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.)
BITCH 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.
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.
THE 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.
“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.
TOOTH & 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.