Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I had, like most kids, enjoyed comics, but outside of a Spider-Man, Superman, Batman or Hulk, I kinda just let comics pass me by. My mom would occasionally let me pick one up here and there. I mostly remember those being Marvel Team-Ups. I had an issue where Spidey and The Beast teamed up. At the time, I had no idea who The Beast was. As far as I was concerned, he was big, blue and had claws, so he had to be the bad guy. Later, I found out who The Beast was and discovered that, much like the majority of citizens of the Marvel Universe, I was a Mutant Bigot.
In the summer of 1987, I had purchased issue number three of Justice League International. Later on in life, that run of the Justice League would have a major impact on me and my sensibilities about comics and superheroes. JLI was also probably among the last successful "fun" mainstream superhero comics ever published. Current attempts to create fun superhero books tend to fail pretty spectacularly, or are just dumbed down for "kids".
But at the time, I still was only semi-interested in comics, and had no clue how much Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire would mean to me in the future. Comics were comics and whatever. The comics elves churned 'em out for all I knew or gave a shit about. Then in October of that year, I went to a friend's house. Another kid who had been invited brought along a stack of X-Men comics. Seeing one of the covers (by Art Adams, another soon-to-be influence), I immediately wondered why Blue Beetle was getting shot. In my first ever encounter with Marvel vs. DC snark, it was quickly pointed out to me that the character in question was Cyclops, and Blue Beetle is a DC character and this was a Marvel book. Shortly thereafter, I was a complete X-Men nerd. Loved the book, loved the characters, and loved the concept. It was so different than any other comic I had ever read at the time (turns out it wasn't). Weeks later, that same kid - our friendship forged in the fires of comic geekery - lent me the original Wolverine mini-series. It was the first time I ever realized that people made these comics, and that I bothered to learn their names. It was also the first time I realized that I wanted to make comics for a living.
The thing about this book that had such an affect on 9-year old me was the complexity and maturity of the story. It was dark, it was violent and sexual, and still had a morality to it, and it blew my tiny little mind. And the art... good lord, the art. My friend and I would spend entire weekends tracing the covers and pages and panels of this slick, dark, beautiful art. Chris Claremont had crafted a story to rival any action/crime movie I had ever seen and Frank Miller became a fucking god to me. There is no other comic I own that I have read as many times as this book. This was the greatest comic ever made.

Then I got older and found comics better than this.

Reading Wolverine for the first time in 1988 - even though the book had been published in 1982 - I was completely unaware of the impact Miller had already had on the comic industry. By this point, he had completely revolutionized Batman with his Year One story and The Dark Knight Returns mini-series, neither of which I had discovered yet, and did not know of his work on Daredevil. When I finally did read those, I could not explain properly just how let down and disappointed I felt in seeing Miller's art in DKR compared to the work I fell in love with in Wolverine. To a very ignorant kid, it was such a drastic change in styles, I just assumed Miller suffered a stroke of some sort and couldn't draw anymore. I was heartbroken. As for Claremont, I stuck with him. I remained a loyal X-Men reader until he got booted off the book. It never seemed right to me after that, and outside of a few dips back into the stream, I never fully immersed myself back into the mutant waters until Grant Morrison wrote the book in 2001.

Claremont even made a couple returns, but he'd completely given in to his indulgences and would choke the life out of his comics with his excessive dialogue, narration and thought balloons. But to see Miller's fine, beautiful rendering in Wolverine to the gritty, sloppy mess that was Dark Knight, I just didn't understand it. That wasn't art. That's not what I had learned about art. Obviously, within a handful of years, I figured out the true meaning of "style" and learned not only to accept different ones, but also to love and embrace them as well. Miller remains an all-time favorite artist in my mind, but not for his early work, rather the later style he adopted to do Sin City and beyond. Which brings me to the distorted nostalgia portion of this clunker of a review.
For a comic that I revered for so long, by creators I'd idolized for so long, how does it hold up to 32-year old me? Turns out, not that bad actually. Certainly, the story and plot are as juvenile to me now as it was mature to me then, but it's still really solid. I think the story is as well written and tightly plotted as any great action/crime movie from the 80s, and still maintains a level of maturity that no other all-ages comic really holds today, which is essentially why I loved it so much back then. Despite how heady I thought it was back then, it is an all-ages comic that any kid could read. It maintains the illusion of being "grown-up" while being perfectly attainable and acceptable for any kid. This is the kind of children's entertainment that should be a standard and a norm, not an exception. It is never "written down" nor is it ever white-washed. Claremont and Miller knew their audience was growing older, but also knew that they needed the story to remain accessible. They crafted the perfect comic book for 1982, and with some storytelling and art tweaks, it's still an exceptionally good comic for 2011.

Claremont is at his prime, his use of dialogue, exposition and thought balloons and narration captions are all kept at the minimum he's comfortable with. He allows Miller's art to breathe and move on its own. Claremont knows he's working with one of the best sequential storytellers in the business and lets him work his magic.

However, knowing what I know now about comics and how the sausage is made, I realize that the art that I fell in love with is mostly the responsibility of Joe Rubenstein, the book's inker. Apparently the style that Miller started with DKR and refined with Sin City is how he drew comics back then as well, relying on the inkers to do the heavy lifting and "finish" the art. Rubenstein has a classic, slick style to his inks, and brought that to Miller's roughs, the same way Klaus Janson heavily influenced the look and feel of Miller's Daredevil run. Miller loves his shadows and the energy behind his art is due to his fluid and loose style. Some of that peeks through in the course of the story, but it's mostly Rubenstein giving Miller's pencil lines a polish that I don't think he's ever had since. Also, of course also knowing what I know now, Miller was most likely drunk.
Ultimately, Wolverine is not the fantastic be-all and end-all of comics that I thought it was at age 9, but at a jaded age 32, the absolute quality of the work overpowers the inherent flaws of simply being an old comic. If you've ever been a fan of the character or the X-Men and haven't read the original mini-series, it's worth the time and effort to move past the clunkiness of it's storytelling and tropes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Queensryche: Operation: mindcrime

Well, this is from 1988.  I was 13.  Even at the time I thought the music was a little cheesy & over-the-top.  But the storyline of a drug addict becoming a revolutionary that could save America from it’s government with the help of the Catholic Church seemed like if I played my cards just right it could be about me.  Even though I loved this record, I only had a dub of it on cassette & I had re-arranged the order of the tracks to make it fit on the cassette (despite the fact the songs tell a story in chronological order).  I probably haven’t even heard a song off of this record since 1990 as I started to get into speed metal & death metal at that time.  Still I have jokingly sang a parody of “I Don’t Believe in Love” on a regular basis for years, though pretty much no one ever gets the reference.
So the first thing I notice about this record is the keyboard sounds are awful.  They sound like a 1980s Yamaha & not in the ironic embracing way that some pop bands get away with.  They are just awful.  The vocal style reminds me of Iron Maiden & I don’t mean that in a good way. (Even in the 1980s I thought Iron Maiden’s artwork was way better than their music & I still think that.  Though I haven’t listened to them in 20 years now so maybe Killers is a good record?)  But I think some of the guitar arpeggio stuff on here may have sunk into my unconscious because every once in a while I hear a part of a riff that I have lifted into my own songs.  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a narrative album that wasn’t over the top & ridiculous, so I’m not sure I can fault this for that.  I just find myself wishing this was an actual rock opera with video.  I feel like I’m missing something with just the audio (I feel the same way about The Wall), but I don’t think they even made videos for most of the songs (at least I can’t find them on YouTube).
This record really does serve as a time machine for me & makes me want to go & smoke Marlboro Reds & drink beers in the woods at the park down the street & plan a revolution, but somehow I don’t think my best friend from junior high would know to show up.  Still I can’t really whole-heartedly endorse it or push it away.  I would say it’s an album worth hearing, just because the narrative element is so bizarre.  Musically it really is way over the top glam metal which is fun & funny.  I think it would be a fun album to take on tour & make the whole van listen to.  You can probably find it used for about the same price as to rent a movie & I think it is worth an hour of your life hanging around a group of folks to talk about it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

City of Lost Children

Everybody knows somebody like this or if they don’t they most likely were this person in their social circle.  You know the type,  they fancied the world beyond whichever podunk town they had been  plopped down into by a choice not of their own, either through birth, employment, romance or just sheer laziness.  You’ll see them at art house cinemas, learning foreign languages so that they may drop a phrase or a word in to conversations with other native English speakers, raving over their latest ethnic food experience, all the while looking down their noses upon the mundane things that surrounded them.  Their eyes always peering across the Atlantic.  One thing these people all have in common, especially is  that they all proclaim their love for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “City of Lost Children”.  

Thanks to the American Convenience of OnDemand,  I was able to check this movie out over this weekend and with the added insight of a few years of life experiences and growth between viewings and without shelling out my hardly earned cash.  Verdict:  File this under the what was I thinking category,  like that bad hair metal band you listened to in Junior High,  the silly haircut you had in the 90’s or smoking cloves in dark dank nightclubs during your local GothDisco nights.  “City of Lost Children” just doesn’t stand the test of time…. at all and while I didn't love it back in the nineties I did think this movie was a well crafted piece of art.   Yes, the visuals are spectacular, the set design, color schemes, wardrobe and cinematography are all breathtaking and it’s one thing that Jeunet excels at in all of his films, even that Aliens one.  Unfortunately, that’s where the pros end and the bountiful cons begin.  All of the characters are either norms struggling in this dark depressing world they find themselves in or the supporting cast of weirdos both are one dimensional, their weirdness portrayed only through physical characteristics and wardrobe, and both the weirdos and the norms dispositions have no effect whatsoever  on the souls and essence of the characters being portrayed here.  In fact, the most dynamic and best acted character in this movie is a brain that sits in a tank filled with greenish water.  That said, the acting in this film is the equivalent to a high school production of “Hello Dolly” and the action sequences are no better.  They come across as if we were watching the rehearsal of an action sequence and therefore  mostly dull and uninspired.  With so much working against this film that means the story and plot needs to be very compelling and it is here that the movie fails once again.
To quote Wikipedia: “The movie revolves around a plot by the mad scientist Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who kidnaps children to steal their dreams. Among them is the little brother of carnival strongman One (Ron Perlman), who sets out to rescue him with the help of a young, orphaned, thieves' guild member named Miette (Judith Vittet).

There’s a 1985 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano called “Commando”  with a similar yet more complex plotline and the acting is equally convincing.  Yet somehow the artsy and pseudo-intellectual kids never took to it like they did “City of Lost Children”.  During my latest viewing I was in danger of dozing off at several points and I blame this mostly on the fact that this movie had nothing to grab a hold of.  The character struggles or even the character themselves were flat, uninspiring and mostly uninteresting. They never seem to care too much about what they’re actually doing and even the little brother who needed rescuing never ceased just being a cute kid on screen and therefore never was there ever a sense that he was in any sort of danger and in need of being rescued, just a cute kid oblivious to the world around him someone to gawk at and say "awwww" to.   This film was just a visual masterpiece, but its kind of  how when a woman will overcompensate for their low self-esteem or their lack of personality by wearing clothes that leave their breasts flopping out on display to distract you,  that is basically what City of Lost Children Is doing, flaunting its visuals due to lack of substance and/or smarts.

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