Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Concluding this week, DC Comics’ Convergence put the big in “big event”: There were 89 individual comic books – a nine-issue weekly miniseries and 40 two-part miniseries – created by more than 75 writers and pencilers, plus a comparable legion of inkers, colorists and letterers.
Because of the sheer size, it’s difficult to review the event in its entirety, so I’m not going to bother picking it part here. The main series wasn’t particularly good, while the 40 tie-in series varied from terrible to excellent, with most of them falling somewhere in between.
In case you’ve watched this leviathan of a superhero event passing by without reading much – or any – of it, I thought it would be worthwhile to point out some of those excellent books, the ones that you should read if you decide to pick up any of Convergence, regardless of your interest in, or affection for, particular characters.
I’ve heard it said more times than I can count, “Image is the new Vertigo.”
In 1993, when DC Comics founded Vertigo around a handful of more adult-oriented titles, mostly featuring faded properties reimagined by British creators as horror, sci-fi and fantasy comics, the imprint was one the relatively few games in town for high-production-value genre comics for adults
That same year Image celebrated its first birthday, and although it was a sales juggernaut, the publisher was at that point little more than a vanity press for a handful of creators doing pastiches of their favorite DC and Marvel superheroes.
I wasn’t a fan of the first volume of the Geoff Johns-written original graphic novel series that attempts to reinvent Batman for a new generation (to put it somewhat mildly). In addition to being wholly unnecessary — the Dark Knight is almost constantly being reimagined for mass audiences — Johns made a series of strange changes to the basic story and cast, seemingly reflective of a desire to be different for the sake of being different. That, and, ultimately, he presented a story that contradicted Batman’s idealistic “no guns, no killing” philosophy by having another character save Batman from certain death by killing the villain with a gun.
Given how confounding I found that first volume, I was surprised – and happily so – to find this sequel is a much stronger work. Johns, penciler Gary Frank, inker Jon Sibal and colorist Brad Anderson return to their very particular story of the beginning of Batman’s crime-fighting career … or, at least, a Batman’s crime-fighting career. It’s a distinction likely lost on the intended audience, but this is the Batman of the current, post-crises alternate Earth designated “Earth One.”
I hope it was by design that DC Comics released both The Multiversity #2 and Justice League #40 on the same day the two-month Convergence event reached its halfway point. However, it’s difficult to identify a plan in the publisher devoting the bulk of its output for the final week of April to three unrelated stories about the Multiverse. DC released 18 comics this week, and, of those, just five had nothing to do with its Multiverse.
If you haven’t been reading any of those titles — and if you haven’t, I’m afraid you’re not going to find this review terribly engaging — here’s a quick reminder of what’s going on in those three stories about the Multiverse:
The famously miserly Scrooge McDuck always refused to buy his own newspaper, preferring instead to find one discarded on a park bench. It’s therefore awfully difficult to imagine the World’s Richest Duck parting with $3.99 for a comic book. Why, that’s almost 40 whole dimes!
Naturally, Uncle Scrooge isn’t the target audience for the debut series from IDW Publishing’s new line of Disney comics, but he is the star. Absent from new-comics racks since BOOM! Studios lost the license four years ago, floppy comics starring the original Disney cartoon characters are now making their return. This month brings us Uncle Scrooge #1 (which is also being parenthetically numbered as #405, keeping the original numbering), and each of the next three months will add another title: First Donald Duck, then Mickey Mouse and ultimately Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories.
It’s appropriate that they start with Scrooge, as he’s the rare Disney character who got his start in the comics and later transitioned to animated stardom, rather than vice versa. And, of course, Scrooge has been a fixture of American comics, the longtime subject of his creator, master cartoonist and storyteller Carl Barks.
In Archie Vs. Predator, the unstoppable killing machine of the sci-fi horror franchise that’s previously taken on such comic book tough guys as Batman, Tarzan and Judge Dredd sets his triangular laser sighting mechanism on all-American teen Archie Andrews.
The title, and the premise it suggests, is this comic’s very best gag. Really, the only thing funnier than the thought of an Archie vs. Predator miniseries is knowing that it actually exists.
But is there anything to it, beyond the central joke that’ so wonderfully told on artist Fernando Ruiz’s cover to the first issue?
The story of a deeply unhappy and unfulfilled middle-aged woman — or, more occasionally, middle-aged man — who makes a spur-of-the moment decision to break routine and embark on a journey of self-discovery is a staple of popular fiction.
With few exceptions, these sorts of feel-good stories about vanquishing ennui don’t feature compelling, can’t-put-‘em-down mysteries with life-and-death stakes, which goes a long way toward explaining what makes Etienne Davodeau’s Lulu Anew such an unusually suspenseful graphic novel.
It’s the story of Lulu, a mother of three, the wife of an alcoholic lout and the center of a large and supportive circle of friends. Her tale begins at a wake at her house, as her friends try to make sense of what exactly transpired to bring them all to the terrace, avoiding going inside, where the body is.
Fans of the weekly format — like yours truly — had an interesting new comic book day. That’s because all three of DC’s weekly series concluded on Wednesday, and the publisher kicked off its next weekly series with a zero issue.
When it comes to weekly comics, the first and last issues are the most important. Weeklies have a distinct advantage over monthlies, in that readers tend to be more forgiving from issue to issue. Perhaps the art is rough, but we excuse it, because we understand the brutal deadline pressure. Perhaps the story drags and stalls, but because a new issue arrives each week, we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on the flaws — and there’s always the hope it will get better with the next installment, which, of course, is just seven days away. But when we reach the final issue, that hope is gone, and readers discover whether their investment in the story— time and money — was worthwhile.
As television shows go, Jem and the Holograms and Miami Vice couldn’t possibly be more different. The former, which aired from 1985 to 1988, was a children’s carton that also functioned as an extended ad campaign for an accompanying toy line, while the latter, which ran from 1984 to 1989, was an hour-long adult police drama.
Other than their medium and the decade in which they were produced — and, perhaps, how readily they embraced and celebrated the pop culture of that era — a viewer would have trouble finding a whole lot of similarities between the two.
Now, more than 25 years after both shows ended, they have something new in common: They’re being adapted as comic books released by IDW Publishing.
I’m a big fan of weekly comics in general, and DC’s experiments with the format over the past decade in particular. Some of those weeklies have been among the best DC comics I’ve ever read (Wednesday Comics, 52), some have been so bad I checked out after after the first few issues (Countdown, Earth 2: World’s End), and some have fallen in between (I enjoyed Trinity, and have never hated The New 52: Futures End enough to drop it).
Batman Eternal, which published its 50th issue Wednesday, has been a great example of what’s so enjoyable about weekly comics (there’s something for you at the shop every Wednesday, they offer space for a large cast and sprawling story), in addition to providing a good blueprint for future weeklies (co-plotters, a small group of rotating scripters who also serve as consulting writers, and a focus on a single franchise), even while representing the main weakness of the format (without massive amounts of lead time, super-speedy artists or a carefully assembled roster of artists with compatible styles, the books will necessarily feature sub-par, often disjointed artwork that will only read worse in trade).
I’ve actually gotten more and more excited about Batman Eternal the longer it’s run, as there’s been a mystery to the storyline regarding the identity of the villain. On more than one occasion a villain appears who seems to fit the bill, only to be dismissed later, revealing that he’s either working for someone else, or was invited to take part in a conspiracy to destroy Batman and Gotham City by a person unknown to him.
At the risk of sounding like a library poster encouraging youth literacy, reading can take you on a journey … whether you’re reading a comic book or one of those lame old books with no pictures.
Sometimes those journeys can be quite literal, as in the case of Lucy Knisley’s travelogue Displacement, chronicling the cartoonist’s 10-day Caribbean cruise with her grandparents.
“Caribbean cruise” probably sounds pretty nice, especially to those of us hiding from the snow and cold, but this is not the sort of live-it-up-while-you’re-young trip chronicled in Knisley’s previous book, Age of License. Knisley’s grands, as she calls them, are in their 90s, and her grandmother suffers from dementia, to the point where she often wouldn’t recognize her own granddaughter.
You’ll be forgiven if you missed Sweatshop the first time around. Sure, it was created, written and mostly drawn by Peter Bagge, and yes, it was published by DC Comics, but not for long. It lasted just six issues in 2003 and, according to Bagge’s afterword to the new collection (published not by DC, but Fantagraphics), then-DC President Paul Levitz decided to pull the plug around the time the second issue shipped.
The unlikely pairing of DC with talent like Bagge was apparently an outgrowth of editor Joey Cavalieri’s success with the hardcover Bizarro Comics anthology, which teamed “alternative” comics creators with DC regulars. Bagge, who had written DC’s poorly received nine-issue Yeah!, met with Cavalieri and decided on a pretty perfect premise for a comedic comic book. (Yeah!, by the way, was drawn by Gilbert Hernandez and was also collected by Fantagraphics rather than DC.)
This week Marvel released the final issue of Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk, which fell into the publisher’s post-Hawkeye rubric for solo titles starring second-tier characters. That is, it’s one of those series that, while still a superhero book, leaned hard in the opposite direction, eschewing genre formula for a more singular vision, while having a sense of humor, a distinct style and, of course, a focus on what the character does when not in costume.
She-Hulk, like all the other characters in similar comics, still saved people and fought crime, but as for saving the world? That’s the stuff for team books and big, line-wide crossovers (which the publisher is producing at a faster rate, one benefit being that the Marvel Universe had more room for Hawkeyes, She-Hulks, Black Widows and Iron Fists). For She-Hulk, this was easily accomplished, as she just so happened to be one the Marvel superheroes whose day job is exciting; as omnipresent as superhero TV shows and movies may seem these days, they’re still dwarfed by the gigantic body of work starring lawyers.
After all, Swamp Thing just happened to be the title for which Len Wein hired young British writer Alan Moore, leading to a run whose importance and influence is difficult to overstate. And Man-Thing, the Marvel character that shared so much in common with Swamp Thing, just so happened to be one of the first vehicles for writer Steve Gerber, introducing that weird and wild talent to mainstream comics audiences.
It’s therefore not that surprising that TwoMorrows Publishing found it worth devoting an entire 200-page book to the swamp monster subgenre, from its Golden Age origins to its late-’80s climax, the result being editors Jon B. Cooke and George Khoury’s Swampmen: Muck-Monsters and Their Makers.
First Year Healthy (Drawn and Quarterly): Technically not comics, this illustrated prose picture book for adults is still of great interest to us because of its author/illustrator, Michael DeForge, and its publisher, Drawn and Quarterly.
It’s also of interest because of its compelling quality.
In matter-of-fact first-person narration, DeForge tells the story of a young woman who just got out of the hospital, having suffered some traumatic event or disease that alienated her from many of those around her. She chronicles her relationship with a man, to whom she refer only as “a Turk.”
After she moves in with him, he takes a job out of town doing something for a vaguely criminal associate and, one day, never returns, leaving our narrator to deal with the people in his life: the landlady with whom he fathered a child while exchanging sex for rent, that child and, eventually, the criminal associate. There’s also a magical cat creature, which plays a small but ultimately vital role in the short story.