For the third time in 15 years, Sony (and now Marvel Studios) decided to start over the Spider-Man franchise with a much younger lead actor, a much younger Aunt May, and a new cast of supporting players and villains. Thankfully, Spider-Man Homecoming didn’t kill Uncle Ben for the umpteenth time, but Peter Parker is back in high school and again beginning to come to terms with his great power, as well as the responsibility that it comes with. The producers and directors of the Spider-Man films like sending the pop culture icon (he’s practically the Mickey Mouse of Marvel Comics) back to high school even though the main universe version of Peter Parker graduated over 50 years ago in 1965’s Amazing Spider-Man #28, which also introduced the unfortunately (and alliteratively) named villain, Molten Man.
I think the reason for this is that some of the greatest Spider-Man stories came in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Stuart Immonen, and others’ Ultimate Spider-Man, which featured a teenage Peter Parker and ran from 2000 to 2011. This series skillfully used the superhero genre to tell a coming-of-age story focused on Peter’s relationship with his family, friends, and eventually other heroes, like Human Torch and Kitty Pryde, instead of just having him punch and “thwip” at things. It even successfully and powerfully killed off Peter and replaced him with the Black/Latino teenager Miles Morales, who is currently Spider-Man alongside an older Peter Parker in the main Marvel Universe.
Honestly, you should just drop everything and pick up a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man “Power and Responsibility” from your local library, bookstore, or Comixology if you want to get into Spider-Man, but if you prefer stories of Spidey’s college or young adult days from a variety of eras, including some groovy stories by his creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, here are ten comic book storylines you should check out before watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 for the millionth time:
10. “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” from Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973)
“The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is a crucial two-part storyline not only for the character of Spider-Man, but also for superhero comics as a whole. Written by Gerry Conway (who was only 20 at the time.), penciled by Gil Kane, and inked over by John Romita Sr and Tony Mortellaro, it features the triumphant return of the Green Goblin/Norman O, the only supervillain who knows that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person. Armed with this knowledge, he kidnaps Gwen Stacy and drops her off the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man tries to save her with his webs, but ends up snapping her neck in the process in one of the saddest uses of sound effects in comics. The next chapter is dedicated to a quest for revenge against Green Goblin while he ignores his friend, Harry Osborn, who is all alone and withdrawing from LSD. Spider-Man engages in a brutal battle with the villain and almost kills him, but the Green Goblin ends up being impaled by his own glider in a scene that appeared in the 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man, and Spidey walks away empty, sad, and alone.
You can feel superhero comics growing up overnight in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 as Gerry Conway and Gil Kane make the red and blue spandex-wearing, joke-cracking Spider-Man the vehicle for his girlfriend’s death. In previous storylines, Stan Lee and Kane had killed off Gwen’s father, George Stacy, but he was a police officer in the line of duty. Gwen’s death was senseless and sudden, and led Spider-Man to behave more violently and callously, starting with assaulting his cop buddy instead of having his usual friendly chat. Kane, Romita, and Mortellaro depict the fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in harrowing close-ups, with the hero confessing his love for Gwen after every punch. You can feel bones cracking with each rage-filled blow, and after the battle, Spider-Man looks like the sad figure that Steve Ditko originally drew him as, instead of John Romita’s big man on campus. What makes this “final” fight scene even more brutal is the fact that Spider-Man is recovering from the flu, and is barely at half strength.
However, what makes “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” a dated storyline is that Gerry Conway and Gil Kane killed Gwen Stacy solely to increase Spider-Man’s man-pain and add some darkness to his heroic, soap operatic journey, as well as possibly set up a romance with the vivacious redhead, Mary-Jane Watson. Gwen barely speaks in the storyline, and she is just there to play the role of victim. Her death opened up the potential for darker superhero stories with life and death stakes, but also set a bad precedent for killing off female characters to further a male hero’s story.
Luckily for fans of Gwen Stacy (whether in the old comics or Emma Stone’s performance in the Amazing Spider-Man films), there is now an alternate universe of her affectionately known as “Spider-Gwen,” co-created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez. Spider-Gwen has her own comic book and is a superhero in her own right with a really rad hoodie costume.
9. “Torment” from Spider-Man #1-5 (1990)
For better or worse, Spider-Man in the late 1980s and early 1990s is defined by the work of Canadian writer/artist Todd McFarlane, who would later go on to create Spawn and co-found Image Comics and McFarlane Toys. In 1990, McFarlane was such a popular artist at Marvel Comics that he got to write and draw his own title simply called Spider-Man. The first issue of the title sold 2.5 million copies, as McFarlane attempted to marry the hardboiled narration and grim cityscapes of Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns with his personal interest in horror stories. What follows is an intense, style over substance, and “edgy” story called “Torment,” where McFarlane tells of Spider-Man tracking down one of his old villains, Lizard, who has become a beastly serial killer manipulated by Calypso, a mysterious sorceress. Also, Mary Jane Watson-Parker hits the club while this is going on.
Even if the storyline drags on for an issue too many, McFarlane’s artwork has a unique style to it. There’s also no real resolution to the plot, and it’s more of a “dark night of the soul” mood piece showing what Spider-Man’s life would be like if he was separated from his friends and family. It’s obvious that McFarlane hates drawing human beings, but loves monsters and cool architecture, so he spends most of the time showing Lizard stalk the streets of New York like a reptilian killer in a slasher flick. There is a retelling of his origin about midway through the arc, but there is no trace of Curt Connors, or any kind of humanity, in the Lizard. McFarlane’s take on Spider-Man is more arachnid-like than that of his predecessors (except for Steve Ditko), so it’s fitting that “Torment” centers around a primal ritual conflict between two humans that have adopted the identity of or (in Lizard’s case) become animals. McFarlane’s art and rat-tat-tat captions bend and flow as Spider-Man is infected with Lizard’s poison. Any time Spidey uses his webs in combat or to swing around New York City with his big eyes popping is poster worthy, and he knows it.
If you want to know what comics were like in the 1990s without drowning yourself in bullshit X-Men or Youngblood continuity, “Torment” is worth taking a look at. It’s also just exciting to see Spider-Man transported from the sunny streets of New York and quip-filled battles with colorful supervillains to being dropped smack-dab into a New York City horror wasteland, caught up in a battle to survive after he spends Spider-Man #1 acting super confident in all aspects of his life. This edgefest pairs well with The Crow soundtrack if you want a double dose of 90s dark superhero nostalgia. Todd McFarlane definitely succeeds at putting his personal stamp on an iconic character that often defaults to a “house” style.
8. Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5 (2005)
Dan Slott has been the lead writer on Spider-Man’s flagship title, Amazing Spider-Man, since 2008, but arguably some of his best work with the webslinger came in this fun miniseries that focused on the relationship between Marvel’s first two teen heroes, Spider-Man and the Human Torch. Each issue is drawn by Ty Templeton (Batman Adventures), with help from inkers Drew Geraci, Nelson, Tom Palmer, and Greg Adams, who do an excellent job pulling off the different art styles of Marvel Comics, including the work of Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby and Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko. Each issue is set in different time period for the characters, and it’s fun seeing Spider-Man going from being a student in high school to actually teaching it, while Human Torch hasn’t gained a single ounce of responsibility to go with his great power.
Spider-Man/Human Torch has its serious moments, like when Spider-Man is dealing with the death of Gwen Stacy, but it’s flat-out funny too. The characters are in on the joke, like when Spider-Man busts out laughing when he faces Paste Pot Pete, who was Human Torch’s nemesis in his not-very-high-selling solo series that came out in the 1960s, or when Torch cracks wise about a lot of Spidey’s rogues being senior citizens, like the seriously decrepit Vulture. If you’ve flipped through old comics from the 1970s, Spider-Man/Human Torch #3 is a heck of a hoot, with a plot centered around the Spider-Mobile and Hostess fruit pie ads that ends with Spider-Man and Torch being utter trolls and doing donuts on the side of the Daily Bugle. As the series progresses, Spider-Man and Human Torch go from laughing at each other to laughing together, although the practical jokes persist into adulthood. Who can resist the old web or flame on the hand trick?
Spider-Man/Human Torch is a fun way to learn about the history of Spider-Man and Marvel Comics in general without digging through hundreds of old back issues or Wiki summaries. Each issue has a thrilling action plot, from stopping Cold War super apes from sabotaging Mr. Fantastic’s lab, to helping Black Cat pull off a tenderhearted heist to get her dad’s lucky lockpick back, and there’s plenty of banter between Human Torch/Johnny Storm, Spider-Man, Peter Parker (who is usually in the background as a photographer), and their supporting casts, including Human Torch’s legion of girlfriends (I totally forgot he dated She-Hulk for a while in the 1980s). With a winning sense of humor and clean, expressive art, Dan Slott, Ty Templeton, and company turn decades of Marvel continuity into a tasty comic book treat and a heartwarming story about how friendships develop as people age. It also might make you miss the Fantastic Four comics…
7. “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” from Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 (1982)
One thing that makes Spider-Man such an endearing superhero is his underdog status. He might have the proportional strength and speed of a spider, as well as genius intellect, but Spider-Man has money problems, constantly gets his ass handed to him by supervillains, and can barely hold down a job. In other words, he’s a lot more relatable than a guy who dresses up like a rodent and has a butler. A classic story that shows Spider-Man’s determination in the face of unbeatable odds is the two-parter “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” from writer Roger Stern, artists John Romita Jr and Jim Mooney, and colorist Glynis Wein. In the comic, the Juggernaut and his accomplice, Black Tom Cassidy, are looking to forcibly add the psychic, clairvoyant Spider-Man supporting character Madame Web to their criminal gang. Because all the other superheroes are otherwise occupied, Spidey is the only one standing between and the total destruction of New York City.
“Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” is basically a fight comic with a few simmering Daily Bugle subplots to keep the story down to Earth (Peter Parker has a rival photographer named Lance Bannon who is stealing his assignments, and is quite the misogynistic douche). Romita Jr, who would later draw the universe-shaking World War Hulk, excels at showing the sheer extent of destruction that the Juggernaut wreaks on New York. Three-ton wrecking balls, old collapsing buildings, and even a gas tanker truck are no match for the Juggernaut, who snaps Spider-Man’s webbing like it’s flimsy string. Until the final few pages, where he happens upon an ingenious solution to finally defeat the Juggernaut without the help of a last-minute Professor X psychic blast, Stern, Romita Jr, and Mooney put Spidey on the defensive, which is just good for drama.
If Home Alone were a superhero movie, it would be “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” although Spider-Man has a sense of responsibility to go with his traps and jokes. The comic is the triumph of creativity and heart over brute force, and Spider-Man’s everyman nature is on full display as he quickly runs to the Daily Bugle to get a voucher for some photos after being brutally beaten by an unstoppable villain. Roger Stern easily balances Spider-Man’s life in and out of costume, while John Romita Jr is a true master of making disaster movie-type situations personal, so this story holds up 30+ years later. Plus, there’s the general novelty factor of seeing one hero defeat a villain that the whole X-Men lineup could barely beat.
6. “Confessions” from Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)
As I mentioned earlier, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man series is the gold standard for Spider-Man comics, but if you only have time to read one Ultimate Spider-Man, it should be this standalone story that single-handedly sold me on the romantic pairing of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson after Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst had less than searing chemistry in the Spider-Man films. In this issue, Peter tells Mary-Jane, who is his best friend and soon-to-be girlfriend, that he’s Spider-Man, and also that he has feelings for her. It’s more of a slice of life story than a superhero one, filled with awkward teenage dialogue and facial expressions (the comic gets even more awkward when Aunt May almost gives Peter “the sex talk”), but there is also the pure joy on Mary-Jane’s face when she realizes that her friend is a freaking superhero. Sure, the Daily Bugle doesn’t like him, but wouldn’t it be exciting if someone close to you could cling to walls, swing from building to building, and avoid rush hour traffic in New York?
I really like Bendis and Bagley’s approach to Spider-Man’s dual identity in “Confessions.” As Peter says in this issue, he wears the mask so that Aunt May and his friends aren’t targeted by his enemies, and so that he isn’t nabbed by the U.S. government as an experimental super soldier or something. He wants to help everyday people in his own way. However, being a teenager is tough enough without compounding it by keeping such a great secret from everyone, so it makes sense that he would confide in someone he cares about. Mary-Jane is totally okay with him being Spider-Man, and is happy that he is upfront with her after bailing on a date with her for secret superhero reasons. There is a real honesty and self-awareness to Bendis’ writing, and he definitely cares about Peter Parker the person just as much as Spider-Man the hero. He also relaxes the quips a little bit and uses silent panels and beats to let Peter and Mary-Jane process this big moment in their lives.
Ultimate Spider-Man #13 is one of the finest pieces of character-driven superhero writing, and the entire plot is Peter Parker having a conversation with Mary-Jane, then Aunt May. It’s a shining example that Spider-Man is at his best when his stories have some slice of life to go with the webslinging and supervillain fights. Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t just a great teen superhero comic – it’s a damn good teen romance book too, and Peter Parker’s relationship with Mary-Jane as a friend and/or girlfriend throughout the series is often more exciting than his fights against Doc Ock or the Green Goblin.
Scott Snyder’s ‘Wytches’ Cast a Hypnotic Spell that Still Lingers
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.“
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’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.
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.
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 Fade Out’ Demonstrates a Mastery of the Noir Genre
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
Dark Horse’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Graphic Novel Series Is The Fourth Season We Never Got
“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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