Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rant-Reviews--The Overall Message of a Variety of Titles

The Point Is?
A lot of times comics that come out have some sort of underlying message, a point, something that the creators are trying to say. Let's examine some comics that I think are doing that right now, and one where 23 issues I'm still not sure what exactly the main idea is.

Figuring Out The Main Idea
Crossed: Badlands #84
I've been enjoying this story-arc, which since beginning in issue #81 has been telling an interesting story with one big dark joke forming the overall message. I kind of quit reading, "Crossed," comics after the initial story by Garth Ennis a long while ago, but picked up a comic related to the, "Crossed Universe," when Alan Moore did, "Crossed +100," for its first six issues. That said, I never really followed, "Crossed: Badlands," but when I saw a creator I really enjoy, Mike Wolfer, was both writing and illustrating it I hopped on that like nobody's business.

The main idea Wolfer is employing here is presenting us with a bunch of survivors during the initial, "Crossed," outbreak who have positioned themselves safely on a torn-apart bridge but in the process have also become sitting ducks for a group of especially nasty Crossed who have found them. Two sisters came along at the end of the first issue and joined the group and that's where it starts getting pretty interesting. These sisters basically are horror-movie buffs who figure that by using the knowledge they've gained from watching countless movies about zombies outbreaks along with a fiction-book by, "Brooks Maxwell [itself a clever allusion to a real writer]," everyone could be okay. The sisters' statements about what the group should do according to the book however are starting to create some friction among the survivors and I almost wonder if that is possibly part of their plan (who is to say they actually want to share all the remaining supplies with everyone else)?

Wolfer is making a clever comment with this story-arc, as we all have those friends who insist they would be fine if a virus occurred or zombies popped-up because they've watched a lot of, "The Walking Dead," or seen, "28 Days Later." Just because you've viewed a lot of television about zombies or read a couple pop-culture books that by no means can assure your survival, and Wolfer is telling us a really clever and twisted joke by having this group of survivors think that some horror-convention fans are going to possibly keep everyone alive. It's a bit meta--which I always love--and of course contains plenty of the requisite extreme and disturbing imagery that fans of, "Crossed," comics tend to expect. A solid read and one which I am eager to see the conclusion of--after all, maybe everything will work out for the best after all? Nah, this is a "Crossed" comic, so it'll most likely be pretty gruesome.
4 out of 5 stars.

We Stand on Guard #3
A strange sci-fi comic written by none other than Brian K. Vaughn with stellar art by Steve Skroce. This is an odd series, positing a future where the U.S. basically are the bad guys of this story (some people already think of Americans as bad guys, but roll with this) and have invaded Canada. It is interesting to see a story that posits the U.S. as imperialist invader with the twist being it isn't someplace far away things are happening, it is directed right at our neighbor to the North. From new slurs to dehumanize the enemy, to commentary on, "Enhanced Interrogation," also known as torture, it has been a clever comic that seems to be asking, "So it makes you uncomfortable to see the U.S. treat people who, 'Look like us,' this way, but how come you don't flinch when it's other countries?" At least, I think that is what Vaughn is driving at, but it remains to be seen.

Speaking of what I've, "Seen," this comic is just gorgeous. Steve Skroce apparently took a break form comics to work in the film biz and boy am I glad to see him return to drawing when he's so amazingly good at it. He makes something as simple as a person glaring at another with hatred so dramatic it strikes a reader even harder when things get absurdly violent. The clever twist of showing the U.S. as bad guys helps impart a message of why we don't mind when our nation behaves this way to those who are theoretically, "Different," and if maybe, just maybe, our country plays a big role in creating this view of people being an, "Other," when it needs an excuse to invade somewhere--be it far away in the Middle East or a tad North. Still, I wouldn't mind the characters feeling a bit more fleshed-out beyond the, "Cool," Canadian rebels and, "Evil," United States.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Starve #3
The message here: Our future will be a terrible place full of rich mean people and poor hungry people--well, more of that than currently exists. Cooking reality shows will still be popular and take advantage of the fact that rich folk want fancy food. This will result in a famous chef named Gavin Cruikshank being forced to return to a cooking show he began, "Starve," and taking the whole television network down through the show, or something. That last part is still a little unclear how one man being a really good at cooking could destroy a T.V. network even if his ex-wife runs it and hates him (he married her knowing that he was actually gay, but wanted to hide it, and she is mad about being married decades to a man who never loved her, and basically left her with their kid so he could run off and tour the world). Still, the overall idea about how food should be enjoyed by all along with messages about the environment (tasty animals are going extinct even faster due to our actions as humans), and cool little scenes of cooking that feature intriguing dishes result in a great read.

I really like "Starve". I'm not sure it would be nearly as good without a character like Gavin--as I've discussed in a previous review, but thanks to him being so fascinating I quite enjoy the comic. It's weird mixture of cultural commentary and cooking has worked pretty well, and even if I still don't get quite get how cooking is going to fix society, perhaps the message is that a single person can't single-handedly fix everything, he can just fix a little. Hmmmmmm.
4 out of 5 stars.

War Stories #12
Garth Ennis loves to write war stories, and a comic titled, "War Stories," is a great way for him to do so. In this series Ennis can tell dramatic stories of war without having to work-in Nick Fury or The Punisher as when he does Marvel tales. Ever since this series came to Avatar Press with a new #1 Ennis has been following a format of three-issue arcs set in various conflicts but with a definite slant to discussing World War II more than anything else. The message in this series basically has been, "War makes monsters of us all, but some of us clearly are already pretty monstrous," and its' quite true.

Ennis has his usual tendency to give the reader a lot of interesting real-life facts about about various wars, breaks down the complex machinery of guns and tanks, and otherwise always turns in a solid read. Still, sometimes it can start to feel a bit routine how Ennis has these arcs go, and while this was a fine read I haven't been as, "Grabbed," by one of the arcs since the one about the Israeli-Palestine war. The message about how war is bad is a good message though, for sure.
3 out of 5 stars.

Sex #23
My weirdest comic of 2014 continues to both fascinate and confuse as we inch ever-closer to the Fall season of 2015. We've still got writer Joe Casey telling the story of multiple individuals all impacted by the retirement of, "The Iron Saint," who used to protect Saturn City. These folk include the rich Simon Cooke who himself was the hero, his former sidekick, lawyer (and best friend), as well as all the organized crime in the city. We also still have artist Piotr Kowlalski (in the majority of issues) creating artwork that is both at once stylized with a somewhat European flair, but also masterful at portraying such things as how wide and sprawling a city the home of all our protagonists happens to be. 

Oh, and what a strange place Saturn City is. Full of weird characters who serve as analogues for other heroes or whom are unique characters all their own, a strange variety of men and women have been serving to move the plot--whatever plot there is--along. This issue spotlights a variety of individuals and makes it clear we are on a slow but most likely assured path to seeing Saturn City enter terrible times, with the question of if Cooke will actually return to his (still never full-glimpsed) costume after all this time hanging in the air like an uncomfortable query no one wants to ask even though it is obvious (a metaphorical, "Elephant in the room," although in this case the, "Elephant," is a super-hero).

Whatever the case of just where the story actually is going, what will occur, and if eventually the weirdness will start making sense (as it kind of is lately, albeit slowly) I look forward to witnessing it. Whatever Joe Casey has in the form of, "Sex," is bizarre, confusing, and lacks a clear message, but I'll be darned if I don't kind of love it for that reason.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Lessons Learned
I and many others could be wrong about what the main message is of these various comics is(or on the flip-side, someone could insist they know exactly what, "Sex," is about). That said, I think I generally have a mental-grasp of what's happening and look forward to seeing myself proven either right or wrong.

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