Our Underwear #7 – Parker in the front, lurker in the rear.

by John Velousis

Part 1 – How NOT to get to the point

There’s a saying that goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men can sometimes get all fucked up and out of control despite our best intentions, which pave the road to hell with idle hands.” Or something like that, I don’t really read the Bible much. Well, this last fortnight, I found out that saying is totally true!

Dig it: Two mags written by Jeff Parker were released on October 5: Thunderbolts #164 and Hulk #42. I was going to review them in my usual wacko manner, which would involve talking about some other comic book entirely, or no comic books at all, like anybody even cares anyhow, right? My REAL goal was to give Mr. Parker some kudos (or props or big ups or straight real fine azza blintz chummie, depending on your generation) for wrapping up no less than FIVE storylines in Hulk #41. My circumlocutious [scenic-route-taking] plan involved getting TO the plot-wrapping-up thing by talking about how these damn kids nowadays don’t wrap up plots enough, dammit; by way of example, I would have maybe mentioned Brian K. Vaughan’s plotting in Ex-Machina. In case you didn’t read that, what happened is that a guy (who later gets elected Mayor of New York) was given dominion over machines by extra-dimensional entities. The entities wanted they guy to prep our dimension for invasion, but he didn’t want to, even though they kept trying really hard to change his mind. Anyhow, the way Vaughan dealt with those alt-universe assholes when he ended the series is: he didn’t.

Window to the soul
Everybody likes boobs, right? Boobs, package, coupla camel-toes by Amanda Conner

My problem is that art is just too big. Think of every connection and/or comparison between artworks as a tree, okay? Well, trees have lots of branches. If nothing else, what I want to teach people is that trees have a lot of branches. So, I was going to get to Ex-Machina by finally explaining in detail why superhero comics are like Lars von Trier. If you’ve read one of my other columns mentioning this superhero/von Trier shit, you could be forgiven for assuming that I’m just saying something absurd for its own sake. That thing where I said that I once single-handedly beat the shit out of three attacking collies? Never happened. I DO believe that I could win a fight against dogs, but it hasn’t happened yet. But the Lars von Trier comparison IS A REAL THING that truly will see the light of day someday. Well, if daylight was a thing that hit computer screens. So I started writing it, the stream of ideas was supposed to flow kind of like this:
Lars-O-Mania! (Dogme 95 and The Five Obstructions) >< limitations of form/writers’ exercises & improv games (“Okay, folks! We need a profession, a locale, an accent, and a mental illness!”) >< superheroes likewise impose a limitation (talk about Nick Spencer’s device in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents {“Why did God harden the Pharaoh’s heart?”}) >< necessary maintenance of a perpetual status quo in corporate-owned properties and its effect on story lines >< Vaughan crapping the bed in Ex-Machina >< Parker!

The problem with this strategy, aside from everything about it, is that it requires an endless series of explanations about each element. One cannot just say, “You know how Lars von Trier had the whole Dogme 95thing, then he had his old film teacher remake his favorite film five different ways?” The reason is because you DON’T know (probably), so I would have to tell you! To make a long story short (AS IF!), I had written about 500 words of my Intro To Lars von Trier symposium when I realized that I should probably try a more direct approach. That’s what this is. Obviously.

I'll bone that for a dollar
Erika Moen makes a boner. Moener. Check out Bucko (by her & J.P.) today!

Part 2 – Did Jeff Parker have long hair and favor sleeveless shirts once, or did I just dream that?

Here, then, is the next stab I took at writing about Parker’s work on Hulk and Thunderbolts. It summarizes his career, except it doesn’t get to the point where he starts writing Hulk and Thunderbolts.

Parker Art Tec 806
Art by Jeff Parker from Detective Comics #806. The servant? ALFRED!

Jeff Parker’s career in comics is an odd one. Plenty of the current generation of comics writers had their beginning as writer-artists: Ed Brubaker, Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Jeff Lemire. Outside the mainstream (represented, as ever, by Marvel and DC), in fact, creators tend to seldom do anything BUT both, artists like Eric Powell, Jeff Smith, David Petersen, the amazing Chris Giarrusso, Bryan Lee O’Malley, and nearly all the major indie auteurs from the previous generation: Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, the Hernandez Brothers, Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, Jeff Nicholson, Paul Chadwick, etc.

Brubaker drazzz
From Lowlife #1 by Ed Brubaker. I own every issue of Lowlife, but I don't let it go to my head. Hey, where's his hat?

It’s a lot rarer for a comic book professional to break through as an illustrator and THEN become a writer / artist, or a full-time writer, but when these guys DO make the switch, they seem to be astoundingly good at it. I could cite the example of Tony Daniel if I wanted to make myself look like a complete asshole. The guys who actually PROVE my assertion there are people like the great Mike Mignola (Hellboy and B.P.R.D.), the brilliant Luna Brothers (Ultra, Girls, and their masterpiece to date, The Sword), and the subject of this piece: spelunking Portlander Jeff Parker.

Catwoman 11 from Comic Vine
Catwoman #11 cover by Jeff Parker

Parker’s earliest pro work, as I’ve said, was in illustration. His first listed work in the Comic Book Database was as penciler for a couple of issues of Wonder Woman in 1994 (illustrating for another former Double Threat, Bill Messner-Loebs), inked a piece in Negative Burn #13 – which also had an Alan Moore story which was penciled by Neil Gaiman (WHITRIFUK?), did artwork in many of DC imprint Paradox Press’s “Big Book of…” series – illustrating pieces about important artists such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Burt Reynolds. From 1994 to 2003, only piece of writing cited by the CBDB is a short in Negative Burn #36 entitled “Volt 2000“, which he also penciled and inked, and which was evidently good enough to earn him the right to draw that issue’s cover as well. Then came his original graphic novel, The Interman. (Rating Review Grade Score: 8 / 10 – hell, why not buy it here?)

Parker did EVERYTHING on The Interman. He wrote, penciled, inked, colored, and even LETTERED it! Would-be collaborators can go pound sand as far as The Interman is concerned. It’s a splendid 130-ish page treat of a tale about a genetically engineered man created to adapt. His intended purpose is to be a super-soldier for the military (isn’t everybody’s?), but this flies in the face of his being a pretty nice guy. Parker displays an intuitive grasp of dialogue, plotting, and character – put that shit together and you call it storytelling, kids. My favorite panel in the whole thing has the story’s best joke AND a piece of authentic Greek profanity. This dude even does RESEARCH! Or maybe he just knows a Greek person.

I don't even KNOW 'irella!
More Jeff Parker art, couldn't find the comic's name. Swamp Grundy?

Jeff Parker’s work as an idea man has some distinguishing characteristics – one of the better ones is the amount of thought he puts into through lines. By this I mean character traits, motivations… he’s good at focusing on an action and visualizing its impetus. As an artist, he gets details right. In The Interman, the titular character is made of the genetic material of hundreds of donors. As such, it’s no accident that his look is multiracial, with his predominant look naturally being Asian, as they’re the most populous people. This is a skill that Parker has brought to bear throughout his work, as in the underrated and bravura Fall of the Hulks: Alpha {which has THIS great line of dialog, from big-headed Banner-Hulk foe The Leader: “[Dr.] Doom claims to be beyond base human traits, yet he is nothing but them.”} In FotH:A, Parker shows how a secret cabal of Marvel Universe mad scientists have been influencing [heretofore-unexplained] events in Marvel history behind the scenes, plus he ties all of this together with over 20 issues of Jeph Loeb’s red Hulk comic that, I daresay, did NOT put a ton of thought into character and motivation. This isn’t to say that seeing the whole Marvel U get slapped around is of LESSER artistic merit. Hell, it isn’t like Loeb dedicated his work to glorifying something TRULY worthless, like, oh, say, Smokey and the Bandit. No, what I’m saying is that Parker took this and fleshed it out into something yet greater. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Interman brought Mr. Parker’s authoring skills some attention. From that point, he began alternating art gigs with writing work. The drawing stuff was all over the place, but the writing work’s main venue was in Marvel’s family friendly Marvel Adventures line, starting with a story in Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #4 called “Goom Got Game.” With titles like “Doom, where’s my car?” (Marvel Adv. Fantastic Four #12) and “Ego, the loving planet” (M.A. Avengers #12), and with plotlines where Spider-Man’s use of the Ultimate Nullifier caused a baseball game with Galactus, Parker’s fun and funny scripts quickly attracted a loyal internet following. Among his fiercest devotees were bloggers such as Chris Sims, the internet’s ne plus ultra of guys-who-like-seeing-face-kicks. Parker’s last illustration-only work was in late 2005’s version of Amazing Fantasy #15. From then on, he would write everything he worked on, occasionally slipping in some drawing duties as well.

President ThingBeard
'Strewth! Hulked Out Heroes #2 (W:J.P. A:Humberto Ramos,Carlos Cuevas,Edgar Delgado)

Most comic book fans are likely conversant with Parker’s career as a writer from this point onward, so I’ll just gloss over the details: In late 2006, he was given writing duties on two new titles for Marvel: X-Men First Class, and Agents of Atlas. Both continued to display a powerful antidote to the overdose of grim ‘n’ gritty that had lain on comics for some time. Atlas, in particular, seemed to be chronicling Parker’s endless wager with himself to keep reaching ever-higher peaks of superhero hijinks. Senselessly, though, it never sold well enough to avoid cancellation, despite multiple jump-starts and crossovers with every Marvel property possible. But Mr. Parker was to seize glory from the jaws of defeat: upon the demise of Atlas‘s last regular series, [TO BE CONTINUED.]

Hulk # 43 comes out this Wednesday, October 19.