Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Turkish influence would have been better for Georgia than Russian influence, because Atatürk took a backward Turkey and made it modern, while Lenin and Stalin took a directionless Russia and made it backward. (Robert Kaplan, from Eastward to Tartary)
You don’t know how much I want to write what I want to write about Criminal just to piss Ed Brubaker off. I dig that he reads the blog, but he always focuses on the one thing I write about Criminal, and I while I agree with him that I shouldn’t write it because it’s kind of silly, I do wish he’d appreciate that I love this goddamned book, because it’s such an intense read. So I won’t write it, Ed, even though I’m dying to so I can make you all apoplectic.
Because, let’s face it, this is a tremendous comic book. I always say it’s hard to write about it, because Brubillips is absolutely at the top of his game here. I really enjoy what Brubaker has done with Captain America, but Criminal blows it out of the water. With Captain America, we never get the sense that anything matters, even though Steve took a bullet in the gut and stayed away for a few years. With Criminal, however, we get the sense that all of this means something. When Tracy tells Mrs. Hyde that he’s not going to run, he says, “I have to keep my word.” She asks him why, and he says, “… That’s what I do …” In four words and two ellipses, Brubaker gives us both Tracy’s unwavering loyalty and code by which he lives and the fact that he doesn’t really want to live that way, but he has no choice. Of course he could run, and no one would think worse of him. Of course he wants to run, because he’d probably live longer. But he won’t, because that’s not who he is, as much as he wants it to be. We may think he’s foolish, but that’s who he is. Brubaker has done this consistently throughout this series – he creates characters that we might not like, might not even understand, but who are so fully realized that we can’t help but follow them where they have to go. Tracy may or may not pay for his attitude with his life, but the way he moves through this story is the only way he can move through the story.
Phillips continues to dazzle, and his contribution and Staples’ are even harder to write about, because it seems so flawless. These are characters who get shot, fall out of windows, and lie on the ground, hurt. These are characters who see the look in someone’s eye and realize that they’re not deserving of death. These are characters who see something they wish they could unsee, and the only way we know it is because of how Phillips draws them. These are people moving through a neon-lit world, which Staples makes hellish just by the hues he uses. It’s astonishing.
So, I tried to explain how good Criminal is. You really ought to check it out. Plus, this damned comic makes me want to watch Mr. Majestyk, which Joe Hill even admits isn’t that great a movie. Damn it!!!!
One panel of awesome:
Demo, in case you don’t know, is an early Brian Wood/Becky Cloonan comic from a half-dozen years ago that was originally published by AiT/Planet Lar. Then, when Wood took the rights with him to DC, Vertigo put out a trade a while back. It’s a collection of single-issue stories about teenagers who sort-of have superpowers. None of them wear costumes, and the powers are vaguely defined, but that’s a good very general description. It was well received, and both Wood and Cloonan went on to other things, but now they’re back with new stories. Why not? This time around, however, I don’t even know if they’re sticking with the original concept, because the first story does not feature a teenager and her superpower, if we can call it that, isn’t much of one. So there’s that. Why is this still called Demo? I don’t know. I’m not even sure why the first series was called Demo. I guess it’s just name recognition for people who bought the original series, which is perfectly fine.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a huge fan of the first series. It’s not terrible, but it’s nothing special, either. Wood has done better work, and even some of the stuff he did back then, when he was a bit raw, is better (Couscous Express comes to mind). But Wood has gotten better, so I thought I’d give the new series a chance. I mean, it’s only 3 bucks, right? And I flipped through the book, and damn, is Cloonan good. I mean, I know she’s good, but this is a really gorgeous book. Even if the writing wasn’t any good, it’s almost worth it for the art alone. Cloonan makes the point in the backmatter that she was drawing the original series in different styles (you can tell), and it appears she’s going to do that in this series (there’s a brief preview of issue #2 in the back), which is kind of neat. I don’t know if each issue is going to look as good as this, but dang, this one is excellent.
The problem is Wood’s story. Now, it’s fairly well established that I’m just not too bright. Hey, it happens. I’m sure that someone will understand this story, but I don’t. I’ve said before that fiction, for me, has to be of one of two types: It has to have a slam-bang plot, or it has to feature characters who are interesting. Unfortunately, “The Waking Life of Angels” has neither. I don’t really care that it doesn’t have a plot – this series is supposed to be about people coming to terms with a giant change in their lives. In Joan’s case, it’s apparently being able to see the future. She’s a corporate drone in San Francisco who, at the beginning of the story, hasn’t slept in nine days because of a spooky dream she had. She’s dreaming of a cathedral, and there’s someone on a railing about to jump, and a man who is either trying to stop her or save her. Joan has no idea who the person is (she knows it’s a woman, but that’s all), nor where the cathedral is. And it’s haunting her. She discovers that it’s St. Paul’s in London, so she dumps her boyfriend (who brought up the fact that she was seeing the future but wasn’t being serious, even though Joan realizes that’s what she’s doing), quits her job, and flies to England on a maxed-out credit card. But she has no idea what she’s supposed to be looking for when she gets there. That’s a problem.
Wood doesn’t really pull any tricks on the reader – I wouldn’t call the “twist” at the end a twist at all, because if I can see it coming, it can’t be that clever (it gets back to those smarts I don’t possess). I don’t even really think it’s a “twist,” because I just assumed Joan was being obtuse about the dream. But that’s not the point. The point is that she is driven to do things she wouldn’t normally do, and Wood wants us to see how a tortured soul tries to find relief. That’s not a bad idea in and of itself, but it doesn’t feel like Wood does enough. Joan might not have slept in over a week, but she doesn’t act like it. She just acts like a mean person who cares so much about someone she doesn’t know that she doesn’t care about people she does know. Wood, I presume, wants us to see how she’s driven to be this way, but because of the format, we don’t know enough about Joan to care. On page 7, she assaults a person at work just to get information about her dream, and because we haven’t gotten a sense of her problem yet, she comes off as a bit unhinged and, well, mean. We know only that her boyfriend dismissed her dream after she told him about it, but not if he kept being a jerk for the entire nine days. The first time she had the dream, it was just a dream. Saying, as a joke, that she could see the future and then moving on sounds like a real-life conversation. But Joan never tells us if her boyfriend kept dismissing it, so the fact that she dumps him makes her sound, well, mean. So by the time gets to London, it’s hard to care about her predicament. It’s interesting that Wood sets himself this limit of a single issue to tell these stories, but that makes it more difficult to create a compelling character. Wood can do it, but he doesn’t really in this issue.
But damn, this issue looks great. As we can see in this one panel of awesome:
Here’s something odd. I never got The Lone Ranger #19. Issue #18 came out in September, and issue #19 was solicited in the September Previews, but I never got it. It’s kind of weird, because my shoppe is good about ordering stuff that’s not from DC and Marvel, and they usually get plenty of Dynamite comics anyway. I’ll have to ask them what happened to issue #19, because I was wondering what the heck was going on at the beginning of this issue. But I wasn’t sure if I had just forgotten what happened due to this book’s wildly erratic shipping schedule. So now I’m bummed.
Because the cover kind of gives away what happened at the end of last issue, I guess. Tonto and Linda Reid, John’s sister-in-law, have been getting busy, I suppose. The horror of miscegenation!!!!!! I do like how John was thinking he had a shot with Linda (as her husband, John’s brother, was killed in the first issue of the series), and according to the Old Testament, he probably should (as we see here in the Brick Testament, although Linda has a son, so I don’t think it applies – I just love the Brick Testament), but isn’t that kind of icky? I mean, my sister-in-law is married, but I wouldn’t consider hooking up with her – she’s like my sister! Ew. Anyway, that seems to be the big news from last issue.
Of course, it’s another slow burn issue of The Lone Ranger, meaning that John has to deal with the fact that the blonde hottie in his life digs the hunky Indian more than the masked man while Cavendish plans his move against our heroes. I mean, it’s an enjoyable comic, and Matthews and Cariello do such a good job with mood and thousand-yard stares and pregnant pauses, but the book does move slowly. I don’t mind, even if I’d like the book to come out sooner. Oh well. It’s a good comic, as usual.
One panel of awesome:
At some point, I want to address Rob Schmidt’s objections to Scalped. I think that would be fun. I certainly agree with him that it doesn’t portray Indians positively. However, as I’ve pointed out, it’s a noir title. It doesn’t portray anyone positively. From Scalped, we can assume that all white FBI agents are racist assholes, and that all black people are shifty con men. From Criminal, we can assume that all white people are, well, criminals. And sluts. Schmidt has pointed out that Aaron claims this is “how things are” on the rez, and he has a point there, too. That’s why I want to address it some other time, because he has a lot of interesting objections to Scalped. But I still think it’s fantastic. “The Gnawing” concludes with several nice twists, as Aaron gets Dash out of the world of shit it appeared he was in, while Red Crow himself gets out of the Hmong disaster in his own inimitable way. As we know the series is continuing, I can’t imagine those are that spoilery, but I certainly won’t say how they do it. What’s fascinating, as always, is how Aaron puts these characters through all of this crap and how they make it through. It’s an amazingly intense experience.
And then we get to the end. I will SPOIL this, because it’s not too spoilery and it’s going to become more important as the series goes on. Carol, Red Crow’s daughter and Dash’s lover, finds out she’s pregnant. This annoyed me. Pregnancy is kind of a lame way to advance a plot, and I wish Aaron hadn’t brought it up. There are a few reasons for this: Carol, it seems to me, would have an abortion without even telling Dash (who we presume is the father; is Carol even married anymore?) – she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would think twice about it. So this isn’t even a dramatic plot point. I assume Aaron isn’t going to do that, because, as I’ve pointed out before, even though abortion is a legal procedure and this is a Vertigo book (so it deals with “mature” themes), I very much doubt a company like DC would touch something as controversial as abortion. So Aaron is going to have to kill off the kid through a miscarriage, or he’s going to have to change Carol’s character so she wants the kid. I’d like the second option more, but I’m not sure if Aaron is going to be able to pull it off. We’ll see. I just wish he hadn’t brought it up. People can have sex without getting pregnant, after all, even if they don’t use protection.
That’s a minor complaint, at least for now. This is still a fantastic issue, which isn’t surprising. It will be nifty to see where Aaron goes next with the series.
One panel of awesome:
Here’s another series from Dynamite that I struggle to write about, because we know pretty much what we’re going to get, but Wagner and Francavilla do it so well. Wagner continues with his Rashomon-esque story, as General Mancado gets around to asking the magistrate of Los Angeles about his experiences with Zorro. It’s a fun little story, mainly because Quintero narrates the story as if he’s heroic, while Wagner and Francavilla show us differently (one of those things that comics does so well). Wagner can still show us what kind of person Zorro is while revealing more about Quintero (yes, we already knew he’s a weasel, but still). Plus, there’s an interlude with Diego and Lolita that tells us a lot about their relationship and how Lolita feels about it. It’s brought to wonderful life by Francavilla, whose pencil work continues to be outstanding and whose colors continue to dazzle. In the “present,” he tones down the colors, makes the book dusty (befitting its desert locale), but works in enough primary colors (such as in Lolita’s garden) to show how the Spanish are bringing life to it. In the flashbacks, he continues to give us an abundance of red, making Zorro’s appearances much more lurid, which aligns closely with how the people are seeing him. Francavilla is really good – Wagner’s entertaining yarns are fun, but Francavilla gives the book a nice edge. I don’t know if he’ll be back after this story arc or if he’s going to work more for the Big Two, but for now, he’s an excellent fit on the comic.
One panel of awesome:
Zorro: Matanzas #1 (of 4) by Don McGregor (writer), Mike Mayhew (artist), Sam Parsons (colorist), and John Costanza (letterer), and Kel-O-Graphics (digital inker). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.
Speaking of Zorro, Dynamite gives us this four-issue mini-series, which is unusual, to say the least. First of all, it was supposed to come out after the current series’ latest arc was done, and that still has at least one issue to go (Dynamite offered it as a substitute while the regular series took a “well-deserved break”). Now, Zorro might be running late, so couldn’t Dynamite have delayed this so that it would, indeed, replace the regular series rather than running a bit concurrently with it? It’s weird scheduling. The more interesting thing about this comic is that it’s over a decade old but has never been printed before. According to Mike Mayhew, he began drawing it in 1997. According to Don McGregor, it was supposed to see print in 1999. It was for the old Zorro series from Topps back when Topps published comics, but when they went under, it never came out. Mayhew has changed stylistically quite a bit since then (mainly because he paints more than pencils these days), so I have to believe this is completely in the can, or the later issues are going to look a whole lot different than this one. But we’ll see. If it’s not completely finished, maybe Mayhew will try to draw in the style of a decade ago. That would be weird.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast this with the regular series, and with comics in general. It’s not quite as good as Zorro, but it’s still entertaining. McGregor introduces (or re-introduces, I guess) a villain with whom Zorro has tangled in the past, one who lost his hand in battle with our hero. The villain, Lucien Machete, can attach various weapons to his arm, and he has sworn revenge on Zorro, natch. Lucien is also friends with Diego’s father, so Zorro has to keep an eye on him. Don Alejandro and Lucien are off to the Matanzas – the slaughterings (the cover implies they’re slaughtering cattle) – and Diego, of course, must stay behind (much to his father’s chagrin) so Zorro can be present. It’s a set-up issue, but we get plenty of information. Mayhew is perfectly fine – he has some nice page designs, like when Zorro moves through his cave hideout and when we get a cross-section of his hideout and how it connects to the hacienda. He’s not as good as he is today (of course, you might not like Mayhew’s art today, but it’s still better than it was), but it works. It’s probably fine to wait for the trade, because this is very much an opening chapter of a story, rather than a really good single issue.
What’s interesting is how McGregor writes. This is packed full of prose, with an omniscient narrator guiding us through every page, even when it’s not terribly necessary. We get quite a bit of information about Diego himself, which is kind of cool, as McGregor understands that for someone, this might be their first experience with Zorro. McGregor is an old-school writer, and it’s a bit jarring to encounter this comic, as it’s just not how people write anymore. It really does feel like a relic from an earlier time, even though it wasn’t written too long ago. It’s interesting to consider how much comics writing has shifted in the past decade. Even when writers like Moore were experimenting with no narration and no sound effects in V for Vendetta, the majority of mainstream comics still used those styles. In the past ten years, even superhero comics have become less verbose, with writers allowing artists to tell a lot of the story and relying on the reader to make connections. I’m not saying one style is better than the other, but it’s interesting reading this comic, because it’s unlike almost anything you can find out there right now. It feels vaguely like a Marvel comic from the 1970s or 1980s. It’s kind of neat.
If you have to buy one comic with Zorro in it this week, get the Wagner/Francavilla one. But this is a pretty good yarn. I’m curious to see how McGregor works in the slaughtering aspect.
One panel of awesome:
I’m surprised Brian hasn’t pointed this out yet, but if you’re interested, you can ask 1960s Bob Dylan anything. It needs to be updated more often, but it’s pretty funny. But now, let’s check out The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):
1. “I Remember You” – Skid Row (1989)
2. “Better Or Worse” – Liquid Jesus (1991)
3. “Policy Of Truth” – Depeche Mode (1990)
4. “Sexx Laws” – Beck (1999)
5. “But, Honestly” – Foo Fighters (2007)
6. “Push, Push” – Cinderella (1986)
7. “Filthy/Gorgeous” – Scissor Sisters (2004)
8. “Johnny Q.” – Crazy 8s (1984)
9. “Cannonball” – Breeders (1993)
10. “Monkey Wrench” – Foo Fighters (1997)
Last week, in all the kerfuffle, no one got that the totally random lyrics were from “Working for Vacation” by Cibo Matto. Let’s check out some different totally random lyrics:
“You wired me awake
And hit me with a hand of broken nails
You tied my lead and pulled my chain
To watch my blood begin to boil”
That’s all you get today! Have fun!
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