Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #43

Say, didn't I just write one of these?!?  It's deja vu all over again!

Fact is, I missed quite a few weeks, so I'm just trying to clear out the backlog.  Let's find out if this results in anything interesting...




First up: the third issue of Joe Hill and C.P. Wilson III's Wraith.  That cover is pretty badass, no?  Eet eenexpleecably cozes me to weesh to tahp een a Franch accent, onh-honh-honh...!

Sorry about that.  Moving on...

I liked this issue quite a bit, mostly because the characters suddenly began to come into much sharper focus than had been the case in the previous issue.  Let's skim through the issue and see what thoughts occur:


There is something compelling about the way Wilson draws people's heads.  The roundness of the heads of the nurse, the woman in the red shirt, and the child beside her draws my eye in a way I can't immediately verbalize.  The bald guy, too.  There was some of this in the previous issues, as well, but something about this particular panel caused it to pop for me.


This scene is a flashback sequence that fleshes out the character of Chess Llewelyn a bit.  Technically, he's dreaming it, reliving what must certainly be the worst day of his life.  One of two things is the case: the doctor and nurse are speaking in the overblown style despicable characters in EC horror comics used to do; or Chess is dreaming these people as he felt them to be, not as they actually were.  My vote is for the former.


A character who is literally bursting out of the confines of his panel tends to draw me eye.  Is it just a device to give Manx a bit of added emphasis, or is it a clue that Manx's very existence is extra-ordinary?  You be the judge.


Two things about this: one, I really wish Sykes would clean that puke off his face; and two, does puke even semi-plausibly dry like that?  Gross.  Oh, thing the third: I have a feeling that somewhere within Joe Hill there is a really good Tarantino-esque screenplay just waiting to be given form.


There is plenty more to talk about, and plenty more to see (including two great splash pages I'd love to show you, but won't).  For now, though, I think it's sufficient to say that this issue is prime Joe Hill, and unless the last few issues fumble the ball in some way, Wraith is quickly turning into a must-read for Hill fans.
  
Staying in Joe Hill-ville for a moment, check this out:





The adaptation of Thumbprint is out in a hardcover collection now, and not only does it include the three-issue adaptation by Jason Ciaramella, it also includes Hill's original short story, plus the Hill/Ciaramella one-shot comic Kodiak, not to mention bonus pages of art sketches and whatnot.

I liked this adaptation a lot, and the inclusion of the short story and the one-shot bonus comic makes this an even more attractive package.  The book itself is sturdy and well-designed, and the cover price is fairly reasonable for a hardback.

Point of contention as regards the book description of the back cover.  Embarrassingly, IDW has misspelled the name of the comic's artist.  It's Vic Malhotra; MalHOTRA.  Not, as the back cover says, MalHORTA.  A Horta is a silicon-based life-form on the television series Star Trek, and "The Devil in the Dark" proved irrefutably that adding a "mal-" prefix ("mal" = "bad") to "Horta" would incorrect, slanderous, and downright rude.  I'm having a bit of fun with this.  Seriously, though; how does misspelling the artist's name make it past the proofreaders?

Further point of contention, this time as regards the IGN blurb on the back cover: "most unique" is a nonexistent concept.  Something cannot be more or less unique than something else; "unique," as a quality, is absolute, and therefore degree does not exist as uniqueness is regarded.

As a frequent misuser of language, I should probably not point such things out; but, there you have it nevertheless.

My blub-objections notwithstanding, Thumbprint is good stuff, and Hill fans are advised to go get themselfs one posthaste.


  

I'm not going to say much about The Wake #5, except that it is excellent, and that it seemingly marks a very clean dividing line between Part 1 of the story and Part 2.  Scott Snyder's story is very good, Sean Murphy's art is just as good (if not better), and if you are a fan of sci-fi/horror, then The Wake is almost certainly something you will enjoy.




I wish I was consistently as enthusiastic about Snyder's Batman as I am about The Wake.  When it's good, it tends to be very good, but this Zero Year story is, for me, proving to be a big dud.  It's been several weeks since I read this issue, and looking at the cover of it, I have only the vaguest notion of what happened during it.  It hit my brain and slid right off.

To some extent, that's a reflection (and a poor one) on my brain.  But it doesn't speak terribly well of the comic, either; and flipping through it to get a quick recap, I realize that it is because I simply didn't care about any of it.  It feels to me as if Snyder doesn't know what he's doing with this new origin story; there is no focus, no sustained through-line.  Perhaps one will emerge eventually.  But for now, it feels like a missed opportunity, and a sloppy one at that.  Not bad, but certainly not up to the standard Snyder established during his early run of issues for the series.





We're two issues of Saga behind.  Have they been up to snuff?  They sure have.  Saga, for me, is like Pixar in that even when it does let you down, the result is still better than most of the competition.  (Speaking of which, Monsters University got snubbed in the Oscar nominations today, which is crap.)

In these issues: pink running shows on a flying man; a major revelation about one of our characters having (potentially) been a spy this entire time; a children's story told by D. Oswald Heist; an exceptionally nude (not to mention pierced and tattooed) hallucination; "LYING?"; puke; superhero melodrama; Lying Cat pounces; "I'm not blind, wraith."; "Prince Robot IV finally rolls into town."; a Saint Bernard with one of those barrels around its neck; The Brand; at least two very upsetting fatalities; "RESTARTING.  THIS MAY TAKE A FEW MINUTES..."; and continually awesome letters columns.

Deeply good stuff.  Let's have a look at a few panels, shall we?













Boy, that Fiona Staples . . . she's doing some great stuff, issue after issue.




Up next: the most recent issue of Brian K. Vaughan's The Private Eye, which can be downloaded for free -- although you really ought to kick a few bucks in, if you can afford them -- here.  If you want to get technical about it, I downloaded this one for free.  But it's only a technicality: what happened was, I logged on to buy the issue, bought the issue ($3.99 was my contribution), and then, because I didn't have time to read it right then and there, forgot to actually download it.  So later, when I sat down to read it, I realized what I'd done, and had to make the decision as to whether I ought to kick in another buck or so, just so it didn't look like I'd been a freeloader.  Then I thought that was silly; we're all on the honor system here, and my honor is unbesmirched, at least as far as this particular comic goes.

Wasn't that a fascinating story?

Well, it's nowhere near as good as the one contained in The Private Eye #5, that's for sure.

Here's what you'll find: the scene of an accident; use of a lamp in a non-recommended fashion; "I need another new minifridge for my office."; video games with Gramps; the gravesite of one of our most popular celebrities; another P.I.; a surprising kiss that makes me wonder if I ought to feel a little bad about being surprised by it; the implication that P.I.'s dreamcoat is perhaps a bit more interesting than we'd previously thought it to be; French; a white boy with a 'fro; "What old fad?"

Here's my favorite panel:




The letters column mentions that Panel Syndicate has found a second comic to begin self-publishing.  No word on what it's about or who's involved, but I'll say this much: I'm interested.





The miniseries Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril wrapped up during this column's hiatus, and it did so in reasonably decent fashion.  As you might recall, I was extremely impressed by the first two issues, but considerably less impressed by the middle two.  The final two fall, quality-wise, somewhere in the middle.  The wrapup is logical, and there are some good emotional beats.  Overall, though, this feels like a two-issue story that was expanded to six issues.  My mind might theoretically change when and if I read it all as a single story, but I have no plans to do that anytime soon.




In the most recent issue of Trillium: more fun with structure (I'll explain in a moment); a pair of very strange reversals following on from the end of issue #4; skyships; implications of matriarchy; a confrontation between sisters; a confrontation between brothers; "I can't seem to access any of my archived recordings."; and a fuel line explosion.

I mentioned that this issue includes more fun with structure.  Here's what I mean, in the form of the comic's first page:




Each page of the issue is split into halves like that, and the proper way to read it is to read all the way through the comic, reading only the upper half; then, on the final page, you flip the book around and read your way back through on the bottom half.

Is it a gimmick?  Yeah, sure.  But it's a cool one, and the structure mirrors the story's themes.  This is intriguing stuff, and I continue to be very impressed by it.





Next up, we've got several X-Files issues.  First, a two-parter from the Season 10 comic.  It focuses on the flukeman, one of the more popular monsters the series ever created.  I'm not sure I like the fact that Season 10 opted to go the sequel route with this two-parter; I suppose I understand the urge to tell a story that is a combined sequel and flukeman origin story, and the results are fairly good, but . . . I dunno, it just feels obvious.  It's a retread; it's stereotypically characteristic of the sort of thing that continuation comics do.

Maybe that shouldn't bother me, especially given that the end result is kind of not bad, but it does.

This two-parter had a duo of fill-in artists: Elena Casagrande and Silvia Califano.  They do a fairly good job; their style is cleaner than that of series regular Michael Walsh, but it's also less stylized, and arguably less interesting despite being, in some ways, "better."




I've been somewhat on the fence about Season 10 through the first seven issues.  And who knows, I might be on the fence about it again real soon, but I'll say this: issue #8 flung me distinctly into the "yea" camp.

This is a damn good issue, from start to finish.  Well . . . nearly to finish; I've got some concerns about where the final page goes, but even that intrigues me.

To illustrate why I'm giving this one a bit of a rave review, I'm going to post the first seven pages.  (Hopefully, nobody in a position of authority over the comic will be put out by this; if you meet those criteria, drop a line and let me know.)  They are . . . compelling.









There is quite a lot to say about all of this.  Time for bulletpoints.
  • Not that it's specific to this issue (it isn't), but I love the fact that the comic is using the same font the television show used for its location-establishing chyrons.
  • It probably goes without saying this, but damn, is this pressing some hot hot-button issues.  I love it.  This is precisely the sort of thing The X-Files would be tackling if it were on the air today.  Or trying to tackle, at least; I wonder if Fox would allow an episode featuring a school shooting perpetrated by children actually reach production.  Either way, it feels extremely authentic to the sort of story that Chris Carter would be interested in telling, and the result is that for the first time since this comic series began, it really FEELS like The X-Files.  Not like a reasonably good facsimile; like the real deal.  That was a show that was not at all afraid to make you look at things that were unpleasant to confront.  Kudos.  Wish there wasn't a need for storytelling of that nature; but there is, and therefore there is also a need to work through it cathartically.
  • I always like X as a character, so seeing him in this extended flashback is very welcome.
  • Jordie Bellaire's colors are stark, and very effective.
  • I always love finding a good excuse to mention the lettering on a comic; I do it so rarely.  Here, they are by Robbie Robbins, and there is something about the look of the redacted sections of X's case file that seem very realistic.  Why that struck me, I dunno; but there you have it.
  • Should the pointy teeth on the two kids be taken literally?  Have these kids been transformed into monsters of some sort?  Or is this -- like (presumably like) the black circles that replace the eyes in a few frames -- a sort of metaphorical representation?  Walsh's art here is, in my opinion, the best art he has done for the series so far.  I'm very much warming to his style.
  • The title of this issue/episode is "Being for the Benefit of Mr. X," which strikes me as a riff on the Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"  The phrase "being for the benefit of" may well have some broader real-world context -- likely does, in fact -- but these days, I would think that it would mostly summon a Beatles association.  So, what's the relevance in referencing The Beatles within an X-Files context?  Beats me.  The song was evidently based on a real circus poster from 1843, which John purchased in an antique shop.  The only line from the lyrics that stands out to me is "In this way, Mr. K will challenge the world!"  That idea arguably has implications, if you sub "Mr. K" out for "Mr. X" and literalize the meaning a bit.
Good stuff, guys.  I hope this is a sign of where the series is headed; if it is, I'm suddenly a big fan.

I'm less of a fan of this next subject:




This is the first issue of a six-part crossover series IDW is doing between The X-Files and some of its other licensed properties, including Ghostbusters, The Crow, Transformers (ick), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (double ick).  So if you ever wondered what Fox Mulder talking to Optimus Prime would be like, you're probably about to find out.  You should probably also remove yourself from the gene pool, but I recognize your Constitutional right to ignore my advice on that score.

I had no interest in this series, and had not intention of buying it, reading it, or mentioning it in this column.  It is unrelated to Season 10, and even if it wasn't, this is simply not my cup of tea.  However, the guy at my comics shop assumed I would want a copy, and ordered me one, so I'd have felt bad about not buying it.  And by gum, if I'm buying it, I may as well read it; no matter how bad it is, the upside is that I can at least kvetch about it here.

And let's have no mistakes about it: it's bad.  Not AS bad as I expected; that will likely come later, when the actual crossovers happen (this issue is mainly just setup).  But bad nevertheless.

The writing by Paul Crilley is okay; Mulder and Scully sound like Mulder and Scully.  The MacGuffin which is evidently going to permit all of these shenanigans is that funky stuff is happening at CERN.  Okey-doke; I can buy that readily enough, or, at least, readily enough to allow me to temporarily accept the notion of Fox Mulder and Peter Venkman living in the same story.

It's the art that causes me to give this issue an unhesitatingly bad review.  It's by John Stanisci, and it is fairly awful.  The Lone Gunmen look terrible; Stanisci appears to not enjoy drawing eyes, and so at nearly every available opportunity, he has the eyes of the Gunmen (and other characters) disappear behind eyeglasses which are inexplicably opaque.

Worse: his Mulder rarely looks like the same person from one panel to the next, and while he occasionally looks a bit like David Duchovny, he also occasionally looks a bit like Garry Shandling playing Fox Mulder.  Which, if I thought it was on purpose, would be a lovely call-back to the original series episode "Hollywood A.D."  I don't think it's on purpose, though; I think it's that Stanisci has no idea how to draw Fox Mulder.

Examples:






That's just . . . not good.  I always feel like a prick when I criticize comics art in this way, but what's the option?  Say nothing?  Can't do it.  I also feel bad because I could work on a single panel for twenty years and have it not be even half as good as the worst panel presented here; I have zero artistic ability of that sort.  So take my criticism for what it's worth.

Still . . . this is the sort of stuff you can expect from far too many licensed comics, and that's a real shame.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to address an issue with the comic-book depictions of Mulder and Scully in general (not merely here, but also in the Season 10 comics).  These characters are in their mid-forties, if not older, by this point.  Why is IDW insisting upon drawing them as though they are still thirtyish?  This is ageist, unhelpful continuity-wise, and, in general, bad storytelling.  I get that comics can keep characters the same age in perpetuity; but that doesn't really work if you do what you are expressly being expected to do (i.e., read the comics as a continuation of the television series and feature films).

Rant ends.




In issue #4 of The Star Wars: the kids sing a song; Luke Skywalker continues to look like Kenny Rogers, yet stubbornly refuses to sing "Coward of the County"; a stormtrooper wearing an eyepatch rides a space ostrich; we reach the equivalent of the Mos Eisley sequence, including meeting Han Solo (who, in this iteration of the story, is a burly, green-skinned lizardlike alien, and entirely more congenial than the human version we eventually ended up with); Kane Starkiller reappears and makes a difficult choice; and we end on a heroes-walking shot.  'S'all pretty good.  If you're a serious Star Wars fan, you're probably digging the hell out of this; if you're a more casual one, like me, it's perhaps not mindblowing, but nevertheless worthwhile.





Have I ever mentioned how much I detest the idea of a comic bearing the distinction "#0"?  Probably.  Well, if so, it's because my ire is genuine, consistent, and unlikely to abate anytime soon.

This particular #0 is a behind-the-scenes issue consisting of sketches and explanations of said sketches.  It's okay; the art is cool, and the stories behind the designs are of interest to hardcore fans.  But let's be honest: this is the sort of material that really ought to be rolled out a few pages at a time in the back pages of the issues.  Putting it out as a stop-gap between issues (during a break designed to allow the artist of the series to get caught up) is understandable, but couldn't it have been $2.99, instead of the regular $3.99?  It's almost as if this #0 business was cooked up as an excuse to milk a few extra dollars out of subscribers...




Last, but certainly not least, we have IDW's 2013 Star Trek Annual issue.  It's a double-sized issue in terms of page count; and also, at $7.99, in terms of price, although in this case, it feels like it's worth every penny, especially when you consider how much effort must have gone into making it happen.

What we've got here is (as the cover has already told you) a photonovel by John Byrne.  It's a sequel to the first-season pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before."  Remember earlier, when I was passive/aggressively complaining about The X-Files: Season 10 revisiting the flukeman story?  Well, here's your chance to call me a hypocrite: because really, "Strange New Worlds" here is doing much the same thing (i.e., offering up an unnecessary sequel to a classic, ought-not-be-tampered-with story).  The difference is that it doesn't bother me with Star Trek, whereas it does with The X-Files; or, at least, that is the case with these specific stories.

So, yeah, I'm a big ole hypocrite.  Guilty.

I'm also guilty of buying a Star Trek comic for the first time in quite a while.  I grew disenchanted with IDW's Abrams-era continuation series, so I dropped it.  However, Bryan McMillan recommended this issue to me, and it sounded cool, so I picked up a copy while at the comic chop earlier this week.  Bryan's recommendation carries some weight 'round these parts, and this particular recommendation does nothing to diminish that reputation; "Strange New Worlds" is very, very good.

In case you don't have a solid grasp on what a photonovel is, conceptually, here are the first few pages:







The concept of the photonovel is one that I've been familiar with for decades now, but I don't recall having ever actually encountered one.  I seem to recall seeing a few examples of the Star Trek photonovels (which were part of the Fotonovel brand) from the '70s at some point; and I think I read some comic that worked in that style once, too.  But if so, it failed to make a significant impression upon me.

Not so this time.  Consider me a convert; I thought this was genius.

Byrne, who wrote the script and also designed the art ("art"?), has taken a huge amount of care with this story.  At first glance, especially to the uninitiated, it might appear to simply be images from the original Star Trek overlaid with new dialogue to create a brand-new "episode."  This isn't that; some of it is that, but only when the image is appropriate and functional.  Otherwise, Byrne's methods were more like manipulation of the original images to achieve the desired effect.  Occasionally, you can sort of see the join (the equivalent of seeing the zipper on the monster costume); but overall, the effect is startlingly effective.

As for the story itself, it seems like something that really could have been an episode during a hypothetical season four of the series.  Just as The X-Files: Season 10 #8 struck me as simply BEING The X-Files (as opposed to a facsimile of it), this issue strikes me as being vintage Star Trek.  Undoubtedly the medium (photonovel) has a lot to do with that; but the story has a lot to do with it, too, and without it succeeding, the issue would have been a failure, no matter how well-done the photonovel aspects were on a technical and conceptual level.
  
My favorite panel, incidentally, is a cameo that I will not reveal; but it made me grin quite widely.

At the end, Byrne has an afterword which seems to suggest that more such Trek photonovels might be in the offing.  If so, I'm onboard for them.

*****

And with that, at long last, Bryant Has Issues is caught up!  See y'all in a few weeks; I'll probably wait until Wraith #4 hits to pump another one of these out.

Until then, then...

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info about Thumbprint. I've been holding out on a new collection by him mainly bc I listen to more audiobooks than I actually read and I think the cost vs. enjoyment of Hardback comics is not even I might pick this up.
    I gave up on that star wars comic but I am reading the making of Empire book which is excellent even the money stuff is really interesting.

    -mikeC

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    1. Man, I really want those making-of Star Wars books. They're a little pricey for me, but eventually I'll cave and pick 'em up. I suspect I'm in for a round of serious Star Wars nostalgia in fifteen months or so...

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  2. Holy crap, I didn't even notice this entry till now.

    The X files story about school shootings is...yikes! That said, it does seem very effective, and while I don't know how this will sound, it does sound like taking the Carrie premise to it's logical, illogical conclusion, except this time it's the whole school system that collapses.

    Then again, there's the chilling idea that such incidents are controlled government mind experiments (shudders). As for the so called fangs I'm not sure I noticed. However, if you want, you can think of it as an interesting side effect of the drug that it at least gives them the appearance of monsters (if you want to go the obvious symbolism route, although since they are all under mind control and therefore not of their own free will, wouldn't that give the wrong impression? Good gosh, I hope this isn't morbid).

    On a lighter note, you're joking about that Ghostbusters/Transformers/Files crossover...RIGHT?!?!

    I'm more than willing (eager actually) to place the Files universe within the universe of King (and now Hill, also), however I always thought that makes sort of sense because their isn't much contradiction or inconsistency between the way things are portrayed in either type of story.

    However, the idea that either King or even just the Files universe contains Optimus Prime and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man? I'm sorry is there supposed to be a punch line here? The final panel is supposed to be an April Fools, right?

    On a positive note, Joe Hill seems well determined to turn his Dad's universe into an even more loopier place than it already was (seriously, Doublecross, California!).

    ChrisC

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    1. What I'd say about the idea of the government conducting mind-control experiments of the sort in this issue of "The X-Files" is this: there are people who would tell you that the government is already doing that sort of thing. I don't go in for that sort of paranoia, but those who do will be happy to tell you all about how Sandy Hook or Aurora were psy-ops conducted by various wings of the military. I don't believe it for a second, but I have to admit that the idea makes for a compelling story, and "The X-Files" was always pretty great at telling variations on stories of that nature. Which is why I was thrilled to see the comic doing it in this issue.

      Sadly, I am NOT joking about that crossover series. As for the King-verse and/or Hill-verse containing "The X-Files," I'd say that even if I agreed that they did, I'd argue that these comics are exempted. Not canon for "The X-Files," even, much less any broader storytelling universe.

      As for Doublecross, California, I'd been assuming that it was a real place. Not so much; Google turned up four results for it, one of which was this very post thanks to your comment! It's no sillier than that town named Intercourse, though, so even if it isn't real, it might as well be.

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    2. Crikey, my Spider Sense did not hep me to a new Bryant Has Issues entry...!

      First up, hot damn on that first X-Files comic. That is some harrowing stuff. Good comments all around - I may have to look for that one. The art reminds me a nice hybrid of David Mazzucchelli and Cameron Stewart.

      Second, the art for that second X-Files comic is just freaking terrible. Like you, I could probably work on a single panel for years and not come up with anything memorable, but whew. Still.

      Glad you enjoyed Byrne's photonovel! I've been meaning to ask. The first time I read it, I enjoyed it, mainly for its production value, the care Byrne took with it, and his obvious strong feelings about how Trek should come across. (I don't always agree with him on this score - I tend to keep my mouth shut on his forum when Trek comes around.) But I read it again and imagined it as a never-before-seen episode and found myself enjoying it. Third time, I damn near loved it. Will definitely be picking up his next one and hope he continues in this vein.

      I believe I can guess which cameo you speak of, here - if so, definitely check out Byrne's "Crew" for more! Great stuff in there, all around, but he writes that character pretty well.

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    3. Yeah? If so, I'll definitely have to check that out at some point.

      By the way, I finally finished season three of "Enterprise" tonight. Good stuff. I feel like a grade-A asshole for having stopped watching that series during its second season. It's not even in the top 50 on the list of Things That Make Bryant An Asshole; probably in the mid-60s somewheres.

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    4. I don't even want to start thinking about a top 100 things that make me an asshole list... I'm sure I'd be horrified to discover what ranked where.

      Nice on Enterprise - I'm of the opinion the seasons get incrementally better and better. You've made it to the fan favorite season now, too. Plenty to look forward to!

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