Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stray Bullets: All My Friends Were Right

I bought Stray Bullets: The Uber Alles Edition (a one time only $60 collection of the first 41 issues) because three different people told me to do it, each of them coming from a different part of my life.

I'm about 16 issues through and I can say that this is one of the most powerful things I've read in the last five years. Elmore Leonard gives me a vocabulary to speak about these things, but I intuit a very powerful sentimentality in the early portions of the Lapham crime series.

The characters, alone! I'll spoil one story. Amy Racecar is a femme fatale in blue jeans, or a "bad girl" except reading her doesn't make me roll my eyes. She loves a man and does not trust him. The rest is inevitable and impossible to guard against. Of course it ends the way it does. I imagine a further influence of Westlake's (nee Stark) Slayground, though it could just be that the shootout happens in an amusement park.

Virginia Applejack won't take anyone's shit and learns quickly what that means. There are innocent boys given bad educations. There are bad men, in the grand sense, and in the sense of women speaking over drinks.

The characters are children pretending to be adults and adults misbehaving. They are eroded by liquor or sex or cocaine. Handguns make appearances, like movie stars on television. The violence feels real. By which I mean, the violence is never pretty. It is messy, wet and it changes the survivors. There is blood, but it isn't bloody. It is graphic, but not like a Geoff Johns splash page.

Stray Bullets makes me want to re-read Scalped, to see what influence must be there.

There is one major drawback. The binding on my copy of the Uber Alles Edition is abysmal. I described it to one of my friends as being done by an Image Comics intern with a glue gun. I'm aware the price was deliberately kept low, but the pages came unglued within the first thirty minutes of me opening the volume. I wouldn't buy the Uber Alles Edition if I were you, but if you see Stray Bullets on a comixology sale, then blow your money. All of it.

It was Adam writing about Stray Bullets that convinced me to buy the series, at bottom, and if you want convincing, then clicking this link may convince you.

You can read the first four issues for free here.

Patrick Kindlon was one of those three people that recommended I buy Stray Bullets, so a Self Defense Family song about the cops knocking Patrick's house down seems appropriate. "I choked out one word, and that word was 'bastards.'"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Be Objective

Rebecca and I got together to talk about Ferguson on Sunday afternoon. It felt like things were getting less rugged out there and we had a full week's worth of news to digest. She said that she didn't know how to talk about it, and I suggested a timeline. Suggested is light. I said timeline and then went and yelled about what happened at what particular times for six minutes uninterrupted.

And that's good training from journalism and philosophy. (Yelling at a coffee bar notwithstanding...) Check your work, take individual pieces one at a time and not in big gulps, make connections from one piece to another, always. Back up what you say with facts. All well and good. Little pieces give you a thing to start on and build from. You build long enough like that and you'll have something that'll hold.

It sounded good and felt good on Sunday afternoon. Then, of course came Sunday evening, and it whatever good feeling I had from the conversation disintegrated. A hate group with a long history of murder that I won't link to announced they're going to show up to protect white businesses, whomever the police are this time around (normal St. Louis police? Ferguson police? Those MO state police that actually talked with people?) brought back their military weaponry and the same grisly play happened again.

As I write this, more anarchist collectives from out of town are coming in looking for a fight, against the wishes of the Ferguson community and just no. Please. no. Allegedly, Anonymous said they had something that would "blow up" Ferguson and I can't handle how terrible that statement is. Things down there are pretty blown up enough already. I don't think Ferguson, or the story of the murder of Mike Brown needs more blowing up. It's at that point that "something that'll hold" doesn't feel like enough.

How fucking objective do I need to be when I know that police are pointing guns at innocent people because they can't or won't do the work to walk into the crowd without pointing a gun or brandishing a weapon and distinguish peaceful protesters from looters and opportunists?

Some Luther Arkwright panels say it better than I can.

We've been objective. We know what this is. This is a convergence of:
1) a community knowing that X number of dollars worth of cigars is worth more than a black man's life (paraphrased from something El-P retweeted, IIRC)
2) that same community asking, peacefully, for a meager measure of justice and getting none (paraphrased from something Greg Rucka retweeted, IIRC)
3) the police escalating at almost every single opportunity
4) the police using that escalation as an excuse to crack down with their shiny new anti-terrorism toys
5) the mayor and the governor giving public statements that were either not enough or downright insulting
6) the police choosing to employ anonymity in an attempt to insulate themselves from accountability

Be objective feels like a sick, cruel joke at the expense of the person it is directed at. I don't know who said it was okay, but I just want it to stop, and be objective, it seems, does not get it to stop.

And I know that the careful collection of facts and their dissemination is what gets the bastards. Whomever they are. I want the people who said it was okay for the police to deploy with tear gas and rubber bullets to face a real inquiry. I want the people who gave the order to use those things to face a real inquiry. I want the officers who didn't interview any witnesses to face a real inquiry. I want the officers that used LRADs on those protestors to face a real inquiry. I want the people who decided for these police actions, the officers would go out without their badges or numbers on to face a real inquiry. (And so many more...)

And be objective will help get us there, but right now, God help me, it doesn't feel like enough.

"it's not too late! our kingdom is the earth and sky!" We make the road by walking. Aluminum Union by Strike Anywhere.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Wicked & The Divine, Alone

I think I'm scared to admit I have reservations about The Wicked & The Divine.

It's superficially about gods, but it's really about myth and the stories we tell ourselves to feel more confident.

To dispense with the obvious, the Phonogram team kills it. Everyone's on point, The Wicked & The Divine is a logical extension of the Sandman meets Plan B magazine aesthetic that the team's been aiming at since Siege: Loki. If there is a knock on this comic in my mind, it is not in the panel to panel storytelling.

Gillen/McKelvie-isms are there in abundance.

Head tilted away from a wine glass and a coy comment? Check.
Pop music? Check.
Divinity? Check.

There's a couple things I don't cotton to in issue number one, the first being the reaching out by the pop star and bestowing divinity ("she's really looking at me" v. "these are three chords, now form a band") , the second being Luci.

Luci is the most excellent Gillen/McKelvie-ism so far. Short for Lucifer, she slinks around the first issue, getting /almost/ all of the good lines. In that respect, I imagine her as the team's Spider Jerusalem. Luci is attacked by Christian terrorists and repels them. That said, I am not sure what I would do if the true and willful author of our ultimate degradation (I have finished A Theory Of Justice, yes...) made their appearance known in this world that I live in.

Luci, of course, is also Eleanor Rigby.

Issue two carries with it its own troubles. Lucifer is in prison. Her fingers are bound. Now, we pause. Gods can kill people with snaps of their fingers but apparently fingercuffs are enough to keep them in check? This seems telling. Again, maybe they're setting something up here, but it doesn't follow for me. Maybe I'm supposed to say "There's something off."

And we also find out that before Luci was let us say, anointed, she was a latchkey kid and it makes it harder to dislike this person. Especially when she does not appear to be  Shoot.

Luci isn't my real gripe, though, and what follows is:

The Wicked & The Divine, thus far, recycles something from Gillen and McKelvie's Young Avengers run in each issue. The first time, Luci stood in for Marvel Boy, turning her head back from a blasted open window to deliver a quip.

The second time, Luci straight up uses a Hawkeye line from the very first double page spread of Young Avengers issue one.

Which, okay. Artistic choice. But Christ. The Wicked & The Divine team is good enough that they don't have to do this. Am I missing something?

It feels lazy. It gives off (to me) the vibe of the early Image material. The history of that company which fans politely ignore whenever Image is brought up these days. The beginning, where reskins of better liked superheroes was literally the company line. Using the Young Avengers tricks again reminds me of that shortcut.

Maybe The Wicked & The Divine team is going somewhere with it. I don't know where, but again, I ought to keep that open as a possibility. Maybe it's no more than stealing shots, saying "I could do this better" or a rapper going over whatever the big beat of the month is with their own hot sixteen.

I like The Wicked & The Divine, though. Now that I don't know where the comic is going, I enjoy it.  But I focus on the grains of sand in the lotion because I feel I owe it to myself and my audience (pause for laughter) to acknowledge the things publicly that I talk about with Adam Witt, but also because I hold the Phonogram crew to a high standard. When I talk with Adam, I talk about all the things in Wic/Div that don't work for me. When I talk on the internet, I talk about all the things that do.

At bottom, I want the next thing from Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson. When The Wicked & The Divine clicks, it feels like the next thing. It feels exciting and the comic of this moment of 2014. But when it doesn't? I look for Miss America to punch a guy.

 A little Cursive. "Play it off as stigmata for crossover fans/Some red-handed slight of hand..." That sounds harsher than I intend it to. The song slays, though.

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