So you come out of Iron Man 3. You’re excited. You’re jazzed. You look down, you have jazz hands you’re so jazzed. You want to buy Iron Man action figures, you want to buy Iron Man…comic books. But what should you buy?
Well, to kick things off, let me start by saying that there is a lot you don’t need to read, and a lot you probably shouldn’t read. Iron Man has done a number of weird things over the years including starting a team called “Force Works” (I guess they were supposed to be violent and stuff?), having a mullet, being mind-controlled and becoming a murderer only to be defeated by a teenaged version of himself that took his place who then…became the same old Tony Stark from before…or something. Also, his suit gained sentience and wanted to marry him on a tropical island. ALL OF THESE THINGS HAPPENED. Does your head hurt? Mine does. If you don’t believe me, go to Wikipedia. You’ll probably come out of it wishing you had simply taken my word for it.
Anyway, if you’re looking to read about a Tony Stark/Iron Man that’s pretty similar to the one crafted by Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr (and perfected by Joss Whedon and Shane Black), these are the books you’re going to want to read:
Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates
The Ultimates was the movie version of The Avengers before there was a movie version of The Avengers. Bryan Hitch illustrates widescreen action like few others, and with writer Mark Millar, presented a version of Marvel’s super team that existed in a more “real” world. Tony Stark is an adventurous, hard partying playboy, and all the characters are dicks to each other (YAY). Also, this is the comic you have to thank for having Sam Jackson play Nick Fury. It’s an entertaining (though almost ridiculously cynical) read, and the first two volumes are almost like storyboards/concept art for Whedon’s Avengers. I thought it was REALLY cool in college. Now I think it’s still pretty cool.
Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s relaunch of Iron Man in 2006 presented a modern origin for the character, while also upgrading his tech in the present day with Extremis.
Granov went on to design the armor for the first two Iron Man films. He also brings a widescreen, movie-esque approach like Hitch, but has a cold and digital photorealistic look for his characters. It feels detached. It’s harder edged. Ellis and Granov put Stark in situations where he has to kill to survive. Ellis, in addition to being able to write tough but caring characters, also researches the shit out of science. And it shows in this book. This is probably the most science-y Iron Man book that has ever scienced.
Matt Fraction and Salvador LaRocca’s Invincible Iron Man came out almost immediately following the first Iron Man film, and features a much more Downey-influenced Tony Stark (though LaRocca seems to use Josh Holloway’s face as a reference for much of the second half of the series).
The run starts and ends with Stark in space. It begins with him confessing his nightmares to the reader and ends with him beginning to dream again. Fraction addresses nearly every single thing that has happened to the character over the years, yet manages to not induce suicidal thoughts like the Wikipedia page. It’s a greatest hits for the character, taking him through new highs and lows as his attempts to change the world as Tony Stark falter due to his attempts to save the world as Iron Man.
Fraction and LaRocca also assemble a great supporting cast, starting with Pepper Potts and James Rhodes (who each get multiple variations on the Iron Man armor) and growing to include a team of scientists that complement Stark’s own genius. At times, LaRocca’s photo-referenced faces get distracting, but he makes up for it with some beautifully drawn action, and well-rendered suits.
Fraction also brings the funny while adding dimension and gravity to Stark’s alcoholism. Under other writers its almost always been a gimmick, or something reactionary, to show how Tony feels awkward in party situations. Fraction has documented his own sobriety on his blog, and the understanding he brings to this aspect of the character really rings true without ever feeling preachy.
This is probably my favorite run of Iron Man, and the perfect realization of everything the character has to offer. If you’ve liked any of the Iron Man films, and want to check out the character in comic book form, Read These Comics!
It was way longer than we said this next chat would come, and possibly even longer for me to edit and post it. To be fair, we’ve been busy not only with our work lives, and comic book reading, but we each also were enrolled in an online course called “Gender Through Comic Books.” It was a challenging class that I wish I had dedicated more time to. I’ll write more about it later, for now, here’s another comic chat between myself and Forrest, in which we wrap up our Transmetseries (why are you even reading our thoughts about it anymore, read the damn thing!) and talk about all things comic books.
Forrest: Hey. How’s things?
Paul: Pretty good. Part of my reason for not doing my MOOC homework is that I’ve been running, so thats good I guess.
Forrest: That’s great! I’ve been trying to get in shape too. With varying results.
NOTE FROM PAUL: HEY KIDS! EXERCISE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT READING COMIC BOOKS!
Paul: But I’ve also been reading a lot of the Marvel #1’s…it’s very addictive having that many comics. And not many of them are good.
Forrest: Yeah – I had to abandon that quest for the same reason. That and the ones that were good were tempting me to drop too much money.
Paul: I nearly bought the whole series of Strangers in Paradise, but not having the money to do so was effective in stopping me.
Forrest: I’ve been reading a shit ton of Superman.
Paul: Such as?
Forrest: I think I’ve read 6 different versions of his origin story? Do they tell any other Superman stories?
Paul: They do…sometimes. The animated series from the 90s is excellent.
Forrest: The most recent Geoff Johns one made me angry. Mostly because it cribbed all the good ideas from Birthright and then threw in a bunch of shitty comic book shit to fill in the “new ideas.”
Paul: I am not a fan of Geoff Johns…I’ve tried a bunch, but he’s never worked for me.
Forrest: I liked Long Halloween (NOTE FROM PAUL! I think Forrest confused Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns, but I didn’t call him on it cause I was exhausted!), etc…back in the day, but I haven’t read them in ages. My favorite Superman origin was Secret Identity, though. Birthright is close second.
Paul: Secret Identity is fantastic. Both that and Birthrightare among my favorites. As is All Star Superman.
Forrest: I purchased that, but I haven’t read it yet.
Paul: I’m trying to think of good non-origin ones…and I mainly go back to the animated series. Same as Batman. I feel like so many DC heroes get lost in trying to retell the origin to make them relevant to a new generation.
Forrest: Yeah! Especially Superman! Everyone knows his origin! I think DC heroes are limited by – outside of Batman – not having as many immediately recognizable members of their rogues gallery, at least not to the general public.
Paul: That’s true. Although Marvel might be more obscure, but manage to power through it.
Forrest: I mean, there’s Lex Luthor – he’s a smart asshole. Braniac is a…smart…robot…asshole? Who knows wtf Metallo, Bizarro, Parasite are?
Paul: I do! But because I watched the animated series…not because of any DC Comic book.
Forrest: But I grew up with X-Men and Spider-Man and Batman the Animated Series, so it could just be my ignorance. Yeah, I will have to watch that. BTAS is so good, I’d watch anything from the same creative team.
Paul: it’s great. It’s got a whole different color palate and tone. and it introduced me to Darkseid, which years later would play into me trying out DC’s beautiful Jack Kirby collections.
Forrest: He’s like DC’s Apocalypse, right?
Paul: More like DC’s Thanos.
Forrest: Haha. See?
Paul: …and in fact the inspiration for Thanos.
Forrest: I don’t even know who Thanos is.
Paul: Ooh, if you got it in the Marvel #1s, read Thanos Quest. Its a great introduction to the character, and to the cosmic side of Marvel.
Forrest: I was one of those people at the end of Avengers who was like “Oh hey, it’s the purple dude the internet told me to look out for!”
Forrest: Cool I will check it out.
Paul: Darkseid is a fantastic Superman villain, in that he’s out to end all free will…he’s in search of the “anti-life equation.” He’s generally not reacting to Superman, he considers Superman below him, and that’s a rarity amongst any hero’s villains.
Forrest: Well I certainly have more to explore. I’m really glad to have Comixology. For the longest time comics felt like this dense jungle of knowledge that I could never navigate.
Paul: Yes, it’s fantastic. But I wish DC/Vertigo would have sales as frequently as Marvel. I feel like what would really break comics open to more readers is if Comixology (or another platform) offered an “all you can eat” model like Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
Forrest: Yeah that would be insane. I didn’t end up subscribing to that because the Comixology reader has me spoiled. I’d rather pay for Marvel comics on that platform, ha.
Paul: Yeah, plus you’re really limited in terms of reading choices if your only choice is Marvel. I like a lot of what they’re putting out right now, but it is pretty much exclusively super hero or super hero riffs.
Forrest: True. I’ve been making a point to pick up #1s of new series if they look interesting or inventive. For example I like this book Theremin. And I think I told you about Nowhere Men.
Paul: I think you did…I grabbed Nowhere Men issue 1 since it’s free…and I’ll definitely pick up Theremin later this week since it’s a buck! Have you checked out High Crimes?
Forrest: No, what is it?
Paul: It’s another Monkeybrain series…it’s about a former snowboarder that works as a guide on MT Everest, but also ransoms bodies found on Everest to their families…
Forrest: That sounds messed up. I’d probably like it!
Paul: But when running prints on a body her and her partner found, it triggers a response from an elite (and sinister) commando unit in America. Who are coming after anyone who came in contact with their former colleague…and fucking shit up hardcore.
Forrest: I will check it out! I also bought Sex, because it’s dirty. And I like to support artists exploring adult themes in mediums traditionally blah blah blah it’s dirty
Paul: I like Sex (the comic series).
Forrest: But not sex, the sex thing, right? Because that’s gross.
Forrest: TOO FAR
Paul: Not far enough. The people have to know.
Forrest: They’re not ready!
Paul: People of the internet! Sex. Goo. Sex goo! Things squishing together! Babies! Baby goo! There. I’ve said my peace.
Forrest: I’m out!
Paul: No, wait. Comics!
Forrest: Or, as a wise man said, “I’ll be in my bunk.”
Paul: Anyway, I am a fan of Joe Casey’s comic book output. He usually takes high concept stuff like Sex (virginal super hero explores sex after retiring) and executes it well. Have you heard of Butcher Baker (also written by him)?
Paul: It is insane. I’ve only read the first two issues, but it feels like Kurt Russel’s character from Big Trouble in Little Chinacombined with Freddie Mercury combined with Duke Nukem as the world’s greatest hero taking on every villain he’s ever fought.
Forrest: That sounds like it would have a high probability of being terrible? But I will trust you.
Paul: It’s fucking crazy. But the art is beautiful, and it’s just crazy enough to work story-wise.
Forrest: After all, you were right on about Saga, and I don’t know how anyone could desbcribe that without making it sound bonkers.
Paul: I’m pretty much dialing it down, too.
Forrest: Ha! Stop! My wallet, it hurts. The place where the money goes…
Paul: He also wrote a good Iron Man mini series…that’s on sale today
Forrest: …it’s EMPTY. Which one? I picked up “Demon in a Bottle” because classics.
Paul: Iron Man: The Inevitable. It’s written during a period where Tony Stark was trying to deny he was Iron Man after having previously revealed his identity. And he’s trying to move past all his old villains, even help them rehabilitate, but they won’t evolve, they just want to kill or humiliate him.
Forrest: Hmm. That sounds…really good…
Paul: You should already have issue one from the #1s…(pops up on your shoulder as the devil in an iron man suit) But you should probably save your money for the new comics coming out on Wednesday (slightly less evil devil on your other shoulder)
Forrest: Yeah…I really should!
Paul: (Both devils laugh and disappear)
Forrest: Hahaha. I should also read this week’s SuperMOOC comics. I really loved Captain Marvel – that one is going on my monthly buy list now.
Paul: I don’t even remember what’s on deck for this week yet.
Forrest: I think it’s all Gail Simone – Secret Six (which I am very excited to read!) Batgirl…
Paul: Ok good, I’ve read most of those. Secret Six is one of my favorite series, and Birds of Prey got Chrystal into reading comics.
Secret Six features the best comics version of Bane.
Forrest: All exciting stuff. I’m looking forward to the last week when I can chill because I read Y: The Last Man years ago. All the rest has been new to me!
Paul: I think it’s been 50/50 for me…Strangers in Paradise was the most exciting to “discover.” Mainly because even though I’ve been reading more varied comics cause of Comixology, it has all still been mostly super hero, sci fi, or fantasy.
Forrest: True. I think they could branch out if they do this again. I was surprised there weren’t more autobiographical/slice of life/indie titles. Maybe it’s due to what’s available on Comixology, or maybe they assumed people who are interested in comics would be more interested in superhero books?
Paul: I think its probably based in easing people in with super hero books. But there’s also probably more examples of stereotypes and breaking of stereotypes in the mainstream books.
Paul: I’d like to see a follow up class that has Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magicon the syllabus. That has a character that is male in the normal world, and female in the magical world.
Forrest: Interesting! I love Neil Gaiman. Haven’t read that book, but I will add it to my ever-growing list.
Forrest: Ok, so my wife is going to stab me in the face if I ignore her much longer…and you know what book has people getting stabbed in the face (probably?) Transmetropolitan! (segue segue segue)
Paul: Ha. Great segue! With all the recent real world terribleness I have been again pondering the prophetic nature of Ellis and Robertson’s opus. It seems very much like the world of Transmetcould be our future, and I think that’s a great selling point for those who haven’t read it before. It’s not necessarily an entirely bleak future, but it could very easily be the culmination of all the good and bad things occurring now.
Forrest: It is, but I think the compelling/frightening flipside of that is how much it’s reflective of our past as well. See page 59 of vol 10 for a particularly explicit example, though there are plenty of implicit ones as well. Do things ever change, that much?
Paul: True. As I’ve mentioned before, I read the series in college, during the Bush presidency, while reading about Nixon’s presidency as seen by Hunter S Thompson, so I was seeing plenty of things repeating themselves.
Forrest: And the state of journalism these days doesn’t leave much room for hope that we’ll ever have the likes of Spider Jerusalem to scourge the bowels of our corrupt systems. Do we have a voice like that?
Paul: Well. It’s interesting, cause I thought all the “in the moment” reporting via Twitter this week was like the way news was reported in Transmet. And I thought Anonymous’s foray into reporting with Your Anon News was similar to The Hole.
Forrest: Hm, true…But
Paul: But there isn’t a Spider Jerusalem.
Forrest: Yeah. Because Spider Jerusalem has standards, for lack of a better word.
Paul: The closest thing I could think of is Jon Stewart…and he doesn’t want to be that.
Forrest: Yeah, Jon Stewart comes close, but he plays the jester too eagerly. I mean, I love the guy, but he doesn’t display the righteous rage and disrespect for gastrointestinal systems that are necessary for the job.
Paul: Our generation has tried to assign a status to him as head truth teller, as “our” reporter, but it’s something he’s denied again and again.
Forrest: Which is a shame, because I think he has it in him. But he likes to hide behind comedy (which he’s brilliant at) when push comes to shove.
Paul: Yes. But I wonder what a Jon Stewart with nothing to lose would be like. He could make a Louis CK type move at this point.
Forrest: Kidnap his children and find out! (Kidding.)
Paul: Hahaha. Jon Stewart in “Give me back my kids, internet Guy!”
Paul: I think what we’ve hit on is that Transmetropolitan is a timeless series. It speaks to us, it speaks to past generations, and to future ones as well.
Forrest: I’d like to think we can move past some of this bullshit, but I think you’re right. It would be just as relevant if we handed it to some fiefdom vassals in the Middle Ages. If they could take time out from burning us at the stake to read it, and if I could take time out from calling my next rock band “Fiefdom Vassals.”
Paul: I think by calling your band the “Fiefdom Vassals” you’re setting yourself up for a situation in which a traveller from the future will give you a time machine so that you can finish your homework and become the greatest band ever.
Forrest: Hahaha. I can only hope!
Paul: And then you would likely find yourself in a scenario where you would recommend Transmet to someone from the past.
Forrest: I guess hopefully Spider Jerusalem teaches us that the truth is worth fighting for, profanely if necessary. He teaches us to look out for the little guy, and to find the humanity where there may seem to be none. And he also teaches us that sometimes, assholes just need to be trolled.
Paul: I feel like Spider would like Superman (bringing this shit FULL CIRCLE). Especially Waid’s Superman (with a little bit of “teach those broads a lesson/working out Mort Weissenger’s issues” Superman).
Forrest: That would be the weirdest crossover series ever.
Paul: I think the closest is an issue of Ennis’s Hitman where Ennis’s foul mouthed hired cyncial killer basically tells Superman that he matters. (another series to read!)
Forrest: Re-reading these volumes, I noticed there seemed to be much more emphasis on action than in the previous volumes.
Paul: Yes, yet I don’t think it feels out of place. I think the series has built to it. Once Spider goes on the attack against the Smiler, the Smiler has nothing left but violence.
Forrest: There’s some cool ideas for tech on display as well. The ID trashcan thing that removes all genetic trace of a body, the victimbots…
Paul: Yes. The ID trashcan freaked me out. As did the “Ebola Cola” commercial. More disturbing art from Robertson.
Forrest: Speaking of disturbing, there are quite a few creepy, flavorful non-sequitors that pop up, like the lonely cannibals that fall in love, or the three-breasted transvestite(?) Annabel who commits suicide randomly?
Paul: Yes, the Annabel thing was funny tragic and disturbing…especially the porn producer who said “Hi Annabel” on her way down.
Forrest: More weird worldbuilding? Or do you think there’s intent behind these vignettes?
Paul: At this moment, I can’t think of any intent…except maybe that like most of the book, it’s the real world dialed up to 15 and a half? They’re those weird people that you fleetingly encounter in your every day life, but exaggerated.
Forrest: I think you’re right. They seem like throwaway gags, but at the same time there’s a core of tragedy to them. It establishes the world as extreme, but also kind of relatable?
Paul: Yes. Exactly. Any day, either one of us could have a suicidal person come crashing down next to us…but they’d probably be pretty normal looking.
Forrest: Yeah, apart from aesthetics, the crazy shit that goes down in Transmetropolitan is the same crazy shit that goes down in our world. We just don’t talk about it as much.
Paul: And for most part, neither do they. Spider (and the other journalists) barely bat an eye at most of these everyday occurances. People die, people eat each other and it barely rates a sentence in many cases. It’s something we and they are aware that happens, but there might not be a story in it. Or it might not be a story we want to hear.
Forrest: Interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Although Spider does make a point to give a voice to the voiceless throughout the series.
Paul: He does. But realistically…he can’t give a voice to everyone.
Forrest: True, but that’s why we need more Spiders! For example, I like that Mary, the revival woman, keeps popping up. And even plays a small role in Spider’s eventual (spoilers!) victory over The Smiler.
Paul: Yup, and even Robert McX is a Spider of sorts. He’s a Spider who probably sold out early on, but through Spider’s actions maybe reclaims some of who he used to be.
Forrest: Yeah, I liked that character. How do you feel about the ending? Specifically, Spider’s fate? Although any other thoughts you have on the plot resolution are welcome as well…
SPOILERS SPOILERS END OF THE SERIES SPOILERS DAMMIT
Paul: I love the ending. I love how Spider and Yelena’s relationship has ended up, and how Spider still is fucking with everyone…and before that, I do enjoy that Spider is the ‘one man that can make a difference’ and successfully takes down The Smiler.
Forrest: The first time I read it, I was disappointed in the resolution of Spider’s illness. I guess at the time it felt like it was an unnecessary twist, like maybe there was something poetic in him losing his mind after it all. I don’t think I feel that way anymore, though. It does seem like if anyone can beat the odds, it’s Spider. And maybe it’s a mind over matter thing.
Paul: Yeah. And he is still infirmed to a degree…he mentions that in all but 1% it’s progressive…so he’s going to be at the level he’s currently at…not getting better, and messing with his filthy assistants by pretending to drop down a level or two when he feels like it. And that’s perfect for Spider. He gets to retire, to be loved, but to still also fuck with people.
Forrest: I like that Yelena becomes the new Spider, although I wish we could see more of it. But that’s not this story.
Paul: No! Cause then DC will do a crappy Before Transmet series…
Forrest: Well, “After,” but yeah.
Paul: They’ll do it all!
Forrest: I’d only be down if Ellis and Robertson re-teamed and were super passionate about it.
Paul: Or if they were at least being paid in mountains of drugs and money and the skulls of their enemies (what I assume is in Ellis’s contract). Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap up if you’re good.
Forrest: I’m not sure what else to say! I feel like nothing I write can possibly do justice to this series, which is one of my absolute favorites and everyone should seriously read. It’s thought-provoking, visually rich,
I realized I didn’t want to finish that paragraph.
Meant to just send “I’m not sure what else to say!” Haha
Paul: You ruined it!!!
Forrest: Noooooo. Also I picked up Gun Machine(Warren Ellis’s new novel).
Forrest: I’m only on page 3. But it’s good!
Paul: Yeah it is. Well. I think we should re-convene in the near future to talk more comics in general…keep this thing going.
Forrest: Ok – now that we’ve spoiled the entire thing for everybody – GO READ TRANSMETROPOLITAN!
I created this site in an attempt to get tell people about the comics that I love, and engage them in discussions about said comics.
Some folks are reading it, though based on search terms a number of you are here because I’ve typed the words “Sex,” “boobs” and “boobs sex comics” one time or another (And apparently stuck around and read some stuff? Good on you, ‘boobs sex comics’ searcher! Excelsior!).
Anyway. One thing I always have trouble getting across is that comic books are a medium for storytelling, they’re not just Super Heroes or Sci-Fi or Fantasy. There are comics about cops, musicians, and people who work at dead end jobs. And then there are, believe it or not, good “genre” comics in which writers and artists explore things like themes about politics, religion or…GENDER!
I think I’ve mentioned before that this was an early exposure to mature comics for me:
Teenaged me thought that was AWESOME. Teenaged me took that comic book into the bathroom and really studied that panel. Really studied it. Hard.
Teenaged me, and comics like Witchblade are probably how most people not reading comic books view the average comic book reader and how the average female comic book character is portrayed. There are people and portrayals like this. Yes. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist in your brain, comic book stereotyper! But there are a number of creators, both modern and throughout comic book history, that have created comic books that have not only attempted to appeal to both genders, but to explore them.
So as someone who is constantly trying to get more people (and many of them female members of my family) reading comic books, I’m really excited to start taking a course taught by Christina Blanch entitled “Gender Through Comic Books.”
The course is entirely online. It’s totally free, you just have to buy the comic books. And Comixology is selling the entire syllabus at 35% off. Click here to sign up for the course and to buy the comics: http://www.comixology.com/mooc
It’s pretty fantastic. Not only are these some great comics, but there are a number of creators on board to discuss these comics, including Read This Comic Book! favorite Brian K Vaughan (BKV!) and new Read This Comic Book! favorite Kelly Sue DeConnick (She’s currently writing Captain Marvel, which I just read the first seven issues of and highly recommend).
I’m excited to be tasked with thinking critically about something again. My brain needs a little bit of that structure to work better. I’m also pumped to be discussing something I’m passionate about with people who share that passion. If you’ve been reading this blog and said, “well, this sounds kind of interesting, but I need something that’s less about Paul’s hangups,” then you should sign up for this class, and learn more about how ladies and dudes are portrayed in the funny books.
I know this blog is called “Read This Comic!” and I’m trying to be positive and everything, but I took some shots at Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb, and Mark Millar in my conversation with Forrest earlier this week. Basically, I was like “Warren Ellis is awesome and these guys suck. Farts!” And Forrest responded with the calm, cool, collectedness of a well-mannered Michiganian and said “Well, why don’t you like them?” I responded with more harsh insults, and may have besmirched Mr. Vin Diesel as well. For all of this I apologize. But then Forrest texted me about some comics he had bought, including Uncanny X-Men #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo. I responded with, “Bachalo’s art is amazing, but I hate Bendis’s dialogue.” Look below, the art IS amazing: But most of the comic book is filled with scenes like this:
I’m not a fan.
But not so much anymore.
A lot of comic book readers go through cycles of not reading comics. This is generally because we’ve hit a wall with superhero comics. After one such period between high school and college (I thought I was going to get girls the instant I stopped reading comics. Excuse me while I point and laugh at teenage me. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, you IDIOT!), I was starting to get back in. While at first I was reading books I was already reading before (X-Men, mainly), I quickly added a number of new titles to my reading pile, including Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Alias. Those three were all written by one guy: Brian Michael Bendis. Or BENDIS! as he became known amongst my friends and I.
My beef with Bendis started when I read a few of his comics back to back. I don’t recall which ones at the time, but it became obvious that they all sounded the same. A blind lawyer with super powers, a geeky teenager with spider-powers, and a hard drinking female detective all sounded the same. As did their supporting casts.
On top of that, exposition moments seemed to happen a lot. Bendis tends to write a ton of scenes where characters ask a question, are answered, the answer is restated as a question (peppered with some disbelief), in order to introduce a character, concept or situation. It was entertaining at first, but after seeing it a number of times it lost it’s appeal for me.
These are all things that turned me off Bendis as a writer. I still like (most of) his comics that I read when I was younger. I think a number of his Ultimate Spider-Man stories hold up, and can serve as a great introduction to the character. I LOVE his collaboration on Alias with Michael Gaydos, and highly recommend it. It’s not digital yet, but you should still be able to get the trade paperbacks.
My main issue with Bendis, is that I don’t believe he’s really tried anything different in his comic book work. He brought in his style, which was new and interesting at first, but then kept doing it. You can argue that any number of popular writers does, this, but again, this is about me not liking his work. If I was a better writer, I’d probably do a better job illustrating why I don’t like him.
But read Alias. Seriously.
Yeah, Alias. It’s good.
Alias. The Jennifer Garner show?
No. It has nothing to do with the television show. It’s a well done story about a broken woman trying to find herself. And she happens to have super powers and live in the Marvel Universe. It’s really good.
It’s been awhile, but it’s time for another round of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan discussion with my good pal, Forrest! As always, there are spoilers, but at this point we’re really just calling out our favorite moments from the book while going off on tangents…whiiich, I think we’ve already been doing, but you should read this comic so you’ll know what we’re talking about when we ARE on topic. We started this chat with me waiting for Forrest to finish watching The Fast and the Furious 6 trailer.
Paul: Hey compadre.
Forrest: How’s it going?
Paul: I’m surprised you could tear your eyes away from Vin Diesel’s Facebook page.
Paul: It’s open in another window, isn’t it?
Paul: We go MONTHS without talking about Transmet because you were waiting to hear Fast 6 news, and you can’t break away from it for 5 minutes… jeez.
(We then went off on a tangent about honeymoons and Disney World. You don’t need to read that, and that’s about as much context as I’m going to give you for this segue!)
Paul: So, speaking of drunk Disney…Comic Books!!!
Forrest: Yes! So what’s with this image you sent me? Is it more work by Darick Robertson?
Paul: No, it’s by David Aja. An artist who in that spread, was paired with Warren Ellis on a series called Secret Avengers.
Forrest: Ah, I’ve heard good things about that. I like the sci-fi Escher vibe.
Paul: Yes, he did six issues, each one standalone, each paired with a different artist. And even on a series that he probably didn’t invest much in, he told a great story, filled with action, snark, and basic human decency.
Forrest: Somehow I’m guessing he didn’t also find a way to fit in an evil politician ejaculating into an American Flag…
Paul: No, Basically, I just wanted to share another way in which Ellis is awesome…and how he helps elevate the form of comics storytelling rather than just aping popular elements from other mediums like Millar, Loeb, or Bendis.
I started positive and moved to mini rant…
Forrest: Sounds like you have some beef!
Paul: I do…oh, I do. In general, I’m tired of people who settle for what IS versus those who will strive for what can be. And Ellis is a creator who strives, even when on superhero work that he’s deemed ‘beneath him.’
Forrest: I do love Ellis for all he is, but I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to say his influences don’t bleed through. Spider probably couldn’t exist without Hunter S. Thompson, for one. And I’ve been reading a bit of 2000 AD ever since watching the excellent, underrated Dredd last year, and the whole culture of Transmetropolitan seems indebted to Mega City One.
Paul: Yes, that’s fair. I guess I’m saying that in spite of that, he still has his own distinct style, which works, where as the others I cited tend to have styles that are more formulaic. The thing that always shines through for me with Ellis is characters who are gruff and curmudgeonly, but have a wonderful decency that can’t help but shine through.
I need a thesaurus or less beer…
Forrest: Or more beer! Always more beer.
Paul: You’re right. So anyway, drive by snipes at other creators aside, I did prepare notes for our chat about Transmet!
Forrest: I’m torn, because I’ve read and enjoyed things by all of those guys, but I also don’t disagree with you. Something you said dovetails with a feeling I had while reading these latest issues, but we can come back to it later if you’d like
Paul: Well, let’s keep going with it. I do enjoy specific works by each of those creators…Millar’s Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men, Bendis’s Daredevil and Alias…and I can barely take Loeb’s Long Halloween, but any enjoyment I take from his work is generally attributed to his artists. So what was your reaction to these issues that dovetails with my thoughts?
Forrest: Basically, to play devil’s advocate (I trust my love for Transmetropolitan doesn’t need to be defended at this point!), there were times in these volumes where Spider does things that are so casually cruel, that it almost breaks the delicate balance of his gruff side with his hidden, heartwarming side. They’re almost always played for laughs, and I can write them off just as funny sight gags or naughty asides, but it does tend to remind me that I’m reading a comic. I guess I lose some of my investment in him as a character when he’s just a dick.
Paul: He does almost go over the edge sometimes, but he is operating in a heightened world, full of even more terrible people than our real one. Or rather, more overtly terrible people than our reality. Though with every passing day, Ellis must get more and more tweets that say “Transmet is coming true!”
Forrest: That’s true. Oh god, I’m going to be one of those shocked old people who clucks his tongue at those rude kids someday, aren’t I?
Paul: …Forrest…you already are! Dun Dun DUUUUN.
I had a moment today where I wished I was Spider Jerusalem.
Forrest: Oh yeah, what happened?
Paul: There was a guy on the train speaking aloud to everyone about how he was a member of the NSA, and if there were any fellow agents on the train, they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to him…whatever people had said about him wasn’t true.
Forrest: Oh boy
Paul: And I thought to myself, rather than using the shields of an iPod and Kindle, Spider would engage this guy, listen to his story. Not worry about the guy eating his face. That’s what’s wonderful for me about Spider and many of Ellis’s protagonists is that he’s better than me and worse then me in complimentary manners. He cares more about people, he’s more selfless, but he’s also more full of himself, more careless about those close to him, and drinks a shit-ton more.
Forrest: That’s what gives him his power – both in the book, and in our minds as we read the comic. He goes to that extreme that we all wish we could in our best/worst moments. He goes places we wish someone would. Really, that’s what all “heroes” do, in any form of storytelling. Give us a glimpse of what we wish we could be, good or bad.
I think what we’re getting at is we both have man-crushes on Spider Jerusalem, and wish he was our comically abusive uncle.
Forrest: Can I mention how strong the opening of volume 5 is?
Paul: It’s very strong, and I’m realizing for the first time that Volume 5 begins and ends in the rain. It’s a cleansing, wonderful rain in the beginning, and then in the end, it’s just Spider getting peed on by the world.
Forrest: It’s also the perfect way to jump back in after a long hiatus (sorry, fans!). I was worried I would be lost, but everything you need to know about recent events and their impact on Spider’s mental state is right there. The long monologue with Spider talking about the first time he thought about death is brilliantly written of course, but the facial expressions in particular really sell it.
Paul: Yes. Robertson’s ‘acting’ for Spider is always tremendous. He never feels stiff and always jumps off the page.
Forrest: That’s funny, I was going to describe it as ‘acting’ as well. I’m not sure if there’s a better word for it!
Paul: I’ve seen other comics bloggers use it, so let’s run with it! Vol 5 really is an emotional roller coaster as movie poster critics would say.
Forrest: We watch Spider go through a pivotal transition over these two volumes. He begins somewhat listless, almost de-fanged after the assassination and The Smiler’s triumph in the election. So he tries to cause a bit of mischief in typical Spider fashion, and it’s funny ’cause my first thought when he chases down the hate crime story is that this is Spider almost licking his wounds, going after small potatoes when he should be frying big fish.
(sorry bout the food metaphors, I’m hungry)
Well…I like the…delicious steak of hilarity when Spider goes after the Senator involved in a pornography scandal…”Show us your penis, Senator!” Then there’s the brutality of the hate crime, followed again by the intro of volume 6 which features a number of artists turning Spider into the public’s ‘cartoon character.’ Followed by some hilariously brutal beat downs of everyone who can help take down Callahan.
Forrest: Gah, let me be a fanboy for a minute…that cartoon bit was SOOO GOOOOD. Seriously.
Paul: It’s probably one of the best “jam comics” ever. The pornographic parodification (Parodification copyright Paul DeKams 2013) of nearly everything is yet another thing that Ellis predicted. I’m just going to get “Warren Ellis was/is right” tattooed on me. More than anything, that’s a mantra I can get behind.
Forrest: Geez, that is true. Look, as much as I love Ellis, if he turns out to be God or something, I want my money back. Or at the very least, I want my own filthy assistants.
Paul: I’d be okay with it. Just in case, I’m gonna make sure I’m buried with a carton of his favorite cigarettes. The filthy assistants get to shine in Volume 6.
Forrest: They even get their own issue! It’s fun to see what they get up to when Spider’s not around, even if it is mostly just talking about Spider. (I don’t think Transmetropolitan passes the Bechdel test.)
Paul: I love the coda of him being revealed after they walk away “They love my ass.” Even if it doesn’t adhere to the Bechdel test, there’s genuine affection between these characters that everyone should recognize and love.
Or I will fight them.
Forrest: Haha! Speaking of fighting, there’s more glorious violence here. One panel actually made me squirm in my seat.
Paul: Was it the facepalming of the interviewer? Or the bell smashing of the hotel pimp?
Forrest: Page 115 of vol 6 – Spider stomps someone’s nose in…The hotel pimp. Grisly. The interviewer is pretty rough too.
Forrest: And poor old Charlie Brown. That is supposed to be a reference, right? I was scratching my head over that one.
Paul: Yeah, he’s definitely Charlie Brown. I don’t know how much significance it’s supposed to have. Hell, in the Transmet world, there could be a whole GANG of Charlie Browns that gets hired out as muscle.
Forrest: There are a few other references to other properties sprinkled throughout these books, but that one seemed more overt than the others. Maybe there’s no significance other than it’s funny. Or, yeah, I like the idea of bodyguards genetically cloned to look like cartoon characters! That sounds like a thing.
Paul: Let’s go with it! There’s probably Hagar the Horrible thugs working in the next town over.
Forrest: Marmaduke attack dogs…
Paul: So, under the header of “Hard Sci-Fi for Hard Sci-Guys” I’d like to talk about Spider’s use of “telefactoring,” with his consciousness being transmitted, or exerting control over a clone created across the country in order to covertly interview Callahan’s wife. For me, this solves a huge existential problem I have with the realities of (theoretical) teleporting, in that a person is essentially being copied, destroyed and transmitted.
Forrest: Yeah, that was a pretty slick invention. It skirts the line of just being a bit too convenient for plot’s sake, but you can believe it exists in this world. And it’s a neat idea. What’s probably more realistic is some sort of virtually-controlled humanoid “drone.” At least, based on current technology. (Which I don’t understand at all.)
Paul: Yeah, it seems plausible…at the very least, you could control a robot with your face on the screen at this point.
Forrest: Another bit of future-tech: the ability to give everyone in a room Martian STDs.
Paul: I believe that if that tech was real, Warren Ellis would use it.
Forrest: Hell, there are days I would use it…given the right room, of course.
Paul: SPEAKING OF FUTURE…six ends with shit getting real, and Spider going on the run in the face of the President cracking down on the media…this leads into the endgame for both, with Spider engaging new and free technology to subvert the existing mass media establishment
Forrest: It’s a great cliffhanger! And, like all things Transmet, weirdly prescient.
Paul: Yes, especially with the mass media outlets reporting on Spider’s reporting…it’s exactly like when news shows cite Tweets.
Forrest: Why isn’t there a Spider Jerusalem twitter account? I guess it’s just Ellis’ twitter. Which is excellent.
Paul: There apparently are a number of Spider Twitter accounts, but I suspect that they are all terrible.
Hmm…they seem to either be in French, or aping Spider/Ellis/HST’s style while commenting on current events…so, yes. Terrible.
Paul: Nope. He is glorious. Speaking of which, his new novel was a quick, fun read. Very familiar, but still wonderful.
Forrest: Oh yeah? I hadn’t heard of it. I will have to Kindle it.
Paul: It’s called Gun Machine
Forrest: Ohhh yes he keeps tweeting about it but I thought it was a comic.
Paul: NYC detective finds apartment FILLED with guns, all of which are linked to famous homicides.
Forrest: Oh shit. I need to finish the Dredd comic I’m reading, but that’s next up. Sounds awesome.
Paul: nice, I have never read any Dredd, but loved the new movie.
Forrest: I’m reading some pretty early stuff…it’s hit or miss, but there is some brilliance to it. I hear the later stuff gets very good. And I believe Ellis wrote some of it, so I will have to seek that out. Well, I think I’m out of clever observations, is there anything else you wanted to toss around about Transmet?
Paul: No, I’m good on Transmet…wanna do the final four books for the next one? I feel like they move pretty quickly
Forrest: Sounds right up my alley. Sure, maybe in two weeks time?
So we’ll see you all in roughly two weeks time, dear readers! (Unless of course another trailer is released for The Fast and the Furious 6…then it might be awhile….)
“Paul, you’re always talking about Hawkeye! What’s so great about it?”
Well, anonymous reader that found this site while searching for porn, I believe I’ve written about it extensively. I’ve mostly said things like: “It’s awesome.” “Hawkeye is awesome. Both the character AND the book.” “I have a writer crush on Matt Fraction.” “David Aja is ridiculously talented in his inventive panel layout and storytelling.” “Matt Hollingsworth purples all over the place in a spectacular manner.” And then repeated them with each issue that has come out.
This panel is from issue #3. The car chase issue. It’s full of action and sexy times.
Anyway, I got you in here with promises of charity (or porn, if you googled “porn” and this came up as a result of me typing “porn” earlier.). Hawkeye #7, which comes out on Wednesday, January 30th, is about Clint Barton and Kate Bishop (both heroes with the codename ‘Hawkeye’) and how they deal with a fictional version of Hurricane Sandy (I do not give any fucks if it’s actually superstorm Sandy or whatever. It does not matter. Shut up, Al Roker). Writer Matt Fraction is donating his royalties to charity, so in buying this comic, you’re not only validating my opinion by listening to my recommendation, but you’re also doing a good thing for people.
Identity. That seems to be my theme of the week (Sing it now, THEME OF THE WEEEEEEK!), as I have recently read and enjoyed a multitude of comic books dealing with that theme. Phonogram was one such comic, in which characters defined themselves through art and popular culture, specifically music. The comic I’m writing about today, Underwater Welder, features a character defined both by his father, and his own transformation into a father.
Jack Joseph is the titular Underwater Welder.
He’s got a baby on the way. He welds things underwater.
He lives and works in the sleepy town he grew up in.
His life seems to be walking through life half awake, moving almost at a snail-like pace, like he’s trying to extend every second that still exists in the period before he becomes a Father. I capitalize “Father” not because Jack is about to become a man of the cloth, but because that word haunts him. His own father made his living underwater too. And drowned. On Halloween. When he was supposed to be trick or treating with Jack. And in the present day, it looks like Jack is going to become a father right around the time that he lost his own. It messes with his head. Big time. Lemire explores this in what can only be described as a Twilight Zone-y style, with Jack becoming lost in his own past as well as a ghost-town version of his home town.
So you’ve been plot summaried, while I’ve sprinkled in some panels of Lemire’s beautiful artwork. Based on my own artistic knowledge, I can only assume that he’s working in brush and ink, and he’s doing so wonderfully. It’s such a loose, yet committed style. I don’t know if he drafted anything in pencil, I’m sure he must have, but it looks like he just went for it, and nailed it.
Pacing. Look at that pacing. It’s fantastic. It slows you down as a reader, forcing you to read at the art’s pace. With the slow drip of blood hitting water or a blade creeping along a face. Whenever it seems that business might pick up a bit, like a big revelation is coming, we’re forced to cool our jets via some close up inserts that slow that action down.
It was my instinct to move faster. That’s how I read. But Lemire’s art kept me in check. It.
Whilst all of Twitter was…well…atwitter about the Golden Globes and best films of the year, Comic Book Reporter and man about town Tom Spurgeon tweeted something to the effect that he had read a bunch of comics that were way better than any of the films nominated for best something or another. Yay vague references to things I saw on the internet! I hope I’m half-heartedly quoted one day as I am quoting Mr. Spurgeon right now! Anyway, this is a thing that is true of Underwater Welder. It is one of the best creations of narrative art produced in the year of 2012. Not just a great comic, or a great story, but beautifully executed storytelling.
This is something that I’m going to hand to people or buy and say “This is why you should read comic books.” It’s special. It’s smart. It’s true. And it’s done in a way that is different than a film or a prose novel. It’s the pacing. I keep going back to that, but it’s true. Lemire had total control over me while I was reading this. I was drawn to move forward, but not without taking in every beautiful detail rendered in each individual panel, or spread out across the massive splash pages and two page spreads.
Thanks to Ben and Rebecca for recommending this to me. It’s a fantastic comic, and y’all (being everyone but Ben and Rebecca, and I suppose, Mr. Lemire) should read it.