comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 11/30

Welcome to another No Context Comics! 

No commentary or preamble from me this week. Enjoy the reviews.

The Boogyman #3 

Ablaze. Mathieu Salvia, Artist. Djet, Artist. Nathan Kempf, Letters. Kevin Ketner, Editor.

Respect to the creators here on opening up on several wordless pages of action in a row. It would be easy for that to not work but Djet’s manga-influenced action is fluid and balletic. A rush of fluid lines and dramatic, impressionist color that gives an explosive sense of motion and depth.

For my money, Djet is the star of the show here. He makes this spooky world of nightmares and monsters come to vibrant life with rich colors and cartoonish and expressive characters. There are plenty of incredible colorists out in the world but there is often something special when an artist is able to control all aspects of their work. By having total control over all of the art, Djet’s lines and colors work together to blend into something incredibly rich. There’s a dreamlike quality to the brush strokes that make up the backgrounds and panel lines that perfectly suits this surreal world.

I have to admit I didn’t fully get what is going on here by the end of the issue, but I was intrigued enough to want to find out more. Salvia manages to dump a lot of explanation here without feeling hamfisted or overly encyclopedic. The lead character, the mysterious young boy, also doesn’t fully understand what he has gotten involved in so some confusion as a reader feels warranted. The way the brooding mundanity of the real world locale, diners and alleyways, intertwine with the monsters and demon wolves has a wonderful sense of magical realism. 

By the last few pages, where our young hero is eagerly trying to train the demon dog and explaining to his deadly protector that “All dogs can change. Even the wildest ones. It says so in my book. You just need to be patient and trusting,” you can’t help but fall in love with the kid and want the best for him.

As energetic as Djet’s art is in the action scenes, he particularly shines in the quiet emotional moments, where the old man is caught off guard by his young charge’s innocence. As he reads the book on training dogs, there is an unexpected gentleness in the man’s expression, as if he is reconsidering everything he thought he knew.

Salvia smartly lets the art breathe and move the story along on its merits, inviting readers to bask in the beautiful imagery and undeniable storytelling talents on display. 

The book ends on a dramatic, action packed cliffhanger, just as it opened. The moment feels properly dramatic after the quiet moments shared between characters in the inervening pages. 

What a fun book to discover. Looking forward to digging into the first 2 issues.

Killadelphia #25 

Image. Rodney Barnes, Writer. Jason Shawn Alexander, Layouts. German Erramouspe, Pencils. Lee Loughridge, Colors. Marshall Dillon, Letters. Greg Tumbarello, Editor.

I don’t go out of my way to either avoid descriptions or seek them out for this No Context column. Sometimes I see the solicit text sometimes I pick a random cover I think looks cool. For Killadelphia, I saw some buzz and something about this issue kicking off a new story arc and being billed as a jumping-on-point. A perfect test case for the No Context Comics experiment!

I did not find this a helpful or smooth “jumping on point.” At 25 issues I don’t think you can honestly call something a jumping-on-point. And in this era of collected editions and digital comics where books are easy to catch up on, do you even need to? Maybe the market forces say you do, I’m no retailer. 

This issue is difficult to follow as an outsider. The shifting narrators and abstracted art make for a disjointed reading experience where I never knew who was speaking at a given time during the lengthy monologues delivered through caption box. I got halfway through this issue by the time I realized some boxes were different colors which seemed to imply different speakers. I don’t lay that one at the hands of the artist (whose gritty and messy style I found very cool and fitting for the horror themes of the book) so much as the writing and lettering. It’s a poorly structured way to tell multiple stories. 

It seems like I’m supposed to know who the characters are on the last page and that it is some kind of twist. But I couldn’t tell if the flashback/recap pages were about one or multiple people. So it all fell flat. The name “Touissant” was mentioned several times but who is he? Was he one of the people speaking?

How do Anansi and the demon in the framing narrative where they talk about damnation and purpose tie into the vampire war? 

I won’t say this is a bad comic becasue the art is extremely cool and I am sure it has thematic resonance within its story but it certainly doesn’t work on its own. 

007 #4 

Dynamite. Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Writer. Marco Finnegan, Artist. Dearbhla Kelly, Colors. Jeff Eckleberry, Letters. Nathan Cosby, Editor.

This is a situation where a better artist was needed to elevate a fairly unremarkable story. Little actually happens in this issue of James Bond. We get some sneaky spy work but Finnegan’s blocky minimal art is not as smartly stylish as the creators he seems to draw inspiration from like David Aja or David Mazzucchelli. It’s asking a lot of anyone to compare them to those characters but there are choices in facial sructure or scene framing that look intentionally derivative. Unfortunately that simplified style requires a level of technical skill to be truly effective. Here, the effect makes for conspicuously empty panels and pages that detract from the action or suspense.

The art’s inability to use the construction of the page to build tension is particularly notable when the script by Phillip Kennedy Johnson is relying on the big infiltration setpiece to make the issue work. There is never a sense that Bond is ever in particularly deep trouble or that his time is limited. There are tricks you can pull with character framing, panel layout, or the pacing of page turns that amp up the tension of a scene.The moment the alarm begins to blare is a great example. It going off is given equal weight as everything else on the page when it should be a heartstopper. It should take up the most real estate on the page and force the reader to absorb it and stop in their tracks, like Bond does. It is also not made clear what tripped the alarm. What misstep did he make that set things off?

The bright, orange tinted colors don’t help either, feeling incongruous with the drama and gritty tone of Johnson’s dialogue.

We don’t get a lot here about the story or what James Bond is trying to accomplish but we’re told that he’s at risk of betraying his country. Big stakes! The weight of that is never felt as the story unfolds, though. A shame!

It’s not a disaster, and Finnegan’s artwork is not horrible, but it doesn’t work with the material he’s been given.


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