I didn’t think I was going to write about Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, and The Divided States of Hysteria. When the first controversy sparked up the beginning of last month I had already committed to an interview with a team working on a Kickstarter project for my column that followed said controversy. While people still talked about it some after I thought people had basically covered the scope of the issue and I wouldn’t have anything constructive to add.
Then this happened followed by this apology from Image Comics and Howard Chaykin. I tend to discuss these sort of occurrences in the comics community and I really haven’t lately so it’s time for me to get back to that.
Full disclosure: I have met Howard Chaykin before at a few conventions, got a Lois Lane sketch from him some years ago, and attended a panel back at the first Special Edition NYC spotlighting him with fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases in which he recommended we read the Tom De Haven novel It’s Superman which is actually quite good and one of the best things you’ll ever read that stars The Man Of Tomorrow.
I don’t want to rehash all the details you likely already know, and if you are somehow into comics enough to read columns on comic book news sites and are not aware of what’s been going on, it’s covered in the links provided. You can also type in keywords in a Twitter search and find plenty on this. So, rather than restate the information, I’ll tell you how I, someone that discusses diversity in comics and adjacent topics, read this situation.
First, nobody is ever obligated to purchase and enjoy a comic. Period. If people see a cover or an image from a comic that makes them not want to read it, they don’t have to. They’re allowed to voice their displeasure and tell their friends and the Internet they don’t want to read it and you shouldn’t either. People are allowed to look at a comic and decide against it without reading it.
It is not against the concept of free speech to openly discuss why you do not like or support something; it’s nearly the entire point of free speech. Nor is speaking out against this comic censorship. Howard Chaykin and Image Comics have every right to put out this material and you and anyone else have every right to actively not support it if you so desire.
It’s up to the marketing people and the publisher to convince people that their product is worth their time and to spend money on it. Part of the blunder that took place here is that Image had worked out getting The Divided States of Hysteria a Pride variant when the content inside didn’t fit for that audience. More eyes, including a lot more queer eyes, were on this book because of that variant and it being Pride month. Had this book come out without that variant and later on in the year I think it may have glided under the radar a bit and while their likely would have been some backlash, it wouldn’t have hit the same levels.
Another factor is that this is an Image comic. While Image does have some gruesome books like The Walking Dead, most of its line-up is pretty accessible to a wide comics audience. A publisher more well known for its over-the-top stories and graphic imagery like Avatar Press may have been able to take on The Divided States of Hysteria with less backlash.
The political and cultural environment is just not where this book is either. People are upset, depressed, and frightened by what we see coming out of the White House; I know I am. Had the results on November 9th, 2016 been different then maybe people would have been a little more open to the idea of a comic that’s talking about a horrible alternate reality. It hits a little too close to home for many right now.
The timing of this book was way off. Particularly with the portrayal of a trans sex worker being brutalized. What may have seemed edgy or even acceptable decades ago in terms of representing a trans character doesn’t fly anymore. At least fourteen trans women, mostly trans women of color, have been murdered just for being trans this year, and more trans women were killed in 2016 than in 2015. I encourage you to follow the link in the last sentence and to read the names of those we’ve lost. Audiences not only are demanding more from trans representation in all media, but it’s necessary and can save lives.
Finally, I want to talk a bit about Howard Chaykin himself. Some people have criticized him for being “an old white guy.” While there is some truth to that, it’s a bit more complicated. Howard Chaykin was born October 7th, 1950. He had a rough childhood moving many times as a kid across New York City, being raised on welfare, finding out later in life that who he thought was his biological father was in fact not and having a cruel adoptive father.
Despite all that, and despite the fact that many doors shut in front of him as he tried to develop his career early on because he’s Jewish, Howard was able to get his start in comics before branching out into other media. One of his early works, American Flagg!, was also a political satire and starred Reuben Flagg, an overtly Jewish lead at a time where that was far from common in mainstream comics. Hell, it’s uncommon now. That work, in particular, went on to inspire multiple generations of comic creators, including Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, Frank Miller, and Brian Michael Bendis.
I’m not writing all this to make you change your mind on The Divided States of Hysteria. If you don’t want to read it, don’t. If you don’t like Howard Chaykin’s work, continue to not like it. If you want other people to know you feel that way, let them know.
What I am saying is that he is a person, he’s fought his own battles for decades to get where he is, he may have been through more than you know, he and Image Comics are in no way advocating bigotry, there is absolutely no need to make personal attacks towards Howard, and his entire body of work should not be summed up in one poorly timed and arguably poorly executed comic book.
This was Thursday night last week, at a rally in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle outside of a Trump hotel. I went, as I often do, to put my body on the line for something in which I believe. In this case, I wanted to stand with my fellow New Yorkers to express my horror about the Inauguration taking place the next day.
I stood there for about an hour. A woman sang, beautifully. Rosie Perez welcomed us. Alec Baldwin did his Trump impression. Steve Buscemi talked. New York City mayor Bill deBlasio spoke, followed by the mayor of Minneapolis. Michael Moore was very funny, but at this point, my back started to hurt, and I decided that I had been seen enough to make my statement.
Andy Warhol famously said that, in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. He did not explain why we should care.
I bring this up because so many people get upset or excited about celebrities expressing their political opinions. Some pundits speculate that one of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election was that people were sick of her celebrity endorsers (including Katie Perry, Beyonce, Meryl Streep and Bruce Springsteen) campaigning for her.
We saw another flare-up of celebrity opinions, and the resulting backlash, this past week, at the Inauguration and the Women’s March. None of the so-called “A List” stars would perform for the Inauguration, which reportedly angered Trump and his followers. At the same time, a lot of celebrities spoke at the Women’s March, or simply marched with their friends, and without an entourage. Melissa Benoit (Supergirl), Peter Capaldi (the Doctor), Whoopi Goldberg (Star Trek, among many others), Ian McKellan (Magneto, with a Patrick Stewart sign), Gillian Anderson (X-Files) were among those at marches around the world, and I’m sure I’m leaving out bunches. There was even a march at the Sundance Film Festival, where Nick Offerman was a treasure.
There were plenty of celebrities who didn’t march, either because the issues didn’t matter to them, or they had other responsibilities that day, or because they were actively hostile to the cause. One of them, posting on Twitter, was Piers Morgan, who thought he was being clever when he said he was organizing a Men’s March.
As a result of people actually reading what Morgan wrote and taking him at his word, there were reactions. One was that Ewan McGregor canceled an interview on Morgan’s show to promote his new movie. In a snit, Morgan shot back, “Sorry that Ewan McGregor’s not here. He couldn’t bear the thought of being on the sofa with me because he doesn’t agree with me about the women’s march. I have to agree with what an actor thinks about a particular issue because they’re actors. And as we know actors’ views are more important than anybody else’s.”
To me, McGregor decided he didn’t want to waste his time talking to someone whose views he found to be disgusting. That’s his right. I don’t think McGregor was saying his views are “more important than anybody else’s.” I think he decided that life was too short.
(However, if I was the publicist for T2 Trainspotting 2, I might have been less sanguine.)
Celebrities are frequently American citizens, and, as such, have the same right to free speech as the rest of us. And, like the rest of us, when they use this right, they sometimes reveal themselves to be educated and insightful, and other times they reveal themselves to be superficial and ignorant. Their opinions are no more or less important than anyone else’s.
Over the years, I’ve been at events (usually fundraisers for charities or politicians) where various celebrities have been in attendance. Sometimes they shut themselves off in a VIP area. Sometimes they mingle with the crowd. Sometimes they let you take selfies with them, and sometimes they even talk to you. In that, they are similar to the other people in attendance, except with bodyguards.
Our own little world of comics is part of this now, since, apparently, our new president is a Christopher Nolan fan. As many pointed out, Trump lifted some of his inaugural address from The Dark Knight Rises, which is even more amazing when one considers that the character he swiped from was Bane, the villain. Bane creators Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan were interviewed by several media outlets, and, in the process, described themselves as Trump supporters.
Good for them. I disagree, of course, but I was delighted that they presented their opinions in a sane, non-hysterical manner.
I must say, that, as a pacifist, I find the only thing more attractive than punching Nazis in the face would be punching Nazi vampires in the face. And I think that, for me, both are about as likely to happen.
This week’s heart-stopping controversy revolves around the question “is it ever okay to punch a Nazi in the face?” Such an occurrence happened during the Trump Coronation in Washington last Friday and of course it was captured by news outlets and smartphoners alike. And of course the footage went viral – much as the Nazis themselves did in the 1930s.
Comic books have been beating on Nazis since the invention of the staple, so one might think there wouldn’t be much controversy within our particular donut shop. During WWII, there was no greater Nazi-beater than Captain America – it pretty much was his raison d’être – so it is slightly surprising that the current writer of Captain America (indeed, both Captains America), Nick Spencer, said beating on Nazis is wrong. “… cheering violence against speech, even of the most detestable, disgusting variety, is not a look that will age well.”
Hmmm. That begs the question “is violence a form of free expression and, thus, entitled to First Amendment protection?” I think that’s a fascinating discussion, although I wouldn’t want to go to court on it. It’s definitely a “whose ox is being gored” affair.
On the other hand, we have writer Warren Ellis, no slouch when it comes to writing superheroes and a genuine clever bastard in the Ian Dury sense of the term. He said on his website “… yes, it is always correct to punch Nazis. They lost the right to not be punched in the face when they started spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. And anyone who stands up and respectfully applauds their perfect right to say these things should probably also be punched, because they are clearly surplus to human requirements. Nazis do not need a hug. Nazis do not need to be indulged. Their world doesn’t get better until you’ve been removed from it. Your false equivalences mean nothing. Their agenda is always, always, extermination. Nazis need a punch in the face.”
Far be it of me to paraphrase Mr. Ellis, but I think once you strip away the elegance what he’s saying is “They’re fucking Nazis, you morons!”
I see his point. And I agree with it. Yes, it’s illegal – hit somebody in the face and you risk going to prison. Some things are worth that risk, and if all you’re doing is punching a Nazi in the face, you just might be working for the greater good of humanity. Besides, a few generations ago we used to shoot them.
I don’t have to tell you everything the Nazis stand for, but to mention just a few items they stand for genocide, methodical elimination from society, torture, global domination and Fascism. Please note, I’m referring to Nazis and not to “radical Islamists.” The fact that today’s Nazis use their philosophies to justify anti-Islam activities is confusing, but Nazis lack perspective.
An important aside: We tend to conflate Nazism with Fascism. They are two different things. Whereas all Nazis are Fascists, not all Fascists are Nazis. Many Fascists do not engage in genocide and they seem to be of two minds about torture. They define global domination in strict business terms, and they are actively engaged in nation-running to benefit such domination. They particularly like to work from the “inside circle” of a charismatic government leader’s cabinet. Yesterday’s munitions maker just might be today’s casino operator.
I understand why some teenagers are attracted to Nazism. It’s simple, it’s tribal, it’s brutal (hey, there’s a difference between punching people in the face and hording them into gas chambers), and, damn, they do dress well. But lucky for us, if good art direction was what it took to win a war, we’d all be goose-stepping today.
Back in the 1970s we tried hitting assholes in the face with pies. It didn’t work: we still got Nixon and Reagan and Cheney and Trump. We were so wondrously naïve back then. Punching alt-right leaders in the face might not stem the tide of Fascism in the United States, but maybe it’s a start. It sure beats bullets and bombs.
One day in the early 80s, I was with my girlfriend in a shopping mall. Somehow I had been relegated to the role of sidekick while she shopped. I liked to do a lot of things with her, but shopping wasn’t high on that list. I was bored so I decided to buy a comic book to read while she shopped.
Back then I was enjoying a lot of comics and purchasing them every week at Kim’s Collectible Comics and Records. But one store in that mall had a spinner rack filled with comics, and I knew I could snag an issue that I had missed.
I evaluated the comics available on that rack and hoped that one would be my salvation from the dreariness of shopping. I reached out for Swamp Thing #21, and was surprised to find an unfamiliar writer wrote it. I decided to give it a try nonetheless.
Those initial low expectations quickly gave way to… my brain exploding! That issue masterfully took a fresh approach to a tired concept, and wrapped it in thoughtful, clever and creepy prose. It was a big deal. I was so excited, and at the same time so frustrated, as I couldn’t really discuss it with that girlfriend. She had no interest in comics.
I didn’t know it then, but comics were about to change.
Alan Moore, that writer, was just one of the creators who ushered in a new era of comics. Sequart’s newest book, The British Invasion – Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer discussed the important contributions of these writers. I was able to catch up with author Greg Carpenter and he shared some insights.
Ed Catto: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, British Invasion, and what you set out to do with this book?
Greg Carpenter: I’d be happy to Ed, and thanks for having me here. The British Invasion is an in-depth analysis of the intertwined careers of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison – three influential British comics writers who first began writing American comics in the 1980s. The book traces their work from the ‘80s through today (or as close to “today” as you can get in the book-publishing world), and it focuses in particular on how these three writers redefined our understanding of what it means to be a comic book writer.
At least, that’s the dry, academic-y answer. As for what I wanted to accomplish, on the simplest level I think it was to try to answer the question that students always ask me: “Why have comics become so popular lately?” Obviously that’s a loaded question with lots of presuppositions, but the gist of it – that comics culture has moved from the outskirts of society to the mainstream – seems fair. And for me, the answer to that question leads directly back to the work of people like Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison.
I remember back in 2004 when I was sitting in a theater watching The Incredibles. Here – in a Pixar movie that didn’t really have to be all that smart or insightful in order to be successful – was a full examination of the wonder and the absurdity of the superhero genre, viewed through a real-world prism with real world consequences. Even though there had already been several superhero movies by that time – some of them quite good – what struck me was that Brad Bird seemed like the first filmmaker who had really “gotten” writers like Moore, Gaiman, Morrison. The thrill for the viewer came, not from the style of the costumes, the nature of the superpowers, or the threat posed by the villain, but rather from the momentary suspension of disbelief that comes when you realize – this is what superheroes would really be like.
That thrill, that feeling, that … sensation is far more rare than you might think, and I knew then that at some point in the future I wanted to try to show everyone why that feeling is so powerful.
EC: What’s your personal fan experience, and did you enjoy these writers when they burst onto the scene?
GC: I came of age at the perfect time. As a kid, my comics reading was pretty random – a smattering of superhero books and a lot of commercial tie-ins like Marvel’s Star Wars and GI Joe. By the mid-‘80s I was pretty heavy into DC’s Star Trek, but I kept seeing all these in-house ads about a book called Swamp Thing that was winning all sorts of awards. This was pre-Internet and I lived in the rural American South, so a person wasn’t going to find much comics journalism in the local Wal-Mart. My education came from those in-house ads. And if a house ad said I oughtta pay attention to a particular title, well, that carried a lot of weight with me.
So I wound up buying Swamp Thing #56 – the blue issue. I didn’t really understand it, but I could tell it was different from all the other stuff I was reading. And once I started stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself swept away with the energy of the times – The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Maus, The Shadow, Byrne’s Superman, The Killing Joke, The Question, Black Orchid, Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, V for Vendetta … Sandman. It was an amazing period. And Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison were the ones shaping my worldview, my own personal mentors – priests, professors, and practical philosophers. They could do no wrong.
So when they drifted away from mainstream DC, I drifted away from comics. It’s hard to remember now, but in those days, in the part of the country where I lived, there wasn’t much access to books like From Hell, Sebastian O, or Signal to Noise. It was like loving music but only being able to listen to Top 40 Radio. So for me, it felt like my three favorite writers had largely left comics – even though they hadn’t. And I really didn’t care much for what had taken their place at DC, Image, and Marvel in the early ‘90s. So I stopped reading.
And then, as fate would have it, I was standing in a Wal-Mart and saw a comic book display. I paused for old times sake and was struck by a new title – JLA #1 – written by Grant Morrison. From then on it was like the Michael Corleone line – “just when I thought I was out, (Grant Morrison) pulled me back in.” And I’ve been reading ever since.
EC: You do such a great job of putting it all into context and telling a “big picture story.” As I’m reading your book, I’m thinking “Yeah, I vividly remember those stories from Supreme or Promethea.” I’m impressed by the way you are able to analyze those stories in the context of each writers’ career and within a particular historical timeframe. How much of a struggle was it to tell the tale that way and how did you go about it?
GC: You’re very kind to say so. I wish I could say that everything just fell together perfectly, but alas. I think the low point for me came when I was staring at dozens of little scraps of paper scattered across the floor, trying to figure out how in the world to make the overall structure for the book come together. I knew I wanted to do rotating chapters, but there were lots of organizational problems. While these three writers have always been active, their creative peaks often come at different times. So I was left with a floor full of jigsaw pieces that all came from different puzzles and all I had was an X-ACTO knife and some touch-up paint to try to make it all go together.
As for the rest, I learned to make a friend of the Grand Comic Book Database, tracing chronologies and sketching out long timelines. If I can’t see something visually, it’s never quite real.
EC: By focusing on these three British writers, are you leaving out other important creators that are important to the big picture?
GC: More than I could even begin to list. The beginning of the so-called British Invasion wasn’t even a writer movement – it was about artists. People like John Bolton, Brian Bolland, and Dave Gibbons had begun working for DC and Marvel and were doing great work before Alan Moore made a splash with Swamp Thing. And, of course, there were so many great writers in those early days – people like Alan Grant, John Wagner, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan … and that doesn’t even begin to include the writers who came after these three – Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Robinson, Mark Millar … you could go on and on.
And that’s just the British creators. The book focuses in particular on the impact of the Invasion on the notion of the modern comic book writer. If you want to really look at the development of the writer’s role, there are also plenty of non-British writers who helped pave the way for what these three were able to do. I’m thinking of Denny O’Neil, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, as well as writer-artists like Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin.
But ultimately in any book you have to focus. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the question you’re trying to answer? In my case, I knew I wasn’t writing an encyclopedia. I was looking specifically at the role of the writer, and these three writers’ work seemed so interwoven that it was impossible for me to talk about one without the other. But I still lose sleep over all the creators who frankly deserve their own book.
EC: I love the chapter titles. Can you tell me a little bit about how you chose them?
GC: I love that the titles worked for you. That was one of my earliest ideas for the book. Each chapter gets its title from the name of a song by either the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. Some of those choices are hopefully pretty obvious – a Sandman-heavy chapter is “Golden Slumbers,” the chapter with Grant Morrison’s vision at Kathmandu is “I Can See for Miles,” and a chapter on Spawn is “Sympathy for the Devil.”
But beyond setting the mood or reinforcing the theme, the choices don’t follow any set pattern. I don’t think Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison correlate directly with the three bands – one of them isn’t the equivalent of the Beatles or the Stones, for instance – so I just drew liberally from all three to find the most appropriate title for each chapter.
EC: It’s a big book, but I’m sure you had to make decisions and choices about what to include. What do you regret leaving on the cutting room floor?
GC: When I started, I naively thought I’d be able to cover all the published work of each writer. It didn’t take long to figure out that was impossible. So there are lots of things I never got to write about. But of those things that I did draft and then take out, the most disappointing was probably a section I wrote on Alan Moore’s Neonomicon.
Any of your readers who’ve read that book know already that it’s a tough book to deal with – powerful, complex, and disturbing for a number of reasons. But when I was drafting the manuscript, I dove into it and wrote what I thought was a really nuanced, insightful analysis.
Well, have you ever had one of those moments of brilliance at 2 AM where you’ve just stumbled upon the plot to a novel that’s probably going to earn you the Nobel Prize for literature? You feverishly scribble the idea down so you don’t lose it, but then, the next day, when you pick it up to read it there’s nothing there besides the most banal idea imaginable. That’s basically the story of my Neonomicon analysis. When I found myself editing the manuscript a few months later and got to that chapter, I just scratched my head. What I thought was enlightening was utterly vapid. It was so nuanced that there wasn’t anything there. I thought about revising it, but the book was already overlong so I just dropped it. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday – just not at 2 in the morning.
EC: We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but your cover is clever and to the point. How did the design come about?
GC: The cover is great, isn’t it? Kevin Colden, who has done some great work on The Crow among other projects, did the cover. In keeping with the theme of the British Invasion, it’s an homage to the album cover, Meet the Beatles.
But it didn’t start that way. Originally, I actually tried to sketch out an idea myself. It was an image of Mount Rushmore with Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison carved into the rocks. Trust me, it was even worse than it sounds. My wife took one look at it and said, “Seriously?”
So I went back to the proverbial drawing board and tried to draw an empty bandstand modeled after the Beatles, with a drum set, microphones, and three guitars. I sent this one to Mike Phillips at Sequart and he said something along the lines of, “Um … yeah. So, anyway … what would you think about something inspired by an album cover?” And with that, for the betterment of all humanity, I retired my drawing pencil.
Mike and I talked about several album covers, but we kept coming back to Meet the Beatles. For legal reasons, you can’t use a real person’s face on a cover, which is understandable, but (and I think this was Mike’s idea) we thought it might still work if we put them in Union Jack masks. And Kevin took it all from there.
EC: If you could go back in time and give any “Dutch Uncle” advice to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, what would it be?
GC: Oh, I don’t think they need my advice. They’ve each done pretty well on their own, don’t you think? So I dunno … I guess if I had to, I might tell them – especially Moore and Gaiman – to skip some of the work they did for Image Comics in the ‘90s.
But honestly, I don’t believe in second guessing the past like that. Let’s say, for example, you were able to help Alan Moore get a better Watchmen contract with DC, saving him from some of the nastier aspects of the profession. That would seem like a good thing. But would a happier, more content Alan Moore have gone on to write From Hell? I tend to doubt it. I don’t know about you, but given a choice between enjoying three years of Alan Moore writing something like Green Lantern – as enticing as that might be – or getting Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, I’m gonna take the Jack the Ripper story every time.
EC: There’s such a rich landscape of creative comics being produced today. What are you enjoying and what do you feel will be viewed as important in the years to come?
GC: It feels almost like a cliché to mention it, but I really love the March Trilogy. What’s special about it, I think, is that once you get beyond how amazing John Lewis is and how well he and Andrew Aydin have compiled his story, Nate Powell’s art is extraordinary. All too often, comics that are classified as “educational” tend to be stiff and lifeless – like your great-grandmother’s idea of what a “good” comic book might be. But Powell is the real deal. Great cartooning, imaginative layouts. The national media might make it sound like broccoli sometimes, but it’s really great comics storytelling. And because of its subject matter, it’s going to be part of the high school curriculum for a long, long time.
Among mainstream comics, I was a big fan of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I always joked that it felt like I was watching some mythical Quentin Tarantino movie shot in the ‘70s and starring Steve McQueen circa 1963. I also think Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is deceptively good. It’s one of those comic book runs that is easy to take for granted, but ten years from now we’ll still be thinking about it. And Eric Powell’s The Goon always makes me smile.
But the other area that makes comics exciting today is the changing demographics – particularly the infusion of more women creators and readers. Any time you can shake up the industry and change the aesthetics, good things can happen. I once got to interview the artist Janet Lee, best known for Return of the Dapper Men. She showed me some of her work in progress and, to be honest, I was dumbfounded. Instead of something conventional like rough pencil layouts, inks, or even watercolors, she was using a technique akin to decoupage, drawing and coloring images and then cutting them out and painstakingly layering them on a larger page. I can’t even imagine what it must take to do that, but once it’s published, her stuff looks unlike anything else out there. That’s what you get when you have greater diversity in the field – fresh voices, fresh perspectives, and new aesthetics.
In a lot of ways, that was the lesson of the British Invasion too, I think.
EC: What’s next?
GC: Well, my wife and I are both writers – her debut novel, Bohemian Gospel, was published last year by Pegasus Press (heavy-handed plug) – so we tend to alternate between projects around our house. That means that lately I’ve been doing a lot of copy editing and proofreading on her sequel, The Devil’s Bible.
That’s not to say I don’t have a couple of book ideas of my own brewing. I do. But I also remember what Hemingway said – the book you talk about is the one you never write.
Prior to it appearing on AMC (home of Meth!), I’d never been indoctrinated into the seminal comic book series Preacher. I long knew of its quality – nary a person within the geek-menagerie of every comic shop I’d lived in was without someone constantly droning on the merits of the Garth Ennis road-trip-opus. But much like many series of my middle-youth (Transmetropolitan, Fables, Sandman, etc.) I was far too much of a commercial whore to appreciate the boundary stretching sequential fiction that didn’t plaster its protagonists in capes and cowls. Luckily, I grew up.
We live in a gilded age of comic-to-mainstream-media. Even just listing the current crop of comic-based bounty choking our airspace right now could be an article unto itself. That Seth Rogan and his production team would tackle a show as complex as Preacher due to their love of the source meant good things. And let’s be honest: AMC rarely puts out less-than-stellar work. With a cast anchored by the formerly young Howard Stark – Dominic Cooper – and a commitment to not barrel into the world of Preacher without care produced a well-paced epic dramedy that soon moved from DVR fodder to appointment TV in my house.
For those not in-the-know, Preacher concerns itself with one Jesse Custer. Jesse is a bad man trying to make good. He’s joined by his long-standing love (and ball-busting, rocket launcher building, frozen vegetable cooking) Tulip, and the Irish vampire Cassidy. In the comic, we’re immediately in media res with the odd trio as they take to road trip to find (and pummel?) the Lord almighty. Instant hook, no? Well then what balls Rogen had with his team to spend the entirety of the recently completed first season to take a step back to do a bit of world building.
Most other critics (and my good friends throughout the social media spheres) felt that this choice – with a Southern-slow-as-molasses plot – was a yawn that lasted for plenty of episodes before the pace quickened. In my mind, this deliberate plodding helped create what many decent-but-not-great TV shows have been lacking as of late: an original tone. Look only to stalwart standbys like Arrow, or Agents of SHIELD for one-note (but still very entertaining) story telling. Here, Preacher professes to build the town of Annville, Texas one sad life story at a time. And we’re better for having to been made to soak it all in before the season finale.
Spoiler Alert. Turn back now, in case you’re shy.
By the time Jessie, Tulip, and Cassidy take off on their mission to find God (insert Blues Brothers reference here), Annville is a crater of ashes – a searing cloud of fart fumes and death. To have started out the series on this explosion would have been a lurid choice. By making us live in the town first, Preacher sets us up for so much more pain in the pending future seasons. That the town itself ignited amidst a miles-wide pandemic of sin merely served as the icing on a deliciously sadistic cake.
And all of this is beset by methodical and memorable characterization and astounding plot beats. Obviously owing the debt to the comics crew for the source material to draw upon, Preacher was a bold experiment in the boundaries of shows directed towards the semi-masses. Unlike the immediately engrossing Breaking Bad, here Preacher introduces the insane concept of Genesis straight away. While it would take us several episodes to get the full explanation, knowing that I can now tell a curious stranger about the show where the spawn of an angel and demon inhabits a criminal man of God, granting him the angelic/demonic power to bend a persons will to his words? Well, you don’t run across that much on TV. Join that to the notion that vampires are real, Heaven’s angels are inept hitmen, and God has gone missing? That all adds up to a striking series that I will egregiously wait for enthusiastically watch when the second season comes a’callin’.
All this and I haven’t even touched on Arseface.
Preacher gives me faith that our beloved comics will continue to permeate the masses in the best ways possible. So long as those responsible are beholden to the original creators? We can all say a little prayer that this golden era never ends.
Old Man Logan #2 Well this went off the rails fast. After a first issue long on potential, this is a chain of scenes, all of them interrupted before anything interesting is allowed to happen so that Logan can be dragged to some new potentially interesting scene that won’t play out. Sorrentino’s art is very pretty, but it’s unclear as all hell, and Bendis is in his “let the artist do most of the storytelling” mode, a mode he puzzlingly only ever takes when working with abstract and hard to follow artists, as opposed to when he’s working with Bagley or someone who draws pages so that you can tell what’s going on.
Blackcross #4 A rarity: a Warren Ellis book I’m just not digging at all. None of the characters stand out to me, I don’t know the superheroes being referenced, and this is mostly vague implications in search of a plot for me. Not only do I not remember what’s going on month to month, in the three hours between reading it and writing this review I’ve already forgotten most of this book.
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #13 The plot advances, and there are some very good Eleventh Doctor monologues, but this is a resolutely average issue of this comic. Still, we’re into the “I actually enjoyed reading this” segment of the list.
Stumptown #6 The start of a new arc. I’m not entirely sold – the start was awkward as we have to sit through an explanation of civet coffee, which is on the one hand something that probably does need exposition and on the other feels a bit cliche and overdone. Still, Stumptown is a PI book, not a mystery book, so the setup isn’t the interesting part, and this has enough funny bits to be an entertaining way to spend five minutes, albeit a bit steep at $3.99. But what comics aren’t these days.
Thors #1 A Thor cop book. Aaron proves good at writing this, which is nice – he’s hit and miss for me, to say the least. But the procedural suits him, apparently, and the sheer absurdity of it wrings out a smile at least one every few pages. Throg, in particular, is a delight to see. And with the last page, it even gives a sense that this will matter when we get back to the main Thor book. The only pity is having to go back to that book eventually, really.
Ms. Marvel #16 Wilson makes the smart decision to keep this focused on Kamala and on her plots, picking up heavily from the last arc. The final page is promising. It is in places predictable, but this book always has been – its charm is its ability to find new spins and perspectives on things. Such as a school/refugee center defended by weird turquoise monster things created by Loki. (“To be pwned by Loki is a great honor,” one says, in the week’s best line.) As I said, I have low hopes for these Last Days books, but this is quite good.
Lazarus #17 Rucka returns to his strengths in many ways here: political intrigue, well-done female characters, and a general sense of things kicking off. Not a jumping on point, I suspect, only because there’s a lot of worldbuilding already done and this doesn’t necessarily sell its own stakes well. But it’s exactly what one wants out of a creator-owned Rucka book.
Trees #10 The indiscipline of this book remains considerable. In one plot, it’s utterly unclear what the main character is doing. In the other, nothing seems to happen. The cliffhanger is not one. But at this point these are all clear stylistic choices, and despite long since having lost the plot on this series this issue picked up and read well. Love the bits about the NYPD in the first half. This remains one of the most daring books on the market, and I’m glad that Ellis is content to use the magnitude and guaranteed sales of his name to recklessly fuck with people.
This March, illuminate the dark corners of the Marvel Universe with MOON KNIGHT #1 – from New York Times Bestselling writer Warren Ellis and red-hot artist Declan Shalvey! Moon Knight #1 will continue the exciting wave of All-New Marvel NOW! series with a fresh and sensational take on Marc Spector and his vigilante alter ego Moon Knight!
“The touchtone for this book, for me, has been ‘Weird Crime.’ Both ground-level action and high strangeness,” says Ellis in an interview with Marvel.com. “This is a take on Moon Knight that unifies all the previous takes, making the character whole and taking him forward into a new kind of crime fiction.”
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to finally have this book out in front of readers. Moon Knight is one the most fascinating characters in the Marvel library and the depths that Warren, Declan and colorist Jordie Bellaire are taking him to will guarantee this book fits perfectly alongside acclaimed books like Daredevil, Hawkeye and Black Widow,” says Editor Stephen Wacker. “This is the comic you had no idea you were waiting your entire life for.”
As a mercenary turned super hero, Marc Spector has faced down everything from werewolves, super villains to his own fractured psyche. Fearsome foes and gruesome threats permeate the darkest corners of New York City. Is Moon Knight ready for NYC? Better yet, is NYC ready for him?
Don’t miss one moment of the action when Ellis & Shalvey kick off the newest noir/horror thriller this March in the highly anticipated MOON KNIGHT #1!
MOON KNIGHT #1 (JAN140638)
Written by WARREN ELLIS
Art & Cover by DECLAN SHALVEY
Variant Covers by BILL SIENKIEWICZ, ADI GRANOV,
SKOTTIE YOUNG & KATIE COOK
FOC –02/10/14 On-Sale -03/05/14
TNT’s MOB CITY not only brings to TV a stylized, noir look at a crime ridden Los Angeles, but it also signals the return of acclaimed show runner Frank Darabont. Franks talks about what hooked him on the project and how he chose the cast that fit the era just right. Plus DOCTOR WHO scores big and Warren Ellis takes a crack at MOON KNIGHT.
Published in 1997-2002, Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan became famous for its foul-mouthed protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, and his “filthy assistants.” But it’s also a long-form comics masterpiece, a sci-fi comic that succeeded despite the odds, and an examination of journalism and politics — and how they intersect (or fail to do so). This book explores all these topics and more, from multiple points of view. It also includes interviews with both Ellis and Robertson.
Contributors include Greg Burgas, Johanna Draper Carlson, Julian Darius, Sara K. Ellis, Ryan K. Lindsay, Patrick Meaney, Jason Michelitch, Chris Murphy, Chad Nevett, Kevin Thurman, Brett Williams, and Sean Witzke.
The book sports a cover by Kevin Colden and runs 164 pages. It retails for $12.99 in print and is also available on Kindle for $6.99.
About the Publisher: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization is a non-profit devoted to the study and promotion of comic books as a legitimate art form. It publishes books and documentaries aimed at making comics scholarship accessible. For more information, click here.
Obviously, the honchos at the multi-media behemoth that Marvel Comics has become don’t agree with Mr. Newman’s lyricized sentiment. There was an item on Yahoo’s news site that told all of us who care about such information that Mighty Marvel is planning an Ant-Man movie.
Well, this could be a real creative challenge, because Ant Man was never what you’d consider a game-changing creation. His superpower was…he could shrink, like a cheat suit. But he did retain the strength he had as a full-size dude. Okay, that doesn’t seem like a trope that would suggest myriad storylines and that may be one of the reasons that the original Ant Man didn’t last too long, at least not as Ant Man. After sharing one of Marvel’s Tales to Astonish with the Hulk for a bit, Ant-Man switched personae and became Giant Man, who later called himself Goliath. He was big.
The little-guy-with-big-muscles idea wasn’t originated by Ant-Man’s creative team, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Marvel’s rival, DC, had several heroes who were known, individually, as The Atom. The first, who trod DC’s pages way back in 1940, was Al Pratt and he didn’t change size. He was just not very large, but, boy, was he tough! The second of DC’s Atoms, brought to life during Julius Schwartz’s wholesale reinvention of DC’s superhero pantheon, was Ray Palmer, a scientist whose futzing with some white dwarf star stuff that somehow landed on Earth enabled him to shrink while retaining his molecular mass, a stunt he apparently shared with Ant-Man. (This, by the way,explains what happens to the mass that’s apparently lost in the shrinkage. It doesn’t go anywhere, it just gets more dense. You science lovers satisfied now?)
There have been several additional versions of both Ant-Man and the Atom since the originals moved on. But I’m a silver age guy so I’ll ignore them. (And if any of them don’t like it, they can just go get shrunk.)
Back to the movie. The film makers told a convention audience that, though the flick will have humor, it won’t be a spoof. And that causes me to want to see it. The other superhero entertainments, past and present, delivered what we expected. Some of them delivered it extraordinarily well, but they didn’t stray too far from the basic good guy’s-powers-defeat-bad-guy’s powers structure, nor should they. But Ant-Man might prompt a different approach – present a challenge to which the film guys can rise. Watching them do that might be worth a trip to the multiplex.
RECOMMENDED READING: (You thought we were done with Iron Man? Not quite, Bucko.) Inventing Iron Man, by E. Paul Zehr and Warren Ellis.