Two Minutes Late Dude

Running behind, so less talking.

Fatale #15
Art by Sean Phillips
Writing by Ed Brubaker
Published by Image

Of Fatale‘s entire run, this one might be the most quintessential Brubaker/Phillips joint. Burnt out, hopeless men and sexy, dangerous women, the bodies and wrecked lives they leave behind, and the constant feeling of a world slowly strangling them. Sean Phillips is as efficient as ever with his layouts. Each page dials up the claustrophobia of its dual protagonists (Nicholas in the present-day framing narrative, Lance in the post-grunge 90s tale), either with tight closeups or their environment. Nicholas has been imprisoned since the second arc, but even when he’s broken out by Lance (sent by titular femme Josephine), he is always framed as being small, unimportant and in circumstances out of his control (the comic’s most arresting shot is them getting into a getaway van in an alley just off a courthouse). Meanwhile, Lance, a rock musician who robs a bank to keep his band afloat, is similarly miniscule. Sure, he robs a bank, but afterwards he worries he may be too into it (“Christ…was he already admitting there’d be a next time?”), which shows him to be fearful rather than mighty. When the two begin hiking in the wilderness, they’re enclosed by darkness and rain, with Nicholas narrating that he’s “hobbling down a rocky trail to the river, following a madman”; Lance being his past, present, and future under Josephine’s spell. Phillips’ artwork (with Elizabeth Breitweiser on colors) is as novelistic as Ed Brubaker’s prose.

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Josephine herself is back to being a mystery again. The scary Other, after the second arc’s sexual liberation and the third arc’s historical introspection. She’s seen by Nicholas only in delusion, and introduced to Lance naked, alone, and with no memory following his robbing a bank. Her supernatural hold over men causes Lance to take her home. We’re then introduced to a third man: a serial killer and rapist obsessed with Josephine. This ties back in with an earlier issue depicting medieval knights whose own barbarism is only heightened by the powers of these femme fatales. Rather than another example of “pretty girl wrecks a man’s life,” it shows men being possessive/protective of Josephine. It becomes interesting how each man she encounters reacts to her curse’s influence, and how many will blame her for their own obsessions; while it’s partially true due to Brubaker’s genre choice, what doesn’t occur to the male characters is their own obsessions and inner demons dictate how they respond to her. Even then, Fatale suggests we’re all impulses and instincts when we get right down to it.

Young Avengers #6
Art by Kate Brown

Writing by Kieron Gillen
Published by Marvel

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One thing about Marvel’s better series lately is they’re more charming than artful. Hawkeye, Alpha: Big Time, Daredevil (and its spinoff mini-series, Dark Nights), FF, and Young Avengers lose focus or slip on technical details, thanks to double-shipping, but manage to average out over time. Kieron Gillen’s latest Young Avengers script, for instance, inserts office comedy into the superhero series, but only as a clumsy way to establish a new arc via abrupt cliffhanger (not as intelligent as Dwayne McDuffie’s Damage Control). Previous issues dealt with teen issues through superheroics (to get away from zombified parents, the characters hung out in diners and clubs), placing the action in a social and emotional context. Here, Quicksilver Jr. (a.k.a. Speed) and ex-mutant Prodigy are teens in the workforce, but we don’t get much insight for this fill-in issue. Speed builds things really quick, which Kate Brown depicts in micro grid layouts, and uses his money to party hard (during a coffee shop scene, he’s given twitchy motion lines and crows feet, suggesting a lack of sleep); Prodigy is meticulous, trying to save up for an early retirement (he’s introduced in a series of four six-panel pages where he provides technical support for superheroes and villains). Their interaction, the basis for the entire issue, exists in a void. Only their stories matter–no co-workers and a boss that serves as plot device–and there’s little reason for them to talk at all beyond Gillen’s arbitrary need for them to do so. Big Two house style favors this IP-centric approach to storytelling (Age of Ultron, Justice League of America), so it’s no surprise even the more human Gillen would turn in at least one dud (his Iron Man is still worse), just disappointing.

The Wake #2
Art by Sean Murphy
Writing by Scott Snyder
Published by Vertigo

Lots of goofy shit happens in this comic. The main character’s flashback to an encounter with a merman (the monsters being reimagined in this series), a guy hallucinating that his naked wife is telling him to free the monster, and a final page involving the moon which bears no relation to anything else in the issue itself, but may factor into future ones. Sean Murphy’s up to the task of making Scott Snyder’s pretentious, semi-coherent plotting (what some mistake for “literary”) look gorgeous. The opening scene, depicting ancient people using a mammoth corpse as bait for a great white shark, is given massive scope across the three pages it occupies, with dozens of hunters swarming an apex predator in a vicious battle for survival (Matt Hollingsworth coats this scene in a hazy sheen of red, naturally). Does it make a lick of sense? No. The sheer effort of bringing down a mammoth, and the hunters would rather use it to set up an even more difficult prey, rather than just eat it? The Wake is so full of these logical fuckups, its saving graces are Murphy’s art and Snyder being just sharp enough a writer to not linger on any one problem in his script. His chapter format moves quickly, with Murphy using collage layouts for Snyder’s more talky bits (an explanation of how real animals could inspire folklore) to keep them from being a chore. While that’s better than many of Snyder’s Big Two contemporaries, it doesn‘t make The Wake any smarter or more artistic.

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