Sunday, May 18, 2014


Two weeks back, I rounded out my 4-part series on Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso over at PopMatters, finishing on a somewhat sour note with Brother Lono. I wrote on this site a while ago about how I was giving up on that series, but then I ended up reading the rest of it for the PopMatters piece anyway. It did not get better. This week, I talked about Shelton, the kid in the Scalped arc "Dead Mothers" who gets killed by the same man who murdered his mother. The moment of Shelton's death was when Scalped really kicked in for me on a level it hadn't yet reached, so I enjoyed going back to that and reexamining it. Finally, another "1987 And All That" post is up at CSBG about Hawkman #11-17. They were pretty decent comics, and definitely an interesting introduction for me to the characters of Hawkman and Hawkwoman as stars rather than background players or boring members of some super-team.

Something I Failed to Mention
I'm not feeling like I left much out of the three pieces published elsewhere these last couple weeks. All the thoughts I wanted to express were pretty much included. I am, however, disappointed in my recent lack of productivity here on Comics Matter. It has to do with many things, some of which are going to calm down in the next few months, but others are bound to become busier/more complicated in that same time, so I can't really say if or when I might pick up the pace again. I am trying my damnedest to stick to the arbitrary once-a-week minimum I set for myself long ago, so at least there's that, I guess. And you never know when a sudden abundance of energy, free time, and ideas might come together in a perfect storm of blogging. But chances are things are going to be slow around here for at least a little while. Good thing about that is, the rest of the Internet keeps moving at the exact same pace without me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cheese Stands Alone: Daytripper #3

The Cheese Stands Alone is a semi-regular column featuring examinations of single issues that can be understood and appreciated on their own, without reading any of the preceding or following issues of the series.

Before I start, I should mention that pretty much any issue of Daytripper could be the subject of a Cheese Stands Alone post. The premise of the entire series is that each issue tells a self-contained story about the same character at a different point in his life, and at the end of every one, he dies. There are a couple twists on that concept in the later issues, but that's the basic foundation of the book, so I could definitely have chosen any individual chapter for this column. Daytripper #3 isn't even necessarily my favorite, though certainly it's in the running. I picked it because it does something particularly nice with its conclusion by making the tragic, violent, sudden death of the protagonist into a happy ending. That's an impressive trick, and done quite well, optimistic even while it reminds us of our own mortality.
     The star of Daytripper is Brás who, in this particular issue, is 28 years old (which I know because the title of the issue is "28"). In the first scene and several other times throughout the issue, we see him fighting/breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, whose name I don't believe we ever learn. Actually, a more accurate phrasing of that would be that we see her fighting/breaking up with him, since Brás is largely a passive observer in those flashback scenes, watching and listening as the woman he supposedly loves tears him down verbally before walking out of his life. Brás gets his licks in here and there, but always in a desperate attempt at self-defense. He doesn't really want the fight to continue, so he isn't adding much fuel to the fire, but it doesn't matter because it's already burning his world down.
     Separating these snippets of Brás' past-tense break-up are scenes of its present-tense aftermath, as Brás wallows in and wanders through his newfound loneliness. He talks about his ex with his best friend, discusses love in general with his father, and mopes around his home, work, and city in a state of disinterest and/or malaise. Daytripper #3 is, for the most part, a portrait of the specific brand of depression which can only come from heartbreak. Brás, so used to sharing his life with someone, now finds himself in a whole new world, one in which he is on his own for the first time in years. It's a difficult adjustment, because even as he sincerely wants and tries to acclimate himself to his new situation, he continues to pine for that former life, too. It hangs over him and slows him down, like an oversized fur coat he refuses to take off even though the sun is out and he's sweating like crazy.
     It would be a pretty boring comic if all that happened was Brás being upset in various locations, though that is definitely the bulk of the issue. Then in its third act, Daytripper #3 switches gears quite suddenly when Brás, out for a bit of coffee and self-pity a full year after his break-up, makes pseudo-flirtatious eye contact with a young woman for whom he instantly falls. Though they don't interact, Brás can feel his love for her overtake him immediately, which catches him somewhat off-guard. He was not prepared to stumble across the love of his life that morning, and initially he walks away, not really sure how to react. He doesn't get far before he realizes he absolutely must turn around and go meet the woman who so enchanted him, and it is in that moment of confidence and hope that this story finds its happy ending. After spending 2/3 of the issue exploring all the ins and outs of Brás at his lowest, it launches him upward again in a bold and bright new direction. And then he dies.
     Because that's what happens in Daytripper, as I mentioned: Brás dies at the end of every chapter. In this case, he's hit by a delivery van while racing across the street to find his mystery woman, dying with all the abruptness and surprise of his love-at-first sight moment a few minutes before. More, really, because Brás seeing the girl gets a few pages, while his death takes a mere three panels (or two, depending on whether or not you count the final shot of onlookers staring in shock at his body). You might think that this death would bring things back down to a negative place, closing the issue with the same kind of darkness that took up so much of it. But the beauty of Daytripper #3 is that Brás' death still feels like an upbeat occurrence, since it happens to him when he is happier than he's been since the story started. No longer sour over a lost love, he is energized over the prospect of a new one, and while it is tragic that he doesn't get to actually experience it, having him go down right at the peak of his hopefulness still seems like a win.
     In part, admittedly, it's easy not to be too bummed by Brás dying here because he's done it twice before in this series and by now we know he'll be coming back. The point of this column, though, is to look at stories that don't rely on previous or following issues to make them work, and I still think Daytripper #3 qualifies, because the effect of Brás' death is more or less the same even if you don't know he won't stay dead for long. Writers/artists/brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá do such a thorough job of delving into Brás' depression in the beginning of the issue, and then take great care to drive home the impact the woman at the end of the story has on him, the joy of that encounter easily outlasts the awfulness of Brás getting run over. His newfound vibrance and excitement are what stick, not the dull thud of the crash that kills him.
     Turning a main character's death into a positive event is just one of many such tricks Daytripper pulls off over the course of its ten issues. By ending Brás life at many different points, Moon and Bá get to tell numerous contrasting stories that at the same time all tell one story, which is a character study of this fairly normal guy. The creators enrich his normalcy with their care for him and for the comicbook itself. Daytripper #3 is an especially nice example of this, in that it gives us two extremes in Brás' emotional spectrum: depressed detachment and active romanticism. In providing these polar opposite views of the man, they present a full picture of him in this one issue, and by infusing his demise with so much sweet, budding love, they create a moving, memorable tale without needing to fall back on the tragedy of it all.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dirty Dozen: Sex

Dirty Dozen is a semi-regular feature with twelve disconnected thoughts on the first twelve issues of a current ongoing series.

1. I go back and forth over whether or not Simon Cooke is the worst protagonist ever. It seems to fluctuate issue-to-issue; once in a while he says something legitimately interesting that brings me back to his good side, but most of the time he's so boring it gives me a stress headache. He's an over-privileged, self-important jackass who can't figure out how to interact with the world, and watching him pretend to try while whining and constantly resisting has grown tiresome. If he died, it would be a relief, and open the book up for its numerous more interesting characters.

2. Piotr Kowalski was new to me when this series began, but I suspect I'll follow him pretty much anywhere in the future. Though I'm not always wild about what it is he draws in this book, he does a mighty find job of drawing it with meticulous detail in every panel. It's too bad that he has to waste much his talent on so many shots of Cooke staring blankly and mundane sex scenes, but when he gets to branch out it's always worth it. And his cityscapes are bananas good.

3. The sex scenes often feel like they exist more to justify the title than for any necessary story reason. Also, they are very repetitive, and disappointingly tame, considering the possibilities of the medium.

4. While my feelings on Cooke are hard to predict at any given moment, The Old Man is always the worst, most simplistic, uninspired, laughable caricature of a villain I've seen or ever hope to see again. Every scene he's in is the worst kind of empty shock value violence horseshit, and all he's ever done is torture and interrogate other villains. He did it to one cipher character for several issues, and as soon as that finally ended, he turned around and did the exact same thing to another boring bad guy. Which is what's happening now, meaning in 12 issues The Old Man has failed to rise above the role of pointless torturer. Maybe it's leading somewhere cool, but it could not possibly be worth wading through this swamp.

5. When it comes to cast- and world-building, I think that Joe Casey's writing is maybe at its strongest ever on this title, except for the fact that the main character is exceedingly dull. The supporting cast is considerably livelier, and very diverse in voice and point of view. It's a full, massive world Casey's cobbled together, and the cast grows all the time with new characters of all sizes. There are lots of balls in the air, and they can't all get equal attention, but nothing is ignored for too long. It all moves forward all the time, even when we're not watching it, and it that sense I'm very impressed with the story. There's a lot to like in here, but it's all built around a flimsy central character.

6. The Saturnalia was so stupid. Big build-up about the mystery for the answer to be, "it's an orgy."

7. My problems with Cooke and The Old Man are significantly mitigated by my total fascination with Keenan and his whole deal. I'm a sucker for any sidekick coming of age story, and the added element of Cooke having walked away from his superhero days makes it even better. Keenan is on his own and ferociously determined to prove he can pull it off. So far, he's doing just that, and in a level-headed and self-reflective way that gives me a lot of faith is his continued success. Keenan is the reason to read this series, the best character and star of the only regularly interesting plotline. His one present-tense interaction with Cooke is the best Cooke has ever been. And unlike 90% of them, Keenan's sex scenes serve a real narrative purpose, because his relationship matters a lot, and it develops in these moments of intimacy. Again, I vote for killing Cooke off somehow and giving Keenan twice as many pages. Some issues just plain don't have him in them, which is horrible.

8. Brad Simpson rules, and is just as much a part of my love for Sex's art as Kowalski. Simpson doesn't just do the colors, he's responsible for the lighting, which is a big deal in this book. Cooke's business world is neon, but at home he tends to live in more normal colors. The streets and poorer parts of the city, though, are dim and sickly in their tone. Kowalski puts the same heart and life into all of these places, but Simpson makes them distinct with some simple, natural coloring choices that have become an integral part of the aesthetic.

9. Annabelle's eye problems were a nice touch, and I'd like to see more stuff like that, especially from her. As a madam she's pretty stereotypical, but the notion of an ex-super-person paying in tangible ways now for their past is interesting, and Annabelle's commitment to her tough and capable reputation makes her a particularly strong choice to suffer those kinds of consequences. It'd be good to see Cooke go through some of that, too, but whoever it happens to, I definitely want this concept to be further explored. 

10. I'm not super clear on why we never get to see the Armored Saint in full. Is a big reveal coming someday? Just kind of a fun game to play with the audience, like the neighbor on Home Improvement? Or am I missing some symbolism in his hidden appearance?

11. The highlighted words in the dialogue drive me crazy. I don't know if they are chosen by Casey, letterer Russ Wooton, or some combination, but they're so frustratingly inconsistent and arbitrary that I just ignore them now. Whatever they were supposed to do, all they actually accomplish is adding superfluous spots of color in an already arrestingly colorful book.

12. I've said it before, and it's still true: I just don't know whether or not Sex is a comic I really want to keep following. I was hoping that making it the focus of this column would help with that decision. It did not.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Parts two and three of my four-part series about Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso are up on PopMatters, looking at "Broken  City" and Spaceman, respectively. That continues to be a fun little project, and I think the final part will be particularly interesting to hammer out. Also, my newest "1987 And All That" column is over at CSBG, on Zatanna Special #1. It was not a great read but it had some nice ideas and really strong artwork so it ain't all bad.

Something I Failed to Mention
In the Risso/Azzarello pieces, I try to talk mostly about how each story is reflective of their collaborative voice. That's the goal, anyway, and as such I left out an observation I had about "Broken City" that didn't really fit with a discussion of that creative team's work in general. It's a small thing that's very specific to that story, and not something I've noticed them repeat. Still, it's a smart and cool enough move to merit attention. The entire narrative of "Broken City" centers on Batman's hunt for Angel Lupo, whom he believes is responsible for several murders. But Angel himself isn't even on-stage until the very end of the penultimate chapter, at which point he's promptly shot to death. And in his one and only scene, Angel's face is always obscured by heavy shadow, so that we never see the details. In other words, even though his name is essential to the plot, Angel isn't really a character, just an idea. He's a living MacGuffin, neither the first nor last of his kind, but handled very skillfully by both Risso and Azzarello. His presence permeates the story from start to finish, even after he's dead, so in that sense he's one of the best-developed members of the cast. We learn a lot about him, what he's like and what he cares about, but all of it comes secondhand. He never even gets to speak for himself. Azzarello and Risso manage to make Angel feel like a person but act as only a plot device, an impressive and effective balancing act.