Stylizing Subversion in Hot Lunch Special 1

by Drew Baumgartner

Hot Lunch Special 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

I’m fascinated by stories where a criminal world of evil bubbles up through the veneer of suburban/small town life. David Lynch’s Blue Velvet might be the defining example of that particular genre, but the Coen Brothers’ Fargo is another great one. And actually, the television adaptation/reimagining of Fargo might be my favorite such story to date — the extra space afforded by serialized storytelling allowed the series to mine some truly chilling, truly bizarre moments while still keeping one foot in a recognizable small town world. Indeed, it’s that anchor in reality that makes Fargo more appealing to me than, say, Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which eschews normalcy in favor of anadulterated Lynchian weirdness. Don’t get me wrong — all of that weirdness makes Twin Peaks the masterpiece that it is, but I maintain that Fargo‘s more familiar setting is what makes the occasional brushes with violence all the more unsettling. That’s very much the approach Eliot Rahal and Jorge Fornés have taken in Hot Lunch Special 1, which relishes the innocence of its midwestern setting, even as its criminal underside makes a few key appearances. Continue reading

Sandman Universe 1: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers

Sandman Universe 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Drew: Of the “graphic novel” canon — that is, comics that non-comics readers have (however begrudgingly) deemed worthy of their time and interest — Sandman is far and away the longest. Persepolis and Maus constitute two volumes apiece, and Watchmen just the one, but Sandman spills into ten (or more, depending on how you count decades-later follow-ups like this one). However we diagnose that oddity — either as an unusually long, but no less novelistic “literary comic,” or as a more humble ongoing that was elevated to the pantheon of comics grownups aren’t afraid to read — I think the explanation is the same: the flexibility of Dream and his kingdom. Everybody dreams, affording Dream excuses to interact with every corner of the world, from kittens to serial killers, from William Shakespeare to the demons of Hell. And because of Dream’s role as a storyteller of sorts, the only guarantee in any issue was that it would contain a story (often wrapped up in a love letter to stories and storytelling). That is very much true of Sandman Universe 1, which spins its story off into four supporting series, but not before pausing to simply luxuriate in their worlds. Continue reading

Eternity Girl 6: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Mark Mitchell

Eternity Girl 6

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Through our research, we discovered a disturbing statistic: 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide due to lack of societal acceptance. The national average is 4.6%. We were not willing to take that risk. For Ryland’s well-being, we were advised to allow him to transition as soon as possible.

The Whittington Family: Ryland’s Story

Drew: I first encountered this video as part of a training session for my job at a summer camp. It’s style, mostly still photos and text, doesn’t suggest a particularly moving experience, but the focus on Ryland as an individual helps pull the statistics in the excerpt above down to the human level. That is, anyone’s half-baked opinions about gender are rendered irrelevant in light of this kid’s very real risk of suicide if not accepted for who they are. Indeed, it’s a case that skirts the issue of gender almost entirely, finding the rate of attempted suicide in the trans community to be a much more pressing issue. These are issues that affect both Dani and Caroline but how they navigate their own choices (and their reactions to each other’s choices) lends further nuance to those dry statistics. Continue reading

Bruce Wayne Confronts His Assumptions (and Our Own) in Batman 52

by Drew Baumgartner

Batman 52

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

slim-banner

We’ve written a lot over the years about how the disparate tones of various incarnations of Batman have created a kind of range that the character operates in. Maybe he’s light and campy, maybe he’s dark and serious. Maybe he’s a high-tech wizard, maybe he’s a low-tech sleuth. Maybe he’s a bitter loner, maybe he’s cultivating an ever-growing family of friends and allies. That range applies just as much to the look of Batman, as different character designs emphasize different aspects of his character. Is his costume scary, or silly? Is humanity obscured by his costume, or made more obvious by it? In practice, the platonic image of Batman we keep in our minds might be just as diffuse as his mood — a kind of pastiche of the designs from, say, our favorite comics runs, Batman: The Animated Series, and maybe even a few movies. High in the mix for most modern comics fans, though, must be David Mazzucchelli’s distinctively line-smart Batman: Year One, which distilled Batman down to as few brush strokes and dabs of color as possible, creating a kind of shorthand iconography for the character that perfectly suited the early-days nature of that story. It’s a style that Lee Weeks and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser evoke in Batman 52, though rather than celebrating that iconography, they’re interrogating it. Continue reading

The Seeds 1: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers

The Seeds 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Drew: Like a lot of people, I was deeply resistant to the concept of symbolism in my high school English classes. I don’t know if I resented this new (to me) world of symbols that I was so bad at identifying, or if I just lacked the imagination to conceive of writers having more literary tastes and aspirations than 15-year-old me, but I was incredulous that symbolism even existed in the works I was reading. My teacher was reading way too much into things (because, I reasoned, making things overcomplicated and boring was her job), and that no writer actually intended for these images to have any non-literal meaning. But my fixation on intent blinded me to the much more complex world of who was observing the symbolism. Is it just me, the reader, or are the characters themselves ascribing deeper meanings to the objects and actions around them? Or what if it’s the narrator, conjuring some kind of coherent aesthetic for the narrative as a whole? Perhaps it’s not the “writer,” but some diegetic force crafting these symbols, perhaps as clues to their motives or intentions? These are all questions wish I could go back to my teen self and ask, but honestly, I might be better off handing him a copy of Ann Nocenti and David Aja’s The Seeds 1, which interweaves all of these modes of symbolism with breathtaking ease. Continue reading

Moonshine 12: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers

Moonshine 12

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The moment. Be in it.

Lou Pirlo

Drew: I have a theory that teens are such popular subjects of drama because they are so famously terrible at anticipating the repercussions of their actions. We accept impulsive behavior from Romeo and Juliet because they’re basically kids, but that same impulsivity needs explanation for adult characters. Maybe they’re prideful or hubristic or jealous or afraid; whatever it is, the drama is driven by a flaw in the characters that keeps them from acting rationally. Lou Pirlo has plenty of flaws that might explain his impulsivity — he’s both an alcoholic and a werewolf, after all — but with Moonshine 12, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso suggest that impulsivity might be baked into his very core. The result is refreshingly free of the dramatic irony that characterizes other drama; we might recognize the decisions here as impulsive or ill-thought-through, but we have no idea what their repercussions might be. Continue reading

Parallels, Dramatic Irony, and Time in The New World 1

by Drew Baumgartner

New World 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

My wife is itinerantly averse to spoilers, to the point that she refuses to watch trailers for movies. It’s an attitude I can sympathize with (many trailers seem more like hyper-condensed edits of the entire film than teasers), but can’t fully understand — how could she possibly know if a movie appeals to her if she doesn’t know anything about it? To me, some foreknowledge of the genre and basic premise of a narrative is essential to my interest in it. Of course, in serialized media — especially ones with particularly high-concept premises — the first chapter might just cover the “basic premise,” effectively spoiling its own plot. But the thing I’ve always resented about “spoiler” talk is the way it privileges plotting (and especially surprise twists in plotting) over every other narrative element. There are real, unique pleasures to be mined from having more perspective than the characters within the narrative, and a well-told story will use those tools as effectively as any narrative twist. Aleš Kot and Tradd Moore demonstrate the value of those tools on both the micro and macro level in The New World 1. Continue reading

Infidel 5: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers and Drew Baumgartner

Infidel 5

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. […] None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

Toni Morrison

Patrick: There is a lot to be stressed out about in 2018. One of the more insidious is also one of the more pointless: racism. It’s a series of prejudices and assumptions based on lies passed down by generations of systems put in place to keep the powerful in power. It is literally senseless. But it is also tenacious as fuck. Whatever else is going on, the looming specter of prejudice is going to warp everything else, muting solutions to all other societal problems. Pornshak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell’s Infidel 5 takes this uncomfortable truth and and shows just how persistent racism can be, even in the face of literal demons. Continue reading

Thor 3: Discussion

by Spencer Irwin and Drew Baumgartner

Thor 3

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Spencer: Last weekend my grandmother was sent to the hospital. Thankfully she’s recovering nicely, but the actual task of getting her treated was complicated by the sheer amount of her children and grandchildren gathered in one place, bickering over treatments, supposedly-rude doctors, and the usual family gossip. For better or for worse, I think this kind of behavior is typical when almost any family gets together; there’s no task so important that some family drama can’t derail it. That’s certainly the case for the Odinson clan in Thor 3, who nearly bicker each other into oblivion even as the Queen of Cinders is on the verge of conquering Hel.  Continue reading

Idol Worship in She Could Fly 1

by Drew Baumgartner

She Could Fly 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Is familiarity the opposite of idolatry? I suspect it’s only possible to idolize a celebrity or public figure because they’re unknown. Because we’re unfamiliar with their annoying habits or bad smells, we mythologize them as some kind of immaculate demigod, incapable of error. It’s easy to come up with a certain political example, but this is true for most public figures, from Elon Musk to Taylor Swift. We only know so much about these people, and in the cases where we like them, our brain rushes in to fill the rest with perfection. This is obviously the case for Luna Brewster, who has pinned her imagination to a mysterious woman seen flying over Chicago. Continue reading