Singles Going Steady 5/14/2013: Zeroes & OnesA comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic, Nick Hanover, Daniel Elkin
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:
- Sean, Shawn and Jamil continue Age of Ultron with a pretty decent seventh issue.
- Did you see we started a new digital comics roundup? FUCK PAPER.
Now, without further ado, here are some comics released on paper.
Suicide Squad #20
(Ales Kot, Patrick Zircher, Jason Keith; DC)
So far this year, Ales Kot's Suicide Squad was the superhero comic I've been looking forward to most (and there are at least two more Joe Casey projects coming out soon, so that's saying something). Kot's a writer I can easily identify with -- a young guy from Eastern Europe drunk off Grant Morrison comics and trying to make the pop comics only he can make -- and he's not above superheroes, so I've been curious to see how the guy who wrote Change tackles the genre as he takes over a series that exists on the fringes of the DC Universe.
Picking up directly from Adam Glass' run -- which I checked in on for the sake of context and found to be enjoyably shitty -- Kot doesn't go in a drastically different direction from what came before, as he's working with largely the same group of characters and a similar mood, but it's a massive improvement as "Discipline and Punish, Part 1" captures the writer trying to figure out just what makes these characters work through some psychological tactics pulled off by Amanda Waller and a surprise addition to the team. More than a mass-printed writing exercise, however, the results are compelling and darkly comic for what feels like a transition issue (albeit a pointed one). It's a two-fold deal as Kot shows us what makes the characters tick and we see Amanda Waller actively fucking with their heads -- which is much more devious than simply sending them on suicide missions.
Patrick Zircher's always been a solid, underrated artist, and Suicide Squad #20 features some of my favorite work from him. The darkness and the violence suits him, and Jason Keith's colors bring the effective grittiness home. It's not a "pretty" book -- it's ugly in the way it's supposed to be.
Imagine the New 52 Suicide Squad if it were good, basically, and that's what we have here with this new creative team. Judging by the solicits, future issues seem like they're going to be a lot weirder.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Archer & Armstrong #0
(Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, David Baron; Valiant)
The vast majority of fans who grew up reading comics undoubtedly remember those Classics Illustrated books, where stories you were supposed to read for school were turned into super shitty comics, a step above Cliff's Notes. They lacked real artistry or purpose, other than to make a quick buck conning kids into thinking they could get out of their reading assignments or tricking grandparents everywhere into purchasing "educational" presents for their grandkids. So I'm probably not the only one who gets a bit wary any time an otherwise non-educational comic or inventive adaptation decides to take on the classics and Archer & Armstrong #0 had my writer sense tingling.
But damn if Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry don't pull off a near perfect twist on The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Unlike Beowulf, which gets twisted and altered and reconfigured every fucking year it seems, Gilgamesh is the ancient epic without good PR. Here, Van Lente and crew utilize it as an origin story, recasting it for Armstrong and his brothers, filling in the details that the opening of the series' debut issue hinted at. Armstrong is the warrior poet who wrote the epic, while Gilad the younger brother is the terrifying fighter and Ivar the older brother is the scientist archer. The men scorpion of the story are now steampunk-ified, and there are dinosaurs. It all works in context.
Henry gets a lot of room to play around and his fun, ultra clean style is a great fit for this kind of adventure; he nails the camaraderie and rivalry of the brothers and gives the book far more life than any Classics Illustrated ever have. A lot of zero issues from publishers feel more like teases but Van Lente and Henry both clearly care for the story they're telling and it shows, proving that not every origin has to be a yawn inducing rehash. Plus, did I mention the dinosaurs?
- Nick Hanover
(Duane Swierczynski, Eric Nguyen, Michelle Madsen; Dark Horse)
Last time I reviewed X, it was a Zero issue and there was a vigilante with a big red X on his mask cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham-faced hoodlums into sausages. Now we got us an honest to goodness FIRST ISSUE and… well… in this book there's a vigilante with a big red X on his mask cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham-faced hoodlums into sausages. OK, maybe not the sausage part, but still...
What separates this first issue from the previous zero issue, though, is that there seems to be an actual plot developing -- a narrative with some purpose. Who is this mysterious X? What does he have against ham faced hoodlums? Why are the Arcadian police trying to cover up his existence? You know, it raises the kind of questions you ask when confronted with the beginning of a story.
And Swierczynski actually introduces a narrative center, a character that serves as our access point to get our questions answered. Boldly breaking new ground, Swierczynski casts his narrative center as a plucky, down-on-her-luck female reporter. Leigh Ferguson used to work for Arcadia's Evening Journal until she got fired (for being too plucky, perhaps) and is now pursuing the kind of stories her corporate overlords wouldn't touch before. She's got an actual BLOG, baby, and writes her posts using the nom-de-plume The Last Muckraker.
Damn, that's plucky.
I do like the idea of our reporter being clandestine while perusing the story of a masked vigilante, though. It kind of raises the stakes a bit -- anonymity piled upon anonymity much like the layers of a hot Monte Cristo sandwich (mmmmmmmmmmmmm......). The characters have more to lose, and this little bit of business could provide Swierczynski with a springboard to pursue questions of identity and the old persona vs. anima dichotomy should he chose to do so. And I hope he does, as this could elevate this title from just another Batman want-to-be.
What this book really has going for it, still, is Nguyen's art. From scenes of wholesale slaughter, to moments of our vigilante preparing for his mission, to ham faced hoodlums alternating between anger and fear, Nguyen has got the chops to make these scenes visceral, engaging, brooding, and thick. Also of note is Michelle Madsen's color work, whose heavy use of gray and reds really capture a tone and convey the proper sensibility for a book of this ilk.
X #1 does a pretty good job for a first issue. It sets up our conflict, introduces some characters for us to root for, and ends on enough of a cliff-hanger to entice us to want to check out issue number two. Will there be more of a payoff than this being just ANOTHER "masked vigilante with a personal grudge bringing his own brand of justice to the mean streets" book? It's hard to say at this point. There are pieces in place for it to happen, the problem is that the pieces have pretty familiar shapes and so often the tendency is to lazily snap them into puzzles we figured out long ago.
I have my fingers crossed.
- Daniel Elkin
Chin Music #1
(Steve Niles, Tony Harris; Image)
I've read and reread and reread Chin Music since I picked it up on Wednesday and I honestly can't tell you that I know for sure what happened in it. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The new team-up between celebrated horror writer Steve Niles and art nouveau-influenced artist Tony Harris is a pulpy celebration of the chaos that used to be par for the course in horror films. Set during the Prohibition era and featuring Eliot Ness in what seems to be a starring role, the gist of Chin Music is that a man made a deal with what may or may not be demons in order to become empowered. The problem is, he used those powers to do good, which apparently wasn't part of the bargain, so they stripped him of his flesh and cursed him to roam around as gooey skeleton, which is about when Ness runs into him.
Niles wisely steps back and lets Harris do the brunt of the storytelling visually, crafting a gorgeous work in the process, full of intricate panels and frames that stand in contrast to the characters, who all look beat down and ragged and even sometimes goofy. That may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it works well for the story, allowing Niles to come up with some ghastly imagery that morphs into something more playful in Harris' hands. Even if the story held no promise, Harris' art is powerful enough that it makes the endeavor worthwhile. But luckily, the story does hold a lot of potential.
Though this is the kind of first issue that forces far more questions than it answers, and it's confusing and erratic on purpose, it's clear that Niles and Harris have a plan and once we see it in motion, the first issue will reveal more of its mysteries. The issue ends with a beautifully choreographed payoff of its opening, for instance, and there are hints throughout that Ness has gotten himself into way more than he expected when he helped our skeleton friend. You might not get it yet, but if you're willing to stick with it, Chin Music might just wind up 2013's Fatale.
- Nick Hanover
(Kieron Gillen, Caanan White, Keith Williams, Digikore Studios; Avatar)
Über #0 was a comic book Kieron Gillen wrote a few years ago, and Über #1 is a comic Kieron Gillen wrote a couple years after that. In the back matter of this comic, Gillen writes that Issue #3 was scripted in early 2012, so we're getting closer to reading books that resemble the way he writes today. That's a strange way to make an ongoing comic -- they're not bicycles, so you have to recover your groove and move back into the right headspace. Because of that Über has an unfortunately rocky start as we witness Gillen try to smooth out the quirks and glitches inherent to that kind of process.
Über #0 offered an overwhelming amount of characters and events, but with this issue the story and characters are becoming clearer as we spend more time in this world. Gillen writes 22 pages where several ongoing story lines are advanced and people are murdered spectacularly, making it a bit like Game of Thrones without the nipples. Moreover, there are some nice storytelling choices, like a dead man's watch that match cuts with a time bomb in a silent explosion sequence or the continued use of occasional third-person omniscient narration for battle scenes that remind me of when Tolkien would pull back his narrative in Lord of the Rings and turn the thing into a macro-history book of things that didn't happen in real life. I don't know why I keep drawing parallels with popular fantasy novels, but maybe there's something there.
Part of my problem with World War II movies is that it's often impossible to tell all these uniformed white folks apart, and that's even more true when Caanan White's drawing them. With the exception of Hitler, all the Nazis are dark-haired white guys with sharp features and devious faces -- it's pretty much how I imagine every Nazi in Swing Kids that isn't Noah Wylie. The only characters I can really distinguish in Über are the Russian sniper who's a little girl, the blonde spy woman and Hitler.
As with Issue #0, the visuals are the worst part of Über, with White and Keith Williams' linework slathered in gray by Digikore Studios. It's okay to make a comic look good, you don't have to be scared. I promise. I'd probably be happier if Digikore brought in the same palettes they use for their Archie Comics work.
- Danny Djeljosevic
IF YOU GREW UP WITH ALL THOSE GOOFY TOYS FROM THE '90s, YOU'LL GET A SPECIAL KICK OUT OF BATMAN #20
Ten Grand #1