Any comic whose take on the afterlife is “Question A: Is there an afterlife? Question B: If so, is there a level cap on XP?” is all right by me.
Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category
A webcomic I just heard about and really enjoy: Final Frontier is a rock and roll send-up of Kirby-era Fantastic Four.
HT: Comics Alliance
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is a kind of Knights Templar for the murine set. This roaming band of guardsmen live by a chivalrous code that has them protect the roadways of their tiny society, ensuring the ability of mice to trade and travel without becoming lunch.
The society is sword-and-cloak stuff, a Middle Ages vibe with castles and wooden houses, hand tools and ye old shoppes. It’s a solid start on a compelling world, although I wish more time had been spent exploring it. Instead we’re thrown right into the action, which feels pervasive.
The art is the high point. Peterson creates vibrant, water color-styled pages with an evocative interplay between light and dark. These mice live in night and day, sunshine and storm.
The writing isn’t as strong; a lot of the big lines feel borrowed from other stories, as if he’s still writing his way to a firm voice. But it works, and if it continues to improve to match the art–and add some more characterization to the storytelling–the series could be something special
Would I enjoy Warren Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men: Ghost more if it weren’t an X-Men story? Yes. And not only because he takes characters I’m familiar with in directions that don’t seem consistent with their histories.
The X-Men here are as savage as I’ve seen them. The team, composed of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Armor and a visiting Storm, seem to have lost their way. They’re nihilistic, prone to torture and murder, jumping in and wrecking things with no regard for consequences. Only Storm voices disapproval or surprise. The rest have grown accustomed to new ways of action, anchored in a sense that extinction is possible for mutants as a group.
This could be an interesting new direction for the X-men; indeed, it looks to be the way the franchise is trying to go (I’m not fully up to date). But what would be a new angle for a cohesive franchise seems like more grist for the mill for one that scatters its output—and viewpoints—over multiple channels every month. To argue “the X-men are changing,” you need to have a definitive take on who the X-men are, which doesn’t seem possible these days.
Ellis has to shoehorn his dimension-spanning story into an awkward set-up revolving around the old “no more mutants” House of M crossover. While he largely succeeds, it’s hard to feel it wouldn’t be better if he could set his own clean slate.
There are other small problems with the narrative. All the pieces needed to solve the mystery drop neatly into the characters laps. The characters are all a little too quippy; the dialogue can be amusing, but it also feels like Ellis fills too much panel space for a few world-weary takedowns.
The X-men are exempt from the carnage they dole out. In key scenes, a laser passes through a defensive shield only where it can do the least damage and a human-level combatant goes toe-to-toe with some monster. Worse, the miniseries dismissively discards a longstanding character only to conclude he was basically right. It doesn’t feel like much care was put into the overall tone and cohesiveness.
Simone Bianchi’s art doesn’t add to the appeal. It’s detailed but murky, with an overall low-contrast approach that has little leap from the page. The action is stiff and confusing.
But for X-men fans, the minseries is still worth reading. Ellis has enough fun concepts to burn that you wish he had more issues to devote to them. Reading it, I imagined it as part of an ongoing series, with space between issues to build the mystery—and its implications.
I love Darwyn Cooke’s art; I think he does an excellent job capturing action and using streamlined details to evoke memorable characters. But I’m not as big a fan of his writing, and the weaknesses of his approach can be seen throughout both volumes of DC: The New Frontier, which is generally regarded as a contemporary comics classic.
Part of the issue is that he’s playing with a massive cast of characters—basically anyone published by D.C. Comics during their golden era, from Superman at the top to King Faraday at the more obscure. It certainly is fun to see Cooke visually redesign this sprawling cast.
But because of the volume of characters, they generally come of more as names than people. You have to use what you know about them elsewhere to know them here. Oh, sure, Lois Lane loves Superman—that’s what happened in all the other comics. But the impressions we get in this series are fleeting. Motivations are unclear, especially when a “Red Scare” set-up is used to add flavor and then abandoned when the story dictates it.
The characterization we do see is meant to be noble but comes off as a little hokey instead, particularly Hal Jordan flying combat missions in Korea despite a refusal to use his machine guns. Rick Flagg is compelling as a patriot damaged by a career in secret ops while Martian J’onn J’onzz adds some humor, and Wonder Woman has an interesting, if undeveloped, path from believer to subversive.
The storytelling mostly seems to kill time until the next big moment. People blow themselves up for the greater good at least four times in the story, and while their choices make a certain kind of sense, they seem most motivated by Cooke’s impulse that he’s due for another spread. Things do cohere with a big threat near the end, but that’s only after another plot thread is dropped entirely.
The book’s strengths—merging early DC comics into one coherent universe—are also its weaknesses. I imagine your affinity for classic DC characters will determine your enthusiasm for the story Cooke is telling. In both instances, I come down square in the middle.
The recent birth control “controversy” has me alternately banging my head against the wall and checking the history books to see which century I live in. (Who knew that other people’s right to freedom of religion extended to our nursery? I already knew my right to conscience crapped out whenever the government decides it needs to immolate somebody.)
Today my favorite editorial cartoonist, Matt Bors, had a nice strip on the subject. As he sums up, “Now conservatives who don’t think Muslims should be able to build a mosque in New York City think a war is being waged on freedom of religion.”
Click the cartoon to see it full size.
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths features a battalion-scale look at the lot of Japanese infantrymen in World War II. It centers on a group of soldiers stationed on a remote island in New Guinea—although “abandoned” might be more accurate, given their lack of supplies and suffering at the hands of their superiors.
Their lot is a grim one. Even at best, the grunts are subject to constant beatings from their officers. They’re sent to scavenge in unfamiliar jungle, falling prey to crocodiles, tropical diseases and random bombing forays by Americans, who seem as distant and unknowable as the landscape itself.
The afterword shares that “90 percent” of the story is taken directly from the real-life experiences of author Shigeru Mizuki. This eminent manga creator served on a Pacific island in the Second World War. He barely survived a skirmish that wiped out the rest of his detachment; upon returning, he was berated for it. Only wounds from a bombing raid spared him from deployment in a suicide charge. He eventually lost his left arm and gained a healthy disgust for the treatment he and his peers endured. This scorn is evident in every page of this work.
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is filled with wrenching details. One man is shot in a rain-drenched firefight. His comrades abandon him, still living, but not before cutting off his little finger with a shovel to prove he died in battle. Later, the starving troops capture an American outpost only to fight over the boxes and boxes of food inside. “These bastards are living like kings fighting this war,” one observes bitterly.
Mizuki generally draws his characters in an exaggerated, cartoony style while turning to a more realistic treatment for backgrounds, landscape, jungle and camp. Photorealistic splashes periodically appear, typically depicting Americans or the bloody aftermath of battle. For the latter, Mizuki borrows the grainy realism of Robert Capa’s combat photographs. This visual treatment of the American troops—their tanks, planes, transports and lean silhouettes—emphasizes the philosophical differences between the armies. The very solidity of the Americans represents their pragmatic approach to war.
There’s little pragmatism on the Japanese side. Their commanding officer is eager to order a banzai charge against the Americans on their beachhead. Afterward, the few survivors are forced back to oblivion when a general’s dispatch shows up to argue their duty to suicide. One soldier is berated with the words, “Is your little worm’s life so precious?” The phrase could be the epithet for the rotted military culture that’s placed such a man in power.
The book is a powerful document, capturing the horrors of war. As fiction, it has problems, though. Mizuki populates his war story with too many characters. They’re hard to distinguish, and their ultimate fate—while harrowing—is less impactful than it would have been with a smaller cast.
He also relies too much on bodily humor to characterize his troops. Farts, shit, potatoes and prostitutes seem to be the extent of their inner lives. Mizuki may be casting them as average joes, men who would care little about the oft-referenced suicidal example set by Masashige Kusunoki in the 14th century. But he also diminishes them with this reliance on bodily humor.
Still, the book is compelling, full of moments that would seem unbelievable without the corroborating hand of history. It’s a good read—and an important one as well.