Mirror #1: Turn Invisible and Run Away

Mirror #5Mirror #1 begins a story of colonization, animals with human qualities, and a mixture of science, magic, and politics. Emma Rios and Hwei Lim give Mirror #1 confidence. Confident stories don’t rush to explain, defend or demonstrate. They trust that we will see the whole picture before we lose patience. They trust in their own ability to give us the information in the order we’ll need it. There’s a lot going on, but we’ll get there. And we can latch on emotionally from the first pages.

 

There are two main things to grab hold of in Mirror #1. First, the dog-girl Sena and the mage Ivan loved each other as children and now they aren’t even friends. Sena’s dogness makes this undone loyalty cut to the quick. A flurry of scenes give us a glimpse of catastrophe in their adolescence. A phrase rings out twice,  first as a threat: “I’ll turn invisible and run away.” Then, a plea: “Turn invisible and run away!”

Mirror #6Mirror #2

Mirror #3

The second thing to latch on to is that the little rat-woman Zun has to be brave and take on hard and dangerous tasks for the greater good.

Hwei Lim’s watercolors underwrite the floating, trusting confidence of Mirror. She gives us circus imagery and sadness. Softness and primary colors. The love of a boy for his dog against a sterile backdrop of cages and lab gear. Strong black lines that are rounded, incomplete, floating in white space and washes of color.

Lim’s figures have the quickness of costume designs–unassuming, economical, fluid. Then the figures speak and Rios nails us to the wall with clean, simple dialogue.

 

Mirror #1

 

 

 

All the Scarlet Witches: Steve Dillon

Scarlet Witches #3 was written by James Robinson (who has been ok at best on this series) with art by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin (Scarlet Witch has a different art team every issue).

Things I like about Scarlet Witches #3:

1.) I kind of like how Steve Dillon (with Frank Martin on colors) plays it as it lays. After more heavily stylized Wandas in #1 and #2, now we have a standard comicbook Wanda. Cleavage, check. Hair that’s sultry but without a lot of personality, check. Pouty comic book lady face, check. I kind of like this cranky, low-affect Wanda, and I like that she is darker-skinned and darker-eyed in this issue. She was looking downright WASPy in #2.

Scarlet Witch #3 wanda

2.) My favorite thing Dillon and Martin do is a few landscape panels that go farther than anything else in the issue (definitely including the writing) to transmit a spooky mood and a sense of place.

Scarlet Witch #3 landscape #1

3.) The teaser for Scarlet Witch #4 at the end, with Chris Visions’s pages, is a sight for sore eyes. It looks really rich and individual, full of red hues and expressive lines. It looks like we might be getting back to the early promise of Scarlet Witch #1, by  Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire.

4.) James Robinson leaning into Irish brogue is the best opportunity he’s given us so far to work on enjoying a badly written story. Sometimes I’m jealous of the women in my book club who seem to experience novels not as artifacts crafted by a mind but as gossip and folklore that has been downloaded directly into their brains.I enjoy the feeling that we are sitting around a fire talking about people we know. It curbs some of my natural over-thinking. If they were like me, we would kill the novel and take it apart. Most of these women just want to talk about how a character reminds them of their ex-husband, and then there are more details about the ex-husband and everybody forgets about the book for awhile. There is a strong argument to be made that their way of consuming stories is more valid than mine.

At the end of the day: Yes, let’s talk about the end of the day. Lately they’ve been a certain kind. The last three weeks have been long work days full of problem-solving and fire-dousing in the middle of a lot of emotions, politics, and uncertainty. I leave the house at 5:15 in the morning, get home about 12 hours later, skip dinner, and crawl in bed with comic books. I can’t keep up this pathetic routine too much longer without permanent damage to my self-esteem, but for now my total lack of ambition outside of work has been getting me through. So you know, what does a comic book like Scarlet Witch #3 do for me in a situation like that? In my bed with a fried brain? All in all, Scarlet Witch #3 is like a candy bar you used to like as a kid, but now they make it with slightly different ingredients and it’s not as good, but you go through the motions. Hoping that flipping those flimsy pages will make you feel better, that you can recapture some of that magic just from the gestalt of what a comic book is instead of the comic book itself.

Mirror #1 by Emma Rios and Hwei Lim on the other hand? This book met me halfway; this book met me more than halfway. This book came gliding over to me, fresh and intelligent and full of authentic emotion. It was a balm I didn’t have to work for, a revelation. We could have a debate about whether Scarlet Witch #3 justifies its own existence. But when our brains are too tired for debate, its a book like Rios and Lim made that has the power to restore.

Life on Mars: Emma Rios in Island #1 & #2

Island is an Image project that Brandon Graham and friends put together. It’s part anthology and part comics magazine, and it’s full of treasures. Island #6 will be in comic shops next Wednesday (January 27) but today I’m looking back at the first and second issues, which included the chilling, warming, red-inked tale “I.D.” by Emma Rios.

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I.D. opens with three strangers meeting in a coffee shop in a future that feels familiar. They are all part of a pilot program to have their brains transferred into new bodies. The story quickly zooms out to show a Mars colony beset by political unrest, then zooms all the way back in to the insides of each character’s mind, and the smallest moments between them, and the touch of their skin against surfaces. All of it is in red. Some of it is in the stark red and white of a china pattern. Some of it is in the dusty pinks of Mars. In the first panels, the two men learn that prickly 50-something Charlotte is a writer. Themes of the wry, observant writer are spun throughout I.D., turning the story into a fantastic literary mic-drop by Emma Rios, a woman who is largely known as a visual artist.

Rios 1

Charlotte, Mike and Noa start to talk–with awkwardness, diffidence and sparks of chemistry.Each has his or her  own reasons for wanting a new body–and none of them thinks the others would understand.

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The world beyond their restless broodiness soon comes crashing in–on the television, and through the glass windows of the coffee shop. Rios’s art pivots from quiet eavesdropping to slashing, furious shapes and lines. After a dizzying stream of action panels,  the three manage to get away from the protesters and militarized police. It’s the chaos, not the conversation, that makes them intimates. And this leads to a strange night in Charlotte’s apartment, with more conversation, emotion, and hi-jinks. It’s the ultimate sleepover, really.

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But all the while, there is this bone-chilling awareness that they are planning to let their bodies die. It’s a cold current running underneath the human warmth we see developing between the three. When they part the next morning, Rios wraps us around Charlotte alone in her apartment. We curl like Charlotte’s fingers around her cup of tea. Every solitary, visceral moment is allowed to pass in real time. And then she begins to write.

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One of the things that makes this story immediately great is that Rios has the restraint to go small when everything big is happening. It’s taking place on a partly terraformed Mars, in a time of popular uprisings against an oppressive class system, in a future where science has advanced to the point where your brain can be extracted and put in another body. It is terrifying. And still everyone is just locked in their own skin and in their own experiences, trying to connect through a hailstorm of identity issues.

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(I accidentally lapsed into re-cap mode, but there is much more to the story beyond what I described–the disturbing political and scientific details of the program, the outcomes of the psychologically and physically risky surgeries, and of course the  arcs of the relationships between Mike, Noa, and Charlotte. Which is all to say, go get Island #1 and #2, and generally get into Island because this is the caliber of work that the series includes.)

Jordie Bellaire colors Agatha Harkness

There were a couple of Marvel sequences recently that made me think “this is why I read comics.” Even though the pages are in two different series with two different artists, they are both colored by Jordie Bellaire and they both feature the white-haired witch, Agatha Harkness. In both cases, we see how a limited palette shows off what Bellaire can do–and how heavily Bellaire contributes to the integrity of the stories she works on.

Scarlet Witch #1 opens quietly with Vanesa Del Rey’s dark, scratchy lines soaking up Bellaire’s moody colors. Agatha, in ghost form, is talking with her protege Wanda.

Agatha is dry, sardonic, and all in blue gray. Her coloring matches Wanda’s sad eyes. Wanda’s red dressing gown strikes a minor chord with the magenta of the room. These rich bloody colors work with James Robinson’s dialogue to drench the panels in a feeling of privacy and the bond between two women.

In The Vision #3, we go back in time to when Agatha was alive. She and her familiar are performing a ritual to see into the future. The mood immediately shifts with time and place because the colors are so subdued after pages and pages of the Vision family’s bright green hair against their red skin. The Agatha panels start quietly enough.

agatha 1

The dimmer palette accentuates Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s inking in a way the earlier pages, bulging with color, don’t. It’s a sort of nakedness. Tom King’s narration carries through the scene, moving at a different pace–on a different path–than the pictures. The boxes have been magenta all along, but  now they seem to presage Agatha’s appearance.

agatha 2

As the Agatha panels turn vicious and bloody, the red/magenta juxtaposition appears again–and again it speaks to intimacy between Wanda and Agatha.

The carnage reminds us of another supernatural white-haired woman Bellaire colored: Alice in Image’s Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios.

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With a few colors, Bellaire both heightens Rios’s lines and stays out of their way. It’s one of those things that looks easy when done right–but if everybody could do it, these books wouldn’t stand out from the field as much as they do.