Archive for the ‘English’ Category

Review: The Property

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

After the death of her son, Regina Segal takes her granddaughter Mica to Warshaw. They hope to reclaim a family property lost during World War II when her family had to flee the country. Soon Mica begins to wonder if the reasons for their trip might have nothing to do with the lost property per sé, but everything to do with what happened with her grandmother in the past.

She gets help from Tomasz, a Polish comic book artist/tour guide, to get acquainted with Warshaw. He also helps her get rid of a bothersome friend of the family, who Mica and her grandmother happen to bump into on the plane and now follows Mica around town.

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Rutu Modan is an Israeli illustrator and comic book artist whose first graphic novel Exit Wounds (2007) received much critical acclaim and won the 2008 Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Novel. With The Property she made an elegant and intriguing little story. Her characterisations lean toward archetypes but Modan has a knack for natural-sounding dialogue so she is able to make her characters seem real and act natural.

I liked the character of Regina, who seems to be a typical, stubborn grandmother who has a natural dislike for bureaucratic behaviour. This is demonstrated in the first scene in which a customs officer tells her she can’t bring her bottle of water with her on the plane because of security guidelines. She refuses to throw away a new bottle of perfectly good water, so when she doesn’t succeed in persuading the young man to let her have her water, she ostentatiously gulps down the contents of the whole bottle, making all the other passengers wait. Regina is the kind of woman that can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but who’s heart is in the right place.

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Intriguing detail: the credits list contains a list of actors. It seems Modan uses actors or models to base her characters on. Another detail I found interesting and a bit disappointing is the following: Modan drew her graphic novel in the clear-line style pioneered by Hergè, but the sketches in Tomasz’s sketchbook have a more natural look to them. These sketches appear to be drawn by Asaf Hanuka. I actually prefer the style of these sketches to the clear-line style Modan uses to visualise her graphic novel because the sketches seem livelier and more realistic while the clear-line drawing style is more academic. The sketches seem to draw you into the story world, while the clear-line style keeps a distance between the reader and the comic.

Because Modan collaborates with models and other artists she almost seems to operate like a film director when it comes to constructing a comic book. Speaking of film: I wouldn’t be surprised if this well-paced story will be made into a motion picture someday.

This review was published on the blog of the American Book Center.

Review: Hand-drying in America

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Because of its size, Ben Katchor’s Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories is hard to overlook when walking by the bookcase. But what got me to pick it up, is Katchor’s eye-catching scratched-drawing style: his comics look like he sketches them directly on paper with a pen, without making a set-up in pencil first.

However, Katchor brilliantly uses this seemingly spontaneous way of drawing to make well-thought-out drawings rich with detail. For me, this symbolises the core of his work, which is Katchor’s penchant for small but quirky details of modern-day urban life.
handdrying_katchorKatchor’s stories in Hand-Drying… tend to favour topics related to architecture and urban design and the way people respond to them, which they often do in an atypical fashion. Most of the time his observations are very funny and dry. The story ‘Open House Season’ for instance, opens with the statement that our knowledge of the domestic interiors of a city is limited to the homes of a small circle of friends, acquaintances and relations. Few of us have the opportunity of a gasman or exterminator who visit a lot of houses. However, Open House Aficionados have a solution to that problem: they use the real estate section of the newspaper to pick out houses to visit. Not to buy, but to get a feel of the apartment and later discuss it with fellow Open House Aficionados.

The story from which the book takes its title deals with the adventurous undertakings of a businessman who wants to dry his hands after a visit to the toilet in a restaurant. He can choose between paper towels or an electric hand dryer, but of course the dispenser is empty and the dryer is out of order. We’ve al been there, yet still Katchor is able to give this tale an uneasy ending: the businessman has to shake hands with a foreign student even after all his efforts he still hasn’t been able to dry them properly. Urban life can be uneasy at times and pretty absurd, and that’s what Katchor deals with in one-page stories. They often ridicule the trappings of urban life so we can have a good laugh about it.

handdrying_memorial-225The material in Hand-Drying in America was originally serialized in Metropolis magazine between 1998 and 2012, a magazine that covers architecture and urban design, which explains why this collection of comics deals with design or urban issues. Then again, Katchor always had a knack for tackling urban themes in his comics and especially with using big cities as the setting for modern-day dystopia.

Ben Katchor (1951, New York) debuted in Raw Magazine. The comic character Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, which he created for the Jewish socialist magazine, is probably his best-known work. The often moody and surrealist stories in this strip paint a picture of historical New York City.

Please take the time to check out Katchor’s presentation at Ted Talks (see below), for not only do you get a nice impression of his comic book artwork and stories, there’s nothing like hearing him reading his own work in his very distinctive way of speaking.

Ben Katchor will be at the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague on Saturday, November 16th, and in Antwerp on Sunday, November 17th. And he will be guest on VPRO’s Boeken on Sunday, Ned 1, 11:20-12:00. 

This review was published on the ABC Blog.

Review: Kick-Ass 1, Hitgirl, and Kick-Ass 2

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Dave Lizewski is just another ordinary American Teenager: he likes girls (but can’t get a date) and he loves videogames and comic books. One day he has an epiphany. ‘Why hasn’t anyone tried to be a superhero in real life?’ he asks himself, and decides to become one. Dressed up in a green bodysuit and a ski mask and armed with just a pair of batons he calls himself Kick-Ass. After walking around in his suit for weeks without doing anything really, his first act as a superhero is an attempt to stop three loitering hoodlums painting graffiti. They beat Dave into a pulp and stab him. When Dave stumbles into the street, he gets hit by a car. This experience answers his question: nobody dresses up as a superhero in real life because when they do, they get their ass kicked.

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In the hospital it takes numerous operations – they fit three metal plates inside his head – and after weeks of recovery and physical therapy Dave is well again. Before we know it, he’s back hitting the streets. After one of his fights ends up on YouTube, Kick-Ass is an overnight success, and more people start to dress up as superheroes. Like the mysterious Red Mist, who seems to steal the spotlight from Kick-Ass, and Dave doesn’t like that one bit. Soon he’ll learn there’s more to Red Mist than he suspects. Of all the hero-wannabees Hit-Girl and her partner in crime Big Daddy seem to be the genuine article. Although Hit-Girl is only ten, she’s a lethal weapon all by herself and soon things get very, very violent when they take on the mafia.

Original ideas
Kick-Ass
is the brainchild of comic book writer Mark Millar and artist legend John Romita Jr. Millar is known for ultraviolent comic books that deal with marvel1985coverinteresting concepts. In Marvel 1985, a limited series Millar wrote a couple of years ago, the baddies from the Marvel Universe all of a sudden show up in the real world and make havoc. Young Toby Goodman has to travel to the fictional world of Marvel to get help. In Superman: Red Son Millar explores the notion what would have happened if Superman’s rocket landed in Russia instead of Kansas, making him a communist hero. Millar also wrote hits like Wanted, which was turned into a film starring Angelina Jolie, and worked with John Romita Jr. on Wolverine: Enemy of the State.

Romita Jr. is one of the best artists working in the comic book industry today. For the past thirty plus years he’s drawn every major Marvel Comics character including Iron Man, Spider-Man and currently Captain America. Romita is a brilliant visual storyteller: he always puts ‘the camera’ in the right spot and makes sure he presents the story in a clear, exciting way. One can read his comics just by looking at the drawings.

The first Kick-Ass comics inspired a film by the same name by director Matthew Vaughn, but this was not just a carbon copy adaptation. The comic book series had only just begun when the film was being written and shot, so the screen story deviates a bit from the comic book. Which is a good thing, because that way both stories are worth looking into. This summer the sequel Kick-Ass 2 is coming out, and that flick is based on the comics part two and part three in the series, respectively titled Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass 2.

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Hit-Girl is a great follow up to the original Kick-Ass comic and deals with the daily adventures of the title character. Although Mindy McCready as Hit-Girl could slice a mafia hoodlum in half with her sword without breaking a sweat, she has a hard time leading a normal life and blending in with her high school classmates. How can she outsmart Debbie Forman, smart-mouthed queen bee of the seventh-graders, if she doesn’t even know what Justin Bieber’s latest album is called and what the hell The Hunger Games are? This is where Dave Lizewski comes in. While Hit-Girl teaches him a thing or two about crime fighting, she learns from Dave what TV series are hip and what songs to put on her iPod.

When Red Mist and the Genovese gangster family try to get revenge on Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass for what they did to the Family in the first comic series, it’s just a matter of time before Mindy and Dave have to suit up once more.

Real-life superheroes
In the third story, Kick-Ass 2, Millar and Romita take the concept of real life superheroes up to a new level when Kick-Ass joins a superhero team. Besides chasing criminals, they also consider more mundane actions such as distribute blankets to the homeless and volunteer at a local hospice. (Stuff we never see DC Comics’s Justice League do.) This shows that Millar is really into tabs on the real-life superhero thing, which is a phenomenon that exists for real in the United States: people dress up as superheroes not so much to fight criminals but to help homeless people or volunteer to help other people in need.

Since Kick-Ass 2 is a comic book, soon things get really ugly and violent when Red Mist, now calling himself The Motherfucker, wants to be the biggest supervillain known to men. He and his group of hired thugs start a violent rampage targeting Kick-Ass’s family and friends and they leave a nasty, bloody trail of victims.

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The Kick-Ass stories are a wonderful, satirical take on the superhero genre, with a lot of humorous nods and winks at the comic book scene and contemporary popular culture. The humour makes the ultraviolent action sequences digestible for most readers. However, I had the feeling that in Kick-Ass 2 the creators went a bit overboard when for no particular reason the Motherfucker shoots a bunch of kids and adults in a quiet street in the suburbs. Although the depiction of violence has always been a big part of the story in the series – for example: when the mafia in the first series interrogates Dave they torture him and electrocute his scrotum – in Kick-Ass 2 the violence seems even harsher, even more in your face than before and this time it’s presented with little humour to lighten things up. I would say this kind of satire is probably not for the faint of heart.

Still, the artwork looks great, and on the whole, the Kick-Ass series is definitely worth reading for anyone who loves superheroes or likes to take a piss at dressed-up comic book characters. Needless to say: I am looking forward to the third series and the upcoming movie.

This review is published on the ABC blog.

Video-interview Colum McCann: ‘The imagined is as real as the imaginary’

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Recently Irish writer Colum McCann visited the Netherlands  to promote his new novel TransAtlantic. His Dutch publisher De Harmonie asked me to interview him about the book.

McCann_Trans-AtlantischIn TransAtlantic McCann connects three iconic crossings. The first non-stop Trans atlantic flight by aviators Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown in 1919; Frederick Douglass, toured Ireland in 1845 and ’46 to promote his subversive autobiography in which he describes his life as a black slave in America. Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave. In New York 1998 senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion. All these narratives are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history.

As in earlier work, McCann combines historic events with fictional elements, and lets real life characters cross paths with fictional characters:

‘One of the recurring themes for the past ten or twelve years of my writing life has been that nebulous line between what’s true and what’s not true. What’s real and what’s not real. What’s imagined and what is supposedly factual. And I like this territory. It’s good territory for a contemporary novelist to be in, because we get fed such a line of bullshit left right and centre by corporations, by governments and by ourselves. One has to doubt what is true and what is not true. There is a very distinct argument to be made that the imagined is as real as the imaginary. The character of Emily Ehrlich in my novel is as real to me as any journalist that would have been around in the early part of the 20th century. And what this does is that it puts the novelist in the position where he or she questions the notion of what’s authentic. And we must learn to question what’s authentic if we are going to live sort of valuable proper lives and not be exploited by artists, by corporations, by governments, by ourselves.’

Review: Superman Action Comics vol. 1

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Since Man of Steel by film director Zack Snyder is showing in theatres, it’s a good time to pick up some Superman comics. So why not read the first collection of Action Comics, in which a new and fresh take on Superman is presented? Written by comic book author Grant Morrison and illustrated by Rags Morales and Andy Kubert, Superman Action Comics volume 1: Superman and the Men of Steel collects the first eight issues plus back stories and also contains an insightful making-of these comics.

action_comics_1_coverIn 2011 publisher DC Comics, home of heroes such as Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Superman, revamped and relaunched its entire line of comic books, starting 52 new series with number one. A fresh start for DC’s stall of heroes, giving them updated origins and a modern makeover. And at the same time giving new readers a fresh starting point to get acquainted with heroes that have been around for ages. Superman for instance, as you probably know, has been around since 1938. This creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was the first superhero known to men and started it all. You can imagine that having to keep in mind seventy-plus years of history can be quite a burden for writers and readers alike. So it was about time Suup got a fresh start.

Just like Snyder’s flick, writer Grant Morrison’s take on Clark Kent and his alter ego is a re-interpretation of Superman. But while Snyder opted for a dark brooding version of Superman, not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Batman-movies (Nolan was co-author of the film’s story), Morrison presents us with a more optimistic version of Superman’s world. Thank god, I’d like to think, because dark and brooding might suit The Dark Knight, but it’s not really a comfortable fit for everyone’s favourite alien boy scout who flies around in primary colours and grew up on a farm in Kansas.

Morrison’s tale starts at the beginning of Superman’s career: Clark Kent has just moved to the big city Metropolis and is still exploring his incredible powers. Mind you, this Superman is not the all-powerful dude that was before: although he has super strength, can run like the devil and shoots laser-beams from his eyes, he can also get hurt and, when he’s beat up, his face gets bruised. In the beginning, he can’t fly either, but leaps tall buildings in a single bound, just like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster envisioned him back in the late 1930’s. Although within a couple of issues he does fly and, judging by the Superman of five years from now that Morrison presents in issue 7 and 8 (Grant likes to play with timelines in his stories), Superman could soon be like his old omnipotent and boring self again. At least, that’s one of my fears.

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But for now, the new Clark Kent is in his early twenties, renting a small room from a nosey landlady, working for a small-time newspaper in the city and uncovering all kinds of nastiness and corruption. With a youthful arrogance Superman goes head-to-head against a corrupt businessman who uses illegal cheap labour and breaks all kinds of laws. This is The People’s Superman. There is no Lois & Clark, yet, although Kent is friends with Jimmy Olsen, the photographer of the Daily Planet, who works closely with Miss Lane. What I really like about this incarnation is the fact that Clark’s features look significantly different from Superman’s, so maybe the wearing-glasses-as-disguise-joke finally works when he does get up close and personal with Lois Lane.

When Clark is saving lives as Superman he’s dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, looking more like a construction worker with a cape than a Superhero. Besides, he’s not considered to be a hero by the American Government anyway: this is America post 9/11, so Superman is treated as an alien and therefore considered a possible threat to national security. Brilliant but shady Lex Luthor advises the army on how to bring Superman down. It’s not until Earth is truly threatened by an alien life form that the American Government figures it might not be a bad thing to have a Superman on their side.

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Grant Morrison is known for having an original mind, writing comics that deal with complex concepts, blurring the boundaries between realism and fantasy. He often mixes autobiographical elements with heroic adventures. His series The Invisibles (published in the 90s) is one of the most complex and interesting stories ever published in the comic book industry. Although I like his fresh take on Clark and Superman, and Superman and the Men of Steel is an enjoyable read, it doesn’t reach the heights of his other work. Maybe writing a high-profile character like Superman comes with many constraints: one can make him wear jeans and tone down his powers, but in the end one can’t stray too far from the conceptual boundaries that make up Superman.

I am afraid it’s only a matter of time before even this version of the Man of Steel grows stale. But that doesn’t mean that in the meantime, the ride provided by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales and Andy Kubert isn’t enjoyable.

This review is published on the blog of the American Book Center.

Striprecensie: The Incal

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The Incal, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky and drawn by legendary comic book artist Moebius, is considered a classic science fiction comic which inspired a lot of comic book artists and filmmakers.

incal-moebiusJodorowsky and Moebius present us with a complex universe and narrative that isn’t easily explained in a couple of sentences. On the surface The Incal is a sci-fi adventure in which low class private detective John Difool is the main character. When a great darkness threatens the existence of the galaxy, Difool races through the cosmos with his sidekick Deepo, a concrete bird, and a band of characters such as the great warrior Metabaron, on a quest to face the ultimate evil. The Incal guides and protects them. It is described as pure consciousness, a direct emanation of the divine will.

Moebius is the pseudonym of French comic book artist Jean Giraud (1938 –2012). Giraud is best known for the western-series Blueberry, which he created with writer Jean-Michel Charlier. Drawn in a very naturalistic style, the cowboy Blueberry is known as one of the first anti-heroes of western comics. As Moebius, Giraud made unconventional and surrealist science fiction comics, such as Arzach and The Incal which feature a limitless inventiveness, bright colours and a great sense of humour and sense of perspective.

Klik op plaatje voor grotere versie.

Klik op plaatje voor grotere versie.

At the end of the seventies Jodorowski and Moebius worked on a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. When the project got cancelled, they put all their ideas in a new comic-serial that became The Incal. The Chilean Jodorowski chose detective John Difool as the main character. Difool is very much an anti-hero: not the brightest of the bunch, certainly not the bravest. Most of the time he’s the one trying to avoid adventure instead of jumping in headfirst. Interestingly, every major character in The Incal is based upon Tarot cards. Obviously Difool is based on ‘the fool’, his name being a nice pun pointing out his origin.

The fast-paced storyline takes Difool from one great mission to the next and is sometimes hard to follow during the first read. The writer and artist treat us to new surprises and inventions on almost every page and present the complex story-world, filled with extraordinary concepts and creatures, in a self-evident manner. Sometimes The Incal leans towards science fiction satire, for instance when our heroes have to infiltrate ‘The War Star’, a massive military complex in which their enemies hide out, an obvious nod to the Death Star in Star Wars.

However esoteric and unparalleled the narrative might be, Moebius’s beautiful artwork is always a pleasure to look at and works as a guide through this fast and complex story-world. Basically The Incal isn’t simply a comic book, as a reading experience it’s best qualified as a psychedelic roller coaster ride.

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This beautiful edition from Self Made Hero collects six volumes and stays faithful to the colouring used in the original publication of the series. It includes the extra story ‘In the heart of the impregnable Metabunker’. Comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis provides the foreword.

Deze recensie is gepubliceerd op het blog van The American Book Center. The Incal is ook in het Nederlands gepubliceerd door Oog & Blik.

Striprecensie: Economix

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I never paid much attention in economics class when I was in high school. All those number crunching theories seemed so boring to me, and I never really got what the fuzz was all about. That probably explains why I never got rich buying or selling stock, but am working as a low-paid freelance journalist instead. Anyway, now there is Economix, a book, a comic book to be exact, that introduces and explains economic theories in an accessible manner and at the same time offers an entertaining read.

economixAuthor Michael Goodwin is a freelance writer living in New York, with a serious interest in the subject. For Economix he teamed up with artist Dan E. Burr.

What makes this book so good is the fact that Goodwin didn’t make a straight comics version of an econ 101 text, but instead deals with basic principles and places them within a historical context. He introduces economic theory and lays bare its basic ideas, and then tells us how they worked, or in most cases, didn’t work in practice. He doesn’t shy away from a joke here and there, which makes Economix an easy read and not at all as boring as the classes I had to take in high school.

Because of the simplified form Goodwin tells his story, it is a good starting point for anyone who wants to understand the basics and wants to continue exploring via more in-depth sources, for which the book provides a list of titles for further reading. Besides being entertaining to a point, Goodwin at the same time argues that, at least since the work of nineteenth-century economist David Ricardo, mainstream economics, with its central faith in free markets, has reflected and served the partial interests of wealth and power, and not the interest of the general public, although it is being presented as an universal truth. Because of giving the free market a free reign, with not too much interference by governments, people have become poorer and the middle class collapsed in the last thirty years.

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Since all good citizens fall victim to the global economic crisis, Goodwin’s comic couldn’t have come out at a better time. Of course Economix is part of a trend of educational and non-fiction comic books that have been popular for quite some years, and is similar to comics like Logicomix, a graphic novel about the foundational quest in mathematics that came out a few years ago and was a sleeper hit. In the Netherlands Margreet de Heer has made a number of comics in a similar matter on subjects like philosophy and religion.

Artist Dan E. Burr has earned his stripes as a comic book artist and worked in a variety of fields. He is perhaps best known for the two books he made with James Vance: Kings in Disguise and its sequel On the Ropes. These stories are set during the Great Depression, so there’s a link to Economix. Kings in Disguise has won several Harvey and Eisner awards. Although Burrs cartoonish style in Economix is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, it does the job of visualising Goodwin’s story in a simple, straightforward manner.

Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr. Economix
Abrams Comicarts, € 19.99
ISBN: 9780810988392 | ISBN-10: 0810988399

Deze recensie is gepubliceerd op het blog van de ABC.

Minneboo leest: Superior Spider-Man #2

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

In Superior Spider-Man #2 MJ and Peter, uh Octopus-Peter are dating. But something is way off here, and it is not Pete’s archaic choice of words.

The good thing about Superior Spider-Man is the fact that Humberto Ramos is not drawing it. Ryan Stegman still draws too cartoony for my taste, but at least he knows human anatomy better than Ramos ever did. Man, do I miss the days when great artists like John Romita JR still drew Spidey’s adventure. But this is a different Marvel at least when Spidey is concerned. It hasn’t been right for a long time if you ask me.

I still don’t get over the fact how poorly written Mary Jane is. It’s like somewhere she got a lobotomy, but Marvel somehow forgot to mention this. Check out this scene for instance:

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Mary Jane and Peter are soul mates. They’ve known each other for the longest time. They’ve been married – in some version of Spidey history at least –  and went through hell and back, so, one would guess she knows Peter through and through. Why doesn’t see notice that Pete’s not himself… Why doesn’t she question Pete’s behavior more? He hasn’t been acting like himself for the last couple of issues.

Because it’s not convenient for Dan Slott, that’s why. He bends MJ’s characterisation to make her fit in his master plan, which in my opinion makes bad writing. Or maybe another brain-body switch occurred and some dumb blond is inside her head or something…

All right, at the end of issue #2 she seems to suspect something, but still: very late, very thin. Especially considering the rude ways Octopus has been treating her in the last couple of issues. MJ would never stand for that. Not the way MJ was written in the past by Stan Lee, Tom Defalco, Roger Stern and Michael Straczynski that is. That was an independant woman who doesn’t take lip from anyone.

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Personally: I can’t wait till Pete’s back in his own skin and a new creative team is working on the title. Till then, I am not spending a single buck on Spidey comics.

 

Marvel, stop killing Peter Parker!

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further. Because I am going all out on Amazing Spider-Man 700.

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Amazing Spider-Man #700 variant cover by Joe Quasada.

Still here? Cool, let’s get started.

I have known Peter Parker ever since I was seven years old. I think Spider-Man is Stan Lee’s greatest creation; everything about Peter Parker was spot on from the beginning. I love the guy; Spidey is my favourite comic book character of all time. Period. When I was young, Pete was the guy to look up to, because, no matter how hard things got, he would always do the right thing, he would always try his best and he would never give up. And, most of the time he would succeed.

Later on, Peter Parker became like a good friend I liked keeping taps on, see how he was doing. How his lovely wife Mary Jane was doing, and Aunt May and all the other regulars on the series. I’ve enjoyed a lot of great comics made by some of the greatest writers and artists in the American Comic Book industry, like Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Gerry Conway, Michael Straczynski, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr., Ron Frenz, and so on. But since the early ninety nineties Marvel seems to have lost some of its magic. The company doesn’t seem to know how to handle Spider-Man. They’ve been tinkering with the formula ever since, with mixed results at best. And somehow, they seem to try to get rid of Peter Parker while wanting to keep Spider-Man as a character. As if those two could ever be separated. We all know the best Spider-Man stories are about Peter and not the Webhead’s exploits.

And with Marvel Now! the company is starting a new series called Superior Spider-Man, without Peter Parker. Once again Marvel tries to kill its flagship character.

Another death in the family
In the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man Peter Parker dies. Well, not really. His archenemy doctor Octopus swapped brains, so now Doc Ock’s brain is inside Peter Parker’s body, while poor Peter is locked up inside Doc Ock’s body. That’s not a problem because Ock is overweight or because Doc Ock is a notorious bastard, but because he’s dying. And if Peter cannot make the switch back in time, he’ll die and Doc Ock will be Spider-Man/Peter Parker. And that is exactly what happens. But there is a small twist: during the final confrontation, the octobot that contains Pete’s brain patterns, manages to download Peter’s memory inside Ock. All the hardships and pain Peter has ever endured, all the sacrifices he has made and all the friend’s he has lost during his life as Spider-Man are shown as key moments in Parker’s life. But they are mixed with Ock’s personality, so it’s like Ock lived through all this hardship and pain. This emotional memory overload if you will miraculously changes the villain’s point of view on life. All of a sudden he believes that with great power comes great responsibility. Ock vows to dying Peter he will be Spider-Man from now on, keeping his family safe.

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And yes, knowing Doc Ock, the guy who tried to conquer planet earth numerous times and killed a zillion people, this is a totally believable plot twist. NOT. Sorry, Dan Slott, I just don’t buy it. You didn’t set this up properly: Doc Ock has always been a villain, and now he wants to be the good guy all of a sudden?

Spidey-writer Dan Slott really dropped the ball on this one. He and Spidey’s editor Stephen Wacker let Peter Parker die a dishonourable death. After 700 episodes of Amazing Spider-Man, he deserves a lot better. Why end the series in such a dour note? I thought in 2012 we celebrated 50 years of Spider-Man, not spit in the face of Peter Parker, and kick him while he was already down on the ground?

Dan Slott: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

Dan Slott: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

Of course, I find solace in the idea that this death will not be permanent. Marvel has a history of trying to get rid of Peter Parker: Parker has died a couple of times already and he was replaced by a clone for a while, but those mistakes were always turned around after a while, because the audience, Spidey’s fans, didn’t like these changes. They want Peter Parker in Spider-Man’s suit. It is as simple as that, but a message the marketing people at Marvel do not seem to understand. So I am certain Peter will be back someday. That golden octobot that holds his brain essence or whatever will probably play a big part in the return of Peter Parker.

But that doesn’t mean that the way Marvel has ended Amazing Spider-Man, a series that started in 1963 and has been going on ever since, has left a bad taste in my mouth. It is heart breaking, really.

Superior Spider-Man will be all about Doc Ock’s exploits as Spider-Man, until sales drop and Peter returns once more.

This is not Mary Jane
This is how I would have liked to end the series. Let’s go with Slott’s crazy plot, because up until Amazing 700 it is a pretty good read, and ignore the fact that Slott’s characterisations are way off sometimes. Apart from Doc Ock seeing the light all of a sudden, Mary Jane is very poorly written. Slott reduces her to a one women Spider-Man fan club that talks in over used clichés like: ‘Go get them Tiger’ and ‘You hit the jackpot!’ I find it hard to believe that Mary Jane hasn’t picked up on the strange way Peter/Octopus talks to her and treats her. He snaps at her, calls her ‘woman’ numerous times. Come on, these guys have known each other for ages, Pete would never address her in the way Ock does. Mary Jane must smell something fishy about Peter’s behaviour. But somehow, because Slott doesn’t allow it, she doesn’t. No, she gives him another pep talk and confesses her love to ‘Peter’. Mary Jane was written totally out of character.

Humerto Ramos and his trouble with anatomy.

Humerto Ramos and his trouble with anatomy.

‘No one dies’
But following Slott’s plot, I would have liked it if during the final confrontation Peter succeeded in transferring his brain patterns back inside his body. After Ock died in Spidey’s arms, Peter and MJ would get back together again, nullifying the whole Brand New Day nonsense and we would be back on track. Even if Peter decided after the transfer to lay low as Spidey for a while, it would have been a better ending for Amazing Spider-Man. Give Pete and us a break, Marvel, and give him a happy ending for once. Don’t try to get rid of Parker all the time to rejuvenate Spider-Man. You killed Ultimate Peter already, you replaced Peter a number of times. Try to think up something original. Marvel used to be called the house of ideas. When it comes to Spider-Man calling Marvel the house of bad ideas seems more appropriate.

Humberto Ramos
There’s one last bone I have to pick: I really don’t like Humberto Ramos’ artwork. His drawing style is a cross between Disney and manga. I always believe Spider-Man is best served with a lot of realism as possible. Sure, Slott uses a lot of humour in his stories, and that’s great fun. But to keep Spidey relatable, he needs to stay realistic for the most part. So a semi-realistic style would counterbalance the sci-fi and humourous elements perfectly. The greatest artist on Marvel, like the Romita’s and Steve Ditko always drew Spider-Man that way. Ramos’s cartoony drawing style would fit the adventures of the Spectacular Spider-Ham better than Amazing Spider-Man.

Not only is his style too cartoony for my taste, it seems that Ramos fell asleep during anatomy class, or maybe he’s never seen a girl naked, because the way he draws the human form is simply appalling. Check out this panel from an earlier Amazing Spider-Man comic and look at Spider-Man’s torso. Spines don’t work like that, unless it is Mr. Fantastic in the Spidey suit- which it isn’t – I’d say Ramos has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to human anatomy.

Humberto Ramos clearly doesn't know the limits of the human spine.

Humberto Ramos clearly doesn’t know the limits of the human spine.

Most of the time body parts are out of proportion. The faces of a lot of characters look alike. And besides that: Ramos couldn’t draw convincing facial expressions if he wanted to. Look at how he draws Mary Jane in this panel:

ams700_bad_maryjane

The Spidey cast act like bad actors when they come from Ramos’s pencil. And what’s with all these stripes on everybody’s noses? Is everyone having a cold in the Marvel Universe nowadays?

Maybe they are getting as sick of the nowadays Spider-Man stories as I am. Oh, well, there are always the reprints of Spider-Man’s golden age. Maybe I’ll pick up the current story when Peter Parker has returned from the grave and Ramos has taken a permanent position at Disney drawing cartoon characters.

Striprecensie Blacksad 4: A Silent Hell

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Private detective John Blacksad is hired by a record-producer to track down legendary pianist Sebastian “Little Hand” Fletcher, who is missing. Together with his pal Weekly, Blacksad uncovers a dark and twisted piece of local history.

A Silent Hell is the fourth instalment of the Blacksad series created by writer Juan Díaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido, originally published in France. In addition to winning prestigious comic book awards like the Eisner and Harvey awards, the albums have been translated into over twenty different languages. And rightly so, because this series is what we consider to be quality comic book storytelling.

Being a detective story that’s staged in 1950s New Orleans, A Silent Hell contains all the trappings one may expect: a detective with snappy comebacks, unexpected plot twists, New Orleans’s legendary music scene, Mardi Gras and voodoo. Still, Canales and Guarnido present the reader with a captivating story, beautifully drawn and water-coloured by Guarnido. And yes, it helps that all the characters in this series are animals to give the detective genre a new look and feel. Blacksad is a smart cat, while his sidekick Weekly is a foxy journalist. But appearances aside, this animal kingdom is much like our own world, where beauty and pain walk hand in hand, and people in power have dark secrets they do not want uncovered.

The story is carefully constructed: although the plot unfolds in one single night and the nightly events are mixed with flashbacks and flash forwards, the reader never loses track of the order of events.

A romantic encounter during a chase.

Both Spanish artists have earned their stripes as animators, which is very visible in Guarnido’s lively facial expressions reminiscent of his work for the Disney studios, although his drawing style has a unique quality of its own. Guarnido renders his drawings in water colours, adding mood and texture.

Guarnido meticulously explains his use of colour in The Watercolour Story, a bonus section added in this edition of A Silent Hell. The book also includes two short stories that supply some background information about the Blacksad characters.

Canales, Juan Diaz|Guarnido, Juanjo. Blacksad: A Silent Hell
Dark Horse Comics, € 19.99
ISBN: 9781595829313 | ISBN-10: 1595829318

Waarom een recensie in het Engels vraag je je wellicht af. Ik schreef deze voor het blog van The American Book Center, waar ik sinds kort maandelijks een striprecensie voor schrijf.

Video: The girl in the comic book store

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

It’s a cliché but nonetheless true: women in comic book stores are just as rare as a politician who doesn’t lie. At least in the Netherlands that seems to be the case, I am not sure about the rest of the world when it comes to girls and comic books.

When I visited the beautiful town of Edinburgh a while ago, I was happily surprised to find Kirsty in Deadhead comics. A woman in a comic book store running the show? And a Spider-Man fan at that. So you understand I had to ask her some questions… What does she like so much about Spidey and what kind of comics do women pick up?

Column: Hey Buffy!

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Hey Buffy,
I was just wondering how you were doing, after yet another apocalypse. I mean, don’t you ever get tired of all the vamps that are out there to bite you? (Although one cannot really blame them, you just have the perfect neck for it…) Well, we never get enough of you, so I guess I am saying we kind of miss you right now. Primetime television isn’t the same without the vamp-ass-kicking blond chick that makes even dead hearts beat faster. I mean let’s face it: what is there to look forward to since all access to Sunnydale is closed off. (And what the fuck is Joss doing nowadays anyway?? Fucking Fire Flights or something?) What is there to talk about now there are no more evils to fight, no more vamps to dust and no Willows, Taras, Faiths, Dawns and Kennedies to drool over? You thought your life was tough, well, just think about a world without the Scoobies – now that’s tough.

buffy_the_vampire_slayer_I just wish we could walk down Sunnydale’s main street one more time, get a latte next to the magic box… hang out at the Bronze en get real drunk while listening to Oss’ band (the only way to endure their music is to get really drunk anyway… but who ca-res…). Or have one of those nice long conversations while patrolling. Ah well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be… I mean, I guess I am not dead enough for you. Uhm, I’m sorry that wasn’t really fair, now was it? Just having a really though time here…But one can-not help wondering, while waking up in the morning, and noticing there is still a world because you saved the damn thing once again, what’s happening in your life. Does Giles still has morning breath before his first coffee (Sorry G.) and is Willow finally capable having an orgasm without floating around? (You know how those witches can get.) And what about our Xander… the heart of the team, the man of men.. the carpenter with wit..Okay, I am feeling kind of nostalgic, and will stop with this silly nonsense. Just wanted to say that people over here are thinking about you. Hope everything worked out with Spike, and if not, there is always Andrew… (Just kidding, tell him I said hi… and thank him for the Star Wars collectors Pyjama’s: they are very comfy.)Take care, wherever you are. And if you ever need help staking a dead guy, you only need to holler.Love always,
One of the fans (who basically has no life now the fat lady has finished her song and the show of all shows is over).(Tas, deze was voor jou :-))