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.

All the Scarlet Witches: Del Rey & Bellaire

I like that James Robinson is writing a Scarlet Witch series that is all stand-alone stories and a different artist for each story. Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire so totally owned the character and story in the first issue, though, I’m not sure anyone else will be able to measure up. Right now it looks like issue after issue will come out, and we’ll just sigh and think “Remember that time that Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire drew Wanda Maximoff?”

SW1 facing pages

I’m planning to follow the series because I like this sort of thing, where some variables (writer, character, letterer) stay the same and another (art) is switched. It’s a good set up for story science. I know now that the Del Rey/Bellaire issue is the one that will have to be the benchmark all the others are compared to. What I don’t know is if I’m ever going to actually read the words.

I “read” the Del Rey and Bellaire issue several times, poring over the art, before I realized I hadn’t actually read it. And then when I went back and consciously set out to read it, I just got bored and bogged down and wanted to stop. A lot of conversation, a lot of reflection, a lot of exposition — and I couldn’t latch on. The art is where it’s at.

From the first pages, Del Rey (pencils & inks) and Bellaire (color) lock in this dusky aesthetic. There’s the shadowy, magenta-bathed privacy of Wanda’s home. And then there’s the grey-scale grittiness of the city outside. In both places, Wanda’s red clothing pops against the background and her face is made luminous and expressive with minimal line work.

There’s a smudgy scratchiness to how Del Rey draws, but there’s something sharp, accurate, and reliable about her art. Clean white gutters between murky panels, columnar panels like the canyons of the city avenues, chevron panels coming down in smart Vs like her heroine’s angular nose and chin. And most of all — and Bellaire contributes to this — the aesthetic creates an uninterrupted dream featuring a particular person in a particular place. And that’s why I don’t care that I don’t care about the writing. This is confident, intuitive visual storytelling, and will be a hard act to follow.

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.

prettydeadlypanel1

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.

 

The Empty Man #4

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It’s the time of year when I remind people that I hate Halloween, fail to come up with a costume, make myself sick on candy corn (but just once), don’t get invited to any parties, hide in the dark from trick or treaters, and then eat the overflow candy that my co-workers bring into the office. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like creepiness. Cullen Bunn and Vanesa Del Rey’s The Empty Man has been quietly creeping me out for months now. If you’re getting in the Halloween mood, you might want to check out this series. If you can’t find the earlier issues, keep an eye out for a trade paperback later this year.

This panel sums up Del Rey’s art for this series:

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It’s very shadowy, all the time. It’s relentlessly ominous. The heavy line work and shading are just caked on. There are always dark corners and doorways where something could be lurking. Monica Jensen is half of an investigative team that is the more even-keeled, procedural part of a supernatural story Jensen and Langford are the good guys, the science-minded sane people. But Jensen can’t trust her mind or her sight, and she’s not sure she can trust her partner either. As Langford says, “We’re all a little sick.”

What is the empty man? A disease, contagious insanity, a god, an alien invasion? Nobody knows what it is or how it started. The empty man starts out as the empty space at the center of the story, defined by the mayhem it leaves behind as well as by what’s sprung up around it—the multi-agency government task force, a mega-church, and dozens of cults. The empty man starts as a psychological horror that makes you see and do terrible things.

The things Bunn comes up with are the sort of nightmare items that are hideous while you’re dreaming, but sound ridiculous once you’re awake. For instance, a woman who suffocates herself in a kitty litter box because she hears a voice talking to her from it. A hand reaching out of a woman’s purse as she walks to her car in a dark parking garage. Del Rey’s style works well for these surreal horrors, maybe because of the brushiness of her art. She partly obscures her own illustrations with shadows, and lets your imagination fill in the blanks. Bunn writes in a dry, reportorial style– when he wants you to know that a man died of malnutrition after becoming physically fused to his sofa, he tells it in the style of a police report. Just the facts, ma’am.

Over the course of the series, the empty man has somehow morphed from a sort of psychosis into a physical monster that could wind up on the hood of your car.

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IT IS SO SCARY!!!!

I don’t know why it is, but when things are dark and no one trusts each other, sometimes horror will keep you warm.

This is the fourth of six issues, so we are running out of time to find out what the empty man is, locate the sequestered patient zero, recover some missing children at the center of the case, and vanquish an evil preacher. Jensen and Langford already seem to be on their last legs, so things could get even uglier.