Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Has the world lost its joy? Is that why we’re in such a mess? (Madeleine L’Engle, from A Swiftly Tilting Planet)
Archaia Free Comic Book Day Anthology. “The Tale of Baldwin the Brave” by David Petersen (writer/artist); “Hoggle and the Worm” by Ted Naifeh (writer), Adrianne Ambrose (writer), Cory Godbey (artist), and Deron Bennett (letterer); “Steps of the Dapper Men” by Jim McCann (writer), Janet Lee (artist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer); “Oswald’s Letter” by Royden Lepp (writer/artist); “Ramblings from An Old Sea Dog Who Likes to Be Called Alice” by Jeremy Bastian (writer/artist); “Long While Ago” by Nate Cosby (writer) and Chris Eliopoulos (artist). FREE, 41 pgs, FC, Archaia.
I was going to pick this up on Saturday, but the fine folk at Archaia sent it to me early, so I figured I’d write a bit about it. Do I really have to, though? It’s free! Plus, it’s a bunch of new material by really good comics creators, so why wouldn’t you get this? Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s FREE!
Anyway, Petersen gives us a clever little story featuring mouse puppets and goose puppets, and as you can tell from the cover, it’s pretty awesome. “Hoggle and the Worm” is based on Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, I guess (it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve seen the movie), and it’s a funny tale about Hoggle looking for a mate and taking some bad advice from a worm. McCann and Lee are busy working on a new Dapper Men comic, so their story gives us some information about the characters but nothing, it appears, too crucial. I didn’t like “Oswald’s Letter” simply because it’s so obviously part of something much bigger, but Lepp does give it a nice air of mystery, which I appreciate. Bastian’s story about pirates is completely wonderful, mainly because he keeps coming with wackier and wackier pirates. “Long While Ago” is a story of revenge and family drama … although it’s a kids’ comic, so it’s, you know, cute. Even though it deals with revenge and family drama!!!!!
The entire book is a nice treat. I love that comic book companies are trying new things for FCBD, and Archaia has always been at the forefront of that. So when you go to your store on Saturday, look for this. You won’t be disappointed in the NO AMOUNT OF MONEY you will exchange for it.
Rating: Who cares? IT’S FREE!!!!!
One totally Airwolf panel:
Avengers Academy #29 (“Protective Services Part 1″) by Christos Gage (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Cory Hamscher (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.
As part of the Avengers vs. X-Men shit going on, Gage has Wolverine bring a bunch of X-kids from Utopia to the academy so they’ll be safe. Gage, showing nothing but contempt for the proceedings, has Wolverine say “The adults who oughta know better are actin’ like jerks,” which is probably about as far as a creator at DC and/or Marvel can go without getting shitcanned (although, as it’s clear editors don’t actually read these books before they’re sent to the presses, perhaps writers can slip a lot more through). It’s unclear whether Wolverine is talking about the Avengers and X-Men or the people running Marvel, but I like to think it’s both.
Anyway, so the X-kids are all resentful and Herc, being awesome (see below), suggests having competitions to determine who’s better, which leads to some nice conversations until Blue-Hair Bitchy McBitcherson gets all “Waaah! This is worse than the gulag, man!” and stalks off. What’s up, Blue-Hair? The real point of the issue is that Sebastian Shaw, who no longer has his memory (???) is also there, and Madison Jeffries inexplicably puts him in a cell with no cameras. What the fuck, Jeffries? Gage actually has Shaw escape (oh, come on, it’s not a spoiler – you knew it would happen!) in an ingenious way, and I suppose next issue will be AA30: The Search for Shaw! Grummett tries to reference a classic X-Men scene on the last page, but he just doesn’t have John Byrne’s chops. Oh well.
As usual, it’s a nice little superhero book, doing its thing and trying to surf through all the crap in the main universe. I don’t know if Gage has any interest whatsoever in AvX, but at least he’s trying.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Blue Estate #11 (“Showdown”) by Viktor Kalvachev (story/colorist), Kosta Yanev (story), Andrew Osborne (scripter), Toby Cypress (artist), Nathan Fox (artist), Aleksi Briclot (artist), and Peter Nguyen (artist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.
We’re rocketing toward the final issue of “season one” of Blue Estate, so of course there’s quite a bit of craziness in this issue. Clarence has been hired to save Tony, but when he gets inside the house where Tony is being held, he finds Rachel and Roy Devine Jr. tied up as well. So the conversation gets a bit awkward, as Clarence has a thing for Rachel but he did, after all, kill her husband. Plus, Tony isn’t too happy with Rachel at this moment. It’s all very convoluted, but for this issue, we don’t really need to know everything, just that Clarence gets inside the house, rescues Rachel and Tony (but ignores Roy), the Russians and Italians are going to war, and the house has a lot of termites (see below). It’s basically just a lot of people shooting a lot of guns at each other, and while the final page strains credulity a bit (I always chuckle to see so many bullets being fired with none landing), it’s still a wild ride of an issue. I’m looking forward to the finale.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
SPOILERS, I guess. That’s just how I roll!
DC launched a few new series this week (according to the notes at the back, they’ve been “preparing this Second Wave [of DC #1 issues] for quite some time in order to make sure they are as entertaining as possible …” but I have to wonder if we’d been getting these comics if they hadn’t cancelled a bunch of them, and if that’s the case, how long is “quite some time”?), and I decided to pick them up. I like to give them a chance to wow me, people!
Anyway, James Robinson gets a chance to do an Earth-2 book, which it seems like he’s wanted to do for 20 years now, and the results are … mixed. Parademons (again? really?) have attacked Earth, and after years of fighting, Batman has figured out how to defeat them. He needs a diversion, though, so Superman and Wonder Woman go with him to fight hundreds of parademons while Batman infiltrates their headquarters. If the title of the story doesn’t tell you, things go … poorly. But yay! Batman’s plan works, and all is well. Well, except that Robin (Helena Wayne, Batman’s daughter) and Supergirl (Kara Zor-L, who’s only called “Kara” throughout the book) fall through a hole in space and wind up in the DCnU (as we’ll see in World’s Finest, down below), but whatevs. Finally, years later, Alan Scott shows up (wearing a green shirt), and then Jay Garrick does, and the book ends with Mercury (hey, why would Wonder Woman call the gods by their Roman names?) crashing to Earth and telling Mr. Garrick that the world still needs heroes. Oh, and Al Pratt shows up, too. Why not? It’s a long comic, with a lot of room!
I don’t know – the whole book feels a bit gratuitous. The cliché of introducing characters that we think are important only to slaughter them quickly works sometimes (see: X-Force #116), but only when it’s a bit of a surprise (see: X-Force #116) and not really when there’s such an air of fatalism about things. This comic feels so much like so many other comics and movies we’ve seen where the ragtag group goes on a suicide mission and doesn’t tell anyone, leaving the shocked survivors to pull a “Big No” or a “Skyward Scream” (as he can fly, Superman does this in the opposite direction, looking down toward Earth and yelling “NO!”). None of it is particularly interesting, and I suppose it has to be in there so that others can be inspired to follow the Big Three’s leads and become heroes, I feel like it could have been cut a bit shorter – I’m talking 5 pages, max – and have the same impact. They’re instantly recognizable, after all, and do we really needs pages and pages of the heroes slicing and dicing a bunch of faceless green demons? It gets boring very fast, and by the time it’s over, I didn’t even really care that there were new heroes being introduced, because they have no personality either (in fact, Jay is pretty much a doormat). I appreciate that DC gave us extra pages for my 4 bucks, but a lot of it was a waste, unfortunately. I guess I’m just tired of spectacle for no reason.
Nicola Scott is a fine artist, even if Alex Sinclair’s colors tend to smooth her out a bit too much for my tastes. She actually bothers with details, which is always nice, even though it means she may need a fill-in artist sooner rather than later, but for this issue, it’s appreciated – a lot of the violence is nicely rendered. One thing cracks me up – Scott, like so many artists before her, is flummoxed about what to do with Wonder Woman’s lasso; we never see the hip from which it hangs clearly, so who knows how it stays there. Five panels show her with it at her hip, and in all of them, something is blocking the spot where it would hang. In another panel, it’s presumably still on her hip (she’s not holding it in her hand, in other words), and Scott simply doesn’t draw it. Wonder Woman’s lasso – it’s like feet to artists! But overall, Scott does a nice job with the art. Of course, as this is a DC comic, we get a double-page spread as the title page (which is packed, I admit, with the Big Three fighting parademons, so I can let it pass), a might-as-well-be full page splash (there’s a very small panel at the top) of Batman … following his tow line up the Parademon Tower, a page-and-a-half splash of Wonder Woman getting surprised by the sudden presence of Mercury, a might-as-well-be full page splash (again, two very small panels at opposite ends of the page) of a big explosion, a double-page spread of … big holes in the ground (God, I wish I were joking; they’re fire pits left over after the invasion, but they are, after all, just motherfucking holes in the motherfucking ground), and a full-page splash of Mercury after he’s crashed to Earth and is about to tell Jay Garrick something important. That’s eight (8) splash pages out of 28, or 29%. I mean, sure, they’re nice drawings, but I could live with just the first double-page title spread and maybe the dramatic crashing of Mercury, because in what universe did we need two pages of motherfucking holes in the ground? Oh, the Earth-2 universe, I guess!
Finally, I imagine I’m reading Kelly’s posts too much, because I mentioned at my comic store that Wonder Woman getting stabbed through the back with a giant sword, leaving an open vertical wound, might be read as something else and everyone laughed at me. Superman dies heroically while dozens of parademons hold him back, and Wonder Woman, a great warrior, gets stabbed in the back. Damn you, Thompson, for making me see this shit! Of course, maybe everyone at my comic book store is right, and sometimes a giant sword is just a giant sword. Still, I found it humorous if nothing else.
Earth 2 isn’t a particularly good comic, as it exhibits all the weaknesses of your standard DC and Marvel comic – an over-reliance on empty spectacle and shock value, too many full-page splashes, and a weak design sense (the page layouts are fairly dull). While it looks nice thanks to Scott’s solid pencils and Robinson moves things along, like a lot of the first DCnU issues, it’s just kind of … there. It doesn’t really grab you and demand your attention. It’s more like a whiny child, jumping up and down in the corner yelling “Look at me!” while you’re trying to watch something actually good on television, like Mad Men or Steven Seagal’s True Justice.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I’ve never read any of China Miéville’s books, and his Swamp Thing comic was aborted before it ever saw print, so this comic is only the second thing I’ve ever read by him and the first long-form story (he wrote a short piece in Hellblazer #250). Of the three DC #1 issues this week, this is by far the best, and based only on this issue, I think I’ll have to get the trade (no, I’m not going to cave and buy the single issues!).
Miéville introduces us to a fat dude named Nelson who’s not even 30 yet but is already having heart problems. His friend, Darren (another portly dude; it’s somewhat refreshing that neither are physical specimens, actually), lays on some tough love before heading out in the night, where he’s set upon by some thugs who obviously know him and are teaching him a lesson. Nelson, following along to apologize for being a fat-ass, stumbles upon them but can’t help (due to his fatness) and tries to call 9-1-1 on a pay phone. Of course, if you know anything about the DCU, you know that random pay phones (really? a rotary pay phone?) aren’t just phones, but things that grant awesome powers! So Nelson becomes a superhero, kicks the crap out of the bad guys, and gets Darren to a hospital. Then he manages to figure out how to make the phone work and goes after one of the bad dudes who happened to escape. Of course, Darren was mixed up with some kind of evil group, and they’re very interested in Nelson and his alter egos and, of course, seem to know quite a bit about it. And so we’re off!
I don’t like this more than the other two new #1 issues only because I’m not really the target audience for straight-up superhero stuff anymore and this is a bit more twisted. That’s part of it, certainly, but not all of it. Miéville is economical with his prose, getting to the heart of things quickly and efficiently, and wasting no pages in this book. In contrast to Earth 2, Dial H has one splash page, and it’s the final page (and no, it’s not particularly exciting, but at least Miéville has built up to it). He and Santolouco (I’ll get to him) give us dense pages that aren’t too cluttered but impart a lot of visual and textual information. Unlike Robinson in Earth 2, Miéville actually gives Nelson and Darren personalities – it’s possible that Robinson is relying on readers’ expectations to form our reactions to the characters, but that’s lazy writing – so that even after a few pages, we get a sense of who these dudes are. Even the main thug gets some interesting development, as does the neurologist who looks after Darren (and she’s in a grand total of four panels). In fewer pages and with a lot more going on, Miéville manages to make these characters “real,” in contrast to the characters in Earth 2, who remain archetypes (and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with archetypes, but it makes reading their adventures less engaging). Obviously, I like Robinson as a writer, and I know he can write good characters, but that’s not really in evidence in issue #1 of Earth 2. Plus, Miéville comes up with two wonderfully creative superheroes, and I wonder how many more he has up his sleeve. It was far more exciting and fun reading Dial H than it was reading the other two comics, is what I mean.
Santolouco has been moving up the ranks of comic artists for a few years now, and this is probably his highest-profile gig yet. He’s a pretty good artist, and he does a nice job with the grit of Littleville, the town where the action occurs. He designed two wonderfully weird superheroes, too, and for the first one, especially, he twists up the page layouts and gives us some exciting pages. A few times his faces are grotesque, and I don’t think it’s the effect he wants, but for the most part, he does a nice job with Miéville’s oddball script.
DC released a lot of weird titles in the “first wave” of the DCnU that seem to be doing okay. It would be nice if Dial H joined them, because we need weirder superhero books out there. I mean, do we really need more people punching each other, or wouldn’t it be nice to see a comic where the hero dispatches smoke dogs to bring down the bad guys? I think you know the answer to that.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Mind the Gap #1 (“Intimate Strangers Part 1″) by Jim McCann (writer), Rodin Esquejo (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 45 pgs, FC, Image.
Here’s another Image #1 issue that’s giant-sized, and unlike a certain recent first issue that I didn’t love, I think Mind the Gap does a better job with the bigger page count. I don’t know if McCann will make the whole thing work, but he has a lot of characters to introduce, and he does a very good job getting them all in here. He mentions at the end of the book that the “bad guy” is “mentioned” in the first issue – so that doesn’t necessarily mean that person shows up. I don’t know if he plans to do a long run of this series, but I’m always down with a “fair play” mystery, and it seems like that’s what McCann is trying to set up.
Anyway, the story is simple: A girl named Ellis (Elle) Peterssen is attacked on a New York subway platform and ends up in a coma. While she has an out-of-body experience, her family and friends show up and try to figure out what happened. The book begins with Elle calling her friend Jo on her cell phone but only moaning. Jo calls Elle’s boyfriend, Dane, and eventually the two of them along with Elle’s parents and brother end up at the hospital. Mr. Peterssen doesn’t like Dane, Elle’s brother Eddie is a douchebag, and Elle’s mother doesn’t like anyone, apparently. The original doctor is bumped off the case by someone who knows the family, but she (the original doctor, that is), suspects that something is fishy with Elle because her brain isn’t acting like someone in a coma. Finally, the new doctor calls some scientist dude, who rushes out with a briefcase and is waylaid by the person who attacked Elle, who steals the case. This person is taking direction from some mysterious person on the other end of a cell phone. Oh, and Elle apparently can possess bodies. Of course she can!
It’s a lot to get through, but McCann does a very nice job with it. Everyone is clearly identified and given some basic personality traits, so while he doesn’t get into them too deeply, we can infer quite a bit from the proceedings. When McCann writes at the end that the clues are there, everything becomes important. Apparently Elle and her friends worked at a theater. What could that mean? What about the lab assistant who probably has a crush on Elle? And why are the cops arresting the original doctor? It’s all very convoluted, in the best way. I don’t even mind that being able to quote “Wish You Were Here” means that someone know their Pink Floyd (if someone knew their Pink Floyd, they’d quote “San Tropez” or “Southampton Dock”) – come on, “two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl”? My mom could probably quote that! (Okay, maybe not, but my uncool sister probably could. I love you, Barb!)
Esquejo, who’s been doing covers for a while, gets to do a shit-ton of interior pages, and of course it’s not going to be quite as good as his covers, but it’s quite good nevertheless. He has to draw a lot of people in this, and he manages to make them fairly unique, so we never have a problem figuring out who’s who. Some of the computer effects – the car crash, for instance – are annoying, but Elle’s trip through the spirit world is very nice, especially when she meets Bobby (see below). I absolutely hate the way Oback colors a page – she’s accomplished at it, of course, but she does it with those digital colors that wash all the definition out of faces and make everything far too smooth. That’s the trend in coloring, I know, and I imagine it’s quicker and cheaper, but while I can recognize the skill involved, that doesn’t mean I like it. It’s just not my thing. It seems that Esquejo is a good enough artist to overcome it, and it doesn’t ruin the book for me, but it does lessen my enjoyment of the book a bit. Not much, but a bit.
If you happened to pick up Saga #1 because it was 3 bucks for double the page count, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to give Mind the Gap a look. It’s an intriguing mystery, it looks pretty good, and it gives you enough for you to decide if you’d want to continue with the series. What more could you ask for?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
As I’ve mentioned, I’m just playing out the string with Pigs – next issue is the last one I will get. Cosby and McCool haven’t done enough with the concept, and they’re taking far too long to get anywhere (even though a character promises that next issue she’ll tell someone else “everything”). Even this issue, which features their prison break so they can kill some old Nazi, meanders around a bit, and it’s just not worth it to hang around. Pigs has a good high concept but the execution is lacking. Too bad.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Worlds’ Finest #1 (“Rebirth”) by Paul Levitz (writer), George Pérez (penciller), Scott Koblish (inker), Kevin Maguire (artist), Hi-Fi (colorist), Rosemary Cheetham (colorist), and Carlos M. Mangual (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC.
When I started reading comics, I bought (for no discernible reason that I can recall) The Huntress, the 19-issue series that introduced Helena Bertinelli to the comic book world. I honestly don’t know why I bought it – I didn’t like Joe Staton’s art (I like it more now, but not then), and I had no idea who “Helena Wayne” was, so it wasn’t residual nostalgia, and Joey Cavalieri’s story was just … kind of … there. As I hadn’t been inured to comics yet, the fact that Helena was raped when she was very young seemed really edgy (despite the Alan Moore-ification of comics happening back then, it still was somewhat edgy), and it was just a nice, forgettable series. But Helena Bertinelli was always MY Huntress, and I kind of like the character. I like that she has this mob-filled background but walks away from it (which, of course, provides both ready cash and threats to arise every so often) and I like that she’s a schoolteacher in crappy Gotham neighborhoods. I even like that she’s a bit more bloodthirsty than Batman, who is, let’s face it, a bit of a wuss sometimes. Now, I’m 40 years old (okay, I’ll be 41 in two weeks – don’t bury me yet, you bastards!). I know I didn’t grow up reading comics, but did Helena Wayne have such a hold on people of my generation who read Earth-2 stories in 1980 that poor Helena Bertinelli, despite being Huntress for twice as long as Helena Wayne (1977-1985/6 as opposed to 1989-2011/12), gets no love? Or is it just Paul Levitz, who created Helena Wayne, throwing his weight around? Was the fan base clamoring for a return of Helena Wayne? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m going to miss Helena Bertinelli, and not in the facile way that this new Huntress will. You see, according to the first page of this comic, Helena Wayne has been the Huntress all along, and she just adopted the identity of some dead chick named Helena Bertinelli. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Now, I’m not going to go all “Let’s petition DC to get this horrible retcon re-retconned!” because, ultimately, it’s just a character, but once again, DC regresses. That’s all they ever seem to do these days.
But what about the actual comic? Is it any good? Well, it’s okay, I guess – it’s better than Earth 2, but not by much. We saw in Earth 2 that Helena and Kara got sucked through some kind of wormhole and were deposited on the DCU Earth, and this book tracks how Kara (now Karen) is planning to get them back to their Earth. For five years, Karen has been using funds that Helena stole from Bruce Wayne (does this retroactively explain Batman’s antagonism toward her all these years?) to build a device to breach the dimensional wall, and now she’s almost ready. However, some dull evil dude named Hakkou blows up the lab and confronts the two heroines, and it’s GO TIME! Well, it will be next issue. Can’t give the people too much too soon!
Levitz does his thing – like most DC and Marvel comics, this could have been half the length without losing anything, but we do get quite a bit of information and some punching – and Pérez is still an interesting artist, although even his crisp lines are smoothed out by the dreaded digital coloring. Maguire is phoning this in, unfortunately – the one splash page (out of only TWO in the book!) he does is quite nice (unnecessary, perhaps, but nice), but overall, he’s gotten lazier, ignoring backgrounds and even giving his characters less expressive faces, which has always been his forté. It’s disappointing, but such is life. I suppose Pérez redesigned Power Girl’s costume, and it’s hilarious that he got rid of the boob window but drew a target around her left nipple, so we’re still focused on her boobs. Her figure is a bit more believable, though, which is nice. Pérez has always been good at drawing (mostly) realistic females, and that’s still true.
This is a more interesting concept than Earth 2 (which seems, let’s be honest, like it’s just a gathering of superheroes to fight bad guys), because the two leads are the whole “strangers in a strange land who are trying to get home,” and that’s inherently fascinating. I don’t have a lot of faith in Levitz to make it a good comic, but this first issue isn’t terrible. See how charitable I am?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Peter David gets in a hilarious swipe at Rob Liefeld that is almost worth the price of admission for this comic. I love when comics creators take shots at each other in their comics almost as much as I like it when they do it real life.
X-Factor hears about the “superhero” death in Seattle, so they take the case at the behest of the victim’s mother, even though Alex thinks they shouldn’t (this is because Alex is a douche). Longshot tries to “read” the camera that captured the murder and is knocked into a coma. That ain’t good. Shatterstar comes across the bad guy, who’s faster than he is. Oh dear.
There’s not much else to say. Anyone who reads this book will tell you that it’s consistently entertaining, usually well drawn, and features characters who sound like people talk (extremely witty people, but still). Leonard Kirk unfortunately makes the mother look like an extra on the Planet of the Apes set in one panel, but otherwise, it’s a nice-looking book. That’s all she wrote!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Despite my reservations about Snyder’s writing skills, I liked the first trade of this series. We’ll see what I think of the next one!
Animal Man volume 1: The Hunt by Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), John Paul Leon (artist), Steve Pugh (artist), Jeff Huet (additional inks), Dan Green (additional inks), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $14.99, 120 pgs, FC, DC.
Okay, DCnU. People have been taking some cheap shots at me because they claim I don’t like superhero comics, even though they miss the fact that what I don’t like are shitty superhero comics. Now DC is putting out trades of the reboot – this is one of the first ones. You’re not going to piss me off, are you, Animal Man?
Dwight MacPherson (and Boatwright) are back with another story of a olde-tyme horror icon as a child. Look at li’l Howard! He’s so adorable!
Planet of the Apes volume 2: The Devil’s Pawn by Daryl Gregory (writer), Carlos Magno (artist), Nolan Woodard (colorist), Darrin Moore (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $14.99, 88 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.
I enjoyed the first trade of this series a lot more than I thought I would. Fingers crossed that it continues!
Nick Fury finds out that there’s a case of having too many Avengers. The people at my comic book store, beside making fun of my observation about Wonder Woman, were flummoxed that I have no interest in seeing The Avengers. I don’t have any animosity toward the movie because the King doesn’t get his due, I just have no interest in it. Much like my interest in superhero comics, my interest in superhero movies has waned considerably over the past few years. I don’t really want to spend 10 bucks to watch two CGI “people” beat each other up. It doesn’t do anything for me. As I get older, I’m losing interest in movies in general, because the quality of television is so high right now. I appreciate 10-15 hours of television seasons that let the characters develop and the plots work themselves out instead of 2 hours of cramming as much as you can into a story. I mean, what will The Avengers be like? We’ll get some quips, a few “heartfelt character moments,” and lots of inconsequential bashing. I haven’t begun watching Season Two of Game of Thrones yet (so don’t you motherfuckers ruin it for me!), but in Season One, the final shot of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was wonderful because we had followed her through so much, and we just couldn’t get that character development plus all the rest of it in a two-hour movie. I know that The Avengers will incorporate stuff from the previous movies (apparently, Thor shows up on Earth with no explanation how it happened, but I don’t know if that’s accurate), but those didn’t have too much character development either, and of course the plot will be new. Last week I watched Hanna on the TV, and it bugged me, because I wanted to know what happened to Sophie and her family. Were they killed or just released? And what happened to Hanna herself? See? The movie was too short!!!!! I don’t know – movies just aren’t doing it for me these days. But I hope everyone else enjoys The Avengers.
The Before Watchmen controversy continues, as Heidi has a story about Tucker Stone not stocking the book for his shelves. Lots of interesting comments, and some more over at Robot 6. I don’t care either way – if Stone doesn’t want to stock it, fine by me. I do like how some people seem to be getting angry at him because he’s knowingly losing money. “But … but … this is America! Money rules all! How can you do anything that might lose you money?” I don’t like Stone’s writing too much (I’m sure, if I enter his consciousness at all, he’d say the same thing about me), but not stocking BW is kind of cool.
Junior Seau committed suicide yesterday. Huh. I’m not going to say it’s sad, but it is quite odd. He was only 43 years old, and one wonders, as one does whenever a football player kills himself, how much brain trauma played in the decision. I don’t know if Seau had brain trauma, but as we learn more about football’s impact on the brain, it’s hard to think it didn’t play some role.
Here’s a horrible story: A right-wing, anti-illegal immigrant, pro-violence advocate in Gilbert, AZ (not too far from where I live) went crazy yesterday, killed a woman, her daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend, and the couple’s 15-month-old daughter before killing himself. It’s a horrible, horrible situation. According to someone who knew both the killer and the victims, the man insulted the baby because she was half-Hispanic. Charming. Whenever someone does this, someone comes out and says they can’t believe he would do it, and that’s fair – who knows who’s going to snap? However, the guy that made this statement is a member of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group that the killer once belonged to (and damn, they have an awful web site – please don’t go there), claimed that he was a “good man.” Um, okay. Anyway, fun times in the AZ. Sheesh.
Let’s get that story out of our heads with some .gifs. They’re always fun!
All right, let’s do a Top Ten List! I’m going to do a boring one – my favorite albums of all time. Rolling Stone has just put out another list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and I always like to check those out to see what they think. I haven’t bought it yet, but it put me in mind of my favorite albums. These change every so often, except for the #1 spot, so this is what I think RIGHT NOW! Here we go!
1. Misplaced Childhood by Marillion (1985). My uncool sister introduced me to Marillion when she got back from Germany in 1985 (or ’86 – I can’t remember correctly), but I didn’t start digging them until a few years later, and now they’re my favorite band. Misplaced Childhood is a wonderful album, a concept album (I love concept albums) about growing up and losing love and finding yourself, and it’s remarkable how well it all flows. The lead singer, who calls himself Fish, was often pretentious and overly-reliant on metaphorical symbolism, but on this album he pulls back just enough, and the result is a wealth of wonderful lyrics that don’t overwhelm you with oblique imagery. The music is strong and ambitious and complements the lyrics beautifully. “Kayleigh” is a marvelous love song, “Blind Curve” is a superb meditation on loss, and “Childhood’s End?” is a wonderfully triumphant tune about rediscovering a love for life. This has been my favorite album for 20 years, and I have never listened to anything that comes close. (Other very good/great Marillion albums: Script for a Jester’s Tears (1983), Fugazi (1984), Clutching at Straws (1987), Brave (1994), Afraid of Sunlight (1995), This Strange Engine (1997), Marillion.com (1999), and Anoraknophobia (2001), although I’m not the best judge because they’re my favorite band.)
2. Apple – Mother Love Bone (1990). Mother Love Bone didn’t last long – this was their only full-length album – because their lead singer, Andrew Wood, decided to overdose on heroin. But what an album they released! Apple is full of weird, trippy heavy metal with non-sequitur lyrics that nevertheless make sense in context. Wood has a cackling voice, which lends even more weirdness to the lyrics, and the music soars and lurks and holds Wood’s lyrics from floating away. “This Is Shangrila,” “Stardog Champion,” “Bone China,” and “Man of Golden Words” are highlights, but the two best songs are “Stargazer” – a beautiful and haunting love song – and “Crown of Thorns,” which is one of those album-ending songs that is perfectly placed. Some of the members of Mother Love Bone went on to create Pearl Jam, so if you don’t like Pearl Jam, I guess you can blame Wood. I do wish we had gotten more stuff out of this band, because while I like Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone was far weirder and glorious. Oh well.
3. Nothing’s Shocking – Jane’s Addiction (1988). Jane’s second album is a wonder of hard rock, withh “Ocean Size” blasting you out of your seats early on, “Had a Dad” screaming out a loss of God, and “Mountain Song” not letting you forget that Perry and the boys can rock. It also features some beautiful songs – “Summertime Rolls” is gorgeous, and “Jane Says” trucks along with those great steel drums underneath Perry’s yearning lyrics. “Pigs in Zen” is a fine way to end things, with a nice angry rant by Mr. Farrell. Dave Navarro is, of course, a superb guitarist (he’s pretty much the only reason to buy Jane’s 2003 album, Strays), and this was just when the band coalesced into a streamlined unit and before Perry went nuts. (Other very good/great Jane’s Addiction albums: Jane’s Addiction (1987), which includes “I Would For You,” probably their best song, and Ritual de lo Habitual (1990).)
4. Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys (1989). The Boys’ second album is astonishing, a bunch of linked songs as musically and lyrically dense as you’re ever going to find. The Boys go back and forth so quickly and effortlessly, it makes you breathless just to keep up. The Boys layer the songs with samples that flow easily into the rhythm of the songs, from everyone from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash to KRS-One, and they add everyday noises that also fit in beautifully (the bouncing ping-pong balls, for instance). The lyrics are hilarious, too, the rhymes are wonderful (“Long distance from my girl and I’m talking on the cellular/She said that she was sorry and I said yeah the hell you were”; “Excuse me young lady I don’t mean to trouble ya/But you’re looking mighty fine inside your BMW”), and the three Boys never take a break, flowing on into the weird and wild but always keeping things grounded. Like Misplaced Childhood, it’s an album that demands to be listened to all at once, just letting it go as it fills up your ears (I don’t have songs from either album on my iPod, because I don’t want to listen to just one song without the others). I know it’s probably heretical to like an album of white guys rapping more than any other, but damn, it’s a good album. (Other very good/great Beastie Boys albums: Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication (1994).)
5. Hey Ma – James (2008). By far the most recent album on this list, this is a triumphant return for James, who broke up in 2001 after releasing some great albums in the 1990s. I like Hey Ma more than their earlier work because this is the one album that doesn’t go through a lull, as their other ones do. There are better songs on earlier albums, but there are worse songs, too, and Hey Ma is consistently excellent, with only “Oh My Heart” as a weaker tune. The first three songs lead up to “Waterfall,” a brilliant song about modern consumerism and letting it all go. “Semaphore” is a frightening song about a man who doesn’t realize he’s abusive, and “Whiteboy” is a hilarious song about modern society’s obsession with looks. The album’s final song is “I Wanna Go Home,” which is a good place to finish, but the album culminates in “Of Monsters & Heroes & Men,” which is one of James’ best songs – chilling and uplifting and a monumental rejection of God, which is a standard theme in their work (Tim Booth questions religion intelligently quite a bit, and doesn’t always turn away from it). The lyrics are brilliant: “Here on the ground, we’re reckless and hopeless, damned by the slip of a pen.” It’s an amazing song on an excellent album. (Other very good/great James albums: Gold Mother (1990), Seven (1992), Laid (1993), and Millionaires (1999).)
6. Gravity Dance – Horse Flies (1991). I’ve written about Gravity Dance before, but what the hell. The Horse Flies are an odd folk band who don’t record many albums, but they play live constantly. Gravity Dance is a bit different from their bluegrass roots, but it’s close enough that the rock edge they throw on the album makes it a weird, heady blend of genres. The album lurches back and forth between bizarre, pseudo-upbeat tunes like “Life Is a Rubber Rope,” “Roadkill,” and “I Need a Plastic Bag (To Keep My Brains In)” and haunting ballads like “Two Candles” (my favorite song on the album), “Time Is Burning,” and “Your Eyes Are Elevators.” It’s a shame the band hasn’t released too many albums, but at least they released this one!
7. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983). I didn’t hear this album until I went to college in 1989, but I fell in love with it pretty quickly. It’s a tremendous album with very few weak spots (“Confessions” isn’t great, although Gordon Gano’s sneering ending is wonderful, and “Good Feeling” is just okay) and many, many highlights. “Blister in the Sun” and “Kiss Off” begin the album brilliantly, and are followed soon by the amazing “Add it Up” (“Words all fail the magic prize, nothing I can say when I’m in your thighs”). “Gone Daddy Gone,” my favorite track (xylophone solo, bitches!), comes near the end, and is a nice culmination of the album (before “Good Feeling” limply ends it). The music is compelling and driving, while Gano’s whiny vocals add just the right level of contempt to the lyrics (which is why something like “Good Feeling” doesn’t work as well). The band has done some decent work since, but nothing comes close to their debut album. (Other very good/great Violent Femmes albums: The Blind Leading the Naked (1986).)
8. Duke – Genesis (1980). For a long time, Genesis was my favorite band, and I still like them very much, and it’s hard to determine my favorite album by them. Overall, Duke is the strongest, although I could easily make a case for any albums they released from 1971 to 1980. Duke, however, gives us a very nice mix of their prog-rock roots (“Behind the Lines”/”Duchess”/”Guide Vocal,” three connected songs that begin the album) and Phil’s more commercial sensibilities (“Misunderstanding” and “Turn it on Again”). It’s a nice balance, and while some earlier Genesis albums have really great songs, they also have some of Peter Gabriel’s navel-gazing weirdness. Duke is a fine album musically, too, as Banks and Rutherford do a nice job moving with the times (the album sounds remarkably modern, even today) and experimenting with different rhythms and melodies. This might be Phil’s best album on drums, too. The best song on the album is probably “Heathaze,” which takes a desert wind and turns it into a metaphor for Phil’s personal problems at the time. It’s heartfelt without being schmaltzy, which is something Phil couldn’t help doing a lot in his solo work. This is the last truly great Genesis album, unfortunately, but they still had some good ones left in them! (Other very good/great Genesis albums: Nursery Cryme (1971), Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974), A Trick of the Tail (1976), Wind and Wuthering (1976), … And Then There Were Three … (1978), Abacab (1981), We Can’t Dance (1991), but again, I’m probably not terribly objective.)
9. Like the Idea – Think Tree (1991). I bought this album in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1992, and I’m glad I did. Think Tree was a Boston-based band that blended rock, funk, and Buddhism to produce this oddball masterpiece, which reels all over the place giving us one astonishing song after another. The three best songs are “Monday A.M. First Thing,” with its playful lyrical tongue-twisting (“In walked an old crow named Poe/Who smelled like a library book I’d checked out/Some twenty odd years ago/His dark gray parka sat on him like the shell of a crustacean/He had flowers to bring to his wife Lenore back home at the bus station”), “Everything Is Equal,” a plea for tolerance, and “Eye for Eye,” a bitter song about the lack of emotional attachments in a cold world and the insistence on physical perfection (“Frustration bubbles as she scratches at her stubble reading magazines/Ads to cure her troubles come in bosoms bound in towels pushing Vaseline/Glances at the telly and it latches up her belly to believe the shot/Of a perfumed Pocahontas with the swinging young Adonis loving what she’s got”), but every song is weird and wild (there’s a song about how silly it is to worship cows). The music is raw and weird and unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Think Tree fell apart pretty quickly, but they managed to release a great album!
10. Love Symbol Album – Prince (1992). No, it’s not Purple Rain. It’s not 1999. It’s not even Sign “O” the Times. I know this might be heretical, but something about Prince’s 1992 album just resonates with me more than any other Prince album (although he’s released a lot of great ones). Musically, this album is bolder than a lot of his earlier stuff – he branches out into some jazz, more funk, and even rap while still retaining the incredible guitar work of his earlier albums, and he just sounds like he’s having more fun than on a lot of his other albums. “My Name Is Prince” is a tremendous beginning to the album (his best since “Let’s Go Crazy”) and it’s nastier than a lot of earlier Prince songs, too. “Sexy MF” is the second song, and it continues with the vibe of not taking things all that seriously. Prince always lays on the sexual imagery, but on this album, it seems less earnest (which is always a problem for Mr. Nelson) and fun-loving. There are bumps along the road, of course – “Damn U” is a dumb song, and I don’t know what’s going on with “3 Chains o’ Gold,” but overall, it’s one of those insane Prince albums where he goes anywhere he wants and damn the consequences! (Other very good/great Prince albums: 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984), Sign “O” the Times (1987), The Gold Experience (1995).)
Well, that was hard. I bet if you asked me tomorrow, I might switch out some for others. And yes, most of these albums are fairly old, but that’s because we tend to latch onto albums that we hear when we’re younger more than those we discover when we’re older, right? But this is a fun list, ain’t it? Chime in with your scorn or your own selections!
Anyway, have a wonderful day and weekend. I may have to try the pool this weekend. That’s how hot it’s been here!
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