It’s the Gauls!!

Time seems to be a great sieve, separating the valuable from the trash. This is often true whether one is thinking of music, literature, art, oratory, or architecture: that which lasts the test of time seems to be the great and the magnificent. While certainly not always true, this rule can help with music (think of the greats: Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky) and you will rarely be disappointed. In the realm of art, look for Hokusai, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and others, and likewise we are rarely left with anything but admiration. I have also found this to be true in the realm of comics (albeit the medium is much younger than the aforementioned). Following this train of thought, I recently began rereading the series “Asterix and Obelix” first published in 1959. Featuring a fearless duo of Gauls who resist Caesar and his Roman army, Volume 1 opens with the friendship of Asterix and his friend Obelix being established, the introduction of the village druid Getafix, the village bard Cacofonix, and many other characters (including Roman legionaries Crismus Bonus and Ginantonicus). Below is a brief introduction to the series I wrote a few years back. Enjoy!

The following is from our sister site: Flint and Bone’s Comic Reviews.

Asterix and Obelix

In the vein of older European comics, which was introduced with Tintin, I now present AsterixAsterix is an entertaining comic series written by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Both men were born in France and published the Asterix stories in French publications. The comics follow (big surprise!) Asterix and his friend Obelix, two Gauls who live in a small village surrounded by Roman legions. They spend their days eating boar, hurling menhirs, smashing Romans, and having many adventures.

Even though the stories were originally published in French, the dialogue is still very clear and witty in translation. The stories make plentiful use of wordplays in the dialogue, and all the names carry some humorous reference to the character of their owners.  Asterix is largely character driven, and the interplay of personalities in the different situations is always humorous to read. The stories provide a good mix of wit, both historical and mythological settings, and an ancient Roman cast of characters to continually keep the adventures  interesting.

Not only are the dialogue and stories well done, but the comics are also splendidly made from a visual standpoint.  The panels are laid out in a grid pattern and are easy to follow. The artwork is very clear and well rendered, and Uderzo does an excellent job of exaggeration in his art, adding a humor outside of the dialogue.  These factors make the comic very easy to read.  Finally, regarding color, either the comics were originally printed at a very high quality, or the illustrations have been masterfully re-colored. Needless to say, these comic books do not look like they were printed nearly fifty years ago, but are sharp and vibrant.

If you want some humorous, light reading, give Asterix a look. With witty dialogue and stories –accompanied by a superb cartoon style –you can’t go wrong.

Happy Reading!

-flint-

PHD Humor

Created by a PHD student, PHD Humor gives a humorous look into the academic life. Discussing writing papers, Murphy’s law, eating Ramen, and many other topics that most college students on upward will find amusing, Jorge Cham weaves humor into the daily events taking place on a university campus. Great for a quick humorous jolt for your day.

Cheers!

This is a repost of a brief article I wrote on our sister site “Flint and Bone’s Comic Reviews“.

Jessica Jones

If any of you were fans of the Daredevil series put out by Marvel earlier this year, you have probably already heard of the recently released Jessica Jones. Although I came into this series expecting much of the same that Daredevil had delivered, I was surprised to find a new, but fascinating, superhero story told in the style of a psychological thriller. Featuring characters that drive the story and a narrative that is suspenseful, Jessica Jones proffers a show  that will give those tired of over-the-top action films a chance to come back to the superhero genre.

Characters:

JessicaJones  Jessica Jones is the, you guessed it, main protagonist of the show. She is a former superhero who has traded a life of using her powers to police New York City for the more reclusive life of a private investigator. With an abusive past that is gradually revealed through the show, the series paints a picture of someone trying to initially run away from her problems, and then turn to face her demons, not only for herself, but for her friends. The supporting cast for the tv show is absolutely superb, and I would say that the way the writers make use of all the characters surpasses the job they did with Daredevil. There are no two-dimensional characters in this show, for even the cast that play only insignificant roles come across with realism – the writers make the best of each line of dialogue and action to give information to the viewer. As a result, the show is rich with depth. Characters such as Trish, Luke Cage the bar owner, and Malcom the druggie from down the hall, are interesting to watch, and they come across as sympathetic and relatable. However, in addition to Jessica herself, the villain, Kilgrave, is probably the most fascinating part of the show. Played by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a complex and intriguing, though insidious, character. However, more on him in the next section…

Story:

Kilgrave
Kilgrave

Jessica Jones continues the trend of telling a dark and twisted story much like its earlier sibling. However, unlike Daredevil, Jessica Jones is notably less violent, and plays out much more like a psychological thriller than traditional action show. That being said, the show features an arguably darker story line than its predecessor. I will admit that I doubted David Tennant as a villain when I first saw him listed on the cast. However, he executes the role flawlessly. Kilgrave’s ‘power’ is the ability to control people. He can tell somebody to perform an action, and they comply without question. Throughout the series Tennant does a masterful job of capturing the insidiousness of his character: a man who can get whatever he wants and is willing to manipulate those around him to his own ends. This leads to some grim and twisted moments throughout the series, and is why I consider Jessica Jones to be a much darker story than Daredevil.

Conclusion:

So should you watch Jessica Jones? That is going to depend on a few factors. The story is much darker than its earlier sibling, but I don’t know that I would categorize this as a fault. Certainly it may require a certain mood to want to actually sit down and watch, but good tales can be told with both happy and dark narratives. However, at least for me, the bigger factor is that it contains strong sexual content (of which Daredevil had none). That being said, I personally found it to be an entertaining and refreshing approach to the superhero genre, and after talking to others I would say that the biggest draw for the show are the characters: they have depth, they feel real, and their backstories, actions, and emotions are masterfully played out in a meaningful way. If you are looking for a dark and suspenseful thriller, or just a break from the flashy superhero films, look no further.

3 Titles from the Golden Age

Comic books have been read and enjoyed for a long time here in the United States. Even with the slow demise of their original platform, the newspaper, they have blossomed into their own standalone publications. Unlike today where the term ‘newspaper comics’ conjures up images of slapstick or satirical humor contained in four small boxes with simplistic artwork, it was not always so. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s long form story arcs were masterfully played out in the pages of the daily papers. Today I would like to share some of the “greats” of this genre. I have not had the opportunity to read all of the below listed, but still appreciate the artistic and storytelling excellence they have provided in the small excerpts I have had access to.

Terry and the Pirates (1934-1973)

TerryPirates_Cover
Terry and the Pirates

Written and rendered by the artist Milton Caniff, this series follows Terry and his buddies through their adventures in China –primarily focusing around their interactions with a woman known as the “Dragon Lady” and the pirates that she leads. During the years of World War 2, the comic strip took on more patriotic and anti-Japanese themes as Americans battled in the Pacific. Terry and the Pirates was released as a daily strip, as well as having Sunday color pages. The artwork is impressive given the volume of work that Caniff had to create for the series, and the stories he weaves are entertaining.

 

 

Secret Agent X-9 (1934-1996)

Secret Agent X-9 Page from the Alex Raymond Years

This series was begun by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Alex Raymond, the illustrator best known for Flash Gordon –another piece of artistic greatness. My experience with this series lies only between the years 1934 and 1936 when Raymond was the illustrator. Featuring exquisite artwork by Raymond, and a 6+ month story arc by Hammett, along with subsequent shorter ones, the adventure strip follows the nameless secret agent X-9 as he battles evil.

 

 

 

 

Prince Valiant (1937-present)

valiant-preview
Prince Valiant by Hal Foster

For many, this comic strip does not even require introduction. Begun by Hal Foster in 1937, it follows the exploits of a Prince called Valiant as he adventures in the world of King Arthur. Featuring many characters from the Arthurian legends including Merlin and Gawain, the series tells a tale of integrity, honor, and chivalry. Hal Foster does an impeccable job illustrating this masterpiece, and his stories are engaging and wholesome. Unlike the previous two series, Prince Valiant was only printed once a week as a color strip. However, Hal Foster spent more than a full 40 hour workweek on each print, and it definitely shows.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Going into the sequel Avengers film I had mixed expectations. On the one hand was the consideration that superhero movie sequels, with the exception of the Chris Nolan films, have almost endemically been worse than the original. Also, balancing multiple superheroes in one movie can prove tricky, and although Marvel pulled it off well in the first film, could they do it again? Read on to discover how Marvel did in this continuation of their franchise.avengers__age_of_ultron_by_mrskanda-d7scq92

Story

While enjoyable, the Avengers: Age of Ultron plotline is remarkably similar to the first film’s in many respects. Most of the same characters are present, and the movie follows the same path as the first by showing how the Avengers are broken up by internal strife and then re-unite at the end with a common goal. However, beyond these high-level similarities, there are some interesting twists: Hawkeye, who was largely eye candy in the first film and had no real depth as a character, is fleshed out more in this film (more than anyone else for that matter), and we gain insight into who he is and his relationship with Natasha Romanoff. Also, a romance subplot between two major characters adds some unforseen plot and character situations. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are very interesting, and have some of the most complex motivations of any of the characters.

Overall, while the story bears many similarities to the first film, the plot is different enough to be enjoyable and also fleshes out the character of Hawkeye who takes a more prominent role in this film than in previous, and also introduces two new players to the scene.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Official-Trailer
Witty one-liner anyone?

Entertainment Value

From the perspective of the theatre setting the movie was very enjoyable. Much like the first film, the movie offers big screen eye candy and massive battle scenes. If the film could be summed up in one sentence it would probably be: a continuous sequence of battles punctuated by witty one liners. And I’m not kidding about the one-liners, they are everwhere. The one-liners are so copious it is like Marvel took the idea of adding humor and multiplied it times ten. This humor works in the film for the most part. However, Ultron also cracks some one-liners, and this hurt the seriousness of his character. After all, what kind of artificial intelligence villain bent on world destruction would be cracking jokes?

Conclusion

If you can catch it in theatres the latest Avengers film is definitely worth seeing thanks to its cinematic battles and wittiness. However, the lack of original plot or character depth will prevent the film from ever making its way onto my super hero movie shelf with the Nolan Batman trilogy, latest X-men movies, and the Netflix Daredevil series.

Arrow: A Straight Shot

Arrow_header_imageOliver Queen is a billionaire playboy…and not much else, at least until after he is stranded on an island for 5 years and endures unimaginable horrors. While this premise sounds overtly cliche given the recent gamut of hero movies, Arrow is a superhero show that goes far beyond it’s cliche origin story to take a deep look at the lives of heroes and bystanders alike and how they live out their lives. This review will mainly focus on the story and character aspects of the show since these areas are the predominate draw, although the special effects are well done as well.

The story of Arrow addresses many of the issues that I have had with the superhero genre over the past several years. What is the difference between a cold blooded murderer and a vigilante who is, under the pretext of justice, also killing? Isn’t it odd that within weeks of the return of a lost billionaire a masked crusader is on the streets with hi-tech gear? The screenwriters raise issues like these throughout the entire first season, and the fact that the writers address these inherent problems with the superhero genre makes the show all the more compelling. Also, the plot is not a predictable story progression-the writers have a very definite plan that is apparent after having watched the show.

Arrow2Another aspect of the show that is engaging are the various characters. Many of them are aggravating and annoying-just like real people can be sometimes, but in the end the good guys pull together to stop evil. Many of the characters are realistically portrayed with problems such as addiction, workaholism, willingness to kill, selfishness, etc. etc. Far from being a negative to the show, each character becomes more relatable as the seasons (there are now 3) progress. The show is about broken, messed-up people trying to help each other and those around them. While the message of the show is inherently man-centered given its genre, the realism of the characters and their struggle, given how accurately it mirrors the struggle of many people today, is a telling reminder of man’s need for a real Savior.

If you are looking for a show where you can watch and come away with a warm, fuzzy feeling, this is probably not for you, but if you enjoy watching people mature and change, if you like seeing people who you may hate at times trying to do right, then this show can be very engaging and intriguing. The writers of Arrow understood one very important principle: superhero stories are not about the hero, but about people and their everyday lives – people who need to be saved not only from outside threats, but also from themselves. Arrow offers a gritty and engaging alternative storyline and cast of characters for those seeking entertainment that goes beyond the big explosions and eye candy that Hollywood has put out in recent years.

Asterix and Obelix

Most of the comics I have reviewed so far on TMW have been created and published in the United States. However, today I want to share an older European comic called AsterixAsterix is an entertaining series written by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Both men were born in France and published the Asterix stories in French publications. The comics follow (big surprise!) Asterix and his friend Obelix, two Gauls who live in a small village surrounded by Roman legions. They spend their days eating boar, hurling menhirs, smashing Romans, and having many adventures.

Even though the stories were originally published in French, the dialogue is still very clear and witty in translation. The stories make plentiful use of wordplays in the dialogue, and all the names carry some humorous reference to the character of their owners.  Asterix is largely character driven, and the interplay of personalities in the different situations is always humorous to read. The stories provide a good mix of wit, both historical and mythological settings, and an ancient Roman cast of characters to continually keep the adventures  interesting.

Not only are the dialogue and stories well done, but the comics are also splendidly made from a visual standpoint.  The panels are laid out in a grid pattern and are easy to follow. The artwork is very clear and well rendered, and Uderzo does an excellent job of exaggeration in his art, adding a humor outside of the dialogue.  These factors make the comic very easy to read.  Finally, regarding color, either the comics were originally printed at a very high quality, or the illustrations have been masterfully re-colored. Needless to say, these comic books do not look like they were printed nearly fifty years ago, but are sharp and vibrant.

If you want some humorous, light reading, give Asterix a look. With witty dialogue and stories –accompanied by a superb cartoon style –you can’t go wrong.

 

Note: My original posting of this review can be found here.

Ruse

Introduction

As may have become apparent from previously published posts, I am somewhat of a comic book fan. Regardless of genre, comics have always fascinated me as a medium that had the potential to seamlessly mesh both prose and art into one storytelling whole. One of my favorite writers in the comic book genre is Mark Waid. Probably best known for his super hero narratives (see Kingdom Come, among others), he has also written several other less well known stories, and it is one of these that I would like to share today.

Introduction and Characters

Ruse_Header
Simon Archard, Emma Bishop

“Ruse” follows the detective Simon Archard and his assistant Emma Bishop as they seek to battle crime in a Victorian-England-esque city. Anyone who is a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” series will probably find this short comic series appealing. Simon Archard is a detective who uses his above average brain to solve crimes, and he has some of the same cold, analytical, character traits that can be found in the character of Sherlock Holmes. Emma Bishop, however, is not John Watson. While still being the supportive character, and Archard’s only friend (much like Watson and Sherlock), she is more than meets the eye and plays a bigger role than simply recording the events of their adventures.

Story and Content

“Ruse” is largely episodic, following the two main characters as they solve various crimes, but does contain an overarching plotline that can be traced throughout. For those looking for a straight “realistic” or “Sherlock Holmes” mystery, “Ruse” is not the way to go. This is largely due to the fact that magic is present in this world that Waid has created. While Archard denies the supernatural and seeks for naturalistic explanations (reminiscent of Sherlock), Waid paints a picture that acknowledges powers beyond the comprehension of the analytical scientific mind. Whether Waid did this to make a point about the real world, or simply because the naturalist/supernatural tension made the story more interesting (more likely), he does an excellent job of balancing the two and creating a very interesting story. Finally, the series has never been finished, so it has never been satisfactorily closed with all of the plot-lines nicely tied up. I know that this might turn some people off, but what little there is in this short-lived series is definitely worth reading.

Art

Ruse1The artwork in “Ruse” is largely of a very high quality. The inkwork and coloring are all topnotch, giving the characters and world a very vibrant and ‘real’ feel. The panels are laid out in an orderly manner for the most part, although I did get confused momentarily on some multi-page spreads. However, all in all, the artwork does a great job of accompanying and enhancing the prose of Waid.

 

Conclusion

“Ruse” is another hit by Mark Waid, who masterfully creates a world that engulfs the imagination: complete with interesting characters and masterful artwork, as well as an interesting plot, “Ruse” is a gripping read from beginning to end. While tragically short lived, this series is a little known gem that leaves the reader wanting more.

Gary Larson Greatness!

Note from moderator:

Due to finals ending last Friday, I failed to notify the normal contributor for this week. I apologize for this breach in the normal rotation of writers, and we will get things back on track for the summer soon. Meanwhile, here is a short comic strip review I wrote a while back:

004

Many weeks ago I wrote an article (here) about Dave Coverly’s comic strip Speed Bump, in which I mentioned another comic strip called The Far Side. While The Far Side is no longer being actively produced by its creator Gary Larson, the strip’s magnificence has been well documented in multiple book collections for those of us (like me) who are too young to have ever read it in the newspapers.

006  005Larson uses role reversals between animals and humans, science, as well as a keen knowledge of the English language to create humorous situations. I have always gotten a kick out of reading the collections of The Far Side comics, and would highly recommend them. You won’t be able to find any of The Far Side comics available on the internet, but check at your local library or buy a volume or two for your own collection.

Note to Parents: The Far Side contains an evolutionary worldview in many of the strips. However, while possibly being a negative, it could also generate good discussions about science. Also, some of the jokes can be crude and are not suitable for younger readers.

NOTE: original article can be found here.

EAT CARDBOARD!!!

Great comics, much to my chagrin, seem to have been dominated by the secular. Whether it be artists, storytellers, or publishers. I have often felt that comics, much like any medium that is hip (like rock ‘n roll, filmmaking, etc..), has been left with the world leading the way, and Christian storytellers largely following along in their wake. However, if first impressions are anything to go on, Doug TenNapel is one Christian storyteller who may be changing that. I recently read one of his graphic novels (one of the many he’s written), and really enjoyed the story, artwork, and worldview of the comic.

 cardboard_PanelsTo begin with, TenNapel weaves an interesting story. His books are predominately aimed at boys (4-9th grade), and offer adventure, humor, and heroism -all the things that I enjoyed when I was younger (and still enjoy, for that matter). The story follows a construction worker who has lost his job, and is struggling to make ends meet. On his son’s birthday, the only gift that he can afford is a giant cardboard box -which he knows is pretty lame. However, events turn interesting quickly when the cardboard man that the father and son make comes to life -and the story rockets on from there. The story shows the value of family and the destructive power unleashed when we let the past hang over us and dominate our future. However, one of my favorite themes deals with the destructive nature of sin. Throughout the story TenNapel shows how sin not only is self-destructive, but also hurts those around the sinner. Sin is like a nuclear bomb -fallout will always occur from the initial explosion.In summary, the story is largely geared at younger boys, and promotes the values of biblical families, loyalty, and forgiveness. However, although the primary audience is younger boys, I personally found it very entertaining even as a college student, and TenNapel includes some plot-lines and themes that offer depth that adults may appreciate.

As far as artwork goes, the book is very well done. TenNapel managescardboard3 to create a cartoon-ey and highly exaggerated style that keeps violence from ever becoming too graphic, but the images are still very effective in communicating characters’ feelings and emotions. TenNapel does an excellent job in visually designing his villains to make them -one of whom has pinkeye -very grotesque (don’t forget the target audience is boys). The panels are well laid out, and the action and dialog read smoothly throughout the pages of the book -making the reading experience enjoyable and engrossing. The comic is very well executed from an artistic and technical standpoint, and I can only applaud TenNapel’s skills.

Finally, worldview. Doug TenNapel approaches his stories from a Christian perspective. However, this story had a noticeable lack of any overt religious references. That being said, far from being a negative, I think that this gives the graphic novel a wider potential audience, and the lack of overt religious overtones does not mean that Christian ideals and values are not being expressed. TenNapel has themes of forgiveness and turning away from evil throughout the story, both of which carry strong Christian ties. He also has a plot line dealing with the need to move on from past events and living out our purpose in the present.

cardboard_Panels2

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel offers a blend of humor, adventure, and Christian values that any boy (of whatever age) will enjoy. From the entertaining plot, to well-executed artwork, to themes of forgiveness and change, TenNapel weaves a very effective graphic novel. So, if you’ve been wanting some wholesome and entertaining reading, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of TenNapel’s Cardboard.