Books, Comics, Music

Fascination Vacation

"The Yearling", Donald Lipski. On the grounds of the Denver Public Library, here looking toward the Denver Art Museum. Hands down my favorite public art in the city. It captures the transporting magic of reading and fantasy.
“The Yearling”, Donald Lipski. On the grounds of the Denver Public Library, here looking toward the Denver Art Museum. Hands down my favorite public art in the city. It captures the transporting magic of reading and fantasy.

Both my daily news cycle and my own personal bathroom are leaking a disgusting slime. While waiting for the plumber, escape is imperative, so I’m moving to my go-to in pleasant subjects- reading.

I finished Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub. It collects his Believer Magazine columns, in which he lists what books he’s bought and what of those he’s read. I’ve mentioned that I like writing about books as a way of procesing what I’ve just read. Here, Hornby humorously processes the very act of choosing what to read. I doubt I’ll ever read most of the things he mentions, but I’m including a short list of prospects culled from his blurbs below, along with my reason for choosing them.

Here’s the thing about the reading list I began to append to the blog: it’s meant to document a thought process. I used to diarize about my thought process in the studio, but I rarely have time for that this year, so I’m diarizing about time spent on the couch.

I read mainly in the mornings, with coffee; or in the evenings with a glass of wine, times that for various reasons, I’m now constitutionally unable to convert into quality studio time.  Yet my best art ideas often come when I’m reading, and the verbal component of an idea- title, story metaphor, often come before I ever enter the studio. One can easily see why well-limned graphic novels hold such a high place in my reading life.

I’ve often thought of reading as part of my creative process, and Hornby’s funny memoir is unexpectedly profound in its implicit treatment of reading as a creative process in itself. Reading really is about wishing- to be somewhere, or even someone, else. That really is possible, if only fleetingly in moments snatched from societal and infrastructural invasions.

“You have to admit that when… books this good get read […] I’m the one who has to be given most of the credit,” Hornby declares in one of this book’s many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a good summary of why reading is in itself a creative act- one wishes  a story into being by encountering the book, then completes it by reading it. Later, we fumble to describe our uniquely epiphanic experience of that story to blank-eyed friends. Well, I do. Hornby, not so much.

His column is built around two lists, “Books I Bought This Month,” and “Books I’ve Read This Month”, which tread the mysterious line between the creative wish- and its fulfillment. I’ve kept my own private list in a journal for a few years now. It grew partially out of my quarterly stints working in a college bookstore and unpacking interesting texts (the actual books, that is, not the ideas within- that’s what this blog is for.) The list was mostly for illuminating my thought process for that particular time.

My wish list evolved from discovering titles of interest to me while stacking the shelves in the college bookstore with the various books ordered for the English, History, Sociology, International Studies &etc courses offered each quarter. Later I just type title and author into the search box on the library web site. These titles along with the ones I find simply browsing, suggest other titles. I think I can trace separate ( but sometimes unexpectedly intersecting ) lines of exploration in areas such as early comics history, women in comics, feminist thought, and feminists in comics. One wishes to fill in gaps, then winds up in another thread altogether. Hornby communicates a lively and not at all didactic delight in this process, and it’s inspired me. 

Wish List: First the ones culled from Hornby, then some of my own ongoing obsessions, then what I’m actually reading now. 

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell: A very original word smith from McSweeney’s, here writing about the Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley assassinations, or at least her research into them- too weird not to be interested in.

Austerity Britain, David Kynaston: In post war Britain, they never recovered their global preeminence, and their empire quickly dissipated, but soon to come were the Fab Four, Swinging London, and the World Cup. I have to know why.

Game Change, Heilman, Halperin: Obama, Palin and the Clintons, ‘nuff said, really.

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, Will Hermes: In 1973, When the Brit Invasion was petering out, and American radio was turning to insipid pop such as Doobie Brothers and Carpenters; NYC downtowners such as the Ramones, NY Dolls, Patti Smith and Phillip Glass were saving American music, even as Hip Hop was just beginning and Jazz and Salsa were enjoying a renaissance. A no brainer, I think, but note to self: don’t order it until the iTunes budget is robust.

Comics and feminist thought- can’t get enough right now.

Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics 1941-48, Noah Berlatsky: I’ve been reading a lot on WW, and writers have been writing a lot. Many, including her own publisher, would like to ignore this strange, and yes, wondrous part of our cultural history, but it’s far too compelling, for very complex reasons. I’m certain I’ll post more about this when I get a copy. 

Against Love: A Polemic, Laura Kipnis:  I read and summarized her earlier book Bound and Gagged on porn and censoring fantasy. There are many intelligent feminists writing from all different angles of the women’s rights debate right now, and she’s definitely a unique voice.

What I’m actually reading right now:

The Middle Ages, John Gillingham and Peter Earle: I read a book about Shakespeare’s England, and this led to a history of the fall of the Tudors, the Puritan wars, and the beginning of the Stuarts. So I guess I just wanted to know what came before. For a nation stereotyped as fuddy-duddies and twits, England has a quite lurid history. Edited by Antonia Fraser, who wrote a book about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, inspiration for Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, as well as all those proliferating Guy Fawkes masks seen in Anonymous tweets. Another massive reading thread, coalescing like summer thunderheads.

The Better of McSweeney’s Volume 1: Found in the $2 pile at the library book sale. Lots of great stories in here, of course. This book covers the first ten issues; I only began to follow it with #’s 6 and 8. McSwy’s does publish non-fiction, however, so I give special mention to William T. Vollman’s jarring “Three Meditations on Death”, and Sean Wilsey’s somewhat deadpan rumination on Donald Judd’s West Texas legacy “The Republic of Marfa”, which continues in #6, “Marfa, Revisited”

The Ganzfeld, No.3: Continuing my browsing in this very odd yet compelling journal of comics, graphics, and other stuff the editors thought interesting. Comics by cutting edge cartoonists Blexbolex, Marc Bell and Jonathon Rosen, and a close reading of a Bruegel painting, “Peasant Dance” described by its author, Lawrence Wechsler as a “prolegemena”. Hmm. “Prolegomena”, presumably. Curiously, it’s the second time I’ve run across the word in my current couch binge. Yes, I should get out more, though I don’t think an intervention is necessary at this time.

However, if you have opinions or recommendations on any books, please comment.

Books, Comics, Music

Of Hacks and Boobs

I promised a quick finish to my last books and pop culture post with an installment about current comics. I also promised shorter posts. One out of two ain’t bad.

Comics: There has been very little need to marginalize comics over the years;  they’ve done a great job of doing that for themselves. This has been their curse, and part of their appeal.

They started in the margins, a new medium in a new medium, newspapers; their appeal was to new Americans, immigrants. Nonetheless, they grew wildly popular. I won’t wonder here what happened to the newspaper strips, their own self-marginalization and hence vanishing relevance is a whole ‘nother tale. This is about their even more marginalized cousin the comic book, which was also once wildly popular, but never respected, least of all by the greedy publishers making money from them.

When the censorship hysteria of the xenophobic 50’s hit, the publishers self-imposed a drastic self-censorship regime, the Comics Code Authority, which had the effect of institutionalizing the infantilism of this once very creative medium. This is because the rich hacks who published them had always seen them as hack work anyway, paying accordingly.

Later, the rise of the underground inspired the Direct Market, which liberated comics from the Code, but also spawned the fan boy culture of over-muscled and over-boobed heroes and heroines in over-wrought alternate universes sold in dingy, pimply fan-boy warrens, thus substituting a different kind of self-marginalization. The big publishers, and many of the new, small ones went along, hackishly, for the ride. It was here, just out of college and new to the city, in these direct market ratholes, that I parted ways with mainstream comics, and here that I discovered the world of alternate comics, an outgrowth of punk/new wave fanzine culture and its DIY ethic. These artists, e.g. Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Dan Clowes ) Ghost World), Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) eventually made their way out of the dingy holes and into the pages of The New Yorker, etc, and spiffy, Euro-style hardback albums sold in independent bookstores- and I followed.

So I stopped going to the comic store. A residual effect of the hack era(s) is that comics don’t often get the respect that mainstream books get, making it harder to fight censorship when it comes, as it often has. Alison Bechdel, another alternative auteur who was recently awarded a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant has been subject to censorship herself.

“Graphic novels and cartoons have been catching more and more of the spotlight in recent years, with serious, realistic comic books such as Bechdel’s memoirs, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets helping push the form further into the literary mainstream. Not all attention is positive, however; the American Library Association has made graphic novels the theme of 2014’s Banned Books Week (Sept. 21-27), because “despite their literary merit and popularity as a format, they are often subject to censorship.”

I spoke about my curiousity prompting my return to a comic shop in this post. I hadn’t left comics, they’d left me. But I grew curious as to whether the new light shining on the medium as content provider to Disney and Time-Warner, now the owners of Marvel and DC, the largest publishers and holdovers from the censorship era had had any affect on the offerings, so I returned. As you can see in the original post, I was more than a little dissappointed. But I hadn’t had time or budget to do a comprehensive survey, and things have been changing since that post, anyway. So a year later, here’s an update. As a preface, most of the real exciting stuff happening in comics ( and there is suddenly quite a bit) is happening in creator-owned titles, put out by medium-sized publishers such as Image and Dark Horse. The big houses’ main “franchises” such as Spiderman, Superman and Avengers remain work for hire, with creative stricture imposed not only by history, but by the movie productions, which are now driving the bus, or in superhero cinema terms, the runaway train, creatively. It is in the secondary characters, that Marvel Now, especially, is allowing quite a bit of innovation.

Enough introduction, though. I’ve already violated my ‘shorter post’ dictum. Here are some titles I’ve tried:

Wonder Woman, DC. I spoke positively of this title’s potential last time, but that has changed. She is to be relaunched (comics jargon for a creative reconfiguration that follows declining sales) as a boob-a-licious super babe. Still, there’s hope. Her history is very unique (After all, this is the character that graced the first issue of Ms Magazine). And the movie version cast Gal Gadot, who immediately drew fan-boy criticism for failing to “fill the bustier” of their dingy dreams, so it’s clear that DC, like every other cultural player except the Tea Bagger rape caucus, understands that they’ve got a feminist issue on their hands. So stay tuned.

As for the former iteration of WW, it sort of fizzled. Being based on the Greek mythos, it kind of needed a little sexual tension to go along with the hyper violence. But this wasn’t possible as the editors in another narrative universe had hooked her up as Superman’s GF, so it really wouldn’t do to have her canoodling with a bunch of Greek gods, would it?

Hawkeye, Marvel Now. A rare treat. A long time secondary character that got a second wind from the Avengers movie. Now in the hands of Matt Fraction, responsible for the very lively writing on a number of these titles I’ve noted here. The art is loose and gestural in the way of comics’ early days, via the alternative renaissance of the 80’s. Hawkeye, a chastened, pizza- eating, beer drinking bro, on his days off from the Avengers, trying to save his Brooklyn tenement and neighbors from a bumbling, violent gang of Eastern Euro track-suit wearing thugs.

I bought the collection of the first few issues. It features a very instructive contrast with an earlier, boob-a-licious, bustier-wearing other version of Hawkeye ( who returns in the current series) to show you how quickly things are changing in fan-boy land.

Secret Avengers. This the Marvel Comics’ answer to ABC’s Agents of SHIELD series, with a few of the same characters. It aspires to the series’ same action/humor, slow/fast plotting and characterization dynamic. But it is more successful at it than the perpetually meandering ( though fun) series, because (and if I actually have a theme hiding in this bloated mess, THIS IS IT) it’s a comic! And comics can do that. The stunted terrorist android who joins the good guys, either for his own nefarious ends or because he realizes he’s become a parody of his own evil. The ‘smart bomb’ that has fallen in love with one of the heroes and become depressed and has to be talked out of committing suicide. An escaped weaponized lab rat with a hypodermic syringe full of poison strapped to its back. The crazed poet who does for post modern dialectics what Hitler did for Wagnerian Romanticism. This is comics gold, and it cannot possibly continue, though the heroines are really, quite boob-a-licious, in a loose, gestural sort of way. Expect a relaunch.

Pretty Deadly, Image. Not EXACTLY coincidental with comics’ high-heeled and boob-a-licious female character failures is their lack of female writers and artists. Creator-owned comics may be a solution there, as Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios have created something in this spaghetti western/ folktale/ pulp fiction bloodbath/ magic realist feminist revenge story that could never be made into a movie- though it ought to be- because it embodies an essential otherness about the comics medium itself.

Spiderman and Batman have become iconic characters, so can thus be tailored to the mass market, but no movie will ever capture the pen-scratched angst of Ditko’s original Spidey, or the noir Freudianism of a 50’s Batman comic. Steranko’s sci-fi pop art mannerism on 70‘s Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, and Mike Mignola’s dry, cubist schematics on Hellboy escape Joss Whedon and Benicio Del Toro, respectively, because comics, the marriage of word and line, exist  as a hybrid medium-  real time, but not. We compose the story- narrative, metaphor and even exegesis as we read. It is, unlike movies, not a passive medium. One becomes the director in a sense, if not the auteur, and in this instance, as in all the best comics, a perfect blend of authorial obsession and detailed craft has been achieved. Think The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but in Rios’ well textured high plains vistas and swirling kinetic pen strokes plus Jordy Bellaire’s subversive pinks, ochres and tortured, crepuscular blues, but with a sword-wielding anti-hero aptly named Ginny Skullface, a river of blood, and a half-headless jack rabbit as narrator. Like many of these creator-driven titles I’ve mentioned, deadlines are sometimes hit and miss. a first collection is out, but new episodes haven’t appeared yet. Fingers crossed.

Also: The Massive, which I spoke of in the previous post, but stopped buying single issues. The story remains strong, but with comics’ marketing in a very transitional state, I’ve decided to wait for the TPB collection, rather than what the wags are now calling “floppies”. This is a calculation every fan must make now: read it now, or wait for a more durable, bookshelf version. I’m also intrigued by a few other Image titles, Trees, Zero, and Supreme Blue Rose. I’ll return to those next time.


Books, Comics, Music Pynchon Soccer Uncategorized Workshops

Read Flag!

I found this image on Tumblr. I recognize the contradiction of a visual artist using someone else's image without proper credit. If anyone has a source, or needs it taken down, please contact me.
I found this image on Tumblr. It’s very cool! I recognize the contradiction of a visual artist using someone else’s image without proper credit. If anyone has a source, or needs it taken down, please contact me.

It’s Banned Books Week. 

Though it’s been a busy Summer, I’ve gotten quite a bit of reading in. Evenings and mornings have mostly been spent catching up on my reading on the back porch, thankfully relatively cool this summer.

Here is what I’ve been reading. Rather than compile a comprehensive entry, which I’ve identified as a reason I have trouble posting regularly, I’ll make it a two-parter, leading up to an update on comics and other media.  Does anyone else have this problem? I’m hoping that splitting up the posts will lead to more (and more fluid) posts. I’m also updating the page on Monotype Workshops with new info on the free Denver Public Library/ Art Students League drop-in workshops I’m leading. Come down and try a monotype!

First, some books:

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon. Another “detective” story from Pynchon, actually a private Certified Fraud Investigator tale. Maxine smells a rat when a shady “Silicon Alley” corporation starts buying up failing dot coms to use as shell companies. Set in NYC in the 9/11 era, so you know all the expected Pynchonian paranoia is here. But unlike his last door-stop novel Against The Day, or his surf-hippie noir, Inherent Vice, the plot is one of his most straightforward, which helps with this type of genre pastiche. It’s no Gravity’s Rainbow, but it’s a fun read.

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn. Sounds geeky, and I guess it is, as there is technical data on each session given, but the commentaries are compelling reading, in the same way that the Beatles Anthology discs, and Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why are indispensable: they get you into the same studio as, and into the heads of, the Fabs at each juncture of their amazing creative journey. Matter of fact, just buy all three, and some beer or Blue Sapphire gin, and your reading/listening is all set. Thank me later.

Women, Art and Society, Whitney Chadwick. Not exactly a page turner, as this sort of thing usually needs to cater to the freshman text trade, and pay respects to the academic/feminist/cultural studies tenure track convo as well, but relatively free of post-modernist jargon. As such, it’s a tidy little overview of some of the issues and societal shifts that have kept all but the least well-behaved (and most talented) women out of the history books. Also: not likely to, nor intended to, make you proud to carry a Y chromosome.

Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. Been meaning to read this forever, so rather than sit and day-drink between WC games one day, I walked down to the Tattered Cover and finally picked it up. Short, essay-sized chapters on topics that footy fans expound on with great certainty, that these guys (one a football scribe, the other an economist) put to the test. Which side to go during PKs. Why soccer teams don’t, and shouldn’t make money. Do coaches make a difference? Buy this,The Ball is Round, some beer or gin, and the MLSLive package, and watch soccer become a favorite American sport. Thank me later.

A whole big stack of Atlantic magazines that I didn’t have time for in the winter/spring, but which I refuse to recycle till I’ve read them because when the Atlantic publishes on a given topic one month, it becomes a major topic in the mainstream media and parties the next 2-3 months, every single time. Why Big Oil isn’t going away ( Technology makes it ever cheaper and easier to find and extract). Why the foodies’ anti-processed food crusade is wrong (it can easily be retooled for healthy eating for poorer Americans, unlike organic, GMO-free “natural” foods). Why the Beatles’ creative style fits the “team of rivals” mode more than the popular “two solitary geniuses” model ( John’s interjection “It couldn’t get no worse” to Paul’s “It’s Getting Better” lyrics exemplifies how they completed each other in making unique, complex pop.) You should subscribe. It’s cheaper than beer or good gin. Thank me later.

A whole big stack of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the quirky and irresistibly stylish journal of fiction, non fiction and publishing design gimmickry. I buy every 3rd or 4th one and keep them on the shelf in the bedroom, and I can pull one out when I need something to read at night. Often I’ve read barely half of a given issue anyway, but I often return to past favorites as well. Such as: ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ by Jim Shepherd, in #14, in which we meet one centurion who did not share in the glory of Rome. ‘The Stepfather’ by Chris Adrian in #18, where we encounter a family more preposterous and absurd than even our own. And ‘Fox 8’ in # 33 by George Saunders, in which we meet, then say farewell to, a creature who knows us better than we know ourselves. Each features a dark, insinuating humor that stays with you.




Books, Comics, Music Uncategorized

Cultured Pop

Shorter, darker days. There’s actually time for reading, and the cat settles in for a lap snooze as I actually watch entire movies on DVD. I get my  exercise on trips to the Library, and I’m combing through the PBS listings.

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which is as thought provoking as you’d expect, and another book, also on ways of thinking called The Black Swan by Nicolas Taleb. I bought and started Bleeding Edge, by Pynchon, which like all Pynchon requires time and space for total immersion, so it’s awaiting the first snowy weekend. There’s any number of old movies, interesting documentaries and strange sitcoms on TV, too.

Oh yeah, I’ve also rediscovered the comic store. So now seems a good time for one of my periodic Pop Culture digressions: the State of the Comics.

I haven’t made regular trips to a comic store in years. Not because I don’t like comics anymore, but because most of the artists I follow, alternative auteurs who emerged in the 80’s from the punk/underground movement that encompassed music, fashion, urban culture and art during the Reagan years, had been discovered by mainstream, upscale publishers such as The New Yorker, and have made the switch from the traditional comic book magazine format to the European-style hardbound album format. They’re now available at good indy bookstores such as Tattered Cover and on Amazon. There was no need to enter the somewhat ratty and obsessive environment of the comic shop anymore. But I got curious as to what was still there and popped in on Free Comic Book Day in May. The answer: not much. To be sure, to someone like me, there’s always something worth a browse. I have a life long obsession with comics and graphics, which may have led me into printmaking. I grew up with the infantilized, post-Wertham-censorship-crusade, spandex-clad sci fi of the 60’s DC books. I then was galvanized by the Marvel “Pop Art” era, with its tormented urban superheroes and fantastical universes in bright dot-screen colors. When Marvel degenerated into pure bombast ( where it mostly remains now), I started picking up undergrounds. That led me to Raw Magazine and its cadre of punk/intellectual/autobiographical euro-style auteurs, typified by Gary Panter and Los Bros. Hernandez. Here’s an earlier discussion of Los Bros., and the LA barrio/punk world they turned into one of the more unique graphic literary efforts ever seen.

The comic store I chose for my survey field trip was Mile High Comics a huge, warehouse/mega store that had never demonstrated much interest in the alternative comics scene, preferring to stick with the over-muscled and overdrawn spandex-clad,  pneumatically endowed bimbos and himbos of DC and Marvel’s many, densely overwrought multi-verses. Not much has changed there, though there’s been a bit of reduction in exaggerated cleavage and other visual tics of comics’ “Mannerist” age. Progress! The two giants have embarked on reboots, cleaning up their tangled back-stories while concentrating on their strongest heroes/brands in a rapidly shrinking market place. Marvel and DC villains became so addicted to bombastic evil doers delivering long monologues that Pixar made a gag of it in The Incredibles. Pages were subdivided into minute panels and choked with dialogue. They lost sight of the visual power they’d had with such artists as Kirby and Steranko as hack writers took over.

That began to change with Allen Moore and Frank Miller. But however innovative their plots ( Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns ), Moore and Miller brought a dystopian gloom and now a different sort of visual poverty afflicts comics. The Marvel/DC Universes, possibly reflecting their apocalyptic sales figures, have become very dark places. I refer not just to the panel after panel of ultra violence and carnage, but literally. The covers and interior art are steeped in stygian tonalities of blacks, dusky browns and violets, with a sanguinary red, naturally, being the brightest the palette ever gets. Zombies, the muddy, gray-green warhorses of cheap horror, are everywhere. This possibly reflects cinematic fads, as both companies are now owned by larger media conglomerates and have become feeders of Hollywood’s need for more action/horror movies. But white space, that heavenly refuge for the eye in any graphic endeavor, that airy infinity that allows an artist’s “hand” to breathe free, is so rare, that in browsing the endless racks of Bat– books and X-mags, one is almost compelled to pick it up the rare times it appears. And freshly limned pencils and inks drowned in computer color screens and apocalyptic chiaroscuro are not the only thing suffocating comics. Unreflective violence and faux-libertarian/anarchist paranoia pervades every corner. Even Wonder Woman, last I saw a fashion designer in go-go boots in swinging London, has now been returned to her Greek mythological roots and felt compelled in a recent issue to run her mentor War (the Greek God) through with a spear in order to dispose of the psychotically evil “super villain” First Born.

There is a full line of “undead” Archie comics, too. I’ll pass.

In short, it’s even harder to find a light-hearted (and still reasonably thoughtful) tale in the comic shop than it is in the multi plex. For an antidote, I recommend Tintin or John Stanley-era Little Lulu comics ( I’m serious. They’ll brighten your day, and make you laugh out loud, because they’re… “comic”). And I will return to the alternative artists, such as Los Bros., Chris Ware, Dash Shaw and Gabrielle Bell in a future post.

My budget and schedule make an exhaustive survey impossible. But here’s a brief summary of what I’ve found, the good, the potentially good and the icky:

Recommended, After Several Issues:

The Massive (Dark Horse Comics): A thus far unspecified environmental collapse has taken place. This story follows the small crew of a Greenpeace-type activists’ vessel which is searching for its much larger partner ship (the mysterious Massive) and trying to determine what their mission has become and where it might be safe to land for fuel. It’s episodic, with short story arcs concerning a school of sharks driven mad by surface noise penetrating the depths; and a rogue anarchist who has hijacked a nuclear sub. The art is open, evocative, filled with misty, oceanic light; and the characters seethe with complex motives.

FF (Marvel Comics): This spin-off of one of Marvel’s superhero mags, Fantastic Four, revives characters and the style of the title from when it was created by Jack Kirby, a comic book legend from Marvel’s seminal “Pop Art” era. Its present creator, Mike Allred, is one of the few of the 80’s alternative comics auteurs (Madman Comics) to move into big corporate comics. In this title, a replacement group of superheroes takes over for the regular group, lost in a time warp. This includes care taking a group of precocious, super-powered children being mentored by the original FF. Allred injects humor and pathos in all his titles, and while the book is still finding its stride with a rather large cast, its straightforward, attractive art and candy colors make it fun to read. One child has recently come out as transgendered, an example of the book’s edgy, yet inclusive wit. This title is often laugh-out-loud funny while still tapping into the pure fantasy of 60’s Marvel.

Growing On Me, after one or more issues:

Wonder Woman (DC Comics): WW doesn’t hurt to look at, natch. But she is realistically proportioned, at least in her own intriguing title, illustrated by the graphically savvy Cliff Chiang. She does appear in other titles in significantly more hooter-licious form (She’s also started a relationship with Superman, which brings up the question whether Supes’ fans just wanted a little, you know …more;  but I’d better not go there). What’s also intriguing about this title is the decision to return her to her original, faux-Olympian roots, minus the overtones of lesbian bondage and dominance & submission so beloved of her 1940‘s creator, the exceedingly fascinating psychologist William Moulton Marston. Again, the art is straightforward in that the artist’s “hand” is allowed to show through- avoiding the mannerist, photo-shopped sameness of other titles. The coloring by Matt Wilson is also sophisticated, airy and light when called for, returning to the crepuscular only when WW hoists her petard. “You will make an interesting God of War”, the book’s Hades-figure notes when WW, uncharacteristically in the comics universe, calls a halt to the carnage. He could be right.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC TV): This spin-off of the Avengers movie “franchise” dates to another title of Marvel’s “Pop’ era, now long gone. I couldn’t resist because I miss that comic, a real ground-breaker by legendary Jim Steranko, whose innovative, collaged, candy-colored sci-fi panels were inspired by Kirby.  I was hoping for a bit of that childhood magic. What I GOT was a fast talking, fast-paced cinematic small screen action drama by Josh Whedon’s crew, not a bad thing. A larger context needs to emerge, but it’s far more fun and exciting to watch than the usual cop show dreck on TV (I don’t have cable). And it beats the pants off DC’s offering, Arrow, which looks primitive, dour, under-budgeted and routine by comparison.

Marvel's "Pop Art" era featured garish colors, bombastic villains and Sci-Fi  gimmickry, and escaped Nazis instead of Zombies. Strange Tales #157
Marvel’s “Pop Art” era featured garish colors, bombastic villains and Sci-Fi gimmickry, and escaped Nazis instead of Zombies. Brilliant! Strange Tales #157. 

Hawkeye (Marvel): Marvel’s version of above-mentioned Green Arrow is a second-tier character, a sometime Avenger. Here, he gets a second-tier life ( like us!) and a graphically simple and appealing illustration, reminiscent of alternative artist Adrian Tomine. Ick, One’s Enough:

 Poison Ivy (DC) The Batman titles pretty much invented the “dark hero” genre back in the 70’s and started the rush to Hollywood with Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. They remain interesting, albeit gloomy. Not so this “Villains Month” spin-off, which takes the botanically-obsessed redhead and tries to explain her psychopathy ( with domestic abuse and muddy, Earth-First style ideology) while still retaining her boobalicious adolescent appeal.
Miss Fury (Dynamite Comics): Like Wonder Woman, a veteran of comics’ quirky and unrestrained Golden Age. Unlike WW, poorly drawn and awash in murky air-brushed  tones. Like Poison Ivy, this is a morally confused hero, who steals museum-quality jewels for thrills, but is then hurled into an alternative future where America is still fighting off the Nazi invasion of New York. It could have been interesting with better writing and art. She does have great tits, though.