Monday, April 30, 2012

Buttercup Baby

Comics criticism has always been a particularly weak field, it's a subset of a subset of a genre which at best has 300,000 active readers. Its crafted in large part by hobbyists and a few professionals, who quickly realize how terrible everything is and leave. So much of it is little more than forum posts about who could win a fight between Batman and Popeye. Published* criticism doesn't even have to be strong, well researched, or even critical to see publication, it just has to exist, and fall within the sites narrative constraints. The big sites have to prop up the mainstream, the little sites have to prop up the indies, etc.

That's all, 500 words by Tuesday, please and thank you.

It tends not to be blunt; the bias has to have some deniability. So Comics Alliance will talk up a Ben Marra book, or iFanboy will pimp some Image [insert failed movie pitch] book. But those posts are one in every hundred, blips on the screen of commercial entities.

Every once in a while, through all that fog, a review that encapsulates the sites pure intentions will slip, and this week we got James Hunt's review of AVX:VS#1. Pure unadulterated PR.


The biggest problem i have with this review is that it's criticism by pass/fail. Something a student does to save their GPA after they spent the semester "dabbling" in cocaine. It happens, you need some way to convince your students parents that they aren't throwing ten grand down the hole each year, but allowing it to reap its ugly head in criticism is so insulting i can't even fathom how it saw publication. Publication I may add, by the most trafficked site on the medium.

On this point alone, the review should be shamed, scorned, and its writer should apologize for even thinking writing it, along with its editor for not calling bull shit. I can only conceive that this review was a elaborate joke, but everything I've scene under the tenor of the new editor leads me to believe this is a serious review.

Have you noticed how every review on CBR is super positive? Well except if it's a book written by Rich Johnson (comics journalistic whipping boy of choice, i mean why try and break a story when DC will send you a letter with it already written out for you in nice blurbs*). All under the tenor of CBR's new editor in charge of PR, oh sorry i mean reviews. Slip of the tongue. Really, completely accidental, otherwise that would be some charge. Merely a slip.Only a slip. A slip...Theirs certainly no ulterior reason why 15 of the 17 titles reviewed last week (April 18h) received positive (3 stars or above) reviews. It was just an AMAZING week for comics. Along with almost every week of his tenor. Man its a regular comics renaissance as of late over at CBR.

Hunts opens his review by saying "the book is practically review-proof. Either you want to see it or you don't. The question is, if you are buying it, does it deliver on its promise? " How can a serious critic even begin to call a book review proof? This isn't a Ditko 'Randian' fantasy, their is no white, their is no black, their is only grey, and that's the job of the critic. To sort out the grey, provide context, a critical evaluation; framing your review as a flip of the coin, good or bad, five stars or zero, is not criticism, it's what a four year old does when you ask them if they prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

Ignoring the inherent problem with having two, completely, separate fights take place under the guise of one narrative, our reviewer tries to distance the work from the critique of "decompression" not by discussing its relevance to the greater plot, or how much emotional impact these fights entail, coloring the characters future motivations. You know explaining why its not decompression, nope. Hunt merely mentions and then immediately dismisses the thought. Oddly enough, no one bought that tacit when Newsarama said their was no "controversy" around that scab of a book i don't feel like mentioning, and no one should buy the idea that having people punch for ten pages is anything but decompression. It may be nifty looking, but its not a story.

"If you like that idea, then you're going to love this book. If you think it sounds stupid, then 5-star rating or not, you can comfortably skip it" I'm not sure how ratings go, but 5/5 seems to be near perfection. How then, can a book that reaches this milestone be "skipable"even if the idea sounds dumb. Here's a list of some of the other works which have been granted a five star rating: Demo, Daytripper, Optic Nerve, The Playwright, Paying For It, Scalped. Doesn't seem like a list I'd describe the same way.

And then there's this:

"You could question what this contributes to the crossover in a wider sense and the answer is simple: nothing of any importance. Maybe it helps with the sense of scale and it arguably frees up the parent series for more plot, but don't think you're going to find any story nuggets tucked away in these pages. It's completely brainless -- attention has been paid to character, motivation and dialogue -- but the real joy is in seeing the characters deploy their powers in interesting ways, on an unusual stage, without any interruption"

I can explain until I'm blue in the face why this is wrong, but I think ill take a page out of our reviewers playbook and simply call him a cunt. And if you think he's not, your wrong, why? Because I said so, and that's all the criticism you need. Because i write for CBR.

The End;

rATING: Five Stars

wait no, heads was five stars...

rATING: Zero Stars

*I'm referring to published criticism as criticism on a established site, not a blog or fourm.
*That comic was a piece of shit though.

This World is an Open Door

When Rob Liefeld relaunched his Extreme imprint this year he made a point of sticking with the original numbering. Initially scene as a jab at the recent DC relaunch and Marvels constant barrage of re-numberings, but as the line rolled out, its become apparent that Liefeld's hesitance to relaunch the line with #1 issues stems from the line actually not featuring any #1 issues (with one exception*). It became clear that these launch titles were beholden to what has come before, with Glory #25 though, Keatinges begins to buck that trend.

As well crafted as Glory #23 is, Joe Keatinge's use of expository text in an attempt to bring an unfamiliar readership up to date with twenty-two issues worth of continuity, felt clunky. This also occurred in Bloodstrike #26, making a book about a top-secret-reincarnated-mercenary fighting techno-zombies into 15 pages of psychiatric exposition, with 7 pages of action thrown in. Keatinge's wasn't as heavy handed in his use of text, but his first two issues read  like an extended recap, with sprinkles of future plots scattered throughout, aided by artists Ross Campbell these tidbits of plot where enough to keep the book interesting, if not a tad laborious to read.

The influence of Prophet on Glory #25 is striking, by placing their protagonist in the distant future Brandon Graham and Simon Roy were able to avoid continuity updates which plagued the line. Similarly, Keatinge places Glory and Riley five hundred years into the future, on a different planet.  This time jump allows Keatinge's and Campbell to begin filling the reader in on their own continuity, not Liefeld's, and signal's a new direction for the book.

Where Keatinge's differentiates himself from Graham is his character work*, over the course of a fireside talk we see how Riley's youthful exuberance was shed following Glory's departure from earth, turning her into a run down warrior at the end of her life. Focusing on the character dynamics between Glory and Riley, Keatinge uses dialogue sparingly, avoiding overwriting the scenes, instead trusting his artist to sell the reader on the moment. Which Campbell accomplishes with ease.What felt like expository conversations in the previous issues, reads like two old friends catching up, trying to figure out how it all went so wrong. It may be a familiarization with the characters that causes this, but there's a warmth and flow to the dialogue that was absent in previous issues.

Campbell, since his first issue on Glory, has redefined the look of superhero comics,and this issue is no exception. Be it a busy alien market, a kinetic action sequence, or a heartbreaking moment of release, Campbell forces the reader to study his pages. One of the most chilling moments** involves Glory's arm being broken, while the initial panel consumes 3/4's of the page, the second panel focuses on Glory as she braces her arm,this image lingers onto the next page as the memory dissipates, its a perfect use of the page turn. Using the time jump inherent in the turning of a page by the reader, to reinforce the passage of time for a character.

Shinning a light on what could be, rather than what has been, Glory #25 is the break out issue of the Extreme Relaunch. Continuing Glory as it has always been is no longer an option, because we know how that story ends, and its not a happy ending. With this issue Joe Keatinge takes the reigns of this book and, we hope, steers it in a direction which will make Glory #25 a forgotten dream, and not a foreshadow of whats to come.

* Prophet
**This isn't a fault or a critique of Prophet, the book doesn't concern itself with characterization, operating instead as a sci-fi Conan comic. And who wants to read a self reflective Conan comic? ****
*** The other is a major spoiler so I'm not talking about it.
****Not me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

An Addendum

I wrote an essay for Alec Berry's weekly column on Spandexless. I'm really proud of the finished product, its one of my better articles. 

You can read it here:

Its the last article, below the thing about how awesome covers are.

Here are my final words on it, at least for now, this part was cut from the final draft, but i liked where it went so i expanded on it, and here we are. 

This week i had one of those special moments with comics, those moments when you sit down with a stack of books and realize there all connected, a narrative theme of sorts, between books published years, if not decades apart, spanning continents, and starring wildly different creative teams. Its a connection no one else will ever have, because no one will read these books the same way. Its something the disposable nature of comics facilitates. Film is precious, novels are archived, music is digitized, comics are thrown away and forgotten. What can easily be found in any other medium, The Film Brats, The Beatniks, is rare in comics, any thematic struggle between creators needs to be fleshed out and searched for. It's not until the past decade or two that this has even became a possibility, due to the recent archival nature many publishers have undertaken.

Finding Lost Girls and Gullivera, within moments of each other, was my first true find in this area. Theirs several other examples, Alan Moore and Frank Miller struggling to injecting realism into the mainstream, the Fort Thunder Collective redefining art comics, but those have been milled over and dissected to death. Their obvious. But this one, this ones just two guys, on different continents, unaware of each other, doing the exact same thing in completely different ways. It's refreshing, at least to me.

That's probably why I wrote 1,200 words on it, ignoring anything that could conceivably be considered a word count. Sorry Alec, but when that thought hits, it hits, and you have to keep on it. I'm still thinking about it, wanting to expand on the original thought, and one day i may find something else to add to it, I hope I can, but for now, this addendum will have to suffice.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brave as a Noun

Lets play a game, the following are a series of quotes by either Gary Groth or Matt Fraction do you think you can guess who said what?
Comics Journalist X gets exclusive interview with Creator/Editor/Executive Y, only to find every serious question is dodged for 6000 words. Yet it still runs as "news," because it's 6000 words nobody else has. "Comics news" is a setup; it's all PR and advertorial.
The mainstream press is near exclusively PR-driven and its cycles are artificially birthed and manipulated-- I mean, how much "news" has been broken concurrent with a new issue of WIZARD that's been in the production pipeline for three months? You'll see PR hyping Marvel's 50% dominance of the direct market in January, but no analysis that, yeah, but that stunt was born of Marvel double-shipping 75% of their books that month.
It feels phoned in as a matter of policy, it feels like it's all going by rote, repeating the same gags again and again. By and large, I mean. There are exceptions now as there were then, but mediocrity is the rule and the mainstream excels at choking off critical thought.
Jack Kirby's been dead 10 years-- And comics are exactly the same now as they were then. It doesn't feel like the mainstream's built to compete or evolve; the mainstream, the direct market, all of it seems to exist only to perpetuate itself. So yeah, man, I call bullshit. And I'm pleased to see that there are others doing the same in a way that's more profound than trolling on a message board or any of that nerdy jagoff crap.
Yes. I'm exhausted by the Culture of Attrition that's developed around pop culture, trash culture, whatever-- that the race to diminish expectations and the resignation that things are supposed to suck is taken as an acceptable state of things. If some blip on the pop screen registers even slightly above "total shit," it's lauded and praised to high-heaven.
If Fear Itself can be said to have a point, if that particular hurricane has an eye, it somehow is those three issues. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's sort of about legends, and myths, and the perseverance of legend and myth; and define the entirety of quote-"death"-unquote in comics to be absurd, and always have. To kind of do a story that ultimately, of all the different themes, dealt with, "what does death mean to these un-killable, un-destroyable legends?"
I'm more fascinated by individual creators playing the spin game. When creators cross that line and become active in their own press is when it all gets embarrassingly interesting.

(The answer is Matt Fraction on all counts)
Title Picture: 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Revolutionary But Gangsta / 50 in the Clip

When you roll up on us, you better make sure we is dead – cause Mayor or not, we gonna roll back up on your punk ass!!!
- Gangsta Rap Posse

On a cursory glance, Gangsta Rap Posse reads like the scrawling of a twelve year old who watched to many NWA video's, but it is so much more than that. Operating both as an artistic reaction to the inherent silliness of Gangsta Rap (because as many cops as Ice Cube shot, its 2012 and he works for TBS now) and a love letter the the genre, Marra's walks the fine line between farce and sincerity. Cenetering around a prominant Los Angeles 'Gangsta Rap' group, as they make there way across town to a release party.

This book isn't a mad dash across town though, Marra allows the Posse to explore the city. Taking breaks to shoot up a Neo-Nazi party, and prove who the real "Master Race" is, foil an assassination plot set forth by the mayor over the Posse releasing a sex tape "G.R.P. Gang Bangs Mrs. Mayor", and settleling the issue of copyright infringement over a balcony window. Gangsta Rap Posse exists for these digressions, the plot is irrelevant really, except as a pretense for these moments.

Marra, in these cut-aways, is able to weave historical Rap events; creating a depth one wouldnt expect from a book with the title Gangsta Rap Posse. Harold Smithsonion (George Clinton) and Snoozy Koblins (Bootsy Collins) of the Funk Congress International (Parliament-Funkadelic) attempting to assassinate the Gangsta Rap Posses over sampling, is a controversy which has plagued Hip-Hop since its formation (entire albums have been created with sampled beats). When the Posse holds Harold Smithsonion out a window and forces him to sign over the rights to his music, Marra is referencing Suge Knight's ("supposed") acquisition of Vanilla Ice "Ice Ice Baby" royalties, an event which lead directly to the formation of Death Row Records and the birth of Gangsta Rap.

As Tucker Stone pointed out, Marra's greatest artistic strength is his ability to make his characters act. Subtle gestures,like the cocking of the Mayors neck after being corrected for going on a racist tangent, the childlike shame on the Mayor's face when talking about his wife's sex tape, tell so much more about the character, than any exposition dump ever could. In addition to facial gestures, Marra plays with the stiffness of his lines to give an additional dimension of character to his figures. While the Posse and members of Funk Congress International are depicted with a loose swagger, the Police are posed like manikins, a subtle and effective way of differentiating the two groups.

This book would have failed if was merely an exercise in irony, a send off to 70's Blaxpoitation films with Gangsta Rap archetypes swapped in for Dolomite. An interesting elevator pitch, but not much more than that. Instead Gangsta Rap Posse takes this simple idea and builds on it. Adding tidbits of Hip-Hop history and controversy, gives Gangsta Rap Posse a depth that allows it to rise above simple parody. Gangsta Rap Posse delivers on its title, but through Marra's art and reverence for the genre, does so much more.

Written and drawn by Ben Marra (

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Note on A Subway Wall

Lazy post this week, working on something more substantial in the interim. 

Links / Comment's

Alec Berry wrote this ( its a fine review, maybe a little harsh in some points, but i get where he's coming from. I've written meaner things, so I'm not one to judge. I like how he keeps coming back to the limitlessness of the format, so many books are fine wallowing in mediocrity, but if theirs one medium you can still make your 2001 A Space Odyssey in it's comics, and yet so few even try.

The most interesting part though is in the comments section, in which the creator argues that Alec shouldn't have bothered reviewing his book, if he was going to give it a negative reviews because....what Bambi's mother said or something. Ive been talking to Alec about the nature criticism lately, probably out of angst, so i know his feelings pretty well. Which makes this guys comments so perfect/silly. If theirs one thing you don't want to pull on any serious critic, its the "Team Comics" card, because that shit wont fly.

The Eisner nominations were released today ( First off no Jaime Hernandez? Seriously, not even a best lettering? Shame! Notable absences also include: Michael Deforge, Dave Stewart, Dean White, Todd Klein, Hark A Vagrant!, and Dave Johnson. Past that i don't really care, i know awards are meaningless, but i still like to complain.

I really like Dylan Horrocks (:

Tucker Stone can be insightful at any word count (


Fanboys vs. Zombies #1
First off, this was a dollar so no harm in giving it a try. Also the comics community is having a collective circle jerk over their new messiah Sam Humphries, i remember a similar reaction to Nick Spenser, and we know how that's turned out. Fanboys vs. Zombies is fine. The art reminds me of the early issues of Invincible, the colors are light and pop. The writing plays up the comicon stereotypes for laughs, which is weird, in that the only people who would buy this book are the very people it mocks. But they're clearly talking about those other weirdoes and not me, seriously fuck those guys, god damn greasy hair man children. For a buck its probably worth a read, I don't see going any further than that though, its nothing special.
(What is with BOOM and there 50 fucking variant covers? Are they that desperate for money.)

Casanova- Avarita #3

Daredevil #10.1
Khoi Pham ain't Paolo Rivera no matter how much a certain editor tells you. This point is especially evident when you finish Daredevil #10.1 and realize its actually Daredevil #11, but Marvel wants to try and convince everyone that its not a fill in issues. So we get 8 pages of exposition before Waid just gives up and just writes issue #11.
Also did you see that Marcos Martin cover? Now that guy would be perfect for Daredevil.

Animal Man #8 -
The loss of Travel Foreman is really hurting this book, Steve Pugh has a roundness to his lines that undercuts the horror element. Foreman's angularity and heavy inking made grotesque monstrosities, Pugh's monsters look clean in comparison.

Bloodstrike #26
Just what i want from a character named Bloodstrike, an exposition laden therapy session mixed in with 5 pages of fighting. His name is fucking Bloodstrike, i don't care what he's feeling, just have him shoot stuff and look angry for 22 pages each month. The art is also way to clean on this book, of all the relaunch titles this is the one book you can go full Liefeld on and no one would complain. Instead we get the image equivalent of their house style.

Wolverine and the X-Men #8
Please don't fuck this book up Marvel, i know you want to, but you don't have to strangle the life out of every book with a modicum of critical praise.

Avengers vs. X-Men #1
I don't know, that happened? CBR and iFanboy will give it five stars, and in 3 months everyone will coincide that it was actually a piece of shit, but Marvel will have your money by then so tough shit.