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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

J LHLS Archives: May 2004

Saturday, May 1, 2004

Stupid Comics
by Jim Mahfood; $2.95
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Laurel Sutton

Why is this called Stupid Comics? It's not stupid at all. In fact, it's one of the smartest comics I've read recently. (Is that the joke? Maybe I'm just slow.) I got to read issue #2, which (like #1) is a collection of strips that appeared in Java magazine and Tastes Like Chicken newspaper – the latter being a very cool looking zine/magazine/webzine that has way lots of articles about bands I've never heard of, way lots of cool interviews, and short news parodies, like the Onion. Anyway, I really like Jim Mahfood's comics, which are equal parts anger at the stupidity of the world (Bush, Republicans, celebrities) and celebration of the good things that we can still share (friends, music, love, art). I mean, I like bleak as much as the next gal – hey, I have ALL the issues of Optic Nerve – but it's great to see simple appreciation of "the sweetest things", as in the last strip in this book: calling your mom, reading comics, eating a yummy breakfast, stuff like that. Mahfood's drawing style is kind of a cross between Bill Watterson and Jaime Hernandez, if that makes any sense at all, filled with lots of black and pointy edges on hair and clothes. I really enjoyed his rants on comic book stores in LA (and I thought they were bad up here in No Cal) and comic conventions, and on things that are Fucking Played Out. Like I said, good healthy anger without the bitterness! Hooray! Mahfood does a bunch of other cool comics, too, so hop on over to his website and check em out.

Posted by Laurel Sutton @ 09:02 PM PST [Link]

Astonishing X-Men #1
By Joss Whedon
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Chad Denton

I don't envy Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" who has recently been tapped to write "Astonishing X-Men," here. After acclaimed writer Grant Morrison was allowed to take the tired franchise that was X-Men into strange and exciting new territory, Whedon, as experimental as his assignment onto "Astonishing X-Men" may seem, is being asked to force the X-Men franchise to return to its crusty, frozen home base.

In his run Morrison worked to treat X-Men not as "another superhero title," but as a mix of superhero sub-genre conventions and more 'pure' sci-fi. Instead of as a thinly veiled metaphor for racism and homophobia, Morrison took the unique turn, almost untouched in the decades of the X-Men's existence, of treating the concept of mutants in its own right. He invented the idea of a 'mutant culture' struggling for its existence and, although his storylines had roots in old X-Men themes, he expanded the premise into new directions: a murder mystery with complications caused by suspects with mind control powers; the X-Men as an international peace keeping force; and hellraising young mutant activists.

In the start of Whedon's run, we have one of those bizarre instances of metacommentary gone wild as the X-Men openly talk about becoming superheroes again (yes, the words 'tights' and 'superheroes' are thrown around). Whedon has inherited Morrison's surviving central cast - Emma Frost, Scott Summers, Wolverine, and the Beast - and, although he adds in longtime X-Men character Kitty Pryde who has mostly existed as a traditional superhero character (both in the X-Men books and in sometimes-British superhero book, sometimes-X-Men satellite title Excalibur), it is a bit jarring to followers of Morrison's run. Eschewing the leather outfits inspired by the recent X-Men films, the characters revert back to traditional superhero costumes. While retaining a certain edginess, the outfits, unfortunately, do look a bit silly, despite Cassidy's best efforts (Scott Summers in particular looks like he's three steps away from becoming somebody's gimp).

To be completely fair to Whedon, if this is going to be traditional superhero fare with a little twist from the groundwork Morrison laid down, it's better than average. Whedon, who made his career with supernatural soap operas, is a natural with this stuff, laying out wry, slightly cynical dialogue and impromptu dramatic moments between the protagonists. He even does surprisingly well with the iconic Emma Frost, the character Morrison most made his own. Fans, 'traditional' and otherwise, will be likely pleased with the earthy take on Kitty Pryde, a popular character who has suffered much over the years from writers' hands. So far it doesn't seem like he's going to ignore the changes Morrison applied to the Beast and Scott Summers and, naturally, he pulls a good Wolverine.

The only drawback is with one of the story's two villains, so far unnamed, who looks like he escaped from a 50s b-movie. But Whedon more than makes up for this by introducing another potential antagonist, Dr. Rao, who starts the story by looking like a benefactor before one sinister turn of phrase alters our perception of her character entirely.

Naturally Cassidy's art is gorgeous, and is arguably a match for the recent work done on "New X-Men" by Frank Quietly. He still can't seem to get Quietley's redesign for the Beast, but makes a good college try.

All in all, not as bad as it might have been, and, considering that the whole project is an editorial step-back, Whedon does an excellent job of making the most out of it. Hopefully he will manage to keep it up.

Posted by Chad Denton @ 08:20 PM PST [Link]

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Sketchbook Diaries Vol. 4
by James Kochalka
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Reviewed by Chad Denton

To be honest, "The Sketchbook Diaries Vol. 4" was more or less an abrupt introduction to the work and world of James Kochalka for me. I've read and enjoyed the delightfully surreal "Monkey versus Robot," but that was about all I knew about the man and the writer/artist James Kochalka.

"The Sketchbook Diaries" are basically a day-to-day account of Kochalka's life, recorded in black-and-white strips that number around three or four panels, beginning in 1998. In this volume, we follow Kochalka's careers as a comic book writer/artist and as a member of a rock band; his life with his wife Amy; his video game addiction; his decision to have a child with Amy; and the odd, funny minutia of life we all face. The experiences painted by Kochalka range from discovering how painful it is to spill toothpaste on your penis to his wife's last minute anxiety over becoming pregnant.

In contrast to the autobiographical themes of "The Sketchbook Diaries," the art is distorted through a cartoonist lens with the same light-hearted tone in "Monkey versus Robot." A few times through out the volume realist sketches appear, but Kochalka mostly sticks to the new forms he devised for his cast and himself: he and Amy appear as elves, Kochalka's friend and bandmate Jason is a dog (not a dog-man, but an actual dog), and other people in Kochalka's life appear with one eye, duck-shaped faces, or as giant beetles. Part of the fun of reading this is seeing these surreal figures participating in some very real-life activities: dropping the f-bomb, being naked, and urinating in public. There are few things more entertaining than seeing real life acted out by unreal figures.

All the vignettes in this book, whether intended to be completely hilarious or slightly poignant, come across as lovely little anecdotes and jokes friends and lovers share between each other. You never feel like an intruder into Kochalka's life, but a welcome guest, even if, like me, you did not have the benefit of reading the previous volumes of "The Sketchbook Diaries" or knowing much about Kolchalka's life and career. This is, without a doubt, the comic strip/book medium being put to one of its best and most inventive uses.

Posted by Chad Denton @ 07:56 PM PST [Link]

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Reviewed by William Wentworth-Sheilds

Mermaid's Play is a self-published portfolio of erotic mermaids. The mind and hand behind the enterprise is Ric Quiroz, who according to the back cover blurb, and his resume, has a rich, varied, and long career in the animation industry, including two "Emmy Award Certificates" for his work on Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. He's also worked on Family Guy, The Critic, and The Simpsons.

His book mainly features the kind of artistic nudes found in Playboy, with about the same range of body types and ethnicities. Which is to say, not very broad. As pornography it isn't especially enlightened. At the least, it isn't the monthly gynecology seminar that is the typical issue of Hustler; bare breasts are the extent of the nudity depicted. As art, it's hard to imagine hanging more than a handful of the pages on a spare wall. And yet, the various commingling of female upper bits with aquatic lower bits are actually inventive, and erotic, when intended, and funny, when intended.

Quiroz manages to make being a mermaid, being nude, and not incidentally, sex, look like a heck of a lot of fun, something that escapes the grasp of Playboy's erotic foreplay fables. The humor is gentle, and winsome. If, after the five minutes it takes to flip through the fifty-plus black and white illustrations, you aren't wearing a big, silly, bemused grin on your face ... you're doing it wrong.

Posted by William Wentworth Sheilds @ 02:48 PM PST [Link]

Behind the cut: Short reviews of Marvel Age: Spider-Man #3, District X #1, and Uncanny X-Men #444. [more]

Posted by William Wentworth Sheilds @ 02:14 PM PST [Link]

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

ULTIMATE SIX 7Ultimate Six #7
Published by Marvel Comics; $2.25
Cover By: John Cassaday
Writer: Brian Bendis
Pencils: Trevor Hairsine
Inks: Danny Miki

Full disclosure: I was a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society and I own a lot of Silver Age Marvel.

Summary: Here's the blurb that Marvel sent us – it's a hell of a better summary than I could write: "The Green Goblin is one of the last 'men' standing after the terrible battle between the Ultimates and the Ultimate Six on the White House lawn. And there is only one being in the world that can stop him…and it isn't Spider-Man!!"

Review: Want to know who it is? It's his son, Harry! What a surprise (not). See, I'm probably not the best person to review this, because up until 3:30 this afternoon I had no idea what this "Ultimate" thing was about. I look at the pages of beautiful art and I think, Oh, I know these guys – Spider Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor – but no! They dress different! They talk different! Peter Parker looks like he's fourteen years old! Thor doesn't look anything like the way Jack Kirby drew him!

Posted by Laurel Sutton @ 10:16 PM PST [Link]

Evidence of Love
By John Bloom and Jim Atkinson
1985 Bantam Books (paperback edition)

Full disclosure: I read this book because Ginger's boyfriend co-wrote it.

Summary: In 1980, a Texas housewife (Candy Montgomery) killed her neighbor (Betty Gore) with an axe. Candy hit Betty forty-one times with the axe, continuing to hack at her long after she was dead; she washed off the blood and pretended that nothing had happened. After she was arrested, based on physical evidence, she claimed self-defense and was acquitted in a rather sensational trial.

Review: Despite the lurid cover (scanned from my own Amazon-purchased copy) and a title that sounds like a bad Chris Isaak song, this is an excellent true-crime book. Since there was no motive, in the classical sense, for this murder, the book focuses on the personalities involved – Candy and her husband Pat, Betty and her husband Allan, , their neighbors, their ministers, Betty's parents, the lawyers, and the judge (who chain-smoked in the courtroom and insulted the defense lawyers on a regular basis, in court and out). Oh, did I mention that Candy and Allan had an affair? A short and lukewarm one, from the sound of it, but apparently it was enough to freak out Betty, to the point where she threatened Candy with an axe. Did I mention that Betty was clinically depressed, and taking a lot of prescription drugs? And that both couples had gone to a church-sanctioned therapy thing called Marriage Encounter that had them writing love letters to each other all the time? And that it was the hottest summer in Texas in a hell of a long time? I guess when people in Texas flip out, they flip out BIG.

Posted by Laurel Sutton @ 08:47 PM PST [Link]

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
by SD Perry
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2003

Reviewed by Ida Vega-Landow

This book is the finale in the "Deep Space Nine: Avatar" series. It begins with a Linear Time calendar describing all the events that have occurred aboard DS9 and to its characters since the mysterious disappearance of Captain Benjamin Sisko. It seems to be a capsulated version of all the DS9 novels that preceded this one, which either saves you the expense of buying and reading all those other books, or makes you curious to find and read them.

After taking us through the last eight months of the year 2376, we finally arrive at the present, star date 53679.4. The Starship DEFIANT is returning to the Alpha Quadrant after a grueling mission in the Gamma Quadrant. The C.O. is Commander Elias Vaugh, a centenarian human who is second in command at DS9 since Colonel Kira was promoted after the departure of the Emissary of the Prophets, a.k.a. Sisko. Commander Vaugh is a man of many sorrows, chief among them the recent death of his wife, Commander Ruriko Tenmei, at his own hands. She was only believed dead before, but it turned out that she was assimilated by the Borg, and he was forced to kill her before she could assimilate their only daughter, Prynn Tenmei, also a Starfleet officer. Now he's living with his guilt daily, as well as his daughter's hostility, but since she's currently serving under him, she can only avoid him during her off-duty time. [more]

Posted by Ida Vega Landow @ 11:04 AM PST [Link]

Monday, April 26, 2004

I liked "Shaolin Soccer" even though the pacing got on my nerves occasionally, but that might be more my problem than the film's. There were things I would have liked to have gone on and on (spontaneous synchronized Shaolin disco dancing in the street) and things that could have been shorter (like one bizarre conversation at the end). Part of the problem was that I could never settle down into what kind of film I was expecting to see from scene to scene because the film never quite settles down into one thing from scene to scene.

This film was kind of a cross between a Kung Fu movie, a Spaghetti Western, a male redemption film, a buddy film, a Cinderella story, and a bunch of (seemingly, but they're not) losers playing soccer. There is also a sweet, but goofy romance in the middle of it all and a refreshing take on female beauty. (Big hint: it comes from within.) Oh, and "Shaolin Soccer" is also a sermonette on courage, loyalty, teamwork, and all that good sporting stuff like that. I'm not sure why, but there are two rather heavy-handed images of the yin yang symbol in this film that I keep thinking about, and that alone makes it worth the admission price for me. I might even have to go see it again.

Some very, very funny bits and some in-jokes that were so far in, I'd have to reincarnate as a Hong Kong hipster to understand. When I think of all those years of reading "Giant Robot"... I've only scratched the surface.

I think this will have a long life as a midnight show (do they still have those?) where people can be more relaxed and yell at the screen in the flat spots. However, in case it doesn't make the midnight show scene, go see it now before it vanishes. Just be patient with it.

Posted by Ginger Mayerson @ 08:18 PM PST [Link]

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