Chaos! A Special Halloween Review by Kirk Dymbrowski

With Halloween approaching, and Dynamite Entertainment releasing its version of Evil Ernie, it seemed a good time to write a quick review of where it began, Chaos! Comics.

Chaos Comics

Quick Overview of Chaos! Comics: Brian Pullido’s Chaos! Comics were the vamped-up progeny of the now defunct Eternity Comics. Chaos! operated from 1994 until 2002, publishing mostly in the horror comic genre. Chaos! Featured such anti-heroes as; Evil Ernie; Lady Death; Purgatori; Jade and Satan himself. In opposition there were main characters who were essentially good, but with bad attitudes, such as; Chastity; Bad Kitty; Bedlam and Vandala. Chaos! Also released several stand alone mini-series based on mayhem and destruction, such as The Pendulum a 12-issue miniseries of comic books based upon the Dark Carnival universe, a mythology detailed in the music of the Insane Clown Posse.

The horror designation is a bit of a stretch, it would be more appropriate perhaps, to call the lion share of the titles villain-based comics. Unlike the majority of mainstream comics, where the good guy is the main character, Chaos! Comics featured the villain—and it worked. While Chaos! Never displaced the mainstream publishers it did capture a cult-like loyal following who still purchase and re-read back-issues 10 years after the company went defunct.

The most popular Chaos! Characters were Evil Ernie, Lady Death and Purgatori, all of whom were villains out to destroy all life or enslave all life. Marvel and DC have their “bad Boys” and their “Bad Girls” edgy angry heroes with bad attitudes…who at the core are essentially good. This is not the case with Chaos!. Evil Ernie was not essentially good, oh no my friend, Evil Ernie was out to kill every living thing on planet earth.

Evil Ernie

Youth Gone Wild: Reviewing all the titles would be too exhaustive, so let’s start with the series where all newcomers to Chaos! should start: Youth Gone Wild. Youth Gone Wild is a reprint of the origin story from Eternity comics (1991), originally in black and white, re-released under Chaos! in color and as a TPB.

Evil Ernie Youth Gone Wild

Ernest Fairchild is a good little boy, but as troubles heat up at home, he becomes more reclusive, exhibits some bad behavior. Ernest’s father became a despised citizen, having laid off many locals at the lumber yard. Ernest’s father began drinking and behaving badly, upsetting Ernest very deeply when he killed Ernest’s pet rat. Other children, unhappy that Ernest’s father had laid off so many local parents, became cruel towards Ernest as well.

In resentment Ernest drew a picture of his drunken father crashing his car into a tree. As Ernest was drawing this picture, his mother who was picking up his father from a local bar, crashed into a tree, she sustained several injuries and lost the child she was carrying inside of her. As a result, Ernest’s mother also became more cruel and hostile towards Ernie, especially upon discovering the drawing.

Ernest’s parents have him treated by a psychiatrist, Dr. Leonard Price, but he only gets worse. Mr. Leonard was using his new experimental dream-probe therapy, but was not aware that Ernest was being abused. Ernest pretends to be cured, for in his dreams he begins seeing a pale woman from another plane of existence, Lady Death. She appears to him from the Endless Graveyard, a realm within Hell.

Lady Death soothes him, makes him feel good…and plays on his teen hormones, offering her love to him, if only he would do her one small favor. That small favor…kill all life on earth. For Lady Death is in Hell, an unwilling subordinate to Satan. Satan has placed a curse on her, that she can never leave Hell until all life on earth is eradicated. Ernest believes that they can be together, if he kills all life. She is offering the womanly love and soothing his troubled teenaged soul so desperately craves.

The emotions and teen hormones of a male youth being what they are…the supposedly cured Ernest goes on a gory romp, hacking his family to pieces, and then going after his neighbors and teachers. He is apprehended and locked in a high security psycho-ward/prison. His psychiatrist has given up hope for Ernest, and believes life in prison or even execution are the way to go, for Ernest shows no sign of remorse, and has continually attacked his guards at every opportunity.

Neurotechnologist, Dr. Mary Young, leaps at the opportunity to try new experimental procedures on the murderous inmate, Ernie. Dr. Price does his best to oppose to oppose and thwart Dr. Young, believing Ernest is too dangerous and undeserving of a cure. With the backing of big investors, Dr. Young gets her way, and Ernest is strapped down for some more therapy.

As the machine begins to whir, its power rises out of control, and Lady Death through her psychic link from another world, bonds with Ernie’s soul as it begins to separate from his body. The prison/medical staff believe Ernest is dead, his body a smoldering husk. A nurse, places a yellow smiley button on Ernest’s smoking corpse. The smile on the button twists into an evil smile (we later learn that the soul of his dead pet rat now inhabits the button). Lady Death’s power reanimates Ernest’s charred corpse, and he rises. The now Undead Evil Ernie kills (quite graphically) everyone in the building. Dr. Price and Dr. Young narrowly escape with their lives.

Those killed by Ernie, are re-animated as zombies, or as he calls them, Dead Onez. Keeping with proper-zombie tradition, the zombies are only killed by head-trauma, dissolving in acid, or incineration. The sudden wave of zombification spreads like wild fire. Dr.s Young and Price form an uneasy alliance in the battle against Ernie and the ever growing tide of undead sweeping across the region. Lady Death is pleased, it’s a good start, yet there is so much work to do. Things would go much quicker, be much more thorough, if Evil Ernie could get his hands on a nuclear arsenal, to quickly and thoroughly assure the death of all life on earth.

Continuing You Chaos! Readings: Evil Ernie, Youth Gone Wild is the essential Origin Story for anyone looking to delve into chaos comics. These early Evil Ernie stories are the closest thing to horror-genre that Chaos! produced. While many of the stories involve supernatural powers, fears and violence, they are still a touch too comic-bookie to be considered horror in the true sense. The subsequent story sets of Evil Ernie after this revolve around efforts to stop him, efforts to bring Lady Death out of Hell, and his ultimate goal of Nuclear Megadeath.

Lady Death has a few mini-series which explain her origin and her numerous centuries as a death goddess in Hell. Her relationship with Satan, her relationship with Satan’s ex-girlfriend (Purgatori), her relationship with Cremator (Satan’s blacksmith), and her relation to other planes of existence, gods, mythos, and other supernatural forces.

Ultimately the stories of Lady Death take on more importance than those of Evil Ernie as the Chaos! universe progresses. I hate to give away too much, but essentially everything comes to a conclusion. After the conclusion, Chaos! (once again being ahead of the major publishers) does a “reboot”, but the company hits economic problems and goes defunct by 2002. Chaos tried to gasp a few extra breaths by doing cross-overs with Harris, Image, Devil’s Due…but to no avail.

Aftermath: Surviving the demise of Chaos, Lady Death was published by CrossGen. When CrossGen died, Lady Death was re-invented under Avatar, and eventually moved to an Avatar subsidiary, Boundless Comics. Lady Death is alive (so to speak) and well in her Boundless Comics series now at issue 21. She has a loyal cult following to this day.

Evil Ernie, and essentially all the other Chaos! characters (sans Lady Death) now inhabit the vaults at Dynamite Entertainment. Purgatori is rumored to be making an appearance in the Prophecy mini-series, and Evil Ernie #1 has just been released by Dynamite this October.

Collecting:

Pros – Chaos! Comics produced a very collectible comic universe, and its cult-like following ate it up. The universe is small enough, that a collector can aspire to complete the collection in his/her own lifetime. I collect Avengers and Fantastic Four, and I know that unless I become a millionaire I have no hope of ever completing those collections in my lifetime. With Chaos! I get a great read, original stories, awesome art and a realistic chance at completing a collection.

Most Chaos titles still auction and retail at or above their original cover prices. No modern era comics will ever carry the gravitas of a Spider-Man #1, but for comics which are barely 10 years old, a collector can feel satisfied that he will at least maintain cover price and some extra, if you are into the auction-price thing. Chaos, was also ahead of its time in having special edition variants, special order-only variants, ComiCon only variants etc… Currently there are 10,000 cover-variants of nearly every comic produced, but at the time, variants were still a big deal.

Perhaps to their ultimate demise Chaos! went overboard in getting awesome artists to put together their titles: Julie Bell, Joe Kusko, Brian LeBlanc, Steven Hughes, Jason Jensen, Justiniano, Ivan Reis, Al Rio, Jack Jadsen, Mike Deodato, and many more who I am not recalling at the moment. At the time, Chaos! a little independent publisher, was producing one of the slickest most visually enjoyable comics.

Cons – Variants and one-shots are a double-edged sword. Sometimes feeling “obligated” to buy a variant or one-shot issue, or cross-over is a strain on the hobby-budget. Variants and one-shots are also more tedious in trying to locate and in keeping track of your inventory. However, compared to the current crop of comics, the Chaos! one-shots, variants and cross-overs are not so daunting.

After falling in love with Chaos (particularly Lady Death, Chastity and Purgatori), I often found myself exasperated by the mini-series format of Chaos. Instead of having a Defenders 1-152 format, they were mini-series based. So there is Lady Death 1-3; Lady Death Heaven and Hell 1-4; Lady Death Alive 1-4; Lady Death Goddess Returns 1-2, etc… For one collecting back-issues this can be aggravating, especially if you don’t have to remember which mini-series falls where chronologically. The chronology is important, as all the titles build from 1994 to 2000 to the big final conclusion. If the stories are not read in order, they don’t stand up very well on a comic by comic basis.

For reading purposes I would suggest starting with the Evil Ernie Youth Gone Wild TPB, and then get yourself a Chaos! timeline, and follow that.

Another Con, is the content and art. Meaning, its graphically violent and often frightening and sexualized. Not at all a Con for an adult seeking edgy artwork, but if you happen to have youngsters in the house, a comic revolving around a parent-murdering zombie who is doing it all to have sex with an albino Hell goddess, who is using her alluring sensuality in order to inflame the young man to even greater violence….lol, well, its not kid-friendly. Its not shocking at all compared to some of the stuff that’s out there now, but in its time, it was one of the raunchier more violent and scary publishers.

Recommendation: All in all I would recommend Chaos! Comics to adult comic book readers. It offers a universe where every title is linked and moving towards a final moment. Chaos! offers great artwork, unsuspected plot twists, and truly likeable villains. Evil Ernie, a young zombie who wants to destroy all life on earth to be with lady Death. Lady Death a Hell goddess who wants Ernie to Nuke the earth. Purgatori, a descendant of a Fallen Angel turned vampire, who wants to rule/bloodsuck the universe. These are not good guys with bad attitudes (ala Wolverine) these are murderers, selfish unrepentant murderers. In a twisted way, it’s a refreshing departure from the standard superhero.

They do have a few characters such as Chastity (a vampire hired by monsters to assassinate other monsters) and Bad Kitty (a monster-hunting ex-cop, on the run from the cops) who aren’t necessarily evil, but they are still quite violent and murderous when they get riled up.

It’s easier to collect than the mainstream comics, unless you are a Rockefeller you’ll never be able to complete and Avengers or Superman collection. It had some of the best art and production quality of its era. The cover art is eye candy. The stories are refreshingly different from the mainstream. And for the value-minded collector, the comics have tended to retain or even gain value in the short 10yrs since their last run. And lastly there is that punk/cult satisfaction of belonging to a small club. You know how its great when you like a band that the mainstream doesn’t know about, you were rooting for this or that team long before the national media bandwagon… that little pleasure we get from feeling different, for being involved in something non-mainstream, and not tainted/watered down by mainstream thought. There is that. The Chaos! aficionados are a small yet hardcore group.

Published by

Kirk Dymbrowski

Recently started a Facebook page (this old timer has joined the modern age). Plan on using it for hobbies, one of the hobbies being comics. Then I found this place. I am interested in trades. I read a good number of newer titles such as: Birds of Prey(new 52), Justice League(new 52), Wonder Woman(new 52), Worlds' Finet (new 52, really like this one!), Orchid(Dark Horse, by Tom Morello), Prophecy (mini-series from Dynamite), Pantha(Dynamite), Warrior of Mars & Dejah Thoris(Dynamite), Evil Ernie (Dynamite), Defenders(Marvel), Avengers Academy(Marvel), Lady & War Goddess (Boundless). Those are comics I am currently reading though not necessarily "collecting" per se. My Active Collections--meaning I read/buy back-issues n keep em' and bag em'.: Avengers (v. 1), Thor (v.1), Fantastic Four (v.1), Iron Man (v.1), Lady Death, War Goddess and pretty much anything which was published by the now-defunct Chaos! Comics (with the exception of the wrestling stuff). I am a mid 40s science-geek, music afficionado, baseball and football lovin Dad n husband Comicbook freak :) Presently residing in Ohio, though I am not an Ohioan.

8 thoughts on “Chaos! A Special Halloween Review by Kirk Dymbrowski”

  1. Thanks, Kirk, for contributing your expertise in this genre for this seasonally-themed piece! On the Insane Clown Posse angle, I remember they were doing their pro wrestling appearances about this same time. I think they actually had a bit of subtle influence on DC and Marvel as well, via the way Joker’s followers were portrayed in cartoons and the depiction of Venom and Carnage, who at times had a similar look IMO.

  2. I never understood the popularity of Evil Ernie myself, but than I’m not a fan of Venom, Deathstroke or even Lobo. Serial killer ‘heroes’ just don’t do it for me, I guess.

    As for Lady Death and her ilk, she struck me as just another example of the ‘bad girl’ school, where portrayal of the female characters in semi or complete undress was the main draw of the book. Aimed at guys who didn’t get enough cheesecake shots in the DC & Marvel books. I wondered how many actually read the books.

    All that aside, it was an interesting article on a company I knew very little about.

    1. Thanks for the comments Steve. I agree that EE & Lady Death are not everyone’s or even most peoples’ cup-o-tea.
      The person who enjoys Evil Ernie, is probably the same type(guilty as charged) who enjoys Friday 13th or Halloween films. You know all the characters will get killed. The villain will be semi-thwarted, and one character will survive to seed the next film/issue. Evil Ernie, at least early on was a comic book-ified version of Friday the 13th type movies.

      On Lady Death’s scantiniess, also, point taken and somewhat agreed with. However, I had great success dutring my dating years, but that did not dull my aesthetic appreciation for feminine curves and big hair, lol. How about Hercules? Namor? And all the male characters of comics, who are often portrayed out of costume and shirtless.
      The lionshare of males in comics are: Perpetually 22yrs old, 6’4″, perfect chins, perfect hair/cool baldness, big shoulders, 12-pack abs, they are all super-genius nuclear physicists/world class gymnist martial artists, who spend every frame posing to accentuate the super-human maleness…….no one ever complains about that males being portrayed in super-human shirtless masculinity (and on top of that they are often ultra ultra amazingly bruilliant, devising ground-breaking advances in electronics and chemistry in every issue)…but no one objects….the woman in the bikini though…a large majority of the public wails and gnashes teeth about it.

      Just saying, if people object to Lady Death’s bikini and Spider-Woman’s bubble butt…..they should maybe also object to Hercules and Namor. But they don’t, dudes get away with it, double standard?

      But back to Chaos, if someone likes horror movies/slasher movies, then Chaos may appeal to them, as that is what it basically was, in comic book form…..for awhile. After the events of the Judgement War and Armageddon storlines, Chaos did a “reboot” if you will, not so different from what Marvel and the New 52 recently have done.

      It will be interesting to see what Dynamite Entertainment does with Purgatori and Evil Ernie.

      In Dynamite’s very first issue, they cleaned EE up a little bit. He is now, not killing for a supernatural albino lady trapped as a Deathy Goddess in Hell. But rather, he thinks he is killing demons, in human guise.
      Unfortunately they are not demons in human guise, just humans, EE has been deceived. At least this is where Dynamite seems to be going (after 1 issue) with their spin of EE.

      1. Kirk, I’d say a difference there is Namor, etc. are being drawn by male artists as role models, whereas Lady Death, etc. are being drawn by male artists as sex objects. (And whether the Namor physique is a realistic male role model is another topic.) But people do complain about it on both sides. A friend of mine who collects the original Weird Tales Conan stories complains that the Frazetta/Marvel Conan looks nothing like Conan is supposed to look because of the bodybuilding influence that has come since the original stories. I’d say part of the problem here is that some artists are too lazy to learn enough about anatomy to draw more than one physique type for each gender. Neal Adams complained once that most artists could draw the various male Avengers in one room and they’d all look the same as far as physique, so he went out of his way to differentiate them. I think some artists are better at differentiating different types of female characters in that way. John Byrne had a bit more awareness on this front than many prior artists. I sometimes go back and compare how females are drawn by female comic artists (there have been a few since the 40s) to how they are drawn by male artists, to improve my own art in this respect.

  3. Roy, this is always a lively topic in comics and arts n entertainmnet.
    Julie Bell and many female artists also draw their women (and men) as superhumanly 22yr old gorgeous.

    These are characters who fly…in outer space, without oxygen, without freezing, or dessicating, change direction in the vaccum of space without propulsion, and somehow manage to be Olympian grade athletes(or better), while still finding time to have PhD(at age 18) in 14 different sciences, and speak 9 languages….the visual-physique fantasy is nothing compared to the fantasy of their abilities–all achieved while remaining 22 despite the passage of 40+ human years. Bullets bounce off of them–and we are complaining that their legs are unrealistically long?

    I see nothing wrong, personally with eye candy (which goes both ways), especially considering these are utterly, absolutely fictional characters batling fictional monsters to begin with. If Picasso and Dalhi draw people the way they were ‘supposed to look’, they’d have been unknown artists. We want differentiation and fantasy, thats why we read and view these comics. If I wanted real life people, I’d have a collection of fninancial-sections of newspapers in the closet, and not comics. I livwe in reality all day long, the comic provides me 15 minutes of much needed unreality. The superhuman gorgeousness of the characters is just mimicking there even more superhuman ability to have bullets bounce off of their skin. I think bullets bouncing off a guy (who actually survived gamma radiation) is way unbeleivably more unrealistic, than Lady Death having some very nice legs. In art and entertainment, we are supposed to be able to step away from realism without too many hang ups.

    Case in point. My wife LOVED the movie 300. Shirtless, oiled-up, straining handsome jocks for 1.5hrs. I tried to point out that if it were oiled-up shirtless lingerie models, she would disapprove. I also pointed out, my wife being Black, that the Spartans were a slave-based society. She shrugged that off like….”why are you trying to put a buzz-kill on my enjoyment of the movie?”

    The point, is don’t let some aesthetic need for realism, buzz-kill your enjoyment of something fictional and fantastical.

    The only pitfall being, just be sure to know the difference between fictional entertainment and a realistic portrayal. That potential pitfall is on the viewer/reader, not on the artist.

    1. It’s a big topic with a lot of angles that could be delved into. A full discussion of the art for art’s sake aesthetic vs. realism and other alternatives would get beyond the scope of the site, but here I’ll stick to one point, which I’d sum up this way: the superhero genre is at root a branch of fantasy or science fiction, and fantasy or SF which is not rooted in reality (science fiction is after all *science* fiction, while in the fantasy realm, even Middle Earth has its own rules) tends to make suspension of disbelief difficult, running the risk of ruining the illusion.

      For example, what you’re describing with characters flying in space, etc. applies to Superman, who is a good case study of what happens when you let the fantastic overwhelm the realistic without any grounding in at least an attempt at plausibility. When Superman started, he was much less powerful than he eventually became–much closer to John Carter of Mars in the scientific explanation for his abilities and their limits. As Superman became less tied down by scientific limits, he also got more unbelievable and less entertaining because there were no villains who could compete with him without Kryptonite, removing any basis for dramatic tension. DC revived the character in the 80s by reimposing some limits, which made the character more interesting again.

      That’s on the storytelling side of things, but the same principle can apply on the artistic side. One art instruction book I like is Mona Brookes’ Drawing for Older Children & Teens. One thing Brookes analyzes is how aesthetic tastes change with age. A very young child is fine with stick figures, but after a certain age there is a striving and preference for greater realism. Because of this, the general appeal of an artist like a Picasso or Dali is much more limited than that of a da Vinci or a Michelangelo or a Rembrandt, or in the comic sphere, a Burne Hogarth. (And I’ll add that someone doesn’t achieve the innovations of a Picasso or Dali without mastering realism first–there’s a very polished schooling in realism underlying Dali’s surreal visions, which is still evident in the elements of his paintings.) Personally I find it very distracting from the story if an artist goes too far off on an expressionist tangent. To take an example, I really enjoyed Bill Sienkewicz and John Romita Jr.’s early art on stuff like Moon Knight and Spider-Man (respectively), but when they started venturing into expressionism I found I couldn’t read anything they drew without being distracted from the story. Likewise, I loved Neal Adams and Jim Aparo’s Batman, but with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight mini-series, I thought the story was great but the art with the blocky anatomy was awful (in contrast to Miller’s earlier work on Daredevil which was very good). It’s kind of like if you see a movie where the special effects are too unbelievable: you start thinking about the special effects instead of the story. I find the same thing tends to happen in comics and cartoons when the figure drawing gets too far away from realistic anatomy. It’s one thing to draw a Batman who’s muscular enough to represent an idealized male anatomy; it’s another thing to draw Batman with shoulders as wide as a person’s body like you see on some of the cartoons. To me that type of thing’s gotten so exaggerated in recent art it’s a step backwards from the Marvel/DC in-house styles of the 60s to 80s; and I’d say it reflects the influence of anime and computer drawing and animation on comics–you have artists copying templates, essentially, instead of customizing their characters’ anatomy by applying rules of proportion, perspective, composition, etc.

      (Did I say I was going to stick to one point? I really did try when I started writing that, lol.)

  4. Great reply!
    Yes, Dahli and Picasso are classically trained. In fact near the very end Dahli took a turn back towards realism, some of his later realism works are just spectacular. I don’t know the title, but there is one with a table full of clear glassware….just awesome how does someone paint clear glassware, and make it so realistic, that you have doubts you’re not just looking at a picture? Not as artsy, in my opinion, but a very clear statement of his mastery of painting, to say the least.

    But getting back to the point of the physical portrayal of the characters. I just don’t think the females are any more outrageously perfect than the leading men. And if we are gonna believe that Wolverine regenerates from one living cell, and that Batman (by himself) can make antidotes and vaccines overnight (Which take WHO, and NIH and CDC decades to produce with armies of PhDs) while still mainting higher-than Olympian level strength, quickness, agility, maintaining a bat-copter, batmobile, multi-national corporation, and full-time philanthropy and not even look tired, and be extremely handsome and cool all at once?
    Have you met many PhD’s in genetics?— most of them are not super-stud, gorgeous olympian bodybuilders, with Olmpian gymnast skills, billions of dollars and martial-arts experts of the highest order. Most of them have sacrificed nearly everything, to excel at understanding one scientific field, or heck even one molecule.

    Is it really such a stretch, then, for Spider-Woman to have gorgeous hips and a bubble butt? Is it such a stretch that Tony Stark (aside from being a super genius) always looks like a 22yr old male super-model/athlete, even though he’s gotta be pushing 70 yrs old?
    In my opinion, given all the ultra fantastical things going on in comics and the better-than-olympian/better than PhD or even superhuman looks and appearance (and age avoidance) of the males, I just don’t find a portrayal of a female as supermodel, so out of line and utterly unbelievable. We like our heros to be larger than life. Every library on earth is packed wall to wall with books about real people and real life. Real life is The Last thing I am looking for when I pick up a comic book after working a 16hr shift in real life. Gimme some fantastical larger than life heros/heroines. Plus, it is aesthetically pleasing. Artists, male and female have always loved the female form, comic art, real art, commercial art.

    But, what I liked best about your reply was the Superman stuff. So true. It is the reason I never got into Superman. Unless you had kryptonite(which was supposed to be super rare, yet, everyone seemed to have some), or a gun to a prisoner’s head, there was almost no way to slow him down: Could smash through bunker walls, lasers from his eyes, super-smart (all that knowledge in his fortress), x-ray vision, fly at mach-yea light speeds, armor piercing bullets bounce off of him…. too tough. made the stories very weak. That being said, I took the inter-publisher dive, with the New 52, and I am enjoying them more than current Marvel, I hate to say.
    Back on point- I do agree with you that thwe art shyould be part of the storytelling, and not a forum to show off their Expressionism, DaDaism, or Bauhaus school of design. I like for the art to tell parts of the story just as words do….and if their individual techniques/styles show through thats great! But first and foremost the art is there to advance and support the story, and to enertain the eyes as the story entertains the imagination.

    1. There is a logical explanation for all the genetically-perfect PhDs in comics: they’re all descended from Doc Savage via a cloning experiment 🙂

      I think there are degrees of this stuff. I like the original concept of the superhero as a human who is superior physically as well as intellectually, etc. And I think that has worked well for certain characters at certain times, and will continue to do so–I would not want to see a scrawny Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman or Captain America. However I think it gets overdone when there are too many characters like that, with essentially the same physiques. I think the visual trend that bugs me the most lately is making all nemesis-type villains so gigantic they make the Hulk look small. I’m thinking of the way Bane is sometimes drawn as an example, but I’ve seen the same thing with Venom, Darkseid, a number of others. It loses the effect when there are too many characters with the same anatomical exaggeration–kind of like if you underline all the words on a page, none of them stand out anymore.

      And yes, that was my main point on the storytelling not being a forum to show off an artist’s latest creative experiments–in fact I almost used similar wording as I was typing that, and I like the way you put it. I’m all for comic-book artists continuing to develop their skill set, but my thinking is, when it’s a commercial art context, the artist’s first duty is to the reader, especially when it’s a well-established strip and character; showing off is something you do on your own time or with a new strip/character where the audience expectations haven’t been defined yet. I feel the same way about the writing as well.

      One other note: I don’t have a problem with an occasional panel or issue diverging into expressionism or an alternative art style. I just don’t think it generally works well for an extended span as a way of telling a story–I don’t mind a Dali painting in one room, but I don’t want it in every room in the house, in other words. I think the traditionally realist in-house styles of the major companies were geared towards telling a story effectively. You can mix elements of expressionism or surrealism into that style–Steve Ditko and Jim Steranko were good at this–but I think these elements have to remain supportive to keep the sequential storytelling function intact. That’s a general rule of thumb, and there are exceptions–Spiegelman would be a good example of an exception, Scott McCloud can also do some creative stuff that defies convention–but those examples are sui generis, I’m thinking of the traditional superhero genre.

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