Archive for March, 2009

LAST DANCE

March 31, 2009

ythelastmanOn page 32 of Y: THE LAST MAN, 2.9 billion men (and every other creature with a Y chromosome) suffer spontaneous asphyxiation, followed by a violent outpouring of blood from every facial orifice, and subsequent death.

How sick is that?

Writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Pia Guerra catapult you headfirst into a world half empty (or half full?), decimated by death and in quite a pickle: how will life proceed after all the men have died?

Or more accurately, how will life proceed after all but one of the men have died? For you see, Brooklynite and budding escape-artist Yorick Brown (and his male Capuchin “Ampersand”) has been mysteriously spared. He is – effectively – the last man. So what now? What do the women want from him? Some want to sleep with him. Some want to kill him. But all Yorick wants is to find his girlfriend.

And thusly we enter the world of Y:TLM, and in my opinion, it’s hard not to be fully immersed. Vaughn and his cast of artists do a bang-up job with each page, employing a clean-line style and a varied panel layout to best suit the story. Each panel pleases the eye, but more importantly, conveys information quickly and efficiently. Vaughn takes a cue from traditional television writing (I believe Vaughn is a writer on ABC’s LOST) – every issue ends with a gutwrenching cliffhanger. There is simply no time to spare with Y:TLM, you just have to see what’s going to happen next.

While Vaughn’s story is fairly original, it does harken back to some of the classic sci-fi of my childhood (mainly THE OMEGA MAN, THE WARRIORS,

... I knew him well, Horatio.

"... I knew him well, Horatio."

and the PLANET OF THE APES series). However, while science-fiction often attempts to transport its audience to a world alien from their own, Y:TLM is rife with cultural references that anchor it in the American mindset circa 2002. Amongst references to 9/11, Harry Houdini, and obvious nods to the Bard, I counted subtler references to the Pixies, Paul Simon, Miller’s Crossing, and “Space Oddity.” But while I’m normally turned off by these devices, I really enjoyed them in Y:TLM. Sure, they date the work in a specific time and place, but they also heighten the credibility and realism of it. Also, these references are usually spat by Yorick, and in the form of a witty joke, and who doesn’t like a witty joke?

I must admit, sometimes Yorick is a bit too witty, considering half of his friends and family are dead, and a rogue gang of one-breasted lesbians want to kill him. Despite his deftness in the art of escape, he seems to often do brash, stupid things that require these escapes. Even three volumes in, I feel like Yorick is one of the characters I know the least about. But I’m not so worried, because I have seven more volumes to get to know him. And as impulsive and enigmatic as he may be at this point, he may also very well be earth’s last chance.

And with no yearning desire to explain how this links thematically or intellectually with Y: THE LAST MAN – –

Donna Summer – Last Dance

What Just Happened?

March 22, 2009

dark_knight_strikes-again-lFrank Miller and Lynn Varley’s THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN is truly a punch in the face. Where THE KILLING JOKE is a psychological dissection of Batman and his arch-nemesis the Joker, TDKSA catapults you headfirst into a gross orgy of heroes, monsters, sex and pop media. Miller wastes no time introducing the characters. In fact in a radical albeit fitting move, Batman is barely visible for the majority of the book, choosing instead to be more of an ever present shadow, orchestrating the masterpiece from behind the scenes (or beyond the panels).

I honestly can’t tell you what happened in its 246 pages. Batman was old. Superman was conflicted. Catgirl was hot. Braniac was a jerk. That’s as much as I really got, and truthfully, I don’t really know if what happened really matters. Whether or not I understood it on an intellectual or dramatic level, I felt it.

TDKSA was visually unlike anything else I have ever seen. Like the best punk music, Miller’s artwork gracefully toes the line between beauty and anarchy. The images do not convey information as much as transmit it on a visceral level. You don’t stop and stare at each panel as if in the Louevre, because Miller is telling you that there isn’t enough time. His lines are fat and bold and full of immediacy and danger. Varley’s colors are a day-glo Technicolor trip.  When Batman beats the crap out of Superman on pgs. 88 – 89, you really feel every blood-bursting bone-breaking “KRUNCH!” You don’t really view the page with your eyes and then process it in your brain. It simply socks you in the gut, and you understand and move along.

And all of that  is not to say that there isn’t anything intellectual about TDKSA. In fact, I believe that there is simply SO much – about war, about faith, about politics (and a president that doesn’t exist), about pop culture, about our digital society, about aging and death, about the struggle between men and gods (aka caped crusaders) – that it would take me at least two more read-throughs to have anything coherent or intelligent to say about the actual meaning of the book.

I’m pretty sure that TDKSA could only have been written now. It touches on lot of the fears and anxieties of today, but in no way is it heavy. Instead, it is light and strong and fierce and unforgiving – a frenetic burst of color that simply leaves you dumbstruck. I’m still dazed, but all I know is that I liked it. And maybe that’s all that really matters.

Laughter in the Dark

March 16, 2009

BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE is yet another example of Alan Moore’s genius. Along with artist Brian Bolland, Moore cleverly utilizes both visual match cuts (such as the reflected handshakes in the bottom panels of page 8 ) and wordplay-oriented match cuts (such as the Joker’s “Yes, I get the picture.” on the bottom of page 23) in its many transitions to seamlessly jump backwards and forwards in time.

But what I think makes the KILLING JOKE exceptional and allows it to stand out amongst stereotypical Batman stories (as well as distinguishes it as another member of Moore’s masterful canon) is its refusal to except the Joker as simply a “bad guy.” In fact at its core, the KILLING JOKE is the Joker’s origin story, and reveals much more about him than Batman himself. While detailing the Joker’s most sickening and devious crimes (certainly regarding the fate of Barbara Gordon), the KILLING JOKE also effectively humanizes him, tracing his insanity to “one bad day” in the life of a relatively innocent guy and effectively giving rhyme to his reason. I could imagine many diehard Batman fans being upset or perplexed by Moore’s rationalizing of a villain characterized by his lack of rationality, but if anything, this choice stands as further testament to Moore’s prowess.

Interestingly enough, I feel that there are similarities to be drawn between the Joker of the KILLING JOKE and the Comedian of WATCHMEN. Both appear to reflect a dark and sinister sense of humor along with a nihilistic view of the world around them. But interestingly enough, the Joker is largely considered a villain while the Comedian is grouped with the “heroes” of WATCHMEN. WATCHMEN was completed around the same time the KILLING JOKE was released (1987 and 1988 respectively), and I suppose this nihilistic temperament was on Moore’s mind at the time.

Batman gets "grabby."

OUR MALLEABLE MAN OF STEEL

March 9, 2009

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big Superman guy. While his plethora of super powers and inimitable imperviousness have allowed him to consistently trounce his foes and secure the mantle of relative king of superheroes (at least of the DC universe), I have always found him kind of dull and uninspiring. Superman’s sheer strength allows him to muscle out of just about every sticky situation, and I’ve always found his stories to be rather boring in that respect. He always seemed to lack any kind of concrete personality (especially hamartia), and with most obstacles crumbling before him, I always wondered why I should care about a hero so untarnished by weakness, both physical and emotional?

But because I approached it with these preconceptions, I found Morrison and Quitely’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN to be particularly engaging and complex, at least at its onset. Immediately, Superman is confronted with a new kind of fallibility: after being exposed to an exorbitant amount of solar radiation, Superman’s cells begin rapid apoptosis, and his life is immediately at stake. Superman’s new weakness really piqued my interest. Not only was Superman made suddenly vulnerable; he was forced to grapple with a condition much akin to the cancers and diseases that plague real people.

In the vein of stories such as Akira Kurosawa’s IKIRU or even THE BUCKET-LIST, our now mortal Superman proceeds to set his affairs in order with Lois Lane in preparation for his demise. I really enjoyed this premise and storyline, but it seemed to be quickly abandoned in the later issues of ALL-STAR for more typical beat ‘em up Superman fare.

While not quite as innovative as WE3, I found Quitely’s panel layouts to be enjoyable. One spread I particularly liked was the scene in which Clark Kent interviews Lex Luthor as he walks down a prison stairwell. Time is effectively stretched in the scene, as we follow them down the stairs and track their conversation (I couldn’t find a picture online of this spread, but I’ll keep looking).

However, having now read two Frank Quitely / Jamie Grant artistic collaborations, I feel as though I am not a huge fan of their style. They tend to have a very slick and digitized feel, and to me lack a certain human, hand-drawn quality that draws me into comics. Perhaps my feelings towards Quitely / Grant’s visuals can stand as a metaphor for my feelings towards Superman as a whole: while visually stimulating and fun, the dramatic, human element is hard to find.

AKIRA: explodin’ brains and tilted panes

March 1, 2009

akira-vol-1Akira was an amazing, albeit somewhat mind-boggling read. What struck me most about the book was Otomo’s excellent usage of action lines / “zip” lines, such as in most of the motorcycle chase scenes or other action sequences. Otomo also interestingly utilizes action lines to mimic quick zooms or pans of an imaginary camera (or in this case, the reader’s POV), such as in the bottom right panel of page 333 (I’d include the picture, but I couldn’t find it online…). Another subtle device that Otomo often employs in these action scenes are tilting the panel frames (such as on pages 292-293) or employing canted angles, another cinematic technique.

The story itself was pretty enthralling, but at the same time, totally confusing. While I enjoyed all the action and fast-pacing, I had a hard time recalling what exactly happened in the pages. All I could really carry away was the basic idea of two blood-brother type buddies turned against each other (classic storytelling trope since Cain and Abel) in the midst of some kind of government cover-up / super weapon in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Along the lines of character develop, I wanted to know a little more about Tetsuo and Kaneda in this first volume. I feel like having a better idea of their friendship before Tetsuo became psychic would have made me care more about them being turned against one another, although Otomo doesn’t seem to eager to play up that brothers turned mortal enemies angle. Also, I had some problems with the Kaneda-Kei dynamic, where it seems to veer from playful hero / damsel rapport to pseudo-rape (pages 190-191). But most of my problems with the Kaneda-Kei relationship stem from my wanting to more about Kaneda in general. But I also suppose I have five more volumes of character development to come, so I shouldn’t complain.

an example of tilted panels, albeit not the one I referenced above.

an example of tilted panels, albeit not the one I referenced above.

One thing I found really bizarre / unintentionally funny was all of the sound effects / onomatopoeia, as they were so different from American or “Western” comics, e.g.  “broo broo…” for an engine revving, “skriiii…” for something skidding, or the “tokka tokka tokka…” of soldiers’ boots in the picture above. While I found this pretty absurd and comical, I also realize there’s a cultural divide, and different sounds may be interpreted in different ways in Japan.

Overall, I found Akira to be a very engaging and exciting read, and I hope to read the other volumes soon.