David Ely lives in Alexandria, VA, is left-handed, doesn't eat meat, wears corrective lenses, is a father, posts photos on Flickr and thoughts on Twitter.
eBooks in Hypertext
Here’s a neat trend: authors publishing ebooks as web pages in advance of their completion:
- Kitbashed, the Definitive Guide to the Inspirational Ancestry of Star Wars by Michael Heilemann, which features photos and video clips that show the works of art that influenced Star Wars.
- Poisoned Chalice, the Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman by Pádraig Ó Méalóid, about the character that started as a copy of Captain Marvel and became the famously unavailable Alan Moore comic.
- Grant Morrison’s Day-Glo Years by Patrick Meaney, a follow-up to Tim Callahan’s Grant Morrison: the Early Years.
You can read the entirety of each book—as much as has been posted, that is—on the sites for free. When the authors are finished, they will likely offer the whole works as ebooks.
Marvel and DC Then
Today’s news that May’s Green Lantern 20 will be Geoff Johns’s last issue on the title I think marks the end of an era of comics that has run since 2004 or so. The late 90s/early 00s saw Grant Morrison’s JLA and Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch/Authority define the widescreen era of comics and the rise of comics into pop culture. Hit movies like X-Men and Spider-Man gave way to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight and Whedon’s Avengers. Comics figured out how to sell big events to their existing fan bases, and a few writers sculpted the Marvel and DC universes. Suddenly in the first half of 2012, several writers who’d worked on the same books since 2004 or so have all let their runs come to (mostly) natural endpoints. We’ve seen:
Geoff Johns reignited Green Lantern, starting with “Green Lantern: Rebirth” in December 2004 and then taking over the main GL title which ran for 67 issues in volume three, 20 more in volume four, with a dozen or so more tie-ins and event issues, not counting all the Green Lantern Corps. and other series’ books that he helped co-write or cooperate in during events like the Sinestro Corps War, “War of the Green Lanterns, etc. On the strength of Johns’s work, “Green Lantern” is now a franchise which comprises four different titles: Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns. Sure, that’s two GL books too many, but it’s incredibly impressive that this is all due to the groundwork Johns laid.
Ed Brubaker started on Captain America volume 5 in January 2005, which he wrote for over a hundred issues (counting the renumbering for vol. 6, the “Reborn” mini-series, “Super Soldier”, Winter Soldier, and a few specials). That run saw the resurrection of Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, the death of Steve Rogers, and the resurrection of Steve Rogers. And he did all of this while avoiding most crossovers, able to tell his own story on his own terms, excepting that his exit was a little bit rushed and his last few issues had to be co-written because Marvel insisted on an accelerated publishing schedule Brubaker couldn’t meet.
Brian Michael Bendis wrote the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline in 2004 along with Secret War, and then went on to write nearly 300 issues of Avengers comics, spread across New, Mighty, and Dark-flavored teams along with crossovers that shaped the direction of the entire Marvel universe. Bendis oversaw a major change of direction in the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe with “House of M”, he presided over the post- Civil War “Initiative” storyline, which came to a close with his “Secret Invasion”, which gave way to “Dark Reign”, which he closed with “Siege”, which begat the Heroic Age, which led into “Avengers vs. X-Men”—all of which Bendis had a hand in.
Grant Morrison started on Batman 655 in July 2006. His work on Batman spilled over into Final Crisis, gave way to Batman and Robin, which led into “The Return of Bruce Wayne, which begat Batman, Inc.. When the second volume of that title wraps later this year he’ll have written about 100 issues of Batman comics, many of which set the direction of the Batman books in the time that he was writing them.
Also in that time Greg Rucka carved out his own place in the DC universe, first in Detective Comics, then into Gotham Central (with Brubaker) and Checkmate and Batwoman and Renee Montoya, all adding up to well over a hundred issues. Gail Simone wrote Birds of Prey and Secret Six for quite some time. Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man run added up to 60 issues or so. Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF: 70.
I think what I see in all of these titles are cases where writers were generally allowed to set the direction of their own books, those books were good, they sold well, and the rest of the shared universe titles had to fall in line behind. This as opposed to many other cases (the X-Men books, much of the DC universe) where “Editorial” decided on a story and told the writers what to write.
Does that fact that all of these runs happened to be going on at the same time and are all ending signify a change in the mainstream comics landscape? I’m not sure. All of those guys are still working in comics. Bendis is still at Marvel, Johns is still at DC, and both are still world-building on other books they’ve been doing all along. But Brubaker, Rucka, and Morrison are all doing indie books at Image and stepping back some from standard cape stuff.
I wonder, too, to what degree having a long-running stint by one creative team might become a hinderance to new readers. Knowing that you’re jumping onto Green Lantern 100 issues into a writer’s tenure might make you think you need to go all the way back to the start to jump in. And I think that sort of is the case. What ties all of these runs together I think is their writers’ mastery of long form storytelling. While told in individual story arcs, all of these books have really been working on and building up a small set of characters over the years.
Writing about Young Avengers yesterday got me thinking about other currently-being-published comics I’d recommend. Here’s what I’m reading that I think is worth checking out.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. It’s a space fairytale like Star Wars, but the robots have sex on-panel. There’s childbirth on the first page. It’s narrated by said child, telling the story of her parents, two star-crossed lovers from warring worlds. She promises it doesn’t have a happy ending. Man, I love this book. There’s only seven issues out so far I think, so go back to the start and get reading.
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja. Man, I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s just so, so good. Like, issue three is just a 20-page setup for a joke about the boomerang arrow. Oh, and issue seven, out later this month, is about Hurricane Sandy, and Fraction is donating all of his incentives for that issue to the Red Cross. Start at number one and just keep going. Issue six, the Christmas issue, has a fantastic gag on page two. Also at the back of each issue Aja gives a recommended soundtrack to each issue that he draws, which I’ve been a sucker for since Fraction started doing it on Casanova. For more street-level action, Mark Waid’s Daredevil is fantastic (and award-winning).
Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. [Here’s the first three pages.][[ya] I love the second page reveal of where the bed Kate has woken up in is. I love that Noh-Varr puts on The Ronnettes after his shower. I love the last panel caption. I like that the girl can’t remember the guy’s name, instead of the reverse. I like Kate’s inner monologue revealing her attitude about sex. I like how Gillen immediately brings up Noh-Varr’s different superhero names, recalling the inconsistent way he’s been handled between Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy series and Brian Michael Bendis’s Dark Avengers series and yet, if you haven’t read those, you’re probably just fine. So, yeah, Young Avengers. The first one comes out next week.
Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. It’s right in the middle of a particularly horrifying Joker storyline, but start with 2011’s no. 1. There’s this great issue where Batman is trapped in a labyrinth and the pages keep turning upside down and sideways to keep you as disoriented as Batman is (which maybe doesn’t work as well on the iPad? Double-tap your home button, swipe to the right, and turn on the orientation lock with the little circle arrow button). It’s great stuff. Grant Morrison’s Batman, Inc. is tremendous, too, but he’s coming to the end of a years-long run (which do totally go check out), but maybe it’s not the best to jump into right now.
Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Azzarello and Chiang are reinventing all of the Greek gods in DC’s pantheon, giving them creepy appearances to match their mythic aspects. Wonder Woman here is young and strong. There’s a totally badass moment she has in I think 13 and a completely shocking, sad moment, too. I’ll mention Batwoman by J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman, too, as another visual treat. I’m lumping them together here I guess because Wonder Woman is appearing in Batwoman right now. It’s a good book and mostly stands apart from the rest of the Batman books, so you don’t have to follow them to read this one.
Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. I’ll just explain the premise and you’ll probably know if you’re interested or now. There are 30 issues so far, and comiXology has collections of them all for a pretty good price. So, premise: before the series starts there was a huge chicken flu epidemic that killed millions. Now chicken is illegal. Tony Chu is a special agent for the FDA who investigates black market chicken smugglers. Also he’s a cibopath, meaning whenever he eats anything he gets an impression of that thing’s life. Bring on comedic cannibalism!
Avengers by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opeña and New Avengers by Hickman and Steve Epting. Hickman showed on Fantasstic Four that he knows how to do solid characterization and strong action and plot out stories really far ahead so they land very satisfyingly. Here he is working on an even bigger scale. Avengers will have him tackling the usual team, New Avengers stars a subset of the heavy hitters in the Marvel universe secretly pulling the strings. The first issue is all about Black Panther and how he decides he needs to join up with these Illumnati, who he snubbed back in Bendis’s New Avengers run. The first few pages have a few kids who get killed off by page like six but somehow you’ve already grown attached to them and it’s like Whedon-level tragic. Speaking of linked titles, Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley’s Fantastic Four and Fraction and Alred’s FF is lots of fun, too. The former deals with the Fantastic Four going off on an adventure while the latter stars a replacement FF who are minding the store while they’re gone. It includes a Katy Petty stand-in Johnny was dating and asked to join the team because he forgot to find a real superhero. She wears a Thing suit Ben Grimm worse when he lost his powers for a short spell years ago.
Thor God of Thunder by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic is very good. It stands alone pretty much entirely from the goings-on of the general Thor plot line, so don’t worry if you’ve not been reading Thor. The initial storyline is about a creature that’s been killing deities all over the galaxy. There’s a full-page panel where Thor comes across the corpse of a mountain-sized god, and Ribic just renders it breathtakingly.
Meet the Filler
Here is a piece on Comic Book Resources by Steve Sunu: Gillen Introduces His “Young Avengers.” I griped about it on Twitter yesterday and wanted to explain why I dislike this sort of piece so much. First let me say up front that I don’t mean to pick too hard on Sunu’s piece itself. It’s not poorly written and does clearly link to Gillen’s blog right from the start.
Kieron Gillen is writing an upcoming series for Marvel Comics called Young Avengers, with art by Jamie McKelvie. It’s probably the new series I’m most excited about. I like Gillen’s writing, McKelvie’s art is amazing, and I’m very fond of Allan Heinberg’s original Young Avengers series (which I’ve written about previously). On his weblog, Gillen is writing a series of “Meet the Team” posts in which he goes over his approach to each character. It’s good stuff. The above-linked CBR article is about these blog posts. But instead of just providing a link to them, it spends ten paragraphs liberally quoting from Gillen’s posts. I see this sort of thing all over technology, comics, and games sites, and it annoys me. I’d like to try to spell out why.
First, I think the article is long enough that it’s very likely you might read it and not read Gillen’s original posts instead. By word count, it’s a full 30% the size of the original posts. In my mind, the entire point of the CBR article should be to get you to visit Gillen’s site and read what he wrote there. But it’s long enough that many readers might just read the quotes there and not click through. Now, in this case Sunu does provide a link right up front to Gillen’s blog, so that’s good and I don’t think he’s doing Business Insider-calibre shady stuff here, but I do think this post is padding itself out a lot. Basically Sunu has taken what should be a link and a few quotes and turned it into 800+ words.
The wonderful thing about the Web is its ability to link to primary sources. In an academic paper or a magazine article, you have to reprint quotes and provide bibliography-style references because readers don’t have access to the referents. On the Web, you can send readers directly to the source where they can read it for themselves. Sending people to read those blog posts should be the point of articles like this.
This all comes from me being very much in the Jason Kottke/John Gruber school of writing for the Web. The principle, is this: your site should have A) original writing and B) links to other good stuff online. If you find something that you think your readers will like, and you don’t have a ton to add to it, just provide a link and your readers can go check it out. (And obviously if you do have a lot to say about it, by all means you should write a longer piece responding to it.) People will go to your site to find good stuff, either written by you or referred by you to that stuff, and they’ll come back because you’re good at finding good stuff. CBR, instead of diluting its own (often very good) original interviews and convention coverage, should be proud of its ability to find what writers and artists are doing online and sending its readers to check that stuff out. It doesn’t need to pad out its content with full-length articles like this when a short link would do. (And I’ll say making a change like I’m proposing would probably necessitate a redesign of the site to allow link-style and full-length posts to appear in-line together but be visually distinguishable. It’s easy to criticize but hard to make actual changes. And CBR of course has a staff to pay, though Kottke and Gruber and many others make good livings doing things the “right” way.)
I mentioned my dislike of the article on Twitter last night, and Gillen responded saying, “I’m entirely pro people covering it.” As he should be. As I said, I’m super excited to read his Young Avengers and I hope it does well enough that he can write it for years to come. What’s funny about his statement is that I hadn’t even considered his posts to be marketing. To me, who’s already pre-ordered the book, it was 100% process writing. It was him giving some insight into the thinking behind his series. Sort of thinking out loud. But of course it’s marketing. He’s also trying to drum up excitement about a book that maybe isn’t an easy sell the way Iron Man might be. So yeah, Gillen should want CBR to pick up and cover his blog posts. My objection isn’t to that CBR wrote about it, just the manner in which it was done.
Comics sites (and game and tech and Huffington Post and so on) are full of so much filler. I just want them to be better. I’m tired of seeing press releases run as articles. Of preview pages presented as news. I want better reporting, more linking, more insight, and more commentary.
Stories Behind Songs
Dorian Lynskey, writing for The Guardian, on The Pogues’s “Fairytale of New York.”
Chris Willman, writing for Entertainment Weekly, on the differences between versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Personal I use the Judy Garland version.
Ashley Fetters, writing for The Atlantic, on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and its many versions. While this one isn’t a Christmas song, it’s always been on my Christmas playlist anyway. Not quite sure why.
A Few Notes on iTunes 11
The scroll bars don’t expand when you mouse over them like default Mountain Lion ones normally do.
AirPlay activity doesn’t keep the computer awake. I’ve had the computer fall asleep while playing music to an Apple TV and while an Apple TV played a TV show from it. (In that case, though, it did properly sync my progress, so when I started it up from iCloud on the Apple TV it resumed right where I’d left off.)
There’s no option to tell iTunes to just never download copies of a TV show or a movie. With the small amount of storage on my SSD, I really just want to stream video every single time. I’ve turned off the option to have it automatically fetch downloads, but I’m pretty sure the files will still be sitting in the download queue and will snow up on my computer eventually. Worse, with all the otherwise nice iCloud support, it’s hard to see which files are actually saved locally and can be deleted.
The general message seems to be that we shouldn’t worry about what files are on our machines and which are in iCloud, but that doesn’t match the reality of current SSD storage sizes. iOS automatically manages storage for music, deleting songs for you and redownloading them as needed. It’s be nice if the Mac could do that, but on the other hand there are copies of songs that iTunes Match screws up (it doesn’t have some of The Beatles’s mono tracks, for example, and tries to substitute stereo versions). I need to keep those local while most other files could be left to the cloud most of the time. Seems like all the devices could do some sort of Bonjour detection to grab a local copy where available and save on bandwidth.
Conversely, there are some movies we watch over and over. It seems wasteful to stream a new copy every time, but at this point it’s just way more convenient.
I really like how the expanded album view picks colors from the cover to show the track listing.
It’s neat that TV shows from iCloud are shown in the shows listing, but you can’t edit their metadata. Futurama airs its episodes out of order and I’d like to be able to fix that for when I watch the season again. Likewise I’d like to insert the Doctor Who prologue mini episodes in situ rather than have them tacked on at the end, but I’m stuck with iCloud’s ordering.
I haven’t tested how podcasts work. Progress syncing would be very welcome so I can start a podcast on the road and finish it at home.
I already love the Up Next feature.
Christmas Playlist 2012
I’ve been very carefully building a Christmas playlist for the past few years. I only add one song a year, and I only listen to the songs on the list between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany. There are now twelve songs on the list.
- “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues
- “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
- “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland
- “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon
- “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
- “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” by Dean Martin
- “The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole
- New “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder
- “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Elvis Presely
- “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan
- “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie & Bing Crosby a
- “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade
Damning with the faintest of praise. “Other than his stiff figures, lack of facility with acting, and inability to draw characters in a recognizable form, his art in this book is way better than it usually is.”(via iamdavidbrothers)
Optimism in Science Fiction
(Note: I’m going to have to spoil important stuff about Looper here.)
I saw Looper last week and found something in it I think might be a trend: a degree of optimism in science fiction. Looper and Doctor Who especially put forth an idea that what’s going to save the world is not heroes but regular people being good. Being their best.
Quick, brutal summary of some elements of Looper: in the future there’s a super bad mobster guy called The Rainmaker. Old Joe (Bruce Willis) goes back in time with a list of kids who might grow up to be The Rainmaker, planning to kill them. Events progress to a point where Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds out who the kid is and decides to protect him. To the film’s credit, Old Joe is in lots of ways the villain but he’s given a very credible motivation, but of course we sympathize with Young Joe since he’s a) our PoV character and b) protecting a small child’s life from a killer from the future and we can’t not root for that guy since we’ve all seen the Terminator movies. Once the story has all been laid out on the table, there’s a scene where the boy’s mother proposes that he doesn’t have to grow up into a monster. She can raise him to be good. The film ends on the hopeful note that, with the intervention of Young Joe to prevent some stuff from happening, the boy will indeed grow up to be a good kid.
There’s a similar scene in the Doctor Who episode “The Hungry Earth”. There’s a hostage crisis (involving a hot reptile chick, naturally). The Doctor has a plan, but it depends on the people involved doing their part. He gives this speech:
You have to be the best of humanity. […] We return our hostage, they return theirs. Nobody gets harmed. We can land this together. If you are the best you can be. You are decent, brilliant people. Nobody dies today.
The episode “Midnight”, among others, has a similar message. Victory doesn’t depend on the hero doing something cool. It depends on everyone playing a part and being their best. Any one of them can screw it up, but if they all rise above it, it’ll come out alright.
Here’s a scene from Casanova (“Avaritia” no. 3):
The setup there is that Luther (the blonde guy) is destined to become the story’s villain Newman Xeno (more time travel-y stuff: lots of Luthers in lots of other universes have all turned into Xeno). Casanova has saved this one and tried to keep him on the light side. He sends him off, hoping he’ll choose to be better than all the other versions of himself have (though in this case it maybe doesn’t turn out so well). I see in that panel the same optimism as in Looper and Doctor Who. Other recent comics have tread similar ground. Uncanny X-Force has Evan, a kid Apocalypse. All-Star Superman is all about how Superman’s real power is his ability to inspire people to be their best (perhaps even Lex Luthor). So inspiriting, in fact, that it has led people in real life away from committing suicide.
What I see in all these stories from the past few years is a turn toward hope. Bruce Willis traditionally plays the gun-toting action hero. Here he’s the villain while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the hero via self-sacrifice. Picture Luke Skywalker throwing down his lightsaber to stop the Emperor. I’ll go ahead and speculate on why we’re seeing this in sci-fi right now. September 11 reminded us how dangerous the world can be. The shooting in Aurora, CO did it again. Anyone, at any time, can open fire in a public space and kill innocent people. There’s nothing we can do about it, except to live our lives as we always do and hope that no one in the grocery store has a bomb. These stories are telling us that there’s a better way: hope. There’s a place for action movie heroics, but that’s not how the future gets redeemed. We can sit at home afraid to go out, and walk in zigzags on public streets terrified of snipers when we do, or we can hope. If I refuse to be terrorized and live my life being good, maybe others will, too. If I teach my children to try to be their best, maybe the next generation will see a little less random violence.