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

Fantastic Four 1 Teases the Reader with Pathos

by Patrick Ehlers

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

Patrick: Dan Slott and Skottie Young close out the first issue of Fantastic Four by giving the creative team shit for not actually reuniting the titular superheroes. It’s a cute little one-pager, playing to Young’s hyper-specific strength for drawing adorably angry characters.

But this epilogue is more than just a cute way to sign off with joke. By ending the issue with an explicit acknowledgement that “they’re not even back yet”, Slott and Young are doubling down on the idea that the absence of the Four itself is a phenomenon worth exploring. Continue reading

Star Wars 52: Discussion

by Michael DeLaney and Patrick Ehlers

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

Michael: In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader has a score to settle with Luke Skywalker — solely for the reason that he is the rebel who blew up the Death Star. But Luke was only able to take that final shot because Han Solo intervened and blasted Vader’s Tie-Fighter out of the way. It is the dogfight of A New Hope. In Star Wars 52 we get the rematch we never knew we wanted: Han vs. Vader. Continue reading

Death Roulette in Death of the Inhumans 2

by Patrick Ehlers

This article containers SPOILERS. If you have not read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The title Death of the Inhumans makes one specific promise: some Inhumans are gonna die. But y’know, this is a comic book, and odds are just as good that the title is sensational hyperbole that they are of the title being literal. Writer Donny Cates and artist Ariel Olivetti spend the entirety of issue 2 insisting on three simple things:

  1. The Inhumans who have been killed already.
  2. The Inhumans left to kill.
  3. Vox’s ability to kill any Inhuman.

By the end of the issue, the reader is forced to take the threat of the title seriously. Cates and Olivetti cash in on that seriousness with one hell of a gut punch. 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

Doomsday Clock 6 Circles Marionette’s Past as it Circles the Drain

By Patrick Ehlers

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

If I asked you to picture the single imagine that evokes Watchmen, what would you picture? Likely, you’re imagining the Comedian’s smiley face button, but I could also see an argument for Doctor Manhattan’s circular forehead logo. Both symbols are circles. I know that’s not exactly mind-blowing, but this is the level of visual rhetoric writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank are playing with in Doomsday Clock 6.

The series continues to slump along in much the same way it did last time we talked about it. This time, Marionette and Mime are the focus of the story, which really doesn’t do Johns or Frank any favors. Stripped of all but the most tangential references to the Watchmen universe, the creators are left with the tone and tools of the piece to tell a story that spans two tonally discrete universes. If that sounds like an inadequate set of tools to complete an impossible task, that’s because it is. 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

De-Romanticizing War Stories in Poe Dameron 29

by Patrick Ehlers

This article containers SPOILERS. If you have not read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

This arc in Star Wars Poe Dameron has been all about telling war stories: who does it, and why they do it. The answers thus far have been pretty straightforward. Poe tells Rey and Finn what he was up to during The Force Awakens so they can bond over their differing perspectives on a shared experience. It brings them closer together. And Artoo and Beebee honor their fallen droid brothers by recounting the serial number of every robot lost in the attack on Starkiller Base. These are noble war stories, and that’s weirdly consistent with the tone of the original trilogy. For as much as Star Wars was about Vietnam, Lucas perhaps didn’t have the historical perspective to capture the tone or cadence of war stories from that conflict. With Poe Dameron 29, writer Charles Soule taps into a sense of hopeless, confusion and pointlessness, rounding out his list of reasons to tell war stories with one of the hardest explanation out there: because they happened. Continue reading

Chemistry in Dead Hand 4

by Patrick Ehlers

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

Chemistry between characters is one of those things that’s almost impossible to fake. Either a group of people crackle with common charisma or they don’t. That’s very easy to recognize on TV or in movies, but how does that translate over to a comic book page? Snappy dialogue is one way to get that across, but that only works if your characters are the quippy type. So, sure, you can show that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have chemistry with each other, but good luck showing me Frank Castle has chemistry with anyone. In Kyle Higgins and Stephen Mooney’s Dead Hand 4, chemistry is expressed through non-acting visual cues, allowing the storytelling flow to express quality of the relationship. Continue reading