Monthly Archives: August 2011

Absent Colors

Edit: This post may not be up to the snuff of my recent writing on this blog as it is an inventory post. I wrote this back in July and never posted it. The piece was originally intended for PopMatters, but they suck and blew me off. So, here it is. Better writing will continue next week as I bunker down and create.

Still, it’s not terrible. An interesting point is made, and I feel it’s worth the time. Please only excuse some of its construction.

Hell, though, you may think it’s right on par with everything I do. If so, fuck you.

In comics, color tends to be the major indicator of tone. It can’t help but be. Above pure style or detail or simplicity, it’s the piece of comic art that makes the first impression. Why? The human eye is naturally attracted to color, or more specifically light. Our eyes respond to light. That’s their job; they take in light, process it, send messages to our brains, and our brains sketch out the world we see. Light holds no specific color, though. It’s just light. What builds our perception of color are the wavelengths possessed by the light our eyes process. When our brains decode the wavelengths though, it is believed that we make judgments of our world based on our perceptions of color. Want a healthy snack? The bright green of celery may be a good indicator.  Safe place to live? The neighborhood with the bright, red rose buds and the white picket fences probably appears secure.

If this belief be true, which I feel it is, then we are constantly reading tones in our everyday lives. It makes sense that a violent splash of red gives a comic book a sense of danger. For reason why we respond to specific colors in specific ways, I’m not sure, but there is this great essay from writer Matt Seneca on the subject (seriously, read it).

So what’s the case for black and white comic books? They certainly exist, and they certainly contain stories with emotion and idea. How do they communicate their tone? Maybe simple subject matter has something to do with it – see The Walking Dead – but I have a feeling that in the absence of color art line art carries a little more weight.

For a random example, take Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. A comic book that uses a lot of cross-hatching and small lines to create a feeling of grit and urbanness while populated by lines making animal shapes to build a sense of parody.

Even with color, line can still dictate tone. Sam Kieth uses many angular lines to convey the edge his work his after while Frank Quitely’s line gives off a vibe of fun energy with its round, almost wafting quality.

This next example may not be as “glamorous” as the few previous, but I’ve recently read a collection of short strips from Jack Staff artist Paul Grist that is to blame for the thought I’m typing here. While Grist collaborated with writer Phil Elliott in the early years of their careers, the men produced a handful of comic strips for magazines such as Taboo and Escape. Recently, these early strips were collected into a mini comic collection by Slave Labor Graphics which is titled Absent Friends. I, believe or not, obtained my copy via Erik Larsen’s garage or at least an associate of his who obtained this Larsen-garage treasure and then sent it to me. Yeah, sorry, I had to name drop. Anyway, these tales explore the usual ideas with stories of friendship, career, and sex, but they do so without coming off as just another “auto-bio, young man’s view of the world” comic. Even though they do cross the usual thoughts of indie comics, these strips do so very well by simple fact of their craft. Elliott writes a story that never spells it all out. His scripts are tight and fast paced. You never really get it all on the first read through, but you still get enough to entice you back for more. The second reading is when narrative details pop; a quality I’ve never really seen in short, vignette comics. There is actually something quite short story, or even Hemingway about them.

I’m here to talk about Grist’s work, though. As you recall, this post did start out with thoughts of visuals and tone, and I feel the work in Absent Friends really is a nice example of tone through line work. Grist is well-known for his charismatic, dynamic style because of his comic Jack Staff, but Absent Friends carries more of a rigidness. It’s not bad rigidness, like Alex Ross or recent Scott Kolins would present, just rigidness in the sense that this is a young artist, as of yet, without a particular style, and in the context of Grist’s current work it’s comparatively stiff next to Jack Staff.  Grist understands mechanics and can tell a story, but he just lacks a flamboyant style that comic readers are accustomed to.

The rigidness is one of the techniques that convey tone, though. As described, these are stories about relationships, lost friends, and struggling artists, so the stiff, more serious aesthetic of his line actually works well to communicate the point that most of these stories are not to be laughed at but rather thought about. The line art is very blunt in it’s nature. This work well for these comic strips because writer Phil Elliott, while not spelling everything out, is sort of blunt in his storytelling, or at least the nature of his narrative is very visceral. It’s not visceral in a violent sense, but the stories do present their events in a very forward fashion. The approach could be described as  “Look, this happens. Now, it’s over. Move on. Think about it when you’re done reading.” The sort of up front, no flare about it artwork Grist creates reflects this tone very well and furthers its transmission.

Grist also gives attention to his backgrounds for the cause of tone. Absent Friends isn’t one-hundred percent serious. There are a few, I guess you’d call them, “gag strips” or humorous takes on relationships throughout the collection. They’re intermingled, and the collection transitions through an array of emotions. Grist helps separate these stories by taking advantage of or destroying open space. Stories that exist to be taken a bit seriously usually contain panels with cluttered backgrounds. Grist uses devices such as rain, snow, simple cross-hatches, or a wide array of dispersed objects to tighten up the panel. That tight, almost claustrophobic feel contains the reader into a certain emotional mindset. The humor strips are the opposite. Grist leaves a lot of white space in the backgrounds, lettering and sound effects appear enthusiastic, and even character’s heads are a little more round and cartoonish. The humor stories, because of the environment Grist puts them in, look very dynamic.

This is an early work from Elliott and Grist, but in some ways it feels like years and years of experience were on hand when they made the stories within Absent Friends. These comics are well crafted, and while printed in black and white, Grist makes use of the line art to sell the heart of these stories. More importantly, Absent Friends made me consider the role of line art. I tend to think it’s job is simply style and obviously building shapes, but there is more to it, especially when you read a comic book that takes advantage of it. Color will always be the dominate messenger of tone, certainly, but I think next time I read a comic I’ll study the line and see if it too is sending a message.

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Butcher Baker, the Statement Maker

Joe Casey wants us to wake up. He’s screaming in our ears. “Hey, fuckheads! Put it together!” For some, a rude awakening. For me, a welcome cry.

I never enjoy being the “all comics suck, especially the cape ones” guy, yet, at times, I slip into that mindset (especially if I’ve read Fear Itself). I join the crew of the hyper-critical, and we chant via our internet connections of how much we hate everything. Actually, I lied. Sometimes that mindset feels splendid. There’s a certain air of “above it all” that comes with the hate. You feel ahead of the curve. At least, I do. At some point though, you realize the amount of negativity you spout and things turn dark. You look at yourself in the reflection of your computer screen and beg the question: am I negative for a justified reason or am I hating to hate?

The “all super hero comics suck” label seems too easy to apply. It goes beyond the reasonable complaint of limited creativity to levels of nothing is possible in the genre. Sure, the genre has its problems. Creators get fucked, progress isn’t always made, and comics resemble product rather than art. The corporate lock down and fan culture provide plenty of reason for people to disown the angle. It even encourages it.  Small press suffers the same issues, though.  TokyoPop completely fucked Brandon Graham, the black and white boom felt more like early Image Comics than progress, and the number of publishers pushing panels of licensed properties goes uncounted. Small publishers suck just as bad. The flaws of comics go beyond the capes. It’s comics as a whole.

Still, for some, there’s nothing beyond Fantagraphics and PictureBox. The output of Oni Press doesn’t apply to them. My argument doesn’t apply to them. Whatever. For those who state an open existence though – the people in it for the art and seeing the world in open terms – it seems pretty fucking stupid to limit your reading. Sure, hero comics contain a lot of bad, and sure, few contain the passion and personal touch of art, but if  any of those things were the case, super hero comics seem like the most likely place. Motherfuckers fly in these books. I’d say a lot’s possible. And – super hero comics hold a certain place in the medium. To ignore them or brush them off only signals a being living in a bubble. In some senses, cape comics are the medium, at least in terms of identity. Study that. Learn from that. Invite the cape and cowl in and let it join the house party you call context.

Joe Casey proves the potential and awesome of super heroes with each issue of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker. He sends a statement to the art house goon, the mind-mushed hero reader, and the comics professional. The super hero isn’t a bitch; the super hero has balls. Such detail is built into Casey’s lead and book namesake, Butcher Baker, as well as the up front, hyper-active aesthetic of the comic. But I wouldn’t even limit the cry to super hero comics. As typed above, small press or guys like IDW, Oni, and Dark Horse can suck just as bad. Hell, even Image who publishes the work of the industry right now publishes some shit (*cough*Invincible*cough*). As we’ve learned, it’s not about limiting one’s self to a specific area of comics or literature. The mission pertains to an all-encompassing mind, and Casey is a smart fucker. This dude speaks a little something to everyone.

But, hey, comics books are about pretty pictures and cool looking shit. Let’s talk about the bitchin’ work of Mike Huddleston.

So much happens in this comic because of Huddleston. Casey inspires the work and sprinkles in the bits of manifesto and meta, but Huddleston sings the fucking song. His art spotlights many approaches, techniques, and tones to create an air of sophistication and complexity. Baker is not a comic to sit and stare at a consistent color choice or line. Huddleston flashes between neon and grainy black and white. Speed lines touched by a manga flare decorate fight scenes. Cross hatches and angles bend lines to an edge. My descriptions of art only go so far, but you get the idea. Mike Huddleston fills Butcher Baker with a mixture of approaches. The question to ask: why?

When reading comics (or any type of literature), always ask why things are done the way they are. That’s basic 9th grade shit, but it works. Techniques and narrative choices spawn from more than just accident. Everything contains a purpose. In the case of Huddleston’s art, I’m sure there are numerous – NUMEROUS – reasons. The dude no doubt possesses more brain cells than I, so I’m certain his artistic choices run deep. Too much happens in Baker in terms of visual expression for there not to be detailed reasons. I believe I can offer one, measly, bullshit reason, though. Huddleston’s art is on the constant move. Every scene works under different circumstances, and while I’m certain each scene looks the way it does for a specific purpose, I’m more interested in the general idea of change or the simple notion of complexity.

Casey shines a spotlight, aiming the bright, phosphorescent bulb on the super hero and the genre’s ability to preform. From that, we’re seeing the genre’s multifunction. Casey’s telling a high octane, “last job” thriller, but he’s also documenting a very personal journey. Much of this book is Casey’s career in comics deployed through the Butcher Baker analog. At the same time, the book offers character study.  The old war hero forced back to the life of combat. How’s that work? Butcher Baker, mentioned in this blog post’s title, also presents statement, a manifesto from Casey communicated through the genre and comic book as media.  The comic book as media … yeah. The spotlight, the statement, the study … it’s on the super hero, but again, no limits, Casey shows us the multifunction of comic books. Comic books in general, as form, rather than keeping to one section. A lot of change and movement exists in that goal. It only makes sense Huddleston’s art be so shifting. At least, in a collaborative sense. The artwork echos the writing. Provides emphasis. Huddleston’s complexity in style and technique is the visual hand to the face to push the idea through the eyeballs. Casey says comic books can do it all, and Huddleston backs him up.

Most comics keep to the single, visual vision. Reasons vary. Mostly, it rests on creative restriction because of risk of readers freaking the fuck out. Readers lose shit when comics lack realism, resemble manga, or go black and white. Huddleston brings all of that, though. He tells the notion of drawing “house style” to fuck itself. “House style” doesn’t know. It wants a set visual when comics could present so much more. The “so much more” never sees the light of day, though. The need to satisfy “house style” mentality boils strong, so artists force out status quo images. The art of Butcher Baker represents a sexy middle finger, and it yells at everyone, “hey, get a fucking load of this!”  A load of what, you ask? Metaphorical testicles communicated by the artwork’s aesthetic. Simply said, Huddleston’s work is pumped full of testosterone, and it follows Casey’s lead in that comics know no bounds.

The statement of Butcher Baker matters, and a main feature of that equals Casey’s personal touch. Baker feels like a very cathartic work of fiction.  We have some knowledge of the bullshit Casey’s dealt with in recent years. DC rewrote a few Superman/Batman scripts, and this obviously affected him. Maybe other things have happened as well. But the DC incident is the public one we, or I, know, and, you what, it’s enough to inspire the self-therapy Casey’s exploring. Baker contains a specific timeline, and it can be traced to match the experience of a comics writer. Issue #4 depicts a younger Butcher Baker – in his prime, the super hero of legend – combating against a villain in the middle of a desert. As the fight romps on, dialogue appears:

Butcher: “This place … kinda’ like the Wild West, eh Gator?”

“You think you can hide out, but it’s still Cowboys an’ Indians …”

“… while the goddamn world ends all around us.”

The Wild West. Cowboys an’ Indians. A good way to describe comic books, right? A medium with such potential and so much room for a pioneer to work with, but really it’s chained down by industry standards to play out the same old fights, over and over. Butcher speaks of the world ending as well. I take that as, “you can try to hide out in comics, doing something important, but while you play what’s really a dumb game, real shit is happening in the world.”

Gator is put down by page 2. Butcher than hands his mask over to an army officer and walks away from the scene.

Butcher: “Chasing super-villains halfway across the globe had me feeling like I was trapped in a Roadrunner Cartoon …”

I feel the line speaks for itself.

Issue #1 would be where we first meet up with Butcher in the present, years after the flashback. He’s living in his grotto, banging multiple chicks, and drinking. The dude’s all over the fruits of retirement. Then come Jay Leno and Dick Chaney, whom could easily be interpreted as Marvel and DC as well as other things. But for the sake of the point I’m on, let’s stick with Marvel and DC. These guys bring Butcher out of retirement to fulfill a mission. The mission, blowing up a high security prison in order to kill a bunch of super villains, goes wrong and Butcher is left with a mess to clean up. The mess being a number of old foes such as a behemoth named “Angerhead” who spouts lines like, “My hatred will fuck you up!” Even though higher powers sent Butcher on this mission, he’s on his own to clean the mess. Hell, the high powers look to cover their asses and send in military force to fuck Butcher. There’s even missiles sprayed painted with the phrase “fuck you” fired at the Righteous Maker.

This reads like an account of a comics writer picking up mainstream work and then realizing the mess it can be. Some creators claim to do very well under corporate structure. Guys like Brian Bendis has flourished and still produce solid work while being the company name. The other half of the story exists, though. Casey would most likely be the poster child. Lines like, “Those assholes promised I had their ‘full support’ on this mission – is this what they meant? The first sign of trouble…they turn their guns on me, too!?” totally fit Casey.

“But it never fails. The white men in their black suits…they want what they want. And I’m expendable. Fuck me.”

It’s like the reaction of a writer going in, trying something exciting under a corporate umbrella, and then discovering the company men are pissed and will fuck you hard to fix what you’ve done. This element of the story actually provides an interesting contradiction. As typed, most of this book sets a goal to present the awesome and capability of super-heroes as genre. It’s almost like a pep rally in comic book form. So why show the darker side? I believe it’s to discuss the issue of super-hero comics entirely. As we all know, creator rights have once again become the big, controversial issue in our daily Twitter feeds. And you know what? Good of those people concerned. It’s an issue that demands dealing. But as we all come to question the moral behavior of our heroes’ homes (the publishers), we reach a point of contradiction. We all favor creator rights, and I bet quite a few would give an arm to get Kirby is rightful due, but when you boil down the argument, how many can actually boycott Marvel? A sense of evil and moral question disgusts us, but we also love the story potential of capes. We reach a point of enternal struggle. What do we do here?

Baker’s at the same point. The dude wants to enjoy the life but constantly suffers from its seedy side. He is us, and he is Casey, locked in a world of indecision and contradiction, trying to make any fucking sense of it he can.

And then Butcher makes a break for it after a bloody battle in Times Square. He disappears like a criminal after a successful heist, beaching himself in a resort spa. Not the place for Butcher. The dude can’t escape the thoughts of heroing and who he is. Butcher contemplates what’s next for him.

The writer cannot just leave the field even after a hard fucking. The writer has to produce. It’s who the writer is. Resort beaches and bullshit small talk are not him. But what else is there other than the game he’s already played? Same goes for the reader. Once you see the potential of comics, how can you leave forever?

Butcher Baker sees a lot of time as an analog character, and honestly you could probably spend a few hundred words or more discussing analog characters in this comic. The entire cast of villains thus far seem to each speak a specific personality, and there is as well Arnie B. Willard. This determined, beer-gut of a law man comes as a bit more difficult to pin down. I’d say he represents another side of Casey, though. Just because of his ying/yang connection to Butcher. Issue #5 really gives me that vibe. When the transgender force of universe provides Willard with a higher sense, his thoughts and Butcher’s intertwine. Both characters take a trip to each other’s head, and it’s from this we learn Willard wants to be Butcher. He’s the law man who loves dishing out justice and hates his fat fuck of a wife, and Butcher appears appealing by way of his many female friends and beefy, Liberty Belle truck. It’s all in this head trip process as Casey writes in an Alan Moore image/caption juxtaposition.

The important fact would be Willard’s action of chasing Butcher. He’s chasing him to lay down the law, but his transgender friend offers a little more insight. She (or he) claims Willard must seek the ultimate truth, and from the pages in the comic it seems the ultimate truth lies with Butcher Baker. So, if Willard does represent some side of Casey, what is it that Casey finds in Butcher Baker, which I would say is another piece of him?

Willard could even fit the contradiction theme. A lawman hunting a vigilante, yet he secretly desires to be just like him.

The answer is where this series is going.

Now how the fuck do I wrap this up? I suck at conclusions. (you may even think I suck at writing. period.)

It’s like this: comics can do a lot. We live in an era of Hollywood R&D and formula. Comic books sit in the shopping carts of suits and then meet check out upon option. Nobodies’ taking it seriously until it hits the silver screen. Nobody. Except for Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston, two dudes on a mission to prove the comic book’s versatility and creative potential. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker contains a mix of levels and “abouts.” It’s a comic book that’s proud to be a comic book, and it’s doing things only comic books can do. In a collaborative manner, I might add. The book even teaches a lesson for the already comic book faithful. More is possible, and super heroes, the go-to blemish of the medium, can transform and do new things while offering personal expression. For some, the manifesto may not be even be enough, but remember, this series is 5 issues old, and Joe Casey seems totally open to change. I’m sure Butcher Baker will develop with the time as well as develop with its author’s voice. This would be the last comic book I’d expect to go stale.

It’s the best motherfucking book out there.

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the chemical box – episode 010 – double digits

A new Chemical Box Podcast, hosted by Joey Aulisio and myself, is available. Here are the details…

in this episode joey and alec discuss supergods by grant morrison, batman incorporated #7 by grant morrison and chris burnham, the wolverine’s revenge storyline (wolverine #10-12) by jason aaron and renato guedes, the mindless ones website, brandon graham’s comics journal interview, hate annual #9 by peter bagge, the similarities of approach between peter bagge and erik larsen, and we answer some emails, among other things.

music by †††

You can listen by clicking here, or you can download the show, in iTunes, here.

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Neal Adams super-science. Dark Horse Presents. “And nobody listened.”

Dark Horse Presents once again. Does anyone care? I ask that out of sincerity rather than snark or rhetoric. Does anyone really care? Or, maybe “care” is the wrong word to place in that question. Maybe “like” fits better? Does anyone like this newly relaunched, anthology comic?

I only ask because most reaction seems either non existent or “meh.” Granted, I don’t read every blog or bit of comics criticism, but from the usual circles I follow I see little to no comment, and if comment appears it’s of the “meh” type. The most detailed comment my ears have stumbled upon sounded something like, “it’s a showcase of a bunch of once great creators doing mediocre stuff.” Not the most flattering critique.

Not that any of this upsets me or even remotely keeps me up at night (trust me, I ❤ sleep) because I follow the crowd in this case and really only offer the “meh” comment. It’s a “meh” kind of comic book. Frank Miller brightened the picture and gave DHP #1 some sort of flare and Chaykin’s Marked Man looks great, but the story so far does nothing for me. Corben, same case. I’m clueless as to what the fuck Paul Chadwick does in Concrete. The “new” talent feels like filler except for Carla Speed McNeil and Patrick Alexander. And Neal Adams…yeah.

I’m all for the concept of Dark Horse Presents, or really just the concept of anthology in general. I like short stories, and I like the idea of artists, new and old, telling random stories they see fit. Of the few anthologies I’ve read though, the case never works. I’ve read a few, though. Mainstream ones at that. Maybe you cool kids know where to find the good shit and can set me straight. I don’t know.

Point being, Dark Horse Presents could bring real energy to the medium via new talent and old school class acts, but the comic falls flat by way of its wonk content and finds itself largely overlooked. Again, overlooked from where I’m standing. DHP stood significant once. The anthology ushered in a new publisher and presented notable works like Miller’s Sin City and Byrne’s Next Men. 157 issues were published over the span of 14 years, and, through hindsight, DHP seemed to pump variety into the industry. Like a little blip where surely something interesting could be found. Now, it wafts about like the comic’s current line up of talent. There’s more of a connection between the artists and the comic than just sharing the same page. Both seem out of their era, yet oddly present hope for a desired quality or artistic push.

Neal Adams, as much as I respect this man, symbolizes such an idea more than anyone else.

Adams integrated advertising illustration with four color pulp and transformed the expectation of super hero visuals. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve had zero experience in the field of Neal Adams up until this year. His work affects me more through the pieces of criticism I read or medium lookbacks I hear on podcasts than actual comic books. Fucked up, maybe, but let’s face it, I’m 19. Neal Adams – the prime, industry breaking Neal Adams – came way before my time, and I only have so much money for comics.  Cut me some fucking slack. Still, I understand his place in comics lore. I understand, from a second hand account, what Neal Adams did. It’s not necessarily why I respect him, though.

My respect derives from Adams’ recent work, actually, as well as the man’s scientific reputation. We’re all aware of Neal Adams’ personal beliefs – the expanding Earth theory -, and we’re all aware that Batman: Odyssey is bat-shit crazy. Most now mourn Adams because of these choices in expression, but I don’t know, I see something fascinating and even respectable here. Here’s a man, a man who draws better than most, using comics completely for personal expression, as art is intended, rather than sloshing about in useless plots like most industry veterans seem to do these days (DC Retroactive, anyone?). This guy does what he wants and plays by no rule other than his own. This guy took Batman, in the current era of DC editoral comics, and made it completely his own. Neal Adams remains an artist – an honest to God artist and auteur producing content when most vets fade away.

Maybe I shouldn’t praise someone, especially a storyteller of all people, for having a voice – that shit should come standard – but, and maybe this speaks of our time, voice  has become more and more limited. Not every comic book or film for that matter presents an identity. Most forms of narrative are more common to follow the formula rather than an artist’s vision. The world finds fuel in product, and our commercial arts suffer. Voice, whenever present, deserves the recognition. At least a few points.

Especially when said voice shouts to the world, “planet Earth is expanding!” Takes balls to host an opinion most deem insane.

And this is where we arrive. Dark Horse Presents, volume 2, #2. The second installment of Neal Adams’ Blood. This 8-pager sums up the new era Neal Adams.

Here’s a base description:

-There’s a guy named Blood.
-He comes from an ancient source of alien power.
-This power known as the “animae,” which is basically a symbiote, attaches to selected humans and provides them with universal knowledge.
-Throughout time, the animae links itself to numerous people.
-Linked people have visions of a great oncoming threat and said people warn the human race
-Human reaction to warning is summed up by one caption – “And nobody listened.”

Then, at some point in this extended flashback, a Jesus stand-in instructs the Knights Templar on the notion of change. The comic then ends.

No grand points to take away from this. Another crazy Neal Adams comic with little narrative value. Except…guy with knowledge tries to warn the world and “nobody” listens…where have I heard this before?  Oh. Someone got self-aware. Blood chapter 2 is the Neal Adams reaction comic. Rather than ignore his reputation and the criticism he receives, Adams turns it around and fires back at us. The tone of this comic exemplifies a feeling of “I know something grand and world changing, but you and your ignorance prohibit anything outside the accepted norm.” If you could pin it down to a theme, Blood chapter 2 syncs well with “humanity finds comfort in conformity.” I feel the pseudo-Jesus speech says much.

Choose not to kill me? It would hardly matter. It’s a small thing not to kill me. At best, you will be stepping outside your machine, your premade place, for merely an instant of time. Everything you do after that decision will carry you back into the machine. You will be consigned to an obscurity of sameness. Men will know nothing of you.

To become an un-same, to make a change, an impact on history, you must find a path, a way of being that does not follow your preordained way. Only change brings new. How could you possibly learn to step out of your machine?

Does Adams, by way of his beliefs, feels he’s making an impact on history, or is that simply an exaggeration for sake of story? I mean, why use the Jesus image? It could be entirely for story purposes. A sense of symbolism. Or, maybe it says a bit more about this artist. There’s also the idea of men, men who conform, existing within what Adams calls “the machine,” and Adams, by way of the possible Jesus analog, suggests he’s outside or even above “the machine.”

It’s a loaded 8-pager, but as a narrative it fails. Adams tends to make the story’s message overbearing or “preachy” while allowing the actual plot, the fictional element, to drop into the background like it’s unimportant and almost in the way. The story really isn’t even the focus. The comic just reads like someone shouting at you. It’s an interesting way to execute a story, but it doesn’t work.

I still enjoy it, though. I’m a guy for which style overbears execution, and Blood chapter 2 is the poster child of such attitude. Even so, it’s only one section of the 80 page Dark Horse Presents, and I’m most likely alone in the enjoyment. As Adams puts it, nobody is listening. Listening to Blood or Dark Horse Presents. While both subjects could light a fire under the industry’s ass, execution is poor and holds back any attempt at game changing or award worthy quality. Once upon a time, Adams and DHP could do such a thing. Today, both Adams and DHP are revamped versions of themselves, laced with bits that sound tasty in passing, but when actually read pack no punch.

DHP’s only 2 issues in. Things could change. Maybe Brian Wood and The Massive can stir things up. Here’s hoping.

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The TW Review – Marc Spector: producer, maniac, pimp

Yeah, let’s do this again.

For those who read the previous “TW Review” post, I teased of two reviews. Not happening. I had too much to say about the subject below, and honestly I can come back to the other book at another time. Carry on.

Moon Knight #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artists: Alex Maleev, Matt Wilson, Cory Petit

Marc Spector wanders between many faces. That’s the character. He exemplifies the “super hero” who lacks the skill of decision making as well as the shell trying to morph its inner contents. Moon Knight gives home to any reader struggling with the concept of identity. Any poor sap unsure of what direction he or she wants to go in can relate to the Macabre Moon Knight, especially those less than satisfied with who they actually are.

Which, really, should strike a chord with us all.

Brian Michael Bendis snapped the reigns on the agent of jet and silver three months ago, taking over a character whose seen more than a fair share of failed creative attempts. Which has been a shame. Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz crafted some wonderful comics with this character, and ever since Marvel has only published sludge for Moon Knight to star in. I’d argue the presence of some favorable bits in Charlie Huston’s run 0f 2006, but really Marvel, and the numerous creators involved, have only degraded Moon Knight’s status from subject of prestigious work to pulp joke.

The Bendis/Maleev direction appears willing to return Moon Knight to some sort of pedestal. The new found title sits ready to reclaim the glory of last decade’s Daredevil run. A book concerned with drama, street level focus, and character study. The Bendis/Maleev comic seems ready to further develop Marc Spector rather than play him as a poor man’s Batman.

It’s odd that I am only now discussing or reviewing this book. Besides Greg Bergas, I’m probably the most vocal Moon Knight guy online. I’m unsure what that says about me, that you know, Moon Knight is my peak of vocality , but so be it. Months before the release of Bendis/Maleev Moon Knight you, doubtfully, couldn’t shut me up. The news came as a blitzkrieg. The potential of Marvel Comics shined bright and friendly once again. My old stacks of MK comics found new attention. Hell, I even made big plans for this blog in the department of content.

I was all over this book and ready to read. Then it came out.

So why the clam up? The first issue gave me nothing new. Every bit of plot and concept that Marvel PR tossed to the media made it into the first issue yet nothing else. I knew going in that Marc Spector now possessed three new identities, and this concept turned out to be the big “reveal” of the series premiere. The cliffhanger shot or the pace setting issue Bendis holds such a reputation for failed terribly in my eyes.

To be fair, Bendis provided warning in the book’s prior months of marketing. I forget the exact quote, but he spoke out saying most comics give their all in the first issue, and after that they sort of trail off and no one ever talks about them again. A point which stands as totally correct. This era of comics revolves around first issue buzz. No one shows concern for issue #7 or discusses series on issue-to-issue protocol. A mission to bring back to style the issue-to-issue narrative felt like a bold one – another reason why I was so stoked for this new comic.

Still, a certain vibe was attained with the actual reading. Seeing the not-so-new, new first issue in print quelled my excitement. I understood the writer’s need not to blow the load out of the gate, but I would have liked some sort of tease or battle cry rather than a lame “yeah, you know.” It’s always nice to stand up and clap when you’re the audience, but instead Moon Knight #1 conveyed a feeling of “well, I guess we have to get this into the actual comic so it matters, huh?”.

I enjoyed #1 fair enough, but it never made me shout with glee. In my storm of reading though, I’ve caught up on the new Bendis/Maleev project. I now emote glee.

So, yeah, that’s all context for the next two paragraphs or so of review. Oh well. Issue #3!

Bendis showcases how well he can write the character in this issue. Like most Bendis comics, the plot doesn’t stretch far but that’s OK. Instead, Bendis uses extended moments to document Spector’s interactions while also setting up a supporting cast. This comic is a good example of the term we know as “decompression.” Not that it’s really decompressed, necessarily. Plot movement falls short, but the comic never wastes any time – which seems to be the main idea of “decompression.” No, instead Bendis uses decompressed story telling the way Ellis and Hitch intended it. Extended moments shine light on intimate details and highlight character ticks we will want to know. The comic gives us a close look at the newly reformed Marc Spector a.k.a. Moon Knight.

Wolverine, Spider-man, and Captain America certainly work within Spector’s newly forged system of multiple personalities, but remember, Spector’s working the west coast and strutting his stuff as a TV producer. The man has a day job, and Bendis uses the day job as a backdrop to further explore Spector’s psyche.  Issue #3 opens with a scene cast straight from Tarantino’s True Romance with Spector whizzing his way up the Californian coastline in a convertible.  On the way, Maleev makes point to detail the character’s wardrobe, and Bendis creates a scene of flirtation between Spector and one Maya Lopez (whom Spector spent the night with). The comic rolls along until Spector arrives on the set of his big, new television show. Words are shared with his assistant, and we are even privy in Spector’s work day as he actually shows concern for producing a well-crafted production. Then things turn dark. Bendis writes a flashback to show Spector’s hiring of an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Purpose? Sidekick or partner of some kind. To fully trust a partner though, Spector pushes this agent through an unnatural test. Spector tortures the man while dressed as the less than kind Bullseye. Why? To see if this potential partner spills any beans on his possible employer. The scene ends, and the ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. speaks, “man, how crazy are you?”.

The issue revolves completely around the concept of identity, or more specifically the different kinds of roles we play in our everyday lives. While that is familiarly a Brubaker theme, Bendis knows how to make it his own with his portrayal of character. Spector works as a Hollywood hotshot, but that includes many things. In this case, television producer equals working man, pimp (as in ladies man not the traditional definition), and maniac. Spector becomes Bendis’s filter for Hollywood stereotype. He represents the ideas of corporate art we all dream of. The rock star playboy comes out with Maya. The power hungry, coked-up suit plays when the lights are turned down. In the middle, a working man presents passion for his project.

Boom, boom, and boom. The issue rolls out each identity, each person, very well by way of smooth pacing. Each segment just flows right into the next.

It’s a solid way to keep to the character’s core while also providing some sense of relevancy to our world. In the day and age of super hero movies, it makes a lot of sense for a super hero to comment on Hollywood. There’s also that matter of Bendis currently developing his own television series. I’d like to think Spector’s time as a TV producer provides some sort of personal expression of Bendis’s new found experiences.  Art reflecting life seems appropriate in this situation, especially if Bendis currently suffers his own identity crisis. I’m afraid only he knows that.

Of course, the separation of roles works just as well for the fictional character as it does the real world. Oddly enough, the three roles presented in this issue match up with Spector’s original trio of masks. The pimp, the playboy totally belongs to Spector’s Steven Grant persona – the millionaire, Bruce Wayne-type who wore the hot blonde on his arm. The working man goes to taxi driver Jake Lockley, and the maniac is right up the alley of Marc Spector the loose cannon mercenary.

What Bendis has done is taken Spector’s original three personae and multiplied it by two. There are three heroes, and there are three Marc Spectors. Just like us who work within one name yet act like different people within different situations, Spector now experiences the same. While he may appear slightly more stable, Spector is in all honesty more fucked up than ever. Doubt me? The dude holds 6 personalities to his name.

And this is the guy with the head of Ultron, working the case of the West Coast Kingpin. Bendis has me by the nuts.

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Peter Bagge on the age old Single Issue vs. OGN debate

“I myself vastly prefer comic books. I like working in that format. There’s something real cozy about it. You can digest a comic in one sitting. It’s easy for an artist to conceptualize it in one piece. I like the more casual feel of the comic book. It’s unpretentious.”

“A graphic novel takes on an air of self-importance. And I hate going through the embarrassment of asking your famous friends to contribute blurbs and pull quotes. All this log-rolling and high-falutin’ self-congratulation. A comic book is like vaudeville as opposed to the graphic novel’s Broadway. If I had my druthers it’s the only thing I would do.”

– Shrinking Alternatives, The Comics Journal #263, Oct/Nov 2004

A quote filled with simple statements rather than the poetry we all enjoy reading, but solid simple statements that only encourage my head into a nod of agreement.  Not that I detest the graphic novel format. It’s a fine format, and many artists have accomplished wonderful feats through it. But as Bagge states, the good old, floppy comic book is unpretentious nor self-important. Such a quality reminds me of what comics are all about – artwork that is what it is. Comics books are proud to be comic books.

Of course, Bagge has worked in the graphic novel format since. Vertigo released Other Lives last year. Bagge obviously holds no grudge against the format, but neither has he turned his back on the single issue. Hate Annual #9 dropped in April of this year. 32 pages of comic book.

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The TW Review – If Spider-man could finally get his shit together …

I feel the sudden urge to write random, short reviews of new(ish) comic books.

When in all reality there exists a more than sufficient amount of review material on the weekly paper chase of the direct market, I in this instance lack concern and will contribute. Mark me up with the majority of comic book bloggery! I shall write quick hit segments that few will read and fewer will remember beyond this day of “publishing.”

This past week consisted of my mission to catch up on the monthly fodder, and I feel I should produce at least something with the probably lack luster thoughts and opinions I now possess.

So, yeah, here’s some bullshit I spent a night typing …

The Amazing Spider-man #666 – Spider-Island Prologue
Writer: Dan “the excited” Slott, Artists: Stefano Caselli, Marte Gracia, Joe Caramagna

I’m a huge (not literally) Spider-man fan, in case you didn’t know. This particular fictional figure really was my first point of interest in comics. As we all begin, we’re in it for the 2-D gladiators and their excursions.  Spider-man was and still remains my dude, and there’s been plenty of, I hate to say “discussion” but I guess, discussion on the character lately – there’s a film reboot on the way and Glenn Beck suddenly gives a fuck what color the kid from Queens is. My own personal spider-sense tingles from all this talk and a new found enthusiasm for the web head boils inside me. The time is now. Let’s see what Peter Parker’s up to these days in his pulpy home of  ‘The Amazing Spider-man.’

Dan Slott writes the exact kind of comics I yearn to stay away from. Stupid recesses on why such fictional things are cool, along with useless plot updates, seem to be this scribes money making characteristic. Every time I’ve read his Spider-man, the book devolves into some mess of, “hey, let’s see what The Thing is up to! You know why? Cause Spider-man KNOWS The Thing!”.  Just stupid shit like that. He’s the type of writer who invests a little too much in the fictional world he’s left to curate a.k.a. the purest example of a fan writer. This results in a constant parade of subplot catch up.

I’m sure the dude really is nice and all sorts of fun to drink with and I totally understand the need to incorporate the supporting cast in a title such as ‘The Amazing Spider-man,’ but Jesus, God I don’t give a fuck what the reason is for Peter’s costume change between his time with the new found Future Foundation and The Avengers. I’m sure that was a run on sentence, but it’s how I going to express the point.

OK, now that I’m finished with my poor attempt at sounding like Tucker Stone, who’s a great writer by the way, let me break down and review the issue how I normally would.

The first few pages satisfy me, surprisingly. One of my biggest beefs  as a “fan” of the Spider-man character lays in Marvel’s inability to allow Peter Parker to grow up. His story, along with the core of the Spider-concept, stands most potent in the years of youth. Ditko and Lee engineered this hormonal mess of hero as a Shakespearean observation, and his saga works throughout all time as well as in the culture change and teenage uprising of the 1960s. Youth is important to the character, but I guess the fanboy connection I possess wants me to witness a changing or aging Peter Parker. I carry this urge to watch a fictional being learn and grow as if he were real rather than living a trap of repetition. Peter’s always fucking up, losing his job, not getting laid, or letting someone die. He so lacks efficiency. Again, the core, I know, but you can only read so many stories about a fuck up. You know why? Because at some point you learn this dude is always going to fuck up, and that grows so old so fast. I’d rather not read.

Slott progresses Peter Parker for a few pages, though. Right in this issue.  Peter’s recent deal is that he’s sitting comfortably with a new, fancy science research job, the gig he’s always wanted since implied way back when in 1963. Along with the gig, Parker keeps the company of a new lady friend, acts as a member of two super-teams, and kicks ass as a solo crime fighter.  This Peter Parker represents the efficient, responsible character that Marvel has potential to publish. Granted, the conflict of fucking up is lost, but maybe a responsible, non-fuck up Spider-man would encourage a little more creativity in the House of Ideas? It could pull Peter Parker in a new, interesting direction. And, for a few pages, that direction wafts hopefully before my beady, spider-loving eyes until Dan Slott progresses to suddenly make me not want such a thing.

We the readers understand perfectly well that Spider-man jams efficient, but Slott feels the need to shove it down our throats. The expected subplot, continuity parade storms on by with Slott leading the damn thing as King Same-and-Stuck. The pages flip on by. J. Jonah Jameson shouts his concern and damns the arachnid. Norah Winters, cast member and friend of Peter’s, has a douche bag boyfriend who’s secretly a villain with a goblin persuasion. Aunt May still lives. Flash “the venom” Thomspon stops by because he lives in New York. Betty Brant uses a cell phone. The Avengers play cards only after the Future Foundation hit the wardrobe. Spider-man fights in a dojo for his daily workout.

Slott literally shows us every fucking thing Peter Parker now does as well as showing us everything his cast does. And he doesn’t just show us, he takes an entire issue to show us these bland explanations continuity nerds eat up. God help me.

The issue eventually finds an end where it manages to introduce this “event” known as Spider-Island. The idea? The Jackal, spider-villain known for the infamous “Clone Saga,” desires to clone once more but this time create an entire “island of spiders!” Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this concept. Part of me says, “repetitive” and “why care,” but I hate to blow off a concept before it’s really used. I believe there’s potential in an “island of spiders.” We will see, I suppose.

The artwork is wonderful, though. Caselli captures a great sense of motion in this issue. Images feel kinetic, and Spider-man appears truly super as he swings across the landscape. The line work appears clean and distinct, and the figures drawn convey a real sense of acting. Along with the fresh colors provided by Gracia, I found the visual aspect of this issue quite satisfying.

Will I continue with Spider-Island? I must enjoy torture, because I might. Might. I’m still interested in how this concept finds use by the creative team, and I am experiencing a new found interest in Spider-man. So, yeah, I’ll go hang out with the only dude crying over the demise of Wizard, and we’ll discuss how much we hate these hero comics and how they ignore what want even though we continue to purchase them.

Spider-Island Part 2 will, most likely, be mine.

Batman: Knight of Vengeance #2
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Artists: Eduardo Risso, Patricia Mulvihill, and some dude named Robbins

Now I can type with a positive tap.

Azzarello and Risso impressed me with 100 Bullets by not only its striking narrative but its master craft. That comic book, ladies and gentlemen, hits every fucking note, and it exemplifies a collaboration where both sides truly contribute to the world building. Azzarello brought the language and tone while Risso defined the style and flow. The case remains the same on this Batman comic that, I have to keep telling myself, is an event tie-in.

Most artists portray some sort of style, and that style usually manages to label that artist’s drawings. Like, you know, John Romita Jr’s New York City stands clearly distinct from Alex Maleev’s New York City. Each artist, by way of style, possesses their own and belongs to their own artistic sphere. Risso really pulls that idea to another level where his style not just stands for “Eduardo Risso” but rather a “Risso Universe.” I get the feeling that Risso’s drawings all exist on the same plane. Not many artists communicate this idea to me. Plenty of artists have distinct styles and define looks of certain objects or figures, but only Risso strings his depictions across one common field of existence. How he does this, I could honestly make no case. Maybe it has something to do with his attention to style, whether it be people’s dress or the styling of his settings, but digging into art that far lays beyond me. Simply said, I can’t help but wander into this comic and feel right back at home in the world of 100 Bullets.

Call me stupid, but that’s how I connect to this comic. It makes sense to me, though. 100 Bullets encourages you to wonder what lies beyond its gutters, and in my wondering I stumble upon an alternate version of Gotham City.

I love how Azzarello, when on his game, tells his stories. While most comic scribes today worry about sufficient word count, Azzarello comes off as a minimalist. I mean, flipping through this issue, I guess there are the standard number of word balloons, but the content of said word balloons express far from standard.  His dialogue acts the opposite of most comic dialogue. It’s not slow or exposition influenced but rather comes off as self-existent. What the fuck does that mean? OK, most dialogue feels like its meant to be read, like somehow the dialogue itself is self-aware and knows its part of a story. Azzarello’s dialogue makes the reader feel like he or she is a true fly on the wall. The characters know what’s what, and that’s all that matters as they act out their parts. As a reader, you truly watch and piece the story together by what you see and “hear” rather than being fed everything.

A grand example of such writing resides in Azzarello’s characterization of one Thomas Wayne. Not once have we witnessed a flash back nor has Wayne directly addressed us, but from observing character interactions and the simple fact of a Bat costume we understand Thomas Wayne as an angry old man with family issues and strong memories of failure. And it’s all we need.

For its premise of alternate Earth Batman, Azzarello and Risso knock it out the park. It remains unfinished and could lose steam, but the team has gone above and beyond. Their Gotham sits clearly distinct along with it inhabitants. The comic feels more like a goddamn Elseworlds than some event tie-in. Oh, and with the addition of this issue’s cliffhanger, I can safely say I actually feel the fear and conflict of this story. Something feels at stake, and it’s refreshing for a DC cape comic.

Next: Another Batman comic and a character everyone loathes. 

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