The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 42: Marvel Comics – Deadpool, Daughters Of The Dragon, Dr. Strange, and The Exiles

Deadpool – Deadpool Classic Vol. 1

Deadpool might be the last original Marvel character to really gain mainstream popularity. When you consider that he was created almost 20 years ago, it shows how much people care about the current slate Marvel characters.

His popularity is mystifying to me. I will give a no-prize to anyone that can give me even one reason why the character still endures. Rereading this collection of his first few solo mini series did nothing to change my mind. The fun, cartoony art by Ed McGuinness and Joe Madureira are overshadowed  by the infantile humour and poor pacing, and I’m more than a little embarrassed that I bought this in the first place.



Daughters Of The Dragon – Samurai Bullets

Sometimes the math doesn’t add up. I’ve long been a fan of these former supporting cast members, not to mention that I love the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. I also think that Khari Evans has a lot of potential, and has a big future in store for her in the comic biz. Then why don’t I like this more? I think it’s because they are trying to tell so many types of story at once (superhero, kung-fu, blaxploitation), that they lose their focus, and forget to tell a cohesive one. Although there’s some joy here, it’s ultimately not compelling enough to keep.


Doctor Strange – Master Of The Mystic Arts

This is a digest collection of some the good Doctor’s earliest adventures by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Brief primer: Former great surgeon goes to Tibet to regain the use of his hands after a terrible accident. He meets the Ancient One, a Tibetan yoda that teaches him how to become Earth’s greatest sorcerer. These are breathtaking stories, and Ditko was never stronger than his work on this 1960’s mind-fuck.  Unfortunately the digest format doesn’t do this amazing work justice, but I’ll keep it until I can replace it with the Marvel Masterworks version. Essential for fans of 1960’s Marvel comics.


Doctor Strange – The Oath

Doctor Strange is probably the most successful Marvel character never to have his own successful series. There have been numerous shortlived attempts at doing more with Doctor Strange, but it’s never seemed to work, and for the most part Marvel seems content at using Strange as it’s resident deus magical ex machina. The Oath was a mini from a few years ago, written by Brian K. Vaughan, with some incredible art by Marcos Martin. This a little-known gem of a story, one that focuses a little more on the Doctor part of the character than the Strange part. Although Brian Vaughan is more known for his creator-owned comics, this is one of my favourites of the superhero work that he’s done.


Exiles – Exiles, A World Apart, Out Of Time, Legacy, Unnatural, Fantastic Voyage, Time Breakers, Age Of Apocalypse, Bump In The Night, A Blink In Time, Earn Your Wings, World Tour Book 1 and 2, The New Exiles Enemy Of The Stars, Starting Over

This is the kind of series that gets launched regularly by both major publishers, but rarely seem to work for any period of tine. The concept was designed to take advantage of the endless amounts of alternate universes that Marvel seems to create on a weekly basis. The Exiles were a team of characters tangentially related to the X-Men. They were comprised of characters from different alternate realities, all teaming up to solve “cracks” in the multi-verse. No, I don’t know what that means either. I do know that what should have been another generic team book became one of the more interesting straight superhero books that Marvel published in the first half of the last decade. At least that’s how it started. But the reason why the book worked wasn’t the characters, it was writer Judd Winick, and the minute he left the book, it didn’t take long for it to become yet another bland superhero comic.

Why? Character vs. Plot. Winick is a character guy, and he spent a lot of time crafting a team of well-rounded, two dimensional character, with some real emphasis on their relationships, both romantic and otherwise. When Tony Bedard too over the book, character got pushed down in favour of crazy, intricate plots, involving as many alternate realities as possible. While some of those stories were readable, any hint of “specialness” that the book previously had was soon gone. By the time Chris Claremont started to write it, the book was just downright awful.

Exiles, A World Apart, Out Of Time, Legacy, Unnatural, Fantastic Voyage: KEEP

Time Breakers, Age Of Apocalypse, Bump In The Night, A Blink In Time, Earn Your Wings, World Tour Book 1 and 2, The New Exiles Enemy Of The Stars, Starting Over: CULL

Next up: the Fantastic Four!


Movie Reviews: Rango, Adjustment Bureau, Jane Eyre, and Sucker Punch

Rango – Directed by Gore Verbinski

At this moment in American animation, there are two types of films: Movies made by Pixar, and movies made by people who wished they worked for Pixar. Rango is that rare film that doesn’t fit into either category. It’s that rare American animated film that bravely treads its own path. There is some formula here: Weird little dude goes on epic journey and finds himself, is a staple of animation that can’t really be veered from if you expect parents to bring their children.

This film is quite unique when compared to other recent animated fare. It’s one that wears its love of the legend of the American west on its sleeve, and it’s tributes to American icons range from Clint Eastwood to Hunter S. Thompson. Those, combined with a myriad conglomeration of western tropes, make this more  suitable to western fans than to people looking for mindless escapism for their half-wit children. A fun, adventure film that rises above a lot of the cookie-cutter mediocrity found in animated films these days, and one of the very few that strives to find its own way.

Rating: A-

Adjustment Bureau – Directed by George Nolfi

I’m surprised that I didn’t hate this, considering that I usually like religious films about as much as Stephen Harper likes the word coalition. Make no mistake, this is a Christian film: Good-looking intelligent people aren’t allowed to have sex with each other because a magical sky-god (or in this case, sky-librarian) doesn’t want them to. Why? Because he said so.

This really is a silly film in many ways. For you to truly enjoy it requires your brain to completely throw out any adherence to reason or logical thinking. So, the perfect religious experience. But there’s still some things to enjoy here: 1 ) It’s a beautiful film. George Nolfi has an eye for cinematography that most directors would kill for, and 2) This is the big one. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have an on-screen chemistry so powerful and believable that it makes the rest of the cliches of the film a lot easier to tolerate. You believe some (though not all) of the bullshit that the movie is slinging because Damon and Blunt work so well together on-screen. Ultimately the movie fails them, with a truly moronic “everybody gets everything they ever wanted in the history of ever because they’re good and I’m good and yay puppies!” ending that could only be created in Hollywood. Or in the Bible.

Rating: C+

Sucker Punch – Directed by Zack Snyder

Going into this movie, I thought that this was a make-or-break film for Zack Snyder. I’ve been apologizing for him for years, and I honestly thought that Sucker Punch, being the first movie he directed that was actually created by him from the ground up, would be his breakthrough film. I thought he would finally show us all that he was more than just a talented stylist with a sl0-mo fetish.

Alas, he is not. And alas, the apologies have come to an end. This is a terrible film. And if THIS is what Zach Snyder comes up with without studio intervention, then he might be a terrible director, and I’ve now thrown out any hope in his upcoming Superman film being anything but a waste of time.

Here’s the “story”: Sad girl gets  placed into Arkham Asylum by a poor mans Udo Kier. Her way of dealing with her fate is to imagine that she’s in a poor man’s Moulin Rouge. Even that isn’t good enough for her, and so while she’s in cabaret hell, she further imagines a series of scenarios that borrow liberally from every action-adventure movie you’ve ever seen, with a soundtrack that would have been 5 years out of date in 2002.  And then Don Draper stabs a knife in her head, and that’s the end.

This has been called a video-game movie and I guess it is, though I think that’s kind of unfair to video games. There’s a series of challenges that don’t seem to exist for any reason other than as plot points, and to say that the characters are two-dimensional would be to give them the benefit of the doubt by about one and a half. There is some eye candy to look at, but the script and acting are so clumsy that Snyder did the impossible and made me hate a movie that featured pretty girls with samurai swords.

Also, I’m pretty sure that if you took out all of the slow motion, this film would clock in at about 9 minutes.

Rating: D

Jane Eyre – Directed by Cary Fukunaga

While on the surface this period piece might appear to be a goth emo-grope so dark and moody that it seems to have come out of Tim Burton’s sock drawer, it actually is an extremely credible coming of age film, full of effective performances and a wonderful adapted screenplay that might get some Oscar love next year. Great performances by  Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

Rating: B+

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 41: Marvel Comics – Daredevil: The Ed Brubaker/Andy Diggle years

Regarding Daredevil:

“But although I would check in on the book periodically over the years, it never really seemed to grab me, or to be telling stories worth my time.”

Probably the sentence that got me more e-mails and notes than any other I’ve written on this blog. It seems that I didn’t give enough attention to some of the Daredevil writers that contributed to the book between Frank Miller’s run and Brian Bendis’ run. A few people specifically mentioned J.G. Chichester’s run as one worth reading. I do own a few issues from it, but I’ve never given it much attention before, and based on your comments, I’ve started to reread it. I’m about 8 issues in, and quite frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve neglected it recently. His Last Rites story about the fall of the Kingpin is emotionally powerful, to the extent that I’m not sure the character ever fully recovered from it. I’m going to make it a top priority to collect the rest of his run soon, and I’ll report back when I do.

Daredevil – The Ed Brubaker Years (The Devil, Inside & Out Vol. 1 &2, Hell To Pay Vol. 1 & 2. Cruel & Unusual, Lady Bullseye, Return Of The King)

Any comic fan with a love of superhero comics has been there: You love a comic. The character kicks ass, the writer and the artist are firing on all cylinders, and things are awesome. And then it ends. And you have a choice: You follow the writer or artist to wherever they go next, or you continue to read the book blindly, hoping beyond hope that things will get better, even though you know they never will. In the comic book world, creative teams get pulled off of books all the time. It’s the big publisher’s hope that you won’t really care about that; that you’ll follow the adventures of the Amazing/Incredible/Spectacular Super/Spider/Bat Man/Woman/Mite/Person no matter which hapless half-wit they hire to write the scripts. I’ve long since resigned myself to such publishing silliness, and it’s one of the reason why I rarely dabble in superhero comics anymore.

And so when it was announced that Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev were leaving  Daredevil, I immediately cancelled the title from my pull list. I’ve long lost any attachment to any of these silly costumed buffoons, and only follow the books whose creative teams I respect and enjoy. Great comics are great comics, regardless of the character, and continuing to read a character’s exploits long after they stopped being interesting in a futile hope that you’ll be able to recapture your youth makes no sense to me. And although I was very familiar with both Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s work, I didn’t expect anybody to come close to matching what Bendis and Maleev had done on the book.

I was right. But not by much.

First of all, the pass over between Bendis and Brubaker might be the best I’ve ever seen. While Bendis ended his run in the most devastating, logical way possible, Brubaker picks up the reigns seamlessly, and for a few issues it’s hard to figure out where Bendis’ run ends and Brubaker’s run starts. That’s not to say it’s derivative at all, and it’s not long before Brubaker starts to add his own take to the Daredevil mythos.

His first arc is packed full of tension. It starts with Matt Murdock at Ryker’s Island, and it seems as if things can’t get worse. And then the Kingpin shows up. And then the Punisher. Not to mention that although Murdock is in prison, there’s another Daredevil running around Hell’s Kitchen. And then things start to get worse. And worse. And worse. In fact, The Devil, Inside & Out is not only a worthy successor to the neo-noir work of Bendis, it’s pretty much a companion to it.

Unfortunately, it’s the best arc of Brubaker’s run. That’s not to say that the rest of his run was bad. It wasn’t, by a long shot. But he never recaptured the pure visceral intensity of that first story. He still added a lot of interesting concepts to the mythos: Lady Bullseye, the reintroduction of Mr. Fear, and one of the better Kingpin stories in recent memory. But the sum is never as good as it’s parts, and while Brubaker’s run touches greatness, it never fully embraces it like Bendis’ did. It’s completely worth your time and money, and if it hadn’t come right after what most people consider to be one of the best Daredevil runs of all time, I’d probably rate it higher.


Daredevil – The Devil’s Hand

Marvel had been extremely lucky with their Daredevil creative teams, and the question was whether or not lightning could strike thrice. The answer was absolutely not. I’ve been hearing for several years that Andy Diggle is a great writer, and I hope that one day I find that to be true. But so far, the only thing he’s managed to accomplish is to get me to do something I never thought I would do again: Stop reading Daredevil.

He essentially flushed down 8 years of stories by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker, and traded them for a half-assed ninja story full of cliches that would have been out of place in the early ’80’s. Is it awful? Nope. But when you’re accustomed to greatness, mediocrity just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s just been announced that Mark Waid will be taking over the adventures of Daredevil next, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Mark Waid can do with this book.


Next up: Alternate reality mutant mayhem!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 40: Marvel Comics – Daredevil: The David Mack/Brian Michael Bendis years

I don’t want to belittle the work of the Daredevil creative teams that came after Frank Miller. A lot of talented people worked on the book, and came up with some very creative stories. But although I would check in on the book periodically over the years, it never really seemed to grab me, or to be telling stories worth my time. Anne Nocenti’s run was quite good, but other than that, the book never seemed to do anything but rework the formula that Miller had set up: Kingpin schemes, Daredevil intervenes, the two of them have a tense standoff, and once in a while Elektra or Bullseye would show up.

This continued for a few decades, and the sales kept deteriorating to the point that the book needed a total overhaul. It was cancelled in 1998, and then relaunched a month later under the then new “Marvel Knights” imprint. Joe Quesada ran that line at the time, and he brought in Kevin Smith (Yes, the Kevin Smith of “how does somebody so funny make such terrible movies” fame) to write and revive the character. Quesada handled the art himself. This was successful, and the book has been relatively strong both commercially and creatively ever since.

Daredevil – Guardian Devil

This is the aforementioned Kevin Smith arc. His goal here was to relaunch the character, and to get people interested in Daredevil again. He succeeds for the most part, though I’m sorry to say the series hasn’t aged well. All of Smith’s standbys are here: lots of pseudo-spiritual Christian whining, potty humour, awkward dialogue, gentle misogyny, and an unhealthy attempt to shoehorn as many panels onto a page as possible. The result is a stilted, clumsy, but still somewhat entertaining superhero jaunt, it’s best legacy was that it set the stage for more talented creators to come in and write some of the best Daredevil stories of all time. While much of the story is quite silly in retrospect, Smith did take a giant creative risk in killing Karen Page, who had been a proverbial plot point/albatross around Matt Murdock’s neck for decades. Risky, but the stories that came afterwards wouldn’t have been possible without this gamble, and I think many people would agree that the character has been the better for it.


Daredevil – The David Mack Years (Parts Of A Whole, Echo – Vision Quest)

Imagine you’re Marvel EIC Joe Quesada. You’ve just wrapped up the most successful Daredevil storyline in decades. What do you do next? Do you A) try to get your celebrity writer to stay and do more? Do you B ) get a writer of equal popularity to attempt to keep the sales up? , or do you C) Get a writer that almost no one is mainstream comics had heard of, and have him introduce new characters that no one initially cared about? Joe went with C, and I’m grateful. After Matt Murdock’s life fell apart in Guardian Devil, David Mack and Joe Quesada try to rebuild the character in Parts Of A Whole, and attempted to breathe new life into his supporting cast by introducing Maya Lopez, also known as Echo. Echo is a character that I still think has a lot of money in the bank, and is just waiting for the right creative team to come along and turn her into a star. This is a much subtler story after the bombast and hyperbole of Kevin Smith’s run, but it’s a welcome change, and it’s one that stands up very well.

Parts of A Whole should be mandatory reading for comic writers that want to learn how to introduce an interesting character into an existing franchise. Echo doesn’t contradict anything in the Daredevil mythos, she enhances it, especially in the case of the Kingpin character. Her story fits so well with his character and history that we’re surprised she hasn’t been there since the beginning. I also need to mention the art of Joe Quesada. He’s never been one of my favourite artists, but I think he reached his career high with this arc. In fact, this is one of those arcs where the script and art go together so seamlessly that it’s difficult to believe that the same person didn’t do both. A few years later, Mack would come back to the character he created and handle both the writing and art on the Vision Quest arc. This is a stunningly beautiful piece, but one that emphasizes style and character development over plot and action, and as such might not be for everyone, especially those that need their comics to have lots of punching and grunting. But it’s one that shows quite aptly how much can achieved in this medium from a creative standpoint. Mack uses an inventive multi-media mix of collage, pencils, and painting to tell his tale of Maya Lopez’ quest to find herself in a truly original, and captivating way. It’s one of the mysteries of modern comics that David Mack isn’t more widely known than he is.


Daredevil – The Brian Michael Bendis Years (Wake Up, Underboss, Out, Lowlife, Hardcore, The Widow, Golden Age, Decalogue, The Murdock Papers)

David Mack’s initial run on Daredevil was successful, but he brought in his buddy Brian Michael Bendis to write his next arc, Wake Up. It’s hard to remember at time when Bendis wasn’t a mega-superstar that seems to write every single Marvel comic on the stands that he is today, but at this moment in time he was just a talented up-and-comer more known for his independent work. Although he was starting to get some traction on Ultimate Spider-Man, it was this run on Daredevil that solidified his reputation. So much so, that I would say that this run one of the best continuous runs on a superhero comic of all time, not to mention the fact that it’s arguably one of the best Daredevil runs ever. Am I overselling this? Not even a little bit.

His run gets off to a slow star, with Wake Up, a small quiet story about a boy whose father is a super-villain. It’s an inconsequential arc from a continuity perspective, but it’s a devastating one in regards to its emotional impact. This story just sticks with you. And although Daredevil barely even shows up in the pages of this story, the critical reaction to it was so positive that Joe Quesada decided to eventually make Bendis the permanent writer on the book.

His first story as regular writer on Daredevil is also his last story, as it’s a continuous epic  that would last over 50 issues, and that deals with one central question: What would happen if the world found out that Matt Murdock was Daredevil? The idea had been skirted around before, with Daredevil, as well as other characters, but the idea of an A-list heroe’s secret identity being so incontrovertibly compromised had never really been explored, at least not to any real depth. And any time it had been done, the story would usually end with everything going back to normal, with the general populace believing that the whole thing had been a hoax.

Not so with Bendis’ story. DD’s identity being discovered is just the TIP of Bendis’ storytelling iceberg, and Bendis (along with the extraordinary art of Alex Maleev), uses that one simple plot point to launch one of the most ambitious stories Marvel had ever published.

While Frank Miller’s run was groundbreaking, and truly influential, I have to invoke heresy and say that Bendis’ is the superior story from a cohesive standpoint. There’s a beginning (Matt’s identity being discovered), a middle (Murdock beating Kingpin decisively and making himself the Kingpin of New York), and end (Matt finally brought to justice for his “crimes”, and ending up in prison), which are so perfectly paced that I almost believe that Bendis wrote the entire 55 issue run in one drug-induced bender. It’s one of the very few comic stories of this length where I believe that the writer knew every single plot point right from the beginning, and stuck to that framework, no matter what. From a writing perspective, this thing is flawlessly executed. Bendis knows when to apply pressure, when to apply the brakes, and when to go full steam ahead and kick his characters in the ass. And while he used many of the same tropes that Frank Miller did (Kingpin, Black Widow, Elektra, Ben Urich, Bullseye, REALLY bad things happen to Daredevil on an almost hourly basis etc.), he uses them in ways that hadn’t been explored before (A perfect example is Bendis’ Kingpin. Bendis writes him as weaker, less influential, and arguably much more interesting than previously written).

As the story winded down, I remember wondering exactly how Brian Bendis was going to get Matt Murdock out of the emotional quagmire he had thrown him into, and I worried that the writer would pull the same type of trick that comic writers had been using for decades to get characters out of potentially sticky situations (usually involving time travel, alternate realties, or a combination of the two). But Bendis never takes the easy way out, and takes the character to his logical, soul crushing fate. The ending, while difficult to read for those of us emotionally invested in Bendis’ re-imagining of the character, is the perfect one for this story.

I should have mentioned Alex Maleev before this, but I’ll try to make up for it. At the beginning of this run, Maleev was the quirky artist who was best known for his work on Batman. By the end of it, he was arguably one of the most important (though that view wouldn’t be shared by everyone) stylists in American comics. He literally got better with every arc, a habit which still continued to this day, as shown by his recent work on Spider-Woman and Scarlet.

If you love real and true character development, try this book. If you love bad-ass martial arts action, try this book. If you love crime stories, with a healthy dose of noir, try this book. If you love beautiful, evocative art, try this book. If you love to be challenged by the comics that you read, try this book.

KEEP, with my highest recommendation.

Next up: Daredevil – The Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle years!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 39: Marvel Comics – Daredevil: The Frank Miller Years


The greatest blind superhero ever. Well, other than Ray Charles.

Daredevil is either Marvel’s most popular B list character, or he’s their least popular A list character. I’m not exactly sure which, but I’m leaning towards the latter. But while his popularity waxes and wanes, he’s been extremely fortunate from a creative standpoint, and we’ve been the beneficary of some pretty tremendous DD stories as a result.

So why does this character seem to inspire so many great stories?

I have no idea. I know why Batman works. I know why Spider-Man works. But Matt Murdock? Not really sure. On the surface, his origin is a retread of what we had already seen with Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker: Traumatic family loss, dedication to fighting crime, blah blah blah. But he never seemed to be as defined by his origin as

A younger, happier Daredevil, painfully unaware of the lifetime of misery that awaits him.

Spidey and Bats are by theirs. Maybe the key is that he’s more malleable than those two? He’s been written as the brooding vigilante, the righteous superhero, and the carefree wandering adventurer. And while all three have worked to some extent, it’s the version of him as fate’s eternal punching bag that has endured.

Here is what you need to know about Daredevil:

  • He’s a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock.
  • Yes, he’s really blind. He was struck by a container of radioactive waste as a child, which both blinded him and gave him super radar. Super radar? Yes. Sorry.
  • He’s a whore. Seriously. He’s the Bill Clinton of the Marvel Universe. He’s fucked everybody except for maybe Sue Storm. And possibly Howard The Duck. Though I’m not sure about that one.
  • The character was essentially a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man for the first 20 years of his existence, until Frank Miller took over the character in 1982. In fact, his book was on the verge of cancellation. Miller’s version is usually the one people think of, and it’s the version that the movie was based on. DD before Miller wasn’t exactly awful, but it was pretty average.
  • Although firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe, the character is often written as being slightly apart from it, and isn’t often part of the company’s huge semi-regular cross-overs. He’s Marvel’s premier “Street” hero, but he gets a little diminished when you put him beside Asgardian Thunder Gods.
  • Bad things happen to him. All the time. He has the month that Japan is having EVERY SINGLE MONTH. It’s kind of his gimmick.

Is that enough? I say it’s enough. Let’s begin.

Daredevil – The Frank Miller Years (Marked For Death, Daredevil: Visionaries Vol. 2, 3, Daredevil: Legends Vol. 2)

Like the X-Men, DD stands apart from his Marvel brethren by being one of the few characters that didn’t have great stories in the 1960’s. Or even the 1970’s. In fact, a strong case could be made that there were no great DD stories for the first 20 years of his existence. Harsh, but true. It wasn’t until a fresh-faced kid named Frank Miller first took over the art chores in 1982, and then the writing a few issues later, that the book actually took off. In fact, Miller’s run on Daredevil is now considered to be one of the very best superhero runs of the 1980’s.

But does it deserve the hype? Absolutely. Miller transformed Daredevil like very few characters before or since, to the extent that his take on the character is now considered the definitive one. So many of the constants that are now considered part of the Daredevil canon came from his era (Elektra, Kingpin, Ben Urich), that it’s hard to imagine a Daredevil before Miller got his hands on him.

Rereading this was an absolute pleasure. Seeing a young creator expand his horizons by leaps and bounds issue by issue is something that is seen so infrequently these days. From the minute Miller starts to write this book, you know that this is something special. It’s easy to mock Miller these days (Cough…The Spirit…cough), but there is a reason why he’s considered one of the preeminent storytellers in the comic business, and a big part of that reason is Daredevil.

Miller’s run technically starts with him just as artist, and while those issues are strong (Roger McKenzie did the writing), it’s not until issue 168 that Miller fully takes over the title. And he gives us Elektra. And then he gives us the Kingpin as DD’s arch nemesis; Bullseye as truly terrifying psychopath; Ben Ulrich as tortured confidant; The Hand; Ulrich getting stabbed; One of the greatest death scenes in comic history. And so on. And it’s all done in a noir style that pays earnest tribute to Will Eisner’s Spirit, but never copies. In short, there’s brilliance here. The second half of the run isn’t quite as strong as the first, and there is some filler here and there. But all in all it’s a tour de force in visual storytelling.

A panel from issue 227 of Daredevil. This is the beginning of the worst day of Matt Murdock's life. Until the next worst day of Matt Murdock's life. He's had a lot of worst days.

Although his original run is what gets most of the attention, it’s often forgotten that Miller came back to Daredevil a few years later, this time to handle the scripts, while David Mazzuchelli worked his magic with pencils. In my opinion, this arc is almost the equal of Miller’s original “Elektra” saga, though some would say that the ending isn’t as finite, or satisfying. All I know is that issue 227 of this series should be studied at comic book schools for decades to come when it comes to the “How to build enough tension to make a rat chew off his own tail” part of the course. It’s the story of a man being destroyed, piece by piece. And unlike most superhero stories, this one really did change the character forever. I can’t recommend these stories highly enough, and I was happy to see that they’ve only improved with age.


Daredevil – Yellow

This was a mini-series by the esteemed pairing of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. While they’ve received more attention for their DC work (Superman – For All Seasons, Batman – Long Halloween), they’ve done 3 Marvel mini series together, and this one’s my favourite  of the bunch. This is a throwback to the original swashbuckling era that Stan Lee originally envisioned for the character. It’s a fun look at the early years of the character, and Tim Sale’s work here is stunning, as always. Although this rarely comes up as one of the great DD stories, it’s quite good, and worth keeping.


Next up: The Brian Michael Bendis years!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 38: Marvel Comics – Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel: The greatest dead superhero since Jesus.

Captain Marvel – The Death Of Captain Marvel

Ooook. This is one of the big ones. Any list of the most important Marvel stories ever is going to have this one somewhere on it. In fact, it might be the best comic story that gives away it’s ending right in the title of all time.

Here’s the skinny: Captain Marvel is a Kree (alien race, not important) soldier, that has turned his back on his people to become one of Earth’s heroes. He lives on Titan with the Eternals (ancient race of superhumans often mistaken for Greek gods, also not important) with his girlfriend. Everything is groovy.

Until he gets cancer. Bummer. And then he dies. Major bummer.

So why is this story so important? Because it had never really been done before (This book was published in 1982). Superheroes had died before (though not often), but those deaths usually occurred at the climax of huge galactic battles that saved the world in the process. A larger than life hero dying a fairly mundane, ordinary death had just never been done.

The story itself is well told, though obviously somewhat depressing. Jim ” I never met a space epic I didn’t like” Starlin handled the script and the pencils, and if I had to pick one comic that really captured the man’s talent, this would be it. This is the story of a man facing his death, and Starlin handles it with class and dignity, but he also manages to throw in some superhero action, and ties the personal tragedy into the larger Marvel Universe.

What’s most important here is the legacy the story left. Captain Marvel became a far more influential character dead than he ever was alive, and the fallout from this story is felt in Marvel’s stories almost 30 years later. What’s most interesting is that though they’ve skirted very close on numerous occasions to bringing him back, Marvel thus far has resisted the urge, and has kept Captain Marvel dead. This is unheard of in modern superhero comics, and it’s a nice tribute to a great comic story. This is pretty much essential for any serious Marvel collection.


Captain Marvel – Secret Invasion

A few years ago, Marvel proudly trumpeted the return of Captain Marvel! Yay! He’s back! Oh wait, he’s not. He’s actually an alien saboteur that was brainwashed into THINKING he’s Captain Marvel. I think Marvel was hoping that they could brainwash me into THINKING that this was a good idea, but alas, they could not.


Captain Marvel – First Contact, Nothing To Lose, Coven, Crazy Like A Fox, Odyssey

So if CM died, how could there be more Captain Marvel comics? It’s his son, of course! You know, the one that Marvel forgot to mention until 15 years after they killed him? Of course. About 20 years after the character died, Peter David took it upon himself to write the adventures of the wayward son of one of the greatest heroes Marvel had ever produced. What resulted was a book that was critically loved, and yet so controversial that the publisher of Marvel at the time publicly threatened to cancel it on numerous occasions.

The character’s story really starts with Avengers Forever, a Kurt Busiek-penned opus that merged (less sexy than it sounds) Genis (son of original Captain Marvel) with Rick Jones (former sidekick of Captain America; former sidekick of the Hulk; former sidekick of the original Captain Marvel; former sidekick of something called Rom: Spaceknight, etc). So now the new series begins with Cap in LA, and he’s bound and determined to follow in his father’s quite daunting footsteps. Since the two characters are merged, only one of them can be on earth at the same time. While one of them is in LA, the other is in the Negative Zone, which sounds like bad nightclub that just plays Careless Whisper on an endless loop, but is really just a strange dimension that Marvel uses for it’s more unusual stories.

And so begins one of the stranger, yet more enjoyable series that Marvel has produced in the last decade. First of all, this was actually two series. The first one was more of a straight forward superhero story, that was eventually cancelled for reasons far too complicated to go into here. Only the first 6 issues of this series was ever collected, unfortunately. The second series was Peter David’s attempt to answer the question of what would happen if the galaxy’s most powerful hero went bugshit crazy.

Now, Marvel actually tried this again recently with a horrible character called The Sentry, but the attempt wasn’t nearly as successful as Peter David’s was. There is much to love about this series: The quick and witty writing, the well-rounded supporting cast (including the only time I’ve ever found Rick Jones interesting),  the cartoony adventure art style of Crisscross, and the menacing threat of the protagonist. Yes, threat. This Captain Marvel has buckled under the weight of his own powers and is slowly, painfully going crazy. And it’s entertaining as hell to watch.

As you might have guessed, I love this series. But it does have it’s flaws:

Flaw 1 – Pacing. In short, this series both meanders and feels rushed at the same time. After rereading David’s Hulk and X-Factor runs recently, I’ve seen this as a regular occurence in his writing, and I see it as a bit of a throwback to a time when series would go on for decades, as opposed to months. It’s not really a weakness so much as it is a characteristic. Other writers write for the trade, David writes for the Omnibus. And so plots often feel rushed, or even abandoned, but given enough time, David usually picks up all the pieces and makes them make sense.

Flaw 2 – The second series didn’t go far enough. What I mean is this: IMO, this story should have ended with Genis becoming such a threat that all of Earth’s heroes would have to team up to destroy him. But for whatever reason, that never happened, and so Marvel tried to have their cake and eat it too, and ended the series prematurely with Genis  portrayed as a flawed hero, as opposed to the raving sociopath that David has written him as for most of the series.

These are minor nitpicks. This is a series well worth your time, if you like a healthy dose of comedy in your superhero comics, and if you like the boundaries of what constitutes a superhero book pushed a little bit. Although some of the pop culture references David uses come across as extremely dated now, the writing is razor-sharp. The art is also top notch, and my only hope is that Marvel eventually puts the rest of David’s first series into trade one day.


Next up: Daredevil!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 37: Marvel Comics – Captain Britain

Horrible superhero, snappy dresser.

The only thing interesting about the character of Captain Britain is his costume. And yet somehow the character (created in the 1970’s to help Marvel’s expansion into the UK) persists, and has been a little-seen mainstay of the Marvel Universe over the past few decades. And not only has the character persisted, but it’s also been attracted some pretty high profile creators, and generated some pretty interesting stories over the years.



Captain Britain – Captain Britain Before Excalibur

This trade collects the CB stories featuring Alan Davis’ artwork after Alan Moore left Marvel Adventures in the early ’80’s. Why do I have this trade but not the one that collects the Alan Moore stories? Ummm….Hmmm….not really sure. I’ve read the Moore CB stories, and while I see the creativity in them, they come across as overly complicated and dense, and I think that it’s an early attempt at superhero deconstructionism by a writer that isn’t quite at the full peak of his powers yet. This trade continues a lot of the storylines that Moore began, and as such feels very much like you’re coming in half way through the story.

I think what I like about this is the randomness. CB is supposed to be England’s greatest hero, but never seems to do anything heroic. He stumbles from one extremely bizarre adventure to another, and seems to succeed out of pure luck than through any innate heroic tendencies. I don’t know if I would want to read another series like this, but it’s charming and quirky enough for me to want to reread. Of course, you can’t mention Captain Britain without mentioning the art of Alan Davis, who was just settling into his role as one of the great superhero artists of the 80’s.


Captain Britain & MI3 – Secret Invasion, Hell Comes To Birmingham, Vampire State

This is the latest attempt at making Captain Britain part of the mainstream Marvel U, and in my mind, one of the most successful. The premise here is that Captain Britain is the field leader of a UK government sponsored superhero squad, whose main mission is the defence of Britain. He does so vigourously, and over the span of 18 issues battles Skrulls, vampires, and other magical mumbo jumbo.

This is one of my favourite Marvel series from the past few years, but I’m not sure whether or not that it’s because it’s that good, or because it’s just that different. I’m going to go with a little of both. This series really reminded me of great team books from the 80’s, like pre-Crisis Justice League, the Roy Thomas-era Avengers, the original Paul Levitz Legion, and so on, in that it deftly combines big superhero action with just enough human drama to keep things from getting too crazy.

My critique is that it moves along just a little too quickly for us to really absorb a lot of the powerful emotional beats that it contains. This book is extremely fast paced, and writer Paul Cornell crams 5 trades worth of material into 3 books. The last arc (Vampire State) feels particularly rushed, though the poor sales that caused the early cancelation of the book are probably to blame for that. However, it’s Vampire State that brings us one of the best Marvel vampire stories of all time, and it did what I thought would have been impossible by turning Dracula into a top tier Marvel villain. Vampire State is a true Marvel epic, and one that went criminally unread.

If you’ve been bemoaning the state of superhero comics lately, and have heard yourself mutter “They’re just not the way they used to be”, I have good news. CB&MI3 IS superhero comics the way they used to be: Fun, epic, with a major heroic sensibility that influences the whole book.


Next up: The greatest dead superhero of all time. No, not Jesus. The other one.

Wednesday Comics Woundup: Who Is Jake Ellis?

Who Is Jake Ellis #1 & #2 by Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic

Who Is Jake Ellis? is probably the hottest indie book around right now. There’s so much buzz around this book that it’s practically dripping honey.

But is it any good?

Well, yes. I think. I hate reviewing single issues of comics, as it’s a little like reviewing a movie based on the trailer. In today’s “wait for the trade” comic culture, most comic stories are designed to be spread out over 4 or more issues, and so reviewing the first two issues of something like Jake Ellis is a little tricky. But I felt compelled to weigh in on this book as it’s one of the most talked about books on the stands right now.

What is it about? In a word, espionage. It’s the story of Jon Moore, a former CIA analyst-turned-professional spy with a mysterious past. In fact, it’s so mysterious that I can’t tell you more about it in fear of spoiling it for you. And to be honest, I don’t know more than that either.

What I’m worried about is that writer Nathan Edmondson doesn’t know more than that either. Don’t get me wrong; Edmondson is quickly becoming one of my favourite up-and-coming comic writers, and I think the guy has a very promising future. My concern is that  Ellis might not be more than just a really cool idea. The first issue was probably the best first issue to a comic I’ve read all year. It had intrigue, action, and an extremely compelling plot twist. It was also a welcome introduction to the work of Tonci Zonjic, a penciler with such promise that I can’t help but compare him to artists like Michael Lark, Sean Phillips, and maybe even Darwyn Cooke.

One of these people is Jake Ellis. I think. Maybe. I'll let you know if I figure it out.

The second issue put on the brakes a bit. We did get a slight peek into the circumstances that brought Moore to his present predicament, and the story has progressed a bit. But so much of this story seems to rest on the backs of the “twist” that Edmondson concocted in the first issue. Whether or not this book ultimately succeeds is riding on how the question posed in the title of the book pays off, and one can’t help but worry that the writer has laid too many story-telling eggs lie in one basket, so to speak. High concept twists are great when you’re putting together a pitch, but it’s an invitation for disaster if that’s all you’ve got.

I’m very much hoping that there’s more to this story than the Manchurian Candidate-ish tropes that have been posited (though those have been effective) thus far. This has the potential to be the breakout book of 2011. It’s got action, drama, and so much mysterious suspense and  that one is tempted to think that Edmondson might be the lovechild of Ian Fleming and John Le Carré. The question is whether or not he can keep the pressure on, and I’m very much hoping that the answer is yes.

Rating: B+

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 36: Captain America

U S A ! U S A !

On the surface, I shouldn’t like the concept of Captain America. It’s a throwback to a previous time. He’s a jingoistic, nationalist, character that really shouldn’t work in today’s geopolitical climate. But in terms of the Marvel comics universe, he’s the top dog. Although not always (or often) reflected in sales, his character is always at the forefront of Marvel’s storylines, and does for Marvel what Superman does for DC, in that he’s the de facto leader of Earth’s heroes. I think I admire the simplicity. At the character’s best, he represents everything that is “good” about America. At his worst, he’s a government puppet, fulfilling the mandate of whatever politician is currently in power. It’s a fine line, and when done well (the runs of Mark Gruenwald, Mark Waid, and Ed Brubaker), he can be a compelling plot device. But the character itself is quite bland, and so it’s been my experience that there are more bad Cap stories than there are good. As I’ve done this project, there are books that I realize I need to pick up, and Mark Gruenwald’s epic run on Captain America is at the top of the list.

Captain America – The Otherworld War/The New Deal

Blah. A bland, generic, character is bound to guarantee some bland, generic stories, and these are two mini-series that fit the bill. There’s not much to discuss here, as there isn’t much to either of these. Although the New Deal does have the benefit of John Cassady’s pencil work, and is somewhat readable, neither comic is anything other than just a run of the mill exercise in blandness.


Captain America – The Winter Soldier Vol. 1 & 2, Red Menace Vol. 1 & 2, Civil War, The Death Of Captain America Vol. 1, 2, 3, The Man With No Face, Two Americas, Reborn, No Escape

I’m not going to go as far as many people have and declare Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America to be “the best ever”. But it is a very good run, one that blends superhero theatrics with quasi-realistic espionage thrills quite seamlessly.

Even now, this is still one of the better superhero comics on the market, though it doesn’t quite have the impact that it did in its hey day. There is a lot of story here: The death and resurrection of Cap’s arch-nemesis; The resurrection of Cap’s WW2 partner Bucky; Cap being wanted by the US government; Cap being shot and killed; Bucky taking up the mantle of Cap, The original Cap coming back from the dead, etc. As I said, there’s a LOT of stuff going on here. And while this book is quite plot heavy at times, it still never gets too dense, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I would say that Brubaker finds the character of Bucky to be a little more interesting than that of the original Cap, as he’s done more in terms of character development with that character than with that of Steve Rogers. Brubaker takes a similar approach to Steve Rogers as Christopher Priest did to the Black Panther, in that he really makes the book about how others perceive the title character, more than he makes it about that character himself. Good approach for an iconic character like Cap.

I would recommend this as a good-to-almost great mainstream superhero book, though at times it resembles spy books like Queen & Country more than it does more traditional Cap stories. The Cap Reborn trade is easily the weak link of the bunch, though I’m keeping it.


Captain America – Fallen Son

This was an attempt by Marvel to capitalize on the hype created by the “death” of the original Captain America, Steve Rogers. Like much of Jeph Loeb’s writing these days, it’s heavy on schmaltz, low on story. And so while you get some decent character moments, it’s not really compelling enough to justify a reread, and comes across as inconsequential.


Next: Captain Britain! Captain Marvel! The son of Captain Marvel! A shapechanging alien that thinks he’s Captain Marvel!



The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 35: The Black Panther


If Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Batman had a baby, this is what he would look like

The Black Panther is one of the great untapped Marvel characters. There is literally no type of story that you can’t tell with him: Straight forward superhero, sci-fi, magic, politics, espionage, noir,  you name it. You can do anything with him, but he’s never had what you could call a successful series, though Marvel has given it a shot a few times, to their credit. The two latest attempts both never really took off from a sales perspective, but one of them actually got quite a bit of critical acclaim. The Panther’s story is this: He’s the hereditary king of Wakanda, a tiny African nation that possesses technology miles beyond anything else on earth, primarily due to the fact that it has one of the very few stockpiles of Vibranium, a near-mystical metal with supernatural properties. Oh, and he dresses in a black cat suit and takes drugs to get his superpowers. Oh, the 60’s.


Black Panther – Black Panther, Enemy Of The State

These two trades collect the first 12 issues of what I consider to be not only the greatest Black Panther story of all time, but actually one of the very best Marvel series of the late 90’s. Christopher Priest somehow convinced Marvel to let him take the Panther on a wild ride of geopolitics, Satanism, comedy, and urban blight. And it works. It really, really works. The story is so perfectly crafted, so expertly planned, that it boggles the mind that Priest isn’t writing a superhero book for one of the two major companies. And since the actual character of the Panther is by nature slightly inscrutable, Priest creates a great supporting characters in Everett Ross, who essentially is there to look into the camera and comment on all the craziness. And things are crazy. And great. Priest’s Panther is the baddest bad-ass in the Marvel Universe. He’s a genius, a brilliant tactician, and one of the toughest hand-to-hand combatants on the planet. He’s basically Batman, minus the crippling guilt, but with the added responsibility that comes with ruling a small country. The only bad thing I can say about these trades is that they were the perfect launching point to a series that never really realized it’s potential. After these, Marvel removed the titles from its edgier “Marvel Knights” line, and it became just another superhero book. A decent one, but one that had the wind knocked out of its sails. Note to Marvel: If you’re not going to collect the rest of this great series in trade, can you at least do a new printing of the first 2 trades in a hardcover format? Like most of the trades from this time period, mine are falling apart.


Black Panther – Who Is The Black Panther, Civil War, The Bride

So far, I’ve managed to do most of this project without being overtly mean. I’ve taken pot shots here and there, but most of the time I’ve tried to see the positives of each story I’ve read, and usually if I malign a writer in one post, I make up for it in another (Chuck Dixon, Jeph Loeb, Grant Morrison). Until now.

When Marvel relaunched the Black Panther, I gave it a try (actually several tries), mostly because of my fondness for Priest’s run. And while it quickly soured on me, I would still try to go back every now and then, to see if things had improved. They never did. After rereading these, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve read a worse modern age Marvel comic book. This comic book is terrible.

I don’t mean the creative choices, although whomever decided to marry the Black Panther and Storm together should be fired. It’s one thing to disagree with a creator’s character choices. That’s always going to happen. But when the product is executed so poorly, with so little respect to reason or continuity, that’s when I get pissed.

Reggie Hudlin is a tremendously talented TV producer and writer, but that skill does not translate to writing comic books. The pacing here is poor. Hudlin often forgets that this is a visual medium, and has no concept of how to let the artist do the job of communicating information to the reader. And so it’s often very difficult to tell what is happening from panel to panel, as Hudlin seems to view the artist’s role as mere adornment.

Continuity is a big problem here. Not just the regular “This story clearly conflicts with issue 289 of Fantastic Four where it’s stated that Black Panther prefers Ego waffles to Cheerios” kind of continuity. It’s the most important continuity that’s at stake here, that of character. For Hudlin’s Panther, all men want to be him, and all women want to fuck him. And so you get characters that have been written for decades as strong, confident men and women being reduced to giggling caricatures of themselves whenever they get near the Wakandan king. Part of the problem is that while the Panther is a great character, he doesn’t interact that well with the rest of the Marvel Universe, and it takes a good writer to straddle the line between realistic stories, and epic superhero adventures. Reggie Hudlin is not that writer. I think that one of these days someone is going to pitch a hell of a Black Panther Max (Marvel’s adult line). But it’s not going to be Hudlin. He doesn’t have the chops. Even the inclusion of the great John Romita, Jr  on pencils for the first arc wasn’t enough to save this stinker.


Next up: Captain America!