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The 10 Most Important Shazam Moments (Part 1)

Shazam, Captain Marvel, The Big Red Cheese – whatever you like to call him, these are the biggest moments of the wholesome superhero’s storied existence.

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Recently, Warner Bros announced that Shazam would be its next DC Comics film, with shooting scheduled to start around the beginning of 2018 and release some time in 2019. The movie has nothing to do with the extremely helpful “Name that Tune” app, but is instead based on the classic red and yellow cape-sporting superhero Shazam, aka Captain Marvel, aka the World’s Mightiest Mortal. Shazam is superhero wish fulfillment at both its finest and cheesiest, with the character sometimes getting the nickname “The Big Red Cheese” in a similar vein to Superman’s not-so-complimentary nickname “The Big Blue Boy Scout.” The story revolves around a young boy named Billy Batson, who gets special powers from a wizard (conveniently named Shazam). Every time he says the wizard’s name, Billy is struck by lightning and becomes the magical adult hero, Captain Marvel, gaining access to the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Shazam shares his power with his friends, who become heroes like Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel, and they fight villains like the mad scientist Dr. Sivana and Black Adam (who has similar abilities and will be played by Dwayne Johnson in another film before his inevitable showdown with Shazam).

Shazam was created in 1940 around the same time as Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, and other prominent DC heroes, and has roots in World War II, with one of his early villains bearing the name Captain Nazi. The lighter nature of most of his stories (there was an “edgy” hoodie-wearing version of him introduced in the DC New 52) and origin in the Golden Age of Comics makes him a logical fit for the DC Extended Universe in light of the success of Wonder Woman‘s hopeful tone and period setting. With that said, here are Shazam’s ten greatest moments in and out of comics, featuring the first ever superhero movie, a lawsuit, and a cameo from one of the biggest rock stars ever:

10. Shazam’s First Appearance in Whiz Comics #2 (1940)

There is no Whiz Comics #1, so Captain Marvel made his first appearance in 1940’s Whiz Comic #2 alongside such forgotten characters as Ibis the Invincible and the Spy Smasher. This anthology was the publishing company Fawcett’s first crack at superhero comics, and it competed with the heroes of National (later DC) Comics, like Batman and Superman. The first Captain Marvel story was scripted by Bill Parker (who quit comics in 1941 to join the military) and drawn by Eisner Award Hall of Fame artist C.C. Beck. The story centers around an orphan named Billy Batson, who is selling newspapers when a hooded figure takes him on a colorful subway train to a cave, reveals himself as the wizard Shazam, and gives him powers that are activated by the word “Shazam.” The utterance transforms him from a tiny street urchin into a strong-jawed hero with a cape and golden boots. Billy immediately finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy featuring a mad scientist named Sivana, who wants to destroy (I guess) the concept of radio in the United States. Billy tells radio magnate Sterling Morris that he will stop Sivana if he gets a job as a radio announcer. He uses his powers as Captain Marvel to infiltrate Sivana’s secret apartment base, smashes his evil “radio silencer” gadget, and then switches back to Billy Batson so that he can get his reward and become a “radio reporter” with his secret identity intact.

In Whiz Comics #2, Parker and Beck create a kind of bridge between teen sidekick characters like Robin or Bucky Barnes, and later teen solo heroes like Spider-Man or the Human Torch. Captain Marvel has the body of an adult but the mind of a child, and a lot of this story is him doing “kid” things, like selling papers and sneaking into small places unnoticed. There’s a sense of pure joy and wonder that a young boy who lost his parents and was kicked out by his caretaker to get access to his inheritance now has extraordinary abilities that he uses both heroically and to get his dream job as a radio announcer. It’s like a fairy tale that happens to have punching and leaping over tall buildings.

The bad guy in Whiz Comics #2 has zero motivation, and Parker and Beck don’t really unlock the full story potential of Captain Marvel in the early going, but C.C. Beck’s artwork holds up over seven decades later as a hybrid of the cartoonish, iconic style of Herge for the character of Billy Batson, with the surrealism of Little Nemo‘s Windsor McCay and a touch of the costumed hero, especially Joe Shuster’s Superman and Jack Kirby’s early work. Bad guys and mad scientist contraptions fly off the page as Captain Marvel revels in his new power, whereas Billy Batson’s design is relatively simple, so readers can project themselves on him. In a time before video games, kids could imagine they were Billy Batson, and Captain Marvel Adventures sold millions of copies, in fact claiming to be the highest selling comic in 1943. (Santa Claus is on the cover so it must be true.)

9. Shazam is the First Superhero to Get His Own Movie (1941)

Captain Marvel was such a popular character in the 1940s that he, not Superman or Batman, was the first superhero to star in his own film. Technically it was a 12-chapter Republic serial called The Adventures of Captain Marvel, but honestly, that kind of movie is a good fit for a comic book adaptation, with its cliffhangers and ongoing subplots. The film starred Tom Tyler (who appeared in Westerns with John Wayne, Errol Flynn, and Roy Rogers) as Captain Marvel, and Junior Coghlan as Billy Batson. Coghlan was a 25 year-old former child actor contemporary of Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple, and his wide-eyed performance and high-pitched line delivery as Batson was his comeback role, as well as possibly the reason why the exclamation survived its comic book origins. The film was directed by William Whitney and John English, who had previously directed a serial featuring Zorro and would later work on 1944’s Captain America, the first movie to star a Marvel superhero.

The plot of The Adventure of Captain Marvel feels like a combination of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Arabian Nights, with a smidge more of a classic murder mystery feel than a standard superhero story. Most of the plot happens in Thailand, where Billy Batson is a radio announcer who gets magical powers from the wizard Shazam in a crypt in the Valley of the Tombs. The film centers around the mystical artifact called the Golden Scorpion, which is held by each expedition member so that its energy powers are kept in check. All the while, a mysterious hooded villain, the Scorpion, is hunting down each archaeologist and taking their piece of the Golden Scorpion. Billy gets to play detective and save the day as Captain Marvel, and the final fate of the baddie in Adventures of Captain Marvel is very similar to the one in Raiders. For its time there was plenty of suspense, lore, and action to get fans to visit their local movie theaters for twelve straight weeks to get the whole story, and film critic Leonard Maltin described it as a “pretty good serial” in a 2012 Indiewire piece.

Superman: The Movie famously had the tagline “You’ll believe a man can fly,” but The Adventures of Captain Marvel was the first film to feature a live-action, flying caped hero using the special effects of the time instead of cutting costs with animation. The flying sequences were masterminded by the Oscar-nominated Lydecker Brothers, who first shot a dummy wearing a Captain Marvel costume suspended on offscreen wires soaring over the San Fernando Valley, then spliced it together with close-ups of Tom Tyler in the costume. Add some takeoff and landing shots by “the Crown Prince of Daredevils,” David Sharpe, and The Adventures of Captain Marvel featured a hero who could do much more than leap over tall buildings.

You can watch the full 30 minute first chapter of the serial here, which features the first time Billy Batson transforms into Captain Marvel.

8. Shazam Gets Sued (1941-1954)

The success of the Captain Marvel character, as well as the Adventures of Captain Marvel film and its many spinoffs, including the funny animal comic Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, caused DC/National Comics to sue Fawcett Comics in 1941. They said that Captain Marvel was infringing on Superman’s copyright because they had similar powers of flight and super strength. Captain Marvel also had a bald arch-nemesis named Sivana, and a younger version of himself named Captain Marvel Jr., which was similar to Lex Luthor and Superboy. In 1948, National Comics Publications Inc v. Fawcett Publications Inc finally went to trial. Most of the evidence was a binder of Superman and Captain Marvel comics claiming that one ripped off the other.

Fawcett won the copyright infringement case on a technicality because the comic strip syndicate that DC had licensed the Superman comic strip to forgot to put the copyright symbol on some of the stories, so Fawcett couldn’t infringe on something that wasn’t actually copyrighted. However, Superman was becoming a pop culture icon, so DC appealed the ruling, and in 1954 Fawcett was found guilty of plagiarizing Superman with Captain Marvel. By 1954, comics were lagging behind TV in popularity, and were considered to be immoral by witnesses in yet another Supreme Court case featuring the infamous Frederic Wertham, so Fawcett decided to settle out of court, pay $400,000 in damages, and never publish Captain Marvel comics again.

Because the family of Captain Marvel characters were their most popular creations, Fawcett dwindled as a comics company, laid off talented creators like artist C.C. Beck, and mainly published licensed Dennis the Menace comic books until they became defunct in 1980. By this time, Shazam was licensed out to DC Comics, and Marvel held the copyright to Captain Marvel, but that’s a story for another day. The best way to understand this complicated yet juvenile court case is Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s “Superduperman vs. Captain Marbles” story in a 1953 issue of Mad. Wood’s parody version of Billy Batson is downright adorable.

7. Captain Marvel Jr. Inspires Elvis Presley’s Classic ‘Do (1954)

Captain Marvel comics were out of print in the late 1950s and all throughout the 1960s, but the Earth’s Mightiest Mortal – or more specifically his younger counterpart, Captain Marvel Jr. – had a great influence on the King himself, rock’n’roll legend Elvis Presley. Captain Marvel Jr. was Freddy Freeman, an orphan boy at a hospital whose life was saved in 1941’s Whiz Comics #25 when Captain Marvel gave him some powers of his own that are also activated by saying “Shazam!” In his Freddy Freeman identity, Captain Marvel Jr. is still crippled, and his main villain was Captain Nazi, who was responsible for both Freddy’s grandfather’s death and his own injury.

Probably the most famous reader of Captain Marvel Jr. was Elvis Aron Presley, a young boy from Tupelo, Mississippi who became a singer “who don’t sound like nobody,” and would later bridge the worlds of country and rockabilly with rock’n’roll and R&B as one of the most famous pop music artists in American history. In her book Elvis and Gladys, journalist Elaine Dundy said that Elvis was attracted the dual identity of Captain Marvel Jr. and Freddy Freeman because he himself had two identities: poor Southern boy and rock star. As a boy, he read comics and played music to escape from the hardship and poverty of his home life. Later, he slicked back his hair and dyed it black like Captain Marvel Jr. in the comic, and got a record deal from Colonel Tom Parker, the Shazam to his Captain Marvel. Elvis would even wear capes and light blue jumpsuits on stage, and some think that the lightning bolt in his TCB (“Taking Care of Business”) logo was also inspired by the character.

With their ability to bring hope and empowerment through music, pop and rock stars seem like real-life superheroes. Elvis couldn’t fly or call down lightning, but he did help bring rock’n’roll music to a larger audience, and is still well loved today. His home of Graceland is kind of a mecca for music fans, and there is even a copy of Captain Marvel Jr. #51 (1947) in a recreation of his childhood bedroom in the housing projects of Memphis there. In an homage to Elvis, writer Geoff Johns had a modern version of Captain Marvel Jr. call him the “greatest modern day philosopher” in Teen Titans #23 (2005).

6. Captain Marvel Joins the DC Universe and Becomes Shazam! (1973)

In the early 1970s, DC Comics was having issues making Superman stories for a modern audience, so their editor-in-chief, Carmine Infantino, decided to license Captain Marvel and the other Fawcett superheroes and supervillains less than two decades after DC sued the pants off them. Marvel Comics had gotten the rights to “Captain Marvel” in 1968 for an unrelated alien character, so the relaunch had to be titled Shazam! It was written by Denny O’Neil, who turned Batman from a campy crusader to a “Darknight Detective” while also introducing real-life social problems like racism and drug abuse into the Green Arrow/Green Lantern comic, and drawn by Captain Marvel co-creator C.C. Beck. The first issue (which featured former Captain Marvel lawsuit rival, Superman) featured a retelling of Shazam’s origin, a modern-day adventure that explained why he hadn’t appeared in any stories for 20 years, and a reprint of a Golden Age Captain Marvel Adventures called “The Endless String.”

In its writing, Shazam! #1 is more self-aware about its protagonist’s wholesomeness, breaks the fourth wall when Captain Marvel encounters one of his old writers (Otto Binder), and uses continuity as a plot device when it’s revealed that Dr. Sivana put Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Jr. in suspended animation for 20 years. However, C.C. Beck’s art is just as fun, triumphant, and slapstick-y as it was in the 1940s, beginning with the first Billy-to-Shazam transformation sequence, and ending with a silly takedown of the Sivana family, who are as twisted and clearly evil as the Marvel family is broad-shouldered and straight-laced. Captain Marvel is also very transparent and open about his actions, clearly explaining to police and passerby why he tackled a car with electronics equipment, and restraining the Sivanas peacefully for the authorities instead of punching them.

Shazam! is technically a reboot of Captain Marvel, but armed with the power of 1940s nostalgia, Dennis O’Neil and C.C. Beck don’t change much about the character. Dark and edgy this is not, and it would influence later comic writers like Mark Waid and Bone‘s Jeff Smith, who would write Shazam in some shape or form. Beck’s art is clean yet wacky, and Shazam! is a comic with a clear moral center that isn’t afraid to get weird sometimes, just like Captain Marvel and his myriad of strange wizard-bestowed powers. It brought back readers to the happier days of their childhood, when comic books ruled the earth of mass culture.

***

Be sure to come back for part two of The Most Important Shazam moments, where the top 5 will be revealed!

By day, Logan is a data entry administrator in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby. But when he has free time, he enjoys writing about his favorite comics, movies, and TV shows. He also interviewed a vampire once and cries about the future of the L.A. Lakers at least once a day. Logan will watch, read, or listen to anything by Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Wright, Damon Albarn,Donald Glover, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Kieron Gillen, St Vincent, and Black Mask Studios so you should ask him about those things on his Twitter. (https://twitter.com/MidnighterBae)

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Scott Snyder’s ‘Wytches’ Cast a Hypnotic Spell that Still Lingers

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Wytches Image Comics Review

One of the most hotly anticipated comics released in 2014 came from Image Comics and writer Scott Snyder (American Vampire). The horror series titled Wytches was met with such critical acclaim that it had been optioned by New Regency, with Plan B set to produce a feature film adaptation– and that was only after one issue hit the shelves. Unfortunately, the movie adaptation was never made (and likely never will be), but the limited series became one of the hottest comics of that year and in a way, sort of revolutionized the witch mythology for a new generation of horror fans.

With Wytches, Snyder breathed new life into the horror mythos. From the first two pages (which consists solely of the definition of the word “witch” written in a gothic font) to the fiery finish, Wytches sets an oppressive mood with its unconventional, confounding style. The original six issues are both stylish, and compelling and left readers both bewildered and curious about what would come next. Snyder and artist Jock created such a visceral experience that the combination of menacing Grand Guignol atmosphere, dazzling colours, gory violence and interesting set up went beyond the typical feel of a comic. Syder knows how to tell a good horror story in comics, and if there was ever any doubt, Wytches put that uncertainty to rest.

Across the globe, century after century, men and women were burned, drowned, hanged, tortured, imprisoned, persecuted, and murdered for witchcraft. None of them were witches. They died protecting a terrible and hidden truth: witches, real witches, are out there. They are ancient, elusive, and deadly creatures that are rarely seen and even more rarely survived.

Wytches Issue 1, Image Comics

What is Wytches about?

The story begins on August 1919, focusing on the Cray family. Tim, a young boy is walking through the woods and hears a woman crying out in pain. As he moves closer to investigate, he discovers his mother trapped inside a tree with blood dripping down her face. Her nose is cut off and she begs for help. The young boy picks up a giant rock and begins to smash her skull in. Pledged is pledged he tells her, and just like that, the opening flashback gives us a brief glimpse at the horror we can expect.

Fast forward to the present day and the Rooks have just moved to a new town in New Hampshire leaving behind a traumatic event from the past and hoping the move will put some distance between the family and what transpired. Charlie, the loving father, is a cartoonist who writes children’s stories with a vivid imagination. He’s passionate about his cartooning career but he never puts his work over his family. His wife Lucy has suffered an accident that’s left her in a wheelchair, but she stays supportive and focused on being positive. Their withdrawn, anxiety-ridden, troubled teenage daughter, Sailor, is the centerpiece of the series. Sailor faced an event that has left her emotionally scarred and so Charlie decided they needed a fresh start, but as we all know, some things you just can’t run from. If it wasn’t hard enough for Sailor to try to fit in at a new school, she must now deal with the growing lesion on her neck, a laceration which appears to have both physical and psychological effects on her wellbeing.

The prologue itself is a mystery; a story within a story, a nightmare in endlessly reflecting mirrors, and a place where time can stand still. As the Rooks family begins to unravel, the remaining five chapters offer more questions than answers.

scott-snyder-wytches-cover

Scott Snyder’s Horror

Scott Snyder, a writer who made his name in the horror genre before moving on to mainstream superhero work, plants many seeds for a disquieting little character study. What makes Wytches so harrowing is the sense of unequivocal dread that’s seeded in every panel – as if at any time something could jump out from the page. This blend of psychological horror, high school cruelty and teen angst is a relentless assault on the nerves and stays with you as would a childhood nightmare or a Grimm fairy tale. True to its brand, Wytches has all the trappings of the genre – but the issue also spends equal time fleshing out the characters.

The majority of Wytches focuses not on the uncanny, but rather on the emotional toll it has on the Rooks family. The presence of the supernatural is present throughout, but it is not the main focus. At its core, Wytches is a story about a father, a daughter, and their bond together, but it is also a story of apprehension and one which relies heavily on a sense of body horror. Supernatural themes can be daunting, but body horror, with its focus on degeneration, mutation, or mutilation of flesh, affects the reader on a gut level. That element alone compels us to sympathize with and root for Sailor and it doesn’t take long before this modern gothic fairy tale spins a tense and lyrical web of emotions. As the story unfolds we follow Sailor trying to cope with the aftermath of her traumatic attack and the horror of teenage life, all while her parents desperately attempt to search for answers.

One of the challenges with writing horror and fantasy is introducing not only the world itself but the background needed to set the stage for what’s to come. Snyder is a master at avoiding overly expository dialogue; not relying too heavily on exposition he finds clever ways to guide readers every step of the way. Wytches is what you’d call a page-turner and Snyder carefully allows the aftermath of that tragic event to brew while slowly opening the doors to new mysteries and the unknown. The first chapter, for example, expertly provides readers with a solid foundation and understanding of who this family is, leaving us with a cliffhanger that will have readers wanting more.

Wytches TPB Review

Jock and Matt Hollingsworth

Scott Snyder has a reputation for being one of the best writers of horror and he earns a ton of respect since he trusts his readers, and often the artists he collaborates with, to fill in the blanks. Jock is well known for his emotive, impressionist style. Even if you are not a fan of his superhero work, you’ll enjoy how his art lends itself well to horror. The ways in which he captures fear and panic in facial expressions is stunning. His landscapes are gorgeous, and the characters navigate the backdrops seamlessly throughout each panel. His sketchy layouts and framing allow for an immersive tone, especially in building towards the big reveal at the end. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth (who previously worked with Snyder on The Wake), is also vital in setting the mood, giving the book a dark, worn-out appearance. And finally, Clem Robins’ lettering in these pages is tremendously powerful, making a great first impression for anyone unfamiliar with his work.

Conclusion

Snyder established himself as an accomplished storyteller with his work on Batman, American Vampire, Severed, and the first half of The Wake, but Wytches might be the darkest tale he’s ever written. He seems to especially excel in the horror genre and in exploring human relationships set against supernatural or extraordinary events. It doesn’t take long for horrible things to start happening, and it doesn’t take long for readers to feel unsafe.

What Snyder, Jock and Matt Hollingsworth have created here is a stunning portrait of the mental and emotional breakdown of a young girl surrounded by the ugliness of the world, both supernatural and earthly. The stranger elements read like a fever dream, the rest resembles a Stephen King novel. Wytches is a textbook example of how to do horror right. From the twisted cold open to the glimpse of the slender figure in the woods, Wytches sets up enough mysteries and poses enough questions to keep readers invested. If you’re looking for a truly original horror story from a creative team who knows how to use the ingredients of the genre to their full potential, look no further. Wytches is that rarest of accomplishments in a field notorious for tedium and repetition.
– Ricky D

The Wytches Scott Synder Image Comics Review
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‘The Fade Out’ Demonstrates a Mastery of the Noir Genre

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The Fade Out Image Comics

Whenever someone who doesn’t read comics asks me what comic I would recommend, I always answer The Fade Out

Modern noir masterminds Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips began their five-year deal with Image Comics in 2014. It was an unprecedented deal, allowing them to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects. Their first project would be The Fade Out, a sprawling saga of corruption and redemption set against a gritty West Coast Hollywood backdrop.

As the premiere storytellers of crime/noir comics, The Fade Out saw them return to the familiar conventions of the genre, weaving a tangled web through the underbelly of a 1940’s film industry. In addition to unsettling narrative themes of ambiguity and violent death, certain stylistic characteristics immediately spring out: stark, angular shadows; the isolated feel of modern cities; conflicted anti-heroes and boiled down dialogue. It is everything a fan of detective stories could want. The multi-layered plot grabs you immediately — and Brubaker’s achievement as a writer cannot be overrated. This first issue alone moves swiftly from scene to scene, yet finds ample time to quickly define his characters. More importantly, it is quick to establish a mystery, making readers eager to see what happens next. And as you keep reading, The Fade Out keeps spooling out more narrative twists until the ingenious maze turns into an oppressive tangle.

What is it About?

The Fade Out tells the story of Charlie Parish, a struggling screenplay writer who finds himself smack in the middle of the murder of a Hollywood starlet named Valeria Sommers. The story is framed from the perspective of Charlie, a man plagued with nightmares from the war, and now struggling to hide a dark and terrible secret. Luckily for him, a power-crazed Hollywood mogul and his security chief will do anything to avoid another scandal, including a cover-up that frames the crime as an act of suicide. That’s just the beginning, as Brubaker’s script quickly establishes the central conflict before moving on to introduce the key players.

Via Charlie’s quintessential, hard-boiled third-person narration and various flashbacks, we meet a heap of supporting players including Earl Rath (an Errol Flynn lookalike and movie star womanizer) – Gil Mason (one time writer and full time alcoholic) – Dotty Quinn (publicity girl and all-around sweetheart) – Phil Brodsky ( the studio’s Head of Security), and the aforementioned Valeria Sommers, an up and coming actress killed before her time. Like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, Valeria is a mystery and remembered differently by different people and part of the fun in reading The Fade Out is discovering exactly who Valeria Somers actually was. The rest of the cast comes across as the usual noir stereotypes – a collection of tough guys, femme-Fatales and corrupt businessmen, but everyone seems to hold some dark secret that makes them necessary in telling the bigger story. And while our protagonist fits the mold of a noir anti-hero, he quickly becomes a likable and sympathetic character, and someone we can root for.

At the center of this series is the relationship between Charlie and his partner Gil. Brubaker presents Gil as an alcoholic devastated by his professional blacklisting in Hollywood while being investigated for communism. For the unfamiliar, the Hollywood blacklist was rooted in events of the 1930s and the early 1940s, encompassing the height of the Great Depression and World War II. The U.S. government began turning its attention to the possible links between Hollywood and the party during this period and many screenwriters, producers, and directors were banned. In The Fade Out, for example, we learn that Gil has been working as a ghostwriter for Charlie. The two support one another both financially and artistically and despite his addiction, Gil remains a proficient author of successful screenplays and uses Charlie’s name to allow his work to be sold and brought to life on the big screen. Gil may be a drunk, but he’s a talented drunk, but for Charlie, he’s a mere typist who’s experienced in the war have left him with a prolonged writer’s block.

Brubaker does a superb job in sketching out the main cast here and fleshing out a larger sense of emotional damage the protagonist Charlie Parish carries with him. Charlie is more or less an anti-social loner that is subject to existential angst. He’s burdened with a sense of guilt, desperation, and frustration. Much like Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, Charlie is a nice guy, modestly successful, but a man with a faint smell of cynical opportunism within his persona. While he may be our protagonist, he can’t be trusted, and so we sense that his fall from grace isn’t from a great moral height.

The Fade Out is a Modern Masterpiece

What makes The Fade Out great is how quick it establishes many subtle, subliminal clues between the flashbacks and real-time sequences; every page is loaded with rich painstaking detail, making this the most ambitious series yet from the award-winning duo. Brubaker pulls from the decades-old lineage of hardboiled tough guys channeling the likes of Sam Spade, Walter Neff, and Joe Gillis. Tension and suspense are increased by the use of Charlie’s inner monologues and flashbacks, in that the audience is always cognizant of impending doom. The seamless connection and disconnection, between the thoughts of a character and what we see on the page, is brilliant. The voice-over in the series isn’t used to tell us what we are seeing, rather tell us what we aren’t seeing. More so, it lulls the reader into a false sense of security. Notes of racism, sexism, and antisemitism are also peripherally present, but this allows for Brubaker and Phillips to naturally explore a time and place where these behaviours were socially acceptable.

As the story unfolds, The Fade Out moves away from beaten-down protagonists Charlie Parish, shifting its spotlight on new characters while more familiar faces slide into the background. Using unexpected flashbacks and unique third-person narration, Brubaker reveals the complicated personalities of these additional characters at the opposite end of the Hollywood spectrum. Included are Mr. Thursby (head of Victory Street Pictures who has been doing everything in his power to silence the true nature of Valeria Sommers’ death), and Maya Silver (a young actress hoping to replace Valeria’s lead role in an upcoming film). Ed Brubaker shows us more of the dirty side of the film industry, capturing the various power struggles and moral dilemmas that come with seeking fame and fortune. Maya, for example, is an actress waiting for her big break and hoping to fill the void left behind by Valeria Sommers. She’s been promised the role that once belonged to the now-deceased actress, but she’s had to endure countless indignities to help get her to where she is now. Maya has certainly been a victim of a horribly sexist system, but while she is preyed upon, she’s far from weak. Her past continues to haunt her, but with the help of a new friend, she may be able to finally escape her demons.

Many of the characters in The Fade Out are polar opposites but they share one common goal: they will do anything it takes to ensure the film moves forward, and that they each remain involved. Thursby who wields immense power in Hollywood, reflects on his voluptuous past, wishing he could go return to the life he once knew; meanwhile Maya longs to escape her demeaning past and climb up the ladder of success. Thursby is a man who was once happy and free, only now he seems trapped by the studio system. In a way, he probably feels just as trapped as his actors do. As The Fade Out slowly begins to pull the curtain back, the story reveals a chilling noir tale about murder, immorality, gender roles, lust, greed and the position of women in the early 20th century.

Characters are the focus of The Fade Out, not just plot beats and despite the central mystery, The Fade Out is not about solving the question of who killed Valeria Sommers, but about the consequences that a corrupt Hollywood system had on her, and continues to have on everyone else involved. If anything, The Fade Out is a study of men and women destroyed by the 50s success ethic, left broken, alone, and in some cases, left dead.

If there was ever a comic that would make a great television series, it is this…

The artwork for The Fade Out is exquisite. Each panel is framed and lit much like a movie from the late 40s, and as you are reading, you can’t help but visualize it on the big screen. Sean Phillips is indisputably one of the most talented artists in the business, and when it comes to depicting gritty, realistic settings, he’s the best. Phillips’ character designs are so photo-realistic that one Tyler Graves looks like a young Montgomery Clift reincarnated in animated form.

Phillips has been a regular collaborator of Brubaker’s for quite a while now, but this is the first time they’ve worked with Elizabeth Breitweiser, and her work here is a blessing. Everything from the backgrounds, landscapes, dutch angles, heavy shadows, low-key lighting, and depth of field captures the era and look of noir perfectly. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Breitweiser must also be given credit for her fabulous work as the colourist. There’s something to appreciate around every corner — most of all, visuals to astound and amaze. Mostly, though, the book comes across like the fever dream of an artist who’s been up all night watching every black-and-white crime movie made in the ‘40s.

The series also masters the art of juxtaposition juggling between multiple timelines and subplots seamlessly. Along with the third person narrative, Brubaker and co. communicate subtle relationships between characters, plot, and an overall arching theme of corruption. The level of detail and the attention to every line of dialogue speaks to the effort to capture 1940s Hollywood as accurately as possible – so much so – they hired Amy Condit (a Hollywood expert who manages the L.A. Police museum), as a research assistant.

A Classic take on Classic Hollywood

Brubaker’s name has been synonymous with the noir genre from the very start of his career, but The Fade Out marked his first trip into Hollywoodland, the never-innocent city of illusions. The Fade Out relishes in classic Hollywood tropes – so much so – that every page looks like a storyboard from an Anthony Mann film. This is clearly, a labor of love from its creative team who even went the extra mile by assembling a series of supplementary content that helps readers get into the mindset of the time. The painstaking attention to historical detail cannot be overlooked. Using the murder of a Hollywood starlet as a catalyst to expose the web of dark secrets that runs through the City of Angels, the award-winning team has put together one of the most intriguing comics of the decade and a series that is destined to be a cult classic. Everything from the distinctive characters to the shadowy visuals to the thick labyrinthine plot, the cynical, hopeless tone, the dialogue and so on, makes it an incredibly fascinating read.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips will always be remembered as one of the greatest teams in comics’ canon. Their work is unmistakable, and consistent in quality since their early days working on the indie crime series Sleeper, to the modern masterpiece that is Criminal. Like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, they can do no wrong when working side by side. Fade Out isn’t quite up there with classic Hollywood noirs, but it’s the closest thing since Chinatown. This is a wonderfully entertaining series in which dark secrets; the mystery and allure of Hollywood; double-crossing; and secret alliances, are all but some of the ingredients found.

Ed Brubaker’s darker than dark drama about the inner workings of Hollywood is essential reading and further proof that Brubaker and Sean Phillips are two of the industry’s best, performing at the top of their game. Every chapter of The Fade Out is designed to set up the many things to come and advances the plot a few inches forward while exploring the backgrounds of the entire cast. The dead body which turns up at the start is just but one mystery – The Fade Out has so many more mysterious for readers to unravel.

Given the success of The Fade Out, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning creators renewed their exclusive deal with Image Comics in 2018. And thanks to Image Comics, the duo can continue to follow their creative instincts and continue to produce what is arguably some of the best stories you’ll find in the medium without having to sacrifice their artistic and creative freedom.

– Ricky D

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Comics

Dark Horse’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Graphic Novel Series Is The Fourth Season We Never Got

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“Alright, Team Avatar is back!”

Avatar: The Last Airbender is- and will always be- my favorite television show of all time. Its sixty-one episode story never ceases to amaze me every time I rewatch it, but it always leaves me wishing that Team Avatar could reunite for another adventure or two, whether that be for explanations regarding their future lives before the events of its successor series or completing yet another unresolved plotline.

After all these years, I finally discovered what I had been looking for; more Avatar that is on par with the storytelling and animation of the original series that will make any fan squeal with joy. Its time for fans to step up and recognize what should practically be considered as The Last Airbender’s fourth season; the stories that are still making their way to printing presses rather than television production.

If you are craving for more Avatar in anticipation for the Netflix live-action remake, wanting something to fill your desires after a rewatch, or even just dying for a new story after a first viewing, then this series of graphic novels will surely peak your interests. Team Avatar’s adventures are far from over because Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series is the fourth unforeseen season of the show that you always wanted and it is something that every fan should indulge themselves in whether they are looking for some ongoing laughs from the heroes or serious answers to what they want to know most.

From Moving Presentations to Still Pages

In 2010, show producers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko originally pitched an idea to Nickolodean; to continue Team Avatar’s story through a 90-minute television special known simply as The Search. This story would have wrapped up all loose ends by closing off the story’s only real cliffhanger, the resolution for the disappearance of Zuko’s missing mother. Despite interest in the project, the executives at Nickelodeon ultimately deemed that the special would never see the light of day on the small screen as they declined the proposal in favor of creating an original series about the next Avatar who would succeed Aang. 

The Legend of Korra was conceived thanks to the failed pitch that was The Search, but that did not stop DiMartino and Konietzko from allowing their unused story to go to waste. During the concept stages of Korra, the two producers managed to strike a deal, allowing Nickelodeon to partner with Dark Horse Comics in order to finish the final story of Avatar: The Last Airbender while tieing in many of the events that would build up the world seen in the The Legend of Korra through a series of various graphic novels- which are still ongoing today.

The Search, The Promise, Team Avatar Tales, Smoke and Shadow, North and South, and the currently ongoing Imbalanced are the story arcs that truthfully culminate into the epilogue fourth season of The Last Airbender that fans have pleaded for. Each volume adds up to about one or two new full-length episodes of the show that have the same story-telling and animation quality as what we originally fell in love with. These stories help establish events that strengthen the extended continuity that The Legend of Korra added to Team Avatar’s story while giving The Last Airbender’s fans more of what they want; stories featuring their favorite characters that do not threaten the shows neverending appeal- if anything they add more to love about an already fantastic series. 

Continuing What Was Already Perfected

The graphic novels produced by Dark Horse Comics are a justifiable canon extension to Team Avatar’s story that is both written and supervised by the shows original creators [DiMartino and Konietzko]- in other words, there is no need to worry about a new interpretation helmed by people who do not understand the series’ core ethics and values that can easily be misinterpreted just for unreasonable box office profit. Each volume of every story arc serves a legitimate and well thought out purpose to the world of Avatar. A single page is never wasted.

“There is no war within these walls.”

Each story arc continuously builds on the world of Avatar by presenting a slow technological transition into the twentieth-century inspired landscape seen in The Legend of Korra, while showing audiences what the characters and locations had in store during the near distant future after the defeat of Phoenix King Ozai and Prince Zuko’s reconquering of the throne. The comics allow the two series to seamlessly transition into one another by explaining how technology, freedom of speech, political ideology, and spiritual connection all began to expand over the course of just a few months as the four nations slowly became more united under the helm of the last surviving Airbender and the previously banished fire lord.

Every character is written as if they were pulled directly from the source material- just as they should be since the original producers behind both Avatar and Korra are directly involved with the production of every page printed in these books. Characters and locations are constantly being built up to fit their future roles seen throughout The Legend of Korra. Nothing ever feels out of place in these graphic novels. Reading through these books made me feel as if Avatar had never ended; a feeling that every reader should feel when they have fully emerged back into a previously ended story. Every word, character, and location builds an authentic atmosphere that will quickly pull you back into what you previously loved. Seriously, try and not to read these three panels below without hearing each character’s voice in your head.

If you have not read any of the current set of available graphic novels, I highly recommend you purchase at least one of the stories in order to see if this is what you are looking for- and believe me, it will not disappoint. While The Promise is the direct sequel to the finale of The Last Airbender– literally, as the first volume takes place seconds after the last scene in ‘Sozin’s Comet Part 4’ before the credits roll- the graphic novel that I personally believe will completely sell you on this series is The Search; the story arc that contains a resolution you are probably dying to know the answer to. Just sit back, throw on a soundtrack compilation, and enjoy where you last left off in the world of the four nations.

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