Friday, August 31, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #16

It's Friday, and my gut impulse is to make some sort of Rebecca Black joke, but seriously, how lame would that be?



Smokey knows how lame it would be, don't you, Smokey?  By the way, ask Craig how he got fired on his day off; I bet it was for stealin' boxes to make a fort.  Damn; you should get his ass high...

Anyways, let's let Craig and Smokey do their thing; we'll do ours, and have a look at this week's comic books.  Sound good?




ANY week that brings a new Joe Hill comic is a good week.  This was a good week.

Here's what we've got: Locke & Key: Grindhouse, a one-shot set during the ... well, actually I don't know when it's set.  I feel like it's probably the fifties, but that's just a guess.  No matter; it takes place long before the events of the main storyline in Locke & Key, and involves a three-man gang of criminals who pull a robbery and then go to Keyhouse to continue their crime spree.  That's where their bad day begins.

This is a short (sixteen pages) tale, but it is immensely satisfying, partly because of the customarily stunning art by Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos, but also because of Hill's wit.  Here, he seems to be paying homage to old-school crime comics, so he portrays his criminals as truly nasty, depraved men, and while I suppose some people might not think jokes like the ones in the following panels are funny, they sure did tickle my funny bone:




I'm not somebody who feels like jokes need explaining, so in one way, I'd have to say these panels speak for themselves.  However, context is everything, and I DO feel the need to make sure you understand why, contextually, I think it's funny for a guy holding a bra to be talking about the big, bouncy, white tits of a girl he's just "fought."  What Hill is doing, in the style of old-school morality-play crime and horror comics, is making the bad guys truly despicable in as over-the-top a manner as possible.  The bad guys in comics like that don't settle for merely doing BAD things; they do the worst things the story allows.  That sort of overbearing insistence on evil being Evil (or even EVIL) leads to excess in the dialogue and in the art, and that can be amusing because at that point the device is obvious: the artists and writers are being manipulative, and we know they're being manipulative, and they know we know, and they go ahead and do it, and we go ahead and read it.  The humor lies in the recognition between writer/artist and audience; it is the humor of familiarity, of one guy saying, "Alright, I know you know this joke already, but I'm going to make you laugh anyways because of the way I tell it."

So let me be clear: I don't think rape is funny, and I don't think Joe Hill thinks it's funny, and I don't think Gabriel Rodriguez thinks it's funny.  Nobody write me nasty comments or emails saying I do, because it's not the case.

Here, though, a ratty-looking French-Canadian rapist who we KNOW is going to get his come-uppance; well, he can be funny, because we know how this is all going to turn out.  We've heard the joke before.

We haven't heard Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez tell it, though, and herein lies the fun.  Their telling of it involves Keyhouse and its many secret keys; these rapists and murderers think they've got the upper hand, but they really don't have a clue, do they?

I won't ruin the fun; you'll have to experience it for yourself.  This is great, great stuff.

For the Stephen King fans, there are also several in-jokes that you might find amusing.  One involves a line of dialogue that comes almost straight out of Christine; another involves a couple of King family references (there's a brother named Owen and a lovingly-drawn pet Corgi).

A big part of the reason to love the issue, though, is the art.  This is some of the best work I've ever seen from Rodriguez and Fotos.  It looks nothing like other issues of the series, but yet feels entirely consistent thanks to the thematic focus of the issue (the title of which ought to give you a hint or two).  The lettering by Robbie Robbins is also terrific, and I hardly ever notice a comic's lettering in the sense of having feelings about it on an artistic level.

The final half of the comic is devoted to some outstanding architectural drawings that serve as a guide to Keyhouse.  Hill's one-page introduction to this section talks about how Rodriguez (who has a background in architecture) works constantly to make sure the house feels like a real place.  It is incredibly detailed work, and despite the fact that the ongoing series is coming to an end in the upcoming Locke & Key: Omega arc, it is clear that Hill and Rodriguez have plans for more stories set in Keyhouse.

Bring 'em on.  As many as you guys want, as often as you want; I'll eat 'em up like a Corgi eating pie off a dead man's face.

And folks, trust me, if you aren't reading Locke & Key, you are missing out on a classic while it's happening.  This one is for the ages.




Speaking of classics, I'm not sure Scott Snyder's American Vampire quite qualifies as a classic in the making yet, but if not, it sure is a damn good near-miss.

We're now halfway through the seemingly-crucial arc "The Blacklist," and Snyder has recently said that the overall series is at what feels to him like its midway point.  With that in mind, this particular issue feels very much like a turning point for the series.  Not so much at the beginning, or even in the middle, but once we get to the end of the issue ... whoo-boy, then DEFINITELY.  The art by Rafael Albuquerque (especially in the final few panels) is maybe some of the best he has done for the series, and that's saying something.

This issue has: blues music; throat slashings; grenades; machine guns; surprise cowboy action; a boat; decapitations; gold; and tears.

Pretty damn good.




Also pretty damn good: this weeks issue of Before Watchmen.  I think so far, it's "The Minutemen" that is emerging as the clear front-runner for the crown of "best part of Before Watchmen."  That's true for my own tastes, if nobody else's, and while there have been good elements in all of the books so far (even when they've been at their worst), "The Minutemen" is the only one that feels to me as if it is actually enhancing Watchmen in any meaningful way.

This is probably something we shouldn't be surprised by.  It's the most disengaged from the original's storyline and therefore has the most room to maneuver.  Alan Moore, in Watchmen, tells us what happens to some of the characters depicted here (Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman, etc.), but doesn't fill them in as characters except in a vague way.  And that's fine; what he was after with those characters was the suggestion of a rich, yet ultimately silly and pointless and even kinda perverted, cast of characters extending decades into the past.  He achieved it, it worked perfectly within the context of Watchmen, and that was satisfactory.  However, in prequelizing the Minutemen, there WAS room for another writer/artist to define those characters a bit more solidly, and provided that said creative team didn't contradict or cheapen Watchmen in any way, there was real potential.

So far, Id say Darwyn Cooke -- who is both writer AND artist here -- is getting the job done capably.  I'm a little bit like Hollis Mason in that I'm starting to kinda fall in love with The Silhouette.  Ursula is easily turning out to be the highlight of the series, and I'm curious to see if what happens from this issue forward into the final three is that she -- and her ultimate demise -- will end up being the focus of "The Minutemen" overall.  It feels like that's where we're headed, and if so, I have a feeling Cooke's work is eventually going to be seen as a bit of a triumph.  Possibly even enough of one to make Before Watchmen feel worthwhile overall.

It's too early to tell, but those are my feelings after reading this new issue.

A big part of the draw here (pun intended) is Cooke's art, which is simple, yet incredibly evocative.  You get a good idea of it from that cover, shown above, but here are a few favorite panels, to give you a better idea:








Nothing terribly impressive there on the face of things, but let me assure you (in case you don't already know): if you read enough comics, you will see plenty of examples of bad art.  One thing that really bugs me is poorly-drawn facial expressions (more on which later in the column...), which will take me completely out of enjoying a story.  Some artists, either because they are rushed or because they are not quite talented enough to begin with, seemingly struggle to depict the emotions dictated by the script.

For that reason, when you see art that is as clean, as controlled, as evocative as what Darwyn Cooke is doing in these pages, it is a real breath of fresh air.  I'd heard of Cooke before reading "The Minutemen," but I didn't actually know any of his work.  With every issue of this comic that passes, it is becoming more and more clear that I am missing out; I'm going to have to become more familiar with his work, and soon.




Many of the same virtues to be found in Darwyn Cooke's art can also be found in The New Deadwardians, which is a thoroughly outstanding miniseries.  (Are there seriously only two issues left?!?  Man oh man, I'm gonna be sorry to see this one end...)

The art here is courtesy of I.N.J. Culbard, who, like Cooke, is making it look simple.  However, you get the feeling that he is successfully conveying everything he wants to convey from Dan Abnett's script.  Nothing seems amiss; everything works.

Here are some sample pages (pilfered from a preview at CBR):





The story in this issue really ramps up.  I'm not going to give anything away, except to say that the investigation takes two steps forward, and then looks like it might take five or six steps back.  Also, one of my favorite characters makes a welcome return, though I suspect Inspector Suttle might find her return even more welcome than I did...

Three-fourths of the way in, I'm loving The New Deadwardians.  VERY happy I took a chance on this one.




This month in Angel & Faith: hangings that reminded me of The Dark Knight Rises; two demons chowing down on a hastily-removed spinal column; doubts both interior and expressed; multiple axe-choppings and sword-stabbings; a very large, very brainy demon; Whistler-fu; daffiness from Giles' hot aunts; Willow trying both to be and not be herself; and some of the best art this series has seen so far.

This continues to be a solid book on a monthly basis, and was apparently recently nominated for a Harvey award for best new series (along with another "Bryant Has Issues" favorite, Animal Man).




I'm not sure how I feel about this issue.  On the one hand, it's got a decent story; on the other hand, I think I've figured out that not only do I dislike the art, I kinda loathe it.  Too many cheesecake poses that are disguised as badass-fighting-woman action.  Here's the thing: I love hot women.  Philosophically, I'm not opposed to the idea of a pigtailed blonde in military garb showing her midriff and wielding a machine gun.  By all rights, I ought to find this highly appealing:



I don't, though.  And I'm at a bit of a loss to explain why that is. What I know for sure is that it's related to the artistic approach Dexter Soy is using, and it's got nothing to do, in actuality, with the cheesecake; I like (literally: I just flipped through the comic and counted) exactly two of the panels Soy drew here.  The rest leave me completely cold.

And yet, I've read reviews that are ecstatic over what he and writer Kelly Sue DeConnick are doing.  So I dunno, maybe it's just me.  All I know is that I'm not responding to the art.  (The cover art by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, and Javier Rodriguez is another story; I love it, and wish they were drawing the comic itself.)

The story is better.  Not great, but I do like Carol Danvers as a character, and DeConnick is writing her well, especially from a dialogue standpoint.  I like DeConick, and want to support her, so I'm going to stick with this one for a while longer and see where it goes.




Can't say the same for Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who -- Assimilation Squared.  I'm done with this miniseries.

The story has me engaged (pun intended), but the art this time around is awful.  If you refer to previous reviews of this series, I have had issues with the art before: in issue #3, I thought the different style of art employed on the flashback to the Kirk-era teamup with the Fourth Doctor was a bad idea that detracted from the overall impact of the story.  I said that because I genuinely loved what J.K. Woodward was doing with the painted art.

In issue #4, Woodward is relegated to doing the colors for Gordon Purcell'ss pencils, and Purcell is simply no damn good here.  I know nothing about his work, so maybe he's a genius, but if so, you wouldn't know it from this.

Here are a couple of panels I found to be especially hideous:



depicting movement is not this artist's strong suit

neither is depicting Patrick Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg

Compare those with this excellent depiction of Matt Smith's Doctor from issue #1:




That's a MASSIVE drop in quality from issue #1 to issue #4.  If I had to guess -- which I do -- then I would tend to assume that what's happening here is that Woodward can't keep up with the schedule, and has had to farm some of the art duties out in order to keep the series publication on track.  That's really the only reasonable excuse I can come up with.

Either way, I'm not paying $4 for something this shabby again, so IDW has lost my business on the remaining four issues of the series.  If the art improves, maybe I'll pick up the trade when it comes out, because the story has genuinely entertained me.  But I've only got so many dollars per month to spend on comics, and I refuse to waste them.

*****

Sorry, folks!  I hate to end on a down note.

In order to try to avoid doing that, I'd like to post a link to a YouTube video: here is a two-hour (!) talk Alan Moore and his wife, artist Melinda Gebbie, gave this summer at a conference in England.  Here's a description:

Bringing the political legacy of Gillray and eighteenth-century caricature up to the present day, renowned comics creators Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie reflect upon the relationship between art, underground publishing and radical politics.

Best known for his pioneering work on graphic novels like V for Vendetta, Watchmen, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore's work has consistently pushed the boundaries of various media and genres (including prose, performance art, poetry and music), questioning the assumptions that structure our relationship to our environment and to each other. A prominent artist in the underground comix scene, Gebbie has contributed to several politically and erotically charged titles, as well as her own solo book, Fresca Zizis. Frequent collaborators, Moore and Gebbie's most innovative and controversial work, Lost Girls, explores the multiple facets of human sexuality, making explicit the links between sexual freedom and artistic innovation, as well as between sexual repression and militaristic violence. Both have also been regular contributors to Moore's alternative magazine, Dodgem Logic, a project that inhabits the cultural space formerly occupied by, among others, Gillray's contemporaries, Thomas Paine and William Blake.

Chaired by Matt Green, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham Nottingham Contemporary's public programme is jointly funded by Nottingham Trent University and The University of Nottingham.

I haven't watched it yet, but I've got it bookmarked for perusal.  I know he has a reputation of being slightly crazy, but as a speaker, Moore consistently fascinates me.  He strikes me as a brilliant, witty, cantankerous, charmingly sarcastic fellow; he's like a genius pagan Cockney Santa Claus, and frankly, I could listen to him talk for hours.  This video apparently gives you the chance to do just that.

2 comments:

  1. IDW is so hit-or-miss with their Star Trek stuff. I gave most of it a shot in 2011 but cancelled all of it after a few issues. The last Trek I actually enjoyed from them was Year Four, and mainly for the considerable talents of DC Fontana.

    Those illustrations are dogfood. How does this stuff get published? And for four dollars?

    That's about all I can say on this one. My pull list consists only of Dark Horse Presents (can't resist a good anthology comic) and Before Watchmen, but I'm just bagging/ boarding those and waiting until they all come out before reading them all. The old-school (anachronistic) way of waiting for the trade, I suppose.

    That New Deadwardians looks fantastic, though.

    The "clean" style of art, there, and with Darwyn Cooke's, greatly appeals to me. I parted ways with most trends in comics in the early 90s, I have to say, particularly illustration-trends, but I'm always delighted to discover old-school-esque artists working in the medium now.

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    1. I don't know what happened with that fourth issue of the Trek/Who comic. I really do think it was a rush-job to keep on schedule, because it's the only viable explanation.

      I'll be very curious to hear what you think of "Before Watchmen" when you get around to reading it. Some of it has been good, some of it not so much.

      If there were two current titles I would recommend that any comics fan read, they'd be "Locke & Key" and "Saga." If there was a third, it would probably be "The New Deadwardians." Damn good stuff so far. Hopefully they won't wreck the car before pulling it into the garage.

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