Violence is the true test of a comic just as sex is the true test of prose fiction (which is probably why they have the bad sex prize). The early comics and those that came out in the Golden Age thrived on onomatopoeic words to depict violence — you know, the biff, bam kind accompanied by a suitably coloured starburst. That’s not very different from what most animation movies made in the Loony Tunes mould used and it gave these early comics a distinctly juvenile feel (never mind that reams have since been written about how violent these and early animation features really were).
Masters of violence (top to bottom) Brian Azzarello’s High Water; Garth Ennis’ Enemy Ace and Frank Miller’s Sin City.
It wasn’t until comics got serious — this happened sometime in the early- to mid-1980s — that the portrayal of violence in them became an art form in itself.
This week’s CF is a homage to violence in comics.
It would be wrong to assume that the portrayal of violence in comics has to do with the illustrators and colourists — wrong, but entirely understandable. Violence has to be written into scripts before it can be portrayed. And no one does it better than Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello, and Frank Miller. All three writers have appeared in CF before and, coincidentally, all three have authored their share of Batman books (and CF, as regular readers may have guessed, is partial to Batman).
Ennis is best known, however, for his Preacher series, Azzarello for the 100 Bullets franchise, and Miller for his Sin City books. This writer would stick with Sin City to demonstrate Miller’s proficiency in portraying violence but for Ennis he picks Enemy Ace, a little-known book about a German pilot, and for Azzarello, he’d pick one of the Constantine Books the man wrote.
Ennis, simply put, is the master of dismembered limbs, gouged-out eyes, and trailing entrails. Miller is Miller, and his books, when it comes to violence, are the comic book equivalents of John Woo’s movies. The violence is brutal, unexpected, and wonderfully choreographed (so much so that you can hear the bass twanging in the background when an axe cleaves its way through someone’s skull).
This columnist’s favourite, though, would have to be Azzarello. That’s because the violence in his books is as graphic and brutal as it is in anything Miller or Ennis have written. It is also accompanied by a sense of menace that few writers have been able to capture.
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