Monthly Archives: March 2012

Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, Haunt

Yep. I remember the joke this idea was originally. Some bet between Robert Kirkman and Todd McFarlane (the businessmen of comics) made at some convention because, hell, they knew it would sell and fashion a TV option somewhere along the line. Of course, that’s complete speculation on my part, but really, such a stretch? Of course, though, like the monthly junkie I’ve been for years, I bought Haunt #1 the moment it dropped and read it like every other pulse pounder on the comics internet. Reassuringly though, I did not enjoy it.  I found the book predictable and weak minded, offering little but some candy coated McFarlane inks over dynamic Ryan Ottley line work. That part, I will admit, was fun. But Kirkman … the dude took a decent concept and cut the balls clean off, crafting Haunt into another comic influenced by everything wrong with the early Image titles and slapping a shit ridden cliffhanger on it. One issue, and I was out. Little did I know I’d be back …

Two years later. Issue 19. Joe Casey. Nathan Fox. Boom. I’m back. And while I am enjoying the comic much more this time around, my feelings aren’t exactly clean cut and gleeful. I have an issue or two with what’s been established, yet that aside, Haunt is now, at least, interesting and energized. Casey and Fox have come onto this project like Alan Moore post-Martin Pasko on Swamp Thing and have given purpose to what essentially started as a purposeless endeavor. The work on Haunt applies Casey’s Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker philosophy to an already living, breathing comic book series, showing that any bland super hero story can be more than it’s made out to be. Thematically, I think the point’s hard to ignore as Daniel Kilgore, the main character, seems to be on a mission to truly embrace what he is, showing that even Haunt, a bullshit mainstream comic, can dig down, find something within itself and present a vivid package.

To do that though, a hard shift had to occur. Casey and Fox quickly pushed away from the status quo on this one, and they went ahead and set their own direction for it. The team kept one essential ingredient via the actual Haunt character, but between killing his girl, having the cast disappear and throwing our protagonist into a whole new situation, Casey and Fox dissolved everything established about this series and basically said, “fuck it, we’re starting fresh.” This mindset has also dictated the structure and pacing of the run, thus far, as little of the upheaval has been explained. The plot’s been more about doing rather than discussing.  Or, as Casey puts it:

The approach relates to what Casey and Fox want to do with this comic. They’re not here to exactly just continue the tale in place by Kirkman and McFarlane. Instead, these guys are hitting a hard left, trying their best to do something new with Haunt because, obviously, what was already happening wasn’t really going anywhere. These first four issues read like a rescue mission as Casey and Fox do what they can to save this comic book from the path of bullshit it’s on and rehabilitate it into a fine piece of genre work. It’s  no coincidence then that the actual story involves a rescue mission – with Joe Casey, via Still Harvey Tubman, in story saving the protagonist from all sorts of terrible torture.  Granted, Casey could take time to explain story details and keep to this mantra of “fuck it, we’re starting fresh,” but I think the raw “let’s go” mentality of the writing speaks to Casey’s own personality as well as contrasts against a majority of what’s done in mainstream comics. Not slowing down, simply, has a greater visceral impact on the reader as well as offers a grander statement.

And Fox’s artwork compliments all of this. He’s using many midsized panels on this book, but he’s stacking them on the page in a way which moves your eye at a brisk pace. But it’s his style which accomplishes the most, as surface a detail as that is. Fox’s style takes what Paul Pope’s does and removes the iconography from it, boiling the line work down into something a bit more savage. In fight sequences though, I wouldn’t want anything but Fox’s style on my side as the savagery in his line emphasizes the fast pace Casey’s script moves at. For the most part, I’m not aware of any technical tricks or fundamentals Fox may use to tell the story, but there’s clearly more to the actual style and drawings than aesthetic points as the look of his art reflects what this comic is about at the moment. I’d say it’s effective. Plus pretty.

With all this said though, the jumbled manner of the comic hasn’t entirely been pleasing to read.  Not that I need answers or explanations to enjoy a story, but without a reason for an evil church, how can I hinge any weight on the conflict between Haunt and an evil church? My bigger complaint, though, is that I find the chaos a little bit too messy. While I enjoy the freewheelin’ nature of Casey and Fox’s Haunt, the pacing doesn’t exactly read like it’s under the control of the writer. Obviously, I know the hectic pacing exists for a reason, but Casey seems to have maybe even let it get away from him. Ultimately though, it’s more an issue of what this comic book will be. I realize we’re only at the beginning, but I feel after four issues everything’s still up in the air too much, gravity free, waiting on mission control to provide a tad bit of information.

Whether or not, I’m in, but I’m hoping for some development soon. That’s what this book needs at this point. It’s made the rift from the previous material and established a plan. Now, Haunt just needs a little more thought in it to really achieve the More it can potentially be.

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Tonci Zonjic on Lobster Johnson

from zonjic's blog: lungbug.blogspot.com

I read these comics while sitting on a park bench, under a comfortably warm sun, class behind me, with college girls in short shorts and retro sunglasses passing by, and still, even with all these pleasantries, this Lobster Johnson mini series felt like the most important thing I could partake in at the time. Looking back, this was probably a pathetic reaction, but I’d like to think I gained a little mental stimulation from the experience. Plus, I have all summer for girls in retro sunglasses.

Aside from the pulpy spirit, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand sports a wonderful tempo and evenness which seems overwhelmingly welcoming. The comic comes off as an item comfortable with what it is yet neither is the book afraid to reach for achievement, carrying the standard Mignola mindset which is aware of craftsmanship and structure. There’s a script here that drives the story in a very determined, episodic fashion with character development clearly in concern, but I’d say it’s the work of Tonci Zonjic who really shapes this Lobster Johnson tale into a comic book worth owning.

Zonjic’s work on Who is Jake Ellis? puts forth a tone of Jason Bourne  espionage and a Moby soundtrack song by mixing sexy blacks with saturated colors. In fact, I’d maybe say most of his work on that project was more tone-centric than anything, and while I’m not suggesting one attempt is better than the other, this work on Lobster Johnson chisels out a more technical focus by relying a lot of the artwork’s impact on panel composition and raw storytelling.

from zonjic's blog: lungbug.blogspot.com/

Take the base panel on the above page for example. Your eye starts out with the charging Native Americans, jumps to Lobster Johnson, flows to the gun, follows the bullets into the other Native American, and you follow the shot Native American’s falling arm to the fleeing couple, ending the story contained within this box. Or, something like this:

I love Paint

What’s odd though is that I read this work on the same day I listened to an Inkstuds interview with cartoonist Frank Santoro, in which he discusses how most budding comics creators are so obsessed with style that they lack the skills to construct and maintain a simple narrative. Reading these issues, and then hearing that interview, really reminded me of the comic book artist’s true mission: moving the reader’s eyes.

We live in this era where surface appearance matters so much we forget about the mechanics. I’m guilty of this quite often as I enjoy falling victim to aesthetically charged elements like style and color, and while it’s important to possess unique examples of such things … a story needs a storyteller. Zonjic exemplifies such a thought in Lobster Johnson, and I think some of that focus may come from the script itself because, if you look at it, a majority of Mignola’s books work on the basis of mechanics and grinding gears rather than spunk or sexy spy swag. Zonjic’s illustrating this book rather than making it look cool. He’s telling the story, first and foremost.

Yet, while all of this is true, he does possess a style – a style that evokes certain well known cartoonists like Alex Toth or Sean Phillips, yet while the aesthetic pleasure resides present in the work, Zonjic doesn’t sacrifice anything for it. He’s blended both attributes of his art together for a full effect. I must admit though, Zonjic’s line really hits me. I love the way it blends to what’s contained within it, especially on his figures where the blacks of an arm fold or something mash with the line, making it appear almost nonexistent.

As I did pump up the notion of attitude over mechanics in a previous blog post, I must say, well-functioning mechanics can certainly hit a sweet spot and push a comic beyond common muck. I like that such a thing can remind me of the time and work put into a comic book. The visibility of the artist’s storytelling can really, almost, connect you to that moment when the lines were laid down at the drawing board, and the thought was first thunk.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #10

There’s a tiny bit of crying in this issue, but little of it sticks as the story quickly beats on to the falling action. Aside from Spector, Detective Hall and Snapdragon reappear, and for some reason Madame Masque is now involved.  The matter of the Ultron head also veers its head into the scenario, and … Ah, whatever. Just read the comic.

+ Thoughts

– The first two pages of this issue are pretty strong, even though the first page is just a repeat of last issue’s finale. The inclusion of it here works though since, one, it’s a pretty cool page and, two, it reestablishes the stakes and places page two in context. As for page two, eight horizontal panels work well to convey a sense of carnage and mean spirit. The reds in place by Matt Hollingsworth bring out the pain, and Maleev’s choice of stacking the panels in such a way, with use of two vertically streaked, solid red shots, creates a clear idea of speed, moving the reader through the reading experience in a fast, bold, brutal fashion. In one page, Maleev translates the core of the fight we barely even see, and we understand it completely. Plus, this execution simply declares Echo as dead without any dramatic last word or final breath. She’s fucking dead, and Marc’s pissed. That’s all we need.

– The scene with Marlene at first concerned me. While reading, I was caught off guard, and I thought Bendis was all of the sudden bringing back past baggage. But really, it’s another dream/headtrip thing, and it’s in place to remind the reader of where Marc Spector’s been before and, not unlike Spider-man, the dude possesses some guilt. The scene works, feels appropriate and places the circumstance of Echo’s death into even more context. It also presents some indication of mourning from Marc’s character without getting too sappy or unnecessary. Also, the shot of Marc’s face in the last panel on page five presents a wonder example of Maleev’s talent for facial expressions and human likeness. Someone make that a Twitter avatar.

– “Wolverine” telling Marc to suck it up and quit moaning was cool. “Quit bitchin, bub!”

+/- Thoughts (neutral ground)

– The overhead shot of Echo’s body on the autopsy table is a shot that often reoccurs in Bendis’ work, conveniently placed lamps and all. In an early issue of New Avengers, it’s done with Spider-woman. Later in Secret Invasion, it’s Elektra’s skrullified corpse. I have to assume the writer indicates the artist to draw this particular shot in this situation, as this same shot has occurred with three different artists (that I know of). It’s no surprise that a comic book artist would have familiar, go-to shots, but I find the practice by a writer interesting. Could say a few things about Bendis’ scripting style.

– Detective Hall and Snapdragon … I guess I’m happy to see them again? I don’t know. No opinion.

– Thoughts

– Madame Masque really comes off like a poor excuse to connect this dying series to Bendis’ larger catalog of work, and ultimately her appearance can only mean just that. It just seems a little late in the game to introduce a new villain to the story, and the reason for it is simply weak. Count Nefaria is hurt. OK, but isn’t that more interesting? Having this crumbling villain, who has lived most of his villainous career as a figure of power, go up against what is essentially a normal man? That scenario contains much more conflict and emotion than this substitute, tie-in shit we’re about to witness. Also, the whole thing voids the build-up of Nefaria as West Coast kingpin, making me wonder: why not Madame Masque from the start? Why wait until issue ten, of a twelve issue tale, to introduce her? Because, Bendis and Marvel need a story next summer. Plant those seeds now.

Verdict

This issue doesn’t loose much steam. While a death has occurred, Bendis and Maleev keep the story on task and weave the plot together so it marches the complete narrative to its planned destination. Madame Masque though, man. WTF?

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BlahBlahBlah-Attitude-BlahBlahBlah

Sorry. I couldn’t think of a title.

I bought and read three comics published by Image last week, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed each of them.

But aside from any craft or good time, something else about these comics struck me – the “newness.” Or, the energy.

Because see, alongside these comics, I also read two tried and true establishments.

And while they were OK, I left the reading experience unaffected and neutral.

So I began considering why and how the energy of the Image books hit me and caused a genuine excitement. They weren’t the best comics I’d ever read, but for some reason I walked away refreshed and hyped up about comics again. Why? And why had the Marvel and DC books left me indifferent all together. I think I’ve come to a conclusion. The difference is attitude.

Beyond technicalities and skill sets, attitude always screams loudest. That’s the personality of a work; the objective set of details is just makeup around the face. Being an artist, or making art … the goal is to communicate an emotion or make the work reflect the personality of the maker. It’s never really about filling a position or meeting a deadline. An artist works to make pieces that represent him or her in order to share oneself with the world. By that definition, attitude really becomes key to the success of the work.

With books like Hell, Yeah, Fatale and Manhattan Projects, there exist certain genre types and tropes familiar to other stories. These comics are new, and feel new, but in reality they’re made up of other things. Hell, Yeah works with the common knowledge of the super hero while Manhattan Projects takes elements of history and twists them for fictional use. Fatale blends two genres under a version of Brubaker and Phillips tinkering with their manner of storytelling. These books are composites. Not exactly New.

But they feel new, and that’s because the creators behind these books are approaching the production with spunk, shifting these collages of concepts into ballsy, confident comics that really, actually, represent the creators rather than carry their names in order to pay them.

But aside from the outside factors and creative origins, the books themselves embody that spirit. Brubaker and Phillips, rather than selling another one of their projects or doing some oddball off-shoot project (Incognito), seem to actually be messing around with how they tell one of their stories. Especially Brubaker, who’s script on this one offers up some interesting characteristics unfamiliar with most of his previous work – things like the point of view of his narrator or the construction of the plot. He’s made the story enticing by switching it up, and Fatale doesn’t exactly read like another Bru/Phillips collaboration. Hell, Yeah, just from subject matter, captures a younger, rebellious outlook, but I’d also say Keatinge’s script, with it’s quick cuts and particular voice, signals something confident. And Manhattan Projects … Nick Pitarra’s line work may heavily evoke Quitely, Darrow and Moebius , but I’d still claim the work possesses a forceful ability to grab attention. Hickman even seems to have something a little different under his belt. I mean, the comic still stars a a bunch of powerful men in charge, trying to save the world from itself, but the way he’s writing these characters appears a little more thought out than most of his recent attempts. Because, you know what, they’re actually fucking characters and not stand-ins for concepts.

The Marvel and DC books I read completely lack any reason, spark or care. They rely on the subject matter rather than attitude because the common readers of those comics are invested in the characters and familiar worlds they typically read. Attitude does not matter to them. They’re spending money to witness fictional occurrences.

Either way is fine, and either way can be entertaining, but from my experience it feels like attitude really is the correct way to go. I’d even say a creator, if in the position, should sacrifice technical efficiency and craft purely to convey a spirit or voice because, for what I want out of comics – artworks- it’s much more ideal for an artist or writer to generate an emotion via a work rather than tell a story, necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, I always want a sound story, but an emotional response to a work seems to invite a much more satisfying reading experience. Of course, though, the ideal route involves both.

The Image books do tell stories, though. They’re far from abstract. They’re genre comics. I found it refreshing to read a handful of genre books which exuberate such enthusiasm and primal response, though. Because, honestly, I walked away from those books hyped up and ready for more. That’s an emotional response I’ve forgotten to experience when reading my monthly comics – pure, childlike excitement. Which for genre comics, should always be the goal. The super hero market has sort of twisted that, though. The game is now more about continuing the soap opera than making the blood pump.

It may read cliche to type this, but the statement “creator owned comics offer exciting work because the creators are free to do as they please” works here. Between the last Marvel books I read by Hickman and Brubaker and these Image titles from the same writers, these Image titles clearly win out. These guys are making these comics because they want to not because they have a mortgage to pay. But, the statement “creator owned = better” isn’t always true. Sometimes the creator owned market can remain just as contrived and pointless as mass market comics. Oni Press knows what I’m talking about. Even other Image comics portray this (Thief of Thieves). And the stream can also flow the other way. Mass market super hero books can also channel an attitude and evoke an emotional connection. It’s possible. It’s been done. Read Uncanny X-force, for example.

So, what’s the point? Inspired work beats out soulless tradition every time, and while that point isn’t exactly new or profound, I feel a few of these new books in publication at Image exemplify the point in a nice, clean, current example, and I find the enthusiasm they’re bringing to genre books, the recent stepchild of the medium, engrossing as well as needed.

Of course, attitude, while I prefer it, can’t always be the ultimate decider of whether or not a work stands the test of quality. Some case of objectiveness has to enter the debate at some point to keep things in order. Otherwise, things tend to get a little too unpredictable as well as unmeasurable. But, maybe reading comics isn’t really about taking measurements or ranking books according to some universal rubric? Maybe the heart of the matter is simply about what you take away from what you read and the reaction you have?

To be clear though, my focus on attitude isn’t just some excuse for the quality of these comics so that I may praise them. This also isn’t some rallying cry or Team Comics fuckshit for creator-owned books. I just enjoyed what I read. Even without the aesthetic charge or surface buzz or the claim that they’re “trying something different,” I’d still cite these comics better than, not only Action Comics or Ultimate Spider-man, but most other monthly stuff I’ve read recently. These books are sound and well put together.

You be the judge, though. I know some people completely hated these new Image books, and I can respect that. But fuck it, I’m having fun.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #9

Two months later, and I’ve finally decided to jot down my thoughts on Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Moon Knight once again. Between laziness and realizing the meticulous behavior of doing issue-by-issue commentary, as well as trying not to repeat myself with every new issue, these MK posts took a backseat, but since it’s been announced the series will end with issue 12, I figure I should at least finish the task I took on. I can’t promise these last few posts will be as heavy as the first 8, but I’ll make them as interesting as I can, and once it’s all over, I’ll write a nice overview essay of the series. That’ll last longer anyway. For now though, some quick thoughts for the sake of putting them out there.

So this issue contains a lot of fighting and internal struggle, making it a pretty fitting climax for a story about an uncertain super hero with a multiple personality complex. Count Nefaria, the owner of a monocle and power boner, who’s fought Thor, the Avengers and some X-dudes, comes back from his last appearance to belittle and beat Marc Spector, and he chooses to do so by killing Spector’s girl and driving him up an emotional wall. After 20 pages of combat and dialogue between Spector and the voices in his head, the issue ends with Spector loosing his crayons and adopting his Wolverine persona in a whole new way, leaving the reader on a cliffhanger of rage and bloody fists. Sorry. I hate summaries.

So, Random Thoughts style, here’s the rundown.

+ Thoughts

– I definitely consider this to be one of the better issues of the series. Maybe the best, but I’m not sure as I haven’t read the others in quite some time.  But it’s up there. Why? While it may sound cheap, the book gave me what I really wanted to see, which was a visually enticing fight involving Moon Knight, in costume, drawn by Alex Maleev. Say what you will, but I enjoyed the payoff because, unlike almost every other super hero comic, Bendis and Maleev’s Moon Knight hasn’t involved much fighting or super hero action. The series has kept those elements to a minimum, building the tension between the reader and what’s on the page. This was a necessary fight, and while the battle involved a villain, the real fight took place in Spector’s head which, at the heart of this book, has been the scene of conflict all along.

– This comic incorporates the downward spiral of the story into the pacing and plot. If you notice, the issue begins with Marc on the roof of a building, and it ends with him in an alley. The entire fight moves from top to bottom, reflecting the events within the issue as Marc enjoys some classic hero versus villain fisticuffs until he’s in the street, watching his lady friend die. The consideration on this level speaks of the craft put into the issue, and it reminds that not all Big 2 books are thrown together chunks of shit. Thought went into this, and it’s an especially wonderful touch as the descent provides Maleev’s artwork with an extra bit of movement. A lot of his shots in this issue are horizontal or slanted to accommodate the high-to-low battle, and from this Maleev works the fight into a fluid, lively piece. And, of course, the descent in setting reflects the peril of our lead.

– I found the cuts between Buck/Marc scenes and Marc/Cap/Spidey/Wolverine scenes affective for their ability to present some background and explain the origin of Marc’s new weapons, yet I also feel these scenes simply act as quality transitions in order to introduce each personality Marc’s carrying around in his head before we witness the internal dialogues of the issue. These back-and-forths come off as bold and stylish.

– Thoughts

– This is sort of cheap, but I honestly was a bit bummed about Echo’s apparent death. I liked her. She made a lot of sense in this series, and it seemed there was much more to the character than previously hinted. But, for the story at hand, her death is the most logical way to progress the narrative and place Marc Spector where Bendis wants him. So, on a matter of storytelling, this move works. And anyway, I’m sure she’ll be back in some other Bendis project somewhere down the line. That’s the way this shit works. But, for now, I’ll honestly kind of miss her. Pathetic, I know.

Verdict

Good fucking issue. It certainly positioned the story in a new way. I’m ready for more, and I guess, the coming conclusion.

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