So last week was, for the most part, a really good week for funnybooks. An old favorite returned, current favorites continued, a new series started… In fact, I think we’ll start there, if only to get it out of the way. Because not all of last week’s comics were created equal…
The Wild Storm 1
by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt
This has been a rather hotly-anticipated book. Warren Ellis returns to revamp the super hero universe that made him a superstar 20 years ago! With art by… a guy I wasn’t at all familiar with prior to this, but who seemed to have a lot of people pretty excited going in! It was sounding great, and this cover from Tula Lotay whet my appetite even more:
Unfortunately, the comic beneath that cover is a bit of a let-down. I like what Ellis is doing well enough (more about him in a minute), but artist Jon Davis-Hunt feels a bit half-baked. Like he was taken out of the oven before he was done.
I don’t hate his work, understand. He draws things (by which I mean inanimate objects) rather well. His backgrounds are well-rendered, and he also does a pretty good job when drawing crazy sci-fi stuff like the revamped Engineer. That character design is way too busy for its own good, but he handles it rather well in her one big action scene for the issue:
So he’s not bad at everything. But his weaknesses are in areas I consider far more important than the ability to draw nice hardware. Specifically, his storytelling sucks, and he’s not that great at drawing people. Which, unfortunately for him, is what makes up about 95% of sequential art. And his weaknesses in those all-important areas seriously damaged my enjoyment of the comic. Here’s a panel that demonstrates pretty much all of his problems at once:
Now, that’s by far the worst panel in the comic. But holy crap. That is a seriously bad piece of funnybook art, easily the worst I’ve seen in recent memory. So let’s break this down. First of all, the poses are awkward and stiff, which isn’t a great thing for an action scene. But that’s the least of this panel’s worries. The anatomy is also bad. The big guy’s left arm is significantly smaller than his right, and way too small for his torso, besides. Both of his arms look a little short, in fact, and they both have some kind of weird foreshortening thing going on, too. The perspective’s off, and they look wrong. The right arm, in particular, is a mess. His hand just seems to be floating out there at the end of it, with no discernible means of attachment. The little guy’s arm is problematic, too. Is the big guy crushing it with his fist? I don’t think so, but I can’t think of any other explanation for the way it seems to be smooshing up and bending around his opponent’s hand like that.
But the little guy is problematic all the way around. Is he supposed to be that much smaller than his opponent? Or is it a mistake, like that tiny right arm? SPOILERS, but… He really is that small. Because that’s Jacob Marlowe, a Wildstorm character of long standing who is, traditionally, a dwarf. But prior to this scene, we haven’t seen him in context to anything that indicates his actual size. Which is bad, because he’s appeared on several pages earlier in the issue, all of which gave Hunt ample opportunity to establish that Marlowe is a little person. That’s actually him being rescued by the Engineer in that first panel up above, and the size difference between them there doesn’t seem that great. Nothing that couldn’t be explained away by the fact that she’s just grown an entire suit of pointy metal body armor directly out of her flesh, anyway.
So if I hadn’t known anything about Marlowe going in, I would have thought he was a man of normal height. As it is, I spent most of the issue trying to figure out if they were keeping him a dwarf or not, and having real trouble deciding. This is not a difficult thing to establish, but Hunt never actually draws him in frame with anything that demonstrates his size. At least, not until the very worst panel in the issue, where numerous other art problems mean that I’m still not sure. Maddening!
I’m being hard on Hunt here, I know. But the art really did ruin my enjoyment of the comic. And when I pay four bucks for a funnybook pamphlet printed on the kind of shiny toilet paper this one’s on, I expect a bit more for my money.
All that said… I don’t hate Hunt’s work. He has numerous flaws, but there’s the seed of something better here. He honestly strikes me as a young artist with a lot of potential. But he also strikes me as an artist who’s maybe not ready for professional publication.
Warren Ellis’ story, I think, fares bit better. Ellis is reinventing Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe from the ground-up, taking Lee’s very 90s themes of covert government black ops action and updating them to their early 21st Century equivalent: covert corporate black ops action. So we’re presented with two rival tech companies, both employing mercenary killers, and both into some seriously weird stuff. The issue opens, for instance, with Zealot in a bathroom, killing a guy with extra fingers.
Why that’s significant, I don’t know yet. But I’m sure we’ll find out. The story seems to encompass the whole Wildstorm stable, too, with characters popping up from Wildcats, Stormwatch, and… Hell, I dunno. I didn’t read that shit when it was coming out, except when it was being written by Ellis or Alan Moore. But I’m assuming we’re also seeing guys from Cyberforce or Wetworks or whatever those other books were called. Some of the names rang vague bells, anyway, so I assume we’re supposed to know who they are. Not that it matters if you don’t. Ellis does a good enough job introducing everything that you don’t need prior knowledge of Wildstorm history to appreciate it.
The tone is of a piece with much of Ellis’ recent work: it has a docu-drama / real-world / hard sci-fi feel to it that I like. He doesn’t go out of his way to explain everything at once, and he leaves some details for his artist to reveal visually. That his artist isn’t always up to that task isn’t Ellis’ fault.
But, man, does it ever wreck the book. By the end, I was sufficiently fed up with it that I decided I wouldn’t be buying any more issues of this thing. We’ll see if I stick to my guns on that, because as I said, I really am enjoying Ellis’ story. Still, I’m afraid I can’t give this first issue a very good grade…
But let’s move on to more pleasant subjects…
Sex Criminals 16
by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
SexCrims is back, brimpers! The book was away for a good eight months while Fraction and Zdarsky stockpiled issues to ensure that the current arc comes out monthly. And before that, the release of issues had become… erratic, at best. I’m not sure how many issues came out last year, but it wasn’t many. So when they started this issue off with an eight-page recap of the series to date… That was probably a really good idea. I was going to skip it at first, but then I figured that it might at least be funny (which it was), so I dove in. And I’m glad I did. I had forgotten, for instance, that Suzy’s father had been killed by a mad banker, driven to mass murder by a stock market crash in 1997.
That sentiment explains a lot about her later willingness to go along with Jon’s insane scheme to rob the bank that was trying to foreclose on her library. But the recap also serves to ease the reader back into the world and the tone of Sex Criminals. By the time it was done, I was relaxed, entertained, and enlightened. And ready for the story to continue. So I’m really glad I read that.
The issue itself did all the things we’ve come to expect from this book: it advanced both the plot and Jon and Suzy’s relationship, it dealt a bit with Jon’s mental problems, and it had a bit of sexy funtime. All in all, a very satisfying and human reading experience. You couldn’t ask for much more.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye 5
by Jon Rivera, Gereard Way, and Michael Avon Oeming
The deeper we get into this book, the weirder it gets, and the better I like it. We’ve got an underground mutant death cult, fungus monsters, and an elder god called “The Whisperer” running around! And against that, we’ve got a dude with a Mole Machine, and freaking Wild Dog.
This issue, Our Heroes also ingest an hallucinogenic potion called “Night Pudding,” as part of a ceremony held by their Muldroog hosts. This opens up their heads to good trips and bad, and opens up Mike Oeming’s already pretty trippy artwork to all kinds of psychedelic goodness.
It’s beautiful/ugly work that gets crazier all the time, backed up by a story that’s both fun and affecting. After coming into it unsure and with zero expectations, Cave Carson is swiftly becoming one of the comics I most look forward to reading every month.
by Matt Kindt and David Rubin
Another sleeper favorite of mine. Kindt and Rubin are creating something special here, a funny and entertaining fairy tale for young and old alike that nonetheless has a hidden knife-edge, capable of sending you off into dark places when you least expect it.
This issue puts Boone’s pursuit of the copper golem on hold while he dreams of Hazel, the erstwhile lover of his past, whose childhood encounter with the Ether (see above) scarred her for life, and sent him on his current path. I won’t spoil anything here, but I’m increasingly concerned that Hazel came to a bad end of some kind, and that Boone was at least partially responsible for it. Our Hero is obviously in denial about something, anyway, and Kindt is slowly revealing what.
Much like Cave Carson, this book caught me by surprise. I picked it up on a whim and have slowly but surely fallen under its spell. Fun, and more complex than it looks on the surface, Ether is another book swiftly becoming one of my most-anticipated reads.
Dept. H 11
by Matt and Sharlene Kindt
I mentioned in a recent review that this book finally clicked for me after reading three or four issues in a row. Getting all that material all at once made the characters and situations come into focus in a way that reading previous issues in single monthly installments hadn’t been able to do. Well, I’m back to the monthly grind with it again now, and I must admit that it’s not as effective that way.
Thankfully, though, my reaction to the book is different. Before, each issue felt insubstantial, to the point that I never quite developed any connection to the book or its characters. Increasingly, I just didn’t care. Now, I’m engaged with the book. I care quite a bit. And while this issue still felt too short, that was, in part, because I wanted more.
It doesn’t hurt that, following last issue’s literal explosions, this issue featured figurative ones, the crew (all potential murder suspects) coming to blows by the last page. There was also a return appearance by the Ghost Diver, a (probable) hallucination brought on by Our Heroine’s lack of sleep. That she no longer seems bothered by him is both funny and troubling. Of course, she’s also figured out what part of her brain he’s being conjured from: a cautionary tale her father told her when she was young. That realization’s got to give her some small measure of comfort in a situation in which she has so little control. Now if she could just get some shuteye…
Kill of be Killed 6
by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser
You know it’s a good week of comics when I get to this book so late in the game. One of my favorite current on-going series, Kill or be Killed is the Brubaker/Phillips team’s meditation on the vigilante genre. The first five-issue arc was all about introducing us to Our Hero Dylan, who survives a suicide attempt only to find that he was saved by a demon who now demands he pay for his own life by killing other people. Whether that demon is real or imagined is still a matter open to debate, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. Real or not, the demon’s subsided far into the background now. Dylan, in deciding to kill “people who deserve it,” believes that his actions are righteous. He’s on a vigilante killing spree now because he wants to be.
So that’s the first five issues, focused very tightly on Dylan and his friends. The story opens up more this issue, as his activities start to get noticed by the world around him, and that changes the tone more than I would have expected. This book’s had a claustrophobic feel so far that’s served it well. It’s been like a horrifying little murder boutique, focused with laser intensity on the life of one neurotic and self-absorbed young man as he slips into violence. But this issue, we’re finally introduced to someone he doesn’t know, and it’s shocking.
That’s Lily Sharpe, a police detective who’s taken notice of Dylan’s actions, following a hunch to draw links between his seemingly unconnected killings. We get her story this issue, and it’s not one connected to Dylan in any way. That lack of connection is a sharp departure that makes the book less claustrophobic, and therefore (for me, anyway) a little less interesting.
Or, no. “Interesting” is not the right word. There’s still the juicy moral dilemma of vigilantism, and the blow-by-blow of how Dylan slowly learns the killing trade continues to fascinate. So maybe “compelling” is the word I want. Without the claustrophobic tightness of focus, the book has become less compelling to me.
We’ll see if that continues as Brubaker and Phillips settle in to the more open tone. Because I’m still plenty pleased with the book, make no mistake. It remains a current favorite, and will definitely be staying on my “must read” list for the foreseeable future.