Tuesday, February 28, 2006


On Cartooning and Freedom of Expression:
Tim Kreider has produced an entry to the Iranian newspaper's "Funniest Cartoon About the Holocaust" contest; it's titled "Silver Linings of the Holocaust," and has been posted at the Fantagraphics blog.

The cartoon is a marvel for several reasons: it undermines and addresses the contest's intent at the same time; it's funny; and, most importantly, it does not resort to even an ironic use of anti-semitic imagery. Kreider's commentary is well worth reading, too.

For the Science File:
No cure for the common cold or jetpacks, but modern science has finally provided humankind with breathable booze, or as the pocket-protector types like to call it, Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL). (And my state's legislators are trying to ban it before I've had any.) Wasn't Tom Cruise's character hooked on this stuff in The Minority Report?

For the "America, What a Country" file:
Anna Nicole Smith at the Supreme Court, contesting the disposition of her late husband's estate.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Seinfeld: Funny Because It's True

KRAMER: Ca--Ca. Ca-ca-ca-- Catfight?!
ELAINE: Ok, why? Why do guys do this? What is so appealing to men about a cat fight?
KRAMER: Yeye cat fight!
JERRY: Because men think if women are grabbing and clawing at each other there's a chance they might somehow kiss.
KRAMER: T-t-t-t...
(From "The Summer of George" episode.)

That's a preview of the cover to Supergirl #8. Didn't I read this "story" already, in Supergirl #1?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Implications of Catwoman #52

Kalinara's spoilerific post, "An Idle Thought: Killing in the DCU," covers recent developments in Batgirl, Manhunter, and Catwoman, and got me thinking about how things played out in Catwoman #52. (Ragnell's got a post about Manhunter which touches upon similar themes, but I haven't read through it all because I haven't caught up on my reading of that comic, yet. Shelly reviews CW #52 here.)

Needless to say, spoilers to CW #52 follow in abundance.

A quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez fits, with regards to Black Mask: "Never has a death been more foretold." His demise at Catwoman's hands is intimately linked to Selina Kyle's post-OYL fate, and has been an open secret in CW-related discussions at Newsarama, The Pulse, and Wizard magazine. So yes, Black Mask's was a death foretold.

However, similar to my reaction to seeing Selina's mind-wipe in issue #50, I wasn't surprised so much by what happened as I was by my reaction to it. Before reading the issue, I wanted Black Mask to die. And, let's be honest: this being a comic book world, I wanted him to suffer while dying, and I wanted it to take a long time. There was absolutely nothing to redeem that sociopathic bastard. The character is depicted as an avid sadist; in a previous story-arc he had personally tortured Selina's sister, Maggie, and forced her to watch while he tortured her husband to death. So yeah, this was a death foretold and a death desired.

But, in spite of my need to see Black Mask's life extinguished, I have to admit that the moment I saw the panel in which the bullet leaves Selina's gun, I was uneasy with the fact that she was the one who had pulled the trigger. Now, I know she's killed before, and has even "killed" Black Mask once before (that time it didn't "take"), but this troubled me as I considered the meta-level implications of the act, considerations tied into the architecture of the current DC Universe (an entity that's emerging with greater cohesion than it's possessed before).

The mind-wipe depicted in #50 chapped my hide because of my empathy for the character that Ed Brubaker had taken such care to develop; the shooting of Black Mask got under my skin because I'm uneasy with it's potential to permanently hobble the character: what will it mean for Catwoman to be one of those people in the presently-configured DCU who have killed someone? It's interesting to note that Wonder Woman, who headlines one of the other DCU titles that I read with avidity, is in the same problematic position.

And just what does it mean that several prominent women have been placed in must-kill situations? The most obvious result is that Superman and Batman get to occupy the moral high ground, their capes impressively flapping about them as they shake their heads and look down upon their murderous, less-controlled, female comrades. Will these "transgressions" be held up as cautionary tales? Opportunities for learning and healing? Continued scape-goating?

Here are the "before" and "after" facts of Catwoman's case as we head into OYL:

Before OYL Selina Kyle was Catwoman: assertive, self-assured, and the heroic defender of the East End. The Batman respected her talents and methods, and told her so in issue #48. She had a network of friends, supporters, and a protege who looked up to her.

After OYL: Selina Kyle is no longer Catwoman. She questions her past heroic activites, because of that long-ago mind-wipe by the JLA. (Zatanna: "Selina, go from villain to hero.") The Batman pities her because of what the JLA did to her. She has killed Black Mask, and is living on the lam. Oh--and she has a child.

Now, it being comic books, anything can happen, and Selina could very well be back as the Catwoman at some point down the road. But even if that happens, as I've said, her having killed Black Mask, no matter how compelling (or even legal), will certainly change the way some in the superhero community think about her and treat her. And if figures in that community do "understand" what she's done, it'll be because they "excuse" her actions because she was just a woman under a lot of pressure.

It looks to me like Catwoman has been taken down a few pegs, that's for certain. And I do wonder: why would the architects of the DCU believe that to have been necessary? How does that fit in the grand scheme of things? And I'm not being ironic, or rhetorical, here, either. I'm curious to know the answers; any comments, solutions, or suggestions are welcome.

Finally, some Catwoman-related links (and an image):

Cat Scratches, a LiveJournal community devoted entirely to CW.
East Side Gotham, a hearty compendium of all things related to Selina Kyle.
Darwyn Cooke's sketch of Catwoman, from Solo #5:

Saturday, February 25, 2006

CRG Travels East

Camille Rose Garcia, Mary Read and her Mermaid Army,
(n.d.; from her web site.)

I can't tell you how pleased I am to have learned last night that Camille Rose Garcia will be showing new artwork at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York City in April.

CRG is a member of a vibrant group of artists comprising the West Coast lowbrow movement. And even though her paintings are shown together in groups that are linked by complex structural narratives, her work has only recently been published in book form. The Saddest Place on Earth, (Last Gasp) is available now; The Magic Bottle: A BLAB Storybook, (Fantagraphics) will be available in the summer.

CRG's work is best described in her own words; here's how she provides a broad description of what links her prints, drawings, and paintings:
"There's usually a villain and some kind of revolutionary force, which tends to be female. When I start to paint, other things will sneak into the story, and I let that stuff happen. I like it to be an organic process." (Quoted in Marisa Solis, "Army of Darkness: Camille Rose Garcia Fights the Forces of Evil," Juxtapoz #62, March 2006.)

The paintings that will be shown in New York are part of a group that CRG calls "Subterranean Death Clash." Here's how she describes them (again, from the piece in Juxtapoz):
The story is that the world gets so overpopulated that everyone has to start digging underground. Finally they meet up with the dead, and so they have to battle with the dead for space and energy. Essentially, they're literally digging their own graves, digging their way down to death. But they think they're surviving.

I would be remiss if I failed to report on the über-cool CRG figurines that have been sculpted by Dave Pressler and marketed by the Necessaries Toy Foundation. I came upon them in a store here in Philadelphia the other week, and the force of my double-take almost damaged my neck.

Finally, even more good news: in the article I've already cited above, CRG says that she's "actually starting [her] own toy company in California that will be environmentally sustainable ... and some [toys] should be available before Christmas."

Nirvana: one-stop shopping for my nieces and nephews!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Two Observations

(1) The recent issue of Wizard magazine (#174) has an intriguing quote from Ed Benes, who provides a "Wizard Sketchbook" for the new JLA. Here's a portion of Benes' annotation to his drawing of Wonder Woman: "I always try to make superheroines as beautiful as I can, but the cheesecake days are over. This is a whole new game for me--it's the JLA." (p. 50)

I'm going to add these to my phrasebook:

"It's the JLA," and, "After all, remember, this isn't the JLA."

(2) Have you noticed that a fair number of people are now referring to Infinite Crisis and Infinty Crisis? (The clerk in my comic store called it that on Wednesday, as did Rich Johnston in a recent Lying in the Gutters entry.) I think this is our nuclear/nu-cular usage issue.

Looking to the Future

Newsarama now has an article posted in which they speak with Dan Didio and Allan Heinberg, who will be writing the re-launched Wonder Woman title in the spring. As has been previously leaked, Terry Dodson will be pencilling the title. (Ragnell has posted on this, too.)

Here are some quotes. First, the good:
Replied Heinberg, “As one of DC's ‘Big 3’, I think it's tempting to think about Wonder Woman in relation to Superman and Batman, but in my experience it's not a terribly useful means of coming to terms with her essential character. Her archetypal role in the DC Universe - and her essential purpose - has never been as clearly defined.

“She's arguably as strong as Superman and as cunning as Batman, but she's not the archetypal Boy Scout or Dark Knight. She's been a princess, a goddess, a politician, an author, and a superhero. She's a pacifist, yet she's arguably the DCU's fiercest warrior. She has one of the most complex histories and supporting casts in comics history. But with Wonder Woman #1 we have an opportunity to peel back the layers a bit and simply ask, ‘Who is this woman? What does she want? And what's she going to do about it?’”

Heinberg cites his predecessor Greg Rucka’s work on the series as a heavy influence, and said that he and Dodson will “attempt to continue to tell Wonder Woman's story in a way that honors his extraordinary, deeply felt work on the book.”

And then, something that made me wince:
And Dodson’s particular talents in terms of drawing female characters will not go wasted either…

“The Golden Age Wonder Woman's story was originally set in motion by her attraction to Steve Trevor,” explained Heinberg. “Her uniform and her sexuality were revolutionary in the 1940's and a huge source of her subversive power at the time. So, inspired by that version of the Wonder Woman, Terry and I are hoping to bring some of her subversive sexiness to the modern age character and to the book, as well.”
I'm no prude; I like subversive sexiness as much as the next person. And I am indeed fully aware of the extent to which the character's creator, William Moulton Marston, eroticised Wonder Woman and the world in which she operated. To be fair, I'll wait until I see the book before I rant about anything connected to it. But I will say this: I think it would be ironic if the Wonder Woman of 2006 become a cheesecake comic geared to a readership of high school boys, cynically crafted to be read by them, as the French say, with one hand.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Can Catwoman Have It All?

The Catwoman #53 pages at the first One Year Later preview posted at Newsarama got me thinking: can a comic book contribute to the resolution of one of our society's great conundrums?

Will Selina Kyle get to experience the joys of motherhood and righteous ass-kicking One Year Later? Can she continue to be a costumed, morally ambiguous superhero and be a nurturing, supportive mother to her child?

Will Pfeifer's statements about the book's direction (that accompany the preview pages), coupled with Betty Friedan's recent death, brought to my mind a fairly recent (9.20.05) New York Times article which found that young women at elite universities seem to be setting motherhood as a higher priority goal than a career. The piece, written by Louise Story, is titled "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood."

Here are the opening paragraphs:
Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: smart (1510 SAT), disciplined (4.0 grade point average), competitive (finalist in Texas oratory competition), musical (pianist), athletic (runner) and altruistic (hospital volunteer). And at the start of her sophomore year at Yale, Ms. Liu is full of ambition, planning to go to law school.

So will she join the long tradition of famous Ivy League graduates? Not likely. By the time she is 30, this accomplished 19-year-old expects to be a stay-at-home mom.

''My mother's always told me you can't be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time,'' Ms. Liu said matter-of-factly. ''You always have to choose one over the other.''

At Yale and other top colleges, women are being groomed to take their place in an ever more diverse professional elite. It is almost taken for granted that, just as they make up half the students at these institutions, they will move into leadership roles on an equal basis with their male classmates.

There is just one problem with this scenario: many of these women say that is not what they want.

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.
Damn, damn, damn, damn. It doesn't look hopeful for Selina Kyle to continue as a costumed adventuress if these really smart young women (RSYW) have taken the measure of the society in which we live and have decided, contrary to the liberating dictum, that they can't have it all. They're being forced to choose, and they have the luxury to be able to plan for a future which allows them to absent themselves from the workforce--a topic for another post.

A recent (2.8.06) New York Times op-ed piece by Judith Warren titled "The Parent Trap" blames an entrenched, gendered, and unequal division of household labor as the core of the problem: women with careers and children are expected to perform (and plan and worry about) the myriad domestic duties which adhere to family life.

This piece is behind the NYT's "Select" wall, so here are the important paragraphs:
You could say that the ''plight'' of 21st century stay-at-home moms -- or part-time working moms like me -- is vastly different from ''the problem that has no name'' experienced by the women of Ms. Friedan's generation, and in one key respect you'd be right: Girls and women today are no longer kept from pursuing their educational dreams and career aspirations. They're no longer expected to abandon their jobs when they marry and -- in theory -- are no longer considered ''unnatural'' if they keep working when they have children.

We women have, in many very real ways, at long last made good on Ms. Friedan's dream that we would reach ''our full human potential -- by participating in the mainstream of society.'' But, for mothers in particular, at what cost? With what degree of exhaustion? And with what soul-numbing sacrifices made along the way?

The outside world has changed enormously for women in these past 40 years. But home life? Think about it. Who routinely unloads the dishwasher, puts away the laundry and picks up the socks in your house? Who earns the largest share of the money? Who calls the shots?

The answer, for a great many families, is the same as it was 50 years ago. That's why when I read the obituaries of Ms. Friedan, who died on Saturday, I was sad, but also depressed: their recounting of her description of the lives of women in the 1950's sounded just too much like the lives of women today.

I am assuming that Catwoman remains single. So, who will be loading Selina Kyle's washing machine? Will Catwoman be distracted by child-concerns during a face-off with some murderous supervillain?

Selina Kyle would require a lot of money (to cover health care, and child care costs); a live in care-giver (or care-givers) for her child (to cover for the unpredictable nature of being a costumed adventuress); someone to prepare meals and keep things tidy; and, most importantly, the personal commitment to continue with her costumed life and be a mother.

Since we're in a comic book world, it seems to me that Selina Kyle would need to live something like Bruce Wayne's existence (without being married to Bruce Wayne--which I'm hoping and assuming won't happen) in order for this to work. For example, while she needn't have an Alfred, someone close would surely be helpful.

Of course, it's possible that Will Pfeifer might be planning story-arcs in which a less-than-wealthy, adventuring Selina is criticized for being an unworthy, unfit, or neglectful mother. While this is almost inevitable, the idea of a really smart young woman satisfactorily sorting all of this out appeals to me much more. However it plays out, it will be interesting to see how Pfeifer works through the important decisions and dilemmas facing Selina Kyle.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Horror

If you were looking for it, this article provides decisive proof of the impending apocalypse.

Students emailing their professors at all hours of the day!

Students showing less deference!

Students coming right out and questioning professorial judgment to our electronic faces!

What is the world coming to!

The New York Times requires registration to read it's stuff, so here are some choice paragraphs from the piece ("To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It's All About Me," by Jonathan D. Glater):
At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.

"The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding," said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. " 'I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,' with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative."

He added: "It's a real fine balance to accommodate what they need and at the same time maintain a level of legitimacy as an instructor and someone who is institutionally authorized to make demands on them, and not the other way round."

While once professors may have expected deference, their expertise seems to have become just another service that students, as consumers, are buying. So students may hae no fear of giving offense, imposing on the professor's time or even of asking a question that may reflect badly on their own judgment.

Now, I know there are large numbers of educators working in academia whose lives are toilsome and insecure: junior tenure-track faculty have to work at their research and writing while juggling teaching loads, and faculty in non-tenure track adjunct positions often have to knit several such posts together in order to put food on the table. These are massive structural issues which pose serious problems for academia.

Student emails, however, do not occupy the same category. I actually thought this article had been cooked up by The Onion when I first read it.

It's my firm belief that if you're an academic with tenure at your institution, you should not be complaining about anything. Certainly you shouldn't be whining about work conditions in the New York Times. (Full disclosure: I have tenure.)

Man, my father was an educated person who emigrated from his country and worked in a non-unionized belt-making factory for his entire adult life. When I was in high school, I worked with my dad for two summers, cutting and stamping belts, and I'll just say that working conditions were pretty difficult.

So what do I do if a student emails me at 10:30 at night, asking about an assignment due the next day? If it's a valid question and I'm online, I answer them. But that's just me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


David Irving is an offensive, embarrassing tool. He claims to be a historian, but his research methods do not stand up to scrutiny, his writings are inaccurate and biased, and what he produces and publishes is just not history. (I do not respect the man, and it embarrasses and shames me that he, his supporters, and the press consider him to be a historian.) Having said that, I'm not certain that he should be consigned to an Austrian prison for 3 years for being an inaccurate, contemptible, speechifying, revisionist, Holocaust-denying jerk.

The Supreme Court says: "Bring it."

Finally, two for the X-File:
(1) This is just too weird: a parasite which has been shown to alter a rat's behavior inhabits half of the planet's human population.

(2) Two words: black oil.

Monday, February 20, 2006

DC vs. Marvel, Explained

As I've been gathering my thoughts about the Bendis/Luna Brothers Spider-Woman: Origin mini-series for a review, I remembered that there had been quite a bit said about Jessica Drew in several recent issues of Wizard magazine. Always a good idea to have stuff like this within reach, right?

#172 contains the "2006 Preview," and item #9 is a handy write-up on Spider-Woman, providing 5 easy-to-remember reasons why she's poised to become the "biggest female character ever." (This phrase works best, of course, when said in the Simpsons' Comic-Book-Store-Guy's voice.)

I won't tiresomely quote the entire essay, though it's a model of a sort, and is worth consulting in its entirety. It's reason #2 that I'm interested in, here. So, in case you were wondering what really sets DC and Marvel apart on a deep, structural, (even) meta-physical level, here's Brian Michael Bendis to help you out:
"Wonder Woman won't sleep with you--but you have a shot with Jessica," says Bendis. "You're not waiting in line behind Superman." (p. 77)

Man, I'm glad that someone finally sorted this out for me. (And, it'll surely help when I write my review.) Actually, here's my real reaction upon reading this (in acronyms, no less): WTF, BMB?

Finally, though not exactly on topic, proof that those scamps at Wizard work hard at getting their picture captions just right, too!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Recent Finds

My comic store is having a massive 25c sale right now. All I can figure is that either some collector must have recently died, or she's among the living but was in need of an infusion of quick-cash, because there are about 15 long boxes available (in addition to the usually displayed four). I was in there on Wednesday and Friday and picked up quite a bit.

Here are the highlights:

3 issues of Secret Origins:
Legion of Superheroes + Blackhawk (#6; 1973); Blue Beetle (series 2, #3, 1986); and Zatara + Zatanna (series 2, #27, 1988).

In preparation for Gail Simone's taking over the writing duties on Gen13, I bought about 10 odd issues. The pick of the group is a toss-up between a "bootleg" issue scripted by Terry Moore, and a 3-D issue that includes viewing glasses. (Staring at the 3-D pages without donning the glasses will pretty much trigger aphasia; don't ask me how I know this, because it's slipped my mind.)

And finally, a comic with sentimental value:

I first bought a copy of David Boswell's Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman in Greenwich Village shop in 1986; the place no longer exists, of course. My wife and I picked it out on a whim, thinking it might prove interesting. Man, we were recently married that year, and, as you might imagine, several books, magazines, and objects that we acquired together at that time have had a particular importance added to them. This book is in that class--even moreso because several years after buying them, I loaned issues #1 and #2 to someone I worked with who never returned them to me before I left the job. So at least that tear in the fabric of space-time has now been sewn shut, and I'm pleased to report that when I showed the issues to my wife on Wednesday evening, she immediately recognized their importance.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Uncle Junior: What are you looking at?
Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri: I'm in awe of you.--From The Sopranos.
Earlier in the week, there was Zhang Dan, the pairs figure skater who suffered a fall that was painful to watch, returned to the ice, and finished out the routine to win a silver medal.

A few days later, Lindsey Kildow competed in the women's downhill after being recently discharged from the hospital, where she had been treated for the effects of serious fall.

This article deals with two women basketball players, Danielle Green and Dawn Halfaker, who unite excellence in sports and grace under extremely difficult circumstances (it appeared in April of 2005). The two women each suffered (sports) career-ending, disabling wounds in Iraq.

Finally, a favorite panel from Darwyn Cooke's issue of Solo (#5; August 2005). Slam Bradley has blundered into a my-scar-is-better contest that he should have avoided:

I like the way Cooke subverts the I'll show-you-my-bra iconography, here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Renouncing the Professoriate for the Black Arts

Brian K. Vaughn's Runaways is a book that I consistently enjoy reading; issue #13, which I read this afternoon, depicts Molly Hayes, a young and powerful mutant, falling in with a group of homeless thieves who are controlled and exploited by a modern-day Fagin.

I laughed out loud when I read the panel in which the villain explains his motivation:

Having renounced his tenure, the villain now prefers to be called The Provost.

The man is clearly dangerously twisted, because I know of no one--no one--who has renounced tenure (or ever would).

Many Wonder Womans, III

The Demon #32 (1993); cover by Val Semekis.

Think about it. You're a janitor who's found the book of eternity. You can conjure up multiple simulacra of anyone you want. Who do you think would provide the greatest assistance in ruling the universe?

(From my comic store's 25c bin.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Danger: Exploding Myths

Connected to the upcoming release of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in paperback, the most recent New Yorker (dated 2/13 and 2/20) contains Joan Acocella's excellent essay titled "The Saintly Sinner: The Two-Thousand-Year Obsession with Mary Magdalene."

As someone who works with texts and deals in interpretations of them, I read the article with scholarly interest; Acocella's discussion of artistic iconography was an added bonus. I suppose what I'm saying is: you don't need to be a practicing Christian in order to "get" and appreciate what the writer has accomplished in this essay. Acocella's piece didn't serve any religious function for me, and I'm certainly not posting this in order to push any religious agenda. (Full disclosure: I was raised a Catholic, though I'm not practicing, now.)

As a historian, I've been very much intrigued by the widespread public fascination with the Da Vinci Code; I've even had several students speak to me of the book as if it were a work of non-fiction. (Part of the storyline of Brown's book hinges on the "fact" that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion, settled down with Mary Magdalene in the south of France, and raised a family whose descendants persist to this very day.)

While Acocella's essay serves as a nicely annotated primer on feminist biblical scholarship, it also worked for me on a purely hedonistic level. I believe one of life's simple pleasures is to engage with writing that confronts entrenched, erroneous views and, through the use of evidence and persuasion, just blows them out of the water. (For example, Acocella shoots down the myth that the Magdalene was the prostitute who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The woman who did this is never referenced by name.)

Finally, the article provides a cogent discussion of recent scholarly work related to the Gnostic gospels, a corpus of ancient texts (unearthed in 1945) in which Mary Magdalene plays a major apostolic role.

Monday, February 13, 2006

They Weren't Kidding

From Newsarama, here's the full image of Jim Lee's cover to Infinite Crisis #5.

Man, that's nice; I like it as much as I did #1.

Two Wonder Women. The new Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Batman looking like they're on their way to clean house. What appear to be multiple earths (forming? vibrating? colliding?) in the lower background. Maybe we'll finally find out why "infinite" is in the series' title.

In a recent interview, Geoff Johns said that Wonder Woman has some "nice moments" in IC #5. I'll be looking forward to seeing what he means by that; perhaps the issue will highlight Diana in the same way that #2 did Power Girl.

Through the deployment of advanced solicitations, cover images, and tidbits dropped in interviews and convention panels, DC has successfully ramped up my level of anticipation for the next issue of IC.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Che Says: Two, Three, Many Wonder Womans!

More from the WonderCon:
When the question was asked about the Golden Age Wonder Woman surviving the end of the original Crisis, and if she would be returning or playing a role in the coming issues of Infinite Crisis, Waid called the questioner up to the podium, thanked him, and paid him a dollar.

The image is from Crisis on Infinite Earths #11.

Morrison Speaks

From the Architects of the DCU panel at the WonderCon, additional evidence of Grant Morrison's acuity:
Continuing on the thread about how the stories will be told in the DCU following Crisis, Morrison said that, in his view, the DC Universe is a virtual reality – its own world with its own rules, and people who live there that is as real as ours. With that in mind, Morrison said, you can’t go into the DCU and "smash things up," but rather are constrained by the fact that these are real people and real characters, and, as a creator, you can't make them not them. Rather than finding this a hindrance, Morrison said, he finds it a fascinating way to write – telling the stories about people he sees, as real, rather than fictional constructs that can be bent and twisted at any whim, and made to act in ways they would never act. To put a point on his view, Morrison said that, as he sees it, the DCU is a planet and we are observers. The work of the creators in Countdown through Infinite Crisis and 52, Morrison said, has been to increase the focus by which we view it – sharpening the image to a degree that hasn’t been seen before, allowing clear views of characters as well as their larger world.
(Via newsarama.com.)

Updates (2.11.06; 7:15PM):
(1) At WonderCon's DCU 2006: The Best is To Come panel, it was announced that Morrison will be writing Batman, following James Robinson's eight story arc. "Morrison said that he’s already plotted 15 issues, and in his first issue alone, he has 15 ninja man-bats as well as Talia, and the story is called 'Batman & Son'. Morrison said Batman coming out of 52 OYL will be a more of a 'fun guy, more healthy', more like the 'Neal Adams, hairy-chested, love-god" version of Batman.'"

(2) Morrison's comment about the DCU as a pre-existing virtual world makes me wonder if he's been reading the Soviet literary theorist M.M. Bakhtin, specifically the author's elucidation of the concept of the chronotope.

Not Child's Play

Ted Naifeh's Polly and the Pirates is an extraordinary comic being published by Oni Press; so far three issues have appeared. I can't praise Naifeh's book enough; I eagerly await each bi-monthly issue.

The title's main character, Polly Pringle, is engaged in the kind of identity quest common to both comic book characters and fairy-tale heroines. A student at Mistress Lovejoy's Preparatory School for Proper Young Ladies, Polly is the most proper of the school's student body. However, contrary to what her father has led her to believe, it's revealed at the close of issue #1 that rather than a retiring matron who died giving birth to her, Polly's mother was actually roaring Meg Molloy, the Pirate Queen.

Polly is torn between the comforting certainties about a mother she never knew ("The most graceful and proper lady that ever was"); Mistress Lovejoy's stern precepts (when in a tight spot, Polly asks herself: "Now what would Mistress Lovejoy do?"); and what seems to be her inherited ability to swash-buckle (for want of a better term) when she's cornered. There are two moments in the second issue in which Polly extricates herself from danger in ways that elicit dumbfounded reactions from older, more experienced pirates. In the first, an onlooker asks "How'd she do that?" "Dunno," is the only reply. In the second, her actions leave the pirates awestruck, with one gasping out: "Strewth! That were amazing."

Of course, there's a map (to the Pirate Queen's treasure) that is central to the story. While the plot is developing very nicely, what's satisfying is that Naifeh is also developing the characters with great sensitivity. In the third issue, Polly is presented with a dilemma that skillfully goes to the core of her character: in order to preserve her reputation, is she willing to betray Scrimshaw, the lovable old salty dog whose life depends upon his ability to recruit her to lead her mom's old crew? (Sorry, but I just can't divulge the answer.)

Naifeh's artwork is deceptively simplistic; his care in providing Polly, Scrimshaw and the others with individualized facial expressions is well-done. These two panels provide good evidence of his skill:

Finally, I'm thoroughly enjoying the mish-mash of chronology and geography in this title. While things are definitely taking place in the Americas, (even, it seems, the USA), Polly's Victorian attitudes are rooted in a particular time period--but wait, the golden age of piracy was over way before the 19th century. San Francisco is a geographical touchstone; the place is not usually associated with piracy. And there's the matter of the prevalence of English accents (and peace-keeping "bobbies," now that I think about it). Rather than annoy me, though, these juxtapositions have interested and intrigued me. I'm enjoying figuring out how Naifeh is taking what he knows about geography and the past in order to create a distintive sense of time and place, here. To give an example, the character of Emperor Norton, whose "coronation" provides a scene that's crucial to the plot, is based (pretty much faithfully) upon a real historical figure.

This title satisfies on many levels. Ted Naifeh is providing the reader with a well-drawn, expertly characterized, and carefully plotted pirate comic headlined by a strong female character. It's an added bonus that he's also working to give his creation historical depth in some very interesting ways.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

By the Ganges

There's a laid back, comfortable feel to Kevin Huizenga's Ganges #1, (Fantagraphics Books-Coconino Press, 2006), which contains the stories "Time Travelling," "The Litterer," "Glenn + Wendy," "Glenn Ganges With Wendy," and "Glenn Ganges in Bed." If this sounds too laid back, Huizenga's persistent interests in metaphysics and science are also in evidence here, too.

In Huizenga's hands, Glenn and Wendy are achieving Shulz-ian levels of identifiable reality. What I mean is that rather than drawn characters in books by Huizenga, there's a sense that they actually do exist, and the artist is just revealing slices of their daily lives to the reader in an almost documentary fashion. Now, I don't actually believe that Glenn and Wendy exist in the "real world," (or that I'll have a chance to meet them one day). Rather, I've pretty much accepted the real-ness of the world in which these characters live.

I suppose this is something the artist primarily effects, but there's also an act of transferance that takes place on the part of the reader. (And as I described in an earlier post, George Herriman achieved this with his Krazy Kat and Ignatz, too.)

There are some nice panels in Ganges #1. In the final story, Glenn lies awake in bed beside his partner, thinking about the countless other people on earth who might be doing the same thing. While not a particularly profound idea, it yields a profound image: multiple heads on pillows precisely arrayed, resembling the rose window of a gothic cathedral.

For readers interested in more Huizenga, here's a short bibliography of collected material:

Drawn and Quarterly Showcase, Book One, (Drawn and Quarterly, 2003); contains three stories: "Glenn Ganges," "28th Street," and "The Curse."

Kramers Ergot 5, (Gingko Press, 2004), contains Huizenga's intelligent novella (in color!) titled Jeepers Jacobs.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Feiffer Again

I found Jules Feiffer quotable in an earlier post; I've just finished re-reading his The Great Comic Book Heroes, (Fantagraphics, 2003; orig. pub. 1965), and here are some more:
Comic books, first of all, are junk. ... [E]ducation is not the purpose of junk. Junk is there to entertain on the basest, most compromised of levels. It finds the lowest fantasmal common denominator and proceeds from there. ... [C]ertainly ... a good many of their readers ..., when challenged, will say defiantly: "I know it's junk, but I like it." Which is the whole point about junk. It is there to be nothing else but liked. Junk is a second-class citizen of the arts: a status of which we are constantly aware. There are certain inherent privileges in second-class citizenship. Irresponsibility is one. Not being taken seriously is another. Junk, like the drunk at the wedding, can get away with doing or saying anything because, by its very appearance, it is already in disgrace. It has no one's respect to lose; no image to endanger. Its values are the least middle class of all the mass media. That's why it is needed so.

The success of the best junk lies in its ability to come close, but not too close; to titillate without touching us. To arouse without giving satisfaction. Junk is a tease; and in the years when the most we need is teasing we cherish it--in later years when teasing no longer satisfies we graduate, hopefully, into better things or, haplessly, into pathetic and sometimes violent attempts to make the teasing come true.

There is a positive side to comic books that more than makes up for their much publicized antisocial influence. That is: their underground antisocial influence.(73-4) [W]ithin [a] shifting hodgepodge of external pressures, a child, simply to save his sanity, must go underground. Have a place to hide where he cannot be got at by grownups. A place that implies, if only obliquely, that they're not so much; that they don't know everything; that they can't fly the way some people can ... or beat up whoever picks on them... (77)

Comic books, which had few public ... defenders in the days when Dr. Wertham was attacking them, are now looked back on by an increasing number of my generation as samples of our youthful innocence instead of our youthful corruption. A sign, perhaps, of the potency of that corruption. A corruption - a lie, really - that put us in charge, however temporarily, of the world in which we lived and gave us the means, however arbitrary, of defining right from wrong, good from bad, hero from villain. It is something for which old fans can understandably pine - almost as if having become overly conscious of the imposition of junk on our adult values: on our architecture, ... our advertising, our mass media, our politics - we have staged a retreat to a better remembered brand of junk. A junk that knew its place was underground where it had no power and only titillated, rather than above ground where it truly has power - and thus, only depresses. (78)

I think Feiffer's word "junk" is too denigratory and strong to describe comic art; ephemera works better for me. However, portions of Feiffer's analysis mirror mine, here.

So my questions are:

Is it quixotic for us to even expect comic books to provide acceptable depictions of the female body, the male body, human relationships and sexuality, and the state of the universe?

Are Feiffer's observations gendered? Do they hold for girls/women as well as they do for boys/men?

Are Feiffer's observations generationally bound? Do they hold for old fogeys, but evaporate for today's young readers?

When Feiffer first wrote (in 1965), many more comics were in circulation each month. How has the shrinking of the market-base effected the utility of his insights?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Good Book In Peril

Marvel Comics has let the word come down that they intend to cancel Spider-Girl at issue #100, unless they see a serious up-tick in sales. (Issue #95 is in stores now.) It's worth noting (and celebrating) that Spider-Girl is Marvel's longest running, continually published title headlined by a female superhero.

Having been a serious webhead as a kid, Spider-Girl was one of the comics I discovered upon my return to comics. And given the unwelcome paths that the Peter Parker franchise has chosen to travel in recent years, I actually prefer SG to Marvel's "mainstream" Spider-offerings. I'd like to see Spider-Girl removed from the chopping-block.

Spider-Girl definitely has a welcome old-school Marvel-feel to it: a young, irreverent hero learning as she goes; the familiar travails of high school linked to saving the universe; all presented with a sense of humor. The title has been helped by a rare consistency amongst the creative team: Tom DeFalco has penned the book from the start, and the artists have had long tenures as well.

Back issues of SG are available in inexpensive digest volumes; they're actually out-selling individual issues. Information on all things Spider-Girl can be found at SaveSpiderGirl.com, the SG message board, and wikipedia.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Junko Mizuno

In several recent online and real-world conversations about comics and art, the subject of creepy-ness has come up, and it's clear that for me, the conjunction of the "nice" or "the mundane" with mayhem and the macabre is what definitely affects me the most.

Consequently, I've become intrigued by the work of the Japanese artist Junko Mizuno, who joins weird and unsettling subject matter with a child-like drawing style (or, rather, a style that would appeal to children).

I first learned of her work from an article in Juxtapoz magazine (#60; Jan. 2006); the illustration is from p. 55. Mizuno is also interviewed in the most recent issue of the Comics Journal (#273; an excerpt is available online, here.)

Mizuno's drawings definitely have a surrealistic, id-unleashed quality. It's also no surprise that several of her titles are reworkings of fairy tales. Though I'm not at all well-versed in Japanese manga, my guess is that Mizuno's work represents a fairly distinctive style and vision. While others may explore similar themes, I'd guess no one else's work looks quite like hers.

Boxload of British Funny

Recently Acquired:

The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All The Words, volumes 1 & 2, (Pantheon, 1989).

John Cleese and Connie Booth, The Complete Fawlty Towers, (Pantheon, 1988).

Black-Adder: The Whole Damn Dynasty 1485-1917, (Penguin, 1999).

I've been searching for reasonably priced, used copies of each of these books for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when I found all of them at my local used book store, each volume clean, cheap, and unspoiled.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Melchior, you could have just gone online, ordered reasonably priced used copies of each of these books, and had them delivered to your door."

That's true. But these books had become part of a quest. (I had even already purchased cheap but damaged copies of vol. 2 of the MPFC and the Fawlty Towers.) Searching for them at used book stores had become something of a habit (or, if you're inclined towards Freud, a ritual). Had I gone the easy route, I would have robbed myself of the joys of the hunt and the rush I got from seeing the books together on a single shelf.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

No Good Choices

Spider-Man #205 (1980) is part of the stash of yellowing comics that have migrated with me from my childhood home to college to graduate school to my study here at Mortlake. Even though I was familiar with Felicia Hardy, my interest wasn't piqued by Kevin Smith's Spiderman and Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do when my attention returned to comics. The series had become something of a by-word for "troubled mini-series" due to its massive publication delays, and consequently, all I could muster was a desultory comic-store reading of the series.

I'm as displeased as everyone else is with the explanation that the date rape which Felicia Hardy experienced in college is supposed to provide the reader with the single magic motivator that allows us to finally "get" her transformation into the Black Cat and understand her strong attraction to Spiderman. (Links to a wide range of reactions are available at When Fangirls Attack.)

Amazingly, now that Smith's SMBC mini-series exists, we're pretty much forced to accept that the more satisfying exposition of Felicia Hardy's motivations available is this one:

Click on the image for a larger version.

Talk about a Hobson's choice!

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