Posts tagged ‘5panelsfromagreatcomic’


hawkman green arrow canaryBut not recently.

Back in 2005, Geoff Johns, with Allan Heinberg on the art chores, batted cleanup after Brad Meltzer’s “Identity Crisis” event of the prior year.  Back then, every year the Justice League had a “crisis” event.  The story dealt with the aftermath of Zatanna wiping the minds of the bad guys who knew the secret identities of all the major JLA-ers (Batman, Superman, Flash, etc.).  She also had to wipe Batman’s memory, since he dissented from the team’s decision to alter the minds of their enemies.  The story was surprisingly complex and character-defining, especially since most “events” focus on story beats and action, not personality.

That’s why I’m doing 5 panels on JLA #115-119.

In fact, there are many elements in the Crisis of Conscience event that are almost instructional on how to make an event work well.

It starts with big sweeping gestures, to introduce the conflict to casual readers and establish each player’s POV.

The war-like, “end justifies the means” players like Green Arrow and Hawkman, think Zatanna did nothing wrong.  But the characters who rely on a strong moral center–especially Batman–object to what was done.

Superman recognizes the inherent conflict here.  It’s kind of like the old hypothetical whether it would be wrong to go back in time and kill Hitler before he became evil…

jla crisis of conscience

Rick Remender did a similar storyline in Uncanny X-Force, when Wolverine, Fantomex, and the crew had the opportunity to kill Apocalypse as a child.  The whole AvX event also asked the question whether it is okay to reshape the world if your intentions are good and your power is adequate.  But neither of these storylines did it as well as Crisis of Conscience because the JLA story had multiple layers, and didn’t limit itself to “pro” and “con” arguments.

In fact, the big villain who fights the JLA in this story is a mind-controller, which adds further depth to the exploration of the issue:


Green Lantern betrayed the league in another circumstance.  Batman did as well (Tower of Babel).  Now both of them are controlled by Despero, and have to fight their fellow leaguers.  At one point, Hawkman says tells Batman to fight Despero’s control and says “This isn’t you!” to which Despero responds, “I wouldn’t be too sure of that!”

This is the JLA version of Avengers: Dissembled.  The team is breaking apart because they can no longer trust each other.

Batman (as always) has the most interesting storyline here.  He begins the tale in a vignette with Catwoman, explaining to her why he’s so upset with all this.


But of course Batman doesn’t trust feelings.  He’s even looking rather blank, out in the distance, while Catwoman says it to him.

And then, in the end, he explains to Martian Manhunter the core of his conflict: Does this mean that Catwoman doesn’t really love him?


In other words, can he even trust feelings?

I haven’t spoiled this story for you.  There’s still plenty ore to mine there.  Great comic, well worth a buy.

Check it out.

5 PANELS FROM A GREAT COMIC: Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow

kevin smith's green arrow
batman and superman on rooftopI never thought I’d be posting on Kevin Smith. I generally find his comic-writing dull. And I never thought I’d post on Green Arrow. His comics usually suck.

But the first 14 issues of the 2001 Green Arrow series were great.

Now, I don’t follow DC very closely, and I don’t know much about Green Arrow’s past, but apparently he died. And this is the series that brought him back.

The book starts with a conversation between the most powerful hero in the world and the smartest one.  It’s a smart beginning, particularly with Batman saying, “Welcome to the world of mere mortals,” because Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow series emphasizes the character’s humanity.

Specifically, much of it is about Green Arrow accepting the fact that he died, and everyone thought he was dead, and life went on without him while he was gone.

green arrow dead

Smith’s Green Arrow is funny.  The dialog is smart.  The cameos, like Aquaman and The Demon (who gets a fire-extinguisher arrow up his nose) are well-chosen and handled perfectly.  The book doesn’t shy away from some of Arrow’s sillier aspects:


And, finally, the reunion with Black Canary is…

canary green arrow cunnilingus

I was shocked to enjoy this collection…But I did.

It’s out of print, but it’s collected as “Quiver” volumes 1, 2, and 3 and you can buy it on Amazon dirt cheap–like two bucks per volume.


classic doctor strange

How can a comic with a splash page like this be bad?  Answer: It can’t.

In 1972, Steve Englehart, the second weirdest Marvel comics writer of all time teamed up with Frank Brunner for the first Doctor Strange series since Steve Ditko chronicled the Master of Mystic Arts’ exploits years before.  Frank Brunner would become better known for teaming up with the weirdest Marvel comics writer of all time, Steve Gerber, to create Howard the Duck.

clea and doctor strange

The joyfully psychedelic book played over and over with the concept of “magic,” playing against stereotypes and popular myths.  Check out this depiction of The Ancient One:

ancient one card tricks


strange kissing

It was also romantic.

the mindless ones

Englehart’s run lasted 18 issues, with the bulk of it being drawn by Gene Colan, who stayed on after Englehart’s departure and, for many, became the definitive Dr. Strange artist (even more than Steve Ditko).

I haven’t been able to find a color trade that reprints the whole run, but the issues aren’t worth very much and are pretty easy to find.  I picked up #5 at BCC for a buck.

NORTHLANDERS: 5 Panels from a Great Comic


Northlanders by Brian Wood ran under the Vertigo imprint for 50 issues. It was a collection of stories, some single-issue, some multi-issue, all of which took place during the Viking Age. Wood took pains to be historically accurate, and his writing is excellent, but some of the best surprises come from the various artists associated with the series. In issue #1, Davide Gianfelice captured the desolate Orkney Islands off of Northern Scotland, with a splash page that introduced readers to what would be a very different kind of comic.

In a very different kind of story, “Lindisframe,” Wood explored the effects of a colonizing religion…


In another arc, he looked at life through the eyes of an old Viking warrior–with a story reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight.


And in my personal favorite arc, tells a Viking CSI story.  With art by Ryan Kelly, Northlanders #11-16, “The Cross + The Hammer” (collected in volume 2 of the trade), is somewhat like John Ford’s classic, “The Searchers.”  Much like John Wayne from that film, an older hunter stalks a noble savage through the wilderness and gets into the very mind of his prey.


That’s from issue #12, but the story gets grittier and digs deeper with each issue until at the end, which you’ll see coming but won’t want to, we get a conclusion as thoughtful and complex as any you’ll find in a “real” book.

And much of the series is, of course, about man versus nature:


I can’t recommend this book enough–with art by the likes of Becky Cloonan, Leandro Fernández, Matthew Woodson, Fiona Staples, and many others, it’s exactly the kind of well-crafted comic we should all expect from the man behind The Massive and DMZ.



In 2009, Marvel turned it’s “Marvel Universe” version of Punisher over to relative newcomer Rick Remender.  He’d been writing comics for Image and Dark Horse, and was best known for Fear Agent and Strange Girl, but he’d never handled a major character for the big two before.

He started working with Frank Castle as a co-writer, with Matt Fraction. of Punisher War Journal.  When Fraction moved on, they gave Remender his own Punisher book–right at the start of Dark Reign–and he wasnted no time enmeshing the character in the Marvel Universe.

punisher assassinates norman osborn

Right after that, Castle broke into a SHIELD hideout and got himself some contraband weapons from many major Marvel players.

Genius.  Let Marvel’s most morally obscure hero play with some of its most powerful toys.  It immediately made readers sit up and take note.

ant man punisher

frankencastle man thingNo one had thought to do this before.

Of course, what Remender’s run is best known for is letting Punisher get hacked to bits by Dark Wolverine, and having the Legion of Monsters sew him back together as a badass Frankenstein character.

Nobody ever thought to do that before, either.

It was instantly polarizing.  I called it one of the best Punisher stories of all time.  In defense of the concept, it’s a frikkin’ comic book.  A super-hero comic book.  It’s supposed to be wild and crazy.  Christ, Garth Ennis’ Marvel Universe Punisher (as opposed to his grittier, adult-oriented Punisher MAX) ran over Wolverine with a steamroller and fought a polar bear.  Was FrankenCastle that much sillier?

On re-reading the book for this post, I did find it dragged a bit.  That’s a major flaw in all of Rick Remender’s writing.  He’s too heavy on internal thought and exposition (see, e.g., his work on Venom), and he doesn’t have a great sense of pacing (see Uncanny X-Force).  But his ideas are creative and fresh, and his sense of his characters is deep.  Punisher “made sense.”

And when he went after Dakken to get his revenge, the result was four-issues of nonstop combat.

punisher runs over dakken


After this, Remender went on to write a gritty epilogue miniseries called “In the Blood,” which was radically different from his Punisher saga in that it focused on street-level crime and didn’t incorporate the super/larger-than-life elements of his Punisher run.  I recommend that one, too.

You can get it all in an oversized Omnibus for $70, which is a great showcase for the artwork by Jerome Opena, Tony Moore, John Romita, Jr., and others.


paul pope woman in a box

IMG_2613Solo ran for a year, in 2006.  It was an anthology in which DC offered celebrated creators the chance to play with the DC toolbox.  The results were surprising.  It was a great opportunity for some guys who were unknowns to get their works out there.

Others used the opportunity to promote their other work–like the great Sergio Aragones.

Every issue was a surprise.

Many went the standard comic-book narrative route, but some went a new way.  For example, avante garde graffitti artist Damon Scott made full-page murals…

damon scott superman

Mike Allred’s issue was predictably offbeat…

batman a go go

This is a series well worth seeking out–I found a bunch of issues in a dollar bin at BCC, so I don’t think it’s that hard to find.

I’ll leave you with this one….


5 PANELS FROM A GREAT SERIES: Deathblow Volume 2

deathblow vol 2

rat in a mazeDeathblow was created in 1992 by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi as part of the WildStorm universe.  I’m one of the few comic book fans who didn’t care for the early WildStorm books–I preferred the second wave, when folks like Warren Ellis and Mark Millar came on board to revive the characters.

Part of that revival was 2003’s Deathblow 9-issue miniseries by Brian Azzarello and Carlos D’Anda.  The series was a different kind of comic.

The book starts off with Deathblow being rescued from years of captivity at the hands of a foreign terrorist.  I knew nothing about the character, having never read the 1992 series, so I didn’t have a backstory.  I didn’t need one.

Azzarello creates a self-contained universe laden with symbolism and hallucinations.  In the panel at left, he introduces one of the concepts of the book–animals being manipulated into being terrorist tools–to represent how Deathblow himself is a rat in a maze, and his only hope is to break down the walls that keep him running along the paths created by his captors.

There’s no real heroes in the book–no real good guys.  It’s not clear whether Deathblow is a victim of a corrupt U.S. Government, or a useful tool–a necessary evil–to fight an even worse terrorist cell.

In the panel below, Azzarello uses the unique aspects of the comic book media to tell part of the story: Wordplay.  Movies don’t show you the words, so puns based on homonyms are difficult or impossible to communicate.

The best comics make full use of all the tools at a creator’s disposal.

guys guise wordplay

It’s also not clear until about halfway through the book whether Deathblow is completely hallucinating.  The great thing about comics is they can use visual images as part of the narrative, while retaining internal dialog, and, layered on top of that, depict “actual” events as they occur.  Which means there can be several stories going on at one time.  In the sequence below, the reader doesn’t know whether Deathblow is seeing a dog where there’s really a person, whether he’s talking to a real dog and having an audio hallucination (like Son of Sam), or whether this is a literal depiction of actual events…


Azzarello and D’Andra keep us off-balance like that throughout the comic.  They encourage us, in fact, to think the worst of Deathblow by showing that he’s kind of an asshole…

deathblow is an asshole

This is not a book for the squeamish.  There are much more disturbing and violent concepts than the ones I’ve written about here, but I didn’t want to spoil too much about the book.  Be warned, though: It’s a hard “R” rated comic.

A final note: Color.  Carrie Strachan is the colorist for the series, and she’s brilliant.  I usually take things like coloring and lettering for granted, but in this book, the colors are so perfect at setting the various moods that they cannot be ignored.



I know I’ve stopped reading Avengers for this blog, having read every single issue up through the Civil War, but I thought a good “post script” on my “Every Panel of the Avengers” series would be a note about Dan Slott and Christos Gage’s great series Avengers: Initiative.

The book was underrated–written off my many, including me, as a fully dispensable book that existed solely to support the post-Civil War/Dark Reign period.  That was a mistake.  In fact, the book served as a great transition from Tony Stark to Harry Osborn’s periods as head of SHIELD.


The book took a realistic approach to training superheroes, with paramilitary education formal basic training.  One wonders why The Avengers never did something like this sooner?


Real Dan Slott fans know that he did a similar thing with Spider-Man, after he lost his spidey-sense–having the character train with Shang Chi.

The book also gave us Tigra’s baby–a character that Marvel hasn’t done enough to develop.


In fact, one of the hardest things to do in comics–especially Marvel/DC comics–is to introduce new characters.  But this book did so throughout it’s run, as well as reviving a lot of esoteric, unused Marvel characters.  Check ’em out:
avengers initiative lineup IMG_2845 IMG_2846 IMG_2847 IMG_2852 IMG_2873

RIP to a great series.


As I said when I wrote about Civil War, the spin-off book Civil War Frontline is a better comic.

What do I mean by that?

I mean it has better stories, it develops characters, it introduces new ideas, it’s got suspense and action, great art, great dialog…Civil War had some of these, but certainly not all.

Frontline told several stories each week, about various characters.  The main one was, of course, about reporters–mostly Ben Urich–who break the case of the Civil War conspiracy.  By now, it’s too late to “spoil” it….

frontline tony stark traitor

It explains a lot, without being an “essential” book.  Although, after reading Civil War: Frontline, you’ll probably find it essential reading.  But I have to be honest, I didn’t read it until years after I read Civil War–so it really isn’t essential.

But the most interesting story is Speedball’s story–and the origin of Penance.  I’m a sucker for prison dramas, and much of his tale takes place in Ryker’s where he’s awaiting trial for failing to register as a superhero and his part in the Stamford tragedy, but there’s more to it than that.

Frontline incorporates history, and uses the Civil War framework to connect the Marvel Universe to “real” history.  Hence, the attempted assassination of Speedball being illustrated in a clear reference to Jack Ruby…

speedball assassinated jack ruby

Speedball is the only character in Civil War who truly atones for his sins.  All superheroes cause destruction in the name of justice, and the Civil War itself ends when Captain America feels guilty for destroying the homes of “regular people.”  But Cap’s guilt is more about his own failure to win decisively than it is about what he’s really done.  He doesn’t try to make anything right (arguably, he gets killed before he has a chance–but still).  Speedball, on the other hand, undergoes prison torture before designing a costume that will stick pins into his body all the time and becoming Penance.

first appearance of penance

The book also incorporates poetry and historical writings, using them as a narrative tool at the end of each issue.  It’s very ambitious.

And, we get to see Wonder Man using his acting skills in a PSA in favor of registration, the return of Typeface (a Paul Jenkins creation), and Sub Mariner as a fireman!

typeface marvel sub mariner in disguise

Even  if you’ve already read Civil War, and know everything that’s going to happen, this series is worth a read (or reread).  It’s the best thing to come out of the Civil War event.


opening frames of marvel civil war panels speedball

First things first: I liked Civil War.  I thought it was a good event, and was handled pretty well.  You really didn’t have to read any of the tie-ins, but the tie-ins allowed us to see how various characters developed during this major change in the Marvel Universe.  And, frankly, it started a real change in the way Marvels’ Avengers existed.  After this, there were multiple Avengers’ titles and it became very hard to keep up with the Avengers’ Universe.   The chaos continues today.  That’s why Civil War is the perfect break point for my reading of The Avengers.

But now, Civil War: As a comic, it had its good and bad sides.

And I can sum it up in 5 panels.

I like the way it started, above, with a few minor characters whose exploits up to then had been largely comical.  The New Warriors’ various comics were pretty fun, but in the first few pages of Civil War we see that super-powered “fun” has real-life consequences.  Certainly, Marvel had flirted with this idea in the past–but they’d never blown up a busload of schoolkids to make the point.  Right away, we knew this was a serious change in direction for Marvel.

spider-man unmasks civil war

This was the first “big move” in Civil War that got lots of people angry.  JMS, the regular writer of Amazing Spider-Man, had actually planned this unmasking independent of Civil War–but he did quit Marvel soon after.  It was how Marvel handled the unmasking (One More Day) that drove him to quit, along with the fact that he had kept his other title separate from Civil War (Thor), and they forced him to bring the character back into the main Marvel Universe.

I’m actually a “One More Day” fan, and Spidey’s actions in Civil War make sense to me.  This is a guy who has been desperately in search of a father figure ever since his first appearance.  A guy whose need for daddy-guidance led him to forgive his greatest enemy, Norman Osborn.  A guy whose other greatest enemy, Doc Ock, married his own Aunt.  So I get that he’d follow Iron Man at first, until he saw how bad things were going.

And now, Iron Man: Civil War was in s0ome ways the comic book adoption of the movie personality.  Movie Iron Man is a bigger, brasher, more confident wise-ass than the comic book one is (was).  But in Civil War, he becomes the brash braggart of the movies.  It’s a natural transformation, and a good one, but it’s also fairly radical.

For years, Marvel fans argued about who was the analog in DC for each character.   Quicksilver=Flash.  (That’s an easy one.)  Sub Mariner is Aquaman.  Atom is Wasp/Yellow Jacket.  Ms. Marvel=Wonder Woman.

But who was Batman?  Spidey?  They both lost their parents.  Captain America?  They both are the essential “masthead” characters.  But Civil War made it clear: It’s Iron Man.  More specifically, Grant Morrison’s “I plan for everything” Batman is Marvel’s Tony Stark.

Civil War also planted the seeds for Dark Avengers, with nanite-controlled villains working for Iron Man’s team (there’s actually a neat little sequence where Iron Man talks about renaming Wonder Man as Hercules–but it wasn’t until Norman Osborn that villains get the full makeover).  But my favorite page of the series, the one that I think of whenever I think of Civil War, is this one:

punisher vs captain america

It shows Captain America hitting his boiling point–it may be the only time in comics that he completely loses his cool–and reveals Punisher as a character with a stronger ethical code than either Captain America or Iron Man.  We may not agree with Frank Castle’s morality, but it’s clear, consistent and strong.

This page also sums up what’s wrong with Civil War: Captain America’s character doesn’t make a lot of sense.  It’s hard to understand why he’s doing what he does throughout, and that’s what makes Civil War a mediocre comic–not a great one.  It’s a great EVENT, but it’s not a great comic book story.

Civil War: Frontline, is actually a better book than Civil War.  We all knew all along that Civil War would cop out, and it did.  Cap surrenders.

the end of civil war

It makes very little sense in the context of the book–either it happened too quickly, or Mark Millar just didn’t have a good grasp on the character.  It’s the only weak point of Civil War as a comic–but it’s a major weak point.  They could just as easily had Cap captured, and then assassinated.  (Ed Brubaker had planned to kill Cap way back in Captain America #1–and if you read that first issue carefully, it’s obvious.)

Civil War told a “big” story with “big” characters, but Frontline actually told a suspenseful tale.  And Frontline allowed characters to change and grow.  I’ll be looking at that series soon.

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