Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Short And To The Pointless 

Love & Rockets (vol 2) #10-11, by Gilbert, Jamie, and Mario Hernandez

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

We3 #1, by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and others 

Perspective -- that's what it's all about.

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.


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