Issue #107

Not that I'm ever actually wrong, of course.

(That was a joke.)

But what I'm not wrong about this week is: I've got nothing. I haven't been paying attention to much this past week, my time's been mostly spent finishing the script to the RED SUNSET western graphic novel I've been putting together with John Garcia for AiT/PlanetLar Books (and, frankly, my mind is much more on getting back to that and getting it finished today than on this column), concocting a new ROBOCOP series for Avatar, working to close a deal to collect the EDGE series Gil Kane and I did for Bravura/Malibu many moon ago in a trade paperback including the finished but never published final issue of the arc, and trying to put together a crime comic pitch for another company to be named later. Then there are the pitches I've been asked for but haven't written yet. It's October; the clock is ticking on the year and it's ticking even faster on the time left to deal with editorial offices before the holiday season kicks in.

And, let's face it, there's not much of interest going on in comics to talk about right now. Most of the issues I've discussed in previous columns go still unresolved (and, to a large part, forcibly unrecognized) in the comics industry, but rehashing them would... well, it's too boring for me right now. So rather than a single coherent essay this week, I may as well weigh in on the latest "hot topics" that people keep asking me about.

"Is Grant Morrison taking over writing GREEN LANTERN?"

Haven't a clue. I know Morrison has cryptically referenced some DC universe based project he has apparently had in mind for some time. I know a lot of people think I'm anti-superhero. I've written regularly about the overdependence of "mainstream" comics on the superhero and how at one time that was a strength but it has become a weakness, but that's not quite the same thing as being anti-superhero. I love reading superhero comics packed with imagination, wild ideas and thrills, but that's exactly what most superhero comics, balled up in form and a dependence on the past that borders on superstition, don't deliver. They serve up the same lukewarm repackaged leftovers, over and over. Since he took over JLA, Morrison has made a specialty of superhero comics with imagination, wild ideas and thrills, and I can't think of a single major DCU character more suited to his madness than Green Lantern. (Check out his DC 1,000,000 series if you harbor doubts.) If Morrison's writing GREEN LANTERN, I'm there.

"What do you think of Magneto coming back from the dead, after Marvel swore dead means dead?"

That's what you get for forgetting NEW X-MEN is a superhero comic, and in superhero comics nobody ever really dies (especially not the major villain). I recall reading an interview with Morrison about the death of Emma Frost where he said more or less the same thing. I'm surprised anyone ever takes anything in comics at face value anymore. Don't be surprised if there's still a twist to this whole Magneto/Xorn thing coming up in Morrison's last few issues.

"What do you think about the sex scene coming up in THE AVENGERS?"

I think it was done mainly to draw attention to the book - pretty obvious considering the issue hasn't come out (has it?) but everyone's talking about the scene - and it seems to have worked. If you really don't want to see things like that in comics, don't react to them. That said, in theory it's probably not a good idea to suddenly do a relatively graphic sex scene in a book that hitherto has been ostensibly marketed to kids and young teenagers. On the other hand, it's really no worse than what any of them can see if they turn on a soap opera in the afternoon. On the other other hand, how many kids and/or young teens actually read THE AVENGERS anyway? Aren't they all off buying YU-GI-OH trade paperbacks instead? Isn't the main audience for THE AVENGERS in their '30s by now?

"Lately some people have been talking again about how comics should be for kids and comics for adults shouldn't be published. What do you think?"

Kids buy manga, not superhero comics. The problem isn't that the line between comics for adults and comics for kids blur, it's that when Americans do comics "aimed at kids," they're really doing comics aimed at not upsetting the kids' parents. Maybe you haven't read enough manga to know this, but manga doesn't do that. Maybe when American comics companies can start producing comics genuinely aimed at kids that kids actually enjoy and that aren't dumbed down, kids will start paying attention to American comics again. Meanwhile I guess we better cling like barnacles in dry dock to the adults who are reading comics because they're all we've got left. Why argue to cork up the genie when it has not only long been out of the bottle but there's no longer any bottle left?

"How many more half-assed knockoffs of WATCHMEN and THE AUTHORITY are we going to have to endure?"

Well, it's like this: nothing exceeds like success. Comics are filled with people - many of them seem to become editors, for some reason - who really love ideas, but have so few of them that when they finally get their hands on one they refuse to let go of it. Add to that the fannish tendency of comics writers to see someone else's good idea and decide they must do their "take" on it. Add to that the writers and artists who would rather be doing something else, but who would also rather pay their bills and so pitch (and sell) to editors (see above; you can make a nice little flow chart of this but I'm too lazy to) who have decided "a Watchmenlike project" or "an Authoritylike project" is what will sell so that's what they're looking for. Or you can move up the food chain and watch an editor who would really not be doing that sort of book deal with a publisher who has decided "that violent Authority stuff sells!" (Remembering, mind you, that FANTASTIC 4, the title that launched the Marvel Era Of Comics though it was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that got it into orbit, was created because publisher Martin Goodman heard JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was selling for DC so he wanted Stan Lee to come up with a superhero team.) Given that comics companies are still desperately clinging to once-successful gimmicks that stopped working long ago, as long as there's even the slightest perception anywhere in the creative food chain that what audiences would dig more than anything is yet another story of superhero teams basically taking over the world, you'll continue to see knockoff after knockoff. After all, it's counterintuitive for publishers to go with what hasn't been seen before over what worked once. (Comics aren't the only medium afflicted with this mentality; just take a look at the TV shows on the air or the movies coming out. Of course, they blame the audiences - "if people didn't want it, we wouldn't make it! - even as audiences continue to shrink and shrink and shrink.)

"What do you think of Jess Lemon?"

For those who don't know, "Jess Lemon" is a fictitious comics reviewer over at The Pulse, complete with a name lifted from former fictitious comics reviewer Sidney Melon and a biography that includes interning for pseudonymous film reviewer Joe Bob Briggs. It's a cute idea, and it was briefly a good shock to the online comics reviewer community. Not sure the continued existence serves any purpose, though. While "Jess" (almost certainly a composite, if the writing style indicates anything) has been useful in illuminating aspects of superhero comics that most readers take for granted without applying any conscious thought to them, the reviews have become increasingly generic, as if "Jess" is growing less and less interesting in the reviewing gig. Fine. We get the joke. I can understand if whoever "Jess" is may not want to be seen as "officially" biting the hand that feeds Pulse, but I can't help think comics might better be served now by serious critique and deconstruction in as widely read a forum as Pulse, by someone willing to sign their real name to their work.

Anything else?

I don't follow football, couldn't care less about it, couldn't name a quarterback currently working if you held a gun to my head. (Wait! Is Brett Favre still with the Packers? Don't shoot!) Okay, so Limbaugh goes on TV and says Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles, right?) ain't nothin', and the only reason anyone says he's somethin' is that he's black and the media wants a black football hero. Is that a racist comment? Sure, though I can understand why some people don't see it as such. He didn't say McNabb was overrated. A lot of people are overrated. He didn't say there were other quarterbacks who ran faster or threw farther who deserved more attention. He didn't cite any examples. He said the dominant factor in the attention paid to McNabb was that he's black. All other factors, all McNabb's talent, leadership skills, experience, personality, whatever, just completely irrelevant in Limbaugh's equation. In Limbaugh's worldview, the only factor, the only reason McNabb could have become quarterback and subsequently lionized (if, in fact, that happened) by "the press" is because he's black.

Which, whether you think McNabb's overrated or not, from what I've seen of his stats is patently untrue. I've had people tell me you could say the same thing about overrated white quarterbacks, but I have yet to hear someone suggest that the only reason a quarterback has his job and is being acknowledged by sports pundits is because he's white.

So, yeah, Limbaugh's comment was racist. There's no argument possible that it wasn't.

But that was what ESPN wanted, wasn't it? What other possible reason could there be for hiring Limbaugh in the first place? He didn't just walk in off the street. It's not like Limbaugh hasn't made a career out of xenophobic, jingoistic, racist blather, and there's absolutely no question that his rabid audience for exactly that sort of thing was exactly who ESPN was hoping to attract to their programming by hiring him. They wanted shock and controversy. They got it. ESPN's got no right to gripe about anything, and if Limbaugh said something that was too over-the-top for their tastes, isn't that what they were paying him for?

Not that this was specifically a free speech issue. If ESPN had fired him, maybe, but I can't think of any reason someone like Limbaugh would have to fall on his own sword for them, and it's not like he hasn't weathered controversy over worse things, so when they say he quit, I can't find any reason not to take that at face value. If he quit over something he said, it was his decision and free speech doesn't really enter into it. "Free speech" is a dodgy thing in broadcasting anyway, since for decades the Federal Communications Commission has not only ruled but actively insisted broadcasters keep their on-air personalities' mouths in line. There more than anywhere "free" speech has been limited to acceptable "free" speech, though the definition of "acceptable" has been flexible over the year. I've noticed conservative commentators in particular like to yell about free speech abridgements if someone complains about what they say, even as they wholeheartedly cut off and shout down whatever any opposing viewpoints struggle to push through. But even complaints about free speech are free speech. Even calls for the removal of a commentator or media personality (or comic book writer) are free speech. Nobody rushed a bill through Congress banning Limbaugh from ESPN, nobody legislated anything. He quit. He chose to remove himself from the venue. I doubt it'll affect his performance on his radio show either. (Not being able to stockpile prescription drugs might, though.) (That was a cheap shot, I admit it. Are we going to presume Limbaugh's a painkiller fiend because THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER says so? C'mon... Next we'll be paying attention to Fox News...)

Of course, Limbaugh has to try to justify himself with the ludicrous logic that because so many people were upset by it, his obnoxious comment "must" be correct. This is like Woody Allen's syllogism that "Socrates is a man, and all men are mortal, therefore all men are Socrates." But what else would you expect Limbaugh to say?

Speaking of Fox News, there's an interesting article at The Seattle Times about how Fox News fanned the flames of war in Iraq by popularizing lies, half-truths and misconceptions about the nature of the battle and the enemy, playing mostly on jingoism and xenophobia. But they weren't the only ones. While Fox was easily the frontrunner, the network news operations at NBC, ABC and CBS in particular were also busy convincing Americans (and, only semi-coincidentally, supporting White House assertions) that the world was ready to support American military action in the Middle East, and that Saddam Hussein was supporting al-Qaeda, had WMDs ready to go or to deliver into terrorist hands, was involved in 9-11. The article dismisses the notion that the White House was orchestrating all this, and that's more than likely right, though they most likely weren't upset about the reports. It cites instead a much more severe problem with TV news, one that's been known for quite some time but no one has chosen to do anything about it:

"...television's emotional storytelling superseded its factual reporting."

This has become much more severe over the past couple of decades, as news operations are increasingly profitable units of media organizations and the line between entertainment and news has increasingly blurred as competing news operations are under increased stress to get "scoops" even when they have to concoct them out of the threadbarest speculation, innuendo and rumor. Fiction usually has a clear ending, but it's rare for a news story to end concisely or happily and many news stories never really end at all. Truly informative news is increasingly difficult to find, and fiction may be prettier but we have fiction for that. News isn't supposed to feed preconceptions and popularly-held myths, and it sure isn't supposed to create them. It's just supposed to get it right.

Here's something the news forgot: the city of Chicago has passed a resolution condemning the Patriot Act, reaffirming the rights of all Chicagoans under the Constitution and calling for repeal of the Act and "associated Executive Orders which violate our fundamental rights and liberties." That makes 160 towns and cities around America, not to mention three states, that have officially condemned the Patriot Act, and similar measures are growing more widespread across the country. It'd be nice if someone in politics actually noticed this and turned the 2004 presidential elections into a forum/referendum on the meaning of patriotism and liberty in modern America.

THE HANDLER! I knew I was forgetting something I'd seen recently! Every so often, TV networks return to the subject of undercover cops, and pretty much every time (with the exception of the first season of WISEGUY, they flub it something fierce). THE HANDLER (CBS, 10PM Fridays) takes a new angle, making the FBI agent (Joe Pantalione) running FBI undercover agents the nominal focus of the show. WISEGUY did only two storylines in one season, making it convincing how smart the guys he was going after were and how much work and danger was involved in stopping them, and what potential psychological risks came with the territory. Shows like THE HANDLER, on the other hand, come across with one message: criminals are dumb as dirt. Sure, there's some risk involved (one undercover cop has to smoke PCP-laced grass to maintain his cover), but it's, you know, cop show risk. Pantalione's his usual winsome self, but it's one of his standard cocky breezethrough performances, and anything more would be wasted. The show, like most cop shows, is ultimately just another cop show, there only to trot characters through paces and reassure us that crime doesn't pay.

There's no doubt James Spader brings a new tone to THE PRACTICE,(ABC, 10PM Sundays) caught in the midst of budget cuts that forced the departure of half its former stars, like Dylan Walsh, whose defense lawyer character Bobby Donnell interminably alternated zealous defense of all comers with whining morosely about the morality of disencumbering killers and other scum from the threat of justice. The result was a dour show trying to be titillating and puritanical in the same breath. But Spader's character plays a self-justifying, overtly sexist skirtchasing shark (a securities attorney, he gets fired from his previous firm for embezzling) who only resorts to morality when it's convenient and profitable. He's a shot of life not only for THE PRACTICE but for network TV, quintessentially Spader. It's too bad he's surrounded by the same old characters with their same old hang-ups and same old cases. (In a "story torn from the headlines," Camryn Mannheim's character is defending a Scott Peterson stand-in arrogantly trying to call the shots when he's accused of killing his wife, manipulating his daughter to parrot a story for the jurors and using Mannheim mainly to set up press conferences where his charm, not the facts of the case, can win hearts and minds. His "defense" is that his cheatin' wife was so guilty about her actions that she killed herself. The only way the story could possibly get interesting is if, against all appearances, he's telling the truth.) But Spader's enough to make THE PRACTICE watchable. Just not regularly watchable.

One of the better recent "adult" animes, HELSING, about vampires who hunt other vampires for a mysterious quasi-police organization, is now airing on Encore Action, if your cable company carries it. The first couple episodes are surprisingly restrained, focusing on the introduction of the lead vampire, Alucard (if you don't get it, go watch BILLY THE KID MEETS COUNT DRACULA until you're wishing for a stake through your own heart), and the adjustment of a young female police officer into the ranks of the organization. There's a pleasing COWBOY BEBOP tone to the visuals, and in the couple episodes I saw they really haven't hit a central storyline yet, but it's slickly done and, unlike a lot of anime, coherent. Worth a look. (Also airing on Encore Action are reruns of the '60s GREEN HORNET TV show, amusing in their own right and notable for the first real American exposure of kung fu acting legend Bruce Lee, as the Green Hornet's "manservant" Kato.)

Not worth a look is ZOIDS FUZORS (Cartoon Network, 8PM Saturdays). Trying to cash in on the relative success of ZOIDS and ZOIDS: CHAOTIC CENTURY, the show smacks of American influence throughout, complete with some cookie-cutter characters who seem to have stumbled out of a CAPTAIN PLANET script. Dud.

Still catching up with DVDs too. Writer-director John Sayles generated SUNSHINE STATE, a semi-star studded slice of life dramedy about change and history (personal and public) on a small Florida island on the verge of being eaten alive by developers. Despite interesting characters and some clever dialogue, it's so patchwork it becomes almost painful to watch, dragging on to an eventual pointless fizzle of an ending. SUNSHINE STATE has some of Sayles' best work in it, but it's not Sayles' best work. BASIC is a military thriller starring John Travolta, Connie Neilsen, and, almost in cameo, Samuel Jackson, about a killing on an American training mission in Panama, and the interrogators brought in to find out what happened. Of course, a clock is ticking, and the script is filled with twists and turns that are machine-gunned so quickly you don't have time to figure out whether they're clever or not. And it almost works - until one final twist so colossally stupid it defies logic and sanity, and you end up just feeling had.

Much better from iBooks is AMELIA RULES ($14.95), a collection of bright, smart strip about a young girl who moves to a new place when her parents divorce, and her adventures with her new friends (and enemies). The art is simple and pleasant, and the kids aren't stupid but they act like kids. I liked it.

I saw a preview of Candlelight Press' ZOO FORCE ($6.95) about a crimefighting team (consisting of various animals and some guy in an Amazin' Man helmet) that never actually fights crime, a few months back, and I can't say the finished product impresses me any more than that did. The credits are inconclusive as to who did what, so I won't hazard a guess, but the art in the first part of the book is much better than the sloppy minicomic art in the "Not Zoo Force" sections (the book is rounded out by puzzle pages and whatnot). The writing's occasionally funny, but I'm just not sure what the point is.

Candlelight Press' MAN IS VOX: BARRACUDAE, by John Thomas and Carter Allen, is better, a serial basically about human madness. The art changes unpredictably from story to story so visually the book's very uneven, and it unfortunately bogs down in an unnecessary superhero parody that wastes the ending, but at least there are some interesting ideas there, and some not bad writing.

Tommy Lee Edwards is a guy whose work I used to have no interest in. Thought it just looked bland on the page. Then I saw his original art in San Diego, and realized just how much colorists had sabotaged him and crushed his linework. If you need any convincing Tommy's a tremendous artist, Idea+Design Works has published ART OF TOMMY LEE EDWARDS, VOL. 1 ($19.99), a slick full-color book that demonstrates the full range of his talent, from sketchwork to comics to movie art. This guy's got such a wonderful dynamic, such a great sense of design and physical space. His war comics stuff alone is worth the price. A great talent, a terrific book. Buy it.

Isotope, San Francisco CA

Graham Crackers, Chicago IL

G-Mart Comic Book Store, Champaign IL

Southern California Comics, San Diego CA

Comic Madness, Chino CA

Comics Kingdom, Baltimore MD

Closet Of Comics, College Park MD

The Book Nook, Findlay OH

Austin Books, Austin TX

Midtown Comics, New York NY

Speeding Bullet Comics And Ricochet Café, Norman OK

Big Brain Comics, Minneapolis MN

Strange Adventures, Halifax Nova Scotia Canada

AC Cards And Comics, Vancouver British Columbia Canada

Comics Showcase, London England

Gosh, London England

Forbidden Planet, Manchester England

Forbidden Planet, Dublin IrelandAce Comics And Games, Brisbane Queensland Australia

Comic Warriors, Brisbane Queensland Australia

If your retailer is carrying the DAMNED trade, drop me an e-mail to add the shop to the honor roll. Of course, if your local retailer doesn't carry DAMNED and won't order it for you (it's a trade paperback, it doesn't have a shelf life, so don't let him tell you he can't order it), you can always get it through the fine online comics bookstore Khepri and get a hefty discount on it as well. (Khepri also sells many of my other available works, like the crime novel BADLANDS and my recent horror collection MORTAL SOULS.)

If you want to see what Mike Zeck looks like these days, there's an interview with him here.

In all the hubbub last week, I completely forgot that FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP #2 (of 9), from Avatar, faithfully adapted (transliterated might be more accurate) by me and Juan Jose Ryp from an original unproduced screenplay by Frank, came out and should be available at your local comics shop now. (You might still be able to find a copy of SUPERMAN: BLOOD OF MY ANCESTORS with story and art by Gil Kane and additional art by John Buscema, as well as my script and Kevin Nowlan's inking, from DC Comis if you're lucky.

Finally, a note that has nothing to do with me. You probably know Justin Gray as Jimmy Palmiotti's writing partner on books like 21 DOWN and THE RESISTANCE, but Justin's got a solo gig writing an updating of the old radio show MR. KEEN, TRACER OF LOST PERSONS as a new comics series for Moonstone Books and the first issue is out now. (Well, maybe this is about me, a little, because Tom Mandrake and I are currently having a blast reviving and updating another little known mystery radio show, PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE, as a Moonstone graphic novel to be published sometime next year.)

Up, up, up and away we go, etc. Don't forget to come to the Las Vegas Comic Convention at the end of the month. There's still plenty of time to make plans, and plenty of people who'll be there.

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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