Singles Going Steady 4/2/2013: The Best Comic of the Week Has an 'X' in the Title

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Danny Djeljosevic, Nick Hanover, Shawn Hill

 

 

Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.

 

Not everything gets covered in Singles, so here are the comics that got reviewed separately:

 

Mr. X: Hard Candy

(Dean Motter; Dark Horse)

 

 

Between 1984 and 1990, Dean Motter was stepping beyond everyone in comics with his pulp fiction dystopian world of Mister X. Today, Dark Horse Comics is going back to Radiant City, collecting a Mr. X story originally serialized in their Dark Horse Presents series, and have released it as Mr. X: Hard Candy. If you are a neophyte to Dean Motter's creation like me, let me orient you a bit with a quote by author and screen writer Phil Nutman from the forward to this book: "It combined so many of the things I love: Bauhaus design, art deco, hot babes, fast cars, new wave music, German expressionist cinema…" If you're a snoot or a hipster or a fan of great noir comics, how can you not be intrigued by a set up like this?

 

 

And Mr. X: Hard Candy lives up to this hype. While heavy on the exposition, the book tramps tight through its noir -- and what a place it is. In Motter's world, Radiant City was built by architects and engineers all gacked up on experimental psychotropics which causes the city itself to have "negative psychetectural effects" on the populace. In order to live in Radiant City, you have to anesthetize yourself or go mad, and right now, there's a "Pharma Famine." That's right. It's hard times in Radiant City. And this off kilter jig is the background for a kidnapping in this comic -- one perpetrated at a nightclub housed in a decommissioned glue factory none the less -- and Mr. X is on the case.

Oh yeah. It's all that going on.

 

 

Let me try to put this into concrete terms. If Dashiell Hammett and Philip K. Dick spawned a love child, and that child spliced its DNA with Timothy Leary and Jean Paul Satre's, you'd get an approximation of the kind of genius Dean Motter is.

The story plays with time a bit, jumping in and out of flashbacks, all narrated by a plucky female reporter named Rosetta Stone. It's got action, intrigue, ingenues, an undead bartender named Anubis Mahoney, giant robots and a "Nose Candy" joke that just can't be beat. It's hard not to get into the groove of this book. 

 

 

But what really pushes Mr. X: Hard Candy is Motter's art. Subtle and stylish, it is by no means simplistic. I could bandy about words like Art Deco and Post Modernist and Cyberpunk, but none of these easy adjectives really capture what is going on here. Motter washes his noir in purples and pinks which adds a crackle to his thick inks and tight lines. Even his grays have a hint of blue in them, making this dark tale pop, adding a layer of interaction with the viewer that puts him or her off their game. Motter plays with expectations and unsettles you in just the right way. As time has gone on and this style's influence has become more pervasive, it may have lost a little of the punch it had thirty years ago, but Mr. X stands as the progenitor, and Motter is the master here. 

This is a book your reread if for no other reason than to just look at it again.

So. Get on board the High-Speed Nonstop Bullet Train that is comic. Grab your psychotropic of choice. Pack light. Buckle up. Mr. X: Hard Candy is your jumping-on place. 

- Daniel Elkin

 

Uncanny Avengers #5

(Rick Remender, Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin, Larry Molinar; Marvel)

 

 

It's amazing how one page can overshadow an entire comic book. When Scott Lobdell wrote Starfire as a teenage boy's fantasy woman in the first issue Red Hood and the Outlaws, for most readers that was the end of the entire series for them. (Maybe rightfully so? That's up to you. I thought the characterization was dumb and didn't like what I read of the series proper.) Now a single page from Uncanny Avengers #5 has sparked debate in the comics world -- also rightfully so, but I'll talk about that a bit at the end.

 

 

Uncanny Avengers #5 is a pretty great single issue. Remender introduces an upcoming plot, throws in a lot of character interaction with his scene setting, introduces two more team members and throws in a fight -- one that concludes with maybe my favorite mix of a final image and an issue title. At the risk of hyperbole, it's electrifying stuff if you're into superhero comics.

On the art side, I feel like Olivier Coipel doesn't get the cred he deserves even though I don't know anybody who dislikes his work. He and inker Mark Morales straight up crush it on this book with these expressive characters who all look distinct from one another -- Captain America and Havok could easily be drawn as two indistinguishable blond guys -- and really effective action scenes.

 

 

But the reason most are paying attention to this issue is that Havok -- brother of Cyclops, currently viewed as a villain and a murderer by the Marvel Universe -- stood up in front of a crowd and proclaimed his desire to not be called a "mutant." Which, okay, "mutant" is a word that's often used to mean "freak."

 

 

At this point a lot's already been said about the "M-word" controversy -- Comics Alliance has a great piece on it that sums it up well and Remender set the record straight a little bit today -- and I'm pretty late to the party as it is. It's a complex issue and there are no easy answers. When I first read the page out of context, I thought it was, on the surface, without thinking about it very much, a nice sentiment -- a hated superhero taking off his mask and going "Hi, my name's Alex, I am a living person with feelings" -- but with immediately troubling implications if you take the X-Men as a literal 1:1 metaphor for race. Which isn't wrong because race drives Remender's take on the characters more than others being published today.

 

 

While reading Uncanny #5, I think the page was blown a little out of proportion -- in the issue it works better because Havok's motivation seems to involve working in opposition to his brother. And like Andrew Wheeler and Joe Hughes point out in that Comics Alliance piece, it's unfortunate that he doesn't come up with an alternative self-ascribed word for "mutant" -- and that "genetically challenged" bit everyone is citing is honestly not a better term. Instead, he gives a Mona Lisa smile and goes "How about Alex?" which is cute, but then the scene gets interrupted by a supervillain. Context suggests otherwise, but I'd like to think Alex was going to go, "But seriously folks, let's refer to my people using a word that doesn't mean 'monster' or 'deviant.' How about, oh, I dunno, 'genetically gifted'? 'Abilitated'? 'DNAlternative'? I'm not really an 'idea guy,' but I'm sure one of these will catch on."

Or maybe he interpreted "What should we call you?" as exclusively "How should we address you, man currently speaking behind the lectern?" I mean, Havok is historically kind of a dick, right?

 

 

Either way, Remender promises that characters will disagree with Havok, which already seems built into the story with this issue considering Rogue seems to actively hate being on this team. Havok also has it pretty cushy -- he's a handsome blonde who was simply handed leadership to the Avengers because of who he is and won't get attention in his secret identity unless he uses his weird circle powers. I feel like Remender's going to write a scene where somebody with scales and tentacles says "Yeah, it's easy for YOU, but what about the rest of us?"

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

East of West #1

(Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin; Image)

 

 

Of the new generation of superstar writers, are any as prone to genre flipping as Jonathan Hickman? Hickman's career is a bit like Bowie's in his prime, full of experimental excursions to genres that one wouldn't otherwise think to associate him with and the writer's latest team up with his FF collaborator Nick Dragotta is no different. A post-apocalyptic western of sorts, East of West looks and feels a bit like El Topo by way of the Luna Brothers' The Sword, with Jodorowsky's knack for mutating familiar iconography and religious themes grafting itself onto the latter duo's interest in the hideousness of vengeance.

 

 

In its first issue, East of West's important details are difficult to parse out as we're presented with a future world that both and isn't familiar, making for a jarring sense of misdirection, like when you're traveling somewhere and think you recognize a place but aren't quite sure. Hickman is in full on unreliable narrator mode here and his script keeps us purposefully in the dark, as we witness a fracture in the alliance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and we're given just enough information to figure out one of the four has betrayed the others and gone missing but we don't know what for or how or when just yet.

 

 

That leaves Dragotta with the heavy lifting here in the first issue, as it's down to him to make this world work and feel real and for the most part he succeeds. The Horsemen in particular are immediately intriguing, reinvented here as reborn youths, stubborn and mischievous and cruel but not at all naive. Dragotta and colorist Frank Martin have designed them for maximum impact, especially once we see their adult Earth counterparts, who stand out from their setting immediately thanks to their stark black and white palettes, like the evil flip of the FF uniform. Likewise, the brokedown shantytown future Dragotta presents is totally alien but also totally believable, familiar enough in its references to somewhat offset the displacement but jagged enough to remind us that this is a fucked up reality of dark times and dark desires.

There's a lot of mystery to that setting and to this story in general, so while the first issue lacks the narrative punch Red Wing had immediately, there's also a sense that this debut is misleading on purpose and this will be one of Hickman's slow burns, a Station to Station style release, if you will. Maybe it won't entirely triumph by the end, but I feel confident in saying that it will be worth the ride and the brain scratching that ensues, nonetheless.

- Nick Hanover

 

The Compleat Zaucer of Zilk

(Brendan McCarthy, Al Ewing, Len O'Grady; IDW/2000 AD)

 

 

I've never been an Anglophile, but I have always found British pop culture fascinating, mostly because of its music but also because of the British Invasion that hit mainstream comics and had such a huge influence on my generation of comic readers and creators. So theoretically I am the target audience for IDW's rerelease of Zaucer of Zilk, Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing's latter day collaboration in the pages of 2000 AD. Yet Zaucer of Zilk might be even too British for me.

 

 

Reading a bit like if Anthony Burgess had gotten heavy into the Madchester acid scene and replaced Peter Milligan on Shade, the Changing Man in the '90s, Zaucer of Zilk is defined by its distinctly British dialogue, visuals and aesthetic, as mixed media imagery cribbed from Terry Gilliam (yes, I know he's technically American) and John Tenniel frames acid house backdrops and characters decked out in rave attire. McCarthy and Ewing are clearly devoted to the material, which is essentially a fairy tale for the Factory set that involves the cocky magical hero celebrity the Zaucer of Zilk fighting a dreary rival in order to keep his powers. But McCarthy and Ewing's passion fails to coalesce into a story with the kind of staying power that fairy tales need to have.

 

 

Zaucer of Zilk instead is fleeting, decked out like a hallucinogen fever dream, confusing in its intensity and potency, ultimately kind of head ache inducing. Still, that's seemingly what McCarthy and Ewing were going for, a way of recapturing that Madchester charm more than a decade on and just because the experience doesn't necessarily hold up as a comic doesn't mean it doesn't accomplish its other goal of bringing you back to a chaotic era where pills and pants and blurry dripping colors were a pop culture of their own.

- Nick Hanover

 

Superman #18

(Scott Lobdell, Aaron Kuder, Tyler Kirkham, Robson Rocha, Jaime Mendoza, Sunny Gho, Blond; DC)

 

 

To recap: my name's Danny and I think Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort's Superman is mighty underrated. I know it's not cool to like Lobdell in light of Starfiregate and remembering the 1990s and you'll never ever believe me, but in the pages of Superman Rocafort and Sunny Gho deliver crystalline visuals befitting someone called "The Man of Tomorrow" and Lobdell's script is playful and competent, like reading a Spider-Man comic.

In last week's installment, I referred to Superman #17 as being "on some Prophet shit, for real" mainly because Superman meets a silent space-giant, which is pretty exciting for Superman, often the most boring, un-adventurous, creatively conservative franchise in comics. And it looked like we were going to hit new levels as Superman #18 opened with art from Aaron Kuder, who goes all Geoff Darrow on a giant Fourth World dinosaur as Lobdell delivers some cheeky narration:

 

 

Then a couple pages later we see Kuder get his Quitely on with this full-page shot of Orion:

 

 

It's incredible stuff, with Sunny Gho dialing back his penchant for "digital painting as coloring" for something a little smoother and shinier to better highlight Kuder's linework. It's an astonishing start to this book, and I couldn't be more excited.

Then come the art changes. Tyler Kirkham does a scene where he has difficulty drawing Superman's chin from a low angle but otherwise seems to be advancing manga influence in his art which I'm stoked for, and Gho's colors bring him into some million-dollar Jo Chen territory.

 

 

After that it's a middle portion drawn by Robson Rocha and colored by Blond that reminds us what most of the New 52 looks like. It's generic, un-evocative fill-in stuff made even more generic by it being flanked by better looking pages colored by Sunny Gho. Maybe the effect is supposed to be that the mundane pages are drawn by average artists and the crazy stuff are illustrated to be look strange, striking and beautiful.

 

 

Script-wise, Lobdell does a lot in his alotted 20-pages -- he introduces a bunch of new plot points and advances Clark Kent's freelance blogger status while giving us a healthy dose of both alter egos. I just wished a good chunk of it looked better.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #27 WAS DRAWN REALLY NICE AND WON'T MAKE ANYBODY ANGRY

 

Savage Skullkickers #1/Skullkickers #20

 

 

Morbius the Living Vampire #3

 

 

Batman Incorporated #9

 

 

Journey into Mystery #650

 

 

Uncanny X-Force #3

 

 

Young Avengers #3

 

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