Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Young Liars - Why it is much better than Reviewers make it out to be

Over the last few weeks, while traversing the streets and corners of the blogosphere, I have come across numerous reviews of the new series from Dave Lapham, Young Liars. I have read a lot of those reviews, agreed with some points but in general have had a differing point of view. I also found some common threads and patterns in those reviews which I am going to highlight here and thus explain why Young Liars is so damn good, and why you should read it.

One pattern that I have repeatedly seen among reviewers who don't seem to like Young Liars is the fact that they are big Stray Bullets fans, going to the extent of saying how many hardcovers they own, how they discovered comics through Stray Bullets and so on. One would think that this is something going in favour of a comic written by Dave Lapham, but it doesn't seem so. I personally, haven't read Stray Bullets but I do plan to do so, whenever it is actually complete. But that is neither here nor there. The thing that strikes me is the fact that these reviewers aren't really looking at Young Liars as a new series. Instead they see this as another series that Lapham is doing instead of doing Stray Bullets. Now I have nothing against people wanting a creator to complete a series, but Lapham clearly was not making money on the series and he needs to do something that lets him have an income. He's not shying away from it, he wants to do it, but not at the expense of incurring a financial burden on himself.

This inevitably takes me to the second of the common threads I see in these reviews. The inevitable comparison of Young Liars to Stray Bullets. I believe that this is an incredible disservice to Lapham. I have read through reviews that have gone to the extent of comparing structuring, storytelling and themes between the two series with a bias towards Stray Bullets. And by bias I mean the attempts of the reviewers at saying this is not Stray Bullets. Of course it is not. It never set out to be. Lapham did not name it Stray Bullets, because its not. Its been a long time since Stray Bullets. In between Lapham has done projects with DC/Marvel, with mixed reviews, and learned lessons. Many reviewers try to point out the fact that Stray Bullets started out slowly building up layers upon layers of story but they forget the fact that Lapham cannot follow the same model as Stray Bullets, because it did not sell. Thats one of the underlying aims in the different writing style he uses here where the first issue, for lack of a better phrase, is organized chaos. Its his attempt to introduce the cast as quickly as possibly to the readers with highly energetic storytelling as the introductory scene of the female lead was. This becomes even clearer from the fact that this same scene was used in the previews to the book. Meaning Lapham wanted this scene upfront to tell his prospective audience what they were in for.

Another point was the presence of cliched characters which made it difficult to sympathize with them or root for them. I ask this. In this day and age where almost every possible character has already been shown in one form or the other cliches can hardly be escaped. But as opposed to most creators, Lapham manages to make these characters more real. He peels layers off them as the plot progresses while at the same time tries to drown us, the readers in a cauldron of lies. The second issue was an example where the familiar story of an innocent child's life in a not so innocent neighborhood goes remarkably awry. But its not so familiar after all. Because the "innocent" child seems to be not so innocent and not so normal inspite of his surroundings. On the other hand Sadie Dawkins seems to be more familiar to us. She is that tragic heroine that we are familiar with. But we know that is not true because of what she is going to become eventually. And all this while we listen to a song written by Danny Noonan, talented song-writer.

Its crazy, its full of lies. Its going at a thousand miles an hour and I am strapped in. Hope you join me as well.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Comics from April 9

This was a disappointing weak for me as a DC fan. And that is heightened considering two of the strongest series from DC came out this week. Both Booster Gold and JSA suffered from slow pacing, and no movement of plot. As before I review two comics that I was impressed by among the bunch I have read till now.

Wonder Woman 19 - Gail Simone continues her run, rejuvenating the character of Wonder Woman from the mess it had become earlier. After the 4 issue arc The Circle which introduced new antagonists that actually measured up to the standard of Wonder Woman, this 2 issue arc Ex-Patriate sends her on a space adventure.

Gail has been highlighting the warrior aspect of WW throughout her short run, and last issue showed that her renown as the same is not limited to earth. Khunds, whom I have no previous exposure to, are supposed to be a tyrant, warrior race with the sole aim of conquering other civilizations. Wonder Woman is called upon to save the same race from genocide, by appealing to her compassionate side. Last issue ended with Wonder Woman discovering a Green Lantern out to stop her. This issue continues with that fight and we go straight to battle mode. Reading WW's thoughts show her as a shrewd strategist. War is not her first choice, but when driven to it, she fights to win. WW defeats the Green Lantern with a very new use of the lasso, the lasso being something Gail has been highlighting in her run. But the scene after that, where WW offers her hand in peace, shows her resolve towards peace. Brilliant writing. The last scene is characteristic Gail humour, something that defines her writing, and shows that if given the chance Gail can be a solid Green Lantern writer.

There were a few Tom Tresser scenes where he goes through an internal monologue, but it seemed largely irrelevant to the main plot here. Clearly it is supposed to pay off sometime in the future but for now, it is clear Tom Tresser is not the strongest part of the cast in this book.

The art by Bernard Chang was impressive, though suffering from the rather bland inking throughout. Chang is clearly more comfortable drawing characters rather than backgrounds but his fight scenes were well drawn. All in all, a Good Read

Gamekeeper V2 02 - The first volume of Gamekeeper had thoroughly impressed me. Both Andy Diggle's writing and especially Mukesh Singh's art had made the series into a Must Read every time it came out. That they were going to do a volume 2 had both filled me with dread since neither of the creative team were returning but also anticipation since I like Jeff Parker's writing.

I need not have worried. The transition is smooth, although after Mukesh Singh's art, Ron Randall's art in the present series seems to be a step down, but its very competent. Jeff Parker shows that he has the chops to deliver an enjoyable and action packed story. And one fact that I notice is that Parker writes it in such a way that you don't have to remember who each of the characters are. He expertly weaves the threat levels of each of the antagonists without having to go into any exposition and the same time he paces the story well to both highlight the expertise of the Gamekeeper as well as the main antagonist.

Parker's Gamekeeper is still Diggle's Gamekeeper. Very dangerous and with a sharp mind. At the same time he builds up the character of Raven as a foil for the Gamekeeper. What lies ahead promises to be an exciting read. And for now, like Diggle's series, this is a Must Read.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

On Message Boards and Message Board Culture

Lately I have been spending more and more time on reading through blogs, message boards and the like. And there are a number of habits that seem to permeate through all of them.

When you are talking with someone who is actually physically present in front of you, there's a sense of moderation in you. Even if you want to speak your mind, you speak it in a civil manner. Well, atleast most of the time. Unless you are an exception. I find that almost universally the opposite happens on the net. Its as if being on the net, anonymous, opens up the Hyde part of you. Or maybe thats just the projection you want to make others see you as. Who knows, perhaps the vilest people on the net are the meekest, most introverted people you see around you. And being a malevolent alpha-male is what they fantasize about.

Worse yet is the fanboy culture on sites involving comics. Possibly the same culture is also present on sites involving games, movies etc but I am more versed in sites about comics. Take for example Newsarama. Statements like "If you don't like this, you don't have any heart", "The kids suck, kill them", " That editor is a moron, kill him" are ubiquitous. Would you actually make such a statement if you were on a public forum , physically present. Do people who make such statements actually ask questions like "Why do I say such things on the net, if I don't do it in real life" or are the thought processes more like "My boss yelled at me, so I'll take out all my frustrations on character X or person X".

Constructive criticism is a thing of fiction as far as Message boards go. They are present on blogs but they are more or less individual points of view. Often comments on blogs follow the same pattern present on message boards and hence have to be moderated. And people ask why comic book fans have such a stereotyped image. When the discussion most participated in, is about who has the bigger rack, or who'll defeat whom in a one-on-one battle, what else do you expect.

By the way, if there is actually a place where healthy discussions about comics take place, please point me the way.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Grant Morrison: Batman and Costume

If you don't know, Grant Morrison, who's just about the best writer ever to have written comics is writing Batman. And Batman hasn't been this good since I don't know how long. And now that we have out recap paragraph out of the way, lets get on.

Morrison recently did an interview where among other things he teased that he'll be doing a lot of stuff to Batman in the upcoming issues which would have permanent ramifications on the Bat mythos as well as setting up threads going upto 2010. One small thing that he mentioned was that he would also change the costume.

"What else? We finally get to see the Club of Villains we hinted at in the “Club of Heroes” storyline from last year – Charlie Caligula, Scorpiana, Pierrot Lunaire, the murder mime…and a bunch of other cool freaks. And there’s a new Batmobile, a new costume, more Bat-Mite…"

All DC characters in general, and Batman in particular are considered iconic. And an element of that, something that seems to highlight that fact, has always been the costumes. They have existed as long as the characters have, virtually unchanged. So, one would think tinkering with them is something simply not done. But I think otherwise. The fact that most superheroes wear underwear on the outside of their skintight spandex has often bugged me. Even if they are not going for realism, these superheroes are still supposed to exist in a world where the equivalent of real people, real thoughts etc etc exist. And in that world, such costumes would be, simply put, silly. I hypothesize that originally these costumes were conceptualized with inspiration from wrestlers, who wore only underwear. Possibly artists wanted their heroes to look iconic and wrestlers seemed to naturally fit that role. But that doesn't mean it still makes sense now.

When Morrison came onto New X-Men, a change of costume was one of the points he made in his proposal. He wanted them to wear uniforms rather than spandex. Which seems to suggest that Morrison may have similar feelings about others as well. And quite possibly thats what he'll be trying to do when he finally unveils the new costume for Batman. The absence of underwear on the outside of the costume. The only obstacle could be WB restricting him from doing so, but seeing as Batman costumes wouldn't be a very happy topic among WB execs, maybe they'll let it go. Besides Nolan is already going for a more realistic approach. That line of reasoning may convince them if need be.

How about he does the same to Superman next. Although it'll be tougher there. The Superman movies have made that particular costume too visible in the general consciousness of people. But if possible, redesigns are in order. A more Kryptonian looking costume possibly. And once thats done, Wonder Woman should be next. That costume often interferes with my enjoyment of the Gail Simone penned series which is rather well written. Its impractical in every sense of the word.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Secret Invasion #1

Because This is supposed to be hot, right.

I am primarily a DC fan. I like my fair share of Marvel(by fair, I mean 2 or 3 titles) but I like to think that if there's something good from either company I'll read it. So reading this was an endeavor in that direction.

And besides its supposed to be hot, right.

I came into this without ever having read either of the Avengers titles. Well except that one issue where Elektra is killed, and turns out to be a skrull. I disliked that issue immensely and decided that not reading Avengers was a good decision on my part. I even read the first issue of Mighty Avengers. And the use of thought balloons was so nonsensical, I decided to not try any further.

Right, thats the background. No previous knowledge of where this title is coming from. The issue opens with........ Ok, I don't think that method of reviewing will work, because this issue really didn't have a plot. It was a series of reveals. With first character A revealed then character B and then a whole spaceship worth of possible characters. All of that w have been cool, IF, I actually knew most of these characters. I was actually revealed in the online prologue that Dum Dum Dugan was a skrull. Now that would mean something to me if I actually knew who this Dugan fellow is. And then there's that full page of Mar-vell indicating that either he's a skrull or he knows someone at Thunderbolts is. And I have no idea who Mar-vell is. Am I supposed to think that Bendis is trying to tell me, go read the tie-in issues because I can't tell you everything here. Is that what self-contained is supposed to mean. I don't think so. And if this crossover is supposed to bring in new fans, well then good for Marvel. But the new fans might not last long reading such a series.

So instead of a plot, we have a series of reveals. And instead of a script, we have what I may refer to as Bendis-speak. Because thats what most of the dialogue, especially in the pages containing Stark, Pym and Reed had. Bendis-speak. Unreal, unfunny and without the slightest amount of edge which a title whose entire premise is an underlying paranoia, is supposed to have. Then again, writing like this is the primary reason I do not like Bendis writing superheroes.

Yu, on the other hand impressed me. While I would hardly call his faces expressive, the actual line work was good, making you want to look at the pages slightly longer than what a Bendis script would make you.

Mind you, this was more of an analysis. When I first read it, I felt it was alright. Nothing brilliant but readable. On the other hand an analysis of the issue would make it out to be worse than it actually is. Why that discrepancy? Possibly the fact that the scope here is huge. That feeling you get when you are going into a blockbuster movie which sometimes clouds your judgement because of the preconceived notions about it. Thats what this has.

Besides, how can I not like the fact that both DC/Marvel are basing their big events this year on Kirby's stories. That counts for a lot in my book. But then again, in my book, Morrison has no equal in skill. That may indicate where my sympathies lie in terms of stories I am looking forward to.

Comics from April 2

I still have to read stuff but there are two comics I read this week that require special mention.

Infinity Inc 8 - This title is floundering in sales. That is no secret. But this is pure genius. That, I believe, is a secret. Peter Milligan is one of the best writers to have ever written comics books. But he doesn't always write with that brilliance. The atrocious Ras Al Ghul arc was an example where he write two Robin issues. The less I say about them, the better. But at the same time he's writing two brilliant series, that have hardly been noticed. The Programme and Infinity Inc. The former may be the subject of a post I do some other time but right now we are talking about Infinity Inc.

Its been hampered by the fact that most conventional comic book fans don't get it. This is not a superhero comic in any sense of the word. Its very much a Milligan comic exploring many of the stuff that Milligan does explore in his comics. Like the mind. The effects of events happening around you on the mind. How much your personality gets shattered by tragedies. Or for that matter by your inability to express yourself as you truly are, or want to.

There are characters from just about every part of that spectrum in here. Natasha, who lost her powers that defined her, being almost second nature to her. Erik, who isn't sure why he's a man, because he's more in touch with his feminine side. Gerome, a very introverted person, who wishes to project otherwise, and so on. Milligan expertly used the angle setup in 52(Oh, how I miss that title) of Luthor giving them powers and then taking them away, here. He establishes the basic premise, that those powers didn't really go away, and are now mutating into projections of their thought processes. The first few issues got off to a very slow start, and dealt primarily with the psychosis of the antagonist of the first arc. But it seems that most fans, as well as it seems DC Editorial didn't like the art which was very much in keeping with the mood of Milligan's writing. So now we have Pete Woods, who is, in every sense of the word, a superhero artist. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but its very different from what an ideal artist for Milligan would be. Yet, Milligan takes that in his stride and even creates humour out of Woods coming on, and the members getting costumes. The panel where Steel says "Now that you have costumes you need the things that all heroes need" and Nat says "Personal Problems?" is evident of that fact.

There's more humour in this issue than has been in previous issues, which is an added bonus. Milligan seems to be using Steel as a representative for those fans and members of DC Editorial who want it to be a more superhero book, which would make it like any other of the thousands of comic books available. The scene where Steel comes up with costumes, as well as the one where he comes up with their secret identities both have dialogue that seem intentionally stilted, in contrast with the rest of the issue. The issue mostly deals with the Infinity Inc actually become Infinity Inc, their members trying to accept someone they have fought before as enemies, as well as a continuation of the Gerome arc. Nat, Erik have already had stories highlighting them. I hope similar stories are told for the rest of the team, for these characters are more interesting and well constructed than almost any character in comic books today.

In closing, I hope Milligan gets to tell a lot of stories on this book in the future, sales be damned.

Action Comics 863 - Now this is pure superhero comics, unadulterated. Both pure and unadulterated do mean the same thing, but this comic and Johns' writing deserve those adjectives doubly, and hence the repetition.

There's all the elements that make a great Geoff Johns comic in there. Continuing from last issue's cliffhanger the story moves forward on two fronts. The simultaneous beating that Superman gets at the hand of Earth-Man, and the Legion fighting the Justice League. The outcome is obvious yet, Johns manages to make it exciting. Edge of seat stuff. The eventual moment when Superman opens his eyes is choreographed in a beautiful way. The cheesy Superman dialogue "I am for everyone" works, in Johns' script, and so does the Legion splash page. Correction, the splash pages. And as an added bonus Johns manages to touch upon Superman's deep rooted connection with the legion in a touching manner.

Gary Frank's art seems much better than all the previous issues, which were dominated by the oddly looking wide-eyed look. He gets to draw two splash pages with the legion in all its glory and does not disappoint.

And if the actual issue wasn't enough, the teaser images at the end is there to get your heart racing. Johns and Perez on a Legion book is a promising notion. August, though is still a far way off.

Countdown - The truth behind the atrocity revealed

I imagine this is how Countdown got green signalled. All names are indicative but they are probably true judging from the said names' past records.

Mike Carlin(MC) - You know, I still don't get how 52 sold so much. It didn't even happen in the present. How can something sell that is not happening in the present. Continuity. They need continuity. Continuity is law. Continuity.

Matt Idelson(MI) - Yeah, beats me.

MC - .........

MI - Wait, doesn't it happen like one week in each issue. They do like, each day of the week, so the reader feels like continuity is happening. So its pseudo-continuity.

MC - Wow, thats it. Pseudo-continuity. Well, we'll do continuity cause continuity beats pseudo-continuity every time.

MI - Yeah. You are a genius man.

MC - I know. Isn't that stupid Morrison doing that big series. Final Crisis. Stupid Morrison. He doesn't even care about the fine line of continuity. He writes stupid series like Animal Man. Who's stupid enough to write himself into the series. Thats against continuity rules.And Final Crisis. As if its going to be final.(Chuckles) When I fix continuity again, there will be another crisis. Cause thats what Crises are for. Continuity.

MI - You are a genius.

MC - I know, I know. So we do a Countdown to that series which will be ----- wait for it ------- Weekly. And because its now continuity not pseudo - contnuity, it will sell bazillions of issues, and I'll get promoted again, and Dan DiDio will get fired.

MI - You'll promote me too, right.

MC - Absoloutely. You are my bestest pal. I'll make you head of them all, just under me.

MI - Wow, thanks.

MC - Anyway, we'll use all the characters that Morrison is gonna use, and make them cool. Like you know. Mary Marvel, we'll make her hot, all black like Spiderman. And we'll show her panties in every issue.

MI - You are a genius man.

MC - I know. And Jason Todd. He's cool you know. He got killed because of phone calls. But he was the best Robin. He killed people not like those lousy other Robins.

MI - And Kyle Rayner. I love Kyle Rayner. And the monitors, I love monitors. They look cool.

MC - Yeah and them too. We'll write all of it. And they'll sell bazillions.

MI - But we can't credit ourselves. We are humble, aren't we.

MC - Yeah, I am very humble. I won't take credit even though this is going to sell bazillions. Get me that list of all the DC Exclusives. I'll close my eyes and whoever I put my finger on will be the lucky ones.

MI - Yeah(Brings the list, and MC uses his magic fingers)

MC - We got 'em.

MI - You are a genius man.

MC - I know. Now lets pitch it to DiDio, he can't not do this. This is genius.


At DiDio's office.

DiDio - Yeah

MC - We got a proprosal for a new comic.

DiDio - Yeah

MC - Its a weekly

DiDio - Weekly. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee



MC - See, I told you. In one year, when this is over, I'll take over.

MI - You are a genius. You know, your genius inspired me. I have a proposal too.

MC - Yeah, tell me.

MI - How about, like, all the Amazons attacked America.

MC - Genius.