She-Hulk #9: Structurally Sound and Bittersweet

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This review originally appeared in the Best Shots column at Newsarama

She-Hulk #9
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido just seem to be getting better together, which is bittersweet now that we know She-Hulk only has a few issues left. She-Hulk #9 is the most serious and focused issue to date, and builds on the strength of the previous issue. Centering this arc on an elderly Captain America has added weight to She-Hulk without displacing its zany streak.

She-Hulk #9 is the middle issue of a three-issue arc that takes Jen and her legal team to California to defend Captain America in court. The plot thickened at the end of the last issue when Jen realized that opposing counsel was her old friend Matt Murdock. In this issue we find out what happened in 1940 to get Captain America in trouble, although the flashback raises more questions than it answers.

The drably colored flashback, along with several pages of courtroom talking scenes, make this issue more constrained than usual. Muntsa Vicente’s colors inject energy into the courtroom panels, with Jen’s bright red dress popping against her emerald green skin. Charles Soule once again demonstrates his ability to write tight dialogue as he keeps us clipping along through legal language and witness testimony.

As well-crafted as the flashback and courtroom pages are, it’s a welcome visual release when She-Hulk and Daredevil take a midnight run across the rooftops of Los Angeles near the end of the issue. It feels like Soule, Pulido and Vicente are glorying in the joys of comic book storytelling as She-Hulk and Daredevil glory in their superhuman strength. As the pair bounds across the city, Pulido zooms in on Jen’s profile in mid-leap and we see a grimace of frustration turn into a devilish grin. It’s a moment that represents this team’s take on She-Hulk unique mix of brains and brawn. They’ve made her wild-eyed, a little supercilious, and always full of life.

After their rooftop run, Jen and Matt compare notes on Captain America and his motivations. Soule seems to be more in charge of the situation than they previously knew, but they still don’t understand any of the hows or whys. It looks like this arc will conclude next issue, when Patsy Walker will be back from some secret business conducted off-screen for Captain America.

The exploration of Captain America’s status, regrets, and mortality were sound themes to match with Jen’s wit and legal smarts. Soule and Pulido has always been bursting with potential and talent, and it’s good to see that come to fruition. It’s been fun all along to watch the team develop Jen and her world through details and dialogue, but this She-Hulk run has unfolded in fits and starts. I loved She-Hulk #8, but I half expected She-Hulk #9 to be a letdown, because Soule hasn’t consistently held stories together well across multiple issues. Instead, the opposite happened. This second issue is strong and this arc feels even stronger than I hoped it would be. Readers new, old and lapsed should get in on this show while they still can.

In Case You Missed It: Bodies #1

I’m in the middle of working on a review for Bodies #4 and I just unearthed this review of the first issue, which I never actually put up anywhere. Stay tuned for the more current review!

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Written by Si Spencer
Art by Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay, Phil Winslade
Coloring by Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Dezi Sienty and Taylor Esposito
Published by Vertigo Comics

The premise of Bodies is simple and weird: a mutilated corpse is found on the same square cobblestones in London’s East End in 1890, 1940, 2014, and 2050. In each of those years, a detective encounters this corpse. Writer Si Spencer and colorist Lee Loughridge combine talents with a different artist for each of the detective characters. The body is a puzzle for the detectives, and the detectives are part of the puzzle for us. Tula Lotay’s 2050 segment elevates the book to being more than a collection of competent cop dramas with a twist. Lotay’s piece of this mystery mainlines the themes of identity and humanity that run through the whole story.

Spencer uses the thoughts of each detective protagonist for intimate but unreliable narration. The writing shifts in tone with each change of artist and time period. The art in Meghan Hetrick’s 2014 segment is smooth, clinical and washed in blue tones. Hetrick’s detective thinks, “I try not to think of these thugs as people,” and is guarded by layers of toughness, snark, hijab, riot gear, and protective crime-scene coveralls. Dean Ormston’s detective wears a bowler and spectacles in 1890, and his world is finely etched and colored in black, white, and gray with pops of bright red. When this inspector photographs the corpse he believes he’s capturing “the hidden heart of humanity.” In 1940, Phil Winslade’s detective wears pinstripes, a fedora and an Anglicized alias. “You’re just a message,” he says to the Irish guy he’s about to torture. Winslade’s pages have the heaviest lines and even though Loughridge uses more colors and more illumination, these pages feel the darkest.

The experiment of holding some variables constant (place, corpse, writer, colorist) while shifting others (decade, detective, artist, tone) makes this book a really intriguing read. The 1890, 1940 and 2014 segments show us a cop whose own identity has something to do with the ambient crime surrounding him or her. They are a side-by-side study of how to convey darkness in the city. Spencer and Loughridge are impressive in how well they marry themselves with each artist to create something so varied yet seamless. Still, when you look at these three segments individually, you feel like at least one analogous British television series already exists for each one of them.

The future segment (which comes third in the book) is what elevates Bodies above being just a gritty detective drama with a supernatural twist. Tula Lotay’s scenes of Detective Maplewood and the body in 2050 are the freshest-looking and weirdest-feeling pages in the book. There are fewer words, but the shape and feel of them matter more. “Who are you and what do you remember?” Maplewood asks the corpse, because at first she can’t recognize that it’s a dead thing. Maplewood’s cognitive problems make her the least mannered and most relatable of the detectives. When she laughs hysterically at her own grim joke it feels like the realest part of the book. The sky above London is yellow in these six pages. The colors and lines are loose and light, with details washing out from a small central area of focus like an anxiety dream. Some of the lines look hastily drawn by crayon or grease pencil. Even though this part might seem like poetic nonsense compared to the other more straightforward pieces, it looks the freshest and it has some of the most compelling clues and details.

Each segment on its own has enough intrigue and personality for a whole comic but might not have worked for more than six pages in a row because of tone. Each is too much of something—too slick, too mannered, too oppressive, or too surreal—but it’s a pleasure to switch between them. Spencer has eight issues to lay out and solve this mystery he’s setting up in Bodies. This is a hugely ambitious project with separate spheres of politics, circumstance, personality and vice in each of the four segments. Together they slide and lock into place, letting us forgive and keeping us interested in the game.

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LEANTRO #5

His voice got choked in a sob and then he flew at her. She caught his arms in mid-air and he twisted himself like a fish in her grasp. He was not a very good fighter. He got a few kicks in and seemed to be trying to climb her like a tree.

at Orgo’s Books of Knowledge, updates Mondays!

tales from the MOTRO universe, brain child of wunderkind Ulises Farinas!

Supreme Blue Rose #4

Still swooning for THIS guy:

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My review, which appeared today (aka Man-Crush Monday) in the Newsarama Best Shots column.

Supreme Blue Rose #4
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Tula Lotay
Lettering by Richard Starkings
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Supreme Blue Rose #4 continues a nebulous, beautiful-looking story full of characters who have a shaky grasp on time and reality. Readers should expect to be confused as writer Warren Ellis keeps his cards close to chest and sends us in wide circles. Tula Lotay’s luminous artwork grants this book a literary quality, but without it Ellis’s script would read like the metaphysical version of business school jargon. This fourth issue does not give the story much additional traction or forward momentum, consigning it to visual poetry for patient aesthetes.

In Supreme Blue Rose #4, protagonist Diana Dane has fully entered a dream world, leaving behind a recognizable reality where people talked about Instagram and Karl Lagerfeld. Now she’s taken a limo ride on a bridge to the moon, which is the long way round to a town called Littlehaven in upstate New York. We have learned that time can get sick and die, and that the world as Diana (and we) know it is actually only four months old. As Diana says at the beginning of this issue, “I am just not even questioning these things anymore.”

Tula Lotay’s illustration is mostly of and for disorientation, with interludes of connection between pairs of people. One of these connections is between Diana and Doc Rocket. Ellis and Lotay give Doc Rocket a different persona than the original Supreme character, making him an older man with a kindly face. Tula Lotay draws this Doc Rocket with a calm warmth that brings out Diana’s own warmth. The two characters generate a chemistry at the beginning of the issue that cuts through some of the story’s relentless confusion.

To convey a warped sense of time and place, Lotay uses wandering lines that look like pastel crayons and black grease pencil. These float above or beneath washes of color. Sometimes the lights of a night-time city scene or the aurora borealis try to force their way through from the back of a panel. In contrast to the swervy, loose look of Lotay’s lines, almost every panel is rectangular and uniform with clean black borders. Some of these panels are scenes from a television show that is trying to transmit a message from the future.

Besides Diana’s dream-reality and screen caps from a telenovela called Professor Night, this issue also cuts to the hallucinations of scientist Chelsea Henry. The things and places Chelsea sees are some of the most glorious things Lotay has had a chance to illustrate in Supreme Blue Rose so far. Chelsea sees ruins, giant stingrays, dinosaurs, and plaintive figures labeled coolly “late human render ghosts.” Chelsea, like almost everyone else in the story, does not know what is happening to her or how things work.

The overriding message of this book has been that a message is being forced across time and is coming through as garbled static to be decoded. Supreme Blue Rose #4 reaffirms that Ellis has made a book that is garbled static, beautifully rendered by Lotay. So far, this impressionistic success comes at the cost of traditional story elements such as dramatic irony, collectible clues, and energy that builds toward a crisis. Readers who like to get from point A to point B should swim at their own risk. Readers who like the sensation of Brownian motion should come on in, the water’s fine.

Release the Quirky-Cute!

I was a little punchy when I wrote this review.

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Originally published at Newsarama

Captain Marvel #8
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Marcio Takara and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
Rating: 8 out of 10

Whether you love cats or find them unsettling, you’ll appreciate how Kelly Sue DeConnick turns a running gag into its own clever storyline in Captain Marvel #8. The action heats up and the visuals get more bodacious in this issue, which is the second-half of a set piece show-casing guest artist Marcio Takara. DeConnick and Takara release the quirky-cute, along with some risky space business, some beautifully gross anatomy, and a few tugs on the heart strings. This fun but poignant issue advances the character development of Carol Danvers and friends, and positions the story to go anywhere from here.

In Captain Marvel #8, the word count falls after the previous issue’s quieter, more conversational introduction to Takara’s art. The two-issue arc began with DeConnick taking Carol down a peg or two with nightmares, the inconveniences of transit on a borrowed ship, and three insubordinate companions (including her cat, Chewie). Things start to get wild when Rocket turns out to be right about Chewie actually being a rare animal called a flerken. At the beginning of Issue #8, Chewie has lain eggs, and some unsavory parties are descending on Carol’s ship looking for a good deal on flerken.

DeConnick has the confidence to make playful storytelling decisions, but she keeps things smooth and continuous for readers. This flerken set-piece accommodates a guest artist well, and reaffirms my impression of DeConnick as the curator of the Captain Marvel experience. Regular artists need to take a break, but sometimes it feels like editorial teams don’t respect the destructive power of the guest artist issue. DeConnick provides an illuminating little detour that is its own discrete unit and sets David Lopez up well to come back in for a fresh arc.

Takara was a good choice to fill in for David Lopez. His art is distinct enough to give readers a taste of something new, but they won’t have the jarring feeling that they’ve become part of a social science experiment. Like DeConnick, Takara seems to understand how to support whimsy with structure. His lines are loose but economical, spontaneous-feeling but intentional-looking. His clean, intuitive art leaves a lot of the definition work to colorist Lee Loughridge, and lets DeConnick’s writing round out the emotional tone. In Captain Marvel #7, Takara showed he can make a subdued issue beautiful. In Captain Marvel #8, he gets to go crazy on some floaty space goo, Chewie’s freaky auto-evisceration abilities, and of course some Captain Marvel pyrotechnics.

DeConnick and Takara make this issue funny and rambunctious enough to provide cover for the sweet, heartfelt parts. Carol tries to make wise decisions, but circumstances force her to learn from the young Tic, the obnoxious Rocket, and even her own stubborn cat. The isolation of Carol in space with a small assemblage of other oddballs has given us a chance to know her better. The fact that she alternately grows and is humbled is a large part of why this Captain Marvel continues to be so beloved. New readers jumping on here will be just in time to get excited for whatever’s next.

LEANTRO #4

He was almost as tall as her sisters, but not as thick. He was a different kind of person—she could see from how close his facial bones were to his skin that he was a ten-toed person. He was bundled in layers of clothing that would have suffocated Leantro. She wondered how many weapons could be hidden in all that cloth, and thought about how fast she could get to her own knife.

Leantro #4 by Lilith Wood

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tales from the MOTRO universe, brain child of wunderkind Ulises Farinas!

Final Derby

Written by Danny Djeljosevic, Art by Diana Naneva Final Derby imagines the roller derby of the future as an even more brutal sport than it is today, and totally dominated by men. One woman has become a contender.

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Her face stares out at the reader from the first panel. This is the sort of face that flickers between beautiful and plain. Once she’s in motion, the panels flicker between a blur and still, clear moments.

Naneva uses chunks of black and pops of red against muted tans, browns, and grays. The red is like hand prints on the cave wall. The most important red is the woman’s round, brick-red helmet and its bright red stars.

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The skaters whirl and fly around the track. In all the speed and danger, time stands still in tiny moments of eye contact, fear, and regret.

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The few thoughts and words are strong and bare. They are stacked one on top of each other like stones.

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She is hated by the opposing team and the fans in the stands for being a woman.

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And when she starts to win, emotions turn darker than normal competitiveness. She is one strong, small thing, flying on her roller skates. They want to destroy her completely.

Is this story making a political statement?

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Of course it is.

Final Derby is an allegory. It wears that mantle lightly, because that’s how good it is. But forget allegory. This is flying limbs and speed and death and danger. This is a painting on a cave wall.

Reading Haruki Murakami for the First Time

The Wind-Up Books Chronicle

So I’m on the second leg of a triple-bus ride home from the east side, and I’m totally absorbed in the first chapter of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami. Okada is falling asleep in the hot sun in a stranger’s back yard, and a sixteen year old girl with a bad cut across her eye is whispering in his ear about death. Other than that I have no idea where I am, what’s going on, or what music I’ve been piping into my own ears. The chapter ends and I look up. The bus is just dipping down onto the floating bridge across the lake, and the sun is setting. Emmylou Harris sings, “When I stop dreaming, that’s when I’ll stop loving you.” A water skier cuts back and forth across the wake of a boat. We are down on the floating part of the bridge, just above…

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Six Extra Crushable Male Comic Book Characters

Crushes
I read an article recently on what women (who are into men) find sexy or un-sexy about male comic book characters. The point of the article was partly to demonstrate that muscle-bound male characters are a power fantasy for males and are not catering to the female gaze in the same way that female characters cater to men (who are into women). It made me think about how I see men in comic books.

First, I don’t find very many male comic book characters to be sexy, but I’m not reading comics in pursuit of sexiness so I don’t really care. In general, comics creators make their men with noses that are way too small and regular. Their faces aren’t drawn with enough detail. They’re just not real enough. Their hands aren’t interesting to look at. Sometimes their eyes are so round, they look guileless. They’re either too handsome or too cartoonishly homely. And big muscles really aren’t interesting to me.

Second, there is an enjoyable ambience of sexiness from the female characters. If a beautiful female character isn’t a prop and is somewhat believable, I usually think she’s sexy. It’s the inverse of the situation with men. The women just lend themselves to sexiness, and then they can kind of kick up a miasma of sexiness for the whole book, even if the men aren’t really participating. I don’t read the kind of books that make me feel extremely sad about how women are portrayed, so I’m not taking those depictions into account.

But what or who do I find sexy among comic book men? Well, there haven’t been that many but here are six in no particular order.

#1) Marko from Saga.

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I haven’t been reading this book regularly, but this guy is really appealing. It’s his face that does it for me—Fiona Staples is just good at faces, I think. Even with horns and flappy ears, he looks more like a guy who could exist in real life than most men I see in comic books. I like the lines of his face, his strong nose, his jawline, his angularity, his brows, his deepset eyes, and his lips that are just a little bit full. He looks very intelligent and a little brooding, but also like he’s a good guy. He also looks tired, and looking tired is really important. I have a thing for tired-looking guys. I blame it on working in a seafood plant as a young girl and developing crushes on machinists who were too old for me and would look increasingly wrecked as the canning season wore on. Which leads right into the next guy.

#2) Earl Tubbs from Southern Bastards.

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Jason Latour drew Earl so old and craggy and mad. He’s like a tree trunk with big meaty forearms. He’s so tired. He’s exhausted. He has the weight of the world on his big broad shoulders. He doesn’t suffer fools. He has giant hands. He wears plaid. I love Earl.

#3) Bruno from Ms. Marvel.

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I feel a little bad that he’s in high school, but I don’t really feel bad, because the book invites me to temporarily relive the sensations of being a teenager. I like how he’s skinny and has curly hair that’s a little long. He tucks it behind his ear in an indifferent manner, and his facial hair situation is a bit haphazard. I like how he’s the all-seeing bystander. Kamala has definitely taken him for granted so far. He is always in her corner and has a delectable dry wit. He does this thing where he furrows his brows and pinches the bridge of his nose with his bony fingers. It’s very realistic! Kudos to G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona for creating an understated character that I want to make out with under the bleachers in some kind of time-travel scenario in which I am definitely not the age I am now.

#4) Tanmay Aayu from Trinadot.

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He does look a little like my Uncle Barney circa 1983, but so do half the guys in Portland. Tanmay has a lot of nice features, like a full dark beard, strong eyebrows, narrow shoulders, limpid eyes, unruly hair, and smallish blunt-fingered hands. He’s sort of a monk but on the outs with the other monks. He’s in some kind of danger. The story (which is written and drawn by Melody Often) is full of mysteries and is a little surreal, so I’m not sure what’s going on yet. I do know that Tanmay has a good working relationship with his grandmother and isn’t much of a talker. He has a cute face when he laughs. He takes care of Bea when she’s injured and in her delirium she mistakes him for a small, friendly bear.

#5) Doc Rocket from Supreme Blue Rose.

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Look at him! Tula Lotay gives him such warm eyes, and such sproingy hair, and a lot of lines and grooves on his face. He’s a scientist in a beat-up spacesuit. He has some sort of pink tribal-looking graffiti on his clothing and skin. He has either freckles or acne scars—either way, it looks good on him. I like his brushy mustache and how he’s looking out from under his eyebrows. He looks tired, and has great hands. One of them is holding a drink because it’s been a helluva day. We don’t really know Doc Rocket very well yet, because he just staggered out of his rocket at the end of the most recent issue—but this is a love at first sight situation. He’s on the cover of the forthcoming issue, so I’m excited.

#6) Bloody Lips from Elektra.

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Michael Del Mundo’s cannibalistic villain is crazy hot. I can hardly take it. Who cares that he eats people? Who cares that you can’t even see his face? He’s steeped in this warm brown glow with little turquoise zing lines, forever associated with summer and youth and water. Writer W. Haden Blackman makes his voice sandy and colloquial, and it works. He’s good at what he does, and he knows it, and he likes it. It makes you think how birds must love flying, and seals must love swimming, and cheetahs must love running. It’s fun to be this guy. He’s not really evil, exactly, he just has goals that are really inconvenient for everybody else. His hands and forearms and veins are incredibly sensual. This is what he reminds me of: The summer I was sixteen, I had a crush on a beautiful crewman on a fishing boat. He had golden skin and wild, curly hair, and it always seemed like light was pouring out of his face. Near the end of the salmon season I was looking out the window of the cannery office and saw the boat he worked on heading out for the last time, not to return until the next year. My crush was in the seine skiff that was trailing behind the boat. As I stood there watching, he leapt like a cat from the skiff into the boat. That leap is what Bloody Lips reminds me of.

LEANTRO #3

When she took a few steps back toward the truck, her fear died down to a lonely ache. She stopped and looked up at the few stars showing through the high overcast. Solitude had always been an escape. It had been cool and delicious, and never lasted as long as she wanted it to. Loneliness was new.

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Written by me, created and influenced by the mind of Ulises Farinas!

Read the third installment of our Leantro’s brave tale.