Basically, We’re Screwed (But Damn, We Got Some Great Movies)

2012 was not a good year. By all accounts, 2013 was not any better. All the usual politics hyped up to catastrophic levels for anyone who works/cannot work for a living (government shutdowns, furloughs, the push to cut more from assistance programs, that sort of thing), more war, more shootings (and more shootings of unarmed kids by supposed adults), Barack Obama pushing hard to finally meet his goal of being exactly like Ronald Reagan, basically the entire Republican party dropping even the most cursory pretense of concern for actual people from their platforms, Detroit being forced into bankruptcy by Michigan’s Governor Snyder and his corporate toady Kevyn Orr (to the obvious catcalls of Americans oblivious of the same misfortunes brewing in their own backyard)–an ongoing story which resembles less an attempt to fix the broken structure of one of America’s greatest cities and more like a bunch of mobsters trying to dump a body after putting a bullet in its head. People in other countries dying because of shoddy work conditions, which pundits who advertise themselves as right or left seem to agree is okay, because, hey, slightly-less-expensive jeans, yo. People dying in this country because of shoddy work conditions, which pundits just seem to be unaware is a thing, still. Comics and video game nerds competing over who can have the worst attitudes towards women/blacks/gays//etc, only to be beaten at the last minute by Duck Dynasty fans. Which is embarrassing, really. It’s a fakey-fake-fake reality show about some fakey-fake-fake millionaires pretending to be good ol’ boys (why, they worship Jesus and have tacky, matching camouflage outfits!), whose only goal is to sell their cheapo merchandise to white people who complain about how their rights are oppressed by gay people–with their “not wanting to be beaten to death in the street simply for being grown, consenting adults fucking other grown, consenting adults of the same gender” agenda–all while snuggling up to T-shirts made by people in countries who actually are being oppressed (Brand synergy, motherfuckers!).

I mean, seriously: Duck Dynasty? That’s what Americans will be moved to stand with?

Anyway, enough of that shit. Here’s the entertainment I consumed and felt best defined 2013:

Pain & Gain: Back when it came out, I tried writing an essay about Michael Bay’s black-hearted comedy (had the title “The Grossest, Most Beautiful People” in mind), but never got around to finishing it. This was an absolute surprise, a Coen Brothers movie on testosterone and aimed at cutthroat capitalism–represented by an intense Mark Wahlberg as Danny Lugo (the leader of the real-life Sun Gym Gang) and a caustic Tony Shaloub as a sandwich shop magnate Lugo kidnaps and extorts. The way Lugo and his buddies (Anthony Mackie and scene-stealer Dwayne Johnson, as a cokehead/ex-con/born-again Christian) are seduced and corrupted by the American Dream, the way they leave people dead and broken (Johnson, as the closest the group has to a conscience, has sympathy for the victims), the way they indulge in every gaudy, lurid fantasy Bay ever committed to celluloid, and the way their situation spirals out of control is perfectly nasty, hilariously disgusting, and smartly cutting. The ease with which Lugo gets around tepid regulations of bank practices (bribing his boss, a notary, into falsely approving a transfer of assets) turns the mid-90s crimes upon which the movie is based into a perfect metaphor for the housing market collapse (doing for that crisis what The Dark Knight did for the War on Terror). If Michael Bay’s career as a Bruckheimer hack was the plot of a film, this was the third act twist. The pulling back of the curtain to reveal Bay as a much smarter director than anyone (myself included) ever gave him credit for. Transformers 4 could be the worst piece of shit on the planet, Pain & Gain still justifies its existence.

Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us: Voice actor Troy Baker’s year was defined by one theme: emotionally scarred, cynical men escorting teen girls through a sci-fi nightmare (in both, the girls are, for the most part, only vulnerable to the psychological wounds the game inflicts). The Last of Us was standard zombie apocalypse fare, with Baker’s Joel escorting foul-mouthed Ellie (Ashley Johnson) across America. Gameplay was divided between genuinely tense stealth moments (where scrounging for supplies was dangerous, yet could pay off in a tight spot) and the same cover-shooting and Quick Time Event action setpieces which defined Naughty Dog’s one-dimensional Uncharted games, but also took the time to marvel at the elegant mix of beauty and horror in nature reclaiming civilization. Joel and Ellie bonding, becoming co-dependent (she a surrogate for the daughter he lost years ago), makes up for the script’s lame attempts at deconstruction (only once does Joel kill someone who is neither threat to him or Ellie, and only after the game goes out of its way in the third act to tell us he’s a crazy, murderous psychopath).
Bioshock Infinite, however, was the more complete experience: its entire world, the floating city of Colombia, defined by violence and oppression. The bourgeois class, led by Comstock (Kiff VandenHeuvel), enjoys so much leisure they refer to their metropolis as “Heaven, or the closest you’ll get in this life,” but rest on the broken backs of slave labor (a cross-section of early 20th century black and immigrant communities) who routinely get mangled by unsafe work conditions, if not killed for sport. This inspires justified revolution (The Last of Us‘ Fireflies didn’t have real motivation…they were a plot device), except it goes so far as to murder children. Baker’s character, thug-for-hire Booker DeWitt, only adds to the chaos, with motivations for extracting teen psychic Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper) more personal than he realizes. Redemption and baptism figure prominently in the narrative, with Booker trying to “wipe away the debt” even as more and more blood gets on his hands. Pundits mistook this critique in a first person shooter as ludonarrative dissonance, forgetting that any story about the effects of violence has to have violence. Those sprinkled moments of quiet throughout the first half–Booker and Elizabeth wandering Colombia, or when they hide out in a bar for awhile, performing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”–are about these two finding some grace, but it always exists in a fragile bubble amidst carnage they leave in their wake. Ken Levine and his Irrational team chase these themes down a rabbit hole of alternate universes and time travel, until we get to one, single conclusion: the damage we do can’t be fixed by simply repenting.

The Long Journey: Boulet’s infinite canvas webcomic doesn’t just capture modern frustration. With a story which only builds, and never really ends, as his avatar goes beyond humdrum reality to backpack across surrealist landscapes, he finds beauty in expressing that frustration. Boulet wishes to escape the world, yet keeps coming back to incidents and images he sees everywhere (graffiti being the most prominent). What he finds is the need for connection, with himself, with people, with life. The nuances within the monotony of existence, which keep us going when all is dark and the end is never in sight. Boulet finds out he can go on a little more.

Horror movies: The genre had a minor comeback this year with three movies. First was the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be Evil Dead remake/sequel/thing, a vicious allegory about the plight of addicts. Fede Alvarez borrows superficially from Sam Raimi’s original movie (the isolated cabin, Book of the Dead, possession, girl being raped by tree) but fixates on the self-mutilation the Deadites force upon their hapless victims (two lose their hands, one as a morbidly funny bit of misdirection), calling to mind the amputation of Jared Leto’s arm in Requiem for a Dream. In a worse year, this would’ve easily been the best horror flick, but it was just warm-up: after this came Rob Zombie’s American giallo Lords of Salem, contemplative in the ways all his previous movies were (about violence, sexuality, drug use, music, and Americana) but with a much more assured hand. The big winner, though, is You’re Next, a movie as much a window into the fucked-up dynamics of an upper-class family (as seen through the eyes of Sharni Vinson, playing the fiance of A.J. Bowen’s meek middle brother) as it is the latest in the new wave of home invasion thrillers. Adam Wingard neatly divides the movie into halves, allowing the relationships between the siblings (especially Bowen’s antagonism towards his cocksure, passive-aggressive older brother) to be the core around which the movie revolves. In a way, their bourgeois affectations expose the rottenness of most Hollywood dramas and mumblecore (both about the troubles of pretty, rich, white people), while Vinson gets to portray the working-class, can-do attitude of a John Carpenter anti-hero. I cheered for this.

Arrested Development Season 4: I’m really not sure what people were griping about. Instead of wasting the new opportunity provided by Netflix cruising on fan-service, Mitchell Hurwitz and crew took Arrested Development in a bolder, meaner direction. Splitting apart the Bluths, embroiling them in schemes which became increasingly sad and pathetic extensions of their own isolated misery (George’s loss of masculinity and Maeby still going to high school), and even more explicitly attacking the American political system (Terry Crews is better at being Herman Cain than Cain is), this was exactly what the show needed to be.

Star Trek Into Darkness: Just kidding, this sucked.

XCOM: Enemy Within: It’s not often a game’s expansion pack adds thematic depth as well as content. Opening with a new, foreshadowing quote from Buckminster Fuller–replacing the too-common Arthur C. Clarke one of Enemy Unknown–the Firaxis team fills out the premise of sacrificing humanity to achieve victory with a slew of upgrades in addition to the neat tech and psychic powers: genetically modify your troops, giving them secondary hearts or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or cut them up and turn them into cybernetic MEC Troopers (complete with an international crew of voice actors impersonating Peter Weller), players are presented with choices as existentially horrific as they are really fucking cool. A new human faction, EXALT, gives one pause when realizing how closely they mirror XCOM itself (scientist Dr. Valen hypocritically remarks about how little responsibility they show with their genetic tampering), even as their allegiance leans towards the alien invaders.

Pretty Deadly: 2013 comics were a sorry state of affairs. The mainstream littered with the jack-off fantasies of bald(ing) white men–the Brian Bendis-written non-event Age of Ultron springs to mind–and giant corporations flooding the market with crossover tie-ins, accelerated release schedules, and tightly-managed-yet-poorly-edited “content.” Even good superhero comics–Fraction/Aja Hawkeye, Gillen/McKelvie Young Avengers, Nocenti/Sandoval Catwoman, Dial H,–couldn’t maintain momentum under those circumstances. The bigger creator-owned publishers (Dark Horse, Image, IDW) didn’t fare much better, with TV pitch-comics and fake-liberal Brian Wood on Star Wars being the norm. The small guys were off doing their own thing (most of which I’d have to tread the murky realm of buying online, and I’d rather not because I’m a total Luddite when it comes to Amazon and PayPal). There was plenty of good and even great work, but almost all of it was continuations from previous years (honorable mentions: Prophet, Fatale, The End of the Fucking World, Rachel Rising).
Then this happened: a magical realist Western created by the invaluable Emma Rios and the respectable Kelly Sue DeConnick. Deploying manga tricks and the surrealist touches of Sam Kieth’s The Maxx or Todd McFarlane’s Spawn (minus the latter’s high-school philosophizing), the duo turned out three virtuosic issues transferring song and good old fashion myth into the tale of a blind gunslinger, the Native American girl he cares for, and the death which chases them. Prodding, divisive, and experimental, this was the rare comic worth arguing about. And it’s a comic worth reading more of.

Music: There was plenty of great music this year. Neko Case had a new album. I saw Murder by Death in both Detroit (at the Magic Stick) and Chicago (at Reggie’s Rock Club). There were some other songs and albums which caught my attention, but my opinions on music aren’t as strong as with other things. But still: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Such a great album.

The World’s End: So much to say about Edgar Wright’s final Blood and Ice Cream movie. About how great Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are (here having completely switched roles), how smart and crisp the dialogue and imagery is (“There’s nothing between us!” goes down as my biggest laugh of the year, followed only by a line from Inside Llewyn Davis), and how the fight scenes are coherent and inventive. It’s also about getting old, trying too hard to cling to youth, and watching gentrification creep up and claim everything unique and interesting in the name of mediocrity and propriety. As funny and cool as it is, it’s about as biting as satire gets.

Nemo: Heart of Ice: A small, unassuming entry in  Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, revolving around a failed Antarctic expedition. It was Moore/O’Neill’s racist/hyper-capitalist interpretation of pulp character Tom Swift, a thorough condemnation of science fiction’s often gleeful championing of imperialism, which drew the most attention. It’s also Moore and O’Neill addressing the legacy of Victorian fiction (Janni attempting to conquer what her father, Captain Nemo, could not: Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness), its decline (Swift’s partners are fading, English predecessors), and the way literature corresponds with its respective empire. Before Watchmen never had a hope for being this good.

Inside Llewyn Davis: I could talk all about how the Coens articulate grief, the way Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a failure at everything but music, and callbacks to O Brother, Where Art Thou? Especially gripping were the scenes where Llewyn is presented with an opportunity to do something noble or decent, but passes it up because he’s just pent-up and confused and angry and desperate. Basically, the only closure he gets is a modicum of comfort over the tragic suicide of his musical partner, even if he will never get over it. And all of that is wonderful, touching, and resonated with me on a personal level, but I really included this as an opportunity to type these words: “WHERE IS ITS SCROTUM!?”

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard 2: David Petersen’s small publishing hit churned out another round of anthologies. All of varying quality (the best was Christian Slade’s “The Love of the Sea”), but each a celebration of storytelling and art, from its roots in oral tradition to modern publishing for the masses. Utterly charming.

Drug War: An allegory for Hong Kong/Chinese relations, Johnnie To’s first mainland action movie found humanity within the inhumane systems of crime syndicates, Chinese communism, and the global War on Drugs. Everyone here is a person–the cops have each other’s back for gas money, the crooks pay true respect to their dead friends by burning their profits, delivering 2013’s single greatest scene–which makes it all the harder to watch when the bullets fly and bodies drop. To effortlessly displays the ways even decent people, whether they have a badge or cook meth, fall prey to systems designed purely to steamroll over them.

Happy 2014.

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On a Pale Horse

Right to business:

Pretty Deadly #1
Art by Emma Rios
Writing by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Published by Image

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In its own way, Pretty Deadly gets Image Comics back to what got the publisher going in the first place: stylish, trend-bucking/setting artwork. On an objective scale, Rios shows stronger grasp of anatomy than the likes of Robert Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Erik Larsen (her women, especially, are proportionally figured), and she has more variety of faces and bodies than the gritted-teeth muscle artwork of 90s ‘extreme’ comics would ever accomplish. Yet, looking over its pages, Rios doesn’t really belong in the current crop of Image drawers–the formalism of Fatale‘s Sean Phillips or Velvet‘s Steve Epting, the sight-gag cartooning of Chew‘s Rob Guillory, and especially not the digital Impressionist landscapes of Saga‘s Fiona Staples. Those artists all tend towards minimalism or house style realism en vogue with mainstream publishers. Rios, on the other hand, is detailed without aping photographs, gritty without leaning heavily on inks to mire everything in cross-hatched shade (Jordie Bellaire’s harsh, violet/pink-hued coloring does wonders here). She deploys fragmented, aspect-to-aspect and moment-to-moment transitions (such as when Native American performer Sissy is accosted by an outlaw) which recall the lineage of Goseki Kojima to Frank Miller to Todd McFarlane: especially gripping in a shootout between blind gunslinger Foxy and a taunting posse. Rios cuts away to an anthropomorphized lizard in inset panels, seemingly tied to the blind man’s ability to shoot. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script is filled with these magical realist touches–narration is given by a butterfly and a dead bunny, while Sissy and Foxy are introduced singing a song which summons Ginny–and in the best of that genre’s traditions, avoids explaining the supernatural in favor of inferring it. McFarlane’s inability to do this proved the downfall of his supernatural horror/superhero hybrid Spawn, but the Rios/DeConnick duo manage to improve upon it (with Ginny serving as a Western ancestor to hellspawn anti-heroes). Rios picks up where McFarlane left off: fever dream layouts and extreme closeups giving off a spooky vibe. When Sissy is posed behind a tearful child during her performance of the Deathface Ginny song, it has the same menace of the grim ‘n gritty era, yet not bound to its more reactionary elements. The Image Revolution comes full circle, renewed.

Dry County Chapter 12
Art and Writing by Rich Tommaso
Published by Study Group

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The latest serialized pages of what’s reading like “Noir for Nice Guys.” Tommaso up to this point has checked off the list for alt comix stereotypes: a self-pitying protagonist who finds everything vapid, the One Girl he truly loves (but ends up talking down to), judgmental narration (which includes the occasional bit of self-deprecation to assure readers the main character’s not possessing a superiority complex), all drawn in newspaper strip fashion (dots for eyes, sausage fingers, etc.; Tomasso’s use of pink adds the feel of Miami heat to what’s otherwise a drab black & white color scheme). Also, the lead character is a barely-read newspaper strip artist, for we cannot overlook a single cliche. The newest entry opens with the exciting news wet-blanket Lou has finished a comic strip and a film review before going out on a nightly search for his kidnapped love, ends with a cliffhanger revelation of a bunch of 18-year old girls partying, and everything else is Lou’s friend explaining how he found out about this. Even in context, it reads like one of Jonathan Hickman’s sci-fi comics, leaving out a complete idea in order to appear ‘mysterious,’ when really it’s drip-feeding story. The only image worth mentioning? A splash shot of an alligator lounging in a swamp, which establishes mystery and danger for what would otherwise read like a gag comic without a punchline. Unless the punchline is “some dude is getting pussy”?

Trillium #4
Art and Writing by Jeff Lemire
Published by Vertigo

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The most telling moment in the halfway point of Trillium is how Jeff Lemire frames a torture scene. Space-time displaced explorer Clayton is beaten and threatened by future space explorers, even after his captors are made aware he doesn’t understand their language or what is happening. If Lemire’s doing this scene as some anti-torture message, it instead comes across like his future people are dysfunctional autistic, unable to distinguish what they want to learn from what they will learn. Certainly doesn’t help Lemire draws the primary antagonist of this scene as a black woman with dreads and facial tattoos, mirroring the ancient-aliens-worshiping Incans encountered by star-crossed lovers William and Nika. In both instances, Lemire conforms to white prejudice against “the Other” in the name of quirkiness and nerdiness, overlooking sense and storytelling (as he does in DC superbooks Justice League Dark and Constantine). His time-and-space plot pales in comparison to Malachi Ward’s The Scout, which portrayed existential angst by confronting the Scout with his nature and purpose in the universe. Lemire only offers halfhearted sentiment: both William and Nika take turns becoming infantilized–Lemire’s sole progressive act–when they’re confronted with “savages” (William begins to doubt existence) and…time travel, I guess? (Nika has a breakdown at briefly swapping places with Clayton), before teasing annihilation. Lemire defines incoherent.

Scraping By On Words

It really is a shame Mighty Avengers has been saddled with the artwork of Greg Land. The script by 2000 A.D. alum Al Ewing delivers a better straightforward superhero narrative than Marvel has produced since Peter Parker: Spider-Man under Paul Jenkins, Mark Buckingham, and Humberto Ramos. None of the cloying cuteness of Daredevil or Hawkeye, none of the unimaginative snark of Brian Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy, and none of the portentous, elitist posturing of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers books. Mighty Avengers #3: No Single Hero is old-fashioned in its depiction of good guys on the job, working towards common good.

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Much of Ewing’s writing, in fact, seems a reaction to Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers/Infinity mega-arc. Where Hickman goes for godlike awe at his monolithic superteam (like Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA), Ewing stresses humanity, whether it’s the class-based bickering of “Superior” Spider-Man (Dr. Octopus having hijacked Peter Parker’s body) and “Spider Hero” (who is, apparently, Blade the Vampire Hunter in disguise)–ironically, Octopus calls Spider Hero an “impostor”–or a rooftop bonding moment between Power Man and White Tiger before entering the fray against alien invaders (showing an almost Shane Black-level of efficient scripting). Where Hickman is unconcerned with the “countless” death tolls incurred by his extraterrestrial threats, Ewing shows characters deliberately avoiding casualties (stalling for time when civilians are possessed by Lovecraftian terror Shuma-Gorath). Where Hickman is building the Avengers into a Homeland Security super-gestapo (Watchmen minus the moral compass; The Ultimates minus the satire), Ewing suggests reclaiming the super-hero as a model of populist sentiment–the choice of black, Hispanic, and working-class characters as the good guys, with Dr. Octopus-Spider-Man as an unlikeable crony capitalist and odd man out, harkens back to Roger Stern. Stern’s one-time Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau, here dubbed “Spectrum,” is again de facto team leader, putting a stop to the Spider-bickering and dealing the finishing blow to Shuma-Gorath.

This classicism is surprising from Ewing, who previously went for the jugular against vigilante tropes in the Garth Ennis work-for-hire book Jennifer Blood and the psychedelic spoof Zaucer of Zilk with Brendan McCarthy. And yet, doing so perfectly undermines Hickman’s surveillance state apologia: when White Tiger says she wants her death to “mean something,” Power Man gives a Dalton Trumbo response (“Death don’t ever mean anything. It’s just some &#$% happens to you one day”), promoting life as Hickman’s pretentious “To protect a world, you must possess the power to destroy a world” deals death.

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Ewing’s populism never quite overcomes the elitism of its sibling Avengers books, even if it’s a start. Luke Cage gives a rousing speech to a crowd of civilians on how “we are all Avengers,” yet we only see civilians acting in the previous issue to No Single Hero. Here, bystanders are reduced to either brainwashed masses or Cloverfield Millenials, capturing video on smart phones (a passive form of grassroots activism). Then there’s the depiction of Hickman-esque hyper-power–Blue Marvel and Spectrum–as being key to successful super-heroics, if not to the absurd degree shown in those charts-and-graphs-obsessed books. But, like fellow Brit China Miéville, Ewing understands the power of identity, the universal strength of community: Spider Hero gives advice to Power Man on summoning his chi, connecting “home and family” to “streets and landmarks” to “New York City”–“It all has power.”

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It’s to the credit of Ewing as a writer the scene, as with the comic, manages to scrape by. Greg Land depicts it with flatness, two closeups on Spider Hero and Power Man against nondescript color backgrounds. A more virtuosic artist like Emma Rios would have deployed fragmented, aspect-to-aspect grids (as she does in Pretty Deadly). Then again, Land’s style has been all wrong for this series: his stiff, Uncanny Valley figures always seem to display inappropriate emotion (Blue Marvel’s eerie grin when he heals Spectrum from a life-threatening wound), even when he’s not tracing what looks like still-frames from porn.

Land is unaided by colorist Frank D’Armata, who changes his palette after a decade of murky, ugly schemes which made several comics near-unreadable. Together, the two lighten the skin tones of the main characters, while depicting crowds of middle-class white folks, deflating Ewing’s inclusive “We are all Avengers” theme. Ewing’s no stranger to bad, incongruous art: Jennifer Blood labored under the oddly-plain exploitation of Dynamite artist Kewber Baal. Blood, however, had an interesting tension between Baal’s style (which followed mainstream comics trends) and Ewing’s sardonic observations, which put the series in Steve Gerber territory (Foolkiller, particularly). Land and D’Armata are there as a connection to the Brian Bendis/Joe Quesada house style/regime which Jonathan Hickman inherited and Ewing is backup for.

The art gets in the way of theme, rather than illustrate it, leaving No Single Hero only with words. Well-written, thoughtful words, but fighting a battle it barely wins with its own partner.

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Looking For Problems Right Where They Are

Not gonna mince words, there’s some lame-ass shit right here:

You say they are going to get a lot of personal abuse and it’s completely deserved. First, their twitter rant was childish. If Graham has beef with Wood he should take it up with wood instead of calling him out over the internet like the pussy he really is. Secondly when female creators start coming up with good content the’ll get better representation in comics. Look at DC. They currently let Ann Noccenti write 2 books (1 is ending) and they all get panned. Now you can’t tell me that this is not affirmative action. The only reason she is on catwoman is becasue Catwoman sell because she’s is catwoman. Not because of the talent of the write of which there is none. It’s time we stop looking for problems where there aren’t any. When women start making content worthy of publication they will get jobs. Like the rest of the world where some jobs are dominated by certain demographics, it is foolish to believe that comics should be any different. What we is a lack of woman make good content.

Being on Reddit, this lazy rhetoric and F-grade grammar should come as no surprise. Breaking it down, this dude named ‘kruig’ (and it could only be a dude) believes:

  1. Female comic book creators don’t “come up with good content.”
  2. DC ‘letting’ Ann Nocenti write two of their comics (she’d also had a stint on Green Arrow, in addition to Katana and Catwoman) is “affirmative action,” simply because her books are getting “panned.”
  3. That Ann Nocenti has no talent.
  4. That there are no problems with misogyny in the comic book industry, as demonstrated in points 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7.
  5. That it’s because women don’t make “content worthy of publication” there aren’t more women working in the industry.
  6. That the job of comic book creators is rightly “dominated” by certain demographics–implicitly white, heterosexual men.
  7. Except Brandon Graham, who is “a pussy” for saying mean things about Brian Wood on the internet–even as this guy says mean things about Ann Nocenti…on the internet.

Now, I’m not sure what this guy’s beef is with female creators who have worked in the industry for decades–from Nocenti to Kate Beaton, from Elaine Lee to Mary Skrenes, from Gail Simone to Laura Allred to G. Willow Wilson to Jill Thompson to Colleen Doran to Emma Rios to Laura Martin to Louise Simonson to Elizabeth Breitweiser to Amy Reeder to etc. etc.–but to say their relative scarcity (to say nothing of their second-fiddle status in the Big Two) is the result of their lacking talent shows an ignorance of comic book history (Nocenti alone is a veteran writer with highly-regarded stints on Marvel’s Spider-Man and Daredevil characters, the latter succeeding despite the unenviable task of following up Frank Miller, hardly an “affirmative action” case), the politics of the industry, and even human behavior.

The similarity of such statements to the platform of modern, right-leaning politicians is obvious: those on top of the socioeconomic ladder are there by divine right, and everyone else is not in the little club because their worth is equal to their station (a rigid, caste-system mentality not dissimilar from slavery, as Leonard Pierce points out). A convenient answer to avoid dealing with pesky questions of why certain people always seem to be left out by cultural “gatekeepers.”

Such dismissal of the talent listed above, which doesn’t even scratch the surface (It’s a whole different ballgame if I were to, oh say, include the Year 24 Group), is sadly common in the unwashed dens of comic fandom. If it ain’t uppity women “looking for problems where there aren’t any” (because the industry certainly doesn’t objectify female characters and is absolutely not obsessed with depicting them getting raped), then it’s the appalling treatment of black creators, homosexuals, or…fuck it, just pick anyone who’s not a straight white American male (fictional or otherwise), and comic book readers and/or the industry have had a shitty attitude to their very existence.

As for calling anyone “pussy,” I think Daryl Ayo said it best:

it means something that you equate weakness with the organ that brought you into this world and could still snap your weak phallus in half.

You aren’t built for the kind of trash your talking, boy.

Like their Republican counterparts, these keyboard thugs see a world outside their little bubble, demanding to be treated equally, and see only someone wanting to take away their toys. Evangelical Christians making up wars on Christmas, businessmen grumbling about minimum wage, Tea Partiers demanding more rights for giant corporations than for the people who work for them, this is the crowd many a comic geek lumps themselves into with their rhetoric. They would be pitiable if their actions, or rather their words, weren’t dripping with poison.

Pick This Carcass Clean, Boys, Lean Times Are A-Comin’

Another light week. The most interesting comics thing I can think of right now is this tcj.com post, pulling up some “Blood and Thunder” letters from the archive about 80s DC book Wild Dog. It also illustrates something I mentioned previously about mainstream comic problems being just as big in the indie/alt scene.

Justice League #23.3
Art by Mateus Santolouco, Carla Berrocal, Riccardo Burchelli, Liam Sharp, Jock, Tula Lotay, Marley Zarcone, Brendan McCarthy, Emma Rios, Emi Lennox, Jeff Lemire, Frazier Irving, David Lapham, Carmen Carnero, Sloane Leong, Kesley Wroten, Michelle Farran, Annie Wu, Zack Smith, and Alberto Ponticelli
Writing by China Miéville
Published by DC

This reads like some book which fell in from an alternate universe. It’s amazing DC not only allowed this kinda/sorta coda to Miéville’s recently-cancelled Dial H series to exist as is, but to also insert it into one of the “Villain Month” tie-in issues for its marquee book, Justice League. Baffling, really.

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The jam issue nature of the comic–getting twenty artists to draw a page each with (at least) one new supervillain identity per page–also ends up being a great big meta-joke about gimmicky superhero comics. Miéville skirts the line of just outright insulting DC with his lineup of dialed persona too weird (Jock’s shadowy Ayenbite or Sloane Leong’s Steranko-esque Pop Art figure Mise-en-Abyme) or too silly (David Lapham’s Wet Blanket, a figure who wouldn’t be out of place in The Tick or Flaming Carrot Comics) to ever be marketable IP. Plot nor continuity really matter here: the individual artists make little attempt at making sure the central characters (a group of teenage punks who get their hands on an evil dial or something silly like that) have the same clothes, hairstyles, or even number or placement of piercings from page to page (Liam Sharp has one character’s hairstyle become an Afro from one panel to the next), and Miéville never extends the plot beyond “punks change into random supervillains”, just drops in his Dial H bad guy Centipede to keep it going. None of which is the point, really. It’s not about who lives or dies or who fucks who, it’s about embracing weird superhero ideas and letting these artists draw comics in their own idiosyncratic ways. Whether it’s Zaucer of Zilk‘s Brendan McCarthy throwing down some brightly-colored alt-comix riffs which put Jason Karns’ mediocre efforts to shame or Emma Rios’ fragmented closeups building to a mighty splash image, the artwork here has a life sorely lacking in DC’s long sludge of muddy, grim-dark Jim Lee variants.

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This is an outlier, though. A lone aberration allowed to slip through by the Didio/Harras/Johns/Lee coalition, before they clam back up and demand more mediocrity. Best to drink up while it’s here, ‘cuz Dial H is being replaced by another Tony Daniel comic, this time about Superman dating Wonder Woman.

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Old Comic Time:

Evangeline: Guns of Mars #1
Art by Judith Hunt
Writing by Chuck Dixon
Published by Comico

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Hyper-competent pulp shoot ’em up, with the lone bit of gussying up of its action-thriller tropes taking the form of outer space bounty hunter Evangeline also being a nun. Judith Hunt’s hand-painted panels express a rustic, lived-in quality evocative of Sergio Leone westerns, but starring a blonde-haired, blue-eyed evangelical woman on a quest of righteous vengeance instead of a mercenary Man With No Name. Even though she’s depicted as beautiful enough a gang of bandits risk violent death just for the opportunity to ravish her (and are rightfully dispatched), and another man tries to slip her a roofie, neither Hunt nor her then-husband Chuck Dixon fixate on Evangeline as a sexual being; rather, she’s a force of stone-cold nature, cutting through parties responsible for a murderous land grab–starting with the hired goons and going on up to the corporate executive who authorized it. When she gets nude, it’s a blase change of clothes while in the process of murdering a target, more a form of mechanical efficiency (taking place in one panel between outfits) than pinup exhibitionism. It also illustrates Evangeline’s curious nature: operating in the pious world of Roman Catholicism (reserved asexuality and divine punishment) and that of a secular frontier (debauchery and blood-soaked revenge), she’s surrounded on all sides by forces which seek to control and/or own her body. Yet, her only concern is the task at hand–get to the next stop, kill the next target, help a stranger or two if it’s along the way, rinse-repeat–an approach not dissimilar to any Steve Ditko protagonist. Dixon would bring this genre intensity to his Punisher War Journal run, but it would never be as multifaceted as it is here.

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Finish With a New Comic:

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard (vol. 2) #3
Art and Writing by David Petersen, Eric Canete, C.P. Wilson III, and Chris Godbey
Published by Archaia

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This issue features the clumsiest tale of this volume of David Petersen’s anthology spinoff so far. Likewise, the remaining two shorts fail to rise to the artistic heights of the previous issue’s best pair of stories (Christian Slade’s etched, dialogue-free piece of maximalism “Love of the Sea” and Jemma Salume’s stylish, witty genre mashup “The Shade”). Nevertheless, the hand-crafted storybook quality of this series continues to be charming: C.P. Wilson’s “When Moles Are Around” is the best of the three, casually subverting its own moral by continuing to make its titular hero a destructive (albeit charming) nuisance hated by the very village which came to accept him while Corey Godbey’s “The Thief, The Star-Gazer, The Hunter, & The Tailor” rejects fairy tale conventions of heroes getting the damsel in favor of communal good and self-betterment being noble goals of themselves (while notably a working-class ethic, Godbey applies this thinking to the entire spectrum of human endeavor, from manual labor to espionage to pure academia). Only Eric Canete’s “The Mouse Generals” fails, if only because Canete errs on the side of telling rather than showing. The result is a moral (namely about vanity) which lacks the visual “aha” moment it needed to get the point across, in favor of a muddled closeup and the narrator telling readers what happened.

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