Tag: Brian Michael Bendis
Not new in 2010 and therefore not eligible, but back in print for the first time in 10 years and worth buying: Cages.
#6: Brian Wood, DMZ Volume 8, Hearts and Minds
After years in the war zone that was once Manhattan, journalist Matty Roth’s bad decisions finally catch up to him in this volume. He makes one wrong step too many and loses his soul. Along with Northlanders Volume 4, The Plague Widow, this book cements Brian Wood as one of the best writing any kind of comic today. Also good from Brian Wood this year: the reissue of Local.
#5: Brian Michael Bendis, Scarlet
Brian Michael Bendis has given us the origin story of a revolutionary and promised us a revolution. We’re only a few issues in, but so far he hasn’t pulled back from that extreme commitment. I hope he never does.(I also wrote about issue #2.)
#4: David B. and Pierre Mac Orlan, The Littlest Pirate King
This late entry from Fantagraphics elbowed its way on here after I’d published the initial list. A children’s tale with a deeply messed up, traumatic ending and beautiful art.
#3: Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #20: Lint
I hadn’t loved what Chris Ware had been doing over the last couple of volumes of Acme Novelty Library. Frankly, not many of his fans did. Read the self-deprecating product descriptions on his Drawn and Quarterly page sometime (“flat,” “slow,” “always dreary”). With Lint, though, he’s done something not only affecting but politically relevant by taking us inside the mind of a man something like George W. Bush.
#2: Joe Sacco, Footnotes in Gaza
Joe Sacco wove together descriptions of present-day Gaza with accounts of two smallish war crimes from fifty years ago to create arguably the most important comic of 2010. Ten years after the Holocaust, young Jews act out a version of the same dark drama.
#1: Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants
Childhood escapes from troubled home lives into fantasy are hardly unexplored territory, but Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura executed this one perfectly. I called it the Bridge to Terabithia of comics and I meant it. (Also very good by Kelly this year: Four Eyes.)
I haven’t reviewed many second issues. Possibly none in the year-plus I’ve been writing comic reviews. I keep buying the series whose #1’s I like, but there doesn’t seem much point in writing about them.
In this case, though, I want to take another opportunity to urge those of you within the sound of my metaphorical voice to start buying Scarlet. As I described in my review of #1, the main character Scarlet is a young woman undergoing a moral origin story, on the path to becoming a revolutionary. For that alone you should get the book. How many pop culture products out there are willing to say straight out that our society is rotten and in need of a revolution? Not some sci-fi society used as an allegory of ours. Ours.
But #2 also begins to showcase something that has always been a great strength of Brian Michael Bendis’s other series Powers: the page layouts. Brian Avon Oeming realized Bendis’s script directions for those layouts very differently from the way Alex Maleev does it here, of course, but the spark of originality feels the same.
Scarlet’s weeks of staking out the crooked cop who ruined her life are shown in a two-page spread of wide panels just big enough for the car rear-view mirror in which she watches him. When an ex-officer has to make a long speech to her, Maleev breaks a single large image of him into three different-sized panels to avoid an overwhelming block of text. To show time passing in her recovery from a gunshot to the head, we get a two-page spread of square panels, all with Scarlet addressing the reader in the same pose, against a succession of different backgrounds, as her shaved hair gradually grows back and lengthens to her shoulders.
I am a little worried that Scarlet will end up like James Lee, because her complaint against the world is so broad: there’s evil in it and no one cares. A “revolutionary” who thinks like that could well end up just being an insane person. I hope that’s not where Bendis is going. Until then, anyway, I’m 100% on board.
I wouldn’t ever have seen Scarlet #1 if there hadn’t been a mix-up with the comics my local store was supposed to hold for me over vacation. I suspect that that mix-up was partly my fault and said so, but nevertheless they gave me Scarlet as a throw-in to make up for it.
“You’re going to love this,” they said.
And they’re pretty much right. I do love it. It’s by Brian Michael Bendis, writer of my #9-favorite-of-the-decade series Powers, breaking a whole new set of conventions.
One of the breaks is small, but has a big effect: rather than have the red-headed twentysomething main character tell her story in narration, she addresses the reader in speech bubbles. Many comics have characters reciting voice-overs to the ether, but few I can think of address the reader in the second person with text like:
I’m sorry to be right in your face like this. I know you were looking for a little diversionary fun. I know you were subconsciously hoping you could just watch without any of it actually directly involving you. But what’s going on here requires your involvement and attention.
The other break is larger, perhaps, though handled more subtly. This is the first issue of what seems to be a new superhero story, of a kind anyway, so Bendis gives us an origin. But the hero doesn’t have any superpowers, so what she acquires in her origin—in which her boyfriend is murdered by a corrupt cop and then framed as a drug dealer to justify the killing—is a new moral outlook.
Everything is broken. You realize that, right? You know it … deep down. And you’re saying to yourself: girl, bad things happen to good people every day! And I am saying to you … yes. But that’s the proof. Don’t you see?
Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a comic about an otherwise non-superpowered person who has a trauma and becomes a vigilante as a result (see Batman, the Punisher). What I find interesting about Scarlet is that her moralism is far more total than those earlier heroes, who pursued a version of revenge against criminals alone.
Sure, she beats up a bicycle thief and executes a crooked cop in the opening pages, but it’s not yet clear that these are anything more than vigilante acts of convenience. When she climbs to a rooftop with a sniper rifle at the end and tells us, the readers, that we’re going to help her do something about the broken world, I have no idea what’s coming next and want to know. Which for issue #1 is just about right.
(Bendis says it’s a revolution. Nice.)
Alex Maleev’s art looks a little like what happens when you paint in color on black-and-white photographs. It has that underlying realism of form and posture combined with the loss of fine detail that comes when you reduce the available gradations of shading. It makes Scarlet’s face hard to read, which I think works here. If I had a complaint it would be that Scarlet herself is just too damn sexy, but hey, boys buy comics.
No previews, sorry.
There are broadly speaking two strains of comics: the superhero kind and the non-superhero kind. I prefer the non- kind, although I can often be interested in stories that twist superhero conventions in an interesting way (like, for example, Watchmen or Powers, about which more in a moment). Mark Waid does pretty conventional superhero comics, although he has done a few experiments with superhero conventions like Kingdom Come and more recently Empire, which I liked.
Empire takes as its premise that the baddest supervillain has defeated all the heroes, and now rules over all the world with an iron grip. In Irredeemable the world’s greatest superhero has snapped and is now traveling around the world murdering millions of people at a time, taking time off every now and then to kill his former superteammates.
As Waid describes it in his preface:
In superhero comics, pretty much everyone who’s called upon to put on a cape is, at heart, emotionally equipped for the job.
I reject that premise.
No one simply turns “evil” one day. Villainy isn’t a light switch. The road to darkness is filled with moments of betrayal, of loss, of disappointment, and of superhuman weakness. In the case of the Plutonian [the hero-turned-villain of the book], there were sidekicks who sold his secrets. There were friends who preyed too often on his selflessness and enemies who showed him unsettling truths about himself.
Honestly, unless you’re already invested in the superhero genre who takes seriously the idea of “villainy?”
The idea of the superhero who goes nuts and destroys cities was done first and best by Alan Moore in Miracleman, with unbelievable drawings by John Totleben:
(I’ll put another one below the fold so it can spread out; otherwise it’ll either be too tiny or screw up the page formatting.)
It was also done pretty well recently in Powers Vol. 6: The Sellouts, with stunning art by Michael Avon Oeming.
So far, I’m not seeing anything new enough from Mark Waid to hold my non-superhero interest, and Peter Krause’s art can’t hold a candle to the two I just mentioned. The layouts are conventional and the panels feel static. It looks like your basic comic book art. Preview below the fold, followed by the page from Miracleman I promised.