Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
01 June 2007
I Believe in Ed Brubaker

Ed Brubaker may be one of the finest comic writers working in mainstream super hero comics. For sure, the artists whom he chooses to work with contribute quite a bit, whether it be Sean Phillips, David Aja, or Michael Lark. However, Ed Brubaker is one of the finest comic writers today because he is, first & foremost, a writer's writer.

One of the biggest assumptions that people have when considering writers, is that they assume all writers work in the medium of text - that it is really the artist/director that directs the visual impact of any given work, whether it be film, television, or comics, while the writer mostly deals with the words we read. I don't find this to be true. Any true creator needs to be aware of all facets of the medium in which s/he chooses to express themselves, and thinking about a comic book or a television show in terms of the words used is simply not enough because it's not the words telling the story.

The illusions that Brubaker creates in his comic (if you prescribe the Wellseian concept that all fiction/stories are part magic-trick, part con) are virtually seamless. Unless you're like me and spend far too much time dissecting all the tiny little facets of every story you read, it's hard to really explain what makes Brubaker's storytelling consistently work as well as it does. I mean, Deadly Genesis aside, I don't think I've read a Brubaker story, post-Dead Enders, that can be misconstrued as being indulgent on any level. Brubaker's story-telling style is so lean that it almost hurts, and in a genre where most people seem content to write "for the trade" or whatever, that is more than a breath of fresh air. It's a godsend.

Sure, Brubaker knows his way around a sentence. He knows how to deliver a piece of dialog with enough that Chandleresque punch, where every word is like a jab to the gut, and he knows what kind of language is not only appropriate for his characters/world, but what language is best (possibly the only issue I ever have with Brubaker's Iron Fist writing partner, Matt Fraction, is that the language of the franchise characters he writes always sound like Matt Fraction, and not Danny Rand or whoever). But even beyond that, beyond the words, the man knows how to write comics - he knows how to layout a page; he knows how to angle his characters; he knows when to pull out the view and when to close it in. The man knows how to tell a story with pictures & panels.

I'm sure being a cartoonist himself certainly helps Brubaker get a feel for what sorts of visual requirements any particular scene needs in order to work best, but it doesn't stop it from being impressive every time I read it. I briefly mentioned in an older post that I was wowed by Daredevil's conversation with Vanessa Fisk in issue #92, which is entirely made up of super-tight panel grids. These sections perfectly convey the emotional claustrophobia of the situation, only increasing with each turn of the page as the panels get smaller and the grid gets tighter.

I remember thinking to myself as I read it, "This is possibly a perfect comic book. It reads like Phillip Roth paragraph."

I had a conversation with Eli last night regarding Brubaker's run on Daredevil, versus his last story in Criminal. Clearly, they are two very different animals, but Brubaker handles both so flawlessly. Much of this conversation was centered around the "Our Love Story" issue (#94), which got a lot of flak from readers for being "boring" or "unnecessary". I disagree strongly with this sentiment. Aside from the fact that Daredevil is a superhero book, and Criminal is obviously not, the formatting of the series also comes into play. Criminal all takes place in a single world, but jumps from story to story, connected only by the social context of the fictional environment. Daredevil is an ongoing serial set in somebody else's universe. When dealing with stories in a longer form (i.e. story starts before you get there, and ends well after you leave), it is necessary to provide breathing room. It's the sort of situation where filler is necessary, in order to give the world a more organic feel. If every single issue of Daredevil was comprised of fight scenes and high drama, the illusion that Brubaker is creating would loose it's effect. It would become glaringly obvious that these are not actual people, dealing with actual emotions. Obviously, it's still fantastic fiction, but it's important to consider whether a story can be considered believable given the context in which it's presented in. In order for that, we need a bit of padding here and there.

Brubaker does this well, without the padding/filler ever being irrelevant. He understands the importance of pacing within a story-arc and in between story-arcs.

One other point of contention between Eli and I, is that when Brubaker deals with superhero properties, I don't get the feeling that he is dealing with them as superheroes. He deals with them as characters. The "The Devil Takes a Ride" story-arc was just barely a superhero story. If you notice, none of the characters, besides Daredevil himself, ever appear in a gawdy costume, and all of the fight/action scenes are comparatively small on scale - they are not battles, they are brawls.

Contrast this with something like Captain America #25, where Brubaker is dealing with a truly momentous event/idea. I mean, for a series so aware of it's own history and gravitas, the first few pages are surprisingly small in scale. Rather than start the story off with a flashback, or the tail end of action scene, Brubaker gives us a crowd scene. Any flashbacks that occur are told from the perspective of characters in the crowd. This tells us, from the beginning, that this is not Captain America's story. It is the Marvel Universe's story. Even more surprising, for me, is that this actually meant something when I was first reading it. Having grown up a life-long DC fan, Marvel was always the publisher I turned to for creators, not characters. At this point, I could give a crap what the climate of the Marvel U is like, but Brubaker made me care and even believe that something like this could work.

My primary reading interests, even in comics, rarely focuses on superheroes anymore. The resurgence of continuity-porn/crossover fever, has embittered me to the genre. I still believe that there are quite a few really excellent comic creators working within the genre, even for the two big publishers, still worth reading on a regular basis, but I always say that these people should not be writing/drawing superhero books anymore because it's like they're cheating their fans (Greg Rucka is a perfect example of this, because I absolutely love Queen & Country, but have trouble caring about Checkmate in spite of knowing that it's a good comic book). Ed Brubaker, on the other hand, is one of those writers working in the ghetto of the superhero genre, obviously capable of more, but actually makes the genre interesting again. Rather than stoop down to the level of the superhero genre, he elevates it.

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