Monday, 23 December 2013

On The Rocketeer & The Spirit, Red Sonja, A Voice In The Dark, Sidekick & The Bounce

In which the blogger continues the experiment - begun here - of speaking well of a number of recently-read - or re-read - comicbook.

Please do be advised, there be spoilers in what's below, as well as a single moment plucked from each of the comics that's discussed;

1. A Voice In The Dark #1, by Larime Taylor (Top Cow)

Even if you've not read A Voice In The Dark itself, you've probably heard something about it. Two headline issues have tended to quite understandably dominate the conversation about Larime Taylor's work. The first concerns the extreme physical challenges that Mr Taylor has admirably overcome in order to produce the book. The second focuses on the comic's POV character, a young female murderer who struggles to control her delusions and impulses. As understandably fascinating as these are, they have on occasion overshadowed the virtues of Taylor's storytelling, the richness of which extends even down to the fine detail of his art.

A Voice In The Dark portrays a distinctly 21st century America that's far more diverse and convincing than that depicted by a great many of Taylor's comics-creating peers. It's a context that allows him to intriguingly juxtapose the disordered Zoey Aarons' struggles to appear typical with the abundance of difference and debate that surrounds her. Much has rightly been made of Taylor's depiction of a world in which class, gender, race, culture, sexuality and nationality are far from that typically presented in mainstream entertainments. But his is a commitment to detail and truth which extends even to the way in which he represents the body-types of his cast members. The overweight - to take but a single example - are so rarely represented in anything other than the most peripheral and generic terms. Yet here, the less svelte characters are each given their own unique appearance, and each of them exists as distinct personalities rather than incidental stereotypes. (I write this as an individual who is, shall we say, traveling below his own Plimsoll Line in this particular matter.) And so, we're presented with the thoughtful and middle-aged Critical Thinking lecturer Ed Dean in addition to the belligerently opinionated Regan Heath, a student so lacking in self-awareness that she quite misses the dangers of labelling others on the basis of appearances. It's just one of the many ways in which A Voice In The Dark challenges lazy and even reactionary models of storytelling. Though the comic's central conceit may appear from a distance to be well-worn and over-familiar, Taylor's work is anything but.

2. The Rocketeer & The Spirit #1 by Mark Waid & Paul Smith (IDW)

Paul Smith's one of the very few artists who've both the chops and the insight to convincingly hybridise these two very different properties into a visually coherent and convincing adventure. In the page above, Mark Waid's typically captivating script ensures that cast members from both strips are established in an entertainingly exposition-free sequence. Driven by Ellen Dolan's impassioned refusal to let laddish, punch-first preconceptions impede her mission, the Rocketeer and the Spirit are cut endearingly down to size and given something more productive than testosterone and a mutual suspicion in common. Smith's work is wonderfully effective. Not a beat is missed, not an opportunity wasted.  In each successive frame, character is established with wit and energy; the Spirit's lack of power in his relationship with Dr Dolan accentuated by his defensive posture and shadowed face, while the Rocketeer's comparative youth and relative innocence is marked by his taken-aback smile and the unexpected lipstick trace in his cheek. Even the chance to show both crimefighters in a single panel is grasped to depict them as people rather than types, with the physical differences between their frames and personalities being elegantly established. It's an eight-panel page which remarkably never once feels crowded or indulgent, and yet it contains nods to both Dave Stevens and Will Esiner's work in addition to a mass of character-play. What might have been a relatively uninteresting sequence in the hands of a less gifted artist is instead lively, amusing and informative.

3. Red Sonja # 5, by Gail Simone & Walter Geovani (Dynamite)

As if disassociating Red Sonja from the misogyny that's so often marked her appearances wasn't enough of a challenge. Even with those decades-worth of intermittent sexism admirably excised, Simone and Geovani still have to create a strip that appeals to both hardcore S'n'S fans and the unconverted. One of their most intriguing strategies has been to introduce a version of science into the Kingdom of Patra. The very presence of the empirically-minded Prince Timath challenges the taken-for-granted assumptions of Sonja's fantastical world. In doing so, the character helps to bring to life a culture which otherwise might seem unremarkably generic. What Timath conceives of as an efficient delivery system for a much-needed anti-coagulant is to everyone else a stupendously huge and dangerously fang-ladened leech. What he thinks of as reason, they consider wizardry. His very presence suggests debate and conflict, heresy and bigotry, and implies a world more dynamic and nuanced than might otherwise be feared by neophytes and fantasy-refuseniks. (It's to Sonja's credit that she can look beyond his lack of martial prowess and recognise the virtues of a very different way of thinking.) Rather than conservative and predictable, this is a sword and sorcery book with change and debate built into it. Why not steam-barbarism in addition to steampunk? (I'd love to see a lone, single-track railway line linking Patra, Cimmeria, Westeros, Narnia and the Shire. That would be an industrial revolution to savor.) It'll be fascinating to see where Simone takes this beguiling innovation next.
4. Sidekick #5 by J. Michael Straczynski, Tom Mandrake (Image)

Five years have passed since the apparent assassination of Sol City's champion the Red Cowl, and the killing's anniversary is marked by a gathering of thousands of morning citizens. Each wearing a copy of the murdered champion's face-mask, they surround and berate the Cowl's surviving sidekick, Flyboy. It's a strikingly threatening scene that briefly enlivens a comic that's otherwise solely redeemed by Tom Mandrake's energetic and captivating artwork.

5. The Bounce #1, by Joe Casey and David Messina (Image)

An experiment in storytelling which sacrifices not just sympathetic characters, but interesting ones too, The Bounce is hard book to warm to. But its first issue is at least lifted by the page in which the entirely repellent Jasper Jenkins finds bravado-fuelled psychonauting far more dangerous than he'd had the wit to imagine.

to be concluded;


  1. May I wish you and your family a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year, Colin.
    All the best.

    1. Hello Karl:- Thank you!

      And I hope you'll accept my very best wishes for you and yours for this holiday season :) The very best to you.

  2. Unfortunately for all involved, Smith drew only that one issue of Pulp Friction. The artist for #2 wasn't bad, and J. Bone drew the final two, but the tone was all over the place. My retailer, who knows a lot of people in the industry, claims that Smith only takes jobs when he wants money to pay for his surfing, so I guess he got enough from one issue to cover that. Too bad - the series suffers because three artists work on four issues.

    1. Hello Greg:- Opening up the second issue of TR&TS was such a comedown that I didn't make it to the third chapter. Three artists in a four issue mini-series is an unmitigated disaster when the story hasn't been designed for such. I fear that the art in issue 2 was so uninspired that I just stopped there. Now, it may be that the artist was trying to hit a demanding catch-up deadline, it may be that he just isn't up to PS's standard. But I'll certainly not be buying any limited series by Mr Smith in the future. I fear I just don't trust him to finish what he's begun. Of course, I shall regret writing that if it turns out he was, for example, ill. But if that were so, wouldn't the publishers have held off on the book until he could finish it?

      Surfing? If so, he must be in incredible shape, being that he must be my age or thereabouts :) I've always admired PS's work. Even his pre-professional spot illos in Amazing Heroes were enjoyable. His Golden Age work was wonderful. It's hard not to feel that a great deal of promise has gone unfulfilled over the years ...