Ok, I have to admit that writing these reviews is a little harder than I thought. I mean, how many ways can you say, “it has good art and a good story”, and vice versa. I guess I could just pad out the article by describing the plot, but I’ve never been a huge fan of that approach with entertainment reviews in general. It just seems a bit lazy.
A quick scan of the internet and review of other sites critiquing comic books has produced insipid results, unfortunately. I mean, I shouldn’t really be surprised. As much as I love the medium, we’re not exactly critiquing War and Peace. Each issue has 22 pages, and story arcs tend to run five or six issues so that it can be collected into a trade paperback for sale in bookstores at a later date. That’s 110 to 132 pages, which let’s be frank, is not quite as dense as 110 pages in a novel.
Comic book writers and artists need to convey a lot of information in a very limited space, so they have to be efficient, maybe even ruthless, with what they show and what they don’t show. Which means that building comfort and creating emotional moments through connection to the characters is extremely hard for comic creators. Novelists on the other hand have the luxury of spending more time with characters and narratives, which allows the reader more time to connect with the characters and the material.
All that said, I think it’s better to review story arcs versus single issues. Especially in the case of Grant Morrison who tends to use non-linear story telling and also inculcates quite a bit of foreshadowing. His run on Action Comics is no different and for me it was best binge-consumed instead of reading each issue individually as it was released.
I don’t know if this is a symptom of his story telling style, but at times the story seems to staccato step. Almost like I skipped a page. For me, I feel like that happens quite a lot with his stories and unfortunately it makes it hard to follow the central narrative. You always feel like you’re missing something.
That said it is a really good re-introduction to Superman and he does evolve quite a bit over the story arc into a more recognisable version of the character. I also really liked the re-introduction of Brainiac and how he used this villain to introduce well know story elements from the Superman mythology, like the Fortress of Solitude.
There’s also a sub-plot/thread devoted to Mr Mxyzptlk which starts in issue one and runs for the entire series culminating in Grant’s last issue which is number 18. It is easily the most inventive interpretation of the character and fits this rebooted version of Superman quite well. I’ve never been a big fan of this villain because Superman is primarily a science fiction hero, and the magical aspect of the character has never felt congruent with Superman’s universe.
Rags Morales art is on point as usual. He is easily one of my favourite artists, dating back to his time on Forgotten Realms and some of the other D&D books of the ‘90s. His characters are kinetic, which adds motion to the story. He’s very good at displaying emotion, which adds depth to the story and he doesn’t seem to cut corners at all. Some artists will get a bit lazy and skimp on the detail, but Rags doesn’t do that. His panels/pages are always very detailed and give you allot to look at.
All in all I’d rate Grant and Rags 18 issue run on Action Comics as a solid 4 out of 5 stars.
Website here: http://comicontoronto.com/
Ok. The usual disclaimer here: this review may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the series then it may be best to skip the main body of this review until you have.
Created by Grant Morrison, J G Jones, Carlos Pacheco plus others, it is……..just about okay. To be honest, it’s not that great. It has some good ideas, the concepts and narrative are quite brilliant, but the execution/delivery is poor and scattered, which makes it an odd read at times.
Let me explain.
Grant Morrison’s writing style is challenging to completely grasp at times. He’s sometimes so abstract, you’re not sure exactly what you’re reading. He tends to use quite a bit of foreshadowing, and when coupled with non-linear story telling it means that the series or story arc is best consumed in one sitting versus monthly or periodic installments. So, if you do decide to read this series, it’s best to do it in one sitting.
I read this series back in 2008 when it first came out and felt, like everyone, that Grant could do no wrong. I mean, he’s one of the top comic book writers of all time and he has written some great iconic stories, however this is not one of them. I really wanted to like it at the time of first reading, and it wasn’t until I read the series again recently that I was able to weight the story on its own merits.
I liked the exploration of the New Gods as an idea; their fall from Heaven to Earth after a war between Good and Evil, only to be planted in normal humans as an idea that grows and evolves, transforming the person into the respective New God. I loved the concept of delivering the anti-life equation through electronic media to infect and ultimately subjugate the Earth’s population with an idea. It’s so close to what is going on today with social media and the whole SJW culture that is infecting everything (to the point of it being detrimental). That Grant could see this as a possibility back in 2008 is brilliant on his part.
I also liked the deconstruction of the heroes, the way that he dispatched the super heroes so that the New Gods could infect and subjugate the populace.
Beyond that, it’s just weird. Libra acts as the Prophet for the coming of the New Gods by evangelizing and organising the super villains into one group to provide support for their arrival, and then he disappears in the second half of the story.
Superman and Batman are dispatched early on and then you don’t see them again until the final issue. Superman’s absence is odd and not fully explained, just briefly referenced when he reappears at the end of the series. And that’s really my problem with the story, there isn’t a central character or set of characters which carry the narrative and can be used to revolve the story around. It would have been better to tell the story from the villain’s perspective by making them the central characters.
I also wasn’t keen on the story pacing. Long arcs dedicated to Mary Marvel, without showing how she was corrupted, fighting the uninfected heroes, Supergirl in particular, I thought was unnecessary and didn’t really move the story along at all. I mean seeing these two square off against each other is fun, but maybe that should have been used for a supporting one-off story in it’s own separate book.
All that said, it is worth a read. It does have some really neat concepts, but it ultimately falls flat and fails to connect.
3 out of 5 stars.
This review contains spoilers, so if you are planning on reading the book please be mindful of that. On that note, I highly recommending reading it and circling back to the review. It’s a beautifully written and drawn book, and well worth adding to anyone’s collection.
The heart of the story is about how revenge corrupts, plain and simple. Here we see Gorr’s origin story………..
I’m sitting in the library trying to think of how/what to write on this comic book which I enjoyed tremendously. The atmosphere generated by the artist, the movement of the characters and their expressiveness as they emote supports the story perfectly.
That’s how it was flowing until my personal space was invaded by this dude who sat right next to me on the communal bench. Ok, it’s a communal bench, I get it, but I’ll know not to sit here next time. And, I appreciate it’s a Saturday which is the busiest day of the week, but seriously chief, you’re sitting so close it looks like we’re a couple. This is, of course, the best time for you to start reading over my shoulder – not literally given you are sitting so close, you’re almost looking at the laptop screen head-on. This guy has no concept of personal space.
Ok, so It’s a cautionary tale about becoming the thing we hate the most. Gorr starts off hating the Gods who abandoned him, who wouldn’t help as he suffered and then were directly responsible for the loss of his loved ones. He takes a chance opportunity at acquiring power to seek justice at first, but as time progresses he becomes bitter, twisted and cruel as revenge totally consumes him. His final act, a bomb to destroy all Gods throughout all time, sees Gorr become the God of all Gods who destroys lives around him as he focuses solely on his ultimate goal. Collateral damage; they’re not important.
Ok, chief, let’s take this a step further. You’ve just pulled out the Most Feminine Hand Cream of All Time and are applying it while looking at me out of the corner of your eye. I see your game, dude. Now I know why you sat next to me. Unfortunately for me, my sinuses have become sensitive to perfume/cologne over the years, to the point that I can no longer wear the stuff myself. The hand cream this guy is using is perfumed and is assaulting my senses. Fuck, could you be any more annoying? No wait, please don’t answer that.
I’ve always been a big fan of character driven stories which show their journey, decisions they make and the consequences thereof. Jason takes a unique and inventive approach by showing us three versions of Thor; a young, brash and inexperienced God, a “middle-aged” superhero and Avenger, and then finally King Thor, someone who is feeling the weight of hard decisions he has had to make as a King of Asgard, and then has them team up in the same story. One thing of note is the foreshadowing that Jason does with King Thor. In later stories, Thor loses his arm and we see this with King Thor and his use of the Destroyer’s arm in place of the one he lost in his younger years.
Ok, he answered that question. Now this dude is giving me furtive glances, sending me the signal that he wants to talk to me, i.e. hit on me. Fuck, chief, I couldn’t be any less interested, not to mention that you’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t swing that way. So, okay, lesson learned. I’ll need to sit elsewhere in the library – I’m not going to stop coming here because it’s a good space for writing. Next time I’ll just vacate the area and find another spot. The library has five floors. Plenty of options are available.
I appreciate that this is a comic book and a stylised, embellished version of the Norse myth, however I would have preferred to see Thor’s sons instead of the three daughters that appeared in the story. I guess I’m just a purest in that regard, but that’s really my only complaint about the story. In any case, I enjoyed the first eleven issues of the series so much, I bought the entire run. This is, of course, what good stories do: you can’t wait to see what happens next.
4 stars out of 5.
How I Outline a Comic Book Script
If I’m working from a really, really good outline, I can write a comic book script in a day or two. The big trick, of course, is nailing down that outline. So how does that work?
The big challenge is that to nail down an solid outline for a single issue, I have to nail down a solid outline for the bigger story arc that single issue is part of…
…and to nail down that bigger story arc outline, I have to nail down my take on the characters, my big thematic premise, and the big bullet points of what happens in the plot and how each of those turning points affect/change my key characters.
All of this preliminary work of cracking the WHOLE story can take weeks or even months. For me, anyway, this is the hardest part of the whole process — figuring out central point of the story and my character’s journey.
This is the point at which I’m taking notes all the time, writing and rewriting, staring into space, reading all kinds of previous stories involving the characters, trying to fill my brain and empty it at the same time to figure out what my take is.
Of course, every once in a while, I figure these things out pretty fast and I’m off to the races. And then sometimes it literally takes me years to figure out what a story’s really all about. Like 20 years, sometimes.
But when I’m doing work-for-hire projects, I don’t have years. So I have to make some decisions pretty fast and just try them out. At this point, a good relationship with my editor is absolutely key.
When I have a great editor, I call ’em up, talk through everything, including all my terrible ideas, and pretty quickly figure out what works and doesn’t work. I LOVE MY EDITORS. (Thank you, editors, for saving me every day!)
Once I’ve figured out what my character really wants, the plot elements of the story tend to come together quickly. Or sometimes hashing through the plot elements that I have a gut feeling need to be in the story help me figure out what the character really wants.
Either way, by the end, I need to know what my character wants and develop a plot with escalating drama in which at every stage, our heroes are either getting closer or further away from achieving their goals.
I usually break that plot down into issues as I go along — it just helps me figure out how the story works by breaking it down into those smaller units. I end up with a document that lays out the big bullet points of the story issue by issue, from beginning to end.
And THEN I can start outlining the individual issues. Knowing what role a particular issue plays in the larger story is absolutely key for outlining it…
…it helps me make all kinds of decisions about the stakes and the nature of the emotional journey at this stage in the story, the plot elements I need to set up and pay off, and the way the tone of the story might shift at different stages.
So here we are, finally, at the stage of outlining an individual comic book issue. Here’s some stuff I try to keep in mind:
1. The opening scene needs to provide a real hook — something fun that makes the reader really pay attention as well as, ideally, something meaty on an emotional level that’s intriguing or affecting. The opening page in particular needs to make an impression.
2. Coming up with fresh ways to convey the essential expositional material in the opening pages of a serial story is always a challenge. Sometimes an almost jokey infodump can work…
…but mostly I try to find a way to build a dramatic scene that moves the story forward but in which someone still has a reason to say the things the audience needs to hear to understand what’s going on.
One dumb example is a villain demonstrating his character by berating a lackey who doesn’t fully understand what’s going on and needs to have things explained. Gets the exposition across and builds up the villain at the same time.
3. The final scene needs a cliffhanger of some kind. Some real hook to make readers feel like they HAVE to get the next issue. The challenge here is to have it be a SURPRISE but not have it be obscure or unearned.
4. Monthly comics are sold with 4 or 5 page previews, which means it’s a good, practical idea to have something really compelling happen in those first 4 or 5 pages, with a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of page 5.
Often, with superhero comics, it feels pretty critical to have some spectacular action in those first 4 or 5 pages. But always remember that action without emotional context is boring.
5. Each scene should end with a kind of question or cliffhanger that makes you want to know what happens next. Each scene should build in some way on the tension created by the previous scene — maybe answering some questions but raising others or amping up the emotional stakes.
6. Generally speaking but not always, a switch to a new location should happen on a new page.
7. Even if this issue is a middle chapter in a longer story, it should have its own internal beginning, middle, and end that make it satisfying to read as a story in and of itself. The characters should start in one place and end in another, both in terms of plot and emotion.
8. If a scene doesn’t move a character forward emotionally or plot-wise, it probably needs to be cut. If it only does one of those two things, it’s a good idea to think about how it could do both.
9. Generally speaking, giving emotional, character-turning-point scenes more room to breathe is always a smart move.
10. When breaking scenes down into panels, it’s usually a great idea to have the first panel of a new scene establish the location.
You can still move the plot/characters forward – with a wide exterior of a secret hideout, for example, you can have the first couple of lines pointing to a window. Keeps things moving, creates a little mystery & incentive to move your eyes to the next panel to see who’s talking.
11. When setting scenes up, always think about giving characters activity. Even if it’s a “talk” scene, let characters be doing something. Even pruning a houseplant. That gives you and the artist material to work with in showing emotion through subtle action.
12. If the ending is giving me trouble, I often look back to the beginning. Whatever’s been set up there usually gives the clue to how the thing needs to pay off. Conversely, knowing your ending gives you the chance to go back and rework your opening to better serve it.
13. Accept that you’ll forget a lot of this stuff and relearn it with every new project and script. I FORGET THIS STUFF ALL THE TIME AND CORRECT MYSELF MID-STREAM. Part of the process.
14. It’s often okay for some parts of an outline to be barebones stuff like “MASSIVE FIGHT.” But it’s also smart to note what the outcome of that fight is, both physically & emotionally, if only to remind yourself of the point of it all when it comes time to write it.
15. Sometimes I’ll toss in chunks of dialogue at the outline stage. Just because it helps me figure out the scene right then.
Probably the biggest take-away of all of this is that a solid outline gives me the chance to rough out all the working parts in the story. See it in order, see how it all builds. And if something doesn’t help build that story, it probably needs to go.
When I’ve really cracked the outline, I can sit down and hammer out the full script pretty quickly. Because I know what I’m writing and why. The whole process becomes more efficient – I don’t spend hours or days writing detailed full script scenes that don’t belong in the end.
In work-for-hire comics, submitting a detailed outline before going to full script tends to save me lots of grief. There can be some trepidation there – a fear that editors might not get what I’m really going for based on an outline…
…but I’ve generally found that good comics editors are very smart people who know how to read outlines. Giving them outlines lets us hammer out kinks at an early stage when it’s relatively painless. I’m MUCH happier tweaking an outline than rewriting pages of a full script.
As always, keep in mind that this is just how I do it. Everyone’s got their own path — read what other writers do and figure out what works for you!
And as always, if my ideas intrigue you, please subscribe to my newsletter! 🙂http://gregpak.com/sign-up-for-the-greg-pak-newsletter/ …
Something else worth noting: don’t worry about perfection, especially when outlining. The myth of perfection is a lie and a fantasy that will keep you from actually writing.
Get those rough ideas down on paper, no matter how imperfect they may seem. Then see how they look all together and tweak ’em, make ’em better. And tweak ’em some more. And fix ’em up some more. It’s all step by step. But you gotta take that first dumb, imperfect step fearlessly.