Sunday, January 31, 2010

IT IS A CRIME: Recommendations for people wanting to read comics about crime

I get told that comics are all super heroes and anime. I get told that a lot. And, I understand that. I get that by watching what becomes made into movies, and by looking at sales figures, and by trying to write concepts and stories that aren’t super heroic for comics that never get published. Comics are not only super heroic, but to deny the ascendancy of super heroes in the medium of comics is foolish.

So, I might, depending upon the response here, through comments or emails, begin a project of giving recommended readings for people who like comics but grew out of or away from super heroes. Today I am giving recommendations for four authors, because, at least in crime comics, it is not nearly so much about the art, as it is the story, and when both artist and writer are good, Crime stories in comics can be great.

Paul Grist

The first author is also an artist, and he creates a comic, irregularly but often enough to have a total of six volumes collected called KANE. Paul Grist is a creative talent who doesn’t paint or write pretty pictures, he writes and illustrates real ones, despite his use of a highly stylized line and drawings. I find his work to be fully deep, and the art to evoke the darkness of emotions that you only rarely find. I also read and buy JACK STAFF, a work done by Mr. Grist, but of the two brilliant series, I prefer KANE. The series reminds me of the Steven Bochco television police stories like NYPD BLUE and HILL STREET BLUES. And by saying that, I do mean it is good.

Buy Paul Grist’s work KANE

Brian Michael Bendis

Brian Bendis is a big ass talent, perhaps considered the star writer of Marvel comics, and arrived where he did following years writing and honing his story telling, through crime stories. My favorite of his pure crime, not super heroic or spy oriented, is TORSO, which is ably but not beautiful drawn by him. Talented writer Marc Andreyko joined him on project, and when reading it, you might be amazed how powerful the work is, and then move on to read the true story it was inspired by, in Bendis’ hometown of Cleveland. The strength of Bendis is often said to be his ability to write dialogue, but in crime stories, the strength of his dialogue is to create mood. He is an expert with crime stories.

Buy Brian Bendis’ work TORSO

Steven Grant

I consider Steven Grant to be a greatly talented writer who has never received nearly as much credit or praise as he is deserved. He writes everything but his chief genre of excellence is crime. As such there is no one more worthy of a recommendation for work writing in the genre. He made Punisher a gritty fighter of crime, but made him palatable as much as an anti hero can be. He wrote various series such as Damned with artist Mike Zeck, and that was well worth reading, and perhaps someone should consider it as a movie. But Grant’s latest work that tweaked me was 2 GUNS. From publisher BOOM it is able to tell without epic violence or much graphic language a truly criminal tale. If Grant writes it, I will buy it.

Buy Steven Grant’s work 2 GUNS

Ed Brubaker

Ed Brubaker’s work on Sleeper and other works is deserving of praise. But I think he excels when he writes about crime. He did so perfectly on Daredevil following Bendis, who both moved the character from super heroic to costumed CRIME fighter, and his work on Gotham Central, as well. He seethed crime. I read a great deal of his work, but it really only hit fever pitch first on Sleeper which is about agents and dark tides of human events, and from there to CRIMINAL. His understanding of human darkness is very finely hone.

Buy Ed Brubaker’s work CRIMINAL

Pictures to Break Things By, Volume II

"My interest in college radio goes back to the 1990s, when I was in high school," Adam LaSota says. "I used to listen to the local college stations because they were playing cooler stuff than 107.9 'The End' was playing."

Adam entered into an apprenticeship shortly after arriving at John Carroll in the fall of 1999; by that November, with the football season over and the sports slot once again open for music, he was offered his own show on the air.

"The football slot immediately follows a WJCU juggernaut, the Kick out the Jams program, hosted by Mitch Capka. So I'm waiting to go on the air, and he comes in and asks me what the name of the show is. Not really having one yet, I said Vince Lombardi Service Center – a nod to a Dead Milkmen song with the same name, and a loose jab at the name of the DJ Lombardo Student Center (the building that the radio station is in).

"Puzzled, Mitch said, 'Uhh, okay,' and then asked what my format was. I said, 'Well, it's just punk and stuff. Music to break things by.'

"Immediately, the light bulb went off and he said, 'That should be the name of your show.' "

The rest, as they say, is history.

Music to Break Things By is on 88.7 FM, 9:30 pm to 12:00 am, every Friday.

Other installments:
Volume I (01.24.10)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Passing of Obedience

Babylon 5: The Passing of the Techno-mages, a trilogy of novels released in 2001, three years after Babylon 5’s television run, posits that the role of technology in a society – how the culture responds and adapts to and assimilates it – is a manifestation of its cultural, religious, and philosophical beliefs. Furthermore, the books hold that the inverse is also true: a society’s beliefs are a manifestation of its technology. In Jeanne Cavelos’s work, the two are intricately and inescapably intertwined, one bleeding over into the next until they are inseparable; it is not for naught that the Ouroboros, the snake continuously eating its own tail, is a visual motif that consistently pops up throughout her series.

This is primarily witnessed through her explorations of the Shadows, the most ancient of the ancient races left in the galaxy. Although seen somewhat extensively throughout B5’s five seasons – they comprise the show’s main antagonistic force, after all – detailed information about their history, the mechanics of their technology, and relations with their servants are reserved exclusively for the books (which includes The Shadow Within [1997], the first B5 book to be granted the coveted status of canonicity by creator and showrunner Joe Michael Straczynski, and the first novel to ever be written by Jeanne Cavelos). The Shadows, seen by the Drakh, their most loyal servants, as the high priests of a dark and ancient religion (their god is a spherical being that looks suspiciously close to a Shadow in its spider-esque “encounter suit”), communicate with their acolytes by tapping into a region of their brains that has no evolutionary value whatsoever; its only purpose is to allow them to become the mouthpieces of their masters. Mr. Morden, a human who willingly chose devotion to their cause, is manipulated in a similar manner: an implant at the base of his brain allows him to not only hear the words and thoughts of the Shadows, but also rewards his obedience by releasing endorphins. The utilization of technology is so subtle and effective, the man doesn’t realize how thoroughly and completely he’s controlled – or that he’s being manipulated at all.

That the Shadows use their tech to thoroughly subdue and dominate their servants, commanding absolute loyalty and ensuring total order – this despite their professed devotion to the sacred principles of chaos – is best represented by the principal instrument of their holy crusade, their fighters. The Shadow ships have as their core a living person, culled from the lower, more inferior races, using the naturally-occurring and -superior processing powers of the brain to carry out the vessel’s computational demands. In the process of transforming an individual into a computer chip, which combines technological as well as telepathic steps, the person’s personality is thoroughly shredded, driving away memories and dreams and emotional connections and instead instilling only the joys of obedience to the machine, to the Shadows themselves (which they enthusiastically call “the liberators”), and, acting as a bridge between the two, the Eye, a network situated deep within the heart of Z’ha’dum, the Shadows’ homeworld, that coordinates the fleet of starships and commands planetary defenses – and which has as its central processing unit another living being.

The Vorlons are the antithesis, of course, to the Shadows, from their ideological convictions to their appearances, and the implementation of their technology would seem, on first blush, to reconfirm this. The Vorlons’ vessels are biological, but not reliant upon biological samples from other races to fuel them; they are engineered to be semi-sentient, but not as a result of consciousness being ripped from their pieces-parts. Nonetheless, the end result, as well as the underlying methodology, are strikingly similar: carrying out the host’s instructions is rewarded with joy (artificially in the case of the Shadows, stimulating the relevant sections of the subject’s brain – but just as artificially for the Vorlons, as their ships are designed from the ground up to exalt in obedience and revel in order), resulting in a master-slave feedback loop whose forging will forever last the test of time. Subjugation and a total disregard for life are the cost of proving one’s rightness and righteousness.

In this way, timeless mortal enemies are shown to be stunningly similar – a development only figuratively, not literally, hinted at in the series proper – and, also in this way, a trilogy of books that was initially conceived by Straczynski to simply be about the techno-mages, a small and mostly narratively irrelevant group within the larger Babylon 5 mythos, becomes, in Cavelos’s hands, a quick but penetrating survey of the Vorlons, the Shadows, their ossification within their own relations to their technologies (and, of course, to one another), and the war that has waged between them for thousands, if not millions, of years; in other words, what was to have been the smallest and most specific of stories transformed into a sweeping and epic tale touching upon the breadth and depth of the entire B5 universe.

And then there are the mages themselves. Originated when the Shadows, eager for an armed forces on the ground that would complement their powerful starfleet, gave their technology as a series of implants to the now-extinct Taratimude one thousand years ago, during the previous Great War, the techno-mages are unique amongst all of the Shadows’ “allies”: whereas living beings are deposited into the Shadows’ machines, becoming subsumed and consumed both by them, the mages are the inverse – which also means that the mages, free of the subservience that the Shadows’ other tech demands to function, possess free choice (a curious anomaly for a race so dedicated to exacting control). And it is this freedom of choice that has plagued their order, in one form or to one degree or another, since its birth, manifesting itself in their desire to become one with their technology, to bond fully and completely with the machinery intertwining itself throughout their bodies, even though all but a handful aren’t aware of the true origins of their mysterious implants. Unsurprisingly, the only way the techno-mages can conceive of achieving this equivalence is to obtain perfect and unwavering control over their tech, which is programmed to compel belligerent actions and spawn chaotic behavior.

The desire for a (roughly) symbiotic relationship and the thirst for dominance traps the mages in between the two remaining First Ones, a cultural position reinforced by the tactical situation they find themselves in: the most powerful of the younger races, their allegiance is wanted by the Shadows in the upcoming war to finally assure a definitive victory against the Vorlons and their partners once and for all; the Vorlons, eager to keep such a potent weapon out of their enemies’ hands, will wipe them all out if they acquiesce to their creators’ demands. The techno-mages, as such, do something unprecedented in the cycle of the Great Wars: they chart a third course, rejecting both of their parent races and striking out on their own – a move which presages what the rest of the interstellar community will do under the leadership of Captain John J. Sheridan and Entil’Zha Delenn (albeit the latter do it for the betterment of all the younger civilizations, establishing a political and economic alliance, while the former do it for simple self-preservation, retreating to a hiding place to wait out the war).

But it is in another rejection of the status quo bequeathed to them, one that may or may not be subsequently followed by another galaxy-wide echo (the story materials taking place towards the end of Crusade, the canceled B5 spin-off, and well after it simply aren’t clear on this point), that the mages most definitely and defiantly represent the promise of an alternate, better way of life. Over the course of the order’s history, the techno-mages moved away from the raw and primal destructive capabilities of their technology and instead turned their attention and intentions towards creation, transitioning themselves from soldiers to magicians, from tools of destruction to bringers of wonder and mystery. In the process of broadening their abilities, they also made them shallower, losing the sheer power that the order had in the days of the Taratimude – until Galen, fresh out of apprenticeship, inadvertently stumbles upon the ancient and devastating capabilities long buried over. It is precisely in rediscovering how to wage war on the ground in the same fashion that the Shadow ships do so in the sky that he learns the secret to the mages’ Holy Grail: complete and total union with their implants. Instead of attempting to fully and masterfully impose his will upon the wild, unpredictable beast that is his tech, he bonds with it; rather than command it, perpetuating the Shadows’ and Vorlons’ unbreakable bond of master and slave, he embraces it, treating it as a partner in his existence, a move which is so impossibly difficult to conceptualize exactly because it is so simplistic and straightforward.

By literally becoming one with the tech, entering a thoroughly symbiotic relationship – and not the shadow of it that the Vorlons approximate with their technology – Galen manages to circumnavigate the layers of programming the Shadows coded into it, scrubbing both it and him of the incessant, unerring call to arms and leaving behind only peace; chaos is exchanged for stillness, wrath for love. Even the color of the implants is changed, going from a cold grey to a warm gold. In this way, techno-Galen is able to interface with a Shadow ship by simply merging its personality temporarily with his own, making the master-slave loop unnecessary and unnecessarily intrusive for both parties. The lesson of the story is simple: it is not technology, an evil entity, that destroys or disrupts society; it is the will of the people surrounding the tech that codes it to. And any adverse programming, or evil that emanates from it, can be dissipated with the same quality that remedies all wrongs in all peoples in all times in all places:


This piece is part of Marc N. Kleinhenz's The Babylon Project series of articles, which comprises essays, reviews, and interviews. The other items can be found here:

The Passing of the Techno-mages and the expansion of previous narratives
November 2009
Blue Buddha

The Lost Tales and the undermining of worldbuilding
December 2009
Blue Buddha

The history of Babylon, from Babylon 5 and Babylon Prime to Crusade
February 2010

Sandy Bruckner and the dream of fandom
May 2010

Patricia Tallman, Lyta Alexander, and the path to extremism
June 2010

Matthew Gideon and the apocalypse
July 2010

Maggie Egan, ISN Jane, and the craftsmanship of delivery
August 2010

Jeanne Cavelos and the perfection of storytelling
November 2010

History and metatheater in the world of Babylon
December 2010

Joe Michael Straczynski and the dark side of Babylon 5
January 2010


JD Salinger Dies

A creative talent and his work... JD Salinger wrote, made an impact and then refused to be drawn into public, for praise, criticism, or further work. He was then labeled a recluse, an enigma and other terms. In a sense, he let his work speak for itself. However, by refusing to create more for public consumption and refusing to be a public figure, he elevated the importance of his work, letting all interpretations be left to their own design. Rewards, financial and critical are generally thought to be the reward an artist seeks. So what of Salinger?

I say his reward will be the fact that his work will exist and endure beyond his life, due to his refusal to become the author of it, more than he was in fact the steward of it. He lived a long life so I am not saying he should still live, damn the shortness of existence, but literature circles will always wonder what could have been had he chosen to contribute more to their worlds.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

HATTER M, volume 1 and 2

First read the review/consideration I did HERE and then come back.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars Volume 1
by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier, and Ben Templesmith

Hatter M: Mad With Wonder Volume 2
by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier, and Sami Makkonen

This series is part of a broader story told in Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars books. The world considered is on the surface the world of Alice in Wonderland, of Lewis Carroll, but Beddor has argued/discussed the fact that Lewis Carroll was mistaken, and told a story wrongly about a person, named Alice as a fantasy, and surreal even nonsensical place called Wonderland. Beddor suggests that Wonderland is real, that Alyss, spelled thusly escaped to this world, told her story, and Carroll tried to tell it, but presented it as fiction when in fact, it was an oral history. However that all plays out, Hatter M follows the story of Alyss, by extension but primarily through the eyes of her bodyguard. Following a coup d’etait Alyss, Queen of Wonderland is chased into exile with her bodyguard Hatter Madigan. He is equipped for battle, with a suit of weaponry, and expertise in combat. And the two become separated, while escaping from the evil new Queen’s rage.

In Volume One Hatter Madigan arrives on our historic Earth separated Alyss Heart, crown princess of Wonderland. Travels through the historic past lead him to France, as part of a 13 year exile and journey, Hatter Madigan tries desperately to find and protect Alyss. His hat takes a life of its own through out. The reader learns that the only hope we see, is the “white imagination” that powers Wonderland is a clue to how to help find Alyss, in the largely dark and violent world of the 19th century. Volume Two, takes Hatter M to the American Civil war, and the world in chaos from the conflict. Deeply tragic, and without ability to utilize his best warrior’s instinct, Hatter M is soon driven to madness, and his namesake, the mad hatter becomes reality.

Throughout the first book you marvel at the ability of Ben Templesmith, and you wonder how much of the wonder and beauty, however dark, is all the majesty of his artistic talent and genius. The story, however important as an ancillary work to the Looking Glass Wars, doesn’t take a lot of form until the near end of book one. With book two and artist Sami Makkonen you can see more of Beddor’s story, and the art, while different, is nonetheless still brilliant.

And I have to say, as someone who has read the book series that this is a chapter of, the story is both important and well done. As any creative work must succeed upon its own merits, do these two books entertain and offer a complete work to enjoy? That is, could a person unfamiliar with the book series enjoy these? Yes, but admittedly, I think less so. However, the books are really enjoyable, so go read them too.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Dreamer


The Dreamer Graphic Novel is a finalist in the 2009 Cybils Awards

(Columbus, OH) –January 25, 2010 -- Lora Innes’s THE DREAMER, a romantic and rich story told with well-researched historical accuracy, has captured the hearts of young minds becoming a finalist in the 2009 Cybils awards.

The Cybil’s awards are unique in that the goal is to show the insight of the community of Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers for book related products. The awards are given to those products that show kid appeal doesn’t have to lose substance. The Dreamer has also been nominated in the 2009 Harvey awards for Best New Talent and Best New Series.

THE DREAMER tells the story of seventeen-year-old Beatrice Whaley, a student who begins having vivid dreams about a brave and handsome soldier named Alan Warren, a member of an elite group known as Knowlton’s Rangers that fought during the Revolutionary War. Prone to keeping her head in the clouds, Bea welcomes her nightly adventures in 1776. But it is not long before Beatrice questions whether her dreams are simply dreams…or something more.

THE DREAMER captures the history of Revolutionary War figures---Captain Nathan Hale, Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton, General William Howe and Private Frederick Knowlton---with such richness and accuracy you’ll think you’re actually in 1776.

THE DREAMER, an ongoing monthly series, is now available in its first trade paperback collection, THE DREAMER: THE CONSEQUENCE OF NATHAN HALE, Part 1 (ISBN: 978-1600104657, $19.95).

For more information click here
Order it here

Pictures to Break Things By, Volume I

Music to Break Things By
is a punk show that has been airing on John Carroll University's radio station, WJCU, since November 1999. Marc Kleinhenz had the great privilege of being invited by the show's hosts, Adam LaSota and Andy "Max" Knox, to participate in last week's show. Completely new to the wonderful and byzantine world of broadcasting, he documented his experience. Here is a small sampling of his photographs.

Catch Music to Break Things By every Friday, 9:30 pm to 12:00 am, on 88.7 FM.

Other installments:
Volume II (01.31.10)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Christmas poem and image collaboration, and more

An Interview of me by Marc Kleinhenz (msunyata)

Part One

Part Two

Series of Poems and pics by Alex Ness and Marc Kleinhenz

Poems and Pics 1-9

Yeah, Christmas is over, but due to weather or money or mean people it probably sucked. So here is your chance to read a bunch of poems with interesting pics, and then an interview with me by Marc the photographer.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Everything Old is Newave Again

I had forgotten about this, but a couple friends of mine have seen it and brought it to my attention.

About a year or so ago, an artist named Michael Dowers asked for permission to reprint a cartoon of mine in a collection he was compiling of Underground Comix. Michael was in the nucleus of a group of underground cartoonists in Seattle during the Minicomix Boom of the 1980s. This was back in the Antediluvian Past, before the discovery of things like Fire and the Internet, when the advent of the Local Photocopy Shop had opened up a new dimension for the amateur comic book artist and promised a glorious new age of creativity allowing the Common Man to enter the field of comics.

(Naturally, I used this creative freedom to do parodies like Rambi and Brisbane the Barbarian and Arizona Schwartz the Lost Archaeologist).

Anyway, the quarter-page minicomic, photocopied on 8 1/2 x 11" paper and sold out of your backpack when lucky or traded for someone else's minicomic when not, has largely vanished today, superceded by the Webcomic. But Dowers has collected a sampling of some of the prominent artists of the Do-It-Yourself Comix era. And I'm in there too.

His book: Newave!: The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s will be published by Fantagraphic Books this year.

Now I've forgotten which strip of mine he asked to reprint; so I guess I'll be surprised when it comes out.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Elvis Presley's 75th Birthday

Elvis Aaron Presley born, January 8, 1935 and died, August 16, 1977 was the entertainer of the century for American popular culture. He is referred to as simply "the King" in recognition of the massive impact he had upon music, movies, and in general, the phenomenon of stardom. His movies might not have been considered critically good, but they were popular. His music was considered to be good but derivative of the black music coming out at the same time in his era. But he wasn't unoriginal, nor should he be seen as a carpetbagger of any one else's style. Nobody came close to what he did, then, nor since. He might have faded into the mist as an aged star, had his life not been lost to drugs at 42 years of age, but we will never know. And his talent truly remained had he been interested in making continuous runs at the top.