Fantastic Four Volume 1 (Hickman run)

Storytellers: Jonathan Hickman, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards
Publisher:  Marvel Comics
Year of Publication: 2009-2010
Page count:  5 issues, Fantastic Four 570-574

What I learned about writing/storytelling:
In the first story, Reed joins an inter dimensional superhero team, but it means he has to spend a lot of time away from his family. So there’s a superhero subplot, and a personal life subplot.  You could even say its about a workaholic dad who has to decide whether to put family first, and the inter dimensional stuff is just wallpaper.  It’s not particularly groundbreaking or anything, but its ok for what it is…

What I learned about art/storytelling:
Not much. The art seemed pretty generic to me.  This part, with a different stylistic background, was the only bit that stood out:
Fantastic Four page with children style art in the backround

It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you’d want to do often, though.

Recommendation: C

Notes/Review/Synopsis:
The first story involved Reed Richards joining a club of alternate reality versions of himself. It was ok, but pretty forgettable, especially if you’ve read the earlier comics that have already done this sort of thing: I know Captain Britain did it, Tom Strong did it, Supreme did it, and the mind control subplot originates from Doc Savage, and was used in Squadron Supreme and Tom Strong. Plus, I think there were alternative versions of Reed Richards in some old Fantastic Four comics from the 90s.

There was a one shot story that was completely incomprehensible, either due to being a sequel to another story or a crossover– some poorly paced gibberish about an alternate earth overrun by Ultrons.

Finally there was story material about Franklin Richard having a birthday party, featuring obscure characters like Leech and Power Pack who I’m not familiar with and have no reason to care about.  Poorly explained continuity porn, basically. The final 10 pages of the book were more promising, as a version of Franklin from the future comes and causes trouble. There’s an ironic bit where Sue, not knowing who he is and thinking he’s hurt her son, threatens to hunt him down and kill him.  That was clever.

A cosmic epic was foreshadowed, and it sounds interesting, but after wasting my time with 5 issues of continuity porn and by the book genre stuff, I’m not sure I’d come back, especially because the future volumes probably will involve crossovers.

The characterization ranged from decent to so-so. Hickman’s main way of making the three year old girl seem super smart is to have her say she’s super smart and solve plot problems, it doesn’t really stand out from the dialogue:

super smart girl say she's super smart

It seems like he could have done it a bit better.

Kingdom of the Wind

Storytellers: Story and art by Kimjin
Publisher:  Netcomics
Year of Publication: First published 1992
Page count:  210 pages

What I learned about writing/storytelling:
1.  The main character’s older brother, the former crown prince, was forced to commit suicide by his father, the king. The story doesn’t don’t directly state the reason why at first, but it references the death of the older brother a few times before finally the king explains that he felt the son would revolt against him.  This is sort of a “peeling an onion” approach to storytelling. It’s similar to a subplot in Big Numbers, with the foreign shopkeepers who speak untranslated foreign dialogue in issues 1 and 2.  In issue 3, Moore translates the dialogue and we understand the husband and wife in a way we didn’t before.

2.  There are some interesting tropes. The protagonists are the royal family of a kingdom formed by a prince who left the neighboring land.  A demon from a neighboring kingdom wishes to wipe out the new land for the benefit of the neighboring family, so the plot involves a sort of a distant family squabble.   This gave the book a Beowulf feel to me (or maybe the Gaiman version of Beowulf, which increased the family aspect of the story) with a demon hunting down a family due to the actions of their ancestor.

Another trope I found interesting: the main character are the crown prince and his sister. The crown prince is married, and the book also features the wife and a newly born child.  The sister is single and has more leeway to move about, so tries to hunt down the monster and do other things to help the brother while he’s tied to his responsibilities towards his nation and family family. The monster either has a “male and female” aspect or is a husband and wife monster pair, the translation is ambiguous: (this is Korean so reads left to right).

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(the translation says Mupa refers to female half.)  This perhaps if intended to mirror the brother and sister’s alliance with a male and female shadow enemy. 

3.  There’s a decent use of flashbacks, like this bit showing how the crown prince and his wife were arranged to be married when they were both very young:

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This would seem to be a device to make you care about the characters more than you would otherwise, since the author has fleshed out their past. Plus it’s just plain interesting to see the kids reacting to the arranged marriage.

What I learned about art/storytelling:
Nothing here.  Didn’t really care for the art.

Recommendation:  C-

Notes/Review/Synopsis:
This was a completely random book I grabbed from the library, I came in with no expectations.  (Indeed I have no idea whether Kimjin is a male or female name or neutral pen name, or whether the demographic this is aimed at is boys or girls or both, the style seems a bit shoujo but who knows…)

Some of the tropes were interesting, but this story did not come together for me. The art was not always clear, especially in the fight scenes, and the foreign names and references were a little hard to keep track of, which may be nobody’s fault but my own..  Overall, the story didn’t grab my attention and flow for me, which may be a pacing issue.

Wolverine and the X-men Volume 1

Storytellers: Jason Aaron with Chris Bachalo, Duncan Rouleau and Matteo Scalera
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Year of Publication: 2012
Page Count: 4 issues

What I learned about Writing/Storytelling:
1.  Aaron introduces Quintin Quire as a regular cast member in issue one without explanation and doesn’t discuss how he ended up a student of the X-men school until a flashback at the beginning of issue 3.  This seems to be a technique to avoid getting bogged down with backstory before the story really gets rolling.

2.  There seems to be an attempt at a fun, zany approach by throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, super danger rooms, giant underground monsters, Frankensteins, alien allies, experimental portals to other dimensions, etc.

3.  In issue 1 Aaron has people from the Department of Education inspect the school. This is a device that has the inspectors go around and meet everyone and introduce the various characters.

What I learned about art/storytelling:
There seems to be some issues with the art that can provide a teachable moment.
The art and letters are too close to the gap between pages here:
Hardcover binder problem

I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the fact my copy is hardback?  It would obviously not be an issue with a floppy, but what about softcover trade paperbacks?  Do hardbacks have a greater area absorbed by the spine?  This was only a problem for a few pages, but it was an issue.

I looked at some other books:
Sandman’s art is very close to the spine, but in my softback copy it doesn’t appear to be a problem. I wonder if they can add blank space for the hardback collections?

Sandman:
Sandman softcover colume

I have a Runaways hardback that seems well planned for loss of space for the spine:

Runaways has good production values

Here’s a side shot of that page:

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Then I noticed this from the Railgun manga: The artist plans for the spine and draws it differently depending on whether it’s on the left page or the right page:

Railgun artist plans for the spine

Other Railgun spine page

He goes further out with the art on the sides not facing the spine.
Not sure what went wrong with the X-men art, perhaps it was just a production problem?

Recommendation: C

Notes/Reviews/Synopsis:
There’s a real sense of a writer flailing around here. The book doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be: a book about Wolverine and a bunch of crazy kid characters, a book staring Wolverine and the adult characters, or a book that hardly has Wolverine in it at all.
Some sequences seemed almost like adult swim esque parody, but it didn’t seem particularly intentional.

In a really weird sequence, a wealthy villain shows up to the X-men school to taunt Wolverine, and the conversation goes something like this:

Villain:  “I’m behind all of the bad things that happened to you for the last year, and I’m here to taunt you about it!”
Wolverine: You bastard!  Why I outta….
Villain: You can’t touch me, my criminal record is clean and you are a law abiding citizen!
Wolverine:  Grrrrrrrr, he’s got me licked!
(Apparently this version of Wolverine isn’t all about the  wreckless stabby stab.)

Then the villain sends a giant monster to attack the school and after the X-men beat it, Wolverine hires Matt Murdock to sue the guy for 300 million dollars for wrecking the school!  So then the bad guy is all pissed off due to litigation, so he hires Sabertooth to mess up the school in retaliation for the lawsuit!

It just seems… silly. It doesn’t seem like it’s by a creative team that’s in control of what they are doing.

Take this page, where Quintin Quire somehow delivers an entire soliloquy while a monster is charging him:

Monologue while a monster attacks

At first I thought the monster must be frozen, but you turn the page, and no, it wasn’t.  I thought that sort of thing only happened in old comics.

Big Numbers

Big Numbers 1-3
Storytellers:Alan Moore and Bill Sienkewicz
Publisher: Mad Love
Year of Publication: 1990
Page Count: 3 issues (120 pages, an unfinished graphic novel)

What I learned about Writing/Storytelling:
1.  This is a big book with an ensemble cast. One thing Moore does at the end of issue 1 is give us a sort of montage of all (or many) of the characters:
Big Numbers montage of characters
Big numbers continuation of character montage

It seems to be saying, in an indirect sort of way, “Here is our cast of characters.”
By playing with the letters in the montage here, Moore slows down the reading order and makes you focus on the letters more, forcing a slow pacing on the reader. And I suppose the bigger panel on the end serves as a sort of punctuation for the poem or a palette refresh going into the next scene.

2.  You can control pacing through the grid layout, and, in particular, limiting your grid choices, forcing the creative team to work with a set structure the way a poet needs to work with a set scheme.  Watchmen use a formal grid structure to give us a sense of an objective observer.  Each panel is the beat of an objective sequence of time, giving us the sense of a harsh, materialistic, mathematically precise universe. It’s hard to judge without reading the entire graphic novel but Big Numbers appears to approach the grid from a more humanistic perspective.

I know there’s been other experiments with set grids.  A friend told me that Runaways 1 repeats the same layout when introducing each character (I haven’t gone back and checked) and that the Sandman issue with the African myth uses a specific recurring layout pattern to evoke the rhythm of storytelling in an oral tradition.

3.   Moore evokes BIG IDEAS in his story, which addresses the “why should I give care” factor.  The story is about the first American style shopping mall opening in the British Town of Hampton.  At one point Moore has a history teacher thinking about history, how one group has always come in and replaced the preceding group, starting with tool using humans wiping out other animals,  and proceeding through humans invading other human groups:
Big Numbers history teacher lecture

The character in question is not commenting on the American shopping mall, but it’s clear Moore, the author, is making the connection. The Americans are about to wipe out the local British culture, repeating a process in the rise and fall of civilizations.

A newly released mental patient sees the Americans as aliens from outer space. He believes they are from beyond Jupiter, and are his outer space family who has returned:
Big Numbers Americans are aliens
(Incidentally, pacing is tightly controlled through the grid structure here, so that in the second row, we read one big image as if four successive panels.)

The Mars bar of course ironically calls back to the mental patient’s delusions, but also highlights the idea that the Americans are a type of alien.  The construction worker isn’t making a statement by throwing a Mars bar into the air, but Moore is, using his characters as akin to notes in a symphony, serving a purpose that is unrelated to the wants and intentions of the individual players.

So.. the answer to why you should care about the mall, Moore seems to be saying, is that events in the microcosm reflect the greater course of human history.

4.  Here’s another pacing thing with a big image consisting of little panels:
Big Numbers one big image broken up into little panels

This grid would appear at first blush to not be needed, but it actually  guides the panel reading order, without the grid it would be harder to tell which panel to read when.
I don’t know how common this balloon type, is, with the solid lines. It might be a european thing.  Among other things, it’s probably meant to evoke the geometries and mathematical principles that form the “Big Numbers” theme of the book.

5.  Part of the style of the book comes from the repetitive camera angles, and use of zoomed out shots in general. This is the opposite of the “22 Panels That Always Work” style of art, we’re like a camera, observing the “action” as if a fly on the wall. The action is pretty mundane:
Big Numbers sequence with woman on the phone

Body language is tremendously important if you are not going to move the camera.  Here, the body language indicates the protagonist is bored, upset, agitated, amused, interested, then deflated.  I’m not sure how to pull this sort of thing off, but it’s cool if you can do it.

6.  The story’s point of view often feels objective, but wanders into the minds of the characters at times. The main character is  a writer whose family doesn’t understand her. She left town many years ago after getting an abortion, and has returned for the first time to find a place to relax while working on her novel.Whenever the topic of children comes up, she witnesses a fantasy of what could have been if she kept the child:

Ghost child in Big Numbers

That’s my reading of course, Moore doesn’t spell out that she’s imagining the child.  We don’t get inside her head. Well, actually, I think we do get inside in her head in a way, but its depicted through this metaphorical flourish. This subjectivity is not limited to one character, there’s  a shop owner who will probably be driven out of business by the upcoming American mall. He  plays with a model train set and imagines the train set people opening extension stores in America and driving the Americans out of business. (Essentially the plot in reverse)

The art style changes here in a way I initially found startling, as the train set toys seem to talk directly:
Big Numbers train set toys talk

7. Parallelism. For many Moore stories, that’s to be expected.  Just as the Black Freighter comic in Watchmen comments or reflects the actions of Ozymandius, the plot threads seem to comment on each other. The mental patient’s delusions about being from space comment on the American characters, while the train set fantasies mirror the lives of the Americans as well. The Americans plan their mall with models, which are not dissimilar to the train set.

A subplot features a board game called “Real Life” that kids are playing, which is another fiction in the fiction, and would presumably comment on the various elements of the modern adult world depicted in the rest of the story if the comic had continued.
The main character is attempting to write a book (she tries to begin in issue 3 three but tosses out her first pages)  As the book progresses, presumably the novel would somehow interconnect as well.

8.  I guess another take away would be attention to detail, the little things people do to fill up the days of their life.  Quoting this blog post:

Quote

The third installment remains guided by the view of human interaction that informed the scenes in the first two chapters. Every person is regarded as an idiosyncratic entity, with those idiosyncrasies finding expression in routines and behavioral patterns. Alienation, which defines virtually every relationship Moore depicts to some degree, results from those patterns meeting, coming into conflict with each other, and creating tension. People then either retreat from one another, or they fall back on routines intended to bring the tension level down, such as making jokes or following through on courtesies. Moore apparently sees behavioral constants as the means through which people impose order on the uncertainty of their lives.

http://polculture.bl…moore-bill.html

Of course the book, train set, games and the like are part of these “behavioral constants”.

9. Issues 3 uses a unifying structural device in the form of a marketing survey being given door to door to various characters. We cut from scenes, sometimes not survey related, always comfortably back to something  survey related. This gives a sense of structure to the chapter.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Reviews/Synopsis:
This is an unfinished graphic novel, intended to last for 12 issues. As such it not a complete story, just a fragment of one, and is really just for Alan Moore completests.  Nevertheless, due to the complexity and ambition on display, I give it an A.

A Certain Scientific Railgun Volume 5

Storytellers: Story by Kazuma Kamachi, art by Motoi Fuyukawa
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Year of Publication: 2010
Page Count: Approximately 175 pages

What I learned about Writing/Storytelling:
1.  One of a writer’s most important jobs is finding an interesting way to tell a scene, this is possibly their most important job. I want to demonstrate with a four page excerpt from A Certain Scientific Railgun.

Here’s some background on the story: our heroine is a girl named Misaka, who carries the nickname “The Railgun”. She has power over electricity, which means, among other things, she can move metal like Magneto or Static. In this volume, she’s broken into a laboratory facility with the goal of stopping science experiments on human subjects.  The scientists, expecting her arrival, have hired a team of female assassins to stop her. One of the assassins has booby trapped the place with bombs.

In this sequence, Misaka is crossing a stairway over a chasm, and the booby trap goes off:
Railgun scene page 1
Railgn scene page 2
Railgun scene page 3
Railgun scene page 4

What’s interesting here is it shifts perspective from the hero to the villain.  We begin with the perspective of the hero is in pursuit of the bad guy. Point of view shifts to the bad guy, waiting for her trap to go off. As it goes off, we shift back to the hero, surprised at the trap.  Shift to the villain, pleased with herself as the trap goes off. She hears some metal pieces crashing onto the ground, and assumes her trap has worked.  We stay with her as she is shocked to learn that the hero has survived. By shifting perspective, the creative team has discovered an interesting way to tell the event.

What a lesser writer might have done is stick with the hero throughout the scene, maybe have some sort of thought bubble over her head “Oh no, a trap has gone off…. if I can just use my control of electricity to magnetize the metal…..”  That would be serviceable to communicate what is happening, but be lacking in drama. By changing the point of view, we follow the character having the most dramatic reaction at any given moment in time. If things are more dramatic from the villain’s POV, go there.

You can even shift perspective on the same page, as they do in this sequence, as the hero and a supervillain realize they have similar superpowers:

railgun power level same type as mine

Incidentally, this shows a seemingly RANDOM switch between thought balloons (or whatever you call those shiny manga things) and spoken out loud dialogue. I’ve thought about it, and I figure what is happening is that the artist simply chooses whichever type of balloon he feels blends with the art at any given moment.  Internal monologue and speaking out loud are seemingly interchangeable for this type of scene.

This style is pretty much as far from the formalism of my favorite writers, Alan Moore, as possible. While Moore and his collaborators are concerned with structure and consistency, meticulously creating a story out of a specific set of devices, A Certain Scientific Railgun has a more relaxed approach to storytelling. “Does the thought bubble look better here than the narrative box?  Ok, draw it that way!”

if you dig deeper, however, there are some similarities in terms of craft.  A big part of Alan Moore’s style is elaborate set ups for scene to scene transitions. This book sometimes sets up transitions as well, but it doesn’t draw attention to what it’s doing the way a device like a close up on a puddle with a reflection of a sign that mirrors the black freighter logo of a comic within the comic, or whatever:

Railgun scene she says one more down guy says and only two facilities to go

After destroying a bad guy’s facility, she says “One more down…” but the sentence is continued by the bad guy in the next scene, saying “… and only two facilities to go.”  So, there’s definitely narrative tools being used here here, but it’s a more relaxed, less showy sort of craft.
One notable thing about the page above is it uses the last panel to start the next scene.  Moore virtually always shifts on the page turn, and most other writers seem to do it that way as well, so this is a bit unusual from an American comics perspective.

Here’s another example of an author picking a dramatic “hook” for a scene:

Railgun Misaka being badass

How would a lesser writer depict this scene?  They’d probably have the hero say something banal like “I’m off to save the day!” A mediocre artist might give us a grid of identically shaped panels with paint by numbers long shots.

This team team makes things interesting by giving us a BIG heroic strut and this badass exchange:
“Do you really believe you can take them all out?”
“Do you have any idea who I am?”  (The response makes sense if you are aware that the main character is one of the most powerful super powered people in the world of the story.)

One final page: Check this out:

Railgun lobbing powers back and forth

The climactic battle in this volume plays out like a tennis match, with the hero and villain shooting powers back and forth. Both characters are perfectly matched. In this page, Misaka lobs a doll containing a bomb at the villain, the villain disables it with her blast power, Misaka acknowledges this and prepares to try a different move. The person who is gaining the upper hand goes back and fourth during the battle.  Thoughts are used to show the emotional reactions of the characters, but not to give out what move they plan to do next.

I don’t recall reading long, extended, strategic badass scenes like this in American comics.

Some observations about the art:
1.  When composing the panel, there is no requirement to show the whole head. As long as you get at least an eye in shot, you seem to be good.  Look at the four page booby trap sequence above: Page 1 panel 2 of the sequence shows less than the whole face in order to get a BIG image to the right. The artists seems to do this a lot, small partial head shots in order to get room for BIG PANELS that convey dramatic action. These partial head views have the added benefit of providing variety, but the artist makes sure to give us the long shot images that show where the characters stand in physical space in relation to each other as well.

2.  Close up shots with a changed texture (often dots, sometimes lines) are used to signify emotion, usually shock or surprise. You see this on the booby trap sequence on page 2 panel 2 or page 3 panel 4.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Reviews/Synopsis: 
This comic is absolutely not for everyone. For one thing, it’s can get pervy at times, in the way that only manga can. Its a mixed genre book that has plotlines that do not always contain a solid amount of action or adventure.  There’s a good review of volume 1 of the series, discussing its pervy aspects, here.

That said, I like it, and for the masterful craftsmanship on display here, I give Railgun volume 5 an ”A”.

Witch and Wizard

Storytellers: Svetlana Chmakova and Gabrielle Charbonnet, adapted from the novel by James Patterson.
Publisher: Yen Press
Year of Publication: 2011
Page Count: 256 pages

What I learned about Writing/Storytelling:

1.  You can sometimes slip values into your story without being preachy.

2.  This book contains another example of starting with an opening hook then cutting back before the opening scene. In this case the narrator uses the phrase “But I’m getting ahead of myself” and then it cuts back.  Here’s the first page of the book:

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3. What’s cliche to me may not come off that way to young readers experiencing these tropes for the first time.

What I learned about art/storytelling:
1.  Here  you have characters talking to each other, but it’s not a two shot, it’s just angled on both characters one at a time but you can tell they are looking at each other:

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It’s probably best done with similarly sized panels that are on the same row. I’m not sure if there’ any other trick to it.

2.  On the final two panels of this page, the first half of the death sentence is a zoomed out shot, but they zoom in for the second half,  providing shading to convey emotion:

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3.  Body language and facial expressions are important. (And this artist fails at it, more on that below.

4.  Aspect to aspect establishing shots are neat. Rather than one by the book opening big panel, we have several panels showing different aspects of a scene.  It’s a tried and true manga device, but it works well:

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Recommendation: C

Notes/Reviews/Synopsis:
So, this odd thing was heavily promoted at Barnes and Nobles with a rack in the front of the store.  I purchased it on impulse. The plot is basically, “What if Harry Potter was the X-men?” Children with magic powers are rounded up for being different.  And there’s a Voldemort type bad guy who controls the government, so he’s also like Palpatine in Star Wars, I guess. Plus there’s a kid resistance movement, I guess like the rebels in Star Wars, but with Kid Power.

The only people who can save the world are a brother and sister who have the potential to use the ultimate magic beyond any other magic, as declared by the prophecy (Cross marketing appeal to boys and girls!).  One would suspect the original novel was probably very cynically put together, this book has everything popular.  Or I guess its possible the author just likes this stuff, who knows.

This appears to be created by Americans who use a manga style.  It reads left to right. The main problem (or oddity) of the book is that the events of the book are heavy, with the protagonists put in jail, tortured, sentenced to be executed, experimented on, etc, but the art looks really lighthearted.

It’s possible this was a decision to keep it enjoyable to young adults,despite the grim and gritty scenes, I don’t know, and I wonder what the tone was like in the original book.

Check this out:

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They’re going to be locked up forever for having magical powers, but she’s sticking her tongue out at the jailors?  That’s the reaction to being sentenced to Guantanamo Bay for life?

Then the next page suddenly wants to sort of be serious:

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But it never keeps this serious tones for long, because the art looks too excited and expressive, in a happy sort of way.

 

In this bit below, the girl is supposed to be angry, but when you draw a mouth like that I just take it as excited in a not unhappy sort of way:

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Despite these issues, I have to give props to the book for at least one thing: it’s a lot smarter and thoughtful on issues of power and violence than possibly any comic published by Marvel and DC. The resistance movement is very egalitarian.  For example, at the end of the book, the main characters are called heroes by their fellow members of the kid resistance movement, but “only for today”:

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That panel may have been smarter than Civil War….
(Sorry, that line was too good to resist.  I’ve actually only read the first issue of Civil War.)

The use of transitions in Supreme 63

Alan Moore’s final Supreme story, Supreme 63, was published something like 10 years after it was written.  I enjoyed the heck out of it, and did write this short article providing a bit of analysis.

One thing that stands out in most of Moore’s scripts is the way he uses transitions. He talks about this in his writing comics book. I haven’t read it recently, but as I recall the idea is to have the end of a scene lead into the next scene. Moore describes this as inducing a trance state in the reader, as they are lead from one scene to the next.

I think of it as making the scene beginnings and endings rhyme. Here’s how it works in this issue of Supreme:

In an early scene, we have Supreme’s arch-nemesis, Darius Dax, trying to figure out why a comic by Supreme’s girlfriend, Diana Dane, has so much information about Dax:

Darius Dax mentions Diana

Then we cut to the next scene, which starts with Diana hanging out at Supreme’s fortress:

Cut to Diana

This is all very intentional on Moore’s part.  Knowing he was going to cut to DIana Dane next, he ended the scene with Diana Dane being mentioned. 

This next scene ends with Diana, exasperated over Supreme’s discussion of past misadventures, saying “No more Supervillains”:

No more supervillains

Then we ironically cut back to the parallel storyline with the supervillain:

Cut back to the supervillain

This transition technique is not just a matter of dialogue. Later, Supreme’s arch enemy- Darius Dax, is in the beginning of a sex scene with an evil version of Diana Dane from an alternative reality:

Supreme making out

We then cut to Supreme and regular Diana looking at a statute that evokes the lovemaking:

Supreme art

Of course you could say the statue is just there to provide a visual transition gimmick, and that’s probably true. But Moore also uses the statue to symbolically represent what’s going on in the story. Supreme says “The constant eruption of changing shapes is meant to represent art or creation itself.”

And in the the greater plot, we have an “eruption” of alternative reality versions of Darius Dax plotting to attack alternative versions of Supreme, a constant eruption of changing shapes of the superhuman/ supervillain concept.

There’s one final transition bit that’s I’d like to discuss, one of the few transitions that don’t involve a page turn. Moore uses voice over narration to connect two scenes. Diana is saying she found her perfect hero, while we see images of the evil Diana with her perfect hero:

Perfect hero scene in Supreme

A lot of comic writers don’t use these sorts of fancy transitions, in fact, if I had to guess, I’d say the majority do not, or some only seem to use them if they happen to think of a good one. 

I want to almost say that these fancy transitions are specific to Alan Moore’s writing style, but that would be taking it a little too far.  I know at least one movie writing craft book that advises writers to use them.  Still, this is a very particular and possibly optional part of the comic creator’s craft.

Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself

STORYTELLERS: Kieron Gillen and Doug Braithwaite
PUBLISHER: Marvel
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2011
PAGE COUNT  5 comics, Journey into Mystery 622- 626

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT WRITING / STORYTELLING #1
1. There’s a lot of life left to be mined in fantasy and mythology.

2. Anti heroes or characters with a dark edge can be a lot of fun.

3.  Lonely children can make for interesting and sympathetic characters.

4.  They do a prose-like opening describing the mission of some magical birds. This gives the beginning a mythic tone. It reminded me of this bit from Sandman where Gaiman is evoking children’s literature:

Sandman page that evokes children's literature

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT ART / STORYTELLING #2

1. Color can really set the tone. The art works well here and makes this not feel like a super hero book.

2. I liked this bottom panel focusing on Loki’s eyes, which I think signifies deviousness.  Also its hard see see here but the top of the panel is diagonal which I think guides the eye towards the eyes.

Cool page from Journey Into Mystery

RECOMMENDATION: C-

NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS
I wanted to read something by Kieron Gillen and this had really good Amazon reviews. The reviews did not make this seem like a crossover tie in that couldn’t stand on its own.  Unfortunately, that was the case (or it was just incoherent, or it just didn’t make sense to me or whatever).

The plot: Loki junior is the son of the notorious villain Loki, so nobody trusts him or wants to be his friend.  When he learns about a threat against the home of the gods, the isolated Loki needs to become a hero and save the world.

Ok, that’s not really the plot.  That’s what the plot should be. The real plot is “Loki died in the crossover, Siege, but reincarnated as a kid so Marvel could have a second Thor book since those Ares books and Hercules books never caught on, even when they did a book called “The Incredible Hercules” to try to trick Hulk fans into buying it.  Can Loki do things between scenes in other, more important crossover related Thor books? Will Kieron Gillen succeed in his heroic attempt to make something out of this awful assignment?”

This book is just a tremendous waste of talent.  There’s no reason this should be a Marvel universe book instead of a creator owned mythology based title. (Aside from marketing reasons, of course).

There were amusing scenes, but I couldn’t get a sense of any coherent plot, it seemed to be weaving between stories in other books.

There are good scenes, There are several good scenes.  Like this bit, when Loki tries to flirt with some hell girl in order to manipulate her, and she isn’t having it:

fear itself flirty scene

I don’t get what’s happening in this panel below.  I’m baffled as to why the gods are having a strategy meeting at a playground on earth, but it looks neat, so I like it:

journey into mystery playground

I guess this book is just for people reading the other Thor book and Marvel’s various crossovers.  However, you wouldn’t get that sense from the Amazon reviews.  One reviewer wrote a review titled “Good Place for  Newbie to Begin”:

I’ve always been a fan of superhero movies and TV shows, but beyond a few graphic novels adapted from traditional novels, I haven’t really read comics before now. After seeing the blockbuster film Marvel’s The Avengers, I wanted more of those characters. However, I was uncertain where to begin since Marvel has 60+ years of existing history and continuity. So, I decided to start with Thor since I at least had familiarity with the Norse myths he is derived from (and yeah, I LOVE Loki). And, I went to Wikipedia. I learned that after major events like House of M, Civil War/Dark Reign and Siege, the Marvel universe had been reimagined. Specifically, the Aesir gods had broken a cycle with a final Ragnarok, instigated by the supervillain Loki, and been reborn. And Thor found Loki as a child and, inexplicably, chose to bring him back to the newly built Asgard. That is where Journey into Mystery, Volume 1 begins, with “kid Loki”.

I guess the target audience is people who read the other books or really, really love reading Wikipedia articles in preparations for reading a book.  I still don’t see how it helps, though, because this runs concurrent to the other Thor title, you won’t know why Thor is in prison unless you read it in monthly form and the other Thor book in monthly form.
Marvel even includes their own Wikipedia article in the back (but what good does it do there after you’ve already read the book?)

journey into mystery continuity porn

(This goes on for 8 pages. It doesn’t even mention what comics its summarizing to provide context.  I ain’t reading it.)

So, unless you already own this book because you buy every crossover Marvel puts out, do yourself a favor and avoid it.  Instead buy “My Faith in Frankie” the standalone Vertigo series about a kid god who is bullied by the other kid gods, and runs away from heaven to find his place in the mortal world.

Skimming some more glowing reviews on Amazon

 

“This is among the finest work I have ever seen come out of Marvel, in any decade. Funny, touching, thought-provoking, full of adventure and razor-sharp continuity from the recent Thor books. If there was a time machine, Marvel would have put Gillen in charge of the Fear Itself storyline, and had Bendis fetch him his coffee, instead.”

Yipe…

Toradora

Storytellers: Yuyuko Takemiya and Zekkyo
Publisher: Seven Sea Entertainment (American Publisher)
Year of Publication: 2008
Page Count: approximately 178 pages

What I learned about Writing/Storytelling:

1. Like many other manga, this starts out with an opening hook and then cuts back to start the story proper.  Since this is a wacky romantic comedy, the hook is nothing more complex than “guy meets crazy girl.” Page 1 sets the scene: there’s a guy named Takasu, he doesn’t have friends at school because people are afraid of his squinty eyes.  He’s on the way to the bathroom and bumps into a girl who everyone also considers dangerous:

Toradora opening Page

 

Turn the page and we have a two page spread focusing on the girl, who is presumably supposed to be the reason people would want to read the book, as the guy is just a misunderstood everyman POV character:

Toradora opening hook

 

Then we turn the page and the story jumps back to sometime earlier that day, as Takasu is getting up in the morning to go to school. We catch up to the opening scene somewhere around page 18 or so.

A lot of manga have an opening hook like this, and I take it to heart in my writing to the extent that I try to have some sort hook when I start a story, in case a reader is browsing the opening in order to decide whether or not to read on.

2.  I’m not sure if I learned anything I didn’t already know, but:

The girl, Takasu, is a character type in Japanese comics called a tsundere.  Basically a girl who’s tough or “harsh” on the outside but has a softer sentimental side to her.  Wikipedia defines it as

“”Tsundere (ツンデレ?, pronounced [tsɯndeɽe]) is a Japanese character development process that describes a person who is initially cold and even hostile towards another person before gradually showing his or her warm side over time. The word is derived from the terms tsun tsun (ツンツン?), meaning to turn away in disgust, and dere dere (デレデレ?) meaning to become ‘lovey dovey’.

There’s some neat characters that fit in this general character type, but the ones I enjoy tend to be characters in pulp genres.  Toradora is just a romantic comedy and not so interesting.

In comparison, in a manga I like called “A Certain Scientific Railgun”, the main character acts like a Tsundere character when around a boy she likes, but she’s also a superhero with control of electricity:

A Certain Scientific Railgun Tsundere moment

I recall reading an argument online that a lot of superhero characters tend to have two contradictory character traits, and writers milk that for a lot of drama.  Wolverine is feral but he’s also a meditative samurai,  Bruce Banner is reserved and smart but also dumb and filled with rage. Spider-man and Superman are cool or uncool, depending on whether they are in costume.  In the Iron-man movies, Tony Stark veers between responsibility and irresponsibility.

You can see a contradiction with the Tsundere character type, she’s tough but she’ll have a warm side and maybe secretly be in love with the guy she’s rough on.  These girls are often supposed to look cute and harmless (Like Buffy The Vampire Slayer) but it turns out they are crazy tough or crazy powerful.

What I learned about art/storytelling:
Not a whole lot of takeaways, but here’s something. In the first page I included above, the reader doesn’t see who the guy bumps into, and he doesn’t either. So the camera angle implies his point of view. Same here: we don’t get a great look at who is attacking and he doesn’t either:

Dark lighting in Toradora scene

I guess the POV could be called in novel terms “third person limited”.

Recommendation: B-


Notes/Reviews/Synopsis:
This really felt like it only had enough ideas for a few chapters, not an ongoing series.  Takasu meets the wacky Aisaka, she attacks him because he accidentally intercepted a love letter meant for a different boy and she’s embarrassed. They become friends, he tries to help her get the courage to talk to the boy she likes, but she’s too shy so hilarity or drama ensues.  Basically, I wouldn’t bother coming back for volume 2.

Justice League International Volume 1

Storytellers: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire
Publisher: DC
Year of Publication: 1987
Page Count:7 issues

What I learned about Writing/Storytelling:
1.  The first issue has a pretty average “terrorists have taken hostages” plotline, which is made interesting by the mysterious new character, Maxwell Lord, who is  supplying the terrorists, but, it turns out, has given them booby trapped bombs that won’t detonate.  It turns out he’s setting the bad guys up to be taken down by the JLA in an attempt to build the JLA up. (Maxwell Lord appears to sort of be like Watchmen’s Ozymandias without the superheroing, though he’s still mysterious by the end of volume 1, so I’m not sure.)
This plot demonstrates you can build a hook into a so-so story and make it a lot more interesting than it would be otherwise.

2.  The reader needs a reason to care about the characters.  JLI failed at this- I didn’t care about the characters at all.

What I learned about art/storytelling:
1.  I didn’t like the art very much.  There were a few decent visual moments, when interesting camera angles were chosen and when the art was not drowned out with “banter”, but this was infrequent.  Here’s a good moment:

Justice League International aspect to aspect moment

Or this aspect to aspect moment:

Nice moment from JLI

Recommendation: D

Notes/Reviews/Synopsis:
Yeah… I really didn’t like this, it was sort of painful to force myself to keep reading.  The first issue was ok, but after that, it was tremendously dull. I think this page is a good example of what’s wrong with this thing:

weak moment from JLI

Captain Marvel is possessed, which I guess could be dramatic.  But this is really just a wrestling match for our entertainment. I mean, he could have just ripped Black Canary’s arms off if it was serious, right?  It’s just a game.  And there’s no tools being used to make it seem like a life and death moment.  Everything is a long shot with a gazillion characters on panel.  The artist could have used closeups or dramatic camera angles to make us feel the drama of the situation.

Batman’s reaction is just “Go get him, guys!” with a square jaw and pantomime expression.  Do the Justice League really need to be told to “Go use your powers to fight the bad guys and rescue people?”  Batman could point like that and say “Go get em!” in any situation. It’s generic. It’s boring.

Meanwhile, the sitcom banter with Black Canary and Booster, while slightly amusing, doesn’t make us feel the drama of the situation. Instead, if makes us feel like what’s going on is not very serious or important. Plus the dialogue feels more jokey than natural. 

“As the token girl on the team, I do not like being rescued by the boys!”   (She should get used to it, because she appears to be the weakest member on the team, except for maybe Blue Beetle).

Compare this scene to how drama was built when Suprema was possessed in Alan Moore’s Youngblood run:
Alan Moore Youngblood dramatic moment

Large panel, characters freaking out and nearly being incinerated.  Over the shoulder shot as Suprema looks upon the puny mortals below her, giving us a sense of her godlike power and their comparative weakness.  And there’s funny quips as well.  It accomplishes everything JLI fails to do.

I should probably note this was an extremely popular comic back in the day, and my point of view is hardly an uncontroversial one.  Whatever the larger consensus, for me, when I read this comic, it deserved a “D”.