Wednesday, October 31

Comics celebrity playlist: Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction is one of the most prolific and praised writers in comics today, whether for his graphic novels, creator-owned comic Casanova, or his work for Marvel on The Order, Punisher War Journal, and The Immortal Iron Fist.

Fraction's rise to rock star status has escalated over the past several years. He first captured widespread attention with humorous super-spy ape book The Annotated Mantooth! (2002) and bank robbery caper Last of the Independents (2003). He turned my head, however, with the historical sci-fi epic The Five Fists of Science, in which Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla team up to save the world from itself and make a few bucks on the side. It's a story loosely rooted in historical truths, which takes some liberties when it turns to a towering automaton, black magic, and an evil cabal allied with J.P. Morgan and Thomas Edison. Quite a fun read, especially if you enjoy watching Mark Twain threaten to whoop some ass, Missouri style.

While those graphic novels earned Fraction notoriety, the comics community has really latched on to his various current projects. His writing for Casanova in particular has garnered ample admiration. Casanova, published by Image Comics, is the story of Casanova Quinn, a young man from a powerful family whose business happens to be international espionage and assassinations. It transcends the usual spy fare, however, by allowing Quinn to function in multiple timelines and dimensions, losing and gaining allies along the way. There's plenty of humor, action, nudity, raw language, and the like, so it's certainly for mature readers only. Pop fans will also note several references to Beatles songs within the dialogue. A very fun read.

You can view the entire first issue at Newsarama, and the first 7 issues (of the 10 so far released) have recently been released in a hardcover collection. Issue #8 can be read at Myspace Comics.

In the past couple years Fraction has taken on duties with the big boys at Marvel Comics, writing both two of their better-known characters and an upstart title. Punisher War Journal follows the exploits of vigilante badass Frank Castle, The Punisher, whose iconography is well known. Fraction has had the Punisher taken on superhumans, mutants, aliens, Nazis, and slave traders in his 13 issue run, which should be enough to keep any anti-hero busy. Reaction to Fraction's depiction of the character has been overwhelmingly positive. The first collected volume of Fraction's run, which coincided with the civil war among Marvel's heroes, is now available and the second is due in December.

Also currently on Fraction's plate is new series The Order, in which a team of upstart heroes has been put in charge of maintaining a superhuman presence in California. The team is comprised of individuals who have excelled in other fields and are selected for training and genetic manipulation. A character in the book has referred to the program pejoratively as American Idol for superheroes, but the analogy seems appropriate. It's a young series, but has been fun and promising so far.

I'd also like to point out that the image below, from issue #2, features a shape-shifting beauty queen battling a Soviet bear with a jet pack. Winner winner, chicken dinner. Issue #4 is due November 7.

Perhaps the hottest title for which Fraction has been writing is The Immortal Iron Fist, which he has been co-writing with bigshot Ed Brubaker (also currently on Daredevil and Captain America). A perennial also-ran at Marvel, Fraction and Brubaker, along with artist David Aja, have elevated the title into what is often considered the best Marvel book currently released. Since its reboot last year, the book has traced the history of the Iron Fist title and legacy, and involved protagonist Danny Rand in a series of adventures involving epic kung-fu tournaments and team-ups with old allies. Immortal Iron Fist #10 is due on November 7.

The first six issues are currently available in a hardcover collection.

Expect Fraction to be a heavy hitter among comics writers for years to come.

As is quickly becoming customary at C&T, I've asked the featured creator to submit a playlist. Fraction has been kind enough to oblige, sending a love letter to John Darnielle from his Kansas City home. Might we see some Mountain Goats references in upcoming issues of Casanova? I'll certainly be on the lookout...

FIVE MOUNTAIN GOATS SONGS FOR YOU - A playlist by Matt Fraction

These are five Mountain Goats songs. It's hard to whittle it down to five; The Mountain Goats put out jams like Kiss did in their prime, a new record every year and more than a few minor releases leaking out around the edges. And they're all more like DESTROYER and not so much like UNMASKED, you know? So it's hard.

Also, I now want to hear the Goats cover "Beth." Or star in a remake of KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK. Yes, Catman, they ARE serious. Anyway: songs.

"No Children," TALLAHASSEE (2003) - This song is almost profane. The first time I heard it I think I may have covered my mouth. I couldn't believe it. I made Laurenn, who was playing it for me on her iPod, play it again and maybe even again. I have that thing, that music brain thing, that lets me do that, that forces me to do that and inflict immediate obsessions on all those around me. I remember when I was a kid, the first time I heard "Purple Rain," I had the same reaction-- I couldn't believe Prince was talking about his parents like that! Ahh, youth. Anyway, so: Here are the Alphas, then: Darnielle's dream couple at their very worst. Here they go so black as to become Actually Hilarious. I was staggered to find out this track didn't end the record. How could it not? How could any light escape from this damn and damned place, ever again? How do you not just put the chairs on the tables and get the fuck out?

Sidenote: two songs kind of uncool to be singing out loud, somewhat subconsciously, around either your wife or newborn child: "No Children," by the Mountain Goats, and "Last Caress," by the Misfits. They get you looks, y'know?

"Golden Boy," GHANA (1999) - A song about peanuts-- magnificent peanuts!-- from Singapore which may or may not exist. It's such a fun, joyous, playful song that it beggars the imagination that it came from the same place that birthed the grueling, warring Alpha clan, THE SUNSET TREE, etc etc. I love the little audio tag at the head, where Darnielle talks directly to Paul, for whom the song was recorded. I hate you, Paul, in my paroxysms of jealousy over being the kind of guy the Mountain Goats record songs like "Golden Boy" for. Then there's the telltale pulse of the Mountain Goats tape machine. Track after track begins with that incandescent drone; when Darnielle and co. finally moved into a studio with TALLAHASSEE you almost miss the presence of that analog didgeridoo. This song is a delight. Also good for soothing tetchy babies, I've found.

"Best Ever Death Metal Band," ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS (2002) - An anthem for anybody that ever escaped a town that they themselves were bigger than; I get chills and sing along every single time. Do they play this live? I bet getting a room full of people to sing along to "Hail Satan" is magical.

"Original Air-Blue-Gown," FULL FORCE GALESBURG (1997) - Did you ever date somebody way more messed up than you? Someone whose dark and painful shit was way darker and way more painful than your shit could even come close to touching? Remember that feeling that someone, ostensibly your peer, had been transformed by forces so far outside of your understanding that the two of weren't peers at all, but rather, just two people sharing space with very little common ground? Remember what it feels like to find secret oceans inside of someone you thought you knew, and then realizing very suddenly you didn't know them at all as the waves threaten to pull you down? This song. God damn.

I'm paralyzed by the thought of picking a fifth track. Jesus, how do I put a lid on this? "Woke Up New," from GET LONELY? I didn't love the record but this song haunts me. Something from SUNSET TREE, maybe? "This Year," or "Up the Wolves," or "Dilaudid"? No-- too new. It'll make you look like a tourist. "Prana Ferox," then? "Genesis 19 1-2"? "Cai Dao Blowout"? "Blood Royal"? Fuck, I don't know. There's too much; there're too many riches here, too many songs to love and obsess over, to crush on and film in your head endlessly. I love losing myself in the Gregory Crewdson music video for "Lion's Teeth" I shoot in my head; I remember the first time I ever heard the Mountain Goats every time I hear "Cubs in Five." I shiver with gratitude through the entirety of WE SHALL ALL BE HEALED because, shit, there but for the grace of god go I. I don't know. You pick one. Find one you love. It's not hard.

I've been listening to a lot of Mountain Goats lately; their lyrics, or John Darnielle's lyrics, I should say, have been finding their way into whatever I'm working on. They turn into lines of dialogue, or suggest plot turns. I don't understand my compulsion to do that entirely. I have a newborn son and he experiences what the baby books call the Startle Reflex or the Moro Reflex, where he seems suddenly convinced that he is falling, no matter how fixed, permanent, and secure he is at the moment-- like a cartoon character falling backwards in a chair, he shoots his arms and legs straight out and wiggles them in little circles. If he had a sound effect, it would be whoa-oh-oh-oh. And then he relaxes, convinced he is not falling at all, and goes back to whatever it was he was doing, which, let's be honest, is either laying there or sleeping, because he's a baby, and he doesn't do much. I think, then, sometimes, that I feel like I live my entire life under the spell of the Startle Reflex, that I am convinced I'm falling, always falling, that I am anything but fixed, permanent, or secure. Grabbing these things out of the air as I feel the fall come is me trying somehow to prove that no, I am not falling backwards, I am here, safe and stationary. I think I grab for these things to prove it, to say, I am here, and this was here with me. I am obsessed with stealing proof of my existence out of the ether.

(Matt Fraction writes comics like CASANOVA from Image Comics, which GQ called "Deeply geeky... and brilliant," and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY called "Sexy... and darkly funny." He writes books for Marvel Comics, too, like PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST (with Ed Brubaker) and THE ORDER.)

(He is going to see the Mountain Goats live for the first time on November 8th.)


Blogger Chris said...

I would be hard pressed to pick the 5 most perfect Mountain Goats songs. "This Year" and "Palmcorder Yajna" maybe... or "If You See Light"... or "Dance Music" or "See America Right"...

12:54 AM

Blogger Jon said...

hard choice - although I've always loved The House That Dripped Blood from Talahassee, so pick that one!

3:11 AM

Blogger Rachel said...

The Mountain Goats are yummy always. nice little playlist by Matt. Thanks. :)

11:47 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years ago at SXSW, The Mountain Goats were playing while Christian protesters were out on 6th St (as they always are) trying to save souls and preach about the evils of Rock n Roll. They set up shop in front of the Blender Bar where the Mountain Goats were playing and of course they performed, "Best Ever Death Metal Band from Denton" and although I was inside at the show I could only imagine what the Hellfire and damnation crew outside thought when they heard the "Hail Satan" chorus outside. Makes me smile.

7:45 AM

Blogger Rich said...

Ha! First I'd heard of that. Good story.

8:09 AM


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