Thursday, September 01, 2011

JLA #1, Part I: MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN

Last night, I read what will be -- already is, really -- heralded as the first comic of a new era in the history of DC Comics, a "New Universe", so to speak.

I'm going to save my opinion on the story's content for a "Part II" to this post. For now, I just want to talk about the experience of how I read it.

Because yesterday was a new era for DC not only with regard to content and continuity, but with regard to the medium itself: the new era of same-day digital release.

They say that porn is always the content that's on the cutting edge of communication technology, as far back as Gutenberg. In my case, however, it's always comics that push me to the next level of tech. For example, when I bought my first television. It was because Batman the Animated Series was about to air; before that, there just wasn't sufficient reason to own a TV. Heck, years ago I lived in an adorable, cozy English basement that I loved... which I eventually moved out of, in part, because there was not enough room for the frickin' longboxes.

In this case, DC's decision to go same-day digital pushed me over the edge of getting an iPad and "going digital" with comic purchases. So yesterday, I bought myself an iPad, set up Comixology, and bought some comics, JLA #1 included.

This is not a decision a former comic bookstore chain owner makes lightly. Stores that purvey entertainment "hard-copy" (e.g., video rental stores, bookstores, comic shops, computer game centers, record stores, video arcades, news stands) are, mildly put, not doing as well as they used to. The digitization of most forms of education/entertainment is a major coup for the accessibility of information of all types... but it's brick and mortar stores that are taking the blow. While many are making ingenious attempts at adaptation and leveraging of the new tech, the handwriting is on the wall. Or, perhaps, more accurately, on the screen of the touchpad. God has numbered the days of their reign and brought it to an end; it has been found wanting; its kingdom is divided and given to the Apps and the Netflix.

Steve Jobs -- the Uni-Friend!!


There are great downsides to this change. Naturally, there is the economic effect on multiple large industries. But there is a less calculable social effect as well, since these entertainment emporia have served as the "third places" in 20th century society that are so essential to the souls of our communities. Now we are left with the cinema -- which still offers itself as an "event" and a venue for outings -- and the cafe, where we all sit around consuming expensive stimulants while enjoying our digitized entertainment.

But the fact is that my wingman CobraMisfit and I only find ourselves near an LCS once a week...on a Tuesday night, when it's closed. The fact is that I've never been a comic book collector; I'm a comic book reader, and having stacks of longboxes is (and always has been) a HUGE pain in the patootie, and more of an impediment to reading back issues than an aid.

I suspect that most people don't want to have all those comics; they just don't want to throw them away. The same is true of books in general. One of the most common sights in an urban neighbor is the Sidewalk Box o' Books. You know, the cardboard box with the word "FREE" scrawled on the front, full of old textbooks, beach novels, and self-help guides.


Okay, just looking at those titles make me want to go shower. With a strigil.

I've been carting around several crates-worth of Classics textbooks since college simply because, well, you just don't throw away The Pre-Socratics. If you do, something bad will happen to you, like your atoms will turn into fire or you'll get shot by an Eleatic arrow (which may or may not ever reach you). Thank Jupiter one of my nieces is now at college for Classics, and I can dump this crap, er-- gift her these inestimably valuable repositories of our Greco-Roman heritage.


Oh, of course the Pre-Socratics have their own Dynastic Centerpiece Model.
They did
everything first.


So I read my first digital comic last night. And I loved the experience.

It wasn't just an enjoyable experience; it was a transformative experience. The power of the art, of the artist's efforts to use illustration to tell the story hit me like a ton of bricks. As I've mentioned before, I've always been a writing-over-art kind of comic book fan. That doesn't mean I don't care about the art, I just don't think about it much.

This experience changed all that. I used what is called the "letterboxing" option, which presents the story as a panel-by-panel experience, rather than a page at a time. This brought the art CLOSE. And it is detailed. Even though I have four pages of original comic book art framed and on my living room wall, it's easy to forget that comics themselves are "shrunken"; the original art is much larger. Suddenly I was seeing the art as the artist actually created it. And it was engrossing; it felt much more 'sucked in' to the picture, rather than just it being a schematic of action held at arm's length.

And it was beautiful. Never have the colors seemed more vibrant nor the lines more clear. Yes, the JLA artist is a good one, but it was more than that. The paper page never looked like this to me.

And it was meaningful. By presenting the story panel by panel the letterboxing focused my attention on what was happening (preventing me from 'taking the page in all at a glance', which is what I've been unknowingly doing for decades). I have, in essence, been wolfing down my comics for years, rather than actually savoring them. It also made me see how the artist wants me to see the action unfold. Sometimes the letter boxing will start with only part of a panel, and then zoom out or move over to show the rest, resulting a more dynamic and layered viewing experience. It was much more cinematic, actually. More than anything it reminded me -- a good way -- of the 1960s Marvel cartoons. Now, those were very crudely animated, to be sure. But as it result, watching them was less like watching a cartoon and more like actually reading a comic book; and that's a good thing. Similarly, reading JLA #1 on my iPad with Comixology set to letterbox opened my eyes to how cleverly and engagingly still pictures were being used to convey on-going motion.

Have you notice how much more common it is (post-Matrix) movies nowadays to slow down or freeze the action? Cinematography has caught on to one of the intrinsic powers of the comic book medium: to highlight one moment in a continuing action. Manga cartoons do this all the time, slowing or stopping an action at its apex. The fact that Batman does a multiple somersault before crouching into a batarang throw is certainly cool; but the significant action is the batarang throw (particularly to the head of the crook it's aimed at). Comic book artists are deciding what the significant part of an on-going action is in every single panel...! Maybe I always knew that intellectually (thanks to Scott McCloud)... but now I can actually perceive it.

While the experience of reading this comic book through digital letterboxing was obviously powerful and positive for me, it's not without downsides. One of comics' most interesting and unique artist options was innovative panel shape, design, and layout (as exemplified by the work of, say, McCay, Cole, Adams, or Steranko). That kind of creativity is not rewarded or well captured by this kid of digital presentation. However, perhaps artists will start to compose their art specifically to take advantage of this new format, just as previous artists took advantage of the full page.

There's an even broader aspect to my digital experience than just reading the comic book. It was the purchasing. No matter what you do at a comic book brick-and-mortar, it's pretty clear which publishers are the big dogs; as a result the little publishers tend to get lost in the melee of capes and eye-beams. But my screen can offer each publisher to me equally. This egalitarianism makes it easier to wonder, "Hey, what does Devil's Due publish, anyway?" and give it a look-see. Digitization may be quite a boon to small publishers, I think.

And for me, as a comic book bully, I've suddenly realized: I AM NOW ARMED. I can load this thing up with scads of comics which are now with me at all times (at least when I'm carrying my iPad in my man-purse). That friend who you know would like a particular comic if you get him to read one? BOOM, there it is to hand to him. That guy who always says you exaggerate what an idiot Hal Jordan is? BOOM, there's the panel of Hal thinking he can take on Superman without Batman's help. That young fool reading "The Fountainhead" beside you on the bus? BOOM, there's the Ayn Rand issue of Action Philosophers that'll make him throw it out the window.

I really want a hat like that.
Just to have something to wear at the next
philosopher-themed costumed party at Joe Cerutti's house.



It appears I've "gone digital". And I don't think I'm going back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The General and the Cavalry


Ordinarily, I don't believe in just posting old panels without any sort of humorous commentary or insight as value-added. Because anyone can do that. And did.

But frankly I simply cannot thing of anything to add to the intrinsic absurdity of this panel:


P.S. If "General Schmutzpuss and the Rabbit Cavalry" is not the name of some indie band already, it really should be.

Monday, August 29, 2011

1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrrow

Let's return to someone whom I and the rest of the world have abused a lot--but not nearly enough.

Green Arrow.

I figure I have to get my licks in now, because, frankly, I fear my worst nightmare is looming on the horizon: an acceptable make-over of Green Arrow (Oliver Queen). Yes, all the advance word I'm reading about how Green Arrow will be portrayed in the New 52 sounds like he just might be a unique, interesting, and likable character. Damnation! Is nothing sacred?

But before we lose him forever, let us pay homage to one of comics' greatest and most enduringly and unendearingly unlikeable buffoons. My idea for doing so came from a story title that I recently stumbled upon in researching a previous, unrelated post: "1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow".

"1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow"?! How delicious! Why, it sounded like something I myself might write! Here's a description of that story from the scholarly and extremely kind Dr. Mike Grost of Detroit:
1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow (1952). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: George Papp. A professor sells a book called "1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow" to the underworld, full of pre-planned schemes to defeat Green Arrow. Many of the schemes here involve understanding Green Arrow's psychology, then using his typical responses against him. This is a subtle approach. Green Arrow eventually understands this. Herron would write other tales of psychological manipulation by bad guys, such as "The Invasion From Indiana" (Strange Adventures #49, October 1954). Green Arrow's eventual call to abandon his predictable use of logic has a Rimbaud like feel.

Of the many astonishing things I have seen or might reasonably imagine seeing some day, a description of a Green Arrow story as having a "Rimbaud-like feel" was not one of them. Unless, of course, one focuses on the point in his life where...
Rimbaud's behaviour became outwardly provocative; he drank alcohol, spoke rudely, composed scatological poems, stole books from local shops, and abandoned his hitherto characteristically neat appearance by allowing his hair to grow long.. At the same time he wrote to Izambard about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses.
Because that actually sounds a lot like Ollie Queen to me.

"1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow" was originally published in this comic (Adventure Comics 174):

As much as I want to focus on Green Arrow,
I'm also dying to find out about How Lana Lang Invented Lesbian Chic.
Some other day, perhaps.



"1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow" was reprinted in this Bronze-Age issue of Brave & Bold.

Because when you've got to put a Haney-penned B&B story
that makes Batman look ridiculous in the front of the book,
there's only one way to make him look better:
put a Green Arrow story in the back.



Anyway, so this Professor of Evil writes a book with 1001 chapters, each one of which tells you a different way to defeat Green Arrow. If I had such a book, I would read a chapter every day, like a quotidian devotional, a veritable The Upper Room for Green Arrow haters. Except "1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow" is really more like asubtitle; it needs a catchy title like "Easy Target: 1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow".

But, sadly, I do not have 1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow the book; I don't even have 1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow the story. I don't own it, can't get a copy, and can only find this one page on line:

So with your help I'll just have to make it up!

What are 1001 ways to defeat Green Arrow? I want this to be an ongoing series, something to soothe our souls with the stupidity of classic Green Arrow during these lean and hungry years to come while we must endure this new, cool and interesting version of Green Arrow in the New DCU. I'll need YOUR suggestions, either here or emailed to me at scipiogarling@gmail.com.

Here, let me start the ball rolling!

1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #1:


Window bars.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #2:


Mock the 'Arrow-Car'.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #3:


Take away his arms.... and his teeth.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #4:


Ice cream man suit + bad hair day = fail.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #5:


Report him to Child Services.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #6:


Wait for him to expose himself. Or, at least, his secret identity.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #7:


Bring a gun. You don't even have to fire it.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #8:


Use a circus clown.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #9:


Require him to use the donut arrow.


1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow, #10:


Judd Winick


See how easy it is?! Now it's YOUR turn....!