Archive | June, 2013

Danger Grotto

25 Jun

By Ayo






“Third Genesis,”
Generation X, no. 1
Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Marvel Comics, 1994

The title “Third Genesis” refers to the class of X-Men. The Xavier School started in X-Men number 1, the concept began again with The New Mutants number 1 and with 1994’s Generation X, we have begun again with the school concept. The school is in a different location this time but the concept is still classic X-Men.


As usual, a template X-Men story begins in The Danger Room, the death trap/obstacle course that acts as the superhero classroom. The Danger Room is often more important to X-Men stories than the villains that are encountered. Because X-Men stories are about X-Men, not villains. These stories are less about saving the world or crowds of civilians and more about how the central cast members interact and play off of each other.

In “Third Genesis,” the early character conflict we see is between Husk and Jubilee. They share the most definitive character arc in the issue’s storyline. However, the Danger Room (apparently “Danger Grotto” now) aspect is handled by two different characters, Synch and Skin. There’s no real personality conflict between these two, just a difference in competency. Synch copies other people’s powers and it turns out that he’s better at Skin’s power than Skin is. Skin lacks confidence and Synch is nothing besides confidence.

AnyANYway, that’s all prologue: I just want to explain about the X-Men. The reason that I’m sharing these pages is that I love the fight scene design here.


The first three pages of the scene contain a dominant, circular panel. “Enter: Synch!” Like an opening chord, all channels open. Then the progression breaks down into details, playing the notes of this guy, Synch, on his mission to find his opponent. The second page takes those musical notes and introduces the left hand, a second element until CHORD: Enter, Skin! The third page, the left hand and the right hand playing measures in turns, alternating melody and rhythm and of course a big action chord.

The fourth page introduces a secondary movement, quieter, slower but still moving. Then fifth page, BANG, CHORD from the original movement and the piece resolves with notes mixing the first and second movements, off to the ending.

I apologize for the musical analogy it’s pretty clumsy and awkwardly phrased. I took piano lessons as a child.


It’s also important to note how completely physical and tactile the struggle between Synch and Skin is. By this time in history, superhero fights had devolved from Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s acrobatic roughhousing to an almost hands-off approach of later artists. In Chris Bachalo’s fight scene above, we see some genuine full-body tussling.

Maybe due to the density and complexity involved, comic artists in recent decades have shied away from more complex character interaction such as two characters interlocking for multiple panels in combat. For that reason, I consider it a rare treat when a comic book fight scene *looks* like a fight. Well, done, Bachalo.


Back to Front

21 Jun

By Ayo

“Blind Rage: Part One”
Indestructible Hulk, no. 9
Mark Waid and Matteo Scalera
Marvel Comics, June 2013



1. “I was sent by–” “No names.”

The last-page revel, after the runaway goon delivers the stolen weapon to the villain is Baron Zemo, sitting in a darkened room, lazily enjoying a glass of red wine, dressed in full battle garb. I don’t understand what was happening in that room before the goon showed up at the door. Zemo’s bodyguard was apparently in the hallway or center hall, Zemo himself was sitting in a chair, drinking wine. In the dark.

Weirder than a man who has a ski mask permanently stuck to his face is a man who sits in chairs in the dark, just in the hopes that a stranger shows up to exert an intimidating aura over.

This scene is used in a lot of fiction and it just does not make sense. What is more likely to occur when any person visits another person is that the person being visited will be in the process of doing something and the visitor will be interrupting.

The old cliche scene is that the crime boss is playing poker with his inner circle when the visitor arrives. This shows the visited as a person who has a life with interests. Interests beyond drinking wine alone in the dark. A life that is interrupted by a visitor with a proposition. This makes a scene more interesting and it makes the characters more interesting.

2. “Gentlemen… a word.”

There’s a scene that does the thing that some readers hate: a page with only subtle shifts in movement.


These scenes are sometimes constructed to mimic the rhythms of film. In other cases, they are designed to show the comedic effect of subtly changing scenic elements. Criminals see Daredevil (a man in a red suit), they draw guns. Criminals see Hulk (an invulnerable monster), they cower in terror. It’s a joke: characters begin a scene with one expectation and find that expectation turned on its end.

Personally, I like these sorts of page constructions. I don’t see it as necessarily cheap or overly indebted to filmic ideas of motion. In some cases, these scene constructions are both of those things but in general, I find it to be a fun comics trick to keep in the cartoonist’s toolbox. Personally, I would caution against using it as a full page construction too often. Like any trick, it can get over used and weakened. In this case, it works just fine. Reading it, I smirked.

3. OneTwoThreeGO


Maria Hill is my favorite character currently roaming around Marvel comic books. She’s demanding, determined and completely not in awe of super people. She’s also mean as whatever so this prank she pulls on Bruce “Hulk” Banner is pretty much my highlight of the comic.

Never change, Maria Hill. Never become nice.


I used to think that his name was “Remainder”

20 Jun

By Darryl Ayo

Uncanny Avengers, number nine
Rick Remender and Daniel Acuña
Marvel Comics, June 2013


At some point I was listening to a podcast featuring the comic book writer Matt Fraction. He mentioned his friend “Rick Remender” and I was super disappointed. I thought the guy’s name was “Remainder,” like a math problem. Fraction and Remainder, that’s a great set of names. In any case, Rick “Remainder” was writing Uncanny X-Force at the time which you may have heard about as “pretty good,” maybe even “great.”

Oddly enough, when Mr. Remender was finished writing that story, he was so attached to the adjective “Uncanny” that he named his next story “Uncanny Avengers.” The funnier still is that he secretly seems to have baited and switched that story into being a sequel to Uncanny X-Force.

[“Let the Good Times Roll,” Uncanny Avengers # 5 art: Olivier Coipel]

A lot of readers (including me) read the fifth issue of Uncanny Avengers and were taken aback (offended) by a scene contained therein. Remender was dragged across the coals for writing the scene, oaths were sworn and time marched on. Currently, the ninth issue of this Uncanny Avengers is out and Remender has picked up the remainder of the previous controversy.

Notes: issue five took place after the first story arc but before the second story arc of the series. It was the first issue that I personally read. Apart from the offensive scene, I enjoyed the comic.




Issue number nine is a firmly entertaining and funny story. I will say that the sociopolitical debate between Avengers felt artificial or wedged in (to mitigate the damage caused by the prior controversy) but I don’t know that it is possible for the comic to have responded that quickly, from a production standpoint (Marvel Comics come out more frequently than monthly). It feels like a debate. I’ve heard it described as “Rick Remender versus the readers” (David Uzumeri? Joe Hughes?).

Reading through, even though the situation and dialogue feels a bit “message-y,” I appreciated it. How come? Because I appreciate controversy, particularly when it is about matters of social justice, minority rights and things of that nature. Even through the heavy filter of metaphor that “mutants” represent. I very much like that this is something which is talked about. I like that [the character named] Rogue gets to shout down points that were previously left unchallenged. I like that [the character named] Scarlet Witch got to expand upon the original points [delivered in issue five by the character named Alex].

Being heard is so important. When you’re a person who is discriminated against you learn that society as a whole simpy doesn’t care about you. Society will make its rules work against you, judge you as a person based on what other people in your large social group have done–society will damn you twice before you get out of bed in the morning. Worst of all, before you get back to bed, some of your peers will throw the rest of your race/sex/gender/religion under the bus to save their own skins. It’s nice to be heard. Even if minds aren’t changed, it is nice that society has to deal with having heard your perspective.


The thing that works for me about Uncanny Avengers is that every issue is a fight. Not just with fists but with philosophies. [the character named] Janet brings a completely different view to the table than [the character named] Alex. Almost all of the characters stand apart from the others in some ways. Some characters are polar opposites, others are more closely matched but disagree about the fine details. It is a very good cast. History shows (Uncanny X-Force) that Rick Remender’s strongest talent is in balancing an ensemble cast. If you know me, you know that ensemble casts are my favorite story structure. From my perspective, most comics writers (whether superhero genre, crime genre or any other genre) seem more comfortable with single-protagonist storytelling. Nothing wrong with that! I keep an open mind to all sorts of storytelling and I’m sympathetic to what other writers want to do with their stories. But for me, if we take away my interest in comics as an art form, take away my desire to explore storytelling in general and just focus on what *I* like: give me a good ensemble cast and I’m good to go.

~Darryl Division

I can’t fold, I need gold, I reup, I reload, product must be sold To you.

17 Jun

By Ayo

Minicomics, artcomics, lit-comics, indie comics, alt-comics. That whole region of comics falls under a general umbrella. The problem is that nobody is making it rain.

There is a lot of talk about how strong comics are as an artform and how important the independent/art/lit-comics world is. Over a decade since Fort Thunder and Jimmy Corrigan and it seems like it mostly is just talk. Yes, some individuals have made a career crafting a niche product while NPR hosts scramble to describe them as “not the comic books you may be used to,” but it still does not amount to a very powerful movement. It is more than selling individual books to decent numbers of people, I am talking about does this field of art mean something to culture as a whole. Does it factor into a moderately average person’s daily life? Or are literary/art/alternative comics just an occasional novelty, like a parlor trick?
Continue reading

Even when you win, you lose in the end.

16 Jun
By Darryl Ayo

Returning to Wolverine and the X-Men, No. 31 for deeper consideration.

wolverineandthex-men0g8ug0 wolverineandthex-men0aeuta


Why is it that the bad guys lose? Not only lose but keep trying as though they will eventually win? And when they win, as Norman Osborne did in Marvel Comics for a while, they eventually get beaten up extra-badly and placed in a prison beneath the earth, never to be free again. Crime really does not pay when one is a supervillain?

The problem with villains winning in comic books (or similar media, television, movies, “genre” novels) is that the villains goals are fundamentally unacceptable to the audience. The world will no longer be “like ours” if a villain transforms all the people into monsters or detonates the Earth’s core or succeeds in invading the USA or what-have-you. The sense of it being “our world” becomes lost.

I think it would be interesting to experiment with villains who have more modest goals. Things that can be lost to the hero without changing the fabric of society, thus ruining the “world outside your window” illusion.

Let’s say you’ve got a villain who likes robbing banks (an archaic crime, if you look up the real stats, but roll with it). Then your superhero (Batman will do) attempts to foil the plot. He fails, gets beaten up, the villain gets the loot and Batman staggers back home with his cape between his legs. Lesson learned. No second act, no “this time it’s personal,” just simply “you win some, you lose some.”

I would like to see an element of plot uncertainty in action stories where the goal being battled over is forgiving enough that there remains a fair chance that the writer can send the hero into defeat without ruining the world.


*art by Nick Bradshaw, story by Jason Aaron

Extremely Blunt and Incredibly Hostile

16 Jun

By Ayo

“I Think of Demons,” b/w “Sticky-Icky-Icky”
Box Brown
Drippy Bone Books, 2013


Box Brown captures a lot of middle-class male aggression in these two stories and previous comics in this tone. Brown pares down his style and uses super straight contour lines and unusual angles to build his forms. This time around, the cartoonist is striving for a sort of minimalism at the opposite end of the spectrum than unformed; this minimalism is highly informed minimalism. Reductionism, I suppose. Essential elements.

“I Think of Demons” is a personal favorite of mine, in Box Brown’s repertoire of stories. His young man protagonist (Prickly Pete) is angry at the world, drenched in a misanthropy that he can no longer contain and that is poisoning his immediate relationships.


On the literal flip-side, “Stiky-icky-icky” is a comic about stoners, getting stoned. They are a bunch of jerks in some ways but as the story progresses, it seems that the characters are more abrasive than abusive. Although they aren’t kind. These characters don’t truly have much open communication between them so they hurl invective and act carelessly as a desperate attempt to connect to one another.

Life is a struggle.


Influence of modern comics

16 Jun

By Ayo


By Michel Fiffe, after John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Luke McDonnell
DC Comics property, Fiffe tribute.
1988, DC; 2012, Fiffe
Essay by Tucker Stone

This sixteen-page comic is based on an old Suicide Squad comic that Michel Fiffe liked. This isn’t an homage, it’s a cover. Based on the description, it appears to be an abridged cover of the 1988 story–at sixteen pages, it’s much shorter than the three issue span that Fiffe’s notes cite. Anyway that’s technical.

The first thing that this comic does is introduce all of the characters from the story and indicate who created and co-created them. Shot one at DC Comics.

The last thing that the comic does is enlist critic Tucker Stone to write an essay about Suicide Squad that is both complimentary and condemnation.

Those are the inside covers. Now the meat of the comic is something special.

If you are familiar with Michel Fiffe’s comic Zegas, you will know his facility with multimedia. Fiffe combines traditionally inked line art with pencil pages and colored pages that appear to be watercolor. He also colors with colored pencil and computer programs. As the story’s location or tone shift, so do Fiffe’s working methods. The result is a visually lively sequence of images that avoids the appearance of arbitrary whimsy.


This comic begins with two panels that I particularly like: Deadshot shooting Rustam with a ricochet shot. I like the first panel’s drawing of Deadshot and I like the scaly armor texture of Rustam’s leggings. That sort of texturing is something that I’m experimenting with in my own work and so it’s is fantastic to see it done in such a way by another artist.


Another panel that makes me happy is Duchess machine-gunning Manticore on page 5. Fiffe’s confidence with that machine gun gives lie to most of the firearms that I see in comic book art. It’s a thing of beauty. Cartoonists tend to be unconfident about machines and so I have a lot of love for when someone pulls off a believable complex tool.

All in all, this comic works in the same way that indie bands doing covers of classic rock songs work. It showcases the quality of the less-known artist by showing audiences their take on something familiar. That DeathZone! goes a step further and hoists up the full list of creators in this tribute adds yet another layer: the original Suicide Squad influenced Fiffe but he doesn’t uncritically accept DC Comics’ treatment of the many creators.

It’s a good balance.


Cut to pieces

16 Jun

By Ayo

“L.A. Silence on Cermak”
Sweetmeats, No. 1
By Edie Fake
Originally published: Vacuum Horror, No. 1
Edie Fake: P.O. Box 891231; Chicago, IL 60608

This is a screenprinted minicomic by a cartoonist who knows a thing or two about patternmaking. Edie Fake’s comics are densely packed with tone-setting texture and detail which add a heavy layer of atmosphere to the story’s literal actions.

This comic is enhanced by the gritty texture of the paper, the thick patterning in the panels themselves and the emotionally-detached stamp-lettering. Is it stamped? It looks machine-made in some way or another. These are Edie Fake qualities.

There is sex and gore and body-horror and there are nightmares and witches and transformations upon transformations. The physical destruction of the body seems important to Fake’s work. Transformation involves some level of ruination or at least breaking something that previously existed in the process. It sounds disturbing as a concept but can be read as a sort of liberation.

One last thing: there is only one page of comic on every two-page spread. As readers, we only see one page at a time, further narrowing our view into this world. Interesting stylistic choice.


You’re so vain, you probably think this comic is about you.

16 Jun

By Ayo


“I should have dumped you…”
Tragic Relief, No. 15; 2013
Colleen Frakes

This is a comic consisting of single-panel gags completing the sentence “I should have dumped you…”

The central character is a woman who is depicted being subjected to her current boyfriend being exceptionally sleazy and hostile. From body-policing to infidelity to stealing, this boyfriend does it all. The amazing, adaptable Bad-Boyfriend-Man! The panels within this small comic are not quite “funny” as they are cringe-inducing. I don’t believe that these panels are meant to be funny but rather cathartic. For any person who has absorbed bad treatment from a spouse or significant other in the course of their relationship. I didn’t laugh with this comic but I felt reinforced in my own views about bad relationships: “OMG DTMFA!”

One especially fun aspect to this comic is the packaging. It comes wrapped in a magenta band that acts as both cover and dust jacket. The “meat” of the comic has no internal cover. Inside the cover is a two-panel strip featuring caricatures of some cartoonists who are not named (but I recognize them). Is it okay to take your grievances with ex-partners I to the realm of your artwork? To duke it out with the ghosts of your past relationships in public? The answer is obviously “yes, that is totally okay.”


Saving people by beating up people: the Carol Danvers story

14 Jun

By Ayo

Avengers: the enemy within, No. 1 (Captain Marvel)
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Hepburn, Jordie Bellaire

~what is this~

Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers has a brain lesion that exacerbates whenever she flies. She is essentially in the position of Superman during the “Grounded” storyline except that not-flying isn’t her choice. Watching Captain Marvel struggle against her medical reality and her impulse to simply take to the skies is a wonderful tension.

Personally, I recently began wearing sunglasses because the direct sunlight has started to give me migraine-like symptoms. I know that feeling of suddenly needing some form of tool or technology to do what one used to do effortlessly.

Also, like Captain Marvel’s flying jet-sled, my sunglasses look cool. But I resent them. I just want to walk down the street in the day, not have a piece of breakable equipment on my face, filtering my world. I feel you, Carol Danvers.

The best part of this here comic book (Avengers: The Enemy Within) is that Carol Danvers’ buddies in the Avengers have been eager and happy to lend assistance to her, different from that old Avengers comic that I read in which Steve Rogers/Captain America was like “Carol Danvers, you are not on top of your game, YOU’RE OFF THE AVENGERS!!” Seriously, former Avengers writer Kurt Busiek, you really hung Carol Danvers out to dry that time! Rude.


This comic, DeConnick and Hepburn and Bellaire with “The Enemy Within,” features the things that I love the most about superhero comic books:

1) took a while to read. I didn’t breeze through this in ten minutes, it lasted me for like twenty, which is half of my commute. I enjoy density in comic books.

2) Carol Danvers and Jess Drew (Spider-Woman) have a wonderful rapport and I just want them to be buddies forever. I’m a big fan of buddies and Carol & Jess: Super Friends is totally pressing all my buttons. It was also nice and considerate of Jess Drew not to fly. Like, in solidarity with Carol who medically can’t.

3) the fights were fun to read. A bunch of heavy hitters, hitting heavily. Hepburn’s twisty, bendy-limb style is well suited for kinetic scenes of people knocking each other around, particularly due to the lighthearted banter that accompanies these fights. These aren’t scary superhero fights, they’re funny superhero fights.

3a) dinosaurs!

4) that Carol Danvers is friends with her neighbors in her apartment building (what is with superheroes renting among civilians though) is charming and heartening. In my building, there are only ten apartment units and people still act like they don’t know me, slam the gate or door on me when I’m dragging in my groceries. There’s only two black people in my building, you can’t argue that they don’t recognize me… Okay, getting personal, moving along…

5) Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has a definitive weakness (again, the flying) and has an irresponsible urge to exacerbate it time and again. As the title suggests, she is her own worst enemy.

5a) I like it when protagonists are the instruments of their own conflicts/downfalls. It is an appealing story dynamic that a person has control of his or her destiny and that their problems are at least partly their own doing (especially if not in a retributive sense).

6) Should have been number one to me, but: this comic was *funny* There was verbal humor, there were sight gags and physical comedy. I almost think that it is irresponsible for a comic about solving problems by hitting things to NOT be funny, at least sometimes. “The Enemy Within,” despite its ominous title and brooding cover (illustrated by Joe Quinones), was a charming and humorous issue to read.

7) I’m on a mission. A holy crusade, in fact. I really like when the characters in a scene are together inside the same panel and continue to coexist in panels as the scene progresses. This is an Eddie Campbell thing but it’s turning into a Darryl Ayo thing. Chris Samnee does it in his comics and I’m seeing a lot of it here with Scott Hepburn. He breaks from the patterns during various moments for fight purposes or to do closeups but mostly this comic hangs close to the principle. Thank you, Scott Hepburn.

All in all: I had a good time.