Matt Kindt Talks Ninjak, Character Design, and Doing the Work You Love

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 25, 2015.

Ninjak - Kindt Interview - Cover

This weekend at C2E2 Valiant Entertainment is announcing the second story arc of the new series Ninjak. Writer Matt Kindt will be joined by artists Raul Allen, Juan Jose Ryp, Stephen Segovia, and Clay Mann to tell the story of Ninjak as he confronts the mysterious and deadly members of the Shadow Seven in “The Shadow Wars”.

Valiant has provided ComicBook.Com with an exclusive interview with Matt Kindt, covers for Ninjak #6 by Mico Suayan, Marko Djurdjevic, and Dave Johnson, and Kindt’s own designs for some of the villains. The official Valiant announcement, solicitations, and preview art follow the interview below.

Chase Magnett: I’d like to start off by talking about the structure of “The Shadow Wars” the next arc of Ninjak. Your first story in Ninjak, and a lot of your other work, is driven by 4-6 issue story arcs. “The Shadow Wars” will conclude each issue with a showdown between Ninjak and a member of the Shadow Seven. How are you approaching this change of pace? Will the issues be designed so that they can be read both separately and together?

Matt Kindt: Ideally, I try to keep all of my monthly books structured in a way that makes each issue a satisfying single-serving read. Even if the story continues or there’s a cliffhanger type of ending. Each issue kind of has a point to it – or a narrative experiment/technique that will be unique to that issue. Issue #3 of Ninjak, for instance, continues the six-issue arc, but that particular issue takes place in “real time” – so the actual time it takes you to look at and process the panels of art is how much time it takes in the real time of the characters. Of course reading the captions and dialogue will slow you down, but the actual “real time” of the issue takes place in about five minutes. That’s something I thought would be interesting to try and be a fun way to really break down the action and show it in detail – to illustrate how quickly Ninjak not only acts, but how quickly he thinks.

Magnett: “The Shadow Wars” is being pitched as a jumping on point for the series. What about this story and the character of Ninjak do you find to be the most accessible to new comics and Valiant readers? How are you trying to draw out those strengths in this story?

Kindt: The series is usually from his POV (except for issue #4), so every issue is pretty accessible. There are definitely things that I’m seeding into early issues that pay off later – so honestly, the most satisfying way to read it is from beginning to end. But again, every issue is something I’m trying to write as a unique storytelling experience, so each issue will have a slightly different flavor. It’s more like a collage of action and story that will eventually paint a big picture of this larger-than-life character.

Magnett: Last summer you mentioned that as someone who is both an artist and a writer, when only in the latter role you like to write for an artists strengths. Have you had a chance to figure out how you’d like your script to play to the different artist’s strengths in “The Shadow Wars”?

Kindt: It’s always a conversation, especially when working with someone I haven’t written for before. I usually build a few different options into scripts – suggestions for layouts or ways that the action and story can be shown – and then have a little back and forth to see what they’re comfortable with. I usually have a conversation with an artist before I start writing and just get a feel for what they like to draw and what kinds of things they haven’t gotten a chance to draw. It’s a good way to get some new visual ideas I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and it’s always good to have an artist drawing something they’re excited to draw. It’s how I write for myself as well. Oftentimes a story is driven by an idea for a strong visual…and that becomes the kernel that an idea grows around.

Magnett: And as you imagine “The Shadow Wars”, what do you think makes these stories most compelling as comics? What special elements about Ninjak and his enemies really come to life here?

Kindt: I tried to come up with an interesting cast of characters – villains for the most part – but also characters that share similar training to that which Ninjak received. So, to me, what makes them all interesting is that they come from the same place, but their backgrounds, upbringings, and personalities have split them into very different directions and occupations. It’s kind of like the idea of the “Seven Up!” series – the documentary that followed kids from age 7 years old and checks back in on them every 7 years. They’re in their 50s now –  they all went to the same school, but their lives are completely different – separated by class and money and experience. This is kind of like that – but with ninjas!

Magnett: One of the things that I think you do exceedingly well is design unique visual elements, powers, and cues within your characters. How was the experience of designing at least four of the Shadow Seven from scratch?

Kindt: It’s always fun  – being an artist helps too – trying to come up with a character that will be fun to draw over and over again, but to also visually represents the personality of the character. That’s the key. I used to teach character design to college kids and I honestly learned more about character design by having to teach it than I ever did by studying and reading on my own. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, and if you spend a semester teaching or working on it, it really opens up your eyes to the amount of thought and work that you need to come up with something that’s going to not only work but hopefully be iconic.

Inspiration comes from a lot of funny places. There’s one character I came up with Fakir, a master-thief and ninja who’s got these crazy skinny extra arms and tiny hands, which just look super creepy. That was inspired by these little rubbery hands that my daughter was obsessed with for a while. You swing them around and they stick to things and they’re just super gross and funny. But then you put those on a suave mustached master thief and they become something cool and creepy.

Magnett: Just looking at Roku and the fascinating ways in which her hair plays into both her character and action in Ninjak, it’s exciting to imagine what secrets and abilities the remaining five members might hold. Can we expect this same level of visual panache and style from all of Ninjak’s new enemies?

Kindt: Yeah, they are all definitely crazy and different. It’s tough in the modern age of comics to come up with something new visually and new power sets and abilities. So I usually just end up starting with character first. What kind of person is this? And then, what kind of ability would they manifest or be interested in? We’ve got a crazy billionaire recluse in a foil suit (and a lot of secrets), a master thief that looks like Errol Flynn, and a blood-sucking punk rocker in a tutu. We’re definitely having fun with this.

Magnett: Thinking about “The Shadow Wars”, designing the Shadow Seven, working with a new collaborator, and everything else: What do you find most exciting about the future of Ninjak?

Kindt: I think from a narrative standpoint, Valiant is letting me do something unprecedented with the storytelling – piecing out Ninjak’s back story and origin and life over a long period of time (12 issues or more) – which we don’t get to do as much anymore in mainstream comics. Valiant has given me a long leash to run with this story and not just tell an interesting story, but tell it in an interesting way that hasn’t really been done before. The story is split over three timelines with back-up stories detailing Ninjak’s early years, then his childhood and then present day which will eventually all tie together. That sort of long-form structure and the ability to do some fun things with the inside covers, like the gadget drawings I’ve been doing, all help make this a really fun and quirky book, not just in the Valiant line, but on the entire shelf of comics at the shop. There’s nothing like it.

Magnett: And stepping back, you’ve been working with Valiant quite a bit over the last several years. Last summer you seemed very excited about all of your upcoming projects with the publisher, and that excitement doesn’t seem to be waning. What is it about the publisher and these characters that makes you want to keep coming back?

Kindt: They let the creators create. They’ve got a great stable of characters for us to play with, but the artistic and creative vision comes from the writers and artists. At the end of the day, it’s the creator’s name on the cover. Getting to use your own voice and vision has made it not just a fun place to work, but a place where when the final product hits the shelves, you can be proud that your name is on it. I’m just as proud of it as I am of my creator-owned work.

25 Years of Valiant @ C2E2 2015:

Matt Kindt Joins Raul Allen, Juan Jose Ryp, Stephen Segovia, and Clay Mann for NINJAK: THE SHADOW WARS – Beginning in August!

This summer, Matt Kindt is pitting MI-6’s most elite intelligence operative against four brand new foes…and some of the greatest artists in comics today are about to join the battle!

As revealed this weekend at C2E2, Valiant is proud to announce “THE SHADOW WARS” – an all-new story arc beginning in NINJAK #6 from New York Times best-selling writer Matt Kindt and  an all-star gauntlet of top artistic talents – Raul Allen (BLOODSHOT REBORN, Hawkeye), Juan Jose Ryp (Black Summer), Stephen Segovia (UNITY, Dark Wolverine), and Clay Mann (NINJAK, X-Men)! Join one of the year’s most acclaimed new series here as Ninjak begins his deadliest test yet – a one-on-one showdown with four all-new enemies…each more ruthless that the last…illustrated by a different top talent each month!

Ninjak went to Tokyo to destroy the shadowy Weaponeer arms cartel from the inside out, beginning with its secret council of shinobi masters…the Shadow Seven. Now, the world’s top super-spy is cutting his way through the four death-defying members – The Barbe, Fitzy, Fakir, and Sanguine – that stand between him and the one secret that still eludes him… Who really wields the power behind the world’s most powerful terrorist network? Who is the secret seventh member of the Shadow Seven? And what do they want with Colin King?

“I tried to come up with an interesting cast of characters – villains for the most part – but also characters that share similar training to that Ninjak received… We’ve got a crazy billionaire recluse in a foil suit (and a lot of secrets), a master thief that looks like Errol Flynn, and a blood-sucking punk rocker in a tutu. We’re definitely having fun with this,” writer Matt Kindt told ComicBook.com.

Ninjak’s international manhunt for the super-powered puppet masters behind the world’s most dangerous – and most secretive – crime syndicate ratchets up the stakes when Matt Kindt and Raul Allen launch the first chapter of THE SHADOW WARS in NINJAK #6 – coming to comic shops everywhere this August!

Plus: Ninjak’s essential second feature, THE LOST FILES, continues in each 40-page issue of THE SHADOW WARS! Also beginning in NINJAK #6, Matt Kindt and Eisner-nominated artist Butch Guice(Captain America) reunite to reveal how Colin King and Neville Alcott first met  – and the deadly secret Neville has kept from his most valuable field agent! The second act of THE LOST FILES starts here!

Featuring covers by Mico Suayan (BLOODSHOT REBORN), Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic (DIVINITY),Dave Johnson (100 Bullets), Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT), and Clayton Henry (IVAR, TIMEWALKER), the next explosive chapter of Ninjak’s red-hot monthly series starts here this August, only in NINJAK #6!

For more information, visit online at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and ValiantUniverse.com.

For Valiant merchandise and more, visit ValiantStore.com.

NINJAK #6 (ALL-NEW ARC! “THE SHADOW WARS” – PART 1)

Written by MATT KINDT

Art by RAUL ALLEN and BUTCH GUICE

Cover A by MICO SUAYAN

Cover B by JELENA KEVIC-DJURDJEVIC

Cover C by DAVE JOHNSON

Character Design Variant by MATT KINDT

Variant Cover by CLAYTON HENRY

$3.99 US | 40 pgs. | T+ | COMING IN AUGUST!

NINJAK #7 (“THE SHADOW WARS” – PART 2)

Written by MATT KINDT

Art by JUAN JOSE RYP and BUTCH GUICE

Character Design Variant by MATT KINDT

$3.99 US | 40 pgs. | T+ | COMING IN SEPTEMBER!

NINJAK #8 (“THE SHADOW WARS” – PART 3)

Written by MATT KINDT

Art by STEPHEN SEGOVIA and BUTCH GUICE

Character Design Variant by MATT KINDT

$3.99 US | 40 pgs. | T+ | COMING IN OCTOBER!

NINJAK #9 (“THE SHADOW WARS” – PART 4)

Written by MATT KINDT

Art by CLAY MANN and BUTCH GUICE

Character Design Variant by MATT KINDT

$3.99 US | 40 pgs. | T+ | COMING IN NOVEMBER!

NINJAK_006_COVER-A_SUAYAN

NINJAK_006_COVER-B_DJURDJEVIC

NINJAK_006_COVER-C_JOHNSON

NINJAK_006_DESIGNS_001_SANGUINE-&-FITZY

NINJAK_006_DESIGNS_THE-BARBE-&-FAKIR

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Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for April 22

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 23, 2015.

Fastball Feedback 04-22-15

Welcome back to Fastball Feedback for the week of April 22, 2015. This week we’re taking a look at three action packed titles from Image, Marvel and Boom Studios with Andrew Steinbeiser jumping into the fray to tackle Inhuman Special #1.

Lazarus 16 - Lark

Lazarus #16 (Image Comics)

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Michael Lark with Tyler Boss

Colors by Santi Arcas

Lazarus #15 left readers with a hell of a big cliffhanger and Lazarus #16 is going to keep them hanging on. That’s not a bad thing though. The newest issue in Rucka and Lark’s post-apocalyptic epic provides another alternative perspective to that of Forever and the Carlyle family, and it’s every bit as intriguing as the Barret family’s story in “Lift”.

This time the focus lies on Sister Bernard, a nun who travels across the different territories to provide aid to the waste of the world, while also acting as a Carlyle spy. The sister provides a fascinating alternative perspective, as someone with minimal power struggling to do the right thing in a world that leaves her with very little choices. Rucka delves into the conflicts that arise between her faith, moral compass, and the demands of power. Bernard undergoes an incredibly difficult journey over the course of these 24 pages. The real reward for readers comes from experiencing it with her both internally and externally. Rucka makes the internal dilemmas she faces feel every bit as important as the gunplay and spy-thrill that define the action.

Lark presentation of the tale is unlike any previous installment in the series. He moves between three distinct perspectives: his standard third person visual narration, physical documents, and the recordings of a camera. This juxtaposition of narrative choices allows Lazarus #16 to build the world as it tells Sister Bernard’s story. It merges the rich history of the series (typically found in the back matter) into the narrative thrust of the issue. Documents within the story on tablet screens and laptop displays are created by Eric Trautmann and Owen Freeman, transforming the future world of Lazarus into a narrative device as well.

Lazarus #16 is another top-notch installment from one of the best series being published by Image Comics today. It combines both the intensely personal experience of Sister Bernard with the political exploration that defines Lazarus. Morality and ethics are being constantly questioned, but nothing about this issue feels like a lecture. Instead, this single-issue story is capable of challenging readers just as it thrills them.

Grade: A-

Inhuman Special 1

Inhuman Special #1 (Marvel Comics)

Written by Jeff Loveness

Art by: Ryan Lee

Colors by: Nolan Woodward

Jeff Loveness is the greatest Spider-Man writer you’ve never heard of…yet.

While Loveness, a relative newcomer to comcis, is tasked with spotlighting the Inhumans and All-New Captain America with the Wallcrawler in the three-part “Inhuman Error” series of one-shots, its clear that he’s most comfortable playing in Peter Park’s sandbox. And it’s quite the castle that he’s built in Inhuman Special #1, delivering one of the most satisfying takes on Peter Parker in recent (and maybe even longer) memory.

Inhuman Special #1 picks up where Amazing Spider-Man Special #1 left off, with Spider-Man joining Medusa and the citizens of New Attilan against a rogue sect of Inhumans. While the heroes’ main conflict is serviceable enough, it’s really just a vessel for Loveness’ Spider-Man to attach itself to. Loveness’ Spider-Man is humorous and inspirational, shuffling between quips that actually are actually funny, and pep-talks that reveal a genuine understanding of the “Great Responsibility” mantra. This issue doesn’t sell itself as a Spider-Man comic, but it’s certainly a lesson for Spider-Man done right.

It’s just a shame that the rest of the cast can’t keep pace. The main conflict between Red Raven and Medusa is serviceable superhero operatics, but fails to leave a lasting impression like the relationship between Spider-Man and the young Inhumans. Loveness at least creates a sympathetic villain of C-Lister Red Raven, who could have been ripped in-two by the Sentry as far a fandom was concerned. But here, Raven’s motivations make sense. Like with the greatest of villains, Raven’s motivations are fully justifiable, even if his actions are far from it. As his origin is refiltered through a compelling lens, it’s just Medusa who lacks any real identity. With little more to do than trade blow with Red Raven, it sadly looks like the Inhuman Queen is taking the back seat in this adventure.

But at least those fisticuffs are brought to life by artist Ryan Lee. Straddling the line between gorgeous and grotesque, Lee’s scratchy figures captivate in the most unconventional ways. It’s like someone scrapped a series of graffiti murals of the street, and slapped them on the comics page. It’s a perfect fit for the less-than-photogenic Inhumans.

Ultimately, Inhumans Special #1 achieves exactly what it sets out to do: Give a chance to let new creators prove their salt with Marvel’s biggest franchises. Beyond a stellar understanding of Spider-Man, Loveness proves that he can juggle multiple threads and voices without losing the reader. Lee, meanwhile, poises himself for inclusion in discussions that may include names like Frank Quitely, Chris Burnham, and Ramon Villalobos. It’s a shame that Lee can’t join Loveness for the story’s final act in All-New Captain America Special #1, but at least the two could make this chapter anything but an Inhuman Error.

Check out ComicBook.com’s exclusive interview with Jeff Loveness here

Grade: A-

Curb Stomp 3 - Neogi

Curb Stomp #3 (Boom Studios)

Written by Ryan Ferrier

Art by Devaki Neogi

Colors by Jeremy Lawson

Curb Stomp is every bit as tough of a series as it sounds. Ryan Ferrier and Devaki Neogi are not pulling any literal or metaphorical punches in this series about urban gang wars. The women who comprise The Fever have given just as good as they’ve got in these three issues, and they’ve gotten it pretty hard.

Neogi’s style defines Curb Stomp and, hopefully, presents him a stage to break out into mainstream American comics. His art clearly descends from that of the Hernandez Brothers, pure of heart and unwilling to compromise. Characters are poised with nothing but the fullest intensity of their emotions and action. Whether its fisticuffs or heated conversation, it’s impossible to ignore the heat or fury of every sequence. It’s this passion that fills Curb Stomp #3 with its drive or power.

Ferrier is making every page of this four-issue mini-series count. His scripting does not spare any space as it packs rich characterization, a fast-paced story, and loads of action into each installment of Curb Stomp. For readers who are turned off by the decompression found in six and eight issue arcs of superhero comics, Ferrier’s writing will be a welcome relief. Not only does he create a clear cast of characters and story arc here, but he is ready to bring it all to a definitive end. The story may be lacking in some nuance, but it packs a helluva punch.

Curb Stomp #3 is a penultimate issue that leaves no doubt that this series is ending. It lands angry, hard, and fast. Ferrier and Neogi aren’t interested in providing relief or escape. They’re sprinting to the finish line, and when this comic ends, there is no doubt that it will end. The violence and unrefined nerve of the series may not appeal to anyone, but it’s pure in a way that most comics will never be.

Grade: B+

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

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Advance Review: Kaptara #1 Fails To Honor Its Promise

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 21, 2015.

Kaptara - McLeod

There was a palpable sense of excitement in the room when Chip Zdarsky announced his second series published by Image this January: Kaptara. The phrase he used to describe the comic was “gay Saga”, played as a 50/50 split between joke and serious elevator pitch. Wild character designs on the screen behind him created by collaborator Kagan McLeod certainly lent credence to that concept though. They were big, fun, and over-the-top just like Zdarsky’s performance on stage. Sadly, Kaptara #1 doesn’t live up to the promise of this creative pairing or premise. The confidence and aplomb Zdarsky displayed on stage is gone, replaced by an introductory  narrative that is unsure of its strengths and purpose. There are certainly some great elements within this issue, but it lacks a solid thesis or compelling protagonist to fuel the reading experience and encourage readers to pick up Kaptara #2.

Kaptara #1 follows the story of Keith Kanga. Keith is an environmental scientist selected to join a five-person exploratory mission to Mars. Along the way, things go awry (as they always do) and the explorers find themselves transported across the Galaxy to a strange planet called Kaptara. Zdarsky and McLeod fuse science fiction with sword and sorcery into this debut, taking five scientists and placing them in a land with very little in the way of scientific aesthetics.

The series’ faltering start can be largely contributed to the strength (or rather, the weakness) of the Kaptara’s protagonist Keith. Despite his presence throughout the entire issue, Keith is never truly active. He is a passive protagonist who bounces between scenes and the actions of those around him. Whenever a new challenge is presented, it is always someone else who provides a solution or response. Keith is left to be dragged by his arm from one scene to the next with a worried look upon his face. This is pretty concerning, given the amount of investment Zdarksy is placing in Keith. As a reader, it’s difficult to care for a hero that lacks any efficacy or significant concern.

And it doesn’t help that Keith is a bit of a dick. He’s not an outright a**hole, but he does very little to endear himself to readers or his fellow crew members. Through most of the story, he is either an obstacle or a nuisance who’s incapable of contributing. He only seems capable of offering jokes based on his observations during even life-and-death situations. These jokes don’t land well, considering that Keith is floundering while others work to save his and their own lives. His humor is often forced instead of arising naturally, as if he were trying to meet a quota. While there are certainly funny bits in Kaptara, many of Keith’s jokes read like unwanted commentary from a Reddit message board.

There are a couple of notable exceptions to this characterization, and both provide a lot of promise for Kaptara’s future. The first comes in a flashback, beautifully colored in a much softer palette with the help of color assistant Becka Kinzie, where Keith is shown deciding that he wants to join the mission to Mars. The most important word in that entire sentence is “decides”. This is the only instance in all of Kaptara #1 where Keith is the driving force of the action, and it is the first time that he becomes a sympathetic and understandable character. While he still has a sense of humor, he feels much more like a complete human being with a rich, inner life here, rather than a joker in wild circumstances. This version of Keith is the one who could become a compelling central figure of a story, not the one currently occupying the present.

The second instance comes later in the story after Keith arrives on Kaptara, when he meets Motivational Orb for the first time. Motivational Orb is a large silver sphere with two small arms who occasionally displays motivational messages on its surface. Kagan McLeod takes this almost entirely silent 11 panel scene and makes it resonate. Keith’s ranging emotions of anxiety, confusion, and the faintest glimmer of hope are all found in McLeod’s art. The scene endears you to both Keith and Motivational Orb, providing them humanity in this quiet, human moment.

That is the scene that really reveals the greatest strength of Kaptara #1: Kagan McLeod. McLeod invests the entire five-person crew with personality and motives, no matter how little exposition or space on the page they may receive. He focuses on their faces and body language, whether they occupy the foreground or background of a scene. Each person undergoes a dramatic arc (no matter how small) in Kaptara #1 primarily due to their consistent and purposeful presentation. There’s still plenty of madness in the story, but McLeod infuses all of the human characters with a soul.

And that madness is every bit as enjoyable. The creatures and enormous personalities of Kaptara don’t emerge until Kaptara #1 back-half (excluding an entirely unnecessary flash-forward on the first page), but they are worth the wait. McLeod has designed a bizarre menagerie to excite reader’s eyes. From monstrous threats to pompous plays on Conan comics, each new introduction is a visual delight. Motivational Orb may be the most obvious success here, but there is a palpable sense of energy bubbling around many of the new characters introduced by the issue’s end. Keith is only beginning to discover the world whenKaptara #1 concludes, and what little he has seen provides the series’ most compelling reason for readers to return.

Kaptara #1 is an inconsistent beginning, one plagued by an uncompelling protagonist, but still filled with promise. If Zdarsky’s script in this debut proves to be 90% setup for the future, then there’s a lot of hope to held out for Kaptara. Keith, in his best moments, could still become the centerpiece of a fascinating story. More impressive still is McLeod’s contribution. Both the imagination and subtlety expressed throughout the issue are the most engaging reason to return. Kaptara’s debut is a mixed lot, and it’s difficult to tell whether it will be worth sticking around until Zdarsky and McLeod return.

Grade: B-

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ComicBook Countdown: New Releases for the Week of April 20th

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 19, 2015.

10 - Batman V Superman Logo

Welcome to ComicBook Countdown, the place at ComicBook.Com where I will highlight some of each week’s most exciting debuts. From single issues to collected editions, films to television, action figures to board games: It’s all fair game here. So let’s take a look at some of the hottest new releases for the week of April 20th, 2015.

Batman V Superman - IMAX

10. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer | Warner Bros.

The big IMAX debut for this trailer tonight (4/20) lost a lot of its momentum when the trailer was leaked only hours after the newest Star Wars trailer debuted (and managed to leave many fans in tears). This leak appears to have forced Warner Brothers’ hand when they officially released the trailer on the Internet this weekend. It’s a disappointing blow for the big event, but catching a glimpse of director Zack Snyder’s newest superhero vision with a proper screen and sound system should still be quite the spectacle. After all, cell phones and computer screens will never come close to the magic found in movie theaters.

9 - Mind MGMT 32 - Kindt

9. Mind MGMT #32 | Dark Horse

Matt Kindt’s mind-bending spy thriller continues to weave towards its conclusion in the final arc of Mind MGMT. I wouldn’t be surprised to see every issue of the series through #36, the big finale, land on this list. It’s been an incredible journey told in a truly auteur style. Even after almost three years, Kindt is still pushing himself to produce the best work of his career by exploring new ways to use the comics form as the world crumbles. If you haven’t been reading Mind MGMT, it’s still not too late to catch up before it all ends.

8 - Convergence - New Teen Titans

8. Convergence: New Teen Titans #1 | DC

“Convergence” is pitching more than ten new stories every week, and at least one seems to always stand out from the rest. This week sees several beloved writers return to the DC series on which they found much of their fame. Len Wein’s Swamp Thing should certainly be interesting, but its Marv Wolfman’s newest story of the New Teen Titans that seems like a must-read. Wolfman will be accompanied by Nicola Scott, who promises to bring a bright, fun take on one of the greatest teams to ever grace superhero comics.

7 - Criminal Bad Night - Phillips

7. Criminal Volume 4: Bad Night | Image

This is the fourth new printing of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s quintessential crime series since the pair signed an exclusive deal with Image Comics. Although their more recent series like Fatale and The Fade Out have garnered the biggest creator-owned sales of their careers, it’s no excuse to skip Criminal. This series defined the Brubaker/Phillips partnership for many readers, and is a modern classic. “Bad Night” is perhaps the most eclectic story from the entire series, and is bound to please readers of crime comics and classic newspaper strips alike.

6 - Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4 - Henderson

6. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4 |Marvel

There are a lot of reasons to read Squirrel Girl. Erica Henderson’s art pops on each page with an incredible amount of energy. Sight gags litter the story, and it’s impossible to resist Tippy Toe, Squirrel Girl’s incorrigible sidekick. Writer Ryan North is as funny as ever in his scripting, running wild with the wackiest ideas the Marvel Universe has to offer. It’s that perfect sort of funny book that is genuinely entertaining for all ages.

But honestly? You should only need to hear four words to pick this issue up: Squirrel Girl versus Galactus. ‘Nuff said.

5 - Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men

5. Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men

Last week the 52nd episode of “Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men” was published on iTunes. It has been one year since these two comics fans and professionals began explaining one of the greatest ongoing superhero sagas ever. Each episode is well-paced, informative, and an absolute blast to listen to. The good news for new listeners is that episode 52 provided a recap of everything covered thus far, making this week’s episode the perfect time to jump on. Whether you don’t know a thing about the X-Men, are looking for a deeper understanding, or just want something fun to listen to, this podcast is an absolute must-listen.

4 - Deadly Class - Wes Craig

4. Deadly Class #12 | Image

Deadly Class #11 ended not just with an enormous cliffhanger, but the nigh-impossible wait until this week’s issue. Fans of Rick Remender’s and Wes Craig’s prep school assassination drama will likely to their local comic store on Wednesday to find out what comes next. All I will say is that they won’t be disappointed. Craig and Remender continue to seamlessly blend deeply human drama with some of the most exhilarating action in comics today. Each issue of Deadly Class demands at least two readings: a breathless first run followed by a more carefully-paced second lap to appreciate each element. Deadly Class #12 is no exception.

3 - Game of Thrones - High Sparrow

3. Game of Thrones, “High Sparrow” | HBO

The first pair of episodes in each Game of Thrones season always tend to be weaker. They are required to reintroduce a massive cast of characters and too many plotlines to count, while also providing loads of new information. Now that most of this necessary work is over, we may see the fifth season really take off. “High Sparrow” promises to up the intrigue at King’s Landing, as Cersei continues the Lannister’s power struggle against old enemies and some new, pious players as well.

2 - Kaptara - McLeod

2. Kaptara #1 | Image

Fans of Sex Criminals are bound to have heard of Chip Zdarsky’s newest title at Image Comics: Kaptara. It’s a bizarre space odyssey that includes strong sword and sorcery elements in what Zdarsky describes as “gay Saga”. Zdarsky is accompanied by artist Kagan McLeod, who provides a flighty mood of fantasy to the science fiction setting. McLeod’s designs for both human characters and the… odder beings in Kaptara #1 are fantastic. He infuses faces and forms with plenty of attitude. Kaptara promises to be a delightful and strange journey.

1 - Scott Pilgrim 6 - Color

1. Scott Pilgrim Color Edition Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour | Oni Press

Sure, Bryan Lee O’Malley completed his Scott Pilgrim saga a while ago, but this particular volume was first published in black and white almost five years ago, just before the movie hit theaters. I love the black and white aesthetic of the original series, but Nathan Fairbairn’s brilliant covers have awarded them a second life. Do not skip this volume. It’s not that one version is better than the other, but that both are absolutely essential comics. Scott Pilgrim took the comics scene by storm when it was first published and it has lost none of its power or charm in the interceding years. Whether you’ve never read this series before or just want to revisit one of the best comic books of the current century, now’s the time.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

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Film Review: “It Follows” Will Follow You Home

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 19, 2015.

It Follows

Seeing It Follows in theaters is something of a minor miracle for most Americans. The film was only distributed to 32 theaters for its opening weekend before being expanded to 1,218 theaters two weeks later. There’s no doubt in my mind that it would have eventually discovered a viewership during its VOD and subsequent blu-ray release. However, the slow creation of a midnight movie fandom would have robbed the movie of much immediate impact and acclaim. It Follows is a potent combination of smart storytelling, craftsmanship, and some of the greatest thrills in a horror film this decade; it deserves recognition now.

The movie centers around a group of teenagers living an idyllic suburban life, until college student Jay (Maika Monroe) is kidnapped by her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) after they have sex for the first time. Hugh reveals to her that, by having sex with him, he has passed along a curse. She will be stalked by a monster that only she can see. It follows its intended victim, walking behind until it catches and kills them. If Jay has sex with someone else, she will pass the curse to them, but it will return once that person is killed. Hugh leaves her with one final warning, “Never go into a place with only one exit. It’s slow, but it’s not dumb.” What follows is 90 of the tensest minutes I have spent in a movie theater.

Unlike the vast majority of films labeled as horror pushed upon American audiences, It Follows doesn’t rely on constant jump scare, gratuitous gore, or an abundant supply of kills. The monster takes the forms of mundane people, assuming the appearance of Jay’s friends, a gigantic man, elderly woman, and many others. Its steady pace and focused stare are far more startling than heaps of makeup and prosthetics. The scariest element of the film is derived from its conceit. Jay can never truly escape the thing stalking her. The best she can do is divert its attention temporarily or run far enough away to buy herself a reprieve. Tension never leaves the frames of It Follows once the chase begins though. It is somewhere and it is always approaching, never slowing or relenting.

That is what allows scenes without a single appearance from the monster to be just as frightening as those in which it manages to claim a victim. Director David Robert Mitchell places the audience firmly in Jay’s shoes, leaving them to ponder along with the heroine where it may be at any given moment. Scenes in bedrooms and closed doors grate like nails on a chalkboard. The question of where it is at any moment lingers anytime space is obscured from sight.

Mitchell is not interested in special effects or flashy camera work though and remains an understated presence within the film. The scenes are exceedingly well blocked and edited, allowing the group of young actors to portray the story in a world that doesn’t quite feel like a movie (the lack of cell phones even provides it a timeless quality). None of the stars is over the age of 25 making what they accomplish together all the more impressive. Despite their youth they manage to portray compelling arcs in only 100 minutes. Innocence, trauma, experience, and grief are all brought to life in this stirring collection of performances.

Disasterpeace’s score plays upon those expectations and questions perfectly. Drumbeats and electronic effects repeat in the same unrelenting rhythm as the monster’s steps. Even when the teenagers have fled far ahead of the beast, it flickers in the background of the film to remind viewers of the approaching horror. During the tensest chases of the film, both white noise and synthetic melodies are quickened and increased in volume to remove any possible remaining sense of calm. The craftsmanship present in the soundtrack is a microcosm of the care and effort found throughout the film. Scares and drama land because the crew creating them are not only dedicated to doing their best, but have the skills to craft something truly special.

All of that craft is built around an incredibly strong core. It Follows isn’t just a scary movie, it’s a damn smart film. Just like its antagonist the movie will follow you out of the theater and linger in your thoughts because there’s plenty to think about. The curse itself is an obvious play on the transfer of an STD moving between people during sex and never being fully removed. That’s not the core of the concept though. STDs and teenage sexual discovery open the door into a much broader and timeless set of themes.

It is no accident that It Follows is almost entirely focused on teenagers. Being a teenager is already scary and for good reason. Teens occupy the strange no man’s land between childhood and adult responsibilities in which most of us learn what it means to accept the latter. Death, sex, and love all begin to gain their meaning in this time, as we recognize that life always ends the same way. Jay and her friends are not only fleeing from a monster, they are learning to accept the inevitability of death and how to cope with this new understanding.

Like the xenomorph in Alien or the shark in Jaws, this monster is so much more than the plot summary on wikipedia allows. It is a representation of existential dread and a nihilistic universe. The fears it induces within us come not only from the carnage it wreaks, but what it reveals about the lives we are already living. Comparing It Follows to those two classic films is high praised, and it is entirely earned. Like its forebears in inducing a fear of the unknown and inevitability of death, It Follows demands discussion and dissection in order to be fully appreciated.

It Follows is a movie that will walk right out of the theater with you. It may even cause your heart to race briefly when you see a stranger walking slowly in your direction for the next several days. Those thrills alone are worth the ticket, but its not why you should see It Follows before it leaves the big screen. Mitchell, along with his craft and crew, have crafted an entertaining tale that burrows directly into the heart of our greatest collective existential fears. It Follows offers a glimpse in the rearview mirror to recognize why we can’t stop moving, even if the ending will always be the same.

Grade: A

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Fastball Feedback: Reviews For April 15

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 16, 2015.

Fastball Feedback - Banner - 04-15-15

Welcome to Fastball Feedback, the place at ComicBook.Com where I review three of this week’s newest comics releases. From major releases to small press, premieres to final issues, superheroes, science fiction, and everything else, I’ll look at the best, worst, and everything in between that comics offered each week.

Bloodshot Reborn 1 -

Bloodshot Reborn #1 (Valiant Entertainment)

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Mico Suayan with Jeff Lemire

Colors by David Baron

The Valiant was a refreshing reminder that comics could produce entertaining, concise, and incredibly well-produced superhero events. Thankfully, Bloodshot Reborn #1 follows up on one of The Valiant’s biggest changes, the depowering of Bloodshot, and provides that same exciting level of quality for event spin-offs.

Jeff Lemire opens the plot with Bloodshot coping (rather poorly) with the many atrocities he has committed as a cybernetic assassin. The events of the first issue strike a very different tone from previous Bloodshot stories. This isn’t a story about epic adventure and chaotic carnage; it’s a tale about one man dealing with trauma. The consequences of murder, amnesia, and loves lost all take a toll on a person’s mind and soul, which Lemire is deftly explores throughout.

Bloodshot Reborn #1 doesn’t lack for excitement, though. The thrills of this story just come in different forms. Flashbacks and dream sequences replace shoot outs and fisticuffs. Readers are allowed to gaze into the nightmarish existence of a man suffering from something far worse than PTSD, and the results are chilling.

Mico Suayan’s presentation of these events are key. He packs his sequences into a claustrophobic motel setting where corners loom like invitations to disaster. Suayan’s depiction of mundane characters and settings increases the tension surrounding Bloodshot. The motel is covered in a thick layer of dirt, evoking images from bad horror movies where vacancy signs really spell “doom”. An elderly woman and her video game-obsessed grandson are every bit as creepy. When the young boy smiles at the FPS he is playing, it’s enough to send chills down your spine. The surprising infusion of Lemire’s art into Suayan’s own tapestry is a tremendous shock, leaping out in both literal and metaphorical terms.

Bloodshot Reborn #1 isn’t a typical spin-off series. It’s a story that thoughtfully follows up on what has come before. Lemire and Suayan are clearly invested in this story, addressing trauma and responsibility in a meaningful way. It’s the perfect combination of compelling and challenging for a fresh take on this bloody character.

Grade: B+

Ei8ht 3 - Albuquerque

Ei8ht #3 (Dark Horse Comics)

Written by Rafael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson

Art and Colors by Rafael Albuquerque

If you subscribe to the idea of reading comics  “for the art”, then Ei8ht is definitely a series for you. I don’t mean to disparage Rafael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson’s story, but it’s certainly the weaker half of that dichotomy.

Ei8ht #3 continues to fill the pieces to the four-colored puzzle as it makes several significant connections between characters and provides some big cliffhangers. It’s a plot that could be called fun, and maybe even exciting. But, it’s also filled with familiar tropes. Reveals in this issue are never surprising because they fit firmly into a formula. The relationships between different characters have all been written too many times before. A protective older sister with a daredevil of a younger sibling, a megalomanical tyrant and battle-hardened servant, a desperate man with a sick wife: All of these are included in standard packaging. Ei8ht is comfortable. That’s fine as long as you don’t expect much of a reaction.

However, there is still a reason to cheer for this issue: Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork. Ei8ht #1offered a fine first outing, but Ei8ht #3 is his best work on the series yet. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric monsters are presented with real gusto. The thrill of flying on a pterodactyl and terror of a gargantuan sabre-tooth tiger are presented expertly by Albuquerque. He’s taking full advantage of the story’s time-torn setting to play with whatever elements excite him (and the reader, in turn) the most.

Albuquerque focuses his work primarily on the foreground, resulting in a dreamlike atmosphere. It’s purposeful and works well with the ever shifting landscape of the comic. The colors swirl loosely around the panels, opening events up instead of confining them. Ei8htpresents a world in which change and discovery are the only constants, and it’s the presentation of that world in which the series is at its best.

Grade: B

Suicide Squad - Mandrake

Convergence: Suicide Squad #1

Written by Frank Tieri

Art by Tom Mandrake

Colors by Sian Mandrake

The many “Convergence” mini-series being published create a rare instance for freedom and brevity at DC Comics. Writers and artists are allowed to use characters and do things that would seem impossible on a monthly title, and must tell their entire story in only 44 pages. It’s both an excellent opportunity and a challenge; one that begs the question: What were Frank Tieri and Tom Mandrake thinking here?

Convergence: Suicide Squad #1 is 90% exposition, while the other 10% is questionable at best. Tieri’s script wastes endless pages introducing characters that should be familiar to anyone reading DC Comics. The dialogue in these scenes is written without character, laying out facts about each member of this Suicide Squad like a wikipedia article. Tieri is no more successful when explaining the premise in which the Squad must confront characters fromKingdom Come. What should be an absolute blast  is rendered inert. And that other 10%? Those are ultra-violent character bits that read like a parody of grim and gritty 90s comics. Which, given Kingdom Come’s presence, is pretty ironic. Deadshot shoots things without reason and doesn’t appear to have much of a motive or personality beyond “ the guy who fires a gun”.

Mandrake’s artwork has some fine moments within the issue, setting up a cliffhanger that feels more exciting than it really is. However, his twisty, pencil-heavy style feels rushed on many pages, resulting in oddly morphed faces and bodies. The story doesn’t play to his strengths and Mandrake never appears to be fully invested in what he is drawing. Panels flow functionally and it’s possible to consistently tell characters apart, but nothing in these pages lives up to the standards Mandrake has set for himself in other comics.

Some pleasant surprises have emerged from “Convergence” in its first two weeks, but this is not one of them. The elevator pitch behind this story is a slam dunk that’s rendered completely inert by excessive exposition and uneven art. It’s readable, but not much more.

Grade: C-

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

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Review: Archie Versus Predator #1 is a Crazy Idea Gone Horribly Right

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 14, 2015.

Archie Versus Predator

Every once in a while an idea comes along that inspires two opposing, but concurrent thoughts. They are ideas that seem simultaneously brilliant and idiotic, insightful and deranged, clever and banal. It’s the sort of clash that makes the right and left hemispheres of your brain put on boxing gloves, because there’s no good way to properly identify the idea–at least until you see it in action. Archie Versus Predator is just that sort of idea, and the first issue is a round one knockout. The winner is whichever side of your brain thought Predator stalking and murdering a bunch of Riverdale’s cherished comics icons was a stroke of genius.

It takes a special blend of humor, feistiness, and raw talent to make an idea like this work, and that’s a mix writer Alex de Campi and artist Fernando Ruiz perfectly capture together. De Campi has shown her willingness to push boundaries and take risks on comics like the upcoming No Mercy and Grindhouse. She’s a fearless writer, taking hate mail and shredding it onto her breakfast cereal each morning for flavor. That kind of attitude is required for combining such a disparate pairing of American pop culture icons. Ruiz and inker Rich Kolowski know the territory the De Campi wants to explore, and bring her script to life in a way that could fool unwary readers into thinking that Archie was canonically killing their top character. It’s the sort of creative pairing that will instantly set expectations for those in the know, and make new believers of those unfamiliar with their work.

The tone that De Campi, Ruiz, and their collaborators strike is shocking in its simplicity. Unlike recent alternative Archie tales like Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina the Teenage Witch,Archie Versus Predator embraces the tone and the style of its source material. It is not difficult to imagine editing certain panels (those containing aliens, blood, and human skeletons to start) in order to convert this first issue into a nicely done single issue of Archie Comics. Predator adds a lot to the fun of this issue, but many readers may be surprised to find that there is already plenty of fun to be had with the kids from Riverdale without gruesome eviscerations and decapitations.

The story begins when Jughead wins a Caribbean vacation for the entire gang. It’s on the island that a Predator finds and follows them back to Riverdale, but the story’s main thrust comes from their adventures together. An impromptu fashion show serves as a centerpiece to the issue, and its an absolute delight to read.

Everything about the fashion show is big and obvious, but that’s the intent. The characters in Archie Comics are cultural icons that can be seen in almost every drama or comedy set near a high school. They are fundamentally accessible, and De Campi has a clear understanding of each character’s core. She provides plenty of moments for these classic characters and relationships to shine. There are instances of irony and social commentary, but much of the script allows everyone to simply exist as they have in digest-format for decades. Even if you remove the Predator appearances that add a foreboding, creepy tone over event’s silliness, this would still be a really fun comic.

And Ruiz and Kolowski understand these characters just as clearly as De Campi. There is a certain look that defines not only classic characters like Jughead and Veronica, but the settings and expressions associated with them. The fashion show highlights the world’s bold, bright style with colors by Jason Millet that light up the page like a Crayola variety pack. Each setting is clearly established in an initial panel, with bright blue water and lush palm trees defining the tropical beaches. Their use of an established style is not a weakness. It reveals an understanding of these characters’ forms, and why they’ve been effective for so long.

Part of that effectiveness comes from the efficiency of Archie Comics’ storytelling. At one point, Betty takes a jungle detour that leads her through a mysterious temple in the course of a single page. The visual storytelling on display is masterful in its simplicity and effectiveness. While Archie Versus Predator is limited to a four-issue mini-series, there’s little concern that it will run out of space. The first issue alone packs an incredible amount of jokes, Easter eggs (be sure to look out for characters at Hutch’s Bar), and plot into 22 pages. It even leaves room for a Sabrina backup feature that features another team-up with one of the greatest characters to ever be published at Dark Horse Comics.

As successful as the style and tone of Archie Comics remain, De Campi and Ruiz’s darkness adds a significant draw. De Campi laces the comic with jokes that some minors (and adults) might miss. But for those that their time with the material, they will be rewarded. Even more exciting is Ruiz’s take on the Predator. He tackles the Predator’s perspective just like the first Predator film does, providing visual points of reference, but keeping the monster quiet. He has adjusted the Predator’s sight display with one of the funniest gags in the comic, and shows a brief flare for the gore that follows the monster’s trail. The first interaction between the Predator and Riverdale gang is so shocking, it elicits gasps and laughter in a very awkward display of facial gymnastics.

If you’re still wondering whether the editors at Dark Horse and Archie Comics lost their minds teaming up for this series, stop. This is an idea that only seems crazy until you read the results. Archie Versus Predator #1 is a comic that only captures what makes these franchises great, but also creates a special world where they unite to make one of 2015’s funnest comics.

Grade: A-

 

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Daredevil, Torture, and the Importance of Context

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 13, 2015.

Daredevil - Title Screen

Daredevil premiered on Netflix last weekend to widespread acclaim from viewers and critics alike. The show currently boasts an impressive ratings of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 75 on MetaCritic; it’s movie predecessor in 2003 only scored 45% and 42. It’s not surprising, as there is a lot to enjoy in Daredevil. It boasts impressive performances, well-written characters and plot, purposeful and moody cinematography, and some of the best choreographed and shot action sequences of the past ten years. Honestly, there’s so much to like here (especially compared to Marvel Studio’s dismal previous pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) that many people, myself included, may instinctively forgive any flaws. But that sort of mentality isn’t helpful for viewers or creators. Daredevil is certainly a great television show, that doesn’t even need the “superhero” qualifier. But it has its problems. One of these problems extends beyond Daredevil, but is put into an even clearer perspective because it’s a television show about a superhero. That problem is the use of torture.

Daredevil uses physical force throughout the entire series in order to coerce information from criminals. He repeats the threat “If you lie, I hit you” multiple times, and he certainly follows through on it. Delivering punches in order to obtain answers certainly meets the definition of torture. Daredevil’s actions, especially within the first five episodes, goes significantly further. His beatings are  extensively brutal, often crippling the hands and limbs of his victims.

Netflix - Daredevil - Eye Stab

The torture reaches its crescendo in episode two, “Cut Man”. Toward the end of the episode, Matt has a Russian hit man tied up on a rooftop. He beats him for information on the whereabouts of a missing child. After the man shows reluctance towards any answers, Daredevil’s accomplice Claire recommends that he stab the man in his trigeminal nerve. Daredevil takes her advice and inserts a knife above the man’s eyeball, placing him in excruciating pain. Stabbing the man in his trigeminal nerve risks blindness and permanent facial paralysis at best. But the action could have lobotomized or killed the man just as easily as it inflicted pain.

The man eventually provides the boy’s location when Daredevil hangs him off a rooftop, and is then thrown off when he taunts Daredevil. Although the man lands in a dumpster, he falls for at least several stories. A drop from such a great height also risks death, with or without a dumpster below to provide a cushion. The potentially permanent results from such a fall only worsen the act itself. Daredevil is torturing a captured man. That alone should be enough to send off alarm bells.

None of this is to say that the very idea of Daredevil torturing a criminal is beyond consideration. It has roots in some of the best source material available from writers and artists like Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis. The significant question to consider is context; to ask how Daredevil presents torture.

Bendis Maleev - Daredevil - Torture

Raising that question creates a very troubling picture at the start of the series. In Daredevil, Torture is regularly applied with little consideration for the information’s significance. Daredevil’s beatings are used to not only help him rescue victims, but to obtain names and other information that are not time-sensitive and could be discovered through less violent means.

Neither Matt Murdock nor the show itself ever questions the morality of torture in these scenes. Daredevil never emotes signs of regret or questions the necessity of his own actions. The closest he comes is attending confession in scenes that never actually disclose what sins he is repentant for and how regretful he truly is. In the rooftop scene from “Cut Man”, Claire is troubled by his methods not because he uses torture (she actively assists his efforts), but because he claims to enjoy the act. In that same scene director Phil Abraham plays torture for a laugh (one of very few to be found in the episode) when Daredevil hits the man even after he gives the right information. The tortured man is far from deserving of sympathy, but the use of levity reveals a subtle approval of Daredevil’s actions.

Netflix - Daredevil - Dumpster

In that same scene, context makes the situation simultaneously better and worse. The information that Daredevil seeks is both time-sensitive and life-saving. It is the classic “ticking time bomb” scenario presented in courtrooms in order to justify the use of torture, when no other options could potentially protect human lives in a timely manner. Whether or not you personally agree with the argument, it is one with some merit. However, when you consider the incredibly risky action of stabbing a man in his eye socket and throwing him from a potentially lethal height, Daredevil’s justification does not seem to align with the need to preserve life. He not only inflicts pain, but continually risks the life of his victim even after he has the information he needs. The hit man is later found in a coma at the hospital with no certainty of ever reawakening. A slight twist of fate and Daredevil would go from being a torturer to a murderer.

These scenes also risk undercutting one of the series’ most significant and best-crafted sub-plots. As a confrontation between Daredevil and Wilson Fisk builds, Daredevil is forced to question whether he is capable of murdering Wilson Fisk and– even if he can–whether he should. It’s a line that he refuses to cross, one that is outlined and praised in the episode “Stick.” However, that line looks arbitrary and inconsistent when placed alongside scenes from earlier episodes. Daredevil is presented as a man concerned with the sanctity of human life and the morality of his actions. Yet he also risks the lives of his opponents and only views their survival as a bonus. These are not the subtle contradictions of a complex character; they are simple contradictions that only work if the audience accepts torture as a morally justifiable act.

This is far from the first time that torture has been presented on television in this manner, and even further from being the worst. The most obvious example would be the network series 24 in which hero Jack Bauer regularly uses a wide-variety of torture to save the day. This series had the benefit of debuting only a couple of months after 9/11 in a political atmosphere, the where the American consciousness was very open to any action that ensured national security. But even almost fifteen years later, it doesn’t look like that acceptance was waned.  In Arrow, another superhero television series, the protagonist not only tortures, but murders his enemies on a regular basis (a tendency that has waned in more recent seasons). The torture found here is difficult to imagine as heroic in a similarly popular series in a pre-9/11 landscape.

None of this is to say that torture is something that cannot be seen on television or that cannot be performed by protagonists. It is all a matter of how and why it is being presented. The issue with Daredevil is not as simple as “Daredevil tortures people”, it is a much more complex examination of how torture is presented and what ideas and morals that presentation reflects. Daredevil does not present the act of torture as a reprehensible or questionable action. Instead, the hero uses torture on a regular basis and is eventually applauded by his friends and the public. The torture in Daredevil is not troubling simply because it exists, but because it is unchallenged as the actions of a hero.

Torture and savagery have always existed as part of the character in comics, but it has never existed in such a morally simplistic zone. The moments when Daredevil has come the closest to darkness in the past, like his gut-wrenching scene in “Cut Man”, he has not been acting as a hero or been praised by the context of the scene. Perhaps the best analogs come from interactions with his nemesis Bullseye. In Daredevil #181, written and drawn by Frank Miller, Bullseye has killed Daredevil’s lover Elektra leading to a rooftop duel between the two men. At one point Bullseye falls and is caught by Daredevil. As Bullseye threatens to kill more people and swings a sai at Daredevil’s hand, Daredevil releases him and says, “You’ll kill no one — ever again!”

Although there are mitigating factors, it is clearly presented as Daredevil’s choice to let Bullseye fall to his potential death. The fall only paralyzes Bullseye, but the real consequences fall on Daredevil. In both this scene and the issue’s ending, nothing about this choice is portrayed as heroic or brave. Bullseye’s landing is cast in ugly hues and highlights the violence of the moment. Afterward, Daredevil is shown alone in the winter cold left to mourn Elektra while Bullseye sits in a hospital bed plotting an inevitable revenge. The context of the issue focuses on the pain and consequences of what has been done.

Miller - Daredevil - Save Bullseye

This issue is all the more powerful when taken in the full context of Miller’s run. In Daredevil #169 Daredevil saves Bullseye after he has been gone on a murdering spree due to a brain tumor. It is not an instant or easy decision though. He waits until the very last moment to pull Bullseye from the path of an oncoming train. The choice is a struggle, one that questions the basis of both Daredevil and the reader’s morality. Miller does not create a simple scenario in which right and wrong can be separated easily. Instead, he provides a complex struggle so that even when Daredevil risks the life of a psychopath and mass murderer 12 issues later, it is troubling. There is an epilogue in Daredevil #169 that allows Daredevil to present why he made his choice, but even that scene casts shadows of doubt.

Miller - Daredevil - Moral Statement

That’s the sort of subtlety which best allow heroes, super and otherwise, to challenge us. It’s the kind of back-and-forth morality play that can be found later in Netflix’s Daredevil, but is also absent from the series’ beginning. Torture is not a fantasy or genre-element, it’s very real and something that has become a significant part of the American national discourse in the past 15 years. To accept it as a heroic act so easily is bothersome because of what that it says about its viewers. It proposes a worldview in which torture is acceptable under a wide variety of circumstances, and can even be seen as heroic or humorous.

If we are all ready to accept that proposal, then maybe this isn’t a flaw with Daredevil. Maybe it’s a flaw with us.

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Mastermen #1 and The Grim History of American Comics

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on April 11, 2015.

Mastermen - 1

With only a cursory reading, The Multiversity: Mastermen #1 doesn’t appear to fit in with the rest of The Multiversity. The series has been defined by nuanced writing, tremendous artwork, and a complex, meta-textual narrative that functions both in individual sections and a whole. In comparison to previous entries, Mastermen #1 is a tritely plotted what-if story with the weakest compositions and designs of the entire series. The lack of surface appeal is purposeful, though. Every apparent weakness of Mastermen #1 works to obfuscate and outline its true meaning as an indictment of its publisher DC Comics, the superhero genre, and all of American comics.

Meaning of The Multiversity

When examining Mastermen #1 it’s important to consider the context in which it exists. Each issue of The Multiversity has been explored in immense detail by comics critics and reviewers, leading to advanced annotations and exhaustive explanations. This sort of layered complexity is not only a distinctive component of The Multiversity, but most of Morrison’s comics, including recent works like Final Crisis, Batman R.I.P., Annihilator, and Batman Inc. While the success of these comics may be debatable, their lofty intentions and exacting nature is indisputable. The disparity in quality and style between Mastermen #1 and other titles of The Multiversity as well as Morrison’s other recent work, is a call for further examination, not eager dismissal.

Each of the one-shot issues composing the body of The Multiversity has formed its own meta-textual narrative concerning the superhero genre and comics medium. Society of Super-Heroes#1 was an adventure comic that holds a great deal in common with the pulp novel predecessor to the modern comic book in narrative structure and genre trappings. It explores alternatives to the superhero genre that came to dominate the medium in the wake of World War II. The Just #1 is an awkward attempt to relate to modern trends and young people by exaggerating an adult look upon them. It details the disconnect between those creating comics and the generation at which they claim to be targeted. Pax Americana#1 is an examination of the exacting detail and aims of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s superhero masterpiece, Watchmen. It manages to criticize both the original work and its effects upon the industry. Thunderworld #1 takes a drastically different tactic, embracing the youth-oriented plotting of early DC Comics and applying some of the best modern talent of modern comics. It is an alternative to the other types of comics examined within The Multiversity, and the only comic unaffected by the corruptive antagonists known as The Gentry.

It’s even possible to look at these four in order as a historical sequencing of mainstream superhero comics. They move from an adventure story resembling the pulps of the 1930s and 40s to an adult attempt to relate to the modern adolescent experience like the early Marvel comics of the 1960s to the clockwork deconstruction and maturing themes of the 1970s and 80s to the diverse titles willing to embrace fun (like The Power of Shazam!) that sprung up at DC Comics in their wake. If that narrative is purposeful, it leaves Mastermen #1 in the massive boom-and-bust cycle of the 1990s and the modern comics trends that followed it.

This is nothing more than a brief survey of the commentary about comics and the superhero genre in display in each of these issues. They are brimming with ideas deserving of extended essays and thesis papers. Given the precedent set by previous issues of The Multiversity, it is difficult to believe that Morrison did not intend for Mastermen #1 to make a statement of similar scope.

Mastermen #1’s Place in Time

Mastermen #1 is framed as a Superman story (ala the alternative name of Overman) beginning with an alternative origin and slowly building into a part of the larger narrative that connects all of The Multiversity. It also provides the first clues to Morrison’s intent by establishing a timeline. There are some discrepancies within the issue itself. Superman refers to himself as 98 years old at the end of the issue, but the captions clearly establish that he has only been on earth for 77 years. There are two jumps in time moving from his discovery to adulthood and again to the present. They are labeled “17 Years Later” and “60 Years Later”. Accepting these captions as basis of a timeline and setting the modern story in the year of publication (i.e. 2015), this suggests that Superman was born 77 years ago in 1938. This is the same year that the character was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. It establishes that this is not only a Superman story, but a story about the character and his role within comics publishing.

Action Comics #1, published in June 1938, is widely considered to be the unofficial beginning of the superhero genre. Despite any technical challenges, Superman is viewed by the world as the first superhero. He is the progenitor of the genre, both its initial popularity and many of its tropes. A story about the character of Superman and the history of that character can also be seen as a story about the superhero genre.

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The first jump of “17 Years Later” would suggest the year 1955 as the setting, although a later caption declares the exact date to be April 20, 1956. Both years signify a great deal of significance to American comics as historians mark them as the beginning of the Silver Age. While some contend it began with Detective Comics #215 (which featured the story “The Batmen of All Nations”, a prominent component of Morrison’s Batman stories) in 1955, others focus on Showcase #4 in 1956. 1955 was also a landmark year for Superman as a character with the publication of both Action Comics #200 and Superman #100. No matter the year, the cause and effects of this period are the same. The burgeoning of the superhero genre and success of DC Comics in these years was a direct result of the creation of the Comics Code Authority at the end of 1954 and the beginning of its enforcement in 1955.

The Comics Code Authority was a strict code of conduct created by comics publishers to self-police their content in order to appease public outrage brought about by Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and highly publicized Federal hearings. Without the CCA’s stamp of approval, most vendors would refuse to carry a comic book. It would effectively end the publication of most horror, crime, war, science fiction, and romance comics, leaving the superhero genre with little to no competition.

This time jump correlates with Overman’s conquest of America and, seemingly, the entire globe. He is a dominant force that has crushed American ideals of equality and justice. Imagery of an exploding Lincoln Memorial and defeated Uncle Sam are paired with announcements that proclaim a new reality, one that is “Beyond slave morality! Beyond the brute concerns of the herd!” It is a rejection of populism and socialism in favor of totalitarian rule.

The movement from the birth of Superman in 1938 to the conquering of America by Nazi Germany (and American comics by the superhero genre) are mirrored with the appearance of DC Comics in Mastermen #1. The issue begins with a splash of Hitler defecating in pain and holding an issue of Superman that features the titular character punching him in the jaw. Hitler’s pain stands in stark contrast to the triumphant moment displayed on the cover of the comic. 17 years later Hitler’s dream is achieved and comics are burned in massive piles. Instead of being juxtaposed to the suffering of the party, images of Superman are held by laughing soldiers.

This suggests a fundamental transformation, in which Superman has been transformed from a powerful concept to something laughable. Where the character began in stark opposition to fascism, he has now been co-opted by the ideology and used to destroy the power of comic books. The Superman conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 is one compared to the populist ideals of America in this era, whereas the one found in 1955 is a cog in fascist machine.

Lord Broken and The Gentry

It is after the story leaps forward again 60 years to the present day that the first element of connecting Mastermen #1 to The Multiversity appears in the form of Lord Broken. Lord Broken is a member of The Gentry, a collective of twisted beings destroying the many worlds of the Multiverse. Like everything in The Multiversity, there is more to these monsters than their surface. They are aware of comics as a fictional medium and make use of panels in order to attack Nix Uotan. The Gentry are suggested to be forces interested in corrupting the superhero genre and destroying comics.

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Lord Broken is depicted as a tall, decaying house lurching to its side and filled with infinite eyeballs peering out of the windows. The frame has been haphazardly stacked forcing unsustainable growth on a constantly declining base. This appearance would suggest a connection to “The House of Ideas”, a famous nickname for Marvel Comics. On a deeper level, the combination of this name with the villainous intent suggests an ironic reversal where the vaunted house of ideas is completely lacking in originality. This twist would not be limited to one publisher, but any that rely primarily on intellectual property created decades prior. It is a criticism not just of Marvel Comics, but of its primary competitor and many of the smaller companies who apply similar strategies to marketing familiar concepts.

Overman is haunted by a nightmare in which Lord Broken looms over him each night. He describes the monster: “A broken house. Impossible to repair… A great, vacant building – its timbers cracking, the moulding rotten. The floorboards crumbling underfoot… yet still alive with some malevolent emptiness.” Taken as a criticism of the largest publishers of superhero comics, it is a potent image. The luster and beauty of a household are in decay having lost the ability to foster any life, but maintained in spite of its terrible existence. It is a brutal and absolute rebuke of the continued publication of characters like Superman by these publishers.

Lord Broken is shown looming over an homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 in this dream sequence. That image drawn by George Perez in 1986 has become so iconic that it has permeated superhero comics for almost 30 years. It and the event that surrounds it have come to define much of what has been published in its wake. From the proliferation of crises and events at DC Comics to the repetition of nostalgia-filled frames from the 1980s, Crisis on Infinite Earths supports the threat represented by Lord Broken. It is an idea that has been repeated so often that the paint and moulding have worn down to reveal a broken shell of a house. The monster that looms over the character of Superman is DC Comics.

References and Meta-Text

Overman’s existence in the present is loaded with references suggesting connections to the publication history of Superman and criticisms of the publisher. These range from surface links to comics in the New 52 publishing line to allusions to classical opera.

Lena, a Lana Lang and Lois Lane analog, has been kept in a youthful state by Overman’s stem cells. However, they are running out after twenty-five years and Lena lashes out at Overman about her own mortality. He attempts to calm her by explaining “There was only ever a limited supply.” This suggests that even these fictional characters face a limited life span, that there are only so many Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen stories to be told before they appear as transparent as ghosts. In Lena’s eyes only Overman can continue forever. The character of Superman is made to be something special in this alternate universe of iconic characters. He is the one with limitless potential who must discover new relationships when previous ones fade. Morrison has already suggested a relationship between Overman and the Nazi Wonder Woman analog earlier in Mastermen #1. Her chastisement of Overman and their relationship suggests a comparison to the new romance between the two in the pages of the New 52.

In Mastermen #1 Kara, the Supergirl analog, was cloned directly from Superman. She is literally of the same DNA as the first superhero of this world. This, the extended life of Lena, and the proliferation of superheroes only in the wake of Overman’s appearance all suggest that his DNA is both metaphorically and literally woven into everything around him. He is the constant that gives birth to these characters and the only element which will continue to exists indefinitely. Even classic standards like Batman and Aquaman are killed in a less than heroic manner in Mastermen #1. Overman is focal point from which everything else springs.

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The immortal, classic quality of Superman is again raised in the form of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, an opera commonly known in English as “The Ring of Nibelung”. It is an epic piece that typically spans four days and upwards of 15 hours. The connection between it and the superhero genre seems clear, especially given the ideas detailed in Morrison’s Supergods. They are both stories containing many characters with massive scope and power, and the core of both Wagner’s work and Siegel and Shuster’s creation has persisted through time. The final section of Götterdämmerung also shares a title with the famously untold Alan Moore story that would have shown an ending to the heroes of DC Comics: “The Twilight of the Gods”.

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Jim Lee’s cover of Mastermen #1 itself serves as a piece of criticism. The original cover, also drawn by Jim Lee, depicted Overman and Uncle Sam arm wrestling over the earth. It is an unengaging piece of art with the rushed appearance of much of Jim Lee and his Image colleagues’ work from the early 90s. The final cover has taken that image and placed it in an elaborate, gilded frame with a swastika placed proudly on its top. This lackluster image with washed out colors has been treated with the same prestige as high art by the fascist regime. Lee’s art, no matter its merit or quality, is treated in a similar manner by both Overman’s government on Earth-10 and DC Comics in reality.

The biggest mystery of Mastermen #1 and, perhaps, the key to resolving what is actually occurring within the meta-text of the story is that of the narration. A narrator first emerges in 1955. It discusses the events of that day and the present in the past tense suggesting an omniscient perspective, aware of what was happening at each moment in time no matter how private or mysterious the circumstances. Although the narration is set alongside Jürgen, a Jimmy Olsen analog, in such a way as to make them appear connected, there is never a definite link established. Most of the captions appear in a way that recommends them to be an outside observer, someone who is aware of everything that happens in both Mastermen #1 and The Multiversity. The only man who fits this description is the writer himself: Grant Morrison.

Reading the narration of Mastermen #1 from Morrison’s perspective clarifies many of the lines that are left unresolved or ambiguous if the narrator were Jürgen or another character. In the same sequence where Jürgen appears to be the narrator, Morrison writes, “I got closer than any of the others – but when I found out what he’d done – I helped DESTROY him.” Jürgen is not suggested to be specifically close to Overman, he does not explain these crimes (and is shown to be a proud member of the Nazi party), and is not implicated in any part of Overman’s downfall. Morrison can be connected to each of these elements.

Morrison has written three of the most iconic Superman stories of all time and has been widely lauded for his understanding of the character in works like All-Star Superman, JLA, and the second volume of Action Comics. The undefined crimes are defined by the first two acts of Mastermen #1 in which Superman is converted from a populist hero to a fascist symbol. Overman’s downfall in the final pages of Mastermen #1 can be connected to The Gentry or Uncle Sam or the Freedom Fighters, but the man ultimately responsible is Grant Morrison. He has indicated a belief that he and his work are directly connected in past comics like Animal Man and The Invisibles, and has taken responsibility for both what he writes and the supposed effects of that writing on reality. Morrison is the only cypher through which the narration makes sense.

Superman and DC Comics

Morrison’s previous work with the character of Superman suggests a deep affection for the character, its cultural relevance, and ideals. The sudden reversal is not against the character Morrison wrote about in All-Star Superman, but what the character has become. The ultimate antagonist of The Multiversity is The Gentry, not Overman. The greatest threat in Mastermen #1 is the Nazi party, not Overman. He is horrified by the mass genocide committed by Hitler’s regime, but is incapable of opposing it and reaps all of the rewards. Rather than working for an active good, Overman has been reduced to a passive observer of atrocities.

The greatest flaw of this version of Superman is not that he is evil, but that he is impotent. At his conception in the opening pages of Mastermen #1, he is turned over to Hitler to be shaped for his own needs. The dream of a socialist hero, the type of hero Morrison has always written about and who he has claimed to be inspired by the original ideas of Siegel and Shuster, was present in those moments but was not made into a reality. Rather than being a man of the people, he is handed over to Hitler by a farmer in the conquered Sudetenland. The connection between Siegel and Shuster, sons of European immigrants, and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the comic publisher who would purchase the character for only $130 are clear enough. It is a transfer of an iconic hero created by the working class to a corporation seeking to capitalize and control that creation.

As hyperbolic as it may seem, it appears that Morrison is comparing the comics industry to the Nazi empire of Earth-10. They both rose to almost complete power in 1955 crushing alternatives and controlling all of the most popular ideas. The result is a “virtual paradise”. It is a world that is beautiful and without change on its surface, but also one that lacks a diversity of ideas or options. There is a beautiful surface that has been built on mountains of dead bodies.

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Overman is shown overlooking those bodies in horror saying, “I was only gone for three years. What have you done?” Those bodies can be perceived as the ideas, publishers, and careers crushed by the CCA. The rise of DC Comics, and later Marvel, was structured upon the artificially constructed monopoly of the superhero genre. Those bodies can also be seen as Siegel, Shuster, and many of their peers. The creators who invented most of the ideas that these comics empires are built upon have seen little to no profit for their ideas. While the legality of their treatment may be indisputable, the morality of the system in which they created multi-million dollar properties for only a few hundred dollars is another matter altogether.

So when Overman is shown in a world on fire at the end of Mastermen #1, he is shown to be repentant. The narrator proclaims, “He only wanted to end his guilt. He wanted an end to his loveless relationship. He wanted an end to the bloated, self-satisfied Thousand-Year Empire.” Again this works on multiple levels. While it can reflect the character of Superman unable to rectify his noble beliefs with what he helped accomplish, it reflects that same mentality within Morrison. He is unwilling to accept the current state of the American comics industry, rejecting the publishers who profit from controlling the work of dead men who made only a pittance for their greatest ideas.

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Morrison’s collaborator in this endeavor could not be a more perfect illustration of this message. No artist is more representative of modern superhero comics than Jim Lee. He is one of the definitive artists of the 1990s, both redefining the X-Men at Marvel and helping to found Image Comics in 1992. Lee then went on to join DC Comics as co-publisher in 2010, and was the man who re-designed their most iconic heroes for the launch of the New 52. The presentation and new costume designs of the Freedom Fighters in Mastermen #1 serve as a callback to the unveiling of Lee’s Justice League less than four years ago. No other artist has had a greater impact on the continuation of superhero properties in the past twenty years.

Grant Morrison and DC Comics

That Mastermen #1 was not only published by DC Comics, but drawn by its most prominent artist and co-publisher makes Morrison’s criticisms of their business seem all the more extraordinary, bordering upon ludicrous. That is the trick of the story though. Everything interesting and engaging about Mastermen #1 occurs in sub-text and metaphor. On its surface it is a mediocre story in which Superman was raised by Nazis. Outside of some poorly explored moral lessons, it raises nothing of value on its surface. Yet it is set within one of the most complex meta-textual explorations of the comics medium and superhero genre to be published in years. It demands a deep reading and interpretation to be understood.

Morrison is aware that nothing on the surface of Mastermen #1 could be perceived as an assault upon his publisher or collaborators. That cognizance is what has allowed him to write a comic that contains ample evidence of this criticism without any of it being immediately obvious. Morrison has described himself as a wizard before, capable of manipulating reality through fiction. In Mastermen #1 he has pulled off his greatest trick to date. He has transformed himself into a trickster. Morrison is the Bugs Bunny to DC Comics’ Daffy Duck and he has just convinced his benefactor to declare duck season.

That relationship makes Morrison’s message in Mastermen #1 a potentially untenable one, though. He may be pointing to the emperor’s lack of clothes, but is not working to affect any change. Any criticisms he lobs at DC Comics and Marvel Comics are coming from a writer who has profited from their immense backlog of intellectual property and continues to do so. In addition to his many comics featuring Superman, almost seven years of Morrison’s career were defined by his ongoing work with the character of Batman. This is work based on the creation of Bill Finger and Bob Kane, the former of whom continues to not receive any credit and whose family has not received any compensation for the continued use of the character.

Morrison is not unaware of the hypocrisy of this stance. He is a man benefiting from the past misdeeds of a corporation that supports and adores his every whim. What Superman is to the Nazi empire of Earth-10, Grant Morrison is to DC Comics. They are both wracked by guilt at the circumstances that have allowed them to succeed, but unwilling to openly speak out against their benefactors. In the final panel of Mastermen #1 Superman is shown on his knees bent over with sorrow and guilt with his eyes pointed at the ground. Beneath him lies the title of the issue “Splendour Falls” along with the credits. At the very bottom of the page in the smallest font of all lie the names of the men who created Superman and sold him for only $130: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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Instead of being an open challenge and scathing indictment of the industry that provided Morrison with so much success and freedom, Mastermen #1 is a comic written in code. Morrison’s guilt and anger are seething just below the surface of the issue, but like this incarnation of his beloved Superman, he is unwilling to tear down the utopian facade in order to expose the problems that lie beneath it. Instead, he chooses to play the role of the trickster. The joke is there for anyone willing to read into it, but it is too obscure to risk any actual harm to Morrison or those he is challenging. While Mastermen #1 is a complex read filled with meaning and craft, it is no more capable of driving change than a shotgun blast in Loony Tunes.

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Five Frank Miller Stories You Have to Read Before the Netflix Premiere

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 9, 2015.

Daredevil - Frank Miller

The premiere of Daredevil on Netflix is here, and excitement for the series is palpable. Now that we’ve finally seen the classic red costume, everything about the series is shaping up to make it a great premiere. Both the improving television record of Marvel Studios and Netflix’s continued hits (ignoring Richie Rich), along with a great cast, make Daredevil seem like a sure fire success. But perhaps the best thing that the series has going for it is the rich source material that the writers, actors, and directors can all pull from.

Since Stan Lee and Bill Everett debuted the character in 1964, Daredevil has almost always appeared in at least one title at Marvel Comics. The publication history of Daredevil has placed it in a comfortable position beneath that of a major franchise like Amazing Spider-Man or Uncanny X-Men, but well above a title at risk of being cancelled on a whim. It’s a position that allows creators to experiment with storytelling, and to do so comfortably for long, defining runs. That position has made Daredevil one of the most consistently creative and inventive superhero titles in the history of American comics. The list of truly classic runs could fill a book, but no creator has had a greater influence on Daredevil than Frank Miller.

Miller joined the series as its penciler in Daredevil #158 and soon took over writing duties until he left the series after 33 monumental issues with Daredevil #191. This wasn’t the end of his time with the character though. He would return twice in the 1980’s and 90’s to continue to build upon the mythos he defined more than any other artist or writer. Modern comics luminaries like Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Ed Brubaker all owe their beloved runs on Daredevil to the work of Miller and his collaborators. It’s worth taking a look at Miller’s greatest Daredevil comics in order to get a sense of both the character and what we are likely to see from the Netflix series.

Daredevil - Devils - Miller

1. Daredevil #169 “Devils”

Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Although Bullseye first appeared in Daredevil #131, it wasn’t until Miller’s run that he became a classic villain for Daredevil (and the entire Marvel universe). Miller and Klaus Janson, his inker throughout most of the run, crafted a self-contained story that portrays Bullseye both as an astonishingly deadly killer and absolute psychopath. It is the beginning of a rivalry that would be integral to Miller’s work, and almost every future Daredevil saga to come.

Miller also chose to address an issue commonly raised by superhero fans when he has Daredevil save Bullseye from certain doom. Given the opportunity to watch the mass murderer perish, Matt Murdock opts instead to risk his own life in order to save the killer. It is a decision that clearly weighs on both the hero and those around him, and is addressed in an appropriately poignant manner.

Daredevil - Last Hand - Miller

2. Daredevil #181 “Last Hand”

Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

This is the double-sized issue that may be most commonly associated with Miller’s time onDaredevil. It has all of the biggest elements of Daredevil’s career and culminates in two of the greatest action sequences in superhero comics. Kingpin, Bullseye, Elektra, and even “Foggy” Nelson all have a role to play in this tragic installment that results in both the death of Elektra and Daredevil crippling Bullseye.

Daredevil #181 was a big issue for its time and still holds up as a significant read more than thirty years later. Miller is at the absolute top of his game drawing both of the major confrontations. Bullseye’s duel with Elektra, specifically the panel in which he ends the fight is iconic for a reason. Superhero comics do not get any better than this.

Daredevil - Roulette - Miller

3. Daredevil #191 “Roulette”

Frank Miller and Terry Austin

Daredevil #191 marks the end of Miller’s initial run on the series, and serves as a coda summarizing many of the moral themes and character statements that Miller focused on. Daredevil sits in Bullseye’s hospital room and plays a game of Russian roulette with the paralyzed villain. Miller reflects on the nature of morality, law, and the conflict between good and evil in society in one of the single greatest comics ever published by Marvel.

While Janson was no longer Miller’s inker for this issue, Terry Austin provides exceptional inking work to the dark tones and themes that permeate on each page. This issue marks the climax of Miller’s career in some ways. It predates his work on The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One by less than three years, reveals the incredible power of his long run onDaredevil, and points to what would define the next few years as the most successful of his career.

Daredevil - Born Again - Miller

4.  Daredevil #227-233 “Born Again”

Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

Even after his blockbuster run Miller wasn’t done with Daredevil quite yet. He returned for a seven-issue stint considered by many to be the definitive Daredevil story. Miller did not pencil “Born Again”, but was accompanied instead by David Mazzuccehelli the artist of Miller’s Batman story “Year One”. Together they drug the character to his lowes, systematically destroying his entire life before rebuilding him in order to reveal what made Daredevil a hero.

Not only is this a story that clarified exactly what makes Daredevil one of Marvel’s greatest superheroes, but it also built on the mythos and define other characters as well. Miller and Mazzucchelli revealed Murdock’s mother to be a nun in “Born Again”, adding even greater significance to the character’s Catholic morality. They also centered the story around the Kingpin, forever cementing him as an iconic villain only to be rivaled by Bullseye in Daredevil canon.

Daredevil - The Man Without Fear - Miller

5. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear

Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

This mini-series would be Miller’s last significant contribution to the character, and with an all new collaborator: John Romita Jr. Together they retold the origin of Matt Murdock, beginning with his time as a child in Hell’s Kitchen and ending with the first appearance of him in the classic red costume. The mini-series feels somewhat out of place when compared to Miller’s other work on Daredevil. It is even darker in tone and places Murdock in a significantly uglier place, adding child abuse and accidental manslaughter to his origin. The mini-series straddles the line between Miller’s most beloved, iconic work and his later descent into self-parody.

It appears that “The Man Without Fear” has a significant influence on the Netflix Daredevilseries. The black costume used in all of their promotional materials is pulled directly from the work of Miller and Romita Jr. In this series, it is the only costume Murdock uses when facing off against the Kingpin and his criminal empire. The dark tone of the trailers also fit the feeling of this story perfectly.

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These five stories are only the highest of highlights from a creator and character who have shaped comics as we know them today. They are not only some of the best examples of the superhero genre, but of the comics form as a whole. Looking at the work of Miller and collaborators like Janson, Mazzucchelli, and Romita Jr., it’s no surprise that Daredevil has been one of the most consistent creative successes at Marvel Comics. Given a track record like the one found above, Netflix and Marvel Studios have endless potential to craft a truly great television series. We can all hope to see some of these excellent stories rediscovered come April.

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