World Comic Book Review

11th April 2024

Butcher Billy: Pop Art, Post-Punk Derivation, and Comics

Butcher-Billy

The biblical adage that nothing is ever new under the sun seems especially true in comic books. This phenomenon is sometimes cast as express homages, sometimes as sneaky or blatant efforts to piggy-back on goodwill, and sometimes as part of the creative rush to tap into the prevailing zeitgeist.

“Vertical” (published in 2004) was the last of the special formatted releases to celebrate the tenth anniversary years of DC Comic’s imprint, Vertigo. It was written by Steven T. Seagle with art by Mike Allred. The text and the art pay homage to Andy Warhol, most obviously in the excerpt above. No doubt to mitigate risk under the Lanham Act for implying an endorsement of affiliation between the comic and Warhol’s personality rights, Warhol, as a character in the comic, is referred to only as “Andy”, but lives in a place called “The Factory”, has bright blonde hair, and is clearly regarded by the characters as a shaper of opinions and style. All of this describes Warhol the person.

Mike Allred’s engaging pop art style of drawing is showcased in the clothes and hairstyles of the characters. It also uses as a stylistic vehicle a comic book genre which hadn’t been in prominence since the 60s – the comic book love/romance genre.

The art is notably avant garde. Reading the story itself is also like looking at a roll of film – the scenes are in squares and each looks like a film frame.

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Morrison & Quitely’s Pax Americana: Watching the Watchmen by Critiquing the Critiques

Morrison & Quitely's Pax Americana

Grant Morrison has for many years been writing comic books which exhibit a certain intellectual flair. Pax Americana (a serialized comic released November 2014 by DC Comics) does not depart from this, and indeed invokes many themes Morrison has visited in other works, notably Animal-man and The Invisibles. Some of the themes are common to Morrison’s British peers. One can easily imagine Morrison and English writer Warren Ellis sitting in a pub in the late 1990s, discussing how reality would look to a person existing in a comic book (the “stacked two dimensional planes existing in three dimensional space” of Ellis’ Planetary #4, published by Wildstorm Comics in June 1999, compared to Captain Atom’s address to the reader in Pax Americana: “The characters remain unaware of my scrutiny, but their thoughts are transparent, weightless in little clouds. This is how a 2-dimensional continuum looks to you. Imagine how your 3-D word appears to me” ). Morrison has thrown in the conundrum of the story rolling out in a non-linear way, rendering the comic both compellingly enigmatic and vastly inaccessible. And the shadow of that other great Brit of comic books, Alan Moore, is entirely evident in Pax Americana in its ongoing homage to Moore’s seminal 1987 work, Watchmen.

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The Secret Lives of Dead Men: Brubaker’s Velvet, the James Bond mythos, and the Spectre of Ian Fleming

The Secret Lives of Dead Men Brubaker's Velvet

Ed Brubaker’s comic book Velvet (Image Comics, 2015) sees the writer again explore gritty realism in a strong female character, albeit this time channelling the violent charm and loose sex of Ian Fleming.

Fleming wrote a series of novels in the 1950s and 60s featuring James Bond, an English spy, world-saver, and womaniser- those priorities sometimes in jumbled order. These novels have spawned thirty-two movies, becoming one of the world’s most successful character franchises. One of the more enduring supporting members of the cast was Miss Moneypenny, the secretary to Bond’s boss, M.

In the novel Thunderball, Fleming wrote that Moneypenny “often dreamed hopelessly about Bond.” Moneypenny’s primary function is to frame Bond as an object of desire. She is less than the inevitable Bond girl, the object of desire of the audience and Bond’s inevitable conquest – Moneypenny is merely a prop. The character doesn’t have much of a purpose otherwise in the novels, and not much more than that in the movie series until the 2007 continuity reboot, the second Casino Royale.

Wired Magazine’s review of Velvet makes the fundamental error of assessing the comic as “Bond imagined as a secretary”. The concept is instead more subtle than that. Brubaker makes that clear by having a spy who vastly resembles Bond on the receiving end of a shotgun within the first three pages of the very first serialised issue.

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