The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 50

We know you’ve been waiting… five months for this episode, which makes us even more embarrassed about the audio quality but the episode’s worth it. All three hours of the episode is worth it.

That’s right, it’s a three hour extra-sized episode… we cover the Best of 2018, a very deep dive into Love and Rockets Volume One, a discussion of media, and then some news about the new amazing.

(Again, very sorry about the audio. It’s been so long since we podcasted, we sort of forgot how. Technically speaking.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

Batman: Gotham Noir (2001)

Batman: Gotham Noir

Gotham Noir is a Jim Gordon story. Only he’s ex-cop Jim Gordon, divorced ex-cop Jim Gordon, just trying to get by as a private investigator. Only he’s a drunk. It’s 1949 and Gordon had a bad time in the war. Bruce Wayne was there. Bruce Wayne knows the secrets. Lots of secrets in Gotham Noir. Writer Ed Brubaker has this endless drawer of revelations to throw in to explain why a character did or said something ten pages before. The Noir is heavy.

Some of the comic is Gordon narrating why he’s on the run from the cops. Corrupt politicians have pinned a murder on him, a murder he’s trying to solve. Because when a man’s partner gets killed… oh, wait, no, wrong story. Gordon’s trying to figure out what happened because he woke up from a bender next to a dead body. Though his motivations waver and do a 180 at some point in Noir. Brubaker likes threatening and victimizing to get a reaction in the book, which is really too bad. There’s a lot of gimmick–the Batman cast back in the late forties, complete with Selina “The Cat” Kyle and a guy named Napier who ends up the ill-advised, last minute supervillain.

And Harvey Dent’s around, of course. And some crime boss. And some dirty politicians. And who knows who else.

Gordon heads to the newspaper stand in 1949 Gotham City.

With Sean Phillips’s beautiful, post-war urban Americana noir art–ably colored by Dave Stewart–Noir shouldn’t be able to go off the rails. Unfortunately, Brubaker runs out of mystery a lot sooner than he should. He goes for sensationalism for impact, instead of ingenuity of solution. It’s not like Gotham Noir’s Jim Gordon is particularly smart. He’s not smart, he’s not charming, he’s just pitiable. Strange setup for a protagonist, which Brubaker enables by keeping the rest of the cast obtuse. They’re obtuse to Gordon, who recognizes it and doesn’t care, and to the reader, who probably should care because it’s supposed to be a mystery after all.

There are some similarities to Batman: Year One in terms of cast list and general plotting. And Phillips’s detailed, lush art… well, it doesn’t break the reminder.

Déjà vu.

But the problems with Gotham Noir aren’t from it cribbing Year One’s climax or Harvey Dent. The problems are with Brubaker’s handle on the whole thing. He sets it up to be interesting with Batman and then has to fall back on a Batman villain to make it interesting. Gordon’s a bystander in much of the story, which is fine for a hard-boiled p.i. story, but the other characters don’t make up for it. They’re boring. Selina The Cat’s a yawn fest–and the hinted love triangle (Bruce, Selina, and Gordon) never manifests into anything. Gotham Noir is a bunch of hints not manifesting into anything.

It’s got some good art and is wholly readable, but Batman: Gotham Noir is “just” another Elseworlds book.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Dave Stewart; editor, Ivan Cohen; publisher, DC Comics.

Velvet 15 (July 2016)

Velvet #15

No more Velvet. At least not for now; this arc ends with the end of Velvet’s initial storyline. I really should have known if it was just intended for fifteen issues. I always want that Brubaker ongoing, he always goes twelve to twenty. Or in that range. Enough to make fans out of the book, but then not to fully deliver on its possibilities.

Except with Velvet. The comic has always been very upfront about what it’s doing–it’s a spy thriller, it’s got Epting art, it’s not too creative in terms of the narrative. It’s a “cool” book. Brubaker and Epting doing a mainstream, “cool” indie title. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt Velvet is prime for media development. It is 2016, after all.

And, Velvet, the character, has never been much more than cool. She’s a great protagonist, but Velvet isn’t about her being likable or even relatable. It’s about her being cool and doing cool things, usually involving guns, car chases, subterfuge, explosions and gliding. When Brubaker returns to her narration of the book for the last few pages, it had been so long since Velvet had that kind of internal self-examination, I forgot it was one of the book’s narrative devices. And it’s been fine without it. Less ambitious maybe, but not by much.

Brubaker, Epting and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser deliver, because of course they do. Brubaker’s mastered comics pulp and always has the right artist for it.

CREDITS

The Man Who Stole the World, Part Five; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 14 (April 2016)

Velvet #14

Brubaker just did the Brubaker thing where his narrating protagonist finds something out but the reader can’t know about it so instead the protagonist just talks about how this piece of information is earth-shattering. It might not even be the first time Brubaker’s used this device in Velvet. It just sticks out because it involves the kidnapping of Richard Milhouse Nixon, who’s a vaguely likable dope here. Certainly far more likable than Ford, who also shows up for a second to get blackmailed.

The Nixon appearance, the Ford appearance, the guy at the end who is either the Sean Connery from The Rock stand-in or maybe he’s just supposed to be Sean Connery James Bond, it’s all a bunch of nonsense. I mean, it’s pretty nonsense to be sure. Even though Epting doesn’t have much to draw here, he draws it all very well. The kidnapping of the President is real boring. Brubaker sort of rushes through it. He hurries, let’s say he hurries. It doesn’t give Epting anything to do with it, except occasional (and awesome) Nixon reaction shots.

But the comic ends with the guy who’s after Velvet tracking down Velvet. Sure, she knows more than she did before, sure, James Bond might now be involved, but who cares. It’s a bridging issue. The red herrings are just there to distract from how little is going on.

Like I said, it’s Brubaker doing a Brubaker standard. I wasn’t surprised or even disappointed. Just a little tired. If only Epting had something great to visualize, the issue might’ve worked out a lot better.

CREDITS

The Man Who Stole the World, Part Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special (April 2016)

Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special

Wow.

On its own, Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is objectively excellent. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips do the touching story of a boy and his jerk criminal dad. Set in 1978. And there’s a juxtaposing of an old Marvel-esque kung fu comic. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s sad. It’s a great story.

But there’s so much texture to it all, as the special ties into the old Criminal books. It’s not a haphazard anniversary issue by a couple excellent creators; it’s an excellent anniversary issue, its creators taking it all very seriously. Brubaker and Phillips aren’t congratulating themselves with this Special, they’re awarding the reader with it. It’s this perfectly paced, perfectly conceived gem of a book. It’s got beautiful art from Phillips. He has this way of protecting the son whenever his father is around, implying it through the composition and the panel layouts. It’s such a smart comic.

It’s also fun. The kid meets a girl. She’s precocious. Brubaker hinges the whole comic on her–it’s a pre-teen romance of sorts–and he does a great job on her character. He presents the readers two views into the story, one through the kid’s, one through the girl’s. He does it with this wonderfully prompt pacing–Brubaker and Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (who’s become an essential part of the team) take advantage of every page, every panel. It’s flawlessly executed.

The Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is a class act and a great comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 13 (February 2016)

Velvet #13

Epting gets a little loose this issue, but it’s some great action art. The thing about Velvet is how well the creators understand what they’re doing. Brubaker occasionally pushes too far–The Rock Sean Connery thing–but Epting never does. His seventies action is perfect.

Brubaker does a talking heads book, mixed with some stylized action and dramatic–but uniquely underplayed–story beats. It’s a strange book–the situations aren’t spy movie, but spy novel. There’s no way, CG or no-CG, you can do some of Velvet’s stunts. So, instead, Brubaker and Epting have figured out how to perfect the spy comic. Same basic genre, only they get to take advantage of the comic book medium’s particularities to further the tale.

Velvet’s potential successes are limited–it’s pulp, there’s only so much anyone can do with just pulp–but Brubaker and Epting take it seriously. They’re pushing at the boundaries of the genre. Seeing them take it seriously is part of why Velvet is so much fun to read.

CREDITS

The Man Who Stole the World, Part Three; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 12 (January 2016)

The Fade Out #12

Well, it’s definitely great. The last issue of Fade Out is a great comic. And it’s a great close to the series. But does it elevate Brubaker and Phillips to that superior level of comic book creators, the ones only mentioned with hushed tones and reverence? I don’t know.

I don’t know yet.

I’ll have to reread The Fade Out someday, in one sitting, and decide. Because the pacing of this issue is key and I’m reading it in a single dose, but it was clearly broken out in plotting as part of a bigger whole. As a single serving, it’s that great success I just said. Brubaker and Phillips wrap things up and then wrap them up again. In doing so, they take readers through not just a recap of the story, but a recap of the experience of the comic, making them reexamine their own interpretations of the comic.

It’s really good writing. Brubaker’s comfortable with the cast, comfortable readers will get their sometimes abbreviated appearances. There’s a lot going on this issue, with Brubaker dropping two revelations (both make a reread seem like a good idea).

Phillips excels through all those complications. He even has this wonderful “Is that Clark Gable? I know that’s George Sanders” forties Hollywood visual in-joke element. He and Brubaker are doing a film noir as a comic, but stepped back, but still using film noir visual queues.

I don’t know what a perfectly finished Brubaker comic feels like (or, if I do, I can’t remember), but The Fade Out comes the closest.

CREDITS

Tomorrow, When the World is Free; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 11 (November 2015)

The Fade Out #11

Ed Brubaker is about to deliver. He and Sean Phillips are break the skylight and get onto the roof. The Fade Out, an entirely grounded detective story set in Hollywood, is about to be where Brubaker joins the very small group of comics writers who I will buy regardless. Because what they do will be something special, even if its mainstream, because their styles may not reflect how comics are progressing as a narrative art form right now, but they will in a few years.

It’s like if Sleeper: Season Two had actually been as good as the first series. It’s like if Captain America really were as good as Catwoman. Brubaker jumps between projects with impatience. He gets excited for the new shiny. Only Fade Out doesn’t have the shiny, it just has the skills. It has the writing and the art and the writer’s understanding of what the art is going to do to this story. Brubaker understands how the comic book is going to read and he lets it inform how he’s writing.

It’s entirely commercial, entirely artistic and sublimely elegant.

He could screw it all up next issue, of course.

That would be very sad.

As for the comic itself, Brubaker gets around to revealing some things Gil should have known about from Charlie. Not to mention the reader. The reader should have known too. Except it works better here defining Charlie as a person, making him more understandable. It’s a genre standard and Brubaker pulls it off.

Then it’s Gil and Charlie on an adventure. It’s amazing. And Charlie’s narration of it, with how the plot progresses and then how Phillips illustrates it, that adventure is where Brubaker and Phillips do something extraordinary. They show how comics noir is its own genre. They prove the argument of their last ten years of work.

Even if The Fade Out flops next issue, Brubaker and Phillips have done something extraordinary with it.

CREDITS

Anyone Else But Me; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 12 (November 2015)

Velvet #12

Steve Epting is an action artist. It’s what he does, it’s what makes him special. He’s able to do fantastic comic book action, where he makes the reasonable fantastical and the fantastical reasonable. It’s a perfect thing for Velvet, which is a glossy spy thriller set in the seventies after all. The comic’s setting isn’t just good for Velvet as a character, it’s good because it gives Epting so many possibilities.

So when this issue is literally nothing but a windup for a hard cliffhanger promising a big action sequence? Well, it’s not exactly the best use of time. I suppose Brubaker does get a few expository things done, but they aren’t pressing, and he does give Velvet some great narration, which is great and all, but come on….

Give us the Epting action. Brubaker doesn’t even put it on the menu. He sets the entire thing to simmer. The narrative this issue, its possibilities, it’s not going to boil over. He never even suggests it might. So when it does and he stops the comic? Bad form, man, bad form.

Velvet is an entertaining book. It’s not masterful and it’s got problems, but it’s entertaining and competent and visually glorious.

CREDITS

The Man Who Stole the World, Part Two; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

Catwoman 4 (April 2002)

Catwoman #4

How does noir work when the villain is a Clayface rip-off. I say rip-off because Catwoman is a Batman spin-off and Clayface is a Batman villain. Brubaker knew the similarity. It also gives Cooke something fantastic to draw. Selina in this gross pink muck–the leftover transformative flesh of the villain? Great stuff. Lots of movement in the art.

The villain does have something of a noir origin though. G.I. injured, army docs turn him into a monster, it’s like a film noir with shades of fifties sci-fi. It’s really cool.

But Brubaker relies on it almost too much. The script tries to showcase the art, which is fine and dandy and marvelous. Only it makes for some rushed scenes. One less page of the fight and one more page with Selina and Leslie would have been awesome.

The issue starts fast and rushes. The last few pages seem so short because of the action sequence pacing. Those last few pages are exceptional. Brubaker and Cooke figure out how to give noir a superhero. It’s great comic book storytelling.

Even if the fight goes long.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Conclusion; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fade Out 10 (October 2015)

The Fade Out #10

Brubaker’s winding up. This issue of The Fade Out is the part of the detective novel where the detective–in this case Charlie, who’s not particularly good at it–is collecting all the final details to have his breakthrough. In fact, the narration hints Charlie’s confident in his conclusions, which means Brubaker’s got next issue to stir it up more and then the last issue to let it all settle. Not a bad structure, but it does mean there isn’t much to this issue.

There’s exposition and some revelation, but there’s no character development. Brubaker sets the issue during the wrap party for the movie, which should be a big thing. It’s not. It’s a logical narrative progression–Charlie using the party for cover on his investigating–as the story wraps up.

The last few issues of The Fade Out have been breathtaking. This issue’s good, narratively important, but it’s not breathtaking. It’s a necessity and it coasts on existing momentum. Fingers crossed Brubaker is able to stir up some speed in the next issue.

Phillips’s art, of course, is breathtaking. One never has to worry about him.

CREDITS

Where Angels Fear to Tread; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Catwoman 3 (March 2002)

Catwoman #3

It’s a strange issue. It’s a good issue–though it’s certainly the least ambitious so far–but it’s also a strange issue. Selina doesn’t have as much narration as she had before and now she’s doing much different things. She’s the star of a Bronze Age Batman comic, where Batman dresses up as Matches Malone and investigates on the wharf.

It’s a successful issue. Cooke’s in on the Bronze Age vibe of the issue and the art feels very seventies. The content Cooke’s illustrating, anyway. There’s even a sixties thing with a used car dealer. A lot of thought went into the visual presentation of the book. I just wish Brubaker hadn’t been so quiet.

So far, this series has been about Selina evolving into a do-gooder. This issue continues that evolution, but with the exception of the narration in the first few pages, Selina’s experience is absent from the comic. Even when Brubaker brings back the narration later, it’s to establish that Matches Malone sequence.

Like I said, strange. Expertly, enthusiastically done, but with too much confidence in the narrative effect of the comic to worry about the narrative itself. It’s showy.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part Three of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Catwoman 2 (February 2002)

Catwoman #2

Cooke mixes a lot of styles in this issue. Selina lives her non-costumed life in a more angular city, one with more art deco designs than when she’s got the costume on at night. But Cooke also finds this mixed style for Selina herself. She’s got the modern look, but he also goes for Silver Ago influences to make her more sympathetic.

And then there’s what Brubaker’s narration does for her character. This series of Catwoman integrates whatever history the character had since Batman: Year One, so the Jim Balent stuff and whatever else, with a continuation of the character from Year One. Or at least something closer to that characterization. Including the history of prostitution.

The prostitution angle–with Holly, Selina’s sidekick from her Year One days–figures into the story, with Gotham’s dirty cops ignoring a serial killer preying on girls on the street. Selina ends up investigating it. There’s no humor in the comic. Not a moment. Not even when Cooke and Brubaker take the time and care to show Selina’s pure joy in running around the rooftops. It’s serious stuff; Brubaker’s very deliberate in how he works through Selina’s thoughts in the narration too.

Again, it’s noir. It’s a noir comic masquerading as a superhero comic (masquerading as a noir comic). Brubaker juggles the mainstream and more artistically ambitious beautifully. What Cooke does is just as important, but it only works because of how well Brubaker does his bit.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part Two of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Catwoman 1 (January 2002)

Catwoman #1

In his ★★ review of Batman Returns, Roger Ebert said, “no matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don’t go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes.” I disagree about the film, but not all of the quote. I agree with the first part, not so much the second. Because it’s a closed vision of heroes.

It oddly doesn’t seem to occur to Ebert how the “junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything… [can be] the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” Because a review of a single comic book from 2002 needs this long of a preamble. One with the only time I’ll agree with Ebert this year and a great Rick Moody quote.

But Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman requires a significant preamble. Because Brubaker and Cooke crack Ebert’s problem. How do film noir and superheroes go together? Well, the superhero can’t be the hero. Batman shows up in this first issue of Catwoman for two reasons.

First, regardless of how progressive DC was being with a non-objectified characterization of Catwoman, they weren’t being so progressive they didn’t want to sell the comic. There’s an exceptionally tasteful, but sexy, suiting up sequence. Cooke can do that kind of thing, thanks to Brubaker selling Selina’s excitement. It’s believable.

That scene is so well-executed, one might just skip over it as a commercialist detail. But Batman is all commercial. You launch a spin-off of a Batman comic, Batman better guest star, especially in the early aughts, especially going from Chuck Dixon and Jim Balent to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. You need Batman. And this issue delivers. A full-on Batman action sequence–it’s hard to remember when Brubaker’s mainstream writing was a DC staple, not how he brought the same thing to Marvel to better sales–then Batman shows up for character stuff.

And that character stuff is the second reason Batman shows up. He’s essential to Brubaker’s characterization of Selina. Selina has an informed but seemingly simplistic view of Batman; he’s her dark blue boy scout. It gives Selina better possession over the shared setting, she belongs.

Brubaker and Cooke visualize that setting as a noir. They start with the already noir-ish David Mazzuchelli Year One visuals then develop it, creating a Technicolor film noir. Brubaker’s script follows Selina–the comic’s narrator as well as protagonist–through her last few days of sabbatical. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to get suited up again.

There’s a lot of noir framing in the flashbacks and so on. The narrative construction is special stuff. It’s meticulous. Meticulously written, then meticulously illustrated.

By the time the most noir element comes into the comic–in its last pages–Brubaker and Cooke have already delivered an awesome read. The way the last two pages and the soft cliffhanger? It’s the chocolate sprinkles on the frosting.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part One of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fade Out 9 (September 2015)

The Fade Out #9

I don’t know if I’d noticed before but probably not–Brubaker’s narration for Fade Out has the possibility of not just being a noir touch but also an actual part of the narrative. There’s like a single use of “you” referring to the reader so I’m reading a bunch into it like part of the mystery is figuring out who’s telling the story at the end. I’m probably wrong.

But if Brubaker was going to wait to reveal that narrative device, this issue would be the one to reveal it in. Gil and Charlie duke it out and the flashback reveals their back stories, separate to some degree, but mostly together. And the reveals make you want to go back and reread the earlier issues to see how Brubaker constructed it all.

There’s a lot in the flashback. Even though the present action takes place in a couple hours–at most–and is largely just one conversation leading up to the soft cliffhanger, Brubaker is able to make the issue dense with that flashback. It takes place over a decade or so, Phillips getting to illustrate a variety of settings, Brubaker able to work up tension in the flashback itself and not just how it relates to the present action.

Very cool; very good issue.

CREDITS

Living in a Memory; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 11 (August 2015)

Velvet #11

It’s my favorite issue of Velvet in a long time and I’m not entirely sure why. It might just be because Epting drawing an American secret agent with grey temples with a bouffant-ish hair cut reminds me of seventies Marvel black and white Gene Colan. It just feels right.

But the rest of the issue is good too. It’s got Brubaker doing a lot of quick summary sequences with Velvet catching the reader up to what she’s been doing since the previous issue. She’s been getting into trouble, but totally in control of it. It’s a new type of Velvet; she’s not just the protagonist, but she’s in charge of how the narrative affects her (and is aware of it).

Velvet usually reads like a light project for Brubaker, but this issue certainly suggests he’s at least got some ambition for how he tells the story. It’s a great comic.

CREDITS

The Man Who Stole the World, Part One; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 8 (August 2015)

The Fade Out #8

It’s another strong issue of Fade Out, which isn’t a surprise. Brubaker and Phillips are doing great work.

But it actually looks like Brubaker is doing something a little different with this series. His famous (are they famous, they should be) aside issues–which I believe he’s been doing since Catwoman–this issue features the first time (at least in my memory) someone else gets caught up on that aside.

Charlie finds out Maya’s story from her aside issue. It’s kind of crazy to see, just the way Brubaker handles it, having two protagonists collide. It shakes things up for The Fade Out, which didn’t need a shaking, but the shaking works out perfectly anyway. Brubaker shows he has the skill to do the series without a lot of leaps and jumps, so when he does those leaps and jumps, they’re all the more impressive.

Fade Out’s turning out great.

CREDITS

A Dead Giveaway; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 7 (June 2015)

The Fade Out #7

The Fade Out doesn’t feel like anything but itself. Seven issues in and Brubaker and Phillips have shed any comparisons to their previous work; it’s another in their line of collaborations, but it’s wholly independent from them. One of the factors for it standing on its own so quickly is the lack of fantastical elements. It’s about creating the fantastic through “regular” human ugliness.

This issue opens with Charlie and Maya off on the beach enjoying a getaway weekend. Phillips has his delicate sex scenes, which give each panel a certain weight and pacing of their own, and even when Brubaker hints at the main plot lines, it’s gentle, conversational. The reader is on a getaway too. But, like Charlie, the escape can only last so long.

It’s not really a getaway so much as a scenic bridge. And maybe the best bridging issue I can remember, thanks to Phillips.

CREDITS

The Sound of Waves; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 6 (May 2015)

The Fade Out #6

It’s a good issue of Fade Out but something feels off. Like Brubaker is backing off a bit in the narration–he’s set up the story, he’s telling the reader a whole lot about Gil and Charlie and how they feel and so on. There’s still a great story for Charlie and Maya.

It’s also where Brubaker embraces the regular reader. The previous issue had some big events and he doesn’t recap them here. If you aren’t on board with the series, you don’t get any more help.

Brubaker moves things along in a big way with Gil’s storyline getting clearer–Charlie’s is still a muddle, the noir screenwriter fumbling his way through a noir while Gil’s being the actual hero. Brubaker introduces a Little Rascals stand-in troupe for some plot fodder; it’s what feels off. It’s too much of an Ellroy homage.

Nice art from Philips as always.

CREDITS

To Set the World on Fire; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 5 (April 2015)

The Fade Out #5

It’s a sort of gentle issue of The Fade Out, with Brubaker and Phillips heading to the country. The movie production is doing location shooting–albeit on sets, but they’re away from the studio and things are developing. Charlie the protagonist continues his flirtation with the replacement girl while his flashbacks reveal his relationship with the original. Blacklist Gil goes and gets drunk and finds himself in a pickle.

Plus there’s Hollywood stuff. There’s the tawdry stuff out of James Ellroy, but Brubaker’s got a lot about how the characters react to being away from the studio. While in Hollywood, The Fade Out just seemed like a noir set during the making of a film noir, but on location? Brubaker’s showing his research through Charlie’s narration. The setting feels fresh, real.

And Brubaker doesn’t go for a cliffhanger. He brings up some things, he stirs a pot, then it ends.

CREDITS

The Broken Ones; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 10 (April 2015)

Velvet #10

It’s a bridging issue. But, since it’s Brubaker, he feels the need to do it to bridge his arcs together. To give that trade paperback an extended cliffhanger, not just each issue in the trade.

It lacks texture, it lacks tone. Brubaker actually does have this significant new character (Sean Connery) running around Velvet, but he doesn’t make his presence felt, just talked about. It’s unfortunate, but it’s still, you know, generally okay. Brubaker’s narration is good, Epting’s art is good, it just doesn’t go anywhere.

And it’s not clear Velvet really does need to go anywhere. It’s a spy thriller; the gimmick of having a forty year-old female protagonist in a “James Bond was framed” story isn’t even giving it any mileage anymore. It’s an okay comic book, with its creators a little jaded and commercial but still having fun.

I enjoy reading Velvet, even if it’s shallow.

CREDITS

The Secret Lives of Dead Men, Part Five; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editor; Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

Criminal: The Special Edition (February 2015)

Criminal: The Special Edition (One Shot)

Criminal’s back for a one-shot and, wow, it certainly does do a good job reminding of when Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are hitting the high notes on the comic.

The special brings back a character, but Brubaker spends more time establishing this Conan knockoff than anything he does with the issue’s protagonist. Having black and white interludes to the Conan knockoff’s magazine (it takes place in the seventies) wouldn’t work without Phillips’s art. He has this beautiful way of being detailed but not too detailed. You can buy the interludes as hurried late seventies fantasy comic art, but there’s still the Phillips quality to it.

The individual scenes in the comic–whether it’s the protagonist in a jailhouse fight or yelling at his son at one point–work better than the whole. Brubaker doesn’t have time for a big twist. He’s got time for scenic awesomeness though.

CREDITS

By This Sword I Live!; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 9 (February 2015)

Velvet #9

It’s a decent, not great, issue of Velvet. Brubaker’s resolution to his rip-off of The Rock works out a whole lot better than I would have expected; he and Epting do a nice talking heads comic with the Sean Connery (sorry, Patrick Stewart more like) telling Velvet just enough of what she thinks she knows. And Brubaker writes the hell out of the exposition. He had me trying to anticipate the twists, which I don’t usually care about.

Epting doesn’t get much action to draw–there are some flashbacks, but they’re limited; the way he draws the conversations is fantastic. His art keeps the pace on those long sequences. Brubaker can be interesting, but without engaged art, talking heads don’t work.

The cliffhanger is a let down, of course, as is the way Brubaker foreshadows the cliffhanger in the cutaway scene just before it.

Still, it’s mostly good stuff.

CREDITS

The Secret Lives of Dead Men, Part Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editor; Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 4 (January 2015)

The Fade Out #4

Even though there’s sensational material in the issue, the issue itself isn’t sensational. Brubaker is very measured. He’s meticulous in the plotting, giving just enough hints and just enough callbacks to the previous issues to get to some big surprises. By the time the issue ends, The Fade Out is something of a different comic than it was before.

There are three big reasons. First, the previous issue where Brubaker changed up format. Second, the sensational material–the Red Threat in Hollywood. Third, the use of actual celebrities as characters. Brubaker’s very subtle about how he uses the last one and it works out beautifully.

And Phillips. Phillips gets some great stuff to draw this issue. Not just the period scenes, clubs, talking heads banter, but a flashback to World War II and some more information about protagonist Charlie. It might turn out to be a great comic after all.

CREDITS

The Word on the Street; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 3 (November 2014)

The Fade Out #3

Brubaker switches protagonists for the issue–with the normal, screenwriter protagonist basically getting a cameo–and moves over to the actress replacing the dead actress in the movie.

It’s a phenomenal comic book, showing more ingenuity from scene to scene than anything Brubaker’s done in The Fade Out in a while. Than he’s done in anything in a while, actually–he has a number of great surprises in the issue and they’re just details he’s revealing. They’re not flashy, they’re just great writing.

The issue just covers this actress on her last screen test, with Brubaker using slight expository dialogue to imply her history and her relationships–not to mention how gently he moves along the main plot.

Brubaker’s really good at these done-in-one issues set amid his bigger stories. Or maybe Fade Out is going just get better. Regardless, this issue’s great work from Brubaker and Phillips.

A 

CREDITS

The Replacement Blonde; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 8 (November 2014)

Velvet #8

I guess Brubaker has seen The Rock. Maybe he’s hoping no one else remembers it….

It’s a bridging issue, which I suppose is to be expected–it is midway through an arc after all–but the places where one would expect Brubaker to excel, he fumbles. He wraps a flashback into the narrative and switches perspective to surprise the reader–the reader who hasn’t seen The Rock–but all those tricks don’t make up for him flubbing the one non-action scene in the book.

Velvet meets up with her former boss in a peculiar situation and every few panels it seems like Brubaker might do some character work or at least a good talking heads scene. But he never does. It’s just exposition about her status as a rogue agent. It’s really too bad.

Still, the Epting art on the action throughout is fantastic.

While derivative, Velvet works fine.

B 

CREDITS

The Secret Lives of Dead Men, Part Three; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editor; Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 2 (October 2014)

The Fade Out #2

Brubaker goes all over the place in the second issue of Fade Out. There's a bunch of stuff with protagonist Charlie's secret partner and best friend–and the way Brubaker narrates from a close third person on Charlie is phenomenal–but there's a lot at the movie studio too.

Not to mention the scenes with Charlie and his friend's wife or Charlie and the dead girl. Those scenes are just great. Brubaker doesn't do anything with the murder investigation; the comic doesn't feel like a too gimmicky noir, it feels like Brubaker trying to figure out this story and it's often great.

Overall, there are some problems towards the end because there's still the narrative–it's still about this dead girl and protagonist Charlie's involvement in it. But Brubaker's emphasis on the cast and making sure the texture of the setting comes through, not to mention Phillips's illustration of those things, is great.

B 

CREDITS

The Death of Me; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 7 (September 2014)

Velvet #7

Leave it to Brubaker–my favorite issue of Velvet so far and she isn't even in her own comic. Instead, it's Brubaker chronicling the efforts of two guys working for the agency (and neither seem to be the corrupt faction out for Velvet) trying to find her.

There's really good narration from the first guy, Colt, as Brubaker takes him through the first half of the comic. The guy's figuring out how Velvet's working, which is subtle at first but then gets more important. He's also surprised at himself–the character, not Brubaker–for missing the signs of Velvet being a master spy.

The second guy is Colt's boss and he's also got a path to go on to figure things out. Brubaker never forces the narration, never does anything obvious. When the boss figures out Velvet's next step, it's a huge surprise for the reader.

It's an outstanding issue. Brubaker nails it.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Secret Lives of Dead Men, Part Two; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editor; David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 1 (August 2014)

The Fade Out #1

The Fade Out is the story of a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s. Ed Brubaker writes the comic’s narration in really close third person. Between Brubaker–who has his fair share of writing predictable twists–and the protagonist–who would probably write even more of them–one of them should have noticed the utterly predictable nature of this issue.

The writer wakes up next to a dead body. Is there any chance he could have something to do with the dead body–a young starlet whose picture he’s working on? He sure doesn’t think so and Brubaker sure tries to make it seem like he’s not involved but guess what… you probably don’t have to guess if you’ve ever seen a single film noir.

I’m being a little hard on the comic, which is well-researched and beautifully illustrated by Sean Phillips. It’s recycled material–James Ellroy deserves an “inspired by” credit at least–but professionally, thoroughly presented.

B 

CREDITS

The Wild Party; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 24 (July 2014)

Fatale #24

Given all the series’s problems as of late, I didn’t expect Brubaker to finish Fatale well. I knew it’d be problematic, but I hoped he’d go for satisfying at least.

Instead, he pretends he’s been writing a lot of third person exposition in purple prose so he can finish the comic with a rumination on the beauty of a sunset or some such nonsense. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Fatale’s been on a downward trajectory for a while and a rushed one–not ending would have been satisfactory. The writing’s just been too reductive.

But worse, Phillips’s art is rushed. He’s got lots of little panels and not enough detail on the people in those panels. He does a lengthy action sequence and it’s boring–it’s not entirely his fault, Brubaker’s rushing through the scene as far as tension.

It’s an unfortunate ending. It ignores everything good about the comic.

C- 

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: