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Dec. 15th, 2013

Me, Silly

Color = Purity in reprinted comics and the Cessation of Time

Reading Matt Wilson's recent post about Marvel's remastering Alan Moore's Miracleman, I began to think that for comics fans, the colors in a reprinted comic often are connected to our sense of the purity of the original work.


I'm so sure I feel as upset about the repackaging of comics when they are reprinted, remastered, etc.  Having grown up in the 70s when I had access to only reprints of 1960s Silver Age Marvel comics, I never knew the what the "original" comic looked like and how it might have been changed.  I viewed Herb Trimpe's HULK, reprinted in MARVEL SUPER HEROES in the 1970s, as the real deal and it wasn't until the late 1990s I was able to finally get a hold of nice copies of the originals.

Now as a regular consumer of MARVEL MASTERWORKS series, I enjoy having the comics collected in handy, portable and study hardbound editions.  There are times when my comics brain buzzes when I see a page looking more intense or beautiful than it probably did originally -- I guess I have a tasting palette that helps after 30+ years of reading cheaply printed comics -- but overall, the changes don't bother me too much.  The flow of the comic still pretty much exists and that works for me.  What I think it more interesting in the debate about the injustice to the originals is the consideration of younger generations of readers of this material.  We know the old geezers like me will be fussy about this, but what about younger people who, like me in the 1970s, don't know better?  I think that improvements to printing -- and the higher cost of comics -- will probably mean that young people who are so used to getting a better-quality, $3.99 comic, will inevitably never experience the same sense of loss.  Time has stopped for the generation that first started reading comics in the 1990's and 00's.

Nov. 8th, 2013

Me, Silly

Tezuka illustrates the cycle of reincarnation


Nov. 6th, 2013

Me, Silly

Sad news about the passing of Nick Cardy


Oct. 31st, 2013

Me, Silly

Moments of Time in Mizuki Shigeru's TEREBI-KUN (TV KID) and John Byrne's NEXT MEN

  Today, as I finished John Byrne's NEXT MEN series (actually having read "Aftermath" before part 2 of "Scattered"), I felt great joy and sadness -- I know how this 15-18 year series finally resolves, but I was sad it was over.  The final installments of the story were quite gripping.  I found myself sucked into the layers of time travel trajectories and cared how Bethany-1, Bethany-2, etc. and the rest of the gang would fare.  In fact, the art seemed quite secondary to me -- the writing stands out for the way it carefully connects to other storylines.  One of the most satisfying time-travel stories I've read/experienced in some time.

  I then picked up a new arrival to the PSU library:  Aizôhan's MIZUKI SHIGERU SAKUHIN-SHU (Omnibus Mizuki Shigeru), volume 1 ("Ikai he no tabi" [Trip to Other Worlds]) and was happy to see it included the 1965 story "Terebi-kun" (TV Kid), which Kôdansha published in their Bessatsu Shônen manga magajin (Special issue of Boys' Manga Magazine) -- a career-changing event for Mizuki that finally garnered him a wide audience and the power to get the works he wanted to draw published without worries.  (See the television show Gegege no nyobo [The Gegege Wife].  After having read Byrne, I found a similar vibe in the storytelling.  Although their works are apples and oranges, one thing that connects them for me today is their handling of moment-to-moment panel work (I'm thinking of Scott McCloud's description of the six types of closure in Understanding Comics).

  Byrne's work about time travel quite conspicuously uses a variety of closure in the way it depicts the flow of time.  After reading Mizuki, who uses very minimal techniques in this early work -- in fact, I don't he goes for any of the more sophisticated techniques McCloud discusses, such as #5 aspect-to-aspect (mood) or #6 non-sequitur -- it seemed to me that Byrne, like Mizuki, relies a lot on moment-to-moment or action-to-action sequences to keep the reader engrossed in the story, guaranteeing that their stories will be true page-turners.  (For Mizuki, he desperately needed a hit that would have Kodansha's customers clamoring to have more of his work printed in their magazine; for Byrne, who says in the preface to "Scattered" that he had time to "push[] things around, and trimmed fat, and set myself down to be my most cogent and straightforward, and twenty [issues] shrank to eleven, and then ten, and then nine." ("Introduction," Next Men:  Scattered, IDW:  2011, Vol. 1).  Taking that into account, then the moment-to-moment panel layouts would have been, in my mind, the "fat" that an artist shrinking down a story would cut.  Instead, these moment-to-moment panels become quite significant and useful for the story and its structure.  One has to acknowledge there are a lot of talking heads and moments of exegesis -- this is a very word-heavy graphic novel -- but there are also moments of pure visual storytelling.

  For example, issue #38 features Tony Murcheson's ultimate revenge on her slave masters by liberating Abraham Lincoln from John Wilkes Booth's bullet at the Ford Theater.  It's been a hard road for Tony -- once she was scattered to Civil War America, she had been repeatedly flogged and suffered great personal losses.  Now, with her .45 caliber pistol, she will create a new America where Lincoln will continue to make the United States an even better place for black and white folks.  But the bullet, Byrne shows us, has to reach Booth first.


The top three panels are subject-to-subject layout, shifting the focus back and forth from Tony to Booth and Booth's last action (showing his resolution) leads in the next moment to Tony's pulling the trigger, and then, in the final bottom panel, to the next moment (or two) where the bullet hangs in the air and we pull each word (and moment) out of time with Tony's "What" "the" ["hell?"].  So, these last two panels shouldn't be genuinely called moment-to-moment transitions because they encompass probably 4-10 seconds of time.  In fact, Byrne cheats here.  He uses intra-panel time in that last panel -- there is closure happening within the panel itself as we connect the dots, er, words of Tony's bewilderment.  Byrne often does this in his drawing.  It allows him to have multiple things happen in the same of one panel, effectively supercharging the panel with action and tension.

  There are other moment-to-moment transitions in the same issue are not "super-charged" (TM?) and can be seen as simple McCloudian moment-to-moments.  Take for example the time travelers intrusion into Jasmine/Shakespeare's time as they interrupt the Lord's Prayer by freezing time: top panel's long train of speech; middle panel's moment of silence as time is stopped (a moment nonetheless!); and bottom panel's waving hand in front of a face to show that, yes, outside time has stopped.


Another quick example shows true moment-by-moment sequences with Bobby the Scientist's demonstration of how the time travel suits can now quickly morph or switch into the costume of the era the time traveler is now situated.


When the time travelers discuss time travel mechanics, time (i.e., the narrative) usually slows down to a moment-to-moment format.  Far from being annoyingly talky, Byrne's description of future technology is quite interesting and seems to have quite a bit of pertinence for the larger narrative themes.  But it does slow down the action.  Nonetheless, there seems to a balance.

  That brings us back to the "re-take" in Tony's assassination of Booth.  It was interrupted by the time travelers in the previous example.  Now we see how the time travelers can erase moments (sub-moments) of time -- Tony's resolution to kill Booth as represented by her bullet.  These future dwellers have the ability to make time nearly stand still.  Byrne has had to demonstrate this several times throughout this issue in order to have the structure of the text reflect the power of the time travelers (who are, in a sense, authors of time, like Byrne).  What is most satisfying is that Tony, one of the strongest characters in NEXT MEN, breaks the slow crawl of time and speeds it up with a action-by-action sequence -- McCloud's #2 or second category of panel layouts -- that satisfyingly changes the narrative.  Far from preserving history, she will change it.  Before she kills Booth again, she has to punch out Gil, who stands in her way.


Let us not forget that NEXT TIME is a rousing adventure first and foremost.  I recommended the last three volumes of IDW's NEXT MEN (Scattered Vols. 1 & 2 and Aftermath).  Even without knowledge of the earlier Next Men stories, this collection of three books stands alone as one of the best time-travel stories.

  Moving on to Mizuki and TEREBI-KUN, well, what's the connection again?

  One of the things I love about Mizuki is his later geki-ga (dramatic pictures) work.  Read Nonnonba and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. In those stories, there are amazing examples of Mizuki's ability to juggle time between panels and sometimes intra-panel that show a true master artist.  McCloud's #5 aspect-to-aspect and even #6 non-sequitur can be seen in Onward -- where you see Mizuki create rifts of time and also rifts of narrative judgment that allow the reader to linger and ponder on the nature of violence.  "Terebi-kun" though is nowhere near as sophisticated.  In fact, I tried to count any examples of advanced closure in the story (such as #5 or #6) and couldn't find any -- not even (#4) "scene-to-scene".  The story is pretty much a play-by-play of moments in the life of a Tokyo school for the children who can see a young boy able to appear in television ads and shows, take what he wants (usually chocolate and ice cream), and enjoy them (with the characters or announcers totally oblivious to his presence).  The story asks a question to its young readers, "If you had the power to pop into the tv and enjoy the food and drink advertised there, how cool would it be?"  (Rhetorical question:  very cool.)

  Mizuki in the story uses very short, almost moment-to-moment panel transitions, but it is better to call them action-to-action as they encompass the carrying out of an action (Terebi-kun appears, takes X from advertiser, and then eats or drinks it.)  However, he does move into pure moment-to-moment transition when he has Terebi-kun explain the magic of how he first moved into another realm, that is, how he unlocked television space.


The frantic would-be thief, cracking the safe of time, switches the tv channel back and forth (click click click, kacha kacha kacha).  This is one of the coolest scenes in the comic where we feel the fun of turning the channel (as any kid in the 60s, and certainly any kid who still had a channel-knob tv like me in the 70s).  Anyone who argues that comic-book sound effects are passe and do nothing for comics will have to explain to me how you could do this same scene with out the breakdown in moment-to-moment time and not add the cool CLICK CLICK CLICK.

  A bit later, Terebi-kun explains how it became more natural for him to simply flatten out his form to pass through the pixels of the screen.  These are action-by-action or subject-to-subject panels, but, like Byrne, we have a intra-panel moment-to-moment (moment-within-moment) action of Terebi-kun's form flattening out fu-wa-fu-wa-fu-wa and then slipping seamlessly into the television suru-suru-suru.


  Lastly, I suppose there is a #5 aspect-to-aspect (mood) panel layout in the story -- showing a bit of fun and sophistication, if we allow that, in this panel, there is a panel (the tv screen) within it.  We see the larger panel of the empty room (zabuton cushion) and then see Terebi-kun resting in the tv (for who knows how long) and then we move back out to the larger panel to consider how long he's been in the there.  Pretty clever of Mizuki.  A mark of his genius that he would later use and not just toss away like he does here.


  Wow.  Originally I thought this would be a quick write-up, but it got much longer.  After all, it was just about moment-to-moment panels in Byrne (2011) and Mizuki (1965), but I guess moment-to-moment panels are so primitive and unsophisticated after all. I always assumed that aspect-to-aspect panels showed the heights of comic creativity, but I need to rethink that -- maybe the simplest moment-by-moment displays of story can be quite difficult and carry quite a bit of narrative punch.

Oct. 28th, 2013

Me, Silly

Learning to Love Gene Colan: DOCTOR STRANGE #6 (1975)

  I'm almost through volume 5 of Marvel Masterworks DOCTOR STRANGE, and issue #6 of the series marks Brunner's departure and Gene Colan's arrival as the artist of the series.  I must say, I know many people in the industry say that they admire Gene Colan's art, but I never have appreciated it.  I grew up reading issues of pre-Miller DAREDEVIL (around the 150s) when Colan worked on the book and just hated it.  I also never liked his IRON MAN.  TOMB OF DRACULA?  Ok, that seemed like the only place where his art made sense, but mainly because there are so many shadows and you don't have to look at a clearly rendered Colan figure.  I'm not saying he can't draw -- but his cartoon reality is one I've never really understood or cared for.

  That's why the switch from Brunner to Colan in the series is quite painful.  Brunner at least will render the full figure of a character.  You can see the hero and villain fighting.  Brunner sometimes does close-ups for dramatic effect, but Colan is like 90% dramatic effect, 10% action.  It's hard for me to follow where the punch begins and where it ends in Colan's art.  Maybe that's the point, for him:  he's more interested in the oh-my-god-what's-happening-gasp moments.  For DAREDEVIL and TOMB OF DRACULA, I suppose that was part of the charm:  you're groping in the dark with the protagonists against the antagonist.  Maybe it seemed like a natural fit for Englehart's DOCTOR STRANGE, too.  Actually, that's not the case.  One thing that Englehart did in DS with Brunner was to focus almost entirely on Stephen Strange's internal conflicts, not on the ominous outer Enemy of the Other.  I wonder if the switch from artist to artist posed a challenge for Englehart.  It seems that DOCTOR STRANGE #6 is a transitional issue for the creative team as both artist and writer try to begin work -- to begin to figure out how to do this character.  In fact, most of the issue isn't about the protagonist, it is about Clea (not that her story isn't unwelcome), so even after reading the issue, you don't know exactly how the new creative lineup will handle the character.  That matter is tabled for the next issue.

Here are some effective moments though I found.  Notice how Colan focuses on prolonged moments in time that often feel otherworldly or ... strange.

One of the best kisses between Doctor Strange and Clea -- certainly more passionate than anything Brunner had done (to my knowledge, Clea and Strange only become truly romantic with Englehart/Brunner's run [1973]).

Notice the creative use of dramatic lighting.  When you read Colan, you focus on the shadows and dark areas of the panel.  He seems to want to keep you searching in his black areas for something.  Here (in the top right panel where their lips first meet), we are looking for the actual contact between Strange and Clea, forever to be be denied it though.  The kiss goes on and on and on.  Still, there is a kind of pleasure in this game of searching for the kiss.  My only problem with the art is Colan's use of lighting:  I tried to figure out how the room would actually be lit like that -- perhaps true if they were out on the street until a tall lamppost, but in a New York brownstone room?  Obviously the physics of light is not something Colan cares about -- and maybe that's okay.  Lastly, notice how you never actually get to see their lips pressed against each other -- making it all the more mysterious and sexy.
  Another great moment -- not prolonged -- but Colan being un-Colan:  the quick-change, a visual trick as the heroic lovers pass from the street (normal dress, reality) into the Sanctum (heroic mode)


Typical Colan emphasis on stagey dramatics, here, two reveals:

A heroin junkie, enthralled by Umar, who makes a dramatic aside, and essentially speaks to the audience of his true nature


And...the reappearance of Dormammu from the bowels of the earth.  Certainly worthy of such a powerful dramatic entrance -- Dormammu had been banished from reality (and the Doctor Strange/Marvel Universe continuity) since Avengers #111:


So, to sum up, I think I get Colan's art a bit more than I did before.  What we're looking at is a comic-book artist who puts the theatre into comic books.  With Colan, it's all about using panel arrangement to create a "stage".

Oct. 25th, 2013

Me, Silly

Doctor Strange Battles Death: Englehart and Brunner's DOCTOR STRANGE #1, #2, (#3), #4 AND #5

  It is odd that with the launch of DOCTOR STRANGE in 1974, the first time the character had his own title (previously published in STRANGE TALES and MARVEL PREMIERE), the hero was given Death to battle.  On the surface, it looks like the former Vatacin-trained and magic-obsessed Silver Dagger will be Strange's new arch-nemesis, but their battle begins with Strange dying.  If anything, DOCTOR STRANGE #1 looked like it would be a short run (perhaps to be replaced by SILVER DAGGER AND CLEA, AGENTS OF THE POPE -- did anyone ever write a WHAT IF for that one?).


  It is clear though that Englehart and Brunner had a clear vision of what kind of "hero book" they were writing.  One should give props to editor Roy Thomas for letting this creative team create such experimental and personal stories.  That being said, I felt my enthusiasm starting to lag as I was readings issues #1 and #2 (issue #3 is another Englehart/Brunner reprint of a Ditko story with a 1-2 page original prologue and epilogue to help justify the reason for the reprint in the arc's continuity).  The problem is that Silver Dagger is not much of a villain.  What's worse, Doctor Strange is too easily felled by this papal anti-Satanic agent.  For someone who just witnessed the birth of the universe (previous MP issue), Doctor Strange makes rookie mistakes and seems, well, more like a newbie (okay, it is issue #1) and not Sorcerer Supreme.  Englehart and Brunner's strengths are creating metaphysical journeys for Doc -- not telling stories set in the real world with real world stakes (i.e., rescuing Clea from the inquisitor Silver Dagger and his plan of torture).

  The story improves immediately in issue #4 once Doctor Strange is sucked into the Orb of Agamotto, which, I didn't realize until now was a necromantic focus, and the creative team gear up for his battle with Death itself.  That's right Death itself.  Put things in perspective then:  Doctor Strange has battled the idol/mate of the mad Titan, Thanos, and (**spoilers**) won.  I'm not sure Jim Starlin read or was keeping up with Englehart's work -- because it seems that in all the INFINITY series he has written with Warlock and Thanos, Doctor Strange is usually one of the cameo characters brought in to oppose Thanos (yet ultimately it is Warlock who proves most effective in defeating the mad god).  Sorry, that's a digression.  Let's take a look at how beautiful Brunner's pencils are in depicting Doctor Strange's fall into Death.  Another great example of how this team skillfully depicts its protagonist's battle with near-concretized abstract forces.


Like the beautiful cover for #4, Brunner uses the space to create a feeling of vertigo, and, by extension, the fear of death.  Colors and design elements come together here to present death as a bewildering and fluid force that pulls the hero down into the page.  One could argue that much of the build-up of issues #1, #2, and #4 have been to depict Strange here, like this, at his most awestruck, most powerless form.  Issues #1 and #2 are extremely tedious with life-lessons from a hookah-smoking caterpillar (doubly channeled from Alice in Wonderland and a Cheech & Chong-like movie, twice through the mirror darkly) and Strange's encounter with a idiot version of the crew of the DEFENDERS (probably a plug for Englehart's other title).  It is not until issue #4 when true Doctor Strange action begins:  Silver Dagger's menace is put aside and Doc battles -- in the mighty Marvel manner -- Death itself.  Here is what we have expected of Englehart and Brunner since they began their run on the series.  In each arc, Doctor Strange has wrestled with some larger force than mere arch-enemies:  time, existence, non-being, the dialectic, guilt, and responsibility.  Now, Death comes for Doctor Strange himself.  Like Starlin's WARLOCK and perhaps to some extent SHANG-CHI MASTER OF KUNG-FU, this offering from Englehart and Brunner show how experimental Marvel was in the 1970s.  DOCTOR STRANGE, like those other comics, was less of a superhero comic than it was an exploration of self.  Englehart and Brunner's DOCTOR STRANGE is an ontological study formulated in comic-book terms with a decidedly Western bent (the Ancient One and his Eastern philosophy never had been fully explored).  If you read Doctor Strange these days in Marvel's comics, for example, the Stephen Strange who is a member of the "Illuminati", you realize that the contemporary writers (and probably editors) have no sense of Englehart and Brunner's contribution to the character.  How could Dr. Strange, so humbled here even though he is the Sorcerer Supreme, later forget these lessons and become such a S.O.B.?


Oct. 24th, 2013

Me, Silly

Nonduality in Volume 1 of Tezuka Osamu's BUDDHA (BUDDA)

    I've previously posted on my reading of volume 1 of Tezuka's masterpiece, Budda (The Buddha), but I as I slowly work my way again through volume 1 -- which does not contain Siddhartha, by the way -- I realize now how perfect the volume is in exploring one of the important themes of Buddhism:  the dangers of dualism.  In Buddhism, it is wrong to think that there is a high and a low, good and bad, deserving and undeserving.  Dualistic thinking leads us to discrimination, to social stratification, to violence, and to war.  As the tale begins with the animal world making distinctions about which animal is most worthy, the tale expands and we learn of a powerful figure, Tatta, who is actually a pariah boy, who is able to transfer his consciousness into other animals precisely because he feels great sympathy with them.  Tatta has to demonstrate the foolishness of making distinctions to Chanpu, a slave boy (i.e., higher social class) and newfound friend, who continually errs in thinking that all of his problems would be solved if only he could become a brahmin.


  In this section of the story, Tatta chides Chanpu that even though their group is facing the crisis of starvation during war, they should share the one pot of grain they have equally with the animals around them.  Notice how Chanpu hates how he is branded as a slave -- the slave brand is Tezuka's trademark doodle, hyotantsugi.


Chanpu of course is far more human and understandable to the reader than Tatta, who has superhero powers and buddha-like compassion.  Plus, Chanpu bears hyotantsugi -- so one figures that Tezuka himself deeply sympathizes with this boy who only wants to live a better life and give the same for his mother.

You too can bear the mark of hyotantsugi -- with this awesome Tezuka Osamu goods t-shirt.

Oct. 23rd, 2013

Me, Silly

The Search for Nothingness and Godhood: Doctor Strange/Marvel Premiere #12, #13, #14 (1973-1974)

  When I get a collection of old comics reading them often takes me quite a while, but this is not the case with Englehart and Brunner's run on Doctor Strange (originally printed in the Marvel Premiere series in 1973-1974 before Doctor Strange was given his own title in 1974).  As I discussed last time in my reading of Englehart's reboot of the character, these are radically introverted, self-searching superhero comics.  Strange begins MP #12 reflecting on how he had caused the death of his mentor, the former Sorcerer Supreme, the Ancient One.  Out in the desert of Mexico playing with an iguana (Carlos Castaneda, anyone?), Doc Strange ponders existence in what seems like a LSD-inspired waking dream.  "LIFE -- the OPPOSITE of life is not DEATH, but NON-EXISTENCE.   To DIE means HAVING LIVED -- but to NOT EXIST means being...NOTHING!"  Pretty heady stuff.  Shedding tears over the iguana, Doc pledges to "preserve the gift" of life, having understood "The COSMOS is EVERYTHING!  To affect any PART of the cosmos is to affect the TOTALITY!"  Although Englehart and Brunner have had an Evil Buddha running around in previous issues, Strange's discovery seems less Buddhist and more in line with Hegel's dialectic.  If anything, Strange seems to have taken thesis-antithesis-synthesis to the end and achieves a near transcendence, accepting God (or: god -- the Ancient One, upon dying, becomes part of the fabric of the universe) and his place in the workings of life.  I can't imagine this kind of writing appearing in a comic book except for one made in the 1970s.  Certainly all of this interior moaning and self-searching would never appear in a comic written in 2013.  Perhaps this is what makes 70s comics -- especially Marvel Bronze-age comics -- so distinctive and special.  More importantly, it serves the story:  Strange has had to reconcile how he played a role in the death of his beloved master.  Here he seems to have overcome his guilt and realizes that with his great power, he has the responsibility to protect and nurture life.


What follows is a radical adventure where the creative team ups the stakes of Strange's previous adventures.  He will meet Cagliostro who is actually the 31st-century future mage, Sise-neg (try reading it backwards), who will attempt to usurp all of the magical power of the earth's past ages in order to become God.  Yes, that's right:  Doctor Strange versus God.  Oh, throw in the inept Baron Mordo into the mix just to make things challenging for ol' Doc.  MP #14 is a brilliantly conceived and executed comic working in four "chapters" of the "Book of Sise-neg Genesis," a re-writing (?) of the Old Testament with Lancelot and dinosaurs thrown in, just to confuse children reading this comic.  Wasn't I the only kid who thought that dinosaurs were discussed in OT book of Genesis?

  The story arc ends with Sise-neg's lesson for himself -- and, a new lesson for Doctor Strange, again serving the story as it serving to assuage his guilt about murdering the Ancient One, is:  "Man is IMPERFECT -- but he is this dimension's CLOSEST APPROXIMATION of perfection!  I cannot IMPROVE upon that, so I SHALL recreate the universe exactly as it was BEFORE!" (MP #14).  Now Strange's view of life has changed from Hegel's.  I can't be sure, but it sounds like views of St. Augustine (homework, Jon).  Nonetheless, quite satisfying -- exactly what you'd want in a post-Ditko Doctor Strange:  a heady trip with superheroes as the tour guides in a colorful world of abstract ideas rendered into concrete images.


Oct. 22nd, 2013

Me, Silly

Englehart and Brunner's DOCTOR STRANGE (MARVEL PREMIERE #9 AND #10): Evil Buddhas and the Ego Cube

  On a whim, I ordered a Marvel Masterworks edition of DOCTOR STRANGE (Vol. 5 in the DS series).  I had a few issues of Englehart and Brunner's run ever since I was a kid -- including a great issue (actually a reprint) with an original cover of Dormammu against a pink background.  I'll write about that one later, but today I wanted to talk about the creative team's reboot of Doctor Strange with Marvel Premiere #9 and #10 -- in Englehart's words, it was a major shift from "monster of the month" into new territory -- the idea that magic was mostly mental and therefore the enemies of magic are mental or psychical antagonists rather than fleshy, squishy, HPLovecraft-like-tentacled fiends.

  Englehart professes that when he took over the Doctor Strange title, he was in over his head; Brunner, who requested Englehart join him for the book, seems to have had a clearer vision of the character and through late night discussions between the two, they would come up with a co-authored, synthesized story.  These two issues show how great it is when artist and writer can come together with great story, narration, dialogue, and visuals.  My gut tells me that Brunner is the main architect and designer of the pages.  Nonetheless, the fluid nature of the creative team shows in the pages -- the panels have a very liberated flow, sometimes deviating from left-to-right reading and allows moments of doubt and reflection for the reader.  I haven't seen pages like this since Starlin's WARLOCK or, perhaps, Japanese girls comics (少女漫画 shôjo manga -- Hagio Moto, etc.).

  Briefly, I thought today I'd focus on two elements of the two-part arc.

  One is Englehart and Brunner's creation of the "Living Buddha," who, it turns out, is quite evil.  If anything, he is a servant of Satan (Shuma-Gorath).  His orange skin makes him Asian, I suppose (was the Masterworks' edition colored improperly?  Should he have been, ack, yellow?).  I guess what makes him Buddha-like is the way he is seated -- in the lotus position, although we don't see him use any hand gestures (mudras).  In fact, you might mistake him for MODOK if his face wasn't in the right place.  To make matters worse, he wears a hachimaki headband at times.  He's a fat Buddha, but he looks like a reject from a monastery.  I wonder if the Living Buddha has ever come back in other issues of continuity.  I doubt it.  Englehart confesses in the Masterworks intro that he was quickly reading about philosophy and religion to step up his game for this new kind of superhero.  His lack of knowledge about Buddhism shows.


  It's quite sad, actually.  The issue is about Doctor Strange's liberation of his mentor, the Ancient One, from the split in his psyche.  Later, Strange realizes he must kill the Ancient One, otherwise, the split between his mentor's raging other-self (a negative version of him, from a "dark dimension") will consume not only his original subjectivity but also the world...and eventually, the cosmos.  Strange encounters the Ancient One's ego, what I call the "Ego Cube," because it looks a lot like the Cosmic Cube -- that squirrely focus of ultimate power often jumping around the Marvel Universe.


  Two great things about this arc:
1)  superheroes go "micro" shrinking down to the size of electrons -- always a cool effect -- something Steve Ditko pioneered, I think.
2)  physical manifestation of abstract ideas (given graphic representation by the artist)

Lastly, a great cover from Brunner showing the split of the Ancient One's ego.  I love split-faced covers (HULK #315, anyone?).  If you want to test somebody on what the difference was between Marvel in its heyday (60s, 70s) versus DC, just show them a split-faced cover like this MP #10.  The troubled ego -- here, the Ancient One's!  (If the Ancient One can't resolve the dialectic of self, no-self, and everything, then what chance do we mere mortals have?)


Oct. 17th, 2013

Me, Silly

Otomo's LEGEND OF MOTHER SARAH: CITY OF ANGELS (Issues #3 and #4) -- Legend of No Significance?

   My wife told me last night, after noticing volume 2 of AKIRA on the kitchen counter, "Why are you reading that?  AKIRA was one of my favorite comics."  My wife usually makes her questions assertive statements (i.e., my answers are not all that important).

  Why am I reading AKIRA?  Well, that's complicated.  I'm currently finishing up Otomo's LEGEND OF MOTHER SARAH:  CITY OF ANGELS.  Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.  My wife went upstairs before I had a chance to explain.  I guess I better explain things at least here.

  Maybe later for that.

  After purchasing my own copy of LoMS:CoA #2 because PSU's library was missing that one copy of the series and then reading it, I have been picking up speed on the series.  Issues #3 and #4 reveal large plot developments.  Sarah finds one of her children.

  Unfortunately, my eyes strayed to the "Coming up in next issue" preview and before I got to reading the big event in #4, the end of #3 told me, "Sarah finds her daughter but has no time to enjoy the reunion..."

  Somewhat annoyed at DHC's editors.  Back in the late 90s, I don't think the custom or term of "Spoilers" existed.

  Well, although my enjoyment of the series was nearly destroyed, I did want to comment on this reunion, which should have been (for the reader) and actually was (beautifully crafted by the writer and artist) a great scene.  Usually, LoMS only gives splash pages to tanks or helicopters...


...but Nagayasu wisely devoted a large part of two-page spread to Sarah's reunion with her daughter.

  Oh wait:  ** Spoilers ** ahead **


I think the scene is particularly effective for the placement of the panels at the top and you see a slow dissolution of their hug in the smaller panels that trickle below it.  Perhaps this wasn't the big forever hug you thought it would be.  In a way, this is a great example of how anti-cinematic (how un-AKIRA-like) LoMS is.  AKIRA is particularly deft in creating fast-moving, wide-screen cinematic panels that keeps you locked into the story no matter how obscure the content is (you suspend your disbelief because the action and design is so detailed and consistently good).  Here, in LoMS, you have this build-up and we should be hearing BIG MUSIC reinforcing in our minds of how important this scene is, sweeping us along.  Instead, we don't buy it.  Or rather:  Otomo and Nagayasu don't want us to buy it.  Sarah, sadly, is the only one who blindly believes that this reunion will mean an end to her suffering (and a suffering narrative).  Whereas in AKIRA, Otomo youthfully loves big explosions and violent, dramatic confrontations, with LoMS he and his artist are much more cynical of the BIG SCENE.  Wisely, they suggest that a finding a long-lost child is not the same thing as restoring lost memories and lost time.  Unfortunately, when you work in this nihilistic storytelling side, you have not much to fall back on.  If the creative team has sustained their protagonist as a powerful, emotionless, and terminator-like problem-solver, then once her goal has been resolved and we are expected to suddenly empathize with her -- there's nothing for us to connect to.  If your BIG REVEAL is EMPTY, then once the reveal is finished, and all you have is BIG EMPTY, there's no place for the story to go.  It's probably no wonder that the next step in the story is a massive shelling of the city where nearly all the new side characters get killed.

One of the hints that the Sarah's quest is a vain one comes moments after that big reunion when their hug is framed by Mother Teres (a less-than-motherly mother and spiritual guru).  Her framing of Sarah's reunion with Satoko ultimately spins the narrative away from Sarah towards one belonging to no one.  Humans and their kinship count for less and less as the story proceeds.  The splashes of the tank shelling (see above) will resume -- diminishing any of Sarah's work to make the world a better place -- for herself or those she encounters.


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