“Worlds in Panels” up today: CBGB

My March comics column posted to PopMatters today. I look at BOOM!’s CBGB anthology with a focus on different ideas about place, both in the series itself and in critical responses.

While one view of CBGB is as a location with a special spirit, or as the symbol of that spirit, another is that the place is only what people make it.

Read the full column

March comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Quick takes:

  • Angel #42 (IDW). Elena Casagrande (with an “assist” from Emanuel Simeoni) is back on pencils and inks, giving the issue a kind of familiarity. Most interesting aspect of this month is the reintroduction of Illyria, post-transformation (see below).
  • Annihilators #1 (Marvel). This looked like it might be fun, so I pulled it. Main story is a looong prologue, but Dan Abnet and Tan Eng Huat (with Victor Olazaba and June Chung) keep things interesting by structuring the narrative around hand-to-hand combat. The backup with Rocket Raccoon is fastpaced and well set-up by Abnet and Andy Lanning.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #4 (Red 5). The plot with Edison thickens. Wry and funny rematch with the giant robot.
  • Avengers Academy #9 and #10 (Marvel). A looks forward to this title every month, so the double issues in the box for March was a nice bonus for her. Christos Gage continues to show strong storytelling weaving together plotlines inolving both teachers and students.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #3. The last of Guy Davis’ big, weird beasts in the ongoing story. I hope to write more about Davis later.
  • Generation Hope #4 (Marvel). The new mutants catch a breather on Utopia. Kieron Gillen clearly has something big in mind with Kenji, and introduces some romance to the story. Still happy to be pulling this book.
  • Marvel Girl #1 (One-Shot) (Marvel). Part of a series of kind of strange tie-ins with the upcoming First Class movie; strange in the sense of involving characters who are not necessarily in the film. Not much new or interesting here.
  • The New York Five #2 (DC/Vertigo). After reading this, I find it hard to believe that four issues are going to provide any kind of resolution to the lives of the main characters. Brian Wood is hitting some interesting notes in Lona’s story and how some students react to being challenged in college.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #6 (Marvel). Remains fascinating to read and look at. The introduction of Michelangelo seems to bring the first chapter to a close.
  • Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel). One of my favorite characters from the Marvel Universe. Greg Pak writes an efficient introduction to the Surfer’s history, while also getting his voice right. Interesting premise.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #2 (Dark Horse). Okay, so not a were-Buffalo, but still looking to be a wicked Victorian Western. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi include some nice meta-commentary on pulps, and John Severin and Dave Stewart effectively evoke a sparsely populated, but strange and dangerous Frontier.
  • Spider-Girl #4 (Marvel). Not sure about the latest plot twist, but I like how Paul Tobin is using the title to deal with superheroism on a day-to-day kind of basis. I like Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) as an artist, but many of the characters here end up looking older than they should.
  • Spike #5 (IDW). Brian Lynch writes a really weird dynamic between Spike and Willow, way too familiar with each other.
  • Uncanny X-Force #5 (Marvel). Rick Remender starts a new story line. I read the beginning twice to make sure I got the set up. Despite the change in art team, character design continues to be a strength of for the title. Probably helps that regular cover artist, Esad Ribic, is on pencils now.
  • Uncanny X-Men #533 (Marvel). Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen find a new way to keep their main story interesting. Tired of complaining about Greg Land.
  • Wolverine & Jubilee #2 (Marvel). For me, stronger than the first issue, mostly because the story promised by the title begins to take off. Kathryn Immonen’s writing is sharp and poignant. Phil Noto’s character designs and artwork are gorgeous and real.

Longer takes:

  • X-Men: Legacy #245 (“Age of X” Chapter 1) and New Mutants #22 (“Age of X” Chapter 2) (Marvel). Mike Carey gets into the real story with this crossover, and I love the recasting of Rogue as “Legacy/The Reaper”. I also like what gets revealed about who Magneto has stashed away in high security prison. A very promising start, although like Kelly Thompson and Chad Nevett at CBR I am not sure that starting with last month’s Age of X Alpha issue was necessary or smart. Narratively, that installment does not provide much illumination; if anything it obscures certain aspects of the story that seems to be emerging. One thing I don’t understand about the character design for this world is how many of the characters are lacking for clothing (while at the same time looking far less porn star-y than anyone in Uncanny X-Men right now). A sign of deprivation or degradation maybe?
  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #4 (IDW). This brings the mini to a close. Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner wrote an interesting story that became my favorite Angel book, not just because the other titles are floundering in one way or another, but because they did something interesting with the character. How the changes they introduce play out in the main title is one thing I am looking forward to now. Elena Casagrande and Illaria Traversi draw some wonderfully cool and beautiful panels to show the new Illyria in all her glory. I should also add that Jenny Frisson’s covers have been gorgeous, and this month’s is the best.
  • Birds of Prey #10 (DC). Oracle dies so Barbara Gordon can live. In terms of the DCU this seems to mean that Barbara is recasting herself to work with a narrow circle of the Bat Family on the premise that Oracle got to be too much of a known actor to be effective. That wider work will be taken over by Proxy (a character I don’t know that well). This resolution opens a host of questions, such as, for starters, what happens when Proxy is in Oracle’s position? Won’t she also become a liability to herself in the same way? Or is she not as good at the job? And if that’s true, is it, in fact, better to “kill” Oracle? Best part of the issue: Black Canary and Huntress’ meet-up with Catwoman. Moments like that are why I pull this title.
  • Carbon Grey (Image). I picked this up on the basis of interesting-looking preview pages. The first issue is mostly set-up and prologue, some of which coheres and some of which does not. My fear is that the work will be more mythology than story. There is an amazing list of creators attached to this title in terms of numbers, a collective of five total, and whether that will prove to be a strength or not will only be seen in the coming installements, now that the set-up is done. The art, credited to Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen, is gorgeous, and even playful in certain panels, but I wonder about the pastiche of influences in the design of the storyworld. I am most leery of what it will mean that WW I Germany seems to be a primary source of inspiration. Of course, that all depends on what our heroes are all about, and I’m not sure of that yet.
  • I, Zombie #11 (DC/Vertigo). The final page makes this out to be a chapter ender, and at an interesting moment, with a lot of stories and characters in flux. There’s a love for Eugene that is coming through in Michael and Laura Allred’s art that is becoming more and more important to the story as the title progresses. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred have also quickly morphed the book into an ensemble work, anchored by Gwen, but developing the other characters in their own ways, and not just in relationship to everyone’s favorite zombie gravedigger. I am happy that A and I read this together.
  • X-23 #6 and #7 (Marvel). Obviously, Mr. Sinister in female form will be resurfacing, and I don’t know what I think about that, but #7 is a good read. I think that titles like X-23, which attempt to develop a single character with more of a cult than a mass following, should have more issues like this, where there are connections into the larger story universe, but that are more about the main character than anything else. I also think that Sana Takeda’s art is a nice diversion, though too precious for more than an issue or two. The main theme for Marjorie Liu is Laura’s evolving sense of ethics. That also comes through strongly in both the interim conclusion to the Sinister narrative and the pirate story.

TPBs:

Astonishing X-Men Volume 6: Exogenetic (Marvel).

Given his interest in science and scientists, Warren Ellis is a natural match for an X-book, and thankfully it is one of the “boutique” titles rather than one caught in the mainstream of continuity. Love seeing Abigail Brand being put to good use, with only passing references to her romantic relationship with Hank. The payoff to this volume is somehow simultaneously interesting and underwhelming, which, to be fair, seems to be the characters’ reaction, too.

DMZ Volume 9: MIA (DC/Vertigo).

I always like seeing anthology stories in this series. Bringing in new artists and taking a moment to check-in on different characters and parts of the city helps to draw out the storyworld. But I am also interested to see how Brian Wood is showing Matty Roth’s maturity, and in the idea of someone deciding to personally hold themselves accountable for the mess that is New York (the fact that he is deferring that moment is important, I think, in terms of making him remain a fully developed and developing character).

Finder: Voice (Dark Horse).

My first venture into Carla Speed McNeil’s world, and I am looking forward to backing up and reading the earlier stories. The art is charming and vibrant, reminding me of the Hernandez Brothers in that way. The social dynamics of Anvard are complicated, and clearly draw on “our” world, but are deftly presented and part of a universe all their own at the same time. Rachel neatly encapsulates the tensions of contradictions of the story.

Freeway (Fantagraphics Books).

First off, I’m not sure that the back cover description does this book justice, at least in the sense that it seems to assume some clarity to the levels of reality represented that I’m not is definitive. Reading this book keeps you constantly off balance, in a way that is both frustrating and exciting at the same time, likely mimicking how Alex feels stuck in traffic. Mark Kalesniko experiments with a number of cinematic and comics conventions to transition between and connect levels of the narrative, and that also kept me reading forward, often past when I was ready to turn out the light and sleep. Puzzling over the nature of the different realities is one thing I am left with at the end of the book. Wondering why Alex is a dog is another.

Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty (DC).

My expectations were pretty high for this collection, which is probably why it took me awhile to warm up to it. The series takes off for me when the focus is placed clearly on Renee Montoya, and when I started to notice the Homicide homages. That latter insight is important not just for the cool, but also for how I reframed the book in my head as more of a police procedural and less of a badges and capes text.

Morning Glories Volume 1: For a Better Future (Image).

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 2: Scream a Little Scream (Marvel).

With this series ending this volume is a reminder of what I will miss most: Chris Claremont’s weird, but compelling efforts at sharpening and giving Kitty’s character a darker aspect. I also think it would have been interesting to see how the triangle of Mystique, Rogue, and Nightcrawler worked itself out. That being written the trade that follows this one is not a bad way to close.

Recommended daily reading – 15 March (got links edition)

End of the term, so the link compiling has been slow, but here are some good pointers:

On her Reassigned Time 2.0 blog, Dr, Crazy has an entry on what it means to teach a 4/4 load. She notes that most graduate school experiences prepare people for the R1 research track, and its corresponding 2/2 or lighter teaching. From that perspective, teaching 4/4 seems like an impossible burden on “one’s own” work. Crazy argues that this is a particularly blinkered way of seeing the kind of work that most PhDs are likely to find themselves doing, and lists a number of teaching and research strategies she has developed to be satisfied in her position, however far removed it might be from the grad school ideal.

In my comment to her post, I note that Western is on quarters, which turns 4/4 into 3/3/3, but in either case, I think her reflection is valuable for what it says about what working at a small, undergraduate teaching focused public university is not, and keeping the relationship between teaching and research in perspective. (I should note that her post is in response to this short piece by Notorious PhD).

Two entries on Guy Davis leaving as the regular artist on B.P.R.D. One, by Sean Collins on Robot 6, looks at seven of the best moments from Davis’ work on the title (the choice of seven is explained in the post, but should be easy to figure out if you read Hellboy and B.P.R.D.). The other is by Andy Khouri at ComicsAlliance and looks ahead to new artist Tyler Crook, about whom I know little.

From The Mary Sue, two items about art created by young girls. Jamie Frevele points to a hand drawn “video game”, and includes a link to an audio file where the kid explains her design. And, also from Frevele, is a series of photos showing some neat little hand painted rocks inspired by Exit through the Gift Shop.

Via Inside Higher Ed is this short item quoting Steve Jobs on Apple and the integration of technology with the liberal arts and humanities. No comment, just find this thought interesting.

Finally, I have been looking at the work at Moviebarcode for a couple of weeks now, and I am still not sure what to make of this art. This piece, which is Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, one of the three films I will cite as my favorite, is what moved me to post about the project.

On the one hand, I can see where these images could make lovely prints, blown up and framed. On the other hand, they are given the same title as the films they concentrate. What of In the Mood for Love is in the image? Would I know that this is that film without being told? Sometimes when I look at it, I see colors and partial figures that evoke the movie. At other times, I see little connection, leading me to think that this is an interesting formal exercise, but it is, fundamentally, separate from cinema.

February comics

From tfaw last month:

Single issues:

Quick takes (trying a different format here):

  • Age of X Alpha (Marvel). Prologue. I like the anthology format for this character-based beginning to the cross-over (which, yes, I am going to follow).
  • Angel #41 (IDW). Another change in the art team. Sigh.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #3 (Red 5). Turning into a coming of age story for Robo. Interesting, and Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener capture the weirdness and awkwardness of the idea well.
  • Avengers Academy #8 (Marvel). I like how Christos Gage is bringing focus on the teachers as well as a the students. Adds narrative depth and texture. I do find the final page to be confusing as to who Tigra is wanting to kick out of the Academy, though.
  • Birds of Prey #9 (DC). Another month with a single group of artists. I like how Gail Simone allows Dinah to throw off her emotional paralysis by force of will. Consistent with how she writes that character.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #2 (Dark Horse). Rewinds to what led to the reveal at the end the first issue of this arc. And now I know that this is Guy Davis’s next to last B.P.R.D. More on that after this mini finishes.
  • Casanova: Gula #2 (Marvel Icon). Zephyr is looking to be the big bad, or primary protagonist. Family drama on a cosmic scale.
  • I, Zombie #10 (DC/Vertigo). Nice art of the UO campus.
  • Scarlet #4 (Marvel Icon). Unfolding as a big morality tale, and right now in kind of a holding pattern story-wise. Great cover by Alex Maleev.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost & Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse). Were-buffalo!
  • Spider-Girl #3 (Marvel). Setting up a mystery for Anya to work on. I like the conceit with Sue Richards. Not liking the way the art is unsettled.
  • Uncanny X-Men #532 (Marvel). Greg Land manages to make Emma Frost look like a third-rate Bond girl from the Roger Moore-era on the cover. Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen’s story remains interesting.
  • X-23 #5 (Marvel). Marjorie Liu does appear to be getting to tell a story about Laura, while also finding reasons for Gambit to be hanging around. Not crazy about Ms. Sinister strutting around in stripper-wear.
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (Marvel). I did not follow the vampire story leading up to this mini, but I’ll give anything Kathryn Immonen writes a try. Good use of Jubilee here as someone caught between different desires and influences.

Longer takes:

  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #3 (IDW). Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner regain hold of Illyria’s voice, and I continue to like how this series is exploring both the character and important pieces of the Angelverse left by the cancelation of the show. In this case, the mythology of the Deeper Well as well as of Illyria herself. Elena Casagrande (pencils & inks) and Ilaria Traversi (colors) are effective at rendering characters that walk the line between photo realism and more classic comic art. Best Angel book going right now.
  • Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2 (Dark Horse). Not destined to be a classic Hellboy tale, I think, but the conclusion does not disappoint in terms of becoming more than the set up implies. If Scott Hampton were to do more art for the series, that would take some getting used to. His work is slick and clean in a way that the series usually is not. In particular, the figures often appear to be static, less fluid. This works well for the B.P.R.D. guys telling tales at the pub, but less well when the action is unfolding. Dave Stewart shows his versatility in working in a more literal mode than is normal for Hellboy.
  • Hotwire: Deep Cut #3 (Radical Comics). Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis bring the second mini to a satisfying close with lots of action and witty commentary from Alice, who ends up outsmarting everyone. This is exactly what you would expect, but how the story gets to that point follows a jagged path, not a straight line. Best line of the issue: “So everyone gets a medal, and I’m finally getting my own private army. First we take out the astrologists, then I’m coming for the homeo-paths”.
  • Uncanny X-Force #4 (Marvel). Rick Remender and Jerome Opena bring the first arc of the series to a taught, smart close. What makes this issue particularly intelligent is how it uses the characters, and their damaged psyches, to such good effect, legitimately creating doubt about whether the original mandate for the Force would be fulfilled or not. I also think that this series is a good argument for putting together consistent creative teams, at least for the run of individual arcs (and here that includes Esad Ribic and the awesome cover art). Not just the best X-book I read. One of the best series I am pulling right now period.
  • The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo). Ryan Kelly draws New York beautifully. Amazing detail, but still clearly drawn by someone, making his work distinctly different from Greg Land or Scott Hampton, while still being “realistic”. Scott Pilgrim-like reintroduction of the characters is clever, and one suspects deliberate on Brian Wood’s part, as his cast is in similar positions to that of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series (a nod to Maddy from When Fangirls Attack and 3 Chicks Review Comics for highlighting this connection on the podcast).

Lastly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight concluded for me last month. Read more about that here.

TPBs:

Cowboy Ninja Viking Volume Two (Image).

This second volume was not the same “can’t put it down” fun of the first. The wry asides and visual play with the multiple personalities are still there, but the story gets bogged down in too much of Grear and Nix fighting over Duncan, which is boring and sadly unimaginative. Women do think of things other than men, dudes.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird: Ghosts (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Iron Man Noir (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle (DC).

It has been clear from the beginning that Gail Simone sees Cat Man as the moral center for the team, and this collection would seem to indicate that I am not particularly invested in that idea. Thomas Blake’s “crossing of the line” only hit me to the extent that the accompanying art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright made my stomach turn. On the other hand, the Black Alice and Ragdoll dynamic is funny and touching. John Ostrander’s “most dangerous game” take is so slight, and so broadly drawn that I’m not sure what it adds to the Six’s story. However, the collection ends with Simone’s dark, weird, and engmatic western, which elevates this trade to pretty well worth it.

The Sixth Gun Volume 1 (Oni Press).

I can see why this series is popular. Cullen Bunn’s story starts out conventionally, holder of a mystical artifact dies and it passes to an unsuspecting “innocent” who now must face her new fate. As the volume progresses, and the characters are developed, everything becomes more complicated than how it started. Brian Hurtt populates the Frontier with a host of fearsome-looking supernatural characters, but who are nonetheless recognizaeable within the framework of the Western.

Experimenting with Storify in the classroom

After learning about Storify from Ryan Cordell on ProfHacker, I went to the site and requested an invitation to the private Beta-test. This past Tuesday evening I got my invite and went to work on this piece for use in my introductory cultural geography class. The next day was the last day of class and we were finishing up Marjane Satrapi’s Complete Persepolis and I wanted to show my students what kind of cultural and political figure Satrapi has become since the success of her books and film adaptation. I also thought that this was a good moment to elaborate on the kind of textual analysis we had been doing with the book as they prepared to write their final papers.

In showing the service to a colleague, I was asked how Storify was different from a blog, and that’s a fair question. Most of what you can do with Storify you can also do with a blogging service. However, I also see some important differences that make the newer platform useful for specific purposes in a way that a blog might not be.

For starters, the timelines or stories that you build with Storify are cataloged and presented as standalone works, making the service useful in situations where what you want to do is share something in particular with students outside the context of a wider web of content, as would be the case on a blog. Yes, students can navigate back to your homepage on Storify, but whereas that kind of movement is promoted in most blogs, it is not the focus of Storify; the individual pieces are.

The user interface is also different. You have two columns. On the left is where you search for content within a variety of services, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google. There is also a url importer for pulling in specific images, pages, etc. On the right is your timeline. You drag and drop content from the search column into that column. Once you have done that you can reorder items in the timeline, or delete them. You can also add text above or below each item in the story.

The integration of web search into the interface for composing is one advantage I see for Storify over most blogging services. The drag and drop function, as opposed to going through a series of downloads and uploads, copying and pasting of content, is another.

I also think that it is worth noting that Storify is mainly about pulling in and organizing content from elsewhere, whereas blogs are primarily used and intended for original writing. Again, people do use blogs to aggregate content, and someone certainly could use Storify primarily for their own writing, but, comparatively at least, I don’t think those choices take best of advantage of the respective platforms. As Cordell notes in his ProfHacker piece, when you have a presentation in mind that would benefit from incorporating a variety of online media, Storify looks like an excellent choice for composing that work.

The service is still under development, obviously, and I have encountered a few flaws or bugs. After saving my Satrapi story on a couple of occassions, for example, I found some of the items placed in a different order than where I left them. There were also a few times where I had trouble getting a drop to take in the timeline. I’ve noticed that if you drag something from the search column and add it to the timeline and then remove it from the timeline, it does not reappear on the search side unless you redo the search. So, still working through out some rough edges to be sure, but if this seems interesting to you, well worth requesting an invitation.

I have already begun building a piece for use in my geography and film class (the screen grab is of that work) next term, and am thinking of using Storify to create a supplemental “narrative” for some of my classes where I can pick up on points of interest that would otherwise go without much elaboration due to constraints of time or outlets for presentation and discussion, or to provide ready reference resources to students.

Update: I have a few more stories for use in my classes going at Storify. My homepage is here.

Joss Whedon special section at PopMatters

On Friday, Robert Moore introduced a PopMatters Spotlight on Joss Whedon. Moore’s essay critically reviews Whedon’s body of work, and then asks, “Why do his shows resonate so strongly with his viewers?” Moore suggests that Whedon’s films and TV shows (and, presumably, comics) work because he likes what his audiences like, and, most importantly, does what he can within limits imposed by networks and producers, to deliver on those tastes and preferences. He also argues that Whedon’s work attracts loyal fans because he respects their intelligence, and that he demonstrates an authentic interest in and respect for women, a rare quality in Hollywood and in mainstream comics.

My favorite passage is from that last section of the essay. Like Moore’s motivation for writing these paragraphs, I have personal, as well as  political, reasons for appreciating Whedon’s interest in making strong, complicated female characters central in his work.

I have a twelve year-old daughter who is currently trying to watch Buffy and Angel as fast she can, and who has already devoured Firefly. I think that Moore perfectly captures why Whedon’s work has been significant in helping to change how American pop culture is gendered.

Why is this important? Why particularly is it crucial that there be these vital, strong, heroic women?

Here I must turn personal. As a single-father raising a young girl, I quickly appreciated how desperately my daughter wanted to see heroic girls and women in movies and on TV. Watching Peter Pan, she unexpectedly viewed Wendy as the hero of the story. Many classic films were rejected when we visited the video store, my daughter asking instead for movies “with girl heroes.” This was immediately before Buffy, and after The Wizard of Oz, The Journey of Natty Gann, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind we were faced with slim pickings.

All this changed with Buffy. Instead of a handful of movies or television series with strong girls and women, there are a host. It is possible that shows like Fascape, Roswell, Dark Angel, Alias, Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Fringe would have appeared anyway, but the fact is that it was only after Buffy that such shows hit the networks in any quantity.

I learned firsthand just how important it is for young girls—or even older girls—need to feel that it is OK to be strong. It is just as important for men to grasp and understand that it is a great thing for women to be every bit as strong and heroic as we popularly assume that men can be.

My daughter wanted “girl heroes” that she could identify with and whose exploits she could enjoy. Unfortunately, she had few. Today, post-Buffy, there are many. Anyone who has helped change the cultural landscape to that degree deserves considerably more than a Spotlight.

The first regular entry in the series, Laura Berger’s, “Joss Whedon 101” piece on the Buffy movie, also appeared on Friday. I am looking forward to the rest of the Spotlight, which you can track from its homepage.

“Worlds in Panels”: motion comics

In my current “Worlds in Panels” column at PopMatters, I take a critical look at motion comics through the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight DVD.

Despite my interest in transmedia storytelling, I have largely sidestepped this new way to read, but with the release of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Motion Comic, I decided to take my first good look. In viewing the sixteen “issues” collected on the standard DVD – the set includes a Blu Ray disc as well – I kept asking myself, Who is this for?

Read the columnCheck out a discussion of the piece on Whedonesque