Friday, March 30, 2012

Superhero Spring Round-Up 2012

I am sorry but I may have inadvertently jinxed Animal Man (DC). They were still doing okay when several posts upstream I suddenly started to doubt the series because it seemed to display a lack of interest in its title character, and since then writer Lemire has only been stalling and artist Foreman has been mostly in hiding. Issue 6 read like Lemire, unfulfilled by the half dozen titles he is currently writing, was pitching a slacker superhero comic to Fantagraphics. He had no real idea for it yet except that the former superhero would be boring and depressing with a thoroughness that ticks all the obvious boxes: alcohol, divorce, a kid that just wants to love his dead if only the old guy weren’t so pathetic. Which invites unhappy comparisons to Grant Morrison’s classic run on the character, where we had the last appearance of a former would-be super-crook in “The Death of the Red Mask.” Which was pretty depressing also and ended in a suicide, but it took super-heroics (and writing about them) as the actual topic. Whereas Lemire gives us run of the midlife crisis.

The comparisons with classic Morrison become even unhappier in the latest issue, where Buddy and Cliff take a walk so they can bond and they bond over the fact of the awesomeness of Buddy being Animal Man. Which is about the first time he appears as Animal Man since the first issue, here to impress a couple of girls for his son. Just see how awed the girls are. I mean, wow, superheroes. It makes me long back to Morrison’s “Home Improvements,” where the Martian Manhunter took over impressing duties, frightening Cliff’s schoolmates to stop them from picking on him, and everything was a little more ambiguous, funny, and true. In fact Lemire used to be quite good on family in the early issues of his run.

But it’s really strange, sometimes it is like the comic itself had amnesia, the way that Buddy forgets what it is that is coming after them, and the way he needs a dream to enter worlds that before seemed like pretty much everyday rot reality?

And does Travel Foreman actually have better things to do or is he getting ousted the complicated way, because he has fans out here?

The other comic I had previously jinxed was of course Daredevil (Marvel). After two abysmal issues there has been a slight return to form, though Daredevil hasn’t quite recovered from the Spidey mash-up and therefore calls himself “hero to the judgment-impaired everywhere” among other self-deprecatory jokey stuff. Also, the storyline has the new, fun Daredevil plunging the bowels of the earth to retrieve the body of his dead father from all sorts of yucky creatures, only to find that he just doesn’t care anymore.

Art by the Riveras still is beautiful, especially the page layouts are great. But where in Daredevil one usually derives some pleasure from ingenious or playful ways to visualize his radar sense, they have now established the convention that Matt sees like we do only sort of in pink contour line drawings on a black ground. To the last detail. In one panel of the latest issue, there is even a break in perspective where we see Daredevil as a pink outline falling through a chute drawn as a contour map. My guess? They just don’t care anymore.

I’m still following Supergirl (DC) with distrustful delight. I fear I have to start giving the writers credit, because they’re keeping the pace marvelously (and I wasn’t exactly keen on how the so-called worldkillers looked in recent issues, these creatures weren’t designed by evolution, that’s for sure). The comic really builds: all the fights following from her natural impulse to just hit into something with grim determination for the lack of knowing what’s happening exactly. I especially like that so far there has been no out and out antagonist wanting to kill her. First her cousin, then that dealer in outer space flotsam who wanted to use her, now a worldkiller as a sort of bossy potential sister figure . . . values kept in clear boundaries only by the healthy workout of a fight. Or one could read this as a different take on fighting as means of communication in superhero comics, where usually opponents will keep up more or less witty small talk during the fights, which stays pretty meaningless, while the fists engage with each other and propel the narrative. This learning to get to know the world (and yourself, even in death) through your fists is explored with unprecedented care and detail here:

To make this a proper round-up: a quick shout-out to Milligan’s run on Hellblazer (Vertigo). It’s the only real run on a character in comics there is right now? I wonder how Milligan does it, since he also is churning out three or four titles a month, all the others complete and utter dreck? I do not really judge single issues anymore, I just greet them as friends (in need of some help before they go to hell), as long as they give me that dark eye-sockets crumbling from habitual dread-like stare Camuncoli and Landini are so great at. Also this:

I haven’t been able to get into the first issues of Brubaker and Phillips’ Fatale, they seem such a staid team by now, maybe they should try making a graphic novel out of De Lillo’s Underworld or something. But Winter Soldier (Marvel), Brubakers other new title with one Butch Guice on the pencil, has me hooked so far (yes, you need to get beyond unforgivable title pages). I usually wouldn’t much like art that looks like photo collages pushed through a digital faulty xerox plug-in, with all hand-drawn parts in complete ignorance of anatomical or physical logic, but they do that so very well. Also, the story, at least as long as I can’t quite follow it (I try to prolong that state by only skimming over the text), proves the healthiness of the motto for Brubaker/Phillips’ earlier Incognito: “The secret ingredient is pulp!” In this case an 800 pound gorilla blasting away on his 50 caliber machine gun:

If you want more great page layouts, the wonderful Javier Pulido has now been on The Shade (DC) for two issues. Although he can’t really help the thing. And Saucer Country (Vertigo) might prove worth following.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I’ve been reading City of Glass, the cartoonization of the Paul Auster novel by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. I hated it before it even began, since unfortunately, against my usual custom, I read the foreword, by one Art Spiegelman, editor of the book. He recounted his choice of an artist: “I enlisted David Mazzucchelli, whose art on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One had shown a grace, economy, and understanding of the form that made the superhero genre almost interesting.” Oh yeah like it takes your breed of anthropomorphic mice to make the holocaust almost interesting again. I threw the book into a corner and read some Supergirl instead.

When I took the book up once more, I became really excited about it on page 15, the panels you see above. This is Peter Stillman talking, the face of the mystery (happily I won’t have to go into the story for this, so no spoilers ahead except ultimate disappointment). Or rather, this is his speech bubble talking through him. It’s such a simple but brilliant move. The man becomes a puppet of his own voice. 

Then a slow zoom and we move past the uvula into allegorical realms where there are all kinds of things that the voice is speaking through, like cave paintings, drains, gramophone horns, turds, teddy bears, all defining the character as his attributes . . . but more than that the speech bubble’s tube down the throat of things channels the author speaking, first of the comic, but on a deeper level of the original novel, Paul Auster, whose puppets Karasik and Mazzucchelli are (and who in fact has a cameo in the comic/novel itself, wrapping this up structurally). And by acknowledging that all the images are read/read out by that auctorial voice, the art fights back and you have a real back and forth between words and image that in this richness is a very rare thing.

But they can’t keep it up.

Here’s the upper two tiers from page 100. “Quinn spent the following day on his feet.” And you get feet. For “every twenty minutes he would call Virginia” you get a clock. “The busy signal had become a comforting metronome,” that was actually two panels earlier, bzzt bzzt. “The random noises of the city” . . . are cars in the city that random? but yeah, they help us understand the word “noise.” Mind-numbingly literal. “Negating speech and the possibility of speech,” and you get the graffiti on the wall behind . . . that’s actually a subtle gesture I’d have enjoyed earlier in the book. Still, it has become obvious that the art has no life of its own left but merely illustrates the narrator’s voiceless text boxes.

Which is a clever demonstration of why adaptations usually suck.