Funnybook Babylon

October 22, 2008

Final Crisis #4 – “Darkseid Says”

Quick Comments before the rundown:

1. Grant Morrison absolutely needs to take over Green Arrow/Black Canary, as all of his scenes with both of these characters throughout this series have been fantastic, especially any time Ollie even approaches a rant.

2. Make sure, if you got it, to read Submit before, not after, this issue. It’s a great book (albeit very straightforward and not especially begging to be annotated), and I know my experience (at least) was sort of lessened by reading #4 first.

With that out of the way, let’s get into the fourth issue of Final Crisis. Which is shockingly different from the original solicitation, now that I look at it, and I am really sad they did not actually go with the title “How to Murder the Earth,” because that rules.
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April 16, 2008

Darkseid, A Dictator Who Sought to Eliminate the Free Will of All Living Things, is Dead

Uxas at home.Uxas (doing business as ‘Darkseid’), the Dictator Who Sought to Eliminate the Free Will of All Living Things, Is Dead at an Unknown Age.

Uxas, the brutal dictator of Apokolips known as Darkseid, and who spent his life seeking total mastery of the universe, died today in Metropolis. He was an undetermined age, but reports suggest he was many hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. He is survived by a son, Orion.

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May 16, 2013

The Limits of Metaphor

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: , — Jamaal Thomas @ 10:00 am

The recent success of movies based on superhero comics has inspired some smart conversation about how the political and social themes buried in the comics should evolve as the franchises are translated in different mediums. It’s a conversation that reminds me of the potential of these stories to explore meaningful issues in other media and the limits of superhero comics published by Marvel and DC.

Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress wrote an interesting post about the themes in superhero narratives, noting that:

“X-Men is an engine for exploring ideas about collective identity, about genetics as a source of identity, about the Holocaust, about the regulation of extraordinary abilities. The toys are extras, not the point. Ditto for Star Trek, where things like warp drives and beaming are a way of getting the characters rapidly into a lot of different situations that are about opening up everything from interracial relationships to the question of whether artificial intelligences have rights. If those ideas get lost in the rise of geek culture as a massively consumed corporate product, we’re losing a lot of what made those franchises so deeply engaging, and objects of such deep identification and debate in the first place.”

I’ll admit, when I first read this, I mistakenly assumed that she was referring to the comics, not the series of films. When it comes to the films, I think she’s mostly right. Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn were explicitly aiming for more than just the typical action franchise with the X-films, and came surprisingly close to sustaining a metaphor for the gay experience. Chris Nolan’s Batman movies were a meditation on the post 9/11 security state and Bryan Singer’s flawed but interesting Superman Returns explored notions of manhood and fatherhood.

In contrast, violence and melodramatic soap opera are so firmly embedded at the core of Marvel and DC superhero comics that it’s much harder to argue that the “toys” aren’t the point. The allusions to identity, community and minorities are effective when used as accents to help the reader fill in the gaps of the fictional world. In superhero books, a writer who borrows the language, imagery and/or motifs that the reader associates with real world is like an artist who uses photo reference to transform generic locations into places that feel real. Think of how Grant Morrison evoked the intergenerational tensions in the civil rights movement in the late 1960’s and the American rock scene in the 1970’s in his run on New X-Men to encourage the reader to imagine a fully realized mutant culture that had never really been fleshed out in the comic books.

The trouble is that whenever a writer of a Marvel or DC superhero comic transforms an allegory for a general idea into one for a specific movement or community, they remind the reader of the weaknesses in the narrative and run the risk of (inadvertently) offending the audience. The paralells to real world events and social movements are frequently amusing but have their limits. Darkseid is a great metaphor and symbol for oppression informed by the Second World War and the Holocaust, but if the writer gets too close to the reality of either event, everything turns horrifyingly perverse (and you’re reminded that there aren’t many stories told about the Hunger Dogs). It’s even tougher for the X-books, where any explorations of the “mutants as oppressed minority” idea are complicated by the absence of a coherent mutant culture.

2609357-mlk malcolmx

It’s fun to think of Professor X and Magneto as Marvel’s Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, until you think about all of the things both men stood for and accomplished. There’s something deeply silly about drawing an analogy between one of America’s great men and a founder of a paramilitary academy for young people or a terrorist and a complicated, brilliant political activist and leader. This was also the main reason why Rick Remender’s now infamous decision to have Havok (the mutant leader of an Avengers team and brother of Cyclops) declare that he wanted to be identified as Alex instead of a mutant was so problematic.

havok-16

 

The scene is intended to evoke the conflict between assimilation and retaining cultural identity within the African American and gay community. Any emotional punch that this moment could have had disappears once one realizes that the character’s statement wasn’t unrealistic or controversial, but completely logical. Unlike every identifiable minority in the real world, the only thing that Marvel’s mutants have in common are the existence of powers and oppression. There is no shared history or traditions, no sense of community. The panel didn’t remind me of people rejecting their sexual or ethnic identity, because there wasnt really anything for Alex to reject. The reminder of a real world conflict (whether in the form of the age-old debates around assimilation in the black community or the closet/end of gay culture debate in the LGBTQ community) only reminded the reader of the narrative seams in the Marvel Universe.

This is not necessary. The powers that be at Marvel can always decide to embrace the implications of a world with mutants and give its writers the freedom to invent and explore a mutant culture. This will never happen. Marvel has maintained a commitment to ensuring that its fictional universe bore some resemblance to the world outside our door since the early 1960’s, and a fully realized mutant culture might undermine that. I also wonder if the use of shorthand that helps creators tell effective superhero stories is the opposite of what’s needed to explore serious ideas about identity, religion or ethics. Maybe we shouldn’t expect these stories to do something that they just weren’t designed to do.

At least we have the films, right? Well, maybe. Although filmmakers have used the film franchises based on Marvel and DC comics as a vehicle to occasionally explore meaningful issues, there’s a real risk that the success of the films will make studios more cautious about allowing them to create a world rich enough to sustain a meaningful allegory. I imagine that this will be a more significant issue if Marvel’s efforts to treat the talent who direct and perform in its films like the talent who write and draw its books is successful. If DC, Fox and Sony replicate this model, many of the elements that make these films more than bland consumer products may be lost.

September 21, 2012

Who’s Going To Bring the Game Back?

Filed under: Articles — Jamaal Thomas @ 1:00 pm

About two years ago, David Brothers recommended Brandon Graham’s King City in a conversation and in a series of great posts at 4th Letter. At that time, there was no collected edition, and only selected issues were available in my local store. I nodded, politely smiled, and bookmarked the posts (which also include these three gems). I made a mental note to pick up King City if it ever came out in a collection. I was in the middle of reading something or watching some “epic”/”novelistic” television show, and had a long list of things to read and watch in one of my queues so I was in no rush. I read an issue or two, but didn’t really connect with the book until I picked up the collection published by Image Comics earlier this year. After I read the first issue, I was hooked. When I was reading the fourth issue, this song came up in my shuffle:

For a few minutes, I was transported back to 1995. There was something that just clicked. I navigated to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and pressed play. As I saw Pete compromise his principles and walk home in the rain, Ghostface told Raekwon that “this is my last time god, I’m hanging this shit up if this shit don’t work right here god.”

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Something hit me, and this is what came out when I tried to speak.

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May 10, 2012

Five Years Later: The Oral History of Countdown to Final Crisis

Filed under: Articles,Downcounting — Chris Eckert @ 10:00 pm

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of Countdown #51. Hopefully everyone honored the anniversary in the same way as its creators: by trying to forget that Countdown ever existed.

Indeed, what can be said about Countdown that has not already been said about the Vietnam War? It was a quagmire, an unwinnable war of attrition that even the planners could not find a graceful way to end. It left a psychic scar on the nation, and destroyed the best years of countless young men’s lives.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as Vietnam. If nothing else, Countdown provided the spark that led to me blogging about comics. And if you don’t think that’s a good thing, fine: it also provided us a near-perfect lab specimen of what an Editorially Driven Comic Book looks like. To a certain extent, everything you can say about Countdown is true of nearly every Big Two superhero comic:

  • It was published to fill a hole in the schedule
  • Non-Executive-Staff creative members were treated like interchangeable cogs, comic-producing machines
  • Plot Events (and importance to the companywide Uberplot) were privileged over what would be traditionally called “story” and “character”
  • It received constant “comics” “media” attention on the big blogs despite no one, not even the interviewers and DC employees extruding the book weekly, seemed to care in the least

Countdown may have been a lightning-in-a-bottle, textbook demonstration of what you get when the entire publishing line of a company is hashed out by people who have never been hired to be creators on a dry erase board, then handed down piecemeal to people actually hired to be creators. But it isn’t the last. From countless Blackest Night tie-ins (now with free prize inside!) to Marvel’s endless series of Avengers Presents: We Need Some Movie Tie-Ins, from Avengers vs. X-Men to Before Watchmen, we are seeing a shift towards ever more editorially driven comics from “The Big Two”. All of the gradual, glacial movement towards treating superhero comics as something that might exist because a creator had a compelling story seems to be eroding. Of course, this exists in all media: just as there Has to Be an issue of Batman every month, there also has to be a few dozen episodes of CSI shows every year, an appropriate number of Star Wars Extended Universe novels, a Battleship motion picture, whether anyone has the perfect idea for it or not. But the ratio of “someone has a good idea they have pitched” to “someone in marketing decided this needs to exist” is growing more and more lopsided. (more…)

March 31, 2012

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for March 2012

Filed under: 5-10-15-20,Articles — Chris Eckert @ 11:15 am

Welcome back to 5-10-15-20, a monthly column that looks at things that happened in comics using arbitrary five year jumps! I realize this is being published in April. I had finished the post a week or so ago, but got caught up researching something really dumb and forgot I hadn’t posted this until today, when I finished the research project. What do you think I was researching? Guess in the comments! There will be a prize, probably.

This time out I made a point to include when certain characters were created X years ago this month, and mention who created them. I know I’m late to the party as Tom Spurgeon has been posting for the past month on this very topic. While there’s no doubt that all the attention given to the monumental work people like Siegel, Shuster, Lee, and Kirby contributed to the comics landscape is deserved, and their treatment by the corporate benefactors of that work has been almost universally abhorrent, it’s also important to remember that there have been hundreds if not thousands of other creators working in the trenches, putting their backs into tilling the soil upon which Marvel and DC’s fertile IP grows. They’re not getting any money for their characters showing up in movies or video games or toy lines either. The literal least we can do as Team Comics is acknowledge they did stuff that made comics we like now possible.

The #1 Comic Five Years Ago Was: Captain America#25

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March 16, 2012

New 52 Brand Management Musings, or what happens when the cat wakes up.

Filed under: Articles — Jamaal Thomas @ 12:00 pm

Six months after DC’s historic line wide relaunch, it’s become clear that the artists have taken over. The four best books from the first wave — Wonder Woman, Flash, Batman and Animal Man — all have talented writers, but with all due respect to Messrs. Azzarello, Lemire and Snyder, the art is the primary appeal. It’s all about Chiang, Manapul, Capullo and Foreman.

Quick(ish) confession: I have a troubling tendency to attribute the authorship of corporate superhero books to the writer by default, particularly when the art’s mediocre. Sure, I spend time thinking about the choices made by the pencillers, inkers, colorists (and sometimes the letterers), but tend to consider them contributors to the writer’s creative vision. It’s an easy and astonishingly lazy way to read comics, but that’s the way they seem to marketed most of the time. Still… no excuse.

The writing has only been interesting to the extent that it serves the needs of the story that the artists are telling. Batman‘s entertaining because of the contrast between Capullo’s post post Bronze Age art and Snyder’s horror/thriller inspired writing. Animal Man is great because of how Lemire’s absurdist gothic horror prose complements Travel Foreman’s body horror. I love Wonder Woman and like Brian Azzarello, but without Cliff Chiang’s spare, expressive art, the story loses some of its meaning: it goes from a gripping tale of a warrior struggling with family and identity to a pretty standard superhero book. Chiang strips the book of the artifice that’s bogged down earlier volumes while retaining the iconic quality that’s central to Wonder Woman. His action scenes are plausibly staged and brutally efficient in a way that grounds a story steeped in Greek mythology. Tony Akins does a nice job and all, but it’s an entirely different book in his hands.

The other books I’ve sampled from the first relaunch wave have been maddeningly inconsistent. The first few issues of Action Comics and Batwoman were pretty good, but painfully slow pacing, reduced page counts and questionable storytelling choices have wasted much of that early promise. Williams is growing as a writer, and Morrison still shows some flashes of brilliance, but there’s something missing from both books.

So, some thoughts on the new 52 books:

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July 26, 2010

Batman and Robin #13 – “Batman and Robin Must Die! Part 1: The Garden of Death”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 10:14 am
Brief Bloom.

Brief Bloom.

Batman and Robin continues, beginning the “Batman and Robin Must Die!” arc, which Morrison has stated is “R.I.P. as farce.” Each issue is named after a classic gothic painting; this one is “The Garden of Death” by Hugo Simberg, pictured above. Many shots and events in this book are deliberate evocations of events in “R.I.P.”, so I recommend a rereading before engaging in any close analysis of this story.

And, as usual, the links to my other annotations:

Stuff here (original Batman run, current Batman and Robin)

Stuff at Comics Alliance (Return of Bruce Wayne #1, #2, #3; Batman #700)
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July 25, 2010

Avenging the Week – San Diego Special

Filed under: Avenging the Week — Jamaal Thomas @ 5:50 pm

So, another San Diego Comic Con’s come and gone, filled with tantalizing news and previews of the comic books, films, television shows and videogames that we will all discuss during the coming year. I’m here to provide you with a guide to some of the more interesting announcements and previews buried in the four day flood of information.

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May 17, 2010

Batmannotations: Batman and Robin #10-12 – “Batman vs. Robin”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 8:54 pm

For those of you who missed it, I already annotated Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 over at Comics Alliance. You’ll continue to find those annotations there, while Batman and Robin will remain here.

It’s been a while and there’ s a lot to talk about, so let’s get into it.
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March 15, 2010

Batman and Robin #s 8 and 9 – “Blackest Knight” Parts 2 and 3: “Batman vs. Batman” and “Broken”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 2:56 pm
Batman and Robin #8

Batman and Robin #8
Batman and Robin #9

Batman and Robin #9

After the extensive infodump of last issue, these two issues are FAR more streamlined as we ramp up to “Batman vs. Batman” and the return of Bruce Wayne. In this installment: The Bug Black Voice of Gotham City! The Bible of Crime! And… Batwoman! Come back soon for Batman and Robin #10, and a look into the Wayne family’s lineage, but until then let’s see what further clues we can divine from “Blackest Knight.”

Additionally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the superb amypoodle at the always-sublime Mindless Ones, who put together an insanely compelling counter-theory to mine about Simon Hurt. It’s great stuff, and you should really check it out, as I’ll certainly be keeping it in mind in the months ahead.
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January 15, 2010

Final Crisis Annotations Epilogue: The Hardcover

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , — David Uzumeri @ 2:13 pm

Yeah, this is incredibly anal, but after the ridiculous amount of time I spent studying this book, I’d be remiss not to cap this off with a look at the collected edition.

But first, since I don’t think I’ve ever linked them at once like this: here are all of the original annotations/articles I wrote upon the book’s initial release.
Final Crisis #1
Final Crisis #2
Final Crisis #3
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1
Final Crisis #4
Final Crisis #5
Final Crisis #6
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond – On Mandrakk
Final Crisis #7

So: a catalogue of, as far as I can tell, every single change made to Final Crisis from single issue to collected edition. A lot of them are pretty interesting, and clear up stuff that I remember myself or other annotators pointing out. I’ve bolded the ones that are major, or of special interest (the one about the Anthro painting being in Gotham rather than NYC has rather interesting potential repercussions for the Return of Bruce Wayne storyline).
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June 3, 2009

Batman and Robin #1 – “Batman Reborn Part 1: Domino Effect”

Batman and Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1

And we’re back after those messages! Finally, the main narrative line of the Batman books returns with Grant Morrison at the wheel aided by the ever-incredible Frank Quitely. And, in an all-new team-up, Alex Sinclair on colors, which leads to such interesting effects as the sky behind Wayne Tower looking like a badly compressed .GIF. While this issue is significantly more straightforward than the past few issues of Morrison’s Batman run, I have no doubt that things will get complex and trippy eventually, and until then it’s probably best to keep up continuity with these annotations, no? Besides, they’re fun.
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February 10, 2009

The Banality of Evil

Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Titus Andronicus is a play so nasty that some scholars question whether the Bard could have lowered himself to write such venom. But it’s still pretty awesome, and Aaron is undoubtedly a Bad Dude. His hardcore BADNESS is exciting, almost refreshing when set amongst all of the more nuanced characters that populate Shakespeare’s other plays. But just like the kid who decides he would love to eat nothing but Fluffernutter, or the first man to edit together an All-Climax porno tape, the creative minds at DC have decided that it would be awesome if every antagonist in their comics were as evil and crazy as Aaron (or more likely the Joker).

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January 28, 2009

Final Crisis #7 – “New Heaven, New Earth”

Final Crisis #7

Final Crisis #7

Not much preamble to make here – it’s the last issue, I enjoyed it a lot, a lot of people probably think it’s confusing drivel. Maybe I can help you out.
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