Why do we love comics so much? (I know I’m assuming here, but you’ve just started reading a comic book review so I’m reasonably sure there’s some comic love going on in that heart of yours.) I would imagine that there as many answers as there are comic book fans, but for me, it’s the coming together of a number of different factors. First, there’s the whole extended universe thing – the excitement you get from being plunged into a world that is rich and varied and capable of expanding in often surprisingly new directions. Then, there’s the fact that it’s a hybrid medium, a unique combination of image and text. Much has been made of comics’ increasingly filmic qualities and I get excited about that too, but a page of comic art can be studied in ways that a film scene can’t. That each figure is drawn, is deliberately posed, gives the artist greater control and, potentially, subtlety when it comes to conveying meaning (and, yes, we’ll be getting to some specific examples in a moment). Although, like film and television, the comic is a collaborative medium, the creative aspects of that collaboration are smaller-scale, meaning that the story can be created more precisely. Plus, comics are fun. Their potential to surprise, to play with narrative form and structure, is exciting. Anything can happen in comics. Anything at all.
The notion of the Wild Storm universe featuring twisted versions of the regular DC universe’s heroic characters is an interesting one and last issue’s introduction to a psychopathic Oliver Queen was elegantly and engagingly executed. With Michael Cray taking it upon himself to enter Queen’s dome of death and face being hunted by Queen in a lovingly rendered replica of the island on which Queen honed his skills – and presumably lost his mind in the process – the stage is set for a mouth-watering showdown. Let’s see how it all pans out…
The following is the first in (probably) a series of personal posts detailing my relationship with the comic medium over the years. This one’s an introduction more than anything else. It’s also (mercifully) rather short…
A rambling, probably somewhat pretentious post today, but then I’m in a rambling mood and I’m rather tired. It may have come to your attention that I quite like comics. Comics have been a part of my reading DNA since childhood. Hardly surprising really, given that in the UK comics are still largely regarded as a childhood (and childish) medium. (As well as producing some of the most delicious soft cheese in the world, France also has a much more mature and sophisticated approach to the format, something that was brought home rather powerfully when I first visited a Leclerc hypermarche a couple of years ago and row upon row of hardback graphic albums glinted seductively – if mostly incomprehensibly – at me from their shelves.)
When I was a kid, I read stuff like Warlord and TV Comic, black and white weekly comics each featuring a range of strips, the former war stories and the latter a mix of single-page funnies and longer strips based (loosely) on TV series like Doctor Who and, if memory serves me correctly, Hazel. (Why I have no idea. Who remembers Hazel now???) My love affair with comics was largely formed at that point. They were disposable and ephemeral things, printed on cheap paper only slightly better than newsprint, but their links to science-fiction (particularly Doctor Who) and World War II cemented their place in my imagination and I collected them avidly all the same. My parents had an account at the local newsagents and my regular weekly delivery of a comic was something about which I got genuinely excited. Comics in the 70s had a smell and a smooth, slightly yielding – almost greasy – texture. Print dirtied your fingers, marked you as a reader. There was something grimy and physical about reading a comic back then. It was more than just words and images that were transferred from the page.
The allure of comics, of course, is the mixing of images and text. There had been picture books, of course, and I can still remember my mum taking me to the local library (which, sadly, is no longer standing) for the first time. I took out three books that day, but I can only recall the one about trains with any clarity. Like any child, I enjoyed those picture books – large, beautifully drawn images above a few sparse lines of text. The dividing line between image and words was clear. Comic books were different, though. You didn’t find comic books in libraries and their images were more dynamic – less pretty – than the ones found in picture books. Comic book images told the story in a way that those that illustrated picture books didn’t. There’s a difference between comic book storytelling and illustration. The balance of narrative power between image and text is different; the images drive the story and, at times, it seems like the words are pushed to the side. There’s an alchemy at work, a collaboration that is as instinctively understood as it is obvious.
I have been known to say that the medium of comics is some kind of ‘half-way house’ between visual media like TV and film and the written word, but I no longer think that’s true. The comic medium is its own thing, misunderstood, scorned and disdained, the poor relation of more ‘literary’ forms. It is true, I suppose, that there are some comics creators who seek to redress the perceived unfairness of that viewpoint and good luck to them. Personally, I’ve come to appreciate comics’ strange pariah status, their pulpy roots and mass market appeal, their subversiveness and silliness, their puerile profundity. They remain my favourite medium and over the next few posts, I’ll try to understand a little more clearly just why I like them so much. I hope you’ll join me…
After the startling expansion of the Wild Storm universe last issue and the brutal action of the one before it, we’re probably due a bit of a rest and that’s more or less what we get with this ninth issue of the Wild Storm. That’s not to say that this issue is dull, boring or without incident, though. Far from it. It’s just that, whereas the last couple of issues have broadened the series’ focus, this one deepens it. Allow me to explain…
Given the distinctly uneven quality of DC’s Hanna-Barbera titles, Garth Ennis and Mauricet’s Dastardly and Muttley has been surprisingly fun. Having crossed paths with a reality-altering US military drone, their lives have become that weird mixture of absurd, terrifying and frenetic that can only really be described as ‘madcap’. The last issue ended with the President of the United States assaulting his political rival with a cartoon mallet live on national television, while Dick Atcherley and his dog-faced co-pilot watch on in horror. How things are going to play out is anyone’s guess. There’s only one way to find out…
I get inspired to write poetry about once a decade. (After reading this, you’ll almost certainly be very grateful for that.)
At my desk,
The shadows close in,
Thick like velvet drapes,
Texture like tar.
There are things to be done.
Worrying at threads
The lamp flickers on.
And the white expanse
Of an exercise book
Pressed close to the margin.
Strength in numbers.
The pen is briefly cold
But soon warms,
Takes heat from my hand.
The lampshade glows steady.
But the shadows remain,
Trembling in the corner of my eye,
Perhaps in anticipation,
Perhaps with the simple knowledge
That their time will come.
This series has quickly become one I look forward to every month. The decision by Gail Simone to supplement the main story featuring Conan and Diana with a developing flashback featuring a younger Conan and a girl called Yanna who looks (and acts) an awful lot like our favourite Amazonian princess has proven to be an astute one. With an increased opportunity for mirroring and foreshadowing, it’s added greater emotional depth to the narrative and, indeed, last month’s cliffhanger emerged out of that flashback plot rather than the main one. Having finally brought our heroes into direct contact (and conflict) with the Corvidae, the story’s principal antagonists, we enter the second half of the story with a fairly clear idea of where the plot – and our heroic duo – is headed. What is less clear is how the action of the present ties in with the memories of Conan’s past. Will we get some clarity this issue? Let’s see…
Having crash-landed on Parosia a planet ruled by religious fundamentalists who subsequently confiscated her reproductive organs, Barbarella is on the run, aided by an Earth agent, Jury Quire, whose cybernetic body holds a host of secrets. This issue promises to build on the first’s intriguing premise and expand on the creative team’s already impressive world-building. Barbarella and Jury just have to survive that life-threatening fall first…
Published in translated form by Delcourt, Elves is an interesting series. Originally comprised of a group of two-issue stories, these mini-arcs have been collected and made available on Comixology as single volumes. The first deals with a society of blue elves and, as is often the case with fantasy literature, an important prophecy connected with an extremely powerful crystal which has been secreted at the bottom of the ocean where it is guarded by a huge sentient cephalopod.
Every so often, I forget. I forget how vast and positively bubbling with potential the Wild Storm universe is. Warren Ellis, though. Warren Ellis does not forget. As can be seen from the really quite outrageous turn this issue takes about halfway through. With the exception of one or two moments here and there, the series so far has concentrated on delineating the nature of three major players in the Wild Storm universe – IO, Skywatch and the Halo Corporation. Up to now, it has been a series steeped in early 21st century obsessions with technology, power and the clandestine activities of organizations rich in both. This issue, however, Ellis reminds us that, as intriguing and fascinating as those organizations are, they are not the sum total of the Wild Storm universe. Far from it.
The Doctor is in, ladies and gentlemen. And she will see you now…