Comic book legend Jack Kirby would have been 98 on 28th August 2015. He passed away in 1994 at the age of 76 and at that time, his work was not recognised by the company that had benefited most from his creativity viz. Marvel Comics. It’s certainly fair to say that Jack Kirby (and not Stan Lee) is the father of the Marvel Universe. Even without getting into the arguments about who created what, there’s no denying that Kirby is the originator of the visuals that proved so popular initially with comic book fans, and ultimately moviegoers worldwide. So let’s take a look at what Kirby had done in the 60s/70s, that now form the foundation of the billion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Long live the King!
Calling this second volume of adaptations of Michael Moorcock’s classic Elric series Stormbringer is a mite confusing, when in fact this graphic novel actually concludes the plotline of Elric of Melniboné. That minor complaint aside, Elric Vol. 2 definitely maintains the cutting edge intensity and emotional depth that made Vol. 1 so satisfying as a modern take of the saga of the doomed albino emperor.
In summary, Elric moves heaven, earth and hell in a desperate attempt to rescue his lover Cymoril from the evil clutches of her brother, the traitorous Yyrkoon. Along the way, Elric receives the ‘gift’ of the soul-drinking black blade, Stormbringer and discovers that getting what he wants can come at a tremendous cost, especially when one is dealing with demons. This time round, writer Julien Blondel is joined by Jean-Luc Cano and the duo do an excellent job in conveying the other-worldliness of the Melnibonean characters.
Forty years old this story might be but the relevance of Moorcock’s disturbing commentary on decadent power remains potent.
The superhero character called Miracleman has always had a troubled existence.
Born in the UK in 1954 as Marvelman due to an American lawsuit, revived in 1983 in revolutionary fashion by Alan Moore, threatened by Marvel Comics, necessitating a change of name when licensed in the USA, discontinued due to bankruptcy of publisher and complicated ownership disputes. The character remained in limbo for 20 odd years before being acquired by Marvel Comics!
Which brings us to the present day, where Miracleman Book Three: Olympus completes Alan Moore’s (credited as ‘The Original Writer’) critically acclaimed run on the character. As with the other Miracleman collections, the actual reprints make up less than half of the hardcover book with the remainder being ‘bonus’ features (e.g. original artwork and scripts) with the hefty US$39.99 price tag being somewhat unjustified.
Worst still, Marvel has elected to incorporate two stories that have no place being in the same book as this storyline. Seriously, what is the relevance? No wonder Moore is pissed off with Marvel. This is almost as atrocious behaviour as DC’s cash-grab with Before Watchmen. What. The. Fuck.
In the final analysis, Olympus is probably next to Watchmen, the finest superhero story ever told – never to be surpassed (not forgetting artist John Totleben’s amazing work). Narrated from Miracleman’s perspective, it is the logical response to the question – “What if Superman really existed” and also the perfect ending to the Miracleman story. But of course, due to commercial considerations, it is not.
But aside from these objections, if you have never read Olympus, then I highly recommend you pick up this book. Just do me a favour and put the book down once you have finished with the story itself and ignore the ‘bonus’ features. Or better yet, read the story all over again.
Who is this Singapore comic book artist Charlie Chan Hock Chye that was able to channel the history of comics through the critical Singaporean events of the last 60-70 odd years? Well, he does exists… BUT only as a figment of artist Sonny Liew’s fecund imagination.
So yes, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is an imaginary tale presented within the context of Singapore history but an imaginary tale nonetheless. It is an artfully constructed “What If” tale and encourages the reader to imagine – “what if Singapore had an legitimate comic book history”. What if, indeed.
Thus, though couched in biographical terms as some kind of historical document – the story of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a fantasy, a fairy tale where the history of comic books unfolded in decidedly Singaporean circumstances.
So while everyone (including the authorities) seem hellbent on treating the story as some kind of political commentary with the potential to undermine the status quo, a more accurate understanding would be to perceive The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye as a tribute to comic books and to Singapore itself.
In that sense, I would state categorically that the true purpose of this ambitious graphic novel would fly over most Singaporean heads and by the story’s denouement would leave the same disappointed that it was not the middle finger to the Government that it had been perceived to be.
With references to Osamu Tesuka, Harvey Kurtzman, Windsor McKay, Eagle, Pogo, MAD, Spider-Man and the like, it would be abundantly clear to a comic book geek what Sonny is trying to achieve here. And the manner in which he is able to weave these references into the Singaporean narrative is sheer genius.
My particular favourite moment is where Sonny channels Philip K Dick by paying homage to Dick’s alternate reality opus The Man in the High Castle (google it for details) to imagine a Singapore where history was altered somewhat from reality. Again, the shock of seeing this alternate reality is probably worth the entire price of the book!
And what about the artwork itself? Any description I would give would not do it justice, surely. Reflecting the stylistic changes in comic book history, Sonny handles each different ‘genre’ like a master, while keeping his own artistic identity intact. No mean feat! A wonderfully immersive visual experience with an eye for detail that will blow you away.
In the final analysis, I will not mince my words – The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a masterpiece. Nuff said.
Let’s get real, shall we?
When it comes to stories presented in words and visuals, the visual aspect will always trump the word aspect. That is why movies like Transformers: Age of Extinction and Furious 7 are able to do well at the box office despite not having very good stories. This also applies in comic books, which is – like film – a graphic medium and very much dependent on the visual quality for its appeal and success.
Of course, I am not saying that the writing does not matter in comic books but even the best work of my favourite comic book writer Alan Moore, was enhanced by the sterling work of his collaborators viz. Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing), John Totleben (Swamp Thing, Miracleman), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Kevin O’Neill (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) etc etc. Which made Moore’s Supreme much less than expectations due to the artwork of Rob Liefeld!
Which is why ultimately I believe that Jack Kirby deserves more credit for the success of the Marvel Universe than Stan Lee. Moreover, Kirby had significant input in many of the classic Marvel Universe issues as plotter! It’s impossible to imagine a single modern-day Marvel film without the contribution of Jack Kirby and yet, only with Avengers: Age of Ultron, was Kirby credited as a co-creator, alongside Stan Lee. This was, of course, due to a recent settlement between Marvel and Kirby’s estate.
However, to the layman movie goer and naive self-professed fan of the Marvel films, Stan Lee will always be thought of as the creator of the Marvel Universe, with each succeeding annoying cameo being shoved down everybody’s throat. But whilst Lee’s hokey self-aggrandisement continues to reveal the huckster that he has always been, the Kirby legacy can be seen by all – unwittingly – in every costume design and most importantly, every powerful fight scene!
Long live the King!
Stan Lee is collaborating with writer Peter David and artist Colleen Doran to create his graphic memoir, billed as ” the story of how modern comics came to be.” Revealed last week by Doran, Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir will be published in October as a hardcover graphic novel by Simon & Schuster.
Look at the characters in the background, do you know who co-created them with Stan Lee? Would this graphic memoir make any mention of the manner in which Stan Lee has taken almost all the credit all these years and left nothing for Jack Kirby? I sincerely hope that this memoir will go some way to repairing the damage Lee has done to Kirby’s legacy.
When DC first collapsed the multiverse into one universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, I was rather upset to lose the alternative earths that gave DC its unique flavour. Most of all, of course, I hated what it meant for the Legion of Super-heroes. But that’s another story, altogether. Well, a couple of years ago, DC went the opposite direction and brought the multiverse back – 52 universes to be exact (I rather enjoyed the process though – the Flashpoint event). In the Multiversity series, writer Grant Morrison has begun to develop this concept and take it to its logical conclusion, exploring the diverse universes that the New 52 had introduced into the continuity.
Thus far, the most interesting issue was undoubtedly the one with “Pax Americana” (featuring the ex-Charlton characters) drawn by Frank Quitely and coming across like a Watchmen homage of sorts. The latest issue – subtitled as “Guidebook” brings the concept home with Morrison detailing the 52 universes that exist (with a few mysterious exceptions) within the greater DC continuity now. Potentially, this provides creators with lots of room to work with, without having to be limited to the continuity of Earth-0 (see below).
After all, there are 51 other universes to be explored! Seems like DC is the place to be to at least see whether they can make this ambitious concept work. Time to investigate them universes more closely!
Written by Julien Blondel.
Art & Colors by Didier Poli, Robin Recht & Jean Bastide.
“… the story you begin reading here is the saga of the Albino I would have written myself if I had thought of it first.”
In his introduction to this latest graphic novel adaptation of the Elric novels, Michael Moorcock, the original writer himself was obviously impressed enough to pen the above words. It’s easy to be cynical and slightly incredulous initially. Having read the book itself and previous comic book adaptations already, what new perspective could Blondel provide?
“The Priest & the Dragon: The October Incident: 1966 ” by Grant Morrison & Joe Quesada. | “The Miracleman Family: Seriously Miraculous” by Peter Milligan & Mike Allred.
Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
Alan Moore’s re-invention of the superhero genre with Marvelman/Miracleman was for me, akin to the Sex Pistols/Punk’s impact on rock music. This legacy is self-evident from reading the Marvel reprints of the Miracleman collected editions, which has thankfully brought the iconoclastic material to a new audience. Read some background here.
So what does Marvel do, to cash in? This highly dubious Annual – which features a Grant Morrison Kid Miracleman tale originally rejected by Moore (justifiably as it turns out!) for publication in Warrior magazine back in the day and a pointless Miracleman Family adventure done in retro style.
In bygone days, it was common for superheroes to be placed in life threatening situations with readers being confident that the hero would somehow escape the clutches of death. But that concept was first challenged in X-Men #137 (1980) when Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl/Phoenix) took her own life in order to protect the universe from the Phoenix force that possessed her. In an unforgettable sequence, Jean Grey paid the ultimate price in order to save the universe.
If you watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, you would have noted the use of the graphic novel Black Hole as a plot point, which is of course such a cool geek thing! Creator/artist Charles Burns will actually be in Seattle this Friday to sign copies of his latest book – Sugar Skull – which is the perfect opportunity for this lapsed comic book (and Black Hole) fan to get re-acquainted with the man’s work and to erm meet the man himself. Stay tuned for the obligatory photographs!
… still there’s more …
WHAT GOES AROUND…
The Generation Gap! The stuff of endless arguments about who’s music was better etc etc etc. What about comic books? I personally believe that after the Marvel Age of the 60s with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the finest era of comic books is the Eighties, when writer Alan Moore was changing the industry.
He was introduced to comic books in 1961 in Superboy #81 as “Superboy’s Big Brother”! Visually, his costume was the reverse of Superboy and since he possessed the same powers as Superboy, he was thought to be from Krypton as well. Therefore, the name, “Mon-El” – he arrived on Earth on a Monday and El is Superboy’s family name! At the end of the story, Superboy indadvertedly poisons Mon-El with lead but ‘saves’ him by sending him into the Phantom Zone (where Krypton imprisoned their worst criminals) where he remained till freed by the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th century.
Mon-El would join the LSH and become a key member, marrying Shadow Lass in the process. He was my favourite Legionnaire and he always seemed to me, a better character than Superman. But sadly, due to DC’s decision to start fucking around with their continuity (which is still going on to this day) in the mid-80s with Crisis on Infinite Earths, Mon-El’s character (and the LSH overall, to be fair) was altered irreversibly and his origins were ret-conned (damn I hate that word) and he was renamed “Valor” (fucking awful!) and then later “M’onel” (even worse!).
The character has been ret-conned so many times now – he even became a Green Lantern at one point in time (!) – and this is one of the many reasons why I have stopped reading superhero comic books. That said, I will always remember the Mon-El I once loved – and that is something Detective Comics Comics cannot take away!!
Marvel’s Original Sin mini-series wrapped up with issue #8 and raised even more questions than providing definite answers to the questions raised earlier in the series. But then, that’s typical super-hero comic book fare, isn’t it? At its core was the mystery of the Watcher’s murder, which as it turns out was brought about by Midas and Nick Fury but not in the way first suspected. The hook of the series was the discovery of hidden secrets that once revealed would have a massive impact on the Marvel Universe (where have we heard this spiel before, erm?) and to a certain extent we did. Fury – now an old man, like Captain America – acted like the Men in Black, taking care of external threats to the Earth in clandestine manner and had to take appropriate action to keep the truth from coming out. At the very end, Fury is seemingly dead (or is he?) and Bucky Barnes takes over Fury’s mantle. Presumably, this will allow Fury’s son – an African-American – to be the de facto Nick Fury in the Marvel Universe? Yup, that’s about the sum of those 8 issues. And Deodato’s art design was cool. NEXT!
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR
Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller. Starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levett, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis and Eva Green.
I loved Sin City. Frank Miller‘s ground-breaking comic book series, that is. Miller stripped down film noir to its bare essentials and presented them in cutting edge fashion, winning several Eisner & Harvey Awards in the 90s as due recognition.
However, when adapted to film, the very noir elements that made the comic book innovative in the 90s look positively banal and farcical now. Granted, this approach seemed fresh (to the average film goer) in 2005 when the first Sin City movie was released but it has certainly worn out its welcome.
The voice-over narration (a staple of film noir, of course) comes off the worst in this sequel when the characters give flowery descriptions of people, objects and events we can see clearly, without the need for embellishment. All irony and contrast is totally lost in this context.
Everybody seems to be over-acting and this becomes unintentionally comical after a while – any scene with Jessica Alba comes across as ridiculous – even while she is cutting up her face! Eva Green titular (emphasis added) characterization is a failure – though she is definitely nude most of the time, her ‘wicked’ demeanor makes her deception of the men around her utterly implausible.
Overall, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a disaster – you might enjoy the movie for its visual style, the unintentional laughs and maybe its star power but that only lasts a very short time before you start hoping for the film to end.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in the cinemas now with a R21 rating.
No words, a picture paints a thousand words…
JACK KIRBY (2001: A Space Odyssey)
A book about superheroes from one of the most iconoclastic of comic book writers, Grant Morrison. To sum it up, Morrison provides an analysis of over 70 years of the superhero mythos whilst at the same time dovetailing the subject matter into some kind of meta-autobiography.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR
I suppose I am a bit late to DC’s New 52 concept which rebooted the company’s entire superhero line but the very idea repulsed me back then, so you will forgive me if I decided not to indulge when it all went down in 2011. The direct-to-video animated movie, Justice League: War, represents the first movie adaptation of the New 52 series (in particular, Justice League) and thus, I thought it would be an appropriate time to give my 2cts worth on this latest reboot.
Most PoP visitors will be aware of my ambivalence towards contemporary superhero comics. But every now and then, a series will appear that promises an intriguing take on the much maligned ‘genre’. Writer Mark Millar is a fairly big shot in the world of superhero comics and the Scot is best known for his work in The Authority and The Ultimates (not to mention Kick-Ass). Artist Frank Quitely has made his name working mainly with Grant Morrison on well-received titles like The New X-Men, All-Star Superman and We3. Last time these well-regarded creators worked together was on the aforementioned The Authority but this time, this creator-owned property gives them both a chance to let loose on the superhero mythos to fairly good effect.
Reminiscing. About superhero comic books from the 1980s. Those were the days! *Sigh*
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Directed by Alan Taylor)
Funny how Thor (the mightiest Avenger) is probably the weakest and least interesting character amongst the stars of the Marvel Studio flicks. The first movie spent time introducing Thor and like most origin stories, the interest was kept at a respectfully high level most of the time with the key being the character development of Thor himself.
This is where the sequel falls flat. Once you understand that Thor is arrogant, brash and headstrong (and loves Jane Foster), there is nowhere else to go unless you spice things up and the writers of Thor: The Dark World fail to do that completely. Thor is utterly boring (despite Chris Hemsworth’s best efforts) and predictable – lacking any edge whatsoever. Thor’s flaws and weaknesses (evident in the first movie) are glossed over and somehow he becomes the least interesting character in his own movie.
Fans of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be excited to find out that creators Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have delivered a spin-off story not long after the end of the Century trilogy. Published jointly by Top Shelf Productions and Knockabout Comics, this is how the publishers have summarized the plot for your easy consumption —
It’s 1925, fifteen long years since Janni Dakkar first tried to escape the legacy of her dying science-pirate father, only to accept her destiny as the new Nemo, captain of the legendary Nautilus. Now, tired of her unending spree of plunder and destruction, Janni launches a grand expedition to surpass her father’s greatest failure: the exploration of Antarctica. Hot on her frozen trail are a trio of genius inventors, hired by an influential publishing tycoon to retrieve the plundered valuables of an African queen. It’s a deadly race to the bottom of the world — an uncharted land of wonder and horror where time is broken and the mountains bring madness. Jules Verne meets H.P. Lovecraft in the unforgettable final showdown, lost in the living, beating and appallingly inhuman HEART OF ICE.
As usual, Moore strings together characters from various fictional universes (in the public domain, of course) to weave his own distintive story. This time around, we find ourselves in the pulp fiction world of the 1920s, when science-adventurers captured the imagination of its reader. Moore uses his 56-page allotment economically, setting up the conflict quickly and resolving the same with a deft touch. It’s basically one big chase scene across the frozen wastes of the South Pole before both pursued and pursuers get their minds blown by the horrors torn from the pages of Lovecraft’s In The Mountains of Madness.
These frightful conjurings are brought to life by O’Neil’s wide-eyed angular illustrations. The grizzled features of Janni’s henchmen contrasted greatly with the relative youth of the young Captain. And once the crew slips into Lovecraftian territory, O’Neil is adept at delivering horrific representations of these classic monsters as well.
Good pulp-ish fun all round in the grand LOEG tradition. Not to be missed!
Point of order. Despite the title above, this is not a year-end ‘best-of’ review of 2012. Why? It’s simply too much effort and after years and years of putting these features together, it all becomes pretty tedious and pointless. Fast. As you can guess from the featured photo above, pop culture is getting increasingly ridiculous with each passing year, so here’s my attention deficient summary of the year that we say farewell to in a matter of days…
Lunarin – The Midas Session, Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, Laneway Festival (Laura Marling, Feist and Girls), Jeff Litman – Outside, Cheating Sons – Time Trails (Live at Esplanade Recital Studio), Lambchop – Mr M, Sweet Diss and the Comebacks – Emerald City Love Song, Brad Brooks – Harmony of Passing Light, Friendly Fires (live at Avalon), The Observatory – Catacombs, Shelves – s/t, OMD (Live at Esplanade Theatre), Orbital – Wonky, James Morrison (interview), Bitch Magnet reissues, Music Matters, ShiGGa Shay – They Call Me ShiGGa, Rick Murname – Wednesday Child, Pugwash – The Olympus Sound, Keane – Strangeland, Marvel’s The Avengers, Fringe Seasons 4 & 5, Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here (DVD), The Newsroom Season 1, Hot Chip (live at Avalon), Empra – s/t, Amazing Spider-Man, SING A NEW SONG, Prometheus, Breaking Bad Season 5 (Part I), Indus Gendi – I’ll Be Good If You Say Yes EP, Stone Roses (Live at Indoor Stadium), The Dark Knight Rises, Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game, Peter Lacey – Worlds End Amateur Melodramatic Society Ball, Metric – Synthetica, Baybeats Festival, The Beach Boys (live at Indoor Stadium), Cosmo Jarvis – Think Bigger, Peter Doggett – The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s, Metric (Live at the Esplanade Concert Hall), The Pretenders (Live at F1), Joe Bonamassa (Live at Esplanade Concert Hall), alt-J (∆) – An Awesome Wave, Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats!, The Whigs – Enjoy the Company, Nelson Bragg – We Get What We Want, Ingrid Michaelson (Live at the Esplanade Concert Hall), Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill – League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009, The Sam Willows – s/t EP, Kate Miller-Heidke – Nightflight, Looper, Mumford & Sons – Babel, Simon Townshend – Looking Out, Looking In, Chromatics – Kill For Love, Thunder Band Slam, The Bootleg Beatles (Live at Marina Bay Sands), Jersey Boys Musical, Christmas in Singapore, Fred Perry 60th Anniversary Party, Classic Albums: Peter Gabriel – So (DVD), Sarah Cheng De-Winne – Brand New, Troy Chin’s Bricks in the Wall, Tay Kexin – Get Set Go EP, Uncanny Avengers, Regina Spektor (Live at Esplanade Theatre), Another Sunday Afternoon – The Bookmark, The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness reissue.
…still there’s more…
As regular PoP readers will be aware, I was less than impressed with the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine – it was simply a bad movie and totally wasted the opportunity to develop one of the most interesting Marvel characters. But of course, due to the movie’s immense success, a sequel was always going to be on the cards. According to reports, the James Mangold-helmed The Wolverine is based on the classic Wolverine mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, which is set in Japan. Looking at the new poster (above), it’s clear that a strong Milleresque vibe has been assimilated to appease and excite comic book fans. To be honest, I have low expectations (I still believe that Hugh Jackman is totally wrong for Wolverine but that’s another story) but it’s wait and see for the time being…
The Wolverine will be released on 24th July 2013.
DIY comic book creator Troy Chin is back with a collection of tales that he hopes will “strip away the glamor of the (music) business and expose the sad, pitiful realm where delusions , ego and greed form a potent recipe for disaster.” These humorous short stories serve both as cautionary tales and historical dissertation on the music industry from the viewpoint of insider (Troy actually worked in the music industry in the 00s), fan and critic.