I Punched You In, Sam

Apparently Catwoman was shot in the head in this week’s issue of Justice League of America. Mainstream comic press guys talk about how “shocking” it was, because it didn’t get leaked to the New York Times or something, which is weird because it’s not exactly shocking that DC loves killing women. Kind of interesting in the same way people find serial killers interesting, but shocking? Pfft. End of the Fucking World is shocking. Manga is often shocking, as Tucker Stone’s latest Comics of the Weak will show you. A Geoff Johns comic is as shocking and edgy as David Edelstein loving Before Midnight.

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About the only thing I’m looking forward to is DC inevitably forcing Ann Nocenti and Rafa Sandoval to do a tie-in issue where Catwoman spends time as a corpse and monologues about it. That would be something interesting to read. Of course, that’s assuming DC is actually going forward with this whole moronic stunt, calculated by the whims of editorial fiat, rather than a means to get people like me making snarky comments about it.

Damn you, DC. You win again.

Deathmatch #6
Art by Carlos Magno
Writing by Paul Jenkins
Published by Boom Studios

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Even at his best (Inhumans, The Sentry, and the Death in the Family arc from his Spider-Man run), Jenkins has never been  good at the specifics of a fight scene. His pacing is a bit choppy (the burly Sol just getting weak after being told he’s “wasting energy,” rather than over the course of the fight), and his smack talk isn’t that great (“You twisted bitch” is kind of like Jenkins’ Green Goblin repeating “You little freak” in Spider-Man), and Carlos Magno will go from a punch to a knee in the face being delivered by and to the same characters with no transition at all. And, the series has shown the same eagerness as Marvel/DC counterparts like Avengers Arena, Ravagers, and anything from Brian Bendis to traumatize, mutilate, and murder the female characters: one was the quasi-girlfriend of her opponent, and one this issue is the love interest of the Peter Parker-lite POV character (killed after sharing a bed, no less). Hand-waving it away with Deathmatch‘s intent as commentary on superhero crossovers and shock storytelling doesn’t quite work, since the deaths often don’t seem to serve any point other than to make the survivors feel sorrow (the previous issue had one woman killed without ever having gotten into a fight), and we’re given crude sexual jokes from one of the villains to stir up the blood. I almost have to wonder, in light of Jenkins’ recent announcement, if he hasn’t caught more of the genre’s creative rot than he cares to admit.

X-Men #1
Art by Olivier Coipel
Writing by Brian Wood
Published by Marvel

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It’s a bit like Fearless Defenders, in that it’s guys writing about gals, acting like it’s a feminist victory to have them punching things even as the guys still fixate on their breasts. Copiel even draws one unnecessary shot where Storm’s cleavage (courtesy of an improbably low-cut top) shares an equal amount of space as her face. Also, she’s back to that punk look everyone’s so nostalgic for; not for any particular reason, mind you (because the context of the original “Storm goes punk” story is inconvenient for bringing it back), just because people have fond memories of it. The whole thing reduces its female cast (Wood concocts a villain who is the sister of a previous villain), Storm’s mohawk, and the identity politics as defined by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne to aesthetics for their own sake. Okay, this has been true pretty much of all X-Men since Claremont’s initial run, but it’s still dumb! Even the action scenes are crippled by this mindset, as in a train rescue that ends with the X-Men causing a wreck (which is not played as “You guys fucked up”). It contributes nothing to the plot, and doesn’t make any sense in light of the cliffhanger reveal (hint: the villain would have killed herself). So, strip away logic, ideology, and purpose, and what’s left for this reboot? Fetishism and fan fiction, and there’s not much distinction between those two things.

Chew #34
Art by Rob Guillory
Writing by John Layman
Published by Image

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A not-so-impressive wheel-spinning issue. Split between what could have been interesting (Tony Chu confronting his vampiric adversary only to sit down with him for a meal) and the case of the week stuff (based around the Kafkaesque visage of a Senator whose face turns into whatever he ate last), plot is only marginally advanced but without any startling character insight or brilliant political satire. Guillory, normally very skilled at setting up his visual punchlines, even botches the closing pages by depicting Tony holding a fork for several panels, only for a knife to be used instead when he acts. The offer made to Tony–working for the man who killed his sister–wasn’t a serious consideration, but might have been a way to build tension as he tries to pick the right moment to attack, except most of the issue is devoted to what other characters are doing. One could almost think Layman and Guillory’s high-point, the Major League Chew arc, was a complete fluke: the way it veered from the formula–sometimes only barely addressing what certain characters were up to, if at all–is something they’ve failed to do since, trying too hard to juggle every subplot every issue. They dilute themselves, which is where Chew slides into TV procedural mediocrity.

The Wake #1
Art by Sean Murphy
Writing by Scott Snyder
Published by Vertigo

thewake1While the nicest thing I can say about Scott Snyder is he’s the world’s most competent self-indulgent comic book writer, The Wake #1 probably deserves some praise. It’s a comic built almost entirely out of Michael Chricton’s Sphere or James Cameron’s The Abyss–disgraced and/or troubled scientist put on an elite team to look at something weird at the bottom of the ocean–but throwing in the prehistorical and post-apocalyptic sequences of Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’ Final Crisis #1, which fits in with Snyder’s game of “Pretend to Have Something to Say, but Really Just Do Pulp.” This is right up Sean Murphy’s alley, whose Punk Rock Jesus played fast with politics and religion by being genre for smartasses.

Where Snyder’s Batman partner, Greg Cappullo, was perfect for how his Baroque two-page spreads fit the writer’s trying-too-hard prose, Murphy balances out the imagery, allowing humanity to creep into The Wake. That’s not to say he doesn’t do creative layouts–in fact, his page of a submarine descending to an undersea station mirrors the earlier page of a futuristic hang-glider outrunning a tidal wave in a sunken metropolis, giving the issue the same yin-yang effect as Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa–but it is his characters which make The Wake work. They exert themselves: protagonist Dr. Archer straddles a boat’s gunwale as she approaches a humpback whale (while talking to her son on her headset); the unnamed hang-glider braces herself for a landing; scientists struggle to stabilize a comrade injured by the creature kept in their undersea research station. Murphy’s figures carry weight to their actions, aided by Matt Hollingsworth’s (Hawkeye) naturalist colors, which recall Frank Miller’s longtime collaborator Lynn Varley (from an era where “naturalist” wasn’t synonymous with “blandly, digitally saturated browns”). Even the typically cold, smug Homeland Security agent Cruz (who makes it a point to retort “I didn’t say anything about there not being…” when others point out he didn’t inform them of something) is allowed a more human look, with Murphy depicting him as poorly-shaven and wearing a corduroy jacket. Cruz himself is the one acknowledgement of politics, a representative of the world where scientists must curry favor with the military-intelligence-industrial complex in order to keep working (Dr. Archer accepts the gig to regain a cushy position at NOAA). As such, he exists as a cypher, ready to be manipulative villain or sympathetic anti-hero at a moment’s notice. And yet, even at The Wake‘s most basic and most pulpy, nothing is taken for granted with these characters, their behavior, or their appearance.

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