Here are my quick thoughts on the last ten comics in the 2015 SXSW Comixology Submit bundle. If you missed what I wrote about the first twenty, that’s here. And at the end, I’ll sum up the (not so) epic battle between this year’s bundle and last year’s.
Comixology did another Submit bundle for this year’s SXSW, but it was a slightly more manageable 30 comics instead of the insane number from last year. I read through 100 and gave my quick impressions, so I thought I could manage 30 this year. Although it seems like it’s taken longer than it did last year anyway.
I decided it would be fun to give them letter grades this year, too. A couple I rated as “Pass” simply because I didn’t feel like I should rate them poorly just because they didn’t appeal to me. (more…)[Top]
I knew that I would never finish reading these unless I had some accountability, and this blog has served that function. It only took about five weeks to finish the last fifth, and I was dragging my feet quite a bit. (In my defense, I did take a comic book break to read Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four which is so awesome go read it now.)
Somehow I missed listing two I read in the first batch, so after combing through the bundle three times I figured out my mistake, and so I start out with them this time. In case you were wondering what happened to the near alphabetical order….[Top]
This is part 4 of my read-through of the 100 comics in the SXSW Comixology Submit bundle. One more to go after this, although it will probably be another couple of weeks before I can finish it up. Then I hope to do a wrap-up to sum up my thoughts, what I’ve learned, highlight the stand-out comics, and come up with a moral of the story to make us all better people.
But that’s in the future. Now, there are 20 more comics. (more…)[Top]
Let’s get to it… (more…)[Top]
This is the second part of my attempt to read through the 100 comics in the SXSW Submit bundle from Comixology. The first part is here.
I do have a new appreciation for editors. In college, I helped edit the arts magazine, so I’m somewhat familiar with what puts the slush in slush pile. (There was a lot of crap.) But in this bundle, there are quite a few technically competent comics that I simply do not like for one reason or another. So I empathize with the editor who gets good stories that do not match the tone of her magazine or fit his particular tastes. It still doesn’t mean I’m any more happy about the rejection when it happens to me.
21 more comics, below the cut… (more…)[Top]
Comixology did a promotion for SXSW in which they bundled 100 of the comics produced for their self-publishing Submit program for $10. Helluva deal, if you’re not picky. And since I’ve been waving my flag for self-publishing, I thought I should support it. Usually, when I pick up something like this, it sits unread on a shelf or in a computer till I forget about it. But this time, I’m going to make a note of reading each of these comics to spur me on to actually sample the sampler, rather than just hoarding content.
I don’t promise to read them all cover-to-cover, but I will at least read the first few pages and glance through more. I also don’t promise to comment on all of them or give in-depth reviews. Mostly just a line or two, and I’ll mention titles with no comment if I have nothing nice to say.
Onwards to the 100 comics, after the break…[Top]
This past Wednesday, I went into a comics shop and bought new comics off the shelf for the first time in two and a half years. The pain I felt when I forked over $17 for four comics reminded me why.
The 2008 financial cock-up made a mess of things for many people, and my wife and I were no exception. I had to make some tough decisions. Cutting out new comics was a no-brainer. And it was painless. My interest in superheroes had waned over the interminable DC re-invention through multiple Crises, and no other “alternative” comics had caught my attention at the time.
I continued to buy trade paperback collections on occasion, at Dragon*Con or used from comics shops or with trade credit at McKay’s. When I got a tablet several months ago, I experimented a bit with e-comics. But as has happened several times in the past, my enthusiasm for comics has waned for the last few years. I can’t say that I’m regaining that enthusiasm, but I have read several good comics lately.
The first four Before Watchmen issues do not fall into that category.
While reading them, I wondered if I was being too harsh on them since these are only the first issues of 4-6 issue series. Any judgment of them is like judging the first chapter of a book. I don’t know what brilliant thematic resonance may be waiting for me in the entire arc.
To be “fair”, I went back and re-read the first issue of Watchmen. It would be more fair if I could somehow blank my foreknowledge of the rest of the series from my head, but the technology doesn’t exist. And no thanks.
In the first page, we have Rorshach’s brilliantly deranged journal (which sounds disturbingly like right wing radio jocks of the Naughties). The first three panels have writing that is so captivating that it was used for the movie trailers: “…all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!” …and I’ll look down and whisper “No.””
Minutemen, the title chosen to launch Before Watchmen, begins with an excerpt from the Epilogue of Hollis Mason’s Under the Hood, and then lampshades how bad the writing is by having him say to his dog, “This is terrible. I’ll just have to face facts, girl. I’m no Tolstoy. Going for a deep, philosophical ending isn’t going to work. I guess we’ll just have to stick to being ourselves, huh? What say we start unpacking some of our stuff?” Project much, Darwyn Cooke? *
Silk Spectre gets off to a slightly better start, and if the Watchmen label weren’t on the front, I’d probably be generous. But the snow globe on the first page–how does the husband/king get pulled out of the castle before Laurie drops it? Again, the writing is pretty bland, including such gems as the generic platitude that “Kids are smarter than we think.” This is not tight scripting. It’s all very loose. I may sound like a broken record since I’m going to keep repeating this, but: This level of writing could be forgiven in most any other comic (even one with a $3.99 cover price), but these creators had the ginormous balls to put fucking “Watchmen” on the cover of their crap.
Silk Spectre does have one of the best lines of these four books in its first three pages: the original Silk Spectre says to her daughter: “Oh Sweetie, you’re too young to hate. Wait until you’re older and the world gives you a good reason. Trust me, it won’t let you down.”
Comedian opens with Edward Blake sitting on a bedside listening to “The Wanderer” on the radio, then cuts to him playing football with the Kennedy’s. Not comparable to him being throw out a window, but the slow open is a valid choice, too. Eddie’s reference to “taking out the President” seems like it could be foreshadowing, but it turns out to be a dialogue red herring.
Eddie being best buds with the Kennedy’s seems a bit out of character for the hard-ass that we’re familiar with from the original series. But he does break down over the death of JFK at the end of the book (a tough guy break down–takes a swig of whiskey and squeezes the shoulder of another guy), so perhaps the thematic implication is that the Comedian was turned into a monster when the dream of Camelot died. If so, it’s pretty sloppy–after all, he kills Marilyn Monroe for Jackie-O and from the original, we know that he raped Sally Jupiter when he was in the Minutemen.
Nite Owl probably has the best opening. Kind of cliched dialogue from the father about Dan Dreiberg dreaming too much and not having a job, but when Danny opens his bedroom and we have a long shot of the room with his Nite Owl memorabilia, it’s a very Watchmen framing device.
Ultimately, that’s what’s missing from Before Watchmen: a connection to the original series. When I was wondering a couple of months ago whether this series should even exist, I suggested that a new Watchmen should be audacious rather than reverential. I couldn’t have imagined that we would get one that was neither. The art, the panel layouts are very typical for modern superhero comics, not matching the unusually geometric 9 panel framework that Watchmen established. The writing is very loose and mostly conversational, no match for the very tightly written original… so carefully written that Rorschach’s grunt is “Hurm,” a reference to the developer of the Rorschach test. (Which the character uses three times in one page of the Nite Owl book, as compared with only three times total in the first issue of Watchmen.)
I recently read the first book of Bendis’ Powers, which I enjoyed quite a bit. There are now a lot of books like it. J. Michael Straczynski, writer of Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan, has even written a couple himself, the less than stellar Rising Stars and the excellent Supreme Power (the first series of which is probably my favorite of the revisionist superhero genre after Watchmen). This isn’t like the 80’s, when very few comics had ever broached the topic of realistic superheroes in such a gritty way. Now most superhero comics attempt to inject a sense of realism into their fantasy, and many many of them have put their heroes through the grimdark wringer.
So what is Before Watchmen bringing to the table?
As best I can tell from these first four issues, nothing much. Like a man watching a car wreck, I’m morbidly curious to see what else can go wrong with these bastard children. But $17 was enough to pay for turds, no matter how well polished they were.
* I wrote this before checking what the rest of the interwebs response to Before Watchmen was. I was surprised to see that it has been mostly positive. This interview with Darwyn Cooke makes me a little more forgiving of his self-deprecating Minutemen opening. Though I doubt I will put myself through the expense or emotional turmoil of reading the rest of the series, I will keep an eye on the reviews.[Top]
Apparently, Joe Straczynski is upset.
The so-called blogosphere, comics section, has been calling out JMS on something he said on a panel at C2E2. From his FB post, he said, quote, “Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Siegal and Shuster. Worse was a lot of people.” He goes on in his FB post to describe comments by Eric Stephenson, one of the heads of Image Comics, to the effect that JMS is saying that creative types should just accept that the world isn’t fair and should just accept it.
And JMS refutes that at some length, saying that what he meant was that all writers, artists, etc, have to work their way up through the business, starting out with crappy contracts (“get screwed”) and working their way up to better contracts as their clout grows (and as they prove they are better artists).
I haven’t read any of the internet kerfuffle that started this, I’ve only read JMS’ post on Facebook, so I don’t really know what anybody else is saying. With that caveat, I still think this brings up some interesting issues around Alan Moore and Watchmen.
First, going solely on JMS’ quote of himself, it didn’t sound like he was saying what he now claims he was saying. What it sounds like he is saying is, Alan Moore is a whiny baby. Frankly, it sounds like that even more now that he’s clarified his comment. He doesn’t deny that Moore got screwed in his Watchmen contract; he just claims that’s par for the course. The proper response for Moore would have been to use his new clout as the creator of Watchmen to get better terms for his next contract. Hell, DC even went to him several years ago and tried to give him better terms if he would agree to sequels and prequels, and he rejected the offer.
JMS seems to be saying that Moore needs to grow up and work within the system. After all, the comics’ publishing world is a lot fairer than in the days when Siegal and Shuster lost all their rights to Superman and were forced to work such jobs as janitor while DC made millions.
But wait… Siegal and Shuster got screwed, and then they never got a better contract. So if that’s what JMS meant, then his explanation doesn’t track.
I think it’s much more likely that JMS is upset that Alan Moore not only disapproves of the Before Watchmen prequels, but calls them “completely shameless.” It’s even possible that JMS is hurt, as he considers Moore to have written one of his favorite comic stories, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” I know I would be. If I had the opportunity to write a story in the Watchmen universe and its creator said that he only “wanted this not to happen,” I’d feel pretty shitty about it, too. And it might make me angry.
And if I was being constantly asked why I would work on Before Watchmen when Alan Moore got screwed by DC in the 80s, and I myself had been screwed multiple times by Warner Brothers (ironically, the current owner of DC) over the widely-praised TV series Babylon 5? Yeah, I can see how JMS might be fed up.
Thing is, JMS and Moore have different personalities. (Shocking, I know!) JMS seems more or less like a regular guy. Sure, he’s a sci-fi geek, but he works hard and plays within the system, and when he sees something that needs to be changed, he will fight for it, again, within the system. Alan Moore, on the other hand, is a wizard and a magician. I don’t mean that figuratively, either. When he broke with DC in the late 80s, he didn’t go across town to Marvel, instead, he started his own ill-fated publishing company.
If JMS is annoyed over the Before Watchmen blowback, Moore must be seething. An archly amused seethe, perhaps. He seems to want to put Watchmen behind him. DC never gives in to his demands until years later, and by then he doesn’t care anymore. He apparently left Swamp Thing not only over contracts, but also over the Mature Readers label. Money doesn’t seem to be much of a motivator for Moore; in fact, just the opposite–he’s refused money for any of the recent movie adaptations of his work. I think he wants respect on his own terms, and I think he hates corporate motives (for good or ill).
It comes as no surprise to me that JMS welcomes the chance to play in the Watchmen sandbox and that Moore proclaims a pox on all their houses. JMS is a craftsman and Moore is an artiste.
Funnily enough, I love them both. Watchmen is my favorite comic and Babylon 5 my favorite TV show.
And lastly, should Before Watchmen even exist?
Sure, why not? A large chunk of Alan Moore’s oeuvre is a mash-up of his prior influences. Lost Girls and A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are re-imaginings of their Victorian source material. (And if there is ever a movie that Moore should be angry about…) Watchmen itself is at heart a realist examination of typical super-hero myth. So, absolutely, other creators should take a shot at Watchmen.
But will it be good?
Only time will tell, but the first reports aren’t promising. Unfortunately, the writers and artists seem to be sticking somewhat slavishly to the source material. What’s likely to come from a fannish “expansion” of Watchmen is lukewarm, watered-down gruel. To do it justice, a new Watchmen should almost be a re-telling. A new staging of Hamlet can shed new light on the play, but I don’t think anyone is clamoring for the details on the early reign of Hamlet’s father. I suppose what I mean is that a new piece of the Watchmen myth, if it is to be worthy of the original, needs to be audacious rather than reverential.
I don’t know who is up to that task…[Top]