Archive for parallel storytelling

Wednesday Comics #4

Posted in Comics, DC, Wednesday Comics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 7th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Risky and rewarding.

Risky and rewarding.

Four weeks of Wednesday Comics and it’s panning out as expected: the strong stories are still performing strongly and the others, well – not so strongly.

John Arcudi’s Superman – while beautifully painted by Lee Bermejo – is still, quite frankly, a whiny bitch; Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho an absolute head-scratcher; Eddie Berganza’s Teen Titans just screams ordinary; while Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman remains a cramped, unfocused mess (I didn’t even know something could be those three things at once until I read it).

It’s interesting to see who really thrives in this weekly one-page format and who doesn’t – I’m honestly surprised at how unimpressed I’ve been with Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, and yet at the same time I wonder just how much brilliance I’d expect from one page of Sandman.  But this isn’t a 22-page comic, nor is it a graphic novel, and I think the writers and artists that understand that are the ones that deliver.  The Kuberts’ Sgt. Rock is dragging its heels like nothing else (so far he’s managed to get himself tortured), and Kurt Busiek’s Green Lantern isn’t much better (so far, Hal Jordan flew into a bar, flew out of a bar, and had a flashback – ZOMG!).  Just get to the good bits already! You can’t pace this like a 22-page comic, exploding it out page by page in a weekly format – you’ve only got twelve weeks to tell your story, and one page to impress me.  Given his experience with the weekly format, you’d think Busiek of all people would have it down.

The ones that do have it down are Gibbons (Kamandi), Pope (Strange Adventures), and Kerschl (The Flash/Iris West).  Come to think of it, all three of them feature villainous, super-intelligent, talking apes.  Kamandi is an open, sprawling adventure in a dystopian future.  Gibbons, an adept artist himself, lets Ryan Sook tell the story visually while he narrates.  Both Kamandi and Strange Adventures are throwbacks to the EC “Weird Science-Fantasy” comics of the fifties, and both are positively dripping with atmosphere.  I suspect the hand-written captions may have also helped in this regard.  Kerschl took the most interesting route of all the writers, telling parallel stories of The Flash and his lover Iris West, and you know what?  I think he’s stumbled across the magic formula for one-page-per-week storytelling.  I love the contrast of romance and superheroics from week to week, and the way these stories interweave and feed off of each other.  Barry Allen must race against time and himself(!) to save Central City and his love-life!  I love it!

Honestly, it’s worth reading Wednesday Comics just to follow those three, but there are plenty of other strong efforts to justify your purchase.  Dave Bullock has managed to pick up the pace and find his voice in a much more focused Deadman, while the Most Improved award must go to Walter Simonson with The Demon and Catwoman, which makes a whole lot more sense now in its own weird little way.  Catwoman has become a cat-woman, and the Demon is waxing poetic as he should be, as they duke it out in the highlands.  Brian Azzarello’s Batman is shaping up to be an intriguing murder mystery, while Dan DiDio’s Metal Men is again surprisingly funny.  Jimmy Palmiotti’s Supergirl is okay, if only a little trivial on the back of Pope’s Strange Adventures (Supergirl’s basically trying to round up two super-powered pets who have run away from home).  While it’s disappointing that Hawkman‘s story is no longer narrated by birds as it was in the first issue, it has taken a science fiction twist for the better, I believe.

And that about wraps it for the fourth week of Wednesday Comics.  I have issue 5 in front of me now, but I suspect I’ll have nothing new to say about it.  This is the most interesting experiment in the comic book format that you’re ever likely to be part of, so get into it.

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Black Lightning: Year One #6 (of 6)

Posted in Black Lightning, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
If only it was as straightforward as the cover.

If only the rest of it was as straightforward as the cover.

Author: Jen Van Meter
Artist: Cully Hamner
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Colorist: Laura Martin
Editors: Rachel Gluckstern & Joan Hilty

This is the sixth and final chapter of Black Lightning’s origin story, and while this issue and the story as a whole was *good*, I have a major gripe with it that has detracted from my enjoyment of it.  I admire Van Meter’s attempt at parallel storytelling, but damn those narrative caption boxes get annoying by the sixth time around.  If you read the collected volume, do yourself a favour – read the caption boxes first from start to finish, then devote your attention to the rest of the story.  Instead of hitting us up front with all of the exposition in one go, Van Meter has attempted to spread it evenly across each panel.  The problem is, no real thought has been put into their distribution, and it’s impossible to maintain the narrative in your head in between dialogue.  Van Meter expects the reader to keep one foot [brain] in the past and the other foot [brain] in the present during the first two-thirds of this issue.  It just can’t be done.  The backstory interrupts the story at hand and vice versa.  Every single issue of this mini-series has been written in this fashion, and after six hits of it, I still find it a jarring experience and a clunky read.

What I believe Van Meter should have done was either begin with three issues of backstory followed by three issues of story (or even alternating between issues), or come up with an inventive way of putting all the exposition in one place.  Hollis Mason’s “Under the Hood” biography in Watchmen springs to mind.

As soon as the exposition is done with and Black Lightning’s thinking about the events at hand, it’s smooth sailing.  I just wished it was like that all the way through, which is why I recommend readers read the captions exclusively, and ignore them altogether on the second read-through.

Putting these issues aside (and you’re going to have to to enjoy it), the story is, at its core, a good one.  In essence, this is the story of Jefferson Pierce the man returning to Suicide Slum to break the spirit of defeat and despair that has strangled his hometown.  As the school principal, Pierce shows his students that they don’t need to accept mediocrity; that they don’t need to accept defeat.  As Black Lightning, Pierce shows his fellow citizens that they do not need to accept injustice and corruption.  This particular issue sees Black Lightning lead his students and the citizens in a final struggle against the corruption of their local government in league with the criminal organisation known as The One Hundred.  More on that later.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this story depends on a few things:

  1. Are you interested in social reform?
  2. Do you believe the world of comics needs [conceptually] stronger black superheroes?
  3. Are you a young black person in need of a wholesome role model?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Black Lightning is the strongest black role model you’re likely to find in superhero comics, and this book (along with Final Crisis: Submit and Final Crisis: Resist) is the best book I’ve read starring the character.

Artistically, Black Lightning: Year One is stylistically confident and cohesive across all six issues.  Cully Hamner’s style is best described as classic American cartooning with a dab of gritty realism.  It’s very well-drawn, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  One could argue for more realism given the gritty subject matter, but I think this style helps incorporate the more supernatural elements of the story.

The final battle, I’d have to admit, is a little anti-climactic.  It felt as though Van Meter had run out of pages and needed to get it over with.  Had the mystery behind The One Hundred been preserved until this final issue, I think the impact could have been a lot stronger (although the revelation itself is strange and probably requires at least two issues to get used to).  That it all boiled down to superhero fisticuffs was also a little disappointing.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really did like this story deep down; there’s just a lot to look past in terms of execution.  If you’re a patient soul (or the next Malcolm X), and the positives I’ve mentioned appeal to your sensibilities, then certainly pick up issues 1 through 6 or the inevitable trade paperback.  If you’re a harsh bastard then save yourself the frustration and avoid.