Friday, April 30, 2010

CBR Review: Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #1

I recently reviewed Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Only one week after the conclusion of the first volume of Ultimate Comics Avengers, the beginning of the second ships. Unlike the first volume where the threat was readily apparent with the team of Nick Fury’s Avengers already in place, this story begins with a focus on teambuilding without a known enemy -- or, at least, not one that we’re told about. The first new recruit of Fury’s Avengers: Frank Castle, the Punisher."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Siege: Secret Warriors #1

I recently reviewed Siege: Secret Warriors #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The main plot here is Phobos’ reaction to seeing his father ripped apart by the Sentry on national television. Nick Fury made the decision to leave him behind and, after seeing his father die at the hands of a government agent basically, Alex pays a visit to the White House to speak with the president regarding what’s happening. What follows is Alex versus an army of Secret Service agents, basically, and we can see what the god of fear, son of war can do when properly provoked. We’ve always known that Phobos is dangerous, but not this dangerous. It’s a kid with a sword and we goes through the trained agents like they’re nothing."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

CBR Review: Detective Comics #864

I recently reviewed Detective Comics #864 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Hine’s writing in the main story is very solid, as he has Arkham narrate as he learns what it’s like to live in Arkham Asylum as a patient. His voice is cold and somewhat twisted, not entirely divorced from his Black Mask persona as he’d like everyone to think he is. One scene where a fellow patient explains that every day from now on, Arkham will be eating food containing various bodily fluids from the various patients he oversaw for years shows how Arkham could be the Black Mask. His response is cold, methodical, and utterly cruel in its threat of violence. The plot picks up when one of the Black Mask’s loose ends attracts Batman’s attention and he’s forced to deal with Arkham to save a man’s life. Except Arkham apparently has no knowledge of his time as the Black Mask."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Iron Man 2: Public Identity #1

I recently reviewed Iron Man 2: Public Identity #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Originally title 'Iron Man 1.5,' Iron Man 2: Public Identity #1 begins the three-issue mini-series that bridges the gap between the two Iron Man movies, picking up with the final scene of the first movie at the beginning of the issue. From there, the issue explores the fall-out of Tony Stark’s decision to reveal that he is Iron Man to the world with a special emphasis on his relationship with the military, something that seems to be important in the upcoming movie, judging from the trailers."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: X-Force #26

I recently reviewed X-Force #26 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With the various mutant groups separated in an effort to divide Bastion’s forces, Cable has stayed with members of X-Force, Colossus, and Psylocke to throw off the Sapien League’s tracking, while Hope makes a mad dash for Utopia with Nightcrawler teleporting her and Rogue. The divided forces allows for Kyle and Yost to jump around a bit to establish what losses the mutants have taken — and what they’ve dished out in the process, showing us the aftermath of the Cannonball’s team’s encounter with Cameron Hodge and Cable and company doing some heavy damage."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Green Hornet #3

I recently reviewed Green Hornet #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "While Lau overdraws the book, that goes well with Kevin Smith’s overwriting in the form of overwrought, painful narrative captions that are too over-the-top. In the build-up to the death of Britt Reid, the original Green Hornet, Smith piles captions upon captions on the page to somehow give this event more meaning, but it makes the death almost comical. He writes of how Reid came home each night after fighting crime as the Green Hornet because of his wife, which is a nice sentiment, but the Green Hornet most people know was single, so it lacks the punch Smith is going for."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CBR Review: Conan the Cimmerian #20

I recently reviewed Conan the Cimmerian #20 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Conan the Cimmerian #20 continues the 'Kozaki' story, which explains how Conan, leading an army of roaming raiders, managed to lead the group to ruin and find himself on the run, sick and poisoned. The downfall of Conan and his band of marauders was teased last issue, but it seemed less than likely until this issue showed how Conan’s pride and arrogance resulted in his downfall, a lesson you’d think he would have learned by now. Still, this issue is an entertaining read with some great art."

You can read the rest HERE!

Quickie Reviews (Apr 28 2010)

Another week, another stack of comics. This was a bigger week (for me) and it looks like the same next week. Heavy Marvel week this week, too. Next week, DC is heavier. Weird. As always, anything else I bought will be reviewed for CBR.

Captain America #605: There's something a little too simplistic about this conclusion to "Two Americas." I don't know what I wanted, but I wanted more. Maybe James killing the '50s Captain America is enough for some, but it's too easy. I already know James will kill if necessary as a last resort, so him doing so isn't a huge payoff necessarily. There's an element at the end of him questioning what being Captain America means and I guess I'm glad that that wasn't made too explicit since it could become very cheesy very quickly. Still, maybe a little bit more questioning. I do like the question "What does being Captain America mean?" What version of America should he represent? It's a good question and I don't mind if Brubaker takes his time with it, slowly drawing it out, talking around it, because there is no answer. It's a question where asking it is what matters. I enjoyed Luke Ross's art on this arc, but am looking forward to Butch Guice. Definitely liking Dean White as colourist. It suits the book much better than Frank D'Armata's colours did despite him functioning as a key element in maintaining the consistent art style. I only skimmed the Nomad back-up strip. What an awful pairing of mismatched stories. [***1/2]

New Avengers #64: The final regular issue of the series and I kind of like that it's just another issue. A Siege tie-in focusing on the Hood as we see the build-up to him and his crew joining the fight in Asgard. Some people haven't liked the strong focus on the Hood in New Avengers since the end of Civil War, but it's been a good counterpoint to the team. The Hood is their constant nemesis -- New Avengers as a larger ensemble book than anyone thought it was. This book wasn't just about the heroes, it was also about the villains. A longform story where you see both sides moving against one another. The Hood was never meant to be a typical villain with one storyarc. If this was a TV show, the guy playing the Hood would have his name in the regular cast credits, possibly in the first two or three spots. It's a nice, subtle thing that Bendis was doing -- something that we've seen in superhero comics, but not really to this extent. Maybe other people saw that and I think I did, too, just not as consciously as now. Here, we get the emotional payoff of the Hood's journey as he seems primed to become a bigtime player, nearly loses the only other person he cares about (mirrored by Hawkeye/Mockingbird), and then loses it all except for the woman he loves. Good stuff. Mike McKone was a good choice to do these final two issues since his style isn't too far from Stuart Immonen's with Dave McCaig's colours helping that consistent look. I'll save any thoughts on this part of Bendis's Avengers Era ending for the finale issue. [****]

Scalped #37: Shunka! Unknowable killer! Shunka! Secretly gay! Shunka! Muthafucka will fuck ya up! I don't know why, but I love that sort of thing. And, yet, I can never execute it as well as I want to. Fuck. This issue plays out how we think it will until the twist. Not sure I buy the twist since it's too planned, too calculated, especially when it comes to someone like Shunka. Then again, it does put the narration in a new light -- an unreliable, possibly untuthful light, which I like. Davide Furnò on art is something I always enjoy. Him being a regular fill-in artist is fine by me. His style suits the book. [****]

Secret Warriors #15: See, here, it's obvious that the Hydra folks are part of the ensemble, not just villains that are here one arc, gone another. Why was that obvious here and not as much in New Avengers? Is it because the other is an Avengers title? What? The behind-the-scenes stuff with Daisy and the gang is good -- the stuff with Viper is better. Unexpected and logical. And, oddly, another instance of Earth X possibly being more influential than I gave it credit for. Fury and the Contessa at the end was great, too. Hickman's Fury is a take on the character that I really like. Caselli's art was a bit more cartoony here, his facial expressions more wild and loose -- Contessa is totally vamping it up at times, but Sunny Gho's colours balance it out to keep it grounded, making the cartoony stuff work a little better with the tone of the writing. I guess we're halfway through the run of this book now? Fuck. [****]

Thor #609: I've been enjoying Kieron Gillen's run on the book, especially his stuff with Loki. His discussion with Balder in this issue is great. Gillen uses JMS's run and builds on it in a logical manner. His Loki is definitely one of my favourite takes on the character -- someone as damaged and twisted and brilliant as that one JMS issue where Loki goes back in time and ties everything together. Too bad the art is just ugly. Rich Elson's pages aren't awful, simply mediocre -- they tell their bits fine enough. The Billy Tan pages are simply awful. Ugly messy things that exist only to give me an idea of who says what and maybe if someone hits someone else. [***]


Monday, April 26, 2010

CBR Review: Do Anything Volume 1: Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh

I recently reviewed Do Anything Volume 1: Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Do Anything Volume 1: Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh collects the 24 'Do Anything' columns from Bleeding Cool, albeit in an altered form. The 24 columns become 15 chapters here as columns are combined and edited to read better on the page. It’s a strange journey of freeform connections as Ellis begins with Jack Kirby and moves on from there to Philippe Druillet, George Lucas, Will Eisner, Archie Goodwin, Moebius, David Bowie, and dozens of others. It’s an odd mishmash of comics history and pop culture history mixed with Ellis’ own flights of fancy and personal anecdotes."

You can read the rest HERE! (And, if you're wondering why it lists Warren Ellis as the artist, it's because CBR's reviewing system won't accept it without an artist. Huh. Now you know.)

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 13.2

The second podcast episode of the week is up and it's a long one. It was almost half the length, ending with our discussion of The Spirit #1 because of some audio problems that I managed to fix (mostly). There are still some issues with Tim's side of the conversation in a few places, but, for the most part, it sounds like it always does. Besides The Spirit #1, we also discuss DV8: Gods and Monsters #1, Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield #1, Ultimate Comics Avengers #6, Joe the Barbarian #4, plus we continute some of the conversation from last episode, preempting the argument that, since I demand writers and artists challenge themselves and do new things, how can I enjoy works by writers like Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison that people think keep repeating themselves. This leads to us creating a new four-point critiquing system for writers. Want to know what it is? Listen to the episode!

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast episode 13.2 HERE!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 13.1

It's Sunday, so that means another episode of the Splash Page Podcast with your hosts, Tim Callahan and me, Chad Nevett. This week's episode is a little more broad and theoretical as we talk a lot about our reviewing process and different ideas on how to approach/write comics criticism. Tim says some really good stuff in this episode. We also trash The Brave and the Bold #33 and use it as a case study for what do you do when you review a book where the writing and the art differ in quality greatly. Plus, "We're Hardcore" by Gord Downie to kick things off.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast episode 13.1 HERE!

Friday, April 23, 2010

CBR Review: DV8: Gods and Monsters #1

I recently reviewed DV8: Gods and Monsters #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Brian Wood has said that relaunching DV8 has been something he’s tried to make happen for years. Gods and Monsters #1 is an interesting take on the concept. The DV8 crew are dropped on what they think is Earth, but is cleaner and far less advanced. And there’s a red moon. And two suns. Slowly, members go off and never return, almost like a horror movie. Told by Copycat to whoever dropped them on the planet at a later date, she mostly relates details told to her by Frostbite since she didn’t land until much later for some reason."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Superman/Batman #71

I recently reviewed Superman/Batman #71 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Despite what the cover says, the finale of 'The Big Noise' doesn’t feature Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes on art, and Joe Casey has a co-writer, which could be why this is a weak, uninspired finish to the story. While 'The Big Noise' hasn’t been a classic Superman/Batman story, it’s one that’s been building nicely, structured in a somewhat unconventional fashion, and this issue has it finish in a rather typical, mundane fashion coupled with inconsistent, sloppy art."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CBR Review: The Spirit #1

I recently reviewed The Spirit #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The appeal of comics featuring the Spirit has (almost) always been the art. Whether it was Will Eisner creating a new visual language for comics or Darwyn Cooke’s bold cartooning in DC’s last Spirit comic, a big reason for interest has been in the art, with the stories acting as a secondary concern. The new relaunch of The Spirit as part of the First Wave line of books takes a similar approach with the series having Moritat as its regular artist and a string of black and white back-up stories beginning with Bill Sienkiewicz in this issue."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Doomwar #3

I recently reviewed Doomwar #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Thankfully, a part of this issue is very interesting, giving it something to make it worthwhile: Doom passing through the final security measure in T’Challa’s vault containing Wakanda’s vibranium. The final lock is a test of purity where any lies or negative motives will result in the death of whomever seeks access to the vault. T’Challa is mystified as to how Doom made it past this final stage and the issue bounces between Doom confronting Bast, the guardian and panther god of Wakanda, and T’Challa and the Fantastic Four preparing to take on Doom."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Kato Origins #1

I recently reviewed Kato Origins #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The opening issue to Kato Origins does an effective job of catering itself to him and his concerns, showing Britt Reid through his eyes somewhat and creating a story that’s uniquely tailored to his perspective and experience. With a focus on the idea that Kato is a Japanese man posing as a Korean in 1942 America, Jai Nitz hones in on something that separates Kato from every other sidekick, making him less generic."

You can read the rest HERE!

Quickie Reviews (Apr 21 2010)

Yeah, I should really change the name of these posts to Quickie Responses since these aren't reviews really. Just reactions, responses, random thoughts... whatever.

Gravel #18: If you've never read an issue of Gravel before, this is the issue for you as Ellis and Wolfer recap every Gravel story from Strange Kiss right up to the present in a series of three-panel pages with some slightly obtuse, suggestive narration as Gravel lays down the law to the new Minor Seven (of which there are only five). A fine issue, nice to see Wolfer doing some of the older stories in three panels like that. [***1/2]

Joe the Barbarian #4: Man, this issue just couldn't hold my attention. My mind kept wandering to what I was going to do after reading my comics and what's going on today and... some ideas and pieces of dialogue jumped out at me -- and the art is lovely as always, but... something just isn't clicking with me. I'll think on this and maybe say more when talking to Tim this week. [***]

Ultimate Comics Avengers #6: Anyone else getting flashbacks to The Authority #20 when they faced the evil Doctor? Horrible bastard with powers to bend reality... fucks with the good guys (who are bastards somewhat) instead of just killing them only to be undone by their overconfidence. Not as wonky an ending as that Authority issue, but still a little off. The stuff with the Red Skull in the hospital was so out of place that it came off as cliched and cheesy rather than heartfelt, while Nick Fury at the end was somewhat interesting. An enjoyable action comic and satisfying conclusion, but not exactly brilliant. Pacheco's art was serviceable with some pages/panels looking better than others. [***]

See, not a proper review in the house...

CBR Review: Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield #1

I recently reviewed Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Oh, ye gods, a comic meant to make me laugh that actually accomplished that goal. It’s been a while, good sir, but I’m happy to say that Who Won’t Wield the Shield #1 is an irreverent and gloriously inane book that is actually funny. It’s a comic aimed directly at Marvel’s current regime, taking on overly violent comics, the oversaturated nature of Deadpool, and, I guess, the lack of awesome comics by Matt Fraction and Brendan McCarthy? We could always use more of them like the 'Doctor America' story included here. It’s not quite a parody of Captain America, more a parody of Marvel done in the tradition of Not Brand Echh.

You can read the rest HERE!

Non-CBR Review: Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield #1

[I reviewed Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield #1 for CBR this week, but the review published wasn't the first review I wrote. I wrote another one inspired by the nature of the book, treating the whole thing as a joke somewhat. Sadly, it couldn't be used -- for reasons that should be obvious. Not sure how funny this 'review' is, but figured I'd stick it up anyway. Enjoy.]

Title: Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield #1
Story by: Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Stuart Moore
Art by: Mirco Pierfederici, Brendan McCarthy, Joe Quinones
Colors by: Mirco Pierfederici, Brendan McCarthy, Howard Hallis, Javier Rodriquez
Letters by: Todd Klein
Cover by: Gerald Parel
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover price: $3.99 (USD)
Release Date: April 21st, 2010
Rating: 5
Blurb: Does anyone read these blurbs? Anyone? Whatever.

Yeah, I didn’t read this book. Didn’t need to. It’s obviously a five-star book and I’ll tell you how I know: a little thing called the ‘positive review bonus’ that’s been added into my next reviewing check from Jonah. You see, a publisher like Marvel Comics understands the importance that a positive review from an Eisner-winning site like Comic Book Resources can have and, sometimes, likes to remind us reviewers that Marvel Comics is, in fact, the best comic book publisher there is (buy Siege!). Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield #1 being one of their brilliant books and written by exceptional talents like Jason Aaron (buy Wolverine: Weapon X, Punishermax, and Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine!), Matt Fraction (buy Uncanny X-Men, Invincible Iron Man, and Thor!), and Stuart Moore (buy Cloak and Dagger!), they would be remiss if they didn’t do everything in their power to push it. After all, a positive CBR review can be the difference between angry retailers demanding that Marvel take back the stacks of unsold copies cluttering up shops and that oh-so-coveted fifteenth printing.

So, I didn’t read it, because no one said I had to. Besides, all anyone cares about is the star rating. Five stars. Boom. Done. Easiest twenty bucks I ever made.

But, apparently, to save face, these reviews need to be a few hundred words more. Since I’ve got nothing left to say, I’ll just let my editor, Augie De Blieck fill in the rest. Augie?

Thanks, Chad! Hi, boys and girls, this is Augie De Blieck of Pipeline Commentary and the Pipeline Podcast, both of which are available here at Comic Book Resources. Like Chad, I didn’t have a chance to read this comic, because of work and family obligations, but, from what I’ve seen of the preview pages, I would have had to fire Chad if he didn’t give this book at least five stars. Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield #1 is just that fantastic a comic. I hope to read it someday when I finally get an iPad since I’ve given up reading actual paper comics in favor of the sleek, sexy, efficient iPad. I don’t have one yet, but I hope to get one soon and, then, I can get back to reading all of the comics I somehow enjoyed when they were only available in ink and paper.

After all, can ink and paper truly provide the high resolution and picture quality of an iPad? Don’t you owe it to yourself to only view the stunning art of Mirco Pierfederici, Brendan McCarthy, and Joe Quinones on an Apple device that shows them in the best possible manner? Paper comics are so antiquated and bulky. As you can read in next week’s Pipeline Commentary, I did a comparative study between comic book shops and iPads where I determined that iPads are much smaller and compact than brick and mortar comic book shops, proving their efficiency and that we must do away with comic shops immediately. Digital is the future, my friends!

Also, don’t forget to check out the Pipeline Podcast where I’ll be running down this week’s releases from the best publisher in comics, Marvel Comics, who happen to have an app for the iPad that I can’t wait to try out. Here are some previews of the biggest books of the week that I’ll be discussing on my podcast: Sif #1, Ultimate Comics Avengers #6, Siege: Spider-Man #1, X-Men Forever annual #1, Firestar #1, Her-oes #1, and, of course, the number one comic of this week, a five-star book if I ever saw one, Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield #1. You can follow me on Twitter at @augieshoots and my e-mail address is Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 12.2

This week's second episode of the Splash Page Podcast is up. Another long episode with Tim and I discuss lots of stuff like J. Michael Straczynski's upcoming DC work, our reactions to reactions to our reviews, Doc Savage #1, and some discussion of my past online, including some of the comics I wrote and drew. Yeah. All that plus "We're Hardcore" by Gord Downie.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast episode 12.2 HERE!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 12.1

The first episode of the week is up. This one is the first to feature our new theme music, "We're Hardcore" by Gord Downie (from Battle of the Nudes, available from MapleMusic). Let us know what you think of it. In this episode, we spend a lot of time discussing Frank Miller to conclude Frank Miller Week with some detours to Siege: Captain America #1, MoCCA, and yet another cliffhanger question ending.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page episode 12.1 HERE!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Booze, Broads & Bullets: Hell and Back

[The seventh of seven posts on Frank Miller's Sin City as part of a larger, cross-blog thing. David Brothers has the index over at 4thletter. He's discussed All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, so go read! Go! Oh, and Sean has a couple of new posts, too. So go quicker!]

Hell and Back by Frank Miller with painted colours by Lynn Varley. (1999-2000.)

And so it comes to an end with the largest Frank Miller project there is, I believe, aside from his Daredevil run, but that wasn't exactly planned out like this. Nine 30-plus-page issues make up Hell and Back. Like other Sin City stories, this one is fairly simple and doesn't necessarily require the length it has, especially since it falls apart somewhat at the end. But, it's an interesting book. It reads like Frank Miller's greatest hits at times as he alludes to various past works throughout.

Wallace is an artist (who I wrongly called a photographer in my A Dame to Kill For post -- what, I thought he was a photographer... it had been a while) who saves Esther, a suicidal woman, from killing herself. While getting to know her later, he's shot with a tranq dart and she's kidnapped. When he investigates by filing a police report, he's hassled by crooked cops telling him to drop it, so he looks into it further and discovers a group doing some really nasty things. Not necessarily a plot that seems like it requires nearly 300 pages, but, you know, Frank Miller likes to have his room to breathe.

Hell and Back is driven, largely, by what Frank Miller feels like drawing. There's the chapter where Wallace is drugged and Lynn Varley does painted colours as Wallace hallucinates, seeing dinosaurs, little angels and fairies... his former army buddy shows up to help him, arriving in a splash page, looking like Leonidas except with a big-ass gun -- he quickly turns into Lone Wolfe & Cub, Captain America, Rambo, Big Guy to Wallace's Rusty, Wonder Woman, Marth Washington, Harry Callahan, Moses, Hellboy... Delia (Blue Eyes) shows up as Elektra... they go through a Dr. Seuss world in one panel... it's wacky and absurd, Miller drawing whatever comes into his head and having fun. It's a weird chapter and one that doesn't contribute much to the story. It's fun and stupid and really nice-looking.

Wallace is probably Miller's dullest leading man. He's so pure and without conflict that it's hard to get behind him. Hartigan was pure, but there was at least some tension between his love for Nancy and her love for him... there was some internal fucked up shit going on. Not with Wallace. He's ultra-capable (more so than any other Miller protagonist) and ultra-pure/focused. Delia poses as Esther's roommate and tries to seduce him, but he doesn't even seem tempted so taken by this girl he knew for one night that needs rescuing. When he seemingly succumbs to temptation, it's just a ruse to get Delia handcuffed to a bed.

As far as ability, a Vietnam vet, Wallace has no problem taking down four cops at once in a combination of Daredevil and Jim Gordon -- or taking out a sniper in a dark room with one shot through the scope. The drop is gotten on him once through a somewhat careless mistake, but it's not a case of someone being better than him or even outsmarting him. But, he's too good, too pure. Marv was amazing, but fucked up in the head. Dwight wasn't as skilled as Marv or Wallace and pretty fucked up. Wallace takes out Manute without any problems... something only Marv could do, because Marv is a fucking freak of nature. Even when Wallace works his way through the drugs, he's too aware, too strong-headed, too resistant...

It's a fine line between having a capable protagonist and one that's too capable. Maybe it's that Wallace has a dull personality. It's hard to get into him when he's so singularly focused -- the closest thing we get to a personality fault is at the beginning where he rips up a painting out of some urge to fuck with an asshole. But, the minute Esther comes into the picture, he's in full white knight mode and doesn't deviate from that path...

The connections to the other Sin City stories are tenuous. Manute appears, placing this before The Big Fat Kill. Wallace visits the bar from Family Values with the big-nosed bartender and a slightly younger drunken single mother. Delia and the Colonel appear, but both die. It's pretty stand alone -- set solidly within that world but without strong connections.

Delia appearing is interesting since we know who she is immediately because of the blue colours. That tension is great since we keep waiting for Delia to reveal herself an assassin and working against Wallace. Turns out, he figures it out pretty quickly, but goes along with it until he can get her alone and question her. Miller plays with our expectations well there, making us think one payoff is coming and then subverting it.

After Delia is killed, Miller introduces another woman assassin, Mariah, the opposite of Delia. Delia has blue eyes, wears blue clothes, has short curly/wavy hair... Mariah wears sunglasses, is coloured orange, has long, straight hair... Delia is subtle and submissive with her sexuality, while Mariah is overt and aggressive with hers... the character never really goes anywhere beyond being the opposite of Delia, but Miller introducing her only after Delia is dead is a sign that, maybe, he wrote himself into a corner. Delia had to die, but he needed a female assassin, so maybe the opposite of Delia would do a better job against Wallace?

Miller's art has that ugliness, that grotesqueness to it that Family Values had, but Miller pulls back and uses heavier blacks. More contrasts, more suggestive shapes... this looks like an integration of older techniques with the new. He also seems willing to play with white spaces more. In the police station, backgrounds are white, few shadows, just outlines of objects and their details. Very stark pages from Miller.

Really, though, this is one of the least interesting works from Miller visually. After the hallucination chapter, his art begins to look rushed and becomes blockier in the way "The Babe Wore Red" was. It's not good-looking, like he was under a lot of pressure to get the book finished. Pages look dashed off. Maybe his heart wasn't in it... maybe it was... I don't know, I can't speak to motives, just that the work is some of Miller's weaker art.

In the book as a whole, there aren't many pages or images that stand out in my head like there are from every other Miller-drawn comic. Maybe some of the painted pages, but that's it. If there's anything that tells you the quality of Hell and Back, it's that.

Hell and Back isn't bad. I enjoyed reading it, but it's forgettable. Maybe I'm wrong and missing the brilliance. That's certainly possible, but I look at it and just hope that it isn't the last Sin City book. It's a goofy, absurd work that clearly shows Miller having fun, but it's a lesser work. He doesn't seem to have anything to say here like he usually does.

Thanks for joining me in my rereading of Sin City. Remember, go check out the Booze, Broads & Bullets index at 4thletter for the rest of the posts done for this week of Frank Miller.

Friday, April 16, 2010

CBR Review: Deadpool Team-Up #894

I recently reviewed Deadpool Team-Up #894 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Deadpool Team-Up #894 features FrankenCastle as the special guest-star, creating what may just happen to be the peak in this recent 'Age of Awesome' in comics where high concepts that never progress beyond a reaction of 'That’s so awesome!' dominate certain segments of fandom. All that this comic is missing is an appearance by MODOK for the sheer awesomeness of it to create a rip in the space-time continuum, I imagine."

You can read the rest HERE!

Booze, Broads & Bullets: Booze, Broads, & Bullets

[The sixth of seven posts on Frank Miller's Sin City as part of a larger, cross-blog thing. David Brothers has the index over at 4thletter. Go read anything you missed.]

Booze, Broads, & Bullets is a collection of various Sin City shorts and I'll take them one at a time in the order presented in the book. All by Frank Miller, obviously.

"Just Another Saturday Night" (1997). Marv killing some frat boys who he discovers beating up a homeless man for fun on the same night that Hartigan and Nancy meet in That Yellow Bastard. I haven't talked about it yet, but now is as good as time as any, but Miller is pretty... not obsessive, but... sure, let's say obsessive about telling us how stories fit together, throwing in little background scenes of characters interacting. "Blue Eyes," for example, shows an unseen scene between Shellie and Gail during A Dame to Kill For. It's interesting, but grows a little tedious after a while. Maybe that's because I don't care. What does it matter that Marv had this little adventure on the same night as Hartigan's shit with Junior? It doesn't. It's not a distraction, but it's unnecessary. More than that, Miller also likes to fill up background scenes with small pieces of dialogue... which works sometimes and not others. Some pages get too busy. I find he's at his best when he keeps it simple and focused, which those pages get away from.

But, getting to the actual story here. It's not a favourite of mine. The art is similar looking to that used in Family Values with less contrast, more lines, a little rougher, sketchier, uglier than always... but also with more panels per page. This story feels cramped, like it needed more room. Not the 120-plus pages of Family Values, but more than the 17 it gets. One thing that Miller does that's interesting is having Marv tell us the story from after it happened, often giving us panels of Marv's head in the background or pushed to one size of a panel, showing us that he's narrating.

"Fat Man and Little Boy" (1996). A three-page story that focuses on Douglas Klump and Burt Shlubb, the eponymous Fat Man and Little Boy that have appeared in That Yellow Bastard and Family Values as well as "The Babe Wore Red," which is the last story in this volume. Klump is Little Boy, while Shlubb is Fat Man. You can probably guess what they look like by their names. In this story, they just have to dispose of a body off the docks. It's rolled up in a carpet, but these nice boots are sticking out. They have a problem with deviating from their intstructions and doing stuff like stealing the wrong cars for jobs -- so, when they take the boots off to steal them, they discover that there's no body and the whole thing blows up. They've been punished for their greed and not following orders. A cute little story. Shlubb and Klump are entertaining since Miller writes them as these two lowlifes that use a lot of fancy words. It can get grating, but it makes them stand out and works in small doses like this. The story is only seven panels long, so Miller doesn't really do anything fancy with the art.

"The Customer is Always Right" (1994). A story that I like more each time. Only three pages, it's a little piece of flash fiction. Poetic and brief, haunting and alluding. Describing the plot doesn't really tell you why it's good. Basically, this is our introduction to the Colonel, an assassin (who, in Hell and Back is shown having interests beyond that) that kills a woman here, apparently at her request. It's soft and sweet. I really dig Miller's narration, which isn't that divorced from his standard poetic language when a man talks about a woman in one of his stories, but being limited here helps. Being vague and allusive works with the story. The art is entirely contrasts. No real outlines, characters existing half in light, half in shadows, lots of suggestion of form. It's raining for added mood. This is the story that Robert Rodriguez filmed to demonstrate the green screen technology to Miller to prove he could do Sin City and it begins the film. I like it better on the page with Miller's implied figures and extreme contrasts.

"Silent Night" (1995). A 26-page story told almost exclusively in splash pages and containing only one word balloon. The plot is simple: Marv goes to a place where a little girl is being kept, presumably so people can come and have sex with her -- or purchase her outright. So, Marv kills those responsible and takes her home. The story takes place on a snowy winter night, which means we get Frank Miller snow, which is the best snow you'll ever see in comics. It's wet, clumpy, heavy snow that just litters the page. You don't so much as see the snow as feel it -- at least if you've been in this sort of snow. The first page is just the snow, while the second and third have Marv walking towards us in the snow. Gorgeous pages. The fifth page gives us a full-page shot of Marv looking at us and it's probably the most 'human' image of Marv we've ever gotten. He doesn't look like Marv per se, but he doesn't not look like Marv. It's almost an attempt at drawing him in a more realistic manner, but still with big contrasts, lots of weird black and white lines. He doesn't look happy. The little girl, Kimberly, is drawn in a way that prefigures Nancy in That Yellow Bastard. There's a fun gag with two of the criminals being these twin balding fat goofs with big noses, sunglasses and striped shirts. Every page is a splash except for one page with two panels and another with three. Those pages move the story along as Marv descends into the basement of this building. Wonderful page after Marv has seen the girl of this bright white with minimal black -- Marv's internal rage before he kills the fuckers.

"And Behind Door Number Three..." (1994). A four-page story about Gail and Wendy capturing a rapist/murderer that ends with them about to torture him. Really simple, notable for the art, which has Miller really pushing his use of negative space to suggest forms and shapes. In the first panel, Wendy's head is a white shape that simply blocks out the background. He also does a nice trick with three of the pages containing the same perspective and having one of the women enter. First Wendy, then Gail, then Miho. Nice repetition of the image.

"Blue Eyes" (1996). The introduction of Delia, the eponymous Blue Eyes, who has blue eyes and always wears blue clothing. One of the rare characters to get colour in Sin City, it would hardly work without the colour. Jim is being followed by the Colonel for no reason that he can think of, unaware even who the Colonel is. But, it's driving him crazy, so he steals a car to escape him, winding up at Kadie's -- but the Colonel shows up there, too! Just as he turns to leave, there's Delia, an old flame that's in trouble and he's more than happy to get back with her and help. After having sex, she kills him, revealing that she married a bad guy who she killed, discovering she has a talent for it and enjoys it, and killing the man she really loves is her initiation into a guild of assassins. At the end, the Colonel comes in, says that crying is okay and part of the process, and that she needs a codename -- she says to call her Blue Eyes. There's a great trick where the first half of the story lives inside Jim's head via thought balloons, but when Delia shows up, the thought balloons disappear and Marv gets some. Delia arrives and Jim stops thinking, he just reacts, never questioning the coincidence that he's being followed and Delia arrives at the same time.

There's something disturbing about Delia. The colouring of her eyes is so bright that they seem bigger (maybe they are bigger), giving her an odd look. The blue clothes really make her stand out. It's an interesting decision to colour not just her eyes blue, but her clothes as well. There's a bit of the sketchy heavier lined look in the art here, but it's much more focused on contrasts -- contrasts that grow to heighten the tension that then slowly disappear once Jim is with Delia. The emotion post-sex when Delia realises that she really loves Jim, more than she thought she did, is great.

"Rats" (1996). An odd story that's divorced from every other Sin City story. It's about a former Nazi living in Basin City in a shitty apartment. He gases rats in his stove until a man comes in and sticks the Nazi's head in the oven to gas him. Pretty clear on what the point of it is. One thing I've always liked about this story is the way that the narration is presented: large typewriter-esque captions with every word seemingly cut out of a typewritten page and just pasted on the art. Gives it a different feel. The text is larger and dominating. The Nazi eats dog food. Lots of contrasts in panels. The man that kills the Nazi is a large, balding man with glasses. I don't believe we've seen him anywhere else. Wikipedia says that some call him the Janitor for whatever reason.

"Daddy's Little Girl" (1996). No connection to other Sin City stories, but in total faux-noir vein and storytelling. Miller uses pink colouring for Amy, the woman here that gets Johnny, our narrator, to go and kill her father so she can inherit his money and they can be together. It has him agonising over the decision, eventually approaching the old man and, first, asking for Amy's hand in marriage, but, when rebuffed, he shoots the father. Except it was blanks in the gun and it's all part of a sick incestuous game Amy and her father play where this is the only way to get him excited. The pink colouring gives Amy that sweet, soft look that makes her betrayal a little more sicker and twisted. Johnny looks a bit scummy, a little too old for Amy himself. Miller uses a mix of extreme contrasts and regular detailed shots. One panel of the father standing in front of a giant window in his mansion, us looking in from an upper angle is great. Fantastic lighting and shadow.

"Wrong Turn" (1997). A 23-page story about Delia that's really relaxed with lots of splashes and heavy use of blacks. The story begins with a man almost hitting Delia, who is lying on the road in the rain. He swerves to miss her, gets out, helps her out by giving her a ride after he car has broken down. She wants him to take her to the Pits and he obliges her, reflecting on the fact that he's married, but he had a fight with his wife. There's a slow seduction as Delia, in tight wet clothes, tells him about her first time, which was with a guy there and, just before sex, he stops her to tell her he's married. She wonders aloud why he'd lie about his name, but then come clean about having a wife. Turns out she was supposed to kill another guy in a similar car that was supposed to be coming down that road then -- he got a flat tire. She kills him and the Colonel is there to tell her that it was an honest mistake and that this guy wasn't so innocent as his wife's body is in his trunk. The story ends with Delia going to go kill the intended target on a train. The series of splashes of Delia in the rain are gorgeous. Lots of shadows mixed with white lines for rain, blue clothes sticking to her... and, then, the make-out/pre-sex pages are done without panel borders, just blending into one another. A really good-looking story. Lots of the sketchy ugly art of Miller's, but it works well here.

"Wrong Track" (1997). A three-page sequel to "Wrong Turn" where Delia kills the intended target after having sex with him on the train. The Colonel asks her at the end if she's going to have sex with every target and she says only the ones she likes. The opening splash of the train in the tunnel is great. A winding, curved look with lots of bricks.

"The Babe Wore Red" (1994). The last story in this collection, it was the main story from the first Sin City comic to contain short stories (along with "The Customer is Always Right" and "And Behind Door Number Three...") and the first to use colour. Miller has said that he used the red for the woman's dress, because he wanted to highlight her curves. Which the red does. This is a Dwight story as he comes when a friend calls for help only to find his friend strung up on a ceiling fan by piano wire. He finds a body with its head in the toilet and Fat Man Shlubb behind the door -- the first appearance of the duo, I believe as Klump shows up later in the story. After laying him out, he discovers the babe in red in the shower. Someone takes a shot through the window and they leg it. Klump (the shooter) and Shlubb follow to the Farm where Dwight takes them out and discovers what's what. His buddy was helping a PI (the body) and the girl just got mixed up at the wrong time, nervous about her wedding the next day -- the punchline being that she took her vows the next day to become a nun. A decent little story with an unexpected twist. Even rereading it, I kept waiting for her to betray Dwight, but Miller doesn't go there. Miller's art here is some of his weakest. Very clunky and messy... in that characters don't look right. It looks dashed off in a bad way. Maybe he was trying out some things, but they didn't work. I love the use of red, but Dwight looks weird. Some panels, of course, are fantastic, but, overall, some really sloppy work.

Booze, Broads, & Bullets is a solid collection. None of the stories are fantastic, but there are some really nice bits here. Oddly, this would probably be the last Sin City book I'd recommend. Normally, short story collections are great (at least in the prose world), because you get to see an artist's range and get a lot of material in the same sized package. Something you can jump around in. It seems like Miller used his short stories as ways to try out things, see what art techniques worked, what characters caught his fancy, sometimes just have a bit of a laugh. Nothing wrong with that and I'm not disappointed with the book at all, it's just that a lot of what works works because of its context as book six in the series. Of seeing how these stories fed the longer narratives. Of how they add little character bits to the leads from the other books.

Tomorrow, Frank Miller Week concludes with Hell and Back, the longest Sin City story.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

CBR Review: Hulked Out Heroes #1

I recently reviewed Hulked Out Heroes #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "They really should have titled this 'Hulkpool’s Wacky Adventures in Time Travel' instead of Hulked Out Heroes, because the only hero that’s hulked out here is Deadpool. There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but that’s not what people buying a book called Hulked Out Heroes will be expecting. It feels like a letdown as a result. You get all geared up for your favorite heroes getting hit with gamma energy and becoming bulging monsters like the No-Thing, Wolverage, and Namor the Hulkmariner as we get to see in the sketchbook at the end of the issue. That’s what people want from this book and it fails to deliver."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: The Green Hornet: Year One #2

I recently reviewed The Green Hornet: Year One #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I thought Aaron Campbell did some solid artwork on Dynamite’s Sherlock Holmes series, but he’s reinvented himself on The Green Hornet: Year One with moody art that has a retro feel that plays into the comic well. On Sherlock Holmes, he had a realistic style that was lush in its line work, but, here, it’s much looser in its effort to convey strong, powerful lines. It’s surprising how much he’s changed and how well it works with Matt Wagner’s script, set in the mid- to late-1930s."

You can read the rest HERE!

Booze, Broads & Bullets: Family Values

[The fifth of seven posts on Frank Miller's Sin City as part of a larger, cross-blog thing. David Brothers has the index over at 4thletter. David has some thoughts on The Big Fat Kill, while Sean does That Yellow Bastard.]

Family Values by Frank Miller. (1997.)

123 pages. The longest sustained story with no seralisation or chapter/issue breaks of Frank Miller's career. In Eisner/Miller, this is the book he brings up the most, discussing how exciting it was to work on a project like this where he didn't really show any of it to anyone while he was working on. He just let it breathe and, often, would expand sequences because he felt they needed more room. The result is, honestly, a little bloated, but it works. If there's a Sin City book that I'd suggest someone start with, it would be this one -- partly because it's the cheapest, but it's also pretty indicative of the rest of the series.

Dwight is on a mission for the girls from Old Town with Miho as back-up. He's curious about a shooting at a local diner from the other night. We eventually learn that one of the Old Town girls was caught up in it and he's there so her lover can get revenge on the mob boss that ordered the hit to begin with. In the process, Miller explores the idea of family.

Artistically, Miller's art is somewhat ugly here. While Dwight was fresh-faced in previous stories, Miller's cross-hatching and use of lines on the face make him look a little worn down, approaching middle age. It's an ugliness that would carry on to The Dark Knight Strikes Again -- one that I dig. It's an attractive ugliness. One that works with the story. This is a story that lives in seedy bars and seedy places with crooked politicians and mobsters. The only attractive character throughout is Miho, who Miller draws in a blocky style with no shading, just outlines. She stands out from the rest of the characters. This little violent angel that radiates white light... speeding around on roller blades the entire time, slowly undressing as the story progresses. That's something that caught me off guard when I first noticed Miho's nipples popping out of her shirt, so I went back and, yeah, I hadn't noticed the half dozen times it had happened before. Ever notice how Miller always draws these big, thick nipples on women? I find that interesting.

The pacing here is relaxed, especially when we get to the end. Miller even jokes about it somewhat in a sequence where Miho is taking on one of the gangsters and Dwight keeps telling her to wrap it up, but she keeps toying with him. You can almost see the two sides of Miller: the one that wants to get on with the story and the one that's just having fun drawing a Japanese girl on rollerblades use a sword to fuck with this ugly brute of a man that keeps hurling racist comments at her. It's just absurdly stupid... but fun.

That's the key word here: I think Family Values is the Sin City yarn (as Miller calls them) where he's having the most fun. The freedom to just do what he wanted without worrying about issues or limitations really gives the book energy. He plays around with page layouts more, staggering panels in ways he doesn't elsewhere. He loses panel borders more than before. His work is sketchier, rougher... like he couldn't sit still long enough to do extreme contrasts and more purposeful compositions.

The writing has a playful quality to it throughout as well. The dialogue between Dwight and the woman in the bar is a little sad, but also very breezy, very musical. Some nice banter. Dwight really gets going when he's nabbed by some mobsters and keeps talking about how much fun he'll have driving their car, or talking out loud about how the one guy shouldn't keep mouthing off to Miho as that's only pissing her off. Dwight is having fun with this mission. He's enjoying fucking with the mobsters. Other stories have had him very serious (and rightly so), but he's so confident here that he can afford to be cocky and funny. There isn't anything on the line, no immediate deaths or broken truces... it's just some good ol' fashioned revenge, so why not fuck with them while you're doing it?

I love the bartender Miller draws. He begins with a cartoonishly big nose, but it gets bigger and bigger until it's bigger than his head. I love it.

Miller uses families a lot here, showing the connections and what matters -- ultimately, it's a lesbian relationship between two prostitutes that matters the most, which is Miller's punchline. Families come in all forms and what does the term 'family values' even mean? What family? Whose values? The politician that spouts off about 'family values' cheats on his wife openly. The mob is a family and it all begins with a hit gone wrong thanks to a mob Don's niece being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- same thing with the slain Old Town girl, wrong place, wrong time. There's a nice symmetry there.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to Holy Terror, Batman! was the chance to see Miller do another graphic novel with no chapter breaks or issues. Just watch him go as he sees fit, because I really dig it here. If you haven't checked out Sin City yet, drop the twelve bucks on this one.

Tomorrow, a bit of everything with Booze, Broads, & Bullets, a collection of just under a dozen short stories.

Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #1-6 Review

A while back, Christopher Allen of Trouble with Comics asked if I'd contribute to their guest reviewer month and that was quite flattering because it's always flattering when someone asks you to do something for them. Originally, I was going to do a piece on The Programme and Thomas Pynchon, but that got too big very quickly, so, instead, I wrote about Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #1-6. It's me just talking it through, figuring out why I bothered with the book. Also, Christopher says some very nice things about my writing at the beginning that have all gone to my head and made my ego that much bigger. Lucky for you.

So, yeah, go check out my review of Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #1-6 HERE!

CBR Review: Doc Savage #1

I recently reviewed Doc Savage #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It’s a little odd for this title to launch before the second issue of First Wave has even shipped, but Doc Savage #1 hits the ground running, jumping into the story right away and explaining things as it goes, which is a positive. Paul Malmont’s script is constantly pushing forward, giving the issue a real energetic and dynamic feeling that is hampered by Howard Porter’s awkward, angular, overly-posed art. But, paired with Jason Starr and Scott Hampton’s 'Justice, Inc.' second feature, it makes for a solid first issue full of action."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CBR Review: Siege: Captain America #1

I recently reviewed Siege: Captain America #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "For anyone reading Captain America, this Siege tie-in doesn’t shed any new light on the relationship between Steve Rogers and James Barnes regarding the Captain America mantle. But, for anyone who hasn’t been reading that book, this issue acts as a good primer. Following up on the destruction of Asgard in Siege #3, the two Captains America have to rescue a family from Razor-Fist, a villain that has, well, blades for hands if the name wasn’t a big tip-off."

You can read the rest HERE!

Quickie Reviews (Apr 14 2010)

Four books to discuss this week. I enjoyed them all.

Daytripper #5: I loved going to my Grandma Flossie's place. She lived a couple of hours away, right in the middle of Amish country. She used to live somewhere else, but I only have vague memories of that place. I remember when she and Papa bought that house and my mom and my sisters showed up before anyone and had to wait on the back deck for someone to arrive and let us in. She had a giant backyard, there was a creek down the road where we'd catch minnows and crayfish, I had some friends there, three brothers all with names beginning with 'J' and we'd trade comics and play baseball. We had floats there and watched the same movies a billion times. I'd load up my bag with books and comics to read in the car there and back. Papa, after he got sick, had to sleep in a room on the first floor and we'd watch TV on Sunday morning and hear him fart in his sleep. I'm sure I didn't always show how much I loved going there, but I did. And Grandma Flossie was fantastic in that way that grandmas should be. Good times. [****1/2]

Punishermax #6: Fuck me if Bullseye doesn't work here. Jason Aaron continues to build on Garth Ennis and that works, too. Plus, Steve Dillon art. You aren't buying this book why? [****]

Siege: Loki #1: Kieron Gillen is doing some solid work with Thor's area of the Marvel universe and his Loki is deliciously evil and wonderful. He kind of reminds me of the Alex Ross/Jim Krueger Earth X Loki, the one that sees it all for the bullshit that it is and tries to break free of it -- and himself. He's not quite that far gone, but he definitely see the limitations of his existence and wants free of them, while doing things that draw him further in. Jamie McKelvie does a a great Loki. A pale, skinny, slightly androgynous guy... who reveals himself something of a badass and mugs to the camera. Nice issue. [***1/2]

The Unwritten #12: I need to buy an extra copy for my mom since she loves Beatrix Potter stories... fun issue that explores the concept of this book in that broader way I keep hoping it will. Also, a different art team working over Peter Gross's layouts is great. I hope they keep that up for stories like this. [****]

Now, to go and write reviews that pay...

Booze, Broads & Bullets: That Yellow Bastard

[The fourth of seven posts on Frank Miller's Sin City as part of a larger, cross-blog thing. David Brothers has the index over at 4thletter. David does Spawn/Batman (which I need a copy of, fuck!) and Sean Witzke joins the fun.]

That Yellow Bastard by Frank Miller. (1996.)

This is my favourite Sin City book. Miller is really on his game here with the visuals as he begins to play with double-page spreads and layouts to create these big, bold images that are very simple in their line work, but complex in their conception. It's also a story that manages to hit a lot of the same notes regarding the tough guy and the woman who worships him/he loves, but does so within a framework that makes sense. That's not to say there aren't any problems, but this is the best Sin City book as far as I'm concerned.

That Yellow Bastard seems like Miller's attempt to do the final Dirty Harry Callahan story. Bruce Willis played Detective John Hartigan in the movie, but this is clearly Clint Eastwood being a badass cop one last time. It's almost impossible to read it any other way -- and I liked Willis in Sin City as Hartigan. (Just read that Miller pretty much says as much in the commentary to Sin City, which I've never listened to...) Hartigan is pushing 60, grizzled, less than a day until retirement, but he throws all that away to save an 11-year old girl from the pedophile son of Senator Roark. The cops turn the other eye, but Hartigan is an honest cop on a corrupt force, unwilling to let a little girl get raped and murdered no matter the consequences.

Visually, this is the book where Miller hits his peak as far as Sin City is concerned. The pacing is spot-on. In the first issue, Hartigan suffers a black-out from his angina and Miller shows it over a series of pages. First, the full page shot of him feeling it, lots of text as he talks it through, reacting, screaming in his head -- then another full-page shot where it really hits and there's just a loud grunt/moan/yell. Then, he does another single-panel page, but it's a smaller panel with a couple of inches of black gutter around it as he clutches the wall. Then, another single-panel page, but it's a small panel in the bottom right-hand corner as he leans against the wall, eyes rolled up in pain, mouth open, caption reading "NOT NOW." Then, all black, except a small caption near the bottom repeating the "NOT NOW." Miller then cuts to the little girl, Nancy, and what's happening with her -- is it really happening or is it what Hartigan imagines, because the next page is another totally black page with a single caption: "NO." Over the next page, staggered, tilted caption boxes and panels have Hartigan take his pill and lead to a splash of him in extreme contrast, mostly white, crawling, thinking of the girl, recovering, about to save her. Two more splashes as he gets up and then stands proud.

It's a sequence repeated in chapter six when Hartigan is left hanging in a motel room to die and the way that Miller draws it with single images and text make it seem like Hartigan's had it. A caption that reads "THE END" could mean the end... But, no. Two facing pages show Hartigan from the shoulders up. The first, he's facing our left, looking defeated, about to die. The second, he's facing our right, determined, not dead yet.

Miller uses space on his pages here better than anywhere else that I can think of.

I mentioned the double-page shots. Each issue begins with one, but the first page is mostly eaten up by CHAPTER [NUMBER] in big text. The second issue has the first real double-page spread which shows Hartigan sitting on the dock, Nancy hugging him after he saved her. It's shown in silhouette with the dock and those on it in block white, while the background is all black, small white dots in the sky for stars. The second double-page spread comes in the third chapter and it's one of the most famous images from this book: the downward view of Hartigan in his jail cell, a square area with bars that reach up into the sky, no roof. White bars, a little bit of shadow on Hartigan. Extreme contrast with the most basic outlines of objects. He sits there dejected, trapped by these bars that go up forever. Hot damn what an image.

I'm not going to give every double-page shot, but chapter six has a few great ones on the Farm where Hartigan encounters the barn. Again, like the prison, Miller is using straight lines to great aesthetic effect. Lots of white, minimal black to suggest shapes. In the first shot, Hartigan approaches the barn, dwarfed by its size -- he's coming from the bottom right, heading to the top left. In the second shot, it's a level shot, directly facing the barn as Hartigan approaches the door, again minimal blacks, the barn looks massive, like a castle or something.

The comic ends with three double-page shots. One: Hartigan points his gun at his head. Two: BOOM. Three: Hartigan on the ground, dead. Powerful stuff. Miller giving the actual shot two pages of sound-effect like that is an interesting choice -- a rare shying away from violence with a suggestive presentation that is, possibly, worse than seeing it happen. It's almost more shocking to be confronted with two pages of


Beyond the two-page shots, Miller's control over black and white is stronger in this book. He uses a lot of contrasts of extreme black and white to suggest shapes and figures, but, unlike previous attempts, they're clearer here. It's rare that I have to struggle to tell what I'm looking at, which was a problem in places previously.

One of my favourite sequences has Miller keeping the perspective fixed when Hartigan is in the hospital and Senator Roark is in front of him, telling him what's what. It's only four or five pages of three-panel pages (with some small insert panels to show extra movement) of Roark pacing in front of Hartigan and talking about the power he has. The power of getting people to go along with whatever lies he tells. It culiminates with three panels of Roark leaning in so we only see his head with a sea of blackness in the background. Very good stuff with Miller giving Roark a lot of good acting bits. He continues that perspective for some more panels as other people are in Hartigan's room and it's really effective.

He also uses colour for only the second time. He previously used red in "The Babe Wore Red" (collected in Booze, Broads, & Bullets) and, then, in subsequent stories with blue, pink, and orange (and the Lynn Varley painted pages of Hell and Back). As the title suggests, here, he uses yellow. Junior, the pedophile, is brought out of the coma that Hartigan put him in thanks to medical science and his genitals are even repaired/grown back after Hartigan shot them off, but he's this bald yellow creature with big eyes and a bigger gut. He doesn't look natural and the yellow Miller uses is effective for this. He stands out in this world of black and white. It's jarring when he shows up -- and he stands out on every page he's on.

Junior's appearance/recovery is one of the problems of this book. It pushes things beyond the realm of believability (yes, a nearly 70-year old Hartigan going like he does at the end is more believable). Another problem I have is with a point that the plot turns on: Roark and company can't figure out who is writing the weekly letters to Hartigan in prison. I've never understood why they didn't just know it was Nancy, the girl he saved. It always seemed so obvious -- and these guys don't seem like the types that would require absolute proof before just killing her. I think they gain a certain satisfaction out of getting Hartigan to confess to crimes he didn't commit, but them needing him to lead them to the letter-writer never worked for me.

The writing in this book is some of Miller's best when it comes to Sin City, partly because the male/female dynamic is interesting and not as problematic (or, at least, it's problematic in a different way than the usual Miller thing). Hartigan sees Nancy as a daughter or granddaughter. Someone he's proud of and loves in a way that has nothing to do with sex. Nancy loves Hartigan in a way that has everything to do with sex, because he saved her. Their eventual reunion is awkward and fantastic, because he's scared shitless for her, just wanting to make sure she's safe and she's Nancy! Nancy the stripper Nancy! His reaction is priceless and, when she sees him, her immediate reaction is to jump at him, kissing him, and he goes with it.

Hartigan's not comfortable with Nancy's affection and seems to want to go with it, but can't. He still sees her as the 11-year old girl he rescued and getting the 19-year old woman mixed up with that is weird and creepy -- and he knows that. She doesn't see how it would be weird for him. It's an odd dynamic you don't often see as Hartigan tries to maintain that fatherly/grandfatherly love for her despite everything telling him that he should forget that and embrace the romantic/sexual love she has for him. And, then, does she really love him that way or has his rescuing her gotten her all mixed up? He did one action that makes all other men pale in comparison -- she knows little about him, she's made him the ideal man, one that, obviously, no one her own age can live up to. More than that, Hartigan having sexual feelings to her while thinking of her as the 11-year old he saved puts him in similar territory to Junior...


That's how he puts it to Nancy and she responds by telling him she loves him -- and he loves her with all his heart, but it's a different kind of love.

That Yellow Bastard is a case where the man protecting the woman doesn't seem patronising or odd. Nancy isn't a tough Old Town girl that goes from dominant to subservient the minute Dwight shows up. She was an 11-year old saved by a cop... and, later, she's saved again while being an active participant in her rescue, doing everything she can to slow down Junior.

Miller really nailed it with this book. If only they could have gotten Clint to play Hartigan, y'know?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Booze, Broads & Bullets: The Big Fat Kill

[The third of seven posts on Frank Miller's Sin City as part of a larger, cross-blog thing. David Brothers has the index over at 4thletter. Tim Callahan, Tim O'Neil, and David have all contributed some new stuff not there yesterday at this time.]

The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller. (1994-1995.)

It's hard to read this book without thinking of the film adaptation. I don't have the same problem as much with The Hard Goodbye or That Yellow Bastard, because some of Miller's visual problems from A Dame to Kill For show up here. The lack of clarity in places makes it easy for Jackie-Boy to become Benicio del Toro; for Dwight to become Clive Owen... then again, I really dug the film adaptation of The Big Fat Kill, my favourite of the three stories in the flick. It's a fluffy story that works well on the screen, less so on the page where Miller's pacing isn't 100% on.

While rereading this, I tried to figure out the pacing of the story based on chapter breaks. I assume the breaks coincide with issue breaks, but given that the chapters of the first two stories didn't line up with their serialisations, I won't assume -- though, given the breaks, that's the only thing that makes any sense. Early on, it seems like Miller just hit a page number and said "Alright, I'll pick this up next issue..." It's not quite that bad really, but it's not far off. The first chapter ends with Jackie-Boy and his crew in Old Town, about to get themselves killed, Dwight just held back from interfering by Gail. It's not a bad place to stop and pick things up, but it's a quiet place. It's a lull. There's a rising tension as we wait for the kill and there's an appeal in that, but it just strikes me as odd.

Then again, you don't often see the anticipation break. Building up to something and, then, it's come back next time where the tension has the be rebuilt somewhat. Usually, it's more a cliffhanger. This is subtler and not as effective because, as I said, Miller then spends a few pages at the beginning of the next chapter rebuilding the tension that he spent half the first issue building. It's a long, leisurely build.

The payoff isn't what you'd expect as Miller plays it up for laughs. Crew members are skewered by Miho's blades, while another's head is chopped off, sent flying, bouncing right in front of a freaked out Jackie-Boy frantically searching for his cut off hand. Miller builds up to something awful and delivers absurdist comedy. The real payoff comes after the killing when Dwight finds Jackie's badge.

The payoff is the best sequence of the book and is built in the false payoff scene with the rumbling of thunder that tips Dwight off to the idea that something isn't right. Dwight searches Jackie's body for cash and he finds the 'atom bomb' as he puts it. Full page of thunder with a giant BOOM! sound effect. Two-panel page where one panel is the rain starting to fall and the second is the downpour in action. Then he drags it out over another few pages as Dwight talks around the badge, talks about what it means, how they're all fucked, etc. until he reveals that it's a police badge and Jackie-Boy just isn't any cop, "HE'S A COP. DETECTIVE JACK RAFFERTY. 'IRON JACK,' THE PAPERS CALL HIM. / A GOD DAMN HERO COP."

I do love that reveal. Jackie-Boy is a cop -- and not just any cop, but a hero cop, the sort of cop that could be the star of one of these books. I almost wish the book ended there, because it doesn't get any better than that reveal. That's the climax of the story, the ultimate payoff/joke. Everything that follows feels like work, like necessary mechanics, like going through the motions. Entertaining and fun, sure -- some cool scenes with great visuals, yeah -- but, the reveal of Iron Jack? That's some good shit.

Something I don't like is how Jackie is drawn. Miller uses a lot of blocky lines with lots of contrast for him. He looks generic and blank, which is why del Toro fills in for him pretty easily. Even after he's been killed, his look is one that puts me off.

Dwight, on the other hand, is in full superhero mode in this story. A protector of women, he has his jacket that's like a cape... He's trying to atone for the murder of Damien Lord, Ava's husband that he killed in cold blood, tricked by her... but I never get the feeling that that matters. Miller pays the idea some lip-service and moves on, preferring to focus on the situation Dwight's landed himself in.

Not sure what to make of Dwight's interactions with the girls of Old Town. Obviously, the women like being in charge and running things, and they resent Dwight... but he's right. His plan is the right one and they fight him on it, and they nearly fuck it up, while also supporting him by sending Dallas and Miho to the tar pits after him. Even in A Dame to Kill For, I've been struggling with this relationship. Miller likes his strong, powerful women -- his warrior women -- but they always seem to need some male figure to gather around and listen to. It's weird.

Dwight, as a character, is maleable. I'm not sure he has a fixed position. He shifts from confident to panicked easily. He's very competent, but also a bit of a loser. Why does he choose Shellie over Gail? That's a topic that Miller talks around a lot, but never really addresses. It's also one of the more complex parts of his character, so it's one that interests me...

The Big Fat Kill also includes a scene right at the beginning of chapter five regarding the Spartans that Miller would do 300 about. It's an odd page, because we actually see the Spartans in the Hot Gates -- Miller breaking from the world of Sin City visually. He doesn't do that anywhere else (not including the hallucinations in Hell and Back, but that's different). It's little things like that that remind you how much of this is driven by the idea of 'cool shit Miller wants to draw.' The Tar Pits are an excuse to draw dinosaurs... the women of Old Town are hot babes in skimpy clothes... the Spartans are Spartans... the pacing is relaxed, the pictures are big... it's a breezy, fun read.

Tomorrow, That Yellow Bastard.

The Status Quo Abides, but What about the Auteur?

First, go read Kyle DuVall's post on auteurism at Marvel and DC and then come back.

I've seen these sentiments raised before and they never fail to baffle me. This idea that the status quo of corporate-owned superhero comics is a fragile little thing that needs to be protected from dangerous men with dangerous new ideas... it took Marvel, what, two comics to gut and turn around any progress made during Grant Morrison's New X-Men run? The status quo and the corporate-owned superheroes will be just fine. They've been going for almost 50 years in most cases (some more by a few decades, some less) and it doesn't look like they're going anywhere. Oh, there may be some twists and turns, but, at the end of the day, Spider-Man is still Spider-Man, he's always been Spider-Man, and he'll always be Spider-Man.

Your comics are safe.

Even if these characters could be 'ruined,' so what? Why is ambitious storytelling that pushes things forward, changing characters, making them grow, why is this a bad thing? Why is the reader concerned with maintaining the status quo, of not hurting the character in the longterm, when that's clearly only something that the owners of said characters should care about? I don't understand that mentality. Is it as simple as I sometimes say -- is it that most corporate-owned superhero readers believe somewhere that they will get a chance to write them someday and don't want changes to fuck with that? Or is it something else? Why the resistance to change?

And why blame the creator? Blame the creator for the way a story is told, even partly for the ideas, but don't the publishers approve them? Isn't that where the true responsibility for preserving these characters lies? The creator's only responsibility is to the story, to producing the best possible comics. For some, that includes caring about the status quo, about what comes next, but not all. Some would say that's part of the job, but, if the editors/publisher don't hold the writer to that standard, why should the writer go out of his or her way to adhere to those limitations?

Fuck the characters, give me stories from auteurs. Why would I (why would anyone) want to read some middling bullshit that's too afraid to step out of line that I can't remember what the story was about three minutes after putting the book down? I wouldn't. I don't. The only problem with auteurs in corporate-owned mainstream comics is that there aren't enough of them. Obviously, you're not going to like everything, but I'd rather see stuff like what Geoff Johns write on the shelves than toothless, bland comics. At least Johns has his vision and he sticks to it. It alienates readers like me, but I can respect it.

There's no such thing as ruined or broken or going too far. These are fictional characters and do you know how easy it is to put them right back where they began? Any hack with a keyboard could do it in a single panel. That's how fragile they are: one panel to fix any problems.

I look at my bookshelves, at the corporate-owned superhero comics that I own and they're the ones with ambition and vision. Those are the books I want to read. The stuff you'll actually remember in five minutes, in two years, in two decades... The precious status quo was built by auteurs with vision and drive, making it all up as they went, no rules to follow because the characters were brand new and those are the books celebrated. Those are the creators celebrated. No one remembers the journeymen who wrote safe little stories that didn't rock the boat, because why would anyone?

Give me more auteurs. Give me more ambition. Give me more change. The toys will still be there, the status quo will take care of itself, stop being a bunch of timid children.

"Auteur problem"? Fuck...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Booze, Broads & Bullets: A Dame to Kill For

[The second of seven posts on Frank Miller's Sin City as part of a larger, cross-blog thing. David Brothers has the index over at 4thletter. Go check it out for his posts on Ronin and Elektra Lives Again.]

A Dame to Kill For by Frank Miller. (1993-1994.)

A Dame to Kill For probably ranks near the bottom of the Sin City books for me. I enjoy it and love how, rereading it, I could see how it's the one book that connects to every other Sin City book, but, man, that story... the story is just way too far gone. Even more so than The Hard Goodbye, this seems like a dry run for stuff Miller would do later. Dwight becomes a more entertaining and engaging character by the end and continues on in that fasion in future stories. The photographer stuff is handled better in Hell and Back. The problems between police partners is returned to in That Yellow Bastard (with one of the same cops). Even Miller's art is weaker here as he tries new things out.

I don't like Miller's art in big chunks of this book. At the beginning, he tries to mix a minimalism in thin line work with the extreme contrast of black and white he often has, and it doesn't look as good. The thin lines give it a look of incompleteness, like it hasn't been finished, just rushed through. Around the edges of characters, lines will disappear in places... I've been trying to think about why Miller used this style. He jumps around a lot in Sin City books, alterning lighting and how characters are expressed from panel to panel. I'm not sure I always understand why (other than him liking the way that looks), but this other style confuses me more since I really don't think it's good.

It continues throughout the book at different times. One place where it mixes with something I really like is the scene where Dwight and Ava meet in a bar and Miller does a fantastic effect to show the smoke-filled room. It's just these horizontal chunky lines of white that take out parts of the art. Like a heavier, thicker version of the very straight lines he used for the rain in The Hard Goodbye. It makes for a gorgeous, overpowering look, the way the smoke would overpower you. But, that's sometimes coupled with that contrast that doesn't work. Manute, the black servant of Ava and her husband, poses a problem for Miller it seems, because of his skin colour. Miller never really draws Manute in an attractive manner, the black and white parts of his face never really working for me.

I guess A Dame to Kill For represents that tension I've always had with Miller's Sin City art that I didn't often have with the art meant to be coloured. In his extreme contrasts, Miller can be very hit or miss. Sometimes, the pictures are gorgeous and stop you dead. Other times, they're muddled and unclear and you just want to push past them. I do like how he keeps trying new ways to work with the black and white art, though. He keeps trying to find new ways to show people with different variations on shading and lighting and line thickness. It doesn't always work -- even he doesn't expect it to, I imagine (I hope!) -- but it is interesting.

Beyond the art, the writing in A Dame to Kill For is hit or miss. Dwight is a character that ends in a very different place than where he begins and, from what I can remember, he never returns to that initial starting place. The face change he receives is a plot device, but also something I think Miller uses to get rid of that other Dwight. It's like Miller could sense the character wasn't working, wasn't someone that could be used beyond this story, and changed him to someone more interesting. That 'man with a problem with women and booze, has a monster inside' thing works... once. And once Miller introduces Dwight's relationship with the women of Old Town, you realise that this is a character that could be used again in the future, so why not keep him around?

I usually find myself laughing at the original Dwight and his over-the-top 'can't let the monster out' bullshit. It's cartoony and over-the-top. So is Ava. The femme fatale that makes any man do as she wants simply because she feels like it. Miller playing with a trope, but he does so in a way where she's two-dimensional. You never get the sense that she cares about her husband's money or anything other than fucking with people. Dwight's reaction to Manute's crazy rantings about her being a goddess is how the reader should react: what a load of crap. She's a convenient plot point...

If anything A Dame to Kill For feels like one big exercise in play. Which is fine. It's entertaining and has some great art sometimes, but I just can't get beyond a lot of the more stupid elements. Dwight going from Ava's slave to bossing around the women of Old Town... yes, it happens for a reason, but, like I said, this guy is two characters. The minute his face is made to look monstrous, he becomes a different character. So, I'm left wondering what the point is. Why not begin there? Was Miller going along and realised that things weren't working, so changed mid-course?

As I said near the beginning, A Dame to Kill For is a foundation for the rest of Sin City as Marv's involvement shows. Here, Miller begins to build up the idea of the world. Marv is Dwight's pal and helps him out; later, we see scenes from The Hard Goodbye, which is happening at the same time as the second half of this story. Funny how the old Dwight and Marv are gotten rid of at the same time. It's a sign that the new Dwight is the hero of Sin City (kind of)... an attractive young hero to replace the bruttish thug of Marv...

I'll talk more about the new Dwight tomorrow with The Big Fat Kill.