The "Rock Star" of Comics
Wednesday's are a special day for me. As many of you know that's the day of the week when new comic books arrive at the stores and I collect my weekly stack spending several hours that should be devoted to school reading instead enjoying the stories of men-in-tights, barbarians and Jedi.
A bit of interesting news today is that Saskatoon resident, and 8th Street Comics regular, Tom Grummet (Teen Titans) has signed an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics. It's a great opportunity for Tom, but a bit of shame sense I first encountered his work years ago with DC Comics characters like Superboy and the Teen Titans. Still it's a big accomplishment for an underrated artist who's been a comics mainstay for over 15 years now.
The move puts Tom into company with many of the superstar artists and writers in comics today being snatched up by the Big Two (Marvel and DC). We're in the middle of what I would call a "creator driven market" at this time. There was a time you could put any old artist or writer on a popular book (like an X-men title or Superman) and you were guarenteed to sell copies. Instead we're moving to an industry where loyalties are linked to creators and it's not uncommon to see fans following a particular writer or artist rather than a character. I know this has been true for me.
The one writer that I've gotten really excited about in the last two years is Mark Millar (The Ultimates, MK: Spider-man). Millar has been called the "Rock Star" of comic books. He's upset the establishment with his over-the-top storytelling and lack of fear to do something new and different with cherished characters. Where he differs from past masters (like Alan Moore or Frank Miller) is that he never lets his desire to write "adult" comics get in the way of his sense of fun and silliness. His writing in books like The Ultimates helped coin the term "widescreen panelling" for the cinematic style of his stories and pacing. Millar loves to talk, making outrageous claims about his and others work. At comic book conventions Millar (a Scotsman who still resides in Scotland) is notorious as a party animal, adding drunken benders to the list of things that comic book fans aren't normally know for. All in all, the guy is the closest thing that comic books have to a "rock star" personality.
On top of all that he's written two of my favourite comics of the last two years. The first is The Ultimates. For anyone who isn't familiar with the concept of Marvel's "Ultimate" line, the idea is to reimagine their biggest characters in today's modern world as realistically as possible. The Ultimates is the "ultimate" version of The Avengers, complete with Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. However the Ultimates, also known as the the United States Government Super Human Initiative program, is complex and relevant look at the concept of a government super human team. In The Ultimates the team is brought together by Nick Fury (portrayed in the series as a Samuel L. Jackson-type) to face the modern threats of terrorism (in the "ultimate" world, it is Magneto and not Bin Laden who poses a threat to human kind), alien invasion and to serve as the newest arsenal in the United States military. In the series Bush (yes, he's in it) isn't afraid to weld Captain America in Iraq, but even being the most famous team in the world after saving the world from alien invasion doesn't stop the team from being criticized, from a public afraid of these superpowered beings, and even from within. Thor is a northern European environmental activist, who believes he is the Norse god of thunder and he is less than comfortable being seen as an American lacky. If this all sounds like a crazy bunch of crap, it isn't. It's compelling, nail biting drama, action and emotion. Millar balances the human elements of the characters against the fantastic and world spanning backdrop better than any Hollywood blockbuster. Ultimates is well worth the read and I'm willing to lend to the first trade paperback to anyone interested.
Secondly, and the reason I was so excited today, is Millar's creator owned and independent title, Wanted, a six-issue mini-series that is comic books equivilent to Fight Club. Imagine a world where superheroes once existed, but the villians all teamed up and destroyed them all, brainwashing the world into believing they only existed in comic books and cartoons. Then imagine one day you wake up from your dead end job, your cheating girlfriend, your bitch of a boss, only to find that you are one of the heirs to the supervillian empire. What do you do? How do you enjoy yourself in a world where you can do anything, and I mean anything? Wanted is a twisted, nihilistic, male-fantasy powertrip that pushes the boundaries of what's been allowed in a mainstream comic book and I loved it! The result is one of the most intense pieces of fantasy writing I've read in years. Some are describing Wanted as a "supervillian Watchmen" and I'll admit it is storytelling on that level of concept and execution. The final issue came out today, after a long delay, but it was worth it. It only cements Millar as one of my favourite creators in fantasy fiction today. Anyway, Millar comes highly recommended to any fans of superheroes who are interested in a new and bold twist on the genre.