Recent Dorkiness

The Pretentious Meanderings of Funnybook Greats

Two-hour layover at the airport means… VACATION BLOGGING!!!

As I believe I said the other day, last week was a good week for funnybooks. Let’s talk about some of them now, shall we…?

Pretty Deadly 1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Rios Pretty Deadly

This book inexplicably became the most controversial comic of the week when a California comic shop owner ripped a copy in half to demonstrate his distaste for it. Much as I admire that sort of retailing theatrics, in this case it merely demonstrates that I never want to take that guy’s advice on what funnybooks to read. Because I thought Pretty Deadly was pretty great.

My instinct at this point is to move beyond the ripping incident. It’s just a sideshow, after all, and this book’s worth talking about for better reasons than because a guy in Culver City didn’t like it. But you know… The ripping didn’t take place in a vacuum, apparently. It was punctuation, the exclamation point at the end of a larger, and obviously well-considered, critique. At least, that’s if the Bleeding Cool account of the incident is to be believed (which, you know…). Either way, I thought I’d look at this guy’s argument and offer a counter to it. And won’t that be fun?

If you don’t feel like reading the full story, here’s the gist of the critique, as taken from Hannibal Tau’s review (where the story was first spread to the interwebs):

The case that was made was that this comic combined “psycho babble, [being] pretentious, bad writing and meandering.” … It is remarkable in its rough hewn, unfinished looking art, drifting narrative and tedium. Said retailer tore a copy of the issue up in front of customers, stating there’s “nothing in there that makes you want to pick up the second issue.”

So, okay. The thing that strikes me most strongly about that critique is the term “psychobabble.” That’s not a word I’d have ever associated with Pretty Deadly, as the book’s not filled with psychoanalytic jargon or analysis. There’s very little discussion of psychology and motivation at all, really. The characters’ actions, quite properly, speak for them. That does make it a bit more difficult to get an immediate grasp on who everyone in the large cast is and what role they’re playing in the story, but immediately grasping that sort of thing is boring to me. I’d rather work a bit and wonder, putting the pieces together myself until I’ve had my suspicions confirmed or denied.

And besides, I think the character basics are pretty clear by the end of the issue. The Girl in the Vulture Cloak, for instance, is a charismatic innocent with an as-yet-unrevealed connection to the mystical magical bullshit powering the fantasy side of the story. And her blind protector Fox is a gruff bad-ass with his own magic about him, and a dark past. He’s our Wolverine figure, to put it in spandex terms. That’s pretty basic, but it’s enough for an introductory chapter.

Of course, he may be misusing “psychobabble” pretty badly. Another person who witnessed the performance said that the Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange was put forth as a comic that contained psychobabble, “but was still entertaining.” Since there ain’t a lotta character analysis going on in that book, either, I’m guessing that the guy might have really been referring to poetic language of the type seen in Pretty Deadly‘s opening narrative gambit:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

Now, I like that sort of thing personally. I especially like the last bit: “I feared her like the flower about to blossom fears the sun.” That’s a pretty turn of phrase, and one hell of a thing for a narrator to say just after we’ve seen his skull opened up by a bullet. I suspect this sort of thing may also be the basis of the accusations of pretentiousness and meandering, too. The issue starts off with the blood-stained girl in the pretty white dress, then switches off to tell the story of the afore-mentioned Girl in the Vulture Cloak, who then proceeds to put on a show in which she tells (in verse, no less) the story of Deathface Ginny:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

I like that sort of thing, too. The switching narratives emphasize the importance of storytelling to this book, introduce a lot of juicy elements I want to know more about, and get tedious exposition out of the way in an interesting fashion. Artist Emma Rios really goes to town here, too, mixing real images (the ones Fox is pointing at) with imagined ones (the waves of pictures in-between) and the reactions of the audience, all separated by Fox’s staff. That’s some fancy visual storytelling, and just the sort of thing I’d hoped to see from this creative team.

But okay, fine. If you want only straightforward narratives without artifice, Pretty Deadly may not be for you. Different strokes, and all that. To call it pretentious, though? I cannot agree. Does the book take itself seriously? Yes. But not overly so, and it has fun with its audience besides. I mean, there’s a character named Big Alice, for god’s sake!

I’m also completely baffled by the assertion that there’s nothing in Pretty Deadly #1 to make you want to come back for the second issue. If anything, I’d argue that there’s too much. I’m dying to know more about Fox and the Girl in the Vulture Cloak, for instance, and what the significance of the girl’s mismatched eyes is, and what was in that binder of papers she stole from the ginger, and why Fox flipped out so immediately when he found out what she’d done. Plus, who’s the girl at the beginning of the issue? And why is the story being told by a butterfly and a rabbit?

Seriously. Issue two can’t come out soon enough.

Grade: A-

Mind MGMT 16, by Matt Kindt

Kindt Mind MGMT 16

An even more engrossing issue than usual, and that’s saying something for this book. It’s the story of the wife of a Mind MGMT operative who slowly loses her mind as her husband continually alters her memory. The whole thing was naggingly familiar to me, and finally it clicked: this woman was one of the cases covered in Meru’s first book, and we got her story detailed in the marginal text an issue or two back.

Knowing the ending doesn’t ruin it, though; Kindt ratchets up the tension with the medium, as this issue’s marginalia invades the main page, and vice versa. By the end, we’re getting snippets of text creeping in underneath and between panels that look like they’ve been ripped from the boards and pasted down, the series’ neatly-divided parts breaking down as our protagonist’s mind does the same.

Kindt also does some nice work artistically here, drawing people and events that have been erased from the narrator’s memory in various stages of sketchiness, depending on how much or how little she remembers. There’s one moment when she herself becomes a quick pencil sketch, ripped from plain white paper and pasted over a grey wash background. But it’s when her husband’s face starts to turn into a sketch in the middle of an otherwise fully-rendered scene that you really know she’s cracking.

(Hmm. I hope that makes sense. Normally, I’d just scan in a page to show you the goodness. But, again… I’m writing this in the airport, and don’t have access to my scanner…)

Grade: A

Sex Criminals 2, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals 2

More intelligent, funny, well-drawn funnybooks about sex. And crime. Can’t forget the crime.

Fraction’s doing one hell of a balancing act here. This book’s tone could easily topple over the line into cute (which, as long-time readers know, I can’t abide), but he keeps it grounded enough in the goopy realities of sex, and in the seedier side of human nature, that it doesn’t.

It’s real pretty, too. You should totally check it out.

Grade: A

Satellite Sam 4, by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin

Satellite Sam 4

I hesitate to call Satellite Sam Mad Men for the funnybook set, but…

Alcoholism! Sex! Petty politics! Unrequited love! Homosexuality! Racism! Murder! The 1950s!

Yeah. Of course, there are worse things a funnybook could be compared to…

Grade: A-

Young Avengers 11, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Young Avengers 11

A solid but unremarkable issue that mostly moves the plot along. And, out of the blue, sets Loki up for his new on-going series based on how much people like Tom Hiddleston. Don’t get me wrong, now. There’s some nice character stuff in the mix, too: Oubliette’s manipulation of Marvel Boy is pretty cool, for instance. But the too-quick dismissal of the doubts Mother planted in Kate’s head about her impending 21st birthday cancels it out, which brings us back to unremarkable again. There is one great thing, though: the concept of super-hero-crossover-as-flash-mob!

Which… I’d totally show you that super-cool page of graphic design work from Jamie McKelvie, but… Airport. No scanner. Don’t love you enough to spend any more time trying to steal it from some other on-line source…

Grade: B

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About Mark Brett (404 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

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