Monday, January 25, 2021

CRISIS COUNSELING: backmatter research for week 1



These are the research notes that line up with the Backmatter section of my week 1 notes for our discussion of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Check out that earlier post here, and you can check out the entire discussion of Crisis on Infinite Earths issue 1, plus crossovers, at youtube, here

And thanks.

CRISIS Research week 1


Pre-Publication:

1.  --- The first that fans and the public knew DC was planning CRISIS (not yet named as such) was a blurb in Dick Giordano’s initial “Meanwhile…” column in the Feb. 1983 cover-dated comics, released at the end of 1982. See Scanned images. 


2.  --- In a January 3, 1983 memo from Dick Giordano (executive editor for DC), Marv Wolfman, and Len Wein, all writers and editors were asked to cooperate by using The Monitor two times within their books over the coming year. As described: 

“The Monitor will be the pivotal villain of the series and we wish to have all our readers know who the character is—and to involve him completely throughout the DC Universe before the maxi-series appears.”  

The guidelines for these two appearances of The Monitor stated that, “for his first appearance…we will only hear the Monitor—not see him…His assistant, Lyla, will be the only on-panel character.” Drawings of the Monitor would be supplied within weeks of this memo so that for his second appearance, they could show him on panel. 

It is also noted that the two appearances are only a minimum. The Monitor could be used more than that, if creative teams wished, but it was important that he only observe and that they “refrain from ever having him appear IN action…He NEVER commits the crimes himself.” 


3.  --- In a memo a year later, on January 9, 1984, Giordano made it clear that “The need to include The Monitor in your plans is not optional but absolutely required for all designated titles.” Designated titles included most of the superhero titles. Examples of those exempt were war titles like Sgt. Rock, space titles like Omega Men, those that fell outside the DCU like Arak and Jemm and Thriller, and special books such as Super Powers, which was a toy tie-in, and DC Challenge. 


4.  --- In a memo to Giordano, Wolfman, and Wein, Roy Thomas pointed out that, judging by mail for the titles he edited, such as All-Star Squadron, the Monitor appearances in that first year were not exciting readers. Thomas stated he didn’t feel the concept of the Monitor was a bad one, but that “it’s bound to be wearying, all these cameos which have to get a bit repetitious.”


5.  --- In a memo from November 9, 1984, Marv Wolfman noted that “The entire CRISIS storyline takes place in about three weeks’ time.” But since they wanted the main line of books to crossover with CRISIS, the “participation time [was] actually from July to the first week in November [of 1985].”


6.  --- In an interview for Comics Interview #26, conducted by Patrick Daniel O’Neill, Marv Wolfman stated that the reason they decided to do CRISIS was the idea that the DC Universe was cluttered, that it made no sense. The ideas of “the multiple earths, the multiple Supermen, and the multiple everything” would drive new readers crazy. They wanted to “streamline the universe, get rid of the deadwood, get rid of the multiple universes.” It was believed this would make DC new-reader friendly and help avoid the confusion and contradictions in continuity that had cropped up through almost fifty years of publication of these characters. 

And the spark for this idea came from a letter printed in Green Lantern #143, noting a continuity mix-up from a two-part story in GL #136-37, wherein Marv Wolfman, who was writing GL at the time and answering letters during a changeover in editorship, stated that one day DC editorial would “probably straighten out what is in the DC universe, excluding that which isn’t in direct reference with Earth One, and what is outside.” And from there, Wolfman ruminated on this issue of confusing and contradictory continuity, with that idea germinating into what would become CRISIS. 


7.  --- In an interview for Pacesetter: the George Perez Magazine #7, Marv Wolfman stated that George Perez was his first choice to draw CRISIS, but he didn’t think he would want to do it. But when Perez heard Wolfman talking about it, he volunteered.  


Issue 1:


8.  --- Roy Thomas was the custodian of the golden age characters for DC, at the time CRISIS was conceived, and he was one of the most cooperative, as far as tying into the event through storylines for the titles he wrote—Infinity Inc. and All-Star Squadron—as well as general ideas outside of these titles. This was out of necessity, since he realized the story was going to be published, regardless, and if he assisted, maybe it would gain these titles a bit of a reprieve. He sent a number of lengthy, and thoughtful, memos to Wolfman, Wein, and Giordano, with this in mind. 

Because, ironically, Thomas would also be the one most impacted by CRISIS. One of the stated goals of the series was to streamline the DC Universe, to get rid of duplicate heroes, which would entail the demise, in some fashion, of many of the characters he edited, such as the original Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, etc. 


9.  --- It’s noteworthy that some of the most recognizable and, at the time, best-selling characters, such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the New Teen Titans, are not front and center early in CRISIS. This was a conscious decision by Marv Wolfman and editorial so that the focus would be on the story and showcase the idea that this impending cataclysm affected the entirety of the DC Universe. Wolfman “wanted it to be obvious that the story was more important than any individual character.” 


10.  --- George Perez inked the figure of Alexander Luthor from Earth-3, the first few times, because he found it challenging to get across what he wanted for a look through just his pencils. 

He also inked Arion’s mystic symbol throughout, to avoid confusion with all the crossing lines, and to keep it consistent throughout the whole story. 


Crossovers

11.  ---An explanation of why some crossovers don’t have the CRISIS banner and others do --- In an interview with Comics Interview (#26, conducted by Patrick Daniel O’Neill), Marv Wolfman stated that they asked that “CRISIS crossovers be in all the comics,” and that “if it’s a minor crossover . . . ‘Do not blurb it as a CRISIS crossover.’ But “if it’s a major crossover, if it’s the root of [their] plot, ‘Blurb it.’” 

I’m not sure if these All-Star Squadron books should have had the banner.


CRISIS COUNSELING: raw notes for week 1

 


The first episode of our look at Crisis on Infinite Earths is now live on youtube, with an audiocast to follow. With that, I thought I would share my raw notes for the discussion, here. Hopefully you'll find it interesting. Thanks.


Notes for week 1 

Opening Argument:  thought --- balloons & Gerry Conway’s recent-ish dissection of these vs. first-person caption boxes  see thread here.

Introduction

I began collecting comics in 1984, with GI Joe #23.
Crisis was published later, but I didn’t read it until probably middle to late ‘86.
I remember going through the Mile High Comics catalog and next to Crisis #8, it stated the Flash died. Flash is my favorite character. I had to have it, and I bought the rest of the 12 issues.
From the start, I loved this series. Probably read it a couple dozen times, at least, and it still stands up. 


Crisis Cover Impact: Love it. Wraparound cover, with the heroes & villains tumbling through space as red lightning destroys a centipede of multiple Earths, while Pariah gnashes his teeth and Harbinger stands above it all, with the Monitor a shadow in the background. It’s engaging. And it’s PEREZ.


Synopsis

Chapter 1:  “The Summoning!”

We open with the birth of the multiverse. What should have been a single universe with a single Earth became many, and now that debt is being paid as a wall of anti-matter sweeps across dimensions, as one Earth dies, followed by Earth-3, home to the Crime Syndicate—including Ultraman, Super-Woman, and Power Ring—evil doppelgangers of heroes familiar to us, and the lone hero who stands against them, Alexander Luthor.

As the wall of Anti-Matter destroys Earth-3, Luthor and his wife, Lois Lane Luthor, secure their child in a vibrational rocket and send it across parallel dimensions to Earth-1, so that he might at least be saved, not unlike the way a baby Kal-El was launched from Krypton to become Earth’s Superman, the first superhero.

With every universal death, a mysterious, green-cloaked figure named Pariah is forced to bear witness, unable to intervene. We will learn more of him later.

Back on Earth-1, in the satellite of the Monitor, his assistant, Lyla, energizes to become Harbinger. Dividing into identical clones, she journeys to multiple Earths at multiple points in time to retrieve the heroes and villains the Monitor needs to defend the multiverse, including Dawnstar of the Legion of Super Heroes from the 30th Century and Arion of Atlantis, 45,000 years in the past.

Once her task is complete, Harbinger returns to the Monitor’s satellite and powers down. The collection of super-beings stand in awe of the structure, unsure of who it is that summoned them, and uncertain even of who many of the other heroes might be. There’s a Superman, but older and from Earth-2. And a Green Lantern, but he is new to the ring and African-American. Before they find any answers, the shadows attack, a horde of shadow demons, which seem impervious to physical contact, even at the strength levels of Superman. It is an impossible task, and the collective of super-beings appears on the brink of defeat, when a blinding light fills the satellite, and the shadows flee.

At which point, the Monitor reveals himself, telling the heroes and villains that he is the one who summoned them, “because their universes are about to die!”


QUESTIONS about this issue: 

1 -- Why are these heroes chosen? 

In-story -- the Monitor needs heroes and villains to work together AND these are the ones whose distinct powers are needed by Monitor to be successful.

Editorially -- Marv Wolfman wanted the focus on the story, wanted it known this affected the whole DC Universe and not just the Big Guns.

2 -- Why do these heroes trust Harbinger? 

3 -- On page 25, the Monitor mentions another Earth perished, taking 5 heroes he needed, do we know what Earth that might be and who the heroes are?


Matter/Anti-matter (what we liked "Matter" and didn't "Anti-Matter")

MATTER: Perez artwork, especially the introductory scene with Blue Beetle and that hero’s body language. Specifically, the modified somersault Beetle uses to kick one of the crooks in the face. Beetle is a doppelganger of Batman, but this move feels like something Batman wouldn’t necessarily use, and it allows him to stand out as a distinct character.
ALSO: Solovar’s quick back and forth with Dawnstar on page 29 -- “You’re an ape, but you can talk!” “And you’re a human with wings! Reality holds surprises for everyone!”

ANTI-MATTER: The overly melodramatic Pariah, both in body language and his utterances.


Who’s Who

  • Crime Syndicate, Earth-3, Alexander Luthor, Lois Lane Luthor, and the idea of multiple Earths
  • King Solovar and Gorilla City -- the apes’ mental powers, including telepathy, come from using 100% of their brains
  • Pariah (his origin is actually a big chunk of a later issue, maybe wait)
  • Monitor & Lyla (Harbinger)
  • Firebrand of Earth-2
  • Dawnstar, of the Legion of Super Heroes from the 30th Century
  • Blue Beetle (and the Charlton hero acquisition; Earth-4)
  • Psycho Pirate (Roger Hayden) 
  • Arion  trivia bit: Perez always inked Arion’s mystic symbol because it was complex and he wanted to keep it consistent throughout the series
  • Firestorm & Killer Frost
  • Psimon --- part of the Fearsome Five; powers came from Trigon
  • Dr. Polaris --- old-school Green Lantern villain, first appearance GL#12
  • Superman of Earth-2 
  • Green Lantern (John Stewart)
  • Geo-Force -- gained power through scientific experiment; retains power due to family lineage (Prince of Markovia)
  • Cyborg
  • Obsidian of Infinity Inc.


Backmatter (see this post for more detail on these bits of backmatter)

Pre-publication:

  1. First announcement of CRISIS in Meanwhile… column
  2. Memo from Jan. 1983 asking creative teams to use Monitor 2 times in their titles
  3. Memo from Jan. 1984 stating use of Monitor is not optional; it is required
  4. Roy Thomas memo pointing out mail is not positive re: the Monitor appearances
  5. Memo stating CRISIS storyline takes place over 3 weeks; crossovers from July-Nov.
  6. Comics Interview #26: reasoning for CRISIS, to streamline DC universe
  7. Pacesetter #7 interview: Wolfman stated Perez was first choice to draw & he volunteered

Issue 1

      8. Roy Thomas was most cooperative, as far as crossovers, sent many memos with ideas
      9. Most popular characters don’t show up early in CRISIS; this is why
     10. George Perez inked Alex Luthor & Arion’s mystical symbol, early on, for consistency

Re: Crossovers:

     11. how they decided what issues to have CRISIS banners and which should not
             a. All Star Squadron?????

The Fix (any band-aids in this issue that serve the overall goal of CRISIS):  

the destruction of Earth-3??  It did do away with a set of doppelgangers for DC’s big-name heroes.


The Death List: 

  • An unnamed Earth
  • Earth-3, the Crime Syndicate: Ultraman, Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Owlman, Super-Woman, and the lone hero: Alexander Luthor, and his wife Lois Lane Luthor


Crisis Rating [quarter bin, pull list, bag & board, slab]:  

Bag & Board. Perez art elevates any comic, for me. The stakes are set out right up front, and done economically, we get some nice interactions with the heroes being retrieved by Harbinger (I particularly enjoyed the Solovar and Beetle scenes), there’s action and mystery, Wolfman does a good job of introducing all these characters without the exposition dragging down the story -- it’s quite impressive -- and we end with a quick battle, a revelation, and a helluva cliffhanger: “Your universes are about to die!”


Ratings for crossovers: 

  • All-Star Squadron 50 --- quarter bin. It added nothing to what we saw in Crisis #1
  • All-Star Squadron 51 --- quarter bin. Again, added nothing, just a panel with Harbinger & Firebrand
  • All-Star Squadron 52 --- quarter bin. adds nothing, and seems to contradict Crisis #1, with the All Stars & Captain Marvel able to battle the Shadow Demons. But is it due to magic? Maybe we discover this later in the series.

**To be fair to Roy Thomas, these crossovers take place very early in the CRISIS. Add to that, All Star Squadron is set in 1942, while the bulk of CRISIS is in the present of 1985, and it would be challenging for him to tie into the overall event. That said, he got the banners, and he didn’t do too much with them.

  • Fury of Firestorm 41 --- pull list. It tied in strongly with CRISIS and added to the story, while also providing a good introduction to Firestorm and Psycho Pirate, along with a new status quo for Firestorm that could be a good jumping on point for new readers. But the story wasn’t captivating for me. 
  • Infinity Inc. 18 --- quarter bin. A page and a half showing Harbinger getting Obsidian. Added nothing and I didn’t care for the story. McFarlane is either trying to be inventive with his layouts or just too new, either way, it does not work.
  • Detective Comics 555 --- pull list. It was entertaining with solid Gene Colan art. A Red Skies issue that didn’t tie in but I liked the story. would pick up the next issue.
  • New Teen Titans v.2 #13 (pp.1-17)--- quarter bin. Added little and felt plodding, as a story, to me. 
  • Green Lantern v.2 #194 --- bag & board. It actually added some background with the Guardians, and set up Guy Gardner joining the heroes, gave readers a thorough background of the title, and was entertaining. would definitely pick up the next issue




Friday, January 22, 2021

CRISIS COUNSELING: episode 1, "The Summoning"

 “Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the universe will never be the same.”

A wave of anti-matter is sweeping across dimensions, destroying Earths and eclipsing universes, while one being, the self-described Monitor, has a plan to stem the tide — if only there is time enough left. Summoning fifteen super-beings from across parallel Earths, the Monitor prepares to defend what remains of the positive matter universe as he quickly relates the gravity of the situation to those assembled.




Week one of a twelve-week examination of the granddaddy of all comic book crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Four friends and lifelong comic nerds – Ben, Chris, Dan, and Gibran – discuss, dissect, and debate this seminal storyline from 1985, crossovers and all.

 

Week one reading list:

  • Crisis on Infinite Earths #1
  • All-Star Squadron #50
  • All-Star Squadron #51
  • All-Star Squadron #52
  • Fury of Firestorm #41
  • Infinity Inc. #18
  • Detective Comics #555
  • New Teen Titans (v.2) #13 [pp. 1-17]
  • Green Lantern (v.2) #194

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

CRISIS COUNSELING: Week 1 Reading Order


 

I jumped the gun last week, but if all goes well, the new podcast discussing Crisis on Infinite Earths, with myself, Gibran Graham, Dan Fleming, and Ben Roberts, should be hitting tomorrow. Fingers crossed. We're taking 12 weeks to tackle this 12-issue series, crossovers and all, and here's the reading order for week 1. 

Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 


All-Star Squadron #50


All-Star Squadron #51


All-Star Squadron #52


Fury of Firestorm #41


Infinity Inc. #18


Detective Comics #555


New Teen Titans, vol. 2 #13 (pp. 1-17)


Green Lantern #194


Hope you check out the podcast when it hits, and why don't you read along with us as we explore a 36-year-old event series that continues to have repercussions for DC Comics, even today. 

Thanks,

chris

Monday, January 18, 2021

CRISIS COUNSELING, some personal background

 


Crisis on Infinite Earths may be the most consequential comic book event, ever. It's certainly the one that's had the most impact on me, as a reader and a fan. And it is, by far, my favorite of the event comics. Maybe that's because -- despite the fact that Marvel's Secret Wars came out the year before -- it's the first major company crossover. It was in the planning stages, and prematurely announced in Dick Giordano's "Meanwhile..." column, before Marvel's Jim Shooter conceived of his Secret War, and it can definitely lay claim to the fact that it had the most impact on its characters and titles, and, by extension, its fans. 




I didn't read Crisis when it was initially published in 1985. I lived in Calais, Maine, just about as far east as you can go in the United States, right on the border with Canada. Calais was a town of roughly 4,000. We had no comic book store -- heck, I'd never heard of comic book stores at this point -- but we had a bookstore that sold comics, which is where I got mine for the most part (you could also find them at the convenience store or the drugstore, as well as at a smaller bookstore in the strip mall across the river, in St. Stephen). I am certain that my local bookstore, Mr. Paperback, did not order Crisis. Because if I had seen that gorgeous George Perez artwork, I would have snatched it up without thinking, and been the happier for it. 

But I was a huge fan of the Flash (secret identity: Barry Allen). Still today, the Flash is my favorite superhero. It started with the Super Friends cartoons. When I started collecting comics in 1984, at age 12, the latest issue of his title was one of the first ones I bought at Mr. Paperback, number 336. Many more were added to the collection later. Many more. But, at some point in 1986 (by my best guess), I was poring through the latest Mile High Comics catalog, looking carefully at the notes next to the individual issues -- notes that would mark a significant character appearance or situation, as well as the names of popular creators who may have written or drawn said issues. As I perused the titles, I came across a note that stated: "Death of the Flash." 

What the what!?!
I had no idea Barry Allen had died. I needed to get this comic (it was issue #8 of Crisis on Infinite Earths). And since it was one chapter of a twelve-chapter series, I had to get them all. I can't remember which of the issues weren't available at that point -- I think #10 may have been one of them -- but I ordered all the back issues that were available and quickly managed to fill in the gaps. Then I read the story. 

Marv Wolfman & George Perez

I was blown away. No, I wasn't familiar with the vast majority of these characters, but I was intrigued. The story by Marv Wolfman propelled along at a blistering pace, and the art by Perez . . . what can I say, it was amazing. I immediately fell in love with his tight, detailed comic art, and he quickly became my favorite superhero artist. And Crisis became one of my all-time favorite stories. It's one that I re-read regularly, every year or two, and it never fails to entertain me. Wolfman & Perez were at the top of their game, when they wrote and drew Crisis, and the effects of this dimension and era-spanning tale were cataclysmic. 


And now, my buddies and I are doing a deep dive into Crisis, with all its crossovers. The first episode of our podcast should be hitting soon, and when it does, I'll let you know. Hope you'll join us for a look back at one of the most important superhero stories in comic history.


Thanks,

chris

Sunday, January 17, 2021

I . . . am your father.

 And yesterday's video consciously mirrored this scene from Rogue One. Which I loved, and which is probably my favorite Star Wars film after the original trilogy. 

Cue heavy breathing. 




Saturday, January 16, 2021

I Need a Hero...

 Spoilers if you've not finished season 2 of Mandalorian yet. And if you haven't, get on that. 




Friday, January 15, 2021

CRISIS COUNSELING: A Preamble





With the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself gravitating toward nostalgia. I, like many, was looking for comfort, something familiar. I found it in the movies, music, and comics of my youth -- the 80s. I watched Star Wars (Original, not the special edition), I listened to Van Halen and The Police and Pat Benatar, and I read G.I. Joe, The Incredible Hulk, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run, and many more. It helped. 

I was also communicating with friends and family, online for the most part. One of my friends, Ben, was reading through the Wally West Flash run, which started in 1987. One of us -- I'm fairly certain it was Gibran -- suggested we should all read that run, beginning with Geoff Johns's first issue, since Ben was that far along, and discuss it every week. We would read a set number of issues, between six and twelve a week, and Wednesday evenings get on a video call to do what we used to do at the comic shop and at each other's homes, shoot the shit about comics. We dubbed it Old Comics Day, or OCD. 

That was in late April and into May, and two things I took away from those discussions: 

1. Scott Kolins isn't on this run with Johns as long as I thought he was. His artistic legacy hangs heavy over that whole run by Johns, but there were more issues drawn by other artists than Kolins. 

2. Johns seemed to be laying the groundwork for bringing back Barry Allen, already, with this run. 

From there, we moved onto other series, rotating the choice among the four of us. Next was the classic run of New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman & George Perez. If you're looking for great superheroics, in that classic style but without the boredom, this is the one to get. Great characterizations of cool characters, and you watch Perez become PEREZ. 

We followed that with the Denny O'Neil/Denys Cowan Question series, a book none of us had ever read. This book, created in the mid-80s, is as relevant today as it ever was. Reading it during the campaign for the American Presidency was, at times, surreal. It's so good. And Denys Cowan kills it! 

Then we did a Roy Thomas deep dive, reading a few dozen issues of All-Star Squadron followed by the first year of Infinity Inc. My takeaway is that Roy Thomas would have been a great curator of golden age comics, providing contextual essays and such, for collected editions, if that had been a viable opportunity at the time. But as a writer, he just drags the narrative to a screeching halt with every word-drenched panel. Not for me. 

And we finished up 2020 with a broad New Gods reading that included Kirby's original run, the Marshall Rogers/Steven Englehart/Steve Gerber continuation of Mister Miracle, the mid-90s New Gods series, begun by Tom Peyer, Rachel Pollack, and Luke Ross, which leads into Byrne's run with the characters (though we didn't read his Jack Kirby's Fourth World, as it wasn't available on the DC app), and ended with Walter Simonson's classic series, Orion. That was a blast, and they were so easy and quick to read that I supplemented my reading with Kirby's Mister Miracle and Forever People series, as well as the New Gods continuation by Gerry Conway and Don Newton, as well as Byrne's Fourth World, which I have in floppies. Needless to say, I got a pretty good education in Kirby's amazing Fourth World mythos. And when you're reading books by Kirby, Byrne, and Simonson, there's a good chance you will be entertained.

And that brings us to the "big idea" that came about somewhere toward the latter part of the year. Gibran thought we should read Crisis, including all the crossovers, and follow that up with Legends and its crossovers, then continue through the major event storylines of the DC Universe (provided they're on the DC app, as that's how we are reading a lot of these books) like Millennium, Invasion, War of the Gods (maybe), and on and on. 

The first podcast (and video on youtube) should be hitting next Wednesday. We discuss the first issue from Wolfman & Perez, talk about some of the background that led to this impactful series, and we also throw in some discussion of All Star-Squadron issues 50-52, Fury of Firestorm 41, Infinity Inc. 18, Detective Comics 555, New Teen Titans v.2 #13, and Green Lantern 194. It was a fun time, and I hope you'll check it out when it hits. Don't worry, I'll let you know exactly when that happens.  


Thanks,

chris

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

CRISIS research


Look for it tomorrow, if all works out. A new podcast examining CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, from me and three of my friends. We're looking at the core book along with all the crossovers, offering context from back in the day as well as that informed by 36 years of hindsight. Hope you can join us. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Novel #2 is complete

 2020 was a different kind of year. My goal is to write every day, with weekends off unless I find myself with free time. But in the middle of the year, as the pandemic was spreading more rapidly than our understanding of it, I just stopped writing for three months. And I didn't expect to ever get back to it. 

Every time I've taken more than two days off from writing, over the past decade-plus, there's always been this gnawing in my core urging me to get back to writing, making me irritable and quick tempered. There was none of that. I was happy to be able to just read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and not think about when to carve out time for writing. 

BUT, I had a novel waiting for one final pass. And my friend, Matt, had taken the time to read it and give me some notes on it. I couldn't leave it to just lay fallow on my hard drive, and I couldn't let Matt down. So, eventually, I got back to it. And now, 93,000 words, and a few years and five drafts later, I have a final draft of my second novel. Now, I need to distill those 93,000 words down to 200 and begin querying agents. (the first novel went nowhere, as far as querying, though I did have one agent ask for a full manuscript, which led me to believe I was on the right track)

So, it's time to get that summary done and begin throwing this story out into the world. Because I already know what is next in the queue, and I would like to have that completed by the end of 2021. 




Wednesday, September 23, 2020

All Star Squadron, by Roy Thomas, Jerry Ordway, et al.

 So, since early in the COVID quarantine, my buddies and I have been doing weekly video calls to talk some classic comics. We've read Geoff Johns's initial FLASH run, THE NEW TEEN TITANS by Wolfman & Perez, and the QUESTION by Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan. Now, we're reading Roy Thomas's paean to DC's golden age, ALL STAR SQUADRON. This week, we're reading issues 14-20, plus JLA 207-209, and I wanted to share some panels from these comics that brought a smile to my face. 


From All Star Squadron #17, by Thomas, with art from Adrian Gonzalez & Rick Hoberg.

This issue was a trial to determine if Robotman was human or merely a mechanical facsimile that should be melted down for slag. The turning point comes when the courthouse begins to collapse and Robotman must break from his chains and use his super strength to save those within, most especially the lawyer who brought suit against him. Revealing his humanity, he is deemed human and free to go. But how can he speak to the judge at his bench when the building collapsed????


From All Star Squadron #15, by Thomas, art by: Gonzalez & Jerry Ordway

Per Degaton, the villain of this 5-part crossover with the JLA, is going to "conquer an earth!" Melodrama aside, I love the reactions of the henchmen in the background -- genuinely funny stuff. I wish there was more of this in these comics.


From All Star Squadron #16, by Thomas, Gonzalez & Hoberg. 


  

I gotta give points to Nuclear, the Magnetic Man (no, I'd never heard of him before either) using Robotman's arm as a weapon against the other All-Stars. Well played!


Another from All Star Squadron #15: 

Luckily, Superman and Dr. Fate have super voices and are able to utilize the very, very few oxygen molecules in space to speak with one another. 
I . . . don't know if that's how that would work. But, it's comics!


And, from JLA #209 by Gerry Conway & Don Heck, more fun with oxygen


    

If Per Degaton is without oxygen (read Zatanna's spell backward, to see what she did to him), then how is he still speaking?!!? 


Another from JLA 209

This should have been the opening page, rather than a couple of pages of backstory exposition. (I know, I know! It was a different time, when exposition was the way things were done in comics . . . except that Larry Hama was doing it with far more aplomb in G.I. Joe, the same year this was published, and Alan Moore was beginning his legendary run on Swamp Thing that same year as well. So, there were other ways of doing it.)


Again, from All Star Squadron #16

Wonder Woman claims she's never needed the help of other heroes. But, she worked with the JSA and All Stars in issues 1-3 of this series. AND THERE'S AN EDITOR'S NOTE TO THAT EFFECT. Why doesn't she remember?!!? And why does Roy Thomas, who wrote all these comics, make her not remember?!!? What the hell is going on?

Sunday, September 20, 2020

WHAT IT IS, week ending September 20, 2020

It's been a week, and I've kept to my writing habit (I did take yesterday -- Saturday -- off, but I have responsibilities, like mowing the lawn and doing the laundry and being a father and husband, so back off inner-monologue-me, I had shit to do!). I've even begun a new short story, which is exciting. 

Typically, when I've taken time off from writing before, my mind has still been churning with ideas and turns of phrase, while working to problem solve the narrative corners I've backed myself into. But these past three-plus months, nothing. So the return of that was surprising and pleasing (though now I need to prepare for more sleepless nights, but what're you gonna do?). It's like I've written here before, the one way to lure the muse is to make writing a habit, and it worked. 

Also interesting was how the short writing exercise I did here, a couple of weeks back, fed into this new story -- though I wasn't fully aware of it until later. In that exercise I wrote about a character tied up in a completely dark room. Neither the characters nor the setting transferred to this new story -- it's in a totally different genre, for one thing -- but the idea of absolute darkness did shift over into this new story, and it's working out to not only be a perfect setting for a later revelation, but also a fine thematic parallel that should enhance the narrative. Regardless, I find it interesting how one's experiences can subconsciously feed into one's writing. (ah, but I'm sounding a bit pretentious now, so time to split and head on down the list. Follow me...)


VISUAL MEDIA --

My wife and I watched Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. This movie guts me every time. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing as Newland Archer, Michelle Pfeiffer is radiant as Ellen Olenska, and Winona Ryder is pitch perfect as May Welland, the vacuous wife of Archer who proves to have more mettle, in the end, than most any of the socialites orbiting her world. The romantic ideal of honor, or giving up that which you so dearly want in order to fulfill one's responsibilities, is epitomized by Day-Lewis's Archer, and yet, one could also say he was trapped by convention in a marriage that, if not as exciting as the one he might have had with Madame Olenska, was, at least, fulfilling with his children and the adherence to tradition and family. So much is said in this film without saying anything at all, and the heartache and sacrifice is palpable. I love this film, and it is easily my favorite of Scorsese's magnificent catalogue of work. If I'm looking for a good cry, this is the one that'll do it. (It's 2020, men are allowed to cry . . . at least, they can do it behind their keyboards, as long as nobody sees them)



WRITTEN MATERIAL --

From 1990 and Adventure Comics, written by Charles Marshall, with art by Kent Burles and Barb Kaalberg. 
I bought the first issue of this series right off the rack, thirty years ago, and I really enjoyed it. For some reason, though, I never purchased any others (maybe it was a title that didn't sell at the comic shop, and subsequent issues went unordered by the owner). I recently got the next 11, to see if they were as entertaining as that first one, which I've read multiple times in the years since. 
They are.
The art is satisfactory, not great but not terrible, but the story is intriguing and engaging. Caesar's grandson, Alexander, is carrying on the legacy of trying to bring peace to apedom, but while out in the wastes, General Ollo begins a campaign of terror in Ape City, in order to take over the city and subjugate the citizenry to his will. Ollo has no qualms about ape killing ape. 
I'm only a few issues in, but thus far the narrative threads are interesting and sets up nicely the impending conflict between Alexander and Ollo.



INSPIRATION(s) --

Typically, this spot is set aside for inspiration as far as writing and creativity, but we lost a giant, and a hero, this past Friday, in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Words cannot do justice to her legacy. If you're not well familiar with the late Supreme Court Justice, please do yourself a favor, read about her, watch the recent documentary on her, learn about one of the most important Americans of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She will be sorely missed. 



MUSIC TO WRITE BY --

An old standby, but a perfect one to write by, Vangelis's soundtrack (the 3-volume collection is the way to go) of Ridley Scott's classic film, BLADE RUNNER. Haunting, ethereal, moving, heartbreaking -- these all describe the sensations elicited by Vangelis's music. Wonderful.



ON WRITING --

When writing a short story, in particular, you need to capture the attention of your audience as soon as possible. That means, you need a spark of an opening scene, a hell of an opening sentence. I wrote about that here, with able assistance from a quote by Harlan Ellison, a man who knew a thing or two about story openings. 

 









Thursday, September 17, 2020

I'm writing a New Story

Day #10 of the return to the writing habit, and a byproduct of getting back to work and writing all those blogposts is that the fiction side of my brain has turned back on. During the three-plus months of my writing drought, this was the most frustrating and unfamiliar aspect. Typically, when I've gone through a spell of no writing, my mind was still working on story ideas. But nothing like that occurred. Now that I'm making the time to write again, though, it seems The Muse TM has returned. Which isn't that surprising. I already wrote about that, here


So, to offer something other than self-congratulations, here's the opening sentence for the new story (I hope it does the job I stated it should in this recent piece):

Andre Johnson was seven years old when he stepped into another world.   


Thanks for indulging me. I mean, it is my blog, so I suppose I'm entitled. 

__wink_emoji__ 


-chris

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

ON WRITING: Short stories -- grab 'em by the throat!


 

Short stories. You don't have much room to work with these; most submissions guidelines ask for nothing more than 5,000 words, but some will cut it to 3,000. So, you need to be concise, and you need to make all your words count. And most importantly, you need to start -- from word one -- at a dead sprint. 


Especially today, with all the distractions and the enhanced ability of people to process information quickly, you need a killer opening for your story, or it's just going to be tossed in the circular file with all the rest of the dreck. If you don't excite and engage your readers (and that initial reader, the editor of whatever publication you're submitting to, is the ultimate reader) from the very beginning, they are going to question why they should tag along for the rest of the narrative and probably just drop off and read or do something else. So, kick your story into high gear from sentence number one.


Which is easier said than done. The key is that you need to find the latest possible moment from which to begin your story. Throw readers right into the action, or present a compelling conundrum up front, do something to make readers take notice. They have put their trust in you, and it would be criminal to abuse that faith by plodding along for eight pages meandering through the luckless and boring history of characters they haven't had a chance to give a shit about, yet. Kick down the door with two semi-automatics and start firing (above their heads, because a dead audience is almost -- almost -- the worst audience you could ask for . . . a bored audience would be far worse, because they're going to tell you all about how they feel). 


Sometimes, that opening may come easy. Most of the time it won't. It's difficult. But, as always, all you have to do is start writing. Once I've gotten into the writing of most of my stories, I am able to go back to the opening and just slash out all the detritus keeping me from the actual opening of the story. It's not uncommon for me to have written a page-and-a-half or more, only to find out that the good opening, the proper opening to the story resides on page four, at which point I highlight and delete those opening three pages and find myself with an additional 750 words to work with. It's magic! 


Seriously though, don't get too caught up on crafting that perfect opening, the writing of the story will open up your mind to possibilities and realities of your narrative that wouldn't be there without the words you've gotten onto the page. That's what revising is all about. You go back and you make the rough words into something that sings (or at least something that doesn't sound as bad as that first pass did). As Harlan Ellison wrote in his essay How Do We Get Into This Mess?

"...go to the middle of a situation, go past the backstory material that got you interested in the first place, the stuff you can slide in as slivers of enlightenment throughout the first third of the story, the stuff that formed the original plot epiphany, when you said to yourself, 'hey, wouldn't it be interesting if...' It's what happens after that initial idea the world has come to call 'a story.'"


Now, get writing!

-chris 



Monday, September 14, 2020

Alan Moore is a Mad Wizard! (thoughts on JERUSALEM, his second novel)


Alan Moore's JERUSALEM is a tour-de-force of writing that is mesmerizing, frustrating, incomprehensible, and enlightening, all at once. Long considered the best writer in the comics medium, ever, over a decade ago he decided to put his toward his second novel. Following the old saw, write what you know, and also, I imagine, wishing to choose a subject that would keep him interested long enough to complete the story, which clocks in at a near-devastating 1266 pages, Moore chose to write about his home of Northampton -- in the east Midlands of England, where he has lived his entire life -- most specifically writing about the Boroughs, a small, impoverished section of Northampton that is home to the downtrodden working class, from which Moore's family draws its origins. 

The conceit of the novel is the belief that Northampton is the center of England, not only geographically, but also politically and culturally and religiously, among other aspects of life. Charlie Chaplin has a connection to the Boroughs, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett as well, Oliver Cromwell, George Washington, Thomas à Becket, and many others also passed through the Boroughs or came from this part of England. It's impressive to think so many important names many of us are familiar with touched this tiny town, and Moore wants to share that. 

We follow the lives of the Vernall/Warren clan, from the mid to late 19th Century through to the middle of the 21st (with a long trek to the very end of time in one of the chapters, up in Mansoul, the dimension just above ours, which some might consider Purgatory). And through them, we learn about this small patch of land, encompassing no more than a square mile. Through various points of view, we are taken on a tour of the Boroughs, and through the personal reminiscences and historical knowledge of these characters, we learn about this history, we see the rise (for ever so short a time) and gradual decline of this area, we come to understand how these citizens have been poorly treated by their government, and yet, they still cling to a humanity and a hope that is laudable. 



Moore also plays with ideas he has examined in his comic work, most especially that of eternalism, or the idea that time, rather than something that flows from immutable past to present to unseen future, is already set in stone. Time, in this philosophical take, and all the events comprised of our lifetimes have already occurred, will always occur, and will be repeated ad nauseum. This is similar to one of his and Dave Gibbons's approaches to their seminal work, WATCHMEN, wherein Moore & Gibbons wanted readers to be able to go back and forth within the comic, in order to make connections that would add more layers to the story they were telling -- all the information was provided for a full understanding of their narrative, but it might not be in the order one needed to fully digest it, so the idea of flipping pages back and forth to fill in those informational gaps was something they wanted their audience to undertake, which is an apt metaphor for the eternalistic viewpoint. 

In JERUSALEM, there is a higher-level dimension, known as Mansoul, wherein one of the characters, Mick Warren, finds himself after a candy lodges in his throat, killing him. Ten minutes later, he miraculously regains consciousness, but during that interim he is able to have myriad adventures up in Mansoul, as a collection of dead children, known at the Dead Dead Gang, take him through the seams of this fourth dimension, to see various important moments in Northampton's history. And since they can return Mick back to any time they wish -- again, with their ability to dig through time to any point they want, in this upper dimension -- he can take as long as he wants and they will drop him back down when he needs to be there to awaken. 

It is in this upper dimension that the inhabitants are able to look down at us and see how our lives are made up of moments that repeat forever, as we cycle through our lives. Instead of seeing people in a single snapshot, as we might view them, here on Earth, they see long habitrails of color, which represent their movement throughout a certain space. They are also able to see around walls and roofs and such, so that they can view these skeins of color that make up a life. Consider:  if we, in our three-dimensional reality, look at a picture of the interior of a house on a piece of paper (a two-dimensional reality), we are able to see inside that house because we are at a higher level dimension. Or consider what an ant walking along a leaf (a relatively two-dimensional experience) must think is happening if a human hand comes down from the sky and picks it up, taking it into a higher dimension (thanks to JMS and Babylon 5 for that description). Similarly, these characters in Mansoul are looking down on a dimension one below itself, so it only seems logical they would be able to see our 3D structures as if they were unfolded, offering them a view not available to those of us "down here."


JERUSALEM is broken into three sections. The first follows the major players in the Warren/Vernall clan, throughout history, offering a multitude of characters for readers to remember. The second section follows Mick as he joins the Dead Dead Gang in Mansoul and traverses the history of the Boroughs, back to medieval times and up through the future. But, where Moore really goes to town with his distinct perspective is in the third section of the book. This section starts to tie things together, showing interactions from part one in a different light, at times, as we discover whom some of the famous people are that these Vernalls and Warrens have met. In doing this, Moore chooses to write each chapter in a different manner -- one is a poem, one is a private detective pastiche, one is in the vein of Samuel Beckett, and one includes another one of Moore's well-known fascinations: wordplay. 

When Moore was 40, he decided to become a wizard. His affection for writing, for words, for the alphabet, would seem obvious from his productivity as a writer, but he also views letters as the basis of magic. A spell is something one casts as a magician, and to spell is to create words that describe, in the abstract, something concrete and real, a sort of magic. It's an interesting point of view, and one that Moore likes to play with. In his first novel, the opening chapter was set far back before written language, and so he restricted himself to a very small set of words for the writing and would only write in the present tense, making that a challenging 40 pages to get through. With JERUSALEM, Moore wrote a chapter, a page of which is shown above, that used new words and non-words to get across the essence of Lucia Joyce's experiences in the novel, while she was in an insane asylum in Northampton. 

Moore combines words and phonetic combinations, to create new words, and if he utilizes an English word, such as "see," it is most likely not the word needed at that point and probably is actually a middle syllable for the word needed for that particular idea. It's amazing, not only in the bravura manner with which he writes these 40-plus pages, but also amazing in the way that it utterly and completely works. It took me a week to get through this chapter, but if you let yourself give over to what Moore was doing, it made complete sense. You could fathom what was being said by allowing for the sounds of the various nonsense words to string together in your head . . . BUT, even more fascinating was the fact that many times, most all of the time, the words Moore utilized to craft these other words actually added a second layer to what was happening and made me think more deeply about the story. And this wasn't just a page here or a page there; it was multiple times on a page, multiple times in a paragraph. It was brilliant, and so satisfying.  

It was a bloody magic trick!

In the end, it took me a couple of months to read JERUSALEM. If you're a fan of Moore's and have read a lot of his earlier work, I think you would enjoy it. Even if you aren't familiar with him, this would be a good read, if you're not afraid of working hard when you open a book. It's ambitious and amazing, and if you like a good challenge for your bedtime reading, you should definitely check it out. You'll certainly get your money's worth at well past 1200 pages long.

-chris


Sunday, September 13, 2020

WHAT IT IS: week ending September 12 (the "get back on the horse" edition)



It's been a long time since I've written one of these. For almost three-and-a-half months, during this COVID pandemic, I haven't done any writing. This week was my time to try and get back to doing what I do in my spare time, write. (though, to be more precise, it's not that I utilize my spare time to write as much as I carve out writing time from my daily schedule . . . it's work, and you need to make sure to do it, or you won't. Pretty simple) 

So, this is day 6 of my return to the writing habit. Let's go.

VISUAL MEDIA --


My wife and I finally watched the Downton Abbey film, from a couple of years back. Having enjoyed the original series, this was a must-see, and it was like coming home again to see some old friends. The story revolves around the fact that King George V is going to pay a visit to Downton Abbey, during a tour through his kingdom. This puts everyone on high alert, in order to get the house in order for such a Royal visit. 

It's interesting to see how Julian Fellowes moves characters around, so that they can all get their moment in the spotlight. Managing to craft a narrative that allows for so many characters to stand out, in only a 2-hour film, is commendable. That said, there were many instances where I was thinking about how quickly things progressed in a certain storyline -- for example, Tom Branson's budding affection for Lucy Smith. It felt, to me, that this could have been better done as a seventh season of the series. Allowing things to progress more slowly would certainly have added to the emotional resonance and satisfaction of watching these characters "living their lives" once more. But, when watching a film, one should be cognizant of the inherent constraints of the medium. 

In the end, as is to be expected, everything turned out for the best, for all at Downton, and Lady Crawley, as is her wont, had all the best lines. She, most assuredly, had to have been the character Fellowes look forward to writing the most. 


WRITTEN MATERIAL --


Ducks, Newburyport was recommended to me by a friend, Johanna Barrett, who runs the bookstore in Castine, Maine. So, I picked it up, and upon completing Alan Moore's gargantuan tome, Jerusalem (clocking in at 1256 pages), I moved onto Lucy Ellman's latest novel, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and only runs to 988 pages (minus glossary). 

This book is amazing, propelling me along with every page. Thus far, at 200 pages in, it's a day-in-the-life story, but taken to an extreme I've not experienced before, in that it is a rolling internal monologue of the main character. Mother of four, living in Ohio, an adjunct professor at a local college who also has a pie business, she is an overly anxious woman whose life has been overcome by hardship, in the form of her mother's death, her failed earlier relationship, and her own battle with cancer. 

The book is primarily a single sentence, wherein the narrator rolls through the needs of the day, the past experiences that have shaped her, along with non-sequiturs and random strings of words that often take on a poetic feel, with their connective tissue often being a rhyming scheme or an aural similarity. It's a brilliant bit of writing, to my mind, in that the continuous stream of consciousness manner of the narration, coupled with Ellman's facility with words, pushes you along its narrative thread, while also feeling very much like the way that my brain will often be working, jumping from idea to idea, shifting mid-sentence, and making connections that nobody else would readily make. It's a propulsive book that also feels familiar, and I'm anxious to continue on with it. 

INSPIRATION(s) --


Tom Taylor (not the DC comics guy). 

I discovered Taylor when I started listening to the great podcast, Indiana Jones Minute, which examines each Indy film, one minute at a time, which he co-hosts with two of his friends. It's great fun, and through listening I discovered that Taylor was a writer and had self-published a YA novel, In Memory of Todd Woods. I bought it and read it, and it was pretty good. I was really impressed with the characterizations in the book. Taylor managed to make them feel genuine, and there was nobody who was fully good or fully an asshole. It was terribly impressive. 

So, when I heard he was starting a patreon, I jumped on. The promise Taylor has put forth is to share a new short story every month, at the $5 level, and if you support him at the $10 level, he will also share a new short-short story on a postcard mailed to you. I know how challenging this can be, and so far he's hit the mark. I applaud Taylor for challenging himself in this way, and I look forward to seeing what he has coming next -- one of those things being his second novel, The Nearly-Useless Powers League. Judging by the initial chapter he shared in his patreon, it should be a lot of fun.

MUSIC TO WRITE BY --




Getting back to writing means getting back to music without words. How I love my soundtracks -- and my jazz and flamenco and classical playlists. John Wick, chapters 1-3, have been playing loudly when I've been writing this week. The heavy bass and dance music vibe adrenalizes my fingers as they play across the keyboard. It's energetic and exciting and just what I needed to get me back into the habit. 

ON WRITING --



Filed under:  Taking too literally the old saw of "write what you know." 


All of my writing, this week, has been in public, with six blogposts (this one being number 6; THE PRISONER!) Two of those involved making writing a habit, and why that's important. (very meta) 



Basically -- and obviously, though it took me years to get to this point -- without making a daily habit of writing, the work won't get done, and you won't begin to recognize problems with your writing. Only through doing it, living with it, working on it will you ever get to a point where your writing will be ready for primetime. 

-chris




Saturday, September 12, 2020

ON WRITING: Why the Habit?

 


Day 5 of getting back into the writing habit (looking at the title, seems like I'm taking the "write what you know" saw a bit too seriously; ah, well):


The most obvious benefit from making your writing a habit is the fact that you actually get some writing done. Working every day, the words build up until you have pages of your work, which becomes dozens of pages, and, eventually, hundreds of pages. From that, one ends up with stories and articles and analytical essays, for submission. After that, it's just a matter of aiming well and firing off your shot (in this metaphor, the aiming represents...oh, forget it; moving on).


All through school, I excelled at my studies. Writing was no different -- straight A student, all the way down the line. I was the cream of the crop, baby. 

And I had no effing idea what the hell I was doing.


This is the biggest frustration, I've discovered, since I set on this journey of actually writing fiction for possible publication. My teachers didn't give me the tools that I needed, in order to do this work with the facility necessary to get published. I've had to learn a lot -- often aspects of writing of which I was aware but had no idea how to recognize them, or fix them if I found them in my work -- as I've written stories and articles and blog posts over the course of these 15 - 20 years. These are issues I know were a part of my writing in high school and college, when I was getting excellent grades. I don't want to dwell on this, or take the time to try and investigate why this occurred (that would be one helluva research hole to fall into), but I do want to make it clear:  even though I did extremely well in my written pieces for academic classes, all of that writing was sloppy and unprofessional and in need of some serious revising. 


And that's the other -- and I'd say, far more important -- thing that will come from a writing habit that has you in the chair, tapping the keys on a daily basis. You actually do get better at your writing (people like to make the comparison of writing daily with a physical workout at the gym, and I never bought into that, but it's true, writing daily strengthens the "muscles" necessary for making good work). I found it easier to get the word I was looking for, found it easier to craft metaphors and comparisons, found descriptions to come more easily (all things being relative; this is a weakness in my writing, I think). Maybe it's a better focus, or just years of checking the online thesaurus and working to come up with a pithy description, I don't know, but there are definite benefits. 


Also, and more to the point in my mind, is the fact that, having written, examined, considered, and revised, thousands and thousands of pages of my own fiction, I've come to discover what people meant by keeping your tenses consistent and not writing in a passive voice, among other literary offenses. I know, for a fact, that I committed both of these stated errors, on a regular basis. 


In the first case, I think that's just how I tell a story, aloud, and I don't believe I'm alone in that regard (maybe I'm wrong, but I'd like to think I'm not a complete dimwit). When speaking off the cuff, it's easy to switch from present to past tense and back. And it wouldn't be uncommon in a first draft of a story, especially from an inexperienced writer, as I was. But, at some point along the way, I became aware of what I was doing, how I was flip-flopping around in those drafts, and I worked to fix that. Soon after I first started to notice it, it became a glaring red light, whenever I would read through some bit where I'd fallen back into that hole. It was a matter of living with this writing every day that had allowed that major lesson to seep into my brain. 


It's a similar thing with the second idea -- not writing passively -- that I mention above. Stephen King, in his great memoir ON WRITING, states that passive writing is a sign of a lack of confidence. Check! This is completely spot-on. Being definitive in your writing, especially when you're just starting out or haven't had all that much success, feels wrong somehow. There's a built-in guilt complex because you're completely making up a story and then expecting others to find it worthy enough of publication, of being read, and of being enjoyed and appreciated. That's pretty heavy. So, it's natural to fall into a passive voice; it's not as obtrusive, not as in-your-face, not as demanding of notice. The word 'seem' is a common culprit. Instead of writing that something happened, you will write that it seemed to happen. There's a bit of romanticization in the use of the word seem; it sounds like something from a very proper fairy tale, like the ones we were fed as children, but it's wishy-washy and it doesn't engender confidence from an audience. This was something I wasn't overly conscious of in my writing, and I can't say when it finally clicked (I do know it was many years after I read On Writing), but when it hit, it hit like a hammer. And now, I excise it whenever I find it. Strut like a peacock, I say, because anything less isn't your best.


[and keep that habit going, because good things will come of it.]


-chris

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Private Files of the Shadow by Dennis O'Neil & Michael W. Kaluta

 

  

I recently purchased a copy of the late-80s collection, The Private Files of the Shadow, which reprinted 5 of the 12 issues published by DC Comics in 1973-74. These were the stories written by legendary writer & editor Dennis O'Neil -- who passed away several months back -- and drawn by iconic Shadow artist Michael W. Kaluta. It also included a then-new story from Kaluta, who did writing and art for the additional tale. Classic!

I admit, I wasn't sure what to expect with this collection. I'd read their Marvel graphic novel from 1989, which included inks by Russ Heath, who's a great artist but whose style overwhelmed the light and airy linework of Kaluta, and didn't remember much from that book -- at least, not enough that I would want to re-read with any urgency.  So, when I started reading and found these stories to be just what I was hoping for and looking for, I was more than pleasantly surprised. 

O'Neil has a long introduction that puts the comics into proper context. Though probably best-known from the radio drama, O'Neil felt that didn't properly convey the character of the Shadow. The Shadow of the radio drama was a bit more lenient, preferring to capture rather than kill those he pursued. O'Neil wanted to take the character back to his pulp roots, where the Shadow was a ruthless vigilante, hell-bent on meting out justice to those of the criminal underclass, a character without the extranormal powers ascribed to his radio doppelganger -- most importantly, the power of invisibility. This Shadow utilized twin semi-automatic pistols to take care of crime. 

And that's how the Shadow is portrayed in these comics. And it's great. This Shadow is indefatigable, pursuing his victims with the able assistance of his entourage, including Margo Lane, Shrevvy, and Burbank, until he puts them to rest. There's a fair bit of investigation by Lamont Cranston, the alter-ego of the Shadow, along with undercover work by his cohort mentioned above, though truncated by the page limit of the comics, but in the end, the Shadow always provides a cathartic climax with his twin pistols. It is also entertaining to see the Shadow get out of seemingly impossible traps and situations -- such as when dozens of Chinese henchmen collapse on the Shadow, appearing to tie him up in a drape or rug, before presenting his body to their leader, only to discover that one of their own was inside when they inflicted the death blows -- with no explanation, other than:  he's the Shadow. Personally, I prefer this. The Shadow is a wisp of smoke in the corners of an alley, handing out justice on an elemental level, and I don't need any explanation of how he manages to do what he does; I just need him to succeed, and succeed with aplomb and panache, while cackling throughout it all.  

O'Neil is more than ably assisted by the moodily beautiful artwork of Mike Kaluta. A master craftsman, whose linework is delicate and bold at the same time, with a marked excellence rarely achieved by comic artists, these stories could not work as well as they do without Kaluta. He sets the mood from page one, with heavy fog, deep shadows, stark angles, all coupled with an ability to draw bodies in motion and classic vehicles in a manner that pulls you into the story -- it's a tour-de-force of cartooning. These are dark images, complementing the dark themes being put forth by O'Neil. Kaluta's fine linework meshes wonderfully to produce a classic look that grounds these stories in the 1930. But the images are also just plain beautiful to look at, absent the narrative. Kaluta has long been a top-tier artist, but this combination of art and character (abetted by O'Neil's stories) is one of the best examples of what comics can achieve, as far as high art. Especially if you're one who isn't prejudiced against Low Art TM (the pulps) being considered High Art TM.


-chris