Art by Carlos Magno
Writing by Paul Jenkins
Published by Boom
The two-page fight between Superman-pastiche Meridian and his evil counterpart is easily the best sequence of this series thus far. Staged between pre-fight smack talk about Free Will and Predetermination and what amounts to an existentialist’s version of a Mortal Kombat Fatality, the sequence is a series of panels slanting inwards. The eye is drawn towards the mid-height of the right page–rather than the ostensible concluding panel–depicting Meridian flying through Anti-Meridian. The narrative is collapsing, a singularity leading to a conclusion that will not be favorable to the hero, which Jenkins and Magno have stressed up to this point as being inevitable. It becomes framed by the issue itself, speeding towards yet another death scene, yet simultaneously frames the series, encapsulating the melancholy which these characters carry out the ritual bloodletting of superhero crossovers. This layout-as-single-composition more than brings to mind the recent comics of Jae Lee (Jenkins’ partner on Inhumans and The Sentry, the latter specifically evoked by the presence of Meridian/Anti-Meridian, opposites who are the same man like Sentry/Void). Joe McCulloch notes Lee has moved towards visceral semi-abstraction, which plays out here in the vague swirls of colors that form the background. In these pages, Michael Garland’s colors come across as a more earthy version of the palettes employed by Lee collaborators José Villarrubia and June Chung. This is in keeping with the twin modes of Jenkins’ plotting for the series: commentary on the blood ‘n misery-soaked ‘events’ like Civil War and World War Hulk he himself had participated in (the casual, Mark Millar-esque use of violence against women, complete with sexual jokes, as a way to raise the stakes) and reliving his glory days in the more experimental, early-aughts Marvel Comics. But, where Deathmatch‘s histrionic previous issues undermined their point–one can only write “crazy bitch” so many times before the satire starts to just become the thing it’s satirizing–this is as subdued as its characters. Their growing acceptance of their inadequacy to change their plight allows for empathy (the second fight of the issue turns out to be a mercy killing), delivered through the decreasing use of dialogue until only one line is spoken on the final page (another singularity).
Art by Fiona Staples
Writing by Brian K. Vaughan
Published by Image
Vaughan’s continued reliance on contemporary memes holds him back as a writer, but it’s offset by Staples’ brilliance with faces and body language. Pages showing homeless vets with wings, bounty hunter The Will dealing with unhelpful customer service over the phone, or tabloid journalists who are literally toady may at best be moderately clever, but Staples makes them look so natural standing and sitting around it borders on comic book vérité (apart from the Photoshopped quality of the backgrounds making the characters look as if they were floating in front of a screen). Even the ho-hum pacing of each page, which always seems to end after a cliffhanger moment as if in defiance of action comic tropes, allows for Saga #13‘s best image: the (re)introduction of cyclops D. Oswald Heist–the writer who inspired the book’s central couple, who have come to pay homage. Here, he’s shown staggering about, clad in a robe and tighty whities while holding a gun and a bottle. Even before one reads Vaughan’s self-deprecating dialogue and narration (“No one makes worse first impressions than writers.”), there’s an inherent humor to this anachronism built into Staples’ pose. Her reality balances out his artifice.
Dial H #15; Demon Knights #23
Art by Alberto Ponticelli; Phil Winslade
Writing by China Miéville; Robert Venditti
Published by DC
With both these comics cancelled, it’s worth noting their endings also sync up with Batman Incorporated #13 by promising further adventures. With Batman, that’s a guarantee, but for these it just smacks of last-minute editorial decisions and financial incentive (got to keep those few readers moving to the other books, as Dial H‘s conclusion readily tells them to do). Also unlike Incorporated, there’s no melancholy hanging over the proceedings: no dead Robins, no deconstruction of Batman, no ouroboros to imply never-ending futility, just straight up adventure. Miéville uses “So let’s go dial” as a call to move forward; Demon Knights ends with the crew riding out. It actually runs counter to what made both series engaging to begin with.
Then again, Dial H only lived up to its potential twice during the run (the David Lapham drawn issue dealing with the superhero genre’s attitudes towards race and the Open-Window Man spotlight in #13), examining how form limits function. The particulars of plot, which this conclusion is swamped in, hasn’t been the more interesting part of Dial H, a fact compounded by Alberto Ponticelli’s often muddy artwork and layouts (abrupt transitions from characters being in costume to not being in costume) and Dan Green’s scratchy, Liefeldean inks. And when Miéville is plotting interdimensional intrigue, superhero deconstruction, and giant towers made of phone lines, the last comparison that should be made is mid-90s Image Comics. Ironically, the best storytelling of Ponticelli’s tenure (#13) revolved around slabs of concrete, but he is completely lost when it comes to depicting people in motion.
But if Dial H‘s problem was attempting greatness and stumbling over its feet, Demon Knights merely drifted away from intelligence, a fact marked by the way artists have depicted transgendered Shining Knight. Under Diogenes Neves and writer Paul Cornell, Knight was ambiguous and androgynous, a waif who defied the strict gender rules of Tolkienesque fantasy or the pseudo-feminism of “Strong Female Characters.” Post-Neves/Post-Cornell, the character’s been given an expanding bust and curvier figure (which even shows under the previously gender-disguising chestplate). Clearly defined as a woman now, Shining Knight is no longer a character, but a role. A sidekick, at that, since she is shown at this issue’s climactic battle, but never taking part in the actual fighting (leave that to the men and her butch Amazonian lover, Exoristos, who gets to kick a giant in the crotch). Going from warrior to cheerleader–Shining Knight gives the final page’s rallying cry–fits with DC’s trajectory of increased pandering to an adolescent male base. Those twin rides into the sunset? May as well be a final farewell to thought in the New 52.