Friday, 30 November 2012

Weekend Warriors and Trade Waiters

Or on the fundamental difference between tradepaper backs and comics singles.
"Do you prefer to read collections or do you want to dive right into the culture and try singles?  (No judgement — however you want to read is great.  I think there’s something really fun about the weekly countdown to Wednesday, but it’s also not as convenient as picking up a collection — which we call “trades” or “tpbs.” The latter stands for Trade Paperbacks.) 
Is X-Men your thing?  If so, that sounds like a good place to start, though I’ll be honest and confess I haven’t read those books so I can’t really make a personal recommendation. 
You know there happens to have been a brand new X-Men #1 out last week?  You really couldn’t have picked a better time to get started.   
I’m posting this as a screen cap to make it rebloggable so that others can offer their suggestions too.
I will also be SUPER biased and throw out there that AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #9 and CAPTAIN MARVEL #7 both came out in the last week and are good jumping on points.   
What say you, folks?" 

This quote by Kelly Sue DeConnick (or at least from her Tumblr... accreditation is hard with that service, eh?) got me thinking about the relationship between comics singles and collected editions.

I've come to the conclusion that the two are fundamentally different experiences.

For some context, I've recently changed my reading practices from that of the consummate Weekly Warrior, buying largely single comics and the occasional trade, to a Tradewaiter who buys a limited number for singles and mostly collected format books. Which, I guess makes me a hybrid comic buyer. As a result, I've had a bit of experience on how different these two kinds of comics consumption habits are.

The first (and I would argue fundamental) difference between the two is temporality.

Single comics are temporal. They are happening NOW: made fairly recently by the creative team, are part of an ongoing work stream, and brought to market on a universal release date. And then a few weeks later the next new issue drops with the next episodic story allotment for everyone to enjoy all at once. And then the next. Each current issue becoming THE issue for a brief glorious moment. And, since these comics are being released as future issues are being made, they can effectively influence the creative teams descisions about future issues. I guess what I'm trying to say is that single issues are kind of living things that can be influenced be events because they are subject to time.

Trade paperbacks, in contrast, are atemporal. These are completed stories (or portions of stories) that are preserved and reformatted. In some ways these completed stories have become like Jurassic Park mosquitos: fixed in amber and able to convey their magical dinosaur DNA of story, art, and imagination regardless of when you discover them. While they certainly show the period of their manufacture, the story itself is timeless. Shakespeare's Hamlet is still true today, and so is George Orwell's 1984, and so is Alan Moore's The Watchmen or Brian K Vaughan's Y the Last Man. As long as a trade is in print, the story is as it has always been.

The second key difference is, as alluded to in the quote, that of communal versus personal enjoyment. Single comics are a group experience. I go and buy the newest issue of Hawkeye on the same day everyone else goes and buys the newest issue of Hawkeye,and then we all read Hawkeye at about the same time, and then we discuss (gush) about Hawkeye with each other on the Internet. Some fans even respond by making things (which is awesome). Creators make themselves accessible and interact with fans and in some cases foster online communities around their creations where we can all geek out together. I can't think of an experience quite like it: I can't think of any other episodic fiction with quite the insular and vocal fan base. This communal enjoyment is definitely part of what makes comics so special.

Graphic novels, due to their atemporal nature, are much more individual repasts. I think they provide a better reading experience: I'm currently reading all of DMZ (Brian Wood, Ricardo Burchielli, et al.; 2005-2012) and the Locas omnibuses of Love and Rockets (Jaime Hernandez; 1981-2010) and the ability to get large or complete stories and see how they evolve and fit together (without relying on memory) is pretty great. While I am sure other people are also currently reading both these great collections, it's a much smaller subset of the comics community than is reading a new issue of Hawkeye or Batman. Furthermore, while there are older threads and essays, there are fewer people discussing these works in the present compared to things currently being made. Thus ones enjoyment of collected comics lacks that certain community element that buying Wednesday comics has.

Actually in some ways trade waiting on currently being made comics is almost an antisocial enterprise. Take Brian K Vaughan and Fiona StapleSs saga: it came out for nearly a year before I got to read the first trade. A year that I spent actively avoiding every interview, fan reaction, and communal enjoyment of the book for fear of spoilers. So I guess in some ways reading collections isn't just an inherently solitary procedure, but is also an act of taking oneself out of the community.

Personally, I enjoy both formats immensely and I think they each have their place in an ideal comic reading habit. For instance, with my hybrid reading style, I get to enjoy the on-going nature of my mainstream superhero comics and the broader comics community surrounding them while simultaneously getting that richer, more complete reading experience present in trade paperbacks. And really, at the end of the day, I feel this gives me the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

So I Read The Manhattan Projects: Volume 1

A 250 word (or less) review of the first volume of The Manhattan Projects.
By Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, Image Comics

There is nothing in comics, or fiction in general, that aggravates me as much as the trope that scientists are amoral misanthropes who only care about advancing their Science without regard to consequences or ethics. It’s lazy, played out, and untrue.1 I’m pretty sick of it. The Manhattan Projects: Volume 1 is the first collected edition of an ongoing series about amoral misanthrope scientists using the development of the atomic bomb as a cover story for a kaleidoscope of Mad Science. The comic sees beloved real life scientists, such as Feynman, Einstein, and Oppenheimer, portrayed as villains driven to do terrible things in the name of Science. So The Manhattan Projects is basically a perfect storm of my most hated comic stereotype taken to the extreme. The thing is I kind of LOVE IT. A lot of this can be chalked up to execution: this book is awesome! Hickman’s script is smart, warped, funny, and deranged and Pitarra’s artwork is chaotic and detailed and expressive and vaguely... wrong. I think Volume 1 is also helped by being somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Despite having gravitas and some profoundly heavy and dramatic moments, the book is very transparent about being an exaggerated work of fiction. I also really appreciate that the book doesn’t get bogged down trying to logically rationalize its Mad Science because, honestly, that would just be distracting and ancillary to the story. Despite myself, The Manhattan Projects: Volume 1 is a Mad Science exploitation comic I can heartily recommend.

Word count: 248

1: Full disclosure: I am a Scientist by profession. Also: I own both Feynman autobiographies.

So I Read The Nightly News
So I Read The Red Wing
So I Read Transhumanism
So I Read Pax Romana

Monday, 26 November 2012

Neil Gaiman's American Gods Novels are Good Books.

Or why you should read American Gods and the Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is something else. I haven't quite decided whether he is a highly talented flesh and blood man or  some kind of mythical spirit storytelling character from one of his stories. Regardless, dude has written some influential and important comics as well as some pretty great novels.

These are two of my favourite.

American Gods

In this novel Shadow, a freshly paroled convict with a dead wife, finds himself hired by an enigmatic Mr. Wednesday.Through this association Shadow gets embroiled in a conflict for the spiritual heart of america between the old gods, those belief driven entities dragged to the new world from the old, and the new gods, the technicolor electric deities invented by modern America. American Gods is a novel about belief and about stories and about the struggle between tradition and invention. It's a story old as time and as new as tomorrow and it is superbly written. It's also very Gaiman-y: beautiful and funny and empathetic but also melancholy and dark in that I'm-very-creative-and-deep-like-that way. I'd genuinely recommend this book to anyone.

The Anansi Boys.

This novel spins out of American Gods and tells the story of Fat Charlie Nancy, the son of the old god Compe Anansi, the spider/storyteller/trickster god. The novel is mostly about what happens to Fat Charlie when he invites his Demi-god brother he never knew he had for a visit. Will Fat Charlie escape with his engagement, employment, and freedom intact or will he just straight up die of embarrassment? The Anansi Boys is a novel about stories and, specifically, how these narratives shape family identity. It's sumptuously written, an absolute meal of distinct and gorgeous prose. It's bombastic and hilarious and fun, but also creepy and suspenseful but no where near as serious and, well, gothy as American Gods. It's my favourite of these two very good novels and everyone should definitely give this one a try.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Atoll Comics Round 4

Or Changes to My Top-Ten Comics

Due to poverty and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Avengers Assemble to my ten comic list and dropping The Invincible Ironman.

Why Avengers Assemble?

From what I've been given to understand Avengers Assemble is meant to be an accessible (particularly for Avengers movie watchers) and lighter book with a rotating cast of Avengers. Part of the premise, I think, is that different teams are made depending on the parameters of their missions and then action occurs. So you know, not the typical comic I'd want to read. The only reason I find such a casual comics premise attractive is based purely on execution, which in turn is based on the creative team of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Stefano Caselli. The Internet has taught me that DeConnick has a character first approach to writing and this strength really shines through in an ensemble. (Which is great because many team books suffer from poorly defined, mono-voiced characters.) DeConnick actually writes her first issue (AA9) almost like a superhero sitcom (which I would watch the hell out of) and bases her team around a friendlt bet which is kind of brilliant. Caselli is, for lack of anything more substantiative to say, a very talented artist with his own distinct style. The man can draw a mean action sequence but can also pull off the "acting" required by DeConnick's script. These two creators seem to be clicking, and if Avengers Assemble #9 is any indication, they seem to be creating a pretty much perfect comic book.

Why not The Invincible Ironman?

The Invincible Ironman was a great comic by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. Fraction writes a perfect Tony Stark and confronts him with flawlessly derived challenges while Larroca draws the hell out of robotic things. The run of these two creators (who did the entire uninterrupted run) will stand, at least to me, as the definitive take on Ironman. Sadly, all good things must end and this title has been cancelled upon the altar of Marvel NOW. So I can't be reading it anymore.

(I think i'll be giving the new Ironman title a skip. I love Kieron Gillen and think he will write the hell out of Tony (if only based on David kohl and Emily Aster of Phonogram), but Greg Land is not one of the artists whose work I'm interested in if I'm only going to read ten comics.)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

So I Read Echo

Or a 250 word (or less) review of Echo the complete series
By Terry Moore, IDW Publishing

Echo is an enjoyable and kind of kooky Superhero genre comic book series. The plot revolves around the Phi alloy: a Science Fantasy magguffin substance that is both a potently radioactive material and a liquid
metal supersuit armour thing. In Echo nefarious government scientists kill a test pilot wearing said Phi armour which exposes a struggling young photographer named Julie to its fallout. Julie becomes bonded to the Phi alloy armour, gets superpowers from the metal, and has super-adventures fighting nefarious government agents, apocalyptic conspiracies and biblical villains. As a straightforward popcorn action comic there is a lot to like about Echo: the story is fun and full of zany characters and plot beats and the artwork is delightful and expressive. It's a well made comic. But, to be honest, it does have its problems too. The protagonist basically has
magic breasts for a long while which was a bit gratuitous and one of the villains was VERY yellow peril-esque. Also the science (oh the science!) was just flagrantly wrong. Which would have been fine if the story didn't insist on laboriously describing the "logic" of the story with absolute nonsense for whole chapters, but as it stands was hugely distracting. Also I HATE the plot beat that scientists don't care about ethics or society… l find it lazy, stupid, and personally insulting. But if you’re willing to grit your way through horrible Quasi- science lectures, there is a really fun superhero comic to be enjoyed here.

Word count: 247

Monday, 19 November 2012

Crooked Little Vein Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is -or perhaps more accurately, was- one of my all time favourite comic book writers. Much like many of his contemporaries, Mr Ellis has decided, in recent years, to focus on writing prose novels for a living. Crooked Little Vein is his debut novel.

Crooked Little Vein tells the story of hard-on-his-luck private detective Michael McGill and his spunky sidekick/partner/love-interest, Trix, as they go on a mission (given to them by the high-functioning heroin addict US chief of staff) to find an alien-hide bound book containing the secret additional chapters of the US constitution. The pair track the book, used as a kind of underground currency, from sex pervert to fetishist on a depraved cross America trip. Crooked Little Vein is a briskly fun read that is full of voyeuristic delight.

Actually, a better description of this book reads something more like: "Warren Ellis finds horrifying fetishes on the Internet and wishes you to share in his horror." Or maybe: "Warren Ellis writes old fashioned pulp detective story where instead of the hero getting shit-kicked he encounters and experiences weird, disturbing sex things." Or maybe: "a travelogue of how fucking insane the United States seems to everyone else in the world, but with a veneer of awful sex things." Or finally perhaps: "the consequences of someone having the courage and poor manners to publish the results of their surreptitious googling history instead of desperately hiding it like the rest of us." It might go without saying, but I quite enjoyed this book.

(I wouldnt be surprised if Crooked Little Vein, then, uses the some of the same diseased neurons that brought us Fell, Transmetropolitan, and Ellis' Thunderbolts. )

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Ellis' comics work or who finds human perversion as endlessly fascinating as I do. I'd also recommend this book for your most conservative and elderly relatives, because frankly that would be hilarious.

So I Read Ignition City
So I Read Fell: Feral City

Friday, 16 November 2012

Tony Harrasser

Or what the fucking hell is wrong with some people!?

I continue to be astounded by the things some male comics fans say about women geeks. I mean, I seriously do not understand it. It's like....  that time my friend slipped and cloncked his head on the ice surface while curling and started speaking in tongues. Except instead of being a moderate concussion, it's a sign someone is a complete tool.  Or maybe it's more like those surprisingly pro-rape statements some republican candidates made during the last election cycle: violently misogynistic sentiments utterly alien to my experience. Regardless, I just don't get it or where it's coming from.

For context here are some awful and ridiculous statements from the artist Tony Harris on cosplaying:

"I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap.I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male. Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff ( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake) but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics.So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE: "Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl, you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC. But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis. But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? You are what I refer to as "CON-HOT". Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate. After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION. And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up."

.... Woof, right? Seriously what the fucking hell is wrong with this man that he holds these horrible opinions and that he thinks it's okay to articulate them?

Now I've already written about how the notion that women can't be nerds is stupid and how the idea of legitatmate-vs-faux nerds is conceptually flawed and assholey. So I don't think I need to rehash that.

Also, some great articles on the Harris statement and some related nerd-lady hate speak can be found on Comics Beat (here an here). I think especially relevant is the idea:

"To every one who is horribly abused and bothered by this, let me ask you — what has caused more of the emotional scarring? Is is the fact that a girl who is sexually unavailable to you and therefore causing sexual frustration is pretending to be a nerd while doing so…or is it that a girl is sexually unavailable to you and therefore causing sexual frustration?"

But there are two things I'd like to say here:

1) I'm a straight-white-male who is a nerd and I do not support these kinds of statements. Women have every right to be geeks and to express that however the damn-well-fuck they please. Cosplay displays an impressive craftsmanship (which I am jealous of), a laudable enthusiasm, and a pretty great inclusive sub-fandom community spirit. Geekdom is richer for women, Cosplay, and diversity in general. Anyone who disagrees with this is an asshat and should shut the fuck up.

2) You can dislike aspects of nerd culture without being a giant asshat.

I'm going to confess something here: Cosplay makes me slightly uncomfortable. Not because women enjoy it, or because, in many cases, it involves women celebrating or displaying their sexuality. No, I'm uncomfortable with it because I am shy and self conscious and the idea of soliciting extra attention from wearing a costume TERRIFIES me. So I do not Cosplay, and I find the entire process vaguely unsettling. (Sorry!)

(And yes, I also find Halloween kind of skeevy.)

But here's the thing, this is a ME problem based on MY hangups, and since I'm not insane I recognize that my nerosies really shouldn't dictate how other people enjoy things. People who want to Cosplay should Cosplay and I, I will not. Instead I will continue to focus on the things I like. Live and let live.

But if you're like me and Cosplay bothers you, I have a four step process to dealing with it that works quite well (and won't make you look like a mysogynist turd).

  1. Do not Cosplay.,
  2. Do not, while not actively avoiding people, go out of your way to engage with cosplayers particularly while Cosplay activities are happening
  3. Do not access Cosplay related online material and articles.
  4. Accept that Cosplayers have very right to Cosplay and that while it's not for you, it's pretty cool and not hurting anyone.
Also: if this is all turning into some kind of stupid boys versus girls geek civil war, i think I'm on team girl because I'd rather be vaguely uncomfortable than associated with fucking assholes.

(I really don't mean to keep writing about sexism in comics... It's just this crap drives me crazy)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

So I Read Pax Romana

A 250 word or less review of the Pax Romana graphic novel
By Jonathan Hickman, Image Comics

Time travel stories are a staple of genre fiction and comic books. Typically, these stories are built around a few general plots: accidental time travelers try not to alter history, or our heroes try to prevent a villainous entity from changing the past, or time travelers attempt to alter a single event in history (often a personal one) usually with dire consequences. These stories often play with ideas of causality and the paradox of traveling through time and generally portray fiddling with past events as irresponsible or immoral. Pax Romana says fuck all that, let's “destroy the past to create the future”. The plot of Pax Romana, briefly, is that a group of time travelers decide to disregard their orders and prevent the fall of the Roman Empire in an attempt to engineer the conditions for a better present/future. The writing in the book is characteristically excellent with the particulars of the story being very intellectually satisfying and with some reveals being jaw-droppingly clever. Visually Pax Romana, being a solo Hickman enterprise, is a kind of deconstructed comic book with a generous application of white space that, by making liberal use of timelines, transcribed conversations, and other trappings of textbooks, appears to be a kind of alternate history teaching manual. This is a visually dynamic book built around a great high concept and executed with a brilliant eye for details. Also, if anyone invents a time machine, I suggest we give the chrono-tunneling-initiatrix-controls to Hickman… for the good of humanity.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Spy Who Shagged Me?

Or using Queen and Country as a case study in how sexist portrayals can be bad storytelling.

So I think sexism is pretty crappy. The vast majority of my objections to it center on the fact that women are people and treating them as anything less than that is pretty fucking awful. That said, I think sexism and sexist portrayals of women suck for guys too for a whole variety of (less important) reasons.

Specifically, I want to highlight how sexist drawings in comics represents poor visual storytelling.

I'm going to use Queen an Country to illustrate my point since the series has a single writer and many vastly different artists. Each artist draws a discrete story arch and brings their own style, sensibilities, and take on the characters of Q&C from the muddled noir of Jason Shawn Alexander to the clean, cartooning of Chris Samnee. It's pretty much a perfect vehicle to analyze how different portrayals of characters affect storytelling.

I want to focus on the portrayal of Tara Chace, the female Minder (spy) who is the protagonist of the series. She is described as a fiercely intelligent and supremely talented spy. She is fluent in five languages (with a native accent in three) and is an expert in spycraft, hand-to-hand combat, and an accomplished marksman. Basically she is debatably the greatest living spy.

Coincidentally, Tara Chace is also described and portrayed as a conventionally attractive woman. In my favourite portrayals she is good looking, but in a toned down its-believable-she-is-a-spy kind of way. However, in virtually all portrayals of Tara Chace her sexiness is a lesser character point that takes a back seat to how much of a goddamn badass she is.

And when her sexiness is made her main characteristic, it's weird and distracting.

Oh yeah, there are going to be mild *SPOILERS* in this one.

Enter artist Leandro Fernandez who draws the Opertaion Crystal Ball story arch of Queen and Country. He has a cartoony style that borders on caricature. His characters, to be fair, all have their character traits emphasized to a silly amount: Crocker has a giant nose and is rail thin, Kittering is lantern jawed and broad, and the Islamic terrorists portrayedin the book are drawn in a way that is... borderline racist. Tara Chace, being an attractive woman is remodelled to have an impossibly thin waist and improbably large, and perky breasts. In Fernandez's story she is drawn as a caricature of a sexy woman.

Now this version of Chace, beyond being pretty sexist (she is the only sexually exaggerated character) is just weird. People don't look like that in real life. Tara Chace, based on all her other portrayals, doesn't look like that. Why has this badass, super-spy suddenly started looking a pornstar? It's a straight up bamboozling choice.

Bad taste aside, this kind of sexist caricature also leads to confusing visual storytelling.

Check out the image below. It's taken from a scene where Tara Chace is interviewing a man with information concerning a terrorist plot who wants to be paid for what he knows. It seems to me that it's meant to be a tense and business like scene meant to ratchet up the stakes and get the machinery of the plot set up in a logical/believable way for latter pay offs.

Doesn't it seem vaguely and inexplicably sexually charged though? Doesn't it just distract from the plot business that's going on?

That's the problem with these exaggerated sexual portrayals of women: when they are portrayed as sex objects part of our brains process the ridiculously sexualised nature of the character and consciously or subconciously decide whats going on is in some way sexual. Even if what's going on, like in this scene, isn't in any way sexual. And when things are sexy for no reason it distracts from the actual narrative goals of a given scene which makes these types of portrayals bad visual storytelling.

Now this isn't to say I'm catagorically against portraying characters in sexy ways or having sexualised characters. Some characters are meant to be sexy-sexy (Penny Century in Love and Rockets for instance, or Emma Frost of the X-Men), but Tara Chace is supposed to be a fucking stonecold badass spy. Her character design should never be sexy-sex as a priority.
Of course, there are certainly times when Tara Chace should be portrayed in a sexy way to further narrative goals, and there are a bunch of great examples throughout Queen and Country.

In this scene from the first Queen and Country story arch drawn by Steve Rolston, Chace uses a naked photo of herself to distract a guard at a checkpoint so he doesn't notice she is sitting in a car with a bleeding bullet wound in her leg. While maybe a bit heavy handed, this scene plays into the ongoing thematic discussion of Tara Chace as a female spy and the specific advantages and challenges her sex conveys on her job. It also shows that her attractiveness is another weapon in Chace's arsenal as an agent. It's also worth noting that this bit of sexy-sex comes after a whole story about Chace doing intelligent, skillful, and hardcore things, making this bit of T&A in addition to Chace's established credibility.

This bit from Operation Stormfront is by Carla Speed McNeil, who is probably my favourite Q&C artist. Again, it's a salatious scene done well and in service to the story. In the scene this these panels are taken from when Chace finds herself on a mission and sharing a hotel room with a brand new Minder 3  (for operational and budgetary reasons). The awkward sexual imagery of this scene emphasizes the weird forced intimacy between the two agents: being forced to live together, rely on each, and trust each other with their lives. And the sexual imagery tied to this just emphasizes this. It's also great because Chace had had a sexual affair with the previous Minder 3, whose death she is still dealing with. The weird intimacy of this scene, therefore, also serves to emphasize the difference between the new and old Minder 3 and the difference in how Chace relates to them. It's a really effective scene, and a really smart use of risque imagery to further narrative objectives.

(I also love how Chace's portrayal here is as a realistically attractive woman and not a charicature.)

This scene also ends with one of my favourite moments in all of Queen and Country and, conveniently, a perfect summation of how I feel about sexist portrayals of women in comics:

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Queen And Country Novels Are Good Books

Or why you should read A Gentleman's Game, Private Wars, and The Last Run by Greg Rucka

Queen and Country originated as a series of comics about modern day British spies. The agents of the British foreign intelligence service (SIS) Special Section, called Minders, are the elite operatives sent to carry out operations in the most dangerous and sensitive places around the world. The comics follow Tara Chace, an extremely talented spy and Minder, and Paul Crocker, the Deputy Director of Operations, as they alternately carry out dangerous missions conducted against enemies of the crown and battle against the political realities of the bureaucracy. Queen and Country is good comics.

The Queen and Country novels are more of what's great about the comics. They feature our beloved members of the SIS on additional suspenseful missions in service to their country. The stories are as smart, well crafted, and exciting as any of the comics and chock full of the character drama and bureaucratic maneuvering that are staples of the comic series. If you enjoyed the comics, you'll likely enjoy the books too.

Actually, the books make for an interestingly different reading experience. Prose writing lends itself to exposition, which exponentially increases the amount of information and detail in the novels. Similarly, instead of watching characters and events we get to live inside them, experiencing inner lives and the events from an inside perspective. As a result, we learn a great deal more about the characters of Queen and Country and the way in which modern intelligence services operate. The Queen and Country novels are as exciting and suspenseful as the comics, but much more detailed and interesting. For suspense/thriller/action novels they are very smart and meaty.

I'd recommend these novels to any fan of the Queen and Country comics. In fact, every fan of the comics should read the novels, preferably in the correct order (A Gentleman's Game fits between Omnibus 2 and 3) to get the most out of the series. I'd also suggest that anyone looking for smart, exciting, and vaguely progressive action/suspense fair check these books out too. Just, you know, also read the comics.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

So I Read Queen and Country

Or a 250 word (or less) review of all four Queen and Country Definitive Edition omnibuses
By Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, Leandro Fernandez, Jason Shawn Alexander, Carla Speed McNeil, Mike Hawthorne, Mike Norton, Chris Samnee, Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and Rick Burchett; Oni Press.

Queen and Country is basically an adeptly made espionage Thriller/Procedural. The series depicts members of the British SIS' most elite operatives, called Minders, and the extraordinary missions they are sent on for, well, Queen and Country. Which is the source of the series’ thrills: the missions in Queen and Country are pretty suspenseful and exciting. Even better, the missions and portrayals of espionage in the series are fairly believable which grounds the material and increases the tension. Queen and Country also puts a great deal of emphasis on the bureaucracy, politics, and personal cost of spying. It's this procedural content that adds a layer of strong characterization and ongoing drama to the series. This adds to both the integrity of the story and the depth of the characters… which in turn feeds back into the tension. Greg Rucka, who writes nearly the complete series, is excellent and the artists who rotate to draw the various missions are all quite talented and, at the very least, competent story tellers (although your millage may vary from one to another). Overall, Queen and Country is a very skillfully produced series. There are two canonical prose novels that occur between trades where VERY IMPORTANT THINGS HAPPEN. I was unaware of this when I read the comics and regret not reading them in correct order. Be forewarned that you should probably read these books as you read the comics to get the full experience. Also: the Definitive Edition omnibuses are great value. Check the series out.

Word count: 250.

Monday, 5 November 2012

... You Wouldn't Eat Crap Would You?

Or the satisfying world of consuming only good comics.

Man aren't bad comics the worst and the people who make these piles of hot garbage scoundrels and idiots? Amiright? Also: other such comments.

Seriously though, you may have noticed that this blog is mostly me raving about comics and novels I really enjoyed and that I've mostly avoided slandering comics I haven't enjoyed. Part of it is I find trashing media kind of a waste of time and effort. (I'll admit that a well written take down piece can be pretty entertaining... But it's not what I want to do.) Mostly though, the lack of negative reviews is the result of my choice not to read comics I know or suspect that I'm not going to enjoy.

Basically I try to only read the good stuff and, guys, it's pretty amazing.

(I do draw a distinction between complaining about crumby comics and agitating for change in comics. Drawing attention to the lack of diversity, systemic sexism, bizarrely prevalent episodes of sexual abuse, and other offensive shit in comics helps generate a discourse and hopefully some form of positive change. I think it's a good thing.)

Part of this decision to read only the good stuff is pure economics. Comics are expensive and buying a book you know you aren't going to enjoy is just a poor use of resources. Even if the not-very-enjoyable book is free, you still have to invest time and attention on it which is still wasting a previous commodity (time can't be bought or earned.) 

But even if you were an immortal being with unlimited wealth, reading comics you know you won't enjoy is profoundly misguided because there is just so many amazing comics to read. The menu for geeky things in general and comics in particular is just so full of amazing things to consume: there are literally decades of amazing comic books to read, with more and more being made every month. So choosing to purchase known (or strongly suspected) bad content is like paying a premium for slops while at a fine dining restaurant with a menu of delicacies. It's absolutely ludicrous.

And guys reading only good things is amazing. Every week I have a nice big stack of stuff to read and ALL of it is great. All of it. I am extremely excited to read every single thing I buy each week and enjoy the crap out of nearly all of it. I mean, I take chances on new things which are occasionally not my cup of tea, but even for that my media consumption since installing formally Darwinian rules has been super positive. If you have things in your stack that are alright-but-not-amazing, I suggest you weed them out and try new and better things with the time/money you saved. It'll only make the experience better.

And honestly, stop reading and bitching about bad comics if for no other reason than buying a crap comic supports its continued existence and takes money away from far better comics.

And if you need a suggestion as to what you should read, I have ideas.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Dagmar Shaw Novels are Good Books

Or why you should read This Is Not A Game, Deep State, and The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams
I love me some good contemporary near future science fiction. When it's good, it depicts a world recognizable as our own but with some amazing high concept idea or advancement built into a entertaining narrative (generally a thriller plot). The Dagmar Shaw novels are these kind of books.

This Is Not A Game: I love this book. In it we are introduced to Dagmar Shaw,an alternate reality game designer, who gets caught up in a domestic uprising in Indonesia and a larger, more Sci-fi based thriller plot. (ARGs for the uninitiated are puzzle games that take place on the internet with brief moments of live action role play). To extricate herself from the dangerous situations she finds herself in, Dagmar writes her problems into the ARG games and crowd sources them to the ARG players. This is not a game therefore has couple great Sci-fi central concepts and a tense, serrated-knife-edge of a thriller plot. Thematically the novel deals with the way in which reality is increasingly reliant on intermediaries, be they technological or opinion, to be interpreted. Playing to this theme, and what I love most about this book, is the dramatic tension between events as interpreted by the protagonist and reality. This Is Not A Game's use of a possibly unreliable narrator is just brilliant. Did I mention that I love this book?

(Also the chapter titles of "this is not CHAPTER THEME" are also thematically brilliant and such a nice touch.)

Deep State: The second book in the series is probably the smartest. In it Dagmar Shaw and her team of ARG specialists are recruited to use their social networking skills to facilitate a revolution in Turkey against a fictional junta. This is complicated by a Sci-fi magguffin of a spoiler nature. It's worth noting that this book was written BEFORE the Arab spring, which makes it tremendously accurate speculative fiction. Unfortunately, the book was released as the Arab spring kicked off and I didn't actually read it until after the Egyptian government fell. As such, the book loses a lot of its magic: the real stories of the Arab spring, based on real life, are just so much more compelling. Also from a more novel-mechanics prespective, we know too much about the narrator for the previous tricks of questionable reliability to work. Deep State is still a good book, but due mostly to poor timing, is far less interesting than it could have been.

The Fourth Wall:  The third novel in the series feels like a return to the form of This Is Not A Game. In The Fourth Wall, our protagonist and viewpoint character is Sean Makin an out of work former child actor who is hired by Dagmar Shaw to act in a choose-your-own-adventure movie broadcast to the entire world. Which is great for Sean until someone starts to kill cast members. It's a pretty thrilling book with some great sci-fi kernels wrapped in the popcorn fluff of the film industry. It's also tense as hell: everyone in this book is a moment away from catastrophic self destruction, including the semi-reliable protagonist, which makes the entire story constantly feel like it's in jeopardy. The fourth wall is a solidly entertaining and smart read and I would highly recommend it.