2000 AD, Adventure Time, Al Ewing, Al Jaffee, Alice in Wonderland, Batwoman, Blue Meanies, Brendan McCarthy, Brian Azzarello, Brian K. Vaughan, Brian Michael Bendis, China Mieville, Chris Samnee, Daredevil, Dave Stewart, DC, Dial H, Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison, Happy, Harbinger, IDW, J.H. Williams III, Javier Rodriguez, Len O'Grady, Mad Magazine, Mark Waid, Marvel, Marvel NOW!, Ryan North, Saga, Swamp Thing, Tex Avery, The Zaucer of Zilk, TMZ, Todd Klein, Tony Akins, Ultimate Spider-Man, Valiant, Wonder Woman, X-O Manowar, Yellow Submarine
Scott Carney: I finished reading through my stack Friday night. Here I am on Monday night, kicking it with Mitt and Barack, still struggling to feel something for these books. To try to kick-start a feeling, I peeled back a few pages of Daredevil #19. Here’s a book that has taken on an odd tone of late. Gone is the good time, and squatting in its place is one serious second after another–save for a pair of panels that find Daredevil, well, squatting in a warehouse with a clothespin on his nose in order to save his suped-up sense of smell from the stench of the garage in which he’s staked out. I heaped a hefty “HA!” in that spot, one heralding the arrival of vicious version of The Spot: Coyote–who’s at least one step ahead of DD. Is there something silly about Matt’s cellphone conversation with Foggy? Sure. It culminates in a fantastic fall and a calm “Call you back,” whipped up wittily by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Javier Rodriguez. That dance, however, is dampened by the danger–by the descent into madness that rules the book as a whole. I did dig the dialogue between Foggy and Kirstin despite its doubling down on the seriousness of the storyline. I think it’s worth noting that Samnee and Rodriguez do a fearless job of bringing Waid’s complex interdimensional fight scene to the page. It took me a few reads to really appreciate it, but appreciate it I do. Spot on, boys! Can’t wait to see what’s ne–
Derek Mainhart: Sounds like you ended up enjoying it more than you initially thought! After the dark terrain of the last couple of issues, I definitely felt this was a return to form. The culprit behind DD’s recent woes was revealed, and if the answer was a bit underwhelming (a throwaway villain from the first issue), Waid’s creative exploration of his Tex Avery superpower was alternately farcical and chilling. I’d also like to commend Waid’s command of pacing here. He’s one of a very few writers (Grant Morrison comes to mind) who understands how the physical structure of a comic book can enhance the experience of reading it. The cell phone scene you mention is a perfect example. The danger is set up perfectly on page 2. Then you have to turn the page for the unexpected, laugh-out-loud punchline.
Since we’re discussing arcane comic book points, a similar thing happens in Batwoman #13. The plot is negligible; Wonder Woman and Batwoman have teamed up to find Medusa for some reason. Whatever; in this book the story exists for J.H. Williams III to hang his art on. I feel like every time we review Batwoman, I just go on about how gorgeous the art is. Well this review is no exception. The visuals are unbelievable (colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart deserves mentioning here as well). The beat I’m referring to begins on pages 11-12, as Wonder Woman, unseen, is bound and trapped in pitch blackness (also featured is some bravura lettering by Todd Klein – everyone gets their due in this review!). The layout of this two-page spread is absolutely claustrophobic. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. And then the page turn and the abrupt transition from suffocating dark to blinding light – I swear you’ll need sunglasses. Another favorite: the two-page spread on pages 4-5 (only Williams can justify a book full of ’em!) as our heroines traverse an underground labyrinth. The bird’s eye view, revealing the complexity of the thing, is a stunner. I literally tried to fold it like an Al Jaffee fold-in from Mad Magazine, sure there was some hidden image (even after several unsuccessful attempts, I still kinda think there’s one). Buy it and gawk.
And yet for all of that, this was not the most eye-grabbing art in my pile this week. That honor goes to The Zaucer of Zilk #1 (IDW / 2000AD). Check out this cover:
Doesn’t do it justice. I’m telling you, as I perused the usual fare on the shelves, this thing was pulsing. When I snapped out of its ocular enchantment, I found that a copy had jumped into my hands. And a good thing too. Where to begin? It starts with your basic Alice in Wonderland escape from reality, then promptly turns this conceit on its head. From there we follow the Zaucer (the titular hero, sort of) through realms dripping with surreality; candy-colored fantasy lands teeming with psychedelic absurdity,
SC: I believe the word is “trippy.”
DM: Yeah, I guess, but I have to say I’ve never been one for the hippy-dippy aesthetic. I hold that the late sixties through the early seventies is the ugliest era on record. All garish colors and no discipline. But here, the art by Brendan McCarthy, gives a refined form to the hallucinatory proceedings. There is both tension and balance between his fine-lined drawings and the Day-Glo colors an tie-dyed backgrounds (supplied by Mr. McCarthy and Len O’Grady – again the colorists are vital to the book). It’s like Yellow Submarine as drawn by Frank Quitely (indeed the villain owes more than a little to the Blue Meanies). The script by Al Ewing (from a story by he and Mr. McCarthy) shares a similar quality. All of the introductory story beats are hit; introduction of characters, conflict and quest. But the florid language disguises the traditional narrative workings with a fanciful, anarchic tone that is distinctly British in its cultivated nonsense. Here’s a sample as the not-quite-helpless damsel finds herself in the gloomy realm of Dankendreer:
“Rain dribbles into grey plastic buckets. Paper-mache people slump over cobwebbed continental breakfasts. Poor Tutu. She should have stayed in the Guest Room.”
(The spasmodic contrast between the dark and light realms is exactly what was missing from the first issue of Happy!) As the title itself suggests Ewing deals in wordplay, which runs the gamut from groaning puns to sublime silliness (my personal favorite – his take on “fancy pants” – I want a pair!) He even manages to break the fourth wall in a way that is relatively understated and actually makes sense within the framework of the story, which shines a fun-house mirror on our TMZ / OCD culture. Now all of this does run the risk of becoming wearying in the long run. But this first issue, with its wild invention, expansive scope and off-kilter storytelling takes its place alongside Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga, China Mieville’s Dial H and (yes, I’ll say it) Ryan North’s Adventure Time, as invigorating examples of craft and imagination. Truly a breath of fresh air in the comic book world. Book of the Week. Book of the Week. Book of the Week.
SC: But how did you really feel about it? Now, let’s see, what else moved me? Well, if you’ve read my Scottlight on: Swamp Thing #0 post, you know how much I love a good head chompin’. And there, in Wonder Woman #13, two pages in, there it is, in the final panel: a little noggin noshin’. For one reason or another, that’s where my joy–and my enjoyment of the book–was chewed up and swallowed away. I’m not sure it’s tied to anything Brian Azzarello has done; he’s certainly pushing his story along well enough. I think I felt let down by Tony Akins’ inconsistent artwork. I mean, did you notice the last panel on page 21? Gotta wonder about that woman.
Neither Harbinger #5 nor X-O Manowar #6 did it for me this go-round. Ink and color me a bit nervous about the Valiant books, especially with the new titles on the horizon.
In Ultimate Spider-Man #16, Brian Michael Bendis makes a clear-cut case for a costume-free Miles Morales–for an Ultimate Miles Morales on-going, which would undoubtedly be superior to anything Marvel’s putting out NOW!
DM: Regarding this issue’s focus on blah super hero shenanigans, I must point to my review of the previous issue of USM – I told you so! Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I pulled something whilst patting myself on the back. Where’s that ointment?….