Luke Cage, keeping it realer than most

March 12th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Richard Corben - Cage - fence

Richard Corben, Brian Azzarello, Jose Villarubia. CAGE, 2002.

I re-read this one the other week. It’s one of the comics I got way back when I was getting back into comics, and was probably one of my first Corben comics, too. I hadn’t read it in years, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I re-read it. It looks like the last edition debuted in 2002, and the series hasn’t been re-packaged since, which is a shame. The intro to the hardcover, written by Darius Jones, is called “Straight-up Real Nigga,” something I can’t imagine Marvel ever associating with Cage in the here-and-now, but also an idea I’d love to see the character actually be able to deal with in the comics themselves.

Corben and colorist Villarubia put in work on this page, and it’s probably my favorite image of the character. There’s no tiara, no yellow shirt, nothing that screams “This is Luke Cage!”, but it’s still signifying nonetheless. You get the sense that he’s dangerous, he’s mad, and he’s invincible. You can hurt him, you can knock him down, but you don’t get to win. That background Villarubia threw behind him in panel 4 is great, a bloody sunset that follows in Cage’s wake.

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Hellboy: Being Human [Outtake]

May 17th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

this was going to run elsewhere, but didn’t, so now it’s here instead. i’d have done it different if i wanted it up here, almost definitely (this reads stilted to me), but hey, i wrote it, so it’s probably worth reading.

The assembly line nature of mainstream comics has allowed for a few alchemical relationships between members of a comic’s creative team. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby turned Fantastic Four into one of the best loved franchises in comics, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley revolutionized how comics were printed in Ronin, and Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jamie Grant made All-Star Superman and We3 among the most beautiful comics out. I’d like to add another team to that list: Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, and Dave Stewart, creators of today’s Hellboy: Being Human.

Pick your poison: Mignola, Corben, or Stewart. Stewart is one of the best colorists in the business, an Eisner winner, and a guy you can count on to make any comic book better just by showing up. Mike Mignola is one of the best success stories in comics, having spun off a silly idea he had once into two of the best series in comics and a couple of solid movies. And Richard Corben… he’s been in the game for over forty years, knocking out classic comic after classic comic. Together, you’ve got a powerhouse team that can do anything. "Anything," in this case, is "some of the best Hellboy stories ever."

The team has collaborated on Hellboy on five, six with the release of Being Human, separate occasions. The first time was 2006’s Hellboy: Makoma, or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorers’ Club on August 16, 1993. This story took Hellboy to Africa and, in the cultural tourism that has made Hellboy such a fascinating series, through African folklore. In The Crooked Man, Hellboy takes a trip to West Virginia for a taste of good old fashioned Appalachian horror. The Bride of Hell sent Hellboy to France, and the flawless Hellboy In Mexico (Or, a Drunken Blur) sent Hellboy to (wait for it) Mexico (read our previous coverage of that classic here). Finally, Double Feature of Evil sent Hellboy to haunted houses and murky museums.

The easiest way to show why Mignola, Corben, and Stewart are so special is to spotlight their best work: Hellboy in Mexico. As far as I’m concerned, this was the best single issue of any comic released in 2010. It is, in essence, every Hellboy story. Hellboy‘s casual sense of humor, big action, folkloric inspiration, intense attention paid to atmosphere, and heartbreaking sadness are all in effect here. Mignola structured the tale as something Hellboy was telling his partner Abe Sapien, giving it a very personal and conversational feel. This isn’t someone recounting a happy time in their life. This is a bad memory and a source of emotional trauma for Hellboy.

Corben and Stewart (and letterer Clem Robins) handle the art chores, and the results are predictably fantastic. Corben’s Hellboy is straight out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, with a bobbly, goofy looking head and jaw and a brawny physique. His monsters are even creepier, with their desiccated skin, disgusting claws, and missing chunks. The thick, doughy figures have real weight, and are pleasingly exaggerated.

Dave Stewart gets a chance to do some interesting rendering, thanks to Corben’s detailed pencils. Hellboy gains definition that he doesn’t have under Mignola or Duncan Fegredo’s pen, making for an entirely different reading experience. Mignola and Fegredo created a world littered with shadows and gloom for Hellboy to stride through. Stewart and Corben pull Hellboy into the realm of pop comics, thanks to Hellboy’s bright red skin tone contrasting with the muted, dusty palette of Hellboy in Mexico.

In short, Hellboy in Mexico is what comics are supposed to look like: a peek into another incredible world. It’s incredible, and this week, the team is back together for another shot.

Hellboy: Being Human features Roger, the homunculus Hellboy met fairly early in the run of Hellboy stories, on his first field mission. Here’s the solicit text, courtesy of Dark Horse:

A horrible witch and her zombie servant host a dinner party for a family of corpses, and Hellboy and Roger turn up to blast them all back to hell in this team-up story from Roger’s early days at the B.P.R.D.

This one’s a simple, personal tale of horror, showing us an early glimpse at how Roger and Hellboy grew to become friends and how hate can twist a life into an ugly mess. Being Human refers to Hellboy, Roger, and the witch who menaces them. What’s it mean to be human? Do you have to be homo sapiens, or is it something more?

Check out the preview below.

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The Cipher 10/27/10

October 27th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

the new NERD album sucks
-I am positively drowning in existential crises. Pardon my dust. Fourcast! is on a brief break.

Corben on Hellboy is always worth a glance. More on Corben.

Bulletproof Coffin is a great book, and this bit of analysis by David Allison is great in part because it’s something I never would’ve done. About half his thoughts/connections never even crossed my mind, and that’s a wonderful thing. This is what comics internet is good for: learning stuff.

-Related: Someone please put the most recent issues of Bulletproof Coffin up so I can buy them digital. Thanks in advance. I love you.

-What’s comics internet isn’t good for: decent interviews with crap headlines. I like Kaare Andrews, and I thought this interview was pretty swift, but that headline has got to go. The biggest thing in there was Andrews “Slutting Up Emma?” Nothing about what makes a good film vs comic? Nothing about the experience of creating a movie vs a comic? He says a lot of interesting things, and that is the least of them.

-More good: Mike Hawthrone and Nathan Fairbain collab on an Elektra Lives Again piece. The colors on this are fantastic, dead-on.

-More good: Tim O’Neil points out some screwed up priorities in Batman comics. Hey, doesn’t this make Vicki Vale an accomplice? Send old girl to jail. Make it a Crisis. “Child Slavers Crisis!” It’ll move units. (No Larry Flynt.)

-Matt Seneca is a cool dude, and I always enjoy his Monday Panels. I’m not sure how old he is, other than “probably 20s,” but I like seeing how our tastes crisscross (or don’t). I don’t know from half of what he talks about, beyond it being stuff I should’ve read before now, and I’m impressed with his depth of knowledge of that stuff. I’m just good at putting together puzzle pieces. Matt’s good people.

-I really like this bit from Peter Milligan and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Hellblazer: India. It’s probably completely opaque, but something about it, maybe the trade of barbs or just the voices I’m hearing when I read it, clicks. Perfect Constantine to me.

what happened, son?
-Create: Some Halloween ish, some previews for Beasts of Burden/Hellboy (review soon, tl;dr is “good!”), T-bolts, and Deadpool MAX, some solicit previews, and a review of Panty & Stocking.

-Consume: I re-read Yasuhiro Nightow’s Trigun 1-2, and Trigun Maximum 1-3, but boy are those crap. Art’s okay in TM, but the translation is soft (Who says -san and oi! in the old west?) and plotting so-so. John Constantine, Hellblazer: India was good. Other than those, nothing really sticks out. What have I been doing over the past week? Oh, right, I got Def Jam Rapstar, one of the three games a year made for black people. I like it a lot, but the DLC schedule is absurd. The only song we get this MIMS’s “This Is Why I’m Hot”? And why isn’t “Grindin'” on the PS3 store? The devs released a statement about it, but man. I’ll probably get Rock Band 3 eventually so I can play the Bob Marley joints. The song line up is pretty thoro.

Nina Simone’s The Lady Has The Blues is five bucks, by the bay.

In Search Of… was great, though
David: Amazing Spider-Man 646, Thunderbolts 149
Esther: Action Comics 894
Gavin: Justice League Generation Lost 12, Time Masters Vanishing Point 4, Avengers 6, Avengers & Infinity Gauntlet 3, Captain America 611, Deadpool Team-Up 888, Incredible Hulks 615, Secret Avengers 6, Secret Warriors 21, Thunderbolts 149, Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 3

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The Mask Is The Man

September 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Hellboy: The Storm (Mike Mignola/Duncan Fegredo) wrapped up this past week. It was a lead-in to the upcoming The Fury (get it?) and pretty fantastic. Elves, armies, kings of England, you know how Hellboy stories go.

Anyway, in the letters page was a pretty interesting question.

The scene in question from Mignola and Corben’s Hellboy in Mexico:

It’s not artistic license! Just like Clark Kent is Superman, and Bruce Wayne is Batman, the wrestler is his mask. The mask is sacred, and represents his true nature. When the mask is removed, or lost in a fight, the wrestler loses more than just the match.

So, after being infected by evil, the luchador up there turns into a heinous vampire bat-thing. He’s been corrupted. After Hellboy kills him, his identity, his true nature, is returned to him, and he finds peace.

Where’s my No-Prize?!

(If you haven’t read Hellboy In Mexico, or A Drunken Blur yet, you absolutely should pick up one of my favorite stories of this year.)

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7 Artists: Richard Corben

July 7th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Richard Corben can draw anything. I’ve seen him do dark horror, mean crime comics, superhero books, prison drama, and post-apocalyptic ugliness with aplomb. He’s been creating stories since the late ’60s and has amassed a pretty imrpessive resume. For the past few years, he’s been working with mainstream publishers like Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse and pumping out must-read tale after must-read tale.

The thing about Corben is that he’s not a pretty artist. His work is grotesque in the traditional sense of the word–not ugly, but distorted and unnatural. His men are super-muscular, with prominent jaws (and, when nude, penises), while his women are buxom and bulky. No one is skinny in Corben’s comics unless they’re dying or dead. Everyone’s rounded and ripped, with long or round faces, brawny arms, sausage fingers, big noses, wide lips, and thick gums. Corben exists in that weird area where his art definitely has a touch of ugly about it, but ends up being aesthetically pleasing because of that.

There are a few things I think of as Corben’s signature flourishes. His approach to violence is one of them. He draws this weird, cartoony violence, like slapstick Tex Avery shorts where people actually die. In your average Corben tale, lizardmen crush skulls, axes cleave skulls in two, people get burned alive, and swords poke out eyeballs. It’s very gory, but not in a realistic way. It’s more akin to cartoon violence, where the blood and acts are exaggerated just enough to be thrilling without being too disgusting.

This carries on to his approach to corpses, too. They’re decayed and disgusting, with battle wounds, worms, and broken bones jutting out at odd angles, but they’re always drawn just gross enough to be interesting, rather than off-putting. His work on Hellboy, and various short stories recently, has led to Corben drawing a lot of dead people. A collaboration with John Arcudi in Solo featured Corben telling a story about the Spectre. A man is dismembered, disemboweled, and cut open, amongst other various punishments, on-panel. In the hands of a more realistic artist, say Hiroya (Gantz) Oku, you would have gotten an almost pornographically detailed vision of spewing guts and broken faces. In Corben’s hands, it’s cartoony and scary, to be sure, but you could never accuse Corben of being dependent on gore as a gross-out factor.

Another Corben high point is his take on Hellboy. Several artists have drawn Hellboy’s adventures, and each have had a very specific take on the character. Mike Mignola drew him as mostly monster, clearly inhuman and huge. Duncan Fegredo has a more human take on Hellboy, where he’s more of a brawny guy in a trenchcoat. Corben has the most interesting take on Hellboy for my money, though. The only way I can think to describe it is to say that it’s Hellboy by way of Sesame Street. Corben’s Hellboy looks like a muppet. He has this oddly-shaped, squared-off head, a flat jaw that’s connected to his head in a way you can’t quite figure out, and a stubby nose. If you look, really look, it looks like his jaw is connected to his head like a puppet’s jaw is connected, rather than anything that’s actually human.

This take on Hellboy works. He looks pretty dopey in personality, but it actually adds a lot to the character. Hellboy has always been treated as a normal guy stuck in extraordinary circumstances. He doesn’t do Dr. Strange-style magic spells, and he’s just as likely to punch a monster as use a talisman to kill it. Corben’s muppet version adds a thick layer of cartooning onto Mignola’s blueprint and delivers a character that looks friendly, good-natured, and more than a little inhuman. When Hellboy is wrestling vampires or battling giant African spirits, he doesn’t feel out of place. He’s this bright spot of gritty, dirty red in the middle of a variety of browns, but it works.

It’s creepy. His face is expressionless, with just a thick black line for a mouth, but that lack of expression makes Hellboy look kinda sad at the same time. His body is Corben-beefy, with a healthy dose of chest hair, but his head is totally out of place. Hellboy’s red right hand feels more real than Hellboy’s head does. His trenchcoat is real, but his head isn’t. The contrast between real and unreal throughout Corben’s version of Hellboy creates a weird disconnect in my mind. It actually makes it easier to buy Hellboy as taking part in these stories and whatever weirdness that comes his way. It’s spooky from jump, and all you need to know that is clear by looking at Hellboy himself.

When Frank Miller and Jim Lee were doing All-Star Batman, there was a tonal disconnect between the art and the story. Miller was doing this really hard-edged take on Batman, abrasive and maybe a little honest, and Lee’s art was more or less traditional superhero art, shiny and exuberant. I enjoyed the clash between writing and art, but it made it tough to get into the story. You have expectations that don’t get filled in the way you expect, or at all.

This otherworldly aspect of Corben’s work is what makes his work so good, I think. You’re clearly reading a story, whether it’s about a British con-man turned convict or a barbarian lost in a strange land, but it’s easy to accept that world as real and lose yourself in the story because it’s weird from the start. Due in part to his style and in part to his body of work, you may have expectations for Corben’s stories (his barbarian will find a busty lass, someone’s head will be beaten against a wall or bounced off a sidewalk, someone will light or smoke a cigarette while backlit, someone will cock their head at a wholly unnatural angle), but you don’t have just one expectation for his work.

Versatility is a funny thing. The mainstream comics industry tends to place people in boxes. Jim Lee has a superhero style that evolved while he was doing X-Men with Scott Williams, but he’s also come up with a pretty fantastic watercolor style, too. What fans want, though, is his X-Men style. They want Hush, not watercolors. So, Jim Lee does big time superheroes. Michael Lark does gritty crime stuff. Amanda Conner does shiny smiley face comics. Jae Lee does moody stuff where people stand on rocks. All of them are talented and fantastic at what they do. But, when I pick up a book with their name on it, I expect to see that specific thing that they’re known for. When I pick up a Corben book, I just expect to see something that’s a little awesome, a little ugly, and a little goofy.

Corben, though, gets to skate by and do a wide variety of stories. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t been as firmly defined as capital J Jim capital L Lee in terms of what people expect, maybe it’s because his style is going to be off-model on anything but his own creations, so you’re going to get something weird no matter what it is, or maybe it’s just because he doesn’t like to do just one thing ad nauseam.

Who knows? I’m thankful for his versatility, though.

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Put You On Game Linkblogging

October 6th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

-Emi Lenox of EmiTown creates one of my favorite online comics, and one of the few journal comics I’m willing to read on a regular basis. Her art is very endearing, and her point of view is always interesting. She did a comic in 24 hours in honor of 24 Hour Comic Day, and it’s a good one. Check out the comic here. It’s pretty awesome.

-Jason Thompson discusses Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo, which looks like exactly the kind of manga I want to read. I may order Smith’s MBQ just off the strength of this feature.

-Chad Nevett, once again proving that my opinions are the best opinions, agrees with my unspoken opinion that the first half of Hancock was very good and interesting and that the second half goes completely off the rails. He’s got some good thoughts on the movie, and Hancock’s motivations.

-Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca are dropping an Afrodisiac book later this year. You have bad taste in comics if you don’t pick it up.

-Kate Dacey dropped her Manga Hall of Shame, a list of terrible books that she’s read. In what I hope is the first of many, Erica Friedman does her own list for yuri manga. I don’t know if I could make a list of my own. Maybe the Cowboy Bebop mangas, which were both amazingly not charming at all? The Gundam tie-in manga that Tokyopop put out when I was dumb enough to buy every manga on the shelves?

-Leylaaker (apologies if I missed a real name) writes about a pretty sour experience visiting comic shops on both coasts. Dear comic shops: get your acts together. Comic Shop Guy should be an aberration, not the norm.

-Ian from The Eastern Edge posts the final part of his six part Naoki Urasawa interview translation project. It’s a good read, and links to the previous installments are in the post.

-Brandon Graham’s blog is a must-read, though it’s sometimes NSFW. He renewed my eternal love in this post and with these words: “Where did that L7 square, space wingtip wearing motherfucker ever come up with the feet for that robot? Those feet were clearly designed by someone that regularly mastrerbates into a pair of 93 Reebocks.”

-Jog wrote a wrap-up of SPX 2009, and as usual, it’s must-reading. It ranges from a look at old Mazzucchelli art to panel recaps to books he picked up at the show.

-FBB did a podcast on Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’s Martha Washington books. I haven’t listened to it yet, but black people.

A brief bit of Richard Corben animation from 1968. NSFW, but guess what: it’s Richard Corben. Props to Sean Witzke for the link.

-Cheryl Lynn is reading a couple comics on recommendation from Ragnell and David Uzumeri. Which did they recommend? Tarot and Fantastic Four. Prologue is up, and part 2 covers Tarot.

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Good Reviews & Bad Reviews

September 2nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

The thing about reviewing, critiquing, and talking about comics, or any media, is that there has to be two components to your text. You have to have facts and you have to have opinions. The facts are what is actually in the book– Superman punches a dude, Wonder Woman does something boring, Spider-Man cries like a baby. The opinion should be defensible and derivable from the facts that are in the book. “Batman punched a lady for no reason, I think that was pretty lame.”

There are wrong opinions, of course– ones that were created from incorrect or incomplete data, ones that don’t reflect reality, or (to be perfectly frank) ones that are just stupid. It’s possible for two intelligent people to come to diametrically opposed conclusions about a work, as in here, where I disagree with some very good friends of mine and one of my favorite writers about comics about certain elements of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter. Different strokes, different experiences, different conclusions. All of that is fair.

I try to keep all this in mind while I write. I want to be sure that I’m not bringing something to a work that isn’t there. I keep this in mind when reading reviews, too. I learned from my time doing games journalism that a lot of reviews are objectively terrible and uninformative, which basically means that they are worthless.

All of this preamble is to say that Jesse Schedeen and IGN’s review of Starr the Slayer #1 is of poor quality, factually inaccurate, and not useful to someone looking for an informed opinion on the book. It’s crap, son.

The biggest problem with it, the most mind-blowing thing, is this:

Unfortunately, different doesn’t automatically equate to good. Writer Daniel Way makes the risky choice of communicating this story almost entirely through rap. Yes, you read that right. Instead of a standard omniscient narration, the tale of Starr and his creator is relayed through hip-hop rhymes. Suffice it to say, I’m not prepared to crown the writer as Mixmaster Way anytime soon.

Here’s the first page of the book:


I’m going to be charitable and assume that Schedeen has never heard rap, or else he’d understand that mixmasters are DJs, not emcees. I’m also going to assume that he’s a bit behind on his history reading, or else he’d recognize that Way is not using the art from the Bronx, but rather something that is centuries old, if not older. Do you know the classic The Tale of Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python’s Holy Grail? Way’s using a bard, or a griot, or a storyteller, a type of person who often used music or song to tell their story while trying to make some money on the side. “Busts mad rhymes on the street corner?” Nah, son.

Schedeen goes on to say that Way’s rap goes on and on (with a breakadawn joke), to the point that he feels the pages are cluttered and hard to read and he just stopped paying attention. And, sure, that’s fair– some pages have a caption box or two with like six words per box, that’s a ton! Other pages, something like ten of them, don’t have a caption box, or have just a single box on the entire page. That’s tough reading!

But Schedeen not paying attention? That shows in the review. He describes Corben’s style as being “significantly exaggerated here,” when, no, it looks just like his Cage work which looks like his Den work which looks like his Edgar Allen Poe work. It looks like a Corben book, and isn’t more exaggerated than any other one.

He says that Len Carson’s world warps and the fictional world intrudes on the real one. That’s a fairly liberal reading of the book, considering that the intrusion isn’t the sort of thing that develops over the book. It takes place over three panels and one page and close out the book. Not very slow, that. It’s far from a Telltale Heart situation, I think.

He goes on to say, “Starr’s world, by comparison, is a little bland and surprisingly devoid of violence and bloodshed at the moment.” Starr’s world is the one where all the action happens. One guy gets his brains busted out (with one punch!), another gets his face pounded into pulp, and three people straight up die. I can see how that would pale against… a playback of an old man’s failed career as a writer and all the fast cars he used to drive.

Schedeen again:

In discussing this book, Corben has revealed that he, Way, and editor Axel Alonso constructed the story in the “Mighty Marvel Manner”, which essentially means that Way constructed a basic outline, Corben drew the issue, and then Way filled in the dialogue afterward. This certainly isn’t a common approach anymore, and for good reason. Perhaps in a misguided attempt to make the writing stand out in this art-centric comic, Way has needlessly burdened the script with unusual narration and pointless homoerotic humor.

The homoerotic humor thing– there’s one gay “joke,” though it’s more of a metaphor (first panel, first page, above), so that’s a stretch. I’ll grant you unusual narration, though, and we’ll chalk the homoeroticism up to taste.

The Marvel Way thing, though, is kinda clearly due to a misunderstanding of how the Marvel method works. When you’re working with a talent like Richard Corben, a guy who has been creating comics that are consistently better than the average since before I was born, working in the Marvel style isn’t that bad of an idea. It gives him a chance to deliver a beautiful book that’s paced according to the art, rather than the story. The thing about the Marvel Way not being common any more is straight up untrue– George Perez reportedly uses it, Kurt Busiek has used it on recent projects, and it’s a pretty viable way to do comics to this day.

Boiled down, Jay-Z already said what I’m trying to say: “Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?” This review feels like Schedeen skimmed through it and guessed to fill in the blanks.

I read Starr the Slayer and thought it was pretty fun. A solid B/B+ right now, with definite room for improvement. It’s a Conan story that takes itself exponentially less seriously than actual Conan stories. A guy drinks “roofinium” before being sacrificed, there’s a strain of dark humor throughout it, and the song is bawdy and funny, kind of like the first scene in Romeo & Juliet.

It’s a comic that works. Way’s script doesn’t trample over Corben’s art, and Corben’s art is Richard Corben: the bomb. It’s immature, but it’s also funny. I read it, I liked it, I’ll cop the inevitable hardcover. It’ll go on my shelf next to Richard Corben’s Edgar Allen Poe books.

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