Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, Jun 2, 2009
Three frameless panels that dominate the white space of the page and involve the reader in a drama of dimensions. This is classic Will Eisner territory.

In the titular story from Will Eisner’s anthology Last Day In Vietnam, an unnamed Major in the USMC and civilian news-reporter plan an impromptu escape from a Marine Firebase.


This is the Major’s last day on the current rotation. By tomorrow he is scheduled to ship out for Hawaii, where he will meet his newborn child for the first time. An enemy mortar attack however, has grounded all flights. The Major will not make it back to Bearcat in time for his flight out. But the day might yet be saved as the reporter spots one last chopper taking off. The two make a dash for it. This page shows the Major’s hurried scramble to board the chopper as it lifts off.


The beauty of this sequence lies in Eisner’s superb skill at telling a story across dimensions. It appears as if the Major literally crawls out from two dimensions into three, as he clambers aboard the Huey helicopter. Viewed from inside the Huey, the Major running towards the chopper is ordinary fare for comics. It is the world at a distance, the theatrical fourth wall remains undisturbed. But over the course of the two panels that follow, the fourth wall is breached and the violence and horror of a base camp under enemy fire recedes into the distance.


Last Day In Vietnam comes directly from Eisner’s own experiences as civilian contractor during the Vietnam war. It was during this period that he published PS Magazine for circulation among US troops. In this story, the civilian reporter (clearly an analog for Eisner himself) remains unseen, forcing the reader into this character’s point of view. More than simply a narrative continuum, the stories told in this book offer readers a sincere and open wrestling with Eisner’s own life experiences. It is this use of comics to navigate life experience that gives “Last Day” its full title; Last Day In Vietnam: A Memory.


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Monday, Jun 1, 2009
Daredevil launches himself into danger once more.
Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark expose the simultaneous and contradictory feelings of fearlessness and self-reproach in Daredevil.

Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark expose the simultaneous and contradictory feelings of fearlessness and self-reproach in Daredevil.


This is classic “DD” territory. Even before adopting the Daredevil identity, Matt Murdock displayed an unremitting fearlessness. It was this fearlessness, some might say recklessness, that led him to be blinded in an act of boyhood heroism. Since that accident, confronting and overcoming fear has been how Matt Murdock enters the world.


As Daredevil, Matt Murdock has always had an almost primal connection with the city streets. The so called Hero of Hell’s Kitchen, DD has seen it both as his right and honor to protect the streets he grew up on. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, up streetlamps, down fire escapes to reach street level again and across vast urban chasms, DD has become definitive of how superheroes move through the cityscape. Superheroes move using parkour; efficient, dynamic movements to navigate urban obstacles.


Protector of the weak and tormentor of criminals, DD has always relished in his rash “devil may care” attitude. What makes writer Ed Brubaker’s panel so singularly engaging, is his exposition of the “daredevil” confidence as a finely-crafted facade with which Matt Murdock meets the world. Far from being a crazed risk-taker, Matt Murdock finds his true heroism by confronting his fears head on.


Moreover, Brubaker shows the supererogation of Murdock himself. Murdock holds himself responsible to the point of being guilty. These are his streets to protect, and after being arrested and tracing down a conspiracy in Europe, he has lost control of the streets.


Brubaker makes excellent work of writing himself free of the cliffhanger ending the Bendis/Maleev run which saw Matt Murdock arrested and formally disbarred as officer of the Court. For the year preceding issue 95 (the opening chapter of “To the Devil, His Due”), Brubaker wrote Murdock free from prison, then free in Europe chasing down players in the conspiracy to have him imprisoned and his legal partner assassinated. But “To the Devil, His Due”, Brubaker puts DD back on US soil, back on the streets.


But more importantly, this opening page, where DD makes his first appearance on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in more than a year, marks the conflict at the core of both Daredevil and Matt Murdock. Murdock is someone who risks great danger not to masquerade, but to confront great fear.


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