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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
A history of Bat Lash
Your own PDF download of "The Prisoner" comic
Jack Kirby's lost "Prisoner" adaptation
Dean Motter's DC "Prisoner" graphic novel
The Comic-Con adventures of JoAnn & co
Templar, Arizona
The Book of Biff
Goats
Ellie Connelly
Wondermark
Michael Reisman
Marlene Perez
Alan J. Porter
Recent Books of Interest

DC Showcase Presents: Bat Lash by Sergio Aragones and Denny O'Neil (scripts, mostly) and Nick Cardy (art, mostly) (DC) DC Showcase Presents: Bat Lash
This collection begins in the late 60s, around the time the Western, in films, was being permanently redefined and reimagined with films like The Wild Bunch and Once Upon A Time in the West. DC's happy-go-lucky, vaguely Maverick-like Bat Lash wasn't quite undergoing the same degree of genre reworking (which wouldn't happen, in a pan-comics kind of way, until the 80s, anyway...). But these are all agreeable enough "episodes," in the manner of prevalent TV westerns. Bat Lash's one conceit -- perhaps necessary for the comics code -- is that he's "peaceable," which is to say, he doesn't kill anyone, but gets off continually remarkable shots that disarm his opponents (who do occasionally leave corpses in their wake). He also has an unusual sense of refinement, much like Richard Boone's Paladin, in Have Gun, Will Travel. Other writers and artists contribute stories, here, too, primarily due to the fact that the collection, while modest in girth, goes all the through the early 80s. Which is to say, ol' Bat Lash wasn't seen for a decade after the late 60s, and the initial, modest flurry of issues. He then popped up sporadically in the back of Jonah Hex and other comics. As the settings got more interesting -- the volume wraps up with a Len Wein story set in New Orleans during one of the first "modern" Mardi Gras parades -- you sense it was too bad ol' Bat and his Gandhian guns weren't allowed more room, and time, to explore America and her closing frontiers, though his recent appearance in a self-titled mini-series may augur some second or third chances.

The Prisoner -- exclusive sneak peek ("Not for sale!") art by Amilcar Pinna (Marvel Custom). The Prisoner
The one thing I really geeked out on at Con was AMC's booth previewing their Prisoner remake/miniseries. The footage looked good, but it's hard to tell if the series will deliver -- it seems more devoid of politics -- in the large "P" sense -- than the original was. Remakes -- or "reimaginings" as they're calling it -- aside, The Prisoner also seems like a hard thing to get right in comic book form. Jack Kirby made an abortive attempt for Marvel, in the 70s, that was ultimately scotched, and then in the 80s, Dean Motter did an intriguing sequel to the show's continuity for DC. Now we have this mini-comic co-hatched, presumably, by AMC and Marvel, handed out at San Diego, but available to you via the miracles of download and PDF files! No writer is credited in the handout (the credits themselves are discreetly tucked into the bottom of the last page, below the in-panel product placement for the Palm Pre -- which, of course, can also be used to keep track of you) and that is perhaps a red flag. Pinna's art, alas, seems vague and noncommittal -- oh, you can tell that's Ian McKellan as Number Two (good casting!) -- but in being overly-careful to not "give anything away" in this snippet that feels like a middle scene from a longer project, rather than anything self-contained, they may not be giving any potential new viewers reason enough to tune in. Download your own copy and let me know what you think.

Goats: Infinite Typewriters by Jonathan Rosenberg (Del Rey) Goats: Infinite Typewriters
Part of the wave of web comics now finding their way offline into collections, Rosenberg's Goats appears on his web page in strip form. Which is hard to imagine, since he constructs so many meta-narratives, so many Pirandello-esque demolitions of form and audience distance, that it's hard to see how a single strip can do the enterprise justice. Of course, I'm saying this as someone whose first introduction to the work was through this collection -- had I discovered it back in the web frontier of the 90s, it would be an entirely different experience. But I'm glad for this one, because while the narratives about, well, goats, and typing monkeys, and evil chickens (!), invading aliens, the nature (and possible ingestion) of God, drinking at NY's Peculier Pub, and so much more, do occasionally spin out of control, what's more remarkable is how often Rosenberg eventually ties them together, and brings them in for a landing. To mix our metaphors. Other collections are slated to follow: You can either wait, or head to the web now, getting your "meta" in discrete bytes.

If the Geeks Have Won, How Come I Don't Feel Better?

That was the thought that struck me while standing outside the convention center at this year's San Diego Comic Con: The "Con," of course, now only deals in "comics" as one aspect of the pop media buffet/entertainment news cycle launching pad that it has become, which shows you far the formerly "fringe" types of fandom -- not only the four-color sequential stuff, but "sci fi," "fantasy," noir, gaming, "cosplay," etc. -- have seized the mainstream.

Perhaps nowhere was the new Comic-Con gestalt encapsulated better than at the Showtime booth, where -- wandering around on Preview Night -- I saw all the signage touting the upcoming signings for the Dexter cast. Because Todd McFarlane's toy company had womped up some bobble-heads and figurines of the show's characters, the various autographing sessions were therefore co-sponsored -- as those signs definitely made clear -- by "Toys R Us."

Which is to say, a chain of children's toy stores is co-sponsoring autograph sessions for a show about a funny serial killer.

That is such ultimate cross-pollinization, or "multi-platform synergy," or whatever the marketing guys and gals are calling it now, that it's hard to know where to begin to deconstruct it.

And it's not that I don't like Dexter, because I do -- despite not being entirely up on my run of episodes -- but perhaps what I balk at is that the bigger the Con gets, the more "one way" it starts to feel. Which is to say, as an attendee, your job now is to just stand in line, and consume whatever it is the studios and networks and game companies are throwing your way.

So as much as I might be curious to see the 3-D footage for Avatar, say, I just couldn't bring myself to stand in line for an hour or more to see it, since Avatar -- and everything else -- are going to be relentlessly promoted online and everywhere else, in the months leading up to its release.

Standing in the great hall of the Convention Center, then, is a little like being inside an entertainment-driven website.

Now, full disclosure requires me to note that I may have been in a somewhat cranky mood since my laptop was crapping out on me, and money is generally tight. And in recent years I go mainly because my oldest son prevails upon me to take him down there, and the outing, heading south from L.A. and "doing" San Diego for a few days (this year, it was two-and-a-half) has become a summer touchstone for us.

And since he's just getting bigger, and eventually heading out the door, those touchstones are damned important.

So Eldest Son brought a friend along this year, too -- said friend is himself the son of a well-regarded visual effects maven here in town, so you might think he'd be inured to most things showy and show-bizzy, but he was really wowed by his first con, and with my son, they roamed and prowled and won some prizes and discovered some graphic novels and we went to some screenings, and it's not that I was entirely cranky about everything.

I ran into Nexus Graphica's own guest columnist, Alan J. Porter, there signing a special con collection of his work for Boom! Studios' Disney/Pixar Cars adaptation (as well as getting a first look at his history of Star Trek comics, which, readers, does indeed look spiffy!), as well as fellow YA scribes Michael Reisman and Marlene Perez, cheerfully ambling down one of the upstairs hallways.

I was also glad to see the off-line collective efforts of a lot of the web comics folks (or is that "webcomics?") who banded together and printed up their own "Sunday funnies" section to hand out, which included a passel of strips all angling to be the next Penny Arcade or Goats (see review of the latter, in sidebar!) some of which might be. Of special note is the neo-Edwardian absurdity of David Malki's Wondermark, The Far Side-esque humor of Chris Hallbeck's The Book of Biff, The Indiana Jones-y Ellie Connelly and the Eye of the Vortex by Indigo Kelleigh, and the intriguing town-unto-itself skewed soap opera of Templar, Arizona, by Chicago-based artist Spike.

Hopefully we'll get a chance to do more tracking of the webcomics-all-one-word scene in this space, down the road...

And there were also other friends who were new to "Con" this year (I was somewhat shocked -- perhaps more than somewhat -- to realize on the occasion of Comic Con's 40th anniversary, I'd been to nearly half of them....), including my graphic novel-friendly librarian pal JoAnn Rees, her sister Diana, and their friend Kasia. In fact, the pics you see of the Con are all taken from her blog, which will give you a rundown of a full weekend's Con experience without any dollops of columnist cynicism.

Though perhaps this is where the two decades of Comic Con going finally got to me. Walking in, again on preview night, one of the first things I spotted was Alex Ross' "Super Obama" t-shirt from last year, with our now-Pres ripping off his business shirt to reveal a superhero-y, I-hail-from-Krypton-like "O" underneath.

I wrote about that shirt last year, and how one could sense the palpable sense of, well, hope and tentative optimism in the air, in those weeks before the election.

Now, of course, Obama's won -- himself the occasional reader of comics. And if you'd told me, back when I was first con-going in the 70s & 80s, that when geek/comics/comix/sf culture went mainstream -- when they -- we -- "took over" mainstream culture, and the production appariti of Hollywood, and when a geek-sympatico President sat in the Oval Office at the same time, well, I woulda thought: What a mellow place America's gonna be! Full of interesting conversations, yet kind of like a big Ren Faire!

On the same weekend of the Con, the President, for all his putative "super powers," was busy being backstabbed by conservative members of his own party on the issue of health care reform, the notion of impeding insurance company profits apparently being another thing "off the table" in D.C. And of course, the biosphere was still cracking up, from a drought/weather perspective, with no one in power anywhere -- in spite of the triumph of formerly "fringe" culture -- with the vision to profoundly, fundamentally change things.

Whether it's change we can believe in, or not.

And that perhaps explains the hollow feeling left by the mass marketing aspects of this year's con: Do I really want to stand in line for an hour or two to see clips from a film that's going to be unceasingly marketed to me anyway, before its release next summer?

As it was, I found myself taking long walks by the water in San Diego. I came with an idea for a book. But again, that could just be me feeling retro.

Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, which is currently being developed for large and small screens. He also works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics,for the Hollywood trade paper Below the Line. When covering cons, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz


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