Tuesday, January 1
Wednesday, December 19
A change in format is in order. Around New Year's, I should have something new up along with a bunch of pieces ready for consumption. They've also shifted a lot stylistically. When the new blog is up, I'll be sure to update here, but I'm likely done here, at this address.
Thursday, November 29
I'm hard at work diverting my energies elsewhere. I'm almost done with a Moomin review, which will replace this hopefully before three in the A.M.
Update (Friday Night): I know, I know: I'm bad. This will be my stigma.
Update (Monday Afternoon): So, apparently, finals and papers take time. Who knew? Hopefully I can yield a couple reviews from my free time next week, but even then deadlines loom. Coincidentally enough, this was my 100th post, an occasion I thought gone. Two drafts are clogging up my blogger account, and their inclusion escaped my notice. It's also almost my one-year anniversary of doing this (Well, December 18th, but my last exam is the 12th, so this site may be defunct until then). I've had a great time articulating my thoughts on comics and don't plan on stopping anytime soon, although I feel that I've changed a lot since I started writing and might deserve a change of locale. Regardless from where, Thanks for All the Hits* and Attention!
*Which I still don't know how to check. That might be such a bad thing, but I'm still curious as to how those cool people find out that Bondage Batman Wonder Rock Latitudarian google searches turn up their site? I wanna join the club...
Saturday, November 24
I’m The Type Who Reads Introductions, Afterwords, Prefaces, and Post-Scripts Before the Actual Letters Themselves.
Some stories need a little context, a little accessibility before jumping headlong into them. This might be one of them.
Frank Santoro began drawing comics in a small, self-published 'zine called Sirk. In these pages, he would conjure a "sincere statement" from "B-level, low culture symbols." Unfortunately, we're only given a teaser of such splendor: the reproduced pages of Sirk are no more than thumbnails of pages. They convey his wildly shifting style, his ingenious sense of design (One page has a girly seductively tempting the reader while her boyfriend is arguing with her in the foreground, as if he's fighting to keep something different than an emotional attachment to her), but these are only teases of different flavors, samples of long since published, impossibly cached art. The book we're given, Storeyville, is not the totality of Santoro's output, although it may very well be his entire output available on amazon.com, a fact of which this book's publishers are keenly aware.
There's some more context needed, some that the rest of the book provides in spades. The introduction by Chris Ware reveals the techniques, trickery and magic of Santoro in the huge volume (literally one and a half times the size of a regular pamphlet), and this is before he gives his readers a spoiler warning, but I can't imagine anyone feeling cheated by learning of the three sentences comprising its narrative breadth. More revealing are Ware's elucidations of Santoro's shifting drawing style, of his page construction. The details of the plot, although important to the story if one is to gain a full understanding of its contents, did not apotheosize the work. The joy in reading it is not derived from reaching the ending, but in reaching how the ending is told, how Santoro conveys the emotions of the ending to the reader.
There's also the context of how other artists have interpreted the work. Seth calls it"the work closest to duplicating that same passionate and intoxicating quality that was found in the woodcut novels of Frans Massereel", and Chris Ware wastes no time proclaiming the book the revelation it is. All of these words enshrine the book before its contents can begin to proselytize themselves.
With all of this care put into archiving the book's importance in the field of comics, I can't shake the feeling that this may not be how Santoro would want the book to be published. He has enough of an online presence that my ramblings here might attract his attention, and I welcome his opinion. Santoro and his then-girlfriend Kate Glicksberg produced 10,000 of these beauties and sold 1,000 of them in six months. The comics were then left around town in "newspaper boxes, bookstores, and movie theatres," and enjoyed by the populace at large. The afterword, called The Road to Storeyville, reveals this. The book, an incredibly personal journey, was seen being read by plenty of people all over town by all sorts of people in all sorts of locales, connecting, it seems, with anyone open enough to open it. One almost feels obliged to enjoy the volume, with the copious circumstantial and professional testimony given about the book's greatness, the commensurate of Ulysses in Greek Epic and English Literature in Comics after reading the statements on the back. This is a work to be studied, mind you, one whose techniques will astound and amaze you. And, wrapped between this apology (I feel inclined to mention the work's positive qualities when people open the book and see an incredibly jarring, amateurish page at first as I envision others do, and the tremendous introduction (complete with Chris Ware's similar story of slight miscomprehension at first) is difficult to read as anything but an apology), we're finally given our book, and what a book it is!
At first glance, its art is less than optimal when compared with other more lavishly delightful artists. The lines are sketchy in terms of quality and linework, but this only the commencement of a style for the volume, a necessary concession to the book's needs, and a jump that introduces the world of Storeyville with immediacy and grace. Although a couple pages reveal the book's stylistic shifts unequivocally when a landscape flits from pencil sketching to inky expressionism in between panels, a closer look at the beginning of the book reveals a similar diligence from the beginning: we've just suddenly become conscious of the world around us, of the world that was more simply viewed before.
This sudden realization fits the book exquisitely. Allow me a spoiler warning, although I've already ruined a major facet of the book for virgin eyes. The main character spends the entirety of the book searching for his mentor, a mysterious character called the reverend, finding him in both memory and person. The book begins with the main character, Rudy, becoming conscious, and the reader's journey follows his (assuming an observant reader. I always get a little agitated when a critic or someone talks about a reader as if the reader is the critic themselves, and aware of everything the critic does, but I digress, and concede the importance of the synecdoche "reader," or, even worse for a book or comic, "audience"). The book then follows his quest for his father, but this is not as important as the portraits Santoro gives us of his character in between. A city's denizens swarm the pencil sketched narrator in heavy, starkly black coats, panels focus on the scenery of a city for panels at a time after a conversation sends the narrator into introspection. Although Santoro only gives us scant, oblique glances into his character form rare narration (and very simply written narration at that, much different than his brilliant, natural dialogue), he brilliantly conveys his mood at all times throughout the story. I could go on, but the book's artistic intricacies are fertile enough that I would miss astounding moments and ruin their beauty by interpreting them.
Earlier, when I mentioned this as the commensurate to Ulysses, the comparison was accurate in more ways than one. Similar to Joyce's usage* of free indirect discourse, the artistic styles shift with the emotions of the narrator, but, whereas the stylistic shifts of prose might only surprise, here the sudden shift between panels of gray, sketched landscapes to thick inks and startle. I don't mean to explain the style only through a simile, though. The style, while it has subtleties, is not subtle compared the less frank style libre: when translating mediums, very little more than stage direction remained intact.
*Yes, yes, this was much more utilized in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners than Ulysses. And Joyce was not its progenitor, just its most egregious implementer. To careful eyes, my statement might not deceive, but you'll probably need bifocals for that.
The comparison to Ulysses also applies to its plot. The Odyssey follows Telemachus and Odysseus as they reintegrate themselves into society after the Trojan War and time has changed both greatly, culminating in the assumption of identity and, consequently, security both physical and mental. Rudy finds himself missing something, needing his spiritual father, and leaves to search for him at the beginning of the story. He finds his father in recollection, just as Telemachus finds Odysseus in Menelaus' stories of the Trojan War, and how Odysseus finds himself by telling the Trojan Horse story. The moment of recollection in Storeyville fulfills a very similar role: when Will, the name of the protagonist, feels at his lowest, drunk in a bar, the moment of their separation overtakes him. Telemachus hears the exploits of his father as a guest at a Spartan wedding, and the two characters share a liminal zone during the recollection as well as feelings of despair. When he last narrated (and a section detailing Rudy's activities separates these two parts), Rudy tells us he was "lost" and "no longer sure in which direction [his] future lay." He then explains his closely guarded identity (Telemachus was greeted as a random guest in the house of Menelaus deserving hospitality), further establishing Montreal as a liminal zone. Rudy suffers a similar loss of identity, and he attempts to hide his past from his crewmates, but for him Montreal is not a liminal zone, but his newly found home. The three years described in the book could no doubt describe his change, but this is not a tale about Rudy, who rebuilt his life after being left wounded by Will on the run, this is a story about Will, the lost individual searching for meaning.
The book makes no references to The Odyssey outside of its plot skeleton. The story is even told from the perspective of the searcher and the object, but the only appropriate comparison is between Telemachus and Will, and not Odysseus and Rudy. Rudy has found his way when he is introduced into the story, and his identity is not shown as a shifting object like Odysseus', but something to be taken for granted. He has already claimed his place in Montreal's society, and does not need to appear a beggar in order to find his place, because he has already done so. There's also no suspicious ten year segments of unexplained absences that normally permeate more allusive works. It follows a similar rite of passage to the Odyssey, but should not be construed as a replicator, just a simile. An incredibly powerful, impressive simile that, unlike Joyce's, retains its rectilinear focus throughout, even moreso than Homer himself, on the time in our lives when change occurs, and how that time feels. This is a powerful work of internal revelation, one that can grip a reader and pull it into its world, its emotive state, and lead us to a beautiful conclusion of self-recognition.
Despite my misgivings about the book's presentation, it really is a classic and deserves an attentive read through by anybody who claims to have more than a passing interest in the medium of comics, but the book may be too big for a shelf. I recommend folding the newsprint copy and stowing it in the pocket closest to your heart, because that's where it really belongs, because this edition evangelizes when a discussion might prove more amenable to its contents.
And, just so I'm not completely serious in this post, my brother picked up a couple of cheap Philip K. Dick paperbacks at a library sale (they just don't feel right in teh vintage editions. Probably because they cost more than a quarter, that way), and this is what greeted his opening of VALIS:
We laughed a little.
Thursday, November 22
Last Week's Reviews:
All-Star Superman #9 It's kinda cool.
The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution Which is Really Good, especially if hormones dictate your actions more than past experiences.
Nightwing #138 Which is really awful.
There aren't many new comics series for me coming out this week (and I say that with the reservation that I'm not too interested in Jack Cole's Betsy and Me, I haven't started reading Love and Rockets yet, and the wide but shallow sampling of superhero titles are not purchased by me currently. This should be a good week for many, but, alas, I am not one of those people. And there's a new Mario game out) and the turkey's gotten to me, so that'll be it for now. Enjoy your holiday! and I should have a couple reviews up this weekend.
Monday, November 19
Moomin is so cool! Moomim Moomim Moomim! (Review forthcoming)
I should have known it wasn’t for me by the cover. (What, did you expect me to paste it on this site? I have some standards, at least).
Funnily enough, those costumes aren’t even those worn by the three chickadees either in the comic itself or in the Batman comic. I think it’s all a clever part by Morrison to show the transient nature these types of women have in the superhero funnybooks, to show how unimportant their actual identity is, but it’s done only through actually stripping them of their identity without winking, and that is not a fun time (well, maybe for some, I admit. Fun can be subjective sometimes).
The rest of the issue isn’t much better. Remember the overwrought captioning of M. Milligan? Nicieza has mastered the art of laconic emoting as well, but doesn’t even offer up an exciting tussle with ninjas to tide us over, just panels of Nightwing being smart and all that while billy clubs clash with swords and occasionally the shoulder of a Robin. I shouldn’t be reading this.
There was an interesting discussion stirred up by two individuals three weeks ago, all because of an allusion comparing Joyce and Stan Lee, touching (one might say hinging) on criteria for quality, always an elusive beast. The issue dissipates by the end of the discussion as both parties are complicit in slight miscomprehension of the other (as arguments usually go), but it does touch on the issue of quality and classification in art, two germane topics when I’ve finished lampooning a Batman comic for being a Batman comic (and, no, I will not paint them as concinnities of poor craftsmanship for M. Morrison as I am wont to do)).
Innovation (which might be seen as a criterion for my appreciation of art, given my recurring appreciations of “innovative page usage”) is really illusory and deceptive. It hides the actuality of a beast under a mirage of something new and wonderful. Regarding the flights of enigmatic auteurs, who’s to say that new techniques of portraiture really elevate the quality of art? Surely, one can claim the lines of prose as penned by Joyce inspire and allude to more than the verbiage of Lee, but that only speaks of how people react to a work. And even then, what if an unseen artist scripted a similar event prior to the exhibition of some art? What if Frank Miller’s panel layouts were actually inspired by Japanese Manga, and were actually very derivative of current Japanese comics at the time?
This is all separating innovation from its functions within a piece of art, though. Innovation works best when it isn’t offered as an element to be studied, but as a problem solved, of communicating a complex idea more elegantly than previous methods could muster. It is for this reason that innovation itself should not be counted as a criterion for quality, but a work lacking innovation will not measure up to those blazing trails with wondrous reinventions, now will it?
What is more important than naked innovation is how a work functions in its culture, in its environment (and, as those proclaiming quality to be entirely subjective, of the person reading the work in question, but I feel that groups can be made). Is a work innovative? Compared to those? Does it present a unique vision? Because these are (somewhat) the tenets of what I understand to be quality, but I can honestly say, with finality, that the biggest criterion for quality in a work is its quality, as will be determined by pontification. As dubious as that sounds, as much of an abdication it is, that is how I honestly feel about the issue. Innovation must sometimes be tempered by moderation, and moderation must be tempered by innovation, but it all depends: let’s talk specifics if we’re gonna talk quality.
All of which leads me to how I view Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and Lee/Ditko Spiderman. If these comics could be read without the following decades of adoration, one might be able to conclude that they are the finest comics published by Marvel and DC, bar none, including Watchmen, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Seven Soldiers, and all that modernist fluff. The books ingeniously combined the tropes of disparate, stratified comics at the time (romance, adventure, superhero, and big monster) and told wonderfully unique stories within a brilliant new framework. Unfortunately, those comics cannot be read as the revolutions they are except by the most studious of comics readers, devouring DC’s attempts at superheroes and Marvel’s attempts at Big Monster before plunging into the Fantastic Four. And, in some areas, they’ve aged frightfully. While searching for good, even great works, might be a worthy goal, trying to pinpoint two different, disparate work’s abstract quality leads to the rhetoric of subjective quality, and, really, who wants that? Let’s just say that both are in the category of great, and leave the numbered reviews to the unenlightened.
All that’s left is the reaction to the work, devoid of quality. Some critics chase the “best” in fiction and hew a visceral, personal reaction to a demarcation of a work’s quality above others, but, really, such taxonomy is useless. Work is only relative to other works: apposite comments on quality are only culled from comparisons: The Nightwing issue I talked about above really is dreck.
Kinda redundant to say now (oh how I condescend!), but, my blog requires
And is rated
All because of these words
- death (10x)
- kill (4x)
- steal (3x)
- dick (2x)
- crappy (1x)
Friday, November 16
Some People Find Sprawling, Incomprehensible Works Like Yes’ Tales of the Topographic Oceans Indulgent. I Find Beauty in the Earnest,
and am banking on similar tastes from you, as well.
I’m sure you’ll be able to spot the newly inserted idea. It’s the one with no textual evidence and plenty of rhetorical aggrandizement. Enjoy!
Some individual issues impact people a lot. Jim Roeg is a master at documenting the impact something so miniscule as Daredevil #253 had on his development as a child (I have a heart spot for that one. I randomly bought that same issue in a bargain bin when a wee young’un). For me, pretense gripped my tender heart at a young age, and the only instruments able to affect my tender sensibilities were works whose presentation demanded attention and appreciation. I still naively called them graphic novels in those days, and I’m revisiting the monuments of yore. This comic blew my pubertal, puerile mind, and I want to know if it still can rend my mental infrastructure asunder as it could during my youth.
The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution
In my mind, Grant Morrison could not be anything other than a comic writer paired with an earnest but insufficient artist attempting to fulfill his vision. So much of his bibliography (particularly Bible John and The Invisibles, but there are some clunkers in Doom Patrol and Seven Soldiers, too) is written with the tremendous weight of experience guiding his pen that anything produced is a translation of a long dead language. His comics are gateways into his mental corridors at the time of construction much more than actual comics, and if I or any reader should fail to find them, the artists can’t quite measure up to Hermes as a psychopomp. I say this to disclaim my unencumbered adoration of the author. I can understand that the artist is not always at fault, but the reissue of Arkham Asylum only reinforced this flattery of Morrison. Forgive my worship, now, and, please, join me on this anabasis.
Before I get into anything else, I feel obliged to mention that Grant Morrison did not write this comic as ably as his other superhero work. Of the first three cliffhangers, the second two are completely awful, random insertions into the plot, eventually resolved at the expense of the first few pages of the next comic. While the act of dominating Dane by the Invisibles (#3’s cliffhanger) is an integral part of the male initiation ritual which Dane undergoes, Morrison presents the act as the start to a chase at the end of the second issue, and then any tension is relieved by the ensuing pages of talking heads. Oh, and Dane gets punched once or twice before they leave. I only mention this to admit deficiencies within the work before I enthrone it as capturing the male initiation ritual and elucidating its consequences. It’s not always a perfect comic, but rarely falters as a concept.
Speaking of concepts, I love the second and third page dearly. The credit page shows us Dane ready to throw a Molotov cocktail into a school, and the third page focuses on the cocktail’s journey through the library, leading to its eventual explosion. Showing the library destroyed isn’t enough for readers of this comic, we must watch the cocktail on its incendiary path; we must revel with Dane as the school blows up. The following sixteen pages, less two for the invocation of John Lennon, delineate the hoodlum’s activities with a similar lingering eye, but aren’t quite as beautiful in their rectilinearality. Also, and this is really important but approaches uninteresting, they portray Dane as the epitome of youthful rebellion, and establishes a conflict between youthful intelligence and authority, which will be recurred throughout the work in different situations. They also establish Dane as a liminal male, and set the stage for plenty of subtle mythic allusions.
Morrison establishes a mythic undertone to the series very early, the first page in fact! Morrison alludes to the Egyptian God Khepri or, as the book spells it, Kheprah, by presenting King Mob with a Kheper, a mummified beetle. In ancient Egypt, beetles would lay their eggs in animal feces and dead scarabs, and the ancient Egyptians felt that the growth of these insects from detritus was a miracle. Kheprah, the god associated with the beetles, became the god of rebirth, and, after the cult of Ra became incredibly prominent, the idea of rebirth and the god Kheprah was subsumed into the youth of Ra (this information is taken from Wikipedia). Dane is the kheper of the story, having begun his life in social filth, and this comic itself can be a kheper, having begun in the poor conditions and public perception and grown into a mature, living thing (which is how Morrison wishes we’d view the Invisibles, as a living text, a hypersigil, but I’ll remark on that subject a little later)
Morrison also trades in Buddhist parables, too. Before Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, he takes on the consciousness of a pigeon and flies around in the mind of the other. This separates Siddhartha from his ego, his sense of self, by learning an extreme form of empathy. Dane undergoes the same ritual as Siddhartha through Tom O’Bedlam, and eventually his identity is completely stripped from himself by dying, by jumping off from a skyscraper. Which is later revealed as less than a complete ego destruction, but the importance here is the ritual he undergoes, as well as the alien abduction experience similar to that from Morrison’s youth. There’s a conflict here between Dane’s old self, the poof-hating hoodlum, and the Buddha O’Bedlam is making him out to be. There’s no possible way the old self can win when the Invisibles have such an institution set for emotional transformations (Another cell makes that their vocation, as seen in volume 5 when Boy’s vengeful motives are extirpated).
There’s another conflict Morrison presents in the story. In order to make the comic more interesting, the jars filled with the brains of aggressive and rebellious boys make the conflict explicitly external, too, necessitating Dane’s future training in martial arts. If the forces of order (and Morrison very carefully lets the reader make all the associations of the opposition. Characters simply shrug when pressed to identify the enemy as “The forces that want to control people’s lives and keep us asleep forever,” Boy states in #5. This is a conflict of ideals, first and foremost, in which King Mob and Gelt are only fashionable marionettes) can strip Dane of his originality and rebellious ideals simply by surgery, He must learn to fire a gun if he’s to survive in this world.
Unfortunately, Dane never quite learns how to fire a gun in the first couple pages (and his first and only subsequent murder at the end of the start of the first volume reinforces his status as a Buddha: the one dying man caused Siddhartha to attain enlightenment, just as the one murder of Dane around the murderous lot of Invisibles instigated his path), and suffers at the hands of Tom O’Bedlam, the Invisibles dressed as Sir Miles’ hobo hunting troupe, and the teachers at Harmony House: although the Invisibles are painted in a sympathetic light, here they resort to base psychological tactics when recruiting Dane. Clearly, some of the evil order must be imposed by the Heresiarch when fighting the Hierarch.
So far, the comic itself has struggled to convey its meaning with the heavy handed fists of ham. While I might give Morrison credit for the authorial foresight to increase articulation of the comic’s message as the pages progress, I can only comment on its effect: Morrison the comic scripter is growing up with Dane, and by the end of the comic’s first arc, Morrison is ready to elevate the comic past the concerns of the individual Dane/Jack Frost and bring more characters into the story’s folds. The author gained the perspective of the pigeon as well as the protagonist. The next four issues composing the story Arcadia are very different from the preceding four, in style and intent.
It’s worth noting that Morrison writes these next four comics much better than the prior four. Each issue ends not with an attention grabbing cliffhanger but the conclusion of the single issue’s story, or a much more fair moment of tension. The fifth issue ends when the Invisibles reach France at the time of the Revolution. There’s no attempt at shocks like the sudden appearance of the Invisibles going to kill Jack, or Tom suggesting suicide and then offering it as a means of shedding the adolescent self. Morrison plays fair by introducing the assassin Xipe Totec, although, admittedly, the sudden quest of Ragged Robin to find the treasure of the Teutonic Knights is an odd insertion (Not that it sounds that much worse than Xipe Totec in this context, I humbly admit).
This isn’t to say that the comics are perfect, though. Morrison or (Jill) Thompson doesn’t portray the scene involving the horrific abuse of children as part of the dream which King Mob, Boy, and the Marquis De Sade experience, and often switches scenes with no indication except the turning of a page between the actions of the four leaders shown in the dream and the conversations between Byron and Shelley. Even then, King Mob and his companions are shown as being a part of the dream only twice. Also, the interludes of Byron and Shelley, while integral to the story’s exploration of rebellion, tonally shift the book whenever they occur, from the blood thirst of the revolution to the quiet exploration of the self when rebelling, and vanishes after a couple pages.
However, Morrison does interweave different visions of rebellion into the comic, something with which he couldn’t be bothered during the first four. Shelley and Byron attempt an internal rebellion against the unnamed forces of order (Morrison has yet to deify the opposition yet), choosing to rebel with their quills on parchment. The French Revolution shows that rebellion (of which there’s only one, says King Mob) writ large upon a society, where the oppressed become oppressors, and institute their world order with as much self-righteousness and recklessness as the former monarchs. This anticipates the second volume’s mental breakdown of King Mob, who becomes distraught over his many murders, and he starts to question his conformity to the other side, to the shifted allegiance from the Hierarch to Heresiarch. Already, revolution is shown as far from the answer to dissatisfaction.
This could not have been anything other than a comic for one simple reason; Lord Fanny. No textual medium could convey how feminine she is as simply as a panel can, and, were this a movie, she would be given a distinct voice, whether of a male in drag or an actual woman, but part of the charm of comics is its relation to novels, to the audience’s imagination. She can portray herself as having completely mastered the societal role of female without submitting to clichés, and can just as easily remove her silicon breasts and attack Orlando while the gender associations of her voice are a construct of the reader’s mind (Note: I will refer to Lord Fanny in the feminine, although I don’t mean to deny the masculine traits).
Lord Fanny would seem to be at ease in the world the Marquis De Sade, but she’s partly defined by her separation from a fantastical Garden of pleasure. Although Dane slings his insults at her, she reacts not with melodrama, but continued existence as a transvestite. Which is to say, her identity is well established and does not need the approval of peers. She has integrated herself into the actual world and spends her only time in a place like Marquis De Sade’s mansion, in the Velvet Underground sick and awaiting release (she prefers dance halls and clubs). She is subculture subsumed into mainstream culture.
It then makes sense that Fanny is the one to destroy Xipe Totec. In Aztec society, Xipe Totec was the mysterious god of agriculture, and, as the Greeks innovated with Demeter, the cult deity of rebirth and fertility, who offered an escape from death to cult initiates by rebirth. Victims would be sacrificed and their skin would be worn by priests every Spring in a ritual affirming rebirth (I’m not trying to justify those atrocities, just explicate them). Our modern discovery of Xipe Totec in The Invisibles even shows the God of rebirth undergoing rebirth as a tool of the Archons of order, and Xipe Totec has persisted at living under constant rebirths himself when we find him. The notion of cycles is an important integrand of the Archons of Orders attempt at world domination.
Fanny, by contrast, is separate from the cycle of rebirth. As a homosexual and transvestite, genetic rebirth will always prove elusive. She is naturally at odds with Xipe Totec, but when Xipe Totec attempts to kill her, she succeeds because of her deception, because he sliced her breast and expected her to bleed to death and turned his attentions towards Dane. So she killed the deity by stabbing it with her heel, with a weapon gained from her transvestitism. She literally could not have defeated Xipe Totec had she not been in drag: liberation battles rebirth: nirvana conquers karma. That fact that Fanny, as revealed in Apocalypstick, comes from a separate cult which deliberately changed the natural course of succession, adds even more delicious subtext to the comic, and establishes her as almost diametrically opposed to Xipe Totec by religious affiliation as well as personal. Her cult does not escape death but visits its land, it revels in the limen which Xipe Totec’s cult curtails, just as Fanny does by existing outside any of society’s norms.
The Invisibles was released in a very liminal position itself, apart from the fantastical elements of superhero comics but still indebted to them, apart from the literary splendors of The Sandman and Swamp Thing but still indebted to their progress. Grant Morrison hoped that the comic would become a hypersigil, an “extended work of art with magical meaning and willpower,” and its ease of access to the readers who might veer towards rebellion, who want something meaningful at the fringes of art, might have enshrined the work as a hypersigil. I can tell you without exaggeration that it affected me powerfully, and stopped whatever bathetic youthful rebellion or little epiphanies I might have undergone at my age of liminality, and I sincerely hope that it can do the same for others. Its exterior exudes all the qualities to which adolescent boys might find themselves attracted; conspiracies, spy gun fights, an insouciant disregard for anything resembling mainstream presentation, and a dark undercurrent of sex and gender distinguishing it from more mild-mannered explorations of self. It’s a concinnity of presentation, where people trapped within the conflict of society and self can find enlightenment in a comic seemingly encouraging youthful rebellion while ultimately showing its pitfalls. After embracing Dionysus, Morrison and his audience arrive at Athena, a journey for any with open eyes and hearts. Still, for those not ready to evolve yet, one does not have to reach the temple of Athena, and can simply enjoy the sights of a comic liberating the Marquis de Sade and blowing up schools. Le Mirroir Fastique, as is found within Jim Crow and Dane McGowan, two characters representing rebellion the most ably of any characters in the volume, indeed, where one can see one’s own progress in how the work is enjoyed.
It must be said here that this comic is, as Morrison has stated before, an attempt at a hypersigil, of presenting concepts and ideas, not of telling a complete story. As such, some of the deeds committed by members of the Invisible army are questionable morally, and Morrison is attempting to present ideas, not a story as The Invisibles begins. The comic flits from conspiracy theories to time travel philosophizing after this volume frenetically. As the comic progresses, we’re given a mad rush of ideas and concepts as puissant as King Mob’s mental breakdown after having murdered as many people during the fourth through sixth volumes (second by the single issues). The comic then begins to reconcile its past with its intended future, and becomes more responsible about its message and status as an incomplete comic. Suddenly, during the third volume of floppies, the characters start progressing and becoming balanced individuals. It mirrors Van Gennep’s three stages of a rite of passage beautifully; separation, liminality, and reintegration. We, as readers (and most likely disaffected teenagers. Who else would read this?), follow Dane’s path as he is separated from society in the book, as we start to view the world more in the terms of The Invisibles. We then become intimate in The Invisibles’ actions and folklore, reading their experiences as they fight not the inner demons created by rebelling against society, but as they go about their business, destroying society without the reconciliation of internal conflict. We are then reintegrated into society as the series ends, seeing the follies of being permanently invisible, of being permanently rebellious, and as Dane McGowan and the rest of humanity evolves. So, too, does Morrison wish evolution on his readership as they close the book and have undergone a personal transformation.
I can’t imagine how reading or how impossible it would be to read this book over the course of adolescence with this gravitas. The book is indeed a hypersigil, a rite of passage, more than a story. Whether Morrison succeeds is up to the reader, but the attempt is clearly made.
It would have been unthinkable for a comic to exist outside the Mainstream/Underground divide at this time. Underground comics at the time (indeed, since their inception) were diametrically opposed to mainstream publishing outlets. They were defined as much by their contrasts to modern newspaper and superhero stories as they were by their own qualities. More recent publishers such as Picturebox, as much as they can present a completely foreign world, do so without the anxiety of breaking away from the motherland, and offer the promises of Marquis De Sade at the end of the first volume, of a world where girls become boys who do boys like they’re girls, without the conflict of the Invisible Army and the Archons, the Forces of Order. This comic has the force of publishing history behind it, driving its interior. The same could not be said of a comic produced in a vacuum without the pressures of publication and editors contorting it, and just manages to combine a rite of passage within for the reader.
Wednesday, November 14
Rawr! I'm excited about David Mazzuchelli's new book and the secret history of Batman in Japan! This doesn't extend to the stigma-inducing autobiographical comics down the list.
All-Star Superman #9
I don't think that anyone has really mentioned an important factor of why this series rocks so much: Quitely's art is absolutely fantastic, yes, and presented amazingly. The art for the last Invisibles issue is, hmmm, how can I say this, not quite deserving of mountains of praise, but here the characters aren't always riddled by linework. Jamie Grant is an amazing partner for Quitely, giving his smaller, less important lines less ink, and coloring landscape as a textured expanse (just look at the first couple pages of this issue. That grass looks fantastic!) and Metropolis as a vibrant area of color. Another factor is the huge white space in between panels. It really feels a lot more comfortable than Quitely's other comics, where panels just have a black line as separation.
Let's speak in particulars now: this is the issue where shit goes down. Panel borders break and interact with each other for the first time in the series (unlike the recently mentioned Fantastic Four: 1234, which made a shifting reality a part of its aesthetic) in an awesome battle between Kryptonians. I actually fell to the floor* when Superman was thrown from Earth onto the moon, and then cracked its surface! And then Superman looks up, all confuddled, and asks in shock "What have you done? You've broken the moon." That bit gets me every time. If only Dragonball Z was this well written (or written at all) outside of battles, and this issue might have some competition**...
*I was levitating five inches above the carpet, so no injury occurred thankfully.
** I kid,I kid.
The bit where Superman approaches Metropolis and says "Everything in Metropolis has been repaired… But better…" gets me almost as much as the two Kryptonians lovingly embracing while a volcano erupts lava all over them. There are lots of little moments to like here, but no big moment like Kent's Katabasis with Luthor, Superman's battle with Lois Lane by his side, or the death of Jonathan Kent.
A battle is pretty much all this issue has to offer, insanely cool scrap it is. And the scrap even comes to a lame, logically demanded conclusion of the two elitist Kryptonians being unable to survive on Earth's atmosphere because they were exposed to radiation making their bodies Kryptonite. Because Superman wasn't beating this guys in twenty two pages if we're gonna have Steve's toupee burning (notice the ever-so-slight redness in his eyes the panel before)* and Superman thrown on the moon and sufficient explanation that these Kryptonites are another different self of Superman and the character transformation of the two Kryptonians. This time, Morrison and company are much more honest about the visceral and superficial pleasures of the series, denying the heart beating underneath for twenty two pages.
*Well, this is important because Superman is shown as being vengeful and self-indulgent like those other Kryptons, but it doesn't really go anywhere in the issue.
Tuesday, November 13
Man, The Invisibles gets wonky at the end of the second volume of single issues, volume 6 by the thick books. But it's a different kind of wonky than the preceding issues. Those had a linear story told by more conventional means. Not necessarily a conventional story and one littered with allusive digressions, but it's told with the linear march of a plot occasionally halted by ventures into the past. At around the point where Ragged Robin starts coaxing Quimper into her mind, the storytelling takes a decided turn from all that has occurred before. There's the issue telling the Invisibles story through the narration of Ragged Robin in the writing tank from the future (King Mob is certainly drawn to the dilettante memoirist, isn't he? Who else would appreciate, record, and share in his exploits?), and there's odd captions asking who is telling this information. "Think!" The younger (well, the Ragged Robin prior to jumping back into time) Ragged Robin is revealed as the narrator, instead of the implied Morrison. Those captions are only found in one issue, and disappear, and most of my confusion stems from Morrison having his characters hide their mental processes from Quimper, and, by necessity, the audience.
This moment happens at the same time that Lord Fanny is being inculcated with Ragged Robin's past in an attempt to trick Quimper, as Ragged Robin remains hidden behind a mask during the issue. Part of me wants to claim this as another moment of Morrison inserting a metaphoric author into his story, like Chief from Doom Patrol or the leader of the U-Men from New X-Men*, but that might be pressing allegorical tendencies too harshly on a series often rejecting simple symbols. Still, Quimper as a being who seeks the complete knowledge and control of a character, and just when he feels the most control over her, she is revealed as someone else. Maybe Morrison is voicing some authorial anxieties about creating a character and forcing the character into a role, and can't reveal them candidly to his audience/fictional characters as he did in Animal Man.
Or maybe Quimper is the audience, contorting the fictional characters to his own needs and desires, and is defeated after the fictional characters prove to have a life beyond what Quimper sees in them. Regardless, the reveal at the end still makes for good comics, if confusing information is told at times.
*The Wikipedia page for New X-Men is pretty hilarious. It brushes over a plot synopsis of the run (where can I find my cliff notes for this part of Morrison's oeuvre?), and says that some fans were perturbed by the "pointless violence and cruelty he introduced in the book." Although the article's been cleansed by the Wikipedia Style Police, they couldn't change that line to some fans found the copious violence and cruelty in the book pointless? Really? And then there's this huge exegesis on the twists and turns of the New X-Men following younger mutants in an academy style setting. Also, the book introduced "questionable" concepts, and not "controversial."
The third volume is pretty wonky, too, but mostly because the entire event is an epic wrenched from context. King Mob is blond, we're reintroduced en media res to Division X who hasn't been seen since the end of Volume 1, twenty two issues ago, and Philip Bond, lovely Philip Bond, draws the traditionally tall characters as short, chunky figures approaching a cartoon. I was freaked out at seeing Lord Fanny as a short, skirted Bryan Lee O'Malley (not a fair comparison, I know) character. (S)He's become so much more than that. Then Sean Phillips begins drawing the series in what would be a return to the taller characters and thinner linework of practically the entire series beforehand, but Jay Stephens inks it, submerging Phillips normally thin linework with a thick outline. The colors are different in the volume, too, less shadows and light, but there is less background to color.
And still the story chugs towards its conclusion, invoking even more unreality and contextual jaunts before Quitely's twenty two pages of clarity heralding evolution.
I have a much longer piece almost ready on the first Invisibles trade paperback, a verifiable event during my pubescence. I would be lying if I didn't say that this is the most indulgent, thoroughly researched post I've contemplated (it isn't up yet!) doing for this blog, but I'd also be lying if that wasn't the faintest praise I've ever written. Hopefully I'll have it in a comfortably published form by Friday, but no promises.
Last Week's Reviews!
Man, I really slowed down the pace from this week to last week, huh?
Fantastic Four: 1234 Morrison and Lee combine to form an occasionally spectacular failure. If only a comic was attempted instead of a portrait…
Omega the Unknown #2 Lethem and Darymple can make a good comic! Yargles!
Robin #168 Milligan is no Morrison, and while that's normally a good thing, here it's bad.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier is finally coming out! How the march of time effaces the brightest of stars! I've kept my eyes glued to my theodolite in order to combat this, so we're good!
Scott Pilgrim vol. 4 comes out! I think it's been long enough that it can rekindle a little magic! Excitement!
All-Star Superman #9 comes out, too! What is this? Christmas!?!
Okay, it isn't really Christmas. That was two weeks ago (and Santa has yet to slink down my chimney), with four Picturebox releases and MW, but, still. Those are three pretty auspicious comics with plenty of delays behind them.