Issue #177

XXXHOLIC Vol. 3 by Clamp, 200 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

Delicate. Funny. Mysterious. Intriguing. With its third volume, XXXHOLIC, about a teenage boy who can see spirits, the girl he loves, the rival he despises but can't survive without and the sexy, seemingly capricious witch he works for, shows no signs of slacking off. Hero Watanuki reluctantly faces challenges personal, professional, romantic and occult, and it's odd how gentle yet palpable the threats are portrayed, always with a sense of real consequence. Yes, there are morals attached to every episode, but they're often not the predictable ones. Still very good, and still the best from Clamp Studios. Aces.

TSUBASA Vol. 4 by Clamp, 200 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

Also from Clamp and peripherally tied into XXXHOLIC (not that either actually needs the other; the connection is more of an aside), this fantasy of three heroes from different dimensions, and with wildly different personalities, joining forces to travel reality searching for pieces of a young girl's soul isn't quite as satisfying as its sister series, mainly because the situations are too repetitive, a weakness with many manga. This volume leaves behind the Chinese fantasy world of the last storyline for a Germanic gothic horror/fairy tale setting. The situation may be a bit static, but the characters are fun, and the art reminds me of Walt Simonson's. Not bad.

THE WALLFLOWER Vol. 2 by Tomoko Hayakawa, 200 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

I'm told this is one of the most popular series in Japan, but I don't really know why. It's one of those too repetitive manga I was talking about: an outsider goth girl's aunt trades four hot but perpetually broke guys rent for transforming the girl into a lady, and they all (except the aunt) live in the same house and go to the same high school, and basically repeat the exact same plot over and over. She periodically transforms into a ravishing beauty but the transformation is always fleeting, at which point she gets a nosebleed (manga-ese for sexual attraction) for one of the guys, talks about being blinded by a "creature of the light" and flees to her darkened room and the coffin she sleeps in while the guys wonder where they'll get money next. Not that there aren't a few interesting wrinkles here - it's well written and drawn enough (except for that apparently traditional manga thing that occasionally makes it difficult to tell characters apart), and there's an amusing swerve into a ghost story with a murder mystery on the plate for next volume - but so far, as the heroine and her would-be beau are thrust together time and time again, the logic of the series seems inevitable. It's not a bad read, but I sort of feel like enough already, I get the joke.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED Vol. 3 by Hajime Yatate, Yoshiyuki Tomino & Masatsugi Iwase, 200 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

I was lukewarm on GUNDAM SEED's initial volume, but it has turned into a pretty decent space opera. I have to say one thing for the Japanese: when they do this sort of thing, they manage to pull it off without the creepy self-consciousness that afflicts most American space opera comic attempts. I'm still not exactly sure what separates the "Coordinators" from the human race they're sprung from and warring with, but maybe that's the point. There's a lot going on here, with shifting loyalties, plenty of emotion that rarely comes across as cloying or forced, and a rapidly rising sense of moral ambiguity as the story proceeds. The art nicely duplicates the style of the anime it's based on. Good job; I'm finally interested.

PLASTIC FARM #8 by Rafer Roberts, 32 pg. b&w comic (Plastic Farm;$2.95)

Rafer, if I could give you a friendly word of advice: you might as well save yourself the postage and stop sending this to me, because I just don't get it. It's not particularly well-drawn (though this issue's an improvement on earlier issues so you can take that as encouragement if you like, though I see it as damning with faint praise) and the sub-Carlos Castenada philosophical gibberish doesn't make up for it with story content. Sorry, I still can't recommend this book.

HOLY MOLY by Leah Hayes, 36 pg. b&w comic (Fantagraphics Books;$4.95)

This masquerades as a student's composition book, blue ruled lines and all, and it turns out to be a modestly fascinating sketchbook with much better artwork than it initially appears to have. Hayes is either a very talented recreationist or she really did draw this while bored out of her mind in classes; it reads authentically (though, as I said, the art's much better and far more consistent than most students would be capable of). I like it. I'm just not sure why anyone would buy it.

HOUSE OF TWELVE COMICS #3 by various, 96 pg. b&w comic (House Of Twelve;$9.95)

This reminds me, has anyone ever done a COMPLETE ZAP COMIX collected edition? These are all sex joke stories, some with socially redeeming value and some not (I particularly like Jenny Gonzales' contribution), some funny and some just gross. There's nothing here as good or manically twisted as in ZAP COMIX, but the spirit's pretty much the same, with no particular attempts (as near as I can tell) to be erotic. There's nothing in it I'd call brilliant art, but neither is it terrible. If you like sex jokes, you'd probably enjoy it. For adults only.

RUULE: KISS & TELL #7 Jeff Amano & Craig Rousseau, 32 pg. color comic (Beckett Comics;$1.99)

Y'know, the main problem with Beckett Comics is the stories just go on too long. The stories are great to look at but the pacing's all weird on them. In this issue, strongman Sam Swede has lost his strength and fallen to his enemies, who decided to blind him then set him up as the sucker in boxing matches. Most of it's taken up by a ton of full page boxing shots that are emotionally effective enough at getting Sam's helplessness and despair over, but feel mostly like they exist to push the story into an eighth issue. I like the series well enough but can't help thinking it should have been over an issue ago. It just doesn't have enough story to go around.

THE BALLAD OF SLEEPING BEAUTY #6 by Gabriel Benson & Mike Hawthorne, 32 pg. color comic (Beckett Comics;$1.99)

Cute little paean to THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES in the opening scene. Unfortunately, a lot of the dialogue also sounds like exactly what you'd expect to hear in a western with a tormented hero running from his past ("I don't think gunnin' me down is gonna kill what's eatin' you inside.") because you've heard it in every one of them, and for the first time this series begins to sound cobbled together from bits of the author's favorite westerns. At least they finally seem to be getting to the crux of the story, now that the hero's personal quest for vengeance is all wrapped up. Beckett's books are pretty good, but if they're going to do stories this long and serialized, they'll have to make them more compelling.

THE MYSTERY OF WOOLVERINE WOO-BAIT by Joe Coleman, 40 pg. b&w comic (Fantagraphics Books;$4.95)

Speaking of manically twisted... Coleman was one of the last wave of the original underground artists and stylistically (at least here) owes a lot of Kim Dietch and S. Clay Wilson, and this is one of the wildest mad scientist adventures you'll ever read. It's like one of those old Stan Lee mystery comic tales from the '50s on speedballs, not entirely comprehensible but man, when you're out there you know you've been someplace, as James Dean once said. Not for the squeamish, but a real experience that'll either have you laughing your head off or scratching it

DAISY KUTTER: THE LAST TRAIN #3-4 by Kazu Kibuishi, 40 pg. b&w comics (Viper Comics;$3.99@)

In some alt-wild west overrun with robots, holograms and other hi tech, ex-train robber Daisy Kutter has been lured back into the business, only to find a double-cross waiting for her. If you take the conceits in stride, Kibuishi plays his comics like one long, fairly high tension movie, one scene (more or less) per issue. He plays it well, though; unlike most artists who try this sort of thing he makes every panel count, and while I wasn't keen on the opening of the series, the final two issues are very satisfying, and straightforward. The trade paperback's coming up; check it out.

POINT PLEASANT #1 by Chad Lambert, Ryan Scott, Jason Moser, Michael Gray & Dan Barlow, 32 pg. b&w comic (Ape Entertainment;$3.95)

UFO researcher John Keel made Point Pleasant, WV, site of a devastating bridge collapse in 1967, a cause celebre in his book THE MOTHMAN CHRONICLES, which tied the collapse to UFOs, monsters and strange phenomena, and introduced the general public to the concept of Men In Black. Lambert's story puts a sci-fi and horror spin on the event, bringing in time travel and ancient Indian curses, and while it's a valiant try the various chapters fail to cohere; it tells us nothing, and the characters are so sketchy they're uninvolving. (It doesn't help when he uses names like "Chief Cornstalk.") Despite that, the book's kind of interesting, and the art, though erratic, isn't bad, while the storytelling's reasonably good. Most interesting is an interview with a survivor of the Point Pleasant catastrophe. If Lambert's continues with this, it's certainly fertile enough territory but he needs more substance.

SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST #1 by Joshua W. Cotter (Adhouse Books;$5)

Did I see part of this before? It's oddly familiar. Behind Cotter's pleasant style lies a dark maelstrom of childhood paranoia and misery. Fascinatingly creepy, with dry humor and a slightly unexpected edge: I've never seen a backpack commit suicide before. Check it out.

KING: A COMICS BIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. by Ho Che Anderson, 230 pg. color/b&w graphic novel (Fantagraphics Books;$22.95)

Saving the best for last. Anderson's bio-novel is an absolutely terrific work, a meditation on the shape, impact and meaning of King's life. Beautifully written, beautifully rendered, and while Anderson never wavers from a portrait of King as a great man, he doesn't shy away from flaws, fears and contradictions. These days when politicians who push racist agendas cover themselves by invoking King's name, it's great to have a superb reminder of what King and his cause were really all about, why they were necessary, and why both are still relevant today. This is a sharp, heartfelt book, and it's going to be hard to beat as the great graphic novel of 2005. Under no circumstances miss it.

  • Checkin' out the week's mail:

    "You answer your own question as to why all of a sudden it is now scandalous to consider a woman's nipple. "It's been, what, four damn decades since it became acceptable to acknowledge that sex exists?" Or basically, one generation. Our parents (well, mine, well their generation...) fought the sexual revolution, and this is simply the backlash against a backdrop of a generation who has taken sex and sexual freedoms for granted. Same reason affirmative action and "Roe v. Wade" are now attackable. Same reason that Bush II is in the White House. The mighty Pendulum of Politics.

    (Though I found it hilarious that all of the banner ads that came up over the Dvorak column - even as he was saying that he could tell you all the tricks of the ad world and they would still work, because we think we are too smart to be fooled - consisted of a young blonde entering into sexual congress with the latest computer hardware...)

    As for "Trades vs. Monthlies" (I almost feel I should be marching in front of the Comic Book Supreme Court on this one...) I think that the sheer number of straight-to-paperback mass market books still keeps the analogy on track. But you are right, now that it has been proven that you can do "comics" as something other than monthly stapled newsprint, the trick is to use the form most appropriate to the work. Not blindly accept - or deny - one over the other.

    And finally, having lived under "Compassionate Conservatism" for four years, and listed to the loyal opposition for the same time, I am convinced that Anarchists and NeoComs are using the same ad campaign: "Everyone is basically [a] good [Christian]. It is only when they are forced to conform [by paying taxes, or not being allowed to condemn gay marriage] that trouble occurs. If everyone would just accept this fact [and tow the party line], the world would be a perfect place. [Because of course no multinational corporation would ever pollute the environment any more than absolutely necessary, or lie about the safety of their products. It's their world too, right?]

    Me, I am going to take heart in the fact that two in three high school students didn't feel that the First Amendment goes to far. (UConnstudy on CNN.com, liked through Dvorak's blog.)"

    I think you mean libertarians, not anarchists. Anyway, 40 years is considerably more than one or two generations, the way our society figures generations. There's a new one about every five years now, isn't there? Kids born in 1995 constitute a completely different generation, in terms of what's marketed to them (and demographics are the generational demarcations now, not genetics), than kids born in 1987. The current turn toward Puritanism didn't just happen, it was fairly carefully engineered, with roots going back as far as the liberation movements it seeks to reverse.

    "Loved how you dropped the 'doesn't mean **** to a tree' line from Jefferson Airplane's song Eskimo Blue Day into your column. It's nice to see someone know the Airplane for something other than 'White Rabbit' and 'Somebody To Love.'"

    One of my favorite lines in all of rock music, man. But y'know what I found really distressing recently? There's an ad that now uses the Airplane's "Volunteers," a flat out cry for open revolution from days when people still talked like that, as a theme song for a stock broker commercial. On the other hand, I find Kodak's (is it Kodak? Some film company...) use of the Kinks' 'Picture Book' in their commercials hysterically funny, since the song mocks the whole concept of taking photos - and the mockery actually runs in the ad. (Listen closely to the lyrics, rather than the chorus.) Amazing, really.

    "Whilst I agree on your comments for the most part (this week's column I think), I think Rommel was in part popular with the many academics at Sandhurst because he has shown in his training his sharp logistical talent. He then farther "won over" British troops because he was an army officer but not a Nazi and he distinguished himself on the battlefield. My granduncle lost his leg fighting his desert rats in WWII and spent the rest of his life in wheelchair, yet he had praise for the man. I also like your friend's "field of dreams" marketing term."

    I've never really understood that attitude. I can understand appreciating Rommel's strategic prowess, but isn't it splitting hairs to exonerate the man on the basis that he wasn't a Nazi, he only worked for them to the best of his abilities? He would have led them to victory if he could have. That he'd be willing to do that without any real strength of conviction of kind of frightening.

    "I've always thought that one of the contributing factors to the rise of the paperback novel was the reality that increasingly well capitalized publishing houses were seeking a way to erect barriers to entry to new publishers. Despite the fact that the comics business is largely dominated by the Big Two, new companies rise all the time and offer at least the potential for future competition. By analogy, it therefore seems that the rise of the TPB offers the existing industry leaders with a method for maintaining their current dominance without resorting to actual competition based on ideas. They'd rather compete based on their wallets (not that there is anything wrong with that from a business standpoint). And, of course, people like TPBs because they're easier to read than single issues."

    Certainly hardcover (or "legitimate" publishers) originally viewed paperbacks with scorn and initially did their best to discourage or ignore them; they were a quick buck item when they originally appeared, dedicated to impermanence where hardcovers had always been promoted as immortal, and certainly there was a wide disparity between the contents of the two forms. What mainly contributed to the rise of the paperback, though, was the resurgence of a fairly educated and at least semi-literate public in the wake of WWII, when many young men took to reading as a way of dealing with boredom, the same way many of them took to smoking cigarettes (tobacco companies cheerfully supported the war effort by supplying soldiers with all the free cigarettes they could handle) and conditions predisposed them to abandoning or passing on books when they were finished, something the trade paperback was also designed for, while hardcovers were designed for permanent display on bookshelves. When they got stateside, they continued reading, which is why a lot of the early paperback houses specialized in "men's books": detective novels and westerns and such. (This was the same social force that prompted Lev Gleason and Charles Biro to publish TOPS, a comic in magazine format aimed at adult readers and featuring adult themed material, which died after two issues mainly due to lack of distribution.) Interesting analysis of the TPB as bulwark for the big established comics companies, but in many cases it's not really working like that.

    I wondered if you had seen this story: Nazi Costumes Prompt VMI Investigation (washingtonpost.com)

    Remember while you're reading this that this incident took place in October and we first heard about it last weekend! As far as I can tell, the Washington Post was the only place it was talked about."

    What, you mean Hannity and Colmes weren't making a stink about it? What a shocker...

    "Another interesting column. This "nipple"-panic currently en vogue in American comics - the de-nippelisation of the old b/w TOMB OF DRACULA or this SHANNA nonsense - is so laughable and tells tons about America today. And not giving good vibes.

    Okay, I live in Germany where it is perfectly okay to have nudity on the TV after 8 p.m or earlier and nobody ever complains, be it a crime show with a bed scene, the usual strip bar with more naked tits than in a Wynorski movie or the showergel-ad with the naked girl. I guess some of your religious tv-watchgroups would suffer a collective apoplex if the would watch a couple of days our TV. Of course our censorship is big on violence. It can get annoying if each and every episode of XENA or BUFFY gets cut not mention the mangling movies like FROM DUSK TILL DAWN receive - we are talking about 10 minutes or more less running time.

    But this sex thing is truly bizarre. To an outsider it seems that the whole country is in dire need for a valium. I thought your Prohibition analogue interesting. I still don´t get how a whole country could get so in hysteria to enforce such a nonsense; on the other hand it seems to me - as an European - the same mindset as in the comics/Wertheim affair or the McCarthy Witchhunts. Are Americans really so neurotic that they always jump on the bandwagon if a few mad zealots wave the torch?"

    No, not always. It's nowhere near the entire country anyway. Marvel may be out to purge nipples, but Brian Pulido's still making comics, so it evens out.

    " You've been speaking about the Prince Harry stuff in the press. Here's some behind the scenes stuff you may not have been aware of.

    The guy who took the pics and offered them to The Sun... when he took them to The Sun, he wasn't offering them the shots of Prince Harry. He was offering them a pack of pics - including the Harry ones - but the motivation for selling was other pics in the pack; namely those of Prince William dressed up a Lion.

    He offers them to The Sun, they offer him £7,500, he bites for that.

    Then they are flicking through the pics (again) at Sun Central and see the Harry pics.

    I won't bore you with the rest of the media hoo-ha over it all (like Buck Palace phoning the wrong paper with a quote, thereby blowing the Sun's exclusive and so on) but the end result is that the pics have now got a cash value of over £500,000 because of the amount of offers that have come in for them from various papers and organizations across the world wanting to use them.

    Of that money, the person who sold them originally will see zero. He sold off all the rights when he sold them to the Sun.

    Just like comics eh?

    As an aside, it's also a sickener for the guy for two reasons:

    a) no one will believe he got so little for the pics

    b) no one will believe that he didn't sell them the pics as "Here's Harry as a Nazi" because those are the pics the media ran.

    So for a relatively small amount of cash, the poor bastard has done himself over in a multitude of ways - and probably won't be invited to many fancy dress parties in future."

    And if he had only been a Steve Gerber fan, all that could have been avoided...

  • You've probably never heard of Ward Churchill, but he's a University of Colorado professor and prolific author currently at the heart of a storm that even managed to make it to my local paper this morning. Among other things he pretty wrote the book (literally) on the FBI's longrunning (and frequently denied) CoIntelPro operation infiltrating and subverting (often with agents provocateurs) various rights groups of the '60s and '70s, especially the Panthers and AIM. Churchill's gotten himself into trouble with the Right for his recent book, ON THE JUSTICE OF ROOSTING CHICKENS, in which he discusses the historical framework on 9/11 through an analysis of American military interventions around the world since our nation's inception and particularly our actions in the face of what passes for international law since 1945 - epitomized by the current administration's refusal to acknowledge any international war crimes court unless Americans are specifically exempt, not to mention our new attorney general's opinion that any restrictions in the Geneva conventions regarding torture and fair, humane treatment of our enemies are outmoded and no longer applicable but god help anyone who dares torture or inhumanely treat Americans; we prefer to believe since we're the "good guys" we should be able to operate by a different set of rules - and for the four-year old essay that spawned it.

    Churchill's upshot is this: we've been going around the world basically wreaking havoc for decades, and it was inevitable that sooner or later someone was going to wreak some havoc back. Example, in Churchill's own words: "In 1996 Madeleine Albright, then Ambassador to the UN and soon to be US Secretary of State, did not dispute that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of economic sanctions, but stated on national television that 'we' [by which she specifically implies the American people, you and me] had decided it was 'worth the cost.' I mourn the victims of the September 11 attacks, just as I mourn the deaths of those Iraqi children, the more than 3 million people killed in the war in Indochina, those who died in the US invasions of Grenada, Panama and elsewhere in Central America, the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, and the indigenous peoples still subjected to genocidal policies. If we respond with callous disregard to the deaths of others, we can only expect equal callousness to American deaths."

    But where Churchill really comes under fire is where he supposedly called the 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns." New York's Governor Pataki (who labeled Churchill "a bigoted terrorist supporter"), the Wall St. Journal and half the frothing pundits on Fox News have used this to call for banning him from public speaking and ousting him from his teaching job (he has already resigned his chairmanship of UofC-Boulder's ethnic studies department). Well, that's fine; professors have been ousted from their jobs before for pushing heinous positions, like promoting racism under cover of muddled genetic science. Except that's not what Churchill said. He did use the phrase "little Eichmanns," but for a very, very small subset of those killed in the World Trade Center attacks. He applied the phrase specifically to what he called 'technocrats of empire' who used the World Trade Towers as a home base, including the CIA. By way of explaining what he meant: "Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies."

    Bear in mind that at no point did Churchill say the 9/11 attacks were good, or moral, or justified. He never said anyone deserved to die. His desire is to understand the motives of the attackers, which is, of course, a sin in the Hand Puppet's America. Again, as Churchill puts it: "It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which US Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American 'command and control infrastructure' in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a 'legitimate' target. Again following US military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than 'collatoral damage.'" This is a tricky fine point, but follow it: Churchill's argument isn't that bin Laden's little band of fanatics had every right to attack the World Trade Center and kill thousands of people, or that it's his judgment that they were justified, but that the Pentagon's own logic, if followed through, would seem to justify it.

    But Churchill, bear in mind, doesn't accept the Pentagon's logic. And that's his ultimate point: "If the US public is prepared to accept these 'standards' when they are routinely applied to other people, they should not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them... If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name." Which strikes me as simply logical, even Biblical: it's the Golden Rule.

    But the current witchhunt for Churchill is only part of a recently resurrected right wing assault on academia in general. A couple weeks ago, my local paper ran an editorial column, also courtesy of the Wall St. Journal, about how college students have swung "overwhelmingly" to the right, are now protesting not the war but "academic entitlement programs" designed to make it easier for minorities to get college educations, and shouldn't have to sit through courses taught by liberal professors telling them things they don't want to hear. And Churchill's hardly the first academic attacked for offering variant perspectives on the current American political situation. (One, Sami al-Arian, was not only stripped of his job at the University Of South Florida, but is now one of those many so far thrown into jail by the administration without trial.) With primary and secondary education already under assault via the Hand Puppet's "No Child Left Behind" Act, which shoves the emphasis hard onto training kids to prattle back specific data in order for schools to get any funding at all (and he wants to both expand No Child Left Behind and cut education spending in his new plan, laughingly called a "budget" though he left his biggest spending objectives - the war in Iraq and possibly elsewhere -- out of it entirely), these assaults on higher academia, which follow the patterns set during the McCarthy and Vietnam eras and dating as far back as the 1790s, are really intended to eliminate alternative perspectives altogether, at least from "acceptable" discourse. (Things said in a column like this can be dismissed as conspiracy theory nonsense, since I'm a non-expert nobody, but a professor brings credibility to an argument, and usually a wealth of information and learning to back up their arguments.) The attacks on Churchill, al-Arian, and others are warnings aimed directly at all other academicians: no alternative perspectives allowed. Keep them to yourself. Don't poison our children with things we don't want you telling them. Or else. Of all the lessons they could have learned from Vietnam, like the pitfalls of touting "free elections" in a country you're occupying, that's the one they chose: shut up the professors who disagree with you.

    It's the war against terror, after all, and 9/11 justifies anything. So what do we want, academic freedom or political fundamentalism? (I say that knowing it will likely prompt a little flood of emails from my conservative readers who will quite justifiably ask why I didn't complain when liberals were forcing their fundamentalism into academics, but don't bother. Depending on what you means by "liberal fundamentalism," odds are pretty good I did.) This is dangerous territory. The true objective of higher education shouldn't be to fall into goosestep behind the predominant political philosophy of the day but to teach critical thinking. There's no reason students should have to believe everything their professors say, but they should at least learn to express any disagreements via logical argument. That's critical thinking. That's the way things progress, with variant and often opposing viewpoints testing each other's legitimacy. But governments tend not to like critical thinking. They like to be believed, and obeyed. They don't like it when people are given insights into enemy thinking instead of the official version of what the enemy is thinking, even though actual insights rather than fever dreams might be useful when preparing strategies. When we reach the point where it's believed only traitors question, and not believing and obeying is automatically grounds for accusations of treason, sorry, but that's fascism, plain and simple. That's not something 9/11 did, or al-Qaeda inflicted on us. That's something we're doing to ourselves.

    Speaking of the Iraqi elections, they're getting pretty interesting now, and it's probably not coincidental that the American press has all but stopped talking about them. While votes are still being counted, seems (not unexpectedly to anyone with half a brain) that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sisani's Shia Alliance have swept up well over half the vote, more than twice what our puppet Allawi's organization did. Allawi doesn't even have the #2 bloc in the country; that's the Kurds. If the vote is allowed to stand, this means the Shi'ites will be in charge of the new parliament and will elect the new leaders. Seeing as how al-Sisani advocates normalizing relations with Iran and isn't likely to support the use of Iraq as a base of operations against that country, things could get... mmm... touchy, especially given that the Pentagon announced well in advance of the elections that our army was staying for years to come regardless of who wins the election. Not to mention the likelihood of all-out civil war prompted by the Ba'athists and Sunnis who sat out the election in protest (knowing the Shia majority in the country would doubtless sweep the polls anyway). If a civil war does break out, I wonder who we'll back: a legitimately elected (if, indeed, the election was legitimate) Shi'ite government not in step with our own goals in the gulf, or Ba'athist/Sunni rebels wishing to re-suppress the Shi'ites. Or will we simply follow the Vietnam paradigm and underwrite a military coup to shove Allawi down their throats again?

  • Catching up on TV, with the new seasons of DEADWOOD and THE SHIELD on the horizon, I've taken to watching, along with 24 (Fox, 9P Monday), which has really been rocketing along this season, not a dull moment so far except for the shenanigans of CTU boss Erin Driscoll's schizo and now apparently comatose daughter (and it's been great to see Carlos Bernard's surprise return as defrocked CTU agent Tony Almeda), ULTIMATE FIGHTER (Spike, 11:05P Monday) and TILT (ESPN, 6P Thursday). ULTIMATE FIGHTER's another "reality" show, this one with trainees competing, under the aegis of former champs Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, for a contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship. The challenges are rugged but also pretty silly, but the show's interesting for its look into the UFC culture, as well as being a pretty good primer to the way UFC fighting works, what's demanded and what strategies are recommended. TILT, fiction set against the poker world of Las Vegas (albeit a Las Vegas far more tough guy fantasy than Vegas Strip reality, isn't great, but it stars Michael Madsen in his first regular role since the late lamented VENGEANCE UNLIMITED. Madsen's a poker legend who runs crooked card games, and is himself now the focus of a sting being slowly run by three young players who he cheated in the past. As a glimpse of the poker world that has somehow become a spectator sport on TV, it's fiction, but as a nasty little crime story it does the trick. The biggest problem is ESPN; they can't seem to run the damn thing when it's scheduled. I can't imagine whatever audience the show has will stick around long if they keep that up. In the meantime, though, Madsen's great and the rest of the cast ain't shabby, so I'll suck it up and hunt it down.

    Also on the screen recently was the DVD release of Mike Hodges' I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD, with former mobster Clive Owen, scruffier than you've ever seen him, returning from self-imposed exile to uncover the secrets behind his kid brother's unexpected suicide. In some ways, it's the real remake of Hodges' initial masterpiece, GET CARTER. But the story's a little too flimsy, the motivations a bit too shallow, the actions a bit too disjointed. It's got great style, and Owen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Malcolm McDowell are slick and very believable in it; all it's really missing is a plot.

  • I'm not sure what I had in mind last week when I mentioned Mighty Marvel Madness for this week but whatever it is it's gone now. But congratulations to Ed Brubaker on his new Marvel exclusive deal, given his current hot streak on CAPTAIN AMERICA. In the meantime, if you want to know the real inside scoop on how comics are made, there's only one place to find it: the massive 300 page Master of the Obvious collection, TOTALLY OBVIOUS, available (cheap!) only in .pdf format through PAPER MOVIES. And don't forget in only a couple weeks the first issue of my CSI: SECRET IDENTITY miniseries comes out from IDW. It's never too late to pester your retailer for it. And if you want a list (and the opportunity to buy) other books I've currently got available, I can't think of a better place to look than online graphic novel shop Khepri - and tell them I said hi.

    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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