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Pop Culture

I wish I could say that this Friday The 13th installment of the column was full of spooks, chills, and thrills, but that would mean that I was planning ahead, and I definitely didn’t do that. No, this week’s column is just another amalgamation of the weird and fantastic things that I managed to fill my brain with this week, including one of the strangest and most creative comic books I’ve ever read.

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Cover for The Maxx Maxximized Volume 2 by Sam Keith and Ronda Pattison.

Cover for The Maxx: Maxximized Volume 2 by Sam Keith and Ronda Pattison.

Sam Keith’s cult classic The Maxx was first published from 1993 to 1998, and though it didn’t revolutionize the comic book industry or lead to a host of copycats, it had a reputation of being a visually stunning and imaginative book. I’d read exactly one issue of The Maxx before this week, and while I appreciated the art style, I found it difficult to understand, mostly because the book is based on an original mythology that I wasn’t able to fully grasp when dropped in midway through. This week I was afforded the opportunity to get digital versions of the new IDW reprints of The Maxx: Maxximized, which reprints the original series with updated colours by Ronda Pattison. After reading the first two collections, I have to say that even though I understand the mythology a little bit better, I’m almost more confused than I was before.

Hey everyone! It's the first week of November! I can tell that not simply because I have learned how to read a calendar but because I am exhausted. Between National Novel Writing Month and the ExtraLife video game fundraiser, I'm getting spread a little thin. I still wanted to talk about some of my favourite things from the past week, though, so here are a few pellet-sized reviews highlighting the best of the best. * * * * * COMICS: Yes, Karnak #1 came out two weeks ago but I've read it three times since then and I'm excited by it every time. It's one of those "Warren Ellis comes...

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Today feels like the calm before the storm. This weekend is Hallowe’en and Daylight Savings Time and then November, which has become the busiest month of the year for me over the past few years (more on that later). I’m thinking a lot about what’s to come, but before I dive headlong into the next month, I’d like to write a little bit about what gave me satisfaction in the last week.

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A few months ago I read Thomas Pyncheon’s Inherent Vice for Nerd Book Club. It was my first exposure to Pyncheon, and though there were some interesting turns of phrase and funny situations I was fairly underwhelmed by the whole affair. At the meeting I’d mentioned that my problem wasn’t so much with the story or the characters, but rather the way they was presented, and that I thought the movie would probably be a more satisfying affair. After watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 film version, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, and Katherine Waterston, I am happy to say that I was correct.

Hello and welcome to Friday! It is Friday, right? I have had me a heck of a busy week. So busy with actual adventures and such that my “sit on the couch and read” time has been a little limited. I have basically one thing to recommend this week, but it’s so good, so so good that it will hopefully make up for the brevity of the column.

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I first read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency at the age of about 11 or so. I should rather say that I had it read to me, by the author Douglas Adams, on a series of cassette tapes that I had taken out of the library. Having read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy a year before — which remains one of my favourite books to this day — as well as all the sequels that had been published to that date, I wanted to see what else Adams had written. As I lay in my bed listening to the book, Adams’ dry English tones wafting into my ears, I was transported. I’d never experienced a story like this before, one featuring ghosts and time travel and literature and murder and computer science and music and love and the ineffable mysteries of life; it was funny and shocking and thought-provoking, and I was transfixed. It was a very special book, and when I read it again years later (in print), it still held that spark.

Cut to me, two decades later, going through my bookshelf and trying to find something to re-read to see if it was worth keeping. I pull Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency off the shelf, and think to myself, “I remember this being a pretty great book. I wonder if it holds up?”

It holds up, gentle readers. Oh boy, does it hold up.

Two columns in one week? Yes, it’s true. Thanks, technical hiccups! Enough preamble. I’m excited and raring to go, so let’s just get into it.

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Cover to StormWatch Volume 3: Change or Die.

I’m re-reading a lot of my old comic books as part of my de-cluttering project at my apartment. (Kudos to Danica for being a good influence on me; it only took five years to figure this stuff out.) Sometimes I read stories that I have no idea why I kept after reading them the first time; sometimes I read books that I really enjoy a second time through but realize that they’d be better off in someone else’s collection. Shockingly often I read a book that I like so much that I know I’m going to re-read it at least two more times, and back it goes on the shelf. The best ones, though are the ones that I find I still like, but the re-read unearths aspects of the work that I’d never noticed before.

The most recent example of that is Warren Ellis’ run on StormWatch from 1996 to 1998. In 25 issues, Ellis took an Image superhero property, gutted it, revamped it, gutted it again, and turned it into fertilizer for some of his most interesting and influential comic book works. It’s hard to talk about StormWatch without talking about how it set the stage for The Authority and Planetary, two series that get a lot of acclaim and changed the superhero comic book landscape forever, sometimes for the better, sometimes not (I’m looking at you, Ultimates). In these discussions, StormWatch is often looked at as a footnote, which is unfair. It’s not as groundbreaking as its progeny, but it’s where Ellis developed and refined his ideas about the inherent contradictions in the average comic book reader’s impressions of superheroes, and the difficulty in trying to make a finer world while being above it.

I don't know how September has been for everyone else, but as far as I'm concerned I can bury that month in the cold ground with a stake through its heart and pray that it never returns. Enough of that, though. It's October now, and there are all kinds of wonderful things out there to discover and share with people. I've been going through my comicbookshelves in advance of this Saturday's Geek Swap at Variant Edition, and there were a few books that I thought were worth a mention. I know, I know, talking about pop culture isn't exactly as emotionally satisfying as going for a walk...

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Edmonton was cool and rainy this week, perfect weather for sitting inside and giving oneself a little quality time with some stories. I managed to do a fair amount of that this week, even though I was trying to break through my couch potato tendencies. Here are two that managed to stand head and shoulders above the rest. * * * * * [caption id="attachment_14133" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Cover to Green Arrow #31 by Andrea Sorrentino & Mauro Cascioli.[/caption] Another week, another revisit of a DC New 52 title that I hadn't given the time of day. This time it's Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's...

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This week was a little all over the place. There were things that I had expected to be terrible that were actually quite good, and there were things that I had expected to be terrible that were even worse than I had expected. Through thick and thin, though, I was generally pleased with my pop culture grazing, and present to the fine Variant Edition readers the best of the best (and also one terrible thing but that will be explained at the end).

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One of the few books that I loved from the post-Flashpoint DC relaunch was Batman by writer Scott Snyder and penciller Greg Capullo. However, when Batman: Zero Year was announced a little less than two years in, I stayed away from it.  I didn’t see the need for yet another origin for Batman. As an established reader I get so tired of the same plot points done over and over again to satisfy a the demands of a new audience. I understand that as a publishing company, DC needs to make things accessible to new readers, and that directing them to a 20- or 30-year-old story is not the way to go about it. Knowing nothing other than the fact that Zero year was a Batman origin, I figured that it was easily skippable, a decision that was seemingly confirmed for me when it was turned into an event with a dozen other DC Comics titles — only two of which I was still reading — crossing over with it. However, as there has been a lot of buzz about the new direction for the series (and the new issue that came out this week), I decided to catch up on my Batman, and that means reading the 12 issues that made up Zero Year.

To my delight, Zero Year is not an unnecessary story that re-hashes the same ground. It’s an important story that is part of an attempt to redefine the character for the current era. Beyond that, it’s a really good story.

August 28, 2015 would have been Jack Kirby’s 98th birthday. The man was a legend in American comics; no, not just American comics, but in the international world of comics, period. He created not just beloved characters who today anchor multi-billion-dollar movie franchises and whose images grace practically everything from pyjamas to purses to posters to yes, the occasional comic book. Earlier this week I was trying to figure out how to best explain the impact that Jack Kirby had on comic books to someone who was unfamiliar with the medium, and I realized that outside of comics, there’s really no-one to compare him to. The best that I could come up with was that he was like the movie director John Ford, a skilled craftsman and genius who worked hard and was interested in the bottom line almost as he was at making something creative. Except imagine that in addition to the 140 movies that John Ford actually made, he’d also made Citizen Kane, Casablanca, City Lights, Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, The Creature From the Black LagoonLawrence of Arabia, Bonnie and Clyde, and about a dozen more award-winners, as well as created the movie romance. Oh, and worked as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, key grip, and craft services for most of the movies.

It’s a clumsy analogy, but that’s because it’s hard to overstate the man’s impact on the comic book medium (and also because the clumsy analogy is practically one of my trademarks). Jack Kirby stands astride the comic book medium like a colossus, and though there are other creators who can boast of a prolific creative output, or an influential storytelling technique, or a dynamic visual style, none of them really rival Jack. It’s why he’s called The King, after all.

Well, that was a big gap. I thought for sure that I was going to take a two week break from the column while I was away on my trip to Ireland and Scotland, and then come back and get back into the writing habit. But somehow that extended into eight weeks. Eight weeks! Summer vacation brain, what can I say? There's a lot of stuff to catch up on, and there's really no way to effectively catch up on literally everything that I want to tell people about for the column. So instead of using this space to talk about two or...

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