So, the nights are drawing in and we've had a full dance card over here what with begging sweets from strangers, burning effigies and firing explosives into the sky. Inbetween all that I read some comics and wrote about them. I did it as and when, so I've just put this together now from scraps and I can't even remember writing most of it. Hopefully you won't remember reading it. Anyway, this...
SATELLITE SAM #4 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Matt Fraction Lettering & Logo by Ken Bruzenak Digital Production by Jed Dougherty Cover Colour by Jesus Arbutov Designed by Drew Gill Edited by Thomas K (still no relation) Satellite Sam created by Howard Victor Chaykin and Matt Fraction Image Comics, $3.50 (2013)
While on a rare physical manifestation to my LCS recently (I’ve been travelling; not for work just to throw the FBI off my trail) I asked what the response to this series was and my LCS owner said, “Weeeeeeeeell, people don’t hate this as much as his other stuff.” Hilariously, he meant Howard Victor Chaykin rather than Matt Fraction. Matt Fraction! The man who does more Tumbling than The Flying Graysons after the shots rang out! Try the veal! Apparently SATELLITE SAM is an on-going not, as I thought, a limited series; explains much this does. Mostly it explains the total lack of focus and failure of any of the narrative threads to engage my attention on anything other than a, “Oooooh, research!”, level. I guess there’s some free-form vamping jazz-scatting shabbeey-doo-waaa going on writing wise. That would explain much but it wouldn’t excuse any of it.
There’s a lot of, sigh, craft here but it’s not paying off for me. Maybe too much craft? Or maybe too much showing off. Showboating should come after you nail the basics, I’m thinking. But I’m not a writer so. Y’know…Basically Fraction’s comics remind me of a puppy that can walk on its back legs or do that creepy shake hands thing but still has a tendency to leave a surprise behind the sofa when no one’s looking. He’s a mixed bag is what I’m saying.
Take the gusset sequence last issue...please! That took up some major page real estate and you could almost hear his neck pop as he inclined his head (modestly, always modestly) for applause. But, c’mon, I need an Editor, stat! That sequence could have been halved (just keep the pages of the people at the table; give your readers some credit!) to double the comic effect (strictly speaking doubling zero is still zero but...). Hmmm, and yet, and yet then the world would have been denied HVC’s gusset panel. Who would deny HVC his gussets? I pity the man who gets between HVC and his gussets. I’m referring there to the last issue because I can’t remember what happened in this issue. Well, I can, but it seems like everything that happened in this issue had already happened at least once in the previous issues. Sure, sure, I hear the cries, this comic may be as exciting as watching cardboard swell in the rain but look at that craft! Craft, yeah, great. Craft’s a foundation you build on it’s not the finished product. Mind you, I’m not a writer so, y’know…Anyhow, with SATELLITE SAM Fraction attempts a faux Chaykin, which is cheeky because that’s Mrs Chaykin’s job. A bit of blue there to extend my demographic appeal. Kids like filth, right? It’s kind of a Howard Victor Chaykin comic; if Howard Victor Chaykin had never left his house. It’s not exactly riveting is what I’m saying there. Still, Fraction obviously butters Chaykin’s parsnips well because the art here is quite, quite lovely. Oh, and The Bruise is slumming it here as plain Ken Bruzenak but he’s still inventive as all get out. I really like his ‘invisible’ balloons and his subtle doubling on the loudspeaker chat from last issue. Or was it this issue? Wait, is every issue of SATELLITE SAM the same but with the pages in a different order? Yes, there’s still a tendency for HVC’s art to include character-float and counter-intuitive levels of detail in crowd scenes but he seems pretty engaged with this stuff. Far more than I am in fact; so SATELLITE SAM just gets GOOD!
PRETTY DEADLY #1 Art & Cover by Emma Rios Script by Kelly Sue deConnick Colours by Jordie Bellaire Letters by Clayton Cowles Edits by Sigrid Ellis Image Comics, $3.50 (2013) Pretty Deadly created by Emma Rios & kelly Sue DeConnick
And it is. Pretty, that is. Probably not deadly though. Unless you roll it up and jam it down your throat, or maybe set fire to it and jump in a vat of gasoline, or maybe…you’d have to try hard is what I’m getting at there. I liked this and I mostly liked it for the visual aspect. Here I’m including the whole art/colours/letters synery thang, because it all worked together real sweetly. Ayup, a really quite visually impressively thing this comic was. I enjoyed many things about the visuals but the following floated to the top of my air filled head: the visual distinction with which Emma Rios defined the characters; the clear differentiation of textures, again by Rios but also Jordie Bellaire; the fact that there was not a little Colin Wilson about it all (altho’ the main debt is to that Paul Pope/Nathan Fox shabby energy thang) ; the hot pink of bullet trails in the desert dark which would be Bellaire alone; the fact that the Rios' whores looked like normal women with bodies subject to gravity; the tricksy but comprehensible page layouts, probably DeConnick and Rios; the variations within the lettering from Clayton Cowles and the attention and care with which the purposefully varied and distinct colour palettes were applied throughout by Bellaire. It was good stuff.
That good in fact that I barely noticed it was called upon to illustrate what were basically standard genre scenes bolted together with the kind of mysterious supernatural vagueness that arises when you go out of your way to avoid clearly explaining anything. It’s the kind of comic which has the title character appear on the last page and I'm guessing it's also the kind that won’t actually have got around to setting the premise in place until the fifth issue. Note to comic book writers: people don’t live forever, so get a fucking move on. The writing’s not bad but it is very (very) concerned that you notice it. That whole kid at the back of the stage trying to attract its parent’s attention thing. Oh, fret not, I certainly noticed the writing but mostly because it teetered precariously on the precipice of preciousness. Luckily the fantastically evocative and atmospheric art managed to prevent the whimsy from becoming too cloying. Had I not warmed to the visuals quite so readily reading this this would have been akin to choking on Turkish Delight. At points it made Caitlin R Kiernan read like Helen Zahavi. It’s just not a style I warm to, is what I’m saying there. That doesn’t make it an invalid style or the writing itself bad in and of itself (that’s important; I should maybe mention that). There’s some back matter but since I’m not really one for all that simultaneously self-abnegating/self mythologising (you have to fail to succeed! You have to fall to fly! You have to die to live! You have to poo to eat! Marvel at the sparkle on the diamond of my life! I mean share in my enjoyment of the sparkle on the diamond of my life! Share! Well, after you’ve paid £3.99, soul sister, soul brother!!) stuff today’s comic scribes peddle we’ll move swiftly on. I give this VERY GOOD! If you get through life pretending it's a movie and you're the star you can probably go up a grade. Hey, whatever gets you through this vale of shite.
BUCK ROGERS#2 Art and Script by Howard Victor Chaykin Colours by Jesus Arbuto Lettering by Kenneth Bruzenak Pin-up (p.22) by Jed Dougherty Buck Rogers created by Philip Francis Nowlan Hermes Press, $3.99 (2013)
In which amends are made for the first issue omission and Ken Bruzenak not only gets credited as letterer but is credited as Kenneth Bruzenak! Ooh-la-la! Kenneth, yet! I do so hope Kenneth lettered with his pinky stuck out and all gussied up in his tux and spats; this being a formal shindig donchew know! Kenneth’s lettering here is still bubbly and fun because no matter how shiny his shoes – he’s still The Bruise! Oh, and Jesus Arbuto steadfastly continues to colour this like he’s got peyote on a drip; which works just great in this madhouse of a future setting. You will recall that the last issue of BUCK ROGERS was pretty good but this issue is actually even better. There’s always humour in a Howard Victor Chaykin comic but he’s rarely embraced the comedic so blatantly as he does here. Successfully too I might add; I know I laughed several times. When Buck displayed his pragmatism by avoiding detection with a brutal act of unkindness I laughed like I had a flip top head.
So there’s verbal sparring, comedic bickering, and some dark, dark laffs too as HVC confronts the racism of this world he has built, and basically tells everyone to knock that shit off. Humour not for humour’s sake but humour with a purpose. Visually it’s still Alimony Age Chaykin, so you know if you like that. And I know you don’t. Luckily I like it enough for all of us! The real standout is his breackneck don’t-sweat-the-details pacing and bracing wit. There’s even a slight “kids, today!” subtext that pays off with a man weeping to music anybody reading this would have to Google. BUCK ROGERS is funny, serious and, hey, got the sun in my eye here, cough, whisper it: moving. That’s not a bad range to cover in a book about a man in jodhpurs with a jet pack. Boy, I don’t know who this young turk Howard Victor Chaykin is but I sure like the cut of his jib! Kenneth too! Hell, Jesus is pretty good on this comic as well. There's a sentence my Sunday School teachers never thought I'd write! This issue takes BUCK ROGERS up to VERY GOOD! But you knew that because you’re already buying it, right! Whoa, that cleared the room.
And remember: we can tear each other apart but God help the fool who tears up - COMICS!!!