Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Comic Quotes Should Be Good for the 12/14 Comic Week - Christmas Style!

On the side of this blog are a lot of fine blogs where folks talk about comic books. Each week I pick out ten cool quotes about comics from those blogs during the past comic week. I cannot promise that my picks will be thorough, or even the best quotes. They are just quotes that made me laugh or smile or say, "Good line." Please note that the folks who write on this here blog (Comics Should Be Good) are excluded, as it strikes me as a bit too self-serving to quote any of them here. But be assured that I think they are all quite good!

This week, I'm gonna mix it up, Christmas style!

Let's begin!

On the first day of Christmas, Good King David Welsh gave to me three nice reviews of school-themed manga comics. Here is one,
Chigusa Kawai’s La Esperança (Digital Manga), the school campus is an elegant, thematically apt backdrop for the coming-of-age romantic melodrama. The unifying traits of her protagonists are guilt and redemption, so it’s only appropriate that the school is run by nuns. Innocent Georges has constructed an entire personality around not causing others pain in a misdirected attempt to atone for the sins of his family. Experienced Robert’s guilt over an unspecified incident manifests itself in provocation, particularly of painfully agreeable Georges. Robert wants to strip away what he thinks is Georges’s goody-two-shoes façade. Whether that’s out of projected self-loathing or envy, a romantic desire to liberate Georges from his self-restraint, boredom, or some other motive remains to be seen.

Their sparring plays out in the school’s majestic chapels, crumbling towers, and lush grounds. Classmates provide running commentary, first fascinated with brash (and older) newcomer Robert, then with bratty young royal Frederic. While a bit of a rich-kid stereotype, Frederic is a potent symbol of Georges’s self-imposed dilemma. Georges readily agrees to serve as Frederic’s “official friend,” subjecting himself to Frederic’s fits of mood and temper in the process. The student body keeps a close eye on their beloved, likeable Georges, shockingly in the thick of these polarizing new personalities. It makes the environment even more complex and organic.

Kawai takes advantage of the sense of place, but also the emotional intensity of the high-school experience. Everyone’s in transition, responding to their parents influence by trying to define themselves utterly independent of it. The hothouse environment of the private school is a really apt setting, beyond being beautifully rendered.
On the second day of Christmas, Jolly Old Saint Joe Rice gave to me a funny story about how he actually read a PAD comic that he LIKED,
So we keep moving along the shelves and we get to X-Factor. I'm all ready to start making fun of it. Mr. C. points at it and I work up a chuckle.

"This is really good," says he.

"What? Seriously?" I reply.

"Yeah. Actually, yeah." He points out the beautiful Ryan Sook art, can't go wrong there. But, really, the last time I was genuinely entertained by a Peter David book was, hm, X-Factor. There's talk of playing with conventions, that David's annoying habits are reigned in to the betterment of the story, and, yeah, there's that beautiful art. And I've got a soft spot for noir detectives and, uh, Jaime Madrox.

So I give it a try.

And he was right, it was good. A good PAD comic featuring mutants post-Decimation. I can recommend it without reservation, and it makes me feel funny. It's not FF/Iron Man good, but it's good.
On the third day of Christmas, Winter Shawn Hokeland gave to me a great review of a comic I have really, really, REALLY been meaning to get a look at, Dana Jones' Product of the Eighties: Confessions from the Reagan Era,
So, Product of the Eighties, I suppose you could look at this mini-comic and say, “That’s not a comic. There’s no visible art or skill here.” You could, but you would be wrong. Product of the Eighties is comprised of page after page of four yearbook pictures, sometimes the same picture, but just as often different ones, beside each other on each page. A black bar hides the eyes and the identity of the person, but you get enough of a sense of the person behind the image to make some guesses as to what kind of a person they may have represented in junior high. For instance, the guy with the Ratt T-shirt – we all knew him.

A caption rests under each picture, and it’s here that Dana has made a comic. The words and the pictures do work together. No, the pictures aren’t drawn, they’re photocopied from a yearbook, but Dana has taken great care in matching the captions with the pictures. Each page stands alone, but together they give an overall picture of your own experience in middle school. Dana and I are both products of the eighties, so there were times when I could have sworn that she was using pictures from my own yearbooks of the time period. The hairstyles, the smiles, the clothes, they all looked so familiar. It’s uncanny.

The real beauty in this mini-comic is that you could hand it to almost anyone and get a laugh. We’ve all been there. And for a comic, it’s very accessible to non-comics readers. You won’t find any word balloons or thought bubbles in this book, just well-timed captions. For example one page has four different seventh graders next to each other with the following captions underneath:

First seventh grader: "My fist Cure album was Seventeen Seconds."

Second seventh grader: “My first Cure album was Staring at the Sea.”

Third seventh grader: “My first Cure album was Disintegration.”

Fourth seventh grader: “What’s the Cure?”
On the fourth day of Christmas, Johanna Draper Carlson the Red-Nosed Reindeer gave to me a good review of Paul Sizer's Moped Army,
Sizer’s uniquely exaggerated style handles both the people and machines techno-organically, making it a perfect match for character-based science fiction. He captures crisply the inner monologue of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, struggling with decisions based on questions everyone else would rather she not ask. The casual sexism Simone faces everywhere but when she’s with the Army is uncannily realistic. (Those familiar with his previous series, Little White Mouse, won’t be surprised that he’s able to create an accurate portrait of a young woman who fights intelligently to survive.)

The lifestyle of the moped riders is awfully alluring. They value education, working to continually improve and reuse the tools they have and what they can find. They cooperate and help each other out, valuing how everyone’s individual talents contribute to the greater good. They’re a true community, gaining strength from each other instead of squabbling for status.
On the fifth day of Christmas, Kevin Church the Snowman gave to me some engaging snark about Peter David and George Perez's Sachs and Violins,
There's a scene that sticks out like a sore thumb: early on, Schultz is looking for JJ and is touring various sex shops, hoping to pick up a lead and keep her from committing a truly grievous crime. After some salty discussion of snuff film distributors, whips and chains, and the like it comes to light that the woman Ernie is speaking to is his own mother. Oh-ho! Golly, wasn't that unexpected? What a knee-slapper! It's a very diluted shock that doesn't so much shock the reader as distract them as they plow through the dull, overexplained story.

Scenes like that, along with characters like Rugmuncher The Evil Lesbian (which pissed me off as much as if he'd created a character named Darkie the Magic Negro) and Gerry The Gerrymander (a too-obvious Barney knock whose name drove me to distraction. He might as well been a clown called Richard The Redistrictor,) reduce any sort of impact that the series could have. There's seriously disturbing stuff being discussed here too: snuff films, child labor, Mardi Gras (where there's a panel dedicated to two dudes kissing, oh my god that is so fucking edgy) all get their chance but the entire enterprise feels like the sort of "dirty" fiction I wrote in tenth grade and kept in a secret notebook. Clichés abound, characterization and quirks replace actual character and no matter how over-the-top Sachs and Violens is supposed to be, chunks of this1 are hard to swallow.

Oh, and don't think I'm going to let George Perez get off unscathed. First of all, JJ looks like Wonder Woman throughout the book and her Catwoman Light costume reeks of 1984 heavy metal video - you remember the kind, back when women straddled hoods and stood in formation far away from the performance, trying to look like they weren't just waiting for their next fix. Pages are packed far too tightly, never letting the reader breathe for a moment or savor any of the action besides the occasional splash page. The coloring is pure 1994 Photoshop madness as well - too many shading effects render what were probably some perfectly agreeable character shots completely into garish, ugly garbage.

In fact, the only person to escape this without any scorn at all is letterer John Workman. Outside of doing his usual consummate job, I hear he crawls into critic's beds at night and slits their throats. John Workman: you da man!

So, why did I read the whole miniseries? I'd heard people that I trusted praise this book, saying that it was an underrated gem in the crapheap that was the mid-90s comics explosion. I thought that industry stalwarts like Peter David and George Perez could provide a worthwhile, if not exactly great diversion for a mere four issues. I read it because it was free to me and I've come to realize something: that's never an excuse. Maybe I'm glad I didn't fall for this series - it's mean that I had to go and pick up Fallen Angel and see what's happened to them in the decade since they debuted, and that's a step I'm not willing to take.
On the sixth day of Christmas, Jingle Jog Rock gave to me a great look at Local #2 (a title I am digging a good deal),
But that’s not really the point of this issue; the point is in fact the same as last issue - it’s self-reliance. Both issues hinge upon Megan learning to make her own decisions; it’s just that this issue is a bit more questioning, since Megan ultimately makes what many people would consider the ‘wrong’ decision. But that’s beside the point; she becomes anxious and depressed when she’s not being true to herself, when she bases her actions on the counsel of others. It’s not a theme that’s always going to work, but this issue does suggest that perhaps there’s a downside to this kind of activity, a downside we necessarily won’t be exposed to until next issue (yeah, yeah, individual stories for individual issues - that doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be evolving concerns that run for several segments of the project). For now, it’s all bull-headed teen romance, and maybe it’ll turn into a nice inversion of last issue’s more melodramatic affirmation of the individual will as a triumphing force.

If nothing else, it’ll probably affirm that Megan has rather shitty taste in guys (I bet last issue’s nameless boyfriend seemed awful exciting at first - actually, that’s just another way this issue reflects the last). There’s some nice visual character work going on too - I like how Megan is usually seen wearing her primary apartment key around her neck (presumably, she puts it away when she’s at work) - I guess she loses things, which might explain the presence of a spare key in such an easy-to-find spot to begin with. And even if the length of that key-chain seems to expand and retract at will in certain panels, artist Ryan Kelly keeps things looking pretty nice. Also included are assorted bits of production art, a guest pin-up (by Brittney Sabo), preview pages for issue #3, and a nice text-based summary of Minneapolis’ history and appeal by one Kat Vapid, with spot illustration by Kelly. Nice batch of stuff.
On the seventh day of Christmas, O Holy Night gave to me a quick summation of the quality of the classic Shining Knight series in Adventure Comics (before going into greater detail),
The Shining Knight feature was unique in that the writer had the option of setting the story in the King Arthur past, the present or a combination of the two. Despite that innovative concept, Shining Knight himself was a lackluster character, the use of supporting characters was sporadic and to the extent that King Arthur and Merlin could be considered supporting characters they were no more than plot devices, and, worst of all, the strip sorely lacked memorable adversaries.

These eight stories were all written by Joe Samachson and drawn by the legendary Frank Frazetta and, although nicely drawn, particularly the splashes, they are far from what people picture when they think of Frazetta art. So despite the Frazetta drawings, there’s nothing to distinguish these Shining Knight stories as anything more than serviceable anthology background features. Some of them are enjoyable, others are dull, but none are exceptional. And, as far as the Treadmill is concerned, that’s all the Shining Knight was – an unexceptional anthology strip, with or without Frazetta.
On the eighth day of Christmas, Kurt Addams Got Run Over By a Reindeer gave to me a review of Ultimates Vol. 2 #9,
I have to give Millar credit (as a general rule I don’t), the events of the current issue of ULTIMATES 2 make a certain warped sense and yet I truly didn’t see them coming. But I’m about as thick as Millar’s Tony Stark, so I guess that’s no surprise. There are surprises in this issue and, while I won’t spoil them, I will say that I’m looking forward to a great clash of titans in true Aveng...errr...Ultimates style.

I get the feeling Millar and Hitch had a lot of fun with this issue. Huge panoramic destruction scenes, giant robots stomping on Manhattan, sex, bad guys, American comeuppance, and a literal, and likely metaphorical bullet, between the eyes to a character that is one of the few true anchors to the Avengers iconography. There’s even a nice touch of political irony -- intended or not -- as America’s enemies, fearful of what the super power might do next, decide to topple the Great Satan with their own array of super powers. An armada of supers in fact, to a degree that one would wonder if they were truly worried or simply looking for an excuse. Either way there’s boatloads of mayhem and destruction and no Iron Man, Cap or Thor to be found. I’m personally rooting for the Ultimates to storm back and bring all holy hell down on the invaders, but with Millar you can’t be too sure where he’s heading, which, in this case, is part of the fun. (One direction I don’t want to see it go is some sort of Loki-driven plot device that miraculously twists everything back to its original form.)
On the ninth day of Christmas, the Little Drummer Boy, David Campbell gave to me a good reason to pick up Moby Dick Classics Illustrated,
Writer DG Chichester has the challenging task of distilling Melville’s massive work into a lean read, and for the most part he is successful. He wisely focuses on the bare bones of the plot and throws in a lot of the sinister stuff for flavor. The comic is steeped in superstition and evil, from Ahab’s phantoms to the blasphemous baptism of a harpoon with the blood of whalers to the prophecy of the captain’s fate – because the boring whale stuff is eliminated, the spooky stuff takes a more prominent role in this adaptation.

Moby Dick climaxes in a three-day hunt/battle with the white whale, during which Ahab’s quest to slay Moby Dick drags the crew of The Pequod into mortal peril. The man has a serious hard-on for that whale.

Things do not go well for the whalers, who learn too late that Moby Dick is the wrong whale to screw with. The whale goes ballistic and launches like an ICBM through their longboats.

I hope I’m not wrecking the story for anybody when I tell you that Captain Ahab and damn near everybody dies at the end of Moby Dick. Screaming defiance to the last, the obsessed whaler is dragged to his death, bound to his prey by his own rope as it descends into the crushing depths.

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

I know what you’re thinking: aren’t those Ricardo Montalban’s last lines in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? Yes, and you’re a geek.

Moby Dick: no superheroes, no capes, no boobs, no boring passages about whales. Just a whole lot of spooky foreshadowing and brilliantly depicted carnage, courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz. If you want your doom served steaming hot on a silver platter with a nice garnish, go hunt this comic down.
On the tenth day of Christmas, I Saw Mommy Kissing Jim Roeg gave to me an excellent piece speaking of the Ray Bradbury influence in All-Star Superman #1 (this is just a microscopic sample),
As I have been endeavouring to show, Morrison’s and Bradbury’s projects are deeply invested in the same mythic material and have a similar configuration of concerns. But Morrison is also concerned with developing his future nostalgia in ways that are slightly different from Bradbury. Bradbury’s optimism about human daring and imagination may be infused with an ambiguous tone thanks to the death of the first mate, but, at the end of the day, “The Golden Apples of the Sun” seems to affirm the virtue of a heroic refusal of limits by casting the first mate’s death as a necessary cost of doing business and (at most) as an abstract lesson in mortality for the triumphant captain. Morrison’s Superman is treated, if anything, even more affirmatively than Bradbury’s captain. He is purely and transcendentally “good.” And yet, one gets the impression from the first issue that this innate “goodness” is the result of a conjuring trick, whereby Morrison has dispensed with the spectre of the “fascist” interpretation of Superman by offloading the burden of “fascism” (the term is used very loosely here) onto either Leo Quintum or Luthor or both. This is obviously the significance of Luthor’s shrieking, “You have no right to limit my ambitions, fascist!” as he throttles Superman through the agency of his genetically modified human suicide bomb. Apparently the irony of this preposterous statement is lost on Luthor, whose Promethean demand for “no limits” is precisely what leads him to “misidentify” Superman as the fascist. In this way, Morrison neatly dispels the political cloud that has always dogged Superman and offers him up as a more innocent modern myth.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, Tom Foss Up on a Housetop gave to me a summation of his problems with The Other,
So I flip through the issue today to find one-eyed Peter Parker dying, but also somehow becoming a killer spider creature, with stingers and sharp teeth and a red eye, who eats Morlun's head. In front of MJ. And then dies.

And this is supposed to be a good thing.

I realize that there's, like, five more parts to the story. I realize that Peter's not dead. But I think I see where this is going: idiotic new powers (I sense...spider-vision and spider-stingers, which were such a grand idea when Scarlet Spider came up with them), and maybe even a physical mutation to correspond with his change of costumes (i.e., he'd change forms when changing to Spider-Man, even if it were just that his eyes went red and teeth became sharp). I see perhaps Peter leaving MJ and Aunt May, having either become disgusted with himself, or become so different physically and emotionally (turning into a murderous spider-creature will do that to you) that he thinks it would be better that they belive him to be dead. I see a stupid new costume. I see a complete rejection of Spidey's science background, in favor of more retarded magical, mystical gobbledygook. I see the vampiric form of J. Michael Straczynski sucking every last ounce of fun out of the Spider-Man mythos, the same fun that Paul Jenkins tried to keep alive for awhile (with stories like the one where Pete and Ben go to the Mets game, or with the poor kid with an imaginary Spider-Man), and that Dan Slott and Mark Waid picked up on (in Spider-Man/Human Torch and She-Hulk, and Fantastic Four, respectively).
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Hark! The Herald Chris Sims Sings about, appropriatley enough, a Christmas issue of Starman,
Mistletoe belt-buckles aside, they're preparing for a Christmas party that features the entire cast of Starman, One of the things Tug said when he got started reading it last year is that everybody in the book is a super-hero, and he's not wrong--especially when it comes to the O'Dares. They're an entire family of supercops, including Hope, the firecracker, Mason, the silent kung-fu beat cop, and Matt, the reincarnation of Western hero Scalphunter. Everybody's a super-hero.

But then there's Jack Knight, the son of the Golden Age Starman and the best everyman super-hero since Peter Parker. The way I feel about him can pretty much be summed up by one of my favorite quotes from the series: "Superman's 'the Man of Steel.' Batman's 'the Dark Knight.' If I'm not careful, I'm going to be 'Starman: The Guy Who Gets Knocked Out And Tied Up A Lot.'" He doesn't have a big tragic flaw or anything, he's just a regular guy. Occasionally petulant and often wrapped up in his own concerns, but a stand-up guy nonetheless, with a Cosmic Rod and a decent sense of right and wrong.

Which is why, when everyone else is gathering for the Roast Beast down at Supercop Central, Jack's listening to a sob story from a homeless guy dressed as Santa. The guy's crying his eyes out on a park bench over losing a locket with the last picture of his family he has, and there's Starman, feet on the ground, leaning on his Cosmic Rod, rolling his eyes as he realizes that of course he's going to help this guy, because it's Christmas and it's the right thing to do.

It's beautiful.
As was this week in comic quotes! Thanks, folks, for providing me with so many great quotes! See you next week! And have a Merry Christmas!

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Blogger Jim Roeg said...

On the tenth day of Christmas, I Saw Mommy Kissing Jim Roeg...

Wasn't me--I swear! I'm pretty sure it was Chris Sims (whose fine piece on Starman can be found here). Thanks for including me in such fine company, Brian! - Merry Christmas!

12/21/2005 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Eyes like a hawk, that Roeg has!

Picked out the one person I forgot to put up a link to!

Thanks, Jim! It is corrected now!

12/21/2005 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Kurt said...

Thanks once again for the link, Brian.

And Merry Christmas!

12/21/2005 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul Sizer said...

Thanks for the mention! Hope MOPED ARMY was good holiday reading for you! Glad to be included in such awesome company as well...
Take care,
Paul Sizer

1/05/2006 10:41:00 AM  
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