The Makings of a Monster in Lazarus X+66 6

by Drew Baumgartner

Lazarus X+66 6

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

Comics tend to make a big deal about the prosocial mission of superheroes. That is, their origin isn’t just about why they can leap tall buildings or outrun a bullet, but why they choose to use those powers to protect innocent people. It’s interesting that creators emphasize this point — the choice to don a cape and charge into a burning building is a certainly a remarkable one, but it’s also understandable. That is, even if we don’t all have the courage and strength to do those things, we immediately grasp the desire to help people. Villains, on the other hand, demand a much more thorough explanation — if stopping a massacre is remarkable but understandable, causing a massacre is both remarkable and baffling. Creators are rarely up to the task, vaguely suggesting an overgrown thirst for power or money, but never quite convincing us how those things add up to a homicidal maniac. Those creators would do well to check out Lazarus X+66 6, which offers an origin for the Zmey that covers both his superhuman abilities and his monstrous psychology. Continue reading

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Three Interrogation Scenes in Old Man Hawkeye 2

by Drew Baumgartner

Old Man Hawkeye 2

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

The conventional wisdom in improv is that transaction scenes — like those between a customer and a storekeeper — are inherently uninteresting. The relationship between the two characters is impersonal and perfunctory, and the transaction is void of any tension. Any of those elements can be changed to rescue a transaction scene, but beginners are encouraged to avoid those setups altogether in favor of those that have relationships and tension built in to the premise. (At least, this is my understanding, though I’m prepared to have our improv contingent correct me in the comments.) Interrogation scenes definitely have that tension built in, as one person wants information the other is reluctant to share, but the relationships are often still impersonal. Moreover, they’re scenes we’ve seen a million times, whether they’re taking place in a police station or as Batman dangles a crook from some rooftop. Which is to say, the tension isn’t quite enough to carry those scenes. Like a transaction scene, an interrogation can be rescued if complications are added in the right places. Unfortunately, those complications are largely absent from Old Man Hawkeye 2, leaving two of its its three interrogations feeling pretty limp. Continue reading

Clashing Tones in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 42

by Drew Baumgartner

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 42

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

It’s hard to separate a character from the types of stories they inhabit. Indeed, it’s an idea that doesn’t even really make sense in most media, where characters tend to inhabit just the one story, but it kind of runs amok in comics, where there are countless forces pushing characters into other types of stories. There’s crossovers and cameos, which will pull the guest-starring character into the (potentially very different) tonal world of the home series. There’s cross-media franchises, which will accentuate the parts of the character that best suit the medium, whether it’s an action movie, a video-game, or a kids cartoon. And, perhaps more than anything, there’s the monthly grind of telling yet another story with this character, inspiring creators to think outside the box to find something new and exciting to show us. Those forces compound over the decades, such that a given character is less defined by the type of stories they inhabit than the range of stories they could inhabit. Such is the case with Spider-Man, who is so famously versatile to have teamed up with basically everyone in the Marvel Universe, has appeared in countless film and television iterations, and often stars in multiple comics series at once. Even so, there seem to be a few types of stories that Spider-Man isn’t quite suited for, as The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 42 illustrates. Continue reading

Fluid Stakes Keep Hawkeye 15 Breezy

By Drew Baumgartner

Hawkeye 15

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

That’s a dumb joke, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. It doesn’t make any sense — Bender should know that the person he’s talking about is standing directly in front of him — but the reveal to us is just so perfect. It’s the kind of joke that really only works in visual media, taking advantage of the limits of our perspective we all take for granted. We assume we understand who is in the scene because of who we’ve been shown, but anybody could feasibly be lurking just off-camera. That kind of perspective twist is part of what gives Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero’s Hawkeye such a distinct voice, as our perspective telescopes to best suit the scene. Indeed, as issue 15 demonstrates, they can shift perspective both literally and figuratively to goose just about anything. Continue reading

Superhero Action Monopolizes Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands 4

by Drew Baumgartner

Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 4

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

Is there a limit to how subtle a superhero story can be? I’m certainly not of the mindset that tights and flights have to be bombastic or simple, but it seems obvious to me that, say, “being able to punch really hard” isn’t a solution that can be applied to every problem. Creators have found countless was to get subtler beats into their superhero work, but at some point, “being able to punch really hard” must come up, or the story might as well not feature a superhero. I’ll often regret that necessity when stories jerk away from compelling subtleties for generic action, which is unfortunately what Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands 4 is all about. Continue reading

Different Kinds of Powers and Responsibilities in Incognegro Rennaisance 1

by Drew Baumgartner

Incognegro Renaissance 1

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

Way back in August of 1962, Peter Parker learned that with great power must also come great responsibility. It’s an important lesson, though the fact that Peter’s “power” manifests as literal superhuman abilities seems to leave some readers confused about what their own responsibilities are. In the intervening years, our discourse on power has gotten a lot more nuanced than whether someone can or can’t stick to walls, which has in turn changed our expectations of individual responsibility. Of course, the predominantly white, predominantly male world of superheroes might not be the best place to explore the more subtle (but no less powerful) issues of power and responsibility that come along with race and gender, which is exactly what made Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro so remarkable when it hit stands in 2008. Indeed, the obvious differences between Incognegro and the superhero genre may make the comparison seem absurd — and it may well be — but their prequel series, Incognegro: Renaissance, takes on the familiar (and appropriate) form of the superhero origin story, complete with its own call to action about power and responsibility. Continue reading

It’s All a Game in Avengers 679

by Drew Baumgartner

Avengers 679

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

We’ll often chide middle chapters for failing to maintain dramatic momentum while setting up the climax — when he actions in those middle chapters feel motivated more by what the climax needs than what came before. We refer to that phenomenon as “putting the pieces in place,” as it reduces the dramatic interest of a story to setting up a board game. It’s an unfortunate tendency that tends to crop up in event series with huge casts, and has already led to some consternation with “No Surrender,” but Avengers 679 hangs a lampshade on its game-iness, zooming out from the game board to focus on the real players. Continue reading

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 19: Discussion

By Taylor Anderson and Drew Baumgartner

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

Ninja: noun \  nin·ja  \ ˈnin-jə \ a person trained in ancient Japanese martial arts and employed especially for espionage and assassinations

Taylor: After all the numerous battles the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been through, it’s become easy to forget one fourth of their namesake. No, it’s not that they’re teenagers — Raphael’s temper and Michelangelo’s lightheartedness remind us of that every issue. The part of their name that’s easy to forget, rather, is the “ninja.” Even though each turtle knows ninjitsu and uses shurikens, they frequently eschew one of the fundamental traits of being ninja — stealth — and this makes them more akin to warriors than ninja. So what happens when they’re called out on not being the thing they were trained to become since birth? Continue reading

Hungry Ghosts 1: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Hungry Ghosts 1

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

They found her body sprawled across the grave. Without realizing it, she had plunged the knife through her skirt and had pinned it to the ground. It was only the knife that held her. She had died of fright.

Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Drew: Like every kid who grew up in the ’90s, I’m intimately familiar with Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories books — the perfect camp fire/slumber party fodder. But “The Girl Who Stood on the Grave” (sometimes known as “The Dare”), whose punchline I spoiled above is the only one that ever actually scared me. Even as a kid, I never believed in ghosts, so stories of long-dead apparitions leaving their sweaters behind or whatever felt more like jokes than anything. But the thought of scaring oneself to death felt all too real when watching my friends get spooked by the other nonsense in the book. I doubt I knew who FDR was at that point, but even then I understood that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Which is to say, I’m far more interested in the telling of ghost stories than I am in the stories themselves. And I suspect we’re all a little that way — it’s why Tales from the Crypt had the Crypt Keeper and Are You Afraid of the Dark? had those terrible child actors — the ritual of telling scary stories is just as important as the scary stories themselves. It’s a notion that Hungry Ghosts taps into twofold, offering a framing story within a framing story, as a Crypt Keeper type tells us the story of people sitting around telling ghost stories. Continue reading

Relishing the Details in Outcast 33

by Drew Baumgartner

Outcast 30

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

One of the most distinctive stylistic choices of Outcast has always been its use of small insert shots, inset into larger panels. Early in the series, those inserts were largely used to capture small scene details and gestures, but as the cast has grown, they’ve increasingly focused on faces, offering us the emotional state of several characters at a glance — especially those who might not be actively participating in the action/conversation of the scene. We might understand that as reflective of Kyle’s own shift in priorities, focusing less on the textural trappings of his life and more on the people he loves, but the effect is a series that now has an audience surrogate on virtually every page, reflecting our own shock and horror back at us. Continue reading