Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Damned
(volume one) Written by Cullen Bunn, Drawn by Brian Hurtt; published by Oni Press

When first i heard about this comic, i wasn't interested. It mixes supernatural horror with pulpy, 1930s crime fiction. These kinds of "cross genre" concepts usually don't work for me, b/c i find the whole "look at these genres crossing!" aspect too distracting. The story usually suffers as a result, too, b/c so much energy goes into mixing and meshing that there's not much room for anything else.

However, such is not the case with The Damned (subtitled "Three Days Dead"). Yes, elements from disparate genres are sewn together here, but the seams are invisible.

Our protagonist is Eddie, and he's dead. He gets better after a few pages. Some time ago, he was cursed with a weird sort of immortality. He can be killed, but when someone touches his corpse, their life-force is removed and Eddie's is restored. Eddie's wounds are transferred to the new victim--i.e., if Eddie had been bludgeoned to death, the lug who touched his corpse will suddenly have all the bludgeoning wounds.

The world is essentially the darker side of gangster pulp, with one important difference: demons walk the Earth, and they run the gangs. If you're a Buffy fan, you can imagine this might be what a town infested with demons could be like without any Slayers, Watchers or other White Hats. I don't remember it ever being stated, but it feels like this all takes place in (an alternate) Chicago. That's where gangster stories belong.

Anyway, the two gangs that run things had been talking peace. A negotiator was brought in to work the deal. The negotiator was nabbed by an unkown party. The boss of the Aligheri gang brings Eddie back (after being three days dead from a slit throat) to find out what happened to the negotiator before the Roarke gang finds out that he's missing. Now, of course there are snitches and duplicitous characters playing all sides against the middle, and these are lowlifes with which Eddie must consort to do his job. And there's a third gang, diminished in power yet still dangerous, called the Verlochin, who happen to be the gang who cursed Eddie.

One of the things i like about crime pulps is how several players, working toward their own ends, try to outsmart and outmanuver each other, with our protagonist struggling against all sides to get to the truth. That's here in The Damned, and it's done well.

This book ain't for the squeamish. There are plenty of grody images, from demi-demon corpses to "the Worm", a former human cursed into a particularly creepy monstrous form. There were scenes that made me cringe, but with horror, is that criticism or praise? Oh, and tons of violence, and no shortage of cuss words.

The very end was iffy for me (i think it's meant as a possible seed for another volume), but overall i enjoyed "Three Days Dead".

Click here for a free preview.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Incredible Change-Bots
by Jeffrey Brown

Did you ever like Transformers? Do you think, as cool as they were, they were kinda silly, too? Well, if so, you will probably dig "Incredible Change-Bots". It pokes all kinds of fun at the Robots In Disguise while never being truly dismissive. You've got villainous robots that can't hit the broad side of a barn, Big Rig always pausing battles to set up his trailer, robots making out, a Change-Bot who "incredible changes" into a bag of popcorn, and lots of other very funny things.

Note: I think it helps the humor if you read it out loud with the kind of earnest goofiness that the text implies. The lazer beams effects are written as "bew! bew! bdew!" which is the sound you made when playing with Transformers as a kid. Yes, you did. If only i could do a Soundwave voice...

The art is, like the subject matter, superficially child-like, but with some subtlety that you might not notice at first glance. It looks like the coloring is done with markers? I don't know my art tools well enough to say for sure. It's very vibrant and engaging, regardless how it's done.

The story: If you know the "origin story" of Transformers, this is pretty close. The mechanistic planet Electronocybercircuitron is ruled by a two-party system. Just like the USA, both of these parties are populated by self-absorbed jerks who care only about the accumulation of power, and society suffers as a result. They ruin their planet and rocket off to Earth. The battle continues here!

I laughed a whole lot while reading this comic. The characters are great, the action is crazy, and it all moves at a nice clip. I think i read the whole thing in a little over an hour, and have dipped into it a couple times since. It's one i'll definitely share with friends, and i recommend it to anyone who played with Transformers, or who just wants a good laugh.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


This weekend i read Incredible Change-Bots by Jeffrey Brown and The Damned by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt. Both of these were very good comics. I hope to write up some reviews in a couple of days, but my sinuses are bothering me and that makes it harder to think. I also might post about the Grassroots Festival at Shakori Hills that i attended a couple weeks ago.

Quick reviews of new comics:

Metal Men #3: The time-travel elements and a lot of the science-y talk lost me last issue, but not so much this time. T.O. Morrow's rant on the first page about his Death Metal Men was great--over-the-top, mad scientist bravado that was well written and hilarious. I loved it. Duncan Rouleau is going to be a writer/artist i look out for from now on.

Knights of the Old Republic #21: A lot of transition stuff going on here. The cast seems to be getting re-focused, as some people step on stage and others step off. I think they'll have a good mix of main characters that will play well in the next arc. The cover is kinda old school, with dialog and panels set into the image; that feels very "comic book-y", which is cool.

Umbrella Academy: There's a huge "Royal Tennenbaums" vibe going on here, and that's fine by me. The odd superpowered siblings gather for their adoptive father's funeral. One sibling is offered an opportunity to betray the others. This series drops you into this very interesting and layered world, with lots of history and characters going in differing directions, so it feels like a book that been around a while, rather than one that's only on its second issue.

Blue Beetle #20: Read Ami's review. We learn a wee bit more about the Reach--as a worldbuilding buff i really want to know more about them, esp. since they are one of the few groups formidable enough to have a truce with the Guaridans of the Universe.

Green Lantern Corps #17: The "Sinestro War" epic is in "third act big battle" stage right now, so lots and lots of action in this one. It's all cool, but what intrigues me are the parts that will have repurcusions after this arc, like the new receipient of the Ion powers. All the characters get a decent amount of attention. Gibbons is good at handling large casts.

The Sword #1: A very good first issue. We learn who our protagonist is, a little of what she's about, we see her world fleshed out in a satisfying way, and then in the last few pages the supernatural element of the story calmly walks into her life and throws everything into chaos. This was well constructed, and drew me into the world and story very well. I really want to find out what's next, and that's what a good periodical story does.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Feel" vs. "Think"

Yesterday at lunch i habitually switched on the radio to check in on the news. As usual, there were no big stories that grabbed my attention. A caller to the Neal Boortz show did say something that i'd like to address, however. He said that liberals don't think, they feel. That's something you hear on more doctrinaire conservative shows like Rush's and Hannity's, as well.

What gets me thinking is that you can hear the same statement in reverse from liberal commentators. We don't get AirAmerica in my town, so i don't hear them. We do get Sean Combs' show, but i think he's just as much a hack as his hacky partner in hackdom, hack Hannity. So, i don't bother listening to either of them. (These days i listen to very little talk radio period, but that's another subject.) Where i have encountered it is on liberal podcasts, where i've heard it said that conservatives don't think, they feel.

What gives?

1. Both assertions are wrong. Both liberals and conservatives think. There are reams and reams of studies, commentaries, analyses, etc. filled with more or less rational arguments for and against all sides. A small number of these are even sincere. The assertion that one group or another doesn't employ their brains is easily refuted.

2. Both assertions are correct. Both conservatives and liberals (and libertarians, and anarchists, etc.) base a lot of their arguments in emotion.* More than a tactic, emotion is often the foundation of our political worldview. We often choose a side based on how we feel, then construct rational arguments to justify our feelings. Assessing things in a truly objective manner is extremely difficult. (Even objectivists have a hard time at it!) Because we're, you know, human beings with emotions, not incorporeal minds floating in an ether of pure rationality.

3. Any commentator who relies on this poor argument ain't to be trusted. It's just an excuse for dismissing the ideas of a broad category of humanity.

*Fear is the favorite emotion of those who wish to rule. With it they can make people afraid of terrorists, corporations, crime, illness, immigrants, racists, democrats, republicans, ad infinitum. And once they've got the people scared, they can get their money, their liberty, and their adoration.

Monday, October 15, 2007

American Dreamz

This flick stars Mandy More and Hugh Grant. It parodies a handful of current trends, namely President Bush, American Idol, and Middle Eastern Terrorism.

The tone is mixed, or maybe just moderated. Making humor from the subject of terrorism is an edgy idea, but this movie manages to do it in a light manner. Making fun of President Bush is one of those things we pretend is edgy, even though everybody does it. It's one of those modern myths we've all decided to go along with, like the idea that the generation before us was backward, naive and prudish, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

Mandy More plays Kendoo (there are a lot of punny names). She comes from Padookie, Ohio. That's a rif on Paducah, Kentucky, I reckon. Maybe it's dumb, but I'm sensitive about people from the coasts making fun of rural America. Sure, it's supposed to be funny, but I always suspect they mean it. It's not like King of the Hill, which pokes fun at its South Texas characters, but genuinely likes them at the same time. King of the Hill is like when you give your friends a hard time, or tell embarassing stories about family members you love. Conversely, most movies that tap this vein of humor are like the hateful little shits who made fun of you in jr. high for wearing the wrong brand of jeans.

There's a lot of biting satire that could be made on the whole "war on terror", Iraq, freedom vs. security, Bush, and the all sociopolitical malarkey that's been overflowing the septic tank of American life since late in 2001. This movie doesn't make it. It scrapes out a few Bush-is-dumb and Cheney-is-an-evil-puppet-master gags, but it doesn't dive deep for the surprising stuff.

I'm being dismissive, but I enjoyed this movie. What I'm grousing about isn't that it's bad, but that it isn't a biting satire that points out things in our current public life that really piss me off and that I think deserve a good mocking. That, however, is not the movie's fault.

Moore's character has a tragic fate. (Her boyfriend dies, but he's just a plot device, and the Cheney analog is rejected, but he's not sympathetic.) She gets fame and fortune, but it's clear that she isn't happy, and she knows she never will be. Yes, she is fake, and so we might feel she is getting her just desserts, but we also know that she's aware of her fakeness, and that she uses it to ward against a painful world. We can blame her for that, i supose, but we can't get satisfactorily self righteous about it. That's a respectable accomplishment in storytelling.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I thought some more about the subject of my previous post. You know, racism as we know it can't really exist before say, the Colonial Era. (I'm making some broad strokes here, just humor me for a bit.) It wouldn't make any sense in the ancient world. (Obviously i'm talking relative "sense" here.) In a world where the people across the river or on the other side of the mountains are aliens and barbarians, there's no ground for the modern concept of race to grow.

For example, take the typical white vs. black racism. It only exists because various groups of paler-skinned people think of themselves as this one group, "white". Poles, Danes, Greeks, Welsh, they're all "white". Furthermore, they're all European, and further furthermore, they're all Christian. Only when you've got that whole continent full of relatively similar-looking people thinking of each other as part of the same team can they begin to think of other people--on other continents with a different religion and relatively different features/coloring--as part of a different team.

Until a sufficiently large group of people are linked by strong, common social structures, there is no race. A bunch of Celts, Romans, Slavs, Angles, Jutes, et al vying for control of Europe ain't a race. All those jokers loosely united (conceptually, at least) under a handful of common banners, well that there is a proper race. And when these guys find they need something to justify conquering and enslaving people in other lands, esp. when a lot of their better ideals go entirely against those practices, a sorta-kinda-scientific-sounding idea like race becomes all kinds of useful.

Of course Sallust didn't criticize the Berber race. What would be the point? Why would he think of them in that term to start with? They weren't any less Roman than all the other barbarians out there, and that's what counted. Hell, there were plenty of Italians who weren't Roman. Expecting people of that era to have an opinion about race would be like expecting them to have an opinion about NASCAR. You can speculate about it ("well, they liked chariot racing, so they'd probably like car racing, too") but you can't make any meaningful observations about it.
I wrote this to send in to a local news radio show. I didn't send it b/c they had moved on by the time i wrote it and i rarely get responses from these shows anyhow. In fact, i rarely get responses to this blog or to posts i make on forums, too. What gives? Anyway, what prompted this was a statement something like "there's always been racism and always will be." I also want to write something about another false "truism" i hear a lot in regards to the Middle East. It's the one that goes "these people have been killing each other for thousands of years." I don't think that's true.

I question the assumption that all societies have always been racist--at least to the extent that ours is or has been in the last few centuries.

If you read ancient books, there is remarkably little attention given to race in the modern sense. I recently read "The Jugurthine War" by Sallust. This is about a war between Rome and a Berber king in North Africa. It is told from the Roman point of view, by a Roman author. Romans and Berbers are distinctly different races. There were no negative statements about Berbers as a race, even though the author had ample incentive to cast them in a bad light.

Also, Roman citizenship was not limited by race. Anyone could become a Roman citizen by serving in the legions. People were not excluded from service because of skin color or place of origin.

The great prosyletizing religions don't seem to have put much stock in race, either. Christianity and Islam accepted Europeans, Arabs, Semites, North Africans, Subsaharan Africans, Persians, etc. Buddhism embraced all the varied races between India and Japan.

Race was of so little concern to ancient writers that we have a hard time pinning down the race of some ancient peoples. What did the average Egyptian look like in the days of the Pharoahs? Ask modern scholars and you'll get a myriad of answers, because modern man is obsessed with race, but his ancestors weren't, and so they didn't bother to record such details.

I'm not saying there wasn't prejudice in the past. Of course there was. The most common being that anyone from outside your own culture was a "barbarian", but this had to do with culture and language, not skin color or perceived genetic inferiority, as with racism.