18th Jun2013

Panel Discussion #010 with Jack and Mark

by Mark Allen

JandM-Comics

12th June 2013

Hey there, kids/adults/other! Today’s something of a bumper issue as Jack and I appear to actually have bought more than one comic each this week, so be prepared for us to go on a bit. And by “us” I of course mean “me”.

It also marks the tenth installment of Panel Discussion. We made it to double figures – huzzah! I’m just as surprised as you are; I thought Jack’d be dead by now. Speaking of…

Jack

Batman #21 Zero Year, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, DC Comics

When I heard about Snyder’s intentions to return once more to Batman’s roots, I was both excited and dubious. As I’ve said before, Snyder has grafted hard on Batman to earn my goodwill, so I was intrigued as to what he’d do. On the other hand, Frank Miller’s Year One is regarded by many as one of the best comics of all time, let alone one of the best Batman stories, so there’s a lot to live up to. In addition to that, Batman Begins still feels relatively recent, begging the question whether we really need to see the Dark Knight’s early days yet again. If nothing else though, Snyder has earned the right to have a go and I for one was quietly optimistic for another successful arc.

The four page prologue begins six years prior to current continuity with the main body of the story set a further five months before that. We see a near post-apocalyptic looking Gotham and a similarly gnarly looking Batman busting heads before zipping further back in time further, with a disguised if not costumed Bruce Wayne tangling with the Red Hood Gang, last seen in Batman #0. Later we learn Bruce hasn’t revealed his return to Gotham publicly, Alfred is as concerned for his charge’s safety and sanity as ever and we’re introduced to Philip Kane, Bruce’s dodgy uncle. The main villain for the arc is revealed and there’s some interesting stuff with Bruce’s childhood explored too.

I enjoyed the book perhaps a little more than I expected to. Crucially, it does feel fairly fresh and not in any way deferential to previous work, which is pleasing. It felt very much like a really good starter that sets you up good and proper for the main course. Best of all, it feels like it won’t be too long a wait to really get stuck into the action. The backup story was quite neat – in the main story, someone asks where the hell Bruce learnt to drive, which provides the title for the story (Rio de Janeiro, as it happens). I understand this will be the format for the Zero Year series to come – globetrotting around the planet, seeing Bruce acquire his unique skill set on his travels. It’s simple but effective stuff and adds some nice shading to the character.

The Dream Merchant #2, Nathan Edmondson, Konstantin Novosadov, Image Comics

Marky Mark was deeply disappointed by this book last month, whereas I was rather charmed and intrigued by it, proving that great minds don’t always think alike. This second book catches up with our young heroes as they learn more about the nature of reality from the titular Merchant, as well as the motivations of their pursuers and how to avoid them where they are most vulnerable – in their dreams.

Okay, so it’s all a bit new-agey mumbo jumbo and this issue was particularly exposition heavy, but the presentation is really lovely and the book has real heart. I like the spiel about the collective unconscious and the nature of dreams and whilst it’s perhaps not necessarily the most original framework in the world, it works very well as something to hang these characters and the plot from.

It feels like a very personal project, due to the emotional honesty of the storytelling. Perhaps not everyone will take as much from the book as others, but personally, I’m quite glad to have picked this up and am looking forward to seeing how the next four books play out.

The Manhattan Projects #12, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Image Comics

I won’t rabbit on for too long on this one as I’ve made my feelings about The Manhattan Projects pretty clear in previous columns. Suffice to say, the series continues to go from strength to strength and this issue is one of the most exciting so far.

We learn about the dual nature of the not exactly Italian Enrico Fermi and get an interesting revisit to an earlier episode, changing things we thought we knew. It’s by turns funny, action packed and tinged with tragedy. This works reasonably well as a standalone story too so please take the opportunity to jump aboard if you haven’t already.

Mark’s Take: I agree with pretty much everything Jack said about this issue. I will add that I especially enjoyed the flashbacks to earlier sequences shown in a different light, with hitherto unknown conversations and events colouring proceedings and altering our perception of the book’s past. I love that shit.

It was also fun to see Feynman (who hasn’t loomed particularly large in the series since the first arc) return just as narcissistic and detached as ever, even to the point of using his great love – the mirror – as the undoing of Fermi’s nefarious plans and Einstein, cruel and batshit crazy as ever, wielding a weapon that not many would normally associate with the eccentric genius.

Here’s a hint: it’s not his tongue.

Mark

Star Wars #6, Brian Wood, Carlos D’Anda, Dark Horse Comics

The first arc of Wood and D’Anda’s post-New Hope saga ends with a very welcome (and very literal) bang as Luke comes to the aid of Leia and her scout squad who’re in a tight spot after tussling with a couple of Star Destroyers and making an emergency hyperspeed jump only to have a TIE bomber follow them and knock seven bells out of Leia’s X-Wing. The issue focuses entirely on the group’s attempt to survive and fend off the incoming attack – with the exception of a very brief check-in with the other cast members on the last pages – which is a nice change of pace for the book. Not that I was displeased with jumping from deep space to Vader’s power struggles on the Death Star or Han and Chewie’s escapades under Coruscant, but it’s good to know that Brian Wood feels confident enough with the stories he’s telling that he can leave a couple on the backburner and focus on what’s really important right now without feeling the need to remind us that the wider cast hasn’t been forgotten about.

The minutiae of the problem-solving is a really satisfying aspect of the issue, as Luke cobbles together an improvised bomb from proton torpedoes and bits of Leia’s craft as they talk and she struggles to maintain consciousness. One of the triumphs of Star Wars is that we know more or less how things are going to turn out – hell, we’ve got the movies to prove it – but we still worry that the characters won’t get out of trouble unscathed, and the shot of Leia recovering in a bacta tank after the battle (which is pretty astonishing, by the way) makes us feel like the stakes are still right up there.

Six-Gun Gorilla #1 (of 6), Simon Spurrier, Jeff Stokely, Boom! Studios

Anyone who’s read a few installments of this column knows I’m a fan of Si Spurrier’s left-field work in X-Men: Legacy so when I found out he was launching a new series – one starring a gun-toting ape, no less – I was more than a little excited.  The semi-ironic “creator promo” video he put out set the tone for the book…

…and the opening pages go wild with it. Loosely based on a forgotten funnybook character from the wilds of the early twentieth century, Six-Gun Gorilla wears its “creators unknown” badge on its sleeve (which is a pretty daft place to put a badge in a metaphor as mixed as this) and even incorporates it into the story of the miniseries, albeit in tantalisingly oblique fashion – for the moment, at least.

We don’t see a great deal of the titular primate until the end of the first episode, which serves largely to introduce us to an insane world of  reality TV transmitted through the eyeballs of suicidal soldiers looking to die in intergalactic battle so their family can get a hefty payout. The violence is dark but very comic, with no fewer than two unlucky sorts buying the farm mid-sentence.

Spurrier’s ear for compelling, idiosyncratic dialogue and comic timing really shine here, and as his tortured ex-librarian point-of-view character makes his way through the space western wasteland to deliver a message we’re treated to all sorts of wonderfully presented nonsense courtesy of artist Jeff Stokely, a name I wasn’t familiar with before picking up Six-Gun. His sketchy, angular, yet confident lines suit the tone of the book perfectly, which is by turns silly, foreboding, brutal and chock full of mystery.

It’s safe to say I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of this series, and highly recommend you do too if you’re a fan of animals doing and saying things they’ve no God-given right to like I am. We haven’t seen too much of the eponymous Gorilla yet, but if this opening salvo is anything to go by it’ll be well worth the wait.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #22Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, Dark Horse Comics

Buffy Season 9 hurtles toward its dual conclusions in Angel & Faith and this book, through “trundles” might be a better verb as not a great deal of movement happens in this issue, with the titular slayer & co. facing off against the remnant demons who are protecting The Deeper Well they need to restart magic and save Buff’s sister Dawn from fading away from history, Marty McFly style.

…And just that sentence alone makes me realise just how inaccessible this series is to those who didn’t read Season 8 and watch the TV show. The former I can forgive, but the latter? For shame. Still, the book is mired a little too much in its own history and I do wish that fresh story elements would be introduced (or at least old ones dealt with a little more elegantly like in Buffy’s sister book), but it’s a smidge too late for that right now.

I’ve never been a fan of Andrew Chambliss’s writing – bland, over-expositional dialogue that approximates but never fully captures the show’s voice and takes me right out of the story – and it’s an understatement to say that series artist Georges Jeanty has been inconsistent to say the least, his occasionally pre-teen-looking adults taking on a surreal bobble-headed aspect over the last few issues. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if there was something interesting going on in the panels like a compelling story, but unfortunately Chambliss keeps us in overlong fight scenes until we absolutely have to move on and arbitrarily takes us out of it.

There’s little of the invention of wit that fans of the series have come to expect – especially now that the core cast of Buffy, Willow and Xander have been reunited after a long hiatus – and it’s worrying that the most emotionally affecting scenes are those involving Spike and Dawn. Those scenes (taking place in and outside the bathroom Dawn’s locked herself in) actually work well in “grounding” us, something that this season promised us but sort of forgot to deliver in any meaningful way until now, which makes it a shame that it’s cut so short in favour of more bland action and cameos from characters who don’t mean a whole lot to the story at large.

As I remarked to a friend, it feels like Season 9 is a twisted version of Season 8: Where the split in that season between good issues and bad was about 50/50, this one’s split is more clearly between Buffy and Angel & Faith. Take a guess at which one I like better.

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