A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Ales Kot, Amazing Spider-Man, Animal Man, Archer & Armstrong, beat poetry, Bloodshot, Change, Chris Eliopoulos, Cormac McCarthy, Dan Slott, DC Comics, Essex County, H.P. Lovecraft, Harbinger, I Am Legend, Image, Jeff Lemire, Jose Villarrubia, Justin Jordan, Lily Tomlin, Marvel NOW!, Morgan Jeske, New 52, On the Road, Patrick Zircher, Rotworld, Ryan Stegman, Scott Snyder, Shadowman, Steve Martin, Superior Spider-Man, Swamp Thing, Sweet Tooth, The Road, The Underwater Welder, The Walking Dead, Valiant, Vertigo, Watchmen, X-O Manowar, Y: The Last Man, Yanick Paquette
(From On the Road to The Road in one comic review? Read on…)
Scott Carney: Two pages in, I knew that Change #2 (Image) would be my favorite book of the week. This trippy little thing is big on bouncing to the beat of an earlier generation. Oh, we’re on a road, all right; I’m just not entirely sure where that road–or where writer Ales Kot–is taking us, and I’m pretty sure that Google Maps isn’t going to help me. And, you know what? That aspect, which could easily be a deal breaker, is actually one of the endearing qualities of this enigmatic issue–along with the poetry that pulses like poisoned blood through the veins of the sharply shifting vignettes, which all lead back, apparently, to the newly-revealed lungs of the book: New Atlantis. Another draw comes in the form of the fresh characters, whom I still hardly know two issues into the series, but about whom I care more than the hopeless heroes of of the Avengers Arena and more than the trite assemblage of assassins in the frivolous Thunderbolts. (Each of those NOW! titles is now a THEN! That’s right: El Droppo. Would you say I’ve dropped a plethora of books?) Sure, yeah, I felt lost; but isn’t that what I’m supposed to feel? (Isn’t that what the characters feel?) Damn it! Isn’t that what I want? Isn’t that what I’m paying for? For an escape from the grind? For a change of pace? Appropriately, “YESSSSssss.”
Derek Mainhart: I agree that this is one idiosyncratic little book. The analogy you make to beat poetry is good one; this book has an evocative, rambling cadence that seems as much the point as the actual events that take place (whatever they are). The experience of reading an experimental, seemingly stream-of-conscious work like this can be an engaging, highly personal one. Like beat poetry, I appreciate the unorthodox immediacy of it (not to mention Morgan Jeske’s Paul Pope-inflected artwork). But it is simply not my groove. (Or maybe between this, Fatale and Locke and Key, I’ve just reached my quotient of Lovecraft-inspired comics.)
The Superior Spider-Man #1 (Marvel)
Speaking of change, this was billed as a BIG one. As regular readers are aware, I’m among those who are appalled by Spidey’s recent history. So when the rumors started flying about this book’s premise, I started picking up Amazing Spider-Man again for the first time in years. And I have to say, I was intrigued by Dan Slott’s story: having ol’ Doc Ock mind-swap with Peter Parker, then letting Parker die in Ock’s enfeebled body did, in fact, feel like a shake-up of the status quo. Letting a megalomaniac muck about in the life of an icon seemed to have potential (It says volumes about the mess Marvel’s made of Peter Parker that killing him could actually improve the book). So I was on board. And for the first twenty-one pages I was not disappointed (SPOILERS!): Doctor Spider-Pus fighting the new Sinister Six, not so much out of moral obligation but because he’s indignant that they’re sullying his legacy. Then, in true supervillain fashion, he defeats them by leading them into a meticulously prepared, elaborate deathtrap. With great ego, it would seem, comes great responsibility. That ego is again on display in a scene in which the brilliant Doctor starts fraying at the edges with the knowledge that all of his future accomplishments will be credited to Peter. And finally, in the best sequence in the book, Otto Parktavius goes on a date with Petey’s beloved Mary Jane. In a hilarious tour de lettering, Otto’s self-absorbed narration is “pasted” over MJ’s dialogue while he blithely ogles her (I assume this was Slott’s decision, but kudos to letterer Chris Eliopoulos anyway for an effect I’ve never quite seen before). Ryan Stegman’s aggressive artwork, all sharp angles, blocky shadows and speed-lines, perfectly matched the irreverent tone of a story that held the promise of deconstructing super-hero tropes by turning them on their head (not that this is Watchmen or anything, but there is a gleeful audacity in doing this sort of thing to Spider-Man).
And then page twenty-two. Who should show up to ruin the fun? Why, Peter Parker of course! (or his ghost, or whatevyawn…) Now, I’m not naive; we’re talking about a super-hero comic. Of course Peter’s coming back. Nobody stays dead, silly! But so soon? The first issue of the much hoopla-ed big change? Maybe it was Slott’s plan all along, but this reeks of corporate hand-wringing: God forbid Peter Parker doesn’t appear in a Spider-Man comic for even one issue. (Slott even goes to the extent of having Petey verbalize the Game Plan: “I am Peter Parker. And I swear I will find a way BACK!“) Never mind that this retroactively robs AMS #700 of even the illusion of poignancy less than a month after its publication; in one fell swoop, an edgy, promising, even satirical premise has been rendered safe, predictable and pedestrian – the very opposite of a change in status quo. I, for one, am not looking forward to watching Peter play Lily Tomlin to Otto’s Steve Martin. (Name That Reference! Win a prize!) I haven’t been this deflated by an ending since A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
SC: Yeah. Me, too! No, really: you took the web right out of my shooter. But I–may I vent? Come on! They couldn’t've given us three issues–just three issues!–to savor this stroke of genius. No, sir! Gosh, I wish I were a spider on the wall during the pitches and the planning and any of the other processes that led to–to–this! I mean, seriously: was this Slott’s plan all along? Was there some directive from on high to not let this linger too long? I’ll tell you what I wasn’t thinking after reading the page that shall remain numberless: Oh boy, I can’t wait to see how Peter comes back! So, yeah, it’s quite possible that as quickly as they won me over, they’ve lost me. I’m not too sure how far I’ll follow this not-so-superior turn.
OK, then, well, really speaking of change (you’d think it’s a theme or something): a big change is coming for one of our favorite titles. And, it’s a bag-shattering change, too. That’s right: Scott Snyder’s almost done with his run on Swamp Thing (DC); so I guess that means I’m almost done with my run, too. Aye, and it was a good one.
DM: Yeah, talk about change you can’t believe in. It really is a shame; with issue 16, Snyder has recaptured some of the aura of the first year of the book. The extended build-up to the current Rotworld storyline distinguished itself with a steady baseline of unease, intermittently punctuated by surreal spasms of horror (especially when rendered with skin-crawling effectiveness by sometimes-series artist, Yanick Paquette). The series began to lose a little mojo with the introduction of Anton Arcane as the villain of the piece. The terror went from chillingly existential to almost cartoonish super-villainy (Anton would twirl his mustache if he had a face.) When Rotworld kicked into high gear a few months ago, the book seemed to further strain under the expectations of “epic” storytelling. But here Snyder once again hits his stride with a tale split between the struggle of the past to prevent the nightmarish present. The two strands also serve as emotional counterpoint, traversing the oh-so-short distance between hope and despair. In the (alternate?) present, Swamp Thing valiantly struggles to save, not the world, nor reality itself, but the only thing that matters to him in the end; his love, Abigail. More’s the pity then that Abigail’s quest in the past seemingly renders Swampy’s heroics utterly futile. This is the stuff of tragedy–and of terror: without giving too much away, let’s just say that when Snyder promises a shock (unlike Superior Spider-Man), he doesn’t back down.
Only two more issues of Snyder and Paquette? Now that’s tragic.
SC: Hell yeah it is! But, come on: do you really think Abigail’s gone for good? I have a sneaky suspicion that Mr. Thing is going to use some of his bio-restorative formula to bring her back to life–to some form of life, maybe even as a Swamp Thingess. That’d be a fitting finale, wouldn’t it: another out-of-step ending for the otherwise superior Scott Snyder. (See the end of his Batman: Court of Owls arc if you don’t believe me.)
Moving on, I’m willing to admit it: I’ve changed my mind about Shadowman (Valiant) with #3. A little background: I don’t have any background with Shadowman as a book or as a character. I figured I’d give it a whirl since Valiant’s revamp was 4-for-4 with two home runs (Archer & Armstrong and Harbinger) and two triples (X-O Manowar and Bloodshot). The first issue really didn’t do it for me, and I pretty much called it quits there. Then, during a trip to a more well-stocked shop than my home base, I saw #2 and decided to pick it up because I had a few bucks left over. (Yeah, I’m still working on the whole willpower thing. Getting better, though!) I still wasn’t too taken by it. Flash forward to another trip to my shop on the side: the proprietor offered up #3 as one of his favorite covers of the week. Yup. That was enough for me. And wouldn’t you know: I really liked it: I finally bought Mr. Twist as a terrifying villain. I dug the descent into the Deadside; more specifically I was taken–along with Jack–by Jaunty, the talking monkey with the sweet hat and the sweeter Cajun ‘tude. I appreciated the obvious allusion to King Arthur: Jack, in this case recognizing his responsibility, his destiny, draws the scythe from the shadow and becomes the new Shadowman. And with that, Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher have earned a new Shadowfan. Bring on the big baddie: bring on Master Darque!
DM: And finally (and finally), Sweet Tooth #40 (DC/Vertigo), a book that’s all about change. Throughout it’s run this book has always seemed an odd, at times ill-fitting addition to the post-apocalyptic literary landscape. Jeff Lemire’s take on the end of man seemed to lack the visceral drive of The Walking Dead, the gravitas of I Am Legend, or the pointed political commentary of Y: The Last Man (to name but a few well-known exemplars of the genre). The story seemed to have a narrow focus: the young hybrid boy/deer, Gus and his grizzled protector, Jepperd fight to survive against malevolent pursuers, endlessly chasing them through the woods, determined to discover the mystery of Gus’ creation and, they hope, the key to mankind’s survival. And though the cast expanded, the scope of the narrative was never itself expansive in the way stories like this generally are. The same, however, cannot be said of the art. Nobody does desolate landscapes like Lemire (praise must also be heaped upon series colorist par excellence, Jose Villarrubia, he of the muted earth tones and washed out firmament). The setting and spare nature of much of the writing created a lyrical tone of atmosphere and ache. This restrained aesthetic, which is Lemire at his best (see Essex County) is ultimately what separates this book from the rest of the genre. In fact, with its devotion to craft, the work it most resembles is perhaps Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Both are about fathers and sons (a recurring theme in Lemire’s work, from The Underwater Welder to Animal Man). And both find hope in the passing of the torch to the next generation. But whereas McCarthy’s hope is a flickering candle in unremittant darkness, Lemire’s is a bonfire of celebration. Though the territory covered by the series may not have broad, this generous, and alas, final issue is expansive in perhaps its most important measure: its heart. Book of the Week. Good Night, Sweet Tooth.
Scott and Derek