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Big Damn Sin City – Alternative Comics Beat

Alt Beat

By Ken Porter

Sin City (Big Damn Sin City Collection)

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Written and drawn by Frank Miller

Published by Dark Horse

A collection to kill for

My first experience with Sin City was the Robert Rodriguez film that adapted the Frank Miller series. With Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For being released I figured it was the perfect time to look over the source material for the stylistic pair of films.

While the movie was my first exposure it’s still been a long time since I’ve sat down and watched the whole thing. Returning to the world where Marv leaps through police cars and the prostitutes of Old Town gut people was a nostalgic trip down a dark alley. Not only did I get to relive the moments I saw on the big screen, I also got to experience them the way they were originally supposed to be enjoyed. And the Big Damn collection contains every bit of Sin City you could possibly find.

 

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A mighty hardcover

It’s no slim volume. I had to read most of it at home. I tried bringing it to coffee shops but it’s over 1300 pages and is such a beautiful book that I didn’t want to risk damaging or losing my copy. The oversized pages and the stark black and white make for a charged read. Each time I turned the page I fell a little more in love with the static but lively images that Miller created during the series’ run.

Why it’s a great alternative

The crime genre is nothing new to comic books. Superhero stories have almost always dominated, but crime stories have always been there to offer the gritty and violent stories found in pulp magazines and film noir. Sin City distills the crime genre into its darkest and condensed form. The heroes are just as dangerous as the villains, lovers stab each other in the back at the drop of a hat, and justice is served under the table. As an alternative to regular superhero stories, this is one of the veers toward the left that takes you down a whole new and treacherous road.

 

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Who would enjoy Sin City?

This collection itself is for anyone that enjoys oversized omnibus collections. It’s beautifully crafted and looks fantastic on the shelf. While the story is definitely for fans of old detective or crime novels, as well as crime noir films that live in the morally gray area of life.

Ken Porter also writes comic books including “Ink Ribbon” from Visionary Comics. Ken was also the winner of last year’s Top Cow Talent Search contest and was recently published in “Artifacts” #33.

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Your Alternative Comics Beat For May 3rd, 2013: Ten Grand

Alt Beat With Kenneth Porter

 

The Story

Joe Fitzgerald will take on any job for $10,000. As a former mob enforcer he’s seen his share of the ugliness of the world and is no stranger to the weird or supernatural. But when a young girl brings him a new job and a suspicious photograph, Joe agrees to take the job for free for “personal reasons.” In a case steeped in demonology and the unknown, Joe must find the missing girl and finish a job he swore an oath to complete – avenging and seeing his dead wife Laura again.

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Ten Grand is a mixture of crime noir, the supernatural, and the underworld (two meanings here) that delivers for fans of the genres. J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith work together to give a mood that feels like a split between Hellblazer and old pulp detective novels.

Straczynski’s Writing

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Joe is one of those characters that you want to follow around instantly. Straczynski knows his way around a comic book page and his character building with Mr. Fitzgerald really shows it. We get inside glimpses of how Joe things, what motivates him, and the types of places he frequents.

There’s a particular scene with an offer for a sexual act that really shows what kind of a man Joe is, but I won’t spoil the outcome for you. It’s something that you just have to read in order to do the little mental fist pump that comes with that kind of a character moment.

Templesmith’s Art

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The artwork really sets the mood for this supernatural tale. It’s grim, rough, and has that earthy feel that makes you believe that it’s a true mixture between noir and demonic stories. Joe and his world are brought to life by Templesmith’s style, and the character’s rough edges come through the panels with each expression and action he takes on the page.

What Pops in “Ten Grand”

What really works in Ten Grand is the matter-of-fact way that the magic and supernatural elements are dealt with. Many urban fantasy or magic titles will try to make elements too grandiose at the start or push that “things are not what they seem” onto the reader. Joe’s level and knowledge of magic and the afterlife is street smart and patchwork, which fits the gritty artwork and the character’s voice.

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There’s a great moment with the internet that shows just how integrated the other world is with ours, but again, I want you to read it for yourself to see.

Give It a Try

This isn’t a groundbreaking new concept, but it is an example of how to do a cross-genre story well. The characters are engaging, the stakes are high, and each page leaves you wanting more. This is the kind of comic I reach for when I go for the stands, so it might have really been written directly to my type of audience, but this is an opinion column after all. My opinion? Go find the first issue in print or digitally and soak it up until the next issue drops!

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Review: The Shadow #1

Arguably one of the greatest pulp characters in popular culture, The Shadow makes his return to comics with Dynamite Entertainment’s new issue of The Shadow #1. In this first part of the “Fire of Creation” arc, we get a glimpse of The Shadow’s nightlife, social life, and relationship with Margo Lane, his current love interest. There’s action, crime, suspense, and plenty of intrigue in this new take by writer Garth Ennis.

Ennis writes this issue in a style that both celebrates and modernizes the pulp genre. All of the pulp crime story elements are present in the book, but it never tries to mock or bring attention to them. If anything it celebrates the genre and utilizes it on the comic book page as an exciting way to tell a story. After only one issue I completely understand the character of Lamont Cranston and the unique abilities he holds as The Shadow. There’s a confidence in Cranston’s speech and posture that says he’s comfortable in the role he’s taken, but knows that it’s also a huge burden to bear.

Aaron Campbell’s art lends itself well to the story, time period (1940’s), and genre. There’s a nice mix of modern and classic comic book style that makes it feel like a dime store novel come to life. The panel layouts are well paced, and not once did I find myself wandering or wishing the story would hurry up. There’s a considerable amount of talking in this issue and it still comes off as compelling. That’s a huge accomplishment for any artist and it should be celebrated in this example of sequential storytelling.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the old pulp heroes. If this book is any indication of what Dynamite is going to be bringing to the table in terms of The Spider, then I’m completely on board for both titles. Ennis and Campbell are a great team and this book is worth its weight amongst the new releases this week. Fans of The Shadow rejoice, this book is a solid 4.5/5.

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Advanced Review: Thief of Thieves #1 (Kirkman & Spencer)

The newest crime saga from Image Comics and Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint will hit shelves February 8th and is already looking to be an incredibly fun series. The story revolves around Redmond (Conrad Paulson), a professional thief so good at his job he makes it look effortless. With the help of his apprentice, Celia, he can pull any type of job from high-profile to chop shop work. But something in Redmond’s life is bothering him, and he may make a change that will rock the foundations of his business partners.

The writing in this first issue is stellar. Kirkman and Spencer have written a comic that’s full of rich heist movie atmosphere and feels like a brand new Steven Soderbergh film. Redmond is a character who would jack your car one minute and help you pull a job to pay off your mortgage the next. He’s an unpredictable thief, and that’s just the kind of character that makes for great comic book storytelling. The writing approach on this comic is apparently more like a TV writer’s room, where the ideas are fleshed out between more than one writer and the overarching story is decided for the run. It’s a method that will hopefully give other writers a chance to step in and play in the character’s world, alongside Kirkman, without the changing voice turning into a sudden shock on the page.

The artwork by Martinbrough is outstanding. It reminds me of the last run of Detective Comics with Jock and Francesco Francavilla, where most of the panels are dedicated to conversation, but still move the story dynamically and dramatically from page to page. It mixes the lighting elements of film and the “camera angles” that only a strong comic book artist can capture. The entire flow of the book feels so fluid that it’s more like a slideshow than static images. It’s truly a strong presence and ties-in well with the writing. Martinbrough will be on as the main artist, doing both the covers and the interiors, so readers can expect more great issues like this powerful debut.

I’m delighted that crime comics are making their way back into the mainstream. Kirkman has always shown an ability to start projects in varied genres, like zombies or superheroes, and always seems to do something entirely different with them. Here’s hoping that same magic spreads to Thief of Thieves, because it’s already shaping up to be one hell of a ride.

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