The library: where every day is free comic book day

Comic book people love to write about how they dropped comic books. Again.

A year ago, I began the “weekly habit” once more at my local comics shop (LCS). This month, or so, it finally ground to a halt. Again.

Have you heard of Free Comic Book Day? Well, I got some props from Kurt Busiek on Twitter for inadvertent guerilla promotion of said day, because I was reading Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two: Brothers in Arms
a collection of a comic series he’d written, in a local cafe. The waitress asked about FCBD, and I gave her the closest location so that she could get her son a free comic.

The funny thing is, for me every day is Free Comic Book Day. I keep track of the trade paperbacks (“graphic novels”) I’ve read courtesy of the many public libraries I’ve lived near, and I’m currently at an alarming 1,118. It’s really the only conceivable legal way for a less-than-wealthy person to keep up with as much of the important work as possible… and by important I mean both sincerely important and “continuity porn” important.

That trade that got the waitress’ attention? Library, of course. In the Bay Area in particular, many or most of the various public libraries participate in a special network called Link+, making it easy to request items from 50 miles away.

So where most comics fans end up with some kind of backlog ( trades and quarter bin singles are also good friends of mine), it’s more difficult for me than it is for most to make it through that backlog of items I actually paid for because I need to return the items I didn’t pay for before the due-date hits. The main advantage of buying comics at all is keeping more current with what’s being discussed on blogs, but it is a painful experience, every time, to see something I’ve bought from Amazon on a library shelf and think “damn, if I hadn’t paid for it I would have already read it by now!” I have at least done fairly well at reading the singles within a week of purchase, as you pay a premium for purchasing them in that way!

I have of course told myself, previously, that I would stop buying comics until I elminated my backlog, but my local comics shop (LCS) owner finally did me a solid with his little burst of antisocial behavior recently. I actually have a shop much closer to me than him, but they seem much more interested in gaming (which of course gets my nerdrage going) and not all that friendly either. I found out about this other shop from a Groupon and I found the dude to be much more personable.

Well, apparently that was just because I am white (this is of course not fair, he is perfectly amiable to people of color who buy from him). But, recently he was singled out on Twitter for some screed (in the form of a comment on a major comics blog post) about how white men are the realy opressed ones. This was in response to a sincere, reasonable plea for diversity from a reader of non-white origin.

I’m being vague here because I don’t really want to start a war with this guy, but look… I am a white guy and I am very whiney, and I also like to make jokes about how much it sucks to get burned by the California sun (see, I wasn’t meant to be here! but I don’t want to be anywhere else! :choke:) but that said, my pet peeve is people like me who genuinely believe (or profess to beleive) that white men are oppressed. They’re not. End of story.

And yeah, I guess if he was just sticking his finger up his ass and rambling about that, it would be one thing, but this never happens. Instead, it is always deployed as a tool to hush up anyone who is not white, not straight, not female, or so on. “You guys aren’t oppressed, I am,” he cried, as he… oppressed them.” Yes, I am a flaming liberal, no doubt about that.

So yeah, I dropped all my subscriptions with him (I had already cut them in half… DC: The New 52 was decent, well the part of it I bought was mostly, but not worth me buying twice as many comics as ever before). And I thought about starting up a shorter sub-list with the closer store. Yeah I think the lady is kinda unfriendly, but they have a “safe space” sign on their window, for fuck’s sake!

But no. I am going to get through that backlog and then go back to buying stuff. By the time I do that, like, a year from now, I will have saved tons of money from all the stuff that I was able to check out by then anyway!


You know what I’m saying?

Revenge of the blog!

Cowardice kept me away for almost two years (to be more precise would be against my math-hating nature) but I hath returned, and I now intend to post daily. You should of course expect a drop in quality.

Another change you should expect is a bit of personal writing. Well, not my feelings or any such thing, because I am a man and I don’t have feelings, but more specifically each post will not necessarily be a “review” of something any more. This might sound good to me because I am barely being propped up by Sudafed (I probably should have just used a PTO day at some point), but also because I don’t watch many movies these days at all, and my comic-reading rate has plummeted.

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about, anyway. Let’s just see which one if any you would like to discuss? There’s worse ideas I suppose. Happy Internet, everyone!

  • Spotify, piracy, and the devaluing of cultural production
  • Weight loss and corn subsidies
  • Republicans lying about things
  • The “first world problems” meme
  • Ethnic profiling (oh boy… to put it mildly)
  • Reality culture
  • The keyboard shorcuts on the WordPress reader (see above)
  • Nerd culture and its discontents
  • List making and OCD

Until tomorrow, humans!

What price comics?

Yesterday, one of my co-workers saw me reading a library copy of The Best of The Spirit (review forthcoming) and was really thrilled to tell me how his son was able to find copies of Batman vs. Predator for just $1 an issue at a Wicker Park comics shop (the same one I’d been shopping at last weekend, as it happens). As someone who hadn’t read comics since that era, he hadn’t expected the shopkeeper to even be able to find such a specific item, much less that he would be offering it for such a reasonable price.

I found this encounter a pleasant contrast to the one triggered by my reading another library paperback at a job in Orange County (it was a volume of Stormwatch). In this case, he started in on the usual tiresome inquiries as to how much his comics are worth. When he explained that they were largely published in the 1990s, I explained that they were in fact likely worth nothing, but the man decided to act as if I’d said nothing and and continued speculating about his potential windfall. To paraphrase: “gee, how much is my copy of the eight-million-selling X-Men #1 (1991) worth? no really, it can’t be worthless, that’s impossible!”

Perhaps, however, it’s unfair to blame that guy too much when most of the shops out there, including the closest one to my house, are run by people who should know better, but seem to be in as much denial. Riverside, California once had a shop downtown in which issues of Hourman or Starman were priced at $4 each, even though I had picked up most of each series at conventions and Sacramento shops for $0.25 an issue! Truthfully, though, that Wicker Park shop is rare in selling most of their 80s-00s back issue catalog at $1. The reason I took the bus out there was because they actually advertise this fact on their website, although they have recently removed some text that had set themselves up in direct opposition to those other stores, working off of some kind of faith-based pricing.

I suppose the point of all this is that the depreciation in comic book value is usually posited as some kind of unfortunate event, when in fact, it should be seen as a great opportunity, not just for the hardcore fan who has a few gaps in his or her collection (having started the habit in 2003 as an adult, my gaps are larger than most), but also for the lapsed fans or the never-were fans who has a whole world of discount back issues to dip into. Or at least, that’s the way it should be.

Rebirthing the Flash and other non-ideas

Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern from 1969 to 1994, was brought back to much fanfare in Geoff Johns’ 2004 miniseries. Older fans in particular had never accepted his younger replacement Kyle Rayner, brought out just at the moment that Hal rather abruptly went nuts (one of the few stories of the last 20 years that should have been twice as long). DC decided to capitalize on the success (and ignore the mockery of Johns’ “mancrush” on Hal as well as his hopeless nostalgia) five years later by bringing back Barry Allen, who served as the Flash from 1955 to 1986.

Johns is usually derided, not entirely unfairly, as an unsophisticated writer mostly concerned with simplistic heroics (and increasingly nasty villainy). Reading this hardcover, however, I was struck by the degree to which he engages in metacommentary. This is not really new; superhero comics writers have used their titles to score points and make arguments with peers or readers since the 1980s at least, but Johns lets meta dominate the entire series in a way few “normal” writers (i.e., people not named Grant Morrison) are comfortable with.

In this case, the “subtext which is rapidly becoming text” (that’s a Buffy paraphrase if you were wondering) is the question of whether Barry really needed to come back, a question on the lips of many, including those who had clamored for Hal’s return for ten years. Barry, as any fanboy will tell you, sacrificed himself heroically (while Hal went out quite ignominiously,) and gave way to his former sidekick Wally West, who headlined his own Flash title for over 200 issues… 63 of which were written by Johns himself.

Here’s the thing; despite his pitch in the back of the book, I don’t think Johns is fully convinced that Barry really needed to return. Spoilers follow…

As I’ve said before, Barry spends a lot of time questioning his reasons for being here. We later learn that he was being corrupted by some malevolent force (strangely and unnecessarily similar to the plot device Johns used to absolve Hal of his past crimes in the other Rebirth), and of course his arc leads him to triumphantly take his place as the most important and even original Flash (yes, he manages to somehow predate the one who debuted in the 40s, don’t ask), and revel in his return.

Maybe it’s just my bias, but I found Barry’s earlier comments more convincing, as if Johns had more conviction behind them. Considering everything we know about Johns, it’s more likely that, much as a freshman composition student might do, he brought up all the opposing side’s arguments only to find himself incapable of refuting them.

The other metatextual element is the fascinating use of the retcon (it stands for retroactive continuity) in this book. It’s common enough for heroes to have new details retconned into their personal history in order to fit the whims of contemporary writers and readers, and such a thing happens here, as Barry now lost his mom to a grisly murder, and lost his father (falsely accused) to prison. Yes, Barry is now Bruce Wayne, in fact you could argue that he had it worse! If he was raised this way instead of by two happy, alive, and free parents, he can no longer be the same man he once was… which is, more than anything, the most significant admission by Johns: “okay fine, yes this guy is boring, there’s no hook to his character, so look, here’s another guy that we’re just gonna call Barry Allen.”

What amuses me about this change, however, is that rather than simply insert it in and blame on it so-called cosmic crises (the usual practice at DC), Johns actually makes it part of the story, as we learn eventually that Barry’s mother was the victim of a time traveling villain, the (supposedly) rare individual who can actually change the past rather than merely create an alternate timeline (or whatever). I consider this to be the only real innovation in this series, a realization on Johns part that retcons need more motivation behind them. More than anyone, he seems to have learned from the unending mockery earned by the Superboy-Prime universe punch (don’t ask, really).

Strangely, I did enjoy this book while I was reading it, mostly because of the callbacks and references to the Wally West Flash series, which as far as I can see outnumber any references to the actual Barry Allen series. But then, that’s the amusing thing about Johns’ attempts to purify the past; he always spends more time referencing the “bad” stories of the 90s than the “good” stories he’s supposedly restoring. There are many reasons for this, one of course being that they didn’t exist, at least not in the way he seems to remember them.

want to reject the suggestion that Barry shouldn’t be back

Revenge of the babymen?!

And now for a total topic shift, one that’s been some time in coming.

It is a dark time for comics lovers. Those who like any kind of comics for themselves and not just for their adaptations in other media are more disgruntled than ever by Comic Con (I actually stopped reading comics for almost two years after my one and only visit). And a war is being fought between the pretentious elitists indie-lovers and the drooling spandex-loving decrepit sex-fearing babymen. One side feels (when they’re being nice) that it’s unreasonable and unproductive for such a large percentage of comics to be about superheroes (true), and even more unfair for so many dedicated comics stores to all but ignore anything not about superheroes (doubly so). The other side mostly wants to be left alone, since they are fairly content with things as they are and will continue to ignore all the other comics.

To begin with, much of what I talk about will actually be about superheroes, but in my view, at least, the solution to this is not to stop reading superhero comics, but to read more of other types of comics! You know, expand rather than contract. I will rarely ever suggest what can be done to save the industry, because I really have no expertise in that. I’m a grad school dropout and as such I am good at literary analysis (comics are sorta like literature after all) and at arguing.

In terms of comics arguments, what I would really like to do is break down the tendency to resort so quickly to ad hominem attacks on the people who had the termerity to like, say, New Avengers or The Flash: Rebirth. Those may indeed suck, but I reject the premise that a person sucks for liking something that sucks. Don’t get me wrong, fanboys definitely have their… foibles, and these will be attacked in turn (coming soon, why are fanboys racist? how much more racist are they than non-fanboys? and so on). But let’s try not to conflate things too much, if possible.

Next up, well it’s the aforementioned The Flash: Rebirth.

Gran Torino: There goes the neighborhood

Gran TorinoGran Torino
Clint Eastwood, USA / Germany / Australia, 2008
Viewed on Blu-ray, Aug. 28

Gran Torino is a mixed bag in every possible way. It’s certainly admirable to give some visibility (to the tune of a $100 million plus gross!) to the little-known Hmong people, a semi-nomadic minority group from Southeast Asia who became refugees in certain pockets of the US, such as Minnesota and Michigan (the latter portrayed here) and Sacramento (where worked alongside several Hmong people) because they helped us in the Vietnam War (in Cambodia mostly).

The trouble is, the two main Hmong actors, both amateurs, are pretty terrible, although they certainly have their charm. Perhaps this was unavoidable, but an IMDB commenter (I know, you can find insight anywhere) did point out that Clint Eastwood’s one-take ethos (the featurette on the disc includes many testaments to how good Eastwood is at coming in under budget) probably didn’t do these teenaged neophytes any favors. Perhaps Eastwood was content knowing that his screen presence would be effective, as always (the snarling in particular is completely over-the-top and yet completely justified and, well, awesome), leaving the Hmong kids to fend for themselves.

Much has been made of how race is portrayed in this picture. Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, even taught me a few new ethnic slurs (while not in the habit of using them, I previously believed that I was familiar with all or most of them), and while his change-of-heart is inevitable, it is not, at any point, accompanied by an alteration in his dialog. Perhaps what’s most interesting are the toothless ethnic insults he casuaully lobs at his two white friends (one Italian, the other Irish), who respond in kind, although they seem to be playing along more than anything.

It’s clear that Asians (generally lumped together under one slur or another) are something else altogether for Walt and even his friends (one scene, in which the threat of violence is involved, makes this division explicit), but the gradual revelation of how Walt has always engaged with his fellow “white ethnics” makes you realize that his gradual rapprochement with his Hmong neighbors is actually part of a pattern in his life. Walt is a Korean War veteran, and his history of violent conflict with Koreans (consistently equated with Hmong) does present something of a stumbling block to good relations with the Hmong, but of course, the plot allows him a way around that by placing him in conflict with the Hmong gangsters.

Beyond this point, my post includes spoilers. Click below if you’ve seen it, or if you don’t care about being spoiled.
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