Another Spin, Maybe I’ll Get Lucky (I Won’t)

Mighty Avengers #6-7
Art by Valerio Schiti
Writing by Al Ewing
Published by Marvel

mighty-avengers-7

As consummately professional as Al Ewing has been on scripting Mighty Avengers (in the Roger Stern/Kurt Busiek/Mark Waid mold one hardly sees outside of, well, those writers anymore), the series is still held back by its visuals. Valerio Schiti on fill-in duty is much more dynamic than the stilted hackwork of Greg Land: characters occupy space and interact from panel-to-panel (possessed superhero White Tiger taking down teammates Power Man and Iron Fist in a fight), where Land would settle for pinups and micro-panels showing punches thrown but never in relation to anything or anyone else. While Schiti is hardly as energetic as Emma Rios on Pretty Deadly (where inset panels and aspect-to-aspect transitions are used to create mood within the action), it does prize a stylistic utilitarianism common to those 80s superhero comics Ewing seems to be drawing upon. Watching heroine White Tiger go from brooding angst to vengeful purpose, spurred on by her Tiger God when she catches word her family’s killer is out on the street and working with a shady PAC (subtext!), especially recalls the gritty/urban thriller aesthetic of John Romita, Jr. Unfortunately, Schiti is held back by how polished these pages are. Schiti’s inking is too neat–Romita collaborators Dan Green and Klaus Janson would have introduced scratchy, grimy lines to the street brawls between White Tiger and her surprised, outmatched comrades–and Frank D’Armata’s muted coloring tries harder to be artistic in the same manner as a generic still-life portrait than to create tone. Even when Ewing puts kid-friendly tropes through a self-serving pragmatic lens (the team protecting the scumbag from White Tiger’s wrath so they don’t suffer political consequences), the sterilized artwork turns this into squeaky-clean, heavy-handed sitcom bits. Mighty Avengers coasts when it could cut.

Hacktivist #1-2
Art by Marcus To
Writing by Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly
Created by Alyssa Milano
Published by Archaia

hacktivist-2

Celebrity “created” comics are a strange by-product of the industry’s Hollywoodization. Get somebody (either a recognizable name like Nicolas Cage or an already-forgotten hack like Marcus Nispel) to sign off on turning some half-assed pitch they liked into a comic book (made by completely different somebodies) on the off chance of then licensing it as a movie based on a comic book and/or “graphic novel” (preferably starring or directed by the original somebody). Hacktivist (“Created by Alyssa Milano”) fits comfortably into this bland mold, its only unique feature being colorist Ian Herring’s appropriation of the blue/orange scheme popular in contemporary Hollywood films to make Marcus To’s artwork pop–which, to be fair, is a remarkable step up in quality of the brown/brown/darker brown Marvel and DC had been/are still favoring. Even then, To’s depiction of a hacker/industrialist causing the New York skyline to light up with the press of a button is the only image which stands out. So, there we go: hand me down movie tricks in a okay-drawn comic screaming “I want to be a movie!” Even the political edge this comic promotes–that of a pair of super-rich social media tycoons helping out the lowly plebes protesting against inequality through their own techno-savvy–flatters the Hollywood machine. Opening with a Tunisian uprising, which the tycoons offer salvation for, lends the appearance of liberal social consciousness, yet really it’s another spin on the benevolent 1% (a Republican-approved tale), who have to contend with a duplicitous (femme fatale) government agent. Those Tunisian protesters, fighting for survival and some vague promise of freedom? They’re an after-thought. What they’re rebelling against, what they stand for, these are neither text nor subtext. They’re little more than toys for a blonde, blue-eyed rich kid playing at freedom fighter, taking cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk’s navigation of corporate oligarchy and turning it into social media marketing. Activism hacked.

Three #5
Art by Ryan Kelly
Writing by Kieron Gillen
Published by Image

three-5

Was it a coincidence the conclusion of Three came out as 300: Rise of an Empire barreled its way into theaters? Probably an irrelevant question, but considering the series has stressed the ways it is a reaction to Frank Miller’s original 300 graphic novel about the Spartans–which Zack Snyder adapted into a lurid, slick action fantasy–it does seem fitting the cinematic sequel and the postmodern, deconstructionist comic should entwine like this. Ryan Kelly, a realist in the tradition of Alex Raymond, draws Three not with the mythic embellishment of Miller (which Snyder green-screened into plasticized reality) but with subdued range, similar to his UFO/political thriller Saucer Country (created with writer Paul Cornell). The spitting, screaming proclamations of Miller’s Leonidas replaced with the gritted-teeth annoyance of Agesilaos, insulted by the titular three helots who defy him with their own Thermopylaean stand. Aided by Jordie Bellaire’s hellish reds and oranges (which invoke enough of Lynn Varley, Miller’s wife and colorist), this realism even flips Miller’s script, with loner Klaros guarding the mouth of a cave from his Spartan pursuers; killing a hound, he challenges, “Send men…if you have any,” (writer Kieron Gillen channeling Miller’s hyper-masculinity to mock the very men Miller gave admiration for). The Spartans posited as defenders of freedom by Miller/Snyder here shown as the same barbarous horde they thought of the Persians they fought off. Rather than 300‘s stirring, face-value denouement about freedom, however–or even the ultraviolent cool of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s We3 (another 3-against-an-army narrative)–Klaros is simply engaged in an act of bluster. Political theater in an effort to buy minutes for himself and his compatriots Damar and Terpander. The three know they are cornered, with zero chance of winning, but understand how iconography has social power. With a tactical use of their dead end, Damar doing as much healing as she can, and Terpander changing armor with Klaros during a lull, they put on a charade to bring their masters low. Even entrenched in Sparta’s iniquity, and the knowledge their lives will not even be a footnote of history (a fact which hangs over a moment of intimacy between Damar and Klaros), they choose to defy. To announce they matter, despite being low and common. Kelly’s realism is a reminder: humanity, fleeting as it is, will always be greater than mythology.

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