Are you sitting down? Good.

May 31, 2005

Because DC has done something shocking… something entirely out of character, and the fainter hearts in the audience may need to prepare themselves.

They’ve issued a press release about their CMX titles (found via Love Manga). Even more shocking is the fact that the press release announces a promotional effort for their CMX titles. They’ve put together a sampler of titles for retailers to share with shoppers who are fans of titles for mature readers.

I go away for a week and the world turns upside-down. I don’t know if DC’s daring gambit will actually work, but it’s got to beat deafening silence as marketing maneuvers go.

Oh, and speaking of CMX titles with mature content, the Tenjho Tenge flap gets covered in The Comics Journal 268. It’s a pretty solid overview of the situation, and it’s strangely comforting that DC won’t even talk to TCJ about it. I do wonder about characterizing all of the people objecting to DC’s handling of the property as “otaku.” You don’t really need to be a manga maniac to raise your eyebrows at censorship, inept marketing, and questionable application of content ratings. (I would just love it if the upcoming CMX preview had “As featured in The Comics Journal!” printed on the cover.)

In another corner of manga’s sexually charged public education system, I look at one of Digital Manga’s yaoi titles in this week’s Flipped.

Garfield and friends

May 30, 2005

I never would have expected to come back from vacation fascinated by the untimely death of the 20th president of the United States. You can blame Sarah Vowell and Rick Geary.

Vowell started the ball rolling with her very readable survey of presidential murder, Assassination Vacation (Simon and Schuster). In it, she explores the quirkier backwaters and oddly human moments surrounding the deaths of James Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, and William McKinley.

She hooks me into her nerdish obsessions (history, cultural, political, and personal) by falling in love with one of mine (musical theatre). The book opens with an evening at the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins, which is a very different survey (with singing!) of the people who thought it would be a good idea to shoot America’s chief executive. Later, she takes in a performance of 1776 at the Ford Theatre.

Throughout the book, Vowell drags friends and family along to various pivotal and not-so-pivotal sites in her tour of presidential death: a utopian free-love community in New York State, a godforsaken prison fort in the Gulf of Mexico, monuments national and local, and so on. She mixes and mingles with others who share her fascination with these turning points – curator of a collection of grisly medical memorabilia, the descendants of a doctor accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth, the citizens of the seaside town where Garfield died. She has a wonderfully effective and affectionate way of introducing the subculture of history fanboys and girls.

But Vowell wouldn’t be Vowell if her fascination with past presidents didn’t occasionally give way to her anger with the current occupant of the White House. These moments are a bit jarring, and understandably so. She doesn’t have the benefit of 100 years distance between herself and George W. Bush. It’s a tricky balance, and she doesn’t always maintain it, but I can’t really criticize her for an excess of political passion. (Of course, my beliefs align with hers almost perfectly.)

Having grown up in Ohio, you’d think I’d have been subjected to more Garfield factoids in school. But I was in Cincinnati, and we had the almost entirely uninspiring William Howard Taft as our hometown president. I feel strangely cheated, as Garfield is much more interesting in his decency, intelligence, and oddly subdued political courage. Charles Guiteau, the man who killed him, is another thing altogether, a fascinating, almost comic con man and nut job.

I brought Assassination Vacation with me and read it in a couple of sittings at Zion. I found Geary’s The Fatal Bullet from his series, A Treasury of Victorian Murder (NBM), at Alternate Reality Comics in Las Vegas. I’d heard of the series before and had been looking for The Beast of Chicago, his survey of the murderous career of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. I had no idea he’d taken on the Garfield story and snatched it up, along with Beast and The Borden Tragedy. (I love a well-stocked comic shop.)

Geary’s books are terrific, fact-filled, wonderfully drawn, and driven by a perfectly deadpan writing style. He captures the voice of a Victorian potboiler, but he infuses it with sly, morbid humor. His style is delightful.

At the same time, he captures very human moments of pathos – Garfield’s reluctant entry into presidential politics, his post-shooting suffering, and the grief that followed his death. Guiteau is an irresistible figure, too – egomaniacal, crafty, and deeply disturbed. Geary does a fine job outlining the startling similarities between the backgrounds of the two men and their very different outcomes.

It was a lot of fun seeing the same story told in very different ways. Vowell’s personal, anecdotal approach sits very nicely next to Geary’s highly stylish, meticulously researched telling. Either would have left me wanting to know more about Garfield and Guiteau, and together, they have me wishing the library wasn’t closed for Memorial Day.

At least I spared you the slides

May 28, 2005

I thought spending most of a week without television or Internet access would make me lose my mind, but it was actually very nice. It helped being someplace insanely beautiful with plenty to do.

We spent the bulk of the trip at Zion National Park in southern Utah. We’d picked it at random as a destination on a previous vacation and just fell in love with it. It’s kind of like the reverse of the Grand Canyon where you spend your time at the bottom looking up. For an acrophobic like me, that’s a real advantage. (It also seemed to be Zion Pride Week, with an unusually large number of gay and lesbian couples wandering around.)

It doesn’t seem that big, but there’s an amazing variety of little micro-climates in the park, which makes for a whole bunch of very different hiking experiences. They range from very easy, like a paved walk along the Virgin River, to the strenuous and terrifying, like Angel’s Landing. (I’ve never made it to the top. It involves mountain goat paths and a chain in case you panic and fall, which I would.)

We spent a day over in the western part of the park, Kolob Canyons, and did the Taylor Creek Trail, which was long, sloppy, and totally worth it. Most of the time was spent on trails in the central part of the park, hiking, reading, and just gaping at the amazing views. We passed on Angel’s Landing this time around, but we did try a little-used trail in the eastern part of the park that had great views of the Checkerboard Mesa and a really pretty waterfall.

For a small town in rural Utah, Springdale has some pretty amazing food. If you’re ever there, you should really go to the Bit and Spur at least once. It’s got a sort of fusion Mexican menu, and just about everything is good. Be warned that desserts, while delicious, are humiliatingly large. People will stare.

Like many parks, Zion has adopted a shuttle system to reduce the pollution in more sensitive areas. It’s a really efficient system, and it’s had some interesting side effects. Apparently, the mountain lion population has staged something of a comeback since the traffic was restricted, or at least they’re more active. That means there are fewer deer, which looked much more robust on the few occasions when we saw one. The turkeys are still in good shape, and it was always fun to here them gobbling outside the window. It was like a poultry wake-up call. We didn’t see a porcupine this time around, but we adjusted to jet lag better and weren’t wandering the grounds at 3 a.m.

After Zion, we went to Las Vegas for a couple of days, which made for a really disturbing contrast. Zion is a very quiet, happy, reverent place, and Vegas clearly isn’t. Going someplace like Vegas after being someplace like Zion, you feel like you’re systematically destroying the planet with every step you take. We got over it, of course, and had great fun mocking the hordes of testosterone-soaked frat boys (of any age) who overrun the place. I could go a long time without seeing a drunken, cigar-smoking dweeb in a track suit, let me tell you.

Eating in Vegas used to be a struggle until someone recommended Chinatown. We usually have really good luck there, and the prices are low, so if a meal doesn’t work for you, you don’t feel hopelessly screwed. (That’s a fairly common experience in casino dining, especially since everyone who ever had a show on Food Network started opening restaurants there.) I could go a long time before I drink another bubble tea, too.

The best part of Vegas was spending too much money at Alternative Reality Comics. (I’m a very low-stakes gambler. I try and make the same five dollars last as long as it can, and when it runs out, I quit.) It’s an excellent store, and they were having a 10% off customer appreciation sale, which led me to overspend even more. Beloved finds include entries from the Treasury of Victorian Murder series, the second issue of Lackluster World, Me and Edith Head, and one of the Erica Sakurazawa manga collections (which I can’t seem to find anywhere in West Virginia).

We were really ready to come home by the time the trip was over, and the dogs and cats were delighted to see us. But really, if you’re ever in southern Utah and have a couple of days, swing by Zion. It’s amazing.

Why do the wrong people travel?

May 27, 2005

There’s nothing in the world to make you appreciate being home like spending even five minutes in an airport, much less several hours on an airplane.

We had a great time, and I’m sure I’ll go into needless detail on it later. At the moment, I have to unpack, apologize to the dogs and cats for abandoning them, send a week’s worth of junk mail through the shredder, and shake off the seething misanthropy born of spending extended periods of time in a metal tube with unpleasant strangers who violate your personal space.

One quick note: Alternate Reality Comics in Las Vegas is awesome. Thanks for the recommendation, Dr. Scott!

Service interruption

May 18, 2005

There won’t be much in the way of blogging for the next several days. I’m not sure a) if there will be an available internet connection where I’ll be or b) if I’ll have the energy. Regular service should resume in a week or so.

Oh, and there won’t be a new Flipped Monday, May 23.

Shopping montage

May 17, 2005

I know these weekly lists can get a little tedious, so to spice things up, I’ve decided to give it a perky 80s-pop soundtrack, fold together some footage of me picking up comics with exaggerated expressions of delight, confusion, and disgust, building to a quick-cuts segment of various critical shopping moments, and ending with me collapsing on a sofa, exhausted but exhilarated, ready to partake of a product-placed beverage and go through my purchases.

Okay, maybe not. But I thought about it. Here’s what I’ll be buying…

  • Birds of Prey 82
  • Ex Machina 11
  • JLA Classified 7
  • Livewires 4
  • Manhunter 10
  • Spider-Man/Human Torch 4
  • Young Avengers 4

And I’ll give Hero Camp 1 a look, just because the premise sounds kind of fun and the shop is likely to have pre-ordered extra copies of something from Image.

Morbid curiosity will probably demand that I flip through the second volume of Tenjho Tenge. But I’m guessing that virtually every panel will probably hit the web soon, adjacent to the untranslated original. Why shell out the cash?

Oh, and for those of you who were wondering what was next for dead, gay Northstar, here’s a preview of Wolverine 28. Insert “better off dead” joke here.

Monday linkblogging

May 16, 2005

He may be shamelessly partisan in favor of short-tempered, doltish aliens who like to dress up like pretty birdies, but Scipio’s blog, The Absorbascon, is really terrific. It’s filled with DC-centric goodness, and it’s the latest addition to my sidebar.

George Grattan’s posts in the rec.arts.comics newsgroups are always well worth a read, and he’s upped the ante by posting some reviews of recent DC releases. More, please.

Speaking of reviews, Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing up a storm at Comics Worth Reading. Among the recent entries is a look at Del Rey’s Genshiken. I liked this manga a lot more than Johanna did, but I agree with her entirely about the high level of Del Rey’s production values.

Lea Hernandez draws like a girl! And she’s proud of it! And she should be! She’s posted an excerpt from her essay for the upcoming shôjo issue of The Comics Journal.

Girls like manga. Little kids might like manga. No one knows how DC really feels about manga. All these notions get short shrift in the latest Flipped over at Comic World News. (Barring a sudden burst of inspiration and diligence, there probably won’t be a new Flipped next week, but I’ll confirm that one way or the other here and at the Flipped Forum.)


May 15, 2005

When some people get ready for a trip, they make sure the mail gets held at the post office, do laundry, and confirm their reservations. When we get ready for vacation, it almost always involves spending many hours out in the yard desperately trying to get everything in the ground. Perennials, seedlings, bulbs… tons of plant matter that my partner has bought in fits of horticultural optimism that will surely die if we don’t plant it right this minute.

I am very sore now, but the bulk of the planting is done.

I have no idea where all those wild onions came from, but there were thousands of the nasty little things. They were everywhere. I smelled like a prep chef at a risotto restaurant by the time I was done ripping them out of the ground.

It wasn’t all toil and misery. We did get a visit from the five-month-old Tibetan Terrier down the street, who was out for a jog with her shirtless owner. Most of our neighbors are retirees, but the Tibetan Terrier humans are recent arrivals, and her dad can pull off the shirtless thing. I mention the shirtlessness only for context.

With all due respect to my much-loved mutts, this puppy is the cutest canine ever. On their first pass, she looked perky, tidy, and adorable. On the way back, much later, she looked filthy, slightly deranged, and even more adorable. I can’t see myself owning a purebred dog, but I would happily kidnap this one. Unfortunately, her owners seem to love her very much and take excellent care of her, so I really can’t justify it as a rescue.

So now there’s just the standard list of pre-travel chores. I still don’t feel sure about my choices of reading material. I’m going to have to supplement it with some manga and a few library books, I think. But I did get a copy of Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. I like Vowell’s essays a lot, and the title seems like it will discourage strangers on the plane from talking to me.

From the stack: RANN-THANAGAR WAR 1

May 14, 2005

I had only planned to pick up one of DC’s summer mini-series (Villains United), but I had a moment of weakness on Wednesday and grabbed the first issue of Rann-Thanagar War. Andy Diggle and Pascal Ferry are to blame for sparking my interest in Rann and its residents, and I guess I wasn’t quite ready to leave them behind with the last issue of the Adam Strange mini.

(Spoilers ahead.)

R-TW opens with the war already underway. Adopted Rannian Adam Strange has traveled to Earth to recruit Hawkman and Hawkgirl to help him establish peace between the populations of the two planets. The Rannians and surviving Thanagarians are currently occupying Rann. Thanagar was destroyed by the unexpected appearance of Rann in its solar system. Rann popped into dangerous proximity to Thanagar because of the machinations of a rogue Thanagarian, a military officer who was secretly loyal to a nihilistic cult. In other words, it wasn’t Rann’s fault, and Rann’s citizens did their best to rescue as many Thanagarians as they could before their planet was destroyed.

Given the circumstances, mutual suspicion, hostility, and ingratitude are only natural. Adam’s hope was that the Hawks (whose current relationship to Thanagar is rather tenuous after a number of continuity shifts, but heck, they’ve got the wings) would be able to help smooth things over before the situation deteriorated too far. But in the hours Adam spends soliciting their aid, hostilities break out, and Rann becomes a battle ground between the two groups.

After an odd opening sequence of the Hawks battling a phoenix (perhaps a conscious wink at a classic cosmos-in-peril saga from Marvel), the exposition comes thick and heavy. Adam describes the background (summarizing his recent mini-series) and the subsequent cultural and emotional fallout (a refugee crisis, machinations of a variety of aggressive galactic empires, increased cult activity). I would have preferred to see these developments rather than hear about them. Writer Dave Gibbons does a solid job summarizing them, and penciller Ivan Reis works hard to give the flashback panels some drama, but it still seems under-dramatized given the scale and complexity of events.

Adam and the Hawks arrive too late and immediately try and get a handle on the conflict. Along the way is a short interlude with Thanagarian peacekeeper Thal, who operated for a time on Earth as Hawkwoman, though that’s never explained in the text. There’s also an interlude with Green Lanterns Kilowog and Kyle Rayner talking about the wonders of space in some seriously over-written dialogue:

Kilowog: Orders clear, Kyle?
Kyle: As brightest day, Kilowog – as brightest day.

Ow. These pages invoked another cosmic epic for me, specifically the quasi-religious pomposity of the Star Wars movies. Read through the sequence substituting “Jedi” for “Lantern” or “padawan” for “poozer,” and the flow isn’t affected at all.

The Guardians, handlers of the Green Lanterns, send Kyle off to handle an unrelated emergency. They alert Kyle to the Rann-Thanagar situation but instruct him to keep out of it. It’s consistent with the Guardians’ arbitrary standards of galactic intervention, and the order is obviously thrown in to be summarily ignored by their agent.

But awkward chatter and predictability aren’t the main problems with R-TW. What distracts me most is that the warring forces are pretty much irrelevant to the story. All of the focus is on outsiders. That’s natural enough, as Adam, the Hawks, and the Lanterns are the marquee characters here. But since the populations at war are pretty much background scenery, there’s no immediacy to the conflict. If you care at all, it’s because you’re familiar with their place in DC universe, not because of anything on the page here.

The conflict itself doesn’t have much weight either, no matter how carefully it’s been exposited. It’s been cooked up in a microwave, a misunderstanding resulting from the spiteful improvisations of one character, and she died in another title. There’s none of the ancient conflict of, say, Marvel’s Krees and Skrulls. It’s a hostile response to a tragedy that occurred entirely without malice on either side. There’s no political or cultural component to it; it’s just bad luck and bad temper conspiring to put two populations at odds.

It is gorgeous to look at. Ivan Reis really has a handle on this kind of material, at least the high-energy moments. Adam bursts into the frame a lot, and it never loses its kick. The wide-screen moments – the evacuation of Thanagar, war on Rann – are very effective. The emotions on display are extreme, and Reis usually handles them well, though he does err on the overwrought side at points. Colors by John Kalisz are effectively used to establish the shifting settings, though they can get a bit heavy.

But it’s called Rann-Thanagar War, and the war itself doesn’t make very much sense. That’s a problem, and the book is a lot less interesting than it could have been as a result.

Taking sides

May 13, 2005

As one might expect, Rann has pulled ahead in the poll at the Absorbascon after a brief, baffling tie that was surely caused by Thanagarian saboteurs too clumsy to develop a sustainable means of vote-fixing. (It’s sad, really.) I attribute Rann’s inevitable victory to a number of factors.

The people of Rann have emotional maturity. Its citizens are capable of sustaining healthy, loving, long-distance relationships. This is romantic and inspiring. Thanagar’s most prominent couple has been stalking one another from reincarnation to reincarnation for centuries. This is neither romantic nor inspiring. It’s co-dependent and creepy.

The people of Thanagar are trying too hard. Their raptor-fetish drag screams of over-compensation, like a comb-over or a shirt open to the navel. The people of Rann are more comfortable in subdued, retro styles. It takes a confident individual to wear a fin on his or her head and to make it work.

While Rann has occasionally been misplaced, its existence has never been called entirely into question. Thanks to various blips in the DC time stream, one might reasonably wonder if Thanagar won’t merely vanish but actually retroactively disappear altogether. This is not a planet that’s come to win. Even if it is, it might just wink out of the time stream like a redundant Earth-2 super-hero.

The bulk of recent Thanagarian appearances have been written by Geoff Johns. The majority of recent Rannian appearances have been written by Andy Diggle. Advantage: Rann.

Rann is populated largely by good-natured, imaginative nerds. Thanagar is filled with bulked-up bullies. If shônen manga has taught me nothing else, it’s that good-natured, imaginative nerds will thump bulked-up bullies every time.

Vote Rann!