Articles by Justin Hickey
As Hollywood looks to science fiction and fantasy novels for the ‘source material’ of its newest CGI spectaculars, Justin Hickey picks ten sci-fi/fantasy books he hopes the studios never find and ruin …
A disaffected British colonial officer with a yearning for heroism is relegated to a doomed imperial outpost where he meets a native boy with a yearning for heroes – and from this unlikely pairing, Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman weaves its fantastic, moving story.
After a handily vague apocalypse, a forlorn hipster couple bickers in the woods in Edan Lepucki’s much-hyped debut novel
Daniel Wilson’s first book, Robopocalypse was a straightforward adventure story about robots rising up against their human makers. His new book takes that simple premise and expands on it in complex and timely ways.
Rjurik Davidson’s stunning debut – an epic of espionage, magic, and beasts migrated out of mythology – isn’t the sixth in a series, or the tenth, or the fifteenth; it’s that rare thing in the genre: a stand-alone novel
Marvel Comics is mopping up at the box office, but what of its rival DC? Our resident expert fisks the also-rans and reminds us about an epic story still waiting to be adapted.
B. J. Novak, the gamine and unassuming star of the American version of The Office, has written a collection of short stories, and that collection, remarkably, got published. Justin Hickey decides to judge it on its merits.
One could argue, from the evidence of cable TV ratings, that we’ve entered the age of the anti-hero. But why are they so popular? Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel provides some unexpected answers.
There’s more than mere misery in the expertly-managed passage of events in Paul Rome’s debut novel
Vintage records, black dogs, and lost souls fill Dead Set, a teen novel for readers (of all ages) who are sick of half-hearted Hunger Games clones.
Throughout its history, humankind has been both terrified by and obsessed with monsters – hence the booming ‘cryptid’ industry, traversing the globe in search of legendary beasts like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A new book looks at the science and psychology behind our modern bogeymen.
In Michael Shea’s new novel, an insane movie producer seeks vengeance on the wily extras who eluded his grasp – it’s a delightful riff on late-night sci-fi movies … and a reminder of what sharp fun good science fiction can be.
Well, we knew this day would come. I’m here today to sign off from The Four Color Opera and bring it to a cheerful close. Other creative pursuits beckon, and I’m happy to end this “comics diary” on a high-note. My super-sized thanks go to Open Letters Monthly for hosting while I explored, expounded upon–and [...]
Allow me to misremember where I first saw Russ Manning’s artwork. I’d say it was a Magnus, Robot Fighter cover–but not an original, from the 1963 Gold Key series. It would’ve been from the Valiant relaunch of the character in 1991, featuring Magnus (still dressed in the red miniskirt of a Beatles groupie) as he [...]
I want a Legion of Superheroes television show. I want Chameleon, Mon El, Cosmic Boy, Triplicate Girl–and about twenty-five others–fighting super villainy in the 31st Century, on my TV, in retina-scorching resolution. But I don’t want it now, with AMC’s genius The Walking Dead still in its stride. Not now, with Marvel Studios’ multi-phase Avengers [...]
Don’t let the cover’s lethargic poses and crappy Hollywood logo fool you. Batman: The Scottish Connection is a superb graphic novel that showcases the transporting talents of artist Frank Quitely. From 1999, this brisk mystery (by Knightfall writer Alan Grant) had been out of print for years. It now lives in the Batman International trade [...]
Today, from the “How-Can-This-Be-Good?” file, we have Marvel’s 2007 miniseries Penance: Relentless. It spins out of the repulsively executed Civil War storyline, and stars former New Warriors mascot Robbie Baldwin. Surprisingly, despite the Clive Barker costume made of leather straps and spikes, Baldwin fascinates in this darker persona (though writer Paul Jenkins and artist Paul [...]
I’m an Alien 3 apologist. I love David Fincher’s twitchy 1992 follow up to James Cameron’s epic Aliens (1986), despite its numerous flaws (scaled-down production, awful-looking puppetry, confusing chase sequences, and hyper-edited death scenes). I also love that Dark Horse had been producing amazing Aliens comics–eminently worth filming–throughout the late 1980s and early 90s. This [...]
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is widely regarded as the best graphic novel of them all, and Moore has been outspoken in his condemnation of sequels and spin-offs, refusing to sanction DC Comics’ recent “Before Watchmen” string of mini-series. Was Moore right? Or is there creative life after his masterpiece? Justin Hickey explores.
On July 30th, The Four Color Opera will be exactly a year old! Celebrating this first birthday early, I’m finally posting about my all-time favorite artist, Stuart Immonen. He is, like many Canadian superstars (Tegan, Sara, and William Shatner come to mind), a hard-working talent whose career demonstrates thrilling evolution. I haven’t focused on him [...]
That’s the awestruck child in me, asking louder and louder each month for writer Jason Aaron to conclude his endless epic in Thor: God of Thunder. It’s not that it isn’t well written, with poetry and action enough to outshine other runs on the character. And it definitely isn’t Esad Ribic’s spacious, ethereal artwork, which [...]
They breathe poison gas and eat old bones and stones; they are sightless, deaf, and ageless; they flourish in temperatures that would melt iron or freeze concrete; and they live on the strangest planet in the known universe: Earth
The mid-2000s, before I craved fresh reading at every turn, were my dark ages. I hadn’t yet trained myself to try new comics, that weren’t Marvel or DC, just for the hell of it. Partially to blame must have been the deep, disastrous fall from excellence of The Authority. Money’s always a factor, too. Around [...]
A new hardcover reprint presents a pivotal comic book run to new fans and old fans alike. Open Letters talks with its go-to comics expert Justin Hickey about the definitive story arc of “The Authority”
About every ten years or so, an comic book artist of incredible vision and energy zooms through the ranks of talent to super-stardom. Currently, we have Stuart Immonen, whose inexhaustible versatility has made him the leading breadwinner in Marvel’s glowing stable. Before him, Jim Lee shaped readers’ tastes for a solid decade. And in the [...]
To mark the second anniversary of their New 52 titles, DC is dedicating this September to their villains. Big Bads like the Joker, Darkseid, and Sinestro will star in the comics of their heroic opposites, and a gaggle of guest artists and writers will take the creative reins. This could be a blast. Back before [...]
I know I’ve been ragging on Jim Lee lately–specifically his redesign of Superman’s costume. Then I took a minute to remember that he’s the most influential (and hard working) comic artist of his generation. Copies of his fine-lined tough guys and leggy femme fatales have been on collectors’ shelves, and in would-be artists’ portfolios, for [...]
The second volume in Suzanne Collins’ phenomenally popular series is at long last available in paperback
As far as Superman is concerned, the three are connected. Deeply. And yet, it might take a five-year-old to explain. Why? Because most adults don’t dare spend more than a nanosecond thinking about it. Good thing your very own J-Word isn’t most adults. That’s right. I looked at the redesigned Superman costume in Justice League [...]
In 2009, when Disney purchased the publishing and film-making entity that is Marvel, millions of comic readers groaned. I wasn’t one of them. I never believed that a parent company specializing in family entertainment would alter my violent, challenging comics. It just wouldn’t be good for business. And really, nothing has changed. But it’s curious [...]
I definitely owe The Savage Dragon a real post, after using him as a cudgel in this week’s earlier tirade. Creator Erik Larsen’s green-skinned grappler was one of the original titles launched by fledgling publisher Image, back the in the early 1990s. These titles, including Spawn, Youngblood, and WildC.A.T.S., pandered heavily to cynical audiences not [...]
This is going to be an odd, angry post. It’s going to be bloated with self-righteous fanboy outrage, the likes of which you can find just about everywhere else on the internet. I’m going to type things I wouldn’t even seriously say out loud tomorrow, when I’ve calmed down. Warning enough? Here we go: DC [...]
Is Rick Yancey’s latest teen-targeted sci-fi thriller mere filler for fans waiting on the next “Hunger Games” volume, or is there some meat on its bones?
It’s been nine issues since Doc Ock stole the lives (and body) of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Murderous fan outrage aside, what a great experiment thus far. Writer Dan Slott and his team of web-savvy artists (Ryan Stegman, Guiseppe Camuncoli, and Humberto Ramos) have trumped reader expectation at every turn. For those of you [...]
Do you want to just hang out with superheroes, or be one yourself? That question, and Stan Lee’s incredible response, changed comics forever. In the early 1960s, when the man synonymous with Marvel co-created The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, and The Uncanny X-Men, he also introduced us to nerdy teen Peter Parker, frail doctor Don [...]
You’ll want to examine Chloe and Brandon’s arms to count them. Not my usual upbeat opening, I know. But I’m reviewing the first issue of Jupiter’s Legacy, a new Image comic by one of my favorite artists, Frank Quitely, and one of the industry’s more relentless hacks, Mark Millar. According to the back, they’ve, “[Joined] [...]
A killer stalks a dark-fantasy alternate version of the Soviet Union in Peter Higgins’ fantastic debut novel
In fifteen years, when the comics of superstar DC writer Geoff Johns are studied in liberal arts schools everywhere, it will be hard to remember he ever worked for Marvel. But he did, scripting The Avengers from 2002 to 2004. His signature humanist tales filled the gap between the revered Kurt Busiek (Astro City) and [...]
An incredible song from a brilliant album–and only the first thing I want to say about the comic Higher Earth. Slickly produced by BOOM! Studios, this action series began last May, and while making room in my bookcase for the comics piled beneath it, I realized, “This one’s been missing for a while.” The last [...]
‘Darwin’ and ‘evolution’ are permanently linked in our minds, but like all other scientific thinkers, the great man stood on the shoulders of the giants who went before him, as a fascinating new history reminds us.
So, what constitutes a great “run” of comics? Is it when superstar artists and writers commit to one whole year of monthly stories? Is it when a single iconic writer scripts for four or five artists across several years? How about six issues of white-hot comics mastery by unknown talent? Of course, it could be [...]
Science fiction grand master Ben Bova sets his latest novel on the far side of the moon
Not really sure how to start this post–but I should’ve written about Chris Claremont months ago. His creatively robust Uncanny X-Men run (between 1975 and 1991) set industry standards for about two decades, and provided the background against which modern writers forged a different, though not necessarily better, era. Most would call Claremont’s writing florid [...]
If comic book artist P. Craig Russell didn’t exist, we’d have to dream him up. Under the covers with a flashlight, Justin Hickey illuminates a pair of his sublime literature adaptations
Long before manga publisher Viz dope-slapped American pop culture with the juvenile juggernauts Pokemon and Naruto, they gave us the racy Crying Freeman. From 1986, this is a comic series that sits like a juicy stromboli among the publisher’s more recent, fruitier offerings. In other words, it’s full of stuff that’s really bad for you: [...]
I’m a big fan of delayed gratification. Like when rewards elude me, or when my schedule keeps pizza, television and the girlfriend just out of arm’s reach (pizza and Arianna hate me right now; television never loved me). My brain grows radioactive with desire. The anticipation of release cranks exponentially tighter. Then, suddenly– –I’m finally, [...]
I’ve been steering clear of featuring brand new comics, since recapping them takes up more space than it’s worth. But I’m proud to make an exception for this week’s Batman and Robin, an issue of mourning for Damian, Bruce Wayne’s latest teen sidekick. Damian was a different kind of Robin, however, since he was actually [...]
Once upon a time, Captain America was a werewolf. Do you really need to know any more? Why, yes. You certainly do. This here prime cut of absurdity, straight out of the day-glo 90s, marks my first post of a comic story that’s “so bad it’s good,” a phrase better applied to films. It hails [...]
Such is the noir humor of Slam Bradley, the pugilistic private eye whose 1937 Detective Comics debut beat Batman’s first appearance by two years. In 2001, writer Ed Brubaker (Sleeper) artist Darwyn Cooke (The New Frontier) got him standing for another round, this time to hunt for the supposedly dead Seline Kyle. You might know [...]
Well, a comic called Skullkickers couldn’t go unexplored forever. But I sure did avoid the Image publication, written by Jim Zub and drawn by Edwin Huang, as if goblin guts ran from its pages. The reason for such negligence? The simple answer is that I already own and read too much, and could continue this [...]
There’s the strapping, Teutonic Kevin Plunder, also known as Ka-Zar, Lord of Marvel’s Savage Land! In the mid 1960s, the company’s founding brethren, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, salvaged his exclamatory name from a pulp character who was originally Timely Publications’ answer to Tarzan. Lee and Kirby made Ka-Zar (the son of a British anthropologist, [...]
In 1975, a group of mutants whose comic had been long-canceled found fresh success with Giant Size X-Men. Writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum (during what comic historians call the Bronze Age) dialed back the camp and infused the concept of weird, outsider heroes with more realism. This meant that international characters like the [...]
Within the comics industry, creating characters that are alternate riffs on the icons (like Superman and Batman) has become a craft of its own. I examined this phenomenon in another post, but wish to revisit it because some riffs are so smashingly successful that it’s hard to envision the comics landscape without them. Astro City, [...]
Superheroes and magic are two of fiction’s most persnickety elements. Precise working rules for each need to be established clearly, or any hunt for genuine drama will turn up snipes. For much of the 2000s, Marvel Comics worked hard to ground their characters in realism and bring them to wider audiences (primarily moviegoers). While the [...]
In M. John Harrison’s lyrical Viriconium trilogy, the high science of quantum physics meets the low art of fighting giant locusts. Justin Hickey finds a quiet spot to watch the chitin fly.
Welcome all! The Four Color Opera has joined Open Letters Monthly, and I’m thrilled to wish us many entertaining trips together, over rooftops and under streetlights. Whether this is the first, fifth, or hundredth time you’ve visited, please know that this blog is about great comics and graphic novels, regardless of genre. But you’ll notice [...]
This blog, originally dedicated to superheroes and their weekly shenanigans, has morphed into a catch-all for the best comics I can find. And as you’ve likely noticed, I’ve chosen to ignore the dross that irritates me. While full-on bashing is easy fun, it’s nevertheless an advertisement for creators whom I’d rather didn’t get any. Here [...]
Riding glorious momentum and addictive panache, The Amazing Spider-Man just reached issue 700. After such a milestone, a character and his creators can go (narrative-wise) wherever they’d like. So, it’s with balls that could chase Indiana Jones that superstar writer Dan Slott takes Spidey back to the 1990s- the era of clones, alternate identities, and [...]
This in reply to a young monk asking, “I seek the King of Dreams. Am I going the right way?” The exchange comes in the middle of an astounding dream sequence, across pages of silent, exquisite narrative. We witness the monk traverse a midnight void on a sparkling bridge. Or is it a river, for [...]
The idea of Image Comics revisiting their roots in 2012 was a great, splashy red one. Classic early runs of The Savage Dragon and Spawn were bloodier than comics had ever been. And gleefully so. But twenty years later, current Image titles like Revival and Danger Club tweak genre tropes and prove a helluva lot [...]
So, we’re still here. Mankind deserves to be ripped from the garden we’ve despoiled and chucked into frigid space, but we’re still here. The ancient Mayans (and their modern day horde of capitalist proselytizers) were wrong. Whoops. Next year, when Bravo launches a program called Look What This Idiot Bought, many of us will vie [...]
On the cover of the new Justice League there’s some squawk about a “Bold New Era” beginning. Only fifteen issues in, DC surely doesn’t mean to imply that they were faking it during the ostentatious New 52 relaunch, right? Well, not quite. But the first story arc, written by Geoff Johns (The Flash) and drawn [...]
Or in the case of Ken Garing’s Image title Planetoid, devour it with your eyes. A bi-monthly that’s just four issues in, this series captivates like a flaming streak across some dark expanse. It tells the tale of space pirate Silas, whose ship dies while passing a world that strongly bleeds electromagnetic radiation. Crashing, he [...]
Veteran comic creator Alan Davis, responsible for some of Marvel and DC’s most endearing stories, does his best work when fully off the leash. And “the leash” refers of course to continuity, that pesky web of logic that binds a shared fictional universe (and can make or break a reading experience). Davis is a typhoon [...]
Longtime comic readers never forget the exact issues responsible for their obsession. They come to treasure and mythologize the circumstances in which they realized, “Comics are something weird, wonderful, and so different from other entertainment that I can’t do without them.” My circumstance was a drive to New Hampshire, for a weekend at the summer [...]
Which we’ve been awaiting for some time now. Writer Jonathan Hickman, who recently reinvented the Fantastic Four to spectacular effect, now writes Avengers, Marvel’s flagship title. They are, at least according to Joss Whedon’s film: Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Iron Man. While this newly relaunched comic begins with that team [...]
A Clockwork Orange turned 50 this year and received the gift of an anniversary edition. Justin Hickey looks anew at the novel Anthony Burgess claimed to have knocked off in three weeks, and which made him famous.
The Walking Dead, the hit TV series adapted from the zombie-apocalypse comics, offers fans a gripping and subversive take on the accidents of survival.
How is Hollywood like a clever boy who never tries? In every way imaginable. The story of two Total Recalls is a sad one indeed.
Expensive new Batman movies have become a Hollywood ritual, but the character has been thrilling readers – and reflecting a constantly-shifting culture – for seventy years
Nerdy teenager Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider – and a super-franchise was born! As a new blockbuster Spider-Man movie hits the summer theaters, Justin Hickey takes us on a tour of the character’s colorful – and often tortured – past!
As Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” takes movie-goers back to the world of his “Alien” classics, we take a look at the long and lively history of modern cinema’s most famous monsters.
This month sees the arrival of the long-awaited $250 million dollar Hollywood movie adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Avengers. Lost in all the hype is the rich history of the comic itself; Justin Hickey explores the convergence of pulp and pixels.
The box office record-setting movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is the latest incarnation of an unsettling children-as-prey plot that’s been with us in one form or another for a long time – and never more vividly than in Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale
George R. R. Martin’s epic “Song of Fire and Ice” has sold millions of copies and is about to be a new HBO production. A timely appreciation gives you some idea of what all the fuss is about.