August 31, 2015

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Perchance to Dream in Little Nemo's Big New Dream and Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland


Little Nemo's Big New Dreams
Written and Drawn by Various
Edited by Josh O'Neill, Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens
Published by Toon Graphics

Two recent books, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland (IDW) and Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams (Toon Graphics), find different ways to pay homage to the legendary cartoonist Winsor McCay. McCay’s early 1900 comic strip Little Nemo In Slumberland is an artistic feat that in many ways has never been equaled in comic strips. In a day of ever shrinking newspaper comic strips (if even present at all,) McCay’s full page strips of a boy who every night as he falls asleep is whisked away to faraway Slumberland to be the playmate of King Morpheus’s daughter showed how an cartoonist could manipulate his space to create environments and things that you’ve never seen before. Toon Graphic’s anthology Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams (an abbreviated and resized repackaging of Locust Moon’s Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream reviewed on Panel Patter previously by Ron McMonigal) contains a two page comic/review by Art Spiegelman, repurposed from a 1987 review of a book on McCay, where Spiegelman examines comic page by McCay. In McCay’s full page strip, Nemo’s bed transforms into a long-legged animal and carries Nemo and his Slumberland friendly pest Flip out of Nemo’s house and over the roofs of a city. “... [McCay] understood the architecture of a page!” Spiegelman enthuses.

In Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, 26 artists try to recreate McCay’s visual architecture. There’s a rhythm to McCay’s storytelling that seems very tricky to capture but most of these cartoonists mimic McCay’s pacing if not almost perfectly capturing his spirit. Part of the challenge is that in the final panel of most of McCay’s strips, Nemo has to wake up. The selections found in Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams are fairly successful in capturing the cadence that McKay tapped into. The sublime unreality of our dreams and (in some cases) nightmares, where we could be stalked by cats or kaiju McCay’s elements. Hans Rickheit’s stab at a Slumberland comic traps Nemo in body horror comic, more similar to Charles Burn’s recent X’ed trilogy than any Nemo comic. Jamie Tanner’s comic feels like something out of a bleary eyed Kubrick film and completely unlike McCay. But even in these extremes, the spirit of McCay lingers.

Cole Closser's contribution to Little Nemo's Big New Dream

It’s interesting to see how the cartoonists approach McCay’s legacy in this book. Some of the artists tell fairly representative Little Nemo stories, creating more homages to McCay than anything else. Craig Thompson’s strip takes Nemo into a dream of shark planes and jelly fish clouds even as he reveals an obvious but wonderful truth about these strips and Nemo’s relationship to the characters in his dreams. Other cartoonists use McCay’s architecture but tell their own unique stories. Bishakh Kumar Som’s story of a woman confronting her past is that dream we all have of having to live through our choices and mistakes again. It’s not a Nemo story but is one that uses the Slumberland structure to relay a very human experience. The final way that these cartoonists approach Nemo is to recontextualize McCay’s work. Paulo Rivera’s stream of consciousness strip is a whirlpool of ideas and concepts that makes McCay’s cartoons much more frightening as Rivera confronts our own fears through the architecture of the page.

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland
Written by Eric Shanower
Drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez
Colored by Nelson Daniel
Published by IDW 

As the cartoonists in Little Nemo’s Big New Dream engage with the structural architecture of Winsor McCay, Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez approach a different kind of architecture in their Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland. In their stories, originally a four issue series from IDW Publishing, they tackle more of McCay’s thematic concerns. In their book, the daughter of King Morpheus wants a new playmate, a new Nemo to join her so King Morpheus sends the denizens of his kingdom into a new boy’s dreams. With the larger span of pages to tell their stories, Shanower and Rodriguez abandon the architecture of the page that Spiegelman praised and instead focus on the childlike magic of Slumberland. 

Rodriguez’s artwork in some ways feels more like traditional comic work than anything McCay did. Gone are the wild page constructions or the bendy and pliant reality. Instead Shanower and Rodriguez’s story is more constrained as they spread out the storytelling over so many pages. Other than one or two dazzling moments per chapter, the construction of the pages feel very conventional. But as this new Nemo enters Slumberland each night, Shanower and Rodriguez focus their attention on the wonder of Slumberland. This Nemo’s (whose real name is James but the Princess insists he’s Nemo) dreams are full of dream-logic buildings and characters. Rodriguez’s delightful line and Nelson Daniel’s candy-like coloring are visually delightful. I wish my dreams looked like Nemo’s. 

The architecture of dreams in Return to Slumberland
Shanower and Rodriguez’s story basically becomes another “child in a magical world” story, like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz or any other number of fantasies. Taking what McCay did in a single broadsheet and stretching it out over pages dilutes the concept of Nemo in Slumberland of its uniqueness. Their exploration of a child’s imagination running wild is still wildly and ambitiously magical but does this need to be a Little Nemo story is a question that has to linger in the back of your mind as you read this book. This Slumberland teeters and mostly falls into being a typical fantasyland much more than the magical bending of reality and page that Winsor McCay achieved over and over again in his strip.

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland is about a boys dreams while Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams are about cartoonists dreams of Winsor McCay and his unique view of reality. Both books wonderfully transport you to worlds of imagination and dreams but Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams contains comic strips that are enlightening, both about McCay’s skills and craft but also about these modern cartoonists own work and their exchange of ideas with the legacy of McCay.
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SPX Spotlight 2015: Rob Kirby Interviews Kevin Budnik

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

"Part of you feels a little special that you get to be there": Kevin Budnik on SPX, tabling, and other comics-related issues

(photo by Nate Beaty)

Kevin Budnik is a 26 year-old Chicago native who has been sharing his autobiographical comics with the world since 2010. His work is marked by a wistful honesty, often with a sense of quiet bewilderment at the passing of time, of the responsibilities of adulthood supplanting the perceived freedoms of youth. As I’ve said before, he has a real talent for capturing the essence of a moment in time, and he can channel angst into poetry. Furthermore, in his books and comics like Our Ever Improving Living Room and Dust Motes (both from Yeti Press), and self-published items like Flower Grow, Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists, and the upcoming Handbook, he shares with honesty, humility, and humor his sometimes shaky recovery from struggles with OCD and an eating disorder.
Since Kevin will be officially tabling at SPX this year (9/19 & 9/20), I wanted to hear his take on all things expo-related, which naturally flowed into talk about his work and peers.

Rob Kirby: I’m wondering about your history with SPX: have you tabled there before? Are you going solo or partnering with a buddy?

Kevin Budnik: I tabled at SPX last year, sort of. My friend Jen Rickert invited me to put some of my comics on her 1/3 of a table. It was Jen's idea, because she's the nicest person in the world, that I could just drop them off and then go walk around. I ended up just helping her out and sitting at the table with her most of the weekend. I know a lot of cartoonists don't always feel comfortable trying to sell their work, but I like being behind the table at shows. It's less about the sales thing and more about the fact that tabling makes it easier for me to overcome the social anxiety of being at a huge gathering like SPX. There's a weird dynamic that is both humiliating and empowering. People come up to judge your work, but at the same time part of you feels a little special that you get to be there. 

This year I applied to as many shows as I could on my own (i.e. without a publisher). I applied to SPX, but didn't get selected in the lottery. I AM going to be there though!

Before I go on, here's my armchair philosophy on the application process: applying to cons can be super-heartbreaking, especially if you're like me and you take everything waaay too personally. I've heard it equated to that situation in school where they post the cast-list for a musical, or dance try-outs, or sportsball, for everyone to see, and you didn't make it. So much of the comics world takes place on this very personal level, trading zines, or putting your own experiences into these books that people may or may not like, or even hate. Sometimes it's important to remember that organizers have a lot on their plate, a lot of people asking for things, a lot of constraints, and a lot of people coming down the line expecting to be included. I'm certainly guilty of whining, or existential twitter-rants when I get rejected from shows, but it's rarely deserved and it's unbecoming to do this as an artist.

ANYHOO - this year I was invited to share a space at Zach Mason's table (along with GW Duncanson, Harris Smith, and Whit Taylor) since I didn't get in on my own. I met Zach (and Matt Trower) last year, at the table I mentioned (they were the other 2/3). Once again I've found myself in this situation where the people I've met through comics are just freaking nice, warm humans, who want everyone to have a spot to show off their work. For all of the bummer stuff that happens in comics, it's amazing how welcoming the community can be sometimes. I'm flattered and super excited - mostly to see so many friends, most of whom I have known less than a year, but feel incredibly close to! COMICS!

Kirby: I hear you. Comics people are indeed just generally great. In that vein, tell me five inspirations, off the top of your head.

Budnik: Cartoonists?

Kirby: Just five inspirations, artistically-speaking.

Budnik: Okay, I have a few…
1.    John Porcellino. For me the beat is more important in comics storytelling–the emotional subtext. And in his stories everything is pared down, there’s not as much exposition. It’s more about the moment-to-moment. It’s great.
2.    Jay Ward, who created Rocky and Bullwinkle.
3.    My friend Hallie Bateman, - she’s an illustrator from Brooklyn
4.    Craig Bartlett's early “Hey Arnold” strips from Simpsons illustrated
5.    For #5 let’s go with my top 5 records right now:
Sleater Kinney–The Woods
Future Islands–Singles
Polaris–Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete
Landlady–Upright Behavior

Kirby: I love that you love Rocky and Bullwinkle – that was one of my dad’s favorites, and he got all of his kids into ‘em.

Moving on, will you debuting anything at SPX? 

Budnik: This year I'm debuting a new series of journal comics called Epilogue, which is based on my life in and out of employment in cafes, but is primarily focused on how I relate to the people in my life, co-workers, and relationships. Tonally it's similar to the book Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists, which I self-published between last SPX and this SPX. I've been posting Epilogue on my blog, and serializing it in subscription-based zines since January 2015. I'll have a new issue in September. I've had kind of a busy year. Since I've been to a few shows since last September each book I'm bringing to SPX might not technically be considered a debut – but everything will be fresh to this part of the country. I'll also have the second chapter of Handbook, a 6-part memoir about my dealing with Eating Disorders and therapy. That series has been incredibly rewarding. I still cope with that stuff, so hearing people respond to the comics I make about body issues is mind-blowing. 
Kirby: Tell me about the feedback you've received on those Handbook comics. Do you feel you're getting them out to people who may downright need to see them? Is part of your motivation for drawing them reaching out to other people with these issues?
Budnik: So a lot of my comics deal with my struggle with self-image and physical anxiety, either in a roundabout or direct way. I've had a few readers reach out and say that they really relate to the things I've written. ED is a disease of secrecy, and knowing that other people deal with it is heartening. I think what makes me want to keep writing about those issues is that it provides a way of admitting to myself that I'm not alone rather than thinking about writing to reach out to other people who might be struggling. So, maybe it's actually more selfish than I let on, like I'm being patted on the back for having insecurities.

That said, any time I hear from someone who's dealt or dealing with ED in some form, it makes me feel instantly closer to them. Then I want to compare notes. Recovery is weird. It never really ends, and can feel really repetitive. Sometimes I feel like I'm saying the same things over and over, but the challenge is to keep being sincere and not move backwards in my personal life.

Kirby: One of the hallmarks of the Rob Kirby Interview for Panel Patter is the Totally Random Stupid Question (tm). What is your favorite word? 
Budnik: Magpie.
Kirby: Wow, did not see that one coming! (Mine is 'clarity' and John said 'refurbish'. We agreed both words sound like what they mean).

Budnik: Ha ha, wonderful! I would've also maybe said 'sesquipedalian'.  

Kirby: Okay, I confess had to look that up. You learn things from doing these interviews. Moving along and wrapping up, is there anything in particular you are hoping to have happen at SPX this year, anyone you want to meet, etc.? Tell us your SPX Hopes & Dreams, Kevin Budnik!

Budnik: Wellllll, I'm honestly most excited to go into SPX knowing a little more about what to expect. Last year was insane and fun and overwhelming. I met a ton of people who I've spent the last year forming friendships with, but we're all spread out, so I'm very excited to have them all in the same place at the same time.

I still feel like this will be my first time tabling at SPX—I was mostly along for the ride last year—so I'm nervous as to how it will go with my own space.

I mentioned that Handbook is six chapters long - all of those have been drawn, but not yet printed. If people react positively to this second chapter I hope it'll give me some momentum to find help printing it, I'd like to get them all together as one book before next year, but I don't know if I’ll have the resources on my own.
Kirby: We’ll really look forward to seeing you there, Kevin! Best of luck to you there and to us all!
In the meantime, if you aren’t going to be at SPX, please visit and/or for all your Kevin Budnik needs.

August 28, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for August 28th, 2015-- Links and Nothing But the Links

** The week in pattering about panels here at Panel Patter:

** Go read Dan Hipp's comic responding to events that happened this week (and this month, this year and this decade.)

** Business Insider profiles Valiant Comics, declaring that they want to be the next Marvel.  
"We're in a very fortunate situation," says Russell Brown, a former Marvel executive and Valiant's president of consumer products, marketing, and ad sales. "We don't have to rush anything, we don't have to extract crazy dollars from people — which sets up a whole chain. If you push people towards high dollars to participate (and everyone wants to be a part of Marvel 2.0), the problem is they rush product to market, it doesn't sell through, then there's a problem and people say 'Valiant is not working.' So what's the rush? We're slowly, slowly finding the right partners, in the right categories — it's a real progression."
** How did I not know that Chris Ware is doing a comic on The Guardian?

** The subtitle of this post says it all: Why we shouldn't tell kids what they like to read is wrong.

** Like so many Medium sites are doing right now, Darling Sleeper announces that they're shutting down.   The site did a lot of great comics and it's a shame that for whatever reasons it's going away.

** The Hugo Awards were announced last week and in a number of categories, there were no awards actually given.  Wired Magazine walks through what happened with the Hugo Awards this year.
Larry Correia, a 38-year-old Utah accountant and former gun store owner and NRA lobbyist turned novelist, created the Sad Puppies three years ago. When I reached him by phone (he didn’t come to Worldcon this year) he told me he came up with the name after seeing an SPCA ad featuring forlorn canines staring into the camera, with singer Sarah McLachlan. “We did a joke based on that: That the leading cause of puppy-related sadness was boring message-fic winning awards,” he said, laughing. Correia also explained that initially, “our spokesman was a cartoon manatee named Wendell. Wendell doesn’t speak English. You can see we kept this really super serious, right?”
And the whole thing gets more ridiculous from there.
Going forward, he said, no matter how the Hugo administrators modify the nominating process to try to prevent manipulation (and there are two proposals being considered), he will still have enough supporters to control future awards. Specifically, “I have 390 sworn and numbered vile faceless minions—the hardcore shock troops—who are sworn to mindless and perfect obedience,” he said, acknowledging that his army wasn’t made up solely of sci-fi fans. On the contrary, “the people who are very anti-SJW said, ‘Okay, we want to get in on this.’” When I asked him how he might deploy those people in the future, he continued, “It’s very simple. The dark lord speaks, the minion acts.”
**  Guernica Magazine interviewed Gilbert Hernandez. Compared to a lot of Love and Rockets readers, I came to the book fairly late so I have trouble viewing Gilbert as an elder statesman of alt comix.  Gilbert's comics like Blubber don't feel like the work of an elder statesman but of a radical and a rebel.
I notice a lot of younger artists have difficulty telling stories. They might have short stories where they express themselves well, but they don’t really know how to tell stories with characters. That [craft] just passed them by. But, you know, back in the ’60s and ’70s, there were no personal computers. There weren’t those kinds of distractions. You watched whatever they stuck on TV. That was it for accessible visual arts. But now there are so many different outlets. Nobody has to watch anything if they don’t feel like it.

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SPX Spotlight 2015: Claire Connelly

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

Do you remember that kid in middle school? The quiet one who was always drawing instead of paying attention and would get really excited for art class? There’s always a kid like that, someone who shows talent and excitement for art early on, who will make something of themselves if they can find just a little bit of intense dedication as they get older. That’s the kid that you always wonder, what happened to them? Did they make it? Are they living a glamorous art life filled with pencils and fancy mustaches while I sit at my desk job thinking about how bad this chair is for my back?

Well, friends, when you take that quiet kid from middle school and send them to art school and show them the mighty and majestic world of comics, who you’re going to get is Claire Connelly. Although I cannot speak to how glamorous and mustache filled her life may currently be, I expect to see her name more often as time goes on. Already, she pops up on Comixology, and my Twitter and Tumblr feeds show me that she’s working hard every day. Claire breathes and thinks illustration, and so far, it’s working out for her pretty well.

 One of the remarkable things about Claire Connelly is the sheer amount of work she puts out. She is always working, always posting about her work. When she isn’t doing comics, she’s drawing, painting, doing commissions – forever making art and getting better and better. Her style is reminiscent of Jeff Lemire, but a little darker, a little stockier, a little more on the fantastic side, with a certain underlying sense of unease. A lot of Connelly’s work is dark sci-fi/fantasy, and she is very good at it. Her monsters are strange and uncomfortable and her storytelling is spooky – I would love to see her try her hand at some weird cosmic horror.

When I have seen Claire Connelly at shows before she had a large amount of books with her, all hand made and all very fun. I expect this year will be the same. Claire will likely be selling copies of her graphic novel Here, as well as her collection of shorts Down With The Ship, if you’re looking for a bigger book, and will be premiering print copies of one of her newer color works, Phantom Harvest at the show. You will be able to find Claire Connelly at SPX on September 19th and 20th at table J1A.

You can find Claire online on Tumblr, Twitter, and her website, where you can read all of her comics for free.

August 27, 2015

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Captain Midnight Series Review - Part 2: "We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them"

Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Fernando Dagnino, Manuel Garcia, Michael Broussard, Miguel Sepulveda
Colours by Javier Mena, Marta Martínez

The Dark Horse line of superhero comics falls under the banner of Project Black Sky. The popularity of the line in general and the quality of the characters developed in the core Captain Midnight series lead to a few spin-off and team-up books that brought the heroes together in different situations. The Skyman character introduced in the second arc received a fantastic spin-off miniseries from writer Joshua Fialkov and artist Manuel Garcia. While it was a fascinating series, the only significant effect it had on Captain Midnight was the procurement of the art team for a later arc. While it is a series that stands on its own merits, it would start a completely separate discussion.
The second major spin-off title is the original graphic novel titled Two Past Midnight. It brought together all of the Project Black Sky characters together as they teamed up against a common enemy. Again, while it is definitely a high quality title, there wasn't much emphasis placed on Captain Midnight and the only lasting effect was the introduction of the technology based criminal known as Tempus.
Despite the potential story that this name implies, Tempus doesn't play an important part in the overall legend that Captain Midnight is building. That doesn't mean that the arc doesn't have its exciting moments, such as when Cap is attacked by an enormous matter-devouring Kraken; it is just a reactionary side adventure that allows Jim Albright to flex his inventor's muscles and blast out some impressive technology.
This arc contains gorgeous art from the team that created the aforementioned Skyman miniseries: Manuel Garcia, Bit and Javier Mena. The team's dynamic becomes abundantly clear in the complex scenes with their ability to play with light. The colours bring the pencils and inks to life in such a tremendous way that it fixates the reader's focus on the intense realism in the scene. One disappointing part of Garcia's pencils is that his depiction of the wiley and most definitely female Joyce Ryan comes with an unfortunate amount of masculine features.

The next arc resumes Captain Midnight's chase after a new nemesis who has made regular appearances in each previous arc. In an effort to not spoil your own enjoyment of the series if you haven't yet read it, I'm keeping the identity of this villain secret. Despite this, there are a few aspects of this confrontation that need noting. There is an unfortunate creative decision to surround the character with black shading which casts all of the lines and wrinkles on his face into shadow. This instantly takes away any of the grey morality surrounding the character and places him firmly in the position of the bad guy. One of the most important themes in previous arcs has been the rejection of the black and white morality and the recognition that life is often not that simple. To remove this at the last second not only decreases the impact of the final fight, but starts to invalidate all of the previous character growth.
This is unfortunately where, in my personal opinion, the series starts to lose sight of what made it great. Alien technology has long been a part of the series as the source of the vast majority of Albright's inventions. The encounters and the relationship with extra-terrestrial life is kept abstract and isn't delved into in extreme detail. This added a level of mystery to that aspect of the story and allowed your imagination to fill in the blanks. By making the encounters an explicit and critical part of the story, it tries to add an explanation to a situation that didn't need it.
The epic clash between Captain Midnight and his antagonist is a beautiful sight to see. Fernando Dagnino makes a return to the series with extremely impressive work. With the final confrontation taking place in the air, he has the chance to show the sheer scope of this battle and the level of power between the two. Lightning bolts are flying everywhere and despite a slight lack of urgency from the text, the scene is electric and pops right off the page.
The attitude of the series villain is deliberately off-putting and comes across as unstable. His reactions are identical to a child throwing a tantrum because he hasn't got what he wanted from the person that he loves the most. The entire scene serves to show the dangers of idolising a person without actually interacting with them. You build up this idea of what they are to you and what they're capable of and when it comes down to difficult situations, it's wrenching to discover that they are in fact a person just like you.

Unfortunately, this is where Captain Midnight's main journey ends. Any lingering situations from his past have been wrapped up and everyone that he knew has either been held accountable for their actions or, in the most unlucky cases, has been brutally murdered. The final arc has been seeded during every previous story with hints about an even bigger bad that has been pulling the strings behind every confrontation. However, it feels so detached from the over-arching story that it feels like a bonus story from Williamson that has been tacked onto the end; this can be interpreted in both a positive and a negative light.
Manuel Garcia and his team make a reappearance to give this arc a very atmospheric and distinctive feel where Joyce fortunately looks a lot more feminine than before. There are times when the bright colours from Javier Mena add such a strong vibrancy to each scene and help to highlight key situations where each character is given a chance to stand out. However, the final two issues see pencils and inks from series newcomer Miguel Sepulveda. He brings a very crisp feeling to the book but maintains a level of consistency as to not make the transition a jarring experience during these final climactic scenes. There is one particular example where Sepulveda isolates each character in their own section of a large fight which prevents the scene from feeling too messy.
This arc's villain, The Archon, is mentioned prior to his first appearance, but isn't built up to enough to make you actually dread his arrival. With his only contribution to the series being his manipulation of other characters, his appearance isn't disquieting and is most definitely not frightening. When he finally shows his face, his description of the first 19 issues as only the first act of his plan does make you wonder what he has in store for our heroes.
One of The Archon's most disconcerting effects is his invasion of the Squadron's supposedly safe places. No matter what has happened previously, there are always a few places that have remained untouched and unspoiled. Seeing them completely taken over by The Archon is something that lingers with you after reading it. To let you know how serious the story is, Dark Horse's masked vigilante known only as 'X' is brought in as a supporting character. His title has been characterised by its violence but Captain Midnight has remained relatively PG-13. To see such a violent person let loose in these pages lets you know that a more forceful hand is required to deal with this villain.

The team that Captain Midnight creates and the people that have drifted in and out of it has been one of the core components of what has made this series great. Towards the end of the arc, team linchpin Charlotte Ryan exclaims something in an inspirational moment that will warm your heart. At the very least, Cap has left behind a strong legacy in his team of people that remain self-confident enough to speak up when they think that the dream has gone awry. The end of story is left open-ended so that if someone wished to in the future, they could easily pick up exactly where Williamson has left off and keep building on the legacy that he has left behind. This pulp character has truly been redefined for a new generation and will hopefully not fade back into obscurity.
As flawless as the first 11 issues of this series are, it does begin to shift away from the initial "Man Out of Time" storyline and starts to become far more generic superhero story. There are definitely moments where that theme begins to resurface but it is quickly squashed by the appearance of another villain. The plot becomes far more focused on Jim Albright's fight in the present which is a clear progression for the character, but is not the reason that many people signed up to the book.
In his update to the lore of Captain Midnight, Williamson has created and dealt with a wide array of varied and intriguing characters. While I would love to go into detail about them each in turn, I'd rather leave them for you to discover on your own. The breakout star in this series is definitely the questionably aligned, teleporting mercenary known as Helios. Not only was his attitude appalling in all the best ways, his fighting style felt so extremely innovative and was portrayed well by each artist. Whenever Helios fought, the page would fill up with a scattering of panels that represented the madness and the daze induced during a fight with someone using a personal teleporter.
Despite how it may seem by the length of this review, there is so much more to this series to discuss. Captain Midnight has been the core of Dark Horse's superhero line for almost three years now so it's disappointing to think that I may never read another issue. Despite the problems that I had with it towards the end, this is undeniably an extremely high quality series. People who say that comics are only for children and the simple-minded have clearly never branched outside of the biggest publishers.
Relationships rise and fall within these pages and people make discoveries that they never wished to make. Behind all of this is a man trying to make a difference in the unfair world that he's found himself a part of. Captain Midnight represents the person that we all aspire to be as we blunder through life and, while he's definitely not perfect, it's difficult to see him as anything but an inspiration.

August 26, 2015

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Captain Midnight Series Review - Part 1: The Effects Of A Legacy

Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Victor Ibáñez, Pere Pérez, Fernando Dagnino, Eduardo Francisco
Colours by Ego, Stefani Rennee, Javier Mena

Legacies can be crucial. For many people, one of the most important parts of life is ensuring that they leave behind something to be proud of. This can measured through the amount of people that we've helped, the work that we've produced or simply by the amount of people that are going to miss us when we're gone. For people in positions of power, a common measure of satisfaction is being able to say that the people you leave behind can carry on in your absence and build on the foundation that you've provided them. How would you feel if you got a chance to see the future and saw people talking with your name but without any of your words?
Captain Midnight (Jim "Red" Albright) is a character that began his life in a radio serial that ran from 1938 to 1949. During the peak of his popularity, he was adapted into a comic strip, TV series and even a movie serial. His character, his role in the world and the members of his team have been modified slightly in each iteration with little consistency across the iterations. This series from Dark Horse is a compilation that draws influence primarily from the original radio serial but also adapts the characters and puts a modern spin on them.
Dark Horse's core concept centres around the original Captain Midnight finding himself transported forward from his own time in 1943 into the far flung future of 2013. As a revolutionary engineer in his own time, he quickly finds the future hasn't progressed anywhere near as much as he had hoped. This disillusionment is compounded by the discovery that his Nazi nemesis, Fury Shark, surfaced years earlier and has cemented herself as the CEO of the global arms-dealer Sharkbyte Industries. Upon discovering that she has corrupted the technology that he was creating back in the 1940s, Captain Midnight resolves to return the world to the course that he originally put it on.
One of the ways to measure a legacy is the effects that you have on the people closest to you. Captain Midnight inspires everyone that he meets to be the best version of themselves and creates a drive in them to improve the world in any way they can. In both timelines, Captain Midnight leads a group of people who call themselves the Secret Squadron. In World War 2, the followers were his second-in-command and romantic partner, Joyce Ryan, and budding creator and boy-genius, Chuck Ramsey.
The modern day iteration initially contained the granddaughter of an original member, Charlotte Ryan, and Captain Midnight super-fan, Rick Marshall. They are eventually joined by their government liaison, Marvin Jones, who is assigned the moniker of "Mr Jones". While the group in the modern day does eventually expand, these characters serve as the core focus for the majority of the series.

A recurring plot point throughout Captain Midnight is the idea of handing down roles within a team. Beyond the obvious parallel between the grandmother and the granddaughter, the people that Captain Midnight inspires to his side seem to fall into certain roles. At first glance, they are people who want to do good in the world and see a person who has goals that align with theirs. Beneath this, they are all people who had something missing from their lives and needed someone to inspire them enough to actually get up and make a difference.
The first arc of this series chronicles Jim Albright's arrival in the modern day and his subsequent attempts to adjust to his new surroundings. Fury Shark plays the role of the stereotypical supervillain and antagonises Captain Midight at every opportunity that she gets. Her aim is to destroy everything that Albright gave to the world in revenge for the murder of her father.

As a relatively unknown writer at the time, Williamson quickly demonstrated his ability to seed storylines in the very first arc that wouldn't come to fruition for years. Main plots that are unravelled throughout the 24 issue run are introduced long before they're actually used. The details seem relatively insignificant when you first see them, but jump out as excellent foreshadowing when reading the series for the second time.
The art throughout the first arc is primarily provided by series regular Fernando Dagnino. It is consistent during the action filled moments and the times when the characters are sitting around having a conversation. However, there are a few moments where a character's face doesn't portray the emotion that the speech bubble does, detracting from otherwise powerful moments. The colouring from Ego throughout the first four issues also feels quite pale and washed out which dampens all of the emotions and prevents the arc from feeling exciting.
The second arc of the series picks up the pace as Captain Midnight runs into an accidental legacy that was created by his sudden disappearance. The government created the hero known as Skyman to serve with the same values that Cap himself represented back in the middle of WW2. Jim Albright is forced to directly confront his own black and white view of the world when seeing it epitomised in the actions of an unstable superhero that has been created to represent him.

Throughout his journey through this brave new world, Cap is constantly forced to look at his own views and consider whether or not they still apply in a country that isn't in the middle of a world war. It's a great deconstruction of a person who, before this, has been completely focused on achieving a single goal and shows the detriment caused by plowing forward with a goal without thinking how it affects people that you'll probably never even meet.
This arc also gives companion Rick Marshall something solid to contribute to the group beyond his knowledge of the legendary hero's past. Not only are his skills as a pilot and connections to the military crucial to the team's success, his unwavering loyalty shines through in a few inspirational moments. Seeing a person so dedicated to their leader makes the reader want to strive towards making that much of a difference in someone's life.
Issue #7 is the first instance of Williamson taking the story in a completely unexpected direction. Just one issue after retrieving his legendary plane, The Skyrocket, from the bottom of the ocean Midnight sacrifices it to take down a single villain. The plane is built up as a vehicle that serves as an extension of the Captain's abilities. This is not the first time that Williamson pulls out the rug from underneath the reader and creates a scene full of foreboding during each reread and a sign that the reader should never expect anything of these characters.

While he is not the first artist, Eduardo Francisco is the person who contributes the most to my memory of the aesthetics of this series. His depictions of the characters are iconic and you retain them in your head regardless of the art actually on the page. His Jim Albright is the classic square-jawed handsome guy from old pulp stories, while Charlotte and Rick are average looking heroes who are tough enough to be the people most likely to rise up to help. Francisco's inks feel stronger than those from Dagnino and they bring a certain weight to the series that was missing before.
If the rest of the series isn't to your taste, you owe yourself the opportunity to read until the end of the third arc. This is where Williamson takes everything that you think you know about a superhero and throws it out the window. After having enough of the bastardisation of his ideas, Captain Midnight decides to take the fight directly to Fury Shark and brings her back to his base. In a move that annihilates any expectations the reader has for the title, series supervillain Fury Shark is brutally murdered in cold blood while under Cap's protection. Williamson creates such a fantastic atmosphere that you come away from the scene feeling completely violated. 
This untoward act of violence drives Jim Albright to frightening places and causes him to rashly chase after the perpetrator into his old company building. An unfortunate series of events then leads to Rick sacrificing his life by reacting like a true hero and jumping in front of what would have otherwise been a killing blow to Jim Albright.

Sometimes you're the most prepared you can be and you've been given all the support and power you could possibly need; you feel like you could face the devil himself and come through safely. This can be due to your circumstances, your knowledge or even some kind words given exactly when you need to hear them. Then sometimes, with all of this newfound confidence, you need to take a leap of faith. And sometimes you just fail.
Rick's journey into the role that he always wished for and then his immediate downfall could be seen as a cautionary tale. He doesn't get to see his hero succeed and gets taken down, not in a blaze of victory, but during a crushing defeat. However, throughout everything, he never stops believing in his heroes and that he can make a difference. Making a difference is all that most of us can hope to do in our lives and Rick Marshall reaches for and exceeds all of the expectations of him. His name may not go down in the legends of comic book characters that saved the world, but I'll be damned if he goes by completely and utterly forgotten.
Look for Part 2 of my series review tomorrow! 
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SPX Spotlight 2015: The Little Red Fish #2 by James Moffitt and Bizhan Khodabandeh

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

The Little Red Fish - Issue 2
Written by James Moffitt
Illustrated by Bizhan Khodabandeh
Published by Sink/Swim Press

I joined The Little Red Fish in progress, reading Issue 2 of this developing series with only the vaguest of knowledge that it was written as a political allegory for the Iranian revolution of 1979.

But, I’ll get to that in a minute. On its face, The Little Red Fish #2 is the story of a species of beautiful, perfectly scaled, thoughtful fish who wrestle with their place within the life of the sea and sky. In particular, this is the story of Manucher, a special fish amongst them, who can transform into a hawk and navigate between the worlds of sun and surf. Some of the other fish become suspicious of his powers, and the herons who hunt them are skeptical too. A young fish is killed by the waterfowl, and Manucher is quickly scapegoated for his death, even though he had no involvement. 

Though the birds are generally the predators of this ecosystem and the fish the prey, the birds reach out to some of the fish in a complex political attempt to take down the good-intentioned shape shifter . This scheme seems good for the fish in the short term, who want to keep Manucher from having an effect on the populace, but in the long term it looks like their undermining of their own societal order will serve the birds and the birds alone. All this time, the titular little red fish trails along near Manucher’s side and begins to understand the gravity of the situation.

At the same time as it sets up this dilemma, The Little Red Fish #2 delves into some mystical and marvelous world building -- specifically how Manucher came to possess his powers and wisdom - through the gifts of “the orb” which as he explains to the Little Red Fish, represents the will of the people and “fills our spirit with the will to fight”. It’s heady but beautiful stuff, fanciful and intricate. Bizhan Khodabandeh’s illustration work really shines here.

So, here’s how I’m guessing that this story links up with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. At this time, many Iranians were unhappy with the Shah’s dictatorial regime and his ties to the West. Through protest and civil resistance of a variety of groups, Marxists and Islamic fundamentalists alike, and later through violent uprisings, the Shah’s reign was overturned and Ayatollah Khomeini instituted an Islamic theocracy that had it’s own deeply oppressive set of social controls (see Persepolis for more!). It seems that The Little Red Fish burrows into the heart of the action, where alliances were being made and broken between revolutionaries and relations with autocratic and Western influences were being tenuously (and dangerously!) negotiated. To my eye, the fish represent the “People” for better or worse and the birds represent the Shah and the West (at least thus far) -- to wit, one of the herons supports a ridiculous British Royal style crown on his head.

However, having attempted to suss that out, I feel that the political allegory in this issue works on a larger scale than just the 1979 revolution -- the people versus those in power, and the complex motives of those who seek for change.
An example of Khodabandeh's art from "The Little Red Fish"
Though the story is compelling, I felt that the illustrations were really the star of the show  -- the intricately scaled fish, the swirling and sliding through water, the majestic flight and breathtaking wingspans of birds in flight. The illustrations helped the orb backstory feel epic and mythical, which drew me further in. I could look at some of the pages of this issue for hours -- especially those of Manucher, the fish/hawk, taking flight. I recommend taking a look at it if only for the meticulous and moving illustration and color work.

Finally, having not read Issue 1, I still felt that Issue 2 stood up on its own. In fact, on my first pass, I thought it was the first issue in the series -- as the story unfolded I was able to infer most of what was going on from the team’s excellent worldbuilding. It did a great job, as a good single issue should, of being a compelling story in its own right, and a tale that leaves you hungry to find out what’s next. When the Little Red Fish saga is complete, I look forward to seeing the collected wisdom and tragedy of the story as a whole, and perhaps getting a clearer sense of the connection of this seemingly allegory to real world events. But even if the history is still a bit hazy to me, that’s alright -- Red Fish is a clear-eyed vision of a world in the midst of turning upside down.

Bizhan Khodabandeh will be at SPX this year. If you can't navigate your way to SPX, you can find The Little Red Fish here.