The meh phase.

After reading David’s blog post over at 4th Letter, I’ve realized something. I just can’t hang with shared universes any longer. The inconsistency bothers me. I don’t pick up Marvel and DC books to follow artists or writers; I do it because I’m fond of a certain character. If the character’s look and personality varies wildly from appearance to appearance—what’s the point? There’s no real character there to follow, is there? And when your favorite character is a second stringer, you can pretty much expect drastic changes to fit the story at hand. No one is interested in building a consistent brand with the B-list sidekick. I can’t blame them. Who is going to buy a Power Girl or Daughters of the Dragon t-shirt? Well, me. But will anyone else?

On the flipside, I don’t want to read an Empowered story written by anyone else but Adam Warren. And if there’s a new Dawn miniseries, I’d better find art by Linsner inside when I pry open those pages. Hmm, I guess I do follow creators. I’ve picked up Warren and Linsner’s Marvel and DC stuff too. Lord knows I’d never have any Iron Man or Black Cat of my shelf if not for those two.

Maybe that’s my real modus operandi—fall in love with a creator in the indies and follow that creator anywhere? Well, unless there’s a character I really hate. I love Canepa, but I wouldn’t buy an Emma Frost series even if Canepa’s name was on it. And Chiang on Batgirl wouldn’t get me to reach for my wallet. Unless it starred Cass, of course. I guess I’m just trying to figure out my buying habits. Aside from ordering Empowered and picking up Hellboy trades at conventions, I haven’t really been interested in buying anything. Even worse, I haven’t read one issue of the Shadowland crossover. I was really excited about that crossover too!
I guess I’m trying to figure out why I’ve lost interest in Marvel and DC. I’m not really trying to fix the problem, since it is saving me a lot of money, but I am interested in the reason. It certainly isn’t a decline in quality. I have friends enjoying the hell out of these books. It’s not the price. One, I happily spent $3.99 on an Empowered one-shot, and two, I could easily rifle through my friends’ stacks for free. Not enough diversity? Eh, maybe at DC, but that’s just the nature of their universe. Also, they seem to be trying to fix that.

I don’t know what’s wrong, but there are more posts about General Hospital here than there are about comic books. And while General Hospital is hilariously (and unintentionally) entertaining, that’s kind of sad.

Lighter things.

Upon first reading this Salon article, I wanted to crawl through my computer screen and shake the woman who had written it. Not in anger, but just to wake her up. Why was she looking to white men to make her feel feminine? Why was she looking to white men for sexual validation? Why was she bothering with white men in any romantic capacity at all? Did she not have any clue as to how “Excuse me, miss? Can I talk to you for a minute?” coming from a black man can make a damn day? How a wink from a Filipino dude over a cup of hot chocolate can make you blush? How the simple syllable ma coming from a Puerto Rican guy could make you weak in the knees? And Lord, don’t get me started on Samoans.

I rarely get hit on by white dudes—so rarely that I just stopped expecting any kind of romantic overture from them at all. I expect them to see me the same way that they would see a man. Because they do. And honestly? The same goes for all Asian dudes who aren’t Pacific Islanders as well. I remember this moment back when I used to wear my hair pin straight. I got hit on by this South Asian dude and the sheer horror that overtook his face when I started speaking and he realized that I was black was hilarious. And I must admit that I was looking at him pretty strangely once he approached me too. How does this fool not know I’m black? I am so obviously black! What the hell is this fool trying to talk to me for?

Over time, I became John Mayer’s counterpart. His comments about black women didn’t even bother me. Who cares what white men think about black women romantically? How is that in any way important? I was too busy being pissed about how he had the nerve to declare he had a hood pass and felt comfortable enough to let racial slurs slip past his lips! That was the problem that needed to be addressed. Immediately.

But then I read the Tooles editorial a second time without being so quick to judge. And I understood how she felt. The isolation and invisibility can be heartbreaking. I happily solved the problem by just spending time around non-white men. But maybe that’s not an option for her. Maybe she wants all men to treat her like a lady. She has every right to want that. Because she is a lady, damn it!

And sadly, white men not viewing black women as women, as ladies, as individuals worth flirting with, or dating, or holding doors open for is a problem. Because it results in this. And this. It shapes how the media presents black women to the world. Because white men have one hell of a steel grip on the media. And that grip on the media distorts how people view black women. And results in this. And this. And this. Not good. How do you solve the problem? I’m not sure. Perhaps by loosening the grip? By letting a variety of people get that chance in front of the microphone or camera? By letting a variety of people present their words to the masses? Because that way, men like Mayer are drowned out by men of all races who love all beautiful women. And by the women who love themselves.

The Rec List: 10/02/09 (3)

Fantastic Four #571Earlier in the week, I agreed to read and review two comics that were kindly (and not so kindly) recommended to me. During the first half of my review, I discussed what I expected from each book and the role I felt that each book had in the marketplace. Next up? It’s time to crack open some comics!

The artwork in Fantastic Four #571 is simply lovely and is wholeheartedly dedicated to telling Hickman’s story. I only had one minor issue with Eaglesham’s pencils, so let’s get it out of way first. Due to Eaglesham’s preference for a bulkier and more muscular Reed Richards, it took me a couple of pages to figure out that the Reed Richards who is the main protagonist in the story is actually the Reed Richards from the 616 universe. Multiple universes thrown at me right off the bat? I’m no stranger to superhero comics. I can handle that. A Reed Richards without a slender swimmer’s build? Well, that I’m not used to. But a few panels in and I could figure out who was who just fine. And Eaglesham’s choice didn’t stop me from understanding the story. It just made me blurt out “Oh, that’s our Reed!” about a third of the way into it. I’m not the type to pay much attention to recap pages.

The depictions of the Fantastic Four’s home help to illustrate the idea that the Richards are a normal family that happen to do extraordinary things. There are no never-ending lushly carpeted halls as in the Avengers’ Mansion or wildly-colored space-age furniture. Save for a few robots petering around in the background, everything about the Fantastic Four’s family life is decidedly average and middle-class. The furniture would look right at home in an Ethan Allen catalogue. Rooms are tightly packed and cluttered with household items. Eaglesham does a fantastic job depicting the image of the classic American family that has been consistently reinforced from the days of Leave it to Beaver to the days of Malcolm in the Middle.

And as with any good Fantastic Four artist, Eaglesham seems as comfortable with the colorful and cosmic as he is with the average and American.

Ah, I have one more possible issue with Eaglesham’s pencils! Everyone appears to be related! While this is wonderful in a book like Fantastic Four, I have to wonder if Eaglesham would run into problems with guest appearances from other Marvel characters. Everyone seems to have a square shaped face and a cleft chin.

Mounts’s colors are great. I love the fact that everything good in Reed’s life—his family, his ability to help people—is depicted in warm hues. The pinks, browns, and yellows make it seem as if the positive aspects of Reed’s life are awash in sunlight. And when Reed is upset or conflicted, blue or purple dominates the scene. Whether done on purpose or not, it’s a nice touch.

Unfortunately, Hickman’s story did not reel me in as much as the art did. And I’m frustrated by this because I have no idea why it didn’t! Hickman is a talented writer who provided me with everything I would expect from a good Fantastic Four story. He hit every possible beat. Exploration of the self? Check. Exploration of the family? Check. Exploration of the cosmos? Check!

I do believe the problem is not with Hickman or his work, but with me. Six decades in and America still isn’t tired of examining and discussing the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant middle-class nuclear family. But I? Am very tired of it. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that America should stop examining and discussing it. It shouldn’t. Because it’s an important aspect of American society. It just means that I’m going to stop listening in when it’s done. Because it is extremely boring.

Set them in the ’60s? I don’t care. Give them superpowers? I don’t care. It has been done so many times that there is no way a writer can bring anything new or novel to the table with the subject. But what a writer can do with it is serve up a very solid and satisfying chunk of nostalgia for his readers to enjoy. The problem is that I’m not nostalgic for it.

I do believe that the same goes for superhero tales as well. Unless the classic superhero story is distorted through humor (ex: Empowered) or violence (Ex: Blackest Night), or deals with a character that I have a longstanding affection for (ex: Wolverine), I’m just not interested.

How do you fix this? You don’t. Because it’s not a problem. Fantastic Four comics sell well. Fantastic Four movies do well at the box office. Many people have a longstanding affection for these characters. I’m just not one of them.

One last thing, can I just say that putting a quote from the interior of the comic on the cover is a brilliant idea? Because I really think it is!

The Rec List: 10/02/09 (2)

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58Earlier in the week, I agreed to read and review two comics that were kindly (and not so kindly) recommended to me. During the first half of my review, I discussed what I expected from each book and the role I felt that each book had in the marketplace. Next up? It’s time to crack open some comics!

I’m not sure how to judge the artwork in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58. There are two goals that Balent seems to have in mind when drawing—and those goals occasionally compete with one another. One goal is to service the story; the other goal is to service the sexual desires of his readers. The second goal clearly takes precedence over the first. Though I am not sexually attracted to women, I do believe that Balent achieves his secondary objective of titillation. Balent’s female characters possess the same characteristics of mainstream celebrities in the adult entertainment industry. Tarot and her sister Raven have large, disproportionate breasts similar to those found on modern pinup girls or video vixens. Couple that with long flowing hair and pseudo-gothic outfits that barely cover their plump nether regions, and Tarot and Raven would fit right in at a strip club, the Rock of Love bus, or on the set of a pornography film. Distasteful? Not according to the many men who spend their hard earned money to look at women of this…caliber? Yeah, we’ll go with caliber.

While the art doesn’t arouse me, one can’t deny the sheer joy that leaps off each page. Balent and Golightly simply seem enthralled by what they do. And while what they do is rather amusing at first, one must give credit to an artistic team willing to take such time and care in depicting something as mundane as a breast or vulva. When it comes to titillation? It’s all in the details.

However, when it comes to telling the story, those details make the art look amateurish and can confuse the reader. For example, I had no clue what was taking place on the final page of the comic until the last sentence of the third panel. Balent is more intent on depicting a sexy scene instead of one that makes sense. And that’s detrimental to the tale. The art in an action scene should be able to explain what is going on without the need for words. And it doesn’t. And the final page was not the only point where I had to sift through exposition to figure out what was taking place on the page. What would be delightful to any straight man or lesbian picking up a pin-up book was completely frustrating to a straight woman who just wanted to read a story.

Also, while I’m sure the creative team saves money by having Balent and Golightly take on multiple jobs, the book could really use the touch of a professional letterer. The lovely care that Golightly puts into coloring the series is not seen at all in her lettering. Sentences are often off-center and crammed into balloons that are too small. Then again, I’m sure that anyone picking up this book doesn’t give a damn about the lettering. It’s clearly legible, which is what matters most. My OCD is probably just kicking in!

The story was simple, fairly straightforward, self-contained, and gave a few hints as to possible plotlines to come. The issue would be a good jumping on point for individuals charmed by the art. It pretty much reads like any mid-tier action series. Sans cheesecake, it could easily be a one-shot or filler issue featuring Raven or Magik. The writing is serviceable.

What impressed me was the sense of community that Balent and Golightly manage to build within the pages of the book. Features such as the BroadSword Girl page, which shows a photo of a fan in a cosplay costume, allow the reader to actually become a part of each issue. And no, delightfully enough, arousal is not the objective of the feature. The woman shown in the issue reviewed was covered in cloth and chainmail from head to toe. The book also provides a page for Wiccans to share spells with one another. And again we are presented with another page that is titillation-free. Balent and Golightly seem to treat their fans with a great deal of respect and attention, which probably helps when building a loyal base. While I haven’t become a Tarot fan, I can definitely see that there is an audience for this material.

The Rec List: 10/02/09 (1)

This Monday, in an attempt to broaden my horizons, I asked people to recommend me a couple of comics recently released. I wanted to read and review books that I normally wouldn’t pick up on my own volition. Ragnell of Written World, who is probably off somewhere snickering right now, pointed me towards the infamous Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58 and David Uzumeri of Funnybook Babylon fame advised me to pick up Fantastic Four #571. Done. And done.

Now, with all due respect to the illustrious Stones, there’s no such thing as a virgin read where comics are concerned. Even if an individual has never picked up a comic book, it’s likely that he or she has already packed a steamer trunk full of preconceived notions about comics and/or superheroes. We all come with cultural baggage and comics are a large part of America’s history. You can avoid comics, but you can’t avoid the impact they’ve had on American citizens. Our language and our thoughts are shaped by capes, spandex, and four-color buffoons. So, let’s pop open this steamer trunk and see how I feel about the books selected before even cracking one of ’em open, huh?

Judging a book by its cover. I could probably count the number of Fantastic Four stories I’ve read on one hand. Yet, I have a clear image of what to expect from a Fantastic Four comic. A Fantastic Four comic series should be about three types of exploration. First and foremost, is exploration of the cosmos. This is where the action is—dodging solar flares; fending off alien invasions. This is the stuff of grand adventure, folks! Next up is exploration of the family. How do you make a marriage work? What makes a good father? Am I my brother’s keeper? This is where one can find drama and conflict between team members. And last, but not least, is exploration of the self. How can I reach the peak of my abilities? What is man’s greatest accomplishment? Are there things that should rightfully be beyond man’s reach? This is where opportunities for character development take place.

Now, while the Fantastic Four are part of the Marvel stable, where the building blocks for tasteless and sexist Wizard jokes are routinely produced, I expect the characters to engage in PG-rated fare. I’m assuming there are no crotch shots of the Invisible Woman and that the only sexual activity taking place on panel occurs between the married Susan and Reed Richards. Of course, I could be wrong. However, these are my expectations or preconceived notions about the series. I’m guessing I’ll receive an adventure story nestled somewhere comfortably between the Incredibles and the Impossibles. We’ll see if I was right next post!

And now for Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. Hrm. I was made aware of the series through the hilarious reviews of Chris Sims over at the ISB. I also have a friend who loudly inquires as to who would buy such garbage each time he happens to come across a comic from the series. I give him the same answer each time. “R.N.W.” R.N.W. stands for Real Name Withheld for the purposes of this blog. He’s an acquaintance my friend and I went to school with. Imagine the lovechild of Comic Book Guy and Nathan Explosion.

Stop laughing. I mean it. He’s the guy who orders the Ultimate Rock Ballads collection from Time Life. He’s the guy who wears the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt unironically. He’s the guy who had Lady Death spray-painted on the tire cover of his jeep. And I’d bet good money that there’s an issue of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose sitting somewhere in his house right now.

The thing is, R.N.W. is actually a pretty sweet guy. He just has certain tastes when it comes to his books, his music, and his women. And a comic like Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose caters to those tastes. Yes, we all know that there’s porn for free on the internet. But that doesn’t help people who have very specific needs. It’s like telling a man who is only turned on by women in stilettos stepping into banana cream pies to go lurk around Nine West. That isn’t going to satisfy him. And Playboy isn’t going to satisfy a man who wants both the salacious side of burlesque and the supernatural.Tarot is.

So what am I expecting from Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58? I’ll be brutally honest. I’m expecting terrible writing and carefully crafted art which caters to men who find the combination of pornography and horror sexually arousing. Have I guessed correctly? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, I have a comic shop to get to.

Uh, Roman Polanski supporters?

Uh, you do realize you’re all nuts, right? Dude committed a crime and then decided to bounce. And decades later he was caught. And he should now serve time for his criminal act. I don’t see how this could be any simpler, folks. Listen, I understand that you guys really like the movies he directed. After all, Chinatown was fantastic. But, hell, 12 Play was great too. Doesn’t mean that R. Kelly doesn’t deserve some time in a cell because I like to sing “Sex Me (Part II)” in the shower. Suck it up.

Generation gap.

The United Church of Canada: JointsWell, now I know why my mother accused me of being a pothead. Let me back up. My mother came to visit me a while back. Upon the first phone call I received when she returned home, she accused me of smoking pot. I, of course, was horrified. I’ve never smoked pot in my life! How dare she accuse me? Well, my mother was adamant that she had seen several joints in my garbage can. Since she didn’t want to embarrass me then and there, so she simply covered them with a tissue. Anyway, she didn’t believe me when I told her I was drug-free. She gave me a long lecture about drugs and then told me she loved me unconditionally.

Oh, was I pissed. The first thing I did once I got off the phone was spend an hour sifting though disgusting garbage and calling friends to see who the hell had the nerve to bring pot into my apartment. Did I find any joints? Of course not. Had anyone brought marijuana to my place? Nope.

Months later, I see this ad and it hits me. My mother thought the rolled up tissues in my garbage can were joints! When I’m nervous, I have a tendency to roll things—candy wrappers, tissue paper, plastic labels, etc. Here’s where the title of the post comes in. I have never in my life seen marijuana rolled that way. Who the hell smokes joints that look like that? Old people? Rich people? That looks ridiculous! Wouldn’t that burn away in like three seconds? How could you even get high?

Now, I’ve never smoked pot, but I sure as hell have seen it being smoked. And it has always looked like this:

I can’t wait until I have kids so I can accuse them of doing coke because they haven’t dusted their mirrors regularly.

Power up.

Empowered, vol. 4 back cover

Empowered, vol. 5 back cover

See a difference in Sistah Spooky? I do. Believe me, I adore this series and I came up with all sorts of reasons for the difference. It’s because she is being highlighted by Emp’s power signature. It’s a printing error. She’s not that much lighter. I hate the character anyway. It’s a bad scan. Her change in looks is due to an alien-spawned body image conspiracy. I grasped at any possibility to keep me from dropping this series. I don’t want to drop this series. I love this series. I supported this series. Hard.

But each time I ventured over to Amazon to order the latest volume, I’d look at that cover and feel a mild queasiness in the pit of my stomach. It’s the same feeling I got back when I was buying Immortal Iron Fist. It’s the feeling that I’m paying to be disrespected. I’m handing my money over to someone who thinks that my skin color is a problem to be quietly eliminated from the canvas or screen. It’s the feeling that I’m selling myself short. I’ve got to go with that feeling.

It’s not about calling for a boycott. I wish Warren and Dark Horse nothing but success. It’s about me not wanting to buy something that makes me feel bad. I can feel bad for free. I know David is a fan of Warren’s and a fan of Empowered, so I’ll probably use him as a scout to see if one of the possible explanations I told myself when I was contemplating buying this volume of the series is the actual truth. In fact, I’m crossing my fingers hard and desperately hoping for this to be the case. But until then? I just can’t.

Random thoughts.

No longer is it possible to successfully target a community for financial gain without making some sort of investment in that community. You may become emotionally invested the longer you do research. You may have to invest your money in hiring a liaison from that community. Either way, the parasite method of doing business is done. It’s a wrap, son.