Monday, May 16, 2016

Improving Upon Perfection: Darwyn Cooke, 1962-2016.

We were -- I was -- truly heartbroken to read about Darwyn Cooke's illness and passing this weekend.  On Friday morning, a message from Darwyn's wife Marsha was posted at Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog, announcing that the comic writer and artist was fighting an aggressive form of cancer and receiving "palliative care," a term that often implies that the patient is only being made comfortable.  Early Saturday morning, a few sites reported his passing, and midday the semi-official blog announced that he lost his battle with cancer early that morning, "surrounded by friends and family at his home in Florida."


Darwyn Cooke was a singular talent, making his often deceptively simple line-work look effortless in the service of stories, written by himself and by others, that often become definitive takes on well-known characters.  His work was beloved by fans and other comic creators alike, but he seemed to inspire fewer followers than an Alan Moore or a Jim Lee, and that may be because his work cut against the grain of his post-modern contemporaries:  where most writers deconstructed the classics, he challenged the iconoclasts by distilling the same characters to their essence, and where many artists drew work that was often garish, his artwork struck the reader as immediately beautiful but never simplistic or clichéd.

Fans of Brubaker and Phillips -- and of crime comics in general -- should be quite familiar with Cooke's work, as it's been mentioned more than once on this blog.  His collaboration with Ed Brubaker on Catwoman redefined the character for today, one of his many striking pieces of cover art was a rare "ghost variant" for Fatale #15, and we believe his four comic adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker stand alongside Criminal as the best crime comics ever produced and excellent gateways between crime fiction and the medium of comics.

There have been numerous tributes to the man posted in the last 72 hours or so, including official press releases from his publishers at DC and IDW, and we would be remiss not to mention a few that Brubaker highlighted in his Twitter feed.
  • At PaperFilms -- the site for the collaborative projects of Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and others -- Patrick Wedge posted a moving four-page story that Cooke contributed to the short-lived Creator Owned Heroes title.
  • Comics Reported reposted a 2009 interview with Cooke and Brubaker in anticipation of the first Parker adaptation -- which we mentioned here way back when -- along with more than 100 examples of Cooke's brilliance.
  • Collaborator with both Cooke and Brubaker, Cameron Stewart posted a brief but very personal tribute via Twitter.
And Ed Brubaker's own tweets have been quite moving as well, with anecdotes told across several posts.  He writes, "We hadn't been close in years, but his loss hurts more than I expected it would. Our moment in time together changed my life." 

He elaborates, "One of the best things I ever did was convince Darwyn Cooke to revamp Catwoman with me. For about a year we were making magic together."

In mentioning just one project, Brubaker crystalizes what made Darwyn Cooke so great, whether he was tackling The Spirit or Jonah Hex, Catwoman or Parker, the Watchmen prequels or the Silver Age of the DC pantheon.
Now I'm going to read his Parker books again and appreciate what an amazing job he did, taking something perfect and making it even better.
Brubaker has finally retired his Twitter icon image of Jim Rockford for the first real look at Parker from The Hunter.

--

I met Darwyn Cooke at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, where he was wearing a Winnie the Pooh costume, of all things.  One fan wanted a picture with him and asked him to lower his arms to show "Pooh" on the shirt, as if it wasn't obvious what he was wearing.  He signed my copy of The Hunter and drew me a sketch of Parker, shown above, a kind of complement to my sketch of Tracy Lawless from Sean Phillips.

He seemed like a very cool dude, even if it sounds like he wasn't always the easiest guy to work with.

And he died way too young.

--

The announcement mentions that donations can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society (where there is a goal to raise $4,295 in his name) and to the Hero Initiative which helps comic creators in need.

Brubaker recommends buying work from Cooke, "one of the best cartoonists ever" -- and he suggests, the more expensive, the better.  Original artwork is still available from his art dealer, and we notice that DC's Future Quest #1 is in stores this week, with a five-page preview already online: Cooke was responsible for the new character designs for the super-group of heroes from the Hanna-Barbara archives.

At the 2015 WonderCon, as covered in a report by Comic Book Resources, Cooke mentioned plans to return to Parker in 2016, to do as many more volumes as he could and end on Butcher's Moon, the series' masterpiece.  As we mentioned at the time, a mini-series called Revengeance was announced in January, 2015; Cooke's first fully creator-owned work was to be released that June, but the book was never solicited or evidently published.

Work will apparently be left unfinished, but what has already been published will be treasured by readers for years to come.

He will be greatly missed.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ANNOUNCING THE UNDERTOW PODCAST!

We're thrilled to announce the debut of The Undertow Podcast, an unofficial, fan-created program focusing on creator-owned comics and especially the works of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.


Video producer Robert Watson created and produces the show, and he invited me to co-host: working on the show has been a blast, we think listeners will really dig what we're doing, and we hope you join the conversation.

Our first episode focuses on the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special with a brief look at Velvet #14, aND the show includes a news digest, recommendations, and more.

The Undertow Podcast is available on iTunes and at Podbean, and we can be reached by email and Twitter.  

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bullets: New Velvet, Phono+Graphic in Toronto, and More.

Velvet #14 in Stores Today!  Ed Brubaker's other creator-owned series -- the Cold War espionage thriller with art from Steve Epting -- is hopefully getting back on schedule just as the third story arc builds to its climax.  Part Four of "The Man Who Stole the World" is in stores today, and late yesterday Image Comics posted a three-page preview, which people might find easier to read at Comic Book Resources, where the preview was reposted.



More Coverage for Criminal -- and The Fade Out.  Over the last couple weeks, we've seen a good bit of press surrounding the publication of the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, often through retweets by Brubaker and Phillips.
  • Geeks World Wide published a brief ten-question interview with Ed Brubaker.
  • The Outhousers posted a good-sized review of the issue, describing it as a tragic and heart-wrenching tale from long-established "masters of crime noir comics."
  • At the (UK) Guardian, the one-shot is included in this month's brief list of the "very best in hand-drawn entertainment."  Graeme Virtue writes that the issue shows "a grim revenge quest along lonesome desert highways with pages from Fang’s authentically 70s adventures, a riot of street slang, generous flares and thought bubbles bursting with heroic angst."
We actually didn't find the GWW piece to be the most informative interview we've read, but it reminds us to tell readers that they should buy the standard version of the "Deadly Hands" one-shot, even along with the magazine variant.

Why?  The standard version has an exclusive essay by Brubaker looking back on the series' origins, with information about its pitch that we haven't seen anywhere else.  It's a great, almost personal note to the fans who have supported his work over the years.

And, it's not recent and not closely tied to Criminal, but we just saw that, back in November, the British genre magazine Tripwire published a list of Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin's all-time favorite comics, and alongside Watchmen and Hellblazer and Judge Dredd, we find The Fade Out

We previously mentioned that Rankin wrote the introduction to the first trade collection for "The Sinners." Here, he writes, "I could have gone for Criminal or Fatale," but he went with the period piece even before it wrapped up, praising it for being "a hell of a ride."

Sean Phillips' Album Art Exhibition at TCAF Next Month!  Coinciding with last year's Lakes International Art Festival, Sean Phillips curated an art exhibition in Kendal, England:  Phono+Graphic, showcasing album covers created by comic artists.  As the exhibition concluded, we noted Phillips' hint that it might be touring other venues, and at his blog he recently announced its scheduled appearance in Toronto.



Coinciding with the Toronto Comics Art Festival, the Phono+Graphic exhibition will be at the Nuvango Gallery May 12-25, with a reception on the night of May 14th.  As we reported earlier this month, Sean Phillips is attending TCAF, which runs May 14-15 and is generally free to the public -- and we believe this is the first time the exhibition is making an appearance on this side of the Atlantic.

Michelle McNamara, R.I.P.  Last Friday, April 22nd, news broke of the death of Michelle McNamara, true-crime writer, wife, and mother of a young daughter.

(Her husband Patton Oswalt may be familiar to readers beyond his stand-up comedy:  he wrote the essay for Blast of Silence in 2007's Criminal #4, and he wrote the intro to the first trade collection of "The Last of the Innocent.")

Ed Brubaker has been re-tweeting links to a few articles online, by and about McNamara:  there are very personal memorial essays by Los Angeles Magazine's editor Mary Melton and true-crime journalist and producer Bill Jensen, and there's the writer's first feature for Los Angeles magazine, about a California serial killer from forty years back, still at-large.

We only learned about the writer with the news of her passing, but our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.

Houston Bookstore, Flooded and Needing Sales.  Finally, Ed Brubaker has forwarded a story from the Houston Chronicle, about a local bookstore that has suffered damage from the recent, devastating flooding in the area.  Murder By The Book is an independent store specializing in mystery, crime, and fantasy, and its owner is hoping an influx of online sales could help mitigate the losses from missed sales and cancelled events.

Owner McKenna Jordan is asking supporters to buy a book or gift card, and gift cards are discounted through the end of the month.  Purchases can be made at the store's website, MurderBooks.com.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bullets: CRIMINAL Tomorrow, Eisner Nods for THE FADE OUT, and Work Begins on KILL OR BE KILLED!

We begin with four of our favorite words in the English language: new Criminal this week!

Criminal Tenth Anniversary Special, In Stores Tomorrow!  Our favorite series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips returns with an over-sized one-shot, we see that Image Comics just posted a five-page preview of the issue, and Brubaker tells readers that the 56-page comic is a "full novella."

(UPDATE: The same preview at Comic Book Resources might be easier to read.)

Things had been pretty quiet since "The Last of the Innocent" wrapped in 2011, but that changed last year with the "Savage Sword" one-shot commemorating the series' returning to print under the Image banner.  This new one-shot is a kind of companion piece, once again focusing on the Lawless family's criminal exploits during the 1970's.  As before, there's a comic within the comic, and the issue's magazine-sized variant once again emulates that fictitious work of literature, in what Brubaker recently described as a "meta-variant."

Last year, the "Savage Sword of Criminal" featured Zangar the Valandrian.

This year, the "Deadly Hands of Criminal" features the astounding new character find of 2016, Fang the Kung-fu Werewolf!


Although we mentioned the Final Order Cutoff date for the book, we failed to emphasize why that date was particularly important:  late last month, Bleeding Cool reported a bookkeeping issue with Diamond distributors, one which resulted in the entire advance order being lost and the book subsequently having significantly more advance reorders than expected.  On Twitter, Brubaker predicts that the issue might quickly become hard to find especially since a one-shot is a hard sell.

More than that, retailers tend to be less likely to shelve the over-sized magazine variant, and this variant will almost certainly be too cost-intensive for more than a single printing.

In short, get it while you can!

The book was delayed one week from its solicited April 13th release, but that might be fortuitous:  we're not one to fixate on stoner culture, but it's a happy accident that this book and its kung-fu werewolf are reaching stores on 4/20.

...and it's not the only book that seems just perfect for the unofficial holiday for stoners.  Three of my all-time favorite books are all coming out tomorrow, and they're all appropriately trippy.
  • Brubaker and Phillips have the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, with the 70's kung-fu comic.
  • Layman and Guillory are concluding their trilogy of Chew one-shots featuring their cyborg luchador rooster (and secret agent), Demon Chicken Poyo!  Image Comics has a four-page preview up online. (So does CBR, possibly easier to read.)
  • And Tom Scioli with John Barber are releasing the penultimate chapter of the brilliant and bonkers Transformers vs GI Joe, which has been more fun than any licensed comic has any right to be. IDW has provided a five-page preview to Comics Alliance.

Go by your local retailer and grab a copy of each.  Sit back, take 'er easy, and enjoy -- and you can thank us later.

Eisner Nominations for The Fade Out, Brubaker, and Breitweiser!  It's breaking news, trumped only by a new Brubaker/Phillips comic, but the 2016 Eisner nominations were announced today, and once again we find nods for the pair's most recent collaboration along with some of the creative talents behind the series.
  • Best Limited Series: The Fade Out, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
  • Best Writer: Ed Brubaker, The Fade Out, Velvet, Criminal Special Edition (Image)
  • Best Coloring: Elizabeth Breitwiser, The Fade Out, Criminal Magazine, Outcast, Velvet (Image)
The awards will be announced on Friday night, July 22nd, at Comic-Con International in San Diego -- and in the meantime, Image Comics just announced a digital sale for their Eisner nominees.  You can get all three trades of The Fade Out for less than $15 -- or all twelve issues for less than $12 -- and Velvet is similarly on sale with $4.99 collections and $0.99 single issues.

We extend hearty congratulations to Ed, Sean, Bettie, and everyone who was nominated.

A Second Volume of Image Firsts.  Along with the release of last year's Criminal one-shot, we noted the publication of the first Image Firsts Compendium. The trade paperback included NINE first issues, including The Fade Out #1, all for the low price of $5.99, and we can confirm that the Image Firsts Compendium Volume Two was released just last week.


It's a great introduction to just a few of the off-beat creator-owned titles that Image is producing.

Kill or Be Killed, Now In Progress.  Finally, we have an update on Brubaker and Phillips' newest project, the ongoing series announced two weeks ago at the Image Expo.  I would say that we have more information, but I suspect that the creators are holding a lot back:  after the initial announcement, Brubaker tweeted that the book is "one of those simple concepts that's actually a bit hard to describe without spoiling all the twists of the first issue."

Or as he intimated prior to the Image Expo, it's "That thing when you're doing press for your upcoming book and realize anything you say will spoil the first issue, so you go vague."

So, there's no new info, just an update.

Sean Phillips has posted a few things on Twitter, including what appears to be the cover art for the first issue, very similar to the promo image, but in a portrait layout.

Phillips has made himself a sketch book for the project, he's already working on layouts, and he began shooting reference photos last week.


I think we can safely say that the cover won't have the only firearm in the book.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

KILL OR BE KILLED: Announced Today, Coming This Summer!

As we reported earlier, Ed Brubaker has been planning big news at this year's Image Expo in Seattle, and the announcement was made earlier this afternoonKill Or Be Killed, his next project with Sean Phillips and Bettie Breitweiser, coming this summer.


In a press release on its official site, Image Comics has summarized all the new projects and provided promo images, including the one shown above.
KILL OR BE KILLED by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser 
Bestselling writer Ed Brubaker (THE FADE OUT, FATALE), artist Sean Phillips (THE FADE OUT, FATALE), and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (THE FADE OUT, FATALE, OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA) reunite for KILL OR BE KILLED, the ultimate pulp crime comic.
KILL OR BE KILLED is the story of a troubled young man who is compelled to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret, as it slowly begins to ruin his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.
Both a thriller and a deconstruction of vigilantism, KILL OR BE KILLED is unlike anything Brubaker and Phillips have done together in their long partnership.
KILL OR BE KILLED is set to launch in Summer 2016.
Comics news sites covered the event, providing other details.
  • Comic Book Resources posted an lengthy, initial article with updates in real time, and they followed up with a brief post focusing on Kill Or Be Killed; in both, they reported that the book is an ongoing series affording a return to serialized, monthly comics.
  • Bleeding Cool notes that the book is evidently about the ripple effects of the actions taken by the protagonist, a vigilante who kills bad guys.
  • Comics Alliance provides the longest list of the title's influences, saying that the book is described as "Breaking Bad meets Death Wish," and it's also influenced by the Spider-Man comics of the Seventies and Ed Brubaker's own anger at the troubled present day.
  • In just the last few minutes, we've noticed a brief, bulleted report from The Outhousers, calling the title "a deconstruction of vigilantism" which debuts in August with the goal of "50 issues at least."
The Punisher has also been mentioned as an influence, and Ed Brubaker apparently describes the book as "almost a soap opera about murder."

[UPDATE, 4/7:  Ed Brubaker responded by Twitter to offer a minor correction, that "the Punisher, nor any other vigilante hero type was not an influence. If anything, the opposite."  We gather that's where the "deconstruction of vigilantism" comes in.]

And, courtesy the recent output of Image Comics' Twitter feed, we see that USA Today has the "exclusive" scoop on the series.  The story confirms that the title is an ongoing monthly, and the main character is evidently a good guy coerced to do terrible things, an introverted NYU grad student in his late twenties who is "forced to don a mask and kill one bad person every month," though a victim of his own choosing.

I'd say more from the USA Today story, but I'll invoke the cliché to encourage everyone to "read the whole thing."

The only other thing I'll add for now is our noting something new to the credits listed in that promo image, absent from the announcement and indeed the front covers for The Fade Out: alongside Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is Elizabeth Breitweiser.

The CBR piece notes Brubaker's praise for the colorist: '"I think she's one of the two or three best colorists in comics. She jumped on to help us with 'Fatale,' and almost immediately meshed with Sean. We basically said, 'Be our colorist forever.' She's pretty much a full-time member of our team now."

We're glad to see her officially join the team and get more credit for the often astounding work that she does.

As always, we'll post more information as we find it -- and as we look forward to Kill Or Be Killed.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Bullets: The Calm Before the Storm.

We've finally wrapped up our extended look at The Fade Out, and none too soon:  April promises to be an exciting month for fans Brubaker and Phillips. 

Ed Brubaker will apparently announce their next project tomorrow at the 2016 Image Expo in Seattle.

...on a related note, Brubaker has just tweeted that copies of the magazine variant for last year's Criminal Special Edition will be available at the Image booth at the Emerald City Comic Con, this weekend in Seattle.


Later this month, the next one-shot will be released, the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, which has its own magazine-sized variant featuring Fang the Kung-Fu Werewolf!

The creators have been releasing a few glimpses of the artwork for this done-in-one story, including the image shown above, a work-in-progress panel of Teeg and Tracy Lawless on the road and possibly on the run.

And, hilariously, Ed Brubaker has shown fans a detail from the one-shot, of a cover to the "Deadly Hands" comic from the 1970's.


We have a few items that we'd like to cover as briefly as we can, as we clear the decks for this busy month.


• A Comprehensive Retrospective. Early last week, David Harper at SKCHD posted an extensive essay called "This Noir Life," looking back at Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' long and successful partnership through DC Comics, Marvel's Icon imprint, and now Image Comics. 

Harper talks with Brubaker about the origins of what Harper praises as "the finest and most consistent creative partnership in modern comics," and the wide-ranging discussion is worth reading by everyone.  Newer fans can learn about what books they need to hunt down, long-time fans can recommend the essay to friends to expose them to Brubaker and Phillips, and there are insights that even I didn't know.

For instance, I learned that Sean Phillips designed Holden Carver even though the character was first drawn by Colin Wilson for Point Blank, the WildStorm comic that led directly to Sleeper.  Proud as he is of the series, Brubaker's not sure that he'll return to the world of Incognito, and he still hasn't met the newest addition to their team, the fantastic colorist Bettie Breitweiser.

I was heartened to see Ed Brubaker acknowledge the fact that, while many of us dig every project they do, we have a special place in our heart for their purest crime comic: "I'm sure a lot of them would be happy to see us put Criminal out every month."

But looking ahead, "Brubaker said their next project 'has an even more complex narrative than The Fade Out did,' before adding, 'but it’s very different.'"

We're looking forward to it.


• Brubaker Interviews, Recently Collected.  Courtesy of Sean Phillips' Twitter feed, we see that the University Press of Mississippi has recently expanded its Conversations with Comic Artists Series to include a book on Ed Brubaker.  The series features an impressive list of artists -- including Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Carl Barks, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman -- and it says something that the series now includes Brubaker.

Published in early March and edited by Judson University professor Terrence Wandtke, the 172-page hardcover on Brubaker features "often little-known and hard-to-find interviews, worthwhile conversations in their own right as well as objects of study for both scholars and researchers."

Going by the back cover preview, the cover art was from a portrait of Ed Brubaker by Sean Phillips, which first appeared on the cover of the Comics Journal #263, published in October/November 2004.




• Under the Radar: Sonic Noir by Ed Brubaker. We mentioned everything else that's on the horizon, but we had completely missed a new series from Brubaker, a licensed property for another publisher with art from unlikely collaborator: Sonic the Hedgehog: Noir, from Archie Comics, by Brubaker and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The first issue was evidently released on the first day of this month -- a Friday, oddly enough -- and on the same day Comicosity published just about the only (spoiler-filled) review I could find online, but it is more than enough to pique my interest.
"You will not look at the world in the same way after reading Sonic The Hedgehog: Noir #1. There are life changing experiences in comics, and this is one of them. Brubaker and Sienkiewicz have crafted something that is equally beautiful and horrifying and while I am scared to read the next issue, I can tell you right now, I won’t be able to avoid it. You thought you’d seen noir with The Fade Out or Criminal…they are nothing compared to this epic story."
I'm not sure my local shop ordered any copies of Sonic Noir #1, but I'll be sure to ask them about it.


• Velvet in Recent Solicitations.  In the middle of March, Image Comics released its most recent solicitations, for the month of June.   Our guess is that the books announced at the Image Expo, including the latest Brubaker-Phillips collaboration, will be released no earlier than July.

In the interim, we can expect a few releases of Brubaker's other title Velvet, the creator-owned spy comic with art by Steve Epting.  ComicList's most recent extended forecast has issue #14 out on April 27th, issue #15 out on May 25th, and the third trade paperback advance solicited for July 20th.

Velvet Volume 3, "The Man Who Stole the World," collects issues #11-15 for the discounted price of $14.99.


• Sean Phillips' Art for Arrow Films.  Regular readers will already know that Sean Phillips has created striking artwork for several movies, including six home video releases for the Criterion Collection -- most recently for two films on colonialism by Bruce Beresford -- and the poster for We Gotta Get Out of This Place, a crime thriller that debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film.

In our post on the Beresford artwork, we linked to Sean's announcement on his blog. There he included preliminary and final artwork for the first of apparently three projects for the British distributor Arrow Films -- artwork for a DVD and Blu-ray release of an old spaghetti western.

Sean has now worked on at least four Arrow projects: we're linking to his blog posts below, where each post features work by the artist.


Phillips also submitted cover artwork for Takashi Miike’s Audition; it was rejected for different artwork, but he hopes it will be used in some other way, and meanwhile he's given fans a look at his submission.



• Sean Phillips' Convention Appearances.  We saw the Sean Phillips was present at the London Super Comic Con in late February, with a few prints from The Fade Out and Fatale, shown below -- and we also saw that Ed Brubaker was at LA's WonderCon just a few weekends back.



Since the LSCC, several more scheduled appearances have already been announced for Phillips, for later this year.
Only the first few guests have been announced for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, England, October 14th-16th, but we wouldn't be surprised if Sean returns to the festival: he's made appearances there for the last three years, and last year he curated an exhibit of album covers created by comic artists.

• Recommended Reading and Viewing. Finally, we have a short list of online articles and videos that our readers might find worthwhile.

Sean Phillips retweeted a link to an blog post about the disturbing trend of unpaid work in media, with Phillips noting that the phenomenon "applies to illustrators and designers too."  The UK editor-in-chief for the Huffington Post had made the absurd and self-serving argument that paid content is inauthentic, and the essay's writer strongly suggests that artists should never provide others with content at no charge -- at least, not unless it's for charity or they can afford to.

(A commenter to the blog entry pointed to a short video clip of the irascible, often entertaining, and here quite astute writer Harlan Ellison -- NSFW.)

The author of numerous essays in the back of the Brubaker and Phillips' comics, including The Fade Out, Devin Faraci is also editor-in-chief of his own website Birth.Movies.Death.  He's recently written two very interesting pieces, one on the death of Superman as a truly heroic character, and one on the death of Jesus of Nazareth, prompted by the non-believer's visit to the popular holy sites in Jerusalem -- both articles are somewhat frustrating but well worth reading.

Faraci's best article I've seen is probably his defense of George Lucas as an auteur.  His opinion echoes my own in light of the recent Star Wars sequel by J.J. Abrams, that the vision behind the prequel trilogy -- deeply flawed films, apparently based on undercooked scripts -- is still more interesting than the mimicry driving that near pastiche of a sequel.

Fans of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian -- and Zangar the Valandrian, the warrior from last year's "Savage Sword of Criminal" -- might be very interested in the article published two weeks ago in Science magazine, about a "colossal" pre-historic Bronze Age battle, the remains of which were recently discovered.  The battle took place along the Tollense River in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea, and an archaeologist at the dig reports, "They weren't farmer-soldiers who went out every few years to brawl. These are professional fighters."  He doesn't say so, but they seemed much like the fictional Conan.

At the end of last year, on the twentieth anniversary of the film's release, Rolling Stone published an extensive essay on Heat -- my all-time favorite crime movie -- where writer Jennifer Wood presents a first-person recollection by now 73-year-old director Michael Mann.  Among other aspects of the film, he discusses my favorite scene -- the confrontation in the coffee shop where, at the movie's halfway point, Pacino's cop and De Niro's master thief reveal more about themselves to their adversaries than to their partners or lovers.  Mann talks about how the scene was discussed but not rigorously rehearsed, about the characters' motivation for talking with a known enemy, and about the key insight that is learned in that scene which pays off in the climax.

On the subject of thoughtful and extremely well-made heist movies, Ed Brubaker recently highlighted a piece by The A.V. Club on how, through very clever movie-making techniques, director Christopher Nolan hid in plain sight the secret of his 2006 film, The Prestige.

(Both pieces, on Heat and The Prestige, heavily involve SPOILERS, as one might imagine.)

Finally, Brubaker retweeted a short but profound quote from author Salman Rushdie, posted by Jon Winokur.
"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."

As cited by Wikiquote, the statement was quoted in a 2004 BBC article, on a subject that remains distressingly current.

I'm sure that these two of my favorite writers would agree on much regarding politics -- perhaps more regarding culture, including Frank Sinatra and the "Great American Songbook" to which both have alluded -- but I find that, here at least, Ed Brubaker shares common ground with the profound (and profoundly funny) Mark Steyn.

On a recent Australian tour, Steyn gave a speech in Melbourne, defending the crucial right to free expression.  On his website, he points out that a slightly edited video of the February 19th talk has been posted online.  At the 19-minute mark, Steyn points out the importance of the seemingly trivial joke.
"A joke is a small thing but a large, profound loss."
We have lost some of the liberty to tell jokes that might cause the wrong people to be offended.  That kind of suppression of speech is what was found in the Soviet Bloc, and it should not be found in the supposedly free West.

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Monday, April 04, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Alienation and Memory.

I intended this increasingly misnamed series -- "30 Days of The Fade Out" -- to follow the pattern I set with Fatale in July, 2014, having a month-long look back at the latest series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, concluding with the release of the series' grand finale.  Instead, a shockingly busy personal life caused this series to run just more than four months.

On the one hand, I have written more than thirty posts in this series -- by my count, this is #33 -- but, on the other hand, there are quite a few topics that I haven't really covered.
  • The wonderfully complete experience in the magazine-sized variant for the debut issue.
  • The possible meaning behind each chapter's title, as most titles were evidently allusions to song lyrics from the ear.
  • The fascinating bonus essays written by Devin Faraci, Jess Nevins, Megan Abbott, and Ben Godar -- and, accompanying the essay in issue #10, the striking artwork of The Wizard of Oz by Sean Phillips' son Jacob.
  • And, the letters pages, and the conversations they facilitated between Brubaker and his readers.
About that last subject, in issue #3, Brubaker asked readers about their favorite actor or actress from the 1940's.  I didn't write in, and I don't think anyone mentioned who I would have picked:  Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs and Daffy and the rest of the classic Looney Tunes characters.

--

Wrapping up, I'd just like to highlight what seems to be two main themes of the story, namely alienation and memory.  Charlie Parish in particular feels alienated from his fellow man and perhaps even himself, as he runs from his own memories and even obliterates what he can in a bottle of booze.

Many of the story's characters remain opaque to the reader, sometimes frustratingly so:  Drake Miller's presence is frequently felt, but his only real dialogue is in one of Charlie's memories of the night Val died.  We learn about Earl, Melba, Tyler, and Valeria Sommers herself only through their actions and through others' descriptions.

For other characters, we're afforded a more intimate glimpse of their interior life.
  • Victor Thursby feels like he lost part of himself in the hills with that hedonistic cult, and after Val's death he wonders what his life's work was for.
  • Maya Silver finds herself excited at the thought of her ex-husband being beaten, and she hates herself for it, but she soon "sleeps like a baby."
  • Gil Mason decides to turn against the power of the studio system because of how Brodsky intimidated and humiliated him, acting as if Gil was "just a fool pretending not to be a coward."
  • And Dottie Quinn had learned in her own life about the power of secrets, how to keep them, and how the world would always rather have a good story than the honest truth.
(We even get a glimpse of Phil Brodsky, who knows he's being played by "some fucking joker" on "Hallo-fucking-ween.")

But, ultimately, The Fade Out is Charlie's story.  It begins and ends with him musing on the phantom planes during the war, and we follow the character from his discovery of Val's body to his discovery of what "maybe" happened that night.  Along the way, we see memories and movie scenes play behind him, and we see the impressionistic images of the fragments of memory from the night of Val's death. He tries to forget her death, then unearth what really happened, and finally find a way to survive the consequences of that (almost explicitly) quixotic mission.  Charlie piles one lie on top of another, and his life lurches from misery to despair as he learns the extent of his complicity in Val's death and the corrupt studio system.

Having read the series a few times and having learned the twisted and sordid context of his life -- as much as the creators tell us, explicitly and between the lines -- I find it interesting to focus on Charlie's inner life, to read through the narration text for all of Charlie's scenes.
"Charlie didn't care one way or the other about funerals.  They were just another of life's rituals that he felt removed from." 
"But after a week, Charlie began fantasizing about sneaking into the costume trailer... and becoming an invisible man himself.  He imagined it would be a relief, to have a mask everyone could see... but that made them all look away at the same time."
"Of course, it hadn't slipped Charlie's mind... he'd purposely locked away those years.  And now they were trying to break free again, like they always did..."
"But that Charlie, that young hotshot... he feels like a distant cousin now... like someone he only ever vaguely knew, at best."
"Charlie never felt more removed from humanity than he did at events like this.  The mob of screaming voices... crushing each other for an autograph..."
"Why can't he be more like her, actually appreciating the moment... instead of always being caught up in the past?"
"Not just that there's someone who truly sees you... truly understands you... to your soul... but that you event want them to.  That's the sweetest lie, the one you tell yourself."
"Charlie could only think as far as the next drink anymore... could only exist on the edge of oblivion."
We discover that Charlie's father was a junkie and that he'd seen plenty of violence from "trouble boys" in his youth, but how much could be explained by his upbringing?  We learn that he saw -- and apparently did -- terrible things during the war, and yet he always seemed to say and do the wrong thing with his ex-wife Rebecca, who left him shortly after Pearl Harbor.

How much was Charlie's life a trap of his own making?

Whatever the answer, we see his alienation with others and even himself, his running from both his past and his future, and his attraction toward vulnerable women and his simultaneous disbelief that he could be truly vulnerable with anyone else.

His is a tragic state of affairs, which too many of us probably find all too familiar, and it is this shared misery -- and the shared capacity for anguish and despair -- that connects us with Charlie Parish even as most of us will (thankfully) never find ourselves entangled in quite so terrible a crime.

Charlie's story evokes our sympathy even as it crushes our hope for him -- and perhaps it is this shared empathy, even with fictional characters as irredeemable as him, that gives us hope for ourselves.  Though I believe that the greatest hope comes from God, I also believe that, if we can turn from the comic's page to the person beside us, perhaps we can become a friend to our neighbor and find a measure of peace with ourselves.

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