Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Gold, Holo-Foil Heart – McFarlane’s Spider-man #1

1st all-new collector’s item issue! The legend of the arachknight! Arachknight? Yes, I am looking back to the year 1990 because before Spawn and the boom of Image Comics Todd McFarlane debuted his  chops as a comic book writer on a certain Marvel Comics character.

The book infamously known as Spider-man #1 holds a certain place in American comic book lore. Some remember it for its ridiculous amount of collector bribing, variant editions while others recognize it simply as a poor, confused example of the medium. All of that aside though, Spider-man #1 channeled a zeitgeist excitement felt by the industry at that period. The book fell right in line with Liefeld’s New Mutant’s and Lee’s X-Men. It was a comic book on the edge, presenting unorthodox artwork and design. Spider-man looked new and different, panels knew no bounds, and the impossible seemed possible once again in a super-hero comic. Nearly everyone had to own a copy and every company needed a copycat, McFarlane-esque artist.

Deep down, though, past the 2.5 million copies sold, the holo-foil, scratch-and-sniff covers, and the rock star attitude lay an artist looking for a break. McFarlane at this time was still relatively new to the comics industry. He was coming off his two year run on The Amazing Spider-man with writer David Michelinie and nothing else really to his name. Granted, it was an impactful run from both a plot standpoint as well as an aesthetic mark, but still, a two year run is nothing in an industry where Jack Kirby penciled numerous titles per month. There was much to prove for this young artist. Thus, after a few short talks with editor Jim Salicrup, McFarlane’s own title appeared in the web-slinger’s line of funny books. A twenty-some page pamphlet where he could stretch his legs and push his ability.


Now, let me just say, Spider-man #1 does, in some regards, deserve the criticism it receives. It’s a comic book so short of plot it’s laughable. The story, if one could call it that, depicts Spider-man web-slinging through the streets of New York along with a scene of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson flirting in cute couple fashion. At some point, the villain The Lizard is brought in to rough up random street thugs.These events, under the hands of craftsman, could work as a fine first issue, but the problem is the drive and tie of these events. There really isn’t any. These events feel like randomly disbursed thoughts throughout a comic book, and they’re overwritten with corny caption boxes of narration – a technique that only results in great or terrible quality with no inbetween. No theme is present, no greater purpose exists, and the dialogue would make a twelve year-old version of yourself laugh.

It’s a pretty awful script, but McFarlane manages to take away some of the bad.

“I don’t profess to be a writer, but I do think I can tell a story. What this means is that most of the issues will rely heavily on the artistic side. It will also allow me to draw who I want when I want, so I can get wound up artistically and be even more enthusiastic while I am doing the work.”

Continue on.

“My writing will expand and get better as the months go by, but I will strive to present Spider-man in a fashion not seen before, and thus be able to justify the question of why a fifth Spider-man book.”

–          Todd McFarlane, Text page in Spider-man #1

Could he be anymore clear? If I had just read Spider-man #1, the comic, by itself, I would have put it down with very little to say, but after reading the afterward text page, I suddenly found a lot in this comic. This is a book that doesn’t pretend to be anything bigger than it is. It’s not Dark Knight Returns, and McFarlane knows and admits this! Instead, it’s Spider-man #1, and McFarlane clearly states his intention is to make Spider-man look cool and basically nothing else.

I’m pretty sure he accomplishes this.

The contents of the issue, even now, are visually striking. McFarlane’s vision of Spider-man, even to this day, stands unique with edge. His powerful splash pages send elbows to your face and panel layouts never slow down to anything resembling a nine-panel grid.  It is a cool looking comic book, and at the time the artwork was a game changer in the market of hero books.

Not that it stops there, though. If anything, that praise is the usual praise for an artist like McFarlane or really any of the Image guys. No, McFarlane accomplishes something else with his artwork. Rather than characterizing his cast by usual means of situational development or dialogue, McFarlane takes the John Woo approach and depicts his characters through their body language and physical action. Take a look at any Todd McFarlane Spider-man drawing and admire the way he positions the character in a very acrobatic, gawky way. Without a beat of speech, you should understand who McFarlane’s Spider-man is; a masked hero who swings through the New York concrete jungle, hangs upside down, and performs daring flips and acrobatic feats to catch criminals.

The awkward twists in the body posture even depict Peter Parker’s wise guy persona. The liberal crouching and skin tight costume provide a sense that Spider-man is unlike the usual super-hero. That instead, he is some sort of punk rock warrior. A man not following the traditional super-hero protocol, but rather cracking jokes on the crime scene, running from the law, and receiving the hate of New York City.

The weird, almost disturbing poses even speak to a primitiveness of the character. Traditionally, comic artists focus on the human aspect when they draw Spider-man; a young guy in tights trying to make a difference.  When Spider-man clings to a wall in a McFarlane comic, something animalistic seeps from the hero. The spider element becomes a bit more vital. The character becomes inherently a little darker. The popping veins and big, bug eyes communicate an idea of torture. A reader understands Spider-man’s guilt, determination, and origin point.

The artwork says a lot, surprisingly, and when it’s combined with the comic’s own idea of self-awareness, I think it actually makes Spider-man a rather interesting comic instead of a bad one. If anything, this book is much more personal than the gimmick it’s made out to be. McFarlane did as he pleased with this comic, and the book provided the young artist an opportunity to express his creative needs. It’s the comic McFarlane always wanted to do. An a-list character at an a-game publisher and he was the sole creative force behind it. McFarlane’s Spider-man really is McFarlane’s Spider-man. In some ways, I find it possible to believe that this comic may have started the creator-owned conversation for Todd. McFarlane experienced a taste of control by doing this book, and I believe that as the years past that sense of control only grew harder and harder to give up. The man yearned to own what he drew and draw what he owned, but Marvel Comics could not harbor such desires as they had, and still do, a business run. Still,  I now like to think that Spider-man, in some way, was owned by McFarlane. His artwork defined the character for a period of time, and for a period a time the character was all his in a title he wrote and drew.

In some form, Spider-man #1 was the first Image Comic: bold, unorthodox, creator-controlled.

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the chemical box – episode 008 – death via committee

A new Chemical Box Podcast, hosted by Joey Aulisio and myself, is available. Here are the details…

in this week’s episode joey and alec discuss the current state and uncertain future of vertigo comics, our anticipation and concerns about grant morrison and rags morales’ upcoming run on action comics, episode 48.1 of the excellent wait what? podcast, the death of spider-man storyline (ultimate spider-man #155-160) by brian michael bendis and mark bagley, the amazing spider-man teaser trailer, new avengers #9-13 by brian michael bendis with howard chaykin and mike deodato, avengers #13-14 by brian michael bendis with chris bachalo and john romita jr., our love is real by sam humphries and steven sanders, and supergirl #65 by kelly sue deconnick and chriscross.

music by animals as leaders

You can listen by clicking here, or you can download the show, in iTunes, here.

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MellowHype – Brain/Loaded – BlackenedWhite

Odd Future, the LA based rap group, have been that “thing” this summer. That point of discussion we all seem somehow involved with. That pop culture blip defining our memories of this time period. That event we all have an opinion of. Odd Future is everywhere right now. They’ve hit that must talk, controversial, internet fueled, talent-obsessed fame that any up and coming artist dreams about. The popularity of the group is alive and well, and their words matter like no one else. Summer 2011 is their time.

I’m of the mindset though that this attention and favor for Odd Future will exceed the Summer of 2011, but I’m not sure it’s a common thought amidst the populace.  With the debut of Tyler, the Creator’s Yonkers, I perceived the common reception of it to be something of a new musical fad. I sat within a college radio station as indie rock kids turned up their computer speakers, and right there – right fucking there –  I got the feeling that people were seeing this as the new “thing.” But not a new thing in terms of longevity. Just a new thing for the month. Just another exploitation show with a nifty beat. You know, it would just be this violent splash of weird to wake people up, but within months the weird surface would grow old and then fade away like any superficial, catchy sound we hear in music.

I felt people would just overlook this music.

And that has been the case. While Tyler, the Creator has been a massive success, and the other members of Odd Future prep their own project debuts, I feel most people may view OF as some sort of freak show or lucky break that will die away. Most seem to simply view their music as loud and vulgar as they miss the point and doubt there’s room to dig deeper.  Tyler’s proven you can dig deeper, though. Goblin, his second album, dropped months ago , and I still find myself sucked into his lyrics. The weird and outrageous are still a part of the aesthetic, but unlike most popular music there’s more below the surface of triceratops threesomes and rape jokes.  The man’s going after the big, personal issues under a partially transgressive aesthetic. Even then, I don’t think that one sentence really covers it.

I’ve also enjoyed the guest appearances of other OF members on Tyler’s albums, but the physics and situation of Odd Future and Tyler seem similar to those of any other music group who tries to section itself into solo acts. One guy usually takes the whole cake. You can blame the usual group failing; that a band is defined by the lead singer with the goofy haircut or the guitarist with the alcohol problem. He with the image holds the band’s image; therefore, he holds the band’s potential and “talent.” It’s like that scene in Sid and Nancy as Gary Oldman’s Sid Vicious barters his role in the band because Nancy isn’t allowed on tour. Nancy says, “The Sex Pistols aren’t shit without Sid,” and she is partially correct. Vicious held tight the band’s identity.

For Odd Future, Tyler seems to be standing in that oh so infamous position. The dude is the breakout star and carries all of the attention as well as defines the idea of Odd Future by way of his language, style, and approach. I feel the chance of people accepting and expressing excitement for other non-Tyler, OF projects slim, and I even doubted myself  to dig into other Odd Future projects. Why? Tyler’s work is just too cool and engrossing; I doubt anyone follows that up so soon.

they said a piece of my ambition’s ambitious

Last Tuesday, MellowHype dropped their album BlackenedWhite, and I found myself with a new anthem to blare. MellowHype is a duo group consisting of Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats and Left Brain; BlackenedWhite was previously available via the OF website, but this new release presents a remastered version while also shining some new attention on MellowHype in the post time of Tyler’s massive success.

Yeah, you better believe Odd Future’s here for the long haul.

This album sounds like a true anthem, to me. While Tyler’s music grabbed everyone by the throat, Bastard and Goblin were more about a young man exorcising demons through rhythm and rhyme. Both albums have pieces that inspire thoughts of, “Odd Future’s coming for you,” but I have to say that BlackenedWhite hits upon this idea in clearer, more determined fashion. I’d say most of this album is very, very good. Every song sports a combination of beats that alone are worth praising, and Hodgy, in the company of his companion Left Brain, brings the music to another sphere through his lyrics. I really like Tyler, but after listening to BlackenedWhite I honestly feel Hodgy may be OF’s secret weapon. The dude’s poetic and takes the transgressive element Tyler inspired to the next level. He mixes the weird and absurd into metaphors complicated enough to keep you busy for the day, and his flow holds such distinction.

The best of BlackenedWhite are the tracks Brain and Loaded, though. Over top sick Daft Punk/Tron inspired sound, Hodgy along with guests Domo Genesis and Mike G lay it down that Odd Future is here and the best.

You can quote me on my sentence nigga, catalog this
Odd Future wolves, ain’t some acid artists
A bunch of massive artists, hang up, I had to call this
We mosh through streets like a pack of walrus
So when we come around them niggas had to ball fists

In the middle of Brain‘s opening verse, Hodgy addresses the more than common doubt set upon Odd Future. He clears the mindset that OF is just some lucky success. They’re not “acid artists,” which I take to be musicians who poison or eat away at pop culture, but rather “massive artists” with big plans. They’re also loud and not ashamed to be so, and they’re not afraid to fight to do as they please.

Then Brain spills into its hook:

Man, when it came to school, I got bad grades
Now, when it came to the law, I didn’t know how to behave
My nigga, my, my nigga but with music, music, music
I’m on the honor roll, honor roll, honor roll
With music, music, music
I’m on the honor roll, honor roll, we on a roll

Hodgy may suck at school and have trouble finding place in society, but the dude knows music. He has the brain for it, and his brain is set on music.

Phone book flow, this some shit you’ll never rip off
Shitting on you niggas, I’m a level past piss off
Risk all to get all, I’m all in

Aiming for success and won’t fall for nothing less than that
Wolf Gang shit, got all my niggas repping that
If we ain’t it yet, somebody show me where the best is at

Domo Genesis provides these lyrics to continue the thought flow Hodgy has established. What Odd Future does is on another level. He dares you to try and rip it off, and encourages someone to find something better than them. I also dig the line “risk all to get all, I’m all in.” The guys of Odd Future dropped out of school to pursue music, and this line echoes that and the point that Odd Future, as a group, isn’t clowning around. They want this big time.

Loaded deals heavily in drug references to create the image of MellowHype selling “drugs” or more literally selling awesome shit a.k.a. their music. It’s a song that falls under the usual hip-hop portrayal of confidence, but the song works well in the context of the Odd Future story. MellowHype, or more general Odd Future, are the dudes to go to when you want the good stuff.

Mike G, in the song’s final verse, lays out these lines:

They ain’t learn? Hatin’ niggas won’t make your chain bigger
You’re comedy to me and crowds flee when your shit’s on
You get fake applause like a TV sitcom 

Hate all you want, but in the end it will do nothing for you except make you look stupid.  These lyrics work on two levels. While they speak for Mike G himself, these lines work well for Odd Future in general. The group has had much hate thrown at them.  The vulgar content has attracted the attention of concerned critics as well as the everyday hater for just being so big. It’s just a nice, final say. Shut up. You look stupid. We’re doing our thing.

man it’s Golden

So how do I wrap this? I’ll just basically say that to anyone who considered Odd Future a one trick pony, that Tyler, the Creator was the only bit worth paying attention to, you’re wrong. I’m wrong. BlackenedWhite proves there’s more variety and thought in the Odd Future catalog than one would initially believe. It’s an album that speaks for the group’s musical talents by way of its sound and sub textual content. It’s simply another good, solid album from the Odd Future line, and that simple fact – that OF can produce a follow up worthy of Tyler’s quality – sells the point that Odd Future has it in them.

I’m thinking it’s time we become used to Odd Future. I think they’ll be here for awhile.

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king of the comeback pt. 2

So, yeah. My blog presence has lacked over the past few months, but I’m here to tell you that that is all going to change.

To begin, I found myself frustrated with writing. Things I desired to complete weren’t being completed, and the articles being completed were just poor. I felt the frustration you usually feel when you know a specific word in your mind but cannot, for some mysterious reason, speak it. Writing was becoming torturous to a degree. That may sound harsh or over dramatic, but honestly, I think I was being driven crazy by it.

So, I walked away to take an extended break. I figured I should enjoy my break from school rather than force myself in front of a keyboard. This would explain my initial absence.

Time passed, and I suddenly felt the urge to find a writing project. But not this blog. I don’t know, it just didn’t come off as what I wanted to do. Not at the time. So I jumped into newspaper writing with West Virginia University’s student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum. With an Arts and Entertainment section, I assumed I could still write about comics or, to a larger degree, pop culture.  Stupid me didn’t comprehend the local aspect of the newspaper, and the comics writing I wanted to do, or the comics culture news stories I wanted to tell, would not work.

So, I went looking again. I needed to find an outlet with readers, and I needed to write about comics for that outlet. I knew!

Popmatters is a packed pop culture site containing the types of critical pieces I desire to read, and they have a comics section I knew I could write for. I originally applied for the website last summer, but, understandably, I was rejected. A year later, I found myself with a writer’s position for PM’s comics blog. I. Was. Thrilled. Finally, I could write about comics, the way I wanted, on a playing field with an extended audience.

The excitement for writing began to boil and ideas came to. I felt this was it.

Now this no longer seems to be the case. I could spill the beans on the situation and be all post-empire, as it seems to be the “it” behavior these days, but I’m not sure I should. Part of me says, “go for it,” but the other half says, “just be polite and professional.” Honestly, if you want the idea, just skim back to a previous post on this very blog. You’ll get (part of) the point.

Popmatters provided me with one thing, though. The energy and ideas. The thrill of an actual writing gig kicked my head into gear, and I still need a way to utilize this new found energy. So, I’m revamping this blog to “publish” and to continue my writing development.

For those whom don’t remember, I once hosted a solo podcast. Teenage Wasteland. The show existed for two solid years, and it’s presence was very consistent with it’s weekly schedule. For two years I had a solid creative outlet. Granted, a podcast does not top the chart of creativity, but still, the show made me create in some way, and the weekly goal forced my mind into a constant idea mode. I felt good for those two years. A creative release was being met.

Then the show went to shit as the weekly schedule fell apart, and my creative release met a certain frustration. Teenage Wasteland ended. Since then, I’ve been struggling to find my new consistent creative outlet/project. For the first month or so of its existence, this blog was kind of it, but then again, I met frustration, and yeah, the story I told above happened. More time spent not creating or releasing anything.

That needs to end. I’m the creative type; I feel the constant need to produce. I’m getting back on the horse. Expect more Alec Berry on the web. For now, I will not search for the big audience. I’m better off here where I can control things.  I’m better off right here where I can train in secret for the eventual “attack.” This blog, for the foreseeable future, will update every Wednesday. That’s one of my new goals. Another is the comeback of The Chemical Box podcast I do with Joey Aulisio.

A podcast and a blog. Two things I’ve spent the past 2 and a half years focused on, coming out at once, consistently.  I feel creative once again. No one can hold me back.

So, to kick of this comeback tour, Joey and I give you episode 007 of the Chemical Box. We discuss Joe Casey’s Butcher Baker, Bendis’ Powers, and Flashpoint. Listen here. Or iTunes.

Stop back here on Wednesday as well for a new blog post will debut. MellowHype – Brain/Loaded – BlackenedWhite

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