ART THAT DARES TO BE COOL
I write this column to dub Joe Quesada my new Todd McFarlane. This is going to take some explaining.
The first comic I bought regularly was THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Started with issue #318. My vision of Spider-Man will always look like Todd McFarlane's. I was a big fanboy at the time, drooling over the McFarlane/Lee/Liefeld triumvirate's work.
McFarlane's artwork always had a great sense of design and coolness to it. You'd go from one cool-looking page to the next. Storytelling didn't matter. (SPAWN #1 was written after it was drawn as a sequence of cool-looking pages.) Heck, at that point I probably didn't even know what storytelling was in a comic. Such basic things as continuity across panels and general left-to-right movement were foreign to me. (They're still all-too-foreign to too many comics artists today, but let's not start down that road. . . )
I've learned a lot since then, and McFarlane has quit drawing in favor of managing his ever-growing multimedia empire. Nobody has replaced him, in my mind. I can't look to a single artist in the field today and say, "Now here's a guy who makes comics look cool again." There are many great comic artists, don't get me wrong. Everyone from Alan Davis and Bryan Hitch and Travis Charest to Erik Larsen, Darick Robertson, and Leonard Kirk. But none of them have the same penchant as McFarlane always had for cool design work, no matter how physically impossible it might have been.
To this day it doesn't bother me that McFarlane's Spidey had to have been triple-jointed to do the things that McFarlane had him do. It doesn't bother me that the webbing was shooting out all over the place in a seemingly jumbled mess. It just looked cool. I made no apologies for liking it then, and I shall make no apologies now. I like it.
I read the Kevin Smith/Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti run of DAREDEVIL this weekend from the much-acclaimed Marvel Knights line. Joe Quesada has managed to bring back all those feelings that McFarlane's art gave me back then. His stuff looks just so damned cool. And it's a rather nice addition that Quesada actually has some storytelling fundamentals down. Overall, he may be better than McFarlane.
Some examples: Daredevil's billy club strings are flying out all over the place. Check out the cover to DAREDEVIL #8. Even better is the Doctor Strange sequence in issue #5. Besides staging it in an ultra-cool way in the blackness with very little of Strange actually being visible, Quesada has got Strange's cape rolling and curling with a brilliant mind of its own. Belts from Strange's costume wrap all over the page, jut out towards the reader, and wrap around Daredevil's feet and shoulders. His full-page splashes are a mixture. Some are just out-and-out cool looking, such as the double-page spread ending the eighth issue. Others are more somber, but have just as much emotional impact, such as the final page of issue #5. It's laid out to be very dramatic in its simplicity.
That's the kind of stuff I looked on in awe when I first read comics. It's been missing an awful long time. I hope David Mack gives Quesada and Palmiotti a chance to show us some of this stuff.
I don't want to unintentionally short-change Quesada, though. As I said before, it's about more than just cool-looking stuff. This series is filled with pages of talking heads and passages from texts. Quesada uses his design skill to lay out pages in an interesting way to not only tell the story that Kevin Smith seems determined to fit into these pages, but to also to not let the reader lose interest.
I guess this is as good a segue as I'm going to come up with for the story in these eight issues. I have to admit to enjoying the "Less is More" style of storytelling lately. The work of Warren Ellis is a good example of this. He lets the art tell the story. The stories are just as much about mood and scene as tangled plots. The books are quicker to read. They have just as much impact, though.
Smith goes the opposite way. He writes the book almost as a series of infernally long monologues and soliloquies. We get texts of letters written by characters. We get one issue in which the villain does all the talking for the first half of the book. (I would feel sorry for the letterer if he actually had to do it by hand. Since it's done by computer, I won't shed any tears.) It's like Smith is writing for some brilliant actors and wants them all to have their chance to prove their skill in the theater.
And you know what? I like it. I don't mind taking my time to read a book. It's a different style, but it's just as dramatic. It's very personal. You get a lot of detail on the inner workings of the minds of these characters. You get to hear what they're thinking and why they're thinking it. You feel that much closer. Their losses become your losses. You grieve with them. You cheer with them.
It does wreak havoc with pacing in a couple of spots, but that's a minor concession for such an outstanding series.
This will get the trade paperback treatment fairly shortly, I'm sure. If you haven't been reading it so far, jump on the TPB chance. (Heck, if it comes out in hardcover, I'd be tempted to buy that, instead.)
THE FLASH #153 has some of the best artwork from Paul Pelletier I've seen since his last stint on Malibu's EX-MUTANTS. Pelletier's art is somewhat cartoonier than other artists. It reminds me a little of Dale Keown's work. Very open and smooth-looking stuff. He does great faces and some minor detailed shadow work. A lot of that has been missing from his FLASH work.
It's all there in this issue, though. Inker Jose Marzan, Jr. complements Pelletier's stuff rather nicely. Coupled with Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn's clever villain and plot, this issue is a winner.
THE ASTONISHING X-MEN #2 is a couple of fight scenes. That's it. Nothing terribly original or exciting about them, either. Brandon Peterson splits art duties with Brett Booth. Babcock! tries to make the lettering look like Tom Orzechowski's did in the UNCANNY X-MEN's glory days. The coloring is nice. I'd say skip it. The first page of issue #3 will probably be overloaded with caption boxes to explain everything that just happened in this issue, anyway. =)
GEN13 #43 and #44 comprise a surprisingly engrossing story. Adam Warren writes this one, but verges away from his over-the-top style of pop culture reference and satire. OK, not entirely. The storyline focuses on that pop song that you just can't get out of your head. The kind that infects everyone around you, even though you can't stand it. You know the kind. Make the pop star out to be a mix between Brandy and Britney Spears, and you have your pop culture reference. Throw Fairchild into a "Pinkos" store -- "left-leaning copying, printing and computer rentals for good socialists" -- and you get a catchy story. I don't want to give anything away, but the ending is terrific.
The art in this one is by Lee Bermejo and John Nyberg. Bermejo is a new name to me, but he's really smooth. He's parts Adam Hughes and Aaron Lopresti. He does the Good Girl art stuff without anything sticking out at you through the comic page. I'd like to see more work from him. Does anyone have any other credits for him? Or should we be writing WildStorm now and asking for more of his stuff in backups or 80 Page Giants or wherever they have room?
I've heard some people have been having problems trying to lay their hands on a copy of AWESOME ADVENTURES #1. That's too bad, but not surprising. Retailers must think the Awesome name doesn't sell, even with Alan Moore writing it. Excuse me while I shake my head. . .
This issue contains what would have been the next issue of YOUNGBLOOD. It's written by Alan Moore and drawn by Steve Skroce with Lary Stucker. The first three pages alone are worth the price of admission. Moore skillfully dissects some of the conventions of comics in the Image boom time versus the comics of the 1960s or so, through dialogue between Shaft and Twilight.
Get this one. It's well worth it, even if you never read YOUNGBLOOD.
BYRNE BABY BYRNE!
If you're looking for more material to keep you up at nights, check out the new issue of WIZARD for a short two-page interview with John Byrne. He recently announced that he's doing another 12 issue maxi-series with Roger Stern entitled "Marvel: The Lost Heroes." Yup, he's strip-mining the past yet again in an effort to raise the nostalgic bar high enough that people will forgive him his multitude of sins. This series, Byrne says, will sow "the seeds that could fix literally everything." It's an option, he goes on to explain, that could fix all the anachronisms in the Marvel Universe. This, of course, comes from a man who thought it was also a good idea to sew Doctor Octopus into Spider-Man's origin. A man who hasn't had a series at Marvel that anyone has liked since NAMOR. (And I'm the one who like that. Most people would go back to FANTASTIC FOUR, a series I'm just starting to collect now.) And don't get the Silver Age Superman purists started on Byrne's revamp. (I like it just fine, but I didn't read Superman prior to that, so what do I know?)
One last point:
One of the criticisms of Jim Lee's reinterpretation of the origin of the Fantastic Four was that everything was "fixed" so that they all had reasons for being there and there was some global conspiracy involved, etc. etc. One thing most fans like about the origins of the early Marvel heroes is that there's a certain amount of dumb bad luck involved. Not everything happens for some nefarious reason. Bad things happen to good people. It's a sign of strong character that the good people use those gifts for good instead of evil.
In the Byrne interview, Wizards asks the Bearded One how he would fix FANTASTIC FOUR. He says that he'd explain why Reed was so hot to get into space and why Johnny and Sue were there.
Some people just don't learn, do they?
I just hope that someday the Spider-Man editorial team will come to realize their stupidity of the past 5 or so years and do what DC is finally doing with SUPERMAN: Go back to basics. Bring in popular creators with good track records. Do it right. Ignore the insanity that has gone on before. (Also please ignore that stupidity which suggests that these are characters so big that will sell by themselves and don't need big name creators.)
Marvel: Give us our Spider-Man back!