Saturday, August 30, 2008

If turnabout is fair play

shouldn't Poison have a song called "Alice Cooper"? Shouldn't Alex Chilton have a song called "The Replacements"? Shouldn't Bad Company have a song called "Bad Company"? And shouldn't there be a band somewhere named I'm a Giant Douchebag which has a song called "John Mayer"?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Did anyone else think Final Crisis: Superman Beyond was awesome?

I sure did. I mean, I was really excited for it, so I wasn't sure it would live up to my expectations, but it did. I've read it twice now (and no, I'm still not totally sure about everything that's going on) and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

For those who don't know: this is a comic book from Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke that is partially 3D (with glasses included!) about Superman traveling through the multiverse to fight off some cosmic evil so he can obtain the elixir of life and save Lois from a fatal injury (sustained in Final Crisis #2). Boiled down, what we have is: Morrison writes Superman traversing the multiverse in 3D.

How could this not be amazing?!

(Spoilers will follow!)

I really enjoyed the fact that this book brought up a lot of previous Morrisonian concepts, such as Limbo (where forgotten characters go to die) and a heavy dose of meta-fiction (although I'm not entirely sure what Superman Beyond has to say about that topic yet). It's got a killer existence-spanning plot that involves the Monitors as they investigate the poison known as "stories" (what did I say about meta-fiction?), and apparently some Dark Monitor who wants to erase all of that from life. Yeah, it sounds f*cking crazy, and it is. That's the beauty of it.

There could hardly be a better creative team for this book. Doug Mahnke's kinda-weird art is fantastic in two dimensions (he's one of my favorites, truth be told) so adding a third could only make it cooler, and you know how I feel about Grant Morrison. Somehow he manages to bring back the fantastical nature of silver-age stories, the joy of reading something completely out-there, yet he grounds it in a modern (post-modern?) sensibility, with sharp dialog and a truly suspenseful plot. This is a watermark of much of Morrison's work (I'm thinking All-Star Superman) and I'm glad it carried over to Superman Beyond, which will surely go down as one of my favorite comics this year.

It is a little dense, yeah... a little tough to breach, especially on the first read-through. But as I said before, I really don't find that to be a good point of criticism against a comic... I actually think it enhances the reading experience by giving you something to work for, something to find in the text. Couple that with the pure joy of a 3D Superman battling for the life of his beloved Lois... recipe for success, my friends.

Rating: * * * * *

As a side note, you know what else is awesome? Runaways. The third volume launched yesterday and I really dug the first issue. I'm a little bummed that more people don't read this one. Check it out, guys.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I woke up early to download Rush's "Moving Pictures" album for Rock Band

and it isn't up yet. Apparently there are technical difficulties. Rumor has it there are problems with the song "YYZ," which has no vocal track. This leaves me bored. This also leaves me with time to post, so I'm gonna do one up that I'd been thinking about for awhile. I already listed my top 5 songs for the forthcoming Rock Band 2... but right now I'd like to take a look back and name my top 10 DLC (that's downloadable content) for Rock Band 1. These are songs that I feel are so awesome that it is a sin to not have them in your RB1 collection (unless you have the game on the PS2 or Wii... in which case, you don't really have a choice. Sorry guys):

10. Vesuivius, "The Promised Land" -- I must be a shitty movie critic, because The Rocker totally bombed, failing even to make it into the top 10 weekend movies (it got beat by Death Race and The House Bunny?!). Still, I love the movie, and I love this song, a free download to help promote the film (again, an obvious failure). This is the first really "hairy" track in the game and it truly lets you rock out arena-style on the drums, which also facilitates the aping of Rainn Wilson's previously-mentioned rock faces.

9. The Cars, "Just What I Needed" -- Awesome song, really fun to drum. It's got a driving rhythm and I always feel like a rock star when I hit the crash cymbals in the chorus. Singing it is a blast too.

8. Bang Camaro, "Rock Rebellion" -- Any Bang Camaro song is awesome, obviously. It's unfortunate that the Rock Band mic really hates more than one person singing into it, because this is the kind of song you need a dozen or so people to belt out (especially if some of those people know the harmonies!).

7. Oasis, "Don't Look Back in Anger" -- The funny thing is I didn't really like this song til I was playing with my friend Todd and it came up as the second to last song in a random setlist. Todd pointed out that it was awesome to put a ballad right before the end, which hopefully would end up being a rocker (it did). It was at that point I realized that Rock Band is short on true ballads, thus making this song important to the game. It is also super-fun to drum, giving some of the best/most doable fills of all the songs available, in my opinion. When this song inevitably gets played at Rock Band parties, I make sure I'm behind the drum kit.

6. Boston, "Peace of Mind" -- Another song with a really driving rhythm, it's just EXCITING. Pretty much every part is good for this song, although my first choices are drums or guitar (I love singing it but Boston singer Brad Delp hits some ungodly notes in there). Even though this clearly isn't the biggest song in Boston's excellent catalog, it is my favorite.

5. The Police, "Roxanne" -- I tend not to play this song a lot, but I get a perverse thrill from watching lots of my friends do it. This tune is a great party song that almost everyone knows and that any man with balls (metaphorically, perhaps not literally) will attempt to belt out just like the Stingster. In particular, this song makes my list because of my friend Craig's rendition of it. Too cool.

4. The Who, "Baba O'Riley" -- Though I was slightly dissapointed with the Who mega-pack, one cannot deny the epicness (sorry to use such an internet term) of this song. Once Rock Band 2 comes out and you have the ability to make your own setlist for almost anything you do, I reckon this song will go at the start of a great portion of those setlists. I mean, that intro alone... man. It gets you pumped.

3. Boston, "More than a Feeling" -- Even though "Peace of Mind" is my favorite Boston song, I think "More Than a Feeling" is more essential to a Rock Band library because more people, by far, know it, and like "Roxanne," that will make more people attempt to sing it. Unlike "Roxanne," this song also has awesome instrument parts for everyone involved (my favorite is probably guitar). It is a joy for this to come up at Rock Band parties when my friend Dwight is there, because he will sing it and he will crush it (even hitting the high note near the end of the song... it is truly impressive).

2. The Police, "Message in a Bottle" -- The second-best memory I have from one of my Rock Band parties is seeing five people crowded around the mic belting out the seemingly endless outro words "sending out an SOS!" This was too cool. In fact, here's a picture:

So, yeah, this song has one of those infectious vocal lines that almost anyone can take a crack at. It also has, in my opinion, the most fun drum part in the entire game. It's a winner all-around.

1. Oasis, "Wonderwall" -- But my favorite Rock Band party moment is due to this song. Some folks were playing in another room while me and some friends were gathered around a poker table. All of a sudden, this song starts... and poker stops. We all start singing along. There must have been at least 10 people in on this. It was pretty amazing. And not only that, but I think that bringing people together like that is kind of what rock and roll is all about. For Rock Band to imitate that aspect of the rock music experience is impressive. And the sheer fact that "Wonderwall" is probably the best-known, most singable song of all the Rock Band DLC means that it, without a doubt, takes my number one spot.

A quick check of the forums show that "Moving Pictures" still isn't up... damn it.

Rush is awesome.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I've finally found a fifth movie to bring on my hypothetical tour bus.

Which is great, because for years when friends and I would talk about the top five movies we would HAVE to bring on tour (yes, we talked about this), assuming we ever went on tour (which we never have and probably never will), my list was always one film short. I only could really think of four rock-and-roll movies that made me happy and that made me feel good and inspired about music, which I think is an essential ingredient for a tour bus movie. Here's what I had (in no particular order):

1. This is Spinal Tap
2. School of Rock
3. Almost Famous
4. High Fidelity

Then I went to the theater last night and saw this film:

And lo and behold, my list is complete.

In a summer that's been pretty full of good or great movies, The Rocker is something of a surprise. I knew I would enjoy it because I A) love The Office and B) have an inappropriate love of hair metal, the genre which owns Rainn Wilson's character Robert Fishman as the movie begins. But I didn't think it would actually be a pretty sweet movie (and I mean that in two ways)... it made me smile and laugh consistently, and it made me want to immediately hop in an RV with my friends and hit the road as soon as I stepped out of the theater.

Put your fears aside, friends: despite the trailers, this movie has more to it than silly slapstick (I think most of that actually gets shown in the TV spots). It's not completely farcical... despite the fact that it's fairy-taleish, it is also somewhat grounded (except for a scene in the opening of the movie, and I wonder if there isn't something to the fact that the film only shows us fantastic, unbelieveable things in the faraway land of the 1980s). I mean, it's not incredibly likely that what we see in the film could happen, but it is possible... that's what makes the story inspirational. Is it corny? Yeah, a little. Less corny than School of Rock. Also quite funny.

For musicians, there is a lot to enjoy about this movie, a lot that rings true (as my friend Matt pointed out, we all know what it is like to fight for the attention of people who could care less that we are there). For non-musicians, I still think there's lots to like here... one of my favorite things was the running gag of Rainn Wilson's "rock" faces while drumming, and all it takes to laugh at that is a sense of humor. I'm gonna try to learn some of those for the next time I rock out to Vesuvius' "The Promised Land" on Rock Band.

Other things that are cool: good cast. Rainn Wilson is awesomely funny, and the rest of his band is great as well. It turns out the lead singer/songwriter of the fictional A.D.D. is a real-life musician named Teddy Geiger, and his musical ability is positively... radioactive? (GET IT?!)... but seriously his stuff is pretty good. Keyboardist/nephew to Fish Josh Gad is great, and I'd like to see him in more. Bassist Emma Stone (Jules from Superbad) is really good on screen as well, and also super-pretty, so there's that. It's nice to see Christina Applegate, who plays the coolest mom ever (a total MILMSLT... see the film). There are some cool cameos as well, including a handful from SNL and a surprising one from 30 Rock... oh, and a Beatle.

Past the opening, there weren't really any parts of this movie that made me think "oh, come on!" which is weird for a recent studio comedy. I never stopped enjoying the film, and I really want to see it again, which I will assuredly do when it moves down to the $5 club. So it is that I highly recommend The Rocker, especially if you are an aspiring musician and want to feel good about what you do. Or if you just want to enjoy yourself for a few hours... that's a good idea too.

Rating: * * * *

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Maybe I came down a little hard on monthly books last time

so to make up for it, here's a list of five monthly titles that I really enjoy. They're not necessarily my favorite monthlies (though some would make that list, I think) but they're books that often surprise me with how fun and engaging they are... books that help make my weekly comic purchases exciting. In no particular order they are...

Action Comics: It's really amazing that Geoff Johns is able to write so many books and not have a bad one in the bunch. He and Grant Morrison (and maybe now James Robinson?) pretty much define the DC Universe at the moment, and it couldn't be in better hands. Out of all of Geoff's books, though, Action is the one that always catches me off guard (in a good way)... I think I came into this title a couple years ago not expecting much from a monthly Superman book, and what Johns has delivered has consistently been among the best Superman stories I've ever read, stories that both touch at the heart of the character and are full of great villains and exciting plots. There hasn't been a bad arc since One Year Later thanks to him and his awesome team of artists. Eric Powell was a stud on "Escape from Bizarro World," and Gary Frank is a talent that has always deserved more recognition. I'm glad he's finally getting it.

Comic Book Comics: from the minds of the guys who brought us Action Philosophers comes this graphic look at the history of the comics medium that is both historically accurate and pretty hilarious. These guys really know their stuff... they've done their research, and they know how to put together an entertaining read. I am almost positive that if classes on comic books ever become common at a university level, this will be a standard text. I was fortunate enough to go to a college where there was such a class, and I know that if Comic Book Comics had been available then, it would have been assigned reading for sure. It helps, for me, that writer Fred Van Lente (who also does a lot of work at Marvel) and artist Ryan Dunlavey (who does a lot of those funny character-packed spreads for Wizard and Toyfare) are really cool guys... I had the fortune of meeting them at the New York Comic-Con, and they signed my copy of issue #1. I'm excited to see where these two vibrant creators go after their look at their home medium... politics, perhaps?

Final Crisis: I'm really bummed that so many people are down on this series. And, I mean, let's be honest, the reason why is kind of clear... it's dense. You have to read each issue at least twice to grasp what is going on. But to me, that's awesome. It makes buying this book so completely worth it, probably moreso than any other title on the stands. I love books (both comics and prose) where there's new things to discover in every crevice, new treasures unlocked upon every rereading, and Final Crisis is the epitome of a series like that. In a story filled with Evil Gods in human bodies, hilarious Japanese superheroes, one of the most badass villains ever (Libra!), and a hell of an awesome plot about the laws of reality being changed so that evil can finally win... my favorite thing about this series is that it is so completely worth four dollars. This is not decompression, my friends, this is hypercompression. This is also a damn cool way to tell a comics story.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane:
I have to admit it: I'm a sucker for these high-school Spider-Man stories. The fact that Spider-Man just fits so well in that setting is one of the reasons I love Ultimate Spider-Man, and it carries over into this book, which most probably feel is strictly for adolescent girls. Well, I'm okay with that, because that doesn't change the fact that this book is really good. It has been a guilty pleasure of mine since the Sean McKeever/Takeshi Miyazawa days (PS: Miyazawa is an amazing artist, and McKeever is one of the best new talents DC has), and now I don't even feel guilty about it anymore, thanks to its new writer, Strangers in Paradise's Terry Moore. This is a really sharp assignment on Marvel's part, and I'm sad that Moore's "season two" is only going to last five issues, because I'm pretty sure I could read this book forever. Guys, I know it sounds a little girly, but give it a read... especially if you like Ultimate Spider-Man, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Batman Confidential: Man, this book is cool... which I would not have expected to say, given that I never had any interest in Legends of the Dark Knight, basically the prototype book for this series. I think what got me was the premise for the first arc: Batman vs. Lex Luthor. It's a great idea, and one I wanted to see played out, and so started my compulsive owning of this series (see last post). The thing is, once I started, I never felt like not buying this book. I didn't necessarily think the first arc was fantastic, but it was not bad either, and I stuck around because wanted to read Michael Green's Joker story (this guy is a really good comics writer, by the way!), which I loved. I enjoyed the Wraith story from Tony Bedard and Rags Morales alright (good art, neat idea!), and I am just loving this current outing from Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire, which deals with the first time Catwoman and Batgirl meet. I'm not sure what it is, but this book just works for me. It has a great sense of humor, is full of action, nails the characters, and looks amazing! I cannot say enough about Maguire's art here... it's just so cute and attractive. I love the scene where Batgirl has to chase Catwoman through a nude hedonist club. I mean, just picture Kevin Maguire rendering a scene where a hyper-tense and nervous Barbara Gordon has to take off her costume (mask on, please!) and chase the sensual and perfectly-comfortable-with-her-own-body Catwoman through a nudist club. Yeah, it's great. I also feel like Fabian Nicieza is unduly ignored as a great comics writer... his recent stuff for DC has been fantastic, and I think his time on the 90s X-books has given him an unfair black mark in many comic readers' mind. I realize that the point of Batman: Confidential is to have rotating creative teams, but for my money Nicieza and Maguire could do this book forever. This story is just so good!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Comic fandom is a subculture like any other, and as such we have our own rites of passage.

I experienced one of those rites earlier this week, as I undertook the spiritual journey known as "The Cleansing of the Long-boxes."

(and yes, I'm writing again!)

I mean, seriously. We all do it... probably out of necessity, I'd wager. At some point, you just fit another box in your room, or basement, or wherever it is you keep your comics. And then what do you do? Probably nine times out of ten you just find a new place to put those new boxes. But then, every once in awhile, you do it--you roll up your sleeves, you dig in there, and you clean out your collection.

This is kind of a horrifying thing... especially if you have a ton of comics. One of our customers told me he did this right when we opened and pared 25 boxes down to 15. That's impressive, but I reckon that there's folks out there who have to do this with hundreds. Fortunately for me, I have six and a half... that's only a few hours work. My rule was to yank anything I didn't see myself rereading. Sometimes this was an easy call and sometimes it was not, but after making a day's work out of it, I'm happy with my results.

It's funny that this process is often undertaken out of necessity for space, and then very infrequently, because it strikes me that we should all do this a lot more. It helps our wallets, and it helps our culture.

But let me explain.

Cleaning out one's collection invariably means re-evaluating what series one buys on a monthly basis (because it will be some of these comics you may be considering getting rid of). The majority of mainstream comic fans will be able to tell you that there's at least a couple books on their pull list that they just don't enjoy reading. There's any number of reasons they keep buying the books--they want to complete a run, the covers look cool, they feel loyalty to the character or creator--but what likely is the original reason they started buying the title (they like it!) is gone. I am guilty of this as much as anyone, and the temptation is greater for me because I buy books at cost, not retail. That has, as you might imagine, led to a lot of fat in those aforementioned long boxes. Well, no more.

I think, my friends, it is time for this blog to institute another rule. My rule about line-cutting didn't go over too well, I grant you, and I think that it needs some serious revision--but remember, these are only proposals, open to debate and discussion. But anyway, my next rule applies only to the comic-buying populace, and it is this:

If a book you buy fails to sustain your interest over a period longer than two story arcs, DROP IT AND DON'T LOOK BACK.

You may be asking yourself, why is a comics retailer proposing that we not buy books? Well, like I said, it helps our wallets, and it helps our culture. Obviously it helps your wallet, as the reader. But as a retailer, I'm pretty sure it even helps me, in the end, and it does this in the same way it helps the comic-book culture.

I see it happening two-fold: if people stop reading series they don't like, we (hopefully) stop ordering them (which already saves us money) and sales will decrease at the wholesale level. A big enough drop in sales will cause a re-evaluation of what the book is doing, and, one hopes, the book will come out better for it. Of course this is not the only reason a book changes direction (why, All-New Atom, why?!) but it is one reason.

The second way, I think, is more important. It seems to be pretty rare that so many people would drop a title at the same time that it would affect a change in direction... it happens, but not a ton. But the second way reevaluating pull lists helps our culture (and my wallet) is on the individual scale: if you're not spending all your money on crap titles you only get out of tradition, you have more money to spend on good stuff, like graphic novels you've always wanted to buy but never quite had the cash for. I mean, if you think about it, cutting three-four books from your pull list gives you the cash to pick up about a graphic novel a month, and it opens a doorway into series that are better than the drek you just dropped. I firmly believe that if the top 50% of our customers cut five books from their pull list and instead started buying trades of Y: the Last Man, we would in the end make more money (you can't buy just one!) and end up with a more literate group of comics readers who would thirst not only for more Brian K. Vaughn but also for more interesting, off-the-beaten-path stories. Of course sometimes people who drop books because they don't like them don't end up buying other things, but I'm okay with that too (as long as they pay for the books the ordered, damn it!). Even those people will have a richer reading experience because their monthly books will be hopefully unburdened of crap, and that will give them, in the end, a more favorable outlook towards the comics medium, if only subconsciously.

This is kind of the approach I've taken. I'd rather amass a collection of Ultimate Spider-Man trades than continue to get Justice League of America, which, let's face it, has hardly been good since 2005. In the end I think I cut six or seven books from my list of about 30. Some I still question (do I really want to drop Ultimate Fantastic Four? I mean, just because Lucifer is genius doesn't mean Mike Carey's superhero stuff is wonderful... but it's good), and with some it feels like a weight has been lifted (goodbye, Amory Wars. Jesus Christ, why is Coheed & Cambria's music so awesome yet their comics are incomprehensible and bad?!) In the end, my collection will be better for it, and so will (maybe) my finances. But if you all do this, I don't suppose I need to worry about my finances, do I?

But anyway, what I'm saying is that I think it's good to periodically take a hard look at what you've got your local comic shop (mine?!) pulling for you. Chances are there's some of it you don't really want. Maybe you should tell them that... you'll end up liking your comics even more! And while you're at it, buy Blankets. It's really awesome.