Testing out some new comics

Our pull list at our local comic shop seems to get longer every month. Every time a series ends or starts to flag enough for us to cancel it, another two or three come along. I’ve mostly been leaving those new series to Tim but today I decided to try out a handful and see what grabbed me.

Gamora issue #1
by Nicole Perlman (writer), Marco Checchetto (penciller) and Andres Mossa (colourist)

This new series centres around a character from Guardians of the Galaxy, which I personally only know from the excellent film. Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, raised by him as an assassin and heir, despite him having created his own daughter Nebula. Consequently, Nebula hates Gamora. In the meantime, Thanos has given Gamora the gift of destroying a whole race. It’s an interesting, if violent, set-up. The artwork is an interesting, watercolour style. But I must admit this didn’t grab me.

Published December 2016 by Marvel.

 

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Recent reads in brief

While I am slowly making my way through more than 600 pages of Sophie’s Choice, I am actually a little behind on book reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.

Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

This small volume was written 1903–1908 but its advice still feels relevant and wise, which is presumably why it quickly became a classic.

Franz Xaver Kappus was put in touch with Rilke by the chaplain at his military academy, who had known Rilke when he too was a student at the school 15 years earlier. Kappus aspired to write and Rilke was a revered (rightly so) poet. These 10 letters constitute Rilke’s advice on how to look at life as well as how to write and some non-advice observations from Rilke such as his thoughts on Rome (he was not a fan) and other places he travelled to (all the letters seem to be written from a different location, and often include reference to months spent somewhere else in-between).

What most caught my attention was Rilke’s thoughts on gender equality. He was a feminist if ever I read one. He truly believed that the two sexes were created equal and that society still unfairly favoured men as a relic from a bygone age when man’s superiority of strength and size was relevant to everyday life. Rilke not only believes that the time will come when women will be considered equal in all respects to man, he also thinks that in time women will take their turn as the gender running the show.

Rilke is sweet, earnest, but also troubled. He’s also extremely eloquent. Because he’s Rilke.

“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would have us believe, most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”

Briefe an einen jungen Dichter published 1929 by Insel Verlag.

This translation first published 1984 by Random House.

Source: Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin.

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Late summer reads in brief

As well as the proper serious books that I’ve read and reviewed lately, I’ve also been powering my way through lots of comics – and a kids’ classic. Tim keeps finding new comic series he thinks I’ll like – and he’s generally right – as he makes his way through the Marvel NOW relaunch. Which means my comic reading is almost exclusively Marvel at the moment. If anyone has any non-Marvel comic recommendations, please do send them my way! I’ve been reading single issues for the most part online, but I did splash out and buy the trade paperback volumes of Ms Marvel because it is awesome.

fantasticfour_nowFantastic Four issues 1–8
by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley

I came to this reboot of the Fantastic Four – genius Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic, his wife Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, her brother Johnny Storm/the Human Torch and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm/the Thing – with my only pre-existing knowledge of the group being the 2005 film starring Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba. Which is not a lot of knowledge. But Fraction does a pretty great job of summarising the current state of things before changing everything up. Essentially, Reed Richards and Sue Storm run a sort of school, the Future Foundation, for gifted children of all alien/non-human species as well as the odd human, including their own two children Franklin and Valeria. But the Fantastic Four are always off fighting evil away from the kids. And on their last adventure Reed discovered that his body is breaking down in some mysterious way that can’t be fixed with Earth technology. So he decides to kill two birds with one stone and suggests the Fantastic Four take Franklin and Valeria on an educational adventure across space and time. He doesn’t tell anyone that he is secretly searching for a cure that they may all desperately need. Matt Fraction’s stamp on this series is very clear, with gentle humour and genuine emotional complexity rolled in along with romping spacetime adventures. It’s a lot of fun.

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The superhero 12 miles from Manhattan

ms marvel vol 1Ms Marvel vol 1: No Normal
by G Willow Wilson (writer) and Adrian Alphona (artist)

When Marvel launched a new Ms Marvel series in February 2014, it got a fair bit of press attention for starring their first Muslim superhero. Add to that the fact that the series is edited and written by women, and cue a lot of clamour about how comic books are changing. What interested me more, though, was that it had a teenage female lead, making it effectively a coming of age story, and I’m a sucker for those.

Kamala Khan is 16 and lives in Jersey City in the US with her parents and older brother. She idolises the Avengers and resents the strict rules imposed by her parents and religion, but as rule-breaking goes she keeps it small, because she does want to honour her parents and her god. So it’s a big deal when she sneaks out of the house one night to attend a party. Of course that just has to be the one night that a mysterious green mist descends on Jersey City that does something decidedly weird to her.

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Anything is a weapon if you’re in deep enough trouble

Hawkeye Volume 1
by Matt Fraction

Hawkeye cover by David Aja

I think Tim is slowly but surely turning me into a Marvel fan. It began with the X-Men films, then the Avengers films, then the TV shows (Ultimate Spider-Man is really very good, and not just “for a cartoon”) and now finally he’s got me reading the comics. Although, thinking about it, I first heard the new Hawkeye comics recommended by Michael Kindness on the Books on the Nightstand podcast and passed that on to Tim, who read the first few and in turn told me I’d like them too. It’s all got a bit meta.

Anyway, the point is that I am writing this review as someone who has never read traditional superhero comics. I’ve read some of the alternative self-contained ones – Watchmen, Saga, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – but never braved the whole mega universe of dozens or even hundreds of characters interacting over several decades that you are faced with when you pick up a mainstream Marvel or DC comic. Until now. I feel that I’m on the brink of a vortex of thousands of stories and I can’t decide if that’s daunting or exciting!

Of course, Hawkeye isn’t strictly a superhero. He’s a really really good archer. But he is part of the Marvel universe and interacts with proper job superheroes (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk) and they all have their own storylines that weave in and out of each other’s. What’s nice about this latest series about Hawkeye is that its emphasis is on the time when Hawkeye isn’t working with the Avengers, so it can be read in isolation perhaps more easily and it has a look and feel that aren’t, to me, very “superhero”.

“You cowboy around with the Avengers some. Guys got, what? Armor. Magic. Super-powers. Super-strength. Shrink-dust. Grow-rays. Magic. Healing factors. I’m an orphan raised by carnies. Fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era. So when I say this looks ‘bad’? I promise you it feels worse.”

In fact, my initial attraction to these comics, and still one of my favourite aspects, is the extremely stylish design. The artwork is simple and stylised with a limited colour palette. This hardback volume includes one crossover comic from the series Young Avengers Presents and the difference in appearance really stands out. So I have nothing but praise for the whole art team.

But I think I wouldn’t have lasted 11 issues if the stories weren’t as good as the art. The basic thesis is that Hawkeye/Clint Barton is a good but flawed man with plenty of secrets and not the best history with women. He lives in New York City in an apartment building with a pretty varied bunch of ne’er-do-wells and tries to fend off the local branch of Russian mafia.

It’s not the first attempt to humanise a hero or to get under the skin of a man who’s afraid of commitment, but that doesn’t stop it from being an interesting combination with action adventure and daily life in a grimier corner of the city. There’s also the quite lovely relationship that Clint has with the Young Avengers Hawkeye, a teenager called Kate whose archery skills can match his but who needs advice on some other aspects of working seedy underworld jobs one day, and then for SHIELD the next day.

“Anything is a weapon if you’re in deep enough trouble. There’s no special training. No special skill. Just the belief that at any time you might have to hurt someone to stay alive. What kind of animal walks into a room and figures out what they can use to hurt people if they have to hurt? What kind…”

Another thing that makes this series stand out is the complicated timeline. It really isn’t always clear what order some events occur in. It’s certainly not linear, even within one issue. And some of the other information supplied can tend to the oblique, rather than spelling it all out for you. It’s genuinely complex writing that both draws you in and slows you down, which is good, as I’ve found that sometimes I tend to race through comics and almost skip the artwork. Here, so much is unsaid that I find myself “reading” the pictures carefully to find any clues not provided in words.

So was I won over because the first comic in this series is about Hawkeye meeting Pizza Dog? Possibly. I am a sucker for a dog lover. But I have stayed interested and am looking forward to volume 2 already. Yay, Hawkguy!

This collection published 2013 by Marvel.

Source: Excelsior! comic-book shop, Bristol.