Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

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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Regailia by Eliza Frye

A few months ago I mentioned a book on Kickstarter by a young woman who I met briefly at Wizard World Chicago.  Regalia was a collection of her best work to date including her Eisner Award nominated short story called The Lady’s Murder.  I backed the project and was thrilled to see that it had been funded!  Well, I just received the book in the mail and have finished reading.  Wow.  Just wow.

The book feels intensely personal.  It is a tricky needle to thread with stories like these.  All too easily they can become very much like the ramblings found scribbled in the notebook or diary of a teenage girl.  Personal, but trite and self-indulgent.  That is not the case here.  While personal stories can often feel trite, these all have a polish about them that really captures the powerful level of craft on display in these pages.  She has a set of skills unlike anything I have seen in many years, and there is never a point that the craft overwhelms the work.  I easily put this up with works like Craig Thompson’s Blankets or I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura.  Deeply emotional and resonant, and still very entertaining.  I would be lying if I said that all of the stories had an effect on me.  Realistically, only about half were going to be of the type that would speak to me, and I think that is all most of us could hope for, people are too different to be touched by everything we read.  But for every person that reads this book, there will be people who think that stories like The Lady’s Murder are amazing, and others that wont even finish it.  This kind of work is like that.  Personally, I prefer it when some of the stories are there for someone else to enjoy.  If I like every story in a collection, the chances are that the book is not very deep or strongly written.  The fact that there are stories I didn’t feel strongly about means that there are bits of this book that WILL strike a chord across a wider spectrum or readers.

The design and presentation of this book deserves some mention too.  This does not feel at all like some crappy small-press first collection from someone you have probably never heard of.  While it is likely that Ms Frye’s name and work will be new to the majority of readers, I would wager that a lot of the people who pick up this collection will wonder why they have not heard of her.  The style of the collection, as much as the selections in it, are first-rate.  This package feels like the result of having done this before.  From the binding to the books overall design, this is a nice book to hold and look at.  Visually, this book is amazing.  The varied approaches to the art and design of the stories is really something to look at.  A fine mix of medium used and a very different eye feel to each selection.  Color selection and even line weight add to each story to give them a feel and look completely independent of each other even while some of the themes explored carry over from one to the other.

The rewards I got by being a kickstarter backer were also very nice.  A simple elegant personal inscription and original sketchplate in the book, as well as a few other extras for the backers mean this book was a real treat to get.

This book is available at Amazon, or better yet, directly from Ms Frye at this link.  I believe that most will find this a good read, or at the very least, a beautiful work of creativity, and real eye candy for the visually minded.

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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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Digital Comics…

I have been thinking more and more lately about the digital comics push.

With Dark Horse Comics having launched their digital comics site, I have been to visit the main publishers sites to see what is out there.  First off, I will be a hard convert to digital as I spend all day in front of a computer and feel no further need to “be connected”.  Also, I must confess to not liking the idea of “buying” something I don’t actually own.  Your library of comics exists at the site and cannot be downloaded to your system.  Even accessing on a mobile device is done online, they are not in your device permanently.  Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I call that renting, not buying.  It is done in the data cloud but since the cloud is not in any way mine, the stuff in it exists only at the whim of the provider.  I will go into that a bit more later.

The various sites are very similar, some more user-friendly than others.  Dark Horse is easy to navigate and has what they say is not a great selection.  They are downplaying it a bit because they do not have much of the deep catalog online yet, but what is there is more than enough to get a very good slice of what they have to offer.  The application itself is not perfect, but what I don’t like is nothing to do with the site as much as an inherent incompatibility between the comic medium and the delivery system.  I am not comfortable with the viewing modes.  Full screen is too small to read easily and the panel zoom mode is a bit imprecise.  It moves through large panels arbitrarily at times and you lose the impact and even some of the content of the art.  I imagine on a larger screened device like an iPad, this would not be an issue, but even on my laptop the full screen was just a little too small.  The zoom mode does not do the art any favors either.  Some art looks fine this way, some not so much.  There is a reason that the originals for the printed page are so much larger than the final product.  It looks better, tighter and cleaner once it is sized down to fit the printed page.  Like many digital viewing formats, the quality of the image can suffer slightly when enlarged.  The rest of the experience is fine.  Those out there that enjoy the digital format should be perfectly at ease with this site.

Marvel’s site is a different matter.  First off, I have never really liked Marvel’s online presence.  The site has always had an unfinished look to me.  For such a major player in the industry, I think they should have a more impressive site.  The site itself is user-friendly enough and the comic reader they employ is similar to Dark Horse’s.  I found it easier to read and in general, easier on the eyes and cleaner.  They have a few added feature that I liked as well.  The book info section is great for someone not specifically familiar with a book, and the size of the image being viewed is much more adaptable thanks to a zoom +/_  control at the bottom left.  There are a few drop down menus that allow for a greater level of customization also.  And the art just looks better.  The image is crisp, and very vivid.  I would make the comparison that the Dark Horse site is DVD and the Marvel one is Blu-ray.  They both look very nice, but in a detailed comparison (obviously you cannot compare the same book) Marvel wins the prize.  My problem is the cost.  $5 per month for an annual subscription and $9 if you just go a month to month.  You CAN buy issues individually, but they don’t make it easy for you as there are a few too many hoops to jump though.  The subscription price appears to include the entire library, which is extensive and has a great selection of the classic, not just the current stuff.  There have been complaints of the clumsiness of the apps, but I have no issues with any of that.  I just find the subscription a bit galling, as though they are so sure of the content that you will never have a month that you feel cheated.  A fan who was a bit more hardcore into the Marvel stuff might disagree and find that this is a great value, so I will not make any judgements there, this just isn’t for me, long-term.  There are also browser issues as the Marvel site prefers Google Chrome, a system I do not prefer.

And then there is DC.  I like many books they put out, and was eager to try this one, unfortunately the site is not compatible with Firefox.  Synergy is all well and good, but the powers that be seem unwilling to allow any level of choice.  Yes, Mac or PC is supported, but there are many other things of this nature that are a little more flexible.  It is not a true compatibility issue so much as it is a money issue.  Money is being made by creating essentially a type of service bundle.  You cannot use A until you get B.  That gets you on cookie and other tracker lists and forces you to use particular browsers or other apps that make someone else money.  All because you wanted to read a comic or download a song.  So did I ever just cave and use a different browser?  Nope.  I didn’t, and I wont.  Not anytime soon at least.  DC has lost me as far as the digital content is concerned.  Marvel too, but for a different reason.  I know these guys are in business to make money.  But in this era of uber-connectivity and apps being as commonplace as shoelaces and for most things, so much a part of our lives that a toddler can use them, shouldn’t a medium that is desperately trying to stay current and hold its fanbase together be doing everything they can to be fan friendly?  Dark Horse wins on this hands down.  Not because they are doing it better.  The site will improve, this is just a first try, and they are off to a great start.  With a very small amount of tweaking and a little time, they will be an excellent resource for digital content.  No, Dark Horse wins me over because they at least appear to want to.  With a great variety of content to choose from and a variety of ways you can give them your money and get what you want, they have done what the other 2 big companies have completely failed to do.  Make the fan feel welcome and needed.  This is a site, that despite its flaws, wants you to like them and is willing to make this the easiest thing in the world.  It took me less than a minute to start reading a full issue.  I had only to register and go.  If I want to pay for a book, that process was much faster than at the Marvel site and if I didn’t want to pay, there was a huge percentage of the overall content that was free compared to Marvel where a few preview pages of most of the content was free, then you had to pay.  In my mind that is worse.  Free is fine.  If I want more, it is clear from the start that some things will be free and other will cost me.  Marvel seems to act like a drug dealer with the mantra “the first one is free” and not even a whole first one.

Maybe I am old-fashioned in this, but I would like to have at least the illusion that the company values my business and my loyalty, not just my wallet.

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Free Comic Book Day 2011 and Jill Thompson!

Free Comic Book Day 2011 has come and gone. This was my first actually, despite being the tenth one for the rest of the world.
I never really had an interest untill this year as my LCS was having Jill Thompson for a guest signing to coincide with the event.  But more on that later.

I hope that this event works, in that it brings in new lasting fans of the medium or brings in returning fans, but I don’t think I have ever really seen evidence of that.  Most of the shop owners that I speak to say they rarely see any real lasting bump from the event.  I would imagine that if 5% of the people who come and are new or returning readers actually make more trips after the day to buy more stuff, that would be a good result.  Based on what I have seen and heard from others over the years of speaking to shop owners, the majority of people who come in on FCBD are existing fans looking…

a. To score free books.  My LCS has the 2 book per person rule.  If you wore a comic book flavored shirt, you got five.

b. To get a sample of something they have not read.  Many of the companies that participate, use the occasion to announce new and upcoming titles, while Marvel and DC use the chance to hype an event coming up in many of their established books.  If I had to pick, this would be where I think the main benefit from FCBD is felt.  Expanding the average reader’s pull list and spread the money out.  I have doubts on the helpfulness of this.  Most people only spend so much on books each month, so if they find something new they want to read, the eventual likelihood is that they will drop an existing book from the list.  Not really a bad thing, as it is a great example of fair competition in the free market.  But the industry has made a lifestyle choice for decades now that amounts to the cannibalization of its readership.  They seem content to recycle the same few readers over and over.  New readers enter the industry and then leave at almost the same rate it seems and the overall number of readers never really varies much.

This year there were 37 different titles available to choose from.  My choices, as I was wearing my old Mage shirt (as in Mage by Matt Wagner, also known for Grendel and some amazing work at DC over the years, not least is Trinity) were a pretty mixed bag.  I grabbed Worlds of Aspen from Aspen Comics publishers of the Michael Turner series Fathom.  BOOM Studio’s newest licensed book, Elric, based on the Michael Moorcock character.  This is the one I was most hoping to grab as I have been a fan of the books and the author for years.  Then there was the FCBD edition of The Tick from NEC.  Really, how do you NOT grab The Tick?  This one is a primer for the current series as a jumping on point for new or returning readers.  I was one of the very few that had read the original run long before there was a cartoon and failed TV show.  Used to love it.  We will see if the new book grabs me.  Then I got the FCBD edition of Locke & Key from IDW, a series I have been wanting to try for a while now.  Last was the DC book.  Unfortunately it is just a rehash of Green Lantern:  Secret Origin.  They really missed an opportunity there.  Either they could have hyped the upcoming film (if they wanted to stay with GL) or the new Flashpoint event.

Most of what I saw was not the kind of thing that suited me.  But at the same time, I don’t think there was much that would have been of great interest to a casual or new fan either.

The bright spot for me was Jill Thompson.  I have been a fan for many years, so having here sign books was really a nice treat.  I took my Absolute Sandman vol 3 for her to sign and a copy of the new Lil’ endless book, Delirium’s Party. 

I got the Lil Endless signed and when she grabbed the large Absolute volume she lit up very slightly and said something about making magic and proceeded to do a fantastic sketch inside…

It was done using a white out pen on the black inside paper just before the title page of the book.  It took maybe 3 minutes to do and looks great!

As an extra bonus, I dug out my first Thompson sketch from nearly 20 years ago…

This was from a signing that she did with Neil Gaiman when the Brief Lives arc of Sandman was coming out.  She was not announced as a guest in advance that I had been aware of and was doing sketches on the back of the flyer for the signing.  This year when we spoke briefly while she was creating the sketch in my book, I mentioned that.  It was an event she recalled quite clearly, stating that she had been really sick that day and was on the road with Neil to several shops in a couple of days and had not been able to do much to feel better.  Not that she showed it then though.  She is a pro.  I also was reintroduced to a number of her earlier works at the signing yesterday that I had all but forgotten.  The work she did for Comico on the early Bill Willingham title The Elementals, was something that I had read when it was released and not recalled her part in it. She also told a great story from her early days as a teenager in the industry.

Winding things up was a hardcover book written by Evan Dorkin, of Milk & Cheese fame.  The book is called Beasts of Burden and was released last year.  That is just one of the many things I have grown to enjoy about cons and signings.  No matter how familiar I am with a particular creator’s work, I always manage to find something that I did not know about.

So I will leave you with the cover to the book and look forward to the next thing I feel like blathering on about for 1000 words or so…

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Artsy Fartsy stuff

I found myself a bit bored.  Nothing I really feel like reviewing as there is not much new out of interest.  Coming soon-ish, I will have reviews of older books I have either recently found or re read.  But for the moment, something pretty.

I was looking through some older, more obscure books and found some great art I thought might be fun to post.

Before Fables and Jack of Fables was a great series by Bill Willingham called The Elementals.  Published by Comico this was a cutting edge book for its day.  Humor, adventure and drama in one of the most unusual books on the stands. This is a “swimsuit issue” drawing of the character Morningstar published in Amazing Heroes.

Morningstar

Then there is Gilbert Hernandez.  If you don’t know him, shame on you.  Feel guilty?  Good.  Now go buy Love and Rockets.  This is Errata Stigmata, on of the cast from that book.  This is another swimsuit shot.

Errata Stigmata by Gilbert Hernandez

In the 80’s there was a real renaissance of established artist taking advantage of the higher quality printing available.  Frank Miller did Ronin and Mike Grell had Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.  Before that though, he had a creator owned property called Jon Sable, Freelance published by First Comics.  This is Myke Blackmon from that series.  Bonus points to anyone that remembers the short-lived TV series based on that title!

Myke Blackmon by Mike Grell

This next bit is one of the original sketches in my small collection.  In fact, it was one of the first I collected.  I was at a signing in Madison Wi. and had the opportunity to meet Dave Sim of Cerebus fame, and James Owen, creator of Starchild.  As with most books from the great black and white era of comics, this was a book plagued by delays and printing problems.  It limped along for a few years and very few issues, but while it lasted, Owen managed to put a lot of fine storytelling and art as well as a good deal of clever parody.

And wrapping up for now, a couple of images from a book I think no one but I read.  If you are reading this, then the title of the book will seem familiar.  When I was picking a name for this blog, I wanted a reference that was obscure enough to not be all that obvious and still have multiple meanings, not just a comic book one.

Published by Neotek Iconography in the early 90’s, this was the brainchild of C. Brent Ferguson.  It combined the early cyberpunk stylings and attitude with a heaping helping of critique on modern religion, pop culture penetration and fear of the growing technology all waiting to burst free in the decade that saw the birth of the internet as a populist device.  It was only intended as a three-issue series and was ultimately very successful in meeting its goals.  Sometimes a bit amateur, as many books were then, this book is well worth searching out.  It shows what we were afraid of (albeit metaphorically) and where the comic medium was soon to venture, both good and bad.

Terminal Drift #1

Self congratulatory add from the back of the first issue.

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