Monday, November 26, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 11/26/2012: all my heroes are alcoholics

by Shawn Starr

God, I've never drank so much in one week...


Captain America #1 (Marvel)
by Rick Remender, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Dean White

I bet you Steve Roger's grandfather (who loved him dearly) used to call him Cap as a child too.

Uncanny X-Force #34 (Marvel)
by Rick Remender, Phil Noto, Frank Martin Jr.

.................anybody still here ????

Everything Together: Collected Stories (Picturebox)
by Sammy Harkham

After reading 'Everything Together', I have been thinking a lot about Harkham's influence outside of 'Kramers Ergot'. This collection as a whole seems to be playing around with these moments of extreme intimacy, but telling them within the confines of the horror genre. They don't always end gruesomely (some may even be described as beautiful), but a lingering sense of dread runs throughout the whole collection. It's the same feeling you get when you pick up a new Josh Simmons comic or the continuing Charles Forsman series 'The End Of The Fucking World', something terrible is always around the corner.

Hawkeye #4 (Marvel)
by Matt Fraction, Javier Pulido, Matt Hollingsworth

It is nice how Marvel tries their darnedest at first to find acceptable replacement artists and then let the train derail once they've gotten enough of your money.
Hawkeye #21 (Marvel)
by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larrocca, Frank D'Armata

HAWKGUY (get it) does some CRAZY stuff with arrows and STUFF.

Walt Disney's Donald Duck, Volume 2: A Christmas For Shacktown (Fantagraphics)
by Carl Barks

Still better than every other comic I've read this week.

Prison Pit #4 (Fantagraphics)
by Johnny Ryan


Also, I read this last week so no conflict with the duck.

and now a guest spot from our very own Alec Berry in....


Shawn asked me to contribute to his column this week. The invitation was received via Twitter. Elegantly, it read:
Long story short, here I am, writing something on anything for his bullshit column. It seems appropriate since he used to do the same thing for me back when I had a column. The glory days!

Anyway, that’s why I’m here. Hope that’s cool, cool kids. Read on and forget. That’s what you’re good at.

alec reads comics

Haunt #26-27 (Image)
by Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, Ivan Plascencia

I had high hopes for this book, but those hopes have only been answered by stalled momentum. Joe Casey and Nathan Fox are trying (no doubt about that). Each of them coming back to this damned-from-the-start-project month in and month out says it all, but it’s sad to see their effort continually plagued and stuffed by the curse of this title.

These two issues specifically hone in on the internal conflict gripping the Kilgore brothers. Much a part of this book from the start, Casey writes the personal exorcism with a hint of sarcasm, using his stand-in Still Harvey Tubman to comment on the predictable nature of the whole thing. These are the few moments of brillance, and they echo that Casey charm we all read his work for, but even though he’s aware of the pointlessness of this internal drama, it’s still written and humored across two whole issues all in order to shove the details of this “important” drip of continutity down the throats of fans and fill their stomachs.

I want Casey and Fox to say fuck everything that’s come before and just write their 'Haunt' comic, and I feel they’re trying to get there. But eight issues have transpired, and I’m beginning to suspect Todd McFarlane and Co. are too concerned with appeasing those usual laws of IP storytelling: keep the characters consistent for the reader and for the Hollywood scouts. This train’s barely budged.

Visually, its a disgusting mess, but sort of in a good way. Although, I’ll finally agree with Chad Nevett on the topic of the colorist (a Mr. Ivan Plascencia of the Kirkman school) who mucks Fox’s line far beyond the necessary muck and detriments some needed clarity for story purposes.

I think I’m finally out. I’ll catch up with Casey at Dark Horse.

I also wrote this on the title a while back *wink* *wink*.

The Hive (Pantheon)
by Charles Burns

People love Charles Burns and this review will further sing his praise, but I did not necessarily walk away from this comic affected, changed or even very energized. 'The Hive' is a good comic; it’s just more successful for its craft and execution than it is for it's story, core themes, or attitude. That’s certainly respectable, but unless you have never experienced a story about slackers, first love or disenfranchised youth, Burns’ new book will mirror familiar territory without much of the usual spunk. That said, Burns can still turn moments of this tale into visceral sensations through use of some slightly disturbing imagery, and his fusion of the plot to colorful dreamscapes lend the overall package an extra twist.

What’s most appreciable, though, is the structure of the plot and the order in which Burns chooses to unravel things. The non-linear through line forces you to engage with the work, and as a result the picture comes together much like a puzzle, placing you in the head-space of the protagonist Doug. Burns also uses page composition effectively, most notably by splicing dream with “reality” by inserting small, vertical panels of solid color. I also like the nod to John Romita Sr.'s romance comics.

'The Hive' will no doubt top some Best Of lists this year. It might deserve to. It’s a solid comic book, and it’s from a contemporary cartoonist of a certain stature. That said, I sort of get where Sean Witzke was coming from.

Powers #11 (Icon/Marvel)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming, Nick Filardi

I feel I would really enjoy and invest in this comic book and its story if it managed to come out more than twice a year, and even then 'Orc Stain' does the same and I still gush of its fire. Bendis and Oeming have a payoff issue at hand here, but the payoff feels thin by virtue of lapsed memory. It’s solid craft wise (probably one of the better written Bendis books I’ve read recently) and the pacing really works, but the gut punch is missing. That is partly due to the delay, but also due to the rush through the destruction. A tidal wave engulfs a city in this issue, yet it’s all over in the turn of a few pages and Walker cleans it away in a deus-ex-machina fashion. It is very Bendis, that way, moving right away from the payoff and on to the next big thing. Don’t worry though, 'Powers: Bureau' gets a proper tease on the last page.

The saga continues!

we interrupt your regularly scheduled 'Thickness' piece to talk about 'Casanova' for a bit...

Casanova, Volume 3: Avaritia (Icon/Marvel)
by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá, Cris Peter, Dustin Harbin

'Casanova: Avaritia' is the story of lost hope and a new beginning. The story of leaving something for a while then coming back, and finding things aren't how you left them. Then after re-assessing, now you just have to burn it all down and begin anew if you ever wish to move on. It's about destruction, but ultimately change.

The line "Lets. Get. Fucked" is both a denouncement and a rallying call to move forward. Hedonism and excess always end in failure, the high ultimately comes to a tipping point, and 'Casanova' which is a book so identifiable with Jim Steranko, Ziggy Stardust, and the promise of more (MORE!) had to fall down at some point. It had to decide to grow up at some point, and Avaritia is it's mighty send off.

The first half of Avaritia (Halves are the only way to speak of these arcs, since the first two issues are a light year away from those that came before, and those that came after are likewise a light year from those that predated it) is about accepting the passing of time.

It is Fraction realizing where he is in his career.He's no longer the blogger ranting alongside Joe Casey in The Basement Tapes about the fucking man fucking up everything because now he works for the man, he wrote a company wide crossover for the man, he has a fucking pension, children, and he was fucked by the man at every step, but he let it happen because he's an adult and needs the money.

Avaritia is the work of a man who knows what has happened to him and wants to move forward, a man who wants to burn it all to the ground and piss on the ashes, but never forget where those ashes came from. The ashes of greed, of passion, of misery, and the only way to move past that is to be even more greedy; to reclaim everything. 'Casanova' once stood for everything Fraction was, it was the book that defined his career, the book that became a measure for every book he worked on since, and now he had to make it his own again.

Avaritia is greed, it's a book about ownership, and this arc is ultimately about Fraction reclaiming what was once his after wallowing in its decadence for three years and finally deciding to say fuck it all and burn the whole universe to the ground.

A spatial holocaust.

'Casanova' is as much a fuck you to the reader as a fuck you to himself. You want Steranko, he wants Steranko, but what he really needs is for you to die.

Luxuria is about the luxury of independence.
Gula is about the gluttony of reference.
Avaritia is about the greed in reclaiming ones' work.

Didn't get anything this Black Friday besides the second season of 'Louie' for $8 and "The Raid: Redemption" for $11. I'll probably hit up that PictureBox sale at some point too. God i am pertinacious.

Gary Panter did a dinosaur sketch in my Panter art book so suck it.

Re-reading 'The End Of The Fucking World' and it is without a doubt the best monthly comic out there.

'The Furry Trap' is book of the year, even if the authoritarian Joey Aulisio wont let me put a reprint on the site's top ten. So Empire.

If the Chaykin 'Iron Man: Season One' book isn't just Chaykin telling Warren Ellis to fuck himself and writing Iron Man as a 1920's Jazz enthusiast/drunk banging flappers all day then the whole project is a waste.

Got tickets to Harmontown when it visits the greater Boston area. I am excited.

You can buy me anything off that Comics Reporter gift list and I'd be happy.

The highlight of last week was a 4 hour Skype conversation with Joey Aulisio where we rapped Vanilla Ice lyrics at each other. We are both the definition of white.

'It Was The War Of The Trenches' makes "Paths of Glory" look tempered.

No one ever sends me hate mail. Someone should send me hate mail. It would make my life complete. Please!!! Everyone else seems to get it!!!

Friday, November 23, 2012

direct message 004: the manhattan projects

by Alec Berry and Chad Nevett  

We didn’t die; we didn’t quit.

We just slept.

Chad and Alec return to Direct Message and pick up where they left off to discuss The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra.

Aren’t you glad?

Alec Berry: Hickman’s taking a bit of a leap here. While there’s still his usual sensibilities of design and a fascination with powerful figures, he’s approaching his grand thoughts through simpler, more traditional comic book means by placing an emphasis on the cast and pushing an assortment of bombastic occurrences. It could be a result of the Marvel gig, but The Manhattan Projects just seems to be aware of its pop-historical core. Hickman isn’t writing some hardball mini series like The Nightly News. Instead, he’s crafting an ongoing series in which Einstein has been replaced by an evil counterpart. The idea demands a specific approach, and Hickman’s clearly writing to that approach - a sign of a writer bending his abilities for his story.

And I enjoy the result. The Manhattan Projects evokes something innocent and free spirited versus his more contemplative mini series of the past few years. This book doesn’t seem preoccupied with proving its significance and trying to reach a non-comics reading audience by twisting the form into some sort of graphic literature. The plot’s wacky, and the pacing is a little more lucid in some ways. The sub-plots keep stacking with each new issue. The detailed relations between cast members remind an experienced reader of the usual mechanics of a superhero team book - each character complete with his or her own costume and unique specialty. And, if it weren’t enough, the color palette brings a bright, vibrant appearance with its bleeding reds, greens, blues and yellows.

Yet though free spirited, Hickman isn’t without some larger ideas and takeaways. He’s playing with the time period and investigating the major transition in technology, science and outlook after WWII. It’s a Cold War comic book bent on general themes of knowledge, discovery, responsibility, curiosity and ability, and Hickman may be linking all of that to our current interest and desire to constantly progress without hesitation - a skill most every member of The Manhattan Projects cast possesses. Or it could just suggest that with every good comes a bad.

Any point you wish to derive from it is yours, but The Manhattan Projects certainly has my interest, and it’s easily way better than Saga, so Chad, hit me. What do you like about it?

Chad Nevett: I like the pretty blues and reds.

It’s funny that you call it a “Cold War comic book” when the most recent issue seems to be pointing to a different direction. It’s a series that’s been deviating more and more from our world as it’s gone along and, cancelling out the Cold War is another step. It won’t be limited by such bland conflicts -- it seems poised to keep exploring the idea of genius unrestrained. As I write this, I’m rereading The Boys and there’s a similarity between what Hickman is doing with the genius scientists here and what Garth Ennis did with superheroes there. Each group is immensely powerful (in it’s own way) and we’re unaccustomed to seeing either completely unrestrained, free to do as it will. In both cases, death and destruction follows. Granted, Hickman is stacking the deck with his faux Oppenheimer and Einstein, but there’s still an undeniable core in this comic of wondering what would happen if these mad geniuses could simply do what they want. What is the leash were off? In some cases, that means purposeful abuse and monstrosities; in others, it means the pursuit of pure science without considering the consequences. Mostly, it means genocide.

I hadn’t considered its place in Hickman’s creator-owned work. It’s the first ongoing work he’s done, so that no doubt explains, partly, why there’s a looser, more character-driven feel to this title. The constraints of a singular idea or a tightly-woven plot aren’t there. He can spend an entire issue with a character, advancing the plot only a fraction. Hell, it wasn’t until recently that any sort of larger plot became apparent. It’s like a wacky S.H.I.E.L.D. But, you know, better.

AB: It’s actually a lot like S.H.I.E.L.D. when you mention it, and you have to wonder if Hickman just threw his hands in the air, abandoned S.H.I.E.L.D. and chose to try it again with this.The approach didn’t work that time, and I’m sure the Marvel constraints weren’t allowing him to go as far as he wanted to go (plus, all of those delays and the dragged-out publishing schedule certainly inhibited things).  

The fact of it being an ongoing does allow Hickman room to run and write at a different speed, but I also feel Nick Pitarra is essential to understanding the beat of this book. He’s an artist who places attention on character body language and the way in which they interact with their environment. There’s a great scene in issue 3 when Feynman enters Einstein’s lab for the first time, and you watch as Feynman studies the room and shows some sense of bewilderment. A small touch, but it adds so much to a scene. And it’s 100% visual.

Also, his line tends to depict emotive faces through the numerous marks put on the page, and the bumpy quality of it shows the characters to be ugly rather than clean cut - which is obviously an extension of what Hickman’s writing.

Visual developments.

These things just inherently give The Manhattan Projects a lively quality and move it from Hickman’s usual ice cube tone, and Pitarra certainly dictates much of this comic’s attitude (along with colorist Jordie Bellaira and the numerous others from earlier issues) that way. The style’s similar to a Geoff Darrow, sure, but beneath the style it’s evident Pitarra grabs chunks of the story, makes them his own and expands the entire thing. He’s even loosened up a bit since the first issue. A sign of the artist’s confidence growing …

On your point about characters running rampant with power and getting to see that, does The Manhattan Projects remind you at all of something like, say, The Authority, and is this a subject you like to see?

CN: You’re dead on about the visuals, Alec. When we discuss the focus on ‘character’ in The Manhattan Projects, a big part of that is Pitarra’s visual depiction of these characters. I’m so writing-oriented that I often forget the effect an artist has on what I interpret as the writing. I’ve always enjoyed the art and said so, but... did I know to the full extent? I don’t think so. You talking about it immediately made it click into place and I could see a rush of visuals speed past my eyes and it’s like “Holy shit, the art on this comic is amazing! I had no idea! What the fuck is wrong with me?” Another “Art Discussion Month” is needed probably...

Oppenheimer’s twisted body language is my favourite visual bit, I think. You just see his evil, fucked up brain through his whole body...

There’s definitely an appeal in watching people with power run unchecked to a degree. What would happen if the biggest brains the US government could round up were set loose to do as they will? There are so many possibilities, so much potential for wonders of the imagination. For comics to do what comics can do: you know, anything. There’s an off-handed casualness to the way that Hickman presents the genius unrestrained, too, that I enjoy. They kill off an entire race and it just happens over a few pages. It’s a minor plot point in many ways as we see the march towards global domination by threatening all aliens that Earthmen Are Not To Be Fucked With.

Going back to S.H.I.E.L.D., this title isn’t as cute as that one. That one featured the mythic geniuses of the past five hundred or so years, men who have progressed beyond men and into a weird realm where them all hanging out and working as part of this organisation alongside Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man’s dads seems... cute. Here, though, many of these characters knew one another, so there isn’t a giant leap from our world to this one. Turn a couple evil, take the leashes off, and see what happens.

AB: You’re right, and I think the close connection MP has with our own world only adds to the comic’s sinister bite simply by reminding us of what the atom bomb signaled and pushing the point that that could’ve only been the beginning. Oddly enough, there’s also an urgency to this work. It may seem slow in plot, but the visuals suggest an ever-present race against the clock. Especially the colors. The palette and bright hues create a violent sense of lighting. Sequences using the blues and reds usually accompany dialogue. Pitarra will grid these scenes out in small panels, and the back and forth between blue and red take a reader from a hot to cold light. You feel submerged and then exposed, and there’s a motion associated with that, so you feel sort of out of breath even in a scene with old white guys sitting around a table. It’s wacky and bizarre, yet it’s frightening and disorienting as well.

The way in which Hickman has revealed the story has also added to that urgency. While the plot meanders, I always feel each issue either has a point or supplies enough interesting interactions or ideas to combat the sluggishness, and the time Hickman takes allows this elaborate version of our world to spread itself and take more shape. And yeah, there’s time taken, but I always felt from page one that Hickman had automatically written in some greater threat or secret just off-panel where we couldn’t see, and by slowing the reader down, taking this time, he builds the suspense, urging us to read on. As is every Hickman project, it seems, but the wait is more bearable when Oppenheimer savagely killing and eating a member of an alien race is at our reading disposal.

There’s definitely an engrossing ‘what if’ element when it comes to the subject at hand, and you’re right in that Hickman’s interest lies in showing the evil of it all. Feynman offers somewhat of a balance, though. He’s the young guy of the crew, the rookie, and Hickman uses him as the series perspective at times, or at least gives him a narrative duty with the quotes from his memoir introducing and concluding each issue. The touch sandwiches all events between his words and gives the story a reflective quality. As portrayed here, Feynman is in on the acts of The Manhattan Projects, but Hickman writes him with a sense of question always present. I’m not sure he’s a good man, but he seems like a character who hasn’t accepted his internal evil yet. Issue 2’s scene with him in the mirror, performing his morning ritual of “good morning Mr. Feynman. You’re a very special person.” suggests that he persistently needs to reassure himself of his own worth; it shows that he truly sees himself as a good man. Or that he’s really just self-conscious that he might in fact not be. The opening quote in issue 1 sort of backs this up.

“For when the time came, I could find no good in myself, only mischief.” - The Recorded Feynman

How do you read this character and his role in the series? I imagine his arc will be a main one. And, while we’re at it, is there anything about The Manhattan Projects that doesn’t work for you? We’ve been pretty positive, but I’m interested if you’ve had any negative reactions or complaints.

CN: Were I to guess, I’d say that Feynman is both our perspective character and the one that will act as a summation of the others. He’s the ‘innocent’ in many ways and we will see him corrupted. We will see him without limits do monstrous things and go too far. It’s easy to see how many of the others can do those things, but him? When he falls, it will mean something. He’s the central genius and what he does is what matters most in many ways. He’s the moral barometer, I guess.

There’s only one thing about this comic that I don’t particularly like and that’s the second Einstein. After the series began with Oppenheimer’s evil twin brother replacing him, to see that Einstein was replaced by an evil alternate version of himself was disappointing. It’s like, we saw this already. It also makes it too easy for these men to go too far. There’s no real fall, no pushing of the limits in a way that necessarily means anything. Evil versions of characters do evil things is not exactly interesting. There’s no true conflict there. It also takes away from the sinister twist on our world. Well, no shit, if the best and brightest minds were replaced with serial killers, things would have turned out differently! The agency and corruption is taken away to a degree. One evil doppelganger is enough. Two is kind of dull. I almost wish we’d seen Einstein be forced to kill his lesser, more sinister alternate self. An act of self-defence that opens a doorway for him.

How about you?

AB: Even though I asked the question, I gotta admit that I really have had no complaint about these comics. Maybe that makes me a bad critic, but The Manhattan Projects has supplied something worthwhile and entertaining each issue. It’s doing what I want comics to do. There’s room to think and dig, but on the surface a layer of outlandish fiction thrives. And the craft is there, on both sides of the line. It’s one of the best monthly titles.

But you raise a good point, and I may agree. To play devil’s advocate and to try and understand Hickman’s reasoning though, I can see why he has strayed away from an internal conflict when writing Einstein. For one, the effort needed to pursue that direction would outweigh what he’s currently writing (which sort of backs you, because that just means lazy writing), but also by creating a separate Einstein and externalizing the conflict, it communicates the struggle in a clearer fashion, and in an action comic it serves the action when a protagonist can actually hit his or her antagonist. And as for him already killing anti-Einstein (as I will dub him), it would be too early. That’s going to happen, I feel. Einstein will find his way back through the portal, and the moment will feel more climactic for the wait. Like much of the comic, Hickman seems comfortable with a slow burn.

It does feel repetitive when you realize Oppenheimer’s situation is the same, but Hickman does write Oppenheimer’s evil as more naturally ingrained in the character. His twin was the root of his evil - operating as an external example of the character’s own faults, most like - and this twin shared the womb with Oppenheimer. Einstein’s other half is merely an alternate version from another dimension and had to travel to replace him. Those little touches change the situations and suggest some attributes and truths about the characters. Plus, good Opp dies while good Einstein lives. Slight differences in the details, but they are differences, and I’m sure there’s a point to the contrast Hickman is seeding between the two characters. I have faith.

I feel lame for not having a complaint and trashing this comic somehow, but I keep thinking and find nothing. Oh well.

Anything else worth mentioning? If not to leave this piece without mentioning the art team again, Nick Pitarra, Jordie Bellaire, Cris Peter and Rachelle Rosenberg fucking nailed it and deserve a lot of credit. They’ve brought The Manhattan Projects to life, and Hickman owes them for that. From design to interiors, it’s certainly a visual standout on the shelf, and the aesthetic says it all.

CN: It does. So I guess I’ll just shut my big mouth ...

There's also this podcast on which Alec said much of the same stuff.