Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009
In Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, it is the ordinary that provides opportunity for the most strange interactions.

Readers have seen this moment play out thousands of times before; a moment of expositional conversation, a brief respite between periods of combat or investigation. These are the quiet times, when readers get to know characters. But for Grant Morrison writing Doom Patrol, this is another opportunity to underline the inherent strangeness of both the team, and the comicbook. For Morrison, this is an opportunity to emphasize the new kinds of relations constituted by the team, especially the nonchalant uncaring of an irascible team leader.


Dr. Joshua Clay, no longer able to deal with the strangeness the Doom Patrol perpetually confronts, and wheelchair-bound team leader Dr. Niles Caulder walk through a Doom Patrol HQ hangar towards a helicopter. Niles Caulder is en route to see the President, while Joshua ponders on recent occurrences. In a surprise twist, Caulder offers no indication of concern for his missing team. Readers find themselves thrown into confusion. Could a team leader be this uncaring? What of the genre benevolence established by such well-loved team leaders as Professor X of the X-Men? And yet, the belief Dr. Caulder expresses in his team’s resilience seems to sway him from being viewed simply as a coldhearted manipulator the likes of Magneto or Doctor Doom. The ostensible normalcy of the panel, of two characters, their backs to readers, moving toward a vanishing point that appears to the right of the panel, only adds to the complexity and to readers’ confusion.


‘I wanted to break away from the massive influence that the Claremont/Byrne era X-Men continue to exert over the whole concept of the comic book super-team’, Morrison writes in his Author’s Note that concludes Crawling From the Wreckage, the volume in which ‘Imaginary Friends’ is collected. What Morrison proposed was a return to ‘the spirit of the Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani stories of days gone by’. The kind of stories where ‘the Doom Patrol slouched into town like a pack of junkyard dogs with a grudge against mankind’. In the most usual of settings, in the most ordinary of encounters, this panel shows, Morrison achieves this objective admirably.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009
The bright lights of New York City's Times Square below him, Captain America jumps anonymously from a S.H.I.E.L.D. designated military helicopter. In a single panel writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch offer a compelling argument for the necessary but also unnerving confluence of military and superhuman prowess in the media-saturated reality of the 21st-century.

Could it ever have been any other way?


In The Ultimates, writer Mark Millar offers a radical inversion of a popular Marvel theme; superheroes and the media. Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four and even mainstream Marvel Avengers have never been strangers to media scrutiny, but with The Ultimates, Millar provides something of a reversal in a team that relish media attention. The media often being cast as an antagonist in Marvel stories, always seemed to foreshadow a moment when a superhero, or group of superheroes, would actively embrace media attention. The other side of visual equation, the collaboration between superheroes and military intelligence has similarly been a Marvel mainstay, with such heroes as The Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man and even Captain America himself either confounding or aiding in military operations.


The power of this Millar-Hitch image comes by way of a number of vectors, not least of which is the image’s resilience at imbricating the reader in the act of storytelling. Does Captain America somehow belong among the bright lights of Times Square? Is his joining the vibrant bustle of NYC nightlife a foregone conclusion? And if that reading is imposed, does it signal the presence of the military as somehow sinister? Or could an entirely different narrative arise from the panel? Is the bustle of city life at night somehow unsafe? Is the encroachment of advertising the means to subliminal control of the populace? Is the government, in an effort to intervene and protect the lives and property of its citizens, correct in enlisting the aid of superhumans?


Does the true danger lie with the military sworn to protect citizens, or with the city that despotically organizes the minds of civilians? The true power of this panel lies not in its search for an answer to this question, nor in the visual of the superhuman dwarfed by both military and media, but in Millar and Hitch’s skill in posing the question.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jun 22, 2009
Fabled Flash writer Mark Waid takes the helm on JLA #33 as guest-writer. In a brief interchange between Superman and Batman, Waid not only sets the tone for his forthcoming run on JLA, but also pays homage to his earlier work on Flash.

In the closing pages of ‘Altered Egos’ Superman confronts Batman, demanding the latter reveal his identity to the remaining members of the Justice League. Batman makes his own position perfectly clear. If all the members of the Justice League had known that Batman was in truth Bruce Wayne, they would have had no way to counter the White Martian, the major enemy of this issue.


With this exchange, Mark Waid establishes the scope of his vision for his upcoming run as JLA writer; the League is about the very different views held by its top tier members, and conflict that arises there from. With Superman openness and frankness are a prime concern, with Batman, tactical maneuvering outweighs teammates’ feelings. Although both hold to ideals of justice, their views are diametrically opposed. Artist Mark Pajarillo’s use of a viewscreen and slight changes in viewing angle (with readers’ worms-eye view of Superman heroically emphasizing his rectitude in the first panel, but destabilizing it with a birds-eye view in the next) make a visual argument for the incompatibility of the characters’ views, and the impossibility of readers deciding which view is correct.


With ‘Altered Egos’, Waid showcases his understanding of Grant Morrison’s vision of the Justice League in JLA. Resurrecting the threat of the White Martians, the villains from the opening storyarc of Morrison’s run on JLA, Waid offers readers a reason to trust that he would continue Morrison’s vision. But along with an implied promise to continue Morrison’s work, Waid brings his own storytelling powers to bear on the JLA. The traumatic ‘birth’ of the White Martian mirrors the ‘birth’ of Professor Zoom in Waid’s acclaimed Flash story ‘The Return of Barry Allen’.


With the issue’s final caption reading ‘It’s not about trust, the League has plenty of that’, Waid harkens back to the title of the issue in which he brought Barry Allen back from the dead. Along with that, comes a promise for grand storyarcs yet to come.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Jun 21, 2009

It was a strange year, 1836. It was the year that would invent the twentieth century.


Naturalist Charles Darwin stepped off the HMS Beagle on the morning of October 2nd, seeing his native England for the first time in five years. Novelist Charles Dickens would begin publishing his first novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club serialized for weekly publication. And Sam Colt would finally perfect his invention of the revolver.


For Darwin it would be the beginning of a long career, one that would enshrine him as one of the greatest scientific minds of his age, and one that would bring him into conflict with the established power of the Church of England and its dogma. Ten weeks into publication of The Pickwick Papers Dickens would spark a cultural revolution. His character Sam Weller would be so highly regarded that it would be openly stolen and reproduced in bootleg copies of his work, Sam Weller Joke Books and various other merchandizing. Dickens would helm a new kind of literature that would set the tone for such later innovators as Walt Disney, Osamu Tezuka and R. Crumb. And Sam Colt would, with a single stroke, reconstitute the way our species conceives of justice, law, injury and animosity. We would not need a writer the quality of Tom Fontana to remind us that with the advent of the revolver “the wound is personal”.


Each of these revolutions could be seen to engage with the writings of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, whose dystopian view of the world arose from his famous slogan: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. Malthus would use this offer a savage critique of the welfare system of 19th century England. It is in this way that 1836 holds up a mirror to the global economic collapse of 2008. Economics as the crucible for three cultural revolutions; one of scientific and religious conflict, one of literary innovation, and one of civilian armament.


While the visionary work of manga writer Yasuhiro Nightow in his anime series Gungrave offers comment on the confluence of Colt’s legacy and Darwin’s (in Nightow’s series dead gangsters dressed as cowboys hunt down genetically engineered zombie supersoldiers), it is 1989’s Legion of Super-Heroes edited by Mark Waid and written by Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum that offers a perspective on the confluence of Darwin, Colt and Dickens.


Five years after the economic collapse of the United Planets, the idealistic Legion of Super-Heroes crawl from the wreckage, now jaded by the failure of their dream. Things were not supposed to be this bad. Now facing a galactic society on the brink crumbling into civilian militias, the Legion must confront the encroaching threat of an expansionist xenosociology. The story is told on the same 3x3 grid popularized by Dave Gibbons in Watchmen, but to a far more brutal effect.


This Wednesday’s Iconographies feature explores how 1989’s reboot of Legion of Super-Heroes offers comment on both 1836 and 2008.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Jun 19, 2009
A seemingly throwaway tale from the early days of Spider-Man's career. Writers Brian Azzarello and Scott Levy hold back on the lead character's appearance until page 21 of a 22-page story.

It is the kind of neo-noir that fans of writer Brian Azzarello have come to love. That ‘essential inner darkness’ that Frank Miller speaks of in his introduction to Criminal: Lawless. ‘Not many people really understand what makes a crime story tick. Like they did with the early Batman movies and with nearly every attempt at film noir since movies went color, they dress it up dark, even murky, but the essential inner darkness that a good crime yarn exposes, relishes in, releases never occurs to them’. But Azzarello has that inner darkness in spades, and with Scott Levy he doles it out by the bucketful in the seemingly throwaway tale, ‘The Last Shoot’.


Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, the series in which the Azzarello/ Levy scripted ‘The Last Shoot’ appears, was meant to tell the stories of ordinary New Yorkers, and how their lives were touched by the emergence the superhero. Spider-Man saves lives, but what of those lives he actually saves, the book sought to explore. An ensemble book in the truest sense, Tangled Web saw writers submitting short stories or storyarcs that ran only a few short issues. Each issue of Tangled Web would have at least one backup story. And Spider-Man himself would only be glimpsed at.


Azzarello’s creative genius for neo-noir fiction sets him up for apparently committing Tangled Web’s only cardinal sin; by page 20 of the 22-page lead story, Spider-Man has still failed to appear. But the tale of small-time crime and petty, workaday woes that is wrestler (or ‘shooter’, a wrestler who wrestles for real) Joey Hogan’s life proves so arresting that readers almost forgive Azzarello and Levy for the let-down. Does it really matter that Spidey doesn’t show? Wasn’t this a good story anyhow?


But of course, Spider-Man does show. This is the moment of his birth. When a young, brash, reckless kid endowed with incredible powers uses it to entertain and earn a paycheck. This is the darkest moment in Spider-Man’s history. A moment when he was at his most vulnerable. When he was perhaps most easily seduced by cheap applause. The impoverishment of Crusher Hogan’s world threatens to swallow him whole. How many lives may have gone unsaved? It would eventually take the death of his foster-father to show Spider-Man the path of responsibility he would walk later in life.


But staring across that essential, inner darkness of a whole world poised like a knife-edge to the throat of a hero who can save it, Crusher Hogan’s words speak to the indomitable in each reader. ‘The man that beat me…? Would be a hero’.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.