Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

An excellent assortment of comic book-inspired political cartoons and images can be found here: Highly recommended.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Witch's Roots: The Blair Witch Project comic book

Scary movies are a rich Halloween tradition. This month, Saw V, Quarantine, and The Haunting of Molly Hartley all promise to make this all hallows eve absolutely horrible, in the best possible way, of course. I developed an appreciation of "the scary movie" as legitimate cinematic art in the summer of 1999 with The Blair Witch Project, and although it wasn't released around Halloween, it harkened shades of the holiday with its infamous tagline: "In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary . . . A year later their footage was found." Had Heather, Josh, and Mike been lost in, say, March, would the supernatural circumstances of their wayward camping trip be as creepy?

Boy, remember the hoopla that ensued around the Blair Witch phenomenon? The Sci-Fi Channel aired that pseudo-documentary so many times, even the witch herself would've preferred a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond on TBS. Computer games and a series of junior novels perpetrated the film's mythology for a younger audience, and while its sequel is arguably one of the worst movies ever made, it sustained the franchise for another year and incited another round of handycam-oriented satire. I didn't know until recently that Oni had published a supplemental one-shot, exploring the haunted history of Blair Witch's Burkittsville, so when I found this issue in a 25-cent bin a few months ago, I decided to save it as a Halloween read. Here's my tagline:

"In October of 2008 one comic book blogger disappeared into a comic book about Burkittsville, Maryland, while writing a review . . . A few minutes later his review was posted."

Okay, so my tag isn't as ominous, but it gets the point across, no? Just as the original film used supposedly real footage from those three ill-fated college students, this Oni issue perpetrates the Blair Witch mythology by claiming ties to an independent comic book, called Witch Wood Said, by Maryland's resident nut Cece Malvey, which editor-in-chief Jamie Rich discovered at the Alternative Press Expo. While that concept is interesting enough, writer Jen Van Meter reveals that her grandmother's maiden name is Blair, making her the perfect candidate to adapt the amateurish Witch Wood Said into a mainstream comic. So, just inside the front cover, readers are thrust into a world where witchcraft may be real, and where comic books are the perfect place to purge one's demons. The three short stories therein would almost be inconsequential, then, if they weren't so darn well drawn. Tommy Lee Edwards' photo realistic illustration (best known from Marvel's Earth X), Guy Davis' expressive detail, and Bernie Mireault's cartoony surrealism balance these stories of a haunted colonial New England perfectly. Just as the handycam was the best way to tell the movie's shocking story, these artists were the best picks for their respective contributions, fleshing out the Blair Witch lore with appropriate reverence.

Plenty of people see scary movies around Halloweentime. Unlike those three poor kids in the woods of Burkittsville, the trick is to survive this hallowed holiday without starring in one. Good luck.

The Blair Witch Project comic book was published in September 1999 by Oni Press.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sucking the Life Out of Halloween: Vampirella 2006 Halloween Special

Christmas gets a proverbial twelve days of anticipation and celebration, teeming with carols and gift-giving and office parties, and Easter gets forty days of reflection and introspection with Lent, but what of Halloween? Sure, we spend weeks decorating, brainstorming costumes, watching scary movies, and buying candy, but this isn’t an official calendar countdown. Further, the real festivity is reserved for just a few fleeting nighttime hours, and just as quickly as it comes, it goes. Boycotted by churches and quickly usurped by Christmas, Halloween always gets the short end of the stick . . . but not here at A Comic A Day! Longtime readers know I love Halloween, so this week I’m dedicated to heralding its arrival with a series of holiday-related comic book reviews. Take that, birth of Christ!*

In fact, I picked up Vampirella 2006 Halloween Special several months ago at the Frank & Sons Collectibles Show anticipating this very week, and since I’ve never read a Vampirella story before, what better time than around a holiday that practically celebrates blood sucking? Phil Hester’s credit on the cover certainly sealed the deal, and although he doesn’t illustrate the issue, he is more than capable of writing a suspenseful story with its own peculiar twist. For Halloween, he went for less Big Pumpkin and more Dear Penthouse, with a tale so thick with sexual tension that the terms “trick” and “treat” began to take on a whole new meaning. Of course, when the title character fights crime in a costume made of glorified dental floss, what should I expect? Seriously, Vampirella makes Elvira look like the Warrior Nun -- well, that’s not saying much, either, but you know what I mean.

In this issue, Vampirella befriends a Las Vegas tattoo artist, whose violent past comes back to haunt him thanks to our heroine’s supernatural sense of rough justice, but not before she passes the time under the needle recounting her origin. While longtime Vampirella fans could’ve easily flipped past these two pages, I found the concise flashback, and despite this issue’s roots in Halloween, I certainly won’t be afraid to pick up a future issue starring this demonic damsel . . . even if artist Stephen Segovia’s liberal use of butt cleavage is the norm for Vampirella stories. Since she spent half of this issue under a towel in a tattoo shop, I’m sure Segovia didn’t have much of a choice anyway, but like many readers I can’t imagine that he really complained about it.

Whether or not Halloween ever warrants an official pre-game countdown, aside from ABC Family’s scary movie marathon, Phil Hester uses Vampirella to remind us that, like a tattoo, this hallowed holiday is here to stay. Considering that children and adults alike seize the opportunity to dress up like their favorite superheroes and sci-fi characters, it’s no wonder Halloween has always had a friend in comics.

Vampirella 2006 Halloween Special was published by Harris Comics, written by Phil Hester, illustrated by Stephen Segovia, colored by Jay David Ramos, and lettered by Ed Dukeshire.

*Actually, I already have a fun bunch of Christmas-themed comics to read in December, too . . . Dang, Halloween just can’t win.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

All Good Things: Happy Endings & The Comic Bookie in Claremont, CA

For almost as long as I've known comic books are sold in their own specialty stores, I've known that said stores are a struggling business at best. The first shop my friends and I rode our bikes to in Glendale, Arizona changed its name so soon after we discovered it that I don't even remember what its original name was, and since it moved to another location right around the time my pals were driving, we opted for the more commercially viable Atomic Comics in Phoenix. When I moved to Fullerton, California, I was grateful to find a comics shop right here in town -- 21st Century Comics, which, in the five years I shopped there, moved locations four times, changed management twice, and eventually closed its doors for good. As I've mentioned before, now I opt for Comics, Toons, 'N Toys in Tustin, which recently expanded by purchasing the neighboring space in its strip mall, so I assume business is stable enough to guarantee my patronage for at least a few more years to come.

While the closing of a comic book is tragic for its loyal customers, it can be serendipitous for manic collectors. My collection must have doubled some years ago when a shop closed in Placentia, California, and toward the end of the store's going-out-of-business sale, back issues were a mere dime each. I easily collected the entire Giffin/DeMatties run on Justice League International, and I found the entire Jemm, Son of Saturn miniseries for my buddy Booth. So, when I read that the Comic Bookie in Claremont was having a similar sale, I dragged my girlfriend along for the ride this past Saturday, the soonest day I could get there and coincidentally the date of the shop's last Guest Dealer Event. A similar event is what brought me to the Comic Bookie for the first time last year, when I signed up for the mailing list that eventually informed me of its demise, so my visit was somewhat poetic in its cyclical nature. A tragic poem, it seemed, as I overheard faithful customers bid farewell to Chris, their resident comic book guy. The deals I scored were almost overshadowed by the reality of it all . . . almost.

More about the books in a bit. First, I should explain that any sense of tragedy about the Comic Bookie's closing was quickly averted by Chris's positive attitude, as he explained to new and longtime customers alike that he hoped to host mini-comic cons and retailer shows in downtown Claremont, which, as the home for several private colleges or universities, must foster an artsy community that would embrace such a thing. While on the surface Chris's plan may seem like another attempt to move inventory, the key was his tone -- one that reflected a determination to get comics into the hands of readers by whatever means necessary. Sure, the guy's a business man with profit on his mind, but the guy has a reputation for renting space in his own back room for guest retailers for an extremely reasonable $20 fee. One retailer made his money back from me alone, so I can only imagine what they pull in over the course of a whole day. The implication of Chris's behavior should be embraced by "comic book guys" all over the country; in this economy, competition isn't nearly as valuable to a business plan as networking is, as sharing resources (and thus clientele) is. And I'll stop there before the McCain camp accuses me of being a socialist.

So, I spent about $40 between the 50 cent bins, the 50% off recent back issue bins, and the 30% off graphic novels, and while I'm usually about quantity at sales like this, I was more interested in quality art and storytelling this time around, and I think I found that in such scattered back issues of Spider-man's Tangled Web and Tom Strong, and in long-awaited finds like Scott Morse's LittleGreyMan and all five issues of Dr. Strange: Oath. How fitting, though, that I was most excited to find Dark Horse's 2002 anthology Happy Endings, while the Comic Bookie was celebrating its. Even without the 30% discount, the 96-page collection is a steal for its original $9.95, featuring the works of funnybook bigshots like Frank Miller, Sam Keith, and Brian Michael Bendis, and I was stoked to find contributions by personal favorites like Farel Dalrymple, Jim Mahfood, and James Kochalka, too. Generally speaking, all of the stories are well illustrated and thought-provoking, and though some shine more than others, I was excited to sample works from Peter Kuper, Tony Millionaire, and Harvey Pekar, all beloved authors or artists that I haven't read enough. Anthologies can do that, and in fact Happy Endings was very much the beginning of something I hope to pursue with these talented contributors' other works . . .

Also, since Flight and Popgun have made anthologies all the rage lately, I've been interested in what artists will create for loosely themed compilations like Happy Endings. Editor Diana Schutz explains in her addendum that the artists were simply told to pen a tale that incorporated a "happy ending" idea, a coveted idea in that just post-9/11 world, yet the stories obviously didn't even have to end with one. I expected a short story about the massage parlor happy ending phenomenon, since that's what most would think of when they hear the phrase (oh, don't tell me it's just me), but the closest we get is a single panel gag in Miller's story starring a gun-wielding hooker -- surprise, surprise. Several of the stories tackled autobiographical material, like Bendis's San Diego Comic Con yarn or the more weighty tale of African tribalism by Kuper. Others examined the complexities of childhood fantasy and frustration, from Dalrymple's token surrealism, to Craig Thompson's tale of two children growing up in a slaughterhouse-oriented barn, to Leland Myrick's poetic reminiscence about family. Still other artists tapped into previously established characters and simply did what they do best, from Sam Keith's musings on his career via Maxx villain Mr. Gone to Mahfood's Grrl Scouts joint. Mignola's contribution won the 2003 Eisner award for best short story, and rightfully so, with its poignant visuals and childlike fantasy. Bottom line -- the Miller/Varley cover says it all, featuring a pistol-packing midget. Despite Happy Endings' compact size, don't doubt its ability to pack a punch. And you wouldn't even see it coming from such a flighty title (pun intended)!

And we obviously haven't seen the last of the Comic Bookie, if its customer base has anything to say about it. Apparently Chris will maintain his occasional e-mail newsletter to let us know when his dreams of monthly cons become a reality . . . because they obviously will. In the face of possible defeat and bitterness, this bookie's positive attitude proves you can bet on that.

Happy Endings was published by Dark Horse Comics in September, 2002.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hulk is Halloween Smash! (or, How the Superheroes Stole Halloween)

As I've often referenced (but haven't exploited . . . yet), my day job involves working with kids in an after school program (well, I do blog about it sometimes), and at the end of every week in October, my site has hosted Freaky Film Fridays to celebrate and countdown to Halloween. We've shown The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, but this week we're straying from the Tim Burton catalog and showing the recently released to DVD The Incredible Hulk. Now, some may say that I'm using these cinematic events to inflict my fanboyish lifestyle onto these children, some of whom (gasp) may not like superheroes, but I dare say that The Incredible Hulk is the perfect Halloween flick, and that its release the week before everybody's favorite hallowed holiday is indicative of an entire year influenced by comics!

First of all, the Hulk is a monster, not unlike the classic movie monsters that have come to define Halloween decor for decades. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf-Man were all silver screen screamfests before they became 99 Cent Store cardboard cutouts, and, in his own way, the Hulk's popularity is a direct result of that Universal monsters motif. Even ol' Jade Jaws' most definitive character traits are akin to these freaky forefathers; from Dracula's nocturnal nature (the gray Hulk only came out at night, remember?) to the Frankenstein monster's conflicts with humanity, from the Mummy's mysterious strength to the Wolf-man's dueling duality. Stan Lee has cited Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as inspiration for his gamma-radiated anti-hero, but if Thunderbolt Ross didn't have such easy access to a military arsenal, he'd just as easily wave a lighted torch in the Hulk's face. And I think the end result would be the same.

Of course, the Hulk isn't the bad guy, and more so than his strength, his reflection of humanity's anger unleashed is the most frightening aspect of his story. Fortunately, Edward Norton's Hulk quells this fear by focusing his rage, the closest thing to a happy ending Mr. Purple Pants can ever have. No, it's the Abomination that should make geeks' girlfriends clutch their beaus' arms tighter, and now more so than his unleashed anger, the Emil Blonsky's alter ego epitomizes the way to go for future conflicts in comic book movies. Consider the most commercially successful bad guys of the past year: Venom, the Iron Monger in Iron Man, and the Joker in The Dark Knight. All of these villains are proverbial bizarros* for their respective heroes, dark reflections of the heroes' id. (Dr. Doom would fall under this category, too, but I said "commercially successful.") While the Joker's new-found influence is attributed to Ledger's unexpectedly intense performance and unfortunately tragic death, his depiction as an agent of chaos rather than a mutated mobster or mere "clown prince" is in stark contrast to Batman's need for order and justice. What's worse, Alan Moore's adage from The Killing Joke still holds true: there could go I, in the face of one bad day. Good thing this is the stuff of fiction. And by that I mean the idea of a geek having a girlfriend, of course.

A co-worker and I making fools of ourselves for the kids this summer, in homemade gear, before the Clown Prince of Crime and ol' Jade Jaws were coveted costumes! It took weeks for that paint to come off.

Finally, as I've said before, this summer was the summer to be a geek, with the likes of Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Speed Racer, the Hulk, Batman, and Agents Mulder and Scully all finding their way to the box office, and that's not to mention Wanted and the flicks I chose not to see! The second best thing to a summer's worth of releases like that is the month they all finally come to video/DVD/Blu-ray, which in this case is also the month kids of all ages can actually dress up like their favorite characters with little fear of consequence. Is it no surprise that Ledger's Joker is the most popular Halloween costume for boys this year, with Iron Man, Batman, and Dr. Jones also making the list? Interestingly, this phenomenon also speaks of the importance of an actor's likeness in a role, a possible backlash to the recent Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle debacle, in the unlikely event that some kids out there wanted to trick or treat as Jim Rhodes . . . "This is a trick or treating exercise," they could say.

A recent visit to Hot Topic reveals how cool it is to dress up like a superhero. Spidey's mask, Iron Man's helmet, Wolverine's claws, and . . . wait! Pause the DVD! Is that Cap's shield? How did they sneak that in there?

Bottom line? Superheroes aren't the stuff of pop culture background noise anymore. When I was a kid (I know, here we go), Superman and Spider-man costumes were simply the norm, not necessarily tied to the Christopher Reeve films of Saturday morning cartoons. They were simply always available. (However, don't get me started on the year my younger brother opted for Bravestarr's horse. He's still trying to live that down.) Now, Spidey, Iron Man, the Hulk, and their arch-nemeses are front and center. Even if I was showing The Incredible Hulk with some ulterior motive, in some feeble attempt to "fanboy-ize" the children in my after school program so I can write off action figure purchases as "youth development research" or something . . . my old heroes don't need my help. Today's kids know and love them either way. It's when they start schooling me in comic book canon, with questions like, "Why wasn't Rick Jones in the Hulk movie? Wasn't Bruce Banner saving him from a bomb?" Now, that's scary.

My Halloween costume, circa 1984.

*This trend proves that the next Superman flick should stray from the tired old Lex Luthor conflict and give us a slugfest with the original bizarro . . . Bizarro! Think about it, Hollywood! Pay one actor to play the good guy and the bad guy! Huh? Sigh, they never call me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hollywood’s War Machine: Cheadle Replaces Howard for Iron Man 2

Reports that Terrence Howard didn’t know Don Cheadle was slated to replace him in Iron Man 2 has made mainstream news now, at least here in Los Angeles, of course, which means a rebuttal statement about the flexibility in his contract is sure to follow from the studios. Internet rumors aren’t always enough for studios to warrant a statement, but it’s really my fellow fans’ opinions I’ve been thinking about. Was Howard’s role in the film significant enough for fans to issue a backlash?

One of the critical surprises of Iron Man’s success was the actors’ performances, and Howard’s is no exception. His line, “Next time, baby,” was one of the best teasers and fan pleasers in the film! Now, Hollywood has twisted that line and proven him wrong -- “Next time, yes, but not for you, buddy!” Obviously, Colonel Jim Rhodes will play a larger role in Iron Man 2, at least enough to garner an A-lister like Cheadle for the part. Well, for the record, I for one am a little disappointed in the transition. When a studio is so quick to change up its cast in the shadow of success with hopes for something even greater, I wonder what else it would sacrifice from the film’s previous incarnation. Before you know it, Iron Man is fighting a big mechanical spider . . . sigh, with no mention of Alistair Smythe, okay, fellow Marvelites? You know what I mean! Though, speaking of Spider-man, where does the actress that played Betty Brant get off saying that her return in Spider-man 4 would be a favor? In these hard economic times, I’d take any work I can get! Ah, so that’s the real tragedy of Terrence Howard’s situation. He’s been outsourced! Looks like Stark Industries still hasn’t learned its lesson.

The question is, is there a lesson for Hollywood here? Changing actors for a supporting character like The Dark Knight’s Rachel Dawes, destined for death anyway, is inconsequential to the fabric of a comic-to-film’s franchise, but when Howard was cast, fans could already project him as War Machine, a rather important character to the big picture of Marvel’s new tightly inclusive cinematic universe. I mean, who hasn’t predicted a possible end to the highly anticipated Avengers film involving a jealous War Machine setting up shop with a similar set of heroes on the west coast? With everything still in development, these thoughts and questions are mostly rhetorical fanboy drivel. Nevertheless, contrary to what Iron Man would want . . . I’m up in arms.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Microwaves Are Just Too Slow

My girlfriend surprised me with this shirt from You want to talk about a final crisis? Not getting a Hungry Man warmed up in time for The Simpsons. Can't miss that couch gag!


'Nuff said!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Shirt Off My Back: The "Green Goblin Bending Over for Spider-man?” Tee

Living in Southern California, I haven’t had much trouble encountering a comic a day, or at least the influence of comic books on popular culture. Last month, at the Los Angeles County Fair, I took my picture with the incredible Hulk and his Hollywood alter ego Lou Ferrigno -- okay, they’re cardboard props, but of all the celebrities and fictional characters to feature in a homage to Hollywood? Other superstars should be green with envy.

Notice the shirt I was wearing, featuring an image of a beaten Green Goblin and an amazingly enraged Spider-man. (I think this image originally appeared in the Amazing Spider-man issue following Gwen Stacy’s death, if anyone wants to confirm . . .?) I wore this shirt a few weeks later at another Los Angeles event, specifically the West Hollywood Book Fair, where I was taken by a hilarious caricature of the Golden Girls on a T-shirt at the Prism Comics booth. The WeHo Book Fair features a whole comics pavilion, where I picked up Axiom’s Fat Boy & Harvey and Mike Wellman's Mac Afro in previous years, and that featured Len Wein and Ray Bradbury this year -- so it’s the real deal, a genuine comics culture happening. But I digress . . .

So I was taken by this awesome caricature of the Golden Girls, which stands as one of my top five favorite sitcoms of all time. (That’s a list for another blog, I think.) I asked the gentlemen working the booth if they had the image on a free promotional card, and they were kind enough to give me a whole calendar full of work by artist Glen Hanson, featuring similar cartoons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was grateful for the offering, and still am, but what stands out from the brief exchange is their reasoning for the gift. Handing me the calendar, the guy says to me, he says, “Anything for someone wearing a shirt with Green Goblin bending over for Spider-man!” Uhm. Thanks?

If you haven’t considered the context clues, this fair is in West Hollywood. Prism Comics, boasting a Golden Girls T-shirt . . .? Yes, Prism Comics is a gay-oriented publication group. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But to liken that visual excerpt of Spidey and the Goblin to something homosexual . . . well, that strikes me as queer, in the classical sense. Old, campy comics are often susceptible to perverted misinterpretation, right up until the mid-‘80s, thanks to VH1’s I Love the ‘80s analysis of Prince Adam’s purple pants and man-on-Beastman wrestle fests. John Lustig has made a career of it with his on-line Last Kiss. Still, when the image is on my chest, I must object to the unnecessary sexualization of my favorite superheroes, gay or straight.

This might sound immature, but comics have enough sexual inadequacy that we don’t have to project our own issues into these, well, issues. Consider Spidey’s current “One More Day” storyline, the result of an editorial decision to undo a married Spider-man and make him more empathetic to a younger audience. (Mark Waid and some other writers had a similar idea for Superman several years ago.) A recent installment of Comic Book Resources’ “Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed” tells the story of a defunct issue of The New Mutants starring a suicidal gay mutant teenager. Avid comic book fans know, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but these two examples, while different in context, both essentially denounce our heroes’ sexuality -- because an unmarried Supes or Spidey inadvertently reverts them to the bumbling dorks of yesteryear, Clark Kent in an impossible pursuit of the Big-S smitten Lois Lane, and Peter Parker blushing over his crush of the month. For Anole in The New Mutants, ignoring the consequences of his homosexuality may have saved his life, but the avoidance of the issue may have cost a gay comic fan a few more years of confusion and grief. Are either of these archetypes what we really want young men relate to?

The result of this censorship is what I experienced at the book fair: “Anything for someone wearing a shirt with Green Goblin bending over for Spider-man!” Misplaced sexuality. As long as our favorite heroes aren’t allowed to mature with their readership -- sometimes getting married, sometimes getting divorced, sometimes facing social prejudice, sometimes living happily ever after -- they’ll never be able to say more to their potential love interests than what the Golden Girls proverbially said to each other every week: “Thank you for being a friend.” I’m sure Spidey would bend over backwards, or give the shirt off his back, for something more substantial than that.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Considering All the Data: Brent Spiner at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention

Brent Spiner is appearing at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention tomorrow. Around this time last year, I met Wil Wheaton at Meltdown Comics, so the prospect of meeting and getting my picture taken with another Star Trek: The Next Generation cast member, and possibly continuing a mission to encounter all eight of the Enterprise-D's bridge crew*, is overwhelmingly tempting (not to mention my stint on the bridge itself) . . . but, to paraphrase a friend that prefaced his karaoke performance of "American Pie" last night with a pseudo-political soliloquy, these are hard economic times. The eight dollar entrance fee would set my girlfriend and I back sixteen bucks, then, to meet Spiner, attendees must pay twenty-five dollars for his new CD Dreamland. While this purchase guarantees the actor's signature on an additional item of the fanboy's choice, the fine print says nothing of picture-taking opportunities, i.e., whether or not Brent will look up and smile to capture the moment on Flickr forever. Everything I've read about Spiner indicates that he's nothing but a gentleman on the convention circuit, but he's still an actor, and even the nicest exchange is guaranteed to be a brief one, considering the amount of people that will want to meet him during the meager two hours he's available. Would that precious thirty seconds be worth at least forty-one dollars? Let's not even talk about the price of gas for the drive, lunch, and the tempting comics cluttering the Shrine Auditorium's exhibitor hall. So, in this unique case, resistance isn't futile. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll find Spiner again in a more affordable environment.

Still, I don't need an emotion chip to be a little disappointed.

* Of course, the bridge crew includes Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Lt. Comm. Data at Ops, Ensign Crusher at Con, and Lt. Worf at Tactical, but I'm also assuming that Counselor Troi is at Picard's left, that Dr. Crusher is in that awkward seat added when the director wanted to end the episode with all of his headliners, and that Lt. Comm. LaForge is at the Engineering station in the rear. Just to be clear.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Embracing Your Vices: The Night Club #3

Thursday night's Vice Presidential debates launched a very viable weekend's worth of news, including a visit from Republican candidate Sarah Palin to Southern California and another round of parody from SNL and Tina Fey, whose career could only benefit from a McCain/Palin victory, considering her spot-on impression of the Alaskan governor and the entertainment media's well-impeded bitterness toward all things conservative. Seriously, what happens to SNL and The Daily Show if Obama wins? Not that Republicans don't frequently provide critics plenty of comedic fodder, but without strong leading men like Bush or Cheney, only the feigned conservatism of The Colbert Show profits from a Democratic victory. Sure, Obama's campaign is change we can believe in, but it's hardly anything worth laughing at.

So, considering these tumultuous political times, I thumbed through the unread, leftover issues from the now defunct A Comic A Day: Year Two, which quaintly fill a small comic book box on the side of my bed, and I found The Night Club #3, the cover of which reflects many bipartisan fears of our country's immediate future. Yes, that's the devil at the Presidential pulpit. Whether the devil was raised in Hawaii or Alaska is entirely up to you, though that both of the pseudo-celebrities of this election were raised in the two states not connected to the nation's mainland is suspect no matter what side of the fence you straddle . . .

I pulled The Night Club #3 from a twenty-five cent back issue bin several months ago and hoped to read it for Election Day, so the relaunch of A Comic A Day possessed me (Get it?) to dust it off on Friday, and while its plot wasn't as engaging or substantial as I'd hoped, it does reflect a few trends common in politically-minded comics: (1.) The Conspiracy Theory, and (2.) The Righteous Rebels. In this case, "righteous" is the appropriate term, as Reverend Walter Bishop and his "rag-tag misfits" combat the devil, dubbed Screwbarb, and his plot to hasten Armageddon apparently through American politics. At the end of this issue, the President is horrifically assassinated (okay, if you must know, a demon flies through his chest -- so much for the good ol' days of grassy knolls), and the Vice President, deep in Screwbarb's pocket, assumes office. You betcha.

Now, to quite a few folks' chagrin, religion and politics really are eternal bedfellows, whether or not the Constitution has ever clearly distinguished church from state; further, I liken religion and politics to the proverbial Siamese twins of human philosophy, with two heads and respective thought processes designed to deal with mankind's inherent need for law and order differently. Hyperbole aside, though, I hope the two are never so intertwined that the devil, if he exists, infiltrates the White House and instigates the apocalypse through gay rights legislation, or something. I don't remember reading about that in the book of Revelation. In fact, depending on one's interpretation of John's apocalyptic allegory, the United States is scarcely mentioned at all, so our persistent belief that we've birthed the Anti-Christ or will play Ground Zero to the end of the world is arguably the most nationalistic trite ever. "A shining city on a hill?" Perhaps . . . but overlooking the lake of fire? Not likely.

What's the point of all this? The Night Club asks us to look at the big picture. The grand scheme of this election season has been episodic at best, packaging the most critical events into makeshift installments not unlike seasons of one's favorite television show. This Vice Presidential chapter might not seem as important come Tuesday's Presidential debate (round two), but The Night Club #3 reminds us that we're just a flying demon away from 1963 all over again. Of course, the night between Election Day and its results will seem like the longest summer between a series' season finale and fall premiere, the anticipation will be that great, but in the meantime citizens' selection processes shouldn't be so compartmentalized. If it were a TV series, I'd encourage everyone to have a Presidential election marathon the night before voting day, to remind themselves of their chosen candidates' record before becoming leader of the free world was on their to-do list, to experience the twists and turns in their characters' development toward becoming the protagonists we see them as now. Then, remember that this story is very real.

Hopefully the part where the devil takes the podium stays the stuff of fiction.

The Night Club #3 was published in April, 2006, by Image Comics, and was written by Mike Baron, illustrated by Robbi Rodriguez, colored by Russ Lowery, lettered by Marshall Dillion, and edited by Marshall Dillion and Chris Crank.