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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Rushkoff
Battlepug
Justice
DARPA developing contact lenses with 'Terminator'-like abilities
Seal Hunt Hopefully Doubtful?
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Recent Books of Interest
Justice by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross (words) and Doug Braithwaite and Alex Ross (art) (DC)
Justice Yeah, okay. Justice isn't new, having originally come out a handful of years ago over a two-year span. But it was only collected in spiffy hardcover last year, and that edition was holiday gifted to me by Eldest Son. So I only finally read it this past January. With all that Alex Ross art, it's like one of the coolest Silver Age stories you've ever read -- but of course, it exists in a post-Watchmen/Dark Knight era when superhero mythology remains... somewhat altered. Or at least, vulnerable. And it's those hints of vulnerability and potential loss that ultimately redeem what is -- if you think about it too hard -- an entirely goofy Silver Age-y plotline, wherein Braniac and Lex Luthor recruit a squad of DC bad guys to definitively dislodge the Justice League from people's affections and the world at large. That some of these have themselves been almost irredeemably goofy in the villain pantheon -- I'm looking at you, Gorilla Grodd, Captain Cold, and Black Manta -- and are made somewhat menacing here (not least due to that Rossian "serious" artwork) is a testament to the gravitas the creators seek to invest in the project. And for the most part, they do. There are some plot holes that occasionally jar (SPOILER ALERT!): how the hell does Phantom Stranger know where to find Green Lantern, if he's cast to an end of the universe devoid even of matter or light?, and how does Green Lantern know instantly to "disinfect" Batman from the... creations of Braniac that are controlling him, upon his return? But as I said, it's more like a Silver Age epic -- a really boss one, that you'd remember fondly if those 12 and 15 cent issues actually had two-year arcs -- than a dystopian tale. And while the latter speaks to us in this 21st century of ours, you can relieve some of your mid-20th century optimism (when all you had to worry about was imminent nuclear war) right here.

A.D.D. by Douglas Rushkoff (words) and Goran Sudzuka (art) (Vertigo)
A.D.D. I met Rushkoff in passing, years ago, in the first round of internet culture, late 90s/early 00s. I was editing a magazine that covered the then new web, and he would speak at the occasional conference thrown by my now defunct publisher. He was a trenchant observer then, about the intersection of new media, personal determination, and corporate suasion, and he remains so now. He's also lately branched into comics writing, with the early Testament for Vertigo, an intriguing tale of the Bible, Gods (yes, plural) and how those stories play out in our corporate-overlorded dystopian present. He's sticking with the corporate overlord part in A.D.D., which is an interesting mash-up of inspirations ranging from Logan's Run to X-Men, and maybe even A Clockwork Orange, with its invented argot. And certainly a lot of Rollerball. The first, good one. Basically, kids are raised to be media idols in the "Adolescent Demo Division" of a gaming company that promises these media heroes can "level up" once they grow a little too old -- and famous, which is to say, move on to an even more glittering future... somewhere on the "outside." Astute readers can already guess what such promises might really hold, and while the plotting and characterization here aren't cutting edge, Rushkoff's social observation about where we're headed is as sharp as ever. For non-readers (or viewers) of SF, those observations might come as more of a surprise, but here, Rushkoff just confirms that sooner or later, we're gonna have to have it out with The Man. Even -- or perhaps especially -- if the proving ground is made (and littered with) digits.

Battlepug by Mike Norton (online, and to be collected by Dark Horse)
Battlepug There's more about Battlepug (I always want to add a "!" to it ) in the column to your left, but basically, we're about a year into Norton's web comic -- about a dark haired, Conan-like barbarian, with a thirst for revenge, and the mighty outsized pug he eventually teams up with. If this were Pern, it might be a dragon, but here we have a large, roly-eyed Foo dog in a world where generally innocuous and cuddly animals can potentially cause great mayhem. A giant baby harp seal, for example, has much blood on its, well, flippers, early on. We don't have enough installments yet to know about the taxonomy of this world -- are predator/prey generally inverted? (After all, the Santa Claus in this world can't be trusted). Or -- as per the occasional hint -- is some other hand behind this strange behavior? It's great fun if you're already a pug fan (my family's kept them, one or two at a time, for years), but you may want to wait for this summer's first collection if you want at least some of your questions answered when you plunge in and start reading.

Bad Guys and Release Cycles

So as with my column about continuity -- which was engendered by a review of Stan Lee's how-to-write-comics book last year -- I'm embarking on another of my "meta" discussions about comics, as I try to figure what makes them tick as a medium, and how they're changing.

This is kind of a two-fer, like one of those Ace paperbacks with back-to-back covers on each side (except, of course, those were prose and we're discussing the four-color panel, ¿que no?).

I'd originally wanted to talk about bad guys in comics. I'd just finished reading Alex Ross' Justice (see sidebar review), and liked the way he'd made let's-be-honest essentially ridiculous Silver Age bad guys -- Legion of Doom types like Cheetah and the Toyman (and especially Gorilla Grodd and Captain Cold) -- seem actually somewhat menacing.

Braniac appears to be overseeing the whole plot, and the fact that he's first seen in a surgeon's smock and doing unauthorized brain surgery definitely makes him creepier than usual. Lex Luthor and Joker are in there too, but they can be legitimately disturbing since one runs a large corporation and the other is a psychopath.

Hmm. I wrote that like there's a distinction.

In any case, in our real actual world, both psychopaths and marauding coporadoes are indeed afoot, causing all degree of sadness, mayhem, loss and ennui, We're less troubled, of course, by parka'd no-goodniks with freeze rays (though of course DARPA inventions tend to become more comic book-y with each passing year).

But this isn't a curmudgeonly screed -- I hope -- on "why can't comics be more grown up!?" Hell, I've given up on grown ups being "grown up." But there is a kind of cognitive dissonance you have to be aware of when choosing bad guys, or creating them, and maybe it involves taking generally innocent types and making them "ee-vil."

I don't read nearly as much Gorilla Grodd as my ape expert counterpart in this column, Mr. Klaw, but in the real actual world we live in, gorillas are getting their asses kicked, habitat and edge-of-extinction wise. By us. So it was always jarring to see Grodd in a panel and being required to think of him as "bad."

Perhaps it's an animal issue, because while I was mulling this -- is Braniac really as scary, for example, as the aforementioned actual guy in DARPA working on new crowd control weapons for upcoming urban riots here in America? -- I read through Mike Norton's Battlepug, since we're trying to get web comics more in the mix here, and since I come from a family of pug fans. (For more, see -- yes -- review in sidebar). Beware of spoiler alerts!

Okay, so Battlepug involves a Conan-like, sword-wielding barbarian who -- in a world of outsized animals -- comes across a giant pug whom he seems to befriend. But he's wary of doing so, as his childhood village was wiped out by... a giant baby harp seal.

Right -- a big white wide-eyed one. Now, Norton is having fun with us, I get that, but when the marauding seal was itself eventually wiped out, with blood on it, all I could think of -- with those images (these being, as we noted, not prose but visually based tales) -- is that every harp seal I've seen with blood on it, had that blood there because some human was clubbing it to death.

If some mention had been made of this seal-marauding as a kind of payback, that could have been interesting. But the harp seal took me out of the story for a bit (more than Battlepug's evil Santa Claus, because some of that lurks in the Kris Kringle subtext, I think) because there was just no way to impute evil intent to that image.

Maybe it's just me, but it's the same thing with those "demon seed" evil kid movies. Are there bad kids around? Sure. But really, kids have one shitload more to worry about from "adults," so I've always wondered what it was about projecting bad intent on those who tend to be powerless and at the mercy of those who, in the real world, actually have bad intent.

Now, there's some hint in Battlepug that there might be a guiding hand of some sort behind the actions of these outsized critters, which brings us to the other "fer" of this two-fer: We just don't know yet.

Eldest son -- the one who gave me my copy of Justice as a gift -- was saying that he really prefers reading things in collections, rather than single monthly issues. When he embarks on a tale, he wants lots of it available so he can dive right in. He's not alone, of course, but it brings up new questions about how we "monetize" deep content.

Unless you have a big advance to spend a year or so working on your graphic novel -- and how many of those are left in the imploding publishing biz? -- you have to monetize as you go along. In comics, that's meant monthly issues. Online, with something like, well, Battlepug, you don't get an issue, but you do get a new panel -- roughly Sunday funny size (for those old enough to remember "newspapers") -- each week.

I read the first year's worth of Battlepug -- about 55 installments -- in around the time it would take to read, well, a "double-sized issue!" if these were printed comics. And even though the "wrap" for the story is a pleasingly naked tattooed princess-in-a-castle telling the tale to her two dogs, we don't actually meet the pug itself until several installments in. In other words, if we kicked off last winter, we don't get to meet the titular foo dog until sometime in early spring.

So that's a whole different pacing and set of reveals that new audiences will have to acclimate to. After all, your web site -- hopefully -- is bringing in enough ad traffic to let you do that next week's installment. And then it can maybe get collected by Dark Horse! (Which Battlepug is -- coming this summer), for those who like to dive in between printed covers.

The question, of course, is how such pacing might change what is being written. Writing 55 pages of script in a month or two gives you one kind of story, but writing it over a year -- even if that story is mapped out -- changes things. You're a different writer from one winter to the next, even if only a little.

And so are you readers.

And so are the circumstances in which you write: "A grey seal hunt on Hay Island off Cape Breton is looking doubtful this year because of a lack of markets, says a spokesman for the sealers." Sometimes, in the real world, the bad guys are held at bay, even if for just a moment.

But they're not obliged -- not at all - to be vanquished by the end of the page, or the current installment.

Copyright © 2012 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Info on what he, or the books, are up to can be found at marklondonwilliams.com. He's thinking of traveling back in time to when he was employed. Meanwhile, did we mention the first installment in the series, "Ancient Fire," is back out on eBook, and is currently free at Amazon and Smashwords? Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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