comics, comics criticism, marvel, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 4/12

Hello Urbane Turtle faithful and newcomers who may have seen this after rage-clicking my last post about the Spider-Man marriage!

Welcome back to another NO CONTEXT COMICS! My semi-regular column where I take a look at 3 new comics I don’t read. Should every comic be written to be someone’s first comic? Does context matter? Is there a good way to lure new readers while catering to longtime fans? These are all the questions one must answer when you’re a big shot comics critic like me.

 As I have shared in recent Turtle Club newsletters, it has been a difficult few months to make time for any writing. I am hoping things begin to clear up and I am able to keep doing this more regularly.

But in the meantime, enjoy my rambling about three books I picked at random.

8 Billion Genies #8 

Image. Charles Soule, Writer.Ryan Browne, Artist. Kevin Knipstein, Colors. Crank, Letters.

I’ve found my way to another final issue. This is a particularly bad one to jump into on its own. Not because it’s hard to understand—in fact one of its major flaws is how much it explains everything. The problem with reading this without buildup is that much of the intended emotional payoff here is lost on me. These characters apparently have complex relationships and tribulations here that lead up to the final moment. 

Despite that, the last few panels were quite affecting, if somewhat saccharine. Sometimes, though, a fantasy needs an indisputably happy ending. 

There’s a lot to like in Soule’s script. He takes readers on a journey through history with all the darkness and solemnity of an immortal life. Still, people are able to find hope and the promise of redemption. The issue’s main narrator discusses the heart of all wishes being “I wish I had enough” which hits quite hard after he recounts endless lifetimes. There’s a cast of characters here with existing relationships but I never felt completely lost or like I was missing key information. 

But boy is there a lot of text here. It is almost prose in the amount of words on the page here. It leaves little room for the art to do more than be illustration. As sweeping as the scope of this story is , panels and pages feel crowded. Everything feels like it is being jammed into a too-small container. I’m not sure why, 8 issues in, they would spend so much real estate elucidating the rules of geniehood. I got the sense this was a recap of info the characters already knew. If that’s the case, I’d feel annoyed as a regular reader. If not, I feel like it would be a letdown for the big climax to be explaining the sourcebook rules of creation. 

There is something to be said; though, for a final issue to be limited to a few characters alone in a bar at the end of the world, sharing their heartbreaks and hopes. It’s a bold creative decision in a market that relies so heavily on action. 

My highest compliment for this book is that it’s ending made me want to go back and read the rest of the story to understand the full emotional scope of its final moments, which even with only this issue was a resonant moment of peace.

Fantastic Four #6

Marvel. Ryan North, Writer. Ivan Fiorelli, Artist. Jesus Aburtov, Colors. Joe Caramagna, Letters. Annalise Bissa, Martin Biro & Tom Breevort, Editors.

I suspect like many people in my general age bracket, I’ve not read all that much Fantastic Four. By the time I was born in ‘89 and through the 90s there prominence within the Marvel Universe began to fade below the supernova of the X-Men and the blinding dollar signs of the Clone Saga. Throughout the 21st century they have been intentionally sidelined, even completely removed from the comics page at times, because the licensing rights were tied up at Fox. Outside of Hickman’s run, it is hard to think of a single Fantastic Four story that has caught any kind of comics-reader attention. They’re mostly always around somewhere, usually they have a book. But they’ve not been central to the Marvel Universe and the bold creative vision that birthed them has rarely been channeled. Hickman’s work with Dale Eaglesham and Steve Epting and other collaborators gave the FF a scope and mission statement that was clear and expansive. They could go anywhere and do anything. Because their hope was to bring hte rest of humanity along with them into the future.

After disappearing following Secret Wars, they were gone completely until Dan Slott relaunched the series a few years ago. By all accounts, the book was Fine. The hope that Slott’s work would draw readers and rejuvenate excitement around the team did not really pan out. Even his big “Reckoning War” story, which he had been seeding for his entire Marvel career, came and went with nauhgt but a whimper.

This latest volume is from Ryan “DINOSAUR COMICS” North, who has done a number of lower profile books for Marvel, primarily humor-focused. I have to say I was intrigued by someone who is mostly outside of superhero comics to take the title but I have to admit I never picked it up (Obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about it).

It’s funny, both of the other titles in this week’s column are climaxes in some way, where this issue seems to exist as a low-stakes epilogue to fill out a trade. I didn’t mind it. These kinds of character-centric stories are increasingly rare in superhero books of late. And the chance to spend time with the Fantastic Four as a family makes sense.

I can’t argue with an issue that is just an excuse to have two characters bond and connect on a human level. It’s particularly sweet to see Jonny and Sue have time to bond one-on-one.

On the art side, Ivan Fiorelli’s pencils feel appropriately whimsical though the characters do look a bit too young. Sue’s softer face and general attire make her look more like a teenager than a professional adult. But Fiorelli gives the entire issue a sense of fun and silliness. In particular, he is clearly having a blast drawing Reed Richards. They are especially upsetting in this issue.

This is not a great place to determine much about North’s run on the title beyond his strong sense of who the characters are and a knack for comedic situations and dialogue. But there’s not much more to this particular issue than what we get on the page. As I mentioned before, though, I think this kind of self-contained story that gives readers a chance to just sit with its cast and tie up a few loose threads is missing from most of today’s superhero books. Those quiet moments between world-shattering multipart storylines are what give those big events their emotional core. When the characters are just shuffling off between crises, it becomes hard to care about whether they will succeed or not. It is also an opportunity for new readers to catch up a bit and enjoy an issue without worrying too much about what they missed. I don’t think every issue needs to bend over backward to welcome a random buyer, but I do think issues that try to do just that have a place.

Briar  # 4

Boom Studios. Christopher Cantwell, Writer. German Garcia, Artist. Matheus Lopes. AndWorld Design, Letters. Allyson Gronowitz, Editor.

Where 8 Billion Genies was a final issue, this one is clearly a penultimate chapter of storyarc. It’s a strange read, with a lot happening and little of it making much sense if you haven’t been reading. Events that seem like they should be important breeze by in a single page. That’s not to say it’s bad but nothing really makes any sense. The book opens with multiple captions and narrators juxtaposed against two different scenes and it was nigh impossible to tell who was speaking. The distinct caption boxes didn’t help because I had no grounding how they related to the images. That is one place I am sure reading previous issues would have helped.

I know this series was expanded from an initial 4 issue mini into a  longer ongoing, so I have to wonder how much of this issue was wrapping up loose ends and reconfiguring the board to get to the next storyline instead of bringing any real resolutions. It’s the reality of monthly comics publishing that sometimes even good news for a book can lead to issues where things fall apart to accommodate shifts in planning. I cannot imagine that this miniseries was going to end with the team walking out of a castle with a new skeleton man.

After the first few pages, I got a better sense of who everyone was, but the rapid pacing made it difficult to determine how these individuals felt about one another or why we should care when they are put in mortal peril. There’s a big climactic fight but it lasts only a few pages and everyone is better and on their feet a page later. 

The art from German Garcia is crisp and beautiful, with appropriately cartoonish flat colors by Matheus Lopes. There’s a storybook quality to the visuals that matches the “dark fairy tale” angle and offers an interesting juxtaposition against the brutal violence depicted on the page. The bright splatters of blood pop off of the page against the more muted colors of the characters. The prominence and vividness of these splatters can’t help but draw attention to itself intentionally, as if we are supposed to gaze at it disrupting the almost Disney quality of the art style. We are not telling a Disney fantasy, the comic tells us. This is serious stuff. It avoids being extravagant for the sake of shock, however. 

Garcia’s layouts, particularly in the action scenes is thrilling and brusk. On one page, a row of three jagged vertical panels flash by, depicted in a bright yellow color. There’s a rapid strobe quality to the visuals jumping between the two protagonist stretching in dynamic motion. Then, across the middle of the page, readers are invited to linger on a heavy blow that stretches the full width. Time stops for just a moment to emphasize the weight of the attack. The bottom three panels are focused on the other character dealing a killing blow. It is notably the only time a single motion is illustrated across different panels. In the first panel both she and the enemy knight ready their weapon. In the next, only our hero has moved, stabbing her sword through the knight’s helmet. By slowing down the motion into multiple pieces, it emphasizes her speed compared to her opponent.

I found Garcia’s art much more engaging than the writing here, though I am a big fan of Christopher Cantwell and give him the benefit of the doubt that this issue just doesn’t work on its own. That’s OK. The more I write this column the more I find that knowing preceding events doesn’t really matter if the issue is intentionally made to be accommodating. Here, Cantwell spends no time dwelling on the past, instead he races toward the future. I don’t know if I got enough here from the characters to spark my interest to go back to the beginning, but the art just might inspire me to pick up the trade.


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