Jan 16, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1421: Aztec Ace #1, March 1984

I've set myself something of a clock in reading this issue today. Aztec Ace runs 15 issues, and I was fortunate enough to nab the first fourteen for very, very cheap one fine day. I have, of course, since been unable to find the 15th issue at any of the comic shops in Calgary. And if I keep reading the series, I've 14 days to find it.


Though, really, of all the stressors in my life, that's the most pleasant one.

Another thought that occurs is that the cover date for this comic is  when I turned 10 years old.

I like this comic a lot. It reminds me of Grant Morrison, in the weird trippy multiple time lines and non-linear understandings of reality, and comes from a writer (Doug Moench) whose work I've always found to be really solid. I'm excited to see a series in which he's given free reign over the story he's telling. And to be telling that story using an Indigenous South American man as the focal character is pretty great. Regardless of whether or not I manage to find the final issue, I think I'm going to enjoy this story.

More to come...(really, this time.)

Giant Box of Comics Breaks the Law! - Dungeons & Dragons, one last time.

I've shared bits of this final series on the GBoC Tumblr, but I recently found more, and I think all, of it. So here is the longest of the stories. I think it must also be the oldest. I have some of these strips in my Doctor Who Weeklys from 1979 or so. These definitely predate the more sophisticated Epic Illustrated comics, though we do see the quality of art improve as the story moves on.

If anyone knows if the story continues, if you have some that I'm missing, I'd love to see it. Please feel free to get in touch at damabupuk (at) gmail (dot) com.

I'm not sure what becomes of our intrepid crew...but perhaps that's the point.

Jan 3, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1408: Doctor Who (1984) #1, October 1984

Doctor Who Weekly #19, from which part of today's comic is drawn, is perhaps the comic I have that is the one that I remember having read the longest. It came out in February of 1980, which means I very likely had it while I was still in England. "The Starbeast," the story featured in today's reprint comic, is permanently emblazoned in my brain, along with the Wrarth Warriors and the Meep. And, of course, Sharon, who I've just confirmed is the first POC companion in the series history. Only took 17 years :D.

What's kind of cool about this reprint is that it's been coloured. The original weeklies were all in black and white, so I've always envisioned the Meep as being white, but he's apparently blue. I suppose that makes sense, given that he's got green blood. White would not be a natural colour for him. I guess. I don't know why I'm trying to figure out alien physiology from a single re-coloured panel of a Doctor Who comic.

The other neat thing about this issue is that in the text feature that gives some background on the Doctor, there's an amazing picture of the fourth Doctor and the second Romana by Walt Simonson. It's a bit of a revelation for me, but I can't imagine a better-suited artist. Mr. Simonson's incredible command of movement in his panels would be a brilliant fit for the Doctor and his adventures. Sadly, these appear to be the only illustrations of the Time Lord that he's done, all reprinted from Marvel Premiere #60 (which I read yesterday).

More to come...

Dec 29, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1403: P.J. Warlock #1, November 1986

Hi. Welcome back. I hope a few people are still checking in here.
As I noted a few weeks ago, I had a serious mental health break. It's still ongoing, but I'm trying to introduce some structure back into my life to cope with it, and I think blogging a comic every day is a nice way to start.

Over the last few days I've been reading what I like to think of as auteur comics from the 1980s. Rather than the undergrounds, these are comics published by indie publishers that grow out of the underground (like Eclipse, Pacific, First) that feature the work of single creators. In some cases, the artist does everything, from the usual writing and drawing to lettering, editing, and colouring. The Tim Conrad, Arthur Suydam, and Bruce Jones comics from the last three days, however, are very different from today's selection. I looked up Bill Schorr to see what else he's done, and according to Wikipedia, this is the only comic series he's done. He's highly regarded as a newspaper strip artist and political cartoonist, but this is his only comic book. From issue 1, I'm getting the sense that it's where Mr. Schorr decided to purge his Dad humour. P.J., being 1400 years old, is an expert in the subject.

The art style puts me heavily in mind of Vaughn Bodé, especially once the female damsel is introduced. I recently picked up the first issue of Junkwaffel, so perhaps once I'm done with Mr. Schorr's series (only 3 issues), I'll delve into some old-school Bodé. I also think that P.J. and Cheech Wizard would probably have a good time hanging out.

Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow. More to come...

Dec 19, 2018

Betty and Veronica Paper Dolls

I wish I could tell you where these are from, but I just found them floating about on the Internet.


Dec 6, 2018

There is Only One Sound in All-Star Superman:Thoughts on Focalisation and Sound

There is only one sound effect in All-Star Superman.

Bear with me for a moment.

I think that the cold open for season 1, episode 21 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, hands down, the best one they do. The set-up is simple, seems to go in a direction we’ve seen before, and then veers off and becomes a beautiful study in character development. Andre Braugher’s expression at the end is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Have a look:

If the Netflix series summary is to be believed, we’re meant to experience Brooklyn Nine-Nine through the perspective of Andy Samberg’s character, Jake Peralta. We refer to this character in a narrative as the “focal character.” Simply, it is the character through which we focus our perceptions. ‘Niederhoff (2011) proposes that focalisation “may be defined as a selection or restriction of narrative information in relation to the experience and knowledge of the narrator, the characters or other, more hypothetical entities in the storyworld.”’ In the television series, Peralta sees Holt as a robotic Captain, so that aspect is played up in the comedy. Peralta’s perspective on the world of the show is the one we are expected to adopt.

In a medium like television, there are numerous ways to achieve this focalisation, such as the aforementioned utilisation of Peralta’s perspective to accentuate comedic moments, even when Peralta himself is not present. But another way that it can be achieved is through sound. In this particular case, the non-diegetic sound that signals the shift in Peralta’s understanding of the situation.

Go back and watch the clip. At 57 seconds, we hear a rattling sound. Aside from some background music, another indicator of the shift in tone of course, this is the first non-diegetic sound we’ve heard. It’s not really music. As Holt leans in, and his behaviour goes from robotic to something a bit more fluid, a snake-like rattle belies the fact that Peralta is about to be struck. Even the movement of Holt’s body at the end, as he pulls away, is serpentine. We’re removed from the more jovial atmosphere of the police precinct, created by the familiar diegetic sounds we hear in each episode, by a single sound effect, one that shifts atmosphere through a realigning of the perspective of the focal character.

But what does this have to do with comics, a largely silent medium, and All-Star Superman?

There is only one sound effect in All-Star Superman.

Chapter 3 begins with an invasion from the center of the Earth, led by the Prince of the Subterranosauri, a race of intelligent dinosaurs. You’ll note on that first page, there is smoke billowing, there are dinosaur soldiers rushing about behind, and an entire car is being lifted up into the air. But in that whole panel the only sound that is transmitted is Kull’s voice. The situation is similar for the Daily Planet reporters watching the scene unfold on the following page, until the fifth panel. Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal, has sent his friend a signal, a signal only Superman can hear, the tiny “Zee zee, zee zee” we see superimposed (a word I use purposefully) over his hand. Is it not strange that we cannot hear the crashes of violence and chaos on the first page, nor anywhere on the second? Surely these sounds are wafting up to the watching reporters. Of course they are.

Later in the chapter, in which Superman bestows upon Lois Lane powers identical to his own for one day (LOIS: What is it? – SUPERMAN: My superpowers. In liquid form. Happy Birthday, Lois. – LOIS: You’re serious? I get to be like you? For a whole day?), Superwoman also comments on Jimmy’s watch. As her powers wear off she notes that she’ll “never have to put up the annoying zee zee zee of Jimmy Olsen’s Super-watch” ever again.

Of course, these examples are only from a single chapter of the book. However, in the very next chapter, as Jimmy spends a day on the Moon, this occurs:

Note once again that a chaotic and presumably noisy event is depicted without any sound effects whatsoever. Until, again, that last panel, in which the “Zee zee zee” of Jimmy’s watch is “heard” once more.

Take a moment, if you have the book, and flip through. There are no other sound effects. The only one that we ever hear is one that only Superman can hear.

So what shall we make of this? You can make what you like of it, really, but here’s my reading: When I teach sound in poetry, through alliterative and assonant phrasings, I suggest that the inclusion of this sound is intentional, just as I believe the use of this single sound in the series is intentional. As with the example from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I argue that this sound effect aids in focalising us into Superman’s perspective. We are meant to understand this story through the lens of the Man of Steel. It is, after all, called All-Star Superman. We all star as the main character.

One of the main concerns of this series is the meeting of the mortal and the divine. Superman bestows upon Lois his powers, but only for a day. Jimmy is injected with the Doomsday formula, a human attempt to replicate the divine, which ends disastrously. The ancient Kryptonian astronauts later in the story fall from the heavens as divinities, but find themselves corrupted by the remnants of their own homeworld, divinity here shown to have to adapt to mortal surroundings or perish. Lex Luthor acquires Superman’s powers as well, and in the end realizes the truth of all divinity – it was never meant to make us harm one another, only love one another. It was created to stop us from being the animals that we so often are. Lex simply cannot handle this.

I’ve written elsewhere of the significance of chapter 10 of this work, in which we witness ostensibly the real world creation of Superman as a fictional character. But if we consider that the work is focalised through this character, that it is this particular perspective on events through which we are meant to understand the narrative, then this chapter takes on further significance. Each of the connections with the divine through the narrative are unsuccessful. Even the Superman-enabled Lois Lane only has her powers for a day, as does Luthor, and is worn and exhausted as they fade. Only one connection to these powers, this character, a metonym for “essential goodness,” the constitution of which Ben Saunders calls “one of the more beautiful challenges that postindustrial popular culture ever produced for itself” (from Saunders’ excellent book Do the Gods Wear Capes?), is successful in the story. And that is the “creation” of Superman at the hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Further, we see the success of this connection by the very fact that this event is being chronicled in a comic book the cover date of which is one month shy of the 70th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance.

The argument here appears to be that not only do we create the divinities we come to worship, but that the stories we tell of them really are the only ways we should try to embody, imitate, or access those divinities. We should never try to be them, nor should we ever think we know what a divinity wants. All we have are their stories. And, further, we should always recall their fictional nature. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that the thing you turn to for solace isn’t real. Just because a thing isn’t real doesn’t mean that it’s not true. If truth depended on reality, we would not have literature. In All-Star Superman, Morrison and Quitely provide us with the means to achieve this connection. As the book focalises through Superman, we are given a brief, 12-chapter glimpse into what it is like to live his life, to experience “reality” at divine levels. A question that is often posed to the Man of Steel is how he can possibly stand all of the noise his super-hearing must subject him to. All-Star shows us how he copes. I read this series with a sense of vast white noise behind it, punctuated only now and then by the sound he is listening for, the signal of Jimmy's watch. But still, it is only a taste, not a neverending ride, though chapter 10, itself entitled “Neverending,” suggests that the re-reading of these texts, and the re-conceptualizing of these texts, is the only way to be constantly in touch with the divine.

I’ve recently finished re-reading this book, paying close attention, and there really is only one sound in All-Star Superman, but it is a sound that connects us to an avatar of goodness. It offers clear direction as to how we are to understand the events of the story and the perspective of the narrative, and it allows us to see the answer to the question “What would Superman do?” And, to end on a hopeful note, it lets us hear the hero that lives within.

Dec 5, 2018

Preliminary Thoughts on Inflection Theory: Crossovers

I'm going to get back to writing about these interesting events, especially as they are now making their way into the televisual universes the comics have spawned.

Reading a crossover is sometimes like creating your own novel from pre-existing modules. For example, I'm reading Secret Invasion right now, and I'm including in it all the crossovers that I have. But I don't necessarily have to. I could read just the main series and still get the major events of the story. Add in the Avengers titles, you get a broader, more satisfying story. I would contend that this is the "necessary" reading of this crossover - without both New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, the main story doesn't quite make sense. It's still the same series of events, but more minutely. Add in ancillary titles, in my case the Fantastic Four and Runaways/Young Avengers mini-series, and the story is still broader, though still adhering to a particular chronological scale. I could, of course, choose to leave out the Runaways/Young Avengers book, and read only the "A-List" heroes (thought sometimes the FF slides down to that B-List). If I had more crossovers, I could read the crossover from a street-level perspective, perhaps the She-Hulk crossover, or the Spider-Man one. Or go international and add the Captain Britain title to see what the Skrulls did in the U.K. Each read of it would include different iterations of these events, interacting differently depending on which are mixed with which, telling the same story from a myriad of points of view.

So is this an inflectionary reading? Imagine Secret Invasion, the series, as a framework. It is a series of required moments in a sequence that constitute a basic story. Around this framework, depending on the tie-ins that one chooses, we inflect this framework story with detail - setting, genre, mythicness(?). And the particular inflecting texts we choose also inflect one another. Reading Avengers only turns the story into a Cold War, Tom Clancy-esque action-spy thriller (how's that for a specific genre?). However, the main series and the first three issues of Deadpool would be a very different reading experience. And that foundation would be inflected to become part of the kind of slapstick, meta-storytelling that Deadpool carries with it.

And then suppose we added Captain Britain and MI13? More spy thriller, international vibe, but also inflected by the meta aspect of Deadpool.

Is this fractal comics? Or is it more of a Deleuze and Guattari-ian rhizome? I suppose the entire history of the Marvel Universe is really one large crossover. That would be something to read.

But if we do go with that idea, that the entirety of the publishing history of the Marvel Universe, wherever that beginning point might be, is one prolonged crossover, the shared narrative universe, then inflection starts to bend genre. Allowing that the superhero, embodied by the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and their ancillary titles to a certain extent, are the baseline, we can inflect the superheroic myth with other generic conventions.

This is something I've been working out in my brain for quite some time. One of the ways I consider my time in grad school is that I was developing a set of concepts and languages with which I could articulate this idea of an inflectionary reading of a shared narrative universe. I think I'll start working it out a bit more over the next few months.