Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In Review of: Saga of the Swamp Thing Hardcover

So it looks like DC comics has finally started to put their money where their mouth is and remaster the same CD for the fourth time... er... reprint the same material that they have reprinted for us faithful fans yet again.

This time its Moore's Swamp Thing.

So here is the my beef: if I already have these issues in the original form, and i then bought them in the softcover collection since it sat better on the shelf, why do i need this CD.. er... hardcover? Where, to put it bluntly, are the bonus tracks? You are going to have to give me something to justify getting me to shell out even more money. With Sandman and Watchmen, they have smartly given us new coloring to replace the original limited palette, which has, in some places worked wonders.

Small digression here: Watchmen has been slightly improved by the new coloring, while Sandman has improved by leaps and bounds with regards to color choices. As anyone who has see the original Dringenberg/Jones art, there was a wealth of detail lost to the original colors, as well as too much misdirection in the art from the original colors. They were, in many places, a small disaster in the original Doll's House.

But the absolute size has started to point out, sadly, the limitations of the scanning technology and the host files that DC has. With the art no longer being reduced by the typical 64%, we're now seeing what we know were smooth ink lines being jagged and pixelated, without the repro to tighten up the file. Sad but true, the first volume of Starman is horrible for this in the first 5 or so issues, and even later Sandmans, like the Inn at the World's End sequence lack the fidelity of line that they should have. This is, for a $100 hardcover, a serious fucking issue for those of us who love the books so much that we're willing to shell out that much money.

So we now have a Swamp Thing Hardcover with the same light paper stock as the Kirby 4th World books, which is not a great recommendation right there, although it might derail the physical need for recoloring. Those not in the printing are likely not to want to wander into a discussion of ink absorbtion on paper, but it is highly relevant. With different paper comes great responsibility.

We know that Totleben's inks would certainly hold up to the reproduction at even full size, for while I don't own any of the art from those books myself, I certainly have seen originals over the years, and know that Swamp Thing #21-34 would certainly hold up to the absolute treatment, and yes, that include the landmark second annual.

But you're going to have to give me something DC, before I slap down for this. And while I've yet to compare the original printing to the new one, I'll be interested to see if there is any notable difference qualitywise between the two.

And yet again, I say, why doesn't DC or Marvel announce that they are doing these books in time for those of us with originals to send in new stats or 600dpi originals? I would happily have upgraded the printing on at least 5 different pages of the Absolute Sandman Volume 1 for them, free of charge.

And, of course, to tie in with this an hour after I wrote my post is an interview with Jeet Heer over at Robot 6 where he talks about Chip Kidd and Chris Oliveros on this exact subject:
I’m less involved in the production decision, but I often eavesdrop as an interested observer and it’s fascinating to listen to the two Chrises talk about paper stock, the size of books, the color scheme of the covers and other details. For both Ware and Oliveros, book making is truly an art. This is important to bear in mind because until recently, book production wasn’t a big part of comics: most comic strip collection and comic books were shoddily put together.

Yet thanks to the internet, I was able to hook up to ProQuest, a service that let me quickly find thousands of Briggs comics from the early 20th century along with many articles about Briggs. Also, belong to list serves allowed me to hear from many scholars and collectors who had various Briggs tidbits, including a contract he signed in the 1920s and much original art.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Heath Ledger: The Joker

Just finished watching the Oscars, one of the most boring in recent memory, but the one endearing memory that i will remember (given that this is a comic book blog) is Heath winning for his portrayal of The Joker. It was a devastatingly dead-on accurate job of acting in front of a director who completely, utterly got the character.

That sort of thing is rare, far rarer than we would suspect in the movie world, but even more so when a beloved character is taken from other fiction and brought into the movie world. Harry Potter has been aptly served by some very competent directors and the excellent casting of Daniel Radcliffe. The Joker has been tortured by any number of directors and actors who never quite got the essence, only skimming the surface with the white face and leering laugh.

Even Bob Kane didn't get what he was creating back in Batman #1. The Joker is an insanely clever jewel thief with a creepy gimmick, but he is not a howling force of nature, given to utter unpredictability in his actions. If the essence of acting is not to simply mirror surface mannerisms but to understand why your character acts the way he/she does, then playing a tabla rasa murderer can be both freeing and maddening. As Michael Caine's Alfred makes the point in the movie, men like that can't be bargained with, or reasoned with, they are simply something that can't be understood in any logical context. You have to deal with them as they are. In our modern day they can be a metaphor for the unreasoning terror the urban dwellers can feel over the possiblity of another terrorist attack, another missing child, another chemical spill, another tsunami.

If the essence of The Batman is to impose order on the orderless world, a way to revenge/prevent the killing of his parents again by another criminal, then The Joker is the giggling essence of disorder and chaos. It delights in its ability to simply do things, whether small or large. The tidal wave has no morality, can't be bargained with, is disconcertingly random in its choices. Nolan gets both The Batman's and The Joker's premises, which is why he's been able to put together not flawless films, but films that engage the hearts of those of us with four colors under our fingernails.

Not too long ago, Heath would have been relegated to having lowered himself to act is a stupid genre picture, and even as recently as a few years ago, I was certain that the Academy would not give the best picture Oscar to Peter Jackson for Return of the King because I was sure that they didn't "get it". That a science fiction picture, fantasy picture, genre picture of any kind would never be given its due. I was wrong, happily, that night, and I'm even more overjoyed to see that the voters do "get it". Ledger's Joker is as much the Oscar worthy villian as Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. It is vindication for the characters of DC Comics, and, since we'll never have definitive answers as to who did what, vindication to Kane, Finger and Robinson as makers of an enduring American mythos.

Heath, an extremely talented actor, will always remain for me any number of people: the Aussie protagonist of 10 Things I Hate About You, the cowboy of Brokeback Mountain, The Joker. Its a shame that he's gone, but we're left with a wonderful, albiet small, body of work to remember him by.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sex In The Comics

Why is sex in comics so hard to get right? Or to do at all? The folks over at The Hooded Utilitarian are having a bit of a go in the post Just because men are dead doesn't mean cheesecake needs to be, taking Y the Last Man to task over the lack of sex in the book among other things. Actually, they spend more time taking Brian Vaughn to task over not really providing more story, as opposed to simply rolling out the episodes along with each "what if" implicit in the context.

But lets get back to sex. In a world full of nothing but women, it does seem oddly purient that more sexuality isn't implicit or explicit in the series. Just as in a reverse secenario, where male readers wouldn't want to imagine that they would go gay in a world without women, perhaps Vaughn and the editors were unlikely to go the route of suggesting that more women would turn towards lesbianism than they might think, but its as valid a concept as any. Vaughn hints at it, with the suggestion of female prostitutes posing as men with fake beards, and one can only imagine the stock of vibrator making companies in that world.

What is mostly odd is the lack of female libido in the series. And this isn't 60 years ago when Kinsey was busy trying to quantify female sexuality. Just about every woman that i've ever known will admit to being horny at some point, and it seem almost neutering to have the women of Y cut off from their own sexuality as much as Lucy Ricardo and Laura Petrie were. Pia's art is, as Berlatsky puts it,
Guerra couldn't draw sexy to save her life.
And its true. Somewhere in Yorick's world there must have been some sexy women. Not overly glossy, pushed up fake boobs, and so skinny that there is no room for their internal organs, but sexy as in Luba or Maggie sexy. It is such a tragedy the Guerra pushes the camera back away from the action, whether physical or emotional, and uses that 15 feet of space to keep us from what heat that the few characters with their libidos intact generate.

Sex in comics has been notoriously hard to do correctly, and part of whether you like the sex or not has to depend on how you view the characters. If you see them as three dimensional, then adding the sexual component makes sense. Gilbert Hernandez has done a better job of that than anyone in modern comics. For two dimensional archetypes, it tends to be overly problematic to add a sexual dimension, since we're simply not used to thinking of them that way. Superman, Archie and Veronica, i'm looking at you. The residents of Palomar boink all the time, just off of my memory of reading 20 years worth of Love and Rockets. I just think that you get the idea from Pia's characters that they are like women in 1950's movies with boobs that don't actually move. Ever. Not a single jiggle. They are just perfectly conical and firm. Poor things.

Perhaps, in all fairness, Vaughn went the opposite direction with the series. "hmm, last man on earth, one would think that it would be easy to get him laid. OK then, pretty much no sex just to be contrary." In many ways this pitch turns from your average male teenager's perfect fantasy into their worst nightmare. Perhaps it was the editorial direction at DC, which would be odd since even King Mob in the Invisibles got to have fairly graphic sex in that series.

More on this later, although the Legion of Super Girlfriends may want to make all of the DC males in the 1960's celibate or gay.

Friday, February 06, 2009

In Memory: 5 for Jack Kirby

My answers to Tom Spurgeon's request for the top 5 Kirby Issues -

(You might wish to read my blog post on the dinner after the NYC con where all the Defiant crew, Shooter, Alan Weiss, myself, and others raised our glasses in honor of Jack. Its one of my favorite memories, and worth reading if you've not found it on the blog before).

On to the comics -

Fantastic Four #51

Thor #156

The Demon #1

Challengers of the Unknown #7

Fantastic Four #25

Sunday, February 01, 2009

In Praise Of: The Miracleman Saga

The Miracleman saga never ends. At least not if you're Neil Gaiman. Maybe not even if you're Alan Moore. Certainly not if you're the original creator.

Here, unless you've missed this, is the short version. Todd McFarlane is suing Gaiman for his share of the rights to Miracleman, rights that were given to Neil by Alan Moore, who was given them by Dez Skinn back in the Warrior days. Alan wanted Neil to have a stake in the character that he was taking over, so he handed his rights over. Once Eclipse Comics went under, McFarlane bought the rights to everything, thinking that he would get Miracleman. What wasn't apparent until now is that all this right being handed back and forth is all for naught. Mick Anglo, the original creator, is alive and should retain all the rights to the character.

So Dez Skinn was wrong. And lied about Miracleman to Moore. Among other things should anyone care to do so digging about Dez.

What stands out, however, is the work, ad the fact that it is likely that the Miracleman saga will never be reprinted with all the horrible rights being thus entangled, and that is more of shame than can be imagined.

For those who have never read the whole thing, or just heard about it, it is, with all its early bumps and bruises and false starts, the furthest imagining of what a superman character would actually do to the world. And it is, in a few words, alternately horrifying, stunning, beautiful, and beyond shocking.

Here is reality, if we can call it that: this series will shatter any myth that you might have had over the Fantastic Four or the Avengers as being in the "real world". That's bullshit. The day that a real superman shows up in our world, it will destroy our world to its very foundation. He will change things so much, that we will not recognize the world that he will leave behind. As his first daughter asks non-chelantly, "You decided to leave the sky that color?"

And he will bring, because this is Alan Moore, the evil that will destroy London and the world, eating life and shitting skulls, along the way. And the architect, the human/god that will create all this and then believe that he can control it, Gargunza. All the archetypes are represented, but without a Marvel or DC universe status quo to return to, Moore is free to reimagine just how devastated that world would be, and take those archetypes to their furthest places. A superhero battle? New York wouldn't survive. Not once. Neither would Metropolis. And London doesn't. I've already blogged once about Miracleman #15 being the most brutal comic that i've ever read. And I don't expect that to change.

Gaiman was able to further, as is his want, someof the more interesting tangendental ideas, ideas that we mentioned or hinted at in first "book", and take the time to explore the side roads: Miraclewomen as the Aphrodite/Love/Sex goddess of the world, both unattainable and attainable at the same time; Evelyn Cream, the connsumate intelligence professional given over to being "Number 1", the most brilliant pastice of The Prisoner that i've ever seen; Andy Warhol and whole concept of Pop Art is turned on its head given the artist as our introduction to the artificial underworld that Miracleman creates. Given his head, Miracleman becomes God in all ways, in reshaping the world, repopulating it with his progeny, creating an Olympus for the gods as well as an underworld for the dead to live in.

Its a shame that the series is in true developmental hell; it can't be reprinted nor will it even ever be finished, as the well researched book on the subject, Kimota, from Twomorrows Press, shows us. Gaiman has only one more issue to go, and it, honestly, didn't sound like it would do a lot to resolve many of the questions that Alan and Neil had raised.

Is it worth the time and money to track down the issues? Absolutely. Are they out there? I would suppose so, although I bought the series as it came out, and haven't had to look for the issues. Kimota may be out of print, however, and that is why Ebay was invented. And comic cons.

Go. Discover the ubermench saga the way it was meant to be read. Find the issues and read it.

Illustrations by the magnificent John Totleben and Alex Ross.