A lot of writers talk about writing with their artist in mind but in Guardians of the Galaxy #10, you can see just how Brian Michael Bendis slightly changes up his storytelling in this issue to perfectly suit his guest artist Kevin Maguire. Featuring his second “girls night out” story in recent weeks (see also Uncanny X-Men #15,) Bendis shows Gamora, the deadliest woman in the galaxy, teaming up with Angela, a mystery wrapped in a lawsuit-sized enigma, tracking down the now missing Thanos and also fighting a bunch of Badoon slavers. The plot is what it is- a fun character piece to show these two warrior women bonding but the star of the issue is Kevin Maguire as Bendis writes a story that’s perfectly tailored to showcase Maguire’s artwork.
Will Eisner truly was one of comic books greatest storytellers. No one before or since has been able to use a comic page to tell a story like he did in just seven pages. In “The Christmas Spirit 1948” (originally published in the weekly Spirit serial on December 19th, 1948) he told a rather simple tale of a man who discovers the holiday spirit (no pun intended) and uses his underworld connections to get the blind boy a surgery to restore his sight. It’s a small, quick story but Eisner fills it with a lot of heart as he exaggerates every characters’ emotions, including Basher. A big mountain of the man at the beginning, he’s so big that the panels can barely contain him as he rips the P.A. speaker off the wall. Basher is obviously not a kind, jolly man and even when he puts Santa’s outfit on, Eisner draws him as as just another con in a slightly different outfit.
In Umbral #2, Mitten continues to set the tone for Johnston’s story but it’s an entirely different tone. Mitten’s brittle, cracked lines in Wasteland give way to rich, luscious and cool artwork, made that much more royal by John Rauch’s purplish pallette. Mitten’s easily at home creating the high fantasy setting of Umbral. The city he creates is highly reminiscent of any city from any fantasy novel or story (see almost every setting in the new Hobbit film) but Mitten draws a very organic city as the buildings rise up out of the ground around Rascal and her new ally Dalone. The architecture that he creates of a city that’s built without machines or plans but rather as needed, full of shadows, is somewhere between complete and crumbling. That’s the age he naturally gives to this city. Its best years may be behind it but it’s not so old that it’s decrepit.
Cooke is a sentimental cartoonist even if in the Parker books it is an odd, hardened sentimentality. If you look at at Cooke’s New Frontier, Spirit or Minutemen, the warm, mushy sentimentality there welcomes you into those comics. The softness of his artwork in those comics paints images of your favorite comics that are always there to give you comfort and makes you long for bygone times. In Slayground, the sentimentality is wrapped up in the hardness of the characters. It’s as cold and stiff as the wintery night that Cooke is leading us through. A lot of that is accomplished through the very simple and consistent ice blue hue that shades the whole story. The coldness of the story comes through Cooke’s harsh, bold line and storytelling.
Taiyo Matsumoto has this shifting lens of reality. In this comics, he continually pushes the way we experience his drawings. No. 5 was manga inspired by Moebius. Tekkon Kinkreet was a wild trip viewing the city through the exaggerated experiences of children and GoGo Monster turned an elementary school into an alien landscape with new horrors and monsters behind every classroom door. Sunny Volume 2 is much less otherworldly than his other books but that makes it no less mesmerizing. Set in a home for unwanted children (not orphans exactly, more like kids whose parents for one reason or another are unable to care for them,) Matsumoto’s Sunny focuses in on the isolation of childhood as these children struggle through the normal insecurities of growing up but without the normal securities of a mother and a father who are there for them.
A picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes those words are difficult to find. In Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo, the main character Alex Mackay isn’t totally connected with his own life. After going to visit his grandfather at a nursing home for the first time in months, Alex is told that he’s too late and that his grandfather passed away a month ago. “We tried to notify you, Mr. Mackay, but your number was– hang on a sec–,” is all the explanation he’s given as to why he’s just learning this now as the home’s receptionist is distracted by a phone call. Given one of those office banker boxes with his grandfather’s belongings, Alex sifts through what little the old man had at the end only to find a mystery– a picture of his grandfather being hugged by a young woman. “Visit from D.” is all that’s written on the back. Waiting to ask someone who works at the home questions about the picture, he hears grunting and cursing from one of the rooms. An orderly walks out zipping up his pants, winks at Alex and proceeds down the hall, whistling. Later, as he visits his grandfather’s grave, he sees a car leaving the cemetery with the orderly driving and the woman known only as “D.” in the passenger seat.
There’s this huge battle that’s at the center of this issue, but really so little depends on who is triumphant, whether it’s Thanos, the Hulk, Thor or any of the other Avengers. The real struggle for victory is done through the sly machinations of Maximus, Black Bolt’s brother, and the Ebony Maw as he whispers his half truths into Thane’s ear. The fight between the Avengers and Thanos is actually just a backdrop for these true displays of power and cunning. There’s the power to destroy worlds, and then there is the power to make those worlds dance on your strings. Maximus and Ebony Maw are the true victors in this battle as they both have the most to gain. The Avengers versus Thanos is the distraction they need as everyone is focused on the end of the world rather than the understanding of what it really means to be in control of their situation.
Even before Jim Starlin had gotten his creative hands on Adam Warlock back in 1975, the character had already been a god as the messiah of Marvel’s Counter Earth. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and used by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane as a Christ allegory (crucified, dead and resurrected to rid a world of evil,) Warlock already carried a lot of baggage with him. In his first issue, Strange Tales #178, Starlin rapidly recaps Warlock’s history before entangling the character in a tale of fate, destiny, death and religion. A Vietnam veteran, Starlin was obviously working out a lot of issues about culture and religion through Adam Warlock while he began his ultimately too short run on the character.
Piskor’s comic looks like an old, aged comic from the 1970s. The “Fantagraphics Treasury Edition” banner on the cover and the large, yellowed pages cause the best kind of flashbacks for anyone who spent childhood afternoons devouring those oversized newsprint reprints from Marvel and DC. Some companies like IDW lately have tried to mimic those treasury editions but without a toothy, yellow paper, it just doesn’t work. Piskor and Fantagraphics gets it right; it’s not just the size of the comic that makes it special. It’s the imperfection of that old printing that was the charm of those comics. When Piskor gets to a point where the music starts to be real and the bass is vibrating a whole room, the “printing” of the comic is off register. Lines and colors don’t match up, creating a ghosting effect. The panel itself is actually vibrating like the speakers are shaking everything. The first time Piskor does this, it almost looks like a fluke like the old printing techniques were. But on the next page as the Brothers Disco take the stage with their The Mighty Mighty Sasquatch collection of speakers, turntables and equalizers, Piskor throws everything on the register off, practically rattling the plaster off the walls and rumbling you down to your very soul. The comic books hits you in your gut the same way that the great music does. Piskor hits that perfect alchemy of comic and music.
As Akira Kurosawa is to Star Wars, George Lucas is to The Micronauts: Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden’s 1979 comic series that was based on a toy line. The story goes that Mantlo saw the toys in a store and somehow convinced Marvel’s Jim Shooter to pursue the license for them. The toys, whose gimmick was that all the parts of the figures and sets were interchangeable, were also pretty free of any backstory. A Japanese import, the Micronaut toys really had no story beyond that there were good guys, there were bad guys, and they fought. That combined with the ability to swap parts were everything they had before Mantlo and Golden got their hands on them. With this blank slate, Bill Mantlo was determined to recreate Star Wars while Golden tweaked the designs of the toys to recast Star Wars as superheroes and supervillains.
Soderbergh sculpts this movie like a memory. All of the pieces are there but not in the exact order that they happened. As Wilson tries to put together the pieces of his daughter’s death, Soderbergh is constructing this movie out of order and giving the audience snippets of information only here or there. Wilson’s Los Angeles journey is fragmented as he tries to reconnect with a dead woman he remembers as his little girl playfully threatening to call the cops on him. He’s spent the better part of his life in prison and has this image of Jenny that’s as fragmented as Soderbergh’s movie is. He remembers her from the times when he was out of the joint but that means that there are whole portions of her life that he has no idea about, particularly her life in L.A.
Much like Grant Morrison killing Batman before one of the Christopher Nolan films came out, Marvel killed Loki before The Avengers movie debuted. Looking at the cinematic Marvel oeuvre, if there’s a character who has taken on a life of his own, it’s Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s performance of the upstart brother of Thor and ungrateful son of Odin has created a small cottage industry for Hiddleston that anyone can watch if they just pay attention to You Tube long enough. So you would think Marvel Comics would be able to capitalize on this by making a comic that starred the movie version of Loki, wouldn’t you? Well, think again. As a consequence of the Marvel event crossover event Siege, Loki was dead (for at least the second or third time in recent memory.) Yet thanks to a deal that Loki had previously made with Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death, he would never actually have a place among the dead and would be somehow immortal because of that. After Siege, Thor writer Matt Fraction resurrected Loki but instead of the equal but opposite number of Thor, the new Loki was a young kid. Reborn with a fairly clean slate, the future of kid Loki look
It’s hard to believe that Ed McGuinness has never really drawn an X-Men adventure before because he steps into it so naturally. In Amazing X-Men #1, his lively and jaunty style perfectly suits a character like Nightcrawler who should have a spring in his step (or backwards somersault, as the case may be) and a smile on his face even in the face of death. In no time at all, he claims Nightcrawler as his character like no one other than Dave Cockrum and Alan Davis have before.
Umbral #1 is an exercise in world building on an epic level, owing as much to Tolkien as it does to George R. Martin. Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten introduce us to Rascal, a young thief and her best friend, the prince Arthir. On the grand event of an eclipse, the two children steal away to one of the highest points in the town to witness it but find themselves drawn into a mystery as mystical artifacts end up missing and people around the prince end up being killed as dark hearted monsters rip through the castle.
Infinity #5 is really the end of one event story and the beginning of another. Unfortunately with only one issue left to go, that second event story is going to get short shrifted because there’s no room left. Just as Hickman barely used the room he had in the first five issues to tell an Avengers story, he barely has any room to tell the Avengers versus Thanos story that’s left. Infinity #5 shows how this storyline has just been another in the line of the Marvel cosmic Annihilation/Conquest/War of Kings/Guardians of the Galaxy/Nova stories without any of the enjoyable characterization that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning brought to Marvel’s space bound heroes.
With J.H. WIlliams III on art, Gaiman slips into his classic writing mode. The Sandman: Overture #1 feels like a greatest hits of Gaiman’s 75 issue run, giving the fans everything they knew and loved from that series. There’s the murderously creepy Corinthian, comic relief Merv the Pumkinhead and Lucien, the ever faithful dream librarian. There’s the high and haughty Dream, our hero from before he learns any lesson of humility and love, moving through the dreaming world like he’s a conductor who is keeping the trains moving on time. There’s the random, fantastic characters, caught up in and serving dreams. And then there’s the family but only just Death and Destiny, the beloved and most together of the siblings.
In the middle of a night, a boy bangs on a door, desperate and scared. His dog lies in his arms, dead or dying, and he just needs the girl in this house to help him. When she opens the doors, she sees that there’s nothing that she can do to revive her friend’s dog and he goes home heartbroken. Against the advice of her two haggish aunts, the girl’s conscience doesn’t let her sleep and she heads to the boys house, figuring that she has to try to do something even if it’s a longshot. She tells him where to put the dog, mutters a few incantations, and tells the boy that his dead dog will be alive again. But what comes back isn’t his dog. It’s not even really alive. And that’s what begins the zombie infestation of Riverdale.
It’s all Jughead’s fault.
There are many ways that Mike Mignola’s young Hellboy is just a normal kid in Hellboy: The Midnight Circus. Set in 1948, when Hellboy hears someone warning the closest thing he has to a father that the boy is dangerous and should be dealt with, he does what any kid would do: he runs away to join the circus. This being a Hellboy story, it’s no normal circus as a Pied-Piper-like clown and his dog lead Hellboy down the road to the circus which runs “from the clock strikes midnight… to the fearful crack of dawn.” The clown recites incantations to summon the rest of the circus folk into a magical center ring and of course even back in 1948, Hellboy is the inquisitive sort and can’t look away from the wonders in front of him. If Mike Mignola’s shadowy art hides the world around Hellboy in most stories, Fegredo and Stewart’s shadows part ways to reveal more and more mysteries to Hellboy in this circus.