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The restaurant I work at recently received a pretty harsh review from a fairly important publication, and it has really gotten me thinking about restaurant criticism.  Restaurant critic was once one of my dream jobs.  Given that my two primary hobbies are eating and criticizing things, it would seem like a perfect fit.  But having worked as long as I have in restaurants, I always view anyone who would deign to criticize what we do with, if not disdain, at least suspicion.  What do you know, anyway?

Almost all restaurant reviews focus on three things: service, food quality, and ambiance.  This is as true in major newspapers as it is on Yelp.   Criticism in this vain offers its readers a service: there are many, many options for dining in any major city, so which ones are worth spending hard-earned money at?  This is the restaurant review as a product review.  Comparing the latest trendy restaurants is barely different from comparing the latest models of Android phones:  give me the technical specs, the price points, and that indescribable ‘x factor’ (which is, 100% of the time, just the reviewer’s totally subjective gut reaction).

But there has to be more to it, right?  What about where that cellphone comes from?  It’s environmental impact?  The kind of conditions the people who made it work under?  In the world of product reviews, that kind of deep data is so far removed from the end consumer that it is more or less irrelevant — or rather, very easy to ignore.

But in a restaurant those factors are more in-your-face.  There’s more than food, service, and ambiance.  The top-tier of restaurants today are a microcosm for some of the most important social issues of the 21st century:  questions about class, race, the environment, economic sustainability, multiculturalism, and labor are all constantly at play.  I believe there is room for a restaurant criticism that looks beyond the surface dining experience to examine and evaluate the real workings of a restaurant.

Here are some possible questions a restaurant critic with a Marxist-Feminist-Ecologist perspective would ask:

  • Who works here?
  • Is the staff young or old?
  • Has the staff, especially the bar, host, and waitstaff, been hired for attitude and intelligence, or have they been hired solely based on their appearance (people outside of the industry may be surprised to learn how many restaurant jobs require you to submit a headshot along with your application)?
  • Are people of color fulfilling many roles throughout the restaurant, including managerial, or are they relegated to support roles (busboy, barback, prep cook, dishwasher)?
  • What is the ratio of women to men on the staff?
  • Is the LGBTQ staff provided with a safe and supportive working environment and provided the same opportunities, in both the front of house and kitchen, as the staff as a whole?
  • Are there women in managerial roles?
  • Are there women working in the kitchen as well as the front of the house?
  • How much are kitchen and front of house workers paid?  Are there benefits offered to full-time employees?
  • Are kitchen staff paid hourly or a day rate?
  • How many hours a day and hours a week do kitchen staff work?  How often are employees actually allowed to take their legally mandated breaks?
  • Is there significant staff turnover?  Are loyal staff members rewarded with opportunities for advancement?
  • Where does the restaurant’s product comes from?
  • Does the restaurant utilize locally farmed products and develop mutually beneficial relationships with farmers?
  • Are the products being served currently in season?
  • What percentage of the product served comes from local or sustainable sources, or from small purveyors, and how much comes from industrialized sources and corporate purveyors such as Sysco and US Foods?
  • Does the restaurant actually use the farms they name or are they just using the name for a marketing advantage?  If a farm is listed, is 100% of that product from that farm, or is it a mix of accurately named farmed product and a substitute product from a different origin? (This is unbelievably common, especially with meats.  Be wary of any high volume restaurant that claims to serve a specific cut of steak from a single family farm.  There’s only so many ribeyes on an animal, people).
  • Are fish and oyster species names and points of origin given accurately?  Does the waitstaff have the correct information regarding seafood sustainability?
  • Is the restaurant committed to serving only sustainable seafood?  Are there red-flag items such as farm-raised salmon, tuna, and Chilean sea bass on the menu?
  • Does the restaurant take steps to minimize environmental waste (forgoing hand towels in favor of dryers, re-using menus, minimizing the size and quantity of to-go containers, using environmentally friendly cleaning agents, favoring draft beer and wine over bottles and cans, converting vegetable oil for use in biodiesel vehicles, composting, using LED and low-wattage lighting, using reusable non-petroleum candles, etc., etc?)
  • Does the restaurant offer bottled water?  In areas that frequently experience drought, such as the Southwest, serving water only upon request or preferring bottled water is often the environmentally responsible move.  In other parts of the country, serving bottled water is an environmental nuisance when filtering and/or carbonating water in house and using washable carafes is possible.
  • What kind of community does the restaurant serve?
  • Are the primary clientele locals, citywide foodies, or tourists?
  • Does the restaurant cater to the wealthy, the middle-class, bohemians, or the poor?
  • Does the restaurant cater to the old, the young, to professionals, to others in the restaurant industry?
  • Does the restaurant staff treat customers of different races differently?
  • Does the restaurant offer options and positive experiences for people at many different income levels?  Does it welcome a young couple that has scrounged every dollar for a modest bottle of wine and a shared entree with the same hospitality it would provide to a wealthy group of white men with black Amex cards?
  • Does the restaurant provide a substantial benefit to its surrounding neighborhood, in terms of economic impact and quality of life?
  • Does the bar serve spirits from independent distilleries and beers from microbreweries?  Or does the backbar represent the numerous marketing categories of powerful global alcohol conglomerates such as Pernod-Ricard, Beam Suntory, and Diageo?
  • Does the wine program feature organic or biodynamic wines from small producers?

What is the point of all this?  There are restaurants out there that, while they may be fun and delicious, are out to do little more than maximize profits.  They may do so at the expense of their own employees, the rest of the local economy , and the environment.  And there are also restaurants that are fun, delicious, and ethical.  If restaurant critics really want to provide relevant information about where we should spend our money, they should do so by providing more information about which restaurants are Doing the Right Things.

Here are some of the restaurants in the Chicago area which I feel are not only generally tasty but also do right by their workers, purveyors, and their environment.  Pretty much all of these are former clients of mine or places that I have worked, so, I guess that’s a conflict of interest, but that’s also how I now that they are upstanding folk:

  • Vie and Perennial Virant
  • The Publican and Publican Quality Meats
  • Frontera/XOCO/Topolobampo
  • The Bristol
  • The Girl and the Goat
  • Trenchermen and Sportsman’s Club
  • Longman & Eagle, Dusek’s and The Promontory

Few of those restaurants are new or still trendy, but they’re also not names that would surprise anybody.  The reason they’ve stuck around for a few years and become so popular might, just might, have to do with the fact they not only put out great food and drink, but they treat their employees well and never sacrifice ethical principles in favor of a quick buck.

Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to expose some of the restaurants that I know are talking the talk without walking the walk.

Next time you read a harsh restaurant review, or sitting at a table wondering why your $28 entree is taking longer than you’d like, keep in mind that a restaurant in an incredibly complex organism that many people have devoted a ridiculous amount of their life to.  And that, while the food is still always the most important thing, there is so much more to a restaurant than just what ends up on your plate.

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30. Drederick Tatum

 

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29. Eddie and Lou

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hutz

28. Lionel Hutz

 

cletus
27. Cletus Spuckler

 

brockman
26. Kent Brockman

 

richtexan
25. The Rich Texan

 

24. Jimbo Jones, Dolph, & Kearney

 

lindseynaegle

23. Lindsey Neagle

 

kirk

22. Kurt Van Houten

 

chalmers

21. Superintendent Chalmers

 

20. Squeaky Voiced Teen

Continue Reading »

On Labor Day, author Chuck Wendig tweeted

He followed up the tweet (since shared over 5,000 times) with a blogpost today  in which he attempts to respond to the reactionaries who have taken issue with his sentiments regarding the ongoing Nude Celebrity Hacking Scandal.

Wendig’s primary argument is that the rule of law prevails, and the onus is on the perpetrators of crimes, not the victims, to obey the rules of polite society by not stealing.  Furthermore, he defends the right of individuals to a reasonable expectation of privacy. The most common response from people who defend the 4channers/Redditors who have spread the leaked celebrity nudes is that “if you don’t want naked pictures of you to get out, you shouldn’t have them in the first place.”  Many media pundits have rightly called out this kind of thinking as a form of victim blaming.

Furthermore, both sides of this argument have resorted to false analogies to prove their point.  Some have likened the storing of private photos on a cellular phone to the storing of money and valuables on a front porch.  If you really didn’t want them to be stolen, wouldn’t you put them in the bank?  Wendig’s initial tweet pokes fun at this ridiculous idea by suggesting that if you really valued something such as your tennis shoes, you wouldn’t have been so callous as to wear them outside.  Wendig remains blissfully unaware that his own analogy is a clumsy and lacking in merit at those of the ‘trolls’ he is, in theory, responding to.

Privacy, particularly online privacy, is one of the most important social issues of the twenty-first century and reducing the discussion of it to weak analogies that can be expressed in the space of 140 character tweet does a huge disservice to the promotion of intelligent debate.

In order to understand the ins and outs of the Nude Celebrity Hacking Scandal, it is necessary to address aspects of the story with specificity.  The most salient feature of this story, and the one the at the armies of online ethicists have so far ignored, is that the women whose photos have been leaked online are all public figures.  They are not, in my understanding of the world, private citizens who possess a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy.

Let me be clear:  whoever hacked into these women’s private data has committed a crime.  Reposting and sharing the images online without the women’s consent is a lesser crime, but still despicable and, as Wendig notes in one of the more clear-headed parts of his essay, dangerously indicative of a broader rape culture that seems to be not only persistent but ascendant, especially here in the United States.

However, exposing the breasts of celebrities is not the same as publicly broadcasting nude pictures of an individual who is not already in the public sphere.  What I find most shameful about this story is that it has caused such a rush of outrage, and such a stampede of support for these wealthy and famous women, when many non-wealthy, non-famous women have experienced far worse public shaming and more brutal invasions of privacy without anyone taking much notice.

The internet, we have learned, is a very scary place.  If you are a woman who has shared private photos of yourself with any other person, it is very possible that those photos will end up online without your consent.  If you are a celebrity, you will experience, along with a certain amount of shame, outrage, and embarassment, significant benefits in terms of public sympathy and PR exposure.  Many, many people will go online to call you a ‘slut’ and tell you it is your own fault for ever having deigned to take your clothes off in a consensual sexual scenario.  But many people will also come out to defend your right to be a sexual being and condemn those who would steal from you and expose your personal moments to the world.

If, on the other hand, you are a private citizen whose ex-boyfriend has posted pictures of you on one of the many “revenge porn” sites online, or worse, who has made an effort to manipulate search engine results for your name such that hateful messages about you will be found by friends, family members, and employers, then there is no one that will rush to your defense.  You may be welcome to seek remuneration on your own, at a high cost.  But no public figures are going to come out on twitter and tell your emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend that he is scum.  You will not experience a positive spike in name recognition or a comforting wave of support or a helping hand from the feminist twitter community.  There will be nothing to balance out the voices of commenters and message board freaks who call you a slut and make threats of rape and violence against you.

You are not a celebrity, just an average person.  So while you may still have a reasonable expectation of privacy, you can never have an expectation that anyone other than you will enforce it.

I find this whole situation to be an example of how our society has its priorities turned all on their heads.  Who cares about the right to privacy of celebrities?  Celebrities DO have a choice about whether to be in the public eye.  Infamy may be thrust on people, but fame is a choice.  No one is forced to sign on to a major Hollywood movie, to play professional sports, to make the rounds of talk shows to promote their new single.  Those things are almost always a dream come true for those who do achieve them, and it certainly seems that most people alive would gladly sacrifice almost anything to have those things, but they are still choices.  And when you make the choice to be a celebrity, to stay in the public eye, and to actively seek money and fame, especially in Hollywood, you essentially waive your right to privacy.  That is the trade off.  You want to be a beloved idol to millions upon millions of people?  Then you no longer get to have much in the way of a private life.

And if you’re a celebrity who has digitally stored some naked selfies or forwarded them to an intimate acquaintance?  You can certainly hope that those don’t get leaked, that no one ever sees them.  But because you are a celebrity, those photos are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if there is any way for them to get out, they will get out.  The market virtually dictates it.

This is very different from the situation of an average citizen who has coyly sent a sexy picture of themselves to someone that they are sleeping with or hope to sleep with.  That individual does have every right to expect that those photos, which have no value except to perhaps two or three people in the entire world, will ever go out into the wider world.  And yet they do, all the time, and there is a suspicious vacuum of outrage when that happens.

www. exploiting poor and middle class women’s sexuality 4 profitz .com clears thousands of dollars a month and no one cares, but supermodel Kate Upton shows one centimeter more of flesh than she’s already shown in Sports Illustrated and all of the sudden it’s an ethical crime of earth shattering proportion?  Give me a fucking break!

From a historical point of view the rise of tabloid and paparazzi culture should be viewed as a positive.  For the vast majority of history, average people had no expectation of privacy whatsoever.  As Emily Bazelon and Dan Carlin noted on a recent Culture Gabfest, it is impossible to have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you share a common bedroom with dozens of members of your village, clan, tribe or family.  Only the very wealthy and powerful had access to the privilege of privacy.  In the late capitalist era, however, this conception has been turned upside down: it is the poor and downtrodden who are anonymous (or Anonymous, as the case may be), and the wealthy and famous who are subject to the surveillance state.  In one version of Utopia, this trend will only continue, until political figures and powerful businessman must be subjected to the public’s watchful eye twenty-four hours a day, while the total privacy of the everyday citizen is in turn respected absolutely.

In truth, the future of privacy will probably see, rather than a complete upending of traditional values, at least a complete flattening of how privacy is distributed.  One of the foundational documents of the modern era is the Constitution of the United States, and one of the principal ways in which the society envisioned by that document differs from the feudalism and patriarchy that proceeded it is in the guaranteeing of certain rights to ALL citizens.  Thus the Constitution enshrines freedom of speech not just for the poorest and weakest individuals but for the most powerful and vile corporations.  It protects not only the privacy of me, Benjamin Rogers, but also of Academy Award winning public figure, Jennifer Lawrence.  In theory, this a beautiful and powerful principal, difficult to accept but wonderful to believe in.  In practice, the enforcement of Constitutional principals has never been as equal as it should be, and until such time as real privacy is afforded to all, I don’t see any reason why special rights to privacy should be afforded to those with the wealth and status to, as one celebrity who has not yet been photographed nude recently suggested, “shake it off.”

I invite civil discussion, question, and criticism in the comments.

I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn't look exactly like me.

I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn’t look exactly like me.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A raccoon, a tree, the guy from Mouserat, Lt. Uhura, and a WCW Superstar walk into a wretched hive of scum and villainy…

I don’t have a unique take on Guardians of the Galaxy or anything to say about it really other than that I loved it.  I appreciate that self-spoofing, tongue-in-cheek postmodern humor has so thoroughly broken through to the mainstream to become the dominant form of entertainment.  I feel like you can chart a direct line from Andy Warhol to Giles Goat Boy to 30 Rock to Die Antwoord to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Everything is at it was predicted in Frederic Jameson’s seminal theoretical text Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

And Chris Pratt gets to be the Barthesian hologram, the hyperreal version of Han Solo, the more-Harrison-than-Harrison Ford of the 21st century.  Approval, be thee stamped!

Quick Burns:

  • Michael Rooker!  I learned on IMDB that he is one of the few actors to have appeared with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, AND Van Damme.  You probably know him as Merle from the Walking Dead .  As Yondu Udonta, he was my favorite character in the whole movie, or at least the most scene-stealingest.  A little bummed that they toned down Yondu’s signature red mohawk so much though.
  • Karen Gillan, wassupwitu?  Are you tired of being typecast as a super hot redhead with a Scottish accent?  Amy Pond melted my heart one thousand times…but this blue space beastie with a rotten attitude?  Not doing it for me.  Is it because everybody loved Jennifer Lawrence painted blue in X-Men?  Because you don’t have anything to prove to Katniss Everdeen — you were a companion.  That is like Bond Girl x 1,000,000.  But I will watch your sitcom with John Cho.  I will watch it hard.
  • How long is it actually going to take to gather all six infinity gems and make them the focal point of the entire Marvel Cinematic universe?  I assume they’ll be in a Doctor Strange movie.  I assume there will be some element of the Illuminati/Secret Avengers storyline, although that will be pretty boring without Professor X and Reed Richards involved.  We know that Ultron is the villain of Avengers 2.  So are we building up to an Infinity Gauntlet story for Avengers 3, which will come out around the time that my as yet unconceived children are getting their learner’s permits for their flying cars?  Just seems like a lot of buildup for six magical stones I guess.  I’d rather see Secret Invasion, Civil War, or (please?) Kang the Conqueror as a cinematic universe storyline.
  • The five core Guardians were perfect.  I could watch this team, with these actors, and this dynamic, in a dozen films.  Zoe Saldana, who has always been close but no cigar, was the full Macanudo this time.  Rocket looked great, had the best lines, and Bradley Cooper sold that ridiculous accent for all it was worth.  Groot, an animated tree, was the heart and soul of the whole movie — and I wish the Vin Diesel haters would shut up.  Dave Bautista was the funniest thing in a movie full of professional comedic actors, and also the biggest, most dangerous looking thing in a film full of computer generated space monsters.  And Chris Pratt…his is the face that launched a thousand (Nova Corps) ships.  He’s just the sweetest.

GuardiansoftheGalaxy_20140323

Arrow and Diggle vs. Dragon - Double page spread from Green Arrow #34.

Arrow and Diggle vs. Dragon – Double page spread from Green Arrow #34.

It’s late and I’m halfway trying to watch Blade while I write this so I’m gonna burn through this whole stack of comics with one sentence reviews of each.

Wild Blue Yonder #5 by Mike Raicht and Zach Howard with Austin Harrison and Nelson Daniel.  IDW, 2014.

This series has been one long sky pirate battle, and in this issue someone finally falls out of the sky.

Update on what’s happening in Blade: Some dude at a rave is about to get eaten by vampires — was it well established that vampires love goth nightclubs before this movie or did that trend start here?

Prophet #45 by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannas Milogiannis with Joseph Bergin III.  Image, 2014.

In the final issue of this genre redefining space opera by Brandon Graham and his mad-scientist squad of artists, the lengthy and oft-confusing tale of an interstellar war between aliens and clones is, to no one’s surprise, not brought to a tidy or satisfying conclusion.

Update on Blade: the sprinkler system in the goth nightclub went off and covered everyone in blood.  Absolutely vivid gore.

Zero #9 by Ales Kot and Tonci Zonjic with Jordie Bellaire.  Image, 2014.

Ales Kot continues to bring a wholly different sensibility to each issue, this time using a tale of a twice-timing arms dealer to revisit the Bosnian conflict of the ’90s and the horrors of sexual violence during wartime.

Update on Blade: Wesley Snipes showed up and blew away a lot of vampires, then the next time I looked up some boring doctors were talking about boring hospital stuff.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson.  Image, 2014.

After the visual splendor of Young Avengers I’m a little perplexed by McKelvie’s rather staid layouts, but still think this series shows a great deal of promise.

Update on Blade:  Blade just through one of the boring doctors out of a window!

Satellite Sam #9 by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin.  Image, 2014.

This is my favorite monthly book right now.

Update on Blade:  boring doctor has been taken to some old biker dude’s garage.  If this movie were made today, I’m sure said biker dude would be played by Jeff Bridges.  I’m not actually entirely sure he’s not played by Jeff Bridges.

Batman #32-33 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo with Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia.  DC (Warner Bros.), 2014.

#32: This is what it might be like if DC Entertainment employed a more Marvel-like sensibility to a Batman movie.

#33:  Batman vs. The Riddler in a head-to-head, face-to-face game of wits that satisfies on every level.

Update on Blade: Has Wesley Snipes said anything yet in this movie?  I know I’ve only barely been paying attention but it seems weird that twenty minutes into this thing the title character hasn’t opened his mouth.

Green Arrow #34 by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino with Marcelo Maiolo.  DC (Warner Bros.), 2014.

Ties a bow on Lemire’s entire run on the title so far, and features the best hand-to-hand fight sequence I’ve seen in a comic in ages.

Black Widow #9 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Did the Black Widow just kill the Punisher?

Secret Avengers #6 by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Bet you didn’t think you’d ever see a Jorge Luis Borges reference in a Marvel superhero comic, huh?

Update on Blade:  Stephen Dorf’s bangs game was so crucial.

Saga chapters 20 & 21 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.  Image, 2014.

20: Just a lot of dressin’ up like wrestlers, doin’ drugs, and stabbin’ robots.

21: If Prince Robot is holed up in your sex-lair tryin’ to forget all his worldly problems, it is probably best that you don’t yourself become one of his worldly problems.

Update on Blade: How is it that this doctor woman is up walking around like nothing happened when she got thrown out of a skyscraper like three scenes ago?  Is she a vampire too?  I’ll just assume all of the characters are vampires from here on out.

Rat Queens #7 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch.  Image, 2014.

And then there were Lovecraftian nightmares.

Manifest Destiny #8 by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts with Owen Gieni.  Image, 2014.

Half the crew is trapped on land and half on the boat with an impassable river full of flesh-eating monsters between them.

Harbinger Vol. 1: Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans with Lewis Larosa and Ian Hannin.  Valiant, 2012.

This is one of those Harry Potter/Ender’s Game things where a wayward youth is suddenly revealed to be a chosen one and sent to the most awesome magnet school ever where he is instantly the most successful and popular student while still being rebellious and independent.

Update on Blade: Blade just told someone to “suck eggs.”  Maybe it was better when he wasnt saying anything.

modok conspiracy wall

Comic-Con was last week.  I didn’t hear anything about any comic book news coming out of it.  “Comic books” are a mainly a genre of TV and movie now, in case you didn’t know.  This *could* actually be good for some creators — Mark Millar has shown one way to create a sustainable model in which he’s able to put out creator owned books on his own terms, pay his artists a living wage*, and fund it all on the back end with movie rights.  So if you’re creating the kind of comic book that could conceivably be transformed into a summer blockbuster or a multi-season ensemble TV spectacle, hey, there might be some money in that for you.

If you’re creating a comic book that is designed to be a comic book and take full advantage of the beauty and flexibility of the form, doing things that can only be done on the illustrated page,  I recommend the restaurant industry, freelance technical writing, or house/petsitting as ways to make extra money on the side.

Regarding this year’s Eisner Awards: congratulations to Los Bros; the fine folks behind Saga, Sex Criminals, Battling Boy, The Wake, and The Fifth Beatle; and Hall of Fame inductees Irwin Hasen (Dondi), Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Batman), Orrin C. Evans (All-Negro Comics), Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore, Dennis O’Neil, and Bernie Wrightson.   Here is a link to a full list of the winners.

—–

southern bastards 2 cover

Southern Bastards #2 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour.  Image, 2014.

I was a bit harsh on the first issue of this series.  I had been stoked about a JA title set in the deep rural south, especially after what he did with the North Dakota reservation setting of Scalped.  But Southern Bastards #1 just read like one long cliche to me — more a parody of the South than something derived from lived experience there.  Issue two shows that some of those broad strokes were necessary to set up where this first story arc is going.  It seems like the idea is that Craw County is not just another chicken-fried locale where High School Football rules and the sweet tea flows freely.  It is all that, but much worse, because the football culture is linked to a culture of corruption that pervades the entire county.  By digging a bit deeper, Aaron and Latour have turned cliche into metaphor, with much success.  I should have known that they just needed a little time to get going.

star spangled angel

The Star-Spangled Angel by Scott Roberts.  Self-Published/Ubutopia Press, 2014.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read the origin story of Captain America or the Hulk in the form of a highly abstracted, nearly wordless indie comic?  That’s basically what this is, and it’s totally awesome.  The story of Star-Spangled Angel is pretty simple: two childhood friends join the army and then sign up for a science experiment in order to avoid the worst of the combat.  The experiments transform them both beyond recognition, nearly killing them in the process.  They develop superpowers.  Later, a robot designed by one of the pair loses control and goes on a killing spree.  It’s kind of like the short-short-short version of the first few years of The Avengers.

But it’s also a really gorgeously hand-printed three color risograph featuring truly absorbing artwork and imagery.  Roberts really uses the artwork to get deep inside the mind of someone undergoing a profound and frightening transformation.  There are only about 125 words of text in the entire comic, yet there is more nuance and psychological realism here than in even the most ambitious mainstream versions of similar “science gone awry” origin stories.

Roberts created this comic for Brain Frame, Lyra Hill’s long-running performative comics series that has been a focal point of the Chicago alt comics community for three years now.  You can watch Robert’s performance on Vimeo.  There is didgeridoo involved.  Sadly, Brain Frame is nearing its end, but there are still tickets available for the last ever Brain Frame, to be held at Thalia Hall in Pilsen on August 9. (Conflict of interest report: I work for the company that owns and manages Thalia Hall).

wonder woman 111

Wonder Woman #109-112 by  John Byrne with Patricia Mulvihill.  DC (Warner Bros.), 1996.

My big goal at C2E2 was to find as many of the ’90s Wonder Woman issues with Brian Bolland covers as possible.  I fantasized that a few hours of crate digging would lead to a complete set, but what I found was that very few of the vendors had any Wonder Woman from this, or any, era.  What I did find was a complete run of John Byrne on the title.  In 1995, Byrne came on Wonder Woman with issue 100, in the hopes that he could do for the title what he had done a decade before for the Man of Steel.

The results were…mixed.

Byrne doesn’t seem to have much of a feel for the character, the biggest disappointment being the somewhat retrograde portrayal of gender roles.  Byrne’s artwork is decent but hardly belongs on the same shelf with his best work — the inking is sloppy, the layouts are jumbled and sometimes barely readable, and many of the character designs seem to be lifted directly from Byrne’s own Next Men series.

The one standout storyline buried in the middle of this morass is the four issue arc starting in issue #109.  Wonder Woman encounters The Flash, who is running rampant and carelessly destroying the city.  Even more shockingly, it’s not Wally West (who was the Flash at the time) but Barry Allen, who was supposed to have died a decade early during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Soon, Diana also runs into Sinestro and Doomsday, who are acting similarly out of character and, of course, leaving trails of destruction in their wake.  Needless to say, there’s a mystery to be solved and a hidden actor pulling the strings.  It’s a pretty hokey story, and Byrne’s understanding and depiction of computer and videogame technology are particularly laughable today, but it’s a very nice self-contained arc that makes for a really fun and satisfying read.  Recommended, but skip the rest of the Byrne run and treat yourself to some vintage Fantastic Four or Uncanny X-Men instead.

clap for modok

Secret Avengers #5  by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Oh, Ales Kot from Zero is writing this?  Mmmm, Tradd Moore is doing covers?  M.O.D.O.K. is one of the main characters and there’s a big ‘ol conspiracy wall with M.O.D.O.K. at the center of it?  Whoa there, you can stop sellin’ cuz I’m ready to sign on the dotted line.  HAWKEYE AND SPIDER-WOMAN ARE IN THIS TOO?  Are you serious?  Take my fucking money, here please just take this $20, keep the change, okay thank you bye.

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* That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, of course: “I’ve started having all my artists sign on to not work for other publishers while they’re working with me, because creator-owned can not be part time,” he added. “The rates I’m paying are better than the rates at Marvel and DC, generally, so I say, ‘You have to commit to this for six or 12 months.”   What I don’t know is whether Millar also shares any of the profits from his Hollywood licenses with the artists behind the books.   I’m pretty sure John Romita Jr. did get a fat payday for Kickass — if you can confirm or deny this, leave it in the comments!

Hot take: this film is polar-izing.

I enjoyed just about everything in this movie from start to finish. The thing that gives me pause in my reaction is that some media outlets whose taste I rarely share loved this movie, while some whose taste I definitely do share kind of slammed it.  Have I been blinded by the offbeat premise, the wonderfully realized sets and art direction, and the sweet action set pieces (snipers shooting at each other from different train cars, the axe vs. fire axe fight sequence, ¨they have no bullets!¨)?  Is this a Pacific Rim scenario — a slightly-above average genre piece that gets labeled a masterpiece because it’s not as bad as the popcorn fodder we’ve been surrounded by for weeks?

There seems to be a strain of thought regarding this kind of film that goes something like this: the political metaphors are presented on the surface and are not subtle, and therefore as a piece of political commentary the text is co-opted and not valuable. This is a view that is most commonly espoused by Slate, the home of online smarm and smugness, but it crops up everywhere. Basically, it boils down to: I think someone who is less smart than me would also understand what this movie/book/comic is getting at, therefore I have nothing to gain from it and it sucks.

Pretty shitty way to be, imo. Here is a list of significant 20th century works of political allegory that are not subtle:

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Dr. Strangelove, dir. Stanley Kubrick
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

You may not be a fan of all of those.  I don’t much care for either the style or the content of Ayn Rand, for example, but it’s hard to deny that she’s had a huge impact on political thought, working largely in the medium of the allegorical novel.

So why should a film like Snowpiercer, which deals with the dramatic stratification of society and the self-reinforcing nature of class and caste systems, be dismissed as trite?  Is it not true that one percent of the people control 90% of the wealth, land, and goods?  Is it not true that when a new person rises to power, they are more likely to perpetuate the old system than make radical changes?  Is it not true that the everything the ruling class tells us is a lie and if we could see the truth we would throw off our shackles and revolt this very minute?

I think the real reason some people, especially here in the US, don’t like Snowpiercer is that they can’t relate to the protagonists.  Because the protagonists are the real global poor who face real struggles for survival.  And you, and me, and everyone you know in Chicago or Brooklyn or Silver Lake or wherever?  We’re the ones in the middle of the train who are just following orders, keeping those below us repressed and those above us well fed.

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