Elektra 1, by W Haden Blackman and Michael Del Mundo
Marvel’s very pointed answer to the recent Batwoman kerfuffle, pairing JH Williams’ writing partner on that book with an artist whose work has a similarly heightened reality to it, and whose layouts ebb and flow across the page in much the way that Williams’ do. He’s not as good at it, mind you. But I kind of feel bad saying that. Because Michael Del Mundo is a fine artist in his own right, and I do like the results.
So, yeah. I’m just gonna drop the comparisons (inevitable as they may be) to Williams, and judge Del Mundo on his own merits. He’s good. That’s a nice flowing spread that draws your eye across the page smoothly without the use of traditional panel borders. That’s not easy to pull off (I assume it’s not, anyway, or else I’m sure we’d see more of them). Look at the depth he’s worked in there, too. The reflections in the far back are really impressive. And though you don’t really see it above, there’s a cartooniness underlying his figures that I like a lot. It’s appealing, and it fits the story well. Speaking of which…
Blackman’s script is what I was really interested in when I bought this book. I always wondered how much of Batwoman was his, and how much was Williams’, and I figured this might be a chance to figure that out. Of course, as it turns out, I still don’t know. Elektra is a far less serious book than Batwoman ever was. That works to its advantage, though; good as it was, Batwoman sometimes felt a bit too po-faced, especially when Williams’ art wasn’t lending the proceedings visual depth.
But here, Blackman’s touch is far lighter. He seems, in part, to be drawing inspiration from Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s infamous Elektra: Assassin, a broad farce of a comic that’s probably not considered to be as much of a classic as it should. Not that this book’s as… extreme as that one. Not quite.
I mean, sure. It’s got a character who absorbs your memories and skills by eating you. And that’s pretty batshit. So, you know: it’s hardly a Brubaker-style (Brubakian?) exercise in spandex realism. Granted, the immortal flapper who brokers assassinations and speaks in century-old slang borders on “too cute for its own good.” But Blackman pulls back before he plunges over the edge into that particular dork fiction abyss, so it’s okay.
And that, I suppose, sums the book up as well as anything could: a bit awkward in places, but the good outweighs the bad. I doubt I’ll ever re-read it, but it’s fun while it lasts. It would be tailor-made for me to read digitally, in fact, if it weren’t for the art. Because it’s awful pretty, and my tablet screen’s just not big enough to do justice to those two-page spreads.
Thor 20 & 21, by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic
Another book I’d be reading digital if it weren’t for the art. Because… Look. Jason Aaron’s turning in fun stuff here. He probably writes Thor himself better than anyone in the character’s history as a spandex hero. His Thor is equal parts nobility and bravado. He loves life and hates evil with equal passion. He’s impulsive when angered, and he doesn’t always think before he acts. And his adventures are, as the run develops, rollicking big things that pit him against schemers and brutes and impossible odds that seem calculated to break his warrior spirit. It’s like the Thor stories of myth, wrapped in the aesthetics of Lee and Kirby. It’s all great pop culture fun, and I’m enjoying it big-time.
But, again, one read of these books is enough. There’s not much to bring me back for another turn, so the physical comics just take up space in a life that, frankly, already has too much stuff cluttering it up. I should just wait for these comics to drop to a reasonable price digitally and read them in chunks. It’s how I’ve read Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, and there’s not a single reason I shouldn’t do the same here. Except…
Except Esad Ribic. Because, damn. DAMN. This is a pretty book. SUCH a pretty book. And that keeps me picking it up in print. Because, again, my tablet’s just not big enough to do it justice. Good news for my funnybook dealer, bad news for my bank account.
Mind MGMT 22, by Matt Kindt
Always one of the more innovative books on the market, Mind MGMT takes things a step further this month, with a variation on the classic “silent issue.” The most famous of these is probably Larry Hama’s early 80s GI Joe issue, in which the mute ninja Snake Eyes infiltrates a Cobra facility to rescue his girlfriend Scarlett. Not a word is spoken by anyone in that comic, and likewise not a word is spoken here as Meru and Lime step right into the trap set for them by the Eraser. It’s an opportunity for great, moody visual storytelling, and Kindt steps up to the plate on that front:
Of course, this being Mind MGMT, he also offers a twist. The silence of the story leads Kindt somewhere he’s never really been in this book before: inside his characters’ minds. Don’t get me wrong. Kindt’s very good at revealing character. I think I know the cast pretty well at this point. Well enough, at least, to know that any of them could be lying at any given moment. But since nobody’s talking in this issue, Kindt decides to dig into their heads in a very funnybook sort of way:
That’s right. For one issue only, Matt Kindt has brought back the thought balloon. Heh. For a book that’s so very much about our inability to truly understand and trust even our own minds, that’s a pretty radical concept.
Or at least, it could be. But Kindt leans on the technique a bit more than is necessary for exposition. I don’t mind it so much in the early going, when Duncan is analyzing the situation, the action, and the people around him. That’s how his ability to predict the immediate future works: he takes in all the angles and makes accurate predictions based on split-second observation. So getting into his head in a crisis is interesting. But as the issue goes on, there’s too much of it, too many coherent statements explaining the action from characters who don’t have Duncan’s unique ability. It strains belief.
It also exposes the reason the thought balloon was largely abandoned as a storytelling tool back in the 90s: nobody thinks that way. It’s less coherent statements than it is intuitive leaps and sudden ideas. Wordless base thoughts that we then turn into language to explain ourselves. Kindt does his best to reflect that by having the thoughts come out as phrases rather than complete sentences, but it’s not enough.
Of course, there are also a couple of instances of “word pictures” like the one above. That’s a split-second impression of what goes through Lime’s head when he tastes his own blood, and I wish there’d been more like it. There are genuinely revelatory moments, too, and those make up for a lot. The hatred that the Eraser’s hidden agents feel toward Lime and his group is shocking, for instance, and makes me wonder more than ever who, if anyone, I should be rooting for here.
So it doesn’t all work, but it’s not all bad either. In fact, I’d say the good outweighs the bad; just the fact that Kindt was willing to try something like this earns him big points with me. It’s a hum-dinger of a comic beyond the formal trickery, too, an action-packed thriller in a series that’s often glacially still. I know I’ve said this before, but Mind MGMT is state of the art funnybooks. If you ain’t reading it… You’re missing out.
Powers Bureau 9, by Bendis and Oeming
Powers rolls on with an issue that… honestly… felt a little like a waste of time. A lot of the issue, and I mean A LOT of it, is taken up with a giant generic super-fight of a type that typically happens in funnybooks I don’t read. I mean, it’s all drawn by Mike Oeming, so it’s a well-rendered giant generic super-fight. But it’s still a giant generic super-fight. I’ve read my fair share of those, and I’m not particularly interested in reading very many more of them.
So when, in the middle of it, Dana Pilgrim says this…
…I’m right there with her. And when she’s admonished by the suspect who’s telling us the story of this giant generic super-fight for missing the point of the giant generic super-fight, I’m just as pissed off as she is. Because fuck that guy. And when she storms out of the room a few pages later, I damn near stormed out of the comic right along with her. Because, seriously… I’ve got better things to do with my time than read this shit.
I mean, I get it. I do. With this Rob Liefeld parody that opens the issue…
…it’s kind of hard not to. But, really. After that, I didn’t need page after page of fight scene telling me that Liefeld comics are simple-minded, morally-questionable pablum. I already knew that, and don’t care to learn the lesson again. I mean… If the fight had been shorter, I wouldn’t complain. Hell, if it had been funny, I might have even been down for it. But as it is…
I kinda wish I’d bailed with Pilgrim.
Manhattan Projects 20, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
This is one of those on-going series that’s hard to review on a regular basis. It’s really good. I enjoy every issue. But I enjoy them all for pretty much the same reasons, so over time I feel like a broken record. You can only write “gonzo alternate history sci-fi starring the greatest scientific minds of the 20th Century” so many times before you start to feel like you’ve got nothing new to say.
But that’s not entirely fair to a comic that really is one of my current favorites. I mean, it’s good. It’s so stinking good. Funny and wrong and kinda brilliant in its own demented way. This issue’s all about how Albert Einstein became an interdimensional barbarian after getting knocked in the head by his evil other-universe twin Albrecht. You should totally read it.
Lazarus 8, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
Another book that’s just consistently good. You should totally read this one, too. But I do have a little more to say about it than that.
Rucka and Lark are dealing in this series with a near-future dystopia of a type that I often find tedious. It’s something of a post-apocalyptic take, with people struggling to eke a living out of an environment that seems made mostly of mud. The corporations that hold all the wealth and power run their territories like feudal serfdoms, creating an air of locked-down oppression sitting uneasily alongside banal lawlessness. It’s the sort of thing that normally bores me to tears.
So it’s something of a testament to Rucka and Lark’s skills as storytellers that I am, instead, fascinated. They’ve pulled that off, I think, by not being simplistic about it. They’ve developed the culture of the corporate Families as something more than a one-dimensional oppressor, and thus given their world a depth too often missing in these types of stories.
In other words, they’re not being dumbasses about it. And that makes all the difference.