The 6 Best War Comics From Image Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 24, 2017.

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This week writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernandez launch their new Image Comics series The Old Guard. It’s the story of seemingly immortal soldiers who walk the Earth searching for new conflicts and accumulating new skills. It’s both a fascinating character study and high-impact story of combat, as only these two creators could deliver it. One point of interest The Old Guard raises is how uniquely comics can tell war stories. The ability to cross-reference time periods, technology, and techniques allows for the depiction of battles that would be difficult to impossible in any other medium.

Image Comics is filled with examples of how well comics can tell war stories. They range from the retelling of historical conflicts to imagined futures in which wars are fought with ideas we can hardly fathom. All of these horrific battles are realized with an artistry that seems counter-intuitive, capable of invoking scenes only describable as “terrible in beauty”. We’ve collected six of the absolute best comics related to the war genre from Image Comics. Once you’re done checking out The Old Guard #1, be sure to give these a read, if you haven’t already.

Age of Bronze

Created by Eric Shanower

The incomplete Age of Bronze is a comic worth seeking out, even if it never reaches its planned conclusion. This comic by the inimitable cartoonist Eric Shanower is an ambitious retelling of The Trojan War. Shanower weaves Greek mythology, The Iliad, and historical elements of Greek warfare together in order to deliver a version of the most famous war in history that is entirely his own.

Each page of the story is rich in detail with a vast cast of characters and entire armies that stand out clearly as individuals. The amount of attention paid to each element of the story is stunning and reveals the complexity within a two-dimensional ink drawing. It’s not just the detail that makes Age of Bronze worth reading though. It is a comic that is shocking both in its sense of humor and violence. Shanower humanizes this ancient war and makes it seem vital millenia later.

East of West

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Dragotta

Colored by Frank Martin

This science fiction tales meets alternate history of the United States uses a very real war between seven different factions in the country to craft a metaphor about modern strife. While it might actually serve as a commentary on regionalism and irreconcilable differences, East of West is also just an insanely good war story. The complexity and scope of its conflicts have led to an endless array of new inventions and stunning battles.

The creators of East of West have carefully designed each of the different nations within the series to have their own technology, politics, and strategies. That has made the conflicts behind the scenes just as enthralling as the bloodiest days of war. Every issue features some new change and it’s difficult to keep up, much like a war reporter scrambling on the ground. All of this may be based in metaphor, but it’s still a great war comic.

Invisible Republic

Written by Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman

Art by Gabriel Hardman

Colored by Jordan Boyd

Invisible Republic looks at the beginning and end of a long conflict, tracing the roots of rebellion to the fallout of a crumbling autocracy. Partners Bechko and Hardman have carefully crafted the history to allow the two narratives to support one another in one of the smartest war comics coming out today. The story is packed with soldiers and violence, but its focus is always aimed directly at the motives behind everything.

The sci-fi setting of Invisible Republic does not detract from its analysis of violent change. In fact, it allows it to move away from direct comparisons to modern war zones and make comments that can be connected without being too close for comfort. Despite that distance, it’s still difficult to avoid thinking of current conflicts while reading, making this a great pick for the politically minded.

Lazarus

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Michael Lark

Colored by Santi Arcas

Whereas Invisible Republic and East of West use science fiction to create distance, Lazarus attempts to predict a very possible future for warfare in our world. The fallout of this comic may still be a long way off, but it’s easy to connect threads of genetic engineering, corporate control, and advances in technology to current trends. This is a comic about war as it may very well be in some of our lifetimes.

Underpinning these dark, drastic predictions is a story about those commanding and fighting the wars. The most recent stories have all focused on a conflict between two major houses in Lazarus, and it’s the people on both sides that make it function. Even with all of the grand ideas on display, Lazarus never loses track of its humanity and that is what makes it a great war comic.

Pretty Deadly (vol. 2)

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Emma Rios

The second volume of Pretty Deadly, also titled “The Bear”, leaps from its previous setting as a Western into The Great War, also known as World War I. The characters and mythology of the series are consistent, but the new setting is equal parts gorgeous and appalling. Even for those without knowledge of the story so far, the second volume of Pretty Deadly has a lot to offer.

Emma Rios is one of the best artists working in the medium today and she captures the horrors of trench warfare with a stunning sense of grace. Poisonous gases, mud, bullets, and blood drift across these pages savaging bodies. There’s no turning away from the endless misery of this terrible conflict, and Rios offers new lessons to be found in the pain and suffering of so many from just one century ago. It’s a remarkable comic book, to say the least.

Saga

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

There’s no way that Saga was not going to land on this list. It’s a comic that has always featured war at the center of its premise. The romance and struggles of every character within the series is defined by the ongoing war between Wreath and Landfall. Whether Saga is actually exploring that ongoing campaign or using it to provide new motives for individuals, everything traces itself back to that war.

In this way Saga is attempting to say something about the nature of war, and how people are both greater than these “great” conflicts, but how we can also all be consumed by them. It is a study of what conflict really means on a personal and international level, and the many, many unintended consequences of each violent action. When it comes to war stories in comics, there are few that reach the same heights as Saga.

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Leading Questions: As Monthly Comics Go By

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 23, 2017.

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Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why should we read monthly ongoing comics?

We need to read monthly ongoing comics to prop up an industry shackled by a ridiculous distribution system and dominated by publishers with no vision or achievable, long-term goals for growth.

Oh, wait, sorry. That’s the reason we are continuously told why we need to buy monthly ongoing comics. It’s also a bullshit reason that is focused on maintaining an unhealthy status quo. I don’t mean to say that we should burn down the current program and hope a phoenix rises from the ashes, but arguing that it’s better to keep things in a current bad way than risk anything with change is the very definition of bullshit, in my opinion. But you’re not asking about why we should buy monthly comics or even why we are told why we should buy monthly comics. You’re asking about why we should read them.

There is a difference between why we buy media and why we consume media. We buy media to support it. We buy media to own or control it in some facet. And, legally speaking, we buy media in order to consume. The act of purchasing does not answer the why of the purchase though, assuming we are obtaining comics or anything else through legal means. It’s really just a matter of the how, and that avoid the most important issues of the matter.

So why do we actually read these things called comics on a monthly basis?

Considering the vast majority of people reading this right now show up to their local comic store on a weekly basis to collect, among other things, at least a few staple-bound sets of paper with superheroes or other adventures inside, that might seem like a silly question. But for many of us it’s a routine. You go to your store on Wednesdays, talk with the regulars, and get your books because it’s what you do on Wednesday. For someone like myself who has been doing it since before he was in high school, it’s just a part of life like attending church on Sunday or going to work on time.

You just do it.

That’s true right up until the moment you don’t. You’re on vacation or an unexpected event calls you away or you forget, and suddenly it’s Thursday and you don’t have any new comics to read yet. There’s no reason to ask the question why until you recognize the routine isn’t necessary. Nobody dies when you don’t get your new comics. No business suddenly disappears. No creator cries out for your attention. The world spins just fine and you don’t need these comics. So why the fuck do you go back on Wednesday?

For some people the answer is that you don’t, or you do it with less regularity. You might drop one ongoing series or switch to trades or realize it’s time to read some more fucking books. And you really should read more fucking books. If you need a recommendation, check out Stamped From The Beginning. It’s okay, you’ll survive without pictures.

Anyway… when you actually stop and recognize you don’t need these monthly pamphlets, it can be easy to step away because no one actually needs these things. That’s true right up until the moment you do.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s something like “Chase, you’re drunk. You just spent the last few minutes making it clear nobody needs to read or buy or do anything with monthly comics. So what do you think you’re doing saying we do now?” Thanks for asking that question imaginary version of Mark Stack because I have an answer.

We need food. We need shelter. We need healthcare. These are things we truly need. But they’re also the basics of survival. You can’t deny them to someone without being a literal, actual monster. So when you compare something like monthly comics or any form of art to those, it’s easy to say no one needs them. But have you ever tried just surviving on the actual bare essentials? I’m talking absolutely nothing else, not a glance at the TV or newspaper, not even some friendly chit chat at the store. That’s some real bullshit right there.

The truth is that we need more than what our bodies require to survive. We have to be engaged or else we start to die, if not on a physical level than another one that is no less important. That engagement isn’t something you can eat a couple times a month like a scheduled excursion for a nice meal. Engagement is constant and we seek it wherever we go and whenever we’re awake. That’s one shared explanation behind the rapid proliferation of the internet, mobile technology, and social media. They allow us to remain engaged, satisfying curiosity and connecting with others, on a constant basis.

That’s something monthly comics can provide as well.

Sometimes you take a Wednesday off because life gets too hectic and realize you didn’t need what was there. But sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get to the weekend and realize a new issue of Saga or Hip Hop Family Tree dropped, and you need to pick it up. It’s not because you’re starving or hurting, but because you miss it and it gives you something not as obvious as a burger, bed, or even a joint.

You find yourself wanting to learn more about how Public Enemy put together “Fight The Power” or how a family of refugee aliens are surviving together. They’re stories you find hitting you in a place that counts. It makes you feel smarter or just feel. More importantly, it makes you feel this more than once. You get a taste and it boosts you, and then there’s the promise of more to come. There’s a continued release filled with chapters, characters, and cliffhangers.

That doesn’t make these monthly installments more valuable than a single piece like a novel or film. There’s something valuable to be discovered in reliability that isn’t there with a story told in a single segment though. You get to return to something that is simultaneously familiar and new. There are expectations delivered in style and characters, but the story itself is new. It can offer strength or reassurance or something else altogether when the week is long or the day is hard, and it’ll continue to be there month after month.

There’s no reason you need to read monthly comics, but if you think you need to read one, then you probably do.

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Review of The Visitor #1

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 22, 2017.

the-visitor-1-review-cover

Writers: Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson

Artist: Paul Grist

Colorist: Bill Crabtree

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

While Hellboy sleeps in the underworld, Mike Mignola and his collaborators are seizing the opportunity to explore some of the smaller characters in this universe. They don’t come much smaller than The Visitor, a member of the aliens who briefly appeared at the end of the first Hellboy miniseries “Seed of Destruction”. This miniseries connects those strange creatures to the entirety of Hellboy lore as they watch the child called to Earth and one stays behind to supervise rather than kill the little, red baby.

The Visitor’s connection to Hellboy offers the story a familiar structure: that of all Hellboy comics. Like Uatu in Marvel Comics or The Phantom Stranger in DC Comics, this alien silently watches each new event from a safe distance. He is commonly dressed as a man in a trench coat, taking notes, but never quite interfering. This setup proves to be both a strength and a problem within the first issue of the miniseries.

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For readers already familiar with Hellboy, The Visitor plays out like a greatest hits album. Each event is pulled from a miniseries or short story that is easily placed. The story remains the same, and only the perspective is changed. This does pose a problem for anyone unfamiliar with Hellboy though, as the story requires a knowledge of both the plot and themes to function. While The Visitor states what has often been subtext in these stories, Hellboy and his peers are background figures, so the observations do not rest on their own. The Visitor relies heavily on context and will likely sink without it.

While the story might be troublesome for any without a considerable familiarity with Hellboy lore, the cartooning of Paul Grist will likely offer some enjoyment for anyone who flips through these pages. Grist, much like Mignola, has a definitive style and absolute control over the page. He crafts figures and scenes by discovering the essential forms in each element. While there are similarities between the two artists, it is a wonder to see how Grist reinterprets work Mignola first crafted 20 or more years ago.

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It is Grist’s work that serves as a reminder to the timeless qualities of the Hellboy narrative. Even from the remove of an observer, the broad strokes and imagery still capture some magic. They might not click for some readers, but will likely inspire those to seek out the stories they do not understand. Both the origin and retelling of “The Nature of the Beast” stand out as exemplary moments. The cartooning in these instances is nothing short of superb.

The Visitor #1 is an odd comic in that it is defined by stories outside of itself. It has only begun to hint at the narrative importance of The Visitor, himself. Yet the seeds for this alien’s tale are present as well, even primarily as reflections of another story. While the trek through Hellboy history will likely continue (and to be seen through Grist’s incredible eye), it is this story that will garner more interest. Throughout the history of Hellboy comics, every life has been shown to matter, not the question is when The Visitor will step out from the shadows and into a life of its own.

Grade: B

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Midtown Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 22, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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It’s easy to take giants for granted. The biggest studios and publishers in America loom large as part of the world’s biggest economy and a country which exports more entertainment products than any other. Looking at the biggest distributors, retailers, and creators of any particular medium, it can make it seem like they are pillars of a landscape. So it’s easy to forget that these pillars had to be built and just how much weight they bear. That’s the case for Midtown Comics in New York City, one of the largest comics stores in the world who can be seen in the advertising pages of comics each week and at conventions all year.

One of the difficulties of building a comics store as big as Midtown Comics comes with the fact that comics themselves still attract a relatively small audience. Even as they begin to garner more attention based on movies and in the mainstream media, comics still aren’t competing on the same level as movies, television, or books. The best way to combat that is with location. Gerry Gladston, Midtown Comics’ Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) says the store, “serves a niche audience in one of the biggest cities in the world.” That provides a massive audience no matter what you’re selling.

The New York City roots of Midtown Comics aren’t just about audience though; this is a store that sits side-by-side with comics history. New York is the birthplace of comics in America and that’s something the store is very proud of. “Midtown Comics Times Square is around the block from the original office of Timely Atlas, and from the offices of Bob Kane, Will Eisner, and more” Gladston says with pride. While DC Comics may have moved to sunny California, Midtown is still nearby the Marvel offices and many of DC’s best-known creators. New York City has remained the center of comics in the USA and Midtown is situated at the heart of it all with three locations in Times Square, Grand Central, and Downtown.

 

Midtown Comics’ New York City headquarters doesn’t just provide a larger audience. It also presents them with a lot more competition. The cities place in history and culture means there are lots of hungry purveyors of funny books for collectors, readers, and everyone in between. Succeeding in the city isn’t based on location, but a clear mission that is consistently well executed. Gladstone says, “Midtown’s goal has always been to provide all the excitement that the core fan needs, while also appealing to a broad audience in an effort to expand readership.” That is a two-fold mission to take care of current fans and in the process provide a space and items where newcomers will want to return. It’s a difficult balance, but one that the stores have pulled off with aplomb.

Walk into any Midtown Comics location and you’re sure to find all of the aspects you would expect from any leading retail store. There are ample employees all ready with a smile, kind greeting, and the ability to help. Not everyone is an expert in every aspect of the medium, but if one employee can’t answer your question then they will happily find the person who can. That’s great for current and new fans to a medium with such immense variety. The stores themselves are impeccably kept with a surplus of stock catering to just about any taste in the medium. While the focus may remain on the best-selling titles, there’s not a lack of indie comics, manga, or artbooks. Midtown Comics is a true bonanza for those looking to dive into comics.

It’s not all about the day-to-day experience at Midtown Comics though. The store regularly hosts special events and has teamed up with some of the biggest names at both Marvel and DC Comics in the last year. The staff and owners are always looking for ways to bring exciting new experiences to fans inside and outside of the city. Axel Alonso made Marvel Comics big Secret Wars announcement from the Times Square locations in a livestream. Both Scott Snyder and Frank Miller were available for signings during the last Batman Day. These opportunities are rare and Midtown Comics does their best to share them with as many people as possible.

That effort has paid off in the past 10 years. The stores have seen continued growth in their readership both inside the stores and through their online store that serves many customers without a local comics store nearby. “Midtown Comics’ reader base has grown tremendously, and is more diverse than it was 10 years ago, particularly among women” says Gladstone. The clean appearance and great service are surely factors in making comics more accessible to fans from all walks of life.

Part of being the biggest is the requirement that you also must be one of the best. You can walk into Midtown Comics and think “Of course this place is great.” However, it’s important to remember that the dedication to excellence is what allowed them to become the biggest, not the reverse. You can witness that dedication year round to as they provide a high standard every day their doors are open and plenty of events comics fans love to attend. While it’s possible to take a place like Midtown Comics for granted, it’s even better to learn from them and appreciate everything they’ve done so far.

Store Info

Name: Midtown Comics

Address: 200 W 40th Street

New York City, NY 10018

Phone: 800-411-3341

Website: Midtown Comics

Twitter: @MidtownComics

Facebook: Midtown Comics

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The 2017 Oscar Shorts Primer

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 21, 2017.

Each year the Oscars host 3 categories for short films, including animated, live action, and documentary. For many viewers none of them ring a bell, although many or all might look interesting. There’s not many places to check out these short films in theaters or time to make it happen, even at 6-40 minutes per movie. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeking out though. So in order to help ComicBook.Com readers figure out which short films they ought to try watching this year, we’ve created a brief primer.

In addition to listing titles, directors, run time, and a brief description, we’ve also selected the ones we expect to win and the ones we liked the most in each category. We hope you can use the slides ahead to pick a few new things to watch before the Oscars are here, and discover some of the great work being done in cinema from across the world.

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Short Film (Animated)

Blind Vaysha

Directed by Theodore Ushev

Runtime: 8 Minutes

This tells the story of a young girl who can only see the past with one eye and the future with her other. Animated in a haunting style, it evolves to become more than an Eastern European fairy tale, but a metaphor for how we all see the world.

Borrowed Time

Directed by Gustavo Santoulalla

Runtime: 7 Minutes

This is a reminder that the Western isn’t dead, telling the story of an old cowboy remembering an early tragedy in his life. The simplest of all the animated shorts, it stands out with excellent imagery and emotional resonance.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Directed by Robert Valley

Runtime: 35 Minutes

The longest of all the animated shorts is a cartoonist’s memoir about the loss of a childhood friend who spent his entire life self-destructing in every way imaginable. It’s harsh, mean, and filled with difficult truths that resonate through careful selection of images and colors.

Pearl

Directed by Patrick Osborne

Runtime: 6 Minutes

Centered around a cheerful song about discovering home, this is a father-daughter story about the struggles of single parents and finding your place in the world. The music and heartwarming tale are bound to draw some tears from any parents in the audience.

Piper

Directed by Alan Barillaro

Runtime: 6 Minutes

Piper is both the likely winner and our favorite animated short at the Oscars this year. It’s the sweet, simple, and incredibly well told tale of a young sandpiper learning to find food for itself and become part of a community. Without a single word it touches on themes of family, fear, and creativity, effortlessly communicating it all through wonderfully animated animals.

*Most Likely to Win

*Our Pick to Win

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Short Film (Live Action)

Ennemis Intérieurs

Directed by Selim Azzazi

Runtime: 27 Minutes

This French film focuses on modern fears of Islamophobia within governments as an Algerian man applying for citizenship is interrogated by state officials. Its claustrophobic surroundings and ties to the Red Scare and previous periods of government terror make it effective and timeless.

*Most Likely to Win

La Femme et le TGV

Directed by Timo von Guten

Runtime: 30 Minutes

Based on a true story, this is a comedy about an aging baker who finds romance and renewed interest in life from the bullet train that passes her house each day. It is quirky, funny, and uplifting, a surefire crowd pleaser.

Silent Nights

Directed by Aske Bang

Runtime: 30 Minutes

Silent Nights is a romance between a Ghanan refugee and Danish social worker who find love at the wrong time. It’s messy and complicated, and feels very real for those reasons, offering us characters that encourage understanding over moralizing.

Sing (Mindenki)

Directed by Kristof Deak

Runtime: 25 Minutes

Sing is the story of schoolchildren discovering the power of solidarity and confronting authority in the face of a music teacher who values winning over education. The children are incredibly well cast and make a small victory something worthy of a standing ovation. It is a film that teaches us to cherish one another and how even the minor moments in life can be celebrated.

*Our Pick to Win

Timecode

Directed by Juanjo Giminez

Runtime: 15 Minutes

Utilizing security cameras to capture an oddball romance between two guards, Timecode is a comedy filled with dancing and laughter. It’s a great use of the short time frame in this category and ends on a killer final joke.

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Documentary (Short Subject)

Extremis

Directed by Dan Krauss

Runtime: 24 Minutes

This hospital documentary tackles the very difficult subject of families making end of life decisions. It captures the ethical and emotional trauma confronting doctors, families, and the dying with understanding, never judgment. It is a significant reminder of the need for planning around even the most terrible of subjects.

4.1 Miles

Directed by Daphne Matziaraki

Runtime: 26 Minutes

Focused on a Greek coast guard captain, 4.1 Miles documents the struggle of residents on Lesbos to save refugees fleeing Syria across the 4.1 mile stretch of water between Turkey and Greece. It is an unflinching documentary that forces the audience to bear witness to the human toll of a humanitarian crisis.

Joe’s Violin

Directed by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

Runtime: 24 Minutes

Joe’s Violin is by far the most uplifting of all the short documentaries. It tells the story of a Holocaust survivor’s violin donated to a school in Brooklyn, showing how music can continue to save people and connect generations. It’s a valuable reminder of our shared humanity and how small acts of kindness can change the world.

*Most Likely to Win

Watani: My Homeland

Directed by Marcel Mettelsiefen

Runtime: 40 Minutes

Filmed over several years, this documentary follows a family from their struggles in Aleppo to becoming successful refugees in Germany. While the story is still filled with tragedy, the ultimate outcomes of the story offer hope and encouragement in the face of terrible circumstances.

The White Helmets

Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel

Runtime: 41 Minutes

This documentary is currently available on Netflix and we encourage you to seek it out as it’s not only the best of the short documentaries, but one of the best films nominated for an Oscar this year. The White Helmets documents a group of volunteers in Syria who work to rescue people from the many bombings caused by Russian, ISIS, and government forces. In the face of overwhelming odds and terror, they dedicate themselves to saving lives and offer an incredible message about human bravery and goodness. The White Helmets is not only a great documentary, it is an essential one.

*Our Pick to Win

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5 Best Elektra Stories Ever

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 20, 2017.

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This week the expansion of the Daredevil line at Marvel Comics is complete with the launch of Elektra #1 created by writer Matt Owens and artist Juan Cabal. It promises to rediscover Elektra’s place in New York City and the Marvel universe, and will be following in the legacy of some very impressive cities. For fans only familiar with Elektra from the Netflix series Daredevil, this is a character with a lot of history and who features prominently in some of the best superhero comics ever made. To put it simply, there has never been a better time to seek out Elektra comics.

We’ve previously collected lists of the top 5 must read stories for the other new Daredevil headliners: Kingpin and Bullseye. They’re stacked with some of the best writers and artists to ever work at the “House of Ideas”, but this one puts them both to shame. Looking at the collection of talent that have devoted stories to Elektra is like looking at a murderer’s row of American comics greats. For the past 3 decades she has attracted the top artists in the industry to combine elegance and assassinations into stellar splashes and vicious stories. Looking at that incredible history, we selected these 5 comics as the best Elektra stories yet.

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The Man Without Fear

Issues: Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1-5

Writer: Frank Miller

Artist: John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson

Colorist: Christie Scheele

When Frank Miller first introduced Elektra, it was as a fully formed person and a figure from Matt Murdock’s past. She was someone whose origin was told in flashbacks, but whose heart had already been hardened and ways set. It wasn’t until the mini-series Daredevil: The Man Without Fear that Miller along with artist John Romita, Jr. would define Elektra’s journey to being one of the world’s greatest assassins.

While the story is focused primarily on Daredevil, it emphasizes Elektra as the most important figure in his life, even more so than Kingpin or Bullseye. She is an incredible athlete and intellect capable of challenging him physically, mentally, and morally. Her tragedy is every bit as epic as her Greek origins would suggest as well. Romita Jr.’s artwork instills her with both strength and playfulness, making her stand out as a truly unique figure in each scene. When it comes to understanding the character of Elektra, there is no better place to being than here.

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Hunters

Issues: Daredevil (vol. 1) #174-176

Writer: Frank Miller

Artist: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Colorist: Christie Scheele

While most critics would look to the inimitable Daredevil #181-182 as the best storyline from Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s run to feature Elektra, it is not the best Elektra story from that time. Her death is tragic, but ultimately focuses on Daredevil. It’s earlier in the story in #174-176 that these creators really gave Elektra her due and defined her as one of the greatest anti-heroes in the Marvel universe.

What makes these issues standout is that Elektra is never a sidekick or supporting figure. In every scene she is just as capable, if not more so, than Daredevil and Gladiator. She leads and fights as well as anyone else. Her fights with the ninja Kirigi are as bloody as any you’ll find in the series. Elektra can take hits just as well as she can dish them out, and when she finally stands victorious it’s clear that she is anyone’s peer in this world.

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Bloodlines

Issues: Elektra (2014) #1-5

Writer: Haden Blackman

Artist: Michael del Mundo

It’s easy to imagine that illustrating an Elektra story would be a daunting task for just about any artist considering who has handled the character before, but not for Mike del Mundo. Del Mundo is one of today’s true greats; just look at any of his covers or spreads for proof. He captures motion with incredible fluidity and uses colors to light up a page and guide the eye. All of his talents were on great display in the most recently completed Elektra series.

All 11 issues of this series were great, but it’s the first half of the story that is a true “must read”. It’s here that Elektra’s origin is explored and introduced for new audiences alongside the chase of a truly frightening killer. All of it is presented with grace and brutality by del Mundo, who manages to combine the contrasting concepts with seeming ease. It is a beautiful comic and a great way to discover who Elektra really is.

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Homeless

Issues: PunisherMAX #17-20

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Steve Dillon

Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth

Whereas all of the stories so far present the essential, canonical Elektra, this story provides a different take on the character. In this Punisher tale outside of Marvel continuity, creators Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon allowed Frank Castle to face off against many of the best characters in Marvel with some real finality. That applies to Elektra who enters the story near its conclusion as an elite assassin hired by Kingpin to finally stop The Punisher.

Rather than emphasize her tragedy or pathos, “Homeless” focuses on Elektra as being the absolute best at what she does. Unlike any of the other assassins in PunisherMAX or even Kingpin himself, she is a consummate professional. It’s clear that she is the only person in the series who really stood a chance of stopping Frank and their final showdown is excruciatingly brutal. Until the very end, Elektra is a professional and that’s what make her part in this story stand out.

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Elektra: Assassin

Writer: Frank Miller

Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz

This is original graphic novel is often considered to be the definitive Elektra story. That overstates it a bit as it misses some of what makes the character great in “Hunters” and “The Man Without Fear”. However, what it does accomplish is making Elektra forever stand out as one of the most visually fascinating figures in all of superhero comics. The work of Bill Sienkiewicz on this miniseries is truly unparalleled.

The fights are stunning, but the moments of stillness are even more compelling. A single page splash of Elektra standing in the rain or awaiting a target can keep the eye busy for long periods. Every composition is carefully considered and each page feels like it should be displayed in a museum. This is a truly beautiful comic and one that shows you don’t need superpowers to make superhero comics look incredible.

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5 Super Sons Team Ups We Need to See

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 18, 2017.

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Super Sons #1 landed this week and it is already one of our favorite series of the DC Comics Rebirth. Of course, this concept isn’t brand new. Throughout the current run of Superman the idea of a young Jonathan Kent learning about his responsibilities and role has been building. When Damian Wayne was introduced to his ongoing story, it was clear that lightning had struck. The two personalities play off one another beautifully. That they combine two of the greatest legacies in the superhero genre is simply a bonus. It’s a dynamic duo filled with personality, fun, and a long road of lessons to learn.

Part of that learning process comes from the people Jonathan and Damian encounter, not just the villains or obstacles, but the heroes who will help and guide them. They’re already off to a great start with two of the most super dads imaginable, but as they say “it takes a village”. While Superman and Batman are busy defending their own cities or saving the world alongside the Justice League, they’ll need others to tutor them and show off other aspects of the sprawling DC universe. To put it simply, Super Sons is a comic primed with team up potential.

Here are the five team ups we most hope to see in the issues to come as Jonathan and Damian learn what it means to be heroes in the world of DC Comics.

Wonder Woman

This is the most obvious team up and it’s nothing short of a requirement. Jonathan already has a superb maternal figure in Lois Lane, but Damian is lacking one… to say the very least. Both boys may have great superpowered dads, but they need the third member of the trinity to show them a different perspective on how the world works. Diana would no doubt be excited to meet both of her friend’s children and help teach them about her areas of expertise.

Obviously this includes martial arts and strategy. Wonder Woman is a warrior in a way that neither of the other two men are, trained her entire life in the ways of war. Yet that’s hardly the only thing she has to offer. As an ambassador of Paradise Island, Diana is skilled in diplomacy and what it means to pursue the path of peace. She can reinforce the ideas of social justice and feminism in two young men bound to be leaders one day.

The Doom Patrol

Wonder Woman and the dads represent the flashiest side of DC Comics, the straightforward superheroics. The Doom Patrol represent the flipside of that equation; they tackle the stuff that goes beyond strange. It’s important for Jonathan and Damian to know there’s more to the world than punching bad guys. The DC universe is a very diverse place filled with lot of oddities and challenges that aren’t so obvious.

The Doom Patrol can help them learn about the weirder stuff they might have to confront one day, but they can also help these two learn about empathy. All of the heroes of the Doom Patrol have gifts that also threaten to hold them back. Seeing the men and women of this team confront their challenges and help others ought to inspire the boys. It can serve to teach them the important lessons that our obstacles don’t define us and to never underestimate someone based upon their appearance.

Green Lantern (John Stewart)

The super sons need to team up with a Green Lantern and it needs to be John Stewart. That’s because Stewart is really the only Green Lantern prepared to handle this pair and whip them into shape. His experience in the military and as a regular leader in the Green Lantern Corps. makes him a perfect drill sergeant and mentor. He appreciates the importance of teamwork and can stress that no matter how powerful an individual is, they’re even more capable when collaborating.

Stewart is also someone well versed in rebellious attitude. He knows what it’s like to be put in the second spot when you’re ready to shine, and can teach patience and the value of refining your skills as well. He’s a Green Lantern with an incredible reservoir of wisdom to aid these young men in becoming heroes. John Stewart is one of the best teachers in the DC universe and Jonathan and Damian would be lucky to meet him.

The New Gods

If the Doom Patrol can teach this pair about the strange and John Stewart can teach them about the cosmic, then the New Gods can teach them about the truly epic. Never in the history of the DC universe has anyone reached the explosive heights of Jack Kirby in his Fourth World stories. Of course, there are a lot of New Gods to choose from and none of them would be better suited for this team up than Mister Miracle and Big Barda.

Miracle and Barda can not only teach the pair about the biggest conflicts to ever exist, but how to work together with very different personalities and strengths. Despite being polar opposites, this couple are the absolute best romance in all of DC Comics history. It’s their differences that make them strong and keep them together. That’s a lesson Damian and Jonathan could afford to learn, even as a platonic pairing.

Ambush Bug

All of the team ups so far have been about teaching Jonathan and Damian something about themselves and the world they live in. Ambush Bug isn’t here to educate them though, he’s here to keep them on their toes. While superhero comics explore big ideas and grand virtues, they’re also simply a lot of fun. This green suited weirdo is all about having fun.

Whether he (literally) pops up as a returning gag or confounds the two as a playful antagonist, Ambush Bug is bound to both frustrate and delight. His antics are harmless, but his persistence makes him impossible to ignore. As the sons of Superman and Batman, these two boys might possess big egos and it will take someone as silly as Ambush Bug to remind them to never be too confident and to just have fun every once in awhile.

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Are Movies For Kids Better With Kids?

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 17, 2017.

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Here’s where I’m coming from: I’m a movie snob. I like to dress it up in terms like cinephile or film theorist, but what it all boils down to is that I take movies seriously, all day, every day. Part of that identity is being obsessed with how movies are presented. Getting a chance to see movies like Seven Samurai or The Wages of Fear in an actual movie theater makes a huge difference. Seeing movies in the right theater with carefully adjusted projection and audio equipment also has a big impact. But perhaps more important than anything else is seeing movies in a theater with a respectful audience. Knowing your neighbors won’t talk or check their cell phones allows you to become fully enthralled in a film, and it’s perhaps my biggest pet peeve.

So you can imagine that I’m not a big fan of small children at the movies.

It’s not that I dislike children (even if I prefer dogs). Young kids just don’t understand the etiquette of going to the movies yet. When you’re seeing spectacular adventures on a screen ten times your own height with booming sound, it’s easy to forget that there’s an entire room full of people trying to watch it too. I get it; movies are exciting. But that doesn’t make chatter and three bathroom breaks any less distracting for the rest of us. That’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of the Alamo chain of theaters with their strict rules on speaking and age restrictions. It guarantees a movie going experience without the risk of someone else ruining it for you.

Until recently I’d become so adjusted to theaters without any kids or, even worse, talking adults. That was until I went to see a special screening of The Lego Batman Movie. This was a show at 9:30am designed specifically for kids, families, and the young at heart. It’s that last part that caught me. Well, that and the promise of an unlimited cereal bar. If you haven’t had cereal in a while, here’s a free reminder that the stuff is absolutely delicious. Crunch berries were a sure thing, but the new Batman cereal was a solid chocolate-y delight. In any case, back to the subject at hand…

After three bowls of cereal the lights dimmed and it was time for previews. The theater was filled with a buzz of excitement. Kids throughout the auditorium chattered about how upcoming animated features looked, squealed at the appearance of familiar heroes, and asked for more cereal. It was at this moment another Will Arnett role came to mind and I found myself thinking I had made a huge mistake. There weren’t just one or two kids in this theater, there was a veritable army. And if I shushed anyone, then I was definitely going to be the bad guy in that equation.

Would I have to buy another ticket to The Lego Batman Movie just to catch half of the jokes or give it my full attention? Would that mean skipping a later showing of Paterson? Was the cereal really worth the incoming assault on my senses?

I suspect that most sane human beings look at those questions and scoff, but don’t worry, I get it now. Because in this scenario I wasn’t a movie fan being put upon, I was a jerk getting ready to be enlightened.

When the screen went black and Will Arnett began to explain how all the best movies open with a black screen a hush fell over the theater. It wasn’t because Arnett’s Batman voice is demanding, although it is. It was because I clearly don’t give children enough credit. This was clearly the start of the movie and everyone in that theater knew that’s what they were really here for, cereal be damned. Eyes were on the screen and the audience was listening.

Of course, there was some chatter after too long. It included on topic questions like “Who is Barbara Gordon?”, which also make the point that we should have Batgirl or Batwoman in many more films. There were also queries that seemed less pertinent like “Is that an iPhone? I think that’s an iPhone.” If The Lego Batman Movie is anything, it’s packed. There are more characters than you can hope to count and a whole lot of movie pieces, pun intended. Through all of that action there was bound to be some confusion and plenty of excitement.

What was surprising though was that this chatter didn’t stand out. What really made an impact wasn’t the occasional question or exclamation, but the rest of the sounds in the theater. The laughter, screams, and gasps were as loud as any movie I can recall seeing. There was a very real energy to experiencing the entire film as each moment landed audibly in the audience.

Rather than serving as a distraction, this audience served as a reminder of just how thrilling movies can be. The experience of watching this animated Lego movie wasn’t singular, but communal. Everyone in the theater, kids, parents, and those of us who just really love Batman were laughing together, and coming close to tears on a few occasions.

On its own The Lego Batman Movie isn’t likely to surprise too many folks familiar with how movies or stories work. It hits lots of similar notes, although it does hit them very well. It wasn’t reinventing anything, but it was deploying its jokes and message very effectively. That skillful use of cinema was what kept all of the young people in the theater interested, and it also served to remind the rest of us of why we first fell in love with movies. These gags really were funny and the themes about family really were affecting. It was the shared experience that served as a reminder on why movie matter.

That’s why I walked out of The Lego Batman Movie ready to reassess my feelings on seeing movies with kids. In addition to the size of the space and capacity of the equipment, we attend movie theaters to share in the experience of movies. We want to laugh at comedies and scream at horror flicks. There was no restraint in this theater and it helped all of us remember that we watch movies together. And while I won’t be attending any screenings of Paterson that allow for young people, I will be attending the next cereal screening of a big animated feature. Frankly, I can’t wait.

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Leading Questions: Finding Hope (Not the X-Men Character)

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 16, 2017.

hope-saint-walker

Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

What gives you hope for the industry?

I know we tend to engage in a lot of innuendo and talking over the issues at the start of these columns, or I do that. But I read this question and there’s no part of me that wants to respond to it in a pithy or caustic manner. When you ask me about hope, it hits a nerve and all I’m left with is sincerity.

I guess I’ll give that a try.

Here’s the thing about hope. It’s easy when you don’t need it and most difficult when you do. Hope is the single matchstick in a dark cave. If we want to keep it comics related, it’s the candle held out by Alfred Pennyworth when his young ward has fallen down a deep dark hole. It flickers and threatens to go out extinguishing any glimpse of retrieval, but it keeps burning.

That’s romantic, probably too romantic for a column that’s just about the comics industry, but we can’t talk about hope right now and contain it to a single niche artform or anything else. Like all of the most important things we feel, things like love and faith, it has a tendency to sprawl across our lives. The hope we feel about our families or friends will begin to influence how we see our careers or passions. Or vice versa. Hope isn’t a singular thing, it’s an outlook, and one that can help us in all aspects of our lives, or fail us across the board.

So when you ask me about what gives me hope for the comics industry, I hear “What gives you hope for any industry?”

It’s people. People give me hope.

Let’s stick to comics because there are a lot of people much better qualified than me talking about bigger things right now. But we all know what those bigger things are, and the answer is the same there as it is here. It’s the people that keep you involved, that keep you inspired, and that allow you to have hope.

We look to the institutions of the comics industry: the direct market, the Big Two, and all of the other powers that are problems. We look to these sections and it’s easy to despair because they are broken. If we look at these publishers and this system as the only way for artists to succeed or for comics to be discovered, it looks like a big ol’ pit of nothing. It’s an endless spiral towards oblivion.

But that’s a lie because comics aren’t defined by a couple of publishers or a single distribution system. That’s not just true outside of the United States either, it’s true right here at home. Because while we watch Marvel flood the market with books that anyone in their right mind knows won’t succeed, we’re discovering books and artists that matter to us. For every chump pumping out hackneyed superhero books, there’s guys self-publishing incredible love letters on Etsy or Comixology Submit that rise above everything else in the genre.

If you care about comics, then you already know the artists and people you’re passionate about. You have friends who inspire you to seek out new work or to push your own work further than ever before. Simply caring about the subject leads you to meet people who care about it too, and who are doing the very work that will give you hope. To care and to love is to discover hope.

So when I’m feeling down on comics or other parts of life that matter to me, I look to the people in my life. I look to you and your work right now. I look to Joe and the work we do together on Reboot Comic Book Club. I look to Megan Purdy, Christian Hoffer, and Steve Morris’ collaborating on The MNT. I look to all of these people and so many others and see a world creating and celebrating comics in so many ways. I see all of this and cannot help but feel endless reservoirs of hope within myself.

It’s people that give me hope and I will always direct others to look towards the people in their lives when they need to rediscover hope for themselves. My fondest hope is that there is something I do that gives people hope, whether it’s in comics or somewhere else in my life. I’m indebted to so many people, yourself included, for my own hope that I must pray I am capable of passing it forward.

I want to cap this one with a quote from someone much smarter than me. It’s something I’ve been doing recently where I focus on the wisdom from those who blazed this path before and found hope and resolve in even darker times. This is a quote from City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. You can listen to a section of it here, and it’s worthwhile. But if you only have a second more, just read this one snippet.

The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right.”

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REVIEW: The Wildstorm #1

This article was originally published on February 15, 2017 at ComicBook.Com.

the-wildstorm-review-3

Written by Warren Ellis

Drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt

Colored by Ivan Plascencia

Published by DC Comics

There’s nothing about the idea of a Wildstorm relaunch that guarantees success. The original series rode on the popularity of Jim Lee and other headlining creators of the 90s. The characters themselves aren’t found on t-shirts and can’t be named by many current comics readers. The last attempt to relaunch the Wildstorm properties with comics like Stormwatch and Grifter in the New52 was a massive flop. Yet when you read The Wildstorm #1, it’s easy to understand why this new popup imprint from DC Comics is a great idea.

One of the reasons this debut issue works is that it eschews the past. If you’re a fan of old Wildstorm properties, you will certainly recognize names and concepts, but none of it as being sold as something you should understand. Instead, the issue treats itself like a true #1 and assumes readers know nothing. Each character is shown off with a mix of their attitude, profession, and drives. Woven into all of these character segments are a blend of organizations and conspiracies that arise naturally through conversation and action. The Wildstorm #1 is packed with information, a stunning amount for just over 20 pages.

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That amount of information functions well as a read because of how it is presented. At no point do narrative boxes explain acronyms or backstory. Everything you need is on the page, emerging from the story itself. That is not to say there is no mystery. Plenty is left unexplained, but none of it is absolutely necessary. The driving force behind each moment is clear, even if the stakes rarely are. It’s a careful balance, but the instinct here lies with explaining too little rather than explaining too much; a smart choice as mystery is more tantalizing than jargon.

It’s possible for The Wildstorm to seem overwhelming still. An incredible amount of detail is found in this issue, and what allows it to overcome many accessibility obstacles within its density is the presentation. The issue relies heavily on variations of a 9-panel grid, blowing them up to the wide vistas of 3-panels or breaking them down to an incredibly tight-knit 36-panel. It evokes fond memories of formalism defined by writer Warren Ellis and his peers, but its use is why it is actually effective.

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Panels are spaced to create a clear sense of time and detail. Nowhere is this more clear than in the introduction of The Engineer. Her high-flying exploits fill the page in horizontal panels, but her transformation is intensely detailed. The juxtaposition of mid-air action and small details of fractal-like armor and blood make clear the cost and effect of her technology. It’s a fantastic way to visually explain who the character is and why her accomplishments are impressive.

The Wildstorm #1 is packed with ideas and they are exceptionally pursued. Like with any first issue it’s difficult to discern whether the promise will pay off, but the promise is there. While it has roots in the superhero genre, this is a story focused on the rapid progress of technology and the obfuscation of systems within society. It’s a comic that wants to be smart and does more than enough here to convince you it is. Rather than being overwhelmed by its own ambition, The Wildstorm appears to be springboarding off of it into the atmosphere. Only time will tell just how high it may soar.

Grade: B+

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