A Very Long Halloween Part 1: Halloween

Jeph Loeb loves a mystery, as evidenced by the majority of his past comics work. From Hulk to Batman and beyond, almost all of his most successful and well-known comic stories have revolved around a murder mystery of some kind, with a secret villain working behind the scenes. One of the first mysteries, and easily his strongest, was ‘The Long Halloween’ with Tim Sale, Gregory Wright, and Richard Starkings.

Following Batman as he’s just put on the mantle and taken to the rooftops of Gotham, The Long Halloween is a thirteen-issue series which traces a year in the city. Each issue takes place during a holiday of some sort, as a new serial killer arrives and starts slaying members of Gotham’s underworld. Each time he kills someone, he leaves a holiday memento by their side. Batman has to solve the mystery of the killer whilst dealing with a gauntlet of his most notable villains, a dangerous flirtation with Catwoman, an uneasy tension with police officer Jim Gordon, and a crumbling, fractured gangster culture lashing out at anyone it can.

Loeb and Sale put together a compelling story, and I’ll be following it in real time over the next year: from Halloween to Halloween, we’re going to follow the story as it progresses and annotate/analyse each issue.

We start on Halloween.

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There are a lot of characters – at first – in The Long Halloween. Not only do we have a core group of players whom most readers will recognise (Batman, Catwoman, Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent) but we quickly assemble a cast of supporting character also. Although it can be difficult to tell them apart, Loeb’s focus is on establishing the presence and dominance of Gotham City’s criminal element, as it stands before the super-criminals begin to take the focus away. Chief among them is Carmine Falcone, who wears a distinctive rose and has three scratches down his chin – so he’s recognisable. Then we have his family members and agents, including his sister, Carla, son, Alberto, and security officer Milo. Lesser powers in the criminal world like Sal Maroni also appear in the issue, although he stands in the background during this first issue.

The murder mystery element of The Long Halloween doesn’t appear particularly in this first issue, although we do see the first murder perpetrated by the killer. Instead, the conflict lies in Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham City, and his interest in cleaning out some of the corruption. Early on in his life, he’s still willing to look for allies and partnerships – following Year One (many claim The Long Halloween to be essentially ‘Year Two’) he is already aware of Jim Gordon, and in this issue he makes full acquaintances with another white knight for Gotham: Harvey Dent.

Thus, across this issue, a battleline is drawn. The basic concept of the series will see these three working together to try and wipe out the mob in Gotham. It’s fairly simple at this moment in time, although Loeb throws in several wildcard elements to throw readers around a little. Catwoman would be chief amongst them at this point, appearing a few times to shake Batman off her own tail. Bruce Wayne is clearly interested in her, and their bickering serves as distraction from the more sombre elements of the battle against Falcone. She is portrayed here as faintly one-note, although that is a note she’s chosen for herself – she attempts to be a Batman-esque blank slate, boiling her entire caped persona down to the uncatchable cat-burglar.

These will be the characters we spend most time with across the next year: Batman, Catwoman, Gordon, Dent and Falcone. They are what hold the story together, and everything expands outwards from them.

Although we have Loeb making the introductions, the real entrance is made by Tim Sale and Gregory Wright, artist and colourist respectively. Together, they establish a mundane sense of noir into the storyline, blacking out many scenes in dark shadows or bright whites. Whilst Gotham is run by organised crime, the panels here are organised – only deviating at one or two points, notably. The very first page of the issue sets a mission statement for the rest of the series (and Batman in general) with Bruce Wayne stood, in shadow, staring directly at the reader and saying “I believe in Gotham”. That belief system will form the core of the character for years to come, and one of the recurring themes in the issue is of trust, and expectation. Sale and Wright make this a deeply ominous splash panel indeed, furrowing Wayne’s brow and leaving him stranded, by himself.

The second time the artistic team deviate is for a scene where Harvey Dent, skittering round in Falcone’s car park and taking down license plates, is beaten by the gangster’s men. As he is hit, the panels whirl out of control, decreasing in size and spiralling down into nothingness, before whirring back into consciousness as Harvey is recovered by Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. These little changes in style are important to note, as they denote the distinction between the age of organised crime and the age of the supers. Reading the issue, you also begin to note how Sale hyper-exaggerates every panel with superheroes/villains in it – such as a standoff between Batman and Catwoman – so they seem out of sync with reality.

They are out of sync, for now. But eventually they will become the norm.

Wright’s colour choices are absolutely fascinating, and he provides the most distinctive artistic choice of the issue, and the one which alerts readers as to the moment of real importance. For all Batman, Dent and Gordon work together against the mob – and they achieve a sizeable victory within this one issue alone – they still haven’t realised what’s going on right under their noses. There is a killer at work here, a killer with a gimmick who will act as the bridge into a world of Jokers, monsters, and madmen. Towards the end of this first issue, the killer creates a murder weapon (and immediately the creative team suggest that Gordon could be the killer, in an early example of Loeb’s love for a “anyone could have done it” mystery) and then goes out and shoots Falcone’s nephew, who works as an enforcer.

These two scenes are colourless from Wright, creating a drastic and arresting crime scene which makes it clear to the reader that what’s happening here should stand out and be noticed. Nothing is given away about the identity of the murderer, and readers won’t care about seeing the barely-present nephew be shot and killed. But we get this in pure black, white, and then red: this is something we have to pay attention to.

Although keeping to the central conflict of Batman’s team of agents against Falcone’s trained organisation, the first issue of The Long Halloween allows itself to wander around, building up a world and leaving the reader wondering what all these subplots might be – and which are connected to one another, or even have a relevance at all. We’re offered tantalising hints at whatever might come next, but we’re left as near-completely in the dark as Batman is, himself. We can choose to believe what we want: it won’t help us right now.

The Long Halloween finds Batman entering a formative, transitional year. As we start out, we get a solid grounding on everything that is and how they operate. Across the next year, we’ll start to find that nothing lasts forever, and we’re entering a whole new world of curious wonders and dangers.

See you at Thanksgiving.

Coming to Thought Bubble: Night Post by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Thought Bubble is under a month away! So we’d best get prepared, eh? For the next month I’ll be counting down as many of the comics at the convention as possible – starting with a new one from Improper Books, ‘Night Post’.

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Improper Books are perhaps best known for ‘Porcelain’, the first part of a trilogy of fairytales following a girl as she grows up to become a woman. They’ve also put out a fair few books across the year, including ‘Knight and Dragon’ at T’Bubs 2013. They seem to spend a lot of time on their books, getting them up to scratch, before putting them out – there’s a high standard of work on display in their titles.

Night Post is by Benjamin Reed and Laura Trinder, an all-ages title which follows a ghoulish postal service which comes into operation after midnight and delivers letters to witches, monsters, demons and devils. Following that idea of high craftmanship which I associate the publisher with, this book is completely wordless – the story is to be told by Trinder’s artwork alone.

Is that artwork good, then, is the question. Well:

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Should answer the question for you, I think! This looks wonderful, to me. A little bit of ‘The Jolly Postman’ wrapped up in charm and some delightful sequencing from Trinder. I’m a big fan of both getting post and seeing flying broomsticks, so this is one I’ll be picking up at the festival, myself.

You can find out more about Improper Books over here.

Jack Kirby is Now Credited in Marvel Comics as the Creator of Fantastic Four, X-Men, Captain America and More

Following the settlement between Marvel and the estate of comics legend Jack Kirby, the writer/artist’s contributions to the world of comics will now be recognised in the pages of every comic put out by the company. Unannounced, sharp-eyed readers spotted Kirby’s name appearing in the start of several comics published this week, including X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Captain America books.

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As one of the founders of the Marvel Universe as we know it, Kirby was – as with every creator who isn’t Stan Lee – shafted by the company somewhat back in the early days. For decades since, he (and later his estate) have been locked in a battle with Marvel in an attempt to create a fair deal for use of the characters he brought to life. With a settlement apparently agreed earlier this year, we’re now starting to see some of the ramifications of the deal.

And so, as spotted by people like Kevin Melrose at Robot6:

All-New X-Men #33, Fantastic Four #12, Inhuman #7 andWolverine and the X-Men #11 include the phrase “Created By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby,” while Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America #1 states, “Captain America Created By Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.”

Which is a good start.

2000AD To Reprint Dan Dare’s First Adventures for his 65th Anniversary Next Year

Dan Dare, the dareiest Dan in perhaps the history of comics (although not the most desperate), will be celebrating a 65th anniversary next year, with his first appearance appearing in Eagle comic way back in 1950. So in celebration, today it was announced that 2000AD will begin republishing his very first stories for a new collection.

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For nineteen years Dan Dare dominated the galaxy in his serial, protecting against dastardly aliens and all kinds of cosmic threats. Then his strip ended and he went away for a while. Only a little while, mind, as he later returned in the pages of 2000AD for a few years of new stories. It’s been largely quiet since then, with the odd few scattered appearances here and there from people like Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison.

But, in 2015, we’ll see him return as 2000AD collect together the original strips into two volumes of work. The first, collecting something like fifty serials together into one book, is due out in Autumn of next year.

Mike Molcher, 2000AD’s marketing maven (that’s a word Heidi MacDonald uses all the time but I don’t know the meaning of, so I’m going to start using it in order to seem smarter than I am) sayeth:

Dan is still, to this day, seen as something of an old-fashioned hero – the original strips in the Eagle were formed from a very British idea about space exploration and the future, very different to the ‘wild new frontier’ of most American fiction. So that’s why 2000 AD’s Dan Dare is important – his popularity in 2000 AD not only helped kickstart the 1980s revival of Eagle, but also showed the character could adapt to a new age.

Where Do I Start with X-Men Comics?

New readers come to comics all the time – but comics have been going for decades and decades now, and it can be really confusing to work out a good place to start from. When I first starting reading comics, it was with a mixture of Wikipedia, Ebay and the ComicBookResources forums that I worked out which character was which, what trades I should buy, and which comics were the good comics.

So if you are, yourself, looking to start reading the X-Men – but you don’t want to start sixty years ago – then here’s my guide to the best contemporary starting points for the characters, from most recent to most distant:

CURRENTLY:

All-New X-Men/Uncanny X-Men

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The current X-Men run is spearheaded by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Stuart Immonen and Chris Bachalo. The X-Men here are split into two different factions: a team following Cyclops, and a team following Wolverine. Wolverine’s team are the main team, and features Storm, Iceman, Beast and several other recognisable characters. The idea is that Wolverine and Cyclops had a fight several issues ago regarding whether the young students should be trained to fight, or to be regular people. Cyclops felt they were going to be attacked no matter what, so they should at least be trained to defend themselves. Wolverine felt differently.

As a result, Wolverine’s team are based in the X-Men school, in All-New X-Men, teaching new characters how to learn their powers (in a book by Jason Aaron and now Jason Latour) called Wolverine & The X-Men, which I wouldn’t recommend). Cyclops team, on the other hand – with Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost and Magneto, in Uncanny X-Men – are revolutionaries, on the run from the Avengers and hiding out. This is a more out there title, with offbeat art styles and crazier ideas in the main story. It’s arguably the weaker of the two books.

Wolverine’s team are in a book called All-New X-Men because of the central conceit: that Beast went back in time to when he and Cyclops were kids, and brought the original X-Men into the present – to remind Cyclops of how innocent he used to be. This backfired, half the original X-Men have joined Cyclops’ team now, and many of the stories revolve around the worry that if one of the time-displaced characters died, the present-day version of them would blink from existence.

Around these books you have X-Force, a series about a black-ops team of X-Men who go out and pre-emptively kill those who oppose the X-Men; an adjective-free book called simply X-Men which is set in Wolverine’s school; and a PR team who are unconnected with the main X-Men (All-New X-Factor).

That’s the current status quo for the X-Men.

ONE STEP BACK:

Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men

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About ten years ago (yes, this is how far you have to go to get a really clean break and new starting point for the X-Men), Buffy writer Joss Whedon took over the X-Men with a book called ‘Astonishing X-Men’. Featuring a team of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Colossus and Wolverine, this book breaks into four storylines, each of which is published in trade. The book reassembled the main characters together for a story which doesn’t sit too deeply into old continuity, and offers new readers a chance to get to know the characters a little better.

The stories are fine, for the most part – it’s not a brilliant run or anything, but it’s fairly solid throughout, and is a great introduction to how the various X-Men characters work around each other. You can pick up the series and read it without having to touch any other books, as well. The art is by a single artist throughout – John Cassaday, whose design sense informs most of the current X-Men designs now.

TWO STEPS BACK:

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men

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Prior to Whedon’s run – and this is the comic which sets up most of the elements used by Whedon – was a run by Grant Morrison which used Cyclops, Emma Frost, Jean Grey, Beast, Professor Xavier and Wolverine. This was Morrison attempting to redefine the X-Men for a modern audience, really, and so he uses all kinds of weird concepts and characters in his run. It stands alone, although it leans heavily in lots of past stories. You don’t have to read those stories to understand his run – at some points you get the impression that Morrison certainly didn’t – but his X-Men certainly do lead you off in lots of unexpected directions.

You THINK that he’s using lots of old ideas you’ve never heard of before, but what he’s actually doing is inventing concepts himself and pretending they’ve been around for a long time.

It’s a really excellent run, and he more than anyone else is the man responsible for how the X-Men are seen today. He brought in Emma Frost, developed Beast, hinted at secrets within Charles Xavier, and made Cyclops the leader of the team. It’s a good jumping on point, because you can follow it with Joss Whedon’s run without missing out on anything.

THREE STEPS BACK:

X-Men: First Class

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If you want to step further back, you’ll have to pick and choose one of Chris Claremont’s issues of X-Men – a supremely long run which made the X-Men important and interesting in the first place. However, it’s collected in unusual formats, and hard to pick up as a cohesive run.

So instead of any of that, I’d recommend you try a run called X-Men: First Class by writer Jeff Parker and several artists. This run, written a few years ago, tells the untold stories of the very first X-Men.

The characters here are Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, Professor X and Angel. Immensely fun stories set at the very start of the X-Men being formed, these are light-hearted and entertaining stories suitable for all ages. They’re also followed by a run of Uncanny X-Men: First Class, which brings in Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee and other familiar names.

BEYOND:

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If you jump on and enjoy any of these, you could also try some of the following:

Chris Claremont’s X-Men – where the X-Men comics stopped being a random Stan Lee creation and became actual stories with real characters.

Peter David’s X-Factor – which starts after Morrison’s run, wraps around Whedon’s run, and continues on for a very long time. This is about a mutant detective agency.

Mike Carey’s X-Men – which sits between Whedon’s run and Bendis’ run, and leads up to a big event storyline called Messiah Complex which was one of my introductions to the X-Men and I adore.

Schism by Jason Aaron and assorted artists – this is the storyline which explains the current rift between Cyclops and Wolverine. It’s okay enough, not fantastic but a decent enough primer.

Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men – which sits between Whedon’s run and leads in to Bendis’ run. Fun stories –but I wouldn’t recommend any stories credited to both Gillen and Matt Fraction. That period was a little uneasy.

There’ll be a Black Panther Movie: Let’s Do Some Black Panther Fancasting!

So with the news that there’ll be a Black Panther movie coming up in a few years, I thought it would be a fine time to indulge in some fancasting! Not for the movie, I mean, but for the inevitable relaunch of the comic book series, to coincide with said movie. Who would be great choices to take over on a Black Panther solo series? Here’s some of my picks:

 

Felipe Smith

I’d imagine Felipe Smith, having relaunched Ghost Rider with a sensational new take on the character and concept, would be at the top of anybody’s fancast for a new Black Panther series. A writer and artist, the aforementioned Ghost Rider series was his most high-profile work to date – and was absolutely fantastic. Done with character and verve, but with an eye to the visual storytelling, he’s worked with people like Tradd Moore and Ron Wimberly to make that series an incredible, unexpected triumph. It’d be great to see him cast an eye across the Atlantic, and take on the adventures of T’Challa.

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Afua Richardson

Having recently completed work on the miniseries ‘Genius’, Afua Richardson’s star is on the ascendency. With a flowing, free-spirited nature, her artwork would perfectly fit the effortless glide of Black Panther as he heads into battle. He’s a strategic thinker when fighting, and Richardson’s work would lend perfectly to illustrating just how adept he is at hand to hand combat. Richardson’s caught the eye of the public, and of publishers – she has her first superhero work coming up soon. Wouldn’t she be a perfect choice for Black Panther, subsequently?

NB! She was previously linked to a speculated Storm solo series a few years ago – proven false at the time, although now there actually IS a Storm series out there… Marvel?

David Walker

The newly-announced writer of a Shaft series across at Dynamite, Walker is an accomplished writer and blogger (I put him in my fancast on the basis of this motivated blog post alone). A lot would depend on the reception that the Shaft series receives, but one thing I’ve noted across the last few months is just how prolific and adept at PR he is. He’s managed to really get word out about a book at a publisher who don’t always get the same attention as Marvel/DC/Image enjoy, and he’s gotten a lot of people to rally around the title. It feels like an event, now, and I want a Black Panther book to have that same level of enthusiasm behind it. Walker would bring that to the title.

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Brian Stelfreeze

HE’S BRIAN STELFREEZE! WHO ARE YOU TO SAY NO?

Brandon Easton

N. Steven Harris

I thought I’d place these two together, simply because their last collaboration was for the Eisner-nominated sixth issue of Watson and Holmes. There, their collaboration brought the Harlem setting to life, with expressive, meaningful storytelling and a sense of humour twinkling behind the eyes of each character. Together they bring out something brilliant in one another – but don’t get me wrong, here. Either of them alone would be a coup for a new Black Panther series, and it feels about time that Easton, to be particular, got a break into the Big Two. He’s been writing well-received comics for ages, and still hasn’t been invited in for work at Marvel. It’s about time.

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Olivier Coipel

One of the most admired artists in superhero comics, Coipel is brought out almost always for Marvel’s biggest storylines and launches. He does events, he does anniversary issues – his every comic is something of note. And that style (and his A-List power, frankly) would make him a perfect fit for Black Panther. He already drew perhaps the best Black Panther moment of the last decade – let’s see him bring that to the first arc of a new BP series?

Spike

The editor of Smut Peddler – which you’ll almost certainly have heard about over the last few weeks – is also a particularly strong comic-maker as well. Her webcomic Templar, Arizona is a good example of all the qualities that would lend themselves intriguingly to Black Panther. She’s able to build and establish an entire world of her own – which would put her in a good position should she take over running Wakanda, which is distanced from America and the rest of Marvel’s Universe. She’s also great at offering a complete mix of characters, all interplaying off each other in different and unexpected ways, with politics and prejudices subtly affecting their every decision. She’s be able to bring the political element to Black Panther – something which has proven in the past to bring out the best in the character.

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Ron Wimberly

Massively admired for his creator owned work like King of Cats, Wimberly has recently come across for a project or two at Marvel already. He’s done some cover work for books like Mighty Avengers – which you can see above – and also, currently, interiors for She Hulk, which brought his art to the attention of a whole new audience. He’s dynamic, expressive and always interesting. He’d bring a proper sense of edge and movement to Black Panther’s world, and I can’t help but imagine that his approach to Wakanda would be something of real beauty. He can do rough and gritty work, but he can also bring a sense of fantasy to a story. As writer or artist, he’d shine on Black Panther.

Jimmie Robinson

I’d like to see more from Jimmie Robinson. His ‘Five Weapons’ miniseries – turned ongoing series – was utterly wonderful, a terrific story which emphasised intelligence over brute force. Imagine having a writer of Robinson’s capability handling Black Panther? He’s also a superb artist and storyteller, and could jump in every so often for an issue both written and drawn by himself. That would be, I’d imagine, a real event for Black Panther fans. Robinson is a smart writer who doesn’t seem to be as appreciated as he should be. Marvel would be smart to approach him for Black Panther.

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Denys Cowan

See my comment about Brian Stelfreeze. Denys Cowan is an industry legend, and should always be one of the first names that comes to mind whenever thinking of a new comic about ANY character.

 

Those are just A FEW ideas to get the ball rolling. I didn’t even mention Karl Bollers, Clayton Henry, Damion Scott (JUST IMAGINE) or any of the other creators who could absolutely nail the inevitable new Black Panther series. Who would you like to see as the relaunch team?

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