166 Jay Bodnar Reviews You Can Use: Bigfoot edition ~or~ Can We Please Stop With the Goddamn Emo Books Already?
Bigfoot (Drawn & Quarterly)
by Pascal Girard
I don’t even know how to begin this. So far, in my very brief tenure as a writer for this esteemed site, I have yet to write any negative reviews. My thoughts on that were, “why would I waste my time reviewing things that I thought sucked? I should spend my time pushing all things cool into your collective heads.” I mean, the boring and mediocre have a million fans and detractors, did I have to be among them?
Mind you, it’s not that I’m not reading garbage on occasion, it’s just I chose not to bother you with it. That is, until now.
Bigfoot by Pascal Girard is in a long line of books I should not be reading, but on occasion, because of my fondness for the publisher, (in this case, Drawn & Quarterly) I sometimes take chances on a book I should not.
Why bother telling you this? Well, it was also brought to my attention that maybe part of a reviewers job is to tell people what you don’t like, because if an audience likes what you do like, it stands to reason you can sway some people away from the other stuff and save them some time and money.
I’m going to spoil everything about this book. Everything. I need to, in order to explain why I disliked it as much as I do. If you plan on reading it, or have it and have not yet read it, you have been warned.
156 JAY BODNAR REVIEWS YOU CAN USE: A TENTATIVE TITLE – HULK EDITION, Volume 1: And Lo, There Was A Robot Man Punching A Red Guy In The Face
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Spoilers ahead, maybe? I don’t read this comic, so I don’t know if that’s true. – P.)
Review by Jay Bodnar
The logic of the super-hero is fluid at best. The dual call to altruism and bizarre pageantry of costume design is enough to turn away most casual browsers who don’t have the mindset to dive head first into the borderline unexplainable trauma that the writers of these characters have set up to explain why a supposedly non-insane adult would dress up as a spider, wolverine, bat or flag of a country.
Some characters have a more built-in logic as to how they look, in that I feel if a non-comics reader were to pick up said book, it would become easily apparent as to why the characters look like they do. The two that come to mind are Green Lantern and Iron-Man. Green Lantern clearly wears a militia or law enforcement uniform. Sure, there are slight variations within the Green Lantern Corps from member to member, but there’s enough unity for readers to make that connection. Plus the fact that it plays on the science fiction neck of the woods as much as Superhero-dom helps explain to the layman why they look the way they do. Their outfits are not all that different from the average Star Trek uniform. If one reads Iron-Man, it quickly becomes obvious it’s not a costume at all, but a fully functioning defensive weapons application, a one-man tank.
That’s the first line of dialogue in Daniel Clowes’ Wilson, and a curious one at that. From that moment on Clowes spends his time proving just how much the opposite is true.
On first read Wilson comes off as a look at the worst part of ourselves. Wilson the character seems to be yet another Clowes stand in, and his daily routine consists of insulting, berating, or generally just giving his unwanted opinion to passers-by on the street. Clowes does this via one page “gag” strips, each drawn in a completely different style than the last. (Sometimes the “gags” aren’t really funny: in a scene that takes place at his father’s death-bed Wilson hopes to hear something honest from the sick old man, screaming “Come on, fucker!”) These strips serve to show off his incredible range as a cartoonist and each style — ranging from Schultz and Brunetti “cartoony” drawings to his more recognizable style used in Ghost World to any number of stops in between — gives off a distinct mood or impression that the artist wants you to feel. Of course, sometimes he wants you to feel that way just so he can pull out the rug from underneath: some of the more deliberately “depressing” parts of the book are the least “realistic,” and vice versa.
The trouble with using this approach in pursuit of a narrative, though, comes across pretty early on. While we’re shown many different “styles” of Wilson that provoke a visceral response none of that registers once he’s opened his mouth: he’s an unlikable jerk no matter how he’s drawn. Stylistically it looks beautiful but it doesn’t have the effect that I think Clowes was going for. Clowes’ characters are often times dicks, to be sure — not just here, but also in Ice Haven and Ghost World. They don’t grow, at least not really, and as a reader it’s frustrating and a little annoying. The difference is that in his other works the fact that we want them to become better people feels like more of the point. There’s a pathos there with some of his other characters that doesn’t quite come across here, and a lot of that might have to do with the choices Clowes made to tell the story. Maybe we can never relate to Wilson on any level because we never get the impression that what we’re seeing is truly “him” (though it’s worth noting that Ice Haven succeeded with a similar approach.)
One storytelling approach I was quite fond of is his use of panel space. The entire book is practically one giant pregnant moment. Throughout there are hints of what’s happened or is about to happen, and Clowes seems to treat these moments of action more as vessels to the next bit of mundanity than as legitimate plot devices. “The loneliness of the human condition,” as Wilson himself puts it.
The trouble with portraying the human condition in Wilson is that it’s through the lens of one seriously flawed human. By the time we get used to all of the stylistic flare that Clowes uses, the reader is already so turned off by the main character that it’s hard to develop any kind of empathy. We’re supposed to like Wilson in the same way we like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm but David’s curmudgeonly attitude comes with some pre-established logic behind it. Wilson, on the other hand, is rude for the sake of rudeness. His view of the world doesn’t match up with the view of anyone else he comes into contact with, and it doesn’t make you think– it makes you repulsed. If the message is “sometimes dicks can be funny” then Clowes certainly hit that mark, but there isn’t much here to prove they’re also likable or misunderstood. There’s some evidence that Wilson really was an okay guy deep down who just couldn’t help but speak his mind– just not very much evidence: in the final scene Wilson may or may not have had a profound breakthrough, but it’s too late anyway, both for him and for the reader. It doesn’t matter anymore; anyone who has ever “loved” him (“acknowledged” him seems more accurate) is gone, and any chance we’ve ever had of relating to him was destroyed many pages ago.
Wilson is a formalist work, through and through, and to that end it’s a rousing success. Furthermore, it’s terribly funny. I found myself laughing out loud at the last panel of almost every page. (My favorite joke: a man named Will asks Wilson’s daughter if she’d like to go to church with him, to which she responds “I fucking hate all religion.” Wilson: “‘From the mouths of babes…,’eh, Will?”) And strictly speaking, a new Daniel Clowes comic is worth reading regardless of whether it succeeds on every level. But on strength of story and character alone, Wilson misses its mark.
Drawn and Quarterly
It’s a big, life changing week for me! I’ll be moving in with my significant other soon and we’re getting ducks in a row to make all of that happen. In the meantime I read a comic that upset me! Go figure!
Ultimate Comics New Ultimate Ultimate Ultimate Wow That Is Pretty Fuckin Ultimate #1 (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Frank Cho
Here’s what I had to do in order to just open this comic book.
So there was that.
The Flash: Rebirth came out this week? Seriously? The last time an issue of this came out I was like 13, I think.
So is it any good? No, not really, but the reasons why it doesn’t work– and why Blackest Night does– are what I’m focusing on this Friday.
Blackest Night #7 (of 8 )
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Ivan Reis
And so here it is, the conclusion of The Flash: Rebirth. A six issue series that took a year to come out. Sure, that averages out to a bimonthly comic, but that’s rationale that you can use only if you ignore the fact that comic shops haven’t seen a new issue of this series for three months. After a relatively good start Rebirth was so riddled with delays that even Captain America: Reborn, which began months later, finished before this comic did. It’s without question a huge fuck up on the part of DC, and something they’ve come to be quite known for.
But in fact, the fuck up goes just beyond putting out a late book. You see The Flash: Rebirth was spun out of Final Crisis, itself the product of lateness (in fact, Final Crisis ended up pushing back the start of Flash: Rebirth, which could account for their relatively quick output toward the beginning.) Rebirth was supposed to finish before Blackest Night, but has come out in the same week as Blackest Night’s second to last issue, and a full week later than the last issue of Blackest Night: Flash. This all goes without saying that The Flash: Rebirth was supposed to be the grand return of a character long dead– until then the longest dead popular character in comics– which due to all of this tardiness has become so muddled and non-linear that most of the dramatic impact is gone. Then again, it’s not like that matters because no one who likes this kind of stuff cares too much how it happens– just that it happens. The Flash is back! The real Flash! The one from my childhood I never actually read about or cared about before this event but was told is really special! Thanks DC, you are not a huge joke at all whatsoever!
It’s the funny little coincidences that make life worth living, isn’t it?
Yesterday on DC’s Source blog it was announced that DC had named a new executive team. Dan Didio and Jim Lee were named co-publishers, and Geoff Johns was named Chief Creative Officer. It was a move that, if not necessarily surprised, certainly raised the interest of some. Following a note from Diane Nelson the three men took to the blog to announce their intentions.
Now over the past few weeks I’ve gone on about the importance placed on legacy and continuity in comics, discussing the various benefits and inherent problems with it. This approach has specifically been used by DC Comics, so imagine my surprise when I read this portion of Dan Didio and Jim Lee’s note:
And when you think about it, change is and always has been the vital life force that has made DC Comics the premiere publishing powerhouse that it is today.
It’s just one sentence out of the whole article, so I’m taking it a little out of context (they talked a bit about DC’s business decisions in addition to their creative) but it seems funny to use the words “change” and “DC Comics” in the same breath. It made me look back at a lot of their past stories in the context of their newer ones, right up to this week’s comics. With that in mind here’s a quick overview at the publisher’s output for the week of February 17, 2010.
Among other things The Punisher is a story about family. Frank Castle, Vietnam veteran, had a wife and kids that were murdered by the mob, which in turn leads Castle down a dark path of violence and torture. Without his family his life will never be the same, and even after exacting justice against the men who did the deed he can’t stop. Each criminal’s life is another piece of revenge against the people who did him wrong. The targets change but his motivations remain the same.
Wilson Fisk is an absolute monster, but also a family man at heart. While the future Kingpin is cunning and ruthless the scenes here with his family are very genuine and even sweet. As we saw in issue 2 his father was an abusive man and that relationship has shaped the way Wilson lives. Yes, he’s tough, and his past is what made him that way; but he won’t be tough on his family. That’s an important distinction. If we’re to compare these versions of the characters with their core Marvel universe counterparts Fisk’s love for his wife may be his undoing, as Vanessa is as shrewd as Wilson, if not more so. But for now we see the Fisks’ personal life as somewhat normal, and Wilson’s machinations serve to improve the lives of the ones he loves. As his plan comes to a head and he fears for his family’s life, he pleads with his wife, “Please. You’ve gotta go. Rigoletto’s going to be looking for me.” As his phone rings he assumes Rigoletto’s already on him, but when he answers it’s the Punisher, standing outside. Fisk’s life hits close to home for Frank: “I know you got a wife and kid up there, Fisk. Come down and we’ll finish this on the street.”
One imagines that at some point the Mennonite was like Fisk, using any means necessary to rise through the ranks of organized crime. Now, however, he and his family live in a Mennonite community, his wife terminally ill and his children on the cusp of losing their mother. He sees them poking through the yard, finding his old gun which he proceeds to bury. You don’t know much about this character but you get the impression he’s trying to escape a violent past. However when the past comes calling, with a sick wife and two kids, the Mennonite answers. Rigoletto wants him to kill the Punisher, and he’ll do it– but he’ll only use tools his religion allows, trying to keep some distance between his life now and the man he used to be.
Three men, thematically similar, on three different paths. Castle is trying to avenge his family, with no end in sight to his pain. Fisk is starting out, trying to provide for his family. The Mennonite is trying to protect his family and his new life. Jason Aaron weaves these three stories together wonderfully, keeping Castle as the thematic backbone to an issue about two family men making amends with another family.
(Many thanks for the emails of condolences.)
Siege #2 does a lot of things. First, it furthers along the story of the battle for Asgard, the plan by Norman Osborn to destroy the city and kill its inhabitants. He’s doing this because… because? and it appears that his plan is succeeding big time. It also shows what happened to the mighty Thor at the end of issue #1, supposedly taken down at the hands of Osborn’s Avengers. In addition, it teases at the real Avengers’ return, as well as the return of Steve Rogers– Captain America– and serves to bring Bendis’ Avengers saga to a close. Then there’s… well, shoot, I’m sure I’m missing something here. It feels so obvious… it’s right on the tip of my tongue and yet I can’t quite– oh yeah, now I remember:
Cry For Justice #6 (of 7) (DC Comics)
Written by James Robinson
Art by Scott Clark
Man I’m so upset I missed the boat on talking about this shit show. At first there was so much to discuss: the previews were downright sexist, cutting off Supergirl’s head and focusing only on her breasts; then there was some questionable moral conduct, and a quite literal interpretation of the comic’s title. Oh, and Hal Jordan had a threesome off panel.
But all that controversial stuff is over. Now the comic is just boring, and the art is really shitty.
Batman & Robin #7 (DC Comics)
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart
A few people placed this comic on their “best of 2009″ lists and while I don’t think that’s unacceptable you really need to specify what issues you’re talking about. For example I thought Frank Quitely’s work in Batman & Robin 1-3 was outstanding, and should have been required reading for everyone last year. Philip Tan, well… let’s just say he didn’t quite have the chops to follow that short run. In fact it was downright ugly. Scenes didn’t make sense, people looked like goblins– I was flipping through the pages as fast as I could just to finish and have it be done with.
On that token Batman & Robin #7 was a huge, huge success. Beyond the fact that Cameron Stewart’s artwork is generally just beautiful, his light and airy figures fit well in the cartoony “Club of Heroes” world. It’s an altogether great comic in the same way those first few issues were great, and besides the GLARING MISTAKE BY THE LETTERER AND EDITOR that enough people have discussed the whole thing is pretty flawless. And hey, look; it is possible to have a nice looking Batwoman in a comic that isn’t horribly, horribly, horribly boring!
Have you read it? Of course you have! It’s the internet– these things get around! Some guy named Mark Andrew reviewed Joe the Barbarian for Comic Book Resources, and truthfully, I didn’t think everyone in the world was going to like it, but come on:
AAAAHHHHHHH! THIS COMIC! IT IS SO BAD! SO! SO! SO! BAD! GAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! LET US GATHER TOGETHER AND CLEANSE THE UNHOLY DAMNED THING WITH FIRE! IT IS SOOOO BAD! SOOOOOOO BAD! BAD BAD! BAD! BAD! BAD!
That’s not an exaggeration; those are the man’s actual words.
So what gives? Is it as bad as all that? Did it suck “like a finely aged wine that tastes terrible?”(???)
Let’s take a look at Joe the Barbarian #1 after the jump.