Posts Tagged ‘Vertigo’
Who even writes for this blog anymore? Certainly not us! Anyway, I just read a magnificent issue of Swamp Thing from the year 1996!
Clinton was in office and Dole wanted to oust him. Newt Gingrich had signed some weird “Contract with America” and the world of American politics was as nutty as ever. Apparently disgusted with himself, the comics industry, and left-wing socialist nut-jobs Mark Millar enlisted the incredible talents of Curt Swan to create this fascinating bit of satire.
If you’re familiar with Alan Moore or Rick Veitch’s work on Saga of the Swamp Thing then you know Chester Williams as an eco-friendly former hippie that loves tubers and teams up with the Swamp Thing to battle evil.
But that was before he saw the Contract!
Professor Chester Williams is at his apartment throwing a party with another professor and some of their students. The kids are dancing, drinking, getting high, and engaging in other immoral activities. After a living the hippie dream this party serves as a wake up call to Mr. Williams and he’s had enough! Chastising a young lady for strip-dancing at the party Chester proceeds to kill the music and call the cops on his students.
Disgusted with the loose living of these young liberals, Chester decides to join the NYPD and clean up America. After killing a few bank robbers (illegal immigrants no less!), saving a woman from being robbed [Ed. note: a “dyke,” who he then kisses so hard she goes straight and marries him], and plenty of good old fashioned liberal bashing, Chester receives word that the Swamp Thing is giving the world’s leaders an ultimatum: stop polluting or else! As an old friend of this Elemental, Officer Williams decides to pay a visit to Houma, LA to try and talk some sense into the old Swamp Hippie.
After a stern lesson on economics, the importance of international trade, and a plea for Swamp Thing to “grow up”, Chester convinces Swamp Thing that the earth doesn’t need a paradise and things are best left as they are. Chester then returns to New York where he defeats incumbent Bill Clinton and becomes President of the United States of America!
Conservative ideals win again!
[Ed. note: Despite Mark Millar’s bizarre introduction to the issue claiming it is the first “clean issue in a sick run of an evil book put together by diseased individuals,” editor Stuart Moore later promises it was “an Elseworlds story” and “a bad trip or something.” Thank God.]
It’s December, and we all know what that means. STUPID OVERPRICED CHRISTMAS COMICS! And with the random holiday specials comes the totally awkward stories where Santa rolls around with your favorite superheroes. They’re generally throwaway stories that nobody buys and, well, really hold no bearing on continuity. So what’s the point? Well, occasionally, you strike gold. SO MUCH GOLD. Here are my top five Santa Claus comic cameos. And, um, apologies to your childhood.
(5) Bloom County: In 1981, PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) went on strike demanding better wages and a shorter work week, prompting Ronald Reagan to fire and/or imprison over half of them. Apparently, Santa’s elves were inspired. In newspaper comic Bloom County (dated 12/15/81 – 12/24/81), after Santa rejects the demands of PETCO (Professional Elves Toy-Making and Craft Organization) for higher wages, a hot tub in the locker room, and “short broads,” the elves go on strike. Once again, Reagan steps in, fires all of Santa’s helpers, and replaces them with out-of-work air traffic controllers. Yeah, it’s dated political humor, but it’s still pretty fucking funny.
(4) The Special Edition Warrior Winter Wonderland Pin-Up Book: After getting fired from the WWF in mid-1996, the Ultimate Warrior didn’t have much. How the hell was he supposed to make money as a ranting, painted idiot if he wasn’t on TV? Enter his company, Ultimate Creations, and its terrible pseudo-philosophical 4-issue comic series, Warrior, written by the Warrior himself. After it’s cancellation, Ultimate Creations decided to release one last book, The Special Edition Warrior Winter Wonderland Pin-Up Book. Good lord, is this thing bizarre. Essentially, it’s two pages of Warrior-style rambling (“nobody fucks with a Santa savior”) followed by page after page of your least favorite 90’s artists drawing the Ultimate Warrior in Santa garb (including a Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti cover). This book is most infamous for it’s final pin-up by Jim Callahan of the Ultimate Warrior putting on Santa’s pants while a half-naked Saint Nick lies passed out next to a bottle of whiskey with… Wait. Holy shit, what is that splattered across Santa’s chest?
(3) Sandman #7 (er, sort of): To be fair, this story almost never even was. Originally slated to be Sandman #7, the series got cancelled just after the release of #6. Then, this story was supposed to end up as the second half of Kamandi #61, except that series got cancelled after the release of issue #59. Finally, this story was released in 1978’s legendary black-and-white photocopied Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, a full two years after the last Sandman story was published.
Anyways, yeah. The Silver Age Sandman’s best pal, Jed Walker (the Earth-1 counterpart of Kamandi), has been challenged to prove to Titus Gotrox, an old millionaire, that Santa is real. If he succeeds, the man will donate $1,000,000 to charity in Jed’s name. With the help of Sandman, Jed is whisked away to the Dream Stream to meet Santa. Unfortunately, the old man’s nephew, Rodney, doesn’t want to get screwed out of a million busks worth of inheritance and follows. Upon arrival, Sandman discovers that Santa has been kidnapped by the Seal-Men, a race of half-seal/half-human creatures, who are pissed off that Santa gave them gloves for Christmas the previous year, even though their race has flippers. Santa says “sorry” and everything is fixed (that was easy). They get back to Santa’s workshop to discover Rodney pointing a gun at Mrs. Claus. Sandman hits him with some sleep dust (that was also easy) and everybody goes home.
(2) Hellblazer #247: I know that John Constantine isn’t one to shy away from trying a new drug, but this is just fucking weird. In October 2008’s Hellblazer #247, while attempting to prevent a cannibalistic mystic named Mako from obtaining some super-evil artifact called the Hell Mirror, Constantine travels to Bari, Italy, breaks into the Basilica di San Nichola, digs up the skeletal remains of ol’ Saint Nick, and has it ground into bone meal. After using the ground up icon in some weird thaumaturgical incantation ritual, he decides to hang onto it for a bit. And when he gets back to his apartment, what does he decide to do with the Santa dust? Same thing you or I would do, obviously. Roll up a Coca-Cola advertisement, snort Saint Nick like cocaine, and make the obligatory “white Christmas” joke! Classy, Andy Diggle. Classy.
(1) The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special: As much as I love Keith Giffen, I can’t stand the Lobo character. Even so, when I discovered he had a Christmas-themed one-shot in 1991, my morbid curiosity got the better of me and I had to check it out. Good god. Lobo is hired by the Easter Bunny to assassinate Kris “Crusher” Kringle after all of the holiday mascots decide that Christmas is overshadowing their respective holidays. Lobo takes the job and books it to the North Pole, only to be attacked by the elves. After they are all massacred by “The Naughtiest One,” he faces Santa (armed with a pair of razor sharp shivs) and his gorilla sidekick, Kong. Lobo ends up decapitating Santa, shooting Rudolph (who is apparently a mutant now), and is about to leave when he discovers Santa’s list. The comic then ends with Lobo dropping atomic bombs down the chimneys of everybody labeled “nice.”
Normally I wouldn’t give a number one spot to something that’s just so, well, 90s. But this gets better. In 2002, some guy named Scott Leberecht, a student working on a project for his American Film Institute director’s studies program, decided to do a $2,400 live-action adaptation of this comic starring Butterfinger from Hudson Hawk and the guy who voices Shikamaru on Naruto. And, fuck, it is horrible. How horrible you ask?
BEHOLD! THE LIVE-ACTION LOBO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL STUDENT FILM!
Who says that fairy tales are just for kids? Bill Willingham’s Fables has more than enough intrigue, politics, and drama to fill any number of high-brow literary works. Fables succeeds magnificently at molding the fairy tales you loved as a child into a grown-up saga without ruining your childhood (case in point: Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. Now THAT was a scarring experience). Fables is brilliant because it works on multiple levels. It’s comedy, romance, mystery, and action all at once without denigrating into crass parody. Although some characters are more integral to the story than others, Fables never focuses on just one main character – it’s like a Robert Altman film turned comic book fairy tale. Fables isn’t just a great work of comic book fiction, it’s a great work of fiction, period, proof enough to shut up all the naysayers who believe comics are just for teenage boys and adults caught in arrested development.
Fables begins in modern day New York, where Snow White, her sister Rose Red, King Cole and many others have been exiled after escaping their homelands, fleeing a mysterious threat known only as “The Adversary.” It can be said of many series that they start off a little weak, but only get better as the series goes on. This isn’t quite true for Fables, because while it isn’t weak by any means, the early issues don’t even hint at how rich and complex the world of Fabletown becomes as the series progresses. Volume One opens with Snow White, who is now the right-hand woman of Mayor King Cole, tracking down her sister’s murderer. Things aren’t quite what they seem of course, and as Fables unfolds over 82 issues, events snowball and lead up to the big showdown, in which the villian is unveiled and kingdoms are restored… for a time.
What makes Fables so special is that seemingly minor characters end up as major players later on, significantly altering the lives of the Fable-town residents and becoming more important than they (and the reader) ever imagined they could be. They’re the ones we root the loudest and cry the hardest for. These characters aren’t the elevated paragons of perfection, clear-cut black and white archetypes that we’re used to from traditional fairy tales. They are imperfect beings, with frail relationships handled expertly by Bill Willingham. Prince Charming is a cad who’s had three wives (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively). Snow White and Bigby Wolf have their own relationship problems, him being a wolf the least of them. The most stable relationship in the series is Beauty and the Beast’s. Healthy relationships are almost never interesting in fiction, (and really, who wants to read about happy couples?), but theirs is possibly the most fun, playful and yes, sexy healthy relationship I’ve come across in fiction, ever. No small feat.
And, like any great work of fiction, there is inevitable tragedy. The heartbreak of failed love between two characters is as devastating as the happy ones are uplifting. Late in the series, a final goodbye between a will-they-won’t-they pair ends not in forgiveness, but with one character revealing the hard, unvarnished truth about the other’s shortcomings. And it’s as painful for her to hear as it is for us, as Willingham knowingly wrenches our hearts by wrenching hers. He doesn’t let her off easy, even on his deathbed. And it just breaks your heart in half.
Most series would be content to wrap things up neatly in a bow and leave the residents of Fabletown to their happiness and content, but Bill Willingham never takes the easy route. It doesn’t end in “Happily Ever After” because, just like life, these stories will go on, even after we close the pages of the book.
The best comics start with a great premise. Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets starts with two. The initial hook is all about revenge: Agent Graves can offer you an attaché case containing a gun with one hundred untraceable rounds of ammunition, indisputable proof implicating the person responsible for ruining your life, and the guarantee that you’ll get away with murder should you choose to do something about it. The moral implications are already riveting enough, what would you do, how far would you go for a grudge? And could you ever really find peace of mind in violence? But the pulp stories eventually give way to a broader tale, and the epic scope of the 100 Bullets’ narrative (told across the span of- you guessed it- one hundred issues) is a crime saga larger and more complicated than any ever committed to page or screen.
Most of the credit goes to 100 Bullets’ creators, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso develop a fully-realized world of people who occupy a world that’s highly-stylized, yet unmistakably authentic to our sense of both the highest heights and the farthest margins of society. Azzarello is, without a doubt, the best writer of dialogue in all of comics (and no, it’s not even close). No other scribe in the decade ever attempted to work across such a fearlessly broad spectrum of humanity, nor did any succeed so consummately in capturing the depth and variety of dialects plumbed from all walks of American life. Risso’s art is equal parts glitz and grit, the perfect complement to the “realness” of Azzarello’s writing for figures who emerge from- and retreat back into- shadows both figurative and literal, all blood sparkling on gold jewelry and sharpened teeth.
While 100 Bullets’ early arcs are fodder for some meaty noir tales of dirty deeds and payback, it’s only a matter of time before members of the huge cast of seemingly unrelated characters realize the underlying truth behind Graves’ labyrinthine “game”: Everybody is connected, and if you’re not playing an angle, somebody else is probably playing you as part of theirs. Along the way we uncover the sprawling, mysterious world of the Minutemen, the Trust, and the Greatest Crime in the History of Man. Knowing the long and torturous path ahead for so many of these characters it makes me really wonder- if you knew what was coming at the end of it all, would you have ever opened up that briefcase?
I can’t help feeling like this book should probably be #1 on our list. It isn’t (not even in my own personal ranking) because a few others were more popular, had greater impact, etc. But for sheer quality- in both concept and execution- The Walking Dead stood peerless in the 2000s. The book starts from a simple question: “What if every zombie movie you’ve ever seen didn’t actually have to end?” Series creator Robert Kirkman anchors the horror in his characteristically well-drawn characters, each of whom has the opportunity to show complete emotional range and complex, totally natural motivations usually absent from traditionally truncated zombie genre fare. Protagonist Rick Grimes and company endure a hard-fought existence that calls into question the nature of concepts like morality, justice, society and sanity when life becomes a nonstop pursuit of one goal: survival. And that makes anything possible- when the story doesn’t have to work itself to resolution after 90 minutes, all of the rules change. To spoil even one moment of The Walking Dead for a new reader would be criminal, but suffice it to say that nobody is safe, and in a world like this, any/every “normal” person can and will be pushed to things you’d never expect possible. And it is, in all likelihood, the best currently ongoing series in comics.
I love Superman. I love him as a supporting character. After 80 years as the flagship superhero of comics it feels like everything there was to say about Krypton’s last son has been said. In fact, it was said before a guy like Grant Morrison was even in the biz. Going in to All-Star Superman I felt this way. Then, for 12 marvelous issues I was convinced I needed to know more. Who knew Big Blue had one last arc of good reading in him? I’m sure at some point there will come another author who finds something entertaining to do with Superman, but in the waning years of this last decade it was nice to see creative duo Morrison and Quitely tell me something about Kent I didn’t already know, and wrap it all up so tidily that I felt a sense of closure when it was all said and done.
Whoa, whoa. Hold on a hot second. A tie-in to an event that’s better than the event itself? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
You’re dumb, and here’s the proof. While Final Crisis was a little, um, disjointed, Revelations was straight up Biblical goodness. Basically, while Darkseid is busy mind-raping everybody with the Anti-Life Equation, newly-appointed Question Renee Montoya is fighting off the Religion of Crime in Gotham (if you ain’t read it, you’re now officially confused). Meanwhile, newly-appointed Spectre (and Renee’s ex-partner since Batman: the Animated Series) Crispus Allen is serving out justice on God’s behalf for those held responsible for the death of the Martian Manhunter. Basically, the book is a team-up between these two: the Huntress, and Radiant, God’s angel of mercy in a battle against many of Darkseid’s Justifiers and Vandal Savage (who is possessed by Cain from the Bible).
8. Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn
Sort of a weird thing happened in the last decade. Since Hollywood’s bankruptcy of original intellectual properties, we’ve seen so many mediocre, utterly forgettable comics adaptations that we’ve forgotten a time when not every book was viewed in terms of its potential to sustain a film or television franchise. Instead, we’ve begun new lives in an alternate universe where your Aunt whose favorite musician is Michael Buble can tell you who Harry Osborne’s dad is, and the more intellectual set might deign to deride a new theatrical release by saying something like “Eh… I think it would have been better as a comic book.” A shining example of the opposite in effect, Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man is one a truly few number of titles that openly begs to be realized in moving pictures small or large. The story of the last living carriers of a Y chromosome on Earth (20-something Yorrick Brown and his monkey, Ampersand) moves along a pace that perfectly balances its dual nature as both an episodic and serial narrative while introducing us to a hugely diverse cast of female (naturally) characters who all have different goals and motivations driving them to live in a new world without men. At times, the book could be almost soapy in how relationships progress and evolve, and I’d be lying if I said I loved the plot’s final resolution, but for 60 issues Y exhibited an undeniable quality that said this is just the kind of great story- and storytelling– that’s fit for today’s enlightened masses. It’s no wonder that series co-creator Brian K. Vaughn wound up plying his trade doing just that as a writer on ABC’s Lost.
Poor Piotr. He spends all that time being good while falling for that underage Lolita, Kitty Pryde. Then he dies. And then, suddenly, he comes back to life and she’s of age! They bump legal uglies and everything is coming up Colossus! Until, you know, Ord shows up with a giant space bullet pointed at Earth and Kitty Pryde has to phase into it and ride it into deep space to save all of us. Yup. Joss Whedon has made a career out of cockblocking and then killing off your favorite characters in everything he touches (see: every girl Xander ever got involved with).
Oh, yeah, plus this book gave us Abbie Brand and S.W.O.R.D. (which is kinda cool) and features art by John Cassaday and Simone Bianchi that is just fucking gorgeous. Now, with Warren Ellis at the helm and the announcement of a few more Astonishing titles, I’m curious to see where they take this from here.
I’m not really much of a fan of Image Comics. I’m not sure if it’s just the stigma that comes with the name (and, yes, I’ll admit that Liefeld’s name does subconsciously affect my opinion) but I just can’t get into it. I’m sorry. Get over it.
Now that I have that out of the way, let’s discuss Invincible. The story of a young man who develops superpowers and decides to use it for the good of mankind yadda yadda nothing new. So what sets it apart exactly? Well, for one, our main character (conveniently named Invincible) has some, well, let’s say family issues with his father, fellow super-being Omni-Man. Pair that with his kid brother’s budding powers, dealing with his girlfriend/classmate/former superhero partner, and the government jerking him around, it is actually a very compelling superhero story. Needless to say, it’s a far cry from the other stuff on Image’s line-up. So far.
Why do I say this? Well, Invincible has all ready had a crossover with Savage Dragon, Astounding Wolf-Man, and Brit (which, might I add, was done surprisingly well). With Invincible #60, they’ve decided to throw Spawn, Witchblade, and Pitt (oh, Pitt) into the mix and, well, that’s where I get a bit dodgy. I can’t bring myself to read Image United but here’s hoping that it doesn’t turn a great book like Invincible into just another Image title.
It’s hard to write an original love story. How does one make the most universal of plotlines fresh and interesting? By re-telling his tortured relationship between his fundamentalist Christian upbringing and his first real love, Thompson gives us a unique twist on the autobiographical love story. Most of Thompson’s childhood and teenage years in small town Michigan are set during the harsh winter season. Thompson’s beautiful black and white drawings are a perfect complement to the stark, bleak beauty of his Midwestern hometown. Thompson has a big, sweeping lyrical style, but finest moments in Blankets are mostly silent. Like a silent film, Blankets’ strongest impact is in the images, such as the long dream sequence where the two lovers are mingled in the patchwork quilt Raina gives Craig.
What makes Blankets so compelling is Craig’s conflict between his deep-seated devotion to God and his passionate feelings for Raina. Religion rarely gets tackled in comics, and rarely as subtly as Thomson tackles it here. Without demonizing his former faith, he raises good, hard questions about his beliefs, and doesn’t give us any easy answers. What’s so refreshing is that Thompson leaves Craig’s relationship with Raina unresolved. When his relationship with Raina ends, it isn’t neat and tidy. Like real life, it’s messy and complicated, and sometimes we never see that person again. You wait to see if he’s going to circle back to Raina, and tell the reader what happened, but they are left hanging, just like in real life. Thompson spent five years on his 500+ page labor of love, and he leaves a moving testament to childhood, love and faith.
Set in 1970s Seattle, Black Hole is about the spread of a sexually transmitted disease that causes grotesque mutations in the teenagers who contract it. It’s also a horror comic, and Charles Burns’ tremendous work draws heavily in its aesthetic from the fantastically lurid grindhouse and slasher films of that era. But as you might expect, Black Hole is really just about growing up, and the physical transformations that the kids in the story go through only serve to literalize the genuine horrors of real-life adolescence. The sexual nature of their encounters and the complications that arise in their relationships reflect universal themes of immaturity, ignorance, shame, and alienation that pretty much all of us experience at that age. And, as with the high-schoolers in Black Hole, these are the trials that ultimately lead us to make the awkward transition into adulthood… or at least to just get the fuck out of town as soon as we’re able.
If you’ve never read a Spider-Man comic before, what do you know about him? How does our impression of arguably the greatest character in the history of comic books differ between his official continuity and the cultural canon? It probably isn’t all alien symbiotes or organic web shooters versus mechanical or having six-arms or clones names Ben or the trials of marriage (let alone any “Brand New Days”) or the even Daily Bugle and getting his ass yelled at a lot for just trying to get on with his day.
Well, wait. Maybe that last one…
Spider-Man is beloved above and beyond all else for being the superhero we can relate to, the guy who’s life as Peter Parker was often as dramatically true to life as his costumed exploits were fantastic and, more importantly, were just as compelling and fun to read than the smash and bash, if not more so. So when the Ultimate Universe idea came around, it makes sense that Spidey was the most perfect fit for the update: Take all the stuff that we remember and love about Peter Parker’s history, and place it in a simple, modern context without all the decades of convolution. What you get is a 15 year old kid who has to deal with new powers (and new responsibilities) after he’s bitten by a radioactive spider… on top of dealing with high school. And it works. All the greatest moments get their due, and Brian Michael Bendis gives us as much meaningful time with Gwen Stacey, Mary Jane Watson, and the gang as he does thrills watching Pete quip one-liners as he puts the beats on the Green Goblin, Electro, and Doctor Octopus.
It works so perfectly that, like an awesome TV show that runs way too many seasons too long, it inevitably becomes just as convoluted as the series it was created to simplify, and actually had to be rebooted/relaunched itself! That’s comics for you. But for sixty-some issues, Bendis and series regular artist Mark Bagley delivered our friendly neighborhood web slinger as not as we know and love him, but as we felt like we knew and loved him. Which is really way better anyway.
Love him or hate him, Geoff Johns was unarguably the continuity guru of the 2000’s, and his rise to prominence can be pinned on a single event: Green Lantern: Rebirth. Regardless of what critics have said of his work, Johns’ impact on the DCU was both immense and undeniable. First off, Johns brought Silver Age legend Hal Jordan back to life, reviving popular interest in the previously b-list Green Lantern Corps, spawning several on-going books, and a big-budget blockbuster movie. If that wasn’t enough, the success of this single story line managed to set the tone for DC continuity, landed Johns some of the best selling comic mini-series of his day, and poised him for a role as the head creative voice at DC Comics. Not too shabby.
DMZ’s portrait of a besieged Manhattan told through the lens of a semi-disaffected, semi-independent reporter is a book firing on all cylinders. Striking visuals evoke a place almost, but not entirely, unlike the New York City of today, and Brian Wood guides the reader through the morass of the city with the same ambivalence to the journalistic form as his lead character, Matty Roth. Whether you think Brian Wood glimpsed the future of the fragile Union, or if he’s just writing a different kind of the “real America,” cultural polarization hyperbole that has been the media’s stock-in-trade for the past few years, DMZ thrives so deeply in the ambiguity that it will keep even the most opinionated engaged. Not that this book lacks clarity of moral vision—there is good and there is evil—but they are rarely as clear as borders on a map.