Boring Comics.

Boring Comics.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

"Overrated Underrated."

                                                          Underground overground
                                                                       Wombling free...

When you are English, and a young man, and with a certain type of tertiary–level education, and you have an older brother who is switched on to with–it sounds, and then besides you have a certain slant to your way of thinking –– and I am, and I was, and I am, and I do, and I do –– you are very apt to veer perversely and deliberately from the main stream, the shining path, the Western Canon constructed by your humdrum peers, and to scramble into the hawthorne bush, and then to blunder on, deeper and thicker, into the most distant darkest precincts of thought.

Which is to say: the young men will always try to out-do each other in being willfully obscure.

I fell so deeply into this delirium, this revery of anti-commercialism, that I began to recoil from anything that was readily available. This bad trait has often led me to good places, of course, and is an instinct that has seen me right as often as it has led me astray. It is manifested even today in my unconscious (or semi-conscious, since here I am writing about them) habits. I will take books out through Los Feliz library and read them in the bath, while I leave neglected on the shelves all those books that I have purposely tracked down and actually bought because I want to read them, because I like them.  Instead I persist in looking for that which I do not have, do not know, do not need to know. It's like watching Real Housewives of Orange Country when I have had the DVDs of the Sabata Trilogy waiting to be watched for over a year.

I have written on a piece of paper and tacked to the top shelf of a bookcase the Thoreau quotation, "READ THE BEST BOOKS FIRST, OR YOU MAY NOT HAVE A CHANCE TO READ THEM ALL." I put it up, knowing it to be excellent good advice, but still from day to day I find myself straying very far from what I am actually excited by, in search of fresh game. Some of the directions this takes me in are patent cul-de-sacs. This is all prologue to a few brief remarks about the Bob Stanley–"curated" Robin Gibb three CD set.

Review #1. Robin Gibb, Saved By The Bell: Collected Works, 1968–1970

Which, I been listening to it.  This collects his first solo album, the excellent Robin's Reign, reproduced lovingly in Mono and Stereo versions –– a "deluxe extra" the merits of which have always eluded my understanding, but then I am not a subscriber to Mojo –– and a second disc with out-takes, Italian versions, demos, and interviews.*

It also contains Gibb's "lost classic" Sing Slowly Sisters, an album Bobbin Gibb recorded in some primitive style but never released.  I had read about this lost ana, and being an early Bee Gees cultist, had always wanted a copy.  So some years ago I got my regular bootleg man, one D. Oregon Morgan,  currently residing in northern Sweden they say, to procure a copy for me.  It probably wasn't that hard to track down using the internet, but I was always loath to download torrents for the very bourgeois fear of getting a virus, or I was too timorous and paranoid, afraid I would get arrested for making illegal downloads. Damian scoffed at me and took the "risks" on my behalf.

Boring aside.

I should say that as a preface, like when people say, "Long story short" before telling a story. Before you begin, say "Boring aside:"

Anyway I didn't really listen to the Bob Gibb lost album once I had it –– typical –– so it continued to wobble in the back of my conscious mind as a sort of lost classic. However, I did listen to the copy of the Warner Brothers Album by the Residents Oregon "obtained" for me and it was largely terrible.  Ditto another, unnameable, unmentionable, unreleased album the Residents made before their classic, Meet The Residents.

There should be a name for such crummy disappointments. It's like a Thomas Pynchon novel. You might read about it, read around it, hear it praised by critics who refer breathlessly to the various motifs and the obscure symbols and the erudition, and emit short quotations, and you think, "This sounds like a great book verily." Like Pound in "Moeurs Contemporaines," you'd say "This is a darn'd clever book!"

Then you finally get around to reading it, and it is a gross pronounced disappointment, a pathetic bellyflop from the high diving board into the kiddie pool, and the imaginary book it could have been floats away out of grasp, yet to be realized, never to be manifested at least from the gnarled, withered hand of TOM RUGGLES.

It's a Pynchonian effect. Well, so when Bob Stanley and Rhino Records released this 3CD Bobbin Gibbons set, I took about a year to get round to listening to it, listening to no end of marginal chaff first. Now I have finally listened to it, I thought: "This sounds like Tiny Tim with a metronome covering the Residents' Commercial Album but with the lyrics of Noel Gallagher."

That makes it sound better than it is––
Ach ––

Review Two: Tom DeFalco, Strange Days TPB (Fantastic Four #s 403–416)

As handsome partner to this disappointment, I had had it in my head for years that Tom DeFalco's period writing the Fantastic Four (early–mid Nineties) was a great underrated run. I must have read it in the Oughts in Brooklyn, and still thought so. Were my standards so far lower then? Did I think I could live forever, and so tolerate salt water? So comparatively recently?

Rereading the "run", it is quite urgently bad. DeFalco (or, as Autocorrect aptly calls him, "Deflate") does awful tracts of exposition "concealed" within asinine conversation. He is extremely guilty of writing the Thing as the most wearisome purveyor of stale quips in comicdom –– makes the current (loathsome) Spider-Man or Deadpool, even when he has a bad writer, sound like the late Dorothy Parker of New York City.

                               Even the Thing's team mates –– including that professional lover of all things vacant, 
                                       fun foam and silly string, Johnny Storm, gracious sakes –– are sick of his incessant
                                      nervous wisecracking. They wish he'd lose his rocks and TRUCK off home! (#385)

                             
(#399)
                                        Johnny's sister, "Susie" Richards has no time for Thing's automatic knee-jerk 
                                        need to leaven the moment with an empty comic metaphor. She echoes the late 
                                        Ronald Reagan of California, who said, "Mr. Gorbachev, please tear down 
                                        this stupid ugly heap of bricks!" (#389)    



                                                   Their enemies feel the same way. This is not actually Dr. Doom's 
                                                   "faithful retainer" Boris, it is really Zarkko the Tomorrow Man, a 
                                                    Thor villain thoroughly superseded by Kang and Immortus,  
                                                    presumably using an image "inducer", very like that extremely 
                                                    interesting device used by Nightcrawler of the X-Men. Nevertheless,
                                                    the thought is one universally held. (#398. Zarrko recurs, used well 
                                                    for once, in Dan Jurgen's excellent Thor Volume 3.)

Aron the Renegade Watcher speaks for the many. (#398)

    So say we all. (#399)

This run also features the sensational disappearance of Reed Richards and Doctor Doom for about forty issues. Good call, Tom. Get rid of the most interesting characters to concentrate on the bit parts. Thist allowed DeFalco to develop (however cack-handedly) the interesting character created by that arrogant genius Johnny Byrne: Kristoff Vernard, the twelve-year old boy with the mind of Doctor Doom programmed into his own brain. Englehart continued it in FF and then West Coast Avengers in a storyline where Kristoff and Doom were at war, because it was unclear which one was the authentic Doom. The boring postgraduate in me nods and remarks: Good examination of identity. DeFalco ("Deflate") futzes around with the dregs of it.  

One touch I did like. Every few issues while Reed Richards is absent DeFalco features a panel where the Thing suspends momentarily his dreary wisecracking to indulge in a little revery about how he misses Reed Richards's windbag expositions. I don't know if DeFalco was aware that he kept repeating himself, or if it was a running joke.

(#383)

(#389)

(#398)

(#400)

This was the run after Steve Englehart s excellent few years writing the book. He was physically removed from the title for DeFalco to take over.  Rereading them in sequence, I reaffirmed the greatness of the Englehart run, the interestingness of the Walt Simonsson interregnum, and then the awful rapid decline under DeFalco. Englehart created a character in Silver Surfer afterwards called "Clumsy Foulup" who manages to become the ruler of the Kree Empire through scurrilous talentless ruthlessness, and despite his pronounced ineptitude. This character is generally understood (by the very few people who investigate such matters with such critical scrutiny) (the very few people who care) to be a sort of roman a clef about DeFalco ascending to being Editor-In-Chief at Marvel, as well as the writer on the Fantastic Four.

Why did I ever rate this run? Was it my awful perversity, my appetite for obscurity, creeping up and clouding my better judgement? I was girding myself to make a critical case for Tom DeFalco as a great underrated writer, alongside Larry Hama and Mark Gruenwald, while condemning Frank Miller and even Alan Moore as overrated. I had the thesis in my head. Even wrote down a brief summa. But rereading this, I thought, "This is bad awfulness. What demon possessed me, that I rated it so well?"

I had been looking for copies of the run (second copies, since I have the full run in storage in Oxfordshire even as I sit at my desk in Los Feliz) in Roger's Time Machine, now on Tenth Street. When I went to pay for them, Roger was justifiably aghast. "You're buying them, and passing over issues of the Byrne run?" I lisped faintly, "It's a great underrated run, Roger."

No it isn't. It has some great plot elements if you can abide the diabolical dialogues. These issues featured the heights of the obscure meddling done by that cocksman that old Priapus Nathaniel Richards, his unctuous insinuation that not only was he was the father of Reed Richards, he also fathered Dr. Doom and Kritoff Vernard. This is the storyline where Franklin Richards is transformed from a prating five-year-old to a dynamic alt–future twenty–something (presumably to cash in on Cable and get some of that X-Men money).

Both these rather excessive plot elements were revived to good effect by the good Hickman decades later. It also features the very interesting (if thoroughly botched) Celestial/Watchers war. Still, I bought the trade paperback Strange Days collecting #s 403–416 and it has taken me about 180 "strange days" just to try and read half of it. The book never seems to end. I started it with the naive thought, "This will be a good prologue to rereading the Hickman run." That was almost a year ago.

Not much more to say than that. Did you ever claim something was underrated, and then realize in the tabernacle of your inner soul that you'd overrated it?

* * * * * * * * * * 

Speaking of Bob Stanley, I love to tell the story of the time in the late–mid– Nineties when Laurence Remila and I were in the Spread Eagle, Camden, where we habitually went to drink junk, and snarl and ogle at gurls, and to bait the minor indie rock stars. We'd go from the Mixer to the Dublin Castle to the Eagle. Ash and Menswear and Bob Stanley. We were bugging Bob there then, and I was ker–blunk on Strongbow cider and avowing forcefully that Pussy Galore's Dial M For Motherfucker was the single greatest LP in the known space–time hemisphere. (That might still be true.) "Do you not like it?" I said to BOB with malice. "Rock?! Does it frighten poor Bobby?" I said. "Don't you get it? The rock machine? Don't it turn you on?" I said. "Don't you love to kick out the jams?"

Then (or was it another time) I was swaying in the passage between the bar and the front door leading down to the sort of lounge, cornering Bob to lament anent the sad state of pop and waxing nostalgic about the Manchester band World of Twist. "Zzvat was a good group. Zzzz a good group out uh Manchester! Remember that zong, 'Sons of the Stage.' Good group!, toally vuhgotten by the timezzz. Lost to us forever, helas, sad to say, never to return." Bob Stanley replied, "Actually, they're sitting over there at my table." I squinted over to where he and his cronies sat, the banquette seats in the front side of the pub, and there indeed were several members of World of Twist. And I went, "Oh yeah. So they are. Oh well, they were all right I guess."

Same principle. You get my point, right? Same thing going on.

We love to rate things and overrate them because of our own petty egos. We attach ourselves parasitically to works done by others to elevate ourselves socially in the marketplace and in the boudoir. Like we're the best fucking curators of refined and delicate objects in the world.

Well we're NOT.

* On one interview the Radio 1 deejay –– could be Alan Freeman [It's Brian Matthew –– ed.] –– asks Robin what he's been up to and Robin reveals he's been writing a short story collection. Robin mispronounces the word "Dickensian" and then reveals, in that rarefied noli mi tangere voice, without the crucial sense of his own ridiculousness that marks common mortals, that he is also looking to make a film of his writings. "And again there is the writing of musical scores." The deejay shoots back, with some irony, "Mm. Well, there you go. You can do the lot. You don't paint do you, by any chance?" Unusually astute barb, I thought. Robin obliviously replies, "Well yes I do actually."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Variant Fever." Or, "Strange Austerity."

Wife lost her job a few days ago; or, as they put it, "the position has been eliminated." We have returned to the old routine of intense anxiety in an uncertain future. "Time to tighten the belt." From Flush Times of Alabama to Hard Times Come Agin in a matter of days.

I was naturally leery of spending any money unduly or frivolously. Still, we driving in Burbank, going as it happens to the recycling centre down there (to avoid the international homelessness conference that is our local recycling centre) and the car, following an absurdly tortuous route, emerged suddenly as if by magic on Olive, next to Tally Rand. We were so near to my regular comic shop that I said, in the voice of a wheedling five year old (that is, my customary voice), "Can we go to the komeeks shop please?"

Wife said I could spend whatever we got from the recycling centre on comic books. We had a couple of sacks full of a) Calpico bottles and b) Original New York Seltzer vanilla cream soda bottles.



We got two dollars exactly for them. 

Chastened, in the comics shop I went straight to the dollar bins at the front of the shop to see what was new. A kind of autistic single-mindedness to my actions. There were some nice old (i.e. 80s) Green Lanterns, one with art by Alex Toth, one drawn by Gil Kane, the rest Joe Staton era stuff. I like Joe Staton –– he's underrated. Picked em up. 

While I was going through the bins, the excellent shopman Eric called across the counter, "Oh, hey, Fabian, you know that Adam Hughes Doctor Strange variant you wanted on Wednesday? Well a copy became available. The customer we saved it for passed on it." 
I came over eagerly, saying, "But how much is it I wonder?'
"I think that was why he passed on it," said Eric. 
Price was $24.99.
I recoiled from the book, albeit with some reluctance.

(How does one recoil with reluctance, sage Kung?)

I made the universal sign of "burnt fingers". 
"Too much for my poor purse I fear" I said with a queasy smile. "My wife just lost her job and we're having to prioritize. Gotta change my whole philosophy." As the shop folk made kind commiserations I went back to the dollar bin. "Austerity."

Anyway I spent about ten dollars there and left. In the car back I recounted what had passed to wife, like it was a tale of great temptation and heroic restraint.  "They had a rare variant of Doctor Strange but I said I couldn't pay for it. I wouldn't do it! Time to rethink things. Austerity measures." 

I sat in silence all the way home, grinding my back teeth to a fine dust.  

When we got in the house, my wife was concerned with something at one end of the apartment and I seized the opportunity. I leapt across the room, grabbed the phone and called the comics shop. Said in a hushed voice, "Eric? You still got that Hughes Doctor Strange variant? Yes? Well set it aside for me  then man could you? Austerity be damned!"  


Friday, September 9, 2016

"Ultron Is Short For Ultra-Boredom."

I've been reading Kurt Busiek's third volume of Avengers. I grew up with the first iteration (#s 1–402) which ended, rather bathetically, in the "Onslaught" campaign (September 1996). How symbolic –– thirty-three years of Avengers (and Fantastic Four) continuity wiped in a mediocre , nebulous X-Men super-saga. Nobody cared. I feel like absolutely everybody started dating beautiful women around that time and lost all interest in comics for the next ten or so years. I know I did.

Volume Three came hot on the heels of that glorious reboot implosion, the silly shit fest that was Volume Two, which lasted a full year and twelve issues only and ended in grievous mortal riotous shame for all concerned.

Volume Three resumed the continuity pretty much as it had been before wunderkind blunderer Rob Liefeld  Franklin Richards had fudged the brand with childish bravado. It had writing by journeyman extraordinary Kurt Busiek that was pretty okay –– at least it was respectful of continuity. You got George Perez drawing it and then Alan Davis. Busiek was if anything a bit of a continuity nerd–Nazi amalgam. Which is a good thing in principle, vide Gruenwald, if not always practice (I tried rereading Avengers Forever recently, which I remembered enjoying, and found it passing boring for the same reasons as I lay out below).

Quite dull going though, partially because of Busiek's wearisome interest in that tortuous and interminable triangle Vision–Scarlet Witch–Wonder Man. The poor android VISION –– how he bleats like a human male. The Young Werther seems like Frank Castle in comparison. Throw in Hank Pym and Ultron and their [JOHNNY ROTTEN voice here] endlessly rewarding father-son relationship and you have an awful vortex of Roy Thomas–inspired dulness.

As for Wonder Man, conceived solely as an inversion of Wonder Woman –– a buh-rilliant legal coup, snatching the copyright on the name before before DC thought of it –– even as a fierce defender of the Englehart/Milgrom run on West Coast Avengers I am hard pushed to explain him. Wonder Man, so named because you wonder why he's here.

Several good writers have come a cropper on the pons asinorum that is the Vision. You ever read that Jonathan Lethem short story about the Vision? Ha. My mother-in-law gave me a Vision bobble-head one Christmas –– that and the Lethem story are the best two things ever to happen involving the Vision. Sad indictment when Jonathan Lethem and my mother-in-law come up with your best moments.

Roy Thomas, that dreadful awful poor bad writer, that rascal, created Vision out of the patent hard-on he had for Golden Age comics.

"Take me back to those dreamy days before Mort Weisinger bullied me in the DC offices."

Ooh, is the Vision the original Human Torch?
Can it be possible?!
Set a spell and let RASCALLY ROY inflict some more gone-but-not-forgotten (by me!) shit upon you, like... the Liberty Legion! Or is Vision driven by the brainwaves of Wonder Man? Is the Grim Reaper his brother? They are always fighting. Is the Whizzer the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver's real father? DULL STUFF IN EACH CASE but begad successive writers on the tile love to return to it.

These exhausted questions still hang around like a pungent corpse at the banquet. Dick Remender, when he was burnt out and spazzing urgently and writing badly for a living, revisited the Scarlet Witch / Quicksilver family tree project and rather pointlessly retconned it so that Magneto was now not their father –– again. Although in fairness, perhaps he was robustly compelled to write that by the Disney lawyers for reasons pertaining to the film rights to Pietro & Wanda. I think Mark Waid, who should know better, is wading through this dull matter even as we speak.  Reinvigorating the moribund. The Disney lawyers must have their way.

I say, "Even as we speak," but we're not speaking. I'm writing, and you are –– you are not reading this. Nobody is.

Who cares! I'll continue. Steve Englehart did a stand-up Christlike good job on two limited series of Vision & Scarlet Witch, and then for a while he wrought lilies from the acorn. On West Coast Avengers he had that inspired twist with the twin baby sons of Vision and Scarlet Witch being revealed to be demonic shells, evil illusions of life sucked up to become the hands of Mister Pandemonium.

But even the great STEVE fell too far in sentimental love with the minutiae of the Wanda/Vizh myth –– just like he did with his achilles heel, Mantis. Steve had a Pynchonesque crush on Mantis, like Claremont did with Kitty and Storm (––and Rogue ––and Psylocke), and so kept force-feeding us Mantis well past her expiry date. Like Dan Slott does with the sexy Allred girl in the new run of Silver Surfer. Can Slott be taken off Silver Surfer so that the cute girl ("Dawn Greenwood") can be retconned and we can move on?  Slott is a bad one for nursing awful crushes on his characters.

In my revisiting of the third volume of Avengers, I hit a wall of dulness with a supremely unnecessary one-shot about Ultron written variously by Roger Stern, Steve Englehart, Busiek and (who else) Rascally Roy. Divers hands make a poor fist! This one-shot (ironically called The Ultron Imperative –– since nothing about it is "imperative") is  a hopeless affair but a crystal-clear indictment of what is wrong with Ultron.

Robots, like demons, are nebulous.
"Oh we have to fight hundreds of robot versions of ourselves."
"Oh they have made robot amalgams of us."
(SEE: another boring trend, the amalgam: The Super-Adaptoid, The Super Skrull, DC's Amazo and the so-called Composite Superman.)

Good issues with Ultron:

Secret Wars, when Galactus snuffs him out like a candle.

Daredevil by Ann Nocenti and JR Jr, an Acts of Vengeance tie-in that revolved around the incongruity of Daredevil fighting Ultron. I believe the Inhumans wandered in and managed not to plumb Roy Thomas–level dullness as well. This is because Ann Nocenti is a good writer and JR Jr. was drawing well at the time, not yet high on the fumes of his own raging ego.

West Coast Avengers by Englehart, Milgrom & Sinnott. The "dream team" mentioned in a previous post. I can't remember what exactly they did with boring Ultron but I feel like it was quite good.

The recent film was an all round bad fudge sundae. Red Reddington = Ultron? This was about as riveting as an episode of The Blacklist can be. Also, the damp flatus  that was the "Age of Ultron" round robin circle jerk. Wolverine and Sue Storm stumbling through realities. More mismanagement of time and future outcomes. The only characters who should mess with the weave of the time-space continuum are:

Kang/Immortus
Zaarko (see –– possibly exclusively –– Dan Jurgen's superb run on Thor [Volume Three] where maybe five real-time years of the comic took place in a future that was eventually cancelled)
The Time Variance Authority (led by Mark Gruenwald)
The Time Keepers / Time Twisters

In DC there are more legitimate time travelers; it can be

Brainiac 5 & the orange alien with a beak and big eyes  in the original Legion continuity
Time Trapper
Glorith
Per Degaton
Chronos
Hourman
Rip Hunter (not the shitty TV version NB)
Booster Gold
Black Beetle

All these characters have been involved in interesting time travel stories. Per Degaton is particularly interesting, since DC had a running joke that he would always try to divert from the same moment, and always return to that moment, with the same lines of dialogue &c. The Time Trapper/Superboy/
pocket universe  storyline and then the Glorith/Time Trapper universes in Legion are also exemplary cases of how willfully complex comics can get and still be good.









Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Celebrity in My Regular Comics Shop."

It was a Wednesday morning just past eleven and I was in my regular comics shop, Burbank. I was at the back racks, sort of hovering, when I saw to my left, speaking in a hushed mutter to Paul (the excellent comicshopman), the guy who is in everything. I thought like a shot: "Seth Rogen."

Followed another thought that limped along five seconds after the first, less dynamic than a shot but closer to reality in its conclusion, I amended that: "It isn't Seth Rogen."

"It isn't even remotely Seth Rogen."

The excellent comicshopman ushered the guy to the rear of the shop, and I was thinking, "He gets his comics at the book door to avoid the recognition of the clammy greasy hoi palloi. He probably pays by monthly invoices. He has the invoice brought to him by his butler on a silver tray. Then his butler goes off with his credit card and pays the bills. The butler is shamelessly skimming money off the top. He lets this awful fraud happen because he's too Twenty-First Century to admit it bothers him." I was also thinking "What's the summitch's name."

I was excited. "He was in Justified, he was in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in both shows he plays a sort of lovable doofus, he does standup comedy that is acclaimed that is beloved of the hipsters, and he writes fucking introductions to comics collections I actually fucking own, he did an episode of Seinfeld in cars with comedians getting coffee and they went out in downtown LA, he was going on about how it's turning into Brooklyn. He did a couple of good Mark Maron podcasts. All this, and I can't remember the fucker's name."

I rather ruefully thought, "He cornered the market with comedy about comics and geek culture. Not that I consider myself a geek. Quite the contrary." I shiver at the people who leap in with both feet going, "Wheeee, I'm a proud geek and the Twenty-First Century is our revenge! Hooray for Harry Potter and computer programming!" I was an athlete –– a cross–country runner –– a lover of tall, frightening, beautiful women –– I wrote bad, difficult verse and I crushed my enemies ruthlessly under my training shoe with the bubbles in the heel (because I come down hard).  I despise the ring–tailed pencil–necked geek––

I just happen to have a tedious and bottomless interest in superhero comics and in the Star Wars cantina scene –– and the Jabba palace and sail barge scenes.

His name, it's like Osbert... like Osbert Sitwell.
His name is Sacheverell Sitwell.
No his name is not Sacheverell Sitwell.

One time I saw a book on the Holds shelf at Los Feliz Library for somebody with his same last name and first initial, and I wondered if it was him.

All the way home I tried to remember his name, in vain. I stopped in Toluca Lake to fix my sedge hat that kept slipping either down the front of my face or behind it. "It's a sort of heavy metal first name, I'm sure of it."

You think this is going to end with me revealing his name, but it isn't. I still don't know it and I refuse to look it up. I once met a girl in Brooklyn when I was very drunk and woke up the next day with her and I didn't remember her name. I asked her not to tell me, and I would try and guess it. We dated for over a month. I used to call her Delilah. This went on for days and everybody in our social circle thought I was a disgusting sexist for continuing this ruse. I still don't know why.

I got home and had a shower. I got out and some veggie buffalo chicken nuggets out of the freezer and put them in the oven, at which point I had the silliest thought of all. It went, "Poor guy, he's afraid of being recognized in the comics shop. It means he can't just sift through the dollar bins at the back of the shop at his leisure like I can."


[POST-SCRIPTUM:  It came to me when I was walking to the library that afternoon: Patton Oswalt.]

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Uatu Dooyoo Like?"


Well past suicidal by now,  I am rereading two comics quasi–simultaneously, an old Steve Engelhart Captain Marvel (#39) and the Earth X trade paperback. In both, I note with dry interest, Uatu the Watcher is portrayed as an extreme sports asshole.

 

The Watchers generally are portrayed badly or well, ranging from Christly to diabolical, entirely depending on the scattershot whims of the writer. Some of the Sixties "Tales of the Watcher" stories (Larry Leiber I believe) even had him engaging in romantic skirmishing clearly beneath his cosmic status:






Good old Johnny Storm injects the correct tone –– heartless, facetious, a Stan Lee horse-laugh –– and restores the Mighty Marvel Manner. Continuity prevails.



Johnny, nota bene, is reading a Marvel comic about the Watcher. Not much has been written about the comics that exist within the Marvel universe formerly numbered 616. That recent invention, Gwenpool, lives on a sort of Marvel equivalent of DC's Earth Prime and reads the same comics we do. The evil "Superboy Prime" in DC used to read DC comics from our world. Earth Prime is (or was) ostensibly "our" world. There is a Fantastic Four also where the team are discussing John Byrne's creepy obsession with the She-Hulk in the comics in their universe. 

Incidentally, I like how gormless the Thing looks in this panel. Totally deserving of Johnny's hard superior scorn! Cookie Monster face.  Although the thought bubble isn't visible, he's obviously going "Duh –– whu–– wha..." Me want cookie.



There was some gooey bad sentimentalism written around Uatu more recently, don't have the citation to hand, sorry, about how he took a wife and fathered a child. Then he got shot dead and his body was crudely mutilated on the surface of the moon by an old Ghost Rider villain, The Orb. That penny-ante short-con small-time pissant! He gouged out the Watcher's eyeballs. Bad move by Jason Aaron, but not as bad as that ultra-shitty Nightcrawler In Heaven book he recently penned which was among the worst cack THIS CORRESPONDENT has ever witnessed –– at least since that Fantastic Four where they went to Heaven to get the Thing back, and God was Jack Kirby.

This bilgewater from the hand that gave us Scalped and that good run on Ghost Rider? He seems, like Rick Remender before him, to have reached the back wall of creativity in his spastic pursuit of Marvel money.

I don't know what Aaron's nebulous fixation with eyes is in Original Sin (which, like Bendis's terrible Age of Ultron and Remender's often-excellent Red Skull/Apocalypse/Kang-fest in Uncanny Avengers was overshadowed by the mighty HICKMAN's Secret Wars, each of which seems to have almost drifted out of continuity) –– but it is redolent of Emerson –– E.T.A. Hoffmann –– Longstreet –– and leads into Freud of course.

"Eyeballs are testicles. Also: the moon's a balloon." –– SIGMUND FREUD

The seemingly arbitrary variedness of Uatu's responses to human stimuli are noted rather dryly by Steve Engelhart in Captain Marvel #39 when he helpfully summarizes all of Uatu's previous blunders into the workings of men. Anyway, the heterogeneous responses to Uatu and his kin (see also late numbers in Tom DeFalco's excellent run on Fantastic Four, when "Aron, the Rogue Watcher" –– initiated by Engelhart in the aforementioned Captain Marvel #39 and again in his also-superb run on FF –– rears his head) reflect



a larger division in the American –– if not the global –– mass– (un–) consciousness. Is government surveilling good or bad? Is it right that Uatu is watching our every move? The Watcher is a Cold War-era phantasy on surreptitious monitoring, particularly relevant now in the wake of Edward Snowden, Wikileaks etc. etc. ETC. My comment is apt, but dull. Not for nothing is this weblog entitled "Boring Comics. It is perhaps fitting that Jason Aaron (wrong or right his wayward instincts at this point) had the ultimate Marvel Cold War spy, Nick Fury, destroy & then supplant the Watcher.

(Whatever happened to that particular storyline? Where is it in the "post-Secret Wars universe"?)

In those Strange Tales comics by artsy alternative Fantagraphics / RISD / Mome types, meanwhile, the reinterpretation has a sexual emphasis. The Watcher as voyeur. He is portrayed as a peeping tom and a serial masturbator (fixated, again, on She-Hulk –– and dispatched, again, with some premonition, by Nick Fury).



Don't know if these occurrences can be said to exist in continuity.
Haven't the data.
Check your Marvunapp.

Leave it to Uatu on this occasion to provide the educational conclusion:              

Friday, March 4, 2016

"Circus Jerk."





Flushed with throwing a hundred bucks against the back wall for dollar bin comics at Burbank's excellent House of Secrets I indulged the awful bad thing within me –– I pushed it. I fed the maw of the oven of the belly of the beast. As Ezra Pound says, "I over-egged the cake-mix."

I had the dumb idea.

We were coming back from walking in Griffith Park at sundown, and I said to wife, I feel like some freshly squeezed orange juice and some Thai veggie burgers, shall we go to Silverlake Trader Joes? Fine, she says, and off we go over the Shakespeare Bridge & down St. George & Hyperion &c. &c.

Then when we're out I say, "Now since we're right by Circus of Books, can we just drop by & I'll pick up this one dollar book I hid there yesterday?"

I'd been in there yesterday, using up quite useless time. As God Is My Co-Pilot called it, "Getting Out of Boring Time Biting Into Boring Pie." I'd gone to see Deadpool the movie at the Vista cinema  at its first matinee showing, but it wasn't on at 1:30 because a film crew was there making some no doubt spangled production. Some helpful son of a bitch on the crew says to me, "Deadpool'll be on at three." I amazingly took him for an authority. An expert on the subject of things in reality.

I didn't realize then that he was a master of deception.

The Lords of Life, the Lords of Life

So I characteristically drifted off to the Goodwill on Hollywood Boulevard & vaporized time there among the crazies screaming in the aisles. I picked up a Jimmy Webb LP, that I obviously didn't need, a copy of Interview from the early Nineties with nude photos of Drew Barrymore, and a first edition of The Body Artist by Don DeLillo. What the fuck, right? I might even read it. Then I had the terrific idea to pop over to Circus of Books to look through the comics there.

I had the dumb idea.

I found nothing of particular interest except for a Legion of Superheroes annual I already have, but it's in storage in Oxford, England. I had no "cash money" on me and assumed I couldn't pay with the card, so I rather mindlessly put it at the back of one of the longboxes and walked away.

Next day, almost inevitably, the siren call of this VG/Good copy of an old Legion annual from the Nineties was so great I compelled my wife to drive through the intricate and tortuous roadways around Circus of Books, those bridges and tunnels and impossible triangles, compelled her to park opposite the hobo jungle across Sunset from Circus of Books.

I flew across Sunset to get the comic, and of course the shop was shut, with the familiar sign promising the shop staff would be back at 7. I crossed Sunset again and got into our car, causing my wife to jump in terror. "Fuck Circus of Books!" I remarked. Tried to mitigate my shame. "They're shutting down imminently," I said.
"Good," said my wife. "I'm going to phone them up and ask them to close down tomorrow."
"You should." I said. "You should! Fucking Circus!"

Then as we were backing away to drive home, I saw the place had opened up. Saw a punter push the door inward. Wife rolled her eyes. We re-parked in front of the hobo jungle and I ran across Sunset to Circus of Books again.

In there, I was rushing through the longboxes, instantly aware that the Legion annual was not where I'd left it yesterday. A fatuous panic took over me. Thoughts of wife fuming outside the hobo jungle  were combined with a very specific self-awareness/self-loathing that only comes over me when I am rooting through the dollar bins at Circus of Books, and it quite overwhelmed me. I had a nervous mental breakdown of sorts.

Circus of Books is actually a gay "bookshop." I have never stepped past the front of the shop, beyond where the comics dollar boxes are. I don't know what is back there. Pete Kline went back there once and came out quite wild-eyed and muted. But on this day, a gaggle of Latina schoolgirls were gathered, talking about school with each other. I was puzzled, abstractly, as I flailed and lashed about me, looking for the Legion annual.  After about five minutes, my Circus of Books self-hatred being too intense to endure, I fled the shop in disgust and ran across Sunset for the sixth time.

There must be a name for this. Getting into the car for the umpteenth time I  said to my wife, trying to pre-empt her harsh words, "Circus of Books is a circus of jerks –– and I'm the clown!"

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Hickman's Beyonders–– No Prize Sought."


Is this Jonathan Hickman, or Aron, the "Rogue Watcher" (FF #330)?

1. General Remarks.

Hickman's Secret Wars was not equal to the often excellent (and lengthy) build-up to it he wrote quite meticulously in two Avengers titles. (With a dismissive wave of the hand I discount that third, inferior title with Sunspot and Cannonball. Yes: two of the least interesting members of the New Mutants are now significant Avengers. Do you remember Fallen Angels? With the mutant lobsters. Yeah that's the one. That was the last time that Sunspot was an interesting character.

Although, remember that issue –– Brett Blevins art –– where he was a future fascist capitalist? Good times. As for Cannonball, he hasn't been interesting since Bill Sienkewicz stopped drawing him as an ungainly Southern stringbean with a long rectangular head.)

It were to be wished that Secret Wars had actually had scenes equal to its covers, where all the villains and heroes were in space or on a battlefield running harum-scarum at each other, fists  pumping and raised and shouting, "spiked breast to spiked breast" . Like, in fact, Jim Shooter's original, and routinely maligned, toy-plug ("pig-fuck") – fest Secret Wars.

It were further to be wished that the superheroes had all been the actual versions of themselves, instead of (for the better part) nebulous and minor What If? alternate universe versions of themselves. Only purists (I count myself one, admittedly) care about the What If? universes. Instead one was left always wondering, "Are these the real versions of Galactus, Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse, or are they cheap knock-offs?" What was Galactus doing anyway the whole while –– wasn't he just a glorified light fixture? A garden ornament even.

You wondered if something more interesting was happening in a spin-off you weren't reading.

They should have set it out, at least, who was who and from which universe. And: why would Doom from Universe 616 have brought back all these marginal footnote types, and not the real (sorry, "real") people from his own universe? Did Doom (and Doctor Strange) actually sit down and say, "Okay let's have a Steve Rogers from the nineteenth-century wild west, a Spider-Man who married Mary Jane Watson, "... &c. Unlikely scenario! And if they did, surely all these characters were mere phantasms  –– mere vapor –– and not worthy of our attention.

They'd have said, "Let's get the guys from our own universe. Love 'em or hate 'em they're still our guys." Like in the original Secret Wars, when Wolverine said of Cyclops, "He may be a jerk, but he's our jerk." Doom and Dr. Strange would have said,"They're all jerks but they're our jerks."

I'll concede that he would have excluded Reed Richards.

2. Questions of Influence and Precedence. 

A. A rather dry point this, perhaps, made from deep in the dry diggings of an academic's carrel, –– noting an antecedent for the denouement of Secret Wars (2015). In #9 (January 2016) Hickman had everything turn on Doctor Doom's reluctant admission of his error: to concede, indeed, that he is not Reed Richards's equal.

This convinces the Molecule Man to stop bankrolling Doom's illusory (and never very well explained) Battleworld, his garden of unearthly delights. Molecule Man –– a notorious flip-flopper –– now backs Reed Richards, and they recreate the Marvel Universe (no longer numbered 616 apparently), a task for which they are apparently considered eminently qualified. Sue, Reed and the kids are written out of the story for a spell, because they are not popular with readers.

I wonder if Marvel (presumably via Hickman, the one man qualified to do it) is going to explain all the peculiarities of continuity that this whole protracted fiasco was brimming with. Most obviously, Bendis's big hash of everything, Ultimate End. There are a plethora of smaller (although actually cosmic) inconsistencies, if you go back to the exacting standards of Gruenwald in Quasar (the Bible). For one: the Living Tribunal does not have a "body" that is actually him, cf Gruenwald's dimension of forms, where Eternity, Galactus and Celestials borrow bodies for various purposes. Ergo these scenes of his "corpse" on the moon are problem blunders –– I say nothing here of the Orb of all people (why not Paste Pot Pete?) shooting the Watcher on the Moon.

Anyway, the Dr. Doom self-criticism/self-doubt motif scene echoes a comic I read today with great delight, Fantastic Four Annual #20, written by Englehart. I consider Englehart's phase on Fantastic Four as one of the impeccable runs. Some issues are drawn by John Buscema and inked by Joe Sinnott, for crying out loud. Also, Englehart must be one of the few writers to be able to script Ben Grimm without veering variously into repetition, absurdity and cliche. Englehart managed to make a sort of Hamlet out of the Thing. It was also obviously a run Hickman was well aware of as he wrote Secret Wars (2015) since it is here that the subject of the Beyonoders is first properly invigorated.

The Fantastic Four (sans Reed and Sue, NB) search for the Beyonders, with Doctor Doom in tow, and this leads to the jaw-dropping #319, where it is revealed that the Beyonder was just a cosmic cube granted sentience. Nice scene of the Shaper of Worlds –– that fan favorite.

Anyway in Annual #20, Englehart includes the crux of the identity war between Dr. Doom and Kristoff Vernard. In the lengthy John Byrne run on Fantastic Four that precedes Englehart's, Doom had implanted all his memories and brainwaves (... or something...) into the malleable brain of a small peasant boy. In the event he should die, this was one of Doom's failsafes for his mind to survive. A somewhat hollow victory over the Great leveler, I'd say. Like Mr. Sinister, continually cloning himself at every turn. This backfired when he came back from the dead in the Secret Wars II-related story (below). Doom's copy and the original begin to be confused –– primarily by the Doombots, who are attuned to the exact readings of Doom's brainwaves.



When they meet, Doom inadvisedly makes a rare admission of failure aloud –– in this case, conceding that he cannot trust anyone –– and this confession convinces the Doombots standing about that Kristoff is in fact the real Doom. Since Doom, that vainglorious man, would never admit to a shortcoming. As the OHOTMU Update '89 puts it, "the real Doctor Doom admitted to a human weakness –– his inability to trust Franklin to defeat Mephisto in combat" (#2, August 1989, 33).


Weird moment of public introspection. 
Poorly-chosen time to have a public bout of self-doubt, Doom old mate!

These poor guys are shattered –– their world has caved in on them!! They've lost faith.

N.B. This is also before the word "Doombot" came into common parlance.
Now it seems everybody uses the word willy-nilly.
I feel like John Byrne, who hated people calling Captain America "Cap". 

Do you remember the late 80s, when people really didn't know which was the real Doctor Doom?
It was a world of illusions and mirages.

There's a great bit at the end, indicative of Reed Richard's suave, casual superiority to everybody really, when he just matter-of-factly says to Kristoff, "I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you once more that you're not Doctor Doom!" 


In the next issue in continuity (#306 –– drawn by Buscema and Sinnott) he remarks to Medusa, "very frankly, I've had enough of people with mental problems." That's it in a nutshell. Reed Richards is sane, Doom isn't. 

And yet it is worth noting –– this was a good  move by Hickman –– that the only person equal to the supreme threat of the Beyonders (hinted at ominously but never seen in Englehart's FF run) was that same wily nutcase Fiktor Fon Doom. Those issues of the Avengers were marvelous weren't they –– real gold –– Steve Rogers and Tony Stark brawling knockdown and drag-out on the burning Earth –– too lost in their cage-match mutual hatred to even care about their home planet dying around them!

I am curious to know, in the post-Secret Wars continuity: how exactly are these the same people? Did Reed Richards, Franklin Richards, Molecule Man et al re-create the Marvel Universe #616 (number retired) faithfully to the last atom? How can it be done? (Slott asked the same question well in the Silver Surfer "Last Days" issues.) Does this current continuity's Steve Rogers have a vivid and pulsing memory of that last sturm und drang deathmatch with Tony Stark, or has it been diplomatically erased by the genteel Dr. Richards? 

I am unavoidably reminded of when Sise-Neg destroyed everything in existence and made it all again, and then Thanos did the same. It never sits well with us –– is this really the same universe?, or are these people mere marionettes, facsimiles of their former selves? 

(It is worth remembering none of this is real.)

And yet––

And yet!

B. As another useful methodology of avoiding death,  aside from forcing your  memories and brainwaves onto a peasant boy, is in the Secret Wars II crossover. On this occasion, Doom, in the thick of battle with Terrax the Tamer, switched minds with a bystander seconds before his physical shell was destroyed by a fireball. He learnt this interesting party trick way back in continuity from the "Ovoids" (#10).  John Byrne liked to go back to the source –– a good thing we should all do more often.

Anyway, in the course of the story Doom summons the greatest power in existence to compel it –– rather rudely –– to re-create his original body and transfer his brain into it. This being is the Beyonder.

The Beyonder and Doom do not recognize each other. How can it be, wonders Reed Richards –– magically echoing the thoughts reverberating in our own heads –– , and then brilliantly hypothesizes it.


Reed Richards, in more innocent times, speaks of "true bodies" –– as does Doom.
They hadn't been destroyed and reconstituted countless times by Thanos and Jim Starlin yet. 


You want to interject –– "Why were you so keen on having Doom there, but not Doctor Strange? Or  Daredevil? Or say, Madcap, or –– the Hobgoblin? He would have been good.Who cared if the Wrecking Crew, those serial rapists, were there or not?