Friday, March 31, 2006

The Longbox: Sin City - Family Values

Frank Miller's Sin City Vol. 5: Family Values
writer and artist: Frank Miller
Dark Horse Comics, 2005
When I began reading comics a few years ago, one of the first collections I got a hold of was the original Sin City trade, now available as Sin City Vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye. That story makes up one third of the Sin City film, if you're more familiar with that aspect of Frank Miller's creation. At the time, I loved the artwork -- particularly his use of shadows -- but overall I was less than impressed with it, partly because it had come so highly recommended, but it probably had more to do with my tastes being attuned to the prose of the likes of William Faulkner and Irvine Welsh instead of the blunt, noir dialogue Miller employs. If I reread it today, maybe I'd feel the same way, but I doubt it, based on my feelings after finishing this volume.
Family Values is a Dwight story, the character Clive Owen played in the movie adaptation. This is an entirely different story, however, and I hope that it's included in the future Sin City film sequels that we'll get in the next few years. You see, Dwight is on another mission of revenge -- not the type of revenge we expect from the outset of the book, but revenge nonetheless (have no fear; spoilers will be kept to a minimum). A woman has been murdered Sonny Corleone style and Dwight's going to figure out who did it and then make sure they get theirs. He's joined silently on his quest by Miho, the pint-sized Asian assassin from Old Town, the section of Sin City ruthlessly run by the hookers who walk its streets.
Dwight goes about solving this murder mystery by visiting all the places you'd expect -- bullet-ridden diners, seedy bars, backseats of mob cars -- all the while extracting the info he needs from everyone who's had a hard-knock life (as if there were any other kind in Sin City). He goes about all of this by any means necessary, whether it be by flirting with a woman past her prime or calmly degrading the man pointing a .45 at his temple. And every line is an utter joy to read. Miller's dialogue in Vol. 5 is running on all cylinders. The excellent dialogue carries over to the overall plot of the book as well. Family Values truly has a satisfying conclusion, all questions answered and all loose ends tied. I don't think I've ever enjoyed anything he's written in the first person more, and that includes all his Daredevil work -- books I'm an unabashed fanatic of.
Then, of course, there's the art. I mentioned earlier how much I was impressed with his use of shadow in The Hard Goodbye, and he is still uses it in a consistent manner. Drawn completely in black and white, as opposed to the splashes of red and yellow in other volumes and I never felt that it needed those highlights. Another aspect of Miller's artwork that is impossible not to admire are the gloriously violent killings. Never conventional, you can't help but gasp at what's happening, just as if you were watching it play out on a screen.
I haven't read any of the other volumes of Sin City, with exception to Vol. 1 and this one, but that's going to change very soon. Now that the movie has been out for awhile, I'd expect that some deals could be found on eBay or other online retailers since interest will have died down by now (I love my comic book stores, but let's be honest -- they rarely have good deals on anything you really want to buy). But even if you can't find a good deal on the Sin City books, I doubt you'll be sorry if you get them at full price. They really are classics in every sense of the word.
10 out of 10

*** Now that LBM has expanded beyond comics, I've retooled some of the columns for the sake of simplicity. This was originally part of a feature I did called "Graphic Novel Grab Bag." I only ever wrote five, so I've re-tagged them as Longbox entries. Enjoy the early days of LBM that I've somehow resisted the urge to purge. -- JA, 1/20/10 ***

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Longbox 3/25/06

Star Wars: Republic #83
writer: John Ostrander
artist: Jan Duursema
Dark Horse Comics, 2/06
Now that Episode III has been released, supposedly ending the Star Wars film franchise, Republic, which was effectively born when Episode I hit theaters, has now come to an end as well. The series has been very inconsistent, ranging from the incredibly dull to some of the most intriguing storylines to unfold in the Star Wars universe. For my money, the best of the series (which I've read almost every issue) came when John Ostrander was doing the scripting. While not all of the other writers were awful, none were memorable. One of the most impressive aspects of the series once Ostrander took over was his use of seemingly forgettable characters and giving them enough background and personality to become integral elements of Republic. Take Villie, the swindling rouge who appeared early in the series but who's broken English (a Star Wars staple) became annoying upon his introduction. However, in the hands of Ostrander, he became a character who you always wanted not to trust, but due to the various precarious situations our hero was placed in, always had to despite better judgment. Along with the do-I-trust-him-or-not scenario that always seemed to present itself while he was included in Republic, he often supplied the much-needed comic relief, which in the movies is usually regulated to Chewy or the droids. Previous storylines never touched on such important aspects of what makes Star Wars one of the most-loved franchises in history.
That said, the greatest improvement that Ostrander made was the inclusion of a Jedi hero who was engaging and mysterious, but clearly not just another Skywalker clone to go on adventures that were essentially rehashes of the film plotlines. He gave us Quinlan Vos, a Jedi who walked a dark path eclipsed only by Anakin Skywalker. Introduced to the series with a case of amnesia, Vos was never even himself sure if he was a dark Jedi or not. He was constantly put in positions to be a double and triple agent for the light and dark sides of the Force. Over the course of Republic, he came in contact with Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, and Yoda among other favorites from the movies. With all of these elements, Republic became one of my most anticipated books each month.
All of this culminates in #83, the final issue of the series. Quinlan and Villie are on the Wookie planet Kashyyyk along with Yoda during the battle depicted in Episode III. The clones turned against the Jedi forces a few issues back and Vos is stranded alone in the jungle preparing himself for certain death, as he has been feeling the deaths of the other Jedi knights through the Force. After focusing himself, he goes on an absolute tear against small groupings of clone soldiers. These scenes are magnificently depicted by Jan Duursema, whose art has been another strongpoint of Republic. Drawing both accurate renditions of characters from the movies and repeatedly exciting lightsaber battles cannot be an easy thing, and Duursema is in prime form with this issue again -- heads were flying all over the place, literally.
I'll leave you the read the details, but we did get the obligatory happy ending with this series, which to a degree went a little overboard, but understandably so. In the end, this was one of the great finds I've come across in comics, and I haven't found much written about it on the web, which is a shame.
I'm sorry to see it go, but Ostrander and Duursema will be teaming up again in the Star Wars universe for the upcoming series Star Wars: Legacy. Although it will apparently be focused on yet another Skywalker, it will be 100 years after the events of Episode VI, and hopefully that will allow Ostrander to create another unique Jedi, different from Quinlan Vos and the Skywalkers.
8 out of 10

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Shortbox 3/24/06

Runaways #13
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Adrian Alphona
Marvel Entertainment, 4/06
This stand-alone issue focus' on Molly, the youngest member of the teen superhero group, and as usual with Runaways, it's a fine story. Essentially a modern, sci-fi take on Oliver Twist, Molly wakes up and is forced to steal along with some other, similarly kidnapped runaways, only these kids have no special abilities. It was nice to get a little focus on Molly, the least interesting of the team due to her being significantly younger than the rest, and to see all that she really wants is what the other kids she rescued in this issue wanted -- to go home to Mom and Dad; to stop being a runaway. But Molly can't go back home like they did.
It's an entertaining issue despite not contributing to the grand arc of the Runaways lore. Pick it up if you haven't been reading the series; it's a good jumping on point.
8 out of 10

Giant-Size Ms. Marvel #1
"Moment of Clarity" (2006)
writers: Brian Reed & Roberto de la Torre
artist: Jimmy Palmiotti
reprints of Captain Marvel #18 (1969), Ms. Marvel #1-2, #20 (1977-78)
writers: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, & Chris Claremont
artists: Gil Kane, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, & Dave Cockrum
Marvel Entertainment, 4/06
While I find reprints of old comic stories tedious to read, even such classics as the "Kree-Skrull War," I understand why we're presented with them. The history of a character is essential to understanding how they've become who they are today, and Ms. Marvel has come a long way from the pages of Captain Marvel where she first appeared. The other stories included here explain the early, duplicitous nature of Carol Danvers when she changed into her alter-ego, as well as her costume changes and how she befriended Mary Jane Watson. But the reason why I'm recommending this title this month is the new story included. I've been a fan of Ms. Marvel ever since she showed up in Bendis' Alias a few years ago. Reed immediately dives into what the new series will focus on, which is Carol becoming one of the greatest superheroes on the planet, a mantle she held in the alternate universe of the "House of M." Now that she knows she has it in her to be that kind of hero, she's going to do her best to realize that potential.
Meanwhile, Palmiotti's art is absolutely fantastic. He has a great battle sequence between her and the Traveler (who seems to be a really awesome bad guy that I hope returns at some point in the new series) that nicely contrasts Carol's quiet moments of reflection on her terrace.
If the level of production on the art and scripts continues at this level, I have some very high hopes for this new on-going.
"Moment of Clarity" - 9 out of 10
reprints - 5 out of 10

Hellboy: Makoma (1 of 2)
writer: Mike Mignola
artists: Mike Mignola & Richard Corben
Dark Horse Comics, 2/06
If you're not buying this, you're a fool.
10 out of 10

The Amazing Spider-Man #529
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Ron Garney
Marvel Entertainment, 4/06
As of right now, I am not getting any title focusing on any of the big three -- Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. When I've posed the question as to which title to pick up to people who get titles with one of the big three featured, I never get an enthusiastic, "Oh, man, you have to get Action Comics! I can't believe you aren't already!" or something along those lines. These numerous titles clearly don't excite people anymore, and they sell on tradition more than anything else. So I've never gotten any of them.
However, due to a shipping error by my comic supplier, I got a copy of this issue. According to Mike, this issue is selling out all over the place, and I can see why -- Spidey's got himself a new costume. Compliments of Tony Stark, Peter is given a new high-tech suit, similar to the Iron Man suit of armor, right down to the color scheme. On a test run, he gets himself caught up in a New York City car chase and takes out the low-level criminals with great ease.
And you know what? I liked it. It was simple, but fun, and the allusions to the upcoming "Civil War" mini has me really intrigued. So, now I'll be finishing this arc, and maybe even add it to my pull list if it maintains being enjoyable.
But we all know that suit isn't going to stick around for long. It looks amazing though, and I bet Marvel finds a way to give it to another character, a la Venom.
8 out of 10