Archive for the '4thletter exclusives' Category


Frank Miller Owns Batman: “it’s better that way.”

July 13th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Superheroes are better, or maybe just bigger, than we are. Their motivations are more pure, their actions are more sure, and their confidence is incredible. Everything is larger than life, even their momentary lapses of faith. They deal with situations that would make normal humans crack under the pressure once a month, and still wake up every morning to go to work.

They love better, too. There’s none of the insecurity and mindgames that orbit our relationships. Superheroes have impossibly beautiful and interesting love interests and have pure and incredible relationships. How can you love anybody the way Superman loves Lois Lane? Does anyone love you as much as Wally West loves Linda Park? Even their breakups are apocalyptic. We break up and spend weeks on the couch, depressed out of our heads. Superheroes fly off into space, change their whole identity, or break up in the middle of apocalypses.

The sex, too, is similarly bigger than sex is in real life.

Thirty-some years ago, Chris Claremont did a really, really good job of mainstreaming BDSM themes or tropes in cape comics. The Hellfire Club was a barely disguised sex club, where the queens wore corsets and capes and sipped wine out of goblets while casually ordering around the help and inflicting pain or receiving at their leisure. Claremont’s stunningly fond of mind control stories, sometimes including body modification (a loss of control for some, a taking of control for others) and sometimes simply being about someone being told what to do or being helpless.

It’s all more than we can manage in real life, and people bounce back from emotional trauma like it was nothing. Superheroes can do that. Superheroes do everything big. They don’t do halfway or normal. They go all the way in. Maximum drama. Maximum excitement.

“We keep our masks on. It’s better that way.”

Without the mask, Bruce Wayne is just a man. He’s rich enough to throw some wild sex parties, the type with dozens of guests, representation for every fetish, and all the cocaine you can fit up your nose, but he’s still just a man. With the mask, he’s Batman, the Dark Knight, avenger of the innocent, savior of the world, and secret weapon of the JLA. The same goes for Black Canary, to an extent. She went from bartender to superheroine, and all it took was a short temper and a costume. A semantic change, perhaps, but a change nonetheless.

Throw some furry handcuffs, role playing, or a blindfold into your normal human sexy times and look what happens. Now, imagine that magnified times a million, amped all the way up to superheroic proportions. The constant threat of violence, the hyper-emotional states you flash through over the course of an issue, and the sheer fact that you’re two people wearing more or less skintight, fetish-y crimefighting gear all add up to something more than we can ever get in real life. Everything is heightened for the story. The mask is the gateway to greatness. Normal relationships are out of the question. Superheroes are too big of an idea to bother with the mundane.

The masks represent their superheroic nature. Batman and Canary are in a comic book. That’s why they can have sex on the docks after fighting off a couple dozen gun-toting thugs, causing some medium-level property damage, and setting the docks on fire with weaponized bleach. That’s what superheroes do, not what humans do. Humans do it with the lights off and under the covers. Superheroes do it while lightning strikes and the earth moves.

What Miller did here was just put what we’ve already learned, or picked up on unconsciously, onto the page as plain as day. We already know that superheroes have mind-blowing love lives. We’ve seen Black Cat fall into a thrill-seeking relationship with Spider-Man, only to utterly reject him when he revealed that he was a normal guy. Clark Kent pined after Lois Lane for years, but she only had eyes for Superman. The Flash is so in love with Linda Park that he came back from being lost in time. Daredevil has tripped over supermodels, sexy assassins, and regular old hot women every single time he falls into a relationship. Spider-Man dated the girl next door and the unattainable party girl turned supermodel.

We’ve accepted the idea that it’s better with the masks on already. This just took the subtext and made it text.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “thank you. i love you.”

July 12th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Batman is an idea. Well, several ideas which all sort of intertwine, like a double (quadruple?) helix. He is the idea that there is someone out there who will make the world make sense for us. He is a protector and avenger, someone who lurks the dark alleys and does the hard thing in order to keep us safe. He’s the idea that one person can make a difference. He’s the idea that you can, and should, choose right over wrong and justice over fear. He’s all of these ideas, which, when you boil it down, he probably comes down to being all about safety, both the creation or comfort thereof. The existence of a Batman means that you live in a world where you can, and maybe will, be safe.

Batman is an idea that is both inspirational and aspirational, depending on who you talk to. He either gives you the strength to go on, or mobilizes you to emulate him.

Take a look at the average Jane on the street, one of a species known for walking down dark alleys for no good reason. Three thugs with entirely unlikely knives set upon her in a dark alley… and Batman drops out of the night to save her. He’s in full The Shadow mode, here. The laugh sends chills down the spine of the punks. They know exactly who he is. They’re familiar with the idea of Batman. He brutalizes them. They stand no chance, and he makes it a point to make them pay.

It’s violent, and it’s ugly, but more than anything, it is order imposing itself on chaos. Batman is there to set things right, and right in this situation means that the people who would hurt innocents get what’s coming to them. It’s more than a beating. He makes it a point to give them wounds that will affect their lives for years. It’s psychological warfare. It’s a deterrent. It’s terrorism.

“Striking terror. Best part of the job.”

The woman, our young Gotham professional with extraordinarily bad luck, watches the beating with fear, and then awe, and then admiration. She went from a situation in which she had no control at all to one in which the people who wanted to hurt her where put entirely out of commission. It gives her faith and confidence, but more than that, it gives her an opportunity to regain control, now that she has a guardian angel. She walks past a knife that was just at her throat and delivers a kick to the crotch of a would-be assailant. “I’ve got Batman watching after me,” she says.

The existence of Batman, the idea of him, gives her strength. She witnesses the brutal, ugly violence that is his trademark, and sees the idea behind it. “Evil will not win.” She thanks him. She says she loves him. And she does, in the same way that we love anything that gives us strength, from music to movies to family. He’s inspirational. He’s the father that’s always there for you and can rejuvenate your confidence with a smile and nod.

Next: Batgirl.

Children take to ideas like fish to water. They’re naturally inquisitive, since everything is new, and they’re pliable. If you can convince a kid of something, they’ll argue it with someone else until the cows come home, whether or not. They’re susceptible to new ideas, and more than that, willing to really believe in them.

Batgirl gets Batman. Really gets him. She understands what he brings to the table, and she’s more than willing to take it all the way. Batgirl was Batman, Inc. before Batman, Inc. was cool. She’s taking his symbol and style and remixing it for her own personal use. Where Batman was born in pain and suffering, Batgirl was borne out of inspiration and exhilaration. Life can be better. Batgirl is going to make it better by staking a claim.

It’s about fighting crime as much as it is about getting a thrill. Babs Gordon is cocky and confident, and she’s out to make a name for herself. She claims the arcade (the same arcade from Dark Knight Returns that Carrie Kelly hung out at) in the name of “the fucking Batgirl.” Earlier, she refers to Gotham as “her city.”

If Batman represents the triumph of one many over the injust, Batgirl represents a city that’s willing to rise up and police its own. She’s the civilan who looks at injustice and gets proactive. She even inspires the crowd at the arcade to get in on the action and reject the drug dealers. The encounter turns more violent than she’d intended.

Batgirl is still just a teenager, and she doesn’t have the reputation of Batman yet. He controls the thugs he fights by way of his reputation and prowess. They know that when he arrives, they’re in trouble. They’ve been taught to fear him, and fear spreads like a virus.

There is power in the idea of Batman, but that power isn’t enough in and of itself. You need more than just will and enthusiasm to be a Batman. Batgirl will eventually get there, but in this first stab at taking back her city, she doesn’t quite have the reputation she needs. She hasn’t become an idea yet.

I think that Batgirl is a stronger, or maybe a healthier, idea than Batman. Batman, as an idea, requires a sacrifice. Someone has to be the one to take one for the team and live a broken life. Batman doesn’t get friends or lovers like normal people do. He has family, but it’s a family united in a very specific crusade. There’s a engine made of tragedy driving them. Even Tim Drake, way back when, wanted to be Robin because there has to be a Robin, or else Batman is lost. Sacrifice.

The idea of Batgirl, though, doesn’t have tragedy at the heart of it. She’s doing it because it’s fun, because it’s a thrill, and because it’s the right thing to do. Her parents aren’t dead, she wasn’t beaten into desiring vengeance, and she wasn’t guilted into the gig. She looked up and saw someone else doing the right thing and said, “I want to do that, too.” While Bruce Wayne is Batman, forever and ever, Batgirl can take off the mask if she needs to.

Put differently: Batman is the demon that materializes out of the night. When I think of Batgirl, I think of this Marcos Martin piece:

Dark Knight, meet Dark Angel.

next: trust me, it really is better with the masks on.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “no hope at all”

July 11th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

In Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, Thomas Wayne loomed large. His influence on Bruce Wayne is the genesis of the Batman, rather than a crime fighter. It’s right there. “…yes. Father. I shall become a bat.”

This positions Batman and his crusade as Wayne’s way of honoring his father. The relative lack of Martha Wayne in Year One–and over the course of the next twenty years of Bat-comics–and Grant Morrison’s time-spanning Batman tales in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne suggest that inspiring heroism is something the men of the Wayne family do. They’re following in the footsteps of their fathers.

What about the Wayne women? Ehhhh, they’re cool, I guess. But hey, did you know that the Wayne men freed slaves/fought Nazis/killed monsters/blah blah blah?

Miller and Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is interesting, because Martha gets all the attention, barring a mention of The Mark of Zorro being Thomas’s favorite movie. (Which, in a way, ties him to the idea of Batman even more directly, because Bruce’s crime fighting persona and decision to become a crime fighter is a direct result of the movie. The son is attempting to impress the father.) Thomas gets short shrift. It’s a notable shift in focus, and one that passed me by on the first read.

My gut wants me to put a hard label on Thomas Wayne’s influence. Children are a product of their parents, and it just makes sense that the same would hold true for Batman. Off the top of my head, Thomas provided the steel that drives Batman. He was a doctor who saved thousands of lives and was dedicated to his job. He understands the power of a calling. He’s the steel in Bruce’s backbone.

It follows, I think, that Martha is the hope inside Batman, the little voice that elevates him above the Punisher (driven by anger) or Spider-Man (driven by guilt). It is true that his quest is revenge on the nebulous crime. I don’t think that you can argue against that. “I am vengeance. I am the night. I spend a lot of time making people afraid of me.” But at the same time, he’s genuinely trying to protect others from his bogeyman. There’s an altruistic element there, wrapped in a seriously personal crusade.

Bruce Wayne: “I heard her cough her last and I pressed my hand against my mother’s breast just in case there was any hope at all and there wasn’t any heartbeat. No hope at all. Just her blood. On my hand. It’ll never wash off. Never.”

When he says “No hope at all,” that’s the big turning point for Bruce Wayne. That’s the moment his childhood shudders and snaps under the weight of his parents’ murder. There’s an element of guilt in the attention he pays to her blood on his hands, as well.

Miller and Lee attach hope to Martha, and leave Thomas where he landed. There’s something there, isn’t there? It’s the mother as nurturing figure, as support, and when his parents are killed, she’s the one Bruce goes to for comfort. “Maybe they aren’t dead.” But, no: they are. And he is lost.

Martha Wayne is why Bruce Wayne relates to Dick Grayson, and regrets how he’s treating him. Wayne’s facade cracks when he thinks of how the murder of his parents affected his life, and it gets him to show real human kindness to Grayson.

The kicker is Alfred. He was there before and after the murder, and he’s the closest thing we have to an outside observer. He’s the only person in the world who can track Wayne’s progress from child to dark knight. He tells a story about how Bruce was always wild, even as a kid. He was innocent, an “angel” Alfred calls him, but wild. He craved adventure.

I’ve got enough younger cousins to know that each kid really is a snowflake. Two kids raised by the same people will have wildly different personalities and interests. Some kids are active and will climb anything. Others like jokes. Others are divas. Nurture counts, but nature goes a long way, too. Alfred relating how Bruce was always wild and dark suggests to me that his time as Batman was meant to be. When faced with tragedy, he reacted according to his personality. Others (meaning: everyone else in the entire world) would have mourned and gotten on with their lives. Grayson’s arc would have been a natural one, if not for Batman’s influence. For young Bruce Wayne, though, fighting crime was the sanest possible choice. It was his way of coping with the murder.

Alfred says that Martha never knew her son. He’s right. You can never tell how someone is going to turn out. A sweet kid could pull the wings off flies in private, and a bully might be an utter romantic with the right girl. Martha knew her son as a wild child, someone who would climb and crawl and fall. As she died, she watched her son “become a demon,” Alfred says. The murder knocked all of the innocence out of him like a punch to the stomach.

Tie these two scenes together. Bruce Wayne watches and hears his mother die. While that’s happening, she’s looking directly into his eyes. As she dies, as the last vestige of hope in his life slips away, he is lost, and she witnesses it. His childhood breaks in that span of time between her last gasp and her death. What’s left is the wildness, that darkness that haunted his childhood. It brings to mind a line from Dark Knight Returns: “My parents taught me a different lesson… lying on this street… shaking in deep shock… dying for no reason at all. They showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.” The cold, hard side of the world poisoned his childhood.

What’s interesting about Miller’s take is how he ties the death of Martha and the idea of hope with Batman’s sadness and softness toward Robin. This is early in his career, and he’s still playacting at being Batman. He’s got a Clint Eastwood growl that he finesses by way of a razor held between his teeth. He laughs like a loon when diving in to fight crime. He’s building a persona, one which will be whittled down over the years into the platonic ideal of Batman.

The hope, the little bursts of sadness here in defiance of his calculated persona, come when Martha slips around and in front of his Thomas Wayne facade. She’s the voice that whispers everything will be okay when his father tells him to buck up and stand tall. She creeps in around the edges of the cape and cowl.

Bruce Wayne is a product of his upbringing, from having loving parents to witnessing their murder, but it was his wild nature that led to the Batman. The result is a creature that’s initially torn between vengeance and hope, a monster who is so sure of what he believes in that he doesn’t think that grief is a valid option, or that acceptance is healthy. No, they’re sacrifices upon the altar of his war. Later, he realizes the error of his ways and manages to reconcile the influences of Martha and Thomas on his methods. For now, he sees himself as a general in a war.

This will change. It has to, really. Will alone can only keep you going for so far.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: building a better robin

July 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

There’s this thing people do when they get bad news or see something horrible. It’s happened to you, and it’s definitely happened to me. Your unconscious mind registers it, but your conscious mind recognizes the danger inherent in what your unconscious mind is processing, so your brain switches gears. It tamps down that thought and pushes your brain in another direction. “Don’t pay too much attention to this. It will break you. Look away.”

This bit from Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder rings particularly true because of that fact. When you get those late night phone calls that make you sit straight up in bed and your mind takes a hard left away from the trauma–that’s what Dick Grayson is feeling right there. “No. Don’t go there. Not now.” He’s cognizant of the murder of his parents, he knows it happened, but he can’t let himself feel it.

Those thoughts, though, are hard to avoid for long. They creep around the outside of your mind, looking for a way in. It’s like the old adage about opportunity knocking, or the Bible verse that goes, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Ideas want in, memes must be acknowledged, and this type of idea doesn’t just knock. It wants to pick the lock and demand your attention. It’s slippery, hard to hold at bay, and at some point, it slips inside you and takes control, whether you want it to or not. It’s the ultimate thought, the only thought, and you can’t escape it.

And so it goes with Robin. He starts questioning everything that’s happening, the murder of his parents pushes its way to the forefront of his mind, and he tries to push it back again. But, no–the dam breaks. The tears begin to flood and every single thought in Dick Grayson’s brain turns to one: “Their brains splashed all over my feet!” His life is upside down, nothing makes sense, and he’s breaking.

Batman’s slap, and his actions up to this point, make sense in context. He’s trying to recruit Dick Grayson for his war, and if Grayson makes it all the way through the five stages of grief, he’ll forgive his enemies, rather than having the obsessive mind state that’s required to be a Batman. Forgiveness leads to peace, and the Batfamily can never, ever know peace. That’s not how they’re wired.

The fast-paced, high-impact chase is Batman’s way of fast-forwarding Grayson’s recovery from his parents’ murder. He needs Grayson distracted until the pain fades away, leaving just the anger. Batman is sure of his choice, though he recognizes the pain he’s causing. But, he believes that the mission–whether that mission is protecting Gotham or avenging his parents or defending the innocent is still unclear–takes priority over any single individual’s pain. Gotham needs Batman, and Batman needs Grayson because Batman needs an army to get the job done. So: distract, distract, distract until the little boy is in the shape you need him to be in, no matter how much of a monster it makes you.

Later, Batman will realize he went about this in the wrongest possible way. This is how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but it doesn’t have to be how everyone joins his army. For now, though, it works. He explains the deal to Grayson in a rare moment of softness, and that does the trick.

Grayson’s thoughts return to his parents. He needs guidance and he needs his parents, but that’s all gone now. His safety net is gone, he’s been thrust into a world that should be restricted to adults, and his only guide is a man who is so sure of his convictions that he’d kidnap a child. Despite the situation, Grayson needs to know one thing: who killed his parents?

He collapses again, just for a moment, and then makes a choice. “Yes, sir. I’ll be brave.” He’s going to see this through.

The choice is the difference between Batman and Robin. Batman was thrust into this world, for whatever reason. Robin could have had a normal life. Batman was meant to be.

That choice is the birth of Robin. He chooses justice over grief. It’s the birth, but not the maturation. That comes later, when Batman’s hard heart goes soft and he realizes what he’s done to a twelve-year old child. All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder is explicitly about the humanization of Bruce Wayne due to the influence of Dick Grayson.

Grant Morrison and Andy Clarke must have liked this idea of a choice being central to Robin. In Batman & Robin, Talia rejects her son. He chooses justice over terrorism, his father over his mother–and make no mistake, the idea of “Batman” is inextricably and exclusively tied to Bruce Wayne, no matter who wears the cowl–and he too pauses, thinks, and accepts his fate. This is the moment Damian becomes Robin, more so than anywhere else in that series.

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Create, Consume, Recycle 06/27/11

June 27th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

stuff i made

I got quoted on HuffPo about Green Lantern

Writing about Akira for ComicsAlliance, making all you other websites look bad

something something captain american movie stand for france

something something hal jordan bomber jackets

somethings something bomber jackets part one point five

who let all these frigging bomber jackets into my digital comics

something i like

This is a minor aspect of the text, perhaps, but I say it is still significant because this is my blog and my Akira website. (Join the webring.)

I’m about 9500 miles too far away and twenty years too late to want to wear most of the clothes in Otomo’s Akira, but I do enjoy his sense of fashion. Characters tend to be grouped into demographics and dress accordingly–twentysomething men rock button-ups and ties, military men wear suits, and teenagers dress casually or for biking.

It’s sort of a throwback, but the billiards scene up there? That makes sense to me. It’s a bunch of guys who are fresh off the job and looking to de-stress after a long day. Loose ties and rolled up sleeves, right? The man still wearing his jacket still has his collar buttoned up and tie straight. He looks out of place, doesn’t he? He does. And later, in another bar, he’s figured out how to blend in. Big smile, sleeves up, jacket in hand.

I like this bit, too. Otomo’s good at picking outfits that make you think, “Yes, this character would wear that.” You can’t see it, but Kai’s polo is tucked in. It’s partially buttoned, too. Kaneda’s isn’t, and when we first see him in that green shirt, he’s working on his motorcycle. What’s the point of tucking in your shirt if you’re doing work? It’s just going to come out, anyway. And Yamagata, delinquent to the core, is rocking a cut-off sweatshirt over a cut-off t-shirt. Nah, son.

Kei is interesting. I like this jacket and black on black outfit she has. It’s sensible, but the glasses make sure that it’s still a little secret agent-y. Her halter top fits her personality, too, in the same casual way that Kaneda’s shirt fits his.

The Colonel has an interesting progression. He’s in very severe suits for the majority of the book, and then the apocalypse hits. His gear becomes much more obviously military in nature, despite the ragtag and piecemeal appearance of it. While others are wearing ripped clothes and pants, the Colonel’s got clothes that let him hold things. They’ve got pouches and pockets, they’re heavy, they’re thick enough to hide stuff…

But yo, check out what the Colonel wears when he gets a late night phone call. Look at that robe, man. What a classy dude. Nobody should answer a video phone shirtless. (He throws a suit on before leaving the house later that night.)

Otomo is the king because panels 1.1 and 1.4 on these two pages. Tetsuo is putting on these clothes. How often do you see that, man? It’s not even a cool “SUITING UP FOR ACTION RARRRR” joint. He’s just chilling in the background, puttin’ on some pants.

Tetsuo is… he’s not pretending, exactly, but he’s definitely playing a role for the majority of the story. “This is what a man is, this is how power should be used,” etc etc. Does that make sense? Viewed in that light, his various outfits click. He wears heavy riding gloves (which he doesn’t even use) and a tank top while leading a motorcycle gang. He wears this all white thing with a red cape for a decent portion of the book, sort of as a symbol of his #2 nature to Akira. His outfit is plain, while Akira gets a nice blue.

And this tactical vest and pants… he’s got no reason to wear that. They just look good. They’re a symbol of conquest and power, since he’s taken the outfit off a soldier he killed. This is just some straight up Arnold Schwarzeneggar swag, something that lets you show off what makes you strong and look ill at the same time.

It’s also an expression of humanity, because Tetsuo is teeter-tottering between complete and total ego death due to his powers and holding it together, but that’s a post for another day. (Wednesday?)

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A: “!”

June 24th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

There’s the temptation to take this day and deliver a real deal conclusion. Wrap the whole series up in a bow, explain why it’s so great, and do it in such a way that everyone who reads it finishes the post with tears in their eyes and their credit cards in their hands. There’s a part of me that wants to finish it, in the Mortal Kombat sense of the term, so that I can put it into a box and say “I did that.” “Here’s points one, two, and three, and now you understand everything you need to know about Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Go forth, and spread the word.”

Instead: four consecutive pages from book one.

Panels generally take place in one moment in time. They don’t really show progression so much as a frozen instant. The word balloons in panel five, though, suggest a progression, and a quick one. A narrowing of the eyes or confusion (“What is that?”) and then vague realization (“Wait!”) which then bleeds into panel six, which has full recognition (“Tetsuo!”). You can see it on Kaneda’s face, can’t you?

I always liked the use of punctuation as an entire word balloon. Or no, that’s not right–punctuation as speech. (If you’ve ever instant-messaged me, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.) I first came across it in Metal Gear, and I thought it was pretty clever. What you say when you’re surprised doesn’t really matter, because a simple ! lets us fill in the blanks. “What the!” only goes so far, right? I like ?, too. “Wha?”/”Huh?” are kind of… obvious? Is that the word? They’re concrete. You always say them aloud, or just under your breath. ? is a good way to get unspoken confusion or surprise on the page. When you wake up and there’s a big object on the wall that might be a big ol’ spider, you don’t always go “What the heck is that?” Sometimes you just narrow your eyes and cock your head and look. That’s ?.

Kaneda back-handing that dude and then getting off his bike while it’s still in motion is basically the smoothest thing I’ve ever seen.

WHAM to SMUSH, do you see that? Man.

Tetsuo is beating the bone marrow out of this guy, and I like how it picks up with the beating already in progress. The first two panels say a lot about Tetsuo (look at his face, and the way he stays up on the guy–those two panels take place a split second apart). The full page says a lot about our cast, from how casual Kaneda is during the beating to when he’s finally had enough of it.

Look at the tension here. Just three word balloons. Wolverine was never as much of a loose cannon as Tetsuo is right here, and all it takes is one motion, two word balloons, and a hard look.

Every page is a delight. I didn’t even talk about the scene where Neo-Tokyo catches a bad one when Akira loses it.

Maybe that’s the conclusion I didn’t want to write. “Every page is a delight.”

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R: “Woo-oo-oo-ooh”

June 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

It’s easy to forget how funny Akira can be. It’s a deadly serious manga, concerned with questions of power and control and other weighty subjects, but there’s a strong playfulness to it, too. Most of the cast is young enough for jokes to be believable in their situation, and all the humor is this sort of broad, really traditional comedy. There are pratfalls, dick jokes, vomiting… all this stuff is universally funny. If it isn’t universally funny, it should be. Penises and their associated mental hang-ups are hilarious.

Anyway, there are these bright, shining spots of comedy in Akira. It’s not fall down laughing funny. Maybe smirking funny, or “heh” funny. Regardless, the spots break up the tension a little bit, for both the characters and us. Comedy is supposed to heal, right? We laugh when things get uncomfortable, and stand-up comics is like cultural therapy. We use jokes to bond with each other and feel better about ourselves.

For the characters, it’s a suggestion that maybe things have gone apocalyptic, but deep down at the foundation of things, they’re still the same. They’re still human, they still have their relationships, and everything might just turn out okay. On top of that, there’s a power element, too. Joking or being casual in a tense or dangerous situation is a way to claim control over that situation. “Yes, this is bad, but it’s not so bad that I can’t handle it.”

I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like to laugh. It’s almost an absurd idea, isn’t it? Everybody’s got a sense of humor. Sometimes it’s awkward or off-putting, sometimes it’s skin crawlingly vile, sometimes it’s just regular funny or wry, and if you share it, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

This is a nice reminder that the story stars people, not machines. It’s sort of like how we rarely see people going to the bathroom or eating in adventure stories. That stuff, and jokes, humanizes characters. You mean to tell me that Batman doesn’t have a sense of humor as black as his cape? The only people I remember writing a particularly funny Batman are Brian Azzarello and Grant Morrison, and both of them had him working this really mean style of gallows humor.

The importance of characters doing things normal people do–jokes, poops, foods–was invisible to me until someone pointed it out. But once you start thinking about it, it becomes really, really obvious. I mean, look at how poor Batman or Superman comics generally are without Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. You need that human hook. You need to be able to look and unconsciously say, “Yes, this is a human being.”

Jokes are a good way to do it. I really like the one at the bottom of this post. It’s so simple, and such an old idea. It’s almost definitely as old as I Love Lucy or the Three Stooges, yeah? But it’s good. It’s–I don’t want to call it a comfort, but it sort of is. It’s right there on Kei and Kaneda’s faces.

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I: “You’d better fasten your seatbelt, sir.”

June 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I get bored easily. (Maybe you’ve noticed.) That’s one of the reasons why comics are my favorite story delivery system. Books are cool or whatever, but I’m not really going to discover a new way to read a novel at this point. My friends aren’t going to start telling avant-garde stories at parties. Movies still have some room to grow, I think, but comics have kept it moving. Constant evolution. I know that if I open a comic–a good one, mind–I’ll see something that might just blow my mind.

This is largely a visual thing for me. Storytelling and execution counts for a lot, but what I really, really want is something to look at. Spider-Man’s after images, Flash’s speed (particularly when drawn by Doug Mahnke), and the violence in David Aja’s Iron Fist were all things that really caught my interest and kept me hooked.

Near as I can tell, comics is the last place where you can expect serious visual storytelling innovation as a general rule. There are thousands of artists out there, and a thousand possible styles. To not be surprised or impressed with comics art requires… I don’t even know, the worst luck in the world and awful taste?

Here’s a surprise:

See it? It’s in panel three.

Okay, again. Panel five this time.

That streak of light entertains me every time I see it. Conveying motion is such a weird thing in comics. There’s a ton of ways to do it, and coming across new ones always sorta makes me grin. I first saw that in the Akira movie, and it was just one of several things that impressed me. Seeing it in comics only made me like comics even more. It’s a versatile little technique, and fantastic at implying the motion of something without obscuring it or being overbearingly obvious. It works similarly in the film, though I believe that they wavered and faded out, rather than being a solid-ish streak like these.

It’s a very small thing, though it appears dozens or hundreds of times through the manga, but it adds a lot to the experience. It makes it easier to believe in the world that Otomo is creating. You start to discover and accept the rules of this fictional world, and how it is translated when we view it through the lens of the comics panel. It adds realism, and that results in verisimilitude.

This is exactly how a moment looks in the world of Akira. Moving lights (of sufficient speed, which is something else this evokes that I just realized right now) hang in the air for a full moment before fading away. From that, we can estimate how fast the car is moving, where Kei is looking… Akira starts to fall into place. We accept something minor, and then expand. And then you see this and it looks as real as anything:

For my money, you can’t beat comics for stuff like this. Sometimes I get caught absolutely flatfooted when I come across something new and just have to read the scene a couple of extra times, just to see how and why it works. The reaction’s almost always “Oh, but that makes perfect sense,” too. Because that’s what this stuff has to do, and because that’s what makes you believe in stories.

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K: “Right on time.”

June 21st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

This is Chiyoko.

So is this:

She may or may not be Kei’s aunt, but she calls her Aunty Chiyoko, so sure. She’s part of the same resistance movement (terrorist group) that Kei’s in. She’s astonishingly direct, almost to the point of rudeness. She doesn’t spend any time at all dealing with the metaphysical aspects of Akira. She’s strictly go there, do this, let’s go and do that. At one point, sure, she tells one character to just admit their love, but that’s as deep as it gets when she’s there. Chiyoko is all about real life.

The funny thing about Akira is how often the cast goes up against the military. Early in the series, the military is essentially the main antagonist. And the cast? They’re basically high school kids and young adults at best. Kei’s clearly had some gun training, and Kaneda is scrappy and cunning, but as far as being soldiers goes? They aren’t. They manage to kill their fare share of enemies, though, and they don’t really react like someone unused to violence would. They get by off luck and recklessness, by and large.

Except Chiyoko.

Frank Castle, The Punisher, is a character that’s tough to like. Garth Ennis’s version is my favorite, and on top of that, the one that Garth Ennis draws and Goran Parlov draws, the one from Valley Forge, Valley Forge and a few other tales. He’s this big gorilla of a dude, formidable and invincible all tied up in one package. You look at him and know that he could carve a path through you and your crew with ease.

Chiyoko, in demeanor and depiction, puts me in mind of Frank Castle. She never really says too much. She’s so direct that conversations are near pointless. There’s not a lot of back and forth to be found when one person is completely assured of what she needs to do. She’s the tallest person in the cast, save for the Colonel, and she’s broader than he is. She’s got the same flat, sour demeanor as Castle, and a single-mindedness that’s positively admirable. She’s got a job to do and people to protect, so she does it. She has a purpose.

That purpose is wrecking an absolutely astonishing amount of people. She has an amazing aptitude for tearing through entire groups of grown men with ease. She’s resourceful and inventive. If she’s too far away to get her hands on you, she’ll either close that distance quicker than she should be able to or hit you with something from far. She barely gets a scratch until late in the series, even.

It’s implied that she’s ex-military, though no other female soldiers are shown in the series. But: she knows how to drive a tank, she’s good with a gun, she’s got major ordnance, and she’s even willing to get down and dirty with an armful of rockets, whether that means caving in a man’s skull or firing a rocket directly into his chest. She demonstrates an aptitude in this area that no one else in the book can match.

No one else in the comic wrecks people like Chiyoko. Tetsuo has a bigger body count, maybe, but half of his were accidental or fits of pique. Chiyoko is the one who wins battles intentionally and gracefully. She’s this perfect killing machine in an apron that was just dropped into the story. It’s reasonable to believe that Kei’s resistance group really is an effective terrorist organization if she’s counted as a member.

She’s great, man. She always gets a moment or two to destroy somebody, and she shows more heart than pretty much everyone but Kei and the Colonel. She’s not in the movie, unless there was a quick cameo that I’ve missed all these years.

This is probably my favorite bit:

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Create, Consume, Recycle 06/20/11

June 20th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

stuff i made

Buy some digital comics! These have dongs flopping around and vampires suckin’ blood. That’s a theme, right? Anyway: Butcher Baker, Wolverine & Jubilee, and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, get get get it.

-Here’s a dumb question: Why can’t we preorder digital comics?

top 10 marvel comics for September, get up on it

something something green lantern

something i like


Otomo’s Akira exists in this weird quantum state in my head. Schroedinger’s Anime? Sure, why not.

I first saw it probably in ’91 when the VHS dropped. My uncle picked up that and Fist of the North Star from the video store (Video Warehouse?) for some Sunday watching. We bogarted the bigger tv (it was one of those old fat 36″ joints, I think. We finally threw it out in maybe 2003?) in the house while everyone else was cooking and ran through FotNS. It blew my mind. It was so unbelievably violent and just amazing. I would’ve been eight at the most. Akira was the second feature, and it was even more mind-expanding. The story, the animation, all of it was like opening a door. I don’t think we were even joking around while the movie was on. That bit where Tetsuo’s guts fall out and the ground dissolves under him is burned into my head in a way that most things I encountered at that age aren’t.

I made it all the way up to the bit where Tetsuo turns into a pile of grotesque tumors before my cousin (she was, and remains, sixteen months younger than me) came into the room, made a face, and went and snitched to my grandmom that I was watching something gross. I was ordered into the den and that was a wrap, at least until I could sneak and finish watching the movie on my own.

That’s how Akira exists in my mind: sitting on the floor on a lazy Sunday after church, family noises in the other room, but in the living room? New things and shock endings. Fullscreen picture on the VHS tape, getting the tracking just right, on and on. My memory probably isn’t accurate, but that’s what the mental picture is, so that’s what’s true in all the ways that matter.

Time passed. Today, Akira exists in four states. There’s the original anime, 4:3 in aspect and dubbed onto a video cassette before I could afford the real deal. Then there’s the new dub, which features Vash the Stampede as Kaneda instead of a Ninja Turtle. It’s widescreen and (after a blu-ray purchase) hi-def. I like both probably equally. The more recent dub is undeniably better from a craft and quality perspective, but the old one has its charms. A little nostalgia goes a long way, right?

I did look around the internet and find a 720p rip of the Blu-ray that includes the original and 2001 dubs, though. I bust that out when I’m too lazy to get up and put a disc in the PS3.

The manga, too, has a couple of versions. There’s the color Epic ones I grew up with and comprise the majority of my collection, where Kei is Kay and everything is rendered in this really interesting palette that the rest of the comics industry never fully caught up to (Vertigo bogarted the brown, obviously, cape comics jacked the reds and highlights, and the more impressionistic stuff sorta fell by the wayside in favor of ugly gradients). Neo-Tokyo is a city I believe in, as large in my mind as the fictional New York City of rap that I love so much. It’s a city with gutters and layers, and you want to roll in one and peel back the other.

There’s the black and white version, which I still haven’t read in full. Kei is Kei, and some of the dialogue is a little different. It’s fine–I think the color adds a lot of personality to Akira, honestly. Steve Oliff did a pretty amazing job, and I wish that Kodansha had just reprinted those, instead of the black and whites. Still–these are good, and as far as one of my top three favorite series ever goes, well worth it.

(I’ve been eyeing these color Japanese volumes for a while, but they’d be a stupid purchase. I still want them.)

Strangely, Akira doesn’t exist in Japanese for me. I’ve watched the subtitled version… well, I’m not sure how often, definitely less than ten? I’ve watched it rarely enough that it barely registers in my head. I have spent a lot of time writing to the soundtrack, though. Remember when video game stores used to carry game soundtracks? I think I paid a grip for mine from Funcoland, ripped the CD to MP3, and promptly lost it. C’est la vie, long live digital media.

All of these things sorta swirl around in my head. I knew the different versions back to front (“Just when my coil’s reaching the green line!” > whatever it was Kaneda said in that new dub, but Kei > Kay as far as spelling goes), but it all adds up to one gestalt, a superAkira. This is one of those books/series/concepts that looms large in my head, large enough that I’ve genuinely put off talking about it in any sort of depth. I’ve taken stabs at it, sure, but I haven’t put my hands into its guts yet. I don’t know that I can do it without devolving into “This is SO GREAT you guyz” material, with long low-content posts masquerading as actual content.

But here we are, and here we go.

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