Archive for June, 2008

I’m killing comics (part 2 in a series)

June 30, 2008

Last time out I had reason number 1 but my bloviating kept me from listing any others.  Here’s numero dos:

From the readers standpoint, TPBs are an exponentially more satisfying experience.

What’s better, a story told in 6 parts spread out over 6 months, or a story told in 6 parts that you can read in one sitting?  What are you going to remember better, the one that took you 6 months to finish, or the one that took you 45 minutes to read?

The answer is obvious, especially when you factor in the “What the hell is going on?” factor.  Given that parts 1 and 2 are aat least 30 days apart, I often lose track of details, and sometimes major plot points, as I wait for the next chapter to be published.  Marvel’s “Previously…” page helps quite a bit, but that’s a summary page and by definition is only going to recap in broad strokes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the comic shop on Wednesdays and buying new books, but I love getting a package from Amazon nearly as much.

The devastating Cosmis Watermelon Slice!The best example from my experience I can think of is the GØdland Celestial Edition I purchased last year.  It’s a gorgeous presentation (and I’ll talk about that in another post), but beyond that it’s a massive book.  For $23 (down from $35.  Thanks Amazon!) I got 12 issues of story, plus a boatload of back matter.  It helps that I enjoyed the book quite a bit, but aside from that I read a year’s worth of stories, the first act of the book if you will, over the course of 3 days.  When I put it down, I felt like I had read a weighty novel, and not a slight comic pamphlet.

This is an extreme example, obviously, because most TPBs are usually 5-6 issues long, but the point is still well made.

I don’t know much about the economics of publishing comics and whether or not the market will support a shift away from monthly comics, but I know that TPBs lead to a more satisfying experience on every level.

  • I retain the story better.
  • I enjoy my time spent reading since it doesn’t feel like an investment toward a future payoff.
  • I pick up on smaller details and therefore get more out of the story.
  • I appreciate the bigger picture the author is going for.
  • The narrative flows better.
  • I can read at my own pace.

I’m sure there’s more I’m missing, but that’s all I got for now.  The simple fact is I’ve come to enjoy my time spent reading comics more since my shifting to a TPB heavy reading rotation.  While I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading the monthlies, I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind.

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Quick hits for 6/27

June 27, 2008

Superman #677

I’ll cop to some increased expectations with this issue since it’s the first by new writer James Robinson.  While not a big name amongst fans, he’s produced some good, solid, sometimes great work.  I’m not sure if those expectations played a role, but I was let down by this issue.  I like seeing Superman and Green Lantern play fetch in space with Krypto the super dog as much as the next guy, but page after page of setting up Metropolis’ Science Crime Unit isn’t something I really needed.  When Atlas, this story’s villain, shows up, I didn’t care all that much, especially when his motivation for wanting to pummel Superman can be boiled down to “People like you better than they like me.”  Weak sauce, Mr. Robinson.  Renato Guedes is perfectly suited to this title, even if he does err on the sketchy side of line work.

New and Mighty Avengers

Two more stories about how the Skrulls replaced two of the Marvel U’s heroes, and I think I’ve had my fill of that crap.  Sure, it’s neat to see how they pulled it off and writer Brian Michael Bendis weaves Hank Pym and Jessica Drew into pre-existing storylines (like House of M) in a neat way, but I’ve almost stopped caring.  I’m actually more interested in how the Skrulls are able to hide themselves amongst other heroes and emulate the powers of the people they kidnap.  Somehow, throwing a pain-causing washcloth over someone’s face doesn’t seem like it’d do the trick.  I am a big fan of artists John Romita, Jr. and Jimmy Cheung and these issues did nothing to alter that.  I just wish they had something better to draw.  I also wish I hadn’t spent $6 on these inconsequential books.

Thunderbolts #121

My favorite Marvel title loses it’s creative team with this issue, so I’m more than a little bummed.  The one-liners flow freely and are often good for at least a smile.  After a big dustup pits team members against each other, the status quo is maintained in a way that felt a little cheap simply because it came out of nowhere.  Not the resolution I wanted or expected, but these are company owned characters so I’m not sure how much leeway Warren Ellis had.  I will say this about the man, he knows how to write a suitable crazy Norman Osborn.  Mike Deodato leans way too heavily on the photo-referencing crutch, as Robbie Baldwin transforms in this issue from regular looking guy to Edward Norton doppelganger.  In all, a somewhat underperforming ending to what was a satisfying, at times thrilling, yearlong run.

Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C. Omnibus

June 25, 2008

For someone who considers himself a serious comics fan, I’ve never taken the time to really and truly educate myself about the industry’s past.  I know a little about the 80s and 90s, but anything prior to that hasn’t really interested me even though I’ve read about the greatness of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the like.  Last night, all that changed.

OMAC lives, so man may liveThank you, Chris Sims, for introducing me to the world of O.M.A.C., the One Man Army Corps.  My life is as complete as it’s going to get (until my daughter arrives in the next few weeks).  I now want to shell out the cash for the rest of the Kirby collection, so my wife might not be as happy as I am about this turn of events.

Simply put, this comic is freaking crazy.  Corporate nobody/drone Buddy Blank gets turned into OMAC, the One Man Army Corps, right before Blank is about to be killed for seeing something he wasn’t supposed to.  How does this happen, you might be wondering?

Brother Eye, the world’s most sophiscated computer/satellite, uses electronic hormone surgery, via a superpowered beam of energy, to transform the zero into the hero.  That’s right: a sentient satellite shoots a beam of energy from space, through each floor of a building, into Buddy so that he gains mass, strength, a new costume, and a Roman Centurion helmet for a head.  The result is this (click to embiggen):

HO. LEE. CRAP.

 Wait.  I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  You can’t really get a good look at OMAC in all that ass-kickery.  Take a moment and marvel at the glorious chaos that is OMAC barreling his way through ten soldiers, why don’t you?  I particularly like the guy trying desparately to hold onto his foot.  You think he might have received a boot to the head later?

Here’s a better picture (lovingly borrowed from Chris Sims’ website since I don’t have a scanner).

Point = proven

Blue long sleeve shirt, yellow gloves, orange tights, funky eye logo on his chest, TV remote for a belt buckle, yellow dog collar…it’s the perfect outfit, when you think about it.  This page is from issue 2, in which Mr. Big rents out an entire city so all of his best friends can have a party.  Because, in The World That’s Coming, that’s just how Big rolls, fool.

Of course, he really rented out the whole freaking city and threw the party to cover up his true goal: destroy OMAC and any who help him.

I could go on and mention Dr. Skuba, the mad scientist who wants to hold the world’s water hostage or talk about gangsters paying good money to have a computer transplant their brains into younger bodies, but I feel I’ve filled my Awesome Quota for the day.  I can’t recommended this highly entertaining trip to the 70s enough.

Quick notes on the omnibus:

  1. It’s printed on godawful newsprint paper, and I still haven’t gotten over how angry this made me.  When you sell a hardcover for $25, it needs to be worth every penny.  DC sells $25 collections of other books, and I’ve yet to run into the same problem.  It’s vexing.
  2. The story ends on a cliffhanger.  Kirby got through 8 issues before Marvel lured him back into the fold, and DC didn’t hire anyone to complete the series because it wasn’t a best selling title.  The unresolved ending didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book, though.

 

Pre-natal Rhetoric

June 24, 2008

My wife and I are expecting our first child soon, so a whole new world of aggravation has opened up for me. Of course I don’t mean going to ob-gyn appointments or helping my wife eat healthy and avoid the laundry lists of bad foods for pregnant women or dealing with the myriad complications that could effect our unborn child.  All that comes with the territory and I expected it.

Specifically, I’m thinking of the advice, be it solicited or not, that’s delivered in a condescending manner. I know this isn’t a new idea by any stretch of the imagination and that my wife is probably getting this tenfold (especially if you can’t the strangers who lay hands on her belly without so much as a “By your leave”), but it’s still been on my mind for a while now.

To that end, I thought I’d see what the 6 readers we have left after last week’s James Kochalka-infused surge had to say about this phenomenon.  Why does everyone think they have some role in this baby’s life?  Why can’t people (mostly older folks) just say congratulations and be happy for us without trying to impart some greeting card wisdom?  I’ve been trying to read this rhetorical situation, but I don’t think I’ve been too successful.

GAH!What possesses someone to say, “I hope you’re getting your sleep now!”  What does that even mean?  I thought most people knew by now that you can’t catch up on lost sleep.  It’s science!  I’m going to be tired and cranky for a few months.  I may experience episodes of extreme fatigue heretofore unknown to me.  I get it.  Move on.

Another favorite of mine is “Your life is really going to change!”  Really?  You mean caring for a living being who can’t perform even the most basic of tasks is going to alter the way I live and what I care about?  You don’t say!  Well maybe I should rethink this whole parent thing!

“Your little girl is going to wrap you around her finger” is agem.  I’m fully prepared for the fact that I’ll have a hard time saying no to my daughter.  I understand that I can be a bit of a pushover when it comes to kids (and my dog, as a matter of fact), but after being around my niece for a few years I’ve developed a bit of an immunity to her puppy dog eyes.  Granted, a niece is not a daughter and I still don’t like saying no, but the fact remains that I do say it.  Please stop pretending you know me.  What, you think you’re better than me?!

Is it because the speakers are usually parents themselves that they can’t help themselves?  Do they miss the newborn experience and wish we could switch places?  Do they think they’re the first people to say something to us?  Is it a knee jerk reaction brought about by years of being told that babies are hard work?  I really hope it’s not that they think I need the help and simply don’t know what to say after a variation of “That’s great!”

I think it’s become a societal norm to tell other how hard something’s going to be:

  • “Oh, you’re taking organic chemistry this semester?  I hope you have a tutor!”
  • “You want to re-tile your patio?  Get ready for some truly back-breaking weekends!”
  • “I feel your pain.  I must’ve had 4 dogs put down before I found one I could train!”

It’s almost as though we don’t want life to be easy for others, since it’s typically not for us.  Schadenfreude is a powerful and popular emotional experience these days, so it’s no surprise it extends to the way we view other people raising children.

Sometime soon I plan on tackling some of the baby books geared toward men.  Thankfully, not all of them assume we’re beer swilling morons who wouldn’t know what to do with another living thing even if our lives hung in the balance.

Aqua Lung! er, Leung!

June 24, 2008

OK, so that joke’s out of the way, right? Right.

Turtle vs. kid vs. eels. Who ya got?Aqua Leung is the first in a planned series of graphic novels by Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury. Yes, it has a pretty horrible name. Luckily, the name is the worst thing about it.

(But honestly, the boy is born underwater and his mom names him Aqua. That is simply ridiculous. I look forward to naming my next child “Earth” or “Oxygen” or “Atmosphere.”)

The story focuses on Aqua/Adam Leung, a young boy who was sent by his Atlantean parents to live on land because it was too dangerous for him to remain with his soon-to-be-deposed/murdered royal family. Take one part Superman (being sent away from home before something bad happens), add one part Batman (parents killed (2 sets of them!) = motivation), mix in some Hercules (Aqua must complete a series of tasks/labors to reclaim his throne), add a dash of Lord of the Rings (two huge armies fighting it out, the action only stopping to focus on a few important characters), a pinch of The Empire Strikes Back (Aqua enters a cave to confront himself), and top it off with a whole lotta Aquaman (natch) and you’ve got yourself a book.

If this doesn’t sound all that original, there’s probably a reason for that. While I’m sure Smith is the first person to throw all those tropes into one blender and hit frappe, the fact remains that there aren’t a lot of new ideas here.

It doesn’t help that the characters are pretty standard fantasy types and not particularly interesting on top of that. I didn’t really like Aqua very much; partly because he seems like a brat and partly because we don’t spend enough time getting to know him before he’s thrust back into the underseas action. The only time I cared about a character was when Smith spends a little bit of time giving us some insight into his life only to kill him later on *cough* Joss Whedon move *cough*.

Artist Paul Maybury’s work is a cross between Michael Avon Oeming and Bryan Lee O’Malley, but only if those two dudes got together and actually had a child. What would the result of such love that dare not speak its name look like? Probably an artist who channels both of them but still hasn’t quite mastered sequential art. There are moments where I did a double take because the work on the page was so pretty, but there were too many times where the action simply wasn’t clear. All I really ask for from an artist is easy to follow storytelling, and Maybury isn’t always up to that task.

Too often panels were muddied with scribbles that were meant to convey detail but only served up confusion. Important moments were frequently left to the reader to figure out for themselves, so I was forced to read dialogue and caption boxes over and over as I squinted at the pages. There’s real promise here, and I say so because I compared Maybury to two artists I like, but unless the art becomes a lot clearer the second time around I most likely won’t be back for volume 3.

So I guess my final thoughts on this book could be summed up thusly: Ehh….it’s on the disappointing side of OK. So much so that I’m not sure I’ll pick up volume 2.

While I can’t be sure that this book will succeed, I hope it does. If only to validate my feelings that graphic novels aren’t killing comics.

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

June 23, 2008

OK, I\'m sufficiently creeped out. You?After watching the mostly OK until it gets unbelievably gawdawful Will Smith movie and reading about the many people upset by the unfaithful celluloid adaptation, I decided to check out the source material for myself. Needless to say, fans of the book have quite a case for hating the Fresh Prince’s little flick as the only things the two have in common are the title, the main character’s name, and Robert Neville’s efforts to cure a disease. Of course, the diseases are different, but that’s beside the point.

I should begin by admitting a bit of ignorance that ended up coloring the way I viewed this story. You see, I thought it was a novel when I purchased the book from a local Borders. Despite looking at the table of contents at the begining, I had no idea the titular story was a novella and that the rest of the pages were filled up with short stories. I was pretty surprised when the wheels are set in motion for Neville to meet his fate, simply because I thought there were over 100 pages of story left to go. Once I realized otherwise, I think I came to appreciate the story a bit more, if only because you don’t see novellas published much these days.

But on to the story itself, and not my obliviousness to certain context clues. It was fine, I guess. I knew it was a vampire story going in so that didn’t effect my enjoyment of the tale. I suppose a lot of this would’ve felt revolutionary 54 years ago when it was first published, but in today’s post Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and (to a lesser extent) Blade world it feels average at best. The joy in reading this came from recognizing just how many authors/screenwriters/filmmakers Matheson has influenced.

To save money, I bought this ugly thing.Unfortunately, Matheson’s writing is serviceable at its peak and annoyingly stilted at its nadir. Neville’s throat moves way more than any normal man’s should, and I think that’s how Matheson thinks people show emotion. I stood in front of a mirror for a few minutes trying to make my throat convey depression or anger, but all I saw was a dude swallowing a lot. It doesn’t help that Neville isn’t the most sympathetic of protagonists, either. Sure, his situation sucks worse than any situation in the history of the world, but when we meet him he’s been living like that for several months. By that time he should’ve quit his bitching already.

In the end, I felt for Neville despite how unlikable I found him to be. Matheson gives us enough of a picture of his life that we can’t help but want him to live. When you put yourself in his position, as any responsible reader should do, it’s easy to see how important making friends with a dog would be or how odd it would be to hear the sound of your own voice after not speaking for weeks at a time. While I can see why so many people enjoyed Matheson’s work and hated seeing it mishandled so poorly, I can’t count myself among those who care all that much. Maybe if I was born 50 years earlier.

A quick note about the short stories: They range from surprisingly decent to so bad I was mad at my eyeballs for showing me such drivel. There’s a quote on the back cover from Stephen King that proclaims, “Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me.” Having read most of the King canon, I can certainly see that’s true. Sadly, King is a much more talented writer than Matheson and the comparison goes badly for the latter. There are certainly some good ideas in those short pieces, but very few of them live up to the promise of their premise.

Covering Covers

June 21, 2008

Ok, so on the heels of my post on Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, I got to thinking about covers again.  Seems to be a theme, no?  Anyway, I put a lot of value in covers.  They are part of the paraphenalia through which we read the books themselves.  The old saying to not judge a book by its cover is a saying because we always do.  In fact, it is impossible to follow the saying.  Whether we like it or not, the cover ALWAYS conditions our response to and reading of the book. Of course the cover is not alone.  The paper, the weight, the smell, etc — any aspect of the material book affects our reading of it whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. 

With that said, I wanted to talk briefly about Old Man’s War covers.  The novel originally appeared in 2005 with this cover: 

 I really like this cover — from the elderly spacepeople to the Adonis-like body decanting in the background.  We don’t typically think of our heroes as graying but here they are.  I also particularly like how the background figures are staring out directly at the reader while the larger figure in the foreground — our hero — looks off cover with a raised inquisitive eyebrow.  He’s not concerned with the reader but intent on studying the object of his focus.  Admittedly, I am curious about the woman’s outstretched forearms with palms (one that we can see) opened and up in an almost supplicative gesture.  It is interesting.  It makes me want to know more.  Specifically, what he is looking at and preparing to do.   It is my understanding that  Scalzi commissioned this original art from Donato Giancolo.

 Also in 2005, the trade paperback was released with this cover.  John Harris designed this second cover and has designed the covers for the subsequent books in the series.  So there is certainly a consistency across the series (definitely a good thing).  I also think that this cover is fairly attractive.  But, for me, it doesn’t measure up to the first one.  Perhaps it is the human element — such a large part of the novel for me.  Also, while I find this one attractive, it is also fairly generic.  It would be any number of planets with any number of ships in any number of fictional universes.  This is not a knock on Harris since I find the image itself to be great.  But, from this cover, I would expect something focussed mainly on ship-to-ship combat rather than planetside ground war.

 Scalzi, himself, discussed covered recently on his blog where he notes the importance of consistency and quotes Tor art directory who points out that the function of covers is to convince booksellers to buy the book.  That is an interesting wrinkle in that I think most of us assume that it is the customer who is foremost in the minds of publishers.  Booksellers actually make sense but we cannot discount the importance of the customer as well.  I get that Donato may have been cost-prohibitive for all of the books but it would have been a consistency that I think would have benefited the series.  Scalzi’s writing and Internet presence is strong enough that his books would probably sell quite well with blank covers but when I pull these books off the shelf I would like to see a more visually interesting cover.

As a quick aside, there are a number of alternate covers for the novel on foreign language editions and the limited edition published by Subterranean Press. I don’t want to clutter up with all the images, but go look for them, some of them are quite attractive. 

I don’t buy books based on covers but if I did, I would certainly go with the first cover before the second.  What do you think?

 (And this is still to say nothing of the font….)

Quick Hit reviews, part the second

June 20, 2008

 Amazing Spider-Man #563

I didn’t much care for Bob Gale’s first few issues of the Spider-relaunch, but it’s this issue cemented my dislike of his stuff.  The plot is interesting enough (bookie who takes bets on super-fights gets in trouble) but it’s Gale’s Spider-Man who I’ve found I can’t stand.  He’s a just a jerk for the majority of the story, and that’s not the Webhead I grew up with.  Threatening to destroy a bar after the bar owner/bartender just saved you from a big brawl is just classless.  I know old people are annoying, but Spidey is just plain mean to the bookie’s father and the result is off-putting.  I could talk more about the narrative’s unrealized potential, but I’ve spent too much time on this issue already.  Oh, and Mike Mckone’s art is usually nice to look at, but he seems to have lost a step since his days on Exiles.

Wolverine #66

The Civil War team is back together!  Wait….Civil War sucked and shipped late.  So…woo hoo?

I’m being prematurely snarky, of course, since there’s really nothing wrong with this issue (aside from the horribly stilted faux frontier dialect).  The “Old Man Logan” story is off to a nice start, though I’m concerned that the glacial pacing of this chapter could signal boredom ahead.  Sure, I want to know all about this bleak future world that pacifist Logan lives in, but I’m not sure I have the patience to get there (at least until the trade hits stands).  Mark Millar’s last foray into Wolverine’s world was made of testosterone and awesome, so I’m cautiously optimistic.  I can’t say anything about Steve McNiven’s work that hasn’t already been said.  It’s pretty and wonderful and detailed and I’m sure the man craps rainbows.

Punisher #58

I make no secret of my love for Garth Ennis’ take on the Punisher, and I’m not about to go back on that now.  Ennis moves the story along nicely here as Frank stares down a team of Delta commandoes and almost gets away when things go pear shaped.  Goran Parlov is probably the perfect artist to match Ennis’ tone, and it’ll be his style that I most associate with Ennis’ epic run when it ends in 2 months.  The main reason I bring this up is to point out that this story is quite obviously padded so it can last 6 issues.  There are 4 or 5 pages in the middle of this book dedicated to “reprinting” pictures from a fake book about Vietnam.  We get snapshots of helicopters and the Valley Forge firebase and Frank Castle loading a machine gun so we don’t forget he was there and none of it does a damn thing to advance the plot or give us insight into anything.  Drove me nuts, those pages did.

Old Man’s War, (John Scalzi) and sequels…

June 19, 2008

So, I just finished re-reading John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War — I initially read it a couple of years ago and was rereading it in preparation to read the sequel (which I am now currently doing), The Ghost Brigades.  Not only are they fun reading, they also engage cybernetic issues as all the characters have been modified both genetically and technologically.  I’m a big fan of John’s work and his blog, Whatever so I was a bit nervous re-reading the novel.  I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint and thoroughly withstood a re-reading. 

I find that it engages issues that I am currently interested in quite well — particularly what makes us human specifically and, how technological/cybernetic enhancements affect those definitions?   It explores them without preaching a particular position or ideology or being too heavy handed.  It also manages to engage these issues while also maintaining a quite narrative flow (just a few moments of boggy exposition) and being quite funny.  If you are not already familiar with his work and you like a) good writing b) science fiction and/or c) either Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Haldeman’s The Forever War, you will also enjoy Scalzi’s fiction. — and his blog. 

The characters are well-developed but they all share a general snarkiness that while I find amusing blends them together in a way.  This is not to say that the characters are not unique because they are.  It’s merely that this shared quality seems a bit pervasive in the ‘verse. 

I liked the main character — Perry — enough to be disappointed that he doesn’t appear (or at least hasn’t yet) in the second book.   But, don’t confuse that with disappointed in the sequel itself.  It explore the issues of humanity and technology even more in-depth that the first novel and does everything a sequel should — it has enough of the familiar to please the readers and is a different enough novel to not be merely doing the same thing over.  Sequels are in many ways harder to pull off than the first novel.  Think of the long list of excellent SF books that were followed by less than stellar follow-ups.  Dune Messiah anyone?   Other SF that you didn’t like the sequels to?

 

Quick Hit reviews

June 19, 2008

I’m going to limit myself to one paragraph for each of these:

Ex Machina #37

This book publishes so sporadically I completely forgot what was going on in it. That’s a shame, too, because it’s a damn fine read as an obsessed fan from the Mayor’s days as a superhero tries to ruin the Republican Convention using the city as her canvas. Usually I’ll find some part of a book like this tedious (be it the rote superheroics or the backroom political drama), but that’s never been the case here thanks to Brian K. Vaughn’s talent. Tony Harris’ art is just plain pretty. I love the book, but the schedule stops me from embracing it completely.

Angel: After the Fall #9

The art on this book just plain sucks. Usually I can look past that because I’m more of a story/dialogue guy and the art is just icing on the cake, but I just can’t overlook or forgive the eye-raping perpetrated here. I’m not going to waste my time looking up who drew this mess, but I can’t think of a single issue that’s had art that I would classify as passable (except for the John Byrne drawn short story a few issues ago). Aside from that, this series brings new definition to the term “uneven.” It started strong, but that past few story-driven issues (as opposed to the 3 issues devoted to catching up with characters not named Angel) have wasted the goodwill generated there. What could and should have been as good as Buffy Season 8 has turned into a jumbled, confusing, awkward mess.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

This comic features a talking raccoon whose best friend is a miniature tree god. At one point said raccoon straps a fish bowl style space helmet on his head and uses large firearms to blow overgrown tapeworms to Kingdom Come. In space. Why do you hate fun, people not reading this comic? Why?

Justice League of America #22

Like everyone else, I had high hopes when Dwayne McDuffie took over this title. Like everyone else, I’ve been so let down by it that disappointed seems to weak a word. Most blame this on DC editorial so I will too, especially when we’re treated to glimpses of what could have been. Moments like Black Canary’s smackdown of Vixen and McDuffie’s use of inner monologues from different characters show us how good this could be if the big events written by others would just stay out of his way. Ed Benes is still trying to figure out how to draw a woman’s rear end in every panel, but he’s toned it down so that the focus is now on his relatively solid work and not his spine-wrenching anatomy.