Sunday, February 29, 2004
Just how subjective is this list?
I dunno. Quite subjective, I suppose. These are my favourite comics, after all, and I've not exactly been shy about advertising this fact so far.
How subjective is my appreciation of Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy?
Well... that's a tough question. The story of a long-distance relationship that didn't work out in the end, it is most definitely a story which many people will find relatable. I myself read it just after I'd broken up with a long-term, long-distance girlfriend, and to pretend that this doesn't have a lot to do with my attachment to this book would be foolish. In a way I think that this is probably part of the appeal of Clumsy; it's both rich enough with neat little details to feel personal and vivid, and universal enough to make it very relatable to a wide spectrum of readers. At the same time, I think I'd be vastly underselling if I said that this was all there was to the books appeal. It takes more than a sense that a work is relatable and/or deeply earnest to make something like this come off, as many terrible alternative comics and mopey rock songs will attest.
So no, I don't think that I love Clumsy purely because I can relate parts of it rather directly to my own experience. For one thing, I think that Jeffrey Brown has a remarkable talent for constructing a story out of perfectly selected fragments, put together in just the right order. He puts together the awkward moments and the funny moments and the intimate moments in a non-linear way that recalls a sort of sad, but yet loving, trip through memory. And then there's his art style: his voice, if you will. It's simple, almost too simple at times, but incredibly effective. His characters are practically stick-figures, but this paired down approach adds to the directness of the whole experience and also adds to the inherent sense of kindness that stops this comic from feeling at all cheap or nasty; even when he is dealing with the specific problems he and his ex-girlfriend had, it never feels like Brown is providing a too-detailed expose. His work feels respectful and loving without ever seeming watered down, creepy, or emotionally depthless, and that's no small achievement.
[This post originally appeared here on my old blog, and if you liked it, then I recommend that you check out this companion post, in which I talked more generally about my stance on "relating" to art/entertainment.]
Amazing Spider-Man 504
I liked it, it was fun, but it just doesn’t feel right as a two-parter. This either too short, or too long. I can’t decide. It’s either a filler piece with a weight problem, or a longer story with bulimia. They could have done a lot with the premise, but tying in Morwen with Loki seems a bit too much of a stretch. Fiona Avery does a good job of filing in, as one would expect, but it might have been nice to have her do her own thing, instead of playing up JMS’ pet themes for the series. JR JR, naturally, keeps on delivering, God bless his cotton socks.
First things first: other than seeing the first film, and some vague memories of the 90’s cartoon, I have no background with this character. I bought this on a whim. I got given the promo issue for this for free ages ago and wondered what it would be like as a series. With nothing else out, I nabbed it. Partly so David and I could laugh about the fact I bought a Conan comic.
Now this… This has got to be the ultimate teenage boy book, as it’s pure light entertainment for the immature. It’s simple – there’s a lot of hitting, the occasional bloody injury and some gratuitous semi-nudity. There may have been the bare bones of a plot in there, but I didn’t notice, I was too busy laughing. It uses a nice trick, in that the narrative captions are done as if they are typed by an actual typewriter to create the sense that this is an actual pulp book, rather than some inky, fantasy-writing type squiggle that’ll make it seem as if it takes itself more serious that it deserves. It’s simple, disposable fun (at a higher cost, and with more detailed production). Hats off to Kurt Busiek for getting shirtless and bloody and reminding us that half the fun in the male empowerment fantasy is that it’s all about ass-kicking and fawning women*, and not trying to be ironic about it. Cary Nord provides the art, which tries quite nicely to strike a balance between looking like a fantasy painting while being lively enough to tell the story. Dave Stewart’s colours help set it off that way.
Good fun, by Crom!
*Or ass-kicking women and fawning men, take your pick, I’m good for both.
Saturday, February 28, 2004
Hardly incisive analysis, I know, but I'm short on time. More later.
Friday, February 27, 2004
--"Just tea, then bed." You can download Sleeping Beauty, an excellent comic book by John Cei Douglas, from Fluxblog right now in the form of a 12mb PDF file. John's a marvelous guy, and Sleeping Beauty is a work of considerable talent and confidence. It's basically an extended series of happy-sweet-sad-funny snapshots of a romance, but it's the soft, evocative quality of John's linework and the effortless stillness of the storytelling that really impressess, and I highly recommended that you give it a look. Like, now!
--"Naked Time!" I'm glad to hear that Flat Earth's Steven Wintle is still promoting International Read A Comic Book Naked Day as an alternative to International Read A Comic In Public Day. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. Me, I'd like to try and create a hybrid of the two events, but alas, issues of legality and climate are conspiring to prevent me from embarking on this particular venture for the second year running. Oh the humanity!
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Yeah, I did find Be A Man amusingly silly, and not having read Clumsy didn't make it impenetrable. I did know that the point of it was to be the inverse of Clumsy, which I understood to be more sensitive, and that it made it a touch funnier because I had a tendency to assume that every sequence was a send up of a much more personal and sensitive scene.
So, yes, it's a fairly straightforward and humorous comic book, which is funnier when you understand the intent, and I'd imagine it gets even funnier if you know Clumsy.
Now, apparently, issue 3 is out (so sayeth the Dark Horse website), but I've only just picked up 2, so...uh...never mind, eh? What's the verdict on what we have?
Issue 1 (aka Whedonfest) has the first part of Buffy creator Joss Whedon's framing story plus a Lord of the Rings-themed tale also by the Man. Cowering amongst this is a Spike and Drusilla story explaining just what happened in Prague (doncha love it when throwaway lines from an episode SIX YEARS AGO are turned into stories?). Unfortunately, the Spike and Dru tale (written by Drew Goddard and illustrated by Paul Lee) is crap. Overly sentimental, twee and lacking in any sort of appreciation for the character of either vampire, this is not what this book should be aiming at. Leave established vamps alone and make up some interesting new ones guys!
Okay, so that's what Joss did. Yay him. His collaboration with Cameron Stewart (Catwoman and the upcoming Seaguy) on a tale about a teenage girl obsessed with The Lord of the Rings is a fascinating look at how Buffyverse vampires view themselves. The "connection with evil" that was getting riffed upon in the final years of the show (one of the few good ideas that they had in that period) takes centre-stage here, with an interesting comparison with Tolkien's orcs - a horde of individually dysfunctional creatures made into a threat by an overriding evil presence. It's a strange, low-key story, but easily the best comics work by Whedon yet - this outstrips the entire run of Fray by several miles. Stewart's art also zings. Nice and clean and crisp, it contrasts beautifully with Paul Lee's dark and sketchy and dull style on the Spike and Dru bit. Stewart has said that he really enjoyed pencilling Joss' work, and it shows.
Whedon's framing story is running through all five issues, so I don't feel comfortable saying anything quite yet.
As for the rest of issue two, Jane Espenson's little "Spot the Vampire" poem is amusing, but a little bombastic at the end ("Vampires are EVIL and will KILL YOU so don't be STUPID!" - not actual quotage.) The final story here is a Jack the Ripper tale (it had to happen) with a genuine twist at the end. Brett Matthews (who co-wrote the Angel comics relaunch with Whedon) takes what could have been a routine tale and adds that proper Slayerworld vibe. Nice work. Looking forward to part three. Or backward, as it now seems to be...grumble mumble...
New X-Men #153
Um...actually, just read Scott and David's rambles on this title.
Done that? Good.
I'll add that I think that having Jean and Logan meet up at the end of this issue is possibly Morrison's way of completely turning things around. The Appolyon comment earlier in the issue about Jean's memories returning makes me wonder if we're not going to start the final issue of the arc - and of Morrison's run - some time later ('Planet X' style) with Jean fighting on the side of the X-Men. This would be possibly the most efficient way to finish the story and wrap up the plot threads, explaining some of the wierder elements (Beast/Sublime, notably). It would also fit Morrison's run quite nicely. On the other hand, a big Wolverine vs Phoenix fight scene would be very '80s, wouldn't it? And is that such a bad thing?
Oh wait, yes it would be.
Fantastic Four #510
An interesting concept here, but I'm really not sure how much it's working as a story. The character moments here held the issue together - Sue's doubts over Reed's plan and Reed and Johnny's grief-fest being the standout moments. The ending was quite, quite mad and if it wasn't for the fact that the book is the Fantastic FOUR and that Waid will not kill Ben Grimm permanantly, I would be wondering what happens next.
As it is, I'm struggling to really care. But then, I am quite tired.
I've been dipping in and out of Brian Michael Bendis' run on Daredevil. This current story, a continuation of what seems like a "mega-arc", is fairly interesting. the premise runs thusly: One year ago, Matt Murdock took over Hell's Kitchen. In a period of terror and violence, he cleared all crime from the area and made it all nicey nice. Issue 56 looked at how New York's other heroes reacted to this (hint: they weren't chuffed), and this issue looks at a consequence of his decision. Narrated by Ben Urich, the issue tells of an epic struggle between Daredevil and a hundred (yes, a hundred) Yakuzas. It lasted about three minutes and ended with the FBI arriving (they have Murdock under survellance). There is no sign of Daredevil.
It's an extremely odd wee piece. It has no real story of its' own, being just an extended fight scene broken up by Bendis' trademark snappy writing in the form of Urich's monologue. The real meat comes at the end, when we find that he is talking to Milla, Matt's girlfriend in Bendis' previous arc. She is now his wife, and wants Urich to find her husband, who has been missing since the Yakuza fight.
So...mostly set-up for what comes next. But interesting set-up. It makes me want to read more, and I guess that's the point. Also, with Bendis penning The Pulse, with Urich as a central figure, will it tie in?
My brain hurts now! So let's move on to...
The Pulse #1
Or, Alias: Without the Naughty. Now, I've never read Alias (though I plan to at some suitable juncture), so this is a fresh start for me. It's an issue of dialogue, mostly J. Jonah Jameson talking to Jessica Jones (too many 'J' names) and Ben Urich, setting up the premise of the book. Which is fair enough. It would be better if Jameson wasn't saying almost the same things that the Ultimate version of him said three months ago. Who writes that Ultimate book anyway? Bendis, you say? Now, there's a coincidence.
Anyway, a solid enough first issue, not good enough to really grip, but not bad enough to stop me from wanting to read more. We'll see how it develops. As a final note, I have to agree with Paul O'Brien over at The X-Axis about the last page. I believe it's meant to be a cliffhanger, but man is it badly done. Must try harder, guys.
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Now here's the part of this post where we show off the fact that this is a group blog/I pressure one of my fellow bloggers into writing something! Scott: you quickly breezed through Be A Man the other day, and seemed to find it pretty funny despite the fact that you've never read any of Brown's output before. I take it that you found it to be fairly straightforward and humorous?
Monday, February 23, 2004
He and I are going to run away together and artificially make beautifully terrifying little babies that will live in the lakes of the world, scaring the locals, drawing in the tourists and devouring the local wildlife...
Well, no, but a man can dream, can't he?
--Paul O'Brien's stunning demolition of Chuck Austen's latest Uncanny X-Men story arc is well worth a look, and is yet another example of how smart and brutal O'Brien can be when he gets going. Apparently Austen has been trying to riff on William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet recently, and (surprise!) falling flat on his face in the process. From the sound of it, Austen could really do with some York/Cliff Notes to help him get a basic grasp of what made Shakespeare's play work in the first place - does anyone want to buy him a clue?
--Jebni has written a very interesting response to the much maligned preview image for the Joss Whedon/John Cassaday X-Men book that's been doing the rounds recently. While I think that Jebni has a fascinating take on the switch back to spandex outfits, and would be very happy to see Whedon and co take this route, I can't help but wonder if the team couldn't have better spandex costumes than the ones they seem to be sporting in the afformentioned image? Wolverine's bright yellow getup has never looked good, and that body condom they've got Cyclops wearing is pretty crappy looking too, but hey - it's not particularly dignified to get too worked up over a couple of preview images, so I'm just going to stop now. I'll definitely be checking out this book when it hits the stands though - both Whedon and Cassaday are talented guys, and I think there's a lot of scope for fun here!
There may be some light *SPOILERS* in this here post. You have been warned.
Well, with one issue to go, we're still not much closer to knowing exactly how this is going to wrap up. As Scott said in his review of the issue in question, this is a story that has been carried more "the momentum of it's own characters and concepts than any actual connection to the overall Grant Morrison X-Men arc", and as such it stands as a nice counterpoint to some of the stuff that I was talking about in the post I wrote about Seaguy on Sunday. This story has been a break from the angsty soap-operatics of the last three years, which is both a good thing, as it's been a charmingly bombastic romp, and, in some ways, a bad thing, since the main appeal of Morrison's New X-Men run has been the soapy character stuff.
To their credit, Morrison and Silvestri have managed to make this riff on the well worn X-Men "dark future" story type (as Paul O'Brien has been referring to it) highly entertaining, for this reader at least. I'm particularly taken with the Tom/Rover team-up (and was suitably drawn in by Rover's seeming demise this issue, despite the slight clunkiness with which it came about), but, to be honest with you, I'm pretty down with the weird, silly drama of the whole thing - all of the little characters Morrison has churned out, the bizarre babblings of the three-in-one, the preposterously villainous running commentary of the Beast... it's all perfect for Silvestri's artwork, which despite its occasional lapses in the storytelling department, is just bursting with warped, trashy immediacy. It's weird, because Paul O'Brien seems to be quite tired of the story type upon which this arc has been based, and apparently doesn't find the set-up to be convincingly supported in the comic itself, but for me the intersection between this well worn territory and some of Morrison's favourite ideas has been rich and vivid. Sure, we've not exactly been shown much of what this world is like, but I dunno, to me enough of it has been suggested in what we have seen, partly because the territory is so damned familiar. Scenes like the one in issue #152 with Tom talking to the mutant kids or the weird little detour to the "home of the Termids" at the start of this issue have done enough to hint at this world where humanity is dying out and new species are blooming, and what these moments don't provide us with I take from every crinkly line of Silvestri's artwork, which suggests all of the previous "dark future" story lines in which the X-Men have featured while still looking strange enough to carry the "new" elements.
Anyway, while I think I've made it clear by now that I'm enjoying the hell out of the sci-fi superheroics of the story arc in question, it's about time I returned to the initial topic of this post - how the hell is this all going to wrap up? Well, as I see it there are at least four elements of this arc that do very much tie into the grander scheme of Morrison's run, despite how self-contained it all feels:
(1) The return of Cassandra Nova. A lot of people had already worked this one out a while ago, but it was nice to see this handled in such an understated way here. That scene between Nova and Martha was inexplicably sweet - "Like some sad memory of a future that never happened." Nice. There's been some speculation on Barbelith that there's going to be some sort of looping plot line that links the end of this story to back to the start of Morrison's run via Cassandra Nova and a little pinch of time travel, but at the moment I'm not convinced, though I wouldn't entirely rule out further complications on this front.
(2) The overarching Phoenix story line. This is the story arc that I'm most certain is going to wrap up neatly, as it seems to be building up to a fairly straightforward climax next issue. What exactly Morrison's take on this endlessly recurring series of deaths and rebirths is going to be, I'm not exactly sure yet, but the general outline is there, so I'm pretty sure it's all going to come together.
(3) The issue of exactly who Beast/Sublime is and how he fits into the run as a whole. Ah, now this plot thread I expect to be a left little more open/elliptic at the end of the day. I'm not at all sure how this is going to tie up, and as the mass of contradicting speculation out there indicates, I'm not alone in this. I guess we'll just have to wait and see, eh?
(4) What are Wolverine, the three remaining Cuckoo's et al doing 150 years in the future and how does this tie into the end of the 'Planet X' arc? These questions will probably be glossed over by a bit of the old pseudo-science I reckon, which is fair enough, as it's not exactly the most important part of the puzzle.
Obviously it'd also be nice to get to see a bit more of the characters in the "present", but given the amount of stuff that's still got to be wrapped up, I'm not holding my breath.
While I think it's obvious that I'm deeply unsure how the next issue is going to play out, and am at least a little anxious about this, I will say that one of the chief pleasures of New X-Men for me, as a reader, has been that it's honestly never went exactly where I expected it to go. It's been refreshing to read a comic book that plays with tradition while confounding your expectations, and for this I am thankful. Now lets just hope that #154 is a good one, because after that we're in Chuck Austen country, and we all know how much fun that is, right? Right?
Sunday, February 22, 2004
A double-hander of fun with:
New X-Men 153
Maybe it's just because I usually find Wolverine the most boring character in New X (and most other places he pops up), but I have to wonder if his hairy arse has a use next issue, other than to strike a pose? I'm so amused by the fact that the last four issues have entirely been carried by a brilliantly gonzo cast of Morrison-only characters. There are so many points that will probably be picked up by Graeme or David in their reviews (such as the casual, 'by the way' style explanation for the return of Cassandra Nova), but it has to be said that, so far, this has been a fun storyline carried more by the momentum of it's own characters and concepts than any actual connection to the overall Grant Morrison X-Men arc (which is probably why it bewilders many). Mind you, the rest of the fun is actually trying to figure out how it will fit. One issue to go... It's just not enough, is it?
Fantastic Four 510
On the one hand, I really loved the idea for this story, on the other, I was worried that a trip into Heaven might have been an opportunity for something, well, a bit crap. I wasn't won over by the biblical themed dangers, but overall the issue was filled with some good ideas (I liked Reed's corner of Heaven) and nice character moments, such as Reed and Johnny both blaming each other for Ben's death. The most intersting bit was the way that the scene in Sue's corner in Heaven implies that she's no longer comfortable with Reed and his work. Just how far will the fallout from Unthinkable continue to reach? Definitely looking forward to the next part, as Waid continues to paint Reed in a shaky light (which I guess has been a major theme of his run).
And our mystery guest was...
Epic Anthology 1
I picked this up a week late because I wasn't quite ready to fork out the cash for it when it was released. I felt odd in doing that, since everyone was talking about how this book was going to get cancelled fairly sharpish. I never realised it would be so sudden. If this title had gone regularly, then I probably would have picked it up, but slightly erratically, due to the cover price.
Sleepwalker was, well, the hardest to Judge. Other than establishing our protagonist as a self-serving rich boy, we don't really learn a lot in this part. It might have been interesting to see how the self-involved David got on with the entity in his head, possibly making this like a more antagonistic version of Captain Marvel. I found the art, by Khary Randolph and Pierre-Andre Dery, a bit odd, having a tad too much energy for a story that required a lot of moping (but I really liked the final panel! Keep his face hidden, it adds to the look!). The potential was there, so I'd've easily given writer Robert Kirkman a chance to see where it was going.
With a title like Young Ancient One this was going to have to be either really entertaining or a horrible mistake. Guess what? It was great. Between it's action and humour, I suspect this would have been the thing to keep me coming back to this book. It's combination of Kung Fu action, magical events and quippy and anachronistic humour made it the sweet you can eat between meals. Fair play to writer Rob Worley and artist Andy Kuhn, who left us involved enough to want to see where their cliffhanger would go next.
Strange Magic, was, well, strange and magical. It's a reasonably fun tale of magic powers and vampires. It's not so much a walk into the sinister mystical underbelly of New Orleans, more of a club-hopping journey - but not in a bad way. I can't help but suspect that writer Jason Henderson is a Buffy fan, and Greg Scott's art was a nice contrast to the other two titles. I quite liked it, but found it to be the least interesting of the three, but that's possibly because of the shift in tone across the book. If it had been longer, I would have been able to form a stronger opinion on it.
"He's the world's last super-hero - and the last one you'd expect!
"Award-winning writer Grant Morrison (THE INVISIBLES, THE FILTH, New X-Men) kicks off the first of three all-new VERTIGO mini-series with colorful heroes, sinister theme parks, beautifully bearded women, and a cigar-smoking tuna fish. Only one comic has it all: SEAGUY, a 3-issue tale with spectacular art by Cameron Stewart (CATWOMAN) that begins with an extra-sized 40-page first issue at no extra cost. Morrison himself calls SEAGUY 'the true antidote to your military-industrial realistic
"Morrison charts new territory this adventure filled with charm and whimsy, set in a haunting World Without Evil in which all the great battles have already been won by yesterday's champions. Accompanied by breathtaking art from Stewart, fresh from his critically acclaimed run on CATWOMAN, SEAGUY is a quirky yet heart-wrenching experience ultimately unlike anything even Morrison's iconoclastic imagination has unleashed upon comics readers.
"A wistful, would-be hero named Seaguy and his best pal - a floating, talking fish named Chubby Da Choona - live listlessly in a world obsessed by sinister brand names. From a rigged chess match against a skeletal, seafaring personification of Death to being chased by malevolent theme-park armies, Seaguy and Chubby undertake a fantastical, picaresque voyage through a post-Utopian world filled with bizarre adventure...and terrible sacrifice."
"Written by Grant Morrison; art and covers by Cameron Stewart
Award-winning writer Grant Morrison charts new territory with a 3-issue mini-series filled with colorful heroes, sinister theme parks, beautifully bearded women, a cigar-smoking tuna fish, and art by Cameron Stewart (CATWOMAN)! Set in a world where all the major battles have been won, Seaguy is a wistful, would-be hero who, with his pal Chubby Da Choona, embarks on a fantastical, picaresque voyage through a post-Utopian world filled with bizarre adventure and terrible sacrifice.
VERTIGO | MATURE READERS | 40pg. | 1 of 3 | Color | $2.95
On Sale May 19th, 2004"
Does this sound great or what?
First, the artwork: I don't think there are many people out there that would dispute the fact that Cameron Stewart is fast becoming one of the best mainstream comic book artists out there. His limber artwork on DC's Catwoman showed a rapidly developing grasp of the nuances of body language and page layout that leaves most of the competition looking decidedly stiff and feckless, and I look forward to seeing him stretch his talents even further here.
And then there's the writing: It's no secret that I'm a big Grant Morrison fan, and while I've enjoyed the hell out of both New X-Men and The Filth, I'll happily agree that this sounds a lot more straight-forward and fun than much of his recent work. Yeah, I know, I know - New X-Men is a big superhero mash-up, and as such is a hell of a lot of fun, but at its heart it's a twisty, angsty three-year-long soap-opera, and as such it can feel quite draining at times. And while The Filth was a mix of brightly coloured surrealist imagery and black comedy, it was also an unremittingly bleak and fractured read.
Seaguy, however, looks like it's going to be pretty energetic and pop (despite the "Bizarre adventure and terrible sacrifice" involved!*) - which is not to say that it's necessarily going to be lacking in interesting ideas and subtext, or in "heart-wrenching" moments for that matter. Indeed, you could make the case that Morrison's more deliberately "serious" and "difficult" comics (The Mystery Play, for example) are sometimes actually less rewarding than his more playfull work!
Anyways, I'm sure that the Morrison/Stewart team will be able to serve up the pop-fun with aplomb, and elements the premise sounds fascinating (I'm always a sucker for post-Utopian adventure stories!), so yeah - I'm looking forward to this a lot!
*Actually, that does sound rather grim, doesn't it? Am I judging this to be less serious because it has "cartoony" artwork? The Filth, after all, had a couple of talking animals in it - and isn't that a (perhaps rather strained by now) signifier of throwaway comedy? Thankfully, I don't think that I'm making any such judgments about the art style here - I'm largely basing my assessment of what this title is going to be like both on this solicitation and on the handful of hints that Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart have dropped in various interviews/message board posts. And on the fact that, y'know, it's a three-issue mini-series called Seaguy!**
**While The Filth was called The Filth, obviously. Do I judge books by their titles? Well, maybe sometimes, but in the case of The Filth it certainly wasn't a mistake to do so - that comic dealt with all manner of different sorts of dirt and grime in a very self-conscious way.***
***The less charitable comic book fans amongst you may feel the need to point out that given the number of old X-Men concepts Morrison has re-used in his run on New X-Men, the use of the word "New" in the title of that particular book could be seen as being slightly misleading, but I'd pretty much disagree with this - Morrison has, for the most part, wrung new life from these old ideas, so I think he gets a free pass on this one.****
****These footnotes seem to be breeding at an alarming rate right now, and I'm beginning to suspect that if I don't knock this on the head soon then I'm going to end up trapped in some sort endlessly regressing footnote hell! It'll be like something from a Flann O'Brien novel, except, y'know, less humorous!
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Name's Graeme Lyon and my comic reading is in crisis at the moment 'cause I've spent the last year or so happily reading New X-Men and dipping in and out of various other bits and pieces.
However, with only one Grant Morrison-penned issue of New X-Men to go, this must change. So we'll see what happens with that.
Talk to you soon.
PS, for self-involved ravings and rants about the cancellation of Angel, among other things, visit my solo blog, The Refreshing Taste of Graeme. Or don't. It's all the same to me, mate.
The nearest thing to Hellboy in my mind is the Indiana Jones films (kind of obvious, I know), because in my opinion they both feature an immensely likeable protagonist, and an setting which is so interesting*. Both have a kind of playfulness with established mythology and reality, which I guess a lot of people look for in the real world (such as a colleague of mine, who will be featured in a documentary, The Psychic Detectives on BBC 1 Scotland on Tuesday the 24th of February, 22:35 by the way**). By populating Hellboy’s world with creatures and concepts we can go and look up it adds to the intrigue.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I am a sucker for details and connections, and I like when something is dropped in and I can go off and look it up at leisure. It adds texture. It’s even enough for me to know that the Ogdru Jahad and the Conqueror Worm are drawing on the tradition of cosmic horror found in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Hell, it’s that kind of reference that often brings new material to ones attention (by the same token, I’ll admit to being disappointed that Tobin’s Sprit Guide from Ghostbusters had no real or literary counterpart).
Don’t get me wrong, I own and love the first BPRD trade, but the Hyperborean slaves just feel a little by-the-numbers to me (especially the fact that they had encountered the Nazis), and if it wasn’t for the fact that Abe, Rodger, Liz and Johann were so damn endearing, then it’d be a total waste of a fun concept.
I’m not saying that Hellboy would be any less likeable if it was all a product of Mignola’s head, instead I like to think that I’m suggesting that, if you want to, you can see an extra dimension to it that makes the textual scenery as interesting as the visual scenery. In fact, that’s probably the best comparison I can make. Mignola’s art is often brilliantly evocative of detail, while having a certain simplicity to it, all the while bringing a great mood and energy to the story, letting you get caught up with it – which is exactly what he does with the stories themselves.
Mignola loves his monsters, and he draws them both visually and with enough myth to them so that we love them as well. And as a job, I guess creating monsters is the next best thing to actually tracking them down.
* Also, they feature much kicking of Nazi ass. Can’t really go wrong with that as entertainment, can you?
** Like the shamless plug? Unfortunately, it only appears to be on BBC 1 Scotland, although I think those of you with NTL digital cable can check it out, on channel 927.
I'm Scott McAllister. I did briefly have a blog, but that was ages ago, and apart from the infamous Catwoman post briefly mentioned at the time by Dirk Deppey and a fantastically over-long post about Black Panther and The Crew, there wasn't much on it worth remembering. Trust me on this.
If I have a reputation on this World Wide Wotsit, then it's probably to do with my tinkerings with a thing I like to call Wake Up Screaming. Some would call it a webcomic, and some might not be that kind, but that's their problem, not mine. Heh-heh.
And for my next trick, I'll be adding some of my own thoughts on why I also love Hellboy.
Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel. Or not.
This here post is two things in one - it's both a big old post about Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and also the first in a series of posts where I talk about some of my all time favourite comics. It should be noted that these comics are not being written about in any order, and that I don't in any way consider this to be a list of the "best" comics ever made. This is just an excuse for me to talk about all of the comics that I am most attached to whenever the whim strikes me, though obviously since I like them so much it's a fair bet that I rate them pretty highly on a technical level.
With that in mind, lets get down to it:
Hellboy is one of those comics that I have a hard time writing about in great depth because my enjoyment of it feels so instinctive and immediate that articulating the source of my joy feels unnatural somehow.
It is almost impossibly to do the series justice when describing its basic set-up; Hellboy is all about a big, red demon-man, who works for the Bureau of Paranormal Resource and Defence. He's a lovable, down-to-earth sort of guy, but one whose birth is tied into all sorts of sinister apocalyptic goings on.
A typical Hellboy story mixes pulpy madness (Nazis and Lovecraftian horrors mostly) and elements from traditional folk tales together into something cohesive and wonderful. There's a sense of humour to the whole thing, much of it provided by the character of Hellboy himself, who undercuts some of the more grandiose moments neatly with his wonderful line in crap quips, which rather than getting in the way of things, simply reinforce the sheer sense of enthusiasm and play at work here. *
There's little drama or character exploration in these comics - at least not in the traditional sense. The characters are all interesting and charming (especially Hellboy himself), but they are not lingered on or developed in any great detail. Instead, the thrust of the strip is Mike Mignola's gorgeous artwork, which pushes the readers eye around with its huge swathes of inky blackness, bringing to life the weird world in which the comic takes place brilliantly as it does so. This isn't to say that the story exists merely as a showcase for Mignola's artwork -- Hellboy never reads like a collection of poorly cobbled together splash pages -- but rather that the whole thing flows joyously around the artwork. Mignola's work recalls a whole lot of older comic book artists, the mighty Jack Kirby chief among them, and it's in the Jack Kirby connection that I find a better way to explain what exactly I mean by this. Alongside his epic imagination, the one thing that most comes to mind when I think about Jack Kirby's work is how well the bizarre twisting figures and technologies he drew sent the eye spiraling around the page in an entirely cohesive way; his stories always had a great deal of power and energy to them both within and between the panels, and Mignola's art works similarly, both charging these stories with a suitable amount of pulpy vitality, and also adding weight to some of the grander scenes in the comic.
For example, when the Lovecraftian sci-fi craziness of 'the Conqueror Worm' reaches its conclusion, Mignola's art gives the Worm of the title a sense of magnificence that just leaps off the page at you. Or when we are given hints as to Hellboy's place in the scheme of things - glances at whatever his destiny and true origin are supposed to be - the artwork is suitably immense, giving these story threads far more power than they would have if Hellboy just sat around brooding about them more frequently (as he surely would if this was an inferior comic). Sure, there are quite a few scenes in which Hellboy struggles with his place in the world and with whatever his destiny may be, but these scenes are always rather quiet and underdone ("Did I learn anything? I don't know, maybe... but I can't say it made my day"), with the real fireworks left to the scenes with the big, bold artwork. That bit in Wake the Devil' where his horns grow back is just marvelous. The words and pictures rise together, with Mignola's art adding a grace and scope to the narration that just wouldn't be there otherwise, pushing the drama to an exquisite climax in the process.
There is another dimension to Mignola's artwork that is equally essential to the entrancing nature of the comic, and that is his uncanny way with mood. The swathes of black that shroud each page of the series convey a sort of sustained atmosphere that the absolutely perfect colouring (which is done by a rotating crew of highly talented guys, apparently) aids beautifully. Hellboy is one of the few comics that really strikes me as having a distinctive colour scheme. Ok, maybe that's slightly unfair -- there are many good colourists out there right now (Laura Allred, for one) -- but the truth is that I can't think of Hellboy without thinking of that colour scheme. The murky greens and light blues, the blood-red splash of Hellboy himself - it's perfect. These stories aren't frightening, as such, but they are engrossing and, on occasion, very creepy, and the restrained colour palette has a lot to do with this; it's just so damned shadowy and evocative that you'd be a fool to pretend it doesn't add a lot to the highly refined visual impact of these comics. Much as I'm sure Guillermo del Torro and his crew will give it their all, the film version of Hellboy couldn't hope to replicate the ebbs and flows of strangely vivid shadow that grace every page of the the comic book.
Would I be right to say that some of the shorter stories were originally printed in black and white? I've never read Hellboy in this form, but I'm definitely curious as to how these stories would come across without the colouring. They would have a starker moodiness to them, I'd imagine, but as I'm just speculating right now I think I'll stop before I get started.
So there you go then: Hellboy - it's a wonder of execution that ties together all sorts of fun stuff (monsters, Nazis, folk tales, bizarre cosmic horror) into a package that is energetic and yet moody; self-effacing, but still capable of grandeur. Basically, it's a whole lot of fun. It feels like the work of an artist at the height of his powers playing around with all of his favourite things, and as such it is deeply intoxicating.
*As an aside, the funniest Hellboy comic is surely 'Pancakes', a two page strip in which we see young Hellboy eating pancakes for the first time. It's an adorable looking comic (Mignola's young Hellboy is amazingly cute), and it also gently undercuts the seriousness some of the series' overarching plot-threads, which makes reading it all the more pleasurable. I mention this story both as an example of how funny Hellboy can be when Mignola pushes in that direction, and also as an indication that he knows when not to do this; if something this funny appeared in the middle of a big story arc, it would perhaps be a step too far into the realm of comedy.
[This post appeared in a slightly different form here, and has been updated to make it less hideously clunky!]
We don't have a manifesto or anything like that. We're just here to have fun writing about comics, and hopefully to provide all of you with some interesting comics-related reading in the process.
I'm David Allison, aka Big Sunny D, and this is where you'll be able to find the majority of my comics related musings from now on. I'll be launching a new and improved (?) version of my old blog sometime in the next week or so, and that's where anyone who is interested in reading what I have to say about music, books, movies etc will be able to get their fill of my usual nonsense!
The other guys can introduce themselves if they want to, or they can just get on with it - it's all good as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, I'll be re-starting my series of posts about my favourite comic books today with a re-jigged version of the post I wrote about Hellboy way back when, so look out for that if you're interested.
With all that out of the way, lets get this party started!