No oh no the week is just started.

*Back up to full post-holiday power!


Sword of Damocles #1-2 (of 2) (or: I Can't Believe I'm Still Writing About Goddamned Fire From Heaven)

The Shaolin Cowboy #3 (Vol. 54)

Planetary #23, Doc Frankenstein #3

Solo #5, Seven Soldiers - Shining Knight #3 (of 4), Albion #1 (of 6)

And we‘re still not through with those comics!

*Some nice commentary on heavy photo-ref art here. I largely agree with Augie’s criticisms of Greg Land, the plasticity that can arise from slavish photo-devotion. But (like Augie) I’m not necessarily against ‘stiff’ art itself; I just need something more to be done with it than virtua-fumetti.

Some really nice art of the type can be found in Jae Lee’s work in the recent Ultimate Fantastic Four #19-20; while certainly popular among a certain segment of fandom (and long-ago established as a favorite of this site), Lee doesn’t always get the attention he deserves for his constant tinkering with his own signature style. There’s a lot of subtle variation he establishes between projects that can't always be appreciated through use of the blanket terms often cast over his look (‘operatic’ and ‘shadowy’ and ‘brooding’ are particular favorites). While somewhat stiff and thoroughly ‘posed’ (I have no idea exactly how much photo-ref Lee employs, though I presume it’s not an insignificant amount), Lee always brings a strong sense of staging to the page, and seems genuinely interested in altering his usual techniques for effect.

For example, in these most recent issues of Marvel’s soon-to-be inter-universe crossover bonanza book, Lee basically eliminates lines and creases from the faces of the young protagonists (Ben Grimm excluded, of course), to emphasize their relative tender inexperience, their pliability in comparison to the military men who accompany them at the top of the story. Just compare Reed’s smooth cheeks to the wrinkles and scratches of that fellow with the moustache; there’s nary an ink spot on the Storm siblings too, only eyes and eyebrows and lips and a hint of a nose on each. June Chung’s color handles the rest (Chung has demonstrated a particular aptitude toward working with Lee’s style, the type of look that can easily become awkward or unbalanced with an unsuitable palate). This stands in stark contrast to the usual crinkles and furrows of what we’d call a Jae Lee face, and it’s a handy slice of visual shorthand, something sorely missing from 'heavy realist' art of the likes of the aforementioned Land’s.

And then, in issue #20 especially, there’s the silhouettes. I’ve already heard some theorizing that Lee perhaps ran a bit low on time while working through this issue, and maybe decided to make another small alteration of his style in a gambit for deadline success, but he’s good enough to turn even his own rushing into beauty. To be blunt, sixteen out of twenty-three pages of this issue feature at least half of the character art thereon executed in all-black. It’s like an extended shadow play, with the deep colors and electrical crackles and heavy red dots and blips of the background (a Jae Lee trademark, regardless of colorist) amped up to overwhelming power, all of the characters totally shrouded in ink. But Lee’s visual storytelling is so clear, his use of body language (more of a pantomime than ever, stripped of distractions like facial expression) so confident, and his trust in his colorist so strong, that he really does pull it off, over half an issue without so much as a smile or frown or an open mouth. It’s a testament to the panache that can suffuse such realist styles, proving that attraction and life is not exclusive to looser lines.

Oh, the story? It was ok.

The Surrogates #1 (of 5)

An unfortunate case of not being quite as good as its early reviews signaled, though not nearly bad enough to prompt a really thorough response; this is a pretty nondescript book that doesn’t raise nearly as much reaction as anyone who followed its path to store shelves had expected it to, which is a real shame.

It’s Top Shelf’s first ‘mainstream’ book (always a strange sentiment coming from one of the most eminently accessible of the visible indy publishers), and maybe an initial glance might convince you to give it a shot. It’s slick, in full-color, only $2.95, and features all sorts of text pieces and pin-ups and fake ads and the bonus content like. There’s a really great double-page spread near the beginning where artist Brett Weldele stains a b&w aerial shot of the city down the middle with a thin film of yellowing, black spots flaked all down, like a photograph just beginning to rot from sunlight exposure. It sets a great mood, casting the future in terms of the past, good old dangerous deep-baked urban life, now Central Georgia Metropolis rather than NYC or LA. But the past is what overtakes this book, primarily in terms of stories and tropes and devices of seasons gone.

I think it’s the premise that really punctures the balloon of expectation, more well-worn that it ever looked in solicitation: folks of the future are hopping between assorted bodies! Specifically, they’re using human-like artificial forms called ‘Surrogates’ to engage in fantasy and danger and sexual play, along with more typical work-related tasks. Surrogates have swept the nation, with 92% of the adult population of the US having used one at some point, the unique sensory uplink of these remote shells capable of transmitting the essence of drinking and narcotics and sex and adventure to the user’s brain without anyone ever being in any danger. But now a mysterious electricity-wielding entity is blasting assorted Surrogates to bits while urging their owners (or perhaps the shells themselves) to “Live.” Meanwhile, a religious cult chatters about Idolatry and Vanity, and vague threats are duly inferred.

A familiar world indeed from first-time comics writer Robert Venditti, with bits of assorted Cyberpunk spare parts laying around (ooh, an arm from Ghost in the Shell!), with a not wholly unexpected Church of Humanity dusting atop. And more so, the logic of this oft-seen world doesn’t always make sense. We’re given a back-up text piece, an article from The Journal of Applied Cybernetics, that purports to fill us in on the background of this bold world of remote activity, but the information provided feels more like a series of rationalizations than anything, and not all of them are very convincing. We’re told that criminal justice has been revolutionized because most crimes are against property now, instead of people, and the financial ramifications of property settlements and civil litigation has proven to be a greater deterrent to criminals than imprisonment. Which is nonsense, since (at least from my experience) courts seem to be having enough trouble collecting fines levied against wrongdoers who commit crimes in the present; there’s a gulf between what financial burden is applied and what can be reasonably expected to be collected. There doesn’t appear to be any additional apparatus for collection instituted in this future world, and thusly the idea that criminal justice would be 'revolutionized' by a shift to property-based adjudication is frankly ridiculous. And honestly, given that everyone is aware that nobody is necessarily as they seem, why wouldn’t there be some sort of bump in Surrogate-to-operator crime, especially considering that most operators are just sitting around in their homes all day (scenes of *gasp* the marital unit further decomposing are handily provided within the main story… damn you again, dehumanizing technology)? I just don’t buy it. And that’s not even the least likely ‘revolution’ raised; forget about the supposed racial solutions. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t expect a nation of artificial bodies to provide any widespread solution to the problems of “confronting inequality,” as the text piece puts it, at least not in the case of (to use the book’s own example) a Caucasian politician winning a Congressional race in a decades-established predominantly black-voting area by transparently utilizing a black Surrogate as “an illustration of his willingness to represent the constituency according to its best interests, regardless of racial differences.” Wow! And all it took was a white guy wearing a suit of black skin!

Granted, not all of this future gazing is so cut-and-dry. A brief exploration of ‘gender utilization’ vis-à-vis workplace quotas provides a more cyclical view of problems and solutions. But a lot of this material doesn’t ring true at all, coming off as mere excuses for the use of what are, at the bottom of it all, some mighty old ideas. And in case you’re wondering why I’m spending so much time focusing on a world-building exercise in the back of this issue, rest assured that the main story doesn’t have much to examine on its own, being largely a typical police procedural spiked with the usual mysterious killers and religious intrigue and a suitably driven, haggard detective hero with a dead home life and a cocky wit of a partner. Just add in some sniggers about men using female Surrogates for sex with other men (unbeknownst to their partners, ho ho!) and an admittedly neat visual of our detective hero utilizing his own workplace Surrogate, an exact copy of his natural body (keeping it real, no doubt), and you’ve got yourself some standard-issue science-fiction comics.

The familiarity extends to much of art, by the way, that lovely opening city shot excepted. Weldele most certainly is a fan of Ashley Wood, and you’ll know it for sure by the end of this issue. Once sequence in particular, a b&w fantasy/video shot, manages to replicate the look of a typical Ashley Wood woman right down to the scratchily pursed lips and the pointy bangs; her eyes are consummate Ashley Wood eyes. Weldele is probably less prone to obfuscation than Wood, keeping things permanently at a simple-line simmer, and he’s got a better sense of color and perspective than oft-blah fellow Wood junkie Ben Templesmith (who also contributes a pin-up here, along with visual chameleon Duncan Fegredo and the always-welcome Becky Cloonan, still building on her recent Flight style), but the real kick is missing, the verve that Wood can give the proceedings. The look of this book comes off as just as eagerly prone toward emulation as the story, with returns diminished accordingly. It’s a different brand of familiarity, to a similar effect, to a cumulative sense of “oh, this.”

Now don’t let me convince you that the book is worthless or awful; it’s certainly not. But it’s easy-going and restful in its influences, playing old standards with little improvisation. World-building doubts aside, I suppose it’s not a deficient rendition, but I don’t think such thorough covering warrants the praise this first issue has been reaping thus far. It can improve, though. Always keep that handy.