Tag Archives: Frank Miller

Listmania part 2: Favorite individual issues

Daredevil #181 “Last Hand” April 1982: Frank Miller was just hitting his stride and the character of Elektra was becoming hugely popular.  I remember picking this one up at the local newsstand and thinking it was just going to be cover hype.  I was already a jaded fan at that point.  By the time I was done reading this I had a new interest in comics.

Justice League of America #0 “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” September 2006: This was more like favorite single page.  Each of the short scenes in this story are interesting, but the single page that references Batman’s reaction after Superman was killed by Doomsday redefined the character for me and put a lump in my throat.  You don’t often think of Batman as human and this changed that for me.

The stunning wraparound cover to Mage #14

Mage #14 “…Or Not to be” August 1986:  This was the issue after the series lost the character that was the emotional center of the book and set out the direction for the lead Kevin Matchstick.  Drawing the parallels to King Arthur seemed odd on the first page, but by the last page I could not imagine a time when I couldn’t see them.

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children #21 “Dances with Cows” February 1991:  There was never a point I didn’t love this forgotten series from Piranha Press (a DC precursor to Vertigo), but this issue was funny and sad and odd all at once.  I really wish they would collect this anthology series in bookshelf volumes.  There is a large amount of creator owned and fringe material that is all but lost to readers now unless they search out the original back-issues.  This series was uneven at times, but so different from what was out there then, and still very readable now, that it could not help but find a new audience today.

Miracleman #22 “Carnival” August 1991:  It is very hard to pick a single issue from this amazing series, and picking a Gaiman issue over a Moore one might be considered a bad choice, but this issue had an emotional core that would resonate with anyone, even people who had not read the preceding 21 issues.  It touched on much of what had come before without ever relying on it and made this a stand-alone issue that really packed an emotional punch.  Now all we need is for these to be reprinted.

Avengers Annual #10 “By Friends — Betrayed!” 1981:  An uninspired Al Milgrom cover (nothing against Al, the cover just didn’t work for the book) covered up the first appearance of Rouge, and began a run of X-Men stories that would see the book rise in sales to be Marvel’s biggest book for many years to come.  The fact that it was in an Avengers book, and that the X-Men are only in a few pages of it messed with my head a bit, but this really is more of an X-book than an Avengers one.  Art by the amazing Michael Golden with inks by Armando Gil gave this book a look that no other book at the time had.  This is collected (finally) in Marvel Masterworks X-Men vol 7 and the Claremont omnibus.  It had been reprinted before, but never in an edition where it really worked, and certainly not as nicely as it is here.

Lord Julius and a “like-a-look”. Cerebus #137

Cerebus #137 (& 138–sort of) “Epilogue” August 1990:  This was a single story that Sim used an issue and a half for, but the first part is the best.  It has never been collected in the phone books since it was a fun filler issue that really does not fit in either the book before it (Jaka’s Story) or the one that followed it (Melmoth), but gives a silly look at Lord Julius and his “like-a-looks”, explaining a lot about the character in a funny way.  It is available ONLY as the original issue(s) or in Cerebus #0 which collected the other in-between issues that are not included in any of the phone books.

Toad Men!?!?

Sensational She-Hulk #2 “Attack of the Terrible Toad Men” June 1989:  The first issue seemed like a fluke or a one-off, but when they did this one I was left in awe of how funny this book really was.  Byrne left the book after issue 8 over a flap with editorial and the book never quite recovered, until his return in issue #31 that is!  Then he left at issue 50 and the decline started all over.  Dan Slott did some fun stuff with Shulkie later, but this series is still the best there has been.

Alpha Flight #12 “… And One Shall Surely Die” July 1984:  I freely admit I was one of the zombies that jumped on this Byrne book when it arrived, and I loved it for the first years’ worth of stories.  Byrne himself has said he never really saw the point of having an AF book, but it didn’t show for most of his time on the book.  This issue was a surprise in every way.  Yes, they advertised that a major character was going to die for weeks in advance, but how often had we heard that before only to see some turd third stringer die?  Yes, death in comics has since become a revolving door plot hammer.  Never in a million years did I think Byrne would GUT the heart out of the team and kill someone as important as that!  Naive of me?  Maybe, but I had not become so jaded at that point and just didn’t see it coming.  This book gave me chills, and still does when I read it.

Uncanny X-Men #186 “Lifedeath” October 1984:  The single most beautifully drawn mainstream issue of the 1980s.  Barry Windsor Smith as inked by Terry Austin was too much for many at the time. It was a challenging story that made me expect more (too much) from my comics after that.

Superman #712 (had to sneak this one in) “Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog” August 2011:  I was never a huge fan of big blue and have only occasionally read his adventures.  What I AM is a dog person.  This was an inventory story used to fill time while the Grounded arc needed to get caught up.  This issue was better than ANY of those.  I defy any dog person out there to not be an emotional wreck after reading this book.

This was a REALLY hard list. To just come up with ten (OK, eleven) was really tough, and if asked in a month I would think that there would be changes.

Feel free to start throwing chair and arguing, but I would really rather see some other people’s lists.

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Bat crap crazy or just misunderstood?

Not long ago I mentioned that if a particular creator didn’t go bat crap crazy like Frank Miller, he should always be given the benefit of the doubt creatively.  That got me thinking about the various level of crazy in comics.  There is everything from the normal Human frailties like depression, so common in creative types to rabid nutbaggyness that only a special few endure.  Or are these people just misunderstood and disliked?

Al Capp as a younger, more likeable guy.

The classic comics equivalent to Miller’s increasingly extreme views was Al Capp.  Best known for the strip Lil’ Abner, Capp’s talent was matched only by his increasingly conservative and even hateful politics as he grew older.  He was universally loved as a cartoonist and nearly as disliked as a human being.  Deliberate clashes with people he viewed as liberal or too far left, sexual scandals (including criminal charges in Wisconsin), run ins with talk show hosts and even a confrontation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono captured on film from the “bed in for peace” ensured that anyone that knew more than just his professional work would find him hard to like.  In today’s media saturated environment it is unlikely he would have maintained his general popularity.  I am regularly reminded of him every time I drive in Arkansas.  In the largely nonexistent town of Marble Falls, stands the crumbling remains of Dogpatch USA, a failed theme park of his popular characters home.  Was he crazy?  I can’t really say, but he was clearly someone who was extreme and anti-social in many ways.  Extreme viewpoints are often branded as crazy to discount them, but Capp seemed to relish his status as a mean old man for much of his life.  Today his work is forgotten by all but serious admirers of comics and cartooning, which is unfortunate because he was a very talented man, just not a very nice one either.

On a sadder end of the spectrum was Wally Wood.  One of the finest illustrators in the medium, Wood suffered health issues that contributed to depression and alcoholism.  While never diagnosed with much of anything officially, many who knew him considered him a deeply troubled man.  Wood killed himself in 1981 after kidney failure and a stroke had left him severely limited.  One of the most admired names in comics and illustration, there are few in the industry that cannot claim some kind of influence by Wood on their work.

A stunning piece by Wood

General public perception weighs heavily in most creators life stories.  I doubt Frank Miller is anything more than poorly understood.  Like Capp before him, Miller’s opinions are not always popular, but they don’t make him crazy.  It is when the work is affected that fans look more harshly on the creator.  Holy Terror was just awful.  In every way it was just Miller venting fear and frustration.  This is nothing new in comics today since 9-11, but many creators have managed to do it so much better that Miller has begun to creep people out.

In a current context there is Rob Liefeld.  His recent tweets as he ran out the doors of DC in a huff are certainly adding fuel to the fire that there is something very off with Rob.  While you can debate the level of talent, I think anyone would have assumed he would always find work in comics based solely on his name, but the fervor with which he has burned bridges lately make many doubt his motives.  As of this writing he has tweeted that he is retired from comics.  For now sure, but he will be back, I’m sure.  The reasons for the departure are what have left many scratching their heads.

While there are many that question the sanity of Dave Sim, I have to say I am not one of them.  I question his give a damn.  I really don’t think he cares that much about what the world thinks of him and his lifestyle choices.  The religious stance he has taken in the last few years and his perceived misogynistic opinions have made him something of an outcast.  I think he prefers the solitude.  Based on his writings and interviews he has given, I think he would be fine having only the bare minimum contact with the rest of the world as long as he can still create comics and commune with his God.  Nothing wrong with that, if that is what fills your life and makes you content.  He is one that I met years ago at a signing.  His “rock star” attitude was not a nice thing.  I imagine he is a nicer and better person the way he is now.

Thanks to his interest in the “expanding earth” theory, Neal Adams is often branded as crazy, which bugs me.  Since when are contrary opinions and beliefs crazy?  At what point will we start considering anyone that believes in invisible sky Gods (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) crazy?  Having spoken to Mr. Adams at shows, he is in my opinion, no more or less crazy than any creative person I have met.  500 years ago, people who believed the Earth to be round were crazy.  While I don’t share Mr. Adams’ opinion on the formation of the Earth, and doubt that science will prove him correct, I don’t think calling someone crazy for believing in a theory is any better than calling them crazy for believing in a God.  His work in support of creators’ rights has earned him some enemies in the field, but I doubt anyone serious can fault him as a creator or a good person.

Then there is Steve Ditko.  Is wanting to be left alone and not in the public eye crazy?  Again as with Adams, I think the political and social views he once spoke of have condemned him to a degree.  Since he has not been a public figure and avoided interviews for the last 40+ years, Ditko has added to the mystery surrounding himself and added fuel to the fires of speculation.

A Chaykin B&W piece

I have even heard people call Howard Chaykin crazy.  I have begun to believe that just not following the mainstream is what gets many of these creators the looney label.  I have never met Chaykin, but I would love to get that chance.  There are few creators in the industry today as vibrant and creative, and I bet he is just a hoot to talk to.

It is amazing what one overblown story can do to a creator’s reputation as a person.  Mike Grell has never really been able to escape the gun on the table incident from his days doing books at First comics.  The story has been so over reported and so miss-represented that many seem afraid of him at cons.  This is the view that seemed to be in the line I was standing in at a con a couple of years ago, waiting for him to sign a book.  While it was only a small group, can it really be just an isolated opinion?  Having spoken to him, he is just a guy.  He likes or liked guns.  That is really all anyone should take from the story.  He was a very nice fellow and not all that scary.  Quite a small guy compared to what I had expected too.

There is also someone who has developed quite an odd reputation since his death.  William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, had an interesting outlook and an even more interesting home life.  He lived with his wife AND his mistress and the children by each.  Crazy?  Well, who knows, but it is interesting to me how he is spoken of almost entirely in the context of his marriage now, rather than his professional work.

I’m sure there are some I am missing.  If you think of any, speak up!  It might be fun to start a little debate here.

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Daredevil by Mark Waid

It has been nearly 30 years since I genuinely liked Daredevil.  As a book or as a character. Everyone since Frank  Miller has either tried to be just like him, be the exact opposite of him or outdo him.  None of the writers seem to have wanted to tell a great story as the first priority.  Some managed to tell good stories, but upon reading them initially, I was always struck by “event-itis”, that need to shake things up.  This need has seemed to be more important than just making the book good.  Then the need to essentially rape the character seemed to rule the day.  Destroy Matt Murdock in every way possible.  Miller always liked the idea that Daredevil was one of the more flawed people in a costume at Marvel, but he never went as far as some of the writers that followed him.  By the start of the 2000’s, he was unrecognizable as the Matt Murdock I remembered, more so even that many other Marvel heroes that went through the mill in the 1990’s.  There were bright spots, but never more than a few short arcs.  This is not to say these were bad comics, they just weren’t really Daredevil comics.  Many of the arcs were quite good, but the guy in the red outfit was just some guy.  The heart of the character was gone, at least as I knew it.  The need to tear him down stripped away everything that made him work for me.

Now Mark Waid is on the book.  I was very skeptical at first.  I have really enjoyed Waid’s work, particularly in the last decade or so, but I really didn’t think that anyone could save this character or the book believably.  At some point the damage is just too great.  Was this going to be a hard reboot, ignoring all that had come before?  Would he have to spend the entire first arc unraveling the previous mess?  There is reference to the mess that was Matt’s life previously.  The really stupid Shadowland events are mentioned.  The outing of the secret identity is handled beautifully.  Done like more of a tabloid story or internet rumor, and it works very well.  In all, the past is mentioned and handled as though the crisis was over but not forgotten.  Like a recovering alcoholic might always have to live with his past, but keep moving forward one day after another as though each day is the most important day so far. 

Marvel re-launched the book with a new number one and gave him world class artist Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera to play with him in the sandbox.  This book is beautiful.  It handles the difficult angles and vertiginous shots of Daredevil above the city’s rooftops as stunningly as I have ever seen.  The trickier villains’ powers are done with a visual style that is amazingly clever.  Dealing with how Daredevil “sees” the world was something Miller and Mazzucchelli always handled well; here it has been taken to another level.  The villain The Spot is a really creepy idea in concept and a fairly stupid idea in actual execution depending on who is doing it.  The visual here for the Spot is done so well, the only word I can think of is trippy.  There are the prerequisite “blind guy in the streets” scenes that are done with a nice flair that actually keeps the flow of the story. 

This is the best book Marvel is doing right now and easily one of the best books in the field regardless of company.  The first collection (issues 1-6) is out now with the second arc due to be collected in June.  If you have ever liked Daredevil, this book is wonderful.  If you are like me, and have not cared much for anything about him in the last quarter of a century, this book brings back the hero that you have missed all these years.  Like Hickman’s FF, this is the book I have been wanting since the last time I loved these guys.

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Batman: Year One animated movie review

The latest DC animated feature, Batman Year One is out and I have finally gotten a chance to watch it.

The DC films have been something of a mixed bag.  Some have been nothing short of brilliant (New Frontier) others much less so (Emerald Knights).  While this is clearly not a work of brilliance, neither is it junk.  I would say closer to the former though as the source material alone is one of the finest works in DC’s long and rich back catalog.  While that has never been a guarantee of a quality final product with DC, it is the best possible place to start.

The original Year One miniseries ( it was actually in the regular Batman monthly book from issue 404 to 407) was a backhanded way to reboot and update the origin of one of the oldest and best in the company’s long history.  While it was more of an update that a re working, much of it has become canon since, and it is one of writer Frank Miller’s finest works.  It was done as a bookend of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns and is far different in tone and style to that landmark work.

The film, like the original, is more s story about Jim Gordon.  His struggles in his new job with the Gotham City PD, his wife and baby on the way and the attractive new detective Essen that he works along side are there from the book, mostly intact, and serve to make his arc in the story far more interesting than that of Bruce Wayne.  There is not much you can jigger about with Batman’s origins, and there is almost nothing new there, save for the style in which it is told, but that style is what has defined the character for over 2 decades now.  The movie shows the same style of storytelling and similar pacing.  The book is as faithfully adapted as it can be, sometimes to the movie’s detriment.  As an example, the Selina Kyle subplot is not much use here.  In the book it provided a touchstone for the longtime reader, but did nothing to move the story along other than to flesh out the universe a bit.  I did not see the point of it then, and still do not.  The universe should start out as small as possible and THEN grow.  That is the function of the mention of the Joker at the end of the story, one of the few parts that never really worked in canon, assuming that the Killing Joke IS canon.

The animation is excellent, and never strays far from the style of the source material.  As is usually the case in these adaptations, there are lots of key iconic shots pulled from the source and they work well here.  There is a bit too much color, more than the book at any rate, and that could be a bit distracting at times, but only really at the start.   As the film gets going, things get much more subdued.  That could be by design though, to more slowly immerse you than the book did.  the quality of the disc is also very nice.  I have not watched the main featurette, but I can say that the Catwoman short is bloody awful.  Style substituting for any kind of story.  And since the style is a bit salacious, I felt dirty just watching it.  Fortunately, I did not buy it for the short. 

The voices are well cast with Bryan Cranston’s Jim Gordon being the real treat here.  I miss Kevin Conroy as Batman though.  Even when I read a comic with Batman, that is the voice I hear in my head.

Overall, this was very good, and as faithful to the source.  This is adult fare and I doubt younger viewers would even enjoy it, but longtime fans should.  I would have liked the Catwoman element to go away and be replaced by more of the Gordon and Wayne stories as this seemed a bit short for the material.  Ultimately, if you like the original, I would say that this will please you.

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Frank Miller and the haters.

I am not really all that interested in the politics of the creators in the comics industry.  Never have been.  But to be fair, I have very little interest in most other people’s politics either.  So when all the hoopla about Miller’s post online about the Occupy protesters hit the boards, I really had no interest.  Then the storm started.  I cannot escape the onslaught of people putting in their two cents and, as a general rule, calling Miller everything from a Nazi to just a cranky old man.  None of these people seem the least bid interested in the fact that it is his opinion, just that the opinion is wrong, evil, uninformed or just plain stupid.

Mark Millar has been one of the very few voices of reason so far, pointing out rightly that in America, we get to voice our opinions, and people are free to agree or disagree at will.  But ultimately, these detractors are only interested in the internet equivalent of ringing the doorbell and running away.  That it is a valid opinion, as ALL opinions are, makes no difference to these fools.  I personally think his opinion is fuelled by fear, as many, if not all extreme views are.  I feel sorry for anyone that cannot look objectively at an issue because they are blinded by emotion, however legitimate or well founded the emotional response may be.  Back to Mark Millar for a moment, I always love it when someone not actually from the US is the only one in the discussion that points out that what we confuse as rights, are actually privileges.

I don’t agree with Frank Miller’s statements, just as most of the other posters state.  The difference is that I know that he has every right to any opinion he wants.  He probably should have kept it to himself.  That is the trap of Twitter and Facebook etc.  The SEND or POST keys have no filter asking “Are you SURE you want to make an ass of yourself?”

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Frank Miller Holy Terror: Review

Holy Terror

The cover is the most visually appealing part.

2011

Legendary Comics

30 bucks

Well, this is pretty much exactly what I expected.  But I really was hoping that Miller would find a way to rise above the clichés and deliver something special. My preview of this gives the relevant background.  But the subtle approach and sensitive handling of the subject matter is just not here.  Exactly as I thought.

First, the package.  I HATE these kind of books.  Like Miller’s 300 before it, Holy Terror is in a pseudo-widescreen format that makes the book unwieldy, and easy to damage.  Turning the pages is tough on the book as the pages tend to get creases where you touch them.   The print quality is good though, and the hardcover books is just large enough to feel substantial in your hands.

The story, not that there is much to it, is revenge fantasy played out as the lead character The Fixer and his “cat burglar” sidekick try to stop a terrorist plot to attack Empire City.  That’s pretty much it.  The art is very hard to follow.  Sometimes that is clearly deliberate but that makes this book no easier to read.  There are panels where I just can’t see what is going on.  His rendering style, if it has not jumped the shark yet, is not far away.  Everyone that was pissed off by the art in DK2, will be sent over the edge with this book.  Things get better in the last half of the book, as the art feels like more time was taken.

The real gripe here is that this book, while I’m sure it made Miller feel better, is just uncomfortable.  This is material that has no place with us now.  It feels like hate-mongering.  I understand that this is in some ways intended, that the cathartic nature of this may fill a need for some.  This book failed to do that for me.  I felt sad that we are still here.  Sad that this book is still the way many of us feel.  The stereotypes are there, and they need to be, but this book never even tries to rise above them and try to make something coherent and truly cathartic from the story.  If just killing lots of bad guys works for you, then this is your book, but I am one of those seemingly rare Americans, that does not see just one Muslim, any more than I see one American.  People are good and bad.  Muslims are a mix of good people and bad people just like any group.  What happens in crises is that the vast majority of the people in the “good” group, fear speaking out to defend themselves and their beliefs and the very small minority of “bad” just manage to grab everyone’s attention and set everyone else on edge.  I had hoped that Miller’s better angels and much greater skills would have been on display here.  Instead this feels like a terrorist attack on Basin City, and Marv is our hero.  Marv can be a hero, but the hero didn’t really show up for this book.  Just a hell of a lot of negativity.

 

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Holy Terror! and the “new” realism in comics.

With the official announcement of Holy Terror by Frank Miller coming in September from Legendary Comics, I was wondering if this isn’t a little creepy now.

First off, for anybody not in the loop on this one, Holy Terror started out as Holy Terror, Batman!, a response to what Miller was experiencing in the aftermath of 9/11 from his perspective as a New Yorker living in the middle of it all.  I think just about everyone that heard about it was immediately creeped out by the idea.  The way it was talked about it would be a Batman more like the 60’s TV show than what we have come to expect from Miller.  That against the backdrop of very real terror, seemed to make us all a little uncomfortable.  It seemed, and still seems, that this is Miller’s own personal catharsis.  Well DC never officially signed off on it and it has morphed into an independent creature free of any interference from an editor or a corporation, it is now a hero of Miller’s own creation and done in his own unique style.  Speaking of that style, things are looking very loose.  I know this is the way his stuff has been for a while, but this is really hard to look at…

I'm not even sure what I am looking at here. I see a couple of faces...

 

Don’t get me wrong, I will most likely buy this when it comes out, I alway give Miller the benefit of the doubt.  I don’t always like the stuff (DK2 and most of the Sin City stuff) but for every one of those, there is a Dark Knight Returns or a Daredevil, so it is always worth the look.  I just find this newest step in his art style hard on the eyes.  It is not easy to look at, and that may well be the point.  He has prided himself on fully creating the world his characters live in, and the feel of the book goes a long way toward that.  Maybe that is just another part of the feeling of discomfort he is trying for.  Result!

The preview image, presumably the cover.

 The creepy factor comes in here for me at least, with the idea of costumed heroes combatting realistic terrorism.  I am having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it is…

Maybe the fact that I, like many out there, look at comics as escapism?  Or that the idea of something so brash and colorful fits correctly in that kind of world?  Comics have been trying to grow up now for nearly 3 decades, and I have been watching it happen all that time.  It has failed in as many ways as it has succeeded.  The problem is that the medium still views itself as juvenile entertainment in many ways.  You can only grow up so much when you are still aiming for the teenage audience.  And what change you get is likely to be superficial.  Growth has more often than not taken the form of sex, violence and harsh language.  For examples of this, see most of the Mark Millar Ultimates work.  While not bad comics, some of them are quite good, it is only mature in that it is louder in its approach and more graphic in its depiction of the same subjects.  It is true there is piles of genuinely mature comics and OGNs out there, but Frank Miller has not been associated with it like, say Daniel Clowes or Los Bros. Hernandez and the like.  Maybe that is what I’m afraid of, that he will not have the touch needed to make this more than just another violent comic?  This is a book that COULD be something very special.  It COULD be something akin to Maus or In the Shadow of No Towers.  Something that elevates the level of play and the quality of the discourse on the subject.  He certainly has the skills as a storyteller to pull it off.  Miller has managed to surprise me in the past with unexpected subtlety and a willingness to go places that many would not have attempted.

That is what I hope will be the case here.  Otherwise, it will be just another superficial stab at maturity in comics, and we have far too much of that now.

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