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Issue #96

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #96
  • The comics business has more or less shut down in anticipation of the San Diego Con, (aka Comic-Con International), and why should I be any different? I’m scrambling around getting together what I need for meetings there, and there’s not much to talk about anyway, so we’ll do a little hit-and-run this week:

    The biggest Marvel news is their capitulation to… well, I don’t know to who or what, exactly, since good taste doesn’t enter into it… by deciding not to publish Pete Milligan’s X-STATICS story starring Princess Diana after all. Too bad, because Milligan remains one of our best and most outrageous writers and the storyline promised to show him in top form, and because there was something really heartwarming about the London Sun moaning about Marvel cutting into their turf by crassly exploiting the memory of “The People’s Princess.” Hell, boys, Milligan’s English and has every right to make statements about any Royals alive or dead he wants (English taxpayers pay for them, after all) and we’re Americans; princesses are supposed to mean squat to us. Oh, well, at least Marvel considered publishing it. There was an episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where self-involved anchor Ted Baxter does something noble and honorable, and when he reverts to type by episode’s end, snarky copywriter Murray Slaughter lets it go without comment, explaining to Mary, “When a turkey flies, you don’t complain that he doesn’t stay up long.” Which is pretty much the proper reaction to Marvel in this instance. Hail to thee, noble turkey. I just wonder why no one’s asked Pete for his response to the story’s abandonment.

    Meanwhile, Jim Steranko is making noise about the claim that Will Eisner is “the father of the graphic novel.” He’s got a point, as his CHANDLER: RED TIDE, predated Will’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD by some years, and RED TIDE is a single story in one volume while A CONTRACT WITH GOD is a collection of short stories. The claim has bewildered me for some time as well. I mean, lord knows Will Eisner can claim plenty of glory in this business without people dumping one on him that he doesn’t really merit. That’s nothing against Will, that’s just the fact, jack. I don’t think Jim even really deserves the honor. French graphic novel in soft and hard cover were published years before RED TIDE (ASTERIX and TINTIN were both in American trade paperback release with complete stories in each book in the early ’70s) and I remember original mass market comics paperbacks being released in the ’60s. (Notably Harvey Kurtzman’s JUNGLE BOOK, but I know there were others.) There was Gil Kane’s BLACKMARK from Bantam Books, and several hardcover graphic novels (I’m thinking Richard Corben’s BLOODSTAR; is that right?) in the early ’70s. So unless you get really anal about formatting (“a true graphic novel must be in trade paperback format” etc.) you’ve got lots of competition for “first graphic novel.” (And if you don’t restrict format, for length alone I’d put Gil’s HIS NAME IS SAVAGE on the list.) And Will, sad to say, and again taking nothing away from A CONTRACT WITH GOD, which is a good enough book to be essential without any trumped up claims, isn’t even in the top ten. Then again, maybe neither is Jim…

    I spent a few weeks commenting on Nick Barrucci’s “Up Comics” proposition, and now notoriously irascible comics shop owner Brian Hibbs has gotten into the act, citing a number of problems facing the business: the lack of comics shops near most of the public, the changes in inventory with a shift from the back issue to the paperback economy, and much more. I’d dissect Hibbs’ comments as well, but time is short and I mostly agree with him.

    Maybe the funniest story of the week was the Florida stripper who claims she gave Stan Lee the idea for the new Spike TV cartoon show, STRIPPERELLA. I’ll resist the urge to wonder what idea can possibly be found in STRIPPERELLA and instead why Stan would be hanging around Florida strip clubs fishing for ideas that seem to have popped up (wasn’t it supposedly Pam Anderson’s idea?) months earlier? And doesn’t the Florida stripper, who’s suing Stan and Pam for a piece of the action (I’ll pass up that obvious joke too), know the old saw about someone who represents herself having a fool for a lawyer?

  • It was sickly gratifying to see that virtually every review of the widely panned LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN film (and, let’s face it, if you couldn’t tell by the trailer, which sported a cocky, robust Allan Quartermain that couldn’t have been more dissimilar to the dissipated, unnerved Quartermain of the comic, that things weren’t what they might have been, you probably deserved to spend your money on a ticket; as my grandmother used to say, you don’t have to cut your finger off to know you’re going to bleed) ended with praise for the comic and wishes the movie would’ve stuck with the source material instead of tarting it up with BATMAN design work (can’t have a superhero movie unless the backdrop looks like BATMAN, now can you?). It wasn’t that long ago that mentioning comic books in the same breath as a movie adaptation was a death knell, and now here are the top film critics in the country not only criticizing a film for not being as good as its comic but actively touting the literary virtues of the comic and suggesting potential ticket buyers spend their money on the graphic novel instead. Now that’s progress.

    On the other hand, some reviews of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN have puzzled the hell out of me. (By the way, the “logic flaw” I mentioned last week turned out to have been misremembrance instead, the problem with not being able to rewind and review in a movie theater…) If you think the movie’s too long, okay. If you don’t like the characters, fine. If you dismiss the film just because it’s “based” on an amusement park ride, that’s just laziness. It’s dishonest. It’s like panning a song because it costs 50¢ to play it on a jukebox and you don’t like to carry quarters. What’s it got to do with anything? And I’ve read half a dozen reviews that did that. So let me repeat: if you haven’t seen PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and you want to catch a film this week, it’s a lot of fun.

  • This brewing war between the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency is getting fun to watch too, but it’s putting me in the uncomfortable position of rooting for the CIA. All over someone finally noticing that despite mentioning Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of the fuel for nuclear weapons in the State Of The Union Address, which, in combination with the repeated but still officially deniable inference that Saddam bankrolled/masterminded/flew in a cockpit of the World Trade Center attack, gave many Americans reason to consider him an imminent threat to actual American soil and needed to be dealt with immediately: a claim that was mysteriously not reiterated when Powell tried to make the USA’s case to the UN a few days later.

    (Let alone being a menace to American soil, there’s no actual evidence that Saddam Hussein could even find America on a map. Then again, many American students can’t do that either, a situation that won’t be helped by the administration’s “education reform,” which demands schools across the country bring learning up to a specific level or lose federal funding without giving them the money or tools to implement such improvements. By applying the same system to education that it has applied to welfare, the administration’s plan seems more designed to eliminate federal funding for schools than to improve education. Which fits the White House’s proclivity to eliminate any federal spending that doesn’t put money into the pockets of the military or big business.)

    Anyway, rather than face charges they deliberately misled the American public to an invasion of Iraq by presenting false accusations (one of several in the State Of The Union address, but who’s counting?), the White House has chosen to pass the buck, and claim it was the CIA’s fault. The CIA gave them faulty information, and they figured that out a couple days after the speech, which is why Powell didn’t repeat it. Which falls apart on a couple of levels. If they learned they’d made a mistake about it, why didn’t they tell anyone? (As of this morning, contrary to everything else that has come out of the White House in the last couple weeks, the Hand Puppet boldly declared they will find evidence Saddam was cranking up his nuclear program. You’ll see. You’ll all see. Presumably they’ll find it shortly after they find all those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction…) They’re actually right about the CIA verifying the “nuclear” information (subsequently proven to be forged), and it’s actually appropriate that CIA director George Tenet has agreed to fall on his sword over it. The Company, however, seems disinclined to follow him, so the story’s not going away, and it’s more complicated than Tenet’s admission suggests.

    First, claims of Saddam’s nuclear program were known to be lies well before the SotU. In fact, two years earlier, the CIA had told British Intelligence to stop bandying the report about because it was untrue (which suggests – not incredibly, given how much of Powell’s “evidence” was lifted from shoddy British intelligence reports; remember that whole business of them ripping off a college student’s thesis and presenting it as “serious intelligence” which British Prime Minister Blair continued to tout as the real deal regardless of point of origin? – that the British were the true source of the nuke lie, not the CIA), and for months prior to the SotU complaints were coming out of the CIA about how Vice President Dick Cheney was, unusually for a VP, becoming a fixture at Langley, steadily “encouraging” CIA analysts to keep going over their data until they came up with conclusions that justified the Administration’s desired positions. (The CIA is far from the only government agency that has received this treatment from the Hand Puppet’s White House.) There were suggestions that if the CIA “couldn’t get the job done,” their functions would be reassigned to agencies like the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of Homeland Security. And, yes, political appointee George Tenet did eventually “edit” CIA reports to make them more “responsive” to Administration “needs” – over vocal protest from CIA analysts. This is how we know this. The CIA, traditionally the most closed-lipped of organization, has been letting information about Administration behavior slip for months. Which may be why the press and some Congressmen aren’t letting this business fade away like the White House would obviously prefer. These guys may view themselves as power brokers, but the CIA has had decades of experience in dodging political bullets, and these aren’t people who willingly fall on their swords. Of course the CIA never takes steps to influence elections in America (or anywhere else), but, if I were in the Hand Puppet’s Administration, I’d think twice before feuding with these guys. You don’t piss on the guys who know where all the skeletons are buried unless you’re willing to be buried yourself.

  • Been buried in graphic novels:

    THE BIG O just debuted on Cartoon Network‘s Adult Swim (but I haven’t gotten around to watching it), and Viz has issued the first BIG O trade paperback ($9.95), by Hitoshi Ariga. I read a couple of these stories a few months back in comics form, and, while it reads better in trade form, I can’t say I’m impressed. It’s like Batman by way of Osama Tezuka: in the domed Paradigm City after some unspecified ecodisaster (slums outside the dome are benighted by permanently sunless skies), negotiator Roger Smith leads a double life as pilot of the crimefighting giant robot Big 0 (which keeps shouting “Not Guilty!” for some reason), unsubtly known to the distrusting police as Megadeus. Well, I’d probably distrust a giant robot who regularly ends up destroying lots of real estate in a presumably fragile domed city too. (This never seems to occur to Smith.) The adventures are pretty simplistic, mostly involving the Joker-like Beck, apparently the only criminal in Paradigm City. (Wait! Did I mention that everyone in the city has lost their memories, for no apparent reason, which were stored in a warehouse until Beck destroyed it?) The art’s not bad, sort of Mike Mignola again by way or Osama Tezuka, though the Big Fight Scenes often get murky. Maybe I’ve just read too many Batman stories, maybe I need more explanation of the society, or maybe it’s just that giant robots leave me cold, but THE BIG O does too.

    Much better is the third volume of Viz’s FIREFIGHTER: DAIGO OF FIRE COMPANY M Vol. 3 ($9.95) by Masahito Soda. The first volume surprised me, and I missed the second, but picked up here without missing a beat. Rookie firefighter Daigo Asahino is mildly more experienced but keeps facing unexpected new situations, including a talented new rival who baffles him, new fires, a potential new girl friend, and, implausibly, a tiger, though Soda pulls that one off too. Somehow Soda even makes a man walking around for page after page seem exciting, and the story has important things to say about persistence, self-confidence, preparedness, and understanding the other guy’s viewpoint. It’s also refreshingly free of “good guys” and “bad guys,” forcing a somewhat more sophisticated level of characterization. It’s not material I would’ve dreamed in a million years I’d get into, but it’s a terrific comic, one of the best I’ve read, manga or otherwise, in a long time.

    Meanwhile Tokyo Pop continues to pump shojo into the American market. Miho Obana’s KODOCHA‘s ($9.99) a strange one though, much more hard-edged than other shojo like MARMALADE BOY while apparently aiming at a younger audience. Sana Kurata’s a 6th grader who’s also a popular actress (her mother’s a writer who dresses like a geisha and keeps a chipmunk in her hair, and Sana refers to her manager as her “gigolo”) whose easy life is disrupted when she winds up in class with an obnoxious “demon child” named Akito Hamaya. Quickly becoming opposing forces, she vows to break his hold on her class (his antics regularly reduce their teacher to impotent tears) and ultimately gets mixed up in his awful homelife. While it has the romantic, “girl power” aspect of most shojo, there’s a lot of brutality here as well. 6th grade boys under Hamaya operate as a serious gang, threatening opponents and beating and half-drowning them; at one point Sana herself threatens Hamaya’s life. It’s startling. Things calm down by the end of the first book – it concludes with a cutesy throwaway dream sequence – but there’s a level of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE tension in KODOCHA not usually found in shojo, esp. those about 11 year olds, and it leaves future volumes open to anything. Interesting.

    Then there’s CLAMP SCHOOL DETECTIVES ($9.99), a pleasantly lightweight “action comedy” from Clamp Studios (best known here for CARD CAPTOR SAKURA, chaste ephemera about three school boys at the world’s greatest school (Clamp School, natch). 6th grader Nokoru is a filthy-rich genius, 5th grader Suoh is the world’s greatest martial artist, 4th grader Akira is a world-class chef. They’re all very pretty, wear Japanese schoolboy uniforms, and, while girls of all ages adore them, the boys chivalrously keep them all at arms-length (Akira, who seems a little sweet on Nokoru to me, can’t figure out why girls like him in the first place) but open a detective agency specifically to aid damsels in distress. Mostly, it seems, they find lost things. I grimace at the material a bit, but I can see young girls loving it to pieces, since the books are all about the charms of romance without any hint of the unpleasantnesses of sex, and the male leads are exactly what many young girls would really prefer young boys to be: unconditionally and unrepentantly nice.

    Byron Preiss’ I-Books has re-released Harlan Ellison and Richard Corben’s proto-graphic novel VIC AND BLOOD ($17.95). Actually a collection of Ellison’s three Vic and Blood stories (“Eggsucker,” “A Boy And His Dog,” and “Run, Spot, Run”), about a young vagabond and his telepathic dog wandering a post-nuclear landscape of mutants, giant spiders and demented underground cities, alongside their comics adaptations by Corben, with a new introduction by Ellison – well, what can I say? You either know “A Boy And His Dog” or you don’t. If you do, you want this. If you don’t, you still want it. The stories are great, the adaptations are great, Corben’s work is terrific, buy the damn book.

    Meanwhile, I-Books also collects Gary Reed and Guy Davis’ cult fave “Baker Street” stories in HONOUR AMONG PUNKS ($19.950, a murder mystery set in an alternate London where the Victorian Age never ended but punk rockers materialized anyway. (Considering all the social forces involved, many of which were a reaction to the collapse of Victorianism, I’m having trouble fathoming this, but I guess that’s the conceit we have to accept. Every story gets one.) The plot’s straightforward: someone’s killing punks, and an American girl and her English punk roommate get drawn into the search for the killer. But the plot’s semi-irrelevant; this is a really a novel of manners (bad manners, but manners), of clashing values and character, and Reed and Davis are pretty strong on those. It’s also interesting to see Davis’ style (the chapters were done over time) shift from cartoony to his current, much more impressionist and expressive style. Worth reading.

    Jim Massey’s DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (Varmint Press, 214 168th Ave NE, Bellevue WA 98008; $2.95) is a rare thing in comics: an independently published comic (starring the grim reaper himself as he goes around wasting time instead of killing people) that’s simply but well drawn and is genuinely funny.

    Warren Ellis and Brandon McKinney’s SWITCHBLADE HONEY (AiT/PlanetLar Books; $9.95) is a fairly funny take on the whole STAR TREK mentality: savage bastards in space, pretty much the way a military expedition would be, regardless of whose military we’re talking about. The great conceit of STAR TREK is that in order to find the wherewithal to move into space, humanity would first have to come to terms and overcome its own violence and inhumanity, which never quite explained why they equipped their ships with weapons capable of annihilating planets. If Kirk was a New Deal Democrat at heart, the military commanders in SWITCHBLADE HONEY are Thatcherite Republicans, aside from the rebellious Captain Ryker and the woman whose nickname is given to their eponymous ship, recruited to fight a guerrilla war against an alien threat arrogant humanity has badly underestimated. In DIRTY DOZEN tradition, they waste a little too much space recruiting and introducing a crew, but once they get going, it’s not bad. On the other hand, it never really achieves a classic Ellis moment either, that instant when you see something you never really saw before. It’s just the grunge version of STAR TREK. It’s a good read, though not helped by a rushed, unclear ending (McKinney’s work is pretty good throughout, but the fight scene at the end doesn’t make the action coherent at all). SWITCHBLADE HONEY is still better than most comic. It’s just not as good as most Warren Ellis comics.

    I get the feeling Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer’s LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS (Ait/PlanetLar Books; $12.95) is Matt’s sequel to Sam Peckinpah adaptation of Jim Thompson’s THE GETAWAY, which ended with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw successfully overcoming many obstacles to pull off a major heist and slip into Mexico, by way of Don Seigel’s CHARLEY VARRICK, wherein Walter Mattheu rips off a mob bank and spends the rest of the movie trying to stay alive and keep the money. Not that …INDEPENDENTS is derivative, it just hits many of the same notes, and the story’s criminal hero Cole Caudle plays like Steve McQueen if he had lived another 30 years. I like the writing, I like the landscape format of the book, and Kieron Dwyer’s art is so much better here that when he produces superhero comics (and it’s not bad there). LAST OF THE INDENDEPENDENTS doesn’t really offer any surprises, but it makes a good rollercoaster ride.

    ECLIPSE AND VEGA (SSS Comics; $2.95) is an average superhero comic, neither particularly good nor particularly bad. As with many independent superhero comics, the art is extremely uneven, though it generally aspires to what used to be called “the Image style.” Basically, a couple bimbo students take a swim in a meteorite infested pool and gain superpowers. It tries to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, involving characters like “Packaging-Man” as the girls try to learn how to be superheroes (I always wonder why characters gain superpowers and automatically assume being a superhero is what their life should be from that point), but mostly it’s just dull. Sorry. The touted Greg Horn cover only exposes the weaknesses of Horn’s style.

    San Diego’s Idea+Design Works continues to put out a growing line of interesting comics, as well as various trade paperbacks and art books; pound for pound, it might be the highest quality publishing operation currently going. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT fame return with an excellent sequel, DARK DAYS ($3.99@), which finds the survivors of the Barrow vampire massacre back in the continental U.S. and using their experience to become vampire hunters as one of them cunningly ferrets out vampires via a book and lecture tour. It’s a sharp job. Paul Lee & Adam Hunley’s crime comic LURID ($2.99@), is less sharp, a fairly one-note vignette about a stripper who rips off an undercover cop and a bouncer who comes to her aid marred by underrendered art invoking the spirit of Win Mortimer (I think negative space is vastly underused in today’s comics, but when it’s used, it should be used for effect, not just because the artist doesn’t want to draw backgrounds) and lines like “Cheez it girls! It’s the FUZZ!” Max Collins’ and Gabriel Rodriguez (with help from Ashley Wood) wrap up the first CSI mini-series ($3.99@), where the forensics team tracks down a Jack The Ripper impersonator, and it’s easily as good as any episode of the TV show, which is pretty rare for a comics version. Alex Garner and Mindy Lee, with Saleem Crawford and Dan Norton, also hit the vampire circuit with CVO: Covert Vampiric Operations ($5.99), a graphic novella about monsters who work for the government, trying to stop a Latin American dictator in league with a demon and holding Soviet nukes that can be teleported anywhere. It’s a fast moving simple concept I’m surprised isn’t used more often (as in DC’s CREATURE COMMANDOS), but while it’s readable enough it plays more like a movie pitch than a story. Finally, there’s Ashley Wood‘s pin-up book-cum-graphic novel POPBOT ($7.99@), which, as I’ve said in previous reviews, is still gorgeous to look at and baffling to read.

  • It’s off to San Diego.. My schedule, as far as the public is concerned:

    Friday 2-3:30PM: signing at the Avatar booth (#5202)

    Friday 6-7PM: STAN LEE AND THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN COMIC BOOK panel, Room 8

    Saturday 12:30-1PM: signing at the Diamond booth

    Saturday 2:30-4PM (and I might be a smidge late back from my lunch appointment): signing at the Avatar booth (#5202)

    Feel free to say hello if you see me on the convention floor.

    Forthcoming books:

    FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, 9 issue miniseries from Avatar Press, starting in July.

    DAMNED trade paperback, with art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, and coloring by Kurt Goldzung, from Cyberosia in August.

    SUPERMAN: BLOOD OF MY ANCESTORS, co-plotted with Gil Kane, art by Gil Kane, John Buscema and Kevin Nowlan, from DC in August.

    MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS, a collection of my earlier Comic Book Resources columns, from AiT/PlanetLar Books in September. (Remember, they also have BADLANDS and BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY available.)

    As they used to say on MIGHTY MOUSE, see you next week in a brand new show…

    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.

    My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it’s about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn’t up yet, but keep watching this space for details.

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