What Kind of Horrors Await Inside? Comics, That’s What Kind

All-New Ultimates #7
Art by Giannis Milonogiannis and Jordie Bellaire
Writing by Michel Fiffe
Published by Marvel

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Beyond the surface style, the notable change brought by fill-in illustrator Giannis Milonogiannis (King CityProphet) is space. The previous six issues, under Amilcar Pinna, consisted of tightly wound, close-cropped images, often packed together on the page. Threats–be they Warriors-rejects the Serpent Skulls, reactionary vigilante Scourge, or even the cops on their tail–were always closing in to take out the Ultimates. Milonogiannis, who takes more after French artist Moebius than John Romita, Jr. or Frank Miller (Pinna’s apparent influences for the series), instead draws the eye back as the Ultimates search for Skulls leader Crossbones, who has disappeared into the New York sewer system. The underground environment overtakes the characters; even in close-ups, the superheroes only ever take up a quarter of any given panel. It approaches the menace of Michel Fiffe’s scripts from a different path, focusing on the city’s labyrinthine structures themselves rather than what lurks within. The teen heroes’ descent connects the subculture of urban exploration with the adventure fiction which was part of classic superhero comics–in essence, they are discovering a new(ish) world, complete with a monster on the prowl. Youthful possibility colliding with fear of the unknown.

Catwoman #34
Art by Pat Oliffe, Tom Nguyen, and Sonia Oback
Writing by Ann Nocenti
Published by DC

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Not much to say about Ann Nocenti’s Catwoman run I haven’t said before. This, the final issue of said run, is closer to what it should have been: free of larger, editorial-driven-bullshit-crossovers and guest writers, focused entirely on Catwoman sneaking around darkened buildings, mucking things up for someone more criminal than her. Social commentary that’s on the nose but tied into the story, rather than being ripped-from-the-headlines window dressing meant to make a comic seem smarter than it is. This time, we’re reading about online dating/gaming/harassment, where sidekick Alice Tesla is being wooed by a creep who wants to steal all her private data (said creep even does up a 3-D printing of her in a chainmail bikini). Pat Oliffe gets a couple good illustrations in–a stat panel used to make silence the punchline to a quip-y exchange; a collage of Catwoman bouncing around a room, looking for weaknesses in security, while Tesla’s Zen-like observing is used to divide the panel. Tom Nguyen doesn’t make any glaring mistakes on inks, and Sonia Oback’s colors do the job. The story (largely) wraps up, and is allowed to be its own (unremarkable) thing. Given the state of DC, editorially speaking, this is as graceful an exit as Nocenti could have hoped for.

The Fade Out #1
Art by Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Writing by Ed Brubaker
Published by Image

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If Fatale was Brubaker/Phillips’ statement on the suffocating presence of sexism in human civilization (and its art), The Fade Out #1 reads like self-flagellation. Screenwriter Charlie Parish wakes up in the home of actress Valeria Sommers, finding she’s been strangled. He panics and wipes away evidence he was there, stumbling into a larger coverup, where the studio which employed them makes the death look like a suicide. Charlie’s realization of this is set to panels of him walking in front of illustrated recreations of scenes from black & white films (depicting a cowboy, a gangster, and duelists), mourning his double-failure as a man–first at not being able to save Valeria from her killer (or even awake when the murder occurred), then in not coming forward with the truth. Coming out at a time when women in the comic field are openly discussing a culture of harassment in the industry, the parallel (despite a light whiff of its own sexism in the implication Charlie should have “protected” Valeria) only becomes clearer. In the comic, guilt overtakes Charlie, and a need soon emerges to talk (vaguely warning another associate off from going to a Hollywood party), to ease his conscience. Obstructing the truth was meant to save his skin, but it burdens his conscience. Silence is shown as the worst crime of all.

Original Sin #8
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Writing by Jason Aaron
Published by Marvel

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Lots of clatter and racket, plenty of epilogues to hype for spinoff series (the comic even reminds readers to buy them), even some grotesque imagery (Nick Fury dangling the Watcher’s eyeballs from his hand), but what story was actually told? As a whodunit, Original Sin had few suspects and fewer motives, keeping intrigue to a bare minimum; in fact, the answer boils down to “If this person didn’t do it, then this series wouldn’t exist.” As a summer blockbuster superhero crossover, action consisted of a string of pinup shots, barely held together by scenery and with only the faintest idea of stakes (some villain wants to control the world, maybe?). If one squints hard enough, there’s a sense of cosmic, even divine, judgment at work against the crossover’s principal character–grizzled Nick Fury, perpetually shrouded in secrets and fighting hidden wars where he acts as judge, jury, executioner–as he’s sentenced to a terrible fate. This even suggests some political stance on Barack Obama’s kill-list approach to the War on Terror, but is garbled on its own terms (Ann Nocenti, even under the most dictatorial editors, beats this tripe): while Fury suffers for his crime, his place is taken by another, and the other heroes express doubts on whether or not he was wrong, in the shadowy quiet of Frank Martin’s colors. An illusion of damage within a story not even told.

POST-SCRIPT:

Of course, some might say having a coherent plot with actual character motivations or action which is better than a string of barely-related still frames might be too much to ask. This is, after all, a superhero crossover, meant to shift numbers. But! If competence is too high a hurdle to ask these things to jump, then why should anyone be excited to fork over money (their own money, even, which they presumably worked to attain) to giant corporations which charge extra for giving less of a shit?

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