Ambush Bug chats with 30 DAYS OF NIGHT’s Steve Niles
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. I had a chance to talk with comic book horror writer Steve Niles about that little horror movie 30 DAYS OF NIGHT that hit the theaters last Friday. Steve’s been doing his damndest to fill our shorts with fecal bits for years writing such books as CRIMINAL MACABRE, BIGFOOT, GIANT MONSTER, THE LONELY TOMBSTONE, FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND, HYDE, CITY OF OTHERS, and many, many more terrifying titles. Steve was kind enough to talk about the film, some of his past horror hits, and his writing process.
Steve Niles (SN): I'm thrilled with the film. I really couldn't be happier.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, your first big screen adaptation, hit the screens of America this weekend. You must have seen it by now. What did you think of it?
BUG: Were there any specific changes from comic to screen that stood out to you?SN: I think the biggest are things only comic fans will notice like the fact that we have one vampire leader instead of the two from the series, and the rift between Eben and Stella. Those are the biggest for me. I was worried having all of the vampire dialogue lost, but I like the vamp language. I really wanted them to be feral AND smart so that tweak works for me.
BUG: You have a screenwriting credit in 30 DAYS. How much of a collaboration was it with the other screenwriters? Is the movie you saw a lot like the one you wrote in your version of the screenplay?SN: I'm still not sure how it happened but my script is pretty far from the series, but mostly because of new scenes I added like the car chase. I got to work pretty close to Stu and with Brian. We became friends right off and just that made the experience better.
BUG: Did you get to hang around on set while they were filming the movie?SN: No, I wasn't on the set but I got almost daily updates from Slade.
BUG: Sam Raimi produced this film. Can you describe what it was like to work with him?SN: I got to work with Raimi for the first three months. He was great. I was a bit of a fan-boy/deer-in-headlights with him, but it was great to see how he works. He isn't confrontational at all. He works with writers so that you’re making changes and think you came up with the idea.
BUG: It seemed to take a while to get this film made. Can you take us through the long process of turning this comic into a full length feature?SN: All five years?! Okay....first I pitched it, then it became a comic, then a bidding war began and I wound up with Raimi, Ghost House and Sony. I write several versions of a script, then Stu does. Somewhere in here some other dude wrote a version I've never seen, and was told if I read it my head would explode (Two words: Vampire Monkey!). That kills like two or three years easily. Then Raimi found David Slade and things started cooking. Literally from the day Slade was hired, the movie started happening, then a few years later, here we are, the number one movie in America. Weird, eh?
BUG: What’s it like to create something like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and see it take off the way it did?SN: It's just bizarre because I didn't see it coming at all. I was already convinced it was a bad idea because it had been rejected by every comic company and movie studio in town. When it all took off I was like 'What the Hell?!' But I guess it just goes to show, you never know.
BUG: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is one of your babies that you let loose for others to write. There have been quite a few spin-offs of the series. How does it feel to give birth to something like that and then set it free for others to play with?SN: I really enjoy it because I like seeing what other people come up with. It's strange because you expect spin-offs with a character, but 30 DAYS is more of a universe so I think it lends itself to other writers’ and artists’ inspirations.
BUG: Unlike 30 DAYS, you’ve kept CAL MCDONALD all to yourself. What is it about that property that makes you so protective?SN: Cal is my favorite to write. I can't imagine handing him off. It'd be like loaning out my kid to other parents. I just can't do it. Plus I had a really bad experience with MGM when they had the rights. Some total tool of a screenwriter changed everything for no reason at all and MGM insisted all drug references be removed. What we wound up with was a semi-dark Scooby-Doo episode. It sucked, so now I'd rather not sell Cal then have him done wrong.
BUG: If 30 DAYS is successful, does that mean we may be a few steps closer to seeing a screen adaptation of CRIMINAL MACABRE?SN: I'm talking to a director and a studio. It could happen really soon, but again, only if they want to do Cal right. We'll see.
BUG: Seems like the casting for CRIMINAL MACABRE is already a given since Thomas Jane is the model for Cal on all of the Dark Horse covers. Is this pretty much a done deal?SN: Unfortunately it isn't a done deal at all. Those covers are my attempt to hypnotize the producers into casting him, but at this point casting is wide open.
BUG: You’ve got my vote for Jane playing Cal. I think he’s perfect for it. For a while there, the shelves were full of Steve Niles’ comic book version of this classic monster or that classic monster. Do you worry about being type-cast into being the go-to guy to update old monsters?SN: As long as I'm paid to write and have readers I don't care what people call me.
BUG: Do you have a favorite “Steve Niles adapts *enter classic monster here*” comic? I was always kind of partial to FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND and BIGFOOT, to tell you the truth.SN: FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND is another one I'm ultra-protective of. For some reason people want to make all sorts of silly changes and I'd rather not see it filmed. I really like BIGFOOT because I think we still have a long way to go to undo the damage done by HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS.
BUG: You’ve got a lot of other properties that are on tap to be made into films (BIGFOOT, HYDE, WAKE THE DEAD, CRIMINAL MACABRE). Which one is most likely to see the light of day first?SN: Well, there's a script for BIGFOOT sitting at Hyde Park, so logically that should be next up, but things are moving so fast on CRIMINAL MACABRE and a couple other projects, we could see Cal up on the screen before anything.
BUG: Can’t wait. Do you ever see yourself slipping into the director’s chair for one of your stories?SN: The offers have come in and I'm still on the fence about it. It's something I'd really like to do, but I know I couldn't do all the writing I'm doing and direct so I'd have to choose. Right now I'm leaning towards not directing because I'd rather write.
BUG: SIMON DARK just launched last week from DC. It had some pretty gruesome elements in it, but it was a little less in-your-face compared to your other books. Do you find yourself editing your writing when you do a more mainstream comic like this one?SN: Not at all. With SIMON DARK, I just wanted to do something a little more emotional (Like FREAKS) and not so violent. Give it a couple issues though. It gets weirder.
BUG: I hear that you wrote THE LONELY TOMBSTONE with your daughter. Can you describe that experience?SN: Actually, that was with my ex-wife...and the experience was, well, like writing a book with my ex-wife.
BUG: Oops, I guess I’ve gotta recheck my sources. Sorry about that one. What can you tell us about THE LURKERS film?SN: It's my fault that one is so far behind. It was the one case I've hit where the translation from comic to screenplay hasn't gone as smoothly. I've worked it out and plan on making some announcements soon-ish.
BUG: Where do you take inspiration from?SN: I get a lot of inspiration from my friends and family. I don't hang out with a lot of writers, but I know a lot of artists and seeing them do what they do really inspires me.
BUG: Horror is such a hard thing to do in comics since you don’t get to rely on things like sound or camera movement (which horror movies rely on heavily) to set up scares. Everything is up to the eye of the reader and it’s hard to build tension when even the visual aspect of the medium is not really under your control. What’s your secret to writing horror comics so effectively?SN: If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret, would it? Heh. No secret really. I encourage artists to take chances and I try to make sure the story has heavy characterization because that's one tool that always works...make them care and then whack 'em!
BUG: The right artist seems to be crucial in horror comics. Too many “horror” comics fall flat for me if they are drawn in your typical clean and clear, comic-booky way. Horror is all about the dark and spooky for me. You’ve been lucky enough to team up with some of the spookiest artists in the biz. Do you have a specific visual tone in mind when you are writing a comic book?SN: I've been ridiculously lucky....Corben, Wrightson, Sienkiewicz! I don't usually have a tone in mind, but I do take each artist into consideration and try to play to their strengths. I write differently for different artists. For Bernie I'll write 22 pages of tight script and he does 26 pages of art so I go through and re-script later after the art is done. With Bill I don't even bother formatting. I just write 15 pages of babbling and he somehow pulls a comic out of it.
BUG: We recently had a Nightmare Contest on AICN. I’m curious; can you describe your scariest, most pee-inducing nightmare to us?SN: Once I dreamed I was strapped to the top of the AICN boards and people were allowed to comment. Brrrr.
BUG: I think I just wet myself on that one. Scary. Have you ever just wanted to switch gears completely and do a SMURFS comic? Something completely different than scary stories? Or are you comfortable with your horror-guru status? You aren’t going to snap and write a period piece about a violin or something like that some day are you?SN: I like writing all sorts of stuff, but comics and horror are where I come from. I may write some other stuff down the line but I suspect I'll always be a genre boy.
BUG: Good to hear. What can we expect from you in the coming months, comic book-wise?SN: DEAD SHE SAID with (Bernie) Wrightson. THE SINNER with Bill Sienkiewicz, SIMON DARK continues as does CRIMINAL MACABRE and more. I'm also really excited because Dark Horse is releasing all of the Cal McDonald prose in a big 600 page edition.
BUG: Aww, man that would be awesome. Any other bombshells you’d like to drop while you have the mike here on AICN?SN: Did I mention I'm doing a Batman series with Kelley Jones called BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIGHT?
BUG: Well, now you did! Very cool news! Thank you for taking the time to chat.SN: Thank you!
DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #1 (of 8)
Words and Pictures: Jim Starlin Inks: Matt Banning Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoIf you read the title of the book, you have the basic plot. But you might not have the backstory. So for you relative newbies out there:
Before there was an Ultimate Universe…or MAX titles…or Vertigo imprints…there was one fevered genius who decided to create a universe for DC that would be slightly outside the continuity of the normal DC titles. This universe would have the ability to cross over when the need for stories (or sales) demanded it. This was the Fourth World. It began with JIMMY OLSEN and was rounded out with NEW GODS, MISTER MIRACLE, and the FOREVER PEOPLE. And the one person behind it all was Jack Kirby, natch.
I won’t go into the genius/not-genius arguments. All that stuff has been handled by smarter people than me, and I don’t even own the FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUSes, so I couldn’t get all smarterific if I wanted to. But since many of those characters have been popping up from time to time for the last forty years, the impact Kirby made on the DC universe is undeniable…and in some ways, unalterable. Inoperable, even. Because when Kirby left those properties, they were much like the hammer of Thor (ironically) in that only those that were worthy could REALLY wield the characters effectively. Few have been worthy.
And it’s a double-edged hammer, so to speak. Do too little with the characters and there is no story, no hook. Do too much and one runs the risk of being overrun by Kirbyites in Whiz Wagons, chanting that one hasn’t stayed true to the Kirby Mythos.
What does a poor Didio do? Why, bring in the cosmic hitman, Jim Starlin, and make a limited series of “Identity Crisis of the New Gods”: Someone is killing the New Gods! Someone who knows all their secret identities! Who is the mystery killer?
Apparently, Meltzer was busy doing a book tour. Either that, or no one gets raped and he wasn’t interested.
Now that I’ve set the stage, let me tell you what I think about this first issue: it’s good.
And please excuse my joke about Starlin being the second person called on this – there’s no doubt Starlin was the first and last person contacted. Regarding the art, I am so pleasantly surprised at how well Starlin is drawing this. I wasn’t thrilled with his recent efforts in MYSTERY IN SPACE (underdrawn and overwritten.) So imagine the thrill to open this book and see the same quality I saw in the old WARLOCK series, or DREADSTAR, or…well, too many things to cite, but most of them in the late-80’s/early 90’s.
This is classic Starlin. I don’t know if Jim just got to take his time on this, or if Banning is simply the best inker ever (I’m talking Ordway-good), but the art is stellar. Their Big Barda is fierce and beautiful.
As far as the writing, yeah, yeah, there is more than a little exposition, but some of that cheese is pulled directly from Kirby, who was always better at concepts and action than backstory. Like Kirby, when Starlin is moving the plot forward, he does well.
Several New Gods die in this first issue. I won’t name names, but anyone who deciphered the old COUNTDOWN promo poster will not be surprised (the one with Supes and Wonder Woman crying at the Statue of Liberty, remember? Hint: characters directly touching the ground are probably gonna be dead.)
Does this mean these characters will stay dead forever? Well, Starlin himself said that DC owns the rights to all the names, and “there’s some great names there. What do you think?” But in the meantime, there is a chance to see a legend doing his stuff one more time. I will be there for the next issue to see if Starlin can pull this off over the whole run.
SUBURBAN GLAMOUR #1 (of 4)
Words and art by Jamie McKelvie Publishing by Image Reviewing by Stones ThrowI feel like I’ve given in. Forgive me, gods of integrity. I didn’t want to buy this.
Granted, I saw it in the Diamond shipping lists and read the synopsis. Make no mistake, I picked it off the racks at the local comic store and stumped up my £2.35. The owner even told me he liked it. Last time I make eye contact with him. But how was I to know it would be like this?
How could I have known it would be about emo kids? I hate emo kids. I didn’t fight two world wars so they could hang around town centers wearing stupid spray-on jeans, acting too cool for school and listening to crappy music that’s gonna date in about five minutes. Mainly because I didn’t fight two world wars, but there’s a point in there somewhere. Basically, I tend to find emo kids about as irritating as a mild case of smallpox.
How was I supposed to know it would have jokes about MCR and MySpace? How was I to know it would contain whole passages where the characters go shopping for clothes (ahhrrr!) or to coffee stores, which do absolutely nothing to further either story or character or have any interest in the slightest?
This book offended me on so many levels that I had to listen to Arctic Monkeys, the Sex Pistols and Dizzee Rascal afterwards.
How was I supposed to know that it would spend the whole issue doing what I imagine was to establish the characters (since it did hardly anything else), and yet still end with them so underformed and unoriginal that I couldn’t tell you a single name? There’s nothing more here than the broadest archetypes. The girl is peppy and, like every teenager, apprehensive and uncertain about her future. Both the boys are immature jokers.
The amount of wasted space here is unbelievable. What does the scene in the classroom add? Or the clothes store (please, forgiveness! I never read books like this usually!), the coffee shop, or even the party for that matter? This whole issue could be summarized as “teenage girl starts seeing her old imaginary friends appear”.
How was I supposed to know it would skew entirely towards comedy but the jokes would be so insultingly obvious that not a one managed to elicit the slightest twitch of lips? Then again, I guess I could have seen that the art was depressingly static with enough pointless reaction shots to make Cher seem alive if I had taken the time to flip through it.
Still, how was I to know it would trade on dreams coming to life, one of the most uninspired comic book plots possible after SANDMAN, PROMETHEA and about a million indie books, and still pass off a cliffhanger showing nothing more than that as enough to get me back for the next issue? How was I to know that the characters would talk in endless, unfunny quips?
Answer: I couldn’t have known. I want a refund. I don’t care if the book’s a little battered from where I threw it across the room after finishing it.
Gotta say something positive. The cover is certainly neat. I will credit the book with a credible depiction of emo kids. But, y’know, I object to them on principle.
MIGHTY AVENGERS #5
“Storytellers”: Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho Colors: Jason Keith Publisher: Marvel Review: Rock-Me AmodeoSo much to say. I feel like I’ve waited for this issue for so long (though not nearly as long as we all waited for ULTIMATES v2 #13) and still can’t tell if my expectations were lowered or heightened, due to the anticipated decompression, lateness and such. So in order to do the book justice, I’ve decided to review the book as though I’ve never heard of Bendis, Cho, or a 30-day production schedule. I just waltzed into my local convenience store, picked it up off the spinner rack (“Hey kids! Comics!”), brought it home and read it over a frothy glass of Ovaltine. And here’s what I thought:
The book is beautiful. Who is this Cho guy? The story is compelling, and Bendis may be a big name someday. Lots of action. Great fight scenes as the Avengers take on an army of Iron Men. Meanwhile, Ares figures out a way to strike at Ultron in a way he/she/it is not expecting. Cool! Lots of neat scenes, and a humdinger of a cliffhanger! Makes me want to break out my tracing paper. I can’t wait to show all my friends in homeroom!
Of course, there’s no such thing as spinner racks anymore, as we discussed last week, and I’m more likely to have an Oval-tini (chocolate and vermouth…yum!) than Ovaltine. I still think there is validity in judging the book on its own merits, but let’s discuss a few in context, and address the complaints and praises accordingly.
First, the schedule, which is old news: Frank Cho has gracefully and classily stepped away from the title after realizing he couldn’t keep up with it and his other commitments. He gave it his best shot and it didn’t work out. I respect that. Nothing to be done at this point but enjoy his next (and last) issue.
Second, the writing: I feel Bendis has so much to offer this book and these characters, though I’m still waiting to see if anyone will take on the three-dimensionality that Jessica Jones did in ALIAS. I like the way he’s writing Ares (carrying on Oeming’s work from the miniseries) – the stilted speech patterns, the instinctive understanding of a feint in a war. Cool stuff. I liked the way that EVERYONE stopped what they were doing to let Henry Pym think. I liked Ms. Marvel with taking on an “it’s all up to me” burden without so much as a word or stupid thought balloon. There’s your “best of the best” for you.
In fact, several characters get a chance to shine. And the threat is nothing less than the end of the world against overwhelming odds. THIS is a job for the real Avengers. You won’t find these heroes playing Hong Kong Fooey with a bunch of ninjas or sweating a Crimson Cowl wannabe.
But I do have complaints: those thought bubbles. Sometimes they work well, like when someone thinks very differently from what they are saying. “Good to meet you, Dr. Pym” (thought balloon: “you wife-beating worm”) or whatever. But having Pym in some kind of thought-bubble awe about standing face to face with a God of War? Anyone remember Thor, the guy who co-founded the Avengers WITH Pym? Pym is the last person who would be impressed with Ares. If anything, LESS impressed.
But thoughts like “What is…?” followed by a spoken “What is that?” Hmm. The non-clever asides really add no depth. “Too many words,” as Joseph II might shallowly say. And when I look for deeper meaning where there is none, it takes me out of the story.
Ironically, so many pages feel a little LIGHT on words. Don’t get me wrong, I love splash pages and I love Cho’s art, but some of it feels empty. I’m not a teenager. I want some meat.
And speaking of splash pages, let’s finally come back to the art. I listed Jason Keith in the credits simply because his colors make Cho’s artwork sing! And Cho can sure draw some himself some women. Strong women. Healthy women. (Thought balloon: “Note to self – don’t let Cho draw a CLOAK AND DAGGER redux, unless we want Dagger’s thighs to look like she can squat 400 pounds…)
But Cho needs space to bring his heat, so you’ll never have as much story as a book with, say, Perez drawing. And that’s okay, they’re two different artists. And it’s so nicely done, I almost didn’t notice how many panels have no background whatsoever, or a background of straight lines. Still, Cho does some great work, and not just cheese-n-beefcake. I loved the bored expression of Ares riding an Iron Man suit to the Heli-carrier, like a grown man forced to ride a bike with a bell. Classic.
Overall, I recommend the book, or at least the TPB. Enjoy this team (Bendis/Cho/Keith) while they last. I think people get disappointed because expectations are high. But if you really want some perspective, go read EXCALIBER or AQUAMAN. Heck, go read NEW AVENGERS, then come back and tell me this isn’t a good book.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #7
Written by Mark Waid Art by George Perez and Bob Wiacek Published by DC Reviewed by Stones ThrowI realize that this is probably AICN’s most reviewed comic. Barely an issue goes by without one of the @$$es passing opinion on the book. The reason I still want to write about the latest issue is that it really is that good. To a DC novice or new reader, this is the perfect book to pique your interest in the various characters and introduce you to the universe, and to anyone else, it’s a metric kiloquad of old-school super-heroing fun.
As far as I’m concerned, the team of George Perez and Mark Waid can do no wrong. Retro with a modern, more mature edge (storytelling-wise, not in the beloved characters getting raped sense) or just plain good? I’ll say both. Here they take the fanboy oil wrestling dream team of Power Girl and Wonder Woman, who like most female characters in comics are often unfairly maligned, and do great things. Maybe their differences are exaggerated in service of the story, but frankly I’m not all that bothered. It works for the format and makes for an enjoyable read while not doing any damage. Working in a little conflict is a lot more interesting than bland getting-along-together. The dialogue is snappy and the resolution is neat.
No scope is too wide for Waid and no visual is too fantastic for Perez. As far as I’m concerned Perez is the best artist currently working, bar none, and he still seems to get issues out more regularly than Bryan Hitch or Steve McNiven or any of the other crop of current fan favorites. This issue opens right in the middle of the action and doesn’t let up. We get to see outer space, the forests of Themiscyra, the interior of the Amazons’ Storehouse of All Human Knowledge, a cool villain, a great coda with the Challengers of the Unknown, the effects of Red Kryptonite on Superman and the new movie-inspired Fortress of Solitude. That was a low. I wish they would return to a more Silver Age Fortress.
Even better, this works as a doozy of a single-issue tale, while furthering the wider arc with the Challengers of the Unknown (Challs to those in the know) and the Book of Destiny and setting up what promises to be yet another great issue next time round with the Flash and Doom Patrol.
Get a load of Superman flying to his fortress – an honest-to-gosh use of thought balloons! Unflashy, economical and to the benefit of the story – this is how thought balloons should be used.
This really is the best book on the stands…whenever ALL STAR SUPERMAN doesn’t come out. All told, it was the only comic this week to show me Wonder Woman and Power Girl fighting Ray Harryhausen monsters and Wondy’s invisible plane crashing through the Fortress of Solitude and knocking out the possessed Power Girl. I’ll take that over emo kids buying clothes any day of the week.
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY #2
Writer: Gerard Way Penciler: Gabriel Ba Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeThe past few weeks I've been trying to make a dent in my rather large collection of funny books, picking out things that I consider "classics" and that I really should reread. Or, alternatively, I've also been reabsorbing books I haven't read in years and have almost no recollection of. And going through this process I came upon the perfect mesh of these two objectives of mine: Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL run. And, just like the first time I read it almost four years ago, it blew my mind. Just the sheer amount of unadulterated (and most likely drug induced) creativity within those pages: the concepts, the quirks, the crudeness and the metaphysical, it's just amazing. But it got me thinking, where are the comics like that today? There was that period back in the late 80's and early 90's, right about the time Vertigo was officially pulling itself together as an imprint, where Grant and guys like him, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano, and lord knows how many others were completely curb stomping conventional thinking in comics. But where is that now? Where is our DOOM PATROL? Where's our unconventional gathering of men (and women of course) in tights fighting the things that the bright and shiny heroes won't or can't because they're too busy starring in "Superfluous Confrontations Across Unnecessary Planets"? Apparently they're at the house that Hellboy built... (Yes, I know, Dark Horse had been around way before the big red guy showed up, just fucking work with me here okay?)
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is just what I needed as a comic book reader completely ground down by the status quo. Obviously it's not alone in its unconventionality; there are of course a good smattering of books out there trying to fight the norm with some high falutin’ storytelling techniques or unorthodox visualizations to try and shake things up (books like Matt Fraction's CASANOVA and Jonathan Hickman's THE NIGHTLY NEWS immediately spring to mind) but they don't always go completely off the wall and non-linear like this book. What THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is, is just a complete orgy of fantastical elements. Just like when I was rereading those DOOM PATROL volumes, I don't always know what the hell is going on here in TUA, but I know that I'm completely devouring it with a big shit-eating grin on my face the whole time.
Still with me here? Good. Now, I don't want to go into too much detail about what TUA is because, quite frankly, our man Ambush Bug here has done a lot of coverage of this book the past couple columns, including an interview with book writer and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way that you should really go see. The basic premise here is that several young children all exhibiting strange abilities are brought together by one benefactor to benefit the future of mankind. Instead they all just grow apart and hate each other as they get older as we're led to with this second issue. Of course, to write such a huge lead in, I really liked this issue. The best part is that amidst the quirkiness and irregularity of the characters and situations in this comic there's a really solid build to the overall story. Insights into the personalities of these characters that honestly we weren't given a whole lot about in the first issue have come to the surface for a few of them. Events are transpiring too, methodically prodding us to THE APOCALYPSE SUITE that is supposed to be the culmination of this book, all the while incorporating time jumping, talking monkeys (there always has to be one), killer hoverbots called Terminauts that were designed to reactivate once The Umbrella Academy became a team again (though they do so two hours before this event actually occurs) and so on and so forth. To say that this book is a "Hell of a ride" or some other derivative cliche of praise would do it a grave injustice, but it is in fact just that.
Another reason this book is so delightful? Gabriel Ba. Between this title and his work in the previously mentioned CASANOVA I'm pretty confident that Mr. Ba could put together a sequential depiction of paint drying and I’d flip through it at least twice a day. Mood. Tone. Atmosphere. Whatever you want to call it, he captures it completely in his absolutely sublime pencilwork. The way he works his scenery with such vivid detail and uses it to both compliment and offset the more "cartoonish" anatomy of his figures is just a perfect match for the kind of oddball antics that make this comic so fun to read. The pitch perfect pacing from panel to panel doesn't hurt either, and ditto goes for Dave Stewart's coloring that is just so lush it makes the already great pencilwork even better.
Now, sure, TUA is more on the end of "disposable entertainment", I will say that. What I mean is, obviously there's no emotional investment in a book like this that I would (hopefully) have in something with more long running characters like the Spider-Mans or Supermans of the medium. Nor does it have that "Overarching/Epic" storytelling hook like the FABLEs and EX MACHINAs of it either, but none of that should prevent anyone from going out and giving this a try. It's fun, it's weird, it has a soft emotional kick in there from time to time. It's got super-powered individuals, talking monkeys, unbelievably verbose destructo-bots, and a group of villainous Orchestra Musicians trying to end the world with a sonata and that's just a scratch on the surface for what this book entails. Sure, it might not be your cup of tea all said, and you can't please everyone and everyone has their own tastes, but if all that doesn't at least interest you in trying an issue or two to see if it might tickle your fancy, well then, I really have no hope left for the future of this industry. Otherwise, welcome to the Academy, I hope you enjoy your stay...
BIRDS OF PREY #111
Writer: Tony Bedard Artist: Jason Orfalas Publisher: DC Guest Cog Reviewer: Lady CalculatorFirst of all, I haven't had a good track record when it comes to Calculator issues of BIRDS OF PREY. I said some words in the talkback a couple of years back regarding the ending of the “Perfect Pitch” arc that raised quite a maelstrom and even drew the attention of Gail Simone herself. Gail, I apologize. I went nuts and I regret what I said. I didn't realize that that last page in BoP #90 was supposed to be a dream, and it wasn't the real Dr. Psycho saying to kill Calc. What can I say? I was madly in love at the time (though now that it's stabilized into a happy marriage, I can think much more rationally regarding my darling Noah). Madam, if you're ever at Wizard World Philadelphia, I shall do a Snoopy Dance of Penance in public for you if you so desire (and possibly dressed as Power Girl, to boot).
Now on to this issue..
*deep breath* Objectivity. Objectivity. A is A...
This was another very solid effort by Tony Bedard, in what I imagine may be something of a thankless position, having to write four standalone fill-in issues between Gail Simone's and Sean McKeever's runs on the title; it can only mean two words: status quo (except in cases of editorial autodidact - i.e., the death of Knockout). He only came back to DC this year after some time away elsewhere, but the man seriously does his homework, even better than some house writer fill-ins I've read in other DC titles recently. Past continuity from the “Perfect Pitch” arc and a recent issue of COUNTDOWN (#38) get woven through into an elegant little logical conclusion of an ending as we see a refreshing change of pace in story: Oracle and Calculator both get out from behind the monitors (for a moment at least) and take to the field at a computer training seminar in order to hack a closed network with the key to Oracle's secret ID. So tight is the continuity, Bedard completely nails (and I think improves upon) Calc's narrative voice from that earlier arc. The only way you'd know Simone wasn't writing was if you noticed that the level of bombast was notched down in favor of a smoother narrative flow page-to-page, though some Simone-esque detail thrown in while Calculator and Oracle lunch might throw you off that trail (mu-recursions, really?).
As for the art, there's a lot going on in it, but it's all very clear with bright yet balanced colors and soft dark lines similar to Nicola Scott's style and er...most everyone is exactly on model and er but, ub...ok, I have to stop or I'm going to give myself an aneurysm.
If you're looking for a good done-in-one pretty entertainment with a neat little twist of an ending, you can't do much better and you can stop reading here.
But, speaking from my heart here, if you're remotely interested in the character of Noah Kuttler, chalk this story up to an Elseworlds tale and pray Superb-er, Superman Prime punches it away. It's too surreal t o be believed.
For starters, this is what this issue's art purports to be Calculator:
Now, drawing from my private gallery of every single panel Calculator has ever appeared in (what?! I have a crush!), here are some other artists interpretations since his revamp in IDENTITY CRISIS:
And here's Dylan Battles from MANHUNTER, who I've maintained is really Calc's bastard son:
BIRDS OF PREY #111 Calculator:
Dylan Battles (like father like son?):
That's the start of where this issue's story all falls apart. I just could not get into it, or at least believe that I was reading about the Calculator that exists everywhere else on New Earth. I don't blame the artist on this either: Mr. Orfalas clearly demonstrated he knew what he was doing by nailing the character design and detail for every other recurring character in this book (and with his vivid detailed style, I hope DC gives him more work). The story itself necessitated de-aging Calc by 20 years give or take. There's the bit about putting him in a "Geek Squad"-esque outfit and car, and that stereotypically skews young. Then there's the mild flirtation between him and Babs and then the fight between the two, and I'm not convinced it would come off in the same way or work as well if the character design was closer to model. I mean, given the character model, was "Calcy and Oracle/sittin in a tree" really the best angle to frame their meeting? Would the general audience have liked it as much? Would DC's Standards department have thought it a little too iffy (or creepy) when Calc figured he'd let his lunch date become the new obsession in his life? It would've cut down on the sweetness intended for that moment, at the very least.
And, to stifle a rant on character direction better left for the TBs and e-mail, I'll suffice to say: as a Calculator fangirl, I'm not thrilled with the perpetuation of the street-level realism/villain-insanity approach to the character that are hallmarks of the Bat-books and BoP the last time he was in it. I mean, do you have any idea how hard I've worked to get him out of the self-defeating Z-lister attitude he had developed? I regularly open a portal to this Earth from the one I was abducted to so I can steal my counterpart's comics (anything that might give him an edge, y'know?). And for him to potentially see this issue after all my effort to bring him to Morrisonian heights as a character whose abilities are a natural fit to canvas every facet of the DCU in ways that 52 and COUNTDOWN weren't? That's why I dropped enough hints for him to finish the job Joker started so his attentions could be properly directed and I *uck!*
Owww.... *holds up dart* Tranquilizer? No...more meds? Drat. Eh well, they’ll wear off by the time this review posts. Hee.
To wrap up: well-written and illustrated, but this better not be canon, darnit!
CAPTAIN AMERICA #31
Written by Ed Brubaker Art by Steve Epting Published by Marvel Reviewed by Stones ThrowRemember when I said that although I was still enjoying CAPTAIN AMERICA I wasn’t sure about where it was going post-Cap death and it felt kind of rudderless? Well, here is where I eat my words. Ed Brubaker’s won me back round big time. Sorry I ever doubted ya, fella.
I take it we’ve all seen the previews of the ugly, Alex Ross-designed new Captain America, right? I know, I was sure they were going to keep publishing the book without a star too! In hindsight, it seems blindingly obvious that this is where Brubaker’s CAP has been heading all along. He brings back Bucky, with the main theme being his search for identity, and takes the focus off Steve Rogers, while examining just what Captain America is, and I still didn’t see it coming. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, my attention was diverted by just how good a Cap Brubaker was writing. Even in this issue he shows how well he gets the character: “When he has to hurt or kill the enemy, he takes no joy in it. But he doesn’t shy away from the task. He knows he can’t.”
Now I’ve got a clearer idea where he’s going, I can see Brubaker’s got his eye on some huge and meaningful changes and I have to say he’s got me on board. Since his inception, the Winter Soldier has been a great, deep character and it looks like, unattractive costume aside, he’s getting ready to stop running and fulfill his destiny by stepping into Cap’s shoes. The reservations I’ve had with the book post-CIVIL WAR have evaporated -- the superior Steve Epting is drawing whole issues now and that means a much more cohesive and together read. I still think that maybe I could have done with fewer issues between #25 and this one, but I suspect that may have been editorially mandated to fit into Marvel’s scheduling of events.
A seemingly predictable cliffhanger aside, this was a great issue, with wonderful use of villains and supporting cast. If Bru excels at one thing above anything else, it’s setting atmosphere. This issue is dripping with the stuff. Dr. Faustus messing with the Winter Soldier/Bucky’s head is dark and creepy and perfectly dramatized by Steve Epting’s always spectacular wartime scenes. I also loved the Red Skull rallying his troops. For some reason the setting seemed very similiar to Iron Man’s first appearance in TALES TO ASTONISH, which may be intentional as I think his base is in China.
I’m starting to think there’s something not quite right with Ed Brubaker. He brought Bucky back and made it work, and he looks like he’s about to pull off an equally impossible feat. The only reservation I do have is that no matter what, a death of a major character always, always means a resurrection. That’s why I‘m really hoping Brubaker has got Steve Rogers’ return down in his plans, because I’d hate to see a story of this caliber messily over-written in the future. Or maybe Bru could just keep writing the book forever? If he can turn me around on the death of Cap I wouldn’t put much past him.
Stumptown: A much delayed @$$Holes Abroad Con report
My, I’ve been busy. The Stumptown comic show was at the beginning of October, and we’re near the end now. Still, there’s plenty I did and saw there that’s worth talking about.
From Vroom Socko
First of all, the best pitch on the showroom floor came from Aeire, creator of Queen of Wands and its follow-up, Punch an’ Pie. Every time someone walked past her table, she’d hold up the story her roommate had created, saying “Do you want to read a book about Hitler?” And what a fun story it was, too.
I also spent a good deal of time chatting with occasional drinking buddy Jim Hill. The poor sod has been working on his comic, FIASCO, for something like four years now. He’s a once-over away from being finished, apparently. I have some photocopies of the intro in front of me, and I honestly can’t wait to read the entire thing. However, I must admit that we spent much of our time talking about the new NBC lineup, not his artwork.
But for me, that’s part of what I love about going to Cons: the conversations. Stuff like talking to THE HOMELESS CHANNEL creator Matt Silady about the graphics on this site, or congratulating Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin on their recent nuptials, or debating Kenneth Branagh films with Jamie S. Rich.
And speaking of the esteemed Mr. Rich, I had a look as some pages from his next book with his 12 REASONS WHY I LOVE HER cohort Joëlle Jones, the 50’s crime book YOU HAVE KILLED ME. Preorder this sucker as soon as humanly possible. Jones is an artist of amazing caliber, and what I’ve seen of this new book only elevates my opinion of her work. This title should be out from Oni early next year, around the same time as another book I got an early look at. That other book would be the new piece from Matthew “SIDESCROLLERS” Loux. The title of this work, regrettably, I have forgotten at this time. The story, however, featuring two brothers spending the summer in Maine, only to get caught up in a war between the lobsters and the seagulls, is the sort of divine madness that’s right up my alley.
Then there’s the bandwagon I decided to jump on with this Con. Everyone and their mother has a themed sketchbook it seems. While mine isn’t as full as most just yet, I do have some kickass stuff to start with. You can find my stuff on its own Flickr page. My theme? One of the finest shows on tv, and the reason I’m learning to knit.
Oh, there was one other book I got an early look at thanks to Stumptown. Apparently, one of Randal C. Jarrell’s Oni-Ninjas slipped it into my bag, because once I made it home, I found a preview copy of…
SCOTT PILGRIM GETS IT TOGETHER
Created by Bryan Lee O’Malley Published by Oni Press Reviewer: Vroom SockoThis fourth installment in the life and trials of Scott Pilgrim more than lives up to the quality of the previous volumes. The usual gaming gags are here a-plenty, such as level-ups, health meters, and in one scene in a barroom bathroom, urine meters. What I love about this installment, however, is how well it lives up to the title.
Yes, Scott is still a bit of a fuck-up who didn’t really know what he was getting into when he learned that in order to date Ramona Flowers he had to challenge her seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends in hand to hand combat. But here, he’s learning how to shoulder that obligation. He’s looking for a job, owing up to his growing love for Ramona, becoming more sure of himself. The rest of the goofiness here (for example, the father of former girlfriend Knives Chau hunting Scott like Future-Hiro Nakamura on crystal meth) wouldn’t work worth a damn if the growth of Scott wasn’t believable. With this fourth of seven volumes, Scott is beginning to change in fun and interesting ways. The volume number isn’t the only thing this book has in common with “Goblet of Fire”, let’s put it that way.
Oh, and for the love of GOD, don’t spoil the identity of the Fourth Evil Ex for yourselves. They’re my favorite of Scotts opponents to date, and not just because their initial appearance was so surprising. Their combat reminds me a lot of the way Stan Sakai does his action sequences in USAGI YOJIMBO. If there’s a finer compliment to give an action scene, I don’t know it. I know I’m being a bit vague, but that’s only because I DO NOT WANT YOU TO BE SPOILED ON THIS! You’ll thank me when you read the book. And I hope you’re all planning to read it; this series is one of the best things to happen to printed comics this millennium.