The Easy Way Out Is A Cliff

Bleeding Cool collated a series of tweets made by artist Tess Fowler, which by and large seem to be a reaction to this other Bleeding Cool post and comments about it, revolving around tweets made by artist Brandon Graham about misogyny in the comic book industry, Brian Wood, and the controversy over a retailer ripping up copies of Pretty Deadly #1.

Makes for good reading, even it’s a bit on the tabloid side. Problem is, the way the industry and fans clam up whenever issues of sexism and racism appear (to say nothing of bigotry against homosexuals and transgenders), it takes quite a bit of muckraking to put these issues in the light where they can be exposed for what they are. Not everyone’s going to be like Tony Harris and announce how much they despise women. It’s never that easy.

Catwoman #24
Art by Rafa Sandoval
Writing by Ann Nocenti
Published by DC

There’s nothing here as clever as the previous gang-war storyline. The various political machinations of warring, subterranean civilizations which has marked the Down Under arc isn’t, surprisingly, the kind of on-the-nose leftist critique Ann Nocenti is particularly known for (there’s no “You can count on the unions in a crisis“), which loses much of her charm; Rafa Sandoval also dials back the disorienting angles and Todd McFarlane acrobatics which defined this run when it was being smothered by tie-ins. Much of this seems down to co-writer/artist Scott McDaniel (who here gets a “Special Thanks” credit after co-plotting the arc so far), who tends towards lowest common denominator–his stint with John Rozum on Static Shock ended up being an editorially-mandated disaster built on lame attempts to create “water cooler” moments.


What we have left is Alighieri’s Inferno as imagined by Jules Verne: Nocenti’s Catwoman attempts to rescue a friend while playing witness (and voice of reason) to an underworld overlooked by the social structure of DC Universe America: hobos, bums, and the mentally ill are replaced by superhuman fire-people (raving mad Dr. Phosphorous and daughter Tinderbox), soldiers in miner gear (the Warhogs), and, well, the mentally ill (the New 52 version of Joker’s Daughter, a character who is not actually Joker’s daughter [it’s complicated]). There’s also a mangy cat antagonizing Catwoman, Nocenti equating homelessness to a feral state. Even with the danger these beings pose to Catwoman and above-ground Gotham City; even with the house-style weirdness Sandoval lends them; there’s a convincing level of sympathy for these characters. All they want is survival, for themselves and their families (Phosphorous wants to turn the world to ash so he and his daughter can live on the surface). As an exercise for keeping this book far away from the latest superhero crossover, there’s far worse things to be done.

Velvet #1
Art by Steve Epting
Writing by Ed Brubaker
Published by Image

Like Brubaker’s other Image series, Fatale, Velvet is all about flipping genre relationships. Those of men and women, of course, but also between spy/agency, and agency/administration. Within the layers of secrecy which drive its plot–the mystery of an agent’s death–is also a layer of incestuousness to its characters. Agent-turned-secretary Velvet Templeton’s several affairs with other spies (which she reflects on during her introduction), a twist on the flirtatious relationship between James Bond and Ms. Moneypenny, becomes symbolic of the revolving door of the military-industrial-surveillance complex’s own ability to cycle its members in and out over time; Velvet’s white streak suggests she’s older than she looks, much like the Black Widow in Brubaker’s splendid Captain America run with artist Steve Epting.


Epting’s murky, still-frame aesthetic is utilized to terrific effect: the opening pages commit to Bond routine, yet flip the progression of action right-to-left, even as the plot (and the reader, as I outlined here) read in linear left-to-right. By throwing off the usual rhythm of an action comic’s structure, Epting creates a sense of unease as his Bond surrogate Jefferson shoots, jumps, punches his way through the usual business, only to be ambushed by montage’s end. The moment of his death, transitioning to Velvet taking the reins of the plot, snaps pacing and progression back into synchronicity in time for readers to learn the rules of a game where Bond is expendable and Moneypenny has everyone’s number. Even when he falls into the same shortcomings as fellow grit-purveyor Michael Lark (action scenes, in particular, tend to violate the 180-degree rule and fail to convey space), Epting commands mood and augments Brubaker’s smart, conscientious script. Rather than the faux-populism of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus, Velvet embraces itself as espionage pulp, critiquing the monolithic structure of intelligence agencies not through loud proclamations or factoids, but by plotting a noirish search for truth.

Young Avengers #11
Art by Jamie McKelvie
Writing by Kieron Gillen
Published by Marvel

Young Avengers’ rocky phase hit the same way it did fellow quirky Marvel comics (Hawkeye, Daredevil, and others): recycling its most talked about elements but more plainly and with less creativity. This particular slump comes in the use of diagrammatic images, which so wowed back in Young Avengers #4 with its breakdown of Marvel Boy’s thoughts and actions (illustrating both how much of an alien he is and how much he’s like a 21-year old); here, it is former X-Man Prodigy accessing a “network” of Marvel’s teenage superheroes. What’s underwhelming with the latter is how Jamie McKelvie limits himself to profile images and names; the Marvel Boy spread uses action to express character–what Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña did so wonderfully on Uncanny X-Force–while this only suggests a thought process. McKelvie has done stylized, manga-esque grids before, its what this series is known for, yet here settles for the cheapest solution to depicting Kieron Gillen’s script.


Why not make the networking a series of connected panels, illustrating the characters action/reaction to being called up? More than likely this is the result of the bi-weekly schedule Marvel has afflicted many of its comic books with. Like with Hawkeye, Young Avengers has had to stall out its plots with rapport-breaking fill-ins and momentum-stalling downtime issues. Under the crack of this whip, the likelihood an ongoing series will churn out great or even good comics dwindles.


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