Posted by: Douglas Wolk on May 6, 2008
Weekly comics, therefore spoilers, therefore under the cut. Specifically Action Comics and New Avengers. And glamourpuss, which is sort of impossible to spoil. Plus Whatever, which is not a weekly comic but a collection of weekly comic strips.
GLAMOURPUSS #1: I see that Dave Sim, God bless him, is now requiring anybody who wants to talk to him to indicate in writing that they don’t believe he’s a misogynist. Well, that’ll cut down on the amount of time he’ll have to spend doing interviews, I suppose.
I posted here about how excited I was that Dave would be doing a regular series again when he announced glamourpuss, and it’s good to see him doing a kind of drawing he obviously enjoys. What I didn’t quite realize was that the premise of this series would kneecap his work–it keeps him from acting on some of his greatest strengths as a cartoonist. One of the best things about Cerebus was his gift for constructing and developing characters. But as Sim himself notes in this issue:
Right: there will never be much of a character in glamourpuss, because it’s impossible to develop a character when you may have access to six images of that character, ever. (Also, I still don’t see why he uses “photorealism” as an adjective instead of “photorealist,” but I’m sure he has his reasons.) Pretty much every image here is based on fashion-magazine photos; most of the rest are hand-copied from old comic strips. As Jog pointed out, the six pages of “The Self-Education of N’atashae” are as much of a story as we’re likely going to get.
For that matter, Sim was a brilliant caricaturist in Cerebus–when he drew Margaret Thatcher or the Three Stooges, he gave us something that looked nothing like the real thing but felt exactly like the real thing. Tracing-and-inking photographs, which is the raison d’être of this series, doesn’t leave much latitude for caricature. And it can only be out of petulance that one of the best letterers in the history of comics is using ComiCraft’s Joe Kubert font.
What’s fascinating about this comic, though, is seeing Sim–an artist with thirty years of experience–pushing himself, hard, into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. It’s an ongoing commentary on his own process, an ouroboros of art gazing at and correcting itself, a high-grade, polished-for-publication sketchbook documenting Sim working out some ideas about drawing that have obsessed him for years. (I can see hints of this as far back as his commentary in one of the Swords of Cerebus books about trying to imitate Hal Foster’s ability “to make a thatched hut with rough-hewn wooden shutters look like a thatched hut with rough-hewn wooden shutters in four pen lines or less.”) Not at all like what I was hoping for, but Good enough that I’m sticking around to see where he can possibly take this.
Speaking of photorealist comics: Karl Stevens was kind enough to give me a copy of his new book WHATEVER (published by Alternative Comics, but not yet listed on their site) at Stumptown Comics Fest last weekend. (I don’t know if it’s in comics stores yet, but Amazon’s got it.) Stevens won a Xeric grant for his book Guilty a few years ago; this is a collection of his weekly strip for the Boston Phoenix. His stuff is very clearly photo-based–specifically, it’s based on photos of himself and his friends, which he renders in an intensively crosshatched style that’s wonderfully sensitive to light and shade and contours. (I really like this maybe-not-suitable-for-work one.) His art is splendid and disciplined, but his writing is much messier: the strip is mostly, as might be expected, about post-collegiate types in the Boston area being unsure about what they’re doing with their lives, and its tone keeps fluctuating. Sometimes it’s little slice-of-life incidents, along the lines of Harvey Pekar’s old one-pagers; there are occasional attempts at continuity and farce, like a sequence where “the two titans of Allston breakdancing” meet after seven years apart and prepare for a challenge.
One running gag that doesn’t quite work involves an aggressive, freeloading Russian named Olaf, and the reason it doesn’t work is that photorealism and comedy don’t seem to mix–Stevens’ thoughtfully observed artwork doesn’t play along with the broad caricature of his writing. (There’s a Christmas strip in the middle of the book where Stevens is sitting on Santa’s lap, and Santa’s telling him “you should practice drawing from your imagination more”; it’s supposed to be a joke, but I really would like to see more of what Stevens imagines.) The most effective strips here are the ones where he isn’t pushing toward a joke, but taking us into one of his characters’ experience of their bodies and their world–like an All Over Coffee concerned more with people than with buildings. Very Good, in any case, and worth checking out.
ACTION COMICS #864: You know, I used to really dislike both Geoff Johns comics and Roy Thomas-style continuity fixes, but I’m starting to enjoy Johns’ run on Action a lot. I didn’t get the buzz from this issue I got from DCU Zero (and that… everyone else seems to have not gotten from DCU Zero), but it’s certainly a more effective “bridge” issue out of Countdown and into Legion of Three Worlds. And it’s very smartly constructed: a thread from Countdown (the deaths of two Legionnaires) turns up, but it’s treated as a mystery rather than as something readers will already know about, and the core of the story is the contrast between Superman’s easy acceptance of the friends of his youth and Batman’s automatic suspicion of things that don’t make linear sense. The little name-and-powers explanatory boxes are useful guides for non-Legion-savvy readers; even the first page includes some offhanded references to things that have happened in Action lately and some things we haven’t yet heard about, so they all act as teasers to one extent or another.
This one also features three of the very few on-panel editor’s notes referring to earlier issues I’ve seen lately: the reason Batman distrusts the Legion is that he’s met three different versions of them, and the notes mercifully indicate where. Fair enough: that’s a sizeable continuity issue, and Johns is actually turning it into the nut of what looks to be an interesting story. (Although, speaking of continuity fixes, there’s a weird disconnect between this issue and “The Lightning Saga”–seeing as how Johns wrote both of them, there’s at least some chance it’s intentional. Here, Garth makes some cracks about Thom being in a “nuthouse,” and has never heard of schizophrenia. In JSA #6, Dream Girl says “The medicine of this time period is unbelievably primitive. They still use pills to help schizophrenia.”)
Like DCU0, it’s got a mystery narrator revealed on the last page (a different one this time), but even if you don’t know who he is already, the narration makes his significance and motivation fairly clear. I don’t know how I feel about Johns using Thom Kallor’s schizophrenia as an opportunity to make him something like Poet from Suspended, an oracle whose cryptic utterances serve the same function as Johns’ end-of-first-issue teasers, but I have to admit it works dramatically. Quite Good.
NEW AVENGERS #40: It’s very strange to see Bendis essentially marking time while we wait for Secret Invasion #2–unless I’m drastically misreading this issue, which I might be, it doesn’t seem to be advancing the plot at all. Instead, it’s a sort of mini-history of Skrull politics beginning shortly after Fantastic Four #2, and ending with the revelation that Spider-Woman was one of the first people to be replaced by a Skrull. Except that’s not really much of a revelation at all–it’s been fairly clear for the last few months’ worth of comics–and everything else here could just as well have been taken care of with a few lines of dialogue. Nicely drawn, but Eh.
And one other note: the best moment of Free Comic Book Day for me was going to the Iron Man movie in the evening, and seeing the maybe nine-year-old girl in the seat in front of mine TOTALLY RIVETED by the FCBD Iron Man/Hulk/Spider-Man giveaway comic. As for the movie itself… I really enjoyed any time Gwyneth Paltrow was on screen (has anyone ever written Pepper this well in the comics?), the first fifteen minutes are some of the best-edited moviemaking I’ve seen in a while, I’m glad to see that Bendis’s re-conception of Nick Fury has come true (and Bendis got to write it!), and the action scenes seemed to be play-by-play identical to every movie action scene in recent memory and bored the heck out of me. And all the previews for upcoming movies (and, in fact, the Middle Eastern scenes of Iron Man) were about eschatology and/or xenophobia. No more Wacky Terrorists or Everybody’s Dead (Oh, No) scenarios, please?