Michael Eckett

Blogtour: Me & Writing

I should have known the second he walked into my office – he was trouble. Tim Maytom, legs made for dancing and a collection of Los Campesinos! t-shirts that just wouldn’t quit. “Mr Spencer,” he cooed, twirling one lock of that beautiful dark hair. “I’ve got something you might be interested in. “I’m taking part in a ‘Blogtour’, a kind of chain-letter of blogging, where you pass on the format of the blogpost to a couple of writers you follow, and so on – basically talking about their writing process and what they’re currently working on.”It sounded like a perfect chance to talk about myself. Almost too perfect. Looking into those big bubblegum eyes of his, how could I say no?Tim had real projects to talk about. He’s putting together something called a ‘role-playing-game’. Me? I just sit here in my pants and blog. What the hell do I have to talk about?Like I said – Tim was trouble. What Am I Working On? As my life becomes increasingly crammed, my main project is writing about even a fraction of the things that tickle my brain – a particularly fine chorus, the story being drummed out on a pub table with two fistfuls of Netrunner cards, the way London on a foggy day reminds me of mid-00s games with the draw distance turned way down so my computer stood a chance at running them. Most of the time, that’s this blog, which was always intended as a way of trying things out, a release valve where I don’t have to worry about money or readers. Or, if I want to worry about those things, through my day job at Mobile Marketing Magazine – which, in spite of its b2b focus and incredibly specific name, occasionally hands me an incredibly wide remit – or through freelance work, which I’m constantly vowing to carve out more time for. I have actually got a little something in the back pocket, which I’m still trying to work out the whats and hows of. I can’t really talk about that yet, at least on here. Ask me about it in a pub, and you’ll get so many details and questions and stray thoughts you’ll regret ever asking. How Does My Work Differ From Others In My Genre? The idea that all criticism is autobiography is hardly a new one. But looking back over my last dozen or so posts, it’s the overwhelming theme. Sometimes I’ll reminisce about how I consumed something – listening to The Juan Maclean in a drained bathtub or my first and only foray into Nidhogg multiplayer, crowded around a laptop at 3am – and hope it gives some context about how  Other times, that aspect will only really be clear in hindsight. As much ‘I’ as there was in my post about trying to play GTA V without killing anyone, I didn’t realise until afterwards how much it’s about me trying to work out what it means to say I’m a pacifist, while being in love with violent art. My post on Rogue Legacy was actually a fairly straight review, but I remember giving it a final polish while visiting my parents and thinking, oh, this is about me and them. Occasionally, I’ll just drop all pretence and just outright talk about me. To explain how much I enjoyed Hearthstone, I had to talk about all the baggage that came with it, and that ends up with me telling stories about being ashamed of certain aspects of my personality. All that might not make be particularly unique, but it keeps me as honest as I can be, and it’s why I… oh, hang on. Why Do I Write What I Do? Because it’s unavoidable? If I read/play/watch/listen to/think about something that really grabs me, shortly afterwards, these chunks of phrases will start to appear in my mind, unsummoned. The words float there, editing themselves, until I do something about it. By writing them down, I’m able to think of this as a gift, rather than a mental illness. In that Hearthstone post, I wrote about running around in my grandparents’ garden as a kid after gobbling down a few dozen pages of fantasy. I had to act out battles with a line prop and hold conversations with myself and jump the hell around because the fiction I was interacting with was too big in my brain just to let it sit there. Also: that’s a realisation I came to because I wrote about it. As I alluded to in the last answer, doing this is the nearest thing to therapy I can afford. Writing is catharsis, obviously, and that’s as true for how much I dig this comic/game/film/record/whatever as it is for the big stuff. How Does Your Writing Process Work? By pulling together a lot of notes. When those chunks of paragraphs appear in my head, I try to get them tethered down into a Word doc as quickly as possible. (Sometimes I’ll lose one of them, and it hurts. This weekend, out of nowhere, my brain started rewriting the final two paragraphs of my recent blog on Hearthstone, which I thought ended a little messily. This was a revelation. Suddenly I knew how to tie together all those ideas and memories in a way that made total sense, was more true to the game and what I was trying to say. But I was on holiday in Leeds, without access to a keyboard, and frankly I spent a lot of the time drinking heavily. It’s not there anymore, but I can feel the phantom of it.) Then, I wait until I’ve got about double the sensible wordcount, and start chipping away at it. As I expand the fragments into whole segments, I’ll liberally deploy “???” placeholders where I can’t think of the exact right phrase yet. Once the whole thing is in rough sentences, I’ll copy-and-paste bits around until a shape starts to present itself. These days, this last stage (what most people would actually call the writing) happens a lot […]

52 Pick Up – The Project 52 Podcast

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here – Project 52’s little podcasty brother, in which the six ‘second wave’ titles of DC’s New 52 are discussed at length. Recorded in an underground bunker at some point back around the beginning of time, the podcast gathers together five of comicdom’s finest minds – Compére extraordinaire, Robin Harman, smooth of voice and shaggy of beard. The virtuous Tim Maytom, good and fair. Brett Canny, drawing from each of the seven gods whose names make up his word of power. Michael Eckett, with hair of silk and fist of iron. And hired idiot Alex Spencer. In the hot forge of debate, these five personalities became one and, lo, the 52 Pick Up podcast was born, strong as adamantium and lengthy as fifty-eight of your Imperial minutes. Doesn’t that sound magical? Doesn’t that sound like something you’d like to hear take place? Well, now you can – using the embedded widgety chap below, or by right-clicking here to download and take on your merry way.

Project 52.1: Batman Incorporated #1 (Michael v Alex)

Here we are. The comic that made me care about the whole New 52 reboot in the first place, because I’d worry it was going to get in the way of Grant Morrison’s five-year Bat epic. But I’m playing my hand early. Read on, but beware of spoilers. (Guest-starring in today’s post is Michael Eckett, who described the two of us in an email last week as “the Batman and Robin of Reviews, Inc”. ‘Nuff said.)

Project 52.1: G.I. Combat #1 (Alex v Michael)

…and we’re back.  You might remember Project 52, in which I gathered an elite group – Tim ‘Tumbln’ Maytom, Bret ‘The Enigma’ Canny, and Michael ‘Special Guest Star’ Eckett – in order to review every single one of the 52 #1 issues DC released as it rebooted its entire universe. Now, switching out some of its less successful titles – farewell, dear OMAC – DC has launched six new #1s – G.I. Combat, Earth Two, World’s Finest, Dial H for Hero, The Ravagers and Batman Incorporated. So we thought we’d get the band back together and review the hell out of some comics, in a double-bill, Avengers-vs-X-Men style. It is, as comics publishers are so fond of saying, the perfect jumping on point. So join us for…  G.I. Combat #1 Written by J.T. Krul and  Justin Gray &  Jimmy Palmiotti Art by Nick Olivietti and Dan Panosian                 Michael Reviews G.I. Combat #1 It was only upon Alex requesting that I review G.I. Combat for the second wave of Project 52 that I realised I’m not sure what G.I. stands for. And so I’ve gone in to reading G.I. Combat hoping to find the answer. Good idea? Well let’s get into it and find out. G.I. Combat #1 contains two stories, Krul and Olivietti’s ‘The War That Time Forgot’, in which the US army fights dinosaurs, and ‘The Unknown Soldier’, written by Gray and Palmiotti, with art from Panosian, about a scarred soldier of relentless malice, fuelled by revenge. ‘The War That Time Forgot’ goes by very quickly. After a very brief, rather bland character introduction, in which it’s established that one of our protagonists has a family and the other is his friend, we follow the US investigating an area of anomaly in North Korea. When they spot Pterodactyls, the grossly incompetent soldiers think it’s a good idea to shoot at the dinosaurs. This goes as well as one might imagine, leaving our not-so-gifted individuals stranded in the middle of a war between the North Korean army and dinosaurs. Luckily, whilst the dialogue isn’t to my liking, Ariel Ollivetti’s realistic artwork works well in a book filled with vehicles of destruction, giant Indosuchus [Indosuchi? – Plural Ed], Tyranosaurus Rex and Pterodactyls. His digital colouring might be jarring to those not used to it but it’s the best I’ve seen of his recent style. The characters’ faces are smooth and expressive and whilst previously his photo-referenced objects, like guns or backgrounds seemed to stick out from the figure work, they now blend together more. I find it hard to complain about anyone who draws a fighter jet tearing through a Pterodactyl, guts, intestines and blood spurting out the other side. ‘The Unknown Soldier’ is a standard origin story told through two narrative devices which don’t entirely mesh. We’re introduced to the Unknown Soldier as he ruthlessly and effectively kills Al-Qaeda soldiers, told through a US soldier’s letter home. A colonel then interviews the Unknown Soldier about his past, revealing his origins and the reason for his brutality. It functions similarly to a superhero origin and makes better use of its 14 pages than ‘The War That Time Forgot’, feeling more like a complete story. There’s a really nice touch of black humour at one point and a genuinely intriguing ending. Panosian’s art is kind of scratchy during moments of conflict but cleaner during flashbacks to a happier time in the Unknown Soldier’s life, making it quite effective. His action makes war chaotic but has few moments of depicted violence, often focusing more on the person shooting than who they’re shooting at. G.I. Combat #1 is a bit of a mixed bag, but there is something enjoyable there and it adds some diversity to the DC line whilst maintaining enough fantastical elements to stop it from feeling out of place. I still haven’t learnt what G.I. stands for though. I’m going with Gun Infested. FINAL GRADE: C+ Alex Reviews G.I. Combat #1 And it really is. From front cover – we’ll get to that in a moment – to back, G.I. Combat is guns, guns, guns. Manly men with gunly guns. Also, as my esteemed colleague pointed out, some dinosaurs. And then more guns. The cover is fairly lights on guns, though. FEATURING THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT, it boasts, over images of the aforementioned dinosaurs crushing war machinery (hell yes). Tucked away in one corner, next to a scowly-faced bandaged marine, it adds ALSO: THE DARK AND VIOLENT WORLD OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (ick). With those exclamations and its double feature , it’s could almost be a comic you found at the bottom of a bargain bin, printed on yellowing paper with a great big DRAWING THE LINE AT 25¢ sticker peeling off the front. The cover makes a promise – comics like your grandaddy read. Of the two stories, ‘The War That Time Forgot’ keeps this promise best. It plays its premise straight, keeping its men serious, musclebound, and with conveniently humanising families (and guns!), trading lumpen banter, and its dinos helicopter-chewingly lethal. Unlike my comrade, I’m not familiar with Olivietti’s art – however, it shines through that this it isn’t the work of an artist/inker/colourist team, but a single hand. Everything is given a hard black outline, but the details are delicately picked out within that, in subtly differing shades of naturalistic colour. It’s a little static, but all rather stunning – at least, as long as you’re looking where the art wants you to be. The fit between the painterly faces (and dinosaurs, which look like they’ve come to life from Mars Attacks-style trading cards) and the computer-generated everything else is awkward to say the least. Those guns, of which you see so many, helicopters and even scenery have all been amateurishly SketchUpped into life, their smooth textures pasted on top, behind and in the hands of the impressive figurework. It all reaches a horrible climax at, well, the climax […]

Project 52: The Aftermath

It’s been two weeks since we wrapped up Project 52’s coverage of the DC Comics relaunch. It didn’t take long for us to start jonesing for more, and so we all got together in a dark corner of the internet, and laid out our thoughts on the relaunch, the comics, and the process of reading and reviewing a hell of a lot of comics. The results, heavily cut down to make them faintly readable, are produced below. How many of your titles will you be picking up next month, now you’re not reviewing them?Michael: Batman and Wonder Woman. Snyder has a good take on Batman and I really want to see how he writes Bruce Wayne some more. I’m a Greek Mythology nut so I like that they’re playing that up in Wonder Woman.Alex: In my case…. Action Comics, because Grant Morrison is Grant Morrison and I want to know where he’s going with it all. Swamp Thing, because it was brilliant and the art was sumptuous.Oh, and probably Wonder Woman and Batman, though I might wait for the digital copies to drop in price after a month. With the exception of Swamp Thing, though, they’re all just out of curiosity of what they’ll do with it.Bret: Animal Man and the Green Lantern one that I’ve already forgotten the name of. The one with Kyle Rayner [New Guardians]. I would also like to pick up Action Comics #1 as I never actually read it.Tim: I think the only thing I’m going back to in singles will be Frankenstein, but I’ll definitely pick up some in trades. Probably Aquaman, Wonder Woman (I’m a myth nut too) and Birds of Prey.Oh – I might do singles for Stormwatch too, but that’s more for affection for the characters than on the strength of the first issue, which looking back was probably weaker than I originally thought. And I’ll steal Bret’s Animal Man and New Guardians. Will you be buying anything when it comes out in collected trades?Alex: I’ll probably pick up the trade of Batwoman, and maybe Justice League Dark if it gets good reviews.Bret: To be honest, now that I think about it I’m probably going to wait till they’re all out in trades. I’ve just never been a fan of singles really. I wanna read the whole story at once, not in parts.Tim: Writing for the trade is a real problem that this relaunch highlighted. It feels like few people know how to write a compelling single issue anymore.Alex: My non-comics-reading friend Geoff was asking about that from reading the reviews, actually. He’s looking for comics recommendations at the moment, but we totally put him off the idea of reading single issues.Michael: I really think this relaunch would have been stronger if the first issues felt complete and managed to hook people. Relatively speaking, we’re all non-DC readers: what preconceptions did you have about what makes DC comics different, and did this impact on your enjoyment?Michael: I think DC is better known for their cosmic stuff now than some of the other companies. Marvel has the street-level characters and DC has the Gods, and those who live amongst the starsBret: DC for me is now summed up by the idea of great powers and some flimsy characters behind them, like we got back in the four-colour days.Alex: My opinion of DC has always been tied up with the idea of convoluted continuity we mentioned in a lot of the reviews. For example, I’ve also been rereading Final Crisis, and while I enjoyed it, I still have no real idea what’s going on or who half the characters are.Tim: It varied from title to title. The two Legion titles were almost completely incomprehensible to a newbie, but I thought something like Aquaman did well by relying on general public perception of the character, rather than lots of continuity nods.Michael: I actually think my very vague perception of Deadman hindered my reading of it in a different way. I was slightly aware of the character from his appearances in the animated DC Universe and yet I was still put off by the amount of time the book spent telling me the new status quo.Tim: It was a tricky balancing act as far as status quo and continuity goes – trying to make things accessible to new readers without alienating old ones, and explaining how things sit in the new relaunch without turning issue one into a flood of exposition. That ties back into the whole ‘done in one’ first issue thing – if you give yourself one issue to hook people in, they’re more likely to stay if Issue #2 is explaining the character’s place in the new universe for all the continuity nerds out there.[Ten minutes are spent grumbling about continuity, the minutiae of how everything fits together DC’s new ‘Five Years’ timeline, and suggesting DC might already be writing themselves into another Crisis.]Bret: …Ultimately though (and I feel this is something DC just doesn’t understand) story is more important in a comic than continuity. If you can tell a good tale, it shouldn’t matter if it lines up with something that happened 30 years ago. That said, there is that weird woman in red. I take it you all spotted her? It looks like she appears in every issue.Tim: Yeah. Maybe a year down the line, she’ll have a miniseries just explaining how all the continuity lines up. I’m sure it will be riveting reading.Michael: Seems like she might be there for DC to take this all back if they need to. An escape strategy. What were your first impressions, and what do you think will be the lasting legacy of this relaunch?Bret: When I heard about the New 52, I wasn’t excited. I just rolled my eyes.Michael: I honestly thought it could be a good idea in theory. If they stick to it. I think it’s one of the best chances comics have ever had to bring in new readers, […]

Project 52: Week Four

This is the disembodied voice of Alex, being broadcast atcha from the Lagoa region of Portugal. Yup, I’m on holiday. Which means lots of food, lots of drink, but no comics or blogging for me. So, it’s my pleasure to introduce renowned playwright, occasional blogger and all round good guy Mr Michael “Meckett” Eckett. With a bit of luck, he won’t show me up too badly. So kick back and enjoy the reviews. Batman #1Written by Scott SnyderArt by Greg CapulloReviewed by Michael I love a good writing device. Particularly in a single issue comic it allows an easy structure to present itself, juxtapose images and explore different world views without it feeling forced. Scott Snyder’s decision to base the narrative of Batman around completing the sentence of “Gotham is…” using three words or less introduces us to the world inhabited by Batman and also brings Gotham to the forefront as a character in its own right. Gotham is a city so tainted that it corrupts and destroys everything and everyone within it; even one of Gotham’s better police officers can be worn down by the vices the city perpetuates. So in a city this bad, the good men, like Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon are extraordinary. Batman #1 plays with all the toys that make Batman great; detective work, big ideas in the form of Wayne tech and badass fighting. It opens with Batman against a breakout at Arkham; villains old and new are deftly handled by the caped crusader in a frenetic yet clear fight scene. If you recognise all the villains, you understand the stakes whilst new readers get a fun introduction. Capullo’s Batman in the opening is all gritted teeth and cloaked in shadow framed by a jagged Gotham, covered in grafitti and detailed decay before we see his Batcave, something expansive and reassuring. The iconic trophies are all there alongside Batmobiles of the ages alongside a brooding Bruce Wayne. Out of the mask Bruce heads to a party with Dick, Damien and Drake; and we see the other side of Capullo’s Gotham, a bright warm area for the rich, lacking in detail, ignoring the harshness outside. Instead we focus on the facial expressions and postures of Gotham’s elite, Damien’s sneers, easy going Dick Grayson’s slouches and playboy Bruce Wayne charming a room. Capullo’s cartoony style makes these moments even more charming. I really like Snyder pushing Bruce Wayne as a force of positivity as a philanthropist and not only a crimefighter; Bruce has realised he needs to fix Gotham itself and that he can’t rely on Batman, Gordon and his Robins who have thus far survived being tarnished by Gotham. But the cliffhanger suggests at least one of them might not have escaped the city’s clutches. Batman #1 is a really fun, well crafted comic and as an introduction it’s fantastic. If the run lives up to the promise shown here we could be in for a real treat because it really is everything I want out of a Batman comic. Rating: A Birds of Prey #1Written by Duane SwierczynskiArt by Jesus SaizReviewed by Tim Fighting! Spying! Car chases! Explosions! Birds Of Prey has it all, and doesn’t really put a foot wrong. It’s a great example of a first issue done really well. Like Justice League, we’re only introduced to a portion of the cast in this issue, but unlike Justice League, there’s a definite sense of intentional team-building going on, with Black Canary out to put together a team, trying to recruit Batgirl (in a nice nod to the old Birds Of Prey series) and dealing with a snooping reporter and some stealth-suited assassins. Swierczynski gives Black Canary, Starling and Charlie Keen, the reporter, individual voices and enough characterisation to make them pop off the page, and the plot, while simple, has enough promise. As a new season of American television starts up and some promising pilot episodes start to appear, it’s reminded me of what I look for in a first issue – the plot doesn’t matter as much as the character dynamics do, and Birds Of Prey makes enough of an impression to make me feel confident in where it’s headed. The art by Jesus Saiz is great, atmospheric and polished, with really smooth action sequences full of movement. The only thing I’m not so keen on is the cover, which makes the character designs look a little clumsy, whereas in the book they feel appropriate and stylish. It’s also gratifying, after yesterday’s comics, to see a comic book full of women drawn with realistic bodies who aren’t sexualised so much I feel like I’ve opened an issue of Nuts. Birds Of Prey doesn’t do anything extraordinary – it doesn’t rewrite the rulebook or mess around with format, aside from some well deployed flashbacks, but it gives us a super-polished first issue that makes none of the mistakes that have plagued a few of DC’s other titles. Instead, it creates a promising foundation for a superhero action-thriller that doesn’t feel rushed or cluttered with exposition. It has the kind of simplicity of purpose and drive that all of DC’s first issues should have had. Rating: A Blue Beetle #1Written by Tony BedardArt by Ig GuaraReviewed by Bret After having just read the end of Blue Beetle #1 I can sum it up in one word, one noise and then a lengthy complainy sentence. So here goes… the word is “disappointment”, the noise is “AAARRRRGHGGHG” and the complainy sentence begins “WHAT THE HELL?! YOU CAN’T LEAVE IT LIKE THAT!!! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!! YOU BUILD UP THAT SORT OF AN INTRO AND YOU DON’T EVEN LET ME SEE THOSE DICKS GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE?!!?!!” Blue Beetle was very good and ticks a lot of boxes for me, and as always, SPOILERS AHEAD. The back story is explained in a short prologue so you don’t feel like you’ve skipped a beat when you start reading. The characters are introduced naturally […]