Issue #192

REVIEW SLEW: Almost two dozen comics on the line, as I push them over it

PARANOIA STRIKES DEEP: Widening the government's war on liberty

CREATOR WRONGS: The downside of comics movies

MAIL ROOM: You've been writing, I've been reading

A SCHEMATIC OF THE END TIMES: Cross-section, plus quick exit notes

TSUBASA Vol. 5 by Clamp, 202 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.99)

Continuing the adventures of five interdimensional companions across realities to find a young girl's scattered memories, featuring (in this volume) parallel versions of characters from Clamp Studios' popular CARD CAPTOR SAKURA and X/1999

, though you don't have to be a Clamp fanatic to enjoy it. (As with all volumes, there's an informative appendix explaining both Japanese cultural elements and connections to other series referred to.) While not quite as good as its companion series, XXXPHILE, TSUBASA has improved considerably since the earlier volumes. It's decent all-ages fantasy, occasionally exciting without being frightening, and sometimes even poignant, as in this volume's final chapter where the hero Syaoran is reminded of an irrevocable loss no amount of heroism can undo.

STALKERS: RETIRED by Mark Verheiden & D'Israeli, 48 pg.color comic (Atomeka Press;$6.99)

Mark Verheiden & Jan Strnad's STALKERS, about a crack squad of privatized anti-terrorist mercenaries, had a brief run at Epic in the early '90s, but the material seems more apropos today than then. Verheiden (now writing SUPERMAN at DC) wrote this volume solo, involving a group of angry, desperate senior citizens resorting to terrorism after a billionaire who bilked them of their life savings then built (ala Steve Wynn here in Las Vegas) a superhotel/monument to himself to show off his personal wealth. Verheiden deals effectively with injustices, the political intrigues, the hero's grief when his own parents fall to the billionaire's scheme, but he misses a good hook by not having a parent involved in the takeover of the hotel, and circumstances unfortunately make the Stalkers seem terribly ineffective; it's hard, by the end, to understand why anyone would trust them to resolve anything. But it's still pretty good, and it's great to see D'Israeli, who paints and letters the book, back with his highly stylized but effective art. Worth checking out.

JENNY FINN: DOOM by Mike Mignola & Troy Nixie, 56 pg. b&w comic (Atomeka Press;$6.99)

Not quite so successful is JENNY FINN: DOOM, an attempt at Lovecraftian horror (though it somehow comes off more as Herman Melville) by Mike Mignola. The story, about a goodhearted seaman captivated by a strange girl in a seaport beset by monsters and murders, isn't bad as far as it goes, but it's more of a vignette or a chapter than an actual story. Nixie's art doesn't help much; while he periodically goes in for Wrightsonian flourishes that mostly work fine, his faces are often ugly and hard to recognize, and proportions, both in anatomy and perspective, are capricious and stunted, defusing the apparent horrors of the world because, well, everyone looks that way. And what passes for a payoff is left virtually entirely up to the imagination.

THE NAKED COSMOS by Gilbert Hernandez, two hour DVD "in Celestial Vision"(Bright Red Rocket ;$15)

Amateur video at its finest, Hernandez's paean to late night TV horror movie hosts - in bad makeup with bad writing, they often had little storylines of their own to run around commercial breaks - plays like a weird cross between the lowest tech public access cable TV shows (where the "hosts" sit in their basements staring at one camera) and PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE and Hernandez, portraying psychic host Quintas (who promises to share the hidden secrets of the naked cosmos with us), disturbingly evokes nothing so much as Mimi from THE DREW CAREY SHOW, on lots of Prozac. Hernandez plays most other roles as well. With four episodes on the disc, it takes about an episode and a half before it stops being simply weird and you get the joke, but it's pretty funny and inventive in the low-tech/low-budget way that nobody appreciates enough anymore. The package also comes with a 20 pg. NAKED COSMOS mini-comic written and drawn by Hernandez that LOVE AND ROCKETS fans won't want to miss. I liked it; worth a look.

THE SURROGATES #1 by Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele, 32 pg. color comic (Top Shelf;$)

This won't be out until July, presumably in time for San Diego, but Top Shelf sent out .pdf previews on CD with two issues on it. I've never been that crazy for Weldele's art - too sketchy for my tastes - but the coloring (watercolor?) pleasantly distracts from its excesses. The story's a futuristic police procedural involving androids people can project their minds into, and an apparently superpowered killer frying them. It's got its interesting aspects, but I wish Venditti had focused a bit more on the emotional consequences of everyone being able to live outside themselves and provided a little more background on the social shift leading to that society. (I'm guessing it has something to do with safe sex.) It's not bad, though it shares the vaguely plodding structure of most police procedurals, but it leaves too many questions.

WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? by Jason, 48 pg. color trade paperback (Fantagraphics Books;$12.95)

This reads like FRITZ THE SPAYED CAT, replacing the sexual frenzy of Crumb's one-time signature character with slacker despair, and while I don't see any direct connection, Crumb's FRITZ and Jason's WHY...? have a lot in common, including a pithy, jaundiced world view and sudden bursts of adventure. Here, a meandering buddy strip abruptly turns into a Hitchcockian murder mystery and it's so out of the blue given the setup it's a fascinating jump. Jason pulls off the rest of the story confidently, the ending is another completely unexpected jump, and the book's a great example of how any art style can be completely convincing as long as everything in the "world" of the art looks as though it belongs there. Worth a look.

REUNION by Brian Apodoca & Arturo Morales, 16 pg. b&w comic (Reunion Comix;$2.00)

The art on the first few and last few pages of the story is pretty clumsy, which makes the art in the middle a shock: it's pretty good. The story's just sort of there, as a slacker attends his 10th year high school reunion and is reminded why he never hooked up with his fantasy girl. But Adopoca doesn't do anything stupid either, and the slice of life vignette is enjoyable enough.

STRANGEHAVEN #17 by Gary Spencer Millidge, 32 pg. b&w comic (Abiogenesis Press;$2.95)

It's been a while since Millidge has put out a STRANGEHAVEN, about the bizarre English village dotted with cults, ghosts, time travelers and other weirdness, but it's always worth the wait. In this issue, murder plots foment, and hero Alex finally gets a handle on what's important about the quaint hamlet and what his enemies there are capable of - if his new allies aren't pleasant delusionals, or double agents. Good job, and adequately but not obsessively paranoid.

DRIVE by Nate Southard & Shawn Richter, 88 pg. b&w graphic novel (Frequency Press;$11.95)

As more and more independent comics flood the market, it has become apparent the big stumbling block for most of them is the art. Far more people are interested in drawing comics than actually have a grasp on drawing or design, and that's unfortunately the case here. Not that Richter's bad, exactly, but from the work here he's two or three years of practice ahead of himself, and graphic novels aren't where people should be warming up. (Larry Hama used to judge prospective Marvel artists on whether they could draw hands and feet properly, and I used to think that was petty, but I really see his point now, since misdrawn hands and feet are really distracting - and Larry considered not learning how to draw them a sign of insufficient dedication.) The story's not bad - a cab driver picks up the wrong fare, and suddenly finds himself dead center in a drug caper involving crooked cops - but there's not an awful lot in it that's terribly original either. As an exercise, this book is pretty good. As a graphic novel, I dunno...

ODDLY NORMAL #2 by Otis Frampton, 32 pg. color comic (Viper Comics;$2.95)

This pleasant kid's comic finds the eponymous heroine, following her family's disappearance on Earth last issue, acclimating to her grandmother's home and a new school in, for lack of a better term, "the other realm," and running afoul of the in clique (vampires and werewolves) that make her an outsider there as well. With the vague suggestion one of her new teachers is connected to her family's fate, it's pretty good for what it is, a sort of cross between HARRY POTTER and THE MUNSTERS. The real question is whether Viper Comics can get it to its natural audience - because the comic shop market ain't it.

RANDOM ENCOUNTER #2 by Nicc Balce, 32 pg. b&w comics (Viper Comics;$2.95)

This is starting to grow on me, as the story becomes a sort of live action roleplaying game, complete with cosplay, but what the monsters are and why teenage girls are fighting them is left in the dark. It's fun, though, and Balce has both a pleasant, open art style and a good ear, but it's going to be hard to judge adequately before its over.

MALSAINE #1 by Maury Blacksher & Barry Hughes, 36 pg. color comic (Imprint Comics;$2.95)

First off, a word of advice: I know it must've seemed like a cool design element, but never print tiny little dark brown or black letters on a medium brown background if you actually want people to read your book! That aside, I enjoyed the literary essay that launches the book. As it turned out, I liked the dissection of HUCKLEBERRY FINN and the discussion of jazz & rock'n'roll that plants the book firmly in the late '50s with a bright student trying to acclimate to a new town, with strong yet subtle characters and sharp Eurostyle art. Not sure what to make of it overall yet, since this is just the intro, but it's fine so far.

BLOOD ORANGE #4 ed. by Chris Polkki, 56 pg. b&w comic (Fantagraphics;$5.95)

I'm starting to burn out on art comics. The only thing in this issue that stuck with me besides a pretty pointless fantasy story that turns into every hardboiled detective cliché in the book guest-starring Robert Mitchum, Edward G. Robinson & others was the opening 16 pager, which looks to be a run of 16 silent single frames, but if you keep looking at them, you can see dozens of little stories running through them. It's a lot of fun, and very creative. The rest of the issue, not so much.

HOLMES #1 By Omaha Perez/PERIPHERY #2 by Matthew Smith, Brian Horton & Mark Fearing, 48 pg. b&w flip book (O-P-P;$3.50)

HOLMES is Perez's irreverent recreation of the famed Doyle detective (er... isn't Sherlock Holmes under trademark?) as a bumbling, egotistical drug addict. Some of it's funny, as when Holmes makes one of his characteristic spot analyses of a potential client, is praised by Watson for his brilliant snap observations, and turns out to be wrong. But then the whole story becomes that: Holmes as inept and brainrotten, while Watson narrates excuses for him. So far it's too one note to sustain itself, and the artwork, while occasionally decent, is too erratic to help. On the other side of the book, Matt Smith & Brian Horton produce a pleasant little samurai parable & Mark Fearing returns with his amusing caveman comics. It's a bit on the light side, but it's all right.

MYRIAD ed. by Bart Thompson, 48 pg. b&w comic book (;$2.99)

I think I've mentioned before that the problem with anthology books is cumulative quality: bad material brings down good material but good material doesn't lift up bad. Unusually for independent anthologies, this one's pretty good, particularly when it comes to art, with only a couple down bits. Thompson & Steve Fox's "ChiSai" seems to be either a segment or some sort of strange parody, as their heroine, who gets both covers, also gets beaten down almost on arrival and apparently murdered in the last panel. But the art's fairly striking, getting stronger as it goes along. The art on Jay Jacobs & Chris Tsuda's "Lineage," is at least mid-90s mid-range DC quality; unfortunately the story, though handled well enough, about elves mistakenly terraforming a superscientific future Earth into a world hospitable to them, is mid-80s, mid-range DC material, and it's just not very interesting. Richard Nelson, Eli Ivory & Brian LaFramboise provide a pirate strip that's reasonably well-drawn, and with a little more practice these guys could striking as well. With a little lighter hand on the inking, Chris O'Bryant, James Sandman & Brian Laframboise's "Frail" would fall in the mid-90s mid-range DC level as well, and the only really weak part is Steve Doty's art on John Ward's "Discount Stories," which has the same old problems, bad and shifting proportions, though it's open and clean enough. My real problem with the anthology is that much of the material seems to be "learned" from comics or old movies; I'm not saying comics should be hyperrealistic, but there's got to be at least a suggestion of life. For the most part the material here isn't bad, but it's just not quite over that hump to "good enough to want more" either, and any anthology depending largely on continuing stories needs that quality in spades.

THE ALPHABET AGENCY by Rob Croonenborghs, 16 pg. b&w mini-comic (Rob Croonenborghs; no price given)

Croonenborghs not the world's greatest artist either, but there's something appealing about his art regardless; it's got a sort of mutant Spain Rodriguez underground comics quality to it. The story's got a quality reminiscent of Spain's TRASHMAN as well, as a "blows against the empire" style squad of young rebels tries to strike against the Power Controlling Everything. That's nowhere near as dire as it sounds, as he messes freely and humorously with the basic formula. Not bad.

I LOVE SHORT SHORTS by Rob Croonenborghs, Alex DiCampi, Matthew Craig & Kieron Gillen, 16 pg. b&w mini-comic (Rob Croonenborghs; no price given)

The two years between THE ALPHABET AGENCY and this mini-comic shows Croonenborghs growing more confident, stylized and adventurous, with help from several writers, with material ranging from an off-beat western to mock superhero origin stories. It's not sensational - he's still got a ways to go - but it's not bad.

BLECKY YUCKERELLA by Johnny Ryan, 104 pg. trade paperback (Fantagraphics;$11.95)

There's no doubt Johnny Ryan is the king of gross-out humor. I get the joke. It was even funny, the first time. If the Farrelly Brothers are just too damn highbrow for your tastes, by all means enjoy, but anyone who thinks there's a higher function to Ryan's comics must be high themselves.

ANGRY YOUTH COMIX by Johnny Ryan, 28 pg. b&w comic book (Fantagraphics;$3.50)


OUTLAWS, REBELS, FREETHINKERS & PIRATES by Bob Levin, 224 pg. prose paperback (Fantagraphics;$16.95)

The history of comics, particularly underground comics and what concurrently were being called "ground level" comics, is littered with forgotten geniuses and ignored weirdos, and Levin (THE PIRATES AND THE MOUSE) covers a gaggle of them, from well-known figures like S. Clay Wilson & Harvey Pekar to obscurities like Gil Kane's cousin Jack Katz and Robert Crumb's brother Maxon, in a series of entertainingly eclectic essays that reveal as much about Levin's worldview as they do about our little corner of the world and the ambitious semi-madmen who often inhabit it. I particularly recommend "Why Roy Lichtenstein Is A Greater Artist Than Graham Ingels," which is one of the best pieces I've ever read about the psychological divide between fine and pop art, and why, contrary to many a comics fan and more than a few comics professionals, the latter is not superior to the former. Absolutely recommended.

THE COMICS JOURNAL SPECIAL EDITION #5: Manga Masters ed. by Gary Groth (Fantagraphics;$24.95)

Another of their beautifully designed, supersized books shapes like a record jacket, this issue focuses on classic and exotic manga, as well as the works of Vaughn Bode and Milt Gross and the comics culture that has sprung up in Montreal in the last decade or so. It's kind of the upscale version of great old comics fanzines like GRAPHIC STORY MAGAZINE. Pretty much every aspect is excellent, from Bill Randall's exegesis of the difficulties of translating the best manga for American consumption & his biographical sketch of Osamu Tezuka to Adam Stephanides' piece on the erotic horror of Shuehiro Maruo to a phenomenal assortment of comics with art by Carol Lay, Colleen Coover, Bill Griffith, Peter Kuper, the aforementioned Spain, Frank Stackand seemingly dozens of others. A really impressive package, and, dare I say it?, virtually an education in itself. Highly recommended.

24 HOUR COMICS ALL-STARS ed. Nat Gertler, 240 pg. trade paperback (About Comics;$12.95)

I never really got the concept of 24 hour comics, Jack Bauering a page an hour until you have a 24 page comic done. I grasp the basic idea that having no time to think about what you're doing unfetters you from preconceptions and lets your creativity flow flow FLOW but... you have no time to think about what you're doing. Which shows in a lot of the work in this volume, even the piece from concept launcher Scott McCloud; the results often come off as frantic navel-gazing. Or well-drawn fluff like Dave Sim's contribution. Oddly, Paul Smith, who usually doesn't write, came up with the best stuff here by doing a series of short pieces rather than one 24 page story, while Chris Eliopolis produces the most entertaining full story with a sort of cross between CALVIN AND HOBBES and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, while Tone Rodriguez. But this is one of those books where it's impressive that the participants managed to produce the stories at all, and evidence that it can be done, which I guess is ultimately the point.

  • After pretty much everything going wrong that could last week, IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years Vol. 1, collecting all my political articles and fiction from PERMANENT DAMAGE September 2001-May 2005, is now available on .pdf at Paper Movies, along with my collected comics & culture essays from my old column, Master Of The Obvious, TOTALLY OBVIOUS. There's even a special bundle price if you order both of them. I hadn't intended it that way, but it turns out IMPOLITIC makes a pretty good diary of lies and excesses in the time of terror. Check it out.

    I know last week I promised no political writing this week unless someone did something stupid or criminal, but guess what? On the really stupid side, there's some military schmuck deciding to line his pockets by selling tabloids pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underwear. The seller should be charged with terrorism for subjecting us to that, but at least we got a good laugh out of it when THE SUN ran the headline



    Now for the criminal part: last week, in the face of rising widespread public opposition to and heavy criticism, from both sides of the political divide, in the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning expansion or even renewal of much of The Patriot Act (it was signed into law with an expiration date, and that date approaches; a recent program on the strongly right wing Fox Radio Network saw listeners coming out about 87% against increasing government powers, rejecting the need for additional "safety"), the Senate Intelligence Committee heading by Pat Roberts and stocked with fairly rabidly "pro-security" senators, took discussion of the Patriot Act out of public view to cobble together a vastly "improved" version and figure out how to convince the rest of Congress to not only go along with the "strengthening" but to go straight to rendering the Patriot Act a permanent aspect of American life rather than simply build in another expiration date to eliminate the measures should future conditions render them unnecessary (like, say, we actually win "the war on terror," something the Administration clearly has no intention of doing or they wouldn't also be pushing to make the Patriot Act permanent).

    Among the joys in store if the new, improved Patriot act gets through:

    - The FBI would gain virtually unlimited search and seizure powers in contravention of the Bill Of Rights

    - The FBI would be able to declare anyone a terrorist on nothing more than suspicion

    - The FBI would be able to demand any of your records from anyone you deal with, without you or a judge ever hearing a word about it

    And that's only part of the part of the Patriot Act covering the FBI, which would become a genuine secret police force under the recommended provisions. Now you can say, as many did with the original Patriot Act, that if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to worry about (tell that to the Portland lawyer scooped up for his non-existent role in the Spain bombings even though the Spanish had already told the FBI there was nothing to implicate him; the Canadian man scooped up during a flight transfer and bopped around on a phony CIA airline before finally being dumped in Syria to be tortured for terrorist information he didn't have; American citizen Jose Padilla, arrested years ago now on the basis of plotting "a dirty bomb" that even the government now says is nonsense, and who still rots in prison without even having been charged with a crime; the thousands of others who have been scooped up without charges and without their families even being told where they're being held or, in some instances, even that they're being held, and who are being denied access to lawyers or any advocate), but consider that recently the new Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, who as White House Counsel recommended that the Geneva Convention is outdated and torture be put on the menu for anyone in American prison camps, quietly held a little "exercise" at the beginning of April, coordinating the efforts of local police departments all over the country in the biggest anti-crime sweep in our history. 960 agencies, 13800 warrants, almost a million dollars spent. (Probably cheap, all things considered.) Here's the thing, though: the felony warrants totaled 1613, including anti-gang warrants, leaving a mere 12187 warrants on... what? Already the speculations are flying that the exercise was really a practice run for dealing with public unrest. The same thing was done during the Reagan administration, and former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft already pushed, often successfully, for the resurrection of local police "Red squads" as used in the '50s to get around restrictions on spying on Americans.

    Red squads, a national secret police force, coordinated national anti-personnel sweeps, identity cards, sweeping laws truncating the Constitution being made behind closed doors... How bad do things have to get before people start using the right word for it? Come on, you know the word. Seven letters, starts with an f? And none dare call it treason.

    Of course, things aren't all bad. The Hand Puppet's having dinner with porn star Mary Carey, who plans to run for Lt. Governor of California... And the very thinly veiled paralleling of Emperor Palpatine with the Hand Puppet in REVENGE OF THE SITH as he connives the Senate into overturning democracy and instituting Empire via a manufactured permanent war didn't stop millions of Americans from flocking to see it...

  • As the summer comics film season heats up, Mark Millar brought up a couple interesting points on the treatment of comics creators over at MillarWorld. Reflecting on Rich Johnston's current Alan Moore article, Mark notes that the reported $8000 Alan refused for his portion of the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN film seemed unconscionably low. The same thing hit me when I saw it. If that's true, who's cutting these deals are why are they screwing the creators? For a major motion picture with that budget, it should have been a much, much bigger payoff that Alan turned down. (Or, rather, redistributed.) This is why it's important for creators not to turn these rights over to publishing houses, even though it's almost impossible these days to find a publishing house that doesn't insist on them as a price of doing business: if they cut they deals, they're going to pick the deal that benefits them, and your interests may not correspond to theirs.

    Then there's the case of Denny O'Neil. Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS debuts in a couple of weeks, and early reports have it easily the best superhero film ever, which isn't difficult to believe from the writer-director of MEMENTO. The problem lies in Ra's Al-Ghul as the lead villain in the film, created by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, but Denny will see no money from the use of the character. (I don't know about Neal's status.) It's true that Denny created the character before creator rights became an issue at DC, and I don't recall whether he was freelancing at the time of the creation or whether he was already on staff as an editor by then. At any rate, with all the money being tossed around on this film, would it be so painful to toss at least a decent gratuity in Denny (and Neal)'s direction. And who created The Scarecrow? Bill Finger? There shouldn't ever be a film made of any comics property where the creators don't get some piece of the take, whether the publisher's contractually obligated to it or not. Just out of sheer decency.

  • Checking up on the mail backlog:

    "I like to think I can usually see both sides of political arguments, evaluate the pros and cons and so on, but your breakdown of the current oil problem left me feeling pretty depressed. It's all bad and won't be getting any better until we have a complete disaster on our hands. Is anyone predicting an a major recession because of the oil crisis? It's hard to imagine we'll have any airline companies left that aren't in bankruptcy and how can profits continue to grow and jobs be created for any company that has soaring fuel costs?"

    The airlines aren't so much concerned with creating jobs anymore as with making sure they don't have to pay off on pension plans. And this is the Hand Puppet's America, it's politically incorrect to use the "R" word. But, predicting a major recession because of the oil crisis, no. Predicting a major recession because of the oil crisis, the loss of high paid jobs and the creation of a vast sea of low paid jobs while corporations keep transferring jobs offshore, the cost of maintaining foreign wars and the expanding cost of government while the Feds keep cutting out revenues, and the pounding (or is that the Euroing?) the dollar's taking in world markets... there's an old song called "Cocaine" with the line in it: "Cocaine's for horses, it's not for men. The doc says it'll kill you... but he won't say when." Welcome to the cocaine economy.

    "As a non smoker, it was always strange to working on a tobacco farm, whether it was my Dad's, my Grandfather's, or a friend's. It's hard work, that pays poorly at best, primarily because the seller is only paid once a year, and exists on credit the rest of the time. Factor in weather problems, and it never made a lot of practical sense.

    Big money was made by large landholders, who either got a sharecropper to work for them, or leased out their tobacco base (poundage that they were allowed to sell), and got paid for doing nothing. Similar to most businesses, really.

    While politicians got reelected by talking about things they did for the farmer, they rarely did anything for them. Quite a bit for the tobacco companies, of course, but the farmers never got organized enough to hire a lobbyist.

    Somehow, Republicans locked in the farm vote, even as they worked hard against the farmers. I argued to closed minds about the Clintons. They were against tobacco use, but would have helped the farmers move on. Republicans made promises, and helped the tobacco corporations.

    At this point, very little tobacco used comes from this country. It's easier, and cheaper to import the tobacco, and there's the advantage to being free from regulations. Imported tobacco can be raised with dangerous pesticides, injected with stronger, more addictive chemicals. In this area, most barns are empty, family farms are being broken up for housing, and farm equipment sells for almost nothing.

    Even if the farmers had the means or inclination to change crops, I don't know what they could grow. Most restaurants and grocery stores are chains, and they too find it cheaper to import from countries using what amounts to slave labor. These combined forces have gained power exponentially in the last few years, with a big business federal government in control.

    I don't come in contact with many farmers these days, the tobacco warehouses are disappearing, and there's an entire group of people in this country who don't understand what's happened to them. I won't shop at Wal-Mart, where I'd be most likely to see them...buying more goods made in sweatshops. But, I have a feeling if I did talk to them, they would be convinced that their life disappeared because of anti smoking activists (which don't seem to have change social habits all that much), the liberal media (Fox controls so much of it now, but they do know how to spin), and Hilary Clinton.

    Much of this area is still rural, but my Dad has told me stories about the electric cable cars that used to run throughout the city, and the "interurban" cars that ran on lines to the nearby towns. The oil companies made sure that mass transit was just an expression for most of the country, and now we're stuck with a society dependent on a dying mode of transportation. That's probably Hilary's fault, too.

    Sorry this got so long, but I wanted to give you a different perspective on tobacco. To me, it's about the same as the disappearing Mom and pop retail stores."

    No problem, it was interesting. I was filling my tank the other day and saw a sign for cigarettes at a mere $3.79 per pack. On special! When my father was a chain smoker it was something like 30¢ per pack. I realize much of the price these days is tax, but I don't know how anyone can even afford to smoke anymore.

    "I've been reading your column since the later Master of the Obvious days, but have never had anything to say. I do have a couple of comments on this week's column, though.

    "1) they're too expensive for most people, and 2) there aren't a significant amount of filling stations set up to allow recharging, which significantly limits their applicability, at least as we use cars today."

    I wholeheartedly agree with your first point, hybrid vehicles are still more expensive than they need to be. Your second point isn't quite accurate, however. Both of the companies that seem to be leading the hybrid pack, Toyota and Honda, have designed systems which allow the vehicle to recharge itself. I know Toyota does this by converting the friction from braking, but I'm not sure what Honda does."

    Thanks. I still want to see a cheap solar powered car, though. As for who does what, it turns out here's your answer:

    "Just writing with some thoughts on hybrids, etc. Mine has been a two-hybrid car household for the last three years. We have a Prius and a Civic Hybrid. Both cost about $2000 more than the nearest equivalent version of the same car from each manufacturer. A $2000 tax rebate to consumers is an ideal solution for that cost "problem." It's in the Government's interest to wean us off of gasoline for any number of reasons; military, industrial and ecological. So what did Bush do? Cut the $2000 rebate down to $1500 as of 1/1/04. Smart!

    The Civic Hybrid gets about 39 mpg real-world mileage. I know a lot of cars claim that they get 39mpg, but they're invariably liars once you get that car onto a real street. I don't know how that measure that, but it's all rubbish. I get about 460 miles per tank or so. The Prius gets about 43mpg real-world (about 420 miles per tank) and is the coolest car I've ever sat in, much less owned. The in-dash GPS map is worth the extra $2000 all by itself. It has a lot of other nice features which you don't notice on first glance, also, such as TWO cigarette-lighter type plugs for laptops/cell phone charging, hidden laptop storage space under a fake trunk floor, no fucking automatic stick shift digging into my knee--which is the stupidest thing on earth in most cars because these days 99% of automatics are shift-by-wire anyway.

    The main difference between the two cars is what they use the electrics for. The Civic is a gas automotive which switches to the electric engine driving at high speeds (good for freeway driving or long trips). The Prius is an electric car which uses the gas engine to charge the batteries and for a boost when stomping the pedal to the metal --and don't let anyone tell you these cars don't go fast... I cranked the Civic up to 112 on the Long Beach Freeway at 4am and the Prius up to 118 on the I-10 to Phoenix one night. The Civic doesn't have as much "get up and go" from a dead stop, but that's more the fault of its Constant Velocity Transmission than the engine.

    All in all, I'm more pleased with either of these cars than any other I see on the road or drive in with my friends, and I either drive in or test drive most everything reasonable (you'll never find me behind the wheel of an SUV, for instance). I make a point of going to every single LA auto show and seeing what the companies are offering and telling them that I won't buy their cars until they offer a hybrid. They generally smile politely and say "there's no customer demand for them." We'll see how fast that shit changes when gas hits $3/gallon.

    Anyway, Business Week (the only newsweekly I read any longer because it hasn't tried to feature God, Jesus or Ann Coulter on the cover) has been covering the hell out of hybrids lately. They recently talked about the chicken-or-the-egg problem of who wants a hydrogen powered car when there's not hydrogen gas stations available and concluded exactly what you did; that the federal government is going to have to step up to the plate. Their estimated cost for upgrading every single American gas station with a hydrogen pump and storage? A whopping $12 Billion dollars. In a real-world situation, it sounds like a lot... but it's what we're spending every two months in Iraq. The real question is "where do we get the hydrogen from?" with the answer probably being "nuclear power plants." The gas station thing is a canard designed to put off a switchover or real research well into the next century.

    Back to the Prius for a second... in your article this week, you talk about electric cars as if they're still in the EV1 days. Purely electric cars are, yes, but the real promise lies in the new "plug-in hybrids" concept. There's a company now which add a larger battery into your Prius (weight gain of 175 pounds) and includes a standard home-electricity plug. Plug the car into a generic extension cord at 7pm and let the battery pack charge all night and you can then drive 250 miles on the battery pack alone. When the charge runs down, the car switches back to it's normal gas-motor-recharges-the-battery-pack driving mode. These after-market kits extend the range of the Prius to 650 miles/tank of gas (I think it's 10 gallons, but it might be 12... I always get the two cars confused) without recharging. Business Week reported that the plug-in option for the Prius knocks the effective price of your "gas" down to about 50¢/gallon if you recharge every night.

    Now... I wonder why we don't hear more about that in the mainstream news media?"

    Oh, everyone knows good news doesn't sell papers. Thanks.

    "I don't think DC's new flash logo is a bad design, but I do think it's the wrong direction to create "brand awareness." Myself, I spend a hell of a lot of time concerned with branding, so this DC thing is very interesting, as it's also indicative of poorly thought out logo design for comics in general. All you gotta do is go to the toy store or the grocery store to see what -real- branding looks like. The dish soap comparison is easy to make on the surface, but you're also right to wonder why they didn't take it further than just a logo.

    But the point you mentioned that grabbed me was that no one can really identify with just "DC" like they do with "Marvel." In professional circles I always have to mention "DC Comics," because no one knows what DC is (but they all know Marvel). Even on those pro-community web services like LinkedIn, the company name is DC Comics, and if you just search for DC you don't get anything.

    But what I want to know is, is everyone at DC going to get new business cards?"

    Maybe a better question is who at DC won't get new business cards?

    "Just read this week's column, and felt like writing. In essence, a national driver's license doesn't sound like a bad idea, but only n the sense that having a national standard for something like that makes a certain amount of sense. However, the possible abuses you mention could definitely become scary. By the way, how much do you want to bet that the government will claim that the tracking technology will be added to help you find your card should you ever lose it? (While, in effect, giving them the ability to keep tabs on you if they like, as you said).

    Ever thought of getting out while you can and moving to greener pastures (Pastures without any Bushes (Sorry about the pun))?"

    There's an old Firesign Theatre routine where a game show host is raving up a new refrigerator, with "And look at this! Close the door, and the light - STAYS ON!" That's what every bit of hype, particularly coming out of the White House, sounds like to me these days. Everyone wants me to believe I need a refrigerator where the light stays on when you close the door. As for leaving, I believe Phil Ochs said it best with, "I would be in exile now but everywhere's the same." This is our world: you can walk away from America, but you can't get away from America. Besides, I like the place.

    "The election here in Britain was a unusual event in that much of the voting seems to have been used to voice objections to Tony Blair. Many staunch Labour (Blair's party) supporters voted Liberal Democrat instead as a protest against being lead into an idiotic war. Although Blair and the Labour party got back in for a third time it was with a greatly reduced majority, a point Blair appears to have failed to notice but his party colleagues seem to have recognised. The other point in Blair's re election is that, of the two main parties, his was the best option. The alternative was Michael Howard's Conservative party and too many people viewed that as a return to Thatcherism and further destruction and isolation of the country.

    Sadly more people didn't get to hear Warren Ellis' election thought. We have a third party, the Liberal Democrats, who people always they would vote for but it would be a wasted vote. Ellis pointed out that if all those people actually voted Lib Dem they would actually end up in power.

    Most people here hope that Blair will have the sense and decency to step down as leader although since he lacks the guts to admit that evidence to go to war was faked and/or massaged, no one is holding their breath."

    Yeah, sense and decency aren't two words I'd necessarily associate with Blair.

    "Here I thought I was the only one who remembered that it was CIA analysts who were some of the first to be outraged enough at the administration's lies to report that they had not been able to prove the existence of WMD's. Maybe you should be writing a political column in a political forum instead of trying to expose nerdy fanboys to what should be obvious truths, because..."

    Oh, anybody can write a political column for a political forum; where's the fun in that? It's too much like preaching to the converted, and a lot of people now come here just to read the political stuff, so what would I gain by shifting? At least here someone unfamiliar with the material might stumble across it. Tiny acorns and all that.

    "Re: the DC logo - it's not bad. While I can see some people thinking the "c" is a "g", there is no reason to think the "d" is an "o." It looks nothing like an "o."

    As for changing the name of the company, that's one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. No one buys comics because of the company. You buy it for the book itself. While DC has a lot of things it needs to improve on, changing the name of the company is not one of them.

    And just for reference - WORLD'S FINEST COMICS didn't get cancelled in the 1970s - it ended in the 1980s around the time of CRISIS."

    It's almost true people don't buy comics for the publisher, though I've met more than a few who bought anything Marvel published just because Marvel published it, so that's not an absolute truth. Anyway, that's part of what "branding" is all about, to establish an identity for your company that creates recognition. That's what I was referring to. It's fine with me if they want to keep DC, I'm just trying to help, but it really is a nondescript name to be hanging branding on. And I got e-mail from people who thought the D in the logo looked like an O, which was why I brought it up.

    "Well, [the logo]'s not bad, but I do not trust Warners itself for making good movies based on the DC heroes. BATMAN BEGINS was like other Batman movies in that DC had little or no say in how the movie was made."

    Yeah, I think that was kind of my point. But at least BATMAN BEGINS was made by a good writer-director.

    "I don't understand your problem with the use of identity cards. Every country in the European Union, with the exception of the UK, uses it. "Bastions of liberty", as you put it, such as present-day Sweden or present-day Portugal.

    The only problem I see with the cards is in "allow[ing] the government to know your whereabouts, behavior and preferences at all times", something that can be easily avoided by simply not adding anything can be electronically matched in a computer. That means no computer chip, no bar code, no magnetic band (on the other hand, the European Union is pushing for uniform ID cards in the entire territory, and a magnetic band would probably become mandatory - all new EU driver licenses can already be read by magnetic band - luckily, I still have one of the old paper ones).

    Take as an example the Portuguese ID card - It's shrink-wrapped and branded with the seal of the Ministry of Justice. On the face, it has the Portuguese Republic's shield, my picture, my right index fingerprint, and my signature. On the back, it features my name, filiation, area of birth, area of residence, date of birth and height - all in typeface. No contact information, not even the home address. My address, on the other hand, is featured in my driver's license. But a driver's license is not ID. It just means I'm allowed to drive.

    Americans who don't own a driver's license or a passport haven't, as far as I know, any means of identifying themselves."

    You can walk into any DMV and get an i.d. card if you don't have a driver's license, or if you want additional identification. The problem with the new drivers licenses is that they are intended to incorporate all the tech you mentioned, as soon as technologically possible. That's when the real fun begins.

    "Reading your short TV commentary left me wondering what you, as a Las Vegas native, think of the James Caan vehicle LAS VEGAS."

    I've never seen it, and can't work up the interest. I get all my TV casino fix via AMERICAN CASINO, which shifts from the Discovery Channel to the Travel Channel on June 1.

    "Just out of curiousity, why is it that you never mention ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT as part of your TV watching schedule? I may have missed a comment about it, but I've always felt it to be one of the best shows broadcast right now. Did you check it out and not dig it?"

    No, I like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, easily the best comedy on network TV, but it's been off the air a few weeks so I spaced out on it, that's all. Sorry about that.

    ""Meanwhile the age of the big event is on us once again. Expect it to last roughly two years, and hopefully this time publishers will figure out a way to build on it rather than accept that it will go on forever and tailspin us into another crash."

    At least, so far, people are buying these books to read, not tospeculate. That is a good thing. As long as they make books to get people excited to read, they can build on this.

    We are in trouble once the chrome covers start popping up..."

    Uh, boy... I don't know how to break this to you...

    ""I want to apologize to all the Kelly Clarkson fans who let me know that, indeed, she can still get arrested, and has songs and albums currently charting. Sorry. I just got confused because, you know, no one ever talks about her much anymore."This is the reason why I won't be reading your columns anymore (for the second and presumably last time). I've been a major fan of Comic Book Resources for a few years now. And I used to read your column every week (along with "Lying in the Gutter"). I thought you had some interesting things to say, and while I didn't always agree with you, I liked the idea that you were stirring up debate. But I began noticing that I was becoming more and more cynical about comic books both as a creation and as an industry. It took me a while to realize that a large part of that was due to your columns. You wouldn't have a nice thing to say about most comic books if they came with hundred-dollar-bill inserts. And while I like people who are honest and tell it like it is (I'm not going to trust the opinion of a columnist who thinks everything is sunshine and butterflies), cynicism has nothing to do with that. Truly cynical people don't do anything to improve anything. They bitch and whine and come up with clever little comments that might sound funny on an episode of "Will & Grace", but they don't actually add anything to the world. Anything at all. If they had the balls, they'd either kill themselves in a quiet little room somewhere or figure out a way to improve things. But that's just a little more difficult than criticizing everything and then telling everyone how cool and sophisticated you are.

    I don't need that in my life. I have enough crap in my life. I don't need to listen to yours too. So I stopped reading your column. I guess it was about a year ago, but I'm not sure. Could be longer, could be shorter.

    A few weeks ago, I was bored and decided to read your column again. And it wasn't bad. Maybe it was an exception, or maybe my viewpoint had changed, but you didn't seem as cynical. And when you get past the crybaby act, I really enjoy reading what you have to say. But then you had to compare "Nashville Star" to "American Idol". I've never seen an episode of "Nashville Star", so I will take your word for it that it's as bad as you say. I had read somewhere that Bret Michaels was a judge, and I thought that was rather bizarre. So I laughed at what you said.

    But to support your opinion, you decided to make light of the past winners of "American Idol". Fair enough. But it makes you look pretty damn dumb when you say Clay "has sold the most records to date" (BZZZZZZ - wrong answer, Clay Aiken's records haven't sold as much as Kelly Clarkson's) and "Kelly Clarkson can barely get arrested" when she has 3 singles charting on the Billboard Top 50 and an album in the top ten. But you can't admit it was a bad choice of comparisons. Instead, you act all huffy because you're out of the loop in Henderson, Nevada of all places.

    I think I'll pass. But I'm sure that won't bother you at all. After all, you're cool and hip, you're living in the gateway to Las Vegas, and if you whine a lot, it's just because you're so intelligent and sophisticated.

    No thank you."

    Sorry to see you go, honest, but, sorry, I made a living as a music critic for well over ten years and I probably listen for different things than a lot of people when I listen even to pop music. That's not touting any cool credentials, just stating the situation. But, okay, it was a bad comparison and I admit I was harshly unfair to Kelly. A couple points, though: for the first two seasons, NASHVILLE STAR was generally superior to AMERICAN IDOL, which does generally idolize half-assed singers. Though I wouldn't rank Kelly Clarkson among those; she's actually pretty good, and I recently heard her latest single, "Since You've Been Gone." Thought it was hilarious, mainly because it's clearly a dig at Freemantle Entertainment and the record company IDOL saddled her with. Nicely sung, too, much more solid pop than I associate with her. But I still say Ruben can't sing, Fantasia is marginal and Clay is really the apotheosis of Anthony Newley. (Then again, David Bowie started out wanting to be Anthony Newley.) Bo Bice, from what I've seen of him, may have real potential, though. Depends on what they do with him.

  • A Schematic Of The End Times, Cross-Section:

    This one's for real. Yahweh, prophet of Yahweh, claims to have rediscovered the ancient art of calling down UFOS and will come to Las Vegas sometime during the month of June to call one, which will hover over Nellis Air Force Base for two days, and usher in a new age of peace and enlightenment. Finally, something to look forward to. The dates are so far unspecified, however.

    Time has forced The Down And Dirty Guide back into limbo yet again, so it's my main priority in the next column. Go out and buy the latest issue of CSI: SECRET IDENTITY, order IMPOLITIC and come back for more thrills next week. Thanks.

    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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