All posts by Taylor

Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now: Maus

Hello friends, and welcome to another installment of Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now, a series which examines some of the best comics in the industry and discusses what makes them so very good. Today, we’ll be taking a look at what is perhaps the most highly regarded graphic novel of all time: Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Indeed, Maus is so highly regarded that it received the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the first graphic novel ever to do so, largely because they had to invent a new category, “Special,” just so that they could give it the award. This book is even prestigious enough to find a spot as required reading in many high school and college curriculums across the country. Heck, if you look for it at the book store, you’ll probably find it in the biography section, which is usually considered to be much more high-brow than the lowly graphic novel section. What is it that makes the book so highly esteemed? Let’s find out!

Let’s start with a brief summary of the work. First published in a collected volume in 1986, Maus tells the true story of Spiegelman’s father Vladek, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. Through a series of interviews conducted by his son, Vladek describes his experiences in prewar Poland, being forced into hiding, and living in and being freed from the Auschwitz concentration camp. Along the way, we watch as he and his loved ones struggle to survive the degrading conditions around them. Unfortunately, many of them are lost along the way, including Vladek’s father, in-laws, and even his son, Richiu. Vladek’s experiences during the Holocaust are only half of the story, though, as Spiegelman incorporates his interview process into the narrative, effectively making himself a character in his own story. It is in this way that Spiegelman weaves together the story of his father’s past with an intimate portrayal of the relationship between Art and his father.

The first thing that is likely to jump out at you as you read Maus is, well, the mice. Throughout both eras depicted in the novel, Spiegelman employs a visual metaphor in which he represents different groups of people as different species of animals, with Jewish characters as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs, to name a few. The beauty of this style is the way in which it applies a disarming simplicity to events both complex and unimaginably horrific. If one were to go into the story not knowing what to expect, they might be tricked by the cartoonish mice into thinking that the book is going to be a watered-down retelling of the Holocaust; this notion is quickly dispelled, though, as the book uses those same cartoon mice to depict gruesome events, including a child being brutally murdered by a German soldier, or Jews being publicly executed and displayed in the streets (see below). The result is a jarring juxtaposition of stylized symbolism and stark realism that makes the brutality on display hit the reader with a far greater impact.

Furthermore, the metaphor used in Maus also serves as a parody of the propaganda used by the Nazis themselves and their anti-Semitic forbears, who were fond of comparing Jewish people to rats and other vermin. Spiegelman’s artwork deconstructs this dehumanizing label and applies it to the whole of the human race. As the story progresses, the work demonstrates how these labels fall short of describing reality; as shown by the image below, such caricatures create preconceived notions that blot out the facts about a person, skewing our perceptions. Through Maus, we are given an understanding of how absurd these labels are, even as they are used for narrative and artistic effect.

With such strong artwork at his disposal, Spiegelman gives a gripping and memorable take on the Holocaust. Maus goes a step beyond this, however, and also delivers a riveting depiction of the profound issues that followed the survivors across generations. As stated above, half of Maus is devoted to telling the story of Artie interviewing his father, and through this we are given a deeply personal view of the relationship between the two men. This is given to us with a degree of honesty that is seldom found in writing, as Art leaves himself extremely vulnerable by putting himself on display for his readers so that we see his pain just as much as Vladek’s. And a large part of this pain is his inability to relate to his father because of the Holocaust. At one point, Spiegelman admits to his therapist that no matter what he achieves in life, it would feel petty and insignificant compared to surviving Auschwitz. The alienation between the two men is probably best illustrated, though, in the prologue of the story. The scene takes place during Artie’s childhood; after being teased by his friends, the young boy runs to his father seeking comfort. Vladek, however, has no comfort to give, but rather the harsh lessons his own life had taught him, which spills over into his interaction with his son.

It is in this way that Maus delves into aspects of the Holocaust that are often left out of the history books: the way it changed the survivors, and how it affected the way they fit into society and interacted with their loved ones. As I said, the story in Maus is a personal affair between Artie and his father, and in no way should they be taken to represent every family with Holocaust survivors, but their story holds large lessons about trauma and alienation that apply to many people. Maus incorporates these issues as Spiegelman pours himself into his work, producing powerful results.

Now, I’ve spent a while here heaping some well-deserved praise at Maus. As good as Maus is, though, we cannot look at it in its entirety without asking some difficult questions. Is it right for Spiegelman to be making money on a story about the Holocaust? Isn’t that disrespectful to those who lost their lives? Is it even possible for any project to adequately describe an event as large and as monstrous as the systematic extermination of millions of people?

Scathing questions, to be sure, but keep in mind that I’m not the one who came up with them.

These are questions that Maus asks about itself.

Spiegelman’s work displays a self-awareness on a scale that is rarely seen in any medium. Maus is a book that understands that the Holocaust is bigger than any graphic novel can describe. It understands that death on such a scale is too complex an issue for any one story. And it questions if it is right for someone to achieve fame and success by depicting human suffering.

This last point is brought powerfully to life in the opening pages of the chapter “Time Flies.” In one of the most striking sequences I’ve ever seen in a comic book, Spiegelman moves us away from both of the story’s previous timelines and brings us into what was then the present, during the time in which he was actually publishing Maus. The issue opens with Spiegelman, his metaphor reined in and his mouse mask showing, sitting at his desk reflecting upon the process and success of his work. As the frame widens through subsequent panels, however, he depicts himself working upon a pile of corpses.

It’s been years since I read Maus for the first time, and more than anything else, the memory of seeing this for the first time is the thing that sticks with me. Not only is it a powerful image, but it is also extremely thought-provoking. Through this sequence and the pages that follow it, Spiegelman brings us into the very process of creating Maus, into his own doubts and reservations. We are made to ponder difficult questions about depicting tragedy and the way in which we remember history.

And really, I think that this leads neatly into the thing that more than anything else makes Maus so special: the totality of it. It is at once a story of survival from the Holocaust, the story of a son’s struggle to relate to his father, and a commentary on how we understand art and deal with the past. Maus is a book about ideas that might just be too big for us to consider, and a masterful work of art that stands apart in the medium.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to comment below!

Top o’ the Lot: Top 3 Moments That Define Peter Parker

Top o' the Lot Image Updated

Salutations, friends. There’s been quite a lot of important comic book news making the rounds lately, and chief among them in my mind is the revelation that my favorite character, Peter Parker, is set to make a return. Naturally, this news has me pretty happy, and I thought I’d share this happiness with all of you by counting down the 3 moments in Parker’s history that I think best illustrate who he is and what makes him one of the most endearing heroes of the comic book industry.

To be clear, this isn’t a list of Spider-Man’s most iconic moments, greatest battles, or most harrowing adventures. Rather, I’m trying to highlight the moments that reveal the core of Peter’s character, that show us who he is, what he’s about, and why I’m glad to be having him back in the pages of comic books.

3) Spider-Man Can Stop the Juggernaut

Up first, we have the fan favorite battle between Spider-Man and prominent X-villain Cain Marko from Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. Our story begins when Juggy and his criminal cohort Black Tom Cassidy travel to New York to abduct Madame Web, a powerful precognitive psychic. Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, when Spider-Man steps in to do whatever he can to stop the unstoppable Juggernaut.

Now, those of you who are versed in your nerd-fu will know that in terms of sheer power, Spider-Man would not stand a chance against someone like the Juggernaut; indeed, Juggernaut would make a far more suitable foe for someone like Thor, Superman, or the Hulk. Peter is no slouch, certainly, but against Marko, he is completely and utterly outclassed.

Which becomes pretty apparent in the early stages of their bout.

As it becomes obvious that conventional means are completely useless, Spider-Man has to resort to more desperate means, trying whatever he can to slow down his implacable foe.

So he hits him with a truck.

Even this, however, has no effect.

With all other options exhausted, and with an innocent life on the line, Spider-Man is reduced to blinding the Juggernaut and holding on for dear life.

But as luck would have it, Spider-Man manages to keep the Juggernaut blinded until he wanders into a foundation of wet cement, turning his own irresistible momentum against him as he sinks into the earth.

All in all, a great fight beautifully drawn by JRJR. But I didn’t put it on my list for the fisticuffs. Rather, I did so because I believe that this fight exemplifies some core aspects of Peter’s character: his drive to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, and his tenacity when doing so. As I said before, any logical person could see that Spidey didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually defeating the Juggernaut: his opponent had strength that vastly overwhelmed his own, and was completely impervious to the type of damage the Web Head could dish out. Hell, Juggernaut wasn’t even there to fight Spider-Man; if Peter had just stayed down after any of the first few exchanges, Marko probably would have been content to just leave him behind. But to Spider-Man, none of that mattered. Someone’s life was hanging in the balance, and he wouldn’t give up for anything. He would fight tooth and nail, using all of the power, wits, and sheer dumb luck he could muster to battle against his opponent. And I think that this refusal to waver in the face of insurmountable odds is one of the things that makes Peter one of the most endearing heroes in modern culture. He may not be strongest, or the most powerful, but he will never quit fighting for what’s right.

2) Power and Responsibility

Okay, we all knew that this was going to be on this list somewhere. After all, this is THE seminal moment of Peter’s life, the event that made him who he is and taught him the most valuable lesson he ever learned: that with great power, there must also come great responsibility. Not only is this one of the most well-known moments in Spider-Man’s history, it’s one of the most iconic moments in all comics, period.

I’m talking of course about Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter’s first appearance where he made a fateful decision that would define the character for all time. You probably already know the story, but let’s just break it down real quick. After acquiring amazing powers through a freak accident, Peter reacted differently than most characters: he set out to make money for himself and his aunt and uncle. Having grown up as a victim of bullying and scorn, Peter was in no hurry to stick his neck out for anyone. As such, when he witnesses a robbery, he feels no compulsion whatsoever to stop a criminal that he easily could have stopped. As fate would have it, though, the very same criminal he let escape would go on to murder Peter’s own beloved Uncle Ben.

It is in this way that Peter would learn a painful and tragic lesson that would define his actions forevermore.

Though this is one of the low points of Peter’s life, it also undeniably lays the foundation for the person he would be for the rest of his life. This origin issue centers around a shortcoming, a mistake that Peter made with disastrous consequences. But while this moment itself is a tragedy, what comes after defines Spider-Man as a super hero: he learns. He doesn’t let the tragedy crush him, but rather lets it transform him into a better person as he vows to never let it happen again.

And this concept holds a valuable lesson for us all. We all fail sometimes, but its how we respond to this failure that defines us. In Peter’s case, it defined him by  making him become a better person. In my opinion, watching this process of growth as he becomes a good person has a much greater impact than if he just started that way to begin with. Watching that growth, after all, is one of the things that makes Peter so very relatable.

1) The Weight of the World (Master Planner Arc Finale)

We conclude our list today with another iconic scene from the Silver Age, the climax of the Master Planner Arc from Amazing Spider-Man #33 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The scene in question takes place after Spidey had spent the last few issues dealing with a number crisis, including the criminal activities of the enigmatic Master Planner (secretly Spider-Man’s old foe Doctor Octopus) and Aunt May dying from complication from a blood transfusion she got from Peter. Ultimately, these plots would converge as Ock and the Wall-Crawler both set their sights on a miraculous serum that could potentially save Aunt May, among other things. After a inevitable skirmish between the two in Doc Ock’s underwater lair, Spider-Man manages to send Otto packing, but not without causing the building to collapse around him, trapping him under a colossal pile of rubble, with the precious serum agonizingly out of reach. Altogether, things seem pretty bleak. But if there’s one thing we’ve all learned about Spider-Man, it’s that he does his best work when things are the most hopeless. Let’s let the sequence speak for itself for a bit.

If there was ever a moment that perfectly encapsulated everything Peter Parker is and what he stands for, this is it. Here we have Peter, worn down after being run through the gauntlet, with an impossible weight on his shoulders, a burden greater than any person could be expected to bear. And the solution he was fighting for was just out of reach. It’s a situation where no one could really blame him if he failed; after all, the situation seems pretty bleak, spider powers and all. But just when everything seems hopeless, Spider-Man digs deep. He remembers the people who are counting on him, the times he’s failed in the past, and his resolve to never let it happen again. He pushes himself past his limits to find a strength he didn’t know he had. He takes his burden, the weight of the world, and pushes back against it, until he does the impossible and prevails.

And that’s really what Spider-Man is all about. Peter, like the rest of us, is often forced to take on more than he could ever be expected to handle alone. But the thing that makes him special, that makes him a hero, is that he finds it within himself to push back. And if he can, hey, maybe the rest of us can to.

That’s my list! What did you think? Please leave a comment below!

Taylor’s Top 5 Comics of 2013

Well, here we are friends, at the end of another year. It is during this season that so many of us like to both look forward to what the new year has in store as well look back to what we’ve recently gone through. In other words, it’s time to sit down and decide what were the best things that 2013 threw at us. And since comics are kind of my jam, that’s what we’ll be ranking today. So here we go: my picks for the best ongoing series in 2013!

These are, of course, my own opinion, and will likely differ from your own.

5 – Wonder Woman

To me, this comic epitomizes the Slow Burn approach to telling stories. Rather than tell a series of isolated story arches, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins have been telling us one long story since this book relaunched. While this sometimes means that we have issues that do little to advance the plot, it also means that when the payoffs do happen, they are that much more satisfying. When we’ve seen Wonder Woman go through her defeats, it’s all the more exhilarating when she succeeds. When we’ve taken the time to know the supporting cast, it’s far more crushing when they die. And with Diana’s new status quo as the reigning god of War, I’ve little doubt that we’ve got a lot more fun to come.

4 – Young Avengers

Now, I have to admit that I’m normally rather hesitant to pick up a book with an adolescent/young-adult cast; I just feel that they are too often prone to angst-y melodrama and other cliches. Yet here I am, with Young Avengers on display as my pick for the #4 comic book of 2013.

This is largely due to the talents of writer Kieron Gillen, a man who understands how to write young people well, as well as strong, engaging characters. Really, Gillen’s work with Loki alone makes this book worth reading, so it’s fairly awesome that the rest of the cast is extremely fun as well. With the recap page rife with hashtags and our heroes spending their down time getting inter-dimensional Korean barbecue between battles, Gillen wholeheartedly embraces the youth of these characters, and doesn’t let angst get in the way of the fun.

On top of all this, we also have Gillen’s old cohort Jamie McKelvie serving as the series’ main artist, which pretty much guarantees a feast for the eyes every month. Not only does he command great line work, his page layouts can be simply jaw-dropping. I mean, just look at this:

So yeah, that’s some awesome stuff. Put it all together, and you’re in for a fun ride.

3 – Avengers Family of Books (Avengers, New Avengers, and Infinity)

Jonathan Hickman has been a very busy man. When he’s not giving us strong indie books like East of West, he’s been the driving force behind Marvel’s big picture by running their flagship franchise even as it sprawls out into multiple monthlies and simultaneous events. And while Avengers, New Avengers, and Infinity have each been great in their own right, they combine together to form something truly special when read together, like some sort of comic book Voltron.

With the backing of talented artists such as Steve Epting, Dustin Weaver, and Jerome Opena, Hickman has given us a sprawling adventure that gives you just about everything you could ever want in a comic book. With high-octane action sequences, intimate character moments, and tense drama, there is truly something for everyone. Combine this with the way Hickman expertly balances gigantic casts and gives us hooks that can only be appreciated by readers of both books, and you have the opening act of what will probably be an Avengers run for the ages.

2 – Saga

If you haven’t already been checking out Saga, you really need to start; it is hands down one of the best comics in circulation right now. First of all, we have one of the preeminent writing talents in the comics industry in Brian K Vaughan, the genius behind such works as Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man. Those who are familiar with his past offerings know that Vaughan writes some of the most engaging characters you will ever read, complete with believably human faults, and I’m glad to say that this trend is still going strong (The Will, Alana, and Izabel are particular favorites of mine).

This title distinguishes itself from Vaughan’s past work, though, by embracing an over-the-top insanity. This is a book with magical satyrs warring with futuristic flying men and robot royalty, a universe where planet sized fetuses consume swathes of space-time, a love story that takes us on a grand tour of a vibrant, living universe that’s as beautiful at times as it is bizarre.

And all of this is brought to life masterfully by Fiona Staples, who is quickly emerging as one of the industry’s top artists. She is able to depict small, intimate moments and grand, epic spectacle with equal power, making this book a treat to read with each issue, even when she’s drawing such unsavory things as a very large and very naked ogre.

So I say again: run out and get it if you haven’t already.

1 – Thor: God of Thunder

This comic. By Odin’s Eye, this comic is so good, and I’m not just saying this because I’m partial to Thor.

Every now and then, you have a book where the right character is given to the ideal writer, and the right story is given to the perfect artist, creating a comic book that becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. Such is the case with Thor: God of Thunder, a book that’s funny, moving, inspiring, thrilling and beautiful all at once.

In particular I’m thinking about the God Butcher and God Bomb story arcs, brought to us by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic, which follows Thor through three stages of his life as he struggles against the genocidal Gorr, the God Butcher. Through these arcs, Aaron displays his unique talent for telling stories of grand scope sewn together with wonderful insanity, with scenes that take us to the majestic Omnipotence City, through the ruins of an apocalyptic Asgard, and zipping around space on stellar viking longboats and on the backs of Star Sharks, all of which are rendered immaculately by Ribic. The appeal goes beyond mere spectacle, however, as we are given a peek in to who Thor is, has been, and will be, each with their own distinct voice, and each with their own anxieties. The execution on these characterizations is beyond reproach.

And then, of course, we have Thor beating the daylights out people with his hammer.

A lot.

Ultimately building up to the best super hero battle I’ve seen in a long, long time.

The current exploits of the God of Thunder are something truly remarkable. You owe it to yourself as a comic fan to check them out.

So that’s my list! What comics would you put on yours?

Thanks for reading!

Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now: Watchmen

Hello, friends! Taylor here! And I’m exciting to be bringing you something new today here at Outright Geekery: an examination of some of the greatest comics ever written in a segment we’re calling Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now. The aim here is to shine a spotlight on some of the best material to have ever graced the comic medium, and to break down the components of the stories that add up to make the books so good. Basically, think of this as our site’s version of a book club meeting, where we can get together to talk about the all-time classics.

With this in mind, what better book could there be for our initial outing than the one that many people, myself included, consider the greatest comic book ever created? And so let’s dive into Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.

Before we get started, though, you should know that I meant what I said when I named the segment “comics you should have already read by now;” I’m going to be writing with the expectation that you have already read Watchmen. Remember, this is going to be a discussion about the things that make the book good, not a review encouraging you to run out and buy it. As such, I am going to be talking about the book in its entirety, which includes the ending. Naturally, this means that this post will contain quite a few spoilers.

Those of you who haven’t read it have been warned.

Now that that’s out of the way, let us begin.

A Brief Synopsis

Set mostly in New York City in the year 1985, the world of Watchmen is one not dissimilar to our own; it has the same history, the same leadership, and is also embroiled in the tension of the Cold War. Indeed, the only major difference between the real world and the world of Watchmen is the existence of superheros. Yet while there is only a handful of these costumed crime fighters, only one of which actually has super powers, they influence several key events of the 20th century in a profound way. A few examples include the god-like Dr Manhattan almost single-handedly winning the Vietnam War for the United States, the Comedian, a sadistic government agent, ending the Iranian Hostage Crisis and assassinating JFK, and the ingenious Ozymandias reshaping society with a number of inventions.

Our story picks up, however, long after the glory days of the superhero, in a time when vigilante activity is abhorred by society, and the world seems to be on the brink of nuclear annihilation. It is in this climate that the Comedian is found dead, setting off a chain of events in which his fellow vigilantes become embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy in which the fate of the whole world is on the line.

With this as our backdrop, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons give us an intricate and brilliantly crafted tale filled from cover to cover with complex, engaging characters, clever plot-twists, and compelling philosophical issues. In fact, there is so much to talk about in Watchmen that it is often difficult to point to any one thing that makes it so good. Rather, I would argue that the thing that makes Watchmen stand out the way it’s individual components work in concert with one another to create a finished product that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Now, we could spend hours talking about all the things that Watchmen does well. But rather than try to tackle the book in its entirety, I want to attempt something else; I want to try to break down the two things that, more than anything else, make Watchmen the greatest comic ever written. In my opinion, these things are Moore and Gibbons’ intimate understanding of comic books as a medium and of superheros as a genre.

Understanding of Comics as a Medium

At this point, I’d like to take a step back from Watchmen itself and talk briefly about storytelling in a general sense. Even before the dawn of civilization, human beings have been telling each other stories. With this much time to refine the formula, we’ve pretty much worked out all of the various tropes and conventions that we can use for telling tales, and applied these techniques across a number of different media. Fast-forwarding to the modern day, we now have a wide range of formats for telling stories, including film, prose,  and comic books.

Each type of medium, naturally, has its own strengths and weaknesses. Movies are able to combine audio and visual elements to convey specific moods and emotions that, with talented directors and actors at the helm, can have an extremely powerful effect. Books are able to go into greater length of detail to bring in the reader for the long haul, as well as use well-crafted words that prompt the reader’s imagination to create its own scenery. Comic books, meanwhile, have strengths all their own, several of which are on display in Watchmen.

Let me show you what I mean with three examples.

First, let’s take a look at Chapter 5, “Fearful Symmetry.” Following the deranged Rorschach as he investigates the Comedian’s murder, we find out that the vigilante has bitten off more than he can chew and is set up to take a fall. I bring it up here, though, because of the way this chapter utilizes a stunning artistic approach that can only be achieved in the medium of comic books. As you read through the comic book, you start with the 3×3 panel layout that is more or less the default for the whole story. As you move along, though, Gibbons begins to throw in a number of larger panels at seemingly random intervals. Nothing special so far, though; this has pretty much been the approach for the whole run. All this changes, however, when we reach this two page spread…

It is at this point that the panel layout begins to mirror itself centered upon the central panel above, so that if you were to lay all of this issue’s pages side by side, the panels would have perfect symmetry. The finished product, then, incorporates into its very presentation the same symmetry that is an iconic part of Rorschach, the chapter’s protagonist, adding greatly to the overall effect of the story. Again, this is an artistic approach that takes advantage full of the way comics convey information, and is not something that could be achieved in another medium.

Another area in which Watchmen takes advantage of the strengths of a comic book can be seen in the way it paces its story. One good way to demonstrate this is to take a closer examination of my personal favorite chapter, “The Darkness of Mere Being.” During this sequence, Dr Manhattan brings Silk Spectre to his new home on Mars to give her one last chance to convince him to return to earth to save humanity (or in a broader sense, to convince him that humanity is worth saving). As the chapter progresses, Laurie’s advocacy for humanity forces her look deeply within herself to find her answers. Consequently, she spends time dwelling on moments that, for better or for worse, defined her life, including interactions with her mother and other members of the superhero community. As the comic moves along, we constantly switch back and forth between Laurie’s memories and her seemingly losing battle to move Dr Manhattan to action, as Laurie uses her own past as a lens through which to examine all the chaos of the human experience. As she continues to be honest about her own past, though, her anxiety builds as she pieces together who she is and where she came from. Ultimately, this all builds to a crescendo as Laurie relives some of her worst memories while simultaneously being reduced to hopelessness as the one being capable of saving humanity stands before her, uncaring. It is in this moment of purest desperation that she comes to the realization that the Comedian, a sociopath, a rapist, and a murderer, is in fact her father. Here, Laurie hits her absolute low point, with her life figuratively collapsing around her while Dr Manhattan’s palace literally crashes upon her.

Yet just when everything seems lost, Dr Manhattan is finally moved by Laurie’s plight, concluding that if the chaos of everyday life could produce people like Laurie in even the most unlikely of circumstances, than human life might be worth fighting for after all.

When read from beginning to end, this is a very powerful and moving scene. Like I said, we spend the entire chapter building up to a fever pitch before reaching the climax, aided along the way by carefully sequenced words and imagery. Altogether, the chapter is made so strong by the pacing it achieves, a pacing that can’t really be used in a different medium.

Don’t believe me? Let’s make the obvious comparison and look at the equivalent scene from the Watchmen film. I just finished gushing about how the comic had such a powerful build up, but in the movie, Laurie’s big realization comes in a matter of seconds when Dr Manhattan uses his powers, at her request, to make her relive a repressed memory. Where the comic slowly, tantalizing leads you into a powerful moment, the movie pushes the realization upon you all at once. As you might imagine, the effect isn’t quite the same. To be fair, though, it’s not really the movie’s fault; they simply changed the sequence so that it would work in a movie format. When telling a story on film, one of the greatest limiting factors is always time, since it’s very hard to keep an audience engaged for extensive periods. Consequently, it’s difficult to justify including too many things that don’t directly advance the plot. When dealing with source material as rich as Watchmen, there is simply not enough time to keep everything. And one of the things we have no time for is to let Laurie and Manhattan have their debate on Mars, leading to the vastly abbreviated version we get in the movie.

By that same token, a prose version of the same scene would likely have to spend far more time to achieve the same effect as the comic, simply because, as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Where the comic is able use pictures to convey Laurie’s memories quickly as we move back and forth from past to present, a novel would have to spend several paragraphs to set up each transition to a new memory if it wanted to achieve the same level of detail. Where the movie had no time to build tension in the first place, a book would undo any tension it created as it is forced to provide the necessary exposition the shifting landscape requires. Moore and Gibbons, fortunately, knew that this sort of narrative landscape would work perfectly in a comic, and were able to use this to great effect.

Finally, Watchmen also provides us with a great example of a comic book’s ability to use imagery to give the audience story cues with a degree of subtlety that isn’t attainable in films or novels. To observe this, let’s look in on Chapter 11, “Look On My Works, Ye Mighty,” which serves as the climax of our story. By this point, Nite Owl and Rorschach have discovered that their old ally Ozymandias is the mastermind behind the Comedian’s murder and the conspiracy behind it. The chapter picks up with the duo en route to Ozymandias’ Antarctic retreat to confront him once and for all. When they arrive, however, they are promptly and soundly beaten, after which Ozymandias has a polite conversation with his attackers. As he explains his motivations, the action switches between this scene and New York City, where several of the minor characters we’ve been seeing since the beginning of the story have been caught up in a minor street fight. Once Ozymandias has finished explaining the details of his cover up, we finally learn about the plan that was at the center of it: to put and end to Cold War hostilities by convincing the world that all of humanity faced a common foe in the form of inter-dimensional aliens, and to murder millions of people in order to make the threat seem real. Upon hearing this, Nite Owl is incredulous, and asks Ozymandias when he was going to “do it.” Adrian responds with one of the most famous quotes in all of comics…

It is then that we realize, in a terrible moment of clarity, that the heroes are too late, that the villain’s monstrous plan has been carried out, and that millions of innocent people, including several that we’ve come to know over the course of the story, have already been dead for over half an hour. We also come to realize that the events which we had been watching unfold on the streets of New York during this chapter were shown out of sequence. Moore and Gibbons had ticked us into thinking that there was hope for them, when really they were dead all along.

Or did they?

When we go back and read the chapter over again, we can find an important clue that would have let us know from the beginning that the fight next to Bernie’s newsstand had been carried out before Nite Owl and Rorschach entered Ozymandias’ lair: the clocks. There are plenty of clocks to be found around both Antarctica and New York, letting us know that all of our bit characters had gathered at 11:25 pm, the same time that Adrian had pushed some mysterious button (though we didn’t know what it was at the time). We could have known the whole time, then, that the scenes in New York, which all take place over the same span of time from different perspectives, had been played out before the superheroes had confronted each other. The clocks were there, plain to see if you knew where to look, just another detail to be found on the page.

As stated above, the aspect I want to highlight here is the subtlety with which these clues were put before us, and how this sort of subterfuge couldn’t be carried out in books or films. If a novelist wanted to play with the events being out of sequence in the same way, he or she would have beat you over the head with the whole time-of-day thing. When the only bits of scenery the reader can get are conveyed by the words of the author, it’s tough to be sneaky about what you choose bring the reader’s attention to. Here, you’d end up having to say something like “And Bernie checked his watch to see that it was not yet 11:30.” Movies have a similar problem in that the audience would not be able to read clocks very well unless you put them into focus, which would once again be sending out all sorts of red flags. The aspect that makes playing the sequencing clever in the comic is that it there to find but very easy to miss; it would be pretty tough to miss if the clues were given in a paragraph or on a screen. Yet as they have demonstrated over and over, Moore and Gibbons have a mastery over their own craft and understood that their trickery would work perfectly well in the pages of a comic book.

Understanding of Superheroes as a Genre

In addition to using the comic book to its maximum potential as a storytelling medium, Watchmen also demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the superhero genre. The way they go about doing this is to break down the superhero formula and create a deconstruction of it. That is to say that it takes our preconceived notions about who superheros are and how their stories play out and turns them on their ear.

Examples of this can be seen in a variety of sources, even in elements as basic as the motivations of the various superheros. If you’ve read a fair share of comic books, you no doubt have seen a wide range of superheros. And while they all have unique elements to their origins, as a general rule, they fight crime because they are essentially good people; they are men and women who, for whatever reason, fight to save the innocent or punish the guilty because it is the right thing to do, and because they want to affect positive change upon the world.

The superheros of the Watchmen universe, however, are largely a subversion of this trend. Rather than having a cast of characters who fight crime out of a sense of morality, Moore decides instead to create characters who behave as people in the real world might. As you might expect of people who dress in flamboyant costumes to commit acts of vigilantism, these characters do not create their alter egos for purely noble reasons. To run through a few, we have the Comedian fighting crime simply because it gives him an excuse to revel in his violent tendencies, the original Silk Spectre who wears a skimpy costume as a way to gain publicity, and Dollar Bill, a man who is paid by a banking chain to act as their living commercial. And those are some of our heroes; our villains include the likes Captain Carnage, a sexual deviant who gets a rise out of being beaten up. Taken as a whole, then, the costumed adventurers of our story are motivated by either a deranged psychosis or a desperate plea for attention; in fact, one could argue that only Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, takes on his identity purely out of a desire to do good in the world. The rest serve as dark parodies of the superheros we know and love, and this doesn’t end with their motivations.

Moore also gives us a number of examples of the minutiae of superhero life being dissected for us to see. We have superheros getting put into peril by their ostentatious costumes (Dollar Bill was killed when his cape become caught in a revolving door during a bank robbery, and the first Nite Owl was nearly taken out by a drunken assailant when his mask was pulled over his eyes). We have Laurie and Dan complaining about when they needed to use the bathroom while on patrol. We have a subversion of the heroic superhero death, as Hollis Mason is killed in his home by a gang of anonymous thugs who mistook him for his younger counterpart, a meaningless death that pales in comparison to the type of symbolic or grand (albeit temporary) deaths we are accustomed to seeing in comics.

In my opinion, however, the ultimate subversion of the superhero formula is the broadest one it makes: the subversion of our assumptions of how superhero stories play out. At the core of their characters, superheros fight, to various degrees, to maintain a status quo, to stave off external threats that would do harm to the world they know. And almost without fail, they succeed in saving the world.

What happens in Watchmen, though? Well, this happens…

The heroes fail. The villain wins, plain and simple, and flat-out tells us that we shouldn’t have expected him to stand around and gloat like an idiot before his plan was complete.

And in the wake of our heroes’ failure, the world is radically transformed, the old status quo be damned.

By playing with our expectations in this way, Watchmen delivers the ultimate sucker punch, one that can only be fully appreciated by those familiar with the archetypal superhero story. After all, only the ones who knew a foundation in all it’s glory can truly understand the gravity of watching it get torn down. It is in this way that Moore and Gibbons, who had an intimate understanding of how superhero stories are told, were able able give the reader an experience of shock that is rarely achieved.

Oh, so much more…

So, I’ve been going on for a little while now. But like I said earlier, we are barely scratching the surface of all the there is to talk about in Watchmen. I’ve barely even mentioned Rorschach, and how he acts in near perfect accordance with Kantian ethics. Nor have we talked about how the Silk Spectre spends the majority of the tale confined by feminine stereotypes before finally liberating herself in the end when she comes to terms with her own identity. Or the way The Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic within the comic, reflects the character arcs of at least three of the main characters, most directly Ozymandias. Or the way various characters react when confronted by Nihilism, and how it shapes our understanding of the story. Or how the story can be an effective tool for our understanding of Cold War society and nuclear paranoia. Or how…you know what, I had better stop there.

As you can see, Watchmen has more meat to it than we could ever pick apart in one sitting. Watchmen is a book with layers of complexity around a powerful and thought-provoking story, that behooves you to read it over and over so that you can absorb the whole thing. And that goes a long way towards explaining why so many people consider it the best comic ever written.

So that’s what I think! How about you guys?

Top o’ the Lot: Top 5 Thor Battles

Hiya folks! It’s nice to meet you! The name’s Taylor, and when I was asked to contribute here at Outright Geekery, I thought long and hard about what to write about. But they say that it’s for the best to write about what you love, and I love few things as much as I love good super hero throwdowns. And with Thor: The Dark World now in theaters, and Jason Aaron doing great things in his epic run on Thor: God of Thunder, what better time could there be to showcase one my favorite characters, the Mighty Thor, Prince of Asgard? So without further ado, let’s get my picks for Thor’s greatest battles in this installment of Top o’ the Lot!

Actually, let me take the ado a little bit further to clarify that I’m only going to be listing battles that Thor fought on his own. As such, this excludes the times he fought alongside the Avengers.

Honorable Mentions:

-Thor vs Iron Man from Thor #3

Shortly after Thor was brought back from the dead in 2007, J. Michael Straczynski gave us this gem of a fight early on in his run on the relaunched Thor. Hot off the heels of his actions during the Civil War event, Iron Man tracks down Thor in New Orleans to deliver an ultimatum: Thor must either register with the US government, or be considered an enemy combatant. To give some context, this is the first time that Thor and Iron Man have seen each other since Iron Man had begun to fight and arrest many of Thor’s old friends (most notably Captain America), and had created a clone of Thor (later dubbed Ragnarok) in order to help him in these endeavors. Needless to say, Thor was not pleased. His reaction is well summed up by the following pages…

The reason I like this fight so much is that it gives us a great example of the sheer power of the Odinson unleashed, not just in terms of swinging hammers and lightning bolts, but in the stalwart conviction with which he battles (much to Iron Man’s woe). Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the action is drawn by the hyper-talented Olivier Coipel. It’s kept from cracking my Top 5, though, by the one-sided nature of the fight. I mean, you’d have to be pretty generous to call this a “battle,” considering that it takes Thor all of 2 hits and a lightning bolt to reduce Iron Man’s armor to a useless shell. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

-Thor vs The Hulk in Hulk #300

What kind of list would this be if I didn’t mention at least one bout between Marvel’s two premiere powerhouses? After all, this is a rivalry that’s been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth, with constant debate over whether Thor is the mightiest of the Nine Realms or if Hulk is the strongest there is. While we may never establish a definitive answer to this question, at least we can appreciate that we’ve been given a number of good fights. The one that stands out the most to me, though, is the centerpiece fight in Hulk #300 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema.

Having been driven into a mindless rage by the nefarious entity Nightmare, the Hulk begins Issue #300 on a seemingly unstoppable rampage through the city of New York. After smashing his way through every hero who tried to stand in his way, the Hulk is finally confronted by the Avengers. But when even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are picked off one by one as well, it ultimately becomes clear that only Thor can stand up to the Hulk. What do you say we just let Sal Buscema take it from here?

As anyone blessed with the gift of sight could tell you, Buscema does a masterful job depicting the battle. The characters are both fierce and imposing as we see both Thor and the storms he conjures match the Hulk’s savagery. Yet the thing that makes the fight truly memorable, I think, was the way the issue built up to this moment. From the get-go, the Hulk has been running roughshod over stronger and stronger opponents; by the time the Thunder God steps up to the plate, the Jade Giant has already cast aside SHIELD agents, the Human Torch, Power Fist and Iron Man, and a whole team of well-coordinated Avengers. The tension reaches a high-point and indeed the Hulk seems nigh-unstoppable before Thor is finally able to give the monster pause. Watching the fight that ensues gives the reader a very satisfying payoff to all the build up.

Why, then, with all this going for it, did this fight not crack my Top 5? Well, after Thor and the Hulk trade blows for a few pages, the fight ends when this happens…

So, yeah, after all that, Thor and the Hulk’s awesome fight is brought to an abrupt end when Sorcerer Supreme and occasional Deus Ex Machina Doctor Strange shows up and magicks the Hulk out of our plane of existence. This was just a bit too anticlimactic for me to include this fight on my list.

#5: Thor vs The Midgard Serpent in Thor #380

Now, I’m fairly certain that it’s a crime against all that is good and decent in the world to talk about the greatest moments in Thor’s history without mentioning the great Walt Simonson. Fortunately, we have no such crime being committed here, because we’re starting off our list with Thor’s epic fight with Jormungand, the World Serpent!

At an earlier juncture in his fabled run with the character, Simonson had Thor run afoul of Hela, Goddess of the Dead, leading her to curse the Odinson with bones that were as brittle as glass and an eternal life with which to suffer the consequences. But not wanting to let something as trifling as a Death Goddess’ curse to keep him from fighting the good fight, Thor took to wearing enchanted armor to offset his new-found fragility. Furthermore, he determined that it was a good time to face the Midgard Serpent, the very beast that was destined to kill Thor at the end of time, hoping that  while he was effectively immortal, he could undo that bit of prophecy, even if the rest of his curse gave him an enormous disadvantage.

It is under this premise that Simonson treats us to a tour-de-force of artistic brilliance. Drawn completely in full-page and double-page spreads, the battle has an epic scope that is rarely achieved in comics or any other medium. With the heavy influence from the original Norse mythology that it has, this story has a primal, archetypal appeal to it, as we see Thor set out to conquer impossible odds, to slay a creature dauntingly larger than himself when one clean hit would leave the Thunder God broken for all eternity. Really, words don’t do it justice, so let’s just take a look.

Yes, that was Thor facing down a monster that makes Godzilla look like an iguana. Yes, that was Thor smashing his way out of the monster’s mouth through its teeth. And yes, Walt Simonson’s work on Thor cannot be praised enough.

#4: Thor vs Hercules in The Incredible Hercules #136

Things can be awesome for a number of different reasons. Sometimes, things are awesome because they are inspiring. Sometimes, because they are beautiful. And sometimes, things are awesome because they are simply hilarious. The battle between Thor and Hercules in The Incredible Hercules #136 by Greg Pak and Reilly Brown is the latter kind of awesome. Having been duped by Malekith the Accursed into impersonating Thor, Hercules finds himself in a tight spot when he becomes the leader of an army of dark elves committed to returning his “rightful” lands to him (it’s complicated). Fortunately, Thor arrives disguised as Hercules to defeat “Thor” and disband the dark elves’ legions.

What follows is a highly memorable and entertaining brawl between two longtime rival gods. Not only is the premise of the fight endearingly ridiculous, it’s also filled with clever banter and strong visuals. And just for good measure, Pak makes sure that even the sound effects contain jokes, with such fare as “GODDDATHUNDAAA,” SUKKKAPUNCH,” “THORRRRULZ,” and perhaps most memorably…

Ultimately, Hercules convinces Thor that he needs to fight like the real Hercules, which leads to this showstopping finale…

All in all, this is the sort of fun I’m glad to see in my comics, at least every now and then.

#3: Thor vs Superman in JLA/Avengers #2

While perhaps not as prominently argued as the Thor vs Hulk debate, another great fan feud has been the one between Thor and Superman. Seeing as Thor and Supes are major league heavy hitters from the comic industry’s most prominent publishers, there’s a natural fascination surrounding the issue as to who would kick whose ass in a fight. After all, this debate transcends mere character preferences and incorporates the rivalry between DC and Marvel. But while the whole rival company angle gives the hypothetical fight a certain mystique, it also means that there aren’t many opportunities to see the characters actually duke it out in the pages of a comic book. And so it was until Kurt Busiek and George Perez gave us the epic company crossover JLA/Avengers!

Having been made to compete against each other in the multiverse’s deadliest scavenger hunt, the JLA and the Avengers have been battling across each other’s universes to collect items such as the Infinity Gauntlet and Kyle Rayner’s Power Battery. At the end of the search, with the JLA up 6 items to 5, both teams gather in full with everything on the line in the Savage Land to claim the Cosmic Cube. It is here that Superman and Thor, the most powerful members on either team, finally have the one-on-one fight we’ve all been waiting for.

And so, as their teammates wage a hectic battle around them, Superman and Thor trade blows and verbal stings, crushing the forest around them. And though the battle was fierce, the Last Son of Krypton finally outlasts Thor and wins the day.

This fight makes the #3 spot on the list for a few reasons. First of all, we have the peerless artwork of George Perez, who really was the perfect choice for this book; not only does he have familiarity and comfort in drawing the A-list characters of bothpublishers, but no one draws gigantic, sprawling fights as well as he does. And once again, we have to appreciate the build-up to this moment. After all, this is the first time the two had met since both teams’ core members had gathered in Metropolis and THIS had happened…

Since this small sneak preview, Thor and Superman never find themselves in the same place at the same time until we reach the end of the contest and the stakes couldn’t be higher. With the chaos swirling around them, we get the fight we had been promised.

And you know what? I have to admire that Kurt Busiek had the guts to declare a winner. All too often, these types of crossover fights end with the characters coming to their senses, with some outside power forcing the fight to end prematurely, or some other sort of cop-out. But for this fight that had been argued for decades in comic shops across the world, Busiek saw it through to the end, and that scores major points in my book.

#2: Thor vs Bor in Thor #600

Coming in at #2, we have Thor’s battle with his resurrected grandfather, Bor, in an issue-long slobber-knocker which serves as the climax to Loki’s plan to banish Thor from Asgard and to J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the title with Olivier Coipel. After a long and arduous plot involving time travel, ghostly disguises and gender-swapping, Loki finally springs his trap by restoring Bor, the ancient King of Asgard, to present day New York, but not without cursing him to make him perceive everything around him as a threat. It is in this state that Thor finds him. So, naturally, a fight ensues between two of the greatest warriors Asgard has ever produced.

The fight continues in this way with Thor and his grandfather trading blows for several pages, evenly matched as they battle. As things continue, however, the situation continues to escalate as both combatants try everything they can to defeat their opponent. Thor even calls in the Avengers, whom he was estranged from at the time, to help subdue Bor. Thor was so estranged, in fact, that he hadn’t realized that Norman Osborn had control of the sanctioned Avengers team at that time.

Needless to say, Thor was not amused.

As things look increasingly desperate with Thor, Bor, and the Dark Avengers all fighting each other at once in a three-way standoff, Bor pulls out all the stops and unleashes the unrestrained power of the Odinforce (or Borforce, I guess).

Realizing that Bor had to be stopped before he destroyed all of Midgard, Thor girds himself to do what needs to be done, leading to this awe-inspiring final blow.

And so it was that Thor was forced to slay his opponent, striking so hard that Mjolnir itself was shattered by the impact. It is then that Loki shows up to inform Thor that his opponent was none other than the first King of Asgard, meaning that Thor is guilty of regicide, the penalty for which is exile.

Sorry for flooding the screen with half the fight on this one, but this is the type of fight that needs to be seen rather than described. As I said earlier, this issue is wall-to-wall action with almost no let-up at all. The pacing is beautifully handled as the fight leads up to a crescendo at the very end. And all of the action is brought to life by the very capable Olivier Coipel, which is always a point in any books favor. Add all of it up, and you have a duel between viking gods that is truly for the ages.

#1: Thor, Thor, and Thor vs Gorr the God Butcher in Thor: God of Thunder #009

I have to confess that when I determined the order of this list, I was slightly apprehensive about where this bout was going to appear. I say this because I’m paranoid about being a slave to the moment; after all, Jason Aaron’s run is still ongoing at the time of writing, with the issue in question having come out just a few short months ago. But the more I thought on it, the more I realized that this fight couldn’t possibly be anything less than #1, its relative youth be damned.

I’m talking of course about the slice of brilliance that is the bout between the Thors of three eras and the genocidal mad man known as the God Butcher.

If you never checked out Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s sublime work on the God Butcher and Godbomb story arches (and shame on you if you didn’t), this confrontation comes after 8 issues of Thor chasing down Gorr the God Butcher, a vengeful mortal wielding a terrible power, waging a one-man war against all gods everywhere, and holding a grudge against Thor for a fight they waged centuries ago. Thor’s chase ultimately leads him across the veil of time to the far future, where he meets his future self, King Thor, an All-Father of Asgard who had endured Gorr’s 900 year siege on the Realm Eternal. From here, the two Thunder Gods travel to Gorr’s  throneworld, where they come across the Thor of the viking era, a brash warrior not yet worthy of Mjolnir who had been plucked from the timestream to serve as Gorr’s slave.

With the stage set in this way, Aaron and Ribic give a virtuoso performance, a near perfect blending of strong writing and stunning art that I just cannot adequately describe with what weak words I can muster. This issue is one you just have to read for yourself. And thanks to Youtuber Fernando072295, you can enjoy it for yourself right now.


This fight demonstrates masterful work from Ribic. The way he plays with light and shadows, his ability to convey both subtle emotion and dynamic action (often at the same time), and his ability to convey the otherworldly nature of a fight between divine beings are all beyond reproach. Even if this issue had no words, and you just flipped through the artwork, it would still be a standout comic book. Fortunately, though, Jason Aaron’s words are every bit as strong as Ribic’s art. Aaron provides us with three unique Thors, depicting them in such a way that we see that they are three vastly different people, while still understanding how they could have been or will become one another.

Really, though, the best thing about this issue is how they embrace being over-the-freaking-top. We have our four combatants zipping back and forth between planets in a battle that spans light-years. We have Young Thor riding into battle on a star shark. We have a dark leviathan fueled by the blood of a million gods, swallowing our heroes whole. We have the Gods of Thunder furiously attacking their foe even as they plunge into the heart of a sun. And in the end, we have the sinking despair of hopelessness as the defeated Thors rain down from the heavens (spoiler warning: they get their second wind).

So yeah, it’s an awesome fight. It is not only my favorite Thor fight, but it might just be my favorite super hero fight ever.

That’s my list! Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to get your opinion! Please let me know how I can get better, and thanks for reading!