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She Has No Head! – DV8: Character Rehabilitation Done Right, Now What?

DV8 #2 by Fiona Staples, my favorite cover of the series, and one of my favorite covers of the year

DV8: Gods & Monsters #1 – #8. Brian Wood (writer). Rebekah Isaacs (artist). Carrie Strachan (colors). Fiona Staples (covers).  Jared K. Fletcher (letters). Ben Abernathy (editor). Kristy Quinn (assist. editor). Wildstorm. Full Color, 22-pages/book, $2.99/book.

I haven’t been shy on this column about my love for Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaac’s DV8 Gods & Monsters mini-series and now that it’s over I’m excited to talk about it in its entirety.

The first thing to say is that in the hands of Rebekah Isaacs and Carrie Strachan (colors) this series is, hands down, the best looking and most consistently stunning book I’ve read in the last year.  Add to that the massively talented Brian Wood and gorgeous covers by Fiona Staples and you really have something.

The greatest thing that Wood has done with DV8 is simply to re-introduce and re-invigorate an entire cast of characters and by the end of the series poise them beautifully (well, most of them – damn you Brian Wood!) for any talented writer to pick them up and use them in a new series (hint hint DC).  It’s no small feat to completely rehab characters practically forgotten in the massive landscape of comics, and Brian Wood does it here with grace and apparent ease.  This entire team has been wonderfully explored and developed, updated and made relevant again and I can’t think of a team I’d be more interested in seeing in another mini-series or ongoing…and prior to this mini-series I really couldn’t have cared less about most of them.

So what’s Gods & Monsters about?  Well, Wood has done a creative and loose re-imagining and modernization of the Rudyard Kipling short story (and film) The Man Who Would Be King – a story about “civilized” strangers in a “primitive” land, deemed gods by the local population.  How each of the DV8 characters (Sublime, Bliss, Frostbite, Threshold, Copycat, Evo, Freestyle, and Powerhaus) react to that role and deal with the responsibility is as different as they are, and it’s some nuanced character work throughout the eight issue series. The story itself is told primarily through flashbacks by Gem, one of the main characters that was on the alien planet and is now held in the interrogation room of a space ship as she’s questioned about the team’s experiences.

From the top: Frostbite, Sublime, Evo, Threshold, and Bliss. Not pictured: Copycat, Freestyle and Powerhaus

One of the things I wrote about in my initial post about Gods & Monsters was how DV8 feels to me like a really fresh take on modern superheroes – they’re still in costume, but only sort of, and they’re still heroing, but only sort of, and they’re dealing with all kinds of complicated issues – it’s relevant and significant to me in a way that a lot of superhero comics don’t even touch.  Additionally, the book is really accessible to both men and women in my opinion simply because it has characters of each gender that are well explored and it doesn’t talk down to either group.  As an added bonus, thanks to Wood and Isaac’s there’s no sexism or overt objectification to get in the way of the story, a sad rarity in my experience reading mainstream comics.

I imagine some readers are going to be let down by the ending and feel that “nothing happens” in the series, because of that ending, but I would argue that:

A) A lot happens if you consider character development and growth to be “something happening” – which I do.

B) Wood did this interesting thing where as a reader by the end of the mini-series I found myself in the position of relating strongly the lead characters by giving readers and characters similar visceral reactions to what has just happened.  The DV8 characters, at the end of the mini-series loudly lament the pointlessness of what they’ve been put through – and considering one of them did not come back alive – pointlessness at a very high cost.  Emotionally jerked around as characters yet again and tested and proded and judged, they’re angry and as a reader if you read the last arc and felt like “nothing really had a point” then you feel yourself heavily relating to their feelings of frustration and pointlessness.  But if you sit back and examine what you’ve been through in life, what you go through every day…much of it feels pointless even though none of it really is.  Because if testing yourself and seeing what you’re made of through a series of frustrating obstacles is nothing happening…then nothing really happens to anyone, ever.  During Wood’s story we learned what pushes these characters until they break, how far they will go to get what they want, and what happens when you really release them from all the bullshit they’ve been through and allow them their own agency with no rules and incredible power at their disposal.  It’s the same kind of things, albeit magnified, that we learn about ourselves everyday, and I find the parallels fascinating.

It’s actually kind of brilliant and nuanced as far as I’m concerned.

Beyond the subtle smart character work Wood is doing, we must talk about the art.  Rebekah Isaacs’ art is quite simply – a revelation – a breath of fresh air on the comics scene.  It’s both completely accessible and familiar in its style, yet completely new feeling.  Isaacs’ has no problem distinguishing characters from one another (a frequent problem in comics) – everything from height, weight, ethnicity, gender, and personal style – are carefully considered and consistently detailed.  And can I just say, some of the details, like the hair, are fantastic.  Look at this, what detail!:

As I mentioned before, Isaacs and Wood together redesigned each of these characters’ looks – updating them nicely in fashion forward, practical, and cool ways, and the updates serve both the story and the overall feeling of DV8, placing them in a prime position to be powerful characters (and books) on the comic scene.  However, the real mind blowing work to me was Isaacs’ epic landscapes, world building, and battle sequences.  Her work has a stunning cinematic quality and it’s powerful stuff.  It’s also perfectly suited for the epic yet pared down personal story that Wood is telling.  A story about the fate of an entire civilization and planet, but really a story about individual fears and weaknesses, and maybe a few strengths too.  It’s a delicate balance to seamlessly blend quiet character moments with vast battlefields and Isaac is more than up to the task.

It doesn’t hurt that Isaacs has the sublime Carrie Strachan on colors.  Using a natural muted palette for the alien planet and its inhabitants and a bright saturated modern one for our twenty first century “heroes”.  The two palettes should not look so in synch, but in Strachan’s hands it’s all beautifully cohesive.

Fiona Staples gorgeous covers are stunning and smartly featured a single DV8 character (except #5, which featured two characters, and #8 which featured the group) on each cover.  It was a tiny bit of brilliance for a series trying to rehabilitate some long overlooked characters to give each of them such a spotlight, and when the covers look that good, it’s a particularly great idea.

Overall, if you haven’t been reading DV8 Gods & Monsters, and realize it’s time to rectify that there have been several full series sets selling on ebay if you can’t find it at your local comic shop, I’ve also found at least the first five issues easily on Amazon.  If you’re dead set on waiting for the trade, then put it in your calendar now as it’s scheduled to release in April 2011. But can you really wait that long to see more pages like this?

Rebekah Isaacs and Fiona Staples, together again on Magus #1

I’d love to just leave it at that, but I can’t help but wonder what the plan is here?  DC/Wildstorm has gone to all this trouble to put such an amazing creative team on this book (a rarity these days – for a creative team to start AND finish a series) to rehabilitate a totally forgotten property.  And not only to rehabilitate but to poise them perfectly to be picked up into a new series…only to have nothing happen with them at all?  Of course there could be some master plan here that I’m missing…but from outside as a fan it just looks like a lot of time money and effort pumped into a great project that could easily continue and now will just fall back into obscurity…? Of course there’s nothing wrong with having an awesome mini-series just to have it, but as someone that’s often disappointed with my pull list and that is culling it constantly… it seems a shame to so successfully reboot a franchise and then just do nothing with it.  Reboots are attempted and fail in massive numbers…now we’ve got a well-received reboot success…and no plans for the future?  It bums me out.  So rarely do I find superhero comics I like as much as I have like this one and now I find out I’ll just have to be satisfied with what I’ve already got, instead of giving someone more money to see more of this.  A missed opportunity for both of us it seems.

In the meantime I urge everyone to check out the other work of these exceptional creators – both what’s out now and coming soon: The prolific Brian Wood of course has his excellent series’ Northlanders and DMZ, both from Vertigo, and has a 4 part mini-series called New York Five with artist Ryan Kelly coming up from Vertigo in January 2011 as a follow-up to his 2007 Minx book, The New York Four.  Additionally, the exceptional Demo Volume #2 will be collected in March 2011.  Rebekah Isaacs is doing the art for a new mini-series with an intriguing hook called Magus forthcoming from 12 Gauge Comics in December 2010.  You can read a preview of Magus #1 here. As a double bonus the covers for Magus will be by Fiona Staples – look how gorgeous the first one is (see right).*  You should also check out North 40, which will release later this month and has lovely interior art by Fiona Staples.  North 40 was not a perfect series, but I really enjoyed it overall and it’s worth a look.  Carrie Strachan has been everywhere, doing gorgeous colors on a variety of books (including Justice League: Generation Lost, Fringe, Victorian Undead, etc.) so keep an eye out.

*Update: As per Rebekah Isaacs in the comments section – only the first cover of Magus will be by Fiona Staples, future covers will have Rebekah Isaacs art – which is still a great great thing.  Thanks for the clarification Rebekah!

18 Comments

[…] A new She Has No Head! about Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs DV8 Gods & Monster’s mini-series is up, check it out! […]

Yes, you have been raving about this, and yes, I have ignored its presence in the apartment. This review has pushed me through to actually reading the thing.

Hi Kelly!

Thanks so much for all your support and kind words over the course of the series. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it so much and your thoughtful analyses were always a joy to read. Your support of female-friendly comics and female creators is invaluable to the online community and I hope the bad apples out there won’t ever make you think twice about your contribution.

I also wanted to say thanks for the shout-outs for Magus! But I have to be the bearer of some bad news… because of time constraints, Fiona only did the cover to issue 1. I’m doing the remaining covers for the series. It was incorrectly attributed a few times online before, so I just wanted to clear it up for Fiona’s fans. Obviously, in a perfect world we would have her do all five covers and about a million beautiful variants!

Thanks!

@Adam: You should definitely read it. I’ll leave them out for you.

@Rebekah: Thanks for coming by, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the reviews…it’s hard to find a book that I enjoy this much, especially one that works within “superhero constraints”, so really THANK YOU for giving me such a great book to talk about. I am a huge fan of not only the great book you’ve all put together collectively, but of all of you on your own as well – keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep reading – and talking about it.

The bad apples have many times made me think twice about what I’m doing – but people like you – and a lovely email from a fan of both yours AND mine – makes it all worth it. :)

Thanks for the clarification – I’ve added an “update” to the post.

Hi Kelly,

I’ll have to file this week’s column to read at a later date. I read your early review of the series and that got me interested. I’m waiting for the tpd of course, so I’ll have to wait until April at least to read this column! (I’ll have to settle for 1979 Semi-Finalist for all my Kelly Thompson fixes this week. (Withdrawals are rough! lol)

@Keith: For what it’s worth there are no major spoilers in the column. There’s one thing that could be perceived as being a “big” spoiler (fate of a character), but I don’t speak specifically about it/who, and if you looked at any of the covers for the series, it’s pretty obvious what it is…but I’ll leave it up to you!

This looks fantastic.

This is a mini that shines on every level. It is not just very accessible, postmodern or post-postmodern or whatever, a text that can be read at different levels, convoluted but not overly, but is effortlessly and skillfully told.

Rebekah Isaacs’ multifaceted dexterity aids it and aids it well…and isn’t she one of a kind storyteller.

Its gender-neutral handling of characters (a skill still being polished, even in First-Worlds?) adds to its strength.

Having so far read his Demo series beside Gods and Monsters, having convinced myself to begin a long series of his, I cannot help but remark by the: Man! Wood Be King (insert could after!) at everything he takes up. The blurb is handy and both Rebekah Isaacs and Fiona Staples are worth the investment.

Tom Fitzpatrick

November 8, 2010 at 7:06 pm

You really shouldn’t try to lose your head over B. Wood, so much. (besides I think he’s married)

He’s only human, he’s not perfect. ;-)

Do you happen to know when the final issue of NORTHLANDERS is going to be?

‘Sublime, Bliss, Frostbite, Threshold, Copycat’
Is this for real?

Looks like ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ done with Mortal Combat characters. (also the writting looks to be on a videogame level)

I dare you to read this before the excellent film or good novelette!
I dare you!

funkygreenjerusalem

November 9, 2010 at 5:55 am

I was really on the fence about getting this series – despite loving Brian Wood despite reviewers and bloggers like Kelly loving it, it just didn’t seem like the overly violent, disgustingly sexual, Ellis DV8 I fondly remembered from my teens – with Bliss sexing people to death, Threshold having sex with his mother figure, a whole issues about characters trying to buy crack, and that weird old Bob guy who kept making people kiss the stump of his severed mannequin head.

But with that art?

Damn – I no longer care if it lines up with Ellis’ Gen13 by way of Larry Clarks Kids.

That is a good art team.
That linework and colouring are magic.
There better be a trade!

@Tom Fitzgerald: Does Northlanders have a “last issue”? As far as I know it’s still an ongoing.

@funkygreenjerusalem: Well, assuming nothing goes wrong, the trade releases in late April 2011.

Tom Fitzpatrick

November 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Ms. Thompson: I’ll change my last name if you’ll e-marry me! ;-)

funkygreenjerusalem

November 9, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Ms. Thompson: I’ll change my last name if you’ll e-marry me! ;-)

Did you learn nothing from Steve Lieber’s ‘If you wouldn’t say it to your cell mate, don’t say it on the internet’ lesson?

Who’s Steve Lieber? Just kidding. That Whiteout series rocked. The movie, too.

Nice post..i also enjoyed the mini very well, Brian wood’s storytelling is amazing and i like how he revived the characters and gave them more characterization that made me enjoy and not forgetting Rebekah Isaac’s art which was just gorgeous. And like you said my only problem is what is next? It seems all the good comics are just either being canceled or just a short mini with no future plans for it. Hopefully that wont be the case of DV8

@Tom FitzPATRICK. So sorry about the name snafu Tom. Ironically when I was typing the comment I thought “oh, that’s not right…it’s not Fitzgerald…” and then I forgot all about it and neglected to fix it. Apologies!

Yeah Kelly, you really want to get that name spelled right when you fill out the restraining order… :)

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