comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 11/9

October has been a whirlwind of a month with some intense emotional highs and lows and incredibly heavy workloads and alas, once again, this little website fell to the wayside. The Phillies made an improbable push to a mere 2 games from winning the World Series, which was tremendously exciting and soul crushingly disappointing. We lost my aunt, and spent time with family. The day-job has never been more demanding. It’s all I’ve been able to do to stay afloat!

Outside of this week’s comics I’ve been continuing my reading of early 80s Spider-Man, though I switched over to Spectacular and that is markedly less good than Stern and DeFalco’s top-notch work on Amazing. Black Cat just doesn’t work in these early years, too desperately clingy to Spider-Man as a defining character feature. I’ve also been catching up on the world of Batman, particularly Meghan Fitzmartin’s work on Tim Drake. Belen Ortega, who did the art on the Urban Legends Robin story? Superstar! Need to see more of them stat.

I’ve also gotten all caught up on IDW’s TMNT to prep for an upcoming interview, after being quite behind. The Mutant Towm story and status quo I find, frankly, to be dreadfully boring. But the last few arcs leading up to Armageddon Game have been excellent, particularly the story that introduced Venus. Shout out to letterer Shawn Lee, whose work on TMNT has been nothing short of incredible. Every issue he does something that stops me in my tracks. If there are “superstar letterers”, Lee is definitely one of them.

The Armageddon Game is shaping up to be an extremely fun event, too. The art on the event series is fantastic and they brought in CUDDLY THE COWLICK. What’s not to love?

Enough rambling…Onto the main event: The comic books I’m not reading! I somehow accidentally made this week’s column for MATURE READERS ONLY, so no kids allowed.

Ghost Rider #8

Marvel. Benjamin Percy, Writer. Cory Smith, Pencils. Oren Junior, Inks. Bryan Valenza, Colors. Travis Lanham, Letters. Kat Gregorowicz, Darren Shan, Editors.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about becoming a Ghost Rider Guy. I don’t know that I’ve read any comics where the dude even appears but I have been doing a lot of reading about him lately as part of my gig writing for a YouTube channel, and this bananas world of demons and angels is becoming irresistible to me.

Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t have a ton going on, storywise, so there’s not much to entice newcomers beneath the ghoulish and ghastly. Don’t get me wrong, the ghoulish and ghastly is here in spades and it’s delightfully macabre. I don’t always go in for that sort of thing but it is what I expect for a comic about hellspawn and spirits of vengeance. Percy is clearly having fun coming up with repulsive images for Cory Smith and crew to create. Clearly Smith, Junior, and Valenza are having just as much fun with the art, as those moments stand out from what is an otherwise visually muddy and messy issue. I’m also a sucker for the humorous juxtaposition of the demonic and mundane.

I wish there was more here than the action but sometimes a middle chapter of a superhero comic just needs a big chase. That doesn’t leave much to write about. We don’t get much about Johnny Blaze or Talia Warroad as human beings beyond slight hints that something is wrong with Johnny’s spirit of vengeance.

But we do get a glimpse at Exhaust, the big zombie monster with motorcycle exhaust pipes coming out of his face. And that makes up for a lot.

Unlike the next book, Percy approaches the horror with a sense of humor that helps keep this issue from being a chore. Storywise, the series could have lived without this issue and not lost anything important, but in monthly superhero comics, sometimes the calendar demands an issue of mindless action.

Seven Sons #6

Image. Robert Windom & Kevin Mao, Writers. Jae Lee, Art. June Chung, Colors. Crank!, Lettering.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book with Jae Lee art. There’s nothing else on the stands quite like it. For me, it’s the star of what feels like an otherwise schlocky dystopian nightmare that uses religious imagery for set dressing in absence of having something to say. Lee’s art lends a gothic air to the story, with his wispy figures and evocative shadows. That distinctive look elevates the leaden social commentary that never amounts to anything in this issue. I might be judging this issue unfairly harshly given I’m reading issue 6 completely cold, but the book does no work to try and explain any of the actions on the page.

There’s a tendency to talk around things in dialogue and never address them directly. I find that exhausting even when I know what is going on. In a monthly periodical, it’s important to give some ongoing guidance to the reader to keep them reminded of what’s going on. But then, many creator-owned books these days are not being written for monthly readers.

Absent a clear picture of the plot, I look for something within the characters to latch onto but that is also missing here. No one comes off as particularly likable. The lead in this issue, Delph, is a blank slate who bemoans his lavish upbringing. The rest of the cast are shadowy manipulators driving their nation (an altered US) into war. There’s no flourish or subtlety, no dramatic irony to provide any kind of levity or narrative interest. The issue’s big dramatic twist takes place during 4th of July fireworks as a hamhanded piece of metaphor. It’s rendered with grotesque beauty by Lee but amounts to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

In a piece of dystopic alternate history, I look for not just social commentary but a message about the human condition. The former is there–without subtlety– but the latter is not. And so this is just a miserable book.

Gun Honey: Blood for Blood #3

Titan Comics. Charles Ardai, Writer. Ang Hor Kheng, Artist. Asifur Rahman, Colorist. David Leach, Letterer. Phoebe Hedges, Editor.

Well I tried not to judge a book by a questionable cover and was met with a … questionable book. It’s technically proficient, a pulpy crime thriller about a deadly woman that plays it straight. This issue provides some backstory for the antagonist and Ardai gives us a great insight into her tortured origin. There’s no similar sense of the lead character (the eponymous Gun Honey) or why she is involved in this criminal enterprise. As the third issue of a sequel series that’s hardly surprising, but I wish there was a bit more of Honey’s voice and perspective throughout this.

I appreciate Ardai’s commitment to the hardboiled narration, even if it’s unclear to me if this is just an omniscient narrator or an actual character. There’s real charm to the way the captions add a grizzled voice. Ang Hor Khen’s art is crisp and clear and he does an excellent job with the action scenes carrying the motion across the page. The two-page spread fight scene, filled with staccato, overlapping panels like shattered glass, works very well to emphasize the speed and brutality of the fight. There’s nothing groundbreaking here but Khen is a solid draftsman. The colors leave something to be desired. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt to use the colors to amplify mood or theme. They’re just there. I almost think this would read better in black and white with a bit of a heavier hand on the shadows.

But, boy howdy is this book…For Mature Readers. And seemingly only to be titillating to the point of distraction. Gun Honey’s chest is thrust forward at all times and nude women abound! I can’t say I’m surprised given the book’s pulpy ambitions but it’s all there just to be there and only serves to detract from what is otherwise a pretty well-made comic! The toxic masculinity oozes off the page.

Even without a clear picture of this story’s core conflict and mystery, I liked this book more than I disliked it, even with the liberties it takes with the human form. I wish there was a bit more info given about these players and their relationships. A few small moments would have helped sell it. But overall Gun Honey: Blood for Blood accomplishes what it sets out to be: an intentionally gritty and “edgy” hardboiled pulp story about a femme fatale. There’s something to be said for its clarity of vision. I can’t really jive with the objectification of the characters to read more or recommend it, though.


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