Sunday, January 23, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Mike Carey, He's So Very...

Mike Carey is fast on the way to becoming the best writer working in comics today.

An explanation: When I say best, I mean most versatile. The position of "favorite writer" is not one that I have ever been able to fill, simply because there are so many writers I like for many different reasons. I like Gail Simone for her humor, strong characterization and ability to write a good action sequence. I like Brian Vaughan for his creativity, concepts and unusual dialogue. I like Geoff Johns for his use of history and ability to weave new tales seamlessly into history. I have yet to read a bad story by any of these writers and yet I can't name a single one my favorite, because it is impossible for me to quantify goodness in such terms.

But Mike Carey, by sheer dent of versatility is proving himself to be a great writer of whatever book he works on. I was first introduced to him through Lucifer and that was enough to get me to try any project his name was on. It was enough to get me to read Ultimate Elektra, which was a minor miracle considering how odious I found Greg Rucka's Ultimate Daredevil, which the former book at spun-off from. But it was good. And though it doesn't sound like my kind of book, I'm going to give the upcoming Spellbinders book a shot simply because of Carey's good name.

This week, I read two Carey stories and heard word of another new project he has in the works. All of these only show the great versatility of Mike Carey; one of the few comic writers who can handle action, romance, horror, drama and comedy with equal skill.

Hellblazer: All His Engines

This hard-back graphic novel came out this week and proved to be quite the potent antidote to extensive exposure to more and more bad news regarding the Constantine movie. Ironically, the story of All His Engines puts our favorite bastard in the setting of the bastardized film based upon him: Los Angeles.

The City of Angels, ironically enough, is under siege by several demons. The demons are turning Hell into a franchise business, creating their own small hells within the city. John Constantine, con-man and magician, gets involved after the granddaughter of long-time sidekick Chas Chandler is kidnapped by one of these demons. The demon, it turns out, knows about John and wanted to enlist his cooperation in eliminating his business competition.

Neil Gaiman says it best, in a blurb on the cover of this book.

"Mike Carey has written the quintessential Constantine story. If you want to see what all the fuss is really about, you should read this book."

This is a great Constantine story. Maybe not the best, but it is the only story I have seen that has totally summed up one of the most complicated characters in graphic literature in one go. It has all the hallmarks of your typical Constantine story; an innocent endangered, a dangerous enemy and John Constantine having to save the world through his own personal magic combining slight-of-hand and true magic.

While Carey's writing is the highlight for me, the artwork by regular Hellblazer artist of Leonardo Manco is a perfect complement to the disturbing story told by Carey. Overall, I'd say this book is well-worth the $24.95 price tag and that it will make a worthy gift for anyone who has not yet been exposed to the wonderous world of Hellblazer and those who will need proof that there is something good about John Constantine after the film comes out. Those of you who like number ratings can call this one a perfect 10.

My Faith In Frankie

Frankie Moxon is a blessed young woman. Literally. She always seems to come out on top, no matter what disasters occur around her. Indeed, she only has one problem; she can't get a boyfriend. The cause of this disaster is the same thing that has steered her through so many disasters before; her own personal god, Jerivan.

Jervian, a teenage god himself, found Frankie at infancy and has been watching over her ever since. An all-too real imaginary friend who is all too jealous of any other man, divine or otherwise, getting near the woman he is totally devoted to. But things get more complicated for the unlikely duo, as one good deed comes back to bite them both in the ass.

I meant to read this one when it originally came out as a monthly comic, but my comic shop kept selling out of it before I had a chance to read it. But with the recent release of a Manga-size graphic novel, I finally got my chance to see how well Mike Carey can write a comedic romance.

Pretty darn well, it turns out. And I applaud the decision to publish My Faith in Frankie in a Manga-size format, as this story is perfectly suited to the genre. Twisted romance, supernatural powers and a whole lot of love triangles abound, with a suitable Vertigo twist added to the proceedings and Carey waves this tapestry of story beautifully.

True, the format does cramp the artwork and requires the loss of some color, but the story still comes across despite that problem. That said, I'd still like to see a full-color, trade-paperback printing of Frankie in the future. Let's call this a 7.5 out of 10, with lowered score due to the format cramping the style of the art.

Red Sonja

With the stellar success of Conan, it was only a matter of time before the comics community would look to adapting the other works of fantasy writer Robert E. Howard once again. And the most obvious choice of the next character to be adapted is also one of the most controversial; perhaps the most famous literary amazon of all time, Red Sonja.

Most fans are familiar with Red Sonja through her three comics series and a spattering of one-shots written by comics legend Roy Thomas over the last thirty years or from the infamous B-movie starring Brigitte Nielsen. The roots of the character lay further back, with a Howard story called "The Shadow of the Vulture". In this story, one of the characters was a red-haired warrior woman known as Sonya the Red of Rogatino. This was the only story Howard ever wrote with the character and it was likely she would have been forgotten except to Howard scholars had it not been for Roy Thomas.

Originally intending to adapt Howard's original Conan stories and then spin-off into his own tales, Thomas began looking into adapting Howard's stories outside of the Conan canon into stories for the comics. Permission was given, and Thomas was given freedom to take stories that had that special Howard spark and adapt them into tales of Howard's most famous heroes.

It was in this way that Thomas turned "The Shadow of the Vulture" into a Conan story and introduced Sonya (or Sonja as it would be spelled) to Conan. An aloof mercenary, Sonja has little interest in the barbarian hero outside of using him as cannon fodder in battle and a distraction in her own daring acts of thievery. She escaped from their first encounter with all of Conan's loot and perhaps a bit of his heart. Fans loved the character and this being at the time that Marvel was attempting to create more books with strong female leads, Red Sonja was given a chance at the lime light after several more appearances in Conan's comic.

Under Thomas's direction, Sonja took on a totally different history than the brief one given to Sonya. Sonja would be given a rougher past; her family killed and herself raped and left for dead in a fire. She would escape and be visited by a goddess who promised her magical sword-fighting skills if exchange for a vow of celibacy, save to the man who could beat her in a fair fight. This element, the vow of celibacy for power, while often a theme in mythology, was actually taken by Thomas from one of W.B. Yeats' Cuchulain plays.

Despite most of her titles lasting for only a year or two, Sonja still proved popular enough to continue on in solo works into the mid-80's and managed regular cameos in Conan until the early 90's when that title was canceled. The 90's were a lean-time for the Henna-Haired Harridan. She managed one Image-artwork heavy one-shot from Marvel and a Thomas-penned one-shot story from the Howard-devoted Cross Plains Comics in 1999.

Sonja has remained popular despite her various critics. Many Howard purists see Sonja as a corruption of Howard's work and are rather annoyed that a background character from a non-Conan story has been transmogrified into a warrior every bit the equal of the famous barbarian and indeed the second-most popular of Howard's creations. And while she wore the costume in relatively few of her comics, Sonja's chainmail bikini costume has become a universal joke in comic-book, gaming and fantasy art fandom as the ultimate piece of impractical and uncomfortable armor.

Still, you can't keep a good woman down and Red Sonja will soon be riding into adventure once again. Dynamite Entertainment, flush with success from their recent Army of Darkness series, has acquired the rights to publish a regular, monthly, Red Sonja comic book. And just when I, old-school Conan comic fan that I am, didn't think the news could get any better, it did.

One of the co-writers for the new series is Mike Carey. The other, Michael Avon Oeming, is more famous for his artwork on Powers but is reportedly wanting to start working as a writer. Carey, for his part, is trying to break his image as being "just a Vertigo writer". I, for my part, can't wait to read it.

As hyped as I am about the writing, I can't neglect to mention the all-star art team as well. The regular illustrators will be Mel Rubi (penciler on KISS & Aliens Vs. Predator), Ceaser Rodrigez (inker on Scion) and Richard Isanove (colorist on Marvel: 1602). If this weren't enough, Michael Turner, JG Jones, Joseph Michael Linsner, John Cassaday, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Art Adams and Michael Kaluta are all signed on to do covers for the book at some point in the future. Land has already finished the cover for a special Zero Issue to be released in April for just 25 cents! This special issue, with 15 pages of introductory story will be a teaser for the first issue, due out in June with an Alex Ross cover.

And for those of you hoping for more Sonja-related merchandise, wish no more. Dyanmic Forces has won the rights to create and produce trading cards, lithographs, giclees, acetate lithos, wall scrolls, statues, busts, bookends and other items based on Red Sonja and have reportedly already begun production on a few surprises. Keep an eye out at the Dynamic Forces Website for more goodies.

Previews of the Land cover, the first page of #0 as well as more information can be found here.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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