Thursday, January 23, 2014

Frank Miller’s best work is Daredevil: Born Again.

Frank Miller’s best work is Daredevil: Born Again.
by rick olivares

Say the name of Frank Miller and invariably the words out of one’s mouth will be “The Dark Knight Returns”, “300”, and “Sin City.”

Throw in Robocop while you’re at it. But for me, the best Frank Miller story ever is Daredevil: Born Again. Not “Batman: Year One”. Not “300”.

Born Again.

JV Tanjuatco reminds me that the first story to really put a hero through the wringer is the David Michelinie and Bob Layton penned ‘Demon in a Bottle’ storyline in The Invincible Iron Man than ran for nine issues in 1979.

Maybe so but that isn’t as powerful as what Miller and David Mazzuchelli put Daredevil through in Born Again that is a story of the systematic destruction of old Hornhead or more specifically, his real life identity of lawyer Matthew Murdock when the Kingpin of Crime learns his true name. It’s a powerful story of betrayal and redemption with a lot of twists and turns.

This is topnotch writing by Miller; nothing else he’s done before or after Born Again comes close. It’s like reading a crime novel only with pictures. The prose flows and at times there’s a wisp of poetry to it.

This I show he describes Daredevil jumping across the rooftops with his billy club during the winter: “She greets me with a blast of wind and her endless angry roar. She hums with power and tickles my legs with a thousand flirting fingers. Laughs at me, blows a gust of smoke in my face. Tricks me with slippery stone. Rattles her windows with delight as I move across her, feeling her warmth.”

Sumptuous writing.

That’s just one of dozens and dozens of writing nous Miller drops on you. And I haven’t even begun to quote the dialogue. Or lack of it.

In a one-shot Daredevil #219 after his first sterling run (it was a break between the acclaimed Denny O’Niel run), Miller writes a story of Murdock who pursues a killer in New Jersey. He presents another guise for Murdock – ‘the stranger’ who never says a word. Not a peep.

He never even put Murdock in his DD tights all issue long. This was unheard of. And it provided the impetus for the Born Again saga. In Parts 2-5 of the arc -- Purgatory, Pariah, Born Again and Saved – Murdock doesn’t even appear once in his Daredevil outfit.

In this seven-issue arc, it’s like a best-of-seven NBA Finals. It’s not too short and not too long. You sometimes wish you could see more, read more, and see Matt’s drown in that level of hell the Kingpin drowns him in a little longer but no. The prose is enough because it leaves you to your imagination to add to the misery. At the end of it all as Matt and Karen Page walk along the streets of New York smiling and happy, it is just right.

The descent into madness is disturbing and chilling. It’s painful all the more because it is all too real. A frame up that results in Matt’s betting disbarred, not having a penny to call his own, seeing him brownstone flat bombed, sleeping on the streets, getting the crap beaten out of him then thrown into the Hudson River, getting stabbed by a mugger… whew!

When he harasses ex-girlfriend Glorianna O’Breen or even calls up Foggy (only he is talking to an answering machine, it’s frightening. I fear that Matt has finally been driven off the deep end.

The man is stripped of everything he owns down to his bare essentials. Leaving him lean, humble, chaste, and as Miller writes in the Kingpin’s thoughts, “a man without fear” because he has experienced the worst that life can throw at him.

Powerful, didn’t I say earlier?

Daredevil is my favorite comic book character because he is the most real of everyone else. No particular powers and its hard-boiled stuff. It’s gritty like the city streets we know all too well enough to avoid.

There’s a lot of religious symbolism in the story that touches on Murdock’s Catholic faith (not to mention Miller’s own). And being Roman Catholic myself, it’s a source of pride and joy to see an openly Catholic superhero. With more and more comic book characters being written about as embracing various forms of sexuality, Miller’s Catholic Daredevil, written in 1987 is ahead of its time, bold, and timeless.

And the artwork. I used to think that Mazzuchelli’s interpretation of Miller’s Batman: Year One was tops. But that one had a comic book flair to it. Born Again, well, you can every panel drips with emotion. With every panel there’s a pain and joy to them. This was the Hill Street Blues of comic books.

You can see since the publication of Born Again how it has changed comic book storytelling through the years. You will read a lot of Miller in the works of Kurt Busiek, Ed Brubaker, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, and Matt Fraction (throw in a lot of the Image Comic book writers of the 1990s).

When I read Rick Remender’s “Deadly Class” that came out just this Wednesday, I swear it was Miller’s voice and writing on Born Again that I could glean in the prose.

And that sometimes, is the best compliment a storyline can ever receive.


How big a hero is Matt Murdock for me? I named my eldest son, Matthew, after him.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Pull List January 22

The Pull List January 22:

Deadly Class #1
Umbral #3
The Walking Dead #120

Dark Horse:
Elfquest: Final Quest #1

X-Factor #2
Wolverine and the X-Men #40
Cable and X-Force #19
X-Men #9
Avengers World #2
All-New Invaders #1
Black Widow #2
Hawkeye #16
FF #16

Friday, January 17, 2014

Looking back at wedding stories in the Teen Titans, X-Men & the Hulk

While going through my comic book collection (whatever is left of it), I picked out three "wedding" stories and decided to read through them all over again and well, write about them. 

Let's go through them in chronological order. 

Tales of The Teen Titans #50 was released in December 1984 (with a February 1985 cover date) and was produced by its all-time tag team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez with Mike De Carlo and Dick Giordano as inkers. 

"We are gathered here today" is a 40-page issue about the wedding of Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) and Terry Long, her history teacher boyfriend. 

Writing. At this time, Teen Titans was the one title that rivalled X-Men (or was at least close to) in sales and popularity. Marv Wolfman had masterfully built up to this wedding/milestone issue. Even with the wedding day you don't know what's going to happen. With Changeling in charge of the wedding preparations you wonder if something will go wrong or that some super villain will attack. But no. It's perfect just the way a wedding should be.

When Wolfman opens with a scene from Paradise Island you wonder what's going on? Why has Hippolyta been secluded in the Temple of Athena for four days now in prayer? The answer will be made known towards the end of the issue and makes the finale all the more poignant.

Like any wedding day, it forces people to examine their interpersonal relationships. I always thought that the Dick Grayson Robin/Nightwing was perfect for Wonder Girl but instead he is giving her away.  The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Grayson more so their differences in character are magnificently told in six panels. The reunion of all the past and present Teen Titans although out of costume is wonderful. It's certainly cool when some of the old Titans ruminate about the benefits of opening a Titans West Coast. 

Wedding song: "Annie's Song" by John Denver. Hmm. 

All throughout the issue there are a number of sub-plots that threaten to destroy the solemnity of the occasion. Raven is absent for the wedding as she is in her dimension for meditating for the storm to come (Trigon). Steve Dayton (Mento from the Doom Patrol) uses his mental powers to project a different Vic Stone (Cyborg) and the half-man/half-machine resents Gar Logan attempt to make him appear normal. He tears at Logan verbally nearly spoiling the day but Stone's date sets him straight and he apologises for his being an ass. 

Art. Two words. Or better yet. There is power in names and that is George Perez. So you know that you will not be short-changed and you will see gorgeously drawn women in here. For a while I thought his rendition of Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) was the best and that held true until Mike Deodato and Frank Cho came along. At a time when comic book artists paid close attention to panel art, George's use of the title "We Are Gathered Here Today" to make use as panels was an instant attention grabber. You know it was special. 

Bride's gown. Ugh. Sorry. Donna's gown was too tightly wound that a librarian looks even more gorgeous. During the newlyweds honeymoon flight to Greece, she changes into her more traditional Amazon garb that caused Terry to drool. She should have worn something similar and more apt for the wedding ceremony.

Guests. Always been a fan of Aqualad and Aquagirl. I was heartbroken when Tula died in Crisis (about a year later). But it was good to see them here. Clark Kent and Lana Lang make cameo appearances. That's about it.

Rating: I'd give this issue an "A".

Nine years later there this other celebrated comic book wedding that was a long time coming.

X-Men #30 March 1994: Fabian Nicieza (writer) with Andy Kubert and Matt Ryan (penciller and inker respectively).

Writing. Nicieza I have to admit I wasn't a fan of. Tough act to follow in Chris Claremont. Furthermore, he had only 22-pages to work on so that meant he'd have to cut out a lot of scenes. If in Teen Titans, the entire wedding ceremony was shown here we'd only see bits and pieces. But handicapped and all, Nicieza does a masterful job with "The Ties that Bind".

I love the way how Nicieza started out the story with Wolverine's letter to Jean and Scott (he didn't attend because this was the post-Fatal Attractions storyline where his adamantium was wrenched from his body) then ended it with Charles Xavier reading Logan's short (pun intended) letter to him that was humorous. 

Nicieza takes on the point of view of Xavier for the entire day. And why not? After all he was the crux in their early and young adult lives. He goes through the relationships of the original X-Men (Scott, Bobby, Hank, and Warren). With all the mutants in this issue, he gives some voice to the next relationships that will power the X-Men -- Alex Summer and Lorna Dane (Havok and Polaris) and Rogue and Gambit. Past and present X-Men. 

The scene where Jean Grey uses her mutant powers to lift up Xavier for a dance is a powerful scene. This is the Hippolyta moment of the issue if I may say.

Tension. As Cyclops notes, Havok is putting up a brave front after the apparent death of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man. Sabertooth nearly crashes the party but Wolverine makes the best non- cameo by going ninja on his nemesis by kicking him then leaving him a note to not even think about destroying the solemnity of the day.

Wedding song: "One" by U2. Awesome!

Art. Jim Lee might be the ultimate X-Men artist but for my money, Marc Silvestri and Andy Kubert were stylish and terrific as well. And Kubert's drew one of his best works with "The Ties that Bind" as he does some amazingly detailed work that's packed with power". Check out the scene where Gambit beats everyone else to the bride's girdle and you'll see what I am saying.

Marvel went one farther on DC's Donna Troy's gown by actually asking a wedding designer Nicole Miller to design the strapless and silver gown Jean Grey gets into. This is actually the second time that Marvel engaged a proper designer for a wedding dress. The first was the late Willie Smith who designed Mary Jane Watson's gown in her wedding to Peter Parker.

In this issue, three trading cards commemorating the wedding are included! Nice touch!

Rating: I'd give the X-Crew an "A" for this issue.  I really wish there was more than 22-pages but they pulled it of. 

The Incredible Hulk #418 June 1994. Two Marvel weddings in one year! The cool thing is it isn't the main character of the Hulk getting married but long time supporting cast member Rick Jones and Marla Chandler! Yowza! Brought to you by the team of Peter David (writer), Gary Frank and Cam Smith (penciller and inker) for the similarly titled "We Are Gathered Here". Like the wedding of Cyclops and Marvel Girl, this one's 22-pages. But unlike that Marvel released a special ashcan edition that goes hand in hand with this.

The ashcan prints all the wedding gown designs by both Gary Frank and John Romita Sr! A comic book legend throwing in his lot. Imagine that! They also provide a glimpse of the guest list that is humorous for the side comments of both Bruce and Betty Ross! 

It says do not seat the Pantheon next to X-Factor! Hahaha hilarious. No fish dinner for Namor the Sub-mariner. Bwahaha. The Human Torch needs asbestos napkins. Wahahaha. The Vision won't need a dinner. hehehehe. Iron Man -- keep away from the bar. This is too much and it's just the ashcan!

Writing. Now to the main comic book. Since this is Peter David expect there to be a heaping dose of humour. And how!

In the issue before the wedding, there's a bachelor's party for Rick Jones with Captain America, Ulysses (of the Pantheon), the Human Torch, the Vision, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Thing, and Quicksilver in attendance. They first have to go through as stripper that has Capall tied up. Then they watch an art film that is actually a prone film starring Marlo!

That sets up the tension for #418 when it opens with Rick and Marlo quarrelling. Cool thing -- there's a pic of Jim Morrison of the Doors in the background. This threatens to derail the wedding and as Marlo goes out to clear her head, she has an encounter with Mephisto who provides the tension for the wedding day. He tries to bargain for Marlo's perfect day in exchange for something that will be revealed later.

Tension. As if Mephisto isn't enough or even the Pantheon's internal bickering. Drax the Destroyer arrives. But it isn't for a fight with the Hulk but to attend the wedding. The Mr. Hyde, The Wizard, the Absorbing Man, and Living Lightning arrive to also attend the wedding. Then Rick says, Skrulls to the left; Kree to the right!" The two galactic rivals threaten to fight but the Silver Surfer intervenes and everyone behaves. Then lastly, Mephisto, due to the machinations of the Impossible Man, shows up finally threatening to undermine the ceremony but Hulk sends him packing to Limbo. 

Finally, a wedding is held and the two are joined in union.

In perhaps the best cameo, the Endless' Death (from Vertigo) makes a cameo where she says that she'll go easy on Marlo (you have to read the back stories to understand this). 

Art: The die-cut wrap around cover is worth the cover price alone! Seeing Captain America in a tuxedo is priceless. Peter David as the preacher who marries Rick and Marlo! Hilarious. And as always, Gary Frank does a great job especially with the facial expressions of the characters.

Rating: A+. The wedding's hardly much but everything else makes it perfect. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Signed comic books I have (at least those that survived the typhoon's devastation)

First issue of Wanted signed my Mark Millar and JG Jones at Midtown Comics. And in that same signing I asked Millar to sign by trade paperback of The Ultimates that just came out at that time.

Joe Quesada signed my trade paperback of Daredevil. 

Todd McFarlane signed this issue of Spider-Man at the San Diego Comic Con in 1993.

Walt Simonson signed X-Men/Teen Titans crossover.

Other stuff U have signed - Alex Ross' Mythology (I lost the Justice League and Kingdom Come stuff I asked him to sign back in 2002), Whilce Portacio The Punisher, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Men, and Wetworks. Jim Lee' X-Men and Batman.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Pull List January 15, 2014

Rover Red Charlie #2

The Illegitimates #2

Velvet #3
Rat Queens #4

Oni Press
The Sixth Gun #37

Amazing X-Men #3
All-New X-Men #21
Uncanny X-Men #16
The Superior Spider-Man #25
Fantastic Four #16

Superman Wonder Woman #4

Astro City #8

Imagine this…. Image Comics and what it means to me.

Imagine this…. Image Comics and what it means to me.
by rick olivares

Remember that famous introduction line about the Justice League of America… ‘Imagine this…”

Well, we’re stealing that line and appropriating that for Image Comics.

Image this, top creators bolt Marvel Comics to form an indie company and more than 20 years later they produce some of the smartest, most innovative, and game changing comics today.

Imagine that.

While sifting through my comic book boxes over the past two weeks, I saw stuff that I had forgotten that I had and whispered a prayer for some titles or issues that have survived the ravages of time and poor storage.

Among them are some of the Image Comics titles by some of the founding fathers. Still in good condition are Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Jim Lee’s Wildcats, and Whilce Portacio’s Wetworks. Leafing through the pages was a trip down memory lane.

Having recently watched The Image Revolution documentary made going through my comic boxes even more poignant. In case you haven’t seen that documentary, I urge you to watch it. If you didn’t follow the history of Image Comics then this is an eye opener. If you did, the footage and the anecdotes are something to be heard and even relived.

A little over a year after Marvel’s Mutant Genesis promotion that saw the X-Men titles (Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Force, and Excalibur) cement its hold on the industry, Image Comics exploded into pop culture. Save for Jim Valentino’s stuff, I bought the comics of the six other creators so following them to Malibu/Image was a no-brainer.

It was in every sense of the word – a revolution. Almost overnight, they were knocking Marvel titles down the charts. Heck, DC fell to number three in comic book publishing.

I bought every single Image Comic book that came out. Including the second wave. Even the bad titles from Extreme Studios. Luckily, I was already working but that sure put a sever crimp on my savings.

There were some good stuff early on – Spawn had potential. The Savage Dragon looked fun. And Wildcats was dynamic. However, the problems were chronic – poor storytelling and lateness. Some titles received more than two re-boots. Sure ways to kill books. But man, they held fast. Spawn and The Savage Dragon are still ongoing and never to have been re-booted. Imagine that!

However, it was the second and third wave of Image titles that I truly enjoyed – Supreme (when Alan Moore took over scripting chores), Stormwatch, Astro City, Aria, Battle of the Planets, Big Bang Comics, Battle Chasers, Shaman’s Tears, Warlands, The Authority, Jack Staff, and The Walking Dead.

Stormwatch/The Authority if you ask me paved the way for The Ultimates (that in turn also changed other team books) and the current Justice League of America lineup.

And there’s The Walking Dead! Enuff said.

Today, I pick up Rat Queens, Black Science, Manifest Destiny, Sidekick, Peter Panzerfaust, Velvet, Jupiter’s Legacy, Saga, and the Manhattan Projects. From my previous list, I only get The Walking Dead (Astro City has moved to Vertigo).

That’s quite a variety.

Rat Queens is my Warlands for today.

Sidekick is like reading a sequel from the great tome by James Robinson and Paul Smith – The Golden Age.

Velvet would do Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise proud.

Peter Panzerfaust and Manifest Destiny are great re-imagined tellings of classic characters. If you like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer then you’ll enjoy these books.

Saga. Wow. How do you even describe this sci-fi fantasy series?

I still read superhero comics. I still enjoy them. Hawkeye and Daredevil thrive when they have great writers and artists on them. Aquaman has followed that path. Here’s a hero who has been mostly been a third tier hero but Geoff Johns turned him into an A-Grade hero.

I don’t read as many but I still do. If there’s something new out that that warrants my hard-earned bucks then I pay for it.

Image has played a huge role in the comics industry by going to bat for creators’ comics. They’ve produced some game changing comic books. And they aren’t simply of the super hero genre. They’ve expanded deep into territory that was once exclusively Dark Horse’s.

Image whet my appetite for indie comic books. And now that I am older, much of their books appeal to my more mature self. They are intelligently produced. And furthermore, they are pushing the envelope where comics are headed and their continuous impact on pop culture.

The “I” logo is like a ISO certification for good stuff.

Three-fourths of my comic book purchases are from indie companies. That says a lot from someone who was weaned on Marvel from the age of three.

Image Comics is one of the best things to ever happen to the four-colored medium. And for that, I am forever grateful. Because for one, now people don’t think that I read meaningless stuff. Second, it’s good to have some top-notch variety out there.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The heir to Hellboy: Oni Press’ dark and intoxicating Courtney Crumrin

The heir to Hellboy: Oni Press’ dark and intoxicating Courtney Crumrin
by rick olivares

At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Courtney Crumrin as a girl’s gothic horror comic book.

This is the part where I say you should never judge a book by its cover.

Oni Press’ Courtney Crumrin is the proud heir to Dark Horse’s Hellboy with writer/artist Ted Naifeh providing us with a frightening yet captivating world of the night that could have probably been conjured in the fervent recess of Neil Gaiman’s mind.

In the collected first volume titled: The Night Things (Courtney Crumrin #1-4), Naifeh writes in the foreword: “The only children’s stories that are truly classic, timeless, and beloved are also subversively honest about life’s ugliness.”

“There almost has to be a tragic, a bitter, or a vicious edge to the story,” notes Naifeh of ‘children’s books’ like Mark Twain’s ‘Tom Sawyer’, Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, and Judy Blume’s ‘Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret.’ 

That edge is there from the very beginning of the story when we are introduced to a goblin named Butterworm who serves as the narrator of the story. You know right away that this isn’t James Robinson’s and Paul Smith’s Leave It To Chance; a similar story about a young girl named Chance who is the heir to a family that defends the fictional place of Devil’s Echo from the supernatural. While Smith’s art is bright and sunny; Naifeh’s artwork is Mignola creepy.

Crumrin, the main protagonist has to deal with moving in with her parents into the mansion of her elderly uncle, Aloysius Crumrin, who unbeknownst to her early on is a warlock. It’s a creepy house but Courtney has bigger problems from school bullies who beat her up for her lunch money. In the first few pages, Butterworm eats one of the school’s outcasts who befriends Courtney early on.

This isn’t Something Under the Bed is Drooling! Not at all.

Courtney sneaks into her uncle’s study and discovers a book on how to master the creatures of the night and to conjure the simplest of spells. She binds Butterworm to her and exacts revenge on the bullies and her schoolmates who have ostracized her.

In the course of the story arc, her uncle takes her under her wing after she proves herself with a series of adventures that has her invading a night market of goblins, demons, changelings, and dark elves. She manages to even witness first hand a late night meeting among cats who are no mere felines who spend their days sleeping, meowing, or pooping. Think Lord of the Rings’ Entmoot except this is for cats of the four-legged and furry kind.

Crumrin battles a goblin that has been sent to eliminate the warlocks of Hillsborough, the fictional town where Courtney resides.

And that’s just in volume one.

It was by happenstance when I discovered Courtney Crumrin. I picked up the first issue of Oni Press’ The Mysterious Strangers, liked it so much that I figured to tryout their independent publisher’s other titles.

Since then, I’ve been collecting The Sixth Gun, another horror story set in the days of the post-American Civil War; The Mysterious Strangers, a story about super powered beings that has all the vibe of the 1965 television hit, The Avengers (of Emma Peel fame), and Wars In Toyland, a Toy Story-like book where toys come alive.

While going through Oni Press’ catalogue, I saw Courtney Crumrin and ordered the first two collected volumes (including Volume 2 The Coven of Mystics).

And as I wrote earlier, Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin is the heir to Mignola’s Hellboy. It’s tragic, a bitter, and has a vicious edge to the story.

Now didn’t it say earlier that those are the ingredients to truly classic, timeless, and beloved stories?


If you like Trese, Leave It To Chance, and Hellboy...

You can order COURTNEY CRUMRIN from those swell fellas at Comic Odyssey.