This week's installment of talking 'bout comics has been pre-empted by an interview with Joe McCulloch, of Jog The Blog. In the interest of maintaining Sunday's normal focus, this introductory portion is a brief look at some of last week's best-selling direct market super-hero comics, which eventually becomes an odd conversation about super-hero event comics from last year. The upcoming installment will contain a discussion of Joe's recommendations from the past week.
Joe McCullouch: Okay.
FO: What'd you think?
Jog: I haven't read it.
FO: Oh. Well, okay. What about Blackest Night Flash?
Jog: I haven't read it.
FO: Okay. Thor number 604! Keiron Gillen's first issue!
Jog: That's true. I haven't read it.
FO: Siege The Cabal number 1! Finally Siege has begun! Here we go, what'd you think of Siege number one, that's Brian Michael BENDIS and Michael Lark on art, what'd you think?
Jog: That is accurate. I haven't read it.
Jog: What issue is this, if you count the prior Ultimate Spider-Man series?
FO: Well, you have to count Ultimatum Requiem, there's two issues of that. And the previous series had 133 issues. So that would make this issue 140.
Jog: That's impressive. I haven't read it.
FO: Blackest Night Wonder Woman, this one was pretty controversial.
Jog: Is this the one where the Unknown Soldier comes back?
FO: Yes, he comes back, along with a bunch of military dudes from the graves Arlington National.
Jog: Does anyone recognize him?
Jog: He should be unknown.
FO: No one recognizes him.
Jog: Well, good. I'd heard about that. I haven't read it.
Jog: No, I haven't read it.
FO: But it's Chris Bachalo.
Jog: That's true, but I haven't read it.
FO: Well, what about Deadpool number 898? What about that? It's called "Bring Me The Head Of MIckey Dobbs." That's a Sam Peckinpah joke.
Jog: That's good. I have seen Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. I haven't read this comic though.
FO: Alright goddammit. Marvel Project number 4, you had to have read that.
Jog: Ah, the Golden Age people?
Jog: I haven't read it.
FO: Haunt number 3?
Jog: I haven't read it.
Jog: I haven't--wait, fuck, I have read that.
FO: Okay, that one was pretty strong. I get the feeling you think it needed to be funnier, by that face you're making.
Jog: Well, it's kind of a one joke comic, don't you think? Frenchie is telling his origin story, and while it's a decent enough one joke, with him giving his secret origin--which is completely ridiculous, it makes no sense--and it's based entirely on half-remembered cliches. The purpose, at the end of the issue, is that his origin doesn't make sense, that it doesn't really matter. What matters is the present, what he's doing NOW.
FO: Which is jumping out of the window to go fight more people.
Jog: Yes, and that's part of The Boys theme. Whatever good intentions people might have--people like Mother's Milk, who have good intentions--are getting a bit weary with what Butcher is doing. Frenchie is the opposite side of the coin, becuase he doesn't really think about anything. And if he does think about something, it's nonsensical and ridiculous, because what really matters is what he's doing right now. Which is beating the shit out of people, without a thought in the world. Except for his thoughts about the female, whose origin is in the next issue.
FO: That one will have an Alien reference.
Jog: Yes, it's a poster. I do like it when comics remind me of other things.
FO: I like it too. Especially when it's other genre things.
Jog: I start to cry when I read comics, so I like it when they're more like movies.
FO: That's always been my biggest complaint with comics, that they aren't enough like movies.
Jog: They should call it the director's cut.
FO: They should have commentaries.
Jog: Someone did a commentary on an AIT Planet Lair comic book. Mantooth? Was it Mantooth?
FO: I don't know. Didn't Grant Morrison do that for the sketch variant of Final Crisis?
Jog: He annotated it in the back.
FO: That's not the same as a commentary though. I want one that's more like when VH1 used to put thought bubbles on music videos.
Jog: Yeah. Press the writer's thoughts on with stickers.
FO: Just about anything film does should be imitated in comics as often as possible.
Jog: Absolutely! If they can get these fucking things to move, then we've got it. If they could literally move in front of my eyes, like Tom Hanks in Big.
FO: Not on a youtube type site though, I'm not interested in motion comics. I'm interested in a paper product that has motion.
Jog: Exactly. I could then press my face against it, because it's mysterious.
FO: Like a pop up book, but more kinetic.
Jog: Let's not edit any of that last part.
FO: Nova 32! A Realm of Kings issue!
Jog: Let me check. No, I haven't read it.
FO: X-Force Annual 1.
Jog: I haven't read it.
FO: Neither have I.
FO: It's called Blood Brothers. We could read it.
Jog: I read the first issue of that.
FO: You did? I thought you bailed on that.
Jog: No, I looked at it. It was okay. I liked that his art style fits in with the stereotypical Vertigo color scheme. Like, "Finally! We've got a dude who really writes a lot of comics set in rural-ish areas, something really in tune with nature! We can just go crazy with grass and mud!"
I think Jeff Lemire does offer Vertigo something of a valuable perspective, because--at risk of getting stereotypical--he doesn't have a very Vertigo-poppish thing going on. He's not American, right?
FO: He's Canadian.
Jog: Right. He's got a subdued style, where the natural world is interacting with weird stuff. His art is delicate in a way, with the way things like twigs are arranged juxtaposed with unnatural scenes--I just think it's worthwhile that Vertigo has something with that perspective. Unfortunately, I can't say I've liked any of his work from Vertigo so far. The Nobody was a Vertigo traditional, a re-working of old stories. I thought it wasn't a very deep book, and while it had some nice bits with the art and some nice passages, a lot of it was too on the nose for me. Sweet Tooth didn't really capture my attention either.
FO: I've read the first three issues. I'd guess my complaint is that too little happens in it. I realize that's a shallow complaint a lot of people have, the "decompression" aspect, that a minute is expanded to an entire comic. With Sweet Tooth, it struck me as something that could only work in a collected format, it just has so little occurring that it's almost intolerable in serialized chunks. But maybe it's the character's eyes that just kill me. Something about them, the way there's so plaintive and open, it's just too dopey. I'd like to hit him.
Jog: Here's something. I read the first issue of Blackest Night, and that's as far as I read on that. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that, because you're following it, and I'm not. Because...it's funny. With Blackest Night, it's almost like The Boys, in a very basic way. You've got the dead super-hero characters, coming back as these weird debauched versions of themselves, doing nothing but harming the present.
It's another in a line of DC events that's About Other DC Events, which is part of the weird thing about super-hero comics. They run so much on verisimilitude, with these focusing events that pull everyone's attention into the ongoing universe. All the money is made from that attention, with things like Siege coming up, Blackest Night right now, etc, etc. There's this desire for the reader to "peek" into the universe, to see what's going on, but at the same time, you can't really live in that universe. It's all these characters going through these horrible trials. Don't you think that the DC Universe would be an absolute hell to live in?
FO: Sure. Anytime that they try to take a step back and look at those places in any manner of impact-on-life, the problem becomes that the only thing that matters in those stories is the super-heroes. It's a constant hell for everybody. In the case of something as action-heavy as Sinestro Corps, the previous Green Lantern thing, it worked because there was a huge base of cannon fodder to draw on, but it was cannon fodder with personalities, histories. In that case, you have a group of space marines with names, it can matter when they die, when they fail. Marvel kills nameless children, and it can only work as an ideal. It's a hell to live there, but there's only non-super hero people "living" there when it's necessary to get some bodies on the floor. There's an implication that humanity matters within these stories, but you only see them in a body count, you only hear them mentioned in speeches.
Jog: That's part of the problem, in that the contemporary world of super-hero comics attempts to establish that it's a world that can be lived in. It's a world that goes on, but it constantly diminishes the human who isn't a godlike being, and there's a lot of existential troubles in that. Think about Final Crisis, but not as a metaphor, or even as a literary unit, because the shared universe has diminished the literary quality in these things. They rely so much on a continuing world. Just think, "what did Final Crisis do?" It changed the whole world, kind of brought the world back in the end, and I imagine you could see that one of the problems with it is that it wasn't even clear what it did to the world in the end. If you look at the Joe Casey book Dance, you can see that one thing it did was that Japan got totally fucking flattened.
FO: Otherwise, it's got non-existent results. Remember those moments in Final Crisis where they would show what happened? Run, or whatever it was called, with the civilians living under ground, hiding from everybody, hiding from Wonder Woman's dog armies. You've never heard about that since, and yet it was depicted as a hell on earth, an apocalyptic portrayal straight out of Kirby's 4th World.
Jog: Because it's a citation, it's a citation of an earlier work. But as it does that, the structure of contemporary super-hero comics demands it be something that continues, something that goes on past Morrison or Johns, something that continues on its own. You're being pulled in, but you have to stand back a bit, because the true experience of what's being depicted is completely horrible for any person.
FO: Which leads you to that lack of acknowledgement for whatever it was that happened in the series, a problem that Marvel doesn't seem to be facing, because Marvel acknowledges the stories they've previously told. This led to that, whereas Final Crisis was massive, unending horror, cities and lives uprooted and destroyed, and no real line of that has continued. Superman, flying past annihilation to pick up Batman's dead body--and he's completely surrounded by a flaming hell, a city destroyed.
Jog: Let's not misinterpret things. I do think that something like Final Crisis is a "better" comic than something like Secret Invasion. But is it a better super-hero comic, in the way that super-hero comics are expected to behave? It would seem that Marvel has the verisimilitude going much stronger, they keep people hooked, they make more money, they behave the way people prefer these stories to behave. I think Grant Morrison is aware of this, because when you look at something like the end of JLA--everyone becomes a super-hero, for a little while. At the end of X-Men, humanity is evolving into mutants. At the end of Grant Morrison's timeline, everybody gets to be a super-hero, because I think he recognizes that these stories diminish the human element, and in order to respond to that, we all have to become something godlike.
Which doesn't answer to Blackest Night, where even being a super-hero doesn't change that everything would be a fucking hell to live through.
FO: Why did you read Blackest Night?
Jog: I just figured I should look at it. I may not have read a lot of super-hero comics this week, but I do try and keep up with what's "going on" in super-hero comics. I hear people say "ahh, Geoff Johns, he ain't that bad!" I see super-heroes coming in and doing gory things, and I like gory things. Hell, I love expressions of violence in super-hero comics, so sure, I'll check it out. And I guess it's alright? The thing is...they're always talking about stuff, like there's this idea that they have to fill people in with "what's going on" in the DC universe, and there's lots and lots of discussing the sadness of the past. It's all so downbeat. And that's alright, the dead are gonna rise, and that's the dominant motif of the story. I just didn't feel like continuing on with it, it didn't grab me in that way.
FO: You want to talk about something that excites you a bit more than this stuff?
Jog: Everything excites me.
FO: I'll take that as a yes.
-to be continued