Friday, October 06, 2006

Comics: The Next Generation

Currently reading: "Henry and June, from A Journal of Love (1931-32)" by Anais Nin
Next up: "The Odyssey" by Homer (I swear, I'll finish it before I move on to anything else!) then "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller

How does the comic book industry grow its readership? It does what television does....creates a new generation of an already exsisting property to entice new consumers to it while pleasing the current fans. TV's done it with shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Tiny Toon Adventures" (the next generation of Looney Tunes), and Marvel Comics is doing it with their "Ultimates" series.
As a relative newbie to comic books, I can't be expected to go wading through decades of comic history to catch up. Thanks to things like the "Ultimates" titles, I don't have to! A friend of mine recommended the Ultimate Spider-Man series, and as I've seen the movies and already love the character, I've recently plowed through the first collection in the series, containing Issues 1-13.
The familiar story of how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man is all there...but it has a modern teenage sensibility and humor that makes it a pleasure to read! Normally, I am quick to praise the writer and don't really give enough credit to the artists...but in this case Brian Michael Bendis' funny, poignant scripts have wonderful help in Mark Bagley's artwork. For every brilliant exchange between Spider-Man and a villain, (Spider-Man to Kingpin: "...and I really wanted to remember to tell you these things, because they're really important to me! *takes out notes* goes. You are so fat...that when you cut yourself shaving...marshmallow fluff comes out. No? OK, how about this one...? You are so fat...) there is a wordless panel that conveys everything you need to know (Peter Parker excitedly dancing around his room in his underwear comes to mind!). Of particular note is the handling of the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane...very sweet, but also infused with a modern sensibility. Aunt May lecturing Peter on safe sex as he writhes with embarrassment, for instance... Though I'm giving comic collections a rest for a while, I'm very much looking forward to Volume 2.
There is an interesting comic phenomenon going on right now that all started with a little book by Michael Chabon called "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" (a book I loved!). In that book, the main characters were comic book artists in the 40s who created a character called The Escapist, a comic-book answer to the horrors of WWII. That character has since taken on a life of its own, as Dark Horse Comics purported to "re-release" the "original" Escapist comics in three volumes of collections.
Now, in the most meta of all moves, Dark Horse has released an exciting new miniseries called The Escapists. The Escapists tells the story of young writer, Maxwell Roth, a recent orphan whose father was a huge Escapist fan. Max uses his inheritance to buy the rights to the Escapist, and employs the help of his friends Denny Jones (his letterer) and Case Weaver (the artist with whom he hopes to become more than friends!) in creating a new "Escapist" comic to bring the character to a new generation of readers. The three main characters are charged with a quirky earnestness that makes me care about following them and their story. What makes this miniseries special, though, is that in addition to the interplay between the well-developed "real world" characters, we also get a glimpse of each of the Escapist issues on which they are working.
The most poignant combination of the main characters and the comic they are creating comes in Issue #3, where we see panels of The Escapist chasing Luna Moth in the rain beautifully juxtaposed with speech bubbles from Max and Case, in which their dialogue parallels the visuals, and we see their nascent attraction to each other...
The Escapists is intended to be a 6-part series. Issues #1-3 are already on sale, and Issue #4 comes out next week, Wednesday. What are you waiting for??? Go get it!
Ultimate Spider-Man, Volume 1 - Good Times!
The Escapists - Awesome!


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