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Experiencing Vertigo

2 Aug

By Ayo

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“The Paradigm Shift, part one”
Collider, no. 1
Vertigo Books, July 2013
Simon Oliver & Robbi Rodriguez
With: Rico Renzi & Steve Wands
Featuring: Nathan Fox

Months ago, when Karen Berger stepped down from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, I believed that the imprint was essentially done-for. My suspicion was that Vertigo would move more into DC-proper publishing and eventually dissolve. Instead, the house seems to have run in the opposite direction, away from Swamp Thing and John Constantine and closer to the spirit of autonomy that the imprint made itself famous for.
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Talk like sex

1 Aug

By Ayo

This rap shit is like reality TV, it’s totally different from what it’s marketed as.”
-Joe Budden

“Quivers ‘n’ Shakes”
Sex, no. 5
Joe Casey & Piotr Kowalski
With Brad Simpson, Rus Wooton and Sonia Harris

This is less about the comic and more about marketing.

When Joe Casey, co-creator of Sex, was making the rounds to publicize this series, he described to readers a story wherein sex would be a driving and integral factor. Instead, five issues in, it appears to be a fairly standard post-superhero crime-comic. With one sex scene neatly packed into each issue, tucked into the story to justify the series title.
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Bastard

25 Jul

By Ayo

“Family, part 2”
Lazarus, number 2
By Greg Rucka & Michael Lark
with Santi Arcas
Image Comics, July 2013

Meeting the Carlyle Family during the Carlyle Family Meeting, this is kind of a stressful issue. Trying to keep all of the siblings straight was an exercise in futility. They’re all bad guys, so frown at all of them. Papa Carlyle is the only character here who appears to be somewhat reasonable. I’m interested more in his perspective, he’s clever enough to know that his kids are wilding out.

Eve, or Forever Carlyle is your basic tough guy, killing machine, Terminator/Robocop, invincible, heartless human murder factory. In this issue, she hints at having something like a conscience but it’s probably just tactical doubt about her siblings’ war schemes. I bet the next batch that this story arc ends with Forever screaming “I’M NOT LIKE YOU” with tears streaming down her face as she sends one of her siblings to the hereafter.

Spoiler: there is no hereafter after here. So don’t fuck around and yet murdered by a vat-grown super soldier.

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I’ve never been to Los Angeles so I can’t feel much about how post-earthquake-dystopia L.A. Is depicted. Based on the size of the shacks, the “Hollywood” sign seems smaller than I imagined that it is. In general the destruction is beautifully rendered as old and settled-in. Eve goes into what looks like a shantytown village or an open-air market (or likely, both) and those are the two pages that feel the most alive to me. For one obvious reason, there are people of all ages wandering around, doing whatever it is that the poor do in the world of Lazarus. For another thing, we are shown the figure, the ground, the background and the sky. Those pages feel airy and open because they are depicting airiness and openness.

The next scene is in the Mexican desert but it is too open for me to enjoy. Like…desert. Deserted. When the machine-gun-men show up, it actually feels more comfortable for me as a reader, even though the protagonist is in “danger.” (Not really, she’s the protagonist and invincible)

Everything is really grey and dingy looking which is fine for a post-apocalyptic shantytown but becomes a drawback when looking at the Carlyle Family home which feels like it should be brighter and more opulent. I know that resources are scarce but these people are royalty. It just looks like the lights are physically off in these scenes. This is where Michael Lark’s heavy-black, jagged-ink style works against the scene depicted. This isn’t some back alley at night, this is during the daytime in the living room of one of the most wealthy people in the world. Turn on a lightbulb.

Don’t get me wrong, the harsh figures, the rough-hewn shadows–it’s all beautiful on the page. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

~~~~~~

Two of the siblings are doing incest. Probably “twincest.” I know that I’m meant to be repulsed and disgusted and horrified but I’m just glad that somebody lightened up in this piece.

Smile or somethin!

@darrylayo

That’s what I’m talkin ’bout!

18 Jul

By Ayo

Cable and X-Force, no. 11
by: Dennis Hopeless & Salvador Larocca
with: Frank D’Armata & Joe Sabino
$3.99, Marvel Entertainment
July, 2013

I was born in Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Thirty years later, I had my eyes checked out there (all good). A year and a half after that, X-Force saved the hospital from blowing up!

1. What it is.

Cable and X-Force is a comic about a new version of the original X-Force. The main X-Force comic is a derivative of the version that Craig Kyle and Chris Yost and Rick Remender spearheaded on recent years. Cable and X-Force is the “heroes branded as outlaws, on the run from the law” kind of comic. I’m into this.

2. Larroca.

As an indie comics guy, I’m supposed to loathe Salvador Larroca. His work on Invincible Iron Man should be an abomination to me, made by computers, aided by photographs, driven by photoshop, et cetera. Well, eat dirt, indie comics. I like Larroca’s work.

Frank D’Armata is no small part of this. His limited palate (grey) and silvery sheen probably turn off a lot of old school art-likers. But he and Larroca have slid into a rhythm where their work seems made to be together. It’s just a grey world and that brings me to…

3. Boom Boom.

The character Boom Boom is all pink and yellow. The proverbial ray of sunshine in this world that is so steely that her opposite character is literally black and white (Domino). Aesthetically, they look good together. They make an idea team-up because even their colors are coding their outlooks on life, particularly when contrasted with one another.

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4 Domino effect.

In a Domino/Boom Boom stealth mission, Domino is the one who goes undercover. And nobody blinks at this Obvious Mutant carting a patient out of the hospital!

Points for not being racist, Mount Sinai Hospital!
Demerits for terrible security, Mount Sinai Hospital.

5. Structure: parallel; asymmetrical

In this comic, we actually never see the lead title character, Cable, but we see his daughter, Hope Summers. She is in the future, teaming up with Blaquesmith fighting Warlocks. I ain’t even mad!

When I was a boy, Original X-Force was my favorite comic. While the X-Force gang was running around and rescuing their friends, Domino was hunting down mercenaries and searching for X-Force. That was the era of issues #20-24, especially issue 23 “Domino Triumphant.” Today the tables are flipped and Domino is rescuing mutants (and civilians) while some OTHER estranged member is taking the Long Way Home.

Hope’s mission is long. It began before this issue and it continues past this issue. Domino and Boom Boom’s mission is immediate. It begins and ends in this current episode.

THIS.

IS.

WHAT I KEEP TELLING YOU ABOUT!

A comic book issue should tell its own story while also providing seeds for future (no pun intended) stories to develop. That’s what this comic book issue does and I will support Hopeless and Larroca in their mission if this is what they plan to do.

I call this “polyrhythmic storytelling.” One story arc moves at a certain pace and the other hand (I took piano lessons as a boy) moves at a different pace. Yet both hands compliment the work as a whole.

In comics, what you want to do is have your dominant storyline take up the majority of an issue’s time/space (in comics, time and space are the same thing) and have the subplot move along at sparser, sharper beats to make for an interesting narrative “stab” of interest with each subplot interlude. The idea is that by the time the subplot becomes the dominant plot, the reader will have absorbed enough of that subplot’s world to become fully curious and engaged. And do remember: when the subplot eventually becomes the primary conflict, seeds should still be sewn for subplots even further down the road. That’s how it’s done!

6. Domino effect, part 2

This past weekend, I bought the 1996 Domino miniseries (so, so, so terrible) and the 2002 Brian Stelfreeze Domino miniseries (reading it soon). The day of this Cable and X-Force, I also bought Adam Warren’s A+X comic “Scarlet Witch+Domino.” I really like Domino. The Domino in the comic at hand is not the freewheeling, daredevil Domino but the original Too-Old-For-This-Shit Domino. I can’t complain, it’s just weird to see different comics slide the character back and forth between Stern School Marm and Reckless Trickster. The latter role in this story goes to Boom Boom who was an utterly joyless character until Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen put her in the comic Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

So I enjoy this comic for what it is presented as, not what any prior comic suggests that it might be. And shout out to Ellis and Immonen for supplying Boom Boom with an actual characterization.

7. The review of Cable and X-Force # 11.

Wasn’t the best comic book to come out this week (July 17, 2013), but it might have been the closest comic book to my heart. If you were a fan of Fabian Nicieza and Greg Capullo’s X-Force (twenty years ago), this is the comic for you, without a question. Antics, friendship and want an destruction. The X-Force Way.

@darrylayo

Pancakes

18 Jul

By Ayo

“Break-Fast Meet”
Young Avengers, no. 7
Marvel Comics, July 2013
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Clayton Cowles

When I was a little dude, twenty years ago, there lived a comic book called “X-Force” (by Fabian Nicieza and Greg Capullo) that I liked a lot. It wasn’t a perfect comic book but it was as close to perfect as I had personally seen at the time and thus, functionally perfect. The point in time when this comic existed as pure joy was in the brief period of its 20th through 24th issues. During this period, the teenaged cast of the comic had their own adventures, made their own decisions with absolutely no adult supervision, broke things, blew things up and ran from the law. They argued with each other and loved each other and beat opponents into submission to protect each other. Persuasion through muscle and victory through hardheadedness. It was 1993 and this was the best comic book in the world. It was everything that eleven-year-old Darryl wanted to see. More than wanted, it was everything that I needed to see.

Twenty years later, we have Young Avengers. It’s the same concept but put together a lot more adeptly.

1. Kirby Engine versus IPAC Unit.

Flying around the world (or galaxy) in a super-jet, beating up bad guys and having a good time with your friends–the only people who you can hold to since you’re on the run from authorities and wanton property damage is the X-Force way. The teen superhero team way. It’s the Darryl Ayo way. If you make a comic like this, you’re talking my language.

2. Through the eyes part 1

Jamie McKelvie is pulling a large portion of this story along on facial expressions, mostly. Body language, next. The conversation between Noh-Varr and Hulkling is conducted over two pages of both characters sitting down. Yet throughout, we see not only the subtle shifts in mood and emotion on both characters’ faces but we also see a consistent difference in personal disposition between the two.

The same thing happens between the unspoken disdain between Prodigy and Loki. Their dialogue says one thing but their eyes and facial moods say all of that and then some.

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3. These stories are long.

My initial complaint with this Young Avengers series seems harsh because it isn’t unique to Young Avengers but the first story arc was long. I didn’t have a problem with the pacing of the storytelling itself, I found the storytelling pitch-perfect. My difficulty was in the length of the overt-objective narrative. Five issues of the first story felt overly long to me.

Since then (issue six and the current issue, number seven), I feel that there has been a bit more containment of narrative beats in an issue which limits that sense of sprawl which I felt in the first arc.

I think that we’re seeing a return to polyrhythmic storytelling, where the overt objective brings the structure for an individual issue but the underlying emotional arcs keep readers coming back for more.

4. Miss America & Prodigy.

Two brown folks in the Young Avengers and they are pretty terrific to see on the page. Both are highly competent and casually cool (not “cool” meaning “likable,” but “cool” as in one’s demeanor).

Miss America is kind of a “you never asked” type of character which gets aggravating but it takes all types to run a successful ensemble cast. She’s mysterious and magical and likes to punch things, so therefore perfect for the role. Prodigy, on the other hand, is a new spin on the know-it-all character type. A genius with people-skills. He knows everything but has enough empathy not to lord it over people.

5. Through the eyes, part 2.

Prodigy’s point of view of tracking the Young Avengers is a lot of fun to read. Every issue of this series seems to have some sort of design trickery to it or some panel-border-breaking magic to it. This issue has both design trickery and panel-manipulation to denote magic. This comic is just a lot of fun to look at.

6. The review of “Break-Fast Meet,” Young Avengers # 7.

Good. Better. Best!

Young Avengers has been a high-quality superhero series since the first issue but the quality has just taken a dramatic upturn. Pop culture references in this series are sharp and trading on pop culture familiarity is dangerous ground for any storyteller. Most readers of this series seem devoted to the characters themselves and therefore this issue ratchets up the interpersonal antics.

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@darrylayo

Danger Grotto

25 Jun

By Ayo

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“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.

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

@darrylayo

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

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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.

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[“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.

That.

Said.

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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.

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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