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The Abysmal Baptismal

On the Eve of New Year’s Eve 2016

2016 has been a stone-cold bitch. Like Sisyphus rolling that goddamn boulder uphill, 2016 rewarded our years of struggle by kicking that boulder right back down, Temple of Doom-style, just as we were on the cusp of something truly momentous. Our hope was crushed as white male privilege and internalized misogyny danced around the bonfire of our basic human rights. But rather than despair, we rose like a motherfucking phoenix. Our complacency was shaken. Our political activism was reignited. And we raised our fists to the sky in unity and with purpose. Because how fucking DARE you.

2016 also took from us countless pop culture icons who inspired and empowered us. But rather than mourn, we must celebrate their legacy, carry it like a torch, and suit up. Because it’s our turn.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy

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Jessica Valenti (October 29, 2016)

 

 

By the Power of Grayskull!

Oh, MAN, you guys. I wasn’t even paying ATTENTION and therefore had NO IDEA that DC Comics was re-launching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe! BUT THEY ARE! AND THEY DID! And it’s actually quite good.

The plot for Issue #1 is simple enough: Trapped (presumably by Skeletor) in a forest within Eternia whose magic induces a sort of amnesia, Prince Adam has not only forgotten his dual identity as He-Man, but also his stature as Prince. Rather he believes himself to be a lowly woodsman taking care of his ailing father, Fedor. However, recurring dream visions convince him to leave the forest in search of answers to questions not fully formed. And along the way, Adam encounters the first of what will surely be many a foe determined to keep him from succeeding in his preternaturally imperative quest.

Now, as excited as I am to re-visit my childhood, I have to be honest: He-Man isn’t exactly on par with, say, the New 52 titles DC relaunched. The writing isn’t stellar (Adam’s internal monologue is frustratingly ellipsis heavy), and the artwork doesn’t seem to have been polished much beyond He-Man’s original incarnation. However, for what it is, it’s remarkably engaging. There’s just enough plot withheld to pique my curiosity, and, much like reading Eric Powell’s recent Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters, I can’t wait to see what character Prince Adam stumbles upon next. In fact,  just seeing Skeletor’s triumphantly nefarious figure on the (variant) cover of the first issue sent me into a fit of glee. And I’m ridiculously excited for Teela’s appearance in Issue #2. RIDICULOUSLY.

All in all, I have to say this first issue is probably better than it should be, considering the subject matter. And as I love a good trip down memory lane, I’ll definitely be picking up the second issue. Unfortunately, I’m not confident this re-launch will attract the interest of new, younger readers used to more sophisticated superpowers and flamboyant designs. Not that I won’t be testing it out on my nephew… and by the power of Grayskull, he might just enjoy it.

Heat like this killed the dinosaurs.

And so, in honor of one of the hottest days of the year, I made an origami dinosaur. Here’s the tutorial (this site is great). He’s not pretty. He’s quite bent out of proper shape. And rightly so. It’s hot. It’s dreadfully hot. And he’s understandably upset that I made him for no other good reason than I felt like making a dinosaur. Sorry, dude.

Dinosaurs! Rawrr!

The Secret Service (Icon)

Anything new on the kidnappings?

Nothing we can figure out. That’s six cast and crew from the Star Wars films, four from Doctor Who, eight from Battlestar Galactica and five from Star Trek.

The originals or the JJ Abrams version?

WHAT?!?! Yeah.

Switzerland. Mark Hamill. The most insane kidnap-and-rescue sequence EVER. It’s James Bond. It’s Mission Impossible. It’s Archer. It’s shockingly hilarious. When a comic begins the way The Secret Service does, you know you’re in for one helluva ride. Jesus H. Christ. I couldn’t pick my jaw up from off the ground. I’m talking a quintuple-interrobanged WTF opening sequence here. It was AWESOME. And it only got better with the second issue. I couldn’t believe it could, but it did.

The Secret Service is the story of 17-year-old Gary, his shitty situation, his even shittier luck, and the dashing, no-nonsense MI-6 uncle who takes him under his super-spy wing in the hopes of changing his life around. But Hallmark it ain’t. Not with Mark Millar at the helm. No, this is a high-octane, action-packed spy game with a ridiculously high body count, enviously clever banter, and some pretty badass gadgetry.

There’s a reason writer Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted) and artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) are household names among comics fans. They’re friggin’ incredible. Together, Millar and Gibbons have created a perfectly paced story, each panel building excitement, suspense, and intrigue, propelling you forward and leaving you wanting more. Combining elements of impeccable comedic timing, explosive action sequences, high-stakes espionage, and the disfunctionality that is every family since the beginning of time, The Secret Service is the comics equivalent of the summer blockbuster.  And I mean that in a good way.

The writing is brutally honest, not shying away from incredibly realistic dialogue that might be considered risky or politically incorrect. It’s at times surprisingly eloquent and touching, and always clever, witty, and well observed. The art is bright and bold, brilliantly juxtaposing scenes of upper-class glamour with lower-class decrepitude. Gibbons has a knack for depicting even the most trashy, gritty, and grim urban settings in an incredibly gorgeous manner, thanks in no small part to colorist Angus McKie.

People WILL ask you if you’ve read this and you do NOT want to say you haven’t.

Saga (Image)

Every now and then you come across a comic that blows you away. A comic you know is going to be The Next Big Thing. That’s absolutely the case with Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Attempting to write about Saga is akin to trying to write about Watchmen (Moore), Preacher (Ennis), or Sandman (Gaiman). What can possibly be said that won’t sound like absolute drivel? I feel like a child who just saw a comet dash across the night sky.

Brian K. Vaughan has crafted an epic masterpiece of socio-political commentary set against the backdrop of a supernatural, interplanetary, interspecies war. It’s an intergalactic marvel and you must read it or relegate yourself to being that one jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly apathetic social outcast who never saw the original Star Wars.

Saga is brilliantly written – sarcastic, sardonic, witty, utterly clever, with dashes of that heart-stopping poignancy Vaughan shocked me with in Y: The Last Man. And the artwork by Fiona Staples has a maturity and urgency to it I’ve never seen before. Vaughan and Staples have created intriguingly complex worlds and characters who, for all their alien qualities remain all too human. Their struggles, heartbreaks, and victories are ours. It’s just a different time and place.

Three issues in and I’m willing to bet Saga will be an extraordinary journey that will leave us all utterly spent but ridiculously satisfied.

Mind the Gap (Image)

Mind the Gap is the new psychological thriller from writer Jim McCann and artist Rodin Esquejo. After Elle Peterssen is discovered unconscious on a New York City subway platform, the victim of a brutal attack the police seem eager to write off as an accident, Elle finds herself trapped on another plane of consciousness as she and a supernatural companion attempt to piece together the mystery of who she is and what happened to her. In this story, everyone is suspect and every detail a potential clue.

The writing is clever and, as with the artwork, demands the reader pay close attention. McCann and Esquejo have created extraordinarily realistic, emotive, and complex characters. I’ve been a fan of Rodin Esquejo since first discovering his brilliant cover art for Nick Spencer’s Morning Glories series. Teamed with colorist Sonia Oback, Esquejo’s illustrations are gorgeous, striking, fluid, and just the right amount of trippy. Each panel is as breathtakingly beautiful as the cover itself. An intriguing first issue, I look forward to the next installment.

EPIC KILL (Image)

Never underestimate her. I’ve seen her do things nobody could do. Impossible things…. Something beautiful about the carnage she wrought with her bare hands. She’s walking death, hidden in the body of a girl.

Epic Kill is the action-packed new comic series from writer/illustrator Raffaele Ienco about a kick-ass, 18-year-old, modern-day warrior with top-notch martial arts training, lightning-fast reflexes, and the ability to slice through flesh and bone with her bare hands. One man or fifty, she can take out the lot of them with nary a weapon on her and dodge a sea of bullets like something out of The Matrix.

After what appears to have been a hit-gone-wrong, Song finds herself at the very Sucker Punch-esque St. Thomas for Troubled Girls with no memory of how she arrived there. With the help of her surprisingly innate knack for violence, she begins piecing things together, waiting for the perfect moment to resume her mission. At this point, the purpose of that mission remains as much a mystery as Song herself, but with a very high-profile target who will stop at nothing to eliminate his would-be assassin, Epic Kill promises to be quite an exciting read. It’s Hannah-meets-Kill Bill and it’s awesome.

My main critique is that the art can be a bit stilted and lacking in fluidity for a story requiring so many dynamic action sequences. Song’s movements at times appear more like that of a posed mannequin, even within the constraints of a 2-D world. Perhaps this is owing to a desire on the writer/illustrator’s part to depict a fighter more machine than human, lacking in the typical emotions that interfere with the mindset necessary for a trained killer. Perhaps, too, the more in touch Song becomes with her past, the more fully formed her character will become in both mind and body.

INSUFFERABLE #3

MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW

I… speechless. The third installment of Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s “Insufferable” is just incredible. As you click through, the panels on the left and right appear and disappear, revealing parallel scenes following a recent rescue mission in the lives of two superheroes, father and son, scenes that inspire respect and disgust. But just when you think you’ve chosen a side to root for, Waid and Krause flip the switch, shedding light on these characters’ incredibly complicated backstory.

Once again, the panel transitions and fade-outs are masterfully utilized, most notably the way in which, by the very nature of the click-thru format, the final panel returns you to the first, bringing this week’s episode full circle, a clever cheat that re-uses the initial panel for what I’d argue is the true last. Waid and Krause have me hooked. Definitely excited to see what they come up with next in this intriguing digital endeavor.

Thrillbent

 

The new digital comics website created by Mark Waid and John Rogers went live May 1st. Exciting, daring, and admittedly risky, Thrillbent promises to be a game-changing site in which adventurous comics writers and artists showcase their artistic experiments with the digital medium, encouraging feedback from readers on what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately changing the way digital comics are read and experienced.

I’ve always been open to reading comics on a screen. In fact, I don’t not enjoy it (especially at work…). But until a couple years ago, aside from weekly web-comics and blog/comic combos, I’d never before read an entire serialized comic online. So it was interesting to read that Thrillbent was partly inspired by the first such comic I read in its entirety.  FreakAngels (Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield), whose format was clearly intended for eventual print production, proved to be so well-written and illustrated, the brightness of the computer screen playing up the amazing coloring, that I didn’t mind having to scroll up and down to experience the vertical panels on my horizontal screen. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t discourage me either. The iPad has, of course, made this issue moot.

FreakAngels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

However, not everyone has an iPad, and for digital comics to succeed, they need to be platform-independent, readable on any digital device. But it’s simply not feasible for all comics (especially those originally intended for traditional print publication) to be legible on all screen sizes. One solution is the “Guided View” technology created by comiXology in which you simply tap the screen and are immediately guided from panel to panel, mimicking the way your eyes naturally move across the page. But when it comes to digital comics, it’s not just about legibility. As John Rogers pointed out in a recent blog post,  digital comics like FreakAngels “used the screen to distribute, but they did not use the canvas of the screen.” And the digital canvas is rife with possibility for creative storytelling.

Luther by Mark Waid and Jeremy Rock

 

Luther (see previous post), a one-shot comic published on Mark Waid’s process blog prior to Thrillbent’s launch, provided a taste of things to come. And while I wasn’t taken with the story itself, I was impressed with the use of delayed panel reveals to create suspense and forward movement. Insufferable, however, Thrillbent’s inaugural digital serial by Mark Waid and Peter Krause, impressed me both in terms of story and format.  Only two installments in, Insufferable has already proven the site’s value. A comic about an aging crimefighter whose sidekick has ventured out on his own (and grown up to be a complete douchebag), Insufferable plays with creative panel transitions, layering/dimension (an interesting way to manipulate the sense of time), and fade-outs (emphasizing different aspects of the same panel). The ultimate effect was practically cinematic. It’s a type of storytelling possible in print, but in my opinion more effective on screen, further proving that digitization is not a limiting factor for comics, nor necessarily a replacement for print, but rather a different experience altogether.

My concern, however, is that while such digital effects definitely enhance the reading experience, they might also force it/guide it too strictly–in a way the creator (or publisher, as the case may be) desires, but in a way that might actually limit the reader’s unique processing of the story. I like to be wow’ed, but I don’t like my hand held. I think it’ll be interesting to see how Thrillbent’s experiments address this. And who knows, this concern might be unfair. After all, print doesn’t necessarily offer a plethora of unique reading experiences, but it does allow the reader to react in a unique way that digital manipulation might not leave room for.

Either way, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times again, it’s an exciting time for comics and I’m on board all the way. Thrillbent (not to mention Waid’s open-and-honest process blog) have quickly become my favorite go-to sites for interesting developments in the digital comics world.

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