Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Resistance Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Resistance,
by Samit Basu

Resistance is a direct sequel to the fantastic Superhero novel Turbulence. Resistance picks up eleven years after the events of Turbulence and portrays a world overrun with super-powered humans. The world is defended by The UNIT led by the super-charismatic Uzma, Japan is defended from Kaiju by a Mecha piloting team of Sentai, Aman Sen is rumoured to have died but continues to work through an internet-ghost with an army of Tias, Utopic, a giant corporation, is capturing and commodifying Supers, and all of the worlds mystics and fortune tellers are predicting the end of the world on the same day. And someone is hunting down and killing Supers. Basically the chaotic, super-battle riddled future as usual. But it falls to the far-flung heroes of Turbulence, the first-wave supers of flight BA142 from London to Delhi, to unite again and save their bizarre new world. Ka-pow!

Resistance is pure saccharine Superheroics in prose form. It has all of the super-action, team melodrama, and tongue-in-cheek humour the genre demands! It is pretty good fun and a book that any fan of Turbulence should enjoy. That said, I don't think it is as good as Turbulence. Turbulence provided superhero fun, but also a pretty focused story and an interesting look at modern India. Resistance is a much more straightforward Superhero story playing with more familiar tropes in the toybox of the Turbulence world. It's a very fun, light read, but not a very challenging novel. 

I would recommend Resistance to anyone who really enjoyed Turbulence. Even if it is a light sequel, it still features Turbulences memorable characters and sense of fun. I think fans of the first book will get a lot out of the second. If you haven't read Turbulence I'm not sure I can recommend Resistance, it is very tied to the events of the first novel and doesn't stand very well on its own. That said, if you haven't read Turbulence, particularly if you are fan of Cape Comics, then you really, really should check it out. And then maybe read Resistance. 

Post by Michael Bround


Monday, 29 June 2015

Describing Daredevil #16

Or a look at using background to drive storytelling in Daredevil #16
by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

In my last post I wrote about how reducing background detail can be a tool to drive attention to the foreground in comics using a great example from Spider-Woman. Daredevil #16 has a great example of the opposite where background detail is used to drive storytelling in a vastly simplified foreground. So I thought it would be timely to take a look at this really, really smart use of background.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Daredevil #16.

An ongoing theme of this iteration of Daredevil is blindness. This series has continuously built really compelling stories and moments around Matt Murdock's lack of eyesight, either playing with the challenges this disability causes the man or, frequently, the ways in which he "sees" better than normal by not being limited by sight. This approach has led to some really compelling stories that examine how taken for granted sight is, and the manner in which this clouds our expectations. This approach has also generated some truly astonishing moments where our assumptions are challenged in really surprising and often ironic ways. Daredevil #16 has a fantastic example of this.

So you really ought to read the issue before reading on from here.

Daredevil #16 sees Matt Murdock turn to The Kingpin to strike a deal to help Daredevil protect his loved ones and disappear. Kingpin suggests that he wants to mull the offer over in his gallery, surrounded by his favourite art. The pair continues their conversation in the gallery where Murdock, due to his blindness, cannot appreciate the artwork and where we the reader only catch glimpses. It's a fun situation that initially just seems like Kingpin being a jerk to Murdock because he knows Murdock is blind...

Except when the background is finally revealed we see that this gallery is so much more than a collection of fine art. Unexpectedly, the Kingpin's gallery is made up of paintings depicting the death and torture of Daredevil over and over and over again. Which is deliciously ironic because Murdock thinks he is in control of the situation and we can all see, but he can't, that Kingpin's hatred of him is beyond his ken: unbeknownst to him he is probably in way over his head. It's also a wonderful twist because this museum of Fisk's hatred is revealed to us following Murdock saying ""I offer you the death of Matt Murdock. Interested?" Which, given the artwork, Fisk transparently is. It's just a perfect comics moment and emblematic of why I enjoy this comic so much.

It's also a great example using background to drive storytelling. Just like how background detail can be throttled down to emphasize foreground elements, backgrounds can also be emphasized to drive storylines. Here, we finally see the detailed, torturous paintings depicted in all their horrific splendour while the foreground is reduced to recognizable silhouettes and key colours (red, Daredevil; white, Kingpin) on a page that lacks dialogue. This combination makes the background the attention draw of the page and reveals the hidden psyche of The Kingpin in a way that clearly shows Murdock's ignorance. It is unspoken and separate from the foreground figure work, but it speaks volumes. It's a dramatic moment that works because of the strength of the background and the dramatic tension that exists between it and the foreground narrative. Great stuff.

Which is further evidence that backgrounds are really important and can directly participate as a storytelling device. It's also evidence that there is no single, right way to make comics and that all kinds of tricks, even opposite ones, can be used to make great comics moments.

Describing Daredevil 12-15: storytelling highlights

Describing Daredevil 10 and 11: scope and character
Describing Daredevil 9: empathy
Describing Daredevil 3: onomatopoeia 
Describing Daredevil 34: before and after
Describing Daredevil 33: condensed motion
Describing Daredevil 30: the vectors of artwork
Describing Daredevil 29: A great page

Friday, 26 June 2015

Sussing Spider-Woman #8

Or a look at the use of blank backgrounds in Spider-Woman #8
by Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez, Munsta Vicente; Marvel Comics

Backgrounds are an integral part of comics. They provide important spatial context for comic events and provide a level of verisimilitude to the depicted story. When done especially well they can lend comics extra atmosphere and character that permeates every panel of the story to effect better storytelling. I mean, all of this is pretty obvious, backgrounds are obviously important.

The thing is, having a very detailed background is not always helpful and, in some situatons, depicting a blank background is actually better for comics storytelling. And Spider-Woman #8 has a good example of this.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Spider-Woman #8

Despite their obvious value to comics storytelling, backgrounds also look like a total pain in the butt to draw. We live in a hyper granular, complex world and to represent that in an illustration frequently means drawing a world filled with fractal details. Which is problematic because in some situations it must be really annoying and because it also sucks time, which is one of the most precious resources in comics publishing. This creates an incentive to draw pages with blank backgrounds: empty spaces where characters exist but which contain no finicky details that need to be seen. If combined with some judicious establishing shots this can result in some effective if obviously streamlined comics.

In some situations it really does come down to resource management and the compromise between quality and a reasonable, on deadline workload.

In other situations cutting down on background detail is all about story. The white middle panel on this page is a great example of this: in this panel Jessica Drew uses her superstrength to smash apart the mecha-armour of Lady Caterpillar, sending a myriad of components flying. The thing that makes this panel so memorable for me is that it is loaded with finite little details that really sell the emotion of the moment. When Lady Caterpillar is struck, her amour tears apart in a rain of sprockets, and fasteners, and tiny detailed components that when taken all at once wonderfully conveys the sense of something disintegrating. (Honestly, I can nearly hear the pings of components rattling off the floor from this image). 

I would argue a big part of what makes this panel so effective is the white background. By throttling down the background detail and removing any colour from the composition, Team Drew is removing any element of distraction from the panel. This way the reader's attention is firmly locked on the foreground where the reader is able to clearly see and appreciate all of the little, detailed bits of machinery spraying from the impact. It's a really effective choice. 

It's also a great example of how creators can use more passive approaches to drive reader attention in storytelling. Instead of actively using tangents or guides or shapes to drive attention to certain aspects of the composition, creators can also pare down a page and edit out extraneous elements so that readers are better able to see and appreciate what is on the page. Which when used as judiciously as it is here in Spider-Woman #8, this approach can be really smart stuff that is more than just an artist trying to save time. 

Spider-Woman #7: the brilliance of the inset panel

Spider-Woman #6: Guided chaos and multiple reading paths
Spider-Woman #5: Character Design and composition

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

So I Read Blacksad: Amarillo

A 250 word review of the Blacksad: Amarillo english translation
by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido; Dark Horse Books

Blacksad is a new chapter in an ongoing story. To learn about the first chapter go here.

Blacksad is a comic about a pulp private investigator in a 1950s world of anthropomorphic animal-people. In the newest instalment our black cat detective is down on his luck and stranded in New Orleans without the cash to get home. Luckily for him he is landed a sweet, relaxing gig driving the yellow Cadillac Eldorado of a rich, Texas oil Hippopotamus across America. Unluckily for him, this car is almost immediately stolen by a pair of scruffy writers, a buffalo poet and a young lion who has just written his next great novel. It gets even worse when the car runs afoul of a murder. Blacksad: Amarillo is another great, pulpy detective comic that tells a classic crime story filled with atmosphere, action, and joy while also providing a pretty fun madcap roadtrip across 1950s America. It is also one of the best looking comics I've read: Blacksad: Amarillo is gorgeous, composed of sumptuous paintings that make every panel. It is  a comic that, despite being not particularly long, took nearly a week of reading time to gawk at. Blacksad: Amarillo also continues the series' examination and devotion to 1950s Americana, showcasing the most stylish and nostalgic elements of that era in a really interesting and evocative way. Blacksad: Amarillo is pretty much everything I want from a comic: it tells an exciting, fun story with atmosphere with masterful and inspiring artwork. Blacksad is must read comics.

Word count: 237

Post by Michael Bround

Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Zoo City Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Zoo City
by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City is a supernatural noir novel set in Johannesburg. In the world of Zoo City people culpable of something terrible are cursed with an animal as a physical embodiment of their guilt. These animals are spiritually tethered to the guilty person who cannot stand being away from them. Worse if the guilt-animals die, their humans are killed by a mysterious black force called the Undertow. The combination of beastly guilt stigmata and looming hellish demise leads to the "Animalled" or "Zoos" to be largely ostracized by their society. However, the guilt-animals do come with a gift, granting their owners supernatural talents which can sometimes make the Animalled valuable. Zinzi December is a recovering drug addict and ex-convict who has been animalled to a sloth. The sloth gives Zinzi the ability to find lost things, which allows her make a modest living hunting for lost trinkets and keys, but absolutely not, under no circumstances, missing people. However, when a tween pop sensation goes missing, Zinzi is offered enough to escape her drug debt to find her. But when you go looking for something missing in Johannesberg sometimes all you find is trouble.

Zoo City is a great book. It has all of the atmosphere and pomp of the best pulp detective stories, but with the added spice of the complicated cultural milieu of urban South Africa. It's a novel that definitely presents a great, gritty mystery and a great urban fantasy premise, but which is ultimately more interesting for how it explores these premises in the unfamiliar and interesting world of Johannesburg. Zoo City is also significant for the way it explores social exclusion. The way animalled people, with their guilt talismans, are exiled form society is a brilliant metaphor for how criminals, the poor, drug addicts, sex workers, and the misunderstood are ignored and rejected by population for their perceived misbehaviour. Which is a universal human problem worth thinking more about. I mean, Zoo City is definitely an exciting and stylish noir story, but it's also got a substantial and socially conscious core. It's, well, a great book.

I would recommend Zoo City to just about anyone. Some grown up stuff happens, so I might limit the rec' to mature readers, but if you are a grownup person this is a book you ought to check out. It is accessible, entertaining, and tense while still dealing with big important themes. I had trouble putting down both as a story and as a smart exploration of themes. Zoo City is also just very different from any other book I've read: it has a perspective quite different than what you usually encounter in English genre fiction. I think you'll really enjoy it.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Singing About Black Canary #1

Or how advertisements water down the quality in Black Canary #1
by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Lee Loughridge, and Steve Wands; DC Comics

Black Canary #1, the actual storytelling part of it, is pretty great. The premise of "what if Black Canary was in a rock and roll band" is that brilliant idea that instantly translates into a fun story. And given a creative team that includes Brenden Fletcher, an integral member of DC's recent push to make comics I'm actually interested in, and an art team of wizards Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge, Black Canary #1 is a stylish and polished reading experience that is, in some empirical way, totally rad. Black Canary #1 is a comic I really enjoyed.

.... or at least would have if not for the extremely tacky ads in the comic.

I want to talk about Capitalism for a second. I feel like in a small scale, individual transaction kind of way, Capitalism works pretty okay: it provides a way to link resources and labour to exchangeable value to efficiently swap stuff. It also, in this small scale way, rewards people who work harder or provide some sort of better product. I also feel with very large companies Capitalism essentially breaks down; that sufficiently large publicly traded corporations lose that darwinistic incentive to do better and instead become schemes to screw every last dollar out of business models to increase profits and drive share prices. And this breeds a certain kind of short sighted money-now bullshit that makes me crazy.

Subway is my go to example to try and articulate how Hyper-Capitalism fails. Once upon a time there was a sandwich shop that made fast food submarine sandwiches to order. This was apparently a good idea and the business grew and opened more locations. And then it grew some more. Eventually there was a Subway everywhere there could be a Subway. (My personal slice of Metro Vancouver, New Westminster, has a population of 66 thousand and has 8 Subways, which is just stupid.) Subway also resorted to increasingly aggressive advertising to the point where if you consume any amount of broadcasted media its ads are inescapable. Which has led to a reality where everyone is being constantly reminded about the Subway restaurants that are all around them. This, in my opinion is where Capitalism failed: when everyone knows Subway is an option and everyone has access to several Subways, profits can only be grown by ruthlessly cutting costs in the form of using cheaper ingredients and making worse sandwiches. Which has made Subway into a nigh ubiquitous purveyor of flavourless, grey Victory-subs. Thanks Capitalism.

(And yes, Subway subs are also evidence that we are living in a dystopian future.)

My point here is that descisions that make bizness sense in a Hyper-Capitlist environment can have a side effect of making a shittier product.

Which brings me the crux of my problem with Black Canary #1, and really all of the post-whatever-that-event-was DC reboot , is this god damn story page advertisement. Here I am throughly enjoying a fun new comic by a great new creative team that I paid good money for and there is a fucking advertisement on story pages!? HEY STOP READING THIS COMIC AND INSTEAD PAY ATTENTION TO TWIX!!! HEY ASSHOLE! TWIX!!! It's distracting and it really takes me out of the experience of reading this great comic.

And, look, a lot of Atoll Comics is about trying to uncover the mechanisms that creators use to make the magic of comics work. And a key club in the creators sports metaphor is the ability to manage how a reader flows through a page using layout and eye guiding and carriage returns and page turns. Chopping a page in half to tell us ABOUT TWIX! YOU STUPID JERK! EAT A TWIX!!! severely restricts the amount of storytelling space creators have to work with and the amount of control they have over how readers navigate their story. I mean, Christ, they also have to contend with stupid ASSHOLE! TWIX! ASSHOLE! ads trying to deliberately distract readers from the artwork entirely. It's really, really, really fucking tacky and actually damages how comics work. 

The thing is this stunt is only a small portion of a larger problem. Black Canary #1 has 22 pages of value added content if we include the comic, the cover, and the one page of back matter (which I feel is charitable). This comic also includes 8 pages worth of paid advertisements and 6 pages of internal advertisements for other DC comics. That means that this comic which I paid $3.99 CAD has 14 pages of advertisement for 22 pages of content. That means 40% of this comic is obnoxious garbage. 

For $3.99 CAD, I do not understand why there are so many ads in this comic. Now, I understand that DC Comics is a bizness that has to turn a profit on comics, but I don't see how the majority of the ads in this comic are actually making a significant amount of money. Like, seriously, how much cash does MARS ATTACKS: The Dice Game actually have in its advertising budget? Is their ad revenue really enough to warrant making a shittier comic? And all of these DC house ads, they cost money to print, but in a world of direct market comics stores and *the internet*, does printing 6 ads in a comic really make sense? And why put DC house ads between story pages where they make the comic shittier instead of just grouping them in the backmatter? (Also, "DCYou", seriously DC? That's just pathetic.) Every ad in a comic makes the reading experience worse, and there are *A LOT* of ads in Black Canary #1.

A lot of prognosticating has been done about the constantly increasing cover prices of comics and why it's a problem.  What is maybe getting lost in this discussion is that we are being asked to pay a premium price for our comics without getting a premium product. For $3.99 CAD for 20 pages of story I expect to not deal with distracting advertisements. And in a context where other comics publishers, particularly Image, take pains of curate a premium reading experience in their comics, I find myself wondering more and more, why do I even bother with DC Comics? As much as I might like their characters and some of their creators, it gets really hard to justify buying a comic with a fucking twix ad on a story page when I can read a comic from a publisher that is more interested in making good comics than maximizing profits from a quick buck.

So I guess what I am saying here is that Black Canary #1 is a great comic by talented creators that promises to be an ongoing fun read that is ruthlessly watered down by obnoxious advertising.

I'm also saying that if this ad blitz represents where DC comics is going they will soon find themselves publishing expensive, grey Victory-comics that I won't be reading.

Previously in I hate comics ads:
Captain Marvel #15: cathartic perfection marred by an ad.
Howard The Duck #1: ad placement ruins a punchline.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Worshipping The Wicked And The Divine #11

Or a look at presenting a reveal in WicDiv #11
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

The Wicked and The Divine is a comic that I fined endlessly fascinating. It presents a compelling, textured story about pop culture and mythology, fame and creativity that is depicted with some aggressively interesting comics. It's also a comic that fearlessly delivers a fresh and surprising experience, which in a world of slow moving, safe storytelling is a pretty precious commodity.

This current post is going to be about layout and surprise deployment, and it is made out of *SPOILERS*. If you haven't read up to WicDiv #11, DO NOT read on in this post.

Last time around I mentioned I had a theory about how WicDiv might end. Given the events of WicDiv #11, it's safe to say that I was completely wrong.  Which is really cool: it's a pretty rare thing in fiction to be thoroughly and completely surprised and WicDiv #11 managed to kick the chair out not once, but twice. And, as is becoming routine for my experience with The Wicked and The Divine, I'm pretty fascinated in some of the choices the creative team makes while deploying these surpises.

Which is mostly me just vamping so that I can say again: There are *SPOILERS* here, please go away now if you aren't up to date. 

The above page represents the larger of the two reveals in WicDiv #11 and I love the choice of page layout here. This is a *reveal* shot, a big dramatic moment meant to be deployed in a perfectly paced burst for shock factor and maximal emotional effect. I feel like the conventional wisdom is to frame these kinds of shots as splash pages with a single image splayed out over an entire page or double page spread. The logic being, as far as I can tell, that the bigger the story importance the bigger the story space devoted to the moment. While WicDiv #11 does have a large image spread over a single page, it's brilliantly chopped into three panels that do not quite line up completely. And this is fantastic comics.

I think what makes this so effective is that it manages to significantly change the pace of the moment while still giving it space to be impactful. The use of single core image spread over the page manages to replicate the scale effects of a splash page by giving the reader a large, significant picture to contend with. It is, in the language of comics conventions, a big deal. But by breaking the image into panels, this moment is also stretched out. Rather than being a single burst, the moment reveals itself ever so slightly slower, making this moment yawn horribly on the page. The multi-panel approach also has the added benefit of emphasizing aspects of the underlying image: the grim, bloodstained face of Ananke, and then her clenched and bloodied fists, and finally the burning corpse of her victim. Which actually feeds back into the more gradual reveal: as a reader we experience the bloody clues of the image before the final, horrific reveal in the final panel letting this moment grow with each new piece of information. What I collectively love about this page is that it provides space for the reader to have realization dawn, to have the hope for a different twist quashed, and time for the reader to reconcile that yes, yes that crazy fucking thing just happened. It's a perfect comics moment.

It's amazing how much seemingly small comics choices can reverberate as dramatic storytelling effects.

It's also amazing that I can clearly say I have no fucking clue what comes next.

WicDiv #1 and popart head-splosions
WicDiv #2 and the use of black-space
WicDiv #3 and character design

WicDiv #4 and body language 

WicDiv#5 and facial acting

WicDiv #6 and possessions as character
WicDiv #7 and the power of lettering
WicDiv #8 and the disorienting layout
WicDiv #9 and the economics of design

WicDiv #10 and powers as character design

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

So I Read Footnotes In Gaza

A 250 (word or less) review of Footnotes In Gaza,
by Joe Sacco; Metropolitan Books

I grew up in Vancouver, Canada and went to Catholic Schools, so my education growing up has been decidedly biassed towards the State of Israel. My high school history teacher depicted Israelis as "bad ass jew underdogs" struggling against an Arab world that hated them while the Western media has done its best to characterize every Muslim as a terrorist. (And come to think of it, I once overheard my High School principle go on a Religion Class screed about how Islam is a religion of war and hate that Christianity couldn't coexist with... so yeah.) But reality is much more complex and the Palestinians have a story too, are people too. Footnotes In Gaza chronicles a pair of historical war atrocities committed by the Israel Defence Forces in the Gaza strip. Specifically the comic looks at two incidents in 1956, one in Khan Younis and one in Rafah, where occupying IDF soldiers executed and brutalized Palestinian civilians. These stories are told with journalistic rigour, relying on eyewitness accounts and official documents, and portrayed with a cartoonists eye to detail. This search is backdropped by modern day Gaza as Joe Sacco and his guides hunt for information, which portrays the pretty horrifying story of Palestinian life: of Israeli occupation, encroachment, demolition, and death. Footnotes In Gaza is a stark look at the Israel/Palestine situation and gives a voice to the often-neglected Palestinian perspective. It is food for thought and the kind of comics journalism we all should read.

Word count: 248 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Equoid Is A Good Novella

Or why you should read Equoid 
by Charles Stross

The Laundry Files is a series of novels about The United Kingdom's ssupernaturalsecret service. The series stars Bob Howard, a very geeky and not particularly coordinated agent, as he combats mind consuming Lovecraftian horrors, navigates the politics and paperwork of the office bureaucracy, and suffers through the hell of providing IT tech support. In Equoid Bob is sent to a quiet rural village, armed with a classified memoir of HP Lovecraft, to investigate the possibility of a unicorn infestation. Which, if it's true, is serious business because unicorns aren't beautiful, enchanted horses, they're eldritch horrors from beyond space time. And if they were to breed, the consequences would be catastrophic.

Equoid is a great medium-small read. It features the Laundry Series trademark mixture of nightmare logic, geekery, yawning cosmic horror, and humour. It is a read that manages to be pretty fucking disturbing (there is some rape-by-cosmic-horror stuff in here that is soul-curdling) but also manages to have a brighter side between the existentially horrific. Whether amusing or soul-curdling, Equoid manages to be a consistently interesting story.

I would recommend this novella to most geekery-friendly readers. It's definitely for mature readers and some potentially upsetting things happen, so you know, be forewarned. Equoid takes place midway through the Laundry Files Series chronology (before The Fuller Memorandum) so if you are a purist and want to read the series in order you should start at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives. That said, Equoid stands alone reasonably well and might be a good introduction to curious readers.  If the mash up of Elder Gods, cosmic horror, British Spies, and work place comedy sounds attractive you should give Equoid or The Laundry Series a try.

The Laundry Files Novels (Novels 1-4)
Accelerando and Glasshouse
Saturn's Children and Neptune's Brood
Halting State and Rule 34
The Merchant Princes Series (Novels 1-6/1-3)
The Rapture of The Nerds

Monday, 15 June 2015

Marvelling at Captain Marvel and the Carl Corps #1

Or a look at scalable character design in CM&CC #1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kelly Thompson, David Lopez, Lee Loughridge and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Frankly, I don't really care about Secret Wars. I mean, I like several of the creators involved and I'm sure that if you are a core Marvel reader it's an exciting and rewarding read. But as someone who tends to read the more idiosyncratic, creator driven comics around the periphery of the Marvel Universe apparatus, this event is mostly a big headache. My books are being derailed for various alternate reality tales and then some sort of new-status-quo-reboot thingy is happening. It is exhausting and I'm not sure if I have the energy to deal with these reading logistics when I could just be reading other comics that don't require continuity gymnastics. So maybe it is more accurate to say that I do care about Secret Wars, and that I just dislike it.

That said Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is *delightful*. It presents an alternate reality status quo where Captain Marvel is leading a squadron of women pilots who protecting some sort of enclave or base from enemy incursions on Battleworld (whatever that means...). But that is all secondary because this is a comic that continues working on the themes of heroism and teamwork of the series and showcases the creative team's ability to rapidly build rich ensembles of characters. It's more great stuff in the vein of Captain Marvel proper and while I might not care at all for Secret Wars, I'm very happy this Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps exists. 

(Incidentally, the ability of Team Captain Marvel to generate quality stories as Carol Danvers is thrown by editorial whim into radically different situations (now New York, now space, now Battleworld) is really impressive. To be able to build a thematic, consistent narrative through all of that is quite an accomplishment.)

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is also interesting in that contains some really great, scalable character design that I think is worth taking a look at.

There will be *SPOILERS* for CM&CC #1 below.

The central character design challenge of Captain Marvel and the Carol Crops #1 is that it's a comic about a group of military pilots. Military Pilots in the real world almost universally wear uniforms, use face obscuring helmets and masks, and fly the same model of aircraft within squadrons. It is therefore difficult to distinguish individuals within a military unit. This of course, is terrible for storytelling, where it is really important to be able to assign actions to individual characters and to distinguish between them on the page. So there is a practical storytelling pressure to give every character their own fighter type or jumpsuit look and basically go full space pirate at all times. But since technicolour swashbuckling isn't particularly martial, this approach doesn't translate well to a story about military aviators. Which means a balance has to be struck somewhere between military conformity and narrative necessary individualism.

Since Captain Marvel is a comic that doesn't mess around, it deftly negotiates this compromise by building characters who all operate within a certain degree of uniformity but who all display small touches of individuality that are visible during all levels of storytelling. 

When taken as individual people the Carol Corps are pleasantly distinct looking group of women. Each of these pilots, despite wearing variations on a common uniform, manage to look unique on the page with small character touches that makes each stand out as their own person from Blaze's old-fashioned feeling beauty-spot mole to Pancho's screw-the-rules sunglasses and lip piercing. What's great is that this all translates to the cockpit. A combination of helmets decorated with pilots name and logo as well as carefully chosen facial characteristics (freckles, mole, piercing, black skin, or chin skin imperfection (warts? scars?)) keep each character looking distinct and recognizable even wearing a combat helmet. This design motif scales up yet again to the actual fighter planes which, while all one model, each display a painted nose cone playing with the motif of the helmet designs. This again allows the aircraft themselves to be instantly recognizable and tied to their relevant characters. It's quietly really adept comics.

The result of all of this is a group of military pilots who look like military pilots but we are able to keep track of whether the story is in the barracks, chatter between cockpits, or punching holes in the sky. It's also an approach that manages to create distinct, individual characters who wear their personalities in their designs in a really obvious and compelling way. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps may only be one issue long, but I already have a sense of who these women are, how they relate to each other, and care about their outcomes. And what more can you ask from a first issue?

Marvelling at Captain Marvel #15: triumphs and tribulations
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #9: a rhyme map of a rock and roll space opera
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #4: Joyous collaboration.
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #3: When joke and story telling collide
Marvelling at Captain Marvel 17: A meta-fandom salute
Marvelling at Captain Marvel 15-16: On tie ins
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #13-14: On The Enemy Within
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #12: Demarcating reality and fantasy
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #10: A dramatic contract
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #9: How your brain tells time
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #7: Saving a reporter in distress... AND ITS A MAN!
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #1: An alternate reading order that I liked more

Friday, 12 June 2015

Atoll Comics Round 20

Or changes to my Top-Ten comics

Due to my spouse seeing how much I spend on comics and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Howard The Duck and dropping Secret Avengers.

Why Howard The Duck: mostly because it’s something different. Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones are two creators that I’ve always enjoyed as slightly idiosyncratic. Chip Zdarsky in particular has an oddly earnest and just, uh, odd sense of humour that seemed like it would fit well with an oddball premise like an alien duck-man (man-duck?) trying to fit into a world of disgusting ape creatures by working as a down-n-his-luck private investigator. I also thought he would bring the funny. And so far Howard The Duck hasn’t disappointed being an amusing weird comic filled with duck puns. Which has made for a fun change of pace in my pull list. I do wonder, a little bit, if Howard The Duck has the staying power to be a comic I’ll read longterm, or if it is a fun premise I’ll enjoy for a while before moving on to something else. Still, for now, fun stuff.

Why not Secret Avengers: because Secret Avengers is over. This is another comic that had its moment in the sun, told its story, and finished it in a satisfying and enjoyable way. Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles delivered a consistently uncouth, often funny, and deeply earnest comic filled with some really powerful moments and some really smart comics.  I will miss this book both as a reader and as an art critic. I’ll also deeply miss Secret Avengers take on MODOK whose combination of brilliance, insanity, and passionate sincerity has been a revelation and something, in a way that I find kind of worrying, I found myself really relating too. So goodbye Secret Avengers, goodbye noble Science mutant!