21 February 2014

post-mortem: the flash by manapul & buccellato

by Frances Manapul & Brian Buccellato

reading list: The Flash (2011) # 1-25, Annual #1

the premise:  Crime-scene tech Barry Allen leads a secret life as Central City's speedster and resident superhero - The Flash.  In these stories, the Flash squares off against the Rogues Gallery, Gorilla Grodd, the Reverse-Flash and more, all while trying to balance his love life and career.

the lowdown:  He may be a little old-fashioned, but for my money the Flash has always been one of the coolest visuals in comics.  He's got one of the best costumes - a design that is nearly impossible to translate to any other medium but which looks fantastic in a comic book.  He's got a collection of colorful rogues, all of whom have equally brightly-colored costumes.  He moves really fast, something that can be depicted in many visually interesting ways.  And several of his enemies have powers or weapons that involve firing projectiles, which contrasts nicely with the Flash's speed lines.

In light of that, it's perhaps surprising that no one ever thought to make the Flash comic an art-driven book until DC relaunched this series in the New 52 in 2011.  Well, maybe it's not THAT surprising, because relatively few modern DC and Marvel books are at all art-driven.  But still.  

Allow me to elaborate on what I mean by "art-driven".  There are lots of well-drawn comics out there, but very few that are showcases for the art.  In this age of editorially-driven event storytelling and byzantine elaborate cross-title continuity, the content of most DC and Marvel books are driven by either writers or editors.  At best, a writer might call up the artist and see what s/he wants to draw, then work it into the script.  But the script is the foundation for most of these comics.  The art is there to illustrate the script - hopefully well.  Even something like Batman: Hush, which has Jim Lee's art as its principal draw, is driven by Jeph Loeb's script.

By contrast, the engine that powers this run is Frances Manapul's art.  Manapul is credited as co-writer for almost all these issues, and it's clear that he had a significant role in plotting the book.  Beyond that, though, things happen in this book because they're interesting visually, and because Manapul can make them look awesome.  The script is there to add context to the images, rather than the reverse.  The scripting is good, but old-school at times and occasionally pretty generic, but Manapul's depiction of those things is stupendous.  A five-page spread with Barry Allen thinking through all the potential outcomes of a fight with Grodd is there solely because Manapul wanted to draw such a thing.  I realize that talking about "art-driven" book evokes all kinds of memories of bad 90's Image comics, but while it's true that those books (some of them, at least) were art-driven, there's nothing inherently bad about art-centric books.  It is, after all, a visual medium.  When you have an artist like Manapul, who clearly is enthusiastic about experimenting and putting visual ideas on the page, it's folly not to embrace that.  Manapul was of course also the artist on the pre-Flashpoint run of The Flash, but there he was acting in the role of illustrator.  While he capably drew what Geoff Johns told him to draw, there was none of the spark that characterizes these issues, particularly the early ones.

The creators' take on Barry Allen is mostly back-to-basics, though they've tweaked the Rogues and rolled back the Barry/ Iris relationship.  (Barry has a new romantic interest in these issues.)  Barry is one of the characters well-served by the New 52 reboot, because it wiped away all the continuity baggage that weighed down his previous series.  He remains a relatively generic do-gooder - given a more tragic motivation here than he had in the Silver Age, but not an angst-ridden figure by any means.   You won't gain any great insight into the character of Barry Allen in these pages, and perhaps there's no great insight to be had.  He's a dude who has a cool costume and runs fast - it's elegant in its simplicity.

At least, it is while Manapul is drawing it.  Unfortunately as the run progresses you can see him struggling with deadlines, and fill-ins become more and more frequent.  Some of the fill-ins are quite competent but none of them have the same spark as Manapul's issues.  And frankly, Manapul's own designs get less innovative as time goes on, whether because he was trying to make deadline or because we'd seen his tricks. It's hard to wow people every month, after all.

There is no long-form story being told here, though there are plot threads that stretch over several arcs.  The run is less a long-form story than a series of tangentially-related adventure tales, another feature that is refreshingly old-school.  I dig long-form storytelling; really, I do, but it doesn't have to be the end-all of every single book on the stands.

Things do pull together, though, into a final arc featuring the Reverse-Flash that ties together most of the various threads from the run.  It's more than a little weird to see an arc devoted to the Flash figuring out that going into the past to change history is a bad idea.  There was that whole Flashpoint thing, after all.  Kind of weird meta-commentary, not sure if it was intentional.

Issue #25, by the way, is a Batman: Zero Year tie-in.  I almost didn't include it with the rest of the run, but Manapul did draw the end of that issue so I felt it belonged, by a nose.  Since it's set in the past, it has little to do with the rest of the series, but does give a bit of interesting backstory/ context to the Barry/ Iris relationship.

the verdict:  Though this run is uneven at times, the first half of it in particular is one of the New 52's stronger entries.  The second year is not as good, though it remains entertaining to the end, and finishes on a high note with the return of Reverse Flash.  Despite its flaws it does return Barry Allen to the status of "viable character", something DC swung and missed at before Flashpoint.  I would rate it below Geoff Johns' first run on the Wally series, but above most other Flash runs I have encountered.

28 January 2014

amazing spider-man epic collection vol. 20: cosmic adventures

Wow, that's a monster of a title, right?  Anyway...

by Gerry Conway, David Michelinie, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane & many more

collects Amazing Spider-Man #326-333 & Annual #24, Spectacular Spider-Man #158-160 & Annual #10, Web of Spider-Man #59-61 & Annual #6 
the premise:  A lab accident gives Spider-Man the powers of Captain Universe!  Now Mr. "Power & Responsibility" has to learn how to handle more power than ever before.  Plus: Spidey gets shrunk down to microscopic size, Mary Jane has jury duty, Aunt May fakes a heart attack, and Venom returns!  None of those things are made up!

but first, a note about format:  This is the first of the Marvel "Epic Collections" that I've purchased.  I am, in theory, a huge fan of this idea.  Most of the collections I've picked up over the last few years are this: fat, softcover books with big chunks of issues included.  Marvel's kind of weird, though - this is labeled "Volume 20".  These things are, yep, being published out of order - which is fine, but... come on, do you really think they're going to ever finish them?  Is there any way this won't end with the Masterworks forums screaming about how they bought volumes 1-8 and 11-13 but 9-10 were never published?  Right?  There's no way.  Why put numbers on these things at all?  They've got a notation as to which years the stories are from - that really ought to be enough.  It occurs to me that the comic industry is slightly obsessed with numbering.

With that said, the idea behind this is to reprint the whole run of, in this case, Amazing Spider-Man in thick, full-color collections.  The Essentials have fallen out of favor for a variety of reasons, and those were never a good format for anything past the early 80's anyway, so this is the intended replacement.  Whatever I may say about this one below (apologies in advance to all involved), I think this format is great, and will continue to support it.

the lowdown:  This was my first exposure to any of the stories collected here - these issues were published in 1989-1990, and I had more or less dropped off of following Spider-Man at the time.  I say that just to establish my bona fides, or lack thereof, with respect to this material - I have no nostalgic connection to it whatsoever.

As the subtitle suggests, the bulk of the collection is comprised of the relatively well-known cosmic powers storyline, where Spider-Man gets the powers of Captain Universe and is absurdly powerful for awhile.  This is a reasonably clever idea, because it forces Spider-Man to re-examine the old power & responsibility chestnut, which usually is a good formula for a Spider-Man story.  Unfortunately, it also dovetails with the "Acts of Vengeance" crossover event, which I have never read but judging from the number of tie-ins here, it ran for approximately fourteen years.  Holy cats that went on for freakin' ever! Issue after issue of Spider-Man fighting random bad guys who he doesn't usually fight (the premise of AoV, apparently, was that the villains switched heroes for some reason); issue after issue of powered-up Spidey beating up said bad guys and wondering why they are attacking him, while Dr. Doom watches from monitors that I understand were installed by Brad Meltzer to surveil everything at all times.

Once that ends, there are several issues of Amazing Spider-Man, mostly drawn by Erik Larsen though there are a couple of McFarlane ones.  They're pretty workmanlike, meat-and-potatoes kind of comics. Leaving aside issues with dated dialog, which is a criticism that could be leveled at most things from that era, these really aren't that bad.  He said, damning with faint praise.  I think Venom is cool so, y'know, Venom!

This dovetails eventually into an annual crossover (as in, a crossover between the three 1990 Spider-Man annuals), 2/3rds of which is scripted by Stan Lee and 3/3rds of which is batshit  insane.  Spider-Man and Ant Man (the Scott Lang version) happen to be in the same place, and Spidey inhales some of Lang's shrinking gas because he uses it near an air vent, and so Spidey shrinks down and has a team-up with Ant Man.  Then when it's over, Ant Man tries to return Spidey to normal size but his grow-up gas doesn't work - and then Ant Man is never seen in the story again.  Dude's just all like "Oops, sorry about shrinking you, Spider-Man.  Welp, I'm out!"  But Spider-Man is still shrinking, eventually to sub-microscopic levels, and he seeks out Harry Osborn (who is a scientist in this story).  Harry succeeds at nothing, and eventually Spider-Man is in the Microverse fighting Psycho Man, who I think was behind the whole thing?  Now imagine all that with Stan Lee dialog.  "Epic" collection, indeed.

Kidding aside, this collection ought to be Exhibit A whenever anyone wants to try to argue in favor of the Spider-Man/ Mary Jane marriage, because it couldn't be more evident what an albatross it is.  Seriously, Mary Jane is the worst.  Mostly what she does in these stories is sit around in negligees and high heels and wait for Peter to come home.  Their relationship consists almost entirely of playful sexual innuendo and angst over the Spider-Man part of Pete's life.  He comes off as completely self-absorbed and dismissive of anything going on in her life, which to be fair is a bunch of boring crap about her having jury duty and being on a soap opera.  This is like a 10-year old boy's idea of what an adult relationship is like - all that's missing is for her to turn into a pizza after sex.  I can't figure out if the people creating this stuff had simply never been in adult relationships, or whether they were catering to what they perceived as their audience's mindset.  Assuming the latter is probably nicer so we'll go with that, but either way it's a woefully inept attempt at making Pete & MJ seem like a believable couple.

And you can chalk that up to poor execution and say that it's not a problem inherent in Spidey being married, but it sort of IS an inherent problem.  Because if MJ is Spidey's wife, she's no longer just a supporting character who can drop in and out of the book as needed - she's now THE supporting character, the most important person in Pete's life, and so she's got to be front and center most of the time.  But she's not actually connected to any of the Spider-Man bits of the book except by proxy and/or contrivance, so the writers have to come up with crap for her to do.  So we end up with her on frickin' jury duty, and look, even if that's just a terrible example and we could come up with something less terrible, whatever we came up with would still be contrived bullshit, because The Daily Trials of Mary Jane Watson is not what this series is about.  Sorry - rant over, but these issues were only a couple of years after the Spidey/ MJ wedding and it was apparent, even then, what a huge mistake that was.

Also: the Aunt May thing?  I wasn't kidding about that.  This collection includes a short story where Aunt May fakes a heart attack to stop a terrorist attack (which of course occurs while she and MJ are at the mall because wimmin be shoppin', right?*).  The Punisher appears in that story also, and Aunt May, who has gone on and on about how awful Spider-Man is for.. well.. ever, has no problem with the Punisher. Of course Aunt May has had 538 heartattacks so  it's possible she is slightly demented.

the verdict:  Yeah, these comics really aren't very good.  I love the format.  I kind of like what they were going for with uber-powerful Spider-Man.  I like Todd McFarlane's art.  I even kind of like Erik Larsen's art.  Spider-Man punching the Hulk into orbit (a thing that happens in this book) is inarguably cool.  But even if I try to view these stories through the lens of being written (maybe) for a younger audience, I can just think of too many better stories to recommend these.

Also - potential topic of discussion - does Scott Lang suck as badly as Hank Pym sucks?  The annual crossover makes a pretty compelling case that, in fact, he does.  Come to think of it, I'm having a tough time remembering a story where Scott Lang appeared and did not suck.  Early issues of FF, possibly?  I gave up on that one awhile back.  

* Actually Aunt May has a line in there about how she is intimidated by malls because I guess someone thought malls were a modern invention in 1990?  May doesn't elaborate as to how they shopped in her day - I assume it was all at general stores or some sort of town squares.  Related: how old could Aunt May possibly be?  Pete's in his early to maybe mid 20's.  Even if his dad was Ben's younger brother, how can May be her apparent age of 113? 

10 January 2014

lady sabre & the pirates of the ineffable aether (updated)

by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett

collects the first five chapters of the webcomic

the premise:  Lady Seneca Sabre - who is, as the title implies, a pirate - has a pillaged container that needs opening.  A by-the-books lawman has the key to the container.  And a bunch of bad guys are determined to get both.

the lowdown:  As of this writing, I'm not entirely sure what formats are available for this book yet.  I got a digital version by contributing to the book's Kickstarter campaign, and I know print versions are planned as well, but I don't know if they exist yet.  I also don't know if they'll be made available to folks other than the Kickstarter contributors.  So I apologize if I'm reviewing and recommending something that can't be obtained - the original webcomic is available, however, for free at ineffableaether.com.

[UPDATE]  Eric Newsom (@ericnewsom) replied to me on Twitter re: the book's availability, and here is his tweet:

"@allstarmatches Print editions will ship in March. We'll have some left over from the KS to sell, but backers got a discount on sale price."


The collection is a brisk 160-ish-page read, and includes five "chapters" of the ongoing story as well as several text pieces that provide background into the steampunk-ish setting.  At times I'm struck by how the same techniques can work so well in one setting while falling flat in another.  I am a longtime fan of Rucka's work, both comics and prose - but even I have to admit that Rucka has a tendency to re-use the same tropes, to the point that his work can become predictable and a bit flat.  I gave the first issue of Lazarus a generally positive review here, but by the end of the first arc I had become quite bored with it, and did not continue into the second arc.  Lazarus has a copious amount of backstory, presented in a very dull way (a lengthy and ponderous timeline), a stretched-out first arc that fails to introduce a single likable character, and a cast weighed down by its own sense of self-importance.  That's a running theme in Rucka's work, innit?  The leads in particular always have this sense that they're doing Big Important Stuff and living by a Code of Honor that no one but them could ever understand.  It works when it's Jad Bell of Alpha, who is a soldier.  It works when it's Tara Chace of Queen & Country, who is a spy.  But when it's Atticus Kodiak of the Kodiak novels (a bodyguard turned something else), or Frank Castle (a murderous vigilante), or a genetically-engineered family enforcer, it doesn't work as well, because the self-importance feels delusional.

Happily, there's virtually none of that in Lady Sabre.  The Lady may well have hidden angst that will be revealed later in the story, but none of that is on display in these chapters.  She's far more swashbuckler than anything else, and Burchett draws her with a perpetual smile (or perhaps a smirk), a very welcome change from the dour Forever Carlyle.

Sabre is, like much of Rucka's comics work, rather slow-paced, but in a different way from, say, Lazarus.  I was struck in Lazarus by how little actually happens in the first four issues, particularly in comparison to Queen & Country, which managed to tell a complete story in its first four installments.  One could level a similar criticism at Sabre - but I think it would miss the mark somewhat.  The term "decompression" gets tossed around in comics circles - usually as a catch-all for anything that is slow-paced.  That's actually a mis-use of the term, but Sabre is an accurate example.  It's also a case of decompression done well, as the narrative structure not only moves the story along briskly but gives the reader a sense of being "in" the action.  Burchett's art assists immeasurably here.  I will not mince words - Burchett is one of my very favorite artists.  I completely love his work and thought it was wonderful in this book.  He is a consummate storyteller as well as an excellent draftsman, and his style has a "pep" to it that adds panache to the script.  The slower pace is used to simulate movement, and when that's done well it makes for a very immersive and cinematic experience.  Sabre pops where Lazarus slogs, even though Michael Lark is a very good artist as well.

As to the torturous backstory, well, this series has that too, much like Lazarus.  Both series are tasked with introducing, essentially, a world entirely different from our own.  Even the laws of physics are a bit different in the word of Sabre.  Sabre presents some of that backstory by way of the text pieces, though, instead of a timeline, and it's somewhat more effective.  The text piece that leads off the book is the best of the lot, as it provides a key bit of backstory that's reflected in the sequential material, but happily understated.  I'm not sure there's a big stylistic difference between infodumping the world-building in a text piece versus a timeline, but I found the presentation in Sabre, if uneven, far less annoying than in Lazarus.  Related:  I think I just hate timelines.  It's not them, it's me.  And also them.

The book also includes a series of pin-ups by various artists of note.  It's a fun gallery.  I have no idea how this ultimately will be priced, but my Kickstarter contribution was $10, and for that I got about an hour's worth of sequential art, with about 45 minutes' worth of bonus material.  Pretty good value in my opinion.  I'm not really one of those folks who measures something's value by the length of time it takes me to consume it, but it's nice to feel like I got a meaty chunk of material.

the verdict:  This is the best thing of Rucka's I've read in some time.  It's very different from a lot of his other work - much more peppy and spirited, with absolutely terrific art.  I think the decompressed style would be maddening in the webcomic format, but as a collected edition it's nearly perfect.  I'm very much looking forward to further installments

17 December 2013

top 10 books of 2013

Why yes, another year *has* come and gone, it seems.  Seems like just last year we were doing this.  As year's end nears, it's that time of year when I present my self-indulgent and possibly-makes-no-sense-to-anyone-including me look at the best of the past year.

My reading has moved to 99% digital now, and after years of being a dedicated trade-waiter, I'm reading mostly issues now, so the list is going to look a bit different than it would have a few years ago.  When I was trade-waiting I tended to rank volumes - you'd see an entry for Scalped Vol. 8.  Now that I'm reading issues, this list includes series for the most part, with an occasional original graphic novel tossed in for good measure.  I've included only new material I read this year, so even though I've enjoyed the heck out of re-reading the Ostrander/ Yale Suicide Squad on Comixology, for example, it is not on the list.

As always, we'll begin with the honorable mentions for the year, in no particular order:

Daredevil (Mark Waid/ Chris Samnee - Marvel Comics)
Batman '66 (Jeff Parker/ various - DC Comics)
Bedlam (Nick Spencer/ Riley Rossmo/ Ryan Browne - Image Comics)
Zero (Ales Kot/ various - Image Comics)
Sex (Joe Casey/ Piotr Kowalski - Image Comics)

I say this every year, but every year I mean it - doing this list is hard.  I could make a good case for including any of the honorable mentions (and a few honorable unmentions) in the Top 10, and yet - there are only ten spots.  Hell, Chew didn't even get an honorable mention this year, and that's a former #1.  It's a tough crowd.

Moving on, then, to this year's Top 10, in reverse order:

10. Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Nick Spencer/ Steve Lieber - Marvel Comics) - This book makes me laugh.  A lot.  Every issue so far has been totally funny.  I can forgive a lot for a book that brings the chuckles.

9. Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes (Matt Kindt - :01 First Second Books) - The only OGN to chart this year.  I have cooled considerably on Mind MGMT which charted high last year, but Red Handed was quite good.  I wrote it up in more detail HERE.

8. G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files (Mike Costa/ Antonio Fuso et al - IDW Publishing) - I have done a complete about-face on this series - tried and dropped it three different times but over this past year it has become a favorite.  The new "serious" IDW Joe continuity took a long time to grow on me, but it has, and this is, month after month, a highly enjoyable book about morally gray people in black-ops-ish situations.

7. Batman Incorporated (Grant Morrison/ Chris Burnham et al - DC Comics) - Has it really only been five months since The Greatest Batman Run Ever ended?  Seems like longer.  This series had a scene where Damian Wayne spit blood in the face of the evil clone who was about to kill him.  Nothing else need be said.

6. The Nowhere Men (Eric Stephenson/ Nate Bellegarde - Image Comics) - I keep meaning to do a full post on this series.  Delays hurt it but I went back and re-read the whole arc recently, and it's really good.  It's actually a better version of The Manhattan Projects.  Science is just the worst.  Or people are just the worst.  Maybe both.  Probably both.

5. Sex Criminals (Matt Fraction/ Chip Zdarsky - Image Comics) - For point of reference, I didn't include any series on this list unless they shipped at least three issues this year.  Completely arbitrary on my part, but it's my list.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of this one at first but it has (quickly) grown into a terrific read.  It's a frank, funny, absurdist look at sex, with two instantly likable leads and fantastic art.

4. The Private Eye (Brian K. Vaughan/ Marcos Martin - panelsyndicate.com) - This one was, of course, the subject of a recent post here, so I don't have much to add to what I said previously.  I will say that I suspect most people would swap this entry for Saga.  I like Saga, but I have to say, I don't think about it - at all - between issues.  I enjoy it for however long it takes me to read it, and then I completely forget about it until the next issue comes out.  Somehow that lessens the book in my eyes.  Private Eye stays with me in a way that Saga does not.

3. Hawkeye (Matt Fraction/ David Aja et al - Marvel Comics) - Last year's #1 drops two spots, in part because erratic scheduling kept it off my radar for awhile, and in part because.. well.. there were a few issues that were only okay.  When the series is on, though (and it's on most of the time), it's still amazing.  Still my favorite ongoing Marvel series.

2. Batman (Scott Snyder/ Greg Capullo - DC Comics) - I'm not sure this is a technically better comic than the last few below it, just in terms of craft.  I'm a Batman mark as regular readers know, so it's possible that elevates this series in my eyes.  The Zero Year storyline has just completely knocked my socks off, though.  I was very skeptical of another origin story, given the perfection that is Batman: Year One - but this manages to be amazing without usurping Year One.  It is very different, and does a terrific job of carving out its own space.

1. Fury Max (Garth Ennis/ Goran Parlov - Marvel Comics) - This might have been my easiest pick of a #1 since I started doing this.  I just adored everything about this series.  The portrayal of war, the depiction of Fury's relationships through the decades - it was all excellent.  But the last two issues are total gold.  Heartbreaking, soul-shattering gold.  This series was #1 with a bullet, pun unintended - easily the best thing I read this year.

I think these lists gets more mainstream-y every year.  {shrugs}  That's just where my tastes have been headed lately.  There's a lot of really good stuff in the mainstream right now.  

But that's not all, no sir - here are the 'berg's annual other "awards":

Best book that would have made the list if it had shipped enough issues: Y'all, Velvet completely blows me away.  It's SO good.  It would've been a Top 5 book if it had shipped enough issues.  Also, a shout-out here to Strange Nation from Monkeybrain - both possible entries on next year's list.

Best book that I just have no idea how to rank: Superior Spider-Man isn't the best-crafted book around.  But I've gotta tell you, every week it comes out (so, like, most weeks), it is the first book I read.  I have loved the SpOck storyline even when it makes me wince because the dialog is awful and the characters are saying what they're doing out loud or some other nonsense.  I can't in good conscience call it the "best" book, but maybe if this was a "most enjoyable" list....

Best guilty pleasure: Sidekick from Image.  I read this series with the sinking feeling that the writer thinks he is examining heretofore-unexamined tropes, which he most assuredly is not.  But this series features art - every month - by Tom Mandrake, who I think is great, and low art though it may be, I'm hooked on the story of Flyboy and the Red Cowl.

Best weird book: Catalyst Comix.  I don't know what to say other than this book is really f'in weird a lot of the time, but I like it.  Honorable mention to Theremin.

Best book about cops forming a hit squad: Garth Ennis' Red Team.  Despite some so-so art, this one is the winner.  Incidentally, it's kind of strange that there are enough of these books for it to be a category.  Hit from Boom! Studios explores similar ideas, as does Archaia's Mumbai Confidential (though I think the latter may have appeared before 2013).

Best DC book that doesn't have Batman in it (even as a guest star):  Tough call here - I'd go with Green Arrow but Batman guest-starred in an issue of that.  It's a close call between the Azzarello/ Chiang Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing, which has gotten a second life since Charles Soule took over.  (Note: I thought about doing a "Best Charles Soule book" category since he writes about 76 books a month, but Swamp Thing would win that one too,  edging out Letter 44.)

I gave up on doing predictions a few years back because all my predictions were awful and wrong, but I'll give you a freebie this year.  2014 - Marvel will.... NOT... end the Ultimate Universe, AND will not shrink the line to just Spider-Man.  Ultimate.  Fantastic.  Four.  You heard it here first. (Unless you heard it somewhere else, in which case you heard it here most recently.)

Best to all of you this holiday season - I'll be giving the site a rest until after the New Year, but the 'berg shall return in 2014.

03 December 2013

the private eye

by Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin

review covers issues # 1-4

Anyone played Arkham Origins yet?  Well, the game has a variety of cool alternate Batman costumes.  I mean like, really cool stuff.  There's a Gotham by Gaslight version, an Earth-2 version - lots of good ones.  The problem with the game is that it defaults to the "normal" version, and if you want to use one of the alts, you have to go the Batcave, unlock the Batsuit chamber, and make the change.  It takes several minutes to do all this, and yet - nearly every time I play the game, I take the time to finish this step.  Why?  It's just a skin, right?

{shrugs} It matters to me.  It changes my gameplay experience, even though it's just a skin.  Wearing the Knightfall costume makes me vaguely uncomfortable.  The Red Son one makes me feel cold.  And so on.  It's a simple aesthetic, but it makes a difference.

Which brings me to The Private Eye, a (thus far) digital-only series by the above-referenced creators, both of whom are highly regarded, and highly regarded for good reason.  This series is available at panelsyndicate.com on a "pay what you want" model.  In other words, you put it a figure (even if the figure is 0), PayPal the money to Martin, and then download the issue directly to your device of choice.  It is DRM-free - you get an actual file, and you can choose the format (.cbr, .pdf).  

The basic setup is that we're way in the future, the internet has melted down at some point, and people have taken to wearing elaborate disguises to protect their identities.  The lead character is an unlicensed private investigator (PI) who gets drawn into an elaborate mystery when one of his clients turns up dead.  We're now four issues in, and PI is on the run with the client's sister, and it's clear that there is a large conspiracy at play, the edges of which are only beginning to unfurl.

Which is all an elaborate way of putting a new skin on a standard noir private eye story.

There's not a thing here, plot-wise, that you haven't seen before, even if you don't read a lot of crime novels.  For someone like me, who *does* read a lot of crime novels, I mean - the tropes are all there.  It's Private Eye Plot 1A.

The beauty of the book, though, is the skin.  And a truly lovely skin it is.  Vaughan and Martin are both supremely skilled storytellers, of course.  BKV makes the mechanics of moving forward the plot look disarmingly easy, and Martin is a wonderful draftsman.  The skin gives Martin an excuse to draw dozens of people in interesting costumes - the backgrounds are just full of people who look like either superheroes or furries or both.  The series is designed to be read in landscape format, i.e. turn your iPad sideways, and consists of mostly large panels that allow the background to be packed.  Martin never overstuffs it, though, or allows the background to dominate the foreground.  The art cleverly pulls your eye from left to right, and then onto the next page, which keeps the story flowing without a hitch.

Long story short, it's a book where you could peel off the skin and have a relatively generic, if well-told, private eye tale.  But the skin BKV and Martin have added to it makes it feel like something completely different.  It's the Red Son costume writ large.

I definitely recommend checking this series out.  I also - {climbs on soapbox} recommend paying for it, as it is worthy of your money.  I will say, though, if you're on the fence?  DL the first issue for free.  Check it out and, if you like it, pay for the later issues.  Heck, you can even go back and pay them for the first issue too if you choose.  This is a noble experiment, but more importantly it is a good comic, and those are worth supporting.

As an aside, the creators have indicated there are no plans to bring this series into print.  Plans as we know are subject to change, so who knows what the future holds, but for now - panelsyndicate.com is the only place to get this series.  The website is exceptionally easy to use, and if you are interested in the book I'd recommend getting it online rather than waiting for a print edition that may or may not ever appear.

05 November 2013

on the fringes on infinity

Whenever Marvel or DC announces one of their big crossover events, inevitably they'll have to address the question: "Do I need to read all the tie-ins"?  Because there are always tie-ins, right?  Some events have more than others but the whole point of these event series is to tie in to stuff and goose sales.  We know this.  The publishers know this too, so they're always a little non-committal.  You'll get an answer along the lines of "Well you can just read the main series and get a full story, but the tie-ins will build on it and enhance the experience."  Which in practice might as well just be "Flibber doofus flibber drool", because answers like that have been used to describe every event ever, and those events have been all over the map in terms of tie-in importance.

As someone who is fairly well locked-in to both the DC and Marvel lines, I usually read the big line-wide events.  I even sat through Fear Itself.  I tend to skrimp on tie-ins because I find most of them to be pointless cash grabs, but most of the time I get the main series.

Until Infinity rolled around.  I have not been reading Infinity.  Having lost interest in Hickman's Avengers awhile back, and having less than zero interest in Marvel's space characters and/ or the Inhumans, this one just didn't look like something I'd enjoy.  So I sat it out.  The series did, however, cross over into several books I do read.  It also launched a new series that seemed appealing, and it tied into another series in a way that coincided with a creative change I found interesting.  Much has been made of the notion that Infinity is a series where the tie-ins really are important, so much so that the main series reportedly is incomprehensible without also reading Hickman's other Avengers titles.  My situation got me curious, though - turn the "are the tie-ins key" question around - how do regular series that tie into an event hold up for someone who is not reading the event?  In other words, are Marvel and DC's tentpole event books required reading for people heavily invested in their respective universes?

Reading list: Infinity crossed into Avengers Assemble (#18-20), New Avengers (# 9-11 so far), Superior Spider-Man Team-Up (#3-4), Mighty Avengers (# 1-2 so far), Secret Avengers (#10 so far), and Thunderbolts (#14).

Criteria: It seems to me that the things important to me are, in no particular order, that (a) the issues of books I read are by the usual creative team, (b) they are comprehensible without having read the main series, and (c) of course, they are good reads.  So here's how it shook out.

Avengers Assemble # 18-20:  The first two issues were written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, who is the regular writer, while # 20 was written by Al Ewing, who has filled in previously.  #18 and #19 are set very clearly in-between panels of the main series, but the learning curve is pretty slight.  The biggest problem with them is that, in addition to being tied into Infinity, they also seem to be tied into whatever is happening in Captain Marvel, which I do not read.  #18 works fine but then there's some disconnect when #19 doesn't follow.  #20 was a total fill-in featuring completely different characters but worked really well as a standalone, and had basically no learning curve at all.

New Avengers # 9-11: As mentioned, I lost interest in Avengers but had still been reading and enjoying New Avengers.  Unfortunately these issues lost me.  They're by Hickman, who is the regular writer, but are tightly woven into the Infinity story.  Almost completely incomprehensible on their own.  Enough so that I doubt I will keep getting the title, even when the event is over, because inevitably there will be another one.  Increasingly it seems one has to either go all-in on Hickman's Avengers books or skip them entirely.

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up # 3-4:  These issues were not by the regular creative team and as such I did not get them.  Like its predecessor Avenging Spider-Man, SSMTU is set up in a way such that fill-ins are relatively easy to slot.  The idea of two fill-in issues that are also event tie-ins just didn't appeal to me, though.  (To be fair, Avengers Assemble #20 was the same thing but I got it anyway because I really enjoy Al Ewing's work.)

Mighty Avengers # 1-2:  And Ewing writes this one which is why I got it.  This storyline ties pretty tightly into Infinity but does a very good job of explaining everything the reader needs to know.  The events of Infinity are more a backdrop for this story rather than necessary reading.  I never felt lost with these issues; nor did I feel like they were servicing an event rather than developing their own story.  This is IMO the best way to tie in, if tie in one must.

Secret Avengers #10:  This was drawn by the regular artist, Luke Ross, but got a fill-in script from Ed Brisson.  It's the first half of a story that continues in #11, and it has little to do with the ongoing storylines that have been featured in this series.  It is completely comprehensible, though - basically all you need to know is shit has hit the fan and the Avengers are off-world.  With a book like this, heavily built on espionage and using more street-level characters, there's a danger of sacrificing the book's usual tone in service to the crossover, but thankfully that doesn't seem to have occurred here.

Thunderbolts #14:  This was a book I had not been reading, but it seemed to be the start of a new storyline, and Charles Soule recently came aboard as the writer, so I wanted to check it out.  I did not enjoy the art, though I've liked the artist's work in the past, and did not continue past the one issue.  It was only a loose tie-in, though - my issues with it had nothing to do with Infinity.

So end of the day, Infinity drove me off of one title I had been reading, caused me to skip a few issues of a second title, but launched a new series that I'm now following.  Of course, Mighty Avengers didn't need to tie into Infinity to get my attention, but neither did the fact that it tied in work as an impediment to me picking it up.  Presumably Marvel felt the book would launch better as part of an event, and they probably know more about that than I do, so whatever.

It's interesting to me how much things have changed over the years.  As a kid I got most books via subscription, and I was pretty out of touch on events or tie-ins and stuff like that.  It seems to me that it would be almost impossible to be that kind of fan these days, at least for anyone getting more than a few of the books.  Even if I'm not interested in Infinity, I kind of need to know what it is just so I can keep track of the books I do read.  I give Marvel a lot of credit, because usually they do a very good job of structuring their events.  Even shitty events like Fear Itself usually are well-organized and relatively reader friendly.  There's still a pretty high degree of required reader involvement for this stuff, though.

25 October 2013

nathan sorry

by Rich Barrett, self-published

the premise: Businessman Nathan Sorry has a lost evening in Arizona that causes him to miss his flight back to his office in New York the next morning.  "The next morning" = September 11, 2001.  "His office" = the World Trade Center.   

Months later, Nathan is living in a small town with a briefcase containing millions of dollars and a fake ID, trying to puzzle out his next step.

the lowdown:  This series is available in several different formats.  It originated as a webcomic, unbeknownst to me as webcomics just are not my thing.  It's apparently been published in serialized "issues" as well, and more recently it's been made available in print and digital (via Comixology submit) as a series of "original" graphic novels.  The first two are now available on Comixology and are very reasonably priced, each containing about sixty pages of material.  I've no idea how far along the print versions are - I met Rich at HeroesCon in June and he had a stack of Vol. 2's in print, but they only just recently showed up on Comixology.  So long story short - there may be more material out there than I have read, but the first two volumes are available on Comixology and are cheap.

The first volume was a blind purchase for me.  I'd never heard of the series but the premise struck me as interesting, and the price was such that there was no disincentive to giving it a shot - and I was hooked almost immediately.  This series is an elegantly crafted mediation on identity, the lure of disassociating oneself from previous bad acts, post-traumatic stress disorder and the response of many people's psyches to a world-altering event.  The art is presented in a limited color palette - as in, limited to black, white and something kind of similar to aqua.  Barrett has a clean, clear style with lots of soft lines, probably would be described by many as cartoony, but appropriate for the subject matter with which he is dealing.

Nathan, it seems, was not a particularly good person pre-9/11.  Exactly how bad he was remains to be seen - we do see flashbacks to his old life but there are several notable mysteries that have not been addressed, at least not yet.  He's one of these guys who inevitably would become a fall guy for some other lousy person with a higher rank's mis-deeds, and he doesn't necessarily have a ton of agency over his life.  Through the aforementioned set of circumstances, he suddenly ends up with what amounts to a blank ticket to re-write his life, and he takes it almost without thinking.  Months later he is (probably) presumed dead (well, maybe) (but he's not really sure) (parenthetical), and is hiding out in Stallings, North Carolina.

(As aside here.  I live about five minutes from Stallings.  My in-laws live in Indian Trail, which is right on the opposite side of Stallings from me, and is about ten minutes away from me.  Stallings is a small place, but it is pretty closely adjacent to Charlotte, North Carolina, which is not an especially small place.  Here it's presented as a one-stoplight town in the middle of nowhere, which isn't really accurate and, at first, was off-putting to me.  Then I turned to the credits and realized Barrett also lives in the area, and undoubtedly knows what Stallings and Indian Trail are like.  I still maintain he took a bit of dramatic license with the area, but there's a reason dramatic license exists, I guess.  Somehow knowing he's from here made it more ok - I think it would annoy me more if someone just threw a dart at a map.)

Aside over, I found this to be a gripping character study with an interesting meta-plot.  There's a larger story being told but most of the focus is on Nathan, who is utterly paralyzed by the direction his life has taken, and who possibly has had a psychotic break somewhere along the way.  He disassociates himself from his previous identity while simultaneously finding ways to re-incorporate it into his world.  Peter Milligan did a story kind of like this in his lamented Human Target series, and it was poignant there too, but that one had the limitation of having to be a story about the Human Target.  Here Barrett can go in any direction he chooses - much like Nathan - and that infinite possibility is freeing and paralyzing all at once.

the verdict:  Nathan Sorry deftly captures the feeling of being a spectator in one's own life - the ennui that comes from not being able to move forward but no longer having the option of revisiting the past.  It speaks to the vagaries of clinical depression and the difficulty of carving out one's identity, even when a do-over is granted.  It is well worth checking out, in my opinion, and I heartily recommend it - especially the crazy-cheap digital version.  Rich Barrett is a talent to watch, and before this is said and done this may be an epic of note.

11 October 2013


There are few things in this life I enjoy more than side-splitting laughter.  Experiencing it or watching it.  I'm not talking about a light chuckle.  I'm talking about the kind of laughter that will make you roll around on the floor of a car's backseat, gasping for breath and punching the back of the front seat as hard as you can.  It is impossible to have a bad time while laughing that hard.  

Despite the plethora of really good comics that are on the stands now, or that have been on the stands at some point in the past, there are very few that invoke that type of reaction.  There are lots of comics that are effective at mixing bits of humor in with a more serious story - a joke here, a light-hearted aside there - but there are very few that master straight-up comedy.

The problem is that comics as a medium face some inherent challenges when it comes to comedy.  As anyone will tell you, comedy is all about timing.  That's a problem in a medium where the creators don't have control over the timing with which the product is experienced.  Even assuming the writer and artist are on the same page, they're at the mercy of a reader who may be reading the story exactly the way they intended, or may not be.  Movies and television don't have this problem, because they have actors and actresses who choose how and when to deliver lines (within the context of their direction, at least).  The effectiveness of their comedy lies not only in what they say or so, but in how and exactly when they say or do it.  Their cadence, their facial expressions, their mannerisms - it's all part of the package, and comics have trouble replicating that.  

The gold standard for funny mainstream comics is, and might always be, the Giffen/ DeMatties/ Maguire Justice League International.  I've referenced my love of that era many times.  A ton of it has to do with Maguire, who is probably better than anyone in the medium at making his characters look like people, with varied facial expressions and the like.  I have to confess, though, that I've gotten to the point where I don't have any interest in more stuff from that creative team.  Somewhere along the line, really just in the last couple of years, the joke they're telling has gotten stale.  That's the other curse of comedy, right?  The more times you hear a joke, the less funny it becomes.  Giffen & DeMatties are both, without question, skilled craftsmen, but they're using the same formula for comedy that they've used since 1987.  Copious amounts of dialog, complete with under-the-breath asides, over-the-top pomposity from some characters and buffoonery from others (or sometimes from the same folks).  It's a good formula.  It's just... been done.  By them.

I have a bad habit of comparing all allegedly funny comics to JLI; I have done it multiple times on this blog.  As of today I am declaring a moratorium on that.  You'll not see me compare anything else to JLI - ever.  If I ever break this pronouncement in the future, you have permission to internet-tase me.  JLI was great, but it has been over for a really long time, and my tendency to treat it the be-all and end-all of comic comedy doesn't speak particularly well of the twenty-plus years of later funny material. 

And I guess that's not entirely unfair, because there haven't been a ton of genuinely funny books during those two decades.  There aren't a ton of those types of books now either.  But there are a few.  There is comedy out there, and not just the hugely self-conscious wakka-wakka kind.*  I thought it might be fun to spotlight a few funny funnybooks that I'm enjoying at the moment.  By way of background, I have a warped sense of humor.  I like wrong humor particularly well.  I'll take It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Children's Hospital over Modern Family any day of the week.  So just bear that in mind.

Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth (Ken Kristiansen/ M.K. Perkar/ Image Comics) - This series is a farce about a collection of thoroughly selfish people doing awful, selfish things.  Definitely in the "wrong humor" camp.  The title character is an unloved little boy who wears a bag over his head, presumably because he is the ugliest child on the planet.  This started out as a miniseries but recently was upgraded to an ongoing.  The most recent issue (#6) was without question the nastiest, meanest issue yet, and also the most hilarious.  Also it provided me with a disturbing bit of serendipity by referencing "seven minutes in heaven" one day after I had learned, to my horror, exactly what that is.

Chew (John Layman/ Rob Guillory/ Image Comics) - I've praised this one here before.  I'll be honest - it has slipped a bit.  It goes back to the whole "tell the joke too many times and it loses its potency" thing.  Chew has been around a long time now, and it's not novel anymore.  The jokes don't change all that much.  What it does really well now, though, is trade off the accumulated goodwill its key characters have built.  You know how sitcoms take awhile before everyone develops their chemistry and it finds a voice?  Chew has been kind of like that, except without actors.  There's enough of it now that we can laugh at the familiar, even if we're not laughing quite as hard.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Nick Spencer/ Steve Lieber/ Marvel Comics) - Without a doubt my favorite new Marvel book of the year.  I had no idea that either Spencer or Lieber had comedy chops, but they both do.  I guess that Jimmy Olsen thing Spencer did at DC was cute - this is way better though.  It's a series about Spider-Man's second-string villians - they're trying to be the Sinister Six but there's only five of them and they're pretty much all doofuses.  It has nothing to do with the rest of the Spider-Man titles, in case that was a deterrent.  As of the fourth issue Spidey hasn't shown up at all.

The new Quantum & Woody (James Asmus/ Tom Fowler/ Valiant Comics) was a pleasant surprise.  I liked the old series (which I just read in the last year) but thought it fizzled near the end, and I just wasn't sure about the book being done by anyone other than Priest and Bright.  Valiant recently put the first two issues on sale for 99 cents each, though, so I picked them up and probably will be continuing with it.  The first issue is mostly setup but #2 brings the funny.  It's a little too self-conscious, I think, a problem the original series had at times as well.  Overall, though, it's a good read.

The first issue of Sex Criminals was outstanding but I'm not sure yet whether I'd really call it a comedy, plus it's only one issue.  Satellite Sam was the first thing of Fraction's I read lately that I didn't really like - if it wasn't for that recent miss I'd be even more bullish on Criminals.  I'm digging Batman '66 an awful lot but that one's not really a comedy, either.  It's light-hearted and at times funny, but not in a yuck-yuck way.  Four books doesn't seem like a lot, but then again we live in a world where even Arrested Development isn't all that funny anymore.  Transcendent comedy seems really hard to pull off - so much of it feels like schtick, and schtick isn't funny.

A lot of folks seem to lament the lack of "funny" books out there as a reflection of a narrow-minded idea that comics are locked into being serious and dark all the time.  I don't really think that's it.  I think there are few good comedies for the same reason there are few really good mysteries - they're really hard to get right. Man, but on those rare occasions when they do nail it?  Nothing better....

* The template for this kind of "trying too hard" thing for me has always been the movie poster for the 1990's movie Junior, wherein apparently Ah-nold gets pregnant or something.  The poster has Danny Devito stooped down near Arnold's growing belly and looking at the audience, with an "Eh?  Eh?  What do you think about this?  Isn't this some funny shit?  Eh?" look.  Having to work that hard to sell the joke = it's not worth selling.  See also: every Deadpool comic I've ever read.  No, I haven't read Joe Kelly's run.  Probably should get on that.

13 September 2013

op/ed: the relevance of robin, part ii

Scroll down for part 1 of this post - we're examining the history and importance (or lack thereof?) of Robin the Boy/ Teen Wonder.

It's been pretty widely documented that one of the big goals of the New 52 initiative was to line DC's IP up across various media.  Corporate synergy and all that.  Another goal was to streamline the DC Universe, and specifically to eliminate the legions of multiple and "legacy" characters that had cropped up over the years.

Though DC claimed at the time that it was not rebooting the Batman mythos with the New 52, in fact it did.  The stories continued on from their previous spot, but large swaths of Batman and company's backstories were altered.  The publisher's insistence on a strict five-year "timeline" in which all its continuity took place necessitated some re-thinking and re-working of the characters and their backstories.  

It seems to me that the post-New 52 Batman mythos draws its inspiration primarily from two places: the Nolanverse and the Arkham video games.  Those are, after all, the two biggest commercial successes of recent years that involve Batman.  I have found it very useful to think of the Snyder/ Capullo Batman as being set in the Nolanverse, and the Layman/ Fabok Detective Comics as being set in Arkham City.  I don't mean that in a literal sense - clearly both books exist in the same continuity and are part of DC's shared universe - rather, I mean it in an aesthetic sense.  Batman evokes the feel of the movies, complete with a heavy emphasis on Bruce Wayne and a more "realistic" slant.  Detective looks and feels like Arkham City - Batman is armored, everything is amped up, there's lots of high-tech weaponry and whatnot.

So what do the Nolanverse and Arkham City have in common?  Well, one thing they have in common is that both interpretations of Batman minimize Robin and his role in the mythos.  The Nolanverse includes Robin in only a roundabout way.  Arkham City does feature Robin (the Tim Drake version), but he has a very small role in the main game and is played older - he looks and sounds almost grown.

It's likely that, if you're younger than a certain age (say, 25-ish), you don't default to Batman & Robin as a team the way I do.  A lot of that is down to the Nolanverse and Arkham games - more people know Batman from those vehicles than know him from the comics.

And so it's amidst that backdrop that DC re-conceived Batman and his associates in the New 52.  Even prior to Damian's death, Batman worked mostly alone in his own titles since the New 52 began.  Curiously, though, and despite the efforts elsewhere to eliminate multiples and streamline continuity, DC elected to keep all four Robins in continuity and active.  Even after Damian's passing, Nightwing, Red Hood and Red Robin are all (a) still part of the canon, and (b) still active.  The obvious candidate for elimination from the continuity would have been Tim, but then again he did hold down a solo series for sixteen years.

In order to explain the seemingly unexplainable - the notion that there have been four Robins in only five years - DC made some rather significant changes to Dick Grayson in Nightwing #0.  Gone are the days when Dick was Bruce's ward or adopted son.  In the new continuity, Bruce became a mentor to Dick after his parents' death, but it was much more of an arms-length relationship.  Dick had a "part-time job" that explained his forays to Wayne Manor, but he never lived there.  Even more importantly, DC characterized Dick's time as Robin as something that was relatively brief, in essence a stepping stone on his way to becoming Nightwing.  Nightwing is the endpoint - Robin was a temp job.  

(As an aside, in 1994 at the end of the Zero Hour miniseries, DC made its first attempt at publishing a timeline, which attempted to fit its continuity in a 10-year stretch.  Fans were outraged that Dick was only Robin in that timeline for four years.  Chew on that for a moment.)

I submit that these changes have the (very likely intended) effect of marginalizing the concept of Robin in the current continuity.  Not only does Batman not have a current partner by that name, but he never really did.  At best he had a series of apprentices who he mentored for short periods of time.  He still has what appears to be a close, if rocky, relationship with Dick Grayson, but he appears to have virtually no relationship at all with, say, Tim Drake.  There was a time when Tim's (and DC's) take was that Batman "needed" a Robin - clearly that is no longer considered to be the case.  The concept has been cast aside, which begs the question of why DC has all these former Robins still running around.  I'd submit that the only one who's really viable as a solo character (at this point) is Nightwing, and none of them are used regularly as Bat-sidekicks.  They're just curiosities.

I still have a soft spot for Robin and probably always will.  There's something about Batman '66 where they're still a team that just feels completely right.  Were it up to me, Robin would still be Dick Grayson.  He'd be a young adult and not a full-time partner to Batman, but he never would have left the role.  I say that as someone who was a huge Tim Drake fan back when he didn't suck, and who loved Damian's turn as Robin, but I think the Robin concept was stronger when there was only one of him.  (Picky thing, but I've also never liked the name "Nightwing" which I find utterly generic.)  I think we may well have reached the point of no return with kid sidekicks, where they just don't work anymore.  Some of the details of how DC has handled Robin's backstory in the New 52 are, in my mind, wrong-headed - but the marginalization of the idea feels right - at least for right now.

So Forever Evil #1 - OK, so Dick's identity has been exposed.  I am assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that this development is intended to stick past the end of the series.  I reserve judgment on whether it breaks the character - it might.  On the other hand, the reconceptualization of Dick's backstory in the New 52 makes it possible to tell this story without compromising Batman's identity as well, given the now-loose-at-best ties between them.*  If it is handled well, it might be an interesting new direction that could only have been taken in the new continuity, in which case good on DC.  If not, if it fails, it's the sort of thing that can be undone at a later date.

* People forget so quickly - in the late 90's/ early 00's, for awhile it was canon at DC that the Titans did not know Batman's secret identity even though they knew Nightwing's AND knew that Bruce Wayne raised him.  This was in an era where there were huge ties between Bruce and Dick, far more than there are now.  Whatever happens in Forever Evil, I think Batman's secret ID is safe.

Robin has come and gone so often that I'm sure he'll be out there again before too long.  Seems likely he will be a she next time around, whether it's Carrie Kelley or Harper Row.  The days of Robin being Batman's full-time partner, or really even being a prominent part of the Batman mythos, seem to be over.

Of course I would've said the same thing in 1989.