Tuesday, January 19, 2016


There are two types of noteworthy actors; the ones that truly disappear into a role. Your Michael Fassbenders. Your Christian Bales. Then there are the actors that are reliable and dependable in the art of acting, but ultimately, there isn't a discernible core difference from movie to movie. Your Matt Damons. Your Samuel L. Jacksons. Both serve a greater purpose, the former provides the audience with unpredictable entertainment. The latter is analogous to comfort food.

Brian Michael Bendis is one of the greatest comic book writers alive today. Undoubtedly. When he is on, he is awn. And after an impactful and influential streak of published work, I am finding myself frustrated and disappointed by his recent output. This is because Bendis, while exceptionally capable, is comfort food.

I want to make two clarifications first:
1. I am not insulting or belittling his work. Comfort food carries with it a negative connotation that is not intended. I mean it simply as a qualifier for how his work always tastes good.
2. Bendis, like comfort food, has perfected his recipe in a way that, comparatively to his early work, feels lazy but also dependable. Tasty, but not adventurous. Palpable but lacking in provocation. Like sweatpants.

I've thought about this a great deal because I value his contributions. His work on Alias (or Jessica Jones), Goldfish, Torso, Ultimate Spider Man, Daredevil, amongst a few others were, for the most part, revelatory. However, his run on the Avengers, X-Men and especially Guardians of the Galaxy all read as non-essential contributions. Especially Guardians which has the potential to be a flagship title for Marvel in light of the titular movie's success, but instead it reads as a mish-mash of afterthoughts. And I truly care for this title. I want it to work so badly because it has crazy potential for depth and emotion and significance.

Because I genuinely care, more than a middle-aged father of three should, I've thought about why this is happening. Why is it that a marquee name like Bendis that was once synonymous with quality storytelling has reverted into a churning quip factory? What has happened to this once uncontested superstar of the comic world?

[Full disclosure: I once had an idea for a limited edition series starring the Israeli mutant Sabra. I think in light of Marvel's progressive initiative, it would be interesting to see how they would handle a superhero from Israel. But instead of relegating this thought to daydreaming, I wrote a draft of the first issue, and upon completion, I sent the draft to Bendis who still has his email address inexplicably posted on his personal website. I never heard back, which is understood.]

After having analyzed recent issues, I've come to a very simply conclusion for why Bendis hasn't been "killing it" of late. I'm almost disappointed by how simple it is.

Bendis excels when he's focused on one singular character. His tonality and voice is wholly distinct in a way that when it comes from one focal point, it's always entertaining. It's his distinctive mix of jaunty humor, the dark undertones, the humanity of the characters, which is a significant achievement when you'll consider that for nearly half a century comic books ostensibly served as escapism from humanity.  You could almost say that Bendis is the Tarantino of comic book writers; a perfect amalgamation of sharp storytelling and winking self-awareness.

The problem is that when it comes to an ensemble cast, the characters all share one singular voice, and reading a comic in which a talking rodent sounds exactly as a half-Terran isn't much fun. There's too much dialogue. Too much "character." Everyone has a line. Everyone needs to banter. There's very little development, and even when there is, you don't care much about said development because as a reader, you don't feel connected to the characters.  The connection is lacking because when nothing is distinctive, everything is a mess of affected blather. Generic is the enemy of empathy.

Or it could be the workload which has relegated Bendis into a story arc generator who feels like he has to provide on schedule with less and less opportunity to live with these characters in his mind. My proof for this is that the current Iron Man series, while not quite quality, is still an improvement over the disappointing Guardians.

One need only look at the year end lists which compile the great titles of the previous year. New Marvel series like Vision, Squirrel Girl or Dr. Strange make it. Even Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman is getting a tempered yet respectable nod. But nowhere have I found mention or hosannas for Bendis' 2015 contributions.

In order to restore his legacy, as far as I can tell, there are two solutions. Bendis needs to focus on a series that features a starring character. This is when he really shines. He also needs to soften the Disney touch on his current series and instill more of the noir element he was once known for. Guardians doesn't need to get darker necessarily, but it has to feel less non-essential. As it stands, it's a disposable space fantasy which features all the right ingredients but when it's cooked together, it's comfort food. Which, when you think about all the quality storytelling hitting newsstands now week after week, doesn't feel as enticing as it once did.

It's a great time to be a comic fan, but it's amazing to consider how much greater it could be with some quality Bendis work.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Shana has been challenging me recently about the notion of legacy. Especially after Steven came home from school one day and summarized me as a guy who "buys a lot of collectibles."
And in light of the news today that David Bowie has passed away, I have been thinking about legacy more so than I would normally. The notion that you can contribute to the world so impactfully in such a meaningful way, and to do so on your terms without any blaring compromises. Nothing Bowie did was normal or expected--you could never have said at any point what his next album would sound like because you would have no idea what genre was inspiring him or turning him on at any given time. 

It was obvious to me that Bowie did things for himself, but not in a selfish way. But in an honest way. And sometimes that honesty backfired. Not everything he did was commercially viable, or critically acclaimed. There were some truly and unsettlingly weird moments in his career, even those that posthumously in retrospect still seem questionable. But again, they were so honest. 

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today that she was not the aspirational quote kind, but there was something that David Bowie once said that she found so wholly inspiring that she asserts to have thought about it every single day since she heard it."I forced myself to become a good songwriter," Bowie said. "And I became a good songwriter. But I had no natural talents whatsoever. I made a job of working at getting good. I wasn't one of those guys who danced out of the womb."

I think this is why his loss resonates so strongly with so many people I know. It's also a good reason for why he has inspired me today to further consider what my own legacy will be. He did things, a great many things, but it was not effortless. No, none of it was easy for him. Nor was it natural. Yet he was true to himself throughout the whole process. It would be impossible to argue that--how could you contest the authenticity of his career when he never did anything at any point that reeked of compromised commercialism? 

Thinking about all the things that I myself wish to accomplish, I can't help but analyze his life and what it was that pushed him to live his as a shining example of pure creative expression. And I think the one singular factor that made Bowie what he was to so many was his unabashed lack of fear.

He wasn't a calculating man. That would have resulted in a very different kind of career, one that most of us would not spend the time admiring. It also wasn't the hard work because a lot of people work hard and don't ever come close to achieving this weirdly amorphous achievement of equal parts admiration, credibility and influence. Bowie wasn't afraid. 
He wasn't afraid of looking weird. Because he did. 
He wasn't afraid of failing. Because he did.
He wasn't afraid of flying in the face of complacency. Because oh hell yes he did. 

If I had to admit anything to myself, it would be that I am afraid. Of failure. Of complacency. I embrace it. Sometimes I even retreat to it. I worry about how life would be if it wasn't exactly how it is. And today, on the day of David Bowie's passing, I lament. I mourn. I am saddened by his untimely loss. But most of all, I am jealous. 

I am jealous of his lack of fear. I wish I could embrace the Great Whatever and embark on the legacy I've been ruminating on for so long. 

"My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter,” Bowie told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. “The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety — all of the high points of one’s life.”

Monday, January 04, 2016


It's silly and naive.
Yet here I am again, with another fresh start, looking toward another 365 days wondering how and if this one will be any different. I'd like to be idealistic and consider all the things that this year will be for me in all the ways last year wasn't, but I wonder if, in some way, that's counterproductive.

I put too much pressure on myself to discover something profound and revelatory, eager to check things off my two ton to-do list like "find meaning," "discovery the thing you really want to do in life" and "write every day," but these are things I say to myself year after year.

This morning, I thought about how to do things differently. This morning, I sat on a crowded commuter bus and wondered how I could somehow figure out a way to not take that commuter bus. But I know the answers. They're simple answers.

It's not laziness. It's restlessness. It's fear of failure. It's not wanting to disappoint myself above disappointing all others. After all, only I know all the ideas I've had left unfulfilled. Only I know about this overwhelming mental storage closet of stories, concepts, projects, what have. There are so many. So, so many.

But all those things are so cliche. I feel even weird admitting to myself that my lack of motivation or the inability to find creative fulfillment is because of these things that are so asinine. These are the sort of things you explain to people and they laugh at your ridiculousness, respond with encouragement. They always say something nice.

There's a mental block so palpable, it almost feels literal. That there's a concrete slab in my brain so formidable that it won't allow ideas to travel through. Like a border without possibility of entry. I hear what people say and appreciate their faith and their kind words and their want to be helpful, but the effort in a phase of my life when effort is in short supply. The physical and metal demand to make an effort may seem small to some, but the demand of life is...and this is how it works.

Excuses. Aren't the contributions I can potentially make more powerful that the fears holding me back from making them? I don't know the answers yet. But I do know that this morning, I am writing here in my space after not having done so for a long while. But the thing that prevents me from continuing is that I don't necessarily have the time to belabor on thoughts and musings as I once did. I have to tell myself that that's acceptable.

Isn't it?