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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three Charles Burns Books

X'ed Out
The Hive
Sugar Skull
by Charles Burns

Charles Burns has finally wrapped up a trilogy of books that he began in 2010 with X'ed Out.  I'm not sure if anyone's settled on a name to call this story, so for now I'll just call it The Doug Trilogy.

The story follows Doug, a photographer/poet/performance artist, and his relationships with the women in his life, particularly Sarah, another photographer with a dark past.  So much of The Doug Trilogy is contingent on a past that is kept hidden.  Doug has his own secret that he keeps from us, the readers, and to a certain extent, himself.  X'ed Out introduces Doug as someone who is unable or unwilling to remember some kind of violent trauma, choosing instead to spiral down the hole of self-medicating on pain killers.  Similarly, Sarah has her own secrets, and Doug is happy to ignore them, at least at the beginning of their relationship.



A large component of these stories is the strange dream world that Doug finds himself in for a good portion of the series.  On the surface it's a strange, alien world with its own rules, dominated by a kind of surreal bureaucracy run by rude lizard men, but going a bit deeper, we begin to understand that it is further a continuing dream or some kind of sustained hallucination that gives us some clues about those secrets that Doug and Sarah keep from us and each other.

When I first read X'ed Out I remember wondering about that dream world and its connection to the main story, if it was a dream at all or if it was something else entirely.  One explanation points out that the cover to a Nitnit comic that Doug reads in The Hive is the exact last page from X'ed Out, suggesting that the dream world portions are actually scenes from the Nitnit comics.  After reading the whole thing, I'm of the opinion that it is a dream, a mysterious allegory to Doug's checkered past, but even if these were pages from a comic that Doug reads, I think the overall effect of explaining our characters' murky pasts through some sort of allegory or parallelism is the same.  If it seems like there are more concrete connections to the waking world of Burns's story, it's reflective of our dreams having the tendency to elicit a seemingly real connection to what we see and experience in our waking lives, like when you see something while walking home and you swear you'd seen it before, maybe in a dream.



The art style that Burns uses for the dream portions evoke HergĂ©'s Tintin books, and in some ways the dream world story takes on the spirit of a Tintin adventure.  The cover and book design of the three books certainly mimic that of a Tintin book, but aside from the art style and the loose theme of getting caught up in a strange new land, I'm not sure there's much else to connect it to Tintin.  However, Burns playing with HergĂ©'s style has less to do with the content of Tintin and more to do with the effect it has on the reader.  I think I remember a section of Understanding Comics where Scott McCloud is using Tintin as an example of simplifying linework as a way to maximize the readers' identification with a character, and juxtaposing that with more complicated or specific looking backgrounds as a way of creating a feeling of displacement/alienation (it's been years since I've read Understanding Comics, so forgive me if I'm conflating or misremembering), and I think that principle applies itself well to the Doug Trilogy.

The dream world and the waking world are key in understanding this.  The dream world is one of total alienation for Doug.  Strange creatures with even stranger customs dominate the otherworldly landscape, but through it all, Doug is able to retain some sense of self in as much as he realizes he is out of place, and that he would do well to comply with the strangeness around him in order to survive.  The Nitnit (this comic's Tintin analog) mask he wears for his performances serves as a visual tie, connecting the waking world to the dream world both for the readers and for Doug.  Perhaps we could take this to mean that Doug self-identifies as the comic book character Nitnit, and he thusly sees himself as Nitnit in his dreams.  It's feasible that Doug imagines his true self as the "Johnny 23" persona he's created for himself onstage, considering the fact that in The Hive, the dreamworld Doug is assigned the number 23 when he wears the lizard men's uniform at work.  There are other links too, like the Nitnit comics that Doug reads, and the romance comics he buys for Sarah.  Again, these may seem like fairly superficial connections, but they are important signifiers that are used to connect Doug's dream to Doug's life, demonstrating to the readers that these dreams have a connection to the details of the story that Doug has been concealing.



I appreciated the dream world sections for their strangeness and for the scope of vision that Burns applies to this fantastic and uncanny world, but after I put down Sugar Skull I felt that those scenes ended up undercutting the emotional resonance of certain powerful reveals, particularly the scene where Sarah's dream-world analog explains the plot of her romance comics (and by extension, Sarah's dark history) to dream-Doug.  That bit felt like exposition rather than a revealing hint about Sarah's character, and I suppose it is understandable since she is literally giving comic book exposition, but I have to think that revealing that information about Sarah in the real world would have had more impact.  Revealing these key character moments in the midst of the dream setting lends them an ambiguity that mitigates the emotional weight of a new insight about a character.

However, I think I can understand some of Burns's intent in revealing things in this way.  That ambiguity that results from some critical character backstory being revealed in a dream allows Burns to place a sense of doubt or distrust in a reader because what we see in dreams is innately untrustworthy.  Then when we see what we saw in the dream world confirmed in the real world, the effect works in two ways: 1) We get confirmation that the dreams are relating something rooted in reality, thereby making them important to us as readers 2) We develop a sense of dread when we see how things in the dream world unfold for Doug.  In that regard Burns very effectively shows us the unsettling power of a prophetic dream.  I still feel they'd have more impact if these moments were revealed in the waking world, but perhaps that speaks more to  my own inclination toward Doug and Sarah's mysterious romance than it does to a mistake in Burns's method.  The dream world adds a layer of obfuscation to character and story development which seems to be in line with Burns's storytelling preferences (as far as I can gather from my memory of his previous work).



For all its exciting dream logic and allegory, the Doug Trilogy is still a story about a relationship falling apart because of Doug's selfishness and inability to mature emotionally.  Doug's relationship with Sarah is a kind of "the one that got away" story, but throughout the course of the trilogy it becomes clear that Sarah "got away" because she had to.  Doug is a nice guy but he is unable to give Sarah the emotional support she needs because he himself is unwilling to mature.  We are able to see this in the relationships he has before and after Sarah.  Doug immediately runs out on Colleen, the first girl we see him with, in order to take in the art scene at a warehouse party and perform for an audience that couldn't care less about him.  Colleen only goes to the party to be supportive of Doug, and Doug repays this kindness by ignoring her for most of the party except when he wants her input about how he looks before he gets on stage to perform.  When Doug is with Sarah, it's fun and perfect until Doug finds out about Sarah's past and when Sarah actually needs Doug to be with her during a pregnancy scare.  Doug loves the idea of the perfect girl in Sarah, but is unable to handle a reality with a real woman with a troubling past.  He is unable to deal with the consequences that would result from being unselfish and emotionally available to her.  Tina, the woman he is involved with after he and Sarah break up, is a rebound relationship, but when we see her interacting with Doug, it is again in the role of unreciprocated support.  Tina takes care of Doug when he drinks too much, and to her credit, she stands up for herself and tells Doug she's sick of hearing about his relationship with Sarah and his father's death (more on his father in a bit).  Finally, Sally, the woman that Doug seems to end up with, is again not so much an equal as she is someone who Doug is with because he's become accustomed to her doting on him.  By the time he ends up with Sally, Doug still hasn't made any meaningful changes, and he is still hung up on seeing Sarah again.  The way that Doug treats the women in his life show that what Doug wants is not really a partner, but rather an emotional receptacle to dump on when he's feeling low or needy.

The women aren't the only indication of Doug's stagnation.  Take Doug's photography.  He takes the same polaroid self portraits, making the same dumb face in most of them.  When he finally does something different (taking a picture of Sarah posing with an animal heart) it's out of spite for Sarah's past with her abusive ex-boyfriend Larry.  He never progresses with his art.  He eventually ends up working at a record store and dabbling in photography when he has time, but he never really made a commitment to making any serious progress.  For Doug, his photos are not a way to relate his view of the world so much as they are a way to remember himself at a certain time.  Perhaps that's why he revels in his onstage Johnny 23 persona: The masking is ageless and unchanging, his t-shirt is iconic.  When he finally tries to reconnect with Sarah at the end of Sugar Skull, Doug wears his Johnny 23 shirt in the hopes of sparking a visual reminder of what they once had, but it's doomed to fail because it's not a reminder of their relationship, but rather it's a demonstration that Doug is still the same person he was all those years ago.



Doug's father is also reflective of an inability to change as well as being a warning about getting hung up on the past.  We see Doug's father in the real world, and more unsettlingly, in the dream world.  When we first see him, Doug's father is not introduced as such.  We know nothing of him except that he is dressed in the same robe and pajamas that the dream version of Doug wears, visually connecting him to Doug. This visual connection without any concrete knowledge about his identity suggests initially that this person we see is perhaps some kind of future version of Doug.  It is understandably uncanny and unsettling for the dream Doug to see this, but the reality of it is fairly close.  Even Sarah, when looking at old pictures of Doug's father when he was Doug's age, remarks that Doug and his father look very similar.  This goes further than a mere visual connection, however.  After Doug's father's death, Doug and Sarah find in his robe an old picture of a young woman who is not Doug's mother (whom we only hear about, but never see).  We don't know who this woman is, but in a flashback we do see Doug catching his father staring wistfully at his secret photograph, so we could infer that this woman meant something to him, so perhaps an old girlfriend.  Like Doug, Doug's father is also hung up on a woman from his past.  We also get a sense that Doug's father is a sign of Doug's future to come when we hear Doug talk about how he remembers his father's life and how a once vibrant man that can be seen in old photographs eventually became uninterested in anything else besides TV and cigarettes.  The visual connection between the two, given the significance of visual connections between the dream world and the real world, would suggest that Doug's father is a warning of what's to come for Doug, and it becomes even more foreboding when we get to the final revelation in Sugar Skull of Sarah's son looking just like Doug.

The Doug Trilogy is a story about relationships and the dangers of never learning to move on.  The surrealistic connections between dreams and reality allow for a lot of further unpacking and varying interpretations, but I think at its heart all the nauseating and mysterious dream imagery relates to exactly what we see in the real world.  Burns is an immensely talented artist, using these three books as an opportunity to play with varying styles and to experiment with color effects.  His strong technique delivers a story that is an experience equal parts repulsive and rewarding.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Philip Kaufman

WARNING: the clip below is from the end of the movie, so don't watch it if you care about spoilers or whatever.  Also, this movie is almost forty years old and a remake of a sci-fi cultural touchstone so if you're worried about spoilers... come on, dude.


I'd never seen the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I never really felt like I needed to.  I got the gist.  Aliens, pod people, paranoia, etc.  This one had just recently popped up on Netflix and with a cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy, I figured I'd be into it.  And I was.  For parts of it, at least.

I think my main problem was in the pacing.  It starts out pretty brisk and tense.  Strange flowers appear all over San Francisco.  We meet Elizabeth and her basketball-obsessed dope of a husband.  We meet uptight health inspector Matthew.  We get the status quo and then we wake up the next morning and something about Elizabeth's husband is different.  He wears a suit, he's cleaning up after himself, he skips out on the basketball game to go to some kind of late night meeting.  And he's not the only one.  Other people in the city seem a bit off as well.  There's a pervasive air of discomfort that we feel in the first half hour or so of the movie, but that creepy momentum doesn't really carry into the rest of the movie.  
Instead what we get is a bumbling investigation by a group of non experts who keep deferring to Leonard Nimoy's character, an asshole self-help book writing psychiatrist who is never in any real position of authority.  Seriously, they keep coming to him with what they find, and he keeps listening to them and telling them they're hallucinating or whatever.  Even if he did believe them, what could he possibly do about any of this??

It's not all tedious stumbling around, though.  There are some very unsettling and strange moments that are scattered throughout the second act of the movie, and by the time we make it to the third act, the movie seems to have finally hit its stride, offering up the paranoid horror it had been building towards.

That's the thing about this movie, I think.  There are individual moments that are shocking and scary, but the true horror of this movie comes from the big picture concept.  There's this great bit where Matthew and Elizabeth are captured, and one of the pod people starts to explain about how they are refugees from a dead planet.  He is about to go deeper in his exposition, but he gets interrupted when the two decide to take this soliloquy as an opportunity to get the jump on their captors, strangling one of them and locking the other in a freezer before they rush off to their escape.  It's a great moment that works as a comment on the futility of ever speculating on where these creatures came from, what they want from us, etc.  At this point in the invasion the reasons are no longer important.  The only thing that matters is survival.

That idea of futility is the truly terrifying thing about this movie.  The risk and paranoia that comes from the fact that any of these people you see could be one of "them" is understandably scary and exciting, but I think the crux of the horror here comes from the fact that you can't change any of it; there's no winning this one.  None of our protagonists knows anything about these body snatching alien plants, they're just picking it up as they go, and each minute that goes by another human comes under their control.  They are massively outnumbered and all they can do is run, but to where?  They don't know how widespread this invasion is.  They don't know how long it's been going on.
There's this great scene near the end where Matthew and Elizabeth, both fighting off the effects of a sedative, have narrowly avoided being discovered and find themselves in a shipyard.  Matthew plans to stow them away on a boat so they can at least get out of San Francisco, maybe warn the human race.  He leaves Elizabeth to hide herself as he runs to some massive cargo ship to see if there's a way on, but he has to stop and turn back when he sees that the ship's cargo is just giant pallets full up with more of the alien plants responsible.  It's at that moment where we feel the weight of defeat along with Matthew.  Any attempt to survive truly is futile, and humanity is unquestionably doomed.  I like that kind of stuff.  I just wish they'd gotten to that bit sooner.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gotham s01e01 "Pilot"


No one was expecting this to be good, right?  Because it's not.  Gotham, as far as I can tell from this pilot episode, is not good.  But that doesn't mean it isn't any fun.

I guess I should further clarify the above by explaining that Gotham is fun for me, and I think your enjoyment of this show will depend on what you like in your Batman.  Batman is a character who's gone through many varied interpretations in his 75 years, all of them pretty valid.  True, this show's whole driving thrust is that this is Gotham before there was a Batman, but anyone who's seen a Batman movie or read a Batman comic knows that Gotham the city is intrinsically linked to Batman.  One's take on Batman typically aligns with one's take on Gotham.

Personally, I'm of the mind that one can and should learn to appreciate all forms of Batman/Gotham.  From back alley vigilante lurking in the darkness to hairy chested sci-fi jet setter or caped fascist, I think most every read on Batman has meaning and every read enriches the other.  Same for Gotham, a city that contains everything from dirty urban hellholes to high society gala venues.  So what can we make of Gotham's take on Batman and Gotham?

The first thing I noticed about Gotham was the set design.  It's gaudy and soundstagey and it's not even trying to look like a real city.  It acts as a sort of counterpoint to Christopher Nolan's last two Batman movies, which used actual city locations to evoke that feeling that Gotham could be any major city in America as long as it rhymed with "Schmicago" or "Schmew York."  The sets look very much like how a kid who reads a lot of Batman comics would imagine places in a city.  That first scene in the Gotham police station, for example.  It looks like a police station that's just one giant room filled with desks and ringing phones while jail cells line the walls.  I can't think of a single police station that would ever want a set up like that.  Really if anything, Gotham's set design is evocative of Tim Burton's Batman, with just a small touch of that Schumacher flair (read: gaudiness).

The set design is really just the start of it.  It's emblematic of the hefty doses of camp that lace the writing and performances.  It being the pilot episode, Gotham went in hard on trying to sell you on who these characters are and what their motivations mean to the story they want to tell, going so far as to have characters explaining to other characters who they are.  Jim Gordon tells Harvey Bullock, "You're a cynic," Barbara Kean tells Renee Montoya that Jim Gordon is "The most honest man I've ever met," Oswald Cobblepot hates being called "The Penguin," Bullock tells Ed Nygma to quit it with the riddles, etc.  This cycle of characters introducing themselves to each other is pretty much the meat of this episode, and it reeks of desperation.  Every new scene brings new characters into the fold, saying their own names with a weighted significance, as if to say "Yeah?  You get it?  You know this character right?  That character you know?  Wow you're so smart and good at Gotham."  They held back on turning their heads, looking directly into the camera, and giving us a knowing wink, but man they may as well have.  It felt like all of those little passing references to the source material that you see in superhero movies just got crammed into one episode and they were like "OK, I guess we'll turn this into a series."  "But these are just references to comic book things, shouldn't we actually build an interesting plot too?"  "Yeah sure we'll figure it out later AFTER WE'RE DONE COUNTING ALL THAT SWEET CASHEESH, RIGHT?? UP TOP!"

As groan-inducing as all the introductory clever name-offs were, I felt the performances were all on point.  I've seen some people on twitter saying the acting is bad, but I think they're missing the degree of camp that's going into these performances.  None of these actors seem like they are taking any of this too seriously, and it's not like they don't care about it, but as a result what we end up seeing are some more playfully outrageous performances from most everyone.  This isn't bad acting in the sense that Carey Mulligan is a bad actor (sit down, she is).  It's camp.  You see it in Ed Nygma's delight at how clever he is, you see it in Mario Pepper's battered wife clutching her robe and speaking in a performative Tennesse Williams by way of Broadway hysterical woman style, you see it in Jada Pinkett Smith making a clear actor's choice when she does a little wig adjust after putting a thug in his place.

The one exception seems to be Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon.  McKenzie kind of has the one thing that he does, which is being a seething good guy with perpetually gritted teeth.  It's fine, it works, especially considering the idea that Jim Gordon is supposed to be incorruptible and surrounded by lunatics.  In that way it provides this interesting and, at times, funny contrast within Gotham, dropping McKenzie's typical serious TV cop in the middle of a bunch of campy overacting.  I think it's interesting because whenever we see a Batman story, each one of his villains seem to be reflective on the type of Batman story we're getting, and Batman is crazy enough to face them head-on every time, but in a Jim Gordon story with Batman's villains, he is entirely out of his element.  Gotham reflects this point in particular by casting serious man McKenzie alongside the likes of Donal Logue, wise cracking vampire sidekick to Stephen Dorff, noted bumbling sit-com dad, and perhaps at one time TV's best answer to Jeff Bridges.

The Gotham City of Gotham as evidenced by its villains, is one that is informed by its gritty predecessors, but is not beholden to them.  Gotham works within the trappings of a crime show to foster the more outrageous and campy leanings of its cast.  It doesn't seem to be working as the producers may have intended, but what we have is something more interesting than a simple "Phantom Menace, but it's Batman," although when it falls flat it does feel like this show may just be "Phantom Mencace, but it's Batman."  It's far from a perfect show, but Gotham doesn't need to be.  It never needed to be because people were going to watch it no matter what; that's how nerd consumer culture works.  What's nice about Gotham is that it doesn't try to be perfect and it doesn't try to follow in the footsteps of something like Nolan's Batman movies-- it's just trying to have some fun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

P.T.


P.T.
Hideo Kojima (and a bunch of other people)
PS4 (and maybe other places? I'm not sure.  I played it on Tony's PS4)

I've never really written about video games before, and I haven't really played much of anything made after the Playstation 2, so please bear with me here.  I'm sorry if anything below is totally obvious to people who've been playing and thinking about video games for years.  I just wanted to write about this game because it's probably the worst I've ever felt playing a video game.

P.T., as I understand it, is a playable teaser for Hideo Kojima's upcoming game Silent Hills, the latest entry in the Silent Hill series of horror/survival games.  In the game you play from the 1st-person perspective of some anonymous man who wakes up in a room and explores a hallway in a house, possibly his own.  The controls are simple: you use one control stick to move, the other to look around and to look in closer at something.

The initial fear comes in quickly as you listen to a radio broadcast about a man who recently murdered his wife and child.  You are alone, exploring a dimly lit hallway.  There's trash scattered everywhere and all you hear is the squeaking sound of a lamp suspended on a chain swinging back and forth above the foyer.  When you finally come across a door that you can open, you pass through it and you end up in the exact same place you began in the hallway.

Now, I understand if uncanny circular floorplans aren't exactly your idea of horror, but don't worry-- it only gets worse.  I'll try to skip past detailing the rest of the awful, horrible things that you're subjected to (a quick look through the "PT" or "playable teaser" tag on tumblr or a search for walk throughs on youtube will help you out there), but "it only gets worse" is something that I feel is an accurate description of my experience playing through it.

I think that's what I want to get at here: games as an immersive experience.  I'm regularly impressed whenever I see new games these days and how meticulously they've built the world of the game that you'll probably only be spending a couple hours a night on, but P.T. is probably the best recent example of a truly immersive experience and it just takes place in a dimly lit hallway.  P.T. achieves this by creating a very real atmosphere that takes advantage of both the visuals and the sounds of the game, but it's also very dependent on the horror and mystery of it all to compel you to keep playing.

After playing through the first couple of loops of the hallway, I set my controller down and decided to stop because it was too scary.  And nothing really even happens during those first couple of loops aside from the terror of being trapped in some sort of strange hallway and this horrible feeling that you aren't alone and that something is going to be waiting for you when you turn the corner.  It only gets worse.

I came back to the game the next night, convinced that since I already knew what was going to happen for those first couple of loops, it would be less scary.  It worked for a little bit; I was feeling pretty brave and confident, exploring the hallway and taking my time looking at all the picture frames and details, but once I figured out what to do next I got scared all over again.  The game is not above using a very effective, cheap scare.

When I think about the scares in P.T. I can easily see those things working just as well for a horror movie.  However, what I think made P.T. a scarier experience for me was that all of these things happen as a direct result of your participation.  With a horror movie, you're always watching a movie.  You're always a step removed from the action that you see.  With an immersive horror game like P.T., you are involved in the fear via the character you're controlling.  This is all happening because you are in a way actively choosing to experience it.  In a horror movie you can shout all you want, but those characters are still going to turn the corner and see something scary.  In P.T. you can shout all you want, but you're the one who's still pressing forward on the controller, ready to look behind that door that just mysteriously opened a crack.  It's that sort of agency and involvement that really makes you feel awful.  You know you shouldn't look behind that door, but you're going to do it anyway.  It only gets worse.

As I was playing, my stomach started hurting from all this anxiety I was putting myself through.  My entire body was clenched, ready to just toss the controller away and bolt out of the living room.  Actively managing my body's fight or flight response was entirely exhausting, but there I was, forcing myself to keep on going, to keep subjecting myself to whatever evils lurked in that awful hallway and that horrible bathroom.  Everything was terrifying and you had to figure out little puzzles to get to the next part, which, on top of everything else, was inevitably just a return to where you started, but somehow scarier.  That was one of the most interesting things about this game, I think; the progression of the kinds of fear and terror that you experience as the game goes on.  It starts with the fear that comes with not knowing what the situation is; who/where you are, what you're doing here, etc.  Then it continues to the more uncanny fear related to doors not opening to where they should,  and things not being in their place; that sort of purposely nonsensical architecture akin to what Kubrick was doing in The Shining or in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves.  Later on we get more traditional horror elements like ghosts and murder and blood, but those fears of the unknown and the uncanny remain and seep into the rest of it.  Different horror elements are introduced as the game progresses, but they never disappear.  You enter a door and end up back at the beginning, but those horror elements stick around and build on each other, allowing your own fears to grow and, like the best horror, carry over into your own life.  Walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night is always the worst after watching/reading/playing a really good horror experience.

Probably my favorite part of this game came towards the end of my playing experience.  The last half of the game, maybe even more than that, I played while Tessa and our friend Tony gave me tips about the puzzles and what to do next.  None of us had actually played through the entire thing, so with me behind the controls, we set out into that darkened hallway and screamed at every scare around the corner.  I doubt this is what Kojima had in mind when he said he envisioned seeing people around the world having to collaborate to solve the final puzzle, but you make due with what you have.  It was nice playing the game together and sharing the same feelings of terror and dread, knowing that we were all hating every step, but still compelled to keep on going.  That's the kind of shared experience I never typically associated with online gaming groups.  There's something to be said about being in the same room and being scared together and yelling at each other and solving a problem together.  I don't know exactly how that ties in with P.T. being an immersive horror game, but maybe I'll take it as the one big sigh of relief I had during my experience.

Anyway, P.T. was a really interesting and terrifying gameplay experience.  It's nice to see Kojima's odd, brechtian affectations applied to a horror game, as it seems to be a genre of games that really thrives on those tics.  I was happy to have played it, but I was happier that it was all over.  At least until whenever Silent Hills comes out.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

thoughts on Multiversity and being okay with things moving on without you

The Multiversity #1
Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado
DC Comics

I used to be really into punk rock music.  Like most kids in high school, it was the only kind of music that I thought really spoke to me.  Today, I still like to listen to punk rock but it's with a sort of detached, almost academic kind of fascination.  It no longer really speaks to me and my worldview so much as it makes me recall a time when I really believed in this music.  This is all a roundabout way to help you understand me when I say that I read that first issue of Grant Morrison's Multiversity the way I listen to punk rock today.

I liked that first issue of Multiversity.  I think Grant Morrison is great at these kinds of grand, multiversal, ensemble superhero narratives.  It was fun, and I think more superhero event epics could benefit from this approach of making everything as big as possible.  However, my problem with it is that it seems that we've seen most of this before.  I understand that that's partly by design.  Morrison enjoys making call-backs to his previous work and he seems to be interested in dealing with a certain set of themes in all his work, most especially in his superhero epics from DC Comics, but another part of it is that even all of these big ideas where he sort of just mushes together a bunch of sci-fi/spiritual/mystical-sounding concepts together to make things seem so big and crazy and wild and connected just all felt kind of routine.  I don't have the issue at hand right now so I'm paraphrasing, but there's that part where Captain Carrot is telling Earth-23 Superman about how the House of Heroes is orbiting through bleed space or something, and for all the sci-fi elements in his explanations about how the House of Heroes works, it kind of all just amounts to "This door won't be in the same place in five minutes."  Cool.  It's a place where everything shifts around because of weird science.  Yeah, I'm familiar with that.  Got it.  I'm being a little paltry here, but it's only because I think I'm just disappointed that I don't get that enthusiastic charge from all that sci-fi gibberish speak that I used to get when I was reading Morrison's comics in High School and College.

The rest of the issue feels like that as well.  Parallel Earths!  I know.  Analogues of familiar superheroes from other comics!  Yeah, I see.  From other publishers!  Right, like Image used to do.  Those guys are in there too sort of!  Yes.  There's a spaceship that goes through the space in between universes and it's controlled by music!  Yeah, we saw that in the last Grant Morrison event comic.  It was cool.  METATEXT!  I live on the internet.

For a while I was wondering if I even still like superhero comics.  I'm more of a grump about it these days, but I do still like this stuff.  I just don't get the same high I used to from it.  Multiversity itself is good so far, it's doing what it's meant to be doing, and a few years ago I would have been really excited by all of this.  I think somewhere along the way my tastes and sensibilities have changed, and I don't respond the same way to the same things like I used to.  Maybe it's because of over-exposure?  Like maybe somewhere along the way we all got over exposed to superheroes saturating the media and the weird metatext themes of superheroes being in the real world just became the actual text and it wasn't so weird to think about these things anymore.  Sometimes it feels like all you see on the comics internet these days is superheroes in the real world or movie casting news about the latest superhero movie or cosplay about superheroes and the last thing you are going to be excited about is how there's a Savage Dragon analogue in a DC event comic.  That's fine.  That happens.  I think the mistake lies in thinking another superhero comic is the answer to that problem.  Superhero comics can't save you from superheroes.  I think my problem was approaching a new superhero comic and thinking that it was the kind of thing that would make me feel like how I felt when these things were still so fresh and new and vital to me.  All a new superhero comic has anymore is more superheroes.

Anyway I give it Fifty Two (52) Bright Shining Earths out of an Entire Universe of Possibilities, and I'm going to continue to read along because I still listen to punk rock and watch skateboard videos for some reason.