dc_rebirth_charactersIt’s the first full week of DC Comics: Rebirth, and not a single Watchmen character appears in those issues, so we decided it would be a good opportunity to complain again about Watchmen characters appearing in the DC Universe.

Specifically, it was revealed this week that DC Comics didn’t contact Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons to ask him his opinion about adding Watchmen characters to Dc Universe: Rebirth. So we talk about whether that was a bush league move (protip: yeah), some of the history around DC leaving Watchmen alone, and whether DC Editorial really had any choice in asking for Gibbons or writer Alan Moore for even a half-hearted blessing in using their characters in Rebirth.

Then, since we were on a Rebirth roll, we discussed all this week’s titles from that event:

  • Superman: Rebirth #1, written by Peter Tomasi with art by Doug Mahnke,
  • Green Arrow: Rebirth #1, written by Benjamin Percy with art by Otto Schmidt,
  • Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1, written by Geoff Johns and Sam Humphries with art by Ethan Van Sciver and Ed Benes, and:
  • Batman: Rebirth #1, written by Scott Snyder and Tom King with art by Miken Janin.

And, just so Marvel doesn’t feel neglected, we close the show by talking about:

  • Civil War II #1, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez!

And, as always, the disclaimers:

  • This show contains spoilers. If you want to avoid knowing how the DC: Rebirth books end (spoiler alert: no matter what happens, it probably won’t matter next month), then consider yourself warned.
  • This show contains adult, profane language, and is therefore not safe for work. You want your mom to know what “giddy bottom” means? Get some ear buds.

Thanks for listening, suckers!

j_michael_straczynski_SDCC_20131925073596We attended several panels yesterday, and will be writing up more extensive write-ups of at least one of them later or tomorrow (Robert Kirkman’s Skybound panel in particular was interesting), but in the meantime, I wanted to put up something that was interesting, but not particularly comics newsworthy.

Every year of the eight we have attended San Diego Comic-Con, J. Michael Straczynski has hosted a Spotlight panel, where he talks about some of the stuff that he’s working on, but mostly spends his time answering any and all questions posed to him. Be they inquiries about the infamous “Spider-Man Sells His Soul To The Devil To Get Younger Poontang” story in One More Day, or the reasoning behind taking on the controversial Before Watchmen books, to whether or not he liked The Hobbit, he will answer any question… provided it isn’t posed by some naive foreigner.

And you can see this for yourself, as we took video of big chunks of Straczynski’s panel this year, and have included those videos here. But now, a disclaimer: some of these videos may or may not have minor hitches in them. I’m seeing them on my two-year-old tablet via shitty hotel WiFi, but then again, on this rotten, overloaded connection (that only cost me $14.95! For 24 whole hours! And, due to the three hours it took to upload a handful of minute-long video clips, prevented me from publishing this last night as originally intended!), Web pages chug when I try to load them in Lynx. So your mileage on a wired connection may vary. If you find them distracting, I apologize.

Either way, you can check them out (and learn his criticisms of The Bible’s literary merit) after the jump.

dr_manhattan_4_cover_2013Editor’s Note: The spoilers… the spoilers are taking me to pieces.

The final issue of Dr. Manhattan, written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Adam Hughes, extends what is arguably the greatest comic book story of all time, provides additional perspective on one of that classic story’s great mysteries, and it does it with bold storytelling choices, both in the writing and in the art, that play on one of Watchmen‘s original themes of symmetry.

Or, to put it in plainer terms: Dr. Manhattan #4 is fucking awful.

Straczynski uses the framework of Before Watchmen – a book that was partially sold to a seriously skeptical public as a prequel that would not attempt to modify or circumvent Alan Moore’s original Watchmen – to completely blow away one of the key ambiguities of Dr. Manhattan’s story from the original. Further, halfway through the issue, he switches point of view to that of Ozymandias to show his motivations at a key point leading into Watchmen, but not only are they motivations that really have no real bearing on how that story turns out, but they are presented using a visual gimmick that makes the story difficult to read for no reason beyond either Straczynski, or Hughes, or both, making the decision to say, “Lookit me! I’m dicking around with the established language of comic storytelling! Why? Because fuck you, that’s why!”

There are baseball analogies that could be applied to Dr. Manhattan. “Swinging for the fences” is one, although it’s not really accurate. I’m thinking more along the lines of “Running onto the field and mooning the pressbox,” because Straczynski and Hughes are playing around in areas where they shouldn’t really be in the first place, and they’re sure as hell not playing the game by any of the rules that anyone wants them to.

Plus, there’s one panel where Hughes all but rubs our faces in Doc’s dangling blue wang.

It’s really not that good, guys.

comedian_5_cover_2013Editor’s Note: And one last review of the comics of 2/13/2013 before the comic stores open with the new books…

I had sworn to myself that I was gonna stop reviewing Comedian by writer Brian Azzarello and artist J. G. Jones, because after just two issues I knew it wasn’t working for me, and even that damnation with faint disappointment was only possible when the book wasn’t actively pissing me off.

From the beginning, Azzarello has made Comedian a story where Watchmen continuity is optional on a good day, where consistency of character with any prior depiction of Edward Blake was problematic, and where Azzarello seemed less interested in telling a story about The Comedian than he did in telling a story about shit that happened in the 1960s where The Comedian happened to be. Sure, The Comedian was an active part of the story, but it wasn’t so much about him; imagine Mad Men if Don Draper was selling anti-Kennedy ads to Donald Segretti, or if he was running a pro-segregation focus group with James Earl Ray as a member: all of Mad Men‘s elements are there, but it ain’t really a story about a conflicted advertising executive anymore, is it?

That tendency continues in Comedian #5, which, as per this book’s norm, is less a story about The Comedian than it is a story about Vietnam and My Lai, where The Comedian just happens to be. Which, again, I’ve learned to expect from this comic book, and which is something that I didn’t think needed further reviewing. However, Azzarello added one thing to this books that boiled my blood. It’s not much – just two words – but to my mind, it put a stamp on the book stating Azzarello’s intentions toward the book, and it’s a check that the series just doesn’t cash. And while there’s a possibility that I’m wrong, and that those two words might just be a simple Easter Egg to observant readers or maybe a nod to placing Comedian into a Wold Newton-style shared universe, it blew me out of the book as effectively as would have seeing Blake throwing the meat to Trudy Campbell. Or even Pete Campbell.

minutemen_6_cover“Such sad music. The saddest thing I can imagine…

Ironically, I’d spent the last week editing my book for the sake of my old friends…I gave everyone what they wanted: a sunny remembrance. I realized that carrying all that horror inside me was a small price to pay…

The book was a smash and because it was the only real accounting of our careers, it became the truth…

…’It’ll never be like it was when it was new, but there’s still plenty of life in this old baby.'”

-Hollis Mason, Minutemen #6

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to work at DC Comics in 2013.

There you are, at one of the inarguable pinnacles of the comic book industry. You’re working for one of the Big Two, making the best page rates available in the American comics industry, working on some of the highest profile books there are. You never have to buy your own drinks at any comic convention in the civilized world, and thousands upon thousands of aspiring creators envy you your day-to-day existence… and yet it is, where the rubber hits the road, a job. You have a boss, and you call him and he or she tells you what you are going to be working on, and you have a choice: you either do it, regardless of how inane or Sisyphean your assigned task is… or you don’t, and hope that you can keep working in your little niche without being singled out and fired.

Put on top of that the particular an individual realities of DC Comics today: you work for a company that, less than 18 months ago, blew up the underpinnings of all their books in the interest of saving them, despite being only a year or so out of Blackest Night, which put more asses in DC Comics’s panels at San Diego Comic-Con than I’d ever seen before. And since that demolition, the company has busily spent its time examining every element of those new books under a microscope, reportedly making last-minute changes and nitpicks every step of the way, causing several high-profile creators to defect to Marvel. Management has mandated new directions and has then apparently fired people when the new directions are seemingly not the right new directions, with boss-favorite creators being given the assignments in the aftermath… and all of it under the daily direction of Bob Harras, the Editor In Chief who was Marvel’s Editor In Chief during the late 1990s. So you’re working under the sure and steady hand of a man committed to raising sales at any cost – and if that cost is cancelling a book, revamping any character, or demanding a crossover, character rape or supporting character murder, so be it… all while in the back of your head, you’re hearing things like, “Clooonnnneeeee Sagaaa…. Chrooooommmiummmm covvverrrrss…”

Now let’s imagine you are one of the creators assigned to the Before Watchmen project: a project that almost no one in comics fandom wanted, if they weren’t actively opposed to it. A project that, by its very existence, implied a comic publisher that was willing to actively and enthusiastically fuck over one of its (former) A-List creators in the interest of making a little money right fucking now, long term consequences be damned. And let’s say you are asked to work on one of these Before Watchmen books while employed by a company where you can see your fellow creators being fired by email, or having their books yanked to make an opening so that one of the Golden Boys can write a book starring fucking Vibe: what do you do?

Well, if you’re Darwyn Cooke, you write a final issue of Minutemen where the narrator makes a terrible mistake, writes the truth about it as best he can while allowing himself to be bullied into severely editing himself for the good of the people around him, and makes the decision to walk away from the whole mess, so that the people foolish enough to follow him can have their chance at things.

I might be – hell, I probably am – reading too much into Minutemen #6, but as a comic book? It could make one hell of a resignation letter.

nicolas_cage_supermanIt is New Year’s Day, and thanks to about fifteen glasses alternating between Milwaukee’s and Lynchburg, Tennessee’s finest products last night, it feels like my brain has been taken over and occupied by Doctor Octopus. Or at least part of Doctor Octopus. Part of Doctor Octopus after a meal of bad sushi and piss-warm Chango. And to add insult to injury, I flipped on the TV this morning to be subjected to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which, as comic book movies go, certainly is one (man, Stringer Bell and Sailor Ripley sure have let themselves go).

Chuck on top of that steaming mess that there are no new comics until tomorrow, and nothing whatsoever apparently going on in the world of comics, and what we have is a new year that, so far, is… disappointing. And with that feeling in mind, and 2012 at our backs, it seems like as good an opportunity as any to revisit the biggest disappointments in comics and geek culture that occurred in 2012.

And given that the memory is so fresh, we might as well start with (although this list is in no particular order):

EDITOR’S NOTE: All the atoms in the test chamber are screaming at once. The spoilers… the spoilers are taking me to pieces.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: Adam Hughes’s Dr. Manhattan #1 cover looks like the Good Doctor is blasting Silk Spectre right in the shitter.

Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, we can talk about the issue itself. And a big part of me expected to not like this book. Writer J. Michael’ Straczynski’s work on fellow Before Watchmen title Nite Owl has been disappointing on a good day, and an irritating retcon of various elements of Watchmen continuity as a whole, on a bad one. Further, this book lives and dies based on Manhattan’s preoccupation on quantum theory, which is something that I can’t remember the character ever obsessing over in Watchmen, but which makes sense since Wikipedia’s article on quantum mechanics shows that not only was quantum theory viable in the mid 20th century, but that even in the early 21st century I am still too stupid to understand quantum theory.

With that said, this is an engaging book that captures the ADD nature of Dr. Manhattan’s inner dialogue in a manner that Watchmen fans will find familiar, fills out some of the backstory to the character that makes some sense, and closes on an intriguing mystery that makes me want to come back to see how it plays out. At the same time, it also somewhat overplays those character traits in ways that don’t make sense for a character who can see the totality of time, instills motivations on Manhattan that have never been mentioned before, and uses the word “box” more than an 1974 porno loop.

That’s the hell of quantum mechanics – all possibilities are real, and influenced by the observer.

Considering how I felt about Brian Azzarello’s take on my favorite Watchmen character, The Comedian, I opened Rorschach #1 with my knife already out and sharpened. Considering how many plot and character liberties Azzarello has been taking with The Comedian, I opened this comic book fully expecting to see something like Rorschach battling Blofeld from SPECTRE in Munich while jockeying a rocketpack and firing his laser watch at the angry flying sharks. All while Rorschach weeps moronically while reciting Nietzsche to lolcats.

Turns out it’s not like that. Instead, Azzarello has made the connection that the Keene Act that stopped costumed adventuring in the Watchmen universe was passed in 1977, and New York City, where Rorschach was operating as a street-level crimefighter, was a terrible, terrible place in 1977. It was the New York of Taxi Driver and Son of Sam and a Times Square where a tourist could get fistfucked by a transvestite hooker instead of the retail markup at the Disney Store. It was a New York of grindhouse theaters, and Azzarello has given Rorschach a grindhouse story in which he can star. And God help me, it’s really pretty damn good.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Whatever happened to The American Dream? Spoiler alert!

So The Comedian started the Vietnam War. Must be Tuesday.

The Comedian #2 is better than the first issue, but then again, it almost had to be. Seeing writer Brian Azzarello having Eddie Blake simpering around the Kennedys and doing things that blithely and utterly flew in the face of some of Alan Moore’s existing story canon were almost more than this old school Comedian fan could bear. This issue improves on the ruins of the first, by getting The Comedian the fuck away from politicians and into the jungle of pre-Gulf of Tonkin Vietnam, allowing the character to show a little more of the savagery and moral ambiguity that we’d come to expect from the original Watchmen.

Of course, it also include’s Azzarello’s apparent burning compulsion to put The Comedian at the center of every major event in American history that has occurred since 1939.  In the first issue, it was the death of Marilyn Monroe, and here it’s the Ali-Liston fight and the literal beginning of the Vietnam War. If The Comedian hadn’t been killed in the original Watchmen, I’d be afraid that Azzarello would end issue 6 with Blake at the discovery of the Higgs Boson snarling, “You’re turning into a flake, Doc.” Actually, that’s probably a hasty argument; after that first issue, I’m not yet convinced that Azzarello won’t decide that the murder of The Comedian isn’t really Watchmen canon. But I digress.

Simply put, and without question: Silk Spectre #2 is the best issue of Before Watchmen so far.

It does everything you’d expect from a Watchmen prequel book, particularly one that isn’t endorsed by the original creators: it follows the original book’s visual, nine-panel format, it pays homage to Moore’s original writing style of having the words directly reflect the visuals in the panel, and it expands the Watchmen universe by exploring niche, side subjects that it would never occur to me to wonder about until I saw those explorations here. By mining the original work’s edges while paying tribute to its written and drawn style, it does what a prequel should do: build upon the original without superceding it. It is the first Before Watchmen book that I plainly and simply liked.