I love this comic so very much

As if I weren’t already excited about the new Phonogram series, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have posted a preview of the first issue.
And it looks good. Like you’d expect. But it gets even better when Penny’s friend Laura appears:


Yes, apparently Gillen & McKelvie have been stalking my blog, or perhaps my dreams, because they’ve given me Kate Jackson in comic book form.
Close enough, anyway.
This is like winning the lottery on Christmas morning.

Image Rocks out in December

Just in time for Christmas! Among Image’s December books:

The return of Phonogram!
Gillen & McKelvie have produced another Phonogram promo comic for the new series. It looks like a slightly different approach from the last series – it’s a collection of single issues, as opposed to an ongoing story. I’m quite looking forward to this – the first series was a fascinating project, though it wasn’t without some room for improvement. (I think I preferred McKelvie’s solo Suburban Glamour, all things considered.)

Also: This cover made me give in and finally buy We Are The Pipettes.

And the latest issue of Madman, in which Mike Allred reaffirms his love of David Bowie:
If the cover isn’t enough, the story is titled “Mister Grinning Soul”. I’ve been back-and-forth on the latest series, but even at its worst, the book has been gorgeous.

TIFF08: Starstruck in Synecdoche, New York

I’m rarely interested in celebrities. I love the Film Festival for the obscure stuff, the foreign films that often only get a DVD release in North America, months, if not years, after they screen. It’s great when the filmmakers or cast show up after screening to answer questions – though some questions are better than others, and some people are better at answering them than others – but my admiration and respect is usually reserved for the work itself, as opposed to the person.

But there are exceptions.

Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and, one of my favourite movies ever made, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There’s no one else who can write a movie like him.

So I was ecstatic to get tickets to Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman’s directorial debut. And when Kaufman himself stepped onto the stage at the Elgin Winter Garden, I have to admit I was just slightly a little bit in awe of the man.

(This despite him being very short. When Catherine Keener joined him on stage, she practically towered over him, admittedly thanks to some very serious heels. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also appeared, but didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic.)

Reviewing Synecdoche is kind of tricky. My immediate reaction was “I want to see that again.” Which isn’t necessarily a great thing – while his previous films certainly benefit from repeated viewing, they were also easily accessible on at least some level.

Synecdoche is an entirely more complicated work, though. It seems more personal, though perhaps just because it’s about a writer, and Kaufman probably had control over the film from the screenplay to the editing room; it’s hard to say, similarly difficult to evaluate whether that’s a good thing.

So the plot, which is relatively easy to cover: Hoffman plays Caden, a local theatre director who’s facing middle age with an unimpressive career and a marriage (to Keener) that’s slowly swirling down the drain. Marriage counselling isn’t helping (“Everyone’s disappointing if you know them long enough”, Keener says at one point, and she asks the therapist if it’s wrong to fantasize about her husband dying), and Caden keeps coming up with new health problems.

(Note: There are more jokes about poo in this movie than in all previous Kaufman scripts combined.)

His wife finally leaves him – unofficially speaking – and his only consolation, besides a theatre employee with a crush on him (the lovely Samantha Morton), is a theatre grant that enables him to mount an ambitious project: Recreating life on a giant warehouse stage.

So eventually we have our characters, and the actors playing them, and in some cases the actors playing them. Tom Noonan is an odd choice to play Phillip Seymour Hoffman, though Emily Watson makes a perfect Samantha Morton. Incidents from Caden’s life play and replay from different perspectives, the scope of Caden’s world and stage continually expanding.

There’s also a subplot about Caden’s estranged daughter, and Jennifer Jason Leigh turns into a German lesbian halfway through the film. I’m not sure what that’s about, but as I said, I need to see it again.

It’s a dense and layered film, full of odd characters and strange ideas – Morton’s character buys a house that’s on fire, and lives there for many years. When asked at the Q&A to explain the burning house, Kaufman politely answered “No.”

My immediate reaction, besides wanting to see it again, was that Synecdoche doesn’t quite work – it feels overly indulgent, or ambitious, like Kaufman was taking on too much of a challenge for his first foray into directing.

But it’s an unquestionably fascinating film; you can’t stop watching, wanting to know how Kaufman will bring it all together. And it’s full of great performances – Hoffman is his usual excellent self, Morton is superb, and quality actors keep showing up, giving themselves over to these odd roles and often covered in old-age prosthetics.

And, well, it’s a Charlie Kaufman movie. You know you’re going to see something that’s at least interesting, and could turn out to be a masterpiece. I have to admit I was thrilled to be sitting there as this very unassuming and casual screenwriting star stood a few rows in front of me; I probably would have been pretty happy even if the movie had turned out to be terrible.

Thankfully, I don’t think it did. Did I mention I need to see it again?

TIFF08: Midnight Madness

Those who complain about the Toronto Film Festival becoming elitist clearly haven’t been to enough Midnight Madness screenings.

It’s hard to find a crowd that embodies the Festival’s motto of “For the Love of Film” more than a Midnight Madness audience: Every night during the Festival, 1300 people pack the Ryerson Theatre to watch some of the strangest movies you’ll find anywhere – comedy, violence, horror, science fiction, and the just plain weird. It’s not the stuff that’ll show up on Oscar night – though there’s usually a hit or two to come out of it – but it’s pure, unadulterated fun to watch these movies with a huge crowd that loves them, that knows when to cheer, when to Ooh and Aaah, and when to just shout weird, random things at the screen.

Detroit Metal City

Let’s be up front about this: Detroit Metal City basically has one joke. Sensitive young Soichi moves to Tokyo with dreams of becoming a trendy pop star. Music is his dream, and he writes songs about feeling super and pretty girlfriends who make him cheese tarts. But somehow – it’s never adequately explained – he ends up fronting Detroit Metal City, the Japanese kings of death metal, as Johannes Krauser II, wearing makeup and a cape and singing – or, at least, shouting – songs about rape and murder. His delicately balanced life gets more complicated when he meets Aikawa, a pretty young music journalist who loves sensitive, trendy pop songs and hates aggressive and obnoxious death metal.

So Soichi must try to woo Aikawa with sweetness while maintaining his night job as the king of rape rock. And this all goes on for about an hour and a half. It drags in a few places – Soichi can be too wussy, and Krauser’s songs too obnoxious – but there’s some inspired comedy to be found when things balance out. As Krauser, Soichi ends up stalking Aikawa and her would-be suitor through an amusement park, interrupting a Power Rangers show and helping out another sensitive pop singer. And when he returns to see his family, Soichi is shocked to find his younger brother worships his alter-ego, and employs Krauser’s mystique in the name of household chores.

There’s also a second joke, though it doesn’t get quite as much play: Detroit Metal City’s chain-smoking, abusive manager, who kicks her musicians in the crotch and stubs out her cigarettes on people’s foreheads while trying to convince poor Soichi to embrace the Rock and Roll lifestyle. She’s kind of a hoot.

Things bog down towards the end, as the story tries to get meaningful and goes back too often to the theme of Living Your Dream. Or, I suppose, Abandoning Your Dream to Give Others Their Dream. It’s kind of an unclear moral, and isn’t the sort of thing you should really get people thinking about. You could probably shave 15 minutes or so off the running time and create a leaner, funnier film.

Still, Detroit Metal City has some inspired comedy, and can be flat out hilarious when it’s hitting its stride.

Eden Log

I admire the intent and ambition behind this French science fiction film. Director Franck Vestiel clearly has a vision for this film – it’s dark, disorienting, and largely eschews exposition in favour of slow reveals and gradual answers to important questions. Vestiel knows what he wants to say and how to say it as he tells the story of an amnesiac wandering through a bleak, nearly deserted subterranean landscape infested with the roots of an unusual tree and angry, hungry mutants.

Unfortunately, Vestiel’s style gets the better of his storytelling: More often than not, Eden Log just feels confusing. Scenes are dimly lit by flashing lights, and interrupted with jarring camera work and choppy editing; it’s slow-going at the best of times, and downright indecipherable when there’s any action on the screen. And while I’ll admit that the larger narrative may be better appreciated on a second viewing, I’m not sure I care enough to spend that much time on it.

More than anything, Eden Log reminds me of Myst, the PC game that consumed many lives over a decade ago: Walk to this room. Look at the objects around you. Listen to a recording telling you part of the story. Go to another room. Pull one lever, and turn the wheel to the left. Repeat.

Then add the monsters from The Descent. I admit, I might have enjoyed Myst more if there had been mutants.

Throw in some biblical references and social commentary, and you’ve got Eden Log.

It’s an interesting attempt, and I’ll be interested to see what Vestiel does next, but Eden Log is, at best, an interesting failure.

Sexykiller

While Detroit Metal City gets by on one joke, Sexykiller has at least three, and they’re all pretty awesome.

Sexykiller is sort of three different movies in one, and switches tone easily. In the beginning, we get the story of Barbara (Macarena Gomez), a med school student who spends most of her time looking fabulous and killing anyone who gets on her nerves. Director Miguel Marti embraces a surreal, absurd, and blackly humorous style – think Fight Club and the funny parts from American Psycho – as Barbara explains her motivations to the camera, fantasizes about living a Barbie-inspired dream life, and leaves a trail of bodies in her wake.

Then: Romantic Comedy! Barbara overhears and misunderstands poor, nerdy Tomas talking about his job as a pathologist recruited to help solve the murders, and thinks he’s a serial killer, too. Wacky comedy ensues, like Three’s Company if Suzanne Somers had a hatchet.

Finally, all of Barbara’s victims come back to life, and Sexykiller turns into a zombie movie.

Marti is a guy who loves his horror movies. Sexykiller is sprinkled with references to the classics: Scream, Friday the 13th, Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Evil Dead all get at least a passing reference. But Marti never lets the influences overwhelm his film’s identity, or turn it into an extended homage; Quentin Tarantino could learn a thing or two from the man. Instead, Sexykiller is full of fun – bloody, over-the-top, violent fun. It’s perfectly anchored by Gomez, whose unhinged-yet-adorable performance keeps the audience’s sympathies with the brutal killer; after all, most of the people she kills are pretty annoying.

It’s no surprise that at the Q&A after the film, Marti cited Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson among his favourite horror filmmakers; he’s got the same appreciation for disembowelments and decapitations, and mixes it with a morbid sense of humour. Gomez was also in attendance at the screening, and was entirely delightful – tasked with translating for Marti, who spoke little English, she would occasionally admit she didn’t remember the rest of what he said.

I don’t know if I can say Sexykiller< /em> was the best movie I saw at the Festival – though it’s certainly a contender – but it’s almost definitely the most fun I had, and one of the best times I’ve ever had in a movie theatre. I’m dreadfully afraid there will be a Hollywood remake, and that it will suck.

Like peanut-butter and chocolate, kind of

If you’re like me – and if you’re not, you should try a little harder – you dig samurai movies. And you have at least a passing interest in electronic music. But you’ve always wondered – how can I combine these two things together?

Finally, I have found the answer.

I think it’s pretty neat.

This needs to be on my wall

Coinciding nicely with the arrival of my copy of Absolute Sandman volume 3, Vertigo is releasing this gorgeous poster for the 20th anniversary of Sandman. It debuted at San Diego, though I hope it becomes generally available soon – it’s too amazing to be just a limited convention thing.


There’s a nice list of the artists and characters available here. Seriously, where else are you going to get Mike Allred, Bryan Talbot, Jill Thompson, and a whole mess of other great artists all in one place? (Other than in Sandman itself, obviously>)

I Read a Bunch of Vertigo Books and Tell You What I Think

I’m working on more descriptive blog titles. Exciting, no?

 

Madam Xanadu #1-2: I’ve never been a fan of Matt Wagner. Not in the sense that I don’t like him, but that I simply haven’t read much of his work; I was never quite sure where to start with Grendel – they’re collecting it now, aren’t they? Anyway. This is a pretty okay book, given the recent attempts at resurrecting DCU properties under the Vertigo line. It seems a bit too formal, too much like the Vertigo equivalent of Final Crisis: Look, it’s the Phantom Stranger – how many times can he use “strange” or “stranger ” in a sentence? And hey, now it’s the Demon! It’s exactly the sort of book Vertigo should have abandoned years ago, though I suppose it’s understandable they keep going back to the well – if a book like this takes off, DC gets all the profits.

Wagner is giving us Madame Xanadu’s origin, which is apparently rooted in Arthurian legend; she’s related to Morgan LeFay, and occasionally having sex with Merlin. Which would be fine if Wagner could stay away from the formalistic, Ye Olde English dialogue. It’s not quite Stan Lee Thorspeak, but there’s no flow to it at all. But I like that the book could go somewhere interesting if Wagner leaves Arthurian Times behind, so I suspect I’ll stick with it.

Granted, one of the major motivations is the gorgeous art by Amy Reeder Hadley. She’s got a slightly manga-influenced style, with emphasis on “influenced”, as opposed to “derivative of.” It’s quite lovely, particularly with Guy Major’s colours – just the sort of thing for a fantastical story of magical nymphs and magicians. There are a few instances where style overrides store – Merlin seems entirely too cute, and sometimes the action doesn’t quite flow as it should – but it’s still a very pretty book.

There’s potential here. Hopefully Wagner and Hadley hit their stride soon.

 

Northlanders #7: Speaking of Thorspeak, Brian Wood thankfully does without for his Viking epic. Which is quite sensible, since no one who lived a thousand years ago spoke anything resembling modern English; I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my comics to read like The Canterbury Tales.

Not that dialogue is really the focus here. Wood and artist Davide Gianfelice give us a lot of carnage, as Norsemen meet Saxons on the field of battle. There are decapitations and disembowelments and guys getting shot with arrows through the throat. There’s even a nice eyeball popping out.

I said before this is a difficult series to analyse on a per-issue basis, but it’s incredibly enjoyable nonetheless. And apparently upcoming issues are featuring art by Dean Ormston and Ryan Kelly, which is pretty great.

 

Young Liars #5: This month, a loser, a nymphmaniac, a groupie, and a transvestite fight a psychotic dwarf bounty hunter.

If that’s not selling you on this series, I don’t know what will.

 

Scalped #19: Should I just re-title this blog “Why Jason Aaron is Awesome?” I’ve already got a pretty niche audience, so I don’t see how it could hurt.

As I said before, the thing that really elevates Scalped is Aaron’s ability to tell so many different stories with it: There’s the main narrative, but also all the threads that spin off from individual characters. Here, Aaron fills us in on some of Carol’s history – and, as expected, the daughter of the local crime boss and occasional lover of the badass protagonist has had some pretty fucked up stuff happen to get her where she is today.

At this point, I’m almost expecting at least one “Wow” scene from Aaron in every issue, and he gives it to us in the form of a rendezvous between Carol and Dash, contrasting their thoughts with one another; the two clearly care for each other, but still can’t trust one another with all their secrets.

Davide Furno returns for this brief two-issue art, but him and colourist Giulia Brusco give the story a significantly different look from the last issue. Has Vertigo made a particular effort to recruit European (Italian?) artists? I don’t know, but they’re getting some good stuff.

Anyway. Tune in next month, here at Comics Should Be More Like Scalped.com to find out what I think of the next issue.

(Hint: I’ll probably like it.)

Free King City!

I’d been following the recent Tokypop developments pretty casually. I thought it was all kind of interesting, but I didn’t have any personal investment in it at all.

Until now. Due to the publisher’s restructuring and general slashing of their titles, it seems we’re not going to be seeing the second volume of Brandon Graham’s King City. This is simply not to be tolerated.

Brandon Graham is one of the most interesting and unique cartoonists to come along in a while, and King City is his most fully realized work. It’s about… Well, it’s about a thief who has a genetically-modified cat. And he’s in a city doing a job, and there’s a mysterious woman, and there’s his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and varioius weird factions doing weird stuff.

It kind of defies description, at least in a way that makes any sort of sense. Suffice it to say that you’ve probably never seen anything quite like it, and it’s very, very good.

Anyway. You should go and buy the first volume, even if it means giving money to the horrible tyrant Tokyopop. And you should also investigate Multiple Warheads, the equally cool and weird book he did for the non-tyrant Oni Press.

And then – or perhaps first – you can check out Graham’s livejournal, where he’s begun posting King City volume 2, because apparently Tokyopop will neither publish it nor give him the rights back.

And then you should write your congressman? Or something? I don’t know; I don’t think that sort of thing really works. But hopefully there will either be some development that allows Graham to take King City to another publisher. At the very least, give him some good sales numbers on the books you can buy so someone else gives him a sweet deal.

Milligan Mania: Infinity Inc. – Luthor’s Monsters

At this point, it’s probably conventional wisdom that Peter Milligan shouldn’t write corporate superhero comics. He just can’t write them with a straight face, without throwing in a bit of humour and cynicism, which most of the superhero fans hate. And when he tries to tone that down and write a “straight” superhero story, it tends to fall flat. Milligan’s a writer who needs creative freedom to do his thing.

So I was understandably skeptical of Infinite Inc., a resurrection of a 1980s superhero book about children of superheroes, featuring characters that spun out of DC’s weekly 52. The whole thing screams “Continuity!”, which is exactly the sort of thing Milligan should stay away from.

And yet… It’s pretty good. It’s far closer to being a Peter Milligan Book than a DC Superhero Book. In fact, it’s not terribly different in tone from the pre-Vertigo superhero revamps like Morrison’s Doom Patrol or Animal Man. The DC continuity is a starting point, but not particularly relevant to the story itself. All you really need to know about 52 and the history of Infinity Inc. is explained on the back cover: A bunch of people got superpowers, got to be superheroes, then had their powers taken away.

The concept is perfect for Milligan, as it fits nicely with one of his pet themes: Identity. What happens when you go from being a regular person to a superhero and back again? When you’re tempted with godhood and then thrown back to earth? In a Peter Milligan comic the answer is fairly obvious: You become psychologically dysfunctional and go into therapy, and then develop all new superpowers that are tied to your particular mental problems. (This is to be distinguished from the DCU answer, where you go on a quest to Earth-28 to find Barry Allens’ left sneaker.)

So the narcissist can make an exact duplicate of himself, the girl with abandonment issues disappears into a cloud of smoke, and the guy with some gender confusion can transform into a girl with superpowers. And there’s the emo-punk kid who feels empty and meaningless, and ends up being able to suck the lifeforce out of others, becoming the nominal villain of the story.

“Kid Empty”, as he’s called, is probably the least successful aspect of Infinity Inc. But that’s perhaps to be expected: Milligan stories aren’t really about the usual good-versus-evil, so the evildoer isn’t really the focus of the story. Ultimately, Kid Empty is just an extension of the central theme: In becoming superheroes again, the kids of Infinity Inc. become prime targets for the energy vampire; as any long-time superhero reader knows, vampires love people with superpowers. They’re so tasty.

(On the other hand, Kid Empty’s girlfriend is great: She lures Infinity Inc. into a trap with a trail of psychically-generated underwear.)

Also in the “uninteresting” category is Steel, the one-time Superman replacement and uncle of one of the main characters. His role seems to be twofold: First, to be the responsible adult; and second, to be the identifiable superhero of the story. He wanders around in his superhero armour for a little while for no particular reason, and talks to people who know about important DCU stuff.

Infinity Inc. isn’t quite a successful character piece – no one is really fleshed out in detail – but the character dynamics are interesting anyway, full of Milligan-esque quirks, like Gerome wanting Erik to turn into Erika so he can sleep with her? Or their default headquarters, Gerome’s apartment, being dubbed Infinity Crib? There’s a shapeshifter with identity issues, and a girl with self-mutilation tendencies who causes the walls around her to bleed.

It’s not a standard DCU sort of superhero book, which probably explains why it’s already been cancelled; this first trade doesn’t even have a “Volume 1” label, which leads me to suspect I’ll have to track down the individual issues if I want to read the rest of the series. (Though DC’s site says it’s Volume 1. So who knows?) It’s not surprising: It’s got nothing to do with the old Infinity Inc., not much to do with the DCU in general, has no costumes, and mostly has people talking to one another. Max Fiurama’s art isn’t an easy sell, either; the mood isn’t terribly consistent, but even when it gets the dark and expressive scenes right, it’s not the sort of thing you expect in a superhero comic.

I wonder if Milligan might have been better off taking the basic concepts, stripping the DCU references, and doing it as a Vertigo or Wildstorm book. Given the problems those imprints have had, along with Milligan’s general lack of commercial appeal, probably not. Still, Infinity Inc. is an interesting book off the beaten path of standard superheroics, the sort of thing DC doesn’t do very often. Obviously, that’s not a good place to be – the cover says “Superheroes!”, the content says “psychological drama and dark satire!”; the audience looking for the former hates it, and the audience looking for the latter doesn’t even bother looking at it. But if you’re not expecting anything in particular, it’s a fairly pleasant surprise.