By Matt D. Wilson
Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of the brand new Supervillain Field Manual, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week's comic book releases.
I am not an artist.
Not for lack of trying -- I still find myself doodling in the margins of a notebook when I'm bored and have nothing else to occupy myself -- but I have resigned myself to the fact that I just don't have what it takes do draw anything anybody really wants to see. What I do instead, both professionally and as a hobby, because I am completely nuts, is write. It's my passion. I love writing stories, examining stories, digging down into them and unraveling their plots to see what makes them tick. It's just how my mind works.
And when it comes to reviewing comics, it may be something of a weakness. Sure, it's wonderful to be able to examine a plot or look at dialogue with critical eye, but that's only half the actual story in a comic book.
This sudden self-evaluation isn't out of nowhere. A Tumblr post from comics artist Declan Shalvey a few days ago made some really valid points about some real weaknesses comics reviewers tend to have. One is they summarize everything. I try not to do that. But his second point nails me and lots of others like me:
Though I can appreciate that a lot of reviewers don’t have the artistic vocabulary to really review art, they always have lots to say about the story. An analysis of the storytelling would be interesting. Analyzing the composition and pacing is something I love to do with the comics I buy. There’s plenty to appreciate with the art of a comic and I feel most reviewers are barely scratching the surface.
He's right. Critics, myself included, do this all the time. Without even really realizing it, I find myself doing that awful thing where I tack on a sentence about the art being really good at the very end of a review. Sequential art isn't an afterthought. It's what makes a creative work a comic.
All that said, it's easy to understand why a critic might get bogged down in plots and words. Sometimes, great comic art forces you to pay attention to it -- just look at "Hawkeye" #11 from a couple weeks ago, and how impossible it is to look away from some of those pages. Other times, really, really good comic art tells a story so well and with such precision that readers, particularly those who aren't artists themselves, can get lost in it, and kind of forget it's even there. It's like when a movie has really great special effects or cinematography. You don't notice it. You just get swept up in what's happening. It seems real.
I have been trying to get better at focusing on art in reviews. I'm not totally there yet. I just can't help but latch onto the big concepts and never let them go, but those concepts never go anywhere without well-realized pictures. All of us, critics and readers, would do well to remember that.
And now the comics of the week!
"Quantum and Woody" #1
(Valiant Comics, by James Asmus and Tom Fowler)
I expected this book to be funny. The "Q&W" pedigree, along with Fowler's boisterious style and improv veteran Asmus doing the writing all added up to humor. And it doesn't disappoint there. Woody's loveable scoundrel, my favorite archetype in all of fiction, is a goldmine. He has great lines. He has amazing facial expressions. What I wasn't necessarily expecting was a compelling family story and a mystery to go along with the comedy. Like its predecessor, this version of "Q&W" has a wholly different tone from the other comics in the Valiant line, but one thing it does share is a driving mystery and a quest for answers. It's great stuff.
(DC Comics, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo)
I wasn't shy about saying the first part of "Zero Year" left me a little cold. I thought it was disjointed. It had a ton of striking visuals, but they didn't seem to cohere into something cohesive. I'm on board with this second issue, though. There are a lot of turns here I didn't expect, like Alfred so staunchly defying Bruce for sullying the Wayne name, and then Bruce pushing back even harder, or Red Hood just being so doggone jovial. This story has a tone that takes a whole lot of getting used to, but I think I'm there.
(Image Comics, by Joshua Williamson and Goran Sudzuka)
Speaking of getting used to a comic's tone, I really didn't know what I was in for with this book, which went straight into prison rape in the second panel. I was ready to check out right then and there. I'm glad I didn't, though, because this story ended up being right up my alley. Early promo materials compared this comic to "Ocean's Eleven," but I see a lot more of Richard Stark's "Parker" here. It's "Parker" with ghosts. Sudzuka, after some smoke and mirrors in the first few pages, even nails a sort of modern, '60s-chic look by the end.
(MonkeyBrain Comics, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover)
They bottled delight, made it a comic and called it "Bandette." This one depicts the start of a "great thieving race." I don't know what else to tell you.
"Justice League" #22
This issue made headlines over one big moment in which Superman would appear to get so mad at someone that he melts his face off with his heat vision. I'm not the biggest fan of that, but it's not even the biggest head scratcher in this big clusterfudge of an issue. It's framed with narration by Madame Xanadu even though she's taken out of the equation by the end of the issue. Pandora and Wonder Woman have a very awkward Greek myth-off. Superman and Wonder Woman coldly debate killing enemies at the very beginning (oh, foreshadowing!). And the giant war (the one defined by the word "trinity," whatever that means) that kicks off here? It's all caused by a big misunderstanding when a kid who is generally a jerk tries to do something nice for once in his life. Ivan Reis' art (which reminds me a bit of Brent Anderson here) is generally quite good, but it can't save this stinker.