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As far as modern UFO “flaps” go, none are more well-known than the so-called “Phoenix Lights” incident of 1997, and while I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten anything like an “official explanation” as to what went down, I’ll guarantee you this much — the reality of the situation, whatever it may be, is probably far more interesting than 2016’s “found footage” indie micro-budgeter The Phoenix Tapes ’97. Even if all it was all just swamp gas or reflections of the planet Venus.

The authorship behind this particular piece of garbage is difficult to ascertain — the film has no credits, but that’s par for the course with these things. What’s far less common is the fact that this flick has no IMDB page, and that its official website lists none of the names of the people involved in its production, either. It does, however, make the more-than-dubious claim that the flick was “banned” from all streaming services save for Amazon Prime (which is where I caught it, obviously), a pathetically transparent slice of old-school hucksterism designed to foll the gullible into thinking that maybe this is the “real deal,” after all.

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Which, needless to say, it isn’t — but if it were, events would purportedly have happened thusly : a guy named Dustin Miller was a “top-secret government agent” of some sort who was killed during a routine traffic stop in Texas. His father, Pete, was never satisfied with the authorities’ accounting of his son’s death, and when he finds a barely-plastered-over “cubbyhole” in his deceased offspring’s home, he thinks he’s found the real reason for the young fella’s untimely demise : hidden videotape recordings that shows the “truth” about what those mysterious lights in the sky were all those years ago. Pete’s determined to put put this material into the public’s supposedly eager hands, and so while he may be on hand to say a a few words at the starting and finishing lines, the rest of the movie is the “unedited footage” just as he found it.

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Trust me when I say you’re gonna wish he’d left the whole thing alone. What we’ve got here is tedious “road trip” nonsense featuring four dumbfuck “bros” who have rented an RV to go spend a weekend in the Arizona desert. All they wanna do is get drunk, talk about girls, give each other shit, and crack dick and fart jokes, but instead on their very first night “away from civilization” (but evidently not that far away — listen closely and you’ll be able to hear somebody’s dog barking in their back yard) they hear loud explosions and see a meteorite (or something) crash into the nearby hills. This affords us the only mildly interesting and competently-executed scene in the film, but things go from almost-worth-staying-awake-for to depressingly dull in a hurry when we get the usual shaking of the RV and noises on its roof right after the big boom. When they wake up, the Winnebago’s dead and one of our quartet of clowns is missing, but don’t worry — his friends will be joining him soon enough, as on night two, shortly after witnessing those famous light in the sky, they’re dragged off, one by one, by a vaguely-visible shape that’s just, ya know, gotta be an extraterrestrial invader of some sort. With the tape still rolling the whole time, of course. The end. Sound like something you want to check out? Nah, I didn’t think so. You are, after all, much smarter than I am.

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Look, I get it — evil aliens have become a staple of the “mockumentary” subgenre in recent years, and if I had no money and wanted to make a film with my friends for some reason, this might be the way I decided to go. Or not.  Thankfully, I have a job and other shit to do, so it’s not like it’s something I need to think about. It’s just too bad that whoever really is behind this thing (my money is on one of the film’s nominal and nameless “stars” being the guilty party) didn’t listen to the little voice in their head telling them that they were wasting their time by doing this.

I’ll tell you one thing, though — if I ever made anything as dull, predictable, amateurish, and just plain lousy as The Phoenix Tapes ’97, I wouldn’t put my name on it anywhere, either.

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If I had the energy, ambition, or desire, I would begin this review with a lengthy preamble about the reasons why Charles Manson and his so-called “family” continue to hold such a grim fascination for so many of us, but you know what? The internet is chock full of thoughtful and articulate (as well as a number of hopelessly dull and derivative) essays on that very subject already,to the point where there’s literally nothing I can say about it all that hasn’t been said already. Suffice to say that even now, nearly a half-century after the Tate-LaBianca murders sent shock waves through the nation (and, indeed, the world), those waves continue to reverberate in ways both expected and unexpected and the very word “Manson” has become firmly ensconced as the brand name of choice for murder, madness, and mayhem. No amount of haughty proclamations about the killings associated with him marking the end of the so-called “flower power generation” or the supposed death of American innocence (there’s any oxymoron for you) changes that fact. These are the most notorious crimes in our country’s history, and even though there have been more horrifying incidents both before and since, for some reason odds are good that they always will be, and Manson himself will always be America’s “go-to” bogeyman of choice.

And while I’m being lazy, let me just say that we won’t be delving into the richly sordid history of Manson (or his numerous marginally-fictionalized stand-ins) on film here, either. The heyday of “Mansploitation” is obviously long over, sure, but every now and then we still get a new “Manson-centric” cinematic production and I don’t see that ending anytime soon, either. The most recent entry into this loose canon (sorry for the lame pun) is writer/director (and fellow Minnesotan) Brandon Slagle’s House Of Manson, a decidedly low-budget indie effort filmed in 2014 in and around the Los Angeles environs that has spent the last 18 months or so making the rounds on the film festival circuit and is now available for streaming on any number of so-called “home viewing platforms” (I caught it on Hulu) as well as on DVD. Its most recent corollary is probably Jim Van Bebber’s equal-parts admired and reviled 1997 effort The Manson Family, but beyond a similar DIY-ish ethos, the two films probably don’t actually have that much in common beyond their lurid subject matter. Where Van Bebber embraced a mish-mash of experimental filming styles, Slagle plays it fairly straight, for instance, and ditto for the narrative through-lines followed by each flick, with Van Bebber slyly calling into question various aspects of the established version of events largely extrapolated from Vincent Bugliosi’s hopelessly blinkered best-seller Helter Skelter, while Slagle hews to a pretty tight “party line,” with most of his take matching up almost disturbingly closely with the self-serving view  offered by principal- killer-turned-Christian-con-man Charles “Tex” Watson.

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And therein, I think, lies the problem. For all we supposedly know about the “Mason murders,” I would contend that our “information” all comes from either prosecutors, cops, or people with a distinct motivation for making themselves look less guilty. I think it’s entirely reasonable to have more questions than answers about the whole thing even after all these years, but if you’re looking for anything other than the same sort of standard-issue reiteration of events that you’d find in any number of, say, Lifetime movies about “Charlie and his girls,” you’re not gonna find ’em here. There are some fine performances, to be sure — Ryan Kiser, in particular, is borderline superb as the most relatably human Manson since Steve Railsback (a take that was considered to be “too sympathetic” at the time and basically derailed the actor’s then-quite-promising career), but he can still flip on the “trippy guru” and “homicidal madman” switches fairly effortlessly at the drop of a hat, and special mention should also go to Devanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Reid Warner as Tex, Serena Lorien as Patricia Krenwinkel, and fellow Daily Grindhouse contributor Tristan Risk as murder victim Abigail Folger, as well. Honestly, there’s a lot of good acting on display here, and some of it’s even great.

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Is that enough in and of itself to make a film worth watching, though? Sometimes, sure, what the hell — but not when you already know everything you’re gonna see, and furthermore pretty much know it all by heart. When you’re treading territory this depressingly and horrifyingly familiar, it can be tough to find something new to say, no question about that, but again — there are so many lesser-explored tributaries coursing out of these tragic occurrences, not to mention competing theories as to why things happened the way they did and what the true motivations behind them were, that you would  think it wouldn’t be all that difficult to, at the very least, give audiences something new or different to think about in relation to the Manson, for lack of a better term, phenomenon.

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That’s not on the agenda here, though, which means that for all its laudable elements, House Of Manson is a rote and thoroughly unimaginative affair, a remake of no specific film, but rather of any number of them. It’s not without artistic merit, by any means, but it also seems to have no particular purpose. If you want to see what the Manson story looks like when it’s done with less money and lower production values than you’re used to seeing, fair enough, this is the movie for you. But if you’re looking for new insight or details or even just some semi-surprising little wrinkle you won’t find in a thousand other places, no such luck.

I know a lot of effort went into this production — behind-the-scenes stories about its truncated filming schedule and the grueling work that necessitated as a result of it make it clear to me that it was most definitely a labor of love. I just wish that I could love it back.

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One of these days, I’ll learn to resist new micro-budget “found footage” horror flicks added to the Amazon Prime streaming queue, but today wasn’t that day, and you know what? I’m kind of glad for that fact, because the latest one that I watched — Irish writer/director Peter Bergin’s 2015 offering, Territorial Behavior (which is apparently also available on Blu-ray and DVD, if you’re so inclined)  — turned out to be, while admittedly wholly unoriginal, pretty fun, well-executed, suspenseful stuff.

What Bergin is aiming for here is the classic bait-and-switch : outdoor survival instructor Bailey Rhodes (played with something more than competence but less than actual charisma by Ronan Murphy) heads out to the Montana (by way of Ireland) wilderness to film a tutorial video for prospective students/clients, but he soon finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of a group of violent poachers who seem, shall we say, overly protective of the area. In fairly short order our guy Bailey is plunged into a real struggle for survival that he’s only marginally (at best) prepared for, but when he begins to piece together various clues he finds in the wild, he comes to the conclusion that there’s likely something far more dangerous after him than his human antagonists, and guess what? That means this would-be rugged outdoorsman is way out of his depth —

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It has to be said that the Irish scenery in this flick is absolutely beautiful and not altogether ineffective as a stand-in for Montana, and that the actors (special props to Bridget O’Connor as Amber, Corey Macri as local sheriff Marvin Krantz, and Aaron Lee Reed as sleazebag poacher Todd) sound more or less quasi-authentically American, so while the illusion isn’t complete, it’s complete enough, especially for a shoestring production of this nature, to be considered as convincing as possible. Ditto for the “shaky-cam” footage, which never becomes grating and manages to avoid some of the obvious logical contradictions (how can he be standing in front of the camera if he’s holding it, etc.) that too often plague this budget-conscious subgenre. These probably qualify as low-grade compliments to those pre-disposed to write off anything and everything “found footage,” sure, but they belie a level of care and attempted professionalism that those of us who do still spend a fair amount of time watching these things will certainly appreciate.

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What’s a little less easy to be kind towards is the fact that the plot for Territorial Behavior is about as by-the-numbers as it gets, to the point where you pretty much know exactly what is going to happen and when, but at least Bergin is skilled enough with the atmospherics to maintain your interest throughout. He has a pretty good grasp on what he can successfully pull off and what would be ridiculous to even try, and his strategy of keeping the fight well within his weight class actually allows him to land some fairly solid punches on occasion, even if you see all of ’em coming from a mile away. Too many other newbie directors in his position let their ambitions get the better of their abilities, resources, or both, but if you can do simple and straightforward better than you can do artsy and experimental, trust me — stick with the simple and straightforward. I’m pleased to report that’s precisely the philosophy this film adheres to.

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Still, there’s no doubt your enjoyment of Territorial Behavior is going to be entirely dependent on how sick of the “mockumentary” conceit you happen to be personally. If you can’t stomach it for any reason, then nothing here’s going to change your mind. And if you’re looking for at least something of a new take on a very shop-worn trope, you’re not gonna find that here, either. If you’re still a fan of “found footage” in a general sense, though, and merely need to see it done with an admirable level of care, concern, and attention to details both large and small, then this admittedly modest production should prove to be right up your alley. It’s nothing you’re going to want to rush to see ASAP by any means, but if you do decide to give it a go, you’ll be happy that you did.

So does that mean this was a subdued but positive review, or a politely negative one?

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I have no idea how many words have been spent — digitally or in print — praising and/or occasionally lambasting, to say nothing of parsing the rich minutiae of,  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, but it’s surely gotta run into the billions by now, and I confess to being one who has contributed to the ever-growing landfill of opinion on this most seminal of works, but please give me some credit — I at least never stooped so low as to regurgitate the depressingly common line that it represents “the last word on superheroes.”

Oh, sure, at one point during its gestation its creators may have harbored illusions that it could be viewed as such — and for a long time it stood as both of their final words on the genre/phenomenon — but eventually both of them (Moore in particular) decided that they each had more to say on the subject, much of it a direct response not so much to Watchmen itself, but to the industry-wide excesses that sprang up in its wake. By now it’s painfully obvious to all of us that DC editorial never really knew what to do next after it was done and, lacking the vision to understand that its runaway success meant that audiences were ready for more good comics, instead they chose the easier path of just giving us more dark comics. Those, after all, can be cranked out without much effort, or even thought.  And so here we all are, three decades later, still wondering why a work that its creators sincerely hoped would be eclipsed in terms of quality in fairly short order never has been.  And here we are still talking about it.

Not that it isn’t worth talking about, of course — Watchmen is such a dense, multi-faceted, complex, and sophisticated narrative that it can literally take dozens of re-reads to unpack all it has to offer. It’s just more than a bit depressing that neither of the “Big Two” have produced a work of even greater quality in all the years since, and that the superhero genre has never had the guts to look at itself in the mirror this honestly again, despite being under a larger and more all-pervasive microscope than ever.

So, yeah — the final word on superheroes? It’ll probably never be written. But what of the final word on Watchmen?

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In all honesty, that’s probably decades — perhaps even centuries — away from happening, as well, but it’s certainly high time for somebody to at least have something new to say about it. Enter cartoonists Dave Baker, Nicole Goux, Rachel Dukes, Malachi Ward, Nick Diaz, Emilie Vo, Sam Ancona, Chuck Kerr, Colby Bluth, Robert Negrete and Sabrina Deigert, and their “mondo” self-published collaborative “jam” effort, Shitty Watchmen.  Baker, who’s selling the book via his website at http://www.heydavebaker.com , has stepped forward as the nearest thing to an unofficial spokesperson for the project in recent weeks, and while his standard line is that the book was designed to highlight Dave Gibbons’ often-overlooked contributions to the original work by proving  it’s so damn visually powerful that it even flows and makes sense when re-drawn in the “shittiest” manner possible, in truth he’s selling he and his compatriots’ perhaps-accidental (and perhaps not) achievements here almost criminally short — this, you see, is actually a nuts-and-bolts deconstruction of a comic that is, after all, a brilliant piece of deconstruction itself, and when you sit down and really think about that, it’s kind of like Russian dolls, isn’t it? You open one, and there’s another hiding inside it. At the risk of making Alan Moore cringe by even invoking the name, maybe Grant Morrison was exactly right when he said those things were a model of the universe.

Double-negatives being the equivalent of a positive, then, it would stand to reason that deconstructing a deconstruction would ultimately add up to being a reconstruction, and damn if that’s not the case here. In fact, I’m downright stoked to read Watchmen (yet) again now that I’ve seen its beauty besmirched so thoroughly. I’ve always loved it, of course, and always will, but as familiar as I am with every page, every panel, every sentence of it, I admit — it’s been awhile since I felt in awe of it. That deficiency in my viewpoint has already been corrected.

To get the obvious out of the way, then, yes — the art in Shitty Watchmen (formatted in such a way that each artist tackles a single chapter, except for Baker, who takes on two of ’em) is absolutely atrocious. That’s rather the point. Odds are better than good that each of the contributors involved can actually draw pretty well, but damn, they sure don’t do it here. To which I can only say — so what? The likes of Gary Panter and Art Spiegelman, among others, certainly don’t or can’t “draw well” on a purely technical level, but does that in any way detract from the power or immediacy of their work? Heck, in Panter’s case his decided lack of anything like “finesse” only adds to its visual impact, and the same can be said of much that’s on display here. Yeah, it’s uniformly crude. It’s ugly. It’s barely above kindergarten scribbling. It’s as “shitty” as it bills itself as being. And it also proves, without question, its over-arching thesis — that Watchmen as a whole, and Gibbons’ art in particular, is, if anything, under-rated.

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That’s probably a decidedly “uncool” thing to say in this day and age, where trashing Watchmen has become something of a fast-track to gaining instant “street cred” with the self-appointed “hip” and reflexively contrarian members of the comic book critics’ “community,” but I’ll let you in on a secret — a lot of that, perhaps even all of it, is a fucking pose. Divorce Watchmen from its context — whether asked for (“the first major deconstruction of the superhero genre”) or unasked for (“the book that started the ‘dark age’ in comics”) — and guess what? You’ve still got a soaring, ambitious, expertly-executed, revolutionary work. And if it takes reducing it to to a beyond-bare-bones shadow of itself in order to to either prove or remind people of that, so be it. Shitty Watchmen isn’t just throwing the genius of its “source material” into sharp relief, but people’s reactions to it, as well. A veritable “cottage industry” of opinion has sprung up around this comic over the years, much of it illuminating and some of it infuriating, but for my money I can’t think of any other interpretation of it that’s been this unflinchingly honest and utterly free of pretense. “We love Watchmen — let us prove it to you by wrecking it” may seem a contradictory assertion on its face, but often the most essential truths are hidden in some surprising places.

But it’s not just Gibbons’ art that is atomized on these pages — Moore’s script is presented verbatim only in chapter nine, while others either decimate it with as much gusto as they do to the illustrations or leave it out altogether (which is also the case with John Higgins’ color, this book being a strictly black and white affair). That’s a move certain to offend purists, and perhaps even a fair number of more casual fans, but are members of either camp all that likely to be interested in a project such as this in the first place?  Exactly.

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Admittedly, then, Shitty Watchmen is a book with a decidedly narrow focus that will appeal to a perhaps-even-more-narrow readership. For what it’s trying to do, though — and for those interested in what it’s doing — it’s a borderline revelatory experience. If you’ve ever wondered “could Watchmen still be good — even if it wasn’t?,” then here’s your answer, and it’s a resounding yes. Turning the most celebrated work in the history of the graphic story medium into a sorry, sloppy mess may be a “shitty” thing to do, but it’s also a brilliant one.

 

Review : “Super Sons” #1

Posted: February 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

My latest review for Graphic Policy website.

Graphic Policy

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After originally being solicited for release back in September, one of the most-eagerly-anticipated DC Rebirth titles is finally here — Peter J. TomasiJorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez‘ “kid-friendly” Super Sons #1. Methinks the delay, while admittedly somewhat aggravating, makes sense — after all, Jon “Superboy” Kent and Damian “Robin” Wayne needed to be teamed up elsewhere first to establish some sort of prior relationship, and a recently-concluded two-parter over in the pages of Superman managed that task of “groundwork-laying” quite successfully indeed. With all pretext and preamble out of the way, then, now is as good a time as any to strike while the iron is hot and turn things over to the next generation of heroes who are about to embark on what promises to be a decade or more of being stuck at right around 12 years old. Sigh, if only the real world worked…

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It may not be a “cool” thing to admit, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — it’s okay to just want to feel good once in awhile.

It is, after all, a hopelessly fucked-up world that we live in right now : our nuclear arsenal is in the hands of an unhinged, delusional madman who is clearly cracking under the strain of a job he probably didn’t even want and is in no way even mature enough to handle; a lunatic religious zealot is eagerly waiting in the wings to succeed him when he undoubtedly crashes and burns; our closest international allies seem to be inexorably lurking toward a barely-rebranded fascist nationalism themselves; rising global temperatures and sea levels probably threaten our future even more than the would-be despots do — if you think about too hard, it can all seem pretty hopeless.

Can these problems be solved? Shit, I dunno — the jury’s out on that one. But they certainly can be avoided for a couple of hours here and there, and there’s no shame in doing just that every once in awhile. For those of any age seeking temporary relief and solace, then, may I humbly direct your attention toward director Chris McKay’s borderline-astonishing The Lego Batman Movie.

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I admit to never having seen The Lego Movie “proper,” but if it’s anything like this one, that’s my loss — and one I intend to rectify pretty quickly. I can’t pretend to know what it is about translating the grittiest and grimmest of costumed vigilantes into a CGI-animated toyworld that’s such a stroke of near-genius, but the truth is that it not only works, it does something that no live-action iteration of the character has been able to do on the silver screen for the last couple of decades : it makes him fun again.

Make no mistake — the increasingly Dark Knight as envisioned by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, especially, Zack Snyder is the elephant in the room here, but rather than take inspiration from it, McKay and his army of screenwriters choose, instead, to offer a rebuttal to it. Sure, Batman as voiced (superbly, might I add) by Will Arnett is a brooding and dour figure — albeit one who loves, even needs, the gratification that comes from the limelight — but this film isn’t afraid to say that this is a problem. To that end, butler-cum-father-figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is doing his best to get the closest thing he has to a child to let other people in, to move past the loss of his parents all those decades ago and find a new family.  Too many nights alone with microwaved lobster thermidor aren’t good for anybody, after all.

Batman “purists” probably won’t be too terribly happy with some of the liberties taken here : Robin (Michael Cera) isn’t just Bruce Wayne’s ward but his (accidentally — its a long story) adopted son; Barbara Gordon assumes the role of new Gotham City chief of police, replacing her just- retired father, before she dons the Batgirl costume more or less by default; Daleks and King Kong don’t exist in the DC Universe, etc. Well, grouse away, fan-boys — no one else cares.

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Perhaps the most daring and unexpected twist to the Bat-mythos offered here, though, is the refreshingly honest take offered on the relationship between Batman and The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Freed form the constraints of continuity and editorial protectionism, The Lego Batman Movie admits what no other Bat-flick can — that these two arch-foes need each other, and that any enmity this deeply felt can only spring from a place at least vaguely approximating (strictly platonic, rest assured, nervous parents) love. You know it. I know it. And it’s high time someone said it.

If you never expected this much pathos-via-broad-brushstrokes in what is still, after all, a kids’ movie, don’t worry — it’s all couched in laugh-out-loud humor, obfuscated under mounds of “Easter Eggs” for the observant fan, and delivered with an entirely un-ironic earnestness that you just can’t help but love. This is a movie that has no qualms about admitting that it wants you to like it, and then dares you to find a reason not to.

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I never did, of course, and neither will you. A world this colorful, this joyful, this smart, this optimistic, and this fun is probably one we’d all like to live in — but then we’d be made of plastic and lock onto sidewalks and streets with our feet. So, ya know, nothing’s perfect.

As the title for this review states plainly, though, this film really is about as close to it as you’re gonna get. The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie ever, by far.

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Hollywood probably wore the term “re-imagining” to death even before comics did, but if we want to be brutally honest, it’s a word that’s become flat-out cringeworthy across all media by this point, and not without good reason. To “re-imagine” something, after all, means that time and effort that could go into actually imagining something new is going into updating an existing idea, and there’s also an implication, at the very least, that affixes itself to the notion that the original (often beloved) idea itself is in need of some touch-up work. The track record of “re-imaginings” is a pretty lousy one in the funnybook medium, of course — many a promising, or even established, creative career has been sidetracked by attempting pointless re-vamps of characters and concepts that originated in the minds of Kirby, Eisner, Ditko, Kurtzman and the like that had literally no chance to come anywhere near equaling (to say nothing of surpassing) their progenitors because said progenitors were still ahead of their time. So why even bother?

Here’s the damn thing, though — some concepts could desperately do with a revamp/re-launch/”re-imagining.” Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch re-built Swamp Thing from the muck up and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that. Ditto for Neil Gaiman’s completely different take on the idea of the Sandman. And there’s probably nothing that came out of the ’90s mainstream comic scene that wouldn’t benefit from a completely fresh take. Enter WildStorm comics, then — and, more crucially, Warren Ellis.

DC’s had pretty good luck with the notion of the “pop-up imprint” (whatever that even means) in recent months courtesy of Gerard Way and his Young Animal line, and so the idea of bringing back Jim Lee’s WildStorm label suddenly sounds a lot less ludicrous than it would have not so long ago, especially with Ellis at the helm. Planetary still stands out as the best thing to ever come out under WS auspices (Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line notwithstanding), so why not give its creator the keys to the whole (admittedly dilapidated) mansion and see what he can come up with? I’m game if you are —

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The first book to come out from the “new” WildStorm is the 24-part eponymously-titled The Wild Storm #1, scripted by Ellis with art from 2000 A.D. and Clean Room alumnus Jon Davis-Hunt, and as far as exercises in so-called “world-building” go, they don’t come much more fully-realized than this. The Other Bearded One posits the universe newly-minted as his own to be one rife with uber-secret high tech, a small handful of spectacular “haves” and multitudes of “have-nots,” nefarious corporate espionage, and “deep state” conspiracies the likes of which numbskulls like Alex Jones couldn’t come up with in their most fevered imaginings. In other words, it’s probably not too terribly different from our own, barring the super powers.

“Classic” characters from across the spectrum of former WS books are either given cursory (Voodoo, Zealot) or somewhat detailed (Jacob Marlowe, Deathblow) introductions here, with more to follow, and sooner or later (probably later) we’ll be seeing WildC.A.T.S.StormWatch, and others spun off into their own mags, but if the pattern of this first issue holds, it’ll all be done in a manner most deliberate and planned, so a “title flood” seems like something we’ll be able, blissfully, to avoid here. Ellis moves just a few of his who-knows-many chess pieces here, and the overall flavor of the proceedings is far more Transmetropolitan than it is, say, The Authority, but in a way that makes perfect sense — the world of Spider Jerusalem was, after all, a “built-from-the-ground-up” affair, and that’s the wise approach to take when resuscitating a veritable boatload of properties that by and large haven’t even been kept on life support for over a decade. Why dust things off when it’s so much more fun to blow ’em up?

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I can’t fairly comment on too many differences  between “WildStorm Then” and “WildStorm Now” simply because so much of the “Now” has yet to reveal itself, but the six-page (!) “house ad” that DC included in most of its titles last week offers some intriguing clues — suffice to say it sounds like this is going to be a very tightly-controlled imprint with all individual parts playing into a mind-bogglingly comprehensive whole, and setting this well apart from and outside of standard DCU continuity is reason enough to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. After all, no matter how well things are chugging along with this line in a year or so, an ill-timed guest appearance from the likes of Aquaman or Robin (not to pick on those characters specifically, but you get my point) would still have the power to scuttle things up to no end. Walling this world off in a manner that would make Donald Trump proud? Hate the idea in reality, but in fiction, shit — I’ll take it.

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All the bold imagining in the world at the developmental stage doesn’t mean a damn thing, though, if the final product’s visuals aren’t up to scratch, but on that score, again, there appears to be nothing to worry about. Davis-Hunt’s art is a little less —- errrmmm — clean than it was on Clean Room,  where intricate detail and crisp, fine lines ruled the day, but it’s no less effective for that fact : this world looks and feels “lived in,” quietly oppressive, and maybe even just a touch grimy. I really can’t envision it being any other way, myself, and thanks to Davis-Hunt and colorist Ivan Plascencia (master of a palette that we’ll call, for lack of a better term, “modern muted”) I don’t even want to. I’m abso-friggin’-lutely in love with the art on this book, and after you check out, guess what? My money’s on the same being true for you.

Getting in on a sprawling, many-tentacled epic bursting at the seams with ambition and overseen by talent visionary enough to pull off everything they’re setting out to do is an opportunity that comes along once only every-so-often. You’d be a fool to miss out on it here. The Wild Storm is certain to be a twisting and perilous road, and we’re only able to see as much of the map as we need to in order to keep following it, but there’s absolutely no doubt about where it’s ultimately headed — straight up.