Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Monday, October 30, 2006

Self-Defense Tip #1

We here at Filing Cabinet of the Damned feel it important to give back to the community from time to time. Not only do such acts serve the common good, thus benefitting each and every one of us, it also cuts into the public service time mandated by the courts.

Below is a diagram of a vital self-defense technique, certain to be of use should you ever be threatened: the Twisker Sock.

With this, no one will dast to risk your fisk.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I’m Just Saying, Is All.

The Cranberries’ song Zombie, a mid-nineties hit, would have been a lot cooler had it not been about The Troubles in Ireland and instead been about The Troubles with the Living Dead.

But you see, it's not me, it's not my family.
Eat your head, eat your head, they are biting,
With their stench and their lurch,
And their lurch and their mung.
Eat your head, eat your head, they are coming.
Eat your head, eat your head,
Zombie, zombie

Not everybody is Irish. Everybody fears zombies. Simple as that.


Quote of the day:

“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.”
--Mark Twain, “Life on the Mississippi.”


I miss super-villain deathtraps. Cheese-laden though they were, they combined ingenuity with visual flair, capturing the purest heart of comic book madness.

There should be a deathtrap renaissance. Fans might dig it.

At least one of the traps should revolve around a theme of air hockey.


Marvel Comics is tying into the soap opera Guiding Light. The soap will have a character get super-powers and mention the comic in episodes, and a few Marvel comics will have Guiding Light stories in them.

It would work so much better with Wife Swap.

“Sue Richards, mother of two and full-time adventurer with her science-hero family in New York City, is changing places with Alice Dolphy, a fun-loving junk food junkie from Tallahassee!”

Well, y'know, assuming that comics were real and stuff.


The expression “a crimp in your style,” meaning something has hindered you, should have an opposite expression. I suggest “a chimp in your style,” meaning that things are going great.

“That raise put a chimp in my style, man!”


National Novel Writing Month kicks off in about a week. To prepare, I absconded with a stack of “how-to-be-writin’-books-and-suchlike” tomes from the public library. After a few days of scanning through them, I have reached a conclusion about books on writing.

To paraphrase Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, I poop on them.

I’m very, very tempted to review the books as a NaNoWriMo countdown. They’re not all entirely useless, just most of them. Then there was John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, which, while giving a few very fine points, also went out of its way to intimidate the reader and stress the need for perfection in all aspects of writing. Ugh. I drew a bit of stone-hearted comfort in the knowledge that Gardner’s own fiction falls well short of his standards.


A recent post by Booksteve reminded me of a movie that every lover of cheap cinema should check out: Roger Corman’s production of The Raven. Not only did it inspire Dr. Strange, the movie itself is a riot.

Roger Corman, King of the Hacks, made a string of Poe-inspired movies in rapid succession. The common themes meant he could re-use sets and even shots, thereby saving tons of cash. This was a typical Corman idea. The Raven was one of the last Poe movies, and he had fun with it.

The cast was incredible. It starred Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, and Boris Karloff. Ye gods. To see the traditional actors Price and Karloff against the Method Acting madness of Nicholson and Lorre renders the movie worth the price of rental.

It didn't take itself at all seriously--the story begins with a raven speaking with the voice of Peter Lorre. How cool is that? Very. The Lorre-bird tells sorcerer Vincent Price that he had been transformed into the bird by an eeevil sorcerer and he needed Price's help. The movie gets loopier from there. And yes, it has a woman named Lenore.

The Corman Poe movies were hurried, slap-dash affairs, and they were all the better for it. The very last one, The Terror, took this approach to the extreme. Corman had Karloff on contract for one last day, so he shot a few scenes of Boris doing assorted things. Later, Corman and a group of assistants (including a very young Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson) shot a bunch of other footage around the Karloff footage, making the story up as they went, creating a glorious mess.

Hell yeah.


After decades of avoiding them, I've started reading The Legion of Super-Heroes. A reboot, plus Mark Waid, got my attention. So I bought the first two trade paperback collections.

Danged if I don't like it. Waid plays into the zeitgeist very well. He is a clever, clever bastard. I'll write a longer post about it soon.


I would kill a man right now for a sweet, sweet doughnut.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Mark Trail's Newest Ally in the War On Naughtiness!

The Mark Trail comic strip for Thursday, October 16, 2006 introduced a bold new character, one certain to become a fan favorite:


He's ready to lend a bill to help Mark Trail arrest a pair of dastardly poachers!

He'll find them and bring them to web-footed justice if he has to tear apart the city to do it!

Crimefighter Duck is a relentless manhunter! No crooks can shake this drake!



On a mostly unrelated note, I just found out that the upcoming Dr. Fate ongoing series will be written by Steve Gerber. The Gerb was responsible for some of the great whacked-out comics ever produced, including the recently-cancelled and damn fine book Hard Time. His fondness for the absurd, his gift for strange imagery, and his strong humanism should make the series a high point for DC.


Whoever hired The Gerb for the job, I owe you a fruit basket.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Joys of Super-Villainy

Bully over at Comics Should Be Fun recently asked:

[What about the] lower level of science villain who's smart and savvy enough to create technology powerful enough to at least temporarily go up against Spider-Man or Superman or Batman or the Flash, but doesn't cash in on it: what's his story, I always wonder? Why has the megalomania gotten in the way of him seeing that he just developed a dandy radioactive-powered ice gun for which world conglomerates would pay millions to lease or buy the technology, and instead decide to use it to rob the Second National Bank of Keystone City?

Oh, innocent stuffed bull. So young.

Say you've been puttering around your garage and accidentally invented The Mighty Veeblefetzer, a device that allows you to transform, um, adult contemporary radio hits into deadly force blasts. A Phil Collins CD would be enough to shatter a mountainside, Kenny G albums could liquefy the flesh of an entire city from a distance of twelve kilometers, that kind of thing.

If you took your mind-blowing invention and went legitimate, a typical day might go like this:

Begin the day with a board meeting. Then enter a conference call with two subcontractors, a customer, and a government observer. Later spend six hours going through spreadsheets to calculate monthly EACs. Stay at the office late into the night to polish up a report that will hopefully keep the research funding flowing.

If you took your invention and went eeeevil, a typical day might go like this:

Begin the day by donning your Invincible Battle Armor. Take to a stage in front of millions of your brainwashed minions. Bellow to them that you will destroy the world should the fools in Washington not accede to your all-too-reasonable demands. Tell your minions of their need to sacrifice themselves for your glory. Then shake your fists above your head in triumph as you cry out "WHO WILL DIE FOR ME?" and celebrate as those hapless millions scream their desire to end their lives simply to please you. Feel the world tremble in fear beneath your feet.

Granted, the first instance would probably end with a viewing of "Law and Order" reruns and a nice conversation with the spouse back at home, and the second would probably end with a gaggle of super-beings caving in your skull or disintegrating you.

Until that moment, what a rush.

The key to villainy is that it's so much fun. Life without the occasional power-mad cackle or cry of "seize him!" is a life hardly worth living. Super-villaining is choosing to live in a universe ruled by a bipolar god: the lows are lower than you'd ever believe, and the highs are greater than a normal person could ever fantasize.

Imagine that your favorite sports team has won the World Series/Super Bowl/whatever, you've struck a massive gold vein in your backyard, the Sexiest Man or Woman Alive has shown up on your doorstep seeking your affections, and the news announced that your face will be added to Mount Rushmore in light of your total awesomeness.

Now imagine all of that happening at the exact same time.

The best parts of super-villainy are like that. But better.

The finest explanation of villainy comes from a true American pioneer in the field. Henry David Thoreau stalked the forests of New England in the mid-nineenth century, clad in a green mask and tights. He called himself "The Verdant Caesar" and used a primitive robot, a "steam-boiler man" of his own construction, to attempt a conquest of Concord, Massachusetts.

Though he failed due to the interference of an unnamed "Wonder Horse," Thoreau's account of his career inspired generations of super-villains. To quote from the original, unedited text of Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live villainously, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.

Preach on, brother Harry. Preach on.

By the way, I'm starting up a super-secret world-conquering conspiracy. So far I've got a few telepathic gorillas, a ninja clan on retainer, a mid-sized flying saucer, some doohickey I bought on eBay called a "Magma Bomb," and a line on a fixer-upper Giant Nazi Robot. (I'm good with tools, so it should be operational by Christmas.) Those wishing to volunteer now as either elite guards or goon-class henchmen, please notify me in the comments section. We will conquer, they will bow at our feet, the world is ours, etc., etc.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hector Hammond, MODOK, and Me: The Benefit of the Epic Melon

I have a big head.

Not just in the figurative sense; it is also true in the strictly physical sense. According to current medical literature, my head fits in the technical category of "Epic Melon."

How epic? I cannot wear hats, save for those available at Big Head Caps. My skull's circumference is greater than two feet. The only people I know of with larger noggins than mine are a pair of NFL linemen, both all-around enormous men, both over six foot six. I'm five foot ten.

The advantages of giant heads have proven to be few. I do save a lot of money in souvenir caps, since nobody makes 'em in my size. Nobody dares to engage me in head-butting competitions.

Today I ran across this tasty tidbit from Reuters News Service:
Head growth in infancy tied to later intelligence
Head growth in fetal life and infancy is associated with later intelligence, new research hints. Moreover, catch-up increases do not appear to compensate for poor early growth.

"Brain growth in early life may be important in determining not only the level of peak cognitive function attained but also whether such function is preserved in old age," the study team writes in the journal Pediatrics. "Older people with a larger head circumference tend to perform better on tests of cognitive function and may have reduced risks of cognitive decline and of Alzheimer's disease."

Several studies in children have shown that those with larger brains, measured with imaging studies or as head circumference, tend to score higher on tests of cognitive function. Similar associations have been found in adults.

For their study, Dr. Catharine R. Gale, of the University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues examined the effect of head growth in fetal life, infancy, and childhood on brain power at the ages of 4 and 8 years. Included in the study were 633 term children who had their head circumference measured at birth and at regular intervals thereafter.

By age 1, mean head circumference increased from 34.9 cm at birth to 46.6 cm. Head growth after infancy was slower. Mean head circumference increased to 50.9 cm by 4 years and to 53.4 cm by 8 years.

Average full-scale IQ was 106.3 at 4 years and 105.6 at 8 years. The investigators report that only prenatal growth and growth during infancy were associated with later IQ.

At 4 years, after adjusting for parental factors, there was an average increase in full-scale IQ of 2.41 points for each 1 standard deviation increase in head circumference at birth and 1.97 points for each 1-SD increase in head growth during infancy. This was conditional on head size at birth.

Head circumference at birth was no longer associated with IQ at 8 years. However, head growth during infancy remained significantly predictive, with full-scale IQ increasing an average of 1.56 points for each 1-SD increase in head growth.

SOURCE: Pediatrics October 2006.

That's right, bitches. Fear my Alzheimer's-resistant mega-mind.

The article speaks of "tendencies" and "averages." Bah! As the proud possessor of a considerable coconut, I know perfectly damn well that I'm extra-brilliant, courtesy of the extra skull space. Moreover, that extra space isn't just for holding random facts about comic books, either. No, no. It serves a special function.

Should you ever see me, or any of my massively-meloned bretheren, squinting, it's because we're using our extra-big brains to read your puny mind.

Think nice thoughts, human.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

A Notion, Rooted in Cross-Dressing

Since I'm sharing random brain farts today, here's another.

Something that would be super-cool to see in the upcoming Iron Man movie...

A conceit from the movie Tootsie.

Tony Stark, a boy genius grown up, an alcoholic womanizer, and a multimillionare munitions magnate, is forced by circumstances to assemble a mechanized battlesuit. He uses the suit to fight monsters and do good deeds. This public-spiritedness is supremely out of character for the arrogant Boy Wonder. Even he is a little mystified by it.

It has a parallel with Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, an actor who masquerades as a woman, Dorothy Michaels, to get an acting job. Dorsey, to his surprise, finds himself acting differently when pretending to be a woman. Midway through the movie, Dorsey relates to his roommate a difficulty he'd had that day on the job. "If it were me, I would have bawled the guy out," Dorsey explains. "But she didn't." Michael then has a minor epiphany. "I think Dorothy is smarter than I am."

Imagine a scene where Stark's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Whitney Frost, finds him in the armor, sans helmet. She asks, "Tony...really? Fighting bad guys and saving kittens in trees? You?"

Stark sputters for a minute, confused. He stares at his helmet and then blurts "Iron Man is better than I am!" He pauses again, confused at what he just said.

Once freed from expectations and his past, Stark discovers that he isn't the petty bastard he always thought he was, or that he at least has the potential to be a good man.

(...okay, okay, the movie is almost certainly centered around this very idea. It's kinda obvious. I just wanted to work in the "I think Dorothy is smarter than I am" quote into a post. I think it translates well to the world of superheroes and the nature of the secret identity. Plus, I don't work in enough references to cross-dressing in my blog. Have to work on that.)


A bonus picture: Abraham Lincoln at RFK Stadium, working the crowd during a Washington Nationals game. He'd just participated in the "Presidents' Race" down the first base line.

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The Viola

The viola. Every team has one.

The mid-range character who never truly establishes himself or herself as a major player, but without whom, the team feels wrong somehow; off-balance. Violas generally fill in harmonies, occupying the gap between the violin and the cello. They play vital roles in chamber music. But few solo concerti or sonatas have been written for them.

Violas are not “second fiddles,” backup characters who labor in the shadow of a superior version of themselves. No, violas provide something unique, yet something ill-suited to stand alone.

The Martian Manhunter, Wonder Man, the Vision, all are classic violas. They provide texture and depth to their teams, but seem ill-suited for solos. The Black Knight. Maybe Cyborg? I don’t know.

I ask you, o comic fans: What makes a character a viola? Is there a surefire technique to spot a viola-in-the-making? Can a character overcome that status? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, though I’m sure it’s happened at least once. Is Cyclops the viola of the X-Men? Who are some key violas? Who is your favorite?

This is the kind of stuff I think about during my commute.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Gray Hat: Hooerhouse America and an Appreciation of the Peculiar Heroism of One Mister Jonah Hex

The last Western hero in comics was a disfigured bounty hunter, a man of dubious moral fiber who brought pain and death wherever he went. Long after every other cowboy hung up his sixguns, he rode on. He lasted because he brought something to comics that no other hero did, and he brought it well.

Little Bill Daggett: I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house.
Will Munny: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
Little Bill Dagget: I'll see you in hell, William Munny.
Will Munny: Yeah.

Jonah Hex was a killer. He’d kill to fulfill his job, and often he killed to carve out a little justice. Yet there’s a difference between him and the killer vigilantes of comics set in the modern era, such as the Punisher.

The Punisher’s stories are also filled with horrible crimes and murderous retribution, but they center on a different idea. The story of the Punisher is, at its heart, the story of a good man’s fall into hell. Frank Castle’s world is forever split between the Good Life of before, when order and love reigned, and the Nightmare World that an act of senseless violence threw him into, where all is chaos and hate. The Punisher kills to restore order to the world and to give himself the satisfaction of punishing those he feels to be evil.

Hex’s world was of a wholly different substance. Jonah had no fall from grace, no lost golden age. He was not trying to restore order to a world gone mad. The heart of Hex's story is that the world was always mad, and Jonah had to live in it. Hex was never on a great moral quest; he was just trying to get by.

He was decent and honorable in his way, simply because that’s who he was. A form of decency was innate to him, something he couldn't ignore even when he wanted to. And therefore he killed, because sometimes his world required that a decent man kill.

Mordecai: What happens after?
The Stranger: Hmm?
Mordecai: What do we do when it's over?
The Stranger: Then you live with it.
--High Plains Drifter

Hex’s world was filled with the greedy, the immoral and the amoral. Examples abound in his recent Showcase Presents volume. In one story, a cute, bumbling sheriff with a pretty little lady love sets off on the trail of violent thieves, joined by a protective Hex. In short order, Hex found that the sheriff was in on the gang’s crimes, seeing another woman on the side, and ready to kill Hex to keep it all secret. In another story, a young boy sold out Hex to a gang of killers for a quarter. A story about a corrupt tollbooth owner showed two children drown in swamp muck on-panel. Hex later finding the corpse of their mother rotting in a lime pit. It’s a cold, hard place, that West.

The worldview of Jonah Hex isn’t sophisticated. “The whole world ain't nuthin but a hooerhouse” is hardly a groundbreaking idea in and of itself. But it was unusual for both comics and westerns, entertainments notorious for clearcut black-hat villains and white-hat heroes, where virtue won out and everything was always fine in the end. By contrast, Hex’s gray-hat world was confusing and cruel, where good men were warped into villains by necessity and bad men often got away with their crimes.

In the seventies, Superman and Batman comics told you that bad men wore silly costumes, gave obvious clues to their intentions, and were always stopped by the forces of good. A kid could find issues of Superman Family, Batman Family, and super-teams a’plenty, and there he would find brotherhood and clean-cut adventure. On that same spinner rack, Jonah Hex told kids that the world was a treacherous place, everybody looks out for number one, and that when it matters, we all walk alone.

Will Munny: Hell of a thing, killin' a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess he had it comin'.
Will Munny: We all got it comin', kid.

Constant messages of shiny hope and glowing optimism feel false after a while. Hex was a counterbalance to regular comics, a recognition of the unsavory side of existence. Rather than wallow in power fantasies of conquest with Superman or the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Hex reader wallowed in dark fantasies of alienation. Marinating in a stew of cheap cynicism can be a hell of a lot of fun.

Both the new ongoing Jonah Hex series and the recently-published Showcase Presents volume reprinting his early years are worth the time and money. Buy ‘em, fanboys, and enjoy the bitter taste of a world long gone loco.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

So Close To My Childhood, It's Spooky

I haven't heard a lot of positive things about Judd Winick's superhero comics. Not having read them, aside from a few issues from his stint on Green Arrow, I am in no position to talk about them.

About his masterpiece, I will rave: The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius. So good. So very good. Barry is, as one would hope, a hoot with loads of charm and imagination. But more than that, it captures the flavor of being a young boy--the close friends, the misadventures, and the foul language. Oh, the foul language. Below is a little introduction Barry gives to the reader in his second miniseries (click to enlarge).

The comradery, the sense of possibility in every single day, the bad hair, the endless all rings true.

Despite the superscience, aliens, and occasional cloning, Barry Ween is a hell of a lot closer to my childhood than Peanuts ever was.

I had a strange childhood, yes.

C'mon, Winick...the third and best Barry Ween mini finished a long time ago. Make with the funny, dang it!

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Two Plus Two Does Not Equal Four Thousand, Nine Hundred and Twelve: A Partial Defense of Mark Millar and Civil War

Mark Millar and Marvel editorial painted themselves into a wicked corner with the Civil War miniseries. They announced their intentions to both approach the issues of the day and to give the differing sides an equal hearing. Online critics have been blasting them for failing to live up to this goal of even-handedness.

In Millar's defense, that has to be tough.

Not in terms of the “Superhuman Registration Act,” the core of the comic story. Looked at in a vacuum, there are many good arguments to make on both sides of the Act, and the story could be a rich exploration of the politics of a science-fictiony universe. The Marvel Universe would be pulled in a different direction, and characters would be pushed and pulled in directions that they’d never seen before.

However, that’s not what Marvel is doing, now is it?

The motivator behind Civil War (aside from sales, of course) is dealing with the political issues of the real world, not their fictional one. The entire series is, as we’re all well aware, a hamfisted allegory of the struggles between civil liberties and security in America. As is the case of so many badly-written stories in serial fiction, the writer had a story he wanted to tell, and crammed pre-existing characters and situations into that story, deforming and distorting those characters to say what he wants to say. The goal was to interpret real-world events through fictional-world constructs.

In the real world, the split between sides of the issue is difficult to approach with even hands.

One side argues that the threat of terrorism is real, and that to fight it requires that it be pursued vigorously while maintaining a sense of proportion. They argue that if we could maintain our civil liberties in the face of a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, surely we could maintain them in the face of a dork whose plan was to stuff explosives in his sneakers. This side argues that the threats to our safety lie not only with bombers, but also in our own fears, and that courage and responsibility in the face of terror is the only valid response.

The other side is a combination of shrieking hysterics and power consolidation. Insisting that a handful of tragic bombings and terrorist acts have created a paradigm shift in human history, they support secret prisons, the suspension of basic legal protections for individuals, and the suppression of dissent. We must trust our leaders to do the right thing without oversight, because dammit, they said so. This side argues that the threats to our safety lie with both a unified army of shadowy operatives in far-away lands and with the countless quislings at home who would open the gates of America to let the terrorists run rampant, because, well, because they’re spineless traitors or something.

(Thankfully, the latter side is small and largely confined to the White House and Fox News. Finding a regular citizen of any political persuasion who takes that side anymore is a tough one. Honestly, I’m not sure if even the White House believes it.)

When Millar wrote his story, he was confronted with a significant problem. How does one present the sides even-handedly when one side argues for courage, steadfastness, and getting the job done, and the other side screams “AAAAAH!!!! DO ANYTHING!!!! FREEDOM BE DAMNED, I DON’T CARE!! ROUND UP SCARY-LOOKING PEOPLE BEFORE I WET MYSELF AGAIN!!!!! AAAAAHHH!!! DO ANYTHING YOU WANT, JUST LET ME BE SAFE!!!!”

The Civil War storyline begins with a tragedy that leads to hundreds of deaths. A group of concerned governmental-types exploit this tragedy to enact legislation they’ve desired for years. That this new legislation happens to increase their own personal power, well, that’s just a happy side-effect of Making America Safer, now isn’t it? That the legislation is both of dubious effectiveness and questionable legality, well, that’s not as important as rallying behind it, right?

Yeah, that’s not a direct comment on modern America or nothin’.

How can one present this situation and “be fair to both sides?” When one side argues that two plus two equals four, and the other argues that two plus two equals nine thousand eight hundred and twenty, should one tell a story where two plus two equals four thousand nine hundred and twelve and call it “fair?”

And thus we are led to Civil War, where Millar resorts to the only sense of even-handedness that one can have in such situations: page count. The sides do have equal time to express themselves.

If one side happens to express itself by creating killer clones and recruiting armies of violent psychopaths to accomplish its ends, so be it. In the real world, its counterpart side has declared checks on executive power as outdated, rejected the long-held and carefully-crafted structure of law as an enemy of security, and exploded with outrage when its program of secret prisons was exposed. It’s hard to paint that as other than exploitive power-hunger at its worst.

Granted, were I in Millar’s shoes, or those of Marvel editorial, I would never have told the story in this fashion. Men in multicolored tights punching each other out can indeed tell allegorical tales, but they tend not to be the subtlest of fictional creations. To force these characters into stories that violate their long-standing appeal is wrongheaded and makes for bad comics, and moreover, it ends up making weird, simpleminded, and confused comments on the actual events.

Real-world issues tend to be complex and lacking in absolute clarity. Comic books revolve around men and women in primary-colored tights kicking each other in the head. "Exploration of complex political issues" and "boot-to-head make-with-the-explodo four-color action" are difficult to reconcile. Politics in superhero books isn't, and I'd argue can't be, much more complex than what you'd find on a bumper sticker.

I suppose the inclusion of sophisticated politics could be done well, but I can't think of a place where it actually has been. No, I don't read Ex Machina.

("Politics are complex and lacking in clarity" is a notion that runs counter to the spirit of this post, I know. Generally, my political thinking is filled with caveats and conditionals, but some issues are simpler than others. Plus, you'll have to excuse me, I'm ranting today.)

All that being said, if you’re gonna hew to the real-world parallels and political relevance, “balance” can’t be done at the cost of reality. Millar understands that two plus two does not equal four thousand nine hundred and twelve, and that calling people traitors for pointing it out doesn’t change the facts.

Civil War isn’t much fun or a comic I’d recommend to anyone. But I can see where it’s coming from.

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