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Monday, Aug 24, 2009
Faction reads almost like an indie press catalogue.

Indie comics are seemingly predisposed to be hit or miss. With the diluting and distilling effects of the big press system removed, independent comics are allowed to fixate on the machinery that drives comics. Whether this be the direct evaluation of comic mythologies, experiments with style, or pure metacomic commentary, independent comics appear to be obsessed with the shape of the mainstream in which they do not find themselves.


Sometimes this is to great effect. In the ‘80s, a wave of what-makes-a-hero-a-hero smartly flooded the racks. The ‘90s saw both Will Eisner resurrected through a deluge of comics about quotidian issues and heroes and R. Crumb be plagiarized over and over. This trend begged the question, “How far can the medium of graphic media be taken?” Finally, the ‘00s found the medium in a sort of comic shevirah as graphic media fractured from a certain solidarity into every imaginable — and, often, bastardized — form. The indie presses in the naughts gave us the literary adaptation comic, the “abstract” comic, the internet-inspired comic, superhero revivals galore, and countless other genres and sub-genres. To wit, the graphic taxonomies have reached a critical mass.


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Sunday, Aug 16, 2009
In writer Mark Millar's visionary recasting of Superman as a Soviet dictator, questions of personal and social identity become the staging point for a central drama around global justice.

Is Superman, in many ways the paragon of American virtue, a product of being socialized in American values, or is there something innate in his character which seeks out these uplifting and humanizing values?


In this Wednesday’s Iconographies, PopMatters Comics writer C. E. McAuley explores the global role of the United States as sole remaining superpower with a close reading of Superman: Red Son.


Using the nature-vs-nurture debate as its starting point, Red Son explores the possible ramifications of expansionist policies by a global superpower.


What lengths would superpower go to, if it knew it was doing the right thing? And what lengths could be justified.


Red Son is not only a careful unpacking of the core characters of the Superman mythology, but a dissertation in the persuasiveness of ideology.


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Monday, Aug 10, 2009
'Big things are waiting for you just around the corner... Move forward to meet them. Don't spend your life frozen with fear.'

All these years later, it is still a thrill ride. Waid crafted a truly endearing vehicle for Flash, six or so months or major storyarcs, and six or so months of fillers.


Issue 91, ‘Out of Time’ is one such filler issue. Effectively both coda to the ‘Trial of Wally West’ storyarc told over the four issues prior, and prologue to runaway hit, ‘Terminal Velocity’. ‘Out of Time’ fits in with another long-running creative project of Waid’s; the superhero neurosis of Wally West. In the watershed ‘Return of Barry Allen’, Waid established the Wally West character as an essay in superhero psychology. Wally’s powers were waning, we discover, because of an insecurity limiting his capacity to adopt the mantle of his mentor Barry Allen.


But after defeating the villainous Reverse-Flash, and excising the ghost of Barry Allen, could Waid still tap the psychological as source material for Wally’s story?


In ‘Out of Time’, Wally (overcome by an incapacity to save all lives) uses Johnny Quick’s speed formula to boost his already impressive superspeed. But the plan falls apart. The boost of superspeed means Wally’s frozen in time. Once time starts up, the lives of three helicopter pilots might be lost. Zen guru and speedster, Max Mercury, boosts his own speed to deliver a message to Wally: ‘Don’t be afraid, live in the moment’.


The real treat of course, is Mike Weiringo’s hyperreal cartoonish style. As Max Mercury slows down, colorist Gina Going uses the masking effect to illustrate his return to ordinary human speeds. But beyond the colors, it is the tilts and outcroppings that make this sequence what it is. With Wally catching the falling Max, then donning his mask Ringo illustrates how Max’s point has hit home. Ringo’s playful artwork reminds us of the ordinary heroism of facing our fears, and thriving.


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Sunday, Aug 9, 2009

It wouldn’t take long at all, just four short issues for Mike Weiringo’s characteristic art style to emerge. Those early issues of ‘Ringo’s run on Flash, issues 80 through 82, are still among the most exciting to read visually. But they’re not yet the style fans would come to love and cherish. They’re Ringo, but not classic Ringo. Not just yet.


But by #83, the artwork on Flash just pops. Wally West, the titular Flash, is lantern-jawed, square-shouldered, cartoonishly exaggerated with just the right amount of intensity carved into his mask. Each panel is orchestrated with just the right amount of chaos. Ringo’s visualization would prove definitive of Flash in the 90’s, just as his style of hyperreal cartooning would prove definitive of the 90’s themselves.


Moreover, Ringo’s artwork provided the best possible vehicle for the post-#79 reboot of Flash. With Waid finally excising the ghost of Barry Allen in #79’s ‘The Once And Future Flash’, Wally finally became a hero in his own right, stepping out from under his mentor’s shadow. Following on from this, Waid was beginning to re-craft Wally’s story as a superhero romance in the courtly tradition of knights, quests, maidens and monsters. Ringo’s artwork would eloquently define the optimism and the danger of this new project.


This coming Wednesday, PopMatters commemorates the passing of Mike Weiringo on August 8 2007, by celebrating his work on Flash. The victim of a sudden and unexpected heart-failure, Weiringo’s legacy stands as the power of his art to imbue readers with a sense of wonder while his characters face adversity.


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Friday, Aug 7, 2009

Popular cultural mediums are usually a few years behind youth sub-cultural movements.  When those who work in such mediums do get around to addressing such groups, it’s usually in a way that only makes sense to those bound by Hollywood stereotypes or the embarrassing misinterpretations of New York literary magazines.  For the most part, however, Marvel Comics addressed punk well. 


They played it tongue in cheek in The Mighty Thor panel from 1984 in which some young punks give Thor fashion advice.  As he walks into the Avengers Mansion, the kids tell him, “Listen, man, haven’t you heard? Long hair is definitely out. Why not come over to our place for a Mohawk?”  To which Thor responds, “I thank thee. But were I to cut my hair, my helmet would fall off.” 


To some extent, Marvel also addressed punk seriously.  Though many people think back on Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr.‘s Uncanny X-Men story of Storm becoming punk as a silly sub-plot that couldn’t see past the time, the transition to the Wendy-O-Williams aesthetic was a good way to signify Storm’s identity crisis.  After renouncing her faith in herself as a goddess and finding herself without a pre-set system of beliefs, Storm externalized her crisis in a new look.  In this panel from Uncanny X-Men #180, Storm is explaining the meaning of her new aesthetic to Professor Xavier, who also sports a strange ensemble.


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