Saturday, January 31, 2009

The official soundtrack listing for the Watchmen film has debuted on iTunes

and I like it. I like it a lot, in fact. It seems that they've managed to include a version of every song referenced in the book except for Elvis Costello's "The Comedians," which in my opinion is not a very fantastic song anyway. A few of the versions included (those of the Dylan songs Moore cites) are covers, and that is going to be divisive to some, especially regarding the first track...

1. My Chemical Romance - Desolation Row
2. Nat "King" Cole - Unforgettable
3. Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin'
4. Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence
5. Janis Joplin - Me & Bobby McGee
6. KC & The Sunshine Band - I'm Your Boogie Man
7. Billie Holiday - You're My Thrill
8. Philip Glass - Pruit Igoe & Prophecies
9. Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah
10. Jimi Hendrix - All Along the Watchtower
11. Budapest Symphony Orchestra - Ride of the Valkyries
12. Nina Simone - Pirate Jenny

So, okay. Pretty much no one is going to argue with the Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower." Lots of people think he made that song better. I do not, but I like his version all the same and I could see where one would not necessarily want three songs sung by Bob Dylan on the same soundtrack, so the lack of Dylan's "Watchtower" is no biggie. But My Chemical Romance covering "Desolation Row"... hm.

Early internet reaction to the song seems very negative. This is doubly understandable because a lot of people hate My Chemical Romance, and because their version of the song is a total 180 from Dylan's. When I listened to the preview clip on iTunes I hated it too, but I decided to download the song anyway to listen to the whole thing, just to be sure.

And you know what... in my opinion, it's not that bad. Yes it is totally different from Dylan's. It is definitely MCRed-up. But I can see getting used to it. The song is going to play over the end credits of the movie and that's a fine place for it because then you don't have to pay attention but you can. And I get the feeling that the mood of the song is going to fit well with whatever changes Zack Snyder & co. have in store for the end of the movie. But you know, I like My Chemical Romance anyway; I think Gerard Way is a fantastic comic-book writer (one of these days I will do a post on that) and I thought the band's Black Parade album was a great mash-up of Pink Floyd, Queen, and Meatloaf. So I guess I have a positive bias here. You can preview the video and start to make a decision for yourself; I'm guessing you will probably hate it:

But, even given my semi-like for the cover, it does not compare to the original. SO here's what I'm going to do, and I recommend you follow suit. If you buy the Watchmen soundtrack, download the original "Desolation Row" from Dylan seperately. Then re-order the songs on the soundtrack so Dylan's version is the first track you hear, and My Chemical Romance's the last. That way you have the option of more easily ignoring the MCR version of the song, just like you will in the theater. But the commercial appeal of putting a super-popular band's new single front and center on the soundtrack album is pretty clear, so I'm not mad that Warner Bros. did it. I assume they won't be mad when I tweak the album for my own personal enjoyment.

As for the non-Dylan parts on the disc, I definitely approve. It seems the songs included here that were not quoted by Moore still fit both the period of the music he's referencing and its mood very, very well, such as Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" and Nat Cole's "Unforgettable." To me, the soundtrack listing is the result of someone really thinking about the music, and that makes me happy. As a result I shall purchase this and, hopefully, enjoy it. And that is kind of my sentiment towards the Watchmen movie as a whole.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Allow me to say a few words on the criticism of Final Crisis

because there is a lot of it, and frankly a lot of it is pissing me off.

I'm going to come out guns with blazing and say this: I think 90% of the people who are saying Final Crisis is the worst thing they've ever read, terrible, trash, garbage etc. simply don't understand it. Furthermore they don't think they should have to work to do so.

This is what a lot of Final Crisis defenders have said and continue to say across the internet, and it tends to get a lot of backlash, but I really think it's true. And before you decide you hate me for being an elitist prick, let me explain...

Final Crisis is a dense book. That much is pretty obvious. I read it, loved most of it, and I still am not sure if I even have the basic plot in my grasp (I think I do, but some of the stuff in #7 threw me). I am going to have to read the series again (plus Superman Beyond, the two Batman issues, and Final Crisis Submit) to get a hold on it, and I will probably have to read it many more times to appreciate most of its depth. And I'm not sure why that's a bad thing. In fact I think it's great. Economically, it makes buying each book a better investment, because I am going to spend hours on every issue of Final Crisis. The same cannot be said of most books on the stands.

So, okay, I like it and I don't understand it. I'm not saying it's great yet, but what I am saying is I think it's interesting and more importantly that I had a damn good time reading it so this book has value at least to me. And I can't stand all the people out there who are completely denying that the book has any merit when they probably haven't thought about the book at all. I would wager a significant portion of them read #7 once, didn't get it, and said "fuck this series, only fanboys would enjoy it." Because you know what, that's just a bad attitude.

Here's the thing: most of these critics seem to think that every comic they read should be accessible... that somehow, they are entitled to a book that they can pick up, get everything they need to out of it in 5 or 10 minutes, bag and board it and put it in a box never again to see the light of day. Why do people think this?

I will guess: because many people do not read comics for artistic exploration or literary challenges... they read comics for short bursts of relatively simple entertainment. And there's definitely nothing wrong with that. The thing about Final Crisis though is that it probably is not for those people.

And I think, because this book has Crisis in the title, people feel more compelled to read it. I would imagine that that's where some of the more livid protestors of the book come from. But that's simply not true. Just because a book is "important" to a comics universe doesn't mean it is a necessary read. No one is putting a gun to your head telling you you have to read this. You can get all the essentials of any of the Crises from Wikipedia, after all. But because it seems as though people feel like they have to, and then don't want to invest the time and effort into figuring out what they've just read, there are a bevy of uber-dramatic overreactions of hatred towards this particular series.

But look, here's the thing. There are very few legitimate critics who would say that a Shakespeare play, a Vonnegut novel, a T.S. Eliot poem or an Ingmar Bergman movie (for instance) is "too dense" and thus "garbage." The complexity of each of those artists' work only enhances its quality. And what I'm saying is, why should a Grant Morrison comic, or any comic, be held to different standards than any of those art forms? The idea that comics, or even the subset of superhero comics, must be accessible and easily understood to be good is clearly wrong, at least if one believes that comics can and should be regarded as art like any other. Which, obviously, I do.

(speaking of Vonnegut, doesn't Slaughterhouse-Five emply a jumbled time effect not dissimilar from Final Crisis? Were the Trafalmadorians secretly influenced by Darksied? We will never know!)

I am not saying that every comic on the shelf should be as demanding Final Crisis. Far from it. There are plenty of quality movies, books, poems and plays that are easily understood. What I am saying is that to go absolutely bananas because a book like Final Crisis would dare present a challenge to a reader... that is silly, and wrong.

And in case you're wondering, yes, I take this personally because I really like this book. I liked the breakneck pace, I liked the character moments thrown in amidst the chaos, I liked the seemingly hopeless odds that our heroes bring us back from, and more than anything else I love the metatextuality of the story, the idea that Superman is so great in the DC Universe and ours because he is the best story. Let me say that again. I love that aspect of Final Crisis. It means a lot to me. For that reason, and many others, I cherish the fact that Final Crisis is in my comic collection.

And the thing about opinoins is it's cool to have yours... if you didn't like it, fine, say that. It's also totally okay to say "I don't have the time or the interest to invest in figuring this book out, it's not for me." You can't argue with that. Where all this criticism crosses the line is when people assume that because they didn't like or understand it, it is poorly written and is no good to anybody. And what I'm saying is, that's patently wrong. It's good to me, damn it, and I'm going to enjoy the many hours I spend re-reading it trying to figure out what the hell just went on.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So we're gonna nail him on comics, then.

Far be it for me to quote the Onion (I'm sure enough of your friends do this for you) but how could I let Tuesday's story about our new President go unmentioned?

Read "Obama Disappointed Cabinet Failed to Understand His Reference to 'Savage Sword of Conan' #24".

And allow me to give you the accompanying priceless graphic:

Best picture ever? Perhaps.

I have read and heard a lot lately about how comedians are scrambling to get something to mock Obama for. A few folks (Jamie Fox and SNL's Fred Armisen) have gotten laughs out of his strange speaking cadence, but other than that, what is there? SNL seems to have settled on, for now, making jokes that Obama is simply too cool. Until our new President makes a serious policy flub or reveals a somehow unseen nervous tic or something... there's not a ton to work with that's actually funny.

The Onion's present answer is to turn to comic books. And honestly I think that is pretty cool. If our humor regarding one of the most powerful men on the planet comes from insinuating that he knows obscure facts about a mid-70s Marvel fantasy comic and not that he, you know, ruined our country in a shockingly brash display of idiocy... maybe times are not so bad after all. Besides, it's attention for a medium I love. One might argue that it is negative, mocking attention, but I don't think so. After all, if comics are the source of Obama's mockery, we must think Obama is pretty okay... and he thinks comics are okay so... well I'm not very good at math, but I think if you use the transitive property or something it turns out that we're probably all okay with comics too.

I have to point out that I'm a little dismayed that Obama seems to be a clear-cut Marvel fan (the Onion even takes up this point). I truly wish I could sit down with our new President and discuss the neat subtleties of Geoff Johns and Phil Jiminez's Infinite Crisis. I do. But hey, I'll take the Spidey/Conan love in exchange for four to eight years of good leadership. I think that's an alright price to pay. Maybe one day Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn and I can have a tete-a-tete about JLA, if he's not too busy. A guy can dream.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I listened to the new Springsteen album "Working on a Dream" twice in succession

and I am not really sure what to say about it. I made the mistake of reading two reviews in the press last week (Jim Derogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times and Spin's featured review) and they were both fairly negative. This unfortunately prepared me to not like the album, but I don't think that's the case. I think I kind of like it. I know I like some of it a lot.

So let's start with the beginning. This is the first Springsteen-with-E-Street album I can think of since Born to Run that doesn't start with a high-energy rock song to get you going--instead it starts with an 8-minute tune called "Outlaw Pete" that totally builds to a deliberate rock pace but takes its time getting there. This is kind of jarring for someone who's used to his Boss records starting off with "Badlands" or "The Ties That Bind." The thing is once "Outlaw Pete" builds to that mid-to-fast rock tempo the rest of the album pretty much stays there until the last couple cuts. There aren't many sensitive valleys, there's little balladry, except for maybe bits and pieces of songs. There's no "Magic" or "I'm on Fire" to bring things down a little. So, yeah, strange.

Mostly, though, I like these songs. "Outlaw Pete" is cool and I really like "My Lucky Day." I'm also a fan of the songs that immediately follow. The album starts to wane for me a little in the middle as Bruce brings in some styles that don't seem to fit, such as the blues/garage rock "Good Eye," where a combination of odd production choices and an affected singing voice make for a jarring listen. I think the album recovers fairly quickly, though, with "Life Itself" and "Kingdom of Days" before hitting what I would consider to be the only really bad song on here, "Surprise, Surprise," whose lyrics (mostly just repeating "surprise, surprise" over and over again) are stretching it even for Bruce, who often can turn silly into poetry but for me misses with this one.

I'm not really sure why this album seems kind of unliked, though. I get the feeling from reading a lot of reviews that people consider it toothless because it's a generally happier record than Springsteen tends to make. Well, that's okay, right? I mean I think the reason I love Bruce Springsteen's music so much is because it covers the emotional spectrum so well, from energizing hope and optimism to down-and-out, nothing-to-live-for despair. This album's 13 songs almost completely reside more in the former category than the latter, and maybe that means that as a whole it is a less satisfying listen, but when thrown in with the Boss's other songs I think tracks like "My Lucky Day," "Working on a Dream" and "Life Itself" will find their home nicely.

I would like to say that I am pretty unequivocally on board with the way this record sounds. I really like producer Brendan O'Brien, who worked with Bruce on The Rising and Magic and more famously produced huge and noteworthy works for Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. I think he has made the E-Street Band sound amazing on his records with them, and I hope their collaboration continues.

Another definitely great thing about this record, and I'm stealing this from Jim Derogatis' review, is that this surely means another Bruce tour is coming soon. That, if nothing else, is a reason to be happy to see this record on the shelves.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The first (Comic) Book Club meeting has come and gone

and I am really thrilled with how it went. Really. It was a lot of fun getting 13 intelligent people together to discuss a graphic novel we'd all read. No one talked over anyone else and everyone respected everyone else's points... I do not believe I have ever had a discussion centered around comics like that before. Beautiful!

As you know (if you have been keeping up with posts as of about 5 days ago) our first book was Hellboy vol. 1: "Seed of Destruction." I promised that I would share some thoughts on the book if I felt so inclined, and I do. I reckon I will make this a monthly fixture, actually... it will be a good record of some of the ground covered in (Comic) Book Club (and if you're wondering if I simply must put the word comic in parentheses like that every time I talk about the club... yes, I must).

So first off: I liked this book a lot. I had never read anything Hellboy before; I saw the movie a little while after it came out and I don't recall being too impressed. I wasn't sure what I'd think of the comic but it had been something I'd always wanted to try. Turns out that was a good instinct, because "Seed of Destruction" was a really pleasing read.

Let me talk about what I think the book does right. First of all, the art is fantastic, and probably the #1 reason people are drawn to Hellboy. Mignola's style is an interesting mix of Jack Kirby and Frank Miller (in a nutshell: it loves both geometry and shadows) and there really is no one else who does work like it. My only experience with Mignola before was on the atrocious Cosmic Oddysey from DC... there, the art was the only thing that made the story even worth glimpsing at, and Mignola set loose on his creator-owned stuff is so much better than Mignola otherwise.

Another very cool thing about this book is how its story is a humongous mash-up, a Frankenstein's monster of both genre and story. When I read it I noticed how it incorporated a ton of different genres--besides the "horror" it classifies itself, there is superhero, sci-fi, and mystery to name a few. A few of the folks at the club pointed out another merging that I had missed--namely, that Mignola loves to incorporate all sorts of different mythologies as well as historical figures into his Hellboy universe.

And what's great about that universe is that all of these seemingly discordant things casually exist with each other and it's not even an issue. In the first pages of "Seed of Destruction" there is a super-hero lounging around with some soldiers, wearing a coat and drinking tea. That's all we see of the cape-and-cowl set in this book but it's enough to let us know that it's there, alongside monsters from Hell and real Russian mystics and myths both Lovecraftian and Mesopotamian.

The effect of this is that Mignola creates an incredibly rich universe just begging to be developed; "Seed of Destruction" itself has a fairly straightforward plot but there are so many elements within it that leave doors wide open for other stories, and I think this is the magic of it. We discussed at the club whether it was artistically or economically motivated--or perhaps both--but Mignola shrewdly teases us with details about Hellboy's world time and again, ensuring that Hellboy stories can--and probably should--be told forever. Indeed I don't think I've ever read a first volume of anything, except maybe Neil Gaiman's Sandman, so open to possibilities of where the series could go. I get the feeling that, rather than create a character or a comic, Mignola set out to create a brand, a universe... hell, there could be a Hellboy comics company that would support books of all genres. I'm not sure that such a decision would be sound financially, but there definitely is room for it in Mignola's sand-box.

What I didn't like about the book? Almost nothing. My friend/logo designer Marc brought up, and I agree, that perhaps some of Hellboy's narration is a little repetitive; Marc postulated that this is probably the scripting influence of John Byrne, who helped Mignola out on this first volume. Given that some of Hellboy's monologue can skew a bit towards sounding like Wolverine, I will agree with that assessment.

In final summation, Hellboy vol. 1 was awesome. I am almost certainly going to read vol. 2 soon, but how soon is not certain, as February's book (chosen by me) shall be Watchmen, just in time for the movie... get ready guys...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here are some more cool blogs to read!!

This is something I like to do from time to time... point out good stuff on blogs other than mine, because a lot of these sites are cool enough to demand exposure, and because it is a great filler for when I don't know what else to post!


The last two times I did this I worked the blog name into a pun, but I won't do that this time. A few of those blogs that got my pun treatment have since stopped updating, and I can only assume it's because of my terrible jokes. So, Mark and Emily, I am deeply, deeply sorry. I should be... punished?

Okay, that's the only one, I swear.


: This is a really cool art blog whereby indie comics artists do their own versions of classic comics covers. Lots of fun to look at! Here is yesterday's entry, by The Man Who Loved Breasts artist Robert Goodin:

Deep End of the Long Box: This blog, run by my friend Mike, is premised on the treasures (or crap) you find when you finally read those comics you bought years ago for the sole reason that they were super-cheap. I think this is a really unique and interesting concept; I don't believe I can name any other "random back-issue review" blogs. Visiting his page is like spinning the big wheel on the Price is Right... you never know what you're going to get, and maybe Drew Carey will heckle you a little bit.

GeniusBoyFireMelon: I'm not sure why this blog is so named... perhaps it's explained in an earlier post... but I know that its author, Timothy Callahan, is one of my favorite writers in the field of comics criticism (it is sadly a small field, but Mr. Callahan would be awesome no matter how much competition there was). I own his book Grant Morrison: The Early Years, which is a fantastic look at Morrison's career from Zenith through Doom Patrol, and I really really hope that a book covering Morrison's later stuff (JLA, All Star Superman, Final Crisis, Seaguy, etc.) is on the horizon. He's also written a book on the Legion of Superheroes called Teenagers from the Future. The point is that his writing on comics is thoughtful, incisive, and awesome. He often reviews hordes of comics that come out every week, and I always love to hear his opinions.

You Ain't No Picasso: Screw Pitchfork, this is my source for indie rock on the net (and actually, comics do come up every now and again). You will often find cool videos or new MP3s; there seems to be a focus on obscure, neat covers (I must have downloaded like 60 different songs Of Montreal covered off this site). Bonus, if you go there soon, down at the bottom of the page you can catch a video of this really sweet Pepsi commercial featuring The Who's "My Generation." Seriously, it's really cool.

Actually, you know what... watch it here. Then go to this site because it will show you more cool things like this:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reminder! (Comic) Book Club has begun!

This Sunday is the first official meeting of Stand-Up Comics' (Comic) Book Club, a project near and dear to my heart. I am really excited about the prospects of this club and through it I hope to both discover some great graphics literature and maybe turn on a few new people to the medium as well. The first book was chosen by Pat, one of the other owners of Stand-Up, and he has picked...

Mike Mignola and John Byrne's Hellboy volume 1: "Seed of Destruction." I have never read a Hellboy comic before and I only saw the movie once years ago, so I am pretty excited. I'm glad, at any rate, that the first book we're reading is one I am unfamiliar with, because exposure to new texts is the point of this whole thing. I also like Hellboy as a choice because he kind of straddles the line between superhero/mainstream and indie, and because he's a character that facilitates the discussion of the relationship between comic books and other mass media, which I believe is a really important topic these days, especially inasmuch as it's one of the main reason that kids hesitant to read will pick up a comic book over, say, Of Mice and Men (note: Of Mice and Men is a really fantastic story. But maybe if kids saw Lennie kicking ass in a weekly cartoon series, they'd be more inclined to read it, huh?).

I've not yet done my homework and read the book, but that's partially because I've been busy and partially because I want the thing to be really fresh in my mind come Sunday. I'm also going to take notes. Pat will be leading the discussion on the book but I may come up with some interseting thoughts about it on my lonesome, so you may see an analysis of this thing a little bit down the road.

At any rate... Hellboy vol. 1, "Seed of Destruction," 4:00 PM Sunday, at the Lansing, IL Baker's Square (southwest corner of Ridge and Wentworth). It's gonna be a sweet time.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It's not often I feel the need to pimp bands who play at my shop

because, to be honest, many of them are not very good. Every so often, though, a standout act will make themselves known. I had the pleasure of listening to one such band last night. In a show filled with talented acts of different genres (also of note: Kindle, Virus Attack, The New Yorker), I could not get enough of the second band to play, a group called Nate & His Kite.

These guys are awesome, awesome, awesome. To me, they kind of sound like a mix of They Might Be Giants and Queen... although that description probably doesn't do justice to any of the three bands it refers to. But my musical knowledge does not go deep enough to find a true analog for Nate & His Kite, whose musical styles include straight-up guitar rock, Billy Joel-style piano kickassery, bits of electro-pop, and most amusingly, vaudeville. Sadly they do not have any videos on YouTube, and there doesn't seem to be a way to upload MP3s to Blogger, so I can't embed any music of theirs. But if you trust my taste at all, I recommend you venture over to their MySpace page and listen to at least one of their songs. I would first recommend "NES <3", the song I first fell in love with, which has an outro you can't get out of your head. If you want more, listen to "Sway" for a taste of their amazing arrangement abilities and backing vocals (this is where I most see the Queen influence).

These guys are truly fantastic; I cannot stress enough that if you live in the Chicagoland area, you should check them out. Their next show is Tuesday, January 27 at the Elbo Room, and I reckon I am gonna be there. Now the question is... will YOU?!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oh, Batman.

I'm not gonna spoil anything but... man. Final Crisis #6 was a weird reading experience. I can't think of too many comics where the weight of what happened didn't really hit me til after I put it down. I guess that's a good sign that I'm really caught up in what's going on.

There were a lot of twists, surprises, and otherwise notable goings-on in these pages, and there is a great interview with Grant Morrison about this biggest one of them all over at the Wizard website (note: this DOES include spoilers. Hell, even the html page name contains a spoiler). And although I don't want to talk about the meat of the interview yet, except to say that when you think about it what he says should be fairly obvious (once I read it it was like, "well duh, why didn't I think of that?"), I'd like to pull out this quote, more related to comics in general, which I really liked:

Once you've seen "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight," why bother doing realistic superheroes because now the movies can do them better than anyone. I kind of feel that what it does is free up comics to be a little bit wilder. We've got great artists who can sit there with their pencils and draw anything. They're not limited by budgets. We shouldn't be following the storytelling techniques of Hollywood because they can do it really well. Comics can do all kinds of other things. They can be really crazy and wild and can really stretch the imagination and be really progressive.

This is a point that I feel bears repeating again and again and again. Why do people insist on seeing realism in super-hero comics? The Dark Knight has done the realistic superhero better, I think, than any comic ever could. But there is this feeling among certain comic creators and fans, I think, that comics are just cheap movies, or prototypical storyboards that somehow become more legitimate when they're put to the big screen. To put it bluntly, this is a stupid way of looking at things. Morrison and other creative comic talent (off the top of my head: Geoff Johns and Joe Kelly are two other examples--and I will speak about Joe Kelly's excellent I Kill Giants book at length later) are showing us that comics should not be beholden to the standards of Hollywood, but rather to their own set of standards, which cannot do everything a movie can but which can do some things better.

I think Scott McCloud would be proud.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Here is an amusing thought about national security.

With pretty much every comics shop on the planet preoccupied and dealing with President Elect Barack Obama this week... just think about how much comic-related stuff Secret Service agents have been forced to wade through in the interest of security. Every blog post about the Obama variant, every comic-shop email that talks about Amazing Spider-Man #583... it's probably all being scrutinized at this very moment.

So, my friends in the Secret Service, I hope you enjoyed my first post on Marvel Comics' Obama variant cover to this week's issue of Amazing Spider-Man. And I trust you understand that when I said the Spider-Man meeting President Obama was a Skrull, I was joking. I further hope that you did not assume these "Skrulls" to be a threat to our great nation because, well, they're clearly not. They may pretend to have a master plan but really a 20-minute battle in Central Park plus a Norse God of thunder will make their best-laid plans crumble like so many George W. Bush attempts at logical argumentation. Also, please tell our new President that Norman Osborne should not, not, NOT be trusted under any circumstance. Yes, he is sauve and has cool hair, and he has nice suits and stuff. But seriously... I think he's up to something. I'm not saying anything about anything but you may want to ask a Peter Parker what he thinks about this. Or maybe ask Gwen Stacy... OH WAIT.

I trust the real Obama will do a better job than the Marvel one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bang Camaro II is released nationally today!

That means the album is now available in Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Hot Topic stores around the nation. So hey... go buy it!!

Seriously... this is a really cool album from a group of guys who deserve to be famous. And I think they're well on their way... appearing on Conan O'Brien is nothing to scoff at, after all. And trust me when I tell you that this is one of the most fun albums I can imagine listening to... these songs will simultaneously make you smile and fill your veins with blood red rock. I think the disc's standouts for me are "She's Gone (Critical)," which is a song about launching your crazy girlfriend into space (it even employs a David Bowie/"Space Oddity"-style countdown for the bridge) and "The Hit," a sensitive ballad about not lying to girls so you can fuck them (I think that's what it's about... I dunno, I just listen to the song waiting for the sweet guitar solo to kick in).

Here. Just look at this video of the first single from the album, called "Night Lies."

Did you look at it? Okay, good. Now go buy the album, okay?

Monday, January 12, 2009

I guess I can't hate on Fredric Wertham so much anymore.

But let me start from the beginning; over the past week I've been reading a book called Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero. It's written by a Mr. Danny Fingeroth, a former Marvel editor and comics scholar. I had the fortune of meeting him at the New York Comic-Con this past year, where he graciously signed my copy of his previous work, Superman on the Couch. Mr. Fingeroth is a really cool guy and, I feel, an important writer when it comes to comics-as-academia. So it is that I happily grabbed a copy of his latest book.

Disguised as Clark Kent aims to tell the history of superhero comics through the lens of Jewishness--it explores the Jewish creators, themes, and heroes that were the foundation of the comics industry, from Superman creators Siegel & Shuster to Will Eisner to Stan Lee and beyond. I have to say that, while I am proud to add Disguised as Clark Kent to my bookshelf, I did not find it to be as revelatory as Superman on the Couch. Perhaps it's because I myself have no Jewish background (other than attending a Jewish preschool because it was the only game in town, but that's neither here nor there), but I didn't find this book as a whole to be as incisive as Fingeroth's last one, which concerned itself with more psychological and philosophical themes. That said, there is a lot of good stuff to be found in Disguised as Clark Kent, but for me, the real joy of this book was the chapter on Dr. Fredric Wertham.

For the uninitiated: Dr. Wertham was the psychologist responsible for the 1950s comic-book witch-hunts, which sought to blame the rash of post-World War II juvenile delinquency on Batman & Robin (a homosexual power fantasy), Wonder Woman (a lesbian power fantasy with BDSM overtones), EC's horror comics (full of immoral tales that glamorized a life of crime and other malfeasance), and their four-colored ilk. Wertham first published his ideas in the infamous text Seduction of the Innocent, which led to a series of Congressional hearings with many top comics publishers of the day. Wertham did a damn fine job of humiliating and damaging the comics industry, striking a blow that some would say it has never recovered from (there are still people today who will tell you, sadly, that Batman and Robin are lovers and therefore negatively influence children). Wertham's influence led to, among other things, the creation of the restrictive Comics Code and the crippling of William Gaines' EC Comics, one of the most creative publishers of the time. The result of this is that the name Fredrick Wertham has a monolithic quality in comics circles... he is hated. He is the enemy. He is the comic industry's devil, or, for Futurama fans, the comic industry's Robot Devil.

(above: Dr. Fredric Wertham as a robot. Note the top hat he festively waves around as he kills the comic industry we all love so.)

Disguised as Clark Kent, while not excusing Wertham's actions, tells part of his story that makes them a lot more interesting. Wertham was, as you might have guessed, a prominent child psychologist. Fingeroth brings to light that Wertham had other interests besides fighting comic books... he was actually quite invested in social services. In his day job, he spent a lot of time with underpriviledged, minority children at a nearly free clinic he helped establish in Harlem, which had some interesting and important results. Perhaps the most striking fact in Fingeroth's entire book is this: "His findings on the effects of segregation on African-Americans played an important role in the Supreme Court's landmark school desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954."


So here is this guy who most people like me loathe... to the point of wishing he never existed... and it turns out that he was a major component in ending segregation in schools. That kind of complicates things, doesn't it? I mean, if we were to weigh "comic books being socially respected" against "black children getting equal education as their white peers"... there's really no contest. If comics had to take the hit, so be it... you have to respect that other element of Wertham's career.

But that's not all. Let's return to Wertham's attack on comic books. Even here Fingeroth deepends our understanding of the situation. He suggests that Wertham's hatred of comic books may have been racially motivated... which is not to say motivated by racism. Fingeroth points out that the Jewish Wertham was similar to many early Jewish immigrants to America--cultured, educated, fairly erudite individuals who valued high society (one might picture the mascot for "The New Yorker"). It was not uncommon among those of Wertham's type to feel embarassed by later Jewish immigrants, who were often impoverished, uneducated, and decidedly lower-class... the types of people, in other words, who formed the backbone of the comics industry. Wertham, Fingeroth suggests, felt that his Jewish brethren were doing irreparable harm to culture by peddling their "low art," and felt responsibility as a more noble representation of the Jewish people to put a stop to it.

Of course this doesn't make Wertham's crusade any more correct. Fingeroth points out that Wertham had no formal training in the arts or in any kind of cultural studies... he was merely an opinionated man who used his high status in the field of psychology to launch attacks on aspects of American culture he deemed unfitting. I think we would all agree that this is a pretty poor thing to do, especially when coupled with, as suggested, a condescending embarassment for his people. And yet, this picture of Wertham--a man motivated by the drive to do well for his culture, its art and his race--it makes him so much more interesting than this fire-breathing dragon intent on destroying the comics industry because he was offended by Wonder Woman's skimpy get-up.

The rest of Disguised as Clark Kent is full of value; it's certainly a great read for anyone interested in the history of comics or of the Jewish influence on America's popular culture. I'm not sure I buy all of the connections Fingeroth draws between Judaism and comics; then again, I'm not sure I don't. Some of it feels like a stretch but Fingeroth admits that much of the book is his own conjecture. Given that, the book certainly succeeds in its mission of showing how Jewish concerns inform many important aspects of comic book culture as we know it, thereby influencing an important part of the American cultural landscape as a whole.

I feel like Fingeroth's chapter on Wertham, though, is absolutely essential reading. Once a year I give a talk on comic books to a class of library science students at the University of Illinois. Wertham has always come up, and I'm happy that now I have this much to say about him. I find I am now forced to respect the man, despite vehemently disagreeing with a lot of his work. But you can't detract from Brown v. Board of Education, and in the end, I guess you can't really fault a guy for trying so hard in any endeavor. And I'm ashamed to say that I never really thought about Wertham as a human being before. If nothing else, Danny Fingeroth's book has made this man seem to me all the more real, all the more interesting, and maybe just a little bit noble.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

In comics, Obama being alive is like Superman being dead.

Or so it seems, as over the past few days the shop has been flooded (relatively speaking) with requests for next week's Amazing Spider-Man #583 featuring President Elect Obama fist-bumping the titular hero in a relatively poorly-drawn picture by Todd Nauck:

(Apparently Mr. Fantastic & co. didn't get rid of all the Skrulls...)

(Okay, obviously I'm just joking, but wouldn't it be funny if a plot point of this issue was that there is still a Spider-Man Skrull running around?).

And, I don't know how I feel about this. I mean, it's gonna be alright for business. It could have been AWESOME for business if we had anticipated just how popular this book would be... and talking with some other shop owners, they didn't do that either. I kind of feel like Marvel should have just overshipped a shit-load of these books, made them totally returnable, and said "trust us, these will sell out." It is a bit hypocritical to blame Marvel for making the same mistake that I made (namely, not knowing how popular this book would be), but on the other hand they've been in the business a lot longer than I. (Props to Marvel, though, for rushing out a second printing ONE WEEK later. That is slick.)

And gimmicky stuff like this, I dunno, it gets to me. Like, it is cool that Obama is president in the Marvel U and it is cool that that is driving people into comic shops (note: it is cooler, by a gagillion times, that Obama is president in the Real U). But few to none of these people will come back. And that is not anything to blame anyone about... it just makes me sad. So the point of this post, I guess, is to say I'm sad. Also I am apparently a 15-year-old high-schooler whose favorite band is From First to Last or something like that.

This could be good for comics, don't get me wrong. The Death of Superman was beneficial for a few years (and also was probably very, very bad in the long run, but who has time to think ahead in today's economy, am I right?!), and the Death of Captain America good for a few weeks. It just kind of breaks my heart a little when people rush into shops to get some milestone issue and don't ever come back. It's like, guys, comics have more value than that. There are great stories and artwork inside lots of them (potentially already inside Amazing Spider-Man, which I understand has been pretty solid lately). And the only way to really convince people of that is to sell them their gimmick book and do it with a good attitude and a smile on your face and hope they come back to read a little more. Of course situations like this make it hard to please customers because the product is obviously going to be scarce (I already ordered more second prints of this Spider-Man issue than I would normally order first prints of any other Spidey book). But the ones you do please... hopefully, they'll come back.

I guess having a guy in the White House who reads Spider-Man and Conan doesn't hurt.

(And can you imagine a Conan comic featuring Obama? Dark Horse, get on this).

In other comics-plus-black-people-in-major-media-outlets news, Newsarama's Matt Brady for some reason has an article about black Kryptonians over at MSNBC, which you can find here. And unlike all the Obama coverage, which just kind of grinds my gears a little bit in a stupid way, this article actually bothers me.

First of all, click that link and check out where it's placed within the MSNBC website. It is: the "Technology and Science" section. Um, what? Unless Krypton is a real planet and scientists have just discovered some new skin pigmentation on some of its residence, I don't see this as science or technology. The fact that the story probably most appeals to "science-fiction nerds" is, I'd wager, the reason it is under that heading.

And the text of this article... my lord. In case you couldn't tell, I am a pretty liberal guy. I balk at some folks' insistence that there is a "liberal media." And yet... this article would almost make me believe. Check out winning lines like "an America finally enlightened enough to elect a black man as President." I'm glad that Matt Brady of Newsarama is qualified to tell us that we are now enlightened. I am sure the millions of non-racist Americans of decades past can now breathe a sigh of relief at this inconsequential article's assertion that America is finally enlightened.

Sorry. This just pisses me off. First of all, it isn't news. Who cares that we can now glimpse black-skinned people on Krypton, besides Matt Brady and apparently someone at MSNBC? I mean, Krypton is an alien world. It's not like Kryptonians being black relates at all to real people being black. The color of any Kryptonian's skin should be fairly meaningless to us readers because we have no idea of the social, cultural, or political backgrounds that come along with it. Black Kryptonians might as well have been orange or magenta; it should change our interpretation of the story not at all.

Second, does no-one proofread these things? This article is really poorly-written and condescending. There are fragmented sentences and opinions expressed as facts. It would be fine for Newsarama, but MSNBC. Science and Technology?!

I guess in the end I just feel like, if comics are going to break in the mainstream news, it should be over something that matters. And sure, Barack Obama's appearance in does, to a degree, matter (black Kryptonians do not. And I think James Robinson and Geoff Johns might agree). But, for instance, no one came rushing to the shop when Oprah Winfrey picked Sara Varon's Robot Dreams for her Kids' Reading List last year (the first time she had ever recognized a graphic novel). This story, maybe the biggest achievement for comics in the mainstream in 2008 (besides potentially The Dark Knight/Watchmen) was not really covered by the news. In fact searching MSNBC's website for "Sara Varon" turns up nothing. "Black Kryptonians," though, gets a hit. I just feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

In a weird bit of synchronicity, the Spider-Man issue in question is #583, while the Superman is #683. Anyone who wants to have some fun: figure out what major comic book will next hit issue #x83, and then conjecture how can a black person make a noteworthy apperance in that book.

Meanwhile, I will be dreading the hordes of callers who want their Obama book. Fortunately, they have only a week to wait, and they have the inauguration of our new President to hold them over.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Where have I been?!

I mean, seriously. This nigh month-long absence is pretty unacceptable on my part. I'd like to thank Evie of Awesomed By Comics for giving me/the shop a generous shout-out in her last post, thus inspiring me to write again. Since I've kinda missed a lot of stuff, I think the best thing right now would be to do a quick kind of recap post, briefly running down a lot of the important things I've missed in the realm of things that matter to me. So, in no particular order:

Secret Invasion: Kind of anticlimactic, awesome last page.

Batman RIP: Is awesome.

Final Crisis: Is awesome to the maxx!

Grant Morrison: Should bear my intellectual children.

Brian Michael Bendis: Is still, in my opinion, a really good writer, and I loved the first post- SI New Avengers.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC: Shockingly very cool. Highly recommended.

Fox vs. DC (via WB): If Watchmen doesn't come out on time, I might cry.

The holidays: Busy and overrated.

Bang Camaro on Conan O'Brien: Incredible. I have now stood where Conan has stood in relative position to the Camaro drum set. This is probably the closest I will come to being a rock star. I love it.

The recession: So passe. Let's be hiply ironic and go spend money on frivolous things like comic books, okay?

The winter weather: Also passe. Cleaning off my car is so 9:00 AM this morning.

Blackened, Chicago's premiere Metallica tribute band: Is playing tonight at 10:00 PM at JJ Kelly's in Lansing. I am going to see them. My friend Jim is in this band and they are very good. If you like Metallica and/or talent, you should check them out.

Take Cover, Chicago's hottest new cover band: Will be storming your area soon! (probably not but hey, this is my own project and I'm psyched about it. Check out entertaining videos at

Blog entries that are phrased in such a way that they could have been taken from Rorshach's journal: Satisfying. Must investigate further. Hrm.

I think that covers about everything I would've talked about in the few months I haven't been reliably blogging. I promise I will be back with regular posts soon. YEAH!