Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Joe Sabino
Cover: Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Olivier Coipel, Mike Deodato, Sarah Jean Maefs, Judy Stephens
Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
Despite the #1 designation, The Mighty Thor follows up on the previous series’ final panel revelation that Thor’s longtime love interest Jane Foster had assumed the Thunder God’s mantle. More importantly, the new series retains the old creative team and the overall direction they were mapping out before being interrupted by Secret Wars. While this doesn't make it the easiest jumping off point, there’s no lapse in quality from their work in the previous series. If anything, the team is finally settling into a comfortable groove now that the whole mystery of the new Thor’s identity has been resolved.
The issue actually feels a bit like the arrival of a Game of Thrones season premiere after a lengthy hiatus. There’s a lot to catch up on, and the story moves briskly from scene to scene. The failure of Jane’s chemotherapy treatments to stem her cancer, Thor’s evolving relationship with Earth’s superhero community, the deteriorating marriage of Odin and Freyja, the suddenly missing Odinson, the fallout from the Frost Giants retrieval of Laufey’s skull, the unholy alliance between Dario Agger and Malekith, and their secret genocidal campaign against Alfheim. Each plot point serves to increase the sense of unease as Jane’s many enemies, mundane and divine, are lining up against her.
One of the most fun things about the series is how it continues to poke fun at the more regressive features of the fantasy genre. Odin’s misogynistic attitude towards the new Thor has come to negatively affect how he governs Asgardia. The realm eternal has never been a functioning democracy, but Odin’s misdirected antagonism has edged him even closer to totalitarian rule. Yet he still fails to recognize that the true enemies of the kingdom are serving it a generous helping of warmongering, corporate greed and environmental destruction, all while he imprisons or alienates its most effective protectors, and hampers the efforts of its staunchest allies. If this isn’t also writer Jason Aaron making a reference to the demoralizing state of contemporary American politics, then what is?
What sets the overall tone for the comic is Jane’s losing battle with cancer. As she undergoes her regular treatment at a hospital, she monologues through a series of captions with an almost clinical fashion the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on her mind and body. She even reveals how the enchantment of Mjolnir is actually neutralizing the chemotherapy, thus making every transformation into Thor nudge her closer to death. This sense of inevitability Aaron invokes is enhanced by the cold sterility of the hospital environment drawn by Russell Dauterman. This is the series’ first intimate look at Jane when she’s not playing thunder goddess, and it's a harrowing portrait of human fragility for a mainstream superhero comic.
But at the first sign of danger, Jane leaps into action. Her single-handed save has her stopping a plummeting space station from crashing into the Washington DC Mall, illustrated in all its physics-defying glory with Dauterman’s characteristic use of jagged panels. He continues to excel with supernaturally-based action, and this particular issue allows him to draw more of Asgardia and the various mythological denizens of Norse mythology. But it’s colorist Matthew Wilson’s technicolor palette that rounds out the picture by imbuing the otherworldly setting with a warm glow, filling all negative space with mysterious, cackling magical energy.
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Adam Kubert, Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Sonia Oback, Dave McCaig
Letters: Cory Petit
Covers: Alex Ross, Mahmud Asrar, Luchiano Vecchio, Jim Cheung, Jason Keith, Cliff Chiang, David Marquez, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Paul Mounts
Avengers created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The All-New, All-Different Avengers actually splits the difference between the old and the new. On one hand, virtually every character included in this incarnation of the team is based on a well-established property who does have ties with the Avengers. But more than half the members are more recent versions created within the last few years, which helps to generate a more convincing illusion of change than past team shake-ups. Their youthfulness and diversity makes for a different kind of Avengers. Instead of the usual group of self-assured veterans, they’re a bunch of relatively inexperienced superheroes looking to establish themselves within the Marvel Universe.
Even the team’s two elder statesmen Sam Wilson (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) introduce themselves in this issue by commiserating with each other about their current personal and financial woes affecting them within their respective solo titles. Apparently, Steve Rogers (original flavor Captain America) now hates them both. They run into Miles Morales (Spider-Man) while passing by the former Avengers Tower, only to get trounced by a powerful alien warrior. They're not exactly Earth’s Mightiest Heroes anymore.
Meanwhile at Jersey City, Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Sam Alexander (Nova) team up for the first time to stop a monster from trampling one of Kamala’s favorite hangout spots. They tackle the threat easily enough, but become tongue-tied being around each other since they're both insecure teenagers and all. It’s the comic’s meet cute story.
A few core members are still outstanding by the end of the issue, and there’s still the problem of how to stop the big mean alien from tearing up New York. Jane Foster (Thor) and Vision will presumably be joining Kamala and Sam in making the trek across the river by the next issue to kick alien butt, and the new team will then be officially named. Writer Mark Waid keeps the banter light and humor-laden, and makes a reasonably fine effort in juggling the different voices of every character. Artist Adam Kubert draws some spectacular action sequences for the first part of this issue, while Mahmud Asrar mostly deals with the Kamal/Sam pairing. Asrar is a much less capable draftsperson than Kubert. But at least he’s able to convey the awkwardness of the two adolescents’ interaction.
I will however complain a little about the cover art from Alex Ross. His stiffly posed photorealism is starting to look pretty generic at this point, conveying zero personality from his subjects. And the way he illuminates his figures so they all look like they’re draped in dull satin has always been a particular weakness of his style.
Story: Tom Taylor
Art: David Lopez, David Navarrot
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Cory Petit
Cover: Bengal, David Lopez, Art Adams, Peter Steigerwald, David Marquez, Marte Gracia, Keron Grant
Wolverine created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Romita, Herb Trimpe
Laura Kinney/X-23 created by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
All-New Wolverine situates the reader right in the middle of the action with no explanation given, and doesn’t let off til the very last page. There’s plenty of gunfire, explosions, car chases, leaping from great heights, hand-to-hand combat, and off course the requisite slashing with adamantium laced claws. It’s kinda awesome and exactly what any reader wants out of a Wolverine comic, although a little problematic for reasons that will be shortly made clear. But as the title suggests, this isn’t Logan beneath the mask anymore but his clone/protege Laura Kinney who has taken up the mantle. And she’s not quite as crazy as the old man. As Logan admits, “You’re the best there is at what you do. But that doesn't mean you have to do it.”
A rain-drenched Paris at night functions as the backdrop for the action set piece, the evocative setting enhancing the intrigue of the story (An unfortunately timed choice, given the horror of recent real-world events). The two artists of David Lopez and David Navarrot provide a nice balance of fine detail and rough textures. They provide plenty of excitement right off the bat with a frantically staged sequence of Laura fighting her way up the Eiffel Tower in a failed bid to stop an assassination attempt. Colorist Nathan Fairbairn offsets all the gritty detail with overlays of softer tones.
While writer Tom Taylor provides little context for the action, he does squeeze in some quiet characterization through the budding romance between Laura and the teenage Warren Worthington (Angel). Witnessing Laura become grievously injured from a fiery collision into the Arc de Triomphe (Again, not the most appropriate national landmark for the hero to be wrecking at this time due to recent events that took place in real-world Paris) and unable to do anything but wait until she heals, he expresses his concern by patting her on the head. It’s the one all to brief moment of tenderness they share before the action resumes.
The myth which UfC 193 unintentionally shattered was the invincibility of Ronda Rousey. Most intelligent individuals who study martial arts understand that no one is truly unbeatable. But given her reputation as the most dominant champion in modern combat sports history and MMA’s most celebrated figure, it was difficult for many fans to believe that the challenger Holly Holm wouldn’t go down in ignominious defeat like all of Rousey’s past opponents, regardless of her credentials. Exacerbating the mystique was the hype surrounding Rousey’s drastically improved boxing technique.
The fight however confirmed what every critic has said about Rousey’s stand-up: she’s a sloppy fighter with plenty of holes in her striking game. They’ve been easy to overlook because no one had exhibited the skill-set necessary to exploit them or the discipline required to counter Rousey’s trademark aggression. That was until she literally ran right into Holm’s fists. Virtually all of Rousey’s attempts to bum rush Holm resulted in her receiving a clean shot to the face. Things only got worse for Rousey because she was unable to cut off the cage. By the end of the 1st round, it was clear that her camp had not supplied Rousey with the proper tools to either beat Holm on the feet or to trap the superior striker on the ground.
But the fight also marks a step forward for WMMA. Historically, boxers have fared poorly in grappler vs. striker matchups, and while MMA itself has moved away from such strict “style vs. style” calculations, Rousey is something of a throwback to the days when pure grappling would dominate the cage. The playbook to beat that kind of fighter already exists, so it was only a matter of time until someone would implement it. Which is what Holm successfully accomplished at Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon. Holm defeated Rousey not just because she was the better boxer, she was the better all-around athlete that day. Her defensive grappling was sound. Most significantly, her upset victory was absolutely convincing. Holm just made the division a lot more interesting.
None of this changes what Rousey has already done for the sport, in raising the profile of women athletes, or her achievements as a breakout star. But as with many other celebrities, the hype accompanying her ascent was setting her up for the inevitable fall. And it doesn’t help when someone might have even started believing in their own hype. While it’s certainly nowhere near the end of the Ronda Rousey brand, she’ll need to develop those missing tools if she intends to take the title back from Holm. Though whatever happens next, fans now have their permanent reminder that Rousey is as human and as fallible as anyone.
cover: Steve Martinez
design: Alexa Koenings
A meta-fictional conceit of Gilbert Hernandez’s standalone “Fritz” stories is that Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez, one of the more popular recurring characters from his Palomar series, once starred in a bunch of godawful B-movies. By adapting these movies into a growing collection of graphic novels, Gilbert can capitalize on the pre-existing appeal of this tragic, top-heavy bombshell of a figure while working on the pretense that these are new characters operating under completely different circumstances. Fritz has long been notorious for her outrageous combination of high intelligence, a voluptuous physique, light skin, voracious sexual appetite, and speaking with a “high soft lisp”, which has been alternately treated by the people around her as either endearing or deeply annoying. But she’s also been a victim of abuse at the hands of her past sexual partners, numbing the pain with bouts of heavy drinking. Love from the Shadows exploits many of those traits in Fritz’s most bravura performance and a perverse, violent, bizarre tale. I can’t really say if this is a good comic, let alone if the movie it’s pretending to be based on is worth watching. But it is strangely compelling.
And as an apparent rebuke to those fans who’ve dismissed Gilbert for his particular propensity for drawing buxom women, the graphic novel’s cover is his most confrontational yet. Painted by Steve Martinez, the pulpy, lurid quality of the bikini-clad pin-up lounging on a beach next to the ominous shadow of an unseen individual hovering behind her promises to supply all the cheap thrills expected of a clunky matinee movie, not to mention satisfy the reader’s prurient interests. It probably helps catch the eye of the prospective customer given how it's largely unconnected to the events within the book itself.
The story within certainly contains copious amounts of violence and sex, though they feel grafted on top of a grim and elliptical psychological drama. It begins with a forlorn Fritz standing inside an empty house. She slowly wanders from room to room, examines her breasts in front of a mirror, calls her dad on the phone, only to be cruelly rejected by him. It’s a simple action sequence drawn with Gilbert’s usual black and white minimalism. But one that’s fraught with emotional weight due to his mastery of composition, time, facial expressions and body language. Every line exudes both anguish and desperation from the character. But the scene also conveys just how Fritz’s own sensuality seems to weigh heavily on her entire existence. It’s practically impossible to distinguish her history from the character she’s now supposably playing.
Fritz responds to her father’s rejection by calling on an attractive young man. But as they walk to her house, she’s accosted by a group of mysterious, visor-wearing individuals called “monitors”. “How come you look like that? How come your skin is like that? How come you talk like that?” they ask while blithely invading her personal space. After they reach her house, Fritz engages her impassive partner in vigorous love-making. But as she tries to engage him in conversation, he quietly leaves when she goes to the kitchen to prepare a meal for him.
What happens afterward is difficult to summarize and makes little sense except as some kind of fevered dream. Fritz spots the monitors outside her house and flees to the basement, only to enter a mysterious cave. when she emerges on the other side, she’s somehow acquired a new identity (complete with new hair color) as a woman named Dolores. Actually, it’s even more complicated as Fritz also plays Dolores’ brother Sonny and their estranged father, who happens to be a famous novelist. At one point Dolores becomes involved with a trio of spiritualist hucksters, Sonny has a sex change operation and impersonates Dolores. A ghost delivers a prophecy which Dolores fulfills in the most brutal manner. There are two recurring motifs: the monitors continue to hound her like a creepy Greek chorus. And the cave continues to lure characters in with promises of secret knowledge and in some cases, drive them insane. Gilbert draws it as an inky black abyss. An absolute void. Could any other metaphor be so infuriatingly on-the-nose while being so open to interpretation? Death, the Underworld, Nirvana, the Subconscious Mind, Wisdom, the Wellspring of Creativity, the Primordial Universe, the Heart of Darkness. Or maybe it’s just a game Gilbert is playing with the reader to see what they can come up with?
If so, it is an abstruse game. Gilbert is a prodigious storyteller whose powers have diminished very little. But he’s made a sharp left turn away from the humanism and diverse cast of characters found in his Palomar stories towards something a little more austere, baffling, less compassionate.
As with any comic created by Renée French, The Ticking’s strength is found in her inimitable visuals. French draws these flat, super-deformed cartoon characters, but renders them not with solid black lines but with soft graphite. The resulting three-dimensional quality of the art makes their presence on the page ambiguously disturbing, like a barely remembered vision or nightmare. There’s just a slight hint of the “uncanny valley”, which actually helps enhance the strangeness. But this isn’t done in the service of satire or social commentary. French’s gaze is trained inward, and her sympathies clearly lie with the ugly and the disfigured.
The preciousness of the art is further enhanced by the stark presentation. Most pages contain one or two square panels, stacked vertically. Any dialogue is displayed in handwritten script below each panel. This organic minimalism is exquisite, but very effective, and makes for a quick read. It lends the simple story within a modern fairy tale quality.
The book starts shockingly enough with the birth of its hero Edison Steelhead, a baby possessing a grotesquely large head with beady eyes so far apart they’re located at the side rather than the front of his face. His mother dies on the kitchen floor from the act of giving birth, and his grieving father Calvin raises Edison in isolation on a remote island lighthouse. While this may seem like Calvin is protecting from the outside world, the reader is clued in early that it’s as much an expression of self-loathing as it is of loving concern. Calvin blames himself for his son’s physical imperfections.
Raised in such a nurturing but stifling environment, Edison learns to cope by observing everything and drawing in his sketchbook. He catalogs the smallest details of his world with diagrammatic line drawings, which French reproduces as one page spreads. They serve as important story beats, pausing the narrative and letting the reader into Edison’s developing mind. As his imagination and curiosity grow, Edison slowly comes to chafe under his father’s tight control. When Calvin unexpectedly brings home a little sister named Patrice, a chimpanzee wearing a dress, Edison begins to realize the need to explore the wider world on his own terms.
That is the heart of The Ticking - the dynamic between parent and child. How parents tend to see themselves in their children, how children have to struggle to establish their own identity, and how this relationship is ultimately inescapable. It’s a very old story, but one told in French’s offbeat style: full of understated emotions, long silences, and warm but surreal imagery loaded with symbolism, both obvious and not so obvious.
Pencils: Chris Sprouse
Inks: Terry Austin
Letters: Steve Dutro
Colors: James Sinclair
Design: Scott Tice
Cover Art: Duncan Fegredo
Star Wars created by George Lucas
A 1996 graphic novel based on Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 novel, Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye tells a curious tale of what could have been. The Star Wars universe was still wide-open back then, so creator George Lucas could have gone down any number of avenues following the success of the original film. What he eventually took was an Asian martial arts inspired journey that smacked together Shaolin asceticism (and its demise at the hands of a traitor), samurai sword fighting, watered-down Eastern mysticism, combined with more Western fairy story elements and counterculture ideas. Foster’s plot follows a more conventional fantasy epic route. The heroes and villains race to recover a lost magical artifact which could shift the tide in the war between good and evil. The former are mainly represented by an earnest Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. The latter are lead by a cranky Darth Vader. Needless to say, this macguffin will never be mentioned in the films, let alone just play any kind of role.
With the benefit of hindsight, writer/inker Terry Austin and artist Chris Sprouse take great pains to make sure the comic closely resembles the design aesthetic of the original film trilogy. Even the planet of Mimban where the story mostly takes place looks like a twin of Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back. And there’s a giant worm that for all intents might as well be a rejected design for the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi. Sprouse possesses a meticulous, old-school drawing style reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, which he uses to reproduce the futuristic technology and the likeness of the film’s famous cast. James Sinclair complements the line art with restrained, relatively flat colors. The overall effect is a far cry from many of the later, more fanciful Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse. This book feels very minimal in its efficient storytelling. Not that this fidelity to the world built by Lucas always works. The designs for Mimban’s oppressed natives are pretty uninspired, even embarrassing by today’s standards. And the interior of the ancient temple where the climactic showdown takes place is so nondescript it leaves no lasting impression. Many times, the comic feels more claustrophobic rather than atmospheric.
Some of this can be blamed on the plot. Its small-scale, episodic quality means that nothing actually gets resolved, just left for future installments to deal with. Only this never happens because Lucas would decide to go in another direction. SOTME (never mind the morass of supplementary stories outside of the film timeline formerly labelled the "Expanded Universe") is more like the present crop of Marvel television shows than the Marvel movies. They may (or may not) be officially be part of the same universe, but the two are largely disconnected in practice, with the former appearing diminished in status when set next to the latter.
As the story’s aforementioned macguffin, the Kaliburr Crystal raises a host of questions which are left largely unanswered. It can enhance the user’s connection to The Force, but neither the Jedi Order or the Sith Lords seem to have been aware of its existence. Why? What other groups have been able to manipulate The Force in this manner, and what other objects of power are still out there waiting to be discovered? The crystal muddies the clear-cut binary that largely informs the conflict driving the Star Wars saga. But this is something Lucas simply ignored when he got around to writing TESB.
Unsurprisingly, the novel and its adaptation contain a number of elements a little discordant with present-day canon, something I imagine not a few continuity nerds out there have been bending backwards to resolve. [Spoiler Alert!] Vader doesn’t act as if he knows that Luke and Leia are his offspring, and those two certainly don’t behave like they know they’re siblings. Vader makes clear his desire to murder them in the most excruciating fashion possible using his lightsaber. And it’s hard to miss the mutual attraction between Luke and Leia. All this is pretty Freudian from a post-trilogy vantage point. Austin and Sprouse keep things chaste, but there’s no getting around mood and intent. The plot is calculated to throw these two good-looking people together into a more intimate working relationship.
Then there’s the casual sexism of the scene where Leia engages Luke in a flirty mud fight in retaliation for Luke slapping Leia earlier when he was trying to pass off as a master disciplining his slave for talking back to him. If we ignore how canon has made this then innocent scene kinda creepy, this interaction is quaint, if unintentionally amusing.
That quaintness is emblematic of an early Star Wars when lighthearted action-adventure still set the tenor of the story. Before the franchise was weighed down by its own Campbellian self-importance. A universe where the ethereal Force could still be accessible through silly magic crystals, as opposed to those utterly serious and toootally plausible midi-chlorians.
Cringe-inducing lines such as "Oh my God. you're a lesbian" and "Why? Because she's just a girl?", two uninspired terrible bosses (I think a Veronica Palmer or a Sam Saperstein type would have been way cooler) and an annoying nerdy best friend stereotype notwithstanding, lead actress Melissa Benoist managed to make the Supergirl pilot an entertaining hour of television. The show has a genuine star In the making, and a mostly capable supporting cast. So maybe the writing will improve in future episodes and get over everybody being needlessly mean to Kara?
And could the people involved just maybe find a way to work in an acknowledgement of Supergirl's creators?
Colors: Ryan Hill
Design: Sandy Tanaka
Digital Production: Christina McKenzie, Chris Horn
Popular interpretations of the Mesozoic Era have leaned so heavily on North American dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus rex or Apatosaurus, that most people might even believe that the entire Cretaceous was populated by the same dozen species. So it's a bit off the beaten track when the focus moves elsewhere. In Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians, award-winning artist Ricardo Delgado shines the spotlight on North Africa. This gives him an excuse to draw a completely different ensemble of prehistoric creatures, which he portrays in his characteristic obsessively-detailed fashion. At this point, anyone who follows Age of Reptiles is primarily there to look at pretty art portraying some rather vicious animals locked in a life-and-death struggle.
Delgado's art hasn't significantly changed since working on The Journey, but the new setting allows him to expand his visual vocabulary. In contrast to the vast open spaces with its parched minimalism found the earlier work, Ancient Egyptians takes place in what looks to be a lush rainforest. The comic is positively bursting with life in every panel: Trees tall enough to hide the largest sauropod. Rivers teaming with coelacanths, freshwater sharks, rays, turtles, mollusks, and a wide variety of early crocodile species. All this gives colorist Ryan Hill more opportunities to explore a richer color spectrum, though he still ties everything together with the usual earth tones. Hill lends a much needed clarity to Delgado's art as the extra amount of detail can sometimes obscure the action. He tends to render everything with the same fine line, whether it's a cloud in the sky or an adult theropod, and this can flatten the perspective when all the reader has as a reference point is the dense underbrush.
Delgado's approach to storytelling also remains the same. His overt inspirations are spaghetti westerns and samurai tales, in this particular case Yojimbo. The hero of Ancient Egyptians is a wandering male Spinosaurus (the only dinosaur he positively identifies in the afterword. I'm guessing the species of the rest). Shortly after entering the forest, he runs afoul of its largest denizens, a very belligerent Paralititan herd. These are a species of super-sized sauropod, FYI. He tries to steer clear of rival gangs of Carcharodontosaurus and of Afrovenators. And he finds time to mate with a female of his species. The story culminates in a bloody showdown that alters the local power balance.
Whatever his creative influences, Delgado has become too devoted to the naturalistic mode to apply a lot of anthropomorphic attributes. His eschewing of any dialogue eliminates any distraction from his art, but it renders opaque the interior lives of his subjects. There isn't anything that could be recognized as conscious thought or character development in the conventional sense, though it's still apparent that dinosaur actions are compelled by a tangle of powerful drives which are either satiated or thwarted. This straightforward behaviorism is reinforced by a linear approach to storytelling and deliberate pacing. The one thing Delgado does to break up the monotony is to shift attention away from the Spinosaurus at regular intervals. The narrative simply moves through the course of several days as the cast eats, hunts, fights, kills, sleeps, or copulates. Ancient Egyptians is about as Darwinian a comic being sold right now.
My personal life has been on something of a downward spiral lately, negatively affecting both my health and finances. Things finally came to a head when my primary computer broke down. Unfortunately, I have no means of getting it repaired within the short term. Comics and blogging will have to take a back seat while I figure things out, or not. Presently, I'm at a loss.
Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi
Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions
The Ultra Series is a long-running media franchise that has yet to hit it big in the Western Hemisphere. But anyone growing up in Japan and many parts of East Asia within the last 50 years should be familiar with at least one incarnation of the basic idea - a gigantic, powerful alien, usually clad in red and silver, merges with a human host to fight monstrous threats to civilization. Naturally, the original Ultraman from 1966 is going to have a certain nostalgic pull over his many successors. So back in 2011 Shogakukan launched a soft reboot/sequel as a manga series, now being translated into english by Viz Media. This gives newcomers an easy point of entry into the franchise, while trading on the commercial appeal of pre-existing properties. So how does the first volume stack up to expectations?
Unsurprisingly, the manga works pretty hard to get the fans on its side. There's a brief introduction to the original Ultraman, host Shin Hayata, and their adventures in the 66' TV series. A much older Shin is in the manga to bequeath his role to a new Ultraman, but not before he gets to suit up one last time and kick monster butt. An old villain makes an unexpected reappearance, and there are other f* yeah! moments, such as the reveal of the new Ultraman armour, or the first time Ultraman whips out his traditional finishing move, the Specium Ray.
But the story's awkwardly paced. The beginning section contains 2 time skips: the first to establish the intervening decades between the TV show and the manga, only to move ahead another 12 years after dumping a lot exposition on the reader. All this amounts to no one understanding how Ultraman's powers work, and It feels like an unnecessary way to stretch out the narrative. Is it a byproduct of the time constraints imposed on the creative team of writer Eiichi Shimizu and artist Tomohiro Shimoguchi by the tight publishing schedule? This sluggish start is followed shortly by over 100 pages devoted to a single fight scene, which is an extreme example of the kind of decompressed action sequence that has become mandatory with shonen manga since Dragonball.
Thankfully, this is where the book picks up steam. The panel-to-panel action flows effortlessly and Shimoguchi seems to be enjoying himself when drawing all the exaggerated poses and over-the-top hand combat exchanges. His enthusiasm almost makes up for his relative indifference to rendering environments and background details. Given the number of Ultraman pinups found throughout the volume, Shimoguchi is clearly having a ball updating these classic characters, even if his redesigns resort to the jagged, overly-busy industrial aesthetic that ends up robbing Ultraman of his usual sleek, spandex-clad appearance.
The extra level of detail used for the hero, depictions of violence somewhat more graphic than anything found in the TV show, and mystery surrounding the transmission of his powers inserted into the story, signal that this Ultraman isn't aimed at kids anymore. This is a beefier, edgier hero for a new age as the book's cover boldly claims, or maybe for the aging fan looking for a way to revive the past.
Drawing Assistant: Jason Fischer
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Bryan Lee O’Malley seems to be growing up as a storyteller. The Canadian cartoonist made a name for himself by capturing the desultory lives of privileged, self-absorbed people in their early twenties. With his latest graphic novel Seconds, he's moved on to privileged, self-absorbed people in their late twenties facing down a quarter-life crisis. It's similar to ground covered by compatriot Michael Cho in Shoplifter. But where Cho was ruminative, O'Malley can't help but be a little mischievous. He mixes the mundane with ambiguous fantasy elements, which keeps the overall tenor comparatively lighthearted. O'Malley hasn't completely left his gamer roots behind, but he subtly mixes those references with time-altering supernatural forces that tempt the protagonist with a taste of omniscience. Isn't that sort of like the multiple reboots, power-ups, and additional lives offered in video games?
This is a beautifully crafted comic. Manga has influenced its fair share of Western cartoonists, but the last decade has witnessed the emergence of a generation of creators, not to mention critics and fans, who were nurtured by the manga boom, absorbed the kawaii aesthetic, and married it to their own native sensibilities. This is most obvious in O'Malley's quasi-chibi figures and wide-eyed facial expressions. But it runs deeper than such superficialities with his solid black and white compositions, excellent readability, and steady pacing. O'Malley gives the impression of effortlessly transitioning from intimate close-ups to wide-angle shots. He's careful with how his characters inhabit their environments - what space they occupy in a single room or even an entire building. And O'Malley isn't shy about using quiet moments or panels focusing on inanimate objects to establish mood.
Though O'Malley's black and white art (with assists from Jason Fischer) is satisfying on its own terms, Nathan Fairbairn's colors have helped transform it. O'Malley's thick lines have a certain organic quality that easily lends itself to the indie comics aesthetic. The usual coloring techniques used in mainstream superhero comics would ill suit it. But Fairbairn's understated approach is a perfect match that makes the art far more accessible to the casual reader. He keeps the palette simple and the rendering flat, which makes the figures pop out. The shock of red hair from main protagonist Katie practically defines the book's color scheme. And since the story is about a chef working in a restaurant, the colors add necessary appeal of the book's requisite food porn. One effect that's impossible otherwise is how the atmosphere takes on an eerie orange glow when something supernatural takes place. This sets the story apart from the b&w comics that would have had to resort to distorted panel borders or other similar devices to suggest the same thing.
The title Seconds contains multiple meanings. It can refer to second servings of food. It can refer to the seconds of a clock. Second guessing a decision or second chances in life. Within the book it also refers to the name of the restaurant founded by Katie and where she worked for several years as executive chef. She's succeeded in moulding her startup into one of the city's best restaurants. But she feels unfulfilled. As she closes in on her thirtieth birthday, Katie is looking to shape a new course for herself. And as with many adults her age, she's beginning to re-examine her life as she takes into account the effects of her past choices. The story gets going when she stumbles upon a macguffin which allows her to alter her personal history in limited ways.
As with any "be careful what you wish for" morality tale, the outcome is predictable. Katie's first revision is fairly innocuous. But as she becomes accustomed to abusing her power, she gradually loses sight of other people's humanity, even as she gains the boyfriend and restaurant of her dreams. O'Malley and Fairbairn are able to modulate the book's signature visuals as Katie's poorly thought out revisions allow unwanted supernatural forces to invade her reality. The world becomes more twisted and abstract, populated by strange creatures that trouble no one but her.
Seconds' principal shortcoming is the protagonist herself. While other characters populate the book, they never achieve any significant impact beyond being objects who Katie treats with varying degrees of importance. So the reader is largely stuck in her head. Katie's personal failings are the stereotypical flaws of a person her age, socio-economic standing, and first-world country status mentioned at the top of this review. O'Malley is able to make Katie more engaging through the disembodied voice of a sympathetic third person narrator (whom she argues with from time to time), but otherwise she's not very likeable. The problem is that O'Malley seems hesitant to make her truly suffer. There's a sense of increasing unease as her revisions produce unintended results, and her actions do come back to bite her in the ass. But nothing ever seems to pierce that impenetrable armour of innocence. Without the plot structure enabling the magically-driven conflict, she actually seems to regress as a person. Katie never quite makes it past the stage of amusing cartoon character to actual human being. She starts out cute, and she finishes up just as cute. So there's little sense of growth or maturity from the experience.
"There are things we can't change, and we just have to accept that." Katie states authoritatively towards the very end. Sounds pretty grown-up. But the comic's concluding pages strongly imply that Katie's triumph is complete: she gains everything, loses nothing, and still can't see past her own nose. On the contrary, the world still revolves around her. Maybe she'll evolve in the next ten years.
Written and Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
My initial reaction to first hearing about the premise for Pixar Studio's latest animated feature Inside Out was one of disappointment. Anthropomorphising the different facets of the human psyche is a hoary trope, one of the oldest cliches found in fantasy and myth. Shouldn't advances in modern psychology have gotten us past the form of lazy essentialism which inspired ideas as stupid as the "emotional color spectrum" from Green Lantern? Pixar is the master of anthropomorphising just about any object, of course. But even they've produced something as banal as Cars. The studio’s last few efforts were pretty underwhelming, which had me concerned about how they would go about tackling something as abstract as the mindscape? So my expectations were set relatively low. But the first teaser trailer got me intrigued about the film. I loved the voice talent involved. 2 months after its woldwide release, the film finally came out in local theaters this week, and I quite enjoyed it.
Inside Out is a quintessential Pixar fairy tale. While all of the studio's feature films are ostensibly aimed at kids, their themes are calculated to appeal to adults, or more specifically the adults who've felt the pain of loss. Kids experience those emotions too, obviously, but there's a peculiar sense of thwarted ambition that cuts deeply with adults. Think of Woody's sudden drop in social status in Toy Story, Bob Parr being shackled to a desk when he just wants to be a superhero in The Incredibles, or Carl and Ellie's inability to take that trip of a lifetime in Up. Inside Out focuses on the most devastating loss of all, at least from the POV of a young adult - the end of childhood. The child in question is an 11 year old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose idyllic existence in nowhere Minnesota is brought to a close when her family uproots and moves to the big city of San Francisco.
The Toy Story series dealt with the topic of growth, sort of. The films mostly kept their distance from the kids and concentrated on the inner lives of their toys, whose very subsistence was dependent on a child's playful imagination. Their owner's inevitable aging was a force of nature they had to weather, as best as they could. Inside Out marks a milestone for Pixar by putting a child front and center, and a female one to boot. But it plays a trick by actually focusing on the anthropomorphised emotions within the child, all voiced by adults. The ringleader of the 5 emotions, Joy, is perfectly cast as Amy Poehler. She channels the same manic personality that made plucky Midwesterner Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation infamous. Phyllis Smith informs her counterpart Sadness with the same low key presence she used with her character Phyllis Lapin in The Office. Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), and Mindy Kaling (Disgust) riff off their already established comic personas. This sleight of hand imbues Riley with an acerbic quality that wouldn't be possible had the emotions been voiced by kids or adult actors pretending to be kids. When she throws a tantrum at her parents, there's Black righteously fuming inside her head to lend those frustrations extra force.
So much time is spent with Riley's emotions that little attention is given to external events. Had this been a more conventional coming of age tale, the plot would have followed her struggle to fit into her new school, experiencing persecution at the hands of the popular kids, finding lasting friendships among the freaks and geeks, discover an activity she can excel at, then finally triumphing at some big school event. If any of that happens to Riley in the film, it's only faintly implied. There are no mean girls to confront. The story's primary conflict is between Joy, the dominant emotion, and Sadness. Their struggle for control of Riley's fragile psyche has them both literally ejected from consciousness and into the vast labyrinth of her long term memories. Without these two emotions driving her actions, Riley gradually loses the ability to feel anything.This twist might be the most brilliant illustration of childhood depression ever found in an animated feature to come out of Disney.
But it's Pixar's blend of sleek design, wry humor, and beautifully rendered animation that sells this fantastic world. The studio's retro-futuristic aesthetic portrays Riley's mind as an endless wonderland that looks like a cross between a Star Trek utopia, a major film studio lot, and a Disney theme park, with some of Apple's chic interface thrown in. Steve Jobs fanboys will get a chuckle out of the "reality distortion field" being an important mental process. It's a place where old structures are torn down in response to Riley's changing emotional state, unused memories fade and are ultimately discarded, and forgotten imaginary friends wander about without purpose. And yet, memories of commercial jingles have an annoying habit of unwantedly popping up for no reason. Daily memories are the building blocks used to create dreams - massive productions filmed on Hollywood-style sound stages, while experiences deemed too traumatic are banished to the cave of the subconscious. This complex setting makes Joy and Sadness' quest to return to "headquarters" suitably epic and even fraught with danger.
The emotions themselves are visualized as simple candy-colored caricatures streamlined to represent their respective psychological state. But they all have this granular surface quality to them that gives the appearance of restless clumps of vibrating particles rather than solid physical entities. What's most fascinating about them however is what's left unsaid. The audience gets a glimpse of the minds of Riley's mom and dad, and the contrast is enlightening. While they're also compromised of the same 5 basic emotions, they've evolved very differently. The adult emotions are more disciplined and in-synch. But they're also more regimented. Unlike Riley's emotions, they're uniformly gendered, and it's apparent that their equivalent of Joy isn't the dominant character. The film spends little time with the parents, but what's seen reveals that the move to the West Coast has put the two under considerable financial strain, a fact they try to shield from Riley. It slowly dawns on them that their need to project onto their own daughter a happy can-do attitude might not be the best thing for her.
This ability to channel adult anxieties into the bodies of preteen children vaguely reminds me of the precocious youngsters of the classic comic strip Peanuts. At its most poignant, Charles Shulz's creation could be brooding and angry, assisted by a rich helping of guilt and shame. Inside Out falls short of the strip's emotional intensity. It doesn't explore the cruelty children often inflict on one another. But its melancholic resolution will reassure kids that it's okay to be occasionally unhappy, and remind the adults in the audience of the naive pleasures they’ve lost and may never experience again, except through the eyes of their kids.
Design: Philippe Ravon
Translated by Joe Johnson.
As with many establishment figures, Christian Dior has become such an institution today that it's often very difficult to relive the freshness of his initial impact on the wider world. Paris during 1947 was still reeling from the climate of wartime austerity when the soon to be notorious designer held his first fashion show. The assembled crowd of media, wealthy socialites, and celebrity guests were so taken with Dior's daring use of fabric that he was quickly hailed as a significant new creative voice, even as the proletariat were less than impressed by what looked to them as nothing more than wasteful opulence. The event would anticipate the pageantry of modern fashion shows, not to mention the high-low divide in people's reaction to haute couture. But the avant garde nature of Dior's show and his decade-long body of work is what veteran French cartoonist Annie Goetzinger impresses on the reader. It's a world she so meticulously illustrates that her graphic novel Girl in Dior could just as well be characterized as a beautiful art book about women's clothes.
The designer himself remains inscrutable, though he cuts a dashing figure as portrayed by Goetzinger. His refined aquiline profile and serene manner forms the nexus point of a highly-involved process which begins with the sketches he creates at his country house just outside the city, translated into a series of linen prototypes until the designs are finalized, and the models are bought in to become accustomed to wearing them for the eventual fashion show. For Goetzinger, the creative process of making a dress involving the efforts of many passionate individuals, is just as fascinating as the dress itself. More importantly, they work happily under Dior's steadfast leadership. No one feels they're being exploited.
The POV character that allows the reader to peer into the House of Dior is the fictional Clara Nohant, who starts out as a cub reporter hired to write about the 1947 show. She quickly becomes an enthusiastic Dior proponent and organizes a photo op. But after it's ruined by an impromptu protest, Clara is fired from her job. Fortunately, this misadventure gains the attention of Dior, who meets with her, then hires her. The dowdy Clara is transformed into a glamorous Audrey Hepburn lookalike, becomes one of Dior's top models and also a close confidant.
On paper the plot reads as a most generic kind of wish fulfillment. Clara herself remains fairly two dimensional throughout. But the hero of the story isn't really her or the great man himself. Visually, the stars of the show are Dior's magnificent dresses. Goetzinger's figures have a sensual Art Nouveau quality to them, which is perfect for capturing the ambiance of high fashion. Her models all assume that expression of studied insouciance in order to not distract from the clothes. They take the stage in a series of lushly painted page spreads. Goetzinger's delicate linework and brush strokes absolutely shines in capturing the flow, weight, texture and form of every item of clothing. Whatever one thinks of the fashion industry as a whole, these painstakingly designed, crafted, and beautifully worn dresses are the embodiment of Dior's sentiment "dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable."
Well, that was godawful. The reviews have been uniformly negative, and director Josh Trank has gone on Twitter to wash his hands of the final product. I'm not privy to any of the behind the scenes shenanigans, obviously. But it did feel as if the film was fighting the source material the whole time - struggling mightily to be anything but a superhero movie, only to fall flat on its face. With superhero origin tales, even the angst-ridden ones, there comes a point when the protagonists realize that it's actually kinda cool to use their superpowers to kick some ass. That moment never arrives here. The titular characters spend the first half of the film exhibiting varying degrees of misery or barely repressed rage, and that's before they acquire their abilities. When they do finally get their powers, there's more moping to be had about being horribly disfigured by science gone wrong before they finally team up to fight the film's big bad Doctor Doom within the last ten minutes. And even there the cast looks more embarrassed than thrilled to be cutting loose.
So yeah, it's got an excruciatingly slow buildup without a satisfying payoff. Without any cool set pieces to break up the monotony before the final throwdown takes place (They're found in the trailer, oddly enough). And some rather murky special effects used during said throwdown. I have no idea how the battle ended at all. Most of the film's dreary visual aesthetic looks like it was shot on a dimly lit soundstage. And the otherwise talented young cast is no more convincing. The teenage drama is passable when viewed on its own. It's just unsuccessfully grafted into the wider story. There's a lot of deep-seated interpersonal conflict dredged up in the first half which is simply tossed aside during the film's rushed finale. But there's no sense of the four coming together to fight under a common cause. Miles Teller is perfectly fine when he's playing Reed Richards as the self-doubting prodigy, but he's lost at sea as the brave leader trying to rally his troops to take down Doom. The team has no chemistry at all, which makes watching them interact as one a chore rather than a thrill.
Doom is emblematic of the film's dissonant quality. Toby Kebbell plays him as a maladjusted introvert who may or may not have a legitimate grievance against the film's various authority figures when he's just plain Victor von Doom. The topic is never explored in depth. Then he's granted ultimate power and goes completely psycho. Doom's appetite for universal destruction is no more complicated than that of Malekith from Thor: The Dark World or Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Most of the Marvel movie villains have had poorly defined personalities and motivations. But the lack of any kind of machiavellian scheming from Doom further detracts from the character's sinister appeal. And when the villain is opposed by an even less colorful group of heroes who are going through the motions because that's what heroes are supposed to do, there's really no one for the audience to latch onto or to root for.
Fantastic Four isn't just a clunky film on its own merits, it's the most downbeat adaptation of a Marvel superhero comic book. Or at least since The Amazing Spider-Man from 2012. It arrived soon after the comically inspired Ant-Man (which also experienced its own public fallout between the studio and director), making its dour tone only more tedious in comparison. When Ben Grimm's (Jamie Bell) famous battle cry "It's Clobbering Time!" is a reference to an older brother beating him up when he was a kid, it's hard for any fan to feel fondness for this film. The wayward Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) seems mainly interested in pissing-off his saintly dad, and sister Sue Storm (Kate Mara) isn't given much to do outside of voicing disapproval towards the ill-considered actions of the boys. To add further insult, the almost incidental way she receives her powers is going to annoy a lot of the fanbase. And yes, this is the type of superhero movie that's too embarrassed to employ superhero code names in-story.
In Trank's directorial debut Chronicle, the film's dark tone is offset by an actual sense of wonder arising from its teenage protagonists exploring their superhuman abilities which were mysteriously conferred on them by an alien object. But in Fantastic Four, there's no effective counter argument to the film's encroaching nihilism. Ultimately, the alienation manages to overpower the weird science adventure. The Fantastic Four comic book of the sixties may have been responsible for showcasing some of the most bizarre and enduring ideas found in the Marvel Universe, but the lackluster results of all of Fox's film adaptations do not bode well for future efforts to translate them to the screen.