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Tag Archive: Jeph Loeb


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PBS is airing a new documentary series tonight and re-broadcast October 22 focusing on the impact of comic book superheroes on America and American culture, in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.  It’s a good history lesson in the creation of the modern comic book and the development since the 1930s of the comic book art form.  Packed with interviews with key creators and industry professionals, and comic book page and TV and movie clips, it tells a history of America as much as the comic book medium.

Not surprisingly the documentary, funded by both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, focuses on U.S. comics and comic stories tied to patriotism across the past 100 years.  Written and directed by Michael Kantor, it covers how changing times is mirrored in comics, but also dictates the stories of comics, from the Great Depression, to World War II, McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Cold War in the 1960s to 1980s, the psychedelic 1960s, drugs in the 1970s, to Watergate and terrorism.

Liev Schreiber hosts Superheroes on PBS

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everything nearly ended.  Countless heroes were killed.  The Fantastic Four have disbanded.  The X-Men are gone.  Mutants are hunted as criminals.  The world still needs saving.  This is what happens next.

Released last year in a nice hardcover edition and now widely available everywhere, the oddly titled Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn is not always easy to find via electronic searches because of its clunky title.  And if you try to just ask for “that great Jeph Loeb/Frank Cho” book from last year, they may or may not know what you mean.  But take it from me, it is well worth remembering this one.

After reading last week’s prologue to the coming Avengers vs. X-Men series (Issue #0 came out last Wednesday and Issue #1 will be released early at a special pre-release party this Tuesday night), what it made me want was more Frank Cho.  In a never-dwindling stack of books to read, this New Ultimates is the one in the stack you kick yourself for not reading earlier.

By way of background, Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is a parallel universe created in 2000 to try to bring in new fans without being bogged down in 40 years of Marvel Comics Universe continuity.  Sound a little like DC’s New 52?  The Ultimate Universe is a sort of all-bets-are-off line that Marvel fans either love or hate.  As a fan of alternate history books, and as we wait for DC Comics to reveal its own new Earth 2 and Worlds Finest parallel universe series, this trade book, re-printing the Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn Issues #1-5 from 2010, is exactly the kind of story I love.

I’ll put aside Frank Cho’s brilliant art for a second and get into the story.

Jeph Loeb is one of comic book writing’s greats for a reason.  His storytelling is superb in that it is succinct enough for the comic medium yet comprehensive in its bringing in several major players and turning points in only five chapters.  Each issue/chapter is told both from a third person narrative and an internal monologue from a different key player–each of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Valkyrie, Loki and Thor.  Sometimes the stories run parallel with each other, and in other parts they require the reader to follow the two stories separately.  I rarely like switching narrators in any type of book as it usually feels like a gimmick.  In comic books, if done right, it can allow you to dig into a few characters more deeply than a third person voice by itself.

Jeph Loeb clearly poured a lot of himself into this story.  Loeb follows the thoughts of Tony Stark as he beats up himself for surviving a battle with cancer, while a kid he met named Sam did not survive.  Sam, of course, is a reference to Loeb’s own son who had died earlier of cancer, and was the subject of a popular memorial book by several DC Comics creators.  The fact that Loeb would pour such a personal story into the opening page of this book grabs the reader’s attention instantly.  Suddenly we see Loeb as Stark, and it somehow allows us to understand the darkness behind Stark’s personality.  As Stark is chatting with Hawkeye, a group of the New Defenders appear for a brawl.  Captain America shows up with two great characters, Zarda, who Hawkeye believes to be crazy yet is a goddess in her own right, and Valkyrie, who we later learn is a typical girl next door that ends up coerced into a life of a would-be superhero.

This humorous assemblage of repeating/mirror panels is reminiscent of Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows work.

Valkyrie is central to this story, as Thor’s lover, she cannot get over losing him.   He resides in Asgard, his exiled destination for sacrificing everything–including his life–in a prior battle.  We meet yp with Thor in Asgard, trying to persuade Hela to let him return.  She agrees, but for a great price that he pays–without much coercion–and with a result that will likely be played out in later series.

For Frank Cho fans, this world includes Shanna of the jungle and Ka-Zar, their twin tigers, and Black Panther.  They are first to confront the series’ villain, Loki, and another enchantress named Amora, with a flying dragon/dinosaur beastie invading Manhattan.  As much as readers will be blown away by Cho’s pantheon of women heroes like only he draws them, including Ms. Marvel’s Carol Danvers, Valkyrie, Zarda, Amora, the enchantress, and Shanna, his male superheroes are superb, too, and Iron Man and Captain America in particular have rarely been rendered artistically any better.  Also look for cameos by the Black Knight and Power Man.

Beautiful original art page by Frank Cho.

We encounter a brooding Captain America, who inadvertently pushes Valkyrie and Zarda into the manipulative trance of Amora (Zarda is a ringer for Cho’s Brandy and Amora for Cho’s Jen, both from his Liberty Meadows series).  Rounding out a triumvirate of super-powered women under the control of Loki and Amora, Carol Danvers, now director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  is pulled in to devastate the few heroes that remain: Iron Man, Captain America, and Hawkeye.  Readers are treated to several poster-worthy splash pages from Cho.  And hints abound in the series as well as in-jokes.  Cho’s use of eyes and expressions tell stories themselves that, in retrospect, were giveaways easily passed over on a first read.  Cho’s in-jokes are peppered throughout the book, in wall paintings and coffee house menus, in backgrounds other artists would have left as filler space.

Throughout this tale we follow the tragic story of the rise of Valkyrie, actually the human Barbara Norriss, whose entire life–as she sees it–is a lie.  The theme “be careful what you wish for” is repeated throughout Loeb’s story.  Valkyrie’s story is emotion-filled and poignant.  If you are looking for a great story along the lines of Wagner’s Ring fantasy, this story would fit right in.

Loeb sums up the ruthless Loki very well as Loki compares his and brother Thor’s story to Cain and Abel, and Esau and Jacob, “Unlike those brothers, however, I don’t want to actually KILL Thor.  I just want to @#$% with him.”  Consistent with the Norse god stories, and Loki in the Marvel Universe, this reveals a lot about his motivations and the pages that follow.  The final chapter, shown in part through Thor’s voice, wraps the story arc up nicely.

For some reason to me this image seems very similar to portraits of Batgirl done by Adam Hughes.

Back to Cho’s art–although we almost take for granted Cho’s pin-up worthy splash pages, his action scenes stand up to anyone else’s in their own right.  His women in battle have some similarities to Adam Hughes 1940s style women-focused cover work (like his current Batgirl covers) that I have not recognized before.  The numerous characters go through several emotions, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, and his eyes and mouths, wrinkles, frown lines, etc. convey much–he really makes it all look so easy.  One final note:  A few of these covers were mentioned earlier here in our review of the best covers of Frank Cho.

The appendix includes a great color and black and white gatefold of alternate covers and a sketchbook of Frank Cho pencil work from this series.  Overall you’ll be hard pressed to find a more interesting adventure story coupled with stellar artwork than Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn.

Review by C.J. Bunce

An unprecedented volume was released this month: Batman: Hush Unwrapped, an exclusive and rare original art look at an entire comic book mega-hit series.  Kudos to DC Comics for not only releasing a complete compilation of a pencils-only view of the comic book process, but for releasing the one and only Batman: Hush mini-series by the current premier Batman artist, Jim Lee.  For the diehard Jim Lee fan, or the hundreds of thousands of fans that bought Batman: Hush in its original single issue form or trade paperback compilation formats, it will be hard not to rip the shrink wrap off the book standing right there in the bookstore.

Batman: Hush was originally printed in the ongoing Batman series as Issues #608-619, written by Jeph Loeb.  It is the story of Batman sleuthing out a criminal called Hush.  Everyone who is anyone in the Batman storyline makes an appearance in the series.  The art is top notch and is what propelled Jim Lee forward as the key go-to guy for Batman work.  Not since Neal Adams re-imagined Batman in 1969 has anyone had this kind of impact on the character.  After Hush came out I stood in line for an hour at a Midwest convention to get Jim to scrawl his signature across the covers of my own stack of the series.  He was so busy he hardly looked up the entire day.  Jim has been the featured talent at each comic show he has appeared at since.  Hush is a series that was well hyped before I read it, but it is the rare occurrence in the past several years where the hype was warranted.

From a story standpoint, the inner-thought narration of Batman as he progresses through the first page will have anyone hooked immediately.  There is a great surprise, a big reveal, and a pay-off that although not perfect, is still worth the voyage.  Beyond Jeph Loeb’s solid writing, however, is the consistently brilliant panels rendered by Jim Lee.  You will not look at a boot tread the same way again.

But if you haven’t read Batman: Hush yet, don’t read this new edition.  This edition is for the diehard fan that darned-near knows the original series by heart.  It includes every page of art before it was inked, before color was added.  It does keep the lettering, so you can still read and follow the entire storyline as with the original published edition.  For the first time reader, check out either Batman: Hush in paperback, or in the two volume hardcover edition (Batman: Hush Vol. 1 or Batman: Hush, Vol. 2), or the oversized Absolute Batman: Hush, which is coming out in December, but available for pre-order now.  Again, there is a good reason why this book has been reprinted so many times.  It’s that good.

If you are an artist or art enthusiast, you can’t do much better than study the style and strokes of a master at his best.  As a study piece, I can see art classes assigning this book as required reference material.  Mark my words, this will be in a college bookstore next semester (post here if you see it happen first!).  If so, it would be in good company, as Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was regularly found as an economic text book in colleges back in the 1990s.

Stepping back from looking at this work in this seemingly stark form as a study piece or target of critique and analysis, the black and white treatment of the Hush story is a new view of the story in its own right.  The pencil work, along with some periodic pages in shades of gray watercolor, has a certain film noir aspect to it that is quite appropriate.  The Dark Knight Detective in his own film noir thriller itself is a great concept.

I for one hope the Unwrapped series concept catches on.  Even non-hero original art pages from Jim Lee easily fetch a minimum of $1,000 per page today.  Other than catching an artist at a convention who happens to have kept his entire series (good luck finding that!), you’re not going to get access to something like this any other way.  A series that reproduces other great storylines and great artists would be an entry point for most of us into the world behind the scenes of comic book creation.  The hundreds of hours of exhaustive efforts to create such a work are evident in every stroke, in every panel.  At $39.99 retail this type of book won’t appeal to the masses, but if enough uber-fans pick this one up maybe DC Comics, and other publishers, will issue more compendiums in this format in the future.  To quote the other famous comic book Lee, “Excelsior!”

Review by C.J. Bunce

I am a big fan of Jim Lee’s Hush series, which appeared as Issues 608-619 of the Batman title.  Jeph Loeb’s story and Jim Lee’s pencils, along with Alex Sinclair’s use of color and Scott Williams’s inks made a for a classic and definitive Batman story.  Both Loeb and Lee’s artistic influence can be seen with the feel, tone, even the inner thought fonts and speech boxes, of the new Batman in DC’s new 52, in both Justice League #1 and last week’s release, Detective Comics #1.

Detective Comics, back to issue 27 in the early 1940s, has always focused on the Caped Crusader’s real superpower (actually the absence of any superpower, to be correct), that of sleuth–as a modern Sherlock Holmes.  The modern Batman since at least Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One has remained a modern twist on Holmes, without all the necessary quirkiness of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective.  A brilliant series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who is filming the role of Bilbo Baggins in next year’s The Hobbit from Peter Jackson), recently began airing from the BBC.  Titled Sherlock, that series, created by the great Stephen Moffat of the Doctor Who fifth series fame, will be reviewed here later.  Like the modern look at Moffat’s Holmes, you would expect similar treatment with a modern Batman in the new DC 52.

And writer/artist Tony Daniel and co-writer Ryan Winn do not fail to deliver on that expectation.  Not only is the new Batman in Detective Comics a smart, master detective fluent in modern sleuthing techniques, the villainy he must face is disturbingly real.  Back in the 1970s, true crime and real-life detective mags were everywhere, and they often had uncensored, shocking photos.  The new Detective Comics seems almost inspired by this old sub-genre.  Is the Joker more vile than ever, or no different from his past psychotic nature?  The art seems to be pushing the bounds here and the new Detective Comics is not for the squeamish.  If there are new DC Comics titles directed toward kids then this title definitely is drawn for the mature viewer.  In one panel, the Joker’s face has been surgically removed by a new villain, the Dollmaker, and the remains are left hanging on the wall.  The result is as grotesque and grisly as it sounds.  As the Joker’s characteristic insane laugh and killer jokes are how we’d expect to see the Joker, the treatment here hangs at the precipice of being over the top.

Beyond the pursuit of the crime element we get short shapshots of a classic Alfred Pennyworth, as true to his past form as ever.  Commissioner James Gordon is also the class-act we would hope him to be.  Readers can’t really have enough Commissioner Gordon, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more coordination between him and Batman.  Once we saw Gary Oldman provide such a definitive performance as the unflinching cop in The Dark Knight, fans just can’t get enough of this character.

As Bruce Wayne, our hero is consistent with past Batman and Detective Comics stories.  One thing is for certain, if DC Comics is changing the face of certain superheroes in its universe, Batman is the same as ever.  A very good thing for such a key figure in the new universe who is featured in nearly a dozen titles.  Will the Dark Knight continue in this title to be this dark, bleak and gritty?  We’ll check out the next issue to find out next month.   But if the story sticks to its current grisly path this may not be an ongoing ‘zine for this reader.