Review: 52 Volume 1

52 Vol. 1

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Storytellers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 2016

Page Count: 584

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: 52 is one of those comics where lighting was caught in a bottle. Four talented writers each working on a weekly comic which spanned the entirety of the DC Universe over the span of one year in a particular context of in-story continuity was something that needed a perfect storm to be pulled off right. If this series means anything, it’s that the right team with the right vision can make a pretty darn good comic. Contrast this with the more recent Batman Eternal, which basically tried to be 52 in the Bat-verse. The result was less than satisfactory. Like I said, lightning in a bottle. 52‘s formula would be very hard to replicate, as seen with the equally ill-reputed Countdown to Final Crisis.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: Keith Giffen did most of the art on this trade, and his art is pretty solid, from a DC “house” style perspective. It’s nothing special, but it helps maintain a feeling of narrative cohesiveness, which is nice. Having a different artist for every issue, which was the case for much of Batman Eternal wouldn’t have done the story any favors. Getting experimental and dabbling in more unorthodox art styles probably wouldn’t have helped either, so in this case the powers-that-be made the right call.

Recommendation: C+

Notes/Review/Synopsis: This my first time reading 52, and I think it captures the zeitgeist of contemporary cape-comics. It’s hard to believe that it’s been some ten years since it’s original run concluded. The whole shared-universe continuity that started at the tail end of the ’80s, got its foundation laid in the nineties, blossomed into something beautiful in the 2000s. I’m more of a Bat-verse guy, but I gotta say, DC is being really dumb not capitalizing on the rich interconnecting continuity they have at their disposal with books like 52. As long as they keep ignoring the source material, Marvel won’t even have to try to stay ahead at the cinema.

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Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

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Storytellers: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 1986 (original run); 1997 (trade paperback)

Page Count: 224

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Frank Miller’s approach to comic book storytelling breaks every rule of comics writing that I am accustomed too. None of the individual issues open with a splash page. The pages are crowded with sometimes up to a dozen panels each. If I learned anything from reading The Dark Knight Returns, it’s that once you think you’ve gotten your writing craft narrowed down until it’s almost a science, everything you know is blotted out when you read something that does the job in an altogether different fashion.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: The fact that Miller is both the artist for and the writer of The Dark Knight Returns earns him the designation of Cartoonist. Will Eisner reserved this distinction for comics creators who both wrote and drew. Eisner operated on the philosophy that the writer and artist should be one and the same, so as to better translate the story that the writer had in mind onto the drawn page. In other words, if the writer and artist are the same person, then the artist won’t be able to misunderstand what the writer wants drawn. This point is crucial to Miller’s ability to tell the story of The Dark Knight Returns. He is able to draw the story exactly as he has written it.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Review/Synopsis: When reading The Dark Knight Returns, I realized something that was missing from all the debates about grim-and-gritty versus fun-and-light: The Dark Knight Returns is a work of satire. It’s meant to be ironic and humorous. The comic book that drove the over-the-top excesses of comic books in the nineties (along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen) wasn’t mean to be taken as seriously as it was.

From the opportunistic media and the exaggerated caricatures of Ronald Reagan and Superman to the grinding and course narration of the titular Dark Knight, this book was meant to poke fun at Miller’s favorite whipping boys while at the same time mocking the Batman of the 1960’s television show. The fact that an entire generation of comic book creators took it at one-hundred percent face value and poured that same style into their own comics as a result is at the same time farcical and unsettling, just like this comic.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four 1963

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four 1963

Storytellers: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Publisher: Marvel

Year of Publication: 2007

Page Count: 347

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: In this massive tome, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s collaborative use of the Marvel method of writing comics is again on display. Speech bubbles and captions are voluminous in comparison to today’s comics, seeming to copy in words what the art already shows. However, given the method in question, the story would probably be hard to understand without the words, the comic itself being a product of a unique way to writing. However, Lee does know his stuff in terms of writing comics. Every page ends with a panel that makes you want to turn to the next. The first page is always positioned to draw the reader into the story from the very first. Nearly every first page is a full-page splash panel. Speaking of which, that brings us to…

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: As with the previous volume I reviewed, Kirby’s art is definitely the driving force of the narrative. Lee’s captions and speech bubbles are what provide meaning to it, but the art is a foundation of the whole story. Kirby is very good at creating impressive visuals which are very good at propelling the story along. For instance, the Molecule Man lifting up the Baxter Building in one panel is an excellent visual, as is Namor’s coronation ceremony, spread over two pages near the end. I learned here that the art and the writing are inseparable. They need each other. This much easier if the writer is also the artist, but in a collaborative work, as is the case much of the time, the roles are symbiotic.

Recommendation: B

Notes/Review/Synopsis: The Fantastic Four is definitely fun reading, what with the bickering heroes and the over-the-top villains. It’s a product of a different era of superhero comics, when the audience was chiefly made up of ten-year old boys. Marvel needs to get back in touch with that particular demographic with its current line of comics. It made impressive gains with the Marvel Adventures line a while back, and it would probably do them good to go for that demographic with its comics again. Either that, or they could market these collections of old reprints not just to fanboys (and girls!), but to parents with kids who are looking for fun reading material for their children. I’m sure they’d find a ready audience.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1

I have decided to begin reviewing a new graphic novel or comic book collection once a week. This blog will now be updated every Monday.

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1

Storytellers: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Publisher: Marvel

Year of Publication: 2003

Page Count: 251

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: I’ve read about the Marvel method of writing comics versus the full script method of writing comics, the former being pioneered by Messrs. Lee and Kirby. The idea behind is that the writer gives a summary of the comic to the artist, who then draws the thing, after which the dialogue is added in as needed. I could see that this was definitely the case for this collection, where the writing and dialogue are definitely an outgrowth of the art, not the other way around. Lots of captions and big dialogue bubbles are present, trying to fit in as much plot as possible.

The actual stories of these early issues of The Fantastic Four were apparently very innovative for their time, such as setting most of the stories in New York City as opposed to a fictional municipality, and having the Four deal with internal strife, money problems, and a hostile media in additions to wacky supervillains.  Oddly enough, The Fantastic Fourfirst few stories don’t take place in New York, but in “Central City.” I wonder if they ever ran into the Flash? :lol:

What I Learned about Art/Storytelling: As previously mentioned, the art is definitely the main driver of the plot. Kirby knew how to create amusing and interesting visuals, such as the Thing dressed up as a pirate, or the various sci-fi backdrops which populate these pages. Bill Watterson once said that the best comics have good writing and good art, but sometimes the strength of one can make up for the weakness of the other. In a collaborative project, this maxim is doubled in importance, as the writer and the artist have to work together to create the best comic book story possible. Conflicting visions are possible, but in a great team like that of Lee and Kirby, the result is pioneering creations such as these.

Recommendation: B

Notes/Reviews/Synopsis: This book collects the first nine issues of the original The Fantastic Four series from the ’60s. Although it may bore older audiences, younger readers, especially those who have never been exposed to comics, will probably get a kick out of it. It’s harmless, silly fun that will spark young imaginations and help them learn to like reading.

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News from my Fiverr Account!

It’s been a few months since I opened my Fiverr account. I am now getting a small but steady stream of work for my ghostwriting gig.

In the last month, I’ve gotten into negotiations with a guy who wants me to help produce a webcomic for his non-profit.

Another client is hiring me to write a series of comics for a merchandise-driven storyline.

One particularly ambitious gentleman has hired me to adapt his book into graphic novel format.

With luck, business with will continue to flow in. It seems like it will be a good idea to attend comic conventions and other such events, where I will hand out my business card and wait for leads to come in.

This is especially exciting for me, as it means I have essentially “broken in” to comics. That is to say, somebody is hiring me to write comics. It is my hope to direct my income from this gig to helping to produce my own comics.

Now that’s going to be pretty sweet.

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The First Comic Book I Ever Read

It must have been ten years ago. My dad and I had stopped in a Half-Price Books while waiting for some work to be done on our car.

My ten or eleven-year-old self meandered among the shelves, bored out of my mind, when I came upon the comics section.

Peering over the boxes, I curiously thumbed through them. I finally selected two promising issues: Detective Comics #610 and Robin #2.

Of the two, I easily liked the latter the best.

Thus, I treasure Robin #2 by Chuck Dixon as the first comic book I ever read. Before, I’d only read those old Bionicle comics that LEGO put out.

I already had a superficial familiarity with superhero comics, thanks to chatter from friends and bit and pieces I’d seen here and there.

But this was my first introduction to Batman comics proper. It was my first taste of the comic book stories of yesteryear, and I found it absolutely thrilling.

Just imagine the world I had stepped into: Robin, a.k.a.  Tim Drake, staring down the business end of an overzealous cop’s shotgun.

The story goes on as Robin/Tim deftly escapes Shotgun Smith and makes a go at nailing some wacky gang called the “Speedboyz.”

But Tim also takes time to call his girlfriend to apologize for cancelling their date (while still dressed in his Robin costume).

He also talks on the phone with some guy named “Alfred” about another guy named “Jean-Paul” going crazy, and apparently this other dude named “Bruce” is involved somehow.

This stuff barely registered with me at the time, but I got the gist of it: Tim Drake is just a regular kid with regular problems living in a weird-butt world.

I loved it then and I love it today.

This day and age is the golden age of reprints. I didn’t buy comics when I was a kid, besides the two I just mentioned.

But now I can read any comic I want, including thousands of back issues made in the ’90s and early 2000s.

I just finished reading two fabulous trade paperbacks collecting Kelley Puckett’s run on Batgirl, when Cassandra Cain held that moniker. Best comics I’ve read in a while.

Now they’re releasing all sorts of old stuff in book collections.

Batgirl. RobinAzrael. The mega-series of Knightfall and No Man’s Land. All waiting for me to read.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

Image courtesy of dc.wikia.com

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My 11 Process-Oriented New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

In keeping with Derek Magill’s advice, I have decided to go about my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 with a different approach.

Mr. Magill states that the best way to accomplish a goal is to focus on the process, not the end result. It’s more efficient to focus on working a little bit of the way toward your goal every day than to be constantly trying to charge ahead all at once.

With that in mind, here are my eleven process-oriented New Year’s resolutions for 2017:

1.) Exercise 30 minutes a day every day.

I’ve managed to get in at least a little bit of exercise every day since the last day of last year. I haven’t engaged in serious cardiovascular exercise due to the icy weather preventing running.

However, I have done a set amount of weight-lifting and push-ups every day, plus a up to 2 miles of walking on a good day. Not quite 30 minutes, but I’m working towards it.

2.) Write 1 post on the Comics Experience boards every day.

This is a relatively easy goal to accomplish, considering that it’s pretty hard not to look forward to.

The purpose of this resolution is to improve my standing on the Comics Experience message boards and establish myself as a well-to-do member of this little online community. So far, so good.

3.) Write an 8-page comic and get it drawn, inked lettered, and posted on the internet.

This resolution is interconnected with another one I have that’s further down the list.

The comic I have in mind is a prelude to The Overlord, meant to build anticipation and demonstrate my skills as a comics writer.

Having nearly completed the script already, all I have to do is find a set of collaborators who can help with this.

(To achieve this, I intend to attend Emerald City Comicon this year to do some networking. There’s also a collaboration forum on Comics Experience, both of which sound promising.)

4.) Drive 30 minutes a day every day for 30 days.

This one… has gotten off to a decidedly rocky start. I drove home from church on Sunday without much of a hitch, but I haven’t driven since.

For those of you who know me, I have been struggling to obtain a driver’s license for some time now. I’ll just say I’ve had a devil of a time learning to drive.

Luckily, new developments on my side of the internet could prove beneficial in getting that the skills I need to be drive safely. I just have to remember: it’s all about the process.

5.) Write a new blog post every day for 30 days.

This resolution is taken directly Derek Magill’s linked post.

In his original post, he suggested that if you want to become a well-known blogger (goal), then you ought to write a new post every day for 30 days (process).

Therefore, I’ve been plugging away for the past three days, and I believe I’m on a role.

Here’s hoping I haven’t spoken too soon.

6.) Finish the Constitution 101 course by watching 1 lecture per week until completed.

One of my pastimes is watching these free online courses offered by Hillsdale College.

I swept through the course on American history, but I’ve been stumbling in my efforts to complete the course on “The Meaning and History of the Constitution.”

I think this is mainly because it’s mostly theory, as opposed to the rich, detailed story of a survey of American history.

But I am confident that with a clear objective and method at my disposal, I can get back into my groove and finish this informative course.

7.) Read the 100 shortest books on my Goodreads to-read list in a year.

Having read 50 books last year, I narrowly met my Goodreads objectives. But now I am ready for a more ambitious goal.

I have over 500 books in my to-read list on Goodreads, and of those that have listed pages numbers, I intend to read a good deal of those ranked the shortest.

The idea is to prioritize quantity. I’ll have read a lot of very short books, but I won’t have learned nothing.

There are plenty of books that are a joy to read because of their concise genius. I look forward to reading them, particular several penned by C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.

With luck, maybe I can bang out this batch within a hundred days.

8.) Finish reading the complete works of Bastiat. Read 2 pages a day for the whole year.

For those of you who’ve been keeping an eye on the Goodreads tab on this blog’s sidebar, you’ll notice that The Bastiat Collection has been there from the beginning.

This 1,000 page eBook is a real monster of a text, the densest thing I’ve taken on since I read The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. That beast clocked in at more than 600 pages.

But now I’m about halfway through Bastiat, so I calculate that if I read 2 pages a day every day for the rest of the year, I can wrap it up by September.

9.) Watch a classic movie every week and write a review about it for 50 weeks.

Not really that hard of a goal to meet, all things considered.

All I have to do is make sure I have a couple hours to myself every weekend and then spend five minutes writing a quick review on my Letterboxd account.

This will also provide lots of fodder for my posts related to old movies. I’ll be glad to see what bits of wisdom I can glean from my efforts to watch every old movie available.

10.) Write 2 pages of comics script every day for a year.

Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of my New Year’s resolutions.

Thanks to this simple, process-oriented goal, I have nearly completed the script for that 8-page comic I mentioned earlier.

With luck, I’ll be able to continue in this manner as I work on both this and other projects. Once again, so far so good!

11.) Read and study a chapter of the Bible every day for a year.

For ten years, I read a daily entry of a One Year Bible every day. The result was that I read through the entire Bible some 10 times.

I switched to a more in-depth study, meticulously making my way through various sections with a commentary on hand.

However, the lack of process-oriented focus which accompanied the use of my One Year Bible left me struggling to stay on task with my studies of the Scriptures.

Therefore, I have now resolved to tackle it in a more concentrated manner, as stated above. That is the bare minimum. I may or may not study more than that on a given day.

These are my resolutions for 2017. I now hope that I can stick to them!

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The Overlord Tumblr.com Account is Live!

I have set up a Tumblr.com account for my in-development webcomic The Overlord.

As of today it is just a placeholder until I can complete enough scripts and hire an artist.

Until then, please give it a follow if you’re on Tumblr, so you can stay up-to-date about the latest developments!

(Also, Merry Christmas and a happy new year!)

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