Wednesday, 30 October 2013

So I Read Black Hole

A 250 word (or less) review of the Black Hole graphic novel
By Charles Burns, Pantheon Books

There is something fascinating about the cusp of adulthood. It's this period of intense physical, emotional, and social change all happening at once when people don't necessarily have the emotional maturity to deal with it or the life experience to put things in perspective. It's momentous and frequently awful. Black Hole explores the most horrifying aspects of this life period in a really great and fascinating way. The comic, set in the 1970s, follows a bunch of young people during an outbreak of a sexually transmitted disease that causes grotesque mutations. The mutations are incurable and some are obvious and horrifying, while others are mild and can be hidden. Black Hole features characters already carrying the disease, characters who are in danger of catching it, and the consequences for all of them. Boiled down, Black Hole portrays puberty as a disease and non-conformity  as anathema. It is one creepy, arresting, and sexually explicit read that perfectly captures the fear and alienation of youth.One of my favourite aspects of the book is just how transgressive it feels: the way it uses creepy, sexually explicit imagery to create a sense of guilt, uncertainty, perversion, arousal, and violation of privacy just created such a furtive, exciting, on-edge feeling in me. It was evocative of the fist time I stumbled across sex on cable TV, fascinating and exciting but somehow shameful; it sent me right back to my own puberty. Black Hole is a brilliant comic. Just don't read it in a public space.

Word Count: 250

Monday, 28 October 2013

Pondering About Pretty Deadly #1

Breaking all the rules in Pretty Deadly #1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire; Image comics.

Pretty Deadly is a comic, that for me, is about breaking rules.

One of my personal rules is that I'm only allowed to read ten ongoing comic titles a month. I get to choose my favourite ten Marvel or DC comics, read them, and then supplement these with my choice of one creator-ownederish tradepaperback or graphic novel a week. (It let's me read a wider variety of comics on a smaller budget.) As a result, I end up tradewaiting on a lot of insanely great comics that oh-my-god-I-want-right-now. It's tough, but I somehow I've managed... Until now.

I am reading Pretty Deadly in issues, on top of my on-going ten, because I couldn't wait. A comic written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (one of my favourite writers who I've always wanted to see work consistently with a firebrand artist), drawn by Emma Rios (a brilliant and innovative firebrand artist who I've been dying to see draw a longterm comic) and coloured by Jordie Bellaire (one of those elite colourists who can elevate the artwork of even the best firebrand artists) is one I really want to read. A comic by such a talented group of creators that is a Spaghetti Western about the daughter of Death is a comic I know I HAVE to read. So, after two full years of following my purchasing rules, Pretty Deadly has made me break them.

When it comes to writing this blog I have another rule, which is never to just say something is good. While I love writing about media I like, I feel just saying something is good is lazy and uninteresting. So instead I try to find a hook, to figure out some interesting angle to explain WHY I think a thing is good. To provide some analysis on interesting techniques, or themes, or well anything more than "it's good". It's challenging and fun. 

The trouble is that Pretty Deadly #1 is really, really good but I can't find a hook to write about it. It's brilliantly executed, but, is so artistically unconventional and organic that I don't really have the tools to pull it apart, to try to convey how it works. I feel like an architecture student trying to explain the biology of cellular vesicle trafficking. But Pretty Deadly is too fucking good not to read and so I have to break another one of my rules.

Pretty Deadly is a good comic. Go read it.

What I can just about manage to say about Pretty Deadly #1, from a more substantive perspective, is that this comic brilliantly, elegantly breaks rules too.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Pretty Deadly #1 beyond this point.

Pretty Deadly is an origin comic where characters within the story TELL the origin of the protagonist. This is a decision that breaks one of the most fundamental rules of comics: show do not tell. The idea being that comics are a visual medium and that comics aught to show the audience instead of relying on lengthy exposition. But! By taking this approach Pretty Deadly manages to establish its Western setting, introduce two important supporting characters (I presume), and set up the protagonist, Ginny, as a pretty big deal in their fictional universe in a very natural and interesting way. This approach also functions as this really neat ersatz comic within the comic as the storytellers use a Tarot chart to relay the events of the story in panels. It's great, daringly unconventional comics.

Pretty Deadly is also a comic that breaks the prevailing conventions of comic book art. The standard comic approach is to present the story panels in some form of a grid, moving sequentially from top left to bottom right. The art in Pretty Deadly uses a much freer, much more organic approach to comic storytelling. For every standard grid there is an interesting violation of the normal panel order to add dramatic weight to a moment, or a focus panel that snaps to an emotion, sound, or movement within a larger composition. It's an innovative comic that has an organic approach to storytelling with its own unique voice. It is completely a comic worth just looking at. 

So to reiterate, Pretty Deadly is a good comic. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Favouring The Young Avengers #11

Or more yet more meta in Young Avengers #11
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Kris Anka, Mike Norton, and Matt Wilson; Marvel Comics

Before we get started I would like to point out that this review will be made of *SPOILERS* for Young Avengers #11. So do NOT read on until you have read the comic. Jeez.

One of my favourite aspects of YA is how the creative team breaks the fourth wall to represent magical phenomenon in the comic. Essentially team YA uses artwork and layouts that violate the rules of comics (people breaking through panels, reaching into captions, etc) to represent the occurrence of things beyond the rules of reality (in this case the comic). It's great stuff and there is another great example of this inside Young Avengers #11.


This sequence occurs during a ritual to recreate Loki in a more powerful form. Along the way Loki breaks open and out pops a bunch of smaller panels containing different aspects and iterations of the character of Loki. As such the flying panels within panels is a pretty great representation of the spell being enacted: it shows Loki being destroyed and reborn in a way that is dynamic and which breaks the rules of the comic universe: being split into panels within a panel is NOT how things usually go, it's impossible and magical. It's more great comics from the creators of Young Avengers.

But it's also more than this. Part of Young Avengers #11 is that Loki gets a serious, and excellent character redesign and this panel of magic is a fantastic visual metaphor for the process of redesigning an established character. The embedded Loki panels provide a survey of both previous character designs and visual representations of character aspects of Loki. As such, these panels let us do the kind of research the designing artist no doubt did: we get to see the different looks of Loki, the common design elements, the uncommon elements which add something interesting, as well as some of the other character aspects (like his frost giant biology) that define the character. And from these panels we can create a sense of Loki, an idea of what the formative elements of Loki are. His clothes will be green with yellow highlight, there will be some sort of horned headgear, maybe some furred or armoured period clothing, and maybe he is a little androgynous. And then we turn the page...

...and there he is. The redesigned Loki who incorporates the constellation of Loki elements in a new and really excellent way. We can immediately tie his character elements back to the constellation of Loki designs on the previous page. (Also love the addition of the scaly armour, such a great overlap of medieval armour and lying serpent.) As such we get to EXPERIENCE the transformative power of the redesign and the magic of the spell. It is fucking brilliant comics, an interesting meta-glimpse at the process of redesign, and a really effective way to increase the dramatic weight of the moment. It's also a fucking brilliant character redesign.

Young Avengers is just such a fantastic comic.

Favouring The Young Avengers #10
Favouring The Young Avengers #8
Favouring The Young Avengers #7

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

So I Read Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

A 250 (word or less) review of the Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong Graphic Novel
By Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks, First Second Books

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong starts as a story about highschool politics when Charlie, captain of the basketball team and affable jock, gets caught in a dispute between Nate, the intense leader of the Robotics club, and Holly, the ruthless head Cheerleader, as they declare war over extracurricular funding. What follows is a game of dirty politics as Nate and his long-suffering teammates attempt to win a school election against Charlie, the unwilling pawn of the merciless cheerleaders. Can Nate and Charlie stay friends despite a vicious election? Will the Robotics team make it to their competition? Will the Cheerleaders get their new uniforms? Will all the family and high school drama work itself out? Oh, and there are fighting robots eventually. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a fun, accessible comic that I think should appeal to just about everyone. The story is involving, the humour is infectious, and Faith Erin Hicks artwork is, as always, fantastic and endless fun. I am profoundly (profoundly!) over high school, and I still found Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong perfectly winning.  And if Shen and Hicks can win me over, then I bet they can win you over too. Fighting robots!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Incandescence Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Incandescence by Greg Egan

Sometimes a nerd just needs some hard Science Fiction in their life. You know, the kind of hard Science Fiction that you collide with inelastically, imparting your momentum to it and being left, stalled and thoughtful. The kind of hard Science Fiction that demands metaphors about momentum, forces, and energy transfers. I'm talking about really, really hard Sci-fi.

Incandescence by Greg Egan is exactly that kind of diamond hard Sci-fi.

Incandescence follows Rakesh, a child of DNA, living in the Amalgam, a galaxy spanning polity filled with the immensity of the diversity of countless civilizations and species. A chance encounter with an enigmatic alien with a proposition breaks Rakesh out of his ennui and sends him into the domain of the Aloof, a super-reclusive alien species native to the galactic centre. A trip to the galactic core that turns into a quest to discover a long lost species completely unknown to the Amalgam.

Incandescence also features Roi, a member of that lost race, who is a humble tender of crops in a society built around labour and maintaining a precarious status quo. That is until she meets Zak, an elderly male with unorthodox ideas, who will lead Roi down a path of Scientific, Mathematic, and cultural enlightenment. In the face of an environmental disaster that threatens their very civilization, Roi, Zak, and their burgeoning thought system must grow to a full Scientific Revolution if their species is to survive.

Incandescence is one very, very smart novel. Against some pretty engaging character work, truly alien civilizations, and some pretty exciting storylines are some heady, brilliant concepts. For me, the most remarkable thing about Incandescence is that it constructs a Scientific philosophy in an entirely different context than our own. It imagines developing classical Physics in a completely different place, with an entirely different context and perspective to arrive at natural laws. A perspective that drives an entirely novel way of looking at math, basic Physics, and Science in general. It is endlessly fascinating to look at and it really hammers home just how much of our Science reflects the context of their discovery and the types of observations we make. It's astonishing stuff.

I would recommend Incandescence to anyone who loves smart, hard Science Fiction. If you've ever complained about godawful, implausible Science in a Sci-fi novel, this is the book for you. That said, this is a novel that quickly throws a lot of ideas at you and is written by someone who is clearly very, very smart. As such it demands a lot of thought from readers. So it might not be the best choice for light reading or for people who like their fiction accessible and effortless. Incandescence is a book you get out of what you put into it, so if you are at all inclined, do yourself a favour and invest in it.

(Also, if you are Sci-fi fan who has a serious interest in the Philosophy of Science, Incandescence is a must read. It really asks some really interesting questions about the formative norms of Science and the role of observation in driving hypothesis formation.)

Friday, 18 October 2013

Deep Sequencing: Making An Entrance In Stumptown: The Girl Who Took Her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini)

Or the fantastic character introduction of Dex in Stumptown Vol. 1
By Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth; Oni Press

You only get one chance to make a first impression. The first five minutes of a movie, the first sentence of a story, the opening page of a comic. The preface of a novel. The first time we meet a new character. If done masterfully, the audience knows exactly what the story is going to be like and has an understanding, a solid sense, of the newly introduced character.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It's the Star Destroyer pursuing the Rebel corvette in Star Wars. It's Clint Barton falling out the window in Hawkguy. It's a screaming comes across the sky. And it's the cold open to Stumptown: The Girl Who Took Her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini).

This post contains slight *SPOILERS* for Stumptown Vol. 1. All of the information is from the first half dozen pages and constitutes the cold open of the comic, so no big reveals are given away, buuuut it's probably better that you go and read Stumptown for yourself.

The comic opens with this page which effectively sets out a number of important facts about the comic. We have a car travelling to a remote location, killing dah lights, and two sketchy looking men doing something that doesn't look above board. This page establishes that Stumptown is a comic about little-c-crime, not supervillains and heists, but the more ubiquitous texture of crime in any urban centre. This page tells us that the world it's set in, at least from the information presented in this page, follows the rules of our own. Basically, this page sets a contract with the reader about what kind of comic Stumptown will be. It's not a brilliant, revolutionary page, but it does effectively set the tone of the book.

The brilliant part is what comes next.

This is the first panel of the next page, and our first glimpse of the protagonist of Stumptown, Dexedrine Parios. It is also the best character introduction I can think of in comics. 

This single panel, especially following the page turn from the previous page, manages to convey a surprisingly dense character sketch of Dex. For starters she is in the trunk of the car in a remote area where she is held prisoner by the two sketchy dudes from the first page. We also see she has a black eye and is at least a bit beat up. Together this information suggests that Dex has shitty luck and that she has a tendency to get in over her head. But then we see her face, cracked in a wry grin, and read the speech bubble which, I imagine, is her pleasantly and casually speaking to her captors. This tells us Dex is brave (or at least bravado), she isn't flipping the fuck out, which is really the standard and reasonable response of being held captive in the trunk of a car. It also tells us that, given the self-aware smile and the blatantly ridiculous question, that Dex has a sense of humour and, with a wink to us audience folk, is aware of the ridiculousness of her circumstances. This of course, is all kinds of charming. (The casualness also feeds back to the down-on-her-luck characterization, because it suggests that yeah, she is used to this shit, but what are you going to do?) Closer inspection of the panel also reveals that she has a cell phone in her hand. While it is unclear at this point if she is phoning for help or just trying to use the phone to provide some light, it does convey that she is smart and resourceful. All of this, that Dex is charming, brave, resourceful, and terribly unlucky, all of it is packed into this single panel. And that is absolutely brilliant comics.

(I'd also like to point out how great this double page spread is. The way the bird flying away is used as a semi-sound effect as well as a time keeper, like sand through an hourglass, to drag the moment out is really smart and interesting. And I am ALWAYS a sucker for a beautiful picture of a bridge. Love me some bridges.)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

So I Read Stumptown: The Case Of The Girl Who Took Her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini).

Or a 250 word (or less) review of Stumptown volume 1
By Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth, Oni Press

My favourite thing about certain works of fiction is how effortless they seem, how they just hang together and work as this fully realized thing. Stumptown is a perfect example of a comic that just... is. Every aspect of the comic, every writing and art decision, just perfectly fills its niche. As a result, Stumptown Vol. 1 is just filled with moment after moment of "of course it is". It's kind of spectacular. Stumptown: The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini) collects the first story of Portland-based, down-on-her-luck private investigator Dexedrine Parios. In return for forgiveness of a gambling debt, Dex is tasked with finding the wayward granddaughter of the Casino’s Chief. What follows is a lean detective story with plenty of excitement, suspense, and detecting. It’s a superbly crafted comic with taught, economic writing that manages to build a pretty remarkable world while maintaining its focus, coupled to artwork that manages to capture this perfectly balanced drab-gritty atmosphere. But the thing about Stumptown that really makes it sing for me, beyond all of its seamless craftsmanship and danger, is its charm. Stumptown Volume 1 is just permeated with this unpretentious charm that makes it a joy to read. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Stumptown has heart. Actually, I'm trying to say that Stumptown is one of the most enjoyable comics experiences I've had. Like, I-don't-understand-why-everyone-isn't-name-dropping-this-comic-always enjoyable. If you haven’t read Stumptown Vol. 1… just, go read it. Seriously.

Word count: 249

Monday, 14 October 2013

Gravity's Rainbow Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

"A Screaming comes across the sky." And then you are thrust into the entrails of the second world war. Gravity's Rainbow follows a collection of dozens of colourful lunatics as they traipse around the periphery of WW2 embroiled in their own particular obsessions, each profound and unique and strange, as they suffer from the human Condition. If there is one unifying element to the plot of Gravity's Rainbow it is the V2 Rocket, and the particular fixation many core characters have to find or possess or fire a special rocket, the "00000", and its secret payload of the "S-Gerat". It's a fractured, complex storyline, like a narrative fired through a prism that, I think, really stumps casual description, begs to be seen for itself, and encapsulates the sheer fucking insanity of modern life.

Gravity's Rainbow is a masterful and challenging novel. For one thing, the prose of it is beautiful and astonishing. Each sentence is dawn out with a kind of elaborate, needless complexity, that, Rube-Goldberg like, somehow is all the more elegant for it. The tensions, thoughts, and feelings encompassed in single lines and paragraphs can be gawked at and unpacked for ages. Gravity's Rainbow, is as a result one linguistically dense and intellectually taxing read. I gave it what I feel is a fairly cursory reading and I was still quite challenged by it. It's brilliant but tough.

And its challenging nature does not stop with the complexity of its prose or the unorthodox nature of the narrative: Gravity's Raindbow is a conceptual cinderblock. Look, I know things. I am a PhD student in the Life Sciences who did a Biochemistry undergraduate that contained an unusual amount of Chemistry and Calculus (because nobel prize winning historic Chemist faculty). I have taken a goodly amount of 20th century history classes and definitely went through a protracted phase of rocketry obsession in my youth. I have been, however briefly, to many of the cities in which the novel is set. I grew up in a world with the internet and all of its weird perversions a click away. What I am trying to say is that I am a privileged and educated dude with a grounding in many of the ideas that fill out this novel. But despite everything that I know, I feel like I barely grasp the shallowest nuance of Gravity's Rainbow. It is smart in that tungsten-burning-in-a-vacuum way, incandescent and beyond mortal understanding. Again it is very challenging, but with enough clinging effort, there are some really transcendent insights to be gleaned.

Basically, (as if there is anything basic about it) Gravity's Rainbow is a profoundly good book.

I would recommend this book to... well, not everyone. It's complexity, which while very brilliant, is hard, and reading this book at times was a literary marathon, a rewarding ordeal. And I'm not sure that everyone has that masochistic need to invest so much work into enjoying their fiction. If you like effortless, efficient novels that deliver fun, actiony stories and are discouraged by overtly complex books I would avoid it. If you are a literary mountain climber and are willing to trade effort for critically awesome prose or if you are a bucketlister of modern classics of literature than give Gravity's Rainbow a try. It might tax and infuriate you, but what it certainly will not do is disappoint.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Deep Sequencing: An Atomic Robo Timeline Pt. 2

Or  an update to my graphical timeline of the first 4 Atomic Robo collected editions.
By Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener; Red 5 Comics

Atomic Robo is the fantastic, funny comic about, well, Atomic Robo, the adventuring Action Scientist invented by Nicola Tesla. It's an infectiously fun to read comic that is also constructed in really smart, really unorthodox ways. One of these interesting creative decisions is how Atomic Robo uses time.

A lot of comics, particularly the more superhero-y comics have a weird relationship with time. For the most part time in these comics time is squishy, where publication order does not equate to narrative order and Batman is perpetually the same age despite having stories clearly set in multiple decades. In these comics time is less about an exact measure of time than a... kind of inconvenient medium that events pass through.

Atomic Robo, which is a comic about an ageless robot going on Science Fantasy adventures, has really rigorously annotated time settings. Nearly every story not only has the year it is set in, but even the month and day. As a result, the Atomic Robo comic works like a kind of time capsule of human history during the century (and counting) of Robo's life. It makes for neat settings for stories and a fun look at cultural differences through time. 

But beyond being a nifty setting device, this thorough chronicling of time demands a 100 year long giant graphical timeline. So, I've made one, and will update it whenever I finish another Atomic Robo comic. 

This is the first update for the timeline. The added entry is for the year 1999.

There will be mild *SPOILERS* in the timeline. Also, there is an up-to-date text based timeline on the Atomic Robo website. So this might be kind of redundant.

Timeline legend:
Vol. 1: Atomic Robo and The Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne
Vol. 2: Atomic Robo and The Dogs of War
Vol. 3: Atomic Robo and The Shadow From Beyond Time

Vol. 4: Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

So I Read Atomic Robo And Other Strangeness

A 250 word (or less) review of the fourth Atomic Robo collection.
By Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, Red 5 Comics

Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness tells is the fourth chapter of the ongoing comic about Nicola Tesla's greatest invention and sass-mouthed automoton, Atomic Robo. The current chapter depicts a short period of Atomic Robo's life in the 90's, as the director of Tesladyne, a research and development company specializing in Action Science. Specifically, the comic tells the semi-unrelated stories of a Vampire dimension invasion during a job interview, a trip to Japan to visit a Sentai-inspired super team, a battle of wits with a certain time-travelling Dr. Dinosaur, and the appearance of a ghost in Tesladyne. Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness, while not as intricate or story driven as the previous two collections, makes up for this by just being completely hilarious and fiercely fun. This is a comic that clearly shows two very talented and passionate creators just having an absolute ball telling stories about things they love. It is completely infectious. Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness also features, without a doubt, the greatest portrayal of the Scientific method in all of comics as well as some surprisingly astute and informative meditations on things such as time travel and palaeontology  which I enjoyed immensely. Basically, Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness is yet another ridiculously fun comic, in a series of ridiculously fun comics.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Wondering About Wonder Woman: First Born Special

Or some great comics in The First Born-Wonder Woman Special 
Brian Azzarello, Aco, Matt Wilson, and Jared K Fletcher; DC Comics

I have really been enjoying Wonder Woman. I think Brian Azzarello's take on Wonder Woman as more of a mythical figure and less of a straightforward superhero is interesting, and the melodrama generated by the infighting and family dynamics of the Greek Parthenon provides a relatable emotional core. And then there is the art of series main artist Cliff Chiang who is just a fantastic artist: his distinctive style and endlessly fascinating character designs are really reason enough to read this comic. Add to this the colouring of Matt Wilson, who has created this really fascinating, distinct palette that unifies the series between artists and adds so much visual interest to the book. Wonder Woman is easily one of the most consistently good looking and interesting comics in my reading list.

The First Born special, written by Brian Azzarello and featuring art by Aco and Matt Wilson is by far the best of the Villian Month tie-in comics I read. It tells the backstory of The First Born, a fairly enigmatic new villain, in what really feels like the next chapter of the ongoing Wonder Woman story. Unlike most of the Villain Month books, which largely featured stories unrelated to the ongoing stories with characters we either haven't seen in the nuDCU or versions of characters that depart from their nuDCU versions, this comic felt like it existed for a reason. Which, as a budget conscious comics reader, I really appreciated.

It is also really great comics with a few pretty great features worth unpacking.

(Just as an aside, I feel like pointing out that most of the Villians Month comics felt like such a rip-off. I bought most of them solely because 1: my comic shop which cannot return them grabbed them for my pull box so I felt obligated to buy them, and 2: all of the order limit nonsense for the 3D covers which made me doubley grateful and indebted to my shop. My comic shop ordered them because they were billed as part of Batman or Wonder Woman and therefore assumed they would relate to the series and that I would want these books. Basically DC screwed both of us into buying a bunch of extra comics to inflate their sales, and frankly I am pretty unhappy about it. (They weren't necessarily bad comics, just unnecessary.) The WORST part of reading a DC comic these days is all of its publisher level nonsense. It's a sign of just how much I  enjoy those few DC books I read, given how much of an ordeal DC comics makes reading their books.)

(Alright, back to what I like.)

This post will contain some light *SPOILERS* for the First Born Special, most of which should be obvious from the overall shape of the Wonder Woman comic series. That said, you ought to read the comic first.

The First Born special makes use of a bunch of deceptively simple, but really effective page layouts. This page is probably my favourite from the issue, because it is awesome but also because it's a great example of using the carriage return from top-right to bottom-left to enhance the effects of the page. 

The small panel in the top left is where we enter the page. Our vision is drawn down to the second narration box and then on to the mouth of the fire breathing dragon-monster thing. From there we progress to the next text caption and the First Born perching, nude, on the top of the stone column. (This narration caption, incidentally overlaps with the next panel, acting as a temporal bridge to the next panel, which is pretty cool.) This brings us to the top right hand panel that depicts the First Born diving into the dragon's mouth, a motion that is continued rapidly down this parallel through the next three panels. We see the First Born dive, then swing our eyes along the path of his dive, to see the dragon swallow him, slowing our path on the next narration caption to lengthen the dramatic beat of the Dragon holding the First Born in its mouth, before we carry on to the fiery explosion in the bottom left panel of the page. We then move our vision up and to the right, again along the path of motion, to see the First Born burst out of the Dragons mouth and final narration caption. This panel transition works doubley well because the rapid, panel framed, cross page parallel works to corral our vision so that the final panel explodes into our focus in a dramatic reveal. This is a great page that showcases some of the very cool things that can be done in the carriage return. 

Another of the nifty comics techniques on display in the First Born is the use of colours. 

The First Born's scenes, particularly those that depict martial triumph are done with a heavy red background. Red, a colour of blood and fire and passion and violence. It emphasizes the First Born as a dangerous and powerful dude through colour alone.

Meanwhile, scenes of the Olympian gods, particularly Zeus, are done in bright, firece blues. The kind of bright blue that is of electricity and the sky. The kind of blue that comes from the hottest and most exotic flames. It emphasizes the power and otherworldly nature of the Olympian gods.

The blue/red contrast also beautifully sets up the emotional conflict of the First Born versus the Olympians. The colours are dramatically opposed, they cannot coexist peacefully. The colours also, I think, establish how much greater the electric blue power of Zeus is when compared to the red, terrestrial power of the First Born. It's a really smart, really great use of colour.

So, there you have it, the First Born special is a great comic in a great series.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Favouring The Young Avengers #10

Or a big crazy meta interpretation of the Young Avengers
By Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, and Matt Wilson; Marvel Comics

This, my crazy fan ramblings, will be built upon a tower of *SPOILERS* for Young Avengers #10 and really the series as a whole. Return here only upon reading the comic.

One of my favourite things about Young Avengers is just how experimental it has been with layout design and storytelling choices that break the boundaries and conventions of comics. For instance this opening section here, breaks the fourth wall in this really effective, really interesting way.

This page here, beyond being awesome and creepy, systematically tells us some really neat things about Mother, the antagonist and multidimensional parasite. Specifically, the comic frames Mother as living in her own dimension that exists in a meta-space between the comic and the audience. Part of this is that Mother's native dimension is a boxless white void, a void with the basic characteristics (white emptiness) of the gutters between panels. It's as if she lives in a dimension that exists in the spaces between panels. This seperate-from-comics nature is further emphasized by the panel-prisons of the mayfly dimension youngish avengeresques and how, arranged as they are, they appear as a comics page displayed for Mother's viewing. As if she were existing in a plane separate enough from the sequential art that she is both a participant and audience of events. And then of course she fucking reaches out, grabs the third person narration caption box, and goddamn devours it. Which would imply that Mother is able to not only reach into and manipulate the comic world but also to reach OUT into our world and effect events. This is some really fun, smart comics.

But it's also comics that crystallize a really wonky, really meta reading of the comic.

And since Young Avengers kind of begs for this kind of close reading attention and Kieron Gillen's Spirit Animal might just be a Meta-Deconstructionist Criticism I feel like this nonsense may be welcomed.

(Also, facts about Angler Fish. 1: They have a glowing bioluminescent lure with which they attract their prey to their ghastly large and fangy mouths. 2: male Angler Fish exist solely to locate female Angler Fish, merge with them, then atrophy their body down to a mere reproductive organ of the female's body. THESE ARE TERRIFYING LOVECRAFTIAN MONSTERS OF THE DEEP.)

(There are also things called IMMORTAL JELLY FISH.)


I think you could make the case that Mother could be a stand in for the audience. Basically she is a interdimensional parasite that is obsessed with controlling and consuming the Young Avengers, particularly Billy, who is essentially the protagonist of the story. Mother is both very powerful and generally impotent to directly reach into the universe and make changes and requires an intermediary (Billy/Loki) to gain access to them. She can feed on the "Mayfly Universes", themselves a horde of tumblr/cosplay/fanart/mashup memes, but is only truly satisfied by the true Young Avengers. 

If Mother could be read as a comics audience than I think you could interpret Loki as a stand in for the comics creators. As is revealed in this issue, Loki has been quietly manipulating the Young Avengers for his own ends, both planting the suggestion to Billy that allowed Mother (the audience) to access the Young Avengers in the first place and bargaining with Mother to begin his plan to control the Young Avengers. Moreover, like an author, Loki is at once a member of the team, striving for the Young Avengers to succeed, but also a foe in that he is manufacturing conflict/problems for the Young Avengers for his own ends and for Mother (the audience). And ultimately, Loki is striving to control the Young Avengers for his own ends, be they power, creative, or freedom related. 

One could also, I think, argue that Leah could be a negative critic of the writer. She has a clear grudge against Loki (the author) and is working with Mother (the audience) to turn Teddy (one of the Young Avengers) against him and the other Young Avengers. She also has at her disposal a group of jilted ex-romantic partners to various Young Avengers, which is like an army of former fans that are angry that the status quo has changed.

Now, if you accept all of this meta-interpretation, then the Young Avengers might be making a comment on the relationship between comics' characters, creators, critics, and audiences. A comment where comics readers are at once controlling parents and powerful alien parasites and creators are trickster gods driving characters to unpleasant ends at the behest of audiences. And critics are maybe cynical gods themselves, driven to destroy creators and comics for past slights and their own bitter amusements. Basically, Young Avengers posits a situation where audiences, creators, and critics struggle against each other for control of a comic. Which, if any of this is true, is one clever and dark little commentary built into the Young Avengers amongst all the punching and melodrama.

I really like this comic.

Favouring The Young Avengers #8
Favouring The Young Avengers #7

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

So I Read Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent

A 250 word (or less) review of the sort-of sixth volume of Criminal
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; Icon Comics

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent is about Riley Richards, the all-American small-town boy, all grown up. He's a successful businessman, rich, and married to the beautiful Felicity, the rich debutante of his high school love triangle. Except Riley's marriage isn't going well, he owes money to the wrong people, and his father is dying of Cancer. And when Riley bumps into Lizzy Gordon, his other, blue-collar high school love interest, Riley wonders about the path not taken and if it's not too late to change his life. And so Riley decides to murder his fucking wife. If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should: beneath a legally-distinct-from-copyrighted-characters facade The Last of the Innocent plays out the scenario of Archie Andrews of Archie Comics marrying Veronica, deciding to murder her to be with Betty, and the lengths he would go to get away with it. And the results of this experiment are kind of sublime: the mixture of Criminal Noir, old timey Romance Comics, and the bleed of the former into the latter is brilliant. The way The Last of the Innocent uses this thematic tension, by jumping between art and comic styles, to engage with the fickleness of nostalgia takes the perversely fun premise and adds a cerebral element that makes this one of my favourite comics. This volume of Criminal is also great to foist on non-comics friends: it features top-notch creators telling a mature and accessibly story that plays with the universally recognizable Riverdale gang.