What the Postman Bringeth! #7

The OTT, oversized characters of professional wrestling make such obvious subjects for the comics medium that it’s something of a surprise there’s not already a slew of biographies detailing their exploits. But Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend stands pretty much alone.

But much like its subject, it deserves to. This is an accomplished work from someone who has put a lot of time and effort into researching Andre René Roussimoff, and who clearly has a lot of affection for him. Brown doesn’t allow that to blind him to the harsh realities, though, and isn’t afraid to portray Andre in a less-than-positive light. As a result, the graphic novel serves as an honest look at a flawed, complex individual, one whose condition brought him both joy (in terms of his wrestling career) and pain (because of the ridicule others subjected him to).

The black-and-white artwork is unfussy yet striking, with the simple thick lines emphasising Andre’s larger-than-life physique but also capturing the smaller moments when he didn’t feel like such a giant. And as you’d hope, the scenes depicting in-ring action feel both physical and kinetic, carrying a real sense of weight.

For First Second Books, 2014 is proving to be a banner year, and this is another release the publisher can be proud of. And for Box Brown, it’s a work that will make people sit up and take notice.

Adventures in Improbable Anatomy #27,391

Oh comics.

I was catching up on my pull list when I came across this image in Batman Eternal #9Guillem March is just trolling us all at this point, right? He doesn’t actually believe this to be an accurate representation of human anatomy?

Or being more charitable, the pressures of a weekly title meant he didn’t have sufficient time to fix this one image in an otherwise largely acceptable issue.

Or being less charitable, he just can’t keep his cheesecake tendencies under control – certainly there are a couple of other images in this issue that lend credence to this theory.

As for Batman Eternal…yeah. 10 issues in and it isn’t exactly setting my world on fire. It manages to simultaneously feel as though too much and too little are happening – there’s plenty of plot threads, but few of them have been given any space to develop, and the focus of the last few issues has almost entirely been on the corrupt commissioner who wants Batman caught at all costs. Said commissioner is a dull in-the-pocket-of-the-bad-guys archetype, and there’s little sense of how the citizens of Gotham are affected by him choosing to ignore Carmine Falcone’s criminal activities. Professor Pyg’s character shifts with each appearance, as though the writing committee can’t get a handle on what Grant Morrison was aiming for. And the art is always blandly competent. The best description I can think of is workmanlike. If it was monthly I’d have dropped it ages ago; unless issues #11 and #12 represent a significant improvement I’m pretty sure I’m done.

The Return 2

Too many holidays, too little time to blog.

As part of my travels I headed to Paris, and to a wonderful little bookstore called Shakespeare and Company. They stamp every book they sell, as a sort-of badge of honour I suppose, so I had to pick something up. I hadn’t heard of Kiki de Montparnasse before spotting it on one of the displays, but given its Paris setting it seemed like an apt choice. Written by Jose-Luis Bocquet and illustrated by Catel Muller, it tells the story of Alice Prin, AKA Kiki, who helped inspire a number of important painters and photographers working in Paris in the 1920s and beyond.

Putting an artist’s muse front and centre is a bold conceit, suggesting that nobody deserves to be framed primarily as an inspiration to other people, and that Alice Prin’s life deserves documenting every bit as much as Man Ray’s. The creators back up this argument by delivering a fantastic biography that perfectly captures the irrepressible personality of Kiki, filled with humour and passion and sadness and everything else that serves as a hallmark of a life well lived. Kiki was as much an artist as anyone she modelled for, and this graphic novel is a fitting tribute.

Why we can’t have nice things:

This cover, guys. It’s just the worst. It’s the reason people are able to crack “parents-basement-dwelling-weirdo” jokes about comics readers without being completely wrong about it. It’s an adolescent masturbatory fantasy that’s an insult to all but the most stupid of 14 year olds. And any normal human being would be too filled with shame at the thought of handing this to a comicbook store employee to even contemplate buying it.

But pointing this out is anathema to some, as evidenced by the backlash Janelle Asselin received when she tore apart the awful cover to the new Teen Titans #1, another image that positions the main selling point of a title as “breasts.” In instances such as these, the knuckle-dragging element really do ruin things for everyone else, because as a collective we should’ve evolved beyond this nonsense years ago. Ask yourself this: would male characters ever be depicted in this manner? Of course not. And that’s why this cover deserves to be criticised.

The content of Chaos #1 doesn’t even matter. Comics is a medium where you’re invited to judge a book by its cover. This is clearly retrogade T&A awfulness aimed squarely at the worst elements of fandom. It contributes towards a negative perception of females – that they’re nothing but sexual objects to be lusted over – and an immature attitude towards sex, both of which are already far too prevalent within comics. The industry would be a better place without books like this on the shelves. Spend your money on something else.

Infinite Banners, endless possibilities

Jonathan Hickman has lost me with his Marvel work. I decided to drop both Avengers and New Avengers once Infinity had wrapped up. The truth is that the big ideas weren’t quite coming together to make great stories. Avengers lacked focus, piling up plot threads at the expense of characterisation. Infinity was hugely ambitious in scope but a bit of a mess on the page, lacking the time and space needed to fully realise his vision. And whilst I enjoyed New Avengers, given the overlapping nature of Hickman’s narratives it made sense to drop the title once a jumping off point presented itself.

It’s a shame, because I’d be hard-pressed to name two better ongoings than East of West and The Manhattan Projects. I’ve talked about my love for the former before, and it keeps going from strength to strength with each new issue. The complaint I made when reviewing #6 – that the America in the story felt ill-defined, and thus unbelievable as a functioning nation – has been remedied, making for an increasingly compelling read as the setting is fleshed out and expanded upon.

But for his next Marvel project, I hope he takes inspiration from The Manhattan Projects. Hickman on the Hulk would be such a wonderful fit that just thinking about it is entertaining. Even if he didn’t play around with Bruce Banner’s/Hulk’s past incarnations a la Joseph Oppenheimer, Hickman clearly has an interest in both real and pseudo-science that would play beautifully into the character. And stepping back from overly complicated plotting in favour of a smaller project would be good to see. A man can dream, at any rate.

Single issue issues

Ah, the single issue format. Clearly the single issue I’m obsessed with at the moment. But in fairness, it’s a debate that doesn’t rage quite as fiercely as it ought to. So after the positivity of the last two posts, let’s explore a few of my pet peeves, all of which I’ve had inflicted upon me in recent weeks.

4. Jam issues – Paul O’Brien’s thoughts on the matter perfectly encapsulate how I feel. What is the point of jam issues, exactly? Who do they benefit, given that they don’t benefit the reader? The approach almost never enhances a story, or in the case of All-New X-Men #25 results in inessential filler, which means you’re selling people an inferior product just for the cachet of saying “look how many fantastic creators are working on this issue!” So the publisher gets bragging rights, a higher-than-normal quota of people get paid for their work, and the reader gets something like All-New X-Men #25, which contains a few shining moments amidst a whole heap of pointlessness. For $1 extra. Thanks guys!

3. Fake-out oversized issues – Ah yes. In this instance, the pleasure of picking up a hefty floppy (apologies for the imagery) is mitigated once you get about halfway through and realise that a huge chunk of it is filler. So is the case with Superior Spider-man #31. With a cover price of $5.99 for the final issue of the series, it seemed natural to assume that the creators wanted extra pages to tie up their story in a satisfactory manner (that’s certainly what the issue solicitation implies, albeit by omission). Not the case: aside from a handful of extra main story pages, the remainder of the issue consists of a Christos Gage/Will Slaney coda featuring material that could have been tackled in the upcoming Amazing Spider-man relaunch, as well as the Silver Surfer story from All-New Marvel NOW! Point One #1. No complaints on the latter front (as I’ve previously discussed, it’s a great way of promoting titles that could use an extra push), but padding the page count with unsolicited content from unsolicited creators is poor form.

2. Unexpected price rises – Want to finish reading Forever Evil? Well, you’ll have to pony up an extra dollar for the final issue. It’s a massively cynical move – DC knows that just about everyone who has bought the preceding six issues is going to buy the seventh, and thus has decided to milk the fanbase for more money. The aforementioned Superior Spider-man #31 fits into this category, too, albeit with the extra material serving as a flimsy justification for the increased price. Either way, not a good method of engendering goodwill from paying customers.

1. Fill-in issues – I direct you to Tom Brevoort’s thoughts on the matter. His argument is thus: if issues are late some people complain, but if fill-in issues are released other people complain. In his own words, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Now, it seems to me that one way not to be damned would be to stick to the original schedule. If you release the solicited issue on the solicited date, people have no reason to complain. Of course this isn’t possible 100% of the time, but I’m honestly not sure where he gets the idea that people will be heading to Marvel HQ with pitchforks in hand if an issue is one or two weeks late.

But if an issue is running even later, serious questions have to be asked of everyone working on the title, from publisher to writer to editor to letterer to artists. Why promise a monthly schedule if you can’t deliver it, or if the creators involved can’t stick to it? Why hire creators who can’t deliver work to a monthly schedule for a title you want to release on a monthly schedule? That’s not the reader’s fault, it’s the publisher’s, so why release peevish statements that suggest the reader’s expectations are to blame?

Fill-in issues are a poor substitute for what was originally solicited. At this point, no-one is reading Superior Foes of Spider-man because they’re happy to snap up anything featuring Spider-man’s Z-list enemies. They’re reading it because Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have crafted an offbeat story that’s unlike anything else Marvel is publishing, a low stakes screwball comedy with an original voice and a unique visual style. But two fill-in issues later – #10 was perfunctory, #11 was crap – as a reader it’s hard not to feel as though Marvel is more interested in my money than in delivering the title it originally promised. #9, the last issue by the regular creative team, was released on March 12, 2014. #11 was released on April 9, 2014. Why the hell has Marvel felt the need to release two fill-in issues in less than a month? The answer is as depressing as it is obvious: they like money, and know that people reading the series aren’t likely to skip these issues.

When I finally get round to writing my piece/essay/treatise on why I’m almost entirely abandoning the single issue format, one of the reasons will be so that Marvel and DC get less of my money. Because honestly, when they treat readers in the ways described above, it becomes pretty clear that they don’t deserve it.

What’s in a weekly?

After touching upon the value of the single issue format last time out (and ahead of my longer go-around on the subject in a future piece), it seems quite fitting that I have another reason to talk about floppies: the release of new weekly comic Batman Eternal.

DC has past form with this, of course. I read the entirety of 52, and while it wasn’t a truly great series it had some strong moments (off the top of my head: Booster Gold’s “death” and triumphant return, Sobek’s heel turn, and Lobo and the space dolphin). Countdown passed me by, which is probably for the best judging by the headache I’m nursing having just read the Wikipedia page. And the upcoming Futures End holds no appeal; I suffered through eight issues of Age of Ultron, and have no desire to experience DC’s version.

In Marvel’s case, the closest it came was the Brand New Day relaunch of Amazing Spider-man. Putting out three issues a month meant the creators working on the title were quickly able to establish their vision for the character, and how that represented a shift from the Spidey titles that were being published beforehand. And eliminating the satellite titles meant writers were no longer working at cross-purposes to impose their own idea of what Spider-man should be; instead, everyone was pulling in the same direction. It’s no great surprise that this resulted in a huge leap in the quality of stories being told.

It’s the sort of approach the X-Men line would hugely benefit from – consolidate All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, and Amazing X-Men into a single weekly title with a rotating cast of artists and writers (although Brian Michael Bendis could probably handle the workload alone) and you’d have a much more interesting proposition than the current set-up, where quite a few of the titles have no pressing creative reason to exist.

At any rate, broadly speaking weekly publishing is definitely something I’m on board with, because it really does benefit the majority of ongoing stories. Waiting a month between installments inevitably breaks the flow of any narrative (imagine having to wait that long between TV episodes). Weekly publishing allows for a more immersive reading experience, and it gives creators a little more freedom in terms of both content and pacing.

That’s true of Batman Eternal #1, which is either a slow or a measured start, depending on how charitable you’re feeling (I lean towards the latter). It’s a mood piece, 20 pages that set an overarching tone for what will follow whilst establishing the bare bones of what the series is going to be about – which judging by this issue (and the interviews the creators have given) is law and order in Gotham City.

Unfortunately there are some fairly major issues with the two overlapping plot threads. They’re supposed to be covering the same period of time, but that’s patently impossible: one scene is a quickfire action sequence involving Batman and Jim Gordon, the other is a leisurely introduction to the Gotham police department from the perspective of a new cop. Which in itself is ridiculous – how on earth are these people finding time for character-establishing small talk when there’s a major criminal incident taking place in the city? And then because the story demands it, they halt the small talk just in time to arrive in place for the ending. Failures of logic that drag the reader right out of the story.

That’s not the full extent of the problems, either. The new cop on the beat and the corrupt cop on the take have been plucked from the shelves of Archetypes R Us; the art, by Jason Fabok and some colorist who isn’t credited on the cover but obviously should be, is as DC house style as it gets (within that remit it’s actually very strong work, but then the remit comes with built in limitations); and if Grant Morrison couldn’t sell me on Professor Pyg, I’m not sure anyone else has much of a chance. If Batman Eternal #2 was out in a month’s time, chances are I’d have already pushed the book out of my head.

However, because the second issue is out so soon I’m more inclined to overlook the first issue’s problems. Whereas a 30-day wait would’ve eliminated any lingering curiosity as to how this title will move forward, only having to wait a few days means the more interesting ideas are still firmly in mind. The issue starts with an ending, and it’s a striking enough image that I genuinely want to know how we get there. And I like that the inciting event is the best of Gotham’s protectors being discredited. I’m in for at least the first month, and if it hooks me within that time most likely I’ll be on board for the entire series. In which case I’ll have a reason to visit my local comicbook store every week even if I end up dropping most other titles. Bravo DC.