Posts Tagged ‘Grant Morrison’

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Question : you’re a comic book publisher and you’ve got yourself a high-profile “superfan.” What should you do about it?

Answer : if you’re DC, and said fan is Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame — who interned at your offices and was planning on pursuing a career as a writer and/or artist on your books before his band went and got famous — you give him not just a series, but an entire fucking line. For developmental guidance you pair him with veteran Vertigo editor Shelly Bond (who has since, sadly, left the building), but by and large you leave him to his own devices and let him come up with whatever it is that he comes up with. The end result? A new imprint semi-mysteriously called DC’s Young Animal. Its first title? A(nother) re-imagined take on the original misfit super-team : the one, the only — Doom Patrol!

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For anyone ancient enough to have been there in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when this series — then under the stewardship of Grant Morrison and Richard Case — was the place to be for high weirdness on the four-color page, the news that it was coming back with Way and artist Nick Derington at the helm was reason for much optimism Now that Doom Patrol #1 is here, though, heck — it’s reason to celebrate.

Yes, the book is good. Very good, in fact. But I have no idea what’s going on it or what it’s even all about. Which, to my mind, is exactly how it should be.

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At its best — and later, non-Vertigo iterations of the title were anything but that — Doom Patrol was always a comic that threw you in at the deep end and dared you to either keep up or drown. Morrison tends to get most of the credit for “turning it into” a strange and even dangerous book, but really all he was doing was picking up the baton laid down by the team’s creator, the great Arnold Drake, and his artistic collaborator, the equally-great Bruno Premiani. The DP (quit snickering, porn viewers) were outcasts from the outset, and waaaaaayyyy back in the the 1960s, after a lengthy run that saw the original line-up battle such surreal villains as General Immortus (who was more or less exactly what his name implied), The Brain (who was likewise), Monsieur Mallah (who was a hyper-intelligent talking ape) and The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (who — well, shit, you just had to see him to believe him), Drake and Premiani decided to end the book by doing the then-unthinkable : killing ’em all in a plane crash and leaving them dead.

Of course, bean-counters and editors can’t leave profitable characters and concepts mothballed forever, and about a decade later a listless new incarnation of the team came shambling along with only one original member (Cliff “Robotman” Steele) in tow, but it would take some time (and, crucially, a certain Scottish writer)  for the property to well and truly get its “mojo” back — once it did, though, it really did. Fictional cities made of bone that over-write our reality, the painting that ate Paris, a hyper-dimensional sentient transvestite street, a man of “muscle mystery,” and catastrophe worship were but a handful of the magnificently memorable ideas introduced during the legendary Morrison/ Case run, which reached its apex with a shattering climax that was appended by a genuinely heart-wrenching epilogue that still stands out as one of the five or ten best single issues of any comic that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Those who’ve read it will know exactly what I mean when I say that the line “There is another world. There is a better world. Well — there has to be” still sticks in my throat every time.

So, yeah — these characters have been around a long time and have seen some lows, to be sure, but have also had their share of breathtaking, consciousness-expanding highs. Way grew up on Morrison and Case’s run, and while the fact that his new take on Doom Patrol promises to bring back characters from that era who haven’t been seen since like Crazy Jane, Flex Mentallo, and Danny The Street warms my crusty old comic-book-lovin’ heart, what really matters more than anything is the fact that — as this first issue makes abundantly clear — he is determined to do his own thing with them.

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And not just with them, thank goodness, but with his own, all-new, creations as well. Like Casey Brinke, an EMT who seems to think she’s Mario Andretti. And Terry None, who — well, I don’t know what her deal is yet, any more than I know why Casey wears Cliff Steele’s old jacket while Cliff himself seems to be trapped in a universe inside a gyro (that you can get a glimpse of if you buy the cover pictured at the top of this review, which literally peels back). And while we’re on the subject of things that can’t, as yet, be explained,  Way is re-introducing readers to the team’s ostensible leader, once affectionately known as “The Chief,” through a series of one-page vignettes called “What’s Going On With Niles Caluder?” that answer that question before raising the inevitable next one of “okay, why?”and I. Am. So. Digging. That.

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Derington, for his part, is being tasked with having to figure out which of the obviously many styles he can draw in that best brings Way’s absurdist sensibility to life, and so far he’s handling the task with flying colors. His rendered worlds range from the blase to the hyper-kinetic to the quite-likely-dystopian, but labeling them sort of takes the fun out of everything, and if there’s one thing that Doom Patrol has always been — even at its darkest, most confusing, or most terrifying — it’s fun. Derington, like Way, gets that. And we feel it in every last goddamn panel.

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There’s a definite synergy, then, going on here between artist and writer here that can’t be faked, and can only take us in new and interesting directions — even if they can’t really be adequately described (at least by someone of my limited skills). There’s dangerous imagining happening in the gloriously haphazard pages of Doom Patrol #1, and that can only mean two things : I have no idea where we’re going, and I’m desperately eager to take the trip.

 

 

Okay, so normally I pretty much avoid “top 10” lists because I’m sure they’ll make me cringe later — and when it comes to movies there’s probably a few (at least) deserving entries that would flat-out slip my increasingly calcified and deteriorating mind — but ya know, as far as comics go, this year I think I can do it. One caveat, though : since we’re big believers in monthly (or less-than-monthly, as the case may be) “singles” around these parts, the following list is specifically for comic book series, be they of the ongoing or limited-duration variety,  and therefore you will find no graphic novels, digital comics, or anything of the like here, although I should stress that there were any number of absolutely excellent comics that came out last year in those formats — I just wanted my list to reflect my preference for “floppy” books that are serialized in the good, old-fashioned, printed single-issue format. So without any further ado —

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10. Southern Bastards (Jason Aaron/Jason Latour – Image)

The pacing of this series is certainly unique, with the Jasons (Aaron and Latour) going from extended stage-setting in the first arc to a multi-part “origin” of the series’ chief villain in the second to side-steps focusing on supporting characters in the third, but they definitely seem to be building up to something big and memorable in an unconventional, but certainly appealing, way.

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9. The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez/Darwyn Cooke – DC/Vertigo)

Classic Hernandez “location-centric” storytelling peppered with broadly-drawn, memorable characters orbiting around a truly fascinating mystery/supernatural thriller. Cooke’s illustration is, of course, superb.

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8. Tet (Paul Tucker/Paul Allor – IDW/Comics Experience)

The second series produced under the auspices of Comics Experience’s publishing partnership with IDW, Paul Tucker and Paul Allor’s four-parter is the most harrowing and effective meditation on the human cost of war to appear on the comics page in literally a couple of decades. Now available in trade, go out and grab it immediately.

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7. Deadly Class (Rick Rememder/Wes Craig – Image)

Things seem to be heading into Battle Royale territory here, with the exploits of Marcus and his increasingly-fractured circle of former “friends” taking a number of gut-wrenching twists and turns over the course of 2015. Wes Craig’s art gets stronger and more confident with each issue.

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6. Annihilator (Grant Morrison/Frazer Irving – Legendary)

Morrison’s Philip K. Dick-esque mind-fuck script is brought to grand, cosmic life by Irving’s absolutely spectacular art to create a story of personal tragedy played out on a universe-shaking scale. Now out in trade and definitely worth a purchase.

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5. Big Man Plans (Eric Powell/Tim Wiesch – Image)

The most gleefully anti-social and misanthropic book of 2015, this Powell/Wiesch four-part series embraces the most extreme aspects of the grindhouse without remorse or even apology. A visceral wallop to the face that leaves you reeling — and loving every minute of it. The trade’s available now, so do yourself a favor.

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4. Effigy (Tim Seeley/Marley Zarcone – DC/Vertigo)

Seven amazing issues of “reality”TV/celebrity “culture” deconstruction wrapped around a trans-dimensional mystery story that’s been on a “hiatus” since September that I’m increasingly worried may be permanent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because Seeley and Zarcone have barely begun to scratch the surface here.

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3. Crossed + One Hundred (Alan Moore/Simon Spurrier/Gabriel Andrade/Fernando Heinz/Rafa Ortiz – Avatar Press)

Moore and Andrade’s initial six-issue story arc was absolutely epic and arguably the best “zombie comic” of all time, and while it took a little while for Simon Spurrier to find his footing as The Bearded One’s successor, he seems to have finally discovered his own voice while remaining true to his predecessor’s “blueprint” of strong “world building” littered with knowing winks in the direction of various genre fiction classics.

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2. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor – Fantagraphics Books)

Piskor has “re-purposed” his oversized hardcover cultural history as a monthly series on cheap paper with intentionally-shoddy production values and the end result is a revelation. Yeah, the gigantic volumes are great, but dammit, this is how the series should have been presented all along. A wealth of new material, including “director’s commentary” pages, definitely helps, as well. Worth the “double dip,” without question.

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1.  Providence (Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows – Avatar Press)

No surprise at all for regular readers of my shit, the latest and greatest entry in the Moore/Burrows “Lovecraft Cycle,” now at its halfway point, is shaping up to be the most literate, multi-layered, immersive comics reading experience of the decade, as well as one of the best pure horror comics, well, ever. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 words on the series already, and it’s nowhere near enough, so expect plenty more single-issue reviews for the now-apparently-bimonthly series as 2016 rolls along. If I only had five bucks to my name and the latest issue was coming out, I’d buy Providence and go hungry — it’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

A few final points — while Image certainly dominated the list this year, their two most popular and acclaimed titles, Saga and Sex Criminals, are nowhere to be found here. I felt that both had “off years” and that their currently-running story arcs are definitely not up to previous standards. Saga will most likely rebound, but Sex Criminals is just getting swallowed further and further down into its own self-created rabbit hole and may very well have, pun absolutely intended, shot its wad by this point.

And while we’re on the subject of list domination, I’d be surprised if Image pulls a “repeat” in 2016, to be honest. Not because their line is getting worse, mind you, but because Vertigo is just getting that much better. They came on strong at the tail end of 2015 with their re-launch, but a one-or two-issue sample size just isn’t enough to earn most of these superb new series, like Slash & BurnRed ThornThe Sheriff Of BabylonUnfollowLast Gang In Town, or the latest iteration of Lucifer spots in this year’s top 10. Next year, however, is another matter entirely, and unless these books go to pot, I fully expect Veritgo to be the publisher to beat in 2016.

So — that’s our (alright, my) 2015 list. I’m a little bummed that female creators aren’t better-represented herein, to be sure (Marley Zarcone’s the only one), but hopefully the increased presence of women in the freelancer ranks will continue apace and my list next year — assuming I do one — will be far more gender-balanced. Kelly Sue DeConnick is certainly blazing a heck of a trail with Bitch Planet, and Gail Simone is in top creative form so far on Clean Room, but both of those books fell just outside my rankings this time around. Still, I’m as unpleasantly surprised as anyone that the comics industry is still as depressingly male-dominated as it is.

As far as more pleasant  surprises go, I never thought I’d be putting together a Top 10 list in 2015 that featured Alan Moore twice. If I was doing this in 30 years ago, sure, but apparently Moore is every bit the creative dynamo at age 63 as he was at 33, and so if I had to single out one “creator of the year,” he’d be it. In fact, he’d earn the nod by a country mile. I only wish that more people were actually, ya know, buying his stuff. Providence is selling great for an Avatar book, but it’s still routinely bested on the Diamond charts by even the most tepid and uninspired “Big Two” fare, so if there’s one thing we know about comics heading into 2016, it’s that the overwhelming majority of stuff coming out will still, sorry to say it, suck.

Okay, that’s it for this time around — here’s to happy reading in the year ahead!

 

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I was of two minds going into the latest DC Universe straight-to-video animated feature, Son Of Batman — on the one hand, I’m a tremendous fan of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s sprawling, multi-year epic upon which this movie is based , and why not? It’s supremely good stuff. On the other, well — when you condense a story that took that long to tell down to roughly an hour and 14 minutes, something’s bound to be lost in the translation, right?

As it turns out, my concerns were pretty well-founded. To put things as succinctly as possible, director Ethan Spaulding’s adaptation isn’t just hopelessly truncated, it’s also hopelessly messy.

It’s not entirely — or probably even primarily — his fault, of course : this was definitely a pretty poor choice of “source material” from the outset, given that it relies so heavily on audiences warming to Batman’s heretofore-unknown son, Damian Wayne, over time. And time is one thing these DCU flicks don’t have a lot of. So I think I’ll give Spaulding a pass for his role in this debacle — after all,  at the end of the day, he was tasked with a pretty thankless job. I’m less forgiving when it comes to some other folks, though, so let’s get into that — as well as the requisite plot synopsis —  now, shall we?

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For those unfamiliar with the essentials, the basic set-up for Son Of Batman goes as follows : some years ago, Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced here by Jason O’Mara, who’s no Kevin Conroy by any stretch and never manages to be very convincing either in or out of the cape and cowl) was drugged by Talia Al Ghul (Morena Baccarin, who does serviceable work here) and basically functioned as a one-night-stand sperm donor. The result of that less-than-blessed union was a baby boy, Damian (Stuart Allan, who does what he can with a lousily-written part), who was raised from birth to eventually take over the League of Assassins from his grandfather, Ra’s Al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito, who sounds like he’s mailing it in), but this little family plan goes astray when Ra’s is killed by Wilson Slade, a.k.a. Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson, who also turns in less-than-inspired work), who has his sets set on usurping control of the League from the Al Ghul dynasty. Sensing things are probably getting a bit too hot for Damian (especially after he takes out Deathstroke’s eye in combat), Talia decides to unload the murderous little tyke on his old man for awhile, and it’s up to Batman to essentially “de-program” the junior psychopath and turns his — what shall we call them? — talents toward the cause of good.

All that’s probably more than enough material for a movie right there, but Son Of Batman  makes the mistake of lumping in various other storylines Morrison had going in and around this time, as well, and that’s where things get messy. The subplot involving Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley, whose work stands out noticeably from the rest of the pack here) becoming Man-Bat and being strong-armed into creating an army of similar creatures never really manages to engage viewers, nor does its attendant “mystery” as to how and why established Bat-villains like Killer Croc have suddenly become steroid-pumped super-monsters. It’s all just too damn much.

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The real tragedy about shoe-horning all this excessive material in, though, is how the filmmakers are consequently forced to give short shrift to Damian’s character development. Morrison’s original story had our little Bat-tyke slowly transform from being an unlikable, untrustworthy little shit into a semi-responsible, even-more-semi-mature youngster who earned his way into taking on the role of Robin. In the movie version, he just flips a switch after fighting Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Sean Maher (who does reasonable enough voice work, but dear God — what’s with that horrible costume?) and assumes the mantle of his daddy’s masked sidekick more or less instantaneously. To say this sudden shift doesn’t work so well would be the understatement of the century.

Obviously,  a tighter (and frankly less ambitious) focus would have benefited the proceedings here to no end, and while biting off more than you can chew can sometimes make for one of those overly-sprawling, but agreeably risky, ventures we all know and love, in this case that’s just not in the offing. Son Of Batman (which I caught on DVD from Warner Premier — picture and sound are both quite nice, but apart from a trailer for another forthcoming animated Bat-flick extras are non-existent ; perhaps the Blu-Ray offers a bit more) plays out like a poorly-researched, unevenly-performed Cliff’s Notes take on a monumental, character-defining work that ends up feeling depressingly small and hopelessly abridged. Think of an animated version of one of those old Reader’s Digest condensed books performed by a cast who’s only marginally interested in what they’re doing and you won’t be too far off the mark.

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Still, if you’re new to this story,  on the off-chance that this flick doesn’t totally put you off the material bastardized to make it, might I humbly suggest picking up either the Batman And Son and/or Batman : The Black Glove  hardcover or trade paperback collections by Morrison and Kubert — they’re infinitely more satisfying,  and, who knows ? You may even walk away from them liking Damian Wayne — something this movie never really gives you the chance to do.

 

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As far as the 2013 summer blockbusters go, it’s probably fair to say that, at this point, Man Of Steel has pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Oh, sure, Iron Man 3 has made more money — at least to date — but its success was essentially a given, and a nervous studio (and an at-least-as-nervous comic book publisher) didn’t really have a tremendous amount riding on its box office performance. Add  in the fact that the last Superman flick  under-performed rather drastically in comparison to its pre-release expectations, and you’ve gotta concede that plenty of “suits” over at Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures, and DC Comics are breathing a fairly huge collective sigh of relief right now. Plus, people are talking about it. There’s a tremendous amount of internet “chatter” — good, bad, and indifferent — about both its relative artistic merits and the reasons for its breakaway box office success going on right now, all of which ramps up the likelihood that, no matter which of the already-released and/or forthcoming big-budget popcorn extravaganzas come out on top in terms of cash earned at the turnstiles, 2013 will, in all probability, go down on record as the summer where Man Of Steel ruled the roost. Or at least the interwebs.

Of course, for those of you who’ve read my own armchair musings on the film both here and over at Through The Shattered Lens, you’ll know that I found it a mixed bag at best. I appreciated its amazing visual stylings and some of the smart chances it was willing to take in terms of the character’s backstory, but by and large I felt that its reach exceeded its grasp in terms of the “uber-mythic” slant it attempted to give/graft onto the character, and the end result was a cold, emotionally distant film that tried to hide its flaws by, simply put, clobbering you over the head so hard time and again that you were either too awed (if you liked it) or worn out (if you didn’t) to notice them. Superman is a character that works best when both parts of his name — the “Super” and the “man” — strike a delicate (and admittedly tricky) balance and learn to not only co-exist with, but also complement, each other — and at the risk of repeating myself to those who did, in fact, read my Man Of Steel review, I feel it gives up on trying to establish the “man” all too quickly and goes all-in on the “Super,” ultimately to the detriment of both.

Still, what’s done is done, and we can — and probably will — debate what Man Of Steel got right, and what it didn’t, for a long time to come. Movie geeks are like that, and comic geeks, bless us one an’ all, are even more like that.

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Still, if I were one of the legion of die-hard, instant Man Of Steel fans that are out there defending my new favorite movie from any and all detractors (or even semi-detractors like myself), the question I’d pose (to, uhhhmm, myself, I guess) at this point would be : “okay,hotshot, you talk in these big, high-fallutin’ terms about ‘delicate balances’ an’ all that, so name me a Superman flick that you think gets it right.”

It’s a perfectly apt question (even if I do say so myself), and fortunately you don’t even have to go too far back to find it — just a couple of years, in fact, to 2011 and the DC Universe animated feature All-Star Superman, adapted for the (small, since it was a straight-to-video release) screen from the highly-acclaimed 12-issue mini-series of the same name by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely by the late, great Super-scribe Dwayne McDuffie and director Sam Liu.

Here we have another in a long list of  hypothetical “last Superman stories ever told” (my personal favorite still being Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s legendary “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”) done with heart, humor, and intelligence — a story that embraces the admitted absurdities of 1950s/60s era single-issue Superman tales that had him (and know in advance that he only does some of these things here, but it’s the thought that counts) getting amnesia, revealing his secret identity, turning into a gorilla, or going back in time and saving Krypton from destruction (only to have all of these monumental changes immediately cancelled out by some ultra-convenient plot contrivance on the last page, naturally), translates them into a form palatable to modern, supposedly “sophisticated” audiences, and ends up reminding us just why it is that we love the character, both “Super” and “Man,” in the process.

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Okay, sure, it’s not without its flaws — this is a story that definitely works better on the printed page, as a series of interconnected “one-offs,” than it does as an animated flick, where its  entire litany of plot developments — Superman gets solar radiation poisoning and learns that he’s dying, then has a big, bad confrontation with an ultra-pumped-up Parasite while trying to keep his identity a secret from Lex Luthor, then goes ahead and reveals said secret identity to Lois Lane, then gives her his powers for 24 hours as a birthday gift, then solves the Riddle of the Sphinx, then has a final, winner-take-all battle with Luthor, then has to save the sun itself and thereby the Earth in the process, perhaps at the cost of his own life — feels a bit rushed at best and disjointed at worst, but trust me — that ear-to-ear smile you’ll have from start to finish will be sending a signal to your brain that says “who cares, just go with it,” and ya know what? You will. And yeah, while I’d have preferred to see a bit more of Quitely’s unique and, heck, amazing art style translated into the animated proceedings, enough of its awe-inspiring grandeur and childlike sense of innocence and wonder survives the leap in formats for me to not have much to complain about on that front. This is, both script-wise and art-wise, a Superman who dazzles and inspires us not because he’s apart  from us, like Zack Synder and Christopher Nolan’s take on the character, but because he’s a part of us. He’s an ideal for all of us to strive for, not something too awesome, too other, too alien,  for us to ever hope to emulate.

As far as the voice casting goes, James Denton is — as always — pitch-perfect as both Superman and Clark Kent, Christina Hendricks projects secure, confident humanity as Lois Lane, Anthony LaPaglia clearly relishes the chance to “evil-genius-it-up” as Lex Luthor, and little touches such as having Edward Asner on hand as Perry White and Frances Conroy as Ma Kent show that some real thought went into this thing from top to bottom. I hesitate to use grandiose terms like “labor of love,” but this sure feels like one to this usually-too-cynical-for-his-own-good critic.

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All-Star Superman is available on a few different home video iterations from Warner Premier — either as a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-Ray, or a two-DVD “special edition.” The single-disc DVD contains some preview material for other “DCU” titles but is otherwise essentially a bare-bones release, while the two-disc version and the Blu-Ray feature a fairly intriguing “making-of” featurette and a handful of tangentially-related episodes from various Superman animated television series selected by Bruce Timm as bonus features. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are stunning no matter which option you go for.

All told, if you like myths that you can actually relate to, and you prefer your Superman to be a bit more accessible than the Godlike,  Nietzchean ideal of Snyder and Nolan, I think you’re going to find All-Star Superman  right up your alley. And hey — even if you did love Man Of Steel to pieces, I still think you’re likely to dig this populist, universal take on the character that really does bring the legend to life in a way all of us can appreciate. This is a movie that leaves you saying to yourself “gosh, that was neat” and not feeling the least bit self-conscious for doing so.