Wednesday, 17 December 2014

So I Read Umbral: Out Of Shadows

A 250 word (or less) review of Umbral Vol. 1
By Anthony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and John Rauch; Image Comics

Fantasy seems to be an under represented genre of fiction in comics. When I think of how much geeks love their magic and swords and the popularity of certain fantasy properties in other media, it seems there should be a demand for fantasy comics. I know I'm interested in reading more. Umbral is an epic fantasy horror comic that seems well suited to capitalize on this trend. It tells the story of Rascal, a wonderfully salty-tongued thief, who is friends with the crown prince of The Kingdom of Fendin. On the eve of the eclipse, the two conspire to steal The Oculus, a mysterious magical artifact, from the royal vaults. Unfortunately the eclipse is also when mysterious demons attack the palace in pursuit of the same Occulus, thrusting Rascal into a world of magic, demons, and terror. Umbral hits this great balance of filthy-mouthed swashbuckling fun and oh-shit creepy madness. I really enjoyed it. Out Of Shadows is also a really great example of a straightforward, throw you into the action opening chapter: Rascal and company are tossed right into it and spend the issue running for their lives. This approach got me invested in the story, but leaves a lot of plot and world building for future issues. This is a chapter, not a complete story. I found the art to be mostly pretty great: it’s evocative and pleasantly nightmarish. There are some confusing storytelling issues at key moments. Overall I think Umbral is a great fantasy comic option.

Post by Michael Bround

Word count: 250

Monday, 15 December 2014

Surviving Bitch Planet #1

Some thoughts about Non-Compliance in Bitch Planet #1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

To be totally honest, I was sold on the concept of Bitch Planet the moment I heard it: A science fiction story that takes the traditionally exploitive trope of women in prison, written by an unapologetically feminist author, and featuring a clearly diverse cast of characters. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first issue of this comic with both excitement and curiosity—as much as I adore Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing, I really wanted to see how she could use such a theme and produce a positive narrative. My excitement, as it has for several new number ones recently, means I bought Bitch Planet digitally, even though a hard copy issue will also be waiting for me the next time I make the journey to my comic book store.

It turns out, my excitement has been completely validated—Bitch Planet is so great, you guys.

*SPOLIERS* within, so proceed at your own risk until you’ve consumed this story yourself. There is also nudity, violence, swearing, and discussion of damaging patriarchal values, so also proceed with caution if those things are not for you...

Bitch Planet issue one spends a lot of time world building, telling the story of Earth as it is in this not-so-terribly distant future, and how society operates. We open on Earth, where the background is rife with advertisements designed to encourage consumers to improve themselves. “Less of You to Love” flashes one advertisement, “It Will Fix You,” another, reinforcing the idea that we are not satisfactory as we are (a familiar theme to anyone looking at advertising in the current world).  The first traces of a feminist tale begin on page one, and boy-howdy, they do not stop appearing there.

It turns out the woman running through the street on page one is recording a voiceover that will play to prisoners, termed “non-complaints,” on their way to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost—Our eponymous Bitch Planet. Even the language used to describe this journey places additional emphasis on a clearly patriarchal system—Mother Earth is now viewed as the Father, who casts out the unworthy, where they might find mercy at the hands of Mother Space.

“Like a Cancer you must be excised from the world that bore you,” the announcer says. “For the well-belling of us all, let your sickness spread.”  

Non-compliance, it’s clear, is dangerous, and to be feared. And that, my friends, is the first moment it becomes clear that Bitch Planet is not just set in an overtly, threateningly patriarchal universe, but is also a story for the feminist reader—this world, not built for us, is afraid of the damage that could be done by someone who dares to not comply.  

I adore the art in this sequence and beyond – De Landro draws a cast of characters with diverse shapes, sizes, colors, and even body hair, and does so in a way that doesn’t sexualize the characters at all. The most sexualized character in the prison scenes is the holographic warden, whose mutable form consistently possesses crazy-exaggerated proportions and features.  Any questioning is discouraged, and within moments of arrival, an Non-Compliant (NC) is beaten by a guard.

The guards at the prison wear masculine-looking black uniforms, complete with masks, visually setting them apart from the feminine population of the planet. They are utilitarian and conforming—not a single distinguishing factor is visible, with even hands covered by gloves. At this point, we don’t know who is behind these masks, but I find myself hoping DeConnick and De Landro will let us explore their identities as the series moves forward.

Back on earth, a man is trying to save his wife from the colony. He’s paid to have his wife sent, but it’s a mistake, and now he’s trying to buy her way back. As the story flashes back and forth between Earth and Bitch Planet, at first we think Marian Collins has been a victim here, and her husband, for whatever reason, is trying to make things right. Instead, when his wife is thrown back into his arms, it’s a younger woman, Dawn, a new, Compliant wife accidentally picked up on a warrant meant for the woman he’s literally discarded as no longer useful.

Marian Collins’ Non-Compliance, it seems, was not being young or attractive enough, and for daring to be upset her husband cheated on her. She even begins to blame herself for her husband’s affair as she speaks to the warden. It turns out Earth of the future is still a place were older women are discarded when they are no longer seen as desirable, young, beautiful—only on future-Earth, a woman could have her freedom taken away for this end of sexual desirability. At this point, Marian’s use has ended, and it’s her fault. No one is blaming her husband for his affair, not even Marian, and it is certainly not seen as wrong that he found a way to rid himself of her in order to move on to a younger woman.

When Marian’s clearly about to face some sort of punishment or harm at the hands of the guards, another prisoner Violet steps in, trying to protect her, giving us a first view of one the core women who will be the focus of Bitch Planet. Though, ultimately, she doesn’t save Marian, she’s the character doing the things we instinctively feel are right—Violet stands up for those around her,  questioning why no one else is stepping in.

“This is not your business,” a guard tells her as she stands between them and Marian.

“Maybe it ought to be,” Violet replies.

Which is enough to inspire some of the women around her to care too. Or at least to act out and riot.

My favorite science fiction stories are the ones that allow us to have a conversation about something that is wrong with our own world. Science fiction can throw familiar themes into an unfamiliar setting and open up taboo subjects for observation, consideration, and discussion. Bitch Planet gives us a world where we can look at the systematic injustice faced by many women in our own society. Sure, we don’t live on a planet where non-compliance to social norms means we could literally be cast out and imprisoned, but man, some days, figuratively at the very least, that is the world I live in.

This story is not intended to make us think about how good we have it in a world without a constant threat of persecution; this story is intended to make us recognize the harm that casual sexism and misogyny inflicts on women. In fact, casual sexism and misogyny damages women, men, and anyone that identifies otherwise on a daily basis.

For instance, while the advertisements in the background of the first few pages on Earth are clearly meant to be hyperbole, a glance at my bathroom counter could tell you that I spend a great amount of time and money altering my appearance. I use expensive products and appliances to adjust my hair and my face every morning and dress in a way that is considered both appropriate and fashionable so I can comply with societal standards of appearance while doing my job. On the days when I spend less time on this than I feel I should, I feel guilty.

I can tell you this starts young, as well; my students routinely get up even earlier than I do to try and navigate the murky waters of what is cool—what is Compliant—in the world of teenagers today. They’re concerned about how they dress, what they say, and how other people see them. For young women, in particular, they see that if they don’t fit in and cater to the wishes of those around them (again, if they aren't Compliant), they’ll face negative consequences. I feel like it’s important to note that these negative consequences do include physical harm—I’m thinking of a young man this year who thought a reasonable response to women not wanting to have sex with him was to plan to shoot up a sorority and kill multiple people, or another young man who shot a girl at his school after she turned down his prom invitation.

Bitch Planet #1 makes explicit that background hum of misogyny and the related pressures and fears that women live with every day. This book feels like permission to be angry, and to cheer on someone who is fighting back.

“Maybe it ought to be,” Violet says when a guard tells her their treatment of Marian isn’t her business. I find in her a character I want to see more of because she actively does what we all should. Feminism relies on the understanding that we have to work together to fight the systems that harm disenfranchised groups, even when that harm is not happening direct to us or the groups we belong to. Violet sees that something is wrong, and instead of accepting it as the way things are or ignoring it because she isn’t directly affected, she stands up and fights back.

The observer is right, she’s worthy of note, of attention, and I think, of celebration.

Bitch Planet #1 feels like a comic I’ve been waiting for. I’m eager for more of this world, and already salivate at the thought of issue #2 and beyond. I can’t wait to see more of this toxic power system, the cast inhabiting this story, and how they’ll rock the system that is trying to cast them out. I want to know how dangerous Non-Compliance can be.

Post by Jennifer DePrey 

Uncaging Bitch Planet #1: A perfect cold open

Uncaging Bitch Planet #1

Or a look at the fantastic opening page of Bitch Planet #1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Bitch Planet #1 is such a good comic. It's another one of those comics I thought I'd try, enjoy, but ultimately decide to enjoy in trade paperbacks. But after reading the comic, I don't think I'll be able to wait. My expectations were blown away and Bitch Planet has my attention.

Bitch Planet tells the story of a penal colony in space where women who refuse to conform to society's gender roles, who are Non-Compliant, are sent to be punished. The audacious central premise of the series is a feminist take on women-in-prison exploitation movies... in space! The comic showcases DeConnick's amazing ear for dialogue and absolutely destroys the central Sci-fi premise of the comic. The first issue also really delivers on its feminist themes, grinding away at the patriarchy and portraying a remarkable diversity of realistic looking women and body types. This is a comic with a lot to appreciate.

But the reason that I am absolutely swept away is the art! 

I expected the written elements of Bitch Planet to be fantastic, Kelly Sue DeConnick is reliably one of my favourite authors, but I wasn't sure how excited I would be about the artwork. I thought it would be good, but I wasn't expecting it to be amazing. And wow! Was I wrong! Bitch Planet has some of the best composition I've read in comics and maybe the best first page I've ever seen. This is not only a comic that is well written, but one with artwork to marvel at.

And I'd like to explore the opening page of Bitch Planet and explain why I think it is so fantastic.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Bitch Planet #1 below.

This is the first page in Bitch Planet, and it might be the best first page in a comic I have ever read. It encodes a huge amount of information about theme, setting, and the visual identity and energy of the comic in a very small amount of space. At the end of this page, I absolutely knew Bitch Planet was a comic I was going to be reading in issues.

The story of the page is at first glance, pretty straight forward. There is a woman rushing through a crowd and a man waiting for her in a recording studio who is very stressed about her running late. He finally decides that he will have to record the piece himself, but then the woman arrives in the studio. Of course, this story is layered with a bunch of other relevant information, but I'll get into that as we go.

Form a pure storytelling perspective this page has a really interesting layout that does a lot of things to make for a kinetic and emotionally resonate page. At first glance this is a deceptively simple 12-panel grid page, with three extra little callout panels. But unlike a more conventional 12-panel grid which follows one character chronologically through space, this layout features two distinct settings with only a shared chronology. Basically, the events in the page take place in the order of the panels, but depict characters in two separate spaces. What's particularly cool about this page is how it is how the two settings fit together in the page: at the top we have mostly the street setting, but as we progress down the page, the recording studio setting gets additional panels per row, such that it slowly takes over the page. Which leads to a bunch of interesting things.

Part of why these interlocking settings are interesting has to do with motion. By staggering the settings this way, we see that the woman running late is always, well, running. In the top row she has three panels in a row to race along towards her destination and then in the bottom row, she has four panels to keep racing through as she enters the recording studio and rushes over to the mic. Therefore this layout really maximizes the horizontal motion of the woman and increases the apparent distance she travels. Which is pretty cool. This layout also enhances the motion of the man in the recording studio. As we progress down the page we see him go from static, seated, and confined in the top panel to being increasingly mobile and frantic looking; like the panel equivalent of increased pacing. It is a visual representation of impatience that uses layout to work.  It's pretty great.

This overall layout structure is also interesting with how it plays with proximity. The recording studio setting, the destination, consumes more page space as the woman gets closer to it. Which is cool, because we feel her approaching the studio even though we never see her close the distance directly. It's kind of a subliminal effect, but I think it is really cool.

This layout is also interesting in the rigid way it segregates the woman and the man within it. The settings of outside and the recording studio control room are kept obviously, architecturally separate such that they feel like different realms entirely. What's more, when the woman eventually enters the recording studio, she is basically caged in the recording booth. At no point do we see the man and woman share a room together without a barrier between them. All of which really sets up the theme of gender segregation in this comic: men and women are divided in Bitch Planet down to the level of the layout.

So yeah, not a normal 12-panel grid. 

But there are additional elements added to the page on a structural art level that also lend important storytelling information, but more from a functional process perspective.

The first are the three additional panels that sit squeezed between the third and fourth panels in each row. These panes provide key information into the emotional state of the man in the studio control room in a way that breaks up the 12-panel grid and adds visual interest to the page. I think my favourite thing about these panels is how the first one is used. We go from the woman running late outside to the inhaler before we ever see the man in the studio: this sudden burst of nervousness is our introduction to the man. It's a great little storytelling choice.

I'd also like to point out how colour is used on this page to highlight the main characters in the composition. The woman, despite moving through crowds of people is always really apparent and easy to see. This is because the crowds are coloured with a muted, greyed-out palette while the woman has bright, undiluted colours. This way her dark skin and bright orange shirt pop out from the crowd and make her obvious to see. (This effect, of course, is aided by the attention grabbing nature of her dialogue bubbles.) Meanwhile, the man in the recording studio has almost the reverse effect, he is done in muted colours but standing in front of a brilliant background and has similar, but reversed contrast forces in play. Which again serves to make him pop out from his environment. It's really smart colouring that makes the entire composition work well, and further emphasizes the seperation between the man and the woman in the scene.

And then there are all the ways the themes of the comic are built into the page to help give the comic an immediate narrative identity.

The most obvious portion of the comic is the narrative itself. We see a woman rushing on her way to a recording studio while running late. She apologizes and excuses herself, being polite and graceful despite being late, remaining "Compliant". And she does all of this to be locked in a room and told "who" to be by a man in a literal control room. It isn't exactly as on the nose or bombastic as a space prison for rebellious women, but it does directly set the stage for the ongoing narrative of women being exploited by men and society.

This page also sets up the themes of Compliance and the enormous societal pressures for women to conform to certain standards. In the background of the page we see a number of advertising billboards which demand/suggest that women lose weight or that they can "fix" them or that they should just "obey". You can see the late woman running through an absolute gauntlet of propoganda and advertising meant to generate obedience, conformity, and shame. Which is sickeningly realistic, and also a great way to build these themes implicitly into the readers very first glimpses of the world of Bitch Planet.

Bitch Planet is also set in the future where there are penal colonies in space. This first page starts the process of inoculating the audience to the Science Fiction nature of the comic by subtly presenting future technology within the page. In the first row of panels we see a man in the foreground with some sort of head-mounted Sci-fi gewgaw on his noggin. In the first panel of the bottom row we see a flying robotic police drone (I presume based on the red and blue rollers) which is an obvious bit of futurism. And finally we see the sound studio man using some sort of adaptive, hologram display/interface instead of a traditional analogue soundboard to produce the woman's recording. It's the future just casually thrown in.

And finally there are just some small details built into the page that I think are just lovely inclusions. Like, standing in front of the mysoginistic "fix you" sign we have some sort of, I presume, animal rights protestor who literally gets in the way of the woman. Which is maybe a great dig at PETA (a notoriously sexist animal rights group) or maybe a comment on the fact people can universally rally behind animal welfare but not feminism. And then there is the billboard displaying a cameo shot of a glamour fashion pic of a young Kelly Sue DeConnick in the background, which is just totally fun. And finally there are the headphones hanging on the wall and how they go from four in the third row of panels to three in the fourth row as the woman dons a pair. It's the kind of wonderful attention to detail that I love to see in comics because they make everything feel genuine. There is a lot of love built into this page.

Integrated together, all of these elements unite to make a page that is interesting, tells the story in dynamic ways, and which starts to build the themes and setting for a comic all in a way that just feels effortless. This page clearly establishes the tone of Bitch Planet in 12.3 panels, which is a remarkable cold open. And I knew, by the time I finished reading this page, that I would read the entire series in issues, and then again in trades. Because this page is fantastic.

And so is the rest of Bitch Planet #1

Post by Michael Bround

Surviving Bitch Planet #1: On Compliance

Friday, 12 December 2014

Breaking Down Batgirl #36

Or a look at some of the subtle but great story telling choices in Batgril #36
by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Maris Wicks, and Jared K Fletcher; DC Comics

Batgirl is a pretty fascinating comic right now. The title is part of this breath-of-fresh-air movement at DC comics that is introducing fun comics made by fresh creative teams which seem targeted at audiences outside of DC's core readership. In the case of Batgirl we are getting stories about a 20-something Barbara Gordon balancing her life as a trendy young adult with her caped adventures. The comic is fun and getting a lot of justifiable praise for its diversity, social justice elements, and attention to the style and fashion of actual young people. Personally, I'm really interested in the seamless and authentic way the comic deals with the integration of information technology into the characters's lives. Basically, Batgirl is a comic that is really good and interesting in some exotic and important ways.

The thing is, Batgirl is also a really technically solid comic.

And I would like to showcase some of my favourite layouts from the Batgirl #36 to prove this to you.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Batgirl #36 in this post.

One of the things I look for in comics is how panel shape and placement is used to enhance the storytelling in given moments. When used effectively as a tool, layout can really add a ton of information and emotion to portrayed events. This sequence from Batgirl really showcases this. The panels depicted Batgirl putting on her costume are pitch perfect: the tall skinny panel depicting zipping up the jacket enhances the vertical nature of the motion, while the wider panel depicting shoelacing catches the horizontal motion of tugging on the laces. Similarly the little central cape-snaps panel captures the small, fast nature of the snaps. The small, interspersed panels depicting such discrete moments also help create the sense of a miniature montage and helps create the emotional sense of a lot of things happening in a short duration. It's a bunch of little choices that on the page absolutely sell the moment.

This page of motorcycle attack action is also filled with small choices that make the page really work. The most obvious is the tilt given to the panels: instead of being rectangles with vertical sections perpendicular to the top of the page, the panels are parallelograms the tile in the direction of reading. This gives the panels a kinetic feel, as if they were racing at highspeed in the direction of the story. Coupled to this is a page that has a minimum of background detail and dialogue and this is a page that reads really quickly and feels very fast. Which makes the motorcycle attacks depicted feel extra dangerous and interesting.

I also really like the way that Batgirl's backflip dodge in the bottom left panel actually breaks into the panel above it. It really exaggerates the motion and instills the feeling of Batgirl leaping out of the path of the motorcyclists.

One of the interesting aspects of Batgirl the character is that she has an eidetic memory, near perfect recall of events she has seen. One of the more interesting aspects of Batgirl the series is how the creative team decides to represent this talent visually. This page here shows Batgirl remembering a cartoon she saw as a child which shows the key to defeating her foes. The way the sequence shows Batgirl watching herself, but also inhabiting the role of her younger self really captures the idea of reliving a memory: she is at once separate from the memory (in that she knows its a memory), but she still kind of relives it, in that she remembers the experience of the being the little girl and emotions she felt. It's all very clear to read and visually interesting. 

I think, though, that this is my favourite page from a storytelling perspective. Every panel on this page is perfectly designed to make the page work. The first panel is oriented such that we read along the vector of the motion (left to right) and experience the motion of batgirl wrangling the motorcycle. The following panel is very narrow and tilted, giving it a squinty, concentrative feel that portrays Barabra's determination. The next panel gives us the status quo of her opponents. The next panel spans the page and shows the global landscape of the scene and lets the reader know that Batgril and her opponents are about to play motorcycle chicken. We next see five small montage panels of grimacing faces, and the kind revving preparation for action shots that motorcycle chicken fights are built on. What's extra great about these panels is that Babs' face is portrayed on the far left like in the previous panel, while her opponent is portrayed on the far right. The next two panels depict squealing tires as the motorcycles accelerate towards each other. In another great touch, these panels are tilted for speed effects, but in the OPPOSITE direction which helps cement the emotion of the motorcycles accelerating at one another. We then see a panel showing the motorcycles approaching, and then Batgirl knee her opponents in their helmeted faces in a panel-less white space. The lack of panels here making this moment pop out and feel like a collision strong enough to break free of the panel structure of the page. It's a great choice on an effortless seeming but deeply thought out page. 

I'm enjoying Batgirl for a lot of reasons, and the great comics storytelling is certainly one of them.

Batgirl #35: the tech issue

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

So I Read The Manhattan Projects Vol. 4

Or a 250 word (or less) review of The Manhattan Projects Vol. 4
by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Jordie Bellaire, Rus Wooton, Ryan Browne; Image Comics

This review will contain *SPOILERS*. For a clean review go here.

I'm a Scientist and as such I think Science is the key to the future of humanity and I'll have you know that I fi.... fuck it. I'll be honest, Science is just really cool. I get to go to work everyday and do really cool stuff like electrocute still beating genetically engineered heart cells to figure out how they work. And that is awesome. I might have good, lofty intentions, but at the end of the day I love this shit because Science is fun. And so fucking cool. So maybe those assholes making The Manhattan Projects might be on to something. In Volume 4 we see more of the madness side of Mad Science as cannibalistic Oppenheimer's Science coup comes to a dramatic conclusion, the civil war in Oppenheimer's mind rages on, and we finally learn what happened to the real Einstein. This issue is really the culmination of a lot of The Manhattan Projects up to this point and it really pays off in shocking and excessively violent ways. It's also the launching point for another promising new chapter (paradigm) of Science. Bad. The Manhattan Projects might portray all of my friends and colleagues as fucking monsters, but at the very least it gets that Science is awesome.

Disclaimer: I don't actually think that Team TMP are assholes. That was for dramatic effect.

Disclaimer: I take my job as Scientist very seriously. Don't show this to my boss.

Word count: 241

Post by Michael Bround, PhD Candidate 


Monday, 8 December 2014

Thinking About Thor #2

Or the exploration of identity in Thor #2
by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matt Wilson; Marvel Comics

Whereas the first issue focused on how Thor Odinson’s loss of worthiness and Mjolnir’s choice of wielder affected the world around them, the second focuses on the internal monologue of our new Goddess of Thunder. We’re presented right away with a contrast—Thor’s outward speech is that of an Asgardian (even shown in the wonderful formal font we always see from our Asgardian characters in Marvel comics), but her internal monologue is decidedly more modern and casual.

Issue 1 faced down the question of worthiness; Issue 2 is the beginning of an exploration of identity.

*Spoilers* ahead, so turn back now if you want to read the issue before reading my take on it.

Since we still don't know the identity of the new Thor, obviously, the mystery of who our new Goddess of Thunder is will be forefront in this book for a while. A mystery that seems to exist on multiple levels in the comic: as the reader is figuring out who Thor might be, Thor is also trying to figure out her new identity. She recognizes, immediately, that something is different.

She’s speaking differently, trying to figure out how to fly, and discovering she has knowledge of events that it appears she previously did not. She herself has, or at least is, developing a new identity before the readers eyes.

 I am fascinated by the process of identity development; one of the biggest reasons I love working with adolescents is that this process is still a major focus of their daily life. The field of psychology has a wide range of theories outlining this process, with varying views about how and when (if ever), our identity reaches a state of being fully formed.

James Marcia’s theory of identity development, though typically applied to adolescents, is an interesting model to use when thinking about a super hero’s identity.  Marcia’s theory centers around the idea that identity is largely the result of choices and commitments made by an individual. Identity development involves exploring multiple roles and perspectives, then making a commitment to elements that best fit with their identity. Individuals still exploring multiple perspectives and ways to interact with the world are considered to be in crisis until they have explained a range of choices and made commitments.

Our hero, who likely had finished adolescence and was carrying around a fully formed adult identity, is now facing down a serious identity crisis—having to integrate her prior identity (still a mystery to the reader) with a new role—being the Goddess of Thunder.  Before she can consider too many aspects of this identity crisis, she’s off, somehow knowing that the earth is in Peril.

Here’s what I like about our new Thor already: she’s jumping in to conflict Mjolnir first, working to keep Earth safe.  While it’s clear she didn’t know that picking up Mjolnir would change her into some sort of hero, she’s also clearly happy to use these new powers to enter the fight. At one point, she reflects that she’s not even sure what powers she’s gotten, and why Mjolnir chose her as worthy, but she keeps fighting, focusing on confronting one small challenge at a time.

 So, Who is Thor? Or, I guess, more appropriately…who was Thor? And what from her prior identity is going to carry forward? We already see that she’s willing to wade into battle to protect Midgard—is this a trait she’s carrying forward, or something inherent to the identity of Thor? I’m fascinated by the idea of integrating these two identities, one of which is still a mystery to the reader.

Issue two continues the mystery of Thor’s identity without sacrificing the forward motion of the plot. This identity exploration feels natural as it slides in along side the fights with Frost Giants, Trolls, Dark Elves, and Oil company executives. Small hints about who Thor was before she picked up the hammer pop up throughout the story, but the focus remains on who she is now, and on what she has to do to continue to protect Midgard. While we don’t yet know what in her past made her worthy, we see what sort of worthy action she is taking now.

“With that hammer in my hand, I was the goddess of Thunder,” she thinks to herself in the final panels, facing down Frost Giants without Mjolnir’s support. “So I guess now the question is: who am I without it?”

I want to know too.

Post be Jenn DePrey


Friday, 5 December 2014

Deep Sequencing: Pretty Mouthy

Or a look at the expressive mouths of Pretty Deadly,
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics.

I really, really enjoyed Pretty Deadly. It is a fantastic story that is brought to life with such a wealth of innovation and courage. This is a comic just filled with great comics and as someone who just loves to pick over sequential art I can just stare at it for hours. I documented a lot of my favourite things about Pretty Deadly already, but there is at least one more facet of Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 that I think bears closer examination. And that is the way Emma Rios and Team Deadly use mouths.

People are wired to understand faces. There is a huge wealth of information deposited on our fez about our emotional state, and we devote a truly impressive amount of brain power and motorcortex real estate to making the millions of subtle, variable expressions of our faces. We also devote a similar amount of brain resources to studying, decoding, and understanding the expression changes on other people's faces. This is a major way people communicate with each other. The vocabulary of this communication is carried through a wide array of facial features and moving parts including the eyes or the shape of the brow. But a key component of facial expression communication is the mouth.

And I would argue the mouth is under utilized in comics story telling.

For whatever reason, probably that drawing a convincing mouth and not having it look disgusting is difficult, I don't often see mouths utilized as the primary focus of panels. While there are certainly some artists that use mouths effectively in the context of faces (McKelvie and Cloonan for instance), Emma Rios and the rest of Team Deadly actually make mouths the primary emotional focus of a lot of their storytelling in Pretty Deadly. And it is a really, really effective choice that carries tremendous emotional impact and a decidedly visceral edge. I think it is absolutely taking a longer look at.

For lack of a better approach, I harvested every mouth primary panel from Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 and stacked them in chronological order. Nothing was cropped down from a larger panel; these are all more or less how they appear in the comic. I just want you to look at them, and just feel the passion, the anger, the cool disdain, the pain, and the catharsis encoded in literally just the mouths of the portrayed characters.

There will of course be *SPOILERS* below. So go read Pretty Deadly.

It's really effective isn't it! I suspect you were able to experience the emotion of every panel and a pretty reasonable facsimile of the entire emotional arch of Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 just by studying the mouths.

Actually, it occurs to me that the mouth panels chosen here almost tell a complete story unto themselves. Admittedly, one with a different shape than Pretty Deadly. But... okay. I can see a story here where a red haired man and black haired woman are lovers. Then they have some sort of fight (maybe jealousy over alleged infidelity on the part of the woman?). The woman cuts her face in a way that mocks the accuser, and the red haired man kills her. Some time later the woman comes back as a spectre and haunts the now old, grey haired man. They have some sort of altercation that somehow ends in ghost-lady reaching catharsis and leaving. Or maybe not. The point here is less the story I've concocted and more that with JUST THE MOUTHS of Pretty Deadly you can construct a cohesive narrative. That is remarkable.

Emma Rios and Team Deadly do a fantastic job in this comic.

More comics ought to utilize mouths as a principle point for communicating emotion.

Post by Michael Bround