Friday, October 7, 2011

Drab Color Comics and Bold Black & White Action

Some quick thoughts on recent reads:

Justice - What was the point of this series?  It read like Kingdom Come + Superfriends + Acts of Vengeance.  I'm not even sure I could understand the plot.  Something about the bad guys acting like good guys because the bad guys worried the good guys would be bad guys by not saving everyone if the world suddenly exploded.  Except the bad guys were really just being manipulated by the real Bad Guy behind it all, Brainiac, who was making the bad guys act good by implanting a shared nightmare in their heads via Mr. Mind nanobots, which he also used to make good guys act bad.

This series made me realize there are three things I really don't want to read in superhero comics anymore:
  1. Photo-referenced art.  At this point seeing all the wrinkles and folds in the characters' faces and costumes just makes me feel like I'm watching some elaborate cosplay routine.  There's no life or energy to any of the artwork — the sequences are static rather than dynamic, and the dark lighting and details just bog down the story rather than propel it along.
  2. Individualized narrative captions.  Also slowing down the story are all of the boxes of text floating over each character, detailing his or her every banal thought.  Look, these overwrought captions are not adding depth or drama to your characterization, and the distinctive color-coding for each character is not clever.  Just show us the characters doing interesting things and let us infer what their thoughts or motivations are; trying to spell it all out for us is tedious and insulting.
  3. Heroes (or villains) solving real world concerns.  For the last time, bringing up the question of why super-powered beings don't do more to end world hunger / poverty / crime / etc. just draws more attention to the inconsistencies of superhero comics.  Unless you're willing to run all the way with it (a la Miracleman, or even series set in fantastical alternate worlds, such as Tom Strong or Top 10), you just end up raising more questions than you address.  For example, at the end of Justice, are we supposed to assume that the Justice League simply confiscates all the marvelous technology the villains bestowed upon humanity because it was infected with Brainiac's nanobots?  Wouldn't most people want to hold onto those things if there was no immediate danger posed by them, or at the very least expect the League to refurbish such items?  Wouldn't humanity rightly ask the League, "Uh, yeah, so why aren't you spending your time doing more things like the Legion of Doom did, only, you know, without the evil?"  Wouldn't the JLA look like jerks if they'd had the ability to transform the dessert into vibrant oases all along but never did so because they were too busy spending time and energy protecting their secret identities?
Kekkaishi vol. 27 - The long-term plot intricacies are beginning to lose me (I can't remember who's who in the Shadow Organization or what's been revealed / uncovered about whose secret plans) but I'm still enjoying the action of the moment.  This issue was especially engaging, with the triple-threat posed by the powerful witch duo to the town, the mystic site, and Yoshimori's friends/allies.  Also interesting/unusual for a shonen series (at least as far as I can remember) is the reaction of Yoshimori to the impending doom:  He's basically depicted as choking under pressure, unable to decide what course of action is best given the seemingly overwhelming odds of the trilemma.  It's a daring approach for creator Yellow Tanabe to take as it could make Yoshimori appear incompetent or unsympathetic, but I think it's actually a shrewd choice:  We've all probably had moments in our lives where we feel overwhelmed by mounting pressure, so this sequence actually makes Yoshimori more relatable.  Plus, it shows how difficult it can be to transfer skills mastered in isolation via study/training into actual practice in the noisy, messy chaos of the battlefield.

Bokurano: Ours vol. 4 - One of the dangers of reading comics via the library is that occasionally they miss ordering a volume in an ongoing series, which can lead to confusion when reading the latest volume to arrive in my queue.  This happened before with 20th Century Boys, although given the jumping timelines of that series I wasn't certain I'd missed a volume until I started reading reviews that referred to events I hadn't read.  It happened again with Bokurano: Ours, with my library skipping over volume 3 and going right to volume 4.  The jump was more obvious given the sudden presence of characters that weren't in the second volume, but perhaps this omission was a blessing in disguise:  According to this review, it sounds like some of the events depicted in volume 3 are ones that I wouldn't particularly care to read.  Still, the other volumes have dealt with uncomfortable topics in a manner that I didn't find exploitative or objectionable, so maybe I'll have to go back and check it out if the library ever gets around to ordering it.

Plus, I have to disagree with the reviewer's assessment of the art being "generic" — I 've always found Mohiro Kitoh's style to be distinctive, from his gangly youth to detailed mecha; I've enjoyed his artwork since running across it in Shadow Star serialized in Dark Horse's fondly remembered / sadly missed manga anthology, Super Manga Blast!

FF vol. 1 - Felt a little lost reading this.  I hadn't read any of Hickman's previous work on Fantastic Four but was curious to see Spider-Man join the Fantastic Four sorry, the Future Foundation as I've always liked Spidey's interplay with the Fabulous Foursome.  Plus, this cover promised a rush of Rude-esque joy and energy, and the floating head in a jar reminded me of the flying Heads from Nexus, so I thought I'd be in for an enjoyable collection of fun, imaginative, high-concept sci-fi adventure.  Unfortunately, the tone inside the comic is gloomy and mopey, with everyone mourning the loss of the Human Torch or upset over the decision to let Dr. Doom join the group or fretting over the problem of evil Reeds from alternate dimensions up to no good in universe 616.  Plus, the idea of the FF working with their greatest enemies to brainstorm ways to defeat the evil Reeds didn't feel right, and not just for the obvious "uh, why don't they incapacitate the bad guys to prevent future wrongs and/or punish them for past evildoings" reason:  If, as Sue points out, the FF always beats the baddies, what insight can the villains possibly offer to help defeat (alternate versions of part of) the FF?  Interesting ideas undercut by inconsistent/dull execution, so for me FF stands for Falls Flat.

Speak of the Devil - The comic book equivalent of a trashy exploitation flick:  Dark, violent, and gory, but fun in a gruesome way.


  1. That's about as apt and vivid a description of why I was disappointed in FF as I can imagine. Well said. What a letdown that comic was.

  2. Thanks, Alan. FF did inspire me to go back and re-read some early Baron/Rude Nexus, so there's that.