What I bought - 23 December 2015

It was that Citizen Kane represented, more than any other movie Joe had ever seen, the total blending of narration and image that was - didn't Sammy see it? - the fundamental principle of comic book storytelling, and the irreducible nut of their partnership. Without the witty, potent dialogue and the puzzling shape of the story, the movie would have been merely an American version of the kind of brooding, shadow-filled Ufa-style expressionist stuff that Joe had grown up watching in Prague. Without the brooding shadows and bold adventurings of the camera, without the theatrical lighting and queasy angles, it would have been merely a clever movie about a rich bastard. It was more, much more, than any movie really needed to be. In this one crucial regard - its inextricable braiding of image and narrative - Citizen Kane was like a comic book. (Michael Chabon, from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay)

Astro City #30 ("Enemy of the Empire") by Brent Anderson (artist), Jimmy Betancourt (letterer), Kurt Busiek (writer), Albert Deschesne (letterer), Peter Pantazis (colorist), John Roshell (letterer), and Molly Mahan (editor). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

My parents are in town for the holidays, and we had a discussion the other night at dinner (our dinner conversations are always lively) about whether my parents are empathetic. They both said they were not, which I could have told them, but I'm glad they're so self-aware. It makes it weirder that I am empathetic, because I have no idea why I am. Anyway, the point is that this issue of Astro City deals with empathy. Busiek gives us a lot to chew on in just 24 pages, one of which is the quality of empathy and what it does to people. When Zozat "binds" with Karl, he experiences the same emotions the boy does, and he can't bring himself to turn Karl in, which would probably lead to his execution. Zozat has never thought about using his power for an empathetic connection, and he finds that it's too difficult for him to ignore the pain and love in Karl's mind. Karl is just like him, in other words, and Busiek's point is heavy-handed but still worth exploring. His entire point is that children are more empathetic and have that quality crushed out of them, which isn't really true (depending on their age, kids can be completely evil), but by turning this into a 1984 situation, where Zozat's sister Ziriza is brainwashed and Zozat has nothing to look forward to except to hope that he can resist a little, Busiek can use the literal to highlight the metaphorical and write about humanity's desire to conform while still telling a story about an alien empire. Adults force children to conform, after all, and Busiek wants to examine this, although he's restricted by the format of the series so that he can't look at both sides of this. Children are unformed clay, and "forcing" them to "conform" is just another way to say raising them to be responsible members of society. Zozat sees that his empire is brainwashing its inhabitants and leaching the empathy out of them - the difference between his sister earlier in the issue, when she at least offers him advice about how to deal with Karl and later in the issue, when she parrots the propaganda of the empire, is chilling - and he realizes that he's living in a lie-filled world, but what Busiek doesn't do is expand this to include all societies, even the one from which the First Family hails. Zozat's parents, after all, love him like parents should love their child. The Fursts do attack the empire, even if it's for a noble reason, and while Busiek makes it clear that the empire is the aggressor, Zozat's empathy turns childish when he immediately doubts everything the empire has taught him. Is there any reason for the Zirran Empire to do what they do beyond greed? If so, we don't know it, and the empire shifts quickly from the font of all that is good to the source of all that is bad, but that's what happens when a child is narrating - they see things in black and white, so Zozat can't appreciate any nuance to the relationship between the empire and the First Family. Zozat's empathy extends to the wounded child with whom he can relate, but his grasp of more complex issues is weak, as he petulantly narrates that the empire lied to its people. Busiek has always written Astro City with an eye toward a more grounded idea of superheroes, with all the complexity that implies, but the Fursts, despite being some of the oldest characters, have never been particularly well developed (except for Astra, who is, of course, a young person), so their heroism is keenly old-fashioned when compared to the nuances of the other characters. In that regard, Busiek stacks the deck - using the Fursts means that Zozat can be confronted with an almost absolute good, which throws the deviousness of the empire into stark relief and allows him to flip his Manichean outlook of life one hundred eighty degrees without really worrying too much about it. It's clever of Busiek, because it allows him to highlight the main theme - that empathy can change minds, break down barriers, and lead to peaceful resolutions - without delving into the messiness of "real life" too much. Could the empire be as evil as Zozat comes to believe it is? Of course it could be. It probably isn't, but that's okay. What's important is that Zozat understands that differences can be overcome and that enemies might not actually be enemies. It's a nice lesson.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chew #53 ("The Last Suppers Part 3 of 5") by Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), John Layman (writer/letterer), and Taylor Wells (colorist). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

Part of the genius of Chew, of course, is the endlessly inventive ways Layman comes up with food-based powers, including this issue's, which allows Tony and Mason to travel back to dinosaur times, where complications ensue. What's even better is the way Layman writes the characters, because they're at the heart of the book. In any other comic, Tony and Mason's dinner together - which segues into the time travel, which then returns them to dinner - would end with Tony reluctantly teaming up with Mason, despite his reservations. Layman doesn't go the easy route, though, as Tony acts like an actual person would - he nurses his grudge against Mason, even though Mason tells him what happens when two cibopaths are alive at the same time. Tony is a smart guy, but he's become a bit more emotional during the course of the book as he's reconnected with his family and seen tragedy befall them, so his hard-assedness in this issue is a bit different than his hard-assedness from the beginning of the comic. He hates Savoy because of what Savoy has done, and he's not willing to forgive. Forgiveness is insanely difficult to grant, and it's too easy for characters to grant it because it doesn't involve any emotional pain - writers can just write the words and everything is hunky-dory. Layman knows that actual forgiveness is tough, especially when the sins of the potentially forgiven are as grave as Mason's are against Tony. So Tony can't do it, and he's perversely proud of the fact that he's unwilling to forgive Savoy. As we can predict, this has dire consequences, although as of the end of this issue, that's all potentiality - Savoy hasn't made a move yet, so who knows what path he's going to take? Tony's inability or unwillingness to forgive Savoy's transgressions, even knowing what will happen, is sadly human, but who knows if it will be his Rorschach moment when it comes down to it.

Guillory is always excellent, but the journey to dinosaur times allows him to show off some staples of his run - chicken-men that are "realistically" depicted, as least in the Chew universe, and therefore horribly creepy, and a wonderful mix of horror and comedy, as someone gets impaled on a dinosaur's horn, and said dinosaur then runs around with the person like a hood ornament on its face. It's horribly gross but wacky, which is the tone Chew often has, and it's another reminder of why Guillory is the perfect artist for this comic. Plus, come on - that cover is awesome.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Gotham by Midnight #12 ("Midnight") by Ray Fawkes (writer), Juan Ferreyra (artist), Saida Temofonte (letterer), Rebecca Taylor (associate editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $2.99, 19 pgs, FC, DC. The Spectre created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily. Jim Gordon created by Bill Finger. Maggie Sawyer created by John Byrne. Kate Spencer created by Marc Andreyko and Jesus Saiz.

The final issue of Gotham by Midnight brings part of the Spectre's epic to a close - Fawkes doesn't have carte blanche with the character like John Ostrander did back in the Nineties, but he does bring up some interesting points about the Spectre that even Ostrander didn't, and with that, we get a fitting 12-issue arc that stands as the best Bat-related comic on the market over that time, and it's not really that close (obviously, I don't read the main Bat-titles, but unless Snyder got a lot better since "Death of the Family," I feel confident in making this statement). It's sad that it had to go.

In the previous issue, Fawkes was implying that humanity has to purge its memory in order to move forward, but he does something even better than that in this issue. The Spectre's story is about forgiveness (we're back on it after mentioning it above!). He's done terrible things, but Fawkes makes a very clever link between the Spectre and Jim Corrigan, in that Corrigan is a flawed Spectre because he had no faith. Obviously, Corrigan believes in God, because he's seen proof of God's existence. He's a responsible soul, as Sister Justine points out, but he is flawed because his responsibility overwhelmed his faith, and his faith meant that he could not see what the Spectre represented, which is justice and not punishment. Ostrander, obviously, got to this point as well, but Fawkes makes it more spiritual, as Ostrander's Corrigan remained pragmatic even as he learned that his punishment needed to be tempered with understanding. This Corrigan realizes that his punishment needs to be tempered with justice, which Gotham has failed to deliver. Gotham is a city that forgets, even as it's bound by history - it forgets the faceless millions who have been killed in its streets, and Ikkondrid is a manifestation of their rage. Justine, the polar opposite of the Spectre, shows him how to rectify that, and it means bringing not only Corrigan into a greater partnership with the Spectre, but all of Gotham. Corrigan has to forgive himself, Gotham has to beg for forgiveness from its victims, and only then can Corrigan reach an understanding of what Ikkondrid wanted and what the Spectre could do and what Gotham can provide. It will be forgotten the next time someone wants to use the Spectre (probably), but it's still a powerful message.

I always praise Ferreyra, and I will once again, because his art is so amazing. He's taking over Suicide Squad soon, which makes me conflicted because I don't really want to buy Suicide Squad but Ferreyra makes any comic better. He captures the pain and confusion in the Spectre's face so well, and once Corrigan realizes why Ikkondrid is acting the way it is, Ferreyra does a wonderful job showing the policeman's resolve, even as Drake holds a gun to his head. As good as Ferreyra is at horror, the beautiful way he draws the climax of the story is a reminder that he can do other stuff brilliantly as well. I hope that even as he rises in the ranks of comics artists, he can still find time to do creator-owned work that I want to read rather than sticking to big-paying superhero stuff that I may or may not want to. Yes, I want Ferreyra to starve just so I can read his good comics!!!

It would be nice if DC would release a handy 12-issue hardcover of this entire series. That would be a good read!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Nameless #6 ("Wormwood Palace") by Simon Bowland (letterer), Chris Burnham (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist), and Grant "Why the hell should I explain anything to you, buttmunchers?" Morrison (writer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Will Nameless extend past this sixth issue in the future? The God of All Comics seems to imply that it will, although I suppose this could work as a fairly ambiguous, downer ending if he wanted it to. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

Nameless lives up to its name (ha!), as, if you push aside the horror window-dressing (which is pretty chilling, to be fair), Morrison goes deeper into existential terror than he usually does, as a character asks "What is human?" on the first page and the rest of the issue is trying to figure that out. Morrison's terrors are often external with a veneer of internality, but in Nameless, he reverses that - it's probably his most outwardly gruesome comic, but that's just the surface, and the internal fear that we are something other than what we think is the driving force of the comic. The main character, who remains nameless, has taken a journey not only to outer space, but inner space as well, as he can't figure out who he is and why he is doing the things he does, and this fills him with fear. It means he can't trust his senses or what anyone tells him - even in this issue, where the "truth" is revealed to him, it may be just another fever dream. The destruction of the self and all the attendant terrors that come with it is something no one wants to behold, but our main character is forced to, and his utter breakdown as he confronts the lies of his life is gripping and far more intense than a lot of Morrison's writing in the past. When a person loses his personality, what can replace it? Morrison provides a bleak answer that connects to our modern world, making this as subtle a comment on society as he's ever made.

Burnham is perhaps Morrison's best collaborator, and he and Fairbairn are able to bring the GoAC's weirder visions to life beautifully so that the writer's Lovecraftian derivatives don't come across as silly but terrifying. Our unnamed protagonist spends a good amount of this issue in shocked wonderment veering into curdling fear, and Burnham never lets him become comfortable with the revelations that he discovers. Fairbairn, meanwhile, uses lurid oranges and blues to sicken our "hero" as he learns the "truth" about himself. Nameless is a eerily beautiful book, and this issue is no exception.

Morrison's 2014 comeback from a weak 2013 continued in 2015, and it will be interesting to see what he's doing after Klaus (which I'm getting in trade). He seems re-invigorated after breaking with DC, though, so we shall see. And Burnham, obviously, needs more work. The dude is awesome.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Deep State volume 2: Systems of Control by Ed Dukeshire (letterer), Justin Jordan (writer), Ariela Kristantina (artist), Ben Wilsonham (colorist), Cameron Chittick (assistant editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $14.99, 88 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

I got the first trade, and it was pretty good, so I got the second (and final) trade! Funny how that works out.

The Demon volume 1: Hell's Hitman by Matt Brooker (artist), Stuart Chaifetz (colorist), Gene D'Angelo (colorist), Neil Dobbyn (artist), Garth Ennis (writer), Wayne Faucher (artist), Steve Haynie (letterer), Todd Klein (letterer), David Lloyd (colorist), John McCrea (artist), Luke McDonnell (artist), Denis Rodier (artist), and Scott NyBakken (collection editor). $19.99, 290 pgs, FC, DC.

The rapping Demon from All Star Section Eight got his wish! This looks pretty cool, of course.

Roche Limit: Clandestiny by Matt Battaglia (colorist), Kyle Charles (artist), Ryan Ferrier (letterer), and Michael Moreci (writer). $12.99, 128 pgs, FC, Image.

I got the first trade, and it was pretty good, so I got the second (and penultimate) trade! Wait, this sounds familiar.

Where Monsters Dwell: The Phantom Eagle Flies the Savage Skies by Dono Sanchez Almara (colorist), Russ Braun (artist), Garth Ennis (writer), Rob Steen (letterer), Sarah Brunstad (assistant editor), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $16.99, 100 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Wait, more Ennis? It's a Festivus Miracle!

Let's take a look at when these comics were supposed to come out as opposed to when they did come out, shall we?

Astro City: 23 December. On time!Chew: 23 December. On time?Deep State: 4 November. Six weeks late!Demon: 23 December. On time! I mean, it's only a few decades old, so it should be!Gotham by Midnight: 23 December. On time!Nameless: 11 November. Only five weeks late, which seems pretty good considering the schedule it's been on.Roche Limit: 23 December. On time!Where Monsters Dwell: 23 December. Unlike Secret Wars, it's on time!

Money spent this week: $74.68. YTD: $7249.65


It's Christmas today, and I hope everyone had a good one, even Greg Hatcher! Greg and Julie are such swell people, it sucks that their year hasn't been optimal, but I blame myself for not getting to Emerald City this year and lifting their spirits. That's just what I do, y'all! We had a nice day today - the kids got some nifty presents, and my wife is a phenomenal cook, so the food was terrific today (she works so she doesn't get a chance to cook too often, which is sad but probably just as well, as I certainly don't need to be any bigger than I am right now!). My sister is coming into town tonight to join my parents, so next week should be ... fun. Fun? We'll see.

I saw Star Wars this past week, and thought it was pretty good. Without giving too much away for those of you who haven't seen it yet, I thought it was a bit too close to the original - I know that that's what fans wanted, and fair enough, but I do hope the next one goes in its own direction. As terrible as the prequels were, they told their own story, for the most part, and I have to think the writers of the next two can find a balance between fan-service and striking a new path. Anyway, the three new leads (if we count Oscar Isaac) are wonderful, Brienne of Tarth better be better in the next movie, and Adam Driver was kind of miscast, I thought, which is too bad. It didn't help that he looked like 1977 John Travolta about to hit the disco, either. But overall, it was pretty good. And probably the funniest one yet - a lot of people got some really funny lines, and Abrams did some good work with the comic timing. I'll probably see it again this week, as my sister hasn't seen it yet and wants to.

This is the final weekly review post of this year - I know I'm getting at least one comic next week, but I don't think I'm getting anything else - and once again, I'm at a crossroads. When I first stopped doing weekly posts, back in March 2013, I thought I would be able to jump right back in whenever I felt like it, and I've done that occasionally over the past two-and-a-half years. But it's always really hard to get these posts up in a timely fashion, and I'm really not sure how I used to get them posted on Thursday or Friday pretty consistently. As I noted when I first stopped, real life is just consuming more of my time, and that hasn't changed - in fact, it's taken more of my time over the past year or so! As you might have noticed, I've been posting these on Sundays recently, which I don't really like to do. I still love writing reviews, but individual issues, even meaty ones like your average Astro City pamphlet, still feel like such a part of a greater whole that I'm not sure if it's worth it. I've ramped up buying trades, and even stuff from the smaller publishers get a trade, so I'm pulling back even more from single issues - I've skipped pre-ordering the recent Image offerings that I might have gotten in the past simply because I know they're going to get a trade, and when something like, for instance, Southern Cross, is so clearly a six-chapter story that only gets good in the final issue, why should I wait several months when I can read it all in one sitting when the trade comes out? It's very frustrating, because I know single issues drive the collections, but too many writers these days don't make the single issues worth it. It's quite vexing. So reviewing individual issues doesn't seem as crucial as it used to.

In an egotistical bent, I miss comments, too. As I have dropped Marvel and DC books, I have gotten fewer comments on each individual post, and as I love the community here, I get bummed when I don't get more comments. That might sound petty, but that's the way it is. I don't know if it's because I'm not buying very popular comics anymore, or if people are switching to trades faster than I am, or if I'm just not writing exciting posts anymore, but I'm self-aware enough to know that I like comments, I like responding to comments and talking about stuff in the comments, and I'm bummed when my posts don't get more comments. I don't mind it too much when I'm reviewing standalone graphic novels, because I know that for those, it's more about letting people know that the books exist and people buy them even less than single issues, and while I still love writing about my single issues, I miss the amount of feedback I used to get. I still appreciate any comments, of course, because you guys are awesome, but I'm petty - I want more!

It's more about time constraints, though, so I think I'm going to do something different in the new year. I used to not read mini-series until they were done, and I've been thinking about that, but while I'll still read issues as they come out, I don't think I'm going to review them until arcs are over. It will be just like trades, except I'll do it for single issues. I'll probably do those massive month-end posts I've done on and off for a few years where I review trades, mixed in with single issues. I've done this before, and it was pretty fun - it gave me a bit more time, and I didn't feel any pressure to get them done except to make sure they were up on the final day of the month. Then, if you've been interested in getting trades for things that I'm buying in single issues, you can get a sense of whether they're worth it or not. They'll still probably be horrendously long posts, but I don't think I'm ever going to stop doing that - it's just not in my nature.

So I hope everyone had a groovy Christmas if you celebrate Christmas and a groovy Friday if you don't, and I also hope you have a keen Week-Between-Christmas-And-New-Years', which is always kind of strange. Since we're all in a goodwill toward all kind of mood, today's Top Ten list is my favorite love songs from Magnetic Fields' superb 1999 album 69 Love Songs. Feel the love!!!!

10. "Nothing Matters When We're Dancing." The dulcet ukulele (I assume?) that plays behind Stephin Merritt's languid vocals sets a nice, calm tone for a sweet tune in which dancing, naturally, wipes away all cares. "Be we in Paris or in Lansing," dancing takes care of everything. It's true! The lyrics are here!

9. "Time Enough For Rocking When We're Old". Speaking of dancing, Merritt decides that he'd rather go dancing than sit in rocking chairs ("of gold" for when they're elderly), but he'd even rather go dancing that have sex and do drugs. Whoa, slow down, Mr. Merritt. Of course, "I came here to drink not to get laid," so maybe he's onto something! Read the lyrics!

8. "Grand Canyon." The great thing about a lot of the 69 Love Songs is that Merritt writes so incisively that he needs very few lyrics, like in this song - he doesn't need to do more than sing "But I'm just me, I'm only me, and you used to love me that way" for us to get the full effect. The expansive, lush music is perfect for the lyrics, which encompass quite a bit without being expansive themselves. Here are the lyrics.

7. "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan." Merritt sings about leaving for World War I and leaving his girl behind, and he begs her not to wait for him. Merritt has an interesting voice - he's a natural bass, and often his voice is very low, but sometimes it's not as smooth as it could be, but here, it's very smooth and sweet, which makes his plea even more heart-wrenching. The instrument behind him - a cello? - is beautiful, too. Read the lyrics!

6. "Queen of the Savages." We're back to ukuleles, providing a wry backdrop to the fun lyrics, as Merritt sings about loving a "queen of the savages," as they think "life is a funny joke" and they live "on the fruits of her pillages" and how he'll probably never go back to New York. Why should he? Here are the lyrics!

5. "Promises of Eternity." Not all the love songs are happy, of course, and "Promises of Eternity" tells of the end of love, as Merritt pleads with his love, "Don't think you'd be setting me free" if their love ended. His vocals are nice, too, as we can hear the plaintiveness in his voice. The spacey music adds an odd, not quite real element to the song, which fits in pretty well with the lyrics!

4. "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side." The buoyant music, with its strange squishiness, fits the cheeky lyrics wonderfully, as Merritt sings of all the boys who vie for the girl's attention - "Andy would bicycle across town / In the rain to bring you candy / And John would buy the gown / For you to wear to the prom / With Tom the astronomer, who'd name a star for you" - and why he's the luckiest guy of all, because he owns a car and the woman likes to ride. I absolutely love the line "But when the wind is in your hair you laugh like a little girl" because it's so innocent and beautiful, and Merritt sings it very well. His falsetto is a bit wonky at the end, but otherwise, this is a wonderful tune. Here are the lyrics!

3. "Long-Forgotten Fairytale." This peppy song, with its nifty keyboard parts, features very good lyrics, as Merritt twists fairy tale tropes nicely, grounding them in brutal reality ("My medication's wearing off") and skewing the idea of the prince rescuing the damsel in distress ("There's an old enchanted castle / And the princess there is me / Decked out like a Christmas tree"). It seems like a standard love song, but Merritt does a good job messing with that idea. Check out the lyrics here!

2. "All My Little Words." The wistful guitar (or ukulele) that plays behind Merritt's vocals fit the tone of the song well, as the lyrics are about someone leaving and Merritt being unable to keep them there, no matter what. Merritt gives us a great word ("unboyfriendable") in the course of admitting that he could make it harder on his beloved, but he decides against it. It's a sad song, but it's still beautiful. The lyrics are here!

1. "Papa Was a Rodeo." This is one of my favorite love songs, period, not just on this album. Merritt's tortured bass comes in over the soulful music, as he sings about the less-than-optimal beginnings of a love affair and how his own life hasn't been great ("Home was anywhere with diesel gas, love was a trucker's hand") before the amazingly sweet ending, where he's joined by "Mike" (in reality Shirley Simms), who has a similar tale, which is why they've had the "romance of the century." It's just wonderful. Peruse the lyrics right here!

Now, let's take a look at the Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Glory Girl" - Amanda Ghost (2000). "You tried to reach the moon, you grew up too soon"2. "Harder You Get" - Scissor Sisters (2010). "I know the reaper on a first name basis"13. "In One Ear" - Cage the Elephant (2009). "Now I know I'm not a saint, I've been a sinner all my life"4. "Dear Friend" - Fish (1991). "Buy a drink for the boy in my place at the end of the bar"5. "Tomorrow" - James (1997). "Don´t you see me here, am I a ghost to you"6. "Exit" - U2 (1987). "So hands that build can also pull down"7. "Next Lover" - James (1992). "Here comes bitterness after you pay"8. "Foolin'"2 - Def Leppard (1983). "On and on we rode the storm"9. "Nothing But The Water" - Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2005). "Every time I sit down to pray, the devil's charm pulls me away"10. "Blinded By Science" - Foreigner (1979). "I'm not an appliance, so don't turn me on"

1 If I were more clever, I'd do a comic strip called "Steve the Reaper" (the next lyric in the song is "It ain't Steven"). I just think that would have a lot of comedic possibilities.

2 As usual, I strongly encourage you to check out that video. It's so awesome.

Let's do some Totally Random Lyrics!

"You used to be the bestTo make life be life to meAnd I hope that you're still out thereAnd you're like you used to beWe'll have ourselves a timeAnd we'll dance 'til the morning sunAnd we'll let the good times come inAnd we won't stop 'til we're done"

You can do it!

Before I go, here's one Christmas-related link: this tremendous wish list, with annotations. Fine stuff! So have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

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