Sunday, June 2, 2019

Extended notes on the comic book work of Bryan Hill

Bryan Hill has been producing comics for a while, but his productivity since 2017, has been especially pronounced. He's written several different titles that have gained substantial attention. He's been receiving notice on the individual level, but there has not been enough done on his total output and what he's doing in the context of several others.

When you think about it, we're at a key moment with black creators in comics. Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther and Captain America. Eve L. Ewing on Ironheart and Marvel Team-Up. Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph on Black Excellence. Chuck Brown, David F. Walker, and Sanford Greene on Bitter Root. Rob Guillory on Farmhand. Nnedi Okorafor on Shuri and Laguardia. Vita Ayala on Livewire, Age of X-Man, : Prisoner X, and Xena: Warrior Princess. Christopher Priest on Deathstroke. And more.

I enjoy the works by all those aforementioned folks. And Hill distinguishes himself based on the diversity of his treatments. He does popular heroes such as Batman, but also individual figures such as Michael Cray. Hill does teams, for instance, with "the outsiders," consisting of Black Lightning, Orphan, Signal, and Katana. He's explored dark, menacing tones with American Carnage and Killmonger. 

Coates is arguably the bestselling African American comic book writer. Christopher Priest might be the most well-known African American with an extensive record within the industry of comic books. So, where and how do we locate Bryan Hill?

Perhaps, it's too early to say, as it takes a while to define an artist's career. But then again, Hill has been writing comics for at least 10 years at this point. A couple of factors, though, prevented him from gaining more notice before now.

For one, he was not writing really prominent characters nor was he writing for the Big Two (Marvel or DC). Early on, he was writing for Top Cow Productions, a partner of Image Comics. It's difficult to break through, which is to say, it's difficult to gain media exposure when outside a larger comic book company. It can be done, but it's less common.

In 2017, Hill received an important break as the writer on The Wild Storm: Michael Cray. Warren Ellis's main title The Wild Storm was doing reasonably well, and so this spin-off was a welcome addition. The work was published by DC Comics, which ensured that it would gain more attention than if it was published by a smaller company.

I was already following Ellis's book, so I took notice when I heard about the Michael Cray title. Before then, I hadn't really heard of Hill. So I started following this new series when #1 was released in October 2017.

In June 2018, Hill began a five-issue run on Detective Comics. The series gave Hill his first opportunity to write Gotham's famous caped crusader. The job also greatly raised his visibility. The series earned him more reviews than any of his previous works.

In September 2018, Vulture announced that Marvel would be publishing a Killmonger mini-series with Hill as the writer. The Michael Cray series emerged as a result of The Wild Storm, and this Killmonger series was no doubt an outgrowth of the outstanding performance of Michael B. Jordan in the film Black Panther.

Several news outlets, including Newsweek, Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant, and Vibe, ran stories in September announcing the December release of the series. This was the first time that one of Hill's titles was receiving so much advance notice and buzz. He was benefiting from Marvel's PR machine.

Bryan Hill and Juan Ferreyra produced outstanding work on Killmonger

Killmonger, by the way, was a powerful production. Hill's writing and Juan Ferreyra's artwork were fantastic. They gave us a more expansive view of Killmonger. They also gave us some really entertaining compositions.

On November 21, 2018, before Killmonger #1 was published, DC's Vertigo launched Hill's series American Carnage about a biracial FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a white supremacist group. The title of the work is taken from a speech by Donald Trump. Hill's book is a racial thriller and shows him dealing head on with issues concerning racism, white supremacy, violence, and multiple deceptions.

With Michael Cray, Killmonger, and American Carnage, we see explorations of bad men as an important feature of Hill's most recent work. Now the subject of bad men is one I've been researching and writing about in my studies of African American literature. Hill gives me something else though. It's not just bad men, but issues of darkness that defines aspects of his work.

Unlike the poets, short story writer, and novelists I follow, Hill is almost always collaborating with visual artists and sometimes other writers. When thinking about Hill's work, you're usually thinking about his work with others. So far, Hill has worked with a variety of artists, including Ferreyra, Leinil Francis Yu, Dexter Soy, Leandro Fernandez, Miguel Mendonca, and N. Steven Harris.

Moreover, like most comic book writers, he's often in the position of building on characters and worlds that are already created and owned by companies. By writing story lines featuring Batman, Black Lightning, and Killmonger, Hill is writing within some confines, and he also joins a large succession of writers who've represented those characters.

In April and May 2019, Hill was writing two new books, Angel and War Of The Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm #1, respectively. With Angel, he's writing a vampire. And with The Dark Elf Realm, he's writing a team consisting of the Punisher, Blade, Hulk (Jen Walters), and Ghost Rider.  

Hardly anyone mentions it, but Hill covers quite a bit of white and black characters. There was a time -- it might still exist -- when black comic book writers were primarily confined to black characters. So, as a diversity matter, Hill's work across multiple titles and with varied characters is noteworthy. 

But it doesn't stop there. His consistent and diverse treatments of troubling figures and situations are exciting to consider. Those treatments represent an important running thread in his many projects.

How Bryan Hill diversifies our views of villainy
Reading Bryan Hill in 2018
A notebook on comic books

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