27 November, 2012


The following trades have been standing on my desk, safely nestled between a speaker and a row of paperbacks on the Vietnam War. In an effort to get them off said desk and onto my brand new/second-hand desk from good will--

Art and Words by Paul Pope

It's the kind of story I wouldn't bother to write. Considering that we already have Batman: Year 100, The One Trick Rip-Off, and Heavy Liquid, that means that Paul Pope doesn't need to write a cyberpunk action or crime story or whatever, because we already have that. What 100% is using that world and all of those concepts and basically waste them by telling a story not about a society or a dystopia, but the most simple human collection, which is a couple. It's something that could be told in the 18th century or with cavemen and that's what makes 100% so much fun, and it also makes me pine for a certain time and place in a way that I haven't felt in a long while.

I say "waste" in the best way possible, because the story isn't about the remnants of this massive war floating around or the hover cycles or the erotic x-ray shows

The science fiction of the world is incidental in that it doesn't get in the way of the plot. Keeping in mind my fondness for Blade Runner, that film has very much the same tone. It isn't about the off-world colonies or cloning technology, it is about people getting to work and about people dying. In that same way Blade Runner might very well be a film that belongs to any other genre in existence (whereas Prometheus would really have to struggle to be something else).

In a cynical way, it might just be a hook to get people to read a story about three intersecting couples coming together in various ways. Paul Pope is a very talented man, though, so the world is much more than just a hook. It shades their relationships and watching people fall in and out of love in this messy, cluttered world somehow makes anything seem possible or even magical. That might not be the purpose of all good science fiction, but that certainly seems to be the goal of a good romance story and 100% is certainly that.

The Activity
Art by Mich Gerads and Words by Nathan Edmondson

The Activity feels like a half-step between the madcap and high-concept excitement of Warren Ellis' Global Frequency and the kind of good old fashioned action comic that Greg Rucka or Chuck Dixon (and then again Garth Ennis, though that comparison would bring with it quite a lot of assumptions-- mostly positive in my case).

In short it doesn't feel like an action story, nor does it feel like any sort of heavy duty spy story. I want to like it and the next few issues have piqued my interest, it is just that, as this trade stands it is much too light to work as a serious military piece or as a romping war comic. If it's a smart piece about characters and outwitting the enemy, fine, we have plenty of books like that. If it's a dumb piece, then we have James Bond. In either case we have structures for what works (or if you're a thief, what can be ripped off, or, if you're a clever-type, what you can design an homage around).What we don't need is something that bridges a gap that doesn't exist-- which is I guess is very much a feature of the military industrial complex, so maybe the writer is smarter than I am giving him credit for. . .

Then again it has some solid torture sequences and more acronyms and military jargon than you can shake a stick at, so if you want something-- even something that doesn't quite work-- then The Activity will fill that very specific need and not a whole lot else.

(Hey, Black Ops 2 came out as I am writing this. Hmm. Hmmmmmmm.)

Manhattan Projects--
Art by Nick Pitarra and Words by Johnathan Hickman

I avoided this comic book for a bit because I don't know too much about Johnathan Hickman, other than he did a pretty solid run on the Fantastic Four and that the first issue of Red Wings left a bad taste in my mouth. Hearing about The Manhattan Projects and its high concept I felt that it could go either way.

On the one hand you're playing with ambitious historical figures in a Cryptonomicon-on-peyote-like manner  and on the other hand you have the kind lame-ass name dropping that gets us books where Nikola Tesla is fighting vampires or Shakespeare fights Cthulhu or some other bullshit idea. It's rocky ground, for sure.

Luckily, The Manhattan Projects executes the fuck out of its central concept. I don't just say that because it is about the secret super-science underbelly of World War II and has an alcoholic Einstein haunted by a mystery machine.

The Manhattan Projects is a great example of a book that sets up a massive idea and continually stacks more characters and more ideas onto the story (what little there is, this book is more about small episodes and well-designed plotting than it is about anything else) and it moves forward with a fantastic energy.It doesn't run out of steam and it doesn't get confusing, so at the end of the four or fives issues in the book we go from establishing that John Oppenheimer was some sort of dimension-spanning cannibal to the genocide of an entire alien empire. At no point does it stumble or ask to pause for breath.

Above all it is the kind of comic book that comic books were created for. It's a mad-cap confluence of high-minded sci-fi (and a lot of low-brow stuff for good measure) scrambled with real-world history stacked on top of a series of increasingly mysterious and psychotic events.It wouldn't work as a movie and it wouldn't be fun as a TV show. The Manhattan Projects perfect little encapsulation of what a comic book should be.

Or at least the kind of book that I want to read, but would never write.

(It also needs to be stated that the covers for this book are some of the best designed that I have ever seen in comic books.)

Art by Fiona Staples and Words by Brian K. Vaughan

There's not much to say that isn't obvious: Brian K. Vaughan is back and we should all be fairly pleased about the whole thing. Saga is a pretty wild book and it does what a space opera is supposed to do: Be big and weird and epic.

While it does have the DNA of a well defined genre, Staples and Vaughan have crafted a universe unlike any other I could name. It isn't Star Wars, it isn't Star Trek, and it isn't Robotech. It's fresh, it's new, it's different, and it has all of the fun and energy of something with a promise like that.

So there's that. You should probably go and check it out already.

My only real problem lies with some of the book's dialogue. It's just too cute for its own good.

Y: The Last Man cannot be described as a work of realism, but it is the perfect example of humor and tone coming from a character and rather from an author. In that book Vaughan balanced its sense of humor with the constant violence and horror of the world without men. Saga is similar in tone, it just does not work as well this time, because the jokes and the clever one-liners often seems to distract from the scene as opposed to existing naturally within that scene.

With the first scene of the book, the credulity of the characters is called into question by the amount of quips that come out of their mouths. The world itself is never in question, that is sort of a given (and the world is introduced at such momentum that you almost have to go along with it). So, it's an odd bit of world building, to throw out a big, fat sci-fi world and stumble on something like two people talking.

My main hitch in that scene-- and it might just be a hitch-- is that I have my doubts a woman who just gave birth in a garage, without medical assistance, and in flight of her own armed forces is going to be tossing out one-liners like she was James Bond and she just crushed a guy with a milk truck. Wiping the afterbirth off of your thighs with a wet nap is not the time to be dropping quips

Anyways, back to the topic on hand: You should probably buy it.

With art as beautiful as Staples' and with the amount of good stuff Vaughan has done in so little space, there is every reason to believe that, hiccups aside, Saga is going to be one of those books we're going to be talking about for a long while. . . It's just nice to get in on the ground floor with a book like this.

IN SHORT: Read comics.