Feb. 28th, 2017

marlowe1: (high school reunion)
22. Skim by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki - The most compelling part of Ghost World (and the part that was sidelined in favor of the teenage girl totally digging the old dude story) is the friendship between Scarlett Johanssen and the protagonist and how it is slowly being pulled apart as Scarlett Johanssen's character becomes responsible, gets a job, etc. and the heroine is still fucking around and being ironically hip. This story is compelling because neither character is a bitch. They both have reasons for what they are doing and they are both right in a way. Yes, one wants to get a job and get out of the house and be responsible but when you are 18 you are still a kid and why not snicker your way through the sex shops.

This comic feels like a mirror image of the movie for Ghost World because Kimberly the protagonist is going to fall away from her comrade in snark and you can see that coming from the beginning but there's also a relationship with an older authority figure - this time the art teacher - which may actually be something that means more for the character than the teacher. In fact, you never get the motivation of the hippie art teacher since with everything from Kimberly's perspective you can only guess why the hippie art teacher kisses her, but you can see that her efforts to distance herself from Kimberly are there. Now whether she is purposefully distancing herself or getting in trouble for it is ambiguous. The Wiccans also serve as a believable group that she would be attracted to.

However, the main story that goes through this book is the reaction to a suicide of the ex-boyfriend of a girl that Kimberly doesn't even like too much. As the students react to the suicide of a boy they didn't know, Kimberly is the only one who outright admits to herself that she didn't know him and it's not affecting her. This is in contrast to her friend who joins the "Life Club" that is there to talk about sensitive feelings. Even more annoying for Kimberly is the fact that she is getting targeted as a potential suicidal ideation case. Of course, the only person who hates all the suicide sensitivity talk more than Kimberly is the girl that was dating the suicide. So this comic began reminding me of Ghost World, but the attitudes toward suicide including the sharp disgust with sentimentality and the need to find an easy answer when it comes to suicide.

The Time of the Angels by Iris Murdoch - I don't know if this is the first or second book by Irish Murdoch that I've read and I think that if I read another book by Murdoch, I will forget that I read this one. I suppose that's ironic or horrible considering that the movie made about Iris Murdoch was about her dementia. Only this book is forgettable for the way that it doesn't present too many meaningful characters and jumps from character to character so fast that they don't have enough time to develop. There's Carel the reverend who is crazy in an undefined way (but also manipulative). There's Patti the black maid who was sleeping with Carel. There's Elizabeth the sickly teenager who is Carel's niece that he has adopted. There's Carel's brother who is writing philosophical books about ethics and atheism. There's also the Russian father and son combination of Eugene and Leo. Not much happens. Ok, sure, Carel kills himself at the end but it doesn't make much of an impact. Leo steals Eugene's icon and then tries to get it back and it changes hands several times to get to him. Everyone is in love with someone else and it doesn't work out. Leo loves Muriel who loves Eugene who loves Patti who is in love with Carel who is fucking his niece (actually daughter). If this was a farce this would all get revealed at once. Only it's supposedly a "philosophical novel" which is not as odious as most philosophical novels which involve talking heads talking about the philosophical question, but I don't know if that fits since many of the talk about God feels superficial. Anyhow the main guy kills himself and he's so bland that it's more of a relief than anything.
marlowe1: (Teddy Bear)
23. Swamp Thing: The Dead Don't Sleep by Len Wein & Kelley Jones - I used to blame Nancy Collins for ruining Swamp Thing by turning it into a leftwing platform with walking daisies and very obvious jokes about David Duke. Sure, Doug Wheeler's run was no better but he was thrown into the job after Rick Veitch quit over not being allowed to write a Swamp Thing meets Jesus story (this was well before Garth Ennis gave us the Saint of the Killers blowing God away). I kept hold of this belief until I re-read the entire Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing and discovered that he left the comic nowhere to go after he left it. Swamp Thing was a deity. Nothing could really stop him. The comic had transitioned from a horror comic into a hippie fantasy (Marvel's What The-? even had a story where there was a fight between Man Thing and Swamp Thing with Swamp Thing showing up and going "Hey man, want a tuber?"). He also stuck the comic with Chester the Hippie who was the worst. And through the next decade or so, Swamp Thing stuck to the shit that Alan Moore left it in until Mark Millar threw it around and made Swamp Thing into a homicidal lunatic until Swamp Thing became the Earth Elemental - so he put us back in the same place as Alan Moore where there don't seem to be any more stories to tell. At least he minimized Chester the Hippie (even though his "Chester turns into a rightwing zealot" story was just stupid. I get that he was trying to say fuckyou to the story but it was more like he said fuck you to the audience). So what do we do now? Why should there be anymore Swamp Thing stories? To answer that Len Wein came back to the title and forgot all about Alan Moore.

Until today, I was going to use the anecdote of Jerry Siegel writing for Marvel in the 60s or 70s and not meeting the demands of the market. There are some artists who grow and change over time and some artists who stick in the same rut. However, I am now more inclined to think of one of the early writing scenes in Stephen King's Misery. This is the part where the evil nurse gets very mad at the author and orders him to write a new Misery book. The author cranks out a chapter where Misery didn't die in the last book but is perfectly fine. The nurse gets mad and the author protagonist is left wondering "what did she expect? I put all the stuff that she is supposed to want." Forget about the fact that she had a very good reason for hating the chapter (he cheated on the resurrection) and focus on the fact that he thought he could half-ass it.

That's what this book feels like. Len Wein comes back to Swamp Thing and just gives us the same old shit that came before Alan Moore. In fact Alan Moore's first major story for Swamp Thing was to get away from that shit. Alan Moore outright stated that Swamp Thing was boring because Swamp Thing wants to become Alec Holland but if he turns back into a human, the comic is over. So he's "Hamlet with Snot" and Alan Moore did away with the Hamlet with Snot element by changing the mythology to where Swamp Thing was a group of plants that thought they were Alec Holland with Alec Holland long dead.

This book demonstrates why Swamp Thing needed Alan Moore and why Len Wein can only fuck things up. The first story is mildly interesting. A zombie college student is out to eat his parents. Kelley Jones' art sustains it but then we get to the main story line and Matt Cable shows up because who cares that Matt Cable turned into a raven for Sandman comics. Matt Cable wants Swamp Thing to become Alec! And Swamp Thing becomes Alec! Only Matt Cable becomes Swamp Thing! Only he is REALLY Arcane!!!!!! So we have the same fucking story that Len Wein wrote back in the 70s. Arcane gets all of Swamp Thing's powers but he's EVIL!!! So Swamp Thing becomes Swamp Thing again and Arcane fucks off to hell. The only difference between this story and the original one is that Wein sticks a bunch of DC standard characters like The Stranger and The Demon in it.

I get that Alan Moore left writers with a trap just as bad as the original Hamlet with Snot trap. He did the same thing in Miracleman and Neil Gaiman barely managed to get some interesting stories out of it. Yet, the solution should not be "hey let's return Swamp Thing back to his first trap" and if DC is letting Len Wein write the comic then that's all that is going to happen.

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Tim Lieder

September 2017

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