By John Velousis
On the Utility of Hatchets, or, Hall of Flame, or, I Bought It / I Break It, or, I Hurt Because I Love, or, My Wife Suggests I Use My Pseudonym
Part 1 – The Gathering Form
Before I start being mean about artists, I want to paraphrase a lovely musical question by The Pagans: What’s this shit called comic books? They’re these things with words and pictures that tell stories, sez I. People buy and sell them, yeah, but that is NOT what defines them. If some misguided narc of a mom throws out their kid’s comics and those get trash-picked by some other kid, clan of hobos, eagle-eyed hipster, whatever… no buying or selling there, see? But they’re still comics. Now, okay, maybe some comics by Jim Woodring or Jason don’t have words, and maybe some comics by Art Spiegelman or Dino Buzzati don’t tell stories as we ignorant masses understand them, but I’m blowing off such exceptions. That stuff’s outside the purview of my column, which is about superhero comics. Say, did you know that? Yeah, that’s what the column title is about, kind of. It has a few meanings, actually. Ponder that if you will, Sally-Bill, it don’t make no nohow to me any old way.
Part 2 – Hoo Boy
Now I gotta get mushy for a paragraph, because I’m going to open up about comic books’ connection to my heart. I love comics. I think they constitute a fantastic artistic medium. I believe what the great Jack Kirby said: “You can do anything with words and pictures.” I believe it all the way. Comics, for me, are not a guilty pleasure – they’re a pleasure. Not when they suck, obviously, but I’m making sure I state here, in no uncertain terms, that this art form is not some kind of “low art” as opposed to just-plain-books, say. If you think that From Hell is inferior to The DaVinci Code because society has given the thumbs-up for THAT flavor of snobbery, then you can go shove a floy floy up your rusty dusty. For real, go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut, if you believe THAT wack shit. Hell, while I’m working up a nice froth, I ain’t no fucking GEEK either. I have EARNED the respect of the most jaded human beings on Earth – Chicago rock-and-roll musicians. What the fuck have YOU ever done, you theoretical pin-dicked straw man mutherfucker?
Part 3 – Pretty rainbows! Unicorns! Yayyyyyy!
Hey now! I’ve taken some chill pills – it’s all aboveboard, I have a legal prescription. About time for me to get to the point, wouldn’t you say? Okay, here goes: Marvel Comics has had some really boring comic book covers lately – like, for the last two years at LEAST. I have seen it said that this is a matter of policy at Marvel Worldwide, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC. What boring, you may say, boring how, define my terms! I mean covers that say NOTHING NEW – that may, in fact convey as little information as possible while still actually having images. This offends my sensibilities. Why? What’s it to me? Well, a boring comic book cover is an inferior work of art. It is the work of an artist betraying his or her own talent, or being made to betray their talent. This is repugnant to me. An artist’s delight is to speak to the human soul. Yet at the House of ideas, artists have been doing WAY too much tapping the mic and saying, “Testing… testing…” over and over. These artists are being abased by their own hand, the instruments to their own humiliation.
Part 4 – How do I know it’s a murder? Here’s the body. (It turns out I killed the Word-Count Fairy.)
Issue#9 of Iron Man 2.0 came out last Wednesday. The writer, Nick Spencer, is a fascinating new-ish talent. His series Morning Glories at Image is a consistently surprising mind-fuck, flecked with little bitty-bits of delight in nearly every marginal detail. It’s already a success by my lights whether or not he manages the seemingly impossible task of tying its psychotic world together. Also from Image, Infinite Vacation seems pretty fantastic – and its artist, Christian Ward, has the balls to insist that perfection simply cannot be rushed… meaning that it doesn’t come out super-often, but that’s another column.
Over at DC, Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is fresher than a blood-red tomato plucked off the vine and juicing into your mouth. From issue#3, here’s a picture that paints a thousand wails of torment and regret:
I’m not sure where this book falls in place with DC’s current shenanigans, but it’d be sad as shit if it were done.
And his story, Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week simply cupped my balls with vibrations of astonished delight. Really, truly, if you think I have ever said ANYTHING of value, believe me that you have GOT to get that Jimmy Olsen special. If you never read it, you simply won’t be as good at ANYTHING as everyone else – making pizza, fucking, sudoku. If I don’t see an explosion of Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week sales tomorrow that can be counted in integers, well, that’ll just be sad, I suppose.
Spencer’s Marvel output has been… less consistent. His Cloak & Dagger is better than anybody could have expected so far, and though I’ve not read it, fans are really slobbing his knob over Ultimate X-Men#1. BUT… his run on Secret Avengers wasn’t very good. Actually, I thought it was bad. And this gets us back to Iron Man 2.0…
Iron Man 2.0 (I’m now done with the bold text for this dog) had a few things going against it from the get-go. First, there’s the NAME. One can understand why “War Machine” isn’t such a good name for a hero, but “Iron Man 2.0”? A little bit patronizing, isn’t it? The minds that came up with that – I DOUBT it was Spencer – are the same kind of minds that would’ve just called him “Black Iron Man” in the 1970s. I put about 2 seconds’ thought into it and thought of “Peacekeeper.” It’s politically correct, but is the name of a weapon. Bada-bing, bada-boom. I’m sure anybody could’ve come up with a better name just as easily… except there was this film franchise, you see, and money to be made…
The series itself started out reasonably promisingly – not as well as ANY of Spencer’s other projects, but compelling enough to continue reading. Issue 1, there’s a lovely technicolor fight involving Iron Man the First, War Machine, and an android duplicate of Blizzard, the supervillain who’s for dessert! Then some plot exposition and an odd last-page mystery reveal. Issue 2… not as interesting, but still the mystery deepens and our guy gets red-herringed into, aw snap, a nuke dropping on him. Issue 3 dials it back yet more, the bulk taken, first, by MANY silent panels of people worried about James “Rhodey” “War Machine” “Iron Man 2.0 Real Soon” Rhodes and his gay li’l been-nuked problem, then by him and Stark fetishizing a bunch of tech like Marion Cobretti polishing his steel barrel. They end up giving the new armor John Lynch’s left eye. These 3 issues all have art by some three-way combo of Barry kitson, Kano, and Carmine Di Giandomenico.