Tents pole movies always come with astronomical expectations. Fans are hoping for the most amazing film they have ever seen (until, at least, the next installment) while studio executives are hoping to be awash in cash. Critics, depending on how they stride the pop culture divide, are either sharpening their knives or readily willing to suspend disbelief. As box office attendance continues to decline, the stakes have only increased. The continuing lackluster performance of Aliens: Covenant has many analysts wondering who assumed there was any pent-up demand for a sixth helping of silver screen Xenomorphs. Into this contentious atmosphere Wonder Woman arrives with even weightier expectations. It is the first superhero film directed by a woman. It is the first solo female superhero film since the genre’s resurgence a decade ago, and not just any superheroine at that. Wonder Woman has been, from her inception, a feminist icon; how she would be portrayed on screen would be critiqued in circles far removed from fandom, especially in the current social environment. Meanwhile, back in their beach bungalows, the suits have their own concerns. After last year’s critical takedowns of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, Warner Brothers desperately needs a little respectability for their superhero universe. Yes, both those films made a lot of money, while the latter somehow won an Oscar, but perception is important. In the cliché parlance of the day, they want a narrative reset for the DC Cinematic Universe. And so, Diana arrived in theaters on Friday with an unreasonable amount of baggage. The good news is that the movie easily proves itself more limber than anything else the DCCU has offered up so far. Despite its flaws, it is an entertaining experience.
With nearly three dozen issues published, it is instructive to glance over the pacing of Jonathan Hickman’s creator owned series, East of West. The first two arcs were densely plotted, bursting with exposition yet simultaneously possessing a full-throttle forward momentum. Character beats would explode into bristling action set-pieces viscerally rendered by co-creator Nick Dragotta. Then Hickman reined in the violence a little, shifting focus to the various political machinations of key players. The series did not grow tamer as much as take a breather while various characters gathered their strength. At the same time, Hickman sowed plots and divisions amidst the parties, steadily ramping the tension back up again. In recent issues the simmering pot approached full boil as several conflicts come to a head, resulting in this week’s rampant carnage. Yet, in the midst of this hectic activity (stunningly illustrated as always by Dragotta) Hickman delivers a thoughtful script which continues elaborating on the themes of his story.
Three years ago Marvel Studios released Guardians of the Galaxy which rapidly rocketed to being one of the biggest domestic films of the year and, in the process, transformed the team into one of Marvel Comic’s most bankable brands. Such success might raise fans’ expectations for Marvel to publish some stellar Guardians yarns; such expectations proved to be misguided. Fans did get a great Rocket Raccoon solo book (or more precisely a string ofsolo titles, only the last of which disappointed). Unfortunately when the film came out, the main Guardians title was already in the throes of a run by Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis’ time on the title suffered from all of his flaws while benefiting from none of his strengths. Poorly plotted and overly quipy, his Guardians represented the writer in full autopilot mode. After a four year stretch, Bendis’ last issue on the series arrived last month, making way this week for a new relaunch and, most importantly, a new creative team. Right off the bat, writer Gerry Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder inject the title with a delightful energy.
This review was originally published last October when the movie screened at the New York Film Festival. It opens today in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto; it will expand to additional cities over the coming weeks. For more information on the film’s expansion schedule, please see Dash Shaw’s tumblr.
Over the past several years, Dash Shaw has earned widespread acclaim through writing and illustrating of graphic novels such as 2014’s Doctors. This year he unveiled a new type of project: his first feature length film, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. Shaw’s animated movie premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival before appearing this week at the New York Film Festival. My Entire High School is a thrilling, poignant movie, which demonstrates that Shaw’s skills stretches beyond the printed page.
Film by its nature is a collaborative process. When a movie is successful, it is the result of a variety of talented individuals blending their skills into a final product. At the same time, some filmmakers leave behind more prominent fingerprints than others. Most fans would be hard pressed to distinguish the characteristics of an Andrew Stanton directed Pixar film from a Peter Docter one. This is not a slight on the quality of their movies, which is quite high, but an observation about style. Meanwhile, other recent animated films such as Frankenweenie and Anomalisa are instantly recognizable as the products of Tim Burton and Charlie Kaufman’s idiosyncratic imaginations. Shaw’s My Entire High School fits into this second category. As with Frankenweenie or Anomalisa, My Entire High School is a visually striking, emotionally resonant experience. To watch it is to become fully immersed in the distinct vision of its creator.
As previously observed, The Wicked + the Divine has always been focused on the subject of youth. However, this has hardly caused the series to remain static—quite the opposite in fact. One of writer Kieron Gillen’s motifs has been how the devil-may-care attitudes of adolescence gradually cede to the responsibilities of adulthood. The initial arcs depicted a Pantheon fully in thrall to their newfound powers; most of the freshly minted divinities were luxuriating in dazzlingly heights (or lows, if you were the Goth type with a preference for moping through poorly lit tube stations). It is true that mortality haunted The Pantheon from nearly the beginning striking down some of its brightest stars. Perhaps this is another reason why the brilliant Tara chapter (#13) struck such a deep chord: here was a portrait of a god buckling under the weight of her mantle. Tara never sought fame and all its trappings; indeed she desired as much anonymity as possible. When she turned to Ananke, The Pantheon’s mentor, for relief,, Tara was brutally rebuffed. In death she became another reminder of the finality which waits even for the divine. In fact, each time a Pantheon member has died, the tone of the narrative has shifted. Lucifer’s demise moved the theme from cheeky world-building concept to heart-wrenching poignancy. Inanna and Tara’s deaths deepened this somber atmosphere. Then Persephone’s killing of Ananke altered the status quo even more drastically. Adult supervision was gone and the children were left to fend for themselves. What would they do now that the only authority was their own? “Whatever we want,” Persephone declares. As the first half of Imperial Phase powerfully draws to a close, the reader is left wondering just how well that anthem is working out for any of them.
In 2010 Drawn and Quarterly released Wilson, the first original graphic novel by the acclaimed writer/artist Daniel Clowes. Despite this distinction, Wilson possesses a serial vibe, often feeling more like a collection of episodic comic strips than a plot driven narrative. This impression is reinforced by Clowes’ decision to vary his art style throughout so that loose cartoons rest opposite pages of more naturalistic detail. What the book lacks in narrative or artistic unity, it gains in thematic cohesion. Wilson displays a biting, if loving, critique of its protagonist as he stumbles through the tribulations of life. The story and the visuals blend to create a very specific ambiance. This mix of comedy and drama was probably what appealed to director Craig Johnson whose previously film, The Skeleton Twins, was focused on a pair of suicidal twins. On paper, Johnson’s sensibility would appear to be a good match for Clowes’. Unfortunately the film Johnson and Clowes, who wrote the screenplay, have produced is an amusing one which fails to live up to its complete potential.
As with any art form, the best comic books are those that offer an immersive experience. Favorite paintings or films, for example, provide visual worlds for contemplation, while listeners can lose themselves within an album’s aural landscapes. All these mediums share the ability to craft a compelling ambiance. The same is true of Monstress which continues its excellent run this week with another stunning issue.
Much of the appeal of Monstress is related to its elaborate world building. The narrative unfolds in the aftermath of a long brutal war waged between magical/semi-magical beings. This extended conflict, which continues to simmer not far below the surface, has left the environment ravaged. A general sense of gloom hangs over the proceedings, a visual reminder of writer Marjorie Liu’s motif of war’s deep, ill-healing scars. Issue #10 however, achieves a heightened level of dread as protagonist Maika and her companions reach the Isle of Bones.
It has often been observed how malleable a character Batman is. Over the past several decades he has found himself equally at home busting the heads of petty street criminals and out-witting cosmic menaces with (new) god-like powers. What unities such diverse plots is a common interest in the humanity of the hero. The tone of the narrative might emphasize oppressive bleakness or optimistic redemption, yet what all the best Bat-stories have in common is an interest in who the man is beneath the cowl. This is true of the movies as well; for example, Christopher Nolan’s masterful Bat-trilogy is as, arguably more, concerned with Bruce Wayne than it is with Batman. In many ways, The LEGO Batman Movie liberally skewers the melancholy tone of Nolan’s films, while sharing with them an interest in the hero’s personality. Amidst the bonanza of gags, Chris McKay’s new film has something to say about Batman’s character.
Last week DC commenced their celebration of Jack Kirby’s Centennial by launching a new Kamandi series featuring a star-studded rooster of talent. This week Dynamite shifts the focus to Will Eisner, who like The King of Comics, would have turned 100 this year. Both Kirby and Eisner were profoundly talented writer/artists who left an indelible mark on the medium. In Eisner’s case, his signature creation was a masked crime fighter, The Spirit. Dynamite debuted the latest Spirit tale today, The Corpse-Makers. Based on its initial installment, the series promises to be a fitting tribute to Eisner.
How does the saying go? Once your good name is lost, there is nothing that can bring it back? Coach Euless Boss has long been a man to be reckoned with in Craw County, an imposing figure unwilling to shy away from violence. Indeed, he has been more than willing to bloody his hands in a very vicious and public manner, as readers discovered at the conclusion of Southern Bastards’ initial arc. Such brutal demonstrations, though, did little to soil his public image. Coach Boss was a man to be feared and respected both in and outside the county. As the head of Craw County’s Runnin’ Rebs high school football team, he was a living legend. His name stood for something noble. The problem with such glory is that it can be intoxicating and quite blinding. Under its influence, judgements have been known to cloud. From there it only takes a single poor decision to irreparably tarnish your stature, as Jason Aaron and Jason Latour compelling illustrate in the latest installment of Southern Bastards.