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Marvel comics are filled with strange words and phrases: negative zone, infinity gem, cosmic cube, Shi’ar, Kree, K’un L’un, Genosha, vibranium, Immortus — but a few words I never expected to see in a Marvel comic were Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius.

They’ve been cropping up a lot lately in Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers, appearing for the first time in issue #6. Afficionados of Latin American literature might recognize these three nonsense words as the title of a 1941 short story by Argentine master (and my personal favorite author) Jorge Luis Borges. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” like many of Borges’ greatest stories, combines literary criticism and fantasy fiction in a format that is as rigorous as it is imaginative. The story is narrated by Borges himself and features other real-life 20th century literary figures such as Bioy Casares¹. It concerns the discovery of an encyclopedia which is otherwise sound but includes an entry about Uqbar, a province in Asia Minor with a rich and detailed history that also happens not to exist.

“The literature of Uqbar,” we are told “was a literature of fantasy…its epics and legends never referred to reality but rather to the two imaginary realms of Mlejnas and Tlön.” Thus Borges glimpses the edges of a centuries long conspiracy which culminated in a massive effort by a group of linguists, scientists, writers, cartographers, and eccentrics to imagine, in its vast breadth and minute detail, the fictional world of Tlön:

“I now hold in my hands a vast and systematic fragment of the entire history of an unknown planet, with its architectures and playing cards, the horror of its mythologies and the murmur of its tongues, its emperors and its seas, its minerals and its birds and fishes, its algebra and its fire, its theological and metaphysical controversies — all joined, articulated, coherent, and with no visible doctrinal purpose or hint of parody.”

Later:

“Who, singular or plural, invented Tlön? The plural is, I suppose, inevitable, since the hypothesis of a single inventor — some infinite Leibniz working in obscurity and self-effacement — has been unanimously discarded. It is conjectured that this ‘brave new world’ is the work of a secret society…”

How does this all tie back to comics? When this story first appeared in 1941, the idea of a team of slightly mad individuals devoting their lives to rendering every detail of a fictional universe probably seemed far-fetched. By the time the first English translation appeared 20 years later, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were about to embark on just such a task with Fantastic Four #1, the first entry in what would become one of the most elaborate and fully-realized fictions of all-time: the Marvel Universe.

Comics fans often hear that the decades of complex continuity inherent in properties such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman are intimidating to new readers and keep the superhero comics genre from growing.  But it is the long term commitment to world building that actually defines the genre.  Marvel and DC comics are not the best comics on the shelves, with rare exceptions (like Kot’s SA, natch) they are not artful examples of the potential of sequential art.  But a Marvel comic offers something that a Chris Ware or Joe Matt comic cannot:  50+ years of history, collectively constructed by hundreds of writers and artists and millions of fans.   Continuity is not what hinders corporate comics — it is actually the one thing that makes them unique and wonderful.

Realizing this, the most successful writers of such comics over the last decade have been those who have engaged with continuity as the defining feature of superhero comics.  Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns stand out as the two writers who have made the biggest recent impact on corporate superhero comics by actively engaging with the long history of DC comics, untangling and retangling the insane histories of Superman, the Flash and the Justice Society, retroactively altering history just like the magical hronir in Borges’ story.

Many of Borges’ stories end on a dark, or at least foreboding note, and “Tlön” is no exception.  In the postscript to the story (which is dated 1947, even though it was published along with the original story in ’41), JLB discusses how the discovery of the complete cyclopaedia of Tlön has rapidly remade the world.  Fictitious history has replaced the real — a scenario which does not seem so far-fetched.  It is not unlike Baudrillard’s state of hyper-reality, a world in which in reference to pop culture has become the dominant, and perhaps only, relevant form of communication.  Behind all of that slash fic, those reaction gifs, those cosplays, is it possible that we are all actually losing touch with reality, replacing it with a new one sewn wholecloth from imagination? Or, to put it another way, “Shaka, when the walls fell?”

 

¹ Borges and Casares engage in “A vast debate over the way one might go about composing a first-person novel whose narrator would omit or distort things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few of the book’s readers — a very few — might divine the horrifying and banal truth.” This is just the strategy later employed by late-postmodernist authors such as Paul Auster and Gene Wolfe, writers reared on the continental literary theory which was largely inspired by Borges himself. Of course, this excerpt is not only a suggestion to future generations of writers, but to future generations of readers, who may begin to question everything they are told by “Jorge Luis Borges,” the narrator of “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”

Huuuuuuge bummer: I got on Spotify looking for some Sick Beatz to rock to only to find that the Sickest Beat of all, “Shake it Off” by TaySwift™ had been unceremoniously removed.  Boo to that Taylor, even if it did lead to your album becoming the first Platinum-seller of 2014.  Which is kind of a next level boss move when you think about it.  Lil’ Wayne should probably be calling Taylor Swift about signing with YMCMB.  Friends close/enemies closer, ya’ hear?  I guess I’ll save 1989 for another time, but for now, I’ll just drop some Swiftamine and run down some of the best new(ish) tracks:

Snootie Wild ft. Yo Gotti “Yayo”

I realize this one is like six months old, but I basically live for youtube comments like this:

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Rae Sremmurd “No Flex Zone”

I can appreciate a music video that takes the concept of the song very literally.  Case in point: Rae Sremmurd’s video for “No Flex Zone” features the pair of juvenile rappers roaming around Atlanta surrounded by a glowing force field, the physical embodiment of the No Flex Zone that is already implied by the duo’s non-flexing attitude.

Mike Will Made it ft. Miley, Juicy-J and Wiz Khalifa “23″

Miley definitely looks great rocking all throwback Bulls gear, as does everyone else in this video.  I once ate a 23 ingredient chopped salad, a 23oz bone-in prime strip steak, and a 23 layer chocolate cake at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in downtown Chicago.  I truly wish this song had been released then so I could blast it like Mike Will in this video, providing the perfect soundtrack for celebrating the legacy of America’s greatest athlete with the most unnecessarily expensive baller meal possible.

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A note on shoe game: Miley’s Wolf Grey Jordan 5′s are pretty sleek, but nothing compared to the two rare pairs Juicy J references in his verse:  The black and red XII’s worn during Game 5 of the 1997 Finals (when Jordan laid 38 points on Karl Malone’s Jazz despite having either the flu or food poisoning from bad Salt Lake City pizza, depending on who you ask) and the XI’s with the black leather upper worn in the movie Space Jam.   Further proof that Juicy J is on a Whole Other Level: XII plus XI is…23.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ilovemakonnen ft. Drake “Tuesday (Remix)”

This one is for all my industry heads out there who  “Ain’t got no time/to party on the weekend.”  Anybody who’s worked in the biz knows that Tuesday night is the best possible night to go out — not totally dead like a Sunday or Monday but not full of yuppies and suburbanites like Thurs-Saturday.  Got the club goin’ up on a Tuesday, indeed.

This song contrasts nicely with Ilovemakkonen’s other popular track, “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” because it is all about how he very much does sell Molly, and all manner of other illicit substances.  Makkonen’s own verse is interesting for the detail it provides about his drug dealing workweek, which involves Monday nights (when one can earn “at least $3,000 on the boulevard”) and “graveyard shifts every other weekend.”  Seems like a lot of free time, but don’t forget the travel: Makkonen points out that he has been “going out of state,” which is explicitly forbidden by his parole officer, who “think [he's] in the house.”  Luckily, Makkonen does not “give a damn ’bout what she thinks.”

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Ms. Marvel Volume One by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona.  Marvel Comics (Disney), 2014.

Muslims are portrayed in American popular media all the time.  Any action and intrigue fueled show or movie, especially any with a hint of the spy or military subgenres mixed in, probably has a ton of Muslim characters.  They will be men, usually dark of skin, almost always mustachioed, often heard yelling or ululating while firing assault weapons, and always, always, the bad guys.  Sometimes they are explicitly identified as Muslim, sometimes it is only strongly implied.  But the association is pretty clear, from Homeland to 24 to Iron Man to Person of Interest:  Muslims are Bad Guys.

Pretty big bummer if you’re a teenage Pakistani girl living in suburban New Jersey, and all you really want is to fit in at school without abandoning your culture or offending your parents (too much).

And that’s exactly the situation Kamala Khan finds herself in at the beginning of Ms. Marvel, the Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona that debuted earlier this year.  In the very first pages of the book, Khan is confronted by ignorance and prejudice of the most irritating variety — people who treat her as a token Muslim, and assume that the few little factoids they know about Islam apply to every adherent, and people who ‘concern troll’ her because they assume that as a Muslim woman, she must be horribly oppressed.  Khan is trapped between a bunch of white people who want to exoticize her and a cadre of more strict Muslims who think she has become too Americanized.  Like many a Marvel comics superhero before her, she seemingly can’t catch a break.

G. Willow Wilson is the perfect person to write a character like this, because like Kamala Khan, she does not easily fit a stereotype.  She is a proud Muslim woman — a proud Muslim white woman from New England who converted to the faith in her college years.  She lived in Egypt and wrote incisive journalism about the Middle East for outlets like The Atlantic Montly before venturing into comics with acclaimed series like Cairo and Air.  She recently won the World Fantasy Award for best novel with her debut, Alif the Unseen, a recasting of both Hackers and 1,001 Nights in the context of the Arab Spring.

Throughout her work, Wilson has been concerned with portraying the beautiful diversity that exists within the global Islamic community.  After all, the Muslim world today extends from suburban Detroit to Morocco to Somalia to Albania to the Levant to Iran to Bangladesh to Indonesia, a billion unique voices spread around the globe.   It is absolutely refreshing to open one of Wilson’s comics and see a world in which Islam is not a monoculture.  Often times American politicans or people in the media pay lip-service to the idea that Islamic Fundamentalists do not speak for all Muslims just as Christian Fundamentalists don’t speak for all Christians.  But Wilson actually digs in and shows that reality on every page:  here are the debates about faith and assimilation which exist within Muslim families, here are the class and race divisions that exist on the Arabian Peninsula just as much as in the US or Europe, here are the reasons some women choose to wear the hijab and some don’t, here are young people being both young and people regardless of the color of their skin or their family’s religion.

Besides Wilson’s empathetic and revelatory storytelling, Ms. Marvel features dreamlike art by Adrian Alphona, who previously co-created Runaways with Brian K. Vaughan.  Readers of Runaways will remember Alphona’s tight, animation influenced style and his ability to create unique, expressive characters without relying on costumes and special effects to set them apart.  This is a wonderful resource on Ms. Marvel, where the supporting cast of non-superheroes, and the non-superhero part of Kamala’s life, are really the focus of the story.  Along with Ghost Rider, which does a similarly wonderful job of portraying the rich multi-culture of East L.A., Ms. Marvel has quickly become my favorite Marvel series, and one of the reasons I still read superhero comics at all.

I was just going to eat this medical cannabis peanut butter bar and catch up on Gotham (it’s not good, which is fine by me, a connoisseur of ‘meh’ television), but when I signed into Hulu I was greeted with an AVENGERS TRAILER, and now I feel that it would be irresponsible for me (a connoisseur of ‘meh’ internet punditry) not to provide some Hot’n’Ready Takes:

  • No Vision, which is absolutely bogus, I swear somewhere in the rumorsphere we were promised Vision, my favorite-ever Avenger and, obvy, a shoe-in for key player in any Ultron-centric tale.
  • No Hank Pym either, as far as I saw. Is Ant-Man Hank Pym in that Ant-Man movie no one wants to see (prediction: it will be six times bigger than Guardians of the Galaxy, another “no one wants to see that!?” film). If there’s no Hank Pym, who invented Ultron? More importantly, if there’s no Hank Pym, who’s dating Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp?
  • Did you know that the Wasp and Havok (that would be Cylcop’s little brother, who shoots his super-eye beams out of his nipples instead of his eyes) had a child together, who they raised for five years, until those five years were wiped from reality in order to preserve the greater good, or some-such? Kind of like that episode of Star Trek when Picard lives out a whole lifetime on some idyllic vineyard planet with Margot Rose. See kids, that’s the kind of original, but still ripped off from Star Trek, storytelling that you’re missing if you’re not also reading the comics.
  • Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Wasp’s super-powers were to always be wearing tennis whites and firing the maid for stealing petty cash even though you know it was probably the twins, Chip and Brad, when they were home from Choate last weekend? But no, her superpowers are actually based on the insect, not the awesome/horrible people who invented gin and tonics at five o’clock.
  • What the trailer DOES have is Hulk Buster armor. APPROVE.
  • It also has Mark Gruffalo looking hecka emo. Someone give Dr. Banner a hug please? Maybe he’s angry because everyone acts all tense and scared around him all the time. Like, could someone please throw this guy a bone? Although it would suck if he Hulked out mid-coitus.
  • Oh. My. God. Thor dropped his hammer ON THE GROUND. Shit is serious, ya’ll.
  • Why are these all these B-roll clips of ballet dancers thrown in here? It’s like a 90 second trailer for a superhero action movie. How could anyone think three seconds of out of context ballerina shots are a good use of that limited time?
  • We are dangerously close to approaching peak Spader. *sigh* I miss Boston Legal. That will always be MY peak Spader.

Howdy Ho loyal readers and Malaysian spam robots. It’s been awhile — practically the whole summer, it seems — since I hollered at ya. Sorry, things got real. I helped open a restaurant and music venue. I took a 3,000 mile road trip around the midwest and southwest (shout out to the great state of Colorado :) :) :) ). And oh yeah, I got married!

Now things are settling back into something of a rhythm around Casa Disastercouch, and there’s just so much to write about. I’m watching The Flash, Gotham, Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., obvy, and eagerly awaiting the premiere of Constantine, so even if all I did was recap trash tv I’d have plenty to write about. Oscar-bait season is also about to start, and since I now live down the way from a movie theater, I might catch a movie or two this year.  I haven’t talked about rap music on here in forever, even though I absolutely need to lay the hate down on Riff Raff and Iggy Azalea, and take a moment to big-up The Underachievers and YG.  And of course, the last time we checked in with Heavy Metal Survey it was only like, 1982.

But first, always first, there’s comics. I just went to my LCS and cleaned out my pull box after a five week absence. That cost me a cool 135 bucks. My priorities as an adult man are pretty garbage, I know. But here are my thoughts on what I had been missing in comics for the last month-plus:

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The Frost Giants of Jotunheim attack underwater mining operations in the North Sea

Thor #1 by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman with Matthew Wilson. Marvel (Disney), 2014.

The basic conceit of this series is that “Thor Odinson” is a specific Asgardian, but “Thor” is more like an office or title. After all, it says right on Mjolnir, anyone who is worthy to lift the hammer will wield the power of Thor. Plenty of Marvel Universe residents have proved themselves Worthy in the past: Eric Masterson (Thunderstrike), who was and then wasn’t and then was again Thor’s human alter-ego (the ’90s were confusing); Beta Ray Bill, who is an alien horse (the ’70s were confusing); Captain America (that part isn’t confusing); and Storm (Thorm! Weather-themed Heroes Unite! Yeah, the ’80s were confusing).

The most fun part is watching Thor, Odin, and the Warriors Three all engaged in a bro-off about lifting Mjolnir. None of them can, and the hammer is left embedded deep in the surface of the Moon until an unnamed woman lifts it in the issue’s final panel. As the next chapter in Aaron’s strong Thor run, this will be essential reading, at least until the resolution of two big mysteries: what did Nick Fury reveal to Thor at the end of Original Sin that suddenly made Thor unworthy? And who is the new female Thor? Is it the All-Mother Freyja? The legally-embattled battle angel Angela? Some character that ties more directly into another Marvel Studios blockbuster movie? Only time — like three or four issues time, most likely — will tell. And if you miss ‘ol Thor Odinson, he’s been repurposed as Savage Thor, missing his hammer, his ability to fly, and any semblance of a shirt in Avengers/X-Men: Axis: Book One: The Red Supremacy.

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Whatever else I thought about the comic, this spread ensured that I’ll be following this title and artist for a bit. Buttons pushed.

Gotham Academy #1 by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl with Geyser and Dave McCaig. DC (Time-Warner), 2014.

Part of me is like “what is this? WHY DOES THIS EXIST?” by part of me is like “Gotham Central was pretty baller, give it a chance.”

The idea of getting a lot of granular Gotham/Bat-verse background detail is intriguing. For example, the first issue features a short segment of a class on the history of Gotham — a chalkboard outlines some of the relationship between Gotham’s three great families of the Arkhams, the Waynes, and the Cobblepots. Not that there’s not already enough Bat-material out there for someone to write a six-volume historical analysis of Gotham society…but no one has yet, as far as I know, so I’ll settle for a little nod to continuity here and there.

The art is kind of amazing, in that it’s richly colored and finely detailed, and looks like cells captured from a really high budget Studio Ghibli or Disney film. It’s also kind of plastic and unengaging, because it looks like a high-budget animated film.

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Oh no! Not the….Mini-Mall! I would just about die if I walked into an actual mall and saw a store called the Fandom Zone that specializes in “comic books and paperbacks.” Every once in awhile you’ll see a Games Workshop or a BAM! or something that has a few comics, but a full-fleged comic shop in between the Journeyz 2: Electric Boogaloo and the Express Men Junior Plus? Not in this crazy modern ebola world, my friend.

New Mutants Classic Vol. One by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod.  Marvel (Disney), 2006.  Collects Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (1982), New Mutants #1-7 (1982), and Uncanny X-Men #167 (1982).

I love the X-Men, but when I think X-Men, my vision pretty much stops at characters that were included in the 1990s cartoon series: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Beast, Archangel, and Iceman. I never got into X-Factor, or X-Terminators, or X-Force, or X-this-or-X-that. Maybe a little Generation X, because they were kind of like Gen 13, who were my fave.

But you get the gist. Core X-Men only!

But I started listening every once in awhile to this podcast where maybe the nerdiest, most sickeningly adorable couple ever talk in detail about the X-Men. And they recently got to the point in X-Men history when Chris Claremon’ts Uncanny first branched off into another title: the New Mutants, introduced in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 in 1982.

I love a good yarn set at the School for Gifted Youngsters, and the international cast of characters sounded pretty bonkers; very CW. It turns out it is pretty bonkers, at times a little-lot racist, and extremely hokey, but superfun.  Bob McLeod draws a little like the 2000 AD gang and a little like George Perez, and basically epitomizes Marvel’s House Style circa Flock of Seagulls, so if you’re into that sort of thing (and I am, with bells on), you’ll love it.

And if you don’t know how you feel about Claremont’s hypernarrative, way over-the-top super-soap style writing by now well…it’s not for everyone. This is a book that I may return to for some more sophisticated analysis down the line, as there is a lot to unpack when you’re talking Mutants and Metaphors. But suffice to say it is waaaay fun and features a ton of wolf attacks. Cannonball!

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Avengers & X-Men: Axis #1 by Rick Remender and Adam Kubert with Laura Martin and Matt Milla.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Spinning out of the pages of Uncanny Avengers, and Magneto, and for some reason Loki has his own series…and also spinning out of the pages of A vs. X, and Civil War, and Inhuman, and Original Sin…and copying pretty explicitly from DC’s Forever Evil event which had totally the same premise minus the Nazis…and taking nine issues to tell a story that Steve Ditko could probably have knocked out in six pages…

…for the twelfth time this decade, every marketable character that Marvel still holds the rights to faces the total and complete destruction of the entire multiverse…against the “most powerful” and “deadliest” threat they have ever faced…again…

presenting:

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SIXIS.

Wait, what? That says Axis? So…to be clear, the full title of this comic book is Avengers/X-Men: AXIS (spelled liked Sixis) : Book One: The Red Supremacy?

I give up.

***

Well Kids, I want to finish up this whole stack of comics-to-review before I head off to work today, but I somehow hit 1,300 words already, I need to leave in about an hour, and something tells me this:

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is going to take a bit longer to wade through.  Oh well, more fuel for the blogging furnace next week!  Dont’ forget to spay and neuter your pets.

Each of the three episodes that have aired of Agents of SHIELD‘s second season have featured a constant refrain from Skye, the show’s point-of-view character: “Why are things being kept from me? What aren’t you telling me?”

This was a theme throughout the first season as well. It is the question at the core of the relationship between Skye and Agent Coulson, the show’s patriarch and ostensible protagonist*. I interpreted this dynamic as a commentary on or reaction to the Privacy versus Security debate that has risen to a cacophony in the post-Snowden era. Coulson represents the position of fascistic security agencies (the NSA, Shabak, MISIRI, the Chinese Ministry of State Security) who hold that privacy is the provence of governments, that states have the right to both keep secrets from their citizens and to monitor those same citizens lest they attempt to harbor any secrets of their own. Skye, who before joining SHIELD operated with the hacktivist cell Rising Tide, represents the position of groups like Wikileaks and Anonymous who hold that information beckons to be free, and that is the right of citizens to monitor their governments and not vice-versa.

There is another interpretation, another layer, another secret. In episode three of the new season, Fitz, the brilliant engineer brought low by hypoxia-induced brain damage, asks** Coulson the same question Skye has been asking.

Coulson’s response: “I am the Director. There are a lot of things I am keeping from you.”

Coulson is of course referring to his new position as Director of SHIELD. But might not that word, “director,” have a double-meaning? Even more so than other media, television programs have a tendency to become ‘about’ the creation of themselves. Viewed from that angle, perhaps Skye and Fitz’s constant questioning of Coulson is not unlike the constant clamoring by fans for explanation and resolution. The fans that hounded the creators of Lost into attempting to tie every loose end. The fans whose unending speculation has seemingly ruined the ending of George R.R. Martin’s yet-unpublished final Song of Fire and Ice novels. The fans who spent all summer dying to find out who Skye’s father is and why Coulson has started carving Kree electrical diagrams into every flat surface. The fans whose intense interest sustains shows and franchises for years and decades.

And Coulson, the “Director,” would then represent the *cough* beleaguered showrunners. Who are keeping a lot of things from you.

For your own good.

*Although May, the Spock to Coulson’s Kirk, is the more nuanced and ultimately rewarding character.

**Though not in so many workds

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Annihilator #1 by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving. Legendary, 2014.

Did I mention I’m not ‘keeping up’ with comics anymore? It’s not something that happened on purpose, like

“ARRRRRGHHH comics! I’m so mad at you! I’m not going to pay attention to the latest news and gossip about you Any. More.”

It just kind of happened accidentally. I blame Google Reader shutting down, a reality I’m just beginning to accept like…I don’t, seven years after the fact? This technologically driven 21st century time dilation is really fucking with my perception of history. What came first, Faith by George Michael or the Iraq War by George Bush? The world may never know.

Anyway, I couldn’t even begin to guess at what Grant Morrison is up to these days. I saw my local comic book shop had lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of copies of another new book of his, Multiversity. I thought Multiversity was already the name of a site that does in depth breakdowns of the latest issues of Morning Glories and shit, so that’s already confusing, and then Morrison is naturally confusing, and then obviously from the title there are multiple universes at play so I was like

“Girl, nuh uh. I am not going down that road again. He say he changed but no, we all remember Final Crisis.”

But, way in the back of the store, there’s this other new Grant Morrison comic. From a publisher I don’t really know. And a proper Grant Morrison artist — that is to say, British, weird, and mostly famous from 2000 AD.

Hmmm. Intrigued.

I’ve often felt Morrison lives and dies by the artists he works with. His writing can be accessible, enjoyable and fun, or obscure, masturbatory, and overblown, and it depends more than anything on who is turning the script into art. Frazer Irving immediately brings a grandiose and cinematic vision to this series that complements Morrison’s big imagination perfectly, but he also possess the visual storytelling skills to keep the focus on the imagery over text. The first few pages of this story could be totally understood without any of the accompanying captions or dialogue balloons, and that’s a real strength. And the digitally painted textures give everything a bit of a peak 90s-era Vertigo look, which certainly puts me in the mood for a vintage Morrison yarn.

Here’s the broad outline of the plot, as I understood it: There’s a black hole called the Annihilator at the center of the galaxy. There’s a fight in space that pits an evil empire against a lone hero. There’s a guy who looks a bit like Terrence Trent d’Arby who is very okay with the fact that the house he is about to buy is a legendarily haunted murder house. That fellow is Ray Spass. He is a screenwriter and he hasn’t had a hit for a long time. He wants to write a ghost story — hence the importance of moving into a haunted house. The studio wants science fiction.

So just put the haunted house in space.

The screenplay Ray is writing is Annihilator, and his protagonist, equal parts Riddick and Thanos, is Max Nomax, a hero in the capital R Romantic mode.

From there the comic caroms back and forth from Ray’s world to the fictive world of Annihilator, each reflecting the other as such things tend to do. All very predictable until…Max Nomax shows up at Ray’s doorstep.

Oh bravo Mr. Morrisson. How very meta of you. No one would expect the author of Animal Man from THIRTY YEARS ago to play with the ‘ol boundaries between creator and creation, would they?

But I guess I asked for some vintage Morrison, and that’s precisely what I got.

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Wild’s End #1 (of 6) by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard. BOOM! Studios, 2014.

From the Improbable Mash-Ups Department: Anthropomorphic Animals + Edwardian English Countryside + Alien Invasion = Pretty Fun.

You could also call it H.G. Wells meets George Orwell, which is convenient because I get them mixed up (along with Orson Welles) all the time anyhow.

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Southern Bastards #3-4 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Image, 2014.

Four issues into this series and every major character has been beaten either to death or within an inch of their life. Some of these beatings we are supposed to interpret as bad and undeserved. Others are supposed to be good and well-earned.

All of the major characters are also white men. There is apparently one woman in Craw County, Alabama — the waitress at Coach Boss’ BBQ restaurant. There is also precisely one black man, the Sheriff, who is actually a puppet sheriff controlled by Coach Boss.

Jason Aaron’s previous creator-owned series Scalped (which, like Bastards, was the story of a disenchanted adult man returning to the hometown he was supposed to have left behind in order to work out some not-insignificant Daddy Issues) featured a complex moral universe in which it was rarely clear who was a hero and who was a villain. The book pivoted around the idea that there is no universal morality. The institutional morality of the American justice system, the personal morality of assorted cops and killers, and a higher morality hinted at by the few remaining practitioners of the traditional Oglala Lakota way of life were all constantly at odds with each other. Death and violence, which are rampant in all of Aaron’s works with the possible exception of the lighthearted Wolverine and the X-Men, took on a new meaning in that context.

In Bastards, Aaron seems to be hinting at a conflict between City morals and Country values, with the suggestion that there is no higher value than high school football. And no better way to resolve a problem than with a hickory stick. The trenchant realism of Scalped’s Prairie Rose Reservation (based on the actual Pine Ridge res in South Dakota) is here replaced by an uncomfortable pastiche of the rural South, a South that I suspect will be more familiar to regular viewers of Dukes of Hazzard reruns than to contemporary residents of Alabama. So far the flatness of the characters, the dullness of the setting, the emptiness of the message, and the repetitiveness of the violence does not impress.

Prophet Strikefile interior detail by Grim Wilkins

Prophet Strikefile interior detail by Grim Wilkins

Prophet Strikefile by Brandon Graham, Simon roy, Grim Wilkins, Sandra Lanz, Matt Sheehan, Malachi Ward, Bayard Baudoin, Onta, Giannis Milonogiannis, Joseph Bergin III, Ron Ackins, Tom Parkinson-MOrgan, and selected colors by Amy Clare.

If you ever obsessed over the lavishly illustrated sourcebook to a tabletop game without playing the game, if you owned any edition of the Star Wars Technical Manual, if your favorite Punisher issues were the Armories*, if you think any drawing of a machine or vehicle could be improved by making it a cutaway, if you’re obsessed with properly ordering the timelines of completely contrived universes, if you ever bookmarked an online encyclopedia of Babylon Five aliens, if the numbers 1701-C and 1701-D mean anything to you…

…then for chrissakes be the nerd you want to be already and buy this book. Also if you’ve been reading Brandon Graham’s Prophet and have suspected the whole time that you have no idea what’s going on, this might help.  I can’t wait to go back and reread the series — I could never have guessed how epic and psychedelic it would become.

 

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From 1990, the Punisher Armory was basically just a bunch of really detailed drawings of guns accompanied by some thoughts from the Punisher about those guns, and how much he likes guns.  I’m not a gun guy or an NRA fan or anything, but I loved this comic just for the way it dug into technical minutiae.  The issue was illustrated by Eliot R Brown, a technical illustrator who was called in by the Big Two from time to time to illustrate things like cutaway diagrams of Iron Man’s armor, a topographic map of Gotham City, or the Teen Titan’s satellite base.   I strongly recommend a visit to his website.

 

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