Virginia Woolf & Multiversity: We were hoping you could tell us why we’re here

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I didn’t read Grant Morrison’s Multiversity the day the first issue came out because I was visiting my hometown of Petersburg, which is on an island and doesn’t have comic book stores. I was trying to look at social media less too, but the talk of Multiversity went swooshing by me in geek superlatives anyway.

I only have half an ear to the ground and zero institutional memory, so I knew Multiversity was a big deal without knowing what it actually was. Everyone was talking around it, like “Dude, I can’t even,” and “Holy shit,” and “Mind. Blown.” 

Geeks are always so happy, always eager for the next thing, always wanting to chat and kvell and gripe. They’re the happiest harvesters, the biggest consumers, the biggest happy babies latched onto the entertainment teat. 

I was itching to read Multiversity #1 and a bunch of other new issues out, but I had to wait. So I went to the bookstore in Petersburg and bought a Virginia Woolf paperback—Jacob’s Room. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve read in several months that isn’t a comic book.In it, Jacob is the empty space at the middle of the story, talked around, seen and described by people who don’t really know him. He is a mystery, and in a series of shocks we catch glimpses of him before he disappears from us. 

This time back in Petersburg, the dust of my teens and twenties have finally settled. Everything’s died down—all those dreams, hormones, chemical imbalances, heartache, and maneuvers that looked like embarrassing late-blooming rebellions but were only attempts at living with integrity.

Memories are still everywhere, piled like drifts of snow, folding and mating like tapeworms, hiding like landmines, tanning in the peat like bogmen. Petersburg at 6, Petersburg at 17, at 23, at 33. Now it’s Petersburg at 36, with every one of those years marching alongside. But Petersburg 36 has a straighter shot over to Petersburg 9. We can sort of make eye contact and notice that we’re both wearing comfortable shoes and glasses with red frames. It feels better.

Today, back in Seattle, I got Multiversity a week late. It is a romping story about superheroes from different versions of Earth coming together outside the time-space continuum we are familiar with, and along the way the fourth wall is knocked down and warped. It’s totally bonkers. Not (to me) bonkers in a “this is so awesome I don’t know how to describe it so I’m just going to say it’s bonkers” way. But actually just bat-shit crazy. I don’t have nostalgia for the characters and Ivan Reis’s art seems competent but didn’t affect me at all. So for me, it was anti-climactic despite being impressively nuts.

But buried in that wild soup of comics and pop-culture is a reference to Virginia Woolf. I know that’s what it is! Why else would the same character say three such Woolfian things in a row? Lighthouse, Watch Tower, A Room of One’s Own. Bam, Bam, Bam.

I can’t figure out what kind of sense it makes for it to be there—maybe that comic book has a little of everything and the Virginia Woolf just leapt out of me because I’ve been re-reading Jacob’s Room. 

All I know is, the more I read comics, the more amazed I am by great non-comics writers like Woolf. They don’t have pictures to lean on. They illustrate with words and make it look easy, and deposit these packages into our brains so it works, even though words are inherently clunky. it makes comic book writing look so rinkydink in comparison. Not the content, but the amount of gear you have to pack to get the job done well.

And Virginia Woolf was no escapist, and she didn’t mean for us to escape either. She might illuminate an escapist tendency but only to skewer us more precisely. She knew it was the ordinary that kills us, she mocked the banal, and she was sardonic about boring people. But she lit everything up with such killer accuracy that she made it beautiful and terrible to think of how the light from a living room falls across a darkened lawn.

 And I haven’t seen a single thing in comics yet as magical as that.

Are transgender people cropping up in comics more lately, or what?

There’s a definite empathy gap in our society still. People who pat themselves on the back for supporting gay marriage are still incredulous and dismissive of transgender people and their concerns. I like seeing some more representation, especially Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black.

I haven’t thought about this exhaustively or taken a survey, but I just realized tonight that two new Image series — Trees and Shutter — have prominent trans characters.

The sudden increase in representation in comics FEELS a little like a fashion trend, like when American ladies went mad for King Tut accessories after his tomb was discovered in 1922.

Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca’s Alain (Shutter) even looks a little like King Tut:

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Keatinge just lets Alain be transgender without harping on it awkwardly, though.

Warren Ellis, on the other hand, veered into after-school special territory last week in Trees #4:

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(Art by Jason Howard)

Ellis introduced this character a couple issues earlier as an exotic, alluring, nearly naked chick with a dick — making this panel’s over-earnestness seem even more tinny.

It feels like LGBT characters in general are cropping up everywhere like mushrooms, across all the comics publishers. Some of this might just be making up for lost time. Some of it feels overtly strategic, like someone was just checking off a list of what the young tumblr crowd likes to see. Diversity! 

I’m just not sure about the underlying motives. I don’t know if these ostensibly well-intentioned representations of trans women are a step in the right direction, a harmless trend, a series of sometimes-clumsy public service announcements — OR — a new form of the tragic mulatta, an odd spin on orientalism.

Captain Marvel is Easy to Love, Damn it

Kelly Sue DeConnick is like one of those girls you want to be contrarian and not like, but then you’re assigned to be lab partners with her in chemistry and you CAN’T NOT LIKE HER. Because she actually is awesome.

I mean, I’ve never met her but I spent time with some of her comic books.

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(Madame Eleanides is venerable AND awesome.)

This was my Capt. Marvel #6  review on Newsarama from a couple weeks ago:

Captain Marvel #6

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by David Lopez and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Captain Marvel #6 has one superhero but many heroes. Carol Danvers finally gets to use a little more firepower, but the issue doesn’t quite have the spectacular visual release of the big battle we were promised. Instead, the issue divides itself between military tactics, an uprising, passive resistance, and what’s left of diplomacy for the struggling peoples of Torfa. It’s a solid ending to the first arc, and sets Captain Marvel up to fight another day.

In this issue, Kelly Sue DeConnick continues to balance gravity with a sense of play, and makes the limitations of the standard six-issue story structure look easy. She neatly ties together all the threads of her story, as Captain Marvel and the people of Torfa have their showdown against the Spartax emperor J’son, and the problem of Torfa being a poison planet is resolved. With fun details and carefully chosen moments, DeConnick has made us care about a lot of new characters in just six issues, and this arc ends as it began – with Carol saying a tough goodbye to good friends.

David Lopez’s lines are as clean and classic as Captain Marvel’s flight suit. His visual storytelling makes room for DeConnick’s abundant use of banter and throw-away gags. Lopez helps to establish comedic timing and lets physical comedy and dead-on facial expressions flicker through his panels. The flip side to his sensitivity to humor is an ability to convey more serious feelings, and Lopez’s art comes to the fore at moments when DeConnick’s writing quiets down. One of these times is when the Torfan leader Eleanides commands the civilians around her to disobey the Spartax soldiers by sitting down. When a prominent Torfan dissenter accepts this command, the reader feels the quiet, serious significance of her compliance.

Loughridge’s colors highlight the contrast between a lone superhero holding off space ships above, and the muddle of people down on the surface of Torfa. The shadows of the figures show that it is the golden hour, with thick sunlight coming in sideways. The skin tones and clothing are mostly dull greens, grays and yellows against a yellowish earth and sky. There is a scuffle of diplomacy, fear, defiance and passive resistance. It’s not as obviously heroic as what’s happening above, where Loughridge uses bolder colors and more contrast for Carol’s maneuvers against the Spartax fleet. The battle colors echo the red, blue and gold of Carol’s suit, and each color is fortified. The red is warm, the blue is deep, and the gold is thick and yolky. It might be a suicide mission, but it looks gorgeous, noble, and exciting.

Even though we see Captain Marvel heroically buying time for Torfa by keeping Spartax ships at bay, we never feel immersed in her action scenes. The story always cuts back to other places and events too quickly. In some ways this feels like a missed opportunity for such a muscular creative team, but the story has been about a lot more than action. In the most dynamic panel, Captain Marvel bursts skyward with an explosion behind her and she thinks “this is the closest we get to closure.” She’s referring to the deaths of everyone on the Ring World, and J’son’s willingness to sell out Earth to the Builders during Infinity. Even in the heat of the most climactic moment of this climactic issue, she’s acknowledging it’s not closure, and there might not ever be closure.

The good news is that Captain Marvel is still just getting started on her restless space adventure and now that she’s thwarted the Spartax emperor, we can expect some dust ups down the road. Hopefully some of her new friends will be along for the ride, as they are as good a ragtag interspecies team as there ever was. DeConnick, Lopez and Loughridge work well together to show how people work together, so I think we’ll see more space camaraderie. I hope we see Carol change as a person — her decision to go into space was somewhat escapist, but I have a feeling DeConnick will keep putting her in the middle of situations that feel a lot like real life.

So Cute It’s Ugly: My Little Pony vs. Mega-City Two

(This was just silly… written at The Naive Review a couple months ago)

Some things are so ugly they’re cute, like this baby rhino:

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Other things are just cute, like this My Little Pony toy I remember from my childhood:

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And then there’s this total horribleness:

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What the fuck am I looking at? If that’s supposed to be cute, it is definitely so cute it’s ugly. Shark-jumping cute. Gag me with a wooden spoon cute. I haaaaaate it. 

Now look at this panel from Judge Dredd Mega-City Two #3:

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That noseless bug-eyed giant-breasted “cute girl” is what the new My Little Ponies look like to me. But Ulises Farinas drew her as satire. She’ssupposed to be so cute she’s awful.

And the little girl in the foreground has small eyes and is crying and she isn’t very cute. Her little Barry Badger doll is old and worn and he has little eyes too. But look at how her ear sticks out of her hair, and how Barry’s little arm is draped over her arm. And how she’s holding on to him. It’s really sweet. It’scute.

And that’s how Ulises Farinas gets away with all his cute ideas and whimsical easter eggs in a Judge Dredd series where adorable smiling teddy bears are the emblem of a law enforcement agency. 

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When reached for comment on this story, Ulises Farinas said “I’m a brony.”

In Case You Missed It: She-Hulk #5 (WHOA RON WIMBERLY!!)

This review appeared June 16, 2014 in the Best Shots column over at Newsarama

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She-Hulk #5
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Wimberly, Rico Renzi
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood

In She-Hulk #5, fill-in artist Ron Wimberly presents an alternate vision for what this character and story could be. The dramatic change in art comes just as Charles Soule’s writing is hitting its stride. This issue is wonderful as its own entity, but will strain some readers’ connection to the heroine they thought they were getting to know.

In its first four issues, She-Hulk took us on a campy little jaunt with Jennifer Walters, city girl and hulk-lawyer. The story was cleverly put together and always had a feeling of style over substance. Javier Pulido’s panels fit neatly together and the objects within them didn’t seem so much composed as merchandized, like product in a high-end boutique. He was selling us the bold shapes he designed, including Jennifer Walters’s big green head. He made her eyes exactly the right size and shape to balance her deadpan with sweetness. He gave her just enough affable clumsiness to make her lovable despite her glossy exterior. We couldn’t quite gain purchase on her rounded, unblemished surfaces but we didn’t mind because the story was always about bright colors and fun.

Wimberly’s She-Hulk still has bright colors and fun, but his art is much more angular and kinetic. His fisheye angles and busted-up facial planes bring shadow and depth into his panels. Wimberly drains the quirky-cute out of She-Hulk, and tempers her prettiness with don’t-give-a-damn rock ugliness. It suits her disaffection, and it suits Charles Soule’s writing.

In earlier issues, Soule wrote Jennifer as discriminated against and down on her luck, but the art was too full of fun rom-com coding to make that stick. Even her hard times were spiffy and aspirational. The way Wimberly draws Jennifer, it’s easier to believe that her feelings are real. For this one issue, she can slouch on Shocker’s couch drinking a beer with him, her knees splayed just as wide as his. Pulido’s She-Hulk would have crossed her legs.

Soule’s writing feels different in this issue even without the influence of Wimberly’s art. For the first time, he is telling a smaller piece of a bigger story. We’re finally down to the hinted-at blue file – a strange lawsuit against She-Hulk and several other supers. Angie Huang and Patsy Walker/Hellcat are deputized as She-Hulk’s agents and Soule does well cutting back and forth between these three threads. He fits them together to advance a single story with mystery, action, secrets and danger. The longer story arc gives him more room to fit conversations into his pacing. With help from Wimberly’s expressiveness, interactions are funnier and themes of what it is to be hero begin to emerge more clearly.

I don’t think it will be easy for Pulido to step back into his gig and seamlessly take back art duties. This aesthetic change amounts to a protagonist swap and it will be jarring again when the two Jennifers are switched back. It doesn’t help that Soule chose Wimberly’s issue to get serious about his main storyline. The episodic stories of the first four issues seemed all right at the time, but now feel aimless and loose in light of the fifth issue. I don’t think four of those issues amount to a set-up for this fifth one. With very little adjustment, this could have been the first or second issue of the series.

Readers loyal to Pulido might be put off by Wimberly’s fill-in issue, but it is simply too exciting to look at and too important to the story’s over-all development to miss. Enjoy it as an island unto itself and join me in regarding this series as an on-going experiment.

Alex + Ada is so ROMANTIC

(First appeared last week on my tumblr, The Naive Review)

“Then consider the effect of sex—how between man and woman it hangs wavy, tremulous, so that here’s a valley, there’s a peak, when in truth, perhaps, all’s as flat as my hand.” — Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

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I just read the first eight issues of Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn. It is such a good love story. It has obstacles, restraint, yearning, loneliness, microexpressions, pauses, misunderstandings, tiny moments of connection, and deadpan humor.

The book is incredibly deadpan. It is bland unto deadpan, by design. The interiors, the clothing, the faces, the overall look of the book—all of it is low affect. You have to step inside this world and quiet yourself down to its level. Then when you are in tune with its rhythms and routines, you understand its intensity, and you feel every upward curve of a mouth, every little gleam.

Like a character says in issue #8, Alex and Ada have all the information that they want each other, but they don’t know how to make the connection. It doesn’t matter that Alex is human and Ada is a newly sentient robot. They have an equally hard time with love and intimacy and in this issue it’s Alex who automatically throws up barriers when Ada wants to get closer.

The similarities between humans and robots is what makes this book an engaging social commentary and not just a satisfying love story.

Remember the opening scenes of Shaun of the Dead, when ordinary people are shuffling through their lives as mindlessly as zombies? Alex + Ada does a similar thing, but makes human life so clinical, efficient, and virtual that the human characters might as well be androids. 

When Alex has Ada’s sentience “unblocked,” her joy in life and sensory input rubs off on him, and we can see how badly he needed to be woken up too.

Anyway, this book is a slow burn love story that will make you want to taste life. Highly recommend.

She-Hulk #7: Quit Dragging My Heart Around

This first appeared last week on my tumblr, The Naive Review:  She-Hulk #7: Quit Dragging My Heart Around

 

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After reading She-Hulk #7, I’m just sitting here having all these feelings. Javier Pulido is back. Am I just supposed to pretend that that whole Ron Wimberly thing never happened? Am I just supposed to be able to snap back to looking at She-Hulk the way I did before?

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Top: Javier Pulido, Bottom: Ron Wimberly

I loved She-Hulk from the beginning, for the silliness and the intensity of the bright Magic Marker colors. I liked how everything was smooth and pulled taut, and imbued with secret meanings. It was all like a code, like the real message was in royal blue against fire engine red, or in a circle placed next to a square. I liked how it was shallow nonsense a lot of the time but had some nice little day-to-day lawyering stuff, and some nods to the importance of friendship, and of course—flashy superhero cameos!

So that’s how it started with Soule/Pulido/Vincente.

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Then with She-Hulk #5, Ron Wimberly and Rico Renzi just blew the top off the whole thing. They kept the color scheme and just crammed this book full of so much energy it couldn’t be contained inside shapes and lines anymore. Crazy angles, jagged lines, everything popping and crackling, and the panels coming unmoored from each other and starting to drift apart, not lined up like little soldiers the way Pulido had them. And Wimberly gave Jennifer Walters more depth and personhood than she before. It made me expect more from the whole story, especially since Charles Soule seemed like he was really getting going with a meaty storyline!!

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I kvelled about Wimberly.

I borrowed a copy of Prince of Cats and pored over it.

I eagerly awaited his second guest-artist issue, #6.

Then She-Hulk #6 came and it felt like everyone half-assed it — or maybe they tried as hard as they could but circumstances were against them. I don’t want to diss their creative efforts. There were still great moments in both dialogue and picture. But Renzi the colorist was gone, Soule was off his writing game, and Wimberly seemed to wrap himself protectively around an awesome central fight scene like some kind of sea creature preserving its vital organs by letting its extremities get eaten by predators.

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(this is how She-Hulk has made me feel)

My love for Wimberly did not waver despite the disappointment. I eagerly await whatever else of his I can get my hands on in the future.

But She-Hulk is different for me now. It’s like Wimberly hulked her up and tattered her clothing to ribbons and now Javier Pulido and Charles Soule have to wear those shreds. And you know they don’t do messy. Javier Pulido’s Jennifer Walters doesn’t get much hulkier than a beach volleyball player, and her kickaround clothes are all synthetic, stretchy loungewear. She can’t be going around in tatters. With her stretch marks showing. With her embarrassing underpants and weak storyline showing.

So I flip through the glossy, bright issue that is She-Hulk #7 and I think “Hellcat sure is funny.” And “Oh hey, Hank Pym!” and “This is not as thrilling as Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but it’s still cool that they’re tiny” and then also thoughts crop up like “Orange! Pink! Green! Such bright green! Oh my god! The bluest blue! YELLOOOOWWWW…!!!”

And I pretend it’s enough. 

But it’s not enough.

For one thing, where the HELL is Angie Huang????