Uncredeemable


Here's a strange trend: Mark Waid + adjectival noun = choice comics.

I guess it's not so strange, really, since Waid's body of work in general is enough of a recommendation, but he's currently writing three darned good projects for Boom! Studios that share a peculiar part of speech — namely, The Incredibles, The Unknown, and Irredeemable. (That last one might be a plain old adjective.)

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Covers to the Unknown hardcover, illustrated by Erik Jones, and the Incredibles: Family Matters
collection, illustrated by Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, © 2009 Boom! Studios and Disney/Pixar, respectively.

Boom! came along during my reluctant hiatus from the comics life, which I really have to address in some new installments of Empaneled. Mark, who is now the publishing house's editor-in-chief, is someone I'm glad to say I knew in that life as a generous friend, eager teacher and sharer of knowledge, lifelong comics fan, and top-notch creative mind. If he had a downside in the collective consciousness of the marketplace, it was likely that he was too known as being of a fannish background, too associated with takes on Silver Age superheroes at DC and, to a lesser extent, Marvel; Grant Morrison addressed this head-on in an afterword in Irredeemable #1 earlier this year.

Mark's longtime admirers would be quick to point out that he did write DC's Kingdom Come, whose very tension between simpler times and the modern age — a struggle echoed not only between him and Alex Ross, the project's initiatior and artist, but also within each of them — is what made it successful. He made his name on The Flash not by bringing back Silver Age icon Barry Allen but by having Wally West, former Kid Flash, not just get older but grow up. He wrote hilarious dialogue for Marvel's Deadpool before Joe Kelly did. He edited the infamous "Five Years Later" Legion of Super-Heroes, quite a break from the past, and wrote just as different a spin on the group not long ago. He oversaw the inauguration of Morrison's mad reign on Doom Patrol. He co-created in Impulse the best superhero sitcom since the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League (but more charming and more sustainable in its brand of humor). He showed us a world where the supervillain won in Empire. And he really changed up expectations with the detective series Ruse. The guy has long been willing and able to deconstruct or reinterpret the costumed cohort of comicdom, and long had more than variations on such legends up his sleeve.

Yet even with all that, I admit to surprise reading Waid's current Boom! boomlet, especially having lost touch with him during my time away from the comics biz and missed his crime story Potter's Field. These new titles share adjectival nouns, yes, but also something that threw me for a loop when I sampled his Superman: Birthright miniseries in the bookstore a few years back. I don't hear Mark's voice in them. His dialogue never had the idiosyncratic cadence of, say, Chris Claremont, Brian Azzarello, or James Robinson, but, if this makes any sense, the lack of familiarity is noticeable.

Cover A of Irredeemable #1, drawn by John Cassaday and
colored by Laura Martin, © 2009 Boom! Studios.

Waid described the premise of Irredeemable, which debuted in April, better than I ever could in an editorial for Boom!'s monthly hype page. The series, he said,

"... revisit[s] a theme I've written about before: the path of villainy. Kingdom Come was about the ethical price of heroism. Empire was about a world where heroism just flat-out didn't exist. Irredeemable is, in a way, my third and most complex chapter on the cost of superheroics — a pulp adventure tale of horror about how the lessons we learn about right and wrong as children can become warped and twisted when challenged by the realities of the adult world. Irredeemable is the story of a man who was the greatest and most beloved superhero of all time... and how he became the world's greatest supervillain."

Not that the series' central figure, The Plutonian, necessarily considers himself a villain. What's been published to date is far less than the whole story, but it seems clear that a large part of what's driven "Tony" — as his friends called him — to take this dark path is the almost defensive embracement of amorality that resulted when the crushing responsibility felt by a nearly godlike being who still has very human emotions became too much to bear. The balancing act of his never-ending battle as Earth's protector depended on a certain reciprocity from the people he watched over. His love interests, his allies, and even his enemies had to play their parts lest the clockwork break down, exposing what a frustrated mind might suddenly see as the absurdity of the whole endeavor.

In the opening pages of #1, the Batman-style Hornet pleads with The Plutonian — who has just vaporized his wife and son — not to hurt his daughter, who's "only a little girl." Tony's response is reminiscent of Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan, but with more malice than indifference. "I know exactly what she is," says the hovering man with glowing eyes. "She's a carbon bag of atoms and electricity." Upon first reading, the line is merely chilling, but in light of later chapters it's a willful reduction of sentient life to unemotional components; The Plutonian is all too familiar with the guile, greed, and guilt inherent in (even, from the perspective of self-preservation, required by) the human condition.

Top: A flashback to Kaidan and Tony in Sky City from #2. Bottom: Plutonian
addressing the people of the world in #5. Script: Mark Waid. Pencils, Inks: Peter
Krause. Colors: Andrew Dalhouse. Letters: Ed Dukeshire. Images © 2009 Boom! Studios.

While there are certain inevitable correspondences, Irredeemable benefits greatly from not casting The Plutonian as an exact equivalence of Superman. They share the status of most trusted and most powerful man apart, but Tony falls somewhere between the one-level-up generic that Kurt Busiek tried to establish with Astro City's Samaritan and the sideways reinterpretation of Superman lore that Alan Moore brought to Supreme. (I don't mean to impugn Busiek's abilities; I'm just not sure there is a one-level-up generic when it comes to Superman, as opposed to increasingly clever analogues of origin, arch-enemy, etc.)

One of the closest Superman parallels is seen in #2, when Kaidan of superhero group The Paradigm — a collection of characters with impressively unique abilities, not at all a carbon copy of The Justice League — tracks down the woman popularly known as "The Plutonian's girlfriend" and learns of a secret identity used by Tony. Mark gets to the heart of an aspect of Superman that became increasingly curdled over his publishing history until recent decades, one that's always kept me from completely embracing many of the otherwise brilliant Superman stories written by Elliot S. Maggin that Mark so admires, including the prose novels Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday: Clark Kent as less an escape or a method of identifying with the people of his adopted home than a grand joke at their expense.

Irredeemable is drawn by Peter Krause and colored by Andrew Dalhouse, whose work is generally effective but not ideal. Krause's art is perhaps appropriately evocative of Superman pencilers Curt Swan, Dan Jurgens, and Jerry Ordway — but, unfortunately, not all at the same time, and at some points still other styles emerge, giving both the layouts and the character renderings a distractingly disparate look (most disappointingly when very impressive pages are followed by the mediocre). There's nothing inherently wrong with inspiration or even imitation, but the end result has to hold up. Ordway's influence was so strong in certain panels that I wondered while reading #1 if Jerry weren't providing breakdowns for his former creative partner; Krause was previously best known for penciling DC's The Power of Shazam!, on which Ordway served as writer, cover artist, and sometime interior penciler. Krause's inking style is more blunt and gritty than I would have guessed from his past penciling work, reminiscent in places of the great Michael Lark — especially in the present-day scenes, with more feathering and fewer black spots in the flashbacks as befits less overtly troubled times. Those flashbacks are kept appropriately bright by Dalhouse, who tones down the palette severely for the contemporary gloaming brought about by The Plutonian's conversion; throughout, he employs the sort of over-rendering common to colorists today, but not nearly as egregiously as most.

Pivotal scenes from #7 at left and #6 at right, the latter displaying some of the best and
worst features of the series' art on the same page. Script: Mark Waid. Pencils, Inks: Peter
Krause. Colors: Andrew Dalhouse. Letters: Ed Dukeshire. Images © 2009 Boom! Studios.

You can read a 7-page preview of Irredeemable #1 at the Boom! website. Even better, #1-4 have been collected in softcover for just $9.99 [ISBN 978-1-93450-690-5] — quite the bargain, given that the individual issues were priced at $3.99 a pop; if Boom!'s Cars and Incredibles collections are any indication, a gallery of the issues' variant covers will be included as well. And then there's the matter of #1 and #2 being sold out from the publisher. (There may still be copies available at comics retailers, and variant-cover editions can be ordered from Boom! at $9.99 each.)

Should you follow the series monthly? That depends on whether you're strictly a graphic-novel reader or have the periodical habit, and if the latter is the case whether you're one of those who's drawn the line at $2.99. Irredeemable does supplement its standard 22-page story with previews of upcoming projects; ultimately, though, that's just advertising. I'm trying to be judicious with the periodicals myself, but #5-8 have each had stunning revelations and they won't be out in collected form until March, during which time I'll probably have re-read the series to date more than once. Full of startling action and slow-burning mysteries, Irredeemable is easily among the best serialized fiction out there today.

To be continued with examinations of The Unknown and The Incredibles!


Variant retailer-incentive covers for Irredeemable #1-6, illustrated by Jeffrey Spokes,
whose covers to #1-12 will spell out the series' title. Images © 2009 Boom! Studios.

Quick Hits




My old partner in crime and founder of Forces of Geek, Stefan Blitz, now offers a daily menu of delicacies for pop-cult devotees in the form of Geek News du Jour. If, as I hope, I'm able to post here more frequently, expect a lot of links to come from his 'Net-wide roundup.


Some image elements of tin ® DC Comics.

The above Superman tin popped up at my local Target recently for $10. It comes with one DVD of the 17 Fleischer and Famous Studios animated shorts from the 1940s, plus another of "TV Cartoon Classics" that are presumably also public domain. As I own the Superman shorts a couple times over, including the remastered editions from Warner Home Video, I'm just interested in the tin. I don't exactly have cash to spare right now, but I've been looking for a place to store little knick-knacks that can also be displayed so that the smaller items are easily accessible.


Logo and characters © 2009 and TM/® The Muppets Studio.

I'm probably duty-bound simply by virtue of having a blog that covers entertainment — however idiosyncratic it may be — to mention the Muppets' take on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".

The clip, which debuted a few days ago on The Muppets Studio's YouTube channel and has gone seriously viral, isn't a straight-up cover; Animal's spotlight is an early, hysterical indication of that. Rowlf takes the piano part, Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem join in (Janice can shred!), and familiar faces from the "Mahna Mahna" Muppet to Fozzie Bear get screen time — you can find a rundown of who's who in the video at the unofficial, astoundingly informative Muppet Wiki.


Cover to Superman: The Story of the Man of Steel © 2009 and character ® DC Comics.

The author/artist of Viking's delightful Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight, Ralph Cosentino, has as previously reported here been working on a follow-up starring Superman. It's not yet mentioned on either Cosentino's website or that of the publisher, but the cover art and release date for Superman: The Story of the Man of Steel are up on Amazon; I certainly hope this is no early April Fool's joke, as I'm merely one of many readers and collectors who gave the Batman book a glowing review. My only complaint is that the insignia could look a little sharper.



As I look back at my negative comments about Amazon in that review and the plea to buy locally when possible, at an independent bookstore or even a Borders that may employ your neighbors — which I absolutely stand by — I'm reminded that if you are trying to stretch your dollars this holiday season by making some purchases from deep-discount online retailers and you have comics lovers on your list, you owe it to yourself to check out the Nick & Dent section at Things from Another World, which offers items at half the list price year round and has a 60%-off sale going through Monday.

Several years ago I received numerous books from Amazon in poor condition. One had a seriously bent corner; another had a crooked, impossible to remove UPC sticker that hung off the edges of the book; and — the pièce de résistance — one actually had a hole in the cover. Yet so-called Customer Service could not find a way for me to return these books at Amazon's expense. I tried Amazon again a couple of years back thanks to the deep discounts and again got a book with scuffing that, while not terrible, would have kept me from picking it up in a brick-and-mortar store.

This was all even more remarkable when contrasted with the aforementioned Nick & Dent department at Things from Another World, an online retailer that also has storefront locations in Oregon. I got some gift packages last year from a friend who knew that I'd appreciate them even more if she told me what a great deal they were, and have since placed orders with TFAW myself — thrilled with the bargains throughout the site and honestly almost never able to discern what led to an item's consignment to the Nick & Dent section in the first place. Having received gifts via Amazon earlier this year, because I found the Wish List feature irresistible (even if only as a masochistic chronicle of desirable objects), I went ahead and placed gift orders of my own that apparently arrived at their destinations in fine shape, but the behemoth is still on probation. I'm fortunate enough to have comics shops and a children's bookstore with friendly, knowledgable staffs and great inventory in the area, while I splurge during sales at TFAW as a roughly biannual treat. My rare DVD purchase usually comes from Target or, like general book purchases, from Borders when its rewards program coughs up a coupon for 30% or better. For books that aren't gifts or irresistible additions to the home library, there's always the actual hometown library, an institution well worth visiting and supporting through donations of potential book-sale merchandise or cold, hard cash.

Cut Me a Slice of That!


A tradition of the season in general and Thanksgiving in particular is pie.



Screencap © 2009 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

Okay, I know that's actually a Venn diagram, but it passes on account of being laugh-out-loud, pause-the-video-to-catch-your-breath funny. It's from How I Met Your Mother Episode 4.22, wherein Marshall develops an addiction to posterboard visual aids ("This is a pie chart describing my favorite bars. And this is a bar graph describing my favorite pies."). You're welcome.

Teenage Daydreams



Archie logos & characters are trademarks of, and all
images in this post courtesy of, Archie Comic Publications.

Frost came early to Riverdale this year.

The poet
Robert Frost, that is. I'll explain.

You may have seen the news reports a few months back that
Archie, the World's Oldest Teenager (sorry, Dick Clark), was — after nearly 70 years of flirting, dating, and relatively chaste comedic girl-chasing in general, among other misadventures — going to choose between rivals and best friends Betty and Veronica. In a six-part storyline that began in Archie #600, he and Veronica would marry.


Cover to Archie #600 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.

This was to be no shotgun wedding, of course, and in fact would take place after the characters graduated college — which should've been the first hint that it probably wasn't going to redefine the entire Archie "Universe"; the gang has never made it out of high school save for the occasional non-continuity story or special events like 1990's
Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again TV-movie.

Archie Comics, the publisher, has been taking some new approaches to the stories it tells with Archie Andrews, the character, as I wrote back in March. It's also been "exploiting" its library of properties, to use a coldly commercial term, reviving long-dormant characters in new stories and teaming with other publishers for archival reprint projects. But throughout decades of expanding the Archie franchise through creative iterations both long-lived and short-, from the beloved Little Archie to the faddish Man from RIVERDALE to the underrated Jughead's Time Police — not to mention spinoffs like Josie and Sabrina — the status quo of the core Archie comics has remained inviolable, save for updates in clothes, language, and the multiculturalism of the supporting cast.

When I heard about the project earlier this year, it was clear that there would be
weddings, plural. Young Mr. Andrews would marry both Veronica and Betty in separate chapters of an imaginary tale marking the milestone 600th issue of Archie (the flagship title, not to be confused with Archie & Friends, Archie Double Digest, and the dozen other series featuring Archie's pals 'n' gals). Whether intentional or not, however, Archie Comics' early press releases led to the media at large picking up only on the proposal to Veronica in the storyline's first chapter, leading to talk-show segments and newspaper articles echoing the cries of everyone in fictional Riverdale, USA: What about Betty?


Cover and first story page of Archie #601 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.
For a larger view and five-page story preview, click here.

Michael Uslan, longtime comics fan/historian and film producer, began the storyline in poetic fashion, having Archie find two roads diverged in a yellow wood — just like the narrator of Robert Frost's popular 1915 poem "The Road Not Taken". The first few pages of Part 1
have Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead playing their last concert together as The Archies before graduation from Riverdale High, so (pardon the geekism) we're already in extracanonical waters. Later that evening, with the next stage of his life weighing on him, Archie takes a stroll and reaches Memory Lane; having walked down it plenty of times before, he goes the other way and, after choosing a path at the road's fateful divergence, emerges wearing a State U jacket and mulling over what the future holds now that he's graduating from college. "Stop the presses!" reads a caption. "By walking up Memory Lane, has Archie walked into his own future?"

First four story pages of Archie #600 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.
Click on each page for a larger view.

Like Batton Lash, who wrote 2008's five-part "Freshman Year" storyline (now available in collected form), Uslan peppers "Archie Marries Veronica" with in-jokes obvious and otherwise. When Archie reaches Memory Lane, the sign for the cross-street is just visible enough for folks like me to infer that it says Red Circle, a publishing imprint once used by Archie Comics for adventure titles; storefronts at the intersection likewise reference Archie history. Lyrics from the theme of the gang's Saturday-morning cartoon are used as dialogue, "Sugar Sugar" is the couple's wedding theme, and Veronica wants Katy Keene to train her bridesmaids in etiquette. I think we even see a grown-up Little Ambrose.

There are also the needlessly goofy stand-ins for actual trademarks typical of Archie stories (the engagement ring comes from Spiffany's, Jughead likes the burgers at McDaniel's), but overall Uslan does an admirable job of balancing the traditional Archie tone with touching moments of genuine emotion and a feeling of change. Given that polls official and otherwise generally favor Betty over Veronica by a wide margin, Archie's pre-wedding talk with Betty in #601's Part 2 is especially sweet. It's also nice to see the gang take real jobs in the real New York City and beyond after all attending the same generic State University; as a bonus for the continuity wonks out there, plot details strongly suggest that Riverdale is located near NYC (perhaps even in the Bronx, site of one of many real-world Riverdales, not far from the Mamaroneck offices of Archie Comics). The overriding ingredient that's kept the Archie line successful for so long, though, is the light comedy that prompts teenagers-to-be (mostly girls, but plenty of boys with sisters too) to fantasize in relative innocence about what lies ahead at their own Riverdale High.

Archie Comics stalwart Stan Goldberg has penciled the storyline, with veterans Bob Smith, Jack Morelli, and Glenn Whitmore rounding out the creative team as inker, letterer, and colorist, under the guidance of editor Victor Gorelick. Goldberg is a gentleman and living legend whom I've had the privilege of interviewing, and it's astounding that anyone can pack so much information into so many panels per page with such an invitingly casual texture, let alone keep the artwork fresh for himself and the readers after so much time. Looking at some of the intermittently iffy faces in the issues published to date, however, one has to wonder if the inevitabilities of age haven't led to some loss of precision in Goldberg's work, with Smith unwilling or unable to bring the characters back on-model.


Cover and first story page of Archie #603 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.
For a larger view and five-page story preview, click here.

Having chosen one of the roads diverged in Archie #600, proposed to Veronica, and had one wedding in #601, Archie leaves his growing family at the end of #602 for a walk in the snow and finds himself back on Memory Lane. Archie #603 arrives in comics shops today, November 25th, and on newsstands the week of December 7th, as Frost returns to Riverdale; the calendar rewinds from a Christmas Eve yet to come back to Graduation Day once more, and "Archie Marries Veronica" gives way to "Archie Marries Betty". The adventures conclude in #605 early next year, with an epilogue just announced for #606.


Cover to Archie #606 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.

Channeling



Al Gore had a borderline hilarious guest spot on SNL the other night.

I enjoy Ken Tucker's EW blog, Watching TV, and his reactions to Saturday Night Live this season have jibed with mine. So it was strange to read his review of SNL in the latest print issue of Entertainment Weekly, also posted online, and see that despite the big opening photo he didn't repeat his props to the Taylor Swift episode.


[Rude words alert! Coarse language is discussed, and therefore quoted, in the next three paragraphs; skip to "Click for Rest of Post" link (if you're on the digest page) or the next graphic (if you're already on the post's main page) to avoid it.]

Tucker also wrote about David Letterman's reaction, on CBS's Late Show last week, to The New York Times' front-page article on the current prevalence of the word "douche" in primetime.

Now, I'm with both fellas in terms of how absurd it feels to see a probe into that subject on Pg. A1 of the Old Grey Lady (at least it was, as Dave pointed out, "below the fold") — but I've also noticed, and frankly been shocked by, this latest advance in the trend toward coarse dialogue on television. I was there when NYPD Blue premiered to controversy with Det. Andy Sipowicz' immortal line, "ipso this, you pissy little bitch," and I remained a loyal viewer through ten years of great writing that eventually, realistically, included the occasional "bullshit" as well as the ballyhooed bare bottoms. But that was a gritty cop drama airing at 10 p.m. ET/PT. When Friends moved to 8 o'clock, I was just as uneasy as I've been with How I Met Your Mother's assumption of the same timeslot this year; both were among my very few sitcom indulgences, and I didn't want them to change their sensibilities, but neither did I find their content appropriate for family hour. Not long after I stopped wondering when it became okay to use the phrase "pissed off" on broadcast TV, up popped "dick" with regularity on Comedy Central's irreverent Daily Show and then on the networks, followed by what seemed like an overnight industry-wide memo to replace that epithet with "douche" — the youth-oriented CW's Supernatural even titled an episode "Criss Angel Is a Douche Bag" last season.

To bring this back around to SNL, it's only fair to note that the show slyly brought "douche" out of Massengill commercials and into late-night television years ago with a 1980 skit that wondered What if the Earl of Sandwich wasn't the only nobleman who gave his name to a handy invention? Although the skit doesn't seem to be in NBC's online video library of the show, you'll get the gist of it from the aforelinked YouTube clip, which should pass fair-use muster.


While Dave was discussing the word that rhymes with Scaramouche, and rightly pointing out that it is French for shower, I wondered if he was aware of how frequently Craig Ferguson utters it on CBS's Late Late Show these days.

I'm still enjoying Craig's cold opens, and if the guest list looks good I'll stop whatever I'm watching on tape post-Letterman to check in or on rare occasions record the show. The latter move paid off when it came to last week's interviews with David Duchovny and Lewis Black; the whole episode is online, but I don't see the segments posted individually.

You may know Black from his stand-up specials or the recurring Daily Show segment Back in Black, whose most recent installment found him following up a sound bite from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Al Gore's old running mate, for those of you keeping track of the serendipities here) with the remark, "That old Jewish lady is right." Had there been food or drink in my mouth at the time, I might not be alive today.

Black was on The Late Late Show promoting his History Channel special, Surviving the Holidays, which finds him exploring the traditions of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, and New Year's Eve, with commentary from over a dozen other comedians, Ferguson among them. Craig asked Black if he'd seen the new Twilight film, to which Black replied in hilariously poor taste, "I'd rather do what the kids these days call 'cutting'." Another topic of conversation between Black and Ferguson was brisket, which also got a shout-out from Craig during the filming of The Late Late Show's new title sequence, produced in honor of its move to HDTV and a great improvement over the last incarnation. Searching for that behind-the-scenes video, by the way, I just discovered that the zippy theme song actually exists in an extended version with multiple verses and bridge.

One of the charges leveled against the Twilight films is that chaste vampires are virtually oxymoronic, since the whole bloodsucking thing is usually a barely disguised metaphor for, and/or overt companion act to, sex. I get that the Twilight books were aimed at younger readers as well as readers of all ages who would revel in the romantic tension between a 100-year-old teenager and his high-school sweetheart, but it does seem an ill fit. Maybe Twilight is just the universe's way of counterbalancing the hellacious horniness of HBO's True Blood and the many WB/UPN seasons of the classic, colossally carnal Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One day soon I'll finish my writeup of True Blood, which at least has a virginal twentysomething gal at its center, as opposed to the jailbait creepily crushed on by centenarian immortals in Buffy, Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries. Meanwhile, I'll steer things back to Ferguson by noting that Buffy alum David Boreanaz, now on Fox's addictive Bones, is one of Craig's best guests, as is Neil Patrick Harris, whose How I Met Your Mother costar Alyson Hannigan, formerly Buffy's Willow, has proved to be an inveterate comedienne.

Of the three only Harris has hosted SNL, although according to the insanely helpful SNL Archives website Boreanaz made a cameo during Sarah Michelle Gellar's second gig. Here's hoping that he and Hannigan end up in some romantic comedies or big-budget action flicks soon, since either would likely be a hoot as host but neither will get the nod on the basis of headlining hot shows on competing networks. And having brought things full circle, my friends, that is our final thought for tonight.

Logos and title cards are trademarks of their respective rightsholders. Photos taken from various sources, uncredited. Composites performed by the author.