Where, O where, has my Frank Miller Gone?

Recently I went back and read a number of books in Frank Miller’s catalogue. Afterward, in the light of the love-letter he sent to the Occupy Wall Street folks back in the Fall, I have come to the profound realization that Frank Miller is just an odd duck. I feel that he has every right to express his opinions, even if I whole-heartedly disagree with him. Taking an aggregate of his work, and his none-too-subtle opinions, I’ve come to understand that Miller’s personal philosophy revolves around the “Love America or eat lead” principle that Fox News has made it’s “fair and balanced” bread and butter. Again, the man has a right to express himself in whatever volatile, acerbic way he sees fit, and as readers, we have every right to ignore him. Holy Terror, which was frighteningly almost a Batman book, will likely go down as a dirty little secret many years from now, much like the racism in early Superman and Looney Tunes cartoons. Miller has called Holy Terror propaganda in the vein of works by John Locke. Given the disparate quality of the two men’s work, I’d say that that comparison was a big ‘ol swing and a miss. In our current world, a world where we receive more information in a single day than Charles Dickens was exposed to in a year, one can no longer represent an entire culture with the acts of a few evil men and get away with it. That’s precisely why Cap could punch out Hitler, but Batman cannot lay a finger on the boogey men of today. During WWII the Germans, Italians and the Japanese were presented as the evil Axis, and were punished, lock, stock, and barrel, by the American superheroes of the time and Good prevailed, but today we simply know better that the Iraqi citizens, the average joe in Afghanistan, and Molly Merchant in Iran do not deserve our scorn simply because their leaders and military are doing bad things. Just because you hold citizenship to whatever current country we as Americans aren’t supposed to like, doesn’t mean those citizens don’t abhor terrorism as much as we do. Hell, they probably hate it more. A terrorist attack in the middle east doesn’t get a memorial day to commemorate it, it’s usually just a Tuesday. The attacks on 9/11 were horrendous, but I would not call them unprovoked, as Miller as stated on his blog. Not that the average American citizen provoked the horror that reined down on us that day, but more-so due to the simple fact that the perpetrators of that atrocity saw us in the grand scope of “they are all the same” as we have been groomed into viewing many middle eastern countries. The “us versus them” mentality is very profitable to politicians during election years. In the end it is the average citizen who suffers. But isn’t it always.

(Disclaimer: If you don’t want to read another internet joker’s opinions about American politics, go ahead and skip the next paragraph)  

My own view of American politics is that it is treated by politicians, and other so-called movers and career talkers, as nothing more significant than a spectator sport. A quarterback’s job is to facilitate the scoring of points for his team. Other than the sense of vicarious triumph that the people in the stands who happen to be fans of the team feel, this is primarily for his own self-preservation. Certain polititions are all about the freedom to do whatever they happen to say is right at the time. They want to de-regulate guns, trade, business, and insurance, but they want to tightly regulate Americans’ decisions to do the things that truly affect our daily lives. Those are not to be under our control, because God only knows what kind of trouble we’d get into then. It certainly would be much worse than being unceremoniously fired because our job was outsourced to Thailand, buying a gun, shooting ourselves, and then have an insurance company tell us that they can’t foot the bill due to a bullet in the head being a pre-existing condition (you know, pre-existent to our claim). So, when I watch a couple of political yahoos go at it, I can’t help but think of the trashiest episodes of The Real World. I will identify myself as apolitical until such a time that politics become more than just a bunch of rich people playing volleyball with regular people’s lives and then actually having to deal with the fallout of letting the ball hit the sand, as opposed to brushing their hands and saying, “It’s not that I missed the ball, it’s that the last guy messed up his serve.”   

There, I’ve expressed my opinion, without referring to anyone I disagree with as “rapists”. I have many friends who disagree with me politically, and we get along just fine. I know that many big-name creators have gone after Frank Miller for his current string of intellectual salvos, so adding my voice to the din doesn’t equate to much. I guess all this rant adds up to is that I just gull-darn miss liking Frank Miller, but he’s just made it impossible to read his work if you disagree with his politics.



Another Kind of Love
March 26 & 27, 2012
Written by Crystal Skillman
Presented by Overturn Theater
At IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, New York, New York

[Session tapes: http://vimeo.com/38831179]

We’re all the stars of our own reality show now, but for most of our lives we’re still trapped behind the scenes. Crystal Skillman’s Another Kind of Love tracks the un-turnoffable drama of three daughters of an almost-legendary rock martyr, who themselves enjoyed bygone teen stardom and now convene uneasily for what they think is a kind of memorial, but ends up as more of a rededication to a future that belongs to someone else.

That someone is the legend’s granddaughter, heir to the family’s talent and perhaps its self-destructive tendencies and uncertain place in the world. It’s a background most of us don’t share but a symbol of elevated expectations and nurtured grievance that almost all Americans partake of, and Skillman is an established master of family faultlines both lofty and commonplace.

In particular Stacy Salvette as the least-acclaimed daughter gave a titanically moving performance as every struggling junkie I’ve ever lost, in the wavering moments before they’ve lost it all, and Chet Siegel in the role of Salvette’s own daughter was captivating as the personification of pissed-off, promising American youth holding onto a chalice leaking like an hourglass.

This two-night workshop is a semi-staged work-in-progress like its characters (developed in two months with cast collaboration and audience input like the best improv bands, for later evolution and full-scale production by any theater smart enough). This demo version had a few soliloquys whose melodrama outlasted their pathos and conflicts whose intensity overspilled their authenticity. Later audiences will enjoy both an expanded set-list and a tightened act. But Skillman is also a virtuoso of comings-of-age and unexpected second chances at the other end of trauma, so maybe even the moments that seem more rough-edged now, like the trials the characters can’t escape but only confront, deserve to be lived all the way through.

Darwin in a Landslide

It’s serious out there. The economy is still wobbling and the safeguards against it toppling again are flimsy, so as not to offend those who profited from the last collapse. The environment is reaching a catastrophic tipping point, but we’re told we have to leave no ocean-shelf or subterranean rock unturned or unexploded, so those leasing the air we breath don’t lose any of the profit they’re divinely entitled to. A black or brown skin is all the evidence that’s needed for summary execution, as the racially keyed assassination rhetoric of the president’s booing section goes from rally slogan to national pastime.

It’s serious, but the Republicans seeking full control of the government this fall are not serious, which is why they might stop surviving sooner.

We know that politicians in general and the Democrats in particular are good at self-preservation; they perpetuate themselves in office while addressing the issues they were elected on as little as possible. When it looks like their likely voters will notice how much worse this year’s worst-case is from last year’s and not return the officials to their own jobs, the reps pry open some political capital, like the Dems did to put down an employer’s “right” to deny you healthcare he or she deems immoral. But the Dems, like their president, feel they’re there to manage a stable status quo, not transform any fundamental malfunctions of society.

The 2012 GOP, on the other hand, is focused on transforming fundamental principles of reality — the kind of pillars of personal existence and social coherence that you don’t need a political science degree, just intuition, to see the shifts in.

With everyone wondering where their next paycheck and meal might come from, and being made well aware that, in their civic voice, they are less a person than corporations are, the Gops are focused on dismantling government for every function but sending more of us to war and legislating the most private of choices. Which is why, after controlling the national agenda for almost every day Obama has been in office and the Dems were in control, the Republican party is heading into an electoral ass-kicking like nothing this country has ever seen.

Every dysfunctional party is dysfunctional in its own way, and while the Democrats tend to stop too far short of their stated aims, for the GOP, enough is never enough. Having helped swerve the steering wheel of healthcare “reform” into a windfall for insurers and watered down financial-industry controls and stonewalled untold common-sense public-service appointments, the Gops are now running an entire campaign, at a historic turning point, on convincing this of all countries that it doesn’t like sex.

That’s an oversimplification of course, which puts us in mind of the implications those making the case themselves seek to cut out. The size of your family, the timing of what’s right in your own life and any you may create and be responsible for, the choice of how you follow your own heart and conduct your own body and with whom, are the most personal of decisions, and, you’d think, the most definitive line these foes of government believe it shouldn’t cross. But privacy is a right, not a reward, and the Gops interpret the “pursuit of happiness” in terms not of personal rights but material self-interest.

Rights are an abstract concept, while prosperity is a concrete quantity, and for this party, abstraction is the domain of religion, not governance. And, for them, unfortunately, religious morality is what should govern public life — the Gops, or at least the men they’re putting forth as embodying their purest views, favor conviction, not conscience; the “base” voters are going with those perceived as the “purest” among even these, who allow the fewest exceptions to stern rules of private and public morality. Conviction holds a line and resists contamination by conflicting thoughts and situational demands; conscience adapts to changing conditions and accommodates other people’s perspectives. Margaret Thatcher famously defined herself not as a consensus politician but a conviction politician; in that worldview values are a matter of “community standards” and advancement is a matter of competition for a commonly held goal; personal views, individual ethics, and the idea that authority, even if it reserves secrecy for itself, does not share the vision of what’s best for you, is disruptive, delusional. That’s why the Gops can’t calculate that privacy is in fact at the core of self-interest, and can’t conceive that most people will prefer adaptable conscience over arbitrary dogma.

And so, for a party so based in safeguarding self-interest, the Gops are not showing too sharp an instinct for self-preservation. The Dems act slowly on their own principles, but calculate rapidly when self-preservation is endangered — and the circle of their constituents’ self-interest is narrowed. They beat the American Taliban back from our own bedrooms and hospital wings, just barely, so we’re maybe a bit too winded to worry about how they gutted UNESCO and deprived kindred citizens and potential allies around the world over a procedural point on Palestinian statehood. And we’ll return them to office, in historical numbers, because of what more we ourselves don’t want to lose.

The Dems will likely then fall back to the business-as-usual of consolidating their position rather than pressing the people’s cause. And we’ll have fallen back from the concept and call of the first Obama campaign, as he did pretty quickly and with formidable consistency — back from what we can strive for to what we can salvage.

This at least (and at most) means all of us will live to fight another day. And while we live there’s hope. We’ll just have to keep looking for any of the change.

Stash Review #2

Justice League #7 (DC)

Geoff Johns, like Bendis over at Marvel, at one time wrote just about everything for DC, and with great workload comes great variability in quality. Now, having only duties on three instead of umpteen-forty hundred books the ratio of decent to ugh has altered. Justice League is not the best book on the rack, but it is fun. It’s wide scope leaves little room for anything but pure action, but, frankly, if you like a given character enough pay for the movie and still want the dinner conversation, there’s always their own titular books. About half of JL #7 is that no holds barred action I was talking about,where the JL battle a big baddie named Spore. The rest of it has to do with Col. Trevor, the JL’s handler of sorts, and his trials and headaches playing the team’s liaison to the press and US government. With art by Gene Ha, it is certainly a pretty book, if a bit front-heavy on the action. This issue also starts a back-up Shazam feature, by Johns and Gary Frank. The 12-pager plays as prologue and introduces new readers to Black Adam and Billy Batson. One major annoyance with this story, however, is that the first three page worth of captions are nothing but descriptors of exactly what we can plainly see going on in the panels. This is a gigantic pet-peeve of mine, and at one point referred to it as “Lobdell-ing it” (given that writers tendency to do the same in abundance back when he helmed the X-Men), but if this keeps up, I may have to change the verb. Still, this was a good issue, overall, and also a jumping-on point for anyone who missed the first story arc.

Rating: Pull box regular

Batman #7 (DC)

Batman is another regular for me, being that he has always been one of my favorites in the superhero game, and this new volume of the Dark Knight’s core book is shaping up quite nicely. I do feel they are running the whole Court of Owls thing a bit thin, but I know they are gearing up for a big Bat-family crossover dealing with this new menace. In this issue they reveal a big ret-con switcheroo to tie the brand new Court of Owls a little tighter around the bat mythos. It’s all a little too conveniently explained, but the bulk of the book remains fantastic, so I’ll go with it.

Rating: Pull box regular

Road Rage #2 (IDW)

Okay, my first impression of this book was, “Oh, Cool, King and Hill doing a book together!”, my second being, “Ah, looks like a rip-off of Sons of Anarchy,” and my third impression after learning it is an adapted by Chris Ryall from prose written as a tribute to Matheson’s classic story “Duel” was, “This is pretty damn good.” The original story by King and Hill is titled “Throttle”. I have yet to read it, but judging on the lusciously illustrated comic adaptation, it proves to be pretty good. “Throttle” only consists of the first two issues of Road Rage, the remaining two being a adaptation of Matheson’s “Duel”. The first issue is still pretty easy to find, but be warned it is not for those allergic to gutter-mouthed, hyper-violent, angry-as-spit biker thugs being relentlessly hunted by a psycho in semi.

Rating: Good read, looking forward to the adaptation of “Duel” in the remaining issues

A Short Appreciation of Jeff Smith’s RASL

I was gonna call this post “Why RASL kicks ASSL”, but if you say that a little too fast it just sounds wrong, so I went with the boring “A Short Appreciation of…” Anyway, RASL, by the always impressive Mr. Jeff Smith, is a book anyone with an itch for good ol’ hard, Asimov-Clark science fiction should be drooling over. Not only is it a slam-bang awesome thriller, but it incorporates factual science history, not to mention a great succinct survey of Nikola Tesla’s life and achievements (and, quite frankly, whom with even a smidgen of interest in the history of science isn’t fascinated by that guy?) woven seamlessly into the fictional fold. This one is even more applause-worthy being that it is Smith’s creator-owned follow-up to Bone, one of the great landmark masterpieces in the history of comics, and manages to stand on its own two feet. The story is of the titular parallel universe jumping physicist-turned-art thief’s battle to keep an ultimate weapon from the hands of a government who does not possess the appreciation for the immeasurable destructive power that the weapon could unleash. All of the science in this book, while applied fictitiously, is based on the actual research and theories of Nikola Tesla. Now that the series is nearly over, it would probably be difficult to find it in issues, but Jeff Smith is never stingy with the collections (along with pretty cool bonus material), and I’m sure there will be a “complete edition” in the near future.

Stash Review #1

Batman and Robin #7 (DC)

This is a series that I initially decided didn’t make the cut after reading issue #1. The primary reason for this is because I find Damien extremely obnoxious. Yeah, we all know he is supposed to be, but that doesn’t make him any more tolerable. For some reason, around issue #4 or so, I decided to give the series another shot. Despite Damien being the insufferable tool that he is, the inaugural storyline  was pretty good. It explored Damien’s loyalty to his father, as well as digging into a bit of Bruce’s own quest for the cowl and introducing (as far as I know) the villain Nobody. All that is well and good, but the final line in issue #7 is a doozy on the cheese meter.

Rating: Still getting it, but we’ll see in a few issues

Suicide Squad #7 (DC)

Great series, great line up of both mainstay characters and cannon fodder. The best thing about this series is that you never really know whose gonna be sticking around and whose gonna buy it in terrible, entertaining ways. This issue, the conclusion to the “Hunt for Harley Quinn” storyline, finds us, once again, getting a taste of Harley Quinn’s origin. Most of us Batman buffs know it by heart, but its always welcome to get a reminder of just how bat$#!+ crazy she really is. All in all, a good one. I’m not sure I buy the “shocking” conclusion, but, you never know, this is the “Suicide” Squad after all.

Rating: Pull box regular

Dark Matter #3 (Dark Horse)

This series, from the creator’s of Stargate SG-1 (and actually written by them, too, not just that “created by” marketing-gimmick crap), is working its way to the the top of my “holy crap, I can’t wait for the next issue” list. Each issue, so far, has read like a great science fiction television series: episodic, but building to a bigger story. If the writers can get away with a really effective cliffhanger in issue #2, involving brand new characters sans well known back-stories, then you really have something. Issue #3 stays with it all the way. The premise is that a band of people wake up aboard a spaceship with no knowledge of who they are, but clues lead them to believe they may not have been the good guys.

Rating: Definitely sticking with this one

Saga #1 (Image)

It’s written by the well-vetted Brian K. Vaughn, has a truly original concept (so original, in fact, that the only place this would probably get the greenlight would be in comics), and my wife loved it. Now, she’s been with me long enough to have developed a taste for comics, but she read this one first, and told me it was great. So, what’s it about? Well, I’ll just say, it’s really damn good. It would be pretty difficult to summarize this one in the space I allot myself to do these little blurb reviews.

Rating: Definitely on for issue #2 (and what better praise can an issue #1 get?)

Got Writer’s Block? This Vid Will Help.

Frick Weber combines his knack for video documentation and his love of comics to create a valuable piece for those of us interested in comics’ creative side. Today’s topic: dealing with writer’s Block. Frick has managed to get face time with some heavy hitters, including Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos, who give note-taking-worthy advice for getting over those creative hurdles.

If you enjoy seeing the panels at a con or flipping through back issues of Write Now, this is worth eight minutes of your time. And when you’re done, click around some of the other vids Frick and cloud9comix have posted. The topics are compelling and the video work is excellent.

Comic Book Storytellers #6 (On Writers / Artist Block)

A very short appreciation of Paul Pope

Paul Pope is a true auteur of the medium. His linework looks like alien calligraphy that miraculously forms images of a world filtered through Mick Jagger’s rooster strut and the dirty futures of new wave science fiction. Any true art is read, just like text, and Pope illustrates this beautifully. It looks as if he is literally writing his pictures. Another aspect of Pope that I highly respect is that he usually is the sole creator of his work. There is just something very pure about that notion. So, I highly recommend picking up THB, Heavy Liquid, 100%, Batman: Year 100, or any other book that this great artist has brought into the world. If you see his work the way I do, you definitely won’t be disappointed.