Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

I hope everyone gets a good jumpstart on their road to sugar shock today, just don't catch a cold waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.

In other news, I've finally gotten around to reading Dan Curtis, JH Williams and Seth Fisher's Batman tale Snow. I just couldn't bring myself to reading it during the summer months.

I always find it incredibly hard not to compare any re-examined Batman villain origin story to the animated series (the 90s Bruce Timm series, not The Batman that's currently on). They did such a great job, especially with Mr. Freeze that it is pretty much impossible not to think of the character as anything other than the animated presentation. He was such a tragic villain with a great motivation and they really managed to play up his cold heart and his inability to love while it was love that made him do what he does. The terrible movie put the Governator into the role and the decline of Mr. Freeze hit full speed. Since then the comic books have tended to simply make him a psychotic cold villain who just smashed people. In many ways the motivation was removed from the character and replaced with psychotic cold dude with armour.

Then comes this story which essentially mixes the two ideas (Governator is, thankfully, forgotten). There is a bit of the warmth at the centre but the psychotic tendencies are also there in large force. Mr. Freeze does have some decent emotional motivation but at times it still feels a bit forced, such as his insistance on non-violent use of his project although he's working for a military contract. The character just seems more deluded than conflicted.

Batman, on the other hand, is creating a sort of strike team that doesn't really end up working out all that great. It works fine against your average criminal gangster but against something like Mr. Freeze the group just wasn't prepared. They manage to get some small victories but for the most part they realize when they are out of their league.

And then there is the reason I bought this thing. The Seth Fisher artwork. Man, it is simply amazing how I can just sit there and look at this book all day long. I love the day-glo colours and how each panel just bursts with fun. Heck, Batman has earmuffs on when he skis through Gotham - when was the last time you saw that and didn't think it was lame? This is kinetic and solid work here that is just stylized enough to feel like Moebius edited the art but with enough retro-funk in the design to make it unlike any other Batman story I've happened to read.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I’ve finally read the third Animal Man trade (Deus ex machina) by Grant Morrison and it is just as wonderfully inventive as the rest of the series has been. This one does contain a lot of what is remembered most from the series. Two stories in particular – Animal Man takes peyote, breaks the fourth wall and can see the reader; and the last issue where Animal Man meets Grant Morrison. They are wonderfully inventive and it feels like you’re reading a high water mark in superhero comics when you’re reading these for the first time.

The trouble with reading something so good is that it makes you want to do something similar and I have a feeling that the approach taken in Animal Man influenced a bunch of less successful superhero stories. Heck, the current Superboy Prime feels a bit like a poorly executed idea from Animal Man but that’s a whole other kettle of fish that really doesn’t have anything to do with the book at hand, so let’s gloss over it and move on.

What works here is that the stories approach the material as it is set up within itself and its relation to a wider genre. There is a lot of reflection upon the medium as well as the universe presented within the panels. It is a fun meditation on comics as well as a decent meditation by the character upon his own reality. It made me a bit sad to read it to a conclusion, but I also feel the better for having read it because it really is a novel approach to the character genre. Because of how original it is, it is that much more memorable and that much harder to borrow from, or imitate outright, which is both helpful and a hindrance. Should all superhero comics that break the fourth wall be written off as cheap Animal Man clones? – probably not, but it is extremely likely that the comparison will be made. It’s too bad that breaking the fourth wall is almost taboo because I don’t think everything has been said that can be said. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to use it to their own ends for fear of the sacred cow that it Animal Man.

What I would suggest to anyone yet to read the series, is to get all three trades and read them as one longer story. I had too much time between books and there is a lot of interaction between the stories as the narrative progresses. I really do want to sit down and read it all end to end now, and that is a good thing. I usually don’t want to reread anything.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dead Robin

I read the last Gotham Central trade and liked it just as much as the rest of the series. I love the down on the streets of Gotham point of view and the art is just superb for the series. I like the characters and the use of the DC universe as a spectacular aspect that gets thrown in every now and again to remind the reader why these average joes are always wound a bit tighter than they should be.

It's as good as any cop drama, although the Dead Robins storyline did pull a bit of a cheat as to who was guilty and why. I don't completely hate that but I'm not a huge fan of it either because it feels like a cheat, moreso if it is used too much in a series.

What I love most about this series is that it can only really work as a comic book. It simply wouldn't work in any other media because the spectacular superhero aspects would just be too jarring or look too incongruous with the man-on-the-street presentation. In comics, it doesn't matter because nobody is real. I'm a bit sorry that the characters had to leave all too soon because this was a fantastic set of comics.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Deceptively Simple

I've just returned from a few days at the Chateau Montebello to celebrate my first anniversary. I feel so unbelievably chilled out. It's amazing what three days in one of the biggest log cabins with a six sided, three story fireplace will do for your. I managed to read a whole bunch of stuff as it rained for most of our time there but chilling with my wife on an interior balcony or by a roaring wood fire really takes one towards what is actually important in life.

I took the title for this post from Randy Lander's review of this book on the now defunct and much mourned Fourth Rail.

Doug TenNapel’s Creature Tech is a story about the brilliant Dr. Ong who is working for the US government in a hidden underground base in small-town America. His job is to go through all the boxes in the research facility and find out what all the unexplained technology does. Their entrance is a large venus-flytrap that swallows them down to the lower levels. He decided this was a good career move when he dropped out of the seminary. The only down side to his job are the small-town locals. Then the ghost of Dr. Jameson, who replaced his left hand with the hand of the demon Hellcat to avoid going to Hell, returns to steal the real Shroud of Turin and unleashes a space slug that fights with the only competent local (who got the job because of the hiring stipulations) and kills Dr. Ong. Not to worry because the space-slug had this symbiote that attaches itself to Dr. Ong. Meanwhile Dr. Jameson raises himself from the dead and sets a whole bunch of demon cats on the loose to distract and dismember the locals while he searches out the giant space eel he called to Earth many years ago that he plans to resurrect with the shroud. At the same time Dr. Ong starts a romance with Katie who has a shrivelled up hand and a bum eye, has to deal with a church picnic that doesn’t like his freakish alien chestplate with extra mandible arms, as well as come to terms with a violent praying mantis hybrid bodyguard. The praying mantis hybrid gets fired for trying to kill Dr. Ong, who got peed on by a cat demon, and the mantis gets taken in by some gun-totin’ hillbillies. Oh yeah, Dr. Ong learns kung-fu when the symbiote watches a kung-fu movie and they all end up saving the day so Dr. Ong regains his faith in Christ.

Yeah, that last bit was sort of weird to me as well.

If you think this is a manic description, you should try reading the book. TenNapel is best known for Earthworm Jim, and a lot of the same hectically beautiful creation seen in that cartoon is also on display in Creature Tech. What I really like is his ability to simply introduce characters that shouldn’t really work together into a story that does manage to hold itself together. There is a lot of ideas from the full spectrum of ideas mashed together and somehow it remains consistently whole. There are aliens, science, religion, government plots, love stories, and random gun violence that seem like they should all be in separate genres or stories, but somehow with all this happening there is an inherent charm and appeal to the characters here.

That would be mostly due to his wonderful artwork. TenNapel is able to breathe a lot of life into these characters which isn’t surprising considering his animation background. The characters act for him whether they’re being thrown over tables, embarrassed in public, or riding a giant electric space eel while trying to destroy a small town. But it’s not just the characters that come to life, there are a lot of panels that really use silhouette and the black and white format to their fullest. There are a few panels that seem rushed or unfinished to me, but for each of those there are these wonderful action panels that allow TenNapel the artist to cut loose and really go for the action of the moment – be it Dr. Ong and Blue rushing to a graveyard on a motorcycle or some hillbillies shooting cat demons from their truck. What I love about TenNapel’s characters is that they manage to fit their world. There are cartoony characters but the protagonist has a bit of The Spirit about him, in that he’s sort of a simplified realistic whereas there are much more representative and abstract characters.

While I do think the story works in its own way, I also feel like I’m reading more of a first draft than a finished product. I love that we’ve got a single new story in the format it was intended for rather than a collection of individual issues. (Unless someone can correct me on that). The religion feels like it was an idea that was either the basis for conflict but got overshadowed by the resulting action, and therefore feels somewhat tacked on because of how the story developed or it was actually tacked on at some point. It feels really underdeveloped to me, and while I can see how it works it doesn’t really work with what is presented and could have easily been dropped altogether.

This book reminds me of silver age comics written for adults. There is a lot of action and a cartoony presentation but there is also a lot of violence and a bit of swearing. It’s sort of the best of both worlds in that respect. It doesn’t talk down or pretend to be something it isn’t – it is comic books for the modern audience, which is most likely older. I really do love the look of it, and if you like aliens kung-fu fighting demon cats or praying-mantis hybrids shooting shotguns and watching monster truck rallies then this is worth a look.

This comic is pretty awesome.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Analogous Supermen

Oh Supreme, you were so fun to read. How can I possibly describe you to someone who hasn’t ever really read superhero comics before? Basically, it’s Alan Moore exploring Superman’s history. In some ways it’s a glimpse of what the man would have done if he was given the title to write. There is an exploration of the history of the superhero both in terms of continuity and the medium of comic books as a whole.

It uses comic books as both the medium and the message. Yes, I’m aware that the medium is the message, but here it acts as both delivery mechanism or product that the audience experiences as well as a metaphor and storytelling element in itself. It’s a story about superhero continuity as much as it is about Supreme himself. And yet using it as both structure and subject makes the book more than it is. This isn’t just about being introduced to a character or the not-so-hidden history of Superman and DC. It is proof that in the hands of a good writer and artist, anything can be a good superhero comic book. As much as superheroes can get bogged down in silliness and grim rewrites they are still capable of being a story telling medium that is as well crafted and meaningful as anything else. This book is proof that comics are best when they are being comics – not comic book movies, or true to life, etc etc.

The first issue sets this idea in motion with Supreme being introduced to all the alternate iterations of himself in the Supremacy. As reality gets rewritten, new characters and supporting cast continue to show up each with different base powers and specific details changed. It's a brilliant idea that I was a bit sorry to see not used as much as its potential allows. It does clue the reader into the underlying idea of the story though.

I’m a true believer that comics are best when they work on their own terms and Supreme is proof of that. That, and the fact that superheroes have their own mythology that can be redone, reimagined, reintroduced and reworked to a form that is just as effective as using themes, stories and mythologies from outside superheroes. Yes, this is a very comic book geek comic in that knowing what the book is referencing helps in understanding the comic on a certain level, however, I suspect that someone can enjoy the book on it’s own terms as well. You don’t need to know the specifics to enjoy the ideas but knowing them can help get the joke or the idea on a bit more intimate terms.

This isn’t Tom Strong, but it sort of feels like they are related. Whereas Tom Strong was more an abstracted idea Supreme is a very specific avatar. It’s close but not really the same because where Tom Strong explores the pulp hero basis of comic heroes and sort of creates its own internal logic of adventure comics, Supreme is very much about Superman and DC as much as its own story. Kind of the same idea used in Watchmen of using analogous characters in a vastly different story.

In some way, I sort of get a sense of sadness when reading Supreme. Not in the stories themselves but in the notion that if Moore was offered (and willing) to write Superman this could have been an incredible run. Akin to what Morrison is going for in Batman or All-Star Superman these days – using the past to weave exciting adventures today but not explaining away their silliness (including the silliness of the grim avenger).

Again, I’ve managed to get a book that is somehow connected to a creator making comic book internet headlines recently (as much as there is such a thing).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Such a weird time warp

So I just read an older trade paperback called Spider-man Visionaries Volume 1: Todd MacFarlane and it’s a real head trip. The thing is, I really only read Spider-man comics in passing back when he was on the title so going back to them with pretty much no expectations or introduction is, jarring to say the least.

And it’s not the art or the quality of the colour that is weird. I can accept the different aesthetic from the time period, I mean the silly cut offs and the Corey Hart bangs on all the men is kind of emblematic of the time and MacFarlane’s art. What’s odd is that underneath all the proto-Spawn costume designs, silly character origins, overly complex roboticesque costumes and the fact that MacFarlane seems to have removed Peter Parker’s spine you see hints at a self-deprecating artist. There’s this great scene with Spidey waiting to consult with some people and there’s newspaper or magazine articles about the Hulk smashing MacFarlane and a few other jabs at the profession and the job he was doing throughout the comics. It’s just such a contrast from what people assume about the guy these days.

What is also really freaky is that Venom is introduced and attacks MJ in their apartment and what actually happens is never explained. There is sort of an implied rape and we’re given an MJ that does what she can to leave the place when she’s discovered by Peter and she just wants to forget about it and not discuss what happened. The way the characters all handle the situation looks like the story was heading to very dark territory but unlike what happened to Dr. Light this situation is all the more creepy and foreboding. You know something horrid happened to MJ and never knowing exactly what it was makes it all the worse in the mind of the reader. Because it is left unsaid, I jumped to conclusions and filled in the blanks – doesn’t mean I’m right here but you can sort of see a situation unfolding and editorial mandates as well as different sensibilities of how much to rock the boat taking something out of the story that was maybe never intended to be there. I think it makes the story stronger and makes the characters more understandable and believable, especially in this day and age where our superhero comics show and tell us everything leaving nothing unsaid.

It’s weird how a more restrictive time can give a greater sense of evil rather than showing us every horrid detail of what happened when Venom is trying to show his power of Spider-man.

Then there is the guy who was bitten by a radioactive Jack Rabbit and could run really fast but didn’t want his family to know in order to save them from super-villains and stuff.

Looking at this book as an artifact of the time you can see this superhero comic trying to come to terms with itself. The stories are still mostly done in one, and do a good job of bringing the reader up to speed but they also have multiple issue stories. There are goofy superheroics at the same time as these much more grim characters and story elements appear. All in all I enjoyed it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would, in part for being reminded that even the most self-aggrandizing people are capable of really good things when there’s a bit of restraint involved – the stories and art can be better when some things are left unsaid. Imagine what Identity Crisis or Civil War could have been if more things were implied and the characters tried to avoid discussing things while still being super-heroes and dealing with their fundamentally silly situations? Then again, it requires a certain something to make characters appear to be implying things and look like they’re acting as people would act, it’s not just making photorealistic art and extended conversations. There is still invention here and new characters showing up rather than rewrites for the simple sake of shock and artificial change which is something that I don’t hate but am growing tired of in today’s modern-retro superhero comic book retreds.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Heeeeeerrrre's Bully!

I'm in the middle of reading more of The Spirit collection and Alan Moore's Supreme. What more can I say about Eisner's Spirit comics that hasn't been covered? And what will I say about Supreme? Well, nothing today because I don't really have much more to cover in The Spirit and I want to actually finish Supreme before I go into any sort of detail (false or otherwise).

Be that as it may, here's a sketch I did for my drawing class of everyone's favourite miniature stuffed bull comic book blogger. Of course, I mean Bully. In fact, go read his blog today rather than spend any more time here.

Hmmm, maybe this will be my running sketch book joke. Nothing but comic book blogger avatars because, hey, there's only so many times I can sketch things in my office.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Well the intro was like a road to perdition, the rest was good

Hmm, crazy busy day today but I wanted to get something posted. The crazy cavelcade of comic reviews continues. And next time I promise to spell Casanova correctly!

I read Road to Perdition last week and really enjoyed it. I like gangster stories and the noir genre (most of the time). I’m also a sucker for characters who aren’t superheroes but named things like “Angel of Death” but aren’t like super-goth kewl musclemen with many spike-tipped articles of clothing.

Nope this is about Irish Catholic gangsters and it is a great bildungsromans where a boy is thrown into the adult world or his immigrant father. At the same time, the story is a simple tale of revenge with comments on religion, belief, honour and the American dream. It’s straightforward and well executed but not one of my favourite presentations I’ve come across recently.

I like the ideas behind the format, with the black and white manga format and artwork, but the artwork was hit and miss for me. Sometimes it was great while others it just didn’t seem “on” if that makes sense. It looked to be artificially made to look computerized. I guess the other way of saying that is I didn’t like the crosshatching at times. But the action was always clearly presented and kinetic when required and delicate when it was supposed to be. The art was capable of portraying the action, which is the number one job of comic art whether or not I share the same esthetic on details is pretty minor. Basically, just because I didn’t like the look of a few panels didn’t mean it took away from the action or story. Heck, it never made anything muddled and unclear so it does its job in that respect.

Although, the version I read had about as much author introduction as actual comics. I usually read the introduction but I didn’t manage all of this one because, well, I don’t really care about all the minutia of the author’s life and times. I enjoy anecdotes not autobiography as intros.

So well worth the read, I just can’t picture Tom Hanks in the lead role.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Every now and again I’m big enough to admit I was totally wrong about something. This time I’m wondering why the bloody hell I gave up on Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s Cassanova after the first issue? That there is some GOOD comics. All the problems I had with the first issue work out for the best if you give it time. I guess it just goes to show that your personal mood can affect how you see a work of art and experience something. At this point all my reservations seem completely unfounded.

Yep, last night I read the first trade, Luxuria, and man that is a hefty read. It’s a thin book but man-oh-man is it jam-packed with comic book goodness. The super-sexy super-spy guy doing the multiple universe space-time double agent thing is as good as you think it should be. I know I use, and hear, the term “throwing ideas at the page and seeing what sticks” a lot but in this case it’s a more refined process. There is a lot of crazy ideas not just in each story but in each panel and they don’t feel crazy just for the sake of crazy or seeing what works. They feel more like added bonus material. Kind of like a reduced sauce to concentrate the flavor of adventure comic books.

And each month it is only 16 stinkin’ pages?! I had to remind myself that this is actually produced in a shorter format in the floppies because it certainly doesn’t read like that. This book may be small on the page count but it is dense on the content. It’s this little book that has managed to simply cut the crap and it sits now on my shelf, basically mocking other comics for being in need of editing.

And it’s not just the ideas and the stories that are dense. The artwork is kinetic enough to keep you grasped. The minimal use of colour is used to good effect here to remind you that this is comics concentrated. It still uses all the flavors and ingredients of regular comics, like colouring but here it simply doesn’t need all of them to taste amazing. The character designs have an edgy-cartoon feel to me in that they aren’t trying to be photorealistic but a bit blocky in order to allow the characters to exaggerate their behaviours. They are super-fast, super-crack-shots, super-sexy, super-cool and well you can just present that a bit better when you’re not constrained to photo realistic human anatomy. Their design gives them as much character as any of their dialogue and that combination is what makes this story what it is.

So while there may be mathematically less page count and less colours used to dazzle the eye Cassanova reminds me that comics are at their strongest when they are trying to be comic books and not movies on paper. These creators have managed to limit themselves in a way that makes the comic sturdier. There are exaggerated plots and convoluted storylines but they never feel bloated in anything but action. It really is like mainlining modern adventure comics, but be careful, you may not be ready for it on your first try.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Akira - finally

I realize that my post on Sin City has probably the greatest idea for a comic book mash up in its title. Sin City vs. For Better or Worse. That would wreck your consciousness.

So last week has been a bit of a crazy one. I’ve been trying to get my thoughts organized on Akira but was distracted by drawing class, joining an rpg (yes, I’m reverting to major geekdom), watching hockey, trying to get some Wii-time, making apple-pie for Thanksgiving (it’s the past weekend up here), and generally feeling like crap.

That being said, Akira is a bit of a mind trip, especially for someone like me who has seen the movie a few times but generally can’t remember how it goes. I remember a lot of the imagery but not a heck of a lot of what happened. The same thing happens with Princess Mononoke and Ghost in the Shell. This isn’t limited to only anime movies but for some reason these are the only examples I can think of at the moment. Weird.

So for someone who has only ever seen the animated movie this was one heck of an epic read. You know how people say the book is always much better than the movie because it goes into more detail? Well that is certainly the case here. I don’t mean to claim it is any better than the movie because I think the movie is a solid piece in its own right. What I mean is that the comic is entirely more epic in scale than the movie could hope to accomplish in its timeframe. So if you’ve seen the flick, you certainly haven’t experienced the comic.

I don’t want to compare and contrast the two mediums much beyond what I’ve already said but I’m finding it a bit hard not to talk about one without mentioning the other, since the movie is so iconic of the genre.

I was surprised at just how much more story there was here. At first I found it a bit difficult to follow the action. I’m not sure why either. I’m thinking it was that I’m just not used to the style or there was something lost in translation as it were. It was a bit difficult to follow some of the dialogue in that I didn’t always know what dialogue was attributed to which character. I suspect that is one of the problems in translating from pages that are laid out to accommodate an entirely different reading style. I also found it hard to differentiate between a few characters, but as the death toll mounted it became less of a problem.

The action is non-stop and gets ever more desperate as the story continues. And if you ever wanted to know why learning perspective is important you’ll know why once you see a few of these panels. They are immaculately done. The trouble with so many panels that are filled with perspective drawings is that they start to look like technical exercises. But that’s never the case here because for all the clean and precise lines of the buildings they are covered in the filth of humanity from garbage to graffiti.

Then the destruction starts. And then the destruction continues. No punches are pulled in this story as far as how humanity values human life. Humanity is smashed and destroyed but when they should be fighting to stop this and try to gather together in an effort to survive they instead fight over the scraps. Power and land is much more important than ending human suffering. In many ways this entire story is a meditation on how power corrupts. Human life is cheap especially when those who can do so much good simply don’t.

Where the artwork starts out with pristine lines covered by human dirt it becomes much more beautiful with the destruction. Suddenly the straight lines of the buildings hovering on collapse aren’t beautiful but extremely threatening. The undeniable technique is still present in the oft-destroyed Tokyo but it simply isn’t orderly by the end of the book. Everything is chipped, broken and generally bombed out and the art is better for it. It suddenly feels less like a technical exercise and more like a post-apocalyptic landscape that it is meant to be.

I was amazed by the sprawl of the story and the underlying sadness to it all. You want love to conquer the day but it almost happens by accident. You bang your head against the wall wanting these characters to wake up and realize how utterly selfish they are being – only when they aren’t does some peace enter into the proceedings, however they are never left to it. It’s a warning against isolationism as much as it is a warning against leaving your fate up to others to decide for you. It is a fascinating tour de force, even if you get a bit lost in translation from time to time.

Stan the Man

Is on CBC radio later today - 2pm on the show "Q." I quite like this show since it's basically a radio version of a blog. I mean, how many shows are hosted by former members of Moxy Fruvous?

It will be podcasted as well as broadcasted online. Heck, since CBC is doing all the work for me today, here's a video of Peter Gzowski vs. Stan Lee. Wonder if today's chat will be any different?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sin City: For Better or For Worse

First of all, sorry about the last post. What the bloody hell was THAT all about? I’ve been a bit disenchanted with comics and thinking critically about them. For the moment I’ve gotten over it and hope to entertain, bewilder, possibly inform and did I mention entertain?

So, over the last few weeks I’ve been reading the collected works of Sin City and Akira. Today I’ll be discussing Sin City. I finally got this written up after reading Chris Mautner's post, so I guess I should have proofread this thing to make sure it's sensible and all. Ah, hell, I spent too much time doing that in university, you're getting first draft stuff here - hey, it's the internet.

My understanding of the comic can be summed up like this: The less you know, the better it is.

Whenever you read about Sin City you’ll get mentions of Frank Miller’s noir vision and how he’s turned the volume of noir fiction way beyond levels safe for human consumption. That’s not a bad thing in a comic book. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s tougher than tough and sexier than sex. Everything is rough around the edges and as hard as the lines of the black and white artwork. Sure, it’s black and white but there isn’t a whole lot of lightness here. It’s the black, the noir, that takes centre stage in these stories. The guys with the white hats aren’t exactly the shining paladins of fairy tales. Nope, just like it’s the black ink that creates meaning when added to white paper, it’s the dark imagery of the Sin City comics that give it its voice and place in comics.

There is good here, but it isn’t done with a pure virtuousness. The good guys are just as brutal as the villains, they just stand up for something that isn’t totally selfish. They’re gullible, they’re heroic, but they’re not any less brutal. This is a milieu full of hard characters living hard lives and not apologizing for it. And that, along with the contrast based artwork, is what makes this comic seem to stand out from countless other tough guy morally ambiguous badass comics. These guys aren’t totally morally ambiguous, they are doing the right thing but are just brutal in their methods. They are the holy warriors on a righteous quest, unafraid to spill blood for their virtuous cause. They are the soldiers in the muck doing the brutal work of killing bad men and putting their own lives on the line – sometimes because they need to, sometimes because they just happen to be there. There is a real sense of duty in the white hats.

That being said, I found the more I read, the less I liked the Sin City comics. For me, they worked better when you didn’t know much about the place or the characters. Marv in The Hard Goodbye is one of the most memorable characters in comics. From his silhouette to his actions and dialogue to his motivations and how the story is drawn all contribute to that. I’ve been trying to distill what it is that makes Marv such a great character, and I keep coming back to the fact that it’s pretty much everything about him and the story. He’s not human in his actions or his look, which is what allows Miller to amp up all the action and dialogue in his story. Marv works because he simply doesn’t need to have any reasons for his actions which means he doesn’t need to be explained as a character thus freeing him to just get on with the story. And what a story it is. It’s horrific, it’s got the blackest of black humour, and it’s got the darkest of satisfying endings. In the end, it all works because all the elements reflect one another both writing and art-wise. The story has an internal logic and that is all it needs. When the story starts tying into outside elements, even other stories in the Sin City oeuvre they don’t work as well for me.

I’ve always enjoyed guest appearances in comic books, and it could simply be that today it’s not something special but a standard operating policy for superhero books, but in Sin City it works against the stories. It works against them because you’re suddenly drawn out of the story into something greater. Yes, seeing the other characters reminds you that this is all happening in one place but it also feels like continuity is being shoehorned into the story, and continuity doesn’t belong in any of the stories. Sin City doesn’t need to be a shared universe other than having one character show up as a guest. When we start having multiple takes on the same scene it makes the reader think about the last time the scene occurred and to start trying to place the current story into the timeline of the previous one, which is really a long way of stating that it takes the reader out of the story.

So the more I read, the less I appreciated the work. I find it hard to say I enjoyed the Sin City books. They’re just too violent and horrific to be considered light fun to me. I enjoyed reading them in the sense that I could appreciate aspects of the work. The more the stories started to connect, the less their internal logic held together. Marv doesn’t look human so it’s easier to accept the inhuman nature of his adventures, but Dwight, Hartigan and the other characters are all more normal looking, and thus make it harder to suspend disbelief, for me.

In addition to the character design, I felt that after a while I was becoming numbed to the excessive violence and the stark contrast of the work. Whereas there are countless pages from The Hard Goodbye that can be used as emblematic of Sin City the other stories tend to start to feel as if they are repeating themselves. There are only so many sexy lady silhouettes, slashing rain pages, or cars jumping over hills that I can see before they stop feeling like visual cues and start feeling like crutches to fall back onto. But I do have to say, the use of negative space is unbelievable and quite frankly, unforgettable. I find the hard lines and use of contrast inspiring me in my own approach to artwork. Simply put, I never really grasped the use of negative space until Sin City blew my mind with it.

I guess where the stories started to lose their interest for me was the MacGuffin ending to Family Values. On top of that the use of Miho as Robin from The Dark Knight Returns but with more decapitations and impalements felt like the story was simply phoned in, and there were suddenly pages in the text that weren’t using the high contrast style but simply line drawings, which made it feel more like a few pages from a sketch book rather than a completed work. Now, I did like some of the collected one shots and the comic book homages throughout some of the works but by the time I finished Hell and Back, I couldn’t think of a better title to describe my feelings of reading the story. At this point, it just felt like Sin City was too much a victim of its own success. The only thing left for it to do was to use full color, and in doing this it loses its unique voice. Contrasting black and white is what made Sin City work as a whole. The judicious use of a single tone of color (yellow, red, blue) helped focus attention and at times add to the contrast found within the dark stories, but when the only place left to push the boundaries places you back to what you were working against in the first place – your project has lost its purpose.

Sin City is a memorable place, just don’t overstay your welcome because you may just get a bit too familiar with the jaded citizenry.