Jun
13

Avenging the Week, pt. 7 – Standing on Men’s Shoulders, or Locking Them in a Studio with a Mic

Posted by on Sunday, June 13th, 2010 at 09:58:49 PM

After a short sabbatical, I’m back with a brief look at the first issue of Thanos Imperative, the second issue of SHIELD, and the seventh issue of Daytripper. And links. Can’t forget the links.

Spoiler Alert: I will be revealing plot details of all three books (particularly Daytripper).

Thanos Imperative #1 (Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, & Miguel Sepulveda, Marvel Comics): I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was announced, but feel a little underwhelmed. I enjoy the Abnett and Lanning take on Marvel’s sci-fi influenced books, but this issue just didn’t work for me. I don’t want to review this book in detail until the mini-series is complete, but here are two quick possible reasons why it didn’t work:

1) I’m not familiar with the work of Miguel Sepulveda, but this art is painful, and I’m not sure why. His storytelling is generic but effective, which is no small feat in a sprawling space epic featuring a large cast. Sepulveda cleverly chooses to give the characters natural proportions, anatomy and postures, which not only heightens the impact of the fantastical elements of the story, but reminds the reader that this book is essentially a war comic, despite the occasional colorful costume. The problem is that the figures look like they are pasted into static backgrounds, which is incredibly distracting. They kind of look like Colorforms . I wonder if Sepulveda (or Jay David Ramos, the color artist) used heavy lines to outline the characters in this issue. Perhaps I’m completely off-base. But panels like the one below didn’t work for me.

color

2) I love the interactions between the familiar DnAverse characters, particularly in the introduction. I’m also pretty committed to the Marvel space epic. I’m worried about the absurdity that lies below the surface of this book. I’ve already lost interest in the conceit that a universe where life wins is a universe filled with cancer (and led by Captain Mar-Vell, who died of cancer in our universe! Get it?). Even though Abnett and Lanning do a wonderful job on the dialogue of the heroes and supporting characters, their antagonists are still mustache-twirling ciphers. The Revengers seem like a bad joke.

revengers

But these are minor things. In the end, I don’t know if I care about the central concept of this book. I hate Lovecraft. Always have. I don’t know if I can get past the sheer folly of blending Lovecraft with space fantasy. The notion of ‘many angled gods’ with tentacles inspires laughter. I fear that this will be a well executed book about an idea that I just can’t take seriously.

S.H.I.E.L.D. # 2 (Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver, Marvel Comic): I honestly don’t know what to think about this issue. If this were a buyer’s guide, or if I gave letter grades to comics, this would get a ‘must buy’ or an ‘A+’. At the same time, I don’t know if I can heartily recommend this issue as an individual work – even though you should buy it – because its success entirely depends on whether Hickman satisfies any of the mysteries he raises (or explores the themes he identifies) in a satisfactory manner. Although we learn a little bit more about Leonid and his father (?) the mysterious Night Machine, the characters are still archetypes. So for the time being, this is a book of ideas.

bird

Hickman advances the two storylines introduced last issue:  a time-traveling Leonardo da Vinci helps Leonid achieve self-enlightenment en route to a confrontation with the Shield High Council, and the Dark Man confronts Shield agents Nathan Richards and Howard Stark. Both storylines introduce new mysteries: What do Leonid’s memories mean? Is da Vinci seeking to reform Shield or destroy it? What the hell happened when Richards displaced the core?

Hickman begins this issue by showing us S.H.I.E.L.D. as it wants to be seen: “a global projection of ideology'”, an organization that promotes democratic values by protecting the world from external threats. This vision becomes progressively darker as the reader progresses through the first page – equality becomes a singular will which transforms into ‘forced serenity’.

serenity-11

By the second page, we see SHIELD as it actually is:  a cultish organization shrouded in mystery and obsessed with fate and superstition. Weaver’s neoclassical Immortal City is a perfect reflection of S.H.I.E.L.D., whose High Council stands on the shoulders of a Renaissance era genius.

SHIELD 002 012-013

It will be interesting to see how Hickman explores the tension between the competing visions of the agency in the coming months.

The bi-monthly schedule of this book is a little bit frustrating ; we get the next issue in August. But if Weaver and Strain can turn out something this amazing each issue, it will be more than worth the wait. The two effortlessly transition from modernist to realist to surreal within the space of a few pages, with battle scenes equally inspired by John Woo and Jack Kirby.

Pick up issue three in August.

I can’t do it without you.

Daytripper #7 (Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon, Vertigo) – Ba and Moon hit it out of the park again with another phenomenal issue which departs from the traditional formula of this series. Each of the last six issues have focused on an important moment or experience from different parts of Bras’s life. Each ends with a now-familiar ‘twist’ that demonstrates the importance of making every day count, because we are never promised tomorrow. This format has helped us understand Bras in a more fundamentally honest way than if the story was told in a straightforward manner, if only because of the fact that the way that a person dies can provide insights into how that person lived. This issue departs from the formula in seemingly minor ways — Ba relies more heavily on narration and flashback — culminating in a conclusion that departs from the typical Daytripper ending in a pretty chilling way. On the second read, the ending feels almost inevitable, like the conclusions to those old EC horror/morality tale comics. A quick aside: we are trained as readers to view predictability as a storytelling flaw, but when the story’s this well constructed, the questions that are raised by the storyteller become more important than the element of surprise. We expect Bras to die at the end of this issue, but the questions raised about the nature of friendship – and when one should let a friend go – are haunting.

dessert

This version of Bras is 38 years old. He has a successful marriage and career. After six issues, he’s finally got his shit together, and is dealing with the travails of being a minor celebrity. When we catch up to him, he’s on his way to Sao Paolo to find Jorge dos Santos, his long-vanished friend from last issue. Ba shows us Bras’s search, interspersed by vignettes from key points in their friendship. At first, we almost think that Jorge’s just one of those guys that’s fallen off the grid and living off the land. As the story progresses, we start to get dark hints that there’s something terribly wrong.

friend

He gave up.

When you strip away the heightened elements of the story, this is a familiar conversation to anyone with a ne’er do well friend. Someone who seemed to be stronger than us in youth, but found it difficult to deal with the challenges of adulthood. This issue is a reminder that many dreams don’t come true. Some stories don’t have a happy ending. Sometimes, when we fall down, we don’t get back up. So much of this series has focused on the lessons that we learn in our journey through life, and I think this may be the final one for adulthood – sometimes, it’s just too late.

This issue also introduces a new mystery. This is the first issue where Bras’s death was absolutely necessary to the plot. In the previous six issues, the break between the story and the death was clean – you could almost read the death scene out of all the previous issues and get a straightforward narrative. But in this issue, the death was central to everything, which makes me wonder how the brothers will frame the ninth issue. This miniseries is a real gem, if you’re not picking it up now, please buy the trade when its released.

Links!!

  • Would you like to be inspired by free, independent hip-hop? Go download The Inspiration 3008 – Episode IV: The Shake-Up, by Moe Jiggz. It’s great and its free. Listen.
  • David Brothers discusses race, statistics, and mainstream superhero comics in a post that features hypnotic Kanye West and Drake gifs.
  • Hamas follows the Rorscharch Doctrine in the Gaza Strip.
  • Buenaventura Press, publisher of the acclaimed Kramers Ergot 7 anthology, has announced that it closed its doors six months ago in response to legal and economic pressures.
  • Caitlin Flanagan wastes her prodigious writing talent by writing a tiresome polemic disguised as a trend piece about the impact of an imaginary ‘hookup culture’ on young women. Matt Yglesias, all-purpose blogger at ThinkProgress deflates the piece with data. Ross Douthat, opinion writer for the New York Times, pivots off of the article to critique the sexual revolution.
  • Mindless One amypoodle entertainingly annotates the second issue of the Return of Bruce Wayne miniseries. A representative quote: “The hypertime deniers could learn a lot from Superman’s childlike, enquiring approach here. It’s probably a disguised appeal for them to actually read whats on the page instead of the script going on in their head about weird and drugs, whilst at the same time one of those throwaway Morrison lines that tells us so much about the character in question. Oh yeah, and I’ve just noticed that Mandelbat has Barbelith for an eye.”
  • Have you not the decency to require decency in the marketplace? Jeff Strabone muses on the responsibility of the government to regulate corporate misbehavior in a hilarious, insightful essay for 3 Quarks Daily. In an unrelated piece, James Kwak reminds us that the financial crisis and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were not caused by cognitive biases, but willful misbehavior.
  • Michael Cohen asks why the American Left has been reluctant to challenge President Obama on the war in Afghanistan in an essay for the New Republic. Andrew Exum writes a great response post urging the ‘Left’ to think critically about the war and counterinsurgency doctrine.
  • Will Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later be the last debut hip-hop album to ship or sell 500,000 copies? Bavu Blakes thinks so.
  • This is a bit late, but check out David Brothers’s take on the first issue of Heralds by Kathryn Immonen, Tonci Zonjic and Nathan Fairbain. I’ve been keeping an eye out for Immonen’s work since reading the brilliant Moving Pictures webcomic that she produces with her husband Stuart, but the quality of Zonjic’s art is an unexpected treat. David gets it – “Zonjic draws these big, spacious panels, with tons of background work. He does several that are page-width, he does some head-on, some overhead, and then, when things start going bed, he throws in this panel that’s set at somewhere between thirty and forty-five degrees, diagonally skewed, and from a point of view that’s about two feet higher than eye-level.” Check it out. The second issue’s even better than the first.
  • A moving story about two writers. One is more successful than the other. Go read it.
  • R.I.P. Al Williamson, the legendary artist best known for his contributions to E.C. Comics, Star Wars and Flash Gordon, died at the age of 79. Marc Bernardin, Jimmy Palmiotti and Heidi MacDonald of the Beat have obituaries.
  • Matt Seneca breaks down Frank Quitely’s 23 panels from Grant Morrison’s recently released Detective Comics #700.
      Wednesday’s Pull List Today
  • Amazing Spider-Man # 633 (Zeb Wells, with art by Chris Bachalo, Emma Rios, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Victor Olazaba, colors by Antonio Fabela) “Shed” part 4

    prv5434_pg5

    Wells and Bachalo turn it up to ten for the conclusion to this dark, brilliant arc.

    Heralds #3 (Kathryn Immonen, with art by Tonci Zonjic & James Harren, colors by Nathan Fairbairn, June Chung)

    prv5443_pg3

    I love the exhaustion and resentment emanating from that second panel.

    See you next week!

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