comics, comics criticism, dc comics, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 12/14

What’s up everybody? Twitter tells me that comic reviews are bad, folks. We don’t know how to write about art. So I guess you probably shouldn’t even be reading this.

But if you are reading, welcome to the regular column! We’re taking a look at 3 books I do not read! The only rules are that these books are something I don’t read every month, it’s not a number one, and (if I am aware of it before reading) it’s not an anthology.

Any comic I read right now has a lot to live up to…I’ve been reading Fullmetal Alchemist which is among the best comics I’ve ever read. I watched the original anime but this is my first time with the actual source material. Hiromu Arakawa can DRAW.

This might be the last No Context of the year. But here’s to many more! And more Urbane Turtle, in general. Viva la tortuga.

I Am Batman #16

DC Comics. John Ridley, Writer. Christian Duce, Artist. Rex Lokus, Colors. Troy Peteri, Letters.

I have not spent any time trying to understand what the deal is with I Am Batman or Jace Fox. It seems weird to me that there’s a mostly unrelated Batman in New York. I guess it isn’t unprecedented given Batman Inc. but seems weird. And after reading this issue I still don’t know how this fits in the larger world of the Batman mythos.

I see a rich kid who feels guilty, fighting some crooks. Ridley has plenty of words throughout this issue but it tells us very little about who Jace is or what he wants out of being Batman. There’s less Batman here and more Iron Man or, in DC terms, Green Arrow. Less justice and more atonement. Jace wants to make right having killed someone when he was young. 

I’m spending time pondering the larger questions of the series as a whole because there’s not much to this issue. It’s a transition between story arcs, with this issue setting up a new plot. There’s elements here that are shocking in their visceral violence, made more uncomfortable through Duce’s photographic approach to the art. The panels are more like posed images or candid shots. The art in and of itself is good but as a narrative and storytelling it occasionally falls short. The figures sometimes do not have the sense of motion and dynamism to carry from page to panel to panel. The colors are probably too bright for what is a fairly dark story, which makes the issue feel tonally disjointed.

When the art is working though, it works really well. The office shooting scene in particular is alarming in its rawness and how rapidly it happens. It’s Duce’s best work in the issue. The panels topple over one another in short bursts.  

The issue opens up with a monologue on the randomness of life. The random acts of violence here don’t pull punches to help emphasize that idea. There’s no questioning Ridley is a good storyteller. The various pieces work together to further the ideas presented at the start, and Duce’s layouts have the appropriate sense of drama, knowing when to let an image breathe or to hold back on a reveal.

I just wish that I had a sense of who Jace was after reading this issue. It doesn’t leave me particularly eager to look into more.

Dark Ride #3

Image Comics. Joshua Williamson, Writer. Andrei Bressan, Artist. Adriano Lucas, Coloris. Pat Brosseau, LEtters.

You may or may not know this about me but I am a bit of a “Disney Adult,” as some may refer to it derogatorily. I prefer a Parks Enthusiast. The way the parks tell a story and transport visitors through subtle visual and sensory storytelling is intoxicating. There are no doubt problems in the parks, and its labor practices, made worse in the last few years, but the best of it, these moments in the Disney Parks can be some of the most memorable in my life. ALL THAT TO SAY–I was intrigued by Josh Williamson’s concept here, a twisted theme park horror story. 

I’m not generally a horror fan, which is why I haven’t checked out the first two issues. My instincts were right there. This is a solid book but it’s just not to my taste. There’s plenty of intrigue, gory imagery, and high concept spooks set in the novel backdrop of a theme park. It makes for some funny moments, like Sammy mistaking a monster for a costumed cast member. 

Williamson gives the characters distinctive voices and clearly establishes how they are different from and relate to one another (something lacking in I Am Batman).  The YouTube channel guy and his obsessive dedication to theme park minutia, the driven but aloof sister investigating her brother’s death, the rival heirs to the Horror Park empire. By the end of the issue, I had a clear understanding of who all these characters by the issue’s end.

Bressan’s heavy blacks and messy, thick lines give a grungy and moody feeling that is appropriate, and Adriano Lucas leans into creepy greens and twilight hues. It’s a pretty package, even in its twisted moments. Bressan’s artistic voice is felt throughout, amplifying the “ultra-real” aesthetic of theme-parks and their details to give themes in the park a gothic extravagance.  

I imagine horror fans, especially Disney Adult horror fans should love this. I just have a hard time getting into the horror tropes that are on display here.

Grim #6

BOOM Studios. Stephanie Phillips, Writer. Flaviano, Art. Rico Renzi, Colors. Tom Napolitano, Letters.

While first flipping through this issue the thing I noticed immediately were the letters. This is rare for me, so I thought I would notice. During a scene that takes place in a club, Napolitano illustrates the lyrics of “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” dancing across the page. The way the letters wave through the air, commanding significant page real estate, captures both the rhythm and the way an overwhelming stereo system overtakes everything. You don’t just hear the music, you feel it in your teeth, it vibrates through your toes. The lettering is captivating, not just there but on the opening battle scene where the explosions of gunfire blot out the sky. Then there’s the colors–the vibrant pinks and comforting violet, the eerie greens and teals. The way that eerie green flows into the ticket stand, until we step through the teal curtain, ushering us into the welcoming abyss of pink and the pounding music. It’s a beautiful book.

I had never even heard of this book before randomly picking it out after I couldn’t get my hands on my original choice for this week. I say that to clarify that I had no idea what this book was about when I opened it. I still didn’t when I closed it. But I don’t mind too much. The issue seems deliberately disorienting, with its vaporwave colors, its jumps across time, and its mysterious poetry and warnings from The Fates. It’s clearly about mythology and secrets. So being disoriented seems par for the course there.

The visuals carry this book so far. I can’t get over how much I like the way this issue looks. It’s not just the lines, and Flaviano’s heavy brush strokes evoke a dreamy, sometimes nightmarish  unreality. It’s not just the colors and letters. All together, this book is full of idiosyncrasies that come together to form something wholly unique.

Every character is a world unto themselves, even the briefly seen box office attendant. We draw in close to her face, its aged crags and lines, the swirling smoke trailing from her cigarette.

This is a book that is to be experienced more than read. It transports you completely into a world just slightly off, where the impossible awaits you just beyond the curtain.

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