Monday, April 26, 2004

Image Hosted by Dipping once again into the Ait/PlanetLar box o'goodness, I now present the following:

I went through a phase, oh some 10-15 years ago, of being obsessed with the books of William Gibson (or at least strongly interested...I mean, how far can you take that particular obsession living in rural Kentucky and not even owning a home computer until 1993?) and other "cyberpunk" authors, and I have surely not been the only one because there have been a ton of imitations since...not only in prose novels, but films and especially in comics, and (to be kind) many of them have been (shall we say) less than successful in mining the same vein that Gibson and his peers. Heck, even Gibson is having difficulty these days, as his newest novels have been greeted with mixed reviews. Fortunately for our purposes, however, Brian Wood's Channel Zero is one of the good ones. The tale of former performance artist-turned-"Infoterrorist" Jennie 2.5, who lives in a Orwellian not-so-distant future (actually, "right now" according to the notes at the beginning) dominated by special interest groups and the corrupt government (did I say "future"?). She attempts to wrest freedom of expression back from the Evil Empire by hacking into the regulated, sanitized airwaves and bringing the truth back to the people in order to wake them up from their media-imposed slumber. Problem is, Jennie becomes a celebrity for doing this, and the government turns her fame inwards against her, leading to unforeseen complications and a somewhat draconian resolution. Wood is giving us a lot of stuff here- adventure story, media commentary along with subtle and not-so-subtle satire of same, and compelling personal drama as well. Wood the artist is also on top of his game, augmenting his McKeever-ish drawing style with daring layouts and effectively minimalist inks, as well as collage both pictoral and also in the form of tiny slogans stripped in at all angles on nearly every page, serving to disorient sometimes, amuse sometimes, and often enlighten along the way. It could have easily devolved into chaos, but Wood's instincts keep him honest every time. Channel Zero is sharp and smart, and more than a little prescient given that Wood started this in 1997! Zero is by far the best thing I've read from AiT to date, and I hope that Wood can find time (between issues of Demo) to give us further looks into the life and times of Jennie 2.5. A

Which, in a way, he does with the follow-up

In which we meet the pre-upgrade Jennie 2.5 when she was just struggling art school student Jennifer Havel, and we get a little insight into why she became what she became plus a glimpse of the events that led to the "Clean Act" which has made life so stifling for the free-thinkers in Jennie's world. Biggest difference here is the artist, Demo's Becky Cloonan, and while she's not the daredevil Wood is, she's still pretty damned good- reminsicent of Paul Pope in a lot of places, and she gives the story a lot of vitality along with a more...aesthetically pleasing, shall we say, Jennie. I want more, I do. A

Basically a collection of Warren Ellis' online columns from Comic Book Resources that appeared from 1999 to 2001, how interesting you'll find this depends on how you feel about Ellis and his opinions. If you're an admirer, chances are you've probably got many of these pieces memorized anyway. If you're not, you probably won't want to read...but I think that would be a terrible mistake because much of what Ellis says here is as true in 2004 as it was five years ago, maybe more so, and if your preconceptions are so easily shaken perhaps they're not worth holding in the first place. Me, I'm somewhere in between. Often I think Ellis snipes just for the sake of sniping, and can be a bit of a contratrian- but he has a very low bullshit tolerance factor, always a good thing, and sees to the heart of much that the average comics reader just doesn't want to see...and I admire the heck out of that. I read many of these columns the first time around, so a lot of this was familiar to me, but I can recommend this book to anyone that wants a serious examination and discourse about many of the problems which the comics industry faced, and still faces, now. A-

Well, here's where I go from the comp list to the shit list in one fell swoop. As I've said many times before, I just don't care for super-hero satire. It's not that I don't think the spandex set shouldn't be made fun of, God knows- quite the opposite, in fact. But frankly, in my opinion, the best super hero satire is over fifty years old- Kurtzman & Wood's Superduperman. While there have been other worthy attempts- Marvel's Not Brand Echh comes to mind- there's nothing that the legions of would-be satirists, both in cartoons and in comics, can say or show that wasn't said or shown quite effectively four decades ago. But wait, you say- PotC isn't exactly satire! It has its serious side as well! And that's true...but the humorous stuff and the serious stuff are all written with the same straightfaced tone, and the result is neither here nor there, and is often baffling as in the case of the gargantuan Hulk-type character, who carries a child in one of his deformed arms while going on a destruction spree, and whose frightened parent is told by another of the "heroes" that "He just wants to show you a good time...he just wants you to care", and the parent, along with the onlookers, just accept this and go along, after the Schaff gives the child back unharmed. It's not funny, and you can't take it seriously because we don't get any further with the situation, so one doesn't know what to think. Do these beings, apparently the only super-folks on this world, simply think they're above concern for the lesser, ordinary people they presumably protect? That's certainly the case with this "Grand" fellow, who's a sort of not-so-true blue Superman type. When the super-group gets transported to another world, and encounter powerless Fantastic Four-ish types, all the Grand wants to do is take over, because he doesn't think anyone there can stop him. The Batman/Captain America-amalgam Justice Hall disagrees, and they battle, in a homage or satire or something of Miller's Dark Knight books. This book is full of neither-this-nor-that moments that left me frankly unsure what to think about them...I didn't think it was successful as social commentary, or satire, or even as straight superhero adventure since it seems to be made up of a thousand different elements of superhero comics I've read for 40 years now, and none of them are topped, enhanced or re-examined at all. Allegory? If that's the case, then I just didn't get what it was an allegory for. Creative hubris, perhaps? Regardless, PotC just didn't work for me. It just read like a collection of the clichés that satirists and revisionists use to lampoon the original superhero clichés. Perhaps I am just slow on the uptake, who knows. The art, by Brandon McKinney, was just as inconsistent as the script, which makes it well matched, I suppose. Obviously, he's trying to give us a Perez/Starlin inspired look, and while he wasn't completely unsuccessful, it's just not an art style that excites me much. C-

Still to go- Astronauts In Trouble: Master Flight Plan, the Making of AiT, and True Facts. I'm not done with you yet, Larry...heh heh heh...