Oh no! Action theory!

We3 #2 (of 3)

We3 are not perfect, but neither are WeAll.

It’s been the comedy that’s been bringing me back to Grant Morrison’s most recent works; while many readers seemed to envision “Seaguy” as a marathon make-up lecture on a blistering May afternoon, with Professor Grant pacing in front of the chalkboard armed with his corduroy jacket and unlit pipe, pontificating on the role of the animal guide in pre-Christian literature, I saw the whole affair as a marvelously funny romp through the contemporary comics landscape, a costumed mission-statement (and I‘m not talking spandex). Less chances are taken with “We3”, with its injury-to-the-eye bonbons and breakneck movement; this book is going to entertain you even if you need to fucking die to really understand what entertainment is. And yet, there’s still a (malignant?) strain of bleak humor running through the book. I’m thinking of Bandit bounding Lassie-style into a river to save an innocent civilian, dragging him from the swirling waters and heartily congratulating himself on a job well done (“Gud dog. Help man.”) oblivious to the fact that the poor fellow has been sliced right in half by the fall. There’s a really great panel depicting Bandit’s rescue effort, where only Bandit’s animal head and a little bit of metal are visible above the water as he drags the corpse to shore, but the massive bulk of Bandit’s unnatural robot shell can be seen in shadow below the water’s surface, the barely hidden secret of what we’d like to think is natural.

The trick is, everything in “We3” appears to be a pretty good idea, but nothing works very well in action. Bandit, at least, appears to have been given instruction on what is ’good’ and what is ’bad’. I don’t know if this is totally part of his formal training or if it’s an extension upon remnants of his former life as a domestic pet, but the dog has an approximation of what’s ’right’ and ’wrong’ built into him. But it’s a dog’s sense to the end. He superficially understands that hurting civilians is ’bad’ (he fears the rolled-up newspaper) but he can’t quite reach far enough to connect 'knocking the train off the tracks' to 'possibly killing civilians by virtue of that prior action'. He needs to be shown exactly where he’s urinated on the carpet to establish that such a thing was a mistake.

And yet, the humans don’t fare much better in a large sense; they just manage to inch a bit further down the road. Sure, creating animal-robots that will eliminate much of the human casualty from war seems like a nice idea. In fact, I bet falling in love with the damn beasties and setting them free to presumably take revenge on their tormentors felt like a romantic idea too. A good death, as Frank Miller would put it. But as Bandit hadn’t counted on the fall from the tracks bisecting that engineer, Roseanne didn’t expect the animals to not lash out in holy vengeance, but make a run for home, where there will be no more running. So the humans and the animals are joined in their fatal lack of foresight, of their inability to see beyond the immediate, and maybe it’s fitting that it’ll be human-made animals v. human-made animals for title of… nothing really. You know, fire fighting fire, and what’s it create?

That was a lot of words to describe what works most immediately as a rollicking fight issue. But there were other rollicking fight comics released this week, and all of them must be cursing their luck to hit the stands at the same time as this. Because “We3” also manages to be superior escapist gore amusement, and Frank Quitely gets the credit. There’s never a moment when the reader does not know exactly what’s going on at every point during the book’s many clashes. Two long double-page ultra-widescreen panels are dotted with tiny action close-ups, like malignant pop-up windows that bounce around in time and betray space, taking us inside of vehicles, underneath armor, moving sequentially and consecutively through time or illustrating different scenes in the same moment. Amazingly, this overload of information also gives us a pretty comprehensive overview of the title trio’s weapons and abilities. On later pages, Tinker literally leaps outside the book’s panels into the gutters, getting the jump on puny humans who just can’t fight outside the confines of comic-book structure; it’s an innovative and (yes) funny means of highlighting the cat’s abnormal speed and fighting prowess. Hell, Quitely even throws in a few bonus bits. When Bandit charges a certain attacker near the end of the issue, it’s easy to miss the image of Tinker slicing the head off a (non-robot) dog off to the left.

It’s rather calming to look at a book that’s at the absolute least an excellent model for ultraviolent escapism in 21st century comics, and at best quite a bit more. And 32 pages of comics (not counting ads, which pushes the page-count to around 40) for $2.95? It’s even a relatively good deal!

Frank Miller’s Robocop #7 (of 9)

But reading “We3” this week had a very negative effect on the other action-based books to see release. It’s frustrating when the victim is this, which hadn’t seen an issue released in quite a while. I honestly do like Juan Jose Ryp’s art, but comparing all-out Ryp action to all-out Quitely action isn’t beneficial to the former. I keep noticing how crowded and cluttered Ryp’s panels are, especially when Robocop or some villain catch fire or go crashing through walls or glass (and that’s a lot); it’s genuinely difficult to get any sense of motion from behind all of those detail lines. Panels seem energetic just sitting there as individual entities, but they can’t achieve that illusion of movement without effort on the reader’s part. There’s little flow. The result is like being kept at arm’s length; there’s not nearly as much reader immersion in the art as there has to be for a really good action comic to succeed. I still like Ryp’s lumpy, exaggerated character designs, and Nimbus Studios gives the page a bright, attractive look, all chrome and blood, with glowing electricity and warm fire. Their work has done a lot to establish a kind of visual identity for Avatar; a neat trick considering that many of their books are in black and white.

As for Miller’s script (adapted to comics by Steven Grant), we’re surely reaching the end of the line as we’ve all but given up on the sledgehammer satire of prior issues, although the main villainess still brings a slight smile, wholly unable to contain her power appetite beneath her caring liberal demeanor. But now it’s time for shooting, and that lays us at the feet of Mr. Ryp, who at least today cannot do more than provide comics that call attention to what they are, a series of still panels, rather than what they must be, moving in the mind’s eye.

Adam Strange #2 (of 8)

Pascal Ferry, now he can do movement. You’ll have to excuse this continuing theme in my update, but many of the comics I buy decided to put out all-fight issues this week, and there’s no greater key to understanding how well a fight can work in comics. I’ve always seen the flow of the battle from page to page as far more compelling than the beauty of individual panels, although single panels can (and should) be used to punctuate significant moments, if not through a full-page splash, than maybe through an eye-catch, or an increase in detail that will attract the eye in particular. The process of creating comics art is a slow one, and an extended action scene can be very difficult to execute, given the immediacy of the movement that’s so sorely needed, which can only be created through weeks of work. Distilling hundreds of hours of labor into a pleasingly-paced 22 pages, pages that need to lock the reader into a few moments of escapist whiplash; it’s like conjuring up an alternate timeline for the reader to join the characters in, then compressing that timeline down into a series of starts and stops and pauses because reality cannot be halted and sped, so alternate reality will have to do.

Of course, you also have to be appealing to the eye. You can’t simply ignore the sitting basis of the single panel despite the fact that movement is necessary; the ideal action comic can hold itself up as attractive regardless as to how it is approached; the single panel can be admired for its singular appeal, while the panel as grouped with many others must move the violence along efficiently and pleasantly. All of these considerations are not hard and fast and immobile. You don’t even need physical panels, for one thing. Movement does not need to be created through ‘cinematic’ use of changing perspectives. Speed lines aren’t necessary. The comics form can sustain all sorts of approaches to the creation of the rush of distraction that an action comic needs; however, the art cannot serve as a distraction to the flow. Unless, of course, you want it too. Unless that is the point. There are innumerable paths to success, I continue to believe.

Ferry goes for the traditionally cinematic route in this particular action issue. Not a bad choice. The updated starry-pulp atmosphere of Andy Diggle’s script certainly supports it, this transmutation of hoary old sci-fi tropes to gleaming modern retro sci-fi tropes. I cannot stress enough how much Dave McCaig’s colors aid the presentation; the soft and pale feeling his hues possess match Ferry’s smooth lines. Gotham City is wholly overcast, but the architecture looks just about ready to grasp the ideal future; it’s just waiting for a sunnier day. Then it’s off to space, which has become a sea of haze, like the universe’s biggest warning light is shining all around.

The story? Adam fights things. Then he gets a vital item. The we see his gently updated costume. Then he goes and investigates and whoops cliffhanger. Nothing to it, and yet even nothing like this can warm one’s eyes, if not dazzle. It’s good to know that care and skill is still going into potentially B-level titles like this, and I’ll keep sticking around.

Black Widow #2 (of 6)

As opposed to Marvel’s typical pencils/inks differentiation in their online solicitations, the book itself here refers to Goran Parlov as providing ’layouts’ and Bill Sienkiewicz as adding ’finishes’. This suggests that the Sink had a larger role in creating the book’s visual look than simply inking; I don’t know about you, but the term ’layouts’ brings images of thumbnail sketches to my mind. I don’t know anything about the reality of the book’s production though, so I will not comment further. I will say that I was correct in predicting that the book’s look has not changed much at all; even the Sink-style handwritten sound effects are retained.

So Natasha and her friend Phil dig deeper into the plot, while agents of the North organization tail them. Shooting occurs after the investigation is through, and Natasha spends two pages in her underwear. Sienkiewicz/Parlov’s cheesecake instincts are much more satisfying than cover boy Greg Land’s (I’m going on Land’s prior work; his cover here is a wholly generic action pose). There’s a nice scene summarizing Natasha’s different costumes and hairstyles throughout her Marvel career. Richard K. Morgan is doing all right with the suspense. That’s all.

*More tomorrow. “Solo” got left on the shelf in exchange for Kevin Huizenga’s “Or Else”. Hope you remembered to peek through “Fred the Clown”, now in attractive smaller size!