Thursday, September 29, 2011
This opener from the latest issue I read - #334 - is a prime example of why I am having so much fun re-reading these comics. It doesn't necessarily utilize it for catching readers up, but it does have a purpose in this issue's story. And I just love it.
So. Much. Fun.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I wonder: Does the DCnU have anything as fun as this on their publishing schedule?
From what I've heard and read - no - but I wish they did.
Ah, well. There's always back issue bins.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Here are a couple of titles he worked on, back in the day. So good.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Netflix streaming has been good to me. I missed the LOST bandwagon, but once the finale aired, I thought it was time to get on board and see what all the fuss was about. And man, is that show good. I burned through the first season fairly quickly, then took a break, and followed up with a slower viewing of the second season. I’m now on the third season, but took a months-long hiatus after the seventh or eighth episode.
A couple weeks back, I decided to return to the island and see what was going on with Sawyer, Jack, “Freckles,” and the others. I watched a couple of episodes, then stopped. Because I noticed Friday Night Lights was now available for streaming, and I decided to sample an episode.
And I was hooked. This show easily outshines LOST, in my mind. Which is high praise, because I find LOST to be a compelling and entertaining show. But it’s missing a key ingredient.
LOST has a great ensemble cast, and I really appreciate the diversity of the characters. I applaud J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, et al. for providing a “global” view with their cast. And these characters are, for the most part, more than just ciphers. They feel and act like real, complex people. And though they are relatable characters, that empathy with the viewers is more in the abstract, I think, than in the reality of the viewerships’ experiences, which isn’t a bad thing, because the over-arching mystery is the glue that holds the series together. The mystery is the focal point, and the characters are the pawns used to get across that “truth” of the show.
On the other hand, Friday Night Lights is a television show ostensibly about football. And yet the football – whether practice or games – is rarely evident within any given episode. The football is the foundation of the series, but it is not the focal point.
In Friday Night Lights, as well, there is a diverse (though not as global due to the nature of the setting) and believable cast of characters. These people are people we viewers know and have interacted with most of our lives. The relationship between Coach Taylor and his wife is refreshingly frank and true and nuanced in a manner not often seen on television – two people committed to each other, who love one another, but who also argue in the course of their relationship while still being supportive. And the relationships between the teenagers, as well as the other parents, is all very well handled and takes me back to the trying times of high school when the fate of one’s future depended upon whether one wore the right brand-name to school.
Friday Night Lights is an engrossing, entertaining, and thought-provoking show that has eclipsed LOST – for now – in my viewing queue. And I think the reason for that is because they put the characters first while LOST, as a consequence of the type of show it is, puts the mystery first. They’re both extremely well done, enjoyable shows. But the fact that the human element is elevated ever so slightly in Friday Night Lights means I’ll be putting that at the top of my queue until I reach the end.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
There’s no doubting that Jeff Lemire is a talented cartoonist and skilled storyteller. I have yet to read his Essex County trilogy – though I plan on remedying that fact soon enough – but I have read some short stories of his, as well as a preview of Essex County, and I have definitely been impressed. So, it was no surprise when Lemire leveraged the success of Essex County in order to place two projects with Vertigo Comics. I was very excited.
I have yet to read The Nobody, but I picked up the first two trades of his ongoing series, Sweet Tooth. I read the first collection and was impressed with the world-building he was doing. Dystopian future – check. Weird hybrids that might unlock the secret to a plague ravaging humanity – check. An over-arching mystery – check. Duplicitous characters who are more than one-dimensional ciphers – check. This book seemed ripe for my tastes.
But, to be honest, it just didn’t grab me. I started the second collection, but once I hit the halfway point (issue 8 of the overall series), I just stopped. The premise is good, the characters are fleshed out nicely – for what little time I spent with them – and the mystery is certainly a good foundation for the book. But ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters. I was not invested in them, and that made it difficult for me to continue reading.
Part of my problem is that, in reading Sweet Tooth, the book feels like stuff I’ve read before (of course Jepperd’s wife was going to be pregnant just as the plague was coming down on humanity) and the glacial pacing – which is the norm in comics now, I know – just sapped what enthusiasm I had for the book. I am curious if I might have appreciated this more if I’d read it in single issues. Would that month-long wait have added to the experience? I don’t know. But I do think reading this in a collected edition – where I could quickly move on to the next chapter – hampered my personal reading experience. I know I had the same reaction when I read the “Winter Soldier” arc of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. The decompression of the storytelling made it far less enjoyable for me, as well.
Which is not to say this is a bad comic. Not in the least. Lemire’s talent is in full effect within these pages. His expressive artistry is a wonder to behold. And some of the layouts are inspired – in particular, the moment when Jepperd kills Jacob, the pimp, with the butt of his rifle. That is a classic example of allowing readers to fill in the blanks and elevate the horror of the scene (the exact opposite of what was seen in the new Catwoman from DC comics, but I digress). The one aspect where Lemire’s expressive linework does not serve him well is in the action scenes. There’s no weight to his figures when they fight, no feeling of impact between them. But those scenes are few and far between, and it does not detract too much from the overall story. Add the coloring of Jose Villarrubia, which is stunning, and this is a top-notch book.
Ultimately, this just isn’t the book for me. Or maybe it’s not the book for – at this time. I’ve had similar experiences. When I was attending a monthly graphic novel discussion group at my local Borders (no longer open, obviously), one of the books chosen was Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard. I remember having little good to say about that book. It just didn’t speak to me at the time. But now, years later, Transmetropolitan is one of my all-time favorite series, and one that I have read multiple times.
So, maybe I’ll return to Sweet Tooth at some point down the line and rediscover it the way I did TransMet. But, for now, I’ll move on to something else.
Friday, September 23, 2011
For example, Paris Cullins drawing the New Gods.
I was all over that book because of the art. And with Mark Evanier co-writing it had to be faithful to Kirby's legacy. Now I need to find those books again and see how they stand up. Good memories.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
For this round, one character must arrive in town while one character leaves. The deadline is this Saturday, and I think I finally have my piece finished. It was a great challenge to try and create a complete story from that prompt and keep it to 600 words. Not sure how successful I was, but we'll see. If nothing else, it was fun and really had me working to be as concise as possible.
Once the winners have been announced, I will throw my story up here. But for now - fingers crossed.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I’ve read a lot about Mark Millar, but not much by the man. I decided to rectify that and read his 12-part story with JRJr, Wolverine: Enemy of the State. And I hated it. I’ve written about why I loathe that story already here at Warrior27, but basically, I found the characterization to be bland, the main conceit of the plot to be boring, and I felt that Millar – by trying to “push the envelope” and having Wolverine and Elektra pile up the dead bodies without any repercussions because they had been brainwashed – completely sapped the narrative of dramatic tension. There were some bright spots – very few – but, overall, it felt lifeless and ineffective, despite the stellar art from John Romita, jr.
So, my expectations were not high for this third Millar Wolverine book. And, I have to say, I was incredibly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed Old Man Logan – could not put it down. This is what I want from my comics (and from my fiction, in general). I want it to engage me and keep me turning pages. I need to care about the characters and feel like there is a very real conflict at hand, despite the fantastical trappings to which I am typically drawn, as a reader. And that’s exactly what this book gave me.
It is some years in the future. All the heroes have died out or gone underground, and America is now ruled by the villains – the country dissected into various fiefdoms: Hulkland, The Kingdom of the Kingpin, Doom’s Lair, and the President’s Quarters. Wolverine is living in California, now Hulkland, with his family. They pay rent to the Hulk, who sends his gamma-irradiated offspring to collect. But this month, Logan (as he answers to now) is short. So the Hulk children beat Logan, taunting him to pull his claws (which he has vowed never to do again). They leave, warning Logan to have double the rent next month, or they will kill his family.
Hawkeye, now blind and a known drug-runner, shows up to recruit Wolverine for a cross-country trip that will pay well. Logan corrects Hawkeye on his name and agrees, realizing the money earned can save his family, but tells Hawkeye he won’t be fighting. Through the course of the story, we learn about this new world – a world where the skeleton of Hank Pym (in his Goliath form) stretches across the landscape now known as Pym Falls – and we discover what happened to the heroes, and what happened to turn Logan into a pacifist. And finally, we reach New Babylon, the capital of this burnt-out world, where Hawkeye was contracted to bring his contraband. It is for the President, who does reside in the White House, and who is better known as the Red Skull. He lords over his trophies in one of the many rooms of the White House, trophies like Iron Man’s armor, Cyclops’s & Thor’s helmets, pieces of the Visions, Dr. Strange’s cloak, and bits of the Silver Surfer’s board, among many other relics of the fallen heroes’ memories. And then, the real action begins.
Millar deftly handles the few narrative threads of this story quite well, teasing things out nicely to keep readers interested without revealing too much all at once. The inventiveness of the futuristic characters he introduces, along with the novel manner in which he explains Wolverine’s descent into self-loathing pacifism (which sounds like a terrible oxymoron), is all well done. Millar smartly pulls back the throttle for this tale, providing some “eyes-wide” gore when the story warrants, but offering a lot of quiet moments that allow the action to stand out, something sorely lacking in Millar’s “Enemy of the State.”
Millar also made me care about this incarnation of Wolverine. He is a very different character – beaten-down and defeated and unwilling to fight. Now a pacifist who only wishes to take care of his wife and children, this is the Wolverine I appreciated in the original Miller/Claremont mini-series – a person of honor working to keep his animalistic rage in check, who had to work to be a hero. That characterization has been completely lost in the last twenty years, in my opnion, but Millar manages to bring that back with this futuristic version of Wolverine. We see his berserker side in a daydream that opens the book, where he imagines ripping into the young Hulks, before the narrative brings us back to “reality.” Logan does not let loose on them, allowing these three behemoths to pummel him into the dust, and it sets the tone for the rest of the story. I was engaged with this character, which made me care about his road trip with Hawkeye. And when it all finally goes to hell, I’m completely in Logan’s corner.
Setting this story in a dystopian future was a smart move and added a lot to the narrative. This is a future where most of the heroes are dead, and those still around are either in hiding, retired, or about to face extermination. Anything can happen because Old Man Logan falls outside the regular Marvel continuity. And that means characters can, and will, die. This simple aspect of the setting imbues the narrative with a dramatic tension that is missing in most mainstream comics today. And Millar takes full advantage of this while also circumventing reader expectations of what is required of a Wolverine story. With every obstacle he and Hawkeye encounter, one expects the claws to come out, but they don’t. Not until Logan is pushed too far. And, at that point, all that anticipation can be released by the audience with a collective exhale.
I should say something about the art. Steve McNiven is a good artist. I can see that. But his photorealistic style is just something that does not appeal to me. That said, I found McNiven’s art in this book to be less “photoshopped” than I see from many of his contemporaries, and I thought, despite some over-rendering, that his storytelling was clear and appealing. He managed to pump up the action when it called for it, but he also set the stage nicely in the quiet scenes. So, overall, I’d say McNiven did a good job, and, more importantly, I think his art fit this story almost perfectly.
Overall, I was really impressed with Wolverine: Old Man Logan, and am very glad I read it. Will I read it again? Probably not. There are too many other good stories out there I haven’t gotten to yet, and this book, though enjoyable, is not one that I can see rewarding multiple reads. But at least I found a Mark Millar book I really enjoyed.
So, time to move on to something else. What that is, I don’t know yet? But I’ll write about it here when I do find out.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
The craziness of the trial of the flash – a flashback issue, #328
Thanks to my favorite podcast - Wait, What? the Savage Critics Podcast with Jeff Lester & Graeme McMillan – discussing the recently published Showcase edition of “The Trial of the Flash” from the early eighties, I decided to dig into my longboxes and pull out my original issues of this storyline – Flash (vol.2 with Barry Allen) #224-250.
The storytelling is certainly different – thought balloons, exposition, crazy pseudo-science – but it’s been really enjoyable so far, and I plan on writing about the entire story at some point. But for now, I want to look at some of the insanity from issue #328, which happens to be a reprint of issue #165 from 1966, wherein the Reverse-Flash escapes from his prison in the future and trades places with Barry Allen in order to try and inhabit his identity – done on the eve of Barry’s wedding.
The next day at the ceremony, the Flash intervenes, just as the minister is asking if anyone has objections to Barry (who is the disguised Professor Zoom) marrying Iris West, and the insanity ensues. It’s a crazy issue that doesn’t hold up too well – unlike the exposition-heavy work of Cary Bates in the previous issues, with dialogue that still seems to flow smoothly, the writing of John Broome in this story just doesn’t read as well – but it shines a light on the crazy ideas these silver age creators were conceiving.
Here are just a few moments – that come out of nowhere and really make no sense but still made it into the final comic – from this mid-60s Flash story.
Here we have the Reverse-Flash imprisoned in the future, being fed automatically by radiation. But, unknown to his captors, he is able to use this radiation to increase his mental capacity – by mind control! I want some of that radiation.
More futuristic science. Now that Eobard Thawne is in the present – his past – he needs to change how he looks in order to blend in as Barry Allen. So, he just takes an electric razor, makes a few simple adjustments, and creates a matter-distributor that changes his face to look exactly like Barry’s.
In order to support his ruse of being Barry Allen, the Reverse-Flash dons Flash’s costume and goes out to stop a bank robbery he heard on Barry’s police scanner. He easily stops the thieves, but when he goes back to return the money to the vault, Reverse-Flash finds he can’t do it. He can’t do it! “I guess I’ve thought and acted like a criminal too long!” It’s hilarious.
I just like the phrase “invincible knife,” in the editor’s note at the bottom of the page. I wouldn’t mess with anyone who had hands like invincible knives.
Reverse-Flash and Flash – two of the fastest beings in this DC universe – are just standing around discussing what is going to happen, now that Flash has found out Professor Zoom’s plan. I love how Reverse-Flash is standing with his hands in his pockets in the first panel, but I really love Barry’s line: “You don’t deserve fair treatment – but go ahead!” You’re a villain who can’t do any good, but sure, I’ll give you a chance to get dressed in your suit so we can do this thing fair. Not that Reverse-Flash needs much more than a fraction of a second to get dressed. But I digress.
The ever-lovin’ end. I love how Barry (at least, the person they believed was Barry) was kidnapped by the Flash, leaving everyone at the altar wondering what was going on. And when Barry (the real Barry) returns, they just accept that “there was … a kind of mistake,” and enjoy the wedding ceremony with no response to the strange kidnapping at all. Barry’s back; it’s all good now.
This was some crazy stuff, and not exactly easy to get through. But it was fun, in a campy sort of way. I’ll return to discuss the main “Trial” storyline once I finish. But for now, let this whet your appetite.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Swallow Me Whole is the story of Ruth and Perry, step-siblings each dealing with mental illness (schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder) in their own way, while also leaning on each other for comfort and understanding. Ruth is obsessed with insects – they talk to her – and she collects specimens from her school (taking them home without permission), organizing them on her shelf in an attempt to gain some control over her life. Her perspective on the world is unique. Speaking to these insects, Ruth has a greater appreciation for their presence within the world and, when the insects’ voices become louder (often during times of personal stress), Ruth works to navigate through the world in a more cautious fashion, trying not to step on any of the myriad insects that fall across her path in the course of a day. It is overwhelming for her.
Perry, on the other hand, sees a wizard on the end of his pencil. This wizard speaks to Perry – giving him regular missions to carry out – and the only way for him to make the wizard go away is to draw for it. Perry fills sketchbooks with his art – a creativity born of his illness and a metaphor for artistic creation, as well as a literal commentary on many famous artists in human history (Van Gogh obviously comes to mind).
The children’s situation is compounded by the stress of caring for their Memaw – their grandmother whose discharge from the hospital opens the book. She lives on their couch, sleeping and taking her meals there, and the children are responsible for being with her after school while they await the arrival of their parents. Through this interaction, we learn that the feelings that Perry and Ruth are experiencing can be traced directly back to Memaw. She confides in Ruth that she too once heard the voices, but assures her granddaughter things will get better. And we discover that, to cope, Memaw “painted like a woman possessed.”
In the course of the story, we watch Ruth and Perry grow up, as they make their way through high school. Each sees a doctor about their problems – manifesting as behavioral issues in the eyes of their parents and teachers – but only Ruth is properly diagnosed, while Perry is told he is suffering from stress and that things will work out. It is ironic and painful to watch after traveling with these two through much of their adolescence. They have suffered enough, through travails familiar to anyone reading this book, and it is unfair for those common stresses to be compounded by the quiet struggle they both contend with.
Ruth and Perry persevere, but as they grow older they start to drift apart – each finding solace in their respective sweethearts. For most of their young lives each provided support to the other, offering a distinct understanding into the problems they face. As they move apart, readers witness how one is able to silence, for a time, those voices, while the other step-sibling discovers that leaving the voices behind is not what they desire. And, in the end, the choices made by Ruth and Perry – if they can truly be called choices – propel these two toward the climax of the book.
Powell is an incredibly talented storyteller. He deftly weaves this tale through a number of years, subtly moving from one period to the next without disrupting the narrative flow of the book. The pacing is wonderful, moving along naturally as it enfolds the audience within its narrative, welcoming readers into this world he has created – a world just outside one’s door. And Powell is not afraid to allow the imagery to push the story along, offering a number of silent scenes that are made more effective by the lack of dialogue.
Speaking of Powell’s artwork – it is beautiful to look at, and it meshes perfectly with the story. His brushwork evokes just the right emotion through its composition and draftsmanship, and like the comic work of Scott Morse (though in a completely different manner), Powell’s art affords readers a certain level of comfort that draws them into the narrative. And, once invested in the characters, readers are unable to turn away, even when things become disquieting. And this – a feat that is terribly difficult to achieve – is what elevates Swallow Me Whole beyond most of what can be found on the shelves.
Swallow Me Whole is one of those books you will not put down once you start reading – I know I didn’t want to stop, even though I had to work the morning I started it. Powell injects very real emotion, very honest emotion, into Swallow Me Whole in lieu of the bombast and hyperbole found in far too much fiction – comic or otherwise. And when I reached the end of the story, I could feel the heartache welling up inside me for Ruth and Perry. This book truly moved me, and that is something I cannot say about most books I read.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Wolverine, Agent of … S.H.I.E.L.D by Mark Millar & John Romita, Jr. (volume 2 of the “Enemy of the State” arc)
So, I decided to introduce myself to the work of Mark Millar and dove in with the twelve-part Wolverine story, “Enemy of the State.” My thoughts on the first volume, which collects issues 20-25 (chapters 1-6), can be found here.
As for the conclusion of this epic narrative – there were a couple of bright spots, but for the most part, I am happy to know that I don’t ever have to read this again. It is entirely possible that this is a great Wolverine story, but for me, it’s just a bunch of hackwork lacking any real drama, with hyperbole and bombast substituting for characterization and narrative inventiveness. It’s basically one long fight scene with no consequences at all.
The collection opens with Gorgon’s introduction to the Hand followed by Northstar’s extrication (or at least that of his corpse) by a now-re-resurrected and villainous Elektra (a scene that lacked any punch, whatsoever) before entering a virtual reality simulation being used to rehabilitate Wolverine – though readers are unaware of the VR aspect until we hit the climax of the scene. The rehabilitation scene is pretty good, a nice feint put forth by Millar & JRJr, but once Nick Fury bites it, it is obvious something isn’t right.
Dr. Weinberg intrudes on Wolverine’s killing spree in this simulation – explaining that SHIELD is running these simulations to make him burn out the Hydra programming – and it makes some kind of sense. I also found it to be inventive on Millar’s part – until he found it necessary to let us in on how serious this plan is by having the doctor spout off on how it would only take “another half a million simulations” to get Wolverine deprogrammed. When it’s revealed, on the next page, that those 500,000 simulations will take place over the course of just 12-18 hours, I was completely taken out of the story. If you do the math, that’s almost 8 simulations a second. Sure, comics are supposed to fall somewhere outside the realms of believability (they fly and regenerate and have superpowers, etc. etc.), but when you go too far, the narrative just crumbles to nothing. And this seems to be Millar’s style – push it too far, then go ten times farther, and try to mask it all with his hype machine. Maybe I’m being too harsh. And maybe I’m not.
Millar then pulls me out again when he has Wolverine discussing how many Hydra, Hand, and Dawn of the White Light agents are out there. The total he arrives at is 52,000. And is he going to take them all out by himself? “Bingo,” says Wolverine.
Now, I get that this is the character – he has a trail of bravado and ego and testosterone oozing behind him wherever he goes; he’s animalistic and he doesn’t stop, not for anything, least of all overwhelming odds – I get that. But, for me personally, that bravado act doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t work for me. Remarks like this come across as farcical rather than “tough,” and maybe this explains why I’m not much of a Wolverine fan.
Or maybe I need him toned down just a bit, in order to accept him. I appreciated the character of honor who came out of the Claremont/Miller mini-series back in the early eighties, the one who, at any moment, could go off on a berserker rage. That he had to work to hold in that animal instinct made for drama and provided conflict within the character. But when there’s no longer anything to limit him, and Wolverine is just killing non-stop, the volume turned up to 11 the whole way through, the drama is sucked out of the narrative because there is nothing to counterbalance the crazed fighting. Without any real quiet moments, the big moments have nothing to play off of.
This is a similar problem I have with the event-driven publishing mandates from DC and Marvel these past few years. Civil War rolls into Secret Invasion pours into Dark Reign and seeps into Siege, and there’s no opportunity for readers to stop and catch their breaths. And, at some point, one just burns out on this downhill race. Like a rollercoaster, the anticipation during that long, slow climb up the track, makes the rush down the other side that much more exciting.
Another glimmer of narrative ingenuity comes with Elektra’s double-cross of the Hand, which was well handled and made sense. If the Hand has resurrected her once, Elektra would obviously have a better knowledge of how to circumvent their brainwashing this second time. But, again, the fact that her actions – the killing of 200 SHIELD agents when she was part of the re-animated superpowered beings who attacked the helicarrier – are dismissed because she was under “very deep cover” just rips me out of the story. If these characters have carte blanche, then why does it matter? They have no dramatic choices to make. There’s no need for them to be heroic (and yes, I know Wolverine is an “anti-hero”). They can run their sais and their claws straight through whatever phalanx of characters stands in their way, and it doesn’t mean a damn thing.
And if it doesn’t mean a damn thing, why should I care?
Now, regardless of how poorly written I think this whole journey has been – and, for me, the journey of a narrative is important – the climax of this storyline is brilliant in its simplicity. Wolverine, like Perseus in the myths of old, reflects the Gorgon’s gaze back at him with his claws, turning the Gorgon to stone, as he has done to so many others. I applaud Millar for this bit of narrative creativity, but only wish that he wouldn’t have dragged out the story so long for such a brief moment of appreciation.
There’s a part of me that can almost understand why this story is so well regarded. But I can’t get past the fact that I feel it is terribly flawed. I’ve brought it up a number of times in these two pieces about the book, but Millar never lets up. This is one long fight comic with little in the way of substance. Millar thinks drama is achieved by heaping more “shit onto the pile” – i.e. the exaggerated amounts of enhancements Wolverine and the others who get reanimated receive from Hydra; it felt like a kid’s game where your buddy shoots you with a bazooka, but you claim to now have a missile launcher plus super-armor so you win, except that he now has a force-field and a mult-laser projectile weapon and trumps your “upgrade,” etc. etc. It all felt ludicrous, and there was never a chance for Millar to develop any dramatic tension naturally within the context of the story.
Greg Rucka recently wrote about honesty in storytelling. I didn’t get that from this story. All I got was a lot of (unwanted) style and flash in lieu of substance. And that’s probably the biggest problem I have with “Enemy of the State.”
Friday, September 9, 2011
Wolverine: Enemy of the State vol.1
A CAVEAT: First, let me say that, despite being a big comic fan, I am not an X-Men fan. I have tried on a number of occasions to get into the X-Universe, but I only ever last a few issues and then move on. Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the characters or the themes inherent with Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Wolverine, et al. I enjoyed the cartoon back in the early ninetie;, I loved Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline; and I thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novel, “God Loves, Man Kills” by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson, which I see as the final word on mutants. So, we’ll see if Mark Millar can make me a believer.
Mark Millar is probably the most successful contemporary writer in comics, if one judges that by how well he’s managed to get his projects into the mainstream (read: Hollywood). With Wanted and Kick-Ass and other movie projects said to be in production, is there any other comic writer whose work has reached a wider audience (Stan Lee & Alan Moore excepted)?
To my knowledge, I’ve never read a full Mark Millar penned story. I began Wanted at my local Borders, but I couldn’t get through the second chapter. I got ten pages into the Ultimates and was too bored to continue. I did read Kick-Ass, but I missed out on some of the middle issues because of the publishing delays. Other than that, I’ve not read anything from Millar, though I am aware of him and of his penchant for pushing the envelope until it shreds to confetti. So I thought I should rectify this and investigate his work starting with the much-lauded twelve issue arc of Wolverine he did with JRJr, “Enemy of the State.”
Regarding the first volume – collecting issues 20-25 – I have to say, I was unimpressed. Millar’s work seems to consist of a nice, shiny patina of excessive violence lacking any heart. There was no emotional core, nothing upon which I could focus my attention in order to become engaged with the story.
Wolverine goes to Japan to help his dead fiancée’s cousin, whose son has been kidnapped (thankfully, Millar only uses Akira Kurosawa’s plot from High & Low, which was itself a loose adaptation of Ed McBain’s novel, King’s Ransom, as setup). Wolverine confronts the Hand ninjas and is taken down by a mutant who is apparently better than Wolverine at what Wolverine does best (killing). Then we get five issues of Wolverine killing recklessly, as he takes out heroes that the Hand will resurrect as part of the final-ditch effort Baron von Strucker is using to appease his wife and hold onto all that he’s amassed. So there are battles with the Fantastic Four (I’d love to see JRJr do a long run on this title), with Daredevil, with Elektra, with the X-Men, while Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. continue one step behind. And then, at the culmination of this first collection, they manage to capture Wolverine, with Nick Fury smirking, “We got our little killing machine back.”
If it weren’t for Romita, Jr’s artwork, I don’t know if I could have gotten through these first six issues. It was a chore. I found the fights boring – despite the art of JRJr – the decompression of the storytelling grating, and the absurd enhancements made to Wolverine by Hydra – who, along with a group of mutants known as the “Dawn of the White Light” – so outlandish, even for a comic, that I was pulled right out of the story.
Wolverine has enhancements that allow him to crack any code and lock? Seriously? #$%@ off, Mark Millar!
I also could not stand the fact that all the killing Wolverine does – under brainwashing by Hydra – was just dismissed by everyone, including Nick Fury. Oh, Wolverine’s brainwashed, so it doesn’t really matter. Come on! I realize these are comic books, but it used to be that the stories would revolve around actions having consequences (and no, I’m not advocating for the After School Special model of writing). Heroes forced to make difficult choices, and living with those choices, makes for interesting reading. Characters allowed to just kill pell-mell like this and have everybody just give him the benefit of the doubt – he isn’t doing this; it’s the brainwashing – just broke any sense of disbelief I had.
This is part of the problem with comics today. Death and killing are so commonplace that it has been rendered meaningless. How can you have an emotional moment when you know it doesn’t matter? Yes, I know Wolverine is all about killing, but it used to be he only killed the bad guys – and even that has worn thin for me; when something becomes commonplace it completely loses any impact it might have once had – but having him running through innocents and heroes with nobody caring – I’ll say it again: #$%@ off, Mark Millar!
Exiting the “condemnation train,” I have to say that the manner in which Rachel managed to outthink Wolverine after he’d infiltrated the X-mansion was a twist I did not see coming and extremely well done. Millar & JRJr set it up beautifully, showing Rachel fearful of Wolverine as he had her sync up to Cerebra and search for the President. Once linked in, Wolverine, along with us readers, could not tell who she was searching for; we could only base our assumptions on how she had allowed herself to be put into this position, apparently as a result of her fear of the situation. So, when she dismantles the terraforming device Wolverine brought with him to use as a threat, and she explains that she tapped into Reed Richards’s brain to figure out how to do it, I was impressed. If only there had been more than just this one great moment in the book.
Two final things.
First: in the initial chapter, we have two characters – TWO – respond to Wolverine’s thoughts. His thoughts. Now, it comes to light later in the collection that possibly the first one to respond to his thoughts – the Gorgon – may have some form of telepathy. I will concede that one. But the second character who responded to a direct statement from Wolverine’s thoughts was a nurse. How did that get through editorial, let alone make its way onto Millar’s desktop screen? That’s just sloppy.
Second: Captain America, when he takes out Wolverine in the final chapter of this first collection, makes a wise-ass remark as he slams Wolverine’s head with his S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Heal this.” Come on. These characters are supposed to be unique, but none of them had anything resembling a distinct voice. Having Cap utter such a brainless quip felt completely out of character. Steve Rogers is an army man, who has served his country and believes in the ideal of America. He has class, and that remark lacks anything resembling class. Millar thought he was being cute, and he just exhibited his tin ear.
And third (yeah, I said “two final things,” but I reserve the right to change the rules, this is my house): Why is S.H.I.E.L.D. having all the superheroes quarantine themselves while Wolverine is on the loose? S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are going to do a better job against Wolverine than the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Captain America, the Falcon, etc. etc. etc. could as a collective group? Or singly? Whaaaatttt????!!!! That’s stupid.
Ugh. I wonder if I can stomach the second collection. I’m already feeling a bit queasy from the Greg Land cover to the volume. At least I know JRJr did the interiors. Maybe that will help me get through the rest of this piece of dreck.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
This coming weekend – September 10-11, 2011 – the Small Press Expo will be happening in Bethesda, Maryland. The premiere showcase on the East Coast for small press and self-published comic artists, SPX is an amazing show full of energy and incredible writers and artists whose love of the medium shows through in everything they do.
Some of the big name guests the Expo has attracted to Maryland this year are Jim Rugg, Chester Brown, and Craig Thompson. If you know anything about comics (other than the offerings from the “Big Two”), you are probably already familiar with these names. Rugg is the mastermind behind AdHouse’s Afrodisiac (with Brian Maruca) and his own Rambo 3.5, which was one of the most entertaining comics I read last year. Chester Brown made his mark with Yummy Fur and the 2004 biographical comic Louis Riel, and is garnering a lot of critical discussion around his recent book, Paying For It, which looks at his personal experience with prostitution, as a john. And Craig Thompson will be debuting a special advanced edition of his long-awaited new book, Habibi. After sweeping the major awards in 2004 with his seminal work, Blankets, it has been a long wait for this new volume, and I cannot wait to read it.
Those are the big guns, but I want to point you in the direction of some of the lesser-known, but equally talented, creators that will be in Maryland this weekend.
Mike LaRiccia is a printmaker by trade, but he was awarded a Xeric grant for his debut graphic novel, Black Mane. LaRiccia has a rough and raw art style that meshed very well in that initial book, which looked at his personal experiences dealing with racism in our contemporary world. It’s a terribly honest and frank portrayal of the subject and one that asks more questions than it answers. A thoughtful and emotional book that really gets one thinking, it is a book that I always recommend to anyone seeking out something that will challenge while also providing a satisfying story. Mike will be debuting a limited run of his newest comics, Too Fast, at SPX. If you want to read some good comics from a talented artist, check him out.
A longer spotlight of Black Mane can be found here.
Alex Cahill & Jad Ziade are New Radio Comics, and they’re bringing the truth to the Expo. Since 2006, they have been working on their science fiction “novel” Poison the Cure. Planned to be four over-sized issues, the New Radio boys will have the first three issues at SPX, with issue three making its Expo debut. Pulitzer-prize winning author, Junot Diaz, says of Poison the Cure: “POISON THE CURE is stunning. One of those comics that makes you want to pass it on to everybody, even those friends of yours who don't read comics. Rowdy, hilarious, cruel, beautiful, highly original, and true." Definitely seek them out on the convention floor in Maryland. These guys have a distinct style and voice that is worth experiencing.
You can check out a spotlight of Cahill’s wordless comic, The Last Island, here.
G.B. Tran was one of the first creators I met at my first SPX in 2006, and I’ve had the privilege to watch him grow as an artist through the intervening years. Earlier this year, he debuted his new graphic novel memoir, Vietnamerica, from Villard Publishing. This is one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. Taking the story of his parents’ flight from Vietnam just at the end of the American conflict and juxtaposing that with his own upbringing and strained relationship with his parents, Tran has created a beautiful and moving work that will stay with you long after the cover is closed. And the experimentation in Tran’s layouts and lettering and coloring elevates this book even more, in my mind. Tran chose to take what makes comics unique as a storytelling medium and utilize those distinct aspects to his advantage, and the result is nothing short of amazing. This book deserves to be on any comic – and non-comic – fan’s shelf. It’s that good.
You can check out a spotlight of his earlier series, Content, here.
Finally, Nate Powell will be in attendance. His 2009 graphic novel, Swallow Me Whole, which I profiled earlier this week on “the dork” won the Eisner award for best graphic novel, and deservedly so. Powell is a stellar storyteller, and reading Swallow Me Whole for the first time was an incredible experience. He will be debuting his newest graphic novel from Top Shelf, Any Empire, at SPX this weekend. If it is even half as good as Swallow Me Whole, this will have the potential to be short-listed on many critics’ best-of lists come December. Seek Powell out, and pick up some of his mini-comics too; they are equally wonderful.
My review of Swallow Me Whole can be found here.
Those are some of the creators you should certainly seek out at this weekend’s Small Press Expo. And take the time to really look at all the tables. The hidden gems are numerous at SPX, and the discovery of those is part of the fun of this show. I wish I was making the trip down from Maine this year, but I’m going to have to hope for next year.
But if you make the trip, drop a line here and let us know what hidden treasures you found. It will give me something to look forward to next year.
To read more of Chris’s thoughts or to check out his short prose and comic work, go to www.warrior27.com, the online home for the comics/prose anthology, Warrior27, created by Chris and by Dan Fleming – with contributions from Matthew J. Constantine (half of In the Mouth of Dorkness), among others.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
I watched THE FIGHTER the other night, and I have to ask: Is there a better actress working in cinema today? People might argue Meryl Streep (does she ever not bring her A-game?) or Michelle Williams, but ever since I was introduced to her in Homicide: Life on the Street, Melissa Leo has just done one phenomenal movie after another and is well-deserving of her Oscar. Try to argue with this résumé.