Friday, August 31, 2007


Sometimes, one panel can say it all. Other times, all the panels on a page come together to make a whole far greater than any of its parts. And on occasion, neither page nor panel hits the mark (but hopefully the artist at least hits the deadline). This is our discussion—this is Page and Panel.

Writer – Paul Dini
Artist – Kenneth Rocafort
Colors – Imaginary Friends Studios
Kenneth Rocafort
Letters – Troy Peteri
Design – Chaz Riggs
Editor – Rob Levin
Cover – Greg Horn

Cover Date: June 2007

Written and created by Paul Dini (currently a DC staple, consistently delivering knockout Batman stories in the pages of Detective Comics and guiding the publisher’s weekly Countdown title), Madame Mirage takes place in a quasi-contemporary Los Angeles that’s adorned with equal parts future tech and ‘40s noir. The world’s superheroes had once benefited from “bio-engineering and cybernetic enhancements,” but when that same technology fell into the wrong hands (as it inevitably does, regardless of the comic book universe under discussion), the consequent rise in super-powered villainy led the government to force all the heroes to turn in their gear while the criminals painted their enterprises with a veneer of legitimacy. In this environment, the eponymous Madame Mirage wisps about, a vamp magician with a dead aim, determined to rid the city of its criminal underbelly by any means necessary.

Fleshing out this story in expressionistic detail is artist Kenneth Rocafort, whose work previously graced the pages of the Mark Waid-scripted Hunter-Killer. Penciling, inking, and with a hand in the colors to boot, Rocafort’s pages each display a unity that is all too rare in comics, giving the reader the distinct impression that the artist treats his panels as elements in the overarching image of the page rather than as individual vignettes with little or no bearing on one another.

By page 18, Mirage has managed to impersonate criminal businessman Roger Maitland’s driver and she’s speeding Maitland toward his personal jet—and, naturally, his personal doom—at LAX (which just goes to show, if you don’t get bit by traffic on the 405, then the airport itself will not hesitate to take you down, in the parlance of Michael Mann’s Heat). Across the page’s six panels, each image is tied together chromatically, with the red brake lights in panel one bridged to the red flashers of the police motorcycle in panel six by means of a confluence of red forms that pool around Maitland, forming in turn an expressionistic landscape with echoes in page 19’s angled panel borders. Furthermore, page 19’s angles establish a tick-tock rhythm that heightens the suspense and emphasizes the fact that Maitland’s time is running short.

While on the topic of borders, the panels on page 18 begin crisp and neat but begin to devolve with panel three, formed by the contours of the rear-view mirror Mirage uses to study Maitland. Panel four is bordered only by panels five and six, which now demonstrate a hurried, even desperate, sketched quality, with panel five showcasing an airborne plane notably headed away from Maitland, an image of his carefully-laid plans flying out of his reach. Finally, panel six is noteworthy for its myriad borders, including one outline for the background, one for the road pounded by the rubber of Maitland’s limo and the pursuant cop, and one last red square behind the cop, with these varying levels of panels within the panel paralleling the intricacies of Maitland’s crumbling plan and Mirage’s command of the villain’s layered predicament.

Maitland’s situation comes to a head on page 22, a bold splash page layered in the warm hues of golden hour (and accented one more time by red brake lights—a signifier of bad tidings for this king of the bad people) and caught as though with a wide-angle lens held at a Dutch tilt that emphasizes the volatile nature of Maitland’s demise. Rocafort also revisits his motif of layering panels, outlining the explosion on the page with white panel borders that focus the reader’s attention while failing to contain all of the action of the splash page, just as Maitland’s planned getaway left no room for Mirage’s intervention.

If Top Cow ever gets issue #2 on the stands, it will be a pleasure to see where Dini and Rocafort take Madame Mirage from here.

The complete “Page and Panel” on The Danger Digest:
#1: Captain America #27, Page 4
#2: The Spirit #8
#4: Green Arrow Year One #1, Pages 10 &14

All images this post copyright Top Cow Productions
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Jon D. Witmer—writer, holder of odd jobs, keeper of comic books. Carbon dating the origin of his love for sequential art back some two decades, Jon now mines the varied gems of his collection. These are his memories from the longbox…

Writer-Editor: Carey Bates
Penciller: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letters: T. Harkins & M. Snapinn

Cover Date: Oct. 85

When I think of the Flash, the first images that spring to mind are Carmine Infantino’s pencils, and understandably so when one considers that Infantino was responsible for the look of the “new” Flash that appeared in Showcase #4 back in 1956, ushering in comics’ Silver Age. However, the artist’s images that are most vividly etched in my mind were put to paper nearly three decades later for The Flash #350, the final issue of the book with Barry Allen under the Scarlet Speedster’s cowl.

Originally landing on stands during the latter part of 1985 (and right in the thick of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths), #350 wrapped up the loose ends of the Speedster’s solo title and offered the hero some peace that would be stripped away utterly over in the publisher’s multiverse-shattering maxiseries. At the time I acquired the book, though, I was blissfully unaware of all of these goings-on, and the dubious means by which I came to own this particular comic are indeed just as much at issue here as the happenings within the printed pages.

My first introduction to the Flash was through a friend who had the character’s Super Powers action figure. That said, I had begun to dabble in comics and some of their tertiary accoutrements during the salad days before I could read, even picking up a Captain America action figure and spark gun along the way, but it wasn’t until the second grade that the gates opened wide and, lying awash in pages, panels, and secret identities, I embraced my baptism into the world of comicdom.

Finding my seven-year old self kicking it one afternoon with my friend with the Flash action figure, his mother—let’s call her Mrs. B—took us kids shopping, ultimately leading us through the hallowed halls of Toys R Us and offering to buy something we could share. Now, it should be mentioned that my buddy had recently informed me that the Flash was his favorite superhero, a distinction that carried with it some heavy emotional baggage even if it was reallocated on a near-daily basis in those mercurial days. Accordingly, when we decided that the day’s purchase would be a three-pack of comics (regularly sold in toy stores back in the late 80s and early 90s) that included the Speedster’s farewell issue, and Mrs. B offered me, as the family’s guest, first dibs on one of the books, the angels and demons within my callow soul did both clamor.

Perhaps I sacrificed a part of myself that day to some shafters’ hell, but as I reread the book 22 years after it was first published and nearly two decades after I carried it out of Toys R Us, I’m still every bit as intoxicated by the story’s visual impact (and I can sleep easy knowing that my friend’s chagrin is long since forgotten). Granted, the story’s a bit wobbly for me—in no small part due to having not read the issues leading up to this double-sized final chapter—but Infantino and inker Frank McLaughlin’s renderings of the Flash plus all his Rogues, Abra Kadabra, and even the Reverse-Flash (or at least Kadabra in the evil speedster’s guise) remain stunning to this day.

The story in #350 jumps off the starting line with the Flash on the lam, having been found guilty of the murder of the Reverse-Flash by a jury brainwashed by Abra Kadabra. In his race to clear himself, the Speedster is aided and abetted by the rotund Nathan Newbury, a juror whose body has since been inhabited by the psychic essence of Barry Allen’s presumed-dead wife, Iris West Allen, a tidbit that doesn’t become clear until the Flash and Newbury have traveled first to the 25th century and then to the 64th, all the while trying to track down the Reverse-Flash, who has been fairly active since going to the grave.

Down this improbable road through time, the Rogues follow the same trail of crumbs pursued by the Flash and Newbury, and when everyone falls into the clutches of Abra Kadabra in the far future, hero and villain alike band together to take down the magical mastermind. In the end, Kadabra proves himself little more than a parlor magician with more toys than he should be trusted with and whose ultimate aim is to change the recorded past as the capstone to his oeuvre. A noble goal for a humble man such as he.

At book’s end, the Rogues return to 1985, where the Flash is cleared of all charges and the ever-changing tide of public opinion rises once again in the Speedster’s support. Meanwhile, the Flash goes to the 30th century, where Iris’s psychic essence has been transplanted once more, leaving Nathan Newbury with his own body back in his own time, and giving Iris a body that should be more enjoyably navigable for Barry (himself no stranger to updating one’s look, evidenced in the panel that diagrams the change affected by his own reconstructive surgery after his battle royale with Big Sir).

And here the book ends. “They lived happily ever after…for awhile….” Barry would stay with Iris in the 30th century until heading back to sacrifice himself during the Crisis and effectively save the DC Universe. In the letters page at the book’s end, writer/editor Cary Bates muses, “Needless to say, as one who has edited this book for the last two years…and written it continuously for the past fourteen…there is no one who laments the Scarlet Speedsters’s passing from the annals of his own magazine more than yours truly.” It was a hell of a run for both Bates and Infantino, and for passing the baton of comics collecting onto me, I’ll forever be grateful to The Flash.

The complete “Memories from the Longbox” on The Danger Digest:
#1: X-Men #1
#3: X-Force #116

All images this post copyright DC Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Sometimes, one panel can say it all. Other times, all the panels on a page come together to make a whole far greater than any of its parts. And on occasion, neither page nor panel hits the mark (but hopefully the artist at least hits the deadline). This is our discussion—this is Page and Panel.

Finished Art J. BONE
The Spirit Created By WILL EISNER

Cover Date: September 2007

Really, it makes perfect sense that Darwyn Cooke has been breathing new life into Will Eisner’s quintessential comic book hero, the Spirit. After all, Cooke is a classicist at heart, and his own panel at this year’s San Diego Comic Con dripped with equal doses of nostalgia for the comics of his youth and lament that those books have gone the way of the dodo in favor of the darker, more “mature” fare of today’s industry.

“Maybe all this grim and gritty stuff is doing more harm than good,” mused the writer/artist before his room full of fans and admirers. “I read and loved Watchmen and a lot of the books that came out of that, but I don’t think anyone expected to see the whole industry turn into that.”

With The Spirit, Cooke has managed to maintain an air of levity true to the tone of Eisner’s original series, all the while addressing themes ranging from terrorism to love triangles to bestiality (implicit though the latter may be) and updating the story to the present day. Likewise, Cooke’s ability to craft in 22 pages an engaging and complete story evokes a bygone day when such technique was the norm. (Hell, Eisner did it week in and week out in only seven pages.)

Aiding and abetting Cooke’s revivification of the past power of the comics page are inker J. Bone and colorist Dave Stewart, modern greats, both of them. About Bone, Cooke noted at Con, “We’re old-school brush cartoonists,” making him a pitch-perfect accompanist for Cooke’s rhythm of blues.

Speaking of color, Cooke may well have been selling Stewart short when he described him at Comic Con merely as “one of the best colorists in the business.” Arguably, anyone else’s colors for Cooke’s The New Frontier would have grossly underwhelmed in comparison to Stewart’s hues, and his work for titles like Hellboy and BPRD has upped the anty for the craft as a whole. Here in The Spirit, from one panel to the next, Stewart invokes an exaggerated geometry of color that consistently (and subtly, almost despite itself) advances the character beats laid out by Cooke. The cumulative effect is something like the cinematography of classic Hollywood cinema translated to the printed page.

Digging into some particulars, issue #8 kicks off in media res, with the Spirit already a captive of criminal mastermind the Octopus, and Special Agent Silk Satin closing in to save the day. Of course, delivering this information within the first three pages leaves 19 more for things to get decidedly messy for our heroes, and so Satin’s entrance spoils the Spirit’s mano e mano bout of fisticuffs with the Octopus, distracting the Spirit and allowing the Octopus to escape, but not before he shocks Satin with enough volts to power Central City and give her a wicked amnesiac hangover when she finally comes to.

Discovering Satin’s amnesia, the Spirit does his best to remind her who she is and how they landed in their current pickle, but when nothing rings a bell, he’s forced to take drastic action. In the fourth panel on page 17, the Spirit takes Satin in his arms and lays one on her in a “widescreen” panel that presents the kiss in a manner worthy of a Technicolor romance.

In addition to Cooke’s caring pencils and Bone’s stunning brushwork, this panel is particularly potent for Stewart’s colors and Jared Fletcher’s letters. With one small word balloon, the Spirit answers Satin’s question from the previous panel, “What are you doing?” and delivers the only word in the entire book that’s not all in caps. “This,” he tells her, his face dipping into shadow while Satin’s eyes are illuminated by a source behind the Spirit’s back and beyond the panel’s borders. And it’s only her eyes, the rest of her face is shaded by the Spirit’s larger frame. Garbo wished she could be lit this well.

Cooke and co.—or perhaps more rightfully Stewart deserves the credit—take this technique even farther when Satin fully overcomes her amnesia, casting a bold slash of light across her eyes (page 20, panel nine). As Satin steels herself to tackle the timebomb left behind by the Octopus, the eyelight reminds one of the expressionistic camerawork of such directors of photography as William Daniels (Queen Christina) and Rudolph Maté (Gilda).

On page 22, in panel eight, Ellen Dolan, the Spirit’s on-again, off-again sweetheart, gets similar treatment, although where Satin’s clear vision came from her determination to foil the Octopus’s plot, Ellen’s eyes are focused by her anger and frustration with the Spirit’s untamable womanizing. And for his part, the Spirit never seems to see things as clearly as either of these two leading ladies, the shadow that frequently falls across his face (see page 22, panel one) equally indicative of insouciance and naïveté. (Again in Cooke’s words, “Denny [Colt, AKA the Spirit]’s a far dumber and better person than I am.”)

If there’s one technique from the vintage Spirit that Cooke seems content leaving alone, it’s Eisner’s then-groundbreaking tendency to break the panel, although Eisner himself toned this down within the first year of his weekly Spirit strip. A useful narrative tool when employed judiciously, it’s a technique often abused, and Cooke’s art and story seem that much more pure for steering clear.

(From "The Black Queen" by Will Eisner, page five, panels three through five. First published June 16, 1940)

This entire creative team will be sorely missed when they toss in the towel with issue 12, due to hit stands in November. At least fans will have been given a worthy addition to Eisner’s legacy, even if only for one year. “I can’t do this if there’s a chance of it being a less than perfect book,” Cooke explained in San Diego. “It’s Will Eisner’s Spirit.” True words, but Cooke, Bone, Stewart, and Fletcher have made it their own, as well.

The complete “Page and Panel” on The Danger Digest:
#1: Captain America #27, Page 4
#3: Madame Mirage #1
#4: Green Arrow Year One #1, Pages 10 &14

All images this post copyright DC Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Monday, August 6, 2007


Every week, Jon blows his rent money on comics. Here, he spills the beans on whether or not it was worth it. But to paraphrase LeVar Burton, don’t take his word for it—you should buy comics too. And then bag ‘em and board ‘em.


Mike Carey, writer
Jock, arist & cover
Clem Robins, letterer
Lee Loughride, colorist
Angela Rufino, asst. editor
Shelly Bond, editor

I’ll be honest for a change. After reading issue #1, I wasn’t terribly excited to keep going with this miniseries. In fact, I’d only picked up the first book because Jock’s work over in Green Arrow Year One is consistently (albeit after only two issues) sending me to fanboy heaven and because I like to think that, in the midst of all the cape-focused books I read, I manage to maintain some thread to the indieverse. (And yes, I do realize the issues inherent in what I just said, that one: my tie to indie comics apparently is Vertigo, and two: the very term ‘indieverse’ harkens to the notion of ‘universes’ presented by the Big Two publishers, with especial reference to DC’s now-it-exists, now-it-doesn’t multiverse. But I digress.)

Whether it was Jock’s fault or my own, I just couldn’t connect to the art in the first issue. Compared to Green Arrow, the lines felt rushed. Plus, Mike Carey gives Jock a lot more to put on a page than does Andy Diggle, and while I’m generally down for six or more panels per page, I feared that perhaps Jock was not quite so hip to draw squares.

All in all, by page 22 I felt I’d been presented with a lot of potential that was never really lived up to. Knowing, though, that not every book can get off to as raucous a start as Milligan and Allred’s revamp of X-Force back in the early aughts, I decided to give Carey and Jock the benefit of the doubt. And what do you know, I’m glad I did, ‘cause issue #2 hit me like straight gin on an empty stomach—it knocked me on my nethers and sent my head swimming, and best of all it’s got me thirsty for more.

Everything clicked in this issue, from Carey’s writing to Jock’s illustrations to Loughride’s colors. For serious, Loughride reminds me of a jungle-rules Dave Stewart; there’s a jaggedness to his work and an almost geometrical approach to separating colors that’s bold, energetic, and jibes well with the tone of the story and Jock’s lines especially.

And speaking of the story, this issue delivered in spades on the weirdness I was hoping for. It’s a slow build for the first 21 pages as Nick puts together that he’s essentially an amalgam of his closest friends, but on page 22 the flood gates open wide and the guy literally seems to melt (which, understandably, makes him slur his speech even worse than my buddy Mike when he starts hitting the sauce early on a Tuesday).

In the parlance of gym-class volleyball, if most books strive for a bump, set, spike delivery, I sense that Carey and Jock and are already in the midst of executing the feared—and more oft than not fabled—set, spike, kill maneuver. Here’s hoping, anyway.


Story by Carmine Di Giandomenico & Zeb Wells
Script by Zeb Wells
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico
Letters by Artmonkeys’ Dave Lanphear
Cover by Carmine Di Giandomenico & Richard Isanove
Assistant Editor, Alejandro Arbona
Editor, Warren Simons
Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada
Publisher, Dan Buckley

So far as I know, I may be the only guy in the world reading this title. Seriously. I have heard not one word from anybody about Battlin’ Jack. But as soon as this book was announced, I was on board, and I can tell you exactly why. In the great tradition of Champion, The Harder They Fall, Rocky, and even that Three Stooges classic, Punch Drunks, Battlin’ Jack Murdock presents us with a human story set to the rhythm of jabs, uppercuts, ten-counts, and of course the judge’s bell. Yes indeed, I’ll say it proudly: If boxing’s your backdrop, gimme a ringside seat.

The creative talent behind this miniseries is also a nice draw for me. I’ve been a fan of Wells’s since he busted onto the scene a few years back with his one-two punch of back-to-back “Direct to Video” wins for Wizard magazine and then his K-O special of getting signed to Marvel. And while I was unfamiliar with Di Giandomenico’s art before this series, his illustrations of Jack Murdock’s final bout have a timeless quality that bleed with feeling; the art captures the story’s grit just as it also transcends it, and it’s in transcendence that all these boxing fables become so poignant (see again Punch Drunks).

Another perk to this story is the vaguely Catholic bent. Apparently, Daredevil’s mom left home to become a nun (who knew?), but this isn’t the part of the story I particularly care about. Having grown up in the Catholic Church, I always find it especially affecting when presented with a character estranged from the faith who maintains some abstract sense of the spiritual, and Jack Murdock could hardly be more textbook. Take, for example, this bit of narration:

“I ain’t so much as smelled a drink or thought about a fight while I wore her cross…

“…But that’s not to say it never came off.”

Along a similar line, there’s Josie the bartender, chagrined because all she wants is for Jack to like her, and he does so much so that he can’t bring himself to go up to her apartment. “I’m not a saint, Jack. I’m just another person,” she almost pleads. “No you’re not, Josie,” Jack responds. “Not to me.”

Lastly, if you’re still not convinced, this issue presents a pre-Daredevil Matt Murdock in mask, come to his own father’s rescue. Revisionist history? It’s all fiction anyway, but even if you are a stickler for continuity, Bendis is currently making his career rewriting what we’ve all believed is true in the Marvel U, so why not let Wells have his shot at the title?

This week’s other reads (presented in alphabetical order):

Knowing that the burden of guilt for the derailment of their first story arc lies on the shoulders of Adam Kubert, I’m jonesing to have Johns and Donner back on this book. These fill-ins are getting old, and seriously, Countdown comes out every week—does it really need to bogart other titles with tie-in issues?

While I still don’t have the impression that anyone not reading this is missing something earthshaking, it remains a solid comic book. And Green Arrow just frickin’ rules the school.

The story’s building momentum and I’m starting to honestly be interested, but the art still feels weak, week after week.

I die a little bit on the inside every time somebody fills in for Dini on this title. And Mandrake’s art just looks too much like 1993 for my tastes.

Either retconning the Marvel Universe is loads o’ fun, and that explains the freewheeling jump from the Illuminati talking about their respective special lady friends to Namor kicking Marvel Boy’s ass, or else Bendis is really getting bored with it all. Either way, the king of Atlantis kept me entertained through both extremes.

For reasons incomprehensible even to me, I really dig the god of thunder kickin’ it in Oklahoma.

God only knows what the point of Endangered Species is, but fortunately it doesn’t affect the quality of the story Brubaker’s laying out.

JRJ draws a wicked Doctor Strange, and while this was the first issue in this story I’ve enjoyed, it still feels like there are no consequences—Thunderbolt Ross really should’ve bit the big one when the Hulk pulled him outta that chopper.

All images copyright their respective publishers. Text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Standing in the gridlocked main hall in the San Diego Convention Center during the 38th Annual Comic Con, the words of artist Rick Geary ring decidedly true. “It’s grown like a monster,” reflects the 30-year veteran of the comic book trade, who’s been attending regularly since 1976, when the Con was being hosted in the El Cortez hotel.

“Over the past ten years or so, the television and movie industries have latched onto the comics and given the comic industry new life, but it’s also made the convention a little top heavy with the corporate presence,” muses Geary. “I don’t know if that’s a negative or positive factor, but it certainly has drawn the people in and made the comic book artists and writers and the people who work in the industry a little bit more high profile than they were before.”

Despite the described trend, Geary has managed to maintain a low-profile over the years, working on projects of great merit that gain the deserved attention of his peers but, as is true with so many comics, fall outside of the spotlight of the superhero genre that has ingratiated itself within the public consciousness. “30 years ago,” Geary reminisces, “I submitted my first story to an anthology comic book. Not long after that I joined the funny pages of NATIONAL LAMPOON, to which I contributed for about 12, 13 years before they folded. Around that time, I started my series A TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER, which continues to this day. And I’ve also contributed to many other comic venues over the years,” including HEAVY METAL, MAD, DC/Paradox Press, and Dark Horse comics.

Armed with such “indy” street cred, along with his nonfiction VICTORIAN MURDER series, Geary proved a worthy addition to the panel titled “Reality-Based Graphic Novels,” which otherwise skewed heavily toward a personal, autobiographical approach. Moderated by Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, the panelists included Alison Bechdel, Guy Delisle, Miriam Katin, and Joe Matt, all distinguished artists and storytellers, and all with plenty of insight to offer those in attendance. The only disappointment was that without the support of a fellow artist of similar ilk—one who likewise eschews personal history in favor of historical narrative—Geary’s voice perhaps fell too softly on the ears of the audience. (All the same, it was rather wonderful to watch Katin take a shine to Matt over the course of the hour, Katin’s work comprising WE ARE ON OUR OWN—a WWII memoir rife with Nazi persecution—and Matt’s most recent work being the graphic novel SPENT, which in Matt’s own words is about “porn addiction and masturbation.”)

Later, back at his table in Artists’ Alley, Geary enjoys a moment’s respite. “I’ve been on three or four panels this year and I’ve also been at various other booths doing signings and drawing sketches for people. It’s always more or less a break when I get to come back to my own table here.”

That said, Friday night’s presentation of the 19th annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards proved an event worth leaving the table for, as Geary shared an Eisner with writer Bob Burden for their work on GUMBY. In their translation of Art Clokey’s creation from stop motion to sequential art, both creators are well deserving of the award for Best Title for a Younger Audience. Geary’s deceptively simple style presents Gumby’s fantastic world with a matter-of-factness that many artists may well shy away from but which perfectly complements the insouciant tone found in Burden’s scripts.

Given time to reflect on his latest industry award (following the Inkpot he received from the San Diego Comic Con in 1980 and the Book and Magazine Illustration Award bestowed by the National Cartoonists Society in 1994), Geary describes the experience as “a top thrill. And getting to meet all the other artists who were winners and nominees, people I’ve admired and idolized for years, it was a great experience.

“It’s always great to come to [Comic Con],” Geary concludes. “It’s certainly never boring and it’s been a really valuable promotional venue for my career and my work. I just hope to keep coming to the convention and meeting people and working in this great business.”

For more information on Rick Geary and his work, visit

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Jon D. Witmer—writer, holder of odd jobs, keeper of comic books. Carbon dating the origin of his love for sequential art back some two decades, Jon now mines the varied gems of his collection. These are his memories from the longbox…

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Ass’t. Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

Cover Date: October, 1991

“A mutant milestone!” proclaimed the cover. “A legend reborn!” Gasp! This was it—the book that at long last promised to meet my deepest yen, to assuage my comics jones, and with four variant covers, no less!

Opening to the first page of 1991’s X-MEN #1, a caption declares, “Stan Lee proudly presents the dawn of a new era!” A new era, indeed, and this time I was actually there from the get-go. To my naïve young mind, it seemed as though this title was made just for me.

When this book hit the stands, I was fast approaching double digits, making me old enough to consider myself a true-blue collector, and giving me the strong suspicion that #1 on a cover meant something—a suspicion shared by countless others and exploited capitally by the ruling parties of the day, god bless ‘em all. (Admittedly, I can still be a sucker for first issues, but with maturity has come at least some modicum of self-restraint, by which I mean my pocketbook is now tempered by the likes of rent, gas and electric bills, car insurance—you get the picture.) Likewise, I was of the age where I wanted the comic book equivalent of gut-wrenching METAL (screamed in my best hair-band voice), and who better to scribe such a saga and give rebirth to a legend than the man who had already rebirthed that very same legend some 16 years prior?

Chris Claremont is certainly a legend amongst the writers whose words have graced the pages of Marvel’s X-books, and by 1991 that status had been amply established. That said, in my youthful ignorance, I didn’t have a clue who the guy was. But I did know that whoever was drawing Wolverine could pencil a badass with the best of ‘em. Yes indeed, ever since reading X-MEN #1, Jim Lee has stood proudly in my mind as the quintessence of 1990s comic art (a title that, when first bestowed, I swear was a compliment). And sure, I was just as guilty as the next guy of loving Liefeld’s work back then, but the simple fact that Lee was on X-MEN kept him at the top o’ the heap.

Throwing their readers straightaway into the proverbial jungle, Claremont and Lee kick start the action, naturally enough, in space. A group of renegade mutants have stolen a spacecraft so that they can fly to Asteroid M and pledge allegiance to the Master of Magnetism himself, the inimitable Magneto. And when two more spacecraft arrive in hot pursuit, Magneto appears in the cold vacuum of space, sans helmet, and lays down the two-fisted street—er, space justice that he’s so adored for.

Think about that for just a moment. Magneto. In space. Without a helmet. Frickin’ hardcore. At nine years old, all I could think was, “Mom would kill me if I tried a stunt like that.”

When we meet up with the X-Men, they’re taking full advantage of their suped-up Danger Room, battling one another in classic fashion. It’s all vintage Claremont—Wolverine on a short fuse, Cyclops frustrated with the feral Canadian, Professor X back from wherever it is he disappears to before returning with feelings of guilt over abandoning his wards, and banter aplenty (even banter about banter). All this goes on for some time as Claremont masks his characterization in the guise of Professor X seeking to reacquaint himself with his former students. “I need to learn the extent and nature of your individual capabilities, how you mesh as a team,” Charles says to Jean Grey; likewise, Claremont wants to ensure his readers are equally well informed.

Things get real again when Magneto arrives back on Earth to raise a nuclear submarine he’d previously sunk and take its ICBMs back up to Asteroid M, you know, as an innocent reminder to leave the man the hell alone. While he succeeds in this short-term goal, he only gets away after exploding one of the nuclear warheads in the upper atmosphere, an act that promises to foment all sorts of conflicts in issues to come.

Giving Claremont and Lee ample room to stretch their legs, the book has 37 pages of story plus a two-page center spread of the X-gang in their swimwear just to smack readers in the face with 1991. Along the way, we’re also treated to Nick Fury in a three-piece suit and later an outfit that looks suspiciously like it was “borrowed” from Cable.

No discussion of X-MEN #1 is really complete, however, without some deeper mention of its four covers, which possess the super ability to be lined up next to one another and form an über-cover that screams “X-MEN X-MEN X-MEN X-MEN.” Depicting the whole gang teaming up on an apparently distracted Magneto, who ignores the children of the atom in favor of whatever it is that’s burning a hole in his hand, the complete image pays homage—with all the bombast the medium could muster—to the cover of 1963’s THE X-MEN #1.

Lastly, but of great significance to a nine-year old back in the summer of ’91, the back cover is not to be overlooked, with it’s ad for Toy Biz’s first line of X-Men action figures. The gang was a long way from being all there, but the lineup was pretty damn killer all the same—Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Cyclops, Wolverine, Archangel, Magneto, Juggernaut, and Apocalypse—and the way they all run at the camera, it evokes GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 (only with some bad guys added to the mix in the spirit of camaraderie…or was it capitalism?).

So then, bust out your checklists and let’s tally X-MEN #1’s score card. Magneto? Check. The “snikt” sound? Check. Cigar smoking? Check and check. Nuclear explosion? Check! Yes indeed, sixteen years after it first hit the scene, it’s still satisfying knowing I’ve got four copies of this book bagged, boarded, and in the longbox…

The complete “Memories from the Longbox” on The Danger Digest:
#2: The Flash #350
#3: X-Force #116

Last image copyright Marvel Comics, Toy Biz and Kay Bee; all other images this post copyright Marvel Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Monday, July 23, 2007


Sometimes, one panel can say it all. Other times, all the panels on a page come together to make a whole far greater than any of its parts. And on occasion, neither page nor panel hits the mark (but hopefully the artist at least hits the deadline). This is our discussion—this is Page and Panel.

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Steve Epting, Mike Perkins
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Assistant Editor: Molly Lazer
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley

Cover Date: August, 2007

Bucky Barnes has had a rough go. Sure, he got to fight alongside Captain America during the War to End All Wars and even go head-to-head with der Führer himself, but then he was ignobly exploded before WWII had come to an official close. Or at least, that’s what everybody thought had happened, until writer Ed Brubaker decided to bring back ol’ Buck, much to the knee-jerk chagrin of countless readers who had all relegated Bucky to third-string sidekick status, his fate at the fuse of a remote Nazi missile-plane his fitting end.

Then a miracle happened. Brubaker not only resurrected Bucky, he somehow managed to make him one of the most dynamic characters currently at play within the Marvel Universe. Which is all the more significant since Cap’s been assassinated and Bucky—now known by the moniker ‘Winter Soldier,’ the name he operated under as a covert, brainwashed assassin in between extended periods of cryogenic storage over the past six decades—carries much of the weight of the book still bearing the title Captain America.

After Cap’s death in issue 25, issue 26 ends with Bucky vowing to avenge his former partner by killing Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. When next we see Buck in the beginning of issue 27, he’s visiting the Captain America exhibit in Washington’s National History Museum, and it’s here that we find this column’s focus—page four, which in five panels perfectly encapsulate the essence of Bucky’s current arc.

At first glance, page four as a whole presents a surface symmetry that echoes the Winter Soldier’s cold, analytical mindset, his calculated decision to go after Stark. However, panels three and four slightly upset that balance in terms of both space (weighed against panel three) and color (with panel four’s flashback presented in grayscale). In turn, this slightly off-kilter layout suggests that Bucky’s breakfast may not be so well balanced after all.

While Captain America is no longer a physical presence in the book, his memory nevertheless continues to bind the story together, and Bucky’s particular storyline hinges on his relationship with Steve Rogers (Cap’s alter ego, for any latecomers). Thus, it’s significant that every panel on this page features both Bucky and Cap (or the displayed mock-ups of him, anyway), and as Bucky mulls over the facts as he sees them, the ‘camera’ tracks around him and the exhibit, literally covering all the angles.

Lastly, taking a close look at panel one, we see Bucky’s reflection superimposed over the display case that supposedly holds Cap’s real uniform and shield, but which Bucky deduces to be fakes both. Everything is centered, and the star on Cap’s chest lines up over Bucky’s forehead just where the ‘A’ on Captain America’s mask would have been, painting Buck as the protector of Steve Rogers’s legacy. In contrast to this image, panel five gives us Buck’s face in close-up on the left of the panel, with the back of the Captain America statue to the right. After steeling himself to single-mindedly hunt down Tony Stark, is the Winter Soldier in fact turning his back on Captain America and the ideals he stood for? Or is the statue he turns away from merely a symbol of Stark’s campaign of disinformation? Either way, the half-light on Bucky’s face reminds us of the complexity within this once-forgettable artifact from a bygone era in comics. In the wake of Captain America’s assassination, the battle of good vs. evil rages on not just between heroes and villains, but within each individual.

The complete “Page and Panel” on The Danger Digest:
#2: The Spirit #8
#3: Madame Mirage #1
#4: Green Arrow Year One #1, Pages 10 &14

Above image copyright Marvel Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Hey, all. Thanks for stopping by to take a look at the official DANGER DIGEST blog, where zaniness will certainly ensue. Before I let the dams spill forth, here’s a brief description of what you can expect to find.

First off, allow me to rather obliquely explain the name. THE DANGER DIGEST signifies the full corpus of my adventures into comics, from the comic-related blogs you’ll find here to the web comic that goes by the same moniker and will debut later this year over at (don’t rush over there yet, though, because all you’ll find is an unassuming—and unimpressive—page declaring the site to be under construction). As the launch of that comic approaches, there’ll be announcements aplenty gracing this page.

My primary focus here is comics, and in that vein most of the blogging will be editorial pieces on the art and business of comics, fitting into one of three columns. In no particular order, those columns are MEMORIES FROM THE LONGBOX, PAGE AND PANEL, and BAG IT AND BOARD IT. MEMORIES FROM THE LONGBOX will explore the experience of collecting comics by focusing on individual issues that have been important to me over the years as I’ve added them to my personal collection. PAGE AND PANEL will examine particular pages and panels (see where I got that clever title?) that I find outstanding in one way or another. Lastly, BAG IT AND BOARD IT will present my weekly review of the new books I picked up before I slip them into their polys and longboxes.

Doubtless, other writing will pop up here that can’t be so easily categorized, and I’ll probably even venture outside of comics from time to time to dabble wherever else my heart so desires. Throughout the adventure, feel free to post your comments and let me know what you’re thinking.

So, here goes. Yo-ho!