So where do we go from here?

A few years ago, I was on a crime comics panel with a number of other writers and artists, including EC's main writer/editor, Al Feldstein, who'd seen his horror and crime comics brought to a screeching halt by the Comics Code. Al apparently hadn't paid much attention to industry goings-on in the last couple decades, and, after listening to the rest of us describe our modern crime comic output, asked, "How do you guys manage to get all this stuff past the Comics Code?"

Everyone on the panel looked at him in shock. I said, "You mean no one told you? You won, Al."

It was like some high school chemistry student had told Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake for having the audacity to insist that science might be more accurate than Church doctrine, that such a viewpoint was now widely accepted. Al blinked, hard, and said in disbelief, "I won?"

I repeated, "You won, Al."

That's my favorite San Diego moment, the time I got to tell Al Feldstein he won.

I've seen a lot of post-mortems for this year's Comic-Con International now, and the one thing they all agree on is that comic books are in. Not that that's any big shocker; it's been apparent for a couple of years now to anyone looking objectively at the scene. Fanboy is now a Miriam-Webster's Dictionary-blessed official word, Comic-Con (as a specific event, not a generic term, but likely as that too) is considered so widely known and understood that USA TODAY no longer bothers with explanations when they use the name. IRON MAN, WANTED, HELLBOY II, THE DARK KNIGHT, bing bing bing, one successful film after another and pretty much everyone knows they derive from comic books. (Even Marvel's second shot at THE HULK wasn't bad enough that anyone specifically remembers it, at least until the DVD arrives.) A trailer alone has resurrected the WATCHMEN trade from a distant footnote in current publishing, mere back catalog, to a runaway best-seller (I think it was Brian Hibbs who declared his shop was now selling what used to be a month's worth of WATCHMEN tpbs every day, and his story is about as far from unique as imaginable) and it's hard to believe it's comic fans alone driving that rebirth.

Short version?

We won.

I think I said that after last year's San Diego, when it was equally apparent, but it doesn't seem to have sunk into the comics community. So I'll say it once again:

We won.

Now what do we do with it?

The "victory," such as it is, is now commonly framed as "the revenge of the nerds." That's certainly how many comics fans prefer to take it, when they prefer to believe it at all. (A lot of the comics hardcore seem to prefer to consider the serious advent of comics into the wider culture not a triumph or the fulfillment of years of hard work, but a watering down, a selling out, or a hopefully fleeting aberration. Purity of essence and all that, I guess.) That's how the press is presenting it, the same way (and still, concurrently, often do) they've run BAM! BIF! POW! in virtually every headline of any story about comics they've run since the BATMAN TV show.

Which works if we want to be a business, a culture, or a nation eternally trapped in high school, or some stereotypical teen flick presentation of it where the jocks rule, all wear letter jackets and have exclusive sexual access to snotty, social climbing cheerleaders, and everyone who does homework is mocked, bullied, reviled and ostracized and waits and plots for the day they can prove brains and a good heart is what chicks really dig.

But we have better things to do.

Okay, we won, but seeing our present situation as a "victory" is presumptuous. Not "all we have to do is crush the army and the people will all hail us as liberators" presumptuous, nor "it may look like we won but we've traded away our birthright for the chance to turn into them, those vile Philistines!" presumptuous, but a "We fought the cultural war and triumphed! Bow down before us, Ye Mighty, and tremble!" presumptuous.

We won, but we didn't win that. We didn't win a war because it was never a war.

Comics are now mainstream, or as mainstream as anything is. That's what we've won. But mainstream doesn't have all that much meaning anymore. It doesn't mean comics are the new core of American cultural life, or anything like that. That's likely never going to happen. For one thing, there is no "core" of American cultural, or media, life anymore. The past couple decades have witnessed a continuously expanding decentralization of pop culture in this country and most others, and the only ones desperately trying to stem that tide are the ones whose fortunes were predicated on centralization: the TV network that only competed against two or three other networks, the record company that controlled how music was disseminated. The world where Henry Ford said you can have any color of car you want as long as it's black doesn't exist anymore. Culturally we live in a buffet now, not a soup line, and, yeah, sometimes everyone wants to line up for the grilled salmon, but there's no need to have the salmon if you don't want it. There's plenty else to choose from.

What we, the comics industry, has won, is a place in the big buffet. But there are a lot of items in the buffet. I'm talking high end Las Vegas buffet.

"Winning" doesn't mean the world will necessarily flock to our doorstep and bank accounts, or that we're taking the place of anything in hearts and minds. It doesn't mean we have to adjust to what "they" think we should be, and we probably shouldn't. It means that if someone sees someone else in the park reading a comic book, they're much less likely to say or think anything derogatory, though that will never vanish completely. They're likely to think nothing of it, or to ask what's being read. Life as normal.

That's all we've won. Reading comics isn't aberrant anymore, as far as American culture is concerned. Reading comics is normal.

Not mandatory by any stretch, maybe not even widespread. But normal.

It's a weird aspect of our psyches that victories aren't usually considered victories unless they can somehow be capitalized on, like claiming land, or procuring oil, or getting at least the ego boost of cheers and admiration. This isn't one of those victories. Comics sales overall are dropping. Graphic novels sales are rising, but since the comics industry still hasn't trained itself to use graphic novel sales as an economic indicator rather than comics sales, many observers and decision makers are more given to panic about it than they probably should be. The health of the industry can't be measure by a single fragment of the industry.

At any rate, the urge to capitalize on our "victory" is understandably out there, and if anything's likely to undermine us at this juncture, it's that.

There are only a handful of ways to capitalize on our situation: 1) Expansion. 2) Licensing. 3) Merchandizing. 4) Publishing.

None of these are new. Expansion's already being tapped, mostly by innovative creators, to get their work into magazines and technologies and onto websites that traditionally haven't commonly been associated with comics. I don't know of any breakout successes yet generated, but that's old world thinking anyway; all that's really necessary to be called a success in those markets is continued exposure there and sufficient income derived. Changing the world, at least overnight, is not a requirement. Licensing and merchandizing is roughly the same ground, though direct merchandizing â€" of t-shirts, shotglasses, whatever â€" may be the quickest way for small or self- publishers to make money on their output, since they can function not only as advertising but as profit-generators, though much of that depends on the quality and appeal of both the product and the underlying property, and demands at least some marketing and distribution to make a dent. As DC and Marvel have learned, letting other people take that risk â€" hence licensing â€" has its advantages, but outside companies tend to only want licenses that are already popular. That brings up the specter of molding the product to fit the perceived prejudices of the potential licensee. I tend to use "product" as a simple, intentionally humbling term to counterbalance the term "creator" that we in comics love to throw around; ultimately what we're doing, no matter how we do it and with what intent or craft, is producing material used to generate income, for ourselves and others, and while that's no excuse for slipshod or cynically produced work there's no reason to be especially highfalutin about it either.

The fact remains that licensing generally follows on the heels of success, not the other way around.

As I've mentioned more than a few times in the past, the special form of licensing that has now captured the passion of more than a few publishers and talents is the film option, a condition probably exacerbated by The New Hollywood Success. (But where are my Hellboy Underoos? First I can't get a solar-powered car, and now this.) It has always been a tendency among comics publishers and talent â€" I've hardly escaped its seductive lure myself â€" to mold ideas to perceived markets, but as I've explained before, with the screwy way Hollywood works that's kind of suicidal. Sure, IRON MAN, WANTED and THE DARK KNIGHT ripped across the screen. But THE DARK KNIGHT was better than most Batman comics have been recently, while IRON MAN was possibly better than any Iron Man story ever done, and WANTED blew most of the comics chaff right out of Mark Millar's comic.

What does Hollywood want? It's really very simple. Like most businesses â€" like most people - Hollywood wants what Hollywood wants. Hollywood doesn't want what Hollywood doesn't want. The mercurially shifting specifics of those rock solid generalities is the hard part.

A little story. I've managed to seriously option two properties to Hollywood over the years, a miniseries I did at Dark Horse in the '90s called ENEMY, and, a couple of weeks ago, my Boom! Studios miniseries 2 GUNS. 2 GUNS was originally written as a screenplay, because that's how I saw it and I wanted to write a screenplay; I didn't want to concern myself with the various structures needed to make it a comics story. It became my calling card screenplay whenever anyone asked me for a sample. While it was partly an exercise for me, to reacquaint myself with screenplay structure etc., (by the way, I recommend David Trotter's THE SCREENWRITER'S BIBLE, a mostly nuts and bolts approach that should really be all the screenwriting advice you'd ever need) it was also a story I wanted to tell, and, if it got to that stage, a movie I'd want to see.

Mainly, it was an idea I wanted to do badly enough that I wrote it up without having a set market for it, which for me is a pretty big leap.

I got nice comments on it, when I got comments at all, but no sales. That happens, and to people with a hell of a lot more screenwriting experience than I do. Then Ross Richie and Andy Cosby â€" I'd given Ross a copy some years before â€" said they wanted to turn the screenplay into a comics series. Which was fine with me.

The comic appeared. Offers were made. Right before San Diego, Universal bought it. Now it looks like it'll be a movie after all. Ain't life funny?

But here's the point: I wrote it not as something specifically to sell â€" I'd probably have changed a lot of things if I were approaching it from that perspective, even though I'd certainly hoped to sell it â€" but because I wanted to do that particular story. I wrote ENEMY for the same reason.

And they both sold to Hollywood.

So there's no need to design comics to sell to Hollywood. Write and draw them how you want them to be. Hollywood wants what Hollywood wants. If you're lucky, they'll want what you've got.

Any predictions of what anyone's going to want, though, are dependent on one thing: looking backwards. Not that it isn't the industry's preferred mode anyway; there are plenty of readers, publishers and talent out there who will also look at our "victory" and decide what that means is that "they" now love exactly what "we've" been doing all along, and that means Stay The Course. Continue to pump out exactly what we've been pumping out since the '30s, or the '60s or '80s. Don't change a thing.

Fortunately for them, change isn't necessary, at least in any given microcosm. There's no impetus for any company or talent to keep up with â€" or ahead of â€" the times, unless of course they still want to be around a decade from now. This isn't about superheroes; America's obviously got little problem with superheroes, as long as we stay loose and contemporary with exactly what that word means. But it doesn't necessarily mean that's what they want, either. "We won" only signifies that America has accepted the comics format, it doesn't mean the buying public â€" even the comics audience â€" has any interest in a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents or Dr. Druid revival. No change means a cessation of possibility. Victory is always tenuous; stagnate now, and we reconvince everyone that comics really are the gutter trash they'd been portrayed as for decades, and that victory flushes right down the cultural toilet.

This isn't a time to look backwards. Back there is only an era where we hadn't won, and what good is that? Since no one really knows what's to come, our best shot is not to hedge our bets but to kick out the jams.


In this summer's let's-you-and-him-fight brouhaha of Final Crisis vs. Secret Invasion, another Big Crossover Event has gone almost completely unnoticed: Wildstorm's "World's End."

My biggest complaint about both FINAL CRISIS and SECRET INVASION is that both can really be no more than tease, before the inevitable return to normalcy both superhero universes demand â€" could Darkseid really forever rule the DC universe with a pig-faced Wonder Woman for a lackey? Could the Skrulls ever really turn Marvel-Earth into their new homeworld and execute Reed Richards on TV? - and just a couple days ago I mentioned it might be interesting if just once someone actually radically changed or destroyed their universe and subsequent stories carried on in the aftermath.

He pointed out that "World's End" was apparently doing exactly that.

Since their acquisition by DC, Wildstorm has sort of become the comics company that time forgot, despite proportionately about as many good series as Marvel and DC produce, and at least a couple great ones, like Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips' critically acclaimed and reader ignored SLEEPER. Generally the company has been able to attract excellent talent. But it has also been badly hindered by a start-and-stop approach to publishing that has worn potential audiences out with too-frequent direction shifts and reboots, and it's possible the current storyline will also end up in one. But fingers crossed.

The best crossover series ever done? Mmmm... let's not go that far. But, like SECRET INVASION, it does at least suggest there's long term thinking involved. Apparently masterminded (or, at least, largely executed) by Christos Gage and Scott Beatty, it really began last year with the ARMAGEDDON event that spanned core "Wildstorm Universe" titles. That used the now way too common gimmick of showing various characters a possible demolished world to come, with the injunction that they had to take measures to prevent it. If the event met with a less than enthusiastic reception, it had to have partly been due to it ultimately being only a tease for a follow-up event, as if they were merely imitating the strategy that's been driving the DC Universe for the past few years. This led to the WILDSTORM REVELATIONS miniseries, a somewhat confused but also better than it got credit for use of another standard Big Event Gimmick, wherein a figure from a destroyed future arrives in the past to prevent it. But it had a great punchline, one that didn't really hit until the next big event, NUMBER OF THE BEAST, by which point, unfortunately, not many were paying attention anymore.

Nobody averted anything.

NUMBER OF THE BEAST takes place largely under the nose of Wildstorm's heroes; aside from The Authority, who only arrive in the final quarter, they barely have even a presence. It still derives way too much from ideas Warren Ellis put forth ten years ago, but that's somewhat better than continuing to derive from ideas put forth fifty years ago. The best idea, though, is that the global destruction takes place not in some avoidable soon-to-be alternate future, but in the right now of Earth-Wildstorm's timeline.

Bringing us to the latest event, "World's End," recently begun in new WILDCATS and AUTHORITY series, in which the various heroes, mostly stripped of their familiar resources, are now stuck on an Earth in which life is only marginally and, it seems, temporarily sustainable, and superhumans prey on humans as food: Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD as superhero epic, and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are bringing a nice 2000 AD style apocalyptic despair to the writing. I suspect ultimately someone's going to find "the way" to restore everything to as it was, but I strongly hope Wildstorm's got the guts, or maybe desperation, to just keep going forward from here, because whatever else you can say about "World's End" â€" though nothing can be said definitely until it's over â€" it not only teases the massive change all Big Events promise, it starts out having already delivered it. Maybe the vastly overused expression "changes everything forever" will really mean something for once, in which case "World's End" may be the only Big Event of the summer really worth paying attention to.


More of my miserable failures:

I can't remember what her name was â€" Stephanie something, maybe? â€" but she was an assistant editor at DC Comics c. 1994, and was being given her first shot at editing a comic herself, at least as far as I know. I guess she had read my work and liked it, because she called out of the blue one day to ask if I'd be interested in writing a revamp of The Crimson Avenger.

I can honestly say it had never occurred to me.

The Crimson Avenger is one of those characters arguably best left in the mists of time. A flat out knockoff of the Green Hornet who wore a red mask, a fedora and a business suit to weed out crime in the company of an Asian sidekick, the Crimson Avenger lingered nondescriptly for a few years in the hind quarters of DETECTIVE COMICS, switched to a generic superhero costume long enough to take part in the Justice Society Of America knockoff The Seven Soldiers Of Victory, then quietly vanished one month in 1944 to remain in oblivion until dragged back with the other soldiers for a JLA/JSA crossover some thirty years later. His main claim to fame, the main reason someone occasionally insists he has historical significance that makes his continued existence â€" or at least that of the name â€" important, is that The Crimson Avenger was DC's first masked crimefighter, manifesting some months before Batman though a few after Superman. Not that my would-be editor ever mentioned this. She may not even have known. Her interest was that DC wanted the name in use and it was her shot at proving her editorial chops.

She made it clear I was under no obligation to use the original Crimson Avenger, at which point I became interested. But she wanted some sort of connection to the original. I decided an avenger should have something to avenge. At the time homelessness was a huge public issue â€" it's still a huge issue, but not one many people talk about anymore â€" and I thought it might be interesting to do a complete reversal on the original Crimson Avenger concept.

The Golden Age CA was one of those impossibly wealthy playboys, Lee Travis, though this one (like the Green Hornet) owned a major crusading metropolitan newspaper. At some point in DC chronology he had died for real, meaning he had presumably left a sizable estate. But if he were impossibly wealthy and male, it seemed a nice contrast that the new Crimson Avenger would be female and ridiculously poor â€" and so she became, as the homeless teenage ward and effective caretaker of her homeless grandmother, the Crimson Avenger's old girl friend. The main series conceit was that the ex-girl friend (sorry, but I don't recall her name either) had finally married Travis just before the events of his death, but â€" I forget the mechanics â€" there was no record anywhere of the marriage, and all the other participants (small ceremony) were now dead. I also forget the exact line of descent, but the upshot was that grandmother and granddaughter, the true heirs to Lee Travis' fortune and publishing empire, lived almost literally in the shadow of the ne'er-do-well and formerly estranged Travis family members who were systematically (though not exactly maliciously; it was more due to expediency, ego and greed) gutting Travis' legacy.

Things hit critical mass when evidence of the true line of succession arises, forcing the current heirs to extreme measures to hold onto their windfall and keep grandmother and granddaughter from successfully staking their claim. Meanwhile, Grandma has filled the girl's head with romantic tales of the Crimson Avenger, which is the only part of the Travis legacy the others can't take from her, and, in fact, don't know about. The miniseries then involved the girl's attempt as a new Crimson Avenger, left alone following her grandmother's murder, to bring her relatives to justice and make things the way Lee Travis would have wanted them.

The only scene that I remember, the one I really wanted to do, was based on a story Larry Hama had once told me about a thief who'd been shot in the head with a .22 bullet. The .22 is a fairly low-powered bullet, though it can still be fatal if it hits right or from close enough, but its stopping power isn't exactly reliable. (My father, a gun collector and something of a marksman, once told me that if I ever had to defend myself with a .22, just keep shooting it, because it would likely take more than one shot, maybe a lot more, to bring down an attacker. Fortunately, the situation has never arisen.) The thief in Larry's story was able to walk away, because the bullet hit the side of his skull, didn't penetrate it, but had enough force to trace the skull line completely over the man's skull, and the bullet came out the other side of his head, leaving a ridge in the skin of his scalp to mark its passing. Aside from a bad headache, the man was otherwise unharmed, though presumably arrested. This always struck me as potentially great visual, and it was my intent for the third issue to end with the Crimson Avenger being apparently shot through the head and dumped in a river. The fourth issue would have opened with her waking up a couple months later (I eventually used a similar bit in MY FLESH IS COOL) in a charity hospital to learn that the shooting had been a similar experience.

But, again, not to be. I called up one day to find the assistant editor had abruptly (or perhaps not so abruptly, but from my perspective it was unexpected) quit the company. No one ever officially killed the project, as far as I know, but no one ever spoke of it again either. Oh, well.

There was one odd moment, though. After I'd sent her the basic premise, and was just about to start fleshing it out to plot (though it never got that far), she told me how excited Stuart Immomen was about doing something with the Crimson Avenger. Kind of baffled me in the moment, but she told me (I assume this is true, but I've never spoken to Stuart about it, so take it with a grain of salt) how the Crimson Avenger had always been Stuart's favorite comics character.

Not that working with Stuart would have been a problem â€" I love Stuart's work â€" but my response was:

"The Crimson Avenger?"

She assured me it was, and that he was aware this wasn't that Crimson Avenger, though odds were he'd show up in a flashback or symbolic panel or three. Well, fine. Having Stuart anywhere near it really made the project worthwhile, and it was one more reminder that it doesn't matter what character we're talking about, every character is someone's favorite character.

I gather there's now a female Crimson Avenger in the DCU, and I'd guess the odds on anyone involved in her creation even having heard of my '90s attempt are pretty damn small.


Notes from under the floorboards:

Like an idiot, I let this slip my mind last week: my webcomic ODYSSEUS THE REBEL, a reinterpretation of The Odyssey with art by Scott Bieser, has started running at Big Head Press, so pop on over and have a look. It'll blow your mind, and it's free! While you're at it, check out Adi Tantimedh & Hugo Petrus' new wave superhero strip, LA MUSE, which I hear even Alan Moore is raving about. (There are several other fine series available there, too. But focus on ODYSSEUS THE REBEL first, okay?)

The entire first issue of TWO GUNS is now available for reading, free of charge, at Boom! Studio's website. Jump in.

MAVERICK, the '50s western that made the comedy-western a viable option, has been playing on the Encore Western channel at 6P weekdays for the past month. The last time I came across this stuff was on TBS in the middle of the night in 1980, so I've been watching it with fannish devotion the whole time, at least the James Garner episodes. But it wasn't until last Friday's episode that something I've known all along shifted into crystalline clarity. Among the show's more progressive features was a parade of various recurring female characters, all of them brainy, pleasantly avaricious and sweetly manipulative con women who got Garner's genial gambler Bret Maverick into one scrape or another. In this episode, one had convinced Bret to take part in a high-stakes poker game, using money provided by an unknown backer but, surprisingly, it's the backer who's got a devious scheme â€" he hires gunmen to rob the poker game, and Maverick, as the new player, is forced to track them down and recover the money to save his reputation â€" and the woman, whose treachery we've awaited all program, turns out to be in this instance innocent. But there's a moment, following the robbery, where she and Maverick are alone in a hotel room, and he turns toward her â€" and suddenly at that angle it's blatantly obvious that the only actor who ever lived who really had the whole package to be Will Eisner's Spirit was James Garner c. 1959. He looks like him, he moves like him, he's got the physique and the boyish charm, all you have to do is draw on a mask and some little gloves. Not that it's a shock â€" Garner's been known as the ideal choice for decades, though way too old for it now â€" but to really see it, that was something else. It got me thinking about the rest of the show â€" the tongue in cheek humor, the seemingly endless string of femme fatales, even occasional characters like Efram Zimbalist's genial con man card cheat Dandy Jim, who's much like a vultureless, more pleasant latter day Mr. Carrion â€" and I now have to wonder: how much of an influence on show creator Roy Huggins Jr. might THE SPIRIT have been? Huggins would have been in his mid-20s when the strip began, so it's certainly possible, and the two series share, if not a pedigree, at least the same general ethic, that the situation should always be hopeless but not serious...

If you haven't seen SPACED, the '90s Britcom that introduced the world to the SHAUN OF THE DEAD/HOT FUZZ team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the entire series is now available in a DVD box set from BBC Video. It's hilarious. The ostensible premise is a couple of loser singles team up as a couple to rent an apartment from a boozy live-in landlady, but once established the THREE'S COMPANY premise is mostly ignored in favor of a cast of truly crazed but lovable characters and a riotous blizzard of jokes drenched in pop culture and human foible. If nothing else, it's one of the cleverest, densest Britcoms in years, the Britcom that launched a thousand fantasy gunfights, and worth every minute of your time that it takes. Grab a copy.

Speaking of Brit culture, THE BANK JOB, based on a true story wherein some unspecified branch of British intelligence leverages some unwitting semi-amateur heist men into looting for them the safety deposit box of a petty mobster and self-proclaimed black revolutionary with damning pictures of British royalty. Complications arise when other deposit boxes at the same bank branch turn out to contain equally damning material, including compromising photos of the nobility and ledgers that could put half the Metropolitan police behind bars. Presented with lively cool, it's the best heist film in years (and the heist is only a fraction of it) with a sharp script and a great cast headed up by Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows.

On the other hand, ALIENS VS PREDATORS REQUIEM is pretty much completely unnecessary flaming crap, though it does have a couple innovative bits - I recommend using a fast forward button to get to them - including a new Alien gestated in a Predator corpse that looks cool but is completely wasted in the pedestrian carnage, which follows the traditional slasher film process of making characters just familiar enough that their eventual "surprise" slaughter at least pretends to emotional effect. Or would if it hadn't been the only weapon in the arsenal of most slasher films since HALLOWEEN. One plus: Reiko Aylesworth looks mighty buff in it, but she might want to consider a new agent.

Does anyone really believe this nonsense hubbub about offshore oil has more to do with America's energy problems than with opportunistically trying to gut and marginalize the environmental movement? Or that if there were significant pools of oil lying off our coasts, the oil companies wouldn't have used their considerable political clout to get to it ages ago? Free America from "foreign oil"? For a couple of weeks, maybe, if they could get to it all at once and the cost of getting to it wasn't prohibitive. Freedom from foreign oil isn't going to come from domestic production, it's going to come via freedom from oil period. It's also a sign of things that the administration has contradicted its own report on the cost of Katrina environmental cleanup by stating that the report offers no suggestion that offshore oil platforms present no environmental hazards when hit by hurricanes? Really? So what was all the expense for oil cleanup mentioned in the report about?

And ain't it funny how the price of gasoline goes up overcommensurately with the rising price of oil, but it doesn't fall commensurate to the falling price of oil?

Meanwhile, seems a retired chemist in Marlboro MA recently had his home raided by police, who ransacked his basement, confiscated materials and barred him from the premises for three days. Why? He had a home chemistry lab. Synthesizing drugs? Nope. Making any contraband? Nope. Potential health risk? Nope. Breaking any laws? Nope. He just had a chemistry kit where he did chemistry experiments. Did the cops have a warrant? Nope. But we don't really need warrants for anything anymore, do we? Between the war on drugs and the war on terror, I'm surprised there hasn't been a general crackdown on home chemistry sets on a widespread basis by now; I've been expecting it for years, because that's just the sort of stupidity people think up in times like these. Given the circumstances, I expect he'll eventually end up with his confiscated property returned or replaced, an apology, and a substantial chunk of the Marlboro bank account. Idiots.

A little hypocritical of us to be condemning Russia for attacking Georgia, isn't it? Not that I think Russia should be attacking, but we can hardly claim the right of unilateral military action anywhere in the world that we perceive our national interest to be threatened then chastise another country for claiming the same. Russia's certainly more than a little hypocritical in the matter as well; they can hardly claim Georgia has no right to deal harshly with South Ossetia rebels given their decades long treatment of Chechnya, can they? But that's the thing: when you claim the right to some specific kind of conduct, you pass that right along to everyone else because, when it comes down to it, there are no special circumstances, there's only how we choose to behave...

Friday the 13th comes on a Wednesday this month.

I'm off to write an article for CRIMINAL now, Ed, honest.

Congratulations to David Kizzia, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "body parts." David wishes to point your attention to bandsite Action 45. Don't forget to click your way in and check out the music.

For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme â€" it could be a word, a design element, an artist... anything, really - binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. IMPORTANT NEW RULE: PLEASE INCLUDE WITH YOUR GUESS THE WEBSITE YOU'D LIKE TO PROMOTE IF YOU WIN. As in most weeks, there's a secret clue cleverly sprinkled somewhere in the column. Good luck.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

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.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

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.

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I'm reviewing comics sent to me â€" I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them â€" 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.

Even If the Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Sucks, It Will Still Win

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