When Words Collide

Mon, July 27th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

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Comic-Con ADVENTURES 2009

Ming Doyle's New Awesome Iron Man

It all began at Meltdown Comics in LA. I stopped there with Television's Ryan Callahan, known from now on -- and for all eternity -- as TVRC. I had to pick up "Wednesday Comics" #3 so Chad Nevett and I could talk smack about it (or make sweet, sweet verbal love to it) in this week's "Splash Page." I also couldn't resist the finale of "Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds," and even though a bagged and boarded copy of the comic is probably waiting for me back home at my local comic shop, I had to buy issue #5 at Meltdown so I could see what happened to the man the internet loves to hate: Superman/boy Prime. Turns out that Geoff Johns took that Superman-villains-as-analogues-to-comic-fans thing I wrote to a whole new level of literality. Of course, that column was inspired by Superboy Prime, and though I failed to mention that in the actual column (it was implied, right?) there's no doubt that the character has been one extended riff on fanboy whining ever since Johns got a hold of him. But who doesn't like fanboy whining? The Legion of Super-Heroes, that's who! They sent that sucker to his room!

I was supposed to review "Wednesday Comics" #3 before we left for San Diego, but, you know what? Comic-Con! We didn't have time to sit and wait for a review to type itself. We had to get our geek groove on. I wish the drive had been more eventful. We are no Geoff Johns/Sterling Gates duo, we have no escapades with the Goblin Vans of Doom. We just drove and drove until we were close enough to the convention center to kiss it.

Then the line waiting began.

Even to get a professional badge (which TVRC and I had reserved months ago), we had to wait in a line that wrapped around the side of the building like a pit viper. That simile bears no resemblance to the actual line, by the way, but it was long. Real long. And unlike last year, when day after day of adventures led to waiting in line with folks of all shapes and sizes in their Kevin Smith costumes, this crew looked like they were ready for business. Bags ready to be filled. Portfolios ready to…port? Professional credentials and computer printouts ready to shove in the faces of those who needed it. The line moved quickly, and we were in.

TVRC and I decided pretty early on that this year's convention wasn't going to be about the comics, or the movies, or the panels with the shanty-town campers. Comic-Con was going to be about the people. Creators. Readers. Friends.

So after a half-hearted lap around the convention floor, trying to avoid the Hasbro and Mattel toy lines where people had to wait in line for hours to get a ticket so they could wait in line for more hours to buy a replica of a toy they used to like when they were eight -- (I'm talking to you Soundwave, and you are, indeed, awesome, but not so awesome that I would spend my convention time waiting forever just to get one of you) -- TVRC picked up the final three "100 Bullets" trades, and I got the newest "Love and Rockets" volume. Darwyn Cooke's "Parker" book was probably the release of the show, what with its fancy drawings and hard-boiled writing, and, you know, Darwyn Cooke (!), but I didn't want to wait in line for an autographed copy of that, either. My Hernandez brother mini-masterpiece was enough (that is, I assume it's a mini-masterpiece. Who has time to actually read comics during Comic-Con?).

People complain that Comic-Con isn't about the comics anymore. But here's the thing: for me, after going just a few times, Comic-Con isn't even about Comic-Con anymore. And I think that's true for a lot of attendees. Comic-Con is about the idea of Comic-Con, about the social festival that has exploded around this once-comics-centric convention. It's about the people, of course. It always has been, I'm sure, but now that there are so many damned people at this event, it's about the people even more. There's some kind of equation that can prove that, but this ain't no "Math Book Resources" website, so I'll move on to what really matters…

THE LEGION OF THE NEW AWESOME

Probably Not Part of the New Awesome

Last year, in one column or another, I called this current young generation of comic creators "The New Awesome," and I didn't do much more than throw that label out into the world and wait for the world to embrace it. But there's more to the name than just a quick, glib description. If I had to quantify the New Awesome, I'd look at these kind of traits: (1) The embrace of the superhero iconography, (2) Techniques based on playing with the form of superhero comics, but with a respect of what has come before, (3) The convergence of "alternative" comic book illustrative styles with mainstream characters, (4) Inclusion, not exclusion, (5) A strong Grant Morrison influence, no matter how subtly rendered.

The New Awesome might stretch back to the late 1990s when guys like Joe Casey started to break into the industry, and it might continue in force with the success of the likes of Matt Fraction, Geoff Johns, and Jason Aaron (Morrison disciples, all), but there's an even younger breed of comic creator who have only recently started to make their mark. Sterling Gates is one, and with his smartly-written revamp of "Supergirl" along with his upcoming projects like "World's Finest" and "Kid Flash," he's making the quickest move to prominence. (And damn if he doesn't know his "Starman." Just try talking about a story arc with him, and see how quickly he pins down the specific issues with a rabidly intelligent reverence.) Dean Trippe is another, with his infectious enthusiasm for the potential of comics -- for the ideas embodied by Superman and Batman -- and for his internet advocacy of All Things Awesome. Not only does he bill himself as "an alien robot ninja wizard from the future," but he also has, as his friend and assistant, "Jessi Awesome," who not only rocks a Morrison/Quitely Superwoman costume on weekends, but also has pretty strong standards when it comes to the Marvel/DC question. (Just don't provide the wrong answers to her questions, boys, or she might not have anything more to say to someone as lame as you.) And Dean's collaborator on "Butterfly," Jemma Salume, the soon-to-be-professed "Bad Girl of Comics" who will surely be the subject of a documentary next summer. And the delightful Jason Horn and elegant Ming Doyle, essential contributors to the New Awesome that hit San Diego hard this year. It's no surprise that the book many of them appear in, "Comic Book Tattoo," won the Eisner. The judges know the wave of the future when they see it. Jason Horn climbs volcanoes, for crying out loud! And Ming Doyle ferociously attacks the comic book page, expressing postmodern anxiety with vibrant style. Dare I mention the art and wit of Jason Latour, soon-to-be-guru to the masses? No, it's too early. His contributions to the New Awesome will hit hard a year or two from now.

All of this might seem like excessive cuteness, or a kind of precociousness, but this New Awesome business is more than just a glib label. It's a celebration of the "awe" of the superhero, and a celebration of the transcendent possibilities of the high romantic genre. It's no embarrassed about embracing superhero iconography. There's no shame in this crew, but there's no arrogance either. There's just the joy of creation. The joy of inspiring others.

TVRC and I spent a lot of time with the Heralds of the New Awesome at this year's Comic-Con. Far more time then we actually spent on the convention floor. We talked comics, we talked ideas, and we had a great time.

Oh, and did I mention that by the end of the first day I had scored a new book deal that I can't talk about yet? No? Well, that's because I can't talk about it, but I can tell you that it will be extra-fancy. Not quite as lively as the New Awesome, but as a Herald of the Extra-Fancy, I'm okay with that.

MEGAN FOX TURNS THE THUMB SCREWS

The Curse of Megan Fox Led to Some Ninja Moves on This Wall

Comic-Con 2009 wasn't all butterflies and space ships, though. We ran into some trouble on Thursday night. Some trouble spelled M-E-G-A-N F-O-X.

I suppose we can't blame her for everything that went wrong that night, but it's fun to try. She may not have been responsible for "Transformers 2," but she did a lot of slow-motion running in that film, and thus has positioned herself as the bane of everything that goes wrong in the world of the New Awesome. It doesn't help that the organizers for her "Jennifer's Body" party didn't think that it was necessary to invite the people who wrote and drew the "Jennifer's Body" comic book.

Let's just get this straight: at Comic-Con (capital C, capital C) a "Jennifer's Body" party was thrown. No comics people invited. The editors of the book could not get into the party. Ming Doyle, who drew part of the book, could not get into the party. Had Doyle not been a woman of grace and restraint, Jemma Salume might have lost her "Bad Girl of Comics" status as Ming Doyle became not a Herald of the New Awesome but an Avatar of the New Fury. The benefit was that TVRC and I got to spend more time with the collected members of Team New Awesome, and the collected comic book enthusiasts celebrated into the late hours of the night.

Don't Mistake Jemma Salume's Cute Drawing Style for Mercy

But Megan Fox wasn't done with us. She had placed a curse on TVRC and I from afar. As we walked back to our car, TVRC wondered, "Hmmm…I hope that parking garage doesn't close." Sure, it's easy to say that TVRC and I were incompetent not to have noticed the giant sign that said, "this garage closes at 2 AM," but I think that misses the point. Megan Fox surely must have been involved. Otherwise it's just two geeks trying to figure out how to get past a locked parking garage gate which -- wait for it -- included a locked car with the keys to the locked house we were staying at. Oh, that Megan Fox is crafty indeed.

What she didn't count on was that we'd be able to catch a cab to take us the two miles back to our temporary house, and that I'd use my latent ninja skills (possibly taught to me in the future by one Dean Trippe) to climb the wall behind the house, find an opening, and unlock the front door from the inside.

Nice try, Megan Fox. Better luck thwarting us next year.

JASON AARON COWERS TO PINK BUNNIES

Jason Aaron Interviewed Sans Bunny

TVRC and I spend some time patrolling the convention floor on Friday, but most of that time was spent in the company of New Awesome Team Members Jason Aaron and Jason Latour (with a special cameo appearance by hitherto-unmentioned-but-also-awesome Jeff Lemire). Latour regailed us with tales of his recent reread of the Claremont/Lee "X-Men" #1, defending the work as a kind of masterpiece of its time. Though as a southerner, he did take objection to the Claremontian phonics of the southern accent. As Latour might say, "Claremont should have just gone ahead and introduced a villain called Ah'm Sugah, a man with the power to transform into sucrose."

Meanwhile, a giant, inflatable pink bunny walked right next to Jason Aaron and not a single punch was thrown. Jemma Salume would have strangled the air-filled rabbit with its own ridiculous ears for even thinking about invading her personal space, but Jason Aaron -- the guy who writes stuff like "Scalped," "Wolverine," and "Punisher" -- merely stepped aside to let the fuchsia beast walk past. I don't know what Marvel requires of its Max writers, but surely there's some sort of physical trial which involves punching a giant pink bunny in the throat, one would assume. Perhaps in that moment of duress, Aaron's training failed him, but it's a moment he will never live down. Pink Bunny: 1; Jason Aaron: Humiliated.

Aaron made up for it the next day by providing not one, but two consecutive video interviews. The first was for CBR, on the boat, thus reestablishing his street cred and continuing his membership in the New Awesome Drum and Bugle Corps, and the second was for a documentary feature about the "X-Men" comics. The documentary is still in production, with no release date set, but, luckily for Aaron, no inflatable girly animals accosted him during filming.

Did I Mention CBR Won the Eisner? Dean Trippe and I Embacy the Victory!

The New Awesome celebrations lasted long into the night once again, as we met a Hollywood producer who claimed to be working on, and I quote, a movie with "Jeremy Piven's girlfriend and the former lead singer of 'O-Town.'" Based on that evidence alone, this producer may not have what it takes to usher in a motion picture-based New Awesome franchise. Then when he talked about his dislike for anything Shakespeare-related and his recommendation for how to "bang porn stars," we only had to assume that he really didn't belong anywhere near the New Awesome or any other human beings at all. But, as I said, it's all about inclusion, not exclusion. Though perhaps the New Awesome bylaws might see fit to make an exception in this case.

By the end of the weekend, TVRC and I had fully embraced everything Comic-Con had to offer. Yeah, we ignored 99% of the panels and ended up only buying a few things by the end of the show (TVRC picked up more Michael V. Bennet original, Kirby-inspired pin-ups while I took advantage of a newfound TwoMorrows discount to get the new Michael Eury-penned Batman Companion and the Kyle Baker "Modern Masters" volume). But as we said farewell to Team New Awesome -- or, at least the ones we could track down on that final day -- we realized that we didn't miss a thing. You might have waited in line overnight for the "Lost" panel, or woke up at 5:00 to catch the non-announcement of no movie at the "Doctor Who" panel, or dug through the back issue bins for hours looking for that "Young All-Stars" issue you were missing, but TVRC and I spent time celebrating comic books in the best way possible: by talking, laughing, and not punching pink bunnies with the creators.

And that's what matters.

(Just watch your back next time you're in town, Megan Fox. Jemma Salume won't stand for your voodoo nonsense two years in a row. And you do not want to get on her bad side.)

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" (which explores "Zenith" in great detail) and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen every day at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: gbfiremelon

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TAGS:  cci2009, when words collide, jason aaron, megan fox, jemma salume

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