The Best of 2008

2008 proved to be an interesting year. Fewer zombies, thank the deity of your choosing—or at least, I read fewer of them, so they didn't make it onto this list. A few more superheroes, depending on how you define things (and no, I didn't read Marvel's Secret Invasion or Dark Reign, and since DC's Final Crisis periodically made me want to bludgeon the DC brain trust vigorously about the head and shoulders with its own output, that won't be here either). Perhaps not as much space opera as I would have liked, but that's somehow a surprisingly difficult genre to find a lot of in comics. And it turns out that the world ends with a bang, a whimper, and just about every unpleasantness in between that you could imagine. A few themes did emerge in this year's reading:

1. Apocalypse yesterday

2. The War of the Worlds redux (see also: apocalypse yesterday)

3. Warren Ellis (what can I say? Man was busy this past year. See also: apocalypse yesterday.)

4. Everything old is new again (see also: War of the Worlds redux, apocalypse yesterday)

A very few items did carry over from last year's list—though for most of those, the noteworthy thing isn't so much the quality as the fact that at some point during the year, some of them just seemed to trail off mid-story, with their creators having to push them to the back burner due to other commitments, the stresses of life, etc. In any event, there were far fewer carry-over titles than I'd initially expected, which indicates that this year was pretty good for new speculative titles.

And as for the stuff that's new to the list, some of them may actually not be comics. Given the last two columns, that's probably not a surprise.

And so: alphabetically by title, forward into the fray! [...]
OK, first, we need the mood setting music.




Strange Horizons: Bouncing High Into The Stupidsphere (part one)

...OK, I don't get it. I just don't. A lot of stories lately seem to be taken from pure Stupid/Idiot Plots, and I don't get the appeal. More, I don't get why the creators don't notice that these are Stupid/Idiot Plots and fix them. To be fair, some of them may be unfixable, but not all of them. And it wouldn't take that much work, and it wouldn't take tons of money, and yet, there they sit, flying the Stupid Flag for all to see.

By "Stupid Plot" or "Idiot Plot," in this case, I do mean something slightly different than Ebert or Blish. In this case, a story where either the premise is so desperately flawed, or the execution so badly carried out, that you can see the Stupid on its face. It's not subtle, it's not understated. And, as Ebert notes above, an Idiot Plot cannot not exist unless someone (often, several people) unrealistically behave like idiots. Weird thing is, a Stupid Plot isn't always a bad story—or maybe I mean that it's not always an unenjoyable story. But you can never really mistake a Stupid Plot for anything else....
Strange Horizons Discussion Forum: Welcome to the Real World, part 2 by Iain Jackson

Apparently I'm now Strange Horizons' answer to Iggy Pop (or Ozzy Osbourne, I forget which of them did the head chomping) AND at least partly responsible for the downfall of science fiction as we knew it, probably with the collusion of the SH editorial staff.

I am mighty! Fear me! FEAR ME! (or Fear Us. Whichever floats your boat. Just so long as there's fear.)

I swear, it's almost enough to make me upgrade to the ad-supported LJ account, just so's I can get an icon of the biting. I could use it to announce a new column. It'd be perfect!

(NB: It was Ozzy. And a bat. AND a dove. He was quite the chomper in his youth, he was.)
New one up at SH:

Strange Horizons Columns: Welcome to the Real World, by Iain Jackson:
Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. That's the saying, right? So why is it that so many supervillains never quite seem to get around to doing time at all? And why is it that even when they do time, it winds up being strikingly short. You'd think, you kill ten, twenty, a few hundred people, even in a non-death-penalty state, you serve a few hundred years, right? And yet, that really doesn't quite seem to be the case. Crime, punishment and justice in superhero land somehow don't quite resemble anything out here in the real world, and, it turns out, really can't...

[...] really good villains are, in the immortal words of the Joker from the first Batman movie, "all those wonderful toys" for the writer. But put yourself into the mind of the characters—the residents of Gotham City, for example. How would you like to have all those people running amok in your city again and again and again and again and again? It either makes your hero look incompetent, or your city look terrible, or both. Now, the Joker is clearly insane. Whether Gotham is in New York or New Jersey doesn't matter; neither state would execute someone that far gone. (And Grant Morrison's nifty start to All Star Superman #11 notwithstanding, New York doesn't have an active death penalty at the moment.) And as stated, Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane and its equivalents are clearly no real solution. Even when criminals don't escape, if they regain their sanity, then they've served their sentence and get released—that happened both with Harley Quinn and the Riddler, both of whom seem, rather improbably, to have actually gone straight these days—and from a human point of view, that really doesn't seem like enough of a penalty for someone who may have killed and maimed dozens, hundreds of people. So, given that execution is off the table, and imprisonment seems unfortunately temporary, how do you solve a problem like the Joker? How do you catch the clown and pin him down? ...


Would you believe those last two lines were almost the first things to occur to me about this article? And somehow, I just couldn't resist letting it stay there. (There was, actually, an entire parody song, but it was very very very bad. And also not that far from the original.)

I wonder how many people even caught it, and what their reaction was?
Oh, my. I thought this wasn't appearing until yesterday, but it turns out it went up last week. Oops.

Strange Horizons Columns: Welcome to the Real World, by Iain Jackson:
Part One: Location, Location, Location, and the High Cost of Heroes (and Villains)

Why do so many superhero stories take place in places that never were, or versions of the here and now that kind of . . . aren't, quite? And how do those fictional cities and towns manage to recover from having superheroes and supervillains around? They can be, to put it mildly, quite destructive. In part one of this occasional series, we'll look at where the big fights take place, and what it can be like to have superheroes and supervillains around...

...Apart from the architecture and presentation, Metropolis and Gotham City are the most remarkably mobile cities that you'll ever see. Way back in the mists of prehistory, when I was a young'un, it was taken as gospel that Metropolis and Gotham were what was left of New York when you divided it up the East and Hudson rivers, so that New York was now three smaller cities. Later on, things started moving around a bit. For a while, Metropolis and Gotham were outer major suburbs of New York City. These days, to the extent it can be determined, Gotham has apparently moved off to southern New Jersey while Metropolis has settled down in Delaware . . . unless it's one of the stories that Grant Morrison is writing. He's been fairly clear that he still views Metropolis and Gotham as cities surrounding New York—in his Seven Soldiers series, he notes that the cities are the ugly stepchildren of New York—which means that depending on which writer is handling the story, the cities are in very different places at the same time. Something quantum happening to allow simultaneous different locations at the same point in spacetime, no doubt. (For the sake of sanity, we will ignore the TV series Smallville, in which Metropolis has apparently come rumbling in from the east to obliterate and sit on top of the current location of Kansas City, Kansas, possibly dragging a major lake or bay in its wake.) [...]
Strange Horizons Columns: boo., by Iain Jackson:
What scares you?

I've been thinking about this a bit, after the last piece. I mean, the idea behind zombies is that they're supposed to be scary, right? You read about the zombies, and you suddenly feel the urge to hang around brightly lit rooms with lots of people while looking carefully for bite marks on their scalps, right? Only . . . not so much, it turns out. The zombies, as such, just weren't all that scary. So I looked at a few other comics, with ghoulies and ghaesties and things that go bump in the night, and none of them are particularly fearsome—at least, the supernatural paranormal spooky bits weren't. But if I go to a horror movie, or if I read the right kind of prose fiction, I can be plenty scared. There's a reason that I stay away from Stephen King and Clive Barker and other such authors, after all. There's a reason why I have to be poked and prodded and repeatedly importuned to see 28 Days Later or Cloverfield or Teeth or Alvin and the Chipmunks (. . . OK, I actually couldn't be poked or prodded or importuned enough to see that—one does have one's limits, after all). You simply can't pay me enough to listen to most horror audio plays or audiobooks. So why is it that horror on film or in books or audio works, and horror in comics just kind of . . . lies there?

I think, myself, that the difference is in how they work on your mind....
Strange Horizons: Zombie Kings Sing Songs of BRAAAAAAAINS!

Spiderman in Marvel Zombies: Dead Days


I hate Robert Freakin' Kirkman.

No, wait: that's not quite right. After all, I really do like Invincible and some of his other stuff. I just hate that his foray into zombie comics has apparently been so wildly successful that zombie comics are suddenly everywhere. (Yes, it's all his fault. One must blame someone, after all.) Everyone's trying for their own unique—or sometimes not so unique—take on the whole zombie thing. But why so much? Why now? Why everyone?

I have a theory. Now, it's coming completely out of the air, and no doubt displaying a fine ignorance of history, religion, psychology, sociology, and several other -ologies, but bear with me....



For once, an article came out almost, if not quite exactly, the way I wanted it to. It missed on the tone a little -- I kind of wanted it to be a little frothier, but I think I just can't do "comparative review" and "frothy" in the same piece. Nonetheless, it's not quite as scholarly-feeling as the previous articles. And I think the lesson -- alas, not a really useful one -- is that if you get an idea for a piece really early, and then you keep thinking, "Oh, I'm not ready for that, I can't make it work," and you keep shoving it away until you're finally cornered because you can't think of anything else, it may turn out that your brain has been quietly working on it in the background, and it'll be the easiest thing you've written so far, and completely spoil the process from here on in, because you know nothing else will be that easy again.

And now, the thing that has been running through my head ever since I started seriously working on this article. (I promise, it's relevant. For certain values of "relevant.")

First, you need this:

From WOWIO: A downloadable PDF of a comic mentioned in the review.


Then there's this:



And now ... mi mi mi mi miii... ahem.

Jesus hates zombies
His Papa hates zombies
Not just decay from 'em
Or the bouquet of 'em
Too late to pray for 'em
Wow
[THWACK!] [1]

Jesus hates zombies (Jesus hates zombies)
His Papa hates zombies (Papa hates zombies)
Jesus swings his big bat
Smacks 'em so very flat
Shouting "Die, die, hellcat!
Now!"
[THWACK!]

He bats fast
Slices slow
Bat swings high
Sword goes low

He goes left
Laz goes right [2]
Jesus
Looks round for Laz
But he's no longer in sight
[THWACK!]

Jesus hates zombies
His papa hates zombies
Can't find a place to sleep
Even the jail's a heap
All filled with zombie creep
yow!
[THWACK!]


...and, you know, more in that vein. I know it's not really funny, but it was just ... there, and the meter of the titles matched, and it Would. Not. Leave. Me. ALONE. I promise, it makes a great deal more sense once you actually read Jesus Hates Zombies.

I came thisclose to actually putting this in the piece. Seriously, THISCLOSE!




[1] Imagine the sound of a baseball bat meeting, say, a really big, not quite ripe, pumpkin.
[2] Lazarus is the name of the zombies that Jesus spares and travels with. See, it turns out that 29/37ths of the world has been converted into zombies by a disease, and of the remaining 8/37ths, many of them are ... well, they're just not right. Not at all right. And it turns out that Jesus derives his powers from the people who believe in him. And the only person he can find who still believes is a zombie, so it winds up being weirdly important for Lazarus to remain unthwacked, as it were. (There are, needless to say, both a bat and a sword in His NonHeavenly Arsenal. Also, turns out He has a heart tattoo on His Butt reading "Mags". Make of that what you will.)
Thanks to being spectacularly unwell the week before this went up, followed by a week out of town, I completely forgot to mention that it was there.

Indie Boy Strikes? Again!
Part 2: Slipping into the future

So, as we've seen, in tales of the future near and far, frequently it all falls apart. War, famine, pestilence, and death can all cause society to collapse in strange and interesting ways. But what happens when it doesn't all fall apart, when society manages to cobble something together, and people and places continue into the future in new and different ways?

Writers seem to like extrapolating current trends into the future, assuming that it's going to get darker and meaner because even as things get better for some, life really does get comparatively darker and meaner for many more. The future does not by default make anything better, except technologically—and even that depends on what you consider to be "better." In pretty much any futuristic comic you look at, with the possible exception of space opera (a genre which will not be examined at this time), things seem to get worse for at least a significant number of people. Of course, part of that is that perfection makes for boring fiction. It's much more interesting to put a shiny high-tech outside in contrast to the rotten, damaged insides of the real society in question....


The title is a tribute to something noncomics related, yet curiously appropriate, and no, I'm not telling you what, because you'd have to be older'n dirt to get it, any way.

I wish I'd had the time to send it through another draft or two. (The one that's up is the third or fourth draft. I forget which.) It took a lot of rewriting before I finally figured out what I wanted the thing to do.

Any road, just for you, dear reader, what follows is something that got excised early on. Fun to write, but tragically inappropriate for the article itself. It's sorta kinda a pastiche on Spider Jerusalem. Not a terrible one, I think, but again, wildly inappropriate for the column itself. I may have quite wide lattitude to write about whatever I want, but somehow, I'm thinking that a long ad hominem(ish) screed isn't quite what they would expect. The section in italics appeared in the article; the rest I cut before submitting.

Oh, and if you should wonder: "Shrub", (c) Molly Ivins; "Fearless Leader" (c) Jay Ward and company; "Our Fearless Shrub" (c) me, thank you very much.



And finally, of course, there's Transmetropolitan, the life and times of Spider Jerusalem, an anti-hero cum involuntary pied piper with a driving urge to make people change their lives, hopefully for the better, whether they want to or not. He investigates, he writes, he exhorts people to change their condition. Sometimes, as when he convinces people to vote out The Beast and vote in The Smiler as president, he makes terrible mistakes that then need to be corrected. The society in Transmetropolitan is anesthetized by media—although Ellis makes the assumption that some part of the media is not only trying to inform the public, but also succeeding; after all, even though having Spider publish is good business—he's controversial, his public persona is bizarrely entertaining, and he writes real good—it's also true that employing him causes several problems for his employer. For the most part, the futuristic setting only serves as a layer of distance—although, even then, in a moment of peculiar prescience, the Smiler presides over the destruction of a major North American city, partially destroyed by a storm and by a combination of malfeasance and deliberate neglect. (The issues of Transmetropolitan collected in "Dirge" were originally published in 2001, four years before Katrina—peculiar prescience indeed.) Oddly enough, despite the character design, given the lead time necessary for art and whatnot, the Smiler as a character actually predates the appearance in our national consciousness of the Fearless Shrub himself, from before George W.'s campaign was even a mote in his brother Jeb's eye. When the Smiler was created, our Fearless Shrub was back in Texas, laughing it up about executing a woman. (It's only because executions of women are so rare, even now, that it was at all noteworthy. I'm sure he laughed himself sick about some of the 151 execution warrants he signed for men, but the sheer number meant that nobody noticed. I suppose one could call him the Laugher, but really, Fearless Shrub has a certain something...)

And, you know, it's not as though we can't say that we didn't get a certain amount of warning right off the bat. After all, when his first public position is effectively, stop counting votes because we don't want every vote to count ... well, we should have known what we were getting, shouldn't we?

Subsequent events gave our Fearless Shrub all the excuse he needed to clamp down on those pesky and inconvenient things known as "rights and privileges". One must admit, he was able to handle things with a bit more subtletly, if that's quite the right word, than the Smiler was. He has not yet had to resort to assassination -- that we know of. (The Smiler was notably ineffective at that, anyway.) By contrast, we have had quite a remarkable number of the Disappeared, albeit not quite at Argentine levels; the Smiler doesn't seem to have resorted to such things. The Smiler also seems not to have had to really deal much with Congress. Then again, neither has our Fearless Shrub; Congress seems to think that we elected them to office to be our national doormats. And as doormats, they've done an exemplary job. (Though I will note that their recent lack of doormattitude has been both unexpected and refreshing. The FISA bill keeps stalling, and the Shrub keeps threatening to veto it if they don't insulate the telecoms for their previous unwarranted -- literally -- violations of our rights. Which means that as of this moment, no warrants of the type can be authorized, because they lack statutory support. A situation most salutary. Not that he'll pay the least attention to that, of course. It's clear that he regards the Constitution as very old toilet paper, and uncomfortable toilet paper at that. Still, you have to take the miniscule victories and the odd appearance of something like a spine where you find them.)

An interesting thing to see about both the Smiler and our Fearless Shrub: they both want to be president because they want to be president. It's the big dog, the one everyone has to pay attention to. They got the Biggest Dick of All, and it's right there in your face, so to speak. The Smiler gets so excited at just being president that he masturbates with the American flag next to the desk in the Oval Office. To be sure, I can't imagine our Fearless Shrub mastubating on the flag. Or, you know, at all.

Neither the Smiler nor the Shrub wants to use the position to better the country, or to make anything work for most people living in it. Neither of them really believes in anything. Corporatist though he was, Clinton still clearly believed in this country and its principles and in using the power of the presidency to try to help people. (He also, unfortunately, believed in the power of his dick and his personality to get him out of problems that his dick caused. But I digress.) The Beast, the Smiler's prececessor, believed that if 51% of people in the country got up and made it through a day that didn't suck, he'd done a good job. The Smiler didn't believe even that, and sure as hell our Fearless Shrub doesn't believe that. Far as I can tell the only thing he really and truly believe in is dancing with them what brung him. That is, making sure the rich people get richer, and that all public policy works to make that happen. Thus, the rich/poor divide in this country is the worst it's been in ages. Tax policy is terribly skewed. The Environmental Protection Agency seems terribly puzzled at the very idea that it's supposed to protect, you know, the environment, and not the people trying to exploit it with as few safeguards as possible. And so on, and so on, lather rinse repeat.

Spider talks about the new scum versus the old scum, but in our Fearless Shrub's limited view, that's the wrong way to put it. The issue is the rich scum versus the poor scum -- and I think that even the Shrubbery would agree, in his innermost self where he dreams of setting the newspapers of the country aflame, that many, many of them what brung him are utter and absolute scum. Mind, I'm not sure he wouldn't agree that he's scum, as well -- viewed through a narrow and moneyed filter, of course -- but since he's rich scum, he's better than you and me. Since we're poor scum, the only things we've ever been able to offer him are the votes to keep him in there, and the votes to encourage Congress in its doormancy. And, for reasons beyond imagining, those votes we've given him.

Yes, the Smiler and our Fearless Shrub really do have a startling number of things in common. But perhaps the most notable are their attitudes about the law of this country. Despite being the highest elected constitutional officers, despite swearing to uphold it, their concept of "uphold" seems to be remarkably ... flexible. And, ultimately, hostile, to the Constitution and to us.






There ought to be limits to freedom.
* George W. Bush news conference (May 21, 1999); also quoted in "Satirical Web Site Poses Political Test", Washington Post (November 29, 1999)











Like I said, an OK pastiche, not a great one, and savagely out of place, and so it went.

And on that note, one can but say: have a nice day!

2007 in review, or, fun stuff what i have read last year

2007 was a good year for science fiction, fantasy and horror in comics. Zombies continued to enjoy a banner year (and seriously, what's up with that?), sasquatch came out to play in Proof, Sasquatch, and Perhapanauts, and there was even some space opera here and there. And yet, the year was so full of interesting things that only one zombie work, and none of the sasquatch wound up being the most interesting things I saw this year. Only one Marvel title made it onto the list, and no DC universe titles, although All-Star Superman came very close, as did DC/Vertigo's Fables.

Herewith, my criteria for what made it into this year's list. Simple, short, and sweet:

1. Do I remember the book in question? Fondly, or as though it were a four-color root canal? Edifying or not, did I like reading it?
2. Was it good?

As I said, simple, short, and sweet. There's a tiny bit of a fudge factor involved; a few titles were published in late 2006, but only made it into the local comic store in early 2007. Note also that my tastes are somewhat . . . odd. ...


Distinctly odd.

For comparison's sake, the stuff that almost, but not quite made the list, along with one or two comments. Basically, there were something like 20 titles competing for the last five slots, so something had to give.

- Astro City: Dark Age, book 2 ... well, honestly, I completely forgot this existed until it was far too late. Otherwise it would have been there. That said, I don't feel horrible about it not being there, because there's allegedly going to be more of it, plus one-shot inserts, this year.
- All Star Superman: done in by the Bizarro arc. Which, to be fair, was done just about as well as it could have been, but still.
- Fables: "The Good Prince" was a very good story arc. It just didn't quite grab me the way some other stuff did. Don't know why.
- Mail: volume 1 was very good, volume 2 was extremely formulaic, and volume 3 was intermittently formulaic and very good, if creepy in unintended ways. Also creepy in intended ways, since it was horror.
- Glister: a weak first issue followed by two very good ones. Third issue was especially good. The very last spot on the list bounced between this one, Repo, Fables, The Spirit and Madame Mirage, and it took me a couple days to finally pick one. (No, I don't believe I picked Madame Mirage over those other titles either. I plead exhaustion. Plus, issues 3 and 4 of MM were seriously kick-ass.)
- Black Metal, vol 1: featuring the teenagers sorta from hell, and their demon black metal music from Sweden. At least, I think it's Sweden. Scandinavia, anyways.
- Repo: Image 5-issue miniseries about a couple of repo men trying to repossess a heart. Or, more precisely, the clone in which the heart resides. I think it might have gotten more attention if it hadn't come out at the same time as the somewhat similar feeling Highwaymen.
- Won Ton Soup: Space Truckers meets Buckaroo Banzai meets Iron Chef. What's not to like? (Side note: I highly recommend the movie "Space Truckers" both for pure, over the top, ultra-cheesiness, and also for Stephen Dorff in tight leather shorts. Scrawny yet kind of hot ... what? What? Hey, I never said that I was anything but shallow!) (And yes, I have seen Shadowboxer.)
- I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!: nice, pulpy outer-space fun.
- Dreamnasium: very surreal and completely silent first chapter, followed by a less surreal but no less unusual and completely unrelated second chapter.
- Astronaut Dad: about what the early moon and orbital program was like. Eventually, I kicked this off the list because it really wasn't speculative yet, although it may later become such.
- Maxwell Strangewell: reviewed here.
- The Spirit: A good beginning and a strong end to Darwyn Cooke's issues, dragged down somewhat by a zombie story that kept wandering off and not getting finished.
- Styx Taxi: how do the dead get where they need to be?
- The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allen Poo: in which we find out what happened to Edgar Allen Poe during the worst year of his life. The first canto has been published as an oversized comic by Image, and canto 2 is underway.

The continuing titles in the above list may yet appear on a "best of 2008", along with Atomic Robo, Proof, Zudacomics' Bayou, Dan Dare, and a few other things.
Posted a week ago, and completely forgot to mention it here:

Strange Horizons Columns: Indie Boy Strikes!

So it occurs to me that with the past two columns on religion in comics, which concentrated on superhero stories, and the last one about rebuilding superhero universes, I may have given a somewhat misleading view of my comic reading preferences. After all, there's a reason why, amongst my comic-book inclined friends, a conversation with me may start, “OK, so this week over in Sinestro Corps War . . . oh, why am I talking to you about it? You never read this stuff anyway.” Which isn't entirely true–clearly, I do read some superhero titles. But the bulk of my reading is off on Image and Avatar and First Second and Archaia and Markosia and other independent publishers. I wanted to give a more accurate view of what I like and what I don't, and, to some extent, why. Never fear; we'll be getting back to the superhero stuff presently....


I have to admit, figuring out how to end what's effectively a literature review is something I've never quite figured out how to do. I mean, I was trained as an academic; the proper end for a literature review is supposed to be a 20 page research paper. And at that, this version is much MUCH better than the original; I wound up tearing it down and rebuilding it after I'd almost completed it. (And the original nearly was 20 pages, so it seriously needed tearing down.)
iainpj: (Default)
( Aug. 20th, 2007 05:17 pm)
Or, the project about which I was being sort of coy because I wasn't sure how much I should say in public before it actually appeared.

Strange Horizons Columns: Anyone for Blasphemy?, by Iain Jackson:
What do you believe?

Faith and religion can be used in fiction, speculative or otherwise, to show how your characters are or are not like others in their society, how faith or lack of it shapes and forms them and their reactions. This is true even when your world is this one at a slight remove. (Or not so slight, as the case may be.) But sometimes, the mix of comics and religion can just be . . . odd.


I can't describe how shocked I was to be asked to do this, or how glad I am that they asked!

It's a regular gig, a monthly column on comics as speculative fiction. I have to say, until I was asked to do the column, I hadn't really thought of comics as speculative fiction. But then, if you're flinging superpowered people, beings, entities, what have you, around the universe, into and out of civilizations that could only exist in someone's imagination ... well, what else is that but speculative fiction?

I think I even have the idea for the next column, assuming that it gets preliminary approval.
.

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