No One’s Gonna Drag You Up To Get Into the Light Where You Belong

Because feuds, rivalries, and straight up swipes at contemporaries are fun to see play out in artistic work, I found this dig at hipster/goth icon Neil Gaiman, from IDW’s reprint of The Maxx #4 (art by Sam Kieth, writing by Kieth and William Messner-Loebs), to be my favorite comic book moment from last week:

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Ms Marvel #1
Art by Adrian Alphona
Writing by G. Willow Wilson
Published by Marvel

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Embarrassed at a party full of white classmates, Kamala Khan wanders home only to pass out in a mysterious fog. She awakens to her hero, the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel, speaking Urdu, backed by Iron Man and Captain America talking of blooming flowers and surrounded by stuffed animals; Adrian Alphona stages the page with the linear perspective of a Renaissance painting. It’s clear from the outset this is some otherworldly force, whether Islamic archangels or cosmic entity, approaching Kamala as the distillation of every social and cultural drive acting upon her. It’s a carry over of the Quetzalcoatl sequences from G. Willow Wilson’s Vertigo series Air, triple-meaning surrealism intruding upon the mundane. Throughout the first issue, we see elements of Kamala’s pressures: her infatuation with the Avengers and envious admiration for a “blond and popular” girl (who masks passive-aggressive putdowns of Islam with the phrase “I’m just concerned.”). Kamala foremost has a teenage need to engage with others on even a casual level–like the “Hey, did you see The Avengers? Wasn’t it awesome?” discussions which followed the movie’s release. Wilson’s pulls between faith and assimilation dovetails nicely with Adrian Alphona’s portrayals of teenagers. Like his work on Runaways, Ms. Marvel shows off fashion as personal statement: for Kamala’s entrance to the party, Alphona chooses a wide-angle shot which foregrounds shoes and boots, the range of styles/voices on display inspiring a “Whoa.” Furthermore, the difference between Kamala’s casual dress (jeans and the insignia jacket) and her friend Nakia’s hybrid of tradition and high fashion (headscarf and fur coat) offers a greater depth of Arab-American culture and its relationship to faith and ethnicity than the inept depiction of Dearborn, Michigan found in the Simon Baz arc of Green Lantern. Even with the mental record scratch sound effect brought on by Mild Quirk phrases like “totes hallucinating” and “ultra drunk”–Wilson assimilating editor Steve Wacker’s attempts at being hip and cool–there’s an honest specificity to Ms. Marvel.

The Mercenary Sea #1
Art by Matthew Reynolds
Writing by Kel Symons
Published by Image

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Just a bit too slick, Mercenary Sea‘s only surprise is how it doesn’t surprise. Teasing a Pacific adventure against the backdrop of the Japanese-Chinese portion of World War II (before America entered the conflict), there should’ve been a lot more simmering tension. With a cast of expats, runaways, and traumatized soldiers operating in the seedy world of smuggling and espionage (complete with Nick Fury lookalike scouting for hired help), there should’ve been more danger. Matthew Reynolds’ digital imagery looks clean and sterile (even with a scarred-up thug starting a bar fight), offering no physicality. This only compounds the problems with Kel Symons’ script, built entirely out of cliches–the hero bringing culture to the savages (in this case, the film Duck Soup shown to a tribe of reformed cannibals), the sassy yet one-dimensional Lady Friend in a Group of Dudes, the Asian call girl who loves the hero, the unremarked multicultural mix of the crew of smugglers–while consistently undermining any sense of genuine threat (the bar fight is won in three panels, with three more to hammer it home). The only playfulness shown is Reynold’s cover, depicting the hero ascending a rock in the middle of the ocean, being circled by sharks, as he tries to catch an enemy off-guard. It’s a simple Pop Art expression, showing far more momentum than the inert adventure it advertises.

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