ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2015.02.02: 7,306

stryker

Snowed in today with no work and no physical access to civilization. So let’s clear out some of the comics that are sitting on my desk, waiting to be sullied by the touch of hoo-man hands. First takes, live, no overdubs, except for replacing Bernie Leadon’s vocals. (Soundtrack: Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92.)

bp1BITCH PLANET #1-2

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick; illustrated by Valentine de Landro; colored by Cris Peter; published by Image Comics.

Now this, this is interesting. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of Bitch Planet — the ratio of gimmick to substance is obfuscated by those covers, great as they are. When last I checked in with Kelly Sue DeConnick, it was in the pages of her new Barbarella translation, so I half expected a comic that would play out as a camp tongue-in-cheek mockery of the Caged Heat kind of stuff, the movies where a tough but glamorous white girl gets chucked behind bars and has to deal with the crude advances of the Teutonic lesbian warden, where during the riots the women know to stick to body blows lest anyone’s face get unprettied, et cetera. Basically, my assumption was that this thing was going to be leaden with irony.

Instead, it’s played pretty straight. Valentine de Landro doesn’t draw it like a Chaos! Comics backs-arched-girls-now-chests-out clothes-off-pose-off, he draws it like a murky, indistinct place of shadow and trouble. The titular (no pun intended, officer) “Bitch Planet” is an offworld prison for “non-compliant” women, ranging from crooks and killers to inconvenient spouses. Earth is under total patriarchal control, and violent league sports are a tool of population control, not just to keep them docile but also to keep them virile. (Reading this the day after Super Bowl Sunday is especially interesting; this comic is having its cake and eating it too, in that the people who say “sportsball” like it’s an original joke that they came up with themselves to show their disdain for sports can enjoy the portrayal of sports as an agent of control, while the comic still gets to tell an actual sports narrative of the team coming together and — I’d assume, anyway — making it to the big game.)

Kamao Kogo, the lead character, has a scar running through her lip and towards her cheek, like a string that she can yank to generate a sneer. Slit mouths is the kind of badass scar you don’t see associated with women often, if at all: you see it on guys like the Joker, or Joaquin Phoenix, or the Scottish guy on Sons of Anarchy, or my father under his beard. (Sledding accident.) Bitch Planet is full of little tricks like that, reversing the traditional “beautiful female protagonist” checklist by giving Kam a facial disfigurement, an unruly afro, a dark skin color. It’s obvious stuff, but right after saying “that’s so obvious” you realize no one’s actually doing it on a big stage, just in screencaps of their self-designed Dragon Age characters.

cop19

COPRA #19

By Michel Fiffe; published by Copra Press.

It’s back! When last we left the intrepid souls of the Copra force, they did a run of solo spotlight issues, filling in some of the blanks of the group’s histories and personalities — all the better to differentiate them as more than Hong Kong knockoffs of the Suicide Squad. Then came a gap, and now #19 is back to business, where Copra go up against Asesinos (i.e., the Marauders, the ultimate-badass X-Men villains of the 1980s, whose claim to fame was going into a sewer and slaughtering wholesale the homeless mutants who lived there).

It’s early going yet in this leg of the story, but the fallout from the first twelve issues is still settling: Changó (AKA Not Bronze Tiger) and Zoë (AKA Not Typhoid Mary) are the new conscripts for the Copra team, alongside mainstays like Wir, Gracie, and Castillo. This is already a promising start, and shows how far Michel Fiffe has come in just 18 issues: there is a world here, built up and continuously expanding, and I’m eager to see the map getting bigger and bigger. It reminds me of the better parts of Savage Dragon: Erik Larsen’s freedom to build up whatever plotline he wanted, from any direction he chose, meant that each weird little background character (like Changó and Zoë previously were) was important and worth noticing, because you never knew who’d end up getting promoted to featured-player status. And like the betters parts of Savage Dragon, it looks like Copra is heading for some serious violence.

dnd1THE DYING & THE DEAD #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman; illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim; colored by Michael Garland; published by Image Comics.

(Soundtrack changes to Psychic TV’s Temporary Temple.)

The Dying & the Dead #1 has, no fooling, 59 pages of content. I originally typed “59 pages of story,” but then thought better of it, because after 59 pages I still don’t really have much of a fucking clue what about this story took 59 pages to tell.

So let’s recap: a guy who looks like Martin Scorsese’s older brother marries a woman in 1969. On their wedding night, the woman’s twin sister and a bunch of Diabolik-masked assassins bust in and kill the guy, so that they can use his special ring to unlock a secret room full of samurai words, ancient scrolls, and Nazi memorabilia (albeit with the swastika reversed, and this is the sort of obnoxious comic where I can’t tell what’s a clue to the story and what’s just an art error). They take a box containing some kind of artifact, and the twin sister kills the woman who just got married, for whatever reason. Then we meet “the Colonel” (this is on page sixteen or so and I don’t think he’s actually addressed by a human name until at least page forty), an older man who’s keeping vigil over his deathly ill wife. He’s visited by an albino  in a white trenchcoat and hat, who is possibly only able to be seen by the Colonel. (Either that, or he’s a master of hiding from others by simply standing in a corner.) The albino promises to take the Colonel to meet “the Bishop,” who might be able to help with the whole dying-wife thing. Then we’re at Martin Scorsese’s funeral, and his brother, who I’m pretty sure is meant to be Michael Caine in the movie Pulp, uses his own special ring to unlock the secret room and discover the artifact, whatever it is, missing. The assassins return to Germany with the artifact and it turns out they’re all clones or something, and they present the artifact, the Bah al’Sharur, to their leader. (Because the “Bah al’Sharur” is not explained — as much as anything is explained here — until something like page fifty-eight, for a while I thought it was supposed to be the leader’s name.) The Colonel is driven out into the desert by the albino guy, who natters on and on in vague terms about choices, and life, and death. Then he’s met by the Second, advisor to the Bishop, who’s also an albino, but a young sort-of-goth woman. They get ferried to a magic-mushroom underground city where the laws of physics seem to half-apply, and which the Colonel insists he previously visited, when it was “burning,” which the Second says never happened. We are given no further explanation of the underground city. Then the Colonel meets the Bishop, who spends pages and pages telling him not to take the deal he’s offering, which is to get back the Bah al’Sharur in exchage for curing his wife of cancer. On the last page, the Colonel decides he’s taking the deal.

Boiled down to the massive paragraph above, it all seems pretty straightforward, but this semi-straightforward plot is wrapped up in layer upon layer of what i can really only describe as blather. Everyone in The Dying & the Dead just goes on and on and on, in the exact same vague tone, such that it’s possible to actually miss important plot details because they’re buried in a three-page conversation that only hits the important part in one panel. The old line in show business is that to perform, you tell the audience what you are about to do, you do it, and then you tell them it has been done. This is a comic where steps one and three are skipped. Hickman comics in general appeal to a certain set, the same way high-priced Swiss watches appeal to a certain set — tell me all you want about the intricately precise gears moving in exact formation, buddy, but it’s still just watch guts to my eyes.

sm32

SUPERMAN #32-37

“The Men of Tomorrow, Chapters One through Six” Written by Geoff Johns; penciled by John Romita Jr.; inked by Klaus Janson; colored by Laura Martin; published by DC Comics.

(Took a break from all this hard work reading comics to go shovel some snow. Now that I’m back, soundtrack jumps to Hype Williams’s One Nation.)

I don’t have a lot of in-depth commentary about this one, but it’s well-done. John Romita Jr. is the modern-day Jack Kirby in terms of his ability to convey power, motion, and awe-inspiring scope. Klaus Janson is a weird choice of inker, because he brings a lot of grit to a character and setting who don’t especially need it, but if the other choice is like, Danny Miki or whoever the fuck, then bring on Janson any day. Romita is clearly loving this gig, and so is Geoff Johns, who approaches the Superman cast of characters with the same reverence and love that Paul Jenkins used to show in a lot of his Peter Parker: Spider-Man stuff. The Last Son of Krypton takes on the Last Son of Earth here, and the storyline is nothing truly revolutionary, but it’s solid as a rock and gets in some good left-turns. If you need a New 52 Superman fix, it’s the best product a doctor can prescribe.

tnc1TOOTH & CLAW #1; THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #2

Written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Benjamin Dewey; colored by Jordie Bellaire; published by Image Comics.

And to think: for years, it seemed like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the most respectable plateau funny-animal comics could reach. But here we are, with scribe of note Kurt Busiek and interesting new artist Benjamin Dewey launching the talking dogs and owls’ gambit for a place on the shelf next to A Game of Thrones. I’m not the high-fantasy type, myself, but Busiek has laid out a world that’s easy to understand, and Dewey and Jordie Bellaire have made that easily-understood world also interesting to look at, so they already have a leg up on all the fantasy creators whose heads are crammed firmly up their own asses.

-LTZ

ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2015.01.23: Government Warning

sd

This past week I was sick in bed — “wearing two sets of clothes under three quilts in a heated room and still chattering my teeth from how cold I was” kind of sick — and decided to do something productive with the time off from work that my grotesque illness had gifted me. Failing that, I settled for trying to read Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon from the beginning, in as close to one sitting as I possibly could, give or take a couple spells where I passed out mid-story.

In around two days, I made it through a hundred issues — the halfway mark, or right around there, since Larsen just published Savage Dragon #201. It was around #100 that I had to tap out and abandon my scheme.

I used to read Savage Dragon for a while, back in college, when I took the money from my part time job and pretty much blew it all on comic books. I had the time and the desire, so I was adventurous to a fault — some of the stuff I bought, there’s no excuse for, it was just awful. I started Savage Dragon more or less on a whim, at #124, which was around when Erik Larsen started not just writing, penciling, and inking the comic, but also coloring and lettering it. #124 was also broken into a lot of little gag strips and grid-play, and to a kid in college who’d never read a copy of The Comics Journal, that kind of formalist experimentation inside a bizarro superhero book was exciting.

I ended up jumping off the Savage Dragon train, but I don’t even remember when. I think I just got tired of waiting three to six months between issues. Or maybe it was when I moved away and just never bothered to start up again after I relocated.

My point is, I was no Savage Dragon virgin when I started this little sickbed project. I’d become acquainted with its raison d’etre, which was in no uncertain terms: whatever Erik Larsen wanted to do that month. In the second issue I ever read of Savage Dragon, Larsen spent 20 pages doing a gag strip on the death of a villain who’d transformed into a fly — the same drawing of Dragon lying in a hospital bed, asleep, repeated for pages and pages as all that changed was a little dot and the word balloons. On top of that, there was also a Sin City parody and it ended with a weird little supervillain guy who was friends with Dragon’s stepdaughter unambiguously taking over the world.

That’s the best thing Savage Dragon has going for it, and the same quality I used to really enjoy in the early years of Robert Kirkman & Co.’s Invincible: the way that, unbeholden to the needs of brand synergy, the entire world of the comic can change unexpectedly, on a dime.

In the early years of Savage Dragon, Larsen mostly used this to try and subvert expectations of then-contemporary early-1990s superhero soap opera. In #7, Dragon gets butchered by the crime boss Overlord, and thrown off a skyscraper, landing on the spike of a smaller skyscraper. This is before we as readers know the extent of his healing powers, so for all intents and purposes, seven issues in, Larsen just casually murdered his own hero. Around a year later, Dragon is possessed by a villain, and his rampage is borderline apocalyptic. The inspiration is clearly rooted in one of Marvel’s favorite Hulk stories, where all the other heroes have to join forces to stand in the Green Goliath’s way, but in Savage Dragon, not only is it not enough, it virtually destroys a whole city and kills god knows how many people in the process.

Sometimes the effort to subvert superhero norms was just silly: #17 shipped with two versions of the contents, one of which had a softcore shower sex scene, for people who really wanted to see a green, fin-headed muscleman implicitly fingering his girlfriend. It also felt like a pregnancy storyline happened every year — no doubt justified as an attempt to bring “realism” into the micro-universe of Savage Dragon, by having one generation get old and spawn another (Dragon’s son and stepdaughter are the main characters of the title now, in 2015), but after a while it started to feel like Larsen was trying to finish off a preggo bingo card. (There’s also a character named “Rita Medermade,” which is unforgivable.)

Larsen’s fucking-around with the rules and conventions of 1990s superhero comics had charisma, though. There was a definite charm to his absurdly high-testosterone little world, where no man ever has hips more than half the width of their shoulders, and no woman is missing silicone implants. Larsen created or co-created a lot of the characters when he was a kid, and the book felt like that, in a good way — this was a child’s universe left unattended, to grow outward and upward like vines climbing up a wall.

Around #75, Larsen had the world blow up, and sent Dragon to a shameless rip of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth landscape. He eventually resolved it, but I don’t really remember how. It’s tempting to say that this was because the cold medicine and the illness itself were clogging my brain with snot, but really, once Savage Dragon drifted away from exploding the expected rules of superhero comics and into nostalgic homage territory, my interest seriously began to flag. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kamandi — so why would I want to read bootleg Kamandi, starring the Savage Dragon? I kept at it for another twenty-five issues, as the Kamandi stuff resolved and Dragon settled into a new status quo with his blonde bombshell super-wife, but Larsen became so restless and antic in developing the series as something more than just a super-hero book that it became exhausting to try and keep up with him — or maybe the comics themselves just seemed exhausted. Characters appeared and I had no idea who they were supposed to be or what they were supposed to be doing, and then they’d go away again, like toys being thrown aside. An issue was given over to Dragon and his new wife’s honeymoon, done as twenty-odd pages of three-panel gag strips. Another issue had Dragon dealing with a comic book company to lob unveiled jabs at other companies’ then-current marketing, and that’s around when I decided I couldn’t go on.

I love that Erik Larsen does whatever he wants, however he wants to do it, but cramming over ten years of it into two days was an overdose, even if it did show me the curve of his interests disappearing into and back out of his own navel.

crsCONAN / RED SONJA #1

“Part 1 of 4: The Age of Innocence” Written by Gail Simone and Jim Zub; illustrated by Dan Panosian; colored by Dave Stewart; published by Dark Horse Comics.

I love old Conan and Red Sonja comics, but if you ever asked me to recite to you a storyline from any of them, I’d probably just stand there struggling well past the point of embarrassment. Half the time, when I look at those old stories, I don’t even read the words: I just take in the art, great old John Buscema or Frank Thorne bits where every line felt like a proper piece of the same strange world being created inside the panel borders.

That’s the same kind of vibe I get from Conan / Red Sonja, where the story in the first issue is something about the young Conan meeting the young Sonja for the first time, and they fight but part as whatever. My eyes kept drifting away from the captions, and that’s not because Simone and Zub did a bad job, but just because who in the modern world can distract the eye from Dan Panosian artwork? This doesn’t even look like his A-game — backgrounds conspicuously disappear from a good number of the book’s later pages — but even then, it’s so far beyond what you’d expect from a 2015 swords-and-loincloths comic that I can’t get past just gawking at it. Panosian’s artwork in the current century has an off-kilter charm, like a handsome but lazy smile, that combines seemingly off-the-cuff expressiveness with the consistency of rigorous draftsmanship. I still need to get his French faux-James-Bond stuff — at this point I’m about ready to go to Amazon.fr. After all, I guess it won’t really matter if I don’t know what the words mean…

-LTZ

ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2015.01.09: Wonderful to Watch People

nt6

I bought a gigantic collection of New Warriors comics around the end of 2014. It wasn’t just New Warriors #1-75, it was all of the solo spin-off series, the mini-series, the key appearances… whoever put this together was clearly a completist, and I got the fruit of their labor for a song.

I’m reading through them in more or less chronological order, with the assistance of some fan site’s continuity-tracking annotations. I’m now deep in 1993, when New Warriors split off two solo books: Nova and Night Thrasher. All of these were written by Fabian Nicieza, late of New 52 DC stuff, and he was all geared up to tackle topical issues: there’s a two-part New Warriors story where they more or less invade a fictional version of Kuwait to try to end a civil war (and then go on a fictional version of MTV afterwards to talk about it), and the second issue of Nova is indirectly about the U.S. Navy Tailhook rape scandal.

In one sitting, I think I encountered five stories in a row where a group of people were about to riot or fight each other over some grounds or another — racial, religious, that merry Marvel mainstay anti-mutant, whatever. In each of those stories, the hero stands in the center of the crowd or flies above them, screaming at them that fighting is not the answer to whatever their problems are. These scenes all come from the same writer, so by and large they all have the same sanctimonious voice, and they generally come after a display of flashy violence from the heroes, who deliver their sermons with exasperated, vein-throbbing rage.

My favorite example of this is Night Thrasher #6, a story whose full title is “WHITE FACE / BLACK FACE / RED FACE: FACE VALUE: STOP THE HATE.”

I don’t really know how to describe this comic book other than saying “it’s like if Benjamin Marra traveled back in time but left his sense of irony and artistic appropriation in the present day.” The plot of the comic is fairly simple: in New York City, racial attacks (strictly involving whites and blacks) are locked in a cycle of retaliation. Night Thrasher, a black man born wealthy and accustomed to penthouse living, and his teammate Rage, a lower-class teenager in the body of a roided-out adult, watch the events unfold on TV and eventually go out to try to quell a riot in Alphabet City.

One of the rioters shoots a cop, and then it all goes haywire. There’s some fighting. Finally, Night Thrasher and Rage grab a black rioter and a white rioter, separate them from the group, and tell them to fight mano a mano. The two individuals they grabbed are confused and irritated by this, and decline to fight, because they don’t know each other and have nothing to fight about. Night Thrasher says something like “YEAH, EXACTLY.”

Dispirited by this, all of the rioters go home.

The story ends with a group of black youths attacking a Hasidic Jew, and with Night Thrasher and Rage lunge back out into the night, like the end of Batman Forever or something.

“WHITE FACE / BLACK FACE / RED FACE: FACE VALUE: STOP THE HATE” is a genuinely baffling story in a lot of ways. You can kind of intuit the meaning, but it seems determined on “telling it like it is” and “not giving things an easy answer,” which is a bum note to go out on after it went to such preposterous lengths to show the readers the futility of a race riot. It’s also drawn horribly by Karl Bollers, who was literally still in college when this got published. That doesn’t help.

All the same, it was a very different reading experience for me compared to the current crop of superhero comics, because while it didn’t really say anything of use, it was determined to engage with an issue of the day, and not even in an allegorical way. I can’t think of the last big-two superhero comic I read that tried to do that, badly or otherwise. I think I honestly prefer the old way, because even if Night Thrasher #6 was a clumsy fuckup of a comic, it might accidentally say something to me about my life outside the comic book store.


4314441-terminalhero05-cov-lee-77328TERMINAL HERO #5

Written by Peter Milligan; illustrated by Piotr Kowalski; colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick; published by Dynamite Entertainment.

“Rory! I’ve been jerking off over porn for the last ten hours. You’ll probably need to call the maid to clean up.” So spoken by a tumor-man standing in for all of the bad impulses of a human being, cock in hand as the TV shows footage of gory death. And you say this Terminal Hero is only six issues?

This is Peter Milligan’s most fucked-up work since The Eaters, and I mean that as nothing but a compliment. Our hero has been given a staggering power over just about everything, and now has to grapple with all of his impure instincts — becoming stronger than God has revealed what a weak man he truly is. By #5, he’s faked his own death to avoid conscription by British Intelligence, which didn’t work. They’ve sent him after two young people with powers like his, to terminate them with extreme prejudice (loose cannons, you see). Like Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewarts’s Seaguy, when you break down the plot of Terminal Hero, it all seems staggeringly normal when you spell it out plainly. The meat of it comes in the horrific stuff this basic plot has been dressed up in. Incest, drugs, prostitution, pedophilia, self-harm, identity theft, terrorism, thong underwear, morbid obesity… this one’s got it all, true believers!

Piotr Kowalski is like this generation’s Steve Dillon: he roots everything in believable character acting, and his people aren’t especially pretty or handsome usually — in fact, Kowalski’s worlds are sometimes downright plain. That works in his favor on a series like Terminal Hero, though, where there’s a sense of something very vile and wrong invading the real world. Simon Bisley drawing this book would turn it into silly overkill, but with Kowalski, a tumor-man pounding off to Faces of Death doesn’t look like part of the work, it looks like something else that entered the page when we weren’t looking, an idea that isn’t supposed to be there.

4305618-xmen2013023_dc11-0

X-MEN #23

“The Burning World, Part One” Written by G. Willow Wilson; penciled by Roland Boschi; inked by Jay Leisten; colored by Lee Loughridge; published by Marvel Comics.

This is a competently created X-Men comic steered by people who appear to have genuine affection for the characters, the setting, the personalities, and so on. The Earth itself seems to be rebelling against the X-Men, and against weather-manipulator Storm in particular. That’s all well and good, and it’s a first chapter, so it’s all set-up, stacking the dominos so that they can be gently tapped later.

No, what warrants this issue’s inclusion in Advice to Young Girls is the early scene of Gambit, at Burning Man or whatever, trying to mack on bikini babes by offering them a “chakra massage.” That’s what he does when he’s not doing X-Men stuff, now, I guess! I approve of this character development and I look forward to many, many more “Gambit trying to hit on girls in bikinis at summer festivals” antics in the decades to come.

-LTZ

ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2015.01.02: Get That

powri

It’s 2015 now and my New Year’s Resolution is to not buy any comics that I already know are going to suck. It’s a terrible thing, my job: all these comics are virtually wholesale price so I don’t think anything of buying some piece of garbage because, hey, it’s so much cheaper than if I was buying it somewhere else! So that’s how I end up with, say, a complete set of Furious, a comic so thoroughly lame and blah that I could not even pawn off on eBay for 99 cents (for the set).

The comics actually reviewed this week are both components in that decision, although only one of them provoked actual “Ooh, is this going to be worth the money, I bet not” dread in me. The other was just a gamble. The fact is, I’ve been buying too many comics that I think will be junk. Sometimes it turns out okay: I read the last seven issues of Justice League last night, and while it’s not a High Art Novel or anything remotely close, it had some good art from Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke and a couple okay one-liners. (I liked Niles Caulder as an abusive asshole right from the start, declaring himself the Doom Patrol’s “Life Counselor,” and the mirror dynamic of Power Ring, where the ring has its own will and feeds off of making the wearer afraid, is a fun idea even if I don’t think it has a ton of mileage.)

On the other hand, I also picked up the first three issues of Tony Daniel’s Deathstroke. I have a weird thing with Tony Daniel. As a kid, I loved his art on X-Force (X-Force was one of the maybe… three comics I had reliable newsstand access to). And he’s a really nice guy in person, for whatever that’s worth. I always find myself trying the first issue or two of his projects, even if I don’t think I’m going to get much out of it. And this Deathstroke thing, man…

I was talking to someone else about it, who insisted that the comic was “mostly good, with some rough spots.” I replied something like: “Yeah. This might have been a good comic if I had any goddamn idea what was going on or who any of the characters were or why any of them were in this. So it just has those minor hurdles of clarity to overcome.” That’s my official Advice to Young Girls review of Deathstroke, right there. More importantly: I spent money on those comics! Why?

In Brian Nicholson’s Comics Journal review of Copra, he describes a certain kind of comics reader “whose ideal comics reading experience is paying fifty cents apiece for old Norm Breyfogle comics, and who feel as if the stories and scripting mostly just get in the way.” I fear I’m becoming one of those people. Some of the most exciting comics purchases for me lately have been slapping together a complete run of John Ostrander’s Firestorm for peanuts, or Mike W. Barr’s Mantra, or Ann Nocenti’s Typhoid stuff from Marvel Comics Presents that I haven’t read in, gosh, at least two years.

Here’s the thing with those Mantra comics: I bet most of them suck! Maybe even all of them. I also bought a complete run of Doug Moench’s Spectre series because I thought, for some insane reason, that I was buying a complete run of Ostrander’s. I’m almost certain that these Spectre comics will be total trash, and probably not even in a fun way. (Tom Artis drawing the Spectre, who the fuck engineered that match-up?) When they only cost something like a dime apiece, though, it’s a lot easier to just read them and then recycle them, either via eBay or via bin. I’m excited about disposable comics, ones where there’s no set of expectations rooted in the auteur theory, ones where I don’t have to think at all about whether I’m actually getting my money’s worth in terms of the overall package being published, ones where I don’t feel like I have to read them to keep up with what the smart and pretend-smart people are into (I still haven’t read that Gold Pollen and Other Stories book, despite it being I think literally two feet from my left hand right now).

2015: Let’s Get Excited About Things We Can Throw In The Trash.

anmmaALL NEW MIRACLEMAN ANNUAL #1

“The Priest & the Dragon: The October Incident: 1966” Written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Joe Quesada; colored by Richard Isanove; published by Marvel Comics.

When was this written, 1984? Something like that, right? The big deal about the Miracleman Annual is that it’s got a short story scripted by Grant Morrison, slated for Warrior but never actually published, and apparently a figure in the Alan Moore/Grant Morrison beef that’s just too tiresome for me to even store in my memory. So here, thirty years later, it’s published!

It’s painfully undergraduate work, this. There is no point to this story. There’s no question asked or answered beyond a young fan saying “Oooh, wouldn’t it be wicked if…?” In a world where the Original Sin crossover revealed that at some point, off-camera, every single Marvel superhero has committed a rape, a priest being nuked by lightning is so non-scandalous that it’s laughable. In 1984, it probably would have triggered boycotts. There’s nothing in-depth to say about this, because there’s nothing there.

Plus, the story is drawn by Joe Quesada, so everyone looks like the ugly puppets from that one fucking Genesis video.

sh

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

“Perfect Bullets” Written by Mark Waid; penciled by Carlos Pacheco; inked by Mariano Taibo and Jason Paz; colored by Dono Almara; published by Marvel Comics.

This is an attempt to fold the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show cast into the Marvel Universe proper, by having Mark Waid team them with different heroes (and different artists) every issue. In the first, Carlos Pacheco draws a story that’s not so much a “team-up” (virtually every major Marvel appears in at least a background cameo) but more in the way of laying out to us non-TV-show people exactly why Phil Coulson is a character worth caring about. Waid’s usually pretty good at that, but here… I don’t know. And I’m shifting into the “I” here, rather than some sort of absolute declaration, because I think where this book misses for me is a personal thing.

First, though: let’s ask what the hell happened to Carlos Pacheco. Ten years ago, this guy was amazing. That JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice graphic novel he did? That was amazing stuff. He just seems to be falling further and further away from the mark. His characters all have these impossible, Alan-Davis-y bodies now (and Alan Davis does it well, but Pacheco not so much, at least not lately), and their faces all make them look like they have mental birth defects. I don’t get it. This guy is good, or at least can be good, so what happened? On things like Ultimate Comics Avengers, I thought it was just his inker, but I don’t know anymore, I really don’t.

Anyway, the story is about Coulson being able to save the day because he’s spent his entire life memorizing the most ridiculously small superhero trivia. The story shows him throughout his life, making his own catalogue of strange little superhero facts and connections, and then in the present-day of the story he has this fucking ridiculous line about how he’s badass because he’s the guy ‘who knows exactly how to mix and match people’s powers’ or something and that was the point where I stopped reading too closely because what the fuck is that? In the real world, Phil Coulson would be making gifs on his dum-dum Tumblr and reposting other people’s essays whose thesis statements read like “it’s not wasting your life watching TV if you’re ANALYZING it, MOM.” It sort of makes me sad because I probably would have thought Coulson in this comic was a badass, a nerd badass, when I was 11 but now I’m almost 30 and I just read it and wonder why we need another navel-gazing “you know how cool the Marvel Universe is? So cool that a cool guy like Phil Cool-son is totally enamored with it, and it makes him a SHIELD super-guy, and that’s pretty cool” character who’s fanboying or fangirling over stuff. I think we reached critical mass on that with the back half of Geoff Johns’s JSA run where the young characters were getting into slap-fights over who got to kiss Jay Garrick right on his geriatric mouth.

Is there anything worse than comics about other comics? Yes, and stuff like this is probably it, where the closest thing to a moral (since the ending was just a bunch of superheroes ganging up on a bad guy) is that you should read more superhero comics.

-LTZ

ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2014.12.14: We Will Assist You

swj

I spent a while this week reading Mark Gruenwald’s 12-issue engagement on Marvel’s Spider-Woman comic, #9 through #20. I’m a Gruenwald fan since way back; his Captain America run from the 1980s and the early 1990s was something I doggedly tried (and utterly failed) to collect all of when I was a child, especially the stretch where Steve Rogers quit being Captain America and the Reagan administration hired a replacement who turned out to be a crazy steroid freak. Gruenwald was the editorial voice who, pre-wikis, assembled the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe. He clearly lived for shared-universe superhero comics, until he died, which was in 1996. His ashes were mixed into a printing of Squadron Supreme, his 1980s fable of “what if superheroes acted like real people would and took over the world?” which indirectly inspired stuff like The Authority and directly inspired stuff like everything Geoff Johns has ever fucking written.

I don’t think Spider-Woman was Gruenwald’s first comics writing assignment, but it might have been his first stint as an ongoing writer (not far into Spider-Woman, he also took over the better-remembered Marvel Two-in-One, where he wrote the now-famous-if-you’re-into-that-sort-of-thing “Project Pegasus” storyline). He was joined by Carmine Infantino on pencils. Infantino was a decades-deep veteran of the biz, who drew the first Silver Age Flash story — AKA the first Silver Age story, period. By this point, in the late 1970s, Infantino had already been the editorial director of Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, and went back to freelancing after he was replaced by Jenette Kahn. He was only at Marvel for a few years, but spent his time on this and some comic no one’s ever heard of called Star Wars.

swc

Infantino had been drawing Spider-Woman since #1, and a lot of the modern depictions of the character are rooted in his work. What that means is: any time you see a panel of Spider-Woman gliding through the air in an awkward, rigid, faintly Ditko-esque position, her hair slicking behind her like a wet whip, with all invisible arrows pointing directly at her bright red ass, that comes from Infantino. (He was also fond of highlighting the dramatic slopes of her breasts, which at times looked sharp enough to break rocks on. Modern portrayals prefer a more supernaturally round rendition; Frank Cho takes home the no-prize for drawing a scene of Spider-Woman being operated on in New Avengers, where a pair of silicone bags sat on one of the doctors’ trays.)

The dramatic curves of Infantino’s Spider-Woman were offset by a multitude of jagged points: her eyepieces, her web-wings, her hair, her jutting chin, her feet and knees and elbows… the whole package sits together uneasily, obviously intended to be sexy, but in a stilted, bizarre way as opposed to conventional stiff-nipped back-arching. In her civilian guise, Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman is prone to sitting at home watching TV with her robe open to her waist, but she keeps her hair done up in a style that, from panel to panel, resembles Princess Leia, Kitty from That 70’s Show, and/or someone playing a governess in made-for-television adaptation of some 19th-century novel or other.

Depending on the inker, Infantino’s weird-sexy tendencies were either left as-is to shout at the reader in big fat bold lines (Al Gordon), or tamped down into a thin-lined style that made the art look like something chintzy from a low-budgeted Charlton comic (Mike Esposito).

(On the art front: unrelated to any of the above points, Bill Sienkiewicz and Joe Rubenstein have a great cover on #16.)

sww

Spider-Woman’s original origin story was that she was a literal spider who was “evolved” into human form, but this was deemed too preposterous and unrealistic for a superhero universe full of shit like the Hulk. Instead, she was a victim of uranium poisoning who was put into stasis for decades, and revived in the modern day by terrorist organization HYDRA, who monkeyed around with her and infused her with “spider blood,” which is less preposterous. Gruenwald played with this in his stories as a gradually unfolding revelation that part of Spider-Woman’s power set is “spider pheromones,” that attract men and repel women (broadly speaking, and without nuance for gender identity/sexuality, because this is still Comics Code Approved, come on).

Until this is revealed, we’re treated to scene after scene of Jessica Drew botching even the most basic social situations. She walks into a party, and everyone immediately picks up on her creepy vibe. Women barely even look away from her to talk trash. This is the source of considerable internalized angst, in the form of superheroic thought-balloon monologues, but just like the art, there’s something “off” about the traditional form here. Until the pheromone explanation, there’s no explanation at all. Even Spider-Man had the easy out for why people wouldn’t like him: because Peter Parker was a nerd. Spider-Woman is a sexy young woman with no obvious weirdness in any of her interests or social pursuits — so the world’s cruelty to her is both unsparing and bizarre.

Strangeness is woven into Gruenwald and Infantino’s Spider-Woman comics. This isn’t Michael DeForge level abject weirdness. For all of its unconventional choices, it’s still a very traditionally formatted late-1970s superhero comic book, where the hero’s problems almost always boil down to a villain who needs to be punched. It’s in the smaller details within that broad pattern that Spider-Woman’s differences show out. In #16, the issue with the Sienkiewicz cover, Spider-Woman faces off against Nekra, an albino mutant villainess in a vampire bikini who can convert her own emotional hatred into physical strength (and she is very strong). Nekra is behind an L.A. pop-psychology wellness center where Jessica Drew is attending group classes to try to fix her debilitating social awkwardness, and that’s point one: this is a super-hero who attends group classes at an L.A. pop-psychology wellness center, like some kind of Paul Mazursky character! Point two is Gruenwald’s “well, how would that really work” tendency coming out again, when it’s revealed that Nekra was kept contained by the authorities by drugging her into an emotionally vacant stupor.

swn

Point three is their actual fight, where the two woman battle in a ferocious fight that
resembles, in passing, the trailer fight between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill — and in this 1970s Comics Code Approved Marvel superhero comic book, the gorgeous female lead walks away with a busted lip and an eye swollen shut, only able to save the day by sitting on Nekra’s back and ramming her head into the floor again and again, screaming “DAMN YOU!”

None of this is very salacious at all in 2014, but to see it all wrapped in the four-color package of a 1970s Marvel book is — well, weird. The issue described above ends with Spider-Woman breaking up with her boyfriend, a SHIELD agent who openly struggles with feeling emasculated by his superhero girlfriend rescuing him from trouble, rather than vice versa. There’s no dramatic blow-out, just two people not really in love anymore who go their separate ways, almost like real humans might.

In the last issue of Gruenwald’s run, #20 (Infantino left after #19), Spider-Woman is fired from her job and — in a fit of pique — uses her powers to break into the company’s safe and steal back wages she feels she’s owed. Spider-Man, visiting from New York on a work trip, spots her breaking back into the safe to put it back in her shame, and of course misreads the situation. They fight, as they must. At one point Spider-Woman is flying, and Spider-Man is hanging from her boot by a web-line — and her boot slips off her foot.

I mentioned earlier that this was probably Gruenwald’s first ongoing gig as a writer, and a lot of the small, weird details of his work read like an adult superhero fan’s laundry list of “How come THIS never happens…?” Things like the boot coming off (less than ten years before Dollar Bill’s cape does him in), a man who struggles with his girlfriend being the stronger and more capable one of the two, and stealing the money: Gruenwald was the sort of writer who thought, “well, if a real person faced this situation, what sort of temptations would they have, if they had the power to act on their fantasies…?”

Gruenwald and Infantino’s Spider-Woman is by no means a lost classic. But it’s interesting, and being interesting is more than anyone can say about most of these things.

Shutter_07-1_300_462SHUTTER #7

Written by Joe Keatinge; illustrated by Leila del Duca; colored by Owen Gieni; published by Image Comics.

In my mind, I always want to classify Shutter as “Baby Saga,” or at the very least “Saga‘s Country Cousin.” I talked a bit about it in my big round-up of my pull-list a month or so ago, and now that Shutter‘s returned from its hiatus, my feelings on its Saga-ness remain unchanged. This isn’t to say that Shutter has none of its own individual charm. If the broad strokes are very Saga — funny animals, retro-futurism, “quirky” dialogue, etc. — the fine details are their own. Saga honestly doesn’t have room for any beats that aren’t immediately and exclusively character-advancing in a more traditional structure (even if they’re minor characters like that pile of mossy garbage who deals drugs or whatever), while Shutter seems more willing to just go off on weird tangents to achieve those same goals, like the issue that started with the cute animal assassin killing himself, or the history of the skeleton butler.

Put next to the Spider-Woman stuff I rambled about above, Shutter fits in: it’s two young creative people taking an established structure (and by now, “quirky-humor progressive-values action-adventure book probably from Image” feels like it has its own established structure to work from) and filling it with the stuff that they wondered about or wanted to see. The structure isn’t as ossified and traditional as the superhero comics Spider-Woman writhed around within, so the shift isn’t as immediately apparent. Still, Keatinge and del Duca hit all of the expected “cute animal runs around with a chainsaw screaming MOTHERFUCKERS while a child tells them not to swear” panels that will probably make Tumblr cream, but also work in issues like an eight-year-old boy being pressed by circumstances to commit murder and watch as people (well, robots) are murdered right next to him, all because he was basically kidnapped by his older half-sister who is acting increasingly, desperately flat-out nutso as the series progresses. This is a wacky comic with talking lady foxes and gun-dragons but it carries around a significant amount of pain and trauma and (implied and explicit) abuse, something that comes through in the way del Duca’s art — even at its most whimsical — always seems agitated and on edge.

LTZ

ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2014.11.28: Beautiful Spots

Borgias

Somehow I only just now noticed that over at Deep Space Transmissions there’s a complete set of scans of Grant Morrison’s old Drivel column from Speakeasy magazine. I’d heard of these before, mentioned more as footnotes than anything else (until the point where they came into play during the recent revival of Morrison/Alan Moore hostilities). The whispers I’d heard were just that this was back before Grant Morrison was G-R-A-N-T-M-O-R-R-I-S-O-N — back when he was just another Young British Comics Writer who’d chanced into big pre-sales with Arkham Asylum, and had no agenda but self-promotion.

That’s more or less borne out by the text, so no interesting reinterpretations of history here, sorry. Most of the early columns are Grant moaning about having to go to comic book conventions in a professional capacity, which is fair enough. I find cons pretty fun, usually, but I’m not glued to a table the whole time, worrying about whether I’m breaking even. Or worse, dealing with guys like… one time I was in line to request a sketch from Ivan Reis, the DC artist, and the guy in front of me, this big broad guy who talked like Glenn Frey, was telling me about how he’d worked out a deal with Joe Prado for some big intricate expensive commission (he was bragging, he was very much bragging) and it was going to be of Mera and it was going to be a “really fucking HOT picture of Mera, too, I want a HOT Mera.” So, yes, I can empathize with the Golden Age Grant on that one.

He also shamelessly name-drops what records he’s listening to at the time of writing, which is a good idea: Powell’s DJ-set tape from the Diagonal Records Reel Torque Volume 7 set of live cassettes.

The first half of the Drivel run is that sort of stuff: “awh, I went to a convention, it was bollocks, there’s a new Television Personalities record out, and I went to a Charles Burns book signing party and it was a sad affair, but then, I never leave the house, being a comics weirdo type myself.” That’s me paraphrasing, and you can tell because it’s playing in your head in Ewan McGregor’s voice and not Grant Morrison’s.

The second half is post-Arkham Asylum, which means that it’s after Morrison became an overnight sensation and — let’s not forget — very fucking rich. He becomes bolder, more assured, more G-R-A-N-T than “aw shucks well.” He insists that it was a satirical, Morrissey-esque put-on of a persona, but where there’s smoke… Money changes everything, including liberating one to follow one’s passions, which in this case include publicly calling out anyone who looks at you funny. When Fantagraphics declined to print The New Adventures of Hitler despite having already published material like Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss, we get Grant-on-Groth:

drivel

This is followed by a thorough reaming of Frank Thorne, more or less just for existing and being a dirty old coot.

And then, a couple issues later, he asks us all to erase the whole ugly incident from memory. And then, a paragraph later, attacks the Fantagraphics Eros line for two straight pages! I can’t even think of a blogger who’d do that now. Or, if they did, a blogger who anyone would care about should they do so. In #119, the final issue of Speakeasy, Morrison signs off: “Grant the Cunt.”

ODY-C #1ODYC

Written by Matt Fraction; illustrated by Christian Ward; published by Image Comics.

There’s trying hard at what you’re doing, which is good and what everyone should do. Then there’s conspicuously trying hard and making sure everyone sees that you’re trying hard, which is far less noble and often more annoying. And then there’s the opening gatefold poster section of ODY-C #1, which on the one side is a panoramic poster of a first panel, and on the other side is an ungodly screed of invented history, like an infographic having an aneurysm. The fact that this is the first thing in the comic all but guarantees I’m probably never going to read it. If it had been at the end, or even in the middle, I probably would have at least started, because by then the story would be in motion and I would have had a chance to get into the characters a bit and want to learn more about their world, their history, blah blah blah. Having all of that… stuff being one of the first things a reader sees leaves an impression, though, and in my case not a great one.

It’s a neat idea — a cosmic, gender-switched space-opera Odyssey — and the art by Christian Ward is delirious and fantastic. But Fraction’s end of the process lags and spurts. The faux-epic-poem narration is already grating on me and who knows how many more issues are planned for this thing. I went to a high school where courses in Latin were mandatory; this isn’t a novelty or an innovation to me, just a guy who really seems to want us to know how hard he’s trying. And I get that, and I commend it: they certainly tried hard on this comic. And Fraction’s succeeded in informing me of that. But anything past that, who the fuck knows. Jury’s out.

BorgTHE BORGIAS

Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky; illustrated by Milo Manara; translated by Katie LaBarbera; published by Dark Horse Comics.

Have you ever seen the Alex Cox film, Walker? It’s about the American filibuster who conquered Nicaragua for a year back in the 19th century. It starts off normal enough, for a movie about Ed Harris conquering Nicaragua, and then ends in complete hysteria, totally departed from history, with cannibalism, Black Hawk helicopters dropping in, the stagecraft of movie mutilation intentionally exposed… and so it is with this Borgias book, to an extent. I expected something a bit Game of Thrones-y, minus the magic ravens and all that. Power, politics, incest and gory death… well, to be fair to myself, that’s all in there, but I got the quantities wrong in the equation.

The jacket of the book announces that the Borgias were the first Mafia family, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any Mafia story that goes as far into lunacy as this one does. We begin with Pope Innocent VIII, turned into a toothless, hollow-eyed shell by cancer, receiving the blood of two young boys until they die, sucking milk from a new mother’s breasts, and having said mother’s baby thrown to the dogs. This is a minor set of sins compared to what comes along after, when Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into becoming Pope Alexander VI.

Some of the stuff in The Borgias has root in, if not historical fact, at least historical rumor. It’s whispered that Innocent VIII did in fact receive the first known blood transfusion, but the point of that anecdote seems more that it’s an anti-Semitic slight to his Jewish doctor. It’s rumored that Cesare Borgia had his younger brother Giovanni murdered, which Jodorowsky and Manara turn into a definite, as one of Cesare’s men stabs Giovanni while he’s cruising for sexy young men at the banks of the Tiber. All of history is made seedy and bizarre: King Charles VIII of France is rendered as a deformed hunchback, who dies from being lured into an active volcano (whereas in real life, he died from — wait for it — accidentally bumping his head too hard). Everyone is a crass, homophobic, misogynistic pervert, and none moreso than the vain, cruel Borgias, for whom every social affair is occasion for orgy.

In the final chapter, history is discarded entirely. Lucrezia Borgia — in our world, mother to at least eight children — dies in the birth of her first child, a two-headed monstrosity with one face that looks like her brother, and one like her father. Leonardo da Vinci is summoned by Cesare Borgia, who holds his homosexual brother in the most vile contempt and yet sways da Vinci to create war machines for him by offering his body quite willingly. This is history in the tradition of films like Walker, or Caligula, or Salon Kitty: excitement over facts, and none more exciting than sin and cum and piss.

The point of it all, though… that’s a bit harder to grasp. Milo Manara, one of the greatest living illustrators, makes The Borgias look more grand and resplendent than any Hollywood production could ever afford. The pages are soaked in luxury and eroticism — even the Borgias’ trumpet-blowers have visible bulges in their colorful, finely detailed leggings. In his introduction to the tome, Jodorowsky lays bare his mindset: “Today, the Borgias have been replaced by oil mafias, pharmaceutical industry multinationals, drug cartels, and greedy bankers.” Is it then meant to be an inspirational tract? ‘In time, these too shall pass, dead of their own hubris…’ But that feels like an assumption, or a leap of faith, because all that I have in front of me is The Borgias: a gorgeously rendered catalogue of horror, any moral seemingly lost under waves of thrilling, wicked sensation.

LTZ

ADVICE TO YOUNG GIRLS 2014.11.21: Vile at Heart

bato

So I looked at Twitter this morning because I was trying to come up with a Hot Take on something or other to do with comics, and it took a good long while of scrolling to reach a tweet that had anything to do with comics — and even then, it was just Peter Milligan saying “UKIP, eh? Bloody hell.” This morning cast into stark relief just how divorced I am from the comic book news cycle.

Back when I first got Twitter, I decided I would cap the number of people I followed at 300. After a while, that got annoying, the signal-to-noise ratio was out of whack. So I cut out 100 of them. Then, later, it was still out of whack, so I cut another 100. The people who were first to go were the people (comic creators, musicians, etc.) who used Twitter as hype tools. (I love Mike Allred, but I don’t need to see a retweet of every nice thing anyone has ever said about his work.) Now I find Twitter much more useful and readable, but it also means that I don’t have a lot of comic book news-and-views cropping up.

I look at Bleeding Cool maybe once every few days. I read Jog’s the-week-in-new-releases column at TCJ, Abhay Khosla’s Tumblr, and Paul O’Brien’s X-Axis reviews. I listen to Comic Books Are Burning in Hell. I’m trying to think of what other dedicated news sources I keep on my radar for regular checking, and that’s really it. (Not conveyed in this format is how I stopped writing for like fifteen minutes just to sit and think about this.) Now, with my job, I should probably be a lot more plugged-in, but the reward for doing so seems minimal. “ANOTHER MARVEL TEASER THAT SAYS LITERALLY NOTHING — WHAT COULD IT MEAN?” Who gives a fuck?

The only “comic book world issues” this past week that come to mind (with zero research) are the fact that Pax Americana finally came out, which is covered below, and the Spider-Woman #1 Milo Manara Giant Red Ass Variant. People were paying $150 on eBay in pre-sales for those things. In two years, they’ll be worth thirty bucks. The return of speculators to comics just gets more and more astonishing every week: literally going from “coincidental panel that people can willfully misinterpret as an X-23 cameo” to “big red ass cover.” At least the first one almost required half a thought.

paxaTHE MULTIVERSITY: PAX AMERICANA #1

“In Which We Burn” Written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Frank Quitely; colored by Nathan Fairbarn; published by DC Comics.

The discourse is flying on this one, thick and furious, and while I might be a dum-dum I’m at least smart enough to know when I can’t compete — I’ll cede this stage to the old Barbelith posters. Suffice it to say, I’ve been waiting two years for this, ever since I saw the pages of Peacemaker assassinating the President — in reverse! — at MorrisonCon, which was a thing that really happened and that I really blew a whole tax return on attending.

But let me just get this one shot in. Grant Morrison has spent years now trying to make the point that the post-Watchmen “deconstruction” approach to superhero comics is an emotionally-gelded dead end. Here, in half a page, with the invaluable help of Quitely and a strong boost from Fairbarn, he finally nails it. Just beautiful.

paxam

TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONEtte1

“Earth One” Written by Jeff Lemire; penciled by Terry Dodson; inked by Rachel Dodson and Cam Smith; colored by Brad Anderson; published by DC Comics.

Some things seem too good to be true, and when things seem like that, they usually are. Case in point: a hundred-plus pages of new interior art by the Dodsons. Teen Titans: Earth One is the latest cargo drop by DC’s original-graphic-novel initiative, wherein each title takes place in a universe free of any other corporate brand’s influence. (Common question: “So do Superman: Earth One and Batman: Earth One take place on the same Earth…?” The answer is “no, they just picked a bad gimmick name for these products.”)

Since the original Teen Titans were literally just a gathering of assorted sidekicks, the focus here are the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans characters, like Cyborg, Raven, Terra… characters who don’t need a relationship with an existing hero to make sense. These characters are drawn together by a mysterious bond which reads like the precise mixture of old Gen13 comics (not a compliment) and a bland young adult novel franchise cravenly begging for a film adaptation (also not a compliment). These characters have “personalities” only in the vaguest sense, and the emotional beats of the story are so transparent that the characters’ word balloons might as well just contain commands to the reader: “This is where you’re supposed to sympathize with our plight. Or empathize, or whatever.”

The Dodsons’ usual style — sleek and gleaming, with exaggerated body shapes and no small dose of cheesecake posing — is gone here, replaced by a looser, more “cartoony” vibe. The only other artist I’ve seen do such a radical shift in their superhero work on zero notice was the time Ian “A Million Tiny Lines” Churchill did a Hulk storyline as Fake Darwyn Cooke. Here, the Dodsons look like they’ve been drinking in the work of Cameron Stewart, but the styles don’t mesh well: Terra, for example, has a round little toon-y head but her features are still “very Dodson,” and she just ends up looking like a baby, or a chipmunk, or both. The facial acting is all over the place, too, but part of why that rings hollow is because the dialogue frankly sucks, and that’s not the Dodsons’ fault.

No matter what Pax Americana was going to be, I would have bought it, because it’s Morrison and Quitely. I bought Teen Titans: Earth One just because Terry and Rachel Dodson were working on it, without looking at any previews or interior pages. Just goes to show you, sometimes you can’t just go in blind.

LTZ