Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Comic Quotes Should Be Good for the 12/7 Comic Week

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!

Let's begin!

The Savage Sword of David Welsh cuts a gash through Kikuo Johnson's Night Fisher,
R. Kikuo Johnson’s Night Fisher (Fantagraphics) is kind of like a piece of jewelry where the setting has been crafted with artistry and imagination, but the stone it surrounds is lackluster. Kikuo Johnson demonstrates considerable skill as an illustrator, but he does so in service of a rather mundane coming-of-age story....The banality of the material gets a lift from its setting, Hawaii. Loren is an import, having moved from the mainland as a child. Bits of culture, environment, and history are woven into the narrative. But Kikuo Johnson takes a restrained approach, never letting details overwhelm his story. It’s a backdrop, and an effective one, but Night Fisher isn’t a travelogue....I just wish the story, the stone of this piece of jewelry, showed the same depth of imagination and craft as the way it’s told. Ultimately, the impression for me is that Night Fisher is an exercise in style. While it’s an impressive exercise, I can’t help but wonder what kind of breathtaking heights Kikuo Johnson could reach in service of meatier material.
The Invincible David Campbell goes off on a fun little tangent during his review of Incredible Hulk #332 and 333 (the one where ALL the Avengers fight the Hulk),
They say that they may have to kill The Hulk for the sake of the world, but does The Hulk actually ever KILL anybody? No. He operates in a world of Hulk Physics, where no action, no matter how destructive, can kill a human being.

Take Unluckyville. The Hulk tears through the town like a green, button-nosed tornado, seemingly destroying every single standing structure, from Kwik-E Marts to dog houses. Nobody dies, not even stubborn dogs who stayed behind after the evacuation order was given. Captain America even thanks The Lord that there were no serious injuries. Just a couple stubbed toes or something....Good thing every last person left town before The Hulk leveled it!

I know, I know – it’s a frickin’ comic book. And I agree, if the plot followed logic then The Hulk turns into this horrible Godzilla-type monster responsible for the deaths of thousands, and then you have a whole different story that would probably not be as fun to read. But perhaps – and I’m just throwing this out there – that perhaps portraying victimless violence in any medium is not the most intellectually and ethically honest thing to do.

Bear with me here, I’m taking a left turn into Hippyland.

I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t read The Hulk or violent comics, or that comics are just for kids, or that we should censor stuff, or that people with red hair are inherently evil. I am saying that showing violence without consequence is a little weird for me. Like having your cake and eating it, too.

This has always kind of bugged me, even when I was a kid, although I couldn’t articulate it. Remember the G.I. Joe cartoon? For every Cobra jet the Joes shot down, the pilot would always bail out. I hated that! A plane would erupt into a huge fireball, and then – plink! – you’d see a little white chute pop open and the Cobra pilot floats safely to Earth. What about The A-Team? Did they ever actually hit anything? Dirk Benedict would unload a clip of 9mm in a biker bar, just hosing the room down with bullets, and every single biker would dodge for cover. There was something so lame about that to me when I was a kid – did the people who produced those shows think I was stupid?

I’m not saying that G.I. Joe should get all Tarantino – I don’t need to see a gut-shot Duke slowly dying in a tangle of barbed wire. Actually, wait. Yes I do, that would be kind of cool.

What I am saying is that portraying violence without any victims is kind of stupid. You should at least be honest about it – people die when they get shot, or when their cars flip over fifty times, or when big green monsters push over their apartment buildings. Dogs die, too. What about the dogs?

I know, I know, then it wouldn’t be escapist fun. I should just drop it. I read The Hulk when I was a little kid, and I turned out okay. Except for The Rage, of course…
The Mighty Rose provides us with a nice Legion of Superheroes review,
I was discussing this issue with a friend the other day and we came to the same conclusion: for better or for worse, we're enjoying this book despite little to no involvement in the plot. I'm not sure whether that's a statement about us or about Mark Waid or, if it's the latter, whether it's a compliment or an insult...The plot and purpose of the story arc... Waid has been very good about distracting us from the fact that it's pretty pedestrian. Take away Praetor Lemnos's funky power and he's a stock megalomaniac aspiring to universal domination. His army of disaffected youth doesn't have any spin that the Brotherhood of Mutants or the Injustice Society hasn't tried first. The UP government utters such breathtakingly fresh lines as "But the Legion warned us! Why didn't we listen?!". And you know what? It totally doesn't matter...All in all, the Legionnaires worked well together and played off each other without forgetting that they are only a couple of issues away from betrayal and infighting. And so the story worked, even if Elysion and actions and cronies remain largely irrelevant to the enjoyment of the issue.
The Amazing Jog gives us a good way to look at Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #2,
Williams’ approach also seems more in tune with that of Pasqual Ferry, artist for issue #1 - I’d previously noted that Ferry’s talents seemed underutilized in that initial outing, his gifts for pulp-fueled action largely ignored to make way for the mild hallucinogens of Morrison’s cosmic encounters. Now I’m wondering if the script is partially meaning to tease out the cosmic feeling hidden in a real-world milieu; maybe this mode of operation is actually well-suited to that. It’s certainly what I was thinking upon reading both issues #1 and #2 together - I expect you’ll be doing the same, since issue #2 suffers badly on its own, meandering around with seemingly little direction. Only after refreshing yourself with earlier material does Morrison’s intent become clear(er) - the classic Kirby cosmic comics of days gone by are here literally trampled into the concerns of grit, grand forces made into bums and evil installed in real world positions of power. Once again, it neatly follows one of the running the concerns of the Seven Soldiers project as a whole - the transformation of pleasant heroics and grand adventures into dire ‘real world’ difficulties (“And Motherboxxx is just a childhood thing. A toy… somebody made for me.” - see also: the Newsboy Army of Guardian and Zor the evil creator in Zatanna) instead of a more enlightened maturity.
The Uncanny Johanna Draper Carlson sheds light on why Maison Ikkoku is a "comic worth reading,
As the characters grow up, they have more depending on them — kids, dogs, loved ones — and a greater willingness to do what’s right rather than what’s pleasurable. They’re finally able to make significant decisions instead of spinning in holding patterns (helped by the author’s intention to give many of her characters some sort of resolution).

The series’ art style is warm and welcoming, and the simplified cartoony look doesn’t skimp on emotion. It’s open and easy-to-read, a classic approach with exaggerated motions to carry the comedy. The setting is attractive, providing glimpses of a different world with more traditional expectations.

As the series continues, new characters continue to be introduced. They help keep the stories fresh and distract the reader from wondering how many more ways Godai and Kyoko can be kept apart when they’re so obviously right for each other. The youngsters also demonstrate through contrast how the others are growing up over the course of the stories.

There’s a playfulness with the comic page that keeps the mood light. In book eight, for example, an image that looks like a flashback has the punchline, in a later panel, of the pictured characters actually being present to hear what’s being thought about them. The format jokes and allusions to other manga styles support classic farcical plot elements like conversations based on conflicting interpretations.

Interesting bits of Japanese culture are included, like noodle shops and the importance of the college entrance exam. I get the sense that some of these chapters are simply excuses to work in a trend or cultural touchpoint (similar to the way Archie comics often write stories about fads). That doesn’t matter, though, since the characters remain true to themselves and different situations provide entertaining insight. The underlying behavior is universal, demonstrating the need for courage in romance.
The Incredible Kevin Church gives us a short, but well-worded, review of Optic Nerve #10,
Optic Nerve #10 finally arrived in my box. While I may question the need to actually talk about myths and truths concerning the size of the Average Asian Male Member, this is Tomine doing what he does best - exploring the uncomfortable realities of day-to-day life. His art is, as always, clean and he consistently makes sure that even banal conversations are punchy without having to show off any tricks. Of note: a detailed synopsis of the first issue of the current three-part series (this is the second, of course) appears on the inside cover, making it so that people who just keep hearing that Optic Nerve is like, ohmigod, awesome from the popular press can pick up this issue and hit the ground running.
The Astonishing H gives us the lowdown on how women fared in the Brave & The Bold during 1969,
Finally, no look at the Brave & Bold is complete without our look into Haney’s (mis)treatment of women. How do females fare in 1969? Pretty darn well, especially considering the Wonder Woman/Batgirl issue is only one year in Haney’s rear view mirror. In Brave & Bold 82, there are 2 female characters with big roles. The first is Honor, who had been dating Bruce Wayne, but wises up when he falls for the femme fatale, Ailsa. Honor ditches Bruce without a single regret and resolves to lead a more productive life, starting with her impersonation of Mera to help Aquaman snap out of his stupor. Of course, one could dig deeper and conclude by having a stranger dress up as another man’s wife, Haney’s trying to tell the reader the only way to liven up a marriage is to have other hotties dress up as your wife. But he’s not really trying to say that. Or at least I think he isn’t. And if he is, that kind of analysis is beyond me.

The other female in Brave & Bold 82 is the villainous Ailsa, who is the toughest character in the story. She physically takes Batman down, she becomes the only non-mother figure I’ve ever known Ocean Master to be drawn to and she rejects any notion that she was acting under the influence of a stronger male figure. In the end, Ailsa rejects a proposal of leniency and asserts that her criminal actions were her own doing and that she was an equal to, not a servant of Ocean Master. Well done Haney.

Wonder Girl was the only female character of note in Brave & Bold 83 and she was only a background character in a story about Batman, Robin and Lance Bruner. But this wasn’t a slight to women. The other Teen Titans, Kid Flash and Speedy, also had only minor roles.
X-Treme Chris Tamarri gives a hard look at a project that I have been meaning to review, Sean Murphy's Off Road (and Chris examines something that struck me as notable, as well),
One of the story's most appealing elements is the way it portrays the relationship between its three protagonists. Trent is an art school guy immersed in all the trappings of artifice, the bandana over greasy hair, the three-day beard, the too-skinny jeans. Greg is a polo-shirted proto investment banker type who's looking for a good time, all too willing to put it on Pop's credit if it doesn't come fast enough. And Brad's a bruiser who holds his cards a little too close to his vest and doesn't care that his reserve comes off as standoffishness. But, refreshingly, this story's not about how the pursuits of adulthood can erase the connections of childhood. It's about how those pursuits are secondary to those connections, the more things change… and all that jazz. If the relationship between these guys seems true despite initial unlikelihood, well, that's because it is, literally, true.

In the back of the book there's a photograph of Sean sandwiched between two obviously dear friends named, um, Brad and Greg. That Off Road is not only based on a true story but is pretty much straight autobiography (the curious name change from author to main character notwithstanding) doesn't seem like it should be much in the way of literary revelation, but it nevertheless cast the story in a new light, for me, at least. I mentioned that throughout, I was stymied trying to find the story's purpose. The ultimate solution was a subtle one, realized by looking for illumination not through Trent but through Sean (maybe that's whyfore the name change…).

It sounds silly, perhaps as though I'm looking for connections where none are necessary, but understanding the author's investment in the story, not (just) as an act of creation but as one of real-life reportage, gave it a weight that I thought was it was lacking without. After I reached that ephemeral denouement, I turned around and read Off Road again, not as Trent's story, but as Sean's. Where before observations about the nature of relationships were theoretical and untethered, now they became anchored by the connections of reality. When Trent mentions, in off-handed caption, that he "saw what [he] was, and it wasn't much," and that "nothing [he] did could hide that" (while the illustration focuses on Trent's self-consciously trendy studded bracelet and black nail polish), there's more pathos there considering that this moment of self-examination isn't enforced on the character by way of an omniscent author, but is rather the product of honest self-examination.
The Spectacular Mark Fossen provided us with a great take on Demo, epitomized in this closing,
"Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi (My Last Night With You)", the twelfth and concluding issue of Demo is an almost-perfect microcosm of the series: heartfelt writing about the climactic moments of youth that is at times too-clever and too-cute by half, but that manages to escape preciousness through Wood's honesty and vulnerability and Cloonan's utterly inspired art. Wood wears his heart on his sleeve throughout the collection, but nowhere moreso than in this poem that is unafraid to be openly romantic and artistic. It's that fearlessness that makes the series work as he hops from style to style and story to story, and Becky Cloonan keeps up with him step for step - when she's not outpacing him. The final page (reproduced on the back cover) arrested me with it's precise ambiguity. Maybe it resonates so strongly with me because it reminds me of my favorite artwork from the 80's: Robert Longo's "Men In The Cities", which took a look at yuppie culture and never decided if they were dancing or dying. 20 years later, we have an equally ambiguous picture of young New Yorkers who are leaving the city - but are they flying or falling? It's that kind of poetry of image, that wonderful feeling of magic made real that sums up the series.
The Web of Jason Fliegel talks to us about Wanted and pastiches,
So I recently read Wanted by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. It got me thinking about pastiches...

I found Wanted to be decent, but not great, and possibly not even good. To the extent it works, it works solely as a pastiche. Millar conceived of the series as a revamp of Secret Society of Supervillains, and it shows. Thus, while it doesn't exactly take an encyclopedic knowledge of DC Comics to recognize most of the characters, the fun of the series (for me, anyway), was going "Aha! That one's Deadshot, there's Clayface, that's Catwoman." I still can't figure out who the Future was supposed to be, though (I nominate Captain Nazi).

Anyway, by the time I got to the end of the story, I realized that playing "guess the character" was the only level on which the story really worked for me. The way I could tell was because I imagined how the story would read if Millar had actually used the DC villains. Then I thought about how the story would read if Millar had made up his own characters. I realized I wouldn't be particularly interested in reading either of those stories. But boy, did I have fun trying to match one-panel characters with their DC counterparts.
That's it for this week! Thanks for giving me so much to work with, folks!

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Anonymous daniel apodaca said...

Good stuff. I think that David Campbell makes an excellent point about violence without victims. I also think that that's one of the things which really made the Ultimates arc where Hulk rampaged have such impact. Granted, it was a 9/11 allegory, but it also finally presented the Hulk as ythe menace we've been hearing he was for so long now.

12/14/2005 02:09:00 PM  

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