My editor Craig Lemon was forced to remind me of this, but I’m young and I’m single…why should I commit to anything?
Referring of course to last week’s diatribe about choosing an adequate replacement for the New Hotness, and the subsequent feedback I’ve received over the last week. Taking everything into account, and always in the mood to provide further complication, this week every single feature that was discussed appears in some form or the other below. Problem being, I’m feelin’ pretty good about all of them. Best to remain a bachelor for just a little while longer.
Let’s begin with a slightly remixed New Hotness…
Da New Hotness- The Remix
Changing the game up slightly, as I’ve decided to raise the stakes. Before, you only needed to drop the knowledge for 22 pages to score the recommendation, but perhaps that’s too easy. Until further notice, New Hotness only applies to the hottest storylines or trades currently in circulation. Knowing me though, I may employ a flexible mix of the two at some point. Right now, I feel compelled to speak about one of the best stories available on the stands, so bear with me.
Alias #24-28 “Purple”
(Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos/Mark Bagley/Rick Mays)
Despite the imminent launch of The Pulse, and the great likelihood that everything that makes up Alias will remain intact, I’m going to miss the flagship title from Marvel’s MAX line. No offense to Supreme Power, but it has large shoes to fill, sales notwithstanding.
Remember when this series first launched, and the large controversy that erupted over that tiny sex scene between Cage and series lead Jessica Jones? A printer refused to take the issue to press, citing objectionable content, and the Internet chimed in with its collective thoughts. Destructive character portrayal this. Overtly sexual that. But Bendis effectively put all debates to rest with 27 issues (with one left in the chamber), and Jessica Jones stands as one of the most developed, three-dimensional characters that have recently graced the Marvel Universe.
As the window of opportunity closes for Jessica to utter those familiar four letter expletives with the same passionate resonance, comes “Purple.” The story is quite simply the culmination of the handful of separate adventures that have exposed the dark underbelly of the MU, and that’s not bullshit hype. After two years of Alias Investigations, secrets are finally lain bare, as Bendis reveals what terrible incident drove the former hero to hang up her tights, and take up behaviors that the Internet found so destructive back at this title’s inception. Not only is the explanation sufficiently terrible and psychologically scarring, but Jones’ response to it is not only believable, but strangely obvious.
In four chapters, we’ve seen The Purple Man recast as the super-villain version of Hannibal, a truly amoral and frightening presence that successfully shatters the “fourth wall” with a chilling narrative in issue #27, that’s an easy nomination for Scene of the Year, if there was such a thing. But wait, I’m forgetting the sequence that follows shortly after when The Purple Man escapes from high security lock-up, and Jones’ paranoia starts bleeding off the page. And then there’s the cliffhanger ending that you will NOT see coming. Please keep in mind that this account is only from the latest issue, Bendis has been doing this for a few months now.
Everything you ever loved or wondered about Alias, served in five issues, only better. If you can believe that’s possible.
Under Construction (secret transmissions from The Lab)
The script for the second issue of Genesis is being finalized, and with the deadline for this one being far less time intensive, I’m hoping that issue #2 almost reads like the work of a different writer. Despite the positive feedback from the opening chapter, it’s hard even skimming through it now, so it’s about time for the cycle to repeat itself. I’d intended to run a couple pages (fully colored of course), but Jimmy Jay (Arcade CEO) convinced me to hold back, promising to hook me up with cleaner jpegs and throw in a few extra pages on top. And I might be able to jack some of Marat’s fresh Brigade pages too. And talk a little more about that mini, tentatively titled WMD. A few real quick bits on this one, and a question.
Jasmine, the Pentium 800.
Is a superteam still a superteam, if it isn’t aware it’s a superteam?
Main character designs are finalized, and laying out the first seven pages (for the pitch package) commences on Monday I believe. The artist and I had a short conversation about the car our man’ll be driving, and his suggestion proved not only borderline brilliance, but an indicator of how collaborative this whole thing can become, as honestly, I hadn’t given the car much thought. The notion that my Sequentalist hit me with contributes an additional layer to the personality of our lead, and it was one of those things so obvious, that it’s embarrassing I missed it.
But we’re heading into the next phase…more on this later…
Open Mic (Books You Should Be Reading)
Mr. Keen: Tracer of Lost Persons #1
(Justin Gray/Lee Ferguson)
I see what it is…Justin Gray thinks he’s slick. On the heels of co-writing the critically acclaimed drama 21 Down, and the cult sci-fi series The Resistance, 2004 stands to be an ever bigger year for the writer. Alongside industry veteran Jimmy Palmiotti, Gray is launching The Twilight Experiment (Wildstorm), The Monolith (DC), and revamping 21 Down for a more mature audience. And this is just the stuff we know about, mind you. It’s not that difficult to see what’s going on here. Industry domination. World takeover. The arrival. The Gray Area. Call it whatever you choose, and mark your calendars. The writer stands to make a lotta noise next year, and the latest title with his name attached is yet another very confident step.
Welcome to Mr. Keen.
What is Mr. Keen, you say? Glad you asked. Just released by independent publisher Moonstone Books, Keen, as indicated by the title, is a tracer of lost persons, one part detective, one part manhunter. He’s a veritable man of mystery, employing a team of operatives to ensure he stays that way, because, seriously, what good is a tracer of lost persons if he can easily be found, right? Despite the shroud of secrecy surrounding his existence, the man’s taste for fine wine and good jazz remains unimpaired.
Gray takes the familiar elements of detective fiction, the mysterious gumshoe, the sexy client, and the smirking villain, and kicks them into 21st century relevance with sharp dialogue and unconventional storytelling. You think every avenue has been exhausted, but Gray manages to twist things just enough to keep the reader engrossed in these characters, and the motivations driving them toward one another. Stories of this genre are largely dependent on the mood and tone they suggest, and Gray understands this, beginning with a surreal dream/memory sequence, and leading us through busy airports, taxi cabs, yachts, dark alleys, and secret lairs.
Certainly not to be overlooked are the artistic stylings of Lee Ferguson. You may remember him from the X-Men Icons: Chamber mini-series, but if you missed him there, take an opportunity to get acquainted. Ferguson excels here at rendering even the most “mundane” sequences with a cinematic staging that provides the dynamic Gray’s script is calling for. The camera is always placed for dramatic effect, zooming in and out, focused on the characters from strange, yet very obvious angles, without sacrificing the clarity of skillful storytelling. An inspired performance, and much like Gray, if he’s this good now, just give him a few years.
You know what would be cool? If I could get the creators themselves to stop by and answer a few questions about this new series, and why you need to check it out. Wait…is that…well damn, there’s Justin Gray and Lee Ferguson now. Imagine that.
Thomas: How did Mr. Keen find you?
Justin Gray: My friend David Macho-he manages Jesus Saiz (21Down) and Juan Santacruz (Resistance & Twilight Experiment)– had a few of his artists working with Moonstone. David put me in contact with Joe Gentile, the publisher.
Lee Ferguson: Justin Gray called me up and asked if I was interested in doing something with him. We’d known each other since the old Event Comics Board days, so of course I said yes.
Thomas: From an artistic standpoint, what adjustments have to be made when working in black and white, as opposed to full color?
Ferguson: Well, this was the first time I ever handled anything more than the pencils, so I’m not sure I really had a plan, I just sort of winged it the entire way. The one conscious thing I did try to do was create more interesting patterns with the blacks, since I knew I was working without color. I wanted to use the blacks to focus the attention and help set the mood, since I didn’t have any snappy colors to fall back on. Some of the stuff that worked was just a happy accident, and some of it didn’t work out like I was hoping, but you live and learn, right?
Thomas: There’s a very distinct, cinematic style found in your artwork, especially in regard to how you chose to frame the characters. How do you decide what visual element takes prominence in each shot?
Ferguson: I work out my thumbnails relentlessly. I really, really try to make sure that there’s no drastic ‘jumps’ from one panel to the next. Not necessarily trying to make it look ‘like a movie’ as much as just attempting to prevent any jarring panel jumps. Within that, I try to work in the shots I like, whether it’s for added drama or simply a nice composition. And no matter how tight and thorough I am with my thumbnails, I still change about 30% of the layout on the fly…
Thomas: The title character in the series (Mr. Keen) is introduced in a slightly indirect manner. What told you to save his introduction until the very end of the first issue?
Gray: I was bored with the immediate introduction of the main character in the opening pages of a book. I realize it’s a formula to say here’s our hero–this is his shtick-here is the problem he has to solve-here’s his inner conflict loosely related to said problem-here’s how he solves it and this is what he learns. For this series I didn’t want to work the lead character that way. I’m sick of the empathic action hero with a tragic back-story who wears his emotions on his sleeve.
Thomas: Lucien Denali is the big adversary in this story, and based on his first appearance rightfully so. Who is he, and why is he such a terrible bastard?
Gray: I envisioned him as someone born without a moral compass. He enjoys his work. He doesn’t see anything wrong with brainwashing and pimping underage kids, which ultimately makes him all the more terrible to watch. I realize the rules say evil characters must have underlying motivation for their actions, but again, bored with that. He’s fucked, a well-educated sociopath who unplugged from society. Born bad I guess.
Thomas: Does an independent project like this allow you to take more creative liberties as a writer?
Gray: Absolutely, I was left to my own devices and allowed to tell the story exactly as I wanted. Those rules I mentioned previously about character introduction and development apply heavily to mainstream publishers. I like having the room and the faith to improvise and work organically. Joe was very “hands off” in the editorial process; he asked that I don’t stray too far in any direction graphically, meaning sex and gore. Other than that I could go nuts. So I did.
For more information on Mr. Keen and Moonstone Books, hit the official website at:
Let’s wrap this up with the best lines from last week’s comics…
New X-Men #147 (Grant Morrison)-
“I have turned the world on its head for you. And the lowest are now the highest.”- Magneto
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell #6 (Dan Slott)-
“Cthugha is his name. You should learn it well. So you’ll know who tricked you, as you burn in Hell.”- The Demon
Ultimate Spider-Man #47 (Brian Michael Bendis)-
“Everyone on the planet Earth is picking on me.”- Peter Parker
Supreme Power #3 (J. Michael Straczynski)-
“Because if you love me, and if you love each other, that’s the only reason I have to stay, and let the guards make a difference. I don’t have to stay. They can’t keep me in.”- Mark Milton
Y: The Last Man #15 (Brian K. Vaughan)-
“Oh, save the A Few Good Men crap. All of the good men are dead.”- Yorick
Alias #27 (Brian Michael Bendis)-
“Something really bad is going to happen to you, Jessica. I wouldn’t turn to the end. I bet something really horrible happens.”- The Purple Man
Back in seven with a special interview…