Reader’s Corner: Of Punks, Relationships, and American Anxieties

In my latest graphic novel round-up for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, I covered three new titles which excel in very different ways:

  • Nick Drnaso’s Acting Class is another entry in his series of blank-faced, haunting, Lynchian nightmares about American anxiety.
  • James Spooner’s The High Desert is a thoughtful, cutting memoir about growing up a black punk rocker in the middle of nowhere.
  • Jordan Crane’s Keeping Two starts with everyday relationship tension before spiraling out into something far weirder and devastating.

You can read the reviews at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Reader’s Corner: Marvel Comics vs. Penguin Classics

Next month, Penguin Classics is doing the seemingly unthinkable: collaborating with Marvel Comics for their first line of comics anthologies. It’s kind of a big deal and is likely cause discussions of the “whither Penguin?” variety.

I wrote about this unlikely collection for The Millions:

Largely devoid of the ironies, ruminations, and absurdities of less mainstream and traditionally “higher-brow” comics, the three entries in the Marvel Collection revolve around combat and struggle. Together, they comprise more than a thousand pages of exceptionally reproduced color panels whose artistry ranges from the merely competent to the spectacular. At many points, Black Panther, Captain America, and Spider-Man are not unlike Odysseus—tested by an array of villains, undone by their own arrogance, tempted by glory, unsure of their fates…

Screening Room: ‘America, We Have a Batman Problem’

How many Batman movies is too many? It seems like we are finding out.

My article, ‘America, We Have a Batman Problem’ is at Eyes Wide Open:

Batman’s appeal to artists and audiences is understandable. His immense wealth, traumatized childhood, and schizophrenic relationship with the villains he hunts provides a buffet of dramatic possibilities. Batman’s need (trauma) and ability (wealth) to act is as bottomless as his inability to avoid questioning his actions. Still, isn’t it time to give the man a rest?

Reader’s Corner: PW 2021 Graphic Novel Critics Poll

Every year, all us lucky critics at PW Comics Week vote on what we thought were the best graphic novels of the year. Some years, it’s tricky combing through all the great work. Other years, there’s a lot of great work but one or two titles stand out and make our job relatively easy.

2021 was one of the latter. Rarely a good idea to vote against Bechdel (whose winner, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, I wrote about for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

The results of this year’s PW Graphic Novel Critics Poll were published today. Here’s a quick rundown of what won:

  1. The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
  2. Run: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell
  3. No One Else by R. Kikuo Johnson

Reader’s Corner: ‘Seek You’

My review of the new graphic novel from Kristen Radtke (Imagine Wanting Only This) ran in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

In Jim Shepard’s recent bio-noir “Phase Six,” a character mockingly defines loneliness as “solitude with self-pity thrown in.” That line’s chilly dismissiveness would not play well in Kristen Radtke’s immersive, novelistic and intensely humanistic book-length graphic essay on the subject…

Screening Room: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

The sequel Wonder Woman 1984 opens in some theaters and on HBO on Christmas. My review is at Slant:

Calling Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman 1984 a perfectly acceptable comic-book adventure might sound more negative than intended. But in a time when the genre is more typically given to the kind of world-building that seems primarily committed to spinning off corporate cinematic widgets (Avengers: Endgame, extended Snyder cuts, and the upcoming onslaught of new-universe-spawning Marvel flicks), a standalone story more engaged with its characters than series continuity is almost refreshing…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Year’s Best Graphic Novels

Publishers Weekly just published its annual poll of the year’s best graphic novels, at least as determined by its crew of critics (including myself). A strong favorite for the top selection, a choice that I strongly stand behind, is Derf Backderf’s stunning work of impassioned history, Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio.

You can read the full article here at Publishers Weekly.

Here are some of the other top favorites:

Nota Bene: Patricia Highsmith and Stan Lee

During World War II, Marvel Comics impresario Stan Lee was working as an in-house writer for the U.S. Army (training movies about organizing your footlocker or field-stripping your rifle). He was still moonlighting for Marvel (then called Timely Comics), where the editor who replaced him, Vince Fago, was intrigued by another of their writers: Patricia Highsmith.

According to Highsmith’s biographer Joan Schenkar:

Vince Fago took Lee up to Pat’s apartment “near Sutton Place,” hoping to make a “match” between Pat and Stan Lee. But the future creator of the talented Mr. Ripley was not fated to go out on a date with the future facilitator of Spider-Man. “Stan Lee,” said Vince Fago, “was only interested in Stan Lee,” and Pat wasn’t exactly admitting where her real sexual interests lay…

Which raises the question: Who would win in a showdown: Captain America or Tom Ripley? Discuss.

Screening Room: ‘The Old Guard’

Based on Greg Rucka’s comic-book series, The Old Guard is a big-budget attempt to start a new action franchise, this one centered around a band of centuries-old mercenaries who are (mostly) immortal.

The Old Guard launches today on Netflix. My review is at Slant:

Smartly prioritizing the bond of relationships over action in the way of the modern franchise series—doing so more organically than the Fast and the Furious series but missing the self-aware comedic patter of the Avengers films—The Old Guard is in the end only somewhat convincing on both counts…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ‘The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski’

My interview with graphic novelist Noah Van Sciver, author of The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, ran in Publishers Weekly:

You’ve written three books about Fante Bukowski, a delusional, arrogant, and slovenly character. Do you find something admirable in his belief in his own greatness?

I’m always interested in people who are obsessed with one thing, like people who become obsessed with comics history. I think it’s admirable to dedicate your life to this role. But now I have to think about it. Is he admirable? He’s dedicated to being a drunken writer [laughing]. I don’t know if that’s admirable, though…

Screening Room: ‘Birds of Prey’

Birds of Prey
(Warner Bros.)

My review of the new DC Comics movie Birds of Prey, which is playing now everywhere, was published at Slant Magazine:

The self-consciously ornate subtitle for Birds of PreyAnd the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn—lays out the reason for this film’s existence far better than the first 45 minutes or so of jumbled exposition that follow. In theory, the self-consciously goofy story of a “badass broad” who breaks free from being pole-dancing eye candy for her villain boyfriend to carve out a life for herself would be a welcome addition to a canon of films still in thrall to hyper-buff and hyper-serious dudes. And surrounding her with a squad of equally fierce and sarcastic female ass-kickers has the potential for a vibrant, pop-punk comedic franchise: Think Guardians of the Galaxy by way of Barb Wire. But since the film can never figure out how seriously to take its heroine, or how to gin up a halfway engaging caper what could have been an emancipation ends up feeling more like a trap for the character…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Stan Lee’s Marvelous Life

My interview with Danny Fingeroth, author of the new biography A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee, was just posted at Publishers Weekly:

What do you think accounts for Lee’s ability to create such an incredibly long-lived roster of characters?

Stan is pretty much the only comic creator who the casual person on the street would know. Because he became the voice and face of not just Marvel Comics but the comics industry, there was a long time when Marvel had no publicity department. Stan was in the office most days, he was available, he always had a quip and a quote. Stan took that on. He realized that this would be his vehicle for extending himself and Marvel beyond the attention of people who read comics. He cultivated it. Why nobody else took that on is hard to say…

TV Room: ‘Watchmen’

watchmen1
Regina King as Sister Knight in ‘Watchmen’ (HBO)

Damon Lindelof’s wonderfully strange and deeply political Watchmen series is more interested in exploring the further ramifications of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel than producing a faithful reenactment. It’s a high-risk move but one that appears so far to be paying off.

My article on Watchmen is at PopMatters:

The first episode, a direly ironic hour, kicks off in Tulsa during the 1921 massacre in which whites rampaged through the black neighborhood of Greenwood. Jumping to an alternate-historical 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which the racially-mixed police wear masks to protect their identity from a murderous white-supremacist underground called the Seventh Kavalry (for Custer’s unit decimated at Little Big Horn), the episode uses the massacre less as plot point and more as ominous overture…

Here’s the trailer: