Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What If You Could Do ANYTHING?

Brian Wood & Ming Doyle “Mara” (Image, 2013)

Do you remember when Dr. Manhattan meditates on the human condition?  He has realized that he is fundamentally different from humanity, and wonders where to go from there.  That’s the central question of Mara.

At a young age Mara’s parents put her in a development camp, where she has trained to be a volleyball player.  Many years later she’s a star.  It’s the classic case of someone with all the material things, but none of the spiritual.  Her only human relationships are with her brother (deployed overseas in the military) and her teammate and girlfriend.  For all that she has been given; it seems that just as much if not more has been taken away.  

When she suddenly develops superpowers she is ostracized and exploited.  Of course she is going to wonder about how she relates to humanity.  Does she extract vengeance or does she show mercy?

Mara is a story that is perhaps a bit deceptive in its apparent simplicity.  The story and art are clear and straightforward.  But thematically Mara touches on the nature of celebrity, militarism, sports, and ultimately on the value of forgiveness. 

The simplicity allows for a wider range of readers. Mara can be considered as a YA title.  It IS in a sense a coming of age story.   

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I Would Have Gotten Away With It If It Wasn't For You Science Kids!

Eric Stephenson & Nate Bellegarde “Nowhere Men volume 1: Fates Worse Than Death” (Image, 2013)

Remember when science was treated as the cause of some terrifying problem?  In the 1950s that seemed to be a popular trope.  Think of all the giant insects, men turned into flys, etc etc.  All of that was because of unchecked science and a certain amount of hubris.

It seems that we are starting to see a return of that view.  First Manhattan Project and now Nowhere Men; we have scientists whose boldness exceeds their ability to foresee the consequences of their actions.  And consequences that we cannot easily escape.

Nowhere Men gives us a world where seemingly scientists are treated the way that rock stars were back when it meant something to be a rock star.  The obvious comparison is to the Beatles.  There’s the fact that there are four of them.  The suits with skinny ties, the mop tops.  Even the mock fanzine pages included in the text gives the impression that they are teen idols.  Of course there’s the inevitable breakup, although Yoko has not yet revealed herself (in these first six issues).

Most of these issues seem to be setting up a future story.  We learn about the world and about the World Corp.  But any overall storylines are still in the beginning stages.

Nate Bellegarde’s art is clean and modern.  The intertextual inserts (mock fanzine pages, etc) are clever and provide needed background and world building in a manner that is fun for the reader.  The occasional horrific elements are handled well, showing a range that hopefully will be used more in future issues.  

My only complaint about this first volume is that the story is still too embryonic.  I want to know more.  Oh well, perhaps I’ll just reread this volume.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Best Espionage Story I've Read in Years

Greg Rucka “Queen and Country:  The Definitive Edition Vol. 1” (Oni Press, 2007)

Saying that Queen and Country is a standard spy story is missing the mark.  It’s very much like saying that The Wire is just another cop story.  Sure, the elements are all there – message drops, assassinations, cover stories, handlers, etc etc – but the emphasis is not on the action, but rather the bureaucracy and the people who do the actions.  How does a person commit horrible actions and stay sane?  How do you justify what you’ve done?  That’s one of the central issues in Queen and Country.  

There’s a certain amount of irony that in a genre who best known examples (Bond, Bourne) are superheroes by another name, that a comic book story is perhaps the most “real” story I’ve ever read about spies and their world.  There are no super spies here.  There is no inexplicable technology.  There are just people trying to do what they believe is the best thing for their country.

Rucka makes an interesting choice in that the reader usually doesn’t know if the actions of our protagonists are the “right” thing.  At times even the characters themselves don’t know.  We are intentionally not given any broader context to these actions.  Given the temporal setting of these stories (late 1990s – early millennial) the “bad guys” are Middle Eastern/Islamic terrorists.  Their larger goals and concerns are not developed.  Rather, we are presented with isolated actions.  Will terrorists release sarin gas at the World Cup?  This allows for a certain moral clarity to the story, while subtly acknowledging that the issues are far more complex than can be dealt with in a comic book.  

While this title still has legs – you do see it mentioned occasionally on “best of” lists; Queen and Country does not get the love it clearly deserves.   Rucka has developed a rich world surrounding the covert operatives of the UK, and these stories have earned a much wider audience.