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Issue #226

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #226
  • THIS WEEK:

    MAKING COMICS FUN AGAIN: more on crappy comics

    LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD: CES creates a schizoid future

    THE REVENGE OF NETWORK TV: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fights back, FOUR KINGS wipes out, and my dance card fills up

    JUDGMENT DAY: Alito stares down Congress, and the Hand Puppet just can’t help it

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: strange markings on NEW AVENGERS, Ellis interview, reviews and more

  • Last week’s column generated considerable chatter and interest, with several people calling on me to name names of bad comics. But, come on. I’m not interested in flat out embarrassing people; it doesn’t take any great insight to walk into a comics shop and pick out bad comics, particularly among independents. You know who you are. So why did I write it?

    We’re constantly talking about aspects of the comics business that could be done better. As talent, we’d like to see better retailing, better distribution, better promotion. All those things are needed. But we, as talent, don’t control those things. There’s only one thing we have direct control over. Only one thing we can immediately do something about.

    We can make comics better by making better comics.

    The first step, though, is dropping the canard the comics we’re putting out now are good. I got more than a couple e-mails basically saying that comics are better now than they ever have been. You’re wrong – there are some very good comics out there, yes, but there’s a huge gulf between the handful of good ones and most of the rest of them – but let’s say for argument’s sake you’re right. So what? Even if comics today are the best they’ve ever been (and, yes, a lot of old comics are nowhere as good as people have romanticized them, and I never said they were), that doesn’t necessarily make them good. “The best they’ve ever been” isn’t a superlative, it’s a comparative. “The best they’ve ever been” isn’t the same thing as “the best that they can be.” It isn’t even the same thing as “good.” It would just mean they aren’t as bad as they used to be.

    Over at “The Engine,” one person wrote that it’s time for people to get really passionate about the comics they create. But y’know what? That’s a dodge, too. Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass about passion. Passion’s overrated. I’ve seen hundreds of comics – I’ve produced some of them – whose creators were undeniably passionate about what they were doing. That didn’t stop the comics from being pure crap. Passion can produce pure crap, too. And I’ve known people who were bored silly by the comics they were working on, and they turned out really good, really popular comics. Fact is that anyone can go do an interview talking about how passionate they were about some idea or comic but there’s simply no way of telling from the product what the talent’s state of mind was when they were working on it. And doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters, the only thing that counts, is the end product. Works of brilliance created in the midst of disinterest and ennui are still works of brilliance (and please don’t ask me what works I’m talking about, because you really don’t need to know), and passionately created crap is still crap.

    Finally, Tom Spurgeon asked if, in view of my comments, I’d support “mechanisms” that “punish” bad comics? As a general rule, I’m opposed to “mechanisms,” which usually refers to some sort of tribunal, especially any designed to “punish.” Tom went on to posit a number of possibilities, such as bifurcating PREVIEWS (he wasn’t specific but presumably he means putting Marvel and DC in one catalog and remaining publishers, or anyone under the big five or six, in the other, but that was suggested years ago and smaller publishers understandably went ballistic over the idea, which would likely result in even fewer retailers looking at their listings than do now; or maybe he means list all the “good” comics in one catalog and the “bad” comics in the other). Or limit self-publishers listed to those who have a “sponsor,” but I’m not sure what that means either. What kind of sponsor? Diamond has already essentially put his third suggestion, jettisoning those publishers who fail to meet a minimum requirement, into effect.

    But free market mechanisms are probably still the best we’re likely to get, so I don’t see any reason to put any others into effect. Except one. We, as talent, have to police ourselves. Everyone their own self-policeman. It may be the least we can do, but it’s at least something we can do, each and every one of us.

  • The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held annually at the Las Vegas Convention Center in early January, was a madhouse this year. Last year’s CES smacked of ennui, with very little of interest on display, and most participants could be seen literally trudging from display to display as vendors sat tensely with frightened eyes, anxiously awaiting anyone who might step into their sphere long enough to maybe get convinced to buy something. There were still plenty of the latter – honestly, I don’t know why most distributors waste time and money going there, since no one ever seems to be at their tables – but this year’s CES had an almost giddy energy, and mobs of attendees.

    A couple weeks back, I was chatting with an editor and both of us realized at more or less the same moment that we are living in a cyberpunk world. Cyberpunk, built on a style of “data compression,” was a sub-branch of science fiction generated in the ’80s that postulated a world of extreme technological sophistication backlit by collapsed social, political, personal and ethical relationships. Information is the uncrowned currency, transferred on microchips. In most cyberpunk, ostensibly democratic governments are increasingly indistinguishable from quasi-fascist technocracies that spy on their own citizens and treat them all as potential terrorists while megacorporations semi-discreetly hold the real reins of power, leaving the citizenry to more or less fend for themselves. But technology, much of it a DIY affair, remains everywhere, while cultural influences from all sorts of non-Western cultures, but particularly Japan, permeate everything. Orwell meets J.G. Ballard meets Norman Spinrad. Probably its best known representatives in comics are Howard Chaykin’s AMERICAN FLAGG! (technically a precursor to cyberpunk but very much on the same wavelength) and Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson’s TRANSMETROPOLITAN. “Founder” William Gibson, who launched the cult with his novel NEUROMANCER in, appropriately, 1984, always claimed all he was doing was translating the world outside his window to science fiction.

    If it wasn’t there then, it sure is now. My mother, born in England in 1920, has gone from a world where a telephone in a private household was a rare and dramatic occurrence and to send calls you had to first connect with an operator who then had to take down and connect with the number for you in a process so slow that you only made phone calls when absolutely necessary to a world where virtually everyone carries in their pocket a phone that lets them almost instantly contact virtually anyone anywhere in the world – and no one thinks twice about it! Satellites beam TV and radio, and you can watch or listen to that anywhere. too, thanks to receivers you can carry in your pocket like the Apple iPod or Creative’s Zen Vision. The Internet is the killer ap that put computer systems, or something like them, in virtually every household in the Western World and many elsewhere, and that’s an explosion of change the world hasn’t really gotten use to yet, though the changes are being internalized at a rapid rate.

    We are living in a cyberpunk world. We just dress it up in 1950s clothing.

    “Convergence” was the big buzzword at CES this year. Not just new technologies, but technologies coming together. Usually these buzzwords are just that, a ludicrous theme for the show, like high schoolers might come up with “Summer Daze” as theme for a graduation dance. But a few things have changed in the technology business. To everyone’s shock, AMD became the #1 microchip maker this year – by a nose – by beating out the company everyone thought had a permanent lock on the market, Intel, and selling the bulk of chips in the market. Though it’s hardly a definitive knockout and Intel isn’t far enough behind it couldn’t come back, AMD has a striking advantage with its rock solid 64-bit and dual 64-bit – two microprocessors on one chip – microprocessors, which gained tremendous popularity and allowed average computer users huge increases in speed and capability. So much for the theory that brand name conquers all. Intel’s chips are longtime standard 32 bit, though they’ve belatedly come out with 64 bit and dual processors of their own, just as AMD announced upcoming quad 64-bit processors. (Which Intel subsequently also announced, though they’re due a year after AMD’s.) Despite product flaws, Microsoft seems to have scored a coup with their Xbox 360 game unit, which beat Sony’s new PS3 to market. The 360 is a convergence item as well, a backdoor into a living room media center that Microsoft intends to capitalize on in a way it couldn’t with standalone cube computers running Windows Media Center Edition. It’s things like this that will shape our world over the next five years.

    And it’s not just limited to computers or the Internet. Back in high school, a friend of mine named Dave Goeden imagined a car that drove itself, without the occupants ever having to do anything. Word is it’s about to happen. Cars like the Mini Cooper, which is basically a computer on wheels anyway, already have sensors that warn you if anything’s behind you when your backing up, automatically turn on the headlights when it gets dark enough, and automatically start, stop and adjust wipers for the amount of precipitation on the windshield. Next up, cars armed with an array of sensors and GPS units that will drive themselves and stay constantly aware of road conditions, obstructions, pedestrians and approaching traffic, so all you’ll really have to do is start it, program into the GPS where you want to go, and the car takes you. It sounds dangerous, but on sober reflection it’s probably much safer than having most people drive cars.

    It’s a Jetsons world. It’s a cyberpunk world.

    My five favorite products from CES 2006:

    1) The Xebra. This is a small three wheeled pure electric car (none of that non-committal “hybrid” stuff), called a “city car” by its manufacturer Zap, a tech transportation company out of Santa Rose CA. It’s basically an errand car for street travel, getting about forty miles to a charge so you wouldn’t want to drive cross-country in it, but just to get around locally it’s great. Seats four, plus luggage areas. Best news: it lists for under $9000. I want one. (The company also manufactures several other gas, hybrid (including ethanol) and electric vehicles; now if they’d just create a solar powered car…)

    2) Panasonic’s 103″ plasma TV. A picture over 8′ diagonal, in high definition, and, bar none, the best picture I’ve ever seen on any TV in my life, so good it was like looking out a window even up close. Weirdly, the quality on plasma screens seems to get better the bigger the TV is. But most plasma screens on display this year were far better than in prior years, and, if you’re not looking for something over 50″, the prices are dropping quickly.

    3) Sony eReader. Because people in comics made a big deal about its announcement last week, I went to Sony specially for a look. Frankly, it’s great. About the height and width of a medium-sized trade paperback (roughly two thirds the size of a comic book), a third of an inch thick, about 9 oz. Good screen, non-reflective with no backlight, so it imitates a printed page almost perfectly. The screen in crisp, no blur, and type can be adjusted to four sizes. It’s not a game unit, it’s strictly for reading, under normal reading circumstances. It has very few controls, but it has two sets of them to accommodate different ways people have of handling books. Power consumption is minimal, and it uses power only when turning pages (i.e., rewriting the screen) with a single battery charge having an estimated 10,000 page life. One fairly long book will easily fit into about one megabyte of memory, so a one gigabyte stick of memory can hold roughly 1000 books: whole libraries.

    I liked it, but I doubt it’ll revolutionize either the book or comics business, though Sony’s clearly banking on it. They’ve obviously built it to be the iPod of books, with similar thinking behind it, and that’s its flaw. Everything’s proprietary, a system designed to make the originating company money on all ends. It works with the iPod because want their music with them everywhere, and Apple played on that urge (with pretty good equipment) and worked in a cool factor, and people didn’t mind paying the price or going exclusively to Apple’s online music store for content. Usage is different; you can stick an iPod in a shirt pocket and listen to music while doing virtually anything. The eReader is small and light, but not iPod small or light, and books you have to read. They work a whole different area of the brain.

    Furthermore, eReader content, which can be downloaded from Sony online – and they apparently have a variety of titles lined up already; THE DA VINCI CODE was their demo – has to be stored on Sony’s proprietary memory card, the memory stick, which the rest of the electronics industry pretty much left behind in favor of Secure Digital cards and things like that. Content also has to be encoded in a new proprietary format created by Sony (or so their representative indicated) rather than already existing, freely available formats like .pdf or .rtf, which means publishers wanted to encode for the eReader will most likely have to pay for the privilege, and a lot of them will decide it doesn’t make financial sense.. Proprietary is bad. Proprietary parts worked fine for IBM when it was the only game in town to speak of, but 20 years after IBM ruled the computing world it barely exists as a force anymore. Apple predicated itself on proprietary materials, and that’s the main reason their computers are distant seconds in use behind Windows-based PCs, despite popular acknowledgement that Apple’s hardware and software are superior.

    Superior technologies don’t in and of themselves conquer. Beta tape was considered to be vastly superior to VHS tape, but it still came out the loser, like the superior 8-track format did with to the audiocassette tape. Likewise, Sony’s Blu-Ray DVD process (also on display at the show), which supposedly can pack five times as much on a DVD with much better quality than current DVDs, is a questionable upstart. There’s no doubt it’s superior technologically, but, despite a number of manufacturers being on board to support it if all other things pan out, Sony’s insisting on their own proprietary standards for Blu-Ray too, leaving some of their partners, like Hewlett-Packard, a bit annoyed. But what Blu-Ray’s hopes really hinge on is a question no one can yet answer: are consumers willing to junk the DVD movie collections they’ve spent time and money building up for new copies in a new format?

    Sony’s obviously hoping people are willing to spend lots of money. The eReader, not yet on the market, is expected to sell for between $299 and $399. Again, iPod prices. I don’t see people paying that much for it.

    But it will introduce the concept. Undoubtedly some libraries will figure out a way to make use of them, and possibly some schools. I can see the value of textbooks on eReader. And, given that it didn’t look as though there were any actually new technology in the thing at all, only acute application of existing tech, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before rival companies come out with their own versions, at lower prices (which would undoubtedly trigger a price war to push the thing eventually down to a price point where it will be attractive to a sufficiently large group of people, probably in the neighborhood of $40, with bundled books on chip), using more widely used memory cards and supported non-proprietary formats. And that’s the point where it’ll become a valuable medium for comics as well. Black and white comics, anyway, since the unit doesn’t support color. (At least so far.) I imagine future versions will take on PDA or Tablet PC functions as well. Sony may kick the door open, but the market will belong to whoever else comes in with a good enough competing product.

    4) SanDisk high quality high speed 4 gigabyte memory cards. The price of memory cards in general is falling quickly, while their speed and functionality is rising, and four gigs is a lot of storage. SanDisk is targeting their current ones for use in high end videocameras, where they can be used to store hours of hi-definition quality video. As camera prices come down as well, this could tip in a new independent film revolution.

    5) The first genuinely useful robot I’ve seen. There’s one on the market now that’s a vacuum cleaner with sensors that bops in weird paths around a room, vacuuming where it passes. I’ve never been too thrilled with that – for one thing, its collection capacity can’t be large enough to make it useful – but a similar robot is great. This one will wash, rinse and wax a kitchen floor all by itself, bopping around on its path until its sensors tell it it’s done, and then it just rolls into a corner and shuts itself off. You turn it on as you leave the house in the morning, and come home to a waxed and polished floor. The Jetsons future again.

    Also very cool was bedroom and living room furniture in various displays around the show. Normally I wouldn’t even look twice, but these, ranging from traditional styling to very modern, have hidden plasma screen TVs that rise out of slots in the backs of the furniture when you want to watch TV and lower back into obscurity when you don’t. Talk about low profile – plus you can pretend you’re Blofeld…

    But that’s the future, apparently: convergence across the board, including electric bedroom dressers.

    Giveaways at the show weren’t quite as creative as in former years, but there were tons of them. The best was from Chief Manufacturing, which makes wall mounts for plasma screen TVs and things like that. Everyone else was giving away pens, some very nice ones this year (last year’s were mostly cheap plastic crap), but Chief’s “pen” turned out to be a pen-shaped screwdriver with a magnetic tip to lock the heads in place (one Philips head and two flathead, stored at the other end of the “pen” under the eraser) and a very sturdy body with a level in it. Very utilitarian; I’ve already used mine a couple of times. People would pay good money for this thing.

  • After a “first season” that tapered off into tedium and drek, TV is suddenly back with a vengeance. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (Sci Fi Channel, 10P Fridays) debuted the second half of its second season (the Sci Fi Channel apparently blew its promotion budget debuting the first half, unfortunately, so I don’t know how many people even knew it was back) with its tensest episode ever, in which Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) of the Galactica and his new superior, Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) of the Pegasus, dance around each other toward a fatal, potentially brutal conclusion while the human race plans to strike back against their Cylon enemies at last and everyone’s ethics get put through the grinder. (Even renowned pacifist Alliance President Laura Roslin (Mary McConnell) abruptly but completely logically turns into Lady Macbeth.) Never mind that it’s science fiction; BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is one of the best written, best acted, most thought provoking shows on the tube on any network, and possibly the most political as well. If you’re not watching it, you’re wasting your life.

    But new comedy FOUR KINGS (8:30 P Thursdays) isn’t likely to improve NBC’s slump. Three borderline indigent boyhood friends in New York City, now grown to manhood if not exactly adulthood, move in with another, successful boyhood friend who inherits his grandmother’s monstrous apartment. (“From the creators of WILL AND GRACE,” which should be a big red flag right there.) Seth Green is the only name of note here and he tries mightily, but man, FOUR KINGS thing is flatter than Nebraska. As the successful pal’s girl friend, Kiele Sanchez, late of MARRIED TO THE KELLYS is about the only thing with life in the opener, and indicative of the shocking originality of the plots: when she finds out her boyfriend want both her and the pals to move in, she calls for a showdown. She tells him to pick her. They tell him to pick her. So, of course, he picks them – because they’re the ones with his “best interests” at heart. File that under “saw it coming the instant it was brought up.” Like most sitcoms these days, FOUR KINGS is a mealy, sentimental dud.

    But there’s lots on the horizon yet. THE SHIELD (FX, 10P Tuesdays) debuts for its fifth and allegedly final season tonight (as I write this) with Forest Whitaker debuting as an internal affairs officer out to finally bring bent cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his crew to justice and damn the torpedos. HOUSE (Fox, 9P Tuesdays) is back tonight as well. The new season of 24 starts Sunday with a two hour episode before settling the next night into its regular timeslot (Fox, 9P Mondays). VERONICA MARS (UPN, 9P Wednesdays) comes back Jan. 25 with an episode guest-starring Lucy “Xena” Lawless. (Lawless is also back on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA in February.) AMAZING RACE (CBS, 9P Tuesdays) has a new, thankfully international season starting Feb. 28, and ULTIMATE FIGHTER should be starting up soon, coached this time by Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz, who reported hate each other. (Or is that just a work?) I don’t even know what’s up next on HBO, but I don’t have time to watch much TV as it is, and now I’ll be up to my eyeballs in it. Until something new, different and exciting pops up (and please don’t tell me Heather Graham’s EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT is that show), I can make do with these.

  • Remember back when they introduced the Patriot Act, and, as with every repressive act introduced by the government as “pro-security” or “law and order,” the approved response to any protest against it was “if you don’t have anything to hide, what have you got to worry about?” Recording what you’ve checked out of the library or bought with your credit card? If you don’t have anything to hide, what are you worried about? Tapping your phone or rifling through your bank records? If you don’t have anything to hide, what are you worried about? Nabbed off the street and held and interrogated indefinitely in secret with no access to counsel, trial or even charges being brought? If you haven’t done anything, what are you worried about?

    So it’s entertaining, in a Grand Guignol kind of way, to listen to Sam Alito’s testimony (for lack of a better term) at his Supreme Court hearings this week. Following the line put forth by previous successful nominee John Roberts, he is refusing to discuss his views on the grounds that he shouldn’t discuss anything he might have to rule on as a Supreme Court judge, a line of reasoning that almost certainly came straight from White House spin doctors: there is virtually nothing he might not someday have to rule on. But you have to wonder: if he hasn’t got anything to hide, why doesn’t he just answer the question? Abortion’s a big issue, true – it’s not unreasonable, given his past statements on abortion and particularly Roe v. Wade (which, contrary to popular belief, did not specifically authorize abortion; it limited the government’s control over what an individual can do with their own body) to suspect he’ll help overturn Roe v. Wade at the first possible opportunity – but there are other issues on which to feel uneasy about Alito. He seems to be a huge fan of the concept of unlimited presidential privilege, which certainly fits with the Administration’s plans on many levels, especially as questions continue to rise about illegal wiretaps, torture, imprisonment without habeus corpus and other issues currently making the White House squirm. He freely admits to presiding over a case involving a company in which he had investments.

    In addition to trying to sidestepped questions asked him, Alito has also invoked the “John Ashcroft defense,” stating that he will follow the law, no matter what. (Ashcroft, called on the carpet over Fundamentalist views apparently at odds with American law, also stated he would follow the law first and foremost – and then, upon becoming attorney general, set about reinterpreting those laws to fit what he wanted to do.) And that, as a judge, he might (repeat: might) find his existing viewpoints swayed by arguments put before him, so there’s no reason to be concerned about his personal viewpoint. Though there’s no reason existing rulings shouldn’t be reconsidered. (Where’s the right wing hue and cry over “activist judges” now?)

    It’s a wonderful little circus, a dog and pony show. When it’s done and the vote starts, unless Alito blurts out that he spends his nights trolling for beautiful 11 year old boys at the YMCA, Republicans have the numbers to put him on the Supreme Court (and, given the continued stories of callboy scandals in Washington, even that admission – I’m not suggesting Alito does this, by the way, just saying it would take something of that level – might not sink him), and odds are a majority of Democrats will join in, having “done their duty.”

    And it’s not like the Hand Puppet doesn’t need all the friends in high places he can get. It’s like he just can’t help himself any more, like an addict who has given up his vice but can’t shake the old behavior patterns. The Iraq situation is getting so bad that all he can do is say everything’s fine and try to throw more money at it. As if Michael Brown (you remember him, the crony “running” FEMA when Katrina struck, then “fired” into another Administration job) was no object lesson at all, he recently did a recess appointment (no Congressional hearings) of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff’s chief of staff’s wife to head US Immigration and Customs, despite her having no experience at managing anything; her main job before this was as a personnel director for the White House. But this is the sort of help he likes to hire; if you can’t help your friends suckle at the public teat, what good’s being president anyway? Another case in point: a half billion dollar contract from the Transportation Security Administration just went to a start-up company whose main qualification was donating over $100,000 to the honorable Republican senator from Kentucky, Harold Rogers. And, since Chertoff’s name came up, more than a few people have noted the states and municipalities Chertoff suddenly decided no longer needed emergency preparedness funding oddly line up with areas whose politicians have vocally disagreed with some aspect of administration policy. Of course, it’s only coincidence. No way terrorists would think those submarine pens in Connecticut were worth attacking. And it might just be sheer stupidity; the Department Of Homeland Security’s own internal audit, revealed over Christmas, showed virtually every department in the department is a mess, not just FEMA.

    Meanwhile, rumors are bubbling of another potential scandal underneath the recent wiretap revelations, this one of truly Nixonian proportions: that the wiretapping extended not just to supposed terrorists stupid enough to call pals in the USA and blurt out plans for forthcoming terrorist acts (or maybe they are; the NSA managed to tape several calls before 9/11 – and doesn’t that make you wonder how they could be tapping phones before 9/11 if the justification for the wiretaps was 9/11? – announcing an imminent attack, but they didn’t bother translating them until afterward), but American reporters. I freely admit this is still just a rumor at the moment (though NBC’s Andrea Mitchell was openly asking about it last week, though NBC has since taken any reference to such questioning off their website) so you can chalk it up to mere “conspiracy theory” if you like (it’s more a “conspiracy hypothesis” at the moment), but if it turns out to be true, having all the good friends on the Supreme Court that he can get isn’t going to hurt the Hand Puppet one bit.

  • NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS:

    Anybody else notice something weird on Marvel’s NEW AVENGERS this month? On the cover is a web address for a “We Love Our Troops” website called America Supports You. Not that I oppose that – though I’m hard pressed to tell if it’s just my paranoia or if the site, which seems to be government-funded, puts a pro-war (which certainly is not the same thing as pro-troops) spin on things – but I’m curious: what prompted Marvel to put this link on NEW AVENGERS? And what kept them from putting it on all their other comics? What’s the connection?

    Michael Oeming conducts a good interview with Warren Ellis at Buzzscope. It’s pretty good.

    A couple quick reviews:

    From Mr. Comics:

    REVOLUTION ON THE PLANET OF THE APES #1 (of 6) by Ty Templeton, Joe O’Brien, Samgood Sam, Bernie Mirault & Attila, 32 pg color comic ($3.98)

    Another small publisher, another franchise book. In this case, though, it’s pretty good. The series continues from the ’70s run of APES movies, not the recent Mark Wahlberg dog, with the ape Caesar and his followers seizing a chunk of San Diego and triggering a wider ape uprising across America. (Apes, if you recall, have been domesticated and used everywhere as servants/slaves. Templeton and his co-writer O’Brien move fairly deftly from character to character, setting up the series and the conflict, explaining the background (though it’s a smidge redundant, given they include a two-page recap of film events as the issue begins), and introducing a second talking ape as Caesar hands down the first of the laws that will become the Ape Planet’s commandments. Artist Sam is better at drawing apes than people, and he gets a touch shaky here and there, but overall it’s pretty good, and Bernie Mirault’s coloring very expertly covers a lot of flaws. The book rounds out with a text piece by Templeton excerpting Caesar’s diary, and a lovely short by Templeton and artist Attila about an attempted presidential assassination and the gorilla that stops it, highlighting human prejudice about apes that also plays strongly in the main feature. I’ve never cared but for the franchise, and Templeton and his cohorts clearly love it, and it shows. Worth checking out.

    From Puffin Graphics:

    CALL OF THE WILD by Neil Kleid & Alex Nino, 176 pg b&w trade paperback ($9.99)

    Continuing Puffin’s recent string of “classics illustrated” in collaboration with the late Byron Preiss’ company. CALL OF THE WILD is, of course, Jack London’s tale of a pampered California farm dog of the 1880s, stolen and shipped off to work in the Yukon during the gold rush, going through several owners before reaching his final fate, which parallels his status at the book’s start though his circumstances are vastly different. For a dog, Buck is one of the great characters of American literature, and Kleid and Nino capture him and the story well. The original book is still better – somehow being rendered in pictures reduces the sheer brutal power of the story – but this is a pretty good substitute.

    From iBooks:

    JEW GANGSTER by Joe Kubert, 144 pg b&w hardcover ($22.95)

    Kubert covers another moment in obscure modern Jewish history, like his previous graphic novel YOSSEL APRIL 19 1943, this time following a young Jew in Depression era Brooklyn as he becomes seduced by the easy money and relative glamour of the Mob. Kubert’s art is as gorgeous as ever, and there’s an authenticity to the work that comes from his growing up in that time and place. There are interesting glimpses of Jewish-American culture of the time, of the conflicts between tradition and modernism, between ethics and desire. All that said, there’s also something unsatisfying about the book. The main story is territory mined over and over (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA leaps to mind). Characters are often too thinly developed to be convincing, and stray too near being clichés. Ultimately it reads more like an old Sgt. Rock story – characters and situations quickly set up to get to the action, dialogue a little too on-the-nose when making a point – than a graphic novel, and its familiarity means there’s nothing terribly surprising about it either. It’s not bad, and Kubert’s art is always great to look at, but it could have used more depth.

    I had a feeling I’d done too obscure a Comics Cover Challenge last week, and I was right. Nobody got it. They were all books published by seven different companies that have published adventures of Sergio Aragones’ wacky barbarian hero GROO: Epic, Pacific, Dark Horse, Eclipse, Semic (in Europe), Slave Labor and Fantagraphics. (Groo appeared in a story in the issue of CRITTERS shown among last week’s covers.) Oh, well. No Comics Cover Challenge this week. Instead, here’s a ’50s horror story written and drawn by golden age great Jack Cole, creator of PLASTIC MAN.

    Forgot to mention: apparently Marvel has released ESSENTIAL SPIDER-WOMAN ($16.99) (by the way, in the recent NEW AVENGERS recounting her origin, are those breast implants Hydra’s giving her?! Triple-E cups, from the looks of her in the rest of the book…), which I had a very minimal involvement with, having worked on a couple of issues with Mark Gruenwald. I wouldn’t necessarily run out and get it on that basis – but while you’re at the comics shop and bookstore, don’t forget to also pick up the collected CSI: SECRET IDENTITY, $19.99 from IDW Books. Speaking of comics shops and bookstore, online graphic novel bookstore Khepri, a mail order operation long supporting many fine independent graphic novels and comics, has opened a real store at 1219 S. McLintock in Tempe, AZ, so if you’re passing through the Phoenix area, go check them out. Great stock, great prices, great guys.

    And don’t forget my two books are available in pdf e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?

    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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