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FIRST ISSUE: THE WHITE SUITS

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

White-Suits-CoverThe White Suits, we are told on the inside front cover of No.1, are “mysterious killers dressed in white who savaged the Cold War Soviet underground — then disappeared. ... And now they’ve resurfaced.” That’s about all we know about the White Suits. And we don’t learn it from the pictorial portion of the book.

Similarly, we also know that an FBI agent, Sarah Anderson, is on the trail of the Suits because she believes they can tell her how and why her father, a State Department official, vanished at the same time as the Suits did. The rest of this inaugural issue is jammed with murder and mayhem rendered in one of the most spectacularly energetic drawing styles I’ve seen in comics. Toby Cypress deploys an unwavering line to depict characters in a sometimes abbreviated visual shorthand — in black and white accented in red, the only color in the book. Alas, the pictures are sometimes confused however attractive they are, and the verbal content doesn’t help much.

The pictures are often, but not always, accompanied by a voice-over, utterances of a person who seems in constant pain and as perplexed as the visuals. We don’t meet Sarah by name until the end of the book, when she is talking to a man she’s tied to a chair, telling him that he is going to help her take the Suits down. He, we are told in the second issue — but not in the first — is a derelict amnesiac plagued with dreams of a former life of violence — in a suit of white. Is he a former Suit? In the first issue, however, we know only that he is probably the tortured narrator.

Because we don’t get to know either of these principals in the course of the book, the first issue fails on two counts: we don’t know them well enough to like them; and the mystery — who are the current incarnations of the White Suits and who are all those people being slaughtered and spurting blood, and who are their killers, exactly? — is far too cryptic to provoke the sort of curiosity that will make me buy the next issue.

To the extent that there is a completed episode (the function of which is to show us protagonists in action so we can assess their personalities), it is a five-page rampage followed by a two-page assassination—but we don’t know any of the characters, the living or the dying. The episode reveals nothing. Here are two of the five pages; we don’t know any of these people.

WhiteSuits

 

In short, the first issue of this title fails all the criteria I usually employ. But I bought the second issue anyhow because Cypress’ art is so spectacularly splattered willy nilly throughout. It’ll go on for another two issues, and by the end of the second, I’m starting to make sense of Frank Barbiere’s otherwise hit-and-miss narrative. So the first issue fails, but the second is beginning to redeem the title.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: MOON KNIGHT

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

Moon Knight posterAs you doubtless noticed, Marvel is faking a DC-like start-over, numbering several of its titles “No.1" (whether they’re first issues or not). One of them, Moon Knight, seems promising. Written by Warren Ellis, no slouch at weirdness, it seems to resume the tale of the Moon Knight, mercenary Mark Spector, who “died in Egypt under the statue of the ancient deity Khonshu, but he returned to life under the shadow of the moon god, and wore his aspect to fight crime for his own redemption.”

In this inaugural issue, the Moon Knight shows up to help the police solve a “slasher” murder. The victim, slashed to death by a sharp instrument, is missing a body part or two, and “Mr. Knight” (as the Moon Knight is called by the cops so as to preclude their having to report the presence of a “dangerous vigilante”), by examining the crime scene minutely, determines that the perpetrator lives nearby, below the city’s sewer system.

He goes down there, has a long talk with the villain, who is actually a beyond-repair former agent of SHIELD who was blown apart by an IED so badly that doctors couldn’t fix him up. So he rummages on his own, wandering the streets at night and killing solitary souls and stealing the body parts he needs to rejuvenate himself . He attacks the Moon Knight, who defends himself with an amulet in the shape of a quarter moon—flinging it at his attacker and sticking him in the midsection. Presumably, the bad guy dies; he was on his last legs anyhow. That’s the complete episode of the issue, and it reveals the Moon Knight to be a restrained but effective vigilante.

Declan Shalvey is a good visual storyteller, varying a routine grid layout with various special effects.

MoonKnight

And he and Ellis have determined that the character is at his effective best when he appears all white — all his clothing and hood. (With his hood off, his face is gray — gray as death, I assume, since he’s not, really, alive. Is he?)

On the issue’s concluding pages, a doctor tells Spector that he’s not, really, suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, as he’d supposed; he merely assumes at intervals various of Khonshu’s four aspects — “Pathfinder, Embracer, Defender and Watcher of overnight travelers.” He is seemingly alive because after dying, he was rescued by an “outerterrestrial entity,” who remade him to serve the purpose Khonshu has in mind.

“You’re not insane,” the doctor assures him. “Your brain has been colonized by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time. Smile.” Typical Ellis mordant wit.

On the last page, Spector meets the Egyptian god with the head of a bird, who says: “You are my son.”

Presumably, we’re to return to find out more in this mode. The spooky, other-worldly stuff won’t bring me back. But Moon Knight’s efficient low-key vigilantism will.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SPIDER-MAN AND ALL THAT JAZZ

Now that we're in the throes of Blockbuster Season, it seems a propos to remember when Spider-Man was on the cover of April 4's Entertainment Weekly — again — this time, with Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which opened on May 2, the day before Free Comic Book Day, the annual spring rite that began, several years ago, on a Saturday after the opening of a blockbuster superhero flick. Yes, we’re repeating ourselves. Again.

But the cover story is not so much about the Spider-Man movie as it is about the whole panoply of superhero blockbusters lining up in the future. Planning at Sony is already well underway for Spidey movies for 2016 and 2018 “and is prepping two spin-offs focusing on [villains] Venom and the Sinister Six.” Even the bad guys are getting title roles.

Once upon a time, writes Sara Vilkomerson, “Hollywood executives thought one blockbuster at a time; if that blockbuster spawned a sequel a couple summers later, all the better. These days, studios need at least one megafranchise that is constantly morphing and replicating like an out-of-control lab experiment. ... [as does] the overlapping, crisscrossing, never-ending story that is ‘The Avengers’” at Disney/Marvel.

I realized that comic-booky flicks had stormed the summer box offices, but since I don’t often go to the movies (because I’m hard of hearing and can’t, therefore, hear much of what transpires — and because my Hunchback of Notre Dame first editionmost recent experience of a superhero flick, that terrible Superman movie that enacted a series of head-on car crashes), I hadn’t realized how pervasive the phenomenon has become. Beginning in 2009, we’ve had 21 big-budget special effects frenzies based upon comic book creations:

In 2009, “Watchmen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”; then in 2010, “Kick-Ass,” “Ironman 2,” and  “Jonah Hex”; then, in 2011, the flood started with five productions—“The Green Hornet,” “Thor,” “X-Men First Class,” Green Lantern,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In 2012 came another five: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “The Avengers” (the biggest at the box office still), “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Dred.” In 2013, we had “Ironman 3,” the gawdawful “Man of Steel,” “R.I.P.D.,” “The Wolverine,” “Kick-Ass 2,” and “Thor: The Dark World.”

It all seems so wonderful. Suddenly, Hollywood has discovered what Marvel learned 50 years ago: if you hinge all your productions together, each supports the total edifice in a grandiose interlocking fantasy, and the whole shebang rings the cash register like Quasimodo in the bellfry of Notre Dame. (Incidentally, if you google “the hunchback of Notre Dame,” you get a listing that is mostly movies; it isn’t until the 7th item that you get Victor Hugo’s novel.)

But Doug Creutz, a media analyst, thinks the parade of spandex might exhaust the audience: “If Marvel’s going to make two or three films a year, and Warner Brothers is going to do at least a film every year, and Sony’s going to do a film every year, and Fox—which has the rights to X-men and the Fantastic Four—if they’re going to do a [superhero] film every year, can everyone do well in that scenario? I’m not sure they can.”

Until the celluloid moguls get their comeuppance, we’ll have a unending parade of superhero flicks at the movies.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: STARLIGHT

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

In the first issue of Starlight by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov, we meet Duke McQueen in the twilight of his career. He was the space hero who saved a planet, but now he’s retired and a widower. He returned from his intergalactic adventure, got married, had kids, and grew old, but his wife died of cancer and his kids have lives too busy to make room for him.

The narrative takes place mostly in the present — as McQueen gets ready to attend his wife’s funeral — but we glimpse his past greatness in flashbacks to that other planet he saved. We see his ruthless determination in battle and a tender human side in his platonic relationship with the queen of the local kingdom, who wants him to marry her and stay on to rule the planet together. But mostly, we see a sad, lonely old man — physically, a giant — as he contemplates a life alone without his wife of 38 years. And Parlov is excellent at rendering craggy, rugged-looking heroes—as he proved with Fury Max last year.

Two complete episodes reveal McQueen’s personality in considerable detail. At his wife’s funeral, he muses about their past life together, focusing for a moment upon a happy dinner the two shared just six months ago. A year later, he prepares a special dinner which he plans to share with his boys in commemoration of his wife’s, their mother’s, death. As he prepares the meal, he thinks back to some of the more spectacular of his deeds of derring-do. Then, with the table laid and the food cooked, he gets a phone call from one son, who’s forgotten the occasion; and he phones the other to cancel. In these episodes, we see McQueen’s psychic strength and his basic humanity.

As he prepares for bed, he looks at newspaper clippings on the wall, and we get the idea that his role as a planet’s savior was not believed when he returned to Earth; the headlines suggest most people thought he was perpetuating a hoax.

Starlight

He thinks again of the queen of that distant place, her beauty and her plea, and just then—the house shudders as a space ship hovers to land in the back yard.

From the back cover blurb, we know that the space ship has come to bring him back to the planet he once saved. On the last page of this issue, he mutters: “You gotta be kidding me.”

Excellent first issue.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

OFF-BEAT GOOD STUFF

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee continue turning out first class comics storytelling in Daredevil. The pictures carry at least half the freight, and, perhaps in recognition of Samnee’s pictorial contribution, he and Waid share a byline as “storytellers.” And when they persist in producing sequences like the two-page spread at hand — with DD rescuing a little girl falling through the air while being pursued by a Wingman — they demonstrate the visual excitement possible in the medium.

Correct Daredev

And Matt Fraction and David Aja are dancing somewhat the same dance in Hawkeye except that Fraction varies the standard superhero fare wildly, producing stories about Clint Barton (Hawkeye) in his off-hours that are both harrowing and comedic — like the time the bad guys catch Barton with his pants down on the page on the left in the accompanying visual aid.  

Hawk

Or, in No.17, when Fraction has Barton join the kids in his tenement in watching a children’s tv program, “Winter Friends,” that stars talking animals; and the entire issue is drawn by the title’s duty letterer, Chris Eliopoulos, who is, otherwise, a gifted drawer of funny animals and other specimens of broad visual comedy — as we can easily see on the page at the right in the exhibit at hand. Or the time the whole issue was a story as seen through the eyes and mind of Barton’s pet dog. Wild layouts, offbeat stories.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE SAVAGE DRAGON

TheSavageDragonMini1

 

 

With No. 193, Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon claims it’s a “1st Issue — in a Bold New Direction.” With almost 200 issues of the book under his belt, Larsen may have long ago achieved a record for the greatest number of issues of a single title comic book written and drawn by its creator. And he shows no signs of getting weary of it. About 100 issues ago, Larsen veered away from the kinds of stories he had been telling and took up again the Marvel-style fisticuff frenzies that he’d earned his spurs with at the House of Ideas. Savage Dragon now bristles with fight scenes and big fists. The “bold new direction” involves the Dragon’s son, Malcolm, who has now bulked big enough to fight his own battles with towering bad guys. In future, most of the fighting will be done by Malcolm, who is as big as his father and a lot cuter. This last attracts the admiration of co-eds at his college, one of whom wanted to know if he had scales on his dick.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BROTHER LONO

100_Bullets_Brother_Lono_Vol_1_8_Textless

 

 

But I'm glad Brian Azzarello’s Brother Lono is over at the 8th issue of its limited run. The story, featuring the return of the most brutal of the outcasts in 100 Bullets, is an unabashed assault on whatever civilized sensibilities a reader brings to the title — with beatings, torture, beheadings, disembowelments and other repulsive actions the dominant aspect of the tale. The only relief from blood and guts and bare knuckle brutality is found in the superlative inventiveness that Azzarello’s Bullets cohort, Eduardo Risso, shows in imaginative page layouts and dramatic panel compositions. The story itself is nearly impossible to follow. Several of the characters look too much alike, few have names, and the purpose of their existence seems entirely to wreak havoc on every other page. I wish only that Risso’s extraordinary talent had been enlisted for something more comprehensible than this.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

CENSORSHIP FOREVER: PART 2

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird coverFrom the National Council of Teachers of English: The most visible form of censorship is a challenge or a formal complaint requesting that a particular book be removed from the classroom or the school library. Between 2000 and 2009, there were 5,099 challenges to books, and the trend continues to the present. Some of the books and the so-called reasons for the challenges: The Scarlet Letter (“a filthy book”), Moby Dick (“contains homosexuality”), the perennial favorite, The Catcher in the Rye (“sick, sordid and sadistics”) and To Kill a Mockingbird (“uses the word rape”).

The list of censored works changes from year to year. In 2010, the most frequently challenged books included The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Nickled and Dimed. In 2012, it was The Kite Runner, Thirteen Reasons Why and Looking for Alaska. Books such as The Bluest Eye, Forever, and, more recently, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, are perennial favorites for challengers. ...

Legislation of educational materials at the state level can impose censorship, particularly with regard to issues of diversity. For example, Arizona’s HR2281, passed in 2010, prohibits courses that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Commendable as such prohibitions are, they can lead, inadvertently, to unconscionable unexpected outcomes. Under the provisions of this law, the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson schools was abolished, and about 100 books were removed from the curriculum — including many by Chicano/a authors, along with texts like Shakespeare’s “Tempest.”

Lists of approved and/or recommended books, especially those tied to assessment, can be a form of censorship if they limit the range of available materials.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

CENSORSHIP FOREVER: PART 1

From Comic Book Legal Defense Fund news release (April 14, by Betsy Gomez—old news, maybe, but still terrifying): Today, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom posted their annual list of the ten most-challenged books. The 2013 list has many of the “usual suspects” and one not-so-usual suspect: Jeff Smith’s Bone secured the rank of tenth most challenged book of the year.

Bone author and CBLDF Board Member Jeff Smith was stunned by the book’s inclusion on the top ten. “I learned this weekend that Bone has been challenged on the basis of ‘political viewpoint, racism and violence.’ I have no idea what book these people read,” said Smith. “After fielding these and other charges for a while now, I’m starting to think such outrageous accusations (really, racism?) say more about the people who make them than about the books themselves.”

[During National Library Week,] ALA OIF released their State of America’s Libraries Report 2014, which includes the list of most challenged books in 2013. This is Bone’s first appearance on ALA’s annual list of challenged books, but it isn’t the first time it’s run affoul of censors.

In 2012, it was banned in Texas at Crestview Elementary and moved to the junior high library because it was deemed unsuited to the age group. In April of 2010, a Minnesota parent petitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library, when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking. A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and CBLDF.

            The complete list of the ten most challenged books in 2013:

            Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey; Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

            The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison; Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

            The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

            Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James; Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

            The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

            A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone; Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

            Looking for Alaska, by John Green; unsuited to age group

            The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky; drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

            Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya; Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

            Bone (series), by Jeff Smith; Political viewpoint, racism, violence

Some of the books on the list are “repeat offenders” — Captain Underpants and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian have appeared on the list almost every year they have been in publication.

        

With one exception, the 2013 most challenged books list is dominated by literature for children and teens—books that are common on high school reading lists and that are popular among preteen and teen (and even adult) readers. The trend of attacks against YA literature has been noted by both the Kids’ Right to Read Project and CBLDF, and this year’s list from ALA seems to confirm our worries.

CensorNCTE

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein comments, “This year’s list of the most frequently banned and challenged books shows that, unfortunately, censorship is alive and well, and that right now censors are targeting young people’s freedom to read. Bone and Captain Underpants are titles that have helped kindle a passionate love of reading among many young people. Authors like John Green, Stephen Chbosky, Suzanne Collins, and Sherman Alexie keep that fire burning. This year’s list appears to be targeting the books kids are most likely to read on their own time. It recalls the words of Mad magazine founder William Gaines, who, speaking before the US Senate Subcommittee investigating comics and juvenile delinquency sixty years ago this month said, ‘Are we afraid of our own children? Do we forget that they are citizens, too, and entitled to select what to read or do?’”

Over the last year, CBLDF also signed letters in support of several books on this list: Bless Me Ultima, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Bluest Eye. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.

Until there are no more challenges against books, you can bet CBLDF will remain hard at work defending the right to read!

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

STIRRING UP THE ANIMAL

Oliphant Obama sculpturePat Oliphant, the world’s best editoonist, was asked recently what inspired him in one of his off-duty recreations to depict Barack Obama as an Easter Island statue, both in a small bronze and in a water color drawing, and the cartoonist said: “I found him very enigmatic and stone-faced; you just couldn’t penetrate him.”

In pondering the future of political cartoon for the benefit of Ann Landi at the Wall Street Journal, Oliphant said: “It’s a dying art because nobody knows what to do with it anymore. Stirring up the animal was always the fun part, and now you’ve got timorous publishers and editors who shy away from controversy because it affects the bottom line. And then, of course, there’s this great new world of the Internet, but there’s no way to make a living at it because newspapers gave it away early.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com