Archive for November, 2011

Holiday Gift Bag: Compassion and Empathy

This isn’t the usual Holiday Gift Bag installment. See, I’ve been re-reading Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” lately, which is something I try to do every few years, and I was marveling at how relevant it still is today. We see 21st century Scrooges almost everywhere we look. A lot of the anti-poverty programs that Scrooge advocated for during the first chapter of the book seem similar to programs that more modern wealthy misers have also advocated. The idea of working low-level employees on holidays is coming back into style. The scene where Christmas Present reveals Ignorance and Want was positively revelatory to me this year. Reading the book has got me thinking about a lot of stuff lately.

So in this installment of the Holiday Gift Bag, I’m not suggesting you go buy something as a holiday gift. I’m suggesting you do something to make the world a slightly better place. I’m asking that you try to nurture your senses of compassion and empathy.

The past week saw news stories about Christmas shoppers spraying other people with pepper spray, getting into fights, trampling employees, ignoring dying customers in the rush for bargains they could’ve gotten any other day of the season. Our politicians and pundits advocate for policies that would throw the unemployed to the wolves, that would send poor children to work in place of janitors, that would have poor people paying more taxes than the “job creators” who never seem to create any jobs.

There are people out there who cheer the ideas that private insurance should be too expensive for anyone but the wealthy and that people who can’t afford insurance should die of preventable diseases. There are people out there who look at the 10% unemployment rate, with hundreds of applicants for lowly burger-flipping jobs, and huff that the unemployed are just too lazy to work. There are people out there who think unemployment and welfare pay so lavishly that people choose to stay on the dole.

Sometimes, it seems like we’re trying to un-create civilization — like we’ve decided, as a culture, that having a sane society is just no fun anymore, so we’re gonna see how things work as a hellhole fresh out of Ayn Rand’s or Jason Voorhees’ wet dreams.

Part of the problem is certainly ignorance — people just don’t know how things are outside of their bubble, and their assumptions are deeply uninformed. But another part of the problem is that there are an awful lot of sociopaths running the political world and the mass media, and they’ve spent the past few decades getting paid very well to make sociopathy look sexy and fun. They’ve done a very good job of promoting the idea that it’s patriotic to dehumanize 99% of their fellow people because they don’t have the right politics or the right culture or the right level of wealth or the right level of personal attractiveness.

In the past few years, we’ve even seen people in the media and in our Congress claim that empathy is a bad thing to possess. Sure, maybe it is for psychotics and serial killers, who need to have no sympathy for the random people they’re trying to kill. But for the rest of us, if someone said you didn’t have any empathy or compassion for others, you’d think it was a huge insult. And you’d be right.

So seriously, make an effort to remember that not everyone has your advantages, and just because someone doesn’t have those advantages, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean they’re lazy, it doesn’t mean they’re taking anything from you, it doesn’t mean they’re destroying America, and it doesn’t mean you should be happy when bad things happen to them.

This is the type of thing you usually hear a lot of around the holidays. And it’s a good message, it really is. Compassion during the holidays is one of the best things about the holidays — opening your heart to all your fellow creatures is what gives this time of year the power that it still holds over us. But I hate it when those compassionate urges disappear after December 25th. And I hate it when people use the holidays as a weapon to attack others — either using a holiday greeting that the TV blowhards don’t approve of, or letting consumerism take over our good sense, or proclaiming that people who celebrate other holidays at this time of year — or none at all — aren’t deserving of the goodwill we offer to our own tribe. I wish compassion and empathy were the standards year-round, not the exceptions.

It’s a rough economy, I know, and I don’t think everyone should go out and spend all their money on charities. Please feel free to give to a good charity, if you’re able. But these days, you gotta keep your head above water first.

But even if you can’t contribute money to others, if you can’t give to the local food pantries or coat drives or toy drives or whatever, if you don’t sling soup at the homeless shelter or take boxes of cookies to the nursing home or go caroling at the hospital, please don’t let yourself devolve into the kind of thuggery, resentment, and hatemongery we have to see on the cable news channels. The only people who benefit from that are the cable news channels themselves, not you, not your family, not your neighbors.

It’s a hard life for all of us, but it’s a lot harder for some folks than others. Please remember that we’re all in this together. I mean, we’re all comic book people ’round here, right? Let’s try to be the heroes and not the villains.

Compassion and empathy: They’re free, and they make us all feel better. Please go pick some up.

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Run Like Hell

Morning Glories #14

A story told concurrently with last issue, this time we focus on Zoe, Hunter, and Jun. After Hunter furiously tells off Zoe for being a shallow skank, Zoe decides to get her petty revenge by forcing him to pal around with her — because if she won’t, she’ll get her many male admirers to kick his butt. With the just-announced Woodrun, Zoe has decided she wants to win it, with the unwilling help of Hunter and Jun. But once the race actually begins, very, very strange things happen, and neither the students nor the teachers are prepared for what happens.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This felt like a very deeply unusual story. Lots of weird, moody teen angst, as you’d expect from this series, and lots of weird time travel stuff and just general weirdness — again, as you’d expect from this series, but they combine into something stranger than normal.

Blue Beetle #3

Jaime Reyes spends the whole issue trying to get his alien costume to let go of him so he can look human. La Dama slashes an injured minion’s throat so she can do some kind of blood magic. The Reach try to get a lock on where the Blue Beetle armor is. The Brotherhood of Evil get called on the carpet by a possibly new villain called Silverback. And I fail to be entertained by any of this.

Verdict: Thumbs down. This wholly unnecessary reboot of a character who wasn’t that old is just not hitting the cylinders like it should. I don’t understand why it’s important for us to understand what the armor is saying now. I don’t know why La Dama had to turn into a black magician instead of a somewhat sympathetic crimelord. I don’t know why there’s so little interaction between Jaime’s wonderful supporting cast. I want to see some improvement here fast.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Daytripper

Well, well, well, looks like it’s time again for the biggest shopping day of the year! Time to go fight your way through wall-to-wall crowds at the mall, while stores offer insulting “doorbuster” sales that require you to get up at dark-thirty so they can squeeze another few pennies out of you. And don’t you just love shopping mall parking on the day after Thanksgiving? You know why they call it “Black Friday,” right? Because it’s EEEEVIL.

But I’m here to offer you an alternative: comics! There are lots of comics and comic-related gifts you can find for the comics fan in your life, or for the person who you want to turn on to comics. So we’re going to spend a few weeks looking through our Holiday Gift Bag to find some good presents that won’t require anything more stressful than a trip to your friendly neighborhood comics shop.

Today, let’s start things off with Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá.

If you’ve read this site for a while, you know that this was my very favorite comic series from last year. It wasn’t available in trade paperback last Christmas, but it is now. And here’s why you should consider gifting it to someone else.

This isn’t a traditional comic story. There are no superheroes or villains, no great battle between good and evil, and the only fights are short, brutal, and generally deadly, just like real life. It’s not really a story about mundane life either — though the main character and everyone he knows are perfectly normal people, there are a few traces of magical realism. It’s definitely not a linear story. We follow our hero from the age of 32 to 21 to 28 to 41 to 11 and older and younger and older. But every chapter ends the same way.

Our hero is a Brazilian named Brás de Oliva Domingos. He’s the son of a famous writer, and he has dreams of becoming a writer himself. For now, he’s employed at a newspaper writing obituaries while working on his own novel. He’s got coworkers, a best friend, a prickly relationship with his father, and everything’s going about the way things do. And at the end, Brás dies.

No, not at the end of the entire story. Brás dies at the end of the first chapter.

And then at the end of the second chapter. And the third.

Brás doesn’t have superpowers. He just seems to die on days that are significant and important to him. The day of his first kiss, the day he meets his wife for the first time, the day his son is born, the day he spends writing obits for dozens of people dead in a plane crash.

You can call it miracles, alternate universes, metaphors, whatever you want. Because the deaths aren’t ultimately any more important than anyone else’s death. We all have death to look forward to, or to dread — we all get to die, from the top 1% to the schmuck at the bottom of the 99% rung.

What’s important is how we get there, right?

And how Brás gets there is what keeps you turning the pages of this story. His life, his family, his friends, his lovers, his trials and triumphs, from the entire stretch of his history, from childhood to old age. I wasn’t able to get enough of this, and I think you’d love it, too.

In a way, I’m still a little surprised it didn’t get more acclaim. It’s pretty much the best comic work that Moon and Bá have done — and both of them have done lots of brilliant work prior to this. The series won an Eisner Award, a Harvey, and an Eagle, and I’ve never heard anyone say a cross word about it. DC never published this as a hardcover, just a regular paperback — and this was definitely good enough for a hardcover. Still, DC’s loss is your gain — you can buy it for less than $20.

Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. Go pick it up.

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Magneto Keen

Avengers Academy #22

Someone has tried to kill Jocasta — and maybe succeeded — it’s hard to tell with a robot. Hank Pym isn’t making any headway in his investigation, beyond discovering traces of unidentifiable electromagnetic energy, but he realizes he needs to call in an expert. And that means Magneto and the rest of the X-Men are coming for a visit. Wait, Magneto is in the X-Men now? Yes, at least for now. Pietro definitely isn’t happy about Magneto paying them a visit — he and his father don’t get along anymore.

While Magneto and Quicksilver argue about all their many, many issues, Finesse gets uncharacteristically emotional and attacks the Master of Magnetism, soon involving Avengers Academy, the X-Men, and the rest of the Avengers in a big bench-clearing brawl. Emma Frost eventually calms everyone down telepathically, but the relationship between Magneto and his son is still strained, the mutants leave feeling not very trusted, and all Magneto is able to discover from Jocasta’s body is a large buildup of tachyon particles around her body, suggesting that her attacker was a time traveler…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another good issue — the mystery deepens almost without anyone noticing, thanks to the worlds of action, angst, intrigue, and chaos going on in the story. Great characterization of everyone — which is quite a feat, considering how many people there are in the cast of this issue…

Batman #3

The Dark Knight has figured out that the man in the owl costume who attacked him got into Wayne Tower through the underground rail lines that converge underneath the tower. He lays some smackdown on the gangs that control the traffic in the subways, but can’t find anyone who knows of the assassin. He doesn’t believe that the Court of Owls exists, other than as part of an old folk song, but everyone else seems to think they’re real, including Alfred and Lincoln March, the politician who was injured in the assassin’s attack. Lincoln tells Bruce Wayne that someone is watching him, someone who leaves owls in his home. Batman’s investigation soon leads to — of all things — the empty 13th floors of high-rise office buildings — and what he begins to find there is bizarre and more than a little scary.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A very creepy story. I mean, there’s excellent action and detective stuff and everything you want from a good Batman story. But then there’s the creepy stuff — politicians muttering away in hospitals about all-powerful conspiracies, shadowy hidden headquarters filled with weapons and old photos of rich people wearing bizarre owl masks, secret societies that stretch back hundreds of years, all unsuspected by anyone — and what really gets left behind is how eerie and creepy and frightening this all is.

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Defeat of Clay

Wonder Woman #3

The big secret is out — Diana wasn’t formed from clay by her mother and given life by the gods. She was created the old-fashioned way — by her mother, Hippolyta, and her father, Zeus. With many of the Amazons angry at her, with Hera lining the gods up against her, and with only a few allies remaining on Themyscira, what future does Wonder Woman have here?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Still not sure I like the new origin, but the art is beautiful, the dialogue and characterization are great, and I can’t see that much here I should feel unhappy about.

iZombie #19

In the aftermath of the zombie invasion, the National Guard is out, the Dead Presidents and the Fossor Corporation are hunting monsters, and everyone else is lying low. Gwen has Ellie seal her up inside a crypt to keep someone from shooting her in the head, despite the danger that she could go nuts whenever she needs to eat a brain. Spot has a date with Gwen’s hunky brother Gavin, and a new ghostly vigilante called the Phantasm is stalking the streets.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, Mike Allred’s art is fantastic, and Chris Roberson does a great job juggling the various professional and personal relationships — and the accompanying soap opera angst — going on here. Interesting to see that Spot is apparently bisexual — had no clue prior to this that he was anything other than an awkward straight geek, but maybe more was going on that I didn’t notice…

Today’s Cool Links:

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Friday Night Fights: Disrupting the Teen Scene!

Well, according to my calendar, it’s Friday, so it’s the end of the work week, and that means we need to get the weekend started right with a nice fat dose of… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Today’s battle comes to us from one of my favorite comics ever: June 1980’s The New Teen Titans #20 by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, and Adrienne Roy, a story molded around the idea that Kid Flash is writing about the team’s latest adventures in a letter home to his parents. The villain in this issue is a guy called the Disruptor, who wears a high-tech super-suit that lets him… disrupt things. It’s sounds incredibly dorky, but he still manages to mop the floor with the Titans for a while, all narrated in overwrought style by the teenaged Wally West…

That’s what we got for this Friday. Next weekend is going to be post-holiday crazy, so I won’t be posting a fight next Friday, but we’ll have plenty of fighting to do the weekend after that…

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Atomic Beatdown

Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #3

Last issue, someone made a pretty good attempt at killing Atomic Robo. Now, he and his team are trying to figure out which of their enemies could be behind the attack — and the attack doesn’t really fit the M.O.s of any of the groups they’ve tangled with in the past. One of their analysts is able to hit a lucky bit of data that lets them trace where the calls into the company HQ were coming from, and the team scrambles to take them out with a surgical strike. Meanwhile, some of Robo’s old employees are working with British intelligence to track a two-story flat that’s been mysteriously stolen — they’re finally having some progress with interviews, but it just opens up more mysteries. And in Omaha, Nebraska, where Robo’s team has tracked the rogue signals, they find an empty office building — and they get ambushed by a large military force. They’re able to elude them and even take out some of their forces, but these guys are not willing to let Robo get away again.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action, great art, wonderful humor and dialogue. This comic is insanely fun, and I don’t know why more of you aren’t reading it. Why do you hate fun and joy, non-readers? Whyyyy?

The Amazing Spider-Man #674

Spider-Island is no more, but some people are still coming to town wishing they could get some spider-powers of their own. They’re soon inducted into a new gang that specializes in high-rise burglaries and sometimes killing their members by dropping them from great heights. Peter Parker and his ex-girlfriend Carlie Cooper soon realize they’re after the same group of people, but long before they get too far in their investigation, we are introduced to the high flying gang and their leader, the Vulture.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I don’t know if they really meant that last-page reveal to be a big surprise, but anyone who wasn’t expecting the Vulture after seeing the cover or reading any of the rest of the story just wasn’t paying any real attention. Still, nice story, good dialogue, decent action.

Severed #4

Jack’s friend Sam — a girl passing as a boy to avoid unwanted creeps in 1930s Chicago — is very suspicious of “Alan Fisher,” the shark-toothed killer who is pretending to be a phonograph salesman. She stole one of his business cards and calls his boss, who tells her he hasn’t heard from the real Alan Fisher in days and agrees to meet with her to figure out what’s going on. However, Jack believes what Fisher has told them, and they have a big argument — though they eventually reconcile. Unfortunately, when Sam goes to see Fisher’s boss, it turns out it was really Fisher all along. Is there going to be a good ending for either Sam or Jack? I wouldn’t bet on it…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Dead grim Depression-era horror, with some serious scares and a ton of suspense. I really do love the way Scott Snyder seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the comics world’s best and most important writers.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Here’s a really cool video by Alan Moore, creator of a lot of the best comics in history, talking at length about the importance of the late Harvey Pekar.
  • Lots of webcomics are coming up with interesting ways to talk about depression.
  • Hey, do me a solid and go sign this petition. These Internet blacklist bills Congress is working on passing are guaranteed Internet-killers. They’d shut down Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Etsy, Wikipedia, and most of the blogs in the country, including this one.

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Frankenstein Conquers the World

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #3

Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos have finally met up with his ex-wife, the Bride — unfortunately, they’re all stuck on a planet full of chittering arachnoid monsters — and it’s all about to crash into Earth from another dimension. They’re really badly outnumbered, but Khalis the mummy unleashes some completely unexpected mystical powers to completely incinerate all the monsters on the entire continent. Unfortunately, there’s still one insanely gigantic Godzilla-sized spider monster they still have to fight. Even if they can stop it, do they have a chance to deal with the other two continents full of monsters, too?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of fighting, but we also get a little time for some characterization, some suspense, and some of Frankenstein’s wonderfully over-the-top pulpy dialogue. I do hope that Khalis won’t be used solely as a deus ex machina, though…

Demon Knights #3

With hordes of dragons and an enemy army attacking the village of Little Spring, Madame Xanadu uses the power of her own blood to fuel a spell to create a shield to protect the village. It weakens and ages her terribly, and Etrigan, infuriated that he may lose his lover for the sake of humans he doesn’t care about, attacks and maims a priest. The Horsewoman is seemingly able to pass through the mystic barrier, but she refuses to get off her horse to do any other preparations. Vandal Savage tries and mostly fails to teach the villagers how to fight. Exoristos lets a local girl sneak through the barrier to find helf for the village. And the Shining Knight continues to confound everyone around him. Um, her…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good action, but by far the best thing about this one so far is the wealth of characterization. Getting to know these guys as people is something I didn’t really think would be possible in the midst of several battles and a siege, but it’s working out quite well.

Today’s Cool Links:

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The Unwritten #31

Tom Taylor has decided to take a more active role against the Cabal, essentially declaring war on them. He ambushes them in supposedly safe locations, using magic spells lifted from the Tommy Taylor children’s fantasy novels his dad wrote. His friends, Lizzie Hexam, Richie Savoy, and Frankenstein’s Monster, aren’t sure how well he really understands magic, but Tom is able to find out plenty of secrets using magic. But magic may prove to be a fickle power…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of action, good dialogue, fun plot developments. I’m still fairly jazzed by the idea of Frankenstein’s Monster being an actual member of the cast.

The Dunwich Horror #2

The Horror comes after our small band of heroes, but they manage to elude its grasp. Doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods yet — so they need to find a way to send it back to the horrific dimension it hails from. To do that, however, they’ll need the Necronomicon from Miskatonic University’s library — but the university recently decided to scan the decaying book to preserve it, and the librarian who scanned it went nuts, burned the original book, swallowed a flash drive with the files, and then died in the hospital when the flash drive blew her apart. Our heroes have finally managed to break the code on her computer — but how can you read a book when everyone who looks at its pages goes mad?

Verdict: I think I may thumbs this one down. The story has an interesting Lovecraftian feel to it, but there’s really not a whole lot to tie it in with Lovecraft’s classic short story. We get the Necronomicon, madness, mentions of Wilbur Whateley… and there needs to be a bit more if we can really call this an adaptation of the story. Plus, it still comes with “The Hound” as a backup — and the lettering is still mostly illegible. No need to subject yourself to eyestrain for just a backup story…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Just one link today: Here’s the most intensely sad thing you’re going to read about a comic creator this month: Marvel Comics giant Bill Mantlo, writer of hundreds of comics in the 1970s, is currently living in a nursing home after a hit-and-run accident in the ’90s left him with severe brain damage. He gets few visitors, has almost no possessions, and is just a whiff away from dead broke. It’s a long, sad story, but read the whole thing.
  • Okay, one more link: The HERO Initiative tries to help out creators who, like Mantlo, are down on their luck and need help. I know the economy is rough, and we’re getting closer to Christmas. But please consider sending a contribution their way, if you can.

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Beauty and the Bat

Batwoman #3

Batwoman has a close call against the Weeping Woman who keeps kidnapping and drowning children, and no sooner does she escape her clutches, but she gets apprehended by DEO agent Cameron Chase, who thinks she had something to do with the kidnapping/terrorist attack engineered by her seemingly dead sister. And once she escapes from the DEO agents, her double close calls convince her to fire her cousin Bette as her sidekick. Chase leans on Kate’s father trying to get information, and Kate reconciles with Maggie Sawyer, while Bette prepares to take to the streets in her old Flamebird costume.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is the most amazingly beautiful comic you’re gonna find. It’s not just that J.H. Williams III is an outstanding artist, but he’s a brilliant draftsman, too, with comics panels unlike anything else you’re going to see. He even uses some old art styles when he draws Kate in flashback. Even without the wonderful storytelling and emotional characterizations, it’s amazing, beautiful, intricate work, and you should — no, you **need** to be reading this comic.

Batgirl #3

Batgirl tries to save one of Mirror’s potential victims on a commuter train, but is foiled because Mirror has hidden his bomb on a passing train instead. Afterward, Babs has a brief but emotional visit with her father in the afternoon and a much more rambunctious but equally emotional encounter with Nightwing that evening. Will Batgirl go it alone, or will she accept help from the people she loves?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This really is a beautifully emotional story, told through flashbacks and fisticuffs. It’s nice to see that the always stormy Babs Gordon/Dick Grayson relationship has survived the Reboot intact, though it’s a bit surprising that everyone in the story seems to expect Babs’ miraculous spinal regeneration to wear off at any moment. Still, for a comic that I was considering dropping, I’m very happy to see that this comic is definitely worth keeping in the pull file…

Today’s Cool Links:

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