Material #1-4: Breaking Free

October 28th, 2015

A few thoughts on Material, a prematurely cancelled comic by Will Tempest, Tom Muller, Ales Kot and Clayton Cowles that feels like it’s worth not just reading but talking about – and maybe even continuing?


Like so much contemporary mass media, Material  seemed aware of its readers’ ability to act as biocapitalist broadcasting stations, trusting that they would work harder and smarter than Image comics’ marketing department – that its readers would talk about it on podcasts, write essays, send enthusiastic tweets, anything to try and share the experience of it. Its methods of going about this was somewhat obvious but effective: the comic lectured you, provided prompts for further reading, tried to link scenes in the comic to other texts, be they topical text pieces in the back of the comic or the names and references scattered in the margins.

Even while it was still being published, then, Material seemed to revel in its status as an incomplete text. The art echoed this approach, with with Will Tempest’s none-more-loose linework held together almost entirely by the carefully coded block colouring.  It looked and felt like work-in-progress, and with the action currently suspended, its characters’ lives have that feeling too.

Everything in this book is material for the reader; the question is, how much work do you want to put in?  How much do you want to let Material work with you?

As I’ve already said, by publicly engaging with the comic we become part of the marketing scheme, “self-facilitating media nodes” or some such Barley-bollocks.  Is that all there is to it though?  Value is fundamental to the idea of currency of course, and when you’re offering up cash on the promise of receiving a worthwhile experience it’s doubly hard to disentangle financial motives from your response, but that doesn’t mean that we should give in to the tautological worldview that says since everything can be sold it is best judged by its commercial worth.

Material‘s current status gives us pause to consider this question, temporarily free from questions of cash money and how to spend it.  It brings the other questions of trust – is this going anywhere?  is it just wearing the raw tragedy of the moment like a shiny new suit? – into the foreground.

All you need to spend right now is a little bit of time.


So, this is a serious item. Material is, what’s it coming out fortnightly? I could look, sometimes it’s fun to have a conversation like you’re not a robot, too. It doesn’t look like something that belongs in comic shops, it just doesn’t.

It’s frill-less, raw, politically engaged, arch, brash, ripped from the headlines, you know?

Über #0-10, by Kieron Gillen, Caanan White, Joseph Silver, Kurt Hathaway and Digicore Studios

Kieron Gillen let the mask slip a little at the start, when he positioned this comic as the anti-ASS, as a refutation of Superman’s central place in 20th Century history, in a spiel designed to mark Über out as being a comic free of the sort of self-commentary that defines so many modern superhero comics.  “It’s probably the least ironic book I’ve ever written,” he said:

It has nothing to say about superhero comics. In fact, its utter negation of that genre-criticism may be the closest it comes to commentary. I’ve read many books which seem to labour under the delusion that the conception of Superman was the most important moment in the 1930s. This isn’t one of them.  My only interest is in how I can use this genre’s conceit to create metaphors to explores aspects of WW2…

This comment, buried as it was in the mix of metatextual soul searching and historical gamesmanship of Über #0′s backmatter, provides the key to understanding the uncanny dynamics of this comic.  In attempting to ward off irony and meta-commentary, Gillen negated any possibility of this comic escaping the superhero meta-conversation. Which, it turns out, is actually quite fitting in the end.  Carefully researched as Über might be, with everything from troop movements to weather conditions having been taken into account, this WW2 with superheroes fantasy is still a superhero fantasy, and as such it manages the odd trick of destroying both history and genre conventions and reinforcing them at the same time.

In contrast to the carefully composed alternate reality of All Star Superman – with its suggestion of a world where greed, imperialism and mortal panic exist but are never the only options – Gillen and White present an alt-modernity in which the foundational horrors of the mid 20th Century era are all there but louder.

A little less Stalingrad, a lot more Wahammer 40K.