Reading Comics: Arcudi, Harren, & Stewart’s BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Long Death #3

April 23rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ll probably do a longer post on this subject in the near future, but I’m positively obsessed with how every act of violence in this bit from John Arcudi, Mike Mignola, James Harren, Dave Stewart, and Clem Robins’s BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Long Death 3 flashes orange. It only flashes when depicting specific aspects of violence, though, like in a video game. But the shade of orange Stewart used here reminds me of Jurassic Park and the flies trapped in amber more than anything else. Every comics panel is a specific moment captured in time, but the orange and the context makes it feel like these moments are extra important. They’re preserved.

I’m not sure if it was Harren, Arcudi, or Stewart’s idea, but I’m in love with this effect and their execution of it. Especially the bottom tier of the second page here — that fist swung out wide like a pregnant pause and then the gross, flat “whump.” You ever hear a “whump?” It sounds like a car wreck from a couple blocks away, and a really hard hit to the stomach.

Now to figure out how to explain to other people how cool this is, without just going “look how cool this is omgggggggg.”

You can buy all three issues over on Dark Horse Digital. A-one, a-two, a-three. It follows up on a couple years of BPRD tales, but I think it’s raw enough to stand up on its own. You might miss the finer points, but you should be reading BPRD anyway. Catch up.

(I can never figure out why some actions in BPRD get SFX and others don’t. Extra emphasis, maybe?)

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the devil does not jest, but he might sell you amway

October 3rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Ugh man, I think I should do something I hate doing, so I’m going to give you something I like first and then just do it.

From Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest, written by Mike Mignola/John Arcudi, drawn by James Harren, and colored by Dave Stewart:

I don’t have any real insight or in-depth mind-blowing criticism here. I just love how wet and vicious this fight scene is. Abe embedding the monster in the wall with his knife (look at his hands!), that punch (BAM) on the next page, and again on the page after that… and all the while, fluid is flying like it’s Mortal Kombat. This is the second time I’m writing about wonderfully bloody fight scenes in the past 24 hours (the other isn’t live yet, but I’ll link it), but basically, I just love how this looks. It’s disgusting and visceral.

Casanova changed when it was colored and all of the blood was suddenly visible. It changed the tone of the book. It made it… wetter. This is the same. It’s an ugly fight, even with the John McClane impression Abe’s got going on in page one, and I just love how Abe wrecks these things. The pools of blood on that last page especially. You get the sense that there Abe expended real effort while wiping the floor with these monsters.

Comics: more blood please. More sweat. More fluid. You can save those antiseptic, neat freak fight scenes for the children’s comics that children don’t actually read.

You can buy The Devil Does Not Jest (how good is that title? I thought they stole it from Milton at first) at your local dispensary or buy it on Dark Horse Digital on 10/19. (There’s a schedule, which is sadly free of Usagi Yojimbo but positively flush with Groo and BPRD.)

Okay, this part sucks (for me), BUT–you can help support 4thletter! if you want to. The site’s more expensive than it used to be (thanks to viewers like you, and I guess people on message boards hijacking images), and I’m fine with paying for it, but I do have ways to defray the costs. Long story short, though, I hate ads (see the ugly Project Wonderful ads on display right now, which will be gone once I have enough money to withdraw and cancel my account again) and I like doing Amazon Associates.

AA went away earlier this year, but it’s back, so now it’s back on 4thletter!. (Or will be.) Basically, if you shop through Amazon after clicking on (for example) this link, then 4thletter! gets a portion of the proceeds from your purchase. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and in fact, it’s invisible. It’s low, like six to ten percent, depending on what was purchased. I can’t see what you buy specifically, but I can tell what sells, if that makes sense. I get a report that says I sold X copies of Y, but not who bought it.

You can also use the search box on the right, or click the hyperlinked titles of trades when I write about things. So if I recommend Adam Warren’s Empowered Volume 1 or the Amazon Instant Video version of Takeshi Miike’s 13 Assassins, you could click those links, buy it, and I would get… I dunno, fifty cents? Something.

So, basically, I hate charity. For myself, I mean. I’m not so poor that I can’t afford to host a website, but I’m not so rich that I’m going to turn down free money. I am, however, so incredibly guilty that I don’t like getting money for no reason, which is why there’s not a Paypal tip jar on the site. If you want something off Amazon and order it through this affiliate deal, I’m totally okay with that.

So here’s some stuff you might get a kick out of, if you were so inclined:

-DRC Music’s Kinshasa One Two– This is a charity project for the benefit of Oxfam and the Congolese performers on it. I first took notice because Damon Albarn’s involved in it, but the gimmick is really cool. He and a few friends (Danger Mouse, Dan the Automator) went to the Congo and recorded with actual Congolese musicians for an album of Congolese music. I feel like this is stuff I would never hear if Albarn and them weren’t involved, and I’m listening to it right now and seriously digging it. I may write about it later, I dunno. I don’t know if this is me being all ’80s baby black dude in love with ~A~F~R~I~C~A~ and wondering where his leather medallion went or what, but I really like how this stuff sounds. When it knocks, it really knocks. Here are some samples:

DRC Music – Kinshasa One Two (see http://drcmusic.org ) by DRC Music

-The Criterion edition of Olivier Assaya’s Carlos. Jet-setting, ’70s era, international terrorism crime feature. It’s five hours of style and terror.

-Louis CK’s Louie is painfully funny. I wrote about it back in August after an episode floored me.

-Mellowhype’s BlackenedWhite. Wrote about this one, too.

-Charlie Huston and Juan Jose Ryp’s Wolverine: The Best There Is: Contagion is exactly what Wolverine comics should be like. No nonsense, lots of murder, and filthy nasty. No Angsty Comics.

-When I stop posting on here forever after tomorrow, NBA 2K12 is to blame. Sorry. (Go Hawks.)

Shill shill shill. Sorry. But yeah, I’m not begging, at least not intentionally, and I’m not trying to guilt you into buying things off Amazon when I link them. I’m just trying to be upfront so that you don’t see the little “4thletter” in the Amazon URL and get freaked out or whatever.

tl;dr: If you buy stuff from Amazon after clicking on special magical links here, you’ll help us out. Oh yeah, this only works if you’re in America. If you’re in not-America, your readership is enough, seriously. Thanks for reading all these dumb things I write.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program, which is Gavin writing funny things, Esther writing about Batmans, and me playing video games instead of getting any work done.

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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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5 Series: Winter Men

July 24th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-Shortest version: read Sean’s post.

-The short version is that The Winter Men is like Watchmen, only genuinely fun to read. It doesn’t need rigid formalism or a fractal narrative to keep you going. It doesn’t have a cast that is entirely unpleasant. It doesn’t need them. As far as stories about washed up old superheroes goes, Winter Men beats the pants off Watchmen.

-The other version is that Winter Men takes on one of the most tired stories in the world and manages to do something magical. Everyone has read stories about heroes that are past their prime and broken emotionally. Watchmen did it well enough, but at this point, it’s been copied so often that the impact of the original has been diluted. It’s become a status quo, or a regularly used tool, rather than a new and exciting twist. It’s like–okay, we get it. Superheroes are human, humans are terrible, shut up talking to me.

But Winter Men. Brett Lewis, John Paul Leon, sick letters by John Workman, Dave Stewart on colors… this is the real deal. This takes human heroes and puts them through a lot of the same drama other, lesser books did. Kris Kalenov is a drunk, his former friends see right through him, and his superiors see him as a tool, rather than a person. He’s something used to apply pressure, whether he wants to apply it or not.

-The difference with Winter Men and a lot of stories of its type is that it isn’t there to dwell on the misery of its characters. Sad things happen, Kris’s relationship with his wife is crap, his friend Nina is skeptical of everything he says, he spends a lot of time in the bottle, and he cold punches his girlfriend in the face at one point, but that’s just part of it. Instead, Lewis and JPL are knocking out stories of his life. It’s not about trying to be realistic or dragging these people down out of the heavens. They’re already out of the heavens, and this is about what happens after.

-In a sideways kind of way, it puts me in mind of Joe Casey’s Wildcats and Wildcats 3.0. The two series were set after the heroes were stripped of their cause and left aimless. It was about their search for a new quest and the way they dealt with the hand life dealt them. Not about their fall, not about their misery, and not about how much it sucks not to have a war. It was about finding something new. There was a cause here. It’s gone now. What’s next?

Kris Kalenov, at some point, stopped looking for the next. Winter Men is the story of what happens when someone else’s next finds him.

-The art is astounding, but I can’t do any more justice to it than Sean did. Just believe that John Paul Leon is a powerhouse, and anything he draws is worth cover price plus tax at the very least.

-There’s a lot to like in Winter Men, but I think that my favorite is the fourth chapter. If they published an issue of Spider-Man like that chapter, fans would complain to the heavens that “nothing happens!” Those fans are stupid. The fourth chapter is just a day in the life of Kalenov and his old friend Nikki, a gangster.

It’s just this stupid thing, following them around while they argue over Big Maks, talk about their marriage, and run wild over Moscow, but it’s fantastic. There’s enough sublime moments in this one issue to fill a hundred issues of other comics. There’s the time when this nerd pops off at the mouth and demands to know by what authority Nikki and Kris are hassling him. The very next panel is him in the back of a truck nursing a bloody nose. Or when Nikki admires a table in the Russian McDonald’s and then they come back later to steal it.

It’s an issue about nothing, but it’s really about everything. This is their life.

-The big blue guy in Winter Men is way cooler than Manhattan.

-I would read an entire series about Nina, “The Barricade Girl.” I mean, you thought Black Widow was the dopest thing to come out of Moooseandsquirrel spy shenanigans, but Nina is something else. She’s one of the “Olympic-Spetsnaz Killers.” That? Right up my alley. I’d settle for Brett Lewis just kinda leaving messages on my voice mail about her adventures and maybe JPL doing a weird squiggle that looks kinda like a jump kick.

-Again, John Workman’s letters? Killer.

-“I did everything I was supposed to. I followed orders. As a man, I carried joy and suffering evenly… and I only wanted what a man can expect. But if I can not have these regular things… I will instead have murder.”

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She’s Just Not That Into You, Denny Colt

September 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I didn’t really care about The Spirit before Darwyn Cooke came along. I knew of the character, and I’d read Dark Horse’s excellent Eisner/Miller, but I never had any interest in the character or the comic. Really, about all I knew is that everyone loved it, it was a classic, that it’d influenced a handful of writers and artists I enjoyed, and that Ebony White was shameful.

I finally gave the character a chance when Cooke’s run began. Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone, and Dave Stewart on colors is really the kind of creative team you shouldn’t turn down at all. So, I got over myself and finally dipped into Eisner’s character… and I wasn’t disappointed.

Cooke hits the ground running in the first issue, providing only a hint at The Spirit’s origin. Barring that page, the rest of the issue is essentially a series of chase scenes and fights. The Spirit has to rescue a kidnapped TV reporter while simultaneously evading her kidnappers and surviving Ginger Coffee’s idea of journalism.

This version of The Spirit feels old-school without being old. DC has been trying to bring back the olden glory days of their universe by bringing back Supergirl, Hal Jordan, and Barry Allen, but the stories just feel overwrought and hollow. With The Spirit, though, it just feels classic. You’ve got a hero (clean-shaven, lantern-jawed, virtuous), a damsel in distress, an angry ally/mentor, and a kid sidekick with a smart mouth.

I think what sold me on it in the end, though, was the last panel. The Spirit #1 ends with a joke, in the comic book-equivalent of a sitcom freeze frame. And that’s good. That’s the mythical “fun comic” that everyone’s been looking for and talking about. Open on action, throw in some adventure, end on a laugh. The hero spends 21 out of 22 pages being heroic, and the last panel is a joke at his expense. It reminds me of old cartoons, but with 2009% less cornball behavior.

The Spirit #1 is a fair indicator of the rest of Cooke’s run. The remaining issues dip into melancholy, slapstick humor, weirdness, action, and adventure in varying amounts, but it’s all here in microcosm. Cooke gives us the hero, but having a generic hero can get a little boring, so he throws a little sauce into the mix. Yeah, The Spirit is a good hero, and sometimes troubled, but you know what? He likes life. He has fun.

And Ebony White is dope.


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