NEW RELEASE: NEW WESTERN SERIES: SIXKILLER, U.S. Marshall 1 by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone. USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone return with their most, historically vivid character: John Henry Sixkiller, a Cherokee U.S. marshal who takes the jobs no one wants to touch, hunting down the most dangerous outlaws and killers infesting the American West. He was born in the Going Snake District of the Cherokee Nation–and forged a destiny as bold as his name. John Henry Sixkiller was as fearless as the came. He fought in the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles, his father’s regiment during the Civil War. Served with the Longhorse Police in Indian territory upholding the law among five tribes in a time of violence and change. But now, Sixkiller faces his greatest challenge yet. As a U.S. Marshal, he must take on the most notorious outlaws the west has ever seen. Horse thieves who kill without conscience. Train robbers who terrorize the railways. And one ruthless enemy whose bloody reign of fear would bring Sixkiller to the ultimate showdown.
New Pulp Author Ron Fortier returns with another Pulp Fiction Review. This time out Ron takes a look at EL MOSAICO (Scarred Souls) by New Pulp Author Michael Panush.
EL MOSAICO (Scarred Souls) By Michael Panush Curiosity Quills 201 pages
Sorry to sound like a broken record, but Michael Panush is rapidly becoming one of my favorite New Pulp writers. Having discovered him via “Dinosaur Jazz,” a book we nominated for Best Pulp Novel of 2012, we then discovered his “Stein & Candle Detective Agency” series about two post-World War II occult detectives. As if that isn’t enough to keep this prolific writer busy, now he’s launched as yet another series which can best be described as Frankenstein done western style.
During the Civil War, a Confederate doctor/occultist has the brilliant idea of stitching together body parts from dead soldiers and then animating them using black magic. His plan is to fill the rapidly diminishing ranks of Southern companies with these reanimated corpse soldiers. He manages to create one such patchwork man before being killed by Union bombardment. That one and only success is Clayton Cane.
Cane is a bounty hunter traveling the untamed west of the late 1860s and because his very nature is always encountering one fantastic monster after another in this first collection of adventures; there are eight total and each is a gem.
In “Bayou Bloodshed,” Cane is hired to find a black girl who has run off to a secluded island in the middle of the swamps. The island is populated with two desperate clans; one of gatormen and the other of werewolves. Needless to say, Cane’s mission is not an easy one.
Then Panush offers up “Red Blades of Whitechapel,” whereby his jigsaw hero end up in London to hunt down a serial killer with a royal pedigree. Considering this story’s open-ended climax, the main villain could well return for a future encounter.
With “Dead Man’s Band,” Cane captures an outlaw alchemist named Black who leads a band of dead outlaws. When these deceased desperados attack the hotel Cane is hold up in the pitched battle appears to be El Mosaico’s last stand.
“Monster Men of Malchite Falls” has the bizarre bounty hunter infiltrating a weird fortress laboratory in the middle of the dessert to rescue a little boy. What he discovers is another mad scientist much like the man who put him together.
In “Tomb of Kings” Clayton Cane is one again employed by the British Government to act as security for an archeological dig in Egypt. When the leader of the expedition unearths and revives the Nameless Pharaoh, Cane must ally himself with Arab dessert warriors to defeat an ancient army of monsters.
Back in the U.S. the man-made gunslinger is next hired by the cavalry to help down an old Indian shaman who may be unleashing an army of ghost braves to defend their land in the moving “Ghost Dances.”
In the seventh story, Cane travels south of the border hunting a gang of vicious stage coach robbers and teams up with a wily Mexican bandito named “Tarantula.”
Lastly Cane is hired by a foreign professor to help him track down the whereabouts of the Ragnorak Hammer before it can be used to destroy the world. When their hunt takes into a brutal Minnesota blizzard, they received unexpected aid from an immortal Viking legend.
“El Mosaico – Scarred Souls” is the epitome of New Pulp fun and originality. It’s a dandy mash up of cowboys and creatures and the wise reader should saddle up and join Clayton Cane. The ahead looks to be truly fantastic.
Apparently one of my goals in life is to absorb the Marvel Civil War storyline in every possible medium, since I’ve just finished listening to GraphicAudio’s audiobook version of the prose adaptation by Stuart Moore, having previously read the main collection of graphic novels and then reviewedthe prose adaptation. Well, what can I say? I like the story. Since we as consumers of stories invest in heroes in a way we frequently don’t in villains, clashes between heroes can be the most complex and emotionally engaging; and Civil War is one of the most logical storylines comics has ever come up with to explain why superheroes would be fighting with each other instead of the villains.
Also I was curious about GraphicAudio, an audiobook company whose tagline is “A Movie in Your Mind.” They describe their products as “a unique audio entertainment experience that features a full cast of actors, sound effects and cinematic music,” which sounded pretty neat. And I was curious about how a graphic-novel-turned-prose-novel-turned-audiobook would turn out. The answer: pretty awesomely, actually.
I have to note here that while I listen to podcasts sometimes, I haven’t listened to many audiobook-type things prior to this. An occasional short story or poem that happened to be available in audio form for free, perhaps, but mostly when I consume literature it’s by reading. I did enjoy listening to The Green Hornet and other old radio shows that my dad had on tape when I was a kid…but that was a long time ago. A lot has changed since then, including, happily, the quality of recording and sound effects.
Now that I’ve finally tried a GraphicAudio audiobook, though, I’ve discovered that listening to one turns out to be a lot like listening to an old-timey radio show made modern, in the best way possible. Several things contribute to the quality of the experience. The first is the voices, which are very well cast. I don’t think there was a single character whose voice jarred me out of the story – all seemed well-suited to their roles. In one case, almost uncannily well-suited, since GraphicAudio somehow managed to find a Tony Stark voice actor who sounded remarkably like Robert Downey Jr. about 80% of the time. Once I got used to hearing almost-but-not-quite movie Tony, that was actually one of my favorite voice choices, since I love Robert Downey Jr.’s take on the role. The only other voice I had to get used to was the narrator, whose reading at first struck me as a tiny bit too melodramatic. However, as I got used to the style I mostly ceased to notice it. Overall, the voice experience was great.
The second thing that adds to the quality of the experience is the music. It was used sparingly but well to add to the mood and to break up scenes or chapters. Some of the superheroes also had their own little theme pieces that were recognizably about them. Captain America’s in particular was memorable.
The third feature that makes this much more than the usual audiobook experience is the sound effects, which illustrate the action well. Although I know the Civil War storyline pretty well, and I have a good recall of story details generally, there are little details of the story that I had forgotten even since my reading of the prose novel last summer, like the fact that it was raining at (SPOILER) Bill Foster’s funeral. However, after hearing the spot-on sound effects of the rain falling around Reed and the kids, or Tony and Happy, as they stood mourning, I doubt I’ll ever forget that again. Other details also came to life, through sounds like the “thwip” of Spider-man’s web shooters, or the “whoosh” of Iron Man’s boot jets firing up; and the sounds of rough fighting, like when Cap and Iron Man are duking it out, actually made me wince more than once. Even the rustle of sheets of paper, or any of the myriad of other small sounds in the recording, contributed to the overall experience, and truly did make it “A Movie in [My] Mind.”
Interestingly, I found the audio experience affected me slightly differently than either of my other consumptions of the story. I noticed myself feeling some emotions more, and, in particular, feeling even more frustration with *&^%$ futurist Tony Stark’s *&^%$ idiocy. (Sorry guys, but I’m with Cap on the whole individual freedom and privacy thing, and was always pissed that Tony “won,” despite the logic of his plans and what he was trying to do. Maybe part of that is because Tony is just so arrogant and unbending in this storyline. All that futurist stuff, while it may be part of what makes Tony good at his work and being Iron Man, is also super arrogant and always rubs me the wrong way.) I also felt the sadness of certain moments more, for example, or the anticipation before a fight, or tension for favorite characters during or after a fight (even when I knew how it would turn out). Aaaand, of course, inevitably, I laughed out loud at a few things while riding on a Metro train, which always makes me worried that my fellow commuters might think I’m a little crazy. But hey; that’s okay as long as I’m having fun, right?
And this audiobook was fun. Listening to the story this way was a rich and engaging experience. It’s also definitely reeled me in as a new GraphicAudio customer, and I am already planning to find some other good stories to accompany me on my further commutes and to the gym. In conclusion, if you can’t tell by now: I highly recommend this audiobook, and, from what I’ve heard so far, GraphicAudio as well.
So give it a try, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
At the age of sixteen years old, runaway slave Bass Reeves left the Texas plantation where he had been raised and fled into the Indian Territories. There he lived with the Five Civilized Tribes and fought with the Creek and Seminole on the side of the Union in the Civil War. After that conflict, Reeves married and started a horse ranch. Shortly thereafter he was recruited by Circuit Court Judge Isaac Parker to become one of the first ever African American Deputy U.S. Marshalls. In his thirty-two years as a lawman, he achieved one of the most impressive records ever recorded in the annals of west. He captured well over three thousand felons, was involved with fourteen major gun-battles and was only wounded once. An expert marksman with both carbine and pistols, Reeves was also a formidable tracker who knew the frontier lands like the proverbial back of his hands.
The tragic irony of his life is that as an adult, he served the law believing it would forever change the plight of minority groups for the better. And it did just that in the Indian Territories where Judge Parker treated all felons to the same justice with no regard to their sex or race. But when the Federal Government moved in by the late 1890s to accept Oklahoma as a state, it opened the floodgates to allow white settlers to swarm the land like human locust. Most of them were racist; having no desire to share the bounty of the frontier with either the red or black man. Caught in the middle, lawman Reeves watched the newly formed state enact equal-but-separate laws that were the legal antithesis of the Emancipation Proclamation and by the time of his passing in 1910 at the age of 72, racism was fully entrenched in Oklahoma. And with that white supremacist mentality in place, is it any wonder that the remarkable life and career of this man were purposely expunged by white historians chronicling the history of the west?
Thankfully the indomitable spirit of freedom and justice prevailed and by the sixties the Equal Rights Movement swept across the land correcting those injustices once and for all. With that came two authentic histories of Bass Reeeves. “The Black Badge,” written by Paul Brady, a respected Federal Administrative Law Judge serving 25 years on the bench and the grand-nephew of Bass Reeves was released in 2005. It preceded “Black Gun, Silver Star” authored by Prof. Art T. Burton published in 2008. Both books are excellent and worthy of your attention. Whereas Burton’s is definitively more complete and scholarly account, Brady’s is wonderfully full of personal anecdotes handed down to him by his elder relatives, many of whom actually knew Bass Reeves personally. It is interesting to note there are several major discrepancies concerning Reeves younger days in regards to his parentage and name. None of which is surprising considering the lack of personal records afforded slaves save for very few property accounts found on plantations after the Civil War.
Basss Reeves was the greatest lawman who ever rode the Wild West. His adventures are legendary and all the more fantastic because they were all true. If, like this reviewer, you grew up fascinated by the stories of Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickock , Bat Materson and all those others made famous in books and movies, you owe it yourself to pick up this “The Black Badge” and meet the Bass Reeves. It is an experience that will open your eyes and maybe even your heart.
Pride, Prejudice and Zombies was a quirky, fun mash-up of genres that sparked a brief fad of similar works. Of the rushed releases to fight for shelf space, about the only worth successor was Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is early Abe; pre-White House, when the rail splitter used his axe in imaginative ways, keeping the frontier safe from the undead. Given the nation’s continuing fascination with Honest Abe, it was tailor made for Hollywood.
This summer, we got director Timur Bekmambetov’s interpretation and thanks to a script from Grahame-Smith, the finished product is pretty much what you expect: atmospheric popcorn fun. While attention has returned to the more somber Abe with Steve Spielberg’s forthcoming Lincoln, 20th Century Home Entertainment has released Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on home video and it’s well worth a look.
Starring Benjamin Walker, the film’s protagonist looks perfectly capable of dealing death to vampires while cracking the occasional joke which was the man’s signature. The story sets out early in his life when he saw his mother poisoned by a vampire, named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), and years later, after being trained by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), exacts his grisly revenge, setting Lincoln on his path to destiny. Along the way, he befriends shopkeeper Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), working and living at the general store. And he meets his future wife, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), when she was young, pretty and still sane. We rush through the 1800s at a pretty fast clip so suddenly he’s president and the Civil War is threatening.
His mission to eradicate vampires leads him to learn they all report to Southern plantation owner Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister, Vadoma (Erin Wasson). Adams offers Confederate president Jefferson Davis (John Rothman) his vampire’s allegiance in the coming war. Don’t come looking for a history lesson in the plot although it does nicely weave the vampires’ plight and desire for dominance into the slavery issue (slaves make for plentiful and tasty food it seems). Nor should you look for the vamps to follow the standard rules so the bitten become vampires instantly and Abe’s axe is dipped in silver, better for werewolves than vampires.
The film veers from playing it with tongue firmly in cheek to deadly serious and the shifting can be jarring and dissatisfying. Bekmambetov, best known for the stylish Wanted, does a better job with the look of the film, using a dark color palette and keeping things feeling eerie. His action is frenetic but unoriginal, which is a shame. His cast does what they can but the tone affects their performances, wasting some fine potential.
Thankfully, the transfer to disc is pretty flawless and sounds good. The Combo Pack comes with the standard Blu-ray, DVD, and a code for both an iTunes digital copy and UltraViolet copy. The extras are a standard assortment, starting with Audio Commentary with Writer Seth Grahame-Smith which is interesting although his wit needed more air time. The Great Calamity (7:43), is an interesting CGI-animated short about vampires in America as told by Edgar Allen Poe to Lincoln, featuring the story of Elizabeth Bathory. The Making of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (75:21) is a five-part making-of documentary which tells you everything you need to know and then some. Lincoln Park’s “Powerless” Music Video (2:54) and theatrical trailer round out the assorted extras.
Mars Attacks • Abrams ComicArt • hardcover $19.95, also available in electronic format. Publication date: October 1, 2012
There’s a seminal moment in every weirdo’s life where we experience something so outrageous our worldview is altered severely and forever. For Ray Bradbury and Michael Moorcock, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs. For nascent NASA scientists, it was Ray Bradbury and Buck Rogers. EC Comics begat a generation of filmmakers, satirists, and cartoonists. I have no doubt we will be appreciating the influence of The Simpsons and South Park as its early adopters enter the creative workplaces.
For me, it was Mars Attacks.
I love to collect things. I suspect if comic books were unnumbered I wouldn’t have made it to the Marvel Age. So I would dutifully check out the counter-spaces at my local drug stores to see what the Bazooka Joe boys at Topps were offering in the realm of what we now call “non-sports cards.” Their Civil War News series was as informative as it was gutsy. Their Space Race and Funny Monsters cards brought great entertainment to my pre-pubescent little brain. But nothing – absolutely nothing, not Rocky and Bullwinkle, not Mad Magazine, neither Ernie Kovacs nor Steve Allen – prepared this 11 year-old proto-nerd for the glory and the horror of Mars Attacks.
Briefly for those who are not in the know, Mars Attacks was a set of 55 trading cards issued in 1962 that told the grisly story of an invasion from space by everybody’s favorite bug-eyed naked-brain Martians. On the front was a masterful painting by the great Norm Saunders based upon sketches by the great Bob Powell and the great Wally Wood. On the reverse was the next part of the invasion narrative. Cattle were torched, subway cars were eaten by giant ants, soldiers were slaughtered, dogs were vaporized in front of their youthful masters.
Spoiler Alert: We win.
The concept and story, created by Topps’ creative director (and, later, seminal comics fan publisher) Woody Gelman and staff writer Len Brown, later of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents fame, was breathtaking because it was over-the-line. Way over the line. So far over the line you couldn’t see the line in your rearview mirror if you stopped right after you crossed it. Simply put: in 1962 you did not torch dogs and soldiers and cattle and wrap it up in wax paper with a slice of bubble gum.
Were adults offended? Holy crap, yes! You’d think the Martians actually invaded and turned out to be Commies. Topps was inundated with complaints and boxes were removed from store counters. At first, the Bazooka-boys thought they’d simply tone down some of the more objectionable cards, but instead they squeezed the toothpaste back into the tube and withdrew their product… leaving nothing but the legend in its wake. A highlycollectible legend.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic event, Abrams ComicArts has released a hardcover book surprisingly called Mars Attacks. Forwarded by Len Brown and backwarded by Norm Saunders’ gifted daughter Zina, all the cards are reprinted (both sides) in their full glory along with the surviving sketches as well as the 1994 sequel cards and other great stuff, including artwork from Zina Saunders, Jay Lynch, Timothy Truman, Frank Brunner, Sam Kieth, Keith Giffen and a whole lotta other swell folk.
In addition to the aforementioned 1994 sequel cards, there have been several attempts to revive Mars Attacks including at least three comics series and a grandiose Tim Burton movie (forgive my redundancy). These have succeeded to varying degrees, but I think the concept is truly a product of its times. The bar of outrageousness has pole vaulted in the past 50 years, and these cards would barely raise an eyebrow if issued today.
But for its time, in its time, Mars Attacks brought the energy of rock’n’roll to the B-movies of the drive-ins and put it all on the doorsteps of the nation’s 11 year-olds. Its quick removal trusted it into legendary status. Abrams’ new book is a very worthy tribute.
Last week in this space I discussed some political incidents, namely Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape, Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) who talked about how heterosexual sex doesn’t result in AIDS, and how Texas Judge Tom Head talked about how Obama’s re-election could result in Civil War. I said, “Individually, they are incidents; link them together and they’re a narrative.” Let us examine that further.
Our lives are filled with narrative. Elements are selected, others are omitted, some are highlighted and some are downplayed. That’s how a story is put together; what’s important to the narrative we’re telling? Does that make it untrue?
No. Not all elements, not all facts, are pertinent to a given narrative. An honest narrative attempts to get at a truth; a dishonest narrative tries to obscure it.
We all create narrative. I was listening to David Eagleman on NPR; he’s a neuroscientist with what sounds like a fascinating book – Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain that I’m getting. He said (and I’m paraphrasing but I think I got it right) that our mind takes in all the different stimuli that our senses give us and, in order to make sense of the world around us, creates a narrative – our version of reality. It’s why so many different people can experience the same thing and walk away with a different narrative about it – a different reality. It’s not a lie; it’s a different interpretation. It’s one of the reasons we create stories – in order to share our realities and see if they match up with anyone else’s reality.
CNN columnist L.Z. Granderson does a masterful job of creating a narrative as he links Akins comments to the GOP platform that rejects all abortions without exception. As the Brits would say, I think it’s “a fair cop.” Akin’s comments illuminate the thinking behind the GOP plank. The GOP VP candidate, Paul Ryan, co-sponsored bills Akin put up to ban all abortions. That’s relevant.
Akin went on in his comments. “But let’s assume that maybe that [the female body closing down] didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” In that statement, what element is missing? The woman who was raped. That’s the element left out of Akin’s narrative because it’s not part of his reality and it’s left out of the GOP plank because its not part of their narrative, their reality, as well. The woman who was raped is not an important part of their equation.
The narrative in this case becomes that all of these stories, taken together, is how the GOP right wing thinks. You can sell that story. I could sell that story to an editor. Can the Democrats sell it to the voters? We’ll see.
Some people think that comics are a kid thing – the bright colors; the often cartoony style of art; the people parading around with their underwear on the outside – and they are for kids. But they’re also for teens, and adults, and all of us. They are a medium of storytelling that can be just as beautiful and terrible and effective as any other. If done right, the stories within a comic can bring joy, and can hurt, and inspire, and educate, and much more.
It’s funny when I try to talk about comics to someone who doesn’t read them, like my dad. His first response is “We didn’t have those in my house growing up. Some of the other kids did, I guess.” You know – because it’s a kid thing. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not criticizing my love of comics; he just hasn’t read many, and might not be aware that they can contain nuanced and complex storytelling, both for kids and adults. But I’m a well-read adult, and comics engage me, they bring me joy, they make me laugh, and yes, sometimes, they even make me cry. I know I’m not the only one.
In today’s hyper-connected society full of Internet news and forums and blogs, we know, more than we might have in the “old days,” that there are tons of us adult comics fans out there, and that, indeed, at least in media like movies, comics have gone mainstream – people who’ve never read a paper comic have watched movies about Superman and Spider-Man and the X-Men and The Avengers and Batman and all the rest. Parents of children who are themselves adults have gone to see these movies. These days, as pointed out in John Cheese’s article, if you don’t get excited about the newest comics movie, or aren’t planning to see it, people might even think you’re out of the loop. Everyone now has exposure to comics, and all of us adult fans know we are not alone.
We also know that even though comics are a pretty big thing these days, there are still going to be people that think they’re only for kids, and/or don’t see the value within. There are also going to be people who look at art of Spider-Man in mid-fight and only see people beating up on each other. And they’re going to be concerned (maybe for the kids, or maybe because of the violence in general) and think that comics don’t hold much value, or that they are a bad influence. But Spider-Man landing a punch is only part of the story.
In the wake of the horrible and senseless Dark Knight Rises shooting tragedy, I know people are already questioning whether comics (and their affiliate media, such as movies) were responsible for the violence, and how violence in comics is affecting people, including children. I also know that comics creators and fans are trying to understand how a man who was presumably at least some sort of a fan could have done such a terrible thing. I certainly don’t know, except that quite probably, he is mentally ill.
Having studied media in culture way back in the dark ages of college (was it really so long ago??) I know that we don’t know, and probably won’t ever know, exactly how much influence violence in media has on people, although we do know that there can definitely be a correlation. But by the same token, we also know that two people being exposed to the same violent media can have completely different reactions, and for some people, there may be no correlation at all. For the majority of society, seeing a violent movie, or reading a violent comic, doesn’t directly cause violence; otherwise we’d have a lot more tragedies like this recent one.
I don’t believe we will ever be able to definitively answer the “effects of violence in media” question. Does that mean we should just shrug our shoulders and give up on our studies of this issue? Of course not. But at least at this point in our cultural learning, we don’t know what exact factors may have caused a man to methodically plan to shoot into a crowded theater. And although the news is reporting that the man said he was the Joker and had dyed red hair (presumably to emulate the Joker in the hospital nurse scene of The Dark Knight), I don’t think that necessarily means that Batman comics or movies caused him to do what he did. They may have narrowed his focus of where to attack people, and that is awful; but if The Dark Knight Rises hadn’t been there for this man to focus on, I’m guessing he would have found some other place to focus his violent acts.
I also think that as long as any kind of popular media, including comics, exists (which it always will) there are going to be some stories that may need to include violence in order to make their point, and there are going to be people out there who will miss the point of all of the complex and nuanced storytelling we can possibly include, and only see the violence; whether it be a concerned parent, or a politician, or a news reporter, or tragically, a man who thinks violence against random people in a theater is okay. But that isn’t a reason to censor necessary elements of storytelling.
Yes, Batman as a character can be violent; but as my friend Cleolinda Jonessaid about The Dark Knight Rises, “The sad thing about this theater tragedy is, the major theme of the movie is about inspiring others to stay strong and do good, even in the face of tragedy.”
As comics creators, I think the best we can do regarding the “violence in media” issue is continue to create nuanced stories which frequently show the good in our characters, and hopefully inspire readers with messages like staying strong and doing good, or helping others; and in which any violence is included because it is necessary to the point of the story, and does not champion violence for the sake of violence or as something without consequences. As fans, I think it’s important to tell people about the parts of the stories that move us or inspire us to be better people.
In that vein, here are just a few snippets of stories that I think show the goodness, heroic sacrifice, and bravery that is almost always present in comics. (Caution: Potential random STORYSPOILERS BELOW.)
Spider-Man: During the Marvel Civil War storyline, after years of actively and carefully protecting his identity, Spider-man bravely unmasks on national television as a gesture of support for the Superhuman Registration Act, despite his discomfort with the idea and his fear for his loved ones (who he takes steps to protect first). He makes this choice because he thinks, like Iron Man, that the Registration Act is the best way to protect American citizens and the superhero community.
That in itself would be pretty brave, but later, after Spider-Man discovers the extreme and unjust measures that are being taken to capture and imprison “rogue” superheroes whose only wrongdoing, in many cases, was helping people without registering, he switches sides to fight against the Registration Act, even though he nearly dies because of it. That’s an admirable devotion to doing what’s right.
Richard Mayhew: In Neil Gaiman’sNeverwhere (adapted for comics, which is where I first became familiar with it), Richard Mayhew, a young businessman with a steady job, a flat, and a fiancee, stops to help what looks like a homeless woman who is lying injured in the street. Despite his fiancee’s protests, he takes the woman home (she insists he not take her to a hospital) and cleans her wounds. Unfortunately, helping this scruffy woman causes him to become invisible to regular Londoners, and visible only to the “London Below” of which the woman, Door, is a part. Naturally he panics at first, but then he stays with Door to help her escape the assassins who have killed her family and are hunting her down. There is a fair amount of violence and death in this story; but ultimately, it is about a hero’s journey, and helping others in need, and that is the part that stays with you.
Deadpool: Come on, you knew I’d include Deadpool. The ultimate screw-up most of the time, in Joe Kelly’s run, Deadpool is sought out as a predicted savior of the world. After a lot of scoffing, Deadpool finally believes that maybe, just maybe, he can be the hero he keeps trying to be, and throws himself into getting ready for his new role, where he is to destroy a monster who will arrive to stop the Mithras, a being who will supposedly bring good to all mankind.
As it turns out, what the Mithras brings is bliss in the form of a loss of free will; and after agonizing over the choice of giving mankind blissful but blank happiness, or protecting free will, Deadpool defeats the Mithras and saves the world. He is utterly broken by his choice – the fact that he had wanted so badly to be a hero, and yet had still, through his (heroic) choice, brought the continued pain and suffering that goes with free will to the whole world. But he did it anyway, because it was the right thing.
Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle): In her earlier years, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter trained herself as Batgirl so that she could fight crime like Batman, and she did so for awhile. However, by the time of Batman:The Killing Joke, she is semi-retired, and at home when the Joker comes to the door and shoots her, which causes her to be paralyzed. After spending some time in deep depression (as you would), Gordon rallies and decides to use her mental gifts (such as her intelligence and photographic memory) to help fight crime instead. She develops a complex computer system, uses her photographic memory to read dozens of news sources every day, and turns herself into an invaluable resource for Batman, the Birds of Prey, and other superheroes. She pushes past her own trauma to continue helping others.
Iron Man: During Marvel’s Dark Reign storyline, Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) tricks the government into thinking he’s a reformed villain, and they replace Iron Man with Osborn as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. To keep the mentally unstable and untrustworthy Osborn from acquiring superheroes’ identities from the Registration Act database, Iron Man destroys all copies, but still has one remaining copy in his computer-like brain. To protect the information from Osborn, Stark, as a fugitive, goes tirelessly from one location to another, deleting the knowledge from his brain bit by bit. He knows this will also lead to the loss of his highly valued intelligence, and will eventually cause brain damage, but chooses to sacrifice himself to protect others. That’s heroic.
Batman: Since I’m not as big a reader of DC Comics, the live-action more immediately comes to mind, and naturally, right now, specifically the Christopher Nolan version – but there is so much to Batman generally, and in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, about sacrifice, and bravery, and doing what’s right, that if I threw a dart at the script (or the comic) I’d hit an example. Essentially, Batman’s whole story is about sacrifice – he’s not a superhero with superpowers, but rather just a rich dude who had a tragic thing happen to him. Yet he chooses to turn that experience, and his resources, into something that can constantly help others and his home city, by training his body and mind and developing and perfecting his gadgetry so that he can use both to fight crime. And in the movies, every time he chooses to protect his identity by turning his public self into something neither he nor others would respect; or takes a beating to foil a villain; or what-have-you; he’s showing that it doesn’t take superpowers to be a hero, or to protect and help people.
The above are just a few examples I happened to be thinking of. But comics are so full of examples that if you read almost any storyline you’ll find them in spades. And although as with many stories, sometimes reflections of real-world violence have a prominent place in the storylines, the violence is not the point of the story – the heroism and bravery of the protagonists is. Those things are the things that stay with most of us, and the things that make me and so many others love these stories.
I don’t know why a few of us miss the point, but I am saddened by it, and I am more saddened by this recent tragedy, and whatever connection it may have had to what is, for the most part, the wonderful world of comics. My heart goes out to all of the victims, and to everyone affected by it – which is all of us.
When I heard Marvel’s Civil War was being adapted into a prose novel, I was delighted and intrigued. Civil War is one of my favorite comic book crossovers for several reasons. One is that this is a crossover in which every character has a legitimate reason to be involved. I don’t like it when companies do crossovers for the sake of crossovers – to drive up sales or reader interest or the like – but if the story would logically call for each character to get involved or take a stance, then a crossover can be amazingly interesting and engaging… and this one was.
Another is that along with epic fights and explosions, this conflict speaks to intellectual issues larger than the concerns of an individual protagonist – such as privacy and personal autonomy versus social responsibility and accountability – that are very relevant in the real world. Even though the plot includes a plethora of brawls and superhero disagreements, we also get to see the writer(s) interpreting how long-established characters would react to important social issues.
A third reason is that since the plot pits superheroes against superheroes (as opposed to solely super-villains), we get a story in which almost everyone, no matter which side of the conflict they’re on, is a sympathetic character. They’re mostly all admirable people and heroes, devoted to helping people for one reason or another. Thus the emotional impact of their conflicts with each other is much greater, particularly if you’re already a fan of, say, both Captain America and Iron Man, and were invested in both characters equally before the beginning of the story. The fact that the “villain” of the tale varies depending on which point of view you agree with, and sometimes depending on each particular action as both sides make mistakes, makes it a more substantive and thought-provoking read.
Civil War is about a world growing increasingly uncomfortable with super-powered vigilantes who are able to use their secret identities to dodge public accountability. In this atmosphere of distrust for the superhero community, a tragedy explodes when a group of young superheroes takes on more powerful villains on a reality show in hopes of filming a spectacular triumph and driving up ratings. Unfortunately, instead a villain’s explosive power annihilates 859 citizens in Stamford, Connecticut, including a school bus full of children. It’s a national tragedy that, despite other superheroes coming to help with the aftermath, pushes a bill Congress had already been considering, the Superhuman Registration Act, to the top of the government’s list of priorities. The Act requires metahumans to undergo registration and training with the government before being permitted to legally use their powers in public, and gives the government extremely broad (and often violent) powers of enforcement. After the Stamford tragedy, and with the support of Tony Stark, Iron Man, the Act is quickly pushed through and enacted into law.
All that government procedural stuff might sound a bit dry, but the result of the Act is a full-on war between two camps of superheroes (with the X-Men and a few others just hangin’ out like Switzerland) headed by the pro-Registration Iron Man, and the Anti-Registration (or pro-Privacy/Freedom, depending on your viewpoint) Captain America. At first glance, the sides chosen might seem counter-intuitive, given Iron Man’s love of keeping his affairs and intellectual property away from government control, and Cap’s history as a loyal soldier for Uncle Sam. But Iron Man is basing his actions on the various “optimal outcome” calculations of brainiac Mr. Fantastic and his own outlook as a “futurist,” with a goal of minimizing damage and upheaval; whereas Captain America starkly brings home his reasons for not rounding up a bunch of “different” people for regulation or imprisonment when he reminds everyone of, you know, that time he fought for the United States in a war against the Nazis because they did just that.
It’s a slightly extreme comparison (although at least Cap, unlike most people who bring up Nazis in an argument, was actually there), but even Spider-Man, while working with Tony on the Pro-Reg side, sees that parallel. Of course, once the lines are drawn, both sides struggle with their chosen stance, particularly as injuries and casualties begin piling up; and the fallout of the decisions made as the Act is being passed inform the rest of the story.
If you read the original crossover, you might be saying, “I know all this; why bother with the novel?” But the novel format generally allows for the most insight into characters’ thought processes, and in this book, Stuart Moore opens a door to a better understanding of many characters’ motivations than we might have gained from the graphic version. Thanks to the format he is also able to present characters’ private insights into the personalities of their fellows, such as when we hear Sue Richards’ internal perspective of her husband’s choices and actions, or Tony Stark’s private musings about Peter Parker.
I also noticed that I had a stronger distaste or admiration for certain characters after reading Moore’s prose interpretation than when I read the original crossover (man, did this story make me want to punch Stark in the face) because the prose format is immersive and excellent for drawing readers in emotionally. The flip side of this, of course, is that I did miss the visual impact of a couple of the most moving scenes in, for example, the Spider-Man graphic novel storyline, even though Moore does a good job with them; but I think it’s an even tradeoff (and a fine reason to read both versions, if you liked the original story).
Conversely, if you’ve never read Civil War or are looking for a good read that will introduce you to many of the key characters in the Marvel Universe, this book would be a great choice. Moore’s adaptation efficiently orients readers to the characters and situation. With a pretty massive ensemble cast, he manages to provide enough details about each successive character for us to know where they stand and why we should care while almost entirely avoiding awkward information dumps. He also quickly sets the scene via the book’s shifting character perspectives (namely Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-man, and the Invisible Woman). Although occasionally the sentences get a little stilted as Moore translates a fight scene that could be viewed in three graphic panels into several pages of text (and I would vote for not italicizing actions like punches in future adaptations), Moore does a solid job of conveying the action from those information-packed images into something the prose reader can follow – not a simple task. The story is cohesive and easy to get into, even with the changing perspectives. It definitely kept my attention and made me eager to read on, even though I already knew the general plot.
I did have a few complaints that come primarily from this being an adaptation of the graphic version – first among those being that I missed the characters who didn’t show up here. For instance, I didn’t really expect to see Deadpool (sadly), but didn’t Cable have a decent-sized part in the original story? And what happened to the Iron Fist/Daredevil subplot? I also would have liked to have seen more of the X-Men and other groups or characters. I know exactly why Moore and Marvel didn’t include them – because the ensemble is already pretty big, and they were presumably aiming for one cohesive, comprehensible, and reasonably-sized book to kick off their new prose novel line. That’s fine, and they succeeded. But I would have happily read, say, a three-part prose series of this storyline if it meant even more focused character perspectives (She-Hulk? Ms. Marvel? Cloak and Dagger could have made for some fun reading) and fringe characters making (justified) appearances. The more rich and in-depth a prose story is, the better. Just something to think about for next time, Marvel.
I also felt that the ending was a bit weak, particularly as it leaves out a key closing event in the graphic novel storyline (as well as any mention of Penance, although really I didn’t miss that too much). I suspect the choice to not end the story in death was made to avoid going out on a down note – but the impact of (SPOILER WARNING) this story thread and the character reaction in this scene on how one views the overall story that came before, and the characters in the aftermath, is huge; and to me, that, not where the government or superheroes end up going from there, is the close to this chapter in Marvel history.
However, don’t take my few small criticisms to mean I didn’t really enjoy the book. For a prose adaptation of a major Marvel storyline, it’s excellent. Moore did a stellar job with a complicated text, and through his own interpretation made this novel an excellent companion to the graphic crossover or a great stand-alone way to get into the Marvel universe. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and would certainly recommend it. And I look forward to seeing what prose novel they come out with next.
So go out there and give it a try. And until next time, Servo Lectio!
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold, Creators’ Rights, and One Big Wrong
Once again, my Facebook friend Jim Engel tipped me off to another jumping-on point for a rant. I think I owe him a Coke. Seems someone at the Wall Street Journal perked up at the news that the Avengers crossed the bajillion bucks meter, and it stemmed a very obvious question: If the movie is that popular, shouldn’t there be some kind of carry-over to the parent media? And the simple answer is one we comic fans hate to admit: Ain’t no carry-over cash coming through the doors of the local comic shop over this (or any other) movie. So the WSJ writer, one Tim Marchman, decided to take his book review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” and turn it into a tirade on the industry I want so badly to call home. Now don’t get me wrong, Marchman makes a few solid points. OK, he makes a lot of them. But I know you guys like me when I’m pissy… And one point in particular boils my blood faster than Wally West got eliminated from the New 52:
“If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new Avengers comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.”
First off? On behalf of the industry as a whole? Fuck you. And normally I refrain from the potty mouth, but here is one occasion I feel damned correct in using it. Second, let me clarify where my anger lies. I agree with him about location. The local comic shop is indeed a specialty store. One that carries a stigma of exclusivity that can’t be broken, except on very rare occasion. Most comic shops try hard to throw open their doors to the general public in hopes of enticing them in with their fictiony wares, but the general public doesn’t look to consume their books off the shelf anymore. Ask Borders. But I digress.
I won’t even argue his point about continuity. I could easily argue that, mind you, and if people respond violently enough to this article I may talk about it in a few weeks. Suffice to say, yes, it’s a big barrier to entry. Anyone walking in, fresh out of the theater, would be hard pressed to know where exactly to start reading an Avengers comic. The movie-roster tie-in isn’t well-liked by any reviewer, and the modern Bendis epic-arcs (Disassembled, Civil War, Dark Reign, etc.) are amazingly dense with history. Enough at least to perhaps scare off someone from really taking a leap of literary faith. Again, I digress.
The jab Marchman takes specifically toward the “Clumsily Drawn” aspect of modern comics. Frankly, I don’t get where he’s coming from.
Let’s talk about those clumsy drawings he’s obviously so urped by. Take a look across the racks of your local comic store. Do you see what I see? I see a breadth of styles more diverse than any other period of comic book publishing. Do you think, even for a nano-second, that years ago you’d see Travel Foreman’s sketchy macabre style sharing shelf space with Mobius-inspired types like Frank Quitely and Chris Burnham? Or the crisp and clean lines of the Dodsons bunked-up nice and cosy next to the loose and energetic John Romita, Jr.? No. You’d get 17 Rob Liefeld clones boasting whips, chains, impossible guns, and thigh pouches. Go back to the 80’s? You’d get a sea of house-styled Neal Adams / Dave Gibbons / George Pérez wanna-bees and an occasional Bill Sienkiewicz or Frank Miller thrown in.
I truly believe we are in an amazing time for comic book art. Artists and editors are finding a real balance between new styles, and composition to tell a story. Not every book is perfect mind you (and yes, there is still a house style to both Marvel and DC… but assuredly not as rigid as it once was). On the whole, a comic off the rack today has more chance of being an original artistic statement than a commanded tracing of “something that sells.” While comic sales have plummeted from the false peaks of the 90’s… I truly doubt it is the fault of the art on hand. Well, except for Scott McDaniels’ stuff. Yeesh.
Now, I know that there’s some debate amongst my ComicMix brethren about this point-in-question. I openly beg for some of that debate to happen in the comments below. I’m hard-pressed to believe that on an industry level that the artwork is to blame for comics’ dwindling sales. As I look across the smattering of books I’ve been reading these days – Daredevil, Invincible Iron Man, Batman, The Boys, The Manhattan Projects… and flip through the pages of artists truly giving their all to every panel – I get a little verklempt. I want all of you to go on with out me. I think about this Marchman, and all I can think is “Ver es kon kain pulver nit shmeken, der zol in der malchumeh nit gaien!”