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The Poetry of ‘Watchmen’ Still Burns Bright

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Watchmen Comic Book Review

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons probably didn’t intend their story to have the impact it did, and wrote a mock article in Watchmen about owls and birds that inadvertently illustrates the influence this graphic novel would have on the world of western literature

“Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the lengths of its tarsus, we somehow lose sight of its poetry?”

Daniel Dreiberg, also known as the second Nite Owl, believes this to be true. Dissecting every part of an owl into facts and figures takes away from the mystery of these marvelous creatures. He adds that he doesn’t believe that facts and sciences should be eradicated or ignored, but admits that approaching a situation without poetry is detrimental. The same can be said for Watchmen.

Panel from Watchmen Issue #1. Rorschach enters through a broken window

The beginning to the legacy of “Watchmen”

Watchmen is one of the most — if not the most — prolific graphic novels in the world. There is nothing about the comic that hasn’t been analyzed by historians, literature majors, and sociologists. It’s been on lists of must-read books, and for the longest time was one of the only graphic novels to be on Time Magazine’s 100 best novels. It won numerous accolades, and will most likely never go out of print, much to the chagrin of Moore. It spawned a live-action movie that divides audiences, numerous prequels written by people other than the creators, and inspired an HBO series. It’s safe to say that if anything, Watchmen is revolutionary.

Watchmen was originally intended to use the recently DC-acquired Charlton Comics characters, but Moore and Gibbons’ intent didn’t jive with the top brass. They wanted to break them apart, or even outright kill them off. The publishers weren’t happy with this, thinking that their characters were far too valuable to end so abruptly. Moore reluctantly obliged (probably with a guttural growl), and created brand-new ersatz characters far too similar not to be homages. With this artistic freedom he was able to take recognizable archetypes and have free will to do whatever he wants to them without worrying about retcons, reboots, or other publisher oversight to the main universe. Thus, the Crimebusters and the Minutemen were born. Instead of creating a simple superhero story set in the 1980s, the artistic duo created a beautiful allegory about politics, philosophy, and ethics.  In the past years, this closed world opened its doors, and not only did other creators add to it, but it’s starting to seep into the DC universe with Doomsday Clock.

Watchmen was written at the apex between the Bronze Age and Modern Age of comics. Some people consider this time to be the ‘Dark Age’ of comics, where stories were geared to older audiences, exploring themes such as guilt, political scandals, drug use, vigilantism, and the self. A lot of Frank Miller’s work falls in this category, while Chris Claremont also dabbled in it every so often, just enough to wet his toe. Watchmen stands out because it was the main trendsetter for the grim and gritty reality to be the standard. Unfortunately, the grittiness of reality soon became the norm, and ironically morphed into an unwilling parody of itself. Concepts of morality went to the extreme, ethics needed to be shattered, and lives were torn asunder, while havoc reigned upon the extremes of black and white. Today, this type of teeth-clenching, rain-soaked cynicism is looked on with eye-rolls for being a little too out of touch.

For those who never read this masterpiece, Watchmen takes place mostly in 1985, in an alternate timeline where superheroes and vigilantes are deemed illegal, with the exception of government-issued, costumed fighters. The USA won the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon’s scandal never came to pass. This unfounded success was primarily due to the interference of Doctor Manhattan, an omniscient being of infinite power who sided with the Americans. The USA became a terrifying powerhouse, and knew that with him in their pocket, nothing could stand in their way. Though the story primarily takes place in 1985, it occasionally flashes back to other decades, during a different political climate.

The story starts off when on a typical New York night, a middle aged man is murdered, defenestrated from his high-rise apartment. When the police arrive, they discover his sordid history, and can’t piece together either the motive or who would be able to defeat someone with his physique. The victim, Edward Blake, is an unknown to most people, but to the paranoid detective vigilante, Rorschach, he is The Comedian, a government operative and former superhero. While Rorschach investigates his murder, the lives of his contemporaries are put into jeopardy.

3 Panels from Watchmen #2. The Comedian mocks The Crimebusters and their views

Proof that the team is not called Watchmen

Watchmen broke boundaries and changed the medium. Alan Moore’s writing is impeccable, as the 12-issue mini-series uses new mediums besides comic book dialogue. Most chapters focus on a single character or moment in history, and ends either in an essay, an interview, or excerpt from a book. This format was different from the norm; however, it doesn’t distract from the story, and instead uses it as a brilliant form of exposition. The setting, which takes place mostly in New York, is full of life and character, and it’s all thanks to the creators who found a way to rebuild a world without spelling it out to the audience. A lot of credit is given to Moore, but most people forget that this is collaboration between him and Dave Gibbons. Gibbons isn’t simply the artist, but helped build the characters and the world alongside Moore. They ensured that every page, panel, and transition matters.

Watchmen‘s success is founded in the unique nine-panel grid format. Its geometric simplicity is devoid of chaos, and is sincerely beautiful.  Every placement of industrial steam to scrap of old newspaper flying across the midnight sky is not simply put there haphazardly, or to cover empty space. Every detail serves a purpose, either as an allegory to the current theme of the chapter, or as a repeating symbol hidden across every page. This mesmerizing symmetry is done no better than in Chapter V, entitled “Fearful Symmetry,” which to its best possible efforts is mirrored near perfectly from the first panel to the last, using this iconic moment as the turning point.

The middle pages of Watchmen Issue #5. Adrian Veidt fends of an assassin

Beautiful crafted and executed

Watchmen deconstructs the superhero story. It brings them into a world where people behave like people, limiting the soap-opera drama and mannerisms.  The trench coat-sporting investigator Rorschach is a workaholic with the creed of “never compromise.” As badass as this sounds, his anti-social and paranoid antics are off-putting, especially when he doesn’t take care of his own hygiene or shows little empathy towards his friends. A brilliant character, but one who only sees in black and white; the world is ever changing, but he refuses to play that game. To him, there is good and there is evil — no compromise. Other characters, though they may see the world in a similar matter, don’t go to his extent. Nite Owl II is incomplete without his suit, and is literally and figuratively impotent in his own world. Doctor Manhattan can literally do anything, but sees humans as simple creatures at best, and at worst, they’re ants. Characters like these make Watchmen memorable. They’re complex and faulty, have conflicting ideologies, and make mistakes. Watchmen didn’t invent or reinvent this deconstruction — it simply did it best.

Panel from Watchmen Issue #2. Doctor Manhattan sits alone on Mars.

Alone contemplating the universe

It’s infamously known that Alan Moore dislikes what Watchmen has become, and its treatment by the publishers. But Moore is also famously known not to like a lot of things. This doesn’t change the fact that Watchmen is a masterpiece and a best seller. With the amount of detail put into every panel, and seeing how every word and name is picked so carefully, it’s impossible to absorb everything in the first read through. Though those jaw-dropping moments may not have the same impact the second or even third time around, they overshadow the smaller and intrinsic details that went unnoticed, simply because they weren’t blatant Chekov’s guns. In its entirety, Watchmen can be reread an infinite number of times, and every new read through will bring in something new. It will remain timeless as long as we don’t forget its poetry.

HBO is releasing a Watchmen series in Fall 2019

Watchmen is widely available at most if not all bookstores, comic bookstores, and online.

David Harris has lived in Montreal his whole life. He thoroughly enjoys discussing most subjects including the arts, technology, and good food. Being a fan of superheroes since he was young, it's surprising he only starting really getting into comics in CEGEP. He shows a great appreciation for good stories and dialogue, which suits his passions perfectly: television, movies, and graphic novels. As much as he loves the indie publishers, deep down he has always been a fan of the big two.

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‘Ruins Of The Empire’ is The True Followup to ‘The Legend Of Korra’

The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics…

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Ruins of The Empire

For every fan of The Legend of Korra, ‘Ruins of The Empire’ is a must-read.

Over five years ago, Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra ended with its fourth and final book ‘Balance.’ As Korra and Asami ventured off together into the spirit world, it was obvious that the journey may have concluded on the small screen- or rather on the network’s website after being yanked off the air- but series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were likely not going to allow their narrative to come to an indefinite close. In the same fashion as its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics.

I probably do not have to tell you this, but Dark Horse Comics has had an overall strong history with the Avatar universe. The Avatar: The Last Airbender comics from over the course of almost the last decade are nothing short of exceptional and are the next best thing for those wanting to see more of Aang and the gang. While they certainly may not always be able to achieve the best aspects of the show we grew up with due to the limited medium it has been adapted into, each arc published has both visually and textually felt like a direct follow-up to the original series in many regards with even some comics such as Team Avatar Tales filling in fun gaps during the show’s continuity. They are faithful sequels- or rather prequels in Korra’s case as the comics do connect the two shows- that every major fan of this franchise will tell you are well worth your time if you are just dying for more stories from the world of the four nations.

That being said, once The Legend of Korra was set to hit store shelves in its newly adopted format it seemed like another guaranteed hit was on the line for Nickelodeon and Dark Horse. The Legend of Korra’s first comic story arc Turf Wars, however, was not the followup most fans wanted from this show. It was undoubtedly a comic series that fans expected a lot more from as the post-Earth Empire world had tons of narrative points to explore. I’m certainly not in the minority when I say that Turf Wars was a trilogy that let me down due to its story’s focal point. Turf Wars often falls flat as it treads on a narrow line attempting to fill a justified relationship rather than focusing on telling a story well suited to the established mythologies of Avatar and Korra. The new villains that you could not sympathize with or even just enjoy for a three-book story, some odd character dialogue, questionable decisions to help move the plot forward, and ignored consequences of the show’s finale did not help the reception of these books from fans either. It is certainly a story with substantial themes and moments, but it is not what you would want from a followup tale to Book 4’s incredible closing moments.

The Legend of Korra had so much more to tell with its story that was not being explored in the comics- or at least with its first run. The writers have listened though and they have gotten themselves back on track with their newest series Ruins Of The Empire. This comic series is exactly what fans of this show wanted since the last episode aired. Not only is it the best Legend Of Korra comic so far, but it might just also be one of the best Avatar franchise comics currently available. In the same way that The Promise and The Search were real followups with answers to questions posed in Avatar: The Last Airbender’s finale, the latest story arc in The Legend of Korra’s post-finale is exactly that. Ruins Of The Empire not only explores the transition into the Earth Kingdom’s attempt at establishing a democratic system of government, but it smartly highlights the shaky aftermath of Kuvira’s surrender from both character and worldbuilding standpoints as those who hailed the great uniter quickly fell into organized chaos.

Right off the bat, the story of Ruins Of The Empire is not spotlighting one character relationship or slowly building up a new villain that is set to be dismissed with no real consequences. Korra and Asami’s lover dynamic is explored in this story arc but more appropriately in a blended storytelling fashion comparable to the source material. It unfolds exactly as you would expect an episode of the show to play out- not forced or made plot-driving as what had previously been mistakingly done. It is now implemented as something on the sidelines that has a dangerous toll on the narrative which ultimately leads to character decisions that have real consequences. Turf Wars chose to ignore the entirety of the Beifong family and the collapsing Earth Empire, despite the fact that those two subjects practically revolve around every plot point you would expect a followup of the finale to explore. The shift in focus inevitably makes for a properly developed story that is able to draw a spotlight on several subjects.

It is not just the narrative that has been correctly altered either. When it comes to the way in which the cast talks with one another and the overall look of the book, everything feels properly adjusted. For one, each character is actually here this time around and not blatantly missing. Michael Dante DiMartino really stepped up his game with Ruins of The Empire’s script that aims to draw closure with the show. It is not perfect, but it is a major step up that pushes the narrative forward rather than being stuck in still water. The questions you probably had about where characters went after the finale are tackled here. Everyone is overall done justice. As I said previously, the Avatar comics were written as well as if you could hear the characters talking and the same can be said here. If you had not read what was going on in the photo above, have a look again here below!

Ruins Of The Empire feels more akin to its source material than its predecessor run thanks to more so the art then its speech though. The art quality jump between the two is unmistakable- beyond noticeable when put side by side. It is a massive improvement that needless to say has already enhanced the post-television comic run and given it back the life it needed. Turf Wars’s covers are a complete deception to what lies inside each graphic novel. While the face value may look as appealing as the television show, adopters will quickly realize Irene Koh’s art lacked character details, expressions, and even backgrounds. It accumulated into an experience that felt more like a fan project than something from the original creators. Koh’s artwork was unbearable by any means, but it never hit a certain point of quality fans expect- especially from Dark Horse Comics, and at times it shamefully felt thematically disconnected with the Avatar universe.

The new runner-up artist Michelle Wong has done a fantastic job adapting Korra into the comic book medium. Wong’s work is miles ahead of everything Koh previously drew in Korra’s first Dark Horse outing. The jump in improvement artistically is undoubtfully perceptible based on a mere first glance at the two. Every character here feels more animated, the action is more engaging to look at, and the backgrounds are no longer completely flat and detailless. Wong deserves serious credit for her work on these books. Her dedication to the source material is something that generally falls behind in other television to comic adaptations, but she did the absolute best she can do here. The fact that she personally went out of her way and rewatched the entire series before starting to draw the artwork for this story arc just shows her dedication and care for the fans. Wong has successfully made this comic run feel as if you are watching the show again, something Turf Wars should have achieved first.

For those interested in reading the complete set of Ruins Of The Empire, Dark Horse Comics will be releasing a hardcover library edition of the full story arc on September 22nd. If you are dying in reading Korra’s latest story now, however, you can go ahead and grab volumes one through three separately in either a digital or softcover format today. For any fan of The Legend of Korra, it is without a doubt well-worth your time and money. After your television binge of both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, you will not be disappointed with this story.

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Ghosts and More in this Year’s Hellboy Winter Special

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Hellboy Winter Special

Before spring arrives, there’s still time to cozy up with the latest Hellboy Winter Special, a single anthology issue of three supernatural tales. The eponymous demonic-looking investigator features in only one story, and it’s the strongest in the collection. However, the remaining tales satisfy with their own glimpse at the occult world Hellboy inhabits.

The anthology issue opens with Hellboy’s story, “The Miser’s Gift.” Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is back to write another tale for his iconic hero, crafting a solid short story. Hellboy is a warmly familiar presence while he helps out a guy with a ghostly problem. The paranormal investigator subtly shows his depth of character as he intervenes, ranging from his matter-of-fact attitude in the face of weirdness to his ever-present undercurrent of kindness, particularly demonstrated when he tries to initially talk down the spirit causing the problem. The other characters serve their purpose, with brief glimpses of nuance. The man Hellboy helps show a nice mix of mild and genuine, and the ghost ends up with a heavy sense of melancholy that feels like a consequence of a greed-filled life. The most paper-thin character is the professor, but he moves things along with exposition well enough, and even winds up as a morbid punchline in the end. Regardless of one character’s fate, the whole cast ultimately shares a story of compassion and goodwill winning out over greed, fitting the ideal spirit of the holidays.  

Excerpt from "The Miser’s Gift" in the Hellboy Winter Special.
Hellboy gets a new case in “The Miser’s Gift.” (Writer: Mike Mignola, Artist: Mark Laszlo, Colorist: Dave Stewart.)

While Mignola writes for Hellboy again, Mark Laszlo takes care of the art this time. Mignola’s stylized and shadowy drawing for Hellboy is unquestionably the signature look of his creation, but Laszlo’s illustration is wonderful in a different way. Laszlo’s lines feel looser and sketchier, creating a warmer tone. Dave Stewart’s colors bring extra warmth, and are used to distinguish between flashbacks, the characters’ present in the ‘80s, and even past worlds literally encroaching on 1989 Budapest. Laszlo’s art helps with the border between worlds, warping the ghostly city while the buildings of 1989 are more straight. Altogether the art does feel like a good match for a winter special and a perfect fit for Mignola’s story. Laszlo and Stewart’s work even feels a little reminiscent of Peter de Sève’s illustration.

Though the remaining two stories don’t feature Hellboy, they feature other characters found in his world: fellow paranormal investigator Sarah Jewell and the Knights of St. Hagan. Jewell’s story, “The Longest Night,” is a paranormal riff on murder-mysteries that starts in media res and goes straight to figuring out the culprit. But this is a murder-mystery operating in Hellboy’s world, and even if he’s not around to carry out justice, it feels fitting that another supernatural being takes care of things—though far more viciously. Overseeing all of this is Jewell herself, whose character gets the most time to shine with masterful grace and perceptiveness.

The anthology concludes with “The Beast of Ingelheim,” arguably the weakest tale in the collection. It’s a vague and ambiguous little thing featuring the Knights of St. Hagan that may mean more to someone who knows the full continuity of Hellboy, but isn’t as accessible as the previous stories for new readers. However, towards the end, its ambiguity seems to transform into something a little more intriguing due to a twist and the realization that the ending leaves with a question—did the narrator spare or take a life?

Excerpt from "The Longest Night" in the Hellboy Winter Special.
A swift and brutal karmic payback strikes in “The Longest Night.” (Writer: Chris Roberson, Artist: Leila Del Duca, Colorist: Michelle Madsen.)

After debuting in 2016, the seasonal series is still going strong today. With a classic Hellboy vibe, a mix of murderers devoured by paranormal creatures, and self-proclaimed holy warriors chasing shadows in the woods, this year’s Hellboy Winter Special is a nice collection of stories to peruse.

Cover for Hellboy Winter Special.
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‘Avengers: Endgame’ and the Golden Easter Egg

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Aki- hiko Avengers Endgame Easter Eggs

Let’s Talk About Hiroyuki Sanada

With Deadpool 3, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness coming soon, everything is taking shape for the introduction of mutants into the MCU, yet there is one Easter egg left un-cracked from Avengers: End Game that could show how mutants have been a part of the world this entire time… enter Hiroyuki Sanada. 

During the brief scene where we catch Clint Barton, Jeremy Renner, on a murderous rampage, we found he has retired Hawkeye and taken up the mantle of Ronin. Clearly distressed about what the Yakuza have been doing and the fact that they were spared from the snap, Ronin makes quick work of all the goons, except for one, Aki- hiko (Hiroyuki Sanada). The only real take away from their brief exchange of dialogue is that Clint is as much of a villain from his new murderous persona, setting him up for his character’s arc later in the movie. But the question people have ignored has been left without a real answer, who is Akihiko and why would Marvel put him in the highest-grossing movie ever made for such a small role? 

So, who is Akihiko? Put simply, Akihiko is a nobody scientist who works for the Yakuza used in one issue, Nick Fury #7 from 2017, written by James Robinson. The plot is simple, Nick Fury Jr. goes to the moon to chase down some of the Yakuza’s Shogun Reapers, which are led by Akihiko. They are planning to finish building a cannon that can control Earth’s plate tectonics from their lunar base. On the moon’s surface, the Yakuza are piloting their War Machine like suits, the Shogun Mechas. Fury chases down the Yakuza and takes control of Akihiko’s Mecha forcing him to fire a ray at a room that decompressed it and everyone in it, Akihiko included. A tried and true, one and done issue threat. 

The question of who was Akihiko is a simple answer. Not so much the latter of why Marvel would use this character out of their endless sandbox of villains. Taking a look at the first appearance of Ronin in New Avengers #11, written by Brian Micheal Bendis, the answer may be revealed. 

The basic plot of Ronin’s first story goes like this. The hero is in Japan on the trail of the Silver Samurai who the shadowy gang we’ve seen in Daredevil and the Defenders, both on Netflix, has just sprung free along with 40 other prisoners from the government’s water jail, the Raft. The jailbreak was orchestrated by Viper, and an agent seeking to take control of the splintered and leaderless Hydra. The Japanese Yashida clan is in a similar state as Hydra with their leader, the Silver Samurai away from his duties. Viper uses the opportunity to mend rifts and create a more international alliance in organized crime. 

Backtracking to the news that Ryan Reynolds will be returning as Deadpool for the MCU confirms that at least some of the Fox X-Men franchise will be part of it as well. This puts Hiroyuki Sanada in a very good position to branch worlds considering he not only played Akihiko in Endgame but also Shingen Yashida, the Silver Samurai, in The Wolverine

Ronin Marvel Avengers

A rewatch of The Wolverine with this information fresh in memory is very telling. It includes almost all the characters of Ronin’s first appearance including the Yakuza and Viper herself. After Days of Future Past, the events of the movie would have been rewritten and these characters would still be alive. In the movie, Shingen’s father had the family company on the verge of bankruptcy and without Logan coming to Japan it very well could have happened. Shingen was ashamed of his father and wanted to distance himself from this legacy. Adding this to the fact that he already had Yakuza gang ties in the movie, it’s not a far reach to think he could have changed his identity to Akihiko and went on to pursue the sciences his family’s company started with them. 

This holds especially true when you compare these two pictures. On one side is the Silver Samurai suit from The Wolverine. The other is taken from Nick Fury #7, Akihiko’s Shogun Mecha suit. 

Marvel is known for hiding details from fans to set up future movies and this tiny Endgame moment is a perfect storm. It bridges worlds and further expands on the multi-verse and alternate timelines bringing the Silver Samurai to the universe connecting the X-Men and their gallery of villains. It sets up Viper looking to head Hydra, which very coincidently is who was head of the organization in the comic books when Sam Wilson took up the mantle of Captain America. The prisoners, broken free from the Raft, could easily include members of the Sinister Six for the next Spiderman installment. The ramifications are massive and if true would be a brilliant and believable future for the MCU. 

  • Andrew Smith 
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