Monday, November 23, 2009

You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation

You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation
by Fletcher Hanks (edited by Paul Karasik)
Fantagraphics, 2009

Hillary Brown:
Oookay. So, having read and reviewed the first volume of Fletcher Hanks's reproduced work (I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets), why would we want to do another one? I'm not sure, but it wasn't just a need to finish that kept me reading. This volume feels like more of a slog than the first, and it certainly presents very little that's new (mostly more Stardust, "Big Red" McLane, and Fantomah, with a good bit of "Space" Smith this time and a few others). It's the same weird-ass vision that the first book contained, which testifies to the comics formula just as much as to the auteur theory. I guess there are more aliens this go-round and fewer mobsters, but other than that it's the same mayhem and mass destruction, with a lot of rays and gases. Do you see any differences you'd like to point out? Paul Karasik continues to argue, in his introduction, that Hanks isn't an outsider artist, and I still think he is, but we pretty much covered that ground last time too. In short, what's to talk about?

Garrett Martin: We can talk about how this second volume makes what once seemed crazy feel mundane. Hanks is so lazy, with basically one plot for each character repeated over and over, that it really is hard to find something to talk about. We should translate our first post into Korean via Babelfish, translate that back into English, and post that in response to volume 2. We could talk about the difficulty of following up a book whose greatest selling point was that most folks would find it comically awful. Those people suck, but they made the first one a hit. Can they still find the time to mock Hanks? Or are they too busy ironically appreciating romance comics, or Akee Wise and Essence, or whatever else?

HB: Good point. It's easy to get jaded in a hurry about Hanks's casual violence, facile equation of ugliness with evil, and simplistic plotting. He is lazy, but that laziness is also kind of fascinating. For a while, at least... I haven't seen a ton of press on volume 2, and the positive reviews I have seen read like they're by people who didn't get around to volume 1. Karasik is clearly still enthusiastic about the material (will there be more, or did this clean out the Hanks archives? Ending with his death certificate certainly gives it an air of finality), and I see why Fantagraphics wants to publish it (it's important in an archival sense, as the documentation of a unique vision), but does it have mass appeal? Not so much. Will this be our shortest review ever?

GM: I believe the Hanks train has pulled into the station. Or more like it's plummeted into a lake after the Fifth Column destroyed every bridge in America with their anti-bridge rays. Every comic the man created is in these two volumes, at least everything that's been found. I'm glad to say I have the complete Hanks bibliography sitting on a shelf in my dining room, but I am a stupid completionist collector dude since elementary days. I think you've hit on something: if you come to this volume first, you will love it, at least until you pick up the first one. If you're just rounding off your Hanks collection, then you won't mind that this books is less powerful. It makes sense that the first book would be loaded with the best stuff, of course, even if they were planning from day one to release two volumes. The biggest problem here is that the most frequent strips simply aren't as entertaining as Stardust or Fantomah. The standard Space Smith strip isn't nearly as shocking or perverse as Hanks' more infamous characters, and that makes up like half the book.

Will this be our shortest review? That's entirely in your hands now. What say you?

HB: I say that you could make a great condensed Fletcher Hanks out of the best strips from both books and leave the complete version for the completists. It would be half the size of either volume 1 or volume 2 and pack a maximum of loony, id-driven entertainment between its covers before blissfully departing and leaving you wanting more, which you'd then be free to pursue or happily forget about and use your time for better things. How 'bout it, Fantagraphics?

Friday, November 6, 2009

comic reviews elsewhere

Yesterday's Boston Herald contained my reviews of Hans Rickheit's The Squirrel Machine, Gilbert Hernandez's The Troublemakers, and Hellblazer: Scab from Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Cammuncoli, and others. I think this'll be a regular thing for at least a little while. Alright.


by Gilbert Hernandez
Vertigo, 2006

Hey hey. It's another guest post thing. You may remember Casey Westerman from our review of Box Brown's Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing.

Casey Westerman: So - it's hard to start writing about Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth, I find. And hard to explain why it's hard to start writing about. Shall I contextualize my confusion? I've read most of the Palomar stuff -- at least, the three big digests and the three shorter New Tales of Palomar books -- plus Birdland and the two latest big Love and Rockets issues. I trust him, and I like him, and I want to follow him where he's going, but sometimes his stuff loses me, you know?

Sloth, I guess, is from 2006, and it's something Beto did for Vertigo instead of for Fantagraphics; it's stand-alone, with no connection to the Palomar cast. So it should be a good entry point for readers new to his stuff, but... it's beautiful, it's frustrating, and I don't feel like it really sticks the landing. It's more than pleasant reading but it doesn't seem whole; when the narrative shift happens, it's like Hernandez just wanted to start the book over, re-casting the roles, and it doesn't seem tremendously different or illuminating. (Not to mention that he did something similar in Birdland, fifteen years ago, now...)

What do you think? Did you follow it? Do you understand the ending? Did it remind you of certain films by David Lynch?

Hillary Brown: Yeah, do you mean is it basically the plot of Lost Highway or, I suppose, Mulholland Drive, in that we get the same story told twice, with the same basic group of characters but with each of them taking on a different role in the second version? That's the very first thing that came to my mind. I hadn't really thought about Lynch and Beto as being similar before, but now that it's on my brain, I almost can't think of anything but. I wouldn't say either is among my very favorite artists in his field, but they're also both fascinating. The other thing it made me think of--and this may be a much closer analogy--is Hal Hartley's Flirt, which, for our readers who may not be familiar, plays out the same script (basically) three times in a row, with different characters each time. It's not entirely successful either and for very similar reasons (i.e., it doesn't add up to much), but neither is without interest. There's something to be said for atmosphere, and that's perhaps what I take away from Gilbert's work most of all, even the Palomar stuff, which is far more narrative- and character-driven. What sticks with you and gets all up in your head is the feeling that you're left with, a grasp of late adolescent restlessness and pliability that takes place mostly in the dark. So, did I follow it? I'm not sure I did or that I understand anything about it, let alone the ending, but I did like reading it. It's an abstract experience, and while that tends not to be top of my list when I think about what I want in art, there's something good about being confused from time to time.

CW: Right. That brain-switching/world-switching/oh-no, now-everything's-the-same-except-different thing. It's creepy when Lynch does it; here it's actually a little comforting, since the second version of the story is a little less crazy than the first one. But it's not the kind of thing that can blow your mind more than once. And I like your comparison to Flirt, which was more interesting as an experiment than satisfying as a work of entertainment -- even when compared to other Hartley films, which were always pretty cerebral.

What makes the Palomar stuff more character-driven than this? I think the self-contained nature of Sloth works against it -- for whatever reason, I don't expect these characters to have a life outside of the covers of this book. And the lives they have inside the book are subject to revision, so why get attached to one version?

There are some creators who are able to flourish in long-form works -- Los Bros are two, to which I'd add Alex Robinson, Dash Shaw, Dave Sim... these guys all tap into what a mainstream superhero creator takes for granted: a history and future, a larger context that these stories can fit into and resonate with. Romeo X probably will never meet Luba; he's going to be in that coma forever.

Have you had a look at the latest L&R? Beto's gone heavily into abstraction this time around; it's like if you took Sloth and subtracted everything but the lemons.

HB: I think it's maybe just that the long-form stuff resembles a TV series and the short-form stuff is more like a movie or a novel. There's a lot more room for character growth in the more spread-out medium because there's a lot more room for everything. Sometimes this just ends up being repetition, but with the gifted (those you name, although I'm not really familiar with Sim and I've only read short things by Robinson) it allows for growth and change and variety, as well as perhaps greater realism. Not that realism is a great concern of mine, but I do like unpredictableness, and bigger spaces let it flourish. I have not, sadly, opened the newest L&R yet, despite your being so kind as to lend it to me (too much time spent on laundry, television, and the New Yorker lately), but I'll be interested to see how it goes. I've still only read these dudes in anthologies of their work. I don't know how it is just to read a small work that's part of a larger picture. All of the above sounds a bit like I'd always rather read their longer stuff, and I don't know if that's true. There are times when I would prefer a short, strange book like this. Or maybe it's just the end of October, and it has a vaguely horror movie feel.

CW: So maybe: long-form comics (300 pages or more) are like novels are like seasons of TV shows, stand-alone graphic novels are like short stories are like films, single issues are like poems are like YouTube video clips?

Sloth is elliptical, it doesn't take too long to read, it's a pleasant experience with an obscure-by-design conclusion; the abstraction in the book seems to paper over the gaps in the plot(s). I would have liked it better if it hadn't ended!

HB: And yet I don't know where there is for it go, either. It's compact to some extent necessity. I find myself wondering what Gilbert would do with the other six deadly sins, though.

CW: Maybe he's been working his way through them. Birdland is certainly a meditation on lust; Speak of the Devil might be about wrath. And I think he's dealt with gluttony and envy in some of the L&R material that hasn't been as frequently reprinted as the Palomar stories.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #15

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horrors #15
by many slumming artistes
Bongo Comics 2009

Hillary Brown: Horror indeed. We meant to get this up before Halloween, but in the tradition of "Treehouse of Horror" (the TV version), we're running a bit behind, although not due to the World Series. So here's my big question, prompted by the fact that this is the first Simpsons comic I've ever read: Are they all this crappy? I was kind of looking forward to this thing. I don't buy single issues very often, but the presence of some biggish names (Sammy Harkham, Jeffrey Brown, Ben Jones) piqued my interest, and it seemed seasonal and like it might be entertaining. But it really sucks. Really really really. Anyone who has complaints about the TV show should pick up the comic and see how good the writing for the former still is (and not just by comparison). Some narratives fail slightly less than others, but they all fail. Most of it isn't even vaguely coherent, and the art doesn't make up for much. I want my five dollars back. Am I being a whiny little bitch about this?

Garrett Martin: Not at all. It's about as bad as you say it is. I vaguely remember reading a Simpsons comic years ago, and even more vaguely remember not completely hating it. Even if the comics are normally bad you'd think the Kramers Ergot crowd at least would be able to make something interesting. But yeah, nothing here is all that funny, and most of the art looks kinda half-assed. I have no idea if Kevin Huizenga, for instance, is intentionally going for an uglier, scratchier version of his normally clean Segar-like style, but even if he is it still looks tossed off. That strip, which is written by Matthew Thurber, has a solid premise, with the Simpsons kids as radical teenagers in a post-American dystopia, but somehow it winds up being neither funny or all that memorable. The only story that isn't an almost total miss is Jones' "Boo-tleg". It captures the spirit of the show, and although the art could stand to be a bit more unique, at least it's not rushed or ugly.

HB: Well, yeah. That's where I was going next. I mean, Jared's point, which I think is valid, is that the rest of the book is so half-assed and (possibly) unintentionally surreal that it mutes the impact of Jones's story. And not that that story is so great, but I don't know if you're familiar with Paper Rad's aesthetic at all. It's very much about the deliberately sloppy and ugly, whatever will hurt both your eyes and your brain the most simultaneously. I started out really hating that story too, but by the end (and it is long), it kind of won me over with its extreme horribleness and nonsense. I mean, part of the point of the Treehouse episodes is that they can break completely with what's normally the case on the show--things can change and go off the rails--but a lot of these stories maybe take that too far. What's the point of Milhouse accidentally killing a bunch of people and living in the walls of his home, which then becomes the Simpsons' home? And where does this take place in continuity? It's clearly after his mom and dad split up, but the house appears identical to the Simpsons' Evergreen Terrace dwelling. Is this my fanboy moment? I'm off to look up other reviews of this thing to see how it was received.

GM: People seem to really like this comic. I don't know if that makes us dumb or if people just slap a minimum four stars on anything Ergot-related.

I had the same "wait, what?" continuity moment when Ralph Wiggum mistook the Moleman CHUD for his departed mom. Is Mrs. Wiggum dead on the show?

What's most surprising is how this line-up of idiosyncratic art comic dudes mostly failed to create anything that resembles The Simpsons or their own styles. Proof enough right there that they took less pride and care in creating this comic than the comics blogosphere did in praising it.

HB: Uh, no she's not dead! There are numerous examples of this kind of ridiculous sloppiness in the comic, and I guess people have Harkham stars in their eyes. I have to say: this makes me way, way less likely to buy a copy of Kramer's Ergot without reading the whole thing in advance. Which presumably is not what they were going for (dissuading me from buying the nice, expensive thing that has a great reputation). People are being a bunch of dumbasses. In some ways, I want to encourage our five readers to go out and buy this book, so they can see how right we are, but really what they should do is try to steal it on the Internet, so they only have to waste time and not money or muscle energy. This is among the very worst things we have ever written about.

GM: Man, you really hate this comic! I don't like it, but I assume it's not particularly indicative of any of these artists' normal work. I hope Kevin Huizenga's strip doesn't keep you from reading Curses or Ganges, which are both fantastic. And I probably like Jeffrey Brown's thing here more than I did Little Things, although that's like picking between migraines. We should do an Ergot next, actually, just to see how different the quality level is. It has to be sizable.

HB: Well, the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. Maybe I'll borrow a copy of Ergot instead of buying it. That'll show 'em!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign

Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign
by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rodney Buchemi, Ryan Stegman, and Dietrich Smith
Marvel 2009

Hillary takes a break this time as Paul DeBenedetto and I live down to almost every fanboy stereotype. You can check out the first of our guest appearances here.

Garrett Martin: My interest in monthly superhero comics has flagged tremendously the last few months. Homeownership hates hobbies. My pull list is down to ten comics, and I’m at least one issue behind on all of them, except Incredible Hercules. It doesn’t get me into the shop on a Wednesday anymore, but it is the first thing I read whenever I do empty out that folder with my name on it. This is Marvel’s best monthly book, and that’s been true almost since it began. It’ll probably only get truer now that Agents of Atlas is being added as a back-up. Hercules is pretty much everything I look for in a superhero comic: it’s funny but epic, acknowledges the past while creating something new, and weaves mandatory references to characters and stories from other comics into its own story without disrupting or unsettling anything. Most important though is the relationship between Hercules and Amadeus Cho. I called it “oddly poignant” in my best of 2008 post, adding that it’s “one of the most believable depictions of male camaraderie” from a mainstream superhero comic. 2009’s made my brilliant observations even more spot-on. Herc and Amadeus have a classic Marvel friendship in the vein of generic kung fu guy and charmingly racist stereotype, or obvious gender-reversed copyright squatter and random X-Man shoehorned onto another team in order to keep his profile high enough for that guy from Frasier to one day play him in a shitty movie. In twenty years unhygienic old fans with big beards and bad breath will bore younger readers with stories of how great this friendship was. Or at least they would if anybody younger than 50 were still reading superhero comics in 2029.

Anyway, Incredible Hercules is awesome, and I’m glad you’ve started to read it. The particular issues in question today tie in to a story I have no interest in, the big Dark Reign crossover, wherein a character that died before I was born has somehow returned as a three-for-one rip-off of Nick Fury, Tony Stark, and Jafar. But like I astutely noted above, instead of being thrown off-balance by the interruption, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente seamlessly connect Osborn and his dull Avengers to the overriding story they’ve been building for months. It helps to have Ares on Osborn’s team, of course, and to have a millennia-old heavy in Hera to go nose-to-widow’s-peak with Osborn. It just works.

This is your first time reading Hercules, right? What did you think? And what took you so long?

Paul DeBenedetto: To answer your last question: ignorance? Stupidity? I have no idea. I remember hating World War Hulk, and Incredible Herc seemed like such a dumb, temporary move that I dismissed it altogether. Then one Wednesday, during a slow week, I randomly decided to pick it up because I needed new material to review. After finishing it I was floored; I mean, you're right, how could I have slept on this series for so long?

On another note, I share your feelings on Dark Reign. It's thus far been a poor idea executed poorly, and the company-wide banner makes it so that even Matt Fraction can't write a book I give a shit about these days. But Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak apparently can, and as much as I loathe the fact that they were forced to play into this "OH NO THE BAD GUYS WON NOW WHAT" nonsense, they've done it with such grace, humor, and emotional subtlety that it's almost unfair to put it on the shelf next to other, "lesser" creative teams.

To start let me just say I love Amadeus Cho. I honestly think he's the best new character to come out of either of the Big Two since DC added VIBE to the Justice League (just kidding kids, but look that one up.) The two writers have such a grasp on what makes him tick, what makes him work for the general public, that I'm sure someone else will take over and ruin him eventually but for now I could read stories about him and him alone. Come on-- the little guy who overcomes corrupt authority by using nothing but his own ingenuity? That story's worked since before the beginning of time, and Pak knew it when he invented the character. Of course it doesn't hurt that they pair him brilliantly with Hercules in a buddy comedy. They're complete opposites, as all the best "buddies" are in the movies and on TV, and there's the right amount of sentimentality there that makes you pull for them every step of the way. I mean, this is definitely a book with a lot of heart.

It takes two issues before actually getting into "Dark Reign": the first issue is a tale of Herc's past and the other, Cho's quest for his missing pet. The former establishes the Greek hero's personality as an impulsive, somewhat foolish, though ultimately brave warrior; the latter paints a picture of Cho as a genius and loyal friend, though ultimately alone. Some might consider these filler but for someone relatively unfamiliar with the characters and the story it helps as an introduction. I'm curious though: as a somewhat regular reader did it feel like throwaway material?

GM: Not at all, especially the Cho backup. The fate of Kirby, his coyote pup, had been teased for months, since it was revealed he'd been replaced by a Skrull. That story is vital and remains one of the book's emotional high-points, at least for dog-loving suckers like me. It's not exactly subtle or original to have the loss of a pet mark a character's maturation, but like you say about David and Goliath stories, it's worked forever. That backup also foreshadows an important development at the end of this storyline, when Amadeus seems to make peace with the fate of his family. Of course that gets chucked out the window by a surprising development we won't spoil her, but that leads directly into the current storyline, which you hopefully are reading. Also I'm always glad to see Tak Miyazawa's art. They should just reboot Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane now that McKeever's no longer DC-exclusive. Or maybe it's time for Spidey and the Black Cat: Just Fuckin' Around?

There was also nothing throwaway about the Hercules story in that issue. That combination of mythology and superheroics is one of the many things this book does well. This particular story doesn't just reveal a bit of Herc's backstory or establish some of his more obvious traits, it also emphasizes his liminality between Godhood and humanity while reinforcing the family dynamic that plays a large part in the following Dark Reign storyline. He also punches a lotta dudes really damn hard.

What was your impression of Hercules before reading his book? Had you ever cared about the character before? Ever read The Avengers back when he was a regular? Also, have any other Marvel creators written Osborn half as entertainingly as Pak and Van Lente?

PB: I had absolutely no impression of Hercules. He was a character I didn't care to learn more about, and never had any desire to read about. I didn't even care much for any of the main Avengers: Cap, Iron Man, Thor; they were all terribly boring to me when I was younger. Why would I want to read about the third string? I think that was another thing that bothered me about the move from Hulk to Herc; why do it? The Hulk book itself appeared to be doing well, and then seemingly out of nowhere they replace it with Hercules and a book written by Jeph Loeb? Bah! Of course, I later learned that Hulk was going to be cancelled anyway, and that Pak and Van Lente actually pitched this unorthodox idea with that in mind, but at the time it was a head scratcher, and I don't make enough money to go buying every book on the shelf. But I'll be honest, after reading Incredible Hercules I've become much, much more open-minded in my comics choices. It really speaks volumes for Marvel's current crop of writers that now each of those books featuring the characters I mentioned above has become as compelling as any other on the rack, and none more so than Herc.

As for one of this story's main antagonists: the only person who has come close to making Norman Osborn this enjoyable was Joe Casey in Dark Reign: Zodiac, and even that was only because he was made to look like a dick, who loses at the end. Brilliant! Seriously, there are a lot of reasons why it's a horrible decision to make Norman Osborn the big bad, not the least of which was brought up by Tom Spurgeon over at the Comics Reporter, but when you work in a shared universe sometimes you have to toe the line. Nonetheless, Pak and Van Lente do a great job, and I think it has everything to do with their complete disregard of Osborn's position. He may be in charge of the largest military espionage force on the planet but that's small potatoes to a god-- as Hera says, he stands atop "the tallest dung heap." Admittedly, even when he is being written with some bravado they find a way to make it work. That line as he busts into the fight between Herc and Hera (he refers to it as "Greek organized crime) is priceless. Regardless the gods seem, at most, merely annoyed by the Avengers' involvement in the matter: Pluto's comment when Daken stabs him-- "You really don't know who I am, do you?"-- was a laugh out loud moment for me, and a hilarious sound effect let us know that Hercules simply tosses the Sentry "n-tu-DA SUNNN!"

Ah, yes! Those sound effects! Such a clever way to revitalize a silly concept: rather than always using random nonsense words the creators have decided to use the "sounds" as part of the narrative. I think "nu-KRAK" as Herc gives the Sentry a shot in the marbles is my favorite, but I watched a lot of America's Funniest Home Videos growing up. I wonder, is that a technique that's been done before? It seems fresh but it must have come from somewhere.

I don't want to jump ahead since I know we've only discussed the Avengers stuff, but how do you think Dietrich Smith's art matches up with Ryan Stegman in the next part of the story? I think it's the one complaint I might have about issues 127 through 129; sometimes it looks a little awkward to me. Do you agree? Am I just looking for something negative in an otherwise great read?

GM: There’s been some great art on Hercules (I’m digging both ends of the currently alternating team of Reilly Brown and Rodney Buchemi), but it is the easiest area to criticize. Smith and Stegman are both capable of the occasional glaring panel, with jarring transitions or action that’s hard to parse. Smith’s pretty good at facial expressions, though, and that’s vital to a book like Hercules.

And yes, the sound effects are fantastic. I’m sure this gag has been done before, probably in a hundred different comics, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Pak and Van Lente are officially the best creators of sound effects since Walt Simonson. I know there was a recent book where the sound effects spelled out editors’ names, but that might’ve been written by Pak, too. Maybe Jeff Parker? Anyway, they’re great, I love ‘em, and it’s a much better revival of a beloved and deeply missed comic convention than Bendis’s half-assed thought-bubbles.

I can understand not having interest in Hercules. I’ve always loved him, but if you didn’t read the Avengers back in the day you probably wouldn’t realize how enjoyable the character is. But man, are you really saying that Cap, Iron Man, and Thor seemed third string to you when you were a kid? I read X-Men for a time, and loved Spider-Man, but the Avengers titles were always my favorite. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, the family of Avengers titles, and more peripheral stuff like Dr. Strange and Daredevil composed the true, central Marvel Universe to me, that entire NYC-centric territory in which heroes and villains regularly popped up in different series, not necessarily crossing over in an official manner but still acknowledging each other’s existence. The X-titles always felt a little distant, removed, like their own perplexing and overly grim little pocket universe. I read Uncanny for a few years, but it never hooked me like Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America or Roger Stern’s West Coast Avengers. But then I was also a big fan of history and learning, read the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe semi-religiously, and had an innate respect for old-ass shit. I guess I developed a bias towards classic ‘60’s Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters almost as soon as I got into comics. That’s probably why I liked the original X-Factor more than Uncanny X-Men when I was ten.

PB: I wasn't being clear enough: what I meant was, I was never even interested in Cap, Iron Man, and Thor, so why would I care about Hercules, who to me seemed like third string Avenger.

GM: Okay, makes more sense! I'd be more charitable and say he's second-string, about the same level as other Avengers lifers like Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, etc.

I'm pretty sure I've turned this into the most fanboyish Shazhmm post yet.

So are you reading Hercules regularly now?

PB: We don't have Hilary's grounding influence! Our conversation is eventually going to devolve into "who would win in a fight?" arguments.

I am definitely reading Hercules regularly, and now that I bought this collection I'm even trying to catch up on some of the stuff I missed. Like you touched on earlier, there's a lot of stuff toward the end about Amadeus Cho's family that I wish resonated more with me. In fact that might be my only complaint besides some of the art: even for a Marvel comic some of this is way too referential. I thought the idea of a casino "limbo" was a funny idea but without knowing who some of those characters were would that scene work? I know that was just a small scene, maybe a little wink to longtime readers-- but what about the climax of the story? Hercules' battle in Hades didn't really mean much to me beyond a smartly written fight scene, and frankly that's all I need, but for a lot of other readers this might prove alienating: why do I care? I don't know that Pak and Van Lente sufficiently answered that question.

That turned out more damning than I intended. Let me just reiterate that I love this book, and I think the kind of people who need everything to be pointed out to them about characters that are over sixty years old are so-- I mean come on, guy, you're never going to catch up! Read a fucking Wikipedia entry! It's 2009! But, you know, that's part of your audience, and they need the Geoff Johns approach. They need every story to start with a caption that says "MY NAME IS HERCULES" and then have him explain his backstory every issue. And if you are going to get obscure you better damn sure fool me into believing it's the most important thing to ever happen to comics, ever.

That's why it's surprising that Amadeus Cho, and this book in general, sells. All the creative team is doing is putting out fun, well written comics, and history has shown that this formula is counter-intuitive to what works: hero porn like Flash: Rebirth and overcomplicated event comics like Blackest Night seem to rule the charts. But here's Herc, chuggin right along for like thirty issues with no signs of stopping. It's somewhat inspiring.

GM: I agree that superhero comics can be too damn self-referential (and reverential) these days, but that's not really happening with Hercules. All you need to know in the limbo scene is that those characters are almost totally dead. It's not like the plot itself hinges upon recognition or intimate knowledge of any of these characters, which is often a problem with Johns' work. It's not even important to realize that it's also a clever explanation of the laughably impermanent condition of death in superhero comics. Your enjoyment might be enhanced by picking up on these points, but your comprehension's unaffected either way. Also it's nice to see pointlessly discarded characters like Puck and the Wasp again. Not to go off on another fanboy tangent, but what the hell do the guys in charge there have against the Wasp?

Also, I have a problem with the common argument that superhero comics are too confusing for new readers. I do think that's true a lot of the time, but less because writers reference old storylines too often than because the industry has largely jettisoned the tools traditionally used to educate newer readers. Footnotes, recap pages, and letter columns helped new readers catch up for decades. I'm sure the first superhero comic you ever read confused you as much as it did me, but that only increased the excitement of discovering this weird new world full of fantastical bullshit. Hercules uses footnoes, though, and has one of the best recap pages in the business. It's not a confounding chunk of continuity porn. But then I'm a long-time comic fan who spent most of elementary and middle school memorizing the Marvel Handbook, so maybe my outlook is skewed.

Anyway! Yeah, Incredible Hercules, you're pretty damn great. Thanks! And thank you, too, Paul, for making time for our silly site.

PB: And thanks to you and Hilary for allowing me to sully up an otherwise legitimately enjoyable blog!

Paul DeBenedetto writes about comics at Wednesday's Child and about music at AVERSE.