July 7th, 2008
And I am that beholder.
Comics bought and read on Saturday the 5th of July 2008.
Astonishing X-Men #25
Written by Warren Ellis
Drawn by Simone Bianchi
Published by Marvel Comics
Simone Bianchi’s artwork, like the mighty Alliance of Elves and Men, should only be deployed under very specific circumstances and after all due deliberation. His darque magyck approach works well enough on stories with a Fantasy (note the capital F, folks) theme, and probably feels right at home between the leathery pages of Metal Hammer, but I came to his pairing with Ellis on this particular title with not a little scepticism. It’s not that his baroque and intricate stylings are completely at odds with some of the content I’d expect to find within an X-Men book – mutants are, afterall, a little otherworldly – but when it comes to, well, just about everything else, he just didn’t strike me as a very good fit.
And on the strength of this first issue I suspect I was right to be a little concerned. If Ellis is anything he’s a writer who likes a bit of chat. Lots of talking heads, lots of exposition. And that’s exactly what we get here, a set-up issue that has the characters gathering, exchanging pleasantries, discussing their new digs, and having a chin-wag with the local law enforcement at a crime scene. Not really Bianchi’s thing. Hence lots of panels which strike me as a tad over-wrought, and, in a couple of instances, ill conceived. I get that Storm’s supposed to have a bit of the ol’ goddess about her, but her arrival in this issue had me wondering why the Queen of the Lands of Fairy had come to town. Poor Bianchi isn’t helped in his task by some truly atrocious colouring, which, unless viewed under a strong light source, affords the book all the clarity of mud mixed with blackest tar. One can only hope that’s down to a printing error, because if an editor let that shit pass her desk then I suspect many, many people won’t be picking up this title a few months down the line for fear of migraines induced by eye strain.
Colouring aside, it’s not that the art’s bad (on the whole), more inappropriate, although once the action heats up it may well become less incongruent. In terms of writing, the team’s interpersonal dynamics are handled with genuine insight, and the dialogue, despite possessing something of an Elissian feel, flows smoothly and doesn’t scrimp on characterisation. The new setting, sunny, liberal, friendly San Fransisco is a nice touch too (set up by Brubaker elsewhere), offering a bit of variety for all us longterm fanboys. It’s refreshing to see the X-Men co-operating with a cheerful local constabulary, and be warmly received by the human population. Not since the heady days of 80s X-Factor have the muties had it quite so good. Course, all that’s likely to change or be significantly complicated at some point in the near future, but for the moment the status quo has shifted, and I’m more than happy to make the most of it.
Unsurprisingly, what I don’t get is the feeling that Ellis has any real investment in his current corporate plaything. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean we could be in for a fairly predictable ride. For example, I don’t think I’m making too many assumptions when I suggest that this run is going to be written very much with the trade paperback in mind. It’s talky almost to the point of tedium (not a problem when it’s compiled in trade form and counterbalanced by less talky bits), and there’s no real climax to speak of, just a full stop and a promise that the story will continue next month. Additionally, Ellis’s predilection to force in the hard sci-fi (or, at least, the language of hard sci-fi) is present, and, in line with what you’d expect from an X-book, it’s totally on a genetic madskilz tip. Even the attention to detail Ellis demonstrates – putting Armour squarely and appropriately in the role of neophyte, having Cyclops referred to as the “world’s greatest superhero” in reference, one would imagine, to his exemplary hard work dedication, experience and training – has the air of a skilled craftsman going about his business rather than an artist blazing in the flame of his own creativity. In short, there’s nothing to suggest Ellis is doing anything more than producing a well crafted bit of hackery. Time will tell how that turns out, but if his previous form is anything to go by, and if the art starts to fall into line, we could have a good book on our hands. Good but almost certainly not great.
Joker’s Asylum #1
Written by Arvid Nelson
Drawn by Alex Sanchez
Published by DC Comics
With us throwing up all these Rogue’s Reviews I thought it only fair that I check out the competition’s (DC Comics) take on Batman’s rogues gallery. If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting much – I’ve learnt not to. Too many memories of post Arkham Asylum exercises in pseudo-psychological noodling that ultimately did little more than emasculate and depower their subjects. In this issue the focus is squarely on the Clown Prince of Crime himself, and a powerful representation of the Joker it ain’t. What it clearly is is an attempt to ride the wave of all things Dark and Knight destined to be flooding out of your local multiplex in a couple of weeks.
From what I can glean from the trailers, Nolan’s Joker doesn’t think much of humanity, and looks to dismantle the institutions of Gotham to prove his point that underneath society, on the other side of culture, is a world of selfish monsters ready to tear each other apart. And that’s exactly what’s going on here, with the institution of television the rather anachronistic focus. The surprise twist here being (THOSE AFEARED OF SPOILERS, LOOK YE AWAY!) that the Joker doesn’t hurt his captive game show audience and production team, rather he allows them space to be absolutely appalling to each other, and to demonstrate the worst that humanity has to offer.
Now, conceptually that’s not terribly original or exciting but as a premise it’s functional enough. What bothered me, however – or should I say one of the things that bothered me – was how bloody unconvincing it all is. The villainous, amoral producer stinks of fiction. More cipher than character, designed purely to force a highly contrived message down our collective throats. A problem reinforced by the parableic (new word?) nature of the piece, which just serves to encourage the reader to seek out the plot-machinery designed to sell the all important moral. The done to death set-up – another bat-villain takes over another *SNORE* game show – almost goes unnoticed amongst the rest of the thoughtless rubbish on display here. Almost.
And that’s not the worst of it. Nope, the worst of it is undoubtedly the art, which re-imagines human faces as a series of inconsistently rendered arseholes. I feel guilty saying it because I like to champion styles that aren’t beholden to realism, but it’s just too horrid. For serious. Not only that, but to go back to my earlier assertion that this is TDK fan fodder, Sanchez’s fat headed Joker with his tussled mane and deep dark eye sockets has more in common with Ledger’s embodiment of the character, than it does the emaciated ghoul cackling on the cover. Okay, it’s not a straight lift, but it’s pretty bloody close, and certainly bears comment this close to the film’s release date.
Needless to say I’m not that keen on this kind of aesthetic tie-in, not because I feel the DCU is in some way being disrespected, but because it forces me to examine what I’m reading as a product, and consequently nukes my sense of disbelief. Your mileage may vary, of course, but my puny subjectivity just can’t handle the truth, that I am a consumer and that Batman is a product. I need that stuff to remain hidden, hidden, hidden not highlighted by an arsefaced Joker.