Month: March 2004

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Some People in Your Neighborhood

(Soundtrack: Pixies–Surfer Rosa)


Well, it looks like I’ll be re-entering the world of comic book reserves this spring, in a very minor way, of course:

I’m bound and determined to read Seaguy as soon as possible, and now I’m convinced that I should give this new Mary Jane series a try too! (link via Kevin Melrose). I doubt it will live up to my expectations, but who knows? M-J is one of my favourite Marvel characters–her role in the Gwen Stacy clone affair is the key to my lifelong obsession with Gerry Conway’s Amazing Spider-Man #121-149… People bash Conway all the time (I do it myself fairly often), but I think that his work on the Peter-MJ relationship in those issues was extraordinary! Everything between them is so vague, undeclared…you look away for a second and all of sudden “what? she’s got a key to his apartment?” As far as I’m concerned, that final scene of ASM #122 (drawn by Gil Kane) is the real comics landmark from that period, not the deaths of Gwen & the Goblin. Much more on this soon!


I really like Mike Norton’s current state of the medium address:

My view is that there’s nothing in the least unusual or particularly damning about the current (comics) situation, where many aspiring talents have tripped to the idea that in a very real way the independent comics market has become the farm team from which the mainstream publishers draw new talent. If an artist or writer’s aspiration is to work on Batman or Spider-man, I see no shame in that. If an artist or writer responds to “the call” as a means to establishing a broader name for himself, making more money from a one-year contract than he likely would have made in ten of working on an exclusively creator-owned, small press title, (presuming it wasn’t simply a money pit) looking forward to when he has the financial resources to return to his dream, I don’t see any shame in that either. A nice example of that is Erik Larsen, who worked on Marvel’s comics for some years and then was able to get out into the marketplace in a more independent fashion, where he was able to bring out Savage Dragon, a character and series that is plainly very dear to him.



I suppose we have different idealized futures for the comics industry. Jamie Rich has the view that the worker’s paradise, where all is owned by the creators and subject solely to their whim, is what the industry should be aspiring to. While I would like to see that end of things flourish, I would be lying if I were to say that I wanted to see the end of corporately-owned comics universes. The notion of what the 1960s comics scene would have been like with creator ownership and control… my fondest comics of the 60’s and 70’s wouldn’t have happened. I saw what gyrations and, frankly, decline Jack Kirby’s work went into as he “evolved”, and the notion that Thor, the Fantastic Four, etc. might have been subject to his vision over all the subsequent years doesn’t appeal to me.



What’s all of the hoopla about? Why, this, of course, courtesy of Jamie Rich:

Oh…what’s that? I can feel the rumbling now. I am a superhero hater. I obviously don’t get it. I hate the direct market. I don’t understand.

No, you’re wrong, I do understand. I understand that there are a lot of people in this industry–fans, retailers, creators, publishers–who see the full potential for the industry, for the art, and who want more. It’s like the old Smiths song–these comics say nothing to me about my life. And when you consider the return of He-Man, the X-Men putting back on their colorful costumes, or Claremont and Byrne doing JLA to be a progressive move, I’d counter that it’s you who don’t get it. This is why the real world writes comics off as trash, because that’s all we expect from ourselves.



Do me a favor, and turn a blind eye to the palaver. Next time the Big Two return a hero to the racks who wasn’t successful the first time, say no. Instead, pick an indie comic. Buy a copy of Street Angel or the latest volume of Fruits Basket or any of the fine publications Oni offers. If you can’t get away from the DC/Marvel section, then at least go for Judd Winick’s Caper or Brian Bendis’ The Pulse, books with some vision, books that are breaking rank and giving us more. Which is all I want, which is all that it takes to make me an elitist. I demand more.

As I’ve opined before, in “conversation” with similar folks on The Comics Journal Messageboard: trust me Jamie, you’re not an elitist. Elitists don’t whine.

H, at The Comic Treadmill is back with more Levitz/Giffen/Wood All-Star goodness! Don’t miss it pilgrim!


Eve Tushnet has a very good piece up about the core values of American literature, and I agree with her completely (except her characterization of Emerson as “Diet Caffeine-Free Nietzsche”, but I’ll forgive her… Lord knows, I’ve made enough references to her philosopher of choice as a cranky New-Ager in this space…):

The national literature that most resembles American lit is not British but Russian. Violent, high-lonesome, and fiercely either for or against God (but not indifferent).

Forget about Emerson–the most important question now is: What do you think of Hawthorne, Eve?


And back to The Doom Patrolhere’s a little piece that examines Borges’ influence upon Morrison’s aesthetic. Time for me to read some Borges, I think! More “Crawling From the Wreckage” later!

Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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“Why is there something instead of nothing?”; or, Why did the Idea Cross The Void?; or then again, maybe just: Synchronic Apocalypse

(Soundtrack: Bobby Fuller–El Paso Rock, Volume One)

Creativity is a fascinating thing, no? Where do ideas come from? And how do they get here? (that little, flawed, intersubjective realm we call the “waking world”, I mean) Personally, I think this a far more interesting question than the one that has sidetracked western thought since about 400 BC: who had the first idea? You know–this week on A&E’s Platonic Investigations: the “Unmoved Mover” revealed!! (does anyone know if any bright transportation company has snatched up this Aristotelian monicker? “We’ll get you there America. Nothin’ gets to us!”)

Grant Morrison’s “Crawling From The Wreckage” is a stunning assault upon the ontological project (which is viewed as a “man made crisis founded upon human logical processes”)–stunning because it lays waste to western metaphysics without succumbing to the kind of cynicism/goofing around that you have to deal with in similarly-motivated twentieth-century philosophers like Heidegger or Derrida. This is why I think of Morrison as a descendant of Emerson: he channels all of his willpower into upholding the premise that there is something instead of nothing, while admitting that there’s no way we’re ever gonna get a clear fix on what that something is. It’s just the “Not Me”, and that’s enough. That’s my problem with Nietzsche (and “empowerment theorists” in general)–he thought Emerson was talking about the “Me”, when, in actuality, he was talking about everything but.


Okay, getting back to creativity. It’s a disease man! And narrative creation is by far the severest strain… The “villain” in “Crawling From the Wreckage” is a fictional construct, called Orqwith, which threatens to engulf the world. Morrison tells us:

Walk a hundred miles, a thousand miles, in any direction, and you will still be in Orqwith. The city has spread like ripples in a pond from one central point–the Quadrivium–which is itself the terrestrial image of the God at the Crossroads. And in the center of the Quadrivium stands the Ossuary, the great Cathedral of Orqwith(DP #22, 1).

The “cathedral of bone” is human memory. All storytelling is an attempt to assemble the fossilized remains of past experiences into a thing that makes sense to the narrator. And so we’re back to the problem of making something out of nothing… Echoes out of the void? Rose is surely right to argue that we tell stories (even if it’s only to ourselves) in order to prove that “the Me” exists; however, that same process poses a constant threat to the “Not Me”, and it’s important to remain aware of this fact. The point at which we find ourselves saying, “ah ha! So that’s why that happened”, is ground zero…and every nod of the head sends another shock wave through the world. The perfect work of art qua work of art would account for everything, stop time, and devour our communal reality. That’s what Orqwith threatens to do. A little later on in the Doom Patrol series, we’ll get to “The Painting That Ate Paris”, an even more successful product of the visionary impulse.



Gotta go! But I’m not done with this series, despite the sad fact that I’m missing far too many issues to perform the kind of analysis that I would like to…Ah well, someday!


Oh yes, one final noteRose and Steven have picked up The Blithedale Romance. I can’t wait to hear what they think!


Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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“Curdle Your Pilgrimage”

(Soundtrack: Frank Black–Teenager of the Year)

I just re-read “Crawling From the Wreckage”, phase one of Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s revamp of the Doom Patrol, from issues #19-22 of the series… Suffice it to say: if there weren’t huge gaps in my collection (where is #26? How about #29? I just don’t know man!), I wouldn’t be here at the keyboard right now…


I also took another look at blogospheroid Marc Singer’s conference paper: “On Byron Shelley and Crazy Jane: Romanticism and Modernity in the Comics of Grant Morrison”, which, in addition to presenting some interesting ideas about the DP that you ought to read, advances the notion that Modernism and Romanticism are, in a way, complementary aesthetics, and I’m 100% behind that kind of talk!

But let’s crawl back into the wreckage for a sec hunh?

The Doom Patrol, circa early 1989, was an awful mess! (and thanks to John Byrne, I’m sure it will be again soon!) I like Paul Kupperberg, but the man succumbed to Claremontian angst-demons in DP #1-18, and once that happens friends, the victim cannot help himself. There’s nothing to do but call for the exorcist.


Fortunately, DC had one under contract.

Most of Kupperberg’s overwrought zombies were laid to rest in issue #18–an Invasion tie-in for chrissakes!–and this cleared the operating table for a stab at the eerie core of experience that those crocodile tears had drowned out.


Morrison begins his tenure with a postcard from within the mind of Cliff Steele, a (Robot)man on the edge, if ever there was one. The first page of issue #19 is so reminiscent of Miller’s opening to The Dark Knight. Nightmare vision/memory of a man in a speeding racecar on a collision course with death. Simonsonian artwork. Catastrophe averted (sort of!) at the last minute. In DKR, the protagonist controls the narrative–he decides that this death isn’t “good enough” and goes home to drink instead… Cliff isn’t so lucky–or, rather, Cliff isn’t in charge. The crash comes, as it must; however, Morrison “saves the beautiful bit” of his protagonist. His brain.

In just one page, we’ve cut to the heart of what superhero comics (like all romance narratives) are about: how does a mind, trapped in a body it never made, relate to the world? Morrison doesn’t give us any answers. Narrative was born to scratch this epistemological itch, and God help you if it ever subsides!


Dirk Deppey is talking out of his ass when he claims that superhero comics are “repressed” (unlike “cool”, “liberated” porn); but he’s close to being right about one thing, while superhero comics aren’t asexual, they are presexual. You have to get partway out of your own head before you can actually have meaningful sex… It isn’t easy to crawl from the “wreckage” of an inescapable subjectivity. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible. But of course that struggle is what life’s all about. As soon as you give up on trying to find something real outside of yourself, you might as well be dead–you might as well be watching porn 24-7.

So Cliff wakes up screaming, encased in his metal shell.


“Dreaming about our accident again, are we?” a nurse asks. “That’s what happens…when we refuse to take our medication.”


Emerson wrote in Experience: “It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man.” That’s the “accident” that Morrison is referring to here…


Cliff, “Rebis”, “Crazy Jane”–these are archetypal romance characters. By necessity, they spend more time fighting themselves (not, as in Claremont’s soap opera world, each other) than their enemies… It’s not easy to calibrate your senses to reality–you have to make adjustments constantly.. Get complacent and that beautiful metaphorical swirl of otherness will reify into a silicone breast-pumpkin in two seconds flat.

Is life a pilgrimmage without a destination? The scissormen are onto something! Every stopping point is a curdling of the human spirit.


More of this madness later!

Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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“We fit together like a gun and ammunition”





Christine & I watched Gun Crazy, among other things, tonight. I’ve been hearing about this one for a good long time and it didn’t disappoint. It reminded me of Borzage’s
Moonrise (one of my absolute favourites): very few films capture the sheer terror of presiding over a less powerful being’s fate this well… In Moonrise, it’s a raccoon in a tree, shaken loose for the dogs; in GC it’s a fuzzy baby chicken killed with a bb gun… and there are echoes of this nightmarish power all through the film. These aren’t your typical “frightened killers” on the run. They’re frightened alright, but mostly they’re frightened of their own superior firepower…


But this isn’t Natural Born Killers either… Nor is it some bland argument in favour of gun control! More than anything, this is a brilliant dramatization of how badly things can deteriorate for two people, once they decide that they can “live for love alone” and opt out of the social contract. These monsters are not “products of their environment”: they choose their fate…


“Didn’t you realize that once we started this, we’d never be able to turn to anyone for help again?” Dall asks Cummins. She knows.

Cummins is amazing in this role. I don’t even think she qualifies as a femme fatale really… That term usually applies to a money-grubbing jerk who tantalizes the male protagonist into compromising his integrity. In some ways, she does have this effect on Dall, but it’s a lot more complicated than that… This isn’t Phyllis Dietrichson & Walter Neff. Barbara Stanwyck is my favourite actress, bar none, but Double Indemnity? That’s gotta be one of the worst things she ever did. It’s not her fault. It’s Billy Wilder’s. He liked his women venal or pixiesh… Either way–they’re just there to affect the men. I hate Billy Wilder. I really do. If you’re looking for a Stanwyck character to compare Cummins to, try her eponymous turn in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers on for size. There are a lot of similarities. Both women are extraordinarily competent, and that’s what makes them appealing. They aren’t moral black holes sucking the men to their doom–they’re Nietzschean supernovae of desire. Cummins isn’t trying to fool Dall into getting stuff for her. She wants a partner in crime. Someone to keep her company while she does what she does (& loves) best. Shoot people. Dall is a lot more squeamish than that, but he can’t keep away from her. “I let you do my killing for me,” he says.


It’s true.


They aren’t two people anymore. They’re one. And it turns out that romantic fusion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact it’s crazy.


Good night friends!
Dave

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Speaking of Martians


Look, I like Dirk Deppey. I think he’s an interesting guy and I loved Journalista… But obviously we don’t agree on much. I mean, what the hell is this?


Finally, pornography is inherently cooler than superheroes to just about everyone who isn’t a sexphobic puritan or a hopeless nerd. This is why the porn industry rakes in billions of dollars worldwide, and Marvel Comics doesn’t. Porn rules. Sorry to burst your bubble, there.

Just a few things Dirk.

1. The Puritans were not “sexophobic”–this particular distortion of American history is a construction of the late H.L. Mencken (who had reasons for putting it into circulation in the 1920’s that needn’t concern us at this late date). The term “Puritan” refers to the Calvinist desire to purify Anglicanism of its outmoded High Church rituals–not to any prudishness on the part of the movement’s proponents! Puritanism was about facing the naked facts of existence dead on, without any of the comfortable buffers that a peasant’s religion like Catholicism traditionally provided its adherents.

2.Are we using sales figures as an indicator of what’s “cool” now? If so, then how “uncool” is Fantagraphics?

3.Finally, maybe I’m wrong, but I would guess that the porn industry gets more than its fair share of “hopeless nerd” money. Maybe even more than Marvel does. What do the rest of you think?


Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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“Get Youah Azz To Mahz”

(Soundtrack: Silverchair–Frogstomp)

(update!: Steven’s Mars Experience continues here–I think it’s pretty clear that they rolled out the full red planet carpet for our Ontarian friend! He even got to hear about the robots…)

I’m deeply grateful to Steven Wintle for recalling me to my sacred duty as the (self-appointed) High Priest of Mars. Steven’s post cuts straight to the molten core of this otherwordly store’s appeal:

Mars is by far the shabbiest, dirtiest, most disgusting retail store I have ever set foot in. I’ve visited many dozens of comic shops in at least eight countries, and nothing can compare. This is a comic activist’s worst nightmare, the kind of ill-lit, moldy, uncomfortable basement ghetto that frightens anyone with the least bit of sense.



To hell with them. Me, I love a junk shop. If no one else is brave enough to dig underneath damp cardboard boxes full of hundreds of issues of Vigilante #28 to get to a digest copy of Superman Battles His Weirdest Foes, well, like the song says, if you don’t like it, you go home.

That’s it exactly.

Mars is the Courtney Love of retailers. There’s an awful lot there to cherish if you can get past the fact that they don’t give a fuck about your needs… Which doesn’t mean that they aren’t friendly. The guy that looks like Ozzy Osbourne will talk your ear off, believe me–he’s just not gonna tell you anything helpful, that’s all. Mars is the place where “customer service” meets ontological doubt–no way is Ozzy gonna waste his time catering to an acid flashback. He’s been fooled too many times before, you know?

I’ve been patronizing the store (in more ways than one) since about 1987. Back then it was on the second floor of a crusty building next to The Bay, facing Phillips Square, just upstairs from a porn theatre, which the Mars guys used to run (and talk about, behind the cash). The place was slightly better organized in those days. I’m not saying that they actually respected the alphabet or anything, or that you weren’t gonna find a crunched up centerfold of a transexual mixed in with the All-Star Comics, but they did seem more dedicated to maintaining a policy of free access to the merchandise.

This is no longer the case.

I really respect these guys. It’s like they’re saying: “look dude, this is the store, you want something, get in there and fight for it, I’ve got better things to do than make it all nice for you… so everytime I get a new box full of glut-era comics from some warehouse, I’m just gonna toss it on top of the bins. Sure, it’s not ideal, but we ran out of space underneath the bins a long time ago, and now there’s no choice–we’re gonna pile that shit to the ceiling, see?”

Believe me–I plan to be there when that ten millionth copy of Nth Man hits the roof. What’s that Bear & Marigold?: “Have a liquidation sale?”… No way man! Mars is a lot of things, but cut-rate ain’t one of ’em. Our comics may be in worse shape than a pediatrician’s reading room copies, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t gonna charge top dollar for ’em! “Delusional?” Fuck, what’s your point man?

They don’t price comics at Mars. Ozzy waits for you, spiderlike, at the cash, in his market guide web. He takes a look at what you’ve selected, consults Bob Overstreet’s mint guess, adds 40% for the exchange rate, and writes an outrageous number in black marker on the plastic bag.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the time I tried to purchase a copy of Showcase #97 (featuring Power Girl) that someone had evidently killed a lot of flies with back in the late seventies… Ozzy went through his routine, gasped, and said: “Fuck man, Power Girl is hot! Gonna have to ask ya for twenty bucks for that one!”

I directed his attention to the section of the guide that concerns grading. “See where they say that a mint copy is ‘near perfect in every way’?” I pleaded, “this book isn’t like that. In fact, I’m fairly certain that it’s been ejaculated upon. See this stain here?” “Okay, okay man,” he nodded, “ten bucks.”

I only had five. And I would’ve paid it too. But the man stood firm. That’s integrity.

Gotta get ready for work (and a breaktime trip to Mars natch!)…

There will be more of this over the weekend though–I don’t know how I’ll ever find the strength to stop! I hope you’re happy Steven!

Good afternoon friends!
Dave