhabit the Southwest's Coconino County with Kolin Kelly, Don Kiyote and a host of other memorable characters. The strip's meta-plot can be stated simply: Krazy loves Ignatz; Ignatz hates Krazy; Ignatz knows no greater joy than to smash the love-sick cat in the back of the head with a brick. (Krazy considers these painful beanings Ignatz's "love letters".) We later learn that Officer Pup, who does almost nothing else but haul Ignatz off to jail after he's smashed Krazy, is in love with Krazy (who only has eyes for Ignatz). I know this doesn't sound like much, but when you add in Herriman's perceptive observations of human psychology and motivation, his inspired drawing style, inimicable landscapes, and his sheer inventiveness, in the end you get something extremely satisfying.

Herriman's punning cartoon creations live in a world that is as fully realized as William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County and James Joyce's Dublin; the place has real depth, richness and complexity. What I find interesting is that when I read the strip I have the impression that the cartoonist is providing me with a view of a small number of the experiences the characters have lived through, and that there's a whole level of interaction amongst them that has occurred but that I haven't been shown. (Some of the movies I cherish give me the same impression about the characters in them.)

Herriman's strips are being collected by Fantagraphic Books. The latest volume (the sixth in the series) includes the initial run of color Sunday strips, and is preceeded a careful introductory essay by Jeet Heer covering Herriman's much-debated racial identity. (He was considered a New Orleans "creole"--a complex, ambiguous, and out-dated classification.) The Fantagraphics volumes are highly recommended, as is Patrick McDonnell, Karen O'Connell and Georgia Riley de Havenon, Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman, (Abradale Press, 1986).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Fruits of Boxing Day

Krazy and Ignatz: The Complete Full-Page Comic Strips 1935-6
X-Force volume 2: The Final Chapter (Milligan and Allred), Marvel TPB
X-Statix volume 1: Good Omens (Milligan and Allred), Marvel TPB
X-Statix volume 2: Good Guys & Bad Guys (Milligan and Allred), Marvel TPB

From the 25c bin:
Allison Dare and the Heart of the Maiden #2 (J. Torres & J. Bone; 2002), Oni
Wise Son #1 & 2 (Ho Che Anderson; 1996), DC
Cloak and Dagger # 4 (January 1986), Marvel

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Christmas Every Wednesday

All-Star Superman #1 (Morrison and Quitely), DC
I enjoyed Morrison's compressed story-line. He assumes we know the backstory and will be smart enough to put together those threads he doesn't tie up for us. Some marvelous images here, and the penultimate panel skillfully brings the issue to a close on the best possible note.

Birds Of Prey #88 (Simone; Bennett and Jadson), DC
The Calculator's henchmen torture Savant for Oracle's identity; Dinah and Ollie carry out a mission together; Helena is made a capo; Barbara seems to be opening up to the world. I read this title for the characters, and Simone is developing them and their relationships nicely. I still haven't forgiven Savant for his mistreatment of Dinah way back in issues #59-60 (gratuitous leg-breakings were involved). I might accept that he's reformed and worth idenitfying with if, in the face of his present difficulties, he protects Barbara's secret identity.

Sea of Red #6 (Remender; Dwyer and Sam), Image
A return to form after the previous exposition-laden morass. Everything we thought we knew about three of the central characters gets turned on its head. I like the paths that all of the new information opens up for future developments.

X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1 (Brubaker; Hairsine; Justice), Marvel
Brubaker's exploration into the origin-time of the All New All Different X-Men feels right, and I look forward to seeing where he will go next. Reading (or re-reading) the Giant Size X-Men Annual #1 is essential. Hairsine's art is uneven, with some strong work interspersed with some wretchedly poor images. There's a panel showing Nightcrawler looking at a picture of the team from the good old days that is miserably executed. The lapses are especially noticeable because Brubaker's fine story should be matched by exemplary artwork.

Craig Thompson, Blankets: An Illustrated Novel, (Top Shelf, 2004)
X-Force volume 1: New Beginnings (Milligan and Allred), Marvel TPB
X-Statix volume 3: Back From the Dead (Milligan and Allred), Marvel TPB

Monday, November 14, 2005

Infinite Crisis #2

The second installment of Infinite Crisis places the character of Power Girl front and center, and follows issue 1 in nimbly balancing the universal and personal spheres of activity. In "Power Trip," a four part story in JSA Classified, Power Girl emerged as a likeable and vulnerable superhero grappling with the confusing jumble of facts related to her identity. In part 4, the story's villain informed Power Girl of her true origins: she is a survivor of the planet Krypton, the younger cousin of the golden age Superman, and for many years she fought crime on Earth-2. (This was the world that contained DC comics' golden age heroes. At the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths the surviving alternate worlds were folded into the earth containing the present-day heroes. Subsequently, the origin stories of characters from the alternate earths such as Power Girl needed to be reconfigured. See Troy Brownfield's "Who's That (Power) Girl" for a full run-down.)

In Infinite Crisis #2 Power Girl is again told the truth, this time by the golden age Superman himself (whom she doesn't recognize). Although she also fails to recall an ailing Lois Lane, when the older woman touches her hand, Power Girl experiences a wrenching moment of clarity: the truth she's so far only heard becomes real to her and is legitimated by a torrent of restored memories and the feelings that accompany them. We learn that Superman was not only Power Girl's cousin on Earth-2, but he and Lois actually treated her as if she were their own daughter. Again, the artwork is superb, effectively conveying the emotional jolt of this central development through effective page layout and the arrangement of images. After telling Superman that she remembers everything, Power Girl actually smiles, which she has not done in a while (and which few other figures in the pages of Infinite Crisis have been seen doing).

As in issue #1, there's a major revelation on the comic's final page. Sure, it's all well and good for us to see a superhero's adoptive parents restored to her, but how does a now-happy Power Girl fit into the general story? It seems that her happiness is going to be rather short-lived, because, soon after she regains her memories of Earth-2, Superman reveals why he has returned from his exile. Power Girl will soon be compelled to make some difficult choices.

Sounding a bit like a politician, Superman says
I need your support and help, cousin. We can save Lois. We can save her if we can take her home. This corrupted and darkened earth must be forgotten as ours was ... So that the right earth can return.

The greying hero, whose appearance on the last page of issue #1 was such an unexpected joy, has now revealed himself to be something of a nostalgia-addicted crackpot. How exactly can the "right" earth be coaxed back into existence? Certainly doing this must involve serious inconvenience to the denizens of the "wrong" earth? So once again, the writer of the series Geoff Johns has both satisfied and frustrated our expectations at the same time. Each new plot development has direct and immediate ramifications. Johns is certainly keeping up the pressure; reading the series is like riding on a whip-sawing rollercoaster. (Old-timey Supes is back! Yay! Power Girl is indeed Superman's cousin, and she knows it, now! Woo-Hoo! But wait, shouldn't someone stop Supes? Will Power Girl be ready to do this? Oh man, if she does, she'll basically be betraying the "father" she's been searching for her whole life...)

As I look forward to issue #3, I can't help but note that it's my good fortune to have picked the right moment to rekindle my interest in superhero comics.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Appreciating Infinite Crisis #1

Stu Cicero: Geez! What kind of fans are you?! Ms. Walters is just trying to do her job! But all you want to do is snark at her and pick her apart!

Comic Store Guy #1: But the continuity...

Stu: Continuity! When I was growing up, if fans found a conflict in continuity ... they didn't try to trash it or tear it down! They looked at all the pieces.
The She-Hulk, #12

For formal reviews of the two issues of DC's Infinite Crisis that have so far appeared, look here, here, here, and here. Rather than a review, this post comprises an appreciation by a reader who has recently returned to comics and who agrees with Stu Cicero.

The creators of the seven-part mini-series promised that readers would experience the DC universe's darkest day. Now that issues 1 and 2 have been published, several relevant points are evident.

Things are pretty dark, indeed. Crisis points have been reached in every corner of the DC universe: most of the supervillains have organized themselves into a Secret Society; events on the off-worlds of Rann and Thanagar have exposed some kind of ominous rift in the universe; the Spectre, the most potent wielder of magic, has declared a war of extirmination on wielders of magic; and Wonder Woman's killing of a man who exercised complete mind-control over Superman has forced a rift between earth's mightiest heroes.

What's impressed me so far is the creative team's ability to keep both the large-scale and the human elements of the story in sharp focus. Aside from the revelation on the final page (of which I'll say more in a minute), I thought the most striking moment of the first issue took place during the meeting between Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. There's nothing "normal" about this; it takes place on the moon, amidst the charred ruins of the Justice League of America's destroyed watchtower. However, the writer and artist craft a tense face-to-face encounter that forcefully and economically lays bare the depth of the rift between them.

In the first part, Superman prevents Wonder Woman from dispatching a prone foe with her sword.
Batman: What are you doing?

Wonder Woman: What did you think I was going to do?

Superman (to Wonder Woman): I ... I don't know who you are anymore.

Wonder Woman: Of all people you know who I am. ... Who the world needs me to be. I'm Wonder Woman.

The conversation ends on a caustic note:
Superman (to Batman): I don't need to control everything.

Batman: For you, it's about setting an example. Everyone looks up to you. They listen to you. But they need to be inspired, and let's face it, "Superman" ... The last time you really inspired anyone ... was when you were dead.

The panel containing this line is followed by two that provide reaction shots that are utterly successful at showing the aftermath of such a charged interaction. The first depicts a stung-to-silence Superman, looking directly at 'us' (and, presumably, Batman); the next shows Wonder Woman. Her eyes are closed and her head's tilted downward; she's unwilling to meet the eyes of either man.

Two points:

(1) Advantage Batman.

(2) Regarding Wonder Woman: Can Superman and Batman be so dense?

This is the DC universe's darkest hour; it's no time for superheroes to be publishing books, or worrying about how their actions are likely to play on television. Diana is right: the world needs her to be Wonder Woman.

The final page of issue 1 reveals the unseen narrator who has been viewing and commenting upon events as the golden age Superman, last seen during the 1985 DC crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths. As he breaks the barrier keeping him separated from the events in the "real world," he utters his rallying cry: "This looks like a job for Superman."

Given the problems that the present-day heroes are experiencing, the arrival of earth's original superhero seems to be just what the doctor ordered. If anyone can get the situation sorted out properly, surely it's him... Or is it?

Considering the task before them, and the raw materials that were available for them to work with, I think that the creators made some very canny choices in moving this story forward. Their fine judgement here bodes well for future issues.

Disclaimer: it has been twenty years since I followed monthly superhero comics. (I made my way back to them through an interest in independent comics and graphic novels.) Though I preferred Marvel comics as a boy, my level of interest in DC's Infinite Crisis exceeds that for Marvel's House of M/Decimation and Spiderman/The Other crossovers.

Friday, November 11, 2005

What's New

David J. Weber, Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, (Yale UP, 2005)

Hot off the presses:
Infinite Crisis #2, (Johns; Jimenez), DC
New X-Men #20, (Kyle & Yost; Brooks; Mendoza), Marvel
Polly and the Pirates #2, (Naifeh), Oni Press
The Pro, (Ennis; Conner; Palmiotti), Image (TPB)

Found in a thrift store:
Uncanny X-Men #208 (August 1986)
X-Factor #3-4 (April-May 1986)
The New Mutants #39 (May 1986)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Nicely Made Book

Carl Van Vechten, Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works, (Knopf, 1922).

Van Vechten would have been amused to know that I found a copy of his first novel in the "Biography" section of my local second-hand bookshop. I bought the third printing of May 1922, which was "set up and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., Binghampton, N.Y.," with "paper furnished by W.F. Etherington & Co, New York, N.Y." and "bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass."

The paper comprising the book's cover is what I would call an artisanal stock; it's colorful, ribbed and textured, reminiscent of a pressed and preserved leaf. I was attracted to the book primarily due to the care with which it had been made, though I am enjoying the writer's wry descriptions of the milieu in which literary and artistic modernism were forged.

Gordon Craig, 1913-2005

Historian of Modern Germany, author of The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945, (Oxford UP, 1955); Germany, 1866-1945, (Oxford UP, 1978); and many other works. Member of the history faculty at Stanford University from 1961 to 1979 (when he retired). May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Future is Here

If we can't have flying cars, at least there's some consolation in the deployment of futuristic weapons:

(1) Take that, yer filthy bilge rats!
CNN: "Cruise Ship Used 'Sonic Weapon'"

(2) We've got phasers!

New Scientist: "US Military Sets Laser PHASRs to Stun"

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

John Fowles, 1926-2005

Author of The Collector, 1963; The Magus, 1965; The French Lieutenant's Woman, 1969; and other works. May he rest in peace.

Several quotes from his obituary in today's New York Times:

" 'I know I have a reputation as a cantankerous man of letters, and I don't try to play it down,' he told The Guardian newspaper in 2003."

" 'No one in my family had any literary interests or skills at all,' he once said, 'When I was a young boy my parents were always laughing at "the fellow who couldn't draw"--Picasso. Their crassness horrified me.' "

"He recoiled from his role as head boy at Bedford School, his prep school. 'By the age of 18, I had dominion over 600 boys, and learned all about power, hierarchy and the manipulation of law,' he wrote. 'Ever since I have had a violent hatred of leaders, organizers, bosses; of anyone who thinks it good to get or have arbitrary power over other people.' "

"He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of The Magus, was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. 'Yes, of course they were,' Mr. Fowles replied.' "

"By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of The Magus. 'Why can't you say what you mean, and for God's sake, what happened in the end?' the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter 'horrid' but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: 'They never saw each other again.'"

William Steig

While browsing at the Walk A Crooked Mile Bookshop over the summer I found several compilations of cartoons by William Steig (1907-2003); the most revelatory for me was Continuous Performance, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1963).

While genius, like pornography, is difficult to define in the abstract, I agree with Justice Stewart in believing that I know it when I see it. William Steig was a cartooning genius, an unmistakeable master of the medium. Continuous Performance contains two extraordinary series that the artist titled "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu," and "Punch and Judy: Their Later Years."

"A La Recherche" is a nimble exercise in nostalgia, produced by the artist in his third decade of cartooning. First published in the New Yorker in 1959, the 13-image series produces a "child's eye view" of an immigrant family's experience in the Bronx of the early twentieth century. (The series was recently edited and recompiled into a children's book titled When Everybody Wore a Hat, [Harper Collins, 2003], and contains an extended text section aimed at children.)

In "Punch and Judy," Steig shows us several vignettes in the later life of a couple who have been performing for an audience their entire lives, and who have persisted as a couple despite the fact that they are both prone to fits of anger and explosions of cartoonish violence. The drawings depict Punch and Judy in moments of anger, fury, and tenderness, and provide an astute and humane reflection on the complexities of long-lasting relationships.

Issue #265 of The Comics Journal (Jan/Feb 2005) contains several articles covering the extraordinary artistic career of William Steig. The glorious Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004) provides a searchable, complete collection of the cartoons that appeared in the publication from 1925 to 2004 on 2 CD-ROMs. This is a must-own for appreciators of Steig's work.

The image depicts two pages from the French edition of When Everybody Wore a Hat; from the publisher's (Galerie Martine Gossieaux) website. The original captions to the cartoons are: "Pa and Ma had European Friends" and "We Won the War!"

Monday, November 07, 2005


I'm ready to begin the writing phase of both of the projects that I am currently developing: I've exhaustively mapped things out, taken notes, created organizational flow charts, brain-stormed, and dreamed (of both utter failure and success). Any more of this would be procrastination.

Even a journey of a thousand miles ...


Robert Borofsky, Making History: Pukapukan and Anthropological Constructions of Knowledge, (Cambridge UP, 1987)

Eugene D. Genovese, In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History, (Pantheon, 1971)

Ajay Skaria, Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers and Wildness in Western India, (Oxford UP, 1999)

The Comics Journal #271 October 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pure Pleasure, I

A short, recurring list of items that transcend the limits inherent in the genres in which they were produced:

(1) Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)
(2) The track "Balcón de Santiago," from Compay Segundo's album Calle Salud (1999)
(3) Diego Velásquez's Las Meninas (1656)
(4) Louis Armstrong's two takes of "Stardust," recorded in 1931
(5) Rosalind Russell's performance in Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940)
(6) Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr., (1924)
(7) J. H. Elliott's The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline, (Yale UP, 1986)
(8) The "It Takes a Pillage" episode from The Cartoon Network's The Life and Times of Juniper Lee
(9) G. F. Handel's Giulio Caesare (1724)
(10) Dan Slott's She-Hulk #1 (December 2005)

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