No main essay from me this week, but no fear, Comics Should Be Good contributor and one half of the Splash Page duo, Chad Nevett, has dropped by to discuss Ed Brubaker and Warren Pleece's Deadenders, which recently was collected into one complete trade paper back (if you're interested). And, like trailers before the feature, Patrick Smith and I have a few capsule reviews to entice your comic book concerns. Enjoy what you can. Do what you enjoy.
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Alec Berry / perpetrator
Saga #3 | Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples | Image
I feel this highly toted series finally came together this issue. I guess I can now join the rest and sing the praise, although, while enjoyable, I’m not going to crown this thing a savior of comics. It’s good, but I’m also not infected by the BKV bug most other readers suffer from. The internet’s ablaze for this thing. Me, I’ll add what I can. That’s my disclaimer, reader. In case you need one.
Saga #3 takes the world building of the previous two issues and lets it cool off. We get away from the idea plugs to actually figure out the cast and realize that this series’ strength will lie there rather than the flash and flare I was becoming accustomed to – and a flash and flare I wasn’t exactly sucked in by. It’s nice to know Vaughan has the cast in order, although I’m sure at some point the internet will describe this book as being “man, it’s about the people ... not space, or aliens, or whatever ... it’s about people,” and I’ll find myself annoyed by the quick fall back line of approval to paint a picture of its depth.
Saga has a fine cast of characters, though, with a dynamic which seems comfortable and lively, and I’d even go as far as to say there’s an actual heart in the middle of them all. This pairs well with the book’s focus on the baby girl and her eventual life as an adult, adding to the book’s title and suggesting this “saga” is more a saga of the characters than some greater scheme or environment. The addition of the “babysitter” Isabel really brought a lot of this together as her presence and now connection to the child bring the baby more into the program rather than leave her as a set piece.
And Fiona Staples kicked my ass this issue. The page above ... you can hear that wall crack.
Alec Berry / perpetrator
Content #2 | GB Tran | Self-published | 2006
Content acts as an exercise for GB Tran. It’s some sort of practice run for his later work in Vietnamerica, published in 2011. The basic ideas lie within, yet they’re not exactly built with the necessary mechanics. Content is more a cluster of things, beading with a Vietnamese background, family issues and multiple characters strung together through loose ties. The whole comic’s a mixed bag, and I get the feeling the title Content bluntly describes what this thing is. It’s pure content. Whatever it takes to fill this book. That said, I found a few moments worth a read, including a great sequence involving a anamorphic cell phone running around a cell phone inhabited world and sleeping with cell phone prostitute. It’s drawn quite well with GB Tran using a hint of grey tone, resembling some of Ryan Kelly’s work. Ultimately, though, this thing sort of leaves you hungry. It teases you with a few interesting thoughts, yet it never exactly fulfills on any of them. And the story sort of isn’t there, although that could be intentional if you consider my theory on the title. Read it and make up your own mind. You could spend money on something worse.
Patrick Smith / Spandexless Writer
Conan the Barbarian #4 | Brian Wood, James Harren | Dark Horse
As a guy who's a fan of Conan the Barbarian, which I'm sure is a surprise to no one, I've been enjoying the new ongoing very much. I don't think it's been great by any stretch, but it has been very solid, and I think the creative team has offered an interesting take on the character, especially in terms of Becky Cloonan's visuals. With issue four, however, the art duties were passed to James Harren, whose inclusion was notable for his recent work on B.P.R.D.
Now, issue four isn't a great issue of Conan the Barbarian. It's been scientifically proven that a great issue of Conan the Barbarian requires a minimum of thirty seven murders and at least three wenches bedded, but it is a good issue of Conan. At least in terms of character. When this book was originally announced, writer Brian Wood made a point at how this story would feature a younger Conan less sure of himself and, in many ways, untested, and although the previous arc showed a Conan with a youthful arrogance, he was still very much the marauding murder machine that readers were familiar with.
With this arc we're given a scenario where we see Conan deal with an emotion that almost feels alien when it comes from him: fear. This is where the true genius of Harren comes into play because although he can most definitely display action, he is also capable of conveying complex emotions through his characters' facial expressions. In the beginning of the issue, he shows us the wariness Conan feels after a good days work on the sea but also the subtle joys it brings to him. Later when Conan has to deal with abuse, imprisonment and his own dark thoughts, Harren shows us how deep his despair runs and how quickly he will latch onto a small glimmer of hope that will allow him a chance to escape.
- - - - 1000 or so words on Deadenders, youth, nostalgia, and growing up. Only 40 of them are worthwhile.
Deadenders | Ed Brubaker, Warren Pleece | Vertigo
Reading Deadenders for the first time, it’s hard not to see it as the precursor to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal: The Last of the Innocent. The latter is more a thematic sequel to the former; a looking back at the ideas that held Deadenders together from an older perspective, one tinged with nostalgia. Brubaker a decade on from his 2001/2002 Vertigo series, writing from a different place, but examining very much the same subject matter, right down to the Archie parallels/allusions/direct references.
The larger plot concerns of Deadenders never seem to matter, even when they drive the book. The sci-fi future, the mod trappings, the visions the lead has, they all come off like things that were necessary to make the series go, but not essential to what Brubaker was writing about, if that makes any sense. It’s very hard to get a comic just about poor teenagers and their day-to-day troubles published if that’s all it’s about. Throw in a dystopian futuristic hook, some weird visions, and some scooters that look cool when drawn by Warren Pleece, and, well, you get something that gets published (though, only for 16 issues and a short story).
As the series goes on, the plot drives things more and more, but feels less and less like it actually matters. The specific cause of the ‘Cataclysm’ that left the world shattered under a cloudy haze isn’t as important as it was caused by an adult. Beezer, the aforementioned lead and vision-haver, and Anna, another vision-haver, were born at the moment of the Cataclysm and all that matters is that the adults gave them a broken, shitty world and they have to make it right again. It’s a fairly simple metaphor for being young and the problems of becoming old enough to learn that everyone who came before you was stupid and short-sighted and fucked up and ruined everything forever. The future is not fun and full of wonder: it’s a world of broken promises and endless disappointment.
What’s left are the intricacies of personal relationships, which is where Brubaker seems to find of the meat of the series. The allusions to Archie, near the end of the series and at the tail of issue four, highlight these elements of the series. Beezer is Archie; his on-and-off girlfriend at the beginning of the series, Sophie, is Veronica; his girlfriend at the end of the series, Anna, is Betty; his best friend, Jasper, is Jughead (though another character fills that role after Jasper dies); his friend/rival, Hal, is Reggie. It’s all basic stuff and that’s the reason why Archie has continued so long. The types are easy to fill, easy to relate to, and offer instant ‘drama.’ It’s what being stupid teenagers is all about it seems sometimes.
A lot of the series is devoted to the small, ‘stupid’ problems of the gang. Entire issues are character pieces, like the one where Danica, Jasper’s girlfriend at the beginning of the series, hooks up with Beezer as they both try to move past the loss of Jasper and other stuff going on. It’s a brief interlude that has a cover featuring Danica walking towards the reader, tear running down her cheek, thinking about her secret affair in a pretty good romance comic rip-off. Time and time again, Brubaker backs away from the ongoing plot concerns of the title to spend time with these characters and their problems, because that’s what the series is really about.
It isn’t exactly nostalgia – at least, not like the nostalgia of The Last of the Innocent – because it isn’t looking back. It’s more in the moment. There are times when nostalgia plays a factor. In the second story arc, where we’re told the events through a novella written by Sophie at some point in the future. We only learn this at the end of the arc and, that the narration we see focuses on her future husband, it produces an interesting effect. He reads it and see what his wife thought of him back then, while we aren’t necessarily certain if everything we’ve been told is accurate. It plays around with the conventions of a third-person narrator in comics and retroactively introduces the possibility of an unreliable narrator. And, we have to consider what effect nostalgia on Sophie’s part plays. Does she combat it by portraying her husband a little stranger than he was? Is she more sympathetic to Beezer because he was her first love?
The end of the series touches upon the concept of nostalgia and growing up to an even greater degree. When Beezer and Anna undo the effects of the Cataclysm, they basically disappear. The world goes on without them, gradually getting better. But, we see the characters in something that more resembles the ‘real world’ where the Cataclysm never happened. Beezer is Noah and Anna is Rachel. They grew up together and are ‘that couple’ that seems destined to be together. But, there’s a wedge between them when Noah has what seems to be a seizure and ‘remembers’ his life as Beezer. The last eight pages of the series are about the two of them, Noah struggling to hold onto a ‘dream’ that feels real, Rachel struggling with something she doesn’t quite understand and is causing Noah pain. At first, she’s jealous and, then, she’s angry because of the effect is has on Noah.
It’s the fight between who you were and who you become. While neither was really Beezer or Anna, Noah and Rachel are the ‘adult’ versions of those people. When you grow up, you become someone different. You move on, you move away, you get new interests, you meet new people, you get crappy jobs... Some people struggle with that fact and cling to who they were and it tortures them. They try to be that person they were and it causes pain and sadness. Some people accept it and move on, not really noticing the change and feel no pain or regret. The final pages of the series offer a compromise: recognizing the changes and accept them, able to look back and remember who you were and not be pained, not be tortured. The two, in their forties, come across a stash of singles and a record player, and Noah plays them and it’s not a negative experience anymore. It’s something positive and affirming. Growing up and becoming someone else isn’t so bad after all, maybe?
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