Thursday, September 14, 2017

Waydown #17.09.14

Well, six months isn't too bad.

Note: It wasn't done on purpose to prove what I said two zines ago about "write drunk, edit sober" but most of this was written while fairly drunk then edited while sober.


Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (audiobook). In college, I was assigned Moby-Dick, probably more than once (and probably in high school too). And every time I faked my way out of reading it. Yeah, it’s something that any English major is required to read and appreciate, but there was too much other stuff, and I figured out who to get by without it at the time. But it seemed like an obligation and I knew I would return to it one day. (What does it say about me that I seek to experience this book in my own free time outside of school: curious adult or grown nerd?) I discovered audiobooks, but when I ran out of stuff that I had in print that I wanted to get through, I had to go further afield than my usual comforts. EMusic has a good selection so I had my pick, and if I was going to read anything, I might as well start at the top. Reading anything but a classic would seem too casual, like I wasn’t using the time and effort for something substantial, if I was going to make the effort and could get the same out of it from listening. And there’s not much that could top Moby-Dick, the granddaddy of them all. There are plenty of abridged versions but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it. I even followed along with cliff notes (or an equivalent, of what I found online) to make sure I got out of it as much as I could. And I feel like I got it down as much as in any other form (without having to study it for writing a paper or discussing it in class), maybe even better since I wasn’t reluctantly trudging through it, but listening to it so I could actually make it through (as apparently I’m a better aural learner than visual). It’s certainly a classic, and it deserves that designation. This isn’t a modern evaluation of it that treats it more as a document than a story -- it really is that good. This is the novel to which any other novel could be compared.

There’s nothing I’m going to say about the book that will add to its study. There are entire classes devoted it (they’re called American Lit 101). There was more than enough written about it before my parents were born. At a used bookstore recently I came across a biography about Melville that was even longer than Moby-Dick itself. There’s no way anyone could be expected to bring much new to its study, but we can always enjoy it. A classic novel that heavy can’t much be expected to be enjoyed as entertainment, unless it's a nerd study, which is commendable but rare outside of school. Me personally, if I’m going to read a book for study (and come on, you should know by now that every book I read is up for study -- it’s why I’m here and maybe why you’re here) I might as well go to the meatiest of them all. Surely anything must be lighter than this (save maybe The Holy Bible). Yeah, there are as many metaphors that run through it as you could pick. There are metaphors upon metaphors, metaphors for metaphors, metaphors because metaphors. The book wouldn’t be taught in school if it wasn’t so rich. It’s a bit of a textbook (literally, since it's usually assigned as such) for picking out meaning because it’s anywhere and everywhere through every fiber of it. Make up a metaphor for what is about what and you could be right (as well as that someone probably coming up with it well before you). No one is going to tell you you’re wrong unless your grade depends on it, and even then you could probably wiggle your way out of it. (That’s why it’s so easy to get a good grade in college English classes.  Whatever you come up with doesn’t necessarily have to make any sense as long as you do the work. My trick was always to write so much that teachers wouldn’t want to read the whole thing, and to write slightly less than legibly on in-class exams.  But I also didn’t go to a great college.) It’s not much of a book to read for fun (unless you're just trying to get the Simpsons references) but it’s something to search for meaning. It earns its rightful name as the Great American Novel, to this day, and it’s likely its reign will be undisputed well beyond the rest of our lives.

One of my college professors who assigned the book to us also gave us a cheat-sheet that permitted us to skip the chapters only about whaling (even half-chapters, the sheet was so considered). Those sections might not be necessary to the overall narrative, but they’re still important, and perhaps more than Melville showing off what he knew or the research he did. If no one else has already said it, I would venture to state that those chapters are more for pacing, to slow down the story to simulate the time at sea, which was a hard, long, and lonely period. Especially in those days without ready stimulation at one’s elbow, the days stretched on almost into infinity. A proper story would skim that period of time, making minor mention at best but mostly getting on with the action, so we know it happened but we don’t have to live it. Melville forced us through the tedium, slowing down the story nearly to a crawl to immerse us in what it was like, showing not telling, with as many details as he could cram in. He’s not so concerned about the story itself but perhaps more about the experience, and the story that comes from living through it. It’s a clever trick, and one that's caused confounded, bored students to put the book aside before really getting the meat out of it. There’s still a story in there, whether you want to give yourself over to it or not. It’s a good story, written with a crackle whether you dig into the metaphors or not. It’s dense so it takes some time to settle (though that may not be a problem when you’re listening to it and can plow through it to get the bigger picture instead of dwelling on certain passages, which may be leading you down a dead tunnel because they’re about whaling and don’t have as much of a greater meaning to the whole (except to make you feel like you’re really out to sea, whether you want to be or not)). You’re going to decide your own way to read it, if you’re committing to getting through the entire tome. To spend that much time with such a thing, you have to come up with your own system. But it’s worth it. Once the climax begins -- and you’ll know when it happens (at long last) -- you’ll feel it’s worth it. All that time at sea (or muddling through endless chapters about the nuances of whaling) will pay off with the most explosive ending that you probably have ever gotten to and through. Most books have crap endings, but this one actually pays off, and it’s something any author can learn from. If you can get there, you’ve earned it… if you’re one to survive the voyage.

There are more than a few versions of it, abridged or otherwise. The one I read actually had a voice-actor doing the reading, and he switched up voices between characters, which added texture to it, especially since there aren't that many characters but a few of them melt into each other after a while.  It's also staggering to think that someone read that entire tome for an audiobook but I commend the team who did it, and glad they did (since they made it easier to hear than to read).

Jack Cross (DC). Warren Ellis was doing the Millarworld thing before Millar did, even if Millar was able to sweep in and get the flashier artists later on.  Ellis put out a clutch of creator-owned books, of which DC was able to grab a number, even if they went nowhere, an inverse of what Millar was able to do across every publisher available (besides DC), as if by design. Not that a good, motivated creator should have limits on who publishes their stuff, but the fact that Ellis’s stuff didn’t go far with DC only showed that DC didn’t feel the need to put their resources into pushing it, or that he didn’t have flashy-enough artists. But credit DC for repackaging the single issues of series like Jack Cross in a single “80-Page Giant” issue a la one of the original floppies, even if they were bunting their way out of collecting it as a proper trade paperback (since even Ellis’s name couldn’t get it a hardcover). Maybe it was a contract thing and they were holding on to publishing rights by collecting it, even though it wasn’t worth going through too much trouble. The main draw is art by Gary Erskine, a collaborator with Ellis who did a few projects, among the other notable British writers, but seemingly never enough to get him the prominent or regular work that he deserved. Erskine’s work grabbed me the first time in fill-in issues of The Chain Gang War (a series forgotten right after it ended but worth digging up, if only for the art), even over the original series’ artist Dave Johnson (only showing that he did interior work and not just covers at one time), then on to Robinson’s Firearm a little later. His art was solidly structured and the lack of flash appealed to me at a time when all the Image look-at-me stuff was pushing me to the end. I’ve followed his stuff in the time since, what little of it there is, but just his inking stuff, while getting work where he can, didn’t draw me to a project any more than I might have already been (even if Morrison wrote it). But going back a bit to when Erskine was still doing full art, and something written by Ellis, I at least picked it up, even if I passed it by the first time (and still only read it because it looked like it would be an easy cruise through). This book is boilerplate Ellis: conspiracy theories, main characters that know more than they need to, sudden explosions, a sampling of a life that might have been more interesting in the past they allude to or later on. Not bad on its own but it wouldn’t sell if Ellis wasn’t already known. The Erskine art is as much as it needs to be, but an artist who isn’t known for his flash also can’t be expected to bring more electricity to a story than there already is, which is precious little in this case. There’s a section of Ellis work that isn’t sci-fi and/or stuff that Avatar publishes easily or superhero, but he’s on shakier ground when he gets into the dark corners of American government. It’s probably due to his own fascination with the country’s inner workings (especially if the English counterpart is as deadly dull as anyone would think it is) but the story he’s mining has already been done enough, by anyone else or by himself. The Jack Cross character himself might even be interesting if he hadn’t already created him as Jack Hawksmoor in The Authority (and count it against Erskine that he couldn’t come up with a character design that at least would make an effort to differentiate the two characters. It’s bad enough that Ellis couldn’t even come up with different first names). This, like Millarworld, was an easy play at properties that could more easily be sold into TV or movies by beginning as comics, after Ellis got a taste for it with the almost-Global Frequency adaptation, which probably shouldn't have happened in the first place, especially if it led Ellis to putting out material less than his talents should be able to command; he could be commended for foreseeing comics becoming a breeding ground for options, but just because he got in early doesn’t mean he could actually sell some of this stuff. Assuming there’s not a brilliant, easy high concept (vampires where it’s night all day!), the source material needs to be good enough to be adapted. This isn’t it. Ellis could have been better served with extending Transmetropolitan and waiting for a producer to finally pick it up for what it’s worth.
We3 (DC). Like most comics fans, I’ll read just about anything Grant Morrison writes, and I’d heard for years that We3 was one of his great works. I was hesitant, only because the superhero work where he had limits to push was usually more compelling than the creator-owned stuff where he could do whatever he wanted and would too often skitter into a head-scratching abyss, to say nothing of editors who would crumble under his capacity. We3 fell into the latter category, though it helped having art by Frank Quitely (an unknown when the series came out, so I could wait a while). As it turns out, I was right: this is another Morrison work that gets by on his name and his artist. Not to say it’s bad: it’s probably his most accessible work, and that can be enough, to carry a story or win over new readers (even those new to comics). But most of the story, such as it is, is given over to the artist to do as he sees fit; it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was written in the Marvel style (though that's not even a negative function). Luckily, that artist is Quitely, showing a glimpse of what he would clobber the industry with a short time later. This doesn’t feel like the ultimate statement by this team but rather a dry run of what they would accomplish to a much greater degree with All-Star Superman (an effort great enough to even win me over) and doing whatever they wanted so they could gel and get their symbiosis together. The limits to which Quitely pushed himself visually are hesitant here, only a glance at what he would come into later in, pretty much, anything after this (and only pushing more these days (when he can be bothered to finish anything)). It’s still solid work, years beyond what could be expected from a newcomer, so maybe it’s better they started with their own thing rather than having to fit the art style into a more familiar property, and Morrison’s name could float someone who wasn’t a giant in the industry quite yet. As its own work, it’s a slight effort, one of the lighter Morrison reads, as the words get out the of the way of the art, but not giving it much more weight than a read quicker than pretty much anything he's done. Morrison books usually have more meat, but that shows how much he let the artist take over. As a Morrison book, it's less a shock for him to write cute animals than that he couldn't do more with it. Yes, there’s that heart-wrenching moment at the end but it’s telegraphed, especially if you’ve ever read any story or seen a movie with pets as characters (we’ll say it’s easier for them to meet their fates than a human character). This story could work much better as its obvious endgame, a feature-length, animated movie, which might not be able to match the brand of visuals (though it might be great to see them try) but at least they could flesh out the story and with 100 minutes could be more fun to watch than read. As a book, it’s a middling story, more an effort by Quietly than Morrison, and to see how animals as main characters, even as bad-ass cyborgs, would work in a comic (which is to say, no more or less than they ever would). This is for Quitely fans who want to see where his greater work began.

DC: Rebirth (DC). DC reset their universe, yet again. The New 52 didn’t work out -- as many said it wouldn’t -- so they just scrap it and start over again. It’s now such a semi-regular thing that barely even gets an eye-roll anymore. Possibly the only reason why the New 52 was a big deal at all was that they didn’t bother to explain it in continuity -- a show of either being above messing with it or laziness. Now they try to work within the continuity -- not a bad idea but it seems too easy for them to just start over anymore. Not that they ever needed to stay with such a poor concept as the New 52 (if there was even a concept behind it beyond turning everything into another Ultimate universe -- which Marvel only recently showed was a concept that wouldn’t go forever, too) but for giving up on so many times, they could at least follow it with something worthy of ditching whatever anyone -- creator or fan -- had invested into what had come before, or something that attempts to go beyond what was there before. “Rebirth” just seems to reset to pre-New 52, which is wise, but Didio has some balls to stick around with that hanging around his neck. The DC Universe becomes something recognizable again, and with this new initiative they’ve had another stage of filtering out poor talent (since those bold, new ideas for projects don’t go far without a majority of able creators, which the New 52 seemed to have overlooked). They might have even kept the new fans they made such a big deal out of pursuing with the New 52, but any goosing their numbers got with another big event, no matter how fundamentally changing it is to the continuity, should show that these things get more sales from readers thinking they might miss something and from the promise of what will follow (whether that promise is fulfilled or not), not because it’s a great idea. The level of the creators is not always clearly signaled, but usually their names have some indication.  With the New 52, DC was driven by editors and it didn’t work, but now that they’ve loosened up (or gotten some creators good enough to do the work and/or to stand up to their bosses), there seems to be some decent stuff coming out. I’ve actually bought a few issues recently, which I haven’t done since before the New 52 (and I don't even count the new Kamandi among that). Even if it’s another stunt, maybe “Rebirth” is turning things around. There’s always the hope that this reboot will be the one that actually sticks, but they’ve shown they’re spineless enough to scrap what they have and start over yet again when they get the whim. Even if there was a reason to change the continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, there really wasn’t any after that. What should have been was what should have been. Didio should try to make his name on something else -- as it is now, it’s probably just this side of infamy. If “Rebirth” is worthy of an icon status for him, more power to him. But he’s also going to have to outlive Before Watchmen.

As for the issue itself, there’s probably only so much they could do with such a loose concept and of course without trying to too-blatantly redo Crisis (which is what any of these ever is anyway, even Marvel’s recent “Secret Wars” (a concept even more muddied but with less work to do)). They might as well do a story and try to work something out with it. They didn’t bother with making a story out of the genesis of the New 52 but here they could milk their audience with another comic. They still don’t really explain it -- maybe there’s something that has to do with “Flashpoint” -- but they at least introduce the characters and concepts that they’ll build on for the foreseeable future. And they get to boisterously say that they're actually going to try having a plan for it (and put Goeff Johns at the head of it, which they apparently think is a grand statement). Crisis is still a landmark because even if you have no interest in seeing how the continuity was changed or you’re far enough from it that it doesn’t matter (which it didn’t before but doesn’t now even more), it’s still a story (and one frequently coherent). You can still experience it as its own work, and not just for the pinnacle of George Perez’s career.  “Rebirth” hatched the egg but it's doubtful there will be reason to go back to it (except for the hidden clues and references spurted in there, another annoyance). The biggest deal is that the Watchmen will eventually be brought into main DC continuity, a move as unshocking as it was inevitable (they've already milked it post-Alan Moore, you knew they'd keep going). There’s no need for it but it’s no surprise when they need an event to turn up more money. It’s just more characters blended into a shake that gets more bland, but hopefully they’ll do better with the Wildstorm characters (which just got pulled back out of the main continuity.  Sigh -- it just keeps going). The story is just an Easter egg scene in a Marvel movie (but better than one in a DC movie), alluding to something coming up but not standing on its own. Of course DC thought it was a big enough deal to assign it to some considerable talent, and they got Gary Frank from wherever he's been (hopefully those original graphic novels have made up for his name disappearing), and that would be worth the price of admission if he’d had a more engrossing story to draw. But all in all, at least DC is trying to atone for a huge error (even if they'd rather pave over it with more merchandise rather than admit what they did). Admitting it wouldn’t do much but at least they can start to atone by just making good comics, which should have been, and should always be, the starting point, before the continuity, not the other way around.

Heroes of Power: Women of Marvel (Marvel). A treasure-sized edition featuring first or early stories of their biggest female heroes. It’s a shot at getting those characters in front of a new audience, and it’s a noble effort. They’re good characters, most of them very recent, that deserve the recognition. As if Marvel would pass up a way to work any character they have, and at least a few of these were designed expressly as part of the new guard of heroes to show that they could have some range, which is to say generally non-white and non-male. It’s a noble effort, and some of these have paid off. This volume is reaching out to a few more, even if they’re not the best showcases for the characters (in particular the Gwenpool story is sillier than it needs to be, and the Wasp story is so slight, even as an introduction, that it’s hard to believe that Waid wrote it). Its format is its most confounding feature. The larger size will mean (self-)serious fans can’t fit it into their comics boxes, though they probably have these stories already (if those white, middle-aged males have an interest in non-white, young, female heroes in the first place). It would stay off the racks of the regular books in the first place, not even on the graphics novels and trade paperbacks shelves, instead shuffled into the section of the shop where the special editions go, wherever that is.  While younger (read: pre-teen) readers might be drawn to the larger pictures, there’s some stuff in it that’s just a little racy for that age. In particular, the Gwenpool story has some cursing and if her short-shorts aren’t an alarm, the fact that she’s on the cover with her butt up in the air would be.  Some of the material could be great for kids and girls, as if it wasn't designed specifically for them, but for something like this need to figure out exactly what age-range they're aiming for, and present the material appropriately (which could be this size, but not for the outrageous price). So this is a failed attempt, but the Ms. Marvel comics on their own can be enough to hook smart girls and good readers, and they probably won’t have a problem with the size of a collection of stories.

Fight Club 2 (Dark Horse). A sequel to Fight Club must have seemed like a good idea at the time. It would be easy enough to cash in on it in any format and, as a comic, it wouldn't have the same harsh criticism that a movie would. And Palahniuk, who stepped up to write it fully as well as giving his permission to do it (though he would be the one getting a lot of that cash), at least gave it an effort. As it is, his first comics work might not have been best served by carrying on his biggest creation, and while a movie sequel doesn’t affect that world’s continuity, this new comic is now canon. It’s a lot of ideas, the chaos of which made the first one, book and movie, so much fun, but trying to fit those into a comic shows only how they don’t all work, and certainly don’t fit together, and definitely not with these new versions. Palahniuk doesn’t know enough of the limits to know how to defy them effectively (you have to know the rules before you can break them), and seeing him try is a bit embarrassing. It’s possible that the original story might not have flown in a comic format (both the book and movie turning the limitations of their mediums into strengths for the story), but this one isn’t helped by a story that is barely more than the good parts of what’s already been done strung together by assumptions that anyone will follow its attempts to break any kind of new ground. The characters didn’t need to be resurrected, as doing so nullifies the great, tragic ending of the movie that any viewer could have read into, and it needlessly reveals details we didn't want or need (like a name for the narrator). The new story also fails to build upon what came before, instead Palahniuk tries to make a statement about the dullness of domestic life, then lamely exploding it, as if that hasn’t been done before and better, and cements a fate for these characters that was more fun when it was in our imaginations (if they even survived the first one, which worked best when they didn’t). His ambition is commendable but his execution is almost an embarrassment. It's already not working by the time he writes himself into the story. However, just giving it a shot alludes to a possible future, better if he can come up with a property that can be fashioned as exclusive to comics. It’s not a promise, and lightning rarely strikes twice, but he’s a good writer, even in the bad parts, and anything else he could come up with would be better than this. It’s only helped by art from Cameron Stewart, a solid artist who is a good fit for the story, as he would be for most anything that isn’t superheroes, and actually pulls off some of innovative storytelling tricks that Palahniuk can only attempt in the story. Stewart at least has a grasp of how comics storytelling works, and he accomplishes the herculean task of wrenching the words into something that can be followed (if only just so). It’s a crime that Stewart’s work hasn’t gotten out more, though this might have been the payday he deserved and he can continue doing the off-the-radar works he wants to do. Some good covers by David Mack that might even be more fitting (which might have been even more fitting as interior art, though probably taking it in a different direction, and something even farther beyond Palahniuk). This series got some promotion at first -- Dark Horse landing the coup of getting the sequel to Fight Club! (with Palahniuk involved and maybe being actually something that people might want to read) -- but after it became their Free Comics Day offering for that year, it seemed like it fell off their radar. Maybe they assumed that anyone who would find out about it had and they would carry it along without being reminded, but it could also be that they knew it hadn’t turned out like they thought and they would just as well sweep it under the rug. That could have been an editor not wanting to stand up to a name like Pahlniuk, or blind trust that he was going to pull it off by the end. But it didn’t, and as it will likely go down in history, a footnote to the Fight Club saga that does not need to be pursed, explored, or considered.  So then again, no, a terrible idea. (But also the first Dark Horse book I've picked up in ages.)

Daredevil: Dark Nights (Marvel). A companion Daredevil series, presumably to cash in on popularity brought by the Netflix series, but it’s not like Marvel has ever backed down from milking a property that is suddenly hot (except for, confoundingly, the current Star Wars stuff). This was wise enough to get out of the way of Waid’s monumental run on the character, but apparently there were other stories to tell. Marvel could give DD over to creators for short stories out of continuity, creating an anthology series, which never do well but maybe they thought that the character was hot enough at the time that it could be an exception. It was not. It wasn’t helped that these stories were harshly driven into the shadows of the main series, even if they were done by often-solid creators. DD seems to do best in longer story arcs where he and his world can breathe, rather than short spurts that rely on the reader picking up on whatever he does in a quick amount of time. This is evidenced in the Miller and Bendis/Gaydos and even Smith/Quesada runs, which is what anyone remembers before forgetting about anything that came in between, such were the heights of those landmark runs and the lows of most anything else. This series falls into that gutter of stories that would be fill-ins if they had to be shorter, and won’t be recollected anywhere but here. The first one is by Lee Weeks, a fine artist and storyteller when he’s paired with a good writer, but here shows little by writing on his own. His story aspires to a struggle in the hero’s mind while what’s outside of him struggles with him, and a lot of it doesn’t connect, in a way that tries to achieve a higher level but instead comes out as lazy craft. The art is good enough, and at least he pushes himself enough to come up with a few things to look at. But even in his past DD work, though early in his career and with a writer who fell even further from his aspirations, was a better use of his talents than this. The second story is a lot lighter, but easier to disregard. It’s basically a DD team-up story, with a third-tier character that’s good elsewhere but doesn’t need to work here. It’s all the DD surface details that say nothing about and do nothing with the character, as shallow a comic story as they’re stereotyped. Then a third story that I even forgot, though it deserves such by being a poor vehicle for time that Dave Lapham could have spent better elsewhere (even if he was selling to Marvel and DC as much as he could during this period). The whole book is a quick read, maybe two sittings if you want to take a break, but giving a substantial amount of time to these throw-away stories might turn feelings negative toward the good ones (outside of this series), which would be better served re-read than trying to get through this. With anthology series there’s always a chance a good story could come up at some other point -- later, maybe at the end -- but there’s always the chance that this is already the best that it got. Maybe that’s another reason why anthology books don’t work, and why Daredevil, who does better the longer the story goes, is a poor choice for something like this, and why it came out as lackluster as it did.

My Top Beatles Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20. "The Fool on the Hill"
19. "Cry Baby Cry"
18. "Hello Goodbye"
17 ."Nowhere Man"
16. "Penny Lane"
15. "All You Need Is Love"
14. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"
13. "Eleanor Rigby"
12. "Help!"
11. "I Am The Walrus"
10. "Taxman"
9. "Old Brown Shoe"
8. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
7. "The Ballad of John & Oko"
6. "Get Back"
5. "Revolution" (single version)
4."A Day in the Life"
3. "Helter Skelter"
2. "I'm So Tired"
1. "Drive My Car"


Grapes. I've been eating a lot of grapes lately.  Over the summer I was staying up  until about 4 each night and I needed a snack but it's not a good idea to eat anything heavy, especially processed carbs or anything real salty, which I gravitate toward.  But grapes are filling, you can eat them while doing something else on the computer, they taste great, and they're $2.50/lb. for decent quality at Smart N' Final (a little more at TJ's). See also: Cherries (when in season and cheap).

Shorts and flip-flops. My entire summer (save for work, the one day for the San Diego con, and my shoes when I went to work out).

Clif bars. I'm actually not a big snacker but sometimes I also go far too long without eating, as I'm busy with other stuff. These might be closer to candy bars than any real protein, but they're tasty, cheap, easy to eat (especially while doing something else), available at the Sleven, and they're better than not eating. Beware ones that have caffeine.

Update on a Rave from last issue: Steel-cut oatmeal is much better, making me even rethink oatmeal in the first place, but it's more work (and also worth it).

Next? Maybe December?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waydown #17.03.22

Trent Reznor took six years after 1999’s The Fragile to make another album. Then he had With Teeth in 2004 and albums came nearly every two years after that (a break-neck pace for rock albums in the modern age). Once you get started again, it can be hard to stop.


Gun Machine by Warren Ellis (audio-book). I'll follow a favored comics writer from comic to comic so I’ll likely follow them to other writing endeavors, like a prose novel (though confoundingly I still haven’t started on Neil Gaiman’s books). Ellis’s first book, Crooked Little Vein, was a fun read, with a lot of his own conventions — frigid characters, tons of research, pissy dialogue, the theme of the threat of technology — but re-purposed into a form that probably got out to more people than his comics. There’s probably more cred in it too, something better than writing a G.I.Joe cartoon, so to justify however long he stays with pursuits that might be seen by more of the world, he might as well push out as many novels as they’ll let him do, which is probably a lot since it’s easy to publish and nothing sells anyway so it’s no more a risk than anything else. Though he should have stopped at Vein. This one is a cop story -- as if it could be anything else, since his first one wasn’t -- that acts like it’s intimidated by technology but is secretly turned-on by it, with a good-vs.-evil plot that would be beyond hackneyed in a comic and doesn’t do better in prose. While Ellis may have pioneered the too-cool-for-school hero, this book could have only benefited from any kind of awareness since its main characters are buffoons, which is a risk, manipulating the reader by way of limiting narration but also making us wonder why they’re following such boneheads. The story attempts to make a point every once in a while, though never trying too hard to make any of them stick, and enough that it’s hard to follow what the point of any of it is. The story is over-researched just like the rest of his stuff which usually isn't such a bother since comics are rarely researched too much in the first place, but in prose where it could have been put to good use, instead he uses it as fool’s errands that keep the heroes running but boring the reader. Ellis has written better comics using the same tropes. He might go down the same roads too often but he's had more hits than misses. At least with the comics an artist save a poor story (even if Millar scoops up the best ones before he can). It’s just a shame that the time Ellis spends writing novels is time he isn’t trying to come up with something to match Transmetropolitan (if he’s not just going to give us a sequel to that), comics or otherwise.

The audio-book is narrated by Reg. E. Cathey (Dirty Dee from Pootie Tang but you probably know better as Freddy from House of Cards). He’s got as low and gruff a voice as could be allowed to read a book, and while he’s not an accomplished voice actor, making every sentences seem to trail off with ellipses and not giving much modulation, but his voice alone evokes a dark atmosphere with more dread and danger than the words do. The whole thing is a pretty quick listen, maybe 10 hours, so the book is probably a relatively quick read; I’d be pissed if I had to give it more than that to get through.

Battleworld: Red Skull (Marvel). I was researching the Red Skull for a project and I figured I might as well find a recent story (after The Uncanny Avengers didn't really work out), preferably one that wasn't connected to anything else. It had been a while since I’d read the 'Skull in a comic, especially since the last few years of Captain America issues have seemed insurmountable (though still something I’d like to dive into at some point). My plan for the Red Skull was as a zealous maniac but that seemed one-sided and far too easy for a mastermind villain. I hoped that this book would feature a voice I could grab on to, even though it was in the "Battleworld" event, which I knew very little about (though enough to enjoy the jumbled mess of Squadron Sinister), but they could be playing the character like the original version. As it turns out, it read a lot more like a Marvel Suicide Squad, more than likely a calculated move considering how well that book has done lately for DC and since no one would probably notice when Marvel included it in their deluge of tie-in books for Secret Wars. It doesn’t cop the idea entirely, especially since it’s just a gateway to knock off a lot of characters right away -- a lot more like the Suicide Squad part of the Suicide Squad/Doom Patrol Special. It’s a lot of characters whose main-Marvel Universe versions no one would care about, and there’s not much point about killing them off so early in the story, but then the whole thing wraps not much longer after that. The story could have been longer, at least building up to the characters meeting their fates, then when it got cut for length they just left out the build. It's less concise than truncated. It’s another corner of the Battleworld, as if there needed to be more. But these villain-based stories are an easy sell for me, so I was in for the ride. I went through the whole thing in exactly one sitting, which is significant considering how long it takes me to get through any book. The whole thing barely makes a trade paperback -- they have to fill it out with an old Captain America reprint, but not only was it nice to revisit one of my favorite periods of that book (despite the Ron Lim art), it also did more to help me capture that voice of the bad guy, going back to the original as an afterthought but more valid than the modern-day, other-world clone.

Transformers vs. G.I.Joe (IDW). One of the most ridiculous comics ever made. Qualify that even farther as being from a mainstream publisher and it’s the same. It’s completely wacky and often doesn’t make much sense at all. Imagine a 9-year-old kid making the most epic G.I.Joe/Transformers story that his imagination could produce, with every one of those toys at his disposal. And it’s actually a lot of fun, even when, maybe even especially when, it doesn’t work so well. Tom Scioli takes his Kirby-biting style to out-Kirby Kirby (or maybe what Kirby would have come up with if he had ever done anything with the characters... and was on drugs) and drops both teams into it, mangling them into a story that no one ever could or ever want to come up with. They all break out into a dance at one point. It starts straight off with a #0 issue, one that might be lost if you didn’t get the trade, which marks the tone for the rest, setting a certain stream of continuity, establishing a sort of origin story and proclaiming that it has no concern for anything that has come before. If you don’t want to read the hundreds of issues of either of those teams, across at least four publishers and certainly with no lack of bum stories, this is all you need; anyone who knows those toys and the cartoons (which is to say, dudes currently in their 40s) would be able to drop into it and go. It’s far out there, maybe more than it needs to be, but comics are only rarely made to be this fun (fun, not funny) with characters we know. From the explosive first story it slides slowly, to plot-lines that make little sense and confounding jumps in the narrative. Surely the editor (such as anyone would be) had enough work to corral all the characters and elements into making a few pages here and there make sense. But there’s no reason to read it close enough to get more sense than fun out of it. The art also comes apart gradually, getting looser as it goes along until it almost seems like it will fall apart entirely -- an ethic that wouldn't work if it was used more often.It’s part of the charm but it works best earlier on when there's some kind of panel-to-panel structure holding it together. (And there’s often no excuse for coloring outside of the lines, especially when it seems to want purposely to get sloppy, after not being so earlier on.) It’s some low art but there can be glory in such a thing, and it revels in it. This is all on purpose. Clearly the creators have a great love of the characters and they had a blast making it. There’s no reason that anyone wouldn’t want to let go and have fun with it. It’s a silly thing. Even more ridiculous that this thing needed a co-writer, since it doesn’t seem to gel any better with a second pair of hands on it, but it would be sad to have to play with all those toys alone.

Modern Masters Volume Five: José Luis García-López (TwoMorrows). I get to about one of these a year, and this was this last year’s. Out of all the artists profiles in these books, Garcia Lopez may be the one closest to my heart, as it was his art that I remember liking in my earliest days of looking at comic books. I may have been too young to know to seek out an artist’s name but I recognized his style and remembered it growing up. It might have been easier to remember his style since it was always so straight-forward and structured, nothing overly stylized but probably more solid than any other artist working at the time, more than Kirby in his heyday -- just straight-up superheroes. The style may not have been explosively imaginative but it was clear and obvious that the man was at least as good as any other storyteller around. Even better a few years later when he did the art for DC-tangential products, in particular the Super-Powers board game and the DC Heroes Role-Playing Game, both cornerstones in my personal history, that cemented his art in my mind. (And if you want to play that Super-Powers game, let me know and we’ll get together.) He may never have gotten the recognition he deserved -- that was for flashier artists -- but he got plenty of work, and being from a generation of journeymen artists, that was good enough, he’s said. The book is the usual for this series: An interview that runs out before it can gets deep, never going too far on any particular projects, and a frustratingly small selection of art, considering the width and breadth of what he's done. But considering Garcia-Lopez is only rarely ever interviewed (I don’t believe I’ve ever in my life read an interview with him), with no widely available art books dedicated to him, and for the relatively-small range of projects he’s done over the years to get short shrift just because there are only so many pages, the book does well enough, as a sampler of his work and a biography of his life. There’s actually a good deal of attention given to his Atari Force work, which may be the most accomplished project he did as a regular series for DC, even though it’s increasingly forgotten today, completely so if not for his involvement making it a landmark, and might even have been unfairly disregarded back then as a hokey video-game tie-in (I bought the series for myself years ago on eBay and probably got a deal on it). I would have preferred more space given to his DC Presents issues, since those were my gateway to his work, but to go through that series and all those characters he drew could be a book on their own. This one is as good as any of the ones in this series I’ve gotten to, and I’m sure they all continue on that level. If you’re a fan of these artists, there’s no sense in not picking up as many as you can.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers (Marvel). There have been a number of books or series that I pick up because it gives me background for my Marvel Heroic game.  Especially in the case of Drax, I was trying to get a character’s voice just right and where better to get it than from the comics?  (Often better than the movies, especially in this case since Drax talks a lot more in his comic than in the movie.) Marvel pushes out potential book-sellers Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to re-brand them, at least in name, as an adjacent Avengers team, which they’re not but they might as well be, and unnecessary after their movie was huge enough to cause no regrets in its comparative success. They put Bendis on it, not necessarily the right choice but because he would eventually get to the characters in his tour of long runs on every Marvel book available. He does well enough, as rarely is there anyone who makes space books into much of anything great, even when sci-fi should translate to comics better than it does, but the main draw is pairing with McNiven, which was also why I gave it a shot. At the time I needed the reference for playing Drax but I also needed a McNiven book to make up for Nemesis, and Bendis isn’t a turn-off for me, even if I know I’m not going to pick up all 263 issues that he does of a series. This one jumps right into adventures with the Guardians then digs into their histories, in particular Star-Lord, so there’s an assumption that anyone already knows how they came together, which it gives no time for, since we’re probably supposed to assume that’s a story, probably through “Annihilation”, that was too grand to sum up in a lurching catch-up panel, or, just being a fan of the characters getting into action scenes, that no one cares. It works well enough for both of those but not much beyond it. It’s just a run-through of the team doing stuff, focusing some attention to Star-Lord’s backstory, and probably existing just to set up the bigger stuff that comes next, as Bendis is always interested in the longest game possible (though credit him with never taking it to Claremont levels), so it’s hard to get a whole lot out of the book other than action scenes.  At least they’re drawn reasonably well, better than Nemesis but not as good as Civil War, which leads to thinking that McNiven just needs a better inker he can stick with or a bigger event to be a part of.

Squadron Sinister (Marvel). Anyone knows I’m a nut for the Squadron Supreme. The team is everything I want from superheroes. It’s a distillation of the superhero concept, as minimal as possible, even without being an analogue of the Justice League (which I actually didn't pick up on until much later than I should have). It’s the DC heroes without the baggage, even though that baggage brings interesting history with it, but with most of the personality and magic stripped from it, then of course in the Marvel Universe, which contributes its own fun to the concept. Of course most of it comes down to the ‘80s Squadron Supreme mini-series, the Justice League as The Authority years before, and played straight instead of as a satire. It was even in its own universe, so it could have more than easily been an air-locked DC Universe redux, but they swerved from that. Even more, it came down to the last issue of that mini-series, one of the best superhero fights ever in comics. It was pointless, barely even serving the story, but superhero action at its finest. And so Marvel dredges up the concept again, jettisoning that broken post-mini-series version that hobbled around for years, including through a graphic novel that blew its chance at doing something substantial with the characters. So it comes back to the original concept, of the Justice League as villains gently rampaging through the Marvel Universe, thrown into their Battleworld concept.  There didn’t seem a reason to follow that except to see the characters resurrected and mixed together just to fight -- and bloodily, since not a lot of them survived, to serve whatever story -- but didn’t seem to do them or Marvel much good, except to weed out and get rid of as many as possible within the story, which is as close as Marvel gets to adjusting their character continuity within a story continuity, a la DC (when they’re bothering to do it).  So the New Universe and the Howlin’ Commandoes and the Frightful Four (apparently someone else already snapped up Crystar) show up for little purpose but to have someone for the antagonist/protagonists to fight and for characters to die so that they can mimic some kind of consequence from the story. It’s also a murder-mystery, which brings out the villainy of the main characters. Yet it all works, well enough. They could probably do more with the Squadron Supreme in this form as villains than as heroes, but seeing them in any form can be enough (and maybe it’s where they’re headed with the current, main series). It’s as relevant as any of the Battleworld tie-in series were, which is to say not much but since they didn’t connect to much of anything else they could be picked up just for the characters and seemed to be dropped when Marvel started a new-but-not-really-new version of their universe, but as a side-bar four issues with those characters it’s an easy ride, and not an embarrassment to writer Marc Guggenheim, who can be counted on for solid writing. Also good to see the reliable superhero art of Carlos Pacheco, who is too good to not get more regular work, since he shines more on a consistent schedule rather than high-minded projects.

Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra (Marvel). The concept for the story is a day in the life of a Hydra agent. Totally a bad guy, and a goon at that, just how one could live with that vocation. That’s the whole thing. And it’s nearly genius. There’s no redemption with the character, just a wild romp through how a life like that could be in the Marvel Universe. One of the best single issues Marvel put out that year, and a complete story in itself (though it pays tribute to other high points of Marvel history). Marvel does fun done-in-one stories every once in a while, usually a parody, which can be a bit much after a short while, or connected to an event so it becomes just another tie-in, but sometimes when they do one of these it works well enough that it’s frustrating it doesn’t happen more often, considering the number of other, contrived projects they push out. There might be more gas in this character and maybe in the concept but it’s valuable on its own, leaving us wanting more rather than wearing out its welcome (which Marvel has done much too often when they find something that works). 

I finished the first two Injustice trades but I’m going to get more of that series before I write about it (though the fact that I’m pursuing more of it should be a good sign).

Top Albums Of 2015 (In This Order):
10. Head Carrier- Pixies/Super- Pet Shop Boys (tie)
9. Leave Me Alone- Hinds
8. Lost Time- Tacocat
7. Blind Spot- Lush
6. You Want It DarkerLeonard Cohen
5. The Hope Six Demolition Project- PJ Harvey
4. Strange Little Birds- Garbage
3. Post Pop Depression- Iggy Pop
2. A Moon Shaped Pool- Radiohead
1. Blackstar- David Bowie

My Top Radiohead Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20. "High & Dry"
19. "Fake Plastic Trees"
18. "Just"
17. "Stop Whispering"
16. "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box"
15. "Planet Telex"
14. "You"
13. "The National Anthem"
12. "Karma Police"
11. "Talk Show Host"
10. "Electioneering"
9. "Reckoner"
8. "There, There"
7. "Idioteque"
6. "Everything In Its Right Place"
5. "Airbag"
4. "My Iron Lung"
3. "I Can’t"
2. "Prove Yourself"
1. "Killer Cars"


The beard. Almost famously, I'm growing a beard. I never have before. What started as an unemployment beard -- growing it out because I wasn't working and didn't care -- became an employment beard -- growing it out because I was working and didn't care. I could never get past the first two or three weeks, when it's really itchy, but once you get over that hump, it's kinda nice. It's just become a thing and it would be weird to not have it. I don't have an end in mind: some folks shave it off at some point, maybe once a year, maybe the start of the warm season, but I don't have a plan. I'll just keep going with it until the wife is tired of it, since she has to suffer it but she's also the one that encouraged me to grow it out. Since beard oil is an obvious gift, I now have a lot of beard oil.

Oatmeal. But made with water, not milk. Yeah, it sounds gross, and even I wouldn’t have tried that just a short time ago, but a while ago I gave up milk (it’s really not good for you, and it acts more like a solid than a liquid, so when drinking it, it’s just more food you’re putting down) and I was desperate one time and found that oatmeal made from water actually wasn’t horrible, and instead of being so heavy made with milk, it packed even more energy being lighter. I still have to put some brown sugar in it, which I know isn’t good, but I just can’t eat it without some kind of flavor to it. I’ve found slicing up apples doesn’t work like it does in instant oatmeal (might as well be cereal) but blueberries in there aren’t bad.

On the elliptical. After my weight-lifting class among the house-wives, I get on the elliptical. I don't know how much good it really does -- it's maybe 400 calories in 40 minutes -- but it's cardio, and I get reading done. Mostly Weeklys or magazines, so mostly trash reading but I can let my mind go and maybe I'm burning some fat. It's very zen.

Not wearing deodorant. When I’m working nights, I’m only around one other dude. And in my older age, I’m getting more cautious about chemicals, and stuff in ‘pits have a direct route right into the body. I’ve always felt uncomfortable wearing deodorant, enough that I would often wear a T-shirt just so my ‘pits wouldn't come in contact with a button-down shirt, so I decided to let it go for a while. And it worked. I don’t seem to reek, as far as I know or anyone would (or wouldn’t) say. I don’t sweat a lot anyway and it's colder months now so we’ll have to see how it is in the summer. But if I’m not around many people anyway, it probably won’t matter. Though on the weekends, when I’m around anybody, I certainly put it on, and lately I’ve been getting back into the aerosol stuff (though that’s then chemicals in the air that go into the lungs). If it's good enough for Bradley Cooper and John Cusack, it's good for me. But rest assured: If I’m around you in person, I’ll be wearing deodorant and smelling fresh as a flower.

Update on a Rave from last issue: I leave my main iPod on shuffle (albums) now. I roll a 6-sided die to pick what radio station I listen to at night. I leave my choice of shirts to whatever order I washed them. I don't have to decide when to shave anymore (see above). I try hard to stick to the same routine every week. I defer to my wife as much as possible. In N' Out has only two things on the menu. I’m doing whatever I can do to take as many decisions are possible out of my daily life.There’s way too much wasted on making a choice, usually an insignificant thing, when you can just leave it to fate and probably come out the same, without the guilt of knowing you could have chosen something else. The less I have to spend making decisions, the more time and energy I can put toward writing and creating and making blog-zines and communicating and living.  

With my current schedule, I'm reading a lot more, enough that I got into two big books (an Avengers Essential and a Love & Rockets tome) just to slow down how much I'm burning through. Right now I've got seven books on deck for review, then five more from before I went on this schedule, then whatever else I get through by the next time. Hopefully the next issue will be on May 22 or when I finish the next novel (which may be -- but probably won’t be -- Moby Dick), whichever comes later.