Thursday, March 01, 2007

Week 43: Captain Maximum Meets Retopistics Uptown

As a few people have commented, the dramatic tension of the Black Adam storyline that J.G. Jones indicates will be dominating the next three issues is a little undercut by the fact that we know Adam comes out of this story alive and well. Ditto Steel and Adam Strange, since they're all visible in the promo piece for Countdown. (Unless it's one of those fakeouts, like the first draft of the Justice League of America cover!)

Even though I've written a bit about Countdown, I don't know much more about it than anyone out there does at this point; what I do know is that we've been promised that it'll be more action-oriented than 52, since apparently 52 is right up there with "Bruno" on the novelistic talkity-talk side, as comics go.

Now, I love action scenes in comics. Wolverine MacAlistaire running from a bear? One of the most exciting things I've ever read. Clark Kent jumping out a window? As Greg Rucka noted at the DCU panel at New York Comic-Con, that's an incredible moment. Zot zooming through 99 floors of a building like he's in a video game? Great story. The Great Cow Race? Unimpeachable. But the Marvel Family scene in this week's is the kind of action sequence that makes me lose interest in a comic very quickly. They stand around and talk. Then they hit each other for a little while. Then they talk some more. Then they hit each other some more. Then they make up and hug.

Superheroes hitting each other to underscore their philosophical differences--in what would just be a heated discussion in any context that didn't involve spandex--is not, in itself, exciting. It just isn't. A few artists can make superhero fight scenes look genuinely exciting; every time one of Jack Kirby's heroes hit another one, for instance, heaven and earth quaked. Here, though, it just looks static and clichéd, and the gigantic panels devoted to the fight effectively tell us, rather than showing us, that there's something big and loud going on. Between those, the full-page shot of Buddy being reconstructed, and the full-page shot of Sobek's snack, this issue ended up feeling kind of scanty. Besides, as Bully pointed out, isn't Montoya's butt getting cold by now?

J.G. Jones' cover this week is another example of what I love about his work and wish the interior of 52 reflected more often: a sense that cartooning can get across more than the rudiments of what's actually happening in a story's plot--that it can take care with composition, with color as a design element, with the psychological overtones associated with drawing style as well as images. There are a few other cartoonists working in superhero comics right now who clearly think about that stuff a lot; some of them have even met monthly deadlines for full-length comics in the relatively recent past. (What is J.H. Williams III working on these days, anyway? I'd ask the same about Alex Maleev, but this weekend we found out he's drawing Halo.)

Clarity's necessary for this kind of visual storytelling, of course--that's what Giffen's working on 52 for, and he's great at it. (Speaking of which, the layouts on the official site are still at Week 39, as of this writing...) But this issue is all clarity and no flair. When a crocodile has to bite someone in half to generate a little visual excitement, there's a problem. In fact, even beyond the flashback effect of Dan Jurgens' artwork (is this the first comic book crediting separate people with "art breakdowns" and "layouts"?), there's something that feels very twenty-years-ago about this issue.

It took me a while to figure it out, but here's my best guess: it's effectively a pre-Miracleman comic. The bit where the Marvel-family type changes back to his frail human self and promptly gets slaughtered is straight out of Miracleman #15. The dying gasp of the magic word/mentor's name, left incomplete, is Alan Moore's Young Miracleman riff. And then there's the gruesome but weirdly clinical violence, which looks like the kind mid-'80s comics were just starting to experiment with. Even the way the story is paced reminds me of some comics of that era.

What a surprising number of mid-'80s comics had, though, was a look more distinctive than most superhero comics have right now. At the New York Comic-Con, I picked up a few things I hadn't seen in a while from one dealer's four-for-a-buck bin, including DC's best previous attempt at a weekly miniseries: Millennium, a huge crossover that ran for eight weeks in the fall of 1987. Every issue of the core title was drawn by Joe Staton and Ian Gibson--both of them excellent, eccentric stylists--which gave it the kind of unique, consistent visual vibe I wish 52 had (and I hope Countdown at least tries for).

On the subject of style, the "Comic Abstraction" show that's opening later this week at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is worth a look to get a sense of how much you can take away from cartooning--including representation, which often seems like the unshakeable core of cartooning--and still have some of cartooning's visual grammar left. Sometimes, you can even have some of cartooning's local dialect left. There's a series of pieces by Rivane Neuenschwander in which she's taken a few episodes of "Zé Carioca" (a Brazilian strip from Disney's studios), whited out all the text, and replaced the visual content of every panel with a solid color. What's left of the original is panel outlines and word balloons; fascinatingly, it still immediately scans as a light-entertainment humor comic. Not that I have time to do this, but it'd be interesting to try the same exercise with 52, sampling the dominant color in each panel and using it to replace the entirety of the panel's image. Would it still look 52-ish? Like a circa-2007 superhero comic? Will its visual pulse be easier to "place" twenty years from now?

(My favorite piece in the MoMA show, though, is Julie Mehretu's fantastic, wall-filling "Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation"--an enormous drawing/painting that's non-representational but still obviously an action scene, and includes things that Mehretu apparently thinks of as characters. I actually visited her studio a couple of years ago, and saw some old Jimmy Olsen comics lying around as conceptual source material. Runner-up: Arturo Herrera's "Untitled," another huge painting, consisting of lines and curves sampled from Disney's Snow White--even though there's scarcely a recognizable piece of a character in the whole thing, its source material is so strongly mannered that it looks like Snow White anyway. It's a bit like Richard McGuire's brilliant Random Popeye Generator, actually.)

Both last week's issue and this week's have crucial roles played by keepsake snapshots of loved ones. Happenstance? Coincidence? As you know, if next week Isis is staring longingly at a Polaroid of her brother, that constitutes enemy action.

Apropos of nothing but this week's title: some guy's homemade video for his surprisingly excellent one-man-band cover of Jacob Miller's "Baby I Love You So." I especially like the three-stringed bass.

More notes:

Pg. 1: Sobek's wearing a skintight T-shirt and tight pants (with the inevitable tail-opening in the back). Where does he put his loaf of bread and jar of olives when they're not in his clawlike hands? For that matter, where does he put them after panel 2?

Pg. 2: We've been over this before, but in short: "terrorism" is not an organization, and terrorism requires some kind of agenda it's trying to intimidate somebody into going along with. Why on earth would the DMA think that the Titans would have terrorist ties?

Pg. 3: I guess Billy's sane within the Rock again. Can anybody tell me if this has been explained in The Trials of Shazam? I tried to read that thing, but in a world where Jeff Smith is also writing and drawing a Shazam book, no contest.

Pg. 7: I don't think we've heard of the Rock of Finality before, although I'm hoping it's "finality" in the Kantian sense of noncontingence. (I don't expect my hopes will be fulfilled.)

Pg. 9: Adrianna's fall here, even its pose, recalls the greatest comic book fight scene ever--I refer of course to Scott McCloud's immortal Destroy!!--and the scene in which the commissioner's daughter is struck senseless by a pathetically small piece of flying debris, leading Captain Maximum to declare "Good Lord! She's been struck senseless by that pathetically small piece of flying debris!"

Pg. 10: The "Black Adam has a family now" beat, struck with a large mallet.

Pg. 11: This is practically an end-of-episode gag. I can almost see the freeze-frame.

Pg. 12: Ah, metafiction.

Pg. 13: If Buddy's supersenses "don't reach to the next planet"--which seems rather visible in the background--then how's he going to sample a Sun-Eater? Aren't Sun-Eaters kind of big, if they can eat suns? And their migratory patterns meant they passed by... seven weeks ago. They way they've been treated lately, Sun-Eaters seem almost like harmless grazing ruminants. I always figured they'd be something everyone was terrified of--like a Galactus that can't be communicated with.

Pg. 14: Not that this isn't a "rock"-sign-in-the-air scene anyway.

Pg. 15: It looks like there's a causal link between Buddy manifesting Sun-Eater abilities and zombie-Luribel's difficult labor/the revivification of the Stygian zombies. Is there, or is this a "meanwhile" scenario? I assume that everybody on the space station Buddy's been buried near is dead/zombiefied, but does Lady Styx count as a living creature who'd show up on Buddy's "red radar"?

Pg. 16: Q. Why didn't Lady Styx just go ahead and burst out of Luribel's chest cavity? A. Because then everybody would think this was a ripoff of Alien, as opposed to... uh... okay, it is. Also, she's quoting Hostileman's dialogue, just like Jean in Week 27...

The Origin of Plastic Man: I would not have figured Ethan Van Sciver to be a natural for this one, and in fact his post-Neal Adams/Jim Lee approach for a character usually associated with a broadly cartoony style reminds me a little of the "Shazam!" stories that Don Newton used to draw: It's a formally inappropriate style, but you can also tell how much the artist loves the source material. (The cheek-pulling bit is directly lifted from Jack Cole's first Plastic Man story--speaking of which, wouldn't it have been nice to acknowledge Plas as Cole's creation?) And it turns out this is an actual two-page story: a nice touch! Also good to see Kyle Baker's criminally ignored Plastic Man stories acknowledged among the essential Plas material.

34 Comments:

At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

On the rock, when they made a big deal about Isis/Adrianna bleeding, was there any actual bleeding shown? Because if so, I must have missed it.

Though, of course, I couldn't miss Buddy's bleeding ears and Luribel's bloody nose.

 
At 7:54 AM, Blogger Mark Fossen said...

I didn't see it either, Scott. It was apparently enough to shock Osiris out of the fight ... shouldn't it show?

Doug - I couldn't agree more. Big smash 'em fights just don't really work in 52, due to space constraints, and this one felt incredibly forced. The series has often managed to avoid the "fight of the week" syndrome, why succumb to it here? If they did the scene without the stiff fisticuffs, maybe we could have had a single page check-in on Renee.

 
At 8:33 AM, Blogger Keith said...

As I read the Black Adam section, I kept thinking "the more pages this takes, the less Animal Man gets."

As for Lady Styx, can we file that under Watchmen Reference? The imagery of a baby chewing its way out of a womb shows up a few times.

 
At 9:01 AM, Anonymous rmitchum said...

Pg. 12 gets nothing more than an "ah, metafiction"? I'm holding out a slim hope that the yellow aliens (they really need a better name) have a big role to play in the multiverse weirdness that's about to unfold leading up to the next Big Event, and that the Morrisony meta-awareness will continue to blossom. Hell, Infinite Crisis was halfway there at first, with all the "your universe has become too dark and cynical" stuff from Earth-2 Supes.

 
At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you know, i love this blog. i anticipate reading it on thursdays. but i do have one small complaint. you seem to be getting off the topic of what actually happens in the issue more and more. granted, the extended discussion on the concept of detective writing last time DID tie into the story, but it seemed that was all you had to say. and this weeks discussion of an art show in NY and the like wasnt really what i was expecting.

again, i like this blog and enjoy reading it...but part of it is that i like seeing things pointed out that i missed or just didnt catch the reference to the first read. also, getting some commentary on how things are playing out and where they may be going makes this series all the more fun to read, a form of comparing notes. i expected at least a "oh look. the sobek theory was right". (not that i really need that pointed out. what with the blood and the dying...)

ah, its stupid to really say this. i think its just the post above that made me realise why the last few entries havent been as fulfilling. as i was reading this entry i was getting a bit of a "the more paragraphs this side discussion takes, the less the 52 story gets"

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger David C said...

The thing that makes this type of fight scene especially tedious is that it's not even a real fight! It's just people losing their temper and lashing out a bit. But you know nothing much will come of it, barring some terrible accident, because the characters aren't really trying to hurt each other, nobody's trying to capture or run away from anybody, etc.

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

Anonymous--yeah, it's true, one of the things that I enjoy most about writing this blog is seeing just how far afield I can get while still being nominally on-topic, and I think I drifted a little too far this time. Oh well: just consider it a bonus.

If it's any consolation, I'm thinking about doing another Canonical List of Dangling 52 Plot Threads sometime in the next few weeks.

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

"Oh, Anonymous..."

:-)

There really wasn't much to this issue for Doug to point out, so watching him wax poetic on a topic I'd never normally cover in my daily internet browsing activity was fine with me.

Plus, I liked the random Popeye website.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger mata said...

hi! new poster, love the blog.

regarding pag. 13 i think the yellow aliens enhanced buddy somehow and he could actually reach to the planet, he just didn't know that. so when he tried to reach out to something the aliens pointed to the sun-eaters for some unfathoable reason (which i hope will be adressed). plus with the whole "reinsert him in the continuum" talk it's pretty obvious that they have big plans for buddy. any thougts on what those plans might be?

 
At 11:41 AM, Blogger Lefty said...

I couldn't help noticing how much Lady Styx looked like Blue Beetle after her "birth"

Also, I wonder if this sets up Animal Man in a key role against the Superboy-Prime, not that he might have Red Sun powers from the Sun Eaters.

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Richard said...

#1 "Sobek's wearing a skintight T-shirt and tight pants (with the inevitable tail-opening in the back). Where does he put his loaf of bread and jar of olives when they're not in his clawlike hands?" I thought this was hillarious metaphor until I remembered that Sobek was actually eating bread during this scene. Still sounds a bit dirty.

#2 I'm rusty on my Animal Man, has he always been able to take powers from animals as far away as the other side of the planet? I agree the implication here maybe that his powers have been enhanced.

#3 This issue definitly gets the award for Least Effective Art from me. From issues with static posed figures that didn't interact in a single panel, to Isis's non blood, to the repetive nature of the scenes made parts of this issue drag on.

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger Holz said...

Did anyone else get the feeling that while much of the Black Adam fight seemed "brutal", the book was actually trying to treat it like an afterschool special, a light hearted feel (obvuiously, the "Oh, Sobek! line), to lull the reader into a false sense of security so when the munching comes at the end, it's supposed ot be that much more horrifying?

Personally, I thught they laid it on *to* thick, and the "funny" line from Sobek just made me that much more suspicious of him, and the final scene wasn't so much as a shock, but a "man, Osiris is an idiot".

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger Keith said...

In Morrison's Animal Man series, the yellow aliens greatly enhanced his powers so he just has to think of an animal to get his powers. Buddy has exhibited less and less of that over time, so maybe the aliens gave him a boost in this week's 52.

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

I agree with the misgivings about the art. When Isis proclaims, "Oh, Sobek!" (you silly tawky crawky, you... anyone else hungry), her head is a poorly-drawn askew.

Even though it wasn't Kyle Baker, I thought that the Plastic Man origin art was extremely effective.

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Eric said...

If and when Sobek turns out to be some sort of enhanced Mr. Mind, I expect to see some Eric Carle references from this blog.

Did anybody notice that Osiris was looking at Isis as he hit her, and not CMJ?

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger Erich said...

Osiris should have remembered this advice.

 
At 3:43 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

Here is my sloppy attempt at the Rivane Neuenschwander experiment. Just click on the pictures to switch back and forth

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger ZC said...

Yeah, I really didn't get the whole "my powers don't reach to the next planet...!" thing. Animal Man once used the powers of a T-Rex. I don't think that distance really matters, does it? Ah well.


And yeah, I dunno what JH Williams is doing (aside from Crossing Midnight covers). Hopefully it's some Detective issues.

 
At 6:34 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Here's a New York Times article about the exhibit talked about in conjunction with this issue.

 
At 7:59 PM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

Scott and Mark, I wondered much the same about the lack of blood on Isis...maybe she bit her tongue?

As for Sobek, I don't think it's Mr. Mind. I could be wrong but I still think that Mind is using Skeets. How do you go from a worm to an alligator anyway?

I also guess that means many of us were wrong about the Amazing Grace/Glorious Godfrey theories we had at the beginning of the series. Anyone think Isis is still an Intergang plant?

And are we taking wagers to see if Isis makes it out alive after next week?

Doug, you really should include a death tally in your next post. Looking back, we've had quite a few.

Jamie

 
At 9:39 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Possible explanation on Animal Man's ability to mimic a sun eater (side note: very clever idea, mr morrison!) when he was unable to reach out to planets presumably closer than these beasts.

Perhaps a creature's morphanogenic (sp?) esonance/size of its field is directly related to the size of the animal.

Sun eaters-->bigger than the sun-->really, really big morphanogenic auras for mr. baker to tap into once he realizes they're fair game.

If buddy's mimicking, say, an ant (or any of what we traditionally think of as an animal), perhaps he's gotta be a lot closer.

just a theory. no-prize?

 
At 12:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ookla the Mok here-
Maybe the blood was just on the back of Isis' right hand, and she just bit the inside of her lip- I hate it when I do that! Osiris can see it from where he is, but we can't. Kinda lame, but it works.
I loved the "Oh, Sobek" line, though it also kinda raised my suspicion of him- confirmed! I imagine it's pretty important to keep Mr. Tawky Tawny well-fed too, but the most he would probably do is get grumpy. I'm torn between thinking Sobek is Famine, or Isis herself is, due to her plant-growing powers. What she gives, she can take away.
Personally, I'm waiting to see Black Adam without his boots on, because I'm pretty sure he turns out to be-- the Savage Sub-Mariner!! Pointy ears and all, don't he look just like him? Subby has been around as long as Batman, just not continuously. IMPERIUS REX!!

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger David C said...

Does anybody think there might be significance to Sobek only saying "Sh -- Sh--" when telling Osiris to say his magic word?

On the one hand, he's always been written with a stutter, but on the other hand, might it indicate that he'd get struck by lightning if he actually said "Shazam!"

I can't figure out any good *reason* why he'd somehow have Shazam-granted power, or why someone among the Marvels and the Adams wouldn't detect it, but it struck me as slightly suspicious.

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger snorfbat said...

Erich said...

Osiris should have remembered this advice.


Love it, Erich.

Did anyone else look at that crocodile-riding muppet and think of Isis?

 
At 9:23 PM, Blogger Michael said...

In this week's episode of Newarama's 5.2 About 52, Siglain confirms that Sobek is Famine.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

You had doubts?

 
At 9:13 PM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

Regarding Anonymous's comments on the blog's topicality, it seems that as 52 winds down there's inevitibly less plot to talk about. Since at least two of the plotlines have been more or less resolved with parlour-mystery expository dialogue, the guessing game's pretty much run its course. I'm glad that the blog remains fun, though.

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger Rob S. said...

Jeremy,

I like your theory about the size of an animal's morphogenetic field, and offer a compatible one of my own.

Morphogenetic fields create interference. Being on an inhabited planet like Earth, which is full of all different types of animals, keeps Buddy from extending his powers out through space -- there's simply too much static for him to get a signal. But in the vastness of relatively uninhabited space, he could reach out and connect with something far more distant than he could have at home -- particularly something as big as a sun-eater.

 
At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Yellow Dudes could also have simply boosted Buddy's powers too, which may be more evident once he returns home. Maybe now he can combine the powers of many Earthbound animals at once- Chimera-Man! We'll see.

 
At 8:09 AM, Blogger Will Pickering said...

I had a go at the art-subtraction thing as well, here. The results are interesting – it's less like narrative, more like music.

On the question of "terrorism" - you make a valid point about the misuse of language, but that's a battle that's already been lost. These days, being investigated for links to terrorism just means you're catching a lot of grief from the authorities because they think you're "dodgy" and are looking for an excuse to shut you down. It's a mark of Freddy Freeman's law-abiding instincts that he adopts the state's terminology even it's being used against him. I wouldn't, but then I'm a natural heretic.

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

I will now stick by my guns that Adrianna was a plant and everything is a huge elaborate plot by Intergang to get Black Adam to go bat$#!+ crazy.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger Filby said...

Squashua, not to sound anal, would it kill you to wait just a couple hours for Douglas to write a post for the new issue?

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

Seeing as how I probably won't be on before he posts... yes.

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger austinspace said...

"Wolverine MacAlistaire running from a bear..." Oh I loved Journey...what a comic book.

Deathie!

 

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