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.

Daytripper 7 - 1

“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.

Daytripper 7 - 2

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.”

Daytripper 7 - 3

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.

Daytripper 7 - 4

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.

Daytripper 7 - 5

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.

Daytripper 7 - 6

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.

Daytripper 7 - 7

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.

Daytripper 7 - 8

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.

Daytripper 7 - 9

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.

Daytripper 7 - 10

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.

Posted in Comics, Comics Bulletin, Critical Analysis | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Batman #33 Review

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

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 7.30.35 AM

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.

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 7.30.58 AM

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?

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 7.31.40 AM

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

Posted in Comic Reviews, Comics, DC Infinite, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Seconds - 1

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.

Seconds - 2

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.

Seconds - 3

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.

Posted in Comic Reviews, Comics, Comics Bulletin, Critical Analysis, Friday Follow Up | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Daytripper - Header

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.

Daytripper 3 - 2

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.

Daytripper 3 - 3

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.

Daytripper 3 - 4

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”.

Daytripper 3 - 5

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.

Posted in Comics, Comics Bulletin, Critical Analysis | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Fables 142 - 2

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.

Fables 142 - 3

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

Posted in Comic Reviews, Comics, DC Infinite, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Planetary 4 - 1

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.

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.36.38 PM

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.

Planetary 4 - 2

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.

Planetary 4 - 3

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.

Planetary 4 - 4

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.

Posted in Comics, Critical Analysis, DC Infinite | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advance Review: ‘The Wicked + The Divine’ #2 Will Make You Move

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 15, 2014.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3dWBLoU–E

In his afterword to The Wicked + The Divine #2, Kieron Gillen references Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” saying, “It’s soThe Wicked + The Divine that I could give Hole a co-writing credit.” He’s not wrong. Listening to the song alone in a dark room, allowing yourself to twist and gyrate to Love’s siren call, you feel the song moving you. It’s full of raw attitude, but still manages to make you feel good. It’s smarter than it should be calling out to the nature of celebrity and pointing out the relationship between Hole and you as the listener, still gyrating and imagining yourself standing on stage just like them.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 makes you feel the same way. Oh man… This comic, just like this song, rocks really hard.

One of the really tough things about discussing early issues of ongoing series like this is that there’s a lot of feeling, fury, and passion, but the meaning isn’t necessarily clear yet. Themes are beginning to evolve, characters are taking shape, but the theme, the message, the grand idea of it all has yet to solidify. That leaves a couple of routes to take when discussing chapters of a growing story. You can note the craft and pick apart what makes each issue function or fail to, or… you can discuss the feeling of it. That second path is a lot more difficult to walk, at least for me, because describing how a comic makes you feel, how it moves you and relating that to the experience of a mass audience is tough. I couldn’t imagine being a music critic because music, at least for me (once again), is all about how it moves you and makes you feel. Writing about that kind of sensation is hard.

The Wicked + The Divine makes it easy.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 - 1

This issue is a 7-inch single, packed with a few tracks ready to wear out the needle on your record player. It’s short, just a taste of the band’s overall repetoire, but what you get still reveals an incredible breadth of scope and ability that will have you set it on repeat and wait for more.

The issue kicks off by cleaning up where the last one left off, but the first track doesn’t really begin until after the second title card when Laura arrives at prison to visit Luci. Luci may not be the lead character (vocals) for this series, but she steals every sequence she is in. When McKelvie puts her in the panel, it’s like inviting David Bowie to guest on a track. He’ll make it better, but he’s also going to be the star. Her appearance is undoubtedly based on Bowie’s Thin White Duke, her attitude and mannerism the same. She enters the panel filled with confidence. Both Laura and the reader are lucky to be graced with her presence and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is the truth. When she smiles, it’s both terrifying and exhilarating. A simple conversation between her Laura is more than enough to thrill, but her origin implanted in the middle of the sequence is what really soars.

Horror and fantasy and power echo off of these pages. A face that actually manages to overpower Luci’s own visual presence fills the page. For all of the confidence present in Luci’s demeanor, this face dominates the scene and asserts an incredible sense of authority. It’s not the mystery of the story that elevates these pages, but the feeling of what it may mean.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 - 2

The mid-point slows the beat and allows a sense of cleverness to release tension. Cassandra and Laura reflect the (often conflicting) roles of critic and fan, respectively. They weave words together to create a duet of verbal barbs and retorts. None of what they say is overly harsh, in a strange way they are friends working together. They are both intrigued by the power of the pop star gods of this world and can collaborate to gain a better understand what they’re observing. It’s a pause to the dynamism that comes before and after, inflected with body language and dialogue that keeps the established pace.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 - 3

And then there’s that final track. That’s the one that people will be talking about. Darkness overwhelms these pages with only thin white script cutting a path through them. Laura’s journey is represented literally and metaphorically as she travels under the earth and deeper into mystery. The mood created here is palpable and the tension released mere pages before is built into a crescendo of light when the darkness is finally released. The final two pages are pure madness. The snapping and 1-2-3-4 beat created by corner panels help link it to the established world, but then the final page hits and it’s something new.

It’s ludicrous. It’s over the top. It’s perfect.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 - 4

Music possesses a power that I cannot hope to capture with my words. You’ll never hear me bother to even attempt to review a concert or album. Because when music is good in a way that I don’t want to express in speech. It’s the kind of good that you want to express by moving, dancing, crying out, and banging your head. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie continually capture that feeling and passion in their comics. Together they’re making comics that make you want to move and shout.

They’re making you feel wicked and divine and it feels damn good.

Posted in Comic Reviews, Comics, Comics Bulletin, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daytripper, A Life Examined Part One: Introduction

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 14, 2014 as the first part of a 12 part series.

Daytripper - Header

Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Daytripper. This is the first part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series, which was published in the U.S. by Vertigo. Articles will run pretty much every day through July 28th, though we’ll take a few days off for weekends. As you can see, we’ve assembled an all-star group of Comics Bulletin writers for this series: Daniel Elkin, Chase Magnett, Paul Brian McCoy, Jason Sacks and Keith Silva. Each of our esteemed writers will be analyzing one chapter at a time from this series, with each chapter hand-chosen by the writer, and will be collaborating on “bookend” articles at the beginning and end of this series.

We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoy writing it. Please tweet, facebook, share and comment if you’re moved by what we write.

Daytripper 1

Jason Sacks: Sometimes daily life is predictable. We go to school or work each day; we maybe eat a nice lunch, see some friends, get out every now and then, live our very ordinary lives.

But existence is also unpredictable. Small things happen that can change everything dramatically, alter our perceptions or our relationships, end or begin a life, show us a miracle or make us appreciate the love of a friend or illuminate the love of family that can help make the everyday worth living.

With Daytripper Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá deliver a graphic novel that asks readers to consider “what if”, to wonder how we would be thought of if things suddenly changed in our lives. If we were to suddenly die, what would our obit say? Who would remember us and how would we be considered? Would we have lived with grace and happiness or full of pain and stress?

This astonishing book tells the story of Brás de Oliva Domingos in small fragments and at different ages In one chapter he’s an 11-year-old child on an idyllic summer afternoon at a family member’s farm; in another he’s 41 and dealing with the simultaneous death of his father (a nationally famous author) and the birth of his child; in another, he’s 47 and is defined mainly by his absence.

Though this book lacks action, it has plenty of suspense and a tremendous amount of tension. Life is complex and difficult but it’s also worth celebrating, and Moon and Bá (along with brilliant colorist Dave Stewart) deliver a book that celebrates our unique experiences, that suffuses the experiences of everyday living with a visionary beauty that reminds us of the importance of finding joy in the commonplace while reminding us that even the commonplace can be extraordinary.

Gentlemen, I’m excited to be writing about this series with such a smart and thoughtful group of friends. On the whole, what did Daytripper mean to you?

Daytripper 2

Chase Magnett: When I first read Daytripper, I was on a spring break trip to the East Coast. not even old enough to legally drink. Coming back to it now, I’m surprised at both how personal the reading experience remains and how much my perspective on many chapters is. This continuing relevancy combined with new interpretations speaks to the book’s flexibility and the genius of its framing.

Although the ten chapters combine to provide a coherent narrative of Brás’ life, they also function independently as reflections on a specific period or aspect of life. Ranging from friendship to romance, being a child to being a parent, failure to success, every chapter focuses around a very specific and complex theme. It is the complexity of these ideas that allow Daytripper to hold a wide array of meanings for readers.

Chapter 3 deals largely with the idea of finding love, revolving around a fierce breakup and Brás’s recovery to find someone new. When I first read Daytripper in college, it was less than a month after the end of my first long-term relationship. I related to the book through Brás pain and anger, feeling it as my own. Now I read it through the lense of someone who made it past that period and is now happily cohabitating in a much more productive relationship. My focus has shifted from the breakup that begins the chapter to Brás recovery and the promise he sees is someone else’s eyes at the end.

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s comic has not changed since its initial publication in 2010, but its readership certainly has. Its greatest strength is that the story evolves with the needs and understanding of its audience. The chapter about romantic relationships will look vastly different to someone in their first romance, someone looking forward to marriage, and someone living in a successful marriage with children. Yet it has something to say to all of these people, whether it is a message of hope or one of difficult lessons learned.

The diversity of its themes, and the subsequent diversity of how they may be understood by readers is a truly incredible thing. Brás is every bit as much a cypher as he is a character in his own right. He provides us with a person to project ourselves onto in order to understand the many facets that compose a human life, in addition to being a well-defined character in his own right. And just as Brás grows throughout the story, so do those of us reading Daytripper.

Daytripper 3

Keith Silva: Daytripper is one of the select handful (armful?) of books I would bring with me to that proverbial desert island. In fact, if pressed and if I had to choose only one comic — The horror! The horror! — Daytripper would be on the shortest of short lists. If adrift and alone in some paradisal hellscape I would want to while away my infinities with what I consider to be the most human stories I’ve ever experienced. For its intelligence, emotion, beauty, mutability and love, Daytripper is damn near sentient.

As I began to approach this project, pressed for time and casting about for inspiration, I reread Craig Thompson’s introductory illustration and thought: “who can say better than that?” Thompson wastes neither time nor space as he locates Daytripper at the center point, the omphalos, the Mason/Dixon of the comics medium: fantasy vs. realism. He’s right, of course. In doing so, Thompson gives this geographical location a very romantic turn, he says, “Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon dance between both, infusing reality with the sacred” — the sense, the idea, that fantasy and dreams approach ‘the sacred?’ … genius. Now who’s the romantic?

I’m burying the lead: Daytripper is beautiful to look at. That’s not opinion or emotion, that’s science. Each panel and page is a sublime construction of cartooning; its naturalism and effortless appearance are illusions to the determinism of life, the hard stuff required (demanded) by such flawless creation.

For all its big questions and bigger emotions, deep meanings and deeper resonances, Bá, Moon, Stewart and letterer Sean Konor tether the reader to reality, to place. The specificity of Daytripper, its exocticness, its dreaminess, its Brazilian-ness all translate into something achingly familiar, local and human. The Theatro Municipal of São Paulo and Rio Vermelho feel as real to me as stately Wayne manor or Wakanda, only more so, because of the balance Daytripper strikes between reality and the dream, that’s comics, the suspension of dis-belief, the reality within dream and the dream within the reality.

Daytripper does not lack for action, Jason, no more than the small victories and continual setbacks of life itself. True, few of us find ourselves able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or have the physical attributes to pull off (on?) leather or spandex, c’est la vie. And Chase, Daytripper doesn’t change, it’s like a physical law, like gravity, mercurial, but constant, it’s the genetics of all great works of art. Change is the purview of the reader. And so it goes …

Instead of taking the easy way out by asking the reader to choose sides — team-realism or team-fantasy — Bá and Moon remix the binary of reality and the dream to create art, a living expression of the sacred and beautiful irony that death is a part of life. Daytripper is an affirmation it’s not either/or, it’s both.

Daytripper 4

Paul Brian McCoy: I’m going to be the odd man out here, it seems, because while I agree that the themes are brilliant and the artwork is simply spectacular, by the time I got to the tenth issue I was bored by the whole piece. The conceit of ending each chapter with Bras’ death and summing up his life to that point with the obituary became a distraction for me, pulling me out of the stories and clubbing me over the head with what is actually a very simple, if sublime, point about living one’s life to the fullest.

But with that said, each chapter is a beautiful piece of work in itself. Bá and Moon, along with the stunning color work by Dave Stewart, have crafted a piece that I could sit and stare at all day long. Keith, you’re exactly on point with your description of how the dreamlike quality of the work balances delicately with realistic believability. By the time the series actually moves more fully into Bras’ dreams, it feels earned and allows the series to really bring everything home successfully in those final two chapters.

Visually, anyway.

I felt that the story itself ran about four or five chapters too long. Although if a couple of the later chapters had come earlier in the mix, I may have felt differently. Ultimately, I didn’t care for Bras as a character. He was bland and self-involved – which I know is exacerbated by the creative conceit of the work overall – and I just didn’t care about his little triumphs and failures. As an everyman, he pushed me away, and in the end I didn’t really like him very much despite his attempts to do the right things here and there throughout his life.

Each chapter gave such an insightful glimpse into his life without expending a lot of excessive (or noticeable, anyway) effort that I regretted not getting that artistic approach spread around to other characters. The hints of Magical Realism that Bá and Moon try to pepper throughout the story fell flat for me, and instead of opening up the sense of wonder and the sublime, it ended up making me feel as though I were being lectured to by Richard Bach rather than enlightened by Gabriel García Márquez.

I mean, I loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions back when I was twenty, but rereading them now as a forty-six year-old is grating and tedious. Unfortunately, the tediousness is the big takeaway for me with Daytripper. It was just too inwardly focused on one individual’s experience of life, despite all the different permutations and changes, to keep me interested for ten nearly identically paced and presented issues.

The singular focus on Bras also forces the work to see the other characters solely through his eyes, or when it does shift the narrative perspective slightly it is still colored by Bras influence, which doesn’t fare well for really any of the supporting characters. But the women suffer in particular; any one of whom would be a far more interesting subject for this sort of in-depth exploration of life, death, family, and meaning.

Daytripper 5

Daniel Elkin: The “tediousness” to which you refer, McCoy, perhaps goes more to the point that both Magnett and Silva have brought up, the idea that a successful work of art “reads” its audience as much as its audience “reads” the work. We bring our own narrative and the sum of our experiences to our apperception of something as brave and audacious as Daytripper. We understand it as we understand ourselves. What we find therein speaks as much to who we are as a person, as it does the work itself.

What Bá and Moon have created is, in fact, the story of ourselves, insomuch as it is the story of experiences. As much as we might try to deny it, life is a series of cause and effects.

Trace back how you ended up where you have in your life. Follow the decision making process, as it were. Something along the lines of,  “I’m here because I decided this based on this, which choice presented itself because of this, which was a result of this, which was proceeded by this, which came about due to this, etc, etc…” as far back as you can go. If you’re honest with yourself, you not only have a better sense of who you are and where you’ve come from, but, more importantly, the study, in a way, forces you to take ownership of your present.

Unfortunately, we take each of the decisions we make in our day-to-day rather lightly. Upon examination, though, they gain gravitas. But as we have little time in our scurry we have less for reflection. The last choice, then, becomes defining. Yes, Silva, death IS a part of life. It, in this case, provides the final punctuation to our story. Is it an exclamation point? A period? A question mark? Or an ellipse?

This is where Daytripper, for me, straps on its profundity — it parses the punctuation and, by doing so, assays the life led. Bá and Moon force us, through their art, to consider the sagaciousness of the moments that encompass our lives.

Like you said, Sacks, life is “worth celebrating” — birthdays, anniversaries, new relationships, larger moments of joy — all of these draw our attention to the outcome, we extol in the accomplishment. What reading Daytripper does for me, though, is remind me that these moments are results, not ends in themselves, and that the commonplace is what makes up the man. Anything capable of this is, in some form, a work of art in my mathematics, and so, for me, the formula stands: Daytripper = Art

Daytripper 6

Sacks: Yes, Daniel, the decisions we make day-to-day are taken very lightly. The decision to go to a ceremony for your famous father; the decision to swim out to a bobbing harborside boat; the choice to not speak to a gorgeous woman at a convenience store: all are minor events in some way but are also as important as life and death.

I understand the frustration you feel at the conceit of each chapter ending in a death, Paul, but to me that’s one of the central themes of this luminous book: the events that change our life, that kill the old us and birth the new us, are the ones that on some level are the simplest. There are many moments when we feel the weight of transition in our lives – the death of a parent and the birth of a child, to name two – but there are just as many moments that seem trivial in the moment but that end up being momentous. Even the little incidents can be life and death experiences. They can change our life.

One aspect of this book that I notice when leafing through it is the power of the eyes. Eye contact is very important in this book as the communication of soulful meaning. Note the way that Olinda looks us in the eye at the beginning of chapter 3, “28”, and how much meaning and pain there is in that look – and how both vital and painful that look is to the way that we understand her perception of the world. Or the way that the children communicate silently to each other in chapter five, “11”, and how those eyes convey a connection that can only be communicated in ways that young people can communicate.

Then notice the eyes of Benedito, always staring off into space, so often seeming involved more in their world than in the world of his family and friends. Perhaps this is a sign that the book is being written from Brás’s standpoint, where we see the world indirectly from his eyes and his father as a distant, somewhat unknowable force of literary meaning and power in his life. He certainly seems to see his father as as much as relic of his possessions as anything else – a fascinating juxtaposition for a book that is so much about connections.

Since I’ll be writing about this in my piece about chapter one (spoiler!), I won’t dwell on this point here, but let me ask you, my friends in journeys to wonderful realms: Does it feel like there’s a small gap at the center of this book in the form of Brás? Does it seem like Brás, our protagonist, isn’t quite sure himself who he is and what he wants to become (at least until the final chapter, of course)? For any of us who feel stuck in our own heads in our 40s, or even in our 20s, can we relate to this feeling of a desperate need for intimacy in his life — something more than a young man’s yearning for love but rather the story of a slightly broken man trying to find meaning in his life?

And in that quest for meaning, do we find empathy, meaning, and yes, even a little bit of love for our ever-questing Brás?

Daytripper 7

Magnett: In presenting (most of) the story from Brás’ point of view, Moon and Bá do allow their central character to become a cipher. This is not because Brás is without motivation or desires, but because he is the one tasked with conveying them. At any given point, he is sure of who his father, his wife, his son, or his best friend are in relation to him. They bring definition to his life and he focuses on each of their relationships in one or more chapters. The one person he has the most trouble defining is himself.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as the act of defining one’s self is a difficult at best. If you think about the person you were in ten, five, or even one year increments the answer can change dramatically. A new love, job, or child can dramatically alter the way in which we view the world and ourselves. We are not allowed to see Brás gradually evolve, but are re-introduced to him at those all-important minor moments that you mentioned, Jason. Each of these moments is selected because of the transformative power it holds. Thinking about all of this, Daytripper is really a story of becoming.

Each chapter acts as something of an act break in Brás’ life, altering what he wants or how he views himself. The end result is a story that can be approached from two levels. On one level we have a collection of vignettes, each exploring a very specific theme. Taken as a whole these short stories can be assembled to create a coherent life story. The latter version is less coherent because it creates large gaps for readers to fill in and recreate, specifically since the ending of each previous chapter must be false in order for the next to exist. It’s easy to lose track of Brás life story between his constant developments, but these flashpoints of change are what allow us to relate to him.

This is why I look forward to seeing our collected essays focusing on each chapter individually. Brás is most alive and recognizable in specific moments. As readers we empathize with the experience of a traumatic breakup, falling in love, or having a child. We are capable of projecting onto Brás at these precise moments when he is able to clearly define himself. That relates directly to the structure of ending each chapter with an obituary. An obituary is tasked with clarifying a life in very few words. At each of these moments, Brás and those of us who have shared in these experiences are able to clearly define who we are. Daytripper is about the precious moments when the process of becoming allows us to become something new.

Daytripper 8

Silva: It’s personal. All of it.

Brás is a Portuguese name (a form of the French Blaise). It translates as ‘speaks with a lisp.’ Brás possesses an acute unremarkableness, a blandness. He’s a wet sandwich. Brás hesitates, stutters. Writ large (plot-wise) he’s always having to start over, to try again. Perhaps, McCoy, you’re on to something.

Magnett’s use of the word ‘cypher’ to describe Brás is spot on. Not to equivocate (too much), but I might choose the word ‘abstraction’ to describe Daytripper’s protagonist. Adjectives aside, Brás isn’t a hero. He’s hard to like, self-centered and at times very selfish. He earns few points (with me) when he’s playing the put-upon-son-of-the-famous-father or the absentee-Dad. Sympathize with Brás, no. Empathize, yes. He’s human, to a fault.

A cypher (or cipher) is a zero, a non-entity, a nobody, a blank slate. Couple this with Elkin’s idea of the how ‘successful art’ reads the reader and Brás becomes a bit of (binary) code, something that can only be defined and understood by the reader. Daytripper traffics in life and death, fate and choice, those joined pairs — those twins — that make up the ones and zeroes of the narrative. The results, the forks in the road taken and not taken, the trail of breadcrumbs that lead back to those decisions only provide the directions, the map. Who makes the decisions and why? At the center of this question is Brás, the blank slate, the blank page.

One way to read Daytripper is as the act of writing, how a writer engages with the abstraction of the capital ‘B’ capital ‘P’ Blank Page. Sure, it’s a convenient metaphor/analogy and yes, it’s heavy-handed and (O.K.) a skosh idealistic, but it’s viable and (I think) sustainable. As writers (so-called) the five of us all have to engage, battle, cajole and romance the blank page. We create something on top of nothing, making our marks which is, after all, what comics is all about, mark-making. A lot like life, no?

Several years ago I was running camera on an interview with an author, Fred Chiaventone. He’d written a book, A Road We Do Not Know: A Novel of Custer at Little Big Horn, his first and (so far) his only novel. The host asked him about the title, where it came from and what it meant. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve never forgotten Chiaventone’s answer. The title, he said,  was from a Native American phrase — in my memory it’s some bit of Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull wisdom — about how each and every day is ‘a road we do not know.’ It’s personal.

To me, that’s Brás, that’s life and his (only?) purpose in this story, to function as an abstraction, an agent for discussions about life, death, choice and all the rest.

Let’s find out where this road goes.

Let’s write.

Daytripper 9

Paul: And therein lies the problem.

When a work relies or depends on the reader to bring their own experience to fill in the gaps on the page, especially when we’re discussing a work that goes out of its way to make philosophical points that are reiterated with each concurrent chapter – despite the fact that key elements in the characters’ emotional growth aren’t actually carried over narratively from chapter to chapter – then the work itself is flawed. Perhaps not fatally, but it is, at times, playing the reader like a mark, using beautifully sublime moments to mask a somewhat simplistic philosophical appeal.

This is a work designed almost exclusively for the Reader Response criticism that makes up most comics criticism. That’s almost the only response it has gotten from most quarters – and here already. Daytripper uses narrative shorthand to craft emotional responses that resonate with its target audience, educated male writers (and would-be-writers) with father issues, without doing any of the heavy-lifting character work that a stronger narrative would provide. Critically, when we fall back on describing how the work made us feel, we shift the attention to us rather than keeping it focused on the work, and then we gloss over structural issues as minor elements because the comic gave us the warm gushies inside.

I mean, how can we take anything in Brás’ father’s letter seriously in Chapter 10, when he so obviously didn’t stop living for himself and giving up his life for his son? The entire nine chapters previous are all about the absent father and the repercussions of living in the shadow of his father’s fame. Taken as a stand-alone chapter, it’s almost insidious in its attempt to gouge those emotional markers that made, and still make, Field of Dreams a favorite film of grown-up boys who miss their daddies. But given everything that’s come before, it’s impossible to see it as anything but a father’s desperate attempt to rewrite himself in his son’s eyes.

This circles back to what you’ve written Keith, that Daytripper may mainly be about the act of writing itself. I think that may be the most valuable way to approach the text, now that you’ve thrown the idea out there. Given that the obituaries are obviously the central metaphor of the work and every chapter is about how our lives are summed up once we’re done (pure Sartre, there, by the way), perhaps we should give more attention to the way the story is constructed as a whole.

For example, how can we see the dream sequence that makes up Chapter 9 as magical or insightful, when we’ve already seen all of those images and mysteries played out? Instead of being a mystical exploration of self and a prophetic vision, it’s just a dream – regurgitating images we’ve already seen play out. However, this exact same material, if presented earlier in the work, maybe after two or three chapters, when the death/obituary conceit has been established, would open up the work to interpretation and magic, while also loosening up the lockstep structural approach Moon and Bá tied themselves to.

Unfortunately I find myself realizing with each new look at the work, that however the chapters may have been organized, if the words were removed, all of my problems with the text go away. So if it’s about writing ourselves into existence, it ultimately fails for me. I’m disappointed by the fact that the emphasis Daytripper puts on the words we use to define ourselves, undermines the way they present the emotional beauty of everyday life.

Daytripper 10

Elkin: Point well taken, McCoy. You’ve made me think here.

As writers, we inhabit a world of words. What are words except a desire to express experience? Certainly they limit, cage, and oftentimes distract from intent, but deep rooted in their purpose is the desire to connect. When we communicate, we share ourselves — our needs, our joys, our sorrows, our isolation — only to connect. Words, McCoy, are our bridge between that which is locked inside of us and the world that surrounds us.

Certainly there are other forms of communication: art, dance, music, even the simplest touch, but it is through words that we grasp for specificity, minutiae, logic, reason. Words define, encapsulate, and, yes, McCoy, sometimes, tragically, undermine.

Luckily, comics function in the intersection between words and pictures. In the best comics, these two function harmoniously in order to access both the visceral and the intellectual in a manner no other medium can. Comics demand of the audience uniquely, and thus, back to my original statements about the work reading the reader as much as the reader reads the work.

Moon and Bá work their wonder twin powers in Daytripper, using both the drawing and the writing to communicate.

And, I think, to connect.

Sacks mentions the eyes. Magnett mentions transformative power. Silva mentions an agent for discussions. All these words, these ideas, they point to something earnest, deep-seated, fervent, and profound. Daytripper has brought this out in us. Therein lies its worth.

Earlier, Silva referred tangentially to Robert Frost’s classic, ubiquitous, horrifically commercialized and “memed” poem “The Road Not Taken”. Though Facebook and advertising copywriters want us to see this as a poem celebrating original thinking, for me, I’ve always read this poem as one of regret:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Is it not with a “sigh” that he tells us this story? Who would the narrator be had he chosen the other road? Did his life amount to less than he had imagined? What possibilities would have arisen from another decision? What is regret other than an expression of discontent and a longing for having made a different choice?

And that made all the difference.

This is the fecund and philosophical realm of Daytripper. Through Bá and Moon’s craft, we get to explore the idea of choice. Yes, Magnett, Brás IS our cypher regardless of any distractions the work itself presents. It’s not just a question of how his stories make us feel, it is how his stories make us think.

Now, like Silva admonished above, “LET’S WRITE.”

Daytripper 11

Daniel Elkin trips over all sorts of things during the usual course of his day. You can find him on twitter @DanielElkin blithely missing the point.
Chase Magnett is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 24 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a degree in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. Don’t ask about his favorite comic unless you’re ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles. You can contact Chase on Twitter @ReverendMagnett or bug him at his own blog at chasemagnett.wordpress.com.

Paul Brian McCoy  is the Editor-in-Chief of Psycho Drive-In  and writer of Mondo Marvel . His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US  & UK , along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US  & UK ). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy .

Jason Sacks is the Publisher of Comics Bulletin as well as the co-author of several books about comics, includingThe American Comic Book Chronicles: the 1970s, released by TwoMorrows Publishing. He tweets (occasionally and usually in a great flurry) @jasonsacks

Keith Silva spends too much of his time staring into the middle distance and trying to think of something witty or erudite to say. He writes for Comics Bulletin and a blog he never updates. His latest venture is A$$ Pocket of Whiskey: The Podcast. He also writes jokes for Twitter: @keithpmsilva  

Posted in Comics, Comics Bulletin, Critical Analysis | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Level Intellect: 100 Bullets #27: Wheels Within Wheels

This column was originally published at DC Infinite on July 14, 2014.

100 Bullets 27 - 1

100 Bullets is a comic obsessed with the nature of conspiracies. The connective tissue of the series centers around a conspiracy of 13 families who have controlled the fate of the United States since the establishment of the first English colonies. Power plays, secrets, and betrayals shape the fates of those families and their enforcers, the Minutemen. Everything about the series relates to the concept of conspiracy in some manner. (1) Over the course of 100 issues, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso explored the American landscape, both geographically and culturally, all through the lense of an impossibly complex intrigue.

With that premise, it’s no surprise that 100 Bullets was a major success for Vertigo Comics, being one of only three titles to publish 100 issues under the imprint. (2) Americans are obsessed with conspiracies both in fiction and real life. The History Channel prominently features programming that explores myths like Bigfoot and Atlantis, blending historical analysis with fantastic fictions. Popular fiction reflects a similar obsession. J.J. Abram’s “mystery box” concept has been successfully applied to many films and television shows over the past decade (for better or worse) starting with Lost(3) The recent mystery of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean captured the cultural zeitgeist and occupied 24 hour news stations for more than a month. America, taken as a whole, is a culture obsessed with conspiracies.

100 Bullets #27, titled “Idol Chatter”, looks at one of the most famous historical events and conspiracy theories in the history of the United States: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For the past fifty years the shots fired in Dallas have remained a powerful force in classrooms and stories. They continue to inspire modern novels like Don DeLillo’s Libra and Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Azzarello and Risso provide their own take on what happened that day by including the influence of Agent Graves.

100 Bullets 27 - 2

Agent Graves is, arguably, the main character of 100 Bullets. He is the instigator of the first and final stories in the series, as well as most of those in the middle. By providing a briefcase with 1 gun, 100 untraceable bullets, total immunity, and proof of a wrong committed he encourages people to seek catharsis in often violent ways. In 100 Bullets #27, Graves encounters an aging Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio was briefly married to actress Marilyn Monroe in 1954. In this version of events, Monroe went on to sleep with President Kennedy who ordered her assassination in 1962 to protect his political career. DiMaggio, still in love with Monroe, sought vengeance from the grassy knoll. Graves reveals to the elderly DiMaggio that there were three other shooters and no one knows who fired the fatal shot. It’s an enjoyable, although impossible, blending of historical facts and rumors that makes for a great revenge story. It also reveals a lot about the nature of conspiracy theories and those that believe them in its details.

The trick of the story is that it uses historical touchstones in order to create a coherent narrative. It is possible to deconstruct 100 Bullets into plot points, clear motives, protagonists, antagonists, and themes. There is meaning in the comic purposefully bestowed by its creators. That meaning is absent from the historical events it recreates. Kennedy’s assassination, Monroe’s overdose, the tumultuous DiMaggio/Monroe marriage; none of these occurrences were written, they were caused by human beings just like those that watched them on their televisions.

There is a difference for the observer though. A student in a history classroom today being shown the tape of Kennedy’s assassination and Oliver Stone’s biopic JFK (4) will not draw a distinction between their understanding of the fictional character and the historical figure. Both presentations are to some degree equally real. The legend of JFK is every bit as real as the legacy of the man. That equality provides a choice between two narratives: a random tragedy caused by a mad man in a book depository and a conspiracy to remove the world’s most powerful man to change the course of history. It is not difficult to understand why a viewer might choose the story with meaning over one defined only by chaos.

100 Bullets 27 - 3

These tragedies are present throughout 100 Bullets #27. Small, sad moments occur in the background of Graves and DiMaggio’s conversation. An old woman is dragged into the courtyard so her caretaker can meet with a lover. Her frustration causes her to have a heart attack and die. Although a horrible scenario, it is one characterized by its randomness and stupidity. For the old woman’s loved ones, there is no greater meaning or cause than a nurse’s poor decision. Milo Garret is presented with a similar situation. He is hospitalized with his entire face in bandages due to a random accident. Graves provides him with a cause for his situation, but the subsequent story “The Counterfifth Detective” reveals that cause to be illusion. Milo is just as complicit in his situation as anyone else. (5) These small narratives depicted — almost between the panels by Risso — help form a pattern of people attempting to enforce order on chaos.

The result of that need to create order is revealed in the A-story. DiMaggio and Graves walk through the hospital together while providing the story of how they met and what happened. Risso takes the opportunity to juxtapose their memories of 1963 with the present year, about 2001. On page five, DiMaggio is compared to himself in his prime. The strong jaw, pointed stare, and pursed lips have given way to age and worry. Read alone, it’s a comment on the effects of aging, but in the context of the issue, that decline is associated with something worse. The last time where DiMaggio appears determined and young is on page 19, where he is shown preparing to fire a bullet at President Kennedy. His appearance after this point is slumped and defeated, almost toad-like. It creates a dramatic point of change, where DiMaggio is transformed from a focused athlete to a handicapped old man.

100 Bullets 27 - 4

Azzarello raises an additional points of focus in the dialogue between DiMaggio and Graves. When DiMaggio brings up the broader question of how Kennedy’s death affected the world, Graves provides him with a trite response. Pointing at DiMaggio’s heart he says, “Don’t concern yourself with the big picture, because the answer to the question is right there in the details.” Graves is not the voice of morality, but an instigator once more. He begs DiMaggio to ignore the consequences of his decisions and focus on his personal investment in the events. According to this mindset, the impacts upon world politics or the individuals of Kennedy’s family are unimportant. The only thing that matters is how DiMaggio feels.

After this is said, DiMaggio only has one last question for Graves. On the final page, Graves is seen delivering flowers to the grave of Marilyn Monroe and stating they are “From your biggest fan…” The striking element about this epilogue is the drastic shift in coloring from Patricia Mulbihill. Everything until this point has been dominated by warm oranges and soft yellows that portray the setting as Southern California. On the final page, there is a drastic tonal shift to greys and blues that reveal a world dominated by death. It is both the literal end of the issue and the metaphorical end result of the ideas presented in the story. Graves’ act of kindness makes no difference to a world that is clearly defined by death, his words only heard by the reader.

100 Bullets #27 is not an endorsement of conspiracies or revenge, it is a brutal rejection of both. At the end of the issue, no one has a favorable outcome. The characters who are not dead are either crippled or on a road to far worse fates. (6) DiMaggio both perpetrates and buys into a conspiratorial view of the world where there is a story only he can see and certain people are villains. It is only when focusing on his own point of view, as Graves suggests he should, that his actions make any moral sense. This myopia allows him to kill a man and puts him in his present position. Everything that makes Risso’s illustrations of a young DiMaggio so striking and powerful is stripped away after he acts on his beliefs. He is transformed from a man of importance to resembling a toad.

100 Bullets 27 - 5

There is nothing inherently wrong with engaging in stories of conspiracy. The entirety of 100 Bullets plays with these types of stories in order to create one of the great epics of modern comics. Yet the focus and belief in them is a dangerous thing. Azzarello and Risso point out how one man’s obsession with his singular point of view transformed him from a strong individual to a crippled old man. This fictional representation of DiMaggio is a fictionalized representation of people who choose to invest in conspiracy theories. The impulse to construct narratives of the world is a strong one, but also one that holds great consequences. Forcing history into the confines of a preconceived story is dangerous.

100 Bullets #27 is a warning. Stories in comics can help us understand the world we live in, but they are not one and the same.

Footnotes:

(1) There are plenty of obvious historical conspiracies and plot driven conspiracies in 100 Bullets, but most of the character action is driven by a sense of conspiracy as well. The self-titled debut story “100 Bullets” has nothing to do with the broad scope of The Trust or The Minutemen. It is simply about a young woman seeking revenge for the death of her husband and child. She discovers the cause of their deaths is a large-scale conspiracy involving both the Chicago Police Department and her own family. It’s not over reaching to say that the very idea of conspiracy is woven into the DNA of 100 Bullets.

(2) The other two are Hellblazer (237 issues) and Fables (141 issues, currently planned to end at 150). Some series published under the Vertigo imprint, like Swamp Thing, reached over 100 issues in their series. However, these series were initially published as part of DC Comics and were shifted to Vertigo mid-way through their runs. Hellblazer ran for 300 issues total, but did not become a Vertigo title until Hellblazer #63.

(3) It’s worth noting that one of Abrams continuing partners in writing and production Roberto Orci is a bona fide “conspiracy nut”. He openly identifies as a truther, meaning that he believes 9/11 was committed by the United States government, not terrorists. This is not very surprising when one examines the incoherent and illogical state of Orci’s writing.

(4) JFK presents a conspiracy implying that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson may have supported the assassination and was decried upon its release in 1991 for this. Many newspapers railed against the film for not being historically accurate despite it being a work of fiction. The line between reality and story was clearly blurred, if not altogether erased, for those writing in opposition to the film’s release.

(5) The tragedy of “The Counterfifth Detective” (and most of 100 Bullets) is that every character chooses their fate. In Milo Garrett’s case he is provided continual outs to pursue his new life and leave his past with The Minutemen behind, but in the end chooses to die to discover the truth.

(6) Garrett’s death six issues later is unfortunate, but of his own choice. Graves’ death in the series final panel is truly terrible. In his final moments he is not only forced to recognize that he has destroyed everything he held dear, but that he is a hypocrite who has defied the values he sought to provide to the world. Not only does he die, but his character is completely undone. It is the stuff of Greek tragedy writ large on a comic page.

Posted in Comics, Critical Analysis, DC Infinite | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 Review

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 9, 2014.

American Vampire Second Cycle - 1

This site’s previous reviews of American Vampire: Second Cycle have focused on the concepts of building tension and rising action as they relate to the horror genre. Both are key concepts to creating scares and drama in a story. Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque have done a magnificent job of capturing both ideas in their storytelling so far. The purpose of building tension in a story though is to eventually release it. American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 releases much of the tension built throughout its first story arc for a thrilling climax.

Issue #3 ended with both the Gray Trader and a massive tornado bearing down on Pearl and her charges. The two major antagonists established in the series thus far were present together for the first time, promising a significant conflict. Neither Snyder nor Albuquerque disappoint in delivering that conflict.

American Vampire Second Cycle - 2

Albuquerque structures the fights using wide panels that capture the momentum and scope of the action. There is no longer a need for the previous issues’ dark and claustrophobic panels. Here, the monsters have are revealed and show off the breadth of their power and capabilities. The resulting sequence is impactful. With gunshots, explosions, and gale-force winds, every action beat lands with power.

The fast paced action doesn’t take away from the horror elements of American Vampire: Second Cycle #4. The antagonists still make for excellent studies in body horror. Both the Gray Trader and his flying minions are grotesquely twisted forms with enough humanity remaining for readers to recognize a piece of themselves. Their mouths, splayed out with rows of teeth or vertically contorted, are particularly horrifying. Albuquerque’s backgrounds help play to the chaos and fear of the sequences as well. Dust, flames, and smoke cloud the page sometimes hiding nearby events and other times obscuring the monsters so that only their most fearsome features are evident.

Dave McCaig enhances the mood of these sequences perfectly. Much of the fight with the winged vampires is lit in an eerie green that is reminiscent of stage lighting. The coloring on the comics page provides the same effect it does on the stage, acting as a symbol of death and otherworldly forces.McCaig’s amber and burnt oranges convey the light of fire without overwhelming Albuquerque’s line work. The result, when Pearl looks back to see the Gray Trader standing amongst flames, is terrifying. He is only defined enough to be clear amongst the fury of flames, wind, and smoke.

American Vampire Second Cycle - 3

Snyder structures all of this climax to be framed by a prologue and epilogue of sorts. The prologue picks up on a scene set in 1811 in Second Cycle #1. The inclusion of short stories that become connected to the central plot much later has become an idiosyncracy of Snyder’s scripts, present both here and in Batman. The tone of the prologue justifies the reader’s fear of the Gray Trader and the inclusion of the story in Second Cycle #1. It’s a small mystery that manages to be engaging without becoming a distraction.

The epilogue also fits into the overall issue, walking a thin line between ending one story while simultaneously providing a beginning to the series ahead. The central cast is established and their motives, acquired over the course of this opening story arc, are put into action as they make a plan. The closing scene featuring the battle weary companions preparing for what is next borders on cliche, but in the context of this issue it feels earned.

American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 is an excellent conclusion to the first story arc of the new series. It presents the best aspects of the series in its well defined characters, striking visual sense of action and horror, and grand sense of mythos. It manages to bring all of these elements together to create a climax that is a satisfying pay off to the tension and stakes built over the first few issues. Furthermore, it serves as a thesis statement for American Vampire: Second Cycle as a series – presenting what it is about and showing that the creative team is fully capable of delivering on the series’ promise. American Vampire has returned and, based on this story, its second act should be even better than the first.

Score: 9/10

Posted in Comic Reviews, Comics, DC Infinite, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment