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Deception-land: The Manhattan Projects

Last week we explored the major themes in Jonathan Hickman’s East of West. This week we continue with another Hickman series, The Manhattan Projects, and this time the main theme is deception. Hickman does also include his usual themes of hubris, love, and family relationships (particularly the paternal), but deception is the engine that drives this story.

The Manhattan Projects Vol 1 - General Leslie Groves' Office
The Manhattan Projects Vol 1 – General Leslie Groves’ Office

Last week I made the superficial comparison between East of West and The Manhattan Projects in that they both deal with alternate histories. The main difference at this level is that the former diverges after the Civil War while the latter diverges during World War II. But that’s where the similarities end. East of West is self-serious and the pencils and colors reflect that seriousness. The Manhattan Projects is, in a way, dark slapstick and the caricature pencils that mirror some of the Underground Comix looks of the 70s and 80s along with a light palette reflects the comedy. Nick Pitarra, on pencil and ink duties, does a wonderful job setting the tone with all the little details in his work. Last week, I compared East of West to Kill BillThe Manhattan Projects is like Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. In fact, the comparison is spot on (including an ex-Nazi with a mechanical arm) – if you liked the tone of Dr Strangelove you’ll enjoy The Manhattan Projects. (And in issue #20 there’s a reference to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) In the first scene General Leslie Grove’s office is littered with weapons everywhere. His desk even has bullet holes and he wears a grenade on his chest Continue reading

East of West Feature

Defying Categorization: Jonathan Hickman’s East of West

Most writers have themes they return to time and again, each time looking at a different way. This also is true of many of the most lauded comic book writers. Alan Moore is fond of using public domain characters and exploring politics and the deconstruction and reconstruction of super hero tropes. When working with established characters, Grant Morrison can’t seem to get enough joy out of mining a character’s past continuity to find new ways of making what is often a discarded, silly part of the Golden or Silver Age canon bring new light and understanding to a character. Morrison also likes to explore the metaphysical, leading to dense comic writing that can be hard to get through, but rewarding if you get all the references and points he’s making. He also likes to look at the future consequences of today’s actions, most famously during his runs on New X-Men and Batman. Mark Waid has become the master of exploring the consequences of lies and the truths we withhold from each other. His heroes have secrets even from each other and that can lead to dire consequences. Finally, we have Jonathan Hickman who seems to have two primary themes that run through his work. The first is about the role of fathers and the effects of having/not having a father and having/not having a family. He has explored this in more than one comic, but it is the central theme of his excellent run on Fantastic Four and FF. I would love to see another writer run with the fact that Hickman has Valeria choose Dr Doom as her father figure. Hickman also enjoys exploring how a cabal of very intelligent people can radically change the world.  This was a minor theme during his run on Fantastic Four, but it is a central theme in S.H.I.E.L.D., The New Avengers, The Manhattan Projects and East of West.

The Manhattan Projects, which we’ve covered before in the old challenge format of this site (and a commentary will appear next week), is a world in which the development of the atomic bomb was the least important and least radical thing being done by the group of scientists in the south west of the United States. Things continue to spiral into a radically different version of history as the scientists discover space travel, teleportation, and AI.

East of West Vol 1 - Comet and the Armistice
East of West Vol 1 – Comet and the Armistice

East of West is starts off with normal history and then, during the American Civil War, a meteor strikes Earth.  Control of the USA splits into seven nations – Union, Confederacy, Texas, Chinese (PRA), Native American nations (The Endless Nation), African American (The Kingdom), and I’m slightly unclear if Armistice is considered the seventh.  A cabal of leaders – mostly the leaders of the Seven Nations at the time of the armistice – also write The Message. The Message is a Revelation-type prophecy for bringing about the Apocalypse. For some reason the cabal sees this as a desirable thing Continue reading

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She-Hulk Stands Strong

A few weeks ago She-Hulk made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. David Goyer, writer of the upcoming movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, made some truly indefensible and ignorant comments about her on the Scriptnotes podcast. He glibly insulted her by reducing her entire character down to a sex object for the Hulk in much less polite language than I’ll use here (for more details you can read this article on IGN).

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Jennifer Walters, but even without having read many of her comics I know that she is Bruce Banner’s cousin and was never intended to have any sort of sexual relationship with him. Goyer was obviously incapable of even glancing at a character wiki before he made some truly disturbing comments. Understandably many comic fans were outraged.

She-Hulk is one of the most popular and enduring female characters at Marvel. She’s a lawyer by day and a superhero all of the time. Her identity is well known, in part because she refuses to hide who she is. Unlike her cousin, she has no trouble controlling her inner Hulk and in fact she draws strength and confidence from embracing that part of herself. Her story is one of empowerment and inner strength that speaks to many women and Goyer’s reductive and misogynistic comments couldn’t have been more misplaced.

The controversy sparked my interest in the character and I decided that it would be a good time to check out the new She-Hulk title that launched as a part of the All-New Marvel Now. The series is being written by Charles Soule with art by Javier Pulido and each issue feels like a day in the life of Jennifer Walters. The approach is reminiscent of other recent Marvel successes like Hawkeye and works well here. There is a heavy focus on her job as a lawyer, but we also get to see her going out with her friends and of course smashing some bad guys.

The comic starts when Jennifer is insulted by the men running the law firm she works at, prompting her to quit and eventually open her own law office. This comic came out months before Goyer’s comments, but in light of the recent controversy there is a certain irony to Jennifer leaving her job because her male bosses devalued her exceptional contributions as a lawyer and only wanted to use her for her connections to other superheroes.

She-Hulk v3 issue #1 – Jennifer Walters refuses to be used and disrespected.
She-Hulk v3 issue #1 – Jennifer Walters refuses to be used and disrespected.

Jennifer’s first solo case is representing a woman who claims that Tony Stark stole her husband’s tech, which means going up against the legal armies that surround Tony and keep her from even talking to him. Her second case isn’t any easier as she represents Kristoff Vernard (Doctor Doom’s son) in his bid for political asylum. I love the legal side of the Marvel Universe and the cases in She-Hulk are a lot of fun. There’s plenty of room to explore the legal ramifications of the superhero world and hopefully this comic will continue to put its focus on that aspect of Jennifer’s life.

She-Hulk v3 issue #1 – Tony Stark is right. Jennifer is magnificent.
She-Hulk v3 issue #1 – Tony Stark is right. Jennifer is magnificent.

Visually the series is very unique. The cover artist Kevin Wada has created some truly stunning art that is sure to stand out in the comic shop.

She-Hulk v.3 issue #3 – The cover of issue 3 is my favorite.
She-Hulk v.3 issue #3 – The cover of issue 3 is my favorite.

The primary artist is Javier Pulido, who has a very recognizable style which gives the comic a distinct look. One aspect of his work that really stands out here are the layouts. He takes full advantage of the space he’s given, often using two page spreads with non-standard layouts. One of my favorites is below.

She-Hulk v3 issue #2 – There is a lot going on but it's still easy to follow the movement.
She-Hulk v3 issue #2 – There is a lot going on but it’s still easy to follow the movement.

One of my only criticisms of the comic is that it is very text heavy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—especially in a legal themed comic—but sometimes it overwhelms the panels and feels like a never ending block of text. The following panel is an extreme example because the wall of text is part of the joke, but there are a few other panels that are nearly as bad.

She-Hulk v3 issue 1 – That's a lot of text, but it is a very amusing outline of Tony Stark's business history.
She-Hulk v3 issue 1 – That’s a lot of text, but it is a very amusing outline of Tony Stark’s business history.

She-Hulk is just starting, but it’s already established itself as a fun, upbeat comic with a legal theme. Marvel is blessed with two series about superhero lawyers, but they both have their own niche. The upbeat and positive tone of She-Hulk feels completely different than Daredevil which has often veered into dark territory (although Mark Waid’s run has been lighter). So far Jennifer’s cases have also been nothing like Matt’s cases, which often involve crime and conspiracy. There is more than enough room for both series in Marvel’s line-up and I would love to see them crossover in the future. We got a taste of the possibilities when Jennifer seeks Matt out in the fourth issue. She wanted his advice on the asylum case as a consultant who understands both the law and being a superhero. In that issue he mentions that they have never faced off against each other in a courtroom and if that is a hint of things to come, color me excited.

She-Hulk is a strong title built around a fascinating character. Jennifer Walters has a rich tradition as a solo hero, an Avenger, and a sometimes member of the Fantastic Four and Marvel is obviously taking care to give her a comic worthy of her. It’s too bad that she only made headlines because of David Goyer’s ignorant comments, but hopefully the controversy will make people curious enough to check out her comic. If they do they will learn how very wrong David Goyer is about Jennifer Walters.

 

You can find She-Hulk at your local comic shop or buy it from comixology.

What do you think about Jennifer Walters ? I’d love to discuss her with you in the comments!

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Sex Criminals: Making the metaphor a little less subtle

We are used to comics containing metaphorical representations of puberty. With the X-Men it is no coincidence that the mutant powers kick in when the characters reach puberty. There’s no better metaphor for the inexplicable changes the body partakes during puberty than to suddenly start shooting lasers out of your eyes. Let’s not forget Rogue’s power. Her near killing of a boy when acting on the urges that come from puberty is the perfect metaphor for promiscuity. Elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, we have Spider-Man. He is doing stuff in his room that he doesn’t want his Aunt May to discover. And, I think it’s pretty obvious what Spidey’s webbing is a metaphor for. With Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals the puberty metaphor is completely stripped away although new metaphors about sex come to the fore. Continue reading

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014 (All We Know at the end of May Edition)

I couldn’t attend Baltimore Comic-Con last year because of family commitments, but I did attend in 2012 and had a blast. If you’re in the region, I highly recommend attending. As you’ll see below, you get the same top talent as you would at New York or California Comic-Con, but it’s WAY less crowded. Also, the focus at Baltimore Comic-Con is on comics. I still would like to attend both California and NY Comic-Con one day, but it’s pretty awesome not to have to battle for space with people who don’t care for comics. This year Baltimore Comic-Con has expanded to three days and takes place over the weekend of September 5-7, 2014!

Who will be there? Continue reading

My Little Pony: Volume One

Comics on the Cheap

If you’re into digital comics and you’re on a budget, I’ve got two great pieces of news for you.

The first is that comixology is doing a Summer Reading List giveaway. Each day, they’re giving away a different comic, completely free. Each free deal is only good for a day, so you do have to log in each day to get your freebie, but they have an email list that’s free to join for daily reminders. So far, they’ve given away Detective Comics #871, which is the first issue in The Black Mirror, my very favorite Batman story of all time; Magnus: Robot Fighter #1: Digital Exclusive Edition, which is the first issue of the relaunch of Magnus: Robot Fighter from earlier this year; My Little Pony: Pony Tales Vol. 1, which collects the first six issues of the My Little Pony comics for over 150 pages of Ponies; and Lumberjanes #1, which I’ve already spoken about at length and highly recommend to everyone who hasn’t yet picked it up. Continue reading

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Image Comics Wants All Your Money Part 3

Time once again for a roundup of upcoming Images series so we can find out how Image Comics will get all our money.

Wayward

Wayward
Wayward

The subject-line for the press release for Wayward claimed, “The perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans.” I’m currently working my way through Buffy Season 9 (article forthcoming), but after the insanity of Season 8 (which did have lots of high points), there are many Buffy fans that have become disillusioned. My wife is one of these – she loved the TV show and gave Season 8 a chance, but refuses to read Season 9 after what happened last time. The fact that Buffy was on UPN/WB/The CW kept me from watching it at the time. However, I did really enjoy it on DVD, so I’m excited to see another story in the same vein. I’m not really familiar with the output of the creatives, but I definitely want to give it a chance, especially since it mentions Japanese mythological monsters. My time with manga as well as some recent Japanese sci-fi short stories has left me wanting to explore that part of Japanese culture a bit more. Continue reading