Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This is what I'm going to keep looking for more of.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cook

With Darwyn Cooke’s upcoming release of Richard Stark’s The Outfit, I figured it was high time I finally got around to buying and reading Parker: the Hunter. I’m so incredibly glad that I did. This is a book that completely captures everything about reading comics that I enjoy - from the visual aesthetics of the art, which is bar none some of the best out there, to the narrative, to the visceral feeling of the book in my hands. This just has it all. It’s the perfect example of something that is just fun to read.

This book feels good in your hands and from the colours used on the cover and the designs on the inside covers, it is a package that completes itself in every detail. This is tough guy action and a dark revenge plot that kind of shows the origins of something like The Punisher, Max series that I’m continuing to read. This is an unstoppable guy out to exact revenge with a heartbroken, beaten down core only he uses it to his benefit and to terrify his enemies.

The other thing about this book that hits the right note with me, particularly, is that the art looks like comic book art. It’s exaggerated, but it captures the characters perfectly. Comics don’t need to look like reality and by not doing so, they tend to work better for me. As long as their internal structure remains intact throughout, then it works well. Why limit yourself to trying to copy reality when you can design your own world. Yes, use the basis so the reader isn’t lost - the core relationship of actors and props (perspective, car and head size, etc) still need to be done right, but they don’t need to be of photographic quality to be hard hitting or mature. This book proves that in spades.

I’m anxiously awaiting the next volume.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Punisher Max by Garth Ennis and various artists

I’ve recently begun to read the Punisher: Max series (first two volumes so far) and this seems to me to be how mature superhero comics can be done well. I know that the Punisher isn’t really a superhero per se, but being a Marvel creation is enough. I mean he is the guy that thugs are freaked out by because he just shoots them in the face while Spider-man or Cpt. America might slug them in the jaw.

The level of realism is jacked up in the clothing style and, (not being a gun guy) I’m guessing weapon design. Although I’m pretty sure some of the facial damage is exaggerated for effect. Still, having the stories of a cold, unfeeling killing machine actually be interesting, tense and perhaps a bit heart breaking is no small feat.

At the core of the motivation for Frank is the death of his family that he couldn’t prevent and the atrocities from Viet Nam that he never recovered from. This felt a bit in the vein of First Blood more so than Rambo II (until they dropped him into Russia and he flew out of a military base on a nuclear missile). This feels mature like a great grindhouse movie. It’s simple, I get the motivation, and it’s just damn fun to look at. Then there’s the ridiculous amount of blood spilt and the various amputations and extremely villainous plot for revenge on one man.

Frank is the unmoveable object against the unstoppable force of crime and harm in New York. New people are always ready to fill in the gaps of the people he brings down and he’s ready to oppose them too. He’s fatalistic and accepts his role and eventual death. He continues his fight despite the hopelessness of his situation. He is a self aware man and it is that self awareness that allows him to win. He knows he can stand in one place and fire a gun until the bullets run out while someone else will duck and cover when attempting the same thing.

It’s his self awareness as an unmoving force and not his ruthlessness that allows him to be the Punisher. Only if he is fully aware and realizes his abilities can he be as unfeeling and ruthless as he is presented here. Sure the self awareness is brought to extremes but it was refreshing to read about a character that is completely accepting of his role and the place he created for himself rather than another old man riddled with self-doubt, wondering if they’re doing the right thing. Frank just knows that it won’t stop, he knows he won’t inspire the populace to behave and get along, that for every bullet he spends, he’ll need ten more. He just accepts that and gets on with it. No grandiose statements, no profound personal codes, just one man doing what he can to the best of his abilities.

And sometimes, those abilities mean he gets to take on the entire Russian army and fly away on a nuclear missile, which in case you didn’t know is completely rad.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Sinestro Corps War has revealed my fear of event comics

The other late great event comic that I’ve read somewhat after the sell-by date is the Sinestro Corps Wars as found in the pages of the somewhat recently relaunched Green Lantern. I was never a very big Green Lantern fan. Not through any problem I have with the character or any sort of Marvel vs. DC loyalty. I was just never really interested in him. I never dismissed him outright, like other readers have, as just some dude with a magic wishing ring. But I have to say that I used to love the panels on the old Absorbascon blog that had Hal being hit in the head with random yellow stuff.

Is this a great story line? For the character – yes; for the uninitiated – not really. Luckily I had read some of the other recent DC crossovers, so I got the whole superboy prime stuff and the Anti-Monitor being a big deal but so much of the threats and reveals of this story required knowledge of past DC Comics that is felt a bit like a long inside joke. Sure you wouldn’t be totally lost coming to this cold, but unlike Planet Hulk where previous knowledge of the Marvel Universe merely enhances what is there, the big developments and shocking reveals in this storyline require you to have the same knowledge that the writers have.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your new readers something to go back and research. Hey, they’ll buy old comics (or at least the trade collection of Crisis of Infinite Earths, or whatever), and by showing them these really wild and crazy characters that are huge threats could spark imaginations to a point where they go back to just know more. Then again, who am I kidding, anyone reading this comic is likely to have been reading all the comics required to understand everything that happens. I know I’m building a bit of a straw-man argument here, but at the same time, there was enough going on that I just couldn’t follow.

I guess, Blackest Night, would be more of a proper Event comic for me to read but that wasn’t available. And really, this was enough for me. Again, I like the idea of it. Having an opposing force of Yellow Lanterns that take the fight to the Green Lanterns is an idea so perfect for the comic that it’s unbelievable that this is the first time it’s actually happened. Then the spectrum of rings coming out was just that much better. So, why the heck was I basically feeling “meh” about this?

Well, it comes down to a few things really. I didn’t read the complete run of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps before reading these collections. It bothers me that I need to have collected and read two entire series in order to build a relationship with characters I’m supposed to care about. That relationship should be built into the actual story. Heck, I ended up empathizing with the Forgotten Lanterns or whatever they were called, more than the heroes. I kept reading a lot of the non-human characters as “sexy elf chick” or “XXXX-treme army dude” or whatever since they were all basically characterized a bit overly simplistic to a point where I didn’t really care if they made it or not. Having the Guardians of the Galaxy basically address me by saying “oh yeah, make sure that guys lives, he’s super important” is not exactly my favourite type of storytelling.

And then there’s the plot jumps. Okay, it wasn’t the worst, but it could have been used so much better. Rather than have “meanwhile, back at the ranch” type of breaks between areas of the corps war, we could have one plot developing along one narrative line. I felt like I kept getting pulled back like a little kid trying to tell you a joke he once heard at recess. “Oh yeah, and so he was all like ‘bllaaaah’ and, oh yeah, I should have said that he was a vampire, and then, there was this rabbit, did I mention is was happening at the north pole?” etc. etc. I appreciate getting more of the story, but the result felt scattered and pulled me out of the narrative flow a bit too jarringly, only to jump back to finish up the last story. Couldn’t these have been handled in separate books without damaging either narrative?

So, anyway, that’s it for me and event comics for a little while.