Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's never too early to think about summer music

Ahh, summer (er, in New Zealand) is near and that means summer concerts! Why, it's been months since I've gone to a gig, since my three-show-run in March of Cat Power, Iron & Wine and Wilco. But tunes lurk ahead -- the Mountain Goats have FINALLY rescheduled the show they were supposed to do down here earlier this year, for right before Christmas, and yep, the wife and I are going. Their latest, "Heretic Pride," is one of my favorites of the year and the club they're playing in is supposed to be nicely intimate.

Also today we got a look at the lineup for NZ's biggest music event of the year, the Big Day Out 2009. It's hard to top last year's stellar lineup -- Spoon, Arcade Fire, Billy Bragg, Bjork, LCD Soundsystem all in one go? With ticket prices in the three-digit range you've got to get a decent amount of value for your money, to put up with the crowds and heat and so forth.

Photobucket This year's lineup for the January festival gets a big plus with me with headliner Neil Young, one of my top 5 artists and one I've never seen live. He's coming with Crazy Horse so expect the loudness, and, at 62, I'm thinking I may not get too many more chances to see Neil live. So big incentive for tickets there.

Also on the bill is TV On The Radio, the art-rock Brooklyn combo whose new album "Dear Science" is way cool and I'll be writing more about soon. Another plus. But after that my interest level drops a bit -- My Morning Jacket and Prodigy would be quite interesting to see, but not enough to draw me out on their own. And I've quite enjoyed the newbie punk-pop Arctic Monkeys, although I'm not really a fan of being shoved around by people 20 years younger than me in mosh pits anymore. The rest of the bands either I'm not familiar with or don't much care about -- the Ting Tings, Black Seeds, The Datsuns and many more.

So I've got two "must-sees" and a handful of "like to see's." Does that merit a ticket? Not sure yet. But it's Neil, man. Neil. They usually announce a few more bands (I'd really dig it if the rumoured Beck would come), so I can hold off on the spending for now at least.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Classic Comics ABCs: Eightball #5

PhotobucketMan, the late '80s and early '90s were a fantastic time for 'alternative' comics, weren't they? This was a golden age, my friends, where Peter Bagge's Hate, Roberta Gregory's Naughty Bits, Paul Chadwick's Concrete, Cerebus of course and many others shared space with Batman and Spider-Man. And perhaps my favorite of the alterna-gang, Dan Clowes' wacky anthology Eightball. The first issue I picked up of it was #5, and indeed it was one of the first of the alternative comics age that I was soon drawn into. In my ongoing alphabetical look at comics in my collection, "E" is for edgy, exotic and Eightball, by gum.

The gem of this issue was part five of his 10-part David Lynchian epic, "Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron." A man wanders through a night in a strange city and an awful hotel room, with a headless dog, horrifying dreams and a prostitute crashing in for good measure. It all floats by in a haze of imagery -- few words -- and it's kind of incomprehensible on its own yet it caught my interest. Reading this was like taking a shower in surrealism -- Even when I pieced together the entire story (now in a nice collection of its own), I realised plot wasn't the point. It was mood, mystery and menace. Images from "Velvet Glove" still haunt me -- the misshapen girl-fish thing "Tina," the dreams of animals chewing at your legs or even just the throwaway lines filled with desperation. Clowes tapped into the world of nightmares, a Kerouac-meets-Dada haze, and the uneasy feeling was just increased by his '50s-ish, straight-lined artwork.

"Velvet Glove" was the bulk of the issue but there were also several of Clowes' more straightforward short satires. The one that really hooked me was "Playful Obsession," taking a page straight out of R. Crumb or the Freak Brothers with his take on the Harvey Comics characters like Richie Rich and Casper -- except, y'know, naughty. (I can't see "Little Dot" without thinking of Clowes' depraved fetishist "Little Octagon.")

There's an ongoing sense within Clowes' work that the world is tissue-paper thin, and far stranger and weirder beneath than we'd ever imagine. Later issues of Eightball brought forth the masterful "Ghost World" and stuff like "Art School Confidential" (which both became movies -- one great, one, eh, not so much). Clowes -- and Eightball -- is still cartooning, but it seems like the publication has radically slowed down (I'm not sure how many years ago the last Eightball came out!). In fact a lot of the same group of artists I followed so much 15 years ago or so - Bagge, Gregory, Chadwick -- have either faded away or their work has dropped a lot in quality. Clowes is still chugging away, but it might be selfish of me to say I wish we'd see his work a little more often.

Previously in this series: A, B, C and D.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Too Cool To Be Forgotten

There isn't an adult alive who hasn't idly wondered what it'd be like to go to high school again. Forty-something, balding Andy Wicks has done it – he's zipped back more than 20 years to relive his high school geek days in 1985. It's the plot of the latest graphic novel by the indie comics creator Alex Robinson, "Too Cool To Be Forgotten."

PhotobucketRobinson is best known for lengthy multi-character stories like "Box Office Poison" and "Tricked," but the relatively short "Too Cool To Be Forgotten" sticks pretty close to one protagonist. 40-something Andy Wicks wants to give up the smoking habit he's had since his teen years, and after all the cures fail, decides to try hypnosis. But it has a bizarre effect, sending the modern-day Andy back to his high-school body to get a second chance to get things right.

The hypnosis thing is a whopping deus ex machina and fortunately "Too Cool" doesn't dwell too much on it. This is the tale of a guy really reliving his high school days -- all the crazy uncertainties, mega-drama and foolish mistakes. It's often quite funny – what would you tell a power-tripping sadistic school principal if you were 40 rather than 15? Would you approach that old crush with a little more confidence with a few more years of living under your belt?

What Robinson really captures here is the contrast between the fumbling strangeness of being a teenager, and the more settled, if less exciting, existence of an adult. Unlike wish-fulfillment movies like "Freaky Friday" or the like, Andy really doesn't want to stay a kid forever. "Too Cool" doesn't pretend that our younger days were really the better ones – it doesn't put a glossy romanticism on things. But it also comes to finding a kind of genuine peace between the way you were and the way you are, which is a lot deeper than "Freaky Friday" really got.

PhotobucketRobinson's crisp, expressive cartooning knows when to push the conventions of the medium and when to just sit back and let the drawings work.. There's a marvelously trippy 'word cloud' image Robinson uses to illustrate Andy's transition into teenager-hood, yet there's also just a kind of calm, precise detail to how Robinson shows the differences between Andy at 40 and age 15.

In its final pages, "Too Cool To Be Forgotten" takes a bit of a swerve, into an area that's foreshadowed a little earlier on. It's a heart-wrenching move and adds a generous dollop of pathos to the story. Sure, being a teen again would be kinda cool, but it'd also be kind of awful as well. It's a mark of Robinson's ever-increasing talent that he takes the shopworn idea of "18 again" and turns "To Cool To Be Forgotten" into a genuinely heartfelt, funny and sad piece of work.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Shuffle: It takes a backwash man to sing a backwash song

...Lazy spring day off, hack hack recovering from mild cold, bonding with the boy, reading Rik Mayall's very amusing "The Rik Mayall: Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ" (if you're a comedian going to write an autobiography, this is the way to do it), and getting ready for a two-day business trip over to Bay of Plenty tomorrow. And music. Cha cha cha cha.

Photobucket1. Letter To Bowie Knife 3:06 Calexico*
2. December 3:03 Teenage Fanclub
3. Take The Bitter With The Sweet 3:09 Muddy Waters
4. Nobody But Me 2:17 The Human Beinz**
5. We Were Born The Mutants Again With Leafling 4:58 Of Montreal
6. Think I'm In Love 3:19 Beck
7. Chemical Smile 1:50 Everclear
8. In Your Eyes 5:28 Peter Gabriel***
9. Either/Or 2:27 Elliott Smith
10. Slowdive (XFM Session) 4:10 LCD Soundsystem
11. Hotwax 3:49 Beck****

* While I like this tune it doesn't sound a thing like the spacey southwest doom-rock they usually do, it's like they're channeling '60s britpop or something.
** A great old rocker, how annoying it is that when I hear it it brings to mind TV commercials.
***I went through a total obsessive P.G. phase back in the '90s and with this song in particular (yes, there was a girl involved). Thus, I think I've listened to this song more than any other in memory. Yikes.
****I have rather inexplicable flashbacks of driving around Memphis, Tennessee, looking for sushi when I hear this song.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Polish posters, presidential debates and R.I.P. David Foster Wallace

Random notes for a random Wednesday:

Photobucket• I like cool movie posters. I like the Polish people. Thus, this awesome website featuring 50 Incredible Film Posters From Poland is well worth my and your time. Amazing re-inventions of some of the most famous movies of all time in crazily cool expressionist art that's kind of like Ralph Steadman meets Salvador Dali. Go look and gasp. The one at right? Cuddly robot comedy sequel Short Circuit 2. Holy moses.

• Rest in peace, author David Foster Wallace, who apparently committed suicide last week. He kind of went from "next big literary thing" in the mid-1990s to a "whatever happened to," which is quite sad, but I found him a tremendously gifted journalist and nonfiction writer. Reading his collection "Consider The Lobster And Other Essays" a year or two back I thought it was pretty fascinating, microscopically detailed looks at all the errata of modern life, from lobsters to porn to dictionaries. Wallace was a writer who loved to play games with the form, using footnotes, flow charts and more; a regret of mine is that I tried reading his massive novel "Infinite Jest" many years back and just couldn't get through the 1,000-plus page monster which now stands as his biggest epitaph. I hope to try it again one day, and it's said to know whatever demons drove Wallace means we'll never see what he might have done next.

• The presidential debates are coming up, and in what I think is rather a cool development, the very first one is being held at my alma mater, the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Not often that Oxford gets to be the center of the Media Universe these days but for one night, it will be. Intentional or not, an interesting symbolic pick with the first black presidential nominee at a school that has its own very large place in racial history. What I wouldn't give to be working at my old paper for that one day! Here's a cool article about the preparations for it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

One man, two countries, three votes

PhotobucketSo how often do you get to vote for the leaders of two countries within a week? New Zealand's prime minister finally called the general election date last week -- November 8, just four days after America's own November 4 election you might have heard about. Like in Britain, an election date has to be chosen here by the party in power. Fascinating thing is, out-and-out campaigning is basically not allowed here UNTIL the election date is announced. So within like 8 hours of an election being announced, big-ass signs like these started popping up everywhere in Auckland.

I have to admit -- and a lot of New Zealanders have told me they feel the same way -- the US election is a heck of a lot more interesting this year from a political junkie's standpoint. So where do we stand? My totally uneducated thoughts two months out:

The US:
OK, in retrospect I was totally wrong about the Palin effect on McCain's campaign. So far, that is. I still think this is Obama's election to lose, but the Republicans have run an increasingly venal, vile and frequently flat-out lying campaign that unfortunately, has often worked for them in the past. I hope for Obama, but I fear for McCain/Palin, frankly. The best assessment so far I've read was in The New York Times by Bob Herbert today: "While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail." And, "For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on American Idol.'"

PhotobucketNew Zealand: I still stand by what I wrote a couple months back in my last NZ politics post: After nearly a decade, Labour's Prime Minister Helen Clark is up against a much bigger opponent than her titular rival John Key -- boredom. Running for her fourth three-year term, she's been behind in the polls for months. I like Clark and hope she gets in again, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The thing is, National's Key has very little to offer to me other than not being Helen Clark. There was an exhaustive two-part profile of the man in the Herald a couple months back that amazed me mostly by how bloody dull Key seemed to be. A man with very little political experience who's made a heck of a lot of money as a businessman, but other than that, not much that says "New Zealand needs Key!" He had the nerve to compare himself to Barack Obama recently which pretty much got him nothing but laughs in response. He's a terrible public speaker as well.

If Key is elected, I predict his political honeymoon to be about 20 minutes as New Zealanders realize what an empty suit he is. As for myself -- well, the cool thing about New Zealand is that voting for a minor party actually matters. If a party gets more than 5 percent of the vote, they get seats in Parliament. And as I mentioned before, in NZ we get TWO votes -- for the candidate and party. So I'm seriously considering splitting my vote, and going for a candidate I haven't decided on as my local rep, and voting for Green as the party vote to lend them a decent voice in power. I dunno though -- as the campaign has just started here officially, I barely know who my local MPs are. Hopefully that'll change soon as our campaign kicks off -- minus the pageantry of huge conventions and just a wee bit shorter than America's two-year-plus nomination marathon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are we done moving yet?

Photobucket Image Hosting...Finally, for the first time in nearly three years, all our "stuff" is in one place again. While I was in California last month one of my tasks was to deal with the 40 or so boxes of assorted stuff (er, mostly books and comics, I admit) that had been sitting in my parents' garage since 2006. Shipping a big ol' container all the way to New Zealand is really expensive and it wasn't nearly enough to fill one anyway, but fortunately we found a very good company specializing in small loads that allowed us to ship a single pallet.

It all went very smoothly and actually came in under budget. The 41 boxes and one trunk that I dropped off in Sacramento, California just under a month ago, I picked up none the worse for wear at a freight warehouse in Auckland, New Zealand today. The boxes seemed to enjoy their ocean journey, and finally, finally, we feel like we're "settled" a bit -- we started shipping stuff to New Zealand and getting rid of our possessions way back in early 2006, and now is the first time "everything" is together again. It took a while, but we are officially moved to New Zealand in full!

I'm trying to be a bit less materialistic in my old age, but it is nice to have all my old familiar books and papers and so forth in one place again, and not go hunting for a particular thing and realize, "Oh yeah, that's in California." Stuff gives us a bit of security, after all.

I'm just not thinking about how we'll do it if we ever do move back to America sometime down the road... it'll be years away if that happens, anyhow. Excuse me, I've got stuff to unpack!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Film for Every Year, Part II

Action! Here's my part the second of the meme of the moment, where you pick your favorite movie released during each year you've been alive. Part one was 1971-1985. Part two is from 1986 right on up to this very second. Hang on, it's a long one!

PhotobucketFavorite: The Fly -- No contest for me; David Cronenberg's creep-fest easily is among my Top 10 of all time. It's a scary horror flick with more uneasy subtext than most, boasts a career great performance by Jeff Goldblum, and one of the saddest love stories you ever saw.
Runners-Up: Blue Velvet, Aliens, Hannah and Her Sisters, Labyrinth (It's David Bowie, darn it).
Still haven't seen and really should: Platoon

Tie: Evil Dead II, Raising Arizona -- One a comedy, one a horror movie, but not sure which is which. Both madcap fun that are like live-action cartoons, tremendously innovative and kooky fun, and I could watch them both endlessly.
Runners-Up: Robocop, Full Metal Jacket, The Princess Bride, The Untouchables, Dirty Dancing (Not a bad year!)
Still haven't seen and really should: Fatal Attraction

Favorite: Die Hard -- It's a close call this year, but with a bit of time this seems like the utterly perfect red-blooded ultra-violent American action movie. Yippee-kay-yay!
Runners-Up: A Fish Called Wanda, The Last Temptation of Christ, Big, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Still haven't seen and really should: Bull Durham
Never liked as much as everyone else: Working Girl

Favorite: Say Anything -- We all wanted to be Lloyd Dobler my senior year of high school, and all the women wished we were, too. Dare I say it's the best teen movie ever made? At the very least, the most idealistic – everyone here is a little bit smarter, wiser and wittier than real life, of course.
Runners-Up: Do The Right Thing, Crimes & Misdemeanors, The Little Mermaid, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Henry V, When Harry Met Sally (Another damned good year, at least in my memories.)
Not nearly as good as I remember it but still a sentimental favorite: Batman

Favorite: Ghost -- I really have no defense for this one. But poor Patrick Swayze died, y'know, and came back but Demi Moore couldn't see him till the very end and... Excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye.
Runners-Up: Goodfellas, Darkman, Total Recall
Never liked as much as everyone else: Home Alone

PhotobucketFavorite: Silence of The Lambs -- What I said about "The Fly" for horror movies, this applies to this one too, except it's not about gooey monsters, but the kind of monster that lives next door.
Runners-Up: Point Break (which really should have been nominated for an Oscar too, but I digress), Terminator 2: Judgment Day, What About Bob?
Still haven't seen and really should: JFK

Favorite: Unforgiven -- Clint saddles up for the western to end all westerns. The nasty side behind the western myth, and an inspiration for "Deadwood" and all the revisionist westerns since.
Runners-Up: Dead-Alive aka Braindead (Wikipedia: "currently holds the world-record for the most fake blood used in a single movie"), Glengarry Glen Ross, Hard Boiled, Reservoir Dogs (The year of blood, bullets and bad language)
Never liked as much as everyone else: Batman Returns. Pfeiffer's Catwoman, yes, pretty much everybody else, no. This is when it all went wrong.

Favorite: Groundhog Day -- It's amazing that a Bill Murray/Ivan Reitman comedy could have such longevity and existential angst, but hey, wherever you go, there you are, y'know?
Runners-Up: Singles, The Fugitive, The Piano, Army of Darkness

Favorite: Pulp Fiction -- It's as if a movie were patched together with IMDB Memorable Quotes, but hey, it works. "I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd."
Runners-Up: Clerks, Forrest Gump, True Lies, Ed Wood

Favorite: 12 Monkeys -- Terry Gilliam's most underrated movie, I think, and I loves me a good time-travel yarn.
Runners-Up: Toy Story, Babe, The Usual Suspects, Heat
Never liked as much as everyone else: Braveheart
Still haven't seen and really don't plan to: Billy Madison

PhotobucketFavorite: Jerry Maguire -- Cameron Crowe crafts a top-notch romantic comedy that simultaneously subverts and embraces genre conventions. I know Tom Cruise is radioactive now, but I think he really gets it in this one, making a jackass seem genuinely likeable.
Runners-Up: Bottle Rocket, Fargo, The Rock, Star Trek: First Contact

Favorite: Face/Off -- I know, I'm really betraying my love for genre popcorn fiction here, but again, like Jerry Maguire, it's a shiny piece of mainstream entertainment that's kick-ass fun. An utterly absurd plot, I know, but I'm a big Nicolas Cage fan and think this is one of his best pieces of acting -- and John Travolta is even tolerable in it.
Runners-Up: Chasing Amy, Waiting For Guffman, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Boogie Nights

PhotobucketFavorite: Rushmore -- There are just a handful of movies I watch every year or two religiously. Wes Anderson's tale of quirky, good-hearted and arrogant Max Fischer, teen supreme, is one of them.
Runners-Up: Dark City, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, The Truman Show
Still haven't seen and really should: Pi

Favorite: Being John Malkovich -- As strange as it is, it all makes perfect sense in the end.
Runners-Up: The Matrix, American Beauty, Fight Club, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Favorite: Almost Famous -- The second Cameron Crowe movie that's a favorite, and an open-hearted, nostalgia coated and utterly huggable ode to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. I am a golden god!
Runners-Up: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Unbreakable, X-Men

PhotobucketTie: The Royal Tenenbaums and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. Both very different movies, but both fantastic, novelistic epics with big talented casts.
Runners-Up: Donnie Darko, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Moulin Rouge!, Ghost World
Never liked as much as everyone else: Shrek


Favorite: Spider-Man. In the post-"Dark Knight" era, perhaps Spidey looks a little, well, corny. But I still think this is one of the most accurate and elegant comic book adaptations we've yet seen, and Tobey Maguire is the perfect Peter Parker.
Runners-Up: Minority Report, Adaptation, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Never liked as much as everyone else: Chicago

Favorite: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Hey, I live in New Zealand now. I have to vote for this one by law.
Runners-Up: Lost In Translation, American Splendor, Whale Rider, Kill Bill Vol. 1, X2: X-Men United
Never liked as much as everyone else: Mystic River

Tie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Spider-Man 2. A third title for Wes Anderson, who is easily my favorite director working in film these days. Sure, his films are kind of precious objects, but the worlds he create fascinate me.
Runners-Up: Kill Bill Vol. 2, Million Dollar Baby, The Incredibles, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hellboy
Still haven't seen and really don't plan to: The Passion of the Christ

PhotobucketFavorite: A History of Violence -- A return to form by "The Fly" director David Cronenberg, with an amazing performance by Viggo Mortensen and Cronenberg's distinct mix of queasy realism and horrible detail.
Runners-Up: Brokeback Mountain, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Walk The Line, Elizabethtown, Batman Begins, Sin City

Favorite: Casino Royale -- After 40 years, they finally made a James Bond movie I really want to watch more than once.
Runners-Up: The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, Borat, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth.

Favorite: There Will Be Blood -- The year is a little too fresh to settle on this one for me, but the amazing imagery and fiery passion of "Blood" is the movie that sticks with me the most of 2007's crop. And Daniel Day-Lewis, channeling John Huston, is a bloody marvel.
Runners-Up: I'm Not There, No Country For Old Men, Spider-Man 3, Into The Wild, The Darjeeling Limited
Still haven't seen and really should: Juno

Favorite: (So far) The Dark Knight -- The "Oscar season" is yet to kick off and there's some movies I'm very interested in, like Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Quantum of Solace and Revolutionary Road, but so far, Heath Ledger's terrifying Joker is the most indelible image of the year for me.
Runners-Up: Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Monday, September 8, 2008

Doubleplusgood unpolitics

PhotobucketGeorge Orwell is one of my writing idols (and although he's been dead nearly 60 years, he's a brand-new blogger at the nifty Orwell Diaries, which I must plug). And I have to wonder what the man would make of the 2008 presidential race so far, and specially the Republican campaign which seems steeped in Newspeak jargon straight out of "1984."

I know I'm coming from a rather biased pro-Obama perspective, but still, the dazzling verbal juggling of the Republicans shocks me. In their world, it's as if their party HASN'T been in control of the White House for the last 8 years; where a man who's voted with the president the vast majority of the time can actually make a grab for the notion of change. That it's offensive to raise any questions about the qualifications of Sarah Palin because she's a woman and because some fringe lefties have been hitting her below the belt, as if the right wing hadn't been systematically going after Hillary Clinton in equally nasty, sexist ways for years. That after exploding the surplus Bill Clinton left behind, and spending money by the zillions on Iraq, that Republicans can STILL feverishly claim they're about fiscal conservation. That McCain will cut pork-barrel spending with a running mate who sucked at the government teat in Alaska to the tune of millions of dollars.

That John McCain is a maverick, gosh darn it, pullin' on his gun belts and comin' to the town he's worked in comfortably for 30 years to clean it up. That he's a maverick even though all indications are he bowed to the string-pullers and didn't choose Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge as veep because they wanted a REAL conservative. Conventions in general are more about pageantry than substance, but McCain's non-speech was a pinnacle in hypocrisy. Following acidic, typical talk-radio style liberal-bashing speeches by Sarah Palin, Rudy Guiliani and others, McCain had the nerve to get up there and talk about the kinder, gentler non-partisan government he'd lead. It's enough to make the head spin. Doublethink.

The Republicans are masters at Newspeak and the idea that if you repeat something wrong often enough, it turns true. McCain's a maverick, veteran John Kerry less of a war hero than Bush, and have you heard Barack Obama might be a Muslim? All I know is, if the American people are dim enough to swallow this for a third time, they get what they deserve. Doubleplusgood unpolitics.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Classic Comics ABCs: Doom Patrol #21

And here we go, another installment in my ongoing alphabetical look at the comic books that have meant the most to me in my 25+ year hobby/clinical addiction.

PhotobucketD brings us to lots of cool comics -- Daredevil, Dark Knight, Defenders. But for me, D has to be Doom Patrol. The very name is awesome and evocative, and while the comic has been kind of hit-or-miss over the years (and revived about 74 times with varying durations), when it's worked, Doom Patrol is totally cool. The DP was created just about exactly at the same time back in the 1960s as the more famous X-Men, and follow a similar template – strange superpowered "misfits" who protect humanity despite being scorned by them. The original comics are some of the Silver Age's weirdest and most enjoyable romps, but it was a revival in the late 1980s that first caught my eye, and together with his equally revelatory Animal Man of the same era, introduced me to the work of Grant Morrison.

Morrison took the idea of the Doom Patrol and twisted it into a ball of surrealism, David Cronenberg-ish bodily squeamishness and wry satire. The Doom Patrol had always been a team of freaks, but Morrison really went nuts – hermaphrodite energy beings, sentient transvestite streets, an abuse victim with multiple, superpowered personalities, living incarnations of the Dada art movement. Ideas poured from Morrison with crazy abandon and the world of superheroes never seemed weirder. The 1980s were a golden time for "revisionist" superhero notions, but Morrison took them into stranger places than anyone I think.

So. Doom Patrol #21. This is early in Morrison's 40-issue or so run, and it's when things start to get seriously peculiar. I believe this was the first issue I checked out, and typically of me, I came in at part three of a four-part story with little idea what was going on. Basically, a fictional world created by a bunch of intellectual vandals becomes real, threatening to overwhelm the real world with a bizarre mix of German expressionism, dream demons and menacing gibberish-spouting "Scissormen." Morrison's idea-packed script is brimming with throwaway lines and ideas and often has the nightmarish feel of a fever dream where anything can happen. At one point the notion of bringing Superman in to stop the invasion is mulled, but no – this is too weird for Superman. That's the kind of world the Doom Patrol live in.

One of the geniuses of Morrison's run is how he used the character of Cliff Steele, "Robotman," as the everyman perspective into his spiraling labyrinth of oddities. Robotman is a remainder from the old Doom Patrol comics, the usual man-whose-brain-was-transplanted-into-a-robot deal. But despite being encased in steel, Robotman is the most human of the entire group, and his wise-guy stunned asides (drinking game: see how many times Robotman says "Oh my god" or something similar as a reaction) provide a grounding for Morrison's explorations of the underworlds.

The early issues of Morrison's run are more "superheroey," but his ambitious tales get more and more distant from traditional expectations as his story goes on. I love 'em all, but this first glimpse at his keen imagination is still one of my favorite Doom Patrol stories. Beware the Scissormen!

Previously in this series:
A, B, C. Next: E is for... ?