STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT

STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT

Written and Drawn by Jessie Hartland

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Advanced review; releases on July 21, 2015

My friends will tell you that I have a peculiar loathing for Apple products. That I regard the cult that has sprung up that salivates for each new product release is ridiculous. That I steadfastly believe the company to be the embodiment of corporate evil.

Those statements are all true.

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So you can imagine how far a biography of Apple’s co-founder – the man who’s policies and personality are a huge reason why I hate the company – would have to go in order for me to get through it, let alone say nice things about it. Yet I must say those nice things, because writer/artist Jessie Hartland has done a tremendous job of putting together a fair, complex, and intriguing look at Steve Jobs. Who he was, where he came from, why Apple once kicked him out, and why Apple took him back… all the puzzle pieces are here in a brisk, strongly told narrative.

We open in Jobs’ youth, exploring his burgeoning love for science and technology, then move forward to his friendship and partnership with Steve Wozniak. It is from that pairing that Apple was born, and shrewd move after shrewd move sees the two gradually build a juggernaut that will eventually dominate an industry. Of course, there are bumps and bruises to be had along the way, including Woz’s exit and Jobs being shown the door for a while, but Hartland’s way of telling the story never leaves any doubt as to why events wind up happening the way they do. Jobs is a man with a vision of the grand design, and he found a way to put as much money and as many people as humanly possible into service of that vision until the moment he died.

Hartland has an alt-comix style to her art, which makes for an interesting visual clash with a story about technology, a subject that generally revolves around perfect angles and we4ll-rounded curves. Yet the artistic style is part of what makes the book so accessible. By focusing on telling the story in a visually inventive way, you get the flavor of Jobs himself – innovate something completely great and not worry about everything else on the shelves.

There is also a healthy bibliography included, as well as author notes on how she made certain storytelling choices.

I didn’t come away from STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT with a new appreciation for the company or products that the man spawned, but I did come away with a great deal of respect for the strong art and informative narrative that Hartland delivers. Obviously, the devotees will be head over heels for this one, but for me to give it a recommendation?

Strange days, indeed.

ROGUE ELEMENT 123

Rogue Element #123: Daredevil, The Series Without Suck

By Avril Brown

Marvel Comics’ Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, or The Man Without Fear, has been through the ringer. Unarguably a fascinating character with a nifty power set (blind, but with senses heightened to the point where they more than compensate for the lack of vision), excellent fighting skills (complete with cool toys; in the comics he uses a multi-purpose billy club/baton set) and some amazing stories written by a variety of talent over the years, Daredevil has also been portrayed here and there as a bit of a misogynistic dick with a sizable ego. I have almost zero knowledge of most of his history and major story arcs, though from what I read of him I greatly enjoyed, but as with any other character who has been around for a while, he has more than a few unfavorable skeletons in his closet.

In terms of cinematic history, the 2003 ‘Daredevil’ film starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner is one seriously ugly skeleton. This movie was such a huge steaming pile of suck no one could say ‘Daredevil’ without wincing for years. From the cheesy ass dialogue to the overblown characters, pointless story and lame rippling blue screen effect used to display how Daredevil could ‘see,’ the whole production was painful.

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Enter a Marvel/Netflix partnership. With a dozen years separating the last attempt at a live action Daredevil story, this new series had the advantage of ensnaring new, unaware viewers with an addiction to binge-watching, as well as resurrecting older viewers who just shrugged their shoulders and muttered, “Well, it can’t be any worse than the movie.” Thankfully, ‘Daredevil’ the series was so much more than simply being better than that craptastic failure of a film. It was superb television and superhero storytelling.

The Story ‘Daredevil’ is dark, gritty, tragic, kick-ass, clever, sexy, surprising, well-written, beautifully shot and many more adjectives I’ll save for later. This show has everything a superhero story should have in a gorgeous package and great talent. The story is gripping and fast-paced without giving away too much too soon. It’s perfect for marathoning as you’re left on the edge of your seat at the end of nearly every episode, yet you want to take it slow, watch only a couple episodes at a time, to draw it out and enjoy the story to its fullest. You want to know more about the characters, ALL of the characters, their history and what comes next. You want more fights but you want more non-violent connections as well. Unexpected twists are always waiting in the wings. Bad guys do terrible things and good people die, but there is a still an undercurrent of hope that good will triumph, in one way or another.

The Hero An introduction story to a new title character should be as short as it is powerful. We already know he is going to have abilities so ‘How Matt Murdock Got His Superpowers’ should not be the sole focus of the tale. ‘Daredevil’ delivers one of the most complete and exciting introductory scenes to a superhero story; the first five minutes tell you everything you need to know about the core of who Matt Murdock is, who he wants to be and who he’s afraid of becoming. The first episode opens on the aftermath: a brave kid pushed an old man out of the way of a car accident and gets doused with an unknown chemical, blinding him. His father, who obviously loves him dearly, fights his way through the crowd and ends up clutching his panicked son. The lack of musical score accents the terror of a young child who did something heroic and suffered for it. Cut to the next scene where an adult Matt sits confession and talks about his old man, who despite not having a stellar track record in the ring, could occasionally unleash a fury no man could withstand. Matt apologizes not for sins past but for those forthcoming, revealing a heart filled with equal compassion and rage residing inside a man who just wants to make things better without losing himself in the process.

The Villain For every hero there must be a villain, and for every truly excellent tale starring a flawed protagonist, there should be a villain who is just as flawed, making him hard to hate. Wilson Fisk, like Matt Murdock, grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, and like our largely untested masked hero, Fisk wants to make the city a better place. Both men’s pasts helped shape who they are today, and how they intend to create a better tomorrow. All of this is doled out in tiny, tantalizing increments (you don’t even meet Fisk until the end of the third episode), slowly creating a more vivid picture of both sides of this war for the soul and safety of Hell’s Kitchen. Fisk is undeniably a terrible person with rage issues big enough to rival the Hulk’s, but he’s also a man capable of deep love, for the people close to him, and his city. He is a product of nature and nurture and it is understandable how he got to this point.

The Action Naturally every comic book story has to boast a variety of violence, and ho boy does ‘Daredevil’ deliver. I live with a man who has spent more than half his life studying, practicing and teaching a wide range of fighting arts, and even he was impressed with the choreography, execution and (for the most part) realism of the scraps Daredevil got into. Yes, he has supernatural senses which allow him to ‘see’ despite his blindness, but the flips and twists, punches, kicks and overall badassery are all on a level a well-trained, naturally skilled and dedicated fighter can achieve. At the end of the second episode an exhausted, battered and sliced up Murdock decides to finish what he started and save a kidnapped boy. He enters a dimly lit hallway, the wire he used earlier to string up a bad guy for some pretty harsh questioning wrapped around his forearms. He takes a sensory stock of the guards surrounding the boy’s room, at least six in total. Then, he proceeds to beat the crap out of them while getting pretty thoroughly whooped himself, almost drunkenly stumbling about as uses his last bit of strength to take them out. With a final punch to the final goon, Matt and his foe collapse together off screen, but only a half-conscious yet still victorious masked man emerges to bring a frightened boy back to his father.

This show has a story build which is rarely witnessed in superhero television. Every episode brings something special to the story and each character is given his or her chance to shine. Though the end game is clear the viewer is enjoying the ride more than anything. The superpowers aspect is present yet understated, and while a supernatural theme is referenced it is also subtle, adding just a dash of flavorful curiosity. The final showdown does become ever so slightly cornball by the end of it, but hey, it IS a comic book story. Marvel recruited most excellent talent in the form of Drew Goddard (collaborator on several of Joss Whedon’s most creative and well-received projects) and all involved obviously took the time needed to insure a solid story was being told. The effort has clearly paid off. ‘Daredevil’ is no longer a name whispered in shame, but a title that has become the standard to which all comic book television should aspire.

CHEW 48

CHEW #48

Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Oh you CHEW! The ‘Blood Puddin’’ story arc is rolling right along and with it several long awaited, and much appreciated, reunions. When we last saw our heroes Amelia Chu was flexing her muscles and giving Mason Savoy a what-for with a coffee cup and some maternal rage. Naturally Chu is called to the scene to unravel what really went down, and what he sees is hard to swallow…and for him that is saying quite a lot.

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Olive Chu wakes up in time to stop Amelia from inflicting more caffeinated damage to Savoy and decides to come clean about her more than willing relationship with him. Though she’s sporting a rather wicked scar across her face, Olive Chu is far from deterred from her mission against The Collector: she’s inspired. With a little guidance from Savoy, Olive picks up a new food ability to add to her arsenal (the means to create weapons, communication and psychic brain hats with gelatin), takes out a team of assassins and sends a message to The Collector. Though she’s more powerful and confident than ever, Olive is still in danger, and she is just as stubborn as her father.

Things are coming up Colby this issue (I so hoped they would!) as his husband is finally up and walking around (more like cantering, actually), leading to a heartwarming and pervy homecoming for the two lovers. Also, the harsh but mostly true words that Chu ‘heard’ from his daughter are resonating soundly, forcing Tony to realize some important things about himself and his relationships. Though there are still several challenging obstacles to overcome, it looks like we’re on the way to seeing Colby and Chu back in action side by side, the way they were meant to be.

The tone in this issue was finally back to a level my happy-ending heart has been missing, and there were several excellent background nuggets, as well as one of the best lines in a CHEW comic yet. Upon seeing his halved husband sporting a new mechanical horse torso, Colby asks, “So tell me…is that new bionic horse body anatomically correct?” Gold, pure gold.

TITHE/LUTHER STRODE/NO MERCY

NEW IMAGES

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A trio of newbies…

Taking into account THINK TANK, POSTAL, WILDFIRE, and THE TITHE #1 I can only come to this conclusion: Matt Hawkins writes comics damn near specifically for me.

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In THE TITHE, we open up with a quote from disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, and we slide from there into a magnificent heist story set at one of those horrific mega-churches. A group of people wearing Jesus masks rips the place off, setting the FBI on their tail. Discussions of God, corruption, lapsed faith, and the inner workings of the hacker ring claiming responsibility follow.

What makes this work? Great story, rapid pacing, exciting heist, and absolutely terrific art from Rahsan Ekedal. Hawkins treats the reader like they’re smart, offers up intriguing character bits, and Ekedal delivers the storytelling with a flourish. Like I said: Hawkins makes comics that are right in my wheelhouse. This one is another winner.

Sticking the landing in a trilogy is amongst the most difficult things to do for any creative type, so I was pleased to see that THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE #1 gets off to a strong start. Writer Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore return to put a period on their wildly violent and entertaining saga of a young man who gains massive strength and massive ability to handle/heal pain and the larger world this opens for him. Bloody and over the top, the two previous series were at the vanguard of the recent “fight comics” movement, and were easily my favorite of the genre.

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Happily, this is more of the same.

But, as these things go, it is also grander, more action-packed, funnier, faster-paced, and generally just one of the better issues in the entire series of books. The art by Moore is utterly gorgeous, and his ability to depict action and movement has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. His characters look great, too. Throw in a tight script that sets up the final dominos for the book to knock down, as well as 40 pages of story, and you have a solid winner.

Alex De Campi writing and Carla Speed McNeil on art makes for one of the most interesting pairings to hit the shelves in quite some time in NO MERCY #1. McNeil is best known for her amazing series she both writes and draws, FINDER, so seeing her team with someone else is a rarity.

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It’s also really, really good.

Paired with De Campi, who has a strong track record for doing cool books that are a little off the beaten path, McNeil brings her A-game to this story of a service club’s trip to South America gone horribly wrong. A broad and diverse cast of characters, each with not only their own personalities, but also their own motivations for being part of the journey. Unfortunately, all of that means very little when the ten-hour bus trip meant to take them to their destination suffers… complications.

Wonderfully dialogued and stuffed with fascinating people, and gorgeously drawn in both character and action, I liked this a whole bunch. You will, too.