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Issue #124

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #124
  • Ah, it’s the end of January,, and awards are in full bloom. The Golden Globes on Sunday night, Oscar nominations this morning (early, in prep for an early Feb. 29 awards show, presumably so studios can get an extra month cashing in on the winners during the winter doldrums before the new Spring releases start to hit; I’m a bit surprised AMERICAN SPLENDOR didn’t make the cut for best picture, though it’s up for Best Adapted Screenplay), various critics groups across the land prepping their own awards announcements… (Never mind Ebert and Roeper‘s 10 Best and Worst Movies Of The Year shows, and similar thing.) It’s a heady bouquet of swift judgment. Seems the right time for The Finger Awards, doesn’t it?

    Except for one thing:

    The Finger Awards are a hoax. Sort of.

    The blast of air that just roared past you was a collective sigh of relief from virtually every editor in the country; that it’s mostly blowing from east-northeast is no surprise, given where New York is. That omnidirectional low mutter is most likely the sound of comics freelancers everywhere.

    But please bear with me.

    Regular readers of the column will know that last week I introduced “The Finger Awards,” to celebrate the worst in comics editing, named after the one freelancer who had arguably been more screwed by the business than any other in history, writer Bill Finger, co-creator of a number of major characters including BATMAN, but whose name – and it’s important, I think, to note that this was caused by fellow freelancer and Bat-co-creator Bob Kane – was never on the credits and still doesn’t appear. The rules called for comics freelancers and only comics freelancers to vote in the following categories:

    Most controlling editor

    Least likely to return a phone call

    Most likely to insist on an unreasonable deadline

    Most likely to be your pal one day and fire you the next

    Most likely to let you find out via Newsarama that you’ve been fired rather than telling you

    Least likely to explain what he/she really wants on assignment

    Least likely to listen

    Most likely to pontificate

    Most likely to request a pitch then never look at it

    Most likely to order you to make a change then let you take the heat when the publisher doesn’t like it

    Most likely to change the work without telling you

    Most likely to not turn in your voucher

    Biggest liar

    Plus, just to be fair about it:

    *SPECIAL AWARD: worst editor ever (whether currently working in comics or not)

    SPECIAL AWARD: best editor (currently working)

    There are several reasons these awards shouldn’t be given out, at least not by me, but I should mention that they really were suggested (including a number of the categories) by an editor who’s totally fed up with the behavior of their collegues, and the number of votes indicate widespread discontent among the freelance community as well. None of this is about end product, it’s about the process, and unnecessary and consistent weasely editorial behavior which has apparently become institutionalized on an industry-wide basis, which most of you should be able to decipher from the voting categories.

    But such awards can’t come from me.

    There’s the issue of confidentiality, which I promised freelancers who voted. For many freelancers that’s a livelihood-affecting issue, and a reason why only a scant handful of freelancers, usually the ones whose names on a book are considered desirable by publishers, ever call editorial behavior into public light. (They’re usually dismissed as swell-headed primadonnas for not knowing their place, a phrase always guaranteed to win friends and influence people.) One of the critical problems of freelancing in comics is how easy it is to get labeled a “troublemaker,” even if you haven’t done anything, simply by virtue of an editor deciding you’re a troublemaker and warning fellow editors about you, and since editorial ranks, particularly in NYC, constitute a fairly small and interwoven club, it’s not hard to that kind of rep to destroy a career. So the only way to protect the confidentiality of voters is if I’m the only one who sees the votes.

    But if I’m the only one who sees the votes, there’s no outside verification (this is why companies like Price-Waterhouse are official auditors of awards programs, to ensure there’s no ballot-stuffing or other vote-shifting practices going on) of the vote, then you’re basically taking my word that I’m telling the truth about who won what, and that I’m not just making it all up. But I can’t afford a Price-Waterhouse, and I’m not about to let anyone else in comics see the votes. That’s how stories get started, and how careers get destroyed. (Rule of thumb here: unless it comes from someone talking about their own vote, any stories about who voted for whom have no validity unless they come directly from me, and I ain’t talking. If anyone tells you they heard it directly from me, they’re lying. Club them.)

    I’m not here to destroy any careers.

    That goes for editorial careers, too. A common comment on the awards, from both those who loved and hated the idea of them, was a hope (or fear) that winning an award would get an editor fired. Let’s think this through. Does anyone honestly believe there’s a publisher or editor-in-chief or whatever who isn’t already aware of editorial behavior? At best, they maintain an conscientious, willful ignorance of the situation. Let’s face it, there aren’t many comics talents any company considers “indispensable” (otherwise Grant Morrison would still be writing JLA or NEW X-MEN, wouldn’t he?), and it has become fairly standard practice for companies to automatically side with editors against talent when faced with complaints, as it has been fairly standard practice to encourage editors to view themselves, as the extension of the company, as the “true author” of any book they edit, with editors in many cases trying to reduce talent to robots. Sure, getting voted “Most likely to order you to make a change then let you take the heat when the publisher doesn’t like it” could conceivably get an editor fired, but getting voted “best editor” could just as easily have the same result, if your publisher or editor-in-chief decides this means you’re too cozy with freelancers and are maybe watching out for their interests more than the company’s. I don’t know if anyone currently in power at Marvel or DC holds an attitude like that, but it’s far from unheard of in this business.

    Here at the palatial Permanent Damage offices, we heard from a lot of editors as well as freelancers. Not surprisingly, they were mostly angered by the awards, which almost all of them insisted were mean-spirited and unfair.

    They’re half-right. They are unfair. Mean-spirited? Well, sometimes you have to whup ’em upside the head to get their attention. For two or three seconds, we have their attention.

    The awards are intrinsically unfair because only a certain number of freelancers ever have contact with any given editor. A preliminary vote might pivot on actual freelancer experience, but a final round, with candidates whittled down to three from the full range, would almost certainly depend on stories of editorial behavior passed from freelancer to freelancer. Hearsay, in other words. Quite understandably, and quite ironically, many editors were upset that they could receive an award based solely on stories spread around about them. Is it fair that a career could get squashed because someone spread untrue stories about someone? Of course not.

    Let’s face it, the Finger awards shouldn’t be about lies, they should be about accountability. So were they just about screwing with people’s heads? No. As my friend Adi Tantimedh put it on the GRAPHIC VIOLENCE board:

    “Editors are gainful company employees with very good salaries (especially if they work for the major publishers), expenses and health plans.

    Freelancers frequently live hand-to-mouth these days, many have to hold day jobs on top of working in the comics field because the latter no longer ensures a livable wage.

    Freelancers who **** people around eventually get blackballed and tend not to be employed again.

    Editors who **** people around are still gainfully employed and often even get promoted and pay raises.

    Editors have the power to ensure whether freelancers are employed or not. Freelancers are often at the mercy of editors.

    It’s not a level playing field.”

    There’s no reason to think it ever will be. But it should be more level. The sheer volume of freelancers who voted, and added their own horror stories as punctuation, indicates widespread unrest among freelancers, and, while companies traditionally dismiss such things as whining by crybabies (whereas many fans and aspiring comics talents respond to freelancer complaints with “boy, what are they complaining about? I wish I had their job!” – but quickly resort to similar complaints when they become professionals themselves) it’s time some sort of standards for editorial behavior in freelancer relations were established. (These things are reciprocal, of course; perhaps it’s time there were guidelines for freelancer behavior as well. Of course, it would take either a guild – not going to happen – or the companies to enforce it, and they’d have to enforce it equally across the board, and that’s not ever going to happen either.) But those aren’t for me, or even for freelancers, to develop. It’s up to each publisher to decide how they want their freelancers to deal with freelancers, and it’s quite possible that decision has already been made.

    I’d like to apologize for pulling a fast one on the many, many freelancers who took the time to vote, and I hope the argument that it was for a good cause is some small consolation. You put a scare into them. (If they knew how many freelancers took the time to vote, it’d really put a scare into them.) Hopefully, even in the absence of company guidelines, editors will look at the list of awards and figure out which – many seemed to have a strong idea – they qualified for. And stop doing it!

    Personally, guys, I’d prefer this was a one-time thing and not a warning shot off the port, so work with us, ’cause there are a lot of pissed off freelancers out there and you’re not exactly easing tensions, y’know?

    On a bright note, none of the three front-runners for Worst Editor Ever – and these guys were way ahead of the pack – are working in comics anymore… (And, of the several discussions that popped up around the web about the Fingers, this was our favorite.) (And, yeah, if any editors want to provide lists of freelancer behavior they’d like modified, I’d be happy to run them here without attribution, and with the same confidentiality I extend to freelancers. No reason this can’t be a two-way street.)

  • Have I mentioned this before? Word is the networks are reconsidering the whole concept of “the fall season,” what with Fox spinning some of its biggest hits (THE O.C., for example) out of the traditionally flat summer season. It’s not the first time networks have contemplated year-round programming, but they seem to be discussing it more seriously now, with maybe three “seasons” where new shows would be introduced and the schedules would be shuffled some. Which would allow them to dodge schedule-killing whammys like the World Series as well, and maybe give more second chances to shows that deserved better than their original crummy timeslot. There are also economic factors for them to consider: instead of being on the hook for an expensive show like, say, FRIENDS or FRAZIER for 22-26 episodes a year, they could cut back to 13-18 episodes and finesse the rest of the year with shows cheaper to make. Or stagger programming so some shows would go for two consecutive seasons before taking a break, to hopefully give the rub to two or more shows around them. More room for mini-series and HBO-style programming as well. Not, of course, that networks would necessarily take advantage of possibilities, but they’d be there more than now.

    And I can’t help thinking that a smart publisher could make some headway, if they keep publishing regular comics, with a similar “three-season” publishing system. Breaking up the schedule would make arcs make more sense (why have three or four months between issues of, say, DAREDEVIL when you can simply program a four month layoff, which can be filled on the schedule with some other book?), it’d give talent more time to turn out the material and give the companies more time to promote it, not to mention more time for everyone to conceive the product. It could make for periods where books could be published every other week instead of monthly. Sure, it’d take a little while to adjust the audience to it, but they’re mostly adjusted to ridiculous publishing gaps in way too many projects as it is; that disintegration of credibility hasn’t helped the American comics market anyway.

    Just a thought, but it’s got possibilities…

    A couple bits of mail on cold January morning:

    “Just read your latest post, and also the Sean Collins blog post, and I had a few thoughts to share. First, let me toot my own horn, and set myself up for a let down. Not that I’m parrticularly proud of all my efforts there, but I used to write for Broken Frontier, a well meaning group of comics enthusiasts with a fun site, that’s my take anyway. I wrote an (unfinished but published) article about comic book history, commentary, and criticism . I assume you read it, since you commented on/denigrated my point in the following week’s Permanent Damage.

    I disagree with you on what a standard aesthetic is, I’ll explain what I mean when I use the term. Who knows, maybe I’m not using the proper language, I explain in the next paragraph that I’m a bad and lazy writer. A 30 second commercial about a new TV show, movie, genre novel, or chain restaurant can provide all the info the viewing public needs to know in order to make a personal judgment on whether said product is right for them, that is a shared standard aesthetic. I think a standard aesthetic is shared among the comics community, I can lay an open copy of a golden age, silver age, bronze age, and modern age comic in front of most any serious fan, and they can differentiate between them, and even know whether they are likely to enjoy the comic. Sure it can be debated and refined to the point where comics fans could identify good and bad examples of those comics, but just because the aesthetic is simple, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. However, this isn’t true for society at large when it comes to comics, they don’t know much about them, their history, or their content. I can show you a panel by C.C. Beck and one by Curt Swan, and you can tell me who did what.( I didn’t get paid anything to write my article. It being posted on a popular comic book fan site was enough for me. When you (I assumed) commented on my views, even though you disagreed, I was thrilled. A pro read what I wrote (again, I assumed) and was even driven to comment on it. Still, as Sean points out about fanboys like me, I surely didn’t put much effort into any of it. Most of my articles were rife with factual errors, bad grammar, and unfinished thoughts. Some personal problems in my life forced me to give up the lavish lifestyle of a comics journalist, and fandom was spared from my poor excuse for copy. There are still plenty of guys out there, making the mistakes, not supporting their opinions, and “fanboying out” at the expense of the English language. More power to them. Everyone has one, and the web is the place to show it off, no I’m not talking about porn. As fans, that’s what we’ve got, and though he doesn’t say it, Sean implies, that’s what were stuck with, barring someone with lots of money and bad decision making skills.

    I think what is at the root of Sean’s statement, and what I was reaching for but couldn’t possibly achieve with my article, was the need for validation from the rest of the country. Non-comics fans, for the most part, aren’t going to ever read a Comics’ Journal, they don’t know who Gary Groth is and don’t care about his alleged ulterior motives. And that pretty much goes for all the exclusive coverage of the comic-book industry, electronic or in print. When there is a need for professional reporting about the comics world, the money will be there.

    I don’t care if my friend hates Jack Kirby’s art, he should at least know who he is. He doesn’t. When I talk to someone about American Splendor, and mention A Contract with God, they should know what I’m talking about. They don’t. The public is uninformed about comics. It’s not my fault for being a fan who wants to share his enthusiasm online with other fans. It’s just the way things are. A lot of blame has been passed around about the state of the comic book industry, and the situation may be as bleak as ever. (No, I don’t mean to suggest you or Sean was blaiming fan journalism, this is just another one of those unfinished thoughts, coupled with bad grammar, remember I’m a bad and lazy writer.) Still, I can’t predict the future, and with all the focus in Hollywood on comic book properties, and all the news attention to creators rights where credits are concerned, maybe the tide is slowly changing. I’ve read a lot, and frankly, there were more great comics produced between 1990 to 2000, than good books, in my opinion, and that was one of the biggest and longest creative droughts in comic book history. Does it matter, no. No one reads them.”

    “‘Go at this pace, you can’t learn more, you have to learn as much as the stupidest kid in the class, and then move on. We’ll also show you every detail, so you can’t imagine them for yourself, and won’t discover them to your own wonderment. You will be only able to piece it together if we blatantly show you the clues, obviously, so that’s what we will do.’ I know he was talking about comics, but that sounds a hell of a lot like our current political climate. What scares me the most, however, is that in politics, that attitude may be the closest to home with the reality of the average voter.”

    “I said this before, but it seems even more appropriate after the Iowa caucus. The Democrats are killing their chances of defeating Bush.

    I liken the race to a school of piranha preparing to attack a shark. If the piranha all attack the shark in unison, one of them will take the bite that finally kills the shark. But each of the piranha is so obsessed with getting to be the one who takes that fatal bite that the group is consuming itself with competition. By the time the final-bite-taker is determined, the school will be so decimated that it will be just one piranha against a big ol’ shark. And that could be ugly.

    The Dems aren’t going to win until they start behaving like a party, instead of a bunch of individuals. (It might be advantageous to sell a candidate as “his own man”, but too much of it can make the party look weak. And Americans don’t vote for what they see as weakness.)

    The Dems haven’t caught up with the political climate in the press. When Clinton ran, there was much less manipulation by the broadcast news. Clinton was able to rise to the top because the media was watching. But increasingly since then, the media has become involved. The constant repeating of “the Dems don’t have a winnable candidate” is fuel for the GOP cause. If the corporate media wasn’t taking sides, then you’d think they’d push the idea of Dubya being vulnerable–because a heated race gets more ratings and advertising. They’d instead be asking “who will be chosen to challenge the vulnerable incumbent” or some such.

    The Dems need to wake up and realize that it’s them against the GOP and the corporate media. So, I guess it’s actually a school of piranha against two sharks.”

  • Waithow long ago was the State Of The Union address? I’m having trouble remembering it already. Something about putting up a billion dollars to send a manned flight to Mars, a sum so small for the task that it can only be called showboating. (Not to mention that robotic exploration, as on Mars currently, is far cheaper and less risky, though, of course, far less romantic, and TV can’t go as tabloid about incommunicado Rovers as they could if astronauts were missing.) The rest of it was about, what? I vaguely recall a listless mumbling how a thousand new jobs have been created (never mind that the Hand Puppet promised 250 times that in the same time frame)and about how great the economy is (if you ignore the impending half-trillion dollar deficit probable in 2004… but at least TV shows are refusing to run the prize-winning Democratic ad about children working to support administration spending, huh?). Mostly I seem to remember various suggestions for obliterating the separation of church and state as being the bulk of it. The White House continues to seem in a state of quiet scramble: last year’s SOTU, you may recall, was filled with “proof” of Iraq’s immediate threat and weapons of mass destruction, while this year chief arms inspector David Kay, formerly a champion of the inevitability of finding WMDs, sullenly resigned his post resigned to the likelihood they were never there, but even on his way out the door he aimed a salvo of the official administration story that “the intelligence community” either failed us or lied to the Hand Puppet, which completely ignores that the CIA originally looked at their data and denied the probability of WMDs in Iraq, only to have v.p. Cheney strongly suggest they go over their data until it meets up with what the White House already “knew.” Which CIA director George Tenet kindly later provided, over reported objections of many CIA researchers. (For an organization that’s ostensibly hush-hush, the CIA is amazingly good at getting its own side of a story out there.) Cheney’s a bit more sullen these days, complaining that his “former” company, Halliburton, which is kindly returning some $6+ mil of taxpayer money after ripping off some $60+ million of it, is basically just being badrapped by enemies of the administration who see the corporation, the seemingly endless recipient of Administration largesse via uncontested high-paying service contracts, as an easy target. Even conservatives are getting fed up with the White House these days. Over at Slate, pundit Fred Kaplan, who can only be considered to have anything even remotely resembling leftist leanings in that he’s vaguely to the left of Bob Novak, ran a concise exegesis of various Presidential “interpretations” of reality, talking about how the Hand Puppet’s supporting the police and homeland security by cutting their budget; how the administration has bungled the fight against al-Qaeda despite claiming to have elimination ¨øs of their membership; how the Hand Puppet jumped the gun on declaring the end of war in Iraq; how the administration pushed a police of ostracizing the UN from any say in Iraq’s future until things started getting too hot for the Hand Puppet politically; how the “international coalition” in Iraq, aside from Britain, is little more than a cheering section; etc. It’s fascinating reading. Of course, the official word from the White House as to why they pursued a war in Iraq (as opposed to pursuing the far more shadowy al-Qaeda to extinction) – now that weapons inspectors have crapped out on them (hell, even Colin Powell has admitted it now) and former cabinet secretaries have revealed that as early as immediately after his inauguration the Hand Puppet said, “Find me a way to do this” – is that they wee simply following a course already put in play by the Clinton administration. Which, if true, would be something of a first; the current administration’s obsession with distancing itself as totally as possible from Clinton’s policies made Condaleeza Rice, the Hand Puppet’s security advisor, decide to ignore the briefing on the al-Qaeda threat Clinton’s people gave her during the transition. Besides which, to all appearances, Clinton’s interest in crushing Iraq doesn’t seem to have extended past the policy paper written by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz that failed to gain his endorsement. To the extent that there was any specific plan for invading Iraq circulating during the Clinton administration, that seems to have been it. So… who’s kidding who here?

    (I see in this morning’s paper that Cheney, previously the Invisible Man of the administration and the one they went to the greatest lengths to protect on 9-11, is causing a little more annoyance for the administration by going duck hunting with old pal, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who may be sitting in judgment over whether Cheney will have to open to public scrutiny the records on his energy task force, as Democrats have started demanding Scalia recuse himself from the case and Chief Justice Rehnquist has indicated he doesn’t have any problem with his justices wining, dining and hunting with defendants in important cases. “Anyone is free to criticize the actions of a justice” after a case is over, concludes Rehnquist, cleverly omitting that Supreme Court decisions cannot be appealed. November 2000 logic in the Supreme Court holds.)

    In fact, so much is coming out to contradict virtually every statement out of the White House that sometimes it seems like the only thing the administration still has going for it is the Democrats, whose recent “mudslinging” truce lasted only as long as it took Howard Dean to slip in the New Hampshire polls. Dean, claiming other Democrats were waging a slur war against him via the phone system, started harping on current frontrunner John Kerry, who poked back. It hardly matters. What’s most interesting about the New Hampshire primary is that the vast majority of voters in the state characterize themselves as independents (causing Republicans to make a last minute push in the state to pretty much convince them not to vote for any Democrat), which are increasingly the big swing vote in presidential politics. Certainly John Edwards, when touting his lack of a life in politics, was pushing for “Beltway outsider” status with New Hampshire’s independents while promoting himself as the best chance for change in Washington. Sure, there was that poll that said Kerry would cream Bush if the election were held today and they were the candidates, and I’m sure that gave the White House some pause, but I don’t believe it either; what a handful of people in a Concord shopping mall say on the spur of the moment isn’t anything to hang political hopes on. Still, whoever survives the Democratic primaries will face a president who, at the moment, is far more vulnerable than the White House would prefer to let on. Sure, high approval ratings, but approval ratings aren’t votes, and the Hand Puppet’s father went into his re-election with high approval ratings, touting a fabulous economy that wasn’t there, and ended up on permanent vacation. The trick, which the Democrats are notoriously bad at, isn’t fielding a candidate who’s less vulnerable than the president but fielding a candidate who can present himself as such.

    Meanwhile, this is interesting: Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel are trying to create an organization of musicians so they can sell their music online themselves, cutting out the record companies. Currently record companies set the priorities and the prices, more to protect their CD publishing than to protect or promote artists. Cutting out the middlemen has long been a desire of many artists, musicians, writers, etc., and you may remember the Internet was originally touted as a means to do that, but efforts so far have had spotty results. Both Eno and Gabriel, though, are equally fairly tough businessmen who can usually get what they want, so this might be one to follow.

  • Time to play review catch-up, starting with TOUCH OF DEATH #3 (Brain Scan Studios; $2.95). I haven’t been thrilled with the series so far – development has been slow, the art by Ray Dillon and GW Fisher has been uneven (to say the least), and they had an annoying habit of using half of each issue to reprint previous segments – but #3 is some improvement, mostly because the story, of strange islanders with a killing touch and the amorphous secret agency that wants to turn them into weapons, comes to an end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very interesting. Better, though, is a brief backup by Brian Kirtsten, with art by Erich Owen, who needs practice but looks like he may develop into something if he keeps at it.

    Jason Pell, Roberto Viacara & Eduardo Bazan’s ZOMBIE HIGHWAY #1-2 (of 3) (Bughouse Comics; $2.95@) is a fairly stylish, fairly empty retelling of various zombie movies, as four outlaw heroes ride the road stealing stuff, cutting deals and shooting zombies. All very tongue-in-cheek with an unsettling (I’m sure it’s intended to be ironic, but it’s unsettling nonetheless) streak of homophobia running through it. Not great, not terrible; another comic with art that’s almost there, but not quite. But maybe I’m spoiled, and the days where, oh, body proportions stayed the same from panel to panel are over. (Overall, Viacara and Bazan do a good job here, but that just makes it all the more obvious when they don’t.)

    Speaking of stylish, and zombies, I think I missed an issue of Viper ComicsDEAD @17 ($2.95) so I’m not sure who’s attacking the dead heroine (okay, she’s not a zombie, she’s just walking dead) and her still living friends, except now there’s some sort of shadow organization out to win control over life and death and make a fool out of God. I kind of like the book – writer/artist Josh Howard knows how to keep the work reasonably convincing (which, y’know, is the purpose of sharp art, to create the sense of a real world within the pages, and consistency is a key element of that, even if the art, which, here, is very cartoony, isn’t “realistic”) – but as it starts slipping into familiar territory, the lapse of imagination casts it onto shaky ground. A jump from different to familiar is never good, though Josh still has an issue to redeem himself. It’s great to see a full color independent comic, though, and the color (Josh again) is pretty nice.

    Wait a minute! Here in the pile is Bughouse Comics’ THE PICTURE SHOW #1 ($2.95), written by Jason Pell, that apparently introduces the characters and situation of ZOMBIE HIGHWAY. (Turns out the zombies just came out of nowhere all over and started attacking, just like in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.) There’s a story about what happens to the world when Jesus’ second coming is truncated by a car accident with fairly incoherent art by Philipp Neundorf, and a pretty pointless self-explanatory vignette called “Punks In the 24th Century” that features no punks except a guy with a spiky Mohawk. Otherwise it’s guns and slight comedy, with some very nice art from Trebor. Mildly amusing, but hard to get excited about.

    Jason Pell also provided the script to GRELL (Bughouse Comics; $2.95), a one-shot that, oddly, has nothing to do with Mike Grell. Instead it’s an occult western, the eponymous Grell a drifting cowboy/John Constantine stand-in, battling some frontier barons with black magic on their minds and a demon in captivity. Grell seems poised to go after Aleister Crowley at some point. The writing’s not bad, the Federico Zumel and Trebor art is murky. It’s okay.

    Then there’s the month’s IDW flood:

    I’m still not sure who GRUMPY OLD MONSTERS #2 ($3.99), Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Guillermo Mendoza and Paco Cavero’s tale of familiar Universal monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, the Mummy, etc.) in geriatric versions, is supposed to appeal to – the aging monsters angle seems to skew too old for kids, while the style skews too young for adults – as they all break out of their old folks home on a quest to save Castle Frankenstein from redevelopment by the Van Helsing corporation. With dayglo colors (I know some people hate them, but I kind of like them), cartoony art and a thin story, it reads more like a pitch for a Saturday morning show (which may be the whole point) than a comic book. Despite all that, it’s also an oddly pleasant little book.

    WAKE THE DEAD #2-3 ($3.99@) continue Steve Niles and Chee’s Frankenstein tale of high school kids building their own monster from body parts of the recently dead (including reviled former classmates) in a small town. The main part of the story is a bit thin – why the hero Victor wants to reanimate the dead, and how he comes by the technology to do it, considering he’s in high school, remains underdeveloped – but Niles has a good time building the paranoia and mushrooming tendency toward violence in a town ripped apart by death. Unfortunately, with this kind of story and build-up, there are few ways it can go, so Niles’ big challenge is to play against predictability. Nice art, which really picks up once the monster is “born” in #3.

    Beau Smith’s WYNONNA EARP ($3.99@), ultraviolent guntoting monster/outlaw hunting descendent of the famed Western lawman, returns from obscurity in a new series. I have to say I never cared much for her earlier incarnation, but this one’s a bit more interesting, with sharper art and an interesting sense of history, but the opening scene of miraculously immortal Clanton Gang members tormenting Wyatt at the hour of his death read like something out of HOLLIDAY, the indie horror western starring Earp’s OK Corral partner Doc Holliday. It picks up modern day with Wynonna taking down irate zombie mailmen secretly sent after her by the Clanton Gang. That’s the scenario: Wynonna Earp and her gun-toting friends inevitably heading for a second OK Corral. I don’t quite know what to say about it yet. Smith still has a tendency to freeze his stories for long sequences of ultraviolence, but after awhile it’s a little hard to take the endless slaughter of various monsters (esp. if they’re hillbilly gremlins) seriously. But it’s got swagger, I’ll give it that. It just feels like it’s going to take way too long to get where it’s going.

    I’m still lukewarm on CVO, the videogame-connected remake of Creature Commandos as a covert action team that gets about as uncovert as you can get in #3 ($3.99). After four issues (including the special that introduced the team), I’m still not sure who’s who (except for a zombie named Benny), or what the story was – characterization is functional but everyone’s mainly out to show how badass they can be, while the plot just sort of jumps from explosion to explosion – but the art, by Gabriel Hernandez, has grown on me so much that it saves the book for me.

    The latest CSI arc, “Bad Rap,” pushes toward its conclusion with #4, and about all I have to say about it is what I’ve been saying: if you like the TV show, the comic, by Max Allen Collins, Gabriel Rodriguez and Ashley Wood, with the forensics team tracking down the killer of an up-and-coming “punk rapper,” is about as close as you’re going to get to the TV experience on the printed page. The Grissom character’s dependence of dry macabre humor is more annoying here than in the show, but otherwise Collins has the characterizations dead on, and the plotting is easily as clever as the show’s. It’s about as good a media tie-in as you’re likely to find these days.

    Finally, Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s sequel to 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, DARK DAYS, which could have been a fairly routine thriller about a survivor of the 30 DAYS massacre hunting and being hunted by vampires, ends with a bang in #6. The action’s logical and controlled, and the swerve (there’s more than one) from the inevitability of heroine Stella’s fight against her vampiric enemies has a nicely horrific payoff. I occasionally had doubts about DARK DAYS along the way, but the ending’s terrific.

  • Remember that right about now, MY FLESH IS COOL #1, with art by Sebastian Fiumara, and VIVID COMIX #1, should both be available from Avatar Press. You can also hit up your local comics retailer for:

    DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

    Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.

    MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

    Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

    BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

    Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

    BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

    Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

    PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

    Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he’s out takes an unexpected turn.

    GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

    Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

    FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

    Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller’s vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

    I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don’t forget that if you can’t find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers Khepri and Mars Import. I’m still working on a complete listing of upcoming projects, but I’m also working on the projects themselves as well as a screenplay, so time is pretty tight. But keep looking; the online shop will be up at the Paper Movies Web site soon as well, I promise.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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