Monthly Archives: November 2011

5 issues in …

Well, technically 6, but so far all I’ve read are 5. That is, of Dark Horse Presents – the newly revived version.

I’ve discussed the title before on this blog, but when I did I mostly stuck to the crazy Neal Adams bit. This time, I want to look at the project more as a whole. And, yeah, I’ll probably break down one specific short as well because there’s one that certainly deserves the attention. But more importantly, don’t expect anything long here. I’m feeling this to be a short post.

Why? Well, it’s simple. DHP hasn’t really offered much as of yet.

I’m honestly disappointed to type that. I rooted for this return right from the get-go announcement. You can take it back to my previous post and understand why. I like anthologies. And this seemed to be the mega-ultimate of anthologies. A blend of classic talent meeting and mingling with a fresh supply of new faces, and comics being comics in all sense of the idea. But it wasn’t even just that. The “Dark Horse Presents” brand possesses a certain charm. The original incarnation lasted 157 issues, spanning almost two decades. Within it, a few modern classics found their feet, and eventual industry giants published their early works. The title was a constant of its time, and I’d say the last, successful comic book of its kind. But even then, the flagship managed to morph and make an impact through the mid and late-2000s via MySpace Dark Horse Presents. It didn’t last as long, but Dark Horse certainly took bold steps in terms of web comics and the digital direction we seem to be so hopelessly moving in. The web series also spotlighted some Umbrella Academy shorts. That’s good stuff.

So, yeah, point is, DHP has a legacy and a status as a brand. I thought I would see that carry over to this third revision.

I think it has somewhat, but I also see this book still in the process of finding its feet and becoming what its going to become. DHP’s main problem is its singular reliance on veteran talent, which seems to no longer surprise or impress. I like a lot of these guys, and I respect them. Many of them are forever associated with the field. When I read Richard Corben’s bit though, I’m not reading anything memorable. And not memorable in terms of long lasting impact, but memorable in regards to keeping it in my mind for longer than ten minutes. Same goes for Chadwick and Adams, whose work may be beyond me, but I do not understand what they are after. Most of it seems to blend in with the general anthology feel – these stories are “eh” and throwaways. And it was really those three names, at least for the first few issues, that the series was banked on.

The sure-fire foundation crumbled, obviously.

The “new” talent has yet to blow me away either. Most of the attempts I read feel like anything else. Decent high concepts told in orthodox fashion.

One vet has impressed me, though. Chaykin. “Marked Man” is a wonderful example of serial fiction with its pulpy roots covered in airbrush neon. This comic does a great job of representing the crime/spy genre in this collection, or anthology, or multi-genres. It’s like the perfect spokesperson. A keen voice over, dis-likable, scummy, yet kind of sympathetic lead, a grimy environment, seedy doings, and even an obsessed cop on the trail. The components are there as well as the aesthetic of Chaykin that follows all of his work. If I’d read more of it, I’d probably possess a term to describe it. “Marked Man” also moves. Chaykin realizes this story lives and breathes in short chunks, so he sets to work and every page takes the reader somewhere knew. None of it feels rushed, though. The sign of a master.

Some good does exist beyond Chaykin, believe it or not. A strip titled “Resident Alien,” which kicked off in issue 4, packs a voice worth investigating. It plays to a high concept, which you could consider a short cut, but Alien really seems to rely on moments of humanity. The plot involves a crash landed extraterrestrial who’s extremely anti-social. Forced to live upon Earth, he hides out in the country in a cabin by the lake, pretending to be a wayward doctor. We catch up with him when he’s forced into a nearby town following the murder of a doctor. In absence of a medical professional, our Alien protagonist is asked to stay and live among the people. The sensations of awkwardness are well written as well as well portrayed, and the piece has a solid overall vibe which only conjures up images of some good auto-bio comic. I’m curious of this one’s development.

But the return of “Age of Reptiles” takes the cake. Ricardo Delgado illustrates something like 5 pages of a beautifully crafted, yet short, dinosaur narrative in which the body of one dinosaur feeds many others and completes the whole “dust-to-dust” cycle. Sounds simple, and it is, but the manner in which Delgado draws it turns the entire beat into a very poetic thought. His artwork and storytelling showcases not just the beauty of death but also the influence one can have after passing on. You can also meditate on the thought of how death can bring us together, and it of course, too, lends itself to the myth of the phoenix. You know, rising from the ashes and all that. The entire piece stands out from both a stylistic standpoint as well as a sub textual peg. “Age of Reptiles” has, by far, packed the most punch in this new DHP.

So, some good exists. I can’t deny it, but even though my post my suggest different, the bad far outweighs the good in this comic book package. I’m still optimistic, though. At 8 bucks a pop, maybe I shouldn’t be, but something tells me DHP will improve in the coming year. Look at the solicits for upcoming issues. Hellboy, Brian Wood stuff, Fabio Moon has something in issue 6, and if the few positives I mentioned continue, it’s possible Dark Horse Presents could straighten out. I think Mike Richardson and co. are still figuring this beast out. It’s DHP, but I get the vibe, like with Myspace Dark Horse Presents, the publisher is trying to find this version’s niche or job. Or, more plainly, adjusting the title for the current times.

Dark Horse Presents does seem to be some sort of representation of comics, though. By that I mean, it’s not an anthology excluding itself to one specific genre or style. Between dinosaurs, marked men, Neal Adams’ wacked out shit and the post-apocalyptic bullshit they’re determined to run, I’d say Dark Horse is all about offering up a nice helping of variety. The consistency in quality just needs to improve. Cut and paste that.

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Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies

Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies is an anthology series edited by Michel Fiffe which originally appeared in single issues of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. Now, TSDF resides in a trade paper back collection, and it spotlights the work of many excellent cartoonists doing their own Savage Dragon stories.

I’ve been meaning to write about this anthology for a while. Not that I have any ground breaking observations to add nor any comment of great length. I just really dug this project. So much so it will most likely pop up on my “Best Of” list at the years end. Because here’s the thing … Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies pulls off the impossible. Or better yet, the “dream.” This is a comic book work with idealism written all over it, and I’m happy to say I own a copy.

Because this project completely represents the type of comic I’ve wanted to read for years. I don’t know about you, but I used to spend much of my free time on comic book discussion forums. There was a heyday for such a thing, believe it or not. Some are still trying to keep it alive … Anyway, on such forums, threads pertaining to armchair quarterbacking would pop up frequently, and the simple question usually asked would be: what would you like to see more of at Marvel and DC? Or it might have been something like: what would you change about Marvel and DC?

Anthologies were my usual answer.

Because here’s the thing … while they tend to suck 9 times out of 10 (except for the possible awesome underground comics ones I haven’t read) … I love the anthology concept. There’s potential and room to run in an anthology. Multiple stories. A mixture of creative talent. No needed editorial barrier. An anthology can just be about good comics, and the necessity of shorter stories can only make them more kinetic.

But my reaction didn’t even really pertain to the anthology format as much as it did the idea of variety in stories. Because that’s the key to my enjoyment and the constant “rooting for” attitude I have for anthologies. They’re a fun tool to break the formula chain we’re so used to in mainstream comics.

So my ideal thought’s always been: put a group of great creators on a Marvel or DC anthology and let them go absolutely nuts with the properties. Basically make the anthology a backdoor or think of it as a small “What if.” What if the entire Marvel or DC line was spontaneous and ever changing? Just every fanboys’ favorite character taken over by a set of wild creative minds and put through stories designed specifically to fit the creators’ will.

The anthology would kind of bring that idea to life.

And those projects did happen with the advent of Wednesday Comics and Strange Tales, except neither of those soared past mediocrity. Wednesday Comics gets its cred for the experimental packaging and both series delivered a few enjoyable works, but for the most part both projects suffered the usual anthology gripe by not delivering in every single story. Or, more plainly, they supplied more bad than good.

Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies picks up where those projects left off by obviously carrying over a similar approach, but TSDF does it a little differently when you consider the project’s serialization in Savage Dragon. Whether intentional or not, I feel the literal proximity of TFSD to Savage Dragon comments on the larger idea at hand, which is what I mention above – taking the established and handing it off to someone else for an extreme makeover.

The proximity, or actually having both works share the same staples as a comic book, works as a before and after. Or kind of a reminder. Like, look … here’s what Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen is and here’s what an underground artist free of constraint might do with it. It’s that juxtaposition of styles and choices in storytelling, as well as the clarity of it via the format, that brings home what I think the overall idea of Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies is. That no two artists tell the same story. Because contained within this project are only Savage Dragon stories and none of them come off as repetitive.

The artists involved do all they can to make Erik Larsen’s baby their own. There’s respect in the storytelling, but there’s also no sense of worry. The creators brought in understand what they’re there to do, and that’s to create whatever comics they want. No holds bar. In fact, I’d say artist Zack Soto’s story “Screamin’ Bones” echoes such a sentiment. The entire story is basically a dream sequence in which Dragon experiences all sorts of crazy and then dies. It’s the dream aspect in Soto’s story which allows the character to go through such extremes, but really what I feel the story is saying is “comics can go anywhere. why not go there?”. A certain panel at the end of the story pretty much boils that idea down to one, visual instance as Dragon drunkenly stumbles through a door marked “Do Not Enter.” After which, he falls into a pit of fire, dies and then wakes up, back where Soto’s story began. The reader gains the sensation that, “hey, none of that really happened.” But it did because it’s clearly printed on the page and you can easily see so by flipping back. Both instances of “happening” and “not happening” can exist in the same moment if you chose to view two separate pages at once. Or you could just take the reveal as a comment on how easily you can make the impossible happen in comics. Similar to Morrison’s Animal Man, when Buddy’s family just comes back to life. Because it’s fiction, and you can do that in fiction. Just how Soto kills Dragon then doesn’t.

And, hey, the story even references Memento. I’m cool with that.

What makes Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies hit even harder for me, though, is its embodiment of unity.

There’s a rift between super hero comics and underground comics. I don’t need to tell you that; the internet will clearly do so. If you haven’t, you should read Michel Fiffe’s (the editor of this fine project) blog piece titled “The Big Fusion.” I’d say it’s a pretty clear companion piece to this here collection of comics.  In it, Fiffe discusses the always interesting mash up of indie cartoonists and corporate comics, and says in the piece that these instances are usually the best celebrations of the medium. To Fiffe, these mash ups are, as he puts it, “the real TEAM COMICS.” As in, it’s the rare situation in which everything comes together.

Well, I think Fiffe threw his own party when he set out to do TSDF because that’s what this is. Savage Dragon may not be corporate, but the book via its tone represents all things super hero comics. It’s the quintessential super hero book, and it portrays the genre in the classic way you’d envision. Fiffe brought the best of the best in terms of today’s underground market to this quintessential super book, and we the readers got to enjoy this excellent work.

Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies exemplifies what comics are. The book spotlights all the different elements present in this medium and industry. It represents all sides while exploring the notion of limitless boundaries. And while numerous artists are involved, I think Fiffe as an editor really conveys the strongest voice. Via his blog post Big Fusion, I get the sense Fiffe is a fan of the super hero/underground mash up, and with TSDF the guy gets to guide one of his own and champion the concept.

The book is really a love letter to all comics. And as an anthology, TSDF delivers in each and every installment. Yes, some hit harder than others, but all of them offer something. The book also stands as a great sampler for indie cartoonists. As someone trying to learn, I’ve gained much from this book.

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Spandexless Review: Spaceman #1

I wrote this review for Spandexless.com, a website dedicated to comics outside of the super hero genre. If anything, I really enjoyed Spaceman #1, and I had fun writing this review. So, if interested, you can read it. The original review is posted here.

We all know Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso work well together. Uttering the duo’s name automatically triggers thoughts of quality, and we all know the pair rests near the top of creative teams of the last decade. Sometimes, though, I believe we forget how truly great these guys are together. We acknowledge their high esteem in the medium, but after a while we get into the habit of just accepting without truly seeing. We lack the sort of realization you can only experience when you’re sat down in front of one of their comics – the sensation that as you turn the page, you know you’re reading something special because your mind is being blown.

Azzarello and Risso do comics how they should be done. These men, along with colorist Patricia Mulvihill, construct worlds and atmospheres and then tell you all about them in sophisticated fashion. The approach is reserved and cool. The necessary hints are subtly placed, and the reader’s own effort tells the tale. Azzarello/Risso books are, simply said, confident, independent and sexy.

And Spaceman #1 holds the crown as the single best comic book of October. Easily.

With Spaceman, we’re told the story of a genetically engineered man who’s life-long purpose was to go to Mars. In reality, his goal was never reached, and when we meet him he’s simply a junkie trapped in a world of decay.

That’s all you really need to know on your way in.  The beauty of the comic rests with how well Azzarello and Risso work as collaborators. A lot of comics these days seem to be one sided. Either the writer conducts the train or the artist. It’s rarely a case where the creative team truly acts as a team. You can see the team play when you read Spaceman, though. Azzarello gives Risso just the right amount of time to convey the narrative via the artwork, and Risso knows when to let Azzarello’s dialogue communicate a piece of information. Mulvihill, as the colorist, adds her own bit as well … highlighting Risso’s line work with hot sears of emotion or simple grayness and smudge. Her contribution fills out the tone of the work.

The comic book just feels like a group effort, and without all of the creative players Spaceman would not be the same book. The team meshes so well that none of the elements feel overbearing. The book just feels like a comic book should.

When you consider this team though, it’s odd to imagine them on a hard science fiction comic like this. Azzarello and Risso are known for the crime genre. Whether you take into account 100 Bullets or Batman:Knight of Vengeance, these guys spell out crime comics. But here they are doing science fiction, and they’re doing it so well.

There’s certainly still a street element to the book with the homicide detectives and drug deals, so this could possibly explain the team’s success on a sci fi book. I’d like to think it’s just simple skill, though. For one, Risso does a bang up job depicting a rundown city. The scapes are big. The rocks…you can feel them crumbling. Shadows cast themselves in all sorts of ways. And, man, the water feels like it may wash away everything at any moment. He does a great job of separating post-apocalyptic from currently apocalyptic. The world hasn’t ended yet, but Risso shows you that the moment is on its way. For two, Azzarello packs the script with numerous cues to build layers into the piece. The script obviously focuses on the main character, but small touches, like the setting, the technology and even the dialects in which people speak, suggest the first few hints of the piece’s core theme: lost potential. Azzarello crafts this script wonderfully and succeeds in the department of setting up this tale while also snatching the audience’s attention.

Where science fiction is concerned, the best of it always seems to really speak to the condition of our world. Spaceman looks to be nothing different. Azzarello and Risso have taken us to world where hope seems forgotten and the future we were promised is unlikely. Like all us, we start out hoping to one day be astronauts. Well, in this book, none of us made it.

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“Everybody’s been too damn polite about this nonsense”

Saturday’s usually a quite day on the internet. Nothing really happens. Most people use the day as an opportunity to step outside and experience the real world.

But when Frank Miller decides to drop a king sized bastard of a blog post, well, people tend to log back on.

I’m sure by now most of you have read Miller’s latest example of public expression. It’s a little blog post he titled “Anarchy.” In it, Miller criticizes the now inescapable Occupy movement as well as suggests that our real enemy exists in the form of a turban and prays to another god. Haven’t read it? Do so. It’s interesting.

Now, before I really set out on this attempt of clearing my head, I need you to understand that Frank Miller is and always will be one of the absolute greats in this medium we call comic books. No matter what he states on the internet, no matter the man’s political beliefs, Miller’s pure ability as a visual storyteller earns him a pile of respect. I guess you could say it’s similar to Dave Sim. His views of women and whatever else may be completely insane, but removed from that Sim’s skill as a draftsman as well as completing such a ambitious project gives his credibility as a comics artist.

It’s complicated. Most suggest the artist and the artwork are one and the same, and they are, but it doesn’t always mean that you can drag in outside comments to tear down the actual works. It’s two different contexts.

So, I love Frank Miller’s comics, and I most likely always will. Because you know what? They’re great. Absolutely great. This world would be an even sadder place without a Dark Knight Strikes Again in it.

That said, because I can discuss Miller’s works as Miller’s works …you know, as their own thing, away from the other stuff, I can discuss Frank Miller as Frank Miller. Meaning, without discussing his works, I can talk about his beliefs and how he chooses to express them online. So that’s what this post is. This is a criticism of Miller’s blog post and the point he makes in it. None of this has anything to do with Miller’s comics. And I must say, Miller’s gone a little far.

I’m completely cool with an artist holding an opinion. Even when it’s an opinion I could not disagree with more. Opinions make us who we are, and this is a world of variety. In some funny way, even when differing opinions may annoy us, the human species, most, I feel varied opinions are an absolute necessary otherwise we’d all be chugging Diet Coke and watching re-runs of Charles in Charge, acting as if that were the pinnacle of society. So, if Frank Miller wants to be all conservative and tell the young kids to get jobs, fine, he can do just that. I wouldn’t agree with the belief, but if it’s how he feels, whatever, I can ignore the opinion and still read DKSA happily.

His latest statement goes beyond opinion though and into territory of hate and unnecessary name calling. As Miller puts it, the Occupiers are “nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness” who will undoubtedly “harm America.” That’s a bit much.

The Occupy movement may have made a mess of Miller’s beloved New York City, and it may also lack a solid focus, but to go out and generalize an entire group of people as “rapists” and “thieves” extends beyond the regular old understanding of being upset and disagreeing. And to claim that the movement will “harm America” … I don’t know, that only comes off like a plea from a successful man who enjoys the system currently in place because he’s at the top of it.

I kind of get where Miller’s coming from with his dislike of the Occupy Movement. He’s a cartoonist who’s worked hard for many year to achieve what he possesses today. He worked for the respect, the reputation and the money. And difficult work as well, locked away in isolation hunched over a drawing board. So, yeah, kids marching in the street, somehow acting like they’re entitled would set you off. You’d want to be the old man bellowing “get off my fucking lawn” in order to voice some concern over the latest generation’s willingness to work.

The problem is though that the Occupy Movement isn’t that simple.

I’m sure there are plenty of people protesting who fit the description of “young and entitled,” and I’m sure there are at least a dozen who are simply lazy and want handouts. But what about all the people who have actually tried to get jobs – like the college graduates – or the individuals who had jobs,  were laid off, tried all other means possible and now only have this? I’m sure there are also examples of that. So, what, they’re all rapists, now? Thieves?

No. Occupy is just a group of people who want change. Yeah, the focus may not be entirely tight, but I don’t necessarily feel that matters. What matters is the idea within this movement. The idea that people have tried and tried, but because the system is so damn complicated and broken, have no other option and now must take to the streets in order to voice a desire for help. That’s all this is at this point. It’s the social consciousness manifested into a physical form, and it’s showing everyone that these large problems can no longer be ignored.

I can only disagree with Miller when he states that the movement will “harm America.” No. What’s in place now, this broken system … that will harm America. Not the people’s desire for change and improvement.

And there’s also the call to arms Miller puts forth. According to him, we should all enlist with the military immediately to fight the real enemy … Al-Qaeda.

Now while these guys aren’t entirely nice and kind, Miller voices his concern for Al-Qaeda in a way which suggests fear. Fear of extremists rising up and shattering everything we know. He then moves on to insult what is probably most of his fan base – the nerds – by using the age old “you live in you mom’s basement” technique.

Really, a class act.

Certainly, Al-Qaeda is something to be concerned about as they are in favor of scary, bad things – to put it plainly. And I do feel that this extreme group should be dealt with in some fashion – whether diplomatically or actively – in order to protect innocent people. But Miller kind of casts these guys as cartoon villains, or as the “black” to his “white.” There is no grey.

And that’s the problem. We live in a fucking grey world. To be so “these are the bad guys, we’re the good guys” comes off as immature, really. It comes off as extreme. Isn’t that what Miller’s against? Extremism? I thought so, but this blog post really has me questioning. If Miller’s against extreme measures, well, I would say he’s being a bit hypocritical here because this “call to action” is completely extreme. I mean, the guy wants all of us to go to war and kill terrorists. That’s like as extreme as it gets.

That’s better than peacefully protesting the government? Really, Frank Miller?

While Miller may fear a sense of extreme anarchy, it seems he’s entirely for an extreme sense of order. You know, keep the powerful on top and eliminate the crazed religious guys. Put us all in the military where we can wear the uniforms and jump out of bed at 5 am. I kind of can’t believe Frank Miller – the same Frank Miller I have always loved – wrote this blog post. But I guess I should.

When I first read Miller’s statement, I automatically went into a mode of justification. I needed to find a way to justify his actions here because Miller, to me, has always been a man worth respecting. And I still feel he is simply based off of his work. But the fact is, Miller, even though a hero, isn’t exactly what I felt he was cracked up to be. At first response, I sent out this tweet:

So Frank Miller said some highly conservative shit. Big deal. I don’t agree whatsoever, but it’s not like he kicked me in the balls.

After a few moments of thought though, Miller’s statement went past simple “conservative shit.” This tweet was my sad attempt to save Frank Miller in my own eyes. I was fighting off the truth about someone I look up to. Reading “Anarchy” kind of falls in a similar place as meeting your hero. That terrible thought in which your hero does not live up to expectations. Yeah, I guess he kind of did kick me in the balls.

So I can’t really justify or apologize for Miller’s outside concerns anymore. He is a legend, and I love his comics – but I have to face facts – Miller’s political beliefs are not my own, and the way he choose to voice them leans a bit close to the extreme, and I’d say, unhealthy. The man can be a great cartoonist, and I can enjoy his work. This doesn’t mean I cannot call him out on his absolute bullshit, though. And that goes for any artist, really. Whether comics, music or film. I can dig the work, but just because I dig the work or am a fan doesn’t mean I have to stick up for everything they do or say.

Because “Anarchy” is absolute bullshit. Just the typings of a fearful, “good vs. evil” man. Miller does claim everyone is “too damn polite about this nonsense,” but I’d say his rough and rude approach did little to help either.

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Why do I like comics?

I wrote an article for my college newspaper The Daily Athenaeum on why I like comics and find them worth the time. I’m not sure if I managed to express everything, but I like my attempt. It’s written with an outsider audience in mind,  but, if you wish, you can read it.

Comic books. Those pulpy collections of scrap. A trashy source of entertainment only fit for those on the fringe of the social circle. A laughable commodity. A dead end. A zone preoccupied by childish fantasies. Who cares about comic books?

Me. I do.

As Scott McCloud notes in his seminal work “Understanding Comics,” communication through pictures holds deep roots in man’s history. Cave paintings depicted the life and culture of our ancient ancestors. These were the first examples of man’s ability to create and pursue artistic ventures. Maybe these remnants are now considered paintings, pertaining more to a medium of acrylics, but look at what those early visuals accomplished. They told stories. They illustrated an idea.

And in such a direct fashion. Like comics.

Comics derive their power from how accessible they are. Anyone with a pencil and a sheet of paper can cartoon. In fact, I’d say most of us already have.

Middle school, stuck in a useless math class, you doodled. Maybe your doodles didn’t shape up into panels and sequentially act upon one another, but the idea of pencil to paper is the same.

What you thought of in your mind only took minutes to translate to physical copy. Whatever your idea was, it came out on paper without going through a middle man of some sort.

Other media does not offer such a luxury. Hollywood makes it nearly impossible for a director or screenwriter to tell the exact story they desire. Television shows act similarly because of network constraints.

Hell, even news reporters are confided to two minute packages, and even me, the little sophomore of a writer in the old college newspaper, I go through a middleman. You may not even read this statement.

Comics, in their ideal form, bypass this. Anyone with an idea and a lick of talent can draw and self-publish a comic book, and because of that comics can offer a wide variety of perspectives, genres and voices.

The artists behind them also possess much more control over the final product and ensure their vision comes through.

What matters more, though, is the form of communication. We all know, on some base level, how comic strips work. There’s a picture, and there’s a caption or word balloon laid overtop of it. It seems simple, and most would say the combination requires little to no complexity because of how little attention it takes to read a comic.

Fact is, you’re wrong.

The marriage of images and words involves a lot more than you’d initially expect. Both elements have to coexist. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Both can work well on their own decorating bread, but when you combine them, they have to be even. If one overpowers the other, the formula fails, and you end up with an unsatisfying experience. You need to find joy in both elements in an even, collaborative state.

Many artists fail to find this balance, but when the execution works, man, it’s like nothing else.

Because, even though ideas through visuals may seem first grade, the form strikes a chord. We’re all influenced and emotionally struck by images. Visuals are visceral and up front. Novels packed with thousands of words may seem scholarly, and they are, but text, prose – it takes much more effort to inspire reaction.

Comic panels may seem infantile because they can be so direct, but, fact is, the ease of ability to convey a point makes comics a complex beast. Skill of an artist is responsible for such an ease of understanding on the reader’s end.

If anything, comic books are a breeding ground for new ideas. The accessibility I mentioned earlier allows creative individuals to go wild, and it seems with some comics – at least the very good ones – ideas manifest on each and every page.

Comic books aren’t slow. At least, they shouldn’t be. They work in small chunks of 20 pages and release on a monthly basis. An artist has little time while telling a story through comics. Not only because of the system and format but because of how the medium works.

Panels cannot act repetitive. It’s like film in that sense. You become bored after staring at the same image for so long. Comics have to keep you on your toes; therefore, each page and each panel go somewhere new.

And through this comes, what should be, an ever exciting landscape of narrative.

But, even as I write this in order to somehow legitimize comics, remember: They are comic books. Never are they cool. Most of them involve tights and capes or zombies and space ships.

The medium itself, the inner working of the art form. Yeah, that’s sophisticated. But the content? Sure, large, universal ideas can be communicated and often are, but usually these themes shine through grown men punching each other while wearing funny outfits.

I mean, they are “funny” books after all.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #7

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

quotes

“He has no idea what and who he is up against. What power he is taunting. Tell our friend Count Nefaria will see him now.”

– Count Nefaria

I dig this quote for its complete over confidence and classic super villain tone. The emphasize on one’s power as well as the use of the third person  makes this quote the arrogant asshole that it is. If anything, it bounces off the following quote quite nicely.

“God, I’m hard on myself.”

– Moon Knight (Marc Spector)

The scene leading up to this final deal sealer of a line exemplifies the lack of confidence Marc Spector has in himself. Marc’s personalized version of Wolverine delivers a few lines of tough encouragement to hopefully push Marc’s ass into action. It’s a nice showing of how Marc’s own mind or subconscious or whatever worries about the man’s ability to do the job. How much does that say?

issue specifics

The reveal of Count Nefaria obviously stands out as this issue’s main development. Too bad I know nothing about this guy, so I’m sure some of the assumed impact is lost on me. According to my buddy Joey Aulisio though, he’s a vital X-men bady. I’ll take his word for it.

Even without the context, I do find Nefaria an interesting reveal, and after some thought I feel his involvement works. Here’s why.

Count Nefaria exuberates confidence and a higher level of actual super powers. The quote above suggests such as does the mention in the comic of how the character has battled Thor and the Hulk. Some may say such a super power doesn’t belong in a street level character’s comic. Well, they’re wrong, especially in the case of this street level comic.

What point have I kept bringing up throughout every post I’ve done on this series? Marc Spector sucks as his job and lacks the ability to meet the standard of a super hero.

What’s more interesting that to pit a wannabee hero against a real deal, experienced super criminal?

I couldn’t think of a better test for the character. If anything, this L.A. Kingpin should only offer our protagonist a more personal conflict. The mission no longer means freeing and protecting L.A. It means overcoming a load of self-doubt along with that other stuff.

Nice going, Bendis and Maleev.

The self-aware Marc Spector I discussed last issue carries over into this one. Both the opening scene with Buck as well as the scene involving the above quote echo the development.

No further thoughts, really. It’s just nice to see I wasn’t off in my analysis. Although, it looks like Maya may have some confronting to do when you consider the ending of this issue.

Maleev turns in some excellent pages this issue, and Matt Hollingsworth, even though not the comic’s regular colorist, does a class act job filling in the white spaces. I love the sequence in which Snapdragon  communicates with the still hidden Count Nefaria. Just her in a dark room for 8 panels, but the red sears laid down by Hollingsworth amp up the tension.

I actually really dig the splash page of Moon Knight hammering Nefaria. I like the placement of Moon Knight on the page and how he falls on top of the Count. Plus, the cape wrapping around the bottom right corner of the page is a nice touch.

Speaking of the fight, I dig that Marc kind of has his moment as he dampens Nefaria’s powers, but then progresses to fuck up everything and allow the character to escape. It’s what the character would do.

Buck’s reason for crossing Marc comes off as a lackluster reveal. I was looking for something complex and tangled, but really the reason was very predictable. But, hey, it’s logical. I can’t discredit Bendis too much for that.

series thoughts

People probably complained and set fire to cars because this first arc lasted 7 issues, but I say the pacing felt right. I’m sure someone also considers these 7 issues complete setup, and yes, they are, but in reality these first 7 issues provide us the right amount of time to sink into this narrative. 7 issues weren’t necessary, but I like Bendis’ choice to dabble around. The pacing put me into the character’s head as well as suggested Bendis’ focus. I needed that, especially when this series is all about Marc Spector’s psyche.

Come back here, to this blog, for issue #8.

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Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Four

[Chad Nevett and I have written a lengthy discussion piece on the DC Comics Relaunch. Parts one, two and three are already available. Part four, the conclusion, follows … ]

Alec Berry: I don’t know. O.M.A.C. was weak.

But yeah, Nevett, you missed out in the Justice League department because my boy Johns…Ok, maybe he’s not my boy, but I need to come clean. I’ve found somewhat of a liking for Geoff Johns as of late. Used to despise his work. Can’t say so anymore.

You know why? Because Flashpoint, which started all of this, did “event comic” right. Big. Dumb. No holds. Said something. Looked great. Flashpoint is the book in which Geoff Johns comes to terms with his role at DC and the projects he’s penned. The comic speaks toward a resistance to change, yet ultimately realizes change is necessary. It’s Johns dealing with his many silver age revival comics, and saying it’s time to stop because really it’s just selfish. He cannot preserve or channel the past. He cannot return everything to the good old days. Such attempts only place a small band aid on the huge, messy wound. No. Progress must happen. Time moves whether we wish it or not.

Flashpoint, as blogger Sean Witzke noted, allows Johns to let go and say, “you know what, we need to go somewhere else.” And then we get the DC New 52 and this very article we are typing.

This inspired my new respect for Geoff Johns. The dude managed to get personal in an event comic, and you know what, I’m sure what Johns went through to write it was very much the same sentimental feeling much of the hardcore DC audience experienced.

And, hey, the concept of change relates to many things. The story works as well as a comic book comment as anything else.

And then we arrive at Justice League #1. The comic may not break the medium as some may have hoped, but it certainly works as a commercial super hero book – which, is what it’s supposed to be. The book supplies the necessary punches, and Jim Lee draws it to look cool. Batman’s in it as well. Hey, brand name recognition!

What I really took away from JL though was how it chose to introduce the super-hero. Granted, super-heroes are not a lost or obscure archetype at this point in culture, but the comic book super hero, I think, seems a little lost. People now understand Iron Man as a film character more than they do a comic character. Super heroes will always be synonymous with comic books because super heroes automatically come packaged with the thoughts of flipping pages, but super heroes are more recognized for the film work nowadays. Films just draw more attention. It’s that simple.

So Justice League, and arguably the entire DC relaunch, exists to remind the general public of the comic book’s existence and that super heroes exist primary within them. But JL exposes people to heroes who are either egotistical jerks or armor clad, power plus gods not role models. There’s nothing really welcoming about the comic. Instead, it’s abrasive. Citizens of the DCU express fear when the term “super hero” drops. SWAT teams chase down Batman like he’s some criminal. The feeling even exists in Morrison’s Action. Superman’s feared, and the character runs around unchecked. Both books are just angry, but they’re, hypothetically, people’s first exposure to icons who are meant to be looked up to.

The JL also fall under a very human portrayal which is somewhat similar to Bendis’ approach on the Avengers. Bendis writes his characters with a lot of dialogue. No new observation there, but, at least for his Avenger’s work, I see the dialogue serving an interesting purpose. The dialogue gets in the way of the Avengers taking action. People like to complain about this when they speak of Bendis’ work, but really it serves an important role as establishing the cast as human and flawed. Rather than jumping to and getting the job done, the Avengers talk about it and discuss what they should do. Super heroes don’t do such a thing, but in the Marvel Universe, where everyone carries their own problem, the Avengers wouldn’t be the best super heroes. They’d be people with extra talents who sometimes get things done. The rest of the time they procrastinate. Like people.

Johns’ Justice League get right to work, but he humanizes them via their social skills. He writes Green Lantern as a self-centered jerk and Batman as an illtrusting, paranoid man. The abilities are there. The willingness and ease of getting things done is there. But the social collaboration? Weak.

So there’s this odd attempt to sell super heroes as these flawed beings. Maybe it’s an attempt to Marvelize DC’s characters?

The take my not be my ideal version, but I still find it interesting within its execution. I can’t hold anything against the book because of that. JL made me feel something or at least think of a larger picture outside of the comic book. Anything that can do such gets my respect. 

Chad Nevett: Justice League is kind of a tough comic to discuss, partly, because I haven’t read it, and, partly, because I’ve pretty much decided that the best way for me to engage with Geoff Johns’s writing is to not engage it at all. I don’t like his writing and, instead of beating that dead horse, I try to simply ignore its existence. So, by default, I’ve pretty much ignore Justice League #1 aside from a couple of points that struck me as noteworthy:

1. The idea that this is a group that needs an origin. This is a complaint that goes outside of this book to a degree, but I’m just tired of comics that feel the need to explain thing that don’t need explaining. It’s tedious and I’d rather just get on with it. Even if I didn’t have an embargo on Johns’s writing, I would have skipped this because I don’t care about how the Justice League formed. I really, really don’t. I hate the idea to a degree. It’s unnecessary for me to ever learn that, because the specifics don’t matter at all. More than any other superhero team, how the Justice League formed is completely useless knowledge. The team formed because there was a threat so big that it took them all to defeat it. Does it matter what the threat was or how they came to realize that they should work together? Not one bit. Therefore, any origin story threat can easily be shown threatening Earth when there’s an established Justice League. Even the character bits that people liked (the bickering mostly it seems) could still be there.

2. Was this the right comic to ‘launch’ the relaunch? When the first week came out, Action Comics #1 seemed like a possible better choice to kick things off. Grant Morrison’s name means more outside of comics these days and pretty much every opinion I’ve seen proffered said that Action Comics #1 was better than Justice League #1. More, to use your term, it wasn’t incredible – why the fuck not? Shouldn’t the lead book be the best comic DC can produce?

AB: Two solid points. I agree. As your launch book, yeah, you should work to make it the best it can possibly be, but also, I wouldn’t completely shun a book for being average. Which is what the internet seemed to do upon its initial release. I’m not saying Justice League is the best comic of the year. It’s not even great. But the book was solid enough. Maybe I should be harder as a critic, but I don’t see anything wrong with being solid. Not everything will blow away the world. If so, everything would be average anyway.

And I think JL was the better pick over Action as a launch book. Morrison may draw in an outside crowd, but those people will show up anyway when Action drops a week or two later in the relaunch. Plus, when the goal stands to grab attention and snatch up new readers, you need a striking visual look. People enjoy visual pleasure. It’s why we purchase certain sugary cereals over others. Rags Morales would have fucked that train up. Jim Lee, whether you find him a technically brilliant artist or not, makes the most sense. He won the 1990s by simple cool points, and hey, it can easily work this decade. Plus, Jim Lee still carries as much as a name as Morrison. The guy rarely draws comics, yet still sells big numbers. People crave Jim Lee, and if you want to bring up the whole “lets captured lapsed readers” point, Lee’s artwork, for someone who read during the 90s, may be artwork they fondly remember.

Origin? I’ll agree with you here. At this point, yeah, origin stories for these characters are unnecessary. We get it. Some dude gets powers, some alien crash lands, someone’s mom dies…a quest for justice is acquired…crime fight. All origins tend to hit the same buttons. You’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. And as you put it, “the team formed because there was a threat so big that it took them all to defeat it,” the origin takes a one sentence blurb to explain.  

But, still, the choice serves a purpose. Not ideal execution, but I find it interesting. The execution goes back to the take I mentioned earlier. DC’s humanizing the Justice League, and they’re doing it via social interactions a.k.a. showing how the team meets.

Johns, to accomplish this, has to write the story this way. 

CN: Ah, but should that be the goal? DC has tried from time to time to ‘humanise’ their characters in a way that’s similar to Marvel and that works… for pretty much all of the characters that aren’t the ‘Big Seven,’ particularly guys like Superman and Batman. They’re so iconic and conceptual in this existence that they actively react against that approach. They’re not Marvel characters and a Marvel approach doesn’t work with them. It’s like DC trying to fight against what it is and that seems like a strange approach.

While the first issue was a disappointment, I’d have to say that Stormwatch got what DC is about. Even with the bickering, none of the characters felt human. They were more types. They were larger than humanisation, beyond it. You don’t need to think of them as people to follow their adventures. It’s an approach that definitely builds on Morrison’s JLA and Ellis’s The Authority where it was about the ‘mission’ and maybe two bits of dialogue that would hint that these people all had different personalities, but who actually cares… Humanising the characters grounds them in a specific reality, which goes against their staying power.

It’s like, if you want to read about a superhero who you care about and can relate to, you read Spider-Man. If you want to read about heroes being heroes and doing cool shit, you read a Superman or Batman comic. And I grew up in the era where Superman had the most ‘human’ alter ego with Clark Kent as an equal/bigger part of the equation. I still didn’t care about him the way I cared about Spider-Man. Trying to replicate Marvel’s approach is the wrong way to go.

AB:  Yeah. This is the point where I would bring in some of my personal tastes and criticise Justice League. Johns and DC present a defined take on the cast, but as you say, it ruins what’s so unique about these characters.

It’s funny we hit this point of the conversation right when we do because Tim O’Neil just posted his thoughts on DC’s new Superman last night, and he said something similar to what you just did. I’ll also echo those sentiments. What’s great about the DC roster of characters, or at least its main players, is that its beyond us and beyond our world. Not necessarily technologically or politically, but in some higher sense of humanity the DC Universe stands taller than ours. It’s the point Grant Morrison tries to make in Supergods. Super heroes are who we could be physically, mentally and morally, and Superman or Batman are the concrete cultural symbols of such ideas.

Even if you take away the philosophical aspect, I still just like reading comic books where super heroes aren’t necessarily relateable. Like, why would they be relateable? Spider-Man makes sense because he is the teenage super hero (today, I’m not sure what he is, unless we’re talking Ultimate), but not every guy or girl with super powers will be someone we know or get. They’re post-human after all.

Plus, when super heroes are written to go out and get shit done, it’s usually much more entertaining than the JMS approach of overwriting or drawing out emotional moments.

So, yeah, I would enjoy it if Johns made Superman the character of solid core and composure rather than this angry, angst ridden take we’re seeing. The approach moves away from what I really love about DC Comics. Oddly enough, though, the take works for me in Morrison’s book because Morrison seems to base his Superman from an acceptable place. Action Comics Superman ties back to what Siegel and Shuster did as well as bounces off of the current cultural touchstone of Occupy protests and other zeitgeist beliefs. There’s an actual reason for what he’s doing while Johns and crew write the character as if, “hey, angry Superman may sell a lot of books because don’t people hate perfect Superman?”

The entire thing just feels like a dumb attempt to bury what makes DC unique in order to cater to a mass audience who enjoys grit and grime.

I will say though that Justice League hasn’t touched a level of crying capes. Yet. The first issue still depicts fast moving characters, and while they’re human in the social setting, Johns writes them to be above the ordinary human. The cast is separated by the costumes but also by a sense of fear felt by the DCU citizens. The Justice League stills presents an element of godliness. Just not the nice kind. I haven’t read The Authority, but do you feel Johns is looking to mix in that influence? If so, isn’t it a bit late? Also, I know Stormwatch was a weak first issue. I kind of hated it. Have you continued on to #2, and if so, has it improved? 

CN: The difference (from what I can tell) between Morrison and Johns in their approach to this Superman is that Morrison’s Superman is just as compassionate and caring as always, but directs his action towards different targets than we’re used to, while Johns’s Superman is just a dick. Actually, from what I’ve heard, Johns’s entire Justice League roster is filled with the biggest bunch of assholes you could ever find. Hell, Ellis is known for writing ‘bastards’ and the Authority was a cheerier, more cooperative bunch!

Stormwatch did improve with the second issue. I was glad I stuck around for that.

Is there anything left to say? I know we skipped a bunch of books, but I don’t think we need to do a rundown on everything we read. Also, it’s almost November as I write this sentence and September seems so long ago. What the hell did I read then? I will say that Aquaman #1 sounded like the perfect one-shot that needed a cover with the Justice League all laughing at Aquaman as he shouts “My writer says I’m cool!” Except he’s not. DC really missed the boat by not recruiting Craig Ferguson to write that comic.

AB: We’ve definitely gone farther with this than I thought we would, and no, we don’t really need to cover every single book because frankly we’ve already covered all the interesting ones. Besides Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. It wasn’t as great as Animal Man #1, but Lemire still impressed me.

But yeah. Not a whole lot of the DC 52 really cries for discussion. Now, I’m totally talking out of my ass as I say that because I have not even come close to reading everything, but when I look at the remainder of the line up I see very little that shouts “interesting” or “worth the time.” Most of the line just says “property advertisement.” The DC 52 is a collection of pamphlets that celebrates Time Warner’s intellectual properties, and these books exist as a new attempt to generate awareness out in the general population. Most of these stories appear to be formula super hero tales that exist to fulfill a job. Overall, I’d say the whole relaunch was kind of disappointing, and you know what, 52 comics are way too many. 30 books would be more reasonable. Most of these characters do not require their own series, and the talent behind them doesn’t really have anything to say.

We did manage to find a few worthwhile comics in the bunch, though. If anything, that’s a positive, and it shows that a handful of creators are trying to make super hero comics interesting and meaningful. Azzarello, Chiang, Morrison, Lemire, Manapul, Williams, Ponticelli, Foreman, Capullo … I salute you.

So, Chad, any final thoughts? Do we care anymore? I mean, it is Month 3. Month 1 was so two months ago. 

CN: I’m buying more DCU comics now than I was in August. So, I guess DC won. But, my excitement heading into November isn’t high. It isn’t low. It’s more that there are comics coming out from DC that I buy and that’s a reality. Is that a win? I don’t know. Then again, I doubt DC is looking at the two of us as a sample audience to listen to. It’s been fun, sir. We need to do this again.

AB: I agree. Let’s just try to not go over 11,000 words next time.

[So, yeah. That’s it. If you read all 4 parts, well, I fucking love you. It’s 4am. Peace, yo.]

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