01.02.13 Shipping Report
Currently Reading: Astro City, A Voice In The Dark, Bitch Planet, Black Science, Copperhead, Deadly Class, Drifter, East of West, The Fuse, Lazarus, Letter 44, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, Manifest Destiny, The Massive, Moon Knight, Punks, Saga, Sex Criminals, Sheltered, Southern Bastards, Stumptown, Supreme: Blue Rose, Tooth & Claw, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, Trees, Umbral, Wasteland, The Wicked + The Divine
Mara #1 (Image): In a gleaming cityscape of the future, Brian Wood and Ming Doyle bank on the audience’s intuitive perception of pop culture, using all manner of narrative shorthand. In Wood’s familiar DMZ-style newsfeed, we learn that entertainment, the games, the sport, have become an opiate for the masses distracting them away from the reality of economic collapse, monopolization of resources, and prolonged warfare “in the ‘stans.” Mara’s world is not unlike the Roman Empire of old, enjoying games at The Colosseum while the northern borders became a sieve. It’s also more like the current United States than most would care to admit, where more people watch the Super Bowl than actually get out and vote for the next POTUS. Everything has been taken to an extreme in this future world, one which we can easily project out 20 years or so from our own, class differential, ubiquitous technology, and divisive global unrest, all pushed to their breaking point, all captured in snippets that rapidly form a mosaic of Mara’s reality. The games themselves are basically an embedded form of military recruitment, and Mara is thought to be a perfect specimen, the ultimate celebrity athlete in this world. I love how the clatter of the world abruptly cuts to a quiet shot of Mara sitting in a locker room in silent contemplation as she prepares to play the hyper-idolized game. I enjoyed the modern parlance projected, stuff like Mara manipulating social media in real time into her wireless mic: “Upload, broadcast to my channel, cross-post to Ingrid’s, monetize.” Mara Prince is a compelling female creation, the near-perfect embodiment of strength and grace, humility and confidence, the charm of the girl next door, with the exotic leanings of something more. There are some subtle clues preceding it and then something big, something very big, happens in the particular game we see. I don’t want to spoil the reveal in total – though it’s not hard to find online or in solicitation copy, so imagine if David Beckham or Mia Hamm were... something more. But regardless of the particulars, Wood pushes his character right up to the precipice of change, there’s the identity stuff I know and love in his writing, there’s the dystopia masquerading as utopia, the cultural commentary, and the social relevance, yet it takes place in an ostensibly new genre so it also feels like he’s stretching himself as a writer. On the art side, there are rare occasions where I’m not positive the polish and Saturday morning vibe of the aesthetic from Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire stands up to the tone of story. One of the reasons I like Brian Wood’s writing is that it’s usually a serious affair; it has gravitas, and can never be dismissed as light or inconsequential. The more confectionary instances I’m detecting in the art might just rob the story a little of that weight. Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe that gloss fits the whole hyper-sporterized distraction, diverting the reader, in the same way the populace in Mara’s world is, from the problematic underpinnings of this society. At times, I think there are some awkward shots as well. The weapons and planes look wonky, as does the stiff panel where the security team draws their weapons and one of them is pointing a gun in the air, while the other is pointing weirdly at the crowd. It just looks odd. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening. Similarly, when that key big event occurs, the art cues weren’t crystal clear and I had to rely more on the nudge from the text that accompanied it to help clarify what transpired. It’s obvious that Doyle has a flair for overall design sensibility. That said, these glitches were the minority and I think she absolutely nails some of the more static and quiet shots throughout the book. The full-pager of Mara in the locker room that I mentioned is absolutely terrific. The right emotional content in the art is always present, whether excitement, hesitation, or secretive glances, making it work in spite of the occasional tic. All told, it’ll be interesting to see Wood and Doyle push their exceptionally gifted ideal of Mara Prince toward the repercussions of what happens in this introductory issue right out in the global public spotlight. Grade A-.
THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE. It's the last shipping date of the year and if you're willing to cede the point that this small week is a representative snapshot of what's going on in the industry [and trust me, there *is* a case to be made for that idea, with Dark Horse reprints, Before Watchmen and New 52 dreck from DC, a slick creator-owned debut from Image, big franchise Marvel event hooha (Spider-Man #700), and shlocky (Deathmatch) multiple cover deluge (Crossed: Badlands) from the the rest of the publishers], then it means the one book I'm picking up this week is in the top tier. Mara #1 (Image) by Brian Wood and Ming Doyle is 1 of 10 distinct floppies coming out this week, among 17 actual items inventoried on the Diamond Shipping List, which means this creator is in the 90th percentile, producing in the top 10% of the material currently being churned out by the industry. You can't argue with math. My review of Mara #1 is already written and will be posted late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. Happy Holidays!
Clone #2 (Image): I think it’s safe to say that I love everything about this book. I love the dark mirror reflection of the credits page. I love how the opening sequence, and the times we revisit that segment of the story, offer clues to the larger conspiracy surrounding a DARPA stem cell experiment from the 1970’s. I love the way Juan Jose Ryp’s art is so detailed and intricate that it provides a grizzled sense of life and animation on every page. I love the chilling black and white scene with implantations happening in assembly line fashion. I love small little flourishes like the implied “SCREECH” of the record scratch that stops a conversation dead in its tracks. I love how David Schulner’s script explores the effect of time, specifically how the global connectivity of social networking unraveled the greatest experiment in human history. I love how his story never forgets to be a human drama first, but is rooted in a realistic bit of sci-fi. I love the idea of loss of identity and the psychological impact this would all have, specifically the example of having to watch yourself kill your wife as you are trying to kill you. I love that we’re offered two possible explanations for what may make our protagonist so special, the pacing of the story and the interest of the reveals it contains are all deftly handled. There are fair twists and turns here, and I just love the fun entertainment this offers, the thought provocation, and the gorgeous art. It makes the act of creating fun, smart, beautiful comics look effortless. Grade A.
The Massive #7 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood and Garry Brown's modern art blend (Sean Phillips, Jim Lee, even collaborator John Paul Leon, traces of all to be found) kick off the next 3-issue arc entitled "Subcontinental," which centers on the ostensible utopia of Moksha Station. The thing to remember about utopias is that they're usually disguised dystopias in pop fiction, and it's certainly looking like this is no exception. I'm excited to see the mileage and dramatic tension that the creative team is going to draw from that dichotomy. It's interesting to see how quickly it goes from Mary encouraging Cal (and the audience by extension) to accept Moksha Station at face value, to a complete authoritarian state during lockdown procedures, where you basically surrender all personal rights in the name of security. If you've been reading Thirteen Minutes a while, you probably know that one of my writing tics is to make weird analogies in an effort to make my points. Well, with Callum Israel and crew wandering the world in an attempt to survive, and encountering the seeming paradise with a hidden underbelly of Moksha Station, let's juxtapose that with The Walking Dead. One could say that Rick and his crew are to Woodbury as Callum and his crew are to Moksha Station. I did that deliberately because there's certainly no reason that The Massive shouldn't be selling The Walking Dead numbers on a regular basis. I'll go ahead and be an elitist prick and use my powers of reverse psychology and say that if The Massive doesn't succeed financially it will be because it's just too intelligent for most people. I guess for the masses it's just easier to grok people shooting zombies in the head amid the collapse of all humanity as a single central theme in a zombie apocalypse than it is to parse a more meaningful fight for survival amid the collapse of the entire fucking planet in a more realistic environmental apocalypse. I mean, heaven forbid you actually have to think in a non-linear fashion or Google an acronym like U.L.L.C. or F.P.S.O. in a diligently researched Brian Wood script. Easier to just passively watch somebody getting an axe through the skull, I suppose. Don't you want your entertainment to stretch your brain a little bit? Doesn't bother me. My dad never provided me age appropriate reading material. He let me read the books he was reading and just gave me a dictionary along with those challenging books and said if you come across a word you don't understand, then look it up. If that doesn't work, come ask me. Wow, I'm really going off on a tirade here, but I'm just so passionate about this book and I can't comprehend LCS orders decreasing every month. It's disappointing. Anyway. Something else I noticed in this issue around the time that Mary encourages Cal to "be better" is that you can almost draw lines between Cal's identity and the personalities of the crew and say that they comprise aspects of his being. For example, Ryan is the young naïve do-gooder with blind commitment in him. Mary is the optimist part of him that believes in people and wants to bring out the best in them, Mag is the pragmatic paranoid security guy, Georg may represent the last vestiges of pure merc in him. By the time we learn more about Lars or potentially other crew members, maybe this little theory will flesh out in the way you can make the same argument for, say, Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity. There's that analogy bug again. The only thing preventing this from getting the "+" is that I truly miss the innovative back-matter in print, but at least we now have a digital counterpart. Grade A.