Aug 31, 2015

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
Ben Smith

There are many significant milestones throughout the course of the average human life. For some, those may include the day they met their significant other, graduation from a particular level of schooling, marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child. The original Secret Wars was a milestone event on a far grander scale. The mere birth of a child cannot compare to this cataclysmic moment in the annals of human history. To lay your eyes upon it was to understand true beauty. Its stunning wonder humbled even the most confident of individuals, and made them want to be better citizens.

Such a stunning artistic achievement was bound to inspire demands for a sequel. Marvel obliged, and yet, the resulting miniseries and endless stream of tie-ins were met with less than stellar reviews. It sucked, was the general consensus, and that’s mostly probably true. Nearly every single title that Marvel published was forced to acknowledge Secret Wars II with a story, which makes sense in terms of it being an important in-universe situation, but the execution fell well short in many cases.

However, it is my belief that the main series is not as awful as you might remember, or heard about from others. It is my goal, to exhaustively explore Secret Wars II, and to show you the quality story that lay beneath the surface. It’s one of the most maligned events in comic book history, and undeniably gave birth to the template of bloated excess and diminishing returns that would plague many of the events that would follow in its footsteps. But it’s not all bad, and we’re going to discover that together, like Romeo and Juliet on a suicide pact toward our mutual destruction.

Ready, set, grab your goblet of poison.

Secret Wars II #1
Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inker: Steve Leialoha; Editor: Bob Budiansky

Longtime readers will remember my weird fascination with Shooter, and this would arguably be the most ambitious story of his career. A 9 part exploration of the human condition through the perspective of a child-like omnipotent being, using superheroes. I believe the original penciler for the series was supposed to be Sal Buscema—the pencils for his entire first issue were for sale on the internet a while back--but the final duties fell to Al Milgrom. Milgrom certainly has his detractors, but I think he does a capable job, as he always does. He doesn’t have the most dynamic style, but that’s okay, I love him all the same. You leave Milgrom alone! Bob Budiansky wrote Transformers. That’s all I should have to say about that.

Space, a being of incredible power travels through the cosmos. His final destination, the Earth.

In a suburb of Denver, Colorado, Owen Reece (Molecule Man) notices a flash of light hit nearby. However, he’s content to finish watching TV with his girlfriend Marsha (Volcana). Except, that nearby mountainside is now flying through the streets, coalescing into a ball of fire.

It was a good choice to open with Molecule Man, since he will be one of the key players in the storyline. I don’t know why I love Molecule Man so much. Most likely it’s just because he’s one of the earliest villains I encountered as a superhero fan, through the original Secret Wars. Maybe it’s his facial scars, they just look cool. Maybe it’s that he’s so damn powerful. He can basically do whatever he wants, but ever since Secret Wars, he just wants to be chill. He just wants to hang out with his girlfriend and watch Hogan’s Heroes. Who can’t relate to that? Also, it’s a solid narrative continuation from the original.

Owen and Marsha hit the streets to investigate, and he’s shocked to discover the identity of the being that stands before them, the Beyonder.

Half a world away, in Scotland, Professor Xavier telepathically senses the arrival of the Beyonder. Understandably shaken, he sends his New Mutants to rendezvous with the X-Men and Magneto in Westchester.

Meanwhile, Captain America is in the middle of his commercial flight from London to New York, when he receives Xavier’s telepathic warning. (It must be really difficult for him to concentrate on his periodical of choice with all those people openly talking about him. I wonder what Captain America reads. Entertainment Weekly? Rolling Stone? Cat Fancy? Anyway, I’d be annoyed if I was Captain America. Also, why is he on a commercial flight?)

He strolls right up to the cockpit and uses his Avengers priority clearance to divert the flight to Los Angeles. The rest of the passengers react with predictable irritation, because people are the worst. Which they should, there’s really no sense in diverting a flight from New York to L.A. He should just land and get another flight, or call for a Quinjet. Or any of the dozen of people that he knows that can teleport. Still, the point is that people are selfish assholes. Unless it was me, then my annoyance would be justified. Furthermore, 9/11 made flying a complete pain in the ass. When I flew to the Middle East, it took two days of flying with stopovers in between uncomfortable sleeping. Suicide begins to look like a reasonable option.

Back in Denver, Owen and Marsha host the mysterious Beyonder, taking a physical form that is an amalgamation of several of the characters he encountered during the original Secret Wars. It looks pretty ridiculous, and yet, this is not the worst look he will sport in this series, as you will eventually see.

The Beyonder is here on Earth desiring to understand human life. Owen posits a theory based on his own past history, that mere knowledge isn’t understanding, but that experience is the best teacher. (He arrives at this based on when he first received his powers, he had the knowledge of what he could do, but not the experience to fully realize it. It’s all a bit contrived and involves transmuting an apple, but its fine. Don’t think so hard about things.) Marsha comments offhand that he should go to Los Angeles, because you can experience everything there. (Thus, they unload this potentially troublesome being off on anyone else, just as I would do. It’s someone else’s problem, or maybe Hogan’s Heroes was really good that week. Either way, who needs the hassle?)

In Westchester, Magneto argues with Nightcrawler and Colossus about whether or not he can be trusted, when Wolverine, Rogue, and Kitty Pryde come busting through the mansion window. This furthers a long and storied tradition of superheroes wantonly destroying their own facilities. (Magneto is sporting one of the more ridiculous looks from what is a long history of questionable changes from his iconic helmet and cape motif. Specifically, the all purple suit with a giant “M” on the front. He looks like a 1980s television magician, only with less dignity.) They scuffle for a bit before deciding to work together to face the threat of the Beyonder. They all pile into the Xavier’s sweet Rolls Royce which Magneto uses to magnetically fly them across the country. (How did the X-Men and Captain America know to go to L.A. before the Beyonder was even in L.A.? Again, it’s best not to think too hard about these things. “No prize” it, if you’re so worried about it. Except, this story is 30 years old, so you’ll literally receive nothing for it. Not even the envelope with nothing in it. Nothing! Not even the satisfaction of a life well lived, because that would be untrue.)

The Beyonder’s ball of non-corporeal energy arrives in L.A. early in the morning, and enters the home of the first person that he finds that is still awake, screenwriter Stewart Cadwall. Stewart has a very low opinion of the state of humanity and society (I feel like I should be ashamed to admit I agree with him about a lot of it).

Taking on the form of the Molecule Man, the Beyonder explains how he is here to understand, to experience. There is so much diversity and incompleteness on Earth, in his universe he was all there was. He demonstrates his power by turning Stewart’s desk into a big pile of apples, which his girlfriend immediately samples, because she’s fearless, that one. (Owen had just done this earlier, turning a small sculpture into an apple. This was a nice subtle nod to the Beyonder copying previously seen behavior. At this point, he wouldn’t necessarily understand enough to make his own choices yet. Of course, this is all ignoring anything he learned on Battleworld, but again, it’s best not to think of such things. The point is that he’s a giant baby, and he’s mimicking behavior.)

Nearby, Magneto liberates a few mutants forced to compete in a gladiatorial arena, for the amusement of some wealthy and powerful attendees. Among those that agree to leave are Cannonball, Magik, Dazzler, and Lila Cheney. (Where the hell did this come from? Is this covered in some tie-in issue somewhere? You can’t just have a one-panel glimpse of an underground mutant gladiator pit without any explanation.)

Stewart breaks the Beyonder’s situation down succinctly, he can do anything he wants, but he doesn’t understand what it is to want something. (It’s unfortunate for the Beyonder that the internet didn’t exist yet, because that might have saved him a lot of time. It would have also sped up his decision to destroy humanity, much like Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The lesson here, stop being dicks on the internet, humans.) Stewart offers to give him a firsthand look at wish fulfillment, by asking that he grant him some of his power. The Beyonder agrees, giving Stewart a portion of his power, which he uses to deck himself out in golden armor,calling himself Thunder-Sword. He flies off on his winged horse towards downtown, with the Beyonder following behind unseen.

The X-Men ride around in their car, looking for any sign of the Beyonder (like parents looking for their kid that stayed out past curfew, the X-Men are incompetent). Just when they’re ready to give up, Rachel’s telepathy detects a powerful presence nearby. The X-Men find Thunder-Sword destroying the NBC studios. The people flee from Thunder-Sword’s onslaught of destruction and insults, leading to my single favorite line of dialogue in the whole issue, “What is he … a critic?” (I don’t know why this amuses me so much. Who can explain the complexities of the human brain? Beyond Jim Shooter.)

The X-Men and the New Mutants attack Thunder-Sword, with little success (big surprise). Thunder-Sword hits Cannonball so hard he’s sent barreling out of control towards a nearby McDonald's. Colossus and Wolverine try to catch him, but the force of his momentum sends them all crashing into the fast food restaurant (rudely interrupting Michael Jackson’s lunch). Colossus once again proves why he’s absolutely the worst, by defending the virtue of the Big Mac in the midst of a battle for the fate of humanity.

Thunder-Sword is predictably not a fan of the fast food industry either, calling it “all part of the same canker of mass-media manipulated mediocrity that gnaws at the heart of this country.” (Maybe if I mention McDonald's enough, they’ll sponsor us. McDonald's absolutely doesn’t taste like subpar discount meat cooked days ago, then reheated and served beside a clump of cold fries. McDonald's is the pinnacle of the meat-adjacent sandwich industry. McDonald's is preferable to starving.)

Captain America implores his taxi driver to drive faster, so that he can join the fight. But the driver wants to take it as slow as possible, so he can talk to the living legend as long as he can, and really savor the righteousness. (Is this the most mundane sequence of travel that any superhero character has ever employed in the space of a single issue? I can absolutely picture this played for laughs in a big budget superhero movie. The X-Men are fighting an unbeatable enemy, with periodic cutaways to Captain America aboard various forms of public transportation, checking his watch.)

At the West Coast Avengers compound, Tony Stark is alerted to the situation, and sends Jim Rhodes in the Iron Man armor to assist.

Captain America finally arrives, just in time to save a mother and her child from certain doom. (This was actually a pretty great little pair of panels. Captain America is the best. I want to buy him a milkshake and talk about our feelings on liberty.)

Captain America coordinates a more effective attack on Thunder-Sword, but it is still ultimately unsuccessful. During the din of battle, Rachel detects another powerful being in the area, uncovering the presence of the Beyonder, who, having made himself visible, is intrigued by the dark essence hiding inside of Magik, and pulls it to the surface, turning her into the Darkchilde. Frightened, Magik panics and summons her magic stepping disk, teleporting her and a few of the other mutants somewhere else.

Wolverine reacts to the team’s psi-link suddenly being cut-off (after Rachel was teleported away) and sniffs out the Beyonder close-by. He slashes at the Beyonder with his razor sharp adamantium claws (which is how Claremont has taught me to always refer to them, repeatedly), confusing the godlike being.

Before he can respond or retaliate in any manner, Lila panics and teleports herself and the remaining mutants away. (Those wacky mutants are always teleporting from danger. The X-Men are the worst.)

Thunder-Sword defeats Captain America, and stands over him triumphant. Reinforcements finally arrive in the form of Iron Man. Iron Man’s sensors indicate that the source of Thunder-Sword’s power originates in his sword.

The Beyonder, still processing the physical attack on his form, begins to wonder if merely observing others will provide him the sufficient experience he desires. The visceral feeling of claws slashing his body has inspired him.

Captain America and Iron Man are able to separate Thunder-Sword from this weapon, turning him back into Stewart. Cap then turns his attention towards attempting to address the Beyonder, who is in the midst of quantifying what he has learned.

“Experience is the best teacher! To watch is not to understand without experience! I desire to understand! I shall experience! I shall understand!” (Basically, he has come to the conclusion that he needs to experience life firsthand to understand it.)

The Beyonder disappears, leaving a distraught Stewart to plead with Cap and Iron Man that he was corrupted by the power and wasn’t in control of his actions. He then realizes he destroyed all his places of employment, causing him to become even more despondent.

Captain America leaves Iron Man with Stewart to wait for the authorities to arrive, while he goes off to search for the Beyonder. Little does he realize, that the Beyonder is following him.

The issue ends with the obligatory tease of the title of the next issue, as well as the first list of titles that continue the Secret Wars II storyline. As I said before, this crossover created the blueprint for the overload of unnecessary and subpar ancillary stories to a major comic event. I haven’t read them all—who has the time?—but the ones I have read are largely not of a quality for human consumption. Just like a McDonald's burger.

Thus begins Shooter’s epic tale exploring the human condition, as told using brightly clad heroes and villains punching each other. So far, the Beyonder has learned that the best way to learn about human life, is to live one. Knowledge is great, but experience can teach you in ways that a book simply cannot, which is an idea that Good Will Hunting would appropriate several years later. It’s pretty profound, if you think about it, just don’t think too hard about those details. I appreciate Shooter's ambition, let’s find out if he can pull it off.

Next week, issue 2!

Aug 29, 2015

There Are Some Things You Don't Learn in the Big City: This One Summer

In this traditional society, I tend to get asked why I am attracted to fiction with female protagonists, which is weird to me because I think I just get attracted to fiction with good protagonists, and I don't really distinguish by gender. But I am a market researcher, and in those terms, I do admit that compared to other people, my tastes do skew more towards heroines than theirs. And a big part of that is that I love diversity, both in life and in fiction. I am fascinated by people who come from different walks of life and grow up under different circumstances, and to see where we find common ground, where we differ, and where we find common ground among those differences.

So let's talk about poetry for a second. I don't read or listen to poetry. Comics is my medium of choice, and while that does, sometimes, employ some poetry, the written word in stanzas and verses isn't going to hook me. I don't go out of my way for poets, except for one: spoken word poet Sarah Kay. I'm not sure, really, why I love Sarah Kay. I think so much of what she says touches me, either in ways that I relate to (watch her say the number one rule of being cool, and why she doesn't go through life that way) or ways that I don't relate to, and that fascinates me (watch her talk about how she'd raise a daughter). And I can't judge poetry properly, but I know what I like, and I like Sarah Kay's poems.

Sarah Kay has a poem called "Montauk," which is about the summers she spent in Montauk, away from New York City where she lived the rest of the year. It's a poem that talks about growing up in those summers, coming of age just a bit each time.

"Montauk" reminds me of This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. (Hah! You were wondering what this was going to do with comics!) To be honest, there aren't a lot of slice-of-life stories on my shelf. Although some of my favorite movies and even a few novels are slice-of-life, I haven't really gotten into the genre in comics unless it still has some sort of magical or mathematical element to the whole thing, as with Neil Young's Greendale or Asterios Polyp. Generally speaking, I find the ones that stick to reality mostly to be good but invasive (Blankets), well drawn but really depressing (anything Chris Ware has ever done), well drawn but boring (Love and Rockets comes to mind — I absolutely gave that a fair shot), or just in that more id-driven storytelling camp that just doesn't appeal to me (the works of Harvey Pekar, for example). I always want an element of magic in my fiction.

This One Summer is different. Yes, this story about a girl named Rose, who spends a family summer away from the city with her friend Windy, deals with pretty heavy themes and is quite grounded, but for all of that, there is a quality to it that emphasizes the magic of the everyday. Struggling to adjust to their teenage years, Rose and Windy rent R-rated movies, speculate about the sexual activities of the townies, and both fantasize and look down upon the idea of marriage. And if you're thinking, "Wait, that's exactly the kind of stuff you hate about 'grown-up' comics — that they're really unsubtle about that," you're exactly right. But in This One Summer, that's part of the appeal, because it really is two teenage girls struggling with growing up, and that's part of it. You, as the reader, never once feel like they're adults; there is always the sense that their idea of adulthood is so limited and there's always something bigger. There are different subplots, but they are all seen from Rose's perspective, so we never know more than she does, and for all her cynical teenager talk that makes it sound like she knows everything, in the quiet moments, we realize that she knows she knows nothing. For example, Rose doesn't even realize she's being sexist when she dismisses all the girls in the town as sluts — and is freaked when she's called out on it.

A big reveal at the end just drives that point home. This One Summer shows at once that what people immediately think of as adult things pale in comparison to actual adult things, that the world is bigger than our own, and that, when we stop and look, the world is actually quite beautiful. Everyone experiences different things, and the main character can only see it from her own angle.

Two things about This One Summer amaze me aside from the panel-by-panel storytelling (which is actually quite fantastic, since Jillian Tamaki has an intuitive sense of when to zoom in, pull out, pan, and leave wider gaps between panels). The first is that it rewards recursive reading. In the first several pages, Rose and her family are shown arriving at Awago Beach, passing several sights along the way. On first glance, this looks like a simple establishing scene to set the atmosphere, but as it turns out, just about every element the Tamakis introduce that early on is played upon throughout the book. It's incredibly well planned. All this mood-setting really highlights the strength of a stand-alone project with a plentiful but finite number of pages, since artists can easily take as much time as they need to set the stage.

The other thing is the variety of female body types and body language throughout the comic, something that I find exceedingly rare in this medium (yes, I am including superhero comics and non-superhero comics — both have had the same problems throughout the decades), but am finding more common as time goes by and comics progress. Rose is thin, Windy is chubby, and no two women in the entire story have similar body types, nor do they even really move the same way. It's easy to tell at a glance who's who. Windy, who is chubbier and more awkward than Rose, is more comfortable with her body, using many hand gestures and taking up a lot of space with her limbs, while Rose and her mother tend to  be more conservative with their movements. It's a lesson that lots of comics can stand to learn from.

Ultimately, as skeptical as I was of This One Summer, it was a rewarding read that legitimately made me feel more empathy and compassion for people struggling to find out who they are, and for people going through some traumatic stuff.  It made me consider things that people go through, specifically women, and it actually did color, for a bit there, how I see the world. And ultimately I think that's a mark of a good work of fiction.

There are some things you don't learn in the big city. Sometimes you have to learn about them by reading a comic book.

Aug 24, 2015

Random Gems of 1980s Nostalgia: Transformers #20

Random Gems of 1980s Nostalgia 
Gem One – Transformers (What Else Did You Expect?)
Ben Smith

Welcome back to Back Issue Ben, the column that’s eternal goal is to be Michael Jackson from 1985, and not Michael Jackson from 2005. In an attempt to quantify my ongoing fascination with the decade of my rearing, I will randomly select an issue of a 1980s licensed comic. This offers a far-ranging selection of comics to choose from, but let’s be honest, if you’ve read Back Issue Ben for any length of time, it’s going to be Transformers or G.I. Joe. Now, some might say, “why Transformers? Why not spend your time on the internet instead doing productive things like researching important legislation that will affect us all?” And to them I say, fuck you, read Transformers comics.

This week, I’ll be covering Marvel’s Transformers #20, featuring a little used Autobot character named Skids. Skids, for some reason, was one of the toys I wanted the most as a kid (because what kid doesn’t want a toy robot that transforms into a sensible minivan?). Not surprisingly, Skids didn’t receive much screen time in the cartoon (because what kid wouldn’t want to watch a robot that transforms into a sensible minivan, for mom to take baby Jimmy to the pediatrician). Regardless, I thought Skids looked cool, so an entire issue of a comic dedicated to a robot that sounds like he’s named after an underwear accident, is right up my alley. And if you think I’m joking, you don’t know me all that well.

Transformers #20
Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Herb Trimpe; Inkers: Ian Akin & Brian Garvey; Editor: Michael Carlin

(As of this writing, Herb Trimpe recently passed away. Herb Trimpe provided incalculable joy to millions of people through his comic work over a long career, without ever receiving the acclaim that he deserved.)

The cassette tape turned jaguar by the name of Ravage tracks his prey.

His prey is a comic book writer named Donny Finkleberg, who recently had been masquerading on TV as the Robot Master, the terrorist mastermind behind the Transformers. The Robot Master was a Decepticon plot to scare humanity into believing that all robots are evil, even the Autobots.

Donny escaped and is trying to locate the Autobots so he can give them some vital information he acquired while in captivity. He happens upon a campsite, steals some clothes, and buries his Robot Master costume. As he leaves, he notices a minivan on its side with laser marks on it, but for some reason doesn’t think “Hey, that’s probably an Autobot.”

Ravage tracks Donny’s scent to the campsite, where he incinerates the buried costume with a deadly laser blast. To his dismay, there is only fragments of fabric, and no charred human remains.

In a small town nearby, Charlene and Wendell are finishing up a shift at the market where they work. Wendell gives her a ride home, but instead of going home, she convinces him to take her on a little adventure near some old abandoned gold mines.

Women: getting nice guys into unnecessary trouble for thousands of years.

Instead, they find the overturned minivan, and she’s able to convince Wendell to help her get it to the local garage so it can be fixed. (Most likely so she doesn’t have to get rides from Wendell anymore. Don’t do it Wendell, you’ll disappear from the rest of this comic!)
Somehow they get this van to Wendell’s cousin Bob, who owns the garage in town. Cousin Bob notices that this is unlike any car he’s ever seen, yet is still able to fix it, and still, nobody thinks “alien robot,” despite it currently being the biggest news story of the last 200 years.

Charlene nearly sideswipes a Lamborghini as she leaves the garage (ironic since it looks exactly like the Autobot Sideswipe). The car’s driver, Jake, didn’t appreciate this, especially since the same exact car apparently scratched his car in a hit-and-run in a previous issue (how coincidental).

Skids, now fully operational, takes control. Jake continues to chase the minivan, despite it driving sideways on walls and jumping over his speeding car. Jake’s girlfriend finally convinces him to stop chasing the magic car.

On a deserted part of road, Skids finally stops, and reveals his robot form to the panicked Charlene. Skids reveals to her the long war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Before the war he was an anthropologist, and would like to return to a life not dominated by combat. He would like to be her car.

Back at a diner in town, Donny overhears Jake talking about the magic van, and makes the stunning conclusion that he’s an idiot.

Skids peeks in on Charlene’s room, completely decorated with an Old West flavor. She shows him her favorite movie, High Noon, which ends with the Marshall dueling alone against four killers. In her words, “He could’ve run, but he was willing to stay and die for what he believed in.” This makes Skids question his decision to be a giant robot baby and hide from the Decepticons trying to subjugate the people of this planet, in so many words.

Over the next several days, they spend plenty of quality time watching sand storms, and beautiful sunlit mountains while sitting by a peaceful lake. One day after work, Wendell asks Charlene if she’d like to go see a movie with him, but she turns him down. Instead, she does this:

Skids asking her to polish his hubcaps, AGAIN, would make even Professor Xavier blush. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this scene is more erotic than anything that happened in 50 Shades of Grey. John Byrne is jealous that he never thought of this. Archie comics found this too suggestive. This panel is most definitely the reason I get erections in minivans.

(I just want to make doubly sure you caught that he asked her to do it "again," meaning his hubcaps were already polished and he would like her to do so a second time. If you don't find this as funny as I do, then we were never going to be friends.)

The most erotic car-washing scene since Bring it On is interrupted by the arrival of Donny. They are, in turn, interrupted by an attacking Ravage, who is clearly the slowest and least effective tracker in history.

Skids scoops in Charlene and Donny and makes a break for it, with Ravage trailing behind.
Jake sees the van go speeding by, and once again decides to insert himself into the situation. Charlene convinces Skids to hide out in the aforementioned abandoned gold mining town.

Skids tells Donny and Charlene to get to safety, when that rascal Jake comes running up out of hiding and smashes his windshield with a crowbar. Apparently this knocks Skids right out, making Skids the least resilient Autobot this side of Bumblebee.

Skids dreams about Megatron holding Charlene captive, and blasting into pieces with his arm cannon.

Donny and Charlene try to explain to Jake why he’s an abnormally huge asshole, instead of just a regular run-of-the-mill asshole, but they’re interrupted by Ravage.

As Ravage pounces around on the dreaming Skids, Jake decides to make a strategic retreat. Jake’s girlfriend (who I would call the most sensible person in the story, except she’s dating Jake) convinces him that he should probably help the two human beings he just endangered.

Begrudgingly he agrees, and uses his expensive luxury sportscar to ram Ravage, saving Skids from what was most likely going to be a devastating pounce.

Charlene finally snaps Skids out of his dream, but it doesn’t really matter all that much, because he continues to get his ass handed to him by a walking cassette tape.

Fortunately, after one of Ravage’s devastating blows, Skids discovers an old mining shaft shoddily covered by lumber. Ravage comes leaping in for yet another devastating pounce, but Skids rolls away at the last moment, sending Ravage falling to his doom.

Charlene is ecstatic that the danger is over, but Skids hits her with the hard truth: he needs to stop hiding, and return to the war against the Decepticons. He also suggests that maybe she should stop being a bitch and take Wendell up on his offer. His words, not mine. I don’t approve of that kind of behavior.

There you have it, the inaugural edition of Random Gems of 1980s Nostalgia. I hope you enjoyed it, because I will probably do more. If you didn’t, fuck you, read Transformers comics. Either way, donate money to the Cube. We are not above soulless corporate sponsorship!

This story can be found in:

Aug 20, 2015

On Moon People, Devil Dinosaurs, and The King

Next Friday marks what would have been the 98th birthday of Jack Kirby, arguably the greatest superhero comic book artist of all time and almost inarguably the most influential. A tribute to him is basically the selling point for Kirby4Heroes, a campaign run by Jack's granddaughter Jillian for the Hero Initiative. For those not in the know, the Hero Initiative is the only federally registered nonprofit organization dedication to provide medical and financial assistance to those in the comic book industry. There aren't many more worthy organizations in the comics industry to contribute to, and not many reasons more worthy to convince any comic fan to donate money.

Much has been made of Kirby's artistic achievements. His innovations, such as the use of the splash page (for money shots and dramatic moments, as opposed to Will Eisner who would use it as a visual hook and a quick way to introduce a situation) or his decision to compress whole figures into single panels to heighten the drama and emphasize scale, are well documented. But we don't talk enough about his storytelling choices that don't have to do with panel layout and composition. Jack Kirby was one of the most progressive and demonstrative proponents of diversity and equal representation in the history of comics, introducing such characters as T'Challa the Black Panther and Wyatt Wingfoot. He created lots of strong female characters, such as the Invisible Woman (look at her appearances minus the dialogue, and you'll see it), Lady Sif, and Big Barda.

Kirby's influence on that score seems more felt today than at any point in comic book history. There are all sorts of arguments against racebending and genderbending, and really, I get it. In an ideal world, we'd just create black heroes, Asian heroes, female heroes, and whatnot, and they'd become icons. But history has shown that that isn't easy in practice and that society's still got a lot to catch up on, even when it comes to our fiction. So let's table the whole "If they made Luke Cage white, it'd be the same thing," because it's not — for one thing, a big part of Luke Cage's background is that he is black. For another, there are few enough minority characters that are actually well developed, that it would just be socially regressive to do so. Let's also not forget that racebending to a white color has been a trend throughout history, such as it were. To add to that, I don't understand the following bits of outrage either:

  • Johnny Storm is black in the new Fantastic Four movie. A movie is basically like an alternate version of a property. There are several properties where Superman is black, at least two properties where Spider-Man is Japanese. Why is Johnny Storm being black in one property so wrong? Your comics with Caucasian Johnny aren't going anywhere; neither are your three movies.
  • Thor is now a woman. Actually, Thor is telling a story where Thor lost the worthiness to hold Mjolnir and Jane Foster got the power of Thor. It's not like they flat-out turned Thor into a woman, and even if they did, you wouldn't be at least intrigued by that story? 
  • Alan Scott is gay. It's an alternate universe Alan Scott who has always been gay, and has no relation to anything other than name and basic powers to the Alan Scott who had two children.

See, this actually does matter to me, because everyone should have role models. Everyone. You cannot, in any way, underestimate the importance of role models to whom to aspire — some people find strength in it, in their darkest moments.  And you can see that yes, people will react more if they see someone like them being Thor, being Superman, being Spider-Man, than they would if they were just another new superhero who may or may not succeed down the line. Everyone should have role models. And Jack Kirby knew that.

Which brings us to the new Devil Dinosaur. In the 70s, Jack Kirby created Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy. Moon Boy was a hairy caveman boy thing and was Devil's friend. They wandered around and had adventures in prehistoric times.

This page made Will Eisner appreciate Kirby as an artist.

Earlier this week, Marvel announced a new Devil Dinosaur series with Moon Girl. It's set in downtown Manhattan. Moon Girl is a completely new character.

As expected, there's been some backlash to it because some people are sick of what they see as pandering to women and minorities, but honestly, as a market analyst, I can say that you do have to keep in mind your growing markets, and no market in comics is growing faster than women.

On a social scale, I don't understand the backlash. It's not like they're changing Moon Boy into a black teenage female. (And even if they did, it's Moon Boy, so who cares?) They're moving Devil into the present day where his first friend is a black teenage female. Which is like if you move from Asia and have an Asian best friend and then move to America and have a white best friend.

Really though, the only thing I really ask when things like this happen is what the original creator would think. And in the case of Jack Kirby, I think he'd have been proud of how far we've come, while being cognizant of how far we have left to go. Because everybody needs role models. And Jack Kirby knew that.

Happy birthday, Jack.

Aug 19, 2015

Common Criticisms Revisited: Peter Milligan’s X-Men

Common Criticisms Revisited: Peter Milligan’s X-Men
Travis Hedge Coke

In 2005, after Grant Morrison’s New X-Men had wrapped up, and Milligan/Allred’s X-Statix was over, the the X-world was looking like Sammy the Fishboy and Emma Frost playing baseball.

Peter Milligan moved onto X-Men, for better and or worse, along with Salvador Larroca, Danny Miki, and Liquid! on colors. For twenty-two issues, with backup from various parties, they took a small team of X-Men and their relatives through a mix of class horror, religious weirdness, romantic comedy, indulgent action and vigorous silliness.

This X-Men run could have been my favorite, ever. There are some killer moments (Emma getting ready to cut off her own cheek with a pair of office scissors; Lorna’s happy face when pursuing Daap; Nightcrawler trying to be nice to his mom), some fantastic new characters (The Leper Queen; Bling), amazing character work, good drama… but it’s not. It’s a run I’ve revisited a lot, even though I don’t think of it as my favorite. There is a lot going for it. What went wrong?

Too Weird

For some readers, Milligan’s X-Men, which is really a toned down sort of Peter Milligan comic, was just plain too weird. There’s an entire arc revolving around the blood of an ancient mutant, a killer in a hockey mask obsessed with cleanliness and blaming mutants for her daughter’s death, an alien fungus that engenders fear and paranoia. Doop’s creepier, less pleasant-looking double, Daap. And a subplot of Mystique trying to break up her daughter (Rogue) and her daughter’s boyfriend (Gambit) so she can set him up with a “better” man of her choosing, while they’re realizing that not being able to touch each other probably kept them together more than it really was a hindrance to their relationship.

I tend to look at it two ways: One, the X-Men already involves psychics, magic, alternate realities, space aliens, time travel, and other madness, and Two, this is a very tame Milligan comic. This is not Skreemer. Skreemer is weird. Skin or The Extremist have a serious frisson of this is not right. This is not that.

But, there are kinds of weirdness, and the kind of weirdness here is not necessarily the kind normally found in X-Men comics. When Mystique disguises herself as Foxx, the semi-psychotic jailbait that everyone falls for (or rolls their eyes at), to sow dissension between Gambit and Rogue by macking on him, it is not nearly the first time we’ve seen Mystique look like a little girl or make herself “more attractive” to seduce someone. She really hadn’t combined the two, though, or done it for what might — uncomfortably — be earnest reasons.

We can’t tell, in this run, if Mystique is ever being honest, ever on the level. When Apocalypse and his body-of-stone second engage in their big machinations, we cannot be sure they’re even sane, that any of it will make sense or come to anything. What’s the big alien fungus that generates paranoia want? What sort of comic is this where we’re asking what the big alien fungus might desire?

Pulse Wouldn’t Fix Rogue’s Problems

This uncertainty, especially with Mystique’s motivations, worried a lot of readers. Chief among the concerns was that her plan for her daughter was selfish, absurd, and not going to work out. The man she’s selected, a thief named Pulse (who I would bet was a proxy for a not-available Fantomex), is not a great fit for Rogue. And, Rogue does have a boyfriend. And, is a grown woman who can pick her own men. And, doesn’t particularly like or trust her adoptive mother.

There’s nothing in the comics that imply that it has to work, though, or that Mystique isn’t trolling everyone or just that messed in the head. Some characters worry that she’s just causing trouble, while others actively fear that she actually means all of this in a good way. Plus, she did, as part of her plan, make Gambit feel he’s a pedo cheating on his girlfriend and beat the snot out of an actual teenager who got uncomfortably rapey about her when he thought she was being a tease.

Ultimately, giving an answer to her “true motives” would probably cheapen what energy and consequences her actions have. But, saying her plan is dumb is the same as saying any of Magneto’s plans, from conquering small countries, enslaving cavemen, or building a robot nanny to watch the X-Men are dumb plans. Of course they are.

The plans of X-villains aren’t workable, or the X-Men probably wouldn’t want to stop them so bad. But they are good for making the X-Men fret.

The X-Men Were Too Neurotic

Milligan and Larroca’s X-Men is all about anxiety. In a serious way, the talent are the villains of the piece, because they are torturing the X-Men. The in-story villains represent, in very naked, purified ways, abstract concepts of control, fear, lust, blind love, futility, impotence, self-loathing, and death.

Frankie, one of the mutants involved in a riot in Southern California, is a third rate Wolverine and he knows it. Funny hair, some weird skin markings, thick claws tipping his three-fingered hands. When he kills another mutant for looking at him in a way that makes him feel ashamed, nervous, Boy, leader of the riot and former pool boy comments, “Listen to me. He was an albino with virtually no skeletal matter. Compared to him, no one looked funny.”

Frankie can’t see himself as an albino with virtually no bones sees him. Emma Frost cannot see herself, her position in the X-Men or her life history, the way that Wolverine can see her (while not seeing himself so well). None of us know ourselves very fairly, but mutants, it seems, can seriously suck at it with the power of supreme soap opera dynamics.

Gambit and Rogue try psychic liaisons, since they cannot physically touch, skin to skin, without serious harm. Emma Frost, resident telepath, assists, similar to her engagement with Cyclops that led to she and he having a psychic affair, but it’s on Rogue and Gambit to maintain the illusion they want. Gambit, being Gambit, slips up and replaces Rogue for a moment with another woman. A seemingly-underage other woman, who is his student. If Emma or Frankie cannot keep their real situation straight, Gambit can’t even keep his fantasies in line.

Havok’s determined to renew his romance with Polaris because he wants to be his brother and prove he can keep his first girlfriend forever while Cyclops is with another woman (and his first girlfriend is dead). Polaris is in blind love with a weird, manipulative thing she saw in space. Iceman is trying to be with Polaris because he feels threatened by Havok, and clearly has issues with being close friends with a woman without feeling uncomfortable or emasculated. The more emasculated Iceman gets, the more transparent he actually seems, physically, turning into purer and purer ice as he pleads and retreats.

Actually, that the characters are, here, all tightly-wound balls of extreme repression and stress is the comic's best feature.

Spinning Wheels

It’s worst feature might be that halfway through, the comic hits a holding pattern as the line, overall, sorts itself between big crossover events. Milligan reportedly denies credit for one of the ONE issues, wherein piloted Sentinel robots stand around the X-Men’s front lawn, keeping them under house arrest and acting as a forty-foot subtle reminder that humans like to build big ass robots to aid in the capture or genocide of mutants. The issues have a lot of his hallmarks, so I imagine he did contribute to them, but who knows what changes were made? What was fait accompli? It’s unlikely that they would feel like such spinning wheels that never touch ground, if Milligan and Larocca had been freed from the shackles of some other book’s status quo.

Too Much Social Issues

While not Holy Terror (or The Fixer, for that matter), this run was pretty political, especially, maybe, by general X-Men standards, where, usually, politics goes as far as “racism is bad” and “the UN was pressured into giving Magneto a nation to rule as dictator, but it’s okeh because he’s a well-intentioned mass murderer who was sweet on Rogue that one time.”

For me, it was refreshing to see someone authorize an X-Men mission into space, grateful for their saving the day, but also eager to keep the press away, to ensure that no one turns the X-Men saving the world into mutants being heroes or anything.

Classism, racism, brand savviness, the family unit, nationalism, sexism, grief, trauma, doopsexuality… a lot of issues were highlighted and turned round and round for examination. Often, it was satirical or semi-satirical, and other times a concern could be so bluntly positioned before the reader that it became hard, as a reader, to be sure what the authors’ full intentions were.

Some folks weren’t annoyed by it being too issue-y, but were upset that the issues are addressed or turned around, but not solved.

Was Night of the Mutants a race riot? A protest? A class uprising? Cover-up for a mass murder and the beginnings of a cult?

What did the pretense of the ONE pilots walking their Sentinels around the grounds of the X-Mansion actually gain anyone? Is it in earnest? Is it just a dog and pony show using four-story tall genocide machines? Are people really looking at this as serious? At a man rejecting old school Soviet Communism for an ape-based philosophy his ape allies have rejected or a mass murdering houseboy as serious political signatures?

Nothing Got Wrapped Up

Peter Milligan doesn’t seem all that interested in tying up, neat with a pretty bow, his runs on properties he doesn’t own. It has happened, inasmuch as Shade got tied up neatly a few times, but Elektra, Justice League Dark, Infinity Inc and this run just sort of enter new phases in his last issues. Fair enough, right? There will be more stories with these characters.

But, in a fandom where closed runs of more than a dozen issues are becoming a kind of mark of accomplishment, the sort of emotional or narrative closure seen in this run (and, similarly, the other three runs I mentioned) doesn’t seem to cut it with the fan who wants one last giant apocalyptic battle for it all.

The final arc, "Blood of Apocalypse" is apocalyptic, but not in the blowy-uppy sense. It’s revelatory. Characters, including Apocalypse, see the world with new eyes, understand even themselves anew. Apocalypse spends much of the arc sitting. The final issue is almost entirely talking, hugging, characters lying on the floor looking up into someone’s face… and a brief fight between several wound-too-tight X-Men with no villain to pummel.

Gambit and Sunfire take off. Polaris splits, to go find herself, and it’s inevitable that she’ll be back. In fact, I think someone (Brubaker?) brought her back in less than five months’ time.

There’s never a full accounting of the Leper Queen. It’d be less interesting than the sense of mystery, or her own avoidance of truth, anyway, but convention would be to explain explain explain.

Just how nutty is Apocalypse? We may never know. It takes three licks to get to the center of that oversized blue and gray mutant.

The nature of Daap and his relation to Doop? The origin of the fungal invasion from space bearing connections to the mythical place where Christ was crucified? What Mystique was actually up to? Would Rogue and Gambit have actually made it without interference from meddling parties? Is Lorna crazy? Is Iceman? None of it is really addressed or cleared up. Why doesn’t anything from "The Apes of Wrath" play back into the rest of the run?

The Art Was Baaaaaaad

Larroca gets a bad rap on this run, and I’ll admit, it’s not his finest work. It does progress into something superior by the time he’s doing washes and pacing out the final storyline as a standalone arc, but that’s after how many issues?

Larroca doesn’t communicate the atmosphere of non-fight scenes, and since the run opens with a horror story and follows that with a New Girl at School melodrama, and other developments are a house arrest story, a comedy of transformations and supervillain machinations, Bobby Drake’s long and weird road of repression and paranoia, Wolverine feeling old and old-news, and loads of psychological drama and only short bursts of action, being only solid with the action is not good.

It is not bad art, though, on its own. It may sometimes be an ill fit, but at worst it’s competent, and in general it is superior to the substitute artist, Roger Cruz, even though Cruz does some very cool things, himself.

There are some brilliant tracking shots, and some genuinely harrowing scares. Tasked with a number of old characters and new, Larroca manages to make it all look apiece. Rogue closes her eyes when she’s going to be kissed, managing to look dopy and sincere and really cute about it. No one wants to get too close to Iceman while he’s iced up, which is subtly sold by him trying to mack on Polaris, only to have her hug at arm’s length or kiss his neck by pushing out her lips and standing back from him. Bling, jealous of Foxx fawning over Gambit and, basically, not over her, starts dressing like Rogue.

Larroca managed to make the Chuck Austen-designed (that is, vaguely ripped off from a videogame source) costume for Polaris work, by drawing it without trying to make it look good or flashy, just a sad, gaudy Halloween costume on a woman trying to hold it together.

But, the colorist ends up having to establish a lot of the atmosphere, by coloring “scary” scenes dark, serious scenes in somber tones, and action with some bright flashes of powers. No slight to the colorist, but they shouldn’t have to try to do the heavy lifting that way. Without the coloring - sometimes even with - the horror and action and romance all look fairly same-same, with no change in angles, emphasis, or style. The fights between normal-sized mutants and giant robots are cool until you realize that nothing is ever done to sell the size of the Sentinel robots, and in some panels, thanks to perspective choices, they're the same subjective size as Colossus or Havok.

Foxx is presented as every straight man and queer woman’s fantasy girl, and maaaaaybe Milligan has scripted this as an ironic goof in the vein of how many people fall for Doop’s apparent in-story sexual attractiveness and charming personality, but if so, it doesn’t play either. It isn’t sexy or funny, it’s just off. Ultimately, that’s my problem with the bulk of the artwork, not that it’s poor draftsmanship or anything, but that it isn’t funny, or sexy, or scary, or exciting, it’s competent enough, it’s fairly cool sometimes, trying to be better, but it’s toneless and awkward.

Aug 17, 2015

Embrace the Deadpool

Embrace the Deadpool
Ben Smith

Deadpool is one of the more polarizing characters in comics. For those that don’t know what that means, it has something to do with magnets, and a bunch of people that hate something awesome (most likely because they spend all their time doing math and reading awful puns). Deadpool is fun, and if you don’t like fun, you should just move to Utah where you belong. Either way, with Ryan Reynolds currently filming a live-action Deadpool movie, I felt it was time to do what I can to help those afflicted with such pointless hatred, to let the hate flow out of them and embrace the greatness that is Deadpool. Or at least direct that ire towards Starman where it belongs.

I’ve said it before, and now I will say it again, to me Deadpool is a hybrid of Marvel’s two most popular characters, Wolverine and Spider-Man. He gets the cool mask and annoying quips from Spider-Man, and the healing factor and deadliness from Wolverine. Therein lies part of the problem. For many fans, Deadpool (and Cable) embody all the excess of the horrible ‘90s. Amalgams, pouches, Rob Liefeld, lots of swords and murder. All of those things are true. But that’s only looking at the bad side, my friends. Don’t be so pessimistic.

Deadpool may not have started as a humor character, but that’s what he’s become, and that’s what makes him fun. That’s also what makes him a polarizing character, because you either find something funny or you don’t. Humor is subjective, after all (unless it’s Will Ferrell, he's just brilliant). For those that don’t think Deadpool’s funny, I’m going to try and help you to see the light. I will do this in bullet points that I will make up as we go along. We need to find a way to break Deadpool down into his component elements. Five seems like a quality random number. Let’s call them the Five Points for Deadpool Hilarity Acceptance. Or 5PDHA, if you’re into useless acronyms.


Half the battle of making a cool, long-lasting comic book character is an appealing costume design. It’s no mystery that two of the most popular superheroes in the entire world, Batman and Spider-Man, also have two of the best costumes. Spider-Gwen was an instant hit on the internet from the moment she appeared, simply because she looks great. Gangbuster is the worst superhero ever, and it shows. Deadpool steals quite a bit from Snake Eyes, the most popular G.I. Joe ever (and the must-have toy of the 1980s). Start with a commando ninja as your baseline, change the color scheme to primarily red, and then add some Spider-Man eyelets, and you have a pretty failure-proof look. It’s certainly much better than a leather jacket and some goggles.


Everybody likes when Bugs Bunny or Zack Morris turns to the camera and starts talking to us, the viewers. It makes us feel like we’re their friends, even if that means putting us in the same company as Porky Pig and Screech. Now, if you’re like me (and I know that you are) you just thought of the infamous Screech porno, which has made us all uncomfortable. The point still remains, breaking the fourth wall is fun.


I was not a fan of Deadpool until his new series launched in 2008 as part of Secret Invasion. I either didn’t pay attention to him in the waning days of my initial fandom (I quit comics for most of the ‘90s) or I forgot about him. Either way, it wasn’t until Daniel Way took over the character, in that aforementioned series, that the character really took off for me. One of the challenges of writing a solo character, is giving them someone to talk to and interact with. Way came up with (to my knowledge) the perfect way of handling that problem for Deadpool, by giving him multiple distinct voices in his head. Nothing is funnier than a crazy person talking to themselves. As long as that person isn’t, you know, going through your trash. If you can’t smile at a character arguing with themselves in their own head, you likely grew up as a San Antonio Spurs fan.


Along with those voices, sometimes Deadpool loses track of reality and starts hallucinating things that aren’t there. This is especially funny when it comes in the middle of a mission.


Deadpool is well acquainted with the greatness of cheap Mexican cuisine. This basically makes him like me, except more fit and slightly crazier. Tacos and nachos, that’s the secret to life, my friends.

There you have it, the Five Points for Deadpool Hilarity Acceptance, or 5PDHA. (If you rearrange the letters of that acronym, it spells “I’ve wasted my life.”) Look, I can understand why some fans might hate Deadpool. He joined the Grossly Overused Guest-Star team around 2009 as their starting small forward. There’s no question there were way too many Deadpool books back then, but if you actually read them with an open mind, like I did, a lot of them were pretty fun. Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth and Deadpool Team-Up were some of my favorite books coming out on a monthly basis then (and are good bets to get the Back Issue Ben treatment at some point).

A character with too many guest appearances kind of operates on the same wavelength as people that complain about events. You don’t have to get them all if you don’t want to. At some point, human beings have to stop getting upset just because some things they don’t like exist. It’ll be okay. Twilight fans aren’t hurting you because they like Twilight, and they probably think your Starman collection is equally stupid (and that’s because it is). Anyway, I like Deadpool, so you can get on board now, or pretend you were a fan the whole time once that movie comes out and is the best film ever created. As always, the choice is yours.

Aug 13, 2015

Presto! The Joy of Bandette

"Do you think master thieves steal only paintings and jewels? This is not so.
For example, we steal hearts and smiles, to give to those in need."

Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, is a delight. That is the simplest way I can describe it. Bandette is a delight. The eponymous heroine, a Robin Hood type with Camp sensibilities, fights crime and the forces of evil in a manner inspired by Tintin, with a speech pattern straight out of JM Barrie and Oscar Wilde books, and always, constantly, with a smile on her face.

Bandette is Camp, yes, and of the purest kind. While the common use of the word implies corniness, Camp really is just the emphasis of artifice and exaggeration, style over substance, to create something aesthetically pleasing. It's stylization played completely straight and with no hint of self-awareness. It's the beauty of masks, the joy of the show.

Bandette, always one step ahead of her enemies, at times feels like she never faces anything of consequence. But while that may be a criticism of more, shall we say, dramatic series, in a whimsical romp like this, knowing she's going to win is part of the fun. When she has to face bank robbers in a hostage situation, she does so by calmly pulling off a trick by letting them have all the money. When she runs into something unexpected to kick off her first collection of stories, Presto!, she quickly calls her team of assistants, affectionately called urchins, to execute a flawless plan. In fact, when Presto! ends, Bandette is in a contest with her rival, Monsieur, to see who the greatest thief in the world is. I'm 100% certain she's going to win that contest, and I can't wait to find out how in the next volume, Stealers Keepers. The fun is not in the worrying of how things will turn out in the end, but in how they will get there.

Coover's ink wash technique provides the perfect feel of whimsy and ephemeral quality to the book, and also imprints a very specific style on Bandette's already sizable and impressive cast of characters. As mentioned, there's her rival in thievery, Monsieur.

There's the Friends in Need Improvement Society (FINIS), and their leader, Absinthe.

There's the lovable old gruff cop who can never make an arrest without Bandette's help, Inspector BD Belgique, and his retinue. Belgique tries so hard, but he's just not good enough, and your heart breaks just a bit for him every time he has to call a wanted criminal to help him out.

There are Bandette's urchins, each with their own stories to tell, and each with their own personalities. Right now the most notable ones are the Three Ballerinas (bottom right), mainly because they're three ballerinas, and Daniel (the Thai delivery guy), because he definitely has a crush on Bandette, and she may or may not return those feelings. Daniel also has a prose story in Presto! that showcases Tobin's deftness with the written word and details how Daniel first met Bandette. It's quite charming.

But my favorite character in Bandette's world, maybe even more than Bandette herself, is Matadori, an assassin with a sense of honor, and who's even more Camp than Bandette. She actually narrates what she's doing as she's going along and even has her own entrance spiel!

I will emphasize that all these characters are introduced in the span of four issues. By the end of the fifth issue, and the end of the main arc of Presto, all the characters are on the stage and the momentum is in full swing. That's amazing! It's a full cast of characters, each imbued with their own unique aesthetic and personality introduced in such a short amount of time. That is a testament not only to Coover's design sense, but also her ability to infuse character and personality with facial expressions and body language.

Bandette: Presto! is a comic I picked up on a whim last week just as a treat to myself. I breezed through it and instantly started reading it to my niece. Bandette embodies freedom and the exhilaration of drama. She's a joy to read.

In addition to the main story, Bandette has "Urchin Stories," short strips drawn by different artists, focusing on her supporting cast. You can see them on Monkeybrain's website.