Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunday Capsule Reviews: Jupiter's Legacy #1 & The Sixth Gun #30



There were launch parties held in different cities, we're told, to celebrate the release of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely's Jupiter's Legacy. The lord of Millarworld even bountifully stumped up for a round or two. No matter how the unfan attempted to avoid such hype, it was tough to do so. Was the book guaranteed 150 000 first week sales or more? Is a film adaptation nailed on or simply very likely? Yet there's no prospect of hubris inspiring nemesis just yet, for Jupiter's Legacy turns out to be an undeniably fine superhero tale. By turns, it's an inter-generational soap opera, a furious condemnation of the Right's politics of greed, an Eighties-style genre deconstruction, and a smartly executed costumed crimefighter epic. As such, it's so well-crafted that you can't even catch sight of your own cynicism when reading it. Quitely's art is ingenious, meticulous and consistently compelling, while Millar establishes the book's status quo with an admirable mix of precision and enthusiasm. Smartly sprucing up the superbook's perennial fascination with law-breaking do-gooders, Millar delights in suggesting that complicity with big business has destroyed the legitimacy of both Washington and Westminster. It's a strategy which allows him to play with the genre's long tradition of state-defying super-people while implying that the real-world has its super-villains too. 

As such, it ought to be conceded that the wave of apparent hucksterism which preceded the comic's appearance wasn't anything of the sort. Jupiter's Legacy really is a quality book. Whatever riches are coming by the truckload to Millar and Quietly's front doors, they've all been earned.

  
That I've only a partial grasp of The Sixth Gun's backstory is a reflection of my finances rather than my taste. Thankfully writer Cullen Bun and artist Brian Hurt have ensured that the less-than-expert reader of their weird western is neither weighed down by exposition or baffled by its absence. A complex comics-cosmology; a mass of personal relationships and individual character traits; a suspenseful drama leading to a hooksome final panel; an astute critique of the cliches of Western pot-boilers; it's all delivered in The Sixth Gun #30 with a degree of unshowy craftmanship that's as admirable and enjoyable as it's inconspicuous.

It's all-too-often argued that the use of magic in the action/adventure comicbook undermines its dramatic potential. It's a hoary old truism that's contradicted here by Bun and Hurt's depiction of Becky Montcrief's trials in a nightmarish reality. Publishers who've failed to exploit the potential of their own sorcerous characters ought to be taking notes.

The Sixth Gun is published by Oni Press, while Jupiter's Legacy is a Image/Millarworld book.

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14 comments:

  1. Jupiter's Legacy sounds very fine, and right up my alley. Less certain about The Sixth Gun- I've got my fondness for the western setting on the one hand, but I'm not entirely sure where I stand with weird western. I think I like it fine.. does Firefly count as a weird western? Or the various western/Star Trek episodes? (I can think of a classic series example, and a Star Trek: Enterprise example, both of which I dig). It's just that magic bit, which, I agree, often undermines the drama of the story, and is why I usually avoid stories with magic based settings entirely.

    Thanks for bringing these books to our attention!

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    1. Hello Isaac:- Thank you for commenting :)

      I suspect that even if Jupiter's Legacy isn't precisely your cup'o'tea, it'll still contain enough that's worthwhile to justify reading. From the Monster Island B-Movie riffing of the first few pages to the truly macabre way in which a super-villain is subdued, it's well worth paying attention to.

      I think the great strength of The Sixth Gun, or one of it's great strengths, is the way it doesn't rely on genre for its appeal. I genuinely think that this particular issue could be enjoyed even by folks who don't enjoy Westerns. In that, Firefly isn't a bad reference point, although TSG is a fantasy-Western mashup rather than a SciFi-Western one. But I honestly believe that the magic really doesn't undercut the drama here, but rather accentuates it. For all its complexity, I really think this issue is a fine jumping on point. Even if for nothing but the craft of the piece, it's deserving of attention. The way in which each lead is deftly characterised from newcomers, for example, is a pleasure in itself.

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  2. I haven't checked out Sixth Gun just yet, but am looking forward to the tv adaptation on the basis there is no real way to mess up a mash-up of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr and Buffy.

    To my disappointment, critics of Jupiter's Legacy seem to be busy using their critiques of the work to push themselves as a brand, which is ironic, I guess. They also like reminding us that Millar's done other things that weren't as good, so Jupiter's Legacy musn't be much good either, ipso fatso etc... It's something I could never quite pin down about your book extracts over on Seqart until now that you manage to write directly about Millar without dragging Colin Smith into things - if it makes sense, it seems like you've avoided a popular pitfall by taking ego out of your writing about Millar.
    Anyhoo, I dismissed Jupiter's Legacy as a retread of Pat Mills' Brats Bizarre, though I really should have remembered that Millar - for all his deliberate headline and critic-baiting - has calmed down a lot now he can swim in money, while Pat was still pretty pissed at superheroes when he wrote BB, but I especially like that JL comments on the talent show circus of fame whoring without going down the populist route of painting the humiliation and degradation of human beings as inherently entertaining - in fact it's treated as something shameful and wrong, a deeply uncommon sentiment all the more surprising for coming from someone ridiculed for his shock tactics and "easy" storytelling.

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    1. Hello Brigonos:- "...there is no real way to mess up a mash-up of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr and Buffy."

      Heh. I'm not sure that's EXACTLY the high concept here, but if it sells a fine book, then I'm all for it :) I think you'd enjoy it. It would make a fine 2000AD strip, for example.

      I'm as keen as mustard to avoid "celebrity" fanzone writing. I've been reading through a sequence of NMEs from the 1973 -1978 period while on the exercise bike recently and, for all that it's great fun to read, it's wearing and it gets in the way of the matter at hand. Some degree of personality and an acceptance/celebration of bias is not only inevitable, of course, but necessary. And I've nothing against folks - whoever they might - who are into the Lester Bangs of it all. After all, I love Bangs work, just read a 1974 interview with Deep Purple - ! - that made me laugh outloud. (Not a Purple fan, but Jon Lord seems to have a top bloke.) But I don't have any points to score, or agenda to follow, and I certainly wouldn't want to be reading about the Brand Of Smith rather than the work.

      It's an approach which doesn't necessary work when trying to get an audience for a book about Millar's work. It's not just that my limitations get into the way of MEGA-SUCCESS, or, indeed, success per se. Criticing anything of his work seems to alienate many of those who love his books while speaking up for other aspects of it alienates those who loathe his scripts or, indeed, the public image of MARK MILLAR. But I don't think I could make the project more appealling if I sold on the back some mythical Brand Of Smith, and it's tough enough just trying to get sentences to make, er, sense.

      I never read Brats Bizarre. Now of course I'll have to track it down.

      You're of course quite right to suggest that JL is - so far - presenting a picture that lauds traditional values while lashing out at 21st cntury anomie. It's often been a theme of Millar's work, from The Saviour onwards. Millar's the loyal lay preacher who loves to play at being something very different, which is where a great deal of the tension and contradictions in his work comes from. But JL did also point out that traditional values also lead to a lack of political engagement and an inability to communicate with the next generation, so there's an interesting debate brewing there.

      It's interesting material. If Grant Morrison had written JL, the blogosphere would have raving about as a comic of ideas. To say that isn't to denigrate Morrison, who I greatly respect. But it is to say that Millar doesn't always get dealt with on a case to case basis.

      Which is, of course, another reason for trying to do so ...

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  3. Anyone interested in reading the Sixth Gun, it's first issue is available to read online at Oni Books website here: http://www.onipress.com/previews/h/219

    Very much worked for me, and got me interested enough to buy the first trade and continue from there on. A quality comic, I agree that at least part of its strength is the genre mash up (to a certain degree the thing it reminds me most of is Hellboy, in that it takes the supernatural and mixes it into other genres). The addition of Becky as heroine also undercuts the overt masculinity traditional in the western genre.

    While impressed as ever with Frank Quitely's art, I can't say that I'll be picking up issue two of Jupiter's Legacy-- it simply didn't appeal to me in any way as a story-- but then again I've always been a bit hit or miss when it came to Mark Millar (I loved his Fantastic Four run, liked him on his original run on The Ultimates; but detested his Authority run, which this reminds me most of)

    As to capsule reviews: there's a lovely LGTrans page in the latest FF that more than makes up for Allred's absence in the art department (although Joe Quinones does such a good job anyway that it took me two pages to notice Allred wasn't the artist}.

    And Young Avengers 4 turns it from a comic I simply admired and enjoy into something I genuinely loved. I don't know why, but its attitude to the superhero world reminds me most of Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire's Justice League.

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    1. Hello Carey:- Thank you for linking to the first issue of The Sixth Gun. I wasn't aware it was available, though I have my own copy in my Comixology account.

      You too mention the genre mashup of the book. What I admire most is the fact that that mashup is put to use. For many creators, the simple act of mixing different traditions seems to be thought of as creative in itself. But in TSG, there's new things being done, while the old genres are being cleverly discussed. The way in which race and gender is represented, for example, is smartly done.

      I'm with you on Millar's FF, a most under-rated run. As for JL, I'm very conscious that it's a first issue and I'm approaching with an eye to its value as an introduction as well as its virtues as a story in its own right. Overall, I think it's a quality example of the mainstream super-book that you'd expect we'd be kneedeep in. The fact that the book is selling well over 100 000 copies when, for example, most of the Nu52 very much isn't would seem to suggest that Millar has a better grasp of the audience's taste.

      Thank you for your own capsule reviews :) I can only agree with you about the splendid YA, which I'm tempted to review myself. The latest FF I haven't read yet. You've made sure that I soon will.

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  4. I say!

    I found JUPITER'S LEGACY to be pretty standard modern Millar; that is to say, an interesting high concept with slapdash execution. Fortunately the affair is elevated by the always outstanding Frank Quitely (and Doherty deserves to be on the cover if he had anything to do with those textures), but there's some sloppy, sloppy writing to be found 'twixt these covers.

    Consider the introduction of MacGuffin Island:

    1. Sheldon says he wants to go to an island, which he saw in a dream.
    2. Captain Borges points out this is weird.
    3. FLASHBACK: stock riches-to-rags depression story #237 (with bonus allusion to modern times)!
    4. FLASHBACK: Sheldon says he is having dreams of an island.
    5. Sheldon draws the island.
    6. In the present, Sheldon says he is having dreams of an island.
    7. Which is weird.
    8. We see the island, which looks a lot like his drawing, because sequential art is a drawn medium.

    So we have the same few points -- man dreams of island, man dreaming of island is weird, and hey check out this island -- hammered over and over without variation for pages and pages and pages, while characters explain the plot and their relationship with each other in stock Millar voices.

    What really got me going, however....

    Later on, one of the veteran superheroes exclaims that things have gotten so bad that he saw a FOOD LINE in Los Angeles this morning! Good heavens! Except this sentence actually leads me to suspect our protagonist must not spend a lot of time in LA -- or America, because:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/15/union-rescue-mission-exp_n_836311.html

    There are lines for food and shelter around here all the time. This is what I see downtown, every morning, going all the way down the block:

    http://vocation.nd.edu/assets/49354/downtownchapelfront.jpg

    The lines are getting longer. But they've always been here. And you've have to be blind -- or just not from around these parts -- to have not noticed them before now.

    Maybe it's different on your side of the pond; I don't know.

    To be fair to Millar, this happens to be a subject I pay more attention to than most, but I have to say this is one example of his trademark "provide frisson by tying a genre story to the real world" gimmick I found extremely irritating -- almost as bad as this moment last year:

    http://jacobmercy.com/millar/

    The strange thing is -- Millar tics aside -- I rather enjoyed the first issue of JUPITER'S LEGACY. I just think it's got the usual Millar problems.

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    1. Hello J:- Had the above not been a capsule review, I would have dwelled more on the aspects of the book I found to be more problematical. To say this isn't to suggest that I would have mentioned the points you have. Your comment is - as always - most welcome because it comes from a perspective I lack.

      I would certainly agree that the first scene is the weakest in the book. I took it as a riff on a 30's South Seas adventure/horror movie, with more than a touch of Monster Island and King Kong in it, of course. As such, I thought it an interesting attempt to evoke the past using the media of the period, and one which very much placed those involved in the tradition of Hollywood adventure heroes of the period. That in its turn sets up the id- mostly - pre-WWII values. Though I didn't think the scene was particularly convincing or suspenseful, I did think it interesting.

      On the question of food lines; yes, there were food lines in LA when I was there in 1982 too, so I couldn't disagree with your point. It could be taken as a sign that the Olympian superheroes don't notice social distress unless it's at an extreme, though I suspect that Millar was more motivated by the explosion in the same over this side of the pond. Food lines were relatively - relatively - unknown for most beyond the homeless in big urban centres in the UK until the arrival of the Coalition. There's been such an incredible - and sadly desperately needed - increase in such charitable provision over recent years that it's hard not to despair. And Millar is using JL to discuss the UK far more than the USA, as of course you'll have noticed. Though there is a bite at the Obama administration's refusal to deal with evident and catastrophic economic problems/crimes, the general sense of the discussion seems more aimed at Cameron etc.

      Though I've also been unconvinced by some of Millar's attempts to reference real-world events and issues before, I know that this particular issue is something he feels passionately about. That's not because I have any insider knowledge, and I don't mean to seem to suggesting anything of the sort. But I'm just writing about his feelings and thoughts re: Thatcher and her own brand of austerity in Shameless?, and that's involved reading what he wrote back then, of course. Though MM mostly pulled away from openly and passionately attacking such political issues in the years after The Saviour, there have also been examples of his doing so since. (The Chester-becomes-a-Neoconservative issue of Swamp Thing, for example.) And Millar has been writing on his blog in the past few weeks about Thatcher and Cameron in terms, and with a passion, which mirrors his thoughts and feelings of a quarter-century ago. By which I mean, I believe that this matter is something he feels strongly about rather than an affectation that's being used for the nowness of it all. You do discuss how he could have tightened up his dialogue and I think you make a fine point. But I'm happy to go along with his choice of issues to reference because I believe he really does care about them.

      That may all be because I spend far too much time reading his words and work these days. It may also be because I'm weary of the super-book ignoring the real-world to a degree that renders a great deal of the sub-genre irrelevant. As such, I'm always interested by those folks who do recognise that there are super-villains and evil empires out here in the real world too.

      Or, as it might be more honestly said, I'm biased :)

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    2. "And Millar is using JL to discuss the UK far more than the USA, as of course you'll have noticed."

      To be honest: not really! Between the American protagonist and the LA and Vermont settings, I assumed this was about America and American issues. I've gotten to the point where my extra-comicullar reading is rather limited -- outside of a few critics I like and the odd interview with creators I admire, I'm pretty much limiting myself to the text these days -- not only was I completely ignorant of this apparent media blitz for JL, I had no idea Millar was so passionate about economic issues. I am (somewhat) mollified by your observation!

      Interesting to note how something that clanged so hard with me probably would have landed just fine with a change of setting. It's a delicate dance, to be sure -- I'm always amused by the occasional Britishism in Watchmen, for example, and obviously there's a reason not a lot of Americans have worked on Hellblazer. I have to give Ellis a lot of credit here, actually -- he's obviously someone who is very interested in this country and the way its people sound.

      (Millar's dialog still drives me up the wall, tho, no matter who it's coming from or where it's being delivered.)

      I have a great, great deal to say about the juxtaposition of the real world and the fantastic, but I'll try to save that for a later date.

      A pleasure as always, sir.

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    3. Hello J:- I say this because Millar wrote about it at Millarworld just 10 days or so, but he's personal as well as ideological grounds for loathing the various horsemen and women of Austerity. His father, he wrote, was laid off in 1985 during Thatcher's second term. It was the year after the death of Millar's mother, and his father never worked again. By which I mean, Millar's politics may not in any way neatly match my own, but they're undoubtedly passionately held and quite sincerly expressed.

      It IS tough for folks from our respective nations to write about each other's lives. The old Wilde line about being seperated by a common language still holds true, I fear, and that's as true for comics as for anywhere else. I'm doing a capsule review for tomorrow about a book which is the product of a great deal of love and talent which, despite all the effort, stills stumbles at moments. I think a fine editor is worth their weight in gold during such projects, but they're rare on the ground, and always have been.

      It IS always a pleasure :) I hope the day finds you well.

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  5. hi, colin--

    i must admit i'm gratified to see you enjoyed The Sixth Gun. i generally think of "Weird Westerns" as a mix of horror and Western generic conventions, so while they might have magic and curses and all that, it tends to feel a little more like The Mummy or Hammer Studios than epic fantasy or science fiction. i agree with carey's comparison to Hellboy.

    i hope that doesn't scare off anyone who might be curious. as you say, The Sixth Gun transcends its generic parts and is its own thing. i loved the book's depiction of a windigo, too.

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    1. Hello Carol:- I'll of course trust to your understanding of The Sixth Gun as a whole. I'd feel comfortable defining this particular issue as a weird western, but I'll also concede that it's not a label which applies nearly so comfortably to all of the issues I've read.

      But as you say, the book is more than the sum of its inspirations. I certainly hope the love it's been shown in these comments might encourage a welcome visitor or two to check the book out :)

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  6. oh, i'm perfectly comfortable calling The Sixth Gun a weird western. sorry for any misunderstanding.

    carol

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    1. Hello Carol:- I'm as happy with you agreeing as disagreeing, though I do regret not grasping your point. Speaking as both sinner & host, the apologies are mine.

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