Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Great Strips! - Christmas Blasphmony

It's the day of Jesus', our lord and savior, birth! Of course, it's actually not--Jesus was born in the summer and Christmas is just a Christianization of the Roman holiday, Saturnalia. So really, it's the perfect day to disrespect the lord that never is, was, or will be.

I think our friend Ivan Brunetti can help illustrate how the Christian God is a disgusting lie! This strip is from Schizo #1.

And more!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Great Strips! - Public Service Announcements pt. 2

Here's some more PSAs! Don't call people names, even if they are tiny. You're selfish, that's why your parents hate you! Now you're catching on! Very funny!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Great Strips! - Public Service Announcements pt. 1

I found a bunch of public service announcements in DC's Weird House of Mystery. Gosh darn are they silly. Be your own boss and do homework early. Don't be obnoxious when you shop; be docile, consume efficiently. More soon!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Great Strips! - Please Kill Me!

I just found out about Ivan Brunetti, the angriest cartoonist in all of Chicago (and perhaps the world). I'm preparing a longer exploration into his work, but right now read this hilarious strip about how human beings are trash.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Amazing Animation! - The Sandman

Right in time for Sandman overture but with absolutely no connection (or is there?)! This creepy European cartoon is

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Great Strips! - New Toys

While not the scariest strip I've found all month, this one is certainly the coolest. Dream-team, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely wrote a 9 page strip for Vertigo's Weird War Tales #3. Remember: children are the ones who die easiest in war.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spooky Batman! - Batman and the Monster Men

This week, I've tried to show that Batman can do a wide-variety of horror stories. But when the character was created in 1939, that was never intended. Remember: his first appearance was almost 30 issues into a book called Detective Comics. Overtime, the character evolved into perhaps the most elastic superhero in terms of genre remixing. But in the beginning, Batman was fighting the mafia and organized crime--only later did he start fighting psychotic super villains. 

Matt Wagner's Dark Moon Rising mini-serieses demonstrate the change in story. In an interview with IGN, Wagner explains, 
" struck me that there's no real transition story of how [Batman] starts countering what will ultimately be termed "super-villains." In Batman: Year One, he's fighting the organized crime scene that's gotten its hooks in Gotham's political machine. And then you turn around and it's all costumed villains. I thought it'd be a good scenario to depict how he moves from one to the other.
Thus, Batman and the Monster Men is an adaptation of a Golden Age  story from Batman #1. And while it does predominately focus on Doctor Hugo Strange’s freakish monster men creations, the story could be just as easily titled Batman and the Mobster Men for the way it shows Batman’s main crusade is against organized crime. 

Now, the story is fun and snappy so I don’t want to spoil much. Basically, Bruce Wayne falls in love with Julie Madison (another Golden Age throwback), who’s father happens to be loaning money from the mafia. Batman finds out about it, tries to stop him, but starts unraveling a bigger plot in which Dr. Hugo Strange is creating freakish Frankenstein men to terrorize the mafia. Soon, fights ensue and Batman must stop the gigantic behemoths. 

Wagner says this story takes place right after Batman: Year One; as Batman transitions into fighting the supernatural, he becomes stronger, more confident, and better at fighting crime. 

However, I assert, this is his secret downfall. Batman is a Sysiphusian figure who can never accomplish his ideal (...and everyone stops reading). The better he gets at fighting crime, the more savvy the criminals get, the more ruthless their actions, the more trouble they become. Batman is pushing a boulder up a hill and he’ll never make it to the top in time.

Now, a skeptic might say, “Yeah duh Batman’s foes get stronger and more badass--if they didn’t, then no one would buy the next issue. It’s capitalism, stupid!” But, this is my point exactly. Batman can never truly win. And with that, it makes sense that the stories have gotten progressively darker and more gritty over time (sans the 1950s-1960s). The reason Joker has to cut off his face is because he needs to top his psychotic nature to match Batman’s psychotic vigilantism. 

Consider: at the start of Batman’s career, there’s no Arkham Asylum. It gets invented as a place to put his foes. He’s the reason it exists. Now, Bruce Wayne and Wayne Industries have also created a whole bevy of Batman’s foes in the past including Mr. Freeze (Wayne paid for his people freezing experiments), Poison Ivy (Wayne paid for her plants), Man-Bat (a Wayne scientist), Joker (fell into acid at Batman’s mistake), Jason Todd’s Red Hood (Batman let Joker kill him), and more! So many of Batman’s villains are just ghosts from Bruce Wayne’s past. By the time Batman is a super-competent crime fighter who actually could stop organized crime, he no longer has time to do it! He’s instead forced to stop the giant crocodile man or the venom-doping strong guy. This gives the mob time to organize and plan bigger and better crimes. 

Because of Batman, there must always be a bigger crisis. People always must be in greater danger. In fact, exactly like capitalism. The newer the crisis the bigger it gets. If Batman never existed, Gotham City would be over run with street crime and little boys would watch their parents get shot in crime alley. However, because Batman exists, Gotham City is now always at the mercy of total psychos who’s only motivation is to destroy all possible. What’s the better world to live in? I dunno.

Come back tomorrow and watch Batman turn into a vampire

Great Strips! - Mighter

Here's a quick wordless comic from Vertigo's re-invention of Weird War Tales, issue 2. Peter Kuper illustrates the idea that the pen truly is mightier than sword, an that might will one day kill us all. I love comics that remind readers the world is so close to ending...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mini Mania! - Penguin: Pain & Prejudice

I've remarked before that the defining model of DC Villainy is childhood trauma. This is boring to me mostly because of its sheer repetition. However, Pain and Prejudice finds a way to spice up this narrative by introducing a creepy childhood sexuality ingredient into the brain stew. Thus, the Penguin became a weirdo-eccentric crime boss because he’s plagued with an insatiable Oedipal complex. Which all starts when baby Penguin watches mommy and daddy fuck. That is scary!

As is with most babies, watching dad bone mom makes baby feel inadequate. In the first few pages of issue 1, Penguin lays in compliance as on mom and dad dongle the dirty deed. He’s too young to freak out, so instead watches and gets scarred. Really, it’s the parents fault when you fuck in front of a baby (I personally believe you should fuck no where near a baby, definitely not in the same room). Seeing this stirred the first major Oedipal conflict in Penguin.

He claims he identifies with his mother, and therefore rejects bullies, like his father. This is further heightened by the fact that children at school mock the Penguin’s physical deformities (of course they would, he’s penguin-like!). Later in life, he sees Batman as a continuation with his struggle against bullies. Batman is the ultimate bully of all, subjecting his will on all those he deems a challenge to his authority.

But contradictions arise as the Penguin becomes his father in his avarice for money, pussy, and power. This too is aggravated by an over-baring mother, who gives Penguin all the attention and affection he could ever need. “Always carry an umbrella with you” his mother says. While Penguin later pretends to want to be asexual to himself, he immediately pursues a blind prophetess the moment he meets her. Of course, Penguin becomes his father: he’s a tyrant who’s lust for control impedes his every facet of life. But, he can’t sense that because...well, the unconscious is hidden and all that muck.

The first two issues set this psychological conflict up really well, but the last three meander. The story especially handles Batman poorly, as he occasionally shows up for no clear reason. Penguin does a bunch of crime things, like steal expensive jewels, then when Batman hears wind to it, Penguin suddenly ends up back in Arkham on the last two pages. Batman hardly needed to be in this book at all, he could have just stayed in the shadows--another ghost haunting the Penguin’s unconscious. And tritely ending the series with the Penguin in Arkham doesn't gel with anything the book already set up--a dude with a hyper-Odepial complex and a bird fascination is not insane-psycho-crazy like the Joker. Maybe I’m being picky. I didn't like the art either. It was too digital and abstract for me.

This book brings up some promotes Penguin points, but lacks strong narrative.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spooky Batman! - Batman: Gothic


If it hasn't already happened, then it will happen very soon: Grant Morrison will be considered the best Batman writer tied with Frank Miller. His eight year epic, consistently playing on, adding to, and stretching the Bat mythos to it's limits is truly amazing; although, his first Batman story, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is perhaps the clearest glimpse into the unconscious mind of a man who dresses up like a bat. Either story could be the best Batman story ever.

Yet, I've never heard Morrison's 1990 mini-series, Batman: Gothic mentioned as a classic. While it may not have the vast scope of the aforementioned two book, it's still quite good. And it delivers exactly what it's title promises. A Batman story draped in the Gothic imagery of 19th century European literature. It's got towering landscapes, unspeakable evil, occult magik, and impenetrable shadows. What more can you ask? Plus, it shows what happens before Bruce and his parents saw that Zorro movie (then became Batman and got murdered, respectively). 

A German priest explains to Batman that the horrifying truth about hell is that it exists within ourselves. Ironic to tell Batman this, as he seems like the person who understands this concept best. He's irrecoverably guilty over his parents death he must be a costumed madman intent on stopping super-criminals. This unknowable knowledge of despair is the horror in Gothic literature. In Edgar Allen Poe's the Tell Tale Heart, it's not horrifying to know there's a beating heart underneath the floorboards (merely messy); however, it's very horrifying to know you're the person who forced the heart there in the first place--you're the reason this accursed muscle will never stop beating! Your own mind becomes a personal hell, an inescapable prison of torture. The internalized knowledge that you made an unfixable mistake, so ghosts of your past are going to haunt you the rest of your life. This is Gothic horror. 

And it's a fear every character in the story comes to realize. What is hell, really? Gotham city is hell, with steam rising up from the sewer grates, monsters lurking in ever dark corner, hidden catacombs full of knight-demons underneath your feet. Thus, Batman is the King of Hell: as powerful as Satan himself. But as Paradise Lost shows, even Satan is in his own prison.

The story starts with the death of Gotham's most high profile mobsters. The crooks ban together, make a Bat-signal, and beg him for protection against an old menace they brutally murdered who's back from the grave to end their mortal lives! Batman tells the crooks to "rot in hell!" but looks into the case anyway, since he's a master detective. 

Batman finds that Mr. Whisper, the man without shadows, is killing Gotham mobsters--and he also soon learns there's a strange connection between Mr. Whisper and the Wayne family past. As a child, Bruce went to a boarding school where a particularly sadistic teacher did terrible things to children/ Batman finds that Mr. Whisper was his teacher, as well as a 300 year old demon in a Faustian pact with the devil. The deeper he investigates, the stranger the case becomes--resulting in Mr. Shadow's plot to use the architecture of a Christian church to summon the devil with the musical amplification properties of the church's steeples! 

The story is delightfully anti-Christian, alluding to the strange and disturbing habits of Christian authority figures behind closed doors. Batman also must face the Hell in his own mind through haunting dreams of his father. In one dream, Thomas Wayne shouts, "I'm not dead!"--is this a foreshadowing to Grant's future Batman stories?

Klaus Janson's art is perfect in the story as well, since it highlights the Gothic elements best seen visually. One reason I think Gothic novels are boring, but Gothic comics and film are interesting, is because the novels spend lots of words describing light, reflection, and shadow. A visual medium can just show this, and Janson is the perfect artist to do it. In most frames, the characters cower in the haunting landscapes, literally over-shadowed by the giant architecture that surrounds them. 

The way architecture plays out in Gothic fiction is similar to memory: it is a relic of the past that stands firm and cannot be removed. It was built to protect it's users, but over time the buildings will crumble and encumber them. Bruce Wayne is driven, like his father was, to restore a harmony to Gotham city that never existed. He haunts Gotham as a ghost of it's past, trying to repent the city of it's many sins--yet he's destined to perpetual failure. That makes Batman the perfect Gothic hero, doesn't it?

Great Strips! - Time Will Tell!

Here's another EC Horror story, this time with a cool sci-fi twist! I really prefer the art in this to the story. I find something about being trapped in an hour glass horrifying.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Spooky Batman! - Arkham Asylum: Living Hell

Batman is the most terrifying superhero. Terror is one of his primary weapons, “striking fear into the heart of superstitious and cowardly, terrible, creature of the night,” etc. You never know when Batman’s watching, what he sees or what he’s planning. Thus, Batman’s villains need to meet his scariness by doing super-scary things like cutting off their own faces, releasing neurotoxins into public water, or being a giant crocodile monster. Batman and horror go together as well as Batman and crime. As All Hallows Eve approaches, I wanted to take a look at the scariest Batman stories I could find to see what makes the Bat so frightening. 

I recently flipped through my back-issues from the early 2000s (bought when I was 12) and found Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. I tried to remember the story, but could only recall, 1) new people to jail are called “Fishes” and 2) a madhouse is the scariest fucking place on earth. While Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s original Arkham Asylum is a more obvious choice for a scary Batman yarn, this book is already quite popular (one of the best selling graphic novels of all time, in fact). Yet Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, the 2003 mini-series by Dan Slott and Eric Powell is at best a cult classic, yet does something totally different with the horrifying gothic hospital. If McKean/Morrison’s book proves that Arkham is the scariest place on earth, Slott/Powell's book shows the human side of the asylum--the lives of the “normal” people it takes to make a mental hospital run. It’s sort of like how Ed Brubaker/Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central showed the human side of the GCPD. But ultimately, Arkham Asylum is destined to fail: the crazies always get out of their cages and no one is sane, especially the people who get paid to administer “sanity”

I think if Living Hell came out in 2009 it would have sold better. The story’s main protagonist is the Great White Shark, Warren White, a Wall Street fat cat who embezzles money from people’s college funds and retirement plans. He is called, by everyone including the Joker, “the worst person I’ve ever met”. The book makes a passing mention of Halliburton, the Great White Shark is pretty much exactly Kenneth Lay. At first, the character is completely out of his element in Arkham, almost getting murdered by practically everyone. But once he learns how to play the system, and his nose gets ripped off (making him look a lot more like a Great White Shark), he becomes a top dog within the hospital. The point here is not subtle: industrial capitalists are fucking insane. They have no empathy, they care only about themselves, and they are ruthless sociopaths. 

Pretty cool right? The series also seeks to humanize the people necessary for running America’s worst mental hospital. Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, the warden of the madhouse, is always doing his best to keep the crazies under control. Of course, the entire Batman storyline wouldn’t work unless Arkham constantly fails. Every night Jeremiah goes into Arkham to try and stop a riot, or a hostage situation, or a chemical bomb--and most nights, the only reason he succeeds is because Batman helps him. You can’t force people to be sane if they don’t want to be. Just ask Dr. Anne Carver, an Arkham psychiatrist who valiantly tries to rehabilitate her patients, but always takes the blame when a crazy person falls back into their cycle of craziness. Finally, the story’s ostensible hero is Aaron Cash, an Arkham Guard, who took his job because a) he needs money and b) he likes beating the shit out of people. This is the type of person a mental asylum attracts for its non-certified laborers: desperate people. Below, you can see Cash trying to fight Killer Croc with a night stick. 

The book also takes an interesting look at who exactly qualifies as mentally unstable. While you do have to kill someone to get into Arkham, you don’t need to be as flamboyant as the Joker. The four villains the story devotes the most focus toward are all typical identity categories that are pushed to the margins of American society. First up is Jane Doe, the most absolutely horrifying villain nobody ever uses. Jane is a completely blank slate, a human without any identity or ego. Basically, she’d be what would happen if you abandoned a baby alone in a room and only provided it with food and water. Her origin is not revealed, but her “super-power” is: Jane impersonates other people in society by making creepy skin suits and pretending to be the person’s identity. Jane tries to do this with Great White Shark, and succeeds in doing this with Anne Carver, the psychiatrist. Jane might represent the children in America who are given no love or guidance whatsoever. The type of person who couldn’t help but become a desperate psychopath. So obviously, she wears your skin and steals your life.

We also meet Doodlebug, an outsider artist who sees the world in a horrifying hallucination of color (this drives him insane and makes him only want to paint with blood). Junkyard Dog is a crazy homeless person; he spouts weird, demonic rhetoric and eats garbage. Strangest of all is Humpty Dumpty, who is literally just Humpty Dumpty. He’s a round, fat eggman who only talks in rhyme and is obsessed with putting things back together again. He’s not very scary, but he is pretty fun. He was probably invented just so the DCU had another character who talks in rhyme (there's way more than you'd expect). Dumpty recently made an appearnece in Beware the Batman and is voiced by Breaking Bad’s, Matt Jones, or Badger! 

The book starts with a very creepy lobotomy. This is how our Christian ancestors treated mental illness. See, look!

And it ends with the rising of Etrigan the Demon. Wait, what? As a 12 year old, I didn’t understand why Etrigan appears at the end of the book, but now I think it might be to hyperbolize the idea that “demons” cause insanity. Slott comments on the idea that insanity used to be thought of as caused by demons, which as we now know, was very lazy excuse-making from our past Christian ancestors. Insane people need is love and compassion (hard to give), proper child-raising (which is impossible to give) or maybe even just death. But they definitely don’t need religion, as that really messes with their already messed up heads. The true demon lurking in the background of our collective unconscious is the concept of insanity itself--the idea that some of us are sane, while others are not sane and instead should be feared. Of course, you and I (sane readers) are just like everyone else: right on the verge of sanity! Once tragedy strikes, or a head injury occurs, you find the necronomicon, or even just a tiny neuron snaps, then you're not sane anymore. It doesn’t take much to make a person go crazy. That’s the scariest thing of all.

Ultimately, Arkham is a useful metaphor for the futility of mental asylums. Sometimes people joke that the asylum should just lock Joker’s cell tighter. But this misses the point: there will always be more Jokers if there’s a place to put the Jokers. Usually, the American government uses insane asylums to find a place for the people they otherwise don’t want to deal with (the homeless, children from bad homes, people that nobody else understands), so they’ll never accomplish the stated ideal of making people healthy. Asylums are underfunded, the people working there are over-worked, and most of the patients are incapable of understanding the point of “rehabilitation” in the first place. The “best” thing an asylum does is stand atop a stormy hill as a symbolic caution to the sane: reminding us, never do anything crazy. Once you go over the ledge and stop being a productive member of society, you will be abandoned. Once you are abandoned, there is no turning back. And that, friends, is very scary.

Tomorrow, I look at an under-rated Grant Morrison Batman horror classic!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spectacular Shorts! - Fist of Jesus

This is one of the short films that played at the Patio Movie Massacre. It puts Jesus in a delightfully gory, and sacrilegious light. The things J-Man does with a fish is unbelievable. Very funny!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More Reviews on Other Sites!

The cool dudes over at Universal Geek Podcast are letting me guest write some reviews for their site! Thanks Universal Geek!

So far, I've read Colin Lorimer's UXB

And my favorite mini-series of the year, The Black Beetle!

Both books have amazing art! Flip through them when you get a chance and buy them so these dudes can make more books!

Great Strips! - I Died Tomorrow!

Another classic EC tale. What if you knew your own death, what would you do to stop it? Would you escape your fate? No. Probably not.