Meat Cute

Satellite Sam #1
Art by Howard Chaykin
Writing by Matt Fraction
Published by Image

Having come out the same week as Hawkeye #11 being crowned Comic of the Year, Satellite Sam‘s debut may have gotten lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because that Pizza Dog thing is alright, but just an off-kilter stall tactic for Matt Fraction and David Aja. A stray tangent. A brief bit of whimsy. This? This is still Matt Fraction being  precious, this time with a 50s, Mad Men backdrop where beautiful women in flattering dresses get groped and ogled by square-jawed guys in the workplace, but there’s a lot more play with time and chaos. The way Fraction and artist Howard Chaykin depict the filming of a children’s sci-fi TV show whose star (named Carlyle White) has been murdered, unbeknownst to the crew, creates this foreboding, Cold War paranoia.

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Chaykin makes clocks omnipresent in the issue, recalling Watchmen‘s doomsday countdown. Either in the background, or as a graphic laid over the panels, readers are always kept aware the events are happening at a fast pace, often simultaneously. Multiple points of view intersect with each scene–such as when producer Mike (Carlyle’s son) goes to fix a stage light, only to drop it and cause an actor to hesitate on air–from which we see the formation of two narratives: one, the crew’s struggle just to finish an episode amidst accidents and their own dysfunction (actor Clint sexually harassing actress Kara just off camera); the other, an executives meeting where station president Doc Ginsberg plots to aggressively expand his business with government collusion. There’s uncertainty and fear in Chaykin’s figures and layouts, ending one page on a blank white panel occupied solely by one sentence: “What’s going to happen?” (courtesy Fraction and letterer Ken Bruzenak). Fraction hints at the coming social (crew member Libby being in the control room), sexual (Carlyle’s stash of girlie pictures), technological (the rise of color television), and legal changes (FCC regulations) that face his characters in a manner as real and dangerous to them as nuclear war was (fitting that this issue ends with a fantastical lie, like Watchmen). Both worker and owner struggle with such changes, whether it’s television or Twitter, but the former wishes to survive them while the latter seeks to control them. History at its most potent.

Occupy Comics #1
Art and Writing by Various Folk
Published by Black Mask

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Meant to do a longer piece on this when it came out, but halfway through dissecting it realized it wasn’t worth the effort. Cheap, sentimental pseudo-populism paired with coloring from the “shades of brown is ART!” school of comics coloring. For every interesting bit–such as Alan Moore’s academic treatise on the relationship between comic books, social activism, and capitalism, with a lengthy section on Tijuana bibles–there’s three misguided attempts at chest-thumping solidarity with the Occupy movement, which says little about collective action or the need for a thoughtful populace to keep government and business corruption in check. What’s great is how often the creators not only contradict each other (as when Ben Templesmith depicts bankers as demons in “Clever” not long after J.M. DeMatteis pleads to not demonize the opposition in his sappy “That Which is Needed”), but often plays into the media’s portrayal of Occupy (one strip shows a ninja stealing gas). As if to really kneecap the very movement it’s meant to help, it closes out with Tea Party apologia “Channel 1%.” Likening that movement with Occupy ignores how it was really a front by big businesses to get more Republicans elected, including the son of career Congressman Ron Paul (Tea Partiers are supposedly “against” “career politicians,” but look at who they vote for). I mean, the whole thing was started by a CNN mouthpiece railing against a bill to help people about to lose their homes to the banks (not by the bailout, as is claimed here), before Fox News pundits were handed the baton.

Again, not too bothered by it. It’s not the first well-meaning, boneheaded political anthology. Won’t be the last, either, and I’d certainly rather have people engaged than apathetic. Just, pay attention to what you’re saying, guys? Is it too much to ask?

Spawn #233
Art by Szymon Kudranski
Writing by Todd McFarlane
Published by Image

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Even though Kudranski is really good at fractured sensory overload, a lot of Spawn is very clinical. All those frightened eyes, clawing hands, eviscerations, spattering blood, and moments of Spawn-host Jim D-owning cloaked in darkness, mocked by the practically invisible being taking hold of him, create this sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty. It’s held back, however, by Todd McFarlane overwriting everything. His attempts to turn the Spawn/symbiote costume giving Bond villain exposition into a tension raising “This is why you’re fucked” moment fails because it lets the gambit out of the bag from the get go. If McFarlane wants to make it clear Spawn is Venom, in light of Neil Gaiman’s spiteful and pointless deal for Marvel to publish Angela comics, that’s fine with me, but simultaneously vague and impenetrable allusions to backstory and Biblical retcons become tedious, deflating the weird, horrific images Kudranski delivers. This pull between dreamlike image and mechanical logorrhea can be fascinating (Scott Snyder partners Greg Cappullo and Sean Murphy demonstrate that on Batman and The Wake, respectively), and it has moments here (a series of panels inside Downing’s profile), but McFarlane more often than not gets in his own way.

Daredevil #28; Young Avengers #7
Art by Javier Rodriguez; Jamie McKelvie
Writing by Mark Waid; Kieron Gillen
Published by Marvel

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This whole ‘ruin a good thing with double shipping’ thing Marvel is doing is cute and all, but they need to stop it. In the case of these two comics, it’s becoming clear the quirky plotting and visual style which define the mild eccentrics of Marvel’s lineup (see also: Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and FF) are being hijacked as an end in itself, rather than a means to stray these titles afield of the house style. Waid introduces yet another wrinkly retcon into Daredevil’s origin story in the form of a bully now seeking his aid, careening the character back into Spider-Man knockoff territory (why, Matt Murdock was only bullied because he was stuck up and wouldn’t play with the other kids, of course!); meanwhile, Gillen gives us goofy aliens called Skifflefluffles and whiny witch-boy Wiccan reciting Prodigy’s backstory like a Wikipedia entry. Neither gets bogged down by dumb quirk, and the artists carry the comics through them, but minimizing the detrimental effect of your publisher’s bullshit is not cause for celebration.

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