Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #39

I just stared at the screen for what I'd estimate to be two minutes, and couldn't think of a way to begin this column.  Me brain, he no be good with the working today.  I (unexpectedly) had to get up incredibly early for work yesterday, and opted to play the stay-up-all-night-rather-than-only-get-two-hours-of-sleep card.  That would have been fine if I had only had to go to work for two or three hours, like I expected; instead, that turned into a ten-hour day, after which I gibbered and gamboled a bit -- that's what you do when you go crazy, right? -- and then went home and collapsed into bed.  (NOTE: in this instance, "gibbered and gamboled" consisted of going and buying my new comics for the week, and then eating an especially delicious cheeseburger from Five Guys.)

Well, now I'm up again, and the old brain is trying to get a fire going, but all it's got is a couple of pieces of wood.  The friction hasn't produced many sparks yet, but it may yet happen.

Anyways, the first thing I did after getting out of bed was to go take a leak.  The second thing I did was to read the new issue of Locke & Key.

I'd have done it in the opposite order, but it seemed like a bad idea.

As we discussed a bit in our review of The Stand Vol. 1: Captain Trips, reading a sequential-art adaptation of a novel on a month-by-month basis is perhaps not the optimal way to enjoy it.  I found Marvel's adaptation of The Stand to be much more satisfying when read all at once (over the course of a few days) than spread out a month at a time over the course of several years.

I suspect much the same will end up being true of Locke & Key.  It isn't an adaptation of a novel, but as heavily serialized as the story is, it may as well be.  And in some ways, keeping the story fresh in mind from one issue to the next has been even more challenging (for me) than it was with The Stand: heck, at least The Stand appeared more or less like clockwork every month; the previous issue of Locke & Key came out at the beginning of June, which was three months ago.  The issue previous to that had been two months prior; and I suspect the second issue of Alpha (which will be the series finale) won't be out until Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Sure, there's an ad in Alpha #1 that says October...but I'll believe it when I see it.

To be clear, this is fine by me.  I do not want Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez to rush things just for the sake of getting the comic out "on time," whatever that means.  Get it right, then put it out.  How much better off would Hollywood be if the movie industry followed the same approach on a regular basis?  Significantly, I'd day.

So it's no problem that the release pattern on Omega/Alpha has been such that it looks like it's going to have taken a year when it's all said and done.  But it has meant that reading each issue as it came out has been perhaps a bit of a lessened experience.

And that is good, good news for those of you who have waited to read it all at once.  Because if it reads even better in collected form than what it has read like in single-issue form, you are in for a treat.

The best reason to not rush a comic-book onto stands is to give the artist time to really do his thing.  And the art by Gabriel Rodriguez (colors by Jay Fotos) is every bit as great as what we've come to expect from Locke & Key.  There are panels in Alpha #1 that go into immediate contention for being the best in the entire series.  Yes, it's that good.  That's no surprise, but it's very gratifying.

What is a surprise is the extent to which this issue seems to bring the story to a conclusion.  If you've been reading along, and know where Omega #5 left things, then you know that a massive confrontation of some sort between Bode/Dodge and our various heroes was looming.  Unless I am mistaken, and there's more confrontation to be had, that fight is entirely fought in this issue.  Who wins?  Not sayin'.  But things here do seem to have come to a fairly final resolution, and that surprised me.

It probably shouldn't have.  Hill is a gifted storyteller, and he knows that in order for an epic to actually work, there has to be a cool-down period.  People sometimes complain about that lengthy series of conclusions at the end of Peter Jackson's The Return of the King, but trust me; without them, the entire trilogy doesn't work.  (You think that one is bad?  You should read Tolkien's version, which is practically a separate novel of "wrapup."  And is also utterly brilliant.)  With that in mind, it doesn't seem surprising at all that Alpha #1 would bring the story to a climax.  What remains to be seen now is how Hill will go about the cool-down that concludes the entire saga.  Emotionally, there is still quite a lot to be dealt with; I look forward to seeing how Hill handles it.

Assuming that it works as well as Alpha #1 works, it's going to cinch Locke & Key's reputation as an all-time classic comic series.

One final word: boy, is that $7.99 cover price steep!  I don't begrudge IDW, Hill, or Rodriguez the money; it's awesome work, and is worth rewarding.  Plus, this is a long issue (32 pages of story, plus some cool extras like photos from the set of the Fox TV pilot based on the comic).  But $7.99?!?  Guys, seriously...not cool.

I still love you, though.

Now, let's see if I can find a few panels that are awesome but not too spoilery...

Here goes:

Best I could do, y'all.  These are great, but the best one are positively dripping with stuff you don't want to know until you read it for yourself.

Let's move along, shall we?

So, DC is doing some sort of a crossover-type event this month called "Forever Evil," which consists of approximately 1,783,246 one-shots starring various DC Universe villains.  I don't know what the whole thing is about, no do I care, particularly.  These big-event crossovers mainly just piss me off; they are custom-designed to milk money out of collectors, a habit that annoys me to no end.

However, since this particular issue -- Batman #23.2, for those of you keeping score at home -- was co-written by Scott Snyder, I decided to give it a try.

It's alright.  I don't like The Riddler at all, so my enthusiasm was negligible.  Snyder (who contributed the story) and Ray Fawkes (who scripted) do a good job of making The Riddler someone who could, theoretically, interest me.

The story: The Riddler breaks into Wayne Enterprises and rights a wrong done to him years earlier.  Batman does not appear; Bruce Wayne does not appear.  This is purely about The Riddler.

Nothing special, but it was worth reading.

Also worth reading: the second issue of Jeff Lemire's Trillium.  In this case, though, I think we are dealing with something special.

The first issue was an ingenious flipbook-style presentation that allowed the reader to choose which end of the book to begin with; no matter which way you pick, you end up in the same place chronologically.  I was curious as to whether the second issue would attempt a similar format, and the answer to that question is a little bit of yes, but a lot more no.  It isn't a flipbook; it's just a straightforward, one-chronology story, mostly dealing with Nika and William's attempts to understand one another.

That's not to say that Lemire doesn't have some tricks up his sleeve in terms of the presentation.  He does a cool thing where he alternates between pages on which we are in William's point of view and pages on which we are in Nika's poitn of view.  Here are the first two pages, which will give you a better idea of what I mean:

And until the final five or so pages of the issue, that's basically all we get here.  Which is fine by me, because what we get is involving and imaginative, with terrific art by Lemire.

Sci-fi comic fans: you are strongly urged to read this miniseries.

"Season 9" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes to an end with issue #25, and I have to admit, it's pretty good.  Does the Scooby Gang save Dawn's life?  Do they restore magic to the world?  If they do, does it have unsuspected and surprising consequences?

I'll never tell.  But it's satisfying, and it convinces me that when "Season 10" rolls around, I'll probably be buying it.

Here are a couple of panels that struck me as being particularly Buffyesque:

Alright, alright; I lied: it was three panels, not a couple.

The art is by George Jeanty, whose work on the series is always stellar.  And this time, the story was fairly strong, too; that was not consistently the case with Season 9, but overall, I'd say it was good.

Here's one that might make some of you roll your eyes, but will strike others of you as being totally awesome.

The Stars Wars is an eight-issue comic-book adaptation of -- as the cover says -- George Lucas's original rough-draft screenplay for what eventually became Star Wars.  Many elements are similar, but with crucial differences.  For example, there is still a character named Luke Skywalker, but in The Star Wars he is a mature Jedi general; the Jedi themselves have still been the targets of Sith-led extermination plots, but they are not yet wholly wiped out.  (Technically, they aren't in the final-draft movie, either, but you know what I mean.)  See that weird alien on the cover beside C-3PO?  That's Han Solo, a lizard-man bounty hunter.

And so forth.  (Read more about it here, if you're so inclined.)

Right now I can imagine some people saying, "So...what you're telling me is that this comic-book is based on a failed version of a screenplay.  It didn't work, and had to be changed, and this is a representation of THAT?!?  Why should I care?"  Fair enough.  I'm a sucker for seeing the evolutionary process behind works of art.  I've got a bootleg that consists of nothing but fourteen different takes of Bob Dylan recording his song "Tell Ol' Bill" (written for the movie North Country).  Now, on the one hand, yes, that sounds tedious and horrible, even if you're not averse to Dylan the way some people are.  But trust me, if you are a Dylan fan, this stuff is gold.  Some of the takes may as well be completely different songs, and except for the lyrics, they are.  Some are fast; some are slow; some are rock; some are country; some are...something else.  And guess what?  Several of them are -- for my money -- vastly superior to the version that eventually got released.

See, artists sometimes have a way of thinking themselves out of using really good ideas.  There are frequently very good reasons for doing so; especially in film, where pacing is of paramount importance, and where budgetary concerns can make such decisions crucial.  With that in mind, the argument could be made that The Star Wars represents a purer version of Lucas's original ideas than does the actual series of movies that eventually got made.  I wouldn't make that argument (not yet, at least; let's let the miniseries conclude and reassess at that time); but I think such an argument could have validity.

Based on this first issue, I can't entirely get a feel for which side of that divide I am going to land on, but I'll say this much: I enjoyed the hell out of this issue.  If the other seven are similarly good, you can consider me thrilled with how it turned out.  I wish I could read the actual screenplay, so that I knew what was written by Lucas himself and what was added by scripter (for the adaptation) J.W. Rinzler.  Maybe that info is out there somewhere and I just don't know about it.

I think that a bit of a gallery is in order, both to give you a feel for what some of the changes look like, and to show off the work of artist Mike (presumably no relation to Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew) Mayhew:

The "Dad" in question is Kane Starkiller, a venerated Jedi.  The son on the left is named "Annikin."  I like the appearance of the training sphere, as well as the Tatooine-esque costume on the younger son.  There are a LOT of visual-design touches like that, which seem to be intended both to make this feel like a proto-Star Wars and to suggest, visually, a work in progress.

The massive Star Destroyers here become smaller "Stardestroyers," but the original films' ship design was more or less retained.  Very cool.

That's the Emperor.  Reminiscent of Sinestro mixed with Dr. Strange.  Some of his dialogue is terrible.

Dath Vader looks a little bit like Gyp Rosetti, a character in the third season of Boardwalk Empire (played by Bobby Cannavale), which is cool, because Gyp is one of the evilest evildoers to ever do evil.  Mayhew has given Vader eyes that are also very reminiscent of Darth Maul.  And Governor Hoedaack looks like somebody from '40s cinema.  I can't place him, but touches like that do a lot to make this comic feel even more like a throwback/progenitor for the eventual movie.

That's Luke Skywalker.  As far as I'm concerned, he is being played here by early-'80s Kenny Rogers, and that is just fine by me.

Leia, who here is the daughter of the King and Queen of the planet Aquilae.  Note the hair.

All I can say is that I'm glad I took a chance on this one.  It intrigued me, but I was afraid the final product would be shabby.  So far, that is definitely not the case.

And that's more than has been true at times of our final comic for the week:

I hated this issue.  Hated, hated, hated it.  Not because it was bad, but because it was good.

"WTF?!?", you might be thinking.

Well, if you recall my reviews of several past issues of this miniseries, Vertigo opted to use numerous artists on the series, including R.M. Guera, who drew #1, #2, parts of #4, and #7; Denys Cowan (#3, #6); Jason Latour (#3, #4); and Danijel Zezelj (#5).  The results were mostly okay, except for the fact that Zezelj's work on #5 -- possibly the most important issue of them all, storywise -- was, in a word, awful.  For me, it so bad that it wrecked the entire series.  It had already been a bit shaky, thanks to the fact that Latour's art, while not bad, didn't match Guera's and Cowan's very well tonally; the subpar work by Zezelj hurt badly, though.

Guera is back for issue #7, and his work is really splendid.  If he had handled the entirety of the series, I think this adaptation would have been something really special.  As is, it goes down -- for me -- as a missed opportunity.  Let's look at some great Guera panels and despair over what might have been:

I dunno; maybe I'm being too hard on the overall miniseries based on what was really just a single subpar issue; but the lack of consistency really bothered me.

This adaptation of Django Unchained is similar to The Star Wars in the sense that it is based on a first-draft screenplay.  Much of it is the same as what appeared in the finished film, but there are some major differences in #7 in terms of the mechanics behind Django's retribution.  And in this case, the first-draft imuplses were by far the weaker; Quentin Tarantino made massive improvements to these scenes.  But there are interesting aspects here, too, such as a young slave boy who helps Django.  That character doesn't appear at all in the finished film.  I'm a bit more on the feance -- and the fence, too (damn typos!) -- about Broomhilda getting raped.  It leads to a gorgeous panel by Guera, and it's certainly no stretch of the imagination to believe that she'd have been a target for that sort of behavior.  Still, rape is icky, and I'm not sure there's quite enough ick to it as presented here; it also blunts the edge of Django's heroism a bit, given that what we really want from a pulp Western is for him to prevent the rape right before it happens.

Still, on the whole, this is a very good issue, and a conclusion that is equal parts relief and frustration.

And that's all I've got this week, folks.  See you next time!


  1. Man, I've GOT to pick up that Star Wars. I had no idea that existed. Not only does the art look beautiful, but I've always been fascinated at the weirdness of the original draft. The bits in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind that detail his shopping that around and the baffled reactions from Coppola et al. are fantastic.

    Besides that, I've really got to take Locke and Key off the shelf and dive in. I have the first tpb and just keep finding other things to read in front of it.

    I saw an ad for DC's latest crossover. I'll probably settle for a jpg of the poster. I love the all-at-once-ness of it, I have to say. What a deluge. But whew. Somewhere, a tweener whose parents have loads of disposable income is spinning around with glee and doesn't know how much that'll mean to him/her twenty years later. (Mine was Secret Wars, probably. And good god, nearly thirty years... let's forget I brought it up.)

    I do wonder what they're going to do with Darkseid. I might pick that one up. All in all, though, these crossover events are as you say.

    It must be good for their bottom line. I don't see how, but if I did, I'd send a resume to DC. Re: the hypothetical tweener above - I have to wonder if Forever Evil is really going to do it for him/her, though.

    1. "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" is a hell of a book. Supposedly a lot of it is sketchy in terms of its accuracy. But even if it's not that accurate, it FEELS accurate. Haven't read it in fifteen years or so, but I remember loving it.

      I suspect there are actually very few tweens buying all of "Forever Evil." I virtually never see anyone beneath the age of 30 at the shop I get my comics from; I might be wrong, but in my mind, everyone buying every single issue of this thing looks like I do (overweight, mostly bald, and pushing forty). There are probably some tweens reading it all, but they're probably all canny enough to just torrent the while thing.

    2. Yeah, you're probably right about that.

      I recently re-read ER, RB. It really re-shapes one's Netflix queue. My favorite era of film. The follow-up (of sorts) about films and the film culture of the 90s was much less interesting.

    3. Biskind also wrote a book called "Seeing Is Believing" about the fifties era of cinema. I've owned it for years and have yet to make time to actually read it. Someday!

  2. Kind of let down by Omega, wish they didn't make us wait so long, that had an impact on my enjoyment of it. It was cool but not 5 months between issues cool. They should have just released it as the Alpha story instead of spiting it up, delaying it, releasing 200 covers and such. The whole James Bond villain speech was kind of cheat "I'm gonna do this and this and this and it's gonna be awesome, oh wait! Foiled again!" The art was awesome and it's still a good story but I thought this was kind of weak.

    1. The villain monologue WAS a bit in the vein of a Roger Moore movie, wasn't it? Yeah, I have to admit that that was not Hill's finest hour. His novels have had some of the same problems, too, but have generally managed to recover from them afterward; we'll see if "Alpha" #2 manages the same trick.