Thursday, January 31, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Cable #55

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Cable. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Joe Casey's run on Cable is marked by tensions between the character's past and future, as well as his role in the X-universe and the larger Marvel universe--tensions this issue highlights.

Firstly, Casey sets Cable up in Hell's Kitchen, putting him on par with Daredevil specifically, but also with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. While the X-Men have operated everywhere in the world except for New York, basically (although there were exceptions, obviously), Cable is breaking from that tradition and joining the ranks of the other heroes, in a sense. Casey places Cable within the tradition of these heroes and does his best in this issue to expand upon that by having Cable confront/meet three women--one a past love interest, one a current companion of sorts and the other a future love interest. This is Peter Parker-esque melodrama, not the typical type of story found in the pages of Cable.

Cable has returned to New York and stops in at Babel's, a diner in Hell's Kitchen where he flirts with the waitress, Stacey. This flirtation is interrupted by Irene, Cable's "chronicler," who is pissed off about being left in Switzerland in a telepathically-induced sleep while Cable went on to Apocalypse's hibernation chamber to combat Sebastian Shaw and Donald Pierce. The confrontation between Irene and Cable is interrupted by Stacey and then put on hold while Cable goes home and finds Domino waiting for him. They exchange words and she leaves, their relationship at an end.

Casey is pushing Cable in a direction that moves away from his past while, at the same time, enforcing it. While elements like Domino no longer fit in, Blaquesmith does. The issue begins with a beautiful splash by Ladronn that features this giant creature that's partly machine standing in a fiery wasteland over the bodies of Cyclops, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey is in a more classic costume for some reason), Cannonball, Professor X and Magneto. This turns out to be all in Blaquesmith's head and he doesn't know if it's a hallucination or a vision of the future. He's trapped somewhere and needs Cable to rescue him. As Blaquesmith ties into Cable's role as savior and slayer of Apocalypse, he fits into Casey's new direction, while Domino is more an element of the best-left-forgotten Liefeld roots of the character (that's my phrasing as Casey doesn't seem as anti-Liefeld as most considering his rescripting the original Youngblood series and writing the newest version of the book).

At the same time, someone has hired a superpowered assassin to hunt down and kill Domino. Casey roots him in the Marvel universe by having him stay with Speed Demon, who appears out of costume and mocks his former group, including the Beetle for going straight (a reference to Thunderbolts--an interesting one, too, as it suggests that other supervillains knew the true identities of the group, perhaps).

It's worth noting that the guest stars or villains in most future issues are not from the X-books, but people like Rama-Tut, SHIELD, Nick Fury and the Avengers--along with the Black Panther in last issue.

Despite this, Casey sees that Cable is able to fit into the larger Marvel universe because he has unique attributes and is different from the rest of the heroes. These differences aren't explored in this issue, but the next will demonstrate a key difference--although his mission puts him in a different class of hero, that of the hero on a quest, which is different from most Marvel heroes who live the much more realistic day-to-day lifestyle. Although, by having Cable get a cup of coffee and a bagel burger, Casey introduces an element of the mundane not found in the book previously.

Ladronn's art with its Kirby influences helps place Cable within the Marvel universe as well. And it's gorgeous. Sadly, this issue suffers from printing errors that blur/smudge the art and lettering on six pages (three at the beginning, three at the end). Not the last time this happens, either.

Until next time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chad's Jackass Comic Creator Interviews from 2001: Steven Grant

[Continuing my embarrassing series where I post interviews I did with comic creators in late 2001. I was 18 and kind of a douche, okay? I really like this interview, because Grant has no patience for my idiocy. New posts Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

Interview With . . . Steven Grant!
This is the guy who wrote, under Warren Ellis at first and later on his own, one of my favourite titles from Marvel ever: X-Man after Ellis did his Counter-X thing. “Finally!” I said, “Something new and different.” It was out with the old and in with the Shaman for Mutanity. I highly recommend everyone go out and get it. I’ve also been a fan of Grant’s Master of the Obvious column over at It’s good and just ended, with Grant now starting a new column entitles Permanent Damage.

Me: Tell us about yourself.

Grant: Born Madison, Wisconsin; grew up in the late 60s with lots of involvement in sex, drugs, rock’n’roll & politics; went to University of Wisconsin and became a film and music critic for local papers. Moved to NYC in 1978, started doing odd jobs for Marvel Comics while working as writer for Trouser Press magazine. Moved around, both my home and my career, ever since: Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, DC, First, Dark Horse, TSR, Vortex, Wildstorm, Eclipse, Tekno, Capital, Chaos, etc. etc. I can no longer keep track of all the companies I've written for. It's been an interesting enough life to live, but it's pretty dull to talk about.

Me: How did you get interested in writing?

Grant: Dunno. Just always did it. Certainly reading comic books from an early age helped. But I was always reading books; I started reading novels before I started reading comics. If you're around stories enough you start generating stories.

Me: What have you written?

Grant: Gobs of work for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and others over the years. Let's stick with what I've created: WHISPER at Capital (which went to First). BADLANDS at Vortex (which went to Dark Horse). ENEMY and OUT FOR BLOOD at Dark Horse. DAMNED at Wildstorm/Vertigo. PSYCHOBLAST and TWILIGHT MAN at First. MANHUNTER (a later version) at DC. Also did X at Dark Horse and the last year of X-MAN at Marvel, but I didn't create either of those.

Me: What are you currently working on?

Grant: Two graphic novels for AIT/PlanetLar Books, including a WHISPER graphic novel. Three graphic novels for Platinum Books: SOCORRO; PALADINS; and GUILTY. A Superman graphic novel at DC that was begun with Gil Kane -- it was Gil's idea -- and is now being drawn by John Buscema. Odd jobs at Marvel and DC. I've been doing some film work and prose fiction as well lately. And I'm writing the new column PERMANENT DAMAGE at CBR.

Me: Did you find it weird that Joe Quesada came into Marvel speaking of doing comics differently and then
cancelled X-Man, which was probably the most different title Marvel had at the time?

Grant: Not really. While I probably would've kept it around, I understood the reasoning behind it. Bill and Joe are rebuilding the company around the X-books. If I'm trying to get people involved in the X-books and I drop something in front of them like X-MAN that's totally removed from the X-books, it's just going to bewilder them. So I don't really fault their decision, though I wish they'd made a different one. X-MAN was being done differently, but it wasn't being done in the way Joe and Bill meant differently. A subtle but important distinction.

Me: In one of your Master of the Obvious columns you made several predictions and later when it was re-ran asked the readers to judge how right you were. How right do you think you've been so far?

Grant: I haven't really been keeping track. Besides, it doesn't matter what the score is at halftime, it matters what the score is when the game's over, and the game isn't anywhere near over yet.

Me: How far ahead of posting do you generally write a column?

Grant: 3-6 hours, usually.

Me: Boxers or briefs?

Grant: None of your business.

Me: Cats or dogs?

Grant: At this stage in my life, I'd just as soon have no pets at all. Saying “cats or dogs?” is like saying “blondes or brunettes?” Depends on the specific blonde or brunette.

Me: Summer or winter?

Grant: Autumn.

Me: Any cool stories involving a chick?

Grant: Except that we don't call them “chicks” anymore, sure.

Me: I just gave you a case full of 100 untraceable bullets, who do you use them on?

Grant: Untraceable bullets only exist in fiction. Anyway, I'd never shoot anybody. Even my worst enemies I don't have any great compulsion to shoot, and I don't believe in restructuring governments through the barrel of the gun, so who else is there? I like target shooting, though. I'd riddle a handful of targets on a firing range with them.

Me: Who are some of your favourite writers?

Grant: My favourite comics writer these days is probably Warren Ellis. I find pretty much anything Warren writes tremendously entertaining. William Gaddis is my favourite novelist. J.G. Ballard, James Ellroy, Malcolm Lowry. I don't really follow authors much anymore. I read specific books for specific information or other purposes, but usually not solely because I like the author's work. Most modern fiction is pretty pathetic, really.

Me: Who is your hero?
Grant: Phil Ochs is the closest anyone comes to being my hero.

Me: If you could have one person, living or dead over to supper, who would it be?

Grant: What are you, Barbara Walters? Why not just ask what my favourite color is? I don't even like to eat with people I know. You never know what anyone's table manners will be like. For that reason, probably Gandhi, since odds are he wouldn't eat.

Me: How much of X-Man was you and how much Warren?

Grant: Warren conceived the new direction, loosely outlined it, pretty tightly wrote out the opening sequence with Mr. Scratch and Mr. Forge, though I shuffled the dialogue around and added some of my own. The rest was fairly sketchy, with Warren setting up specific dialogue here and there, but he really didn't have much input past the first issue of the second arc, and no input at all into the final arc and the final issue. But it was his idea, and it was a great idea.

Me: What's the one comic you want to work on?

Grant: The next one I think up. And I want to work on it within a month of thinking it up, not three or four years. As for other people's characters, I'll work on them, but I don't have any crushing urge to work on any specific one. I'd rather create my own.

Me: Which artists do you really want to work with that you haven't already?

Grant: Oh, gobs of those. Anyone whose work has intelligence and distinctive style, really. That's what I look for in comics art, since storytelling is really a function of intelligence. Smarter artists may not necessarily draw better, but they tell stories better.

Me: Who do you love?

Grant: Again, none of your business. I don't really discuss my personal life.

Me: Any final words?

Grant: Not really, thanks. After writing MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS (soon to be collected by Larry Young at AIT/PlanetLar) for two years, I've pretty much said everything I can say about comics.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

2004 Interview with Brian Wood

As today is both my and Brian Wood's birthday (I'm 25 and I don't know how old he is), I figured I'd take it easy and post an interview I did with him in November of 2004 for the University of Western Ontario Gazette. The actual interview was conducted via e-mail and then I wrote it up into an actual article. So, for the first time ever, people can see the uncut interview. My questions were pretty broad at times since most of the readers wouldn't be familiar with Wood and I like to use quotes to provide background info when I can. One of my biggest pet peeves about so-called "interviews" in newspapers are when 90% of the article is the writer with the odd quote thrown in. I've always liked to make as much of the article quotes so the readers get a feel for the subject. A little tedious for the subject to have to answer really basic questions, but I find it makes for a better finished product. I could be wrong. (Oh, and note the odd bit of ass-kissing that works it way into some questions. To be fair, it's what I actually thought/think, so it's not ass-kissing for the sake of it.)

Anyway, enjoy.


Me: Can you give me a brief bio of yourself for those unfamiliar with you or your work?

Wood: I graduated from art school (Parson, in NYC), in 1997 with the intention of drawing comics. At that time I didn't know or trust any writers, so I just wrote my own comics as I drew them. I started working in the web design field to pay the bills, and as that ate up more and more of my time, I found I only had time to write comics and not draw them. Since that point, I've written an awful lot of books and only recently found I have the time to get back into drawing on a regular basis. I live in San Francisco now, and in addition to comics I do a lot of editorial illustration and some freelance graphic design here and there for the videogame industry. I also have a small t-shirt company called Northern Boy.

Me: How was the experience of working under (for lack of a better word) Warren Ellis on Generation X?

Wood: It was fine. Very hands-off. Warren would write loose scripts or provide a basic outline, and I would tighten it up. Nothing very glamorous, although he did teach me how to write comic scripts. This was only my second job in the industry, so I really didn't know what I was doing. Warren taught me by example. My script formats to this day are based on the format Warren used on Generation X.

Me: Were you surpised by the reaction Demo has received so far?

Wood: Yes. It's a tricky question to answer, though, because I firmly believed that what Becky and I were doing was really good work. I just didn't expect the typical comic-buying public to care all that much.

Me: What's your writing process like?

Wood: I generally have it all worked out in my head before I sit down in front of the keyboard, so in theory, writing should be a simple and quick process. Sometimes it happens that way. Other times I'll be stuck for weeks agonizing over something. Writing has never come very easy for me - it's a battle. I imagine lots of writers will tell you that. I also always know my artists, so I keep them in mind as I write, working with what I know their strengths are, and giving them freedom within the script to improvise if needed.

Me: What's your drawing process like?

Wood: Lots of music playing, mostly. I just sit down and do it. Recently I've been scanning the drawings in at the end and adding some of my own photographic elements and textures. Not sure if I'll stick with that technique too much longer, though. It's a fun experiment.

Me: How do you approach your cover and design work?

Wood: I am one of those "design by instinct" types, as opposed to the rules-oriented designers that do it all by the book (not knocking them, by the way. I wish I had their discipline and skill set). I know the general look I want at the end and I use whatever tool or process I have to accomplish it. When it looks right to me, it's done. Lots of noodling around and trial-and-error.

Me: How has working with Becky [Cloonan] been?

Wood: Becky is wonderful in so many ways, and talented as hell. She'll be a superstar one day soon.

Me: How has the move from New York to San Francisco impacted your work or working process, do you think?

Wood: Well, the move across the country was also at the same time I quit my day job to freelance full time, so that probably impacted my work more than the change of locales. SF has given me a few good work opportunities and a slightly easier lifestyle than I had in NY. Cost of living in a little cheaper, and the daily pace is so much slower and laid back. I miss the East Coast - it's my home, and I think it influences my work way more than I know. I'll probably move back east in a couple years, although not back to NYC.

Me: How has working with Rob G on the Couriers series of OGNs been?

Wood: It's been good, much like with Becky. We stay out of each other's way for the most part, and just let each other do their thing. I don't believe in micro-managing the artist. They're my partners, not my employees, so their input is just as important as mine. I give them a lot of leeway.

Me: How many Couriers OGNs do you have planned?

Wood: Hard to say right now. I have ideas for lots more, but we may stop sooner than later, depending how we feel after this third one comes out.

Me: Could you talk about the concept of Demo a bit?

Wood: Demo is a series of short stories in comics form, not about superheroes and not tied together with a string of continuity. It's actually closer to the idea of a book of short stories than a serial comics series. This is an anomaly in the comics industry, I know. Took people a few months to 'get' what it was we were doing on this book. Those short stories are little indie dramas, stories about young people
(meaning anywhere from 16-30) who are at a pivotal, life-changing point in their lives, and how they deal it. Death, first love, last love, betrayal, breaking from bad friends, breaking from family, things like that. It's designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. Everyone can relate to these types of stories.

Me: Did you get any negative reactions about Demo #7 and mixing politics (kind of) with comics? On a similar note, what about for Channel Zero?

Wood: I got a lot more heat for Channel Zero, and I think mostly because the politics I depicted were (intentionally) naive and flawed, as seen through the young protagonist's eyes. Many readers assumed that the thoughts and opinions of that character were my own thoughts and opinions, and came down hard on me for it. I still get that, even 8 years after I did that book. It can get a little annoying. Demo #7, I think, was handled a little differently, and wasn't at all preachy, so people spared me this time. Almost all the feedback I got was positive.

Me: How would you describe your experiences with Larry Young and AiT/Planet Lar?

Wood: Very good. Again with the hands-off working relationship. We trust each other to do our respective jobs, and it all works out right.

Me: Do you plan to do any more stories featuring Jennie 2.5 from Channel Zero?

Wood: No plans. Channel Zero, as much as I love it, is something from an earlier stage in my career.

Me: What do you think of the recent trend in comics towards multi-part storyarcs and the lack of short, single-issue stories? Is Demo a response to this in any way?

Wood: Not really. I just did what I wanted to do. I do my best to separate my creative intentions from what I think the rest of comics are heading towards.

Me: Seriously, will a collection of Demo ever be produced? (And I honestly would be happy if you said no.)

Wood: Eventually.

Me: Who would you say are some of your influences?

Wood: Almost exclusively film. I watch lots of movies, and listen to a lot of music. I like little moments in time, perfect snapshots, and that's what I get from good music and good cinema.

Me: What are your opinions of the covers produced by the mainstream comic companies? (And unofficially, why haven't Marvel and/or DC driven a dumptruck full of money up to your door and begged you to do their covers? I mean, really...)

Wood: I don't think they really understand what it is I do. I've had conversations with some editors, and they literally cannot think how to apply what I do to one of their books. When I did those covers for the Global Frequency series, it was writer Warren Ellis that instructed them to hire me. Wouldn't have happened if it was up to them.

Me: Why should someone at UWO who's never read comics and kind of thinks they're stupid pick up Demo?

Wood: Demo is just a bunch of short stories. Don't let how they're published get in the way of you enjoying a good story.


The published article can be read here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Chad's Jackass Comic Creator Interviews from 2001: Mark Millar

[I continue to post interviews with comic creators that I conducted in late 2001. The "jackass" in the title refers to me as I was a jackass. I mean, look at some of those questions! What the fuck, people? I tell you, 18-year-old Chad? Bit of a jackass. Each interview is presented in full along with the introduction I wrote for it at the time. Enjoy. New posts Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

Wednesday September 5, 2001
Interview With . . . Mark Millar!
Anybody remember back when the comic community considered Mark Millar, for the most part, to be Grant Morrison’s “sidekick?” I do. See, I was just coming into full comic awareness while reading JLA, you know, entered high school, growing up a bit, mocking Rob Liefeld. Morrison was one of the big names in comics and occasionally you’d see the name Mark Millar attached to it, so one could only infer that Millar was Morrison’s friend, but possibly not a strong enough writer to stand on his own (and I know you all might be getting mad at me, but I’m going somewhere with this). Then I read JLA #27 and I threw away that image. The story was un-fucking-believable! It had witty dialogue, a great plot, kick ass characterization and the best way to defeat a villain I had seen in a long time. To this day it’s my favourite issue of JLA and one of my top five comics. Millar then went on to prove himself to everyone else with The Authority and Ultimate X-Men. Then I saw pictures of him with his thin moustache and wearing women’s underwear . . . but I still enjoy the writing.

Me: Tell us a little about yourself.

Millar: Born young, educated poorly and married at twenty-three. Dropped out of university and desperately needed to find some kind of job. Couldn't believe my luck when this materialized as a comics career and people were actually buying my little black and white indie comics. Worked in newspapers and TV too, but comics are the only thing which give me the full, three-inch hard-on.

Me: How did you get involved in comics?

Millar: Black and white Indo stuff here in the UK. I did a book called Saviour about a superhero secretly being the Antichrist and it won me a couple of awards. This led to work for 2000AD; which has long been established as the direct route to DC Comics as we saw with Grant, Alan Moore, etc. It's basically DC's boot camp.

Me: What have you written?

Millar: Judge Dredd, Big Dave, Sonic The Hedgehog (to pay for my wedding which I hadn't saved up for), Swamp Thing for Vertigo, Superman Adventures and JLA for DC, The Authority for Wildstorm, the Ultimate [Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates] stuff for Marvel . . .

Me: What are you currently working on?

Millar: I'm writing a TV show called Sikeside and keeping busy with my two monthlies, Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates. However, at some point in the near future, I'm going to get my two adult creator-owned things up and running. Expect an announcement around the end of the year, if not before.

Me: Was Warren Ellis’ description of you at the beginning of his interview with you for his Come In Alone column accurate?

Millar: Precisely accurate.

Me: What do you friends and family think of some of the content you include in your comics? Any problems with some people's reactions?

Millar: Absolutely none of my friends or family read comics. Sure, I've got my pals in the industry, but nobody I grew up with or generally socialize with read comics. Not even my wife. They're all too grown-up.

Me: Boxers or briefs?

Millar: Definitely briefs. If you have any kind of testicles or dick whatsoever, boxers are literally impossible to wear without dangling like a pound of grapes.

Me: Summer or winter?

Millar: Both.

Me: Cats or dogs?

Millar: Both.

Me: Do you have any cool stories involving a chick?

Millar: I saw a girl partially naked once. Does that count?

Me: I just gave you a case full of 100 untraceable bullets, who do you use them on?

Millar: I'd shoot country star Garth Brooks in the head for starters . . . and then shoot him another ninety nine times to make sure he was definitely dead.

Me: Who are your favourite writers?

Millar: Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Kevin Smith are doing the best work in the business at the moment. I also check out Mark Waid, Garth Ennis, Joe Casey, Tom Peyer and, of course, (insert your own name here so I'm not embarrassed when I bump into you at a convention).

Me: Who is your hero?

Millar: Me.

Me: If you could write any comic, what would it be?

Millar: I'm pretty much writing all the ones I've ever wanted to write so I suppose creator-owned would be my side-stepped answer. In terms of company characters, I've always liked Batman. It would be interesting to do something like that for a year at some point.

Me: What artists do you really want to work with that you haven't already?

Millar: Again, I'm really lucky. The guys I've been working with recently have been Bryan Hitch, Frank Quitely and Los Bros Kubert. It really doesn't get much better than that, but my hit-list definitely includes Steve Dillon, Dean Ormston (who's ridiculously underrated), Marcelo Frusin, Richard Corben, Terry and Rachel Dodson, Bill Sienkiewicz and the brilliant Johnny Jr. [John Romita Jr.].

Me: You were involved with that Superman pitch a couple years back, right? We know that Morrison and Waid were really hurt by DC's rejection, but what was your take on it?

Millar: We were all pretty devastated because it was such a weird, messy, political situation. There was a real communication problem and everyone kind of came out of that damaged. That said, it's all water under the bridge now and I know that there's no enmity on either side. Eddie's editing the books now and doing a really good job. The Superman titles haven't been this good in fifteen years.

Me: In your first Authority arc you pretty much had them kick the shit out of the Avengers and X-Men and here you are writing the same characters for Marvel. Does this mean that the Authority are going to show up in some form to get wasted by them?

Millar: Hmm. Never thought of that. Might do now, of course, but I'll never give you the credit.

Me: Describe your visions of comics in the future as I know you have a pretty upbeat one.

Millar: I think it's impossible to work in the business and not assume things will get better. Basically, regardless of what field you're in, if you have an enthusiasm for your craft and do the best possible job success is virtually inevitable at some point. Naturally, you're always going to get shit at some point, but it's worth it. This is a really, really hard job, but it's a great one. The numbers are getting better every month and, I think, the overall quality is improving too. I've always maintained that we'll be bigger than we've ever been around 2006-2010 and I still say. What we're going through right now is just the beginning of an incredible upswing.

Me: Who do you love?

Millar: Wife, daughter, friends, family, humanity, etc . . .

Me: Any final words?

Millar: Final words come at the END of your career, baby.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Sunday Open: Strange Killings is Not Dead Yet

A Warren Ellis Sunday this week with Strange Killings and his four-issue Wolverine story from years back.

Strange Killings, Strange Killings: Strong Medicine and Strange Killings: Necromancer

So far, three of the four Strange Killings collections have arrived from Chapters; I'm missing The Body Orchard, but Ellis and artist/script assister Mike Wolfer are very good at making each of these books self-contained. Yeah, there are references to previous books a little, but nothing that makes the story hard to understand. The basic premise is that William Gravel is an SAS officer waiting for manditory retirement at the age of 40 and getting the ass duties because the service doesn't want him to fade quietly away. He's also a combat magician, which means that anytime there's a problem that seems a bit too strange, a bit otherworldly, they call in Gravel--and then second-guess his methods, of course.

Gravel first appeared in Strange Kiss where he killed a giant not-quite-real lizard thing that was impregnating people in an effort to keep his species alive. Gravel killed him, because the lizard killed Gravel's friend. Ellis followed this up with Stranger Kisses, which was Gravel versus the city of LA when he comes across men who surgically alter people in weird sexual ways. With Strange Killings, Ellis wasn't able to fully write these series, so artist Mike Wolfer helped with the dialogue, much as he's doing on the new Gravel series. The most impressive thing that one can say about Wolfer's scripting work here is that you can't tell what lines are Ellis's and which ones are Wolfer's. I had avoided the Strange Killings stuff because I knew Ellis only plotted and did some of the dialogue and I didn't want anything that wasn't up to the normal Ellis standard. Thankfully, that's not the case here.

The first series, just Strange Killings, has Gravel entering a prison that has been taken over by black magic, turning anyone inside into zombies that power the spell. There's the built-in fun where the colonel in charge orders Gravel to resolve the problem, but, at the same time, looks down on him for his methods. This conflict between "men who get the job done" and "people who need the men but despise them for what they do" pops up in Ellis's work from time to time. Red was built around that conflict, The Authority hinted at it a little if you look at that book within the larger superhero context, and Black Summer builds on that theme in a different way. This story is mostly Gravel killing zombies--you know, nothing too deep, but it's good fun. The ending is pretty damn funny, too.

Strong Medicine breaks from that idea when a police officer need Gravel's help in solving the murder of a child that appears to have been killed in a ritualistic manner. The officer uses knowledge of Gravel's past operations to blackmail him, keeping with the theme, but, as the story progresses, the detective becomes more and more willing to go along with Gravel's methods as they produce results. Here, we have a character that changes his opinion over the course of the story as he realises the necessity of men like Gravel when dealing with problems beyond the normal scope of human understanding.

This series also deals with race relations in a cursory manner. Ellis doesn't comment on that issue much, but it's worth noting that this is the only Strange Killings book (that I've read--The Body Orchard could prove me wrong) that takes place in London and the only other Ellis work where I remember heavy racist tones showing up was his first Hellblazer arc, also set in London. Everyone likes to think of cities like London and New York as above such petty concerns, but Ellis reminds us that, yes, London has serious problems with race, too.

Strangely enough, Necromancer doesn't have much race discussion despite taking place in the Phillipines, which could lend itself to discussion of colonisation. Actually, there's a vague hint of British colonisation in all of these books as Gravel has suggested that the British Empire still rules the world, it just pretended to fall apart as that's an easier way to run things. You'll note that, often, Gravel is in places he shouldn't be, doing things he shouldn't be doing, all for the glory of the Empire. In Stranger Kisses, he suggests that his mission in the US was to kill an army general.

Necromancer is more zombies and is the longest of the stories (so far) at six issues. These additional issues don't add much to the story, they just allow for Gravel to spend more time killing zombies in the jungle with an American journalist he was supposed to kill. In this series, the colonel doesn't like Gravel, but uses him because he doesn't want an officer sitting on his ass.

This series also has Gravel using his powers in the most open ways as he see him teleport, kill without being near anyone and causing bullets to fly around. All abilities seen before, but they're used with such frequency here that it's a little jarring.

If you enjoy violence, sarcasm and the occasional naked breast, check these books out. They're pretty fucked up, but entertaining.

Wolverine: Not Dead Yet

In late 1997/early 1998, Warren Ellis wrote four issues of Wolverine and they're not bad. Ellis doesn't do anything revolutionary with the character, telling a straight-forward revenge story (well, two revenge stories, actually). Ten years ago, in Hong Kong, Logan was seeing a woman and spent some time drinking with an aging assassin named McLeish. Well, McLeish killed the girl's father (a movie producer) for the Triad and Logan responded by seemingly killing McLeish. Right now, it turns out that McLeish may not be so dead and is out to kill Logan.

We get four issues full of killing until Logan finally kills McLeish. Again, pretty straight-forward and nothing too special. It's a decent enough story, though.

It's also worth checking out for early Lenil Fracis Yu art where characters actually look how they're supposed to.

Tomorrow, an interview with Mark Millar from 2001.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Cable #54

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Cable. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

After last issue's end, Cable crashes down to earth in Wakanda, allowing Casey to draw parallels between the Black Panther and Cable. Both are men with heavy burdens and set paths. In this issue, T'Challa's cousin, a doctor who lives in New York, allies himself with Klaw as he feels T'Challa is not leading Wakanda in the right direction, which reminds me of Ch'vayre's role in the previous issues and his willingness to work with Cable's enemies if it meant putting Cable on the so-called "right path."

The story itself is pretty basic with the thematic connection between Cable and T'Challa mattering more than anything else. And, even then, there's not a whole lot there. Maybe T'Challa provides an example of a man who has accepted his fate and does his best to live up to it, while Cable is still unsure about his. He questions if he would have had the ability to kill Apocalypse had he been in his hibernation chamber in the previous issue.

The real star of this issue is Ladronn as he's at his most Kirby drawing the Black Panther and Wakanda. The art is gorgeous here as he draws big Kirby machines and dynamic fight scenes. As well, apparently, Ladronn's art caused quite a debate when he first came on the book. In the letters page of this issue, one letter-writer hates the art, while another used to hate it until issue 51 and another never liked Kirby's work but loves Ladronn.

Casey includes a scene marking the return of Blaquesmith to the book, demonstrating how Casey will often take past elements of the character and use them to push the book forward.

Next issue, Domino returns. Fun.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another CFP

Again, I'm not affiliated with this collection, just sharing the wealth:

Over the course of the past two years, there has been a marked increase of academic interest in comic books and graphic novels, from a cultural theory perspective as well as from the fields of media studies and literature. However, there have been surprisingly few book-length studies on this topic published from any of these disciplinary perspectives. Hence, while Scott McCloud’s groundbreaking book Understanding Comics raised public and academic interest in this under- theorized and challenging medium, and helped to theorize the medium-specific qualities of sequential pictorial narratives, his book suspends the question of how specific disciplinary perspectives might be engaged.

This new interdisciplinary collection will bring together the work of scholars writing about comic books and graphic novels. Our collection of essays from a wide selection of academic perspectives will not only demonstrate the far-reaching influence of this exciting medium across disciplines, but it will also make this still-controversial subject accessible to a wider scholarly audience of teachers and students alike. Abstracts (1000 words) are welcome for but not limited to the following proposed chapters:

1: Origin stories: The history and development of the genre
2: What we talk about when we talk about comics: Theory and terminology
3: ‘Out of the gutter’: Graphic novel adaptations
4: Men in tights?: Superheroes in the graphic novel
5: Drawing history: Non-fiction in graphic novels

Please submit abstracts and/or full-length papers (±5000 words) no later than 15 Febuary 2008 to:

Dan Hassler-Forest
University of Amsterdam
Dep. Media Studies
Turfdraagsterpad 9
1012 XT Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Dr. Joyce Goggin
University of Amsterdam
Dep. English Literature
Spuistraat 210
1012 VT Amsterdam
The Netherlands

I found this CFP by the way at and if you hit that link and go back to their main page they have all kinds of English-related CFPs, which I thought you might dig, Chad.

Call for Papers on Chris Ware

Keep in mind that I am not at all affiliated with this CFP; I'm just sharing a message I received.

Call for submissions for _The Cult of Difficulty: Critical Approaches to the Comics of Chris Ware_, edited by Dave Ball, Dickinson College, and Martha Kuhlman, Bryant University.

_The Cult of Difficulty_ is a proposed collection of essays on the work of Chicago-based contemporary graphic novelist/comic book artist/cartoonist Chris Ware. Author of _Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth_ (2000, winner of the 2001 Guardian First Book Award), _Quimby the Mouse_ (2003), and _The Acme Novelty Library_ (2005), Ware has quickly emerged as one of the central figures in contemporary comics. We are currently seeking abstracts for 20- to 25-page articles that analyze Ware’s work, with particular interest in multi- and interdisciplinary approaches to his oeuvre. A university press has already expressed interest in this collection, and we are hoping to build upon the MLA panel on Ware’s comics this past December.

Essays that address the following questions are especially encouraged, but other topics are also welcome:

-- How do Ware’s texts raise questions about representations of race, gender, class, and disability? In particular we are eager to receive analyses of _Jimmy Corrigan_ and _Acme Novelty Library_ that engage with these topics.
-- How has Ware’s work as an editor, anthologist, and collector shaped the landscape of contemporary comics and informed his own corpus?
-- In what ways are questions of narrative and temporality engaged and complicated in Ware's texts? What insights do narratological and semiotic approaches offer to a reading of Ware’s comics?
-- How does Ware's work intersect with advertising culture, web sites, media, and packaging?
-- What is Ware's relationship to the literary canon (both in terms of graphic and conventional literature) and how does he re-imagine our relationship to the idea of literariness?
Please send 500-1000 word abstracts (or completed articles), c.v., and contact information in Word format to by March 10th.

Papers from a diversity of disciplinary orientations and methodological approaches are especially encouraged.

You may also contact Martha Kuhlman if you have questions:

Chad's Jackass Comic Creator Interviews from 2001: Tom Peyer

[The first in a series of posts containing old interviews I did with comic creators in late 2001. New posts Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

Okay, this is the first interview I've posted. Back in 2001, I had begun writing an online column each week called "Shut Up and Listen." At some point, I had the bright idea of seeing if comic creators would let me interview them. It turns out that getting a comic creator to answer your questions is pretty easy: you e-mail them and they say yes (except for a few who declined). As you will see, I had a lovely balance of almost-insightful question and just pure jackassery. I find these interviews a little embarrassing (particularly two question that I always asked--I was 18 and stupid), but, hey, that's what the internet is for, right?

I'm presenting these interviews in the rough order in which they happened, complete with my original introductions. Enjoy.


Interview With . . . Tom Peyer!
I was bored one night so I thought I’d e-mail a few famous writers and ask if they wouldn’t mind me interviewing them. Then it came down to which writers’ e-mails I knew. Tom’s is easy enough to find what with his forum on and his monthly chats on the Authority boards. I asked him and he said yes. When I got the answers to my questions back I noticed in one I may have offended Tom, that and I wanted a better answer, so I resent the question and rephrased it. You can see the results in the interview, but the best part was when he sent back that question again he called me Craig. I love that! Now I can say a famous writer got my name wrong. It’s so cool. And now for the interview.

Me: Tell us a little about yourself.

Peyer: Born in Syracuse, NY. Moved to NYC to edit comics for DC; went freelance and moved to South Florida. Hated it there. Came back to Syracuse, a great place.

Me: How did you become a writer?

Peyer: I was a newspaper cartoonist locally, and a comic book writer, Roger Stern, followed my stuff. When he found himself over committed at one point, he asked me to help him get the work out. Being a great guy, he talked me up to his editor and helped me get work of my own.

Me: What have you written?

Peyer: Hourman, The Authority, DC 2000, Justice Leagues (the bookends to a recent JLA stunt-month), Smash Comics, Cruel & Unusual, Totems, Doom Patrol (for last year's Silver Age month at DC), Magnus Robot Fighter, Legion of Super-Heroes, Legionnaires, L.E.G.I.O.N., R.E.B.E.L.S., The Atom, Marvel Team-Up, Quicksilver, X-Nation 2099, Doom 2099, Titans, the odd Impulse, Supergirl and Superman stories, some 80-Page Giant shorts . . . Quite a bit of stuff, I guess.

Me: How did you land the Authority gig?

Peyer: Mark Millar recommended me.

Me: What are you working on right now?

Peyer: The Punisher.

Me: Do you find it intimidating to be following writers like Garth Ennis and Mark Millar on books?

Peyer: I find it stimulating. When I come onto an existing series I have to read the back issues. It really helps if they're fun to read, and Garth and Mark in particular write funnier stuff than nearly anyone.

Me: Boxers or briefs?

Peyer: Cellophane.

Me: Summer or winter?

Peyer: We have hot & humid summers here that would peel the paint off a house, and winters a person is lucky to get out of alive. Like I said, Syracuse is a great place.

Me: Cats or dogs?

Peyer: I like them both, but I love my dog, Lucy.

Me: Got any cool stories involving a chick?

Peyer: Queen Victoria was never let out of anyone's sight until she became queen at age 18. The first thing she did as queen was get her own room.

Me: I just gave you a case full of 100 untraceable bullets like in 100 Bullets, who do you use them on?

Peyer: 100 cans of Utica Club beer, previously emptied by yours truly and several chosen pals.

Me: What comics are you currently digging?

Peyer: Outlaw Nation, New X-Men, X-Force, Punisher, JLA, Authority. And I loved the Atom Archives.

Me: Who are your favourite writers? Comics, prose, whatever.

Peyer: Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mark Millar, Steve Gerber, Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, William Burroughs, P.G. Wodehouse, Ishmael Reed, Christopher Hitchens. My God . . . they're all men. I've got to read some women writers and fast.

Me: What is the one comic you desperately want to do?

Peyer: I've always wanted to take a crack at the Fantastic Four, particularly Ben Grimm, who is one of the greatest characters of all time. But the word “desperately” doesn't really fit.

Me: Who is your hero?

Peyer: The late I.F. Stone, last of the great American journalists. He had the skill to work for anyone and make as much money as he wanted, but instead he published himself in this rinky-dink little newsletter, I.F. Stone's Weekly, just so no employer could keep him from telling the truth as he saw it. Journalism is in such bad shape right now (in fact, by comparison, comics are enjoying a renaissance), it's comforting to remember that it once did, and still could do, its job.

Me: You were involved with that Morrison/Waid Superman pitch a few years ago, right? We know that DC's rejection really through Morrison and Waid for a loop, did it affect you in the same way?

Peyer: The way that question is phrased, I can't think of any way to answer it both directly and truthfully. It feels like you're lighting a fuse and standing back, hoping for a big explosion.

[Note: the next question was asked later via e-mail after every other question was answered. I wanted to clear things up and possibly get an answer. And this is when he called me Craig.]

Me: Would it be better if I asked how it affected you? I don't mean to cause trouble, I was just wondering really.

Peyer: No hard feelings. You can run the question and answer as is, or if you're not comfortable with that, here's another answer: I don't publicly comment on matters like this. The people I do business with have a right to expect that our dealings occur, and will remain, just between us.

Me: Do you have as much of a militant stance against editors as some writers?

Peyer: I've never heard of any writers with a militant stance against editors. A writer and editor's job is to please themselves, each other and the reader. It's not always easy, but it's achievable. There's no reason to leave anyone out.

Me: Who would you really like to work with?

Peyer: That I haven't worked with already? Chris Weston, Steve Pugh, Steve Ditko. I'm sure there are others.

Me: Who do you love?

Peyer: Everybody in the whole wide world.

Me: Any final words?

Peyer: We're lucky to have comics. They're entertaining. They communicate ideas and feelings as well as any other medium. When we allow ourselves a relationship with our favourite characters and creators, we're undermining the loneliness and alienation that has engulfed the larger culture for over 50 years. Don't let anyone make you feel ashamed to read comics. Don't feel like they have to be enshrined as fine art or taught in universities to be worthwhile. They're just fine without anyone's help, and especially without anyone's approval.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Cable #53

[Continuing the look at Joe Casey's run on Cable. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Well, today, my order containing the final five issues of Casey's run on Cable arrived, so there's no excuse at all not to finish now, is there?

Today, we get the final part of the six-part "Hellfire Hunt" story, which James Robinson penned for the first three issues and Casey the last three. This issue concludes the arc, but sets into motion the events that eventually became a big X-crossover mega-event involving the X-Men, the Twelve and Apocalpyse--but that's far off, so let's forget it.

The basic plot of the issue is that Shaw & co. have broken into Apocalypse's hibernation chamber, found it empty and plan to plunder it when Cable arrives. Pierce goes insane with rage, there's a fight, the whole place begins to self-destruct, Shaw escapes, Pierce is left to die and Cable seemingly dies in an explosion above the earth. At the end of the issue, Apocalypse sets Ozymandis and Caliban free, saying he has to go it alone from now on. Dun dun dun.

Casey demonstrates a couple of storytelling tricks he'll continually use throughout his career here. The first being Irene Merryweather's narration throughout the issue that is divorced from what happens in the art, but also comments upon it. She discusses her views of Cable, at the beginning of the issue, while he fights his way through Apocalypse's defences and there's an element where the narration describes what happens on panel, but not really. This is something I noted in Codeflesh and in Deathlok, Casey seems very interested in using captions two or more ways at the same time. Although his efforts here are clumsy and a little too literal much of the time, this IS his third comic and reads at a level above that. I'm almost tempted to pick up some of the comics he scripted for Marvel over the plots of others around this time to see how he handles narration and dialogue there.

One line stood out to me as hinting at the direction Casey would one day take the cast of Wildcats in: "But it's been said that every soldier needs a WAR to define who he is." That sentiment is the key to understanding Casey's work on Wildcats volume two and I find it interesting that it shows up this early in his work. Is there a link between Cable and Wildcats I missed until now? Something worth keeping in the back of my head, I suppose.

For the most part, this is a by-the-numbers issue that concludes the storyline without any major problems--but also doesn't do much beyond that. We can assume that this ends the influence of James Robinson over the plot of the book--or, I'm assuming that--so next issue is Casey's first 100% solo issue. We'll see what it shows about Casey and his style/interests.

Wondercon February 22-24

If you happen to be in the SF area, and are planning on attending Wondercon February 22-24, might I suggest stopping by the Comic Arts Conference as well? It's part of the convention actually, and if you're admitted to the convention you can get into the conference as well.

I will be presenting on Friday at 2 in a panel called "Finding Truth in Comic Books." Here is the abstract I sent in, as a preview of what my presentation will be about:

“Showing Helder” and the Problem of Truth in Autobiographical Comics

Truth is very much in the eye of the beholder, for what is believed to be true is entirely dependent on what is observed with the senses and what is retained in the memory. The malleable nature of truth causes even more problems when it comes to autobiography, for an account of real-life events written from the perspective of someone who observed those events may quickly take a turn into fiction.

A perfect example of this concept can be found in the autobiographical short story by Chester Brown entitled “Showing Helder.” In this metafictional story Brown documents the creative process behind an autobiographical story he had published previously entitled “Helder.” In showing this work to friends who had experienced the event, he has to wrestle with his own memories being in conflict with the recollections of others, as well as the accuracy of his artistic depictions being called into question.

Essentially this story illustrates how readers cannot blame the author for any inaccuracies or embellishments that may creep into a “true” story. The story is only as real as the readers believe it to be; therefore, the readers are as culpable as the author should the story’s veracity be challenged.

And Chad, two quick questions:
First of all, when is YOUR trip to San Fran? It's not the same weekend, is it?
And second, would you like me to post here a couple of comics-related CFPs that I have run across recently?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'm a Moron

I just realised that I've been spelling Eric Canete's last name wrong every single time I've used it, always calling him Eric "Cante." Apolgies to Mr. Canete, I promise to get it right from now on.

Yeah, I'm a bit dumb sometimes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Random Things

My internet is down during the day from Monday to Wednesday this week, so I'll resume normal posting on Thursday. Sure, I could do my usual Tuesday post now, but I don't want to.

The tentative program for the PCA/ACA conference I will be attending in San Francisco in March is up and I will be on a panel called "The Architecture of Language." It's on the Thursday (March 20) at 10 am and I got the lucky random draw of chairing the panel. Still have to write the paper, but am not too worried since it is an update/expansion of something I wrote here (my Codeflesh essay).

As well, was a little annoyed last week after I did my post on Starlin's use of religious themes in his work and remembered a call for papers on comics and religion. The problem? The conference is in early April in Boston, which is the exact wrong time for me (as I'll be finishing up my thesis then) and I can't afford it because of the SF trip a few weeks earlier. Damn you, comics-related conferences and all looking so good! (To be fair, there's no guarantee my proposal would have been accepted anyway.)


Have a site question for anyone who reads. Around six years ago, I did an online column (up until two years ago) and for a period of six months, I included interviews with comic creators. Last week, I hunted that stuff down and, wow, I was a bit of an idiot when I was younger. These are totally amateur-hour interviews and really show me to have been an immature 18-year-old--and also show that, yes, many comic creators will answer any stupid questions for a little bit more publicity. My question: would people be interested in seeing these here? I need something to fill the hole Starlin has left and these could kill a few weeks (there are somewhere between eight and twelve--creators like Tom Peyer, Mark Millar, Joe Casey, Peter David and others). If there's interest, I may do it--"may" being the key word as, like I said, I don't exactly come off in the best light. But, hey, what's a little embarrassment online?

Until Thursday.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sunday Open: Everything You Know is Different

So, I finally got the last part of "One More Day" yesterday. Was at the campus bookstore picking up Through the Looking Glass and an awesome book on The Big Lebowski when I saw the infamous comic. I said to Adam, "Aw, what the fuck, I guess I'll pick it up, see how it actually went down." And, yeah, it wasn't any good for all of the reasons everyone says.

I think, aside from all those things, what bothers me is that the story never actually lives up to the tagline of "What would you do if you had one more day?" It didn't seem to me like Peter and Mary Jane really got one more day. They're laying in bed and, BONG!, it's midnight already. That day just flew by.

As for the other stuff... meh. It just wasn't handled well. I much prefer Tom Bondurant's solution where you just jump ahead six months or a year (or whatever) and have the new status quo in place, fuck explanations. Maybe (and I stress the maybe) you go back and fill in the blanks, but, otherwise, you face forward, true believer, and deal with things as they come.

Not reading "Brand New Day," because none of the creative teams make me want to read it. Simple as that.

Fantastic Four: First Family

Another volume in "Joe Fills in Stan's Plot Holes," this time, Casey teams up with Chris Weston to fill in some blanks about the early Fantastic Four. I wasn't that impressed with this book, actually. The only thing that really stood out was the concept that there were other people altered by radiation, except the military was holding these people captive. The antagonist of the series is one such man, Franz Stahl, and he believes that his transformation has taken him beyond humanity--and also gives him a sense of comradery with Reed Richards. Stahl acts as a foil for Richards, also a genius and more than human, but one not prone to arrogance that places him above humanity. I've never really thought about the fact that Richards has always been confident in his abilities, but is rarely arrogant or sees himself as better than everyone else. It's an easy trap for a genius to fall into and Casey shows that Richards tries very hard not to. His one moment of arrogance is the theft of the rocket and the resulting consequences give him a much needed dose of humility.

The rest of the series is your standard stuff with more emphasis on how the characters react to their changes than found in the original comics. It's well done, but there's nothing here that blows my mind. There is a nice visual gag at the end of an issue where we see soldiers that Stahl has altered and they resemble the FF, but more grotesque.

Chris Weston's art is his typical hyper-realistic-but-a-little-bit-off stuff. It's interesting that Weston provides the art as he is very un-superhero in many ways--and very un-Kirby. In the current Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin series, Eric Cante has a Kirby feel to him at times, particularly the more cartoony, dynamic elements of his work. Weston is almost the opposite of Kirby in that his drawings look more like photographs of people in motion than actual motion (if that makes sense). I love Weston's art and I do think it works here, I'm just amused by him drawing this early FF. It's almost a sign to the reader that this is the way shit really went down and what you read before was the cartoony bullshit story. Not exactly the intention, but, in a way, it is. Joe Casey has done (or is doing) five of these series that fill in the blanks of early Marvel stories and the intention is always to give the stories more depth and psychological realism. First Family is the first series where the choice of artist directly tells the reader what to expect (compare Weston to Cante, Steve Rude, Scott Kolins and Will Rosado).

First Family is a decent read and is mostly for those who want some more depth squeezed into those early stories or fans of Casey and/or Weston.

Ultimates 2

I can't remember when I stopped enjoying Mark Millar's writing. When I first got internet at home, one of my first stops was the Authority boards, which then led to Millar's forums at X-Fan and then to Millarworld through a few revamps/moves. Somewhere in there, I just stopped enjoying his writing. I think it may have been during The Authority break. Ultimate X-Men did little for me, same with The Ultimates (which I read online on Marvel's site). I found his work to be stagnant and just a remixing of elements from his first Authority arc.

A few years back, I bought the first Ultimates hardcover, because, let's face it, it's one of those "must own" mainstream books of the early 21st century. Even if you don't dig on Millar, if you're at all interested in mainstream superhero shit, you should pick it up the way you should be reading Ellis and Millar's The Authority, Planetary, New X-Men, etc. Those books that are influencing others and actually altering the direction of mainstream superhero comics. Same with Ultimates 2.

I enjoyed this volume more than the first, but it still didn't do a whole lot for me--with the exception of issue six, the Henry Pym issue, which was really well done. I think my problem is that for this story to have any emotional effect on the reader, you need to care about this group of people and I just didn't. Hawkeye's family gets slaughtered and it means little because we've seen them maybe once before--Millar relies on us being shocked by the execution of the family and alluding to all of those movies we've seen where the hero's family gets slaughtered and he wants revenge. Very postmodern, but it's lazy and ineffective--if you want the reader to respond on an emotional level, that is.

Strangely, the only characters that had me feeling any sympathy were Pym and Banner, the two losers of the series. Actually, that's not that strange as the two geeky, horribly flawed guys are probably the easiest for Millar to write and the easiet for me to relate to.

I couldn't stand some of the Millar-isms that just pollute the book. The forced Wanda-hitting-on-the-robot stuff made me roll my eyes (one of those regular MU things that doesn't translate over well for me--the other big one is when Bendis introduced Ultimate Dazzler as a punk chick, mostly because, seriously, she'd call herself Dazzler?). The way he apes the action movie cliche epilogue where a character feels the need to tell us what happened after the ending, mostly because it's not good storytelling. I almost wish they'd just say "fuck it" and do the Animal House thing where during the final fight, each character has a moment where the action freezes and we get some details about what happens next. I'm amazed Millar didn't simply do that, actually.

The whole Norse battle at the end is anti-climatic when read as part of the overall narrative since Loki was the villain at the core of this entire volume and he's dispatched so easily along with his forces. I complained about the truncated action in the final issue when it first came out and hoped it would read better as part of the whole, but it doesn't. I understand that another extended action sequence would lack a certain power because of the numerous action sequences that came before it, but this is supposed to be the biggest of all of them and it just falls flat.

Also, Thor really was Thor, but he still got all of his power from his belt? What?

One place where Millar does seem to know what he's doing is in his willingness to ignore the regular MU and push characters in different directions. I like how Captain America is not an all-good character here--it doesn't make me cheer for him, but, intellectually, I find him a more compelling character than the Steve Rogers of the regular MU. I think his Tony Stark is a little over-the-top at times with the drinking (something Ellis really played with in Ultimate Human #1), but that's also a more modern way of handling that problem. His Jarvis is just retarded, though (not the best criticism, but is at the maturity level that Millar's Jarvis warrants).

I didn't mention Bryan Hitch's work, because it's great and there's not much I can add beyond that.

Ultimates 2 is worth reading for the simple reason that it is/will be influential to current/future creators. Also, if you want a pseudo-mature, ball's out action story, it works there, but in the way that the most mundane summer blockbuster does--except this requires more effort for the same payoff.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Cable #52

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's 20-issue run on Cable. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

In this issue, Casey draws a subtle connection between Ch'vayre and the old man, Wilhelm. Ch'vayre is a member of the Askani faith and was set upon a path as a young man to help bring about Cable's fate as saviour of the world while Wilhelm was also seduced by an ideology as a youth, becoming the Nazi super-soldier Master Man. Ch'vayre's beliefs drive him to help the Hellfire Club in their quest to harness Apocalypse's power as he hopes that will cause Cable to act and embrace his role; Wilhelm seeks to escape his past crimes by subscribing to a new ideology, calling himself a Believer, one of those who help Cable. I'm not sure if Casey actually intended to suggest that the Askani faith is similar to the ideology of the Nazis, but it comes off that way here. It could just be a suggestion that any ideological system is, ultimately, corrupt and misguided.

That seems likely as Cable is actually portrayed as a less-than-positive force. He uses his powers without any sense of morality, his mission the only that matters. Team-up with a former Nazi super-soldier? Well, if it helps him do what he needs to do, sure thing. Use telepathy to put Irene to sleep against her will? Again, for "the greater good." The fact that Cable is mysterious and closed off to the reader adds to his ambiguity and potential to be considered a villain.

The end of this issue hammers home the point as the Hellfire forces attack Apocalypse's stronghold and fight against its defences as Cable notes that no matter which side wins, everyone is fucked. There is no good or evil, there are only sides in fights and the only way to tell which side is "better" is by which one wins.

German Garcia provides the art on this issue and his work is decent. His figures are a little blocky, but he isn't vastly different from Ladronn--at least as far as storytelling goes. His page layouts are similar here, possibly purposefully so. While having part five of a six-part story drawn by a fill-in artist sucks, Garcia's work doesn't break the flow much.

What does is the lack of narration from Irene. Here, Casey only uses the third-person omniscient narrator and it detracts from this issue. Particularly when Irene wakes up after Cable used his powers to keep her asleep for hours, a moment that would easily lend itself to Irene's narration, but doesn't. Irene has acted as the reader's entry point into Cable's world for this arc and the lack of her voice is very conspicuous.

On Tuesday, we'll conclude this story.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hello Cosmic Archive: The Works of Jim Starlin

Here is a lovely archive post with links to every Hello Cosmic post for easy access. Enjoy.

Hello Cosmic Part 1: Just a Kid at Heart
Hello Cosmic Part 2: The Life of Captain Marvel
Hello Cosmic Part 3: Warlock Day One
Hello Cosmic Part 4: Warlock Day Two
Hello Cosmic Part 5: The Death of Captain Marvel and the Thanos Quest
Hello Cosmic Part 6: The Infinity Gauntlet
Hello Cosmic Part 7: Silver Surfer/Warlock Resurrection
Hello Cosmic Part 8: Warlock & the Infinity Watch #1-7
Hello Cosmic Part 9: The Infinity War Part One
Hello Cosmic Part 10: The Infinity War Part Two
Hello Cosmic Part 11: Warlock & the Infinity Watch #12-17
Hello Cosmic Part 12: The Infinity Crusade Part One
Hello Cosmic Part 13: The Infinity Crusade Part Two
Hello Cosmic Part 14: The Infinity Crusade Part Three
Hello Cosmic Part 15: Blood & Thunder
Hello Cosmic Part 16: Warlock & the Infinity Watch #26-31
Hello Cosmic Part 17: Warlock & the Infinity Watch #32-42
Hello Cosmic Part 18: The Infinity Abyss
Hello Cosmic Part 19: Marvel: The End
Hello Cosmic Part 20: Thanos #1-6
Hello Cosmic Part 21: Silver Surfer Volume 3 Part One
Hello Cosmic Part 22: Silver Surfer Volume 3 Part Two
Hello Cosmic Part 23: The Finale Part One (Religion)
Hello Cosmic Part 24: The Finale Part Two (Psychology)
Hello Cosmic Part 25: The Finale Part Three (Storytelling Tricks)
Hello Cosmic Part 26: Cosmic Odyssey
Hello Cosmic Part 27: The Death of the New Gods
Hello Cosmic Part 28: The Metamorphosis Odyssey, The Price, the Dreadstar graphic novel, and Dreadstar #1-31
Hello Cosmic Part 29: Darklon the Mystic

Hello Cosmic Part 25: The Finale Part Three (Storytelling Tricks)

[The conclusion to my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work for Marvel.]

Something I really love about Jim Starlin's "cosmic" stuff is that it rarely follows traditional sci-fi conventions. In Starlin's cosmic worlds, yeah, there's technology, but who cares, because it's more about magic and natural abilities and blowing minds. It's actually fantasy dressed up as sci-fi (and, yeah, there is some distinction). I mean, do you think Adam Warlock's Soul Gem has more in common with Frodo's ring or with Captain Kirk's phaser? Looking back on all of the work by Starlin I've read, the only character that uses technology on a consistent basis is Thanos--except it actually seems an outcropping of himself more than anything. Thanos uses his floating chair, shields and teleportation because, well, he can--he doesn't need to, but since he's got them, why not use them. You'll note that little time is actually spent on Thanos creating these devices--instead, he just has them--they are tools like a sword or horse. Actually, it's only the bad guys who ever seem to use technology, really, and Thanos is the only protagonist to do so because he grew out of villainous roots.

But, I digress (right from the beginning--a new digression record).

There are some characteristics of Starlin-penned comics that I'd like to discuss.

The first is the tell-the-character's-entire-past-in-a-single-page-with-a-montage-splash-and-maybe-a-floating-head-narrating-the-whole-thing technique. Starlin does not do "subtle," people--if he thinks you knowing a character's history is important, he just tells you said history by stopping the story and laying it all out there. The number of times I had to read Adam Warlock's history is staggering--although did allow for comparison between artists in an interesting way. My favourite difference was how Tom Raney drew the scientists who created Adam Warlock as these huge, muscle-bound guys while everyone else drew them like... scientists. Similar to this is how, in comics he drew himself, Starlin often had a chracter narrate an entire story--usually from partway through the final part. Again, very non-subtle foreshadowing. These techniques are rarely used now, especially the way Starlin has characters narrate, speaking directly to the readers, often with their floating head popping up throughout the story. This actually makes works like The Infinity Abyss and Marvel: The End seem antiquated and outdated by modern standards, which could be very offputting to readers (despite the fact that they're still good comics).

My favourite storytelling trick that Starlin uses is one that I've mentioned many, MANY times before: the giant inter-company crossovers that are actually small stories about Adam Warlock and Thanos with everything else thrown in to pad it out for six (or more) issues. Here's something you should know: anytime the Avengers, Spider-Man or Fantastic Four show up, they will show themselves to be useless. In The Infinity Gauntlet, Warlock has them attack Thanos just so he will have a distraction to enact his real plan because he knows that Thanos will slaughter them. Starlin speaks through Warlock to tell the readers that in these stories, the traditional Marvel heroes are ineffective and are, at best, distractions--both in the story sometimes and, always, for the readers. The Infinity War and Infinity Crusade take using the heroes for meaningless plots to new heights as Starlin has them in fanboyish "oh, that's some cool shit!" plots: fighting evil doppelgangers and then fighting one another. Except, in both stories, the villain is defeated by Warlock and Thanos. If you broke down those two crossovers to their essential elements, you'd get two issues of story that matters. However, these crossovers rarely read as such. Starlin was adept at padding those core stories out and making it appear like the unnecessary plotpoints matter. It's probably my favourite storytelling trick of his, mostly because it demonstrated decompressed storytelling years before it came in vogue, but did so in a way where few could see what he was doing.

Starlin's work has a lot of flaws, though. His dialogue can be very overwrought and unnecesarily melodramatic. Adam Warlock often goes off on these odd soliloquies that rarely differ from one another. It's always about how he doesn't know who he is, how he's not the hero everyone thinks he is and that all he wants to do is have some peace. Thanos sometimes suffers from "Dr. Doom syndrome" where he speaks in third-person and does nothing but proclaim his greatness, which is tiresome.

As well, Starlin repeats himself a lot. How many stories centre around Thanos finding an even more powerful method of ruling the universe? Or Adam Warlock trying to find himself? Or Warlock going insane? Or a mysterious force trying to take over the universe?

The mystery character is another fun bit of Starlin business. It isn't a Starlin book if there isn't a mysterious character that shows up a little bit for several months until finally... THE BIG REVEAL! The Magus, the Goddess, Count Abyss, Maxam, and Hunger all filled this role. But, so did Adam Warlock and Thanos from time to time (particularly Thanos as the mystery member of the Infinity Watch). This trope isn't necessarily bad, it's just that Starlin overused it sometimes. Mid-way through Warlock & the Infinity Watch, I became frustrated with these pointless mysteries, mostly because they were strung out for months (even over a year a few times) and the payoffs were, well, lame. Count Abyss was a guy who sold his soul for power while Maxam was from the future. Wow, because those are very common stories and totally don't blow me away! I did like Thanos as the holder of the Reality Gem as it was a mystery with a logical (and obvious) solution that kind of reminds me of Ellis' later revelation of the Third Man in Planetary. It's so obvious that the reader is thrown a little at the revelation because he or she figured something that obvious couldn't be the solution.

Starlin also dabbles, from time to time, in metafiction. In his first Warlock run, he does a nice little take on the state of Marvel at the time, specifically Stan Lee and the treatment of Jack Kirby. As I mentioned above, when Warlock tells the Silver Surfer in The Infinity Gauntlet that the heroes are just a distraction, Starlin is really telling the reader that the fight we're seeing is a meaningless distraction used to fill an entire issue, padding the series out. In Marvel: The End, Starlin has the universe end as a result of characters returning from the dead--and then Thanos remakes the universe so that can no longer happen, giving a practical and in continuity reason for Joe Quesada's then-editorial rule that dead means dead in the MU from that point on. I'm probably missing a few other moments like that, but they don't pop up frequently, just enough to note that Starlin has a fondness for metafiction.

I find myself not knowing exactly how to sum up Starlin's cosmic work at Marvel. For the most part, I enjoyed it. Starlin's first run on Warlock is a must-own as are The Infinity Gauntlet and Marvel: The End. Next week, I'll probably do a couple of posts on Cosmic Odyssey and Wyrd, the Reluctant Warrior.

It's been fun.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Cable #51

[And so we finally get into Joe Casey's 20-issue run on Cable with his first Marvel work, issue 51. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

This comic pissed me off when I first saw it. At the time, I was subscribing to Cable and X-Force (Christmas and birthday gifts from my grandma) and had been doing so for a couple of years. I wasn't that enthused with Cable after Jeph Loeb left the book, but James Robinson coming aboard seemed like new life for the title and had me hoping for a Warren-Ellis-on-Thor sort of thing where a crappy book suddenly becomes awesome and blows my young mind. Instead of Mike Deodato, Cable had the wonder that is Ladronn and I was feeling it, people. Every new issue just hooked me and had me entranced.

And then issue 51 came out with some guy named Joe Casey as writer. What. The. FUCK? "Who is the hell is Joe Casey?" I must have thought, because who the hell was Joe Casey? Since I subscribed, I usually got my issue in the mail a couple of weeks after it appeared in comic shops--and since my dad is an obsessive X-book collector, I saw his copy of the issue and noticed "Casey" on the cover where "Robinson" should have been. Normally, I didn't read my dad's copies of Cable and X-Force as I didn't want to spoil it for when my sub copies arrived, but this time, I broke that rule (slightly) as I opened the book to the credits and noticed that, yeah, Joe Casey wrote the goddamn comic and where the fuck was James Robinson, assholes? I flipped through the issue and then put it back down, not wanting to break my rule too much.

When the issue finally arrived, it seemed typical enough, not all that different, but also lacking that certain something. I hoped that maybe Robinson suffered some terrible bout of the flu or some other minor illness that kept him from actually writing this issue, but would be back in action for issue 52. Robinson did get a special thanks credit, which meant he probably did the story and some editorial assistant finished the book for him because of deadline concerns. The lack of a letter page in the issue annoyed me, because that was clearly where this whole bungle would be explained.

And now I look back on that whole strange incident with ironic fondness as Cable #51 introduced me to Joe Casey, a guy who's writing I've followed almost obsessively since. Isn't it funny how things turn out?

But, what do I think of the issue ten years later? (Jesus Christ, it's only been ten years since Joe Casey's first comic!) To make things interesting, let's do it real time-style!

1:40: Read first ten pages and they flow well with Robinson's work. Irene narrates and recaps the story while Cable is all mysterious and "I want you to chronicle my life but you should sit at home and wait for me to tell you what happened even though I rarely do that." So, they go to Switzerland and are ambushed by a whole squardon (or whatever you'd call them) of the Hellfire Club's personal guard people. Cable kills many of them and is rescued by some elderly German man who offers them a place to stay.

Casey's narration is a little clunky and obvious, but not that much worse than Robinson's. Is that a sign that Casey started off pretty decent or that Robinson just wasn't that good?

1:46: Adam comes home and I talk to him a little before reading two more pages where we learn that Wilhelm (the old German guy) moved to Switzerland after the war and is a Believer--while Irene gets her first taste of Cable inside her mind.

2:47: I watch TV with Adam, including some Daily Show where the interview is edited up and just makes Stewart look like a idiotic douchebag.

2:55: I finish the comic. Only three scenes make up the second half of the issue. First, Ch'vayre, Shaw and Pierce are in the Alps, closing in on Apocalypse's lair so they can harness his power for their own uses. Of course, Ch'vayre is only doing this to get Cable off his ass--but he still wonders if he's doing the right thing. We get a pointless flashback to his first meeting with Shaw that just reveals that Ch'vayre is from the future, which we already knew because Sanctity sent him back in time (revealed in issue 50). The final scene has Cable using his powers to read Wilhelm's mind and discovers that he is the Master Man, the Nazis' answer to Captain America.

I actually like that Cable just invades Wilhelm's mind, it demonstrates a lot about his character and his difference from other characters. Where Professor X and Jean Grey respect the private rights of people, Cable reasons that it's his job to save the world, so if a few people's minds get read in the process, that's the price, deal with it. We've seen Cable willing to kill up until now, but this willingness to go against typical hero morals sets him apart further. It begins Casey's attempt to distinguish this book from every other title on the shelf, no longer relying on the '90s mentality of "It has a mutant, so you should read it just 'cause."

Ladronn's work is fantastic. As always. Yes, I'm going to say that every time.

Not quite a "bursting onto the scenes" beginning for Casey, but I've read far worse first comics.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hello Cosmic Part 24: The Finale Part Two (Psychology)

[In which I continue my conclusion of my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work for Marvel. This series concludes on Friday.]

The second idea/theme/topic that runs through Starlin's cosmic work is his obsession with psychology. Now, this idea isn't as central as religion and I know less about psychology than I do religion, so this may be briefer than I figured it would be.

Adam Warlock is a paranoid schizophrenic in Starlin's initial run on the character and periodically goes a little crazy from time to time after that. Usually, Warlock's mental problems come with knowledge, putting him line with the typical mad genius. In Starlin's first Warlock work, he actually accepts madness as a means to gain the necessary knowledge and perspective in order to defeat the Magus--literally himself, representin another aspect of his mind. Later, when he obtains the Infinity Gauntlet, he expels the good and bad aspects of himself, again making him a figurative multiple personality case.

It would be tempting to put Adam, the Magus and the Goddess into an id, ego, super-ego relationship, but I'm not sure that that relationship exists. You could argue that the Magus is the id, although he also has some of the repressive elements of the super-ego. It would be a nice little joke to have the Goddess represent the super-ego since she is Warlock's feminine side and the super-ego is typically the "father figure." Adam easily fits as the ego since he struggles to balance the two, often displaying aspects of both. Okay, maybe it doesn't seem quite so out there as I thought. I didn't want it to work because it seems so easy, really.

As well, I can see the Magus working into Lacan's concept of the other as Warlock meets him when he is still, essentially, a child. The Magus representing the first time Warlock has seen his own reflection (in this case, his true inner self perhaps) and it frightens him and he attempts to deny it. It's a bit of stretch, I admit.

Thanos is self-destructive and self-loathing throughout Starlin's work, often sabotaging his success. This explanation for failure allows Starlin to maintain Thanos as a serious threat while also allowing for seemingly less powerful characters to defeat him. This is particularly true of Thanos' defeat during The Infinity Gauntlet where he loses the Gauntlet much in the same way Captain Mar-Vell defeated him (destroying the Cosmic Cube while Thanos was one with the universe) and in the exact same method Mephisto attempted to steal the Gauntlet just days (weeks?) prior.

Thanos is driven by guilt and self-loathing. He lusts after Death and cannot understand why she doesn't love him, blaming himself for her lack of love, much like a child thinks that anything wrong is caused by him or her. He increases his efforts again and again, always with the same results, failing to understand that he is not responsible for her feelings. It isn't until Thanos accepts himself in Marvel: The End, letting go of his guilt (possibly blaming himself for his freakish appearance) and sacrificing himself for the good of the universe that Death loves him. It's all symbolic, of course, of a big mental breakthrough. I really do like that Starlin never has Thanos show any direct self-loathing for his different appearance, because it keeps that level of self-loathing and guilt subconscious--if he recognised it, his breakthrough might have come easier and sooner. This also makes the revelation in Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger's Universe X that Thanos' mom was a Skrull kind of lame in my mind. Of course, those stories aren't canon in the regular Marvel universe. It works much better if Thanos was just born differently, then he represents a much boarder form of self-loathing and guilt, while simply being of mixed-species parentage allows too easy an 'out' for him and someone to actually blame for his difference. It may make for a logical plotpoint, but is a much shallower and bland from a psychological perspective.

I'm a litte upset that I can't really find the five stages of grief in The Death of Captain Marvel. That would have been nice.

The Silver Surfer's psychology is a little odd during Starlin's run on the book. The onyl real depth given is when the Surfer discovers that Galactus has tampered with his soul so he doesn't feel guilt over assisting Galactus in destroying dozens of worlds. His soul is returned to normal and he feels normal guilt--not exactly that deep. In issue 50, Starlin shows that the Surfer wasn't a saint in his life as Norrin Radd by showing how his lack of understand partly contributed to his father's suicide--a memory he blocked out himself.

Starlin uses guilt as a basis for a lot of the characters' actions, which is said by some to be a base motivation for much human action. He doesn't always offer great psycholigical depth, but he likes to play with the ideas in his work. Sorry I didn't have much to say, more just throwing some idea out there. On Friday, I'll look at some of the techniques Starlin uses in his cosmic Marvel work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pre-Joe Casey Comics: Cable #50

[The third post in my look at Joe Casey's Cable run and the last post of James Robinson's tenure on the book. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

James Robinson left Cable with this "double-sized" (short four pages of story to really be double-size) fiftieth issue and leaves on a high note. This issue has Cable and Irene travel to London where Sebastian Shaw and Donald Pierce are attempting to open some capsule left by Apocalypse that we saw contains some altered man from Victorian London. To go with this is some flashback sequences to 1915 where Union Jack foils the attempt of the Hellfire Club of that time to open the capsule. In the end, it's opened and the Harbinger of Apocalypse emerges, while Shaw, Pierce and a man called Ch'vayre escape. The Harbinger manages to defeat Cable and also escape. Later, Cable tracks him down and the two talk, with Cable emploring him to diregard Apocalypse's programming--to create chaos and separate the strong from the weak--but to no avail.

As this is the fiftieth issue, Robinson references Cable's past a bit with the issue beginning at Xavier's and Cable visiting an injured Scott. Later, Madelyne Prior shows up for no reason I can see other than to have Cable's biological mom show up. Ch'vayre is actually a follower of the Askani faith and only helps Shaw and Pierce because it will put Cable on the proper path--and also namechecks Sanctity (aka Rachael Summers). Apocalypse makes an appearance in a flashback and this issue actually begins the whole push to the millenium when Cable was supposed to have his final confrontation with Apocalypse.

Ladronn's work here is damn good, but there is an odd moment during the fight near the end where he has a small panel of the ground and Cable's foot above it. It's so odd that the editor includes a note for it saying that no one knows why Ladronn included that panel, but it's so wacky that they kept it.

Ths issue is a little strange because it's really the halfway mark of "The Hellfire Hunt," but actually feels like a conclusion to the story as the bad guys got away (as they often do), but their scheme foiled. The Harbinger flies away, setting up a future threat. Maybe Robinson set the story up this way because he knew he would be leaving the book, so wanted to leave on a conclusive note, while recognising that there's a larger story.

An interesting parallel is the use of Union Jack's journal as the key to knowing what Shaw and Pierce are up to at the same time that Cable has taken on Irene as his chronicler, highlighting the importance of someone recording these events.

On Thursday, Joe Casey's first Marvel comic... something that annoyed my 14-year-old self to no end when it came out. Oh, how young I was.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hello Cosmic Part 23: The Finale Part One (Religion)

[The first part of my three-part finale in my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work at Marvel and where I try to sum it all up. The series will continue after this for two parts where I will look at some non-Marvel cosmic work by Starlin. New posts Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After that, whenever I have new books and/or something to say.]

Okay, I didn't do at least two books by Starlin: the Silver Surfer graphic novel Homecoming and the Rom-less Spaceknights mini Starlin penned. But, I'm okay with that, so you should be as well.

21 posts examing Jim Starlin's work, amounting to... what, 122 comics written by Starlin with another dozen or so discussed written by someone else? There are bound to be some continuing themes/ideas/topics that Starlin addresses throughout. Two come to mind and I'll spend this post discussing the first one a little (while my third post will look at Starlin's storytelling techniques--and I'll demonstrate that I have little understanding of how art works). (Oh, and if I go off on odd tangents and ramble on like a moron that's only because I'm just seeing where this takes me, not writing a proper essay or anything.)

Starlin Topic #1: Religion

Religion is the idea that Starlin examines the most in his work with most storylines revolving around the idea of what it means to be a saviour or god with Starlin's two central characters, Thanos and Adam Warlock acting as foils to one another. Thanos is the man who constantly tries to become a god, while the role of saviour is thrust upon Warlock over and over again and he struggles against it. Actually, Captain Marvel also fills this role in Starlin's run on his title, especially when you consider Mar-Vell's "cosmic awareness," an ability gained partway through the run.

Looking at these characters as gods or saviours also accounts for the fact that they are the only characters that actually accomplish goals or foil the schemes of others in every Starlin comic. I noted numerous times that the regular Marvel heroes were useless in Starlin stories as he shifts the focus from the typical "gods" of the MU to these three characters, the only truly effective people in Starlin's Marvel universe.

Captain Mar-Vell only shows up for a short time in Starlin's work, but, in that time, he is contrasted against other heroes when they all fight Thanos and his attempt to rule the universe with the Cosmic Cube. Every hero is ineffective aside from Mar-Vell who nearly dies in his attempt to stop Thanos and he is only able to do so because of his cosmic awareness, a transcendent state that elevates him beyond other heroes. Not as advanced or complex as Starlin's later work/ideas, Mar-Vell shows the initial inklings of division between the regular heroes who are trapped on Earth and the cosmic heroes who think on larger scales and can handle larger threats.

Adam Warlock acts as Starlin's most obvious religious figure, a position that didn't begin with Starlin as Warlock was seen as a saviour on Counter-Earth, a role he foun uncomfortable. In Starlin's first story, Warlock finds himself facing his future self, a self-proclaimed god with his own religion. The key here is actually Warlock's Soul Gem, which allows him to absorb the souls of others and transport them to an ideal state of being where everyone lives in peace and harmony, an obvious stand-in for heaven. Despite this, Warlock fights against this role and only uses the Soul Gem when it's called for. In this storyline, to prevent the Magus from coming into being, Warlock uses the Soul Gem on his future self, effectively ascending to heaven, although returns briefly in the form of a flaming being (a representation of the pentecostal flames?) to dispatch Thanos. (I want to mention here that I'm surprised Starlin didn't include a scene where the Magus actually uses the Soul Gem to absorb the souls of his followers when they were near death or deemed worthy to further the analogy. That could have also made Warlock's use of the gem more powerful as he fights against his role as harvester of souls and lord of a heaven, basically. Just a thought.)

Even when the Soul Gem is used by others as part of the Infinity Gauntlet, Warlock still exerts control over it and is seen as the residents of the Soul World as the leader, the man in charge, the messiah or god. Strangely, this role doesn't seem to bother Warlock much, nor is he disturbed when he gains control of the Infinity Gauntlet. Starlin subtley suggests that Warlock's time in the Soul World made him more comfortable and confident in his role as saviour. He actively fights to retain the Infinity Gauntlet and the power of god, which goes against the Warlock of Starlin's initial run.

However, once he gives up the power, he returns to his less confident, more spiritually confused self. Is Starlin arguing that the reason Warlock is uncomfortable with his role is that he understands his true place within the universe and that he isn't actually a god or saviour, while when he had the Infinity Gauntlet, he actually was? Same with his control over the Soul Gem and Soul World--he actually did have the power of a god in that reality and felt comfortable. Warlock, perhaps, isn't opposed to filling that role so long as that's his actual place within the larger scheme of things.

If anything, that actually seems to be Starlin's overall message on religion: it's not wrong as long as it's true. The Magus' religion is corrupt because he isn't actually a god; Warlock finds peace in Soul World because he has the power and station of a god there; the Infinity Gauntlet (along with the Cosmic Cube, Cosmic Egg and Heart of the Universe) is removed from play because it's an artificial, and therefore unnatural, means of gaining power, going against nature and the true way of the universe.

That's where Thanos comes into play as he is consistently striving for god-like power and, even when he obtains it, always loses it. Starlin puts forth the idea that Thanos subconsciously knows he's not worthy and always finds ways to lose his power. Thanos ultimately knows his place within the universe and, eventually, learns to forego artificially raising his status through random power grabs, and works to act as a true saviour to the universe by twarting the schemes of others, most notably those of the Magus and the Goddess, both religious-based characters and aspects of Adam Warlock.

A few brief words on the Magus and Goddess: they are the evil and good aspects of Adam Warlock that he expelled while in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, further giving an impression of Starlin's view of god. An effective god, for Starlin, lacks passion, ruled by logic--or, is that true? Considering the fact that Warlock does not remain god long, it's hard to stand by that characterisation. Although, I find it interesting that Warlock gets rid of those parts of himself while god--and that each then attempt to make themselves god. The Magus does so by obtaining the Infinity Gauntlet, but is defeated when Warlock also touches the gauntlet and manages to overpower the less-than-whole aspect. The Goddess uses the Cosmic Egg (which contains numerous Cosmic Cubes) to actually bring about Judgment Day, enacting the book of Revelations, basically. In that way, the three aspects of Warlock: the Magus, Adam and the Goddess all respresent different aspects of Christianity. The Magus is the Old Testament God, one that rules with power, anger and fear; Adam is Christ in that he is uncertain and questioning, even reluctant; while the Goddess is the embodiment of those Christians that wish for the end of the world so they can ascend to Heaven, the evangelicals--a role strengthened by her followers, all blind religious zealots.

If Warlock is Christianity, what then is Thanos? Thanos strangely occupies a role almost the reverse of Satan. He begins as power-hungry and evil, but eventually redeems himself. He almost seems like a representation of views on Satan, where he was seen as pure evil at first, but then in the Romantic period, his portrayal in Paradise Lost, caused some to see him as an anti-hero, a rebel if you will. Even when Thanos does good, he still retains a certain edge, a certain evilness. And, if you look at how most of the characters in the MU view him, he still is evil, just as the majority of people view Satan as such. (Okay, okay, am I taking this too far? Am I reading FAR too much into this? Probably, but whatever.) Mephisto's appearance, often as a contrast to Thanos, may support this as he's the more traditional devil, the always evil one.

And what to make of Thanos' obsession with Death? Is that a simple metaphor for humanity's efforts to conquer and avoid death to no avail? When Mar-Vell dies, he accepts his fate and embraces it, recognising it as a new reality, a new journey. Warlock also welcomes his death and entrance in his heavenly Soul World. The enlightened characters do not fear death, recognising it as a good thing. Here, Starlin could be hinting at the concept of heaven and, if it really is so great and everlasting, why is death to be feared? But, that doesn't really take Thanos into account. I've suggested that Thanos' obsession with Death is really just Starlin's way of examing the relationship between men and women, particularly when a man actively pursues a woman to no avail, progressively growing more obsessed and making larger efforts (and, in the end, it's when Thanos stops trying that he succeeds). Does that relate to the concept of life everlasting? The more we obsess with fighting death, the less we live? Only when we accept death as a part of our lives and ignore it do we live truly--as well as happily enter the afterlife? That could be it as when Thanos stops pursuing Death, he also makes death a permanent state in the Marvel universe, making it somthing that cannot be overcome (a policy since overwritten) and making it matter. Mostly because if death lacks strength and value, so does life. (Although, note that Thanos and Warlock come back from the dead a few times. Thanos even comes back from the dead, in a sense, after decreeing that no one will ever return from the dead again.)

Other figures act as gods, particularly Galactus and Eternity. Galactus is more a being that sees itself as godlike, which Starlin uses as an opportunity to prove wrong again and again, re-enforcing the idea that people should recognise their place in the universe. Eternity is a little more problematic as he legitimately is the embodiment of the universe, albeit a proud and ignorant one. Ultimately, his role is always restored as the natural one, but we're also given the impression that he isn't the true god of the universe, a position confirmed in Marvel: The End where Thanos discovers an even more powerful being, one that actually manipulates events to make Thanos god and shirk its responsibilities. An absentee god? Gee, what could Starlin be suggesting there?

A lot of creators use the Silver Surfer as a messianic or Christ-like figure, but Starlin doesn't. That's noteworthy just because it works against convention so much and Starlin is obviously very concerned with religion. Why isn't the Silver Surfer used by Starlin in that role? In his run on the book, Starlin mostly has the Surfer act as an innocent, a naif, and then also the recipient of guilt. It's almost like the Surfer takes on the role of the believer, the spiritual searcher, one that's lived a life following a certain faith (that of Galactus) and even when he left that faith, he wasn't able to leave it fully behind. He was absolved of his sins while a member of said faith and kept the absolution upon leaving, but Starlin forces him to leave that aspect of the faith behind, too. The Silver Surfer is the righteous non-believer that still cloaks himself in the morality of his forgotten faith--he's a hypocrite, basically. It's interesting to note that during the initial stages of the Infinity Crusade, the Surfer is one of the Goddess' zealots, but he breaks free through sheer force of will, reaffirming his non-believer status. I really like how Starlin sees the Surfer as someone raised within a particular faith that then left and struggles with not believing, while still holding elements of that faith with him no matter how hard he tries. Is the Power Cosmic then a sense of morality for Starlin? I myself am an atheist, but spent my first 19 years in Catholic schools and also going to church with my mom (a Presbyterian). While I don't believe in any sort of god, I still have a very "Christian" sense of morality in some ways and even find myself lapsing in rare moments of "belief" since I was raised with it and cannot just get rid of it through a sheer force of will.

And... and I don't think I have anything else to say on the subject. I'm probably leaving out/forgetting a lot, but this seems to sum up Starlin's use of religion and religious imagery and analogies in his cosmic work at Marvel. On Wednesday, I'll look at Starlin's use of psychology.