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.
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).
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 Darker- Leonard 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"
17. "Stop Whispering"
16. "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box"
15. "Planet Telex"
13. "The National Anthem"
12. "Karma Police"
11. "Talk Show Host"
8. "There, There"
6. "Everything In Its Right Place"
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.