A slight format change starting this week as well as a new release time for Friday mornings…Every Wednesday I pop into Whatever Store on Castro Street in San Francisco to pick up my haul of new comics. In addition to the books on my list, Rich and Cougar toss in one or two recommendations. I read the books. I think thoughts. Those thoughts may contain spoilers.
Astro City #27
Book of the Week
“A chibi-type hero. Strong, fast, powered by her mystic hair scrunchies…”
I come at comic books from the point of view as a writer. As much as I enjoy, appreciate, and marvel at the art, a story and dialogue will often carry the day for me. This issue of Astro City was one of the rare books that blew my mind with the art.
The story focuses on villains called the Unbodied who take corporeal form via myths and legends. As a way of getting into the world, they prey on a video game designer and start taking the form of her villains while she sleeps. But the villains aren’t yet powerful enough to exist in the real world all the time so they create a hero who can act as a kind of anchor: American Chibi. The final battle takes place in the game world where these modern myths are building their power in preparation for an attack.
Infurnari’s style at first jarred me. Compared to the traditional Astro City look it is rough, possessing an almost charcoal sketch quality. The sketch quality, combined with a muted color palette, leaves characters and backgrounds heavily shadowed, implying a kind of existential darkness that would be at home in Gotham City but is seldom seen in Astro City. A massive style shift, hinted at on Ross’ cover, comes not quite halfway through the book when American Chibi and the Honor Guard visit the game world. The rough edges are flattened, the shadows are gone, and the colors are bright. The characters all resemble lively Pop! Vinyl figurines—an appearance that gels with American Chibi’s overall look.
It isn’t, however, this initial style shift that made an impression. The story ends with American Chibi having to stay in the game world which severs the connection between the game designer and all of the mythical characters. But Chibi has left behind totems that grant at least some of her super powers to the designer, and on the last page she flies through the air relishing the opportunity to follow in American Chibi’s heroic footsteps. It’s this last page, taking place in the roughly drawn and heavily shadowed real world, that Infurnari bridges the two styles—deepening the connection between the two worlds and the hero and her creator—by carefully incorporating part of the game world’s color palette and dropping the shading ever so much.
The story in the issue was fun. The idea of incorporating video games as modern myth makes complete sense, and Busiek writes American Chibi as a character relishing her life and her heroic calling. In this case, though, it was Infurnari’s style choices that made the book really pop.
Power Cubed #1
Whatever Store Recommendation
“Not to self. Do not use the internet to hire henchmen.”
Sometimes the first issue of a new series packs in too much—it lays so much track for developing stories that there’s no time to relish the story. While the book starts out great, the second half spins out of control. Lopresti’s writing is action driven enough that the book never feels cluttered, the strands of character development he sets up in the earlier pages feel lost as the action heats up.
The premise of the series is that an eighteen year old boy, Kenny, receives a cube from his father for his birthday. This cube can rearrange matter, turning one thing into a different thing of equivalent mass. The cube may or may not be alien technology. Along the way we meet a vaguely Borg-ified Nazi scientist and an agent from the Federal Bureau of Paranormal Investigation and Galactic Mischief (FBPIGM…and it’s not supposed to spell anything).
The issue begins on a pleasant enough note; we see that Kenny has a strained relationship with his father in the wake of his mother’s death. These scenes are the book’s biggest strength, and the sentiment is carried through right up until Kenny gets the cube and the action starts. The speed with which the more fantastic elements get introduced—the cube, the aliens, the federal agent, and the Nazi scientist chasing any or all of those—distracts from all the personal angles Lopresti had set up. And the concept of the cube’s ability, while novel, packs a lot of power into Kenny’s hands and makes me wonder how tension could be realistically maintained. It’s an interesting enough book, but not one I’m expecting to make my pull list.
Wild’s End: The Enemy Within #1
Whatever Store Recommendation
“Are you planning to do much more fainting, Mr. Cornfelt?”
I’m of the mind that anthropomorphized animals should always be English; the demeanor, clothing, and setting convey a strange authenticity—as if it were only natural that English animals behave in exactly this way.
An alien has crashed. A village is quarantined. The witnesses to the alien arrival are locked away. And the government has turned to prominent science fiction writers to help solve the case.
The greatest fun in this issue is the choice of animal for each character. A stuffy, uptight, old school science fiction writer is a fat cat. A government agent is a squirrel. A brigadier is…a deer. And there’s a character named Fawkes who is a Fox. It makes me wonder how much time and energy Abnett & Culbard put into their character selection. There are so many in-jokes, be them blatant puns or just amusing pairings, that I expect the hardest part of the Wild’s End books is not crafting the plot so much as inventing the characters filling the world. I’m amused enough to check out the second issue—not because the story at this point is particularly enrapturing but because the character concepts are so on the nose perfect. I mean…a brigadier deer? How can you not?
“Seriously? This is Raymond Chandler convoluted. Where’s the hidden camera? I feel like I’m on a really upsetting Japanese TV show.”
The deliberate pacing I enjoyed so much from the first issue returns in Wolf #3. Kot weaves so much subtext in the dialogue that he can use quiet looks to advance the story, and Taylor’s art is more than up to the task. Freddy’s living situation is settled in the book’s opening pages in a heavy dialogue exchange that even works in a reference to the existential novel Our Lady of the Flowers. The plot thread about the Santa Ana winds, what they bring with them, and what it means to the supernatural characters picks up a few more details but stays on a slow boil. Meanwhile a potential endgame confrontation is set up with Wolfe and his employer from the first issue. This is starting to be one of those rare books that I don’t believe benefits from the serialized format. I’ve often found this true of noir influenced stories (think just about everything Ed Brubaker has done, especially Criminal and Daredevil). The larger story in Wolf is told in moments and beats, and while we get small pseudo-cliffhangers at the end of each issue they feel like interruptions within the pacing Kot has developed. I am starting to lean toward saving new issues to read in blocks.
“No. You’re not Jean Grey. You look like her, though. Tell me…do you die like her?”
X-Tinction Agenda #4 brings the series to a close much in the way it had to: the two X-Men factions work together to defeat the reincarnated Cameron Hodge. Guggenheim includes the requisite deaths you expect in an alternate universe story that carries no lasting consequences (the spike through the face that takes out Rictor is especially gruesome). The last page throws in some speachifying from Rachel Grey about how X-City and Genosha should have worked together because they were all X-Men. Unfortunately this last issue can’t deliver on the darker promise of the first two—of one group of X-Men doing what they must to prevent an extinction event everyone else is of too afraid of to intervene in. Here we had an opportunity similar to what we’re getting in Civil War—to explore X-team resentments in a way that would reflect the kind of permanence that can’t exist in the main Marvel universe—but it’s abandoned in favor of a team-up model common in super hero comics: first we fight each other then we fight the villain together. It’s a fun book, and the last page is a nice twist, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
Astro City #27
Kurt Busiek: writer
Joe Infurnari: guest artist
Alex Ross: cover
John Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft: lettering
Power Cubed #1
Aaron Lopresti: writer and illustrator
Hi-Fi Design: colors
Michael Heisler: letters
Aaron Lopresti: cover
Dark Horse Comics
Wild’s End: The Enemy Within #1
Dan Abnett: writer
I.N.J. Culbard: illustrations and letters (with additional material by Nik Abnett)
I.N.J. Culbard: cover
Ales Kot: writer
Matt Taylor: artist
Lee Loughridge: colorist
Clayton Cowles: letterer
X-Tinction Agenda #4
Marc Guggenheim: writer
Carmine di Giandomenico: artist
Nolan Woodard: colorist
VC’s Corry Petit: letterer
David Nakayama: cover