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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Thursday Round-Up

Now that I’ve gotten back to blogging, I have a lot of books that I’ve read that need to tell you all about!

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer gave great insight into how a Christian out to approach the arts. Written in the heady days of the 1970s, this very literate musing on the place of art in faithful endeavors was no doubt a catalyst in the Christian art movement, such as Christian rock music, church drama ministries, and unfortunately, Christian movies.

In sum, Schaeffer has many wise things to say, but the author of its introduction apparently thinks that the book’s chief lesson is that it’s okay for Christians to make rock music. While true, that is not the main point.

Related to this book were The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson and The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani, which both address through different avenues the problems associated with the church-growth movement and “seeker-sensitive” churches.

The Prodigal Church more specifically discusses the issue from Wilson’s perspective as a product of the seeker-sensitive church. His boots-on-the-ground approach is endearing, but he borrows many of his ideas from Jethani’s book.

The Divine Commodity is a much more intellectual approach to the matter, with Jethani eloquently considering the strategy of many modern churches, which often judge success by how full their pews are instead of by the spiritual health of their congregants. Both authors could learn much from Warren Cole Smith’s book, A Lover’s Quarrel With the Evangelical Church.

In terms of comics, I’ve read a beautiful hardback collection (Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1), a graphic novel (The Complete Maus), and a 1999 book containing interviews with some of the top comic book writers of the day (Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Vol. 1).

Invincible and Maus were absolute masterpieces, and I am glad to have acquired them for my personal library. Writers on Comics Scriptwriting was an enjoyable read, in spite of the interviewer’s fawning over his subjects. It was good to get into the heads of scribes such as Chuck Dixon and Jeph Loeb. I’ve already begun reading volume 2.

Finally, I recently read two business books, one horrible and the other fantastic, plus an eBook on statistics.

Network Like a Fox by Nancy Fox is a poor man’s McBook, which is saying something. It would be much easier to digest what advice it offers if the author had bothered to hire a decent proofreader. Its sloppy editing severely drains its credibility.

Ogilvy on Advertising, on the other hand, was out of this world. It was unlike any book related to business that I’d ever read. David Ogilvy was the man on advertising, or so my Uncle Bill, who worked in advertising, told me. An Englishman, his book is more literate and authoritative than any business book I’ve ever read.

His advice is practical and backed up by experience. The principles he espouses remain sound to this day. His is not the 1983 equivalent of a punch of stitched-together blog posts, but an actual book its own right.

Thinking Statistically by Uri Bram was a short, quick book which gives a hilarious and interesting look at statistical theory. It’s very accessible, and for the first time in my life, it made me think of math as fun.

It was also useful for helping me to understand exactly how statistics work, and how errors in methodology can fowl up survey results.

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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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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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Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My Goodreads.com reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

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Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

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