Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age (2016)

miracleman golden age

Marvel is finally reaching the point where they’ve republished all the existing Miracleman work from Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and are about to continue a saga that’s remained unfinished for decades. This fourth hardcover release collects the first act of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s planned three-act story, and to date the only one that has been printed in its entirety. The Golden Age doesn’t quite meet the standard of Moore’s run, but with new material on the way perhaps history will look on it more favorably.

Though Miracleman is often held up as the most infamous example of an unfinished comic book epic, the truth is that Moore’s run told a complete, cohesive and satisfying story. It’s only Gaiman and Buckingham’s story that remains unfinished. Their work is sometimes looked at as an unnecessary continuation of a conflict that should have ended with Miracleman ascending to godhood and reflecting on the utopia he created in Miracleman #16. The Golden Age explores what happens next, not so much with Miracleman himself, but various inhabitants of this post-war utopia. I’ve seen Gaiman and Buckingham’s work compared to Before Watchmen in terms of being an unnecessary addendum to a revered Alan Moore work. That’s not an entirely fair comparison, but in some ways it’s apt.

At the very least, Marvel’s decision to relaunch the series with Gaiman and Buckingham’s first issue was unfortunate. The fact that this book is labeled “Vol. 1” might make it seem like a proper jumping-on point for those that don’t wish to start from the beginning, but The Golden Age is very much a direct continuation of Moore’s saga. If you’re not familiar with the background behind the Miracleman family and how characters like Mr. Cream, Dr. Gargunza and the Qys fit into that tapestry, this book will be more confusing than entertaining. This is one case where it’s best to start from the beginning or don’t bother at all.

Each of the issues collected in this volume offers a standalone tale that focuses on one character or a handful of characters confronting and adapting to the utopia Miracleman and his allies created in the aftermath of their final battle with Kid Miracleman. One issue follows a small group as they spend days ascending Olympus to pray at Miracleman’s feet. Another centers around one of several dozen androids imprinted with the memories of Andy Warhol as he strikes up a friendship with the similarly resurrected Dr. Gargunza. Another focuses on an entire city of spies playing out an elaborate but pointless game of espionage and counter-surveillance. Miracleman himself is little more than a background figure for much the book. As a god, his struggles are of little concern to readers compared to those of his humble subjects.

Gaiman explores plenty of interesting ideas and conundrums in these issues. The Golden Age is largely concerned with how humans adjust from living in an age of science to an age of miracles, and also the question of whether utopia can truly be achieved when its inhabitants have no free will. It’s lofty and intellectual, but the focus on very flawed, ordinary protagonists helps keep the book grounded.

In some ways, Gaiman’s prose compares favorably to Moore’s work on the previous 16 issues. Moore’s Miracleman run is fascinating as a sort of time capsule of a master writer perfecting his craft. The early issues are a little loose and rough around the edges, whereas the later issues reflect a writer who had cemented his voice and was increasingly losing interest in traditional superhero fare. Gaiman, by comparison, already had several years of Sandman under his belt by the time he took the reins of the series. There’s a confidence to his writing here, as well as a greater willingness to step back and allow Buckingham’s art to tell the story rather than showering the page with text. With the way these issues jump from one protagonist to the next and often shift in terms of tone and presentation, reading Gaiman’s Miracleman isn’t so different from reading his Sandman.

Buckingham’s art is crucial in that sense. While there’s a certain playful quality to Buckingham’s art in Fables, Miracleman is a true showcase for his ability to juggle multiple styles and play with the medium. Each chapter in this hardcover has its own distinctive look. One extended segment is rendered in the style of a children’s storybook and is packed to the brim with fantastical imagery. The issue focused on Gargunza and Warhol is a fitting tribute to the Pop Art sensibilities of the latter. Buckingham is constantly pushing himself and experimenting over the course of these issues. Frankly, if he weren’t returning alongside Gaiman for the remainder of the series, there would be little point in continuing forward.

The one real weakness of The Golden Age is that it doesn’t add enough to the larger Miracleman saga. Taken on its own, this book reads essentially as an extended coda to a story that didn’t really need one in the first place. Gaiman and Buckingham’s exploration of life in utopia is fascinating, but thematically it’s the sort of thing that could just as easily be explored in one or two issues rather than six. There’s a vaguely unfocused, repetitive quality to this collection that isn’t found in Moore’s comparatively more dense issues. For all the lofty ideas and engrossing character work in these pages, does The Golden Age really improve or expand upon Moore’s story in any significant way? Not really.

The question is whether the remainder of Gaiman and Buckingham’s work will ultimately redeem that flaw in The Golden Age. The intent was never to simply dwell on life in utopia, but to showcase Miracleman’s perfect world before the cracks formed in The Silver Age and the whole thing came tumbling down in The Dark Age. Those plans were dashed by the collapse of Eclipse Comics, but they’re finally about to bear fruit now. Hopefully this well-crafted but somewhat long-winded approach will pay off in the remaining two volumes of the Miracleman saga.

On a final note, this hardcover is definitely the way to go for readers who don’t already own the single issues. The physical quality is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a better value than the overpriced single issues. The book also includes a hefty amount of bonus material that reprints various sketches, covers and script excerpts.

The fourth book in the Miracleman saga doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors despite being more technically accomplished in many ways. Gaiman’s writing is strong, and it’s tough to imagine anyone else following a comic book titan like Alan Moore. Mark Buckingham is even more impressive as he constantly alters his style and channels big events and heady ideas with ease. But ultimately, this book spends too much time dwelling on utopia and not enough on really pushing the saga forward.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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The Road to Success

accomplishment action adult adventure

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You are responsible for your success and failure. The sooner you accept and integrate that into your work ethic, the sooner you will start being successful. If you blame others for your failures, you will never be successful.

 

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On Writing…..

close up of woman working

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…on art, on being creative:

“Work hard
Think
Cultivate silence
Plan diligently
Plumb your own soul
And try, with every fibre of your being, to get better and better and better……”

James Ellroy

It’s just that simple, and that hard.

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Comic Book Review – Locke & Key Volumes 1 to 6 (2009 to 2014)

Locke and Key

Accomplished novelist Joe Hill teams up with the artist Gabriel Rodriguez to fashion a spellbinding account of the devastated Locke family and their struggles to rebuild after Rendall, beloved father and husband, is brutally murdered by deranged high school student, Sam Lesser. The surviving Lockes relocate to an unlikely family manor on the island of Lovecraft, MA. Yet, as with every gothic mansion, this New England homestead holds dark and otherworldly secrets, secrets that go back generations. Okay, so there’s some standard horror clichés in this plot, and you might be asking, what’s the catch? Is it a safe bet that what starts off as a character study in grieving will swerve into the realm of spine-chilling terror? Yes, but that doesn’t quite cover it, old boy. As the youngest Locke child discovers, Keyhouse possesses some fantastic doors that transform all who dare to pass through them—namely, a doorway that temporarily kills you and allows your spirit to roam freely. Oh, and there’s also this well that houses a twisted spectral entity from the past, an evil phantom that desperately wants out and will use any means available to gain freedom, including releasing the very teenage murderer responsible for the grieving family’s disposition and unleashing him upon their uprooted lives once more.

Despite some familiar horror elements, the Locke & Key series manages to venture off the beaten path in some respects. This six volume series is a page-turning macabre story with clever transition scenes with memorable characters made all the more vivid through Rodriguez’s simple albeit compelling artwork. Joe Hill blends horror with fantasy and mystery to launch a riveting tale of a shattered family that cannot seem to outrun terror.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – X-Force Volume 1: Angels and Demons (2009)

x-force vol 1

Darkly drawn: blacks, grays, steel blues and vibrant reds, gory, depictive of graphic violence – this is what X-Force is all about. They’re a hit squad, folks out for blood, and serious about it. This one comes with advisories against the kiddies. It is essentially a gore-fest.

The graphic nature aside, this is very well drawn / colored by Crain. The gorgeous yellows of Magus, the blur of red the first time Wolverine punches Cyclops, the panel expression shots of Rahne – excellent work, and it translates pretty nicely as well.

The dialogue for nearly each issue opens with a stream of consciousness – you get to see inside a particular character’s thought process, and consequently, where they are bumping up against walls in their discourse and interactions with other members of the team. From this point we get the bubbled language and somewhat choppy discourse between the characters. In my experience with this, I can say I felt the pace of the story was quick, maybe too quick.

It’s secondary villain (Risman) is built off of ‘The New X-Men’ (2004), which is pretty neat, turning the concept a bit, striking it at a different angle – for instance, what if X-Force intervened against Risman’s campaign, in large-part because it got personal, well: this is what you’d get.

There’s even a bit of a sentimental lean (not sexual tension) to the story from two of our protagonists: Warpath and Rahne.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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So You Want to be a Writer?

gray scale photography of typewriter

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I can’t take credit for this list, it’s courtesy of Matt Hawkins at Top Cow Productions Inc. Link here: https://topcow.com/

I have, however, made a few edits to the list as I think this is relevant to most if not all writers and types of writing.

So, you want to be a comics pro? If you’re interested in becoming a professional writer here are a few things to consider in order to make sure that this is the right move for you:

1) For the most part, writing is a solitary experience and you can expect long periods of isolation while doing the creative work;

2) Most writers have editors and they also do work-for-hire, which means you will be forced to change your creation in ways that you may not like. You’ll need to find a way embrace and work past this disagreement in order to complete the piece (and get paid);

3) You’ll need to learn self-marketing in order to sell yourself (and your work); publishing companies market characters/titles for the most part, however you’ll need to market yourself. And yes, driving 4 hours to a book signing where 3 people show up is no fun, but it’s happened to everyone.

4) Unless you have a day job, you need to have enough savings to cover your living expenses for 6 to 12 months. Freelance writing jobs aren’t always readily available, so don’t become too comfortable in your current economic status. There are countless freelancers who went from making 60-80k a year to 20k the next.

5) You have to become comfortable talking to people and selling yourself and your stories at cons. Unless you’re on a name brand book it won’t sell itself.

6) Either have something to say or don’t say anything at all. Social media is a bitch, so either have a message and stick to it which can help build you a following (and potentially alienate others) or don’t discuss controversial things at all. If you aren’t comfortable and good at it, don’t do it.

 

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30 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Turned 30

Reblogged from Nate Green’s Scrawny to Brawny blog: http://www.scrawnytobrawny.com/30-things-about-life

Written by Martin Rooney, the creator of the Training For Warriors system and a pioneer of strength and conditioning for the martial arts.

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1. I wish I spent more time deciding what I really wanted from life.

Figure out your passion and purpose. Don’t wait until 30 to find that out. Chances are the guys that figured it out earlier already have the dream house, the dream job, and the dream girl.

2. I wish I would have known protein was essential for post workout nutrition.

I went from just water and no eating, to carb-only “sports” drinks. I know I would have had way better results if current science had been available. A Gatorade just doesn’t cut it.

3. I wish I would have been more excited for other people’s success.

This will get you ahead faster than only being excited for your own success. Take time to hear what people think. You won’t ever get called a jerk for listening too much.

4. I wish I would have had a full length mirror in my house.

Then I would have known I had to train my legs, too. To think of all the times I did biceps curls instead of squats…

5. I wish I had paid attention to the effect food had on me.

Some foods made me drowsy and others gave me a throat full of phlegm. I thought it was “normal.” Now I replaced that word with “allergy.” Start figuring how foods you eat are affecting you.

6. I wish I would have known girls are more attracted to guys who have fun.

Guys who try to look big and tough miss out.

7. I wish I would have learned to keep my house and car neat.

Someday a girl is going to come to one of them and care about chewed fingernails and the stain on your pillow case. Protein bottles in the back? They smell worse than you think they do.

8. I wish I got rid of things faster.

Once your favorite t-shirt has more holes than a Tiger Woods alibi, it’s time to let it go. Same goes for the old sneakers you’ll never wear again. Same thing with resentment and ill-will.

9. I wish I would have saved more money.

Get a financial planner, an IRA going, and invest. Don’t wait until you’re married and someone else is counting on you. And regardless if you have much money or not, put some away now. Learn the Law of 7 and the idea of compounding interest.

10. I wish I would have learned that driving 20-30 miles doesn’t make a bar any better.

Odds are the bar in your town will be just as fun. And your chances of trouble (DUI, etc.) go way down.

11. I wish I would have known what kinds of food weren’t good for me.

Most labels with “Light,” “Healthy,” or “part of a nutritious diet” are really just trying to cover up how crappy the food actually is.

12. I wish I followed my instincts more.

Listen to that knot in your gut. If you think she might not be the right girl, she probably isn’t. Same goes for your job. Of all the voices you hear, your own may be the wisest and hardest to listen to.

13. I wish I had been more coachable.

Welcome feedback and understand that criticism is positive. Just like rubbing alcohol on a scrape, it will be painful at first. But you’ll be better off cleaning strategic areas of your life.

14. I wish I would have written down exactly what I wanted.

Spend more time planning where you’re going in life than planning where you are going on Friday night.

15. I wish I started my “private” university earlier.

Build your personal library and read. 20 pages a night 5 days a week turns into 100 books in 5 years. 100 books in 5 years can turn you into an expert…in anything.

16. I wish I would have know there was a rotator cuff, feet muscles, neck muscles, hip adductors and abductors.

I would have worked on those more.

17. I wish I had learned the true power of a thank you.

Since I’ve adopted an authentic “attitude of gratitude,” my life has been much smoother. Hint: send a card or gift to someone that deserves it today.

18. I wish I had not been “too busy” for my parents.

When you get older, get a real job, and get married, you only have less time for your parents. Realize that they’re people, just like you. And that they’re actually pretty smart and fun to be around.

19. I wish I used my “down time” better.

Speaking of “too busy,” never say that you are. 24 hours is enough time to get stuff done and still have fun.

20. I wish I was less concerned with what everyone else thought about me.

I now know a thick skin isn’t just important for your hands and working out. It’s important for life and not caring about other people’s opinions of you. The fastest way to be unhappy is to worry about making everybody else happy and not staying true to yourself.

21. I wish I would have laughed more.

Make sure to laugh everyday. Learn to speak the language of “serious fun.” As it implies, get the serious stuff done…but make sure you have your share of fun and play, too.

22. I wish I would have quit some things faster.

Know when to quit things. Although it may seem counterintuitive, there are people, situations, and places where you are spending your time that aren’t serving you. Quit them.

23. I wish I would have defined my values earlier.

Decide what you stand for. If you don’t stand for much, you’ll fall for anything.

My first jobs, workouts, and girlfriends were because other people said they would be good for me. Make that choice for yourself and you won’t develop a weak set of knees when the time comes to stand up for yourself.

24. I wish I didn’t let other people’s expectations hold me back.

Eight words to remove from your vocabulary: “What will people say? What will people think?”

25. I wish I had gossiped less.

Build people up to their face and don’t talk to people behind their back. It only leads to trouble.

26. I wish I had trained around injury better.

Your body has incredible recuperative powers. Don’t let injuries or time off hold you back. And remember, even if you took time off, it’s never too late to start again toward fitness.

27. I wish I would have treated my body like my car.

In other words, don’t just pay attention to your body when there’s a problem. Also, make sure you are putting the right things in the gas tank. Just because it looks good on the outside doesn’t mean everything is good on the inside.

28. I wish I had “kept in touch” better.

Don’t let more than three months go by without staying in touch with the important people in your network.

29. I wish I had built my network even faster.

Surround yourself with people more fit, successful, and wealthy than you are. Just like the tide, you will rise or fall according to the influential bodies around you.

30. I wish I would have realized that the world is “service” oriented.

Serve others. You’ll learn as you get older that it’s not about what you get, but what you give back that really counts.