When Words Collide: Conspiracy of the Universe

Mon, July 25th, 2011 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

I didn't go to San Diego this year, and the truth is that I will not likely return to the San Diego Comic-Con anytime soon. The night life is great -- far more expansive and yet centralized than any other convention -- but the show itself is all unbearably long lines and jam-packed floor space. There's a way to do San Diego that makes it a whole lot of fun: (1) Bring a bag to the show, but check it after you've bought the cool stuff you want to buy, then (2) Ignore all panels that involve lines or someone showing footage of something that will come out in a few months and (3) Leave the convention center as often as possible to eat at San Diego's great restaurants, preferably with other comic book pals. But both the Baltimore and New York shows are a lot closer to me, and they give me all the conventioning I need for a year.

I am curious about Trickster, though. I would definitely have spent a lot of time there, had I been in San Diego last week. I hope it continues to run comic-centric counter-programming to the media fest of Comic-Con International.

"If language is what allows us to think things, then discourse is what controls the way we think about things. And the second -- discourse -- has primacy." -- Samuel R. Delany

I have been following the announcements from the show, from over here on the east coast. Looks like DC has continued to build on its buzz from the relaunch announcement last month, and their approach to panel presentations -- "here are some tidbits about the upcoming books you already know about, and there's some artwork showing what they will look like" -- didn't give many surprises, but sometimes seeing the pages makes all the difference. "I, Vampire" looks much better than I would have expected, and I'm thrilled to see how berserk Keith Giffen's "OMAC" will look.

Did Marvel have any big announcements? I like Fraction and Dodson on the "Defenders" just fine, and though I'm not particularly a fan of his art, I'll check out Marc Silvestri's work on Jason Aaron's "Incredible Hulk," certainly." Jamie McKelvie on "X-Men: Season One" sounds pretty great, though it just reminds me that Steve Rude should have been allowed to finish Joe Casey's "Children of the Atom" all those years ago. That would have been the definitive origin for the team. Instead it's just an 80% well-drawn version.

"These are very conservative, backward-looking literary experiments, you see. They are experiments that start with a hypothesis, and the text is used as a way of working out a task, to see what the result is." -- Samuel R. Delany

Bob Schreck is bringing Paul Pope in to Legendary Comics to do a new version of "Pulphope" with 100 pages of different art? Huh. Why change out half the book? Why not just do a new Paul Pope art book? I'll probably buy it either way, but it's not like the Pope-written text pieces are as fundamental to the book as the artwork is. I'm more interested in the Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley collaboration for Legendary, actually: "The Tower Chronicles." Bad title. Strong creative team. All that, plus Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" makes Legendary Comics immediately impressive.

I'm vaguely interested in the Fantagraphics EC Library editions, but I really do tend to prefer color reprints, even though the recent Gemstone "EC Archives" went more than a bit too far with their recoloring attempts. But the IDW Artist's Editions? Those look pretty darn amazing. I'm most excited about the Wally Wood volume, but Eisner's Spirit will be hard to pass up. So, yeah, I like color reprints, unless you're shooting directly from the original art at actual size. Then, all bets are off.

"The sort of narratives I don't trust, as a reader, smell of homework." -- William Gibson

The big winner in the announcement lottery seemed to be Image Comics. Brian K. Vaughan returns to comics with "Saga," and Fiona Staples provides the art? Sounds just about perfect to me. Maybe I'm just feeling a soft spot for Vaughan after listening to the guys on the just-launched "The Process" podcast talk about Mr. Brian K. in such reverential tones. The three writers on that podcast, CBR's own Ryan K. Lindsay included, seemed to talk about Vaughan the way most of us talk about Alan Moore. (Maybe that's why Ryan goes with the middle initial in his pen name, as a tribute to his idol.) For me, Vaughan is just a pretty-good writer who really knows how to tell a serialized story, but for the Process crew, he's one of the greatest writers in the history of the universe. Huh. I guess I need to revisit my Vaughan runs. I think I just became burned out on Tony Harris's art on "Ex Machina" and the delays near the end. And how "Y the Last Man" has lately joined "Sandman," unofficially, as one of those comics that people used to love but now seemed kind of embarrassed by. Why is that? I don't know, but I embrace my "Sandman" love, even if it's been years since I reread more than the first ten issues.

I have so many comics to reread. I need to make a list.

And stop buying so many new comics. Especially the bad "Flashpoint" tie-ins. For all the good things I had to say about "Flashpoint" last week, things like "Flashpoint: Legion of Doom" #2 are enough to make me stop wanting to read any comics ever. That is the worst DC comic since that "Last Will and Testament of Geo-Force" comic Brad Meltzer wrote a few years ago. It's worse than all of J. Michael Straczysnki's DC work, combined. It mixes bad heat-related puns (imagine the corny dialogue from an Akiva Goldsman Batman screenplay, but less funny) with gross-out violence for no narrative gain. It makes "Rise of Arsenal" seem subtle. Anyone raging against the limp but inoffensive "Canterbury Cricket" needs to check out "Legion of Doom," to gain a sense of perspective.

"It's harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future." -- William Gibson

Oh, and hey! The Eisner's! CBR won for the second time in three years! That's pretty cool, right? I got to hold the Eisner last time we won it, but unless Jonah takes it on the road, and he totally should, then it's unlikely I'll get to feel the heft of this one. Still, I admire the discerning taste of the Eisner voters, and if you're looking to bolster your own reading list, you could do a heck of a lot worse than culling from the list of this year's Eisner winners. The only one that continues to baffle me in its acclaim is "Return of the Dapper Men." I must be missing something there. I will admit: it's better than "Legion of Doom," by a factor of ten thousand. Maybe that's an important barometer of quality.

"One of my favorite quotes is from Goethe -- 'As soon as a man does something admirable, the entire universe conspires to see that he never does it again." -- Samuel R. Delany

Besides following the rapid-fire San Diego updates for the past week, I've been digging into Grant Morrison's "Supergods," and catching up on some comic book reading. Plus, I picked up the newest issue of "The Paris Review," which features two stellar interviews. One with Samuel R. Delaney and another with William Gibson. Astute readers will note that I have sprinkled highlights from the interviews throughout this very column! Kind of hard to miss, I know. But their words have been either focusing my thinking this week, or distracting me from getting other things done, so I couldn't resist weaving them into "When Words Collide." Okay, I didn't really weave them in, but here they sit, looming, beckoning further thought.

I went through a stretch where I bought "The Paris Review" regularly, but never subscribed. That was back when I actually submitted stories to literary magazines (and had one published, in "Upstreet" Volume 2), before I became consumed by this obsessive need to read comics and write about them for fun and profit. The "Paris Review" interviews are the best part of every issue, and almost all of them are online. Totally worth checking out, if you have a few weeks to spare, and you have even a vague interest in writers or the process of writing. You will get sucked in. But when you leave, you'll want to hammer out a couple of novels.

I don't think I have much to say about "Supergods," yet, by the way. I'm still only about 80 pages into it. It's an overtly autobiographical tour through superhero history, though there's a bit of a discordance in some of the early chapters between Morrison telling the accepted historical versions of events and his own tendency to filter the stories through his own experiences. I know, from personal experience, that it's a challenge to balance the need to summarize events and storylines with an actual interpretation of the events and the storylines, especially when targeting, in theory, a general audience. Morrison's a bit too impersonal in the early chapters, and the cracks in the history, when he lets his own opinions shine through, are the best bits. From my skimming of the later chapters, it looks like he takes the book in a much more personal direction by the end. I'll be looking forward to that. After all, the allure of the book is that it's Grant Morrison's take on superhero history, not that it's Grant Morrison's take on superhero history.

"What the language calls up in your mind can also make you think in a rich a vivid manner. How it makes you think about what it evokes, including its place in the world -- that's particularly important." -- Samuel R. Delany

Comics-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera's "Daredevil" #1. Like a good first issue should, it establishes a new status quo, tells a story, introduces the characters and the setting, and points toward a promising future. It avoids the talk, talk, talk, slight twist, talk, splash-reveal structure of so many first issues by bounding through first issue plot events, then giving us a little back up story to "explain" why Matt Murdock is all of a sudden much more emotionally stable. And it totally works.

I also completely adored Francesco Francavilla's work on both "Black Panther" #521 and "Detective Comics" #879. Novelist David Liss had a bunch of less-than-impressive comic book scripts in him, as evidenced by his first "Black Panther" arc, but he's getting much better. The opening arc ended stronger than it began, the Storm mini-arc was decent enough, but this "American Panther" story arc is a level-up for Liss. It helps that the Hate-Monger is a much more viscerally evil opponent for the Black Panther, and the mystery of who's under the American Panther's cowl creates some tension, but if you've ditched Liss's "Black Panther" run, this newest arc might be the right time to come back onboard. Even if you despise the story (which I doubt), Francavilla's art is gorgeous, and evocatively colored.

The same is true for the "Detective Comics" issue. Though Scott Snyder's run has been good all along. And it looks to have a top-notch finish.

It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: it will be a major downshift for Snyder to go from Jock and Francesco Francavilla to Greg Capullo on this fall's "Batman" relaunch. Yeesh.

I finally picked up the first trade of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's "The Sixth Gun," way after everyone else already told me how good it is. I had read the opening issue, thanks to Free Comic Book Day last year, but I didn't feel the need to read any more. But trusted comic book compadres insisted that it was a superior series, and so I bought Volume One this weekend. And, man, I could not connect to it at all.

After reading the first chapter again, I remembered why I never bothered to buy any of the other issues. I like Hurtt's art well enough, but it needs room to breathe on the page. There are too many panels per page, and the pacing is incessant. There's no rhythm to it. It's all moving forward at the same speed. And that's the same problem with Bunn's script. Every page is packed with words, as if Bunn's afraid to give everything the silence it might deserve. It's full of talking and narration, and even when Bunn goes out of his way to give each character a distinctive voice, it's like listening to funhouse animatronics all talking over one another.

At least, that's what I thought at first.

But then, as I was growing increasingly frustrated with the book, at about the halfway point, I put it down and walked away. Then came back to it an hour later, and read it all the way from the beginning (reading that opening section for the third time), and continuing all the way through, aware that I hadn't been connecting to Bunn and Hurtt's storytelling choices, but also aware that there was something substantial on every page.

And this time, it clicked. I allowed them to control the narrative (at their, perhaps over-stuffed, pace) instead of bucking against my preconceptions of what it should have been. I had been thinking to myself, "Oh, 'Scalped' would have handled it this way, or 'Lt. Blueberry' would have unfolded like that," and yet "Sixth Gun" is a different kind of story told by different kinds of creators. This isn't some elegiac contemporary Western or even a John Ford film in comic book form. It's a charming pulp romp, with plenty of spectacle and the kind of world building that will give it a chance at a long life.

I already ordered Volume 2.

"As soon as a work is complete, it will begin to acquire a patina of anachronism." William Gibson

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

Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan

TAGS:  when words collide, the sixth gun, omac, y the last man, tr!ckster

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