J. Caleb Mozzocco
It’s Thursday afternoon as you’re reading this, but it’s still Wednesday night as I write it. Usually on Wednesdays, I work at my day job until 5 p.m., and then, after I shout “Yabba-dabba-doo!” and slide down the tail of my sauropod/steam shovel, I hop into my car and drive to my local comic shop and pick up a small stack of comic books. Then I return to my apartment and read them, and then I write brief reviews of them all for a weekly feature I post on my home blog and then I write my weekly post for Robot 6.
Wednesdays are, generally speaking, pretty busy days for me. This one’s even busier than usual, as in addition to the above, I have a few extra writing assignments I need to finish before the end of the week and I still have two homemade Christmas presents for loved ones I need to finish putting together.
So then I had a brilliant idea! Well, an idea. Maybe instead of writing two blog posts tonight, one for Every Day Is Like Wednesday and one for Robot 6, I would just write my usual Wednesday-night blog post and put it here instead of there, thus killing two birds with one stone, as the saying, which was popularized back when people still killed birds with stones, goes.
Here then, are a few paragraphs about each of the new comic books I bought and read this Wednesday (now if only I could give blog posts as a Christmas gifts to my family members, the rest of this week would be pretty chill):
How much, exactly, is too much of a good thing? I imagine it depends on the thing in question, and the person you ask. Let’s say the thing is Marvel’s newish Hawkeye. And the person is me.
I really like this comic, which is something that came as a great surprise to me, as I don’t really have any feelings about Hawkeye beyond, perhaps, preferring the super-archer with the facial hair and the green costume. And I don’t really like reading Marvel comics serially any more, given how hard the publisher strives to make that experience an unpleasant one, with the ads and the variants and the cover prices and the AR phone applications and the random switching and the renumbering and title changing and the funny numbering schemes (“Superior Spider-Man #6AU“…?) and the irregular shipping schedules.
I bought the first issue on a whim, though (it was a light week), and despite a little confusion as to why artist David Aja was to aping ’80s-era David Mazzucchelli, it impressed the hell out of me. Writer Matt Fraction and Aja make a great team, and the idea of focusing on what Hawkeye does “when he’s not being an Avenger” — recasting the movie star/cartoon character/toy as a more-or-less everyman action hero — is interesting, as was the decision to make every issue a done-in-one complete story (for the first three issues, anyway).
Each story has had elaborately constructed plots that spring open, move fluidly and then snap satisfyingly shut, the script and art are paced to encourage a slower, more appreciative reading process that makes each issue seem twice as long as most other Marvel comics, and even Matt Hollingsworth’s old-school but understated color and generous use of purple (to compensate for the lack of costume) has been impressive.
I started to worry when Issue 4 shipped, though, and worry still more when I read Issue 5, and worry still more when I saw Issue 6 arrives next Wednesday.
During the 1960s creation of Marvel Comics, when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko conceived the core stable of characters and the emerging shared-setting of the Marvel Universe, the line’s writer/editor/spokesman Lee created a fictional Marvel Bullpen.
Based on the crowded, raucous studio environment of the Golden Age, which Kirby actually worked in and Lee essentially interned in, Lee’s Bullpen presented he and his collaborators and employees as a big happy family, joyfully creating comics for their young readers an environment that could seem as fun as working in Santa’s workshop.
At the time of its creation, Lee’s fantasy might have been a pure invention (although later, after Kirby and Ditko left the publisher and Lee was promoted out of his hands-on control of the line, such an environment would occasionally come into existence, depending on the year, the employees and the owner at the time), but it did hint at an aspect of reality.
The characters who were making Marvel comics were in many ways just as colorful and talented as the characters starring in them; the story of Marvel Comics is at least as exciting as any story in Marvel comics. And, in a very real way, Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is probably the Marvel story of the year—bigger, more epic and with greater conflict and drama than Fear Itself or Avengers Vs. X-Men or even that billion-dollar feature Marvel Studios released over the summer … the movie’s monstrous success being what gives Howe’s book a sort of validating end-point, a raison d’etre; to both Lee’s decades-long ambition to see Marvel characters on the big screen, and owner after owner’s ambition to become very, very rich off the heroes Kirby and company created.
As most of you are well aware, Marvel NOW! is Marvel’s new initiative to re-brand and re-freshen its line of superhero comics, which seems to be a sort of undeclared response to DC Comics’ 2011 New 52 relaunch.
Whereas the Distinguished Competition rebooted its continuity as well as giving all its series new No. 1 issues, Marvel’s effort is more akin to the branding enterprise that followed past crossover events (“The Heroic Age,” “Dark Reign,” “The Initiative,” etc), albeit to a far greater extent: In addition to bearing uniform cover design, many of the NOW! books are also being relaunched with new No. 1 issues and getting new creative teams (although many of those teams are simply swapping assignments; for example, the guy who was doing Avengers is now doing an X-Men comic,while a guy who was doing an X-Men comic is now doing an Avengers comic, and so on).
The idea, one imagines, is, as always, to sell more comics — to lure lapsed readers, Marvel-curious readers and (judging by the numbers of variants being published) collectors and speculators to try out some of the new and/or refurbished comics. It worked on me, so I thought it might be interesting (or at least something to write a blog post about, which is basically the same thing for me) to use myself as a case study to examine a single instance of a new reader trying out a Marvel NOW! book.
I don’t really need to waste words telling you guys how special comics are, and of the unique artistic alchemy that goes on in their creation and their reading, in which verbal and visual components fuse and synthesize, and the readers finish, almost animate the pages in his or her own imagination. You guys know all that; you read these things all the time.
What you may not think about as much, because I know I don’t, is something that comics can have a lot of trouble dealing with: Sound. Aside from the rustling of the pages, there’s no sound involved in reading comics, and the writers and artists have to get pretty inventive when it comes to trying to include sound in their comics narrative…at least if they want to do so effectively.
In Frank M. Young and David Lasky’s The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, a comics biography of the massively influential early 20th-century music group, sound is obviously something that’s rather important. Music is the thing that binds the main characters together; it’s what first brought young Sara to the attention of her husband A.P. Carter, it’s what they did with Sara’s cousin Maybelle, it’s what obsessed A.P. to the point that he neglected Sara, it’s the legacy the family left behind, and it’s the reason the book exists in the first place.
When Joe Kubert passed away in August, he left a sizable hole in the world of comics, by virtue of his lifelong career in the field, his fairly unique role as one of the medium’s first and most influential teachers, and his immense talent.
At the time of his death, many of the obituaries and remembrances mentioned he was still drawing comics at his advanced age, and that, in fact, he had projects on his drawing board.
I suspect a lot of people will be contemplating Kubert’s work this week, and mourning his loss, as Wednesday the major publisher with which he was most associated throughout his career released some of his latest and, sadly, last work, giving readers to chance to see some of that stuff of that was on his drawing board when he passed away: an eerie, unfinished story for a Vertigo anthology and the first issue of a new limited series bearing Kubert’s name.
The Vertigo anthology is Ghosts, and Kubert’s piece is “The Boy and the Old Man;” it’s about a brave old warrior on his figurative deathbed, lying there awaiting his end, and, ultimately, vigorously fighting against it when it arrives, in order to save a young man.
Yesterday Image Comics released two new books by Brandon Graham.
One was Prophet #30, the latest issue of the critically acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy series based on a resuscitated and reimagined Rob Liefeld-created property. Graham writes Prophet, and only very occasionally draws parts of it, while the lion’s share of the illustration duties has fallen to a rotating cast of talented artists, including Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannis Milonogiannis. Despite that it’s not all his in the way most of his other comics work has been, it has brought a lot of attention to the talented young creator, and kept his name and work in the reading audience’s mind in a way more occasionally published graphic novels just can’t do.
The other book was Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1, which is both written and drawn by Graham, and isn’t based on a Rob Liefeld-created property. This one is all Graham’s and, in that respect, is probably a better example of what the next work from the guy who did King City is – it’s Graham’s latest comics work, and his truest follow up to King City.
But the characters, their world and their story have been around for quite a while now, traveling on an orbit that takes them from inside Graham’s mind and imagination out into the public eye, and back again; while the lines on these pages might be newer, aspects of Multiple Warheads pre-dates Graham’s Prophet work and at least large chunks of his King City.
In the past few months I’ve sampled a bunch of new manga series, and a noticed a common theme in a handful of them. While they weren’t at all what one could safely call horror comics, they all took elements from the horror genre—the monsters and other supernatural entities, specifically—and repurposed them into different types of narratives. Of the four discussed below, three are action/comedy narratives revolving around the supernatural, while another is more of a romance/political thriller with traditional Halloween “characters” like werewolves and vampires.
None of these series are brand-new, but rather are new to me and, given the focus of Robot 6, I’m assuming new to a lot of primarily super-comics readers who aren’t super manga-literate. Which is simply my way of saying don’t hate, Manga-Savvy Readers, I know you probably know all about all these already, and, Not Manga-Savvy Readers? Here are some manga series you might like to try.
They are all at different points in their U.S. publication and serialization, so, for the purposes of this article, I’m only going to discuss the first two volumes of each series. So join me after the jump for brief reviews of Blue Exorcist, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Soul Eater and Witch Hunter.
Trick or treat? Jess Smart Smiley‘s Upside Down is definitely a treat, and if there’s anything at all deceptive about his new graphic novel, it’s how charming the simple, even roughshod-looking artwork ultimately is, and, perhaps, how far he strays from pop-culture conventions into his own idiosyncratic monster mythology.
Part of Top Shelf’s growing line of kid-friendly comics, this original graphic novel is a black, white and “Halloween green”-colored story about Harold, a young vampire that loves candy and lives in a piano with his parents. This piano belongs to an eccentric professor, who has been tirelessly working on a potion that will allow a person live forever.
At story’s start, Harold is on his way to the dentist to get his teeth looked at on the day before he is finally old enough to join his parents on a “hunt,” but ultimately has to have his fangs pulled, due to cavities. A wicked witch named Vermillion attempts to rally the last remaining witches on Earth, only to accidentally kill them all with a rain spell, making her the last witch on earth. And the professor perfects his potion, which is suddenly of great interest to Vermillion, now that she’s the last witch.
These characters and a few others crisscross conflicts throughout the book’s 15o-ish pages, those crisscrosses coming in some rather unexpected ways (in the world of Upside Down, for example, vampires don’t hunt people to suck their blood, they hunt witches, and witches can turn other people into witches, even vampires, using spells).
Even at this advanced point in the decades-long flowering of the graphic novel, both in public esteem and in mainstream publishers’ plans, David Nytra’s The Secret of the Stone Frog stands out as a remarkable book, one that accomplishes something I don’t remember seeing any other similar work manage.
It’s from Toon Books, editor Francoise Mouly’s imprint of Candlewick Press, which for years now has been producing superior, hardcover kids’ comics for readers of various ages. And at 77 pages, it’s the first to be explicitly labeled a graphic novel.
The story is a traditional one of two children, brother and sister, the latter of whom is on the cusp of adolescence — their parents think Leah is now old enough to get her own room, rather than sharing one with her younger brother Alan — and one night when they go to sleep, they awake in a world that’s similar to the one they know, but with familiar aspects exploded in fantastical directions. The setting, or settings, suggest Victorian England, and Nytra’s artwork suggests classic children’s literature from in and around the same period.
His elaborate and detailed black-and-white art, drawn with a crowquill pen and india ink, resembles that of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Pauline Baynes’ for C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series; although the fine line work and classic-looking subject matter may also suggest to you E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh books, or Beatrix Potter’s drawings for her many animal tales, or the full-page illustrations that appear in the various Andrew Lang colored fairy books.
Legendary Comics, the relatively new publishing arm of film production company Legendary Pictures, had about as audacious a debut as was possible last fall, with its first offering being Frank Miller’s too-controversial-for-DC Batman vs. Al Qaeda comic Holy Terror, the Legendary version scrubbed of DC trademarks just enough that it could be published without risk of a lawsuit.
The company’s latest offering isn’t quite as controversial … nor is it quite as noteworthy. It is, however, the comics project one might expect from film production company: a sort of focus group-testing, balloon-floating introduction to a character and concept that could potentially be adapted into a major motion picture, something I can’t imagine anyone seriously considered doing with Miller’s beautifully told, politically wacky comic about an off-brand Batman and Catwoman fighting terrorists.
If the very thought of a comic book series as film R&D turns you off (believe me, I understand!), then it’s worth noting that this latest project is edited, like Holy Terror was, by Bob Schreck and created by as solid, experienced and talented a creative team as a comics fan could ask for. It’s written by Matt Wagner (yes, Grendel, Mage and Sandman Mystery Theatre‘s Matt Wagner) and penciled by Simon Bisley (the painter whose interior work you’ve seen in Slaine and Batman/Judge Dredd), here being inked and colored by Rodney Ramos and Ryan Brown.
Still not sold on The Tower Chronicles: GeistHawk Volume 1 …? Look, I don’t blame you.
It’s never too early to learn what a cesspool of shady business practices and money-driven infighting the industry responsible for creating and promoting your favorite noble champions of justice really was.
That’s the thought that kept running through my head as I made my way through Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, author Marc Tyler Nobleman’s follow-up to his 2008 Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.
Like his previous work, Boy Wonder is a non-fiction picture book aimed at children. At least in presentation; I can’t imagine very young children being as interested in it as grown-ups though, and for grown-ups, there’s an excellent all-prose, six-page article marked “Author’s Note” at the end, fleshing out the more simplified story that fills the bulk of the page count with plenty of detail and discussing Nobleman’s process of research for the book.
The story of the late Bill Finger — who is, of course, the Bill in the title — doesn’t quite fit into a picture book format as easily as that of young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. There are a lot of similarities between the creators of Superman and the uncredited co-creator of Batman, including their backgrounds, the settings their stories occurred in, the impact of their creation and their unfortunate lack of participation in the rewards of that success, but Finger’s story is a lot more complicated than that of the boys from Cleveland, and lacks the natural melodrama of their hard-luck childhood and the epiphany nature of their hero’s inception (as presented in Boys of Steel, following Siegel’s own accounts, Superman’s transformation from a concept the young writer toyed with over the years into the world’s first superhero came in a sort of fever dream fit of inspiration one night).
While there’s a lot to be said for getting there first, is the fact that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman was the first superhero, the character that created a unique and endlessly tweakable template and founded an increasingly pervasive genre, the only reason the Man of Steel occupies the unique place he does in our culture?
In his new book Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, Larry Tye pens a biography of sorts of the character, biographies being something Tye has more than a little experience writing (his previous works include biographies of Satchel Paige and Edward L. Bernays). Given that focus, Tye doesn’t really set about answering the question of why Superman is our most enduring hero, a question that seems particularly relevant as Supes has ceded the title of most popular hero to his one-time imitator Batman in a lot of the most pertinent metrics (comic book sales and box office earnings, for example).
Tye naturally alights on some of the most oft-cited reasons, including the psychological appeal of the incredible amount of wish-fulfillment Siegel and Shuster imbued their hero with — from being stronger than everyone else and able to fly to successfully leading a double life in which one persona is as accepted as the other persona dreams of being to the character’s unique relationship with the woman of his dreams — and the way the hero almost literally wrapped himself in the American flag and made himself synonymous with his home country.
While recounting the history of Superman, however, Tye reveals another obvious but less obsessed over reason. By a mixture of luck and his owners’ relentless pursuit of profits, Superman has managed to experiment with and conquer emerging media almost as immediately as they became viable — from the brand-new comic books of the late 1930s he segued easily into comic strips, and his was an early and huge hit radio program. He was in movie theaters with both cartoons and serials. He was on television in the 1950s, and between reruns and new shows, he never really left — live-action or animation or both at once, Superman is and always has been a television mainstay. Then, of course, there were feature films — Hollywood is riding a still-cresting wave of superhero blockbusters, and the next Superman feature is due next year, but there were Superman movies a full decade before there were superhero movies.
This week Image Comics released the first trade paperback for Glory, on the heels of the collection of Prophet, two parts of one of the publisher’s more interesting ventures this year: the revival of older, Rob Liefeld-created characters and properties by some of comics’ most creative and individual voices, artists whose style couldn’t be further from Liefeld’s (although, like Liefeld’s, are perhaps just as instantly recognizable) .
The Liefeld-by-others aspect was pushed by the publisher as something of a Marvel-esque gimmick with these books (and their companion titles Supreme and Youngblood), numbering the first issues not with #1′s, but by picking up the numbering wherever it left off, so that the first issue of the new Prophet, for example, was Prophet #21, and the new Glory began with Glory #23.
In a sign of just how successful the books have been (creatively, if not financially; I ‘m only speaking to the former and ignoring the latter in this column), it’s worth noting that these trades are titled Prophet Vol. 1: Remission and Glory Vol. 1: The Once and Future Destroyer. That is, now Image is selling them as their own stories with their own beginnings, and have moved past the gimmick.
So what, exactly, does a chief creative officer do? Well, if the chief creative officer in question is Geoff Johns, then one of the most obvious answers is “write a whole heck of a lot of comic books.”
Johns is writing three ongoing monthly books for DC Comics, all of which happened to ship this week. While reading them all doesn’t exactly give one a copy of his job description, it does give one a sense of what he’s doing at DC, what he’s not doing and what’s different from his role at the publisher than when he was merely its most popular and prolific writer.