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Unhappy Trails: A Farewell to “Scalped”

Posted in book review, brilliance, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2012 by vagabondsaint

Holy crap, what a ride.

After five years and 60 issues, Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera’s noir masterpiece, Scalped, came to an end a couple of weeks ago with the release of Scalped:  Trail’s End, the tenth and final collection.

And just. . .wow.

There is s spoiler below, just so you know, but it’s given away at the end of the first issue.  If you absolutely can’t stand spoilers, stop reading this and go read Scalped.  It’s that good, just go read it instead of my craptastic review.  Everybody else, you’re going to be a little spoiled.

Scalped is the story of a Lakota reservation in South Dakota, seen through the eyes of its inhabitants, most notably: Lincoln Red Crow, the bloody-handed chief and community who wants nothing more than prosperity for his people at absolutely any price and may have killed some FBI agents in the 70s; Catcher, the enigmatic loner who still follows the old ways and has visions of their gods; reservation officer Falls Down, who may be the most (and nearly only) genuinely good person in the whole story, and Dino Poor Bear, a single father with a family that is physically and/or mentally ill and who wants nothing more than to leave the reservation once and for all.  Our protagonist, our guide to the reservation, the eyes that show us this poverty-ridden, drug- and alcohol-ravished community, is Dashiell Bad Horse.

Dashiell left the reservation – more to the point, was sent away from the reservation – 15 years ago by his mother. Dashiell returns seemingly for no apparent reason 15 years later, angry, full of piss and vinegar, and eagerly kicking the crap out of Lincoln Red Crow’s soldiers.  This of course gets him pulled into Red Crow’s office, who decides Dashiell Bad Horse would make a better soldier than an enemy, and because Dashiell’s mother, Gina Bad Horse, leads the protests against Red Crow’s soon-to-open casino.

So remember when I said that Red Crow might have killed some FBI agents in the 70s?  FBI Special Agent Bayliss Nitz certainly remembers, and will do anything he can to inflict pain and suffering on three of the people that were involved: Gina Bad Horse, Catcher, and Lincoln Red Crow.  Agent Nitz figures the best way to nail Red Crow is to send a mole onto the reservation and into Red Crow’s organization to find evidence of wrongdoing and nail Red Crow on murder charges.  His choice?

FBI Agent Dashiell Bad Horse.

And that’s where Scalped begins:  Dashiell returns to the rez, and is revealed (to the reader) as Nitz’s mole at the end of the first issue.  That’s the spoiler.

Believe it or not, being caught in the war between Red Crow and Nitz is pretty much the high point of Dashiell’s life for most of the series.  This is a story that takes its noir very seriously: each story arc, rather than presenting some happiness here, some sadness there, a problem, and a resolution basically boils down to the philosophy “things always get worse.”

And things always get worse.  Unrelentingly, unrepentantly, unmitigatedly worse.  Poor decisions are made, worse consequences follow, violence and drug addictions spiral out of control, body parts get lost, Red Crow’s hands only get bloodier the harder he tries to clean them, Dino Poor Bear falls in with a bad crowd, Falls Down falls down, Catcher starts losing his mind, and Dashiell. . .the shitstorm around Dashiell is just terrible.

And it’s still one of my favourite comic book series of all time.

Scalped wears its influences proudly.  You can see bits of old Westerns in the behaviours of some of the characters (especially Sheriff Karnow of the neighboring county in Nebraska, where rez people go to buy alcohol).  The dialogue, character complexity, and noir nature are deeply reminiscent of my favourite TV show ever, Deadwood, which Jason Aaron specifically cites an an influence and also took place in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  There is also a bit of Garth Ennis’s Preacher in the writing, which Aaron also cites an influence.

Speaking of that character complexity:  Aaron nails it very well here.  No one is pure.  People do bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons all the time in Scalped.  There are no real heroes or real villains; even Red Crow comes off a lot like Al Swearengen of Deadwood, doing bad things for the good of his people.

That’s what makes it  noir, and that’s what makes it good.  Guera’s art is a bit too dark at times; some scenes are difficult to make out, but that’s a small complaint to make in comparison to the rest of the fantastic work done on this series.

Best of all, the ending is neither overly sappy nor overly dark – it simply fits.  Consequences come back to haunt everybody in the end, and that’s really as it should be.  No one gets out with clean hands, and some do not make it out alive.    It’s a dark story, and glorious in its darkness.  It’s a simple story made wonderfully complex by its characters – just like life.

So why are you still here?  Go read Scalped.

Oh, by the way:  Scalped is violent.  Nearly everybody gets shot at least once, there are vicious beatings, stabbings, and horrific crimes committed by terrible people (also by well-meaning people).  If you can’t handle violence, this is most definitely not the story for you.

Hoka hey.

VS

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Worst Comics Publisher Of 2010

Posted in 2010 in review, comic books, rant, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2011 by vagabondsaint

So here I am, ready to announce my pick for 2010’s Worst Comics Publisher.

But first, the runner-up!

Runner-Up:  DC Comics

Oh, DC.  You had an excellent year coming and completely blew it to Hell.

The biweekly, six-issue miniseries Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne, heralding the time-travel adventures of Batman as he struggled back from the past (more on that in another column) was poised to be a huge hit.  It had a superstar writer in Grant Morrison, the return of a character everybody and their weird uncles loves, and a rotating team of fantastic artists.  How could you possibly blow that?

Oh yeah – it was plagued with delays so badly that a series that should have been out and done in three months instead took seven.  Even for that talent and character, people lost interest.  The delays threw it out of sync with companion books like Batman and Robin, and the release of the completely inconsequential Bruce Wayne: The Road Home one-shots before the final issue of ROBR just confused whoever was still paying attention.  And then, just to make it worse, you released the Time Masters: Vanishing Point miniseries, about the adventures of Rip Hunter, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and Superman as they searched the timestream for Batman. . .and it too was plagued with delays, which is death for a title that already starred characters no one really cared about.

That would be enough to make a bad year, but oh wait, there is more.

J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on Superman got people talking. . .for all the wrong reasons. It was arrogant, preachy, and heavy-handed to the point that the interludes, necessitated by health issues and Straczynski’s writing the much-better-received Superman: Earth One graphic novel, were liked much better.  While we’re talking about JMS, his changes to Wonder Woman’s costume went over like roadkill for dinner.  Don Kramer’s art couldn’t even save it.  Here’s hoping the next writer either changes it back or gives us a damn good reason for the change.

Other DC blunders?  Delays on The Flash (how does the Fastest Man Alive star in the Slowest Book On The Stands?), James Robinson turning the JLA into Teen Titans: The Grown-Up Years, replacing the all-ages Batman team-up series Batman: The Brave and the Bold with an all-new all-ages Batman team-up series called Batman: The Brave and the Bold (read that line again if you wish; I promise it won’t make any more sense the second time), letting Mark Guggenheim write JSA, and the Jonah Hex movie (which is nearly completely identical to Will Smith’s Wild Wild West movie.  Seriously.  The villains even plot to kill the same President, which makes me wonder what Garfield was up to that so many screenwriters want him dead).  The final nail in the coffin was their 100-page specials, which are just reprints of older comics.  Good for background info on some characters, but useless otherwise and, at $8 each, aren’t selling.  Just stop with the damn specials already, DC.

On the plus side, though, Paul Cornell is doing an excellent run on Action Comics right now.  And Grant Morrison’s Batman work has blown me away.

But, the saving grace for DC?

They listened to the fans.

When faced with rising costs, Marvel and DC both started hiking up prices from $2.99 to $3.99 per issue.  As long it was just a few series and miniseries, it wasn’t so bad.  But in the midst of a recession, fans took notice and starting dropping books.  When the unusually-large price increase started expanding to more regular series and virtually all miniseries in July, fans showed their displeasure by not buying comics.  In fact, industry-wide, there was a stunning 17% across-the-board sales drop in the month of August.  DC responded quickly, and favourably, by issuing a statement that they would drop prices back down to $2.99 in the new year, though, due to rising costs of their own, this would also mean dropping 2 pages per issue.  Hell, at least they listened and responded in a way that showed they understood the situation. (Marvel issued a similar “me too” statement 30 minutes later, but more on that in a minute.)

Despite all the errors and missteps, that single show of understanding kept DC from being the worst publisher of 2010.  No, that honour went to. . .

2010’s Worst Publisher of the Year: Marvel Comics

Oh, it was Marvel’s year, all right. . .Marvel’s year to suck.

Let’s start with over-saturation.  To help build the hype of an upcoming Deadpool movie, Marvel had Deadpool starring in four separate ongoing series this year (five, if you count Deadpool MAX) and at least 2 miniseries a month, plus guest appearances galore.  He appeared more than Spider-Man and Bruce Wayne, although he still came up short for the title of Most Overused Character (that title still belongs to Wolverine).  The once-beloved Merc With A Mouth became the Merc With Too Damn Many Books, and even the most hardcore fans were not willing to spend $20 a month on one non-bat-inspired character.  Sales plummeted, Deadpool lost popularity, and Ryan Reynolds, who was slated to star in the movie, instead signed a contract with DC to do more Green Lantern movies.  As of this writing, 2 of these books have been cancelled, which would have been great news approximately 20,000 dead trees ago, but now it’s too little, too late.

Speaking of cancellations, there were plenty of those, too. . .just on the wrong titles.  The well-liked series Atlas was cancelled for low sales after only five issues; the same for Thor: The Mighty Avenger.  Both books might have stood a chance had it not been for a sudden glut of comics titles on the shelf – a glut largely put there by. . .wait for it. . .Marvel Comics.

One can accept that when a company does a crossover, there are going to be extraneous tie-ins and such.  Marvel took this waaaaaaaaay too far in 2010.  It would have been acceptable if there had been a company-wide crossover, but, in addition to that crossover (Siege, which was terrible), there were also line-specific crossovers, like X-Men: Second Coming (which was actually good), X-Men: Curse of the Mutants (vampires are overdone, kids, let it go already), Shadowland (about Daredevil becoming master of the Hand ninja clan and taking over NYC; also, it sucked), and all of the 4 new Avengers-themed books, released to replace the previous 4 Avengers books that ended with Siege.  Each crossover had its own spin-offs and miniseries, very very few of which were readable and very few of which had any effect on the crossover story or the characters in them.  In addition to all that, of course, Marvel was also releasing the “Women of Marvel” one-shots, a new Strange Tales miniseries (which was worth reading), a slew of miniseries starring minor or new characters, and other useless pablum.

In short, in a time of belt-tightening and stretched dollars, Marvel Comics threw books at you like they’d forgotten that comics are a luxury item.

And Marvel appeared to recognize this mistake when they announced, 30 minutes after DC’s price-drop announcement, that they too would be dropping prices for 2011.

But, see, what they meant to say, and clarified in a later press release, was that they wouldn’t be putting out any new ongoing titles for $3.99.  They wouldn’t be dropping prices so much as they would be keeping them stable.  Same difference, right?  Well, not really, but okay. . .fair enough. . .oh, except that miniseries and specials are exempt from that rule, so those will be priced at $3.99.  And there will be a metric shitload more of them.  Hell, right now, Captain America, who’s barely interesting enough for one book, has two miniseries going. Thor, whose second ongoing was cancelled, has at least three going.  Spider-Man just ended one and I think has more on the way, in addition to the miniseries starring his nemesis Norman Osborn.  Basically, Marvel’s made it clear that there will be fewer ongoing series and more specials and miniseries coming your way in 2011 – an end-run around looking like they give a fuck about the stressed wallets of the fans.

 

A special message to you, the fans, from Marvel Comics.

Marvel, too, was plagued with delays this year; the final issue of Siege came out after series and specials that chronicled events that happened in that final issue.  Of course, said events were nearly immediately forgotten about, but whatever.  It’s not like Siege was worth remembering.

On top of all that, Iron Man and Reed Richards still have not been arrested and tried for the negligent homicide of Black Goliath.  This still pisses me off.

Oh, and Siege.

And Shadowland, which made me quit reading Daredevil.

Plus, The Sentry: Fallen Sun.

And the X-Men fighting vampires at the same time as the Ultimate Avengers.

And Marc Guggenheim writing, well, anything.

So there you have it, folks:  Marvel Comics, the Worst Comics Publisher of 2010.  Take a bow, Marvel!

 

Or, you know, don't. Just keep giving us the finger. Jerk.

VS – 1.9.10

Worst Comics of 2010

Posted in 2010 in review, comic books, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by vagabondsaint

So once again, because I am horribly lazy, I’m taking ComicsAlliance’s list of the worst comics of 2010 and added my comments on them.  Luckily, I read most of them this year, so I can comment on them.

5.  VAGINAPOCALYPSE TIE — Titans: Villains for Hire and Nemesis #3

I read Titans: VfH and hated it.  The needless death of Ryan Choi, who was breathing new life into the tired costume of The Atom, really pissed me off.  Worse than that, though, was the death-by-burning-vagina of a child molester.  I’m thinking he had it coming, but still, a character who burns people to death with her vagina?  Come on DC, I know it’s a comic book, but really?  I would love to have been at that meeting.

WRITER: Okay, I got it, it’ll make the book dark and edgy for not for kids.

EDITOR: Hang on, I gotta finish this bottle of Mad Dog first.  Alright, Whatcha got?

WRITER: It’s a woman named Cinder, who has flame powers, but get this: she burns a guy to death with her vagina.

EDITOR:  Love it!

WRITER:  Really?

EDITOR:  I meant the Mad Dog, but your idea is good too, all three of you.

This is the only way I can imagine this idea being approved.

Having given up on Mark Millar some time ago, I didn’t read Nemesis.  That choice has now been validated.

4. JLA: Cry for Justice

This JLA-spinoff miniseries was just terrible.  James Robinson had a stellar run on Starman (ha!), but following it with this dreck made me wonder about his sanity. This did not bode well for his JLA run either, which goes down in history as the first book to make me miss Dwayne McDuffie’s writing.  At least the art was good.

The theory behind this team splitting off to become more pro-active, more aggressive, and chasing down the villains before they become threats, is fresh and new. . .for 1990.  Since then, there’s been Force Works, Fantastic Force, hell, even Justice League Task Force, and numerous other eminently forgettable books.  It’s been done before, it’s been done terribly before.  Cry For Justice made me cry for a better writer.  Even the “shock ending” of Green Arrow killing the villain (Prometheus, who had blown up most of GA’s hometown, blew off his adopted son’s arm, and killed his granddaughter) has been done before, in Mike Grell’s much-better Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.

The art was good and was the best reason to buy the book.  Other than that, there’s nothing to see here people, please move along.

3. The Sentry: Fallen Sun

I’m just going to say this right now:  the Siege crossover was, by and large, completely f’in terrible.  I hated it.  It didn’t live up to the hype, didn’t even come close, and didn’t resolve all the issues it promised to resolve.  Some of the 83 bajillion spin-offs were good, but not many.

The “shocking spectacle” in issue #1 of thousands of people being killed during a battle between an Asgardian God and super-villains was exposed for a cheap plot device pretty quickly, as once it’s established as the flimsy excuse that Norman Osborn gives to invade Asgard, it’s never referenced again. A huge tragedy is forgotten about so fast that it seems like it never really happened.  In fact, just about all of this series is inconsequential.  The two major changes to the status quo, Norman Osborn’s fall from post-Secret Invasion grace and the death of the Sentry, actually do have some consequences, kind of.

One of those consequences, sadly, was the publication of The Sentry: Fallen Sun.

The Sentry, for those unfamiliar with the character, was created in 2000, following a marketing ploy that labelled the character as a “forgotten” Stan Lee character from the 1960s.  He was basically an overpowered Superman knock-off with crippling mental issues and an evil alternate personality, which explained why he wasn’t just wiping out villains left and right.

Anyway, this complete throwaway character finally died in the “shocking” anti-climax of Siege.  In its aftermath followed this memorial issue, Fallen Sun, which was actually worse than Siege.  The retconning of the Sentry into Marvel history was terribly, as everyone shared poignant moments that never happened.  And he was somehow immune to Rogue’s powers, so she slept with him?  What the fuck, Marvel?  Shouldn’t that have come up a little sooner than a throwaway scene in a throwaway comic about a throwaway character?

To sum it up, this book made me wish I was reading Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose instead.  At least that book is hilarious in its terrible-ness; The Sentry: Fallen Sun is a memorial book that’s sad for all the wrong reasons.

2. Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal

JLA: Cry For Justice was the gift that kept on giving.  Like herpes.  The infection of CFJ gave us the blisters that were Rise of Arsenal.  It’s an attempt to make a B-level character more prominent, and it succeeds. . .just not the way that the editors intended.

Remember when I said the Green Arrow’s adopted son and sidekick Roy Harper got his arm blasted off in CFJ?  This is his adventures dealing with the loss of his natural arm and the gaining of a new prosthetic one, as arms are rather important to someone whose entire gimmick is shooting arrows at people.  To make things even worse, it was Roy’s daughter that Prometheus killed in CFJ, so he’s dealing with that too.

How does he deal?

By returning to the heroin habit that made him and Green Arrow relevant back in the 70s, trying to have sex with the same villainess that was the mother of his daughter and failing because he’s impotent, and hallucinating that a dead cat is his daughter and beating up a bunch of homeless guys that he thought were threatening it, and finally getting his ass kicked by his former teammate Dick Grayson, who used to be Robin but is now a friend-ass-kicking Batman.

You know, there’s a lot of potential for a deeply moving, serious story in the scenario I just described.  Said potential is left completely ignored, however, in favour of shock value, horrible dialogue, and cheap dramatic tricks.  Make no mistake, this is four issues of hilariously awful comics that could have been great, thought-provoking comics.

But hey, it’s like I always said:  if you can’t laugh at an impotent junkie beating up homeless people, then what can you laugh at?

1. Superman: Grounded

Oh, Straczynski.  I had such high hopes for you on Superman.  Superman takes a walking tour of America to get back in touch with the country?  Soooooooooooo much potential in that!

And you blew it.

Instead of learning, Superman seems to be trying to teach.  He spouts overly-worded monologues on simple moral points, he flies people into the stratosphere for asking simple questions, the bad guys he does deign to fight are overly ethnic. . .was this written by Republicans?

The one part of this I really liked is the last Straczynski issue, in which he states that one doesn’t have to be a superhero to stop child abuse, one only needs “a pair of eyes, a voice, a phone. . .and ten cents worth of compassion.”  While I agree with the anti-child abuse sentiment and that any normal person can and should act to prevent it, Superman’s description means that people with only one eye, mutes, and those too poor to afford phones are completely useless in the fight against child abuse, which is not the case at all.  Way to discount the handicapped and the poor, Superjerk.

The issue after that was one that I really liked, and I thought that maybe the series was finally picking up. . .until I checked the cover and saw that it was written by G. Willow Wilson, who creator-owned book Air bored me to tears, but she did a good job with Superman’s supporting cast.

Anyway, Straczynski’s off the book now, so here’s hoping it picks up in 2011.

Next up: eh, I haven’t really decided yet.

VS – 1.7.10

Cover Letters #2

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by vagabondsaint

More fun with covers!

"Now might be a good time to do so."

"Excuse me, miss, but have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

"I know you fight robots and all, but did you have to steal Aquaman's shirt to do it? And you couldn't have put pants on first?" (From Magnus, Robot Fighter #2, featuring a not-at-all surprise appearnce by Li'l Magnus "It's Cold In Here, Alright?" RF)

"Ebony. . .and ivory. . .live together in perfect. . .harmony. . ."

The Green Hornet: You might defeat him, but he'll give you a wicked Purple Nurple on his way out.

Hulk: *sob* You never. . .you never really loved me!" Wolverine: "I'm sorry. I didn't want it to be this way."

 

Next week: More editorial errors!

VS – 11.2.10

The Best Book You’re Probably Not Reading, #1

Posted in brilliance, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2010 by vagabondsaint

If you’re like me, or millions of other people out there, you probably spent at least a little bit of your childhood reading Archie comics.  Archie, for the 6 people out there who have no idea who I am talking about, is the red-headed all-American caucasian teenager growing up in the all-American small town of Riverdale, umm, Riverdale. . .okay, it’s never actually said what state Riverdale is in, but I’m gonna guess it’s not far from Springfield, where The Simpsons live, and only a couple hours west of Gotham City.  Hope that helps.  Anyway, Archie Andrews is has been in high school forever and is perpetually trapped in a love triangle between two unreasonably attractive women:  blond, girl-next-door-type beauty Betty Cooper, and rich-girl princess Veronica Lodge.  The comics have always been compilations of vignettes about his adventures with his best friend Jughead, romantic rival Reggie, and peripheral characters like ill-tempered and highly jealous Moose, Moose’s girlfriend Midge, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (yes, the one played by Melissa Joan Hart in the ’90s TV series), L’il Ambrose, supergenius Dilton, soda shop owner Pop Tate, and Chuck and Nancy, apparently the only people of colour that live in Riverdale.  The stories are always pretty basic, humourous, and the end of each story usually returned things to the status quo.

In case that got boring, though, there were always the spy stories of Archie as “The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.”, Archie as superhero Pureheart the Powerful, The Mighty Archie Art players taking on Shakespeare and various other plays with a humourous take, et cetera. . .there were many variations of the character, but one thing remained constant: nobody ever grew up, nothing really ever changed.  Archie and friends never graduated, the 50s-style soda shop they frequented never closed down. . .in short, nothing real ever happened, and the comics were kept strictly divorced from whatever was going on in the real world.

Growing up, you probably read a little of these comics, maybe a lot.  But then you started changing, and Archie and company didn’t.  You sprouted hair in odd places and got funny feelings whenever non-familial members of the opposite sex (or, for some of you, the same sex) were around.  Archie never seemed to experience these things.  You had to start wearing deodorant; Archie never seemed to have body odor issues.  You faced all the myriad dramas of high school and found they didn’t end after five pages; Archie always had his problems solved in usually less than that and everything was cool again.  Archie never got drunk or hacked his lungs out trying to smoke a cigarette because he thought it would make him look cool.  Archie was only broke when it was funny; you learned the hard way it’s never funny to be broke.

In short, you grew up.  Archie and his friends did not.

So you left them behind, probably without even so much as a wave.  that’s how it’s been for the past 60 or so years of Archie:  he never changes.

Until this year.

Earlier this year, Archie comics ran a six-issue miniseries in the pages of Archie called “Archie Marries Betty/Archie Marries Veronica,” in which Archie walks down a strange path and is shown a future in which he married Veronica.  After three issues of that, Archie walks back down the path, takes a different fork, and is shown a future in which he married Betty instead. (I haven’t read this story yet, but I may buy the trade paperback when it comes out.)  It was a well-received story that got a lot of media coverage, but ultimately, it wasn’t real and Archie comics went back to their static world.

Sometime between then and now, Archie had his first interracial relationship with Nancy (there really weren’t any other black people in town besides Chuck, and I don’t think comic readers are ready for Archie to go black and bi at the same time), which was a bit of a long-overdue shock, but also a sign that maybe Archie’s world was opening up to the changing face of America and different societal attitudes towards interracial relationships.  It’s not much of a step for ward for Archie – really, that’s just taking him from the 50s to the 70s – but it’s a step nonetheless.

After that, someone had the idea to introduce a gay character to Archie’s world (the first openly gay character; Pop Tate’s always been in the closet), and so, that happened this year, a sign that Riverdale is becoming more diverse (and more fabulous!)  That was pretty recent, so we’ll see how that goes over with Archie’s fan base, most of whom may be asking their parents some uncomfortable questions soon. (To be fair, I did have some people that don’t normally buy Archie comics buy the issue debuting the new gay character.  I hope they do right by those new fans.)

And finally, someone at Archie Comics Publications headquarters said, “Hey, what if we kept telling the story of Archie being married, in two separate stories?  And we made it a lot like a soap opera?  And Mr. Lodge, Veronica’s dad, was a prick in both worlds?”

Ergo, Life with Archie: The Married Life, the best book you’re probably not reading.  In Life with Archie, Archie has finally followed you into adulthood. . .and found that life sucks.

Life with Archie contains two serial stories: one of Archie’s life being married to Veronica, one in which he is married to Betty.  While you might think this is the same thing as the miniseries I mentioned before, there is a difference, one I won’t discuss here so as not to give out spoilers.

To not give away too much, Life with Archie is the BESTEST MOST AWESOME ARCHIE BOOK I’VE EVER READ. This is a more mature book, though minus the more mature language and sex, keeping it still safe for more mature kids.

In the first serial story, Archie’s married to Veronica, wealthy, and unhappy – his wife is his boss and too busy with work and her father to pay much attention to him, he’s in charge of ruining the soda shop so Mr. Lodge can buy it cheap, his best friend won’t talk to him, and there’s nothing he can do about it.  His friends aren’t doing much better:  Midge left Moose because of his temper and jealousy, Jughead is fighting a losing battle to keep the soda shop afloat, Reggie works for Veronica and hates it, Betty is lonely and miserable, Dilton has mysteriously disappeared, and Mr. Lodge is secretly buying up the city as fast as he can to put up shopping malls and condos (okay, that part kind of has a populist-leaning edge to it – the wealthy millionaire as greedy, heartless money-grubbing developer – that’s all too close to the real world; if you live in Seattle or most other major cities you know exactly what I’m talking about). . .this is not the happy and unchanging rainbow-laden Riverdale you remember.  It’s roughly 3 million times better.  Yes, it’s a fresh coat of soap-opera paint on old Riverdale, but Archie wears it so well that you won’t care.

Between the two stories lies a vale of ‘tween-age crap that you’re better off skipping over and forgetting you ever saw.

In the second story, Archie marries Betty and is. . .also miserable.  He’s just miserable and poor, which is always worse than being miserable and rich.  Archie and Betty have moved to New York, so that Betty can work in the fashion world and Archie can make a go of his music career. . .which of course didn’t happen.  Archie can’t get decent gigs to save his life, and Betty, who works at Sacks 6th Avenue, has to take a pay cut in order to keep her job, when her earnings already were barely keeping them afloat.  Back in Riverdale, Jughead is having a hard time keeping the soda shop afloat, Moose has been dumped but he’s not ready to let Midge go yet, Reggie’s broke and unemployed, Chuck and Nancy are encountering difficulties in keeping their comic book shop going, and their old high shcool teacher Mrs. Grundy is dying of cancer, a revelation that causes the principal to propose to her. . .and Dilton has mysteriously vanished while studying parallel universes.

And that’s all in the first issue.

The second issue of Life with Archie is filled with even more twists and catches; there’s a happy scene in the “Archie Marries Betty” side that seems great. . .until the next page makes you realize that lifting your arms to cheer good news only makes it easier to get punched in the gut by bad news.

As Bill Ellis (one of my English professors) would say, “It’s good stuff!

And indeed it is.  It’s so good, in fact, that I was interrupted while raving about it to a customer in the shop I work in by another customer who said, “I’m sorry, I know you weren’t talking to me, but you just totally sold me on that book.  Where is it?”

If you have any fondness at all for Archie and his friends, you have to read Life with Archie.  You owe it to yourself to see how well Archie has grown up, and how fascinating this trip into soap-opera real-life drama is.

If you don’t have any fondness for Archie, read it anyway.  It’s solidly-written and drawn in an art style that’s a beautiful homage to the late, great, definitive-yet-tragically-underappreciated Archie Comics artist, Dan DeCarlo.

Basically, go buy the book.  Now.  It’s worth it.

VS – 9.11.10

Adventures In Shoddy Editing, Part One

Posted in comic books, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2010 by vagabondsaint

Being semi-literate comic books fans as we are, G (the other guy that works at the same shop I do) and I have noticed a recent rash spate epidemic of instances of shoddy editing in comic books.  He decided it would be a good idea if we scanned the mistakes and put them up on the internet, something I should have instantly recognized as corporate-speak for “you’re going to put them up on the internet.”  (For future reference: whenever anyone you know that works in a corporate environment tells you that “we” need to do something, they really mean and fully intend for you to do something.)

That said, yes, I do want to call attention to these mistakes because, as IBM’s James Mathewson points out here, the value of editors in the literary world seems to be declining in the face of cost-cutting expenditures.  This would be a bad idea.  Having worked as an editor for a small publisher, I can honestly say that we need editors more than ever, to maintain cohesion and language as schools lose funding.  I learned a lot of my vocabulary from books when I was growing up (and still mispronounce words that I’ve never actually heard anyone say yet); the value of books for extending the vocabulary and literacy of both children and adults has not lessened at all since I was a boy and dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The worst offender in the comics world? Far and away, it’s Marvel Comics.  The House of (Bad) Ideas is swiftly becoming the House of Bad Editing, as seen in this example from Heralds #2:

And sddenly, Marvel editors forgot how to use spellcheck. I have to remember, though, that nobody’s perfect. . .

X-Men vol. 83bajillion #1

. . .not even with mutant editing powers.

Spellcheck, to be fair, can be a huge pain in the ass that slows down the entire publishing process by upwards of 6 minutes a day.  So let’s hear it for those editors who, despite the enormous pressures they face, still use it!

New Avengers vol.2 #1

The conversation continues as follows:

Dr. Strange: Our word?

HellStrom: Yes.  They’re invading our word.

Dr. Strange: Our word?

HellStrom: To your mother.  Yes.

The invasion's first casualty. Yo Vanilla, RIP.

Don’t worry, true believers; we’ll get through this together. . .

Prince of Power #2

. . .or maybe not.

You know, perhaps we’re all just better off without. . .without. . .without something. . .I can’t remember what we’re better off without.  Frank Castle, do you remember?

PunisherMax #9

You heard the Punisher, kids: stay indoors!  We’re better off without out!

I think I hear DC editors snickering in the back. . .why are you guys laughing?  Look at these two mistakes from Justice League: Generation Lost #1:

"I just beat your ass with a pipe. I don't have to use the right words."

Give the DC editors credit for at least using spellcheck, even if they didn’t bother to make sure that the words were the proper choices.

The award (at least for this episode) for Worst Editorial Mistake goes to, you guessed it, Marvel Comics, for this mistake on the cover of Marvel Zombies #5:

While I’m sure that Mr. van Lante was thrilled to finally see his name on the cover of  a comic, I’m sure that Fred van Lente, who actually wrote the book, was less than amused.  Hopefully they spelled his name right on the checks.

Till next time, Excelsifore!

VS – 8.2.10

What I Do When I’m Busy Not Writing New Posts As Regularly As I Should Be

Posted in comic books, politics, randoma with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by vagabondsaint

Just a few of the sites I peruse and other activities I engage in when I’m not writing as many blog posts as I should:

1.  Huffington Post – left-leaning news blog. Funny, tragic, amusing; it’s where I get my news and such.  Okay, really I just have a massive intellect-and-accent crush on Arianna Huffington, but don’t tell her.  I want it to be a surprise.

2.  Comics Alliance – stuff about comic books and related media presented with wit, way deeper research than I could ever be arsed to do, and a smattering  of wisdom.

3.  HollaBack DC! – a blog for women in the DC area to report incidents of sexual harassment and verbal or physical assaults.  I’m seriously considering trying to start a HollaBack Seattle, if one doesn’t already exist. (UPDATE:  It did exist.  The HollaBack Seattle page states that the site moved to HollaBack PNW [Pacific Northwest] in 2006 and the link to that site doesn’t work.  The Seattle page is worth browsing, if only because it includes the phrase “spirit of the hollaback”.)

4.  Cracked.com – Seriously, Cracked makes me laugh until I pee.  And I am pretty sure that I am one of the no-more-than-30 people that bought both copies of their print relaunch a few years ago.

5.  Playing Soul Calibur 3 – This is just for story research, I swear.  Trust me.

6.  Ex Machina – I just started reading the trades, since the series is about to come to an end and I won’t be buying the trades forever.  It’s pretty damn good; the story of the world’s first and (to that point) only super-hero deciding that he could do much more good if he became mayor of his hometown, which is (of course) NYC, because nothing exciting or unusual or unique ever happens anywhere else but NYC, and it’s the only place in the world that anyone could have a power-granting accident, and certainly NYC is not the most overused city in comics, movie, TV, and books absolutely fucking ever.  Other than that, it’s a pretty good story of a hero trying to deal with real-world problems.

7.  Learning to play bass, learning Japanese, sleeping, eating, caring for daughter, self-improvement, missing a special lady, oh yeah, and WORK – just minor stuff, really.

So yeah.  When you don’t see new posts from me, that’s what I’ve been doing.  Aren’t you glad you know now?

VS – 6.16.10