Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-in #48

By Nick Gazin

Hey Ev-ery-boddyyyyy,

Did you hear the news?

DC Comics just announced its creation of seven new comic book mini-series called Before Watchmen that all take place in the universe of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen but are set, like, BEFORE Watchmen. Also Moore and Gibbons are in no way involved and are audibly saying they hate the idea. Well Moore is anyway. He was quoted as saying that this new series is "completely shameless," and, "I don't want money, I want this to not happen." Dave Gibbons was less harsh and actually kind of wishy-washily said that the Watchmen book was meant to be the complete story but good luck to the guys working on this comic. I can't blame Gibbons. He's a freelance artist and what's he going to do, shit on a company that pays him? 

If you don't know about Watchmen, Watchmen was a 12-issue mini-series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons in 1987. It was about a very realistic and adult world in which superheroes really existed and was a comment on the Cold War, comics, love, death, and pretty much all facets of life. The characters were all original creations of Alan Moore that were based on obscure characters from an old comics company that DC bought up.

The preview images DC released are beautiful and the two biggest creative forces on this comic--Darwyn Cooke and Brian Azzarello--are mega talents but this is a bizarrely crass move on DC's part. It's obviously lacking any speck of integrity, but it's also supremely dumb.

There are some comic characters that can be endlessly re-explored and redefined. Batman, for example, has gone through dozens of phases. Every decade has its own Batman that is almost a separate character from the Batmans of other decades. The Batman of the early 60s bears no resemblance to the high-cheek-boned Batman of the late 60s. The reason Batman can be changed is because he's so broad as a character that he's more like a collection of possibilities than a set personality. Batman is a mask and a utility belt and a car and a mansion. The joy of Batman is imagining that you are Batman. So professional creators can go and make their own Batman, and the kids at home can make their own Batmen too when they play with a Batman doll or draw Batman or wear a Halloween costume.

There are other comics with costumed crime fighters that seem like a public sandbox other creators can play in, but they aren't and they can't. An obvious one is the Spirit. The Spirit wasn't just created by Will Eisner, the Spirit IS Will Eisner. Eisner was an auteur. He once famously had Wally Wood do a few Spirit comics but Wally didn't try to do his own take on Eisner's Spirit, Wally Wood took the Spirit into space, because that's what Wally Wood does. And that wasn't a regular thing that happened. Then Frank Miller made that fucking movie, which showed a complete lack of understanding of anything that made the Spirit appealing or what the Spirit was. And now there are these Spirit comics that aren't by Will Eisner and my response can only be, "What the fuck do you all think you're doing?"

In that same way, fucking with Watchmen is a huge mistake. If DC was just looking to cash in on all the love and reverence Watchmen has been building up for the last two decades, the time to do it was two or three years ago when the movie came out. Watchmen isn't a property where you can extricate characters and tell their individual story. To try to do so fails to understand what Watchmen is, why it works, or what its message is. Like components of a WATCH, each character is a carefully placed and integral part. The joy of Watchmen isn't JUST Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan. It's the structure, the organization, and the feeling and philosophy that Alan Moore is putting into the story. And besides that, there's no need to tell stories that are set "Before Watchmen" since Watchmen tells all the key moments of the characters' lives. 

I'm interested to see what these comics are but my interest is definitely outweighed by my bafflement over who thought this was a great idea. This isn't the 30s where you can fire Superman's creators and no one will care or notice. The creator of these characters is openly against this and trying to get it stopped. How far will the drama go? How much will people hate these comics? I can't wait to see!

There's a new Spiderman movie coming out. I don't have high hopes but the video game based on it looks tremendous. The Spiderman 2 game was one of my favorite video games ever. You could explore all of Manhattan and climb to the top of the Empire State Building and dive off. If this game is able to simulate the feeling of rappelling around Manhattan with ropes that you spit out of your hands then I'm very psyched.

The Ninja Turtles are now in their fourth TV series. I think this means that TMNT have ascended from the ranks of dated 80s property and are possibly a forever franchise, like Batman. The new toys look more fun to play with than the ones I had as a kid. Michaelangelo's nunchuks snapped pretty much the day they came out of the package. And check out this sewer playset! 

Do you remember the old sewer playset? It was basically a box. I wanted all those little plastic boxy homes for my action figures to live in, but my dad was always saying "No way, it's just a fucking plastic box." This led to my dad trying to build a Ninja Turtles sewer playlet out of chipboard and me getting the shit slapped out of me until I was a crying snotty mess for some reason I still don't think I understand. 

Remember the Marvel Masterpieces trading cards? How great were those? I'm surprised that I didn't notice that most of the female superheroes were clearly drawn from porn when I was younger. 

Check out this drawing Milo Manara did of the Beatles. I love you, Milo Manara.

OK. Here are some reviews of comics:

Athos in America
Jason
Fantagraphics

Jason is a Norwegian cartoonist who always draws stories about anthropomorphized cat, dog, and bird people.These stories are a little less open-and-shut than Jason usually makes. His comics are always good, but I usually don't think about them too much after reading them. This one's more of a think stimulator than previous books.

The first story is called "The Smiling Horse." Two kidnappers are warned by their hostage that the Smiling Horse will get them for their crime. One goes out to run an errand and while he's gone the Smiling Horse comes and kills his partner in crime and frees their victim. Decades later the surviving kidnapper is in his kitchen when a voice we assume is the Smiling Horse tells him that he should have known he would never get away and the kidnapper lets him know he's ready to die. We never see the Smiling Horse. Is he a superhero or a secret agent? Is he an actual smiling horse?? Jason's comics aren't usually this unresolved. I'm glad he's started doing good stuff like that.

In the second story, "A Cat From Heaven," Jason tells us a story about a cartoonist who is a total dick. He hits his girlfriend in the face, she leaves him, and then they try to one-up each other with aggressive displays of dislike. The cartoonist considers suicide but instead goes and gives a reading of his comics, at which point we realize that the cartoonist is in fact Jason, the author. He proceeds to show himself to be the biggest asshole on the planet. I applaud being honest about being awful but it seems pretty obvious that it's all made up. If I find out it was all true, I will mention it next week.

The next story is "The Brain That Wouldn't Virginia Woolf." It's about a husband who brings his wife back to life as a head on a tray even though she just wants to die. He keeps killing women in the hopes of transplanting her head onto their bodies, but it doesn't work.

"Tom Waits On the Moon" is a story in which characters are alone thinking to themselves about loneliness and regret.

"So Long, Mary Anne" is about choosing the wrong girl and is probably named for that Leonard Cohen song.

Finally "Athos in America" tells the story of one of the Three Musketeers. He walks into a bar and tells his amazing life story to the bartender and then other things happen. It's a beautiful book. This is definitely Jason's best book yet. Good job, Jason.  

Big Questions
Anders Nilsen
Drawn & Quarterly

I should have reviewed this book before, but I didn't. Here are my thoughts on how it is now, presently. 

Big Questions is one of the best modern comics. Dash Shaw described being excited to read it because with each issue Anders would get better and better at drawing and you got to watch him figure out comics.The evolution of the story kept pace with the evolution of Anders as an artist. I always like when you feel like you're experiencing several stories at once. 

Big Questions is set out in a field somewhere and the main characters are mostly birds who can think, feel, and speak with one another and other animals. There's also a mentally handicapped boy who lives with his grandmother, a snake, and some predatory birds. One day a bomb drops into the middle of the field without exploding.The birds think it's a giant egg. They discuss it and try to understand and eventually end up pecking at it until it blows up, killing and wounding some of them and creating a huge crater. Later the retarded boy's grandmother dies and he wanders around in nature trying to stay alive. The birds see him as a deity and try to help him. A military pilot crashes his plane through the boy's cabin and also tries to survive but in a way that's at odds with nature. So the retard wanders around eating worms and the pilot wanders around angry and confused. The various birds have their own stories which sometimes feel referential to myths like the story of Orpheus. Also I didn't realize until writing this review that the plane crashing into the cabin is clearly about 9/11.

The drawing style is simple clean lifework but will shift into surprising detail when it needs to. 

As an object this thing is phenomenal. It's a giant dictionary-size book and the version I got is a signed and numbered hardcover. I uttered an actual "Whoa" when I opened the package it came in and yelled "Whoaaaaaa!" when I saw that it had a signed and numbered bookplate in the front. I don't know if D & Q has any of the extra fancy editions left remaining, but if there is it's not a bad investment of your comics allowance.

Previously - Comic Book Love-in #47

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