Well, I need to catch up on writing about stuff. Here I go:
Demon Knights #18 (DC) & Winter Soldier #16 (Marvel)
Art by Bernard Chang; Nic Klein. Writing by Robert Venditti; Jason Latour
Considering the nature of Big Two comics, it’s a minor miracle the switch to new creative teams on these books hasn’t yet landed them in the toilet. It might be because they haven’t strayed at all from what made them work so far: Winter Soldier is still Bucky angsting about redemption during pulpy spy/superhero action, Demon Knights is still snarky British characters on a fantasy adventure. Of the two, the latter is threatening to change the most (due to taking itself more seriously), but Robert Venditti and Bernard Chang balance it out by making Horsewoman’s newest steed a grouchy, working class commentator insulting the band of anti-heroes. Meanwhile, Jason Latour’s got Brubaker’s Bucky voice (no-nonsense spy business with just a nudge of creeping self-doubt about his ability to do anything right) down pat, and Nic Klein on drawing/coloring duty mimics as much of the Guice/Lark/Breitweiser aesthetic as he can.
While that lack of change is a bit comforting, in the same way status quo is like every comic fan’s teddy bear, it’s also a bit cold. Reading Winter Soldier under Brubaker and company, or Demon Knights under Cornell and Neves, was like reading something personal. Not quite a diary, but at least a heartfelt editorial about things they loved. A lack of Black Widow or a 30-year jump in time doesn’t cover up these comics being in a weird limbo-state right now, removed of what little intimacy their previous creators imbued them with, but putting on a happy face like nothing is different. Given time, these new guys might find their own voices, if they don’t screw up first, but right now it’s like being around pod people.
Skullkickers #20 (Or Savage Skullkickers #1, if you prefer)
Art by Edwin Huang. Writing by Jim Zub, Published by Image Comics
If I were being picky (and why shouldn’t I be? Comics aren’t doing me any favors), I’d point out how Edwin Huang’s lone action scene is poor storytelling. You might know what’s happening–heroes fight talking gorillas and lose–but there’s no sense of place or movement. Just one page where the gorillas are getting shot or broken limbs, and then the same ones turn around and K.O. the heroes. It just happens. Like that. No rhythm. No pace. No. Thing. Action as pose is the worst offense you can do in an adventure comic, yet post-Bendis you see that shit everywhere.
Even as a comedy book, which Skullkickers presumably is, its humor is as slapdash as the fight scene. Jim Zub parodies action/fantasy convention, but he tries to turn all but maybe three panels up to eleven with his precious, cloying dialogue (“You just want your own ape army”) and snarky “editor’s notes.” It reads more like a child screaming knock-knock jokes through a megaphone right next to your ear than it does Howard the Duck. Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, et al knew even kitchen sink humor had to be applied judiciously: that’s why all the joke villains (from the accounting wizard to Dr. Bong to the Kidney Lady) tie in with Howard’s alienation. They were everyday fears and troubles–mindless consumption, religious fundamentalism, corrupt politicians, everyday stupidity–magnified so we could see how ridiculous they were.
The closest Zub gets to Gerber’s existentialism is the omniscient narrator, trapped in the underworld while a naked dwarf goes free; the death of objectivity. But, in Skullkickers, it’s just one more gag. One more child screaming in your ear. Just what we need.
Nemo: Heart of Ice
Art by Kevin O’Neill, Writing by Alan Moore, Published by Top Shelf
Whenever a DC apologist brought up League of Extraordinary Gentlemen during last year’s Before Watchmen controversy, I just wanted to reach over and strangle them. The equation of the two by people thinking Moore is just being a sourpuss is stupid, even before factoring in DC’s unscrupulous methods. Before Watchmen, with the million issues that have already come out, is a blatant, cynical cash grab abusing years of goodwill from someone else’s story. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen might use characters from other people’s fiction, but it’s in service to another story entirely. It’s about the use of fiction as Western dogma.
Nowhere is this theme more evident than in Heart of Ice‘s Tom “Swyfte,” an arrogant cartoon version of a character that was an arrogant cartoon to begin with. “Swyfte’s” racist, misogynist dialogue and constant pushing forward (an evil mirror to Janni Nemo’s own quest) was a result of, and encouragement for, Manifest Destiny. Like the previous League volumes, Moore and O’Neill are painting fiction (specifically science fiction) as a tool of imperialism. Swyfte is directed by industrial (Charles Foster Kane) and political interests (H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha) to follow Nemo to Antarctica. While there, he assumes moral, technological, and intellectual superiority not only over his quarry, but over the land itself. This being a Moore/O’Neill joint, his arrogance is proven folly when his party runs afoul one of Lovecraft’s shoggoths (the universe showing how unimpressed it is with Western advances), but Swyfte exploits even his companions so that he may live to fight (and conquer) another day. What’s Before Watchmen got to offer? Gore and sex? The occasional pretty pictures of Jae Lee, Amanda Conner, and Darwyn Cooke? Who cares?
Oh, yeah: this comic is good. In case you were left wondering.