The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022)

Written by: Zeb Wells
Art and cover by: John Romita Jr.
Inks by: Scott Hanna
Colors by: Marcio Menyz
Letters by: Joe Caramagna 

Zeb Wells always seemed like a fill-in writer, to me. He’d just show up and substitute on a particular series, sometimes. He’d only be there to keep a book on schedule when its real writer needed less on their to-do list. When he supported writer Dan Slott on The Amazing Spider-man way back in 2008, he exemplified this type of career. 

There were also the instances when he supplied stories for ancillary, forgettable publications, such as the various Crossover Event tie-in specials he helped Marvel Comics sell. But the guy did the work. He hit deadlines. I saw his name on a lot of comic book covers. And his stories really weren’t bad. They served out solid entertainment. I can’t remember much about them, but I know I never avoided what he worked on. If anything, I knew his name. 

He’d just never convinced me to slow down and actually read what he wrote. 

To be fair to him, he may have never had the chance to try. He is a big-time TV writer and director, sure. And he’s familiar to a lot of people for his work on Robot Chicken. But writing superhero comic books for Marvel or DC is something else, entirely. Not many of the people who make them get an opportunity to tell an interesting story. Its industry is a whole other mess of politics, competition, and corporate expectations that lie separate from Hollywood’s. Wells’s resume holds clout, but he’s had to work his way inside the Marvel machine. 

It shows. In The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022), Wells has found a way to slow the story down. 

Superhero comic books so often rely on ever-evolving plots promising mega-new revelations and violence. The universe shatters daily. As a reader, repetition is part of the experience. Fans love the nostalgic aspect of their hobby, so superhero stories are often recycled, catering to their audience. All that ever changes is how the superheroes in their costumes appear. The publishers keep selling this genre by giving the characters new outfits. All else is mostly glued to strict expectations and cannot shift. You can blame this on considerations of copyright, or the need to adhere a comic book character to its defined intellectual property. But I also consider the readers and their wants. Comic book fans are vocal. They’re not shy in their thirst for Big Boom Content.  

But Wells writes this series opener with a different approach. The story presented actually resembles a story with somewhere to go, not a smattering of geek fodder held in Easter Eggs. The Amazing Spider-man no longer revolves around a relentless publishing schedule that’s always upping the ante. It seems to be taking a break, catching its breath. Reflecting on the core characters this book has carried for 59 years. 

The man drawing it is one of the best to do it. 

Zeb Wells’ artistic collaborator, John Romita Jr., has taken the writer’s paired-down approach and brought it to life. The way he draws Spider-man, New York City, Aunt May, and Mary Jane Watson grabs at a particular nerve that’s buried deep. It pushes me to turn the page, to keep reading, to see where the story goes. That human instinct, something nostalgic. The way he draws reminds me of how long I’ve read about this character, 18 years. But it impresses me to no end, how someone can take this subjective matter and make you feel it. 

You might look at this two-page spread, and assume this story is another dramatic take on a superhero’s personal life, but I would disagree with you. This isn’t the work of a writer trying hard to be a serious artist, writing about Serious Subjects. It’s actually a very good page-turner, driven by real attention to character and a few subtle nudges at their development. The creative team steps aside to really service the story and its 60-year progress, so far. Their egos aren’t on display. Just their ability. 

They’re professionals, good at their jobs. They can clearly engage our sensibilities as people, by showing us a favorite character under another filter, at a different pace, roping me back into the Spider-man saga. 

They, in no way, talk down to their reader or try to sell them something other than what’s happening when they turn the page. They allow their audience to see the story that’s right in front of them. The story that’s usually buried beneath the latest plot twist or big event, the marketing idea that sells more books. The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022) shows Peter Parker as someone who is tired, and as someone who has maybe gone too far. His family is through with his superhero life. Too much has been lost to them because of it. So, Peter Parker is at a crossroads. He’s down on himself. He’s a loser. Selfish, too. And now, without his family to back him up, out of the picture yet on the periphery, it seems he’s about to be neck-deep in his life as a costumed hero. He’s throwing all of who he is into the role, self-destructive in the classical sense. And as this happens, Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, and even Johnny Storm have to watch him navigate the maze, while they live their lives, too. 

The scene that’s shown above, this conversation between Peter Parker and his Aunt May, really benefits from John Romita Jr. He shows you the moments that make a story. Those little beats that convey what is actually happening, on the surface and, at times, underneath. He makes them viewable. This is a common-sense approach. But it can be often pushed aside by other artists in exchange for flash and flair, and want to impress.

If you’ve ever listened to Romita Jr. talk, though, you know he’s an experienced pro. He learned his trade first-hand from the old school writers, artists, and editors that told many of the iconic superhero tales. Some of his teachers, including his father (John Romita), actually wrote the rulebook of how to entertain in this genre. Romita Jr. is a student of it. He believes in the work these individuals did, and he’s studied it. He now applies their lessons to everything he does. It seems so, at least. 

The scene above is all close-ups and facial expressions. It rolls along to the rhythm of a private talk, following the dialogue shared between two characters. Again, it’s a simple approach, but to actually execute it well and give it some life, that’s talent. That’s knowing how to use the rulebook while adding a few things of your own to it. I feel the tension in this exchange that May and Peter have because John Romita Jr. shows us the facial hair and the eye bags. He shows a few wrinkles and long looks. These characters are in bad shape. They’ve been run through the gamut of superhero crisis and corporate overuse. If they were real, we’d feel sorry for them, while at times in awe of their persistence. 

If you’re a fan of this superhero character at all, you know some of its histories. You know the fictional tragedies and lost lives that decorate some of its stories — These occurrences may have even resonated with you, in a way that’s real. The artwork and panel composition that presents this scene reflect that connection. As choices made by a man, based on his mastery of a craft and an interest in communicating something clearly, John Romita Jr. draws and frames these characters as if they’re old friends. 

The fold of the page spread literally shows a divide cutting through May and Peter, telling you that this separation only exists because of a deep personal past. This presentation of the scene is effective and suspends your disbelief, so you care about the story. You can see the characters as people, in their quieter moments. To accomplish this as a storyteller, it takes a talented human hand to lend that kind of spirit. But a human hand that knows what it’s like. 

I don’t know why John Romita Jr. continues to work on some of these characters. Probably for the money. But I like to think that he draws Spider-man to supply food for thought regarding how effective fiction is constructed. And that he just likes to draw this stuff. His Spider-man is iconic because it feels so lived in. He’s drawn this character over the years, in the 80s and 90s, and in the early to mid-2000s. His dad even defined the character in its heyday of the 1960s, when Spider-man was still brand new. Any time Romita Jr. returns to do another stint on this hero, he seems to bring all that history with him. It feels inherently personal. As an artist, he has a real relationship with the subject. As fictional as it all is. 

The real fun of it, though, is that the story doesn’t stay here. The drama shifts out of focus, and the action happens. It’s a superhero comic book, after all. And John Romita Jr. shows you that he’s good at conveying that type of energy, too.

I have to give Zeb Wells credit, though. His script gives Romita Jr. plenty to work with. His ideas support a greater range of tones, and the story isn’t full speed ahead to the next major plot surprise. You can sit in the scenes it offers. For instance, the notion that these longstanding character relationships are bearing strain and turning sour is fresh enough in this context, and the choice to put them front and center is notable. It’s an acknowledgment of how rich these characters can still be. 

Their quiet conflicts create space for Wells to write slower sequences that churn underneath. He actually gets to chew on something, as a writer. However, as a professional, his character work still embraces the nerd allure of continuity and shared stories that superhero comics promote. He gives the fans who tune in for these sorts of updates enough to be interested in, whether that’s the status of Peter and MJ’s love affair, or by referencing a conversation from a 60s issue of Spider-man*. 

He just writes continuity parts in a way that feels considerate. It doesn’t read like lip service. That’s a bonus, as someone who can be nerdy about these stories but still appreciate their craft. 

Another plot point Wells grabs onto is Peter Parker’s failure to hold his life together. The character is shown in this issue as being irresponsible, which (at this point in the ongoing, 60-year narrative) is the only way to see it. 

Peter Parker has never pulled it together, and he’s endangered so many along the way. His life is traumatic and sloppy. He’s stuck as an eternal teenager, down on his luck. He’s never been allowed to move forward. 

The recent Nick Spencer-written run on The Amazing Spider-man investigated this aspect of the character. But it did so through high-octane melodrama and embarrassing extremes (and so many lackluster fill-in artists). It really failed to nurture the tiny seed it managed to plant, the question posed. Why is Peter Parker such a fuck-up? It feels like Wells is more up to the task of answering this. Or, he’s at least asked the question again. He’s picking up the bit Nick Spencer wanted to write about, and he’s having his own go at it. 

The whole thing kind of reminds me of the J. Michael Straczynski-written run of The Amazing Spider-man, too. That connection could just be from John Romita Jr., who also drew some of those comic books. But Wells shows Peter Parker as the more nuanced adult he can be, just as Straczynski tried to do. His run attempted to rekindle the subplots of Peter Parker’s personal life, calling back to when Stan Lee really emphasized these story points. In those early Spider-man adventures, the superhero action was prominent, but the other elements of the character mattered just as much. These are the things like Peter going on dates he couldn’t believe he’d got, the girlfriends; the struggle to pay rent and make money to help his aunt; the deaths of friends, and the balance of being two different people while honoring the responsibilities of each. 

Wells is pulling at this familiar thread, trying to reveal more of the character’s potential, or at least, reconnect the readership to aspects of Spider-man they may now overlook. That’s not to say no one has really touched these elements in their own stories, or that Marvel Comics has abandoned them. It just seems that Wells, like Straczynski, wants to utilize these pieces to really drive the plot forward. They’re the true focus of the story, Wells and Romita Jr.’s story. 

And who knows how it’ll turn out? 

It’s only the first issue. These things turn sour all the time.

By the end of the year, we’ll have a better idea of this Spider-man story’s true quality. Whether, in its entirety, it’s actually worth reading. But as a first issue, it sells what is to come. It gives me pause and invites me to speculate about what happens next. It’s a wonderful instance of a capable writer handing a master artist something to work with that holds meat on its bones. Zeb Wells now has my attention.

*See the Human Torch scene in The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022)
– Audacious Al

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Moon Knight #26

Do you know who Bill Sienkiewicz is? If you’re reading this, you probably do. But, for the sake of asking, what do you think he thought about when he was starting his career drawing Moon Knight for Marvel Comics? What did he think about during this period of his life? Could you look at his artwork and infer? In some ways, I feel like I almost can. Like, somewhere around issues #21, #22, and #23 of the original Moon Knight series (published throughout the early 1980s), Sienkiewicz starts to draw more like himself. He starts to draw in his recognizable style, and he starts to flex that storytelling muscle. He takes this leap that’s artistic and personal. He’s worked hard for it, and it connects with the readers he’s talking to. He’s found an effective way to be creative. 

On the other hand — I have no idea what Sienkiewicz was thinking about. No one does. He probably doesn’t even really remember himself. Maybe he has a pretty good idea. Maybe he can sense something familiar. But even then, it’s probably all impressions or pretty faded memories. I don’t know that thoughts, the way they happen, can exist once they’ve moved on. You tend to fill in the gaps to make the whole thing coherent, and that isn’t actually what went on. Either way, Sienkiewicz’s Moon Knight comic books, the later, last few ones that he drew right before taking on his next Marvel assignment, feel real to me. They feel immediate and like something is happening. They are totally made by a person.  

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Just take 10 seconds and look at that image. Whether you think it’s ugly, goofy, or not worth your time. Just realize that’s a real drawing in the world, and someone spent a lot of time on it. They’ve spent a lot of time throughout their lives trying to draw that image that way. It required their sustained progress, month-to-month, year-to-year. They’ve had to really want to do this. And most likely, the motivation or idea to do so, to want to draw something like this, came from another human being. It came from someone who drew their own odd, colorful image in a comic book about a superhero, or a gangster, or an adventurer, and that oddity got into the reader’s blood. Then sometime in the early 1980s, Bill Sienkiewicz drew this picture because at some time in the past Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, or whoever-it-was did the same thing, and Bill Sienkiewicz was affected by it.  

That, as far as I can tell, is a conversation. That is finding something shared in a specific thought and wanting to respond with an interpretation all your own. This is happening in superhero comic books, a corporate place of nonsense, or at least it was at one point in time. Today’s superhero comic books are in a different conversation. It’s a broader one, more directed at the issues of our world, and the editors and writers are trying to throw these pop-cultural versions of heroism at problems we real people cannot address, to comfort us. To make us feel less alone in our overwhelming concerns and some of our fears. To, at times, offer a bit of blind hope or a simple remedy. And that’s fine; I can’t get mad at that because the superheroes have always responded to what ails their time, whether it’s Hitler or drug addiction, or the AIDS crisis. They’re there for that. They make good bandaids. And even though bandaids fall off, they still serve a purpose. They make us at least consider a solution, or recognize that something is wrong. Otherwise, why would there be a bandaid there? That’s what superheroes are. They are their own way to write about and see the real world, as any sort of fiction is. 

Moon Knight #26, where the following image (shown again) was published, is a story about violence and child abuse. It’s called “Hit It.” It’s about something Bill Sienkiewicz had direct experience with, unknowingly to the story’s writer, Doug Moench, as he typed the script in push to meet a tight deadline. Moench says so in an interview he did in 2006 with the then-Moon Knight writer, Charlie Huston. 

MOENCH: The reason he told me he went so crazy on the book. He said to me, “I, first of all, drove a dagger in his heart and then exorcised his demons by writing that story.”


MOENCH: Because he had been abused as a child.


MOENCH: And that’s why he went nuts and turned a seven-page thing and blew it up. It was his way of working out these demons. He said he felt so much better by the time he was done, and he was more proud of that than anything else in his career.

I mean, maybe Doug Moench is livening up this account of what happened, but the basic fact that Bill Sienkiewicz took a seven-page script and turned it into 20-some pages of full artwork, a full issue, all because the story about child abuse hit a personal nerve. That he cared so much for an assignment for a comic book called Moon Knight — That’s interesting. That’s what people can do. They can find something real and purposeful in the things that are trivial or even products. And maybe, yes, placing such a focus on this corporate intellectual property, SuperHeros™, is a brain drain. Maybe it is, and I can’t disagree, completely. But maybe it’s also our small way and chance as participants in the world to turn things around? I mean, we can write and draw the superheroes and actually do something with them that is artistic and thoughtful. Is that perverse or pathetic to believe or even want to try? It could be. But would you rather someone attempt that interesting thing, like making one of these comic books into something worth seeing, or would you just want to roll with the script and continue to publish and see something subpar and hollow?     

When Bill Sienkiewicz felt heavy and found trauma he’d rather not have, he made a comic book that showcased the talent and ability of people, their potential for good. It isn’t a story meant to teach a lesson, so much as it offers perspective and nuance, which hits harder. And not only that! It’s also interesting to look at, has style, has energy. It’s something you want to read. 

Again, this image:

The text captions, written by Doug Moench, are rhythmic. They connect the character, Moon Knight, to the liveliness of the world around him. “Cats in windows … Money itching to change hands.” The character is a part of this scene. Another element of the city. Bill Sienkiewicz draws this sweeping, graceful presence connected to a cape, high above a night-time mess. “Always, always blood to be spilled” down below in those streets. And Moon Knight looks light as a feather.  

That visual characterization tells you who this guy is. He’s a lunatic at ease in the debris. Comfortable with extremes. Bill Sienkiewicz presents him with style and composition. From a perspective anchored at a point that extends beyond the character. It encompasses what the image really is. It’s about those two buildings in the background, their yellow-lit windows. The people inside, having dinner and TV. They see what we see. They look at this image of a costumed man gliding through the sky, and recognize something. They see that the world is crazy.

Bill Sienkiewicz decided to show this part of the story in this way. It’s his conceptualization and guiding hand that portrays it. He is communicating to a reader. And the communication of this idea, visually — that the world is kind of wild, and beautiful, and what the fuck — when that image is complemented by thoughtfully written prose … It is an example of people saying something through an art form often doubted. In a genre that’s super nerdy, corporate, and Disney-fied. But doing it, nonetheless. 

There were real people who created, wrote, and drew these products to make a middle-class living, on insane deadlines. Competing with each other. Making stuff up! These creative types evolved from a single point of origin. A guy who did it first — A central, defining artist, who laid the ground rules and instigated copycats, and then summoned new, working artists. People who grew up reading as fans. They took over the business, slowly. But first, they had to learn the ropes via the standards of their time. Or steal from the best, their tricks and flourishes. All for a paycheck. To keep the machine revving and running. Because comic books are a business, and it’s run by people.

In the interview I referenced earlier, Doug Moench doesn’t describe an orderly, kind work environment or job. Instead, he says this about how Moon Knight #26 was published:

MOENCH: Eh … let me tell you how that thing got written. Bill had blown it up. The editors had screwed up on the deadlines. We can name names – Mr. Dennis O’Neil – had screwed up so badly he’d forgotten to send a whole issue out to the other penciler who was going to do a fill-in issue or something. He discovered that my plot was buried on his desk. Meanwhile, Bill was going nuts on “Hit It.” And Bill brought it in and it went from a potential reaction of “Oh my god! What do you think you’re doing taking this seven-page backup and blowing it up to a full issue” to “Thank god there’s a full issue here.”

HUSTON: So at that point they didn’t care about content. It was something they could run.

MOENCH: That’s right. And so he called me up and said, “I’m going to ask the biggest favor I’ve ever asked any freelancer in my life. Can you get on a bus and come to New York right now to script here so we can get it out by 7 tonight by special courier.

HUSTON: Oh my god.

MOENCH: I said you gotta be kidding me. I’m in Pennsylvania. “Oh, please, please, please. My job’s on the line …” So I wound up scripting that whole thing in this tin closet. It was the only room they had open at Marvel. They had me crammed into this tiny little room with a typewriter. I did it on the fly right there, right out of the typewriter. Thankfully it was a stream of consciousness style. I’d never written anything faster. And they were literally ripping pages out of the typewriter and taking them over to the bullpen to have it lettered right on the spot. You asked me what the reaction was, and I don’t think there was any reaction other than, “Get this out by special delivery.”

Doug Moench describes making Moon Knight #26 as a gig. A fun one, in ways, I’m sure. But a job, and jobs suck. And you totally cheat at your job sometimes. Why wouldn’t you? You’re not a machine. You can outsmart the apparatus — The company you work for and what’s expected. You can find cracks in the cement, if only by luck. That’s how Bill Sienkiewicz got a chance at something superb. He had it in him to give luck something back. 

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Justice League 2022 Annual #1

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art and cover by: Sanford Greene
Colors by: Matt Herms and Sanford Greene

I like the fact that Brian Michael Bendis still writes superhero comic books. I know you could make the argument that his writing stopped being interesting a long time ago. He’s kept to his same signature style, dialogue-heavy, decompressed scenes of character development, and he hasn’t really let up. But, I’d disagree with you. There is a particular use of the form inherent to most all of his comics that tell you they’re by Bendis. He is a writer with a certain voice and viewpoint, and his craft has been practiced and employed. And while I think in a better world, voice and viewpoint wouldn’t be such signifiers. And instead, they would act as a baseline for superheroes or other categories of popular media — That just isn’t the case. So, it’s a real positive thing when someone manages to do it. Because it’s an example of someone cutting through commercial products, like superhero teams and crossover universes, to expand their language, exposing us, the audience, to some different tone. Even something that’s actually human. And maybe that is progress? I mean, superheroes and their stories are going to hold a place in popular culture for the foreseeable future. For whatever their numerous subjective reasons are, many, many people find this kind of fiction compelling, and so corporations are happy to sell it. There’s the argument that this is rotting our brains and stupefying our culture. I can see reasons to agree with it, even. But, if this is the fiction most of us engage in, and if superheroes are a collective way for people to interact with their imaginations, then there has to be value in the efforts made to make these stories, these products, a little more malleable to creative risk, right? If make-believe is a core aspect of being a person, if it’s how we play in our minds, see things anew, and regenerate the world through different filters and shapes, then any little divergence is a worthwhile move away from the hard definitions we’ve forced on our lives, yes? I mean, I know that’s a heady concept to attach to something childish like Superman, but it’s also true that we forget things as we age, and adults can end up lost to expectations. We all know, on some level, that stories and fictions are powerful to human beings, and while it would be arguably preferable for our stories to not be dominated by one, corporate concept — for the superhero genre to take a backseat or even be destroyed — it’s just not in the cards right now. And either way, a writer named Alan Moore already tried and failed to move us along from superhero stories 36 years ago. He tried to give the genre a bookend with his and Dave Gibbons’ series, Watchmen, and he tried to show us how the superhero concept is arguably broken. But we didn’t want anything like that. Instead, we read Watchmen in 1986 and demanded more things like it, and we kept reading and watching and gaming for 36 years after that. And maybe that’s just our mistake and ignorance? Maybe Alan Moore was right? Maybe superheroes overstay their welcome beyond their youth-inspired gleam and become a nostalgic, commercial poison that stunts us? But here we are, they’re everywhere. So, what do we do with them, now?      

I think many comic book writers who started in the 90s and 00s have tried to answer this question. Names like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, and Brian Michael Bendis come to mind. I think there are a few ways you can view their efforts. They either made career moves, chasing elevation, or they wrote the stories they wanted to read. Or it’s both, and so much more. Their efforts in this genre may involve everything that’s inherent to their particular person. All of their characteristics and moral qualities could be intermingling in a push-and-pull, that’s held together by tension and conflicting human wants. And maybe it’s this dance that created things like The Authority, Punisher MAX, and Godland? But beyond all that, I do believe each of these people has tried to answer the question: What do we do with superheroes now, as a fictitious device? Each of their bibliographies contains work that’s idiosyncratic, and even innovative in its approach to narrative. And each of their names can be identified by specific stylistic choices or aesthetics that are consistently presented across their bodies of fiction. Not to mention, many of the high-concepts driving their superhero plots tried to reimagine the genre for a modern era. Rather than read Watchmen and agree with it, then look to other creative outlets as new avenues of opportunity, these people, and so many others like them, decided there’s still more work to do. They sat and thought … Superheroes aren’t going anywhere. So, what if we wrote them, and what could we do with them?      

This line of thought started a takeover. They were readers and fans who applied their talents and slowly took the reins from the professionals who ran the show, who made the comic books, and they became the pros themselves. Their thoughts of what if we wrote them? led to paying gigs that turned into careers. And some of them are pretty long by now. Brian Michael Bendis, for instance, is looking at 29 years in this line of work. And, I don’t know, maybe I’m too easily impressed, but I think a 29-year career in the comic book business is an accomplishment, of some sort. 

Not a lot of people do it, for one, and it seems like a hard job to hold. You have all the deadlines attached to writing multiple books, and there’s the pressure to deliver stories that satisfy passionate fans. You have to deliver this certain, professional level of work while maintaining an online presence that’s mostly used to market yourself. And for that, too, you have to produce content. Personally, I could see writing a comic book or some series being an enjoyable challenge. But when I think about doing all the rest of it that’s required to have a career, it sounds kind of draining. Maybe it actually isn’t. I mean, I’m not living the life I’m describing here, and I really don’t know what it’s like. Maybe the whole thing really is fun and fulfilling? But I don’t know, it seems like there are a lot of ugly stories from the comic book business and its history. And it sounds like the business takes a lot from the people who give to and work in it. For example, just look at all the money that’s owed to the working-class people who created these superhero characters in the 1960s and on. They did this work for a paycheck on tight deadlines, sacrificing time away from their families and themselves, and their efforts were absorbed by private companies under “work-for-hire” contracts and then milked in every possible manner for money. Now, Hollywood makes enormous profits from their labor, but the people who originally had the ideas and actually made them exist haven’t really shared in this gain. Or, for another example, you can think about the instances of artistic frustration and theft that really challenged the people who cared about this artform. For instance, the original comic book artwork drawn for classic Marvel and DC comic books is now worth thousands of dollars. While actual people drew those images, and that artwork bears their name and their craft, the private companies that employed them often assumed ownership of these art pieces, and the artists were often denied possession of it along with the opportunity to reap any monetary reward from its sale. Today, it seems like comic book creators, even after decades of activism for content rights and better pay, are still just trying to secure opportunities and keep their careers alive. Recent news of Substack providing grants to comic book writers and artists to produce new work (without claiming intellectual property rights) could represent a shift in reader consumption and creative careers, pushing the business in a new direction. Or it may just amount to a select few producing projects that previously wouldn’t have been made because of limited resources. Either way, comic book creators today seem to be trying to find a reliable path through a professional life while embracing their idea of creativity, where they can make something that they have more say in, unedited. But there’s a scarcity complex in the comic book business. There are only so few spots available to write or draw stories on a mass audience scale, and people compete for those positions — Everyone thinks they can make it. And if you get in, it’s really about staying in. And to stay in, what does it take?

Maybe by writing all that, I’ve somehow incriminated Brian Michael Bendis. I’ve done the thing, where I sit here and type my thoughts and assume to know something. But, I mean, if someone lasts 29 years in this dirty business, they must be dirty, too, right? Wasn’t that one of the points of The Wire? But, I don’t know Brian Michael Bendis personally. I know nothing about his actual life, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. It’s bad enough that I’m here attempting to make any sense of an entertainment medium, a complicated business, or the concept of fiction as a human being with an isolated, limited, biased perspective — who knows nothing. And honestly, in this long, long introduction to where we are now, I can’t even say I have an exact point to make by writing all this, which is why I’ve never been a real critic or writer of any merit. I guess I just want to start this way, so you know where I’m coming from when I read and respond to one of Brian Michael Bendis’ latest comic books, Justice League 2022 Annual #1

Now, this is where I’ll be really annoying and just totally flip the script on you. I really just want to say something about artist Sanford Greene’s artwork in this comic book. Even for someone with just a passing interest in superheroes or illustration and visual art, these drawings are eye-catchers. They’re striking. Look: 

The first thing I notice is the style, the overall look and feel of Greene’s visual interpretation of a Justice League comic book. I see the influences of artists like Jack Kirby, Paul Pope, and Darwyn Cooke. With Kirby, it’s that superhero bombast where worlds collide and punches get thrown. For Pope, it’s an appearance of flow and liquidity, the line art drips, and it’s all vibe with a knack for storytelling. And then you have Cooke — who implies that chiseled jawline, the iconic, the statuesque man in a cape smiling at you, here to help. 

But I also see Greene being Greene.

It’s like I said in the first paragraph of this write-up: There is something positive to appreciate about someone who can smudge up the commercial sheen of superheroes and show us something personal. Especially at this point in our culture, when everything is so much a product. Look around you: Movies are franchises, YouTube is content. And it’s getting hard to find compelling artists working within our large, institutional venues. There are so many artists in this world, and so many of them are talented and have things to say or discuss, but it’s only a very select few who make it through and take on the societal duties of entertaining, informing, and challenging everyone else through globally shared fictional stories. Or music. Or film. Or whatever it is. A small percentage of those who do hold these positions of influence actually use them for anything interesting. I think a lot of people try to, to their credit, and I can appreciate their efforts, deeply and genuinely. But, ultimately, whoever makes it in the traditional sense, with money and a career, is really, actually, just a good employee. Like, think about it, Brian Michael Bendis and Sanford Greene are employees of DC Comics, who were hired to write and draw Justice League 2022 Annual #1. But with being good employees, I’d argue they both found some personal motivation in this assignment, and they made this comic book better than it had any right to be. It could have been dull, repetitive, piecemeal, and nerdy and still achieved solid, safe sales and got them paid. But both Bendis and Greene had fun with it. There’s no way they didn’t. I mean, look at what this comic book looks like:

Very few of the very good artists end up on the world’s stage. And The Justice League is the world stage of superhero comics. You can make the argument that other superhero teams take the cake. I mean, The Avengers seems to be everyone’s favorite. But the Justice League starts with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They are the originals. They are fucking superheroes. You cannot corrupt them. Because, thankfully, they represent our best moral selves. As real human beings, as the men and women who dreamt these characters up from our collective imaginations, these superheroes mean so many things to so many people, across the whole world. We, as the audience, have imprinted upon them our feedback and fan craze. We’re all responsible for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, in some sense. We’ve reflected our personal interpretations and obsessions onto them, and they have changed and evolved in response to that. A lot of care has gone into giving them worthwhile values, too, like fairness and justice. We’ve preserved this about them even though we have experimented with their presentation, at times. Conceptually, they are meant to save the day, to encourage peace. That’s their core. They’re superheroes, strong, but kind — what we want to be. 

To see Greene’s talent on a world stage like this is exciting. His artwork feels totally his own. The way he draws carries with it a style and tone that can shake away all the background noise and cynicism that’s now attached to superheroes. It disrupts their corporate glow and presses pause on the broad cultural questions they beg we ask: Like, when is enough of a particular thing, enough? It connects you, instead, to the power of superheroes. Their visual presence. They stand tall and take command. They’re always up for an adventure to save the world. Too many other writers and artists have tried to tell superhero stories that are more “realistic” or broken and literary, to somehow say something of the genre’s capacity for “serious” stories. And there are even good examples of those comic books I can point you to. But this popular artistic tone and pursuit has also made the genre dull, made it corny. When it could have been wild, free, and dream-like. 

Luckily, Greene draws superheroes as if they’re something to see. He presents these characters as if their actions can shape the planet and the universe. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman possess this might and godhood under Greene’s pencil. But they’re also humble. They can break away from their epic battles to throw a surprise party:

This isn’t the first time this has been seen in a superhero comic book. For example, some X-Men comics have shown this moment in a story to convey a family aspect that’s important to the Merry Mutants. In Bendis’ own comics, he’s used this framing device to evoke innocence or something wholesome. When I think about Bendis, now, I think of him as a dad. According to some interviews he’s given, he has several kids. He’s no longer the guy who wrote and drew Fire. He isn’t that young gun mixing things up. He’s the dad of the comic book business, now. His work has shifted in tone to present that. The “creation” of Miles Morales — Generation Z’s version of Spider-man — is the main example. Bendis thought up this character variation on Spider-man in order to reflect and capture our present youth’s attention.  A new character named Miles Morales could much more effectively connect with a younger audience than our old friend Peter Parker, the 60-year-old, geeky teenager turned irresponsible, messy adult. Miles instantly landed with a broad pop culture audience upon his debut, quickly making appearances in media beyond his singular comic book title: Ultimate Comics: Spider-man. His “creation” isn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking accomplishment, as Miles Morales is literally just a different interpretation of an already existing character, but he certainly holds his own. Readers care about the stories he inhabits. For Bendis, this success could absolutely be based on a calculated career choice. He could have pitched Marvel Comics this idea as a way to expand an iconic franchise and capitalize on a national conversation regarding diversity. The success of Miles Morales has most certainly helped Bendis remain in the comic book business this long; it’s undoubtedly helped his position as a good employee of the big publishers. But who am I to really know the actual intentions? It’s also possible that Miles Morales reflects the writer’s personal want to emphasize the idealism powering superheroes. Spider-man, with Peter Parker’s faults and tedious, relatable challenges such as paying rent and sustaining relationships, was always seen as a common man. He was someone underneath that mask who looked like us, just a mess trying to get through it. But he could still save the world, or at least New York City. He was a fucking nerd, but he was a Queens boy, too. He was from the boroughs. A New Yorker. And Miles Morales drives at this same sentiment. He’s connected to the city, where he lives, and he’s a kid just trying to figure things out. He’s speaking to a readership that isn’t yet so jaded or fed up with it. They all still have that thing that makes them kids. That thing a lot of us can lose and have lost. They get to have their own experience with Miles Morales, Spider-man. And that’s great for them. I’m happy to say. 

It’s weird how in the last paragraph I had to get cynical about Miles Morales and Bendis’s intentions in co-creating him (Artist Sara Pichelli drew the character and is credited in his original appearance; Both Bendis and Pichelli co-created this successful superhero.). My cynicism is just meant to cover my bases. When writing about superhero comic books, there’s this tendency to defend yourself. You can feel that you have to defend your decision to spend time on this hobby, and at times obsession, that’s primarily focused on men and women in capes and costumes. Why would you write more than 3,000 words on this random issue of Justice League? Like, why? It feels like a justification is owed to anyone who glances at the post preview on social media. I have to explain myself and pretend to have authority in this subject. If I can get snobby, get snobby. 

That’s where Zack Snyder’s Justice League tows a beautiful line. 

It is at once a corney, beautiful, personal, gaudy, corporate, CrossFit version of a superhero movie starring Ben Affleck. It’s a divisive subject for some reason. Those that love it are still petitioning Warner Bros. for a full restoration of Zack Synder’s Justice League strategy and vision — The fans want him to make more of these movies. Maybe he’ll get to, someday. I wouldn’t be mad. Because I love that Zack Snyder is eagerly slapping his name on this stuff. Somebody has to. Somebody has to give it some charm. It’s everywhere, it’s all the movies now. Somebody needs to spice superheroes up. Give them a perspective that doesn’t ignore or pretend to be anything other than what it is. Looking at Snyder’s entries into the canon, (there’s quite a few to list; Google it), he seems like a pretty good fit for the job. I was actually a bit moved by The Snyder Cut. It really captures what’s so powerful about superheroes. There are stakes in the story that you actually care about. It totally commits to its scale where gods are at war for the fate of everything. It made me feel like a kid, just watching something without judgment or a takedown ready to go. I wasn’t trying to be smart. I knew that Snyder made this movie following the death of his daughter, and I could accept its expression because I could see the heart in its making. Maybe I am naive, but cynicism is just old. 

So, back to the surprise party:

Beyond wholesome, I see vibrancy. I see real interest in each other. No one is shy, not one at all. It looks like a nice time. I don’t really know what happened behind the scenes to present this artwork and image to me. I know I had to pay money for it, that’s all. It showed up at my house in a brown box containing so many other superhero comic books. I struggle with the corporate greed and repetition, the impact on our critical thinking, the hollowness. But when it’s Saturday, and there’s nothing to do, reading these stories is a good way to let your thoughts run wild. They contain so much nonsense and high emotion. Even the bad ones do. But, when you get a Sanford Greene drawing like this, it makes you stop and appreciate the whole thing. Of how it’s possible to put something familiar into plastic. I don’t know how Sanford Greene became employed by DC Comics, but I like to sit here and think that Brian Michael Bendis helped him out. He used his position in the industry to give someone new a chance. So, if Bendis can do that after 29 years, I say he keeps his job.

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Really good water

One common thing about near-all Americans is that we’re all upset about something. Like, there’s something about this country and its culture, where it makes its citizens unhappy, and they wish to change or grieve. We each really dislike and want to improve some part of our world, some law that needs to be fixed or ecosystem that needs saving. We all want some fairness brought back to the American Dream. Or, maybe, we just want to recognize some truth of it, to maybe make sense of it for our own sake. Each of us screams about something that is holding us back, breaking down the system, or that’s underneath it all hidden in the shadows. In response to that, we really just want to say that this thing is wrong … it makes our lives here worse. We want to express ourselves. Even the people who believe in the craziest things … If you look past their visions and their flaws, you’ll see that we’re all just screaming about something from our digital rooftops, saying it’s that thing that’s wrong that we care about! We’re all rattled right now, and life in America hasn’t gotten easier. But what is the actual response to outcry? Nothing, really. If anything, arguments and roadblocks, pointless disagreement, and money. Maybe, someday, you’ll see or achieve some small victory, but what if it’s too little, too late? How does history regard that accomplishment? I wish those that were supposed to listen, the people that were put in charge to act, weren’t too busy to bother. Because Americans live with a sense of never being heard. And we’re all so frustrated by this experience. Because even though we all scream — from all these platforms and open stages, blown up on TV in the latest news cycle — nothing changes or is properly grieved. We just move right along, onto the next tragedy. We don’t take a lot of time to actually fix what’s wrong. We all just want a chance at something good, to do something good. But we make it so easy to fail.

I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. I know that I can be, at times. But I’m not, really. I have some hope, and I honestly still think that America has a lot of promising potential. For instance, what could we be or do if we were all just more understanding with each other, and not as driven by our pain? What if we were nicer to one another and forwent most of our conflicts? I know, I know … I sound corny. This sounds like the promise of a hippie cult, but seriously, what if we were? Isn’t much of human struggle based on our difficulties with one another? For whatever reason, people don’t get along. And that’s fine. That’s our nature. But we’re also smart enough to work through most differences, and we can collaborate in basic ways that improve the quality of life for all. We don’t have to be best friends! I don’t even have to like you. But what about core decency and promise? Why can’t our country have that as a spiritual guide, propelling it forward? Couldn’t we just make it nice here for all? 

I do think it’s possible. We’re probably just going to need some time to do it. It’ll take generations to create a country of bounty and security, where you have a right to live the way you want, so long as you give yourself the chance to do so. You have to make that happen, ultimately. But America could greatly improve its support system and actually enable personal growth and success. It could revisit its priorities. It could do this with the long-term in mind. America could look out and plan for a better future, and through sustained effort, make true improvements to itself and to the world at large. Every human being, all across Earth, has some small ability to change our world. We all can make better choices and realize what matters. We can change our own perceptions and attitudes to feel more connected, and we can get over our own bullshit. We could make true, sustained, actual progress and see a better world as a reality. And if not on a global scale, it’s amazing what you can do for yourself. You can change your own world much, much easier than you can the real one. You can replay your movie-life and light certain scenes differently. You can recast a key character in the middle of the playback. But by changing your own world, is the real world then changed? 

For example, think about David Foster Wallace’s “this is water” graduation day speech that he gave to a college as the special guest star. I’ve never read any of his books, just never rushed to really do it, but I like that talk, a lot. Because he’s right. We determine what we’re experiencing, and we give ourselves a lot of grief. People are hard on other people and themselves, and we can clearly see how corrosive that is. I know David Foster Wallace didn’t invent or discover this conceptualization of life, the thought that “this is water,” but his communication of it isn’t wrong. So, why don’t we just change it? Why not make it say, “this is really good water.”? I can’t answer that question. Anyone that says they can is a fool or a conman. But, gratitude and appreciation, and a mind open to the possibilities, are required, and we struggle with those character qualities at the moment. Collectively, we feel ripped off. We’re not entirely wrong. The rich and the powerful have defrauded us. Have made it harder to establish something that lasts and is ours, is personal. This hurts and angers us in deep and literally brutal ways, emotional and physical. We work pretty hard in this country, yet most of that effort isn’t made for your own cause and direction, and a lot of it just makes certain people rich. Generations and generations have fought through this system. This fraud defines our lives and culture in real ways, and I believe the outcomes — the poverty, drug addictions, crime, lack of education, greed, ego, gluttony, hatred, ignorance, power-hungry, celebrity — stem from our struggle to keep going, to secure what we need to survive and enjoy our time on this Earth. But more than that, we struggle because we’re in unhealthy competition with one another. Our egos have run rampant. We keep searching for meaning or significance, but in that quest, we somehow bury each other. There can’t be a winner without a loser. 

So, to ask again: If we change our own world, do we change the shared one, as a result?  

I honestly think it’s possible. But it will be very, very difficult and take some time. I mean, what do I know? Nothing. I know nothing at all, as I’m a person. But I just believe that progress takes time, and you have to learn lessons from failures along the way. Because progress is a long game. And I’m glad we’re playing it. I just think we need more of a playful spirit, as we engage. Life doesn’t have to be bad or a chore. You can choose to see it through a different filter. Isn’t that how we see hope at all? We place the future through a filter of our own making and see the lives we’d like to lead. We hope, somewhere in us, that we can be that person someday. Just the best versions of ourselves. We hope to see that experience of growth through fully before it’s gone in death. 

I think we really need to be critical of wealthy, powerful people, very critical when necessary, without forgetting that they’re people. We cannot villanize them, not entirely, because to do so will only drive them further into greed. They will break apart from the rest of us, and they could really go sour. It should be expected that if and when criticism is rendered to someone, the one in the spotlight gets a chance to respond. We should give them a place to be open and work through something. Casting someone out doesn’t seem to help. It enables division and conflict. We just need a better way to work through our conflicts. And there is. It’s called being humble. It’s about being honest, understanding that we’re all flawed, and helping others get back up after they’ve fallen. We don’t do this enough. We’re still cavemen, to some extent. But cavemen evolve. We’ve had fire-on-a-stick and the smartphone for a while, now. Both of these developments have brought good and bad. But they’ve brought us forward, as well.   

I know preaching mindfulness and self-reflection, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and David Foster Wallace is not the solution to real problems. Real problems must be dealt with in the real world. But, unfortunately, the actors who could correct these challenges fail to. Instead, they use real struggle to write talking points for media appearances. And they ask us to vote for them. And we do. We give them real power and wealth. What a politician gets from their election compared to what their constituents get, the odds are completely different. Near every politician gets rich and believes their own bullshit, more and more. They get elected and they lose touch with us. So, I know mindfulness and changing your outlook on life seem like consolation prizes, like a way to just manage expectations and accept your lack of control, an excuse to let what happen, happen … But maybe if we all changed our thoughts we could see the error in our approach. We could see how much power we actually have. We’re the first living things (that we know of) with consciousness. Think about that, if that is true! But, maybe more likely, we’re actually far from the first. It is a big universe out there, after all. We don’t know where it goes and what it contains. But with all that said, I feel our story has just begun. I feel like mine has, at least. I mean, I turn 30 years old in less than a month, and though that’s wild to think, that I’ve been here 30 years, I still feel so new to all this, and I want to keep going. I think we all feel that in us, somewhere. This urge to keep going. So, let’s keep going. I hope we keep going. I hope we can look out at the world and America someday and be proud of the way we’ve shaped them to enable true growth of the lives that want to live. And I hope it’s tons of fun. Just simply beautiful. I can see it now.

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Penny and The Wolf Man

Some dogs have a crush on the Wolf Man. 

This one dog I know, Penny — she definitely does. If you ask her, she’ll tell you the Wolf Man is something to see. 

Ever since she was a pup, Penny’s had his poster hung inside her kennel crate. 

She’d finish out the day napping, then spend the night looking at that classic black and white marquee image of the Wolf Man howling at the cloud-covered moon, and she’d sigh, thinking: 

He’s so dreamy.  

Like a hairy James Dean. Howling at everything and nothing, all at once. 

The other dogs never understood her preference. 

Their taste was more for AirBud or the show-dog cast of Best in Show. 

To them, these dogs exemplified excellence and ability. 

Their fur held well, like nice and shiny, like good boys — pedigree picturesque. 

To them, the Wolf Man wasn’t even a dog. He was a monster. A sad story.

But Penny saw something else. She saw another kind of life. 

That’s why when Penny grew up, she moved to Los Angeles. 

She became tired of the confines of her crate. She wanted action. And she found that she fit this new lifestyle just fine. 

Some nights, you found Penny at West Hollywood drag shows, draped in color streamers and neon glitter, barking Britney Spears lyrics in choir with her fellow lovers-of-life. Other times, she was poolside somewhere in the hills, quiet, diligently listening as someone offered to collaborate on something — like a TV pilot or an improv performance — right as she’d float to the next conversation with another someone, where the same thing was said again, yet, this time, the proposal was maybe more legitimate or possible or prestigious. 

This went on for about a year. 

Before Penny ran out of money. And she had to bartend. 

Now out of the social circuit, her dreams faded. Morale crumbled and caught a black eye.

The rail liquor looked more like fun to her than something to sell. She’d take anything to get away from the stale same-old, same-old of the working man. 

That is until the Wolf Man walked in one night. 

And let out a howl. 

Then laid eyes on her. 

And right then, Penny was back out of the crate.

Except for this time, she was carrying a souvenir. Some potent feelings from the past. That black and white buzz of something classic, just as it’s seen on TV. 

The Wolf Man was here and now, and he was a dream seen long ago. 

He walked up to the bar, let out a gruff, and said: “What’s down there in the well, you got?”

And before Penny could say, the Wolf Man reached in and brought back that brown Kentucky Sweet. Laid out a 20 for the bill. And he smiled his white, white fangs, still perfect after all the years. 

That’s when it got fun again. 

The Wolf Man loved her, and she loved the Wolf Man. The parties got better, too. 

No one could party better than the Wolf Man. 

Everybody wanted to celebrate with him. It didn’t matter that he never made another movie. 

The guy was an icon. And Penny was a reminder. 

The old boy still had it. 

He could walk into a room and rip his signature hooooooooooowwwwwwwlllll. 

And every single time, admiration would be waiting. 

From celebrities and civilians, alike. 

Because they only had to hear it once. 

Just the one time, real quick, and move on with their ambitions and doldrums. 

But not Penny. 

She heard it every time. 

Every single time, the same hat trick. The same schtick.  

Night in, night out.

And like anything, what was once exciting grew stale and tired and threatened to fall apart.

Because the Wolf Man was a narcissist. All he wanted was the spotlight. 

And he made sure to take it. 

The writing was on the wall. 

Except, Penny did see something. She saw an opportunity of another kind. 

She could howl, too. She could play the game.

And so she did. 

She started to howl with the Wolf Man. 

Upon entrance to any party they attended.

They gave the people what they wanted. 

And they became something to see. 

In a year, they were no longer a couple, but a tabloid meme. 

Penny was the Wolf Man’s creative director, and her own talent (with her own agent).

They’d been on Jimmy Fallon! Ripping big, beautiful howls. Telling Jimmy it’s great to be here. Making Jimmy laugh. 

The Wolf Man couldn’t have been happier. 

What a way to rebound one’s career. Back in action, at the top. 

But Penny … Penny saw this as just the start of something more big, more beautiful. 

She could build a howling empire. 

And never go back to the crate. 

So, she took her skills to TikTok, and learned to game algorithms. She figured out that 11-second howls performed better than 8-second ones. And A-B testing revealed a preference for deeper tones than harrowing ones. The depth of a howl implied confidence, you see. And the TikTok audience wanted self-esteem. 

The Wolf Man didn’t understand any of this. 

He just did what he did. He brought it up from his gut, through his lungs, and out into the world.

While Penny thought data could guide her self-expression. 

She could point and shoot it exactly to the heights it could go. Content became her king. 

More and more to feed the beast.   

While the Wolf Man took a backseat. Down at the end of the bar, howling on the social circuit, for all the new faces in town. 

Now, I don’t have to tell you how this story ends. 

It’s pretty obvious.

Penny became a billionaire. 

But more than that, she became a celebrity. 

And more than that, she achieved a dream. 

Sounds pretty nice, right?

It is. 

Today, Penny is happy and fulfilled. The world at large is hers to explore.

She never went back to the crate.

But what about the rest of us? 

Howling now saturates the culture. We hear it all the time! 

From a phenomenon to an identifier, to a war cry. 

It’s ours to live with.

Because of Penny. 

Staring at her crush caught on a poster. 

We’re a lot like the Wolf Man.

Howling at everything and nothing, all at once. 

You can listen to this story on the Appalachian Sound and Color podcast. Hosted by Logan Schmitt and Will Wallace, this podcast covers art and artists throughout Appalachia. You can hear the show on Spotify.

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(Why Think About) Comic Books?

They’ve just always been there. Comic books. Ever since I was a kid I’ve found them very interesting. Because of the superheroes their pages showed me. And because they just stuck out. These crazy little drawings inside crazy little boxes — that you read

Nothing else was comic books. 

And in fact, they still get my mind going. 

I can read the worst one and still find something to say about it. Like, about how dumb the plot is. Because of how poorly it was written, and the artist that drew it … they couldn’t save it. Like, that’s a shame. Because it could have been something. And that sticks with you. 

But, you know, comic books are a business. And that’s where it goes wrong. 

But, isn’t that interesting, too? With all its stories about real people who created, wrote, and drew to make a middle-class living, on insane deadlines. Competing with each other. 

Making stuff up!

These creative-types evolved from a point of origin. A guy who did it first — A central, defining artist, who laid the ground rules and instigated copycats. And then they summoned new, working artists. People who grew up reading as fans. And then they took over the business, slowly. But first, they had to learn the ropes via the standards of their time. 

Or steal from the best, their tricks and stylistic flourishes. 

All for a paycheck. 

And to keep the comic book machine printing and the good money coming. 

Because, you know, comic books are a business. 

But it’s run by people, and some of them are great.

Some of them are really bad, too. But that’s not what I want to say right now. 

I want to show you something, instead. An example of what I like: 

Just take 10 seconds and look at that image. Whether you think it’s ugly, or goofy, or not worth your time. Just realize that’s a real drawing in the world, and someone spent a lot of time on it. 

They’ve spent a lot of time throughout their lives trying to draw that image that way

It required their sustained progress, month-to-month, year-to-year. There are people that do this and succeed. There are some people in comic books that want to do something with comic books. And you can see who they are. And I love that.

A man named Bill Sienkiewicz drew the image shown above. Its subject is Moon Knight, a Marvel Comics superhero. A Batman-like character with a religious turn and a thing for brutality. He’s a man with multiple personalities, a disorder, playing a hero. To somehow change his past. 

The image shown above is a two-page spread. 

It’s two separate pages that amount to a whole, grandiose image. A two-page spread is often employed as a storytelling tool to emphasize dramatic moments in the plot. 

This Moon Knight example, shown in Moon Knight #26 from 1982, serves as a final snare drum snap. It concludes the piece of music soundtracking the introduction of this comic book story, where Bill Sienkiewicz is the storyteller. 

I mean, he has help — and a co-author. It’s the writer Doug Moench, who created Moon Knight, thought him up, who actually wrote this specific comic book. And there are the art assistants who helped the main artist, who helped Bill Sienkiewicz, such as the colorist, Christie Scheele. 

Plus, there’s the person who letters the text. Joe Rosen. 

You can see their names in the little box at the bottom right-hand corner of the image shown. All of those people contribute something. 

But it’s Bill Sienkiewicz who ultimately tells the story. 

How? Look at it again:

The text captions, written by Doug Moench, are rhythmic. They connect the character, Moon Knight, to the liveliness of the world around him. “Cats in windows … Money itching to change hands.” The character is a part of this scene. Another element of the city. And Bill Sienkiewicz draws this sweeping, graceful presence connected to a cape, high above a night-time mess. “Always, always blood to be spilled” down below in those streets. And Moon Knight looks light as a feather.  

That visual characterization tells you who this guy is. He’s a lunatic at ease in the debris. Comfortable with extremes. Bill Sienkiewicz presents him with style and composition. From a perspective anchored at a point that extends beyond the character. It encompasses what the image is really about. The image is really about those two buildings set in the background … and their yellow-lit windows. The people inside, having dinner, watching TV, that look out and see what we see. They look at this image, too, of a costumed man gliding through the sky, and recognize something. They see the world is fucking crazy. 

Bill Sienkiewicz decided to act to show this part of the story in this way. This is his brain at work. It’s his conceptualization and guiding hand that portrays it. He is communicating to a reader. And the communication of this idea, visually — that the world is kind of wild, and beautiful, and what the fuck — when that image is complemented by thoughtfully written prose … It is an example of someone saying something through an art form often doubted. In a genre that’s super nerdy and corporate and Disney-fied. But doing it, nonetheless. 

I think about comic books because there is potential in them, and that potential can be realized.

There’s proof. 

Here’s another example (not superheroes): 

This is a complete story. 

It’s called The Lifted Brow, and it’s by Lala Albert. It was self-published online in 2019. 

Notice how it’s designed to be read as you scroll on your phone. 

Then, notice how it’s the only image shown per “page.” There are no panels. There are no small boxes, just like you would see in a classic example of the comic book. But, when you scroll and realize these images are sequenced to show something happening, to show that eyebrow going back, the mechanics behind the story really take over, subconsciously. 

Your brain is taking static images and connecting them in a sequence. It’s a much slower version of what your brain kind of does all the time. Comic books can just show us that process. 

And like Bill Sienkiewicz, Lala Albert made these choices. 

An artist is directing your experience of the story. They are employing storytelling tools to show and communicate the story in a specific way that also contributes to its meaning. 

Why does Lala Albert want to show us this moment this way

I believe the meaning of the story varies between its readers. 

I can see a feminist concept in the story. Someone may connect to that — or understand it better — than someone who connects to or better understands the broader stress the character seems to be experiencing. Or maybe this entire comic is a reference to a similar piece of art, a way of talking on it? Maybe the story isn’t about anything other than showing the mechanisms of a story?

But just like Bill Sienkiewicz, Lala Albert drew this, and we can recognize something in it.

We can recognize that someone is saying something to us, and we can listen.


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All of this has been said before, bro. You know it.
I know you know it. But, 
I want to say it again:

I want to say it again because I’m sick of you, man.

I want my turn. 

But, what is there to really add? 

Except, a lot!

Except, I’m not exactly sure!

So, I still drive drunk, some nights. And that gives me power. 

That little league power.

But, Power! — from a broken law and a useless risk
Just to feel a bit wild and out there and no-turning-back. 

I’m looking out at the power plant smokestacks, tonight, 
while they send their legacy to the moon, 
and you know what, bro, 
it’s real pretty out here.

In this valley between the hills and Ohio, the graveyard to the world, the backbone of money spent and ignorant Jamboree. Down here in this valley of smokestacks. 

And I think about all those so many lips wrapped around me, 
doing favors, 
asking for their own. 

Promising me, it ain’t all bad.

And that’s where I am now

A place that ain’t all bad.

In the debris the moon rejects.

I hardly think about anything anymore except, “what to do.” 

I never know what to do. 

The therapist says, “do something.”

And I don’t! 


I went to Florida. 

I went to Florida and fucked my girlfriend in the swamp, 
and a hidden security camera saw us. It did! 
And the owner of that camera still has the show, and 
I live in a reality, now, where our porn exists, and 
I cannot help but laugh. 
Because that’s my own, special mistake. 
And who puts a camera in a swamp?

But, when I sit here and type, it’s always disappointing.

I feel delusional. 

I read stories by people who really do things. 

Bro, you said my stories could be good
if I didn’t leave Florida.

I mean, Fucking Florida?

And I’m kinda fucked up over that, still. 

I mean, it’s kinda fucked up that you even said that. 

But, honestly, I’m glad you did. 

I’m glad the reality shows. I’m glad I see the holes. I’m glad I recognize the pain. 

So, I can now write good stories. And get old.  

I’ve listened to a lot of bands like Creed, or A Perfect Circle, or Puddle of Mudd because they remind me of who I am. Guns N’ Roses, too. 

Back then, I would walk to high school just to listen to music. 

Just to excuse myself away from all things. Then, focus on nothing but walking to school and losing it. 

I’d see what I’d want to see: I’d see these giant guitar riffs soundtracking fight scenes or battle sequences, with a Tsunami tracking overhead, and all those great achievements I could collect, one day, held high at a banquet in my honor. Haha. 

And it was exciting! This was my music. 

This was not my dad’s music — This was mine to explore and pirate and appreciate until the time came to grow into someone else. When I realized this music is adolescent. 

It is written to recognize certain emotions felt at a specific time in your life. At least, if you are of a particular demeanor: An angry young man, maybe a little ticked off with your dad. 

And that’s fine!

That happens to more than would care to admit it. 

But, how many can admit it and get past it? 

Not enough, man. I’m trying!  

My way of trying is by appreciating a band like Slipknot or System of a Down for what they are, and maybe a little of what they aren’t. It’s commercial art dressed as something more.

And, you know what, when you’re 15, 16 years old in a small, limited place, 
back in time, Rust Belt stranded, 
it is something more.  

Bands like that did show me a thing or two. 

And I think it’s OK to take what you can, or need to, from that. 

And if you do it right, if you follow then break the rules, 
that someone-else you can become …
They’ll hold onto bits and pieces of the past. For good luck. 

And I wish that was OK with people. 

I wish it was OK with people for there to be people in West Virginia. 

West Fucking Virginia. 

Loyal, actually kind, actually curious,
talents found in and out of streams, and 
dollar stores, and Mountain Dew Monster cans, and Dolly Sods, 
covered in all those bent pine trees. 

But, it ain’t seen as too good. It ain’t given much of a chance. 

They look at us like we’re the blight of this land. 

And that hurts. 

It hurts to know that in some ways, we deserve it. 

And we don’t. 

And yet. 

On the drive home from Florida, crossing this state line, I cried and cried. 

I really did! I missed it here! 

I knew I was home 
the moment my car’s frontend climbed into a tilt, to the curve of that big hill, 
and I ascended into heaven.

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Eyes Shining Back

Sometimes, I don’t know if I want to be a writer. Writing isn’t really fun. 

I mean, think about book reports. 

Did you like those? Did you like making them?       I mean, maybe you did.

Or, maybe you just say you did. 

Or, maybe I’m too cynical. 

But, think about book reports.


Except it is kinda fun. 

Because you can write down anything you want to 

At any time of day or night. 

How is that not of value?

To you or me?

You can write whatever your mind gives you. Write it down as you think it! That’s — all your truths. That’s — all your fictions.           Two infinite landscapes, if you let them be. 

Now, I’m starting to understand confidence. I’m not afraid to say that. 

I can say that my mind isn’t small. 

It isn’t the best … But it’s better. 

Except sometimes it’s plagued by fucked fucked fucked anxiety and worry and spirals and spirals of possible bad outcomes for everything from what I’m eating, to what I’m doing at work, to what so-and-so might think of me holy shit — no. 

(For real. I am not chill inside.)

(Never have been.)

Having that kind of mind gets in the way of a lot of things. That’s what sucks about anxiety. 

It gets in the way. 

It holds you dangling outside the present.   

Now, I can’t pretend to know anything about Buddhism. 

But I think it’s important to be present as much as possible. 

My experience: Hanging on and looking forward are fantasies based on pictures in your head. 

They are stories you are telling. To keep hope alive. 

Or, throw you down a flight of stairs of pity.

And that’s fine. 

That’s being human. 

And in there, somewhere, are lessons to learn and goals to want. 

Pay attention to them. 

But, my mind isn’t too bad. It’s actually pretty good. I can feel that now. 

Because I feel confident. 

About writing, at least. 

I feel confident that I am a good writer. 

I have never felt this way. 


I have always just assumed that I am less or wrong or a burden. 

And in this frame of mind it’s hard to really do anything. 

Writing well takes concentration. It also takes belief. 

The writer must believe in what they say. 

And, I don’t know that I ever did. 

I guess, there was always a whisper of doubt

Wondering why bother. Why should you?

But like I said, my mind is good. More than that, I like using it. 

It’s my most entertaining hobby. 

Whatever the fuck I can create is in there. Whatever the fuck I can see. 

Or hear. 

Or smell. 

Or touch. 

I can be curious. I can look at what’s around me and just think about it.

From a small detail to a continent. Pick a topic and I can think about it. 

Study it. 

Understand it beyond facts. 

Intuit something from this —

Or, what’s something I’m not facing? That thing of mine I haven’t dealt with. 

Think about it. 

Maybe I can think through it. 

To study it 

Beyond facts and 

Intuit something from this.

But that takes confidence, too. 

More than that, I should want to. 

I should want to think. I should want to concentrate on the ideas that appeal to me. 

There is no other reason. It is not to inflate who I am. 

It is to focus on exactly what is. 

And I do my best to do this. 

I like what I have to offer. 

I like how granular I can get. 

I like my willingness to be myself. 

For me, writing makes it all real. It makes my mind real, and you can then read my mind. And we can form something.

This is our shared power. 

But, you know when writing sucks. 

It’s when the words don’t hold your attention. 

When it feels like reading a book. 

And we don’t like book reports, remember? 

I never did. 

I don’t know what holds someone’s attention. 

I don’t know you well enough to know.

But, I do know when my writing is at its best, 

When I’m just writing the way I talk to myself, embracing theatrics, actually sharing my thoughts and feelings directly but with care and commitment.

That is when I am at my best. 

In those small moments of realization. 

Looking in the mirror. 

Trusting those eyes shining back. 

And, for that, I do want to be a writer. 

To keep that picture there

And let it last. 

— If only in my eyes. 

That’s all I really want.

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How are you? I’m doing OK. Just felt like writing and posting something. 

I’ve (mostly) stayed away from social media in the last 5 or 6 months. I’ve realized that my sense of self-worth isn’t entirely healthy, and it hasn’t ever really been. 

Social media (namely Twitter) has only nurtured and exploited this insecurity. 

Sometimes to a point of real self-hatred. Driven by self-comparisons to all those who are so good at holding our attention on that platform, as well as the nobodies who put on a good show.

There are reasons for this. 

Reasons I’m working to identify and do something about. They’re behaviors long ago learned and programmed.

It’s frustrating, but I know it’ll be worth it down the road. It’s my way out.  

But in the meantime, I’ve concentrated on building for myself a smaller world or universe. Something filled with tangible people and hobbies that are grounded and in debt to routines. 

I want a life that is my own to experience and not to broadcast. 

Even if it’s forgettable to most everyone else. So long as it’s real, in a space where I can exist. 

That alone can be unique. 

Because you’ll never know life as I know it. Even if it’s the same as yours, it’s still not mine.

Just as mine is not yours. Even if yours is fairly textbook.

See, I joined Twitter in 2009 when I was 17 years old. 

I used it to promote a podcast I had then recently started. 

This show (for a 17-year-old) possessed a noteworthy, engaged audience, and I felt like I had potential.

From 2009 until about April 2021, I looked at Twitter every single day of my life. That’s 12 years.

Most days, I’d sign on many times at all hours. Waiting for someone to notice me. 

Using it as an extension of myself. 

To somehow make notable my personal, intimate interest in writing or being creative. A specific way that I am in touch with who I am, or how I explore who I am and the world around me. 

I wanted that thing to be important to other people, too. 

Internet people. Avatars and fictions that I’ve never met and will never meet. The Cool Ones hyping other Cool Ones in a feedback loop, anticipating an invitation to play in it, too. 

I hoped Twitter and those that I convinced to follow me would validate my efforts. They could bring me something seeming to be purpose and justify me. 

And that never happened. They never did.

And as the years went by, and life happened — good things in life, even  — I grew more bitter. 

I wondered what was wrong with me, and what was wrong with everyone else.

I blamed the world for my insignificance. And I blamed myself. And I blamed those around me.

I figured I must not have potential. And, honestly, I’m still wondering. Why am I alive? 

Now, all this goes back to something deeper. 

I can’t blame the Internet for irritating something that was already exposed. 

But there is poison in what we live with.

And while I know there’s value in contemplating your own smallness in the face of it all, I do not know that it is healthy to confront this daily through a cellphone, with advertisements flashing. 

It can be habitual. What, then, is the influence?

How do you begin to see the world, or your community, or other human beings? 

Do you hate them? Do you fear them? Do you believe yourself better, yet unrecognized? 

For myself, I can resonate with those questions and apply them to my perspective. Can you?

It’s OK if you can. I get it. I think there are many more of us than just you and me. 

The fact is, until social media, human beings lived in their small universes mostly unaware of all those other realities out there speeding by. 

We were more concerned with our immediate surroundings and real experience.

We knew of and interacted with other people and their wants and opinions and promotions, but we did not ingest this stimulus constantly, and the sample size was much smaller in comparison.

Social media is our collective nervous system. Our anxieties, neediness, and hucksterism are bottomless. And you are but a copy of a copy in it, seeking all the same shit.

Social media has the ability to affect two things incredibly important to human beings. 

Money and ego. 

Twitter can make or break them. 

It’ll push your confidence up-up-up in line with dopamine, convincing you of all of your myopic fantasies. It’ll fire you and estrange your relationships while inspiring mobs in your honor.

The President pays attention to it. All the other world leaders. Of course, we do, too. 

It’s a website made by a few business-minded individuals, who keep it going. 

It represents the worst of what we already cared about, hyper-ized. 

It makes us care even more.

But I can’t blame the Internet for my issues. 

That’s not how I’ll make any progress. 

But like writing, sometimes making a point from personal experience feels right. It’s satisfying. 

And while there’s that part of me still hoping for the approval of Cool Ones found in tweets about my excellence, welcoming me to their club, it’s nice to remember how small a blog post is. 

And that they didn’t write it. 

And that a blog post, or a story, or a podcast, or whatever it is I make owes them nothing. 

My life and how it happens or how it sounds has not a thing to do with theirs.

I wonder how they see it? Do they have the same awareness or humility? 

Do they feel insecure, too? Is that why they tweet like so and rely on others and their tweets?

Is that why they write books? Or edit websites? Or offer opinions? 

Are they just as fearful of insignificance as I am? 

I care to know, but honestly, why?  

I don’t know them. Let alone have shaken their hand. And I have my own things to do.

But I’ll answer that question someday because I need to know why I’m even asking it.

Which is maybe only human.

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You should drink water

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