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Month: July, 2012

New Comics 7/25

It was a sci-fi heavy week at the comic shop, which is alright by me. I’m finding I enjoy these types of stories more than the basic superhero yarn. The only limits are the creators’ minds and their talent. I’m also in the process of reading Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. I love both film versions but had never had a chance to read the book. It is fantastic so far; maybe I’ll get ambitious and write a massive post about all three. On to the comics…

Debris #1 (Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe, Artist: Riley Rossmo)

I really enjoyed Wiebe and Rossmo’s Green Wake. That was a dark, moody, beautifully illustrated book that sadly got cut short, but I was happy to see they were teaming up again with a sci-fi mini-series. Riley Rossmo has really pushed himself with his latest work. Whereas Green Wake and Rebel Blood were incredibly sketchy, messy books, with Wild Children and now Debris, he’s really honing his style. Here, the blue and orange colors of Owen Gieni make this look unlike anything he’s ever done. The storytelling is serviceable: we’re in a dystopic future in which the last tribe of humanity is threatened by robot creatures on a wasteland of trash. Maya is the Luke Skywalker of this world, the only one who can bring peace. The story isn’t groundbreaking, but there are enough twists and turns and interesting moments to keep it fresh. It’s fascinating that this came out on Prophet day because they both try a similar narrative technique in which the dialogue and narration are highly allusive, but to concepts and ideas we don’t understand. The difference is that that the lack of understanding in Prophet is the result of nomenclature that is alien. Here, the lack of understanding comes because of vague, quasi-religious, Matrix-esque non-speak: “Are you ready?” “No, but what choice do I have?…It’s here.” or “What does it mean?” “Great change lies ahead.” This is just an irksome narrative strategy that falsely plays up the significance of the story. Luckily, I have faith in these two and Rossmo’s art is enough to keep me coming back.

Grade: B-

Prophet #27 (Writer: Brandon Graham, Artist: Giannis Milonogiannis)

This issue follows the original John Prophet, the Old Man Prophet, as he attempts to reconnect with his old crew after waking up. As usual, we are thrown into an alien world and left to figure out what the hell is going on. Here, Prophet is searching through a sentient root colony that he once fought for back in the War. He finds an old friend, Hiyonhoiagn, who helped him hold a tower against a massive hoard for weeks. Together, they hunt for a ship to get him away (presumably to Earth, but I’m not real sure). On first read, I didn’t love this issue, but I was also dead tired. It reads much better the second time and I’ve had a better chance to delve into Milonogiannis’s art. It’s probably the most off-putting of the Prophet stable, but it is really growing on me. It has a definite anime influence, but as if anime were living on the streets, sleeping in refrigerator boxes, and shooting lots of heroin. There’s lots of fantastic, bizarre stuff here: weird human/reptilian sex scenes, space sharks, and orbiting space-reefs. Or, exactly why you read Brandon Graham’s Prophet. Even if the story isn’t quite as engaging as past issues, it is still a great read.

Grade: B+

The Manhattan Projects #5 (Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Artist: Nick Pitarra)

I need to look through the previous issues, but I think this is the first one that directly picks up a plot line from the book that preceded it. Although I’ve loved every issue of The Manhattan Projects so far, I think it needs to start connecting together a little more to develop that forward momentum. This issue begins with General Graves and Oppenheimer meeting with the Siill contingent. The came to Earth because they detected a “Pulling Way”, which turns out to be the monolith that Einstein was working on it. It allows for inter-planetary, inter-galactic transportation. So, in a matter of pages, the world of TMP explodes across the Milky Way. This was packed with weirdness, of course, and also Nick Pitarra just destroys, of course. Hickman’s cover and title-page designs are so misleading; this book couldn’t be more cartoony, disgusting, and psychedelic. There was maybe too much talking this issue and I would have liked, for the sake of Pitarra’s art, a little more action. But overall, another great issue.

Grade: B+

Axe Cop: President of the World #1 (Writer: Malachai Nicolle, Artist: Ethan Nicolle)

Just read Axe Cop. An 8 year-old writes a comic, his older brother draws it, and insanity ensues.

Grade: A

Mad Men “The Hobo Code”

S01E08 – “The Hobo Code”
Writer: Chris Provenzano, Director: Phil Abraham

A short recap of important character developments this episode before I get into the good stuff:
1. Peggy is getting fat (and sleeps with Pete again, this time in the office).
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2. Salvatore meets up with a distinguished gentleman from Belle Jolie but can’t follow through.

3. Cooper begins his Ayn Rand lecturing and gives Don a $2500 bonus.

4. Peggy’s pitch to Belle Jolie works, thanks to Don (we’re getting to this!).

5. Don, in the first of a couple existential freak-outs this season, tries to convince Midge to use the check to go to Paris together. She resists; Don, Midge, and Midge’s beatnik friends smoke pot and hang around the apt. Finally, Don signs the check over to Midge and leaves her life, the fulfillment of the look in “Babylon.”

6. The episode’s title comes into play as Don flashes back, while high, to his childhood. He remembers a time a hobo stopped at the farm looking for work. His mother-in-law promised him pay, but his father refused. The hobo left and marked a post in front of the house with the hobo code meaning “a dishonest man lives here” so that similar traveller’s avoided the same fate. The parallels to Don’s life are obvious, which might also indicate why he finally cuts it off with Midge (although he’s just going to sleep with Rachel, also in a moment of existential vertigo, but I’m a few episodes ahead of myself).

And now the real awesomeness. This episode contains the single-greatest pitch in the history of Mad Men: Don’s Belle Jolie meeting.

After the stick in the mud Belle Jolie president scoffs at the agency’s pitch because it uses only one color, and ladies want hundreds, Don gets fed up. He stands up, declares the meeting over, “Gentlemen, thank you for your time.” “Is that all?” Don gets philosophical: “You’re a non-believer. Why should we waste time on kabuki?” I love this line. It’s so practical, yet so bizarre (Maybe Don’s been spending more time in Cooper’s office than we are led to believe) that the Jolie man responds, “I don’t know what that means.”

He’s off-balance now, and Don hammers harder: “It means that you’ve already tried your plan and you’re number four. You’ve enlisted my expertise and you’ve rejected it to on the way you’ve been going. I’m not interested in that. You can understand.” Don getting angry with clients is the best and he clearly loves the power of it, breaking their expectations about who is in charge (Don would have never dressed in the Santa suit for . But he’s not done. After the Jolie man says that he doesn’t think Don should be able to refocus the core of their business, Don goes weird:

“Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. He either lives in your heart or he doesn’t.” It’s hard to interpret what Don’s going for here on the content level, but on the visceral level, it’s stunning. We get a series of single shots of confused faces before Don gets back into it. First, it’s abrupt to see religion brought into the meeting in this way. Certainly, the company brought in a token Jewish guy when they pitched to Menken, but the religion itself wasn’t the focus. In “Babylon”, I suppose they dealt more with Judaism directly, but that was a natural outgrowth of the product. Here, it is completely unprovoked. Second, I think it also comes down to Jon Hamm’s inflection. His voice is so full of condescension that the “Jesus” sort of growls out.

Don’s meaning isn’t necessarily complicated, but he certainly has chosen a bizarre method to get his message across. Now, I suppose the obvious point is that business is not religion. There are no absolutes, and holding firm to a doctrine that is failing makes no sense. The last thing you need in business is someone who is going to pat you on the back and tell you that everything is going to be alright when it clearly isn’t. That’s what advertising is for. But I think this dialogue moves too quick for that to register completely. The shock is the key. Don continues with a more specific breakdown of why the “Mark Your Man” works on the philosophical and ideological level. By the end, he’s nailed the account. But the “Come to Jesus” was the crucial turning point.

While most people look to “The Carousel” as the quintessential Mad Men pitch, this has always been my favorite. Whereas the wheel goes for heartwrenching pathos, this is just pure chutzpah. Don’s a man, and he takes what he wants. In the early seasons this was constant, but it took until the Jaguar account in season 5 for Don to re-find the thing that made me fall in love with the show.

New Comics 7/18

Saga #5 (Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist: Fiona Staples)

Whereas last issue felt like a quick breather after a breakneck opening, this one is back in gear. While Fiona Staples has been killing the character work in the early issues, here she proves that she can draw an action sequence. Marko breaks his vow and goes postal on a group of soldiers and Fiona renders it beautifully. And for his part, Vaughan’s pacing is amazing. He just has a natural sense of how long scenes should last, when we should be given a joke, and how to completely destroy with a last page. I love that the Robots are being fleshed out in a way that completely confuses me about their nature. They can get pregnant? I don’t know. This issue also has a crazy conclusion. The last two pages left me slack-jawed and desperate to read #6.

Grade: B+

Batwoman #11 (Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, Artist: Trevor McCarthy)

This arc of Batwoman is going to work so much better in trade. These threaded, disjointed timelines work best when read in succession and this issue does a fabulous job of brining everything to the status quo. Although Batwoman owns the title, this is an ensemble book. Each character gets their own time to shine and each story feels unique (maybe save Chase’s. She, more than any other character, felt underdeveloped). Whether it’s Jacob pouring his heart out to Bette, Kate and Maggie sharing an intimate moment, or Batwoman and Maro battling it out, each one carries its own arc and weight. I also love how Williams and Blackman have a long game planned. Each arc feeds right into the next: “Hydrology”‘s Weeping Woman was really connected to “To Drown the World”‘s Medusa, which is really connected to next arc’s Mother of all Monsters. On their own, each arc feels unique, but they also play well together (and even Rucka’s run continues to leak over into the New 52). It will be nice to have J.H. back on art. This issue is split between Trevor McCarthy and Pere Perez and the inconsistency shows. It’s a real shame we weren’t able to get a single artist for all 6 issues. This interconnected story really called for it. Overall, well done.

Grade: B+

Glory #28 (Writer: Joe Keatinge, Artist: Ross Campbell)

I don’t even know what to say anymore about this. Each page contains some insane moment that I’d love to reproduce here. Two majorly awesome things: first, Gloriana’s half cat, half dragon Beleszava who shoots lasers out of his eyes. Second, Gloriana’s demented little sister who we see on the last page. Each is so brutally awesome that I can only shake my head in happiness. Ross Campbell is a disgusting genius. I honestly need to start reading this last because nothing else is going to come close.

Grade: A+

Daredevil #15 (Writer: Mark Waid, Artist: Chris Samnee)

Mark Waid and the Daredevil team picked up 3 Eisner Awards at the San Diego Comic Con and they certainly deserved it. We are 19 (with tie-ins and .1s) issues in now and this is as good as the run has been. This is Samnee’s best issue since joining and he does a really nice job handling this new Daredevil sense that Waid has created, a weird type of thermal vision. I suppose the real credit should go to Javier Rodriguez, the colorist, who really has made this book for me. Daredevil is a bright, beautifully colored comic. Rodriguez adapts to his artist and makes them look good. In this issue, Hornhead manages to get out of his hospital bed and get a signal out to the Avengers. Iron Man responds and before you know it, they are flying out of Latveria. I think that’s one of the strong suits of Waid’s run. He doesn’t linger on stories. While there have been longer arcs, they are comprised of shorter, 2 or 3 issue stories, that keep the momentum continuously moving forward.

Grade: B

Extermination #2 (Writer: Simon Spurrier, Artist: Jeffrey Edwards)

Boom! sucked me in with the $1 first issue of Extermination, and I’ve got say, it’s a brilliant strategy. I would have never thought to buy this, but it’s a fantastic book and completely different than anything else on the stands. What drives it is the sharp dialogue from Spurrier. The back and forth between Reaper and Nox is so good that it matters little what else happens. Luckily, the story is intriguing too. Here, we find out a little bit more about how most of Earth was destroyed. We also get reference to this world’s Superman, Absolute. He wasn’t able to stop the alien attack, and we have no idea why. But what really makes this stand out is how it is able to push familiar superhero tropes further than they would be able to at the Big 2. For instance, Nox and and Reaper stumble on a group of well-fed, well-armed survivors. After eating their food, they find out that they’ve really eaten a fellow superhero named Promethean whose power is regeneration. That’s how the survivors have been eating. It’s so twisted and it gives the book that extra edge to really set it apart.

Grade: B

Film #21: The Interrupters

“And I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital
Heard about at least three killings this afternoon
Looking at the news like “Damn! I was just with him after school”
No shop class but half the school got a tool
And a “I could die any day”-type attitude
Plus his little brother got shot repping his avenue
It’s time for us to stop and redefine black power
41 souls murdered in fifty hours”
– Kanye West, “Murder to Excellence”

Steve James’s documentary The Interrupters follows a group of black activists in Chicago as they attempt to curb the spiraling violence overwhelming the city’s urban neighborhoods. Loosely structured, the film follows a handful of “interrupters” from the group CeaseFire as they meet with troubled youth, visit families, and even intercede in direct conflicts. While the film could do better to explain the methodology of the activists, it does an amazing job of documenting the incessant, incomprehensible way that violence becomes a natural way of life. While the work of CeaseFire is supposed to give us optimism for the future, the overall portrait of life on Chicago’s streets is oppressive and bleak.

What becomes readily apparent is that the Chicago youth who comprise the majority of murder victims and perpetrators lack the education, reasoning, and opportunity to escape their situation. Watching the film is quite paradoxical: on the one hand, the ignorance and borderline nihilism of the youths make it incredibly difficult to hope for better. But on the other hand, their entire mindset has been warped by the place they live. How can you expect someone to make their situation better when they’ve been given no other possibilities? Perhaps the most troubling scenes are the ones that take place at funerals. Fellow gang members pose by the casket, flashing gang signs, smiling for their own cameras. They are celebrating the deceased in a way that they hope gets replicated at their own funeral. They aren’t afraid of death because life has no meaning. They can only hope for immediate excitement and temporary joy.

But through the interrupters, we do get a sense of hope. My favorite story follows a CeaseFire member named Cobie as he gets close with a recently released con named Flamo. Flamo’s family had been rounded up after a rival gang member tipped off the police about guns and drugs in his house. When Cobie shows up, Flamo is ready to avenge his family. He’s drinking and he’s got a gun. Cobie, promising a free meal, convinces him to wait, at least for a night. As the film follows up with Flamo, he’s walking a fine line. In one scene, Flamo lights up a joint in Cobie’s car before he’s talked into throwing it away. Finally, with Cobie’s help, he is able to land a job as a security guard. The whole interrupting process is one of creating other possible worlds. In Flamo’s mind, vengeance was the only possible action because it was the only action he had ever seen. Action-reaction was the law of the streets. But Cobie provided an alternative world in which success was the best revenge. He opened Flamo’s eyes to options he never knew existed, and as a result, at least one murder was prevented.

It’s hard to evaluate what a full-scale CeaseFire campaign could accomplish. Since the film’s release, the group has seen an enormous rise in resources and local police help. Yet, the murder rates in Chicago continue to escalate. By the end of June, there had already been 250 murders in the city, the most to start a year in nearly a decade. While many young men and women who meet with the interrupters say they appreciate what they are trying to do, on the streets, words do nothing when someone’s shooting at you. That’s my lasting impression of the film. Even the success stories hang in peril. You always feel that the people James films are climbing a limitless mountain, and each day moves them one step closer to a backslide. It isn’t necessarily hopeful, but it’s certainly powerful.

Mad Men “Red in the Face”

S01E07 “Red in the Face”
Writer: Bridget Bedard, Director: Tim Hunter

Roger Sterling has become my favorite Mad Men character, but it is interesting what a skeeze he began as (he’s probably still a skeeze). In this episode, Don and Sterling become BFF, and Roger also manages to put the moves on Betty Draper, a decision that only serves to make Don mad at her. While this certainly gives you insight into their own screwed up relationship, it also shows just how far off the rails Sterling is. This will reach it’s apex in “The Long Weekend”, but the seeds are being sown here. After a long lunch in which Don and Sterling have a vodka and oyster eating competition, both stumble back to the office dead drunk. The elevator is out of order, and the two have to climb their way to their meeting. Sterling struggles, but manages to make it to the office just in time to puke on the floor in front of the clients. It’s such a wonderful scene; for all its pathos and seriousness, Mad Men can be damn funny when it wants to be. But that comedy is always mixed with a sense of dread and sadness.

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For her part, Betty is also starting to open up. When she’s confronted by Helen Bishop in the supermarket for gifting a lock of her hair to Glenn, Birdy responds with a wicked slap. Later, when Francine comes to see if she is alright, the two engage in a great conversation in which Betty admits that she knows that she is an object for men, and frankly, sometimes she likes it. I love the subtle rebellion that is building in Don. Towards the beginning of the season, she is such the doting wife, but we always know the surface is a lie. But she’s starting to spend less time making sure that surface is pristine.

These early episodes make me really sad for where the show has taken Betty. While this all sets up and explains the person she will become, you feel sorry for her here. I’m not sure I quite have that empathy for Betty anymore. In the beginning, each little rebellion on her part is wonderful for us. I love her slap of Helen. On the one hand, Betty should have never given Glenn her hair. But on the other, we understand exactly why she did it and anyone who is going to question her should get got. It’s so instinctual, which is how Betty operates this season. She becomes more manipulative and morose as things progress, and while that is understandable, it doesn’t make it any more interesting to watch.

This is really a transition episode. We are setting up Roger’s health issues while also addressing the absolute instability of the Draper marriage. In particular, Betty’s unhappiness with her life is leading her to “Shoot”, which has probably the greatest Betty moment of all time.

Film #20: Contagion

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Contagion is the scariest film I’ve seen in some time because, in its strict adherence to truth, probability, and detail, it makes a devastating pandemic feel unavoidable. Rather than overly-dramatizing an illness that kills nearly 30 million people, director Steven Soderbergh instead restrains himself to the men and women fighting the disease and one family directly affected by it. Through a variety of perspectives, we get a global and local portrait of how an incessant plague would affect the planet. It’s amazing that he manages to restrain himself; the horror really seeps in when characters who are trying to shield themselves from the plague are forced to enter the world, but it isn’t in the expected ways.

Soderbergh begins by emphasizing the day-to-day activities that allow the disease to spread: touching a door handle, eating communal peanuts from an airport bar, sneezing on a plane; by the time Contagion is over, it seems remarkable that anyone survived at all. At one point, after explaining how the disease is spread, Dr. Erin Mears has to tell her liaison to quit touching his face. Apparently, humans touch their own faces two to three thousand times a day. That fact instantly made me want to touch my own face, which in turn scared the crap out of me. Because these daily, absent-minded activities are what facilitate the spread of the disease, you can’t help but feel doomed.

Soderbergh also does an amazing job of showing the political implications of such a devastating pandemic. While the population, led by political blogger Alan (Jude Law), seems to believe that the government is hiding something, namely a cure, from the inner-workings of the CDC, we learn the opposite. Vaccinations are not created overnight; even with the best scientists in the world working non-stop, it takes months to get even close. In the meantime, the entire fabric of society is torn apart. We see stores looted, riots over food, and garbage overwhelming the streets. It’s chaos, and it’s clear the government has absolutely nothing to gain by withholding the cure.

But this isn’t a CDC propaganda film. The political machinery working behind the scenes is still ever-present and not always effective. Government employees get first access to the vaccine; Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) gives his fiancée secret information that allows her to escape a Chicago-wide quarantine zone; non-governmental actors are pushed out of the process, even when they can provide useful information. This provides such a nuanced view that seems to get at the heart of things: the CDC, and the government for that matter, generally have the public’s well-being in mind. Their size and resources allow them to do things that individual citizens or companies wouldn’t be able to. But that power also comes with scattered rotten elements and privilege that contradict democratic ideals.

Lizz and I talked about how Contagion is the Zodiac of plague films. Rather than playing into expected drama points and thrills (dwelling on the infected, dramatizing moments where someone might get infected), the film is much more interested in the detectives trying to solve the case. This is more about the technical work required (scientifically and logistically) to solve a disease than it is about the human cost of a global pandemic. In this respect, I can imagine this being a rather divisive film. Aside from Matt Damon’s Mitt, Contagion doesn’t really invest in character. There are a few clear cut villains, but heroes only achieve that title through the quality of their work, not necessarily who they are. It’s simply not what the film is about, even if it handles those pieces incredibly well. There is plenty more to say about the film, but in short, Contagion is Steven Soderbergh’s best film since Solaris. Even though it’s terrifying, I definitely want to see it again, to pick it apart in much the same way as it picks apart the pandemic.

New Comics 7/11

I’ve been all over Omaha today, including three campuses. I’m tired. I’m hot. I’m tired.

Batman #11 (Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Greg Capullo)

We’re finally to the end of the Court of Owls storyline and I’m about ready for Snyder and Capullo to move on to the Joker. While the Court has been fun, I still think this would have been so much better as a 7 or 8 issue story. This issue wraps up well-enough (and I guess wraps up is debatable), but we’ve just been treading water for awhile now. I also reread The Black Mirror, which was also 11 parts, but much more efficiently handled. That’s basically a three-story arc that is intimately connected. The individual parts aren’t overdone and it all comes together into a great overreaching story. One thing that has become apparent after reading both of these: Snyder loves to give his bad guys their space to preach. With all of the different narrative arts, have we not come up with a better way to find out a villain’s motivations than through mid-battle lectures? This issue has 7+ pages of Lincoln March lecturing Bruce as they fight. Aside from making no logical sense (who can talk this much while they fight?!), it isn’t even interesting banter. I can’t even recall a single, relevant thing he said. Capullo’s art is great, but this just ran out of steam.

Grade: C+

Punk Rock Jesus #1 (Writer and Artist: Sean Murphy)

I was on the fence about this one until Punk Rock Jesus was trending on Twitter for half the morning. The premise is ridiculous: in 2019, a TV network enlists the world’s foremost geneticist to clone Jesus from DNA remnants on the Shroud of Turin. J2, as the program is called, will Truman Show the clone for the rest of his life. While there are some obvious barbs directed towards anti-science Christians, I’m happy that Murphy is more focused on satirizing reality television by pushing it as far as it could possibly go. He’s also added an interesting spin in the form of Thomas Mickael, J2’s Head of Security. The book opens with Thomas as a kid and his IRA parents getting killed right in front of him. 25 years later, we learn that he spent time with the IRA before he turned state’s witness in exchange for a reduced sentence. He comes off as a stereotypical badass, but I’m interested to see why Murphy led with him as the main guy. But really, the story is all secondary. It turns out I’d read a story about bran muffins so long as Murphy was drawing it. Visually, this is fantastic. In black and white, he provides so much detail and character. There’s a wonderful mix of loose, sketchy lines and sharp, detailed precision. Each page is packed full and begging to be carefully scanned. I can’t wait for more.

Grade: B+

Swamp Thing #11 (Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Marco Rudy)

Now Swamp Thing had been dragging a little bit for me these last couple months, but this feels like a return to form. First off, Marco Rudy is fantastic. I think I might like his stuff even more than Yanick Paquette. I love the way he draws Abigail and the colors are great. But in particular, Anton Arcane is terrifying! This was easily the scariest issue yet. I love his weird powers (every wound turns into a new, sharp mouth) and he has a zaniness that lightens things up a bit. We also get the official set-up for Rotworld. Buddy and fam (minus Cliff) are at the Swamp, ready for a team-up. Let’s do this!

Grade: B+

King City

Brandon Graham’s Prophet has been a comic revelation to me. While I’ve been reading and enjoying comics for over a year, it was the first title that truly showed me the weird step-brother to DC and Marvel. His approach to story-telling and knowing rebelliousness remind me of the early Jean-Luc Godard films that blew my mind and made me obsessed with movies. While they are fun, pleasurable, and even joyous, there is this underground current of “Fuck you!”s that elevates them above pure entertainment. Similarly, Prophet makes the most sense as a response to the sci-fi titles being put out by the big two, who Graham clearly sees as the enemy. It is meandering, difficult, irresolute, and dirty, while maintaining a charm and humor that keeps it grounded. Whereas Jonathan Hickman creates intricately plotted, inter-woven epics, Graham constantly negates that notion at every turn. Cliffhangers go unresolved, climaxes don’t climax, and even the characters themselves remain unclear. All the while, he’s allowed his artists to go banana crazy drawing the shit out the comic in their own unique styles. Prophet looks unlike anything at the comic shop.

Because I’ve loved Prophet so much, and because I’ve really enjoyed the art I’ve seen on his blog, I jumped at the chance to get Graham’s own book, King City, in the wonderful Image collected edition. I knew it was about a Catmaster, whatever that meant, but aside from that, I trusted Graham to make my $20 worth it. Needless to say, King City is the best comic purchase I’ve ever made.

From front cover to back, King City is packed to the brim with ridiculousness, fun, and imagination. It’s taken me two weeks to read the book because I’ve been scanning each page for every last nugget of goodness and constantly re-reading things out of sheer joy. Graham’s art is loaded with detail and humor and to read King City for plot completely misses the point; you have to immerse yourself in the page to truly get King City.

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While the book has three main narrative plots, King City truly lives up to its name. This is a fantastically imagined profile of a futuristic bizarro city. Each page, each panel gives us a little more insight into what it’s like to live in King City. What is remarkable is that while murder, crime, and weirdo sex seem to dominate the city, this isn’t seen as a negative. While it seems unlikely that you could survive for long in King City (we don’t really see old people anywhere), this isn’t a dystopian sci-fi story. Every other city’s dark underbelly is King City’s beautiful face.

This is best realized in the intimate relation between Graham’s writing and his art. This is a book as much about zany wordplay as it is about lovable characters. Graham is pun-obsessed, but his puns work on the association with the image. Puns to the 5th power! These little one-off word associations litter King City’s skyline. There is graffiti everywhere, but because it is all so ridiculous, it leaves the impression that the people of King City are light-hearted, good-natured, and fun (even if they are murderers, rapists, thieves, and pimps). Some of my favorite tags: “Be alert, we need more lerts,” “Mona Lisa was framed,” “The clock on your wrist is watching,” and a store called Taint Xchange. This type of wordplay, however silly and childish it may be, gives the whole book a lighthearted nature that is endlessly engaging. I’ve been skimming back through and I find something new on each page.

And then there is the basic premise, that main protagonist Joe is a Catmaster. His cat Earthling, with the aid of injections that Joe gives at strategic moments, is able to perform incredible feats. He can swallow a key and regurgitate a copy (“Copy cat”). He can turn himself into a flying saw-blade and cut baddies in half. He can turn his tail into that squiggly line on a heart monitor to check for vital signs. Overall, Earthling is a major badass and it is fun to see Graham uncork his brain and use the cat in amazing ways. As I was reading, I was constantly stopping to show panels to my cat-obsessed wife, who would instantly say, “More! More!” We’d end up spending five minutes looking for other awesome Earthling moments and giggling as the cute little guy wiped out a monster and instantly slunked down for a nap.

What gives the book it’s anarchic nature is that Graham completely refuses to play into any stereotypes or expectations for the sci-fi genre. Throughout the twelve issues, the presence of an increasing threat in the form of the Demon King is shown. He has a few run-ins with Joe throughout the book until he grows into an enormous squid monster that dominates King City’s skyline. While we keep waiting for Joe and Earthling to take the Demon King down, it never happens. Instead, in true Bartleby fashion, Joe says, “Someone else can do it. I’m going to hang out with my friends.” Mudd, the head of the Catmasters, destroys the beast in a single page by throwing his cat into the monster’s mouth and turning him into a monster-cat-squid. It is so anti-climactic, yet so refreshing. The whole book follows this trajectory. Some plots are introduced and quickly abandoned while others start small and explode into more. I never felt like I knew what was coming, which made me even more anxious to keep reading.

In the notes after the book, Graham explains how he approached King City. He didn’t plan anything out, he simply drew things that seemed like fun. Sometimes that leads to short, half-page chapters, sometimes it develops into longer, 12-15 page chunks. Because of this, you can absolutely feel the love coming through each and every page. And more importantly, you can tell that Graham has the reader foremost in his mind. He wants to give the reader as much as he possibly can within each issue. There’s a King City-centric crossword puzzle, a Chutes and Ladders style board game, short stories by fellow artists James Stokoe, Marian Churchland, and Ludroe, and even a connect-the-dot. In combination with the detailed art, King City rewards its owner. It begs you to dive into the world Graham has created and, most importantly, to have fun. If you are worn down by the dire seriousness or perfunctory nature of many of the comics on the stands, buy King City. If you have $20, buy King City. Or, you know, just buy King City.

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Mad Men “Babylon”

S01E06 – “Babylon”
Writers: André and Maria Jacquemetton, Director: Andrew Bernstein

I mentioned before that Mad Men occasionally comes under fire for being too overt in its themes. Glenn’s depressing elevator monologue to Don in “Commissions and Fees” is a recent example of this. While these types of narrative excesses can be forgiven, I think they stick out so loudly in Mad Men because it usually handles these issues with such finesse and grace. In this early episode, you can see the intent without the style the show has come to develop. “Babylon” takes the metaphor of Zionism and beats it into the ground.

I guess I should start with the positives. More than anything, this is perhaps Peggy’s most significant episode. While sitting in on a Belle Jolie lipstick testing session with the other secretaries, her awkward and strange behavior catches the attention of the men voyeuristically watching from behind the double-glass. When Teddy asks her why she wasn’t as gung-ho as all the other girls, she says simply that she doesn’t want to be one shade in a hundred; she wants to be unique. This little aside gets her an unpaid writing job on the Belle Jolie ad and sets up her transition to the Peggy we know and love.

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But the real crux of this episode is a pitch to the Israeli tourist board. Don, and everyone else at Sterling Cooper, is so flustered by Judaism that they start reading Exodus, a novel about the birth of Israel. He then uses his ignorance as an excuse to reconnect with Rachel Menken, a JEW!, so he can figure out what they are all about. The whole meeting just feels so awkward and out-of-character for Don. He is usually so suave with ladies, that for him to be so blunt and ignorant with Rachel feels wrong. We hit the out-of-character apex when Don genuinely asks Rachel why she doesn’t live in Israel. I laughed at his moment because Don feels like such an ignorant idiot. I can see Campbell being this dull, but Don? He has to understand how stupid he sounds. For such a dumb question, she replies rationally: she’s a New Yorker. She was born and raised in New York. She then explains that Israel is more a concept. It is a necessary place even if its people live in exile. And thus, our theme is elaborated!

Of course, Zionism becomes the metaphor for Don and, to a certain extent, Sterling (we learn about his affair with Joan in this episode). Their families are a necessary component of their lives, even if they only want to occasionally take part. Their homes are their Zions, the strongest root they are capable of forming, but they feel free to carry on elsewhere in the meantime, making money and screwing other women.

This all culminates in Don visiting Midge and going out to a hipster bar with her friend Roy. Naturally, since Don can’t handle any non-business or sexual settings, he hates it. But then a group of performers come on and play a beautiful version of Don MacLean’s “Waters of Babylon”, and we get a classic Don-staring-into-space-in-contemplation scene. He looks at Midge, and the stage is set for his decision to cut her out of his life in “The Hobo Code.” It really is a fantastic scene. I love Don’s nervous energy in the club as stereotypical performance follows stereotypical performance until a moment of real beauty occurs. Even Don can’t deny its power.

Overall, I love the idea, but I hate the execution. Critical things happen in this episode; big things are revealed (the birth of Adam, for example), but it just never quite comes together.

New Comics 7/4

My local comic shop was open yesterday, which was awesome. Check them out: http://legendcomicsomaha.com/! In other news, Robin Van Persie announced he will not sign a new contract with Arsenal, which basically ruined my Fourth. I’m still angry today. I’m sure this will turn into a post when I can write about it in a way that doesn’t resort to ad hominem attacks and boiling rage. Ah, screw it. I hope you snap your knee, “Captain.” Arsenal forever, screw off non-believers.

Whew. Here we go.

Dial H #3 (Writer: China Miéville, Artist: Mateus Santolouco)

I don’t really know what else to say about this title; it’s easily the best thing DC is publishing. I hope people are buying this, and if they aren’t, I hope Miéville tries something else in comics. First, it’s hard to believe this is only 20 pages. There is so much packed in to those 20 that it puts almost every other book to shame. We met Manteau last issue, and here she saves Nelson, but not the H Dial, from Ex Nihilo and Squid’s thugs. We learn more of the history of the Dial (Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and other phone pioneers were actually aided by a mysterious “O” who created the H Dial). And we also meet are grand baddy, Abyss, who is also using the Dial powersource to return to Earth. Again, so much credit goes to Mateus Santolouco. It must be a blast to draw on this book. He gets to let loose and draw so many cool characters (brief Boy Chimney return!) and he nails each and every one. Just check out this panel: no less than 7 ridiculous characters flying around above a city. I hope we see more Rake Dragon, because that is hilarious (“that hortireptilian intruder”). If you love weird shit, this is for you.

Grade: A

Earth 2 #3 (Writer: James Robinson, Artist: Nicola Scott)

Whereas Dial H brings weirdness to comics, Earth 2 is straight up superhero action, but done really well. This is Alan Scott’s chapter as he becomes the Green Lantern after the train crash that ended last issue. James Robinson has just done such a wonderful job playing on the mythology of Alan Scott and the original (DC) Green Lantern. Whereas the old Alan Scott was a railroad worker, Alan Scott is riding on a train when he’s chosen. They also come up with a beautiful explanation for his ring, which was to have been given to his boyfriend before the crash. But what is most interesting, is that the Green Lantern is the Earth’s green avatar. And the bad guy which is revealed, Grundy, is connected to the gray (rot). So basically, we are getting the Earth 2 version of the Rot World story happening in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but with different characters. Again, really creative way to move this title forward.

Grade: B

Mind MGMT #2 (Writer and Artist: Matt Kindt)

I re-read the first issue of Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT again and it really grabbed me in a way the first read didn’t. Now, with the second issue, the story is developing in a way that almost assures I’m stuck reading this. In particular, I’m very interested in the narrator here, who now seems to be a MGMT agent himself (a little genderly presumptuous, I suppose). I like the idea of assumed allegiance in reading. Who do we root for without thinking twice; who do we hate for unknown reasons; who do we presume is telling the story, and do we even question why they are telling it the way they are? All of these questions become a little more pressing here as the narrator begins to exert, both figuratively and perhaps literally, more control. Also, Kindt’s art is starting to grow on me. Lot’s of love in these pages.

Grade: B

The Punisher #13 (Writer: Greg Rucka, Artist: Mico Suayan)

With Daredevil, Marvel’s policy of double-shipping issues has actually been kind of nice because the format that Mark Waid has established allows him to do one-off, non-essential stories that don’t feel like filler. But here, the policy blows. This is the worst issue of The Punisher in Rucka’s run. Nothing comes together. The foremost problem is the art. Frankly (pun time!), it’s just terrible. I’m not even going to scan a page because it’s not worth it. There’s no finesse, no nuance, no creativity. It’s finished and that is about as much as can be said. As a result, the costumed infiltration story that the issue details just doesn’t work. It’s just so obvious the entire time, a by-the-numbers plot that feels phoned in. Maybe it’s the schedule getting to Rucka, but this thing needs to move forward.

Grade: D+

Animal Man #11 (Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Alberto Ponticelli)

This is the conclusion to the “Extinction is Forever” arc, and Lemire does a nice job closing this up and setting up “Rotworld”. As an aside, for some reason the arc is completed by artist Alberto Ponticelli. That’s four artists since this title launched. While each person has maintained the Animal Man look, I just don’t understand why Pugh couldn’t have finished it out. I do love what Lemire does with Animal Man, though. Because his body was being used by the Rot, the Royal Tailors are forced to make him a new body, but they give this one enhanced powers, namely the ability to shape shift. This really just makes Buddy, who always feels a little pathetic, a badass.

Grade: B

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