The Epoch of Weird

In case you’re new here, the first Wednesday of every month is dedicated to comic books, a personal passion of mine. I say “passion,” because they aren’t a hobby, they aren’t a past-time, and they aren’t just popcorn content that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. I’m totally serious when I say that comic books are (or at least can be) literature – that they can tell stories every bit as powerful and deep as a 500 pg. novel. And in a lot of ways, we’re living in a golden age of comics.

My first real experience with comics as more than super heroes came my sophomore year of college. Y: The Last Man was just ending, and as an avid reader of IGN’s comic reviews, I simply couldn’t ignore the consistent 9.5 – perfect 10 ratings it was achieving. So with no knowledge of the story, I bought the first volume, and it blew me away. Here was a comic book that swore! There was nudity! But more importantly, there were distressingly real characters coping with horrifying events out of their control. They couldn’t put on a costume and punch this reality away. It was all they could do to get out of bed each morning. Characters joined cults, ran away from their responsibilities, found solace in each others’ arms, or sought death – as real people do. Y was literally a life-changing read for me, and opened up a whole new world of literature for me.

Five-ish years later, comics have continued to tell deep, amazing stories. Ex Machina examined politics from both sides of the spectrum, with a super hero mayor as our POV character. X-Factor has become a character study in modern twentysomethings. X-Men: Legacy completely deconstructed and reconstructed both Rogue and Professor X. Runaways captured the voice of a generation. All-Star Superman took a static, relatively unapproachable hero, and made him relatable and inspiring again. And there are more amazing stories being told in every genre all the time. In particular now, I want to talk about one thing: The Weird.

I read a lot of comics. But I’m finding more and more that each month, the ones I crave the most are just plain strange. Like off-the-wall bizarre. For example…

Morning Glories

I’ve already talked about Morning Glories at length, and you can read more of my initial reaction here.

The Premise: It’s the story of six teenagers who find themselves at the boarding school from hell. It’s just mysteries on top of mysteries.

The Weirdness: You’ve got an energy ghost serial killer. Everyone in the school shares a birthday. There’s time travel – both physical and mental. There’s a psychic girl. Twins switching places. Murder, torture, and cover-ups. There isn’t an issue that goes by that doesn’t leave my jaw hanging, yelling “WHAT THE EFFFFF???” The characters are witty, and very distinct, and I have no idea where anything is going, which is incredibly refreshing.

Manhattan Projects

This was the one that actually inspired me to write this post. It’s only five issues in, so catching up is super easy.

The Premise: That the actual Manhattan Project was just a front, an excuse to gather the world’s most brilliant minds together and explore crazy technology.

The Weirdness: Teleportation gates zen-powered by Japanese Death Buddhists. Killer robots created by Soichiro Honda. A serial killer who absorbs the souls of his victims by eating them. Aliens. Robot arms. Parallel universe doppelgängers. Radioactive scientists. Dead President Computers. The list goes on. It is without a doubt the most bizarre thing I have ever read, but it somehow works. The end result is a story that is interesting, entertaining, and more than a bit chilling – especially with the cryptic hints of an impending distaster of some sort.

Planetary

This one actual ended a few years ago, but it’s available in trade, so you should pick it up.

The Premise: People born in the first second of a new century have super powers. A group of these individuals comes together to protect the planet from threats both internal and external.

The Weirdness: Planetary is really an exploration of just about every genre under the comic book sun. There’s super heroes. There’s aliens. There’s a multiverse. There’s a miniverse. There’s an evil Fantastic Four. There’s magic. It’s just wonderful and entertaining and weird.

The Unwritten

Again, I’ve talked about this one before, but still.

The Premise: Harry Potter becomes flesh. Or does he?

The Weirdness: The Unwritten is a story about story. About the power of the collective unconscious. A power that can be tapped into. When enough people believe in something, it affects reality. And throughout history, an evil cabal has sought to control the narrative. And when Wilson Taylor fights back, he uses the one thing at his disposal: his son. This story is super meta, and poses some interesting questions about faith and literature and reality.

Saga

More by Brian K. Vaughan, my literary idol

The Premise: Star-crossed lovers in an interplanetary war find love, and must run from their governments – and bounty hunters – with their new-born child.

The Weirdness: Goat-men using magic. Fairy-people using technology. Robots that look human, except with televisions for heads, that can reproduce (ummm ouch?) and apparently get STDs. A sex planet that is staffed by giant woman heads with legs. A cat that can tell when you’re lying. A spider/woman/bounty hunter. A ghost baby sitter. You know… the usual. This is a super adult story that is anchored around a family. It is shockingly emotional, and complicated, and just plain weird, and I couldn’t love it any more.

Uncanny X-Force

When X-Force started back in the 90s, it was a parody of itself without even realizing it. It was a terrible jumble of cliches that sacrificed storytelling for style. It was unbelievably big muscly guys (even by comic book standards) with unbelievably big “areas” wielding equally unbelievably big guns and swordsthat were IN NO MEANS PHALLIC AND IS TOTALLY STRAIGHT OK GOSSSHHH. It was all pouches and knives and guns and shooting and UGH just stop please. Now, it is so much more.

The Premise: A select squad of X-Men resolve to bloody their own hands and blacken their souls to protect those they love, by murdering their enemies with extreme prejudice.

The Weirdness: A giant dome with a time dilator, evolving at hundreds of times the rate of the rest of the planet. A clone of Apocalypse, raised in a virtual ersatz Smallville. A skinless man who can extend and control his muscle fibers. A world-class thief with multiple brains who coughs up a sentient spaceship. A parallel world where Wolverine is a psychotic genocidal dictator. Life seeds. Killer robots with consciences. A world that builds custom-powered enemies who are grown to hate you from “birth.” It is phenomenal y’all, and dark, and moving, and easily the best X-Men series in decades.

Ultimately, there are more weird comics out there than I can talk about in one post. Anything by Grant Morrison – especially Final Crisis. Any Warren Ellis (including and especially the hysterical Nextwave). Most Robert Kirkman.  And so on.

So look, I know weird can be uncomfortable. It’s strange. It’s bizarre. It doesn’t always make sense. But it can also be fun as hell. It can ask questions about yourself or society without providing easy answers. It can inspire. It can terrify. So why stick to superheroes punching each other (not that that isn’t fun)? That would be like… only watching crime procedurals on CBS. While I’m at it, don’t just watch crime procedurals on CBS! Expand your horizons, and get a taste… for the weird.

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For the Week of June 7th

What’s up guys! Welcome to another edition of “This Week In…” – my weekly column that breaks down the big things happening across the Pop Culture spectrum this week. The first week of the month is always crowded, which means there might just be something for everyone. So sit back, relax, and keep your arms and legs inside the carpet at all times.

Music

Well guys, according to Metacritic and Wikipedia, there are a TON of new music releases out this week. But unless you’re a fan of Alan Jackson or Bobby Brown, there really isn’t much out that I’ve actually heard of. Which – granted – doesn’t mean a whole lot, but still. The only two releases that even remotely piqued my interest were from punk (ish?) rock bands The Hives and The Melvins.

The Hives are from Sweden, which I try not to hold against anyone, but having lived in and loved Norway, I make no promises. They are most famous for this song, which was basically a flash in the pan for most people. I enjoy them, but really only in small doses.

And then there’s The Melvins, who formed in 1983. That’s basically thirty years ago guys. Thirty. Years. This week will see their NINETEENTH studio album release. NINETEEN. What. I have no opinions on them at all, but WOW. That is a LOT of music.

Movies

I love when two very different movies come out the same week. In some ways they’re competing (what with resources being fixed for the average movie-goer), but at the same time, they are clearly going after audiences that rarely overlap. This week, the two major releases are Madagascar III: The Reckoning Europe’s Most Wanted. I enjoyed the first Madagascar movie, despite my overall opinion that it’s just too… big… What I mean by that is really hard to explain, unless you’ve seen that episode of The O.C. where Summer starts dating a rip-off version of Seth, whose comedy is described as “big.” The Madagascar franchise has increasingly gone that way, by hiring more and more big name actors, devoting more time to lemurs dancing, and now – in the single most obnoxious trailer I have ever seen – Chris Rock. I swear, I’m only excited about this movie coming out so that that trailer will die.

I am vastly, categorically, geometrically, INFINITELY more excited about Prometheus, a sort of pseudo-prequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal ‘Alien.’ This is Scott’s first return to the franchise he started, and his first return to science fiction since the even more seminal ‘Blade Runner.’ Oh, and did I mention that it’s written by Damon Lindelof – co-creator of LOST? And if that wasn’t enough, Charlize Theron is there for the men and Michael Fassbender is there for the women/gays. Guys. I am freaking out over this.

Television

Monday – Eureka is back after a couple weeks off! I recently caught up on this series (finally), and by that I mean I watched four seasons in like five days. It isn’t perfect, and there are a lot of things I’d have done differently, but you can’t argue that it’s entertaining and generally light, with flashes of brilliance and a TON of heart. Tonight’s episode feature my uber nerd-crush Felicia Day, and the team’s attempts to pull her out of the “Matrix” she’s trapped in. If that isn’t your jam, you can always watch the beginning of a new season of Hell’s Kitchen, or a new episode of the fantastically awful Teen Wolf.

Tuesday – TNT kicks off its lackluster summer programming with Rizzoli & Isles, which is somehow starting its third season? Do people love not-so-subtle lesbian overtones that much? And speaking of overtones, there’s also the start of Franklin and Bash. Which is just so bad y’all. It’s not even laughably bad like Teen Wolf. It’s just awful, and there’s no enjoyment to be had from it. So please don’t. There’s also MORE Hell’s Kitchen, and the return of Tosh.0, which has started relying even more – let that soak in – on gimmicks like fashion. W/e.

Wednesday – Duets. Which should really be called “Totally NOT The Voice, How Could You Say That???” Also new eps of Royal Pains and zzzzzzz look I’m sleeping because I’m bored already.

Thursday-Saturday – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday – Sunday. Thank you, TV gods, for Sunday. We’ve got the season 5 finale of Mad Men. The show has always had phenomenal finales, and I’m sure this one won’t disappoint. Will we see Peggy again? Will Don make it a year without cheating? How will the firm move past the shocking Event of last night? Will Betty, inspired by a sudden upsurge in motherly ability, lose those last 20 lbs? Will Pete ever come clean about his affair with Rory Gilmore? I DON’T KNOW so watch.

And then of course, there’s True Blood. Ah True Blood. Waiting for me with open, overly-muscled and/or puncture-wound-ridden arms. Willing and eager to fill the void left in my week – and my heart – after Game of Thrones ended (spectacularly btw). Will the return of Russell revitalize the show, and return the delightfully campy mood of season three? Will the return of Reverend Newlin bring back the high quality of season two? Will the death of Tara free the show from her bad acting and overly-depressing storylines and incoherent actions? Will the inclusion of The Authority be sufficiently menacing, and catalyze action, or will it only serve to bog us down in EVEN MORE boring vampire politics? Only time will tell, but I’m hopeful.

Comics

DC Comics – Action Comics kicks off its “summer storyline” with Clark being hunted by Earth’s foremost hunter, looking for the ultimate game – aliens. More controversially, we’ll also be getting the first of the Watchmen prequels. These were met with intensely violent fan reaction, in the adorable way that only Internet/comic nerds can muster. I have no doubt however, that these will be blockbuster titles despite/because of that, and I truly believe the company has thrown its best talent at the challenge. And then Animal Man continues its apparently phenomenal run that I totally promise I will definitely read someday soon for realz.

Image – Morning Glories #19! The last issue was – as always – epic, revealing, interesting, and confusing. As Season One/Year One draws to a close (I think) this year, the book should be moving to some sort of momentous reveals, questions, cliffhangers, and shakeups in the status quo. So do yourselves a favor and get the trades and Marathon Mode this beast.

Marvel – Most “importantly,” we have a new installment in the Avengers vs. X-Men saga, with Issue #5, the end of Act One. So far the story has been pretttttty boring, so maybe moving into a new act will help? Maybe? Fingers crossed? There’s also a SLEW of tie-ins, and the always satisfying X-Factor

Books

And finally, books! This week has two releases I could get excited about. From Sword and Laser:

Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon’s Children) by Alastair Reynolds
The first of three novels in a series called ‘Poseiden’s Children’ set at different points over 11,000 years of future history. Blue Remembered Earth focuses on an industrialized Africa as humanity settles the rest of the Solar system.

 Alastair Reynolds is a time-tested author, both of novels and on io9.com, a sci-fi/fantasy blog I read daily. This book interests me because it sees Africa as the center of the world, rather than America or China or Russia or India. It’s a refreshing change, and the idea of looking at different points, rather than telling one long story, is also pretty cool.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you know what the term “redshirts” means. If not, allow me to explain. In the early days of Star Trek, the crew would encounter some new Space Mystery each week. They would invariably send down a team to investigate. Since the show was about the officers on the bridge, they couldn’t just send some grunts with actual, you know, qualifications down there, so they would send the bridge crew. The captain, the first mate, the head doctor. The people that run everything. I’m pretty sure this is bad leadership. Anyway, once down there, there would always be some fighting. Since the show is, again, about these people they can’t die. So how do you show that The Stakes are REAL? You bring along some nobody (in a red shirt), and kill them. Every. Episode. And so the term “Redshirt” was born. Redshirt: aka Cannon-Fodder.

Anyway, I like that this book plays with the idea, and shows some characters getting genre-savvy. I’m very interested in this one guys.

And finally, if you’re like me and enjoy the Sword and Laser podcast/video show, they/we are reading “Tigana” this June. I haven’t bought it yet, because I’m still in denial that May is over and that I failed to finish “Hyperion” on time, but I’m sure I’ll get over that soon as Summer Boredom sets in. So, won’t you read it with me? You can find all the pertinent information on http://www.swordandlaser.com

And that’s it for today! Come back on Wednesday when I discuss Comics! Not sure if I’ll be discussing the DC Universe’s newest/oldest gay hero, Green Lantern (not the one you’re thinking of), or the Watchmen Prequels, but I guess we’ll see huh? And then on Friday we should get a post from Will on movies! And, if you’re lucky, I may just review Snow White and the Huntsman, which yes, I saw on yes, opening night. Peace!