Issue #244

NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: alcohol, format shifts, Markosia blowback, TV finishes, the (birth)mark of the beast, comics spoilers, Whisper Newsletter & more

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE: the NSA listens in, and other stories from the war on terror

REVIEWS: Titan and Boom under the microscope

LETTERS: Readers discuss ironic diction, print-on-demand, gas prices & American life, Virgin Comics, English race war, Citgo & Venezuela, aid to Darfur, and Stephen Colbert

Something I've been loathe to bring up but which should probably be addressed, in lieu of both the Soma/Brownstein mess and the upcoming convention season... Whatever else can be said about conflict between cartoonist Taki Soma and CBLDF honcho Charles Brownstein on the night leading up to the Mid-Ohio Con (and I have been reminded, correctly, that tarring the Mid-Ohio Con with the incident is unfair, since it took place in a hotel prior to the start of the convention and no one involved with the convention that I'm aware of even knew it had happened), alcohol certainly played a major role. Alcohol has always been a facet of conventions, comics and otherwise, and certainly I'd had liquid fun at a convention or two over the years (though not in recent memory) but in the last decade, alcohol seems to have developed into much more than a social lubricant. Drinking heavily has become a badge of honor among many fans and pros, and a mark of belonging, as though especially wannabe and aspiring pros think downing tons of booze is some kind of credential. As one pro mentioned to me recently, people no longer arrange after-hours get-togethers, they have "drink-ups." Barhopping has become de rigueur. I've got nothing against drinking, though I don't do it much anymore, but the thing about drinking is - and certainly a couple names (look at the top of the paragraph) would likely be inclined to back this up - alcohol makes you stupid. Impulse control gets shaky. And it's not uncommon for slopped-up after hours convention goers to become, at minimum, pretty obnoxious. The Soma/Brownstein thing was bad enough, but the way things are going it's only a matter of time before something really bad happens, particularly since the number of underage drinkers at comics conventions seems to be rising too. I'm not saying don't drink (unless you're underage; frankly, your kicks aren't worth it to the rest of us if it means bringing the law down on some convention), I'm just saying be aware that it's starting to turn into a problem, and all you have to do to keep it from being a problem is cool it a little. We don't need teetotalling at conventions, but reducing the still growing convention emphasis on drinking would be a good idea.

You may have noticed I started monkeying with the formatting again last week. Trying to simplify things; for the sake of my workrate, sanity and sleep patterns I've got to start making these things shorter. So expect a little more compression from now on. (We'll see how that works out.)

Last week's Markosia piece met with some interesting reaction: several private emails from disgruntled creators involved with the company, as well as a note from new company spokesman Chuck Satterlee, whose online interviews I referenced in the piece. I was debating whether to run Satterlee's reply here - not because I've any reason to want to hide it but because while

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption

(though, of course, it's up to my discretion, and I also generally run comments anonymously, but sometimes the contents make that so ludicrously impossible it's ridiculous to try) the reply ends with a legal boilerplate indicating the contents are for My Eyes Only, despite the couple hundred people Satterlee cc'd to. Anyway, turns out Satterlee posted his response himself, mooting the whole issue. An entertaining discussion ensues there, the upshot of which is basically that I couldn't possibly have any idea what I'm talking about and Markosia is a swell place. I hope that's true, I really do. I hope Markosia isn't withholding contractually obligated pay until creators agree to throw out existing contracts. (One correspondent in Satterlee's discussion made the interesting comparison of a Markosia contract to a cell phone service contract, which the user can get out of pretty much at any time. But aren't there usually hefty penalties built into cell contracts to encourage the user to not break off? At any rate, the comparison only works in this situation if Markosia plays the role of the phone customer and freelancers the phone company, and, if the information I've got is correct, the original Markosia contracts specifically require either bankruptcy or mutual consent for voiding or renegotiation, which would suggest that Markosia, however much the company might find it to their advantage, would not legally have the power to unilaterally suspend, replace or selectively ignore contracts.) Satterlee does take me to task for not being more "positive," but, gee. Give me something to be positive about. (I did like the Tony Lee-Sam Hart STARSHIP TROOPERS extension.) The only real counterargument anyone gives to my article is "Well, I like working with Markosia," and I understand that, I've said it myself regarding various companies I've worked with that other freelancers have had problems with. I tend to be fairly well treated by most comics companies. But I never take that to mean other things aren't going on, only that I haven't been on the receiving end of them.

Maybe Markosia really is only going through growing pains, and that'd be great, but, on the other hand, when you see the same patterns happening over and over and over again at different companies over a period of years - ever hear of pattern recognition?

The problem isn't really anything specific to do with Markosia. It's far more general. Over the past 10-15 years, a lot of people have started up small comics publishing concerns that didn't involve self-publishing. Most of these have gone under. Many, not all, but many have ultimately (and frequently out of desperation) adopted business practices whose brunt freelancers have been made to bear. Things that were Marvel or DC to do them there would be howls of outrage shaking the rafters. Yet small publishers have taken to believing these practices are their entitlement they're the underdog, and doesn't everyone want to see more publishers succeed in the comics business? Wouldn't that be better for everyone?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Not really. Bad small publishers are no better than bad big publishers, and bad publishers of any size we're better off without. Whether Markosia falls into that category, I don't know yet. But there have been enough bad companies in comics that when danger signs crop up they're worth noticing. That doesn't mean things can't end up going the other way but there's no reason for comics talent to behave like lab rats in a maze that don't learn to be wary when approaching the cheese, no matter how many times they've bitten into it and gotten an electric shock in return.

Short version: if comics companies don't want to be criticized, don't do things to be criticized for.

One last thing. To avoid confusion for Satterlee and anyone else in the future, I'm a commentator, not a "journalist" - I write op-ed pieces, not articles. Besides, if you want to know what's going on at the White House, do you interview the White House Press Secretary?

VERONICA MARS ended another terrific season, this time with a solution to the season's overriding mystery (and many smaller ones that dovetailed beautifully with the main plot) that I didn't see coming at all; even a hoary cheat involving Veronica's dad was the payoff to a setup built throughout the season. I hope the show survives the UPN-WB merger for a third season, but is there anyone who sees the new network's letters, CW, and doesn't think country-western? The TV finales I've seen so far this year have generally been pretty good. MY NAME IS EARL and THE OFFICE (NBC), which turned out to be the big surprises of the season on the moribund sitcom front, went out with a bang, though EARL's final moments just sort of sputtered out, and why have they stopped using Nadine Velasquez, anyway? After a couple dud episodes early on, THE SOPRANOS (HBO, 9P Sundays) went through a brief spurt of three or four brilliant episodes but have since settled back into meandering seemingly on the principle that Brownian motion equals structure. Not that the show doesn't have plenty of good performances and lines, but it's such a jumble, mainly enlivened only by Tony's slow descent into the boredom of existence after a post-near-death "spiritual awakening," and the outing of mobster Big Vito's secret gay life. My biggest problem with THE SOPRANOS is its bait-and-switch coming attractions, which have been the show's stock in trade for years now. They are always full of the promise of confrontation, cataclysm and change - but when episodes air, the "teasers" all turn out to signify nothing, and everything plods on as before. It's not a drama, it's a sitcom, biding its time until the "big conclusion" next year. At this point, it's hard to believe anyone is still watching except for fear of missing that big event that changes everything, which has to happen at some point. Meanwhile, 24 (Fox, 9P Mondays) is blistering through its best season ever - they've finally figured out how to keep it moving enough to mostly keep you from thinking about the show - but it has also become something of a drinking game to spot the logical inconsistencies. This week's involves a Russian sub in port in Los Angeles for inspection by the Navy - which apparently employs no security for these things at all. The sub inspection was justified in the show by the signing of a Russian-US mutual defense pact - ten hours earlier! But it's AMAZING RACE (CBS, 8P Wednesday, with its two-hour season finale tonight) that has given TV its best and unlikeliest "heroes" this season: a pair of good-natured, plucky latter day hippies who have regularly outmaneuvered other teams and danced on the cusp of elimination time and again and come out ahead. (They're currently in first place, after eating big bowlfuls of fried grasshoppers and crickets.) I like the three remaining teams well enough that I won't be disappointed if any of them win, but Go Hippies!

Congratulations to R.D. Francis, who was the first to identify the theme of last week's Comics Cover Challenge as "snow." (For those who wondered about the less than obvious one, PEP COMICS from the early '40s, the Shield story therein features a heroine aptly named Snowbird taking a good taste of cocaine, the first known reference to, let alone use of, the substance in comics.) R.D. doesn't have anything to push, however, and tossed that honor to the runner-up, Randy Golden, who wants to notify everyone that the message boards of the website he works for, Nightly.net have new software and a new address. Randy thanks you, R.D.

Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week's Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn't been an issue so far.) Strangely, I can't seem to find this week's clue...

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER, with the first sneak peak at my upcoming Boom! Studios title, finally materialized, following several long, frustrating days fighting with mailing programs. They suck. I ultimately resorted to Yahoo Groups, where I set the Whispernewsletter group for newsletter, not discussion. I'll be getting a new one out every few days; if you want to subscribe, click here.

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

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

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

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

Remember when everyone was terrified of Y2K and the subsequent collapse of western civilization as all the computers rolled over and decided it was 1900AD instead of 2000AD? (Or CE, if you'd rather.) I love magic number dates. Turns out another one's coming up next year - June 6th, 2006, or 6-6-06 for you fundamentalist Christians out there. A story (courtesy of www.warrenellis.com) indicates growing unease among pregnant women over the possibility they could give birth (presumably to the Antichrist) on that day, so they're preplanning their June 5th c-sections now. Meanwhile, Satanists are planning a party, Fox has scheduled the release of its THE OMEN remake (jeez, wasn't the original bad enough?) for that date, and Ann Coulter fittingly releases a new screed then. I detect a sniff of anti-Arab sentiment in this, else these people would all recognize that greatest gift of the medieval Arab mathematicians, the zero, in there. The number of the beast ain't 6606, you idiots. (Then again, how many of them even know the Arabs invented the zero...?)

By the way, you owe it to yourself to read Comics Spoilers if you haven't been. The site features plot summaries of select current comics unadorned by personal viewpoint, commentary or jokes, and the write-ups often turn out to be collaterally hilarious, such as the current breakdowns of DC's 52 #1 and INFINITE CRISIS #7. Like Cliff's Notes, it's not exactly a substitute for the originals, but it's a hoot nonetheless.

In a way, all the fuss about the NSA glomming data from AT&T and other major carriers on domestic phone calls is kind of funny. It's not like they haven't been doing that and similar things for decades. But the "new" revelations, that the NSA under the Hand Puppet has been collecting data on the phone calls of millions of "ordinary" Americans, has some people howling in outrage and other frothing about how it's all done in the name of national security so put up or shut up. By any definition it's the government spying on Americans, but the outrage isn't so much that they're doing it now but that they've been allowed to do it for so long, long before the "War On Terror."

Of course, the argument is that if you haven't anything to hide you don't have anything to worry about, which is pretty much always the reasoning behind Gestapo tactics. Sorry if I've broken Internet protocols by invoking the Nazis - I guess by the rules of the Internet game, that means I've lost the argument - but Gestapo tactics are Gestapo tactics, and monitoring other people's private communications en masse in what amounts to a fishing expedition (not unlike what the government imposed on eagerly compliant search engines not too long ago and are still trying to impose on the resistant Google) are Gestapo tactics. The thing about terrorism, especially under the Patriot Act, is that it can be anything a president wants it to be. There has already been talk of applying it to environmental activists (the White House's first solution to pretty much any problem is to suggest the loosening or removal of any pollution-control regulations that might apply), labor disputes and recently, with Congress in a froth about 'the border problem,' Mexicans crossing the border illegally. Who knows what buzzwords the NSA will decide tomorrow signify potential terrorist behavior? Who knows what they're already looking for? Grabbing or restricting people on bogus information has become a hallmark of the War On Terror. Just recently Richard Kelly (born James Richard Kelly), director of DONNIE DARKO (and, perhaps not coincidentally, of the new SOUTHLAND TALES, which takes a firm anti-Patriot Act stand), was refused papers to travel to a film festival overseas. Reason? They supposedly confused him with a terror suspect named James Kelly. Given director Kelly's fame and standing, this would seem an easy thing to clear up, but last I'd heard (it may have changed since) his papers had not been produced. Curiously, I personally know a James Kelly (not the terror suspect, by the way) who has traveled back and forth to Hong Kong regularly over the past few months with apparent impunity.

Even as one of hundreds of similar incidents over the past few years, Kelly's experience might be chalked up to bureaucratic blundering. But how many warnings do you need? The Administration has taken the firm stance that their privacy is paramount while the privacy of American citizens is a nuisance, much like the Constitution. Though a condition of his job is to swear to uphold the Constitution, the Hand Puppet has put more effort into tearing it down and limiting its reach for most Americans than any other president except possibly John Adams, whose Alien and Sedition Acts the Hand Puppet is seeking to all intents and purposes to resurrect. (Other politicians aren't any better. Sen. John McCain, still touted as a potential next president by many and now apparently falling into lockstep with the Administration on many issues in an attempt to convince Republican power brokers he can be a team player after all, recently dismissed the Bill of Rights as secondary to the necessity to build a "clean" administration. If it came to a choice between the two things - and I'm not sure where the dichotomy would arise but he seemed awfully convinced there was one - he flat out said he would ignore the Bill Of Rights. Which would make him a 'worthy' successor to the Hand Puppet.) Who decides what word or phrase or calling pattern turns an ordinary American into an enemy of the state? Halliburton was recently gifted $385 million to build concentration camps - inside the USA.

The fact is that the NSA is establishing itself as our fourth (or third-and-a-half, since it's supposedly under presidential control, though it looks more and more like it's the other way around) branch of government, as witnessed by their recent shutdown of a Justice Dept. investigation into domestic spying on the basis that DoJ investigators don't have sufficient security clearance. Halt, end of subject. (The theory that if you haven't done anything you have nothing to hide is either not reciprocal or in the NSA's case all too valid.) It's also the NSA who insists their activities are all legal, despite a wide divergence of views on the subject, apparently on the basis that if the president declares behavior legal, it becomes legal. (A power not constitutionally given to the president, by the way, but there's that pesky Constitution again.) It's nice to know they're concerned for our 'security,' but their concept of security is capricious at best. The administration has allowed security to slip at ports and airports (too expensive), and for all the saber rattling over the possibility of an Iranian nuclear capability, the Hand Puppet is pushing for expanded nuclear capability for India - the region where, due to India's ongoing conflict with nuclear neighbor Pakistan, the world has come closest to nuclear war, and recently. No, "security" doesn't mean you and I are safe, it means that whatever the Administration does stays behind closed doors, which explains their furious investigations of "leaks" about overseas CIA-run torture camps and other excesses. The Constitution may be a short-term impediment to government action, but it's meant to be. That's our security, and if attempting to undermine the Constitution doesn't earmark someone as our enemy, nothing does. (As Orson Welles observed in TOUCH OF EVIL, a policeman's job is only easy in a police state.) At the rate things have gone, the legacy of the Hand Puppet will not be any meaningful triumph over "the forces of terrorism" but the official transformation of America into a security state. Eisenhower was aware of one birthing here as long ago as 1960 - his famous but mostly ignored warning about "the military-industrial complex" (and this coming from a conservative lifelong military man) - but until now we've at least been able to continue masquerading as a democracy.

From Titan Books:

MODESTY BLAISE: THE GALLOWS BIRD (by Peter O'Donnell & Enric Badia Romero, 128 pg b&w trade paperback; $17.95) continues Titan's collections of the longrunning English adventure comic strip. Modesty is one of great female protagonists of comics, a savvy, sexy, slightly shady reformed-criminal-turned-adventuress, and the series is lighthearted and brutal in the same breath in that casual manner that only English writers seem to be able to pull off. These were newspaper strips of the early '70sso there's not quite the latitude of, oh, Vertigo comics, but you can see the same general spirit at work. Great fun. Also fun is JAMES BOND 007: COLONEL SUN (by Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak, 112 pg b&w trade paperback; $19.95) which likewise collects two lengthy newspaper strip storylines, including the title story adapted from a Kingsley Amis Bond novel. The art's not quite as good as on Modesty Blaise, but the stories are very much in the Ian Fleming mold: good action and exotic locales, villains and women. For Bond fans, it's a credible enough Bond, and the stories are better than in many of the movies.

From Boom! Studios:

The first issue of TALENT (by Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegowski & Paul Azaceta, 32 pg color comic; $3.99) is pretty good, as far as it goes, though it does give the odd feeling it doesn't go far enough. Ads have compares it to ABC's LOST but, aside from a plane crash, the similarities aren't strong. The sole survivor of the crash finds himself gifted with psychic powers that mark him as a target for assassins from the Catholic Church, which is trying to eliminate any signs of true miracles. The issue is largely set-up, which gives the book a "one from column A, one from column B" feel; I kept being reminded of other material. Which isn't to say it's badly written - it's entertaining enough - but the book's real strength is Azaceta's art, which is terrific. The previously terrific JEREMIAH HARM (by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant & Rael Lyra, 32 pg color comic; $3.99) stumbles a bit in its third issue. For some reason third issues of a lot of series seem to tread water, as if they're killing time until the fourth. Here Harm engages in lengthy fights and rest breaks with a killer alien while other aliens track down the weapon that will destroy the universe. Again, it's entertaining enough, but the issue doesn't add anything we didn't already know and doesn't advance the story much either, and artist Lyra's figure work goes over the top way too much, especially on gangbanger hanger-on Scooter. Not bad, but not up to the first two issues. With the shelf life of zombies working toward expiration, Boom!'s trying for a new franchise with CHTHULU TALES (by various, 48 pg color comic; $6.99). It might not have been the best bet. The fact is that while Lovecraft concocted an effective metaphor for existential dread in Chthulu, the concept just doesn't make for very scary stories, just uncomfortable ones. But there's some good work here, particularly stories by Johanna Stokes, John Rogers and Keith Giffen, and the art's pretty effective across the board, with some very creative coloring. I liked CHTHULU TALES, I'm just not convinced I want to see the experiment repeated.

And I just realized - that's all the comics reading I did this week. I thought I'd done more. I have to get on the stick for next week. Time for another extravaganza, I think.

"I love your column, and forward on the political notes to my wife's high school classes every week, but I have to take you up on something this week. It's nit picky, I know, but it's one of my pet peeves:

"Sadly, I have to agree with the Hand Puppet on this, though his pronouncement was certainly if unintentionally ironical..."

That's your quote up there. Do you have to use the word "ironical"? The word is best used, for economy purposes, is "ironic". There is no need for the "al" at the end. I know this is pedantic, but it encourages poor English when a word is published that becomes contorted (somewhat) like that.

Other than that, keep up the good work."

You are, of course, right, though in this instance I was consciously using "ironical" for effect. Which doesn't make you less right, and I don't recommend use of the word, since "ironic" is a perfectly fine word. I'll consciously avoid "ironical" in the future.

"Have you thought of using Lulu or some other print on demand printer to publish your e-books? I'd really like to have copies, (specifically TOTALLY OBVIOUS and IMPOLITIC) but I hate reading on screens, and I don't own a computer anyway. I know it probably doesn't mean much to you, but I'd buy them in a flash ( I always hoped they'd be printed when I read them as they originally came out as online columns) if they were available as hardcopies."

No, believe me, it means something. I'm not convinced by any of the print-on-demand services I've checked into, though. Anyone have any good experiences with a print-on-demand provider? Where's my Jetsons future, dammit?!

"Possibly the most annoying thing for me about watching prices rise at the pump, is being told by "experts" on TV that we're all wimps, because if you compare our prices to prices in Europe... and no one challenging them. We may be paying less than car owners in Europe, but they have the health care safety net, and true mass transit. If I want to go to the grocery store, to work, to my doctor, to the drug store, I must drive.

Before World War II this town had passenger train service, some trolley cars, and what my Dad calls "inter urbans" - cars that ran on tracks, with electric cables powering them. His father took a bus for a few blocks, then caught the ride to the next town to his job, before the war. When my Dad returned from World War II he saw all of that taken down, and the destruction of the downtown area. Everyone bought cars, and gas was cheap and plentiful. I'm not big on conspiracy theories, but it's odd that all of that disappeared, and no politician insisted that we add passenger rail service while we developed the interstate roads.

The Japanese may pay more than us for gas, but they also have the bullet train, fast and clean. It's not that there aren't other means of transportation, it's that someone decided long ago that America shouldn't have them.

And as far as comics go, the new CRISIS series has proven to be a jump off place for me with most DC titles. Too much work to follow the new structure, with too little reward."

That's the story of latter half 20th Century America: personal transportation and big profits for auto manufacturers and gas companies. It wasn't an accident. The story of early half of 21st Century America is much the same, just with lower profits for auto manufacturers and much more expensive personal travel.

"Liked the commentary on publisher credibility and window of opportunity. Frankly though I didn't even know who Markosia was or anything they publish and since I'm a pretty extensive reader/collector that's really sad. Any predictions for Virgin comics and it's use of Indian based artists and art styles? They have deep pockets if they want to use them. It's my experience that any publisher that starts up with the goal of leveraging properties into other media, i.e. movies, inevitably fail. Only publishers that seek to publish comics as their primary goal last very long. Although several individuals have done comics solely as a stepping stone to other media careers namely Ben Edlund and Rob whatshisname for DISPOSABLE ASSASSIN."

Virgin's Richard Branson has about as deep pockets as anyone, and, as I understand it, Virgin's primary market will be the Indian subcontinent, which may sport enough comics readers to keep them flush. If they're satisfied with that, I see no reason why Virgin shouldn't continue for a long time, and there are enough Indians in the U.K. for that to be a potentially lucrative sub-market, but my gut feeling is that any American invasion will do roughly as well as Hong Kong comics have here, at best. Unless they can manufacture a manga-level buzz, which will be tricky. India's just not as "sexy" as Japan is, and Japan has the additional benefit of being both exotic and considerably Westernized, so that absorption by American audiences was relatively easy though it did take a decade or so to reach critical mass. If Branson's crew are anticipating quick acceptance, they're in for a shock. Their odds of success in America will increase incrementally the longer they're willing to stick it out, but I have the feeling their odds here will never be all that good, unless they start publishing "American" comics.

"Full-fledged race war [in England]? What on earth is your friend on about? Like the column, though."

Thanks. I think he was just a bit depressed about returning to England to find his (white) parents and many others he ran across complaining bitterly about the presence of (non-white) "foreigners" in their country, and the National Party continuing to make inroads into the English political structure, etc. He was being hyperbolic for effect, but did feel the racial atmosphere over there was dismal and decaying.

"CITGO is not 'supposedly' getting its oil from Venezuela as you said in your recent column on CBR.

This is from their website:


The company is owned by PDV America, Inc., an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

It's one the the things that makes Venezuela a socialist country."

I had no idea, thanks. I wasn't vouching for or against the statement, just mentioning my friend's rationale. When did Venezuela buy Citgo? Citgo's ownership doesn't moot my point, though: regardless of where the oil comes from, Venezuela's still part of OPEC and working hand-in-hand with Arab oil, so buying from them to protest Arab oil is a weak protest at best, along the lines of only buying from Chevron to protest Mobil's prices.

"I was surprised by your endorsement of Dan Mishkin's advocacy of U.S. intervention in Sudan. Actually, "shocked" might not be too strong a word. Yes, I was shocked to see you support the idea of the U.S. government sending men with guns (which is all it knows how to do) to clean up yet another problem which, while vexing to say the least, doesn't threaten us any more than did Saddam Hussein's depredations against the Iraqi people.

Does the endorsement go so far as to specify which side is committing the genocide and which is getting genocized? I hope so, because from my own limited understanding of the situation, it's hard to find any good guys. Or is it a case of simply going there to "keep the peace"?

If the latter, please recall that the U.S. method of keeping the peace is identical to that of Romeo Skragg (patriarch of Li'l Abner's in-laws). His method was, "Ah makes 'em REEEEL peaceful!"

(I did go to the site, and didn't find any direct advocacy of shooting up the place -- but then, I didn't find any other specific actions suggested, and what else can the U.S. government do?)

Interventions for the good causes favored by left-leaning Americans have no better track record than those favored by the right-wingers (such as "spreading democracy", surely a good cause if ever there was one, as long as you don't care how they do it). They involve killing a lot of innocent locals, spending billions of dollars, killing a bunch of Americans who thought they were volunteering to defend their own country, besmirching America's reputation around the world, torturing, maiming, et sickeningly cetera. But they don't involve exit strategies, and eventually turn into embarrassing losses for the vaunted "world's only superpower". Nothing is ever accomplished except to make a bad situation worse.

If Dan Mishkin is truly devoted to the cause of Doing Something about Darfur, then he should consider the strategy adopted by many Americans who felt strongly about the Spanish Civil War. They went there and put their own lives on the line, instead of calling for powerful politicians to send others.

I don't mean to dis Dan Mishkin, who is a talented writer and, to judge from my limited contact with him, a fine fellow. But too many Americans simply don't think these things through. Yes, America has a top-notch military establishment, and it seems like it could be put to very good use in the world. But most of the world's problems are only exacerbated by military solutions."

I think the main value of the United States in this instance would be to put pressure on the United Nations to finally take some sort of stand on Darfur. Peace is obviously not something the United States can impose militarily, and, as you say, we've never been any good at it. That doesn't mean nothing can be done, just that we have to get over our national impression that there are only two possible ways of handling any situation: militarily or by throwing a lot of money at it. We live in an era when diplomatic solutions are considered effeminate or even treasonous, but a diplomatic solution is likely the best one we'll get for Darfur.

"'... almost no reports of the event even mentioned Colbert's presence, preferring instead to focus on an anemic, reverential bit where the Hand Puppet "performed" with an impersonator.'

Sweet zombie jesus, even the BBC went with this and didn't even mention Colbert - I was bemused as all heck when people started going on about Colbert's bravura bit because I didn't even know it had happened. Next time someone mentions the BBC's supposed leftie bias, I'm gonna use this to kick 'em in the unmentionables.

TSUBASA 8 was indeed showing signs of being stuck in a rut. TSUBASA 9, however, suddenly jumps the track - the two assistants to the main quest seem to have switched sides, there's a mysterious bad guy who has, until now, been guiding our heroes on their various world-hops and all of a sudden the plot seems to have got going. It's taken about 4 volumes too many, but at least there's signs of progress.

Hmmm - apart from the BNP gaining seats in the recent local elections, I'd say it's business as normal [in the UK], but I could be mistaken. That said, I am aware that the more rural populations do have issues with immigrants doing farm work on the cheap, which occasionally explodes into something vaguely serious. The last occasion I remember things getting out of hand was an international football tournament where the locals got upset at some Portugese immigrants. But then there's the upcoming World Cup..."

I was under the impression the "heel turn" of the two TSUBASA characters was a temporary thing, but it'll make things interesting if it isn't.

"Great comment about Colbert's speech/routine at the Press Club dinner. Spot on. My wife and I watched it and felt uncomfortable that he was calling out everyone in the room (to use current jargon) and sparing no one except Helen Thomas. It's like the dog catching the car -- what do you do when you have the opportunity to lay it on the line? Unlike many of us, I think, Colbert stayed true to his message and routine."

Well, you know. You don't get that many shots, so when you get one you've got to take it. (Wait, isn't that Dick Cheney's philosophy?) Accompanying this email, by the way, was a copy of Bob Herbert's May 15th op-ed piece for the New York Times, to a large degree echoing my sentiments above about how the Hand Puppet has been undermining America, but Herbert said it more vehemently, drawing this diagram of Hand Puppet domestic policy: 1) We are fighting a war against terrorism. 2) The war against terrorism will never end. 3) As long as the war is ongoing, the president must have any power he wants in order to fight it. 4) Questioning the president or his surrogates aids the terrorists. I'm not going to reprint the whole thing here, but do a search for it. It's worth reading.

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.

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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