Thursday, October 27, 2005

Where I've Been For The Last Two Weeks.

Consider, if you will, the following side effects of my closing down Fanboy Rampage!!!:

* Newsarama is no longer the first website I check every single morning. This was the case for two years, believe it or not, and for the first few days, it was a hard habit to break. I used to check Newsarama to see what Matt Brady was leading with, and that more often than not set the tone for FBR for the day. Of course, these days, I check all the political blogs to see what people are complaining about while waiting for Patrick Fitzgerald to indict someone, a reference that may even be dated by the time this column gets published.

* I now have no idea what’s happening in the world of comics, for the most part. My stopping blogging coincided with an increase of workload at my real job, which precluded things like eating, never mind reading message boards to see what people are talking about today. It’s a very strange sensation, after attempting to have your finger on the pulse for two years, to suddenly be disconnected to all the internet conversations. On the one hand, there’s this continual nagging sensation that you’re continually missing something important – Which Lex Luthor has green eyes? Which one has blue eyes? (Actually, I know the answer to that one – it’s “our” Lex that has the green eyes, and the “other” Lex that has blue eyes. Although I’m still confused who that other Lex is.) – but on the other hand, there’s an oddly freeing feeling that maybe it’s not that important to know what New Avengers: Illuminati is right this minute.

(I was talking to James Sime, the other week, about the fact that he’d been offline for a while due to computer problems. He was saying that, when he got back online and went to all the usual haunts, he felt like nothing was happening. I kind of have the same feeling now, but I don’t think it’s true; I think that it’s more that the whole “online conversation” thing – I really have to find a less wanky term to call that – is something that you have to really pay attention to, and when you stop paying attention for whatever reason, it’s not something that you can just plug yourself into again as if nothing has happened. There’s probably a shark metaphor that I should be using here.)

Reinforcing my disconnection from the modern comics world was the fact that I’ve spent my few spare minutes over the last two weeks reading all the new Showcase collections of the old DC stuff, and repeatedly coming to the following two conclusions:

(1) Bob Haney was the Terry Southern of comics.
(2) Marvel Comics ruined the comics industry.

One day, I may expound more on one of those ideas. Guess which one.

* A massive reduction in the amount of spam I get via the email link on the blog. I know, I know; I, too, am sad that I will no longer get multiple offers to view underage girls performing sexual favors for distant relatives, but we all have our burdens to bear.

* The phantom limb feeling I get when I read certain things and want to make fun of them in public. John Byrne’s conspiracy theory that Marvel are making an Essential collection of all of the old Handbooks to The Marvel Universe because they want to purposefully devalue the “Essential” brand name? Who wouldn’t want to blog that? I mean, come on. I feel like I have the blog equivalent of what Lightning Lad must’ve felt before he got that funky robot arm of his.

* Perhaps I need the blog equivalent of a funky robot arm.

* Being overly emotional about the response to the blog finishing, when lots of people said lots of nice things about me. I’m really very bad at taking anything resembling a compliment, so I was very happy for the fact that no-one could see me squirm embarrassedly when I read everything. That’s one of the pluses of the internet, you see – No-one can see me when I squirm. I’m squirming right now, and you can’t see me. Look, here I go, squirming.

* Feeling guilty about taking the blog away from everyone who commented on it for years, and left those nice comments that got me squirming. I thought about setting up a message board or something for all of them to keep them all together, but then I realized that that would’ve completed the whole “Fanboy Rampage!!! has become what it used to make fun of” thing that was going on. But still. It was an idea.

* Getting compared to cancer twice by possibly two different people. I say possibly, because the first comparison I saw was on the strange Comics Weblog Updates page thingy, where someone had anonymously renamed the blog “So Long Graeme, We’ll Miss You Like Cancer.” At least the second comparison was signed by James Meeley, who also had the good grace to point out that it was only Fanboy Rampage!!! the blog that was like a cancer on the comics industry, and not me personally. I would’ve liked to have said that he was over-reacting, but it only takes one look around the industry now, a week and a half after I stopped blogging to see that he’s right; the industry is now entirely, completely, healthy these days.

Nonetheless, it’s a very strange thing to be compared to cancer. I’d occasionally been of the opinion that Fanboy Rampage!!! lowered the tone of comics conversation considerably during its short lifespan, so I wasn’t entirely hurt by James’s comments. That said, those who’ve had acquaintances who have, say, died of cancer – like myself, for example – might point out that there may be a slightly offensive exaggeration at play in the comparison of a snarky pointless blog that was easy to ignore to a horrible disease that kills thousands of people every single year.

Ahem.

* While I’m on about this, I’ve always been bothered by the Snap! song, “Rhythm Is A Dancer,” which features the classic couplet, “I’m serious as cancer / When I say that rhythm is a dancer.” Serious as cancer? Does this mean that other diseases aren’t that serious? Is there a saying along the lines of “I’m as carefree as crabs” that I’ve missed on my many years on this planet? Probably.

* I got interviewed by Ian Brill for his blog, Brill Building. I’ve never been interviewed before, which will probably be incredibly obvious to anyone who hears the final results – I think Ian’s going to be putting it up as an mp3 file, so everyone will get to hear the high-pitched nasal whine that I call my voice. I was very nervous before the interview, feeling pressure to be witty, entertaining and intelligent, while dodging my traditional impulse to make a cheap joke out of everything and generally be a bit of a dick. My way of attempting to calm myself down from these nerves included reminding myself that I’d met Ian before and therefore knew that I could talk to him without giggling like a drunk child, and anyway, it probably wasn’t going to be a real interview anyway, we’d just have a chat and I could relax and everything would be fine. Whatever success that I’d been having with that strategy crumbled into pieces when Ian showed up at my house, tape recorder in one hand and a notebook full of questions and information in the other, and proceeded to start the interview by talking about parts of my life that I had no idea he knew anything about.

I could never be a celebrity. People would say things about me, and I’d squirm, and there’d probably be paparazzi to take photos and then everything’d go to Hell.

* Being offered money to write for certain places online. Yes, really. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Those Four Little Words

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but apparently Infinite Crisis is here. I’d understand if you’d missed it; it’s only been built up to for the last two-or-so years, and mentioned by name in multiple comics for the last six months. You’d think they’d, I don’t know, put some advertisements out or maybe give some interviews online or something. Books can just disappear in this market, these days.

I should warn any of you who haven’t read Infinite Crisis #1 and don’t want to know what happens in it to stop reading now, because I’m going to spoil it for you.

Golden Age Superman, Lois Lane come back at the end of it, along with another Superboy and Alexander Luthor, none of whom anyone had expected to see again after they’d disappeared at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

What, you thought I was joking about spoiling it for you? For shame, dear reader.

Obviously, I was being unfunnily facetious about the lack of hype. A funny thing about Infinite Crisis is that I’m already feeling pretty good about it just because it’s finally started. After all of the Countdown and the Prelude and the miniseries that didn’t make any sense or actually end - and Gail, what was that at the start of the last issue of Villains United? Two of them? Where did that come from? – and the emails that DC send you every Wednesday that counted down on your behalf (“Seven Days until Infinite Crisis!” Because that’s what you long to see in your inbox every morning, let me tell you), I’m just grateful that all of the goddamned prologing is finally finished. I’d never expected to be so happy to see those four simple words: “The Countdown is over!” Really? Promise?

The comic itself, though, is just weird. I’ve talked to a few people about it, because I’m a geek and I do things like that, and what’s been interesting is that I seem to be the least cynical person I know about the whole enterprise. Okay, I mean, I know that it’s one “event” in a series of “events” that solely exist to try and artificially manufacture buzz and increased sales. And, sure, I know that – on the basis of the Countdown miniseries and first issue - it’s a storyline based upon plotlines and characters that are over twenty years old, and therefore entirely impenetrable for new readers. But nonetheless, the first issue of the miniseries was not only not what I expected, it was not what I expected in such a way as to actually make me look forward to the rest of the series.

(Not that the series of marketing driven event books, nor the plots that are constructed purely on and for the warm and fuzzy nostalgic fanboy glow are things that I support, I should add, but I kind of figure that they’re almost a given in the current state of the American superhero market that it’s kind of pointless to argue against them. They’re just going to be there and have to be worked around the best you can. When it’s done very well, you get Seven Soldiers. When it’s done less well, you get House of M.)

The two things that stand out for me about Infinite Crisis’s first issue are that it seemed so incredibly old-fashioned, and yet also kind of postmodern. The old-fashioned quality came from the illusion of quantity in the book; in one issue (albeit an extended, 30-page issue), it felt like a lot actually happened, from Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman having a pointless argument and then a pointless fight with a supervillain, to some random superheroes getting killed by a supervillain army, to the Spectre being very large and screaming in Gotham City, to the above-mentioned return of refugees from Crisis on Infinite Earths. Like I said, it’s an illusion of quantity; not that much actually happens, plotwise, but it feels like a lot. Everything’s written in a strange melodramatic style that reiterates the old-fashioned feel of the whole thing, too. And that’s great; it’s the kind of thing that I love about big, overblown, series like this. It’s not just that the universe might end, but we’re also getting to watch people have smaller arguments that are treated with as much dramatic weight.

The second thing that stands out is the thing that really makes me want to stick around and see what happens. At the heart of the first issue, you see, is this strange meta-commentary on the current version of the big DC icons. It’s not even a subtle commentary. The narration that runs through the book comes from the original version of Superman, although that’s kept from us until the very last page, so we’re left with some unknown narrator giving us lines like “I’m beginning to see it. This is what the world does to legends. It corrupts them…Or it destroys them” and “We’ve given them a gift they’ve thrown away. We sacrificed everything for them.” It’s unnerving, in a way. Who does Superman Mark 1 (Oh, alright: Superman of Earth-2) represent when he’s saying these things? The audience? The writer? Are we supposed to, all of a sudden, feel reassured if we’ve been thinking that Superman’s been a bit whiny lately and not so Super, because the original version of Superman thinks it as well?

It reinforces the strange feeling I got from when I read Mark Waid calling the current version of Batman a dick. On the one hand, sure, I agree. But on the other, dude. He’s a fictional character, and you’re one of the people who’s got editorial control over him these days. If you really think he’s a dick and you think that’s a bad thing – Me, I think the idea that everyone in the Justice League thinks that Batman’s a dick and bitches about him when he’s not around is kind of funny – then you can just tell everyone to stop writing him as a dick and move on. You don’t really need to reinforce the dickishness by making it into a plot point and having everyone comment on it.

Still, that appears to be where Infinite Crisis is going, some new form of auto-critique superhero comic. We know, from various comments made online and at conventions and in small scale venues like the New York Times, that the real purpose of the series isn’t any of the traditional lines like “to tell a good story, period”, but instead to refocus the DC Universe line and brand for the next few years, and that kind of thing makes it interesting to me anyway, being the process junkie that I am. But when the series that you’ve created to do that refocusing is so blatant in its complaints about the current version of the line, then you have to wonder whether Geoff Johns, Dan DiDio and the rest of the current DC reshape team are either geniuses or whether something is about to go really terribly, horribly wrong.

If only they’d managed to tell more people about it, somehow.