Archive for the 'superlatives' Category


Best Example of Industry Rule 4080, 2011: The Jack Kirby Lawsuit

February 3rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The Jack Kirby case broke me, in a way. This is as good a round-up as you’ll find online. You should read it, because Tom Spurgeon is very good at his job. The short version is basically that, according to the law, Jack Kirby created all those characters and drew all those pages for Marvel under a work-for-hire contract, and therefore has no stake in the ownership of the characters he co-created or created wholesale.

Reading up on this case made me realize that a significant portion of the comics industry is built on exploitation. The law agrees with Marvel, but Marvel is the company that put language on their paychecks that forced you to relinquish ownership before you could get paid. Your choice, after completing the job, was either play ball or starve, which isn’t really a choice at all, near as I can tell. They’re the company that claimed ownership over the original art their artists created, preventing them from selling that art on the secondary market to supplement their income. (I’d heard that they lost a significant amount of that original art in a flood in the ’80s, and several of my smarter friends have, but I couldn’t find corroboration online, so maybe it’s fake, I dunno.) They’re the company that stitched Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby out and penciled in “Stan Lee Presents.” Kirby might have signed a bad contract or whatever, but he was working with snakes.

I believe that Kirby deserves the ownership he was cheated out of, and his heirs deserve his cut of what he should have earned. I feel like if you do a job for me, and you help make me a success, I owe you. I owe you big, and I should do my level best to reward you for that. Maybe that’s how I was raised. But I think that’s a healthier way to do business than leaving scorched earth behind every interaction you have with your talent.

I think Marvel should have made a deal for profit-sharing or whatever a long time ago. I think that right now, Marvel has the prestige and cash to make that happen, but the law is on their side and the accountants would never allow it, no matter how much the men and women who do the actual work at Marvel might want to. Maybe that’s irony, I dunno.

This story, and the story of the Siegel & Shuster lawsuits against DC Comics/Time Warner, rubbed me the wrong way. It makes the ugliness beneath the spandex plain. It draws all of these shadows that I was comfortable ignoring into the light. It forces me to make a choice: how strong are my morals? How much do I believe in right and wrong?

I still don’t have an answer. The hardline, no compromises side of morality says that I should wash my hands of both companies behind their history. I’ve done it in minor ways. I’m not reading Action Comics because I think it’s gross that Grant Morrison didn’t live up to the picture he painted of himself that I bought into. He went from counter-culture icon speaking at Disinfo to the guy mocking Sandman fans and just saying that Siegel and Shuster signed a contract. I’m not reading any of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four or FF, either. I get the reasoning behind the little dedications to Stan & Jack in each issue, but that’s just a reminder that, hey, Marvel wouldn’t exist without this guy (or Romita or Ditko or Buscema or Lee) and they refuse to credit him with that fact. But if the comics were better, if it were the Grant Morrison who blew my mind with Flex Mentallo instead of whoever it is writing Action Comics, would I stick to the courage of my convictions?

I like the Hulk. He’s a Lee/Kirby co-creation. Jeff Parker’s Hulk is one of Marvel’s best comics, month-in, month-out. I buy it month-in, month-out. Does that make me a hypocrite? It probably does, depending on how generous you’re feeling at the moment. But at the same time… Parker and the rest of the creative team didn’t do anything wrong. Their only crime is having good ideas and being good at their job. It’s Marvel that’s the villain. Is that how I rationalize my purchases to myself?

There’s also the matter of, if Kirby is responsible for so much of Marvel’s output, and Siegel & Shuster for DC’s, then both companies are rotten from the inside out and should be shunned on that basis. The United States and its history of oppression and genocide is next on the list, I figure.

I struggle. Sometimes I come down on the side of “I buy this because I like it, and the past is the past and hopefully the people in charge aren’t complete douchebags now.” On some days, it’s the other thing. I don’t have an answer, and probably never will. I take things as they come. It’s… probably not consistent, but it is what it is. I’m still figuring out this whole “living” thing.

One thing I hate, and I mean hate with the burning fire of a thousand screaming suns, is how my fellow comics fans look at ownership. We wouldn’t have comics if not for these people, and it’s absurd that the companies and their fans are so okay with screwing these people over time and time again.

I’m trying to do better, in large part because the Kirby lawsuit opened my eyes. I’m a tremendous fan of his work and his influence on comics. It’s harder to look away after something has been made plain. “Comics will break your heart,” right?

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Best Wolverine Story, 2011: Charlie Huston & Juan Jose Ryp’s Wolverine: The Best There Is

February 2nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

In the beginning was Wolverine. He was without form and void, a mystery man with sharp claws and hard edges. He was particularly interesting when compared to Cyclops, a strait-laced and fairly open leader. As time went on, Wolverine’s mysteries faded, only to be replaced by ninjas, samurai codes, globe-trotting espionage, and more. While we once knew next to nothing about Wolverine, we began to know entirely too much. Still later, we discovered Wolverine’s actual origin, and all was lost. Lamentation. Lamentation.

Wolverine tales since have tended to focus on his history and past. His son, Daken, returns to haunt him. A secret mastermind behind a group of clawed mutants emerges from the darkness to try to kill him. He discovers that he has sired several children over the years shortly after killing them while battling an enemy composed of people from his past. Too many Wolverine stories tend to be about Wolverine and things that he has done, rather than placing Wolverine into new situations and seeing what happens.

The reason why Wolverine: The Best There Is is the best Wolverine story of 2011 is simple. It takes a very Wolverine-unfriendly idea–immortal enemies that cannot be killed with claws and the threat of apocalyptic germ warfare–and throws Wolverine directly into the middle of it. Wolverine’s traditional methods, like berserker rages and healing from any wound, are weaknesses here. The enemies, code-named “Unkillables,” are a motley crew of regenerators and immortals. Madcap and Suicide, the Ghost Rider Villain, are the highest profile villains in the crew. The rest are new creations, fifty-year old characters who appeared in comics once (twice if you count reprints), and people like Mortigan Goth, who appeared in Marvel UK’s attempt at getting in on some of Vertigo’s market share in the early ’90s. A couple supporting characters show up later on who are from ’70s-era cosmic Marvel comics. Everyone involved is as obscure as obscure gets, basically.

And yet–the story works. Rather than being a story where Wolverine is the absolute best there is at what he does, and what he does is tear through anyone and everyone with ease, we get a story where Wolverine is forced to slow down, change his tactics, and think things through before really getting loose (because we have expectations for Wolverine stories, of course).

Charlie Huston’s one of the best at depicting urgency, nervousness, and confusion. His dialogue comes in clipped, rapid-fire sentences that beg for you to fill in the blank, like an obfuscated James Ellroy. People interrupt and talk over each other, speak half-formed thoughts out into the ether, and argue incessantly. Not only is Wolverine out of his depth, but he’s forced to conversate with people he had would otherwise cross the street to avoid (spacemen, mainly) and deal with the theatrics of the lead villain. The speedy patter gives the entire book the feel of a train headed straight for a collision with the end of the world. Something is going to go down–it’s just a matter of what and when.

Juan Jose Ryp’s artwork and Andres Mossa’s colors are great, too. This is much uglier than Wolverine has been in years. Buildings are cluttered with litter and walls are pockmarked with age. Everything is rusted and water damaged. It’s filthy, and it looks so good. Ryp and Mossa render gore and cheesecake/beefcake with equal skill (this is despite the rating of the book preventing actual nudity, resulting in wisps of smoke and cleverly placed obstructions over everyone’s crotch). Together, they have sort of a Geof Darrow with OCD style. Everything goes hyper-detailed, for better or for worse. (Sometimes for worse, but the better is so good that I don’t mind.)

Wolverine: The Best There Is is gross. It’s gross in all the right ways. It throws a character we all know well into new situations and provided a welcome respite from the rather dour nature of Wolverine comics these days. It’s funny, it’s violent, and it doesn’t feel like a regular old Marvel comic. It’s a little dirtier, and a little more juvenile, but even more enjoyable than usual for those exact reasons.

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Best Worst Joke From Jeff Parker, 2011: Thunderbolts 162

February 1st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Thunderbolts by Jeff Parker/Kev Walker/Declan Shalvey/Frank Martin is definitely my favorite ongoing Marvel comic, with Hulk by Parker/Gabriel Hardman/Elena Cassagrande/Bettie Breitweiser/Rachelle Rosenberg a close second. Parker and the gang delivered a lot of great moments over the course of all 12+ issues of Thunderbolts shipped in 2011, but only one scene instantly filled me with white hot rage and uncontrollable laughter simultaneously. Art by Valentine De Landro with Matthew Southworth, colors by Frank Martin & Fabio D’Auria.

Fear Itself: Thunderbolts hits comic shops and book stores today. A good starting point for the franchise is Thunderbolts: Cage.

Parker co-created a webcomic with cartoonist Erika Moen, too. You can see the last page of Bucko if you visit the home page, but you should click here to read the tale of the troubles that arise from trying to have threesomes. Learn well from the mistakes of young Bucko.

Jeff Parker, writer of these tales, is the greatest monster history has ever known. Someone stop him before he goes too far.

Thanks in advance.

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Best Adaptation of Another Work, 2011: Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles

January 31st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The first thing adaptations of any sort need to do is justify their existence. What does Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 do that Arthur C Clarke’s novel doesn’t? That justification is crucial, because otherwise, why not just read the book? Adaptations that are just direct, or near-direct, copies, like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City or Zach Snyder’s Watchmen may provide a briefly visceral thrill at seeing what was previously limited to your imagination turned into real life and then displayed on a giant screen, but they don’t have anything over the original works beyond being films. Adaptations need to reveal some previously hidden truth or adjust the story for a new context in order to be truly worthwhile. A 1:1 adaptation simply isn’t enough. Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles, the latter half of which was published this year, is an adaptation that justifies its own existence.

It’s based on Needle, a science-fiction novel from 1950 by Hal Clement. In Needle, an alien life form comes to Earth and takes up residence inside a human boy. The alien is on Earth in hot pursuit of another alien, a hostile one this time, and enlists the boy to help in that battle. The hostile alien has hidden inside another human, and they must solve the puzzle before it’s too late.

7 Billion Needles keeps the broad strokes of the story. There is a kind alien and a hostile one. The boy has been replaced by Hikaru Takabe, a teenaged girl, and the conflict plays out in a vastly different manner. Rather than dealing with paranoia, it’s more about growth, both emotional and physical. Hikaru is exceedingly reserved after a personal tragedy, and has trouble making friends. She’s quiet with her family, too, even though they have taken her in. Thanks to the influence of the alien, she learns how to open up and just how important relationships actually are. You could even say that she learns just how important the relationships she already has are to her, though she may be actively avoiding or simply not cognizant of that fact. It takes time. There’s no magic button that opens up her emotions, but she eventually grows into a fuller human being.

Evolution plays a major role in the series, too. The question of what direction life on Earth should take, how dominant species can upset an ecosystem, and how species contamination works, are important parts of the latter half of the series. While it may not be scientifically sound, it does make for a very interesting wrap-up to a series that’s simultaneously personal and apocalyptic.

7 Billion Needles is a great example of pulling inspiration from an existing work and then doing it justice. Direct adaptations might as well be photocopies. Finding something new to say with an old story is much more interesting.

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Best Use of Color, 2011: Rico Renzi (Loose Ends)

January 30th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Colors can make or break a comic book. Great colorists–Matthew Wilson, Dave Stewart, June Chung, Matt Hollingsworth, Laura Allred, Frazer Irving, Laura Martin, Dave McCaig, and more–are as essential to a comic book as the writer and artist. Colors can set the mood in subtle ways, heighten or lessen the horror of a scene, or help turn an abstract idea into a concrete one. Great comics don’t have bad colors. It simply doesn’t work. Colors, including black and white, are too essential, too vital to the format, to be something that you can phone in. Colors count.

Rico Renzi’s colors in Loose Ends, published by 12 Gauge Comics, are fantastic. To be honest, the entire book clicks on every cylinder. Jason Latour’s story is on point, a crime tale that unfolds slowly, but in an entertaining and surprising way. Chris Brunner’s art is great, no matter whether he’s drawing slumping fellas, tired women, great sound effects, or faded flashbacks. Renzi’s colors are great, though. It may be an overused term, but his colors “pop.” Neon signs draw your eye, just like they do in real life. The gloom of a late night crawls across the page. He eschews sepia tone for flashbacks, choosing instead to render one of them with a greenish-blue and purple screentone overly.

The first issue is dominated by reds. The bar where most of the action takes place is open late and nearly empty, but that doesn’t stop things from going down. What should have been an easy night turns into a violent and horrible one, and an appropriately bloody shade of red begins to dominate the pages in spikes and bursts. When things quiet down, the red gives way to a cool blue and eventually black. The transition is an impressive one, and isn’t the type of thing that you’ll consciously notice on your first read.

Renzi makes a number of brave color choices over the course of the series. He’s not going for realism, not really. Realism in crime comics generally means lots of browns, blues, and blacks; rainy days and dark alleys. Renzi’s palette is more like something from a summer blockbuster or cape comic, but adjusted for the subject matter. The bright colors practically blast off the page, doubly so when they’re hidden in an otherwise flat flashback.

He uses a lot of unnatural colors, too, like Kool-Aid blue (the same blue I associate with that magical octopus/squid Kool-Aid introduced in the ’90s, remember that?) for sparks or lights and a sickly green for cash money. As a result, Loose Ends doesn’t look hardly anything else you’ll find on the shelves. It’s a crime comic that looks like it’s been lit by bioluminescence, and the finished product is beautiful. Rico Renzi knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s obvious from simply flipping through Loose Ends. After you read it the first time, take some time to just flip through the book and look at the art. Glance at how the colors shift as the book goes on. You won’t regret it. I like Loose Ends enough to follow these guys wherever they go.

(I’m editing this weeks after I first wrote this and I just realized what these colors remind me of: Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, starring my main man Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, the girl of my dreams. It’s a fairly dark story, at least in summary, but the palette and storytelling is like something out of a fairy tale or cartoon. It makes for a very strange film, and it’s one of my favorite movies.)

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