Comic Wire

Tue, February 20th, 2001 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

OEMING NAILS NORSE MYTH IN 'HAMMER OF THE GODS'

[Hammer of the Gods]
Hammer of the Gods Preview
A couple, hungry and alone with a dying baby on a cold winter's night curses the uncaring gods. Then, a stranger appears at the door, warning them that the gods might be listening after all. The baby boy grows up to be a hero, before tragedy turns him into the man who would destroy the gods.

Sounds like an obscure myth, but it's Michael Avon Oeming's "Hammer of the Gods" miniseries.

"It's basic classical mythology," Oeming told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "Its roots are in the works of Joseph Campbell's book 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces.' It is the root of all mythology and even human psyche, it's a fascinating book. Specifically, it's Norse Mythology which I've always loved. Maybe because I love the snow, maybe I love the harsh view of the world, most likely because I'm a Led Zepplin fan! Robert Plant uses several Norse and Celtic references that haunt me along with Page's music ... that was very inspiring. Especially the 'Immigrant's Song.' Our story deals with man questioning god, but it's done with the balance of drama and comic book fun. I think that's what our strength is. Also, we don't dwell on the usual Norse Mythology, that is mostly a background, an atmosphere."

In other words, don't look to see a recounting of familiar Norse myths over the course of the rest of the four issue miniseries.

"We use the myths as an open template. This allows us freedom to do what we need to do, to place story and character before the map of mythology. We'll never see Ragnarok, and how could we, as [Walter] Simonson has already mastered it in comics" in the pages of Marvel Comcs' "Thor."

And thus, while the story of Modi -- who as an infant was too weak to live before being blessed by someone or something, and now has grown up to be as strong as a giant, but who labors under a horrible curse if he should ever use a weapon -- might feel like it was born in a chilly meadhall, it's actually all from the mind of Oeming and collaborator Mark Obie Wheatley.

"We make up a lot ourselves which I feel fine about since that's what pagans do! Also, so much was lost in translation, we'll never know exactly what Viking and pre-Viking Norsemen believed. There are lots of holes in their continuity."

Most readers are probably familiar with Oeming's name through his work on the Image Comics series "Powers."

"Well, this first issue predates 'Powers' by at least two years. I started 'Hammer' as a release. For years I have struggled with style, editors, companies etc. so I did this for me having no expectation out of it. I think that's why even though this work is older than 'Powers,' it's just as strong. Although when we get to issue three, that's more recent, and issue four is current. It will be interesting to see the transition."

And just as with "Powers," Oeming's work here is idiosyncratic and distinctively his. After "Powers" first debuted, some fans grumbled that the art style didn't seem to fit writer Brian Michael Bendis' noirish police-procedural-plus-superheroes writing.

"Well, I'm glad they noticed! the only response worse than saying it's CRAP is no response. We knew it would take getting used to and some would NEVER get it, which is fine. We knew the power of simple cartoony art against a realistic and even dark noir. It works great, like comedy played on violence in films, or silly music set against a sad scene in a movie, contrast, when done right is very powerful."

"Hammer of the Gods" won't just have Oeming's art on it, though: The first issue featured a cover by "Liberty Meadows" creator Frank Cho, and Adam Hughes has done one as well. (A joke version of the final version by Hughes is included in our preview of "Hammer of the Gods" #2. Readers offended by Hughes' jokes in Thursday's Comic Wire should skip that cover.)

"We had others but scheduling conflicts and all," Oeming said. "But we had plenty of time to prepare and I did two of the best covers I've ever done, so we're happy."

There's also a possibility that Oeming's covers won't be used, if some other cover artists come through: "I don't want to name names yet, we like to wait to make sure we have the art in our hands ahead of time to avoid any problems. Right now, Frank and Adam are it. Not too shabby."

And for fans waiting for the second bimonthly issue in six weeks, Oeming has a daily comic strip "Hammer of the Gods" story up at SunnyFundays.com.

"It takes place between issues one and issue two somewhere, but it's not directly tied into the series," Oeming said. "We hope to print it one day. We did it to help promote the book, which seems to have worked!"

Oeming fans can also look forward to another project beyond "Powers" and "Hammer of the Gods."

"'Bluntman and Chronic' which ties into Kevin Smith's next film, 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.' That's out this summer from Image. Lots of fun, I think this is Kevin's best script work yet for his View Askew characters."

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GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY, INTELLECTUALLY,
IN JON LEWIS' 'TRUE SWAMP'

[True Swamp]If you were setting out to create a comic that would get widespread critical raves and eventually attention by one of the world's best-known news magazines, you probably wouldn't start with a concept like Jon Lewis' "True Swamp."

"I suppose one might encapsulate the concept like this," Lewis told the Comic Wire on Friday, "'If animals could think and speak, then they'd be every bit as neurotic and miserable as you or I.' Though I should say that misery and neurosis are as much humorous subjects as dramatic ones for me -- both at once, whenever possible. I guess that by giving animals the power of speech, the burden of memory, and the whole shebang, it gives me the opportunity to explore 'from scratch' the basic issue of just how you manage life with a brain, which has always been the big question in my life.

"Lenny the Frog is the central character, though he doesn't monopolize the spotlight the way he did in the first Volume, which is probably a blessing, since he is obsessive, depressive and too ready to talk about it. Despite my fondness for interior psychological noodling the book has taken on a pretty complex plot involving a number of characters of whom Lenny is just one. There's also the Anthill to worry about, and Natural Science, which is the swamp's old-time fundamentalist religion."

Readers who only pick up the latest issue, "Underwoods and Overtime," shouldn't have any problems understanding the story.

"I think of this current sequence, starting with 'True Swamp: Underwoods and Overtime' which came out in September, as True Swamp Volume Two; and the first run of stories in that '96 trade paperback collection as Volume One. I've tried to make Volume Two self-sufficient for readers who never saw Volume One. Right now I'm not sure how long Volume Two is going to be; I just reached the halfway point on the next issue."

Animal-centered books are no longer mainstream, or even common in the comics industry, but the setting and characters were just a natural choice (no pun intended) for Lewis.

"Taking the setting and characters from nature wasn't even something I deliberated about. It was instinctive and almost a necessity. The setting had to be one I enjoyed drawing, and I love drawing foliage and ground-level views where shrubs loom like trees. It also had to be a setting I would enjoy being 'inside of' while working on the book, and the idea of a swamp or a woodsy undergrowth has had some kind of primal appeal to me as long as I can remember. Some of it, I'm sure, comes from this lakeside cabin my folks had when I was little in Minnesota, where I would spend tons of time wading around in the muck looking for frogs, catching toads and making little habitats in a bucket for them, that kind of thing. My whole life, I can't look at a garden without trying to imagine being a tiny creature wandering around in it like a forest."

Of course, having intelligent and self-aware creatures roaming a swamp, mixing introspection in with their adventures brings Walt Kelly's legendary "Pogo" comic strip to mind. While Lewis was aware of "Pogo," it wasn't the influence on him that other works, outside of comics and sequential art, were.

"It wasn't something I really thought about since I was coming much more from the Beatrix Potter and 'The Wind in the Willows' end of things -- these were huge early-childhood influences that predated and probably even influenced any real nature-experiences in my life. I know I took some visual riffs from 'Pogo,' but I think I got them second-generation from Pogo-loving cartoonists, because my own exposure to 'Pogo' has been extremely limited. The character of Hale looks fairly Pogo-esque and like everybody I'm always putting in those squat, wavery trees that Walt Kelly patented. Anyway, for some reason, even though Beatrix Potter, 'The Wind in the Willows,' 'Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh,' et al, always depicted animals as sort of miniature people with jackets and satchels and little houses in the underbrush, I felt certain that my characters should be plain animals, living in holes, eating beetles, having to use their mouths to pick things up 'cause they've got no thumbs. They've got culture for sure, but no appurtenances. The glaring exception is Hale, the swamp's only inventor, who has trained his paws to be able to grasp things, and who has a laboratory under a tortoise shell. The story ostensibly takes place in North America, but if I feel like using a kiwi or a gibbon or an iguana I don't let that stop me; and the cast isn't confined to real animals -- there's fungus people and grotesque fairies and a ball of fire named Willie."

Lewis also got a jolt of publicity on a scale that few comics creators ever do, when "True Swamp" was named one of 2000's best comic books by "Time" magazine, a company not exactly known for its comics industry coverage. This was critical and mainstream attention that Lewis certainly hadn't been expecting for the new issue of "True Swamp."

"Critical, maybe, mainstream, no. That took me quite by surprise. That was probably the highest-profile place I've ever been mentioned. It was well-timed, because it kicked me in the butt to get working on the next issue. It was flattering too, because the other nine things on the list were all really worthwhile comics, things I was more than pleased to be listed alongside. You know, if you make it onto one of these lists and half the things on it suck, it's not a big thrill. Hopefully that generated some interest in 'True Swamp.' In my experience, it's really hard to predict what kind of effect this type of thing will have."

But now that "Time" has kicked Lewis in the butt, fans can expect to see more of his work in 2001, possibly including some more work for DC Comics, for whom he's done some short pieces here and there.

"Hopefully. Right now, I have a couple of things in the vague stages there, but talk is cheap. Right this moment I have to give all my attention to the next issue of True Swamp to make sure it's ready to come out in August or September. It's going to be another 64-pager like 'Underwoods and Overtime.' Like I said, it's about halfway done. I'm finding that amassing a larger chunk of story and releasing it all together once a year or so makes more sense than trying to publish little bits as often as possible. Hopefully the reader will be more satisfied this way too, or at least immersed more deeply. That's what swamps are for."

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JUST IMAGINE ... A 'JUST IMAGINE ...' UPDATE

[Stan Lee's Superman]Last April it was big news, making the pages of "USA Today," in fact. But all those waiting to see Marvel Comics guiding force Stan Lee's take on DC Comics' characters will just have to keep on waiting a bit longer.

When announced in April, the "Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating ..." limited series was originally intended to have debuted already. Big name comic artists, including John Buscema, Dave Gibbons, Adam Hughes, Joe Kubert, Jim Lee, Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Bruce Timm and others are all attached to the project, each working on concepts like Superman, Wonder Woman and even the Crisis on Infinite Earths with Lee as though he had been involved in their creation just as he had been for so many Marvel Comics concepts.

A DC Comics spokesperson told the Comic Wire on Thursday that work on the series is making "steady progress" and that they expect to solicit them soon for an early summer release date.

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THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN COMIC BRIEF

Here's what's news and press releases in CBR's Comic Brief since the last edition of the Comic Wire, including a photographic look back at the Alternative Press Expo, part of CBR's APE report:

  • Images from the Alternative Press Expo 2001

  • CBR's Gail, Lea Hernandez Unleash "Killer Princesses" Through Oni

  • Harvey Pekar's "American Splendor" celebrates 25th anniversary with new Dark Horse Maverick release

  • DC Comics on Canadian exchange rates and comic book prices

  • Preview: "7 Guys of Justice" #5

  • MegaCon 2001: Bigger and Better than ever before

  • Arthur Adams signs exclusive contract with WildStorm

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