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.
By James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira & Adriano Lucas
What is the phrase? No good deed goes unpunished? This idea has echoed through superhero comics when characters are forced to confront the question of whether their actions cause more harm than help. Do their righteous actions save lives or simply invite more crazies to come out from under the shadows? Would the citizens of urban centers such as Gotham City be safer without such a tantalizing target as Batman patrolling the rooftops? James Tynion IV is not the first Bat-scribe to dive into this dilemma, but he has found a way to reengage the subject in a compelling manner. Ably aided by Eddy Barrows’ fantastic art, Tynion continues to bring new life to Detective Comics.
Shutter began its 2016 with an issue spotlighting the relationship between lead protagonist Kate and Huckleberry. #18 was an emotionally powerful portrait of the crests, crashes and aftermath of a love affair which set the tone for a stellar year from Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca’s creator owned series. Hence, it is only appropriate for its penultimate chapter of the year, Shutter focuses once again on Huckleberry. And once again, her story proves to be a poignant lesson in not only the pain of the past but how growth may emerge from it.
There is something to be said for the subtle art of defying expectations. When New Super-Man was first announced as part of DC’s Rebirth initiative, reaction was mixed. On the one hand, it was positive news that acclaimed creator Gene Luen Yang would be able to branch out with a series more independent from the larger DC Universe. On the negative side of the ledger, the concept sounded a little derivative. A Chinese Super-Man joining a Chinese Justice League? Did the DCU really need yet another iteration of Batman? Luckily these fears proved to be ungrounded. In the first four issues, Yang did a fabulous job of developing the cast, so the principles do in fact feel like original characters instead of superficial riffs. The series quickly settled into an appealing mix of humor and adventure, as Kenan (i.e. the titular new Super-Man) tried to negotiate his powers and the responsibilities that came with them. This week Yang bring to the fore a couple subplots which complicate the narrative in a surprising and intriguing manner.
For a production company that is faulted at times for sticking to a very specific formula, Marvel Studios takes a fair amount of risks. The most obvious of these is a willingness to base big budget movies around B-List characters. However, as Ant-Man demonstrated last year and Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, viewers are eager to embrace heroes who previously had little, if any, exposure outside of fan culture. This combined with a mixing of subgenres (science-fiction space opera, heist caper family drama) has helped keep the formula from growing stale. Yes, the standard tropes are still there, but, in the best movies, they blend with more unique elements. This is definitely the case with Doctor Strange, the most recent entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its mixture of technical prowess and strong ensemble acting crafts a film which is equal parts awe-inspiring and humane. Central to the movie’s success, same as Captain America Civil War earlier this year, is the conviction that the spectacle must be anchored with compelling character work.
Superhero teams, like many a professional association, at times resemble families. There is the same jockeying for prominence and dread of disappointment. There is the long-term proximity which produces that awkward mixture of friendship and annoyance. Yet, in the best cases, all the members are there for each other in their times of need. From the beginning, this interrelation between heroes and family has been an undercurrent of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s recent Dark Horse series Black Hammer. For #4, however, writer Lemire shifts the subtext to the foreground using the mundane details surrounding a seemingly modest dinner party to illuminate the bonds amongst some rather extraordinary individuals. In doing so, Lemire and artist Ormston craft a poignant portrait of human relations.
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.