What’s the soundtrack to your favorite comic book?

The new millennium comic will likely be forced to think and apply itself in three dimensional fashion to survive an onslaught of contemporary media that enjoys the luxury of moving pictures. When comparing our medium against its many competitors, creatively we surpass them twice, our worst superhero title burying whatever inane reality program, teen horror flick, or unnecessary sequel they hit us with, while visually our style has already been co-opted for more profitable use, successfully creating a backbone for much of the action/adventure programming that’s so popular recently. But the one aspect of the storytelling process that comics just cannot logistically match is the inclusion of a musical score to complement the bold visuals.

Or have I spoken too soon?

This only became a consideration several years back, when my analysis of modern cinema matured past the surface superficialities that once marked it. Similar to my shocking discovery that Image Comics wasn’t the epitome of graphic storytelling, time was required before I properly understood what a good movie really tasted and smelled like. Naturally, my own tendencies heavily influence what qualifies as “good”, but several years ago, you probably would’ve enjoyed quite the spirited debate on the reasons xXx was entertainment at its finest.

One of the initial transformations leading to enlightenment involved a sudden awareness to the total package, and how heavily a musical score could factor into that. In much the same way a good comic can be destroyed by poor art, or a bad comic is elevated by incredible artwork, movies can run a similar course. The difference being that even a fantastic soundtrack can’t save the worst movie, but just for a minute think about what you consider a “good” movie, or even a “good” TV show. What part, if any, does the music factor into your opinion?

From a personal standpoint, the correlation is relatively high, and it wasn’t long before I started thinking it wasn’t simple coincidence. Likely one of my favorite dramas of all time, The X-Files, featured the work of composer Mark Snow, and the tone his work infused into the show is overly apparent, especially upon repeat viewing. It’s the same with John Williams and his many successful scores over the years. Howard Shore and Lord of the Rings is another example, along with Don Davis and The Matrix. Background music must remain non-intrusive and instantly recognizable simultaneously, and when done properly it can elevate performances, and accent an already noticeable mood.

Could there be a way to apply a similar effect to comic books?

I’ve been writing to music with moderate success the last few years, most recently settling on movie scores, television themes, and even an occasional video game score to invoke a proper mood. It’s something that often falls away into the background once the Engine gets moving, but if my budget permitted, I would have an extensive collection of soundtracks waiting for just the right occasion. At the risk of losing all credibility…there’s just something good music can do to a man. When hard-wired to turn nearly all outside stimulus into some emotionally complicated tale of poor circumstance, a good piece of music becomes a book of matches.

Writing to music is one thing, but the possibility that music can enhance the experience of reading comic books is exciting to me for some reason. Every title has its own ebb and flow, an attitude and style that’s individual to that book, therefore ensuring that the soundtrack for Queen and Country would be frighteningly different from that of Rex Mundi. Though the effect would be noticeably different, because there would be no way to control the marriage of sound to image, there are songs and even entire CDs that just FEEL like certain books to me.

In preparation for a future landscape in which our comics are printed to order in any format we choose, and accompanied by an original soundtrack to augment the experience, this week’s New Hotness will be of the extended variety, not only supplying reasons for a reflexive purchase, but offering thoughts on what we’d hear if these comics made a sound.

Gotham Central #6 (Greg Rucka/Michael Lark)
Rucka picks up the baton from Ed Brubaker for a Montoya-centric story arc that not only compliments and strengthens Brubaker’s previous story, but provides its own unique flavor. The scribe has been hyping up this story as an event in the life of Renee Montoya that will ultimately change nearly every perception about her character, and though I did figure out the hook, it was still presented realistically and with the usual maturity that comes from Rucka’s writing. This issue supplies a slow and noticeable burn, an apparent build-up for a shocking finish, and that sensation propels you through the story, anxious to understand what it’s all leading to. The work of Michael Lark once again establishes the atmosphere and tone that GC is becoming known for, never losing its clarity with the many environments and characters he’s asked to render. One of the best crime comics available continues its hot streak.

What Gotham Central Sounds Like:
This is one of the titles where background music would be kept to an absolute minimum. Despite being set in Gotham City, GC’s hook is its realism, and therefore an overabundance of orchestral backdrops and clever tunes would somehow diminish it. What I do “hear” when reading this title is the background noise that fills every varied scene. From the sounds of an early park run to that of a crowded police station, officers and people coming and going to literally no end, what’s occurring in the background would provide an additional dimension to the proceedings. Despite that, there is no actual music, the events defined by the dialogue and situations the characters are placed in, with one notable exception. This issue leads to a shocking finish, and I’d probably drop a little something into the final scene that starts out light and builds to a dangerous peak when Montoya realizes everything is truly different now.

21 Down #8 (Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray/Jesus Saiz)
This installment distinguishes 21 Down as something different on the stands. With their main protagonists firmly established, Palmiotti and Gray succeed in offering an interesting dynamic between Preston and Mickey, and just like a favorite show of mine, this interaction drives the story forward and keeps things relatively grounded when strange things start occurring. Because of the strong interplay between our two leads, the creepy Twilight Zone sensation is heightened, thereby removing the title from the realm of the superheroic and setting it firmly in the zone of the psychological thriller. The true suspense comes from the things that haven’t been explained fully, and the mysteries that are providing the clues to their own solution. 21 Down is a complicated indirect work, and that’s why you should be buying it.

What 21 Down Sounds Like:
The relationship between Mickey and Preston is conjuring fond memories of the X-Files, and a similar musical approach is appropriate for 21 Down. Lots of creepy atmospheric background music that draws one’s attention to the clues and important elements forming the backbone of the mystery is what’s required here. This book sounds like Halloween, an eerie shadowed quality that is naturally fascinating and frightening at the same time. The strange circus and the secret labs should perk one’s interest and the music should raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Reading this title should scare you, put you in some manner of unease, and a few select tunes with sharp synthesized flutes could accomplish that easily.

Ultimate Spider-Man #39 (Brian Michael Bendis/Mark Bagley)
Peter Parker has a conversation with Nick Fury, and for many writers, that wouldn’t be enough to sell this issue, but we’re not taking about “many” writers are we? Bendis gives us another confrontation between Parker and the big boss of SHIELD, and it proves just as important as their last meeting that saw Fury declare Spider-Man as “his property” once he reaches the age of eighteen. The adversarial nature of their relationship allows Fury to impart several bits of wisdom upon the young hero, and contribute to the highly emotional epilogue for the Venom storyline. This is a title that specializes in concluding its arcs without definite “endings” leaving several questions unanswered and mysteries unsolved, only to later resonate in future stories. It’s a formula that some dislike, but it makes the title unique and one of the easiest purchases on the stands.

What Ultimate Spider-Man Sounds Like:
This one is kind of tough because the title accomplishes so many different things on a monthly basis. Distilling things down to one form of music would likely be unwise, so I think this is a book that would definitely benefit from a flexible approach that allows the situations to dictate the music. Because of the teenage aspect, you’d have to include a flood of popular music into the mix, running the gamut from pop to hip-hop to loud rock n’ roll. That TRL/Carson Daly/NOW That’s Music type of flow. Then before you got too comfortable, we’d have to toss in a few passionate instrumentals to match the emotional depths that Spidey sometimes experiences to provide a balance. A little John Williams sound for that ass. Highly orchestrated with real instruments, invoking real feelings and real passion. Because of its ever-changing focus and scope, Ultimate Spider-Man would likely have one of the most diverse soundtracks available.

Or maybe I’m just crazy, and we should all read silently. I’m very interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts on the possible role that music could have on comics, so send mail or fire up a message board near you.

Back in seven…