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ABHAY: These Aren’t That Good But Here’s Another Attempt at Capsule Reviews

Abhay Khosla

Eh, don’t feel like I did a great job on these, but here’s an attempt at some capsule reviews for THE WHITE SUITS #1, DEADLY CLASS #1-2, more just chit-chat than a review of SATELLITE SAM #6 which I didn’t care enough about to mention any of the actual details of (I think I really ate it on that one), FANTASTIC FOUR #1, and FOREVER EVIL: ARKHAM WAR #1 to 5.  There’s better stuff on the internet, right now, these are just bleh, but if you’re bored…

The White Suits #1 by Frank J. Barbiere & Toby Cypress, “story and art TM and copyright by Frank Barbiere”:  I bought this to see Toby Cypress draw action-crime comics, and to the extent it’s Toby Cypress drawing action-crime comics, I guess I got exactly what I wanted.  Cypress: dynamic anatomy, dynamic page layouts, a willingness to exaggerate anatomy but grounded in a very lavish sense of lighting; one of those guys who let you see the physical act of drawing in their pages, where the ink on the page serves not only the surface narrative but the usually much better sub-narrative, the timeless story of ink going onto the page.  We really should have a way of describing this style that’s quick and efficient, the way the Belgians have the “Marcinelle School” or the “ligne claire” guys– Cypress is hardly the only one chasing this muse.

Anyways, my kind of shit, the way he draws.  The comic is black and white with a red spot color– ehhhh, execution on the spot color varies; when it’s story motivated, or used to establish a setting, it’s slick enough I guess. Though they stick to red more often than not which I just feel like has been done with crime comics, that they could maybe take more chances there– especially because there’s a couple pages where they mix in other colors that are entirely successful (a page of smeared green and yellow gunfire on top of the red, in particular, has a lot to offer).  Maybe it’s better that’s done judiciously though– maybe that’s not for me to say; “I’m gonna back-seat drive Photoshop!”  Sometimes, though, Cypress adds a low-opacity red smear on top of a drawing– those parts seem less motivated by story or atmosphere; just sort of sit there on the page; miss more often than they hit; more than one panel of a low-opacity red blur on bad guy’s teeth…? Watch out for their teeth, good guys– those are some evil teeth.  

There’s an especially slick panel of a strip club, the lamps all in red– I especially liked that one.  It doesn’t really “make sense”– most strip clubs don’t have that much lighting; at least, local ordinances for LA County had to put in a minimum amount of lighting, which suggests to me at least that authorities figured that for necessary because left to their own devices, strip clubs will want for lamps.  I don’t know– it’s a fucking slick panel, anyways.

As for the story or writing or characters or themes, it’s just another comic of things happening.  There’s some guys, and then there’s some other guys, and there are events involving all these guys (emphasis: guys).  Things happening isn’t really a story, though– it’s just things happening.

Same questions as usual: What does anyone want?  What is at stake?  Does someone have a goal that they are working towards or some interesting, unique lifestyle?  Does that goal or their lifestyle reflect who they are?  Does that goal or their lifestyle say something about who WE are?  Is anything about the actual world being observed or relayed to the reader?  If not and it’s an assembly of pre-existing genre formulas, is at least anything about those formulas being observed or relayed to the reader?  Is there anything– fucking anything!– that seems to be even a little bit personal about any of the material at issue?  Is there anything about it that says “this could have only come from this person– this needed to be made because if this person didn’t exist at this time, it wouldn’t have ever been created at least in this configuration”?  W-H-Y S-H-O-U-L-D I C-A-R-E? How many times have I had to type out some variation of these same questions?

Story-wise, this comic is just a 100 Bullets rerun– there’s nothing in this comic that hasn’t been written before.  It’s white noise.  It’s emotional static.  Sample dialogue:  “She’s been watching me for over a month.  Hidden in plain sight… It doesn’t matter.  If she really knew anything about me, she’d know that I’M BETTER.  Tonight I get some answers.”  Jesus Christ, is there a button you can push on Final Draft that shits that out, or did someone have to light a candle and plagiarize a rejected Wolverine videogame screenplay word-for-word?  How much longer are any of us going to be alive?  How many more times do we have to read this same fake-macho speech over and over and over again?

She’s a badass.  She’s cruel like a snake, but got the body of an angel, and the vagina of a devil, a devil named SHOTHAR THE SWEET-PUSSY BEARER.  But she’s met her match because me, my dick gets hard, lady– as hard as an erection!  She looks at me– I want her to tell me what she sees.  She ain’t seen the best of me yet.  Give me more time and I’ll make her forget the rest.  I got more in me, and she can set it free.  I can catch the moon in my hand– doesn’t she know who I am?  REMEMBER MY NAME– FAME!  I’M GOING TO LIVE FOREVER– I’M GOING TO LEARN HOW TO FLY- HIGH.  I FEEL IT COMIN’ TOGETHER!  PEOPLE WILL SEE ME AND CRY — FAME!  I’M GOING TO MAKE IT TO HEAVEN.  LIGHT UP THE SKY LIKE A FLAME– FAME!  I’M GOING TO LIVE FOREVER.  BABY, REMEMBER MY NAME remember remember remember FAME!

It’s not that the comic is bad– it’s that if you’re reading enough comics where you’re random-buying Dark Horse miniseries, your true enemy is apathy. Then again, first issues are tough– maybe they’ll work out their kinks, uh, whenever.  Saved this review at the end, with that last sentence– now it’s constructive and balanced!  Wee!

 

Deadly Class #1 and 2, by Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge, Russ Wooton, an Sebastian Girner, copyright Rick Remender and Wes Craig on issue #1 but copyright Rick Remender on issue #2…?  Weird. Typo?:  This is a pretty stupid comic that I had to put down at least once because I was laughing at it and then just laughing at myself for still reading comics, but that being said, by the time I got to the end of the second one, I have to admit it’s my kind of stupid.  When I call it stupid, I guess I’m saying that affectionately…?

Anyways, it’s another high-concept Image book– this one is set in 1987. The Matrix people go to the Harry Potter school, basically; the videogame Bully ensues…?  It’s all drenched in “good lord, Claremont would blush” torrents of teen angst narration, though– that’s what got me.  By the time the main character is giving some 7th grade lecture about how Christians are too rude to fucking Mormons (?)– “As if one religion is less  cultish and full of shit than the other“– I put the book down to have myself that little laugh.  None of Remender’s cutesy little ideas about race or anything make it in there, at least, so whew, but ufffff, get a blog.  Some of that’s not his fault though– some of that’s just bad timing with me:  the first issue starts with a load of “people aren’t nice enough to homeless street kids” talk that’s harder to take seriously after seeing it play out a little more tragically in real life with John Campbell and whatever mental health issues she seems to be unfortunately grappling with (and best of luck to her). I imagine most folks didn’t have that same issue, especially as the first issue of this came out well before that happened…

Mostly, it all reads very X-Men, but with crime mythologies instead of mutantcy.  Crime mythologies?  I’m pretty much a sucker for crime mythologies; can’t remember a time when those weren’t a pretty sweet thing to throw into a story. There’s a decent quantity of dumb here (sample narration: I hate the winter.  Jacket soaked by icy mist“…?) and plenty of ways this can go wrong, but the bedrock stuff– rival factions of teens at war with one another, violence, swords, gangsters, spies, rich kids vs. poor kids… This stuff all baked into me pretty deep when I was all cookie-dough.  Regardless of anything I might say about this comic right this second,  I can guarantee that Me Age: 13 would have been all about this nonsense. I never watched a man have his throat slit by Colombian drug lords or anything (which the letter page suggests was what it took to write this comic…), but I saw Akira too before I could drive, so I’m never going to be too put off by a comic where disaffected teenagers have a motorbike battle… (It’s a very strange letter page for a Harry Potter vs. The Matrix comic, but).

(Re: what I was saying before with White Suits and character motivations, the first issue, the main character’s goal is survival.  Once that’s mitigated by the end of issue 1, the comic almost immediately provides a new goal for the character– to kill Ronald Reagan (like I said, stupid but in a way that invites a certain affection).  So: note that the main character is never without a goal and it’s the better for it– it doesn’t have to be a noble  or worthwhile goal, even.  This paragraph shouldn’t even have been needed to be written out, but so many fucking comics don’t do this…).

Wes Craig’s interesting– don’t think I’ve ever read a Wes Craig comic before…?  It’s nice– cute stuff.  He leaves his backgrounds fairly minimal to accommodate these very solid blocks of colors from Loughridge; plus, no panel borders.  The result is very direct, adds a certain subliminal emphasis to a lot of the storytelling, maybe.  (There’s a fight scene in a Seijun Suzuki movie that I want to mention but the titles of all those movies blur together for me– DAY OF THE BRANDING?  I don’t know– the one with the go go dancers…?).  Craig’s working on what looks like 5 or 6 tiers a page (which is, at least comparatively speaking, a lot– a mainstream comic you’ll usually see 3, maybe 4).  He packs a good quantity of detail within that limited space (the highpoint so far being a Day of the Dead celebration in issue one, where he makes room for a dancing girl within the rest of the storytelling).  More tiers means more speed, more cutting– especially because he’s not one of those “Widescreen” jackasses, more time watching the characters move (the cost being time dwelling on any moment or letting any moment breathe too long).  I like that choice…

Simple version of what I’m saying: for me and my tastes, I like that they’re not skimping on the comics in this comic, basically.

The only problematic part of all that is that they had to go smaller than usual on the lettering.  I keep comics by my bed usually for when I have trouble sleeping– trying to read this tiny lettering when I’m trying to fall asleep… That part was a stone-cold bummer.

Anyways, it’s a sometimes corny action comic for teens made out of some pretty good building blocks so far.  Might make a good compare-contrast with Naruto or something like that someday, if you’re looking to write compare-contrasts on the internet, I suppose.

 

Satellite Sam #6 by Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin, Ken Bruzenak, Jen Dougherty, Jesus Aburtov, Drew Gill and Thomas K, copyright Milkfed Criminal Masterminds & Howard Chaykin, Inc. (I want to read a comic about the JR-Ewing-like backstabbing and high-stakes office politics at Howard Chaykin, Inc.):  Just feels pointless to talk about.  I feel like when this series wraps and it’s all collected in one edition, there’s a lot of vacuous “general interest” websites that sort of superficially write about comics that’ll take it super-seriously for a couple paragraphs or a year-end list or some shit.  Pop Matters or the shambles of the AV Club, one of those kinds of sites– congratulations to them.  So, what’s the point…?

Usually, when the Oscars roll around, and thoughts turn to comics, in the past at least, I’ve gotten a little miffed about how comics doesn’t have an equivalent to the “Oscar film”.  No one sells comics by announcing “Hey kids– here’s a project that’s going to WIN ALL THE EISNERS next year” because no one gives a fuck about the Eisner Awards.  There’s no “prestige projects”. (DC used to call some of their Batman comics, the ones where Batman would be in an alternative universe and the Joker would be Margaret Sanger or whatever, they would call those “prestige” comics, but even those are long gone). All these hyped up Image comics?  Just different varieties of the same old bullshit, for the most part.  Deadly Class is, what, this year’s New Mutants…?  Who gives a fuck about the New Mutants?  (Well, I did when I was 13 so here I am with “Deadly Class is Tops in My Book”…).

Satellite Sam, though?  That comic feels like an Oscar film– but in the bad way, the middlebrow way, the way we make fun of.  This is one mentally challenged character away from winning all kinds of sweet white-person awards.

On the other hand, who else has used the creative freedom at Image to do anything besides C-grade pulp television shows?  It’s interesting that a black and white period piece now out-sells Spawn or Invincible or whatever. It’d be more interesting if this were a better comic, and not Aaron Sorkin slash-fiction.  But look, if this book didn’t exist, I would be here complaining with Image about how “all the creative freedom that the previous generation fought for, the whole fight to be taken seriously as an adult medium and all we got for it is this stupid Lazarus comic“.  So this comic kept me from complaining…  That’s something, right?  That’s got to get it SOME credit.

So I don’t know.  I just wish I could tell the guys with the moustache apart.  I can’t tell them apart.  This isn’t a joke.  I’m 100% serious– I can not tell at least three (three?  four? two?) characters apart.  Who is the Man with the Moustache, you guys?  Is that the mystery Satellite Sam is trying to solve, too?

 

Fantastic Four #1 by James Robinson, Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel & Jesus Aburtov (copyright Marvel Characters, Inc., manufactured between 1/31/2014 and 2/11/2014):  The Fantastic Four is almost never a good comic, but I was curious to see Robinson on it.  For a moment, I had a pang of nostalgia for early Starman, and I thought, if (a) Robinson showed up with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove after getting fucked around by DC, and (b) that Robinson showed up, the Robinson from the early days when he was trying to prove something, had that angry young man energy, then heck, there wouldn’t be a better book for him at Marvel than the Fantastic Four.

The math works on paper, at least.  It’s a book with a tremendous past, the Lee-Kirby run, that’s cast a shadow on everything that’s come after (a shadow the book’s never gotten out of– though… there’s things to be said about Walt Simsonson, and Simonson’s singular ability to work on Kirby material while still being his own guy, having his own voice).  For people who’ve read that Lee-Kirby run– that’s a run that flourishes in the memory of it, which is maybe true of all the great mainstream comic runs. And for people who haven’t, it’s still sort of casts a shadow, I think, because I think you can’t help but be aware that there was this run at some point where it was the biggest book at Marvel, the World’s Greatest Comic whatsit.  Plus, it was very much a book of its time and place– the FF works in the mid-to-late 60’s, the way Superman works in the 40’s and 50’s, in a way those franchises don’t really hum the same way out of those time periods.

 I thought Robinson would be interesting to watch handle all the challenges that creates since he sort of walked into the same situation on Starman, with the Golden Age DC characters who had a similar baggage to them, a suffocating air of respectability.  I think the early issues of Starman, at least, handled that well not only by finding an emotional-in to things, an angle– other writers can do that– but also a level of specificity to the details, all the stuff about the collectibles in that book, the very specific references to music, culture, fashion that were made.  Which I think the FF can accommodate… like, just thinking of those old drawings of the Baxter Building bisected– “Here’s the gym, here’s the observation lounge,” etc.  Lee-Kirby had that same understanding of the importance of the specific detail, too, in their own way.

It was a lot of unfair baggage to walk into this comic with, basically, so when I say it didn’t live up to any of that, don’t take that as anything besides … I mean, of course it didn’t.  It’s too much to expect, I guess.

 (I should mention, when I tried to read it, I didn’t get that far with the Hickman run because it was fucking awful– or at least, I couldn’t keep reading after the issue where a woman gets her face punched off (which you would think people would mention about a big critically-acclaimed run, like “oh by the way some robot woman gets her face punched off by a monster thing for no discernible reason in case you don’t like looking at pointless violence against women made by relentlessly oblivious comic bros” but I missed that review, I guess).  But I understand that run was popular, and maybe that makes what I’m talking about above impossible or maybe that was popular because it became what I’m talking about above.  It just seems like a book that never really does gangbusters because it’s … it always looks like Old Person Nostalgia Show instead of a comic anyone really feels like they need to read to stay hep to the exciting developments of that Universe… Which is a shame, just from having heard Jeff & Graeme talk on Wait What about the Thing being sort of the earliest fan-favorite character and why– it’s … it’s too bad that’s how that ended up being the hand that got dealt…  Anyways…)

I didn’t see anything in the Robinson issue that seemed like it would change anyone’s mind on anything, at least.  Fin Flang Froom or whatever shows up?  Then, Reed Richards makes out with his hot fakey-fake comic book wife…? Then, there’s a cliffhanger I didn’t understand.  The end.  The Fin Flang Floom bit all read like something that’d be going on in the deep background of some Astro City issue, and not even a good Astro City issue– one about an apprentice jizz-mopper who is struggling to complete his tax forms on time.  Nobody wants to read that issue… Well, maybe if he fills out a Schedule C incorrectly– that might be pretty fun; (I really like having Astro City back, you guys!)  Anyways, it didn’t make an impression.

P.S.  Man, that new logo is shit-ugly. Is that just me?  Not into it.

 

FOREVER EVIL: ARKHAM WAR #1-5 by Peter J. Tomasi, Scot Eaton, Jaime Mendoza, Allen Martinez, Taylor Esposito, Fabok & Dalhouse, Andrew Dalhouse, Wil Quintana, Jason Wright, Darren Shan, Rachel Gluckstern, and Mike Marts (copyright DC Comics, published on paper “made with sustainably managed North American fiber”):

I got to thinking the other day about how what I picture in my head about DC fans has changed in the last … nearly 10 years.

Before, and for a LONG time,   when I pictured a DC fan in my head, I would picture an irritated old grampa, angry that kids were on his lawn, yelling “Get off my lawn, you damn kids” out a window, while he tried to enjoy himself a delicious glass of lemonade and listen to the big band sounds coming from PBS and enjoy him some fine DC comics, with a sheaf of letterhead paper at his side in case he had to write an angry letter to the editor.  “How dare they suggest that Zatanna would kiss a boy she wasn’t married to?  The Teen Titans aren’t a music video for your hippity hop music– this is supposed to be about morality.  Young people love morality.  My heart– ackkkk dead.

But now, when I picture a DC fan in my head, I just picture a goon in his EARLY 20’s, with spikey hair and a spray tan on his way to hang out on some kind of boardwalk next to a beach.  “YO, I JUST LOST MY JOB AT THE ORANGE JULIUS, SO I’M GONNA READ THIS ISSUE OF BATMAN– HOPEFULLY, I GET TO SEE BATMAN LICK HIS TONGUE UP INTO CATWOMAN’S SWEET KAZOOHA– THEN ME AND JONNY AND SILLY PETE, WE’RE GOING TO THE TITTY BAR– YOU SHOULD JOIN US AND GET THOSE TITTIES IN YOUR FACE, SON.  WOOT WOOT!

So I was drinking my cocoa and thinking on that, and figured it was contempt prior to investigation.  I hadn’t really dipped into the New 52 much, all those comics where superheros changed their clothes to juggalo versions of their old costumes because Flash’s mom was dead again … or something…?  I wanted to have that life experience.  So, I went with Forever Evil: Arkham War because I’d remember seeing a review of it somewhere or another.  My understanding of the Forever Evil event is that the Earth 2 characters have all come to Earth…?  It’s another Earth 2 story?  That’s all I know.

This is a comic about Batman being gone from Gotham and all the bad guys fighting each other for control over Gotham,  which as premises go is pretty promising, you would think.  But there’s no Joker and no Two-Face, and none of the villains really use their gimmicks ever, so in practice, it doesn’t really work out.

Basically, it’s all of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery versus Bane, who the comic constantly mentions is from Santa Prisca (which Wikipedia describes as “a small island located in the northern Caribbean”).  So if you want to read a Batman comic about white anxiety over illegal immigration, I guess there’s this one…?  Scarecrow doesn’t use his fear-ness on anybody; Riddler isn’t in there so there’s no riddles; Penguin talks about back-stabbing but never really back-stabs anyone or .. does or… that part’s confusing, actually.  Since it’s Bane, it’s just a lot of muscle-guys wrasslin’ one another, mostly.

Mostly, it’s just a moment-to-moment “awww dude wouldn’t it be awesome if” comic, which is sort of the expectation I had going in– that’s what DC does now, right?  That’s what they replaced story with…?  How long can you keep that going?  Bane in a Batman costume; a scene of something called Talons (?) getting sliced in half by some kind of difficult-to-understand trap; Manbat armies killing people just off-camera so it stays PG-ish; I feel like they could replace every bit of dialogue in this comic with the lyrics to that “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” song and I wouldn’t have noticed much of a difference.

The Old DC universe was a nice place where villains were a disruption; the modern DC seems like a terrible place where anything nice happening is a disruption… Having the Earth-2 villains take over in the comics seems besides the point, given the people who’ve taken over making these comics, their tastes.  Is that part of the subtext of this event?  Is that what the fission of this whole Forever Evil is supposed to be?  Is it a metaphor?

Putting Bane into a Batman costume lets them do Dark Knight Returns homage in issue 5:  beefy Bane-Batman jumps onto a horse, in a straight-up DKR lift.  But the comic just glides right by that homage– it doesn’t take a moment to underline it or revel in it or anything; it just happens in the background of a Talon (? no idea) saying “I was born Henry Ballard… and I serve Arkham Asylum.”  It’s just limp-dicked and anhedonic.

At one point, they show a map of the city, how the Rogues divided it up– Zsasz controls a part of the city…?  I only know him from the videogames– isn’t the Zsasz character just a serial killer?  Why would a serial killer need to control part of a metropolitan area?  “I need to punish women with my design; also, I need to control municipal garbage services and zoning controls.”  Zsasz is a very civic-minded serial killer, I guess.

Scot Eaton… There’s at least one or two moments of garbled storytelling in every issue, but he doesn’t have a lot of room to work in so it’s hard to say how much of it is his fault… There’s a nice page of Bane making his own Batman costume.  He lands that one, I suppose.  His opening splash pages are okay.  It’s a lot of pages of all the Batman villains posing at each other (which, with only a few exceptions, is what mainstream comics call “fight scenes”).  It’s the kind of comic art where you can tell which original pages he thinks will sell well at a convention…?  I can’t really imagine he’s anybody’s Favorite Dude– his style is pretty anonymous, generic DC art (that always looks difficult and time-consuming to pull off, to be fair, all those lines).  But … as an instance of “this is what mainstream comics look like,” I guess he does his job.  Can’t really lay anything at his feet– seems like just a professional guy doing a gig.  I mean, it’s the pinup school of storytelling– there’s none of the velocity of those Toby Cypress White Suits pages– it’s just pinup-pinup-pinup.  But that’s what a dude reading this comic wants, right?

The fancier he gets with his storytelling panels, the more awkward things get.  In one panel, he tries to draw a downshot of Killer Croc, with the camera outside of a window, in the rain…?  It doesn’t work out too great for him, that panel… He seems suited for this comic, at least– it’s a comic written full of pinup moments.  How he would do on a comic where he had to tell a story… Well, with DC being run like it is right now, I guess that’s a purely academic question.  (Wikipedia says he’s been drawing comics since the 90’s, and his name doesn’t really ring a bell with me, so…)

One of the ads in this comic is of Nightwing, tied up (by something– the artist couldn’t draw convincing rope, if that’s supposed to be rope), drooling his own blood.  A few pages later is an ad of Green Lantern drowning in blood.  The page after that is an ad for Green Arrow:  THE KILL MACHINE. After that, all the DC Rogues inhale a gas that robs them of their personalities and makes them giant overmuscled drooling meatheads yelling the word KILL.  Is this a metaphor? This feels like a metaphor.

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