If the tone of this is overly-positive, well it comes down to this week I made the conscious choice to avoid buying dumb shit comics. I know, I’m stupid that way.
Saucer Country #14
Art by Ryan Kelly, Writing by Paul Cornell, Published by DC/Vertigo
There’s a desperate attempt here to come across like this is some sort of definitive conclusion to the series (even though Cornell says it’s not), and it shows. The artwork looks rushed, all half-finished backgrounds and lots of heavy inking to cover up for some possible last-minute rewrites (not that Ryan Kelly was obsessive about detail, but he’s even less so here), while Arcadia gives a summary speech about how the aliens “Think they wanted [her to win]” but that the election was entirely “the will of the people” and that makes it even more a victory than normal. Or something. There’s also a shot of Earth from space to remind you this is supposed to be about aliens, except it’s flat, pointless, and only looks like Earth if Japan is right next to Alaska, and Antarctica recently grew over the horn of South America.
Art by David Aja, Writing by Matt Fraction, Published by Marvel
It’s a bit tough to praise this comic when just about everyone else is, too. Even more when it’s obvious most of said praise reads like people are prepping for a career in Marvel’s press release office (see this guy). But, all that said, I love this goddamn comic.
Aja’s still wearing his Mazzucchelli influence on his sleeve, but now it’s less directed at marrying that style with Quitely’s micro-panels and Euro/manga layouts and more with applying that gritty minimalism to romance comics. Specifically, the kind of romance comics about people who are complete fuck-ups at relationships, e.g. Strangers in Paradise. Fraction has been building up how Clint Barton–despite being excellent at shooting arrows at people–is awkward and has poor impulse control, as demonstrated by the exes getting the spotlight this issue (each wearing clothing reflecting their spandex persona, in a nice Pop Art touch), plus protege Kate Bishop. Further, he and Aja tease fans who have been reading romantic overtures between Barton and Bishop: like the exes Black Widow, Mockingbird, and Spider-Woman, she gets her own chapter, marked by a heart paired with another symbol; she is also depicted on the cover with an “I❤ Hawkeye” t-shirt; oh, and there’s also the Lolita poster in her room (naturally, she is brash and insulting towards Clint, but going out of her way to cover for him, in addition to the visual cues Aja has been depicting her with in previous issues, it’s easy to read attraction there). Fraction’s chapter breaks give brief descriptions to the Girls, based on how Barton sees his relationship to them (replacing the idiotic “friend with benefits” phrase with “friend-girl,” charming in how it articulates Barton’s discomfort with intimacy). As a picture of how men relate to women in the post-modern, post-everything world, it’s as uncomfortable as it is entertaining. I’d posit that as the reason why CBR/Newsarama praise is as shallow as it is, but the fact is they can’t do better.
Jennifer Blood #25
Art by Eman Cassalos, Writing by Al Ewing, Published by Dynamite
I’m never quite certain if some of the great storytelling in this series–despite the artwork being on the scale of plain to downright ugly–is because artists like Cassalos or Kewber Baal are so much more focused on layouts and how to present what’s in the script than on whether it looks good, or if it’s because Ewing’s script is so tightly written you’d have to be an idiot to screw it up. The panels showing Jennifer waking from being stabbed multiple times by fellow prisoners and getting right back up happens in a quick progression, with a panel-long interlude of some people talking about the incident, before she wakes up. Then, we’re given a splash page of her standing up, much to everyone’s “No fucking way”-level shock. It’s not Quitely, Kirby, or 80s Gulacy, but it is very effective as pulp/John Waters audacity (the series is basically Serial Mom as the Punisher, now crossed with the women-in-prison genre). I guess the best way to find out if it’s Dynamite’s art crew or Ewing is to let Philip Tan, Rob Liefeld, or Tony Daniel fill-in for an issue and see if they can at least put out something competent.
Art by Fiona Staples, Writing by Brian K. Vaughan, Published by Image
Since there was a big stir over Apple banning this issue from the ComiXology iPad app (though that turned out to be ComiXology itself), I guess I should comment on what appears to be the root cause of the ban (besides the whole presence of ambiguous guidelines related to subject matter deemed unfriendly to children, and all the wrangling therein): the images on Prince Robot IV’s screen-face-thing showing a man giving oral sex to another man. Usually, what’s happening on the robots’ screens in this series is indicative of their mental status (IV suffering shellshock and being unable to make love to his wife…yes, robots have sex in Saga), so the presence of such subject matter in this flashback sequence seems to imply some sort of homoerotic tension IV had with another, non-robotic soldier. One that wasn’t really hinted at previously, and doesn’t figure much into this issue itself (which is all about IV trying to track down the star-crossed lovers and their burgeoning family, who are seen as a threat to the status quo of the warmongers on both sides of the background conflict).
Mostly, it just seems like Vaughan and Staples trying to slip something by the censors, which I’m fine with…except it’s right there. So, if it’s meant to be something, they don’t really do anything with that; if it’s just meant to be a bit of wink-wink dick humor, it kind of fails at that; so, I’m just left with an indifferent shrug?
Oh, the rest of this comic is fine. Competent, sometimes funny (the all-too-brief appearance of a talking mouse as a medic), on-the-nose commentary about class, war, society, art, yadda yadda yadda all that beard-stroking stuff. It’s just a solid filler issue to tease what’s happening next so people can talk about it. Well, they kind of have that with the whole controversy, but they weren’t looking for that, right? Right?
Nah, I’m kidding. I’m not that cynical.
Demon Knights #19
Art by Bernard Chang, Writing by Robert Venditti, Published by DC
Hey, a DC comic book prominently featuring a female (or, in this case, ambiguously-gendered) character being brutalized? That’s…expected.
And “A life snuffed out”? Jesus, DC, do you really need to evoke snuff films more than you already do?
Okay, the interior is actually not as trashy as the cover text, but I do find it funny DC’s continued response to people pointing out how much they love to murder, rape, and maim women is to use that to promote their titles.
Alpha: Big Time #3
Art by Nuno Plati, Writing by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Published by Marvel
Maybe it’s because he began life as a Dan Slott creation, but everyone else seems to hate the title character at the heart of this story? Me, I kinda like him. Not because I find him likeable, but more in the same way I found Brad Pitt’s character in Burn After Reading so enjoyable, or why Dale from that Walking Dead TV show is a hoot. Getting to see the world through the eyes of people normally found to be disgusting in real life is one of the more profound things about art (commercial or otherwise) you can do. And Plati, like the Marcos Martin to Fialkov’s Slott, is elevating the material: the lanky posture and aloof demeanor he gives Alpha captures teenage pose to a T. Plati then builds around that distinctive characterization (shared by the equally “too cool” love interest Soupcan, who has the benefit of self-awareness going for her) with Ben-Day dot montages, the best use of stat panels in mainstream comics, and sleek, easy-to-follow panel progression. Hardly going to be on any best-of lists, but next to Age of Ultron this is Love and Rockets.