Friday, September 20, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 3: Soul Survivors"

Links to the first two parts of this series: Captain Trips and American Nightmares.

And now, with no further ado, Vol. 3, Soul Survivors:


premiere hardback, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

The title, obviously, is a bit of a sole/soul pun.  I don't dislike this as much as I dislike American Nightmares as a title, but it's close; I'm definitely not a fan.  But does it matter?  No, it doesn't.  Not much, at least, even to me.



The Stand: Soul Survivors #1

published October 21, 2009 (cover date December 2009)


regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

I think may have caught herpes from that variant-cover image of Julie Lawry.  I'm not sure I mind.

The Bermejo cover is pretty awesome, too.  I don't think I can believe that a tornado could get that close to a deaf person and them stay unawares; wouldn't the attendant wind, rain, pressure drops, and flying cows/witches tip them off?  I think so.  But comic-book covers frequently work on a metaphorical level where they might not work on a literal one, and that's certainly the case here.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-5: in May, Oklahoma, Nick meets Tom Cullen.
  • Pages 6-11: a tornado threatens Nick and Tom.  [Note: page 9 is an advertisement for Spider-Woman: The Motion Comic.   I thought the ads had gone away, but I suspect this one was strategically placed so as to allow the double-splash that takes up pages 10-11.  More on that one in a bit.]
  • Pages 12-14: Nick and Tom hide in a cellar, and later emerge to find that the barn over them has been wiped off the face of the Earth.
  • Pages 15-24: the dynamic duo cross from Oklahoma into Kansas, meet Julie Lawry, reject Julie Lawry, get shot at by Julie Lawry, and then, later, meet Ralph Brentner.  Is this the only issue of the series that focuses entirely on a single plotline?  If not, it's one of the very few.
  • Pages 25-27: black-and-white version of the Lee Bermejo cover and the Mike Perkins double-splash.  (Omitted from the collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion in the omnibus edition.)
  • Pages 28-32: more black-and-white Perkins art, this time previews of the next issue.  (Omitted from the collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion in the omnibus edition.)

The Stand: Soul Survivors #3

published November 25, 2009 (cover date January 2010)


regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

I couldn't find a decent image of the variant cover on Google, so I resorted to scanning the page from the gallery in the back of the graphic novel.  Of the two covers, that one is far and away my favorite.  I actually kind of hate the Bermejo cover; I might even use the word "loathe."

But there's no getting around it: I own a comic book the cover of which is a young boy in underwear.  Way to go, Marvel.

The contents of this issue:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-8: Larry, "somewhere in New England," feels as if someone is following him, and that turns out to be Nadine and Joe.  Larry discovers this when Joe comes at him out of nowhere with a knife.
  • Pages 9-15: the trip decide to form a group, and begin traveling together.
  • Pages 16-17: Larry dreams of the three of them meeting Mother Abagail.
  • Pages 18-22: Larry gets shot down by Nadine, the trio becomes a larger group when they meet Lucy Swann, and the quartet discuss the fact that they are all having the same nightmares.  Except Nadine, who claims to never dream.
  • Page 23: they reach Stovington, and find it desolate.  (This makes a second consecutive issue in which we follow only one plotline.  I wonder if that happened more frequently than I remembered?)
  • Pages 24-26: black-and-white versions of the covers, including unused concepts.  (Omitted from collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion.)
  • Pages 27-32: black-and-white previews of the next issue.  (Omitted from collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion.)

The Stand: Soul Survivors #3

published December 23, 2009 (cover date February 2010)


regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

I like both of these covers, although the Perkins one is clearly the weaker.  Did we spend enough time with either Jess or Mr. Goldsmith to warrant their appearance here?  Does Flagg remind you of Injun Joe?  Is Harold in mid-headbutt?  I have questions.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-6: entries from Frannie's diary, including Harold's awkward attempt to kiss her and claim her as his own.
  • Pages 7-16: the confrontation with the band of raping kidnappers, and the integration of the rescused prisoners into the group.
  • Pages 17-23: Stu and Frannie become an item, and Harold surrenders to the darkness.
  • Pages 24-27: black-and-white art, including the cover images.  Oddly, this is labelled as being from The Stand Sketchbook, but that is not the case.   (Omitted from collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion.)
  • Pages 28-29: script-to-final comparisons of pages one and two.  These are included in the collected editions.
  • Pages 30-32: more black-and-white art, this time from the shootout scene.  (Omitted from collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion.)

The Stand: Soul Survivors #4

published February 17, 2010 (cover date April 2010)


regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin


Both of these covers are awesome, but in this case, I'll give the edge to the Perkins variant (which I really need to get a copy of one of these days).  The clear winner, though?  Colorist Laura Martin, who knocked both out of the park.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-23: we get the backstory for Mother Abagail, told as she makes a trip to collected some chickens to cook for her soon-to-arrive visitors (who shows up on page 23).  This makes four straight issues that follow only a single plotline.  Shows what I know!
  • Pages 24-29: several black-and-white pages, several of them flat-out gorgeous; none of those are included in the collected editions, but a single page that includes Laura Martin's thoughts on the colors to the Bermejo cover is included in them.  All are in The Stand Companion.
  • Pages 30-32: pencils of pages from the next issue, plus two commissioned Flagg sketches by Perkins.  (Omitted from the collected editions, included in The Stand Companion.)

The Stand: Soul Survivors #5

published March 24, 2010 (cover date May 2010)


regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin


I'm not a huge fan of either of those covers, but they're both pretty solid; if I stop and actually think about them, I have to admit that.

This was a termination point for the covers in two regards: it was the last cover Bermejo did for the series; and it was also the last issue for which Marvel produced a variant cover.

The contents of the issue:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-6: Nick, Ralph, and Mother Abagail hold palaver.
  • Pages 7-8: a fellow survivor who had recently joined with Stu and Frannie's group has developed appendicitis, and Harold suggests trying to operate to remove it.
  • Pages 9-13: the palaver continues, with Mother Abagail explaining that she's seen them going to Boulder.  She also explains that Flagg is not Satan...but that the two of them "have kept their councils together of old."
  • Page 14: Stu has decided to try to operate on Mark.
  • Page 15: a few vignettes from Hemmingford Home (which is spelled "Hemingford Home" in the novel).
  • Pages 16-17: the operation goes poorly.
  • Page 18: Nick has accepted the idea of journeying to Boulder.
  • Pages 19-20: Stu discovers that Peri (Mark's girlfriend) has committed suicide in the night.
  • Pages 21-23: Mother Abagail leaves her ancestral home for the final time.
  • Pages 24-31: this was the halfway point of the series, so we get some good essays by Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins about their feelings on the whole thing.  It's a real shame for these to have been omitted from the collected editions, but they were.  You can get them in The Stand Companion.
  • Page 32: a black-and-white version of Bermejo's cover.  Good art, but it works much better with Martin's colors.

*****

Soul Survivors might get my vote as the best of the six volumes of the series.  Partially, that's because the focus is strong; four of the five issues tell stories that are isolated to a single plotline, and I think that the result is that the characters begin to come across in a more interesting fashion.

The first chapter deals with Nick meeting Tom Cullen.  Tom is one of my favorite characters in the novel (although if he's one of your least-favorite, I can see how the collection of his tics has put you off).  I do not care for the way Perkins draws him at all.  What follows is a gallery of awful Tom Cullen panels from this issue:









Man, oh, man.  I detest every single one of those.  Perkins does a weird thing with Tom's upper lip in a lot of them; I don't know what that's all about, but it's offputting and weird and I don't like it, nosir, nosir, I do not.

Drawing a character like Tom Cullen can't be easy.  How do you get across the idea that this is a man who is simpleminded, but kind, and prone to occasional fugue states of inner reflectivity?  How do you draw retarded without being cartoonish or stereotypical or offensive?

Beats me; but thanks to this series, I know how you don't do it.

I might have suggested going with an approach in which Tom was as still as possible.  That flailing-arms business in the final panel above is embarrassing.

Speaking of embarrassing, here's something that isn't:


Soul Survivors #1, pages 10-11

That's a killer double-splash, and while I feel I ought to have something more to say on the subject, what more is there to say?

How about this: the double-splash is one of the absolute best reasons why anyone who enjoys comics ought to buy them in single-issue format.  Remember, these are images that are designed with a periodical format in mind, meaning that they are designed to appear in a relatively slender magazine-style publication that is folded and stapled, as opposed to bound.  The result of that is that double-splash layouts -- or any layouts that take advantage of both the left- and right-hand sides of the book in tandem -- look better, simply because the binding doesn't have to be taken into account.  This is not a huge problem in most cases (although it certainly can be, theoretically), but there have been times when I have caught myself sort of folding a graphic novel back a bit so as to try to get a better look at a double-splash.  That leads to more wear and tear on a book than I'd like, which is a shame.

So for me, single-issue format is preferable.


Soul Survivors #1, page 17, panels 2-6

I feel gross.  And in the spirit of not saying horrible, horrible things, let's move on.


Soul Survivors #1, page 24, panels 4-5


There's out first look at Ralph Brentner, one of the novel's least engaging characters.  King never really does much of anything to flesh Ralph out, so the only hope for him being a decent character in the comics is for him to be drawn interestingly.  For my tastes, that didn't happen.


Soul Survivors #2, page 5, panel 4


Heh.  Another Wilhelm.

This is Joe's first appearance, as well as Nadine's.  Joe is not one of my favorite characters from the novel.  He's a sort of feral autistic kid (not named as being autistic in the novel, but I think it's a safe diagnosis to make) who turns out to have a limited form of telepathic power.  That's there mainly just so he can tip Larry off to Harold, but King never makes much of it.  It's one of the least successful subplots in the entire book, for my money.

Having flipped through Chapter Two, I find that I have very little to say about it.  Let's move along.

Chapter Three deals with Stu and company encountering the roadblock, with the guys who are building themselves a sort of zoo of women for rape purposes.  What an odd idea.  I consider the world being 99.4% devastated by a plague, and then imagine myself surviving such a plague, and find that absolutely nowhere in my thinking is the idea "get a team of dudes together and then kidnap a bunch of women to use as a sort of community harem."  It just isn't there.  This is probably to my credit.

However, an idea like that does seem plausible.  It's the sort of idea that The Walking Dead has been built upon: in fucked-up times, fucked-up people will do really fucked-up shit.

There is some good action-scene art in the issue, but there are also a number of panels that just seem...off, somehow.  Let's look at a few.


Why is Harold hunched over like that?  Is the idea that he's taller than Frannie, and is having to stoop to grab her elbow?  Wouldn't it be better to simply have the two of them facing each other, without having to worry about weird stuff like that?

Jesus Christ!  Is Dayna the She-Hulk?!?  Also, what's with the two women on either end?  They look like refugees from The Hills Have Eyes.

The left-hand panel is an incredibly awkward angle, and I don't see any benefit to placing the perspective from that viewpoint.  The right-hand panel makes Frannie's head look like it has been put in a vise and made skinnier.

Perkins' take on Dayna is that she basically looks like a butch lesbian.  Which is fine by me; butch lesbians can certainly be very pretty.  But THIS panel...she is not pretty at all (despite what the narration box is insisting).  And she looks nothing like what she looks like elsewhere in the issue.  A very odd panel indeed, and a very inopportune time to get it wrong.

I get that Harold is sort of perverted and gross, but the whole sticking-out of the tongue thing is something that really doesn't work for me in any way.

WHY IS HAROLD LAUDER WINKING AT ME?!?


There are some really strong panels in the issue, too, so maybe we ought to have a look at a few of those to even the scales a bit:


There's something about the awkwardness of this that works for me.  Perkins isn't trying to do too much; he's just showing Harold in romantic, eyes-closed, going-in-for-the-kiss mode, juxtaposed with Frannie in eyes-wide-with-horror "ohno!" mode.  It's simple; it's clean.  It works.

This is an excellent perspective, and it goes for being unsettling rather than weird or shocking.  Again: it's simple, and it works.

This is nearly ruined by that goofy, awful panel on the bottom, but that image of Harold being seen by Flagg's Eye is pretty awesome.  (By the way, I had to consult a dictionary to find out that "vulpine" means "foxlike."  But it does, so now YOU know, too.)


Chapter Four is the big Mother Abagail issue, and there's some cool stuff in it.  Here's a page I like a lot:


Soul Survivors #4, page 5

This, obviously, is a flashback scene.  Note the way Perkins (and/or Aguirre-Sacasa) has designed the page: the layout is one where there are essentially five distinct panels of information, but without actual panel borders.  The "panels" simply meld into one another.  This creates a dreamlike quality that suggests the surreality of memory, and the different approach serves to set the sequence apart subtly.

I like it when my comic books do stuff like that.  It makes me feel like someone out there is engaging with the material in something other than the most obvious way.  The Stand doesn't do a huge amount of that sort of thing, but there is more of it than what I'd have remembered if you'd quizzed me on it prior to my reread of the comics.

Here's another one:


Soul Survivors #4, page 18, panels 2-8

This one is awesome.  Depending on how you look at it, it's either a single panel of Mother Abagail, or it's a series of panels of weasels with Mother Abagail standing outside of them.  For labeling purposes, I've called it multiple panels, but it could go either way.  Splitting the piece up like that has a twofold effect: it suggests that the weasels are showing up incrementally, rather than all at once; and it also, by virtue of Mother Abagail "overriding" the white spaces that serve as borders between the individual panels, suggests that she has a sort of power over this situation.  She is the dominant image here; the weasels are intruding upon her, but they are not actually able to harm her.

Brilliant!  I'd love to know whose idea this was.  My money is on Perkins.

Next up: a panel that, for my money, is one of the standout moments of the entire series:


Soul Survivors #4, page 21, panel 3

Gorgeous.  So gorgeous that it's worth putting up a couple of different ways.  The first is a pencils-only version that appeared in the back of this issue; the second is an art-only version that appeared on a page in the back of the next issue.


from Soul Survivors #4, page 29

from Soul Survivors #5, page 29

Great stuff; and Laura Martin's colors obviously add a lot to it.

I don't have a huge amount to say about the fifth and final chapter of Soul Survivors.  The issue cuts back and forth between Mother Abagail and Nick negotiating their new relationship and Stu's group trying to deal with appendicitis in this brave, new, medically-deprived world.  I'm not sure the back-and-forth works very well; I think it might have been better to present the Stu/Frannie part first, and the Mother/Nick stuff at the end.  But that's a minor gripe.

A few bits on some of the art:


How much better would the miniseries be if it had even ONE conversation where Mother Abagail just laid out something like this about Flagg?  Sure, I get it; the person who's read the novel can infer it.  But inferring something for yourself isn't dramatically satisfying.

This is a very cool idea.  Does it make the entirety of the Bible a prequel to The Stand?  I leave that to other people to decide.

There aren't a huge number of dialogue-free panels in the series, so they always stand out.  This one is really striking for some reason, though.  Note how the little girl is ever so slightly popping out of the top of the panel; the effect that has to place her outside the scene in a way.  You don't really get that if you focus on Nick and Mother Abagail.  But look at the spot where her head is blocking the border of the panel; now, the effect is of someone who is -- almost in a literal sense -- looking at something that is behind a pane of glass.  Very cool.

That's about all I've got to say about Soul Survivors, I guess.  We'll pick things up soon with a look at Vol. 4, Hardcases.  See you then!

2 comments:

  1. Just wanted to weigh in here and let you know how much I enjoy your blog. Your reviews are always insightful and often quite funny. The bizarre facial expressions and hand contortions are indeed distracting, and I was laughing out loud every time you mentioned it. Hopefully you have enough time in your life to continue your blog in the years to come!

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    1. Thanks so much, Kevin! I am seriously struggling to find the time lately, but I hope and intend to find ways of making that easier to manage. It's too much fun not to do!

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