Saturday, January 15, 2011

Comic Review: Perfect Game

PERFECT GAME, Charlie Huston’s just-completed Marvel miniseries, is a small, disposable thing, and all the better for it. As low-key as a story about a super-villain can realistically be, it takes a mostly-forgotten piece of retconned Marvel lore -- that assassin-for-hire Bullseye was originally a young phenom pitcher, slated for the Major Leagues -- and follows up on it, detailing the possibly-apocryphal story of his “lost year,” when he makes his return to baseball as the most dangerous man in the world.

The thread of the plot is extremely thin. Bullseye, bored after having accomplished every sort of unlikely stunt assassination imaginable, takes a contract to eliminate a journeyman ballplayer, a long reliever for some last-place club. Rather than do it the easy way, he doffs his famous costume and spends a year riding his 110 MPH arm up through the minor league system to the big show. He’s planning the perfect kill: it’s not enough to off this guy on the field -- he wants to murder him from the mound.

And that’s pretty much it. The set-up is a shaggy dog story, following Bullseye through his careful, methodical planning, leading up to a stunner of a punch line, a twist that’s both entirely unexpected and perfectly fitted to its protagonist and theme.

In Huston's version of the character, Bullseye’s primary trait is his boredom. Having achieved everything, proven himself again and again the world's greatest and most creative killer, he's got nothing left to chase. In a clever subversion of the usual use of a splash page -- for flashy, iconic moments -- we see an inert Bullseye loafing slump-shouldered on the couch, eyes null, listless with achievement, impassively rifling a deck of cards (his some-time murder weapons). The thrill is long-gone, and there’s nothing left to do but chase the dragon and hope for one more good shot, something that stands outside time and intention, a perfect moment to redeem all the tedium.

Shawn Martinbrough’s rich pencils and muted colors complement the story nicely, often forsaking panel-to-panel storytelling in favor of layers of tangled memory, matching the rambling, folksy tone of the narration. It looks far more like a baseball story than a superhero story, and its somber visual tone is part of what makes it work. Both writer and artist deserve credit for taking their somewhat silly concept very seriously.

Where most superhero comics aim for melodramatic sturm & drang, PERFECT GAME is a pocket-sized story, character-driven, simple and timeless. Like Brian Michael Bendis used to, Charlie Huston knows the virtues of smallness and specificity. It’s utterly unburdened by continuity, by consequence, by the perpetual motion machine of falling dominoes that so often characterizes the Marvel universe. It could take place at any moment, in any time, and has no bearing on the world outside of its pages. With no ambition but with great ease, Huston does what more superhero scribes ought to do: he picks and chooses threads from the rich history of backstory available to him (Bullseye‘s past as an athlete, the existence of fans and spectators for the assassin‘s career), and takes the bits he needs to tell a story all his own. He makes good use of the Marvel mythology without leaning on it. It may not be a perfect game, but it’s a solid win.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Comic Review: Acme Novelty #20 (LINT)

The subject of “LINT” is Jordan Wellington Lint, a previously minor character in Chris Ware‘s universe, last seen as a high school bully tormenting Rusty Brown back in Acme Novelty #16. Lint is a person of little consequence -- just a dude muddling his way through the complexities and disappointments and pleasures of the standard-issue human life: big dreams that fizzle and fade, replaced by smaller joys of work and family; lust, love, marriage, divorce; a successful career eventually marred by scandal and greed. Jordan is kind of a prick -- cocky, self-pitying, impulsive, mendacious -- but it’s nothing of great note, and I can discern no real point that Ware is making about Lint’s personality. He’s just telling his story, with great compassion and care but an unflinching and pitiless eye, no rooting interest whatsoever.

There’s a wonderful tension between the towering ambition that Ware brings to this project and the smallness of the story it tells. There’s no high drama, no intrigue -- everything is pitched at the level of the kitchen sink. But Ware gives every ounce of his dizzying talent to Lint’s little life, entirely breaking down the barriers between word and image, scene and sensation, trying his damndest to write the human experience from the inside out. His pages don't read from left to right -- they branch off in multiple directions, wrap back around, contradict themselves. They are obsessively detailed pictograms of the way the mind works: in associations, reflections, digressions, fixations. They aren’t scenes, they’re memories, and in one of the book’s main plot points we realize that they are often wrong.

Frozen moments are the medium here. Between Jordan’s birth on the first page and his death on the last, Ware captures hundreds of snapshots in between. The book’s title, LINT, is almost too apropos -- as time sweeps Jordan along we see the little fuzzy bits that cling to him: recollections, fading sensations, the ridiculous passions and meaningless instants gradually accumulating into a history, an identity held together, like all identities are, by nothing but spittle and memory.

A brand new driver's license; a low-riding muscle car; an incandescent blaze of searing of red light; "Starway to Heaven" blaring from the AM/FM radio. These elements all dance and intermingle on the page, sweeping you inexorably forward with an emotional rather than narrative thrust. Ware treats comics like a hieroglyphic code, a language for unlocking some unspeakable truth. Every memory, every sensation is depicted here as minimally as possible, boiled down into its essence: all the momentum, every thrum of surging teenage fervor captured in one spread as the car barrels down the empty highway and a sixteen-year-old Jordan gets his first taste of feeling like a man.

Chris Ware is regularly criticized for being gloomy and morose, and this book is certainly a dark and a sad one. Ware doesn’t seem particularly fond of his protagonist, and yet he’s the most fully realized character he’s ever created. Jimmy Corrigan was a cipher. Rusty Brown is a parody. Jordan Lint is the genuine article: a frustrating, utterly ordinary human. He’s not a hero with a tragic flaw. We don’t watch his downfall. He’s a guy who acts like a jerk half the time and we watch him win and lose money, lovers and friends, the stakes always relatively small. It’s a credit to Ware’s unremitting genius that such mundane material reads as impossibly vivid, alive and even thrilling. It takes a great insight and imagination to write neither kindness nor judgement, embracing the multitudes that even the most average person contains. The callous man who abandons his first family is the same little boy who hides in a closet and weeps over the death of an ant. In some sense these are formative and important experiences, but it often feels like they’re just the things he’s dragging behind him, barnacles clinging to his hull.

In Ware’s world life is just a bunch of stuff that happens, decisions made, consequences enjoyed or endured. Look for meaning and you’ll wind up frustrated -- Jordan Lint’s life is a bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It meanders around, leading only and inevitably to the grave. But the breadth of humanity between the sensitive child hoping for a pair of stilts for his birthday and the sex-obsessed narcissist who sabotages himself at every turn is stunning and flawlessly imagined. “LINT” may be empty of meaning, but it’s full of truth.

I'm About to Shock the World...

...and post some content on this bloated corpse of what used to be a blog!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Can't We Be Friends?

This video speaks to the nature of this blog in a way nothing else does.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees are only the fifth-most despised team in the majors, according to an Internet algorithm built by Nielsen Co. that analyzes how people feel about certain things.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fuck You, Curt Schilling


"I never, ever thought the move to New York the first time was a good one, and I didn't think this (move) was good as well. I don't think he suddenly learned how to pitch when he went back to Atlanta and dealt last year," Schilling said. "It's hard to say this without sounding disrespectful, and I don't mean it that way - the National League is an easier league to pitch in, period, and some guys aren't equipped to get those same outs in the American League. And he's one of those guys."


"(Vazquez) thrived in Montreal and he thrived in Atlanta, and those are both second-tier cities from a baseball passion perspective. He's not a guy that I've ever felt was comfortable in the glow," Schilling said. "... You're seeing what you're gonna get from him consistently all year. Having said that, he could turn around next week and throw a one-hitter with his stuff. I just don't see him being a consistent winner in the American League."

That being said, Javy has stunk up the joint. But we will not allow even our shittiest starting pitcher to suffer under the verbal lash of Curt "Ketchup Sox" Schilling.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Updating Fight Songs?

Over at Bats, the NEW YORK TIMES asks if it's time to re-write the fight songs for NYC baseball teams, then posts the lyrics to "Meet the Mets" and "Y.A.N.K.E.E.S." I don't know that they need a rewrite:

Meet the Mets

Oh, the butcher and the baker and the people on the streets,
Where did they go?
To meet the Mets!
Oh, they’re hollerin’ and cheerin’ and they’re jumpin’ in their seats,


Everyone knows they play to win, ’cause
They’re the New York Yankees.
Show them today why you’re the Yankees.
No other way when you’re the Yankees.
Revision seems unnecessary.