Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hero I'd Have Wanted to Be - An Interview With Alan Grant

I grew up on Alan Grant comics, but I knew the Alan Grant atmsophere, the Alan Grant experience before I recognized (and learned to look for) the name. I remember thinking “These Batman comics really read like Judge Dredd,” and there in the credits was Grant's name. Lobo? I was annoyed with what Lobo seemed to be in ads, in talk from others, but when I read Lobo stuff, it was hilarious. I began to associate the name with being metal funny, anarchically funny, but very sound and compassionate in an honest way.

Travis Hedge Coke: “You've worked on comics for a number of companies over your career, which presumably have different levels comfort about content. Do you deliberately tailor your work to the kind of publisher or the perceived market? Or, does it happen more naturally?”

Alan Grant: “Generally speaking, a writer has to tailor his work to the publisher who's buying it (and the publisher presumably knows what his/her market is). For instance, the black humour which was always an integral part of Judge Dredd (published by Rebellion) wouldn't fit well into DC's or Marvel's superhero line, or Dark Horse's Terminator comics.

“That said, dark humour was an important - possibly the most important - element in my and Keith Giffen's Lobo stories for DC. I wouldn't have been able to write Lobo as a serious story, as I find it impossible to take the character seriously. Dark humour was also used to some extent in The Demon, although it was balanced by the tragedy of Jason Blood's predicament. However, it would only very occasionally be suitable for Batman or other heroic types.

One has to be fairly careful with characters which have a long history of being written in a certain fashion. The fans come to expect a certain type of story, and the publisher is usually well aware of that. Changes from what's expected are not easily accepted or tolerated. I don't have a problem with this - the publisher owns the character, and to get the job you have to tailor the stories to what they want.”

Hedge Coke: “How responsible do you feel about the contents of comics you work on? Responsible to your audience, to comics history, or to yourself.”

Grant: “Comics history is the last thing on my mind when I write a never even occurs to me how my work will be judged by posterity. I feel most responsible to my audience, because I don't want to let them down. Of course, it's possible to tell stories in different ways and I usually find that if I remain responsible to myself, not writing anything in which I don't believe, then the readers will accept what I've done.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever been part of something in a comic that you couldn't have imagined would get anyone's dander up, only to be cautioned by someone above you at the publisher or find it enraged folks after publication?”

Grant: “We-ell...not often. There was a RoboHunter story (2000AD) in which a robot rabbi used several Jewish 'swear words' which John Wagner and I thought was in character and good for some cheap laughs. However, the British Council of Jews (or something like that) took great exception to it after it was published, and the publisher had to make a personal apology to them. We were given a stern warning not to let it happen again.

“Then in Batman in Detective Comics (issue 601, if I recall), I had one character create a tulpa, a thought-creation, for which I used the Buddhist 'god' Mahakala. The American Buddhist Society ( or some similar body) complained bitterly about it after publication, pointing out vocally and at great length that I had used only the character's evil aspects. Denny O'Neil - like me, very sympathetic to Buddhism - apologised at length to them.

“Personally, I would have told them both to frag off - but then I'm not a very diplomatic person. I can see why they were offended, but I consider almost anything goes in a fictional story. Religious people are often not very tolerant of others' abuse of their beliefs.

“I shudder to think what reaction I'd get if the Buddhists saw my humorous take on their master in 'Tales of the Buddha before he was enlightened' (which appeared regularly in the recently-defunct comic magazine Wasted) - he swears, screws around, smokes dope, snorts coke. I kind of felt it was in character, from what little I knew of Gautama before he set out to find enlightenment, but I doubt if they'd agree. And when I teamed him up with Jesus as a hard-drinking duo who beat up Roman soldiers I was leaving myself wide open to attacks by fundamentalist Christians.

“Perhaps fortunately, Wasted sold only a few thousand copies per issue, so none of the religious guys saw it. Unfortunately, it was precisely because it only sold a few thousand that Wasted closed down.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever seen someone's contribution to a comic you worked on and been, if not offended, concerned about some content of their contribution?”

“Not that I can remember - though that doesn't count for much, because I make a point of expunging my previous stories from my consciousness before starting on a new one. With the huge volume of work I produced over the years, that was the only viable way to make it work.

“When my stint as a writer on any comic has finished, I never, ever read what my successors might write because I might not agree with their interpretation. Even characters dear to my heart - like Anarky and Batman for DC, or Strontium Dog for 2000AD - go unread, because I don't want to know how they might be handled (or maybe mishandled) by other writers.

“The only exception I can think of to this was RoboHunter (2000AD). When John Wagner and I finished writing the series after many years, the task of writing was handed over to Mark Millar. John and I both read Mark's take on the character and were horrified at how badly done it was. However, that was more or less at the start of Mark's writing career...and looking at where he is now, it certainly hasn't hindered him.

“My 12-year-old grandson is a big heavy metal and Lobo fan; he has read other people's versions of Lobo and he tells me that he doesn't feel like he's reading 'real' Lobo stories. Of course, maybe he's just being kind to his Grandad. But I've never checked it out for myself.

Hedge Coke: “How much do you draft and tweak before the publishable versions of most of your comics work? Do you feel you get better if you revisit a page or a story several times or is first shot best?”

Grant: “It's six of one and half a dozen of the other. I have what is perhaps an unusual way of working, though - I start by typing up all of my ideas without trying to shape them into any form. Then I print it off and, using the ideas as my starting point, I write a longhand version of the story. I then type this up, print it off and edit it by hand - and keep following the same routine until I'm satisfied with the result.

“This is probably because when I started as a writer, there were no computers so onscreen editing wasn't possible. I have a feeling - unsubstantiated, I admit - that writers who edit their stuff onscreen are often much more long-winded than those who print it off and edit by hand. There again, I started off as an editor and from years of experience on the 'other side' of the desk, I know that there isn't a writer alive who doesn't benefit from editing.

“Having said that, I very occasionally waken up in the morning and go straight to my desk and start typing, because the story seems to have written itself while I was asleep!”

Hedge Coke: “Is there a difference in what is "kid appropriate", do you think, between America and the UK? I seem to remember people being really weird about the introduction of Anarky in your Batman comics, but as a kid at the time the balance of genuine issue and comedic antagonism was fun and seemed more honest than, you know, Batman's usual pastimes of beating up the mentally ill or someone breaking into cars to buy pills or ramen noodles without ever indicting any kind of system above them, unless it was a very un-systemic portrayal, where a business owner or politician was crooked but very clearly not the norm. Anarky, even if he was a little look-at-me snarky in the beginning, at least called that out clearly. It was systemic. Big business is going to hurt. Rebellious rockers are a corporate shill to promote things that keep us down. And the anomaly is when that isn't the case. Would anyone've batted an eyelash if Anarky had shown up in 2000 AD instead of a DC comic?”

Grant: “The UK and the USA have very different comic traditions. UK comics were generally released on a weekly basis, with each story or episode only 5 or 6 pages long, whereas US comics were monthly and around 24 pages. This meant that in British comics you had to have an end-of-episode 'cliffhanger' every week, whereas in the States there was more space to work in before you needed the 'cliffhanger' moment.

“UK comics featured a wide variety of stories - I wrote science fiction, war stories, sports stories, humour stories, police stories etc long before I started writing American superheroes. I think superhero fans are a lot more anal about the characters they read than non-superhero comic readers. Again, British comic fans - at least when I was young - were deeply into humour comics; each anthology comic might feature, say, 5 or 6 humorous stories and only 2 that one could say were 'serious'.

“Anarky might easily have appeared in 2000AD rather than in the pages of Batman. In fact, I based the character partially on a Judge Dredd 'villain', a kid called Chopper who - lacking a voice in Dredd's right-wing society - took to being a graffiti artist. I gave him much more of a political bias when I re-imagined him for Batman.

“Anarky's beliefs were similar to my own - he was very much the hero I'd have wanted to be when I was 15 or 16 years old, an anti-authority figure who wanted to expose the hypocrisy and mendacity on which so much of our culture/society is founded. I don't read many comics nowadays, because the few that I have read seem to be based more on merchandising possibilities than on any clear principles. Unfortunately, that seems to have spread out to include books, films and even the archetypal anti-authority medium, heavy metal music. My grandson (see above) recently went to his first concert, Iron Maiden, and I was pretty sickened by the amount of 'branded' crap that he brought home with him. Nobody ever made follow-ups to the greatest movies of all time (when I say Casablanca and Citizen Kane, I'm betraying my age) but now no matter how shitty a movie is, it's unusual if it doesn't become a franchise. I've nothing at all against making money - I've made and spent a lot of it in my time! - but when the raison d'etre of things becomes the cash they generate, it's time to count me out.

“(As an aside, I notice more and more of the music I used to love appearing as backing tracks in adverts for crap that nobody needs. The day some shampoo or floor cleaner uses Captain Beefheart material to sell their products is the day I stop listening to music!)”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Artist and a Grown Up – An Interview with Holly Golightly

If there is an aspect of the comics industry that Holly Golightly hasn't been involved in professionally, I can't think of it. Writer, penciler, colorist, model, and VP of BroadSword. Her work has appeared in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, New Witch Magazine, School Bites, Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, and on cups, t-shirts, posters, ads and other non-comics items.

Travis Hedge Coke: “You've worked on comics for BroadSword and Archie, which presumably have different levels of comfort about content. Do you deliberately tailor your work to the kind of publisher or the perceived market? Or, does it happen more naturally?”

Holly Golightly: “Now I don't think in cold calculated terms, If you were a Host for a children's show like Sesame Street, you don't jump in front of the camera dropping F-bombs or waving a gun around like Al Pacino, rip your blouse open and scream- "Say Hello to my little friends!"...It's common sense as an artist and a grown up what's appropriate for which audience you feel you're addressing.”

Hedge Coke: “How responsible do you feel about the contents of comics you work on? Responsible to your audience, to comics history, or to yourself.”

Golightly: “Well if it's my project, then I'm completely responsible to myself to be as honest as I can be in telling the story I've decided to tell. One can not be responsible for others' reactions. We all come from different backgrounds and what I find happy and groovy, because how I was raise may not jive with another and vice versa! Comicbook history?! er...I don't think about that...I think about the comics that influenced and made me happy in the past- that to me is my Comicbook history.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever been part of something in a comic that you couldn't have imagined would get anyone's dander up, only to be cautioned by someone above you at the publisher or find it enraged folks after publication?”

Golightly: “If that has happened - it was with no intent from me to do so, but any button could get pushed...Heck- Toy Story 3 freaked me out and gave me the willies! Don't think they meant to do that, but it happens.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever seen someone's contribution to a comic you worked on and been, if not offended, concerned about some content of their contribution?”

Golightly: “Well I've been working with Jim in our own company for 11 years now, so I really don't work with anyone else. So there's no one else here but us chickens! And I'm proud of everything we create. : )”

Hedge Coke: “What encouraged you do the one-offs in School Bites about your cat?”

Golightly: “My Cat! He's just such a character and I like doing true to life silliness.”

Hedge Coke: “I like them, and contrary to "common wisdom" I think stepping out of the story into something connected to the person making the comic can actually bring you more into the story when it comes back, a different level.”

Golightly: “ is my Theatre and I get to decide the plays that are performed and then perform them- That's fun for me! And I think because I'm having fun, so is the audience.”

Hedge Coke: “How much do you draft and tweak before the publishable versions of most of your comics work? Do you feel you get better if you revisit a page or a story several times or is first shot best?”

Golightly: “I just do it and pray I didn't make any spelling mistakes or that my spellcheck messed with me! I have little time to spend creating because of all the different duties there are running our company with Jim....So you just do-or do not- there is no try!”

That url Holly shared for you up above? You should go there and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Have to Enjoy What I Write - An Interview With Trina Robbins

It was through Naropa people, during my mom's attendance at the Summer Residency program, that I learned of Trina Robbins and her work – okeh, I take that back; I had seen her work before then, I knew what Vampirella looked like, I owned four out of six issues of Misty, but I did not put it together as a body of work. I definitely didn't connect the émigré from Drakulon and Millie the Model's niece to a short, sharp black and white comic in the back of a San Francisco zine my mom left lying around the apartment when I was nine, even though that (what I now suspect to have been illegally reproduced) comic was prefaced with a bit of hype naming Trina Robbins. For one thing, that zine referred to her as a “girl” who made comics, which to me, as a kid, meant she was a kid.

A table of poet-professors trying to illustrate to me how to trace elements of an author throughout their work used the two people they had something by on hand and the two that stuck with me ended up, for whatever reasons, being Trina Robbins and Clive Barker. This was also the first time I remember recognizing the Peter David tropes and tendencies that put me off his work, the day I started looking for Tatjana Wood's name in credit boxes, and when I realized that what had been a disparate set of movies I was probably too young to have been watching but had seen anyway were, in fact, all directed by David Cronenberg.

Yes, I'm the only person on the planet who auto-associates the remake of The Fly with Trina Robbins and Millie the Model.

Travis Hedge Coke: “How responsible do you feel about the contents of comics you work on? Responsible to your audience, to comics history, or to yourself.”
Trina Robbins: “Very responsible!   Recently I've been writing graphic novels for young readers, anywhere from 8 years old to teens, and I make a point of NEVER writing down to them.  When I write for kids, I still write for myself, and I have to enjoy what I write.  If it makes ME laugh (or cry) then it's good.  Also, something I only realized recently, because one of my editors mentioned it, my scripts always have a lot of diversity.  There's a story that used to go around about Chris Claremont, one of Marvel's better writers, that if he had to introduce a new character, say, a cop, or a teacher, or whatever, he always said, "Why can't it be a woman?" and I go one step further in my scripts and say, "Why can't it be a black woman or an Asian woman?" I've given my young white heroines  black or Asian friends, but, after getting rejections on a graphic novel I submitted with a black heroine, never tried again to script a graphic novel with a black heroine until my editor actually suggested it to me for the most recent graphic novel I wrote -- and I was delighted! “

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever been part of something in a comic that you couldn't have imagined would get anyone's dander up, only to be cautioned by someone above you at the publisher or find it enraged folks after publication?”
Robbins: “Ironically, considering my reputation as a feminist, I've been criticized by much more radical women than I for having pretty girl heroines.  At an appearance in a women's bookstore in Stockholm about 3 or 4 years ago I was verbally attacked by a very angry group of women with shaved heads because I wrote Barbie comics.  At first I was so surprised that I tried to answer them rationally, but by the end I was so mad that I was shaking with anger, and when I got home I sent them an email care of the woman who owned the bookstore, telling them that if they didn't like what I did, to do their own damn comics.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever seen someone's contribution to a comic you worked on and been, if not offended, concerned about some content of their contribution?”
Robbins: “Not sure if this is what you mean, but I've been writing some comics about a certain heroine from the 1960s in a series that has other comics in the same series written by at least one other writer and drawn by a different artist than the one who illustrated my issues, and I was a little annoyed to see that the artist drew the heroine with enormous breasts and that the book contained graphic sex scenes.  I had tried to keep the ones that I wrote in the spirit of the period, which meant no graphic sex, and anyway, I thought the graphic sex and enormous breasts were in bad taste, and I didn't like the idea that since I had written other books in the series, it could be associated with me . In the distant past when I drew underground comix, it used to annoy me when people would describe my comix as "dirty" because they were associating my work with all the graphically explicit underground comix.”

Hedge Coke: “What elements of a comic do you try to focus your attention on most?”
Robbins: “Of course I'm a writer, so: plot, characters, humor, action.  In other words, all of it.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever toned down something - or thought about it - because you were concerned it was going to be seen as you pushing an agenda/fetish/interest and not a naturalistic part of the comic?”
Robbins: “I don't think so.  I do try to say stuff without being preachy!”

Hedge Coke: “How much do you draft and tweak before the publishable versions of most of your comics work? Do you feel you get better if you revisit a page or a story several times or is first shot best?”
Robbins: “I tweak like mad -- I go back at least three times before I'm satisfied!”

Trina Robbins is the author of many fine comics and books, from fiction to confessional to histories and encyclopedias, including two books on the magnificent Nell Brinkley and two different Wonder Woman comics. Recent works include a Honey West series and her Chicagoland books.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Clearly and Dynamically: An Interview With Chris Burnham

Clearly and Dynamically: An Interview With Chris Burnham

When I first really took note of Chris Burnham's artwork, I wanted him to have thumbnailed the hell out of his layouts and arrangements for every panel, each page. It could be an innate genius for mise en scene and balance, but I didn't want it to be. There may be some beauty in it being effortless or accident, but I was immediately struck with this strong, probably irrational desire for it to be work.

After recognizing that it wasn't up to me how he worked, I settled into simply enjoying and analyzing his comics. I think I have a better sense of the space between lines since first encountering Chris Burnham's artwork. I know that, directly tethered to my enjoyment of his work, I have a renewed appreciation of “filmic” techniques in comics storytelling. Burnham paces scenes in a very storyboard fashion, but he seems considerably more aware of the shape of a page, what the panel arrangements themselves communicate to his audience.

And, in Batman Inc, Burnham drew the most recognizable reservation that I've seen in a comic in I don't know how long. Maybe, ever. It was a shitty-looking rez, in many ways, but well. It was shitty in the right ways, as opposed to, for example, the much-loved-by-others Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra series, Scalped, or the wonderfully written (by Kurt Busiek) but full of disappointingly kitted Indians Strange Tales. Often, “attention to detail” in terms of comics means lots of shading, crosshatching, and drawing in every rivet and brick, but representing a place, or a kind of place, so that it can feel recognizable and right to those unfamilar and quite close, that's a different and substantial kind of attending.

Travis Hedge Coke: “How responsible do you feel about the contents of comics you work on? Responsible to your audience, to comics history, or to yourself.”

Chris Burnham: “I definitely feel a responsibility to make the absolute best comic I'm capable of. I'm still a huge comic fan and it pisses me off to no end when creators fuck up an otherwise good comic with distracting mistakes. I want to make comics that are good enough to withstand criticism by the nitpickiest asshole alive... me! (Whether I succeed is another story, but if your reach doesn't exceed your grasp, you're not trying hard enough, asshole!)”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever been part of something in a comic that you couldn't have imagined would get anyone's dander up, only to be cautioned by someone above you at the publisher or find it enraged folks after publication?”

Burnham: “This certainly seems like something that would happen a lot to me, but the only examples I can think of are Elephantmen #16 and the Marvel Mystery 70th Anniversary Special. In Elephantmen, Rich wanted a sex scene that was somewhere between the classic Steranko Nick Fury and Contessa scene (the one with the gun in holster) and a scene from Howard Chaykin's American Flagg. I took it WAY too far. I did 9 or 12 panel page that, while not explicitly showing penetration (or even nipples), was basically soft porn. I remember lovingly drawing what I thought was a subtle rim job. Haha! What a moron. When the scene saw print, Rich took the 6 tamest panels and edited them together. It worked a lot better that way.

“On Marvel Mystery, I had the Angel bashing someone's face against the wall, and he was completely covered in blood & broken teeth. After it was colored, Tom Brevoort thought it went too far and had me redraw the face without all the blood, and Nathan Fairbairn recolored it... but for whatever reason the production guys never got the memo and the gory version is what saw print. Hahaha!”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever seen someone's contribution to a comic you worked on and been, if not offended, concerned about some content of their contribution?”

Burnham: “Err... I wouldn't say offended in the sense that they were making racist rape jokes or anything, but I've certainly been involved in a few comics where I thought the other guys dropped the ball creatively. (And I'm sure there are guys who thought I did the same.)”

Hedge Coke: “What elements of a comic do you try to focus your attention on most?”

Burnham: “I'm most concerned with telling the story clearly and dynamically. I work really hard at making sure the characters are distinct from one another and their actions are clear, setting the right angle, picking the right composition, leaving enough room for word balloons... all that stuff is primary. Noodly details and perspective tricks etc, while fun to do and look at, are secondary to the storytelling. (This is, of course, in an ideal world... many times I'll get distracted by trying to nail some weird perspective or setting at the expense of putting the people in the right place. Oops!)”

Hedge Coke: “How much do you draft and tweak before the publishable versions of most of your comics work? Do you feel you get better if you revisit a page or a story several times or is first shot best?”

Burnham: “I spend a varying amount of time doing Photoshop tweaks on each page. Ideally I'd get it right on the page, but I don't see a problem with going in and monkeying with things to make them a little better. Once in a while (like, every few months) I'll redraw a panel from scratch after I've taken it to pencils or inks. Most of the time I catch those problems early with obsessive thumbnails. On particularly tricky pages I'll do multiple sets of thumbnails that tell the story in different ways and then pick the best option between them. The hard part is when I like parts of one page and parts of another, but their panel compositions are mutually exclusive. It can be like picking which one of your children gets eaten by wolves. Sorry, Billy! ;D”

Chris Burnham will being doing twelve issues of Batman Inc with Grant Morrison in the near future. If his progress so far is anything to go by, and his work ethic, he will continue to be an increasingly exceptional artist and comics-maker.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ethics and Choreography: An Interview With Larry Hama

Most people know Larry Hama for the Eighties reworking of GI Joe that's still spawning big blockbuster movies, or his recent comedy roman a clef, Barack the Barbarian, but I didn't read GI Joe when it was coming out and I was a kid, and we had Reagan and Bush back then. For me, Larry Hama was a Wonder Woman editor, the creator of Bucky O'Hare, and the writer of one of the best comics ever published, Nth Man. Larry Hama was a man who wrote casts of characters who were diverse in their politics, their ethnicities, their backgrounds, without anyone being a cardboard target or well-meaning stab at a “kind” inclusion, the token presence. And, between interviews, anecdotes, and his work, he seemed cool. Hama acknowledged what government positions and ranks, pay grades and titles like Doctor and Colonel, actually meant in ways that few writers in popular entertainment ever do, outside of titles they have used professionally. He managed to communicate more to me about humanity in Nth Man, which has never been reprinted, and his time on Wolverine, than Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen or any bit of Cerebus.

Today, more broadly familiar with his oeuvre as a writer (of fiction and nonfiction), actor, editor, photographer, and penciller, having had the chance to ask him questions directly, to see him with the eyes of an adult, he still seems honorable, sensible, and cool.

Travis Hedge Coke: “As an editor, penciler, writer, and probably everything else in comics, you've done work for very different markets over your career, from Sally Forth and International Times to GI Joe, Batman, and Bucky O'Hare. Do you deliberately tailor your work to the kind of publisher or the perceived market? Or, does it happen more naturally?”

Larry Hama: “95% of what I have done was work-for-hire, and done to please whoever it was that approved the check. I always saw myself as a working-class guy, and not an 'Artiste.' But I was brought up to believe in value for honest wages. I try to give it my best shot if I own it or not. I think I should basically give the audience what they want as long as it doesn't violate my own ethical concerns. I have a problem with vigilante justice, so I have to figure out alternate story angles when I did a character like Batman, so as not to accentuate that particular bent of the character.”

Hedge Coke: “How responsible do you feel about the contents of comics you work on? Responsible to your audience, to comics history, or to yourself.”

Hama: “It seems rather pretentious to be concerned about responsibility to comics history. The main responsibility I feel is to give the audience an entertaining read. I'm not out to preach, or send an overt message. I'm against war, but for the soldier. That doesn't blare out from the pages of GI Joe, but is a theme that runs throughout the extended narrative. If I am taking over an already established character, I feel responsible to the perceived history of that character. If I make any changes, it is usually to amplify what I feel is already there. I feel that is what I did with Wolverine. I objected strongly to the 'bone claws' arc and did it under duress, because it was agreed upon by the majority at an X-conference. It never felt 'right' to me, and I couldn't understand the logic of how that worked.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever done something in a comic that you couldn't have imagined would get anyone's dander up, only to be cautioned by someone above you at the publisher or find it enraged folks after publication?”

Hama: “More times than I can recount easily. No matter what you do, somebody out there will take offense at it. I named a malignant computer program 'Shiva' in Wolverine and because a single Hindu kid wrote in, I had to kill the rest of that particular arc. It wasn't even a character, it was the acronym for the application. And then of course there was the outcry from paranoid-schizophrenics about Zartan. A friend of mine, who is shrink, said 'what did you expect? they're PARANOID.' Jay Leno (before he hosted Tonight) went on Letterman and did a whole routine about how he was offended by the Dreadnoks being bikers.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever seen someone's contribution to a comic you worked on and been, if not offended, concerned about some content of their contribution?”

Hama: “I can't get bent out of shape about what happens to characters after I leave them. Everything will get eventually undone by people who figure they can make it 'better.' I avoid reading all of that stuff.

“Have not read a single issue of Wolverine since I left the book. (they stopped sending me bundles, and I don't go to comic shops and buy any.) I have never watched any of the GI Joe animation, either. For years, I was puzzled by people who came up to me at conventions and said 'knowing is half the battle.' I was like, 'um... sure.'”

Hedge Coke: “Does Nth Man still have enough to say, still do enough, in your opinion, to warrant a reprinting/collection? Do you think the ethical considerations embodied by the main characters are more or less valid today than when it was originally being serialized?”

Hama: “The ethical conflicts of the characters is what the Nth Man was really about. All the rest was just choreography. I had to cut it short because it got cancelled, but I had enough warning to wrap up most of the threads and bring it around to the rinse cycle like I had planned from the beginning.”

Hedge Coke: “When Ben Grimm and Logan came out, a comic you wrote about a pre-Fantastic Four military adventure involving some classic Marvel heroes, there was some outcry over (future Ms Marvel) Carol Danvers' introduction. She's got her arms over her head, chest out. That she's as competent as anyone in the story, well-used for her job – probably the only Carol Danvers story with an explicit understanding of what the NSA is and who works for them - and as a foil to the other characters (especially enemy agent, the Black Widow), that was where it stopped for some folks. Any thoughts on that?”

Hama: “All I can say is that an awful lot of women have thanked me for doing tough competent female characters that were in direct contrast to the bimbos with their palms nailed to their foreheads that were prevalent at the time.”

Hedge Coke: “I believe you were involved in the Wally Wood deal, 22 Panels That Always Work!! (which I would say was a nonfiction/instructional comic, itself, really, and one that always works), which seems to add fuel to the kind of people who want to take shots at Wood for being lazy or cheating. "Oh, sure, it looks great, but he cheated" and so. Can you say anything about either that twenty-two panel guide or shortcuts in general?”

Hama: “First off, anybody who thinks Woody 'cheated' is way off base. WHO are these people who take shots at Woody for being lazy?? Dollars to donuts, they are nobody you ever heard of. I compiled those 22 panels which were actually on three sheets originally. I had the Marvel stat room resize the frames to fit on one 8X10 sheet and I lettered the title and sub-heading with my own editorial comment which was a snide dig at writers. I ran off a hundred copies and kept them in my office to hand out to prospective pencilers. After a while, other editors asked for copies to hand out and it sort of spread. Joel Johnson now owns the original paste-up and you download a pristine digital file of it from his blog.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Do You Mean She Lied?

[A modified version of what would have been a Pop Mechanics! column for Renderwrx. Dedicated to Gene Colan, who died as I was writing this.]

"Since most people who cite a "convoluted mess" in regards to Grant [Morrison]'s work turn out not to be able to pass a high school English comprehension test, said citation tends to be viewed as comedy." - Warren Ellis

Comics people seemed trained to accept only direct, truthful statements, usually reinforced or reiterated at least once more beyond the initial. Better prominent people than me, from Tim Callahan to Grant Morrison, have addressed the gist of this, but I find their coverage often wanting or misdirected, though certainly serving their purpose of their moment.

"Schizophrenics can't process metaphor" has become a joke phrase, a meme to bust out and kill a conversation with a laugh. As with Mark Millar's "My God has a hammer" the phrase has no connection to comics for a number of folks who use it, and even when it does, no connection to its creator. Morrison used the phrase to describe a lack of reading skills beyond the literal, to indict readers who claimed there was nothing beyond the "literal" representations of a dead talking flying tuna with a cigar named Chubby who acts as the animus of a guy vying desperately for a girl with a beard who could, by just standing with him, help him seem like he belonged.

Here is where we have to careful in making clarifications. Failure to see strongly implied metaphors or to notice even in retrospect when a character was wrong, intentionally (lying) or unintentionally (misinformed, confused), is not the same as not enjoying it despite acknowledging those elements, nor is it the same as believing those to be poorly done. It is not a judgment on what anyone enjoys, to point out when a major factor of a work has been missed by a criticizing or lauding audience.

We all miss something, sometimes we are meant to not recognize what is in front of us, in terms of narrative, characterization, or metaphor, until we look back with knowledge we will find on another page. And, none of us enjoy being reminded of a lapse in our critical faculties, in our ignorance, though we are all ignorant of something.
I once saw a guy fall into a rage because he was sure someone was making fun of him when at the end of From Dusk Till Dawn, in the bar in Mexico where our characters have just spent the night, Cheech Marin says he has both kinds of beer, "Mexican and domestic." See, this angry fellow had seen the movie before, and it only now registered to him that domestic beer in Mexico, is Mexican. He didn't see a quick joke, he didn't see a moment in a scene that requires a dialogue beat for pacing, he saw the cast and crew of a major motion picture fucking with him.

Don't be that guy. Especially if you are talking to people who caught it before you. And, don't be the gal who, when she still doesn't get it, insists anyone who does is lying to make themselves seem smart. Humanity as a whole, and most human beings, have never benefitted from these responses, and I can make up imaginary statistics to demonstrate the truth of that. We are all ignorant of something, ignorance need only ever be temporary, and the goal of entertainment is most often not to insult you when it fools you, but to entertain you when you realize you were taken in.

Let us keep back from metaphor and themes for now, and focus on the objectives of characterization, particularly, the subjective element(s) of the individual character. One of the refreshing things about the changeup in the X-books when Joe Quesada was first Editor in Chief at Marvel, was that writers like Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan allowed characters to lie without clueing in the reader, and more, they wrote characters who believed and acted in ignorance.

One of the earliest scenes in New X-Men (Morrison & Quitely) was a dentist who has educated, documentary evidence what he is being told and shown by the villain Cassandra Nova is wrong, but all she has to do is belittle his education and play to his desire to believe things were negative and violent. When Nova and this dentist act on the "knowledge" expressed, she is lying and he is misinformed, and this is left implicit. The reader who is swayed by her misanthropic ploy, who is more comfortable with a negative, violent, selfish truth than a more pleasant one, is left with that truth. The X-Men themselves come to see Nova in the same terms, as negatively as possible (she does commit genocidal acts and generally play the horrible villain, but there is no real evidence she is an evolutionary mechanism for extincting species). Only Charles Xavier, ever the optimist decides she is designed to motivate everyone out of stalemate. And, he too is wrong.

But, because there is never a panel of someone declaring "I was wrong!" or "She lied to me!" you still get people on message boards discussing the ins and outs as if the writer dropped the ball, as though Morrison must have forgot "his" previous position when another fictional character in the story has a different conclusion, almost as if individuals have their own perspectives. Because there is never a simple, declarative "Cassandra is Ernst" we have at least two respected, intelligent writers get it wrong in follow ups?

The most frequent way to cover yourself, in a comic, is to make sure the visual and the text elements say the same thing clear and direct, which Scott McCloud calls "duo-specific." Claremont was often duo-specific, describing a superhuman attack as we see it or captioning in details for a relationship as we see the visual actuation of the same. But, if he wanted something to sail by without everyone catching on, we get "leman" deployed without accompanying verification or support.

And, when you want something to be memorable, duo-specificity can be your friend. Studies show most people do retain information better when taking it in as text and as visual, hence most instructional pamphlets. But, at some point a level of sophistication may be justly expected, perhaps, in that objectivity becomes an unnecessary affectation or the reader can infer an authorial morality behind the structure of a character's voice; perhaps the reader's morality or experience can be trusted enough for an absence of authorial voice (as best can be managed).

It is anticipated by some in entertainment, that this level of sophistication should always be presumed missing or rare. Vladimir Nabokov uses the first chapter of his novel, Ada or Ardor, to dissuade children and lazy readers from sticking it out just for the dirty bits, Steven Spielberg has yet to direct an adaptation that can't refit the men as bad-parent types, and dozens of childrens activity books will still indulge in ethnic dress up games so long as the ethnicities parodied are sociopolitically still safe for it.

But, comics? Comics are for kids. Probably why, when free speech won out in the Seduction of the Innocent case, comics got a self-elected regulating board and a set of rules stricter than those of any other medium in American history - and everyone behaved as if it were law and not just marketing. Crime must be punished at the end of every story, vampires and zombies are a no, violence is grand but no representative of law must ever be injured, passion must never stir the "baser emotions" and respect for parents and law-enforcement officials must be paramount. Regulations for all comics, not only those aimed at children, at virtually the same time was the Hays Code was being revised in acknowledgment of how detrimental heavy regulations were socially (and economically). Because, comics are for kids and even if they are not, the audience will be treated as children and learn to like it!

Not to disagree with Alan Moore, in his observation that Stan Lee introduced the two-dimensional characterization and the first deliberate symbolism into comics, but is that true? A lot of EC stories seem to have characters as developed as those of Marvel in the early Sixties. Wonder Woman has great symbolic relevance conscientiously applied in her early comics. So, is it that Lee reintroduced these elements after the Code and times bled them away? Blondie had gone from comics where things happened and had relevance, almost in reflection of the whole of the American aspect of the medium, to a dull, staid sequence of safe repeating gags by the Fifties (as it has remained, looped, since). Spider-Man reads not entirely unlike Blondie did back when they still made movies about her and her sandwich-enthusiast of a fellow.

Romance comics as well as paranoia comics (same fish with less bug-eyes and sweat?) required at least two-dimensional protagonists long before the Marvel revolution, so perhaps it is only that from Fantastic Four forward, Stan Lee and the Marvel writers to follow applied these innovatively to superhero comics. Moving as those comics could be, they still kept to considerably more adolescent material than the admittedly pretty adolescent EC crime and horror books or the comedy romances like the magnificent Millie the Model or Patsy & Hedy. I would not be the first to suggest it took a low opinion of the readership (accurate though it may have been) for Roy Thomas to take the awesome that is the early Black Panther and strip him of his culture, his political clout, genius, social standing, super-technology, and FF-whupping level of badassery... to make him safe enough to feature regularly in The Avengers. (And, when Panther leaves the Avengers, for Jungle Action, the first thing he does is remind them he's fantastically rich, has mad supertech, and can leave. Go fig.)

It may not have been a too-low call, sadly, depending on what readership is being pursued. Let's assume someone out there does need DC's Mr. Terrific, say, to be "the third smartest man in the world." Did they need to bill the white Mr. Terrific as such? But, this hypothetical audience DC is courting do need it of a black Mr. Terrific. Well, there is another audience that can handle "the smartest man on Earth." Beyond, there is an audience, myself included, who believes that if the selling point begins "smartest" that changing that up synchronous (if not consciously connected) to other changes, such as race, is a bad plan and counter to the ethos superhero comics taught me.

Batgirl can't get past brown belt. Mr. Terrific is the third smartest. But, no matter who is actually faster or equal to the Flash, he is always "the world's fastest man." Sometimes, we the readers and we the critical aspect of comics culture - the academics, analysts, and speculators - sometimes we act in ways that encourage treating us to these gestures placatory to heteronormative and homogenous artifice.

From Anarchy for the Masses: "Robin's autocritique acknowledges that she is undermined by her appearance. She stands for revolution but is instead only seen as a sex object. Note that despite this realization she doesnt stop dressing like a hooker." That was written by two smart, savvy individuals, Patrick Neighly and Kereth Cowe-Spigai. They don't seem to notice what they have done, there, and neither do the people who call Wonder Woman's jacket whorish or say a version of Cyborg looks thuggish, muscle-brained, or gangsta, particularly the one for the upcoming JLA relaunch, where he is, in terms of body and body language no different from any other man on the team except in that he is black.

Taken from a different angle, the same problem of presumptive judging turns into a lack of emotional affect (to be PKD about it). Readers do it enough, and you get writers and artists playing to it, editors prescribing not relational emotions from characters, coming causally from the events and dynamics of their lives, but emotions as a sell. Why else do you think Aquaman is ecstatic while his life, marriage, and political position fall to bits during Erik Larsen's run? There is an editor who knew a readership existed who would see a smile and believe it, regardless of context. An audience does exist who read Robert Crumb's My Troubles With Women and believe the bravado, who are still distressed not by the rape of DC's Nightwing, but because he stopped smiling for awhile after the rape. Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid can write wildly modern work, from dialogue to character tics and plotting, and there will be cries from the Neo Silver Agers of "Seen it! Recycled from 1967!" while Grant Morrison lifts point for point at Agatha Cristie plot or entire passages of an old Batman comic as with Joe Chill in Hell and it's "Too new! Too difficult!"

See also the people who criticize Devin Grayson as inappropriately pushing her personal fantasies into a corporate comic in the same breath as lamenting Jim Balent not drawing Catwoman comics these days. Or, who get put off by how contrived a cast mostly not of white American men is, but not any nearly all-white, all-male, all-American one. Concoct reasons manga isnt comics. Erase Ramona Fredon or Marie Javins from comics history to maintain a "no women" illusion. Who feel Alan Grant was wrong for telling an audience of fans that the Vice President at DC was outright lying to them. This is who is at fault when comics get done, get published in ways that treat any reader as a subnormal child.

As a collective audience, our reading comprehension, our analytical and judging faculties are at fault. Any one of us who opens a new comic and declares any answers not on page one are nonexistent, that deny the metaphors or themes the author and/or six thousand other readers have found, who believe a flashback or a non-narrative illustration are violations of the natural order only fit for mediums other than comics. Readers who don't let comics be grown up or ever mature are at fault whenever a critic, a country, a printer or colorist decide we, the hypothetical audience, the hoped for pre-actuation audience are not to be trusted as sane, aware, self-governing adults, but must be coddled, kept from dangerous stories, kept from dangerous ideas or ideas unpleasant to us even if that unpleasant feeling is rooted in bigotry or idiocy.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is currently raising money to defend Americans who brought illegal comics to Canada. Canada - and to a lesser degree, the United States of America - many nations around the world believe we are not mature enough to handle some kinds of fiction. Censorship of entirely fictional things always means the people the fictions are being kept from are thought to be incapable of handling them maturely. And, it's our fault, because we dont decry censorship enough and because some of us, a very vocal some, read a comic by Kevin Smith and put it down believing Smith wrote Batman wetting himself.

They read a comic wherein Batman tells someone he had an involuntary bladder spasm years before the telling, due to an explosion. In the comic they read, Batman tells - tells - a story. A story someone tells inside a story is discussed as if it were the story, as if it were witnessed firsthand by the reader. That's how lazy it gets.

There is no shame in getting swept up and realizing you were a lazy reader, that your analytical faculties were put on stall for awhile. I have been there believe it. Whether the affable justified-homocidal grandfatherly scientist in Cannon God Exaxxion (Kenichi Sonoda) was meant to be taken straight, accepted positively, marinated in my concerns every new chapter I imbibed, and still today, I just do not know. Planetary, which I have the gall to annotate, was nearly complete before I added one two three and realized that Jakita Wagner has Superman's origin. As a kid, I thought Dan DeCarlo did not know when he was being dirty. There is no shame in realizing your analysis engines were not firing on all cylinders, but there is in not self-correcting at the realization.

Are you a reader who saw no symbolism in Seaguy? You don't have to enjoy the comic, but please, read it again so you can see the symbolism this time and judge it with that fuller picture. A critic calling comics art "dross" while reviewing Kenneth Koch's anthology of "comics mostly without pictures" who admits to not reading comics? Go to the appropriate shelf at a convenient bookstore and start opening different comics, just to take in the breadth and walk away with learned scope and not the inference of memory. An editor, writer, artist, flatter or any other kind of comics-maker, who has seen the ugly, the dumb or disappointing in comics readers or comics press? Do not let that encourage you to make comics you would be insulted to read, that garner you even massive sales if the sales come from an audience you cannot be proud of or relate to.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

If You Don't Weaken

[Note, this would have been the next Pop Mechanics! column to run, if Renderwrx had not gone on extreme hiatus. Due to developments since then, a postscript/addendum will follow.]

The inestimably cool James Baker wrote the other day, that "X-Men: Prelude to Schism has that wonderful 'We Who Are About To Die' feel that almost all stories ruin by going on to have an ending." And we are talking ongoing X-Men, here, not a standalone, not a non-canon or alternate universe tale, but "to be followed by another twenty plus years of narrative on a regular release schedule" X-Men. And, that is sad, that the feeling of "now, everything changes" and apocalyptic shit hitting the fan is inevitably muted by awareness that it will all get patched up and staid soon enough. Who wants to stay in the water if you know you are riding the last wave of the season?

Even in standalone works, the idea that everything settles in the third act can be disappointing, and that the world will return to normal after the end of the story seems, between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and social extrapolation, a cheat. It is a cheat, only it is a comforting cheat, so we often enjoy it despite the nag of its irreality. I was disappointed when I recently learned the massive launch post Brightest Day at DC was intended to come after Final Crisis, while the Milestone stuff was being integrated and relaunched. But, Final Crisis did something better than that wave of new titles, for my money, ending with public acknowledgment of alternate realities. It ends with a news broadcast that will alter consensual reality and tells the audience at home that "This is one story that is only beginning."

Fiction is traditionally unkind to the public. If everyone gets a jetpack or a torrid romance, they are no longer so special, is the reasoning. As You Like It, is often maligned opposite other Shakespeare plays because every character, even passerby, have crazy epic shit going on in their lives. I love Ophelia and Laertes, but they are undoubtedly at service to _the important people_ and nothing in Hamlet trickles down to the commoners.

The implication of public hows and whys is rare by the end of almost any fantastical story; Zardoz to Alien, the fantastic element is most often isolated by the end and as unexplained as can be managed. When something posits vampires as a disease, for example, it doesn't mean anything but the semantic prosody of "disease." Xenomorphs must be isolated in each film (the fourth Alien might have bucked this), by the end, just as Frankenstein's creation must have a castle dropped on him or be frozen in ice by the end of each of those stories. Followthrough, should be avoided as it takes their culture away from ours, which never changes.

You see the flaw? That idea of a suspended, immutable reality may be comforting - You want to live in a pre Civil Rights Movement United States, though? How about pre vaccination France? But suspended in an era/culture under regulations of fantasy logic, dream or hope logic, it can be comforting. And, while fiction is comfort fiction, not everyone can feel the special case apart from the common public.
In a previous Pop Mechanics, I mentioned a Wolverine comic where the hero was prevented from stopping an act of domestic abuse. The X-Men can't go fixing real things like a husband terrorizing his family, that's a "real" thing, different from liberating nations conquered by Magneto or having tantric frenzies with Apocalypse. So, too, Superman cannot gift the public with amazing Kryptonian technologies, not even some simple ones like the coolest Kryptonian poetry or their best musical instrument.

Superman does not walk in the commoners world, and as a recent way-too-wrongheaded story, Grounded, demonstrates, when he does choose to enmesh himself in _us_, Supes does so by pretending away his special talents and knowledge. He walks, instead of flies. Now, I am for reasons medical and social a walker, I don't drive, and right now I live somewhere with atrocious public transit. Most people do not walk, in America - it is unamerican. They drive. They take buses, airplanes, trains and if they aren't driving their own vehicle, they are riding in someone else's. They do not walk across the country only using their talents to harangue poor communities for their plights and physically intimidating journalists for asking them why they are walking across the country. Why don't we walk across the country if it could be enlightening? Not being able to afford it, is probably a big easy answer. Because leaving our friends, families, lovers and local community for extended periods of rumination and self-examination could be considered selfish. Because we do not need to. Pick one, you will be unlikely to be wrong.

A king who dresses as a pauper to walk the streets indulgently for a weekend is still a king. Right? There is a Pulp song about this. It's really mean and William Shatner covered it. But it is not required that Superman be a king who dresses down feel "real life." I believe, when Warren Ellis wrote (in Terra Occulta) a non-Superman Clark Kent saying "I'm a newspaperman, I'll take a vacation when I die," that he means it, he gives a damn and feel a part of the world. Same when Louise Simonson writes the character, either as Kent or Superman.

A criticism of the Daredevil movie - and I think they lifted this from when Annie Nocenti wrote the title - was when the hero is going to bed and can sense people in danger, people dying, and goes to sleep anyway. The hero can't! But, what is he going to do? He is beat up, he is tired, probably hungry and PTSD already. Exhausted. And he is just a guy in red leather punching folks in the street. The same complaint was levied against Alan Moore and Kevin O'Niel's Black Dossier, when Alan and Mina, two brave but not rich, not powerful, and terminally disenfranchised people did not even try to overthrow the post Big Brother culture and government of their Britain.

Also from Terra Occulta, from the first page: "This is a fast world I live in now." And that is from a forced expat, their version of Wonder Woman, who follows it up with, "I want to go home," having, of course, no home to go back to. Like most of us, she has only this world, the job and the local mall and the jogger who runs by every day around ten with the same music faintly detectable on their earbuds as they pass, politicians we may not have elected in office, traffic jams we cannot control, neighbors we cannot choose and cultural judgments that continue whether we care for them or not.

The couple from Black Dossier are the family the X-Men stop Wolverine from helping. Warren Ellis' Clark Kent is the guy J Michael Staczynski's Superman physically intimidates or browbeats with inaccurate history rather than respond to as another competent adult of equal cognizance. Louise Simonson's Superman drinks Soder Cola and Mark Waid's sees animal life as all so close, he won't eat meat but does not begrudge it of others. The Sookie Stackhouses and Robyn Slingers of fantasticka. The woman who finds listening to seven seconds of a Prince song better ten times a day than the MEEP MEEP or RING RING of a traditional phone ring, not Prince, who can afford to live without a phone and does not appreciate musical ringtones.

To carry the Common People comparison, when Grounded ends, Superman will have learned nothing not superficial, any growth will barely be referenced and the world he inhabits will appear absolutely the same was before. When the groups represented by the protagonists of Hellboy or Ghost in the Shell do their job right, or those of X-Files and Fantastic Four (Future Foundation, natch) do their job halfway, the public is spared the fantastic. Or, as Planetary spelled it out, _deprive_ the public. The fun toys are for our betters.

A great move by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee with Fantastic Four was that the public wanted them to keep all this new (and newly-apparent) wonder to themselves. The people who live in the Fantastic Four's neighborhood want the FF to keep themselves locked up and quiet. Alan Moore, together with Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, inverted this about ten years ago, by ghettoizing the amazing literally, moving all the superheroes, robots, monsters and magic to a single city for ensemble police dramedy Top 10. Isolating the fantasy is also the business of the sell from the protagonist of Doktor Sleepless, "Where's My Fucking Jetpack?"
Eventually you get the jetpack, or you see the other guy with his jetpack, and jetpack technology is extrapolated in non-jetpack directions, there are styles and brands, there are related myths and cultures and symbolic relevance that changes because of a prevalance or avoidance of that piece of the fantastic that has entered the world.

And, maybe Lee and Kirby got it right with the inference in Fantastic Four, and inference that grew in early X-Men to become the defining thematic factor of the X-media empire. Maybe, we do - as a public, as a culture - prefer to isolate the different, the elements whose existence, the acknowledgment of which put the lie to consensus reality. They were right about something else, too. Nothing stays ghettoized, censored art gets experienced, silenced people find ways to talk. Attempts at genocide can be horrendously successful, but they fail.
To paraphrase another X-Men comic, getting back to Grant Morrison, "Nothing ever stays buried."

Especially in serial narratives, but in all fiction, there should be denouements but never endings. If you put out there a set of memes, a frame of ideas, and then try to put the fullstop on it, what is that? Were your ideas too weak to keep up? Are you implying you are stalling out or scaling back because the audience needs that, wants that? Conflict generates refinement, so do not dissolve the conflict - Dissolution of the conflict and ghettoizing of the hypergolic elements is what ends a story.

Grant Morrison managed a beautifully romantic denouement to X-Men with Marc Silvestri, called Here Comes Tomorrow and the issues that immediately followed felt entirely like spinning wheels and desperate bids for nostalgia. Nostalgia is not gas, nostalgia is smelling the gasoline that is gone and remembering what the fuel was like. Chuck Austen spending two issues solving a mystery that had already been dealt with and Chris Claremont wrote baseball. Like he was shouting "Baseball!" to distract us, almost. He could have just had the characters yelling "Mother!" and "America!" a lot for all it fumed of nostalgia and desperate security.

Warren Ellis had some experience writing worlds alternate to a baseline fictional world from his time as Excalibur's writer (during which, he spent four issues or so doing the Age of Apocalypse horrorshow of global genocide, slavery, and blues bars), but when he looks at alternate worlds in his Stormwatch story, The Bleed, he has his regular cast see the alternate and be directly motivated by it, while also giving a gorgeous happy nonending, in a man on a cane walking arm in arm with a beautiful girl to lead an army of superhumans up a staircase into the sky to save us all. His alternate Justice League from the aforementioned Terra Occulta or the Batman of its sister story, Night on Earth, keep the idea complexes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman using different conflicts to prove the vigor of the memes. Age of Apocalypse, though? He wrote some of it, was not in charge of it, and when it ended and "real"/"right" reality was reasserted, pretty much every interesting idea it brought to light faded immediately away.

Chris Claremont kept things moving forward for a long part of his initial X-Men run, though he found some comfortable spots of maintained ignorance, like the pretense of a reasonable or understandable Magneto. When he dipped into an alternate world or possible future, it fueled the main reality, ideas and people and things leaked in, from the dystopian Days of Future Past to the wholly imaginary Kitty's Fairytale. His returns were all competent but good at defanging all the ideas, at stalling progress... except when he wrote outside the canon for The End. X-Men: The End moved things forward faster, put the conflicting elements against each other harder, and tested and adapted and retested ideas more vigorously than any canon X-story Claremont has written in most of my lifetime. It had to get to the "end," the future, and his canon work seemed designed to avoid that, to keep a today with no tomorrow, no "and then what?" because asking for the "and next" means things would have to change.

"And-Next Fiction" is a jargon term to devalorize some fiction but it is, as a technique, honest to life. Life is and-next. Nocenti's Daredevil run was almost entirely and-next and mostly things that the prevailing concept of Daredevil dictated he had no business being involved with, such as wandering PTSD and grieving through Hell come to Earth and the Devil's son messing with his head. Life bleeds over, it seeps through, it keeps being there, though, and if Daredevil is going to live in the Marvel Universe, a world of monsters, gods, aliens and reality-rewriting gold cubes, then all that is as real and present as hunger, pop songs, and pavement.

Warren Ellis' trinity of post-superhuman comics from Avatar (No Hero, Black Summer, and Supergod) approached and-next in different scenarios, but each of them has a denoument, each sets up not only a new today but a different tomorrow. It is not only that the present and future are different in those stories because of the fantastic element generating dramatic changes, but because one day was Tuesday and the next is Wednesday, and Thursday will get there.

I hope when Schism rolls up it does feel of denouements and not endings. The fullstop end, the out of gas and unmoving is a let down. It's cool when comics feel like Wednesday with Thursday coming hard and fast, but never when we see Thursday in the wings and get an anemic last Tuesday instead. And-next or detourne, retell, follow up, respond or parody or satirize or homage, but like the title of an awesome comic by Seth, a fictional autiobiographical bit of astonishing, spells it out, it's a good life, if you don't weaken.


When I wrote this, the DC relaunch had completely escaped me, or at least, the breadth of it. Not only did the annoying Superman and Wonder Woman stories (despite some good work by some of the talent involved) come to nothing, it was pointless, then, with a vengeance. And, Prelude ended up being a fun read while actual Schism was something I only finished to be fair in my assessment. Schism was wheelspinning at its most frustrating, as it tried to convince the reader it had excess of gravitas and relevance where it essentially had none.

I recently reread Supergod. It remains very cool, intelligent, moving and relevant. And, has a good line where someone's deity tells them they are, in truth, their stash. And, that's why they love them.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Special Bat-Friend

“Special Bat-Friend”
Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century

[The twelfth in what should be a comprehensive series, both these small essays and the related annotations are intended for someone who is already familiar with the series. Spoilers will be dropped as necessary, events and concepts discussed out of their order of first-appearance, and general summaries of stories will not be provided. The annotations are primarily speculation, with no hard evidence to back them up. All of these posts may be subject to severe and dramatic rewrites without notice, as new things occur to me, and of course, I welcome any further annotation suggestions or general feedback at . If I include an annotation derived from someone else, from this point on, I will gladly credit the provider. If I don’t credit an annotation, it means I derived the conclusion myself, or I simply cannot recall where I got the information first.

This project could not exist without the fine work of The Planetary Appreciation Page, the now defunct Warren Ellis Forum, the slowly-defuncting Barbelith messageboard, and the Planetary team of Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura DePuy/Martin, John Layman, David Baron, Scott Dunbier, and the many letterers, designers, and other contributors.

This project is dedicated to mystery archeologists everywhere, of every walk and a myriad of tastes, habits, and ingenuities.]

The best Batman, to me, is the one Warren Ellis and John Cassaday leave us with here, the good parent. The best parent. Maybe that has to do with never knowing my father. Perhaps, it is a side effect of an innate conviction I am not good enough to be responsible for children. Could be I want to belong to a crimefighting family and see my mother kick muggers in the face. Let's leave that to the biographers and psychoanalysts, if any ever surface for the job.

It's an awesome take on Batman. The best parent version removes any concern with the contradictions of various versions by making the contradictions actually the definition. Batman is a cop and a vigilante, he is an anarchist company man, he can help you up out of the muck and he can hit you with his car to stop you. And, statistically and by all observances, he is less likely to kill you than just about anyone. He's the goddammed Batman, even failing he is kinda better than you or me but we can be as good as him, if not as efficient and accomplished as he is, if we put the effort in.

The sell of Batman is often that we, especially as kids, could be Batman if we tried. No, we can't. For one thing, reality wouldn't even allow Batman to be Batman. For another, we don't have the money, the R&D department, or the field surgeon gentleman's gentleman. We can be as good as Batman, though, as decent. We should.



00 The Planetary field team are in the "shadow of the Bat."

01 Red skies because they are experiencing a Crisis event. Meaning, in the context of the DC Comics shared universe, that different realities are collapsing together.

01.01 This panel and the final of the comic mirror one another, with a "what is that against the moon" motif. May also be a reference to this mirroring technique being employed in famous Batman comic, The Killing Joke.

01.02 Enough grotesques for one building? That is Gotham-y.

02.01 As are the neo-Modernist architectural feats here. This, the WildStorm Universe version of Gotham City is very Anton Furst, designer of the 1989 Batman movie.

03.01 This is the WildStorm version of Richard Grayson and the Joker.

03.02 Their schlubby visual, unshaven, awkward posture, indicates the level of difference between these two and their DC universe versions, due to the absence of a Batman in their lives.

The Joker, here named Jasper (presumably in reference to Marvel Comics' Mad Jim Jaspers), is not only not visibly going around killing people or laughing his head off, he is holding down a real job.

03.03 When Dick opens his mouth, we see how bad it is. Without Batman, the orphaned boy grew into a stuttering, insecure mess, who can't dress himself properly. But, he is still trying to do good, participating in the functioning and for the curious Planetary Organization.

04.02 "It all looks like this" is more or less true. Little of Gotham's streets and layout is ever represented as less than seedy.

05.05 GCPD is Gotham City Police Department. (Pr'y don't need to point that out, do I?)

06.01 Crime Alley in the DC Universe's Gotham is actually Park Row, it's just called Crime Alley because that's very descriptive of it. Notable events on that Crime Alley (and not this one for obvious reasons) include the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents and a young boy, Jason Todd, trying to steal the hubcaps off a parked Batmobile years later.

07.01-04 1986 is the year Crisis on Infinite Earths was published, a comic about a multiversal collapse taking place across the whole DC Comics line and shared world.

08.02 The lamppost is visually similar to the one sometimes represented as being above a young Bruce Wayne and his just murdered parents. All the posts in the area would, hypothetically look the same, but this may be meant to be exactly that one.

08.03 Jasper's behavior here is an indicator that the homicidal and sadistic tendencies of the Joker are not entirely based on a presence of a Batman, only - apparently - his motivation to go do something about them more than touch himself looking at crime scene photographs.

09.02 Evert street in Gotham has porn or prostitutes or both.

Finger Street is a street in the DC Gotham as well, named for Bill Finger, co-creator and writer of Batman and many related characters.

09.03 The Conquerors of the Uncanny are a team from Alan Moore and Rob Liefeld's Judgement Day that takes place in the Awesome shared universe. The comic was a rebooting of various concepts to separate them from the Image shared universe they previously existed as part of, when Liefeld split with Image. This comic is a DC publication under the WildStorm imprint, WildStorm having previously been a part of the Image shared universe and since bought by DC Comics.

10.01 John Black, the WildStorm universe's Bruce Wayne. Bruce, without Batman, is a damaged, lip-biting, incidental murderer and wandering vagrant.

11 This bubble emanating from John Black is a variation on the multiversal snowflake seen elsewhere in Planetary. This pattern will reappear alongside elements from the other crossover oneshots, Terra Occulta and Ruling the World in the final chapter of Planetary during the rescue of Ambrose Chase.

12.01 The cityscape as changed, here, and is photorealist in nature.

12-13 The entire scene has become littered with carefully represented details including exaggerated weathering of walls, pipes, water damage, and litter on pavement. Early indicators that we are in the Alex Ross version of Gotham City.

14 The Batman, in the style and wearing a costume designed by Alex Ross, painter and comics writer.

15.04 Typically, we never see what a batrope is suspended by, but this being a "realistic" world, we do.

17.0305 Every street in Gotham has fetishwear and prostitutes. Jakita is simply seeing Batman in the context of his city as she knows it. And, also, implicating her own leathers.

18.01-03 I know Ross has painted these absurdly big bat-weapons before, but where?

27.01 A Batman in the style of the 1960's television show. The eyes have been darkened and the symbol on his chest relieved of its yellow oval by DC's legal department, as a matter of likeness rights.

The buildings are simpler than either version previously seen, in solid colors.

28.01 Bat-Female-Villain-Repellant is in line with the absurd fix-its that Batman of this television series could produce from his belt, most specifically, Bat-Shark-Repellant.

28.04 This costume shred easily, implying the previous was armored (hence standing up to Jakita's superhuman punch).

29.01 Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman. There are now minimalist backgrounds, mostly of the same muddy dark colors.

31.01 "Mr. Freeze" is a Batman villain, appearing in comics as well as film and television versions of the property.

35.03 A Neal Adams version of Batman.

36.01 And, a Neal Adams style Batmobile.

36.02 Normative handcuffs and not a stylized set of bat-cuffs fit with the semi-realist ambience of Neal Adams usual Batman work.

37.03 The downturned corners of Batman's mouth are very Adams.

38-39 The recurrent panel of Batman seen here resembles a similar arrangement in "There is No Hope in Crime Alley" by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.

40.01 This is the original-era Batman, complete with purple gloves and set in a city that is era-appropriate. And, he's wielding a gun, as earliest Batman is the only canon version to do so readily.

Batman is also framed, here, by the moon, although only his head and no a full-body framing as elsewhere.

41 This is the death of the Waynes in front of their son, Bruce.

42 Batman of the future. This is Cassaday's own design. Batman's head is again haloed by the full moon.

43.02-04 If you have not sussed that John Black is an alternate Bruce Wayne, this ought to make everything click.

44.04-05 "How do you cope?" By doing what he does here, in letting Black go into the custody of the Planetary team. By doing right.

45-46 And, by doing, as he explains here: You give safety and comfort to other people, show them they are not alone.

48.04 Similar to the first page, the shape on the moon that may or may not be a Batman.

[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Very Elegant Job

“Very Elegant Job”
Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century

[The eleventh in what should be a comprehensive series, both these small essays and the related annotations are intended for someone who is already familiar with the series. Spoilers will be dropped as necessary, events and concepts discussed out of their order of first-appearance, and general summaries of stories will not be provided. The annotations are primarily speculation, with no hard evidence to back them up. All of these posts may be subject to severe and dramatic rewrites without notice, as new things occur to me, and of course, I welcome any further annotation suggestions or general feedback at . If I include an annotation derived from someone else, from this point on, I will gladly credit the provider. If I don’t credit an annotation, it means I derived the conclusion myself, or I simply cannot recall where I got the information first.

This project could not exist without the fine work of The Planetary Appreciation Page, the now defunct Warren Ellis Forum, the slowly-defuncting Barbelith messageboard, and the Planetary team of Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura DePuy/Martin, John Layman, David Baron, Scott Dunbier, and the many letterers, designers, and other contributors.

This project is dedicated to mystery archeologists everywhere, of every walk and a myriad of tastes, habits, and ingenuities.]

Detective vs Spy!

John le Carré once said something like, the difference between a spy and a spymaster, was that a spy who was not a spymaster was a poor spy. Detectives (such as Snow) break down, the distinguish and analyze and simplify down to the elements to deduce a truth. Spies, spymasters in particular, aggregate and accumulate and overcomplicate to obscure or delay a truth. At least, that is their traditional MOs in fiction, and this is Planetary, it's all about fiction. We can see Snow, in this chapter, putting the pieces together like a good detective, but do we see as clearly John Stone being the consummate spymaster and working everyone as his agents, his tools, playing his games?

It burns like hell when you realize you've thanked someone for screwing you over, doesn't it? We have all been there and that kind of betrayal, the smiling shake your hand buy you another drink betrayal, is something we are never really trained to handle. There is no educational short to show in ninth grade Social Studies for that. Why is that?


[From Volume Two, The Fourth Man

11.00 The cover evokes Jim Steranko's SHIELD covers and Sixties spy movies, but also has a good deal of story resonance, including the circuits and eye. Particularly evocative of Nick Fury of SHIELD issue #4.

11.01.01 The squiggly and receding type for "1969" evokes a wobblier and more stylish era.

The Bride is shooting a man who looks like Marvel Comics' Nick Fury, one of the characters (and types) whom John Stone represents, as indicated by the cigar, eyepatch, and stubble.

11.01.01-03 That's a helluva flash from the discharging of the Bride's weapon.

The widescreen-mimicking panels evoke a theatrical film.

11.01.02-03 More SHIELD character lookalikes, including a Dumdum Dugan (with the mustache), being held by her Best Men.

The sunglasses and baldness of the Best Men resemble two design elements favored during the late Sixties and Seventies by Jack Kirby (though, there, it's usually blank, oversized eyes, rather than sunglases). Their uniformity visually cues us to their lack of individuality/personality, before it can be explained in dialogue.

11.01.02 S.T.O.R.M. is the precursor of international police force Stormwatch. Planetary is not only the secret history of a century of pop fiction, it is also the secret history of the WildStorm shared universe.

11.02.01 A quintessential illustration of the James Bond as badass. Completely outnumbered, staring at the business end of a gun barrel (several, here), and you know he is going to come out winning.

11.02.02 "Cold World" evokes both the Cold War, which half of this issue takes place during, but also that the world of Planetary is a cold war, mostly, both in the title/comic directly, with the Four vs the Planetary organization, but also that this Earth has, until recently, been fighting and stalemating a silent war between two alien empires that was, in actuality (thank you Alan Moore!), won a long time ago.

11.03 The Bride's agenda is one of stalemate, of stability. She does not want to change the world, but suspend it in a way she enjoys.

11.03.02 Referring to Hark and his daughter, Anna.

11.04.01-02 The Blitzen Suit is in the tradition of superspy gimmicks as favored by the two biggest influences on John Stone, Nicky Fury and James Bond. It uses magnetics to the ends of teleportation, bringing to mind the traditional view of the so-called Philadelphia Experiment. The "blitzen" in its name both indicates electromagnetism and lightning-speed, while also being a call to the lightning-represented speedsters of the DC Universe, most of whom are identified with the name Flash and bear lightning motifs on their costumes.

11.04.02 The Equalizer Disc resembles the lethal ricocheting disc used by an alien in the movie I Come in Peace. Except, I'm not sure it is cutting the Best Men, or if it is firing those red beams at them.

11.04.05 Stone bears the same light scar as the original James Bond of the novels, and Planetary's Jimmy, the Operator.

11.05.01 The red pattern here identified as "the universal border" is more traditionally known as the Bleed and indicates the arterial walls between alternate realities.

Of course the Sixties spy villain has a Polynesian base.

11.05.02 The Bride saying "decouple" is one thing, that both fuel (hot) and coolant (you see where this is going) are involved is another. It isn't a Sixties spy story if everyone isn't being witty.

11.05.04 And having special gimmick weapons, of course, like this saw-toothed bullet. (A regular round would not do the same, oh no.)

11.06.02 If the friction of the round won't do it, surely a flamethrower built into the same gun will?

11.07.05 An example of James Bondian wit. And, of Steranko-style abstract background to highlight the figure.

11.08 There is something classic about the villain midway up the ladder to escape.

11.09.01 More abstract background shapes.

11.09-07 The widescreen-simulating panels give a filmic ambience to Snow's arrival.

11.09.02-03 Furthering the hot/cold dichotomy, the Bride dies here as ice while her Best Men burned.

11.010.01 Is Marrakesh, here, a reference to the film Bang! Bang! You're Dead! or the I Spy episode "Honorable Assassins? Or, simply to a famous portrait of Mick Jagger, whose '67 style the contemporaneous Snow is not a thousand miles away from?

11.10.05 The form of introduction is the same form traditional for the introduction of James Bond.

11.11.01 The straight lines and balance of the "2000" indicate the shift between that year and 1969.

11.11-20 This bar, The Last Shot, has been seen before in an issue of Stormwatch written by Warren Ellis and was part of a superhuman bar culture movement along with fellow WildStorm writer Alan Moore.

11.12.01-03 This concept of souls and Heaven and Hell is, as noted by Warren Ellis, appropriated from William Burroughs, though perhaps only the electromagnetic and nuclear-erasure aspects are original to Burroughs (in terms of publication).

11.12.02 The photos on the wall recall, in their chiaroscuro, the use of photography in Jim Steranko's SHIELD work and other late-Sixties comics, including those by Jack Kirby.

11.13.02-03 The Nautilus here is the one from Verne's fiction, not our "real world" Nautilus of the same year, 1959.

John Stone appears not to know of the woman onboard with Leather and Snow, or at least he does not mention her.

11.13.03 The flashback/memory is embedded behind the contemporary scene, which is a nice visual reinforcement.

11.14.02 Snow unwittingly disrupted a cold war.

11.15.03 "Who benefits from [Snow's] lack of memory?" Well, right here, Stone does.

11.15.05 Which, is why, in part, Stone is honest about his playing mindgames such as this for decades.

11.16.01 Unreal Sanction Force alludes to the mindgaming going on in this very issue as well as throughout Planetary. The acronym also brings to mind the United States Forces, military operations of a primarily non-militant nature in foreign countries (USFJ for Japan, USF-I for Iraq, and so). Further, it may allude to Gerry Anderson's television series, UFO about an organization called S.H.A.D.O., which was an alien-invasion fighting organization run under the cover of being a televisions studio. The aliens of UFO were the organ-abducting type, though never seen clearly without disguising elements, or named, similar to how the Four will be shown to masquerade as extraplanetary aliens to perform terrorist actions, abduct people, and harvest organs.

11.16.04 The Four are playing with Snow because they profit from his general actions and the behavior of his organization, but also, it is the nature of fictional villains to execute protracted sequences of playing with their victims. If they only killed their opponents straightaway, the victim might never turn the tables and win.

11.17 This page utilizes backgrounds of abstract solid shapes in every panel.

11.17.02 John Stone being so concerned that Snow's allies not know of him or his involvement should flag Snow, but does not. This is still superspy business.

11.17.03 Has Stone spiked that cigarette? Snow has thought about the mental blockage before without it collapsing. Eye-opening cig or simply time?

11.18.01 Are those stalactites or teeth?

11.18.02 A Murder Colonel, as seen earlier in Brass' group's trophy room. The mask's bug-eyes and tendril-mouth give a cthuloid or Innsmouth look to him.

11.18.03 Snow is beating on wolfmen with a cane, just as the silver-topped cane in The Wolfman has an implement that can seriously injure a such a creature. Note also, naturally, a full moon above.

11.18.01-03 Note that in the first panel, Snow's pistol is missing from the holster, then in the second, a pistol is dislodged from the Murder Colonel's hand by Snow's punch, then in the third he has a pistol tucked into his belt. Possibly unconnected, but nice.

11.19.02 This is Jakita Wagner's mother in the lost city of Opak-Re.

11.19.04 Sherlock Holmes. And, as we learn, Snow found him at the address most often associated with Holmes, so, really, not the greatest detective work ever but effective.

11.20.03 "It's a game" and the red circles here remind me of Grant Morrison and particularly, The Invisibles, in which, "Try to remember it's only a game" was a recurring phrase and an explanation of fiction and reality.

11.21.05 Stone's eye-rolling and smirk prefigure the reveal of his betrayal here.

[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]

Their Ingenuity and Passion Will Be Missed

“Their Ingenuity and Passion Will Be Missed”
Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century

[The tenth in what should be a comprehensive series, both these small essays and the related annotations are intended for someone who is already familiar with the series. Spoilers will be dropped as necessary, events and concepts discussed out of their order of first-appearance, and general summaries of stories will not be provided. The annotations are primarily speculation, with no hard evidence to back them up. All of these posts may be subject to severe and dramatic rewrites without notice, as new things occur to me, and of course, I welcome any further annotation suggestions or general feedback at . If I include an annotation derived from someone else, from this point on, I will gladly credit the provider. If I don’t credit an annotation, it means I derived the conclusion myself, or I simply cannot recall where I got the information first.

This project could not exist without the fine work of The Planetary Appreciation Page, the now defunct Warren Ellis Forum, the slowly-defuncting Barbelith messageboard, and the Planetary team of Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura DePuy/Martin, John Layman, David Baron, Scott Dunbier, and the many letterers, designers, and other contributors.

This project is dedicated to mystery archeologists everywhere, of every walk and a myriad of tastes, habits, and ingenuities.]
Eulogy for fiction is not their end. In life, you talk about the passed and you kind of know you aren't getting them back, even believing in an afterlife or resurrection you fear you do not get to see them again, to see someone's brilliance or presence. When you do it in fiction for fiction, you make it live again in that fictional realm. Because the idea, as proved by its absence or removal, is the same shape and strength as the idea by its presence, if not better.

"MAGIC AND LOSS" is no more intended to be the final Superman story than "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" It shows why there should be Superman stories. It demonstrates what we get out of Green Lantern stories, mostly without ever noticing that those elements are there, the space police element has been in Green Lantern a long time, the oath even longer, but how often do actual Green Lantern stories demonstrate why that means something as this chapter of Planetary does? Had any story before this one linked the lantern to the policework (which is historically culturally accurate for several locales/communities throughout history)? And, Wonder Woman? This chapter, this portrayal puts the lie to the idea that feminism is about proving women are better than men. She is not going to go to the multi-gendered United States and announce herself superior, she is only going to go and present herself and her culture.

Is this Wonder Woman about erasure, then? Probably, intentionally or not. Presence means something. Always.

The Help is out right now, and it's sort of eulogizing housecleaners and maids struggles during the era often called the Civil Rights Movement (as if there was one movement in a small period of years). Fair enough. It's through the eyes of what in that situation is the overclass, white perspective, though still an underclass (women). Okeh, fair... yeah, fair enough, too. And it's yet another example of the rare role available to black actors even today: the help. Porters and maids. You know what's interesting to me, about this? During the era the film is set in, nonwhite actors were unionizing, particularly black women, resulting in many of those same housecleaner and mammy roles being cast with white actors in blackface to avoid casting the black unionized actors. And, you have a huge movement, watershed being Sidney Poitier, towards refusing to take those roles to make a point of how rare any non-servile role was for a black performer. If you make that movie, though, you have to show nonwhite people doing for themselves, standing up confidently and - not being aggressive, but - being insistently present. And getting erased by blackface for it.

Has that got too much to do with this issue? Reaching too far? I don't know. Is Frances Williams a superhero?

[From Volume Two, The Fourth Man

This issue's title is most likely a reference to the Lou Reed song of the same name.

10.01.01 The blanket of the issue's Superman analog.

10.01.02 The lantern of the Green Lantern analog, unlit and empty-looking.

10.01.03 Bracelets of the Wonder Woman analog.

10.02.01 Presumably this is Four Voyagers Plaza, last seen in chapter six.

10.03.03 The winged rig is analogous to the kind traditionally used by DC Comics' Hawk characters, Hawkman/woman/gil. These artifacts, the bracelets, the rig, blanket, are lifeless remains of those concepts.

10.05-9 A replay of the pre-Earth origins of Superman, stripped of familiar iconography

10.06.04 The child is launched from a field named for a(n old) sun god. Superman, powered by the yellow sun, is nothing if not solar-centric and impregnated with a sense of old alien culture and history.

10.08 Superman purified down the The Last Son.

10.10.01 The speaking alien is drawn in a very angular, snaky style, similar to sometime Green Lantern artist Kevin O'Neil's basic style.

10.10.02 Narration and visual boil down the Green Lantern Corps concept to "space's first policeman" with a lamp lighting the way.

10.10.03 A policeman whose badge and tool was "the light of reason" and not, say, a gun.

Is the alien growing those lanterns from its tendrils?

10.11 Here a corps of space cops analogous to the Green Lantern Corps.

10.12.02 The command, the invocation here, is similar to the Green Lantern's oath, which is a rhyming statement of intent usually modified from Lantern to Lantern. Here it is strongly connected to a request/reminder to be "the best kind of policeman."

10.14.03 A Wonder Woman analog and her mother, with a city behind them analogous to Wonder Woman's nation-city of origin, Themyscira.

10.15.04 "And they won't go back" to the Moon, is an indictment of the same magic and loss seen with these superhero concepts and their removal during the course of the story.

10.15.05 The Wonder Woman here is purified not to an ambassadorial role, but also a teacher, a messenger whose message is, essentially (the medium is the message) her existence.

10.16.04 She has "tamed" her bracelets, playing into the use of bondage, freedom, and play-bondage to define pretty much everything, as seen in the earliest Wonder Woman comics.

10.19.04-6 William Leather's powers appear to be analogous, visually, to the Human Torch of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four, but they are not temperature related, as seen here where they are a magicky skeleton key. As we will see throughout Planetary, the Planetary field team's superhuman abilities are more in line with the Fantastic Four than the analogs of the Four.

10.20.01 Baby Superman, complete with indestructable blanket bearing a gold standard/shield. Yes, Superman's cape, as an adult, is his baby blanket.

10.20.04 Leather can generate intense heat, however else his powers work.

10.21 A very Jim Steranko page layout. And, here, Doctor Randall Dowling of the Four is posed bending over or in extreme projection to give the semblance of stretching, cuing to mind that he is analogous to Marvel Comics' Mr. Fantastic.

10.21.02 The space cop has been shot in the face, similar to the shot-in-the-head stuffed and mounted Green Lanterns displayed in the Four's outerspace headquarters in the Terra Occulta crossover with the Justice League.

10.21.03 The Wonder Woman analog is explicitly referred to as an "ambassador."

10.21.04 Henry Bendix is the later head of an international superhuman police force, Stormwatch, and a bad man. He will use this artifact to produce a soldier who ends up dead on his first mission in the Stormwatch story "A Finer World" also written by Warren Ellis.

10.22.01 The severe black border given to this panel reinforces how much is left out when all the potential we saw throughout this chapter are reduced to the artifacts.

10.22.01-02 The lightning-like shapes throughout this issue are a nice touch, bringing to mind silently the Flash characters of DC, one of the staples of that company's shared world not given much consideration in Planetary.

10.22.04 All that lost potential that is implied reminds Snow to act not to wait for action. That's nicely done.

[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]
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