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Friday, June 23, 2006
  comics are better than money

I haven't gone by the store in weeks now, so no telling how much is there. Hopefully I won't have to cash in my 401(k).


FABLES: LEGENDS IN EXILE

SA and I had to take care of some business between Coke's wedding and reception. Between the returned and the freshly borrowed we both walked away with ten or so trade paperbacks. Within the new (to me) pile were the first three or four Fables trades. People have been recommending this to me for years now, starting with the middle-aged dude who owns the Fantasy Factory in Dalton. His opinion doesn't hold as much weight with me as Thorn's and SA's, though, so I had no interest until the latter two also hyped it up. Even then, I was leary, 'cuz I'd never heard of Bill Willingham, and outside of a few creators most Vertigo books really kinda suck. Vertigo has a rep among its detractors for producing arty pretentious bullshit, and outside of Morrison, Milligan, Matt Wagner's old Sandman Mystery Theater, Y the Last Man, and some Garth Ennis, this is mostly true, I think. Not that I've actually read much Vertigo these past 12 years, but none of the current line-up even remotely interests me, and had two close friends not recommended it, I never would've given Fables a chance.

I gotta say, though, Legends in Exile disappointed me. I'd been told not to expect much from the first trade, but even with lowered expectations I wasn't very impressed. Willingham's ideas are fine but his dialogue is lackluster. Nobody talks like a real person, which shouldn't be a problem, since they're, you know, fairy tale characters. Since the whole point is that these fictional people now reside in the "real" world, though, and since Willingham obviously tries to have them speak like contemporary real-life yahoos like you and me, the fact that everybody sounds as if they're in some bad movie-of-the-week thriller (but with curses 'cuz it's Vertigo) is kinda disconcerting. Everybody talks too much, and too much information is revealed through dialogue. It doesn't make sense for Bigby to explain the "general amnesty" to Bluebeard, or Jack or whoever, because everybody in the fable community should already know what that is. Willingham is trying to introduce these background ideas naturally and without interrupting the flow of the story, but within the reality of the book such explanatory dialogue should be unnecessary. Cole's speech at the Remembrance Day celebration is a good way to introduce all this to the reader in a straight-forward, common-sensical fashion. Instead he was only repeating what we already knew due to previous unnatural dialogue.

It's partially the awkward dialogue that makes the characters unlikable. I didn't get into any of them until about three-quarters of the way through the book, once you realize that Bigby isn't necessarily an idiot and/or awful detective. Until that Remembrance Day event not a single character is likable or interesting, includin the talking pig on a bender. It takes colossal mediocrity to make a talking pig on a bender boring. The central relationship is a rehash of Moonlighting or Cheers but without any of the humor and charisma of David Addison or Sam Malone. Things do perk up at that celebration. Pinnocho's complaint is the only truly funny moment of the book. Also Bigby starts to become an interesting, well-written character once we get to Remembrance Day. But for most of this first trade he's a dull, sour, incompetent bore. You have to wonder whose lack of imagination led to him looking like a stereotypical grizzled tv detective, the Wolf's, the wizard who worked up the glamour, or Willingham's.

In Legends in Exile Willingham lays out several interesting ideas that could form the foundation of a good comic. He squanders much of the potential, though, in the process producing a mediocre book. I still have hope for the series, and everybody seems to agree that it gets much better after these first five issues. I plan on starting the second trade today, so I suppose I'll see if that's true.


THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT

So every superlative you've ever heard about Eisner and the Spirit is pretty much true, it seems. The stories collected herein are short (they're all only seven pages), but contain as much depth and information as any random issue of THE NEW AVENGERS. Like the best of the Golden Age, THE SPIRIT can simultaneously be as gritty as anything made today and as goofy as prime Silver Age DC. Like a streamlined, minimalist Dick Tracy, THE SPIRIT is less about the titular hero and more about the thugs and criminals that he confronts; the Spirit is basically a cipher, appearing occasionally to throw a few punches but generally sticking to the background of the story. As great as the writing is, though, THE SPIRIT's main claim to fame is Eisner's exceptional artwork. Amazing design work abounds throughout these stories, and not just in the beautiful, ground-breaking splash pages. It's kind of shocking to look at Eisner's use of panels, shading, and perspective and realize that this was all done back in the '40's and early '50's. Some of these techniques seemed revolutionary to me when they'd pop up in DC's more out-there titles back in the early '90's, and yet they'd been around for half a century at that point. I won't read a poorly written comic just because it has great art, but even if the stories sucked I'd probably still really like THE SPIRIT. Yeah, there's a little bit of racism involved, but it doesn't detract from Eisner's technical brilliance. Anybody who likes comic books or strips should definitely take a look at this stuff.


ESSENTIAL THOR Vol. 1

And from complete brilliance to impenetrable schlock. Okay, it's not as bad as that, at least not eventually, but the first half of this book is almost unreadable. Between the bad art, the horrible stories, and the lack of any definied paramaters for Thor's powers, the first ten or so issues collected within are almost incomprehensible. It's truly early Marvel at it's worst. It gets a bit better once Stan Lee reclaims both scripting and plotting duties, and finally hits its stride shortly after Jack Kirby resumes the art chores. Kirby's return coincides with the debut of the "Tales of Asgard" back-up feature, which is a nifty little Classics Illustrated take on Norse mythology, but of course Marvelized down a bit. Shortly after that Jack takes over the art of the main story, and everything becomes consistently good. I don't know if this was Kirby's first foray into muscled space-dudes with big goofy helmets, but it definitely foreshadows his work on the Fourth World books and the Eternals. Despite the marked improvement, though, the series is still plagued by the presence of Dr. Donald Blake, Thor's lame alter-ego. And I mean both crippled and shitty when I say lame. I don't see why the damn Thunder God and Scion of Odin needs a stupid secret identity, and I especially don't understand why every single storyline and supervillain attack needs to somehow be based around Thor's forbidden love for Blake's nuse Jane Foster. I know Marvel's all about real-life heroes with real-life problems, but Jesus shit, Thor's a god-damn GOD, you can't get less real-life than that. Still, though, between Kirby's excellent art, Lee's awesomely over-the-top writing, and the great "Tales of Asgard" feature, the second-half of this book is almost great. I definitely recommend it to Kirby fans and anybody who digs Thor or early Marvel.
 

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MESMERIZATION ECLIPSE RADIO:
Elliott is on AM 1690 the Voice of the Arts on Monday nights from 7-9PM for Radio Undefined
Crews is on WXDU on Tuesday mornings from ten to noon

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Dark doesn't want to own her, but he can't let her have it both ways.

Cocaine Bref is proud of his island heritage & will riff with you.

Elliott is sufficiently breakfast.
PS3 ID: ATLbloodfeast

Crog works in the bullshit industry in Hollywood. He was born on May 7th, 1978.

Jerkwater Johnson (friend to CT Jake Motherfucker) lives in San Francisco. He likes snacking, and the Mets, and is the proprietor of a bar called Duck Camp.

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