Has He Thoughts Within His Head?

The oddest complaint about Iron Man 3 I heard on Free Comic Book Day. Well, apart from the guy who thought Tony Stark should have flown into space to help promote the Guardians of the Galaxy movie*:

ironmanWhile waiting in the long, cramped line, I naturally got to listen to a bunch of opinions on Iron Man 3. Most of them mentioned the Mandarin. Specifically, how they “changed him” and “didn’t get him right.” Normal complaint levied at superhero adaptations, but the strangest part for me is that it’s quite obvious why Marvel Studios went about the change: Mandarin, as he is traditionally depicted in the Marvel comics, is a caricature. A relic based on Yellow Peril stories like the Fu Manchu books. Yet, he’s really popular with Iron Man fans due to being the one villain pretty much every comic fan vaguely remembers being associated with the character (for example, not so many people complained about Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo being made into one character in the previous movie), so they were eventually going to put him in there anyway. Changes were going to be made so Marvel could do this without coming across even more like racist dicks.

From what little I’ve seen of the movie, it looks like Marvel solved this problem in the oddest way possible. That is, by making the Mandarin a casserole of Pan-Asian stereotypes. You got the Mandarin name and the flowing robes to suggest Chinese origins. The organization and methodology of Arab terrorists. The weird attempt at Americanisms you see in Hong Kong or Japanese action movies (specifically John Woo and Takashi Miike). Even an actor, Sir Ben Kingsley, who is part Indian. That’s practically an entire continent depicted at once, which might leave confusion as to who gets to sue Marvel. Confusion that will lead to in-fighting, while Marvel execs swim in their Iron Man cash, Scrooge McDuck style.

Well played.

*See also: consumer whore

Polarity #2 (of 4)
Art by Jorge Ceolho
Writing by Max Bemis
Published by Boom Studios

Mark Millar made a lot of the same scenester commentary back in the heyday. But, where he traded in ironic pose–ratcheting up all the sex and violence the scowls and cowls set thrives on while making vague political statements condemning such–Polarity is a lot more earnest. Ceolho, aided by Felipe Sobreiro’s warm blues and browns, accentuates the mania of lead character Tim (who we’re told has a form of bipolar disorder that grants him superpowers). The old multiple images of one character trick is used to indicate movement, as are wavy lines surrounding Tim’s head during his manic/powered moments. Often, despite the angular style (similar to Humberto Ramos), Ceolho’s pages take on the qualities of a Silver Age comic.polarity2
This occurs mostly in the scenes where Tim rights some social wrong (dressing down a party of hipsters, exposing a singer’s purchase of blood diamonds, literally spanking a jock for bullying a nerd) or just acts out his id (fighting some thugs, telling off people that annoy him), though Bemis does point out the line between these two is not only blurry, but may not be a line at all. Tim’s emotional extremes (based partly off Bemis’ own struggles with bipolar disorder) are fascinating enough to muscle through his speeches, which mimic the good intent and humor of the Say Anything frontman’s songs but lacking their lyrical quality (especially the one that closes this issue). Where Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy wheezed its way to comic shops, content to give everyone the same Authority/Ultimates talking heads, there’s actually some vitality to this comic.

Earth 2 #12
Art by Nicola Scott
Writing by James Robinson
Published by DC

Competent for the most part. Nicola Scott struggles a bit with the climax of the magic showdown between Dr. Fate and Wotan, reduced mostly to something glowing over the villain while Fate declares the names of gods before just simply blowing him up (or sending him to “the underworld or another dimension”). Why he had to do the other stuff is lost on me. Doesn’t help that it keeps cutting away to single panels showing New 52 Earth-2 (Version 2.0) Flash and Green Lantern (bigots refer to this one as “the Pink Lantern”) fighting dudes with jetpacks. This almost begs its own scene, especially since, as Michel Fiffe shows, punching is dynamic. Have the spell-casting relegated to the single panels, and the magic might have taken on a weirder, more menacing quality. Wouldn’t make any more sense, but neither does depicting it as a straight up brawl.


Fashion Beast #9
Art by Facundo Percio
Writing by Antony Johnston, Alan Moore, and Malcolm McLaren
Published by Avatar

fashionbeast9Threatens to go in a direction similar to Atonement for most of the issue, before deciding that nah, it’s going to just undo that at the end. Whatever Moore and McLaren’s unfilmed script had going on is only superficially delivered by Antony Johnston and Facundo Percio. It’s also a very 80s concept (rampant fear-mongering about homosexuals, tensions over nuclear war, Jheri curls, all that good stuff) mixed with Dickensian imagery, being handled by people who don’t give a shit about subtext (Avatar, the patron saints of gore and torture porn in the comic industry). What else needs to be said?

47 Ronin #4 (of 5)
Art by Stan Sakai
Writing by Mike Richardson
Published by Dark Horse

This series’ biggest problem continues to be the characters. Or rather, how little of the characters we get. Especially now that chief retainer Oishi is engaging in debauchery–to throw off suspicion that he’s seeking revenge for his disgraced and executed master–and suffering the emotional and social consequences for it. Trying to pull that off when your writing up to this point has been more like a textbook (as Richardson’s has) is an about face 47 Ronin not only doesn’t earn, it never should have tried in the first place.
But what about Stan Sakai? How’s his pictures?


Yeah, he brings the goods.

Spawn #231
Art by Szymon Kudranski
Writing by Todd McFarlane
Published by Image

spawn231This issue’s even heavier on the talky-talk than the previous two were, which is saying something. It’s also never been Spawn‘s strong suit. The parts it is good at? Where you can follow what’s going on, but the presentation is muddled and disorienting, as with any time the Spawn costume takes over Jim Downing, and the murdering that follows. Maybe it cuts away to a guy offering prayer to rid the world of Spawn, or some other ridiculous thing, but that becomes the beauty of it: being a dizziness-inducing cocktail of religion, violence, and horror.

Interlude! Two comics I picked up, but didn’t have enough to say about: Hawkeye #10 (okay warmup to the Jason Statham-style brawl promised last issue) and A Distant Soil #39 (not entirely sure I understood it, but Colleen Doran sure draws nice pictures)

Winter Soldier #18
Art by Nic Klein
Writing by Jason Latour
Published by Marvel

This is being unceremoniously dumped next issue. Which is awful wasteful of Marvel, since Brubaker, Guice, and Breitweiser gave Bucky a perfectly good send-off four issues ago, but someone insisted on dragging another team into this and make the title limp along to cancellation.

Sad part is, given another arc or so, Klein and Latour might have found a groove. The way Klein colors his flashbacks–all scratchy, half-finished, and faded like a child’s drawing that’s been pulled out of an attic–invites wistful sense memories which are at odds with the horror depicted. This gives way to colder, harsher colors as the flashbacks move on, and villain Electric Ghost arrives at her own existential Truth about the relationship she has with Bucky (which leads to a kiss that’s rather gross in context). Latour’s arc words for the issue–“‘If is at the core of ‘life.’ What, then, is the value of ‘if’?”–speak about possibilities and our human obsession with them (Bucky’s regret over the assassinations he committed under control of the Soviets, specifically), and it feels like the start of a dramatic shift for the character we won’t see finished. If only.

Dial H #12
Art by Alberto Ponticelli
Writing by China Miéville
Published by DC

dialh12Wow. This has the exact same distribution of ads as Earth 2 #12 does. Most of them house ads/ads for licensed properties like Arrow or Injustice, then eSurance, Combos, and something called Yeahtv.com. I’m kind of curious if that holds true for all the other New 52 titles released this month, and would require investigating.
This comic itself is kind of a mess, with lots of confusing panels and layouts. Miéville turns up the weird at the back half, trying to get us into a new leg of the overarching plot by just dropping it on us. A better artist than Ponticelli could have handled this swerve better, as could a more tightly edited script (preferably cutting down the padded opening so there would be more room to let the dozen new characters introduced get some space). Then, there’s the unsubtle (by DC standards) attempt to drill into your head you should be buying DC products, which is just really distracting.

Victorian Secret Agents: Owls of the Ironwork Isle #1
Art by Will Terrell
Writing by Stephen Phillips
Published by Antarctic Press

victoriansecretagents1Straight up boobs and butt comics, this is. No matter what’s happening on every page, whether it’s a ballroom scene, a fight, or even just people talking, Will Terrell makes it a point to have main super-spy Penelope sticking out her posterior. For the most part, he’s really good at drawing this stuff, though there is an odd panel where Penelope is walking so hunched forward she it looks painful (she also looks anorexic compared to most of the other pages). There’s almost something being said there, in how Penelope (and presumably the other Owls, though they aren’t seen this issue) wear skintight outfits which show their bodies off, notable in a Victorian setting of stuffy noble garb and casual poverty. Penelope’s status as an Owl seems to inspire fear in Englishmen both high and low, a schlocky form of kind-of-feminism. That’s all a byproduct of two guys telling readers “If you like staring at pictures of pretty women, here ya go perverts!”
Marvel’s Fearless Defenders tried for the same thing, but Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney are either unaware of how tacky their series is, or unwilling to confront it head on. Their characters exhibit fan-pleasing traits and the book is presented more as an action title, despite the poor pacing of action scenes. Owls of Ironwork Isle knows what it’s trying to do (Antarctic Press has a whole line of these steampunk cheesecake comics): beautiful women first, genre second, and action third. At the very least, it’s an honest model.


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