What I bought – 7 December 2011

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What I bought – 7 December 2011

“A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs — it sucks — it strokes its eyes over the whole uncomfortable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can even, with time, pull them apart again. But why at the start they were ever magnetized at all — just those particular moments of experience and no others — I don’t know. And nor does anyone else. Yet if I don’t know — if I can never know that — then what am I doing here? I don’t mean clinically doing or socially doing — I mean fundamentally! These questions, these Whys, are fundamental — yet they have no place in a consulting room. So then, do I? … This is the feeling more and more with me — No Place. Displacement … ‘Account for me,’ says staring Equus. ‘First account for Me! …’ ” (Peter Shaffer, from “Equus”)

With the lack of single issues for me to buy this week, I thought I’d review these AND write about Chad’s post. That Nevett is an interesting fellow, and his spleen-venting post made me think. I covered some of my thoughts in the comments section, but I thought I’d expand upon them here. Let’s roll.

Chew #22 (“Major League Chew Part 2 of 5”) by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), and Taylor Wells (color assistant). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

So here’s Chew. I really like Chew, as you may know. I’ve liked it since it began, and the reasons I like it are in evidence in this issue. It has a lot of things going on at the same time, as Mason Savoy and his partner Caesar are trying to get Olive Chu, Tony’s daughter, on their side. Mason is trying to figure some things out, but as he’s persona non grata around the FDA, he’s investigating somewhat off the grid. Meanwhile, Tony is still working as a traffic cop, and he ends up getting kidnapped by some dudes who, for some reason, want him to know a lot about baseball (and since we know what he can do, how do you expect they’re going to get him to know such things in a short amount of time?). We also see what Olive’s food-based power is and we see some of the cases Caesar is working with Tony’s replacement, Agent Voorhees, who can determine the ingredients of any food he tastes. And then there’s Guillory’s artwork, which continues to dazzle. His details are amazing, his character design is exaggerated and hilarious but works for Layman’s scripts, and he does wonderful things with the coloring and the inking that changes the mood of the book and the way certain characters view the world. It’s an extremely busy comic, but each panel is there for a reason, and while there’s a lot going on, it never feels overwhelming.

Chad writes about getting e-mails from comics creators and how little he likes it. He writes that it’s nothing personal; it’s just a job. Whether he writes a positive or negative review is immaterial, because he feels the same way about either one. Chad has mentioned before that he doesn’t go to comic book conventions, partly because he doesn’t want to meet the creators. It’s not that he’s rude, it’s just that he has no interest in it. That’s his choice, and that’s fine. Does he feel that meeting the creators would somehow compromise his judgment when it comes to their books? I’m not sure – it’s been a while since Chad had his podcast, so I can’t remember if that’s how he feels.

On the other hand, while I don’t go to too many conventions, I enjoy them, in part because I like talking to creators. Some of them I’ve become a bit friendly with over the years. I always try to be upfront about that when it comes to reviewing, because I don’t want people to think I have some ulterior motive for liking a book – if they want to believe I like a book because I like the creator, that’s their business, but at least I won’t be hiding the fact that I know the creator and like talking to them. I’ve mentioned before that Layman lives one town over from where I do, and I get a beer with him every once in a while. He’s a nice guy, he’s about my age, we share a snarky sense of humor – so yeah, I hang out with him occasionally. Does that compromise my ability to review his comics? I don’t know. I liked Chew before I met Layman (and Guillory, whom I’ve met a few times in San Diego), but if its quality dipped, would I be able to see that, or would I continue to praise it because I like Layman? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. Layman doesn’t care if I like Chew or not, and most creators don’t care all that much. I don’t even care all that much. I don’t get paid to review comics, and I’m using my own money to buy these, so the very fact that I’m paying three dollars for an issue of Chew is good enough. But it’s something that bugs me occasionally.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hellblazer Annual #1 (“Suicide Bridge”) by Peter Milligan (writer), Simon Bisley (artist), Brian Buccellato (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $4.99, 38 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I find it interesting that this costs five dollars, and two issues of the regular series costs six dollars, and this is only two pages shorter than two issues would be. Does the math work right on that, or is this cheaper than if it had been a two-part story in Hellblazer the regular series?

This is a fairly typical John Constantine story, which means it deals with something horrible from his past haunting him the present and affecting all sorts of innocent people. In this case, an old friend calls him from Liverpool asking him to visit. Apparently a childhood friend of his disappeared when they were kids, and his mother, who is now dying, wants John to figure out what happened to him. John realizes that a bridge that was torn down in 1921 occasionally appears, and kids jump from it and … vanish. He fails to rescue one such kid but does stop another from jumping, and of course he confronts his old friend one more time. As with a lot of Milligan’s Hellblazer stories, John doesn’t do all that much nor all that well, but he does manage to save one kid, which helps ease his conscience somewhat. Of course, there’s a slight twist at the end, but it’s just there to show something we all know – that you probably shouldn’t be friends with John Constantine (something he narrates more than once). Bisley’s art is, as usual, excellent, but Buccellato’s coloring, so bright in The Flash, is as murky as you’re going to find in a Vertigo book, where murky coloring is often the order of the day. I don’t know – there’s a difference between showing gloomy London and almost overwhelming the pencil work, and Buccellato almost goes too far. Look at Lucy’s gorgeous face when she’s reunited with her family – it’s not overwhelmingly bright, but it’s bright enough that we can see Bisley’s wonderful work. I don’t know why Vertigo books, even ones where the setting isn’t gloomy, seem to have a layer of grime on them, but it’s annoying, and it’s very annoying in this comic.

Still, as a single issue goes, this is a good offering. I don’t know why it was one big issue rather than two shorter ones, but that’s just because I don’t understand comics marketing.

Chad, as a misanthropic Canadian, is far more hateful than I am, and his post is ostensibly about writing negative reviews. There’s something to be said for writing negative reviews – it can be wildly fun, especially when you find a really good turn of phrase that you know is devastating. It’s also fun because you can’t believe a writer or artist was that lazy or that clueless that they thought whatever they were producing was any good. Despite the opprobrium heaped upon me for daring to point out some of the crappier aspects of the DCnU #1s, reading and writing about some of the shittier offerings was a ton of fun. In fact, I mind it more when a comic is dull – Fear Itself springs to mind – than when it’s utter crap – Hawk & Dove springs to mind – because when you write about Hawk & Dove, you really have to try to understand what on earth the creators were trying to do and why they thought it was a good idea. I can understand what Matt Fraction was trying to do with Fear Itself, he just screwed it up. I honestly have no idea what the creators of some of the DCnU were thinking.

But I don’t often write negative reviews. Part of the reason is, of course, that I pay for my own comics, so I’m probably going to buy things I like. I simply don’t have the money to buy crappy comics. I’m always – ALWAYS – tempted to buy Tarot when it comes out, but I just can’t justify it. This may make my review columns a bit more boring, because I rarely rip a comic to shreds, but that’s the way it is. I didn’t like Dynamite’s Warlord of Mars series, but it didn’t make me angry enough to trash it, and I simply dropped it. Should I have been more angry that it was mediocre? Maybe. I bet Chad would have been. As he points out in his post, a comic that is worth the time and money to read is simply holding up its end of the bargain, so why should we praise it? I happen to think it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I get where he’s coming from. Readers – all readers, not just reviewers – always think that at some point, they could do better than the writers and/or artists, and so when something doesn’t live up to its end of the bargain, we get angry. How does [insert hack writer/artist] here have a job in comics and I don’t? we wonder. IT’S NOT FUCKING FAIR!!!! Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that talent along isn’t good enough. Sure, it’s good to be talented, but a lot of other factors go into it.

Getting back to a comic “holding up its end of the bargain,” what are really to make of “Suicide Bridge”? Should I be angrier at it because it’s a typical John Constantine story? I don’t think so. I’ve liked what Milligan has done with the character, because he’s more of a ineffectual dick than he’s been in the past (at least when I’ve read the book), and this story is in that similar vein. Is it the best Hellblazer comic ever? No, of course not. Is it the best Milligan issue? I don’t think so. Should I be angry about that? I don’t mind if Milligan keeps his end of the bargain. I expect Milligan’s Hellblazer to be entertaining, dark, cynical yet in some way hopeful, and somewhat clever. “Suicide Bridge” is all those, at least according to me. For me, that’s enough. I’ll get to whether it’s good enough for others below.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Moriarty #7 (“The Lazarus Tree Part Three”) by Daniel Corey (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Anthony Diecidue (artist/colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

Corey flashes back to an earlier episode in Moriarty’s life, mainly, it seems, to give Diecidue an issue off – he draws the first and last pages of the issue, while Vosburg draws the flashback. I’m not sure if it was planned this way or if Corey wrote this when it became necessary for Diecidue to catch up, because this does feel somewhat like a place-holding issue. I mean, it shows how Moriarty met Morely, the man for whom he’s searching in Burma, and it shows how ruthless our hero can be, but it’s not really necessary, is it? As a story, it’s fine – in 1880, Morely can’t work for Moriarty in Burma because he has to go work for his father in Jamaica, so Moriarty goes to the Caribbean and sorts Morely Senior right out. Vosburg is smoother than Diecidue, but from the credits, it appears Diecidue colors the entire issue (Perry Freeze has been the colorist, but while he’s on the cover, he’s not listed inside), and the art remains somewhat consistent while allowing Vosburg to show a slightly younger professor. I imagine that this aside will have some impact next issue, when Moriarty is back in Burma looking for Morely, but this issue feels slightly … slight.

How’s that for negative? That’s about all I can muster when a comic that I like missteps. I’m not even sure it’s a misstep, because it could have a great impact on Moriarty’s future and therefore necessitated an entire issue devoted to a 30-year-old adventure in Jamaica instead of Moriarty’s search in Burma. It doesn’t feel like it will, but who knows. The serial nature of comics makes issues like this puzzling more than bad, because Corey, after all, knows where he’s going with this and I don’t. This gets back to knowing the creators, too – I began reading Moriarty before I met Corey and Diecidue this summer, but I still met them and like them and the fact that they’ve been working hard on this book. Obviously, “working hard” doesn’t mean I’m going to like the book or that it deserves an audience, but it does make me consider a comic more than if it’s just a work-for-hire gig. I have mentioned this before – I would much rather herald Shinku, Ron Marz’s creator-owned title, than Voodoo, his (for now) DC gig. It’s a happy accident that Shinku is really good and Voodoo … was not, but even if they were comparable in quality, I would be happier to write about Shinku. That’s not to say I would praise it if it sucked and trash a DC/Marvel book that was good, but I understand a bit about how hard these creators work when they’re not working for DC or Marvel (and even then, they work hard, but at least it’s a tiny bit easier), so I’m a bit more forgiving. I don’t know how Chad would review this issue. Would he rip it because it is, after all, a bit of a wheel-spinner? I don’t know. I do know that I will give this book, or any book not from DC or Marvel, a bit more rope. Obviously, if Moriarty goes off the rails completely, I’ll drop it. But if we consider something like Morning Glories, in which Nick Spencer spent quite a while creating a mood and not advancing the plot and which some people may have dropped because of that, the fact that I hung around is paying off for me now, because the past few issues have been really good. Was I sucker for sticking around? Maybe. Would a harsh review of this issue of Moriarty help because negativity inspires creators to do better? I doubt it. But I certainly didn’t hate this issue, so there’s that. I’m not a misanthropic Canadian, after all.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

X-Factor #228 by Peter David (writer), Leonard Kirk (artist), Matt Milla (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The characters in X-Factor finally get around to discussing the situation with Guido, as David affirms some things we already know – Guido has no soul – and shows some nice conflict within the group, as Layla could bring someone back to life but not everyone wants her to do so. The problem with an issue like this is that this is comics, where people come back from the dead all the time, souls completely intact (apparently), and it’s difficult to separate the greater landscape of DC and Marvel superhero comics from this particular story, because even Peter David has done this before. What could be an interesting examination of what makes someone human and whether people should tamper with forces beyond their control is instead a standard superhero fight (a bit wittier, because it’s Peter David) with a trite moral dilemma that will get resolved soon enough, and because it’s a Peter David comic, it will have larger repercussions than usual but won’t really affect too much. If that sounds cynical, it’s because suspension of disbelief requires not only the participation of the audience but the integrity of the writer and the milieu in which he writes. David is a writer who, it seems, tries hard to prop up the integrity of the suspension of disbelief, but he’s working against 50 years of comicbookdom, where nothing sticks and intractable problems are solved with a wave of a magic wand. (As I’ve noted before, there’s something to be said for magic wands with regard to solving intractable problems in comics, but I think a writer ought to be judicious in their use.) So the ethical dilemma that the team faces feels hollow. I wish it didn’t, but it does. The way David gets out of this is to rely on plotting – last issue and this, he’s begun to set up a “resurrection gambit,” where something odd is going on and the dead character needs to figure it out, and presumably this will lead to a return to life with no ill effects. The way this tired plot gets past the readers’ bullshit detector is through the way the writer sets things up to get out of it. At least David understands that. It doesn’t mitigate the dull plot, but it’s something.

Once again, this is a slightly negative review, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the issue. I imagine some reviewers would savage it because David stays within his safe zone, but I happen to like his safe zone, so there you have it. Some people simply don’t like Peter David, so it doesn’t matter what David writes – they’re not going to like it. Am I a sucker because I do like Peter David and perhaps miss some flaws (if flaws exist) in his comics? I don’t know. I don’t love this issue, but in general, X-Factor is a very good superhero comic. So, like the Hellblazer Annual, am I being a bit more kind to it because of the track record of the writer on the title?

(As an aside, Layla’s Latin is interesting. I haven’t taken Latin in over a decade, so I’m getting rustier by the day, but whenever I see it, I like to see if it’s “correct.” Here’s the text:

Exorcizamus te, immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursia infernalis adversarii … omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica, in nomine von fatum … u tab omni infernalium spirituum potestate, laquo, deceptione et nequitia nos potenter liberare, et incolumes custodire digneris, per von fatum medicum nostrum!

The reason this caught my eye was the “von,” which isn’t a Latin word. The first part is easily translated: “We exorcise you, impure spirit, every Satanic power, every incursion of the infernal adversary, every legion, every congregation and diabolical sect, in the name … something.” “Fatum” is a Latin noun meaning, among other things, “something ordained by fate,” and as it’s a second declension neuter noun, the genitive (which presumably should be used here) is “fati,” but I don’t know what the “von” means. The “u” could be anything, obviously – the panel before shows Theresa and Rahne discussing what Layla is doing, so when we return, she’s finishing a word – and then “tab” is the imperative of “waste away,” so Layla is saying something like “waste away all the power of the infernal spirit.” The “laquo” is odd, too – it doesn’t exist in classical Latin, and Layla is speaking Church Latin, so I assume it means “who” in some form. “Deceptione” is another odd word – it’s supposed to mean “deception” but it doesn’t, and “nequitia” means wickedness. “Nos potenter liberare” means “We liberate vigorously,” and “incolumes custodire digneris” is something like “would think fit to care for unharmed” – “incolumes” means “unharmed,” “custodire” is the infinitive “to care for,” and “digneris” appears to be subjunctive passive of “digno,” which means “worthy of.” Then we get “per von fatum medicum nostrum” – the “per” means “through,” and the “medicum nostrum” is “our healing,” but I’m still not figuring our the “von fatum.” Anyway, that’s the best I can do on the fly and not having done serious translation in ten years. Anyone else want to take a crack at it?)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Ultimately, don’t we think of negative reviews as being somehow “smarter” than positive ones? Is that just me? Whenever I read a negative review, especially when it’s something I’ve read and enjoyed, I always have a suspicion that the reviewer saw something I missed. As some people pointed out in the comments to Chad’s latest Random Thoughts, if you like something, whatever someone else says shouldn’t influence you (I adhere to this, as my love of ABBA attests), but it’s still there. I was reading Abhay’s takedown of The Homeland Directive, a comic I enjoyed, and due to the force of Abhay’s personality, I began to wonder if I was wrong. Then I realized he was saying many of the same things I did, just a bit more harshly. Should I have been harder on The Homeland Directive for its somewhat weak story? Maybe. But I think I did a decent job explaining why I liked it (Huddleston’s art, mostly) and what was wrong with the story even though it moved along nicely (for me, that is). Abhay just sounds smarter when he rips it to shreds. At least he does to me. I’ve often said I don’t want to read reviews of comics that I’m planning on reviewing, because the thoughts of others really does influence me – not much, but enough so I’m aware of it. I don’t have a problem discovering something new about a work through someone else’s writing, but I also don’t want that to seep into my own writing, because then you might as well read that person instead of me. I think it’s interesting to get a lot of different takes on a comic (or any work of fiction, really) even if it might not change my mind.

Because there are a lot of good writers on comics out there. I don’t read as widely as some, but I do read quite a few. Without engaging in false modesty, I do often feel inadequate when I compare myself to some of the ones I read. I mentioned Abhay, who doesn’t post that often but when he does, he’s absolutely insane, making weird connections and firing broadsides and entertaining the hell out of everyone. Colin doesn’t really review things, he analyzes them, and he does so with a depth and breadth of thought that I can’t hope to match it. I don’t think I’m as well-read as Chad is (in terms of prose, not comics – I think I read more comics than he does), and he seems to have a better memory than I do. I’ve mentioned that Tim is far smarter than I am in the past, and it’s still true. I think I’m a better reviewer than Chris Sims, but he’s far funnier than I am. Tucker Stone is brutally cruel and can extend a metaphor like nobody’s business, and while I don’t love his reviews, he has a knack for cutting to a core. People like Matt Seneca or Jog make me think I shouldn’t even be writing about comics, frankly. I like this particular blog for a lot of reasons – we have a long-standing group of commenters, for one reason, which is fun – one of which is that we have a lot of different writers with different strengths. I can’t match Brian’s encyclopedic knowledge of comics (honestly, I don’t know who can), I’m not as altruistic as Greg, I’m not as insightful as Kelly, I’m not as eclectic as Sonia, I’m not as clever as Bill, I’m not as insane as Brad, I’m not as pithy as Mark (not to ignore our other contributors, but it’s been a while for some of them). That’s not to say I don’t have strengths – I’m a good writer, I think, and I do read a lot of comics in many different genres; someone once described my tastes as “catholic” – the generic definition – and I think that helps me review things. Plus, apparently I can piss off comics creators like nobody’s business, so there’s that. I can also blather on about seemingly irrelevant topics, but let’s not go there right now. But I love that we have a lot of different viewpoints here, because it’s interesting to get that and it makes the blog rather interesting.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Chad’s premise, that a negative review is more worthwhile. I think both positive and negative reviews have their place, and I don’t understand why people get angry about negative reviews, because, as Chad points out, it’s not personal. I have tried very hard to be better at writing reviews, and if I know I have biases, I explain them right away (most of the time that involves telling you if I got something for free – I like getting stuff for free, don’t get me wrong, but I always feel I need to explain that I didn’t actually spend money on something). Most of the time, I think the entire purpose of writing reviews is to let people know what exists in this world of comics. Many people have said they never knew something existed until I or someone else wrote about it, and that makes me feel good when I can direct people to new stuff. Even if I write something negative, I can still let people know something is out there. And that’s pretty neat.

Sorry for the long digression. I really do think about this stuff a lot. I ought to get myself a hobby, oughtn’t I?

Moving on, Ken Russell died recently, in case you hadn’t heard. Russell directed a bunch of movies, some of which I’ve seen (Tommy most notably). Russell was, to put it mildly, a bit odd, and it’s too bad he never got more acclaim, because you have to love directors with such a singular vision, whether you like their movies or not. Russell pushed a lot of boundaries in his day, and lots of people pushed back. The first movie I saw by him, actually, was The Lair of the White Worm, which was pretty terrible. It did, however, introduce me to Amanda Donohoe, who for a while was amazingly hot.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago I was looking to buy a birthday card for my lovely wife and I mistakenly went into Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. I write “mistakenly” not because I didn’t mean to enter, but because it turned out to be a bad idea. I may have mentioned in the past that I own about 300 books I haven’t read yet, and at the rate I read, it will take me 25 years to get through them … but I keep buying more. So while I was in Changing Hands looking for one measly card, I ended up with these books:

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco. This it the third Eco book (along with Baudolino and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana) that I haven’t read yet. Soon I will read all three of them, however – I read my books in alphabetical order by author, and I’m on “Delaney” right now.
Caesars’ Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire by Annelise Freisenbruch. I’m a sucker for history, what can I say?
Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire. Maguire’s books aren’t great literature, but they’re entertaining.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Mostly because of Chad’s writing about this book; I’ve never read any Murakami before buying this book.
Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. I’ve never read Moby-Dick, so I would indeed like to know.
Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything by Margaret Werthem. I’ve gotten more into science and math as I’ve gotten older, and weird science, especially, fascinates me.
Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester. Winchester writes the most popular of histories, but he’s very entertaining and he manages to synthesize quite a bit of time into manageable chunks.
Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde by Thomas Wright. Who doesn’t love Wilde?

So, yeah. I bit more than I bargained for. This is why I avoid bookstores!!!!!

Let’s dive into The Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. “Ashes” – Mary’s Danish (1989) “And I wanna know just what, what to do each time it hits me; I don’t know what to do”
2. “Interior Lulu”Marillion (1999) “When you’ll visit every seedy need of your random obsessive urge”
3. “Smashing Of The Van”Chumbawamba (2003) “With courage bold those heroes went and soon the van did stop; they cleared the guards from back and front and then smashed in the top”1
4. “Cathedral Wall” – Marillion (1998) “I come to lay my head and I won’t know you anymore”
5. “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”Sinéad O’Connor2 (1990) “The priests and the friars, they approach me in dread; because I still love you, my love and you’re dead”
6. “Stop In Nevada”Billy Joel (1973) “She tried for years to be a good wife, it never quite got off the ground”
7. “As Good As New”ABBA (1979) “Now I know I’m not entitled to another break”
8. “The Name Of The Game” – ABBA (1977) “You make me show what I’m trying to conceal”
9. “Everything’s Not Lost”Coldplay (2000) “Everybody’s out to get you, don’t you let it drag you down”
10. “When All Is Said And Done” – ABBA (1981) “It’s so strange when you’re down and lying on the floor, how you rise, shake your head, get up and ask for more”3

1 This song is about the “Manchester Martyrs”, in case you want to know.

2 O’Connor is getting married today. Good for her!

3 It’s odd to get three songs from the same band out of four, but not unprecedented. I have a lot of ABBA on my iPod, to be fair. This one is probably my favorite ABBA song EVAH. When I write the X-Men, I plan on basing an entire issue around this song. You know it’s going to happen, bitches!

Here’s a Totally Random Movie Quote:

“Ted, a relationship is like a porcelain nail. If it breaks, you can put it back together again but it will never be the same unless you make a commitment and don’t sleep with nurses!”

Wise words on which to end. Thanks, everyone, for your indulgence. I always appreciate it!