National Gorilla Suit Day

In honor of the day, I offer this photo of myself:

Seven and a half years ago, I was a gorilla for a weekend. I went to a party, I scared people in a haunted house, and I won half of a "best couple" award at a dance in this outfit.

I have to admit, though, that I'm not actually wearing one today.

I hope that doesn't really mean the terrorists win.

Just following the pack

Okay, so I'm probably the last person to comment on this "teaser" image that came out, apparently from the DC publicity people. The Fortress of Fortitude and The Comics Reporter have had great posts about it, so I'll just add my $.02 or so:

1. Am I the only one who wants to cry out in my most-anguished Charlton Heston voice, "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"
2. The Sopranos photo was the next thing I thought of, after that, and I have never even seen that show.
3. I might believe that Ion and Wonder Chick Donna Troy are floating, but the overall effect of the character placement is really amateurish and reminiscent of Colorforms.
4. Pirate-Batman is just goofy, but I like the look of Red Robin (reminds me of the old redesign of the Earth-2 Robin's costume.
5. Yeah, the weepy Superman is officially overdone now.

Oh yeah - in re the Keeper's concern about Black Canary's, um, package: I dunno, maybe this is a transvestite BC from a different Earth; it's about time, innit? I think so, anyway.

The ridiculous and the sublime

In reverse order:


Agents of Atlas

The top ten reasons why Agents of Atlas was the best miniseries - no, the best comic - of 2006:

10. It has a spy, a spaceman, a goddess, a mermaid, a robot, and a gorilla - all on the same team.
9. Dum Dum Dugan played by Sam Elliot.

8. There's no mention of Civil War.
7. The heroes drive an Edsel and a flying saucer.
6. Text pages!
5. The Yellow Claw stopped being a Fu Manchu ripoff and became a compelling character.
4. The whole series shows how you can do retconning while keeping the spirit of the characters and avoiding grim 'n' gritty for its own sake.
3. Kirk and Justice are wonderful storytellers as well as excellent draftsmen .
2. Jeff Parker has written the tightest and tidiest plot I have encountered since Body Heat.
1. It has a spy, a spaceman, a goddess, a mermaid, a robot, and a gorilla! No, I mean it, really - all on the same team!


Here's clip of the cover of Charlton Bullseye #1, the ill-considered 1981 attempt at a revival of Blue Beetle and The Question, and perhaps the worst comic of all time.

Yep, that's Vic Sage, fighting a robot shark.* Holy inappropriate adventures, Batman!

Anyway, I had to fly this weekend, and I saw this in the in-flight catalog, the one with travel alarms and automatic garden hose winders and wine racks shaped like French waiters:

Life imitates art! You could get a JLU action figure and recreate this stunning scene in all its, um, glory. (Heck, it'll probably be on YouTube next week.)

*Update: Chris Sims used to feature an interior clip from this comic on his front page.
I was going to provide a link as part of the post, but he no longer uses the picture.
Here's a link to Chris's Invincible Super-Blog anyway.

A great TPB that hasn't come out yet

The Escapists #6 from Dark Horse just came out, completing the saga of Max Roth, Case Weaver, and Denny Jones and their attempts to revitalize and reinvent Kavalier & Clay's character, The Escapist, in a self-published indie comic book.

I mention the characters first because for me, they were they key to my enjoyment of this limited series. The highest praise that I can give a story - a book, a movie, a play, a comic - is to say that I care about the people in it and want to know more about them. It doesn't happen often enough, but when I get that feeling, I know I have found a successful work of art.

The Escapists gave me that feeling. Without actually identifying with the characters - I'm a bit long in the tooth to relate to eager twentysomethings - I cared about their struggles, their triumphs, and wanted to know all about the parts of their lives that didn't appear in the book. The point isn't to hope for another story - although that would be swell - but to recognize that the characters had become important and as close to real as they could be. And that's no small feat.

Of course, Brian K. Vaughan already demonstrated his character writing chops to me in Pride of Baghdad, so I shouldn't be so surprised. What might be surprising, however, is how many other wonderful flourishes Vaughan and company incorporate into the series without its getting overwrought. The story uses contrasting art styles to distinguish between the comics pages the characters create and "real" life in the story, as well as several other states of reality. The style change is not only the formalist device that aids the story telling; Vaughan uses disjunctive captions in a far more productive way than media darling Chris Ware ever dreamed, actually using them to advance his story and reveal character development. With all this technique abounding, breaking the fourth wall almost goes unnoticed, yet the reader never gets lost in the telling but remains captivated by the story all this flair works in support of.

There are several other levels on which to appreciate The Escapists: its handling of Kavalier and Clay as real historical figures is engaging and consistent, overflowing into wonderful text pieces. The story also serves as a travelogue to Cleveland, using local history and landmarks to - once again! - advance the story. The commentary on the comics indstry is just gravy.

There are a few quibbles: the villain of the piece is a bit melodramatic, and there were some false notes in the indictment of "corporate creativity," but these are really minor.

With compelling characters, authentic dialog, a realistic plot and daring pacing, as well as beautiful art from a host of illustrators, The Escapists is an excellent mini-series that has earned a place on my bookshelf, not just in the Shortbox.

I'll even buy the trade, too.

The heroes of The Escapists

Got you covered

So, DC Comics asked what was the best cover that they have ever published. A bit of a daunting question, that; a buddy of mine (who usually doesn't blog about comics) gave it a shot and could only cut it down to four.

To cut through this Gordian Knot with Occam's Razor (heh) comes Brandon of Random Panels, who simply asks for our favorite comic book cover. Ever.

That's easy. The Keeper gave us his, inspiring me to give you mine:

It's got:

Gil Kane artwork!
Second-string heroes!
Short heroes!
Earths 1 and 2!
Breaking the fourth wall!
Bad punning in the title!
A visual pun in the art!
A roundhouse punch!
Gil Kane artwork!

What more could you want (except maybe dinosaurs, monkeys, and the color purple)?

Pride and Perdida

I had a chance to read two graphic books over the break, both of them gifts: Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon (DC Comics/Vertigo) and La Perdida by Jessica Abel. I was not disappointed by either.

Pride of Baghdad relates the fact-based story of four lions who escaped from the Baghdad zoo in the aftermath of the the bombing that began the Iraq war. Beautifully illustrated and colored in tones that make the reader feel the desert heat, the story follows the small pride - an old male, two females, and a cub - as they wend their way through a world previously unknown to them, encountering wonders and threats, both human and animal, natural and artificial.

As we follow the group, our interest in engaged and held not by the plot - which is rather picaresque - but by the characterization. Vaughn's dialogue and Henrichon's art instill each lion with a distinct and credible personality. Each cat becomes a real personality, but never a person - their animal natures, sensibilities, and perspectives are never lost. Whether negotiating with gazelles or examining the rubble left behind by battle, these are wild predators following their instincts. While we can relate to these feline protagonists, there is never the sense that they have been anthropomorphized: it is we who are transformed, seeing the world through their cats' eyes:

There are very few humans in the book, yet it is a story of personal drama as well as adventure. And it has the most breathtaking and moving conclusion of any book - graphic or traditional - that I have read in a long time.

La Perdida is the story of a callow and naive American woman who moves to Mexico in an attempt to connect with her roots and find some greater, more "authentic" meaning to her life.

Having completed the book, I am impressed (from my usual formalist position) by Abel's command of storytelling: the narrative is intricate and the cast is large, but Abel maintains control of scene and character and builds plot upon subplot with foreshadowing, subtle clues, and the neat tying of threads. It is a quite a consummate work, helped my her masterful handling of the bilingual nature of the dialogue.

During the reading itself, I was less... engaged? Excited? Committed? This was mostly because I didn't like the protagonist, Carla, very much; I sometimes wished that she would just shut up and go away for a while so the story could follow someone else more interesting. Here she is (in white), pissing off a potential ally to a mutual friend in big trouble.

As the novel came to its conclusion, however, what I thought was going to be just a melodramatic climax turned into a revelation that Carla had been a pretty unreliable narrator for most of the book, and that her growth and struggle as a character were really just beginning. The wrap-up of the story was riveting, since Carla was finally doing things that made me care about her. I'll credit Abel with a lot of courage for not taking the easy way out and giving us a warm and cuddly heroine with whom we could identify; sticking with Carla was work, but it was well worth it.


Winter quarter started on the second; this is the term that I am using graphic books as the readings in my composition class. I was going to begin with some essays from Give My Regards to the Atomsmashers, a collection of essays by popular writers on the effect comics had on their lives. That book was out of print, however, so i had to make a last minute substitution with The Language of Comics, a collection of more scholarly articles such as "The Voices of Silence: Willette, Steinlen and the Introduction of the Silent Strip in the Chat Noir, with a German Coda," by David Kunzle. It's pretty heady stuff, grad school reading really, but the class is giving it a fair go. They're handing in their first paper tomorrow- an annotation of one of the articles - and we'll see if my optimism is founded. We'll be looking at and writing about extant criticism for a couple of weeks, and then they'll be trying their hand at analyses of graphic works.