Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson
Over 10 volumes between 1997-2002 Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson developed a Mike Judge like absurdist yet eerily prescient dystopian future. The anti-hero protagonist of their world is Spider Jerusalem. Spider is a chaos agent gonzo journalist who is a mix of the drug fuelled passion of Hunter S Thomson tempered with the arch narration of Renton from Trainspotting.
Ellis and Robertson foresee the idea of celebrity presidency, populist religion and the manipulation and subversion of journalism. They incorporate and invent sci-fi tropes. The creators also foresee and explore the mobilisation of movements such as trans-gender rights emerging as important distinct causes rather than small parts of larger struggles. Written in 1997, the writers could easily have used these fringe groups and the idea of identity struggle for cheap laughs but, instead, continually work hard for moments of humour while also providing pathos and closure in the various story arcs and overarching tale of Spider. The character of Spider is written in such a way that he manages to walk a line of being heavily drug afflicted, dry and extremely cynical but also instinctively compassionate.
Special mention must be made of the art. I often skim over artwork in comics but the art of Darick Robertson demands attention. Robertson’s art is visceral and fun, and is often riddled with Easter eggs, gags, and messages within the densely populated crowd scenes. He consistently goes the extra yard to be creative and provide a fully populated and organic feeling environment. Transmetropolitan from start to finish is fully realised and bitingly satirical. It remains the most intensely passionate and truly enraged graphic novel I’ve read.
I’m currently writing a review of (Tom Cruise’s) The Mummy and a look at the state of Universals fledgling dark universe.
It’s been widely reported that The Mummy is a bad movie and it is on most fronts though it has the potential for a good (if not great) movie within it. One of the bigger problems I have with The Mummy is that the story is completely linear and the story time, as far as I could tell, is perhaps only 12-16 hours.
Linear story lines with short story times seem to be relatively common over the last year. Rogue One was a very straight ahead story and other than a flash back in it’s opening scene the events took place over the course of less than 12 hours. Wonder Woman uses a present day framing device to tell the story of the movie within flash back and also shows Diana’s upbringing through flashback but is otherwise also a very linear story with maybe 48 hours of total story time.
There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between these films. The Mummy and Rogue One share the commonality of not being great films that probably should have been. Wonder Woman fares better though it’s third act suffers because of the usual poor CGI boss battle common to all DC films to date.
My theory is that all of these movies have sought to model themselves after Mad Max: Fury Road and it’s linear story with a scant 12 hours of story time. Mad Max worked because the action was so tactile, sensational and innovative. It was also a chase movie and didn’t ask for the audience to need know or care to much about the titular or support characters.
By contrast the films above insist and rely upon empathy with the main characters, are trying to tell stories and to fit into bigger universes (Star Wars, DC, and Dark Universe respectively) and don’t provide enough or big enough action for such straightforward stories.
It’s a shame that these films were probably created under such heavy influence from Mad Max: Fury Road. I wonder what they could have been otherwise? I also wonder how many other films will try and fail with the same formula?
Perhaps the upcoming Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan will create a new trend. There is no running time released yet but the trailer hints at multiple character arcs and story lines and it seems safe to assume the movie will come close to the three hour mark. I don’t expect it will lead to superhero movies running to three hours but perhaps, hopefully, it will mean a return to less linear and longer style of story within big budget films and an end to trying to emulate a movie as unique as Mad Max.
A surprisingly good story which covers the period between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. There are several such volumes which I assume cover the same period from different characters’ perspectives. In this, Vader, in the wake of the destruction of the death star is investigating exactly who Luke Skywalker is and what lead to the Death Star being destroyed. The book also covers the deteriorating relationship between Emperor Palatine and Vader and the chess like moves each begin to make.
As a kid, I read and enjoyed a lot of the Star Wars novels. Now, I hear, a lot of them aren’t considered canonical in the Star Wars universe. Still they were great because they explored these characters around and beyond the central Saga movie story lines. These books seem to take the same deep dive. Based on this volume I’m really impressed and would read more. The story is threaded very tightly between the events of the saga films and the new characters which the book brings in are ok (if probably disposable) while existing characters are used well.
Having said that this isn’t the best comic I’ve ever read but merely a good start. The art, as with a lot of Marvel books, is a little too cartoony and I’m still suspicious that the story is going to veer off into Scooby Doo style adventures or simply collapse under its own weight. If, however the book maintains the current direction and can lean in more on the evil and by any means necessary tone of this first volume I’ll be happy to read on.
Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
I’d heard a lot about this book. Well, actually no, not a lot to describe it but just general buzz around it. Eisner winner, good word of mouth and I’d known about and been attracted to the title for quite a while. This, the first issue, is good and perhaps even great. Volume 1 delivers enough to warrant the buzz though it seems too that this is also a kind of prelude to what this series is ultimately about which is, I’m guessing revenge, the sins of the father and ownership of places and communities.
It’s hard to say much else without spoiling the story and as I haven’t read the next volume yet I don’t know just how important these initial events are. It seems though that this series is seeking to create a history around a place. This idea of place is also emphasized in the intro by Jason Latour where he talks about his love/hate relationship with the South. As someone from country Australia the feelings he expressed rang familiar and inclined me to like the book more than I might have. The idea of the southern gothic is threaded through the story and the books explores the idea of our birth place and what it means in relation to identity and how we may seek to revisit a place and/or attempt to reject its meaning.
Again, it’s hard to judge the series off this, the prelude first volume. Having read this far I know that I still really like the title and that it relates well to the content. This is a graphic novel grounded firmly in reality, there’s a good amount of violence and the art is suitably rough but full of detail and though I was going to say the story shines stronger perhaps the art sits on an even level in its stylistic choice.
Very keen to get more volumes of this series.
Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to be reading in the new 52 DC universe. I’ve tried a few different series and they’ve been a bit hit and miss. Some of the continuation is confusing for me as well. I thought I could read the core batman series by itself and have a good understanding of what was happening in the universe but it seems as if events in Detective Comics and Batman Eternal have an effect in this story line. It seems as though to understand Batman 8 you have to read the Endgame story line which collects events just as the A Death in the Family story line collected different strands from various New 52 books.
Edit: No, I actually missed reading Batman 7: Endgame. It’s not that confusing at all. This is the continued effect of trying to buy more books in stores rather than online and totally forgetting what I do and don’t own. I brought Batman 6 twice, forgot, and then skipped to this, Batman 8.
Even so this book is still readable. (Even after skipping a book… so credit to them). Snyder and Capullo are still trying to make their mark and do something different even after having created such iconic new batman tenants as the court of owls and the Joker of A Death in the Family and the origin story of Zero Year. I think in some of their origin work they tried too hard to be different, particularly some of the art and colour choices, but here despite similar bold colour work they are more on track and succeed more consistently than they have in the past several volumes which have been hit and miss and suffered particularly when Capullo hasn’t supplied the artwork.
Batman 8 is set shortly after zero year, I think. So the idea and evolution of Batman is still young. The events of Endgame have meant that Bruce Wayne no longer wants to be Batman and so Commissioner Gordon steps into the role, if not the suit (at least as we know it) of Batman. It’s a controversial move but one that I don’t mind as it allows Snyder to play with new gadgets and explore ideas which would be impossible, canonically, to do in an actual Batman book. As it is Snyder and Capullo have finally walked the fine line of balancing the unusual art colour palate, bringing Batman into a contemporary setting and involving new ideas and stories methods within and sometimes outside of the restrictions of the character, setting and genre. I loved their first three batman volumes and my interest has lessened since Zero Year. This book I liked and am again looking forward to catching up on other volumes as well as branching out to Batman Eternal and Detective Comics.
I’m still not sure which title to follow in the DC’s New 52 but I’m glad Snyder is continuing to do such interesting work on this their lead book.