Archive for the ‘It’s teh symbolism’ Category

Department of Exceedingly Obvious yet, Embarrassingly, Belated Realisations

November 30, 2011

1: Oh, shit, dude — Thor’s helmet has wings, and Loki’s helmet has horns SYMBOLISM!

2: Is it just me, or are large chunks of the “mainstream” comics blogosphere exactly like Patrick Bateman’s critical appraisals of Huey Lewis and the News?

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Some thoughts on Final Crisis

July 2, 2008

You know what this site has too much of? Content, that’s what. So I did a guest-post over at Matthew Brady’s, where I ramble interminably about 70s Kirby and OMAC in particular.

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Final Crisis is perversely oblique for a Big Event Where Nothing Will Evah Be The Same. Grant Morrison has proved that he can write Big! Dumb! Explodey! Comics (that nonetheless don’t entirely insult your intelligence) with the best of them. Think of his Ultra-Marines mini with Ed Guinness, Dexter Vines et al. from a few years back, or his New X-Men (where it wasn’t hampered by rushed art, at least), or even his current All-Star Superman with Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. Those works manage to be straightforward entertainments, immediately accessible if you want to stay at the surface level, and they also contain thematic and symbolic depth, rewards for close reading and familiarity with the rest of Morrison’s writing.

But Final Crisis is most definitely not a crowd-pleasing blockbuster smash, at least not in its first two issues. Which is just fine by me — I’d sooner read the sequel to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers or Seaguy than the sequel to his JLA or Batman — but it did take me two issues of Final Crisis to readjust my expectations. Like a lot of Morrison’s work, this will no doubt read better once it’s all finished and we can go back and join the dots: “Ah, so that’s what Hamburger Hegemony was all about!” And as a tacit sequel to Seven Soldiers, it’s just swell. But as a big crossover event to please the masses, it kind of stinks.

A large part of that is due to the super-compression and some missed art cues. It was not at all clear who was supposed to be the last page reveal in #1, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, work out what happened on pp 18 and 20 until I read a comments thread at the Savage Critics. (Thanks, Douglas Wolk!). So, John Stewart gets attacked by a mysterious figure. Then, three pages later, Kraken clutches her head and says “Help Me!” while raising her hand to Batman; who realises she’s a traitor and says “John has one hell of a right hook, doesn’t he?” WTF?

Honestly, I read that sequence five times and still couldn’t figure it. In order to parse it, you need to know (1) that the Alpha Lantern (or whatever) doesn’t ordinarily have a ring-mark on her palm, so that (2) you can follow Batman’s induction that it was made by John Stewart’s ring, so that (3) you can understand his remark about John’s right hook, so that (4) you can then infer that it was her attacking Stewart, three pages earlier.

The problem is, first, we haven’t seen the Alpha Lantern’s palm without the ring-mark on it. At least, not in the two pages of Final Crisis that she’s in before the attack on Stewart. So that chain of reasoning I just gave falls through at the first step because, for all we know, her palm always looks like that. And, second, the panel where Stewart’s attacker is shown from behind is just plain confusing. I read that panel as showing, not someone in a hood, but half a Green Lantern coming out of nowhere (like that classic Gil Kane cover) the green part of the hood being the start of the Lantern’s back and the black part of the hood his shoulder. That’s what the uniforms look like, after all.

[Extra-dull digression: and, anyway, knowing how it’s supposed to play out (at least according to Wolk) just raises more questions. The next page suggests that the reason they go after Jordan is eyewitness testimony from Opto, who must have seen Kraken, disguised as Jordan, attacking Stewart. But if Kraken wanted to be mistaken for Jordan, why was she wearing a hood and not some kind of magic Green Lantern Hal Jordan mask? Why wear such an ambiguous disguise? Or maybe it wasn’t Opto’s eyewitness testimony that led them to Jordan. But then why have him show up at Jordan’s house with the Alpha Lanterns?]

Look, it’s absolutely fine to ask the reader to do some work and draw conclusions that aren’t explicitly shown. But the reader needs to have enough information on the page to draw those conclusions, and at several points in the book there just isn’t enough of that kind of information. I don’t want to be spoonfed What It All Means, but I do at least want to know What’s Happening in any given panel, in the plainest sense of “x is doing y”, “Jack is running”, “Jill is catching the ball”.

Put it another way: it’s one thing not to know what the dancing midget on Twin Peaks was all about. But it would have been another thing entirely to show us something that might be a midget dancing, might be a piece of cheese, or might be a smudge on the film stock.

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If Terrible Turpin doesn’t have a crucial struggle against his possessing spirit, sometime in #4-7, I’ll eat his hat. If he doesn’t play an important role in defeating Darkseid, I’ll eat every single hat that Jack Kirby ever drew. There’s just no way that Morrison is going to leave Turpin, as a stand-in for Jack Kirby, tarnished. no way.

***

I’m such a GODDAMN INTERPRETIVE GENIUS that I realised Libra had some sort of connection to Metron (avatar maybe?) SEVERAL PAGES before Wally made the chair connection. Take that Harold Fucking Bloom!

IIRC, Kirby played Metron as a mercurial (in more than one sense) and amoral figure. As befits a personification of Intellect/Knowledge, Metron could do good or bad and seemed pretty neutral in the battle between Apokolips and New Genesis. Pairing him with Libra, who seems similarly amoral, makes symbolic sense.

Two possibilities, then, if Libra is a body for Metron. Either:

(i) evil has triumphed so completely that even Metron has turned fully to Darkseid.

Or, what I think is more likely:

(ii) Metron has been plotting against Darkseid all along, right from the beginning of humanity and his role as Libra is just part of the grand plan. That’s one of Morrison’s favourite tricks–the last minute revelation that the good guys have already won. We’ve already seen, in Seven Soldiers and Mister Miracle, that Metron gives people–Shilo Norman, early cavemen–enlightenment, even if that sets him against Darkseid. So he certainly seems to be working on the side of the angels now. So Metron goes back in time, gives the human flame to Anthro, and then returns to the present to harvest that potential against the evil gods, in the form of the Human Flame. Or something like that.

If he’s so amoral and neutral, why would Metron be helping our world? Maybe it’s because Darkseid would strangle human thought, killing knowledge in its crib, and Metron is all about the knowledge. Maybe Metron cares about balance as an end in itself — hence adopting the identity of Libra — and, when evil has won, you achieve balance by helping out good.

But most probably, I think, Morrison just doesn’t buy into Kirby’s idea that Metron is amoral. Rather, Morrison shares the Socratic ideal that knowledge is necessarily a good thing, and all bad deeds are done through ignorance. Knowledge defeats the dark side. Doesn’t that sound like the sort of quasi-gnostic sentiment Morrison would endorse?

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Or maybe Libra is just a bad guy who stole Metron’s chair, and I’m full of shit. Time will tell.

Random reviews of comics that everyone was talking about ten months ago #1

April 1, 2008

Acme Novelty Library #18. Chris Ware. Drawn and Quarterly, 2007. $17.95, 56 action-packed pages.

Over the fifteen or so years that he’s been publishing Acme Novelty Library, Chris Ware has shown an impressive emotional range. He’s written depressive cowboy loners, depressive schoolboy loners, depressive superhero loners, depressive funny animal loners, depressive robot loners, depressive space explorer loners and that one issue about the little dancing potato guy.

Who was a depressive loner.

With this volume, #18, Ware branches out and writes a depressive young woman loner.

Now that’s what I call progress.

As with many of Ware’s characters, the protagonist’s emotional shortcomings are here embodied as a physical abnormality. Sparky the cat was a bodyless head. The Quimbies, Ware’s most gruesome jeu de corps, were conjoined twins, one of whom died and decayed while the other lived on. Jimmy Corrigan broke his leg and had to hobble around on crutches. The protagonist of #18 stands somewhere between Jimmy Corrigan and Sparky in the seriousness of her condition, which is permanent but at least humanly tolerable–she has a prosthetic leg.

OMG it’s teh symbolism coz shes emotionally criplled!!!!

In any case, the shock twist of this volume is not that Ware has turned his pen to female depressive loners. For he has, in fact, already created another female protagonist (or co-protagonist, at least) in previous volumes for the ensemble of Rusty Brown. No, the real surprise of this volume is that it lacks entirely any of Ware’s usual ironic distancing prose.

That’s right, there’s not a single sentence outside the comics themselves, not even in the indicia or on the bar code. These convoluted apologiae, at once conspiratorially self-mocking and bitterly funny, have been a crucial part of Ware’s design aesthetic since the very first issue of Acme Novelty Library. As far as I know, they’ve been prominent in every comic or collection he has produced since then, filling paragraph after paragraph with layers of protective irony. So it’s genuinely shocking to see a volume with them nowhere in sight. It’s like opening a Captain America comic to find Cap wiping his arse with the American flag. The mind boggles.

That’s not to say that this artistic departure is necessarily a bad thing. (As a non-American, I’d be more interested in Captain Arsewipe, too, for that matter). Personally, I enjoy the apologiae, but they have always seemed like the defence of a younger artist, unsure of his own talent. Maybe, by leaving them out this time around, Ware is signalling that he has come to terms with his status as a cartoonist. Or maybe it just means that the prozac is working.

But then again, probably not. The most striking composition in this volume appears on the inside front-cover, and it pretty clearly shows that Ware is still no stranger to the black dog. The composition in question is a loop of words and pictures which shows the protagonist pondering suicide, deciding against it (because she doesn’t want to bother anyone by leaving them a body) and generally lying around being depressed. There’s no privileged starting place for the reader on this loop, and no privileged direction for the eye to follow, either. While Ware has used these tricks before, of the democratic page, he’s never used them to such brutal effect, matching form to content perfectly. A loop that starts at any point, never ends, and goes anywhere except outside itself? That’s as fine a depiction of depression as you’re likely to find anywhere, in any medium—matched, for mine, only by the film Last Days.*

And that’s why Ware is still the king. In two pages–in the inside front cover, no less–he does more than most artists can manage in their whole careers.

Even if it’s still about a depressive loner.

* Although that Achewood strip which showed Roast Beef’s decision flowchart is pretty good, too.

Recommended? If you have to be told to buy anything Chris Ware releases, you’re probably not reading this blog in the first place.