“What is a party if it doesn’t really rock?” [Thief of Thieves]

April 9th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I liked this post by my bud Dylan Todd about Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Felix Serrano, and Shawn Martinbrough’s Thief of Thieves. I’ve been making fun of that ridiculous “How does a thief stop being a thief?” line for ages now, millions of years in internet time, but Dylan pointed out something even more egregious. I don’t want to repeat what Dylan said, so be sure to read his post. The short version, though, is that this sort of construction makes for storyboard comics, “Please make this into a movie” comics, instead of good old adventure comics.

If you want to read the full sequence, CBR has a preview. It opens with this intensely boring page, trips to another conversation that’s just as stiff though not as static, and then onto an awkwardly depicted gunfight (what is with the jumping dude?). This page, though, is the sort of thing that makes bad comics worse.

“Talking heads comics” is a pejorative, and rightly so, I think. At this late stage in the comics making game, this sort of construction is enormously weak. There’s nothing to this page, no excitement, no drama, no nothing. The woman is stuck in a shocked pose, as if to say “WHOA, what?” (My twitter follower @ardaniel tweeted at me to say “I keep making that woman’s panel 1-3 pose and it just makes me go ‘DON’T LOOK AT MY NIPPLES.'” and I’ve been laughing ever since). The guy is holding his cup in the air while delivering life-changing information. And then… frame two.

I’ve got two reasons why this is so weak. For the first, let’s assume that you absolutely have to have a scene where two characters conversate in one room, never leaving their seats. A meeting, essentially. Now, have you ever had a conversation? Think back to the last one you had. Even if you’re theoretically sitting still, you’re moving around. You’re cocking your head, coughing, making hand gestures, or stretching. The only time you sit and stare directly into someone’s eyes for minutes at a time is… I don’t know, actually, maybe never, or if someone is in a coma but you think they might be faking. We emote when we talk, and we all emote in idiosyncratic ways. We pick up gestures (jerk-off motion, a pshaw hand-flip, a “stop right there” hand, a half grimace to show disappointment) from somewhere and employ them to our own ends. We make unconscious motions. We blink real hard. Our eyes wander. We move, basically, and we move often. Even when you’re having a conversation with someone when you’re half asleep, you still wave them away.

We all do these things. It’s what makes people-watching so interesting. Not including such a basic part of our lives in a scene that should have several different touchstones for us to latch onto takes whatever verisimilitude the comic has and beats it in an alley. I don’t believe in this scene at all. It’s stiff and awkward. Let’s assume that panel one is fine. She’s surprised and she doesn’t want the guy to look at her nipples, so her hands are up. Cool. Panel two — she’s just heard some serious news. What’s her next position when she’s trying to find out more information? A shrug would work here, or a cocked head. Something inquisitive, not surprised. She’s still surprised, but at this point, she’s moving on to the next step, which is “What the heck is this guy talking about?” In panel three, she’s starting to get angry and caustic. “What is with this guy?” That’s an entirely different motion than “You quit?!” Panel 4: she’s angry and he’s smug. Fine. Sure.

Reason two. I’ve been reading a lot of Leiji Matsumoto manga recently, specifically his Galaxy Express 999. A lot of his stuff doesn’t have any action at all, in fact, and is composed of long conversations. Bald exposition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and boy does Matsumoto indulge himself sometimes. I was particularly struck by a scene from Galaxy Express 999, volume 1, when Maetel and Tetsuro land on a planet and have a quick conversation.

Instead of it being rendered like this scene from Thief of Thieves, the conversation takes place over a series of different scenes. They walk around, they check into a hotel, Maetel takes a shower… it was a fairly exciting way to show both time passing and to still give the reader all the exposition in the world. The conversation is impossible as depicted — they cover too much ground and do too many things for it to truly be one conversation — but it works to both introduce you to the land and the characters.

I know the pedants are getting ready to chime in with cries of “Manga is different!” (it’s still comics, shut your face) and “You’re comparing one page to ten!” (I am, but it’s not a 1:1 comparison, obviously). The thing is, Galaxy Express 999 is a great example. You can pick any one page, barring the splashes, and you’ll see a visually interesting conversation. Matsumoto shows that you can do more on one page than just show people talking, and that if you are going to show people talking, you can at least make it interesting to look at. People move and react and look around. It doesn’t get the blood pumping, but it lets you build up your world and characters. It’s characterization and world-building all in one. Tetsuro laying on the bed face down is meaningful in a way that three straight panels of “Seriously, you cannot look at these nipples right now” isn’t.

That’s what this really comes down to. Characterization. Every single thing we do as humans reveals something about us. A sneer hints at arrogance. A tentative smile suggests shyness. A sleazy smile and low eyes puts us in mind of naughty times in the bedroom. This sort of acting is characterization, even if it’s just two characters walking around a city or sitting in a room. Comics are an amazing information delivery system, and this Thief of Thieves page is lacking in info. It’s boring. It’s a speed bump.

I’m not saying that all comics need to have intricate conversations conducted by people who wiggle their arms like muppets while traveling across a bunch of diverse locations. Not by any means. I’m not saying that statted panels are evil, either. They have their place, just like anything else, and can be used to great effect. But here? No. Here, they betray a lack of imagination, or oncoming deadlines, or something. What I’m saying is that there’s none of the drama that this conversation deserves or that would keep the reader glued to their seats. There’s not even enough drama to justify checking in every once and a while. This is anti-drama, something to make you remember that you’re reading a comic, and hey, guess what, you paid three or four dollars for this thing.

The entire point of verisimilitude is to trick you into believing something that isn’t true, but appears true. This doesn’t appear true. Instead, this is boring, and that is one of the worst things comics can be. Bad comics have their high points — discussing bad X-Men will never get old, like that time they left Gambit in Antartica like “Yeah, find your own way home, murderer” — but boring comics just feel like a waste of time. They fade from memory. They don’t leave an impression. They’re vapor, instead of being something more solid. Boring.

Further reading.

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Frank Castle and the Marvel Universe

November 25th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

Solo #7 was originally supposed to have a cover by Mike Allred that depicted the 1960’s Adam West incarnation of Batman dancing the Batusi. It was replaced with Wonder Girl doing the same pose. One of the rumors as to why it was scrapped was that Dan Didio wants to put the kibosh on emphasizing the West-style Batman due to beliefs that West’s portrayal ruined the character for many decades up until Dark Knight Returns returned him to form. You get the idea: you can’t take a man dressed as a bat with underwear over his pants seriously if you’re reminded of that show where Cesar Romero painted over his mustache.

Is it true? Probably not. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is very Dick Sprang Batman and Sprang’s take on the Caped Crusader is practically brothers with Adam West Batman. Then again, I’m not sure if Didio had any real say in that.

But the precedent is there. There are fans out there who seem so stuck in their ways that to even portray their beloved character in a different tone offends them. That’s the case with the current Rick Remender Punisher storyline, Franken-Castle.

People HATE this image and all it represents. If you’re seeing this for the first time, chances are you might be thinking, “What the hell is this shit?!”

It’s awesome, that’s what it is.

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I Know My Word Doesn’t Mean Much…

January 10th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

This week gave us the final issue of Marvel Zombies 3, written by Fred Van Lente with art by Kev Walker. Despite the history of the series, I still have to say… this is totally worth reading.

I’m not joking. It’s actually really fun.

The first Marvel Zombies was decent. Not great, but it was a good enough read just because Kirkman had so many toys to play with. He had an entire universe to desecrate as he saw fit. Marvel Zombies: Dead Days was a boring disaster of a prequel that barely answered any of the questions brought up in Marvel Zombies. Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness was better than it had any right to be. And Marvel Zombies 2? Oy.

With Marvel Zombies 2, Kirkman had done away with all of his unending potential, replaced with five issues of writing himself into a corner. I enjoy Kirkman’s work, so I stuck with it just to see where it was leading, but the ending was underwhelming as hell. Finally, even I was done with the series.

Thomas Wilde suggested I give Marvel Zombies 3 a shot based on the first issue. I’m glad I took him up on that. They’ve moved in a very different direction that brings back the potential for fun and over-the-top stories of mayhem. How? By bringing it into Marvel 616.

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What If? What Then? The Comic I’d Like to See

April 12th, 2008 Posted by Gavok

The next Comics from the 5th Dimention column should be up soon. The big drawback about writing for PopCultureShock rather than here is that you can’t have your stuff up instantly. Them’s the breaks.

I plan to one day write my own comic series. I’m currently trying to move my gears forward on that. That said, I still find myself thinking about what kind of DC or Marvel-owned series I would love to write if I had the chance. Stuff like an Eradicator on-going where he stations himself in Coast City as a way to make up for and investigate the human feeling of guilt he suffers from his failure to protect the city from Cyborg Superman and Mongul. Or a Juggernaut series where he’s on the run from SHIELD, all while showing the parallels of the Superhuman Registration Act and being the avatar slave of Cyttorak.

There’s one comic concept that came to me the other day. What If occasionally had sequels, most of them not very good. Having read so many issues and having some of them so nestled into my memory, the continuity nut in me always compares some issues to events that happened after the release date. Sometimes it’s just to laugh at the continuity screw-up, like how Alicia Masters in What If the X-Men Lost Inferno was really a Skrull and the writer didn’t know it yet. That revelation gums up her part in the story.

Sometimes I realize how much more interesting stories become when you toss in delayed retcons and new pieces of canon. For instance, there’s the issue What If the X-Men Had Died on Their First Mission, where the New X-Men team (Wolverine, Storm, etc.) go to Krakoa to save the original X-Men and they all die. Xavier beats himself up over it, Moira comforts him and eventually another X-Men team is created. It was a good story, but compare it to what we know now. Deadly Genesis showed the other X-Men team that died fighting Krakoa. When they failed, Moira was angry, so Xavier erased her memory of the events. Put the two stories together and it’s pretty fucked up. Xavier deserves to feel bad. His Krakoa mission would have cost him three X-Men teams, totaling at 17 mutants. Then you have Moira trying to keep him from being suicidal, not knowing what a bastard he really is because the son of a bitch removed it from her memory.

What would have happened when Vulcan came back to Earth, not only forgotten, but now without his brothers? Now that would be a sequel issue worth reading.

I think back to other What Ifs that lead to a new status quo and how vastly different things would have been if they continued the story and met up with the events that were destined to happen. I think a handful of them could make for a good limited series.

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Marvel Zombies: Ash’s Chainsaw and Other Beginnings

July 21st, 2007 Posted by Gavok

A couple weeks ago, Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness finished off. Marvel Zombies 2 has just been solicited for October. With that in mind, it’s about time I laid out my thoughts on the whole Zombieverse.

It all started back in 2005. Mark Millar was in the midst of his Ultimate Fantastic Four run and he started making some hints at a certain special story arc. From the looks of things, the Ultimate Marvel Universe was about to make a crossover with the mainstream universe Marvel 616. I wasn’t paying attention at the time, since I wasn’t reading Ultimate Fantastic Four, but I can only imagine people were annoyed as hell. Not only did this defeat the purpose of the Ultimate continuity, but Millar probably didn’t garner all that much faith going into what would be such an important story.

But the evidence was there. The story was titled “Crossover”. One of the variant covers for the first issue showed Ultimate Reed exchanging a shocked glance at an older Reed with snazzy white hair tufts. The second issue of the arc showed a more mainstream version of Magneto manhandling the Ultimate Fantastic Four. The first issue builds up to this meeting, including a scene where the two Reeds discuss the differences between their worlds. Older Reed — shown via hologram — mentions the Avengers and his children Franklin and Valeria.

Truly, this had to be the Ultimates/616 crossover we’d been dreading.

Or not.

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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 14

September 26th, 2006 Posted by Gavok

The new Marvel solicitations have been released, detailing the new What Ifs. One is based on Deadly Genesis, which doesn’t interest me since I haven’t read that yet. The other, which looks to be awesome, is Age of Apocalypse. This time, Legion did kill Magneto… but he also killed Xavier. Judging from the cover, this could be very interesting.


Issue: Volume 1, #20
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Alan Kupperberg
Spider-Man death: No
Background: I myself haven’t read the Kree-Skrull War arc, but I get the gist of it from Wikipedia and the Watcher’s introduction. It doesn’t sound very good, all in all. The important parts to note are that the Super-Skrull had captured Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver with Captain America, Goliath (Pym), Iron Man, Thor and Vision off to save them. Rick Jones somehow got captured by some Kree guys as the Kree’s fleet prepared to invade Earth. In the end, Rick met with the Supreme Intelligence, who betrayed the Kree. He stimulated Rick’s mind so that he mentally projected memories of his childhood heroes (ie. the Invaders and the like) to beat up the Kree fleet. Sounds retarded, but it was the 70’s. This version of the story is far better. There’s a part of the original story where Rick Jones was brought before Ronan the Accuser. Rick stole a guard’s staff and attacked Ronan, only to do no damage. Ronan noted Rick’s courage and figured he’d make a good slave. In the Tom DeFalco version, Ronan is more pissed than amused and kills the boy with his cosmic hammer dealy. He calls for the fleet to make way to Earth and decimate it.

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