Wake Up, Wake Up It's The Best of the Month: June 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D #2 by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver

With this series and his recent run on Fantastic Four, Jonathan Hickman is becoming one of Marvel's brightest stars--even if most comics readers don't realize it. His work borrows a page from the Morrison handbook and utilizes science-fiction/fantasy in broad terms to illustrate themes about society at large as well the characters' inner development. It's the artful way he does the former and the fact that he cares about the latter at all that makes his work so interesting.

Hickman's big trick is taking everything up a notch. In Fantastic Four Reed Richards wants to literally solve everything, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is no different, with grandiose dialogue like "Drink deeply and live forever" and "I built all of it." It sounds like this would get old after a while, but it never does. Hickman uses sci-fi as a tool and not as the focus of his stories. You're too busy thinking about how the characters relate to each other to seriously consider the guy with a nuclear reactor in his chest, and it all feels properly commonplace.

Issue #2 suffers from a scatterbrained style--which is probably another Morrison influence--but it's still a strong read due to well, the same thing Hickman does in everything, and also smaller things like an incredibly designed double-page spread featuring Nostradamus and Leonardo's continued presence as number-one-most-awesome-human.

Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain #1 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Peter Snejbjerg

Abyssal Plain begins with a Russian man trapped in a submarine waiting to die and writing to his girlfriend to pass the time. He goes on to talk about, in the panel above, how you never really think you will die, how there's always some hope. It's the kind of thing that makes you feel like you've been punched in the solar plexus. Short and direct and really powerful.

The opening is effective but strange, because it doesn't have anything to do with the plot really, and even the deeper, thematics aren't addressed in the story. What it does do however, is provide a the sense that every character in this story--and the Hellboy universe--whether important or not, has a notable, affecting backstory. The result is that even the smallest detail or piece of information, even the slightest shift in person feels bigger and deeper. So when Abe's counterpart in this B.P.R.D mission starts acting like a jerk, he's not just a foil or simple counterpoint to Abe's good-natured kindness, you get the sense of this guy slowly cultivating his shitbag attitude...and that makes it all the worse.

Tons of wordless panels help this story to fly by--each panel feels like it carries it's own weight--but the tone's set with the opening. Again, not thematically laid-out and not a key piece of plot information, but somehow the feeling of this issue's set from page one. Immediately after the opening, a panel of Abe staring out into a grey sky gives the impression that Abe is having the same sort of thoughts that the sailor had, and when Abe briefly meets up with the sailor's body later, there's a mysterious knowing look between Abe and the corpse and we almost understand it.

The Bulletproof Coffin #1 by David Hine and Shaky Kane

This is one of those comics that feels like such a small portion of the overall picture that it's hard to know exactly what's going on at times. The plot has no clear focus, with things jumping from the main character, Steve, to excessive explanation of the fictional Hine and Kane and their Kirby/Lee like relationship.

The comic is ultimately a celebration/deconstruction of comics' underbelly. The stories behind the stories, like the Lee/Kirby drama, and the early weirdness of comics where from panel to panel really anything could happen. It's like how Paul Karasik included his search for information about the Fletcher Hanks in the back of I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!. His interest started with the weirdness of the comics, but grew into an interest into the man behind them, and pretty soon real-life weirdness and comics weirdness were the same thing. There's definitely a natural inclination to try to understand the psychology behind the people who create art--especially in those who create the weird or subversive--and Bulletproof Coffin feeds that interest while still giving readers the more visceral and simple thrills of a comic book.

It's successful as a meta-comic because it doesn't try too hard to analyze what is going on, and like the comics it emulates, Bulletproof Coffin is interested in entertaining; in being awesome. The book's major diversion is sticking in an entire comic by the fictional creator and it's not all that different from the rest of the comic--just as weird and cool and exciting. Kane too, subtly shifts his style for the comic-in-a-comic but not too much, so it's all one big, weird thing.

Kane draws Steve lounging comfortably holding that comic in his hands, and it's a great panel because it wordlessly captures what it's like to relax and read a comic. The next panel is his hands holding the comic, then it's a full page spread of the comic he's reading, and you proceed to read the whole comic he has in his hands. It's a trippy all-encompassing use of visual narrative and when I saw the cover inside the comic, it threw me for a loop--the idea of starting another comic inside this other comics--and I think that's the feeling Hine and Kane are going for here.

Others: Thor #611, Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3, King City #9

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