Archive for the 'comics' Category

EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL.

May 5, 2009

blankets_01

I.    OCTOBER 2004
In 2004, I move away from my childhood home in Mar Vista. Pressed for time and finances, we decide to move into an apartment near UCLA. It is a modest two and a half bedroom apartment, and considering that I will be living there with my mother and younger sister, I volunteer to take the “half” bedroom.

II.     NOVEMBER 2004
I have been living in the half bedroom for almost six months now. The room is long and narrow, with only one 2″ x 4″ window at the end of it through which. On clear days, sunlight shines in through the gnarled and spindly limbs of the barren jacaranda outside. In the spring, the view out my window will be awash with lush violets and greens. But right now, it’s mostly gray.

1866

the apartment. my bedroom was on the third floor in the center. note the jacaranda.

The room is too small to accommodate a bed, so I sleep on a makeshift mattress on the floor. By makeshift, I mean a doughy mound of old sleeping bags and musty comforters. It resembles a dog bed fit proportioned for a human, and this will cause my mother much embarrassment and grief. I, on the other hand, love it.

Partly because it is a pleasant bale of blankets upon blankets upon blankets, and its proximity to the floor allows for me to fall asleep to the soft hum of the washer / dryers in the laundry room below (it is still to this day the comfiest place I have ever rested my head).

Another reason is that that due to my lifelong love of reading in bed, this will be the location in which I unwittingly discover my love for comics.

III.    DECEMBER 2004

During a Christmas shopping excursion to the mall, I discover a peculiarly large “graphic novel” called BLANKETS in a Barnes and Noble. Though I enjoyed brief love affairs with PEANUTS and CALVIN AND HOBBES during my childhood, that interest quickly dissipated through my early teenage years, and I have never read a “graphic novel” and am still fairly comics illiterate. But intrigued by its stark yet serene cover of two lovers embracing in a snowdrift, I buy it on impulse and bring it home.

Later that day and completely subsumed (I’d say at least 100 pages deep) into BLANKETS, I receive a call from R******, my (first) girlfriend who I have been dating for about three months now. When she asks me what I’m up to, I tell her that I am reading this incredible graphic novel called BLANKETS. After a measured pause and an exasperated sigh, she informs me that she had just gotten me a copy of BLANKETS for Christmas. She says she’ll return it and try to find something else before the holiday, but I insist that she doesn’t. Despite my utter enthrallment with BLANKETS, I immediately shut the book and put it aside. The next day I gladly return it to the book store, and wait eagerly till Christmas to read the copy she has given me.

IV.    NOW

Craig Thompson’s BLANKETS is a painfully beautiful ode to young love and coming of age. Being my first encounter with comics via my first romantic relationship, it understandably holds a very special and important place in my heart. His expressive line (such as during his coughing fit on p. 153) and diverse panel / layout work (such as the snapshot mosaics on pgs. 228 – 229) effortlessly steers the reader through the crest and fall of Craig and Raina’s passionate and tumultuous relationship.

the lovers

Craig and Raina, "the lovers."

Though it is autobiographical and specific in nature, BLANKETS is also accessible in its encapsulation of many of the general experiences of first love and coming of age, such as trust, nostalgia, jealousy, lust and sexual discovery. Thompson’s honest and unflinching account of these topics effectively draws the reader in by playing on their own similar experiences, and in that sense, is perfectly suited for the graphic novel form.

understanding comics by scott mccloudIn UNDERSTANDING COMICS, Scott McCloud discusses how vague iconic comics characters (such as Tintin or Mickey Mouse) effectively allow us to transplant ourselves into their role in the story (see UNDERSTANDING COMICS page 36). And while Thompson’s characters are a bit more defined than the examples that McCloud provides, the effect is essentially the same. BLANKETS succeeds by inviting the reader to inhabit an extremely personal, albeit generally accessible, love story.

V.    FEBRUARY 2006

I am sitting in the Hammer Museum listening to Craig Thompson and B.J. Oropeza talk about “Spirituality and Comic Books.” While I am really only interested in what Thompson has to say about his master work BLANKETS, Oropeza most dominates the discussion, talking dryly about his own personal belief that the legend of Silver Surfer is a thinly veiled reworking of the story of Jesus Christ.

I really couldn’t care less. I fiddle with my well-loved copy of BLANKETS in my lap and think about R******. Like Craig and Raina, we too seem on the brink of unraveling. While their long distance relationship leads to their eventual break up, R****** and I seemed to be enduring an emotionally distant relationship. As she is a freshman at a college downtown and I am planning on leaving Los Angeles for school in the fall, our eventual departure looms heavy in the distance.

As the talk ends and my sister and I ask Thompson to sign our copies of BLANKETS, my sister asks him about a symbol – a halo-like sand dollar shape that, while ever present throughout the book, is never addressed or regarded.

this isnt it, but its the closest thing I could find.

this isn't it, but it's the closest thing I could find.

He told her that while he regarded it as symbolizing the soul or spirit-y stuff that is inside all of us, he seemed really hesitant to pinpoint concretely what it meant. He expressed a desire to leave it open for interpretation, to be endowed with whatever meaning the reader decided to instill in it.

Perhaps the sand dollar can be seen as a metaphor for the story of BLANKETS itself, a beautiful and nostalgic elegy to first love that invites personalization and reinterpretation.

Tracker – “Everything is Beautiful,” from the soundtrack to BLANKETS

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BULLETS, BLOOD, AND BLASPHEMY

April 12, 2009

The first two volumes of PREACHER left me with a feeling similar to the one that followed THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, and by that I mean a feeling of dizziness and delirium. In my opinion, these two volumes were packed with just the right amounts of bullets, blood, and blasphemy to keep me turning the pages.

Writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon team up to tell the story of Jesse Custer, a hard drinking pseudo-preacher endowed with the word of God, on the run from renegade angels, rogue cowboys, the government and his own grandmother. It’s a fast and frenetic barrage of drugs, violence, perversion and religion. You might be able to say it’s DOGMA meets PULP FICTION with a southern flair. You could definitely say it’s sick, in all meanings of the word.

While I enjoyed Ennis’s southern / western dialogue and motifs, I feel as though I were more won over by Dillon’s artwork. While his line work is fairly straightforward, it still draws the viewer in and effectively conveys info on the fly. His action scenes whiz by fluidly, and while the way he draws blood is extremely bloody, the violence is typically glossed over in a KILL BILL kind of way- awesome but without the gravity of actual violence. Bullets blow entire holes in faces and eye sockets, like punching holes through paper. It’s raw but not overwhelmingly intense. Furthermore, I find Dillon’s layout extremely inspiring. I don’t often see jagged panel edges and an embracement of white / negative space in a professional comic book, but I do believe that it cleverly adds to the frantic fuck-it-all feeling of PREACHER.

I wasn’t as seduced by PREACHER as I was by Vaughan and Guerra’s Y: THE LAST MAN (which I just finished in its ten volume entirety, and was absolutely floored by). But Vaughan’s homage to PREACHER via Yorick’s “Fuck Communism” lighter (which I would love for my birthday, if anyone wants to buy me one) encourages me to keep on chugging through it.

LAST DANCE

March 31, 2009

ythelastmanOn page 32 of Y: THE LAST MAN, 2.9 billion men (and every other creature with a Y chromosome) suffer spontaneous asphyxiation, followed by a violent outpouring of blood from every facial orifice, and subsequent death.

How sick is that?

Writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Pia Guerra catapult you headfirst into a world half empty (or half full?), decimated by death and in quite a pickle: how will life proceed after all the men have died?

Or more accurately, how will life proceed after all but one of the men have died? For you see, Brooklynite and budding escape-artist Yorick Brown (and his male Capuchin “Ampersand”) has been mysteriously spared. He is – effectively – the last man. So what now? What do the women want from him? Some want to sleep with him. Some want to kill him. But all Yorick wants is to find his girlfriend.

And thusly we enter the world of Y:TLM, and in my opinion, it’s hard not to be fully immersed. Vaughn and his cast of artists do a bang-up job with each page, employing a clean-line style and a varied panel layout to best suit the story. Each panel pleases the eye, but more importantly, conveys information quickly and efficiently. Vaughn takes a cue from traditional television writing (I believe Vaughn is a writer on ABC’s LOST) – every issue ends with a gutwrenching cliffhanger. There is simply no time to spare with Y:TLM, you just have to see what’s going to happen next.

While Vaughn’s story is fairly original, it does harken back to some of the classic sci-fi of my childhood (mainly THE OMEGA MAN, THE WARRIORS,

... I knew him well, Horatio.

"... I knew him well, Horatio."

and the PLANET OF THE APES series). However, while science-fiction often attempts to transport its audience to a world alien from their own, Y:TLM is rife with cultural references that anchor it in the American mindset circa 2002. Amongst references to 9/11, Harry Houdini, and obvious nods to the Bard, I counted subtler references to the Pixies, Paul Simon, Miller’s Crossing, and “Space Oddity.” But while I’m normally turned off by these devices, I really enjoyed them in Y:TLM. Sure, they date the work in a specific time and place, but they also heighten the credibility and realism of it. Also, these references are usually spat by Yorick, and in the form of a witty joke, and who doesn’t like a witty joke?

I must admit, sometimes Yorick is a bit too witty, considering half of his friends and family are dead, and a rogue gang of one-breasted lesbians want to kill him. Despite his deftness in the art of escape, he seems to often do brash, stupid things that require these escapes. Even three volumes in, I feel like Yorick is one of the characters I know the least about. But I’m not so worried, because I have seven more volumes to get to know him. And as impulsive and enigmatic as he may be at this point, he may also very well be earth’s last chance.

And with no yearning desire to explain how this links thematically or intellectually with Y: THE LAST MAN – –

Donna Summer – Last Dance

What Just Happened?

March 22, 2009

dark_knight_strikes-again-lFrank Miller and Lynn Varley’s THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN is truly a punch in the face. Where THE KILLING JOKE is a psychological dissection of Batman and his arch-nemesis the Joker, TDKSA catapults you headfirst into a gross orgy of heroes, monsters, sex and pop media. Miller wastes no time introducing the characters. In fact in a radical albeit fitting move, Batman is barely visible for the majority of the book, choosing instead to be more of an ever present shadow, orchestrating the masterpiece from behind the scenes (or beyond the panels).

I honestly can’t tell you what happened in its 246 pages. Batman was old. Superman was conflicted. Catgirl was hot. Braniac was a jerk. That’s as much as I really got, and truthfully, I don’t really know if what happened really matters. Whether or not I understood it on an intellectual or dramatic level, I felt it.

TDKSA was visually unlike anything else I have ever seen. Like the best punk music, Miller’s artwork gracefully toes the line between beauty and anarchy. The images do not convey information as much as transmit it on a visceral level. You don’t stop and stare at each panel as if in the Louevre, because Miller is telling you that there isn’t enough time. His lines are fat and bold and full of immediacy and danger. Varley’s colors are a day-glo Technicolor trip.  When Batman beats the crap out of Superman on pgs. 88 – 89, you really feel every blood-bursting bone-breaking “KRUNCH!” You don’t really view the page with your eyes and then process it in your brain. It simply socks you in the gut, and you understand and move along.

And all of that  is not to say that there isn’t anything intellectual about TDKSA. In fact, I believe that there is simply SO much – about war, about faith, about politics (and a president that doesn’t exist), about pop culture, about our digital society, about aging and death, about the struggle between men and gods (aka caped crusaders) – that it would take me at least two more read-throughs to have anything coherent or intelligent to say about the actual meaning of the book.

I’m pretty sure that TDKSA could only have been written now. It touches on lot of the fears and anxieties of today, but in no way is it heavy. Instead, it is light and strong and fierce and unforgiving – a frenetic burst of color that simply leaves you dumbstruck. I’m still dazed, but all I know is that I liked it. And maybe that’s all that really matters.

Laughter in the Dark

March 16, 2009

BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE is yet another example of Alan Moore’s genius. Along with artist Brian Bolland, Moore cleverly utilizes both visual match cuts (such as the reflected handshakes in the bottom panels of page 8 ) and wordplay-oriented match cuts (such as the Joker’s “Yes, I get the picture.” on the bottom of page 23) in its many transitions to seamlessly jump backwards and forwards in time.

But what I think makes the KILLING JOKE exceptional and allows it to stand out amongst stereotypical Batman stories (as well as distinguishes it as another member of Moore’s masterful canon) is its refusal to except the Joker as simply a “bad guy.” In fact at its core, the KILLING JOKE is the Joker’s origin story, and reveals much more about him than Batman himself. While detailing the Joker’s most sickening and devious crimes (certainly regarding the fate of Barbara Gordon), the KILLING JOKE also effectively humanizes him, tracing his insanity to “one bad day” in the life of a relatively innocent guy and effectively giving rhyme to his reason. I could imagine many diehard Batman fans being upset or perplexed by Moore’s rationalizing of a villain characterized by his lack of rationality, but if anything, this choice stands as further testament to Moore’s prowess.

Interestingly enough, I feel that there are similarities to be drawn between the Joker of the KILLING JOKE and the Comedian of WATCHMEN. Both appear to reflect a dark and sinister sense of humor along with a nihilistic view of the world around them. But interestingly enough, the Joker is largely considered a villain while the Comedian is grouped with the “heroes” of WATCHMEN. WATCHMEN was completed around the same time the KILLING JOKE was released (1987 and 1988 respectively), and I suppose this nihilistic temperament was on Moore’s mind at the time.

Batman gets "grabby."

OUR MALLEABLE MAN OF STEEL

March 9, 2009

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big Superman guy. While his plethora of super powers and inimitable imperviousness have allowed him to consistently trounce his foes and secure the mantle of relative king of superheroes (at least of the DC universe), I have always found him kind of dull and uninspiring. Superman’s sheer strength allows him to muscle out of just about every sticky situation, and I’ve always found his stories to be rather boring in that respect. He always seemed to lack any kind of concrete personality (especially hamartia), and with most obstacles crumbling before him, I always wondered why I should care about a hero so untarnished by weakness, both physical and emotional?

But because I approached it with these preconceptions, I found Morrison and Quitely’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN to be particularly engaging and complex, at least at its onset. Immediately, Superman is confronted with a new kind of fallibility: after being exposed to an exorbitant amount of solar radiation, Superman’s cells begin rapid apoptosis, and his life is immediately at stake. Superman’s new weakness really piqued my interest. Not only was Superman made suddenly vulnerable; he was forced to grapple with a condition much akin to the cancers and diseases that plague real people.

In the vein of stories such as Akira Kurosawa’s IKIRU or even THE BUCKET-LIST, our now mortal Superman proceeds to set his affairs in order with Lois Lane in preparation for his demise. I really enjoyed this premise and storyline, but it seemed to be quickly abandoned in the later issues of ALL-STAR for more typical beat ‘em up Superman fare.

While not quite as innovative as WE3, I found Quitely’s panel layouts to be enjoyable. One spread I particularly liked was the scene in which Clark Kent interviews Lex Luthor as he walks down a prison stairwell. Time is effectively stretched in the scene, as we follow them down the stairs and track their conversation (I couldn’t find a picture online of this spread, but I’ll keep looking).

However, having now read two Frank Quitely / Jamie Grant artistic collaborations, I feel as though I am not a huge fan of their style. They tend to have a very slick and digitized feel, and to me lack a certain human, hand-drawn quality that draws me into comics. Perhaps my feelings towards Quitely / Grant’s visuals can stand as a metaphor for my feelings towards Superman as a whole: while visually stimulating and fun, the dramatic, human element is hard to find.

AKIRA: explodin’ brains and tilted panes

March 1, 2009

akira-vol-1Akira was an amazing, albeit somewhat mind-boggling read. What struck me most about the book was Otomo’s excellent usage of action lines / “zip” lines, such as in most of the motorcycle chase scenes or other action sequences. Otomo also interestingly utilizes action lines to mimic quick zooms or pans of an imaginary camera (or in this case, the reader’s POV), such as in the bottom right panel of page 333 (I’d include the picture, but I couldn’t find it online…). Another subtle device that Otomo often employs in these action scenes are tilting the panel frames (such as on pages 292-293) or employing canted angles, another cinematic technique.

The story itself was pretty enthralling, but at the same time, totally confusing. While I enjoyed all the action and fast-pacing, I had a hard time recalling what exactly happened in the pages. All I could really carry away was the basic idea of two blood-brother type buddies turned against each other (classic storytelling trope since Cain and Abel) in the midst of some kind of government cover-up / super weapon in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Along the lines of character develop, I wanted to know a little more about Tetsuo and Kaneda in this first volume. I feel like having a better idea of their friendship before Tetsuo became psychic would have made me care more about them being turned against one another, although Otomo doesn’t seem to eager to play up that brothers turned mortal enemies angle. Also, I had some problems with the Kaneda-Kei dynamic, where it seems to veer from playful hero / damsel rapport to pseudo-rape (pages 190-191). But most of my problems with the Kaneda-Kei relationship stem from my wanting to more about Kaneda in general. But I also suppose I have five more volumes of character development to come, so I shouldn’t complain.

an example of tilted panels, albeit not the one I referenced above.

an example of tilted panels, albeit not the one I referenced above.

One thing I found really bizarre / unintentionally funny was all of the sound effects / onomatopoeia, as they were so different from American or “Western” comics, e.g.  “broo broo…” for an engine revving, “skriiii…” for something skidding, or the “tokka tokka tokka…” of soldiers’ boots in the picture above. While I found this pretty absurd and comical, I also realize there’s a cultural divide, and different sounds may be interpreted in different ways in Japan.

Overall, I found Akira to be a very engaging and exciting read, and I hope to read the other volumes soon.

“to the domesticated dog on the manicured lawn…”

February 21, 2009

we3The cover of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s WE3 is somewhat misleading, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Depicting our three animal protagonists in pastel colored mechanized suits atop a grassy hill against a cloudy blue sky, I assumed that I was in for a cutesy affair in the vain of Homeward Bound or The Adventures of Milo and Otis (which may be messed up in its own right, but who knows). Having read the comic book, I now realize how wrong that assumption is.

WE3 is the story of three domesticated-animals-turned-superweapons who, upon discovering their imminent destruction as “failed” science experiments, are loosed by a caring lab worker to roam the land for safe haven, leaving a trail of carnage in their wake. It is a violent, disturbing, adrenaline-pumping escape story told mainly through panels devoid of human dialogue.

Although I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the story or characters of WE3, I really do believe it was the most perfect action comic I’ve ever read (though admittedly, I haven’t read many). It’s basically one long thrill ride of animals killing, flying, and blowing stuff up with brief interludes of character development and back story sprinkled throughout. I believe that WE3 is most interesting from a stylistic angle, mainly because of its usage of disjointed narratives and jumbles of micro-panels woven through scenes of particularly frenetic destruction. Quitely cleverly employs this technique to heighten the sense of chaos and horror that accompanies these bloody battle scenes.

we3 action spread

Although it didn’t seem to be a major theme of the story, what I found most interesting in WE3 was the concept of rogue pets on a killing spree. While the shadowy government guys noted that the natural survival instinct was what best suited the three heroes of WE3 to being government killing machines, this instinct was the exact thing that caused them to go wild when the government tried to pull the plug on them. Perhaps because my reading’s proximity to the recent Connecticut chimp attack, I have been pondering the role that domesticated animals play. We expect them to act a certain way and serve our needs (as pets, as food, or whatever), so how should we feel when they return to their animal instincts, and deviate from what we decide is acceptable domesticated animal behavior?

If anything, I would say WE3 is the anti– Homeward Bound. While Homeward Bound was the story of three animals that refused to be left behind by their human owners, so embark on a pseudo-perilous journey to be with them again (because they can’t bear to be apart from them for a couple of weeks, how pathetic is that?). WE3, on the other hand, is a tale of rebellion. Refusing to be cast aside as obsolete and unnecessary when they are no longer needed, these three creatures strike out against their human masters, and will decimate both humans and animals alike that stand in their way. And though they do end up with a human companion in the end, in no way does it seem like a pet / owner or slave / master kind of relationship. Because their human companion is similarly ragged, weary, and simply trying to survive, they all really seem more like equals.

Mount Eerie – Domesticated Dog (live @ Red Raven in Fargo, ND)

Heroes and Villains

February 9, 2009

watchmen1

Although WATCHMEN’s cover boasts its status as “one of TIME magazine’s 100 best novels,” it neglects to mention that it is in fact the only graphic novel in TIME’s top 100 list. What exactly sets this apart from other comic books and graphic novels? What exactly have author Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons done that outshines other comic book creators before them? To shrug the scrutiny and intellectual baggage of simple-minded “comic books” and assert its place amongst an exclusive list populated by the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald?

What exactly is so great about WATCHMEN?

This is a BIG question. So are the ones preceding it. They are big in the sense that they are expansive and intricate. One blog posting could in no way answer this question, for indeed, there is a plethora of overarching points and subtle details that must be identified and considered (most likely requiring a tome of intertextual references), and when it comes down to it, there is no clear cut answer. No right and no wrong. Which I think – if I were forced to (which academically I suppose I am) – is probably the most prominent (or at least my favorite) quality of WATCHMEN itself. In the world of WATCHMEN, there is no clear division of right or wrong. The world and its characters are nuanced in a way otherwise unprecedented (at least to my knowledge) in the comic book / graphic novel medium.

The Comedian is a rapist / misogynist who committed atrocious acts in Vietnam. Silk Spectre cheats on Dr. Manhattan with Nite Owl. Dr. Manhattan is a cold and unfeeling automoton, while he is supposed to keep the interest and well-being of the American people in mind. And the closest thing to a “villain” or “bad guy” is Ozymandias, regarded by all as the smartest and most pragmatic man in the world.

Even the Minutemen of the “golden age” of costumed vigilantism are rife with their own problems, ranging from insanity, sexual perversion, and scandal to untimely violent deaths. By presenting these “super heroes” as faulted characters with complexities and deeper-seeded weaknesses than an unfortunate allergy to kryptonite, WATCHMEN advances the graphic novel medium by challenging the simple dichotomy of right and wrong, good and evil. Which to some (perhaps many) is confusing, scary, and very un-comic-book-like.

Ozymandias’ grand plot is a faked alien invasion and attack that, while wiping out most of New York City, prevents M.A.D. by uniting the superpowers against a common villain. In a way, it’s a capitulation to the dichotomous relationship of good and evil, us versus them. To stop “us” from killing ourselves, Ozymandias creates a “them,” an “other,” and perhaps in doing so, “saves the day.”

watchmen film action figures - do you really want your kids playing with these?

watchmen film action figures - do you really want your kids playing with these?

Director Zack Snyder’s WATCHMEN film looms like doomsday itself. And while it has been hyped by viral marketing campaigns and an ever curious public, it has simultaneously been slammed by “die hard” fans and even Alan Moore himself, creating an even bigger question of how the film will live up to the already colossal graphic novel.

Personally, I genuinely believe that while WATCHMEN’s refusal to divide its characters into two distinct “good” and “evil” / “hero” and “villain” piles is what makes it such an incredible graphic novel, I fear that this exact quality will prevent it from being a faithful and successful cinematic adaptation. Superhero movies (and action movies in general) have always relied on a clear sense of right and wrong and good and evil. It makes stories more digestible and comprehensible, which are extremely important qualities to have when frames go whizzing by at twenty-four frames per second. The movie-going public doesn’t buy tickets for big blockbuster flicks like THE HULK and SPIDER-MAN to be blindsided by philosophical conundrums. They pay to see people run around in spandex and blow stuff up, not writhe around in the throes of existential chaos. So why should they feel any differently about WATCHMEN? And so I wonder- at the end of the WATCHMEN film, which “heroes” will we cheer for when the “villains” are slain?

And will there be any cheering at all?

SPIRIT’d Away (sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

February 2, 2009

spirit-coverTHE COVERS

Overall, I found that the provided covers of the Spirit reminded me of Archie comics and the television show Scooby Doo in their depiction of kind of goofy but otherwise tame or otherwise non-threatening villains. But at the same time, they seem to hint at the kind of trouble that awaits the Spirit within (whether it be being bitten by small sewer creatures [no. 28] , clawed at by demons [no. 23], or ensnared in the web of  a lady [no. 26]), which I feel is a fairly effective way of enticing readers. However, as interesting counterpoint, the cover of “The Tale of the Dictator’s Reform” seems to concern a very real “villain,” and yet does not depict Hitler in a particularly sinister light nor hint at the kinds of evils Hitler perpetrated, either on the Spirit or his real life victims.

In terms of the lettering of the title and Will Eisner’s signature, I enjoyed the ones that were consistent [nos. 23 / 26 / 28 ] as they kind of act as their own recognizable logo or icon, and provide a sense of permanence and dependability while the Spirit is thrown into a different perilous situation issue by issue.

THE ORIGIN

“The Origin of the Spirit” was not all too surprising, although I am not quite sure if it was a riff on or the creation of the typical “man is altered by freak accident (typically caused by the villain) and changed into hero” genesis myth. Stylistically, this first issue (June 2, 1940) of the Spirit was pretty straightforward, with the exception of slanted panels on pages 22 and the last couple pages.

On Eisner’s wikipedia entry, I read that he attended high school and was close friends with Batman creator Bob Kane. This lead me to recognize some similarities between The Spirit and Batman, in that both act as kinds of vigilante extensions of the law, working in partial conjunction with their respective police commissioners, who are the only one who know of their true identities. Additionally, neither have “super powers” per se, just a lot of good detective skills and hand-to-hand combat training. However, while Batman gets to masquerade as the wealthy Bruce Wayne by day, I’m unsure as to what Denny Colt will be doing when the sun is up.

LORELEI ROX

“Lorelei Rox” I enjoyed as a fairly bizarre and also quite comical tale of an Elvira-like siren woman and her exploitive high-jacking handler. I felt as though the action scenes were more thrilling (with more expressive zip ribbons on pgs 93-94) and the lettering more varied. I also thought that Eisner decision to get rid of the panel borders on pgs. 90-91 was effective in conveying the hypnotic effect of Lorelei’s song on the Spirit. Furthermore, I felt as though “Lorelei Rox” had particularly more interesting composition than the earlier “Origin” comic, with a nice mix of wide shots, close ups, and canted angles. Also, Eisner’s usage of the flashback was both interesting and ironic (concerning the ending).

But I think the best aspect of “Lorelei Rox” was Eisner’s effective usage of film noir stylings. “Lorelei” is extremely moody, with its prevalence of darkness, thunder and rain. Additionally, the Spirit’s fairly somber demeanor and Lorelei’s femme fatale leanings stood out as typical conventions of film noir storytelling.

Relating to what I know of Eisner’s life, I can’t help but wonder if Eisner’s further adoption of the noir style could somewhat be attributed to his life after the war and post-war America in general. I’m sure his life during the war was somewhat bleaker, which possibly could have lead to this darker form of storytelling. Additionally, film noir is typically used to explore a world of vice and sin, two elements that I’m sure played at least some role in his experience abroad. Also, concerning the ironic ending panel of “Lorelei Rox” (p. 94), Lorelei’s presence seems to suggest that she might kill the Acme Truck Driving dispatcher, but is presented in a comic light. This kind of dark comedy and the idea that Spirit (who believes he has saved the day and carried out justice) has actually failed are both common elements of pessimistic post-war literature such as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Heller’s Catch-22.