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Category: Comics

On Warren Ellis’s characters

I am perhaps not reading this in the way it was intended (and I’m doing it on purpose, even!)—but if I were Warren Ellis, this preview isn’t quite the sort of publicity I’d hope for:

…Jones is very much an original character. Where Spider Jerusalem would use a bowel disrupter to incapacitate his “victims,” Jones gouges their eyeballs out with his own fingers.

Well, it’s a day after I post my new year’s resolution and I’m posting this? It’s all meant to be jovial good fun, I promise. The problem with my new year’s resolution is that it makes me reluctant to poke even good-natured fun, because the internet is such an anti-jovial zone.

What is the there there?

So I said last year I got obsessed with world-building, even if I didn’t always know it at the time, and now I’m going to try to play around with a few things to see if I was right about that. I do hope to talk about The Nikopol Trilogy and maybe even will revisit the first Scott Pilgrim before the second book arrives, but those are not for today. Today I’m thinking more about failure or incomplete worlds with protagonists who don’t bumble in the right directions. I tried to read Kingdom Come to see if a lack of coherent, meaningful world is what made it unpalatable to me, only to find that just looking at the art makes me feel ill. I don’t know quite what the problem is, but looking at Superman (whether with his ponytail or his scruffy beard) made me feel like there was a landmine trembling in my stomach. So that was enough of that.

Instead I turned to The Originals, because it just doesn’t quite work for me (whatever that means) and I’m not sure why. Marc Singer convincingly argues that the background is almost the best part, that the fully realized world allows Lel to be the complacent, unreflexive narrator he is. I think he’s probably right, but I was going to argue the opposite, that it’s the lack of situatedness that makes the whole story play out like an elaborate game of paper dolls. I think it’s the weird dancing scenes that throw me, where all the flat flailing arms make me think this is just a parody of something else or maybe of nothing at all. But maybe I should step back first.

The Originals is a tale about the title group of Mods of the future, a gang of snazzily attired hovercraft-riding drug dealers and users, guys who just want to have fun and have pretty girls. Lel and his friend Bok want nothing more than to be Originals (says Lel) and eventually get their wish, only to find that they may not have known what they were getting into and may not have known themselves quite well enough. So while Lel gets deeper and deeper into the drug-pushing side of things, he also manages to snatch away the girl Bok’s admiring, Viv. The Originals fight with their enemies, The Dirt, a gang of nouveau greasers. Eventually there’s an arms race of sorts and a war of retribution and mistaken identity, and a resolution of sorts.

I suppose the basic question raised is why this is set in the future instead of with real drugs and real Mods and real greasers and I’m still inclined to follow the standard line of response that the lack of real-world specificity avoids the corpselike hypertextual connections of Kingdom Come and leaves room for greater emotional connections, but that last part certainly doesn’t hold. Somehow the distance made me a more cynical reader, saying, “Oooh, their dads fought a war and they don’t care! How very like the ’60s and yet it’s the future!” Part of this was gender distance, too, because gender is a very weird thing here and women wield power oddly when they do at all. I don’t always have trouble connecting emotionally to male characters (or connect easily to female ones) but Lel would be a particularly cold fish even if he didn’t show the creepy, callous selfishness he does. But Gibbons is not just rejecting a chance for readers to try to spot the real-life references and locales and whatnot, but perhaps an opportunity for real emotion. I know I’ve bought and I think even advanced the argument that superhero stories succeed because their lack of specificity makes them abstract templates, but the proportions of the template seem wrong here and I can’t plug myself or what I know into it.

None of this quite talks about setting, though, does it? I said it was paper dolls, and it is, except that I like playing with paper dolls when I get to be in charge. (Ok, I did 15 years ago, and I imagine I could pull it off even now.) But it’s not even that, but that the art is flat like an advertising. The cover could be a pack of bubblegum or something, and while I’m not opposed to analyzing that sort of thing, it doesn’t seem to make much of a world here. It’s not just that things aren’t explained; the real world doesn’t always come with plaques about historical events and guidebooks and clear road signs. I’ve done archaeology and I spent last week wandering New Orleans, and I know that most of the fun for me is piecing together imagined understandings of what’s gone on to make these places what they are and what sort of people are in the houses shaping them as I watch. But in The Originals, I can’t figure out how the world fits together because it’s all so disconnected. The Dirt always seem to be in the same hangout, but The Originals have to ask Lel and Bok where to find them. There are warehouses, homes, clubs, highways, with no sense of whether they’re within two blocks of each other or miles apart. And that’s not the problem, still, but I’m not sure what the problem is. I think the real problem is that this whole book is like a didactic film strip. While I’m a bit young for film strips, this is how I imagine them, somewhat over-acted dramatic stills with awkward, banal voiceovers.

But really what bothers me is that the environment is supposed to have created Lel, and yet I can’t get a handle on either of them (which maybe means it worked?). There’s just no sense of pressure or space or even what inside him drives Lel to do the stupid, self-defeating things he does. What sort of world can have such people in it? Ours, probably, I know, but do I want to read about them? I realize Lel is young and awkward and the sort of person who probably thinks it’s tremendously deep to intercut his sex scene with a fatal stabbing, and yet I don’t find his naive self-assurance charming or intriguing or even shocking really. It just makes me want to be like Viv and walk out of the story and into a world that must somewhere contain something more. I’m not sure how to be clearer because it seems that the book’s clarity is the problem (and I keep saying “problem” as if there is one, which need not be the case) that if it didn’t consist of a set of pristine snapshots with terse teenspeak captions it would be something else entirely, and it isn’t.

“I stopped needing to save the world.”

Spider-Man 2

Is it a lovely romantic comedy or a superhero-action flick with delusions of seriousness? Unfortunately, pieta scenes and speechifying crowd out the superpowered romance, which is much more compelling.


I’m with David Fiore, “superhero” is no good. I’m sure it’s fine as a genre for commerical purposes, but as a critical genre, it mutates and limits the discourse in ways that are not useful to me. David’s “neo-existentialist romance” mutates and limits the discourse in ways that I find more interesting. I don’t know if he cares about this at all, but I’d be interested in some study of how the generic necessities of superheroism/crime-fighting distort the “neo-existentialist romance” in his interpretation of the Gwen Stacy clone saga. “Superhero” stories, like any fantastic stories, use fantastic elements to create pleasing and meaningful resonances with real-life stuff. (Well, that’s what I think fantastic stories do.) The generic expectations associated with “superhero” tend to calcify the potentiality of fantasy and make the resonances in “superhero” stories dull and predictable, which is how Spider-Man 2 became a movie that aches so heartbreakingly to be a romantic comedy but ends up overwhelmed by hoary old ruminations on the importance of heroes.

The Iron Giant

Now, I have to admit my favorite “superhero” movies is one about heroism. But The Iron Giant comes at the theme from an unfamiliar angle: the Giant rejects violent confrontation with “bad guys;” he wants only to protect people and rescue them from danger. It’s so refreshing to have a hero whose code of justice isn’t based on vengeance and punishment.

“Saving is what misers do.”

Is that profound or does it just make no sense? Despite my ill-advised participation in some of the debates on the artistic/critical worth of “superhero” comics several months ago, I find most “superhero” stories actually pretty dull. Most of the really good ones either ignore entirely the standard trappings of heroism and saving the world, or they shine that “existential spotlight” on heroism and find it seriously problematic. Not usually because it’s fascist so much as because it’s miserly. “Saving is what misers do.”—forget Watchmen, The Invisibles has my favorite critique of superheroic ethics.

Peiratikos 2004: A Big Easy Lack of Review

Greetings from beautiful, noisy New Orleans! We’re honeymooning here until the end of the week, which is part of the reason you can’t comment right now (though we’re still checking emails at least periodically if you’re dying to tell us something). So don’t expect much in the way of posting, since I think I’ll be restricting my close reading skills to menus.

Anyway, I’m writing for a few reasons, one of which is to let you know that we’ll be moving to a new hosting service when we get back to Kentucky, which shouldn’t result in more than a little downtime, and that we’ll be getting a new look/structure soon. But also it’s been almost exactly a year since I started writing on the current incarnation of Peiratikos and it’s been an eventful year. The newer archive system will, I hope, be a little more reader-friendly, but I spent some time a few days ago reading through the current archive and enjoyed seeing how much we’ve written (not a lot lately) and how I’ve been able to interact with some of our readers and other bloggers.

When I started writing about comics here, I thought I’d focus on two topics that were close to me personally and theoretically at the time, what I called “creation of self through narrative” and the way that people feel justified in the rightness of the cruel and hurtful things they do. I did talk about these a lot, although never as much as I expected to, and I was more successful when ignoring things like that and talking about texts directly. That will be something to keep in mind as I start the next year, in which I also have to remember not to write so often about how much I hate fanboys.

But what I find really interesting is that the three books that would make my list for being the most moving in their respective categories aren’t really about creation of self and don’t deal with self-centered horribleness. Instead what Seaguy, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, and Enki Bilal’s Nikopol Trilogy share (at least as it seems to me now, though it may not by next January) is a naive or ignorant protagonist concertedly finding a path for himself in a well-realized world that is not our own. While a happy new marriage isn’t (I hope!) a bizarre dystopia or a video-game-fantastic reality, it’s an interesting start to a new year in which I plan to have lots of new things to say.

And last of all I want to thank all the readers who’ve responded to Steven’s or my posts (and who can’t now, ha ha!) and forced us to clarify our thinking or move in new directions or generally regret ever having written about Kill Bill, because there were plenty of times when I wanted to just stop writing altogether, and it was both not wanting to leave Steven alone on the blog and knowing that there were people who read and liked (or maybe also hated) me that kept me from being able to sever myself, and now I’m glad I didn’t give in. And I think the readers who don’t comment, some of whom I know and many of whom I never will, because much of the beauty of this whole endeavor is that it does let my words move out and make connections I may never recognize. While I’ve often been a bad blogger when it comes to regular updates, it’s been a good year, and I’m grateful for all the good parts and pushing for more good and more (good) blogging in the year to come.

Identity Crisis: Wrap-Up

Somehow I thought I’d write something meaningful before now, but somehow sleep and work and Christmas shopping and Christmas knitting and Christmasy giving got in the way. Odd. I do still have things to say about labelling and ratings, but for now go read about how the creators of Hotel Rwanda successfully fought for a PG-13 rating (New York Time subscription required, and the article may not be free by the time I get back, which is why I’m giving it now) and watch the director’s commentary to Saved and watch Whale Rider and think about its rating, and then you’ll be able to write that post for me and I won’t have to bother. Instead I can go out into almost-record snow to drive to Buffalo, New York, home of snow and winter weather, yet warmer than Kentucky last I checked. At least I hope I can, because it would be really depressing to be stuck in some motel in the middle of Ohio because the highways are closed or something like that.

Anyway, a week after reading Identity Crisis #7, I get to come back to it and remind everyone that I was Cassandra and that I’m unsurprised. Mostly for my own purposes, I’m going to just gather things I said leading up to the last issue here, just in case you really want to know what I thought.

After reading issue 4, I think the last I read before this final episode, I made threats about how angry I would be if Spectre was using singular “they” to avoid giving away the fact that the killer was one woman. And lo, this is a trick every bit as good as having Jean give herself away by knowing something she couldn’t have known. What a writer that guy is! Wow!

Here’s Steven’s post on misogyny where I talked a whole lot about reading and also about how the story could turn out to be good and subversive and probably wouldn’t. It didn’t. And I was right that the pregnancy subplot was a dead herring, but wrong that I would stick with the series.

And how did the sexual assault tie into this, since its inclusion is the reason I felt morally obligated to read the story at all? Not a lot, and I briefly touch on my thoughts about that in this comments thread. And by the way, it’s really driving me crazy to have see people implying they themselves are sensitive and pro-woman while constantly saying “assrape”, and I pick on ADD only because I’ve seen him use the term several times, but he’s not alone. (As an aside, why do so many men make rape jokes so much? Or do I just not hang out with the right women who are doing this too? There seems to be a gender divide and I know a lot of the theories, especially about the prevalence of prison rape jokes and homophobia in its most etymologically literalistic sense, but it still seems to me that they ought to be self-aware enough to be troubled by this. I’m troubled by it, but I don’t think that matters in a larger sense.) (As a second aside, I should probably check whether the text in Identity Crisis uses the term “rape,” because if this is the case there’s a good chance it could invalidate all the readers who want to argue this was a depiction of anal sex, but I can’t do it decisively because I don’t know the DC Universe legal code’s stance on defining sex crimes.)

Anyway, there’s probably more of it than that, but I feel sufficiently vindicated, or something. I thought it was poorly written and not well-drawn throughout and the story was ridiculously bad. And maybe I’ll find the missing issues and write about the ethics of mindwiping (which I learned last night also happened in the Marvel Mangaverse, although I accidentally dropped the book in the bathtub before learning the full consequences, and the pages seem amazingly porous) and bad portrayals of sexual assault, or maybe I’ll never write about Identity Crisis again, which would also be fun.

And speaking of fun, if your idea of it is digging out a car and then setting out on a car trip that could take twice the time it ought to and maybe involve closed interstates, you’re going to be awfully jealous of me for the next many hours! Steven has burned some cds and there’s good conversation to be had, and if it comes right down to it I’m willing to make the sacrifice of eating the cookies I’ve made to pass the time. So we’ll be back after the weekend, cold and exhausted and probably still happy, and maybe even blogging. Enjoy the break.

Good Thor Title

This Fanboy Rampage post is about a bad Thor book, but it gave me an idea for a good title for a Thor book:

Pieces of Asgard!

Return(ish) from Hiatus

Well, Rose and I got married, as you know, which took up a little of my blogging time. (Most of it was taken up with laziness, though.) We used wedding money to get new computer stuff: a cute iBook G4 for Rose, a Radeon x800 Pro for me. I’ve been spending the several days taking advantage of my new awesome video card to play Half-Life 2 and Doom 3, which has definitely taken up all my blogging time. My first blog post after my unannounced hiatus isn’t going to be such a great post, but I have some thoughts on Half-Life 2 which I’ll probably blog about at some point just in case there are some gamers reading Peiratikos who will actually care.

I feel sorry for Wally West. He’s one of an apparently dying breed of superhero who doesn’t think forced mystical brain surgery is a good way of “fixing” people’s psychological problems. It’s a tough decision, but I think my favorite part of Identity Crisis #7 is when Oliver Queen suggests Batman would have been OK with having his own memory wiped, and that Batman’s traumatic past makes him best-equipped to understand the heroic sacrifices people are willing to make for the ones they love. Not that Batman isn’t the poster child for not being able to deal with trauma, but I suspect Batman wouldn’t include lobotomizing your wife so she doesn’t have to be sad about her rape in a list of things “someone will do for the people they love.” My second-favorite part is that when Jean Loring went to “scare” Sue Dibny, she brought a flamethrower “just in case.” My third-favorite part is that murdering somebody gets you locked up and doped up in Arkham without a trial or anything (Jean seems shockingly unremorseful, but hardly insane), but forcibly lobotomizing dozens of people in a desperate and failed effort to maintain the illusion of a superheroic world of innocence gets you sympathy as a tragic hero. My fourth-favorite part is the random Arthur Miller quote: “An era can said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” Thanks, Brad Meltzer, the world of superhero comics really needed another lame attempt to shatter the Silver Age’s ‘illusion of innocence.’ My fifth-favorite part is that, according to Oliver Queen, it takes the brutal murder of a superhero’s wife to remind the superheroes that their choice of career puts their loved ones at risk. My sixth-favorite part is “Atom’s Wife Tortured by Inmates.” What the fuck?

Scott Pilgrim!

Bryan Lee O’Malley has uploaded an image of the watercolor drawing he did for Shane Bailey, winner of the Special Art Appreciation Award in the Scott Pilgrim Contest: see the drawing at Radiomaru.

Tragic Tales of Lack of Parallel Structure

From the Marvel solicits for February (via Graeme McMillan):

Reed and Sue, heart and soul of Marvel????????s First Family of Super Heroes. Peter and Mary Jane, the spider and the supermodel. Scott and Jean, childhood sweethearts sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them. Bruce and Betty, the beauty and the beast. Break out the tissues, True Believer: The House of Ideas cordially invites you to celebrate the history-making nuptials of its greatest couples in this keepsake edition! From the Fantastic Four to Spider-Man to the X-Men, with a few surprises in between, this commemorative volume proves the power of love can overcome all odds! [emphasis mine]

“I signed it, ‘from a disappointed X-Fan.’”

This was supposed to be the night I announced I was going on hiatus through the end of the month, but suddenly it seems that may not be the case. Today was full of all sorts of comics, Y: The Last Man and How Loathsome and The Nikopol Trilogy and Spider-Man India and The Originals and The Question and X-Statix. That last one is where this post comes in, although there are points I want to make about Y as well. And for some reason the “IBCD” joke in Spider-Man India made me giggle a lot.

But the most important thing on my mind is a question about who on earth writes the “Previously…” text at the beginning of X-Statix. Not only does this begin with the positively sick-making, “X-Statix has scaled the mountain of Professor Xavier’s dream to new heights,” but it then manages to drop to not-so-new grammatical depths.

Dear Peter Milligan, Axel Alonso, Jennifer Lee, Jeff Youngquist, Jennifer Grünwald, Joe Quesada:

Is it terribly, terribly difficult to differentiate between transitive and intransitive verbs? I’ll give you a hint, even — NO. That is why it made me scream to read about “Lacuna, who now lays recovering in intensive care.” You know who’s really sick? The person who made that ridiculous error and all the people who didn’t scream upon seeing it as it went off to the printer. And now me, too.

Disappointedly yours,

Admittedly I was sick to begin with, which is why I’m heading off to bed now and one of the reasons you probably won’t see much of me for the next few weeks (not that this differentiates them much from the last few). After some more time lying down, I will recover, but luckily I had so little faith in the technical writing skills of most comics folks that I won’t let that keep me down.