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.