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Stapled Copy – 09/12/2012

Think Tank #2
Matt Hawkins, Rahsan Ekedal
Top Cow

Think Tank has a bold tag line – “Danger: Reading this book will make you smarter.” I really liked the first issue, but was dubious about how that tag line would come into play with the narrative. This issue helps demonstrate that the tag line is, I think, right. This book very well might make you smarter. Not in terms of IQ points, per say, but in terms of awareness. The density of content is surprising, especially for a book whose protagonist just wants to get laid and play video games. While Dr. David Loren contemplates his own role in the death of thousands, it reflects a great reality for scientists to consider their role in global progress after the famous words of Dr. Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. I found myself considering how the recession, the struggle for employment, and the ways in which one bends their morality in order to pay the bills. The realities of war are always awful, and Hawkins ties the idea to someone just wanting to get paid and being happy with their work. The scariest thing about this book is the fact that Hawkins adds supplemental material in the back to help bring a chilling sense of reality to the goofiness of David’s character and the unsettling violence of the weapons and technology presented in Think Tank’s pages. It’s easy to give a pass on the atrocities of war, as we are not reminded of them on a regular basis, but this book balances grim realities with an engaging and identifiable story. I try to not be definitive with these, but more than just “good” or “readable”, this comic has the potential to go on as being a text of importance – particularly as the discourse of drone-based warfare remains muted from public consciousness.

 

Harbinger #4
Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Lewis Larosa, Ian Hannin
Valiant

Harbinger is an intensely disturbing book. Not so much in terms of content, but in the realities of the narrative. This is partially the case due to the book’s ingeniously ambiguous representation of truth. The evil is subtle and disturbing. On one side, you have a rather mysterious mega-corporation with seemingly good public intentions who are secretly collecting an army of super-powered people for unknown reason. We learn in this issue the lengths in which these people are collected – preying on and seducing the naive, unconfident, and even delusional young people with latent powers and exploiting their desire to be special. On the other hand, we have a creepy jerk teenager with complex personal trauma and rage issues. Peter is slowly catching on the weirdness of the corporation…but is it weirdness or paranoia? Are our fears founded, or are we as readers simply reading the intentions of the Harada Corporation through the authority issues of the protagonist? The story is complex. The conflict is subtle, but remarkably intense and makes for an absolutely thrilling read.

 

Hawkeye #2
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel


Hawkeye and Clint Barton represent a stark duality of Apollonian (archer metaphor unintended) and Dionysian dualities. The premise of the comic revolves around what Hawkeye’s life is like when he’s not directly working for the Avengers – the off hours, so to speak. Somewhat mild mannered, and the new owner of the iconic #pizzadog, Clint continues to be a hero, even when he doesn’t “have” to be. But, this emphasizes the somewhat absurd opening sentence to this review – Clint straddles the worlds of the perfect-god-hero (Official, card-carrying Avenger) and the self-made, moral, fragile, human being hero. The motives of the story translate further to the aesthetic. While the heavy use of panels creates a frantic sense of action to the story, noticeably the use of color is lacking. Perhaps consisting no more than 3-5 colors, Clint is humanized in contrast to the bright and infinite superhero spectrum.

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Stapled Copy – 08/21/2012

Harbinger #3
Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Lewis Larosa, Ian Hannin
Valiant


Every Valiant series is worth reading. Period. Harbinger  is not only my favorite of them, but also perhaps my favorite series out currently. Perhaps because Peter Stanchek is a weird little shit like I was. Peter is a creepy, angry teenager whose childhood has lingering trauma that have deep emotional hooks. While everything new in his life is shiny and perfect, he rightfully is dubious of the intent of the most profitable corporation on the planet, noting that he and his new peers are an “army in training for a corporation.” At the heart of this book is a nature vs. nurture debate – will fate or experience overcome Peter? While a company is hoping they can change fate, they seem oblivious to the fact that they are pacifying the human condition. While thinking they know what is best for an individual or society, few take the time to actually listen to a person or understand their individual situation.

 

Captain Marvel #2
Kelly Sue Deconnick, Dexter Soy
Marvel


Continuing to breach the canon of Marvel, issue 2 of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel further establishes the idea that women have been a prominent and important part of not just Marvel’s history, but the history of human culture within the world of Marvel. In this instance, particularly in war. While the Howling Commandos are the de facto military squad for a Marvel book, Captain Marvel asserts that, yes, there were women at war was well. And smartly so. If the Commandos are in Europe battling the evils of the Axis, who is at the Pacific Rim? This book isn’t about replacing male characters, or women proving themselves as heroes, but demonstrating that they always already have, but without the recognition and acknowledgment that men received from history. I’m thrilled that Marvel and Kelly Sue care so much about the culture and history of the world within Marvel’s pages.

 

Bloodshot #2
Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia, Arturo Lozzi, Matt Ryan
Valiant

One thing in particular that I find rather smart about Bloodshot is the way it shifts art styles to deal with conflicting identities and diegetic realities of our silver-skinned hero in question – perhaps most-so because of how the actual reality of the book is the most improbable for both the hero and the reader to comprehend. Therefore, the reader, much like Bloodshot, must try to make sense of the world we are slowing learning about. Bloodshot puts his mind and body through horrors in order to assemble an concept of truth to his humanity – the interesting part of this series is that while the truth may be difficult for him to discover, there may not be one at all. So, while there is great military-industrial-complex action, there is also great mystery and debate. A smart action book.

Victories #1
Michael Avon Oeming
Dark Horse


Early on in Geoffrey Harpham’s Shadow of Ethics, he discusses literature in association with “place” by stating that, “there will very likely be a sense of moving stillness at the core, a ‘place,’…that animates and grounds the imagination itself…[and] take narrative form.” While this idea is easily applicable to the great cities of DC Comics, the moving stillness takes a firm hold in Victories. The dark skyline of dimming infrastructure hint at a political climate. The affluent in a carriage ride through a park hint at struggles of class. The delapitated apartment complex hints at the instability of the protagonist. All of these come together to form a structure of what promises to be an interesting and dark story from Oeming.

Stapled Copy – 08/15/2012

Hi. this is Tim. I’ve been trying to get myself to write regularly, and have gotten back into buying single comics. So, I will be writing these weekly. These have been comics I have been thinking about for the last month that have inspired this series, so this is a bit of a catch-up post. I’ll hopefully have “this weeks” reviews up and online within the next day or so. My reviews (if you can even call them that) are not about whether I think something is “good”. In essence, this will be more micro-analysis of comics as they come out in single issue form. I will try to not let my opinions or enthusiasm lead my critiques and analysis.

Captain Marvel #1
Kelly Sue DeConnick & Dexter Soy
Marvel

Captain Marvel does several interesting things with its first issue. It analyzes and applies the fluidity of the character’s name/rank to an already-existing Marvel property and by doing so it not only re-launches an old franchise (Captain Marvel), but also revolutionizes another (Ms. Marvel). A previous Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) introduced a sense of mortality to the Marvel universe and an unwavering sense of courage. Captain America rightfully suggests that Ms. Marvel becomes a part of (and take over) the legacy. This issue has several bold things going on. We have a woman character who is not “Woman” or “Girl” or “Ms.” in namesake – a rarity but also a completely obvious and sensical change that has been seemingly staring Marvel in the face for years. Yes, it takes Captain America to help legitimize her, but that is what he does. In doing so, Marvel creates what potentially could have been stuck as a “girl comic” (which is not necessarily bad, but needlessly limiting and somewhat culturally problematic). This comic simply considers their women readership to be an equal, prominent, and important part of their customer base. This isn’t to say that Marvel masculinized Ms. Marvel or that the only legitimate form of superhero comic is that of a “boy book,” but rather it shifts the idea of the gender-essential superhero canon to something that everyone has always already read. Which is true. Both genders have always read superhero comics, so their very being is not inherently more masculine, but was culturally constructed that way. Captain Marvel tries to shift that mindset in many ways. The comic establishes Carol Danvers as an important hero to the world/universe. It lays the groundwork for a history and development of the character, creating a deep relationship between the reader and a character many Marvel readers may have ignored over the years. This history shows us Danvers’s personal hero, an aged pilot named Helen Cobb. A woman hero with a woman hero. A woman superhero with importance to the Marvel canon with a woman hero who has historical and cultural importance to the diegetic Earth. This gives female readers the potential for the same sense of importance to the character as Danvers has for Cobb – a privilege male readers have had for decades.

 

Archer & Armstrong #1
Fred van Lente, Clayton Henry, Matt Millia
Valiant

I have been very impressed with all the Valiant relaunch titles, and the latest #1 had me really tickled. I didn’t read any of the original Valiant books and quite frankly don’t know anything about them. So, each one of these titles has been a rather joyful surprise. What is introduced with this title is a rather absurd yet completely recognizable representation of American Neo-Conservative culture and a rather biting satire at that. The series opens with a flashback – a pre-known humanity culture arguing over whether to turn on a device. A brother vowing its usage and one suggesting more thought. The device is switched on and (seemingly) destroys all life on Earth. Within the first few pages, the series sets up an ideological tone to the comic’s world – Relativism versus Objectivism. Rationality vs. Absolutism. We flash forward to a Biblical Realism amusement park opens the series and we learn of the training of Archer, a perfect image of a blonde hair/blue eyed ubermensch teen. He is set forth on a secret mission to assassinate the source of ultimate evil – who we learn is the whiskey-slugging, broad-chasing, hangover-dodging, poetry-quoting, heavy-hitting, and seemingly immortal Armstrong. To Archer, he represents the sins of Humanity that must be wiped clean of the Earth. But they stumble on a greater conspiracy that will surely cause the boy a great deal of personal conflict. The book’s reality-as-conspiracy theory has a deeply metaphorical representation of how ideology controls and hegemonizes worldviews and lifestyles. I can’t wait to read more.

 

Harvest #1
A.J. Lieberman & Colin Lorimer
Image

Harvest is a bleak book, particularly in aesthetic. Gray, black, murky greens and blues make up the majority of the color scheme, save for the nostalgia of flashbacks and the viscera of human gore that scatters the pages. A deadbeat playboy surgeon is disbarred and is forced to participate in illegal, underground operations – both to save the unlawful and to generate huge profits from organ harvesting. Deeply tied to America’s current economic crisis, the book shows the desperation of uncertainty and the flexibility of morality – both in the gluttonous over-abundance money and in its horrifying lack.

 

Think Tank #1
Matt Hawkins, Rahsan Ekedal
Top Cow

There is some interesting stuff going on in Think Tank. Dr. David Loren, young genius, works in research and development for future weapons and technology for the American military. David is famous in the department for creating the technology necessary to make drones a functional and effective tool/weapon/force for the military. Faced with the weight of his inventions – arm-chair killings, the overly-easy justification for military force (ie: person-less battle – zero casualty, zero risk, so why not?), domestic surveillance state, etc.., David reverts to transgression as protest. That is, until the military threatens to ruin his life and the life of the only person close enough to him to be considered a friend. The premise is interesting – a person morally objecting to his own work and creations is forced to continue to invent future technology and future violence. His subversion is comical (using military tech to get laid) – but the story is establishing itself to be more. The fact that the comic is presenting a reality of drone-based warfare serves both as education for the readers and as well as possible protest by the creator. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Grant Morrison: Super Gods (and mostly my thesis…)

Grant Morrison’s new book Super Gods is coming out in a few weeks. I realized that I had not yet posted my Master’s thesis on this site dedicated to the work of Morrison. It was a long process, but it is something I’m rather proud of. I’m particularly excited to read this book (send me an advanced copy to review, please…) in order to see how Morrison’s own view reflect the conclusions I drew from his work. Morrison is always most convincing when he speaks for himself, though.

So, here goes.

Superheroes and Shamanism: Magic and Participation in the Comics of Grant Morrison

Comic creator Grant Morrison is an adamant practitioner of magic, and in particular, the creation of sigils. A sigil is the infusion of abstract symbols with the goal to make manifest the creator’s particular desire. This thesis will discuss how Grant Morrison infuses his writing with his particular beliefs in an attempt to bridge the gap between fictional stories and reality. Morrison openly discusses the shamanic events in his life and writes about superheroes undertaking similar metaphysical journeys. As Morrison’s magic and the medium of comics allow the reader to become more easily “lost” within a fictional world, the relationship of fiction and the reader becomes increasingly malleable. This relationship of fiction and reality may seem abstract, but the comics support the connection by including the concept of textualization – where the reader associates himself or herself with the protagonist, becoming part of the narrative. The post-structural nature of Morrison’s work allows for a unique relationship between the author, diegetic worlds and readers. The stories become participatory events, engaging the reader and the comic community. Readers participate with his texts on extremely personal and intricate levels, and through their group analysis, they discover new interpretations and secrets within the comic panels. The purpose of Morrison’s comics develops as his relationship with magic grows. Readers experience his early experimentations with creating magical narratives and see them change to constructed fictional world for readers to journey into, where they are able to take on the heroic qualities of Superman.

http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=bgsu1302288940  Download it here.

The Shadows of Superheroes

Super Genre: 10 Things Superhero Comics Do Better Than Any Other Genre in Any Other Storytelling Form

I love when this argument comes up because I do a lot of work with comics, and work exclusively in superhero comics. There is a tragic hierarchy in representation and importance, not just in terms of the tired argument of “comics as art” that, as scholars, we somehow feel we need to keep reminding ourselves of this. However, there is a sad reality that indie comics (as a loose classification) tend to get more academic/critical attention and are generally seen as more important than superhero comics. Comic researches don’t really let this get in the way (as, on an individual level we just work with what we like or are interested in anyway), but I’ve seen too many Call-For-Papers and journals that have language that asserts this system of power over superhero comics.

Here is an example: The Graphic Novel In Global Context – I don’t want to fault this conference or any of the people involved, but I’m going to air my beef about this with them as an example. First of all, “graphic novel” is a term I hate and I think is problematic in terms of privilege and power over select texts in the medium. It also serves as a way to automatically disassociate these privileged texts from superhero comics. Superhero comics are a storytelling form that comes out weekly in single issues and as a continuing, “incomplete” narrative. Some superhero comics don’t fit into a graphic novel form, single issue stories or giant collections over multiple books. It also tends to hold power over newer stories versus older ones. Some superhero comics fit in the world of “graphic novels” and the term can be easily swapped for “trade paper backs” in most contexts, but it excludes the idea that a story being published in single-issue form, and thus excludes contemporary texts.

The previously linked to Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics places graphic novels first in their name, even though it is a newer term, problematic, the field is mostly referred to as “Comic Studies”, and isn’t smoothly alphabetical. Though, I’m sure they had their reasons…

Names begin to be associated with this more high-culture form of comic, and scholarship gets stuck focusing on the acceptable author and acceptable graphic novel. If it isn’t Alan Moore and Frank Miller it is Art Spiegelman or Marjane Satrapi. Not that these creators aren’t deserving, but it hurts the field as a whole if we can’t escape talking about them. Especially when the four listed creators don’t produce much work, and others bust their asses on consistent and multiple monthly deadlines. It’d add more validity to the medium if it were okay to discuss more than 4 people. I know these conferences are never limited in that capacity, but it might also encourage scholars to actually look at other texts outside of the canon as well.

DC and Marvel superhero stories exist in the Dreamtime of their continuity. Alan Moore has specialized in elegant depictions of storybook characters growing old or disillusioned and having lots of sex with one another, but to insist that Batman or Spider-Man should be subject to the same rules of change that apply to living, breathing people without acknowledging the obvious reasons why they are not seems a willful misunderstanding of the basic nature of this material.”

I can think of numerous innovative and generally superlative superhero comics that have been published since then, never mind all of the great sci-fi, horror and non-genre books. Most of them owe nothing to the style, themes or so-called ‘bad mood’ that drove Watchmen. Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s Enigma, for instance, is a story about a Dr Manhattan-level superhuman in the ‘real world’ which is sexy and playful and operates on every level at several notches sophistication and maturity above Watchmen. I’d say the same about Rogan Gosh by Milligan and Brendan McCarthy. Sandman surely has some merit. I’ll throw in my own Flex Mentallo or All Star Superman as two examples of intelligent, non-Watchmen-influenced superhero stories.

– Grant Morrison in Comic Heroes Magazine

Essentially, I guess, I need to, in the words of my buddy Nick Ware, “write a critique of the academic framing of “the graphic novel” which mirrors the literary framing of “the novel” and use the populist culture theory (Ray!) to tell them they’re doin’ it wrong.” I will probably get around to it someday, but someone will most likely beat me to it and do it better than I could.

So, I like all 10 of Marc-Oliver’s points, and I’m glad that superhero comics aren’t presented as “adolescent male fantasies” – which I think is a pretty worthless point to attribute to the medium. Though, I think his argument can be expanded. In doing so, I’m going to call upon my old friend (not really) Geoffrey Galt Harpham and his book, Shadow of Ethics. I put comics under the umbrella term of literature, as sort of a mega-medium, and Harpham states that one should, “assert the claims of literature as a way of understanding human life that is superior to that of philosophy.” I love this idea, and I think it works well for superhero comics, not in a way that is better than literature, but as a part of it. I need to do some work with this also.

Crossed – A note.

First of all, I’ll very openly admit a problem with this blog post. I’ve not read the entire Crossed series, or any of the Crossed: Family Values. So, this may prove problematic with what I’m going to be discussing, but I have a firm grasp on the body of Garth Ennis’s work, and have read most of the initial series.

Every now and again I have the pleasure of discussing comics with a colleague of mine, a PhD student in a different department on my campus, and inevitably our discussions always come back to the work of Garth Ennis. Now, perhaps this is because we are both big fans of his work, or perhaps it is because when it comes to the work of Garth Ennis, there is always a lot to say. Even more so to this point, we both agree that many people “get him wrong” when discussing his work. It is always a delightful joy when I see people “get it,” one of which that comes to mind is how The Boys was nominated for a GLAAD award. Reading that particular series with a less than critical eye, this may come to a huge surprise, but again, they get it. Ennis is easily misinterpreted, and that is why reading his comics is damn fun.

Perhaps this post is the result of reading the blog Bleeding Cool, but they have been doing a great job at keeping me up to date in regard to comic writing. This is something I need to be more active in, since I consider this to be my area of focus. Regardless of reason, this first post on my oft-forgotten blog can be blamed on the fact that Bleeding Cool is forcing me to pay attention, and that they have, in a sense, stepped up the game of comic writing. So, to strive even further off topic from the title of this post, I’d like to quote Jesse Thorn, “the remarkable has always had some advantages over say, the dependable, but internet communication changes the equation dramatically, [source]” and hope I can embody that mantra with the continued efforts of this blog.

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