The Trade: DC's New 52: It's a Hard Knock Life: For Us

Today, Comics! The Blog presents a special contribution from our Senior Trade-Waiting Correspondent Greg Norris.

If you’ve talked to anyone buying single issues, there is certainly a lot of what we’ll call “emotional opinions” about the New 52 – on one side there is the group that is not in love with it on an almost “The-rapture-is-coming” level, and if things go sideways we’ll all hear “told you so.” But that group is not the inspiration for this article. The inspiration is the other side; the group of nerds getting so wired & excited over the relaunch that I’ll be disappointed if there aren’t massive nerdy flash mobs breaking out in Glee-esque renditions of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” (that overly chippy “Dancing in September ” song for those who don’t know) every Wednesday in September. I was in Brandon’s store a few weeks ago & had the opportunity to see him & these nerds in action.

I don’t hate them, but it’s just so hard to get excited as a trade waiter, when the collections are probably the better part of a year away, and the cheaper trade paperback is nearly 2 years away (unless DC is changing their policy?! One can dream…). Those of us who are cheap (or rather, who like to buy more) and go for the trade paperbacks are at the Blackest Night, which is far away from this Flashpoint stuff. The only thing happening for me in September is the newest Uncanny X-Men trade (and maybe some other trades I don’t plan to get).

While part of me wants to gather the cast of Annie to counter with a rendition of “Hard Knock Life” (this would be a seriously great episode of Glee), the other part sees the opportunities the New 52 presents:

  1. The opportunity to bail.

I think it’s a fact people stick with a series even during bad times because they will hope it gets better eventually, and, more so, they don’t want to be lost when it does get better. I have some late 90s/pre-Morrison X-Men comics that attest to that fact. I can’t imagine comic store owners want you to keep with a series you don’t like as telling someone you know something is bad, has way more impact than telling them you’ve heard it’s bad, or that you haven’t heard anything about it. Leave the stuff you don’t like for people who do, they actually do exist. The New 52 allows you to bail without the punishment of missing important story points – every issue is a new #1, a new jumping on point, so even for those books that are keeping some of their history intact (I’m thinking the Batman and Green Lantern titles) you should be able to grab that new #1 and figure things out. Hopefully.

  1. The ability to spend elsewhere.

Number 1 leads to Number 2. You bail on one series, now you have money in your pocket, and if you leave it there it will burn a hole in your wallet and set you on fire. While waiting for the New 52 to hit trades, you have the opportunity to grab some really good stuff, and/or spend more to maybe get the hardcovers because you are so tired of waiting for the paperbacks all the time and want some really good DC stuff. I am totally bailing on a series and totally spending my money on Grant Morrison’s Joe the Barbarian and the much-loved-by-Brandon Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder. Yes they were on my list before, but the money to buy them was coming out of thin air. I also need to get Batwoman by Greg Rucka because I keep forgetting.

  1. A Fresh & refreshed start with goodness guarantees.

Waiting sucks, sure, but have you ever wanted to really see a movie, and couldn’t make it right away, then heard it was totally awful, avoided it, and then saw something considerably more awesome instead. Great happiness all round! The same applies for the New 52. 52 titles – they can’t all be mind-blowingly awesome. I for one can’t name 52 awesome things that came out all at the exact same time. Something is bound to be terrible, and something is bound to be mind-blowing. There is going to be something you want to be awesome that sucks and most importantly of all, there is going to be something that you thought would suck, or didn’t care at all about, and it will be awesome. I’m 99% sure Action Comics will be amazing – it’s Grant Morrison and Superman, remember what we got the last time that happened?! But what I am mostly looking forward to is that hidden gem of awesomeness that comes from a recommendation. Remember those dancing nerds? In six months they will be your best friend. They will have been the proverbial cannon fodder and can recommend what to look for and what to avoid. Talk to them.

I think back to a recommendation I got for Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction’s Immortal Iron Fist. In the past I hated Iron Fist. Well I mostly hated the costume. Between the giant collar and the yellow slippers… I mean why didn’t the 80s happen to Danny Rand like they did to everyone else? Then I was told to grab the Iron Fist stuff as it was “really good.” I loved it (thanks to David Aja for fixing that costume!). I actually can’t express how much I loved it properly. It still makes me VERY angry that it was cancelled. I not only loved Iron Fist but I learned to love Matt Fraction’s work and actively sought out more of it (FYI – I was already a Brubaker fan, which helped in the decision to grab it).

The New 52 allows for those new in-roads for stuff you hear is awesome, and for characters and titles that have interested you, but seem impossible to jump in to. Right now I’ve got my eye on Action Comics,& JLA (obviously) but also the Red Hood & the Outlaws (Red Arrow!), Batman (thanks to Brandon for that one) and Teen Titans (90s awesomeness!). Most importantly though, I’ve got my ears open for those series that are surprisingly awesome. I think people will be tired of hearing “So, What was good?”

So fellow Trade-Waiters, bide your time, spend your money on new things, and listen for the gleeful screams of issue buying nerds everywhere. And pray that this doesn’t go sideways on DC – I like my Batman too much.

Jinkies! A Beginner's Guide to Kelly Sue DeConnick's Supergirl arc

This was the last time Robert Kirkman was allowed near Supergirl.

Jinkies! A Beginner’s Guide to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Supergirl arc

It should come as no surprise to anybody that here at C!TB we are big fans of Kelly Sue DeConnick‘s recent arc of Supergirl that closed out the series’ run before the big September relaunch tomorrow.  Our mantra here is basically “talk about good comics” and these three issues were some damn fine ones.  We’ve enjoyed the series since Sterling Gates took it over and at first look, what Kelly Sue did with her issues was in many ways a departure from that.  However, Issues #65-67 work best not when taken as a separate storyline – though they certainly stand up when viewed this way – but as a continuation of the stories that came before them and a wonderful summary of the series itself.  Oh, and it also happened to be full of references to the 1980s, which I’ve been told were delightful.

Welcome to Jinkies! A Beginner’s Guide to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Supergirl.

01. DON’T PANIC, BRIEFLY

AA. ISSUE #65: THIS IS NOT MY LIFE, PART 1

The Players:

  • Supergirl, aka Kara Zor-El, aka Linda Lang, aka Linda Lane: Maid of Might.  Kryptonian teenager, cousin to Superman.  Trying to find her own way in the world since the loss of her planet and family.  Weisenheimer.
  • Lois Lane: Reporter comma trouble.
  • Professor Ivo: Evil green genius, proof that you shouldn’t drink anything just because it says “serum” at the end of its name.  Up to no good.  In cahoots.
  • The Silk Pajama Society, starring Henry Flyte: Stanhope College’s merry pranksters.  Singers of insensitive songs, students in search of nighttime adventure.
  • Shirley: Linda’s roommate at college orientation weekend. Significantly more fun.

The References:

  • P1: “This is not my life” – Possibly the Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”
  • P9: Stanhope College – Previously attended by Linda Danvers, former Supergirl
  • P18: “Moles and trolls, moles and trolls, work, work, work, work, work” – Real Genius

The Robots:

  • M.O.N.Q.I.S, monkeys.

The Plot:

College kids with similar profiles are going missing.  After saving one, Supergirl goes undercover at Stanhope College to investigate because Lois, I kid you not, “playing co-ed for the weekend, hanging out with kids your own age, nosing around on a secret mission… sounds like fun to me.”  Isn’t Lois Lane just the best?  At Stanhope, Supergirl (as Linda Lane, which is totally different from Linda Lang) meets Shirley, her roommate for the weekend, and the two get caught up with Henry Flyte, bastard ne’er-do-well and the Silk Pajama Society, who may have figured out a way to predict who will disappear next… Henry.  Then Henry disappears, everybody looks sheepish.

BB. ISSUE #66: THIS IS NOT MY LIFE, PART 2

The Additional Players:

  • Stanhope College President Gardner & her husband, Phillip: Guilty-looking, and with good “Oh hey Professor Ivo how is our secret plan going?” reason.
  • The Silk Pajama Society: Elaboration.

The References:

  • P13-14: “Robots, why… did it have to be… robots?” – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • P19: “Very Kübler-Ross” – Singing is my favourite stage of grief
  • Let’s face it, youths investigating a mystery underground has a pretty sigificant “Goonies” vibe and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Robots:

  • Rats!  Seriously, there’s like a metric poopload of them.
  • Larger humanoid robots.

The Plot:

Investigating Henry’s disappearance, Linda, Shirley and the Silk Pajamas Society uncover a series of secret tunnels and catacombs below the college – because of course they do – and, investigating, invoke the ire of Professor Ivo’s army of robot rats.  Linda is just barely able to stop them without blowing her cover and discovers Professor Ivo’s subterranean lab (and Henry).  Meanwhile, Lois investigates Stanhope College’s President – who is totally behind things – and apparently “My love of onions will be the death of me” isn’t a particularly good explanation for why you’re digging around someone’s office.

CC. ISSUE #67: THIS IS NOT MY LIFE, PART 3

The Additional Players:

  • Ngoze Onwualu: The Lois Lane kind of trouble.  Pretty rad.
The References:
  • P3: “Like a horny toad at a Gundam convention” – anime and manga franchise.  Unrelated: this is my new favourite line since “nosing around on a secret mission” in Issue #65.
  • P4: “You guys ever see ‘Tremors’?” – Too easy.
  • P9: “She’s givin’ us all she’s got, Cap’n!” – Montgomery Sott, Starfleet
  • P12: “Oh hai” – Internet cats
  • P13: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” – The Princess Bride, my favourite movie.
  • P19: “Don’t forget me, okay?” – I don’t care how oblique this sounds, but this is a Simple Minds reference and nobody, not even Kelly Sue herself, will ever convince me otherwise.
The Robots:
  • Humanoid
  • M.O.N.Q.I.S.
  • Professor Ivo’s mechasuit of doom or at least a mild inconvenience if you’re bulletproof
The Plot:
While Supergirl fights Professor Ivo and, frankly, an increasingly ridiculous variety of robots, the rest of the Silk Pajama Society – Chris, Lily and Shirley – build giant proton pack-like stun guns to take down some other, more numerous robots.  There’re some explosions, some hacking and maybe a little romance.  Meanwhile, Lois gets some help from another genius college student (this place is lousy with ‘em, like a college or something) and the Gardners get arrested.  Hooray!  Two weeks later, Henry and Linda discover the kind of magic where you touch lips.  And?  Magic.

02. SUPERGIRL 2: THE GUIDENING

By itself, “This is not my Life” is a fantastic standalone story.  It contains almost no references to anything that’s happened in the rest of the series, with almost none of the same characters and is set in a completely new place, or at least one that’s a sly reference to an entirely different Supergirl from those heady days of the 90s, when Hanson roamed the earth devouring small children.  But when you look closely, DeConnick‘s arc not only continues the same kinds of questions and themes that the series tackled for its other 64 issues, but also serves as a great summary and coda of the series itself.

Ever since the series began, one of the core themes has been of identity, especially in regards to being an outsider.  Kara isn’t from Earth.  Neither is her cousin, of course, but he grew up here.  Until New Krypton, Earth was the only home he knew.  It’s where he belongs.  But Kara?  She came to earth as a teenager.  She had an entire other life before she was forced to find a new one.  Just when she was finding her own identity, here comes new Krypton.  Here are her parents, alive and well, with the home and culture she thought was lost, but here is her new home and everything she has there.  Who is she,  Kryptonian or Earthling?

This was a big part of Sterling Gates‘ work in the series, and in the wake of War of the Supermen and the destruction of New Krypton, Kara had to work hard to finally find some sense of peace with who she was.  She could be both from Earth and from Krypton without besmirching either heritage, and as Gates left Supergirl, she seemed like she was in a good place at last.  This is comics, though, and as long as a series continues there are always other questions to ask oneself, other crises to resist.

As we find her in “This is not my Life,” she might know who she is, but she’s still a bit of an outsider.  She might belong on Earth, but who is she there?  It speaks volumes that in Issue #65 it’s Starman that she identifies with as someone who doesn’t quite fit in, who’s different.  Despite having a life on Earth and a secret identity as a human, it’s the blue-skinned, red-haired alien who stands out in a crowd that she confesses her feelings to.  When Lois comes to her with the plan, her first thought is, “That’s why you want me. Because my parents are dead.”  She doesn’t know how to not be that person, so of course it’s what she thinks other people see in her.  That means a lot, and “This is not my Life” spends a lot of its time dealing with this.

It does this through Kara’s identity as Linda Lang – or, for the sake of Lois’ crazy scheme here, Lane – the way she interacts with the world when she’s not Supergirl.  Linda isn’t Clark Kent, though.  She wasn’t raised here and she didn’t grow up as Linda.  Linda is a necessity for Kara to survive in the world, but Clark is who Superman really is when he’s out of the costume.  He’s Ma and Pa Kent’s son.  His wife calls him Clark, not Kal-El.  People don’t call Supergirl Linda; she’s Kara.

“People like Supergirl, they have a way of sticking around, but you and me… just… don’t forget me, okay?”

That’s why a story like “This is not my Life” is so important to the character; going off to college for a weekend isn’t Supergirl’s life.  She doesn’t really know how to be Linda, and this is the story of that happening.  Even if she doesn’t admit it until the very end, even if it goes completely off the rails when a green-skinned mad scientist gets involved, Lois is right when she tells Supergirl that spending some time being Linda would be good for her.  She doesn’t fit in with her roommate or the Silk Pajamas Society at first, but by the end, she’s connected with them in a way that’s real.  She’s able to just sit there with Henry as they’re just “some guys.”  This version of Supergirl never got to really live as Linda, and maybe she never would have, but in three issues DeConnick made Supergirl the most well-rounded character she’s been in ages.  We won’t forget her.

That’s the magic of a good story, and this is a comic about magic.  It’s a comic about the kind of magic that lives inside us, even if, as Henry says, it’s just science we don’t know the rules for, or where our mind goes when we can’t do the math.  It’s that feeling we get that’s poetic and wonderful, like feeling like we belong, coming together with complete strangers to do something powerful or a first kiss with someone we never expected.  It’s magic.  What other word is there for it?  Comics, maybe.  Definitely comics like this.

“This is not my Life” is a fantastic coda for a fantastic series, that summarizes who the character is and where she still has yet to go in a story that’s also a zany teen adventure where college kids fight robots.  It works so well in part because the series is ending, because there’s no crisis that comes next.  The final time we get to see Supergirl is when she’s having a moment of happiness and peace.  The final word spoken is “magic”.  I don’t know where she would have gone from there, but I like to think it’s someplace good.

You Read These With Your Eyes! – August 31st, 2011

Can you hand me that cheese?

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

ULTIMATE COMICS HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel Comics)

I started reading Ultimate Spider-Man on the internet – though to be fair, this was quite some time ago when I was still in high school. Marvel used to slap up 11 pages of various comics on a digital browser that pretty much anyone could access. On that browser were things like, uh… well, Ultimate Spider-Man, Wolverine: Origin, Brian Michael Bendis’ Elektra run and a few other things that I’m blanking on right now. Anyway, it was pretty rad and entirely legal, and it was how I got myself hip deep into the Ultimate universe.

Flash forward to today, and you’ve got a new beginning for the Ultimate line. Similarly, the entire line is being released digitally, albeit in a format that requires payment to enjoy. In a way it’s a nice mirror to the past, always sitting on the bleeding edge, with a handful of new talent, taking the reins to tell some brave, new stories. In this series, Jonathan Hickman provides a companion piece to his Ultimates series, focusing on this universes’ Hawkeye. Now I’ve never really been a huge fan of Hawkeye, now matter what version we’re talking about, but… come on. This is Jonathan Hickman we’re talking about here. Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors, The Nightly News, Red Wing, etc… the guy knows how to write. If you enjoyed last week’s Ultimates, you owe it to yourself to give this book a read. And if you didn’t read last week’s Ultimates – either because you didn’t buy a copy, or you kept your copy in the bag… I’m sorry, but we have to stop being friends.

Hey, don’t you frown, you silly clown, you brought this on yourself.

THE GOON #35 (Dark Horse Comics)

I would probably be happy if we just got some more Eric Powell goodness with this new issue of The Goon – but the man had to go and add the sensational writing talents of Evan Dorkin to the mix, making this some kind of mechanoid super book of earth shattering madness. Honestly, these two writer/artists are ridiculously talented, and both can swing from harsh, irreverent comedy to shit that’s absolutely deadly serious without so much as dropping a bead of sweat. Normal people can’t do that. They burst into flames from even trying as much, and they die screaming, wondering who, exactly, is going to cancel their date once they are just a pile of ash. Which is my own terrible way of telling you not to let these talents go to waste. Throw them money. That is all.

SECRET AVENGERS #16 (Marvel Comics)

So wait, Warren Ellis and Jamie McKelvie are telling a story starring the Secret Avengers??!??!? Well money, it sure was nice to know you.

ARCHIE HIGH SCHOOL CHRONICLES BOOK 2 (Archie Comics)

Is it wrong to say that this is the book that I’m most excited for this week? Is it?

Look, we all know there’s something else happening this week, but honestly, even the combined might of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee can’t turn my head away from my favourite Riverdale residents.

This volume is the second in a series that explores the lives of Archie and the gang as they existed during their Freshman Year. Basically, it’s like Batman Year One, but without as many hookers. Both this and the initial series were fantastic stories… and this one even ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, promising to delve into something else that’s very interesting indeed…

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 (DC Comics)

Look, do I have to tell you why you’re buying this? Do I really? Because if the files at my store are any indication, pretty much everyone is on board this crazy train. In fact, my store is holding a pretty big midnight opening later tonight where we’re going to use the increased traffic to raise money for breast cancer research. It’s going to be rad and a half, and man, it’s going to be really interesting to finally read all of these new books.

It all starts now I guess.

These are just five of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

C!TB's Best of the Week | August 29th, 2011

Ta-daaaahhh

So hey special friends. Do you know what we did for this weekend? We watched us some Doctor Who, in which The Doctor dressed up in a swank ass suit and rocked out some time lord awesomeness. And it. Was. Awesome.

Anyway, now it’s time for comics once more. So let’s get to doing that.

Take that, Daytime Emmys!ALL THE COMICS, IN ONE CONVENIENT PACKAGE

I wasn’t around for the first volume of Dark Horse Presents. I think. I may have had a file at the local comic shop by the time it all came to an end, but as much as I loved that store, it wasn’t built to carry a lot of indie books. If you ever wanted to see a lot of that stuff, you had to pre-order or else you’d end up awash in a sea of spandex – and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just, sometimes a person needs a little variety in their diet.

Anyway, when Dark Horse announced the second volume of Dark Horse Presents, I have to admit, I got pretty excited – mostly because they were loading the deck with a lot of fine creators. I mean, what other book would you see contributions from Frank Miller, Fabio Moon, Dave Gibbons, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, Brian Wood, Even Dorkin, Jill Thompson, Eric Powell, Geof Darrow, Jim Steanko and more? There isn’t any other regular book that can boast that heavy weight slate. And man, it’s pretty amazing. Each issue features impeccable design, offers done-in-one shorts and serialized stories, and gives the readers a sample of all kinds of tastes. I mean, do you know how many copies of Finder I started selling because of this series? So freaking many! And Concrete. And soon, Beasts of Burden. And I also heard a rumour that Hellboy will be making an appearance soon. And dammit, that’s great.

Also, each issue is spined with the comic title and issue number… which means that I can pretty much keep these babies in stock as long as they are in print, as I can put them up in the trade section for people to buy long after the shelf date has “expired”. Dark Horse has done a great thing bringing this book back. And now? It’s monthly, so we’ll be getting greatness even more often. And that’s not something to sneeze at. Thus, I give the Death Rides a Pale Horse, Radness Rides a Dark Horse Award for just… being awesome. (B)

Then they share a malt. A sexy malt.BUCK UP, SON

If I needed to describe just why it is that Ed Brubaker has made me a fan of Captain America, despite my lifelong ambivalance towards the character (1993’s Captain America Annual #12, first appearance of the Battling Bantam, aside – never doubt the power of a Puerto Rican boxer with augmented strength dressed like a chicken), it would be Captain America and Bucky.  Don’t get me wrong, his other work with the character has been undeniably fantastic, but what he’s doing together with Marc Andreyko and Chris Samnee?  It’s filling a hole in my comic book past that I hadn’t realized was there.

A giant part of this is Samnee‘s art, because the man is easily one of the best artists in the industry today.  Sure, he can choreograph a great fight scene.  Sure, his characters look so fluid they could actually be moving.  But lord, it’s the faces he does that capture me and have me reaching to my wallet to buy some of the inked sketch art he regularly posts on his website.  Nobody draws faces like him, with that style that feels like it stepped out suspended animation and the subtle emotions of a life that’s suddenly changed forever.  That look on Bucky’s face in the aftermath of his actions?  His eyes?  That’s why I’ll follow this man anywhere.  Captain America and Bucky #621 feels like it could be anybody’s first Captain America comic, in any time period.  For capturing time in a bottle and making me feel like a kid again, I give the comic and its creators C!TB‘s first Jim Croce Award. (J)

Better than alllll the rest

Dammit, why is this never easy? As always, there were tons of strong contenders for the title of “Best” this week – Greg Rucka’s Punisher was a thing of beauty, FF was stellar as always, and Gates of Gotham brought the sound and the noise… but in the end, I had to go with something a little bit off the beaten path…

Mystery Men has been a fantastic mini-series from Marvel. At first blush, the book might appear to be more of the same superhero stock, the series is really much, much more than that. Set in the 1930s and using old pulps as inspiration, David Liss and Patrick Zircher have introduced a set of new heroes that are slightly different than what you’d find running across the Marvel U today. With a light touch of period appropriate abilities and technological limitations, these superheroes aren’t so heroic, borrowing more from the pulp school of story telling – in that while they might all do heroic things, their methods are a lot more… vicious? No, um… primitive. Almost. I mean, one of the heroes goes around spouting off medical jargon as he plunges needles filled with death into the necks of those who deserve it. For justice. And that’s just one of the heroes.

This series has been brilliant – a turns a rollicking adventure and dark mystery, it’s something absolutely fresh and delightfully familiar. And it’s the best. Buy it now in singles (if your store still has them) or wait for the great collection that will be on the stands later this year.

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.

Fehr Enough, #1: My Music at Work

[Editor's Note: From time to time, dear readers, our internet travels take us to exotic new lands and mysterious new people whose opinions and outlooks mesh with ours ever so nicely.  Other times, it turns out these rad people live and work just a few minutes away from you.  Ryan Fehr is one of those people, and after a conversation that started with, "You have to write a column called 'Fehr Enough'" got weirdly serious, Ryan just started sending us things.  This is the first of what will be a recurring feature assembled from what he sends with the occasional "DONG SALAD" inserted somewhere inside. -James]

He stole those glasses like he stole our hearts.

FEHR ENOUGH, #1:

My Music at Work: The Balance Between Productivity and Air Guitar

Music is everywhere. There are background tracks in everything from TV shows, commercials and feature films to video games, websites and friggin [Ed Note: We forgot to let Ryan know that he’s allowed to cuss.] banner ads. This got me thinking: what’s the longest I’ve gone without hearing some form of music? If it’s for more than an hour (not counting sleep), I’d be surprised.

Now, some background: Music’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started with piano lessons when I was really young, moved into guitar, then into drums and percussion. But even before that, I remember having my own collection of kids tapes. And of course there was the radio. When I was young, the radio station in my hometown was an 80s Rock station. My mom was (and still is) into country, so on the rare occasions she’d run an errand and leave us in the car, we’d flip the station and rock out until we saw her coming back.

School days came and went, and of course, homework. I struggled with that until the day my dad said, “Why don’t you listen to music while you work?” I’ve never gone back. To be honest, I don’t think I can.

Part of this is that I’m a drummer. Rhythm is ingrained in my soul; it is ingrained on every soul. As one of my all-time favorite quotes says:

“Rhythm is the soul of life. The whole universe revolves in rhythm. Everything and every human action revolves in rhythm.” – Babatunde Olatunji

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself working on computers all day. The clickity-clack of the keyboard as I type always conforms to a rhythm.  This is why listening to music is important to me. It helps establish a steady rhythm which, in turn, establishes steady production. For me, choosing a proper playlist is key to a productive workday. If one were to look into the playlists I listen to while working, they’d notice the major similarity amongst them is tempo.

But there lies a danger in choosing music. I absolutely love rock music – guitar rock, alt rock, even choice “-metal” genres. But the problem is that I can really get into the music. I’ll start finger drumming on my desk. I’ll start mouthing or even whispering lyrics. I’ll head bang (even though I have no hair). And yes, I’ve even been caught playing air guitar while at work.

So now, 6 short paragraphs and a quote in, comes the crux of this piece: finding my balance between productivity and air guitar.

Take a look at what was playing while I was writing this piece: Ryan’s Writing Playlist

There’s only one band in this list that I’d put in the “Rock” category: Disciple. And I’ll be honest, I spent more time playing air guitar and desk drumming while listening to that album than I did writing this column.  My most productive moments came when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross‘ soundtrack to The Social Network and The New Deal‘s acid jazz jam sessions were playing.

Well now, that makes sense. “Standard” album music is meant for entertainment, to bring the listener into the world their creating with their sound and engage them with riffs and lyrical hooks. Ambient music and soundtracks are meant to create an atmosphere, to subtly drive a scene by providing tempo and rhythm without distracting from what’s happening.

How ‘bout that?

What this means to me:

If I want to be productive, I should stay away from the pounding drums of Bonzo, Moon or Grohl and listen to a good soundtrack. And if you’re willing to give this a go too, I highly recommend Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross‘ score for The Social Network, Daft Punk‘s Tron: Legacy and everything Hans Zimmer has ever produced.

Fair enough. [Ed. Note: Ryan, the title of this column isn’t “Fair Enough”.]

You’re Welcome, Internet | August 22-26, 2011

Steven Alan Gorbachev wants your eyes.

Hey there, buckaroos and DEADLY SPACE WOMEN FROM BEYOND THE SUN, we hope you’ve had a swell week.  Things have been a little light here this week, but that’s only because a) Brandon and James are so exhausted they are legally dead, this is now Ghosts! The Blog; and b) There is some fancy-ass shizz coming next week, we swear.  We’re totally good for it.

You’re welcome, Internet.

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What’s that?  You need more than a turtle riding a Roomba?  Fine.

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Insert Charleston joke here.

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Dammit, I just can't bring myself to type in Lolcat.

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Rad.
by Ian Anderson (@citriccomics), more here

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Is Captain Jack the dog (yes, I know his name is Einstein)?
By Ratgirlstudios

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It's ok to combine #1 and #4.

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The dog actually died.

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LEASK: Readers, I have something to share with you.  I… am a Whovian.  It started off simply enough.  My sister came over and gave me an episode.  “Watch it with fish sticks and custard,” she said.  “It’s aweseome, I swear.”  Within a week I’d obliterated an entire season.  Then a new one started up on TV and I inhaled it.  Last night I bought an Apple TV just to watch even more.  A flashlight shaped like a sonic screwdriver is sitting on my nightstand.  I’m drinking out of a mug shaped like a TARDIS right now.  And tomorrow… tomorrow I’m hosting a Doctor Who party.

What have I become?  Whatever it is, I like it.  Also, do you have any meth?

SCHATZ: My name is Brandon, and I’ve watched three episodes of Doctor Who. Enough to know that it’s fun to point at the screen and go, “That man in the suspenders. He’s Doctor Who, yeah?” Ohhhhh, the blood that was spilled that night.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be heading off to this Doctor Who party armed with spoilers I’ve gathered from working at a comic shop. Seriously, if you want to know what’s happening all around geek culture, just hang out there for a little while. If something has happened more than 25 minutes ago, it will get spoiled for you by someone. Cuz nerds? As much as I love ‘em? Aren’t always on top of their social graces, and they will spoil the shit out of things… sometimes not ever realizing that someone, somewhere doesn’t take Friday off when the superhero movies come out. (And no, I’m not actually talking about anyone in particular… just a vague conglomeration of many).

But anywho (see what I did there?) I got some things to prepare still. The midnight opening that I’m running? Is going to be boss as hell. In addition to having a sale, we’re trying to use the increased traffic to raise money for breast cancer research, and a few of my file customers just donated some product to add to the mix! Which was cool of them. So I’m off to add those things to a list and sending them off to everyone I know. Might even see if I can get some media about it. Because COME ON! It’s for a good cause.

Until next week…

You have been reading Comics! The Blog. This concludes our broadcast week.

Recommendation: Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd insisted on wearing his crocs.Our Idiot Brother
Starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Rashida Jones, Steve Coogan and Adam Scott
Written by Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Rated 14A (Canada), R (USA)

Synopsis: Even jail can’t make Paul Rudd mean.  I mean seriously, isn’t that guy just the best?

01. I like Paul Rudd.  Don’t you?  I think everyone does.  The man is just plain charming, and that’s a big reason Our Idiot Brother works as well as it does.  It’s a movie whose entire premise is not making you hate the dim-witted nice guy (Ned, played by Rudd) who accidentally causes trouble for his siblings.  How naive is he?  He sold marijuana to a cop.  How nice is he?  He got let out early because all the convicts and staff in prison liked him so much.

02. With no more home, where does Ned go?  To family, of course.  He apologizes for the imposition, but ultimately he begins to wear on his sisters and disrupts their relationships through no real fault of his own.  He’s perfectly nice, absolutely guileless.  He is completely honest and believes that everybody else is, because why wouldn’t they be?  He repeats and reports things he probably shouldn’t because he figures people are acting decently and responsibly.  Does that make him an idiot?  Maybe.  Probably.  But goddammit, he’s just so nice.  And how do you really fault a person for being nice?  If you can manage to do that, how can you fault a person for being nice and having a beloved dog named Willie Nelson that he longs to get back from his less scrupulous ex girlfriend?  You can’t, that is just science.

03. Well, his family members do, of course.  The cast is wonderful and they sell their characters with aplomb.  Elizabeth Banks is awesome as a career writer hungry for a break.  Emily Mortimer made me sad as a mother whose marriage is falling apart and Zooey Deschanel brings a manic energy and similar likeability as Rudd, making their scenes wonderful to watch as the actors bounce off each other.  She’s kind of like a Ned who lies.  Cue hijinks!

The movie is stolen, however, by Rashida Jones as the most adorable lesbian ever.  I mean seriously, it is surreal.  The whole movie, I just wanted to hang out with her and, as the creator [Ed Note: DON'T RUIN THIS FOR ME] of the word “lesbro,” I like to think I’m somewhat of an expert on being friends with lesbians.  Jones is one of the supporting players in the movie, but dang, if she doesn’t just kill every scene she’s in.

04. Ultimately, this is not an ambitious, bold summertime movie.  It doesn’t swing for big zany heights and it is better for it.  It makes the gutsier move to tell a simple, heartfelt story that’s full of laughs, with good characters played by talented comedic actors who know how to give an understated performance.  Each of the characters could have been a one-note stereotype, but the filmmakers were smart to push past this by centering the movie on their family relationships and the actors were smart enough to imbue the characters with a depth that others might have glossed over.

Actually, that does sound kind of ambitious, doesn’t it?  Hooray!

05. More than anything else, however, this movie is great because it’s not mean to its title character.  It genuinely likes him and like some other movies with names insulting their characters – The 40 Year Old Virgin and Dinner for Schmucks – it really says that there’s nothing wrong with these people; what’s wrong is thinking there is.  Ned is a nice guy and I left the theatre feeling good after watching a funny, smart and kindhearted film about him.  I wish I saw more movies like this.  There should be more movies like this.

Recommended if you like: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Stranger Than Fiction and good movies

Heartbreaker, Love-Taker

The skull stands for kittens. Wait...THE PUNISHER #2 (Marvel Comics)

by Greg Rucka, Marco Checchetto, Matt Hollingsworth and VC’s Joe Caramagna

Synopsis: Frank Castle loves kittens, hates Mondays.

01. You can hear Rucka cracking his knuckles as she says to the detectives, “I took my husband’s name.”

As she struggles to remember the events that lead her to that hospital bed, you can see Rucka grin. As the scene proceeds, he throws the punch. It comes at your face slowly, background to the sound of this woman’s voice.

When she finally remembers, you can feel impact against your nose. You heard it coming. You saw it coming. He knew it too, you could see it in his eyes. As the book falls silent and as the camera pulls away in four heartbreaking panels, as blood spills from your nose, and you gasp and sputter from the pain, you chide yourself. You could have gotten out of the way of that punch at any moment. You could have avoided it completely and been fine. But dammit, sometimes you just gotta’ know how much it’s really gonna’ hurt.

Greg Rucka sure knows how to throw a punch.

02. There’s something potent about a first love. Not just as it applies to reality, but as it applies to fiction as well. There’s something special about the things you loved when you were younger, and there’s something special about that moment when a character just clicks for you.

I fell in love with Frank Castle when he was riding a dragon. He had been turned into a Frankenstein monster and set upon a course of action that required transportation to a far away castle where undead Nazi soldiers and a wave of samurai monster hunters were waiting to gun him down. And so he did what any of us would do in that situation. He got on the back of a god damn dragon and mowed the fuckers down with a Gatling gun. Or at least I think it was a Gatling run. I don’t know a whole lot about guns.

Anyway, that was the moment I will always carry with me, so potent in its purity. Frank Castle would always be that to me. But then there’s this. Decidedly different than the whole Franken-Castle story, there’s this story about a man who silently takes revenge on behalf of those who’ve been wronged. Though revenge is probably not the right word. He’s not doing it through some kind of misguided empathy. He doesn’t really feel for the people who have passed, nor does he particularly care. He’s just a man who has a task to complete – one that’s unending and unerring, and the specific circumstances are lost in his very black-and-white view of good and evil. And god damn if it’s not fascinating to read.

03. Within this series, you are given no insight as to what Frank is doing, nor why he is doing it. Though at this point, we all know. We all know the why of it all, and we’ve all come to accept it. Frank is getting rid of the riff raff, the ne’er-do-wells, the scum. He’s doing it in his own way, which isn’t particularly right, nor empathetic – and yet, we cheer for him. We cheer for him, because we see what effects these horrible people have on the perfectly nice folks around them. Your heart breaks over a set of silent panels. Greg Rucka smiles as blood pools on the ground below your face. It’s about enough to make you forget about that first love.

God dammit.

04. The art in this book is a thing of beauty as well. And it needs to be to carry off the bouts of silence. Just like in music, there’s a poetry to the silences and without a very deliberate and delicate touch, that poetry could be ruined. Checchetto and Hollingsworth are more than up to the challenge, though – plying a sense of dark beauty to what should be horrific scenes of violence. This whole book is a joy to behold, even though it’ll hurt you so. If you haven’t purchased it yet, get on board right away, or else you’ll miss out on one hell of a ride.


Briefly: Greg Rucka and the Bearable Lightness of Being

Greg Rucka is on vacation, which I think is curious. When I think about being a professional writer, I really can’t wrap my head around what “vacation” time would be. This is probably a failing on my part though – whenever I’ve gone on vacation lately, I’ve discovered that fact that I can’t enjoy myself unless I’m close to work. Don’t get me wrong, a break every now and then is nice, but anything longer than two or three days, and I really start to get itchy. I know that the shop is sitting  there waiting for me with e-mails and orders and customers who are looking for recommendations and if I’m not there then who will do all these things. WHO??! The store owner? The highly capable part-time people? Well, sure, they’re certainly capable of all of these things, but I can’t shake that feeling, the one that sits in the back of my head that says (in a voice just louder than a whisper), “It’s all on fire. It’s burning to the ground. Everything is ruined, because you are not there.”

…I’m sorry, what was I talking about? Oh right. Greg Rucka. And vacations. Like I was saying before the crazy parade, I can’t imagine what vacation time fora professional writer would feel like. Granted, in his blog post regarding this information, he says it means he is merely writing less, rather than not writing at all, which feels about right. As an aspiring writer, I know that there are times when a person is helpless against the never ending flow of words that cascade through your head, and there are definitely moments when something needs to be forced out, lest you be washed away with the tide. (I made that metaphor work, right? Who is the Tim Gunn of writing? I have need of him.) Anyway, today was one of those moments for Greg, as he took to the internet to take everyone to fun school.

In the post, he details his thoughts on the newest Captain America movie – mainly, how much fun it was. He goes on to talk about how a lot of media has made the mistake of equating “gritty” with “realistic”, and how “fun” seems to be taking the rap for some genuinely terrible movies. And he’s absolutely right. There seems to be this idea going around that if something is fun, it’s an invalid expression of art. It’s not a new idea – just take a look at the Oscars, and you can see just how deep that idea goes. How many comedy movies are in the running for awards each year. How about genre movies? The ratio of serious, dramatic representations of life in comparison to the medium’s more fun counter parts has always been disproportionate. Does this mean that comedy and genre movies are bad? Of course not. But it’s almost implied.

There’s nothing wrong with having fun – and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying things. Hell, this entire site has been built on a solid foundation of liking things. On any given day, that takes us to some strange places. We can be talking about how incredible an issue of Criminal was – how depressing and hard-won and immaculate it was… and then we’ll roll right over into an article about how iCarly is actually a pretty fantastic show. (No seriously, you guys really have to stop laughing at me.) And honestly? Life just feels better when you can sluff off the pretension and just enjoy stuff.

Anyway, you should do yourself a favour and read all of Greg’s post. He brings up quite a few good points about gritty story telling, and about the concept of “a time and a place”. Oh, and he also drops in an amusing anecdote about the time he asked Geoff Johns about all the decapitations he puts into his comics, which is worth it in and of itself. When you’re done, come back here and tell us about something you liked recently. Really, it can be anything. We won’t bite. Honest.

 

The Blue and Gold #001: Welcome to Riverdale

Every time I open up an Archie Comic, I can hear the telltale pop of a needle hitting vinyl. More often than not, it’s just the sound and nothing more: the airy silence before music emerges from the crackles. If the story I’m reading has that certain swinging aesthetic, sometimes non-existant wayback era music starts to play. It’s an involuntary reaction, one borne out of a nostalgia that I don’t quite have – longing for a simpler time that I was never a part of, with music I’ve never really heard, in a country that is literally foreign to me. If it were actual nostalgia, I would more accurately hear the click of a cassette tape being pushed inside a tape deck, followed by the smooth stylings of the Mini-Pops or Charlotte Diamond. I’d be a pizza. And yet.

There’s an intangible magic about Archie Comics. At a certain point during the human life span, that magic can be missed. Somewhere during the time when you want to be taken more seriously, where you believe that being treated like an adult would be the best thing in the world. The magic doesn’t seem to return until you actually start being treated like an adult, and have to deal with the complexities of life. Once you reach that place, you can look back at what Riverdale was like – what it’s still like, and you can find comfort in its comparative simplicity. It’s a place that has its troubles, sure, but troubles that can be solved with basic human kindness – the kind that doesn’t always solve the real world’s troubles. Riverdale is its own picturesque, Aaron Sorkin landscape, where the best human qualities are valued, where evil always finds a measure of comeuppance, and where the good path is always taken, despite there being easier, simpler options in place. At the end of the day, despite their many flaws, our heroes remain inherently good, and by gum, while we all know it Riverdale doesn’t exist, when we’re young and when we’re old, we know that we would absolutely love to live there.

Oh man.

01. WELCOME TO RIVERDALE

And welcome to The Blue and Gold, our slightly irregular Archie Comics column. Named after the prestigious Riverdale High newspaper, this column will be your source for all of my thoughts on Archie. Because let’s face it. There was a large gaping hole in your heart the exact size and shape of my ego, and you need that to be filled with my thoughts on Archie’s eyebrows. (Which, for the record, are OUT OF CONTROL.)

02. REFUGE

Riverdale. Within a modern context, it seems a little antiquated, an oasis in the the USA that seems untouched by all of the darkness that abounds. But if we’re being honest, darkness has always been lurking. Heck, Archie and Riverdale came into existence in 1941 as a distraction from all of the terrible things that were happening. The town and its residents were never an accurate representation of life, they merely existed to provide a nation with a bit of mirth and a place to run to when things were feeling a bit dire.

Riverdale has been, and always will be a place of refuge from reality, masking itself with harmless simplicity in order to throw the enemy off its scent. Its endurance comes down to the fact that we all crave some peace and quiet. We yearn for the kind of life you can have in Riverdale – one that’s not so much blissfully unaware of the darkness, but rather a life that doesn’t recognize darkness as an option. Darkness is absolutely incapable at getting a foothold within the town limits, because the people there will not stand for it. And really, could you just imagine a place like that? Where you wouldn’t have to worry about your job, or your personal life, because any kind of creeping darkness would be confronted by everyone – not because it would benefit them, but because it would be the right thing to do. A place like that would be wonderful, don’t you think?

03. FOUR COLOUR FANTASIES

While at first blush they seem like completely separate entities, Archie Comics and superhero comics have a lot in common. The genres are often completely different (although both have been known to run the gamut, in terms of genres), but the core ideas are exactly the same. In a Batman comic, Batman might be punching a dude in the face and in an Archie Comic, Archie might be… I don’t know, recycling, but when you boil down the concepts they all come down to one idea: being good is better than being bad.

It’s an idea that runs in direct contradiction to reality. For whatever reason, the human race has gotten to a point where rewards are often handed out to the worst among us. People caught doing highly illegal things are often paraded around television, where they rake in dollars for just… being terrible people. But in comic books, the opposite is true. In comics, Batman will always win. In comics, Archie will always save his day. Both will use a set of morals to achieve their goals, and both, in their own ways, are incorruptible. They are better than we are, and we aspire to be just a fraction of what they are – which is exactly why they are both still around today.

04. A WRAP UP, OF SORTS

Every time I open up an Archie Comic, I can hear the telltale pop of a needle hitting vinyl – the soundtrack of simplicity being mistaken for nostalgia.

As I turn the pages, I can feel myself smiling. I know that this place doesn’t exist. I know that these people couldn’t possibly be this good in real life. But… wouldn’t that be the best?

Oh man, that would be the best.