7/01/2015

6/30/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 17

A Friend in Knead, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag
A Friend in Knead

I doubt many younger fans will recognise ADV Films a.k.a. A.D. Vision anymore. But I still own a few of their DVDs. Must replace them with higher resolution versions.

Webcomic: Fun with Flags

Good Man Presents: Fun with Flags by Ty Templeton.

6/29/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 16

Mat Groening, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag
Matt Groening signing at the Comic-Con exhibit hall.

He hasn't aged a bit, has he?

6/26/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 15

Spider-Man cosplay, Marvel booth, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag
Spider-Man cosplay at the Marvel booth

Remember the Ultimate Universe? I heard it's going away now. Except for Spidey. Just not the one pictured here.

6/24/2015

Prez #1 and Starfire #1

Prez #1: Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Ben Caldwell Inker: Mark Morales Colorist: Jeremy Lawson Letterer: Travis Lanham  Prez Rickard created by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti
Prez #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Ben Caldwell
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Jeremy Lawson
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Prez Rickard created by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti

Perhaps the most unusual series to emerge out of the DC You initiative, Prez bears little resemblance to the original Prez Rickard from 1973. Set in the year 2036, the comic isn't a realistic futurist projection but a harsh satire about the shallowness of our Web 2.0 culture. Media saturation has led to a further loss of empathy and the intensifying of the craving for loud spectacle. Citizens are disengaged while they let mega corporations invade their privacy and corrupt the political process. It's a pretty bleak view of current technological trends. As one pundit puts it "This country just gets stupider." But it's what allows for a teenage girl called Beth Ross to fail her way up to the White House. I'm curious to see whether or not the story will transcend such cynicism.

Prez spends more time molding the textures of its fictional world than with its protagonist. A senator proposes replacing food stamps with "taco drones" to deliver unhealthy corporate fast food to the poor and monitor them at the same time. One presidential candidate agrees to getting paddled in the rear during a popular vodcast in a desperate bid to win over Ohio voters, another appears on a game show where contestants perform a series of increasingly dangerous stunts in order to win a billion dollars. While some of this can seem hamfisted, Mark Russell's one liners quickly convey how entertainment values erode substantive debate. To wit, that horrific game show is reduced by its guest to a glib sentiment "proof that anyone can succeed in America if they just try hard enough!"

As little as we get to see Beth do anything proactive, Ben Caldwell still manages to portray her as a sympathetic character. His cartooning style which blends Disney with a dash of manga imbues Beth with a wide-eyed, naïf vulnerability. It helps that her defining character trait is a capacity for self-sacrifice. But Caldwell's delicate linework also succeeds in capturing the absurdity demanded of the story and give it an edgy fairy tale quality.

Starfire #1: Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts Inker: Ray McCarthy Colorist: Hi-Fi Letters: Tom Napolitano  Starfire/Koriand'r created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez
Starfire #1
Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts
Inker: Ray McCarthy
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Tom Napolitano

Starfire/Koriand'r created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

I don't know if the post-Convergence DC Universe is meant to be a soft reboot or if it's still even a universe at this point, but I was surprised that this series completely ignores Starfire's previous New 52 incarnation. Then again, given the significant negative attention that particular version garnered, it's understandable why the publisher decided to drastically change course. So Amanda Connor et al. had to clear a very low bar. For all intents, this Starfire has gone back to the beginning as a veritable newcomer trying to adjust to life on Earth.

This Starfire is based mostly on the popular animated Teen Titans series with a bit of the original Marv Wolfman/George Pérez comic character shining through. A lot of the humor is centered around misunderstandings arising from Starfire's unfamiliarity with Earth customs and a tendency to take English language idioms a little too literally. It's a well worn trope, but at least it's not a hot mess. Starfire might be naive, but she's no ditz. When a fight breaks out between two men vying for her attention, she knocks some sense into them with one well aimed (but nonlethal) starbolt.

This is a new series which goes out of its way to be welcoming to new readers. I still miss Connor's comic touch as an artist, even though Emanuela Lupacchino draws a Starfire who's both sweet and unselfconsciously seductive. The issue begins with a two page recap of her alien origins, then proceeds to situate her in a new setting filled with new supporting characters. It's actually a little weird how willing they are to help her. Inker Ray McCarthy and the colors of Hi-Fi give everything a very bright and glossy finish. In fact, the comic looks and feels less like a superhero adventure and more like a cute magical girl comedy. For a DC mainstream title, that's a bold new direction.

6/20/2015

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler. Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler. Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

Writer: Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko

Artist: Gurihiru
Letterer: Michael Heisler

Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

The Rift is the third Avatar story after The Promise and The Search told by Gene Yang and Gurihiru. So it's become clear that this creative team's working within a very rigorous framework. Contort the narrative to fit the three part structure. Start slow. Pad the story with subplots and evenly spaced revelations. Finish with a big fight that pushes the combatants into an understanding of sorts. The results so far have been somewhat underwhelming. The comics are burdened with an unfortunate sensation that their plots are warped to fit the page count and are a tad emotionally manipulative. With that said, The Rift is still their best effort yet. This is primarily because of the presence of fan favourite Toph Beifong to liven up the proceedings.

One of the biggest shortcomings with the graphic novel series is the generally flat character development of its main cast. These once rebellious teens have since settled into boring adult roles after the conclusion of the animated series. In The Promise, both Aang and Zuko are surprisingly bereft of any agency as they're driven into a conflict dictated by their responsibilities to opposing factions and the expectations hoisted upon them by their respective followers. Neither have since regained the irrepressible energy that characterized their televised incarnations and drove the entire series. the independent Katara has been reduced to supportive girlfriend with no voice of her own. And her quick witted brother Sokka has been largely stuck in odious comic relief mode.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

Only Toph escapes this fate by striking out on her own. She's first shown establishing her metalbending academy in The Promise, and the fruits of her labour are revealed in The Rift. She's the only significant character who's comfortable contradicting Aang, and the primary conflict for this arc is made more personal because it arises from the differences between the two. Aang's the spiritualist always striving to make everyone happy while Toph's the materialist willing to buck tradition.

What sets this up is Aang's attempt to revive an important Air Nomad festival. He unexpectedly discovers that the ritual's once sacred site is now the address of a rapidly expanding factory town. Aang then detects the presence of a disapproving spirit and moves to shut the factory down. But he's stymied by Toph. While Aang quickly blames the factory for the area's spiritual pollution, Toph sees little point in continuing a custom that apparently serves no purpose while noting the real socio-economic benefits of the factory to the local community. Their valid points of view puts them at odds with each other, giving the story an emotional edge missing in the similarly themed The Promise and generates a tone of moral ambiguity that can't be neatly resolved by either side.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

At the same time, the story is one huge nod to continuity. The Last Airbender is about Aang fighting a burgeoning industrial state waging a war of conquest on the entire world, while Legend of Korra is about Aang's successor working within a multiethnic society caught up in the midst of intense industrialization. The Rift is a bridge meant to reconcile these two settings and explains how the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes became enthusiastic supporters of technological progress. There's an evil Fire Nation capitalist who serves as the story's principal villain, but he feels very much like a throwback to an earlier era. Who cares about him when the story involves young metalbenders duking it out with one hundred foot tall spirits?

That shock of the new the story's most notable feature. Gurihiru has done a fine job so far in tweaking the ATLA universe. But now they get to introduce a few modern elements. When the cast first sets their eyes on the factory, it just feels wrong standing there. There's nothing extraordinary about it from the outside for anyone who lives in the real world. It's just another grimy building. It's just that in this fantastical setting it feels like a desecration. A pox on the natural beauty of the landscape. Something only an abusive Fire Lord could love.

But as Aang is given a tour of the facilities by an enthusiastic (and way too oblivious for his own good) chief engineer, he witnesses something he's been striving so hard to achieve all this time now being independently realized: balance, harmony. People from the surviving three nations coming together and working towards a common goal on the factory floor. More so than when he first visited the town of Yu Dao back in the first comic, Aang must learn a few bittersweet lessons. Change is inevitable. People adapt. And things don't always work out the way you intended it.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

6/16/2015

6/13/2015

Noah

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller
Story: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Art: Niko Henrichon
Letters: Nicolas Sénégas
Design: Tom Muller

The Biblical myth of the Flood is a dark tale about an all-powerful but petulant god who regrets creating humanity and decides to drown them all in a worldwide deluge. But he makes an exception for Noah and his family. Noah himself barely mutters a peep as he carries out God's commands without fail, like any trusted servant. God's act of universal destruction serves to complement the Genesis story of his creation of the world. But In Darren Aronofsky's retelling, God is absent. The psychodrama instead falls on Noah as he struggles to understand the deity's will, which he believes is being communicated to him through visions so cryptic they often leave him conflicted about their true meaning. His crisis of faith becomes the focal point in an ambitious story that attempts to weave ancient myth, medieval theology, and modern science into a heavy handed morality tale about human greed and environmental despoilation.

While the graphic novel functions as a standalone story, it's interesting to see how it compares to the film. Noah is humanity's first vegan/eco-terrorist/doomsday prepper, disapproving of civilization's wasteful practices and figuring out that the world is going to end. He's even more imposing in the comic, recognized by others as a great warrior and mage. Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel teamed-up with artist Niko Henrichon for the comic well before the film was produced, so it's visuals bear almost no resemblance to the film. Noah is drawn as a cape wearing, square-jawed heroic type who wouldn't look out of place within a Robert E. Howard fantasy novel or a Thor comic. His appearance takes on a more sinister aspect down the line as he evolves into a full-blown religious zealot.

But the people Noah actually terrorizes are his own family, whom he's already sequestered from society when the story begins. God's reticence towards Noah in Genesis is translated in this humanistic adaptation as Noah's confusion as to whether God (dubbed the "Creator") intends for humanity to survive or go extinct. Like in the film, his increasing conviction that Original Sin has made them unworthy of the the former creates a rift with his family. And his behavior is far more extreme in the comic. At one point, he even sets the animals of the Ark against them when they defy him. This Noah takes no prisoners.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller

Henrichon's antediluvian setting is also visually striking. One of the underwhelming things about the film was its subdued palette suggesting a burnt out, featureless, post apocalyptic wasteland. Not one standing building is to be seen, only crumbling ruins. In contrast, the comic feels more primordial and more alien. The stars are so close and bright they shine even during daytime. Early in the comic, Noah travels to the dystopian metropolis of Bab-ilIm  - "A city so vast it took a planet of spoil to stuff its ravenous maw" - and gazes upon its legendary tower. Its byzantine structure referencing both ancient temples and futuristic skyscrapers.

One of the strengths of the graphic novel is that Henrichon has more space to mould this fantastic world, from the exotic megafauna that populate it, to the mysterious Watchers - the Nephilim of Genesis, to Noah's shamanic grandfather Methuselah. Henrichon's designs are usually more grandiose than anything used in the film.

The drawback though is that the story becomes bloated in its attempts to cultivate its many parts. Not only is Noah racing to complete the Ark before the rains come, he's fending of hordes of refugees from Bab-ilIm led by the violent Tubal-cain, enlisting the Watchers to his cause, keeping his increasingly doubtful family in line, all while trying to decode the will of the Creator.

The one area where Henrichon clearly falls short as an artist is in his character designs for Noah's family. They aren't written with very distinctive personalities to begin with, and after awhile, they all even morph to look rather interchangeable. This is where the film's cast does a better job in fleshing them out, particularly Emma Watson as long suffering daughter-in-law Ila and Logan Lerman as the much abused middle son Ham.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller

Both versions ultimately flounder from wanting to have its cake and eat it. Is the story aiming for spiritual transcendence or exposing the folly of blind faith or both? The narrative doesn't quite cohere. In an important scene, Noah recounts the Genesis creation story to his family. His words are overlaid over a montage of images illustrating the Big Bang, the formation of the first galaxies and stars, the birth of our solar system, and the evolution of life from organic molecules all the way to primates. It's a provocative way to illustrate the tale. Although in this case the film's use of strobe effects and digital imagery is way cooler than Henrichon's still images, which feel kind of textbook in comparison.

In contrast to this allegorical interpretation optimized to coexist with the prevailing scientific world view, Aronofsky takes the story of the Flood at face value. So we still get the usual imagery such as the procession of the animals into a gigantic wooden box, or a deluge that blankets the entire world while drowning everything on land, which presumably includes a lot of plant and animal life as collateral damage for humankind's folly. We still have to accept the bizarre premise that an Ark could restore the planet's biodiversity with only a tiny sampling from each species and isn't just a scheme cooked up by a deranged individual. Given Aronofsky's monomaniacal portrait of Noah, it's a pretty tough sell.


Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller

6/08/2015

Congratulations to Alison Bechdel: Fun Home wins Tony Award for Best Musical

Fun Home wins Tony Awards for Best Musical. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Sydney Lucas performs Ring of Keys, Fun Home wins Tony Awards for Best Musical. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Go to: New York Times, by Michael Paulson and Patrick Healy (via Heidi MacDonald)

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir about growing up gay in a funeral parlour, Fun Home’s award haul included best original score and book for Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, best leading actor for Michael Cerveris and best director for Sam Gold.
- Nancy Groves, The Guardian

Earlier this spring, Bechdel told NPR she was surprised by the idea of turning her memoir into a musical. "I thought it was crazy," she said. "I didn't know how it was even possible." But Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori spent seven years making it happen, turning the life story of a middle-aged lesbian cartoonist into a smash Broadway hit.
- Camila Domonoske, NPR

Broadway pros clearly appreciated the show’s originality and its in-the-round immersive staging. There was whooping and ovations when “Fun Home’s” Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori became the first all-female team to win a Tony for best score.
- Cynthia Littleton, Variety

Webcomic: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.
Centre of the Universe

Go to: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner

6/01/2015

Archie vs. Predator #2 and Red One #2

Archie vs. Predator #2 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Robert Hack, Stephen Downer, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet, John Workman
Archie vs. Predator #2
Writer: Alex de Campi
Artist: Fernando Ruiz, Robert Hack, Stephen Downer
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet
Letters: John Workman

Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Sabrina created by George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston

This is the part where the comic actually delivers on its promise. The Predator follows the Archie gang back to Riverdale and quickly commences with his slaughter of the town. The hilarity of the resulting bloodbath reveals the stupid brilliance of conveying the tale within the confines of the Archie Comics house style. Both the action movie tropes of the Predator franchise and the comic stylings of the Riverdale cast offset each other nicely, lampshading the ludicrousness of their respective conventions. Once the guys realize what they're dealing with, they respond not by calling in the National Guard or any other agency equipped to handle the threat. Rather, the responsible adults pass out assault rifles to gung-ho teenagers so that they can finish off the unstoppable alien killing machine themselves. There's a lot of macho grandstanding that inevitably ends in disaster. But because of the humorous manner in which these deaths are portrayed, there's something deeply satisfying about how everyone meets their end. And the story is paced so effectively that the impact of each death is often quite startling when it actually takes place.

The only part where the narrative drags a bit is an exposition-heavy middle section that connects several plot threads, primarily the incidents within the Predator films with the events that took place last issue. This sets up Betty and Veronica as the comic's main protagonists rather than the titular Archie, who mostly stays in the background at least for now. As pointed out last time, these are slightly more abrasive versions of the cast who are more willing to engage in physical violence. If there's one glaring weakness, it's that some people are obviously beneficiaries of plot armour or heroic death exemption despite the dumb choices they make here. But that's not entirely unexpected given the nature of the crossover.

Red One #2 by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Clayton Cowles
Red One #2
Writer: Xavier Dorison
Pencils and Colors: Terry Dodson
Inks: Rachel Dodson
Letters: Clayton Cowles

What happens in this oversized issue is that Vera Yelnikov beats up a lot of bad guys while trying to fit into her new environment as well as settling into her new secret identity. The former is entertaining as heck, the latter is a little less so. The Dodsons staging of action sequences is slick, dynamic, and sensually charged when Vera displays her uncanny parkour and kung fu skills while attired in a form-fitting crimson jumpsuit and wielding nothing more than a hammer and sickle. Red One isn't exactly subtle. The hero's basically a liberated Soviet superwoman exacting revenge on behalf of the would-be victims against a group composed of violent, religious extremist, socially conservative, male chauvinist hicks, even if said victims are treated mostly as an afterthought. But the gorgeous visuals, which manage to compress a lot of narrative into every page, are clearly the comic's main draw.

Even the dialogue sounds less grating than in the last issue, mainly because Vera now has a verbal sparring partner in her American boss Lew Gardner. Admittedly, he's the stereotypical curmudgeon who's actually a big softie. And assuming he sticks around, it's only a matter of time before he uncovers the truth about Vera and becomes her reluctant ally. But Vera's mixture of flirtatiousness and fish out of water naïveté continues to awkwardly straddle the line between camp and social commentary. One scene has Vera and Lew attend a party which is meant to develop her credentials as a free spirit. But it doesn't really say anything new about the character, so it just comes across as gratuitous. Vera visits her first supermarket, and her amazed reaction to its bounty is too much of a well-worn cliche. Such behaviour stretches credulity that the stuffed shirts at the Kremlin are so much more hip than their Yankee counterparts that they can afford to send their most capable agent to save America from itself.

However, the biggest obstacle for readers of American comics will be the European album publishing schedule which favors lavish production values at the expense of a quick turnaround. The next installment won't be out till next spring, an awfully long time for an ongoing action story.

5/27/2015

Unexpected Answer to an Age-Old Question

Bullet Bouncing by by Kerry Callen. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston.

Go to: Go to: May Contain Content by Kerry Callen

The real question is why are the two just standing there like dorks when they can move at super speed? Is there like... a kid behind them?

And yes, henchmen need to grow up.

5/25/2015

Wonder Woman '77 Special #1

WONDER WOMAN ’77 SPECIAL #1 by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Wes Abbott
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Artist: Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Wes Abbott

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and drawn by Harry G. Peter

Wonder Woman ’77 is an attempt to capitalize on the nostalgic appeal of the only adaptation of William Moulton Marston’s comics heroine to have gained widespread fame, let alone universal acclaim. While fans debate the merits of Adam West vs. Michael Keaton, as far as the general public is concerned Lynda Carter is Wonder Woman. That's the central appeal and crucial limitation of this series. Every panel or page is suffused by her iconic presence. The other protagonist is, of course, the 70s itself. For anyone drawn to such cultural signifiers such as the Cold War, polyester shirts, hot pants, bell bottoms, roller skates, disco and Studio 54, this comic has them covered.

As such, the art team assembled for this series is tasked with capturing Carter's and Lyle Wagonner's appearance. There's inevitably some variation in how well they succeed in their task which might be distracting to some of the more attentive readers. Nicola Scott and Annette Kwock supply a pinup for the cover to this collection which is such an archetypical representation of Carter's Wonder Woman that nothing inside quite matches it, though Jason Badower draws several panels of Diana Prince that are near perfect in their photorealism. While Matt Haley and Richard Ortiz can portray a passable action sequence, the interior art leans heavily towards illustrative detail than to efficient comic book style storytelling. Drew Johnson doesn't make the characters particularly close in resemblance to the television cast, but he's the best in reproducing the "mod" sensibilities of the era. Diana's white pantsuit may well be also be a nod to the Denny O'Neil era Wonder Woman. Uniting all these artistic efforts is colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr., who bathes everyone in a warm rose-tinted glow that imbues every page with a faded quality.

WONDER WOMAN ’77 SPECIAL #1 by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Wes Abbott

The WW'77 Special collects two stories which mimic the episodic structure of the TV series. But writer Marc Andreyko isn't all that faithful to the source material, as the series itself played fast and loose with the original comic book. Andreyko adds those missing comic book elements which a late 70s show would not have been able to include due to budgetary constraints or the limitations of special effects. The most obvious insertion is WW's rogues gallery. Sonic-powered villain Silver Swan is reimagined as a nightclub diva with a hypnotic voice and accompanied by two backup singers who are also capable fighters called the Starlings. As drawn by Johnson she reminds me of a more fabulous version of Marvel's Dazzler. Cheesy but appropriate to the spirit of the show. By contrast Doctor Psycho is disappointingly generic as a short, elderly, white haired man sporting a lab coat and an elaborate salad bowl shaped helmet that seems to be the source of his powers. But I suppose the look is meant to recall a cheap television studio prop, so I'll give it a pass.

But the most notable villain of the comic is another Wonder Woman who's a not so subtle reference the mostly forgotten Cathy Lee Crosby version. For a time, she even has Diana confused about her own identity. But she eventually rallies and defeats her nemesis because there can only be one true WW. The book isn't very shy about hammering in that message.

WONDER WOMAN ’77 SPECIAL #1 by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Wes Abbott

5/23/2015

Journal Comic: Sam Henderson


Go to: The Comics Journal Pt 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 by Sam Henderson

5/21/2015

Archie vs. Predator #1

Archie vs. Pradator #1 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Kozlowski, Jason Miller.
Writer: Alex de Campi
Penciller: Fernando Ruiz
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet

Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston

Archie Comics may have a history of venturing into some really odd territory, but even by its standards a crossover with the Predator seems quite unexpected. The simple appeal of that character arises from the idea of an alien hunter searching for big game by traveling to Earth and deciding to go after humans. In the original movie, this well-armed extraterrestrial easily takes down a Delta Force unit making their way through a South American jungle. Much of its entertainment value comes from watching this group of he-men played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura reduced to screaming like little girls while trying to escape an invisible bogeyman who's more testosterone-addled than all of them put together. Since then Dark Horse has paired the Predator against everything from the xenomorphs of the Aliens franchise to the iconic Justice League America. With a track record of such formidable opponents, what exactly does the cast from Riverdale High offer as potential prey?

Apparently, they have a lot to offer our would-be killer. The comic is drawn in the traditional house style and presented in the publisher's classic humor format. Archie Andrews and what feels like the entire Riverdale student body are spending spring break at an exotic beach resort. But while the usual  teenage hijinks occur, they're being stalked unseen by the Predator. If it weren't for this disturbing presence and one rather gory scene, the story would look like a conventional Archie comic. The beach vacation-inspired plot elements are fairly unoriginal, the humor is rather forced, and the cast's behaviour is pretty over-the-top. The boys talk and act like horny twelve year olds. And the rivalry between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge spills over into physical violence, which is what actually draws the Predator to them.

Archie vs. Pradator #1 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Kozlowski, Jason Miller.

What exactly is it that he sees and approves of? Does he admire their fighting style? Is he attracted to their taste in clothes or horrified by it? Is he some kind of peeping tom? Does he believe targeting the two is some form of public service? Is he fed up with the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle? Or is he seeking a change in pace? And what's up with the emojis? Whatever the reason, it looks like a lot more people are going to die, preferably in ways both funny and appropriate for each character.

5/16/2015

Thor #8

Thor #8 By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Joe Sabino, Mike Mayhew.
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman, Mike Mayhew
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Joe Sabino

Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.

After seven issues chasing down what are now obviously a bunch of false leads, we finally arrive at our destination - the big reveal as to who is the new Thor. That is unless you already know her identity from reading various online leaks. Given how definitively she was ruled out much earlier in the series, this might prove to be a sticking point for some readers. But there is a certain fannish logic to her assuming the mantle of the Thunder God considering her deep association with the lead character. The reveal itself is a perfect mirror of the final pages of the first issue, a slow transformation obscured by tightly composed panels arranged in a grid, only to pull back to get a wider perspective for the final one page spread.

Otherwise, the primary action is the massive battle between the unstoppable Destroyer armor being possessed by one of Odin's more reprehensible lackeys, and new Thor backed up by the heroines called on by original Thor (who now goes by the name Odinson) because they were on his shortlist of possible new Thor suspects. It's a fun set piece that demonstrates how the series' art team has come a long way in portraying the requisite over-the-top action. Unlike most of his predecessors, Russell Dauterman draws his figures with a certain studied elegance eschewing the usual exaggerated anatomy, kinetic poses, and dramatic perspective of a traditional Thor comic. He carefully composes the action so that his characters have room to breathe and smashes the grid layout in order to create dynamism, tilting the panels to better reflect the chaos within them. But much of the action would still be incomprehensible if it weren't for the efforts of Matthew Wilson, who Dauterman heavily leans on to differentiate the large and colorful cast. Wilson seems to summon every tone possible in offset printing and employ every technique in the digital coloring process to render every bolt of lightning, every magical hex, and every Kirby crackle. It's a virtuoso display of what modern comics technology can achieve with the right talent.

Thor #8 By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Joe Sabino, Mike Mayhew.

Unfortunately, the battle ends a little prematurely to build up to the big reveal, leaving this issue without a very satisfactory conclusion. The reader might know Thor's true identity, but that just raises more questions. Even more troubling are all the various plot threads left dangling, such as the machinations of the series' two arch villains seemingly about to pay off. This abbreviated quality is due to the fact that Thor is being forced to wrap up for now because the entire Marvel Universe is presently caught up in the crossover event called Secret Wars. It's an unfortunate reminder of the corporate nature of these properties. And just as the series' creative team was hitting their stride.

5/09/2015

Ms. Marvel #14

Ms. Marvel #14 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna.
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison
Colors: Ian Herring
Letters: Joe Caramagna

Kamala Khan created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona

Ever since a young Kamala Khan took ownership of the longstanding mantle of "Ms. Marvel" she's had to navigate a complex web of paradoxical identities from the mundane to the fantastical. But this cultural melange has made her one of the most compelling new characters to come out of Marvel. The comic's blend of measured optimism and good humor has also kept Kamala from becoming just another dour attempt to replicate the historic success of Spider-Man. But has she finally met someone who's going through the exact same thing as her in this latest chapter? "All this time, I thought I was alone... that I was the only nerdy Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman-in the entire universe. And then suddenly I wasn't." Oh Kamala, if only life were that fair.

Artist Takeshi Miyazawa joined the series in the last issue when this particular story arc began, and he's proven to be an apt choice. His manga-influenced style is particularly adept at capturing the varied moods of the book's youthful cast and the story's melodramatic milieu. What can be more romantic for two love-struck and rebellious teenagers (super-powered or otherwise) living in Jersey City than breaking curfew to sneak out and and gaze upon the glorious New York skyline?

Ms. Marvel #14 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna.

But this issue's emotional heart is a short conversation between Kamala's pious older brother Aamir and her best friend/wannabe beau Bruno. As the former explains to the latter why Kamala could never date, let alone marry a non-Pakistani/Muslim, Bruno's face shifts from registering shock, defiance, and finally to crushing disappointment. His gradually slumping body contrasts next to Aamir's upright posture and his helpful but overall placid expression. It's all drawn with the right amount of understatement. The scene unveils a new layer about the two characters, particularly Aamir, who was in danger of becoming a caricature of the narrow-minded ethnic figure. More significantly it humanizes two divergent paths faced by immigrants: Bruno's integrationist philosophy which is often taken for granted by mainstream pundits in the U.S. as the correct course of action, and Aamir's often villainized but perfectly understandable desire to preserve what's left of his cultural legacy in the face of an aggressively bland conformity.

Given such ground-level concerns, Kamala dealing with the ugly side of her Inhuman heritage actually feels like an escape, or at least a diversion, as the superhero conflict provides a far more clear cut version of those problems while also handing her something convenient to punch. Now, Marvel's Mutants have generally played the role of less than convincing underdogs, the not as well-known but no less potent Inhumans behave more like members of the upper-crust. They're essentially a magical race of elves and wizards who would rather conceal themselves within their enchanted communities far from the reach of mere mortals. But occasionally, one of these snobs resorts to more drastic measures. As an acolyte of this issue's would-be Voldemort proclaims what every fascist has basically ever preached: "Why should we hide what we are and play by the rules of a society that wasn't built for us. We're better than all these people..."

It's a cliched idea for anyone who's been following the X-Men or any Marvel superhero comic for the last 60 years. But it makes for a sudden if somewhat obnoxious presence coming right after the preceding low-key conversation touching on the nature of multiculturalism.

Ms. Marvel #14 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna.

5/08/2015

Webcomic: Underemployed

Underemployed by Jackie Roche.

Go to: Fusion, by Jackie Roche (via Tom Spurgeon)

5/06/2015

Stamp Collecting

xkcd: Degree-Off by Randall Munroe. Bazinga!, Ernest Rutherford.

Go to: xkcd and xkcd by Randall Munroe

4/30/2015

4/19/2015

Red One #1

Red One #1 by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson.
Story by Xavier Dorison
Pencils and Colors by Terry Dodson
Inks by Rachel Dodson
Letters by Clayton Cowles

Red One starts from the conceit that America's neighbors from across The Pond are a far more enlightened and liberated lot. Or maybe that was just the 70s. At any rate those silly but highly dangerous Yanks are kind of childish for still believing in superheroes. Why, they even make movies about them. Something has to be done about that for the sake of world peace. The central premise of the series is absurd and over-the-top, but I'm not entirely sure from this debut if it's meant to work as a parody or a homage, or some clumsy marriage of both.

The art team of Terry and Rachel Dodson seem to be playing it straight, effortlessly capturing the kitschy atmosphere and cheesecake aspects of the decade like this comic was the script of one more exploitative action adventure film. The colors acquire a washed out, nostalgic glow when the setting moves to 1977 Southern California, imbuing the place with a certain dated glamour.

Where the comic disappoints is in the dialogue, which is clunky and unrealistic. This may have something to do with translating from the script of writer Xavier Dorison, but it sometimes feels like an over-earnest imitation of the informal speech patterns of most Americans. What Hollywood starlet vents her frustration at her critics by screaming "I'm going to smash their peasant heads in!"? This is exacerbated by half the word balloons being crowded by too much text. This again may be a translation issue, but it results in some very slapdash lettering which could have been solved by resizing or rearranging the balloons.

The comic's protagonist Vera Yelnikov could be described as a Rule 63-inspired, Soviet-era version of James Bond meets Captain America. She's a bombshell drawn by the very people who used to draw Wonder Woman during Allan Heinberg's aborted run. Which is to say that Vera's clearly meant to be ogled by the reader. But she's no vacuous sex symbol, she's the country's top operative. Smart, capable, and supremely athletic to the point of being possibly a super soldier. Vera's a free spirit involved in a polyamorous relationship with an expecting couple, plus a few other hanger-ons. She has no problem inducting complete strangers into the Mile High Club, but stops at sleeping with her co-workers and superiors at the Kremlin.

Red One #1 by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson.

For all of these reasons, Vera is sent to infiltrate American Society in order to play the part of a superhero. A costumed vigilante called The Carpenter has been murdering disreputable Hollywood types. This has the party bosses worried that such criminal behavior might inspire a new wave of puritanism, which in turn could reignite the Cold War. So they assign Vera to masquerade as another local do-gooder so she can provide a more rational counterpoint.

Needless to say, the story is a not-so-subtle commentary on the connection between violence, sexual repression, and religious extremism, not to mention the rising tide of social and political conservatism that would come to dominate Reagan-era America in the 80s. And it panders to the view that Americans on the whole are somewhat naive in their idealism, making them a tad suggestible to things like men and women in tights. At the same time, there's an admiration for that very naïveté that comes across in Dodsons' love for recreating the seductive Californian milieu and in their portrayal of a fresh-faced Vera as an innocent abroad.

4/18/2015

4/13/2015

Webcomic: Play Therapy

Play Therapy by Alison Bechdel.

Go to: Vulture, by Alison Bechdel (via Tom Spurgeon)

4/05/2015

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 by Jiro Kuwata.
By Jiro Kuwata, translated by Sheldon Drzka, lettered by Wes Abbott
Batman & Robin created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson

Originally serialised from 1966-1967 in Shonen King magazine to capitalise on the popularity of the Batman television series, the Batman manga would be rediscovered in 2008 by Chip Kidd, who would make it the centerpiece of his book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Despite being well-received, Kidd was criticised for failing to credit the manga’s creator Jiro Kuwata. So for comic fans, it’s a little more gratifying to see DC release the first volume of a planned complete run for the manga in a format that more closely preserves the content of the original. But fans of the current incarnation of Batman or of today’s manga are probably going to find this comic slightly strange. This isn’t the brooding protagonist cloaked in black. Nor is the art going to remind anyone of today’s manga populated by delicately drawn bishonen and bishojo types. This is a solidly-executed boy’s action adventure of the period. But for someone like me, there’s something familiar and comforting about its simplicity.

To begin, this is a superhero comic that still displays the genre’s early circus roots. Batman and Robin don a variation of the traditional tights that they wore for decades before the duo started bulking themselves up with body armour. Long before superheroes were granted bodybuilder physiques, Batman and Robin were portrayed as lithe athletes. And this works for the kind of storytelling Kuwata employs. The duo are usually shown leaping off buildings, swinging on ropes, running at top speed, tossing and kicking their enemies, dodging bullets. This classic staging of fight choreography really helps to ground the characters in real physical exertion. By today’s standards Kuwata’s style is rather minimal. But it’s primary virtue is in how it captures the dynamism of its protagonists. The clarity and pacing of the action keeps what are sometimes wordy panels from slowing down the story.

The stories themselves, which mimic the 3-act structure of a television episode, are also fairly episodic, with Batman and Robin battling a succession of villains-of-the-week. Two of them (Lord Death Man and Doctor Faceless) were lifted from the manga’s American counterparts, but none of them could be described as an essential member of Batman’s rogues gallery. The plots and characterisations are now fairly predictable, with many of the tropes seen here having been used many times since the 60s. What I found surprising was the science-based nature of the antagonists. Like many readers, I’ve become accustomed to the horror/crime themed interpretation of Batman’s more popular arch-foes as well as Batman himself being portrayed as a psychologically scarred individual. But Kuwata’s stories reflect the post-War fascination with science and technology gone amuck. So the manga's always flamboyant villains tend to be hucksters, mad inventors, or freaks of nature rather than the more familiar assortment of mobsters, assassins, mass murderers, or serial killers. The only thing missing here are angst-ridden individuals transmogrified after being bathed in radiation.

This results in a very different kind of Batman. Rather than the urban avenger waging a one-man-war against crime in Gotham or the control freak who plans for every outcome, we have a Batman who initially stumbles when confronting a new villain’s MO for the first time. He starts out at a clear disadvantage dealing with their unfamiliar technology since he has no way to counter it. And while he eventually finds a way to win, he's far from infallible. This isn’t Batman the Dark Knight, but closer to Batman the problem-solving Science Hero. Admittedly, this plays to some of my more nostalgic instincts.

3/20/2015

Webcomic: #Lighten Up

Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly.

Go to: The Nib, by Ronald Wimberly (via Janelle Asselin)