Why I Write

http://www.whyiwrite.net/2016/01/ray-hecht/

 

Ray Hecht

South China Morning Blues 

Ray Hecht is an American author based in Shenzhen, and blogs at rayhecht.com. Raised in the American Midwest, he studied film in Long Beach, California before moving to China in 2008 where he divides his time between fiction writing and freelance journalism. South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015), a story of depraved expats within the hypermodern southern Chinese sprawl, is his debut novel.

 

Why I write

That is the ultimate question, isn’t it? I don’t truly know the answer. Perhaps because I am a lonely person and I got into certain habits and now after years of this I am compelled. I want to express myself, I have enough ego to believe that others should read what I write, and it’s just a part of what I do and who I am. I have these things in my head and this compulsion to write it down and I hope beyond hope that people would like to read.

 

How do you go about writing?

I try to write every day. When a long-term project is going, I write about four days a week on a decent week. Good weeks more, bad weeks less. To me, it’s not about hours so much as word count. Five hundred works at least, or a thousand words on a very productive night. That may take hours or it may take 30 minutes.

I like to stay up late, because that’s the time when everyone leaves me alone. That magic time from midnight to about 2 a.m. I used to write later, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with a night owl lifestyle these days. That’s when all the original words come to me, and the next afternoon I tend to do rewrites.

 

Where do you write?

I like to lay down in my bed in my underwear with the laptop. I remember the old days when I had a big PC, it was much harder to motivate myself. The laptop is the most perfect invention ever…

 

Worst distraction?

…excepting, of course, that the Internet is the absolute worst distraction ever. If left to my own devices I tend to constantly check my email, Facebook, news sites etc. Porn isn’t even as bad as social media. Sometimes though you just have to unplug and force yourself to finish a deadline. Unless there’s research to be done.

 

Best inspiration?

I suppose I’m inspired by various things. A good song can inspire. A book, a show. A crazy life experience can especially inspire. Most of all, combing through my own memories of complex life issues and mix and match it into new combinations; somehow that give me ideas about what to write.

 

How often do you get writers’ block? Do you ever doubt your own ability?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. However, I doubt my own ability all the time. When I compare myself to the major authors whom I respect, I am not in the same league at all. But I’ve chosen to write and even if it’s shit I have vowed to finish what I started.

The thing about writer’s block is that I always have more ideas than I have time to write them down. It should always be that way. Instead of being choked by the blank page, I suffer more from sheer laziness. Writing can be mentally exhaustive, and although endless ideas are swirling around in my mind, sometimes I don’t have enough energy to record and tinker with those ideas.

 

Contemporary writer you always read?

I always read new Haruki Murakami and Neal Stephenson. Murakami isn’t as good as he used to be, frankly, in my humble opinion. Stephenson is such an insanely prolific writer that it takes me longer to catch up with his latest thousand-plus tome then it does for him to write, yet I always do try to catch up.

 

Favorite book on China?

Speaking of which, Reamde by Neal Stephenson is a great book that takes place in China, full of hackers and gold-farming. He really gets it right.

 

Favorite Chinese author?

My favorite may be Su Tong, and especially his novel My Life as Emperor. Written very matter-of-factly and full of cruelty, it rather haunted me.

 

Favorite book?

There are several books that have supremely influenced me. I’m going to keep it in the realm of fiction: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is the ultimate irreverent yet smart novel, with so much energy. I know I’m not smart enough to write science fiction, and cyberpunk in particular, I am purely a fan with no desire to emulate.

I have to mention The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea which sent me on a lifelong journey to figure out what the hell is going on in the world.

As for literary inspiration, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama are works that have directly influenced how I string words together…

 

Favourite writer?

As for other mediums, I would like to say that comic book writer Grant Morrison is one of my absolute favorites. Able to write mindfuck profound postmodern comics, as well as fun superheroes, and I am very envious of his abilities.

 

The book you should have read but haven’t?

I am currently trying to find the time to start Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I have a feeling it’s going to be a tough one.

 

You look back at the first thing you had published and think…

Wow I was lucky!

 

How did you get started writing?

I scribbled on occasion when I was a kid, more interested in drawing than writing. When I was in school I decided to study film on a lark, and I didn’t really finish, but I decided I like prose more than screenplays because you can be alone. I decided to write novels when I was twenty-three years old, wrote several, and then almost 10 years later it worked out.

 

Does writing change anything?

I suppose it changes your social life, because friends and loved ones can’t understand why you are always avoiding the outside world. It’s worth it though, I hope.

 

What are you working on now and when is it out?

Well, I’m still working on promoting South China Morning Blues which is currently out in Hong Kong and beyond.

I have another novel in the works, a full draft is finished, and it’s not about China. It’s about how technology effects relationships and I got the idea from last time I visited America and observed as an outsider the whole Tinder dating thing. If I’m incredibly lucky it will be published in less than a year. A lot has to fall into place. I believe it will be published eventually. Wish me luck!

 

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COMICS FAN

Goodreads: Comics

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Beginnings:

Comics One

Growing Up With Comics

 

Eras:

Marvel 80s

Marvel 90s

Marvel 2000s

 

DC 80s

DC 90s

DC 2000s

 

Currently Reading

 

Favorites:

X-Men

Superman

Batman

Transformers

 

Indie:

Independents

Vertigo

 

World:

Manga

Manga – Shonen Jump

European and British

 

Authors:

Alan Moore

Neil Gaiman

Grant Morrison

Geoff Johns

Gail Simone

Jim Starlin

Warren Ellis

What I’m currently reading – Comics: Epilogue

My epic summary of all my favorite comics has now concluded.

I shall now epilogue this blog series with a simple post about what I am currently reading.

 

In the end, I hate to say it, it’s still kinda about Marvel vs. DC.

Consider that both mainstream superhero comics are simultaneously promoting very similar continuity-rebooting crossovers about alternate universe locales being stolen away and various versions of characters fighting each other: Secret Wars and Convergence.

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I got a free preview for Secret Wars. Now all the universes are dying, and the Ultimate and 818 will combine! Or something. I do like Jonathan Hickman and followed his Avengers run, which all led up to this. Guess I’ll do the graphic novel eventually…

 

Convergence is interesting, in that it’s less of a big deal but it includes callbacks to DC eras I once enjoyed and now miss. Specifically the pre-52 DC of the 90s and 2000s! I do love that Wally West is the Flash and has a family, and Clark Kent is married to Lois Lane (by Dan Jurgens no less). What can I say? I’m sappy that way sometimes.

Also, I’ll definitely be reading New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and Nightwing/Oracle by Gail Simone.

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Speaking of DC and parallel Earths, Grant Morrison on Multiversity. I finally completed the story with the final issues and they are very, very good. Not Morrison’s best, but what could ever be that brilliant? Fun cosmic action as only he can do it, of course with many metafictional elements. One of the best things is that it’s self-contained without requiring endless crossovers to tell the story of Ultra and multiple Supermen against the archetypal hordes of cynicism. Perhaps there will be a sequel but I hope it doesn’t take too many years to come out.

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Speaking of brilliant, the highly literary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil. I want to round out the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts. It’s already been out but I haven’t gotten the chance to purchase it yet. Damn you Hong Kong comic shops last week! After tthis hat, perhaps no Moore comics for another decade. So story of Captain Nemo’s daughter in Nazi South America better be good.

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Speaking of acclaimed British authors, Neil Gaiman. Sandman Overture, the late update to the 90s classic, has been coming out very slowly. The incredible art by J.H. Williams is worth it, but I may be regretting already buying the individual issues and not waiting for the inevitable reprint. Dreams, dreams, dreams.

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And speaking of Vertigo: Fables. The long-running series about fairy tale people hiding out in modern New York — the greatest currently published by DC/Vertigo — is ending after all these years. The trade paperback editions actually sell more than the magazine issues, so the final issue 150 will apparently also be a full graphic novel volume 22. That’s an amazing idea. But will take until late July to be completed by artist Mark Buckingham.

Whatever will happen to Snow White and rivalrous sibling Rose Red and the Camelot metaphor? I’m dying to know. Writer Bill Willingham hasn’t been apprehensive about killing off a lot of major characters; anything could happen.

So good, I even got my girlfriend to become a Fables fan.

Meanwhile, I’m catching up on spinoffs like Fairest.

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Can’t leave out my favorite Shonen Jump manga One Piece! By the hilarious Eiichiro Oda, Volume 74 has been released for over a month, how can I be so late?! Super stretchy pirate Luffy in the tournament and fighting against warlord Doflamingo must be one of the great all-time manga climaxes. Dressrosa, what a country. I heard a certain guy from Luffy’s past isn’t dead after all. I. Need. To. Read. Now.

All you people reading the scans are way ahead and even the anime is past that, yet I still insist on supporting the official Viz translation.

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And that’s it. Those are the comics I currently read.

(At least the ones I buy. No comment on pirated online and such.)

Thanks for following along with my blog, all you comics fans out there! It was fun sharing, and even if you aren’t a fan I hope I introduced you to some possibilities of new reading materials. Read and read alike, it’s good for you 🙂

Time for Warren Ellis, comics writer

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=warren-ellis

 

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That’s just a blurry pic I took at Comic Con ’07 or ’08. He is SO funny in person.

 

Warren Ellis is a damn interesting writer.

He’s British, smart, and touches on occulty themes, and yet he was not part of the original 90s “British Invasion” of comics writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison.

His work is violent, intelligent, sometimes dark, with a wicked sense of humor.

In my youth I read some of his Marvel work, like Thor and British X-spinoff Excalibur. I had mixed feelings, because it was that kind of “grim and gritty” style of postmodern comics. Ellis, similar to another (Irish) writer Garth Ennis, clearly hates the superhero genre. He has no use for it, other than a method of making a living sellilng comic scripts. In a perfect world these authors could do other genres without having to slum it among the capes. So they write heroes, all the while cynical and despising what heroism stands for. Still, makes for interesting stories at times.

Warren Ellis is a much sought-after writer for both DC and Marvel, but he rarely does mainstream work anymore. And that’s good.

I became a real fan of the Wildstorm era. Wildstorm, if you recall, was Jim Lee’s company within Image Comics, after all the big name stars left Marvel in the early 90s. Those early comics more than often shit, but Lee ended up with more staying power than, say, Rob Liefeld.

One of those Wildstorm books happened to be Stormwatch, which wasn’t anything great. Seemed another overblown X-Men rippoff about a government team or something. Warren Ellis came upon the title with little fanfair, and it soon gained critical acclaim. No one saw that coming.

I missed it the first time around, but around the mid-2000s I was ruffing it in Los Angeles and enjoyed going to a downtown library. They had an extensive graphic novel collection. I had little money and lots of free time. So I decided to catch up and see what I’d been missing.

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Stormwatch was cool, but eventually all the characters were killed off and something new came along: Authority. That’s what it was truly all about.

Authorty, illustrated by Bryan Hitch (of Ultimates fame) was one of the first “widescreen” comics. Every issue was epic. It starred Apollo and Midnighter — a gay version of Superman and Batman, and Jenny Sparks the spirit of the Twentieth Century. Unapologetic in its epicness, they fought gods and aliens and were always high-level high-concept.

 

Moreover, Warren Ellis’s greatest legacy would be Transmetropolitan. Those graphic novels I ever so cherished, as they kept me going during my starving artist years…

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Published by Vertigo, and that’s more like it. Actually was originally published by DC’s “Helix” imprint, but that went under and only Transmetro remained to become one of Vertigo’s most successful.

The story of gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in that Hunter S. Thompson vein, but in an unidentified bizarre sci-fi future. There were crazies with alien DNA, a Nixonian character affectionately referred to as “the Beast”, and an even worse President called the “Smiler.”

Each issue punched you in the face and laughed loudly while doing that. Anarchy and journalistic integrity and weird post-science concepts. At 60 issues, by far a record for Ellis. Well done, sir.

 

In the 2000s Ellis continued with some Marvel projects in the midst of the more mature Quesada era. These weren’t quite rated R books from Image or Vertigo, but better than anything else out.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. was a cult hit, full of B-list characters like Machine Man and Boom Boom fighting against the Beyond corporation’s ‘Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ H.A.T.E. being a hilariously biting satire of S.H.I.E.L.D. The whole comic was full of pithy one-liners, nothing else like it from Marvel. First arc was about the dragon Fin Fang Foom and had many comments about purple underpants and lack of genitals. Only lasted 12 issues, which is unfortunately typical for Ellis.

Delicious art by Stuart Immonen.

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Meanwhile at Marvel, Mr. Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis storyline. You may recognize the nanotechnological elements in the film Iron Man 3, based off the comic.

 

Outside of the superhero world, we have Fell. This award-winning comic simpler in scope, starring detective Richard Fell in a very dark crime drama.

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There were other little books here and there I read, miniseries from Image and Wildstorm post-bought out by DC.

Global Frequency, pretty cool. Typical Ellis, an elite team of agents fighting the secret forces of incomprehensible technology and great mysteries (un)revealed at the end.

Ministry of Space, an alternate reality take on what if proper British gentlemen won the space race.

Red, more spies. The bad movie was based off that, sorry.

Supergod, apocalyptic religious-transhumanist themes published by Avatar Press. I’d recommend a lot of his latter years work from Avatar.

Yet even Warren Ellis sometimes misses the mark. Personally, I had to give up on the webcomic FreakAngels

 

The ultimate Warren Ellis opus would absolutely have to be Planetary: Continue reading

Marvel Comics – the 2000s

Previous: DC Comics 2000s – Gail Simone

Goodreads Shelf: Marvel

 

Back in my twenties, the prime of my life. Although I said I swore off Marvel, it didn’t take long for me to get back into the so-called ‘House of Ideas.’

It was Joe Quesada in the 2000s who headed the new era of mature storytelling for a certain biggest American comic company. He did away with the archaic comics code authority stamp, that self-censorship system imposed during in the 1950s ‘juvenile delinquency’ scare, Quesada was right to disregard, and mainline Amero comics became more like PG-13 films or prime-time television dramas. DC followed suit eventually as well, took them long enough.

I particularly had to take notice when Grant Morrison was invited to write New X-Men. That changed everything. By the by, Morrison’s first for the company (at this time, never mind the 90s Skrull Kill Krew), was Marvel Boy. Totally awesome, with high concept ideas such as a humanless corporation villain and interstellar immigration policies. And a Fantastic Four miniseries illustrated by Jae Lee.

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So, while I was already there I decided give some other X-Men a go. Chris Claremont went to X-Treme X-Men, after his return didn’t work out. I gave it a chance. Chuck Austin in Uncanny was, unfortunately, considered among the worst runs ever.

 

Geoff Johns on Avengers, as said.

 

Then, Mark Waid got to write Fantastic Four! A lot of fun, and joined by the late Mike Weiringo of Flash fame. The first family of the Marvel Universe were seen as ‘imaginauts,’ as they explored time and space and other universes. Doctor Doom got a bit of an occultic retcon, and it was well done indeed. I love when Fantastic Four is done right.

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Earth X came out in 1999, but I read the graphic novel a year or so later. Created by Alex Ross initially (written by Jim Kreuger) following DC’s Kingdom Come, the dystopian premise was a future in which everyone has super powers except for Captain America.

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Jim Kreuger followed it up with Universe X and Paradise X, and I read all with great anticipation. Kreuger told a sort of final chapter to the Marvel Comics saga, revealing every secret character by character, giving a bittersweet farewell to everyone from Spider-Man to Galactus…

 

(Do prepare to see a lot of pics with Captain America standing there inspiringly, in this blog)

 

Meanwhile, the next big thing was to be the Ultimate Universe. Starting with Ultimate Spider-Man — written by Bendis whom I rarely cared for — it was a separate reality that was supposed to reboot everything for the sake of newer readers. Unburdened by decades of continuity, the Ultimate universe started anew with fresh modern takes on the various franchises.

Marvel Millar wrote Ultimate X-Men, and it was not good at all. Millar is an interesting writer; he’s pretty much a hack and yet a very entertaining hack. These days he’s only concerned with making comics to serve as movie pitches, such as Kick-Ass and Secret Service.

There was one masterpiece that stood out. Ultimates, by Millar and brilliant artist Bryan Hitch. That is, specifically the 13-issue Ultimates and sequal 13-issue Ultimates 2.

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There wouldn’t even be the Avengers film phenomenon if not for Ultimates.

Millar was very successful at turning the Avengers into an incredibly awesome action movie franchise. Of the ‘widescreen’ style, written snarkily like the wittiest rated R cult classic, there was Captain America as WWII badass, homicidal Hulk, and biggest impact of all was Tony Stark/Iron Man as self-obsessed genius asshole. Thor as a new age guru was an interesting take. The super team and S.H.E.I.L.D. were all presented bit fascistic if you analyze too much, yet what a ride.

Very quotable. Cap: “SURRENDER??!! You think this letter on my head stands for France?” And when the villains overtake Manhattan: “The Great Satan has been liberated.”

With the climax of the first volume fighting aliens, familiar? I must admit I am definitely invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I fully give the Ultimates their do!

 

Other Mark Millar impacts included the crossover Civil War. Which will be getting a movie.

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I didn’t read most crossovers of that decade. Secret Invasion by Bendis, no way. Fear Itself, yawn. Civil War was on of those cynical ‘realistic superhero’ tales in which Captain America goes to war with Iron Man over government registration of superhumans. The trade reprint seemed worth a read at the bookstore but not buying.

Spider-Man famously gave up his secret identity at the time, siding with Iron Man and revealing himself on camera as Peter Parker. Obviously, there was a retcon soon after and that never happened; back to the ol’ status quo for Spidey.

Afterwards, Cap was assassinated and resurrected Bucky/Winter Soldier replaced him for a while. I read some of Ed Brubaker’s run, it was critically acclaimed and so on, but kind of boring with all the predictable resurrections.

 

Continue reading

Geoff Johns – DC Comics 2000s

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Met at comic shop opening L.A. Comic writers are always such nice guys.

Geoff Johns largely WAS the face DC Comics of the 2000s, in my twenty-something resurgence as a hardcore comics geek I basically read every single one of his books that entire decade.

 

Note: Goodreads Shelf: Geoff Johns — that 68 at last count

 

Johns is not going to win any big literary awards and change your life, and that’s not the point. He is a great entertainer, a great storyteller, never dumbing down and utilizing the best aspects of the superhero genre. Throughout the 2000s, he was particularly skilled at taking complex continuity and streamlining into a way that pleased hardcore fans and newcomers alike. Nowadays is a different story, but that’s what it was like at the time.

I remember first discovering the former screenwriter’s first published Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. at the very beginning, a certain humble 12-issue series about the Star-Spangled Kid, an update on old Golden Age retired heroes. It was the perfect start. Nothing grim and gritty (although later I’d learned the main character Courtney Whitmore was based on Johns’ deceased sister), just fun comics with respect towards history.

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This also concerns Starman. Written by James Robinson in the 90s, Starman was one of DC’s finest works. Another legacy comic about a modern take on the Golden Age, Starman was very different from the norm. Jack Knight might be called a hipster hero today. His dad was the original Starman, and he was a normal, cultural guy with tattoos and good taste in movies, forced into the life.

Ultimately James Robinson ushered in the new JSA: the Justice Society of America. Thanks must also go to the success of the JLA at the same time, and DC was trying harder with classic team books.

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Geoff Johns wrote from issue 5 and up to the end, and it was something special indeed. Unlike previous incarnations of these characters in Infinity Inc., the new book was ambitious and quickly became the centerpiece of the DC Universe. Arguably more crucial than the Justice League themselves. The society saved the world, introduced new mythos, let the original Flash and Green Lantern and Wildcat mentor the next generation, and not to mention a return to glory for Hawkman.

 

As for solo heroes, Geoff Johns took over The Flash…

This was back in the Wally West days, not Barry Allen like the new show currently airing. Barry had died way back in the Crisis on Infinite Earths event in the 80s, long replaced by his now grown sidekick. Wally was more of an everyman hero, without a secret identity, but still very much in the mainstream superhero scene.

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Flash already had very high standards, thanks to the extremely talented Mark Waid, and Johns – joined by artist Scott Kollins – focused on Wally as a sort of working class hero in a pseudo-Detroit. The villains were given the utmost important, with the Rogue’s Gallery often being the stars.

The Flash became my favorite hero of all.

I still really miss Wally West…

 

Geoff Johns was gaining traction, and got noticed by Marvel Comics. He had a brief run over on the flagship title The Avengers, as well some other miniseries such as The Vision and The Thing. He did as well there as expected – he was perfectly suited to Captain American in particular. Sadly, it was over all too fast and Johns signed on to be exclusive with DC and the run abruptly ended after a mere 20 issues. Avengers after that became New Avengers  by Bendis and I was no fan; that was point I cut off all Marvel and focused only on DC.

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Geoff Johns kept going. Teen Titans debuted, fusing the 80s Titans fused with Young Justice. I didn’t love the art and I kinda missed Peter David, but it was very much worth reading. Robin, Superboy (now revealed to be… spoiler ahead… Lex Luthor’s clone!), and Impulse took up the mantle of Kid Flash.

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This would not be a post about Geoff Johns however, if I did not speak of his epics of epics: Green Lantern!

(Note many of the pics below I simply took myself, as I thought these comics worth saving in my China apartment right now)

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Continue reading

Grant Morrison, the Grand

I was so young then…

 

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In 2005 or 2006 I met comic book writer Grant Morrison at a music festival in Los Angeles. It was an odd event in Echo Park, with many experimental bands playing at various stages, and at the same they had a workshop on the occult. Sadly, most people weren’t concerned about the workshop part.

I was ecstatic to hear that Grant Morrison would be there. He gave a fascinating interview. Seriously, you must youtube some videos of him immediately. Low-key event that it was, we got to chat personally for a few and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. I met his wife too.

I met him at Comic Con the following year as well, at events far more crowded, and he was still very nice. I won’t inundate with more pictures, however, I’m not that much of a fanboy.

 

For more here’s an particularly awesome video from 2000’s DisinfoCon introducing the tenants of chaos magic and how to do a masturbation sigil:

 

Note he’s Scottish.

 

And now my blog begins. Presenting the master of the Postmodern Superhero. The punk rock star of comics. My personal all-time favorite.

Goodreads Grant Morrison

 

First things first, comparisons with Alan Moore are inevitable. They are both absolutely brilliant. They are both magicians. They both deconstruct the nature of the superhero like no other.

Yet, one is a mess of hair and the other is bald. One seems to be a misanthropic old man, and the other apparently has lot of fun as a writer. One hates all things mainstream, and the other is just fine with utilizing corporate characters as tools to tell the important stories.

Unfortunately, if you’re a Grant Morrison fan then you must be an Alan Moore fan as well but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot of overlap in themes, yet if you want to be an anti-mainstream purist you can skip Morrison. I think you would be missing out if you did that.

Anyhows, I am a great fan of both so what’s wrong with that?

 

As for me, I personally first came across Grant Morrison in my teens (though the story gets more interesting in my twenties), because of the huge phenomena that was JLA in the 90s. I was marginally interested, being that I followed everything important that was DC at the time, and the first volume was okay. Superman with a mullet notwithstanding. When I got to the Rock of Ages graphic novel, I was astounded. Then the following arc about the 5th dimensional beings left me well and truly mindfucked.

To me, the peak was the One Million crossover about time travel to 853rd Century. Great high-concept science fiction.

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Grant Morrison has since further written Superman in such titles as All-Star Superman, Action Comics, which you can see my opinion thereof by following that link .

 

One of the random things I was into seeking back in the day was Flex Mentallo, a strange Vertigo piece about a corny superhero. I found issue 3 at discount, and spent years hunting down the full story.

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It had everything: deconstructionism, metafiction, with groundbreaking art by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely.

I contend that Flex Mentallo is superior to Watchmen. It takes a dissection of the superhero genre even further. And it’s funnier, wittier, with treatises on childhood trauma and cosmic abduction, and contains the classic line “Fredric Wertham was fucking right!”

It was so hard to get all four issues. The problem was that Flex Mentallo was a satire of the ‘hero of the beach’ and with republication risked getting sued by those old strongman ads. DC wouldn’t reprint a graphic novel for years. Back then, I bit the bullet and paid high prices on ebay and it was well worth it. Now, of course, there’s a trade.

 

Let’s go a bit more backwards, with Animal Man. The saga of Buddy Baker was one of Grant Morrison’s first forays into DC during the 80s British Invasion. This obscure hero was given a modern reboot, that quickly went from an essay on animal rights to some weird routes onto the nature of fiction. Combining Wile E. Coyote with Native American mythology, by the end it went full on metafiction. Most haunting of all was when Animal Man broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the audience, shouting “I can see you!”

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Concurrently, Doom Patrol was a very interesting take on outcast heroics. The patrol were always a bit odd, a tad off, and Grant Morrison knew how to play to the strengths of that. Robotman as eunich, transgendered street characters, and most of all were the villains based off art history. Brotherhood of Dada anyone?

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Not to mention Flex Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol.

 

These were all well and very, very good. However, Grant Morrison’s true opus came in the 90s with the Invisibles. By the time I got caught on, well after it was completed, I was generally getting into more esoteric subject matter. I was reading P.K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I was collecting Disinfo books. I was coming across these strange interviews with one Grant Morrison comic writer, on the subjects of chaos magic and higher consciousness. It was time to read more.

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I ordered the entire set, and read on. Then I read them again, and a few more times at differing stages of my life. I’m about ready for a reread again.

The Invisibles is an epic take on Gnosticism and conspiracy theories, through the lens of an action comic, published by Vertigo. About a team of anarchists fighting the good fight against the forces of control in this world. It incorporated all kinds of references to psychedelic mythologies. All came to a head in that Singularity futuristic year of 2012.

It felt somewhat cathartic that my burgeoning spiritual path was overlapping with my love of comics and superheroes. I was doing it right all along. Much can truly be learned about human growth via the metaphor of the Superman. Thanks, Grant Morrison.

And, I may share that reading interviews on how Grant Morrison took LSD and other various chemicals for the sake spiritual experiences, that had an impact. Helped to encourage me with my own experiments utilizing psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, legal or otherwise, rewiring some synapses within my nervous system in some arguably positive ways.

As always, reading books (and comics) can be such a bad influence!

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Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Blog!

Previously: Superman!

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Daaa-daaaaa-DA-DAAAA! Daaaa-daaa-daa-daaaaa-daaaaaaaa….

Finally, everyone’s favorite superhero. Though I was never the greatest Batman fan in the world, what with all those more interesting escapist science fiction characters out there, I have read a lot of Batman over the years and it would behoove me to not elaborate.

He is central to the DC Universe, the resident hypercompetent genius who always has a plan to save the day. It’s not really ironic anymore that he’s beats everyone else with super powers, we get it already, and Batman is super smart and super cool. He does, obviously, have the best villains in all comics.

Bob Kane created Batman in 1939, though really Bill Foster contributed much of the mythos, and he was quite dark at first. Soon however, came the whimsical wiles of the Golden Age to the Silver Age and he got pretty ridiculous. He’s bounced around from camp to serious over the years, with various incarnations acted by Adam West and directed by Tim Burton.

My favorite incarnation ever is still the brilliant Animated Series, produced by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini and expertly voiced by Kevin Conroy. Mr. Conroy remains the absolute best Batman actor of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.

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Back in the world of comics, Batman had a resurgence in the 1970s as writer Dennis O’Neil and and classic artist Neal Adams took Batman to his darker roots. They also had a James Bond sort of vibe, has he traveled the world fighting Ra’s al Ghul.

It wasn’t until 1986 when Frank Miller — of pre-Sin City fame — came along that things went real ‘grim n gritty’ dark. The Dark Knight Returns, still considered one of the greatest graphic novels ever, was about a futuristic Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement and fighting a corrupt Gotham City. Then he fought a corrupt United States government, as Superman was an asshole stooge of Ronald Reagan. It almost comes across as satire today (indeed, Miller’s later work cannot be taken seriously at all) but it was just so amazing and has aged wonderfully. Reread it today, I dare ya, it’s epic.

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Frank Miller returned for a reboot after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1987, with Batman: Year One. Miller only wrote, and David Mazzucchelli drew. It was a fine story, a bit short for my tastes without a proper ending. Yet, modern Batman wouldn’t be Batman without that tale.

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1988 the mainstay Batman titles were still normal superhero comics, but they needed more tension. DC decided to hold a vote to kill the unpopular second Robin, Jason Todd. The original Dick Grayson had become Nightwing over in New Teen Titans. It was a gimmick that added real tragedy to the DC Universe, as the Joker beat him to death and Batman could forever remain guilty. Joker being a middle-eastern official with diplomatic immunity at the time, a surprising twist. Yet, it wasn’t the grim gritty kind of thing, as the story was firmly set in the science fictional universe with Superman coming to help. Death in the Family, written by Jim Starlin.

Don’t worry, Robin II came back to life eventually.

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The followup crossover with New Teen Titans was also firmly set in the greater DC Universe, and then introduced the third Robin Tim Drake. More on Batman’s various partners shortly.

There were many a-Batman crossover throughout theyears. Like Marvel’s X-Men, the most popular property gets to milk the readers as much as possible.

That and 90s excess, and you have the worst of it: Knightfall. In 1993 Bane was introduced, yes like the movie, and the prison-raised South American (not Germanic) hatched a devious plan to BREAK the BAT. He let loose Arkham Asylum and then when the caped crusader was at his worst he broke his friggin back. All this just as Superman was dying mind you, it was the thing back then. With Bruce Wayne crippled, the antihero Azrael armored up and took charge of the cape and cowl. Sooner than later things were back to the status quo.

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In 1999, standards were higher and the crossover No Man’s Land fared much better. Gotham City had been destroyed by an earthquake and the government had given up, which led to total anarchy. Fun times. Later, Lex Luthor would rebuild it all and it set him up for his presidential bid.

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I always liked when Batman faced wits with Lex Luthor and Superman battled the Joker.

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Superman!

Prev: DC – 80s

Goodreads Shelf: Superman

If any one character deserves a really long solo post, it is Superman. That is, not just comic book/superhero characters. Any one character in all American fiction, period.

Most would agree that Superman is very important. However, he hasn’t gotten the movies he deserves (at least since the late 70s). Hasn’t been a top seller in ages. And everyone likes Batman better.

Don’t get me wrong, I love love love Batman. But I always felt resentful that everyone thinks the caped crusader is so much cooler than Superman. I prefer the Man of Steel out of sheer spite.

Seriously, I am a sincere fan. I like escapism, science fiction, exploding planets, time travel, that’s what comics are all about to me. It’s funny Batman is more grounded in the real world, yet he’s in the Justice League with aliens and mermen. I will admit one discrepancy: Superman needs Batman as part of his mythos but the other way around isn’t necessary. Batman can be in both worlds. More on Batman later.

First of all, let’s just admit that the superhero genre is supposed to be a bit corny. We’re talking about muscle men in skintight outfits saving the world from super-villains; it’s not meant to be gritty and realistic! That’s me. I find the literary quality comes from taking 1950s children’s stories and then somehow grounding them in plausible scenarios.

I like corny heroes. Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero of all, and Cyclops is my favorite X-Men.

On Superman… Shall I start at beginning? In 1938 Jerry Seigel Joe Shuster created ushered in the superhero genre, a true American creation as valid as jazz, punk rock, and pop art. The metaphor is obvious in retrospect, the last son of the planet Krypton disguises himself as mild-mannered Clark Kent: He is the proverbial Jewish immigrant.

The Golden Age was the beginning. The Silver Age was totally weird and psychedelic. We’re all familiar with the films. Pre-Crisis Superman is classic, but he was a bit stiff. Too perfect, with only kryptonite as a weakness, he more than anyone needed a reboot.

Before the Crisis, noted genius Alan Moore and iconic artist Curt Swan produced Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow as this iteration’s last hurrah. Nostalgic yet serious at the same time, and nobody could write it like Moore. Goodbye, Kal-El.

“An imaginary story. Aren’t they all…?”

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Then the Crisis happened. The previous “didn’t count”, or something. So came Marvel star John Byrne to do Superman his way. It wasn’t bad, but I preferred Byrne on team books like Fantastic Four. At least Clark Kent was three-dimensional. At least Lex Luthor was more formidable. New villains were introduced, but mostly it was just the start until the 90s Superman was to be fully fleshed out.

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Dan Jurgens was in charge by then. Louise Simonson of X-Men fame was a good writer as well. Lex Luthor was cloned and recloned — kryptonite poisoning you see — Kirby-esque Cadmus Labs was made integral, Maggie Sawyer of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, and Clark even revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane when he proposed. A lot was added to the backstory.

Things were looking up. Yet, with all that competition from Marvel with those big crossovers, DC had to do something drastic to get noticed. They wanted an event. Hence came Doomsday, and the pivotal Death of Superman event.

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Doomsday was a kickass villain. About damn time Superman faced more physical threats. Still, Doomsday had a rather simplistic motivation. He was mysterious and we later learned more, but the real point of the death was to introduce the Resurrection of Superman.

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Superboy, the new clone. The Eradicator, a Kryptonian intelligence. Steel, a new DC hero of Justice League merit. And the badass looking Cyborg, whom of course turned out to be the villain. Then Superman came back to life, albeit with a mullet, and it was an epically great story unlike any other. We all have the fondest memories.

 

Over in the other side of the DC universe in the mid-90s, much was stalling. Meanwhile, the great Grant Morrison proposed that DC simply utilize the best they have and make the Justice League the premier team they were in the Silver Age. After doing away with the endless spinoff aspects, Mr. Morrison put in Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martain Manhunter and made it as awesome as possible. Unfortunately, it all started during the mullet era.

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Grant Morrison’s take on Superman, as well as Mark Waid’s, was crucial to how the character evolved in the 90s and 2000s. DC purposely wanted to downplay the more omnipotent aspects to Superman, make him just another decent hero with various states of dramatic conflict fighting average villains. But the critically-acclaimed writers wabted a classic Superman, embracing what makes him “super” instead of toning him down. JLA (Justice League of America) worked, it was DC’s top seller for years, the only title that legitimately competed with Marvel. Was a more cosmic take on Superman valid after all?

Perhaps. And then they changed his powers and him electric, a controversial move. Still lambasted today, though I kinda liked it. Whenever there are great changes to the status quo we all know it’s temporary, so why not have fun for the time being? Least he got a haircut.

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Finally, in the 2000s it was decided that Superman should be more pure. Enough of the gimmicks. Grant Morrison and Mark Waid unfortunately didn’t get to lead the way, but writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness did their best.

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I didn’t like Jeph Loeb’s writing, but McGuinness was spectacular. I say the cartoony-look worked well. Joe Kelly writing Action Comics was most brilliant of all. I miss that era. It all climaxed in the Our Worlds at War crossover, where Superman and the JLA fought a Galactus-type new space nemesis, Imperiex.

 

On villains, yes some are too lame. Toyman, the Prankster. Mxyzptlk ok. Lex Luthor, of course, is great but has always suffered from being a normal human up against the power of a Superman — intellect or no.

Metallo is cool. Parasite is decent. But overall, Superman’s old school villains haven’t been the best. Especially when compared to the classic rogue’s galleries of Batman, Spider-Man, and the Flash.

As said, I believe Lex’s rebirth in the 80s as a sleazy businessmen was a great improvement. In the 2000s, it went one step further. President Lex.

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(Which “coincidentally” corresponded to the W. Bush years. Life imitates art or art imitates life? Seriously, I’m asking.)

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Growing up with the X-Men

“Da na na na NA NA!”

That’s supposed to be the X-Men Animated Series theme song. Remember that? If you’re a member of my generation, should be a fond memory…

Fox X-Men Animated Series 1992 to 1997

Can’t you just hear the theme song?

 

Little did my early childhood self know, but there was a lot more to X-Men than that 90s Zeitgeist.

As detailed in my last post: My History of Comics, once upon a time in my adolescence I was given the awesome gift of about a hundred 1980s X-Men comics (as well as New Mutants and X-Factor spinoffs, more on that in a moment). Written by Chris Claremont, this was the crème de la crème of the superhero genre. It changed my reading habits — and hence, my life — forever.

Although these comics posts are mean to be about my experience, I will delve into the greater history of comics for a bit. In Marvel Comic’s “Silver Age” era in the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that is, probably just Jack Kirby, created the X-Men. Cyclops, Angel, Best, Iceman, and Marvel Girl/Jean Grey. It was actually more of a failure compared to Fantastic Four and the Avengers at that time. Yet, in the late 1970s came the All New All Different X-Men and American superhero comics suddenly matured.

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Dave Cockrum?

 

With an international cast, featuring the Canadian Wolverine and the African Storm as well as many others, it brought much-needed diversity to the superhero genre. In particular were the many strong, female characters. (Funny though it is that the X-Men were so feminist.)

It still pisses me off that the movies don’t get that. I’ll be complaining about the movies a lot in this post.

By the 1980s, the Uncanny X-Men were the best of the best. While Marvel was publishing a lot of cherished works, scribe Chris Claremont was building an amazing mythology unequaled with anything else out there. He took the metaphor of mutants-as-oppressed-minority and went with it unseen depths. He wrote with equal ease in outer space settings, as the alien Shi’ar Empire fought the Phoenix and the Brood. He wrote about magical concepts, with Colossus’s sister Illyana the ruler of the mystical demonic realm of Limbo. He was on fire, and he stuck with the characters on fire for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. Although, yes, if you wanna critique we was and is a very wordy writer.

My bundle of X-Mens covered about 180 – 240. But with many other heres-and-theres, I got the Dark Phoenix saga graphic novel collection and Classic X-Men reprints. The fun of collecting comics back then was to fill in the gaps and slowly piece together the greater story over the course of years. Then I got X-Factor 1 – 50, the spinoff featuring the original X-Men such as Cyclops, which covered many crossovers. As well as bunches and bunches of New Mutants.

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The New Mutants, next generation of students at Xavier’s

 

By the time I hit the ground running, Magneto had joined the X-Men in issue 200 and then there was the Mutant Massacre and then for a darker period the X-Men had “died” in the Fall of the Mutants storyline in 225 and lived in Australia while being drawn by Marc Silvestri, and then the demonic Inferno crossover around issue 240 brought together X-Factor and others. Wow fun times!

Classic X-Men 28-29

Silvestri, love that art

 

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Comics One

I like to share. Over the course of this blog, I’ve shared my writings, some of my taste in music, and yes my love-life. However, one aspect that I consider very important to my identity has been rather neglected. I speak of my biggest hobby of all, my first love. Comics. There are many facets to the complexity that is me Ray, but if anyone is interested in truly knowing the core of my being then you must know that I am ultimately.. a bigass comic geek. I used to go to the comic shop every Wednesday. I used to scour for good deals at used bookstores and comic conventions. I collected thousands of periodicals across all genres, and filled my various bedrooms with dozens of boxes. At last count, I had about 40 boxes. They contain over a hundred issues each, do the math. I have less now, that’s another story, but still a ton of these back in my dad’s closet in Indiana of all places.

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Now imagine 40 of these.

To introduce this series detailing my great interest in the sequential art form, let me begin with profile links from my extensive Goodreads:

According to my Goodreads shelves, I have read over 1000 graphic novels (I think it’s more, that’s just what I recalled to list)
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=comics

There are all kinds, all genres. But I must admit mostly superhero- https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superhero

Split into DC and Marvel (I’m more into DC, least I used to be) https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=dc https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=marvel

Re: Superman
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superman

Also, quite a lot of Japanese manga
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=manga

Such as the fun volumes of Shonen Jump https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=shonen-janpu

The “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=tezuka

I do, of course, contend that comics are as literature as prose books Noting DC’s adult imprint Vertigo
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=vertigo

Indie as well, all that which defies classification https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=indie

My favorite authors:

Grant Morrison
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=grant-morrison

Alan Moore
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=alan-moore

Warren Ellis
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=warren-ellis

Neil Gaiman
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=gaiman

Geoff Johns
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=geoff-johns

Tattoos

I have six tattoos. It’s a hobby of mine, albeit it’s an expensive hobby that I don’t get to indulge in often enough.

Each one is meaningful to me. I put a lot of thought into them and I have no regrets.

For a while, I was doing one per year. Then I stopped for several years. In anticipation of my big travel plans coming up, I want to get some new ink! What to choose, what to choose…

Let’s discuss. But first, the background on my present state.

I got my first tattoo when I was 21. It was the Disinformation logo:

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A little out of order, keep in mind

That’s Disinformation Press, the counter-cultural alternative media publishers. I was very into them at the time. Read all their books, such as EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG and YOU ARE BEING LIED TO among others. See the website Disinfo.com, which is unfortunately not what it used to be. The logo is supposed to be red on white, but I was told black is better and I do think that works.

The only disappointing part was that people would always ask my why I tattooed the Napster logo. So annoying. Thankfully nobody says that anymore, because Napster is no longer a thing. These days, occasionally someone says it looks like a cat not a devil’s head, but I’m still for it.

Next, I got a simple Icthys, otherwise known as the Jesus Fish. Why would I get this, you ask? Well there’s more to this fish than you know. One theory I enjoyed purports that it is a map of three-dimensional holographic reality by superimposing two flat circles which are Gnostic meta-universes (perhaps Heaven and Hell). Thank Grant Morrison’s the Invisibles graphic comics series for that. However, that interesting theory doesn’t hold up to further research. In truth, historical records show that various ancient pre-Christian civilizations used this symbol as a female fertility symbol. Turn it sideways, clockwise. Get it? It’s the most graphic of female parts, right there!

I decided to keep going with that pattern, I wanted to cover my body with various occultic logos from all over. Next stop, that most meditative of endocrine system metaphors, the chakras.

You might think I regret it how it turned out, but I don’t. Yes I’ve been accused of having a tramp stamp.

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Damn I was so thin back then

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