Review: Kieron Gillen’s Über

Uber0I’ve been a fan of Kieron Gillen’s comics writing since I discovered Phonogram; in latter days he has even managed to lure me to read more Marvel comics, starting with the excellent Journey into Mystery and then segueing into Young Avengers, in my opinion the shining jewel in Marvel’s crown. Kieron is a very clever writer, skilled at squeezing the last ounce of narrative juice from the comics medium, layering subtext and self-reference and pop-culture into layer upon meta-layer.

Über, being written for Avatar Press, is almost a total change of direction. Über is a war / horror comic, a what-if scenario about supermen, Übermenschen, entering the war on the Nazi’s side. They emerge onto the battlefield in what should have been the last shudder of the Third Reich, the battle of Berlin. Instead, everything changes forever, in most horrible ways. I think Über is very good, but it’s hard to like; that’s part of why it’s good. Present are the horror of the setting, the horrors of war and the horror of the inhuman destruction of human life and spirit; I’d be a little worried about anyone who didn’t find it uncomfortable. The violence inflicted upon people, individually and en masse, is grueling and unrelenting, but it’s never played for thrills. The horror and the evil is not glossed over, if anything it’s made more real, more visceral for the reader.

Naturally, the narrative can’t be spoken of without the art, and Canaan White does an excellent job, continuing with the theme of showing the horror, unflinchingly, without glorifying it. I would absolutely recommend this comic, though not to the faint of heart. Sadly it’s not available digitally yet, so it’s a matter of either picking up the monthlies, or waiting for a hardback collected edition of issues 0 to 5, due around October.

And if you like Über, may I recommend Warren Ellis’ Supergod, also for Avatar Press?

UpdateÜber is now available on Comixology!

Update 2: Supergod is now also available on Comixology!

The Death of John Constantine

John Constantine

John Constantine: literary child of Alan Moore, blue-collar wizard, con man, bastard.

Since his first appearance in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 in June 1985, Constantine has captured the imaginations of readers, writers and artists. Now though, within DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint/universe that housed him for 28 years, John Constantine is dead. His own comic, Hellblazer, came to an end this month with issue #300 and I, like many others, followed the final storyline, knowing it would be the last within Vertigo; knowing he would die. We all wondered what end would be fitting for so iconic a character and speculated whether he’d be able to cheat death one last time.

In my opinion though, it ended with more of a whimper than a bang. It was satisfying, I suppose. It tied up loose ends, I suppose. It got good reviews, I suppose. But to me the ending just didn’t feel… Constantine enough.

So here instead are my own ideas for how Hellblazer, and Constantine with it, could have been brought to an end:

  • Constantine has always had a tumultuous relationship with The First of the Fallen, and the denizens and regents of Hell. Having Constantine, seeing the end of his life approaching, launch a coup on Hell itself, would be the ultimate con. A man destined for Hell, ending up as its ruler, and upsetting the apple cart of all of reality would be a very Constantine ending.
  • I misunderstood the nature of the character Map, a potential king of the magi who draws and lends power to London. I saw him instead as the embodiment of London, it’s deity or genius loci. This too, would be a satisfying ending for Constantine, in my view; to become the very spirit of London, a city that he has become intrinsically linked to. To wear London like a mantle and guide it through its next era, before he too eventually passes on the responsibility.
  • The first storyline of Hellblazer, told in issues #1 and #2, tells of John battling Mnemoth, a hunger spirit accidentally unleashed on New York by his friend Gary Lester. It possesses people and then makes them hunger for what they desire most in the world. They will try to consume the objects of their desire while their bodies waste away. John managed to trap it inside Gary’s body, and had his friend’s corpse and the spirit bricked into a cell. It would be interesting to take Constantine’s story full circle and, dying, take Lester’s place as the prison of Mnemoth, thereby freeing Lester’s spirit.

Finally, arguably the best ending to John Constantine has perhaps already been written by Warren Ellis, in Planetary #7. John Carter, the stand-in John Constantine, performs one last con and walks off into the night to become someone else, leaving the trappings of his origins behind. Dead to the world, but ready to move on.

DC Comics are, of course, not quite finished with John Constantine. Hellblazer might now have ended, but John returns to the DC Universe inhabited by never-ageing men in tights in his own comic. It will be interesting to see how writers handle the character now that he isn’t burdened by his own ghosts, history, age or being the only last bulwark against the weird.

Looking back at 2012 / Looking forward to 2013

How was writing for me in 2012? Let me put it this way, I started this draft two weeks ago and have hardly scratched out a word since. But rather than berate myself, I shall bludgeon my way out of this funk. I have a feeling 2013 will be a very good year.

For a start, I still have my rejection letters from the BBC and Channel 4 to look forward to, for their scriptwriting competitions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that negatively. But while I have some faith in my writing, or at least its potential, I don’t think I’m there yet. A rejection letter would allow me to finally bury the script I keep sending out to these competitions in the hope that the next draft will be the one to succeed. If, when, the script is rejected by both the BBC and Channel 4, I will have some closure on it and will focus my efforts on newer, fresher, better work.

I have three primary projects left over from last year. One of these requires no further input from me, as it is a comic script for a one page portfolio comic which is still with an artist who assures me the project is not yet dead. My primary focus will be the pilot episode and series bible for a TV series I’m writing. I cruelly left it hanging last year, despite all manner of encouragement and excitement about the project. It is time to finish it and polish it to a mirror-like finish, if darkly. The aim is to finish for the end of BBC’s Spring submission window at the end of March. Finally, there is my fun project, a novelette for friends. Writing it is utterly silly and amazing fun, just like it’s intended audience.

So, writing goal for 2013? Exactly the same as the goal for 2012, get something published, but not self-published and not on a website. Wish me luck! Again!

Comic art in my inbox

On August the 22nd I put a request out for an artist to draw a one page comic based on a script I wrote. Last night, at the last possible moment of September, Dominick Rabrun (AKA @countblackula) sent me a sketched page. And it looks good. Very good. There’s still refinements to be done and lettering, but no input is needed from me. Dom has a good eye, a creative flair and a knack for visual narrative that has transcended some of the clunkier elements of my script.

I can’t wait to see the finished piece.