Lynd Ward’s Wordless Novels

Boing Boing brings word that the Library of America is offering a slip-cased, two-volume set of Lynd Ward’s Depression-era woodcut novels, edited by Art Spiegelman. The whole set is $70, but is a total steal at Amazon for over $30 as of now (for pre-orders).

I have a couple of the books collected in this series, and I can attest that they are stunning and excellent. I have been waiting for years for a collection like this, to see the images on fine paper and in a lovingly curated collection. Perhaps there’s something more “authentic” about seeing Depression-era stories told on the cheap, used, newsprinty-paper copies I have, but honestly, Ward’s work deserves the premium treatment.

These works were really influential for a lot of comic book artists (including Spiegelman, I’m guessing), and to me while I was first getting into my studies of visual storytelling and design. I had been counting the years until this material goes into the public domain (in a good long time), hoping that I’d be able to put together my own collection sometime, but I’m very happy that much more qualified people beat me to it years in advance.

Short Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Dan’s Take)

Tony has already regaled you with the tale of our adventure to see *Scott Pilgrim vs. The World* and [his review](—as with *most* things Tony says—is spot on. In some ways, as we discussed after the film, it would have been better not to have the comic so fresh in your head, because you find yourself waiting for jokes or looking for characters. That said, the film stands on its own, with plenty of quips and situations that are more “inspired by” the comic than ripped directly from the page. The casting is pretty much spot on for the most part, though it’s also worth noting that in many ways Michael Cera’s portrays a fundamentally different Scott Pilgrim than the protagonist of the comics (he lacks the manic energy of the latter). As a long-time fan of director Edgar Wright’s work, though, I maintain that the man is [three]([for]([three]( in feature filmdom. At the same time, though, I found myself thinking about halfway through that I couldn’t wait until somebody inevitably adapts the series to a television show so we can see all the parts that got left out.

Killing is the Other Half of the Battle

GI Joe Resolute is a (not-for-kids) resurrection of the old toy/cartoon franchise at Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, penned by cantankerous comics writer Warren Ellis. Cory Doctorow describes it on Boing Boing as “reimagining the infra-dumb 80s toy-sales vehicle as a serious war comic.” I think calling it “serious” is kind of a bit much—it’s more violent, but at the end of the day, what I’ve watched so far is still a subtext-free action story about ninjas and army men.

I find it somewhat amusing that these are being written by the same fellow who once ranted to comics fans, “No-one’s listening to you. Because whenever anyone asks you what you think, you ask them to bring the fucking Micronauts back.” (Though, to be fair, he also acknowledged in the same piece, “I am part of the problem. Fuck you.”)

I can’t help but wonder, though, whether this is a sort of subtle revenge against nostalgic fans. What better way to tug at nerds’ heartstrings than by murdering their beloved childhood icons? For the ultimate poke in the eye, I’m hoping they get the writers of The Wire to revive the old C.O.P.S. cartoon. Come on, guys—crime’s a-wastin’.

Halls of Montezuma, Dubbie!

middleman.jpgIt is a fact that my love for [*The Middleman*]( knows no bounds, corporeal or spiritual, so despite the fact that the show is—in [the words of its creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach](—”hibernating in a high-tech vat, or a sac filled with a translucent amniotic fluid”, I can still rest secure in the knowledge that come July, I will be able to own all twelve episodes in [one handy DVD package]( Not only that, but arriving at the same time is a graphic novel that concludes the storyline from the TV show (which, if you’ll cast your mind back to more carefree days, you’ll remember was itself based on a comic series).

To my mind, *The Middleman* is undoubtedly the best prematurely-cancelled show since *Firefly* walked upon England’s mountains of green—and let’s be fair: I watch a lot of shows that get cancelled. I could almost be the patron saint of cancelled television shows—well, except for that whole “performing miracles” business. Then again, *Firefly* already got revived once, so maybe if a couple more shows I liked come back from the dead, that’ll count.

Basically, this is all a long way of saying that you should really watch *The Middleman*. This is, after all, the show that brought us fish zombies, vampire bat puppets, and five intergalactic dictators masquerading as a boy band. Matt Keeslar as the eponymous Middleman is a square-jawed, all-American hero in the vein of pulp heroes of old, and Natalie Morales’s Wendy Watson is probably geekdom’s best heroine since Veronica Mars. If you like the show *half* as much as I like it, well, I’ll have liked it twice as much as you.

And that’s logic you can’t argue with.

Short Comic Review: 100 Bullets

It was a rainy day this past Saturday, so I figured I’d pass some time rereading the most recent volume of 100 Bullets. I ended up rereading the entire series, more or less in reverse order by volume. This is not uncommon for me, the release of each new volume prompts me to go back and reread everything before and I’ve easily read the first several books 15 times. For me, 100 Bullets is effectively to comics what the Wire is for television; there is always something more for me to glean from it with each new reading/viewing.

100 Bullets presents itself at first as series of strange morality tales. An operative for an unknown agency, Agent Graves, approaches a person who has been greatly wronged and presents them with a briefcase containing a gun, one hundred rounds that cannot be traced, and carte blanche to proceed as they like. Early stories explore the different ways people deal with Grave’s offer, but the series quickly expands beyond that to explore questions concerning the origins of Agent Graves, who employs him, and how/why are people chose to receive this offer. Through these avenues story of 100 Bullets rapidly transitions to explorations of mass conspiracies and complicated plots of vengeance between an ensemble cast of characters with murky pasts. Brian Azzarello’s writing does a great job of providing distinct voices for his many characters and shows a level of planning with regard for a slowly revealed plot that I personally have never seen in comics before. (At a planned, and almost completed, one hundred issues this series mandates an intense commitment to the concept.) Eduardo Riso’s art never fail to impress and seems perfectly suited for the noir/pulp themes the stories explore. I’ll be sad to see this series end but I’m very much looking forward to the answers to questions that have been building for years.

The penultimate volume come out at the end of September, and with only 5 issues left the series will reach its end soon. Definitely one of the best series going, and even with the stiff competition from DMZ this is my favorite current Vertigo title.

Garfield Minus Garfield Plus Book

Gotta say, I am impressed that Jim Davis has a good enough sense of humor about [Garfield Minus Garfield]( that he’s helping [publish a book of the strips]( On the one hand, I’d like to think this says something about the future of parody and user-altered content—on the other hand, though, it’s probably just free money for Davis, so I guess he’s really got nothing to lose.

Short Comic Review: Y, The Last Man (Dan’s version)

On the one hand, I’m kind of glad that I waited until this series was finished before reading it—my memory for plot details is patchy at best, and if I’d had to read this parceled out over six years, I have no doubt I would have had even more trouble keeping track of the hordes of minor characters and intrigues than I did. At the same time, I wonder if I would have felt even more of an emotional impact at the end if I’d undergone the journey over a period of years rather than a couple weeks. But I digress. Vaughan is an excellent writer: his dialogue is tuned and sharp and his characters are all too human; I really like Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan’s art (which is saying something, since I often spend far less time on visuals than I do on words). I didn’t get the same feeling of de-emphasis on the cause of the plague that killed the world’s men that [Jason did](, but perhaps that was just given the short period in which I read it. I agree with him, however, that this is the type of story I love to see told in serial medium like comics and TV: stories that are plotted from a beginning *to an end*.

(I see from [the Wikipedia entry]( (which contains spoilers) that a film is planned to shoot this fall and come out next year, based on a draft by Vaughan (rewritten by the film’s director, D.J. Caruso). There is a rumor that Shia LaBeouf (*Transformers*,*Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull*) will play Yorick—all I have to say to that is: “Monkeys…why’d it have to be *monkeys*?”)

The forecast: cloudy, with a chance of Batman?

With all the Batman-related links I’ve got to clear out, you’d think I was some sort of obsessed, er, *batfan*. Truth be told, I’ve really just been meaning to link to [this awesome article over at *Scientific American*]( for over a week now. If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to *become* Batman—aside from *more money than God*—you could do worse than to talk to E. Paul Zehr, the associate professor of kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Who also, as it happens, has been practicing Chito-Ryu karate-do for over twenty-five years. And, not coincidentally, is writing a book called *Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero*, which is due to come out this fall.

As Professor Zehr points out, it’s not *becoming* Batman that’s hard—you could do it, given enough time, practice, and drive—Zehr pegs it at about 10-12 years to achieve the same level of physical conditioning and expertise in martial arts; although, if you also account for the fact that Batman tries not to kill anybody, that number goes up to 15-18 years.

What’s far more difficult, however, is *remaining* Batman. As Zehr says:

> **How would all those beat-downs have affected his longevity?**
> Keeping in mind that being Batman means never losing: If you look at consecutive events where professional fighters have to defend their titles—Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Ultimate Fighters—the longest period you’re going to find is about two to three years. That dovetails nicely with the average career for NFL running backs. It’s about three years. (That’s the statistic I got from the NFL Players Association Web site.) The point is, it’s not very long. It’s really hard to become Batman in the first place, and it’s hard to maintain it when you get there.

There are also (as Jason pointed out to me) [plenty of other, non-physical side effects]( inherent in being the Dark Knight. Such as slapping around your boy wonder. No. That’s not a euphemism.

So how likely is it that we could have a potential Batman among us? Zehr gives a rough estimate: multiply the percentage of billionaires in the world and the percentage of Olympic decathletes in the world. So, let’s give this a try.

According to *Forbes* there are presently [1,125 billionaires in the world]( (a substantial jump from the first listing, in 1986, which had just 140, and quite a jump from 1916 when there was just one). The youngest is Facebook founder [Mark Zuckerberg](, at 24 (there’s still time, Zuck! Get training now and you could be Batman by the time you’re eligible to run for president).

As of this writing, the US Census Bureau’s [world population clock]( puts the total inhabitants of the planet Earth at about 6,712,463,068. So, the percentage of billionaires on the planet is about 1.68×10-9 or 0.00000000168%.

The number of decathletes is a little harder to track down, but the [2008 Beijing Olympics website]( says that the targeted number of participants in Olympic athletics events (which includes but is not limited to the decathlon) is 1,100. That may be a generous number, but it’s pretty darn close to the number of billionaires, so let’s say “close enough.” The percentage of Olympic decathletes on the planet is then about 1.64×10-9 or 0.00000000164%.

Multiplying the two of those together yields our percentage of people who could be Batman: 2.75×10-20. Or 0.0000000000000000000275%. That’s a pret-ty small percentage of people. So, out of our world population used above, how many potential people could be Batman? Good news! 1.85×10-10, or 0.000000000185 people.

So, as that devilish villain *mathematics* would have it, it’s extremely unlikely—nigh on impossible—that Batman walks among us. But while there may be no Batman *today*…have faith in the *children*. Remember, little Timmy and Suzy, if you work hard and eat all your vegetables, *you* can grow up to be Batman some day.

Trust me: you don’t even want to *see* the paperwork on the chances of a single alien child crash-landing on a planet whose yellow sun *happens* to give him superpowers.

Short Television Review: The Middleman

I started watching *The Middleman* when it began airing for two major reasons: 1) it’s based on a comic book and 2) said comic book is written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who was also a writer on a little show called *Lost*. *The Middleman* bears a superficial resemblance to *Men in Black* (and—*gasp*!—a novel I was working on last year): young aspiring artist Wendy Watson is recruited by a mysterious guy known only as—you guessed it—the Middleman to help fight off aliens, zombies, and evil masterminds bent on taking over the earth. Possibly using gun-toting gorillas. While it might seem like strange fare for a “family” channel, what with references to sex and frequent bleeped-out swears for comic effect, the show maintains a wacky fun vibe chiefly because of its enthusiastic leads: Matt Keeslar as the all-American Navy SEAL turned planetary hero and the charming Natalie Morales (whom I failed to resist as my new TV crush) as the sarcastic and plucky Wendy. The plots are often silly (the last episode featured aliens masquerading as a boy band), but enjoyable, and the writing is at times sharp enough that it might slide right past you without your noticing. Having read that the show’s ratings are [not performing as well as they *should* be]( gives me even more reason to mention it to anyone looking for a fun summertime TV show.

*Bonus: [two]( of my [favorite]( PSA promos for the show.*

Short Comic Review: Y, The Last Man

For some years now, I have only followed three regularly serialized comic book series, and two have been written by Brian K. Vaughan. I suppose that right there is an implicit endorsement for Y, a tale following a 22-year-old escape artist and the women determined to protect the future of his sex after a mysterious plague wipes out all other men on earth. It definitely has its high and low points; the other Vaughan series I read, Ex Machina, has less that feels like “filler,” I think. Also, part of me was kind of disappointed that the author gradually de-emphasizes the central mysteries about the “plague” itself. Still, I can’t help but feel like it ended up being just the story it needed to be. Considered alongside other Vertigo titles, such as Sandman and Transmetropolitan, I think this series represents what “mainstream” comics ought to be: self-contained, long-form stories, started with a specific conclusion in mind, not strung along indefinitely to line somebody’s pockets. (“Unless I’m in really dire financial straits and I have to do an Ampersand the Monkey spinoff,” the author allows. I wouldn’t hold it against him.)