Daytripper, A Life Examined: Postmortem

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 30 as part 12 of a 12 part series.

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Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Daytripper. This is the twelfth and final part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series.

Read the introduction here.

Read Jason Sacks’s look at Chapter One of Daytripper, titled “32”, here.

Read Keith Silva’s look at Chapter Two of Daytripper, titled “21”, here.

Read Chase Magnett’s look at Chapter Three of Daytripper, titled “28”, here.

Read Daniel Elkin’s look at Chapter Four of Daytripper, titled “41”, here.

Read Keith Silva look at Chapter Five of Daytripper, titled “11”, here.

Read Paul Brian McCoy’s look at Chapter Six of Daytripper, titled “33”, here.

Read Chase Magnett’s look at Chapter Seven of Daytripper, titled “38”, here.

Read Jason Sacks’ look at Chapter Eight of Daytripper, titled “47”, here.

Read Paul Brian McCoy’s look at Chapter Nine of Daytripper, titled “dream”, here.

Read Daniel Elkin’s look at Chapter Ten of Daytripper, titled “76”, here.

Today we wrap up our look at Daytripper with, as we appropiately call it, a Postmortem on the series.


Keith Silva: Always the writer, always the showman, Stephen King waits until the last sentence of chapter six inDanse Macabre to deliver his coup de grâce about American horror movies. King writes, ”the ultimate subtext that underlies all good horror films is, But not yet. Not this time.”

As readers we are all junkies for what’s next. For Brás de Olivia Domingos the destination was never … well, the destination. Brás is like some Ancient Mariner, he waits at the outskirts of the Bridegroom’s door and we (the readers) are like ”one of three.” In some instances, we get to be the other guys and pass by these ancient mariners these storytellers like Brás, but not yet. Not this time.

A good storyteller — tellers in the case of Moon and Bá — knows God is in the details, in those ”quiet moments,” the intangibles that explain what we need and what we want. Affirmation all the way down. Daytripper is a very mortal (and moral) story. Its humanity is found in how we relate to it, how we as readers are drawn to write ourselves into its pages, to stop others and tell our own stories. Daytripper operates on a frequency of blatant subtlety. Yes, this is a story about the death(s) of one man; however, each of those deaths is the echo, a result of an action, life.

We read Daytripper for those two final words, ”the end.” That’s the beauty, the gift, of fiction, its ability to allow us to curl our toes right on the edge, safe in the knowledge of not yet. Not this time.

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Chase Magnett: “The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.” – Andrei Tarkovskii

I died when I was eight years old.

As I write this sentence almost two decades later, I consider myself very lucky to be capable of telling that half-truth.

When I was eight years old, I became increasingly ill. I lost forty pounds and missed more than two weeks of school. Doctors discouraged my parents from taking me to a hospital because they thought I had influenza. That’s what I’m told. I don’t remember much. The one clear memory I have is staring at the roof of the ambulance as paramedics wrestled with my body and hearing my mother sob in the background before I went into a coma.

I didn’t have influenza. I had diabetes and my blood sugar had been rising for a very long time, slowly destroying my body. So I was rushed to a hospital where I was read my last rites by a Catholic priest and my family was forced to process that they were going to lose me.

But they didn’t. I pulled through. And I’m here today discussing Daytripper with four other writers who I have been incredibly lucky to work alongside.

What does this have to do with Daytripper? To me, everything.

Having a clear perspective of death changes how we live. It forces us to consider the meaning of our actions, the value of our relationships, and the purpose of our lives. Life is a finite good, of which we are allotted an unknown measure and with which we must form an answer to these considerations. We do not know how or when we will die, only that we certainly will, and in that moment our ability to affect the world will cease.

Daytripper is nominally a story about death. Each chapter focuses on the death of Brás de Oliva Domingos. We see the same man die again and again, helpless to end the cycle initiated by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá in the very first chapter. This cycle always ends with an obituary, reflecting Brás’ life and what it meant. It is here that the comic reveals its true intent.

I think of Daytripper and it reminds me of why I live. Each obituary does not focus on the manner or impact of Brás’ death, but the significance of his life. Although he departs the world, his actions and relationships retain value and that is the focus of each obituary. In those brief reflections of his life, we are confronted by our own legacies and value in the world. Through the cipher of Brás we see reflections of our own lives, our own friendships, family, loves, and art.

Together we have examined and evaluated ten tales, each revealing a different aspect of life. Although all of us come from different backgrounds and occupy different stations in life, we were all capable of finding connections to these stories. And through Brás’ triumphs and failures, we learned to recognize value in our own.

When I was eight years old, I was not ready to die. Although I have no desire to do so again, I feel better prepared today. Tarkovskii described the aim of art as preparing a person for death. Yet that quote is not really about death. It is about living. Art is what allows us to grow and develop, to understand and value our relationships, to comprehend and pursue our goals. It is what helps us live.

Daytripper is not a story about dying. It’s a story about living.

I can think of no greater miracle than that.

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Daniel Elkin: In his 1919 novel, Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson writes:

He felt unutterably big and remade by the simple experience through which he had been passing and in a kind of fervor of emotion put up his hands, thrusting them into the darkness above his head and muttering words. The desire to say words overcame him and he said words without meaning, rolling them over on his tongue and saying them because they were brave words, full of meaning. “Death,” he muttered, “night, the sea, fear, loveliness.

Yes, these are brave words — as they bring us to the sense that we are small next to their enormity. Full of meaning, by rolling these words on our tongues we confront the fact that in the face of the hugeness of the world, the overwhelming power of our passions, and the inevitability of our death, our day-to-day troubles and concerns lose much of their importance. Our small struggles with self fade as we try to understand the meaning of the far-reaching point.

Daytripper tries to make sense of who we are and what we leave behind us when we are done. Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá seem to tell us that, in the end, regardless of our accomplishments, our true significance is the effect we have on the lives of others. The good we bring into the world defines our legacy. When we love others and are loved, then our lives have been momentous.

And it’s easy to get distracted, get hung up in vanity and ego, feel restless and unsure. We are so lost in a miasma of admonitions to “do” and “be” and “buy” and “go” — the future is before us — why aren’t we doing more? We suffer from discontent because we strive for the constantly unreachable — the orange carrot swaying enticingly from the end of the stick. The late T’ang Dynasty poet Li Po summed it up best when he wrote (here translated by Arthur Cooper):

Hard is the Journey
Hard is the Journey
So many turnings
And now where am I?

But Moon and Bá’s art perhaps give us access to another option. Something more meaningful because it is obtainable, because it makes sense, because it revolves around home and love, friendship and family.

Come, be a Daytripper. Sure the world is vast, our emotions overwhelm, and our end inevitable. But there is goodness all around — purpose to be found — and it is as easy as staring into the eyes of the person you love.

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Paul Brian McCoy: Daytripper is a noble experiment — One that clearly hits home with the vast majority of its audience. I, however, just don’t seem to be that audience. I haven’t nearly died. I have no children. I don’t have father issues. I wasn’t even twenty when I realized that life is what you make it; that we create meaning; that a life worth living is a life lived to create. The insights here are self-evident.

Like being told, adamantly, that the sky is blue and the sun warms the earth.

It is a beautiful parade of images, determined to impress upon the reader that life is good; that life is sadness and happiness; beautiful and sublime. All told from the perspective of a selfish character who never really understands suffering — who never really loses anything, despite losing everything every chapter.

At the same time, I could look at these pages for days unending. They are simply gorgeous. The craft that goes into every single panel creates a dreamlike world that blends the surreal and the naturalistic in a way that is simply masterful.

Reading the words, however, is a tedious and sophomoric experience.

Despite this, Daytripper is pretty much review-proof. Critiquing this book is the equivalent of correcting grammar and symbolism in a student essay about the death of a beloved grandparent. The emotional connections are too strong; they overpower any shortcomings in plotting or character development.

This is an achievement in itself, of course, but not one that holds up to prodding.

Even our work here, diving into each chapter, plumbing them for meaning and insight, is ultimately futile. Any critical evaluation of the work is subsumed by sentimentality, as we talk about our feelings and our own lives and how Daytripper made us cry and have all the feels. But that’s why Daytripper is so popular and satisfying in the end. It’s not a work that you can approach with reason and expect to make any headway. It’s about emotional moments and allowing those fleeting instants to inform the rest of our lives; all of our lives, all of our experiences.

It doesn’t matter that this is the story of a privileged man who ultimately finds his sense of worth in writing a book — a single book that gets more attention in the narrative than this marriage or his child. There is an attempt, in the final chapters, to course-correct, to reinstate Bras’ friends and family into the picture, but by then it’s thematically too late.

Other characters become plot devices. They are conceits used to promote a theme that subtly shifts as the work goes on, moving from finding meaning and value in the sublime beauty of life to something vague about family – fathers and sons, specifically. Family is valuable, or something; male family, anyway. Wives, mothers, and sisters are peripheral; existing in this narrative only to support (or not), mourn, and breed a new generation of men and boys.

Daytripper is a work that is beautiful to look at, and will break your heart chapter after chapter, but doesn’t stand up to critical scrutiny when taken as a whole.

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Jason Sacks:

“Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.”
– Walt Kelly, “Pogo”

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to live your life with grace and dignity, of the desperately important idea of appreciating the best in your life, of emerging from the shell of your adolescent angst and aimlessness and truly inhabit your body in all its glory and insecurities and strangeness and pain.

Through the course of these ten chapters we’ve seen Brás de Olivia Domingos as a child, an adolescent, an aimless young man, a directed adult and a mature old man. We’ve seen him live his life with a childlike wonder, with adolescent angst, with deep emotional pain, deep joy and deep contentment. Like so many of us do, Brás has slowly become comfortable in his own skin and has grown into the type of man that we all aspire to be. We see him grow into grace, embrace gratitude, become an admirable person.

And though I sympathize with the comments from my good friend Mr. McCoy, I also respectfully disagree with them. In a world consumed of banal instant gratification in 140 characters or less, the respectful, thoughtful, clockwork construction of Daytripper stands as a counterweight to that world; it is a deeply felt, deeply thoughtful expression of throwing off the bounds and truly becoming oneself, becoming content in one’s skin.

The emotions are key here because they are the moments that make us most fully human; in the echoing beat of the chapter endings, the deaths at the end of each chapter represent emotional epiphanies and moments of growth. They are the punctuation of the journey to adulthood, to peace, to a certain amount of grace.

In the end we are all just bags of flesh with tiny little brains that move our feet and hands. We’re born babbling and often we die babbling. It’s in between that counts. It’s in the impact we have on others, on the growth that we experience, in the way that we experience the world, that makes us truly human.

Daytripper is a meditation on what it means to be truly human.

Daytripper is a treasure. I’m very glad I got to share that treasure with my dear friends Daniel, Chase and Paul and Keith — and with all of you readers. Thank you for following us as we followed Brás’s journey. We hope that you have experienced your own epiphanies through our essays.

“Brás realized that home is not a physical place at all, but a group of elements like the people you live with — a feeling, a state of mind. He feels safer just knowing that even if he is away, there is a home waiting for him to return. It’s where he can rest. Where he can find peace.”

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Advance Review: “Low” Is A Comic With High Expectations

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 29, 2014.

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Low is a comic filled with ambition. Its art, scope, and prose all cry out that it is something unique in today’s comics scene and worthy of attention.

The first thing that will stand out to readers is Greg Tocchini’s art. The cover first released at an Image Expo stokes a sense of awe. The peculiar machine holding hands with a little girl in a room filled with water does not seek to provide any answers. It blends horror and wonder into an engaging mood. The rising tide and blood reds capture a sense of foreboding, yet the machine’s heart-like chest and the rising stairs help to alleviate that sense and provide some optimism to the piece.

It is this cover that first compelled me to try Low and it acts as an excellent representation of the pages behind it. Tocchini’s art maintains a warped style, allowing proportions to grow or shrink in any panel. It is not so twisted that it becomes inaccessible though. Instead, it creates a dreamlike state, providing a heat shimmer or the blur of water between the reader and the story. Although the story is happening, it is happening in an alien setting far beyond our conception of reality and Tocchini’s art along with Sebastian Girner’s colors capture this perfectly.

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This blurring of reality also allows Low to present its characters in an interesting way. The story opens on a bedroom scene with two naked adults. Tocchini’s linework does not emphasize their nudity, but rather their forms. They are presented as attractive, fit adults, but are not objectified by their depictions. Other characters are made to appear skeletal or half-dead, intimating something much more sinister in their personas. Similar effects are created with landscapes and machines where the feel of something is emphasized over its details. The end result is unlike almost anything in comics now.

Tocchini’s collaboration with Rick Remender represents another win in a quickly growing string of successes for the writer. Low is the third creator-owned comic he has released in the last year and each one has presented an artist with a unique voice worth watching. Remender’s story telling skills are on full display in these titles as well and Low is no exception. The world building and characterization packed into thirty pages is nothing short of astonishing.

Rather than view the debut issue as the first installment of something intended to be reformatted as a collected volume, Remender approaches it like a pilot episode of television. The premise, characters, and world are all on full display, and a dramatic change in the status quo provides plenty of momentum. Like the best pilots, it provides a complete story with an irresistible hook at the end.

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Remender also does an excellent job in quickly characterizing a large number of characters in a short amount of space. All five members of the Caine family are distinctive and I could recall each of their names after a single reading. Beyond that, the major groups, locales, and villain of the story thus far were all distinctive and memorable. Remender is surgical in his use of sequences, ensuring that each will serve multiple purposes providing elements of history, relationships, and personalities in every one. It is compression done well, telling a story quickly while ensuring readers can understand what is occurring.

That is not to say Low is a flawless comic, but its ambition in building an expansive story with unique art and ideas in only thirty pages makes those flaws much more forgivable. I previously wrote about the debut of Remender and Mateo Scalera’s Black Science and noted that the issue’s greatest problem was the enormous amount of exposition. That is present in Low as well. There’s a lot to explain about this world. Some of it is nicely fit into the speech of a man who likes to discuss history. Other bits are shoehorned into dialogue that clearly exists only to explain what is happening, specifically some lines in the final sequence. It may be a necessary evil of building such a large world so quicly, but that doesn’t make the offending lines of dialogue read any better.

Although each sequence does convey key information, some feel too perfect in tone. The post-coital sequence feels perfect in a way that life rarely does. The banter, appearance, and even colors all scream about how wonderful the relationship between the couple is, so that it is impossible to believe they have ever fought in a non-playful manner. The perfection of this moment and some others tug at the believability of the relationships. Even the largest points of conflict in the Caine family are portrayed as light hearted and easily resolvable.

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Low is a truly enthralling comic though. It captures its tone perfectly, juxtaposing light and darkness against one another in a surreal future. It is as much about the battling ideas of its characters as it is about surviving an inevitable apocalyptic scenario. Remender’s world building and Tocchino’s vision combine to deliver those ideas and the story in which they exist in a truly entertaining fashion.

Low #1 is a beautiful, ambitious debut that sets high expectations for future installments.

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World’s Finest: Planetary #5: The Death of a Medium

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 30, 2014.

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Chase Magnett: This may be the most difficult issue of Planetary to discuss so far. That’s not because it is poorly written. It is that the focus of previous issues on a singular topic is missing. Rather than exploring a specific element of storytelling, Ellis and Cassaday use Planetary #5 to characterize Elijah Snow and Doctor Bronze while developing the world they occupy.

It’s revealed when the issue begins that both men are century babies, meaning they were born on January 1, 1990. In the world Ellis has constructed here and in The Authority that date bears a lot of significance as do the people who were born on it. It’s clear that both Snow and Brass are special individuals who either have had and/or will have a significant impact on their world. The difference seems to lie in what they have chosen to do thus far. Brass explores his past adventures, while Snow can only contrast his observations of these events. Brass’ life is one of stunning excitement. Everything about the world he occupied from his friendships, to his personal achievements, to his victories in battle are epic in scope. Although he has been severed from that world for fifty plus years, his memories live on and inspire some beautiful artwork from Cassaday as well as Snow’s current thoughts.

The initial portrait of Snow as a recluse is brought back to life in a big way when he is compared to Brass. He can relate to Brass’ experiences, but has none of his own to share. Like the Planetary organization, he makes it clear that he has decided to record the world, rather than affect it. His position as an observer, instead of being an actor, leaves a palpable sense of regret in his words and expressions. The incredible similarities and differences between these two characters help to reveal a lot about each of them, providing more insight into Snow than the four previous issues combined.

That’s not to say that the issue doesn’t have a twist. The stories from Doctor Brass’ past are clearly homages to pulp fictions of the 1920’s and 30’s where characters like Doc Savage and Tarzan became popular in the American consciousness. The illustrations, style of writing, etc. all attempt to emulate a dime novel. However, there doesn’t seem to be a specific commentary on this form of fiction. Elements of nostalgia and inspiration creep into the conversation between the two men, but that’s about it.

Planetary #5 is much broader in its scope and spends more time exploring the setting of Planetary than a specific aspect of it. Does that analysis hold true for you Ray or do you think there’s a point I’m missing?

Ray Sonne: If there is a singular theme in Planetary #5, it’s loneliness. Ellis and Cassaday key this in by interspersing mocked-up pulp novel chapters in between regular comic book sequences. The colors of the pulp fiction pages, colored purposefully an off-white by Depuy and darkening in the corners, contrast sharply with the modern comic book pages. Depuy colors the exchange between Snow and Brass in a soft sunset with emerald grass and foliage. Brass’ hair is amusingly bright red, a detail unable to be seen in the pulp fiction pages. While the novel depends much more on the prose, almost all of the comic book page is invested into the art. There are no narrative boxes, just dialogue.

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While each pulp fiction page has an image to illustrate its story, it relies heavily on its prose in order to focus the plot and characterization. I can’t help but feel that Ellis is not only imitating the old style, but parodying it just by the throwaway line that stated that Brass’ parents were siblings. Just seems a bit melodramatic, which may have been the case in actual pulp fiction, but picking out of all things an incest background seems deliberately provocative.

However exaggerated, the pulp novel’s structure emphasizes Axel as a man out of time. The old adventure pulps are so much a part of him, but nowadays they are nonexistent. He belongs on browning paper, but the paper the reader feels between the two mediums are equally glossy. We don’t know what it is to live in his era; not even Snow knows precisely because Snow didn’t take part in the same exploits Brass did.

What bonds the two men is their semi-immortality. It bonds them to Jenny Sparks, too, who gets a small cameo. Brass points out that the terrorist attack on Los Angeles is taken care of, almost as if dismissing it to fate. But it’s not fate who defends LA and avenges Moscow; it’s Jenny leading The Authority. What this issue does not mention is that the century babies are more than just an amusing concept that Ellis invented. He also created a purpose for them and that purpose was to work as the planet’s immune system. Essentially, Brass was a defender of Earth–as we can see in the illustrations of him fighting the Demonites (perhaps a reference to the Wildstorm Universe’s Daemonites?) and the Variant Neo-Arachnids–and now with his legs wasted, he can no longer fulfill his role.

Yet, he still sees positivity in the world that Snow does not. Is this something that speaks to you, Chase?

Magnett: I do love some optimism in my comics and that mentality seems to central to Brass’ role in this issue. At the end, he’s very much a happy man, but that isn’t how he starts. In the opening pages of the issue he discusses his predicament with Snow and claims that he would have been strong enough to accept that he lost more than fifty years buried in a mountain. The panel that follows this proclamation is absolutely tragic. Without a single word, Cassaday reveals the pain that Brass is suffering at having lost so much time and so many friends. It is a perfect portrait of resilience in the face of incredible tragedy.

 

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That’s the key to Brass’ optimism later in the issue when he and Snow journey onto a hillside: resilience. At no point does he claim the world is unflawed. Snow brings up the destruction of several cities in The Authority. In response, Brass simply states, “But they were stopped.” Brass’ response reveals a lot about his character and the perspective of the creators. It’s not that the disaster is unimportant, both men treat it with the gravity it deserves, but that it does not necessarily need to be viewed from a fatalistic point of view.

Perhaps this is where the connection to the ongoing commentary on narratives lies in Planetary #5. Brass is a symbol for a now defunct medium of fiction. Although there are still homages to and fictions inspired by the pulps of the 1930’s, they have ceased to exist in any meaningful way. The cost, style, and combination of words and pictures are no longer seen as a popular form of media. That doesn’t necessarily imply that they were without value or importance though. Without the pulps, it’s impossible to imagine how the funnies and eventually modern comics would have surfaced. Without the stories of Doc Savage, there would be no Superman or superhero genre. They are an important link to our modern pop culture landscape, undeniable in their significance.

Fifty years removed from the end of his era, crippled, and with no friends, Doc Brass is still able at the blue sky above him and smile. He captures the best elements of pulp novels and the superhero novels. Although there is plenty wrong with his current state of life and plenty of horrors in his past, he still capable of inspiring Snow. Just like the pulps eventually led to new formats and genres, Brass’ removal allowed something new to change the world in his stead.

Pulps may be gone, but the superhero genre is bigger than ever largely thanks to various film adaptations. At the time this was written in 1999 though, the future of the superhero was pretty bleak. Do you think Ellis and Cassaday might have written this issue to tackle the issue of what it would mean for superhero comics to fade away?

RS: I would probably feel that more strongly if Snow and his crew were closer to traditional superheroes. But the thing is, with the exception of Jakita’s superior physicality, they go against the superhero in many ways (and then quite literally, if you pick up Planetary/JLA Terra Obscura). So I find it hard to believe that Snow is representing the fading superhero genre, speaking to its predecessor on how to survive after death. If anything, he might represent espionage tales, which are still going strong if you factor in how well the movie Skyfall did two years ago.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that Planetary #5 isn’t a celebration. It’s just a celebration of a century and everything that happened within it. It’s a celebration of the wars fought and the literature written and the different attitudes between decades. It’s yet another 100 years of humanity surviving, despite the occurrence of things the world had never seen before such as two World Wars and the creation of nuclear weapons. And it’s not just us who lived through all that; comics have, too.

If we can get through the 20th century, we can probably get through anything.

 

Bonus Round!

Chase:

- The title page in Planetary #5 is the first to not differentiate between the roles of Ellis and Cassaday. Rather than using the phrases “Written by” and “Illustrated by” like previous issues, it simply uses the word “by” as a prefix to their names. This continues in future issues of the series. It’s a change that I really appreciate as it focuses on both men working collaboratively to tell a story, rather than parsing out their roles.

- I commented in our very first column how much I like the trophies found in the Appalachian Mountains, specifically the outfits of The Murder Colonels. The return of both The Murder Colonels and the Charnel Ship in the pulp pages of this issue are nice callbacks that provide a sense of the cohesive world Ellis and Cassaday want to build. These are not major plot points, but are fun for fans like myself who really like names like The Murder Colonels.

Ray:

-Looking between this issue of Planetary and Stormwatch #37, it’s interesting to note the similarities between century babies. Like Snow in Planetary #1, Jenny had to be roused out of the bar she was wasting her life in. There seems to be a motif across these three characters’ resurgences; like the genres they take part in are possibly being reborn. It doesn’t quite connect since it’s not like comics took a 15-50 year break, but it’s still an intriguing pattern.

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Shinji Aramaki: The Art of the Mechs

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 29, 2014.
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Shinji Aramaki has been working in animation for more than 30 years. In that time he has directed 10 films and worked on countless others. He brings a stunning visual sensibility to the field of 3-D CGI animation, pulling from his background as a mechanical designer. Appledseed Alpha, his latest adaptation of Shirow Masamune’s manga was released last week. This weekend, Aramaki traveled to San Diego Comic-Con where he spoke with Comics Bulletin critic Chase Magnett.

Note: This interview was conducted with the aid of a translator.


Chase Magnett: This is the third adaptation of the Appleseed manga that you have directed. How do you approach adapting Shirow Masamune’s work from the comics medium to an animated film?

Shinji Aramaki: This time I wanted to return to the start of these characters. It goes back to the very first pages of the first volume. It could have been a series, but it is a feature film. We wanted to take a section of the first volume and tell the story of the two characters before they reached Olympus. We wanted to talk about their background and how they started out. Normally, when I get an idea I would take a portion of the manga and, maybe, arrange some elements from different volumes to create the plot which I would discuss with Shirow-san. I would get his comments, then turn it into a script. That is the process I go to arrive at the story.

This time the intent was to really simplify and strip away all of the complex human dramas, landscapes, and characters that are in Olympus and take the characters back to their roots. We now have a new starting point, sort of a reboot, for the franchise.

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Magnett: In the process of adapting the original works to film, you’ve chosen to animate the stories, specifically using 3-D CGI animation. What attracts you to this format?

Aramaki: When it comes to 2-D animation, you have the cels ready and the layout and can tell how it’s going to turn out before you get into the final animation. You can see what it will end up as. Not to say it is a simple or easy process, but today it is more easy to anticipate what kind of look and quality it will have. When it comes to CG, you start with rough models, then start to add rough animatics. At the beginning there is no texture. There’s nothing. When you see how it is being made, you really cannot imagine what the final output will be.

It is an incredibly collaborative process, where the creative staff and artists I work with all bring something to the table. So when you get to the final stage where you are rendering and compositing and finally seeing the results, it can be much more than what you ever anticipated. You get an unexpected visual that is beyond your initial imagination. If it doesn’t go well with the staff, then you may end up with something completely different.

I like that process; imagining something in my head and having to try to visualize what the final look will be, then being surprised by it. I enjoy the complex collaboration process very much and like the final outcome. That’s why CG is much more interesting to me than 2-D animation.

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Magnett: One thing that I think comes through well in the CG animation is that the designs reveal a lot of personality, specifically the mechs. Beyond your capacity as the director, how involved are you in designing the models for the film?

Aramaki: I am a mechanical designer by trade. That is my origin as an artist. I pay a lot of attention to the visual design of the film, and the look of the film, and how characters and models get designed and are finalized.

For example, when you look at a character like Iris, she looks very different like she is from another world. So when you get to the end and are told that she is a clone, you are able to understand that. There is some type of storytelling that is happening visually, by design. How does Tallus look and what does that imply about him? Even if we don’t get into the storytelling of his background, there’s a lot of storytelling that needs to be conveyed through design. That’s something I pay a lot of attention to.

Storytelling is not just about talking. It’s also about design and looks. I think the film is successful if the design conveys that. That is reflected in the mechanical designs as well.

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Magnett: As someone who studies comics and visual design, I think that is clear. The characters personalities are present before they ever speak.

One other interesting design element of the film is the juxtaposition of the natural with the mechanical. Amidst blue skies, desert terrain, and human characters like Deunan, you have mechs and ruined cityscapes. Is there a different approach to designing the two and did you have a specific idea when placing these two subjects side-by-side?

Aramaki: It’s a difficult question, but the biggest visual reference I have when creating these films is the source material. Shirow Masamune is someone that almost stands toe-to-toe with Otomo Katsuhiro who did Akria, when it comes to designing this type of post-apocalyptic landscape and how they actually interact with futuristic elements.

It is a matter of the modern versus the future. By combining them together it shows people the time period and helps people understand and agree it is that time period. It is a very interesting balance to strike. Whenever I create a landscape or visual cue for the film, it is very important for me to return to Shirow Masamune’s original works and see how they balance these elements. It is pretty amazing to think that when he first created the manga, he was able to see the world like that. He makes it clear to people that it is the future, but at the same time it is a modern landscape. It is the work of a genius and I really appreciate it. A lot of that visual balance can be attributed to Masamune’s works.

Magnett: Thank you both so much for your time today.

Aramaki: Absolutely. Thank you.

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Daytripper, A Life Examined Chapter Seven: “Walking Into the Desert”

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 24, 2014 as part 8 of a 12 part series.

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“If it weren’t for people, life would be a desert.”

Those words spoken by a young Jorge meeting Brás for the very first time present an excellent starting point for an analysis of Daytripper #7. Since the very first issue Jorge, Brás’ best friend, has been a notable presence in his life. In that first issue, he is the only one of Brás’ loved ones to appear in full view, while his son, mother, wife, and father are either not present or obscured from sight. Whether journeying through Salvador or working in the newsroom together, the two are inseparable in their adventures. They follow one another through both comedy and tragedy.

Yet Jorge does not become a focus of the series until he disappears in Daytripper #6. It is only in this issue that Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá begin to emphasize his importance to Brás. When he disappears, Brás is cast adrift unable to focus and worried sick that his friend may be dead. His mind is so consumed by the loss of Jorge that the merest hint of his survival is enough to cast another tragic death in bright light at the conclusion of chapter six.

When chapter seven begins Jorge has been gone for five years. Despite his absence, Brás is more fulfilled than at any previous point in his life. Every previous chapter has begun by showing Brás as a man in a state of transition, unsure of himself or reevaluating at least one aspect of his life. Here he is presented as a fully formed adult, aware of who he is and what he desires. He has broken away from the drudgery of the newspaper and published a hugely successful novel in Silken Eyes. His marriage to Ana is also presented as being a portrait of contentment. Brás, who has struggled in so many previous chapters to find what he wants, has finally created the life he desired at the age of 38.

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His rise is marked by Jorge’s descent. Jorge’s early appearances as a college student and young colleague mark him as a successful individual, both socially and professionally. In his final appearance in Daytripper #6 that depiction has begun to radically shift. He is shown with an unkempt beard and speaks in a less than lucid manner. Five years later and he has essentially disappeared from society. Brás has made multiple attempts to discover his friend’s whereabouts, but has failed to find him. Not only has Jorge left Brás’ life, but Jorge has legally become a missing person. As Brás has become better defined, Jorge has lost all definiton.

The issue is framed with two flashbacks to Brás and Jorge when they are young, one presented a few pages after the issue begins and one shortly before it ends. The first flashback reveals their first meeting during the fall semester of freshman year when they were both entering the world as adults for the first time. Their personalities sharply contrast one another. Jorge is everything that Brás is not: outgoing, lively, decisive. While Brás sits with his arms crossed not engaging the world, it is Jorge who extends his arms and his speech to invite him to live. The body language in their initial encounter provides all of the information necessary to understand who is helping who. It is in this scene that a character again provides the earlier quote that explains the narrative of the chapter. Jorge, when explaining his philosophy to Brás, tells him, “If it weren’t for people, life would be a desert.”

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Brás journey begins in a quixotic fashion. His purpose seems impossible and his loved ones seek to dissuade him from the task. He hopes to find Jorge based on a postcard sent from far away inscribed with only a single sentence: “I can’t do it without you.” Based on so little information the task already seems impossible. Ana then implores him not to go because of Jorge’s extended absence. She points out that if Jorge wished to be part of his life, then he had ample opportunity. All logic and reason reveal the quest to be foolish in nature, yet Brás is determined to go anyway.

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When Ana tries to tell Brás that Jorge has given up, his response is quick and sharp. He refuses to accept this obvious conclusion and declares that he has not given up on Jorge. It is a rare moment of defiance from Brás, who is typically passive in his interactions, a sign of newfound maturity. In this panel, he resembles his father Benedito. His face, specifically his jaw is much more sharply defined in this moment, as are his nose and eyebrows. It is as if he is shifting from being a boy cowed into following others to being a man who determines what is possible. In this panel, his father’s ghost ceases to hover above him and he is able to become the commanding figure in his own life.

He begins his travels aboard a plane surrounded entirely by people. Some passengers even approach him to speak and request autographs, recognizing him from the jacket of his novel. The plane creates a setting that is packed with people and entirely removed from the earth. Brás is symbolically placed in the very center of humanity.

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After landing he arrives at a small village on the edge of the desert. This is where the transition away from humanity begins. Although various buildings help cover some of the ground and some people wander the streets, the setting is much less dense. The roads that run through the town are covered in sand and recall the desert imagery that young Jorge mentioned in college. It is in this town that Brás discovers what has happened to his friend.

A hotel waitress tells Brás of Jorge’s initial arrival and that he was initially popular in the village. He spoke with everyone and was loved by the regulars, which sounds like the man present in previous chapters. The story descends into darkness though. Jorge runs out of money and refuses to work. He is eventually forced to leave the hotel and takes up residence in an abandoned hut at the edge of town. The waitress recounts that he left the hut to wander into the desert alone. She was the person who mailed the postcard having found it in the hut.

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The story of Jorge’s descent easily lends itself as an allegory to a wide variety of problems. There are elements of mental health issues, addiction, and other problems that can cause a person to remove themselves from society, unable to ask for help or accept it when offered. The cause of Jorge’s change is left purposefully unclear. Readers may project their personal experiences with friends of relatives inexplicably transformed by an outside force onto Jorge’s story here. The specific cause is unimportant when compared to its effects.

While at Jorge’s abandoned hut, the sand becomes a much more prevalent part of the setting and Brás is alone with the exception of the waitress. His journey has led him from the heart of humanity aboard the place to the edge of the desert with no one on the horizon. Rather than turn back with the knowledge of what happened to his friend, Brás chooses to head into the desert alone completing his journey away from people in order to reunite with Jorge.

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His path traces Jorge’s steps across Brazil to his current whereabouts. Brás still has his life and loved ones waiting at home, but he has come to understand how Jorge has been changed. Readers have watched the same changes take place as the varied colors of life aboard the plane have been washed out and consumed by the bleak beige palette of the desert. Jorge’s comment that without people, life is a desert has been transformed from an errant observation into a terrible prophecy.

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What Brás discovers in the desert is truly terrible. Jorge is unrecognizable and initially incapable of speech. Once he manages to summon words, they are oddly spaced and disconnected from the moment. Despite his clear illness and disconnect from reality, Brás refuses to give up on his friend even in this moment. He places himself in the same role Jorge filled for him in previous chapters. When Olinda left Brás and when he found himself aimless upon entering the working world, it was Jorge who stood by him and was his strength. When Jorge begins to mutilate himself, Brás attempts to stop him and is stabbed repeatedly by Jorge.

And so Brás dies once again, murdered by his best friend. It is every bit as brutal and horrible as such an act should be. The knife repeatedly makes the sound “KT” as it is used to kill both men. Jorge’s eyes become two black pinpoints devoid of any humanity. Their blood provides the only bright color in the dark desert, a bright red marking the only two lives in vast wasteland.

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During the murder there is another flashback to early in Brás and Jorge’s friendship. They are seen travelling together and speaking about the future. Brás reflects on what comes next, saddened at the thought of losing the adventure they are on. Jorge balances this reverie, though, encouraging Brás to focus on the present, to enjoy what he has. It is a lesson that did not come easily to Brás, but it is one that came with time. At the age of 38, he has overcome the spectre of his father and his various fears to seize success both as a writer and husband. The man introduced at the beginning of Daytripper #7, perhaps the best possible version of Brás presented in the series so far, only exists due to Jorge’s influence.

Jorge’s importance in Brás’ life from the very first chapter until this moment reveals that friendship is every bit as integral to life as relationships with family and lovers. Although Jorge is the man who takes Brás’ life in chapter seven, he is also the man who helped give him that life. Without Jorge’s influence, Brás never learns to seek love after Olinda or finds the courage to grow beyond his father’s long shadow. In this chapter when Brás face hardens and he becomes a fully defined individual it is because of his friendship. Everything the reader has come to love or appreciate in Brás is drawn from the strength of that relationship.

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At the beginning of the chapter two women approach Brás as if they are friends. Brás is not put off by the attention, but defines them as “false friends”. They have read his book, but do not know him. They have not shaped his life. No matter how many people he is surrounded by, it is his best friend that remains in his thoughts. His friend is the man who guided him through the struggles of youth and brought him to the moment where he could become the man he wished to be. Daytripper #7 reveals the incredible impact a real friend can have on our lives. Brás and Jorge are inextricably bound to one another; they provide strength when the other is weak, and refuse to leave no matter what logic may dictate.

It would be fair to say that Daytripper #7 is a story about friendship, but not entirely accurate.

Like all great friendships, it’s really a love story.

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Batman #33 Review

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 23, 2014.

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Endings are a difficult thing. No matter what comes before them in a story, the ending is ultimately the conceit. It is the final chapter that must capture the key thematic elements while still remaining true to the characters and plot structured over dozens or hundreds of previous pages. An ending must be all things, while still telling a story with ease and grace. Add the tension of working on a character worth millions to a corporation and the difficulty increases further still.

Despite all of those challenges, Batman #33 is a perfect ending to “Zero Year”.

The issue begins amidst its climax. Batman #32 set up the elements of battle for all of the characters trapped in the Riddler’s version of Gotham City. Inbound fighter jets, underground explosives, nefarious deathtraps, and complex gizmos are already laid out so the opening sequence may begin with tension high. It only increases from there.

Greg Capullo does a wonderful job of walking Batman along a knife’s edge, where (quite literally) one wrong move will destroy Gotham City. He provides that same sense to the reader. The Riddler is in constant motion during this face off, tempting fate with his cane. Small motion lines and a clear sense of depth make the risk in each panel a clear and present danger. FCO Plascencia’s colors, specifically with the laser array, clarify Capullo’s line work and vivisect panels in a dazzling display of colors.

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Batman is not the only person fighting for Gotham’s future in this though. “Zero Year” was never a story just about Batman. It was a story about Gotham City and the people that love it. Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s “Batman: Year One” focused on the duo of Batman and Gordon. “Zero Year” extends its reach to a quartet, adding Alfred and Lucius Fox as key characters.

Each of them has a task integral to the survival of Gotham City and keyed to their unique set of skills. After eleven issues each of these characters has progressed to a moment where they can become the icons of DC Comics that reader’s know them to be. Acting in concert and with great heroism, each of them achieves their goal. In doing so, they not only introduce important elements of the Batman mythos, ranging from trophies to more significant objects, but also stunning panels. Capullo’s work in rendering their individual victories will cause readers to gasp time and again. There is one moment in particular after a double-page splash of darkness that will bring forth tears.

The group effort that ultimately saves Gotham City highlights one of the most important themes of “Zero Year”, the value of community. Batman’s journey in this story has not been focused on defeating villains or traveling the world (although both have been featured plentifully), but in gaining friends, allies, and a new family. The key realization of the “Savage City” arc has been that Batman cannot stand alone, but must be part of Gotham City in order to save it. This finale writes that idea across its pages in large neon letters, impossible to miss.

From the very start of “Zero Year” there was no doubt that Gotham City and the protagonists of the comic would survive. The audience is aware this is a prologue to current continuity where all of these characters and places still exist. The tension never lay with the question of whether they would succeed, but rather how they would?

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The payoff in that regard is nothing short of brilliant. Each person accomplishes feats of courage, wisdom, and fortitude. In their actions, they reflect what makes Batman and his allies such potent heroic ideals. The key does not lie in how cool they appear, nor in how they manage to always defeat impossible odds. It lies in their friendships, their willingness to sacrifice, and their love for one another and Gotham City.

To some it may seem to contradict what Batman is, but “Zero Year” is a story about inspiration, hope, and, most importantly, love.

Snyder, Capullo, and the rest of their team have crafted a tale that not only distills what makes the character of Batman so beloved, but one that makes him feel brave and new after 75 years. Stunning. 

Score: 10/10

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Review: ‘Seconds’ is a Comic About Creating a Home

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 21, 2014.

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I am writing this from my home.

Seconds has placed me in a state of mind where I am very aware of that location and what it means to me. It is a comic about youth, work, romance, friendship, dreams, finding meaning, and much more. But beyond all of that it is a comic about creating a home.

Seconds is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s third comic published as a graphic novel. When considered alongside the first two, it creates a pattern of growth both in the works and from O’Malley himself. Lost at Sea, his comics debut in 2003, follows an 18 year-old on a road trip across the United States. It is emblematic of themes commonly associated with high school, recognizing the need to move beyond one’s self in order to explore the world. IfLost at Sea is high school, then O’Malley’s more popular sophomore effort Scott Pilgrim is college. It focuses on a changing group of friends, each attempting to address their own needs and understand what it means to be an individual. It is also clear that O’Malley is maturing as an artist and storyteller between these comics, as his style, nuances, and art all become more complex.

And so we come to Seconds, O’Malley’s most ambitious and satisfying work to date, which I would describe as early adulthood.

The first thing that is clear is O’Malley has continued to develop as a cartoonist. Seconds is a comic packed with images, averaging somewhere between eight and ten panels per page. The number of panels on each page do not overwhelm the work though. Every image serves a specific purpose in relation to what comes before and after it. Eastern influences are very clear in his work, featuring many more aspect-to-aspect and moment-to-moment transitions than are typically found in Western comics. O’Malley uses these transitions to structure a more introspective and thoughtful tale. It is possible to move through each page of Seconds and discuss why O’Malley chose to use every panel the way he did. There is a choice reflected in every image and every juxtaposition which helps tell the story in the best way possible. This comic reveals the growth and further maturation of its teller just as much as its characters.

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The comic centers on Katie Clay, a chef who is attempting to open a second restaurant while still being involved with her successful first endeavor. She discovers a patch of mushrooms and a notebook at her restaurant that allow her to alter mistakes from her past. Unsurprisingly, she ignores warnings to use the mushrooms with caution and events go awry in a big way. The original restaurant is named Seconds and is the most obvious source for the title, although the word “seconds” can also be applied to second chances, second lives, or second guesses.

Much of Seconds centers around mature mistakes and these “seconds” that are associated with them. Katie is not a failure and she does not lack direction like O’Malley’s previous protagonist Scott Pilgrim. She knows what she wants and has plenty of opportunities to pursue her dreams. That’s not to say that she is without regrets. The fantastical elements of the story are introduced when she makes a definite mistake that causes someone else to get badly hurt. However, in being allowed to change the world for this clear example of having done the wrong thing, she begins to second guess other decisions where the repercussions are less clear.

Breakups, benders, and bad business all become opportunities for Katie to alter her world. Regrets are no longer sources of strength or lessons for the future, but simply lines on a page to be erased. She becomes obsessed with the idea that she can make things perfect. When it becomes clear that there is no such thing as perfect, events have already spun outside of her control and she risks losing everything good in her life.

It’s easy to sympathize with her journey. Given a second chance, who would not seize the opportunity to recreate their lives? That’s the easy solution though, and an imaginary one. Focusing on her own mistakes and the chance to erase them, Katie loses track of how these mistakes helped shape her life and the lives of those around her. Partners, lovers, and friends all entered her personal orbit as a result of her regrets and her life may be better for it.

When Seconds begins, we are introduced to the restaurant Seconds. It is filled with all of the things Katie cares about. It is not perfect, but it is a warm place, a good place, a home. That is what Katie comes to learn and it reflects one of the most important lessons of adulthood; to accept things for being good, not expecting them to be perfect.

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I would be remiss to not mention O’Malley’s collaborators on Seconds. Jason Fischer, Dustin Harbin, and Nathan Fairbairn all bring their own talents to bear and make the comic function as a whole. It is difficult to separate Fischer’s work as a drawing assistant from O’Malley’s, but the high quality results and all compliments to the art should be shared between them. Harbin’s lettering helps to create a personal atmosphere. Hand lettered, each page feels like it was crafted from start-to-finish by another human being imbuing it with a distinct personality absent from most digital fonts.

Fairbairn’s colors will be the addition that makes Seconds most distinctive to longtime fans of O’Malley’s work. Although Fairbairn is currently in the process of coloring all six volumes of Scott Pilgrim, this is O’Malley’s first comic to be initially published in color. Together, they take full advantage of this new tool. In addition to the distinctive figures, each character comes with colors by which they are easily distinguished and that reflect who they are. Katie’s bright red hair pulls focus to her on every page and highlights her passionate personality, while Lis’s (a supernatural spirit) blonde hair is more ethereal in nature. Dreams and other sequences delving into the supernatural are almost monochromatic, cast in eerie reds that distinguish them from reality. It is difficult to imagine reading this comic in black and white, given the ways in which Fairbairn’s colors flesh out the world and enhance the story.

The ultimate result of all their work is Seconds, one of the most exciting and innovative comics of 2014. It is a masterclass in craftsmanship that reveals both O’Malley’s personal growth and that of his collaborators. More importantly, it is a story that feels and is deeply human. It reflects upon our relationships, jobs, hobbies, and how all of these individual components of life come together to create the place we call home. It acknowledges the mistakes and frustrations that come with living and provides a parable for transcending an obsession with things that went wrong in order to put forth the wonder of the home we create in the process.

Seconds reminds me as I sit in my favorite chair (a leftover from college) typing this review that I am home. I am in a place of my own creation and choosing. For whatever mistakes brought me here, it is a place I am glad to be.

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Daytripper, A Life Examined Chapter Three: “Finding The Oasis”

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 17, 2014 as part 4 of a 12 part series.

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Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s <em”>Daytripper. This is the first part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series.

Read the introduction here.

Read Jason Sacks’s look at Chapter One of Daytripper, titled “32”, here.

Read Keith Silva look at Chapter Two of Daytripper, titled “21” here.

Today Chase Magnett looks at Chapter Three of Daytripper, titled “28”.


 

“Each day we watch as our city turns into a desert, one in which we are all lost looking for that oasis we like to call love.”

Benedito, Brás’ father, presents this idea to an auditorium after the opening sequence of Daytripper #3. The people filling the auditorium reflect the audience reading the comic. His speech serves as the central metaphor for the entire issue, relating to each moment and capturing all of the beauty and pain presented in twenty-two pages.

This metaphor does not present the truth of love. It does not address the work necessary to maintain a romance, nor does it address love as a long-term commitment, one that is constantly evolving. What it does reflect is how we perceive love. By focusing on the singular moments, it presents the romanticized notion of love that is often presented when couples are asked cliche questions like “how did you meet?” or “when did you know they were ‘the one’?”. These are the sorts of stories that often define love, whether or not they reflect the full truth of a relationship and all it entails. The oasis in Benedito’s story is the moment that comes to mind when someone attempts to summarize a relationship so significant and impactful that it can define a life.

Daytripper #3 hinges on two central moments that are reflected in every interaction and sequence throughout the rest of the issue. Like the ripples from a stone thrown into a pool of water, these brief moments manage to affect everything that surrounds them even after they are out of sight. The first marks the end of a relationship defined by intense pain, the second is associated with hope, even if it is ended by a tragic irony.

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The first moment is summarized in the third panel of the issue when Olinda shouts at Brás, “I hate you – you piece of shit!” It’s a cruel thing to say, especially in the context of ending a seven-year-long relationship. It becomes the moment that defines the relationship for Brás. And no matter how much built up to that moment or what was said afterward, it is only that instant which is left. Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá present the issue from Brás’ perspective. Placing that moment at the front of the issue places it at the forefront of his mind as well. The story is not told in entirely chronological order, but in order of importance and it is this moment that defines his perspective. Even when flashing back to the fight in greater detail later, those same words are what connect the present to the past, defining Brás’. It is the moment that leaves Brás to question the value of love. He is left alone to ask: “You think it’s for good, for life, forever… and for what?”

Moon and Bá focus on how this moment defines Brás’ life, rather than on the moment itself. Only ten panels feature Olinda, but almost every other panel in the issue features her presence as defined by her absence and its effects on Brás. Immediately following her departure, Moon and Bá construct a beautiful visual metaphor for Brás’ emotional state. On page three a series of four narrow panels reveal Brás and his vision. Only able to focus on a piece of Olinda’s abandoned clothing, both Brás and the panties are captured in this sequence with no background to interact with. The panel below is much wider and reveals the entire apartment and the sliding windows that open to the outside world. However, Brás is still trapped as he is framed by the doorway to the kitchen in exact proportion to the panels above it. The revelation is startling. The world has not changed, but Brás view of it has. It may still be open and full of opportunity, but he has become a prisoner to his own emotional pain, unable to look outside.

Dave Stewart’s colors provide a visual dynamic that supports this idea as well. For the first thirteen pages of the book, the only panels to contain warm colors are those featuring Olinda. Although they focus on her leaving Brás, it is still apparent that she was the source of joy and love in his life. Her absence is felt as the absence of warmth from the pages. Whether it is in the auditorium, at work, or in the gallery showing, pale blues, violets, and whites construct a cold world. Throughout Daytripper #3 the only panels to feature any warmth are those where Brás is in the presence of someone he loves.

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After this intense private display of emotion, Moon and Bá provide a wider lens to Brás’ emotions through the arts, specifically prose and painting. Benedito’s speech provides a central metaphor for Daytripper #3. He explains the world in very bleak terms, comparing a city to a desert and people to grains of sand that others are incapable of holding onto. It constructs a lonely picture of existence that echoes Brás isolation on page three. Then he raises the idea of an oasis, of finding someone who will take away the pain of solitude. In stark contrast to the desolate imagery of the desert, the oasis is an Eden-like heaven, so is love in comparison to normal existence. This metaphor pivots on the moment in which someone is able to discover the oasis. People continue to exist whether they are in the desert or out of it, but the moment of discovery is important because of the incredible change it creates.

Benedito reinforces the romantic notion of a defining moment when he repeats to Brás a story about him and his wife, Aurora. His parable fills page five and ends on a rare display of tenderness from Benedito. Throughout Daytripper Benedito is characterized by hard lines and the obscuring of his eyes. To Brás he is often unknowable and unreachable. In the final panel though, Moon and Bá soften the lines of his face and reveal his eyes, pointing them out toward the reader. He is humanized by the story he shares and his reaction to telling it.In spite of his presentation as an absent father and philanderer in later issues, Benedito’s marriage to Aurora is a constant in Daytripper. However flawed Benedito may be, his relationship with Aurora notably improves his character and provides rare moments like this where he is capable of acting as a father to Brás. His analysis and response provide further evidence to the romantic notion of how single moments can define a life.

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In addition to his father’s work, Brás also reflects on the work of painter Schlomo Lerner. Schlomo is the first character to appear in Daytripper, featured in an obituary written by Brás. He is an artist renowned as much for his skill as the pattern on which it is focused. He paints a single portrait of every woman he loves, but names all of them Lola. The reasons behind this choice are as mysterious to the characters in Daytripper as they are to the reader. Whether Lola was a deceased companion, an unrequited love, or only an idea in Schlomo’s mind is never revealed. The lack of detail creates something of a Rorschach test for readers to fill in, where they are encouraged to complete the story and draw their own conclusions.

Brás focuses on the continual use of the name Lola in all of Schlomo’s paintings. He perceives this to be a lesson that no matter how many lovers he may find, there will always be one that is on his mind. His obsession with Olinda’s departure and the moment where she left continues to define his world view. Alternative reasons for the use of the name Lola never enter Brás’ mind and he is shown to be looking past the beauty in the art that surrounds him.

Yet the breadth of Schlomo’s work (274 paintings of 274 women) suggests a different story as well. Each of the individual paintings captures a single moment, one that compelled the painter to capture it and profess his love for an individual. The moment that defines Brás in the first half of this comic is singular, yet he stands before the work of a man defined by hundreds of such moments. These moments are incredibly powerful, capable of creating great works of art, yet they are also not entirely unique. The concept that a person can only love one individual or only experience one defining moment of love is disproven by the paintings on every wall of this sequence.Brás is incapable of recognizing that lesson in Schlomo’s work; he needs someone worth painting to do so, a Lola of his own.

After having so thoroughly explored Brás’ state of mind, Moon and Bá opt to create a one-year break in time rather than continue to follow his recovery. Three words, “A Year Later…” provide enough reference to understand that even if Brás is still affected by Olinda’s departure that he has had ample time to heal. Although he is still shown to be morose, comparing his soul to the dark and bitter character of coffee, it is not inconceivable for him to experience something new. It’s an important and believable piece of shorthand, necessary for connecting the two moments which this story revolves around.

There are other clues that life has changed for Brás as well. Stewart’s colors mark that the world is a figuratively warmer place than in the previous sequences. For the first time since Olinda’s disappearance the page is graced by a sense of warmth. In the cafe, lime greens and sea blues return to an orange background. After an extended absence, the warmth in these panels radically shifts the tone of the comic. This is no accident.

The comic changes in a significant way when Brás first sees Ana. Everything leading to this moment is thoroughly analyzed, whether it be through the thoughts or depiction of Brás, Benedito’s speech, Schlomo’s paintings, or the advice of Brás’ friends and families. Everything after Olinda leaves him in one terrible moment has been explained and examined. Yet when Brás and Ana first lay eyes upon one another, only a single word is left on the page: “Heart”.

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That page is allowed to breathe because it is the core of the comic, the thesis which all of Daytripper #3 has been building to, the moment. The top and bottom rows of panels frame the exact moment when Brás and Ana make eye contact. In panels one and four she is looking at her shopping. In the middle row they are looking out directly towards the reader. This is perceived as seeing one another, but also functions to add the reader as a third party to this moment. They are placed in the shoes of both characters to recognize that the other is staring back. In the act of closure, they connect Brás and Ana for the first time and experience that moment with them.

When Brás steps out of the shop and returns to the outside world, the color palette shifts back to the pale blues and violets of the previous year in the form a cold grey city with overcast skies.  The store with Ana inside of it is bordered on both sides by cold, unfeeling pages. It is shown to be an oasis in the solitude represented by Johnson’s cool colors. Both Brás and the reader are able to recognize after he leaves the store that he has discovered something truly special. The final sequence of the comic is Benedito’s parable of the desert and oasis illustrated

Daytripper #3 is not only about the nature of love and how we perceive it, but also the value of seeking it. The dramatic changes brought about by Ana’s introduction reveal the power one person can have upon another. It is not only the change in Brás’ attitude and his willingness to engage with the world once more, but in the look of the comic as a whole. The change of Stewart’s colors and shift from pages filled with panels and prose to ones where only a few pictures are allowed to carry the story forward all enhance the impact of the single moment when Brás and Ana see one another.

Brás death as he runs back to find Ana feels like a cruel joke at first. Only as he is preparing to start his life anew and rediscover the warmth that he had been without is he killed. The panel in which he is killed is almost entirely colored in red. It portrays the violence of his death, but also speaks to something more powerful. As he is running, Brás feels more alive than he has throughout all of Daytripper #3. He is happy in a way that he previously professed he thought was impossible. Although he is killed, at the moment of his death he is filled with passion. The red that fills his final moment can be perceived as representing violence, but can also be seen as the vigor of life reignited in Brás.

The obituary on the final page is laced with dramatic irony. It states that Brás was searching for love, yet those of us reading the comic know that he already found it. There was, and in later issues is, so much more potential to come, but the important part of Daytripper #3 is that Brás found the moment he had been seeking. He found love.

That’s the thesis Daytripper #3 is constructed around, the romantic notion of the oasis. It is filled with oases in the paintings of Scholomo Lerner and the stories of Benedito de Olivia Domingos. Even in Brás’s suffering, the concept of the oasis is defined by its absence. All of this leads to the final pages in which Brás discovers an oasis, a perfect moment when he could find love. The idea of that moment is treated as so rare and precious that when it happens no words are needed to describe it. The connection of two sets of eyes is enough to transform the world from a cold and uncaring place to one worth living in. Moon and Bá tell a deeply romantic story about the value of love.

The truth of Daytripper #3 is not that certain moments are worth dying for; it’s that those moments foster the value of living.

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Fables #142 Review

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 17, 2014.Fables 142 - 1

Fables #142 features a lot of staples commonly seen in the superhero genre, specifically those labelled “events.” Great power is mustered, legendary beings are called forth, and characters die. The events of this issue could reasonably be compared to an issue of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths or Marvel’s Civil War. However, the cliches of the superhero genre are far more effective in Fables than the titles with which they’ve become associated.

The difference between Fables and a title from DC Comics’ expanded universe is that the stakes, grandeur, and impact of events in the former’s universe have meaning. When a character dies in Fables, they (generally) stay dead. When gods appear in Fables, their presence is truly breathtaking. When a war occurs in Fables, it alters the status quo forever. Thus, tropes familiar to readers of superhero comics take on a rejuvenated sense of impact because something is truly at stake here. The result allows for a slower issue like Fables #142 to function very well.

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Fables #142 continues to establish where the major forces of the story are and with whom they are aligned. Mark Buckingham shows the reader the power of beings like the cardinal winds and Santa Claus, rather than having Bill Willingham explain. Both sets of Winter’s recruits are displayed in full page spread, allowing plenty of space for their presence to be “felt”. They even push into the vertical borders typically reserved for separate pieces of art. There’s no need for a caption bubble to explain that the allies of the North Wind and Bigby’s brothers are immensely powerful beings. The art spells it out.

The setup of the big powers is balanced by a series of smaller moments. Relationships and secrets are factoring to play every bit as large of a role in the series finale as the clashes of titans. It’s here that Willingham’s prose is able to shine, providing characterization and driving various plots forward in only a handful of panels. His dialogue is focused to accomplish a variety of tasks and succeeds in all of them while maintaining the unique voices of his cast.

The only ongoing action in this issue takes place at its end, where the cliffhanger from Fables #141 is touched upon. The NYPD are out in force hunting Bigby’s monstrous reincarnation and Fabletown comes up with a plan to help. The status quo surrounding Bigby’s return is established, but very little actually happens. Everyone involved with this plot, except for a very minor character, occupy the same place they did when Fables #142 began. Buckingham’s borders enhance the mood of these scenes though, reflecting on both Bigby as a loving husband and the inherent broken-ness in his current form.

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This is where the issue falters the most. Buckingham does an excellent job presenting each sequence of the issue, but the ending still feels anticlimactic. Perhaps the biggest change for any major character in this issue is downplayed and quickly disregarded to focus again on the hunt for Bigby. Although these characters are magical in nature, their nonchalant reaction towards mystical armor appearing without cause seems somewhat tone deaf. It alludes to the central conflict, but is quickly buried in favor of discussing the action of coming issues. If there is one flaw so far with “Happily Ever After,” it is a strict application of delayed gratification.

Despite the slow pacing and enormous amount of groundwork being established, Fables #142 still manages to succeed. It takes advantage of 141 previous issues to help create tension and build its stakes. Willingham and Buckingham have always created real consequences in a medium often associated with a lack of change. In doing so, they have guaranteed that the promises of this issue, both in terms of scope and impact, will be believed by readers. There may be no resolution here, but the increasing drama still provides plenty of action.

Score: 8/10

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World’s Finest: Planetary #4: I Can Show You the (Multi)World

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 16, 2014.

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Ray Sonne: One of the reasons that the comic book medium is unique is that it was the first to have “universes.” 1961 was a landmark year for the industry with DC Comics’ release of “The Flash of Two Worlds” and Marvel Comics’ publication of The Fantastic Four #1. Where the older publisher created the idea that their 20+ years of stories had taken place in a series of different universes–or, a multiverse–the younger publisher became the first to start a single, cohesive universe where all its books occurred. These two companies and the superhero genre are so prominent in the comics industry that it’s not much of a surprise that Image Comics and one of its subsidiaries, Wildstorm Productions, tried to follow suit in the 1990s after the publisher’s foundation.

Wildstorm had many talented contributors writing its books over the years. Wildcats (stylized as WildC.A.T.S) had a few talented early writers on the team such as Alan Moore and James Robison. Chris Claremont rebooted Gen13 after its initial run. Many tried their hand at making Stormwatch work (it never worked; DC should have thought about this a few years ago before publishing New 52 Stormwatch, which also did not work). However, I often wonder if the key to making a cohesive universe lies in a single writer, if not a single creative team, because most of the world-building for Wildstorm that proved to eventually matter came from Warren Ellis’s late 90s/early 2000s work. You’re reading a column about one of those works right now.

The shiftship seen in Planetary #4 is unbelievably gorgeous. John Cassaday and Laura DePuy created some kind of cathedral, complete with a Garden of Eden, that enthralls one to look at it. It’s unworldly, it’s unyielding, it’s massiveIt can talkAnd despite how bizarre the story is, it’s one you can believe. There is probably some other world out there that would build something so amazing for something that seems so down-to-earth and necessary as trade.

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The lavishness of the ship’s interior hits the human ability to appreciate sublimity, even though it is flat on the page. The connection with The Snowflake extends this appreciation outward, toward all the other stories that the Shiftship touches by traveling through the Bleed.

What cements the coherency across the publisher Wildstorm’s books is that the Second European Fleet’s shiftship is not the only shiftship in this Wildstorm Universe. There’s also The Carrier.

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The Carrier, in many ways, is noticeably different from the Second European Fleet’s Shiftship, however. For starters, she has a much more industrial aesthetic. While the SEF’s shiftship’s doors (the rectangles that surround Jim Wilder before his entrance into the ship) are blue, The Carrier’s are yellow. We get a few glimpses at parts of the SEF’s interior, but no insight as to their utilitarian value, whereas in the original The Authority run by Ellis and Bryan Hitch, the Carrier has a Junction Room, a conference room, an undercarriage, and some other mechanical rooms for her crew to work within. And speaking of crews, The Carrier has hers.

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The shiftship that Planetary finds is searching for her own crew. What does that mean for you, Chase?

Chase Magnett: Planetary #4 breaks from the pattern of the previous three issues by exploring a contemporary story that does not necessarily reflect a specific genre or trend in media. Ellis is not using pastiches to the creations of others, but one of his own by focusing the story on a shiftship. This isn’t a case of ego, but rather making a broader point. The story isn’t focused on a specific element of fiction because it is discussing the nature of storytelling in general.

In Planetary #4, the shiftship is an allegory for a story.

The shiftship is a truly remarkable thing in both what it is and what it is capable of. While inside, the Planetary team see wonders of imagination ranging from fantastic architecture to an Eden-like collection of flora and fauna. Beyond what it contains, the shiftship is capable of moving between the almost limitless realities represented in the snowflake. It can transport people anywhere and anytime, unconstrained by the rules or history of a particular reality. If that doesn’t sound like a story, then I don’t know what does.

Following that logic, Jim Wilder is a storyteller. He explains that the shiftship is unable to work on its own and requires living people to power it. Upon discovering this wonderful artifact capable of traversing space and time, he tasks himself with bringing it to life. His existence as a new being possessed by the need to create poses a romantic image of the storyteller as prophet or oracle. The challenges of funding and support are enormous, but unintimidating to him. He believes that the shiftship should be resurrected and he has been changed by the very notion of its existence. In fact, the shiftship literally exists inside of him now having left a massive scar across his chest in the shape of a lightning bolt in order to implant him with the machinery necessary to be its new pilot.

Lightning has long symbolized inspiration or ideas, and I don’t think it is an accident that Jim has been marked with lightning. He has been transformed by something more powerful than himself. Planetary is a series that explores what stories mean and why they are valuable. In this issue, Ellis and Cassaday seem to assert that stories are far greater things than the people who bring them to life, capable of journeying through infinite realities and changing the people with whom they come into contact. Jim, as a crewmember of the shiftship, is responsible for its well being. His awareness of the vessel has created a need to bring it to life once more and change the world. This isn’t the first time that Ellis has written about the people piloting a shiftship though, as you mentioned before.

Ray, you’re much better read when it comes to Ellis’ work in the Wildstorm universe(s), do you think this allegory holds true through his other work or am I overreaching?

RS: I think you’re definitely correct in asserting that the shiftships are representative of stories. Their crews likely change according to which kind of story they are. In this case, the shiftship sounds much more like a potential collection of storytellers, possibly in the comics variety. While Planetary offers their services (especially in terms of monetary assistance), to Wilder, they act as a publisher. Wilder, taking the pilot position, may be a writer with the ship representing his pitch to the company. The other crew members could vary, possibly representing an editor, a penciller, an inker, a colorist, and a letterer. Of course, that only makes six and I can’t think of what function the seventh creator would technically serve, but in terms of the “making a story take off” metaphor it works. Although this shiftship has a diverse interior, one may consider it a science fiction story due to its origin, if we wanted to categorize it into a genre at all.

The Carrier from The Authority is yet again different because she is the ultimate superhero story. The Authority itself is written as a twisted, “realistic” version of the Justice League of America and has seven members. Therefore, The Carrier has a seven member crew, which is what Wilder says the SEF shiftship needs in order to go home. Sometimes members of The Authority take over roles that are listed in Planetary #4; Swift, for instance, pilots The Carrier in Ellis and Hitch’s third arc while The Engineer goes down to The Carrier’s interior machinery to work intimately with the ship. Most of the time, however, they don’t squeeze into the stated roles (especially since The Carrier has a baby universe to fuel her instead of a particular character) and more often use The Carrier to serve their needs to defend the world.

In the first The Authority run, the team mentions that they are not sure where their ride comes from, but finding out doesn’t impress as a priority. Indeed, Ellis and Hitch never do reveal The Carrier’s origins. Like the SEF shiftship, The Carrier is connected to Earth. Although above Earth’s atmosphere, she still technically wanders the Bleed and so lurks out of sight. She needs The Engineer and The Doctor to uncover her like how the SEF shiftship needs unburying from the ground. The Carrier also does not move inside and outside of the Bleed unless a member of The Authority requests motion. Whether a shiftship’s crew is made up of storytellers or characters depends on people for progression like any story.

As we discover later, century babies Elijah and The Authority team leader Jenny Sparks know of each other’s existence. So while the rest of the Wildstorm Universe kind of just sits there while integrating a bit more tightly around 2003 or so, and having publisher-wide crossovers like “Big Brother DC”, Planetary and The Authority are more related to one another than any of the other titles. Out of all of Ellis’s works, they share his most cerebral ideas and carry very many of the same attitudes. Certain character archetypes, fart jokes, and advanced technology are seen throughout nearly all of Ellis’s other books, but you won’t find shiftships in Transmetropolitan or any of his traditional superhero contributions. Planetary is where all the discussions of genre and structure belong, especially of those lesser used in the comics industry. The Authority complements Planetary via criticism of what is often used. If one can think of titles under the same writer as siblings, these two are bipaternal twins (considering the different artists).

Speaking of atypical genres in comic books, any thoughts on how Planetary #4 works like an action movie, Chase?

CM: I don’t know if I read this as a corollary to the action genre of films. Action films are defined by their use of physical feats, violence, chases, and humor. Planetary #4 contains a punch-up and chase in its first half, but after page 8 there’s no violence. Although there are jokes throughout, the strong tonal shift that occurs at the end of the chase sequence removes most of the major elements that compose the action genre. However, I think that page and the rest of the story makes it very similar to the action movie’s cousin, the blockbuster.

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The term blockbuster has come to refer to high-budget movies written for a wide audience. They contain lots of special effects designed to astonish the senses. The opening sequences of Planetary #4 can certainly be seen as pleasing to all audiences. A detective beating up a crook and chasing him through the streets of New York is about as basic as you can get. Yet on page eight, the world opens up and gets a lot bigger. Cassaday does a wonderful job of constructing truly astonishing panels that can make the audience marvel at both their scale and intricacy. The shiftship, the touchstone, even Wilder’s costume are all incredible feats that would require a nine figure budget to create in a film. The “God Machine” in Planetary #3 and snowflake in Planetary #1 only hinted at the incredible nature of the multiverse. The imagery in the second half of Planetary #4 is spectacle and miracle writ large.

Ellis and Cassaday have a very high opinion on the value of stories. They’ve explored how the kaiju genre helped Japan to understand its national pain after the events of World War II and how revenge films of southeast Asia provide insight into modern morality. This is a team that sees deep connections between the stories we enjoy and how we function as a world. Planetary is all about big ideas, so it makes sense that an allegory for stories would be grandiose in nature. What better way to show the wonderful potential of what this series is all about than to apply the language of the most over-the-top, visually spectacular genre of all.

 

Bonus Round!

Ray:

-Equally as strange and wonderful as the shiftship itself is the costume it gives Jim Wilder. It has a very knightly aesthetic to match Wilder’s new role as a champion taking on a challenge or going on a journey. In the interior art, it resembles Jim Lee’s Mister Majestic’s costume, although that is probably unintentional.

-Up until this point, much of the Planetary issues worked as one-shots. With a small glimpse at Axel Brass in the beginning, some of the storylines start to come together. It’s an entertaining and unusual way to do exposition; like in Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire’s recent Moon Knight series, readers can conceivably hop on anywhere at this point and not get lost. Although later on Planetary is not as accessible, it seems to value its periodical format in the beginning.

Chase:

- There’s an interesting shift in the power dynamics of Planetary in this issue as well. Until now Jakita has been seen as the de facto leader of the group. She has explained the missions and led the charge. Even for most of this issue, she is the person issuing commands and making decisions. At the end Elijah Snow overrules here and decides to help Jim Wilder, transforming Planetary from an organization that observes to one that acts. This change is met by smiles from the Drummer and Jakita. Given only the context of this issue, it’s a change that seems strange, but will make much more sense after we discuss Planetary #12.

- Speaking of the long-term plans of Planetary, this issue also returns two elements from the first issue of the series: the snowflake and the Hark name. It’s an effort in world building for Ellis and Cassaday’s where characters and motifs are naturally re-introduced rather than being forced into the issue as a sub-plot. It’s a good example of how to combine episodic storytelling with long-term plans. We certainly haven’t heard the last about either of these elements, but they are not key to appreciating Planetary #4 on its own.

- I wonder if the lightning emblem scarred onto Jim Wilder’s chest and emblazoned on his new uniform is a purposeful homage to Captain Marvel. In addition to being recognized by large left-slanting lightning bolts on their chests, both characters are capable of instantaneously transforming into a being of great power connected to a world beyond our own. This issue isn’t focused on Captain Marvel or the superhero genre, but it may be pulling from the cultural zeitgeist of Western comics to say something about Mr. Wilder and his newfound nature.

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