Death’s Perspective – Lessons Born From Tragedy

I’ve been thinking about how we, as humans, respond to negative points in our lives.  Beyond my own sufferings, I’ve had several people in my life who have recently had to deal with the death of loved ones, loss of jobs, and other terrible detours in their travels through life and it has given me cause to wonder how they deal with it.

One of my solutions has been, since the tortures of middle school peers, finding a quiet, comfortable spot to read.  Sometimes I would put on music, other times I would revel in the sweet silence and the quiet rustle of flipping pages.

Regardless of the exact situation, my first instinct has always been to retreat.  My Fight or Flight-o-meter has always had its needle pointed directly at Flight.  In most situations of serious confrontation, I will (metaphorically and\or literally) curl up into a ball and hope it goes away.

This is a character flaw that I am entirely aware of.  And now I’m fairly certain I’ll be more critical about it in the future.

My other solution, for many years, was to write.  I’ve never had the talent to draw, nor the patience to learn how to play an instrument.  But I found in high school that I enjoyed putting pencil to paper and drawing out ideas and coming face-to-face with feelings I wasn’t aware of.

Eventually the stresses of college life blocked me up so bad that I still struggle to write to this day (as evidenced by my several near-abandonments of this blog in the last year), but I’ve still used books of all kinds as a way to work through my shit until I’m able to function like a normal human being again.

I’ve already posted previously about how I believe Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series helped get me my life back.  I still believe it.  Of course, I’m still not completely over what happened in December.  Coming that close one’s mortality is bound to give even the most mentally fit person an ongoing set of issues.  And I’ve never been one hundred percent mentally fit… But I have more closure than I had before and I once again have Neil Gaiman to thank.

I was given the chance to meet Neil Gaiman again here in Portland and I made it a primary goal to tell him how his comics rebooted my brain and allowed me to once again rejoin the throngs of people who hadn’t spent two hours huddled in terror in a tiny room with forty other people, wondering how long it would be before a crazed gunman figured out where we were and blasted his way in.

I believe I said something slightly more eloquent than that.  But maybe not.  It was close to 95 degrees outside that day and more likely closer to 100 inside the venue…  I think I spoke in full sentences.  I may even have had the presence of mind to talk about how Sandman was pretty much my Kübler-Ross model to make my way through the issues I was dealing with following the shooting.

Either way, Neil was incredibly gracious and kind in the brief interaction and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to explain what happened and to thank him for his part in my recovery.

It was later that day, when I was walking back to the train stop that I suddenly remembered another Gaiman tale that I hadn’t re-read in December when I was attempting to reorient my brain and thought processes beyond eating and sleeping to keep my body moving.  Some days I felt like a great white: keep swimming, or die.

After getting home, I asked myself many things.  The biggest question I had for myself was, “Why wasn’t this story the very first one you went to?” And I… don’t really know.

Death © Chris Bachalo Source: http://www.chrisbachalo.net/gallery-miscellaneous.html

Death © Chris Bachalo

“The Wheel” (illustrated by the wonderfully underrated Chris Bachalo) is a simple story, not epic in scope like Sandman.  It doesn’t follow the story of a tragic and tortured personification of Dreams.  In fact, the story, contained in five short pages and stars a young boy named Matt who climbs to the top of a ferris wheel because he plans to throw himself from it.  Why?  Well, Matt’s mother was killed in the 9/11 attacks and he wants answers.

And, because this is a Neil Gaiman story, the completely normal kid then meets some completely abnormal new friends. In this particular story, his two new friends are Death and Destruction, two of the Endless from Gaiman’s Sandman comics.

The story, being five pages long, appropriately hits on the five stages of grief.  The first two pages, denial.  The story isn’t true, but he’s going to tell it anyway.  He starts crying but insists that he’s fine.

Third page? Anger, of course.  Anger at God, which Destruction wisely attempts to have the boy realize that God, or gods, don’t make people do evil things… People do evil things. People choose to do evil things.

In a hold-over lesson from Sandman, The Endless (and also gods and their ilk) are simply reflections of humanity’s own psyche.  They were created by man to be the personification of our inner selves, but neither humanity, nor the world requires them to take action.  We all have choices to make and no one can make them but ourselves.

Then… bargaining.  This is more subtle (and I may be reading too much into it here, but… too late to stop now!), but Matt wants answers… and he’s willing to pay any price to get them… even if it means his death.

Then Death herself arrives and we start into the depression stage.  Destruction tells Matt, “Everybody dies.  Just as everything created is eventually destroyed” which naturally leads the kid to ask, “Then what’s the point of anything?”

Death, ever the sage tells him, “The point? Walk the world.  Help to feed the hungry, help comfort those in pain.  Do what you can to leave the world a better place.” And as soon as Matt begins his argument against her words…

The wheel lights up and starts moving.  Matt rides the wheel with the lights and sounds going, finds a happy memory of his mother and the ride has completely changed his perspective.  He’s decided to heed Death’s advice to ride the wheel.  Ah, sweet acceptance.

And it works!

It works really well… Mainly because the main character is a reader analogue.  Oh and a writer analogue.  Why do bad things happen? What is our appropriate reaction? Is there an appropriate reaction?  In the writing, Gaiman gets to work his way through the pain and confusion to get the answer.  And as a reader, so do we.

Well, maybe not The Answer.

There aren’t any answers to the Big Questions.  If there were, what would I have to keep me awake at night?

But “The Wheel” helped move me forward a few more steps toward some sort of final reconciliation of what happened.  Some days, that’s all you can do… Just keep moving forward.

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Artifacts From A Bygone Era – The Lost Beauty Of Video Game Instructional Manuals

This year, I turned thirty years old.  When I was a little over two years old, Nintendo introduced the Nintendo Entertainment System to America.  This meant little to me then… but when I was five, I played Super Mario Bros at a friend’s house and I was hooked.

I don’t recall exactly what year it was that I received my NES.  Based on the games I received as gifts over the years, I’d place it probably around 1990.  Games like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros 3, and Shadowgate were the cornerstones to my young life.

I spent more than a year going through The Legend of Zelda, finding secret caverns, and exploring the huge 16×8 screen overworld.  And that didn’t even include the labyrinthine underworld, filled with deadly enemies and perilous traps! That game was as good as it got for me at seven years old.

Christmas morning was always exciting.  But by nine, I had learned to be cautious of the NES game-shaped present under the tree. I would be playing a new game after we went to my grandmother’s for dinner, sure.  But what would it be?  Chances were decent that it would end up being Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out or RBI Baseball.  But chances were, unfortunately, better that it would be Dick Tracy, or Top Gun 2: The Second Mission (I owned both games as a child… pity me, pity me).

But this was pre-Internet.  The only resource I had for video game reviews was Nintendo Power… and even that couldn’t be trusted.  Hell, they gave the soul-sucking horror that was Dick Tracy an average 3.0 rating and anyone who has played the game will tell you that a giving Dick Tracy a 3.0 is tantamount to giving a trash can full of turds a 30-point Zagat rating.  Sure, you can eat.  But it may kill you.

Another option would be to ask one of my friends, but most of them actually engaged in activities that didn’t include video games.  Some of them even played sports! How was I to trust their judgement of what made for a good video game?  Hell, one of my friends even claimed to have enjoyed Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure. Oh wait… that was me.

So no Internet… no trust-worthy friends…  What was a young boy to do, stranded at Grandma’s house for hours on end… no video games… No Game Boy… Nothing but football on the television…  Why, a boy would turn to the video game’s manual of course.

Ah yes, the manual.  In the NES days of video games, the manual was nearly an art form.  Not only did it give you the story of a game (in fact, it was often the only story for a lot of games), a manual would often give you data on the controls for the game, the baddies you’d be fighting, and it would often be filled with all kinds of helpful tips and tricks… mainly because NES games weren’t always the most intuitive or the easiest to conquer.

That leaves me with just one question: What the fuck happened to video game manuals?  In the halcyon days of yore, manuals were robust.  They were beautiful pocket-sized guides that helped a young adventurer save the world in Crystalis and The Legend of Zelda.  The manual for Maniac Mansion let me believe I would eventually conquer that crazy place (I didn’t).  Hell, the manuals for Friday the 13th and Home Alone 2 made the games seem like they were going to be great (they weren’t).

But manuals now-a-days?  Complete crap!  You get a page of controls, maybe a tiny bit of text explaining the story, and about six pages of credits and anti-piracy notices.  Some games even come with a booklet that shows the title on the front and instructs the gamer to visit a web-site to read the full manual.  Bullshit, I say!

To prove my point, check out these manuals from the NES days over at Digital Press! Specifically, check out the first-part Nintendo titles.  The Legend of Zelda, the Super Mario games… Full-color, lots of information regarding the enemies (plus, the SMB2 manual taught us that Birdo was male, but wanted to be female… so…), the worlds, and extensive descriptions of the controls… Just wonderful!

Nothing can really compare to the manuals of the era for me.  Bethesda does a really good job, as has From.Software with the Souls series… but these examples are few and far between in modern gaming.  The last time I remember being really impressed with a video game manual was Acclaim’s N64\PC game Shadowman, which even included a map! Crazy thought…

Anyone out there have favorite manuals from back in the day?

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The Age Old Battle: Plot V.S. Writing

Maybe it isn’t that old.  I don’t really know.  All I know is that I constantly find myself attracted more to a writer’s ability to craft a sentence rather than their ability to create a complex, engaging plot.

Of course, the best is an author who is adept at both a beautiful story and great prose.  Some of my favorite authors like John Fante, David Foster Wallace, and Neil Gaiman are able to craft a story and blow me away with their penchant for a perfect line, paragraph, or chapter.  In fact, I still get chills when I read the first chapters in Ask the Dust.

Then there’s authors who are terrible writers, but have spectacularly complex plotting… The finest example is Harry Stephen Keeler.  I can’t describe the madness with which he writes other than to give you a few titles: The Skull of the Waltzing Clown, The Man With Magic Eardrums, I Killed Lincoln At 10:13.  Yeah.  I’ve only read a couple, but they’re a lot of fun.  But they’re also pretty terrible.

On the flipside of that, there’s authors who are consistently great plotters, but average (or below-average) writers.  Oftentimes, these types of authors seem to crop up in fantasy.  Some of my favorite examples are J.K. Rowling (check this outline!), George R.R. Martin, and Raymond Feist.  Martin, for example, has an over-reliance on italics and clumsy internal monologues, but… he plots wonderfully.  I only hope it all comes together in the end…

Then, of course, there’s the authors who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag and similarly couldn’t plot an episode of Sesame Street.  Authors like James Patterson and Dan Brown fit this profile.  NOBODY NEEDS THAT MANY CHAPTER BREAKS YOU SONS OF BITCHES!

I think what it basically comes down to, for me, is that good plots are entertaining and move the story right along.  A good writer, however, could be a lot more memorable over time.  I can quote passages from TS Eliot, John Fante, and Jeffrey Eugenides because their words have stuck in my head for years now.

Of course, I can tell you the plots of the books in the Harry Potter series, but outside of one or two passages, I couldn’t quote anything from the series… which doesn’t say a lot to me for more than three-thousand pages.  I don’t think this diminishes the quality of the series itself, given the depth of the plot (and the subtle interactions of the characters), but the writing itself does sometimes leave something to be desired.

So is a solidly-written chapter a greater accomplishment than a well-plotted novel… or series?  Naturally, the choice comes down to the individual reader.  Millions of people who read all six-hundred James Patterson novels a year obviously don’t care about either.

For me, I prefer a well-written novel over a well-plotted one.  I’ve read Ask the Dust and Post Office more times than I can count… but I can’t see myself returning to A Song of Ice and Fire as often.  Where do you sit on the plot\writing debate?

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Big News, Idiotic Views – The News Of The Day In Books

So there’s been a couple of stories related to books recently that I’ve had strong reactions to, both internally and externally.  You’ve probably heard about both of these, but I’ll link you just in case you haven’t:

The first piece of news details the comments made by an author about the harm libraries are doing to… well, just about everything book related.

Author Claims Libraries Have Given Readers “An Entitlement To Read Books For Free”

British author Terry Deary’s main complaint, which he has been reiterating in various places over the last few hours, is that he sees too many middle-class people checking out books from the library.  To quote, ” I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.”

Now I don’t often visit British libraries (surprise), but is there a severe lack of Dickensian orphans begging for the scraps of CS Lewis novels that other, more privileged children left behind in their madcap grasping of the latest James Patterson novel?  Is this what Mr Deary has been used to seeing until recent years?

How can one tell how rich or poor a person is, exactly?  Clothing?  Number of children? Color of their skin?  I’m really rather curious.

If you read the original piece that HuffPo takes its quotes from is actually a fairly well-reasoned argument, but at the same time… He’s complaining about the idea of libraries more than the actual libraries themselves.  Deary would like a more public discourse about what damage he seems these institutions doing to both authors and publishers (not to mention book stores).

For me, the most ridiculous thing is that Deary claims that public education should be filling the void of “free books” that the library is filling now and… I don’t fully get this.  Once again, I’m a rather infrequent visitor to British schools, but is the quality of literature really that much improved over American schools?  I remember hating almost everything I was forced read in school, but found great joy exploring the stacks of the local libraries… as well as that of book stores.

My other problem with Deary’s arguments is that he seems to think that once a person has checked out an author’s book from the library, there’s no going back.  He seems to suggest that the library patron will never purchase a book by that author again.

I can only use myself as an example, but I can safely say I would probably never have read Neil Gaiman if it weren’t for my local library system.  Now, I own four volumes of the Absolute Sandman ($100 a pop), several hardcovers and paperbacks, as well as a few other graphic novels and single issue comics.  And that’s just one author.  If you search my shelves, chances are pretty good you’ll drag your finger over several books that I first read out of either my hometown library, or books I borrowed through the inter-library loan program at my college’s library.

He also claims that libraries are destroying book stores which… frankly smells strongly of bullshit.  Libraries have about as much to do with the downfall of book stores as does a sparrow farting in China.  There’s no mysterious butterfly effect here.  The major contributions to the downfall of major book stores are high overhead and cheap online competition.  To think something like libraries is more than just a couple drops in a very large bucket is ludicrous.

Our second piece of news concerns a rather hateful little troll and known top-to-bottom, all-around douche-nozzle Orson Scott Card.  I have, in the past, made my distaste for writer Jeph Loeb fairly obvious.  If there’s a comic writer, especially one writing for the Ultimate Universe, I dislike more than Loeb, it would have to be Card.

Leaving behind his scary opinions on LGBT rights, the man absolutely butchered the Tony Stark character in his brief time writing Ultimate Iron Man.  Things jumped around without much logical sense, he spent too much time ripping off his own story Ender’s Game and not enough time keeping in line with what made Mark Millar’s version of the characters so interesting and fun.

Where Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man was both a knock-off of the original and brilliant, Card’s Ultimate Iron Man is just plain bad.  Bendis knew just what to take (and what to change!) when creating the Ultimate universe’s Spider-Man, Card seemed like he just wanted to shoehorn another Ender Wiggin\Peter Wiggin “dark mirror” sort of dichotomy between Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane and… it really doesn’t work.  Andy Kubert’s wonderful art is look on Card’s ridiculous story.

With all that said… Card is certainly free to his opinions.  In my opinion, he hasn’t produced much quality writing since Speaker For The Dead in 1986, but since I’ve read a lot of his stuff very recently (and especially since I’ve known of his rather vehement opposition to gay rights while reading them), I may be a little too close to fully judge and appreciate the work.

The best thing you can do as a consumer is to not buy the Superman book when\if it comes out.  DC Comics is no stranger to controversy, especially recently.  They were accused of not having enough female creators working on their “New 52” relaunch, about a year ago and the main person in charge, Dan Didio, quickly became an aggressive tool about it.  I made the decision then to buy fewer DC Comics… and then I stopped altogether as things didn’t seem to improve (plus I was poor and could really only afford one monthly comic… the wonderful Saga!).

As it stands, I won’t be buying anything DC for a while if they keep this up.  And that’s all you can do, really, is put your money where your mouth is.  Join those of us who refuse to give DC Comics any money as long as they continue to hire toolboxes like Orson Scott Card.  If this means forgoing the new Sandman as it comes out? Well… so be it.

I’ll just be picking up Saga as it arrives and giving my money to a creative team that deserves it!  Of course, if someone from Image acts like as ass, I’ll probably have to give up comics all together…

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Too Many Books, Too Little Time – Why I Re-Read

I’ve worked in a bookstore for nearly seven years now.  Inevitably, someone I’ll get into a discussion with someone about books and I’ll mention books that I re-read every year.  Also inevitably, I’ll have a customer who claims never to re-read anything.

I personally don’t understand why not.

I love the comfort of a novel I’ve enjoyed previously.  There’s few things I enjoy more than becoming reacquainted with characters, plots, and prose that I’ve already read.  This goes back years to when I was but a young reader of seven, or eight…

The first book I remember reading multiple times was the sixth the Boxcar Children series The Blue Bay Mystery.  The descriptions of the white, sandy beaches and the clear, blue ocean completely enveloped me.  I wanted to be stranded on a desert island just like that!

The next two books I read endlessly were horror novels: Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn and John Bellairs’ The House With A Clock In Its Walls. I talk about John Bellairs a lot.  Too much probably.  But his novels were a central, formative part of my youth.

Both novels had the horror elements that I really enjoyed at that age, but they also had main characters that were geeky and relatable.  In fact, this penchant for awkward, nerdy, uncomfortable characters has continued.

I think this explains my love of John Green books.  And Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere.  Not to mention the vast number of loners, dreamers, madmen, and maniacs that I’ve come to love in my reading life.

I’ve given a lot of thought and I think I’ve come up with the books I’ve re-read most (what? A top-whatever list?! Lucky you!).  In no particular order (but numbered anyway):

5. Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

In middle school, I discovered Dean Koontz in a box of books given to my mom.  I read Lightning two or three times that summer.  I spent the next couple of years collecting as many of his books as I could dig out of used book stores.

But Sole Survivor was the one I read most.  The opening chapters where Joe attempts to cope with losing his family in a plane crash broke my heart no matter how many times I read it.

I tried re-reading it again recently and it wasn’t the same.  So I’m going to just leave it in my memory as an enjoyable experience.

4. The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills by Charles Bukowski

This collection has long been a favorite of mine… mostly because of the poem “For Jane: With All The Love I Had Which Was Not Enough” (though there are more in the collection I particularly enjoy).

There’s other collections that I like more (Love Is A Dog From Hell and Burning in Water, Drowning In Flame), but The Days… is still the one I revisit most often.

3. Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Yeah this is a no-brainer.  Especially given my last post.  I read the series just a few years ago, but I’ve returned to it often.  Sometimes all at once, sometimes in pieces… But I re-read the series at least once a year and always find it comforting and touching.

2. The Waste-Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot

Yup, poetry nerd.  If there’s a more perfect poem than “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” written in the English language… I don’t know of it.  You can have your Red Wheelbarrows and your Sonnet 18s.  Prufrock nails it.

Do I dare disturb the universe?

1. Ask The Dust by John Fante

John Fante’s novel about struggling writer Arturo Bandini spoke to me as soon as I cleared the first chapter.  Hell, it spoke to me even before the first chapter.  Charles Bukowski’s introduction told me all I needed to know about the book.  And I didn’t even know Bukowski when I first read he novel.

The story is fairly basic and straightforward… but the writing!  Fante writes like a punch to the gut.  Each page, each paragraph has something eminently quotable.  One version I have has highlights on highlights and underlines below highlights.

Heck, I’ve read pretty much every edition of this book.  At least, all the American editions.  Stackpole & Sons from 1939.  Bantam mass market from the 50s.  Black Sparrow (hardcover and soft back) from the 80s, and the Harper Collins reprint from the 00s.  I don’t own all versions of it, but I’m pretty close… anyone wanna lend me $7000 for a copy of the Stackpole edition?

I definitely recommend re-reading texts you enjoy.  Should you re-read everything?  Hell no! I’ll never re-read Midnight’s Children, or The Instructions, though I really enjoyed both of them.  I may never re-read House of Leaves again… though that’s as much for my sanity as anything.

Do you have any favorites you re-visit periodically? Or maybe even yearly?

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There’s A Downstairs In Everybody – Making Sense of The World With Sandman

I wasn’t sure I was going to come back this time.

My brain’s always so fried this time of year, but I had a whole slew of posts lined up and ready to go (well, in my head at least) and was all ready to have a productive, if predictable  December.  Blogging about comics (maybe finishing A Naked Singularity) and just kinda coasting through the rest of the year.

And then on December 11th, there was a shooting at the mall I work at.

I came out of the back room around 2:20.  Maybe twenty seconds later, I heard what sounded like a series of electrical shorts.  Maybe a clumsy electrician dropping a pack of light bulbs.  Somewhere between eight and ten pops, echoing from down the way.

Just seconds after that, I heard screaming and people were running.  A couple of employees and I herded some customers into the receiving area.

I then received a call on my store phone telling me to go close the gates to the mall.  I’m somewhat ashamed that someone had to tell me, but I’m also sane enough to realize that I was in a bit of a panic at that point.

Gates closed, we made sure the store was clear and retreated to the break room for just under two hours while we waited for the police to clear the mall itself.

Two people were killed that day.  In the three weeks since the shooting, I haven’t been over to where it happened in the food court.  In fact, I’ve only been out into the mall just once.  Having sat waiting for the mall gates to close, I feel as if I’ve spent enough time in those areas for a bit.

I pretty much dropped most of what I was doing with my life at that point.  I stopped reading the couple of novels I was reading, I stopped work on crafting a Christmas gift for my wife, and I generally found myself to be more tired and irritable.  Especially when customers were back in the store and complaining about the long lines, or long waits for returns.

But, thanks to an excellent team of co-workers, I’ve successfully navigated another holiday season.  At this point, I’m hoping it’ll be my last retail holiday season, but… I’m not making any decisions at the moment.

In the interim, my reading has been two things: Matt Fraction’s fantastic Invincible Iron Man comic (seriously, I love this!) and another revisit to the world of The Dreaming in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

Why Sandman?  Well, in addition to it being the first long-form, on-going comic series that I loved… I always turn to it for good quotes.  Usually, I’ll find something in it (or in one of the two Death miniseries) that will help me with whatever I’m struggling with.  That and I can count on finding something new that I missed before.  A panel of art, a word or phrase… sometimes bits of foreshadowing, or callbacks that I didn’t recognize the last time I read it.

But there’s always something.

So I decided… I’m going to read Sandman again… but this time, in whatever order I come to it.  So I pulled the second volume of Absolute Sandman off the shelf and read the “Game of You” arc first.  I’ve loved this arc the most since I first read the series.  In fact, just before the following picture was taken, I thanked Neil for writing it and told him it was my favorite arc in the entirety of Sandman.

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So Sandman it is.  I’ve learned that there’s a TON of people at my work who love Gaiman himself and Sandman more specifically.  I’ve learned that the Absolute copies of the series are just as heavy as I remember them… and just as great.  I still love the recoloring!  I’ve learned that there’s always more to learn about just about anything…

I’ve also learned that there are going to be triggers for me.  Putting up, or down, the mall gates.  Seeing groups of ambulances congregated in the same places.  Hearing fireworks outside of the house…

I may have learned more.  Right now I’m content with the feeling that things are getting better in my head.  I feel more well aligned than I have in more than a month.  I feel more positive about my life, my body, and my soul.  Most of all…I feel ready to take a short stroll around the mall…

Thanks Neil!  For Sandman, American Gods… pretty much everything.  Thank you for helping me in getting my mind refocused and back to as normal as I can.

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Lamenting the Death of a Hero – The Sad Decline of Jeph Loeb

I’ll preface this post by saying that I’m going to be walking on eggshells a bit in this post.  I want to go full-on NERDRAGE here… But I know it isn’t fair, to either Jeph Loeb the creator, or Jeph Loeb the person.

In fact, I almost made an accidentally inappropriate cancer joke in my post about Ultimate Spider-man which I deleted… mainly because the layers of it were incredibly offensive, both as a comic reader, and the spouse of a cancer survivor.

Anyhow…

To me, Jeph Loeb’s career is one of the saddest stories in modern comics.  Let me be clear: I’m sure there are people that still read and enjoy Loeb’s work.  Great!  I’d love to talk to you about it.  Seriously!  I want to know because I’d love to be able to enjoy anything he’s done recently.  But I don’t.  And it saddens me greatly.

My exposure with Jeph Loeb began with one of his many collaborations with artist Tim Sale in the Batman story The Long Halloween (1996). I loved The Long Halloween.  So much.  When Loeb gets with Sale, they can give birth to an excellent story (more on that in a bit).  The follow up to Long Halloween, entitled Dark Victory (1999) is also excellent. Both stories have a mixture of superheroes and film noir that give them a distinctly different feel from a typical Batman story.

Then there’s Hush.  Oh boy, is there Hush.  Unlike Long Halloween and Dark Victorythe Hush story arc took place within the confines of current Batman continuity (running through issues 608 and 619 of the Batman monthly comic in 2002).  These stronger ties to the ongoing continuity of the Batman tales meant that Loeb’s creations and storylines, such as the villain Hush, would be available to all other writers and artists in the future… well… until the New 52 wiped all that away, I suppose.

But Hush was great too!  It had Batman against a large collection of rogues, involved in a mystery with murder, intrigue… and Superman’s there too!  The writing was solid and the art, provided by the incomparable Jim Lee, was an excellent companion to Loeb’s dialogue and pacing.  One of my favorite modern Batman stories!

2002 also brought us another Tim Sale collaboration: Spider-Man: Blue and the following year brought Hulk: Grey, another team up for Loeb and Sale.  Both great stories about classic Marvel characters.  The color theme for Marvel characters began with Daredevil: Yellow (2001), which I haven’t read because… well, I have no interest in the character.  Hate me now!

But here our troubles begin.

2003 brought the fairly inconsistent, if entertaining, Superman/Batman comic.  I’ve read the first 12 issues or so and there’s nothing particularly wrong with the story… there’s just nothing terribly outstanding from Loeb in the first couple arcs.  Maybe it comes from my not-so-subtle distaste for ongoing caped-hero stories, maybe I try to hard to compare it to Loeb\Sale’s excellent 1998 miniseries A Superman For All Seasons.  I don’t know.  I just don’t I didn’t particularly care for Superman/Batman.

Superman/Batman #25 was the last issue written by Jeph Loeb, but not the last written by Loeb.  His son, Sam Loeb, wrote issue #26, but passed away from cancer before it was completed.  The issue includes a back-up story entitled “Sam’s Story” written by Loeb and illustrated by Sale.

The cynic that lives right below the surface of my mind wants to be cynical about the issue, particularly the back-up, but… I just don’t have it in me.  It’s a wonderful tribute to a young author who was never able to fully realize his dreams.

Late 2007 into early 2008 gave us Ultimates 3 which suffers from many issues, but the most glaring and painful is how forgettable it is… which is particularly bad because the first two volumes, written by known mad-man and possible future-Grant-Morrison-hit-target Mark Millar, are spectacular (well, mostly).  But I could forgive Loeb for that if it weren’t for Ultimatum.

I’m not going to go on and on about the faults and issues present in Ultimatum (November 2008). Honestly, someone much funnier and much more well-versed in comics has already done so.  But suffice it to say that even for someone who has only thus far attached to the Ultimate versions of Spider-man and Hulk… Ultimatum is almost enough to turn me off the rest of the Ultimate universe forever.

Almost.

That said… if Loeb gets back on Batman or another title I rather enjoy… I’ll still give him another chance.  His 2007 tie-in to the death of Captain American titled Fallen Son was roundly well-written… and obviously comes from the depth of sadness Loeb had after his son’s untimely passing.

Plus, as head of Marvel Television, Loeb is at least partially responsible for bringing us the animated Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which is fun, quick-witted, and well plotted… there are individual episodes, but most of them contribute to a larger, over-arching plot that covers the whole first season.

So Jeph… well, OK, Mr. Loeb… please team up with Tim Sale again.  Give us the story we’ve been waiting for.  Something introspective, thoughtful… maybe a little bit of a noirish sort of feeling.  Toss in a bunch of villains, shake well and remember… We want to enjoy your work as much as you want us to enjoy it.

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