Monthly Archives: July 2012

Prophet | Graham, Roy, Dalrymple, Milogiannis

Like everybody else, I too am reading Prophet and find it to be quite an exceptional example of what mainstream comics can do and be. Unlike the mass of creator-owned or faux-indie books that jump out and scream their separation from Marvel and DC, Graham and company wish to join up with the mass culture and beat it at its own game. A noble effort, and while the “play the system from the inside” routine usually grows old and results in little outcome, the Prophet crew seem be to A-OK as of now, playing the cards they have and letting the bait be taken. And it’s being taken. By you and me and the the mix of general readers and Comics Journal crowd who nod their heads and note this Prophet comic as a decent, pleasant item to receive each month.

In some sense, Prophet feels more like a gift, digging up some of that initial excitement we all felt at the start of our great comic book binge, rather than adding to the same old sludge of new releases we, for some sad, pathetic reason, feel the need to study. The creators have brought back that enthusiasm we all once put toward genre comics, and they’re making the month long wait mean something again. That’s so important for comic books. Especially now when it seems all genuine love, lust, fun or concern, theory and debate happens off the page and in some movie theater somewhere  or through some industry Op/Ed. Comics has reached a point where the comic books almost don’t even matter, and I for one find that a little scary. But Prophet’s battling back against that, leaving all the magic and thought among those panels to make its speech mean a little something more. That speech … it says, “look, yo, remember these trashy things? yeah, we don’t have to give up on them.”

And to be clear, I don’t mean to say Prophet is alone in this effort or that Graham is really the first guy to consider this mission, but rather Prophet stands out. Through its various, almost now trademark tools of storytelling, this book has shown in a matter of seven issues that more can be done. And by more, that would mean the mainstream genre comic, where it seems now little substance, energy or thought resides: the creators have split; the bloggers and pundits have spit their contempt; and I, who for  months watched the rest of the Comics Internet burn its bridge and squash any hope of good mainstream books, have finally brushed off my own excuses and now see at least the corporate side of comics as the cold, fake void it really is.

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe now we’ll all be able to move on and challenge ourselves with something a little greater and complex as well as expand our own horizons on what exactly comics can be. Maybe the only thing stopping us all along was our allegiance to childish fantasies and their lowbrow construction. Maybe we needed to ditch this shit all along in order to push our medium forward.

Maybe.

But there is this push from certain creators to keep the thrill and octane alive: guys who say fuck legitimization for favor of poop jokes and violence. Though it’s also these guys, like a Marra, Ryan or DeForge, who while diving into the trash bring forth a careful and considered sense of craft, and it seems Graham wants to join the effort with Prophet and mix and match the adventure and cliffhangers of mainstream pop comics with the sense of craft, function and theme better comics are capable of.

So far, the approach seems to be working.

The most distinct quality of Prophet is its sense of atmosphere and place and how subtlety, versus blunt interaction, can build such a grand thing. This comic lives and breath “show don’t tell,” and while Graham’s stoic narration does play a large part of the series’ development  and tone, he really seems to embody his spirit as an artist here more than a writer, even though he doesn’t draw much of the comic, at all.  As the writer though, Graham lets his artists and the pictures they produce tell the story because he understands when to let his prose interject. Like a good comics writer, his bursts of narration come at the opportune time when a scene could use an extra push, and if he does describe or detail it’s always to compliment the visuals or catch something they cannot. But besides just knowing how to contribute to the book, the approach makes a lot of sense for what Prophet is: a visually intricate science fiction series. Why tell when Simon Roy can simply show you?

Prophet becomes a highly collaborative work that way, again, offering up some courteous advice to the rest of the comics mainstream. Graham works with his artists, and they in turn output something far more exciting, turning the book into more of a whole than a writer simply having a hired hand draw his words. A confidence exudes from this, as well, and rather than you, the reader, questioning the value of the book, you just kind of know this is good and roll with it. The confidence, though, does just really come from the subtlety of the work as Graham and Company trust the story gets across what it needs to without having to feed it to you via spoon.

We’re at a point with the book where visual styles are becoming characters themselves. Graham breaks his sub-plots up by artist assignment: Roy draws the initial John Prophet clone, Milogiannis presents Old Man Prophet, or the original, Dalrymple to John Prophet with a tail and Graham does the robots we see in issue twenty-six. All of these characters are established in Prophet’s initial story arc – or what makes up the first trade paperback – and it seems safe to assume these characters will be the major players of the plot Graham intends to spin. In one fashion, this works to separate a group of clones in order to make them decipherable to the reader, but the choice also suggests a pure attention to the visual presentation and what each individual artist can bring to the work.

That’s something a majority of mainstream comics have forgotten how to do as most of the industry still rides the wave of writer-driven series. The Prophet crew are transitioning away from that, creating this new set of cues for a reader to read by when they visit the book each and every month. Depending on the artist, a reader can take a guess at what plot point any specific issue may center around, and if it’s a new artist on the issue, well, you’re in for a surprise.

The whole thing brings the visual component of comic books back into the fold – especially for the genre driven side of the industry. That’s refreshing but also intelligent because it takes the reading experience of a comic book up from common slum activity to more of an area where your brain is involved with the process. You have to think about those visuals, for once, and ponder how they connect and contribute. Granted, it’s not exceptionally brilliant or worthy of intellectual study, necessary, but that much of a push in mainstream genre comics means a great deal. Take a look at most of them now; many are astoundingly dumb and easy to read. There’s no challenge or even involvement whatsoever. Prophet’s going back against that.

And while visually involved, Prophet does present some thematic elements of interest, whether its the boundaries of human potential or imperial conquest, this science fiction comic does seem to have a core group of ideas its commenting upon. And the level of imagination is off the charts. This thing didn’t stop at “what if humans were the enemy and not the zombies?”.

Where Prophet stands in ten years, who knows. It may not even rank at the end of this decade, but for now it feels significant, and if anything, it’s pushing mainstream comics into a more respectable territory. I’m in favor of that, because while I can get down with art comics, I do want a sense of bombast and fun in this stuff. That’s an essential aspect of the medium, I feel, and if we forget that we will lose something. Creators just need to work to hold this stuff up to a higher standard. Just because it’s adventure, doesn’t mean it’s stupid.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Amazing Fantasy #15: man before hero

I found myself scribbling notes, prepping for this week’s Chemical Box recording, when I finally thought “why not just post this? I should post something.” Granted, this is more an exercise than a finished product, and while I’m sure some proper critic may shake his or her head, I figure this is the blog of a twenty year old asshole. I can post whatever. So what follows are words – poorly written words – concerning Amazing Fantasy #15 and the Spider-Man origin story.

– I mean, this is the stuff. The fucking blocks that build it all. How can these comics not be held up as something worthwhile? They birth the character but also the language, voice, grammar and gears. They birth the standard. Boom, like a thunderous thud on the table right when the baby pops out. The nurse unaware of what just happened.

– And the world comes together before you can flip the page, and all subsequent issues establish new notes within the greater measure: the villains, the cast, the usual Parker conflicts. The cliches of the character, though …

… they weren’t yet cliches.

– This was new. That’s what you have to imagine. You have to dawn the position of the reader in 1962/63 and only know Spider-Man, or Steve Ditko for that matter, from what was given to you in those first few issues of Amazing. Everything feels simpler in that mindset. The mess of later years had yet arrived. It was just Lee and Ditko and a kid in an awkward suit.

– Amazing Fantasy #15 – the origin story – still remains the character’s greatest. Nothing could have come after, and the story would mean just as much. All because of that final panel. Parker doesn’t do a damn heroic thing even when it’s sold as this new super hero yarn. There’s nothing fantastic. No impressive feat occurs. There’s only a dude, and he’s simply getting by, looking at himself, judging, like any other would do on a day-to-day basis. Parker’s just this dude, and when he puts on the suit, he’s still just that dude. Maybe just a little more awkward because he doesn’t transform or strike a stone pose. The tights don’t life him up like a Clark Kent removal of the glasses. They just wrap him and embody the human shape underneath.

– If anything, Ditko picks up on this and draws those awkward stances and quirky expressions of body language to further characterize.  Ditko embraces that “otherness” inherent in the character, going somewhere lesser artists seem to fear or miss. That’s a point Todd McFarlane would later continue, only maybe go a little too far with his uncomfortable, almost macabre, drawings. But, hey, it beats the soap opera, pretty boy Romita liked to draw.

– While Ditko establishes the pacing and language of the story, Lee still matters here. No matter his place in history or the wrongs he may be guilty of, Lee adds a significant element to this individual tale past the line about responsibility. His prose possesses a presence. It’s a narrator who clearly knows the outcome long before you do, yet neither is he/she over powering. Instead, the narrator keeps a pace away but certainly oversees this great escapade from somewhere beyond.

– The narration, and the tone of it, benefits this tale in a major way because it helps nail that responsibility point. The reader trusts the ethos of the narrator; therefore, he reigns triumphant, making his point.

– And while quaint, with narration decorated in the comics speak of the comics past, it still hits and performs like no other super hero yarn. Every ounce of quaint builds up the storybook tone, but while a storybook or childhood parable, is dark, mean and honest. Spider-Man’s origin is about being a man: leaving teenage-dom behind for the truth of adulthood. Ditko and Lee show the consequences, in a pretty bold fashion, of when you do not grasp the concept of responsibility  and ignore adulthood to instead act like a child. Uncle Ben dies to make that point. Over the top, but it worked. What matters.

– They bleed all of this through the super hero origin. From AF 15 up until Ditko’s final issue, they keep to the mission statement while slowly adding other elements to provide further example: job, girls, enemies/struggle. All of which leads to a high school graduation and the age of eighteen as well as a battle with Norman Osborn – the arch nemesis and the “adult” lost to selfish desires.

– AF 15 still stands as my favorite super hero origin story, even while it doesn’t birth a hero. It’s a story about a kid, but that kid has to overcome and become someone he’s not, yet, can be. When Parker walks away into the darkness in that final panel, he’s learned a lesson, and the reader knows he must live with it. The walk into the gloomy horizon commences the journey. The hero’s journey. That’s the point. That’s why it’s my favorite. The man before the hero … a vital aspect.

–  Too bad fifty years have occurred, and Parker’s still working toward the heroic finish. He hasn’t left the origin he’s so famous for but has rather occupied countless variations of it. The trap of the core. Or at least, the trap of a regressive publisher. But, sleep tight, Dan Slott still has a job.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Noir: a Collection of Crime Comics | Dark Horse

Originally published over at Spandexless.com

I’m not exactly sure what book kicked off last decade’s crime comicbook revival (Powers, probably), but 2009 was most definitely the peak of said “movement,” the year when crime went commercial and quickly lost its inseparable edge.

I remember this because that was the year I went diehard for the shit. Everything and anything that had to do with crime (minus the real thing) I immediately sucked up and deemed priority. I went from watching few movies ever to hand writing a must watch list containing anything from Out of the Past to Heat, and if I ever caught sight of a trench coat or dark alley on a comic book cover, said comic was bought. Ross MacDonald and Dashiell Hammet were also read, to a degree, and I even went as far as to brag to my friends that I was an expert on the genre in question when in reality, I was then, and still am, far, far from it. But I doubt they were very impressed to begin with.

But no matter my involvement, and as true as my enthusiasm may have been, this was sort of all spurred on by the growing popularity of the genre in my medium of choice: comicbooks.  Books like 100 Bullets, Powers and Criminal spent the 2000’s redefining the genre for comics, and while an entire essay or more could be written on such a topic, I’ll just skip ahead and say this redefinition culminated in 2009. It’s the year the trend caught on and died, but not before the industry gave us such things as Vertigo’s line of crime graphic novels, Marvel Noir (the nail in the coffin), Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter (which is really more than a cheap gimmick, but just go with it for the fact it’s another big crime project released in the year 2009) and this: Noir: a Collection of Crime Comics published by Dark Horse.

My memory of this has mostly been of it being a disappointment, and after a revisit just this week I still find Noir to be as bad as my recollection deems it. It’s underwhelming when you consider the list of talented creators involved. I placed a lot of hope on this project at the time of its release – hoping it would somehow be the next great anthology – but really all I read was another mediocre one, which makes Noir a comfortable member of today’s usual anthology output.

Most of the authors in this collection try to place a spin on the crime story or the concept of what a crime is, but really none of them land anything but a failed attempt. It’s really the guys who stick to the classic components, like Lapham, Brubaker and Azzarello, who produce anything memorable. I don’t find this to be a point scored for the argument of classicism or anything, just that the people being ambitious didn’t have the skill to pull it through. There’s no greater theme there. Some people just blew it, is all.

But they blew it enough. Because after reading this, my unstoppable interest for all things crime noir stopped. I already knew crime did not equal quality, but the blatancy of this project – from the title to the Georges Bataille quote on the inside cover – only reassured the point. Where Marvel Noir was the ultimate gimmick, Dark Horse’s book represented this common interest of the time. It attempted to showcase the best of said interest, but in the end, Noir really only shed light on an unhealthy curiosity. Because everyone wanted to tell a crime story, everyone wanted to script that gravely narration, and everyone wanted the twist ending, but only few people’s voices and styles of storytelling were suited for such things.

Noir spotlights a handful of people dubbing crime fiction characteristics over stories strongly penned in their individual styles, and while it’s nice to see all of them attempt, what really presents itself is this weird sense of “hey, I can do it too!” that’s stated like a true six year old.  It’s really just a collection of stories confused about their identities, as a guy like Jeff Lemire attempts to meld his sullen country boy routine to a cold-blooded plot.

Or when M.K. Perker marries Turkish culture with mass murder.

Or when Paul Grist does Paul Grist but on a detective story (Kane goes farther back than this project, I know, but in here, at least, it doesn’t do much).

And there’s also the desire to land the EC Comics fucked up twist ending, but when Chris Offutt or Gary Phllips go for it, the attempts only come off as cheap and highly derivative.

What happened here was this: Dark Horse editors picked the hot contributors – or the ones they could get – and said, “tell us a crime story. people like those right now,” and the creators did, but what Dark Horse failed to realize was that even though they handpicked the “hot” creators, they did not handpick “hot” creators who were also “hot” crime storytellers. Those editors went name above suitability to the project, so it’s really no surprise we got what we got.

But, for the select few who were suited, well, those stories worked.

Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal insert carries the same pedigree as the all the mini series. The pacing’s on key, and even when the duo arrives at their own twist ending, things work out because throughout their however many pages, they’ve earned such an ending.

Azzarello works within a gimmick, but when Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon present it, the story loosens its grip on the safety net and trusts itself, as a story, to do the job. Plus, Azzarello’s script doesn’t exactly force the surprise ending or shoehorn the catch. Instead, his pacing and dialogue let the reader arrive at the premise, making it more of an involved short story.

But the best of the collection resides in David Lapham’s “Open the Goddamn Box,” in which a young girl widdles her way out of a terrible situation through a sharp tongue and tensions on the side of her captors. What’s impressive about it, though, beside pure visceral reaction or the skill of Lapham’s line work is the story’s ability to really place you in a world in such a short amount of time. Lapham works within ten pages, but in those ten pages you really get an idea of who the three characters are – from background to now – as well as what the world they inhabit is particularly like. A lot of this comes down to pacing, obviously, so the author adjusts his grids on each page to accommodate such a thing. If you look at it, Lapham uses a majority of eight panels per page, and while design isn’t exactly a main concern, they do fine tune all the needed  beats of the narrative. Old fashioned storytelling for a comic book, but Lapham proves that its functionality still works now more than ever.

For those three stories alone, Noir: a Collection of Crime Comics is kind of worth picking up – especially at a discount. But you do have to sort through a heavy handful of mediocre imitations. Because that’s mostly what Noir is: imitations.

As for the crime comicbook, the genre still pleases many people, and guys like Brubaker and Phillips continue to produce some of the best. The trend subsided, though, thankfully, but science fiction, with books like Prophet and Saga, may be making a comeback. Who knows where that may lead.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How I Spent a Sunday in My UNairconditioned Apartment

Besides waking up wrapped in my own sweat stained sheets, considering again why I live exactly where I do, I sat my ass on the couch from roughly 2:30 PM to 8 PM and watched, back-to-back-to-back, all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies. Why? Because I felt an odd loyalty to the franchise  and that I should somehow prepare for the forth coming Marc Webb directed movie as well as this dumb need to fulfill nostalgic desires.

Or, “I do what I want.” (My defensive answer to my own question).

I owe a lot to Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies. They were not only a large part of my childhood but also the origin point for my interest in comics, and returning to them yesterday, after a few years away, was a  mixture of both fun remembrance and gnashing teeth. Sort of what I expect my ten year high school reunion to be like.

But fuck it. While I didn’t love the return, here are a few quick paragraphs on Spider-man, Spider-man 2 and Spider-man 3. (Great titles by the way.)

Spider-man / 2002

This had a Nickelback song attached to it.

Besides the iconic or memorable moments and its push to somehow become this generation’s Superman: The Movie, Spider-man runs a bit dry, suffering from the stigmas adaptations usually suffer from, to now being remembered best for the upside down kiss and Kirsten Dunst’s wet nipple (which, at ten, was pretty fucking cool). I saw this movie for the first time at a drive-in theater with my grandma and mom, and I can clearly remember them saying to one another, “well, this is kind of a bit much for a kid’s movie.” And a kid’s movie it was, but watching it today, you can clearly see Raimi angling his Spider-story more toward the love connection than the action. Everything ends up revolving around it; Parker’s storybook voice over and the line “this is a story about a girl” solidify Raimi’s entire premise for his trilogy, and it gives him the opening to really meld the core details of the Spider-man story to the Peter Parker/MJ romance.

The approach works to a degree. As the sequels roll on, you see how Raimi balances the various themes of adulthood and proportions them to function with the trials and successes of the relationship – Spider-man 2 being the best example – but the ground work all goes down here, in an action movie where the action isn’t really shot or composed that well. For Dunst’s character, though, she’s nothing more than a prize. A prize with a bit of personality, but a prize nonetheless, and Dunst’s one layer performance doesn’t exactly spur on anything extra.

There’s also the case of Tobey Maguire, who I just can’t stand. Peter Parker embodies the shy child within us all. The lighthearted dork. The outcast. But Maguire’s presence takes these qualities and rams them into overdrive, making Parker more pathetic than an unsung hero. The film has those moments of wit and charm for the character to really show himself, but Maguire, with his 13-year-old boy voice drops them every time, resulting in a creepy expression rather than a showcase of confidence.

The film ultimately suffers for its concern of telling that classic tale most people know by heart and weaving it to fit a new set of performers, visuals and music, yet, ironically, it’s also why it’s memorable. In a sense, I do feel this is my generation’s Superman because, while stunted in areas, specific moments do still conjure that magic, and along with a pretty solid cast overall, this film created some lexicon. Especially for the super hero movie, which after Bryan Singer’s X-Men, only reaffirmed this new era of the super hero in Hollywood. For better or for worse.

I’d be curious to watch the James Cameron version, which apparently involved more penetration as well as curse words, but I still find the ability in myself to enjoy this movie. Spider-man made and has kept a connection.

Plus, the Randy Savage/Bruce Campbell shit still kills.

Spider-man 2 | 2004

It wasn’t until Spider-man 2 that I finally realized comicbooks were still being published and found the care within myself to hunt them down and devour them whole. I was twelve, and my friend’s babysitter drove us to the mall so we could watch this. She was in high school; I had a crush.

Also, this Dashboard Confessional song still ends up trapped in my brain at times.

This movie’s concern with being complete makes it work. Hands down, Spider-man 2 is the best of the three, and I think it’s where Raimi says the most with the character as well as makes Peter Parker most relatable or simply interesting. Movie one shapes him into a figure of shared experience, but it also keeps him in a constant state of being a caricature. Parker’s the nerd who gets power, but movie two humanizes the whole concept a tad more by really showing the gears of his life, the “Parker Luck” as well as the continuing whatever that is the Peter/MJ relationship. Where movie one is all about responsibility, movie two centers on the idea of choice, and as a theme close to super hero fiction, Raimi bases the theme on the relationship to force Parker into a position of uncertainty. But as  typed … this one’s concerned with being a movie rather than a storyboard. In some sense, you could criticize Spider-man 2 for possibly taking itself a bit too seriously, but I feel the movie consistently does a fine job of balancing the relationship stuff with Doc Ock (who is fucking awesome in this movie ). Really, at times, Spider-man 2 is more about the romance while the comic book, action stuff acts as a side project, but I’m not annoyed by that because Raimi’s entire story is about the romance, not really the action.  Although, this is probably some of best action in the entire series. Presentation wise. There’s more composition to the combat here, and it’s simply more entertaining to look at. Much of this comes from the nature of Spider-man’s antagonist. The Octopus arms give the camera a point of focus.

Of course, in a movie where the relationship between two characters reigns king, it would be important to have two actors who can carry such a thing, but Maguire and Dunst just fall. Along with my previous criticisms, I just don’t feel any chemistry between these two. Both are awkward together, and Parker still exemplifies this odd boyhood.  A line like “punch me, I bleed” should soar. He swallows it, leaving the audience to digest a bad inflection. Raimi only gets so far with his more dramatic sequel, and while it works in many spots, his two leads disable the film.

Alfred Molina picks up the duo’s spilled crackers, though. He’s a dude with real chops, and he comes in and nails the idea of the villain being more compelling than the hero. Doc Ock certainly is a grey villain, and while I tend to prefer my bad dudes to be real pieces of shit, I do find Ock and Spider-man’s dichotomy entertaining. He works toward the film’s theme of choice, and while some scenes show him ham-handedly talking to his mechanical arms, or reviewing his stretched, ill-sensed motivations, scenes like the hospital escape or train fight make up for the mishandles of the script.

I would label Spider-man 2 as good. Obviously better than its predecessor, it still performs well in the year 2012. Overall, a solid, complete story packed with an array of special moments. And, I won’t lie, the Aunt May hero speech kind of chokes me up. Rosemary Harris, ladies and gentlemen.

Spider-man 3 | 2007

The movie where I was finally an established comicbook guy. I was so excited for this piece of shit. SO EXCITED. Aged 15. In high school. And Venom – a character who I think is pretty fucking awesome, yet always ends up at the ass end of every joke. That Rick Remender comic included.

I walked out of the theater trying to convince myself I enjoyed this, and even months after the fact, until the DVD, I thought I did. Lies I’ve told myself.

Three people wrote this script, and from what I understand Avi Arad really pushed for Eddie Brock in this movie while Sam Raimi hated every ounce of the idea. And you can tell, because that’s the character who makes the least amount of sense in this entire movie. Even up against Proto-Goblin or whatever the fuck they named Harry Osborn’s snowboarder persona, Venom has real no reason to be in this picture. He’s just shoehorned, and Topher Grace just plays a dick the whole time. Ah, fuck it.The problem with this movie is both the ambition as well as the lack of point. Spider-man 3 redoes Spider-man 2‘s choice theme, but infuses it with more of a good vs. bad through line rather than a general “who do you want to be.” And then you get one of those Geoff Johns’ overhauls of past events as they try to work the Sandman into Uncle Ben’s death. Like Michael Papajohn needed help. And then the relationship goes up in smoke again for some really immature, unrealistic reasons while the butler apparently knew everything.

Fuck this movie.

It’s almost a parody of itself. The way it opens … with the music and the voice over. It all just suggests, “yep, and the story continues … ” And it does. To the point of a second Green Goblin and a purely fan beckoned appearance by a villain whom the director hated. Bryce Dallas Howard sort of saves it, but even then, her Gwen Stacy just makes you question the entire love story Raimi’s been spinning. Why not her the whole time rather than this entirely grouchy, uncharismatic women we’ve been following for three movies?

I could rip on the dancing and emo hair cut, but honestly, it’s not as bad I remember. In a way, those elements provide some of the only moments of seeming enjoyment through the whole movie. They’re really stupid, yes, but funny stupid.

Other than a cool Sandman creation sequence and the few moments of fan satisfaction brought on by the sight of Venom, I have no real reason to watch this. The Harry/Peter team-up in the end sort of tugs, but past that, nothing, man.

The Amazing Spider-man | 2012

Ten years from the original. I’m in college. A better sense of taste. Still love comics and the character.

This looks better than all Raimi’s work. From the action, to the story, to the cast, this movie appears more complete and more driven than the blueprint it’s working from. I will be in a theater come Friday, and I’m confident I’ll enjoy myself.

Brief thoughts, but how could it be more when I haven’t even seen it yet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized