Spinal Remains

Some thoughts on today’s comics

In talking about comics with an associate recently, he astutely pointed out that his big problem with today’s comics writers is that they are of the TV-centric Whedon/Abrams variety and were not what you would call “closers” (and so deserve no coffee.)  Which, have to agree with. In terms of, and not to go out on too much of a tangent this early on,  your Hickman’s and Spencer’s and that ilk is true. Comics now and days it all seems to be a show off of “look how much I learned about writing from pop culture and screenwriting books and graphic design and episodic television” less so than any inner passion or drive or need to express the self or the characters.  Positivity and a need to say anything at all has given way to showing off knowledge of structuralism.  No matter how much you play around with the form there has to be some heart somewhere and so the problem with today’s comics comes not from a lack of craft, in a way, but OVER craft and very little heart and a sameness of tonality.

That is not to say that the tonality is BAD the problem is that it’s all-pervasive. I suppose it takes a level of mastery to make it distinct.  Ed Brubaker I would have to say is the modern master of mainstream and I would have to say, and without exactly being able to put a finger as to how or why, it is because Mr. Brubaker can pull off his writing choices as consistency as opposed to being “one note.”  Mike Mignola and the people he chooses to work with have that same quality and a control of craft and economy.  Grant Morrison, even now when he’s not as experimental as once was, likes to create dense and emotional comics, Tarantino-like now in their referencing to other works and ability to make me, fuck, feel things, like joy and shit that’s why they have such re-read value.  Let’s call this the “I tell you who I like best” paragraph.

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“The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man”

I’ve been reading Ultimate Spider-Man since I was 13 years old, since issue #13, where Peter Parker reveals his secret identity 20 or so years ahead of fan schedule.  Listen, to me at this point Brian Michael Bendis is a guy whose nothing but a hodgepodge of Mamet and the aforementioned pop culture influences.  I’ve dropped off on him bit by bit over the years as his comics became subsumed by his Marvel PR personality (Matt Fraction got the fast track version of this.)  But, Ultimate Spider-Man stayed honest somehow and as I grew older I recognized it for having the same organic ability to become different that Chris Claremont’s best X-Men work had as well.  The book wrapped its long dangling plot threads really about a year before the 2009(!) relaunch and became a different book that made sense and was enjoyable for a new set of merits. The LaFuente drawn relaunch had so much powerful promise in that first year of beautifully drawn, dense, and interesting comics.  But the Ultimate Line it lived in couldn’t keep up and had to be re-tweaked again and so…”Death of Spider-Man.”

The thing is I’m not opposed to “Death of Spider-Man” because they killed off the lead with the plan to replace him. That is actually an interesting idea that takes advantage of the fact that this isn’t “real” Spider-Man. No, my problem was how fucking regressive the whole thing was on a lot of levels.  Bringing back Mark Bagley I have not doubt was done with the best of intentions but was the wrong move.  Because Mark Bagley wasn’t what the series was anymore. Bringing back the Green Goblin was wrong for the same reason. His story was over. Ultimate Spider-Man’s main antagonist had become Mysterio. The series was LaFuente and Pichelli now and Peter Parker’s sensible haircut.  “Death of Ultimate Spider-Man” gave up concluding what the series had become and decided to go for A) Nostalgia of what the series used to be when it had better sales and B) Crossed-Over in stupid disruptive ways with a shitty Mark Millar comic and ruined its own internal story-logic to spike sales for the relaunch.  It’s all so mechanical.

And it’s probably mega naive of me to think that any comic book by Marvel would be immune from stupid-ass pointless sales spikes but…shit couldn’t you have given me this one?

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011

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Hermit of Mink Hollow

1. I just launched a tumblr site go check it out.  http://yesthebatmandigsthisday.tumblr.com/  The name comes from this panel. Because I’m a dork.

2. I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones. Fantasy really has a hard time hitting the target for me and this was no exception.  I found dry and stupidly formal like I find most of the genre but with occasional nudity and cursing among the attractive elite vying to be the top asshole who wants to fuck over the poor.  Example of something from the genre that works for me: Orc Stain.  Uses the tropes of the genre and adds the cursing and fucking without taking the piss out of the whole thing but I guess the removal of the class aspect of it might help bring it home for me as well as, of course, the amazing James Stokoe art a.k.a. the coolest van art ever.

3. The new Okkervil River album I Am Very Far is the band’s most cohesive album (in a catalogue of amazingly cohesive albums) and of course their most mature and dark album.  The acoustic, folksy element is almost entirely absent replaced with properly placed symphonic strings and just all around well done but not overly done production value.  Honestly, there was very little chance this wasn’t gonna hit the mark with me.

4. I’ve been watching the first season of 30 Rock on Netflix which I didn’t see initially.  It’s pretty awkward the first 5 or 6 episodes but quickly becomes the show it’s going to become after that.  That said, this last season of 30 Rock never really found its footing or an engaging subplot to get it across and the loss of Tracy Morgan in the middle (for real life medical reasons) did some damage.

5. Parks and Recreation however continues to rise in quality each episode this season was as good or better as the episode preceding it and really deserves a higher viewership because it really might be the best thing on the NBC lineup, just for anything that Ron Swanson does on that show alone.

6. Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters by Salinger was good as one would expect but I couldn’t really find the through line here just what it was that was trying to be said outside of the text and goddamnit that’s just probably my fault.

7. My want to read Chester Brown’s Paying for It has been waning for a while and now I don’t even wanna read it.  This humanist take on it helped pretty much seal that deal. Seriously, sack up and ask a girl on a  date.

8. I added some stuff to previous blog posts, updates on the ideas of the things there.  I don’t know if writing entirely new posts for these ideas or editing old posts to reflect is more right on here. I don’t know what my blogsponsibility here is but shit, I don’t get paid for this.

9. I’ve landed on stupid for the Green Lantern movie.  It really will be like Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern comics i.e. people talking only in thematic resonance or other wise screaming stupid shit at each other while shit glows.  I’ve been reading that first Green Lantern Showcase and dudes, Green Lantern is just lame. It doesn’t make any fucking sense.

10.  Finally got caught up on The Venture Bros. and the second half of season 4 was much stronger than the first half which I thought was weaker.  It’s weird that the more insular the show becomes the funnier it gets as it riffs jokes on its own continuity. Also, they have a Spider-Man that smokes and shoots asswebs.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011

Can’t Move Fourward.

Some from third hand information from the fab Wait, What? Podcast over on Savage Critics .  Discussing the death of the Human Torch leads to a discussion of The Thing’s death from about…2004?  I think that’s when.  Anyway they’re talking about an interview that then series writer Mark Waid did (with one of the Twomorrows publications I believe) about that story and the in-story fact that nobody was even acknowledging The Thing as dead, nor was Waid or Marvel, because and I paraphrase, “pretending otherwise was an insult to the audience.”  Which is correct!  That is right, it is Mr. Waid.  That storyline which ends with them rescuing The Thing from Jack Kirby Heaven (I have some sort of joke about it being Jewish Heaven too but I don’t have it ironed out and really it is going to play to like 1 person I know but I like to make him laugh.)

Before I continue any further, I want to acknowledge Plok over at A Trout in the Milk, we chained off e-mails the week of the “event” and it helped me hammer some stuff out.

In a lot of ways this feels like the true death-knell, for me, of the Fantastic Four and the idea that the Marvel verve of old will never return.  The scene of Johnny Storm’s death is so borrowed from every movie where one guy faces an army to swelling strings of self-sacrificing bravery that it becomes a parody of that sort of moment.  The “widescreen” layout of this re-enforces this which was probably the point but it works counter-intuitively for me.

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How I have grown to hate the “Widescreen” style of comics.  Used best by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch in their run of The Authority.  That’s because the nature of the stories was to put the superhero story on crank and blast it to 10 or whatever that crazy sharp decibel that Sleigh Bells plays on.  It was a stylistic choice that made sense for that series…and then was taken out by The Ultimates and every other Marvel book for six issue storyarcs and beaten to death with a stick dripping blood in the Romita Jr. fashion.

I’ve been reading Essential Avengers Vol.1 .  Kirby is remembered artistically for his late 60’s and 70’s work which was bigger and splashier but that motherfucker ruled the 9-panel grid too.  His early 60’s work is always coupled with Stan Lee and the creation of the characters but never much discussed on their artistic prowess in the way his big pop work is.  That stuff, the Avengers stuff those first 8 issues, had so much motion in its compacted form. Avengers #4 has Captain America return, a space alien that turns out to be Medusa (which has nothing to do with anything) and the Sub-Mariner.  Three stories and issues of material by modern standards jammed into one mega story but never felt overstuffed because the momentum was fabulous.  It holds together because you’re flipping the pages, the characters are 100 percent invested, everything is invested, and goddamn it you can believe in it because it is so damn sure of its self.

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The climax itself is such an obviously cut thing.  Leaving before the scene is over, the big back door.  On the one hand it’s a good thing to put there and in recognizing it the validity of the Torch’s return is already in place…on the other hand it is sooooo obvious that it is distracting.

It also seems to me that for a long while Marvel books have been afraid to be Marvel Comic Books.  That is what the cinematic approach has done.  You know what the Human Torch’s death would’ve been like when Marvel Entertainment was Marvel Comics?

An above and beyond true HEROIC moment, the purest sort of exclamatory win and triumph that every one of us that’s ever read a Stan Lee comic book has seen and could, goshdarnit, write ourselves.  A hero soliloquies about being down and how we’re all down once in awhile and that at those moments we must fight our hardest. And he fights and fights and dies but takes all those fuckers down with him.  God, when is the last time a Hero soliloquied?  In thought balloons or out loud to no one but themselves?  You wanna read the good version of the Human Torch’s death?  Read that Walter Simonson issue of Thor where The Executioner dies.  Amazing.

You know what has been lost in the “Cinematic” style?  The real sweep of comics. Superhero comics, let’s be fair.  Because they can be more action packed, romantic, sweeping, sad, funny, thrilling, Shakespeare and Norse Myth, trashy, stupid, disposable and that one thing you can’t live without all at once in less space and more time with every literary option pretty much on the fucking table.  And you comic book making guys are just gonna do movies?

Wake up.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011

The Girl Talk Concert Show

1.  So last week the mash-up mega dj Girl Talk came to town and I attended said event.

2.  I really quite enjoyed it once it got going and the crowd really did too which is saying something because Charlotte crowds can be very constrained.

3.  I read that Girl Talk’s on-the-spot mashing is kept to a small amount, a rehearsed show with a bit of freedom for innovation and a lower chance of, I guess, bad mashing.  If I could remember where I read it I’d link it. Sorry.

4. That said it seemed like he was experimenting ALOT during the show, 95% of the material seemed to be new or re-mashed, different songs from the album mashed against other songs from the album.

5.  He mostly stuck with All Day and Feed the Animals as his basis.

6.  Some of the mixes worked very well quite a few did not.  By that I mean it wasn’t up to Girl Talk standard.  I say that understanding that the Girl Talk standard comes from two years of meticulous work and so how could it be as good spur of the moment.  Anyway that just makes it really good DJ-ing.

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Deviation!

Let’s talk about All Day for a second.  This is Girl Talk’s longest album.  71 minutes and according to him meant to be ingested in a single sitting.  That’s a hell of a task to begin with.  Ingesting any Girl Talk album in a single sitting is very tiring.  It may also be missing the point?  It’s not the forest were here to see it’s the trees?  That sounds like the right metaphor.  Because were not here to take in the breadth, it’s not the scope that matters to us, though it can be admired.  No matter what All Day can’t be seen as a single song, an opus of many many many many many many many movements.  And not because it’s not good enough for it (it is HIS music, he MADE this, he COMPOSED this) but it’s so hard to reconcile a whole from the parts.  It’s all about the little things when it comes to a Girl Talk album. The transitions.  And here they get a little ignored for longer cuts, stretchier mash-ups longer chances for something to work or to not work.  On Night Ripper and Feed the Animals there were several times I wished a certain cut would’ve lasted longer but having had that wished fulfilled on All Day it’s better that they didn’t.  The taste is the best thing.

That’s not to say I didn’t like All Day.  I like it quite a lot and there is plenty to pick apart and chew on and the long cuts that DO work (and a cut that works for me may not work for others, it’s very subjective) work very well and stand as his finest work.   I would say that some whittling down is in order for next time and 3 minute song seems harder to me than a  minute one.  Feel free to school me on any of this though everybody, I’m not a musician or a music critic I could be waaaaayyy off about all of this.

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7.  You can’t hear the tiny transitions in a venue the way you can in your headphones, car, wherever and so rather he seemed to have an underlying beat that played across the entire time.  Or it seemed so to me, I might be wrong, it was a big sweaty dancing time and this is all from memory.

8.  And it was a big sweaty dancing time.  That place was so fucking humid that steam was pouring out the door at the end of the show.  He (Girl Talk) was complimentary of this fact.

9.  I missed the opening band.  I had a good dinner though.

10.  Shit, Girl Talk is first and foremost party music.  Mission accomplished there from an album and live standpoint.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011

…And they do that: Part True Grit review, Part 2010 movie overview

True Grit

2010, The Coen Brothers

I don’t know what I have to offer on this that better, smarter, um professionally trained, people have said already.  Then again that’s always the case with whatever the fuck it is I do here and I should really stop fretting about it out loud like this because its gotta be losing its charm by now.

Oh yeah, the movie.

It’s funny that the thing that the new True Grit calls attention to is not the difference between this version and the original film version, which I have never seen but I must imagine that plot aside is a different thing entirely to this, but itself and other Coen Brothers films.  And it calls attention to itself because True Grit is so straightforward, a movie almost entirely removed from the Coen Brothers usual bag of tricks, awesome tricks mind you and ones I’ve only half got my head around having seen only half their oeuvre in spread out spackled manner, and is exceptional for being exactly what it is.

I mean god, didn’t 2010 suck for movies?

Iron Man 2 was as good as the second half of Iron Man 1.  It was carried by Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke, using the Johnny Depp technique of acting in a different movie than the one he’s in, and as always the best parts were the parts where Tony Stark was building shit and using holograms.  But man, that flick had some scattershot plotting going on.

Toy Story 3, the movie Pixar didn’t feel like making.  But the cheese has gotta get sliced I guess, so they decided to make an 80s kids movie; the kind that is creepy and dark, kinda melacholy and will give an 8 year old at least one nightmare for awhile, in this case the creepy baby doll or the firey death star where characters that sound like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen accept their fucking FATE.  Put this on with The Witches and Return to Oz and a kid will sit straight and fly right for a while after.

Inception was this weird sexless movie about boring dreams and meaningless rules, and shit action,  starring actors who clearly knew they didn’t have to give a fuck, justsaythewords.  But I loved the South Park episode that came out of it.  Go watch that, its legally free on this here internet.

Black Swan…I still haven’t seen it but it’s essentially a remake of this as I understand and I remember that being advertised in some comics around that time, as a little curiosity to 11 year-old-me reading shitty relaunch Spider-Man comics.

Damnit, True Grit. Well True Grit won the year for me.  Because everybody, the Coens, I-enjoy-the-fuck-out-of-my-career Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon whose always just so dependable, and Hailee Steinfeld who I only wish the best of luck after this because she was sooooooo good.  It’s all in the service of this simple story and the straightforward western.  Something being exactly what it is about and nothing more, that deserves reward too.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011

You bet, Ran.

Ran

Akira Kurosawa, 1985

So I watched Seven Samurai and Ran within days of each other.  Kurosawa’s samurai first and samurai last.   Seven Samurai was directed by a Kurosawa optimistic and supremely confident in his abilities in 1954.  He had about a decade of hits behind him and a decade of hits in front.  I haven’t seen Throne of Blood which is Kurosawa’s other jidaigeki Shakespeare adaptation.  God knows I love Kurosawa but I can’t imagine that it has the visceral appeal of Ran.

Ran, a semi- adaptation of King Lear don’t you know, is made by a Kurosawa who still knows how to make a movie goddamnit but the intervening years had taken a lot out of him.  You could see how he could connect with his protagonist Hidetora;  he’s still got it but it’s harder for him to do.

The relationship between Hidetora and his sons could be the relationship between Kurosawa and his audience.  Taro is the audience that left cinema in Japan, Jiro is the studios and financial backers who decided after Red Beard that Kurosawa was outdated, sending him spiraling into depression like Hidetora spirals into madness.  But Saburo, while mouthy, is the loyal one, representative of the western audience that embraced Kurosawa. Like Lucas and Coppola and the producers that backed his latter-day works. Without Hidetora the empire falls apart.  What is Kurosawa saying about himself?

Seven Samurai was a redefinition of the samurai as a hero.  For the most part in his early career Kurosawa’s samurai were the masterless ronin.  This can be seen as the absolute breakdown of that image by Kurosawa.

But it only kind of works that way.

This isn’t about samurai-they’re warriors sure, but really this movie is about  lords.  Shogun lust for power and go to war and turn on their brothers.  When the samurai are in service to a shogun heroism has a hard time winning out when you’re serving a political agenda.  Kurosawa proved himself right in the first place here.

It is said that you have to be of a certain age to do a successful King Lear.  Kurosawa was about 70 when he filmed Ran.  There is something about it though that seems like a young man’s chances.  It’s so visceral, primal.  The way I contextualize it to myself, was that it’s like Frank Miller.  Who mastered the art form and then decided to try a lot of shit out by burning down his methodology to simple beats. The Dark Knight Strikes Again if it had been done by anybody else might be considered some sort of avant-garde Batman masterpiece.  Ran is too meticulously thought out for this metaphor to work entirely, DK2 was half-plan, half post 9-11 weird, and obviously dashed off in parts.  It also kind of reminds me of John Romita Jr.’s recent Avengers work.  JrJr has figured out how to do a shorthand, broader version of his work that allow bigger chunks of color.  Avengers color fucking pops like the colors of Ran do.  Subdued but still bright monocolor that pops against  gray backdrop.

I really liked this is what I’m saying I guess.  I probably have more to write about later.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2010

The Golden Age That Was Not: Why I quit Kavalier and Clay (in Rant Form)

It is actually hard for me to quit books.  I can drop off them for a long time but I always pick them up again later.  I finished two books earlier this year that took me a good two years each to read.  Even short books like Casino Royale and The Third Man I’d dropped in the middle and had to pick them up again later just to finish them (though I fucking ended up loving them both.)  I wish I was reader who could read fast and at multiples instead of just the latter.  But wah wah that’s not much of an actual problem is it college boy?

Now you know I dig comics.  I know some shit.  I also cop to that I also don’t know shit either.  But I have an idea and a bit of enough information on them. And on history.   Enough that I know why I just couldn’t stomach The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay anymore.

It was all just so goddamn precious.  Kavalier is Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Jack Kirby and that guy who did those awesome Captain Marvel Jr covers all rolled into fucking one whose a magician and an escape artist.  BUT its okay because his family is trapped in Nazi Europe and we can swallow how fucking awesomely awesome he is because he has this one not awesome thing going.

Sammy is discovering he’s gay.  That’s fine.  No problem.  I never thought about how, to be gay, you have to like the taste of semen and rectum in your mouth but damn you would have to wouldn’t you?  Is twink offensive?  The radio voice guy he’s tongue fucking is what I could imagine in my limited knowledge to be kind of the intro to gayness handsome twink kind of a guy.

Rosa Saks is the coolest avant garde super kind indie chick of the 40s in the world .  Kavlier and Clay saw Citizen Kane and it inspired them.  They got some radio and merchandise money in a time where creators didn’t get dick ever.

The whole thing isn’t distinguished enough to be an alt history and its too goddamn fantasy to be real and every character is the best person you could know and even there flaws are charming and you can never be turned off to them.  Shitgoddamit.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2010