“A weirdness creeping around the edges of things” – Jeff Lemire unearths family ghosts in Royal City-Next of Kin

comic, review, Uncategorized

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“and then nothing turned itself inside out”

Yo La Tengo

Ever since learning about, and subsequently becoming hooked on Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth I quickly and almost slavishly devoured everything he’d  put out, reading back from his indie roots in Lost Dogs to his more recent work with the more established stable of super hero types for the big two. Indeed some of my favourite stories of his feature the “long underwear” lot, making me deeply invested in characters I had no previous interest in such as Old Man Logan, or following up already acclaimed runs of both Hawkeye and Moon Knight to pull and stretch them, twisting their own recently established styles and motifs around and back in on themselves to surprising effect. Between this and his Image work like Plutonia and Descender there really hasn’t been a shortage of stories to enjoy from the prolific writer. Still, there’s something truly magical when Lemire swaps powers for the powerless, spandex for flannel with his more personal projects. Taking over both art and writing duties, this years Royal City is the book I’ve really been waiting for.

Struggling to write his make or break third novel Patrick Pike is unexpectedly and reluctantly drawn back to the squat, broken down city of his youth after his father suffers a stroke that leaves him in a coma. The once thriving city and the families relationships have both seen better days as Patrick quickly become entwined once again in the lives of his mother and his two elder siblings. Noticeably more grounded than a lot of his other recent work, a quick description of Royal City makes it’s initial premise sound very simple, which at first, it is. However, the real draw here is how intricately and complex and raw he writes each member of the Pike family.

In lesser hands it’s easy to see how they could be reduced to simplistic one note characters. The Bitter arguing couple, the burnout, the beleaguered father and passive aggressive mother, Royal City takes it’s time to explore these characters where other books would skim the surface. Lemire digs deeper here and mines the darkest and most destructive elements of the family, yet still manages to round them out and humanise them into a deeply flawed yet relateable cast. Slowly peeling back the years of familial resentment in it’s first five issues, it presents everyone as a lot more complex then they at first seem, showing the choices and circumstances that shaped each of them, including the devastating event at the centre of the book that haunts the family. Lemire even uses the familiarity some might be feeling with both the set up and his work to great effect here, the subtle supernatural element at work throughout is used to show each character failing to deal with the loss that it leaves the reader wondering if there really is “something different about this place” or simply the effects of psychological trauma on the family. For those waiting for a high concept twist, Lemire teasingly dangles one in front of the reader early on and instead turns a reference to his one of his previous works into a poignant and succinct summation of the relationship between Christopher and his wife Greta.

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Expecting artwork more akin to Sweet Tooth, I found myself reading it back at the same time and was instantly struck by how even more stripped back and stylistic the artwork of Royal City is. This book is probably the most “Lemire” of his work and we see him as an artist stripping everything back to it’s simplistic forms and telling a deep and moving story in the most economical way possible. There’s a deserted abandoned feel to the eponymous city and the gaunt, troubled faces of it’s inhabitants. His lines are loose and expressionistic, complimented with a muted pallet and washed out watercolours. Sparsely beautiful and haunting in it’s own unrefined way.

While I loved reading Royal City monthly and enjoyed the wait between issues and the time to re-read and speculate about it’s developments, Lemire is telling a very slow burn human story and some issues don’t have a ‘story shaped’ conclusion or cliffhanger in the typical way comics readers might be looking for. Despite all the back material, essays, playlists and the like, it might make for a more satisfying experience collected as a trade for the majority of readers. Royal City succeeds in giving readers something wholly fresh and compelling out of instantly recognisable characters and settings by pausing to look at their motivations. Lemire’s choice of a slower pace to allow them to time and space to play out in detail over the course of it’s first arc, becoming more complex and nuanced every issue. The paired down artwork and minimalist approach to dialogue makes the book initially feel a lot simpler then it turns out to be, quietly obscuring all the hard work being performed on every page and every panel right in plain view. Five issues in and Royal City is a title that Conveys perfectly the feeling of lost time and potential through both the Pike family and the ailing city, that permeates through it’s engrossing first story arc.

Royal City Next of Kin is released September 27, 2017

Royal City Issue One playlist

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Wednesday Adventures- 26th April

review

 

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“The superhero is the kind of last, small, broken ideal of what we might all become one day if we just get it together and stop being assholes”- Grant Morrison

Doom Patrol 6- DC Comics

Fantabulous first arc complete! DC’s most obtuse and outlandish band of superhero misfits continues to be the perfect place for Way’s seemingly endless stream of delirious ideas and deranged pop punk poetry dialogue. As ambulance driver Casey brink comes to terms with her origin, the team finally reunites against the Vectra to defend Danny Le Street from becoming intergalactic street food

A dadist infused, psychedelic romp that serves as both a love letter to the Doom Patrol’s legacy and the enduring power of super heroes and comics, Way and Derrington have found the perfect midway point between the outlandish and perplexing antics the roster of strange characters have to offer and the good bright fistpumpimg super-heroics in the strongest and strangest title from the Young Animals imprint so far.

 

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Infamous Iron Man 7- Marvel Comics

Despite my criticism of the first few slow paced issues, Bendis and Maleev’s re-introduction of Victor Von Doom and his newly aligned moral compass is the one title I quietly look forward to each month with it’s perfect inversion of superhero characters, motivations and interactions as it skewers the rivalry against Marvels first family, eventually pitting the new found hero against The Maker.

Seeking redemption for a life of tyranny and the combined might of the villain community and SHEILD pursuing him, Doom finds the hardest thing to escape are his own reputation and actions. The idea of an inverted Victor was around in Axis and here Bendis writes that concept in widescreen, big and bold in it’s action set pieces whilst at the same time small and intimate when exploring it’s troubled protagonist.  The slow pace that bothered me at first actually gives the story breathing room letting Bendis pull off a more poignant and complex examination of the once power mad Doom. For all it’s cinematic superhero action, at it’s core the Infamous Iron Man is revealing itself to be a fascinating study of a man at war, with himself

‘For the usual fee–plus expenses’- Bendis and Gaydos are back with new Jessica Jones series

comic, Comic spotlight, review, Uncategorized

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“Everybody feels beleaguered at some point, That’s the universal truth of punk, that you are going to feel, in whatever role you’re living, that everybody is against you”

– John Darnielle

Say what you like, Jessica Jones is a character who is at her most compelling when beleaguered, set upon and troubled. Alias reveled in seeing her overcome great odds and her own actions and although her appearances since her own title had her finding some semblance of peace and happiness it’s clear that on returning and picking up her story after over a decade away, Bendis isn’t interested in a happy Jessica either. With original artist Gaydos back on board as well we find our reluctant heroine, with a few tweaks here and there, pretty much back where they left her all those years. This issue finds her fresh out of prison and stubbornly dodging questions about the mysteries mounting up in her own life, her marriage, her incarceration and most importantly what, if anything has happened to her daughter, Danielle.

Barely skipping a beat, Bendis drops us back into her world weary frame of mind as if we were picking up the story from last month, never mind over ten years ago. His characters voices are all distinct and sharp, never more so than when they are giving a knowing wink to the changes in the Marvel landscape since Alias wrapped up. Although it’s comforting to once again to hear Jones’ jaded inner monologue, this time we can most definitely see where it might trip her up. Over the years she’s tussled with superheroes and seen incredible things, but when her new client mentions her husband’s unusual behaviour and outlandish claims of having lived another life, started “eight months ago”, dismissing the obvious answer and leaving us on the edge of our seats as Bendis teases us with a mystery of a character who is either on the con, or an unwitting casualty caught up on the wrong end of Hickman’s recent cosmic reshuffling. Reminded in part of the classic Astro Cities storyline, “The Nearness Of You”, with average citizens caught up in universe altering events they can scarcely comprehend, let alone react against, it sets up one of the books many, many mysteries.

Gaydos’ art for the first issue is as despondent and melancholy as it ever was. His tired and worn out characters set against his un-superheroic, washed out New York City managing to feel both fresh and familiar, emphasising just how unusual his style and tone is to comics even on the second time around. It’s thrilling to see the recently formed Champions striding through New York in Gaydos’ gorgeously grimey and downbeat style as Jessica sits on, suitably nonchalant at the public posturing and heroic antics around her.

“Is she a big deal or not?” asks a prison guard early on in the book, with some firmly tongue in cheek Bendis dialogue, daring the reader to answer. While the more cynical might point out his earlier remarks on having written everything he wanted with Jessica, or the success of this years Netflix show for his  sudden return to the world of Alias Investigations. Let’s face it comics are based on “never say never” and this issue seems almost genuinely reluctant to trade on the success of the TV show or even show off about getting the band back together, so to speak, lest the book stray too far from it’s scrappy underdog roots and with a subtle first issue might have just pulled it off. While some might be put off by Bendis’ deliberately slow pacing or knocking Jessica down once more for the sake of restoring her status quo somewhat,  the first issue sets up some intriguing conflicts and mysteries, all with the chance of her coming back stronger than ever.

 

Ragnarock the Vote in Marvel’s Vote Loki

comic, review

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“America. If I was your president I’d have the guts to lie right to your face..and you’d love it!”

In between the twitter fights, promises of wall building and genuinely terrifying calls for the other nominee to be hacked, or shot, whichever, that the actual US Election is still a month away. One. Whole. Month. Easy to see then why we now have writer Christopher Hastings and artist Langdon Foss boldly striding into the oddly familiar political landscape of the Marvel Universe with the satirical, Vote Loki. Like Howard the Duck in ’76, the trickster god throws his horned helmet into the ring ,announcing his intentions to run for leader of the free world.

With the real run up to the elections fresh in everyone’s mind you might think setting a showy, media friendly , rabble rousing Loki right in the centre of things was a bit on the nose, then you’d be right. Broad swipes at the current political climate, general mistrust of politicians and the distracting circus surrounding it all run through the entire series. However for a while this works in it’s favour drawing the obvious parallels between the two and the ridiculousness of both and for a while manages to explore new elements of what at first seems like a simple one joke satire. Part of this is that despite his good looks and sharp tongue, Hastings and Foss have made the former agent of Asgard into a secondary player in his own book. Told from Nisa’s point of view it definitely helps the story seeing it through her eyes in much the same way that Marvels gave us a glimpse of the dawn of the greatest heroes from a street level. Ultimately though it feels as if Nisa isn’t given that much development and even her speech in the rushed final issue can’t help shake the feeling that Nisa didn’t get a lot of agency and like the main story, hers just doesn’t really go anywhere interesting.

Even having a few other Marvel titles to his name it was still surprising to see Langdon Foss, whose art was part of what made his collaboration on Ales Kot’s The Surface so new and exciting. Even with the vastly different styles across their line, Vote Loki still feels like an outlier  with it’s very strong indie-creator owned feel. Foss has a unique and style and texture to his work both in terms of characters and settings that feels perfectly suited thematically for a topical, street level title like this. As with “The Surface” and it’s highly detailed and precisely inked surreal landscapes, his work is elevated when drawing the fantastical. Here it’s when the Asgardian’s showboating leads to him using his powers, floating in heroically in issue one surrounded by glowing Nordic knot work. Even when delivering a speech from his podium, Foss’ Loki has a huge and attention grabbing presence. However like the series itself it starts to get very repetitive with the same few locations and the art definitely slips towards the end of the series, with issue four looking noticeably rushed and a little lacklustre.

Vote Loki was a title I really wanted to like, especially considering the team involved, but despite a strong start in the first two issues it really burns through that initial goodwill when the third issue spins it’s wheels telling a story it had already pulled off so well in the previous issue. Once again Nisa brings evidence against Loki, which he spins through the media machine to his own advantage. Given it’s oddly rushed finale that jumps closer and closer to the election every few pages, it’s a shame it squandered the chance to let the story breathe a little or maybe a few more issues to properly flesh out it’s ideas. A fun premise that is let down by a boring repetitive plot, uneven artwork that like Loki’s campaign never really delivers on it’s initial excitement.

Vote Loki is available Wednesday 5th October and collects Vote Loki 1-4 and material from Journey Into Mystery 85 and Avengers 300 (1963)

“Our World” Touching and heartfelt story from Zdarsky and Fish

anthro, anthropomorphic, review, Uncategorized

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last issues surprising finale saw the unexpected arrival gender swapped counterparts of both Howard and his one-time cell mate Rocket Raccoon, this along with the success of other gender swapping titles such as the hugely popular Spider-Gwen made had me expecting writer Chip Zdarsky to take a few well intentioned and light hearted jabs at this popular but not unwelcome recent trend in Marvel comics. Instead he continues to constantly surprise, this month crafting the most heartfelt, touching and utterly captivating issue of his Howard the Duck run so far. Instead of the titular fowl, Zdarksy instead centres the action on his new creations Shocket and Linda and delves into the pair’s back story.

This being a Howard-less issue is perfectly conveyed by regular collaboratorJoe Quinones beautiful cover, and with the artist on a break this month art duties fall to Veronica Fish who will also be lending her considerable talents for two issues of Robbie Thompson’s Silk in February. Coming in at a point in the story with new characters and a flashback in makes perfect sense and feels like a natural move to include a guest artist and her cartoony style is a lovely fit for both the characters and the story. Bold and expressive she draws an achingly cute Shocket and Linda in all their short, adorable glory and small moments like Shocket reassuring her sister, muzzle full of corn on the cob make for some amazingly cute and emotional moments. Just when the pages start to seem too regimented and strict in their panel layout, some subtle tricks and touches such as skipping twenty-five years over three panels and literally breaking the borders of the panels shake things up. Although next month marks the return of Quinones, I hope it doesn’t mean the last we will see of Fish on Marvel titles in the future.HOWARD2015B002-int3-3-d8bf5HOWARD2015B002-int3-4-05089Steeped in Marvel lore and featuring clones and time travel this is pure comics. Inventive, silly and funny but with a real heart and emotional pull, in equal parts from Zdarksy’s writing and his new created characters. Introduced last issues for a brief single page shock ending, Linda and Shocket are a big reason that this book is so wonderful. The pair’s entire back story is told in this single issue and yet it never seems rushed or cluttered, despite the number of things thrown into the mix. Taking time to define them as unique characters in their own right he develops the sister’s personalities and fleshes them out beyond their seemingly simple gender bent origins, emphasizing both the similarities and differences to their male counterparts. A lot of the issues sweetest moments are to be found in the girl’s unusual but loving family unit with initially reluctant father Dee, who quickly falls for the strange duo. I found myself completely invested over the course of a handful of pages and was left looking forward to seeing their interactions with Howard and Tara next issue. As a writer Zdarsky has become more ambitious in his storytelling and writing. Later in the story, on meeting a younger, angrier Silver Surfer Dee calms the Herald with an impassioned and honest speech about his future, some of the best he has ever written not to mention the issues heart-breaking conclusion.

Between them Fish and Zdarksy have put together an amazing and sweetly touching issue filled with perfect character moments. Howard the Duck continues to be a series I am completely in love with. Both funny and smart, Howard and companies adventures continue to consistently strike the perfect balance between humour and heart.

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Also posted on Graphic Policy