12/04/2016

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
By Jill Thompson
Letters: Jason Arthur

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

Wonder Woman’s origin story went through considerable modifications with the New 52 era. Changes that were so controversial among her fans that the story has again been altered to coincide with this year’s Rebirth event. To make things even more complicated, DC has released a few comics that don’t operate within the publisher’s main continuity. There’s the ongoing Wonder Woman ‘77, an adaptation that continues the campy 70s television series. Digital first comic The Legend of Wonder Woman. And the version found in DC Comics Bombshells. There’s also a pair of standalone graphic novels retelling her origin: Wonder Woman: Earth One by Grant Morrison. And most recently, Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, by Jill Thompson. If someone had to choose, Thompson’s comic might be the most accessible to newer and younger readers.

While technically still a comic, The True Amazon feels like it could have been easily converted into an illustrated children’s book. Thompson brings to the table her signature watercolors, which makes The True Amazon visually unlike any of DC’s other current offerings. It looks and feels more like traditional fare. Thompson’s narrative panels are plentiful and rather text-heavy for a modern comic. The third person narration contained within tells the story often in parallel with the art, a rather old-fashioned comics device by today’s standard. Thompson even uses the occasional thought balloon to capture the young Princess Diana’s inner monologue. What emerges is a vividly colorful portrayal of Amazon society. One that feels ancient and rustic, but still lively.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

That classical aesthetic is central to Thompson’s peculiar interpretation. She’s chosen not to retell WW’s origin as a superhero story, but as a tragic fairy tale. The comic begins traditionally enough with the Amazon nation of the Bronze Age coming into conflict with the rest of ancient Greece. The King of Mycenae entreets Herakles to steal the Golden Girdle of the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. But the Amazons escape with the help of Hera, Queen of the gods, and god of the sea Poseidon. They settle on the magical island of Themyscira, where Hippolyta fashions a statue of a baby girl. The statue is brought to life by the gods and grows into Princess Diana. So far, so mostly in keeping with the narrative promoted by creator William Moulton Marston.

Thompson however chooses to dispense with all the fantasy elements that would contradict with the Bronze Age milieu. There are no giant kangas, no Purple Ray, Invisible Jet, or the Bullets and Bracelets test. In short, none of the cool ideas concocted by Marston and company. Actually, once the Amazons settle on Themyscira, the march of history simply doesn’t affect them. There’s no World War II, Nazi’s, or even a Steve Trevor in sight. There’s one throwaway line which admits that the Amazons can still observe the outside world through a magic scrying pool. But no one actually talks about it. As a result, the Amazons live inside a proverbial time warp. An eternal, unchanging present. The story may as well still be taking place in the Bronze Age.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

The one disruptive force in this idyllic arrangement is Diana. Blessed by the gods with abilities that surpass her fellow Amazons and the only daughter to the Queen, Diana is doted upon by almost everyone. Both Thompson and Morrison both portray her as growing up spoiled by her sheltered existence. But whereas Morrison’s Diana retains an incipient curiosity of the outside world which is suddenly jumpstarted by her unexpected encounter with Steve, Thompson’s Diana remains perfectly happy to continue living within her bubble. She develops into the very image of the selfish, vain, entitled, princess. And in place of her love for Steve, Diana develops a grudging friendship with the one Amazon on the island who isn’t impressed at all with her. But apropos of the comic’s fairy tale approach, the relationship is doomed from the start to end in a most unhappy manner.

This bratty version of Diana is bound to be someone that many younger readers will likely be able to find very relatable. She’s confident, tough, brave, loyal, not to mention an extremely powerful kid who gets her way, most of the time. And the built-in morale that growing up involves learning to be more considerate to the needs of others is a message most parents can approve. Thompson’s gorgeous watercolors are an obvious draw. Those seeking a more typical superhero story should look at the other comics mentioned at the top of this post. And the lack of Marton’s more eccentric elements will mean that The True Amazon won’t quite satisfy all WW fans, as his proto-feminist agenda gets lost by the end of the book.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

11/30/2016

More NonSense: The Best Of 2016

Andrew Aydin, John Lewis and Nate Powell
Andrew Aydin, John Lewis and Nate Powell (via National Book Foundation)
March Book 3 is the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award.

Amazon lists the top 20 graphic novels for 2016.

Michael Cavna lists the best graphic novels of 2016.

Charlotte McDuffie on her late husband Dwayne McDuffie and the awards established in his memory.

Sacha Mardou on the female characters created by Dan Clowes.

 Zulkiflee Anwar Unlhaque aka Zunar arrested again, this time for sedition against Malaysian Prime Minister.

Alanna Bennett on the growing divide between Harry Potter fans and their beloved franchise. Perhaps the most infamous recent example was the charge of cultural appropriation over J.K. Rowling's History of Magic in North America.

But not everyone is agitating for greater inclusiveness. Angelica Jade Bastién covers the growing racist backlash from some parts of superhero fandom. Both trends could probably be connected to a larger national conversation. But I wonder what this says about how franchises are created at different points in time and how different kinds of individuals end up gravitating towards them?

Alex Vadukul on Hong Kong's first female kung fu star, Angela Mao. Most people will recognize her as Su Lin in Enter the Dragon.

Erin Gloria Ryan on the surging demand for self-defence classes since Nov 8. These types of articles are usually written when people worry about a perceived increase in violent crime or terrorism while focusing on male students and instructors. But marginalized individuals such as women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community have always had their own specific self defence needs.

Sean Kleefeld, Tyler Amato, John Seavey, myself are ready to say goodbye to 2016.

11/27/2016

50th Trek: Redshirts

In honour of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I'll be writing a series of posts discussing a favorite example of Star Trek related media.

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas By John Scalzi.
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas
By John Scalzi

One inescapable part of being a 21st century consumer of popular genre entertainment is the impossibility of ignoring any discussion about the multitude of tropes it generates. Televised science fiction is no exception in this regard. And Star Trek is often credited with inventing, or at the very least popularizing, many sci-fi tropes. As I pointed out in my look at The Physics of Star Trek, the venerable franchise has already generated a considerable amount of discussion from fans possessing differing academic credentials. But the most accessible way to examine the unreality of fiction is through the use of metafictional devices. Irony and self-reflection are the order of the day, especially when dealing with works that are already decades old. What’s the point anymore in denying that one isn’t watching or reading a work of fiction? Named after one of Trek’s most well known conventions, Redshirts begins very much the way most fans would probably expect. But in order to fill over 300 pages, author John Scalzi pushes the conceit to its logical extreme.

That conceit was already touched on in the 1999 comedy Galaxy Quest. In the film, the cast of an old sci-fi show are made to reprise their roles for the benefit of a group of naive aliens who've confused the show for footage of real events. As a result actor Guy Fleegman (played by Sam Rockwell) is filled with fear that he will die at any moment because his role on the show was a redshirt - a random crewmember who looses his life in one episode. Guy’s terror mounts with every dangerous situation they face until he’s eventually convinced by one of the cast regulars that he could be instead playing the plucky comic relief. He undergoes a quick personal transformation, especially after someone else dies dramatically in his place.

In the novel, a group of ensigns working for the intergalactic organization named the Universal Union (affectionately called the Dub U) have just been assigned to the starship Intrepid. The ensigns treat this like any other assignment until they all realize they’re replacing dead crewmembers. In fact, the Intrepid has a notoriously high turnover rate because crewmembers keep getting killed on every away mission. Even odder, every mission is composed of at least one bridge officer. While they might occasionally endure bodily injury, they’re apparently immune to death. The bridge officers are entirely oblivious to this oddity even when it's pointed out to them. But the rest of the crew lives in a state of constant terror, just like Guy. They make themselves scarce whenever one of the officers are nearby. And they’ve developed a bizarre set of superstitious behaviors designed to minimize the body count, based on which officer they’re accompanying on a mission.

If this was the full extent of the novel, it would be nothing more than a clever parody of a famous television show. But these redshirts refuse to be just glorified extras, they want to be the heroes of their own story. So they make a point of getting to the root cause of this enigma. And without giving away too much, they’re eventually confronted with the absurdly fictional nature of their own existence. Scalzi's redshirts are actually competent scientists, which makes their observations about the universe they live in all the more painfully ironic.

This draws attention to the paradox of Star Trek's appeal. Like many science fiction authors, Scalzi is pretty critical about how science is often portrayed on televised sci-fi. It’s rules are often inconsistent and continuosly altered to serve the narrative. The redshirts often give voice this analysis. A bridge officer who’s an obvious analog for Pavel Chekov is exposed to a life threatening disease, but is saved at the last moment by a literal magic box. He’s horribly mangled by killer robots, only to fully recover a few days later. When the redshirts debate about a possible method for time travel, they note that the only reason it could possibly work is if the procedure included one of the bridge officers. And they’re completely mystified by the sheer number of nonsensical deaths suffered by the Intrepid’s crewmembers: Longranian ice sharks, Borgovian land worms, Pornathic crabs. Weirdness piled upon weirdness.

Star Trek’s fanciful vision of space exploration looks more anachronistic today than it would have back in the 1960s. And yet the franchise is often cited as an inspiration that made actual space exploration a reality. The science might be iffy, but its optimistic view of the future proved to be enduring. Even Scalzi’s critique is made from a position of affection for the television show. His protagonists have an unfortunate tendency towards quippishness, but they’re an intelligent and mostly sympathetic bunch who work together just as well as any Starfleet crew. Enough so that when one of them dies, the demise comes across as wasteful.

Redshirts runs out of plot before the book ends. The last third of the book is a lengthy meditation on the nature of fiction and its connection to reality, written as 3 lengthy codas. Scalzi explores the intimate relationship between writers and their creations. The fear writers have that the characters they hurt and kill on the page are truly suffering somewhere out there is thematically similar to the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction. The codas are tonally dissonant and focus on a completely different set of characters, so that it’s best to think of them not as the conclusion to the main story, but as a separate, if related, body of work. Unnecessary perhaps, but one that rounds out Scalzi’s own metafictional examination. Overall, he took kind of an awfully crazy journey to get there.

11/20/2016

Ether #1

Ether #1. Story: Matt Kindt Art: David Rubin Variant Cover: Jeff Lemire.
Story: Matt Kindt
Art: David Rubin
Variant Cover: Jeff Lemire

Coming on the heels of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange movie, the completely unrelated Ether promises the reader yet another magical romp through a multiverse populated by odd beings and even odder technologies. This is exactly the kind of comic book series one would expect from author Matt Kindt, known for being the creator of the hyper intricate ur-conspiracy Mind MGMT and the ongoing undersea murder mystery Dept H. But the comic displays a lighthearted approach not usually found in his past works. This owes a lot to Kindt’s artistic collaborator David Rubin. It’s only during the last few pages that the comic transitions into something more recognizably like Kindt when the atmosphere becomes more oppressive and terrifying.

Rubin’s art resembles that of Rafael Grampá, and that quality of cartoonish exaggeration is essential to the comic’s world-building. The first alien encountered is a gruff, giant purple ape-like creature called Glum, the self-described gatekeeper to the alternate worlds of the multiverse. Other weird denizens include the Bloody Screecher, a bird resembling a canary that wears an unsettling, toothy grin. Or the Magic Bullet, a projectile that resembles an unborn fetus. While Rubin doesn’t spend nearly enough time exploring the streets of Agartha, the capital city of the magical world known as Ether, his bathing the setting in an otherworldly combination of vibrant ruby, emerald and cerulean hues is charming enough.

But the true oddball in this place is Earthling and main protagonist Boone Dias, who dresses like a more dashing Ghostbuster and whose personality could be described as a mix of Egon Spengler, Sherlock Holmes, and Indiana Jones. Boone discovered the Ether years ago and has since refashioned himself as the mighty explorer of an exotic new world. He’s apt to use adjectives like “beautiful” and “fascinating” when describing the wonders of the Ether. And like so many white males before him, he’s more than a little condescending towards the natives and what are to him their backward superstitions. Nonetheless, the rulers of Agartha admire his rigorous scientific mind, and he’s been often called upon by them to solve various crimes. Boone has even cultivated a rivalry with a would-be Moriarity figure whom he grandiosely describes as his most dangerous adversary.

And the Ether isn’t half as interesting as the opulent detail found in the comic’s twist ending. Rubin’s illustration of present-day Earth makes it into a dystopian nightmare. And even Boone himself reacts by seeming to shrink in stature. But the reader has only seen the world through his eyes. How much of his experience is real or imagined? Or the product of evil machinations of yet-unseen parties? Kindt has set up another twisted puzzle for us to untangle.

11/14/2016

The Gods Lie

The Gods Lie (Kamisama ga Uso wo Tsuku), By Kaori Ozaki. Translation: Melissa Tanaka
Kamisama ga Uso wo Tsuku
By Kaori Ozaki
Translation: Melissa Tanaka

A complicated truth that every child eventually has to figure out is that all the adults they look up to are flawed individuals who will even betray their trust from time to time. It’s a painful lesson to learn, even within the most stable and supportive family environment. But the main protagonists of The Gods Lie are brought together by similar personal loss, which renders the lesson all the more heartwrenching during the latter half of the book. It’s a heady mix of budding romance, death, and abandonment, compressed into an intimate domestic drama that takes place over the course of one summer. But Kaori Ozaki uses a delicate touch that preserves the essential sweetness of her characters.

The two youngsters at the center of the story start out as typical manga archetypes. 6th grader Natsuru Nanao loves soccer. But he hasn’t yet learned to comport himself around girls, and they’ve in turn mostly snubbed him. But he takes notice of reserved tall girl Rio Suzumura. The two strike up a friendship when Natsuru asks her to adopt an abandoned kitten he found under a bridge, since he's unable to keep it. Rio and her younger brother Yuuta live alone and unsupervised in a rickety old house because their father apparently spends long stretches in the Pacific Northwest as a commercial fisherman. This strikes a chord with Natsuru, since he’s being currently raised as an only child by an overworked single mother.

Matters come to a head when Natsuru’s beloved coach is hospitalized and he finds himself clashing with the new coach’s diametrically different teaching style. When summer break arrives, he lies to his mom and ditches soccer camp. With nowhere else to go, he ends up moving into Rio and Yuuta's house. Now, manga readers will recognize some of the tropes of this living arrangement. There are the awkwardly intimate sleeping situations, Japanese bathing humor, learning how to socialize at the dining table. There’s even scenes involving the requisite summer festival and visit to the beach. On the surface, Ozaki’s own controlled linework doesn't vary much from the conventional seinen style.

However, these elements aren’t exploited to generate the usual silly misunderstandings found in much commercial manga. Both Rio and Natsuru approach playing house with the quiet earnestness of children struggling to find their place in the world. Both are able to find a sense of purpose in their lives by substituting for teach others absent parental figures. As they settle into their respective roles, a tranquility they’ve been desperately craving descends on the household. It isn’t long before both feel something approaching love.

Summer has to end eventually, and a series of unexpected revelations throws the makeshift family into turmoil. Rio and Natsuru’s house playing serves as a temporary respite from the actual complications adults face in daily life. Coming to terms with this messiness is an inevitable part of growing up. But as Rio and Natsuru also learn, so is keeping as much of the messiness at bay for the sake of protecting the happiness of the people under their care.

11/12/2016

More NonSense: The Trump Effect

10 Cartoonists React to Trump Winning the Election: Kendra Wells
10 Cartoonists React to Trump Winning the Election: Kendra Wells
The 2016 U.S. Election was an unmitigated disaster. That nation's two major political parties fielded two deeply unpopular candidates, and ironically the less popular of the two still won due to a longstanding institution called the Electoral College. It's the 2000 Election revisited, so signs don't point to the system being rigged against his party. Donald Trump's ascension is concerning for people around the world who still believe in democratic values, as it only cements an ongoing global trend of nominal democracies now controlled by intolerant authoritarian figures like the one I have to live with. So while the outcome was shocking for half the electorate, his rise was a very foreseeable event. But for the planet's sake, America's hallowed democratic institutions had better be more robust than they've so far proven to be this year.

On a note more pertinent to this blog, Trump's presidency will most probably have a chilling effect on intellectual enquiry and creative expression, especially in the already fragile comics industry. Here's more commentary from Sean Kleefeld, Tom Spurgeon, Heidi MacDonald, Tim Holder, Humberto Ramos, ComicsAlliance,

Did you know that Peter Kuper drew a comic predicting the Donald Trump Wall for Heavy Metal Magazine in the July 1990 issue?

Seth T. Hahne lists the 75 Best Comics by Women.

J. Scott Campbell redraws Riri Williams, after dismissing the negative reactions towards his original cover illustration for Invincible Iron Man.

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016).

11/02/2016

More Nonsense: Ms. Marvel Will Save You Now

Three Marvel interpretations of Kamala Khan surround fan Meevers Desu as Ms. Marvel at the Denver Comic Con. By Sean McCabe.
Three Marvel interpretations of Kamala Khan surround fan Meevers Desu as Ms. Marvel at the Denver Comic Con.
Mallika Rao on why Ms. Marvel Will Save You Now.

Barbara Calderón interviews Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.

Sean T. Collins lists the greatest graphic novels of all time.

Heidi MacDonald on the contradiction that is Wonder Woman as a U.N. Honorary Ambassador.

R.I.P. Jack Chick (April 13, 1924-October 23, 2016). Tributes by Benito CerenoSean Kleefeld, Heidi MacDonald, Joe McCulloch,

Just a reminder: Scott Adams is nuts.

Charles Russo deciphers Bruce Lee vs. Wong Jack Man.

Lucasfilm sues New York Jedi over trademark infringement. I've been wandering when Lucas/Disney would go after any of the numerous lightsaber academies.

10/30/2016

50th Trek: Star Trek: Boldly Go #1 & Star Trek: Waypoint #1

In honour of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I'll be writing a series of posts discussing a favorite example of Star Trek related media.

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.

It occurred to me that I haven’t discussed any of the comic books being published to honor the occasion of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. So here are two titles from IDW. I’ve found the marketing surrounding this milestone to be strangely anemic, and I wasn’t aware of these comics until the last few days. How pitiful is that?

Star Trek: Boldly Go #1  Story: Mike Johnson  Art: Tony Shasteen  Colors: Davide Mastrolonardo Letters: AndWorld Designs. Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
Star Trek: Boldly Go #1

Story: Mike Johnson
Art: Tony Shasteen
Colors: Davide Mastrolonardo
Letters: AndWorld Designs


[Spoiler Alert for Star Trek Beyond]

An oft-repeated truism among fans is that Star Trek is better suited for television than cinema. The reason usually given by them is that Trek’s brand of introspective storytelling isn’t perfectly compatible with the spectacle often associated with the silver screen. But a simpler reason is that Trek was originally designed to be an episodic TV show. Over the course of its initial run, the show acquired a rather complicated history. This history would become a rich backstory referenced by future films, for all intents turning them into longer, more expensive television episodes possessing much better production values.

This close connection between the two parts of the franchise was somewhat ruptured with the Kelvin timeline. The venerable Leonard Nimoy was on hand for the 2009 cinematic reboot to inform the new cast (and remind the audience) about a continuity that had now become a sign for what could have been. Now unable to directly use the original timeline, the two sequels would sometimes refer to new, never before filmed events. In lieu of a TV show, IDW would launch a new comic book series to helpfully fill-in the events that took place between the films. Unfortunately, this is the best that fans can expect of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew of the Kelvin timeline. It’s highly unlikely that this particular cast would agree to meet the additional demands of shooting a television series. And even the film sequels still leaned heavily on Nimoy and nostalgia for the original timeline to lend emotional heft to their proceedings. The comic books still felt relatively incidental to the films.

But while the relationship between print and screen may be one-sided, IDW is committed for now to keeping the Kelvin timeline alive between film launches. Star Trek: Boldly Go is a continuation of the comic book series, only now under a new title. The comic picks up where Star Trek Beyond left off. The film notoriously destroyed the Enterprise yet again, only to promise that everyone would soon reunite with a brand new starship. This series gets to tell what happened to them in the meantime.

All in all, this is an entertaining, if conventional, reintroduction to the main characters. Just like the cast of the Original Series from the early films, James Kirk and company have been scattered to different Starfleet commissions throughout Federation space. Unlike TOS Kirk, the new Kirk has decided not to pursue the promotion to the post of admiral. That’s a shame, since I found that one of the more visually cooler settings of STB was the space station Yorktown. Kirk has decided instead to accept the assignment of “interim captain” of another starship, and he’s accompanied by the good doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy and the always eager ensign Pavel Chekov. I'll admit, his presence on the ship is particularly bittersweet for reasons that have nothing to do with the comic.

Mike Johnson and Tony Shasteen capture the tone and look of the films’ cast while integrating a few elements from the original timeline. The infamous Delta Quadrant plays an important role. The ill-fated captain Clark Terrell from The Wrath of Khan makes his first appearance. But the most fascinating thing about Kirk being assigned to a new ship are the new crewmembers, particularly a Romulan first mate and a Tellarite doctor. This keeps the story from being another familiar retread.

By the end of this issue, all the members of the band, minus a Montgomery Scott still schooling wet-nosed cadets at Starfleet Academy, have been more or less reunited by an obligatory new threat to the Federation. “New” here being a relative term, because it’s actually an all-too familiar enemy in the original timeline. In fact, I’m surprised that such a significant adversary was introduced so early in the series and in a comic book instead of being reserved for a future film.

Star Trek: Waypoint #1  Story: Donny Cates, Sandra Lanz Art: Mack Chater, Sandra Lanz Colors: Jason Lewis, Dee Cunniffe Letters: AndWorld Designs. Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.
Star Trek: Waypoint #1

Story: Donny Cates, Sandra Lanz
Art: Mack Chater, Sandra Lanz
Colors: Jason Lewis, Dee Cunniffe
Letters: AndWorld Designs


If the Kelvin timeline isn’t making the jump to the small screen anytime soon, the original timeline is still being treated as fertile ground for now. A new television series is currently in the late stages of development and will be released next year. In the meantime, IDW’s new anthology series Star Trek: Waypoint is the venue for creators to tell stories in the vein of classic Star Trek. Using well-trod characters who already embody the humanitarian spirit approved by the late Gene Roddenberry. These are stories that would fit into the episodic structure of a typical Trek series. They’re light on extravagant action set-pieces, but composed largely of intimate conversations characteristic of the franchise. Waypoint offers a taste for what Trek was to many fans.

Occupying the bulk of the issue, “Puzzles” features an out of continuity tale about an Enterprise run by two people: Geordi La Forge and Data. Geordi has been promoted to ship’s captain while Data’s mind has been uploaded into the Enterprise mainframe. Data now projects holograms of himself while working on every task on the bridge, and even in other parts of the ship. Needless to say, it’s an eerie sight to see Geordi surrounded by only one other ghostlike presence.

When the Enterprise encounters an immense glowing cube floating in deep space, their attempts to make contact are rebuffed. But they soon figure out that the cube is a time-displaced vessel that is critically damaged, putting its own crew in mortal danger. However, Geordi and Data soon discover that rescuing the crew might possibly be breaking the Prime Directive.

This type of moral quandary is par for the course for The Next Generation, and so is the eventual solution which favors compassion over a strictly legalistic interpretation of the law. Geordi and Data, who usually operate as the braintrust for captain Jean-Luc Picard, now behave more like a Kirk and Spock when pondering their actions. Data even paraphrases Spock’s famous dictum “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Artist Mack Chater isn’t the most evocative when trying to portray Trek’s futuristic setting, but he gets to draw these two as older, more world-weary individuals making difficult choices.

The second and much shorter “Daylily” tells the story of lieutenant Nyota Uhura stranded on an alien planet when a transporter mishap separates her from the rest of the away team. She encounters and befriends one of the native life-forms, who makes a point of keeping her company until the Enterprise can resolve the problem.

It’s an uncomplicated anecdote that nonetheless underscores the open-minded attitude towards discovering new life that every Starfleet officer is supposed to exhibit when on a mission. But Sandra Lanz is the comic’s most expressive artist, and she uses her talents to draw attention to a character who never really had the spotlight shine on her during the TOS era. Her Uhura is remarkable in its likeness to actress Nichelle Nichols, and the warm palette she employs reinforces the story’s optimistic message.

10/22/2016

Comic-Con Album Pt 42

Mark Hamill, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Nikon n90s 35mm SLR camera, Fujifilm NPZ800 color negative 35mm film.
Mark Hamill, Comic-Con exhibit hall

I believe he was shooting Comic Book: The Movie at the time. Never watched it. I hear it's a weird little commentary on the state of superhero movies at the time.

This marks the end point for this particular segment of the series. The output for this Comic-Con album was not as prolific as last year's event. It would be several years before I would get comfortable with color, and only after I had transitioned to digital photography. The analog equivalent is a tough medium to master.

Pt  29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41,

10/15/2016

Ultraman Vol. 4

Ultraman Vol. 4, Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.
Story: Eiichi Shimizu
Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi


Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.

The bold tagline for the Ultraman manga might be “This is the beginning of a new age”, but the series has so far been looking back to the previous era. Ever since Shinjiro Hayata inherited the superhero mantle from his father Shin Hayata, he’s been required by Edo, Mitsuhiro Ide, Dan Moroboshi, and the rest of the old men of the Special Science Search Party (SSSP) that he deserves to work with them. Everything they’ve done to him is for the most part a continuing series of trials to prove that the new Ultraman is as capable as the original. Will they finally learn to trust Shinjiro and ease off a bit on their high expectations after four volumes? Not a chance. If anything, they just crank it up a notch. I’m not sure if this is some metaphor for the enormous pressures faced by our current generation of kids? Or is this what happens when nostalgia exerts a disproportionate amount of influence on popular culture?

Unfortunately, Shinjiro is still a bit of a doormat despite being constantly needled by Moroboshi since they met back in volume 2. The SSSP agent doesn’t believe that the teenager has the stones to be the professional killer of extraterrestrial terrorists required by the job. And It doesn’t really help Shinjiro’s confidence when it was revealed in volume 3 that Moroboshi also wears his own Ultraman suit, which Moroboshi describes as the 7.1 version of the series. Fans of the franchise will recognize the reference to Ultraseven, the second Ultra hero of the franchise. Additionally, the supporting character Jack is a thinly veiled reference to Ultraman Jack. With his dad included, Shinjiro is constantly being judged by at least three past Ultras on whether he can live up to their heroic legacy.

The volume’s big set piece isn’t just another fight with a rogue alien, but a battle orchestrated by the SSSP in order for Shinjiro to unlock another hidden ability. The organization sets a new standard of ruthlessness by exhibiting a willingness to endanger not just Shinjiro, but the lives of innocent bystanders. Given such crass behavior, his unquestioning loyalty to the SSSP is surprising and disappointing. He’s simply too absorbed with his new superpower to care. Shinjiro continues to be a very dull main protagonist, and the lack of appreciable character development from him after 4 volumes is starting to grate.

Also frustrating is the slow pacing of the manga. The serial killer/stalker case from volume 1 is only now clawing its way to some kind of belated solution. But this long simmering B-plot has so far been deeply uninteresting. This should have been resolved a lot more quickly. But teen idol Rena Sayama and her father police detective Endo have been used in such a random and disjointed manner, they come across more like filler than people who really matter to the storyline. If the narrative arc is going to be stretched out to this degree, can't there be at least one character who isn't so one-dimensional readers can't nurture some emotional investment?

Ultraman Vol. 4, Story: Eiichi Shimizu  Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi  Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.

10/08/2016

Beautiful Darkness

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.
By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset)
Translated by Helge Dascher.


Beautiful Darkness is sort of a cruel joke played on readers who believe in the power of fairy tales. Or to be more precise the kind of fairy tales parents usually tell their kids when they want to assure them there is a higher power who punishes the wicked and rewards the innocent. In the later graphic novel Beauty (which was also drawn by Kerascoët in a completely different visual style), there are supernatural forces who interfere in the lives of mere mortals. No such beings exists here. Whatever magic is manifested is entirely earthbound and found only within human beings. But what happens when the moral order that guides them is dissolved and humanity’s constituent fragments are left to fend for themselves? BD explores in miniature what happens during the slow decay of civilized order and logic into the uncaring but much grander patterns of the natural world.

If this sounds very grim, the book’s narrative approach is disarmingly seductive. The story begins looking very much like a conventional children’s book illustrated in lush watercolors. A spritely blonde woman with large black eyes named Aurora is living a fantasy life as a princess. She’s having tea with her princely, redheaded beau Hector when their world suddenly begins to liquefy around them. As giant slimy globs fall, the denizens of this kingdom fight their way through the purification until they emerge into the open air. The reader is then made aware of the story’s first major twist: that their grand home is the body of a young girl who has died in the woods under mysterious circumstances.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

The cause for the girl’s sudden death is never fully revealed, through an ominous full-sized adult figure keeps hovering in the background and will come to play an important role later on. Led by the irrepressible Aurora, the sprites attempt to rebuild their world around the girl’s rotting corpse like survivors eking out a living near the ruins of a crumbling city. The entire project starts out in good spirits, and everyone appears to be more-or-less cooperating with each other. But cracks soon appear as each character starts pursuing their own competing agendas.

BD’s narrative possesses a deceptive episodic structure. Everything starts out with an air of naive optimism. The incidents are mostly comical and seemingly inconsequential. But as the mistakes accrue, each mishap and misadventure pulls the sprites inexorably towards some terrible doom. Halfway through, there’s a growing sense that events have reached a point of no return. The sprites increasingly turn on each other and blood is spilled on a more regular basis. What starts out as an impromptu society has broken up into factions.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

What enhances that dread is the cartoonishly cute manner of the sprites. This gives them a sense of vulnerability which stands in stark contrast to the humans and the natural setting, which are drawn with detailed realism. This visual contrast underlies a difference in scale. The magical beings are dwarfed by their surroundings, making them appear to be constantly in danger from attacks from the local fauna and exposure to the elements. But that scale mostly emphasizes the overall indifference that greets the sprites. For the most part, nature simply ignores them. And that kind of cosmic insignificance is so much worse.

The cartoony style is also key to making the sprites into instantly recognizable archetypes. There’s the shy wallflower, the manipulative queen bee, the eager sidekick, the self-sufficient loner, the squabbling triplets, the cutie doll, etc. Hector is a foppish aristocrat with little depth to him. As they all emerged from a dead girl’s corpse, it’s easy enough to suppose that they might embody different facets of her psyche. If this is the case, then Aurora is the heart of the girl. Sweet and trusting, the image of unassuming feminine beauty, she’s the only person who seems emotionally invested in keeping everyone together. And her reaction to her own failures makes for some of the book’s most unsettling passages.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.

Given BD’s premise and increasingly gloomy tone, I’m not entirely surprised that the book has drawn comparisons with Lord of the Flies. Both map out how altruism eventually loses out to the Will to Power. It’s certainly possible to see in BD’s subversion of fantasy imagery a nihilistic critique of the illusory nature of morality and futility of civilized modernity. This could be the most accurate interpretation of the tale, given the creators’ cultural milieu.

But there’s something about the lovely portrayal of verdant nature that reminds me of the Sea of Corruption in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Just as humanity fights a losing battle against the world-spanning toxic forest, the sprites are slowly being consumed by the incomprehensibly vast woods. The story begins in spring and follows the imperceptible rhythm of nature’s seasonal changes. BD ends on a down note, during the depth of winter. But just as Nausicaä saw a vision of a world cleansed of man-made pollution, maybe there’s a new, beautiful spring beyond the last page of this book? Or maybe not.

Beautiful Darkness, By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) Translated by Helge Dascher.