Monday, October 28, 2013


Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants is a 2013 collection of comics by Matthew Inman from his website, The Oatmeal ( It features a large number of comics from the site plus several new ones.

This is pretty standard Oatmeal fare, which is to say, it’s vulgar, over-the-top, snarky, by turns informative and relatable, frequently hilarious, and not for the easily offended. There are a lot of highlights here, including the title comic, “What It Means When You Say Literally,” and “The Crap We Put Up with Getting On and Off an Airplane.” And like the other Oatmeal collections, this is a high-quality book with glossy pages; the vast majority of the illustrations are in color.

Some of the old comics have been expanded or edited in subtle ways. An example is the removal of the “thankfully” from “the (thankfully) late Jerry Falwell” in “What It Means When You Say Literally.” This, in conjunction with the conspicuous but not unwelcome omission of the controversial “How to Suck at Your Religion” and the online appearance of some other recent Oatmeal comics not included here (e.g., “Christopher Columbus Was Awful”), shows us a new, more constructive, less cheap-shot-taking Oatmeal. Don’t worry, though, The Oatmeal hasn’t become any gentler or more restrained, and it’s still not for the uptight. But it’s a bit more mature, if anything that prominently features jokes about bear testicles can be called “mature.”

The bottom line, though, is that this is funny stuff. Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants is another great Oatmeal collection, and if you like Inman’s other work, you’ll like this one about as well.  


Monday, October 21, 2013

THE SEVENTH GATE by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

The Seventh Gate is a 1994 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the conclusion to the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, as the dragon-snakes wage war against the Labyrinth Patryns, Alfred and company race Xar to the Seventh Gate.

As a novel, The Seventh Gate is an engaging page-turner. As a conclusion to this series, however, it’s merely adequate. This book is substantially shorter than the others in this series, and it tends to center on action rather than character. This action is good but unspectacular; nothing wildly unexpected happens, and there’s nothing approximating a “wow” moment, but it is all appropriately high-stakes and climactic. All the storylines are resolved in passably satisfying ways, all the character arcs are taken to more or less logical places (however, a more satisfying resolution for a number of characters would have been nice, most notably Xar).

The Seventh Gate feels sloppy sometimes, much in the way that Into the Labyrinth did. We’re still playing fast and loose with the magic rules established in the first few volumes, for example, and Haplo’s willingness to seal his people inside the Labyrinth feels too easily arrived at.

However, the biggest problem with The Seventh Gate is that it’s self-indulgently sentimental; hand-in-hand with this, the handling of the “higher power” the characters have been seeking throughout the series is eminently disappointing. Instead of any meaningful connection with the divine, we’re ham-fistedly presented with a muddled postmodern, Oprahesque power-within denouement that, while fitting the character arcs of Haplo and Alfred, makes little sense theologically within the context of this series (the last chapter is particularly cringeworthy in this respect). Unanswered questions remain regarding God, the origin of evil, and the purported deity of Krenka-Anris. All this decreases the impact of this book: since the end of Elven Star, we’ve been working toward a big theological payoff, and we don’t get anything close. 

Faltering steps over the last few volumes knock The Death Gate Cycle out of consideration as one of the all-time great fantasy works, and deservedly so, but it is, overall, a very solid, very imaginative series, and one with some truly great highlights; it’s just too bad that nearly all of them came in volumes 1–5. In short, then, The Seventh Gate reflects the series as a whole: flawed, but worthwhile.


Monday, October 14, 2013



He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #4-6 (DC) are written by Keith Giffen and illustrated primarily by Pop Mhan. Here, He-Man tries to rescue Teela and Adora learns the truth about her past.

Well. They couldn’t get rid of the classic vestiges fast enough, could they? Doing away with the classic He-Man outfit and Power Sword is pretty stupid on its own, but this sin is compounded in that the replacements are incredibly awful. He-Man’s new outfit looks like something Tony Stark would have come up with if he lived in the Gears of War universe. Never mind that we all know that He-Man’s not supposed to wear pants; the last time he wore pants, we got Space Ponytail He-Man, and look how that turned out.

The new Power Sword is just as bad. A forced attempt to match the sword to the chest armor results in the most ill-conceived cross-guard ever – you wouldn’t be able to use that sword without gouging your wrist to the bone or losing some fingers. But don’t take my word for it; look at the illustrations in these issues – it’s such a stupid concept that Iron Pants He-Man can’t even be drawn holding it believably.

What’s also remarkable is the fact that this style change was tacked on after the initial redesign: check out the before-and-after of the cover for issue #4:

Because why would we ever keep something the same when we can make it stupid? Ugh. Let’s move on.

This series is so much more tolerable when Teela and He-Man are apart and we don’t have all that god-awful bickering, although Giffen puts dumb chit-chat in the mouth of nearly every character. Based purely on their dialogue, the supporting Heroic Warriors are completely indistinguishable from one another.

Bickering aside, though, the writing’s really not any better. The plotting is a mess. Giffen makes some needless and stupid changes to the Adora backstory (and hell, with DC being what it is these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if they trotted out some Adora/Teela homoeroticism down the road). There’s a lot of farting around with “secrets” most readers have known for years. And why is the Sorceress just now getting around to dropping all this knowledge on everybody?

Like much of this series, the climax in issue #6 features a lot of pointless talking and not a lot actually happening. Hordak’s speech is ridiculous. What is he doing? What is his plan? Does he even know? I guess it really doesn’t matter, because Iron Pants He-Man doesn’t ever actually do anything – he’s just another guy.

I’m not through. Having slogged through all the yammering in the first eight pages of issue #6, I flipped to page nine, blinked, and uttered a blank-faced “Really?” Here, abruptly, without any lead-up or logic or dramatic effect whatsoever, in a single page that perfectly symbolizes precisely what he’s done to this property, Giffen destroys Castle Grayskull. Jesus, Giffen, what the hell? Did one of your children get beat up by a bully in a He-Man shirt twenty-five years ago? 

I said last time that you can’t trust Giffen with the Masters of the Universe property because he obviously doesn’t like it or care about it on its own terms, and he continues to prove that this is absolutely true. It’s kind of amazing, really – in a little over a year, DC and Giffen have managed to trample over the established personality of nearly every character and kill off the Sorceress and several minor characters, He-Man’s secret identity, his classic costume, the classic Power Sword, Castle Grayskull, and the very premise of the franchise.* And in just six issues of the monthly, they’ve obliterated all the setting that made Masters of the Universe what it is.

Everything Giffen does is cheap; nothing is paid for, nothing is earned. He walks away from this smoking, rancid wreckage of an arc leaving us with the scenario of a band of heroic rebels hiding out and fighting the Horde. That’s right, Giffen’s turned it into She-Ra: Princess of Power. All we need now is frigging Loo-Kee (oh, and She-Ra; despite what the cover to issue #5 might lead you to believe, there’s no actual She-Ra here anywhere).

If there’s any light at the end of this trainwreck-filled tunnel, it’s that Giffen’s not writing the next six issues. Storywise, I don’t know how much of this disaster is Giffen and how much is DC’s powers-that-be, but either way, it’s hard to imagine that Dan Abnett can do any worse.

So remember, kids, just because it says “He-Man” on the box doesn’t mean there’s He-Man in the box.


*Here’s where we’re at right now on the original** premise:

“I am Adam, Prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, ‘By the power of Grayskull! I have the Power!’ Cringer became the mighty Battle Cat, and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Only three others share this secret: our friends, The Sorceress, Man-At-Arms, and Orko. Together, we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.

**Obviously, by “original,” I mean the Filmation mythos with Adam and Randor and everybody else, as these comics clearly have never had a thing to do with anything pre-Filmation.