comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 4/26

Happy birthday to me, your illustrious guide to the comic books I don’t read, Urbane Turtle. As always, life finds a way to interfere with this hobby. Thank you to the haters who continue to make Spider-Man and Mary Jane a perennial click-machine.

In celebration of my 34th birthday, I’d like to see the site churn out some real work this week. I’ll be working on a new Rearview Mirror piece in honor of the new Joshua Williamson Green Arrow series. I’ve never read Green Arrow before, but have just read through The Longbow Hunters and have thoughts. Something arrow-related should be up by the end of the week. Patreon supporters will get it a bit early.

This last week of April and first of May are fairly light weeks in terms of books out from the big publishers, which made finding issues that fit my admittedly loose criteria kind of difficult. We might hit a point soon where I’ll need to revisit some series that I touched on previously.

What’s the Furthest Place From Here? #12

Image. Matthew Rosenberg, writer. Tyler Boss, artist. Roman Titov/Shycheeks, colors. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, letters.

Here’s what I know about this book: it’s written by Matthew Rosenberg, who I’ve never read but had a controversial run on X-Men, with art by Tyler Boss, who drew an extremely cool issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe. Also Bendis drew a variant cover for it and they wear pig masks maybe?

Boss’s background and compositions are full of straight lines that build around the focal point, with characters and details arranged to pull the eye toward the most important information in a given image. It heightens the artifice of the mysterious house and its inhabitants.

At the end of reading this issue, that’s still pretty much all I know about. The structure is pretty fascinating, though, broken into three chapters of various length. It adds to the disjointed feeling of the entire thing. Scenes and pages seem not to connect directly from one to another, which left me feeling like I was constantly not being told a key piece of information I needed to understand this issue. It felt intentional, particularly given how precise Tyler Boss’s panel layouts and composition are. Pages are broken up into tight rectangles that, while not a consistent grid, give the issue a smooth rhythm of rows and column. The only time that rhythm is broken is early on when one of the mysterious elders surprises our main character and descends from above. Boss chooses to depict this almost like Tetris blocks. The woman’s arrival breaking the page into an L shape, with the tail of the L hiding some easy-to-miss background detail that undercuts the woman’s seemingly mystical power.

I’d be remiss not to mention Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s letters. Hass remains one of the best letterers in the business, and the way he adapts his word balloons and effects to match an artist’s style is unmatched. I knew immediately it was his work not because it’s overly showy but because it elevates and complements the art so well. The thick typeface and balloon lines fit perfectly with Boss’s chunky blacks.

I have no idea what this book is about after reading this, or why this lead character seems to have no short-term memory or much knowledge of anything outside of any given panel she is in. But Rosenberg’s script makes me want to know more. There’s an innocence about her and her dog that, contrasted with the eery house and shadowy figures around here, makes me feel protective of her and concerned for her well-being. I think context is particularly important for this book in a way it is not in a lot of other books I’ve read for this column, particularly long-running superhero books. And I think that is especially OK for a creator-owned book that seems precipitated on mystery and longform storytelling.

Behold, Behemoth #5

Boom! Studios. Tate Brombal, Writer. Nick Robles, Art. AndWorld Design, Letters. Ramiro Portnoy, Editor.

One of the coolest things about comic books is how time works. Past, present and future exist simultaneously, side-by-side. It allows for unique storytelling possibilities that are not possible in other mediums. Behold, Behemoth is a story told across 3 different timelines (at least, as far as I can tell from this issue) that overlap here in a dramatic crescendo. Nick Robles does a great job pulling these different threads together with visual queus and transitions. The relationships between these disparate times is only sensible because they exist beside each other. We don’t need to cut back and forth across scenes. Dialogue and actions can cut across years in a single page. The past, present, and future exist as a singular moment, informing and echoing across a lifetime. The past is always there, at a turn of the page. The future beside you, or just ahead of you, clearly visible.

Brombal and Robles’s work here is, if not experimental, then certainly ambitious at minimum. And I think they pull it off quite well without being confusing. What gaps I have in understanding what’s going on primarily stem from my own lack of who these characters are and the lore of this world. But we have enough to understand the general stakes– There is “Before the Fall” and “After the Fall.” A bad thing happens that seems to end the world and send it into some kind of technicolor fantasy realm where myths and stories exist in reality. Robles’ colors helps to distinguish the two time periods quite well. The present day is pale and desaturated, with a green, sickly hue. The future is an extravaganza of vaporware colors and psychedelicha, with streams of rainbow energy floating around a desolated landscape of blues and purples. The barren world’s aesthetics contrast with expectation, making it feel more welcoming and serene than the cold angles and harsh and defused lighting of the present-day, where the hero is tormented by black demons pulling him into a sea of red.

It’s a beautiful book to look at. From a story perspective, there’s little here that was shocking or completely unfamiliar to me but the emotion is clear between Greyson, the lead, and the mysterious child under his protection. We get just enough hints at the mythology and lore behind this to give a first-time reader like me a sense of the magnitude of the events at the close of this first volume. This is one I will definitely need to go back and read in full. Unlike the previous issue, this one works on its own pretty well, even if I can’t fully appreciate it, the issue doesn’t purposefully hold back on you. It works on its own as a piece of art to be appreciated, even if it is incomplete. That’s not to say What’s the Furthest Place From Here is bad for withholding things, it’s just an entirely different way to structure a story. And that’s part of what makes comics fun–there are so many ways to tell a story.

Thor #33

Marvel. Torrun Grønbekk, Writer. Juan Gedeon, Art. Matthew Wilson, Colors. Joe Sabino, Letters. Michelle Marchese, Wil Moss, Editors.

I haven’t heard anyone talk about a Thor comic since Donny Cates took over the book for Jason Aaron. After he seemingly left Marvel in the midst of his Hulk and Thor runs, other people had to come in and figure things out. I do not know when Grønbekk took over the book, or in what state the title was when the reins were handed to her. I do know she’s been working in the nine realms for a while as a steward for Jane Foster and Valkyries.

The first thing I noticed in this issue were the colors, bright and bold and flat, you get a sense of the tone and transition of scenes just in how the temperatures and hues transform. There’s a gradual transition from the vibrant orange red that begins with a plainclothes Thanos, through the cooler blues of Valkyrie and Thor’s journey, a contrast between the warm and cools during the battle with Doom, and then the darker and contrasting blood red of the closing’s fiery images of an armored Thanos. I don’t always love Wilson’s work but this issue he really helps to elevate Juan Gedeon’s chunky cartooning. Gedeon rides the line between the more realistic superhero artists and the more abstracted creators like Chris Samnee. It works really well for Thor, who rides the line between Asgard and “the real world.”

For me, that art team is the real star of the show here. Not to say the writing is poor. In fact, I love the melodramatic captions and haughty dialogue. I always love seeing Doom and Thor go against one another (Frankly, I like when Doom fights anyone). But Gedeon and Wilson’s art is so full of life, motion, and expression. It’s a joy to flip through.

Between Marvel’s recap pages and the narration from Grønbekk, this penultimate chapter is easy to get caught up on. It operates in the best way superhero comics can work. It withholds some background elements, teases future reveals, but contains enough action and revelation to be compelling and entertaining on its own. If there’s a flaw here it is that the script is too impersonal. The narration boxes are delightful, but they are given from an omniscient narrator and the lack of thought balloons means we get no inner monologue from any of the characters. As a result, we are held at arm’s length from the characters. Thor’s feeling in the big climax are explained to us. The prose is well done but it sacrifices the personal touch that would let us as readers empathize with Thor or fully appreciate the struggle.

I haven’t heard anyone talk about Thor lately, but I’ve always had a softspot for him and this issue has made me very interested in picking up where Torrun Grønbekk started.

And that’s it for this week’s reviews. What are you picking up this week?


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