Posts Tagged ‘Nexus’

The Streets of San Francisco


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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Tastes change. Styles change. Everyone knows the story about Hitchcock’s Psycho, right? After filming lots of big-budget color movies in the mid to late ’50s, Hitch decided to take a different approach with Psycho. Convinced that he could do it better with his smaller TV crew (from Alfred Hitchcock Presents), he shot Psycho in black-and-white and structured it very much like the short-form pieces he was doing for TV. I think Hitch also understood that tastes were changing and that people liked the small-screen, simple and clear, episodic format that hearkened back to radio (and to Hitch’s own films from the ’30s). Also, many of the people who worked in TV in the ’50s and ’60s were former filmmakers from the pre-Technicolor, pre-Cinemascope era.

Contemporary filmmakers can attempt to evoke older films (Todd Haynes’ Sirk-themed Far From Heaven, for example) as much as they like — but in my opinion they will never be able to truly match or copy exactly what the old timers did BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT FORMED IN THE SAME CAULDRON. (Of course Haynes didn’t want to copy Sirk exactly. Haynes was investigating Sirk’s LANGUAGE.) The dominant style of staged movement, proscenium stage “blocking”, nuts-and-bolts “shot/reaction shot” that one can easily see running through all films of the ’40s and ’50s began to give way eventually. Interestingly enough, it was the French New Wave that had a lot to do with this because they themselves were looking back, like Hitchcock, to the older, formative films of Hollywood, to noir, and to westerns. This back to basics approach was picked up on by the ’60s and ’70s auteurs, but by then they could inject new flavors in to the form (more skin and sex) and the whole paradigm shifted.

Comics have a similar trajectory. All the talk that comics artists today can draw BETTER than their forebears is meaningless. The point is that this common language I’m describing IS NO LONGER IN USAGE. It’s all but dead because the people who were formed by it, who passed it on, are gone. Toth was an innovator; he was more forward-thinking than Caniff, yet he was still a “Caniffer.” Darwyn Cooke can attempt to evoke Toth in some of his Batman stories, but he will never be Toth because he was not formed in the same 1950s cauldron. So subtly, step by step, each generation puts its own spin on the dominant style. Any attempt to resurrect these “house styles” is seen as retro and somewhat conservative. The bland illustration style that ruled ’50s and early ’60s comics was part Caniff, part advertising, part hackwork. The practitioners of this style, though, knew how to construct a page that read clearly, much like directors of the ’50s films knew how to stage action.

Steve Rude is a great example of an artist who, like Toth, builds on the existing nuts-and-bolts style of comic storytelling without resorting to drawing in a more stylized approach like Frank Cho or Dave Stevens. One hundred issues of Nexus continuity prove Rude’s determination to remain a “classicist” and document his development. He’s committed to telling a story and frames the movement across the page in order to extract the maximum dramatic impact. Rude’s choices work for me as a reader because the clarity of it all, the simplicity of the drawing, allow the narrative to retain its momentum. Cho’s flourishes of technical wizardry, I think, actually prevent the narrative from assuming center stage. His transitions from panel to panel are generally awkward and ham-fisted. Compare the clarity of the Rude page (below left) to the clumsiness of Cho’s page (below right) in sequences that have a similar “action.”

Does Miami Vice look like Dragnet? Does a Dave Stevens page read like a Caniff page? Would I rather watch The Streets of San Francisco or Law & Order? Would I rather read Don Heck or Frank Cho? For me, the last is a litmus test. If you think Cho is a better draftsman, fine. But if you think Cho is a better comics artist than Don Heck, then I’m sorry, but I do not agree. In fact, I think it’s pointless to compare the two. For the reasons I’ve explained above, I think Cho is an ILLUSTRATOR first and a comics artist second. Don Heck, long reviled as one of the worst hacks in the Marvel Bullpen, was a solid storyteller. He had a great sense of comics “naturalism” and is a perfect example of the kind of “nuts-and-bolts” non-photo-referenced approach that prevailed before 1970 or so. In my opinion, artists like Cho and Stevens have contributed very little to the development of the form. Except maybe to impress upon a generation of young comics artists that technical virtuosity is more important than basic storytelling.

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Mike Baron


Friday, December 14, 2007

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I take it all back. Steve Rude rules. But I’m saying it for Mike Baron, too. I want to see Nexus be as popular and relevant as it used to be — for Rude, sure, but for Baron more. He’s a great comics writer and I miss his new wave ’80s brand of sci-fi. It feels perfect for today. Kind of P.K. Dick, kind of retro, but still fresh — Baron’s Nexus this time around might just be what comics needs right now.

Baron sounds optimistic in the afterword for Nexus: The Origin: “[Rude] and I expect to spend the next 15 years finishing up our long running, but briefly interrupted saga. And in the end we will hopefully have found ourselves having said it all.”

Baron also explains what happened to issue 100 of Nexus, which has been delayed for months: “Glitches attacked. Nexus 100, already ambitious to start with, grew exponentially as [Rude] painted and expanded the … story.”

Nexus: The Origin is a great deal and a great chance to plug in to the Nexus channel; it’s a reprint of a 1993 Eisner-winning book that retells the Nexus origin story in stunning fashion. Forty-eight pages in full color for four bucks. Rude is awesome. Who cares if he blows his deadlines? Maybe they did this all on purpose to get Nexus fans like me cagey enough to want to abandon all hope only to go bananas for a reprint! It’s almost sad how excited I am about this comic. It’s just so refreshing to see Nexus on the new comics rack. It’s a pretty amazing comic book. Baron and Rude are in a class by themselves.

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Dude, seriously…


Sunday, October 21, 2007

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Nexus series since the late 1980s, but even though many of you may have never heard of the book before, I’m going to skip the collaged, fast-motion history of the character and creative team. Look it up online. Suffice it to say that Nexus was the most exciting independent action/adventure comic of the 1980s, something like a new wave Space Ghost. The writing was razor sharp and the art was better than anything else out at the time.

So what happened since then? Why haven’t we seen this comic in ten years, or on a regular schedule for almost twenty? Well, for one thing, the comics market basically collapsed in the mid 1990s (“The ’90s were a train wreck,” said Gary Groth at an SPX panel in 2006), but beyond that I think the real reason Nexus went away is because Steve Rude is a perfectionist. He can’t maintain a regular schedule. He may be the heir apparent to Jack Kirby (who else is there?), but unlike his hero, Rude has serious deadline problems.

When I heard that Nexus was returning, and on Rude’s own label no less, I was thrilled. I’d followed the sporadic Nexus mini-series that were published through most of the ’90s, and really did mourn its absence over the last decade. The new book was announced and then word came that, no, in fact there were creative differences between Baron and Rude and that it was off. Then it was back on. But by then I didn’t believe it. So when I found out that it was actually coming out I was relieved and excited. Finally a good regular monthly comic to follow besides All Star Superman. (I like Frank Quitely’s art. Geez. What? You don’t?)

As a true Nexus fan, I read issue #99 carefully and slowly, and savored every second. It’s a remarkable return to form for Baron & Rude, masterfully and beautifully done. That said, it also feels like they tried to cram in too much “set-up” for the next few issues. There’s an amazing action sequence in the middle that puts Paul Gulacy (Rude’s other hero) to shame, but then the book stumbles through the next few pages with more set-up, and ends with an ostensibly big moment — the birth of Nexus’s son — that feels flat and uninspired. A few pages earlier, momentum was building well, and despite all the set-up, it seemed like there would be a fitting coda to the first Nexus comic in ten years. Instead we’re left to wait until “next month” (or so we’re told) for the implied showdown between good and evil.

That’s a problem. Nexus #99 debuted a couple weeks before the San Diego Comic-Con in July. I’m writing this in late October and still no new Nexus. Whatever momentum that it received from the comics press is dying down, and it seems, like the story itself I’m afraid, that the return to form is exactly more of the same from these guys: sporadic issues here and there of a great comic for an ever dwindling fan base. I’d rather wait ten years for a complete story than be promised something the creators and publisher (read: Steve Rude) can’t deliver on a regular schedule. What possessed Rude, after waiting ten years to get back in the saddle again with Nexus, only to release the first issue of a four-issue mini-series before finishing even the second?! Common sense dictates that after such a long hiatus, the entire series should be finished before the first issue goes to press, thereby insuring the uninterrupted flow of the dynamically paced series, where the loss of momentum is the kiss of death to both enjoyment and sales.

It’s still probably the best action/adventure comic I’ve read all year. A solid piece of genre comics that expands the form’s conventions while remaining firmly rooted in tradition. I’m simply worried that it will be completely over new readers’ heads. Tastes have changed since Nexus was cutting edge. And if I’d never read Nexus before, I think I’d probably wonder what’s really happening on planet Ylum (where the story takes place). Is Nexus president there? What is all the unrest about? As an old reader, I can figure it out, and piece together my recollection of past adventures. But I worry that if Nexus the comic wants to recapture its glory days, then Baron and Rude are going to have to work a lot harder and faster this go round.

One final note: While writing this, I discovered that the Nexus: Origin one-shot is slated to be reprinted in November. Anyone inspired by this review to give Nexus a shot and would like a quick (and cheap) way to get up to speed is advised to grab a copy upon its release.

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