Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Y'know, as much as I love this comic, I find it hard to process in such small installments. Sure, I can marvel at the storytelling, art, and humour involved, and I can even dig on the visceral emotional kick that some of these chapters deliver, but for me the stories that these guys tell only really come into focus when read as a whole. Don't get me wrong -- reading this book in single issue form is still really good fun for me, but it's not until I re-read them all later that I really get what's going on here.
Astonishing X-Men #1-4, by Joss Whedon, John Cassaday, and others
This is, in some ways, a very comfortable comic book. The spandex costumes are back, the writing is straightforward and soapy, and issue #4 sees a well-loved character return from the dead, but while all of this could suck horribly, things are working out pretty well so far.
Whedon has spent four issues building up his "mutant cure" plot at a steady, but still exciting, pace, and seems to be having a great time drawing all of the humour and conflict he can out of these characters. Rather satisfyingly, he's picked up pretty much where Grant Morrison left off with Beast, Cyclops, and Emma Frost (three of the characters who Morrison had the best handle on), and the arc he's setting up for Kitty Pride looks pretty interesting too.
Sharp as Cassiday's artwork is, I think I prefer him when he's working on slightly grander material than this, but he still brings a suitible amount of drama to proceedings without going way over the score, so yeah, this is good stuff.
Sleeper (season 2) #1-3, by Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips, and others
Jesus christ this book is bleak. Every month I wonder how Brubaker and Philips are going to move the plot forward, and every month they surprise me by putting Holden Carver in a position even more morally precarious than the last one. Philips' art is a think of monumental beauty here -- the noirish world of super-powered espionage that he depicts is truly oppressive. Just as in Burbaker's narrative there are no clear sides for Carver to take; no easy ways for him to get out of his position as exposed double-agent. If the evident pleasure that I take in this set-up sounds sadistic then it shouldn't -- the reason I come back to this book month after month is in the hope of seeing some sort of light here, even though I know I probably wont. In the end, though, this conflict between hope and the constant deepening of the mess Carver's in is hugely compelling, and Philips' unusual panel arrangements emphasise this fantastically, pushing your eye all over the place without ever once losing focus, and giving the impression of a world at once chaotic and controlled in the process.
Street Angel #1-2, by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Ninjas, pirates, time travel -- this comic's got it all, really. It's about a homeless teenage girl who, like, kicks a lot of ass or something, and it's basically one big ball of violent, childish play that's written with a sort of lunatic wit and drawn in a style that is reminiscent of various alternative comic book artists without being derivative of any one of them in particular. In fact, now that I think about it, reading the first two issues of this comic was kinda like reading the last two issues of Love & Rockets but without the sense that there was more to it than the surface rush. This shouldn't be read as a crticism of Street Angel though -- it's a good pop comic, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
That's it for now, but I might do short reviews of a couple of other comics later in the week if the mood takes me. Take care out there!
Sunday, August 29, 2004
As both Marc Singer and Kieron Gillen have noted, and as is surely obvious to anyone with a functional set of eyeballs, this is one formally exciting comic book. Phrasing it that way makes it sound really dry though, and gives entirely the wrong impression -- as Kieron has already commented, We3 is a very physical comic book, and its formal trickiness is an un-ignorable part of its visceral appeal.
On a story level it's definitely one of Morrison's simpler works: it's about three animals ( a dog, a cat, and rabbit) who have been turned into armour-plated killing machines. When the small-scale government project responsible for their modification is spotlighted for further development, the decision is made to dispose of these prototypes (that'd be our furry friends, by the way) in order to pave the way for a new generation of biorgs that have been bred for the job. The scientist who is closest to the creatures sets into motion a chain of events that allows the animals to escape and... That's it so far. As story ideas go, this may sound pretty silly and predictable, but believe me when I say that the execution really sells the plot this time round.
Quitely and Morrison stretch themselves here, using a wide variety of different points of view to stunning effect. At the start of the issue you're clipping along at the heals of the man the animals are sent in to kill, stalking him out until the brutal pay-off; later on you're given an info-dump by a group of humans whose faces are kept off-panel for a ridiculous amount of time, a technique that makes it emphasis how distant they are from the POV that is central to this comic -- that of the animals themselves. And as for the information-overload that ensues when the eighteen-panel grid comes into play -- Kieron's analysis of the overpowering build-up and release that takes place here is dead on, but if you're interested in looking at exactly what's going on in this section on a literal level then this Barbelith thread is definitely worth your time.
By far the weirdest section of the book is the last scene, wherein the animals discuss what they're going to do with their freedom. What -- I hadn't mentioned that the animals talk yet? Well they do. And in a garbled sort of text-speak too!
"I.M. GUD. R. U. GUD 2?"
When we first see the animals talk, it is in the middle of the aforementioned info-dump. This scene has a strange sort of horror-movie atmosphere to it -- both the reader and the senator are seeing these animal-weapons for the first time, and there's a wrongness to the visual and verbal onslaught that ensues that is hugely disconcerting (it's also impressive that Quitely can so completely convey the shock of the senator character without once showing us his face -- truly he is a master of human body language).
When we see the animal characters talking to each other outside of this context at the end of the book, their respective characters (hinted at during the previous scene) start to come to the fore more clearly and the fact that their perspective is the one that we have been allowed closest to in this comic becomes even clearer than it had been before. This is interesting, as while these aren't normal animals, they don't act human either so the reader is left in the odd position of being both emotionally engaged in their position and yet slightly disconnected from it, something that their strange dialogue foregrounds nicely -- it's kinda alien, but the meaning gets through. I mean, it doesn't get much clearer than "WE3 NO HOME NOW", does it?
When I said that this comic book was all about perspective, this is what I was talking about. Just as Quitely's virtuoso artwork pushes the reader into all manner of strange places, Morrison's simple story makes us consider things from an unfamiliar angle. To the people behind the We3 project, using animals as weapons is a fairly sensible move. It'd cut down on human casualties, for one thing. From the point of view of the people who these animal weapons are used against this doesn't exactly make things any better, but it doesn't look like this book is going to explore this line of reasoning too heavily, except in that those who made the weapons are now going to have to stop them. As I've already mentioned, you're put more in the position of the animal characters than the human ones here, which means that we're forced to consider how all of this affects them far more than almost anyone involved in the project seems to have done. As David Fiore has pointed out, the fact that these animals can both speak and question the language they use does a lot to make it easier for us to understand the actions and conflicts of these creatures and map them back onto the human world without sentimentalizing them too much -- in fact, it's this effect that makes the scenes where the animals speak so unsetteling, and I think this is important here.
There is one human character in the book who shows some concern for the animals -- a certain Dr Roseane Berry who comes out with what I would consider to be the comic's most humane line of dialogue. But for all that Berry provides the closest thing we get to a human link to the animal characters in issue #1, there's something slightly unnerving about her attitude: "Kill me. I deserve it." she says to herself when the animals are making their bid for freedom, underlining both her complicity in the process and the massive amount of self-loathing that this causes her. Sure, she provides us with a sympathetic and understandable view on things, but she's too much of a part of this project for us to be entirely comfortable in her shoes.
We3 #1 is a set-up issue, but it's a damned good one, and I can't wait to see where the series goes from here. I'm going to have to though, because the next issue comes out in late October -- argh!! But in the end the delay doesn't matter -- We3 is a beautiful, beautiful comic book, and one that kicks you right in the gut without ever sacrificing its intelligence to do so. Read it and weep.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Man did I ever love this series!
I noticed that some folk (not so much on Barbelith as on the internet in general) seem to have found issue's #2 and #3 of Seaguy completely incomprehensible or something. I don't get it -- the whole series seemed pretty straightforward to me (in a completely insane sort of way). It's very tight too -- the way that the ending of issue #3 brings things almost entirely full-circle is chilling! But as Flyboy has already pointed out, everything's not quite how it used to be, and that's important.
The artwork was perfect throughout -- the "comfort zone" that Seaguy and co live in is shiny and fun looking, but is still very evidently sinister, something that Cameron (with no small amount of help from colourist Peter Doherty) always keeps firmly in the foreground. And when we get into the high adventure stuff in issue #2, it looks every bit as thrilling and bizarre as it should, but there are costs to be payed for this sort of adventure, and the more melancholy/creepy elements of these parts of the stories come through brilliantly here as well.
I think that was what I really liked about this series: Seaguy is just a naive guy who wants to go have some sort of adventure, and who can blame him? The world he lives in is a deeply flawed consumer society, but the critique of this world that is made in the comic is all the stronger because Seaguy's dissatisfaction isn't sneery or condescending. He's into his escapist thrills like everyone else -- it's just that his taste in escapism is somewhat more overblown than most folks'. Furthermore, as has been mentioned in discussions of issue #1, Seaguy ends up on this particular adventure against the current world order because of his status as a consumer of Xoo, not in spite of it. As of the end of issue #3, the Xoo-creature is still free, and is currently roaming the world as a "living pirate foodstuff." Dare I suggest that we will see more of this creature in the later volumes? Since in issue #2 the Xoo-creature seemed to recognise and not want to hurt Seaguy and Chubby, I can only hope so!
Another thing I like is the focus on ancient civilizations with weird technology (artificial wasps that can extract oil from pollen, jackal-men who can extract "heavy air" from dung). There's a definite sense of wanting to re-discover all of this crazy stuff, but at the same time these places aren't wholly depicted in a positive light. The Pharaoh in issue #3 may have achieved something wonderfully barmy (the moon is his burial home for fuck's sake!), but he did so out of rediculous vanity, and drained his people dry/blew them the fuck up in the process. Similarly, for all the thrills that he may have achieved while climbing Mount Poseidon, the Wasps of Atlantis still cost Seaguy his best friend's life.
"Xoo is multi-purpose. Xoo is low cost. Xoo makes people happy. And what's so wrong with happy?"
So says the scary suit in issue #2, and while there's certainly nothing wrong with happy, there is something very wrong going on in this world. What about the children that were being carted away in issue #1? And that's just for starters -- there's a whole lot of unhappiness here! This is another of the thematic points that I really like in this series: the idea that in defeating Anti-Dad the heroes had defeated evil seems to me to be analogous with the idea of fighting a sucessful war against terror. Evil cannot be vanquished in a big heroic fight; people will still want to nasty stuff after the dust has settled. This is a part of human nature, and to ignore this fact is folly.
The ending of issue #3 is, I think, the most upsetting and sucessful part of the book so far. The scenes that show Seaguy and Doc Hero being reprogrammed are suitably nasty and inventive, and as for Lucky El Loro... I hate the feathery little bastard, but this is surely the point: he matches the same formula as Chubby (talking animal with a silly name and accent), but somehow completley lacks the charm of that character.
All said, the last page is probably my favourite one -- the Eye Moon and "No Xoo Today"/"Sold Out" signs, as well as the prescence of Lucky, make that little wink Seaguy gives all the more unsettling. He thinks he's playing a game where nothing's at stake, but as we know all too well, he's very, very wrong. Of course, that wink could mean the exact opposite, i.e. that he is perfectly aware of what's going on here and is just hiding it very well, but while I like this hint of ambiguity, I'm afraid to say my gut instinct is that he thinks he's in on the joke when he really isn't.
Good god, this post is getting out of hand. Anyway, suffice it to say that this rocked me more than any Morrison project since... I dunno, either Kill Your Boyfriend or Flex Mentallo, and that I am eager for more. I want to see this world fleshed out more; I want to learn what's going on with Seadog in greater detail; I want to see Seaguy remember Chubby. Mission accomplished, guys -- I'm hooked!
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
"Jack Black as Hal Jordan is fucking genius casting. Think on it: the whole thing about Green Lantern is that he's fearless, and his power derives from his iron will. Jack Black's entire comic persona is based around his utter self-confidence, his absolute conviction and focus. The part might've been created with him in mind."
The fact that School of Rock was one of the best daft comedies I've seen in the last few years means that I'm feeling very generous towards Black these days, and right now I'm fairly sure that a good Jack Black Green Lantern movie would kick the ass right off of most "serious" superhero movies.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
Sorry this place has been so inactive for the last month or so, but I've been trying to cut down my internet time of late. Not very successfully, mind, but I have been trying, and this place has suffered as a result.
Anyway, moving swiftly on, anyone who wants to see quite how bad my grammar and spelling can get should check out my flailing attempts to talk about Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's comic book series The Filth over on this Barbelith thread. It ain't pretty, but I think it is fairly rich in terms of how many good starting points for discussions there are in there. Whenever I finally get around to writing a big piece on The Filth, I'll be sure to consult this thread for ideas.
Meanwhile, those of you who find yourselves draw to discussions of Spider-Man 2 could also check out the rambling geek-boy post I just wrote about it over on Cakes & Money 2.0. It's fun, in a gibbering sort of way!
In the time between this post and my last one, a copy of Eightball #23 has made its way into my possession, and you can be damn sure that this comic is right at the top of my "comics to give a thorough write-up" pile.
I've always been fascinated by the way that Dan Clowes can build up a story from little fragments. Ghost World is one of the most cutting and affecting portraits of post high-school friendship that I have ever encountered, and yet it's essentially made up of nothing more than a series of snapshots strung together (something that is, I suppose, true of all narratives, but you know what I mean -- Ghost World is a fairly extreme case). Eightball #22, the Icehaven issue, took this approach even further, running one overarching plot through a series of short comic strips that depicted the lives of various people who inhabitted the small town of the comic's title.
Eightball #23, The Death Ray, develops the various narrative techniques Clowes used in both of those comics, but does so in a way that is far darker and stranger than I had expected. I wouldn't instantly have chosen the same language as he did, but Sean Collins is no fool for pointing out that for all its superheroic garb this is a story about a serial killer. As Sean points out, this narrative is very much directed by Andy himself, and the way that so much is pushed off-panel here (dialogue, events, characters, etc) is a telling and disquietening insight into his character that I feel I have yet to fully unravel. Like its predecessor, this is a comic that will most certainly reward multiple re-readings, and I look forward to this process hugely.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
Reading, as it does, like a "how to" lesson in inspired gibberish, this issue of Seaguy seems to have thrown a couple of people who enjoyed the first one. For me, however, it flows perfectly: Seaguy #1 was a melancholic examination of the nastier elements of the brightly coloured comfort in which Seaguy and co exist in New Venice, while issue #2 is all about the reality of the sort of adventure that our hero so desired in the previous issue. "Whoever heard of an adventure ending like this?" asks our man at one point, but he'd be well advised to remember that this adventure isn't over yet!
As with issue #1, it's Cameron Stewart's art that really sells the madness of this story; he makes the dreamlike silliness of Morrison's script look immediate and vital while never failing to convey the more complex ideas that run through it. This issue flips back and forth between "This is the life" style high adventure and something far darker and more upsetting, and Stewart is more than up to the task; witness how creepy he makes the scene on the Xoo Industries ship, or how well he conveys Seaguy's heartbreak at the end of the issue. Oh, we all saw it coming, but that just makes the fact that it's so affecting even more impressive.
That I've been utterly thrilled with this series wont come as any surprise to regular readers, but it's true; I'm loving this bizarro mix of randomness, wit and heart more than pretty much anything else right now. So... Who else is hoping that Seaguy is succesful enough to warrent another two mini-series? I know I am!