Markley’s Fevered Brain: Crime and War

Wayne Markley

by Wayne Markley

A bit of a change of pace with this blog. I am only going to discuss two books this time; one an ongoing series that is by one of my favorite creative teams, who in my opinion have yet to do a bad book between them, and the other a rare collection that brings together a number of stories from a number of different publishers (including Marvel and DC) that are not public domain, but all deal with the same topic. While on the surface these two books have nothing in common, I think they do. I am sure you will come to the same conclusion by the time you get to the end of this column

Kill or Be Killed Vol. 1

Kill or Be Killed Vol. 1

Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is one of my favorite comics month after month. Well, almost anything by these two is easily one of my favorites; be it Sleeper, Criminal, Scene of the Crime, Fade Out, or anything else. All of these tales are original and captivating. With Kill or Be Killed, Brubaker and Phillips have taken their storytelling to a new level. This is completely different from anything else they have done, or anything I have seen in comics. It mixes a wide variety of themes and ties them all together in what is basically a crime story and yet is so much more. The story is about a young man named Dylan who is a haunted by a demon who tells him to kill or the demon will kill him. Since Dylan is not a bad person he kills only bad guys, mostly crooked mobsters of the lowest variety. As the story progresses, we learn about his girlfriend, his roommate, his drug dealer, his father, who was an illustrator of novels and magazines long before Dylan was born but his drawings would often feature the demon who currently haunts him. Is there a connection?

Kill or Be Killed #19

Kill or Be Killed #19

The current story finds him locked in a mental institution where his story takes even more twists and turns. All of the story is told in the first person and each issue is obviously telling a larger story, with the story often opening with Dylan referring to something that has happened but we, as the readers, are not aware of yet and then Dylan backs the story up and fills us in. Part of what I love about this is as a reader is I have no idea where it is going. Every time I think I have it figured out, the story makes a turn. Phillips’ art is perfect here as it is moody and atmospheric yet real enough not to distract from the story. There is a fair amount of violence and a bit of nudity, but nothing that you would not see in a PG movie. This is one of those rare books that after reading every issue I am left wanting more and more. As a bonus, the monthly comics contain a two page column by Kim Morgan, a film critic, who reviews a film from the past that somehow seems to tie into the themes of the main story. To her credit, after reading each film review in each issue, I want to go out and seek out the film discussed. A number of times I have, and I have never been disappointed. So far there are three trade collection of Kill or Be Killed, which in one way is a better way to read these stories as you are not left hanging as much as you are with the monthly book, but on the other hand, the trades do not include Morgan’s film reviews or Jacob Phillips’ illustrations that come with the film reviews. So I would recommend you seek out both the single issues and the trades. Either way, you will be reading one of the best comics out there.

We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust

We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust

We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust is a new hardcover book by Neal Adams, Rafael Medoff, and Craig Yoe and it is published by IDW books. The Holocaust is a very personal event to me as it greatly affected my family, both my mother who grew up in London during the war and the blitz, and my father who lost most of his family to the death camps as they were Jews living in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I am always torn about books about the Holocaust as it is important to tell the story of how low humanity can stoop, and the unimaginable cruelty man can do to each other. On the other hand, it is so painful to hear the stories from my grandparents about their brothers and sisters, aunt and uncles, and their parents and more who did not make it. So when I bought this book I was apprehensive as to what it was and what approach it would take. I was both pleasantly surprised in the editorial direction Craig Yoe took as well as what the book actually contains. This is a beautiful collection of comic book stories that talk about the Holocaust in a variety of ways from over the years and not in ways I would have expected. Co-editor Rafael Medoff is the director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washing DC and has written or edited 16 books on the Holocaust. Here he has collaborated with Neal Adams to pick 18 comic stories that tell different aspects of the Holocaust from a number of points of views from over the years going back to the ‘50s.

Wayne's grandmother and father, Martha and Milan Markley, Czechoslovakia 1938.

Wayne’s grandmother and father, Martha and Milan Markley, Czechoslovakia 1938.

The collection starts with Master Race by Al Feldstein and Bernie Krigstein, the classic story from EC Comics Impact #1. From there they reprint Fox Hole by Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood, also from EC Comics. The third story is also from the 1950s, but it is a horror story from Beware: Terror Tales #4, not a place you would expect to find a Holocaust story. The rest of the book reprints stories from an amazing variety of places and of characters, including, but not limited to, Eerie #9 , from Warren Publications which has art by Neal Adams and Captain Marvel #19 from Marvel in 1969. Then there is Batman #239 by the classic team of Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano from 1971. This is followed by Star Spangled War Stories #158 featuring the Unknown Soldier written and drawn by Joe Kubert. There are also stories from War is Hell from Marvel, Our Fighting Forces #151 with the Losers (and art by John Severin), Captain America, Sgt. Rock by Kubert, X-Men, and more. Each story features a two to three page introduction by Rafael Medoff where he sets up the story from a historical perspective as well as giving bac ground on the creators and Jewish history that may be reflected in the story. These introductions add so much to the stories, even though they are brief. It is also notable that all of these various publishers were willing to let Yoe print their stories in this collection putting aside whatever publishing concerns they have for the sake of a very important and sad piece of our human history. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the stunning cover by Neal Adams showing the terror families faced with the Nazis at their door. It is a powerful illustration that reflects the horrors that the stories inside reflect.  It is a beautiful drawing that is pitch perfect for this collection.

I would highly recommend this book because of the history lesson it offers through the text and the comic stories it reprints, as well as it is very important we all learn from this sad time in our history. Which again, with great sadness, I fear it is a lesson we have not learned as it has happened a number of times over the last 5000 years, and continues today in Syria. I would even go so far as to say that this book should be in every school library. It is that good. Hats off to Craig Yoe for putting this collection together and for Rafael Medoff and Neal Adams for their contributions.

That is it for this blog. While these two books are very different, one being a wild and twisted urban crime story and the second being a collection of stories about the worst of humanity, they both address the simple concept of right and wrong, something mankind sadly cannot seem to get right. Both of these books are fantastic for different reasons but I would highly recommend both Kill or Be Killed (and everyone I have talked into trying it has loved it) and We Spoke Out. Now go out and buy these books! Have you read ether of these books? What did you think? Am I completely wrong? (I will argue to the death over these two books mind you). I want to hear your opinion and I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Just for the record everything I have written here is my thoughts and do not reflect Westfield Comics or their employees. Now I am off to read some more books. By the way…

Thank you.


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