Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Fistful of Daredevil stories

Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog where they also discuss comics and books and TV, these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

And with the new Daredevil series from Netflix hitting soon, I thought it appropriate to look at some of Hornhead's seminal comic stories.  

5.          Daredevil #191 by Frank Miller & Terry Austin

The final issue of Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil – the run that put Miller on the map and made Daredevil relevant again (if, for argument’s sake, he’d been truly relevant before).  Having finally come to terms with the fact that Elektra, his one true love, is dead, Matt Murdock visits her killer, Bullseye.  Paralyzed, in a hospital bed, unable to defend himself, Bullseye is forced to play a game of Russian Roulette with Daredevil, as DD ruminates on the hell his life has become, each click of an empty chamber moving them closer to a final, fatal end.  It’s a powerful issue – the issue that stands out most, to me, from Miller’s seminal run, even with Elektra’s death in #181 – made all the more significant with Miller returning to full pencils and inked by Terry Austin rather than Klaus Janson, whose work graced the rest of Miller’s run.  Austin’s inks lend a weight and atmosphere to this story that might have been lost in the more graceful brushstrokes of Janson.  It is an intense story that melds art and narrative wonderfully, all happening in a darkened hospital room with a paralyzed villain (and, one could argue, a mentally paralyzed hero), wherein no “action” actually occurs.  Great issue.

4.          Daredevil: Wake Up by Brian Michael Bendis & David Mack

Issues 16-19 of the Marvel Knights reboot, this was the debut of Bendis writing the character that propelled him to the “top of the heap.”  This four-part story follows a young boy, the son of a D-list villain, Leap-Frog, and examines how he deals with the trauma of watching his dad beaten by Daredevil on TV.  It’s a heartbreaking tale, made more poignant by the lush artwork of Mack, whose mixed media art is always beautiful.  With spot work from Joe Quesada – delineating the action fantasies of the young boy – this story has it all:  pathos, superheroes, supervillains, mystery, action, and an ending that will tug at your heartstrings. 

3.          Daredevil goes to Hell (roughly issues 278-282 of the original series) by Ann Nocenti, John Romita Jr., and Al Williamson

I was introduced to Daredevil through the Nocenti/JRJr/Williamson run, which began a bit before issue 250 of the original series.  Throughout this run, Mephisto and his creation, Blackheart, were ever present on the fringes of Daredevil’s world, occasionally becoming directly involved with ol’ Hornhead.  Eventually, though, Daredevil realizes he must take the fight to Mephisto, and he enters hell to do battle with the dark lord of that realm.  This story is at times deep and thoughtful, and at others quirky and whimsical, a hallmark of Nocenti’s writing style.  She did things, narratively within a comic, a decade or more before other prominent writers would – and it is fantastic.  Battling through hordes of demons, Daredevil is relentless and unforgiving, eventually coming to the end of his rope (a theme that reverberates throughout DD’s history as a character).  But, at the point where all seems lost, Daredevil has a revelation – in order for there to be a fight, or a battle, there must be two sides contending with one another.  If you stop fighting…the fight is over
Sure, that’s a hokey idea, and not one that would help you in real life.  But this isn’t real life, this is comics, and Nocenti, et al. understand this very well.  One of my favorite stories ever.

2.          Daredevil: Love & War by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz

Daredevil versus the Kingpin, with Vanessa Fisk, the Kingpin’s wife, stuck in the middle.  With some of the most beautiful art to grace a comic, this short story also includes one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve read in a comic, and it relates to the dashed hopes of the Kingpin – no simple feat.  Sienkiewicz brings his signature style to bear, veering into the impressionistic at times, particularly with the Kingpin, in a way that better defines characters rather than muddling the narrative.  Published in 1986, arguably Miller’s peak, this is one that has stuck with me for a long time.

1.          Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchellli

My favorite superhero story of all time, bar none.  In his first run, Miller helped pull Daredevil out of the camp of previous decades into a grittier, if still whimsical, present of 1979.  With Born Again, Miller, along with Mazzucchelli, dragged DD into the gutters of Hell’s Kitchen and left the whimsy behind.  A classic story of a hero brought low by those who love him and left for dead, only to extricate himself and return to rediscover his purpose.  At its core, this certainly is an old story.  But in its telling, Miller & Mazzucchelli transcend the comic medium with a tour-de-force collaboration nearly unmatched in “cape comics,” while providing a narrative that could rest its spine next to Chandler and Hammett.  Sure, I’m biased, but it’s just that good.  And the art by Mazzucchelli is some of the most beautiful, traditional linework to be found in a comic, ever.  His art is uncluttered, elegant in a way that lends itself well to Daredevil’s martial arts training, while infused with a cartoonish approach that enhances the story in subtle ways.  I love this book and re-read it on a regular basis.  If you need one Daredevil story to familiarize yourself with the character, this is the one.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

What It Is – week ending 22 March [2015]

With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).

Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

Passed 100,000 words on draft one of the novel this week.  At this point, I can see the end fairly clearly.  I figure I might top out at around 120,000 words, which would be good.  I’d definitely be able to revise that down to under 100K, which is the point where most first novels come in.  Over that, and odds go down precipitously that they even get read – odds that are already pretty damn slim, at best. 

Oni Press will be opening up to submissions  from all in May, at Emerald City Comic Convention, as well as online.  I’ve got a pitch that’s been sitting on the hard drive for a little while now.  Time to work that into something worthwhile.  I’ll plan on the month of April for that, to make it really sharp, and then we’ll see what we see.

Finished up Bill McKibben’s Oil and Honey this week, the story of how he went from environmental advocate to environmental activist, with the advent of the Keystone XL pipeline debate.  McKibben interweaves that fight, centered around Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, with the work of a good friend of his in Vermont, Kirk Webster, who has managed to rediscover, on his own, how to sustainably raise bees in the wilds of Vermont without the use of chemicals or other “modern” techniques, such as wintering them in California or Florida or some similarly warmer clime.  It’s intriguing and depressing, at the same time, as the reality of climate change and what is happening to the planet colors the entire narrative.  Worth reading. 

Also completed the Grendel cycle, in comic form, this week, with Grendel: War Child and Grendel: Devil Quest.  Again, Wagner chose a new approach to the storytelling with each of these, in order to enhance the main narrative.  With War Child, he and artist Patrick McEown offer a sharp, quick story that, though it runs ten chapters, may be the quickest read of any Grendel tale.  It’s a flight narrative, as the heir to Orion Assante, the Grendel-Khan, is taken from his home by a Grendel warrior programmed to protect Jupiter Assante.  From there, Jupiter’s mother, and then her aide, work to get him back.  Through it all, readers get to see parts of the devastated world not seen before, which includes zombies and pirates.  It is told thorugh action, with many of the panels silent, and it moves quickly from place to place and scene to scene, ramping up the tension, while it hurtles toward its climax. 

In Devil Quest, it is farther on in the future, with the latest Assante a worthless leader.  But factions within the bureaucracy, and outside it, wish to find the Grendel-prime, the one who took the original Jupiter Assante in the last story, and utilize that as a symbol of their rightful claim to rulership.  It, again, is a fast-paced story, told in 8-page chapter, fully painted by Wagner.  It’s another interesting chapter in the story of Grendel, revealing a series of different perspectives, as a different, new character takes center stage in each chapter, and it all comes together in the end, once you’re able to ponder the entire narrative, as a whole.  It’s a nice capper to the comics.  Though I still have the novel, Past Prime, written by Greg Rucka, as well as some remaining Hunter Rose tales, and the Batman/Grendel crossovers.  Looking forward to those. 

Finished season 2 of Downton Abbey.  The characters continue to be fleshed out, with new facets revealed that surprise and engage.  The family, and their servants, have come through the first World War, and they are all changed from that tumultuous time.  While some characters discover untapped worth within themselves, others are bowed down by indiscretion, disease, injuries from battle, and poor choices.  It’s fascinating to see how Julian Fellowes – I am fairly certain he wrote all the episodes for this season – juggles the multiple narratives, and to see how he manages to tease out the romantic tension between two of the leads, Matthew and Mary.  Engaging and frustrating all at once (when will Mary throw over the cad, Sir Richard?!?)

Feeling a bit nostalgic this week, I watched a couple of sports documentaries:  Stop at Nothing: the Lance Armstrong Story and 30 for 30: Requiem for the Big East.  If you are at all familiar with the Lance Armstrong story, you may have been disappointed in him, may have thought he was wrong to have used drugs to win those seven Tours de France, may even feel some ill will toward him.  After watching this, you would realize he’s a reprehensible human, whose ego and need to win blinded him to anything else, and who, as one lawyer puts it, is very probably a clinical sociopath, with the manner in which he continued to not only lie about his transgressions, but actively work to discredit and ruin the lives of those who spoke against him, including those he once called friends. 

And if you grew up in the 80s, like me, and were a fan of college basketball, like me, then you know about Big East basketball.  It was king.  The 30 for 30 documentary was intriguing.  It delved into the beginnings of the league, which started in 1979, its ties to ESPN, which began around the same time, and the way in which the meteoric rise of both intertwined one with the other.  Syracuse, Villanova, St. John’s, and Georgetown; Ed Pinckney, Chris Mullin, “Pearl” Washington, and Patrick Ewing.  This was a great league, with big names on the floor and big names coaching.  And just as quickly as it rose to prominence, it eventually succumbed to the reality that, for all the wonder of “March Madness,” football is what drives revenues in college sports.  And the Big East couldn’t survive that. 

As always, check out my friends – Brad & Matt  and Don McMillan, as well as Dan’s foray into podcastdom, the Potato League Podcast, for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  


Saturday, March 21, 2015

MATT WAGNER’S GRENDEL: interweaving craft & theme [part 2]

With the third storyline, The Devil Inside, of Matt Wagner’s classic character, the mantle of Grendel passes to Brian Li Sung, the San Franciscan theater manager who followed Christine Spar to New York in the previous tale.  Drawn by Bernie Mireault, this three-issue tale continues the broader examination of the Grendel mythos, while showcasing yet another different approach to the telling of the tale. 

One can see Wagner, and his artistic collaborators, orbiting the idea of Grendel, and of evil, through these various tales.  In Devil by the Deed, Grendel is already established, and readers get to see the short, tragic life of Hunter Rose.  Devil’s Legacy has Christine Spar take up the mask and fork early in the narrative and follows her, in the guise of Grendel, as she seeks revenge on the vampire who killed her son.  With this third storyline, Wagner more thoroughly investigates the transformation process through this latest Grendel, following Li Sung as he falls more deeply under the sway of this embodiment of evil.  Putting aside the fact that each story focuses on a different character – significantly tethered to the previous Grendel, in a passing of the torch from one to the other – these initial three stories act like a “Rashomon” tale, examining various aspects of Grendel to provide a greater understanding of the concept seeping into this world’s reality.  It’s fascinating. 

As with the first two volumes, Wagner, with Mireault, takes a different approach to the storytelling.  The evil that is Grendel insinuates itself into Li Sung’s psyche, as he spills into a downward spiral on his way to becoming the devil.  We, as readers, are afforded glimpses into Li Sung’s fragile mind, from varying perspectives – two sets of captions diametrically opposed, and almost battling on the page, with one another.   Through these bits of text, overlaid (and underlaid) on traditional comic panels, the drama is enacted within these chapters, until the ultimate fate of Brian Li Sung is revealed. 

One thread of text – in the form of modified caption boxes – follows the conscious musings of Li Sung.  Like Christine Spar, he keeps a diary of sorts, meditating on his life after the death of Christine, as well as the ugliness and oppression surrounding him in this dark city of New York.  These captions are illustrated as sheets from his personal diary, snatches of lined paper with neat, legible handwriting.  We, the audience, are allowed access to the questions and concerns nagging Li Sung, those now weighing him down with despair and apathy. 

Juxtaposed against these musings are the scrawled ravings most often found scratched along the bottom of the page, red marks on a black background.  At first, one cannot be certain where these ideas and thoughts come from.  They seem to emanate from outside any of the characters (their placement outside of any comic panels lends itself to this reading), the ramblings of Grendel as an idea rather than a person.  Grendel, as an embodiment of evil, is larger than any one person, and this is where Wagner begins to reveal that on the page.  These captions are hateful, angered, and, if one looks more closely, full of despair – despair at the world, at what it has become, and at what it forebodes for whoever is thinking these thoughts. 

Eventually, these scrawls and the snatches from Li Sung’s diary intertwine, as the spirit of Grendel consumes him.  Now enmeshed by Grendel, Li Sung, without any thought, kills a man who follows him into the woods, threatening to harm him if he does not give up whatever he is hiding.  This leads to Li Sung’s death at the hands of Captain Wiggins, the police officer who investigated Christine Spar.  And, once more, the devil has the last laugh.   

The way Wagner and Mireault utilize the two, disparate caption types to evoke the fragile, and fractured, psyche of Brian Li Sung is wonderful and a great example of how to use the medium to enhance the narrative.  Readers see the devolution of his character through his writings – both conscious and unconscious – even as his actions become more frenzied and harsh, until both these texts coincide with the revelation that “He knows.”

It is continually fascinating to see how the storytelling approaches of these various Grendel tales feed into the overall thematic core of each one.  I doubt most readers are aware, consciously, of the choice being made by Wagner and his cohorts.  This meshing of theme and approach creates a synergy more deeply affecting than if Grendel took the more traditional approach to storytelling.  Certainly, it would be successful, but, I would posit, not as enriching an experience as the one afforded those in Wagner’s, and Grendel’s, audience. 

Next: some Devil Tales

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What It Is – (beware) The Ides of March edition [2015]

With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).

Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal. 

A week ago I took my second day off from writing for the year.  Since then, I’ve plugged away at the novel, which, though it progresses, is wandering through the weeds.  I can see the end approaching, but the space between where I’m at now and where I need to end up is murky.  I know some very specific things that need to happen, but I haven’t got the connecting threads mapped out, instead discovering them each day, as I complete one scene and start to conjure the next.  It’s been a challenge and a bit scary, but there have also been exciting revelations and inspirations, while I have also picked up a thread I’d dropped off earlier in the manuscript believing I would not come back to it.  But this thread represents a fairly heavy emotional moment that is coming right up.  I’m anxious to write the scene, but feeling a bit of trepidation too, worried I won’t be able to fully evince what I’m aiming for.  At least I’ll have a chance to fix it in revisions this fall. 

Read Shakespeare’s ­Comedy of Errors this week, and it was great.  Not as dense or layered as his dramas, obviously, but I really enjoyed the word play utilized by Shakespeare, and the manner in which he drove the farce forward.  Nothing invigorates me more than reading one of his plays, and this one – upon my first reading – did not disappoint.

Also read Grendel: Devil’s Reign by Matt Wagner and Tim Sale.  I continue to be impressed with the way Matt Wagner would continually change up the storytelling approach for every new storyline.  With this, continuing the story of Orion Assante five-hundred years in the future, Wagner returns to a familiar approach – thick blocks of text, taken from a “history text” of the time – and infuses it with traditional comic panels (rather than the highly-illustrative and design heavy images from his initial foray, Devil by the Deed) to create a hybridized approach.  But this text-heavy narrative is only have of a chapter, with each one filled out by a more traditional comic book approach that showcases a different, but parallel, storyline that eventually intertwines with the main narrative upon the completion of this story.  It’s impressive and admirable, how Wagner and his cohorts come to every storyline in this varied fashion. 

Something else that struck me, upon finishing this volume, is the fact that, despite being part of the Grendel narrative, this volume, like almost every other one, has very little Grendel in it.  Devil’s Reign is about the transformation of Orion Assante into the first Grendel-Khan, a name he does not officially take upon himself until the final chapter.  Similarly, in the previous God and the Devil storyline, Grendel, in the guise of Eppy Thatcher, was always hanging above the story, but his time “on-screen” was minimal at best, even if his scenes were dramatic and important to the overall narrative.  [damn, I love the word narrative]  It’s an impressive feat, and something worthy of further examination, but that will have to wait for another time. 

Started season two of Downton Abbey.  The writing – even if it does slip into the overly melodramatic, and can be too on the nose, at times – is still impressive.  With the first couple episodes, they have managed to imbue the two most reprehensible characters with some humanity, which is disconcerting because I enjoyed hating them.  It’s rather impressive the ease with which this was done – and I do understand that, though it may look easy on-screen, it was certainly not easy in the writing room.  Definitely want to try and take some lessons away from this aspect of the show. 

Also finished up my Tarantino (re)-watch this week, with Django Unchained.  That was some kind of a great movie.  Disturbing, cathartic, and bloody – three words that I think sum up much of Tarantino’s filmography.  Not sure what more I can say about this.  Tarantino just seems to be getting better.  I’m anxious to see Hateful Eight, and am curious if he will be using chapter headings again.    


This week I finished up my reminiscence/examination of my affection for the Flash, from DC comics.  The Scarlet Speedster has always been my favorite hero.  I don’t know if I managed to explicate why that it and where it orginated – my aim with the five pieces – but I had fun doing it, and I hope you find something to enjoy.  They can be found at:
Part 1: Introduction 
Part 2: Barry Allen 
Part 3: Carmine Infantino 
Part 3.5: the Rogues 
Part 4: Wally West 

As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Don McMillan, as well as Dan’s foray into podcastdom, the Potato League Podcast, for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.