Character Drives the Drama in Marvel Rising Alpha 1

by Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Mogge

Marvel Rising Alpha

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

Drew: For most of my mid-20s, I worked for an academic summer program — basically, summer camp for nerds. As with most work with youth, the job was both rewarding and frustrating, with unexpected problems often interrupting the flow of what we might imagine a “normal” day to be. Indeed, those unexpected problems came up so regularly, that my boss’s regular refrain was “don’t let the urgent crowd out the important” — that is, don’t forget the part of the job that isn’t putting out fires. It’s straightforward advice, insisting that every part of the job is important, but I think it’s particularly salient when dealing with kids — you don’t want the loudest, most poorly-behaved students to command all of the attention, as the quiet, well-behaved students might be struggling just as much. It’s a hard balance to strike, especially for the college-aged students we hired as instructors, so I understand exactly why Doreen Green makes the missteps she does in Marvel Rising: Alpha 1. Continue reading

Eternity Girl 4 Skips Through the Comics Multiverse

By Drew Baumgartner

Eternity Girl 4

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

Comics critics are bad at talking about art. I suspect there are a few overlapping causes — some critics are diehard fans of specific characters, so are more invested in what happens to those characters than they are acknowledging that they live in a fictional world created by real human beings; others are (nominally) writers, so are have an affinity towards writing, which doesn’t leave much room (or knowledge) for anything else. And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that I’m any better. As a non-artist, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the most superficial elements of a given artist’s style. Defying that tendency has always been what excites me about artist Sonny Liew. My first exposure to Liew’s work was his original graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which is part biography, part retrospective on a fictional comics artist, requiring that Liew modulate his style between the docudrama and epistolary elements. The effect was downright magical, creating the sense that there truly was a second artist creating all of the diegetic comics. It effectively defies my tendency to pigeonhole an artist based on “their” style. It’s that skill that Liew taps into with Eternity Girl 4, offering us multiple iterations (and styles) of the life and times of Caroline Sharp. Continue reading

Doom’s Secret Origin in Marvel Two-In-One Annual 1

By Drew Baumgartner

Marvel Two-in-One Annual 1

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

Each is described as being the strongest man in the world and each as battling against “evil and injustice.”

Judge Augustus Hand (writing for the majority)
Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc.

Augustus Hand served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1928 to his death in 1953, and just might be the most quoted judge when it comes to the definition of the superhero, owing to the decision he wrote when the Second Circuit ruled that Wonder Man did indeed constitute copyright infringement on Superman. His decision provided a revealing definition for the genre, insisting not just on superpowers, but a selfless, pro-social mission. Indeed, it’s not until after that decision that you see superheroes whose superpowers and pro-social mission are seen as separate things, with perhaps separate origins. That is, while Superman fought crime because he could, and Batman became a superhero specifically to fight crime, Spider-Man only picked up his pro-social mission after Uncle Ben died, well after he’d been using his powers for decidedly less selfless purposes. In that way, we might understand Marvel Two-In-One Annual 1 as a key part of Victor Von Doom’s superhero origin; it’s the story of how he became a good guy. Continue reading

A Mid-Issue Shift Elevates Hunt for Wolverine: Weapon Lost 2

By Drew Baumgartner

Hunt for Wolverine Weapon Lost 2

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

Listen, I know there were crime procedurals before Law & Order (and there have been plenty since), but that show was such a mainstay of my formative pop-culture years that I can’t help but think of it every time I encounter a new fictional criminal investigation. What’s remarkable to me about that show is how entertaining it could be in spite of having an entirely rote structure (it was so set in stone, in fact, that they decided to enshrine it in the very title of the series). That is, the drama was never in whether they caught the culprit (they always did), or whether they would be convicted (they were found guilty or pled out the vast majority of the time), but in how they did it — or more precisely who was doing it. Individual details of the case might be interesting, but only inasmuch as they prompted quips from Briscoe or righteous indignation from McCoy. The procedural is an excuse to watch detectives do what they do best, so giving those detectives big, distinct personalities makes or breaks the whole exercise. In this way, Charles Soule has truly stacked the deck in his favor, cramming four larger-than-life investigators into tight quarters and giving them a hard case to chew on. Continue reading

(Re)defining the Hulk in The Immortal Hulk 1

by Drew Baumgartner

The Immortal Hulk 1

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

It might be stating the obvious to suggest that the Hulk’s identity is fraught, but I don’t mean it in the Jungian dualistic sense. Obviously, the tension between Bruce Banner and the Hulk is the primary source of drama for the character, but the Hulk has long suffered from a different kind of identity crisis, in that no two writers ever seem to agree on who and what he is. Is he a senseless destructive force, or is he capable of reason? Is he a monosyllabic brute, or a brilliant physicist? I’ve only occasionally checked in on Hulk’s solo series over the past five or so years, and I’ve seen takes that pretty much run the gamut, if that’s any indication of how rapidly and wildly consecutive runs can change the character. And to be clear, I don’t necessarily see this as a weakness — I’d argue that the flexibility of superheroes to fit the themes different creative teams are most interested in exploring is a huge part of their longevity — but I do think it demands a strong statement of purpose at the start of a run; something to clarify exactly what kind of Hulk we should expect to see. Something like Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s The Immortal Hulk 1, which introduces the specifics of this particular iteration with remarkable efficiency. Continue reading

Justice and Symbolism in Justice League 1

By Drew Baumgartner

Justice League 1

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

There was no word for justice on my planet. The closest was the symbol on this table. It meant going beyond what was supposed to be possible, the natural laws. Imposing on the universe a higher standard. An ideal.

Martian Manhunter, Justice League 1

Our conceptions of justice hinge on fairness and impartiality — the notion that we are all held to the same standards of behavior (and face the same punishment for flaunting those standards). We understand how that can break down in practice (humans aren’t great at partiality), but we can imagine justice as a kind of platonic ideal we can strive towards. And that may be the best way to think about it, but closer inspection reminds us that, if it’s a platonic ideal, it’s one that varies from society to society and changes over time. We might reflect on the “justice” of the past (or of other cultures) and find it to be decidedly unjust, but that’s not how justice works — it’s not an objective monolith, but a deeply subjective, dynamic concept. That is, justice is a moral construct that only makes sense in light of the values of the society that construct it. Martian Manhunter’s approximation of justice reflects that idea, adding no moral spin to the “ideal” he mentions — in J’onn’s estimation, any ideologically motivated action “beyond what was supposed to be possible” is justice. In short, J’onn’s brief for the Justice League works just as well for the Legion of Doom. Continue reading

Man of Steel 2: Discussion

by Michael DeLaney and Drew Baumgartner

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

Michael: Batman is a subject that frequents many pages of my sketchbooks and I assume everyone else’s.  Unlike the versatile Batman, I find that Superman is a harder character to draw, especially in his facial features. The face of Superman has to simultaneously convey strength, joy and a decent amount of charm. Thus far, I am enjoying Brian Michael Bendis’ depiction of Superman, and in Man of Steel 2, he is joined by 3 artists who tap into that Clark Kent Charm. Continue reading

Marvel Two-In-One 6: Discussion

by Taylor Anderson and Drew Baumgartner

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

Taylor: Sometimes I’ll come home after work and my wife will ask me how my day was. Usually, I have something interesting to tell her, but occasionally there simply isn’t anything all that remarkable to say. In these cases, my response to her query is that is was “just a day.” See, the thing is, if you do anything enough times it’s bound to become rote every now and then. This same idea certainly holds true with monthly comics, with most series producing “just an issue” that isn’t all that remarkable. Such is the case with Marvel Two-In-One 6, which notable only for how generic it feels.

Continue reading

The Colors Tell the Story in Quantum and Woody 6

by Drew Baumgartner

Quantum and Woody 6

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

Our sense of color is intuitive, but I think that makes it harder for comics colorists to achieve true verisimilitude. Readers may not have a sophisticated understanding of color theory, but they still know when something looks wrong. And “wrong” can be anything from shadows and highlights to textures to atmospheric effects. We might only be able to articulate the most attention-getting aspects of comics coloring, but subtler choices have a profound impact on the believability of the art. Those choices can be simple, as they are in Quantum and Woody 6, but it’s the skill with which colorist Andrew Dalhouse pulls them off that ultimately makes them work. Continue reading

Thrillingly Putting the Pieces in Place in Saga 52

by Drew Baumgartner

Saga 52

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

In this game, Fischer (playing Black) demonstrates noteworthy innovation and improvisation. Byrne (playing White), after a standard opening, makes a seemingly minor mistake on move 11, losing tempo by moving the same piece twice. Fischer pounces, with brilliant sacrificial play, culminating in an incredible queen sacrifice on move 17. Byrne captures the queen, but Fischer gets far too much material for it – a rook, two bishops, and a pawn. At the end, Fischer’s pieces coordinate to force checkmate, while Byrne’s queen sits, helpless, at the other end of the board.

Bobby Fischer’s Breakthrough: The Game of the Century

When someone says a chapter of a story is “putting the pieces in place,” it’s usually meant to point out some emotional shortcoming. Putting the pieces in place is seen as perfunctory, a perhaps necessary prelude to the actual drama to come, lacking in any real emotional investment (and maybe even drawing our attention to the invisible hand guiding circumstances into position). But I think that attitude is entirely shortsighted, privileging the fallout of events more than the setup, and ignoring that the “pieces” and “places” are the raw materials for drama, so how and why they’re there are essential story elements. It’s the kind of attitude that would make Bobby Fischer’s famous “Game of the Century” is only thrilling in its final moments, as he finally forced Byrne’s king into checkmate, but any chess fan can tell you that the ending was set up 21 moves earlier, which in turn may have been set up six moves earlier still, reminding us that the simple act of moving pieces on the board is what drives the drama in a game of chess. Obviously, Saga isn’t a game, and the characters aren’t chess pieces (royalty notwithstanding), but it’s just a thrilling to watch them scoot into attack position — even when we can’t see the attack coming. Continue reading