December 1, 2014

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Rob M's Single Minded for 11/26: Dawn of Some New Good Comics

Look out, world, it's two Single Minded posts, two weeks running! I think we're back on track.

This week featured several new number one issues, and while I'd be happy to tell you what I think of Matt Fraction and Christian Ward's Ody-C, James will be giving his opinion on that one soon. I'll just say that as a person who has read the source material twice, and read/watched just about every adaptation I'm aware of (save the Joyce), I think it's going to be a very intriguing trip with some art that's really going to turn heads if Ward is able to keep up that pace on a regular book.

 But there were plenty of other comics that came out this past week. Here's a few that stood out to me, leading off with the latest entry in BOOM!'s Planet of the Apes series...

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 1
Written by Michael Moreci
Line Art by Dan McDaid
Color Art by Jason Wordie
Published by BOOM! Studios

Things are looking bad for the remaining humans, as plague ravages the population, survivors fight over what remains from a collapsed society, and oh yeah there's these apes out there, too. On the other side of the genetic tree, forming a new world with new freedom and power may prove more than the new leaders of the apes can handle as this series continues the excellence of its predecessors.

Picking up the pieces from where the first new Planet of the Apes move left off, Moreci has the delicate task of bridging the gaps while not doing anything that would contradict what's happened in the two films. In this opening salvo, he does a great job of setting the stage, making sure we see what the status quo is but also adding potential conflict that will play out across the mini-series. There's a really nice echo between the two groups, Ceasar's and Malcolm's, as they look to save their futures. Unlike them, Moreci (and the reader) know the future, but I really like how there's no fatalism or false sense of security. In a few places, Malcolm's inner monologue has to stand in for Moreci, but otherwise, it's very strong and gives the characters their own distinctive voices.

Dan McDaid's linework fits in very well with the other creators who've worked on Apes books for BOOM!, with a style that's similar to Gabriel Hardman and Marc Laming. That helps keep up the feeling of a shared world for all the various mini-series. McDaid does a nice job making things look like they are in the first stages of decay, being careful not to have too much overgrowth or rust on humanity's remains. There's a nice variety of apes in the crowd scenes, and they balance between being ape-like and being more humanoid, again showing this period of transition.

It's a very solid opening for fans of the series. Ironically, it's the comics that led me to re-discover Planet of the Apes and I'm very happy to see that they're still going strong while the movie franchise also finds success.

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury 1
Original Story by Joe Hill
Adaptation by Jason Ciaramella
Line Art by Charles Paul Wilson III
Color Art by Jeremy Mohler and Charles Paul Wilson III
Published by IDW

In 2012, Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury came out as a prose anthology. Now, in the tradition of Bradbury himself, who was being adapted into comics--without his knowledge, at first--all the way back to the pre-code EC comics of the early 1950s, this tribute gets a comics series, leading off with an adaptation of Joe Hill's "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain."

As a Bradbury fan myself, this one immediately became a must-read (and reminds me I need to get the anthology out from the library), and I wasn't disappointed. Hill definitely understand's Bradbury's plotting and pacing, and if you'd told me this story of a pair of young teens who discover something wondrous only to have it turn tragically wrong was a Bradbury original, I'd likely have believed you. It hits all the right notes while not feeling like it's just a pale imitation, which speak to the quality of Hill's writing. Anyone can write a Bradbury story--and I'm sure as this series goes on, we'll run into that issue--but it takes talent to write one that excels on its own merits.

It's a bit odd that the comics-writing Hill didn't do his own adaptation, but Jason Ciaramella's version works very well. It doesn't do anything strange or innovative--just lets the story play out, establishing our two main characters, their joy of discovery, and the pain of loss that carries over the years. In another context, I'd want more, but for a Bradbury pastiche, that's an appropriate way to structure things--show the story, let the characters drive things, and allow the emotions to flow across the page. I'm assuming most or all of the dialogue is from the original story, so I will also credit Ciarmella with doing a good job of selecting what words to use to give voice to Charles Paul Wilson III's illustrations.

Though most of the early work and closing moments of this story don't stretch Wilson III's talents much, the crucial moment where we learn just what the kids have discovered is handled brilliantly. We see the object as a background prop for two pages, then, after a tight panel, the page expands out to show just what that lump truly is, and it's a magnificent moment of visual storytelling. Once that's revealed, Wilson III gets to show off a bit more, including a fantasy montage that's framed nicely by our pair of protagonists and a climax that uses scale to show just how insignificant we humans really are, when compared to the wonders of the world and a vivid imagination.

As with Dawn, this was a a great lead-off issue, and honestly, set the bar pretty high for the rest of the adaptations to follow. But with Eddie Campbell in the queue, I'm pretty sure this is going to be one of my favorite comics for the next few months.

X-Files Year Zero 5
Written by Karl Kessel
Line Art by Greg Scott and Vic Malhotra
Color Art by Mat Lopes
Published by IDW

Secrets are revealed as this story reaches its zero hour and Mulder and Scully finish putting the puzzle pieces together that link their current case to that of the very first X-Files team in the closing issue of an extremely solid mini-series.

I wrote about this series on my feature on Karl Kesel for Rose City, and everything I said about it then still holds. The links between the two cases pull together nicely and the revelations we get here about Dell's abilities and why Zero/Xero is linked to him make both logical sense and actually fit the clues we've been given across the mini-series. I love the implication--never stated, of why the name has shifted over time, and the fact that things are open-ended enough that Kesel or another writer can revisit either Zero or the original X-Files team, should they choose to do so. (As a matter of fact, Kesel leaves one really juicy hint out there for a new "Year Zero" adventure that I hope gets to see the light of day.)

Perhaps Karl's best work here is in the dialogue, which feels very much in character for Mulder and Scully and gives a nice, fresh voice to Bing and Millie that's both modern and works within the context of the 1940s. And the end line, while certainly not canonical, is a perfect send off for this series. Just amazing work, aided and abetted by Greg Scott (modern era) and Vic Malhotra (1940s). As the series progressed, their work evolved, and by this issue, they've both got a solid handle on their respective characters. Scott continues to use black space effectively, and I thought he finishes here with a more fluid use of Mulder and Scully, while still making them instantly recognizable. Panel constructions have a few nice, subtle things--like the agents leaning slightly in one panel, as though they're looking at Dell, who is in the panel below. Scott's not flashy but he was a very good fit for this material.

Malhotra gets a turn at likenesses, with Hoover entering the mix, as we learn (logically) that he plays a part in everything. Ironically, he's stiffer than usual here, with more talking scenes and less action. But by this issue, the characters, as in Scott's case, are truly his, and he gets to do the closing send-off, structuring the final panels to wrap things up neatly--while leaving us plenty of room for more. If we're lucky, we'll get it.

Dead Letters 6
Written by Christopher Sebela
Line Art by Chris Visions
Color Art by Matt Battaglia
Published by BOOM! Studios

With every revelation and meeting, Sam realizes he's in in even deeper than he thought in this limbo-like world where everyone desperately clings to a semblance of life. But is it time to stop playing the patsy and start taking the lead? That's the big question in this issue of a series that's piqued my interest.

Being honest, from an artistic side, this one is a bit of a hard swallow for me, and I could see why some might not read it due to the visuals. Visions' linework is very loose and sketchy, with characters forming from lines that aren't tightly controlled or connected. In some cases, it can be fairly detailed, but in others, it's not far removed from raw pencils. The length, thickness, and control vary from page and to page and sometimes even within the same panels, with stray marks left in place. Combined with Battaglia's coloring, which is similarly abstract, with shades blending together, and you have a comic that is definitely distinctive, but won't be to everyone's taste.

What keeps me going is Sebela's plot, which posits that God created a place for people to work out their issues, then seemingly left it to "free will" --but since the souls involved are already dead, it changes how they view their positions. Those who were evil in the past tend to return to their criminal ways, while others are just trying to live out their afterlives, hoping to get a call to leave. Sam isn't sure what his purpose is, but he's been used as a tool by warring factions (including God's supposed caretakers) for too long. This is the issue where he gets that nothing's going to change unless he makes it change.

I have no idea where this is going, and that's a good thing. We aren't meant to like Sam, but as in a good noir story, we can appreciate who he is within the context of the world. He's clearly smart, but he, like the reader, is missing information. Watching him try to make an afterlife for himself--and to finally stop dancing to the tune of others--has been very compelling. If you like noir stories, things that take on the ethics of a god-figure, and a really complex plot, this is worth checking out.