To all my U.S. brothers and sisters: Happy Turkey Day! I hope yours is spent with good food and better people. This year, I’m thankful for swarms of good Bat-comics; Chip Zdarsky; Simon Spurrier still making X-books; time running out; futures ending; this gif; the Second Image Revolution and the excellence the other non-big-2 are bringing; daring rulebreakers who pronounce gif with a hard g; and comic book award season, where seemingly half of the best comics of the year have come out in the last month, including two that come out today.
In this week’s comics, we try to catch ’em all in a strictly non-copyrighted way; Matt Fraction publishes a poetry book; Flash Gordon’s friends do science hard; Ray Bradbury gets love from the comics world; alternate versions of clones of Spider-Man threaten to create a continuity singularity; Gail Simone gives us Larance of Arabia; and I’m going to go ahead and SPOILER WARNING Pax Americana up here.
Ody-C #1 (Image Comics)
Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s sci-fi Odyssey adaptation finally hits stores after some of the most interesting hype I’ve ever seen for a comic. And by “interesting,” I mean “there was a USA Today article about the comic being written in dactylic hexameter.” The Iliad and The Odyssey in a lot of ways set the ground rules for the stories we hear and tell about heroes, so it makes perfect sense that Fraction and Ward use this to try and break the ground rules for how we read comics. Narration and dialogue written in six syllable verse is…not common, and the panel construction and layout of the artwork is interesting and non-traditional in a few cases.
So it was a pleasant surprise when it worked so well. There are a lot of different ways to judge the success or failure of this book: the quality of the art, the inventiveness of the ideas, the skill in the execution of those ideas, how deep the final product draws a reader in. By every single one of these measures, Ody-C is a fantastic success. Unfortunately, now that I’ve read a good “psychedelic sci-fi Odyssey,” it’s really only a matter of time before I start demanding someone write an adaptation of the Oedipus cycle as an iambic pentameter telenovela.
Tomb Raider #10 (Dark Horse Comics)
Way too often (doom), other-media adaptations of video games (doom) try and take the game’s gimmick (DOOM) and fail miserably.
That’s not the case here. Derlis Santacruz runs Lara through a quintessential Tomb Raider set piece early on in this issue (hint hint check the preview) that works perfectly as a comic action sequence. With writing from Gail Simone and art like this, you can be fairly comfortable that this book is going to be solid.
Capture Creatures #1 (BOOM! Studios)
I was worried going into this that Capture Creatures would turn out to be derivative. It started as a Kickstartered fan-Pokedex by the creators of Tiny Kitten Teeth. Then, Frank Gibson and Becky Dreistadt (the creators of all of the above), decided to turn it into a full story. The results? Terrific.
Dreistadt and Gibson have put together a clever, funny, adorable comic that’s truly great for all-ages. Dialogue between teenagers, especially early teens, is tough to nail for a lot of reasons. It’s great here, always feeling natural, and never trite or forced. The art is expressive and energetic, like the Steven Universe folks were drawing Astro Boy. I would absolutely read this book with younger relatives, but I’d recommend going through it once by yourself so you can get all your laughs out first.
Flash Gordon Annual 2014 (Dynamite Comics)
Flash Gordon has been off my radar until now. I never really had a ton of love for the 1980 movie, and never paid attention to the various comic iterations, so this was the first Flash Gordon story I’ve ever read. It was fantastic.
Whenever people making art are really enjoying themselves, it shows. Everyone working on this annual was very clearly having a blast making it. All the stories were good, but the first two stories written by Bens Acker & Blacker were the high points. The first, about Dale Arden, with art by Faith Erin Hicks, had a strong Atomic Robo vibe to it. The second, drawn by Jeremy Treece, is about Professor Zarkov being a drunk mad scientist, a phrase I love so much I have a Google Alert set up for it. Not only did I enjoy this issue, I’m looking forward to reading more.
The Shadow Show #1 (IDW Publishing)
In 2012, Sam Weller and Mort Castle put together a prose jam tribute to Ray Bradbury by the same name, and this year, to honor his contributions to the world of comics literature, they’re adapting several of the stories from that book into graphic form under the same name. The Shadow Show #1 adapts Joe Hill’s story, “By The Silver Waters of Lake Champlain,” and it’s pretty good. I haven’t read the prose version yet, but Hill’s writing tends to be a little more frantic than we see in this story. It’s well paced, thanks to the work of the adapting writer Jason Ciaramella, and the tone is a little subdued, almost melancholy. Jeremy Mohler, the colorist, deserves a lot of credit for the overall vibe of the book, but Charles Paul Wilson’s cartoony, all-agesish pencils are a big part of it. And it’s got the Champlain Monster in it! This is like the Vermont cover of Justice League Canada, only better.
Scarlet Spiders #1 (Marvel Comics)
Who would have guessed that at the end of 2014, a comic starring Ben Reilly, Kaine and Ultimate Girl Clone Of Peter Parker would be something anyone but those most soused in haterade would be looking forward to? And yet here we are.
Part of the fun of big crossovers like “Spider-Verse” are the peripheral stories: the side missions that are billed as crucial to the plot, stories that let you explore the main plot from different angles and spend time with characters who might otherwise be neglected. The creative team is solid – Mike Costa writes some really entertaining war stories, which this counts as, and Paco Diaz has a J. Scott Campbell contortionism about his pencils that are perfectly cast on a Spidey-book. I’m a little disappointed that this team doesn’t include the Spider-Man from the Gone With The Wind universe, but otherwise I’m digging it.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Every week there are way too many comics for me to read and keep track of. So in every column, I’m going to take a look at a book that came out in the last few weeks, but that I only just had a chance to read.
This week, it’s Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Nathan Fairbairn from DC Comics. I’m going to try and review this rationally, but I want you all to know that my first instinct when writing this review is to just cut and paste HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS for 10 pages, so please forgive me if I drift a little.
Let’s get the plot stuff out of the way first: annotating Grant Morrison’s work is a critical department here at Comics Internet. What started out as one guy on a bbs trying to figure out the names of all the characters in Limbo in Animal Man has now, 20 years later, blossomed into a multi tens of dollars a year industry. Currently (or at least “at some point since Multiversity began”), Jim Harbor, David Uzumeri at CA, Rikdad and this Deniz chap are doing the Lord’s work, trying to connect all the dots and figure out what Morrison is really trying to say with the whole piece. I’m not daring enough, nor do I have the required English degree, to try and annotate this, but I do have a couple of things I wanted to call attention to and amplify.
Porti belli is Italian for “beautiful harbors,” and is certainly intentional, though why the scientists are saying it is a little puzzling. Maybe it’s an idea that’s echoed through the multiverse, that one of them had in a flash of inspiration zapped to them from Kwyzz. It’s also almost certainly a misnomer, as the scientists were trying to kill Captain Atom, and all they did was send him hurtling through the multiverse to (probably) the Hall of Heroes or (OH GOD HOPEFULLY) the start of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. Also, I think the colors on the four scientists hitting the buttons to “kill” Captain Atom are important – they’re 4 colors of the spiral dynamics lecture Question gives later in the issue.
And going back to last week’s reviews: a lot of people are reading the Captain Atom/separated dog scene as an open critique of the dissection and deconstruction of comics that Watchmen and the annotators do, and I think that’s a valid read of the scene. But I also think it’s a subtle suggestion from Morrison and Quitely: do not read this comic in guided view. I cannot possibly imagine how Comixology would even break up the panels to go into guided view, let alone the feeling of reading it like that and missing the incredible work that Quitely did organizing the whole book.
I have a theory: if you do it exactly right, you can talk all sorts of horrid shit about someone directly to his face, and egotistic self-preservation will make him assume you’re saying it about everybody else, not him. What does this have to do with Pax Americana? Well, for like, 10 years, Grant Morrison has been telling stories where the act of reading a story causes the primary conflict. In his stories, comic readers are the bad guys. Almost like a quantum observer effect, only where the muon called you an asshole as it decayed into a muon neutrino.
In Seven Soldiers, the Sheeda are a kind of story, repeated and adapted a billion times over until we end up being consumed by our own reliance on repetition. In Final Crisis, the secret big bad guy of the entire book isn’t Darkseid; it’s Mandrakk, the vampire monitor who destroys stories as he consumes them. In Action Comics #9, monetizing and corporatizing the ideal hero, Superman, turns him into an unstoppable robot killing machine. And here, in Pax Americana, the act of deconstructing a comic ruins it. Even the bad guy of Multiversity as a whole is “The People.” There’s no reason to believe that Morrison’s work is not in large part about providing a commentary on comic fans. But this is a lot of complaining. Pax Americana is an absolute masterpiece.
Morrison and Quitely together push each other to do work that neither comes close to alone, and I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool GMoz fanboi. The coordination by those two and Fairbairn (who wrote an awesome rundown of his coloring process on this issue at his tumblr) to make sure that there wasn’t a single wasted detail in the art or the dialogue or the colors or the shadows is awe-inspiring. The beauty of Quitely’s fight choreography is unmatched anywhere except maybe really exceptional manga. The layers on layers on layers of references have made me read the issue five times already, and I only read books that I’m reviewing maybe one and a half times.
As for Morrison’s insistence on telling me that I read comics wrong, There are three primary reasons why it doesn’t actually bother me:
- 1. Because he does it so well. Final Crisis is the worst series on that list up there, and I thought it was beautifully done.
- 2. Because he’s got a point: corporatization, repetition and sometimes overanalysis can make things more difficult to enjoy.
- 3. Because as an Internet comic reviewer of such refined taste and class, I know he’s obviously not talking about me GODDAMMIT it worked.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?