Coloring Between The Lines: Mat Lopes

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Hello Revuers! It’s time for another exciting segment of Coloring Between the Lines. Where we interview a Color Artist who is making an impact in the industry today. This time we have the fantastic Mat Lopes with us. Mat was gracious enough to answer some of the burning questions we here at Deja.Revue had for him. Mat is among the elite in the game today working on such titles as Star-Lord annual and Batgirl. So without further ado.

 

  • How long have you been a colorist?

Well, if you mean as a professional, the first time I published was in December of 2011, but my first paid, regular job was only in July of 2012, so I guess that makes a five years old career now. However, I think I’m coloring on my own since 2009.

 

  • Was it what you wanted to be when you were a kid?

No, I wanted to be soccer player, hahaha! As a Brazilian guy, I can say we’re not all soccer fanatics around here, but I most definitely am. Art came a little later in my life and for a long time I just thought of it as a hobby. I didn’t even know my job existed until I was 17 or so!

 

 

  • What’s the first comic book series you really got into?

You know, I started reading comic books later than usual for a comic professional. I’m a 90’s kid and, in my childhood, mangá was so much popular and easier to find here that I only discovered comics as a teenager. I can’t remember exactly which series I got into, I just remember being blown away by a whole new universe and all those colors, so I just started read everything I could. But if I have to name some titles, definitely Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman and such.

 

  • Do you prefer superhero comics or other genres?

Hard to say. I think right now I’m reading more other genres than superhero, but I love them both!

 

  • Who is your favorite superhero?

Batman.

 

  • Who is your favorite non superhero character?

That’s a tough one! I actually don’t think I have one.

 

  • What’s your favorite series that’s not a superhero series?

Hahah, that’s a little lame, but I gotta go with a comedy mangá called Love Hina. So funny!

 

  • What is your process like for coloring?

First I get everything I have available and take a really good look at it. And by that I mean script, notes, concepts, references, pages etc.

After that, it depends. If we are starting something new, I really like to talk to the writer and artist and discuss about the book itself and everything that goes in it. It’s great to chat about the story, the genre, the rhythm, the approach of the art. I really try to understand what the artists and writers will be trying to say and find out how can I help to make it even clearer. That way I start to build my palette , my style of render and my whole approach in my head.

Once everything is clear to the whole team and me, I’ll send the pages to my flatters and after they’re done I start to work on the pages.

Of course many times we can’t have this whole process because of the deadline, or because it’s a fill in or just a one shot. In that case I’ll just see some references and go with my feeling.

 

  • How do you choose a color palette?

Complementing last answer, I’ll have to consider the specificities of the scene: If it’s day or night, if it’s natural or artificial light, what’s the mood of the whole scene, what’s important to emphasize, the planes I have to separate. After figuring this all out, I have my palette!

 

 

  • What’s your favorite project you’ve ever worked on?

Hahaha, I can’t choose that! One of the great things about being a colorist is to work with so many artists with different styles on different projects! So for me often is apples and oranges, and I love all of them.

 

  • Who are some of your favorite colorists in the industry today?

Wow, there are so many great people out there, but I think some of my favorites today would be Dave Stewart, Justin Ponsor, Matt Wilson, Nathan Fairbarn and Elizabeth Breitweiser, not in any particular order!

 

  • Is there anyone you draw inspiration from?

Of course! But not just one person or even one medium. I get inspired by a lot of things, such films, paintings and illustrations of any kind or style. And of course, comics as well.

 

  • I’ve personally really enjoyed your work on Batgirl. Color plays an important role in that book. How did you build the aesthetic for that book?

Thank you!

I tried to match Chris Wildgoose’s style for the render, so nothing too detailed. And since it’s a light, teen kinda of book, I keep a light and colorful palette for the most part of the story.

 

  • What’s the biggest difference between working for the big two and on your indie titles?

I don’t see much difference, to be honest. I mean, the editors who contact me know what kind of styles I usually do, and after we sort which directions we’re going, I have a lot of freedom on the book. Of course sometimes they ask for changes on certain things here and there, but I’d say that in 90% of the times their suggestions works very well and make my work look better!

 

  • You have a very distinctive visual style, how did you cultivate that aesthetic?

I don’t know. I never tried to cultivate one style specifically; I always trained and studied very hard to match my colors with as many different art styles as possible. First because of the necessity: since I was trying to be a professional, in my head my chances would be better if I could color “everyone” in the industry. So while I practiced over artists like Ivan Reis and Eddy Barrows, I also tried to be a good match for guys like Rafael Albuquerque, Matteo Scalera and others. I think I learned a lot from never repeating the same style over the same artists. “My style” definitely came after I started to work regularly. With the experience I was acquiring I started to discover more about me as an artist, which things I was better at, what I liked doing the most, and that kind of thing. After that I think I just focused more on my “interest area”.

But you know, I still love coloring a lot of different styles! It’s like ice cream: my favorite may be chocolate, but that’s no reason not to taste all the other flavors! Hahah.

 

Next I’m going to ask you a series of Either Or questions. Ready? Ok, go!

 

  • Star Wars or Star Trek

Star Wars.

 

  • Coffee or Tea

Coffee every day.

 

  • Batman or Superman

Bats!

 

  • Wolverine of spider-man?

Our Friendly Neighborhood Spidey.

 

  • Noir or Horror comics?

Horror

 

  • Burritos or coneys?

Burritos

 

  • Where’s your favorite place to pick up a burrito or a coney when you’re at cons?

I’ve never been on a US convention, so I can’t really tell! Hahah. In here they don’t usually have them.

 

  • What’s your favorite convention?

Comic Con Experience, which happens in Brazil and it’s amazing!

 

  • What would be your dream collaboration?

I have some artist’s I’d love to work with, like Sean Murphy, Chris Samnee, Rafael Albuquerque, Olivier Coipel and Bilquis Evely. These last two I already worked with, but only on small stuff! I want to color so much more of them, hahaha.

 

  • If you weren’t a comic book artist what would be your career?

I would probably work with technology, since that was what I was studying before my career on comics started to get on tracks. Programming, most likely.

 

  • Who are some of your favorite artists to work with?

Luckly I already worked with a lot of great guys like Bilquis Evely, Felipe Watanabe, Martín Morazzo, Chris Wildgoose, Olivier Coipel, Leonardo Romero, Niko Walter, Vic Malhotra…

 

  • Who are some of your favorite writers to work with?

William Prince , Hope Larson, Sean Mackiewicz, Matthew Rosenberg, …

 

  • Who’s your favorite character to color?

Probably Robin (Damian) or Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), they have such cool costumes!

 

  • What would be a dream series for you to work on?

I think the creative team speaks louder to me than the series itself, but it would be really cool to work on Batman.

 

  • As the comic book industry moves more digital do you feel like there’s been a shift in the industry to recognize the importance of Color Artist?

I think that more than tools for coloring, our digital age has given voice to the professionals behind a comic book. Suddenly  it’s a lot easier to hear from creators so it’s easier to follow them and their work, especially if they are united for a cause, like cover credits and royalties . I think it’s only natural to recognize and respect someone once they are not in the shadows anymore. But yeah, I’m not doing this for that long, but I can already tell the difference from when I started coloring, from fans to editors and even reviewers. Things are not perfect, but there is definitely an improvement regarding color artists (look, we are artists too, now!).

 

  • Do you have anything coming out soon that we should keep an eye out for?

Yes! In fact, the only thing I’m working regularly that you can read right now is Batgirl, from DC. But a new series for Skybound just got announced, it’s called Gasolina and it’s written by Sean Mackiewicz with Niko Walter on the art duty and it will be coming out in Setember ! Also, I’m working on new project with the creators of The Electric Sublime, William Prince and Martín Morazzo. Finally, I’m also coloring a book for Marval that I cannot talk about it, but keep your eyes open, you’ll hear all about it very soon.

 

  • Thank you for your time Mat, I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Looking forward to your great work in the future.

Thank you very much!

 

 

Recommended Reading: Richard McGuire’s Here

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Richard McGuire’s Here imagines, in the pages of a comic, the same thing that I often have: what happened here, in this spot – our house, our town, the grocery store, the lake, the highway – one hundred years ago, one thousand years ago, one hundred thousand years ago? What did it look like? Who, or what, stood in the same spot as I do now, in the year 2016, on the brink of the year 2017? What did it look like before Europeans set foot on these shores? What did it look like before any humans lived here at all? Who lived here? Fell in love here? Died here?

Looking out from my own window, I often imagine what people have stood in the same spot as I do, looking up into the sky, or down onto the yard which stretches out to a small lake. And it is not only at home that I think this, but at work, or when I travel as well.

I do not believe this to be a terribly common type of thinking – or at least, it does not border on obsession for most people – but regardless, McGuire’s beautiful book, as all one’s favorite books do, feels as if it were written directly for me, personally.

The book takes place viewed from one angle. Often, this view shows us a living room. Sometimes it is painted different colors. A year – 1957, for instance – is set in the top left corner. But then other windows open in the living room. Some of these boxes show us other times, with other people – or maybe the same people, only aged – in the living room. Other boxes show us a forest. Or a view of another house, up to the right, in the distance. Some show Native Americans trading with European colonizers. Some show dinosaurs. Or dancing. Or melting ice cream. Or family disputes.

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McGuire orchestrates these scenes in a way that sometimes seems random, only to have the various random instances begin to line up, to harmonize, in a kind of symphony of time. He has taken brief moments from the years and years of time that have passed here, in this spot, and given them meaning through their mosaic juxtaposition with other, disconnected moments. Divorced from the context of their time, these moments gain force and sublimity when placed alongside other, disconnected images because they establish a kind of fraternity between all these people, and all these slices of time, which are separated by degrees on the linear spectrum of space-time. Looping back and forth between past, present, and future, McGuire demonstrates the connectedness of everything not through some corny anecdote about all these people being related, or all of them remembering everything that has happened in this spot (they surely don’t, as they are attached, like all of, primarily to their own existence) but through the simplicity of shared, finite space which stands in contrast to the infinite march of time.

McGuire illustrates the book to reflect this. The living room is solid, blocks of color and definite lines. But the people who move through it are often fuzzy, not quite defined. And the further into the past we go, the more the people, and the space itself, begin to blur. The space itself (sans living room) becomes a lawn with a scribbled house in the distance. Then, further back, a forest, which becomes murkier and murkier as we are transported further into the past, until it becomes primordial ooze, ill-defined space, but still our space, the space we see when we look into the living room. In the future, the house is gone. Overtaken by the ocean. Then dried out, but unlivable. Then slowly but surely, life emerges again.

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A late foray into the future: where a group of tourists enter the frame, led by a guide who begins to explain some customs of the 21st century – the carrying of wallets and keys, etc. – and then uses a device which gives the onlookers a view of the past, a view not dissimilar from the one McGuire has given us in the pages of his comic. This breaks, somewhat, the spell of the book – as if McGuire is trying to explain the magic of these windows into the past and future. For a moment, the imaginative and metaphysical experience of watching the pages of time flip, seemingly at random, is understood as merely a function of some future device, meant to intrigue bored tourists. But then that window collapses, and the chorus of voices, the painting of rooms, the noise of television and radios, the waves of future seas all come crashing in again overwhelming the tourists (of which we are now one) with the weight of time and the countless lives lived in these brief windows into the past and future.

McGuire’s book is a kind of miracle in that I cannot imagine it taking any other form. He uses the medium of comics to do something only comics can do – utilizing the boxy frames so often associated with comics to stunning effect. It is an elegy and a celebration of time and space and the moments we find together in the madness of the here and now, and the moments that led up to this one, and the infinite moments that will follow our forgetting.

 

Every Comic Book Movie (Ever): Doctor Strange (feat. Some Thought on the State of the Comic Book Film)

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There is another Marvel movie out, in case you had not heard, and while Andrew and I will discuss Doctor Strange in depth on the next episode of the podcast, I wanted to use this space to write about the film as it relates to the larger world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This will be a sort of diagnosis (ahem), if you will.

In case you are sensitive to this sort of thing, there will most assuredly be spoilers.

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Where are we now?

It has been eight years since Iron Man stormed movie screens and kicked off what was then the risky, uncertain endeavor of a universe of connected, but parallel films. The gamble has more than paid off for both Marvel Studios, and their parent company, Disney. One can argue over many things concerning these films, but it is impossible to deny that they have been hugely successful and that there has never been anything quite like this. The idea of launching groups of “solo” films which would then connect in The Avengers remains ambitious, and despite the many copycats, and my own relative ambivalence toward the Marvel films, no one has pulled the idea off more successfully.

In fact, no one else who has tried has really pulled it off yet. Sony had an ambitious interconnected universe planned around the success of The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, but the disappointing box office of the latter has led to a partnership between Sony and Disney to bring a new Spiderman into the MCU fold. The X-Men films have never quite branched out in the same way the MCU has. Despite a convoluted time-travel plot to try and simultaneously launch sequels to the X-Men films of the 2000s while rebooting them, the franchise has yielded only a few Wolverine-centric entries and Deadpool, whose success may push the franchise into MCU territory, or may prove a blip on the radar. Then there is the Fantastic Four universe which exploded on the runway. And to keep with the metaphor, we have DC, who, after backing the successful and often audacious Batman films of Christopher Nolan, has had to hit the reset button and build the plane while it’s in the air with Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and the upcoming Wonderwoman and Justice League – which may be the DCU’s last real hope to compete at Marvel’s level.

I am not even saying most of these Marvel films have been particularly good (they haven’t, in my opinion), but the fact that the whole enterprise, eight years on, continues to grow and expand and remains successful financially is impressive, and a testament to the model that Marvel has built. This model is a kind of hybrid of the way Marvel’s comics wing operates, and the Golden Age of Hollywood studio filmmaking. I will be the first to admit that responding to my broadest criticism of these films – that they lack a distinct aesthetic vision from film to film and bring nothing new to the art of cinema – would likely make them a less successful corporate endeavor. But with Doctor Strange, it appears that Marvel may, at least, be searching for a middle ground – a way forward.

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The Doctor is in: Doctor Strange as remedy

The thing about perpetuating a franchise for nearly a decade is that ten years is a very long time – actors age or drop out, technology changes, sequels start to yield diminishing returns. One of the benefits of the Marvel system is that, while they have produced 14 films up to this point, they are not all direct sequels. Marvel can tell new-ish stories that sort-of stand alone while still tying them into the brand. For a while, these stories were all Avengers-centric, but in an effort to expand, and potentially modulate its universe, Marvel, beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy, started expanding its (already large) cast and plot strands. Next came Ant-Man. And now we have Doctor Strange. And while each of these films orbit the Avengers, they also try to inject some new blood into the years long saga of the Avengers Initiative.

On one level, Doctor Strange accomplishes this task – it introduces a new hero who, thinking purely in terms of plot, is the type that could lead an Avengers film at some point (Robert Downey Jr. isn’t going to stick around forever). But much like Guardians of the Galaxy introduced more hard sci-fi elements to the MCU, Doctor Strange introduces a new dimension of sorcery and magic which has been essentially untouched in the MCU.

And the film really rips the viewer right into this world. The first fight scene has the dual qualities of being both interesting to look at, and not overstaying its welcome. There is no expositional dialogue explaining exactly what is happening. Just a theft and a chase. Here is a villain. Here is a hero. Here are some buildings getting folded.

As interesting and effective as this sequence is, it is completely dwarfed by the first interaction between Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One and Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular Doctor in which she removes Strange’s soul from his body and sends him flying through multidimensional space and the astral plane. The film is a surrealist, mind-melting trip. Director Scott Derrickson flexes his horror chops here, bringing genuinely memorable, and grotesque, images to the MCU. There is nothing in any of these films like Cumberbatch’s damaged fingers growing more fingers which continue to grow more fingers. It is a fascinating and show-stopping sequence in a world of films that could use much more of that. And while I have seen much stranger things on film before (pick any David Lynch film you like), it struck me while watching in the theater that most people who watch these films have not. For that alone, I am grateful for this film.

While Doctor Strange stretches some of the visual boundaries of the MCU, it also seems to make some oblique nods to the problems and critiques levied at past films. The climactic sequence contains the two most notable. First, instead of a city-destroying ending (of which we have, by now, seen more than enough to make them boring), Strange reverses the damage wrought on Hong Kong. In backwards-motion, the city is slowly put back together, until it is stopped mid-stream, allowing for some interesting shots of civilians frozen in time before the moment of terror. The sequence is a welcome reprieve from the expected endings of comic-book cinema fare.

Second, and this may be entirely unintentional, though no less notable for it, Strange uses a bizarre, Sisyphean method of saving the day. He traps himself and Dormammu, the film’s barely-defined villain, in a time loop in which they must relive the same ten seconds or so of Dormammu destroying Strange. The time loop is meant to eventually wear down the villain and force him to bargain as, in the loop, he cannot commence with world conquering, and must be content to merely crush Strange over and over, hoping for a different result. One could cynically read this as the way in which Marvel slowly grinds down audiences, delivering essentially the same scenario film after film until we wear down and give into the whole enterprise. Less cynically, one could read it as the director’s hopeful vision of breaking away from the relentless Marvel style of filmmaking and trying to craft something more personal and cinematic.

Doctor Strange cannot help but get tripped up in the Marvel net, however.

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The Doctor is out: Doctor Strange as symptom

The first sign of trouble was when Edgar Wright left Ant-Man so late in the game over “creative differences.” Ideally, these are the kinds of difference you resolve (or don’t) before shooting begins, when a director and studio are forming a joint vision for what the film should be. Marvel choosing an offbeat and well-respected director like Wright was a good sign that they would be expanding the ways in which these stories could be told, parting ways with him was a sign that Marvel/Disney, as a corporate entity, still could not resist calling some major shots even on a smaller off-beat entry like Ant-Man. Ant-Man ended up being fine, I guess – at least, it performed to expectations at the box office, which left Doctor Strange on the horizon as the film that could potentially shake things up.

But the film is tasked with doing so much that we have seen before. It’s an origin story after all.

So we have Strange as narcissistic but genius surgeon, brought down by his own hubris, unable to save himself. Here is the motive. He gets in a car wreck. Here is the inciting event. He has a vague love interest in Rachel McAdams’ character who is so poorly drawn that she is almost invisible in the film. Popping up now and again as a plot convenience to motivate or challenge the hero. Like Tony Stark (or, at times, Bruce Wayne), Strange is not particularly likable. I am still not convinced that Strange, with his High Laurie-in-House accent ever quite crosses the threshold into endearing self-absorption, like Stark – and I certainly never once found myself hoping he would find a way to fix his hands.

There is so little time for him to have a satisfying arc in this new and magical world which, despite the amount of time spent explaining the way the magic works, remains vague and borderline nonsensical. There seems to be no particular reason why these people can bend the world into Escher-like contortions (or Inception squared, if you prefer) other than that it looks cool – and the boring orange sparks the conjure out of thin air which form their portals and weapons do not even have that luxury – which would be perfectly acceptable if 90% of the characters’ dialogue in the middle act of the film was more than just droning on about how all this stuff is supposed to work and what it is supposed to mean.

There is also a persistent visual problem which the MCU (and really, most comic book films) has yet to solve. The long history of most of these characters gives a wide range of visual representations to choose from, but they are all, of course, two-dimensional. The trick is in translating these (often iconic) flat, static images into cinematic and dynamic ones. Marvel’s default response has been to simply render these classic images in 3D, mostly avoiding any radical redesign. For some characters, this approach works well (Iron Man) for others, the silliness which is less apparent in a drawing on a page becomes absurd when exaggerated into reality and placed on the body of a living, moving, breathing person (Loki’s helmet). This tactic is popular outside of Marvel as well and usually results in all kinds of useless fabric geometry from which few heroes have been spared – Captain America, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and Black Panther have all fallen victim. Then there is the issue of masks. Cowls in particular. These look fine in comics – movies are another story. It took Nolan three films to get a cowl that didn’t make Christian Bale look like he was in a neck brace; Captain America is more persuasive as a hero when the mask is off; and I cannot even make it through commercials of CW’s The Flash without laughing at that supremely dumb mask he is wearing.

Doctor Strange opts for kaleidoscopic, Dali-esque surrealism in the early sequence I have already lauded in the space of this piece, but when it comes to staging the final confrontation with the film’s big bad, Dormammu, in the Dark Dimension, the film loses its nerve. The design of the Dark Dimension draws inspiration from nebulas and visual representations of neurons, but fails to convert these interesting touchstones into compelling cinema. The result is a sea of muddy blacks and blues with occasional neon bursts. There is also a geographic problem in that the characters never have any tangible relation to the ill-defined world around them. There is never a moment where Cumberbatch does not look like he is on a big soundstage surrounded by green screen. The close ups draw a stark line between the real fabric of his clothes and the computer simulated fantasia around him. The long shots turn him into a CGI blob amidst a sea of other, larger CGI blobs.

Consider these four shots from inside the Dark Dimension:

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Now consider this single panel from the comic:

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Whereas the film opts for nebulous blobs, the comic goes for more geometric psychedelics. And the colors in the comic may be more subdued, but they are better defined and, in fact, help to define the impossible space of the dark dimension, making them more effective visually. In the illustration, we can place Strange firmly within the space, even if the limits of the space itself fade into impossible orange. We can trace a path along distant strands of green and pink over a cut and paste background of stars and tracings of orbits which render our three dimensional galaxy as two dimensional wallpaper in the theoretically four dimensional space of the Dark Dimension. Despite being a static image on a page, the illustration is more interesting because it gives the eye so many possible paths to take while it simultaneously establishes the heroes place in all of it. It is a tough thing to do, but frustratingly, the film mostly does it in the first sequence between the Ancient One and Strange, and descends into visual blandness at its dramatic climax.

There have been creative and beautiful solutions to the problems of translating comics to cinema. Whether it is Guillermo del Toro’s intricate, handmade Hellboy films, Christopher Nolan’s nü-noir Batman, or the brilliant choice of putting Hugh Jackman in a white tank top instead of bright yellow spandex. One of the most interesting things Marvel has done of late is give the new Spiderman a classic, flat look to his costume that looks straight out of the comic. While it is incongruous with the copiously over-textured Power Rangers look of the Avengers, it is preferable and memorable. It draws directly from the iconography of the character. It is a literal translation, but one that works as cinema.

And that is what I want more than anything out of these films: good cinema. Comic book adaptions aren’t going away anytime soon. If they are going to stick around, they should push at the boundaries they have erected for themselves. There are some signs of that.

It’s odd, I went into the theater the other night hoping that Doctor Strange would provide the sign. It ultimately did not. But I did get my sign. And it came crashing in wearing a white tank top with Johnny Cash playing in the background:

Recommended Reading: From Hell

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Welcome to October here at Deja.Revue. If you have not noticed already, I tend to be a fan of the creepy, the weird, and the left-field in comics. So I though October would be a perfect time to indulge those predilections even more than I already have. Horror, as a genre in comics, has always been just off to the side. Less flashy than superheroes, and something of a mutant child of crime comics, the genre has a breadth and depth which is, in my opinion, almost unmatched. I do not hope to cover the whole diverse range of the genre in the coming month, but I do hope to give you a survey of some of my favorite works on page and screen. If you would like to read further, Paste has an excellent list of horror comics you should read. For further reading on the history of horror comics, check out Mike Howlett’s essay in the back of this excellent horror anthology that I will not have the time or space to write about this month. If all goes according to plan, I will have a column each Monday for you, culminating, fittingly, with Halloween at the end of the month. Don’t forget to turn off the lights.

It has been three or four weeks since I put down the heavy copy of Alan Moore’s From Hell that I borrowed from the library. It was nearing 2 AM, and while the tome sits silently on a shelf in my house currently, the real weight of the book has pressed on my mind almost constantly since I finished reading it.

Moore is a giant of comics who also has no trouble voicing his skepticism and impatience with the direction of the medium. He has essentially disowned his two best-known works, V for Vendetta and Watchmen, over the cash-grab way in which the film adaptions of each were brought to theaters (it is also important to note that Moore sees his work as fundamentally unadaptable, that is, he made them comics for a reason and comics they should stay – but that is a topic for another time). Lately, he has moved away from comics altogether. In a recent interview with Vulture promoting his new novel Jerusalem – a nearly 1200-page post-post modern novel that seems to share more than a little DNA with From Hell – he said, when asked about the influence of his superhero work:

I am really in a bad mood about superheroes. I’m not the best person to ask about this. What are these movies doing other than entertaining us with stories and characters that were meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of 50 years ago? Are we supposed to somehow embody these characters? That’s ridiculous. They are not characters that can possibly exist in the real world. Yes, I did Watchmen. Yes, I did Marvelman. These are two big seminal superhero works, I guess. But remember: Both of them are critical of the idea of superheroes. They weren’t meant to be a reinvigoration of the genre.

The irony of much the current superhero-saturated climate is that it ostensibly owes a great debt to the aesthetics and moral weight of Moore’s work, yet it misunderstands and misinterprets that work – much as if one had taken the wallpaper from a house, pasted it on a billboard, and claimed to have reproduced the house.

One need only to read Moore’s other work to recognize that his interests and fascinations lie almost entirely outside of the (to him) childish realm of caped heroes. From Hell is the ur-text for understanding where Moore is coming from. The book mixes deeply researched history with conspiracy, the occult, penny-dreadfuls, architecture, Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return, melodrama, freemasonry, and the poetry of William Blake (to name only a few touchstones from which the book takes its flight). One of the great pleasures of reading the work is pouring over the dense endnotes after finishing each chapter to discover what Moore made up, what he speculated on, and what is cold fact. In the endnotes we find Moore the scholar as well as Moore the author. These notes are casual, even conversational, in tone and they are bunched at the back of the volume that I read. However, they served as a much needed breather after the densely packed pages of each of the 16 chapters.

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Not only is each chapter dense with detail, but most are terrifying in an apocalyptic sense. The book, on its surface, is about the Jack the Ripper murders which plagued London toward the end of the Victorian era. To this day, the murders remain unsolved and, as a result, an entire culture of amateur investigation and conspiracy has grown concurrently with the Ripper legend. While Moore cobbles some of these theories together in order to form the central plot of the book, this is the opposite of a whodunit. Moore does not hide the murderer or his work from the eyes of the reader. The killings are depicted in harrowing detail as the work of William Gull – royal physician to Queen Victoria – who, on the one hand, carries out the murders to cover up an embarrassing royal family secret while, on the other, turning this bit of dirty work into a grand pagan sacrificial ceremony with the city of London serving as the altar. The book explores Gull’s life, showing the events that lead to his rise in social standing and seeing him through to the murders and on to his ultimate fate. Moore also follows the victims, investigators, and various accomplices (both witting and unwitting) who are all tied intricately and disastrously with the bloody business. Gull (through Moore) sees himself as a prophet of the century to come – the chosen one tasked with the business of birthing the 20th century with all of its wars, its famines, its depressions, its industries, and its revolutions.

This is where Moore expands the scope of the whole enterprise. The book is grotesque, yes (and though Moore is notoriously heavy-handed when it comes to working with artists, Eddie Campbell draws the book with the kind of ugly beauty it requires, making every panel seem as if it were illustrated using soot from a cobbled London street), but this is not what makes the book terrifying – and it is terrifying, being among the very few books I have read which left me wary of the dark corners and late-night creakings of my own home – what makes the book utterly terrifying is the universe-size canvas on which Moore projects his story. The sense that this is all happening now – that it all has happened – that it all will happen again – turns the book into a deeply personal, though still cosmic, kind of horror. It is a book with a bleak view of humanity. Its dark energy saps the hope from your body – the horror is bone deep.

From Hell is not a story of good vs. evil. The book never even whiffs at the illusion that good has any chance of prevailing. We watch, helplessly, as mundane, political evil opens the door for darker, more sinister kinds of evil. We watch as the “good” characters, compromised as they are, grasp at straws in order to stop the murders only to find that, once the crimes have been solved, the few people who care are helpless to do anything to stop Gull. And we watch as Gull’s obsessions grow and, eventually, utterly consume him. This consuming obsession spirals out from the book (there is something of “The Tell-Tale Heart” in this) to engulf Moore’s obsession, as documented in the copious endnotes, and the macabre obsession of Ripper enthusiasts, salivating over a string of murders that terrorized a city and took the real lives of real people and turning them into a hobby. Perhaps this is why the book is so horrifying, because, by the end of From Hell, haven’t we, the readers, become one of them?

New Comic Book Day Top 5: Oct. 26th

Hello Revuers! It’s Tuesday which means it’ time for another edition of New Comic Book Day Top 5. Where I pick my top 5 most anticipated books that are coming out this week. This Wednesday looks to be especially exciting with many new series’ starting from major and indie publishers alike. As always feel free to tell me what you think of the list in the comment section below, and please tell us what’s on your pull list. We love to hear from our readers, plus I love finding out about new series’ that people are enjoying. Without further delay, let’s jump right in.

 

5: The Skeptics #1

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The Skeptics is a new series from the fantastic Black Mask Studios features the talents of Tini Howard (Writer) and Devaki Neogi (Artist). The story is summed up as follows: “A stylish, political adventure about a pair of hip, clever teens who fool the world into believing they have superpowers. It is the 1960s. The Russians have the A-bomb, the H-bomb, and now the most terrifying weapon of all: a pair of psychically superpowered young people.” The story then focuses on the heads of the USA military looking to find equivalent super powered beings from America to be on Par with Russia. The preview art for this series looks amazing and the premise promises to be a wild ride.

 

4: Batgirl #4

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Batgirl #4 is a continuation from issue three. Batgirl realizes that she has fallen into the trap set by The Teacher. She realizes that in order to save Kai she will first have to come face to face with this new mysterious villain. Writer Hope Larson has delivered an interesting and compelling plot so far this series. I think the title overall benefit from being on the slower once a month schedule. This allows the artist Rafael Albuquerque and Color Artist Dave McCaig time to really build a beautiful and rich world around Hope Lasron’s world. Batgirl is still one of the best titles from the overall spectacular DC Rebirth initiative.

 

3: The Prowler #1

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Confession from me. I have been a big Spider-Man fan since I was 7. In fact Spider-Man was/is my favorite superhero. The Prowler was also one of my favorite Rouges in his gallery (Mysterio is my favorite [maybe I just really love purple and green color schemes for villains!?]). So when I heard they were planning a Prowler solo series I was pumped. I had already been excited about him getting more of a role in the new (NOW!?) ASM series. Writer Sean Ryan and Artist Jamal Campbell have a lot on their plate but the preview art makes it look like they have delivered. I can’t wait until I can read this one.

 

2: Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #1

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This new Dr. Strange series arrives two weeks before the release of the Marvel Studios film. Coincidnece? I think not. Do I care? NO! Robbie Thompson is set to write the series which means it’s going to be fantastic. I love the way he tackled Silk and Spidey, so I can’t wait for him to take on Dr. Strange. The art will be by the amazing Javier Rodriguez, who has recently been on the Spider-Woman series. If there’s one character that I think working on a Spider-Man series before hand would benefit you it would be Sr. Strange. There’s a lot of room for humor and sarcasm just like in Spidey titles. I am also intrigued by the team up aspect of it. The idea of Dr. Strange in a mentoring role is hilarious to me.

 

1: Bloodshot USA #1

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Bloodshot USA comes to us from Valiant Entertainment. It features the all star level talent of Jeff Lemire (writer), Doug Braithwaite (artist) and Brian Reber (Color Art). The story is set in New York where a criminal organization has released a biowarfare weapon that has turned the population of New York into blood thirsty zombie like creature, and it’s up to Bloodshot to ensure the contamination doesn’t spread. This title just sounds like plain fun, shoot em up comics to me with no shortage of action. The preview art looks incredible. Especially the color art work by Harvey nominated color artist supreme Brian Reber (wow, that was quite the run on sentence). I haven’t read too many Valiant series’ but this one looks like a real winner.

 

So there you have it! Did your most anticipated books make the cut? Tell us in the comments below. We would also love to see you list of most anticipated comics!

 

-Andrew Horton

 

 

 

 

Every Comic Book Movie (Ever): Hellboy II: The Golden Army

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Welcome to October here at Deja.Revue. If you have not noticed already, I tend to be a fan of the creepy, the weird, and the left-field in comics. So I though October would be a perfect time to indulge those predilections even more than I already have. Horror, as a genre in comics, has always been just off to the side. Less flashy than superheroes, and something of a mutant child of crime comics, the genre has a breadth and depth which is, in my opinion, almost unmatched. I do not hope to cover the whole diverse range of the genre in the coming month, but I do hope to give you a survey of some of my favorite works on page and screen. If you would like to read further, Paste has an excellent list of horror comics you should read. For further reading on the history of horror comics, check out Mike Howlett’s essay in the back of this excellent horror anthology that I will not have the time or space to write about this month. If all goes according to plan, I will have a column each Monday for you, culminating, fittingly, with Halloween at the end of the month. Don’t forget to turn off the lights.

The designation of Hellboy II: The Golden Army as “horror” is dubious, to be sure. I will not spend the bulk of this article defending its inclusion in my run of horror-related pieces (and anyways, I will more than make up for this genre fraud next week), but I will say that the guiding hand of director Guillermo del Toro, along with the soul of the source material, are enough to merit an exploration of this film in the present context.

I have yet to write about the first Hellboy film directed by del Toro, and while I think one could jump into Hellboy II without seeing the first (a virtue of most comic book films 1978-2011), I would recommend seeing Hellboy because it’s a gem. The setup is fairly simple: the titular character is a world-ending demon from hell who ends up being raised by a kindly British professor and expert in the occult. As an adult, he works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) along with other agents with “enhanced talents.” Hellboy likes cats, beer, cigars, and the music of Tom Waits. Ron Perlman plays Hellboy in one of the great character/actor matches in all of film history.

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The plot of the film is not particularly important. There are ancient artifacts, a troll market, an abandoned underground city, a forest god. What makes this film distinctive is the meticulous, handcrafted nature of everything put on camera. Del Toro is famous for this. I might say that Hellboy is a better film than its sequel, but Hellboy II is a better film to look at. Every frame is stuffed to the edges with real things, intricate things. Every item in the film is something you could pick up and flip through, or open, or play with. The tactile, physical nature of the film extends to the enormous cast of creatures that populate the various set pieces. If you look far into the background, what you will see are extras in heavy costume and makeup, filling up a world so that we can be engulfed in it.

This is an old idea of horror – going back to the silent era – that mise en scène sets the mood, and plays a larger part than plot in building atmosphere and suspense. The sets of Hellboy II are lavish, but they range from the playful to the sinister. These are not merely dark places, but whole worlds unto themselves.

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The playfulness of del Toro’s design spills over into the rest of the film. This movie is fun. And not in the way that a movie trying to be fun is fun, but in a genuinely, organically pleasurable way. The emotional beats are simple and build gently on the groundwork from the first film. They are effective because the actors never oversell them, and in fact, the film is more subdued than one might imagine. One of the film’s best moments involves Hellboy and Abe Sapien (a sort of mer-man who also works for the B.P.R.D.) lamenting their troubles in love over beers and singing along, gently, to Barry Manilow. It’s an unexpectedly warm and touching scene.

Couched in del Toro’s elaborate world, the characters’ dramas both big and small never feel silly playing out in such lovingly constructed environs. Hellboy and his girlfriend, Liz Sherman, a pyrokinetic, hash out their domestic problems in blazes of flame. Only later when they reach a shadowy chamber where one of del Toro’s more terrifying creatures (a dark angel with eyes dotting its wings) hands them their fate, do they put their arguments behind them and commit to each other for good. The small scale of the human drama could feel absurd in this fantasy world, but it doesn’t because del Toro and his actors treat the world with respect – they know how fragile it is, and things do threaten constantly to fall apart.

Hellboy II is a monster movie where the monsters are the bad guys and the good guys. Really, its not even that, because the good guys are fighting to subvert their own dark destinies, and the bad guys fight for what they believe to be a noble cause. But it still manages to be an excellent evocation of classic creature features, showing reverence to its references and giving care and attention to its own creations. We need more comic book films like this. We need more horror films like this. Hellboy II is not a perfect film, but it is a film undoubtedly assembled with love and passion by all involved. With all that care put on the screen, how could we not enjoy it?

New Comic Book Day top 5: Oct. 12th

Hello Revuers! Tomorrow marks a fantastic New Comic Book Day. It’s the best day of the week in my opinion. I’m looking forward to many titles but for this segment, as always, I have narrowed it down to my top 5. Two titles are from DC, two are from Image and one title is from Marvel. If you agree or don’t agree wit my picks let me know in the comment section below. I love hearing each week what our readers are picking up! Without further delay let’s jump right in.

 

5: Supergirl #2

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Supergirl #2 comes to us from the creative team of writer Steve Orlando and artist Brian Ching. This issues sees Supergirl clash with Cyborg Superman who was revealed at the end of issue 1 of Supergirl. Supergirl #2 was a vast improvement on the Rebirth special issue of Supergirl, and I look for issue 2 to continue this trend. The reveal of Cyborg Superman at the end of issue one was a surprise and sets up an interesting antagonist for Supergirl to face off against. The art by Brian Ching was superb, building a world that’s aesthetically pleasing and unique. The variant covers by Bengal have been some of my favorite variant cover work to date. I can’t wait to pick up issue 2 tomorrow.

 

4: Southern Cross #8

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Southern Cross #8 is written by Becky Cloonan with art from Andy Belanger. This series from Image comics has been consistently one of the best series’ they put out. I love the genre bending the story explores. Is this series Sci-Fi? Is it horror? A little of both? The driving mystery of the series keeps the reader coming back for more and more. This issue sees the continuation of the story arc ‘ROMULUS’ The second story arc of the series. I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil the first arc for you so I’ll just say this. Spaceship. Paranormal activity. Government conspiracy. All of the covers are by the spectacular Becky Cloonan, who is just as talented of an artist as she is a writer. If you haven’t read this series yet, so yourself a favor and pick up the first trade (it’s only $9.99!). Read it, and then go buy the new issues.

 

3: Great Lakes Avengers

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I was a pretty big fan of the origianl volume of the Great Lakes Avengers, so when Marvel announced that a new series featuring the GLA would be part of their (newest) NOW! initiative I was excited. The series comes from writer Zac Gorman and artist Will Robinson. The story shows that the GLA have been reinstated as members of the Avengers and have been moved to a new headquarters in Detroit. Detroit is about 3 hours away from where I live so that’s kind of exciting for me (I know, I’m a huge nerd).  IT looks like all of the original members are back except maybe Squirrel Girl (who is seen in cut out form in the cover). I’m sure that this new series will follow in the humorous tradition of the previous volume.

 

2: All-Star Batman #3

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All-Star Batman is written by Batman scribe Scott Snyder, with art by John Romita Jr and features some of the best color work in any comic book series on the shelves today, from Dean White. At the close of the last issue we see that even those that Batman trusts the most have turned on him. It’s one thing when it’s Two Face and some bounty hunters you have to worry about, but what will Batman do now that even the police are after him? This road trip with one of his most deadly enemies has turned out to be quite the handful. I dare say that this series is one of the top series’ in the stellar Rebirth initiative by Dc Comics. I think it benefits a lot from being on the traditional once a month schedule as opposed to the twice monthly pace of most of DC’s big titles. This once a month schedule allows Snyder to take his time developing the story. The art by Romita JR. doesn’t feel rushed at all, but rather sweeping and grandiose. As I mentioned before the color work by Dean White is next level work. Truly an All-Star creative team for All-Star Batman.

 

1: Reborn

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The big guns are out for Reborn, a new series from Image comics written by Mark Millar with art by Greg Capullo. The general plot deals with the idea: Where do I go after I die? In this series you go to a place that’s not heaven or hell, but rather a place where you have to fight to survive. A place where you have to make a reckoning with everyone you ever wronged or treated nicely. The story sounds interesting and I trust Mark Millar will do a magnificent job. What really intrigues me is the art by Greg Capullo. This is the first comic book project for Capullo since his legendary run on the New 52 Batman with Scott Snyder. I am excited to see the world that he create for the readers. One of his strongest area is in character design (he designed the current Batman look), so I am curious what he will do having free reign over an environment. Not having any limitations should produce some incredible work from the comic book veteran. All in all this series has me intrigued.

 

So there you have it! Did your most anticipated books make the cut? Tell us in the comments below. We would also love to see your list of most anticipated comics!

 

-Andrew