So Graeme is apparently doing weekly reviews of the new Convergence books and I’m apparently doing reviews of anything and everything else that isn’t new? What a balanced little website we’ve got here!
DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR #1-5: We’re on the penultimate episode of the Netflix show and there were all these things that kept making me think of this miniseries, written by Frank Miller and drawn by John Romita, Jr., so (cue the Marvel Unlimited theme music) I decided to re-read and see how much the show’s staff ganked from it.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as much as I thought. I may have been thrown off by the show’s costume which is super-indebted to the one here (and which I love on the show; I think I’m really going to be bummed when they “upgrade” his outfit) but, apart from a few bits and pieces—like a conversation between Stick and Stone, or an emphasis on child abduction—the show very smartly goes about setting up its “Daredevil: Year One” as a going-forward enterprise.
By contrast, Miller & Romita’s “Daredevil: Year One,” is more of a backward alignment thing, despite Miller’s story having originally been a movie script, a chance for Miller to show us the roller coaster college romance between Matt Murdock and Elektra and retcon Daredevil’s origin in a way that suits his conception of the character. For instance, It’s interesting to me how keyed in the show’s creators are to Miller’s conception of Matt as inherently violent and angry while ignoring the two keys Miller provides to that anger Miller—Matt being taunted with the name “Daredevil” by bullies, and his father being both semi-abusive and a semi-criminal himself. One of the few bummers about the Marvel Universe issues is the lack of the (foreword?/afterword?) Miller contributed where he talks about how Daredevil should’ve become a villain but didn’t: that’s the bit the showrunners have so far used to best effect.
But also surprising about the miniseries isn’t what Miller wrote, but how he wrote it. Having re-read four of the twenty issues of the Nocenti/JR JR run currently available on Marvel Unlimited, I was struck by how Miller’s tone here is closer to Nocenti’s writing than, say, Batman: Year One. It’s clear that Miller was a fan of Romita, Jr.’s work before they worked together, but I’d never contemplated Miller reading the Nocenti/Romita Jr. run and also being drawn to Nocenti’s camp (but not campy) approach.
That’s a new idea for me, and like a lot of new ideas, it has a lot of allure while quite possibly being completely wrong: after all, by the time Miller came back to Marvel to do Man Without Fear, he’d already done Hard Boiled, Give Me Liberty, and his first Sin City story, none of which are known for, uh, writerly ambiguity?
It’s the sort of thing I should probably research and confirm, but I always assumed Miller’s collaboration with Bill Sienkiewicz on Elektra: Assassin had been the game-changer, since the beginning of that mini reads like Miller telling Elektra’s origin like the start of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, and the end is like watching Ralph Steadman adapt The Terminator, something gloriously brash and irreverent. (For a while now, I’ve toyed with the idea that Sienkiewicz bailed on Big Numbers once he realized he couldn’t perform a similar seduction on Moore: the thought of such a steadfastly prim creative marriage was more than the decadent Mr. Sink could bear.)
Between that and his disastrous time in Hollywood, there would be no going back for Miller: not only was the idea of comic books being high art now of no interest to him, it was the low art element of comics most worth celebrating. And so it’s more than entirely reasonable he needed no inspiration to strike the tone of the Daredevil: Man Without Fear miniseries: he’s going to have Matt’s father turned into a mob fixer before the boy’s eyes, and he’s going to have a fat cop say “why can’t you all learn to behave like the Murdock boy? He’s never in trouble, is he?” exactly one panel before a young Matt Murdock, face obscured, steals the cop’s billy club and rides off on a skateboard, in an era where Bart Simpson hopping about Springfield on his board is still a new and pertinent image.
And yet that scene isn’t far away at all from the tone of the Nocenti/JR Jr Christmas issue of Daredevil, where a kid named Eightball rolls about on his skateboard, unsure if he wants to be like Daredevil or DD’s foes of the issue, the Wildboys. Similarly, Miller had revisited Elektra, his creation, several times and each time he moved her sexuality a bit more into the foreground. But isn’t the scene where Miller has Elektra achieve sexual climax…
… closer in tone to the scene of Typhoid Mary mounting a man on the floor of a burning building…
…than any of Miller’s previous takes on the character?
This is the problem with a lack of nuance: it makes it harder for amateur critics to draw distinctions. I can’t really say if Nocenti is an influence or not. What is incontrovertible is that John Romita, Jr. drawing and designing pages like of a sonuvabitch.
(Rereading this and those few Nocenti issues really drove home to me how sophisticated the guy was in using white on the page). Although it was tough to pick a favorite full-page splash out of all the amazing splashes (It’s almost impossible not to pick the one that starts off this post), my favorite is where helpless teen Mickey hollers for Matt while being whisked away by a thug. Simultaneously a moment of high melodrama and a cleverly self-Lichtensteinian refutation of Licthenstein, it’s more than absurdly large. It’s comics.
No matter how well the Daredevil TV show does, no matter whether Ann Nocenti was an influence it or not, and no matter how the world at large chooses to remember Frank Miller when that contentious bastard finally leaves us, that’s what Frank Miller wanted and John Romita, Jr. gave us: something so joyfully vulgar, it could only be comics.
If anything, the second week of DC’s Convergence is more enjoyable on the whole than the first — if, interestingly enough, lacking anything as individually strong as the Rucka/Hamner Question series. Coincidence, or telling detail in recreating the feeling of DC’s early 1990s output? Scroll down for the latest episode of the podcast if you haven’t already listened, and then come back and click through more thoughts on the world that’s no longer coming. Continue reading →
Yup, here it is: our 174th episode (by one count, at least), just in time for you to snort some Hitler and celebrate Mary Jane Watson’s birthday!
Well, since I’m sure you’ve got a busy day ahead of you, allow me to present to you…without further ado…our show notes!
00:00-6:00: Greetings! Death threats! As Jeff says, “Listeners! Welcome to what may be the last episode of Wait, What?” Yes, it’s a bone-chilling opening for a podcast that jumps right in and barely looks back, with an introduction of what we’re going to be talking about length: a frank (and profanity-filled) discussion of Avengers #1-36, New Avengers #1-24, and Infinity #1-6, all written by Jonathan Hickman and a elite cadre of Marvel’s shock troops!
6:00-25:42: But first, before we do that, since this was recorded on the day the second Star Wars trailer dropped (embedded above), we have to talk about it first. Also discussed: Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek Into Darkness, the franchise that taught you not to trust franchises, class struggle in Star Wars, the Mad Max: Fury Road trailer (also embedded above), Terminator Genisys trailer, the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer, the weird fragmented point trailers are at right now, the second Ant-Man trailer, and more. 25:42-1:11:05: And now we get back to Jonathan Hickman, Avengers #1-36, New Avengers #1-24, and Infinity #1-6, with liberty and spoilers for all. Because we are trying to be better with context, fasten your seatbelts as we try to describe everything that’s going on and break down our reactions. (And if you want to read along, all issues discussed are currently available on Marvel Unlimited). Discussed: plot hammering, what Jeff characterizes as the “contemporary American spirit” at the heart of Hickman’s story, the powers and drawback of repetition, a story about the inevitability of mortality as told in a story featuring characters who we know technically will not actually die; Marvel’s former series What If, #NotMyTonyStark, shared universes, D&D references, Stan Lee’s pubic hair, Secret Wars, the Nick Spencer train, the latest iPad update for the Marvel Unlimited app, the 500 Star Wars comics dropped on the app this week (seriously, if you find yourself hankering for the Dark Horse Expanded Universe, or you just want to re-read that issue where Michael Golden drew a really keen lightsaber fight, it is now exceptionally easy to get your hands on with a subscription to MU), and more.
Very, very, terrifyingly easy.
1:11:05-1:20:58: The mention of the iPad (and more specifically, Jeff’s not-subtle hint that Graeme should get one) leads to a story from Graeme about what he’s been up to since the last time we podcasted. (Spoiler: a lot of what he’s been up to involves sitting in the Apple Store.) Throw in a cameo from Ernie and Gus-Gus and you’ve got a lovely non-comic intermission!
(Did not crop after ganking; probably should’ve)
1:20:58-1:43:20: Returning from that intermission, patron Scott Ashworth requested that we read one of the oldest cult comics, Herbie the Fat Fury, by Richard Hughes and Ogden Whitney, which Graeme with his superior library skills (and superior library) is able to do! Discussed: Alan Moore, a certain type of “satire,” Groundhog Day (the movie, not the holiday), JFK (the person, not the airport), Stockholm Syndrome, Gold Key Star Trek comics, Daniel Pinkwater, pre- and post-war America, and coming up next on our to-read list: Opus by Satoshi Kon, as requested by Eric Rupe. Also, not mentioned in our discussion, but let me throw in a counterbalancing opinion about Herbie from Bill Reed, and an uncovered connection between Herbie and Watchmen. Those “Comics Should Be Good” guys are great, aren’t they?
1:43:20-1:55:21: Graeme also read the first week of Convergence titles from DC, which he wrote about for the website but also discusses at a bit more length here. Mentioned: Alisa Kwitney on Batgirl, Lee Weeks on Superman, Jeff Parker and Tim Truman on Hawkman (upcoming), someone’s butt talking to someone else’s boobs, editorial inconsistencies, Convergence as an event where you can read the crossover books without having to read the main event title; and more.
To quote Jackie Kennedy: Sigh.
1:55:21-2:06:51: Although he didn’t have anything special planned to say (or anything planned at all), Jeff nevertheless wanted to talk about the passing of Herb Trimpe, comic artist, writer, and teacher who managed to fuse the imperatives of a Marvel house style with his own more unique one, and gave us a lot of great comics along the way: the Incredible Hulk, Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, and G.I. Joe, a fill-in issue of Captain America written by Bill Mantlo (issue #291, which Jeff does an impressive job of partially misremembering here (and again, thanks to Marvel Unlimited, I dug up that issue, read it and screenshot it just now), the Phantom Eagle in Marvel Super-Heroes #16, issues of G.I. Joe Special Missions that he wrote, and more. Thank you, Herb.
2:06:51-end: Closing comments, a.k.a., “when the hell is our next episode, we honestly have no god-damned idea.” (Hint, it’s a skip week coming up, so look for us in a fortnight.) The Small Tote Bag! Places to look for us at—Stitcher!Itunes!Twitter! Tumblr! and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 102 patrons make this whole thing possible.
Next Week: there is no next week! (As far as a podcast episode is concerned) but then come back the week after that! And the week after that! Etc., etc. And remember, if you need just a straight text-only link to cut and paste into your browser or program of choice, check out the first comment!
Hey, everyone. Thanks to last week’s quest to read every issue of Hickman’s Avengers, New Avengers, and Infinity on Marvel Unlimited, my bench of comics is not especially deep. As much as I enjoy the opportunities for binge-reading now afforded me by all-you-can-read services like Crunchyroll and Marvel Unlimited, it can trip up my ability to both talk about stuff on the podcast and write about stuff here.
Here’s the good news about the first week of DC’s Convergence: it’s nowhere near as terrible as the #0 issue. Here’s the bad news: For an event that’s so squarely aimed at continuity junkies, its own internal continuity is impressively shoddy. How can you learn to love Convergence? Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream — or just click through the jump (and scroll down for the latest Baxter Building, if you haven’t already seen it.) Continue reading →
Previously on Baxter Building: Sure, the Marvel Universe as we know it has been created, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have done some wonderful things together. But this time around? This is when things get really good, trust us.
0:00:00-0:03:56: In which Jeff describes the task ahead of us this episode — namely, getting from Fantastic Four #36 to #48 in the time allotted (and not continuing on to #50, considering that FF #48 is both the end of the Inhumans story and the beginning of the Galactus story) — as “literally impossible,” which is, let’s be honest, a challenge. Spoilers: It’s one that we manage to accomplish, also sneaking in Fantastic Four Annual #2 and 3 in there as well, despite an unusual recording schedule thanks to my day job. 0:03:57-0:25:41: And we’re off, with our delayed conversation about Fantastic Four Annual #2, which has sadly suffered from being paired with this batch of issues as opposed to those we talked about last time. We start with the origin of Doctor Doom, which lets us talk about Jack Kirby’s interest in non-urban spaces, Young Victor Von Doom’s fashion sense, and whether or not Doctor Doom was really into magic or just a very big Arthur C. Clarke fan. Also, is Doctor Doom a really, really bad Batman?
0:25:42-0:31:36: The second of the new stories in the annual isn’t quite as great as “The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!” but what could be? Nevertheless, “The Final Victory of Doctor Doom!” has its own charms, despite being what Jeff calls “a little bit of a mess” (Maybe we should chalk that up to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby being somewhat hyperbolic and out of synch again, though.) There’s some really great stuff here, including Doctor Doom’s vanity and why recycling would have made all the difference for the world of Victor Von D. (We get distracted by events, and sadly didn’t get a chance to properly talk about the Fantastic Four getting roofied as plot device, which… I mean, wow.) 0:31:37-0:33:30: A slight interlude. A patented Baxter Building No-Prize (which is to say, no, really, no prize) to whoever can name the music in the background. 0:33:30-0:35:45: A little bit of meta-commentary about music (Contrary to what Jeff suggests and what I got so excited about, I obviously didn’t use “The Girl From Ipanema,” mostly because I couldn’t find an instrumental version I loved). Turns out, I misremembered the Captain Scarlet theme, which actually sounds like this:
It’s actually far more wonderful in this version, I have to say. Oh, and we’re both serious about wanting cover versions of our theme music, all you musicians out there.
0:35:46-0:47:36:Fantastic Four #36, also held over from last episode, feels very much like the first part of the next era of FF in terms of plot, if not aesthetic, thanks to the debut of (Madam) Medusa and a focus on the upcoming nuptials of Reed and Sue. Is this, as Jeff suggests, the most Stan Lee era of the Lee/Kirby FF? Perhaps, which might explain the fact that it’s also the first time that villains from another series altogether turn out to be central protagonists to the series. Curse you, ever-growing Marvel Universe (but hello, Wingless Wizard, Sandman and Paste-Pot Pete)! Also discussed: Our mutual love for the Sandman and the potentially-unintended subtext to the Frightful Four, including why they’re not the Super Apes. 0:47:37-0:50:12: Is Jack Kirby leveling up with every issue by this point? You bet your ass he is, and we talk about that for a bit. (We’ll come back to it later, when the book switches inkers, don’t worry.)
0:50:13-1:00:00: “Behold A Distant Star” in FF #37 sees the FF invade another galaxy because… Sue’s had significantly delayed grief about the death of her father issues earlier, apparently. Or maybe it’s Jack Kirby’s fault, as we’ll suggest (Jeff introduces the concept of “active continuity” here, which we might return to in future). Also, the Skrull menace is finally dealt with, and we never ever hear from them again, right…? All this and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby explain how space travel works, and I suggest that perhaps the series was happening too quickly for its long-term good at this point. The lack of long-term planning on the book is also discussed in passing, especially when it comes to Jack Kirby’s plotting and Stan Lee’s inability to parse out what is about to happen, and we talk about whether or not this was originally intended to be a Skrull story at all. 1:00:01-1:03:21: We reach my favorite letter in this entire run of issues, as Stan Lee deals with an actual Communist. No, really. 1:03:22-1:18:31: The Frightful Four return in Fantastic Four #38 as the series shifts into an era of endless narrative, where stories just lead in and out of issues as necessary, without a need to obey constants of issue length. We talk about that, and also about the obviously re-written dialogue that ensures that children of the 1960s didn’t see Ben Grimm threaten to spank Sue. Except that they obviously did:
Jeff explains which Reed Richards is his left favorite, we talk about Stan Lee’s problems with female agency and the ways in which the story’s pace keeps the reader onboard despite some fairly obvious problems. The ending of the issue, in which the FF survive an atomic blast, comes under discussion as well, as I wonder about the similarities with the famous death of the Doom Patrol (which happened years later, something I wasn’t sure about when recording) and Jeff wonders if this is the first time that an audience had a cliffhanger that ensured that they knew that the heroes had survived such an explosion. 1:18:32-1:25:07: Here’s a mea culpa — I say that FF #39’s “Frankie Ray” is Frank Robbins, but I’m entirely wrong: It’s actually Frank Giacoia. Too many Frank pseudonyms for my own good. Either way, goddamn, those are some amazing inks, and the series looks as good as it’s looked to date. In what’s almost a timely moment, Daredevil shows up in the series as Doctor Doom attacks. Oh, and the Fantastic Four are powerless (again!), which leads to this new temporary new look for the team:
Man, how I wish they’d kept that status quo for longer. Kirby’s Daredevil is admired, but because it’s part one of a two-part story, we quickly move on to… 1:25:08-1:40:06: … FF #40, “The Battle of the Baxter Building,” in which Reed Richards is such a dick to Ben Grimm that it launches him on a murderous rampage that’s one of the most thrilling, visceral sequences in the series so far. That’s despite the appearance of Vinnie Colletta, showing up for the first of a few issues of inking and kind of making Kirby’s art look that little bit less impressive. But not even Colletta can ruin this:
The Thing’s rampage against Doctor Doom, however, remains the highlight of the issue, however, and Jeff makes a case for it actually being a Thing/Mr. Fantastic fight, albeit in a way that neither Lee nor Kirby were properly aware of at the time. And where was the rest of the team while all of this going on?
1:40:07-1:50:44: The 41st issue of Fantastic Four has a pleasingly ambiguous title: has Ben Grimm been betrayed, or is he doing the betraying? It’s one of a number of questions we talk about, with the others including whether or not Alicia is the latest victim of the passive aggressive battle between Lee and Kirby, and whether or not Madam Medusa is the FF’s forgotten top femme fatale. Jeff also reveals the best reason why Medusa acts out of character in these first appearances, and we marvel at the spectacular death traps the Wizard creates for the team. And for those reading along, if you’ve been wondering about the Thing’s dental work, prepare to get excited. 1:50:45-2:00:09: Is “To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?” the most perfectly passive aggressive story title in comics? Possibly, but it’s just one of the many thrills on offer in FF #42, which turns out to show all of the characters (with the exception of the Thing, who’s mind controlled) at their best in some way or another. Is this an issue that shapes the future of the Marvel Universe (and especially Roy Thomas’ Avengers)? Possibly — leading Jeff to suggest that other, lesser, artists would quit as soon as they hit these points, but Kirby was only getting started.
2:00:08-2:02:59: After what we’ve said about the first two parts of this storyline, we kind of don’t have that much to say about FF#43, “Lo, There Shall Be An Ending,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad issue, just one that’s overshadowed by what’s come before. 2:03:00-2:08:27: How is Fantastic Four Annual #3 like Secret Wars? Jeff explains all, while trying to convince me that it’s better than I think it is (My problem is really that it’s almost entirely a reprint book). 2:08:28-2:16:39:Fantastic Four #44 is a big issue in a lot of ways — Joe Sinnott joins the book as inker, Medusa gets a reboot and the Inhumans get properly introduced (Well, in some ways). There’s also Reed Richards’ greatest invention to date:
The newly-domesticated Sue Richards is introduced in this issue, and — well, if you thought she was a less-than-independent character before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Is Joe Sinnott redrawing Kirby? Is Dragon Man really necessary here or anywhere else? Both of those questions will be… maybe not answered, but definitely raised. 2:16:40-2:24:16: “Among Us Hide… The Inhumans” in FF #45, and Jeff and I completely fall under the spell of the Inhumans, thanks in large part to the way they’re introduced slowly and independently of each other. Johnny Storm’s predilection for wandering around the bad parts of town is raised as an area of concern, but we forgive him because it means we get to meet Crystal and launch into one of the stranger — but surprisingly potent — romances of the Lee/Kirby era.
2:24:17-2:32:33: There’s a lot going on in FF #46, including the need for Reed Richards to increase security at the Baxter Building, Stan Lee yet again being caught out by Jack Kirby’s plans for future issues, and Jeff really, really making me wish that Kirby had designed Yellow Submarine for the Beatles. (I’d like to point out that, for once, it’s not me coming up with these 1960s pop references. Okay, sure, I did make the Who one earlier.) Continuing a theme of this episode, Kirby’s mastery of pacing is discussed, as well.
2:32:34-2:39:59: We near the end of the episode, and the end of the first Inhumans storyline, with Fantastic Four #47, but not before we make it through the first appearance of Maximus The Magnificent, who genuinely appears to live up to that description for all of about four pages. Who says this isn’t the Mighty Marvel age of incredible designs for disappointing characters, following the previous issue’s Seeker? We return to the question of the Thing’s teeth, and the subject of how weightless the reversals and reveals in this era of Fantastic Four are, and the way in which it doesn’t matter because Kirby manages to overwhelm common sense by sheer willpower. (“Don’t ask — just buy it!” indeed.) Also, the question of who called Black Bolt the first pure Kirby creation was, I remembered post-recording, Elle Collins in the Into It episode I guested on, so now you know. (Also, Stan Lee comes up trumps with the Johnny/Crystal romance in this issue, as far as I’m concerned.)
2:40:00-2:46:45: Even though the cliffhanger at the end of #47 turns out to fall flat on its face in Fantastic Four #48 — something Jeff politely suggests might have been down to miscommunication, and not just an utter failure of a plot device — there’s actually a surprisingly strong conclusion to the Inhuman storyline in the first pages of the issue, and it’s all thanks to Stan Lee. Who saw that one coming?
2:46:46-end: We wind everything up and tell you about what’ll be happening in the next episode of What, What?, as well as what issues we’ll be reading next Baxter Building. If you’re looking for us before then, you can find us on Tumblr, Patreon and Twitter. As ever, if you’ve made it this far in the show or the show notes, thank you very much for paying attention. We love you almost as much as Reed loves Sue, only without the constant need to put you down at any given opportunity. (That said, you’re going out in that?)
Huh, Graeme does capsule reviews, and now I’m doing capsule reviews? I guess my stalkery thing is showing through, that thing where I hang out in my room and talk in my Graeme voice and then reply to myself in my normal voice? (Actually, the sad thing is that it’s actually me talking to myself in my Graeme voice and then me replying to myself in my Abhay voice. I’m like the Composite Superman of comics blogosphere writers. So sad.)
Covergence #0 might have been the most high-profile title DC released last week, but it was just one of a number of books designed as “events” in their own right — I got no less than five annuals in my comps package, all but one intended to tie in with storylines in the ongoing series, and each from a series that I’m not currently reading in single issues (or at all). So, for the first time in a long time, it’s some capsule reviews. Nostalgia ahoy! Continue reading →
Sometimes a comic can be challenging to write about. If we were talking to you in person, standing by the comic book store counter and shooting the breeze, recommending Jason Shiga’s Demon would be easy: for one thing, I could convey my enthusiasm by waving my arms around and yelling a lot and you wouldn’t need me to actually reveal a lot of plot details. Or, depending on your reaction to my enthusiasm, I could figure out how much plot to reveal to actually hook you on the book.
Revelation is, for me, the strongest appeal to Jason Shiga’s Demon, and the idea of sacrificing any of its numerous surprises in order to get you to try the book isn’t something I take lightly. (And so this browser window sat open for days as I fretted about how to write this.)
Shiga’s Demon, which you can read in its entirety as he updates, a page at a time, over at his website, is the most insane and satisfying exploration of a premise since Ohba and Obata’s Death Note. Because Graeme and I support Jason on Patreon (and so do you, if you support us, thanks to our 10% pay it forward program), I had access to the first twelve issues on PDF. They’ve been one of the most satisfying exciting reads of the last year.
Let’s see if I can convince you at the most basic level of high concept, something you could glean from the very first issue: Demon is about a man seemingly incapable of dying. On the very first page of the very first issue, Jimmy Yee writes a suicide note and hangs himself. By page 5, he is alive again, back in the bed of the Oakland motel he’s checked into. The rest of the 35 page issue is Jimmy killing himself over and over, waking up in the same room, trying to figure out what is happening to him.
Let me be honest here (and know too that the necessity for this disclosure probably kept this browser window open and empty a few days longer than otherwise): I read the first issue of Demon probably close to a year ago, and it took me close to a year to get around to issue #2.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, the “guy who can’t die and keeps waking up over and over in the same place” thing felt a little shopworn to me, the stuff of low-budget movies and writers of indie comics shooting for a book at DC (or, worse, the first Image comic from a writer for DC). I worry that if you picked up this first issue on my recommendation (or read the first 36 pages on the website), you would turn to me and go, “Pffft! Jeff, I served with Death Note. I knew Death Note. Death Note was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Death Note.”
(Jesus Christ, I’m old.)
And I would take your point! Death Note opens with Ryuk, a demon from an evil dimension deciding to cause mischief by putting on Earth a book where anyone whose name is written in it will die by the method indicated. By page eight, it’s fallen into a teenager’s hands. By page nine, he’s reading the book and learning its rules. By page 14, he’s being confronted by the demon. By then, we are very far from low budget indie movie territory. (Although I was still severely under-read in manga when I picked up Death Note, I suspect for the experienced reader, it also didn’t come off like typical Shonen Jump fare: both Ryuk and the teenager Light subvert the traditional “cool but also kinda cute” Jump designs.) By contrast, the first 80+ pages of Demon (or the first three issues) are setting up and teasing the puzzle of Jimmy’s special powers. But I am thoroughly convinced getting through that set-up (which is perfectly fine, mind you, just not especially gripping) is well worth it: starting from issue #4, Demon kicks into high gear and becomes what a marketing person might call “a high-octane page turner.”
But here’s another concession: Jason Shiga is no Takeshi Obata. Obata is, in his very fastiduous way, a sensualist, exquisite at drawing hair and clothes. Even when his faces threaten to look all the same, you can tell that sameness stems from fixation. By contrast, Shiga’s characters look like cut-rate muppets.
The closer your tastes fall on the “realistic comic art” spectrum, the hardest it can be to embrace to Shiga’s art: he’s a cartoonist, and not an especially elegant one when it comes to his characters. (Although if you look at that first issue, you’ll see he sweats the small stuff: Jimmy himself may look like he’s escaped from a low budget kid’s show, but each of Jimmy’s tools of destruction are precisely delineated, and that hotel room he’s in is dead-on, right down to the window AC unit sticking out past the edge of the cheap, heavy curtains.)
Would you have been willing to watch Inception if it had been animated by the South Park guys? For a lot of people, that’s a pretty steep stylistic buy-in, but it’s the price of admission for this ride.
That said, while talking with a friend (the ever-wonderful Lauren Davis) about this very problem, she pointed out Demon might end up being far too gross if it was drawn realistically: there is a lot of violent death in this book—frequently by gun, but also by hanging, immolation, decapitation, car crash, and cum knife. (Yup.)
But as with one of Shiga’s previous works, Bookhunter, there are also satisfyingly BIG action setpieces. A hostage exchange on a train, for example, is paced perfectly, with a pervasive sense of suspense and escalating stakes that culminate in a deeply satisfying payoff. His characters may look like puppets but Shiga could teach a master class to writers and artists at the Big Two on how to use the “no-budget” approach to comics to build to bigger and bigger sequences until you feel like you’re reading the biggest, craziest summer movie ever. It’d be so much easier to sell this book to more traditional readers if the art matched the action.
[I had a few screenshots of said action but realized I thought they were too spoilery. Sorry.]
I concede my desire for a more broadly appealing style (so Shiga can be justly buried in riches) in a way misses some of the point. Jimmy, the man with special talents, comes to the attention of Agent Hunter, member of a shadowy government agency, the OSS. Their eagerness to recruit Jimmy (who responds to such an offer with “Suck my private-sector balls, motherfucker”) moves well past the point of coercion, and issues #4-12 are essentially one long brutally obstinate battle of wits which Shiga plays out well beyond what you might expect.
Similar to the way Tsugumi Ohba considered considerations of good and evil in Death Note as beside the point, Demon is cheerfully sociopathic in how it plays out its premise to logical ends. In that way, the first twelve issues of Demon are a Laurel & Hardy movie with the rigorous logic of hard sci-fi. And while that rigorousness infuses the violent hijinks with a deeply satisfyingly wit, the brutally casual take on said hijinks is also deeply hilarious.
Reaching the end of the most current issue, (#12) (where Shiga once again breaks the narrative sound barrier) and realizing the guy is only halfway through his story, gave me that “kid waking up on Christmas morning” feeling a reader has with a great book, a feeling of unending good fortune and anticipatory pleasure.
It’s a pretty good point to invite you to jump on the ride, and Shiga has staggered things so there are many possible ways to get on board: as mentioned above, you can read the material for free online (though the books are slowly starting to creep ahead) but I’m a very big fan of supporting Jason on Patreon. For $1.99, you can get a digital subscription which gives you access to all back issues and a new issue for every month—this proved the perfect solution for me and my tablet—or have the PDFs plus a continuing subscription to the hard copies (signed!) for $4.99 a month. Both plans are great because although Jason has an admirably high number of patrons and a decent amount of cash, it would be wonderful for him to have even more.
Whatever you decide, come with an open mind and give it a generous try. At its best, Demon does what good comics are supposed to do…
It’s an impressive introductory issue that leaves you more confused than you were before you started reading it, but never let it be said that Convergence #0 lacks ambition. Coherence, sure, it lacks that in spades, but ambition? It’s definitely got that. More after the jump, but if you haven’t already heard this week’s episode of the podcast, scroll down a couple entries. I’ll wait. Continue reading →