Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Amazing Obama Man

There’s been a lot of discussion of President Obama’s performance lately, what with the economy and war and all, and it’s brought out some thoughts I’ve had floating around for quite a while now.

It’s not saying anything new to say that even a year and a half ago one could tell there was something different about the then-senator from Illinois. Hell, lots of people have written about it, most probably better than I ever could. But what really struck me, especially around this time last year, was the way the comic people jumped all over Obama.

Even before he was elected, you had successful comic characters (and by extension, one would think their creators) making no bones about their chosen candidate:

When he did get elected, it was unprecedented. Sure,other presidents had appeared in comics before, but none like this. In terms of sheer volume and scope, Obama (or at least his image) was blazing all kinds of new trails.

What’s really interesting is seeing how the interpretations developed over time. While most comics were content to simply involve the president in a storyline or two, Devil’s Due took it a step further

…and then Antarctic Press took it even further than that:

Even his detractors, it seemed, couldn’t help but fall back on comic book imagery:

Taking all of this in, it’s easy to see that Obama isn’t just the president, he’s a full-blown Pop Culture Phenomenon. I know, a little late to the game with that one, huh? But seeing it laid out like this raises certain questions about not just the president, but his fans as well.

There are certain parallels one can draw between President Obama and Tiger Woods – and most are probably too obvious to even point out. But the main similarity (for the sake of this discussion) is the way with each that the Image overlaps with the Actual Human Being.

With his recent domestic troubles and subsequently dodgy behavior, it seems that Tiger Woods’ biggest problem of late is that his dramatically adult personal life is clashing with his image as the clean, driven, “aw shucks” kind of guy who was as charming as he was good at golf. (Think back to that Dave Chapelle sketch of Tiger Woods awkwardly declaring, “I’ve always wanted to say this – fer shizzle!”) With people learning that off the field Woods is just like lots of other celebrities – all too fallible – his popularity and position in the public’s good graces is in question.

We’re seeing some hints of this with Obama in the political field as well. With the troop escalation in Afghanistan, the total mess the health care debate has become, the continued corporate bonuses, etc., a lot of people on the political left are starting to feel disillusioned with Obama. Put simply, they’re finding the man in the office isn’t the same guy who was in that Spider-Man issue.

One thing America likes to do to its celebrities is, after having built them up, to tear them down. Tom Cruise certainly got a lot more press after jumping on Oprah’s couch than he did before that. So what happens when the celebrity happens to be the man in charge of running the country? What happens when his comic stops selling? What happens when the Symbol of Hope turns out to be just another guy in a suit doing a job?

What if Clark Kent really isn’t Superman?

Or conversely, will the Idea of Barack Obama overshadow the man to the point where all we have left is the image, devoid of any but the most basic associations? Will Sheperd Fairey’s famed “Hope” poster simply become the newest perennial t-shirt design?

(Please note, I’m not trying to make any overt political statements, but more examining the whole person/persona issue when played out in four colors.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dammit, Jim!

Apparently skater shoe makers Airwalk have a Star Trek-inspired line of hi-tops.

The only thing is, what self-respecting Trekkie is going to want to wear the red ones?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

True Tales of Geekery

(Somewhat appropriate graphic.)

Back in an earlier, simpler time – 2001 – I interned at a locally-based major advertising company (I was doing copy editing, of course). One of the company’s largest clients was Chevrolet, who at the time was working on bringing a new truck/SUV-type vehicle to market.

One thing I never thought about until then was how new vehicles are named. Sure, occasionally the odd name comes out (what the hell is a "Yaris," anyway?) but for the most part the name is just there, just one more part of the car. As it turns out, there are all kinds of ways cars get their names. Often, the engineers or someone at the company will have the name in mind with the concept, and other times the company will just go with whatever the model designation happens to be (your F150, perhaps). And sometimes, someone creative gets thrown in the mix.

(Mildly appropriate graphic.)

It really pains me to admit that I can’t remember his name, but the guy writing the ads for this new Chevy vehicle also happened to be an avid comic reader – the cubicle filled with Spawn toys being an obvious indicator. When he was given the project, this overly-large bastard merging of pickup truck and SUV simply had its project number as a name. The writer knew that X57J4 or whatever it was just wasn’t going to grab anyone. So he went to the place where he knew he’d find powerful, descriptive names, the kinds that jump out at you and pull you in, that lodge themselves in the pop culture consciousness and stay there. That is to say, he looked in his comics. Marvel comics, to be precise.

And there he found his answer. So now you know, whenever you see that ugly beast of a vehicle called the Avalanche driving down the road, you know that it is indeed named after a third-tier member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Which in its own way is almost poetically appropriate.

(Completely appropriate graphics.)

As to how the Aztek got its name, well, that’s a tale for another day… preferably to be told by someone who actually knows it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tricks 'n' Treats

With Halloween upon us, it seemed a good time to share some spooky goodies to make this - or any - season a little more creepy and fun...

The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft (Image)
This series captures the essence of the Lovecraft stories well: the
protagonists in Lovecraft’s stories were rarely Everymen, but more
often singular personalities who were haunted by some demon or Elder
God, but more often by their own obsessions. H.P. is presented here as
a struggling writer, so trapped by his own insecurities and familial
dysfunctions that he can’t even pursue the girl of his dreams (a
flapper librarian, no less – yowza!). Writer Mac Carter does a great
job of capturing the energy and vibe of a Lovecraft story while
keeping his own voice, and Tony Salmons’ art fully conveys the
frenetic creepiness of the tale. Unfortunately, the final issue has
yet to materialize, but for now it’s worth tracking down the first

Paranormal Activity
By now you’ve probably heard lots about this
little-indie-film-turned-box-office-smash, but the question remains,
is it scary? Let me tell you something, my friend, it is indeed. By
aiming low – focusing on the actors’ reactions and keeping the scare
level at a slow boil – this film reminds us that, still, the scariest
things are the ones we don’t see. You’ll never look at a hall light
turning on the same way again. (Note: The trailers on the film's web site are far better than the one on Youtube, but really, you'll get way more just going in fresh. At least, that worked for me.)

Drag Me to Hell
A Sam Raimi horror movie about a woman who receives a gypsy curse that
threatens to – you guessed it – drag her to hell. It’s been 22 years
since Raimi and crew made Evil Dead II, and even after all the time
and big budget films Sam proves he never strayed far from his
(Michigan) slapstick horror roots.

The Misfits – “Scream” video
Yeah, it’s old, but still worth revisiting. Bassist Jerry Only revived
the Misfits in the mid-‘90s without Glenn Danzig, to very mixed
lineups and results. But perhaps signifying the peak of the “Misfits
pt.2” was the video for their song “Scream” (from the Famous Monsters
album). Directed by none other than George Romero (in exchange for
their appearance in Romero’s film Bruiser), it distills the zombie
movie to its essence in just under three minutes, and still delivers.

And of course...


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blacker than Blackest?

As we know, the DC Comics universe is deep into their latest Giant Crossover Event, Blackest Night which features, among other things, a villain reviving a whole slew of dead characters to wreak all kinds of havoc on the living heroes. It also seems to be resurrecting DC's status with fans (will Final Crisis ever truly be forgiven?), as the series has been August and September's top selling book. And, setting aside thecheap gimmicks to sell tie-in books, the buzz around the book seems pretty positive (haven't read it myself, so I can't comment).

So, with that in mind I found it very intriguing to hear about Marvel's newest Mutant Crossover Event, Necrosha which features, among other things a villain... reviving a whole slew of dead characters... to wreak all kinds of havoc on the living heroes.

Perhaps this is just coincidence; As I pointed out last post, zombies are everywhere at the moment, and both events sound like they've been building for a while. And yes, Marvel did start putting the Marvel Zombies series years ago. Still, one could see a trend developing with Marvel, were one so inclined:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I leave it to you to decide...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jumping the Undead Shark

Well, hello there. Yeah, guess it has been a while, and the blog was starting to resemble one of those abandoned houses Time Magazine is writing about – you know, not taken down, but not maintained, just a withered reminder of the glory that once was and we all hope could return.

So in that spirit, and appropriate to the upcoming holiday, the topic at hand for this post is: zombies.

I had set out to write this entry after reading about the Night of the Stripping Dead, but before I could, I encountered last week’s Savage Love article, which featured a question form a reader regarding the ethic of – you guessed it – zombie sex (you’ll have to scroll down for it).

In case you missed that, someone wrote to a national sex columnist to get advice on the morality of having sexual intercourse with the living dead.

Seriously, people.

All of this reinforces a question I’ve been asking myself lately: has the zombie phenomenon hit its peak?

Of course, a lot of this ties into the release of the movie Zombieland – which, despite its use of the modern running zombie is hilarious and worth seeing. Interestingly, it seems that whoever did the marketing for that movie knew their stuff, as I’ve seen the movie promoted by several Zombie Walk groups (including

Detroit’s own). And with AMC producing a televised version of Image Comics’ series The Walking Dead, it seems the march of the pop culture undead is going to be a hard to put down as the monsters themselves. (In this case it may not be a bad thing, since if the show turns out even half as good as the book, it’ll be one of the best series on TV). And lest we forget, while you’re waiting for the show you can always read some zombiefied Jane Austen.

Yes, everywhere you look, there be zombies.

But why does there seem to be this tendency of late to turn everything into a phenomenon anyway? Time was, you could be into pirates or ninjas or robots or primates or whatever it was, and it wasn’t a big deal, it was just what you were into. Mainly because you were ten, and ninjas were the baddest-ass thing you’d ever heard of in your entire decade-long life. But now, it doesn’t seem to be enough to just like, say, pirates. You have to be “OMG!! Pirates!!!” Everything becomes this grand statement pop cultural identity.

To further illustrate this, I give you a prime example: bacon. Once it was simply fried pig flesh that many people enjoyed at meals. Then came Baconnaise, and all its offshoots. Then the April Fool’s Day joke Bacon Lube, which proved so popular it became a real item. There are bacon t-shirts. I’ve seen a Beer and Bacon happy hour at some hipster bar. That thing that used to be just to make you stop being hungry? It’s now something you show off to demonstrate your hipness.

This could be a result of the constant barrage of cultural input we get. If you’re some artist or Hollywood executive trying to cut through the endless sea of stimuli to get your product/creation/message across, and you see some wave that people are actually paying attention to (especially if those people are in your target demographic), well, wouldn’t you try to ride it as far as you could?

Or maybe it’s just that I’m not used to the things I like being mainstream. It’s kind of like watching a band go from playing dive bars to packing stadiums – you’re happy for them, but it’s just not the same. Then you start saying how they’re not as good anymore, and anyway none of the new fans get the band like you do.

But I digress…

Now the question is, with vampires making a comeback, will the zombie be pushed out of the undead spotlight? After all, what could possibly be a bigger draw than a bunch of shuffling, rotting corpses?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Party! Party! Party!

For those of you in the metro Detroit area (or in need of some travel), Detroit Comics will be celebrating its two year anniversary this Saturday, June 6th, from high noon til 8 pm (or whenever things die down).

Featured guests include:

-Members of the Detroit Derby Girls

-The burlesque stylings of Hell's Belles*

-DJ Del Villareal of Motorbilly Radio

-along with the friendly staff and customers who make the store what it is.

So come check it out! After all, you don't want to miss it and end up like this guy, do you?:

*Okay, since this is a family friendly party, there probably won't be any actual burlesquing. Then again, you know how comic people like to party...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Superman lives... despite Brian Singer

The Occasional Superheroine recently mentioned this commentary about why Superman Returns failed to score big at the box office.

"Audiences no longer crave truth, justice and the American way. They want an icy-cold, psychologically jacked hero that shoots heroin in the women's restroom after ripping out the spine of a baddie while bemoaning Corporate America. Superman, the embodiment of all that is good and right, is now merely looked upon with nostalgia -- not as a viable Hollywood product."

Reading the commentary, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the film exec who claimed that “movies starring women don’t sell,” citing the 2004 Halle Berry vehicle Catwoman as an example. Now, I’ve never actually seen the film, or any trailers that I can recall, but just from the poster I could tell you that’s a crap movie.

But with Superman Returns, the writer poses the idea that the movie failed because Superman was too pure, and supports the theory that the world wants a darker Superman. But the whole “Dark Superman” premise is exactly why Returns failed. Or rather, it’s that the film wanted it both ways.

Director Brian Singer made his name with his 1995 film The Usual Suspects, a very dark and cerebral crime drama. Geeks celebrate him for the first two X-Men movies, which managed to be good movies which also captured the spirit of the comic quite well. But with Superman Returns, Singer tried to merge his talents for dark melodrama and flawed characters with the cartoony iconography of Richard Donner’s Superman movies. There were numerous nods to those films – most obvious being Brandon Routh’s dead-on impersonation of Christopher Reeve – but mixed with those was a hard edge that didn’t fit the character.

You want dark? There’s the scene where Lex Luthor stabs Superman with the kryptonite shard and breaks it off inside of him, prison shank-style, then has his thugs mercilessly beat the hell out of our hero. When Superman is lifting up the giant kryptonite island, and one of Lex’s minions is crushed by a falling rock – something which Superman is either unaware of or just doesn’t care about. Oh, and the part where Superman’s illegitimate son kills a bad guy with a piano.

What caused Superman to fail wasn’t its lack of darkness, but that it tried to marry this darkness with the naiveté of the original movies. Having a hammy Perry White chew on his cigar while “gee whiz” Jimmy Olsen runs around trying to get that perfect shot of Superman doesn’t gel with a world of petty criminal kicking a man in the rubs while he dies of radiation poisoning. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the issue of Superman’s son which, let’s face it, was a bad idea from the beginning.

What’s most disheartening is that the Superman movie is simply following the standard of the comics. In the last few years, DC has taken an unfortunate turn in its overall tone. The company has been heavily resurrecting characters from the Silver Age, bringing back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and most recently (and notably) Barry Allen as the Flash, as well as some of the more gimmicky elements, such as Krypto the Super-Dog or having the Justice League reside in the Hall of Justice from the Super Friends cartoon. This in itself isn’t necessarily bad, but along with these reminders of more “innocent” comics (hero fights villain, wins, no one gets hurt and everything’s fine, the end) comes a more “gritty” vision, perhaps best exemplified by the sequence in Infinite Crisis #1, where villain Deathstroke impales super heroine Phantom Lady with his sword, explaining to her that it’s “just business” as she dies; meanwhile, the once-goofy Superman villain Bizarro punches another hero to death, boasting gleefully the whole time.

This disconnect is jarring, and ultimately gets tedious. This happened before with comics in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, in the wake of The Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. So it’s a bit ironic that, in the wake of the Dark Knight film, we see yet another push toward “gritty” and “realistic” superheroes.

Or perhaps not. While the commentator clearly thinks American audiences don’t want to see noble, righteous people doing good things, we have the success of Star Trek to perhaps indicate otherwise. While the heroes in Trek definitely have their inner dramas – Kirk’s hot-headedness versus innate leadership ability, Spock’s human/Vulcan conflict – ultimately, their goal is the same – defeat the enemy, save the Earth, and live to see the next adventure. Yes, there are casualties in the movie – a whole planet is destroyed – but it’s in that larger-than-life manner that works in Big Adventure movies. What really sells Trek is the crew’s nobility, determination, and camaraderie, without which they could never have been successful.

He’s correct: Superman Returns “failed” because it wasn’t what audiences wanted. But it’s not that they want a dark, flawed hero a la Christopher Nolan’s Batman, it’s because they want a well-made movie that doesn’t deviate so wildly in tone (although the success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine might dispute that). If Smallville has lasted as long as it has, obviously there is an audience. But to write off a character based on one poorly executed and therefore poorly received movie is not only drawing the wrong conclusion, but guarantees more poorly made movies to follow. And the world already has too many of those.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books you should read (a.k.a. catching up on the reviews)

It's always a busy time in the land of Devastation!, and sometimes that means deserving books don't get their proper dues come weekly review time. To fix this, here are some recently released books worth checking out:

The Amazon #3: In 1989 writer Steven T. Seagle and artist Tim Sale collaborated on a miniseries about a reporter who goes into the Amazon rainforest tracking the story of a missing logger. This just happens to coincide with a series of attacks on a logging camp attributed to locals by the Tanando, the spirit of the forest. What ensues is a Heart of Darkness-style trip down the river, where the reporter encounters the depths and riches of the Amazon, and finds the truth about his story is more complex than he’d thought.
For a work which is 20 years old, The Amazon feels fresh and current. Sadly, issues of deforestation and colonization are still present, which keeps the book from feeling dated. And while it does brandish its message a bit on the blunt side – the image of logging equipment overrun by foliage being fairly pointed – it still works as an examination of man’s interaction with (and exploitation of) both nature and fellow man.
Seagle uses an interesting and effective narrative device of using the reporter’s notes and story as narration. The contradictions and similarities give a rounded dimension to the action and character and give insight into the self editing that goes into making a story. Sale’s thin line work and use of shadow work well with the script, capturing the simultaneous vast expanse and claustrophobic density of the jungle. His art really brings the story to life, especially in scenes where the narrator interacts with the forest villagers. This book is a rare, if slightly flawed, gem that Dark Horse did justice by revealing.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #2: The first Phonogram series, Rue Britannia, was brilliant on many levels – not just in the way writer Kieron Gillen seamlessly interwove the worlds of magic and the Britpop movement of the 90s (as well as music in general), but also that it was filled with strong characters and an emotional depth that made the story satisfying regardless of whether you knew the music or not. Or so it seemed; having been– okay, continuing to be a huge Britpop fan, I really have no idea if someone not familiar with the intricacies of British guitar rock circa 93-97 would be lost or not. But Gillen did provide extensive liner notes and commentary in the back, which one would hope would be effective. Then there’s Jamie McKelvie’s art, which is clean and crisp and just about perfect in every way.
The new series, The Singles Club, takes place in – wait for it – a dance club, and chronicles one night from numerous characters’ perspectives. While the core elements of the first series are present – music, magic, hot young Brits running around – this series focuses more on the people involved, and benefits all the more for it.
This issue is probably the most accessible of all Phonograms so far, both in storytelling and subject matter. This issue introduces us to Marc, a.k.a. Marquis, who along with being young and hip is just (barely) getting over some girl. He and a pal end up in the club, and all is fine, until the Cursed Song comes on, and he comes face to face with the image/spirit of the vibrant, cute, Eastern European girl who broke his heart. Or so it seems, although his reminiscences seem to imply differently.
Everyone’s in top form here. Gillen’s dialogue is just great – from the (unnamed) ex’s accent (“They are nothing but bullshits with bad record collections” has officially entered the lexicon) to Marc’s pal Lloyd’s attempts at pop deconstructionism – and the interactions are revealing in what is and isn’t said. McKelvie’s art is stunning in this book, full of energy and motion, and aided greatly by Matthew Wilson’s colors. All around, this is one of the best books on the stands, and definitely earns the coveted

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #6: The second series featuring Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s dysfunctional family/super-team ends with a bang – several, actually. Picking up where the first series left off, Dallas finds the team in a collective state of despondency after one of their own tried to destroy the world. Each member is pulled – sometimes dragged – out of their individual states when a pair of sugar-addicted assassins with oversized cartoon-character masks try to track down UA member Number Five, whose future/past self (oi, time travel) is supposed to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Along the way, team member Séance meets a cowboy-on-horseback God, team leader Space Boy fights monsters during the Vietnam War, and the Earth blows up. And we learn the secret of one diner’s amazing apple pie.
With just his second series Way has proven to be a consistently talented and flexible writer, able to balance the sci-fi/fantastic elements with genuine emotion and a healthy sense of the absurd. Bá’s art suits the writing well, blending a Mike Mignloa-esque cartoonishness with a strong storytelling ability. While this series possesses a bit more of a downbeat vibe than the first, it’s a fun read, and bodes well for future installments.

The Unwritten #1: Tommy Taylor is a ridiculously popular series of books about a teenage wizard. Tom Taylor is the man who, as a boy, was the inspiration for the books. Or so the story goes. Except that a woman shows up at a press conference with evidence to the contrary. And one of Tommy Taylor’s nemeses shows up to take out Tom Taylor. And there’s still the mystery of why Taylor’s father, the author of the Tommy Taylor series, disappeared. And what does this have to do with a map?
Writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross have managed to interweave geek/celebrity obsession, the fantasy/reality overlap, the nature of stories, and a straight-up mystery in what is one of Vertigo’s best offerings in a while. The high concept of the central question – who is Tom Taylor, really? – is buoyed by various real world aspects, as shown by the IMs surrounding a life-feed execution of Tom Taylor by a real-life version of Tommy Taylor’s enemy Count Ambrosio.
It’s hinted that the true scope of the book will be far greater than just one character’s real identity, but even without that the book shows enough promise to warrant further reading. And the first issue’s only a buck, so you can’t go wrong.

I think that catches us up, and just in time for New Comic Day! Time to get back to my experiments of making compost out of all those old Youngblood issues.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Comics Reviews!

A short stack of reviews this week, partly because it's a slow week, and partly because I haven't had time to read everything. But not to worry, there'll be a list of things that have fallen through the cracks soon... I swear.

But for now, I present to you:

This Week's Reviews!

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #1: Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Franz Kafka and James Joyce co-wrote an episode of The Prisoner using characters from the DC Universe? “Who hasn’t?” you say. Well, now this dream has finally been realized, thanks to FCA:E. The issue begins with former secret agent Nemesis awakening in an undesignated prison cell, surrounded by three women with bobs and mod dresses offering to be his friend. Now, while Your Humble Blogger would call this Heaven, Nemesis is obviously not happy with the situation, especially given the distinct lack of humanity present in his “friends.” His attempted escape leads through an unmarked hallway where he encounters a very ominous looking Mr. Terrific. Then Nemesis runs across Count Vertigo... that's where the acid kicks in*.
Writer Ivan Brandon sets up FCA:E much the same way Patrick Mcgoohan did the Prisoner TV show: base everything around the central character, and play up the sense of confusion and claustrophobia. Except where the Prisoner’s trippy-ness was subtle, here it’s all out, giving Grant Morrison’s meta-writing a run for its money. Artist Marco Rudy handles this well, with panel and figure work that effectively keeps the action just off-kilter enough.
Oh, and then there’s that last page. Yeah, this’ll be worth checking out.

The Punisher: Frank Castle #70: Any issue of the Punisher that opens with a Mexican stand-off between FBI agents, gang bangers and the Russian Mafia is pretty much an automatic win. Crime novelist Duane Swierczynski has delivered the best post-Garth Ennis Punisher storyline so far with this conclusion to his “Six Hours to Kill” arc. For those needing a refresher, the Punisher follows a ring of criminals to Philadelphia, where he is kidnapped and injected with a drug he’s told will kill him in six hours; for the antidote, he merely has to kill a particular mob target. This being the Punisher, he rejects the deal, and a night of mayhem and bloodshed ensues. Swierczynski succeeds in balancing the humor, twists, and straight-up carnage that made this one of the best books for misanthropic thrills. If you’ve missed the previous issues then catch the trade (no doubt coming soon).

The Walking Dead #61: Seriously, if you’re not reading this book, just start already.

So yeah, that's it for now. And remember to visit Detroit Comics and pick up all the "Old Man Logan" reprints, so Owner Brian's kids can eat. You don't want his kids to go hungry, do you? Do You?

*Thank you Kids in the Hall.