The weekend is dead! Long live the weekend!
I’ll admit I don’t really know what I meant with that one. Anyway: comics!
OH CAPTAINS MY CAPTAINS
Hey, at this point you know the drill. The new Captain Marvel series is great. Kelly Sue DeConnick is a great writer, with talents for lively dialogue and purposeful action. The regular series artist, Dexter Soy, has done a great job extracting the spirit of DeConnick‘s writing, namely the electric spirit of the title character and the women she’s found herself fighting alongside while trapped in the past. However, Captain Marvel #6, which wraps the series’ opening arc, is special in a whole other way, and that’s due to the jaw-dropping art from Emma Rios.
It’s a hard thing not to have an artist change be jarring, especially when it happens in the middle of an arc. Without knowing, it’s hard to say to what degree DeConnick tailored scripts to each of her artists, but what’s easy to see is the effect of different artists on her comics. If Soy‘s comics with her capture the brassiness and spirit of World War II propoganda, Rios‘ finer linework and elongated features bring a sly grace to issues like Captain Marvel #6, if not an outright poetry.
Together, DeConnick and Rios make comics that feel bigger and longer than they are. Part of this is the richness of Rios‘ pages themselves and the detail she puts in with Jordie Bellaire, whether a scene is an explosion or a personal confrontation, but another part is just simply the feeling it gives me as a reader. As those lines stretch, so does the time, and that works to the benefit of an issue that is primarily about a character’s philosophy and identity. Carol is rarely in true physical danger in this comic – after all, it takes place in a scene of her past that we already know she survives – but the mental and emotional danger is real, and that’s where Rios‘ skill and seamless partnership with her collaborators come in. The final third of the issue is certainly not what one might expect, and it will likely require numerous reads to tease out all the meaning and details, but that’s what good comics do. They surprise you and challenge you even as they provide action and entertainment. Month in and month out, Captain Marvel is becoming one of Marvel‘s premiere character studies, and it’s never better than here, when one of the industry’s best partnerships is working at its peak.
As Carol’s final challenge in the story moves to its finish, the panels and pages torture the reader by slowing things to a crawl, making you doubt, just for one second, at how things will turn out. In that pause, you can practically see the lead character growing, and it’s brave creators that test the limits of pacing with such expertise.
Plus, there are no fewer than four Captains Marvel in this issue, and that’s pretty awesome. I give it this week’s I am Spartacus! Award and can’t wait to see what’s next. (J)
MYSTERY INC DONE GOT CRUNK
Anthology comics are a rare commodity within the industry these days. On a fundamental level, the economics of running a book with dispirate characters, ideas and creators just doesn’t work anymore, with books costing far more than they have in the past. When readers stumble across a section they don’t particularly enjoy, it’s very easy for them to drop the book in favour of something they know they will like as a whole.
That said, there are still some fine champions of the format out there, including the twice yearly attempt Vertigo makes, in the form of ample one-shots filled with creators and stories of all types. This week, their newest offering Ghosts hit the stands, and honestly, it is one of their finer efforts to date.
The book begins with a particularly fantastic tale by Al Ewing and Rufus Dayglo about a man who meets the ghost of his awesome self when he takes a data entry job. In taking the job, he apparently murdered and entire world where he kept following his dreams. The tale takes a couple of hilarious turns all the way to the end, where it provides a great twist, all in the span of six short pages. The anthology continues with its theme of ghosts, meandering only slightly to include a story by Paul Pope (with some writing help by David Lapham) that narrowly missed the space-oriented Mystery in Space anthology a few months back. While that story is a little out of place (very little – the main conflict comes in from a ghost ship), it remains a compelling read with gorgeous, inky delights littering the pages.
The rest of the book is quite stunning in story and scope. The Neil Gaiman created Dead Boy Detectives return in the first part of a more ongoing story in this issue, followed by a haunting story of domestic “bliss” by Cecil Castellucci and Amy Reeder. I could very well go through and list every story in this anthology, and have you salivating, but it would do you good to stumble across a copy and see all the delicious stuff contained within. You’ll even get a taste of what a story by Geoff Johns looks like when drawn by Jeff Lemire, and you’ll see the final story and pencils from comics grand-master Joe Kubert, which is haunting on a myriad of unfathomable levels. This book is amazing, and well deserving of our I Would Have Gotten Away With It If It Wasn’t For Those Meddling Kids Award.(B)
I don’t exactly do well with horror, all things considered. I don’t really like gore, which means a lot of modern stuff is out. I’m really particular about the creeping, psychological dread of other horror, too, which means that even more is out. It’s hard to find a horror anything I like, that balances a care for the rules of the genre without sacrificing any of the form or momentum of the chosen medium.
Bedlam #1 is such a horror story.
Bedlam‘s first issue balances two different stories in a double-sized bundle. One half is the story of the supposed downfall of Madder Red, a renowned serial killer, and the other is the start of the arc of the man he is now. What’s impressive about the divide isn’t just how well integrated they are visually, thanks to Riley Rossmo‘s spectacular art and Jean-Paul Csuka‘s gorgeous colours, but how well it is thematically. Madder Red’s past is filled with themes of surprise, anarchy and society’s troubled desire to improve itself, but so is his present. Alternating with the starkly coloured flashbacks are scenes of Red’s current predicament – struggling with his identity, trying to pay for a disposable phone, dispassionately toying with a street gang – leading up to a truly surprising, unsettling final page.
Ultimately, it’s that kind of unsettled feeling, frequently paired with the panic of outright ignorance, that makes most horror or mystery stories successful when they are, and this is where Bedlam excels. The issue spends a great deal of time and effort building up to a very specific ending, and then turns that all on its head in a scene that, in retrospect, is as logical as it is shocking. That’s the great skill of writer Nick Spencer: he’s eminently talented at writing two different stories at once: the one you think you’re getting and the truth. This is an imperative quality for anyone writing mysteries to have, and by the end of the first issue of Bedlam, he’s clearly set up a book whose modus operandi is clear, even if the individual plot workings are not: violence. Unknown motives. Hard questions about society. As an opening act, it’s fantastic. As a piece of horror, it’s utterly rewarding.
Of course, Rossmo deserves a large amount of credit for the latter; throughout his career, Rossmo has shown an excellent sense of when to apply restraint and when to let loose with abandon. The opening scene is the perfect example of this; he knows when to move slowly, when to look away, and exactly when to but in on a slit throat. What he creates is this incredible sense of chaos and fear, but with the dark figure of Madder Red in the centre, enigmatic, which just makes it even harder to hold one’s shit together. He and Csuka have succeeded in capturing the raw emotions of the scene without ever letting them fray the reader too much and scaring them away, or by seeming the slightest bit desensitized to what’s happening. Bedlam is an affecting book, which is why it works.
A final bit: look at how brilliantly Rossmo uses his design for Madder Red’s mask in tandem with different angles to portray emotion on an expressionless non-face. One angle presents a sick grin, another shows a sickly exaggerated frown, and others still are eerily dispassionate. It’s the mark of a true talent that Rossmo can combine design and layout so well to create tension and emotion in even the smallest space, and a big reason why the final page of the issue has the effect it does.
Bring on Issue 2. (J)
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