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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Burning Pants of Jimmie Robinson

It's all so trivial it's hardly worth posting about, but it made me laugh, so I am.

Self-proclaimed rebel and political satirist Jimmie Robinson (how the hell can you be a serious rebel when you are called Jimmie? He really needs to get an image rebranding and come back as Clint or something), creator of that social satire of Swiftian proportions, Bomb Queen, responds to a question in the letter column in issue #4 about why he was so coy with BQ's nipples in the first issue, given the way she puts it about in subsequent comics.

The great rebel responds that there was no change of direction between issues and that "The word balloons in issue #1 just landed that way".

Jimmie Robinson is a lying liar who lies. He is a complete and utter Archer* and I can prove it.

In Bomb Queen #1 there is a scene where BQ is in the bath. During this sequence there are 5 panels where her intimate bits would be visible if there wasn't something in the way. These include envelopes (1), TV remote (3), cat (1), and speech bubble tail (1). When you have deliberately created a picture composition that achieves a specific result four out of five times, I find myself incapable of believing that when the same result occurs a fifth time it was due to oversight rather than intention. And who was it who was responsible for this darn oversight? There's no letterer credited, so hmm... Could that have been down to you, too, Jimmie?

I thought the sexualisation of the characters in Bomb Queen was one of the more successful and funniest aspects of the comic, where a lot of the political stuff was hit and miss, and not remotely as radical as Robinson thinks it is. The violence is grotesquely over the top, but really only distinguishable from Infinite Crisis because it's funnier. I don't know what he intended with this particular sequence, but given the subsequent issues' much more explicit depiction of male and female bits and the reactions of those around - The "I'm up here" moment in #2 was classic, particularly since it was a guy - I'm guessing that the obfuscation in #1, occuring while we were getting full frontal shots of other women, was intended as some kind of satire or joke that didn't come off.

It's always embarassing to explain a joke no one got and know that they are not going to laugh at it even once they know what it is, but telling an obvious lie to cover it just digs yourself in deeper.




*Jeffrey Archer, british MP and novelist sent to prison for perjury. He will always be fondly remembered by the british people as the MP that got caught.

Idiot spam monkey at work

I noticed a reply to a recent post of mine started with:

Economics 101 said... This is a great analysis - well done!

Can I bring to your attention AK Comics of Egypt who produce 'Middle East Heroes' which has just started being distributed through Diamond.

And then went on a bit about AK Comics. A little self-serving, but it was comics related and I had been talking about my disillusionment with the comics I'd been reading, after all. But all became clear when I saw exactly the same comment on another blog; confirmation that it was a spam monkey at work. But I was curious so I dug a little deeper.

Our friend Economics 101 is in fact Andrew Stephenson, who runs the AK Comics blog and appears to be involved in the company in some way that he doesn't specify, but he says "we" a lot when passing on whatever inflated piece of fluff he has to say about how wonderful they are.

The competition he promotes is one where, correct me if I'm wrong, Andrew, you create a team of superheroes which AK Comics will then build a comic around, and your fantastic reward is to receive a year's subscription to the comic.

Well cover me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians! How gracious of you to step down from your mighty pedestal and consider that my ideas might be worthy of your consideration. I'm certainly prepared to give up all copyrights to my characters, waive all royalty fees, abandon any control over their usage, and throw away any future interest in them for the sake of a year's worth of what is known in the business as contributor's copies and which are handed out to anyone who has had any input on the comic. Hell, you don't even need to credit me beyond the first issue.

Think how proud I'll feel when I'm buying a T-shirt with MY characters on it (that I wasn't consulted about and receive no royalty from) or maybe one day standing in line to see a movie featuring the heroes I created (which I don't even get listed in the credits for, let alone a share of the huge licensing fee).

And you know what? AK Comics doesn't even need this underhand and deceiptful behaviour. I took a look at what they are producing and well, once you get past the sub-Image gloss it's possible there might be something original going on there. Hell, if I had been genuinely approached about them this might have been a feature on new and different comics worth tracking down. But am I going to make any effort to find out if they are worth it after I've been spammed and patronised in this way?

*shrug*

The truth revealed

Earlier in the week I posed a question about a Strange Tales cover. I can now reveal an artist's recreation of what this cover probably looked like. We may never know for sure.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Batman's double standards

There was this story in JLA a few years ago (I'm sure someone can provide issue numbers, I only read this in a borrowed collection) in which the Bat-computer is hacked by Ra's Al Ghul and he steals the contingency plans the ever prepared Batman had put in place in case any or all of his super powered buddies went bad and he had to take them down.

It's a decent story and of course our heroes win the day. They are a little uncomfortable with Batman for preparing for this kind of eventuality, but they can't escape the hard fact that it's a reasonable thing to do given how often they are individually or collectively brainwashed, possessed, replaced with evil duplicates, and all the other problems with which superhero life is fraught. None of them suggest that the security on the Bat-computer needs a little upgrading.

Something like a year later, after Batman has spitefully kicked out Steph for doing not only what any other Robin would do but I'm 95% certain has done in similar circumstances, she tries to prove herself to him by hacking the Bat-computer and using one of his plans. It's an incredibly clumsy plot constructed purely to make Steph The Flawed Hero Who Must Give Her Life to Atone for the Mistake She Made. I saw where this was going in the first issue and couldn't bring myself to follow it to the end. But I'm betting nobody suggested that Batman upgrade the security on the Bat-computer.

And then we come to the OMAC project. Batman comes up with a new scheme for defending against his super-buddies on the off chance they go bad. Can you possibly make a wild guess what happens? Yes, one more time someone hacks the bloody Bat-computer and steals these most top secret and dangerous plans, reprograms the OMAC control system, and uses it to kill a lot of people.

Batman surely has some responsibility here? Isn't he in the same position as Steph, only with a higher body count? How come Brucey doesn't get to sacrifice himself nobly to atone for his mistake? But no, you see Batman doesn't even acknowledge he has done a thing wrong. In fact he manages to get on his high horse and be disgusted with Wonder Woman for killing Max when she is given no alternative, even while the fruits of his criminal negligence are killing people by the thousand.

Nobody even suggests that his clever schemes (and doesn't anyone think that a plan that involves converting innocent bystanders into cannon fodder is fundamentally flawed?) have caused far more damage than the potential dangers they were designed to guard against, or that maybe it's time he stopped trying to think of ways to hurt his friends, or if he really must do so, he write these plans down in a notebook and keep it in a big safe at the bottom of the Batcave, rather than publishing them on the internet.

Losing Faith

I remember when I was a kid and I really honestly believed it the first couple of times I read a story in which a major comic book character died. There was one time I spent weeks puzzling over why Superman's death (no, not The Death of Superman, another one) hadn't seemed to have caused any repercussions in other comics, and was quite relieved to find everything set right in the second half of the two-parter.

As I read more comics it became apparent that hero death was a regular occurance and not to be taken too seriously. With big-name characters like Batman or Superman it was either a fake out, or at worst an "event" (yes, I do mean The Death of Superman this time). In some ways it felt a bit of a cheat, but I realise now that deep down it was very reassuring to know that however bad things looked, my heroes would always come through, somehow.

It's not like that now. Sure, the iconic name brands are untouchable, but Wonder Woman hasn't been able to hold a supporting cast since before Crisis (the first one), Batman's been largely unreadable for years, and Superman gets retconned so often that I have no idea what Krypton is now supposed to have looked like or whether Kandor is currently only available in bottled form.

And gods help you if you are a B list character. You can vanish from history with a lame explanation, or none at all, and nobody even notices when you are replaced a month later by someone else with the same name. Or you can be built up for a couple of months so that readers will care more when you become the sacrificial goat to make an "event" more... Meanspirited? Depressing? I don't know what the hell the point of that is.

At least once you hit the C list they just use you as dramatic cannon-fodder to show how evil the villains are. Your death may be brutal and violent, but it's usually quick.

So when I read Robin #150 I wasn't excited; I just felt a little nauseous and depressed. It may be, as Kalinara suggests, a misdirection, and Cassandra may yet be saved. But DC already cancelled her comic and they have a new Batwoman all lined up and ready to roll. So I have no deep down tingle of anticipation over how Batgirl is going to get out of this one. No expectation that the clever writer is going to resolve the impossible situation with a surprise twist that I should have seen coming. No faith in DC any more to give me a happy ending.

It's times like this I wonder if maybe I've grown out of comics.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The final Loebotomy/Cir-El's Last Stand

I stopped commenting on Jeph Loeb's work in Superman/Batman some months ago. Time was he could be at least relied on to do something to fire me up with a good rant, but the final storyline of the series was so lame and so much one more dip into his tired old bag of tricks that there was nothing of interest to say. I hadn't even looked at the last couple of issues.

And then I heard he had brought back Cir-El. My delight at the prospect of seeing the lost Supergirl appear in a DC comic, even just for a cameo, was tempered by a degree of anger toward big Jeph. In all the Supergirl stories he had written to date, any mention of Cir-El and Linda was significantly absent, even where it beggered belief that someone among those present never brought up any previous wearers of the cape.

So why now? Especially given that even though neither even appeared for two panels in Infinite Crisis so that they could get their heads ripped off or something, the word has come down from on high that neither are now in continuity.

Why? Because Jeph wanted to fill his last big Bats/Supes story with all the possible versions of his main characters as he could think of, and that included all the available Supergirls.

In fact Cir-El and Linda get three lines apiece (one each of which is "Ouch"), no characterisation or even explanation of how they got there or where they came from. But then given the characterisation of what appears to be some kind of moronic analogue of silver-age Supergirl from Earth-Stupid, I don't really mind so much.

Oh, and one last thing. I know you had a lot of them to stuff into these issues, McGuinness, but if you are going to do fan favourite cameos, you might take the trouble to get the costumes correct.

And that's my last bit of bile for Jeph Loeb. He's off to ruin some comics I don't read so I'll leave it to the Marvel fans to take up the venom.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lost and forgotten

Cerisa Tempest is updating the infamous Women in Refrigerators list and I notice that there's one name that didn't make it to the original list and isn't on the new list either.

Okay, look I know she was badly written, had a horrible costume, and nobody liked her, but she had one of the most unfair, pathetic superhero deaths ever, and it feels like the writing her out of continuity was been so thorough that not even the readers remember her.

She may only have been the one between the Peter David one and the skinny one, but she was still Supergirl.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Super self-parody


A friend of mine brought me this back from the UK comic convention in Bristol this weekend. Proof, if any were needed, that Ian Churchill draws Supergirl like a stick figure.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Clea Must...?

The other day I was looking at some old comics on the wall of a store and they must have been a bit stuck for space because the comics were overlapped so you could only see the left hand side of many of them.

My eye was caught by the cover to Strange Tales #154 and I was intruiged. What was it that Clea must do?

Okay, anyone who has ever read a Marvel comic in their entire life knows where this headline goes, but just suspend your disbelief for a moment and tell me what it is you think that Clea must do here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Samplers should be good

Let's be honest, Free Comic Book Day is essentially seen by publishers as a promotional tool. It's a chance to get their product seen by a lot of people who would not normaly look at it.

Which is fine. I heartily approve of enlightened self-interest. Everyone wins.

Anyhow, so most of the stuff that I came home with last Saturday was samples intended to persuade me to read comics I didn't know. Now if I was head honcho of a comic publisher I'd ensure that my sample comic contained the best stuff I could find that would engage the interest of anyone who read it and bring them back for more. Judging by some of the comics in my pile either I am out of step with current strategy, or the rest of the stuff they publish must be real dreck.

Case in point being Arcana Studio Presents; a sampler of scenes from three ongoing titles. Kade had some interesting painted technique but looked just like a zillion other fantasy comics and I haven't worked up the energy to read it yet. Big muscley hero fights firey demon. Gag me with a spoon.

Second up was Ezra, generic fantasy heroine whose most interesting aspect is her inability to ever stop talking, regardless of whether her audience is composed of thugs, woodland creatures, or nobody at all. She tells the thugs her life story inbetween beating them up. She tells a racoon much of the same story a page later. She chats for a page to an empty woodland. I'm almost tempted to pick up this comic to find out whether this is a deliberate character trait or just terrible writing.

Finally we have 100 Girls. I have no idea what 100 Girls is about but I don't think this sample was much of a help as it was entirely about a bad man who stumbles around in some wreckage and then dies. There was some mention of a girl with super powers but since she only appears for one panel in flashback, I have no clue whether she is any more important to the comic this is supposed to be encouraging me to buy than the bad dead man.

Marvel kind of did okay. I don't know whether the Runaways/X-Men 11 pager is a reprint or unique to this comic, but it is a nice self-contained little story that I liked a lot. On the strength of this I could well be persuaded to give Runaways a try. The rest of the comic wasn't so hot. A Franklin Richards story that didn't really do anything for me, what appeared to be half a random fight scene from an Avengers variation I wasn't familiar with, and a lengthy text synopsis of Ultimate Spider-Man that made it sound so hideously convoluted that it put me off ever looking at it. Personally I'm holding out for Penultimate Spider-Man.

As for DC... On the plus side I really like the Justice League Unlimited comic. On the minus side I fail to comprehend the logic of promoting this comic when it's just been cancelled.

Archie Comics were one of the few to produce something entirely original, and although it would be easy to pick holes in the quality of this offering, it's more fun to experience it through Scipio's eyes.

More to come...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The problem with Sluggy

There's a web comic I've been reading for several years now, although it's been very off and on lately. In fact I stopped reading it altogether for three months.

It's called Sluggy Freelance and the problem is that it takes itself way too seriously. The comic started out as a gag strip revolving around a small group of people: Torg; the everyman figure, Biff; the mad scientist (but cool with it), Zoe; the hot babe, Gwynne; the plain one who is also a witch, Bun-Bun; the psycopathic rabbit, and Kiki; braindead ferret. They would fall into other dimensions, fight elves, vampires, and demon kittens, parody pop culture favourites like Star Trek and Harry Potter, and generally have a lot of fun in stories that ran for a few weeks.

And then along the way creator Pete Abrams started moving away from daily gag strips with continuity to epic graphic novels puplished at the rate of 4 panels a day. And even though the stories took a much more seriously dramatic turn, they still dragged along all the gag baggage. You can't do a serious dramatic story where characters struggle with pain and loss and fill it with demons with silly names from the "Dimension of Lame".

And because individual storylines might only feature a couple of the regular cast and drag on for the best part of a year, it becomes hard to keep track of what is going on. The final straw was the science ficton epic "Oceans Unmoving" which only featured Bun-Bun of the main cast, and had a hideously complicated plot involving timeless space that ran for 13 months, broken only by 3 week digression into Harry Potter parody. Abrams tried desperately to keep this behemoth moving along by producing a prodigious amount of comics each day, but that didn't stop it being a big complicated graphic novel chopped up into small pieces and spread out over such a long period of time that you needed to keep going back and rereading all the previous bits to make any sense of it. It was totally the wrong format for the story, and Abrams freely admitted it had got out of hand.

A month or so into this storyline I stopped reading the comic daily and just caught up about once a week in hopes of the story making sense, but to be honest I wasn't that interested in it. It was a clever concept, but it just went on and on. I wasn't very interested in most of the newly introduced characters and I really lost track of what it was about. I wanted to see Biff blow stuff up, Gwynne get all witchy, Zoe make cutting remarks and slap people, and Kiki go "ooh, shiny!". Eventually I stopped reading it altogether.

It was several weeks after the story finished before I even noticed. At first it seemed like things were back to the way they used to be, albeit with some more serious characterisation under the humour. But within a couple of weeks we were off on what first appeared to be a short digression road trip with added ninjas but which has just turned into 3 weeks of soul searching as Torg confronts his feelings for Zoe. Okay, the shadow puppet imagery was cool, but three weeks of it? And when we find that one of Torg's fears is that Oasis will show up and kill Zoe, I was surprised. I mean if she were really out to get Zoe, surely she would have turned up sometime in the last four years?

It's evident that Abrams has moved beyond the format of a daily gag strip, but that is what he is working with and it's an unhappy compromise. And he seems unable to dispense with the broad humour, using it as a crutch even while it is undermining the more serious things he is trying to do. It is not impossible to mix drama and humour. Just look at Girl Genius, for example. But what's going on in Sluggy is sometimes as effective as putting fart jokes in Hamlet. Any laughs it generates are at the expense of the dramatic tension he is trying to create.

I am all for creators pushing their limits, and I am not in any way suggesting that Sluggy should return to some arbitary "good old days". I just wish that Abrams would make a decision and either find a way to do the big graphic novels he wants to, or do a gag strip with limited continuity and puns. Both at the same time is not working, and it hasn't been working for a long time now.