Last week was a damn fine week for funnybooks, with three of my current favorites hitting the stands all on the same day. So of course, I’m going to start this week by talking about a book I didn’t actually read at all…
by Frank Miller and… Not-Frank-Miller
So, yeah. I’m not really reading this book. I gave it a shot briefly when it started, but it has the feel of someone trying to make sense of the glorious nonsense that is Frank Miller’s Bat-Future. It’s tame when it needs to be wild, utterly sane when it needs to be utterly insane. It is entirely too much NOT a glorious mess, in other words, and its very normalcy, its entirely competent mediocrity, bothers me far more than stuff like this:
That’s Frank Miller’s alternate cover to this issue, which is apparently causing a bit of a stir on-line. Many think that’s an awful drawing, and while I personally kinda dig it, even I will admit that it’s rough. Wonder Woman’s legs are a little too small in comparison to her torso. Or, actually, I suppose that should be LEG, singular, since he doesn’t seem to have bothered drawing her left leg (or arm, for that matter). And the baby, while I appreciate the little nod to Lone Wolf and Cub, looks a bit too much like a miniature Jonathan Winters for comfort.
But it captures a mood. An attitude. It might help to think of Miller’s work here as cartooning instead of illustration. It’s a drawing meant to express something about Wonder Woman as a character, and in that it succeeds rather well. I know exactly who this Wonder Woman is at a glance, and I know that she’s nobody to mess with. It’s all in the face, the pose. The taut crouch and the stare and the wild blowing hair. As a cartoon, it’s dynamite.
I’ll also say that the cover’s colorist (whose name I’m afraid I don’t know) did Miller no favors here, applying tones and gradients to a drawing that I would have told you was intended to be flat. It’s a poor choice, and does nothing to accentuate the heavy design elements in Miller’s current art. This feeling was cemented for me when I stumbled across this re-colored version of the piece at Comics Beat:
That’s the work of James Harvey (who can be found on the Twitter Machine here: https://twitter.com/jamesharveytm/status/725783405544263681/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc), and it’s exactly the sort of treatment that drawing needs. The bright, flat colors really bring out everything good in it, putting realism aside in favor of emotion and pop-art flair, the collage of old Wonder Woman art in the background capping the whole thing off with a perfect finishing touch. If DKIII looked like THIS all the way through, I might be reading it.
I did read the mini-comic Miller contributed to this issue, and it’s pretty great. It’s a Carrie Kelly Batgirl story, pitting her against some thugs while wearing an awesomely wrong dayglo-green costume with pink cape and cowl. Miller’s art here has some of the same anatomical problems as the cover, and doesn’t always deliver on the powerful cartooning. But it’s got this great drawing of Aquaman…
…and that makes up for a lot. Awesomeness. Again… If the whole book looked like this, I’d be reading every issue with a smile on my face. As it is, though, I’ll just have to look at whatever crazy-ass pictures Frank Miller draws for it and be content with that.
Comic: Dunno, Didn’t Read It
Frank Miller Contributions: A
Sex Criminals 15
by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
So this was a packed issue. And, having just finished reading its letter page as I write this, the word “packed” makes me want to make some kind of lurid sex joke. But I’m going to resist that temptation (primarily because I can’t think of anything clever enough).
But, anyway. Yes. Packed. Lots of stuff happening here. Confessions. Realizations. Confrontations. After several issues of entertaining side trips, stories that fleshed out the world of the book, we’re getting back to the series’ core storyline in a big way. And, man, I don’t want to spoil any of this stuff, even a week out from the book’s initial release. But it starts with this…
…and moves on from there, dealing with all sorts of difficult relationship stuff, on several fronts, and handles it all with its usual aplomb.
It also serves to humanize the previously-inscrutable Myrtle Spurge. Myrtle, whose name is such a perfect combination of “frontier granny” and “13-year-old-boy sex joke” that I both hate and admire Fraction for coming up with it, has seemed somewhat… emotionless? …in previous issues. Or, if not emotionless, then perhaps emotionally detached, a sort of hyper-organized suburban mom with a light air of dominatrix about her. And I do think that’s a role she’s very good at playing. But now she’s gotten herself into something she can’t detach herself from so easily, and we’re starting to see that façade of perfection crack a bit around the edges.
That’s only appropriate for this most human of funnybooks, though: even the villains are understandable as people. Of course, it could be argued that Myrtle isn’t really the villain here. She’s trying to stop Our Heroes from robbing banks, after all, and by most lights, that would make her the hero.
So it’s also appropriate, I suppose, that this issue calls into the question the morality of the series’ premise: bank-robbing sex people. It’s always been a weird element of the book, more an aspect of the impulse control problems Jon suffers when he’s not on his meds than something that makes sense for these otherwise very normal people we’ve been reading about for the last 15 issues. There’s a part of me that wishes the book were actually about a couple of morally ambiguous libertines, fucking their way from robbery to robbery and having a grand old time doing it. That would be an awful lot of fun to read, I think, though to really click it would probably have to be written by somebody like Invisibles-era Grant Morrison. Or, I dunno. Howard Chaykin, maybe.
At any rate. That ain’t the book we’ve got, and much as I might enjoy it if it was, the series is probably stronger for not being done that way. As I said above, Fraction and Zdarsky have managed to put together something very human here. Very funny and very real. It walks a fine line, evoking an emotional response without being mawkish, and maintaining an edge of knowing cynicism without becoming a bummer. Fraction cites Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez as inspirations in this issue’s letter column, and I can see that. He’s not as good either of them, mind you (he’s a little too self-conscious), but I can see Jaime in him in particular. And that’s pretty high praise.
by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting
The frequency with which this book comes out is frustrating for many. I‘m willing to wait for something with artwork as pretty as the stuff Steve Epting’s turning in, mind you. But it does sometimes make the intricacies of the series’ plot a bit difficult to follow. There are plots, counter-plots, secret conspiracies, and a large international cast of characters who don’t always have any connection to each other. So when Velvet suddenly kidnapped Richard Nixon this issue…
…I must admit to throwing my hands in the air and giving up on trying to make sense of it all.
That’s probably not fair. If I went back and re-read the whole thing, I’m sure the trail, leading from London to Moscow to Paris to Washington, would all line up and make perfect sense. I wasn’t expecting Watergate to be part of the plot, but I suspect that’s supposed to be a cool, entertaining surprise instead of the event that caused me to give up in despair. And I was entertained by it, make no mistake. It’s a fun and audacious sort of thing to do, the book’s “James Bond” side taking momentary precedence over its “John Le Carré” side. But it’s been long enough since the first issue (hell, since the last issue) that I’m having serious trouble keeping everything straight.
I don’t mean to sound so negative here. I very much enjoyed the read, and Epting’s artwork is its usual triumph of illustration.
I normally count re-reads as a positive thing, too, so I don’t really know what I’m complaining about. I think it’s just the sheer sensationalism of the Nixon kidnapping that made me give up. It’s SO over-the-top that all I could do was laugh and go along for the ride. And assume that it’ll all make sense when I sit down with the inevitable trade collection…
by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey
I believe I mentioned last week that Warren Ellis’ Karnak is starting to feel a bit like it’s on auto-pilot. The current arc of Injection has suffered from a similar feel, its lead character Headland (a sort of modern-day Sherlock Holmes type) offering his creator too much temptation to write in “outrageous lead saying outrageous things” mode. Granted, being a Sherlock Holmes type means that’s exactly how he should be written. But, still. I’ve been reading Ellis for more than 20 years now, and a little of that schtick goes a long way for me.
Fortunately, then, the arrival this issue of two other members of the Injection cast (all of them geniuses of one stripe or another) means that Headland isn’t quite as superior to everyone around him as usual. So it’s more a matter of three very smart people one-upping each other, which is fresher. Plot-wise, it’s still a bit thin. But the character interactions, though perhaps a touch too glib for their own good, are entertaining enough that I don’t mind so much.
This issue also finally ties Headland’s current case (involving cannibalism, a ghost, and a group of occult assassins) into the series’ larger plot. Like much (most? all?) of the series’ previous supernatural happenings, the ghost is the work of the Injection, the spooky living AI Our Heroes created before the series began. I’m still not clear on how much of what the Injection gets up to is actually supernatural, and how much of it is explainable with pseudo-science. But that’s all to the good, I think, and really sort of the point. If we can’t tell the difference, is there a difference?
Well, okay. Probably, there is. But is it a difference that matters? Not for us, I don’t think, in the current moment. The Injection has been imbued with all manner of capabilities, all the genius of a cabal of geniuses, and something – the thing that makes it alive – from the distant past, too. And it’s doing precisely what it was designed to do: advance human knowledge. It’s just advancing that knowledge faster, and in more areas, than actual humans know what to do with.
There’s a case to be made, in fact, that the Injection itself is a commentary on the too-glib nature of Injection’s heroes. There’s some evidence, in the way it interacts with Brigid, the Injection cast’s computer expert…
…that it’s picked up some of its creators’ penchant for copping a superior attitude. Suddenly, they’re no longer the smartest thing in the room, and the actual smartest thing in the room is being all mysterious and smart-mouthed to them. And they find it just as annoying as everyone else does.
One final bit of praise before I go: Declan Shalvey is turning in his usual good work on this issue, but his cover this time out is especially nice. Seriously. Scroll back up there and look at that thing. It’s purty.