By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Joe Sabino, Frank Martin, Sara Pichelli, Laura Martin, Esad Ribic, Andrew Robinson, Alex Ross, Fiona Staples, Skottie Young.
Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
The new status quo for the latest Thor series relaunch begins with the Asgardians assembled on the surface of the Moon to watch a moping thunder god. Having recently returned from yet another period of self-imposed exile, Odin finds his son hunched over his magic hammer Mjolnir, inexplicably no longer worthy of lifting it. His response to this sight is to blame his wife and interim leader Freyja for letting the emasculation of one of Marvel’s manliest heroes happen on her watch. This bit of dickishness being exhibited by one of the publisher’s more awful father-figures provides a not too subtle setup for the grand entrance of a much publicized, all new, unmistakably female Thor. But she only makes an appearance at the very end of the issue, so the reader’s denied the great pleasure of witnessing Odin’s horrified reaction.
What this issue does offer is a cantankerous Odin and sharp-tongued Freyja trading verbal barbs (in which she usually gets the better of the exchanges), Malekith behaving like a complete sociopath by happily tormenting a couple of mere mortals, and Thor acting depressed until he’s snapped out of his funk by the call to action. Always be the hero, even if only an unworthy one. While previous artist Esad Ribic drew in a more classic fantasy vein, Russell Dauterman finds a balance between the fantasy and superhero approach, which suits the demands of the story. His facility with faces allows him to portray perhaps the most emo version of Thor I’ve encountered in the series. And he seems comfortable recreating a variety of sci-fi and fantasy settings, whether deep space or the bottom of the ocean, immortal gods, frost giants, or killer sharks. He’s capably aided by colorist Matthew Wilson, who keeps everything bright and saturated with judicious use of a limited palette tied together by carefully shaded blues, greens, reds and yellows. Probably my favorite panel is a two-page spread portraying in dramatic panorama an army of giants attacking an undersea base, their skin faintly illuminated by the artificial lights. This is a comic of high stakes realized in the widescreen format.
Discovering someone other than Thor who can lift Mjolnir has become a bit cliched at this point. But if you don’t count alternate continuities, the candidates have all been invariably male. Writer Jason Aaron emphasizes the significance of this point through revealing some of the misogyny found within Asgardian society. Putting gender roles aside, the story does strongly imply that the new Thor is a supporting cast member who’s decided to step up to the big leagues. But unless her identity is quickly revealed next issue, this could be a form of misdirection.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack, Jack Morelli.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch by George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick, Vincent DeCarlo.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s various media adaptations have tended to play to the Disney Channel/Nickelodean/ABC crowd through employing inoffensive tween humor. By contrast, her first appearance in the short story written by George Gladir and drawn by Dan DeCarlo portrays a character with a sinister edge to her. She’s been tasked to interfere with the lives of her fellow high school students, which she does by making them fall in love with each other, or by altering the outcome of various sporting events. As dastardly acts go, it’s still relatively innocuous stuff. But that darkness at the heart of the character forms the basis for this latest, horror-driven, reimagining of her.
Visually, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina smartly moves away from the seductive imagery of the legendary DeCarlo by using more realistically drawn figures. Robert Hack’s heavily textured surfaces and inky blotches certainly imbue the otherwise bucolic setting in an uncomfortable, claustrophobic haze, making everything look like they're covered in soot. Adding to the level of uneasiness is the intense yellow and orange color scheme. The whole story sometimes looks like it’s set on Mars, or a post-apocalyptic desert landscape. Everyone shambles around like zombies. Nothing about this world would make me want to live in it.
If I have one complaint, it’s that Hack still doesn’t have a firm grasp on the characters yet, especially the main protagonist. Sabrina’s jawline and eyes keep changing every few panels, and that’s pretty distracting.
Storywise, this issue jumps around a lot, feeling a little disjointed in places. It starts with an origin tale featuring Sabrina’s parents, followed by a montage of Sabrina’s upbringing, ending with her first day in Greendale High School. Many of the classic supporting characters are introduced from aunts Hilda and Zelda, cat familiar Salem, cousin Ambrose, school crush Harvey, and teenage rival Rosalind. In keeping with the horror angle, the witches worship Satan, practice the dark arts, and are casually cruel to mortals. Sabrina herself comes across as a mostly amoral figure with a touch of Carrie and the Anti-Christ. There’s this unexpected subplot involving two famous Riverdale characters being members of another coven that’s largely disconnected from Sabrina's narrative. But the creepy cliffhanger raises some questions as to how the supernatural is supposed to interact with the mundane world.
The premise for Doctors would have formed the basis for an expensive, effects-laden Hollywood techno-thriller where the cast engages in spectacular battles for the fate of the world within elaborately-constructed virtual settings. There’s some interplay between the real and the illusory in these kinds of blockbusters. But for the most part, the difference between the two realms remains clear. But for an artist like Dash Shaw, such epistemological plot devices are employed to chip-away at the borders separating the land of the living and of the dead. This serves to illuminate his characters’ own pathetic experiences, desires, ambitions and fears. And this complicates the choices they make when confronted with their own mortality.
Ever the restless experimenter, Shaw’s artistic choices are designed to enhance the reader’s disorientation. Doctors is a terse graphic novel, barely under a hundred pages. Virtually every page is a vignette, which keeps the dialogue short and to the point. And each is dominated by a minimalist color overlay. On one hand this emphasizes the graphic quality of Shaw’s unadorned black and white drawings. But his selection of muted tones can often obscure its finer details. And the choice to give each page a different color overlay forces the reader to recognize the abstract nature of art and the illusory nature of the comics medium.
Towards the end, certain background details and oft-repeated patterns suddenly come to the foreground in rapid succession. There’s no clear symbolism to these objects, just a random assortment which seem to only have personal significance to the characters. It’s fragmentary, subjective, and an appropriately confounding way to end the story.
The book’s titular characters are a Doctor Cho, his daughter Tammy, and medical assistant Will. They run a clandestine business that revives the recently dead. Cho has invented a device he ironically dubs “Charon”, which allows the user to enter into the mind of the deceased (apparently confirming the mind-body dichotomy). When people die, their minds enter a kind of afterlife molded from that individual’s memories, hopes, and desires. This condition is only temporary and the mind itself will eventually “fade to black.” The trick to reviving the deceased is to convince them that the afterlife they’re experiencing isn’t real.
The story begins deceptively enough with the introduction of a wealthy widower referred to as Miss Bell. One day, she meets a young man named Mark and after a brief courtship, begins a May-December romance with him. For Bell, it sounds too good to be true. But their idyllic relationship is eventually disturbed by the presence of Bell’s daughter Laura, who begins to utter several cryptic remarks. Bell initially believes that Laura has joined some kind of religious cult. After awhile, she realizes that Laura is actually an avatar being used by the doctors to establish contact with her in the afterlife. This revelation causes her to return to consciousness. Shaw’s portrayal of her resurrection is particularly unnerving, a horrific process signalled by the zap of a defibrillator. She wakes up in a makeshift operating theater surrounding by medical equipment connected to her by various tubes and wires. The doctors inform her that it was the real Laura who had arranged for her to be brought back to life after she suffered a fatal accident.
Turns out though that resurrecting people has tragic consequences because everyone who was ever revived was just too traumatized from being torn from their afterlife to successfully return to their old self. After witnessing the toll it takes on Bell, Tammy begins to openly express her simmering doubts about the usefulness of Charon. But she’s unable to stand up to her more callous and overbearing father (whom she nicknames “Dr. No” for his ability to reject all of her requests and suggestions). Cho could care less what happens to his patients afterwards as long as new clients are lining-up to pay for his services. But has Cho bitten off more than he can chew when he agrees to help his friend Clark Gomez, a self-centered, hedonistic man who refuses to succumb to a terminal condition?
Ferrying people between life and death causes the doctors to suffer in their own way. Cho has lost all empathy and has become obsessed with controlling every aspect of his life. Tammy continually questions whether she’s even truly alive, and can only cultivate a meaningful relationship within the confines “The Sims” video game. Both have lost the ability to connect with each other and with the outside world. How can anyone remain convinced that what they experience is real when they spend so much time inside their own heads while invading the minds of others? Shaw does allow them a reconciliation of sorts. Even there, the reader is left adrift with an epilogue in which life and death cascade into one other like a recursive dream.