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Friday, September 03, 2004

One last post, before I head out to Kansas City to celebrate Labor Day the old fashioned way - by spending Saturday and Monday driving eight hours in order to see friends and family for about 36 hours.

Big box o' comics arrived this week, containing fewer graphic novels than last month, but those which came should make for some good reading: B. Krigstein Comics, Action Hero Archives (cheesy, I hope, but I expected more Ditko stories for some strange reason), The Spirit Archives v. 14 (I think, I've lost track), New X-Men v. 3 hardcover (I've seen the spoilers, now I get to experience the story), Lucifer v. 6 (still haven't read v. 5, though) and the Essential Iron Fist. Should make for some good reading.

A few reviews, then, of comics I've read recently:

-Batman: War Games month 1: I picked these up on a whim last Saturday, and have read all but Catwoman and Batman (chapters 1-6 plus the prologue if you're keeping track). I've seen some reviews online that say this is a pretty decent Bat-crossover, but I think it's pretty boring. It seems mired in Bat-continuity that I'm unfamiliar with in a way that No Man's Land wasn't. I don't really know what's going on with the subplots in Robin, Nightwing or Batgirl, don't know who Orpheus is, and think having Spoiler narrate the 12-cent prologue was extremely unfriendly to new readers.

In addition, each issue starts off with a recap of what's happened so far, which reads very clunkily if you're reading it all in a chunk. I'm guessing DC's collections editor will edit some of the exposition out in the inevitable collection, as they did in Bruce Wayne: Murgitive, so maybe it'll read better that way. Finally, it seems like an awful lot happens off panel and is recapped by Oracle, which would be fine if the story itself was character-based, but since it's plot-based it seems like kind of a strange way to tell the story. It'll need pretty good buzz to convince me to read the rest.

-Humankind #1: Another whim purchase, to fill the comic-buying void in between shipments from MOC (I honestly don't know why I even visit comic shops, I have so many unread books lying around, and I order what I want so end up buying crap like this). Something about a human astronaut arriving on an earth-like planet, but where humans are kept as slaves. Quick read, light on both story and character. Nothing to see here.

-Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life v. 1: I actually read this a few weeks ago, and lots of other comics bloggers have said more insightful things than I can say about it. My take is that Scott Pilgrim is about as close to a western manga as I've ever read, and I think that's a good thing. O'Malley makes use of some fun manga conventions, including decompressed storytelling, speedlines, superdeformed characters and giving each character their own funny "label." It has all the energy of manga like GTO, only it's slightly less crass. While it's a fun little book that I thoroughly enjoyed, I'm not sure who the audience is meant to be. I mean, it's certainly not meant for almost 30-year old grown married men, even if juvenile ones like me enjoy it, but it seems like the content is kind of blah for the 14-year olds who might really get a kick out of it if it were more active. Maybe I'm wrong, and it is meant for 14-year olds. I hope they find it and enjoy it half as much as I did, and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

-The Tick v. 1: The Naked City: Huge fan of the cartoon, and I enjoyed the live action series, but I had never read a Tick comic till a few weeks ago. It's pretty funny, not quite to the level of the cartoon yet, sort of a pastiche of Flaming Carrot and the Ninja Turtles. Enough time has passed since TMNT, though, that I could get a kick out of the ninjas again, and the parodies of Frank Miller's Daredevil. Edlund has a good sense of pacing, and timing (not easy in a comic), and the jokes come fast. I liked it enough that I'd like to track down some more of the comics, at least until they finally release the cartoon on DVD (what's the deal with that anyway? I hear it's caught up in some sort of legal wrangling, but I don't know the specifics. Can anyone enlighten me?)

Guess that's about it. Have a happy and safe Labor Day, everyone!

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Are you ready for some football?

With the NFL season nearly upon us, and hopefully a chance for the Chiefs to redeem last year's playoff bungle (okay, more like a chance for their defense to get the job done), I let a couple of my friends talk me into signing up for one of those ever-so-not-geeky (according to them) NFL Fantasy Football leagues. I suspect it's just anticipation of the season finally beginning, but I had way too much fun at our draft last Sunday.

Of course, never having done any of these Fantasy sports-type games, it didn't even occur to me that I might want to sign into the draft prior to 11:25 (for an 11:30 draft start time). Instead, I spent the first part of the morning scanning ESPN.com and SI.com, futilely hoping to gain some particular insight into how to pick those post-fourth round picks, after the "name" talents have mostly been taken. So when I finally signed in, I was shocked to discover that I needed to download some sort of Java plugin to get access to the draft.

Frantically, I clicked around and started the download (I'm still working off 56K dial-up, by the way), which ended up taking almost 15 minutes. Luckily, I had pre-ranked at least a few of the players that I thought I would really want, so I wasn't shocked to get an IM from Be the Boy telling me "You got Tomlinson" (Running Back). I was slightly more surprised to find that my second "pick" was Steve Smith (WR), because I don't recall ranking him, but I'm not complaining. Apparently, I had drawn 9th out of 10 for the draft, meaning I pretty much had two picks in a row every time I was up.

After what seemed like an eternity, I started the install, only to have it error out after about five minutes. I rebooted and waited. The install seemed to run smoothly the second time, but when I tried to get into the draft app. through Mozilla, all I got was a blank screen, so it was back to IE.

By the time I got in, it was almost time for my Round 6 pick and I somehow had yet to get a QB, so I hopped over to see who was left in the 90 seconds I had to make my decision. The pickings were mighty slim, but Trent Green was still available, so I drafted him, hoping he has as good or better season than last year (turns out he put up 287 fantasy points last season, which ain't too shabby). Next up, I went for a Defense, seeing as that's what most of the rest of the league had picked in round 6. Again, the top ranked D's had already been taken (damn my dial-up connection!), so I took Dallas which I hope will be pretty good (323 points last season, if that counts for anything).

By the end of the day, I had a team that I'm pretty satisfied with. Even if I don't have any of the real big name monster players who are sure to put up lots of points (if I can ever figure out how fantasy points are determined, that is), I'm pretty solid, with some decent depth on the bench. In case you're curious, here's how El Duderinos shape up:

T. Green (KC) - QB
E. Moulds (Buf) - WR
S. Smith (Car) - WR
L. Tomlinson (SD) - RB
D. Davis (Hou) - RB
J. Shockey (NYG) - TE
J. McCareins (NYJ) - WR
T. Henry (Buf) - RB
J. Plummer (Den) - QB
D. Bennett (Ten) - WR
E. Kennison (KC) - WR
I. Mili (Sea) - TE
D. Hall (KC) - WR
J. Elam (Den) - K
Dallas - Defense
Pittsburgh - Defense

Not bad, though perhaps a little heavy on the AFC West (not surprisingly, since that's the division I'm most familiar with) and light on NFC players (again, not surprising since I tend to follow the AFC a lot more than the NFC).

In other NFL news, tonight I'll be in attendance at the KC/Dallas pre-season game at Texas Stadium. I know it's pre-season, which to some NFL fans isn't "real" football since the main objective for many players is more not to get hurt than to play football, but it's the only time KC will be in my adopted hometown this season and the tickets were free. Beggars can't be choosers, and all that. I expect to have a good time nevertheless and besides, it's the end of the pre-season for most teams, which means we're that much closer to Week 1!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Comics: The Slings and Arrows Comics Guide

Sunday, on one of my now infrequent trips to Half Price Books (infrequent because HPB stores in Texas tend to have both a worse selection and worse prices than those in Wisconsin), I came across two particular comics-related gems, neither of which I ever thought I'd find at a discount shop. The first is The Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics (used, $7.95), a book which I've heard about for years now, but have never seen, which discusses and reprints some of the best comics from the Golden Age of comic book publishing through the arrival of the Comics Code. I suspect I'll dig into that one more at a later date, as the only piece in it that I've read is B. Krigstein's The Master Race, Krigstein's masterpiece of short comics work which is sadly not included in Fantagraphics' handsome Krigstein Comics hardcover (arriving in the Coffee Shop mail any day now).

The other purchase, and by far the most initially entertaining, is The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide. For those who may not be familiar with this fairly massive tome, it's essentially an encyclopedic guide to comics, with brief synopses/reviews of darn near every comic book ever published in the US. Perhaps ironically, it's published in Britain and presumably all the reviewers are British. Alan David Doane of Comic Book Galaxy gave the guide 4.5 stars when it was first published, and it sounded interesting to me, but at $40US I had to give it a pass. At a remaindered price of $15, though, it's a steal (and I'll probably pay full price when the updated version is released, hopefully in a few years).

The closest parallel I can make is to Leonard Maltin's Video Guide, updated annually (I think), in which reasonably noted critic Maltin offers mostly single paragraph reviews of just about every movie available on video/DVD in the US. A few years back, a friend of mine would get Maltin's guide for Christmas each year and would spend January reading through it whenever he had a spare moment, highlighting the titles of the movies he had seen in one color and the movies he was significantly interested in seeing in another. It's a fun little project, if a tad obsessive, and one which I'm struggling against doing myself in my new Slings and Arrows Guide (ultimately, I think the little voice in my head that tells me Not To Deface Books with a Highlighter will win out).

Like Maltin's guide, the reviews in Slings and Arrows are organized alphabetically by series, with an index of creators in the back (I believe Maltin's book actually picks select directors/actors and lists all of their major movies, rather than indexing the rest of the book). Unlike Maltin, Slings and Arrows varies the length of the review for every comic series based on merit (Watchman gets a little over a column, while Marvel's G.I. Joe/Transformers gets about three sentences, two of which are a joke) and publishing duration (Action and Detective get over two pages each). SaA also recommends particular issues in a long-running series for those new to the series to try out (not every series gets recommendations, so that, too, appears to be somewhat dependant on merit).

The one thing that Maltin's video guide (and other similar guides, I believe at least Roger Ebert does his own) has going for it that Slings and Arrows doesn't is that it's produced by a reviewer whose tastes are a known quantity. Most folks with more than a passing interest in movies know something about Maltin or Ebert, and know how their own tastes align with the reviewer's. Slings and Arrows is produced by a group of folks whose names are unfamiliar to me, and probably to most comic fans (the audience for the book, one would think), so one has to take their reviews with a grain of salt, at least until you've read enough to know whose reviews you tend to agree with and whose you don't (reviews are all initialized at the end of the entry).

The review for Ultimate Adventures (of which two issues had been released when the review was written) is fairly positive, but I've read the entire series (I'm a glutton for punishment, I know), and I generally thought that the book wasn't as funny as it thought it was, and that it did nothing that hadn't been done better elsewhere. Maybe to a new reader, Ultimate Adventures does seem pretty good, but I'm led to think that my tastes don't align well with that particular reviewer, so I'll be cautious about making a purchase based on their other reviews. I tend to like to know whose reviews I'm reading going into it so, for me, a comics guide with reviews I could rely on would be written by folks like ADD, Chris Allen and Tony Isabella, not by whomever has reviewed the latest issue of Tomb Raider for Newsarama's "Review" section. To be fair, it seems like most of the reviewers for SaA are pretty catholic in their tastes and I've agreed with the few entries I've read more often than not, so this may or may not be an issue for some people.

While Slings and Arrows does give publisher information for every entry, perhaps in spite of the creator index, they don't seem to have any overarching system for when creators are named, and when they are, it's usually just writer/penciller (I may have seen one or two inkers, but not many). From the looks of the entries I've read, creators seem to be mentioned if they had a particularly well-received (by the reviewer) run on a book, or if they are associated closely with the series; and no creator information is given for some books (like the aforementioned G.I. Joe/Transformers).

For instance, the Hellblazer entry mentions everyone who has written an issue of the book (including Neil Gaiman, who wrote one issue and Grant Morrison, who wrote two) save Darko Macan, who wrote a two-issue fill-in between Ellis and Azzarello. Likewise, most of the major artists for each writer's era on the book are called out by name, but Sean Phillips, who drew most of Paul Jenkins' 40 issues, is only mentioned as having drawn Eddie Campbell's four-issue fill-in. Perhaps most surprisingly, I believe I read an entry last night for a book which I know to be creator-owned, but no creator was mentioned (I don't remember which entry right now, though). I realize that listing every creator ever involved with a book, especially long-running company-owned titles like Detective, Spider-man or Uncanny X-Men, would take up more space than the book has pages, but I would have preferred a clear editorial philosophy for crediting creators.

There's also a fair amount of typos throughout the book. While some might argue that any book this size will have typos by it's very size and volume of information (I believe the first edition of Webster's Dictionary was littered with them), I noticed enough in the few entries I've read that I think it's worth commenting about. Someone I know mentioned in an email recently that any typo (especially spelling mistakes) is enough to make a work seem unprofessional, and while I have no doubt that The Slings and Arrows Guide is professionally produced, it might be worth hiring a professional proofreader next time (hey, I'm available!). I've also noticed a few places where reviewers have contradicted themselves with seeming factual inaccuracies. The one that leaps immediately to mind is in the entry for Tales of the Witchblade, where the reviewer states that "Christina Z wrote the majority of 1-4," then goes on to say that 3-4 were written by Warren Ellis (maybe I'm being two nitpicky, but that kind of thing bugs me).

I've noticed a few other editorial inconsistencies, which don't seem to make sense to me. Doom Patrol volumes 1 (Silver Age), 2 (Morrison/Pollack et al), and 3 (Arcudi/Huat) are all covered in the same entry. Swamp Thing covers volumes 1 (Wein/Wrightson, et al) and 2 (Moore, Wheatly, Collins, Millar et al) in a single entry, but volume 3 (Vaughn) gets it's own. Sometimes, a Vertigo reimagining of a series gets lumped in at the bottom of the old series entry (Tomahawk), while other times it gets it's own (El Diablo). Occasionally, a one-shot or one-off story gets it's own entry (An Accidental Death), while other times it's lumped under a general category of (Publisher) Graphic Novels (Kyle Baker's You are Here is reviewed in an entry with mostly forgettable Paradox Press Graphic Novels). A clearer editorial direction for these types of entries would significantly benefit the next version.

Finally, having only spent about an hour or two with the book, I have managed to find a few books which don't appear to be covered, and I list them here just to be nitpicky and snarky: The Witching Hour by Loeb/Bachalo (DC/Vertigo), Backlash and Taboo's African Holiday by Booth (DC/Wildstorm), Kindred 2 by Booth (DC/Wildstorm), and The Fall by Brubaker/Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly). Of these, the only one that it's really a shame they don't cover is The Fall, which I have to re-read and blog about some time. The others are pretty forgettable (I haven't even read the two Wildstorm books, I just happened to notice them), and the fact that they're the only books I could come up with not covered by Slings and Arrows should tell you something about how comprehensive the book is.

I know it may seem like I have a lot of criticisms for the book, but they're all pretty small and nitpicky in the scheme of what the book actually does cover. For fans of American Comics, especially those interested in reading about some of those largely forgettable comics that you see in quarter bins year after year, I'd say this guide is pretty much indispensable, and I know I'll be in line to order any updates they put out. The only thing that might possibly surpass The Slings and Arrows Comics Guide would be Tom Spurgeon's Guide to Graphic Novels and Collected Editions or Mark Evanier's Guide to Humor Comics, and I don't think we'll be seeing either of those any time soon.

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