October 2001 Archives

Ambitious User

The first and most important thing I have to say about the comic book series "User" is: go out, find it, buy it. If you can in any way lay claim to the name "geek," there will surely be something in this series that appeals to you: gaming, computers, role-playing games, cyberculture--it's all in there. Oh yeah, and plenty of genderfucking amongst the characters, too.
"User" is an ambitious three-part comic mini-series scripted by female writer Devin Grayson with artwork by John Bolton and Sean Phillips. "User" is, above all, the story of one woman's search for meaning in an online gaming world. At a glance, I wasn't too happy to see two artists working in two different styles on these books, but as the story progressed, I came to see the two alternating styles as absolutely essential to the story's progression.
The dreary and troubling world the heroine inhabits by day is presented artistically in moody sepia tones, with touches of photorealism; the fantasy world she escapes to is candy-colored and stylized. While many of the drawings are beautiful by themselves, it is the unfolding of each world across panels and over time that makes the artwork--right down to the fonts chosen for dialogue--so compelling.
Devin Grayson moves us through both environments with equal ease--in fact, both the real world story and the fantasy world narrative could stand on their own as separate series. The real strength of "User," however, is its ability to show how the cyber world and the everday world can become enmeshed and begin to influence each other. Certainly, a great deal has been written on this topic in essay form, but it is exciting to see the same ideas played out dramatically.

Two sides of a coin

I recently read numbers 4-7 of "Dark Victory," the Batman mini-series by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale. "Dark Victory" is the follow-up to their previous series, "The Long Halloween," which I recommend reading before tackling "Dark Victory."
"Dark Victory" includes a large line-up of Batman villains, including the Scarecrow, whom I have recently taken an interest in. The Scarecrow is a former psychologist turned criminal, who terrorizes his victims with a chemical that induces fear. In the "Dark Victory" series and in other comic books where he appears, the Scarecrow uses his fear-inducing chemical to tap into Batman's deepest fears and memories surrounding the death of his mother and father--an event which made Batman into a formidable crimefighter, but which also left him mentally scarred.
"Dark Victory" highlights Batman's mental vulnerability by showing how, in his commitment to redressing evil deeds, Batman constantly exposes himself to dark figures--such as the Scarecrow and The Joker--whose tragic lives led them to acts of depravity. In particular, the series traces the dissolution of Batman's friendship with Harvey Dent, the man who would later become the criminal "Two-Face." Once a maverick crimefighter in his own right, Dent represents the negative potential of Batman, the road not taken yet always visible to the caped crusader.
In the panel I have reproduced, Batman ponders the similarities between his own life and those of his nemeses as he swims after Solomon Grundy, who is being pulled toward a sewer's drainage hole. "Each of us lost pieces of our lives...and hid what was left in the dark," Batman thinks, considering the losses they have all experienced. "Is this what I want for myself?" he asks, "A world that exists only in darkness? Is this how I honor my parents' memory?"

Hallucinating comics

"Salon" is carrying an excellent article on the female characters in the Hernandez Brothers' comics. It discusses the phenomenon of aging in comic books, and how the Hernandez Brothers have chosen to age their characters in real-time.
Outward signs of women's aging are taboo in mainstream media, but because the Hernandez Brothers have chosen to depict a natural aging process in their various titles, their female cartoon characters are ironically among the more well-rounded and weighty depictions of women around today.
I discovered "Love and Rockets" when I was going to graduate school in Durham, North Carolina, at a decrepit shack of a comic book store that advertised itself as being open 364 days a year. This policy was a positive boon in the South, where commercial establishments are often closed on Sunday, and which generally keep rather more circumscribed hours than is preferable. Heathen that I am, I would often unexpectedly find myself perusing their racks at some unlikely time, like 8 pm on Christmas Eve, or 11 am on Easter Sunday.
I bought up a whole slew of "Love and Rockets" back issues at one time and engaged in an all-day reading marathon, which, in my case, is almost always a mistake, as the storyline inevitably invades my sleep in some distorted and hallucinogenic fashion hours later.
The worst instance of this that I can remember occurred after a sustained reading of Mike Grell's "Warlord" while bed-ridden with the flu. I can still remember tossing and turning amongst the Saltine cracker crumbs stuck between my fevered sheets as giant pterodactyls chased me through a prehistoric landscape.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have been reading "Catwoman" instead.

Retro crime comics

If you're interested in the history of comics, Crimeboss provides a good introduction to crime comics from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a swell example of a comic collector's web site. There's a visual gallery with pictures of comic covers from the owner's collection, including examples from series such as "Women Outlaws," "Reform School Girl!," and "I'm a Cop." Another page is reserved for "wanted" titles.
I heard about this site through Netsurfer Digest, a great free newsletter of places on the web worth visiting.

Crazy for Harry

I recently finished reading "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first book in the renowned Harry Potter series, and not a minute too soon I might add. I decided to take up the novel knowing that the movie would be coming out soon--and I was determined to read it before the marketing campaign for the film began and beat the joy out of life itself, as well as this highly recommended book. As it turns out, I finished the book just hours before I saw my first TV commercial for the upcoming movie.
Harry Potter is a wonderful book, and certainly worth the time of an adult reader. I have my reservations about the movie, however. I wish they had made the book into an animated film--its wild inventiveness seems perfectly suited to the medium. By translating it into a live-action feature instead, I fear the whimsy will become heavy-handed and we'll have another "Hook" on our hands.
One of the great joys of reading the first Harry Potter book is, in fact, knowing that it is part of a larger story sequence and that there more books to look forward to. Earlier this year, my friend Grace caught Potter fever and could barely rest until she had ploughed through the whole series. Television often allows us the opportunity to lavish our excessive attentions on a particular program series, but in books it is more rare, and often the wait between installments is frustratingly long.
Of course, adults often don't have time to read except sporadically, so perhaps that's why the most satisfying book series I hold in my memory date from my childhood and adolescence. There was the glorious Laura Ingalls Wilder series--still a warm, fuzzy memory so many years later--and the brilliantly trashy John Jakes Bicentennial novels series, which I devoured during a long, sweaty summer. Have you got a favorite book series to recommend?

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