Archive for Hellblazer

When the story doesn’t end

Posted in Books, Comics, TV with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by Cara Marie

The article Better Bite-sized appeared on Stuff today, inspired by the author David Haglund’s recent viewing of the TV mini-series The Top of the Lake. Noting that the series was imported, he asks ‘Why aren’t there more great American mini-series?’ (This confused me momentarily, until I remembered reading a New Zealand news site is no assurance of reading local content.)

I can understand his frustration with series that go on to long, or end up padded so that they can reach the requisite 22 episodes. I am all for series being allowed to reach their natural conclusions. I don’t agree that ‘the mini-series is probably the ideal form for creating great television art.’

It’s the ‘ideal form’ part that I take issue with. Just because longer series often outstay their welcome doesn’t mean that they have less potential for greatness. Haglund compares TV series to novels:

[Cable shows like The Sopranos] are often called novelistic, but even the serial novels of the Victorian era generally traced one central story from beginning to end in a way that The Sopranos and Mad Men don’t quite do.

He forgets that not all novels stand alone – he’d get a better equivalency with series than with serialised novels. Consider JD Robb’s In Death series, which is basically a procedural in novel form. Each book is its own arc and, with only a few exceptions, you could happily read them all as stand-alones. If you’re going to read them all though, it’s more satisfying to do it in order, just like it’s more satisfying to watch a TV show like Castle in order. The relationships and characters develop over the course of the series (Robb lets her characters get together more quickly though), but the basic structure is episodic.

This is not an uncommon structure for a novel series, especially in genres like crime and urban fantasy. But then, maybe Haglund would argue that genre series are never ‘great art’ …

Novels wouldn’t be my go-to comparison for TV narrative structures though. I’d go for another medium which is primarily delivered serially, and which is happy to embrace that. I’d go for comics.

You can have a fantastic, single-volume-narrative comic book. You can bundle that up as a ‘graphic novel’ and then the literati may even accept that a comic can be ‘great art’, because the structure is more like something they recognise, a novel or a mini-series.

You can just as easily have a fantastic comic book that runs past twenty volumes. Those twenty volumes may tell a complete, self-contained story. Or they may not!

Haglund seems to think this is a problem.

Characters interesting enough to serve as engaging companions week after week for years are wonderful creations, but their stories lack the meaningful shape found in the best novels and movies and plays. We may get glorious moments, and terrific episodes, and occasionally excellent multi-episode arcs. But the need to leave the door open, to keep the story going a little bit longer, and then a little bit longer, is an artistic impediment.

Sure, it’s frustrating when something that has a natural ending gets stretched out and padded and maybe never gets to end at all. But that’s when people are forcing their story into a different shape. It’s not because the shape of a long-form serial is less ‘meaningful’. It’s different, sure; it’s not less valuable.

Incidentally, this relates to why I don’t like ‘graphic novel’ as a synonym for ‘comic’ (asides from the cultural cringe). I don’t like the implication that a comic should be structured like a novel. It can be, but it’s not the only option, just like the novel isn’t the only option for telling a story in prose.

Call Blankets a graphic novel, fine. But something like Sandman doesn’t resemble a graphic novel just because it has an overall arc and an ending. It’s not trying to; it uses all the opportunities for side-stories, for multiple self-contained arcs that initially seem unconnected, that being a serial gives you (and that something like Blankets doesn’t.

(Which isn’t to say novels can’t use those things too. They just generally don’t. Or if you want to read the side-stories, you have to hunt down a bunch of random anthologies – you don’t get them as part of the core experience.)

And am I forbidden from calling Hellblazer a great comic, just because it doesn’t have an overriding arc? (I say, assuming Milligan didn’t pull one out his hat at the last minute.) Even though I’ve been attached to it for the last ten years? Even though it has great ‘mini-series’ arcs, and great single issue-length arcs, and great runs where several self-contained arcs build upon each other to a conclusion that is thrilling and inevitable? And then keeps on going?

Am I allowed to even though parts of it aren’t great, because hey, it’s a series, Azzarello’s arc doesn’t negate the brilliance of Delano’s? Am I allowed to even though it doesn’t stick with a single genre, and some parts are horror while others are only dark fantasy?

Is the serial aspect an ‘artistic impediment’? Or is it an opportunity for hundreds of issues of storytelling, by a variety of storytellers, that never would have happened if John Constantine had never been let out the pages of Swamp Thing?

Up till very recently, the Hellblazer door had been left open. That’s not an impediment, that’s opportunity.

John Ney Rieber ended his run on The Books of Magic after 50 issues. Because he’d reached the end of the stories he could tell there. And that’s valid. And maybe more TV series would be better if their show-runners could say, right, that’s it, we’ve reached the end of this story and that’s it.

But they don’t have to. Maybe one story isn’t all the stories they want to tell. Or maybe they can pass the batton on to someone else, like Rieber did – someone who does still have stories to tell.

A sequel isn’t always a cash-grab. Nor is an open-ended serial. And great art doesn’t have to be short and self-contained.

Comics in brief

Posted in Comics, Fantasy, Horror, Superhero, Young adult with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2011 by Cara Marie

Hexed – Michael Alan Nelson + Emma Rios

In theory, I should have eaten this right up, but in practice, I was underwhelmed. I think I might have prefered it as a novel – I don’t think there was enough development for me to really connect with Lucifer as a character, even though all the pieces were there. (I did like her employer, art curator Val, a lot, and am glad she survived. I’d read the series all about her.)

Hellblazer: Hooked – Peter Milligan + artists

Dear Peter Milligan, I would prefer not to think of one of my favourite characters attempting to rape women, by love potion or not. Just because it didn’t work out that way doesn’t mean it’s not introducing skeeviness that wasn’t there.

So, uh, I think I’ll be skipping the rest of that run.

Nomad: Girl Without a World – Sean McKeever + David Baldeon

This, on the other hand, I really liked. It’s about Rikki Barnes, the girl Bucky from an alternate universe, stuck in our world with no Captain America to call her own! I like that we skipped the origin story, so she’s starting from a place of confidence. She might not be sure of her place in the world, but she’s sure of her own abilities, and doesn’t hesitate to step up and be a hero.

Basically it’s a really good YA comic, the sort of thing I wish the Minx line had come out with.

Also, I love that Black Widow gave her her Nomad costume (even though I liked her original costume better) and was all sneaky about it. It was like in the Protector of the Small books where Alanna was Kel’s secret benefactor. Except not completely obvious!

Comics in brief

Posted in Comics, Fantasy, Horror, Superhero, Young adult with tags , , , , , , , on June 6, 2011 by Cara Marie

Hellblazer: City of Demons – Si Spencer & Sean Murphy

This is definitely on the horror side of things, and on the disturbing, I-wonder-if-I-could-throw-up side of horror. And it does it effectively, and for the most part without going over the top. The one part I thought was overkill came as the end, and while I see the narrative need for that trick at the end, (skip) I thought the [prelude to] sex was unnecessary – particularly him finding her closet of BDSM toys directly prior to the reveal that, hello, she’s EVIL. Because the two things are connected …

But asides from that, I enjoyed it very much. I was expecting a more nihilistic ending than we got, so that was a nice surprise.

Runaways: Dead Wrong – Terry Moore & Humberto Ramos

I’ve read the first trade of this, but none of those in-between – I didn’t like the first enough to bother, and only got this because I thought it might be worth trying again with a different author. However, while this volume might encompass a complete arc, it is in no way a self-contained story, and it was difficult to get the backstory from context. My memory of who the characters were was also very vague, and while I was intrigued by the the f/f couple, I really had no investment in any of them.

Which is kind of sad, because there’s aliens and apparently galactic wars with entire planets getting destroyed, but maybe I’ll just have to stick with rereading Starfleet Academy for that.

Iron Man: The Inevitable – Joe Casey & Frazer Irving

This was a self-contained story, on the other hand, and even with my knowledge of Iron Man being limited to a) the movies and b) the X-Statix/Avengers crossover arc, it was easy to follow. I may not be entirely sure what happened, but I was never actually confused :D As long as I can tell who won, it doesn’t matter what power-up they used to do it.

I enjoyed it quite a bit, mostly because Tony Stark is ridiculous (and that little moustache he has in the comics never fails to entertain). ‘Oh, woe is me, my name is Tony Stark and I keep getting people killed. No-one believes me that I’m not Iron Man anymore! Oh well, I can still beat you in a fight!’

I’m exaggerating, he wasn’t nearly that angsty. And the woman he gets killed at least died out of professional curiousity, not as a way to get to him. Alas, she pushed the boundaries of pseudoscience too far.

Bride of the Water God: vol 1 – Yun Mi-kyung

This is very pretty, but the story didn’t grab me – girl gets sacrificed by her community to fulfill the title role, god turns out to be in the form of a somewhat bratty young boy, except for at night, when he is older. He keeps this a secret, even after she meets him in that form. I feel like, been there, done that. I don’t think I’ll bother checking out the rest.

Patterns you don’t want to see

Posted in Books, Comics, Crime, Fantasy, Horror with tags , , , , on February 10, 2011 by Cara Marie

I read a lot of Mike Carey in January. I’m a big fan of his writing: I like his complex plots, where you never get how everything fits together till the end; I like how full of myth and mystery his stories are, the dark places they go; I like how endlessly fascinating his characters are.

But when you read a lot of an author at once, patterns begin to crop up. In this case: please, Mike Carey, can we stop with the rape?

Could be triggery; also spoilers for many of Carey’s works

Comics and communal storytelling

Posted in Comics, Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by Cara Marie

When I brought home the first volume of House of Mystery, I was asked if I thought the world really needed another Sandman spin-off. I say, why not? It’s just like folklore.

How many Arthur stories are there? I don’t just mean the ones about Arthur himself, I mean the ones about the other knights, the one where King Arthur has a daughter who crossdresses so she can run off and save the man she loves. I adore communal storytelling, another person running off with one of the characters, with a building, to tell a new story. Where no one person’s vision is the authoritative one. Maybe they contradict each other and maybe they don’t, but they’re all written out of love.

And that’s something I love about comics. Okay, so House of Mystery was underwhelming. There are other spin-offs that I love, maybe more than I love the ‘original’. Or maybe I don’t like one writer’s work with a character, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the character anymore.

I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons. The first has been reading Hellblazer again. I began that series as a teenager, but somewhere during Brian Azzarello’s arc I lost interest. But I have been on a bit of a Mike Carey kick later, and having gone to read his work on Hellblazer, I discover that hey, it’s not that I didn’t want more Constantine stories. It’s just I didn’t like the ones Azzarello was telling.

The other reason was that I decided I wanted copies of The Books of Magic, which I haven’t read since I was in my early teens. Now, the only trade they’ve kept in print of this ‘series’ is the original four-issue miniseries written by Neil Gaiman. Which isn’t what I was after, and indeed I do not own. I was after John Ney Reiber’s work, which is The Books of Magic I fell in love with. Also I was after the rest of that series, which was written by other authors and never released in trade at all. Also I was after the ten issues of Books of Magick that were never released in trade, even though the first five were. And once I’ve finished getting those, there’s twenty-five issues of Hunter: The Age of Magic … and it’s only after that that I think, hey, maybe I should get the Gaiman miniseries. You know, for completeness’ sake.

I reread most of Books of Magick last night, which is written by Si Spencer and illustrated for the most part by the brilliantly disturbing Dean Ormston. It’s set when Tim Hunter is in his twenties, and only very briefly in our world: you could read most of it and think it was an AU version of Tim. And there is an AU version of Tim in it, but it’s not who you think. I always had the impression it wasn’t that popular (otherwise why wouldn’t they have released the rest as trades?) but I loved it. And part of that is the way it twists the original ‘verse in totally unexpected, awesome ways. Ways that other authors might never have gone for.

This next part is spoilery. But the awesome kind of spoilers.

So Tim Hunter has this owl called Yo-Yo, right? Because it used to be a yo-yo. Si Spencer looks at this and thinks, hey, you know what would be cool? To transform Yo-Yo into a person for a while. Oh, and while they’ve both lost their memories, we should give him a massive crush on Tim.

I say, Si Spencer, I like the way you think.

The series is mostly set in two worlds, one of which is a creation of Tim’s, and he’s about to go uncreate it. Which a few people, Yo-Yo included, think is a bad idea. Now, who does every world need in order to spit in the eye of the gods? Why, Constantine, of course.

Only in this world, Constantine is a sixteen-year-old girl. Not only that, Chaz is a fifteen-year-old girl and they totally fall in love. (I think I first read this series before Hellblazer, so I don’t think I knew exactly what he was doing there.)

And here’s what I love about comics: it’s canon. There is a world in which John Constantine is a teenage lesbian.

And if comics insisted ‘no spin-offs’, we never would have got it. Hell, we would never even have had the original miniseries, predicated as it was on bringing together a bunch of different DC characters. That seems to me like a sadder world. Because people want to tell new stories about characters they love. People want to read them. And there’s not just one person who can tell those stories right. And maybe I won’t like them all, but what does that matter? It doesn’t mean the stories I loved aren’t there any more, it doesn’t mean other people can’t tell them in the future.

I don’t think there can be too many spin-offs.

Many John Constantines

Posted in Comics, Fantasy, Horror, Movies with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by Cara Marie

From the Listener review of Constantine:

Kind of a mess, and another reason that the god of comics, Alan Moore, hates Hollywood. Moore invented John Constantine in Swamp Thing and the Hellblazer spin-off comic-book series has been in production since 1988. Moore envisioned Constantine as a working-class warlock from Liverpool; an anti-hero who does questionable things. Here, he’s Keanu Reeves, a supernatural detective with a love interest and lung cancer.

I’m quite fond of Constantine – mostly for Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, yes, but I’ve watched it three times, so I obviously don’t mind the ‘mess’. But it’s not that that got my back up reading this review – it was the attempt to defend Alan Moore’s honour. Because, okay, Moore invented John Constantine. So what? He never wrote an issue of Hellblazer – which has been running for longer than I have been alive. That’s 22 years of other people creating this character and his story. Why does Moore get any more ownership of the character than them?

I could understand, if you wanted to diss the movie, saying it was a reason for Garth Ennis to hate Hollywood. He wrote the arc the movie is mostly based off, and roughly a third of the whole series. So if Ennis were pissed off that they changed John’s tricksy manipulation of three lords of hell to a redemption story, well, fair enough. But no, Alan Moore ‘god of comics’ gets the credit.

I do think that John in the comics and John in the movie are very different people – however, the dichotomy the review tries to set up seems off to me. John in the comics solves enough mysteries that it doesn’t seem off to describe him as a ‘supernatural detective’ and he certainly has enough love interests! And while the movie moves him to Los Angeles, and gives him a different back story, it is still trying to show John as an ‘anti-hero who does questionable things’. I don’t know that it entirely succeeds, but the intent seems to be there.

I found the ‘love interest’ comment particularly funny, because for me the thing that defines how movie!John and comic!John are different is that in the movie, John doesn’t kiss the girl. And that’s in character for him. Whereas in my understanding of comic!John (and admittedly, I’ve probably only read half of Hellblazer) John would always kiss the girl.

So I don’t disagree that they’re quite different characters. But it’s hardly the first time a comic book character has had an AU, is it? That’s the nature of the beast. You don’t get exclusive ownership. That’s why the company owns the copyright.

And the prioritisation of invention over the continual work of creation rubs me the wrong way.

***

In other comic-related thoughts, I am reading Lucifer at the moment, and I would just like to draw hearts around Dean Ormston’s art. It’s just very attractive to me. Plus, it’s fun to see other people drawing Ormston’s monsters, because they are so obviously his designs.

And then thinking about that makes me think of Books of Magick: Life During Wartime, which had plenty of monsters in it (as well as an AU version of John Constantine, actually). And I only have the first half, because they never released the rest in trade and it’s a damn pity. And then I think of Books of Magic, which I loved as a teenager, and I think, I would really like to reread that.

I am feeling all nostalgic now! I read all these Vertigo comics as a teenager, borrowing them off my sister’s partner. (He has children now. That means not so many comics.)

You know, I’m sure there was something else I’d meant to do this evening.