Author Archives: Janine Fleri

But Tell Me More About This Doctor Poison

In the past year I’ve stumbled into a social circle that is primarily comprised of ferocious, thoughtful, hilarious females. A handful of these very ladies accompanied me to see Wonder Woman and shared their thoughts with me afterwards. I’d like to thank Athena, Pauline, Sonja, Angela, and Elena for contributing to this review.

Shortly after its release, GP’s Elana Levin hosted an episode of Graphic Policy Radio devoted to the film with a focus on race and sex, in which she stated, “I really liked the movie, but not unreservedly” and I can’t put it any better myself. Despite an outpouring of support from women on the Internet, friends and strangers alike, loving it with hesitation seemed to be the consensus amongst my little tribe. We had a hell of a time and there was a lot to celebrate, but the chinks in the armor didn’t go unnoticed.

Let me quickly disclaim that my friends and I are all limited in our exposure to Wonder Woman comics. We each know her primarily as a beloved pop culture icon, and have vague memories of the show. I would be hard-pressed to tell you I can remember anything about it beyond its spectacular theme song. But we’re also feminists, critical thinkers, and various flavors of badass; lawyer, veterinarian, fire dancer, pole dancer, performance artist, personal caregiver, writer, and cartoonist are all things that describe our combined professions and hobbies. Wonder Woman is a pop culture icon many women hold dear, readers of the comic or not.

We were all enamoured by the opening scenes on the island of Themyscira. Robin Wright killed it as Diana’s aunt, Amazonian warrior Antiope (aka Princess Fuckin’ Buttercup). Watching a passionate young Diana grow into an ass-kicking grown woman was powerful and refreshing. Unfortunately, we were all let down by how quickly Steve Trevor showed up and how fast Diana was to trust him. I do give the writers props, however, for keeping him out of mansplaining territory throughout the course of the film, despite the born sexy yesterday-ness of their relationship. (H/T to Athena, for introducing me to the trope!) Despite being a man with a lot to explain to her, he consistently managed to avoid condescension even when exasperated. The biggest problem with Steve wasn’t so much the character himself, but the role he played in motivating Diana to find her true powers. For a flick about feminine strength, the amount of influence given to a hetero-normative fling was a bitter disappointment.

But the biggest disservice, in my opinion, was the glossing-over of Isabel Maru, aka Doctor Poison. Again, I’m naive to what her actual background and development is in the comics universe, but from what I saw in the movie she’s someone all-too-relatable; an intelligent, capable woman whose personal traumas have left her wanting to burn the world. Tell me more women in any given audience won’t find that more relatable than Diana’s physical prowess and principle-fueled optimism. There was a shared disappointment amongst my friends and me regarding the good doctor’s position as a subordinate to General Ludendorff. While yes, it makes sense for a movie about fighting the patriarchy to pit Wonder Woman against a man, the stakes would have felt higher to me if Diana were up against a woman whose pain and anger matched the strength of Diana’s happiness and hope. It’s an internal struggle too many women carry, and playing it out as Diana vs. Maru would have been more meaningful than Diana vs. any man. And while we all smirked when Maru rebuffed an undercover Steve Trevor for shifting his attention away from her as soon as Diana entered the room, I don’t think any of us cared much for the overall implication that “beautiful = good, deformed = evil,” though it was suggested to me that this is a common device for DC. (And even if it is, it doesn’t make it any more forgivable.)

Again, there were a lot of good things happening throughout, and the impact the film has had on women has been largely positive; I don’t want to detract from that. I just hope that future installments continue to raise the bar to tell a compelling story about a powerful woman (or better yet, powerful women) without having to center around a romantic interest or minimize compelling adversaries.

Review: The Eighth Seal and Glitterbomb #1

glitterbomb_01-1Earlier this summer I read James Tynion and Jeremy Rock’s The Eighth Seal, released in July by IDW Publishing. I enjoyed it but passed on reviewing because I didn’t have much to say on it at the time. Yet I recently read Image Comic’s new release Glitterbomb, by Jim Zub, and found enough common threads between them that I decided to revisit. Both center on female characters in visible professions where they are subjected to scrutiny and criticism; both women are slowly gaining awareness of dark forces within them, and both begin by diving right into the action.

We meet Farrah, the aging, down-on-her-luck actress at the forefront of Glitterbomb, as she is being grilled by an agent who can’t find an angle that makes her sellable. He is less than tactful in expressing this concern, and by the second page his head is being violently penetrated by a stinger-tipped tongue that has thrust forth from Farrah’s mouth and into his. As it retracts we see her features transform from black-eyed and split-lipped back to the Jane Average from page 1. “Oh God… It happened. AGAIN.” From there the issue takes us back through the last six hours of Farrah’s life. She encounters a manipulative, platitude-spewing competitor at an audition, returns to her anxiety-inducing homelife as a frazzled single mother, and reveals to the readers what, exactly, happened along the way to warrant her saying “AGAIN.”

EighthSeal_TPB-CoverEighth Seal’s headliner, First Lady Amelia Greene, begins her story at her therapist’s office, where she is prompted to share the details of “another incident.” She tells him of a vision she experienced, in which storytime with a local kindergarten class descended into feeding time for a six-eyed, tentacled monstrosity that burst through her human shell. The arc of this collection follows Amelia as her visions become increasingly common and invasive, drawing intense media scrutiny over her regular fainting spells and strange behavior. We receive a few hints at the nature of the monster that’s haunting her, but I found myself feeling less satisfied by the end than I did with Glitterbomb. Seal, at 122 pages, is the first TPB of five and takes its time developing, whereas Glitterbomb manages to set an equally satisfying amount of world-building into motion in a premiere issue of 40 pages.

Both monsters offer satisfying displays of body horror, but I personally prefer the more simple design of Glitterbomb’s baddie. Whereas the creature Amelia sees herself as is more aesthetically violent, and her position as first lady makes the scale of potential destruction more global, I like the restrained design of Farrah’s possessor better. (It also makes for a nice visual vaginal metaphor in the spirit of Predator, or the facehuggers of Alien.) A key difference is that Amelia’s alter-ego presents itself to her internally, at least at this point in the series. The physical transformation always comes in the form of a vision that manifests itself in the real world as a blackout period. Farrah, however, experiences her physical change live and in-person.

Jeremy Rock’s linework in Seal is very rounded and clean, a look that I usually associate with cartoons that are kid friendly. I don’t think that was an active intention in designing the content, but it did make the content that much more effectively unsettling. Glitterbomb, illustrated by Djibril Morrissett-Phan, is slightly more gritty in its look. The aesthetic differences here are pretty fitting; Amelia is a public political figure with a refined reputation to uphold, and Farrah is an out of work actress going through rough times.

The coloring work is excellent in both. While they each utilize similar palettes, Nolan Woodard and Michael Spicer bring deeper saturation and more lighting effects to Seal while K. Michael Russell’s work on Glitterbomb has more texture to it. Despite both being digital review copies, Glitterbomb still looked like a paper comic compared to Seal. Comparing them side-by-side made me think of the difference between film and video.

Overall I enjoyed both quite a bit, but it took a second reading of Eighth Seal to appreciative it, and there could have been more of a payoff by the end of the first volume. Both titles left me wanting more, but I predict (and hope) Glitterbomb will deliver more swiftly.

The Eighth Seal TPB

Story: James T. Tynion IV Art: Jeremy Rock
Story: 6 Art: 7 Overall: 7 Recommendation: Read


Glitterbomb #1

Story: Jim Zub Art: Djibril Morrissett-Phan
Story: 7.5 Art: 9 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Kim and Kim #1

KIM & KIM #1 11Black Mask Studios rolled out Kim & Kim this week, and it’s getting a lot of buzz for its cast of queer characters and their bonkers sci-fi adventuring.

Our titular heroines are Kimiko “Kim Q.” Quatro and Kimber “Kim D.” Dantzler, best friends embroiled in interdimensional bounty-hunting. The general concept  is a lot of fun – I love bounty hunter narratives, especially if they involve space and/or other dimensions and kick-ass ladies; however, certain things didn’t jibe with my personal taste in comics. I go back-and-forth on how well Kim Q’s first person narration works, and I hope it’s going to prove to be a valuable element of the storytelling and in connecting readers with Kim herself, even though device often feels tired. The opening “In about three seconds I’m gonna come crashing through a window” was especially hammy, and hard to not roll my eyes at. I also often felt the dialogue was trying too hard to be snarky and edgy. While the cover art is pretty slick, the general aesthetic isn’t one I typically enjoy – overly cartoony and poppy but with violence and swearing, I could see myself really enjoying Kim & Kim more when I was 14. Claudia Aguirre’s color palette is my favorite part of the artwork by far – punchy and vibrant, it left me wanting a pack of fruit stripe gum. At best I’d describe Kim & Kim as Tank Girl lite, just to be nice, because I really want to come around to liking it. Its shortcoming could very well be the nature of a pilot issue finding its footing and, despite my criticisms, it was still a fun read.

A lot of the pull-quotes for the first issue center on the fact that the Kim & Kim is LGBTQ-positive, even describing the work itself as “queer as shit,” which is great to advertise proudly – it’s a huge part of what drew me into reading it. Yet I actually found the queer element to be pretty casual and organic, and I liked that. Kim Q mentions her status as trans offhandedly while she and Kim D. hang out and drink after a lost bounty, and I appreciate that the moment wasn’t forced exposition nor did it land as gimmicky. I did find myself wondering what other elements of the comic beyond gender ID/sexual orientation might be considered uniquely queer – the outlandish style and sassy attitudes landed more as standard dystopian punk than queer-specific in my eyes, but I’m saying that from the perspective of someone who embraces the queer label despite being cis/heteroflexible – in other words, I know I’m not exactly an authority on the word though I may feel I identify with it. It got me wondering, is dystopian punk queer by nature? I’d love to see some thoughts on that in the comments section.

Story: Mags Visaggio Art: Eva Cabrera Colors: Claudia Aguirre
Story: 8 Art: 5 Overall: 7 Recommendation: Read

Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

An Interview with Colorist K Michael Russell

K Michael RussellOf my many fantasy careers – stunt woman, animal wrangler for film and television, demolition derby driver, rollerskating stripper, trick hoola-hooper – professional colorist is the least physically exhausting and most realistically achievable. As someone who has always enjoyed the therapeutic benefits of coloring for fun, I’ve often wondered (yet never researched) what it would be like to color cartoons, be they animated or in print, for a living. Thankfully colorist K Michael Russell and I crossed paths through Graphic Policy. I got to try out his online coloring course and get a glimpse of his insider knowledge, in essence scratching my long-festering itch of curiosity.

Kurt, as he’s known casually (you can imagine why not formally), always enjoyed drawing and doodling but only began pursuing work as a colorist in 2011. Since then he has gone on to color for publishers including IDW and Image, and has developed an in-depth 10-hour course on how to color with Photoshop, a YouTube channel where you can stream almost 100 free tutorials and Q&As, and a blog full of fun and useful tips and links.

GP: What compelled you to pursue a career as a colorist and how did you start?

KMR: I originally started learning coloring just to finish my own line art–just pieces for fun as a hobby, but I sort of fell in love with that part of the process. I started finding others that wanted to make comics on forums and job boards. I did a lot of free or very cheap work up front just building my portfolio. After about a year or two, I started getting semi-regular gigs doing anthologies and shorts and whatnot.  I kept trying to improve and eventually got offers to work on books that were getting pretty good exposure.

GP: You have a really comprehensive, 10-hour course available on your website for $99, which is quite affordable for the amount of ground it covers. I’ve been working my way through it, and highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning to color with Photoshop! I’ve noticed you’re very open to being accessible to your students, frequently commenting that they can reach out to you with questions at any time. You also have a lot of free resources for honing one’s coloring skills available on your website, and I like that you’re so generous and encouraging of others to learn the trade – do other colorists share your “the more the merrier” philosophy, or is it typically a more competitive area?

KMR: I made the course and the YouTube channel, because I don’t want people to go through what I did when I first started–trying to navigate this sea of unrelated tutorials–trying to figure out how to make them work together. So I created a site where you can get it all in one place. Plus I enjoy teaching. I think it makes me better as an artist, because I have to be able to verbalize what I’m thinking–why something doesn’t “look right.” Knowing something doesn’t look right is one thing, but being able to articulate it is another. So I have a discussion section in the course, and I recently added an option for monthly live classes too, because I don’t think you can beat a one-on-one critique.

It’s a relatively small industry that’s making a lot of books right now. I see small press and indie creators looking for colorists all the time. I don’t think it’s necessarily a “the more, the merrier” situation, but I would hope that I can help improve the quality of the rookie colorists coming out of the gate. None of my colorist friends consider each other to be competition–at least I don’t think so. I’m always happy to see my friends get new gigs, and they are for me as well.

GP: For folks interested in pursuing coloring professionally, how long can it take to really get a foothold? In other words, is there an average amount of time you’ve noticed it takes before a new colorist can quit their day job?

KMR: There’s really not one right answer for this. It’s like anything else in a creative field I guess… you can be a prodigy and walk right into great gigs, but that is super-rare, or you can work for years trying to “break in.” You’re always breaking in though. Getting my first Image gig didn’t cause a line of publishers to form at my front door. You’ve still got to work to stay in and stay relevant.

For me personally, I worked for almost three years before working on a book that Joe Public had even heard of–Judge Dredd. I figure that’s probably pretty average. I’m still not a seasoned vet or anything myself though, so I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience getting started other than my own.

Judge DreddGP: I’m fairly blind to the behind-the-scenes of how comics get made, can you please explain where a colorist lands on the creative team? I know it sounds self-explanatory, but I’m wondering if you choose the color scheme independently, or is it informed by input from the writer(s) and illustrator(s)?

KMR: I get reference for characters colors… hair, eyes, costumes, etc. After that, it’s really up to me. I’ve been lucky enough to work with teams that just allow me to do what I think would be best. I’ll send pages up for approval from the team of course, and typically the feedback is just to tweak something here or there with a rare total overhaul on a page or panel or something.

GP: You talk a bit about color theory at the beginning of your online course – can you walk me through your general decision-making process when selecting your color palette for a project?

KMR: I choose the schemes based on the needs of the story, the amount of action, the emotion of the scene, that sort of thing. Sometimes, I’ll get a strong idea for a scene right from the beginning, and other times it’s just trial and error. I usually try to think in terms of cinematography. I’m a huge movie fan, and I’ve taken palettes from movies before. Or I’ll just imagine the scene as a movie and think about how it could look. The specific color palettes are less important than the values, contrast, and storytelling. Dave McCaig told me that once. “Color doesn’t matter–only value and contrast matter.” Write that one down, kids.

GP: My understanding after taking your course is that flatters can use whatever colors they want because it’s simple enough for you to change them – how often (if ever) do you find yourself in agreement with what the flatters choose?

KMR: My flatter’s colors have no bearing on the finished colors. My flatter uses very bright neon colors most of the time, so literally every color is changed. That’s how it is for most colorists, I believe. Flatting is a technical job–not a creative one.

GP: What are some of the most challenging parts of being a colorist and what are the most rewarding?

KMR: The most challenging thing is that when deadlines are missed earlier in the assembly line from pencillers and inkers it’s up to colorists to make up the time, since we go last along with letterers.

The most rewarding for me is meeting fans at shows or getting emails from happy students that have a first gig!  I actually have more fans of my educational stuff than the actual comics right now, and I’m fine with that! One 15 year old kid wrote once from Namibia thanking me for my coloring tutorials. Just blew my mind.

GP: Is there a particular writer or illustrator that you aspire to work with?

KMR: Mark Millar with 10% of the box office gross. But seriously, I’d love to color Sean Murphy, Humberto Ramos, or Joe Mad.

GP: You have a project with Image that’s just been announced, can you tell us about it?

KMR: Sure! It’s called Glitterbomb. It’s a horror story set in Hollywood–very dark, and a really fun story. It’s written by Jim Zub of Wayward, Skullkickers, Figment fame, pencilled and inked by Djbril Morisette-Phan, colored by me, and lettered by Marshall Dillon. We’ve got several issues in the can already.


GP: What has been your favorite project to-date and why?

KMR: I have to say that I think Glitterbomb is some of my strongest work, and it’s just a lot of fun to work on. The line art is strong, and that makes my job much more satisfying.

Glitterbomb 1 Glitterbomb 2

K Michael RussellCheck out Kurt’s latest YouTube video for more info on Glitterbomb, set to release on August 31st, and his new live coloring course that’s being offered as a supplement to his pre-recorded 10-hour class.

Review: Xena #1

Xena2016-01-A-LandWith the resurgence of Xena: Warrior Princess in comic book form as well as an upcoming tv series reboot, the nagging question for me has been whether or not Xena will prove to be an iconic character that can succeed in various incarnations, or if those incarnations will all pale in comparison to Lucy Lawless’ bodacious depiction of the Amazon badass I hold so dear. (It’s admittedly a highly subjective assessment, given my long-held crush on Lucy Lawless). I have never read earlier versions of the comic book – in fact, I basically avoid comic spin-offs in general – so I’ve been biased against consuming Xena in any Lawless-free form for some time. Still, I tried to go into the re-launch’s first issue with enthusiasm and an open mind. Unfortunately, I still didn’t come away with much nice to say.

If you’re anything like me, your impression of the Xena comic will rest largely on what elements of the show you liked best. Folks who watched the show for the storytelling and world-building might come away with a more positive opinion than I did. A brief prologue establishes that Xena and Gabrielle awoke from a 25-year slumber to fight Olympus, and are now living in a time where their allies amongst the surviving gods are few and powerless. As Xena and Gabrielle escort two young girls on a journey to find their mother, they must determine why Harpies have been attacking Illyrian villages.

When I imagine the storyline being played out on the show or read the dialogue in the voices of Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor, it rings true to what I’d expect from the original series. However, my personal adoration of Xena hinged largely on the camp value; Lawless’ inhuman ability to be both goofy and hot at all times, the Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi appearances, the budget special effects paired with kickass fight choreography. The fun that was had by the cast and crew while making that show trickled down to this particular viewer and while I’m sure some of the comedy will be more evident in later issues, it was minimal in the premiere.

That being said, most of my criticisms of this issue are aesthetic. The lettering and linework are too blocky for my eye, and there’s not a single character whose face I can consistently bear to look at, including Xena’s. The overall look suffers from a lack of detail and consistency, with too many supporting characters having ape-like faces or minimal features, and the coloring is more utilitarian than creative. I had tempered my expectations with regards to the story, but was deeply hoping the comic would give me something far more exciting to look at than what was delivered.

Story: Genevieve Valentine Art: Ariel Medel
Story: 6 Art: 3 Overall: 4.5 Recommendation: Read

Dynamite provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Chica de Fuego: Falling in Love with a Loca

I first met Maggie Chascarillo in 2007. I was sitting in the living room of a friend’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, my wet hair stuffed into the plastic cap of an old-fashioned, soft bonnet hair dryer that was either purchased from a thrift store or inherited from someone long dead. It was a frigid, post-blizzard morning in March, and I was anxious for my hair to dry and relieve me of the bone-deep chill that had set in. Margaret, my former roommate and childhood friend of our gracious hostess Lea, was checking on the bus schedule back to New York as I eyeballed Lea’s bookshelf for entertainment. I was 26, unhappy with my lot in life, and my ego was still feeling raw after being dumped by my non-boyfriend whom I’d quasi-dated for about three months. The weekend trip had been a welcome respite from the existential dread I’d temporarily left back in Queens and I was eager to keep escaping.

image 10I snagged a thin hard cover titled Chester Square, my untrained eye first mistaking it for a Daniel Clowes work. It featured a young woman whittling her time away while waiting for a bus out-of-town, so we had something in common off the bat. Unlike my own wait, this woman spent hers in a ghost town motel being repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute. The weight of her own existential concerns were evident to me, despite being completely blind to the fact that she had any story outside of the Chester Square narrative. Here was a woman who could clearly hold her own in most situations, but her exhaustion with needing to was obvious and understandable. Sure, she could fight off a territorial hooker who misread her as competition, but why would she want to or expect to? No wonder she spent most of the night hiding in her room before spontaneously seducing a young security guard. (Hell, if everyone already thinks you’re turning tricks what’ve you got to lose?)

image 9I made it about halfway through before we had to leave for the bus station, but I was loath to walk away from this new character I’d found both so curious and foreign, yet familiar and relatable. She had a confidence and humor marred by sadness but not destroyed by it, and I felt for her. I noted her creator’s name, Jaime Hernandez, and as luck would have it, we purchased our bus tickets at an independent bookstore where they happened to have a copy of Maggie the Mechanic, the first collected volume of Hernandez’s Locas stories.

Having never read Love & Rockets I was unfamiliar with the breadth of the series, and the way Jaime’s characters had developed realistically, almost in real-time, since 1981. I was initially confused and then hyper impressed when I realized the doe-eyed, curvaceous-yet-slender teenager and titular character of Maggie the Mechanic was the same full-bodied, world-weary woman I’d just met in Chester Square. Over the next year or so I collected the rest of the Locas stories and found myself smitten, not just with the characters themselves but with the depictions of love, sex, and romance that have played to my heart like no other comic has before or since. The constantly evolving physical and emotional states of the characters enable a deep connection between the reader and the stories, especially where Maggie is concerned. Thanks to chronic health issues my own body has ridden a twenty-year roller coaster of weight fluctuations, and seeing this woman adjust to her own physical changes, constantly fluctuating between confidence and annoyance, rang pretty damn true. Even though Maggie is sexy in all her forms, we see her ongoing struggle between owning her body and feeling alien in it.

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The early Locas arcs focus on Maggie’s work as a pro-solar mechanic, her crush on her celebrity boss Rand Race, her punk rock friends Hopey, Izzy, Daffy, Terry, and Penny, and her sporadically sexual relationship with Hopey. With time we learn more about Maggie’s family, her struggles with balancing responsibility against her friends’ influences to the contrary, and her flirtations and long-held attractions, many of which come to fruition one way or the other. Watching Maggie endure the emotional spectrum of love and attraction strengthens the ability to project through her and empathize her experiences. Her crush – and later regret of ever having had it – on Rand Race speaks to anyone that’s ever fallen for someone who revealed themselves to be an empty shell of surface charm and little else in the long run. Her dynamic relationship with Hopey Glass speaks to anyone who’s ever tried to navigate and blur the lines between love, sex, and friendship. Her frustration with herself over her attraction to Izzy’s ill-fated brother Speedy is well-worn territory for anyone who’s struggled with the knowledge of their own questionable tastes. Her short-lived marriage to Tony “Top Cat” Chase and their subsequent divorce party illustrates an optimism in breaking up peacefully that we can all admire, if rarely achieve.

image 7Maggie’s two great loves throughout the series, however, are without a doubt Hopey and Ray Dominguez. An entire book could be written on Maggie and Hopey alone. They are inarguable comic icons and their relationship is rightfully celebrated by fans and internal characters alike.

image 6But personally, I find myself on team Ray. Maybe it’s more relatable to me because my own heteroflexibility never moved beyond drunken make-out sessions with college friends. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of one of my great loves, a soft, sweet guy with a doofy side that I just had to take time away from. Whatever it is, I find there’s a comfort and innocence to her relationship with Ray that feels true and enduring. Her love with Hopey is electric and unpredictable; her love with Ray is warm and reliable.

Maggie ultimately finds her way to Ray through the stories The Return of Ray D and Vida Loca: The Death of Speedy. Their connection strengthens while Hopey is away on tour with Terry Downe, a woman both fiercely possessive of Hopey and jealous of Maggie, and they wind up together for two years before she is eventually sucked back into Hopey’s orbit, her relationship with Ray fading out like a sigh.

With time Ray settles into being a caricature of a lonely middle-aged man. In One More Ladies’ Man he reflects on the women in his life, the “fire women” as he calls them, for their ability to ignite a flame within him, and Maggie is honored with this label alongside the eccentric, erratic, erotic Penny Century, Danita Lincoln his bodacious-bodied post-Maggie girlfriend, and Vivian “Frogmouth” Solis, a sailor-tongued stripper whose exaggerated figure becomes the object of Ray’s obsessions. All of these women are deserving of the honor (I could easily write another 1,500 words on Penny) but Maggie stands out as the one woman who bucks the trend of the fantastical body-type that Ray is often drawn to, who offers more to him than physical novelty and excitement. (Okay, this assessment may not be totally fair to Danita, who is more akin to Maggie in terms of level-headedness, but Ray’s fetishism of her body is more on-par with that of Penny and Vivian.)

Maggie is a fire girl to me in a more literal way as well. Three years ago I lost my Locas collection when my apartment burned down. In that time I lost my colon to colitis and closed the book on a seven-year relationship with the same man that reminds me so much of Ray. When I finally re-built my comic library two months ago I discovered The Love Bunglers, the most recent and possibly final installment of the collection to be had. The themes of loss and trauma are at the heart of The Love Bunglers, and I found myself again connecting with Maggie as I have so often in following her life story.

After decades apart Maggie and Ray find their way back to each other, just in time for an act of violence to put Ray in a life-threatening situation. In a poignant, tear-jerking two-page spread Ray and Maggie’s lives are mirrored panel-to-panel: As children growing up in Hoppers, as stricken teenagers and unlucky twenty-somethings, as best friends, estranged lovers, and lonely adults. Sometimes life’s patterns make you wonder if happiness is anything other than fleeting, if there’s anything that can be held on to without fear of it slipping away before you’re ready, and The Love Bunglers captures this beautifully while managing to nurture hope along the way.

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One of the benefits of being able to read a series that spans over thirty years in a compressed amount of time is getting to see the payoff. So much of the dread of love comes from not knowing what’s beyond the horizon. If a love has been lost will there be reconciliation? Will the memories be painless, enabling bygones to be bygones? Will there be sorrow or anger or regret? Love is not a clean-cut narrative – even with the conclusion of The Love Bunglers, the overall patterns reflected throughout the series demonstrate that love, be it romantic, friendly, or something that traverses the two, naturally ebbs and flows. While Hernandez has stated that the ending of The Love Bunglers would be a perfect capstone to the Locas were he to be hit by a bus tomorrow, his endings are rarely finite. Maggie and Ray may very well happily live out their days together, but it’s just as possible that another jump forward in time will find them separated and in the arms of new partners, returned to old ones, or even contentedly alone.

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Review: Paper Girls #5

papergirls05-cover-webPaper Girls #5 dropped on Wednesday, and while certain things are becoming clearer, my overall interest is starting to wane. I think I’ve held out hope longer than other folks, based on some of the reviews I’ve read of previous issues, but I’ve finally caught up with the “Get on with it, already” chorus.

*Spoilers ahead*

We pick up in a ‘Whenhouse’ (time travel humor, ha!) where Heck and Naldo are treating Erin’s gunshot wound with a swarm of stolen insects. As it happens, Heck and Naldo are scavengers, because sometimes “yesterday’s trash is tomorrow’s treasure!” They explain how they have to utilize a spaceship in order to time travel since the Earth is always moving, and that they’re working to get Erin fixed up and back to her friends. Erin dismisses her fellow paper girls as “just some people that shot me” so clearly she’s not feeling too kindly towards a reunion. Heck and Naldo become increasingly endearing in this scene but the elders attempt to interfere with their ship and things don’t exactly go well for them, so don’t get too attached.

Speaking of Earth, back on Erin’s home planet Tiffany, Mac, and KJ are still standing in the woods where we last saw them. KJ has a “Eureka!” moment where she remembers the spaceship they discovered in the basement in Issue #1 and pieces together that they may be one and the same. As they decide to head back that way they’re intercepted by Cardinal, the female warrior fighting for the elders. Tiffany whips out the gun, which readers know from the previous issue in unloaded, and effectively disarms Cardinal with an empty threat to shoot her pterodactyl. It’s a clever bluff, and another great display of artist Cliff Chiang’s knack for drawing sneers. Unfortunately for Cardinal, Mac is the one to take away her weapon and winds up inadvertently using it against her, much the same way she accidentally shot Erin. The girls take off and when Cardinal regains her senses she places a call to Grandfather, reporting that the girls are now armed and should be tried as adults. Grandfather decides to step in and take care of business himself.

As Erin starts to come to her senses back on the spaceship we see that Heck and Naldo aren’t doing too well, and they appear to die just before landing. Erin makes her grand entrance, emerging out of the spacepod and into the basement where the other girls are waiting for her. Her earlier bitterness towards them has worn off, and apologies are exchanged as Grandfather calls to them from outside. As he tries to explain that Heck and Naldo were juvenile delinquents and that the girls have unfortunately waded into the middle of a complicated generational conflict, the house folds in on itself, transporting the girls into the future where they are met with a very familiar face.

One of the things I like about the series so far is that neither the elders nor Heck and Naldo seem to qualify as legit bad guys outside of their own conflict. Both sides seem to have a genuine interest in preventing harm to the girls, which I’m guessing means the girls will ultimately lead to some form of peacemaking between the generational factions. I also like the little snarky exchanges that pepper the Paper Girls world with humor and add personality to the characters, but I’d really like to know what pre-existing bonds KJ, Mac, and Tiffany share. It also would have been more interesting to this particular reader if Erin had been holding more of an active grudge upon reuniting with them.

While there’s a lot of action through these first five issues, I don’t actually feel like there’s a whole lot at stake while reading it. Although characters I’ve liked have died, I didn’t get to spend enough time with them to really feel the loss. The characters that are still plugging along are entertaining and interesting, but not what I’d call solid. Each issue is a fun read, but at this point I’d expect a deeper emotional investment which has yet to come to fruition.

Story: Brian K. Vaughan Art: Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson
Story: 6 Art: 9 Overall: 6 Recommendation: Buy in Trade

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Paper Girls #4

Paper Girls #4Paper Girls Issue 4 picks up on a phone ringing. An older man in a Public Enemy t-shirt answers, and while he appear to be a normal guy in an ordinary bed in an unremarkable bedroom, the functioning eyeball in the center of his phone’s rotary dial points to the contrary. This is confirmed when we meet the woman on the other end of the line, a warrior who identifies herself as Cardinal and reports the discovery of her fallen peer Alister (aka “Space Idris” in my previous review) who met his demise at the end of Issue 3. Public Enemy instructs her to “call down an Editrix” which, judging by her stunned reaction, doesn’t bode well for our titular paper girls who were last seen in the company of the opposing forces. In defense of his decision he simply states “Can’t risk another C-Day.” As per usual we have new (throw away?) characters and new questions, but ultimately little headway in terms of development for our titular paper girls.

I don’t typically read comics issue-by-issue so I’ve tried not to be too judgmental of the pacing thus far, but at this point in the series I’m becoming less interested in piecing together the greater mystery of what’s happening in the Paper Girls universe and increasingly eager to see the girls develop as characters in a more fulfilling way. So far the majority of the character focus has been on Erin, we’ve gotten a brief glimpse of Mac’s life outside the group, and this issue gave us a peek at Tiffany, but not much of one. I’m assuming KJ will be next – fingers crossed that her background involves actively using her field hockey stick as a weapon instead of for sport.

(Spoilers ahead)

When we catch up with Mac, Tiffany, and KJ they are navigating the sewers with their deformed teenage companions from the future, one of them carrying Erin’s semi-conscious body, en route to somehow heal her gunshot wound. They identify themselves as Heck and Naldo, and Heck indicates that the “old-timers” like Alister killed his boyfriend, which evokes an “Ew!” of disgust from Mac.

Mac’s open revulsion at Heck’s sexuality harkens back to a similar homophobic display in the first issue and she is again kept in check by her friends. A few months ago Elana and I privately discussed some of the criticisms of Mac’s use of a homophobic slur in the pilot, a moment that seemed natural to me because a) It’s 1988. Heck shrugs off her attitude because the girls are “from an effed-up time” and as a child of the 80’s myself I remember that it was a pivotal era, not only in my own development but in our cultural development, in terms of sussing out what words are and are not acceptable insults. Adolescence could also be accurately described as “an effed-up time” and Mac is a 12 year-old girl who’s still learning, and b) her friends correct her by openly disapproving of her prejudice – it’s not an action that’s defended to the readers, rather it’s a character flaw on display. Elana rightly pointed out that it’s not necessary to include a homophobic slur to bolster historical accuracy or illustrate that homophobia is wrong, but that it could be an important piece of character development if it proves that Mac herself is queer. It’s an interesting, complicated point of consideration, and we both hope it gets explored in a meaningful way as the series goes on.

The sewer crew are soon intercepted by the aforementioned Editrix, a hovering, multi-eyed tentacle monster, which grabs Tiffany and throttles her into unconsciousness. Everything literally goes sideways in this moment as the pages flip and readers have to turn the book to keep reading, watching Tiffany as she relives a childhood spent obsessively playing the video game Breakout. When KJ comes to her rescue and she regains her senses she describes the experience as hell. I suspect this serves more as a metaphor for the situation they’re in – the futile, repetitive nature of war, perhaps the inevitability of another “C-Day”, whatever that will prove to be – and less as insight into Tiffany as an individual. I do wonder what significance there may be in her choice of game – are we on the verge of a narrative breakout? Did everything go sideways because shit’s going to hit the fan and things will start coming together in Issue 5? I can hope!

When they finally emerge from the sewers Mac voices her distrust in Heck and Naldo, and is again reprimanded by KJ when she refers to them as “perverts.” But Mac argues “…whether those two are into dudes or not, they’re still teenage boys. Even my brother says they can’t be trusted and he is one” and I still share her skepticism, at least for now.

Again, I like to think if I were reading a collected volume I’d be more satisfied with the way things are being laid out and I think ultimately a binge-reading would be great fun (it’s why I always recommend buying this title in trade), but at the rate we’re going I’m ready for some solid movement instead of the Lost-esque constant mystery-building. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the ride, however; this issue had some fun moments and an added visual punch with more greens and oranges than we’ve seen previously. I’m definitely curious to know more about the dude in the Public Enemy shirt, known formally as Grandfather, and I love that a group of tweens are the neutral party in a war between teenagers and adults. Overall I’m still on board, and looking forward to what’s up next.

Story: Brian K. Vaughan Art: Cliff Chiang
Story: 7 Art: 9 Overall: 7.5 Recommend: Buy in trade

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Paper Girls #3

papergirls03-coverPaper Girls #3 is here and it opens with two random teenagers, Terry and Gabrielle, as they try to make sense of the supernatural events driving the series. As they stand on their school’s football field and stare up into the swirling vortex above them, Terry goes from confessing his crush on Gabrielle to getting handsy with her. As his sexual entitlement gets the best of him things verge on turning outright rapey when a pterodactyl-riding warrior swoops out of the vortex and vaporizes them both. Speaking in a bastardized Old English dialect that I can’t help but read in Idris Elba’s voice, this new player refers to his victims as “Scruddy teenagers,” a comment that I’ll come back to later.

Overall this installment is pretty fast-paced, and Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson continue to bring the eye candy with their artwork. I’ve mentioned it before, but Chiang’s mouth designs are especially impressive in how they communicate the girls’ personalities through their reactions. While I’d like to have had a bit more by way of major plot advancement at this point, this issue was still a solid read.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Issue #2 ended with a cliffhanger in the form of a gunshot, and after the events at the football field we finally find out who was on the receiving end. As the girls scramble to get their bloodied companion to a hospital we come to learn that friends are not something Erin is particularly rich with. On their panicked drive they encounter Space Idris, as I’ve come to think of him. At first a threat, he questions if they are locals and uses translational technology to apologize to them. He informs them that it is dangerous for children to be out during ablation, so we now know there’s some kind of cleansing ritual afoot. Unfortunately, as he’s promising to save the gunshot victim and shed some much-needed light on what’s going down, he meets an untimely end at the hands of the deformed, mummy-esque aliens readers will recognize from previous issues.

When I said I’d come back to Space Idris’ comment about “Scruddy Teenagers” this is the moment I was referring to – using the same translational vocal box that Space Idris employed, the mummies peel back their wrapping, deny being aliens, and assure the girls, “We’re just like you – teenagers!” Those who read the premiere issue may remember that when Erin was first harassed by three boys on her paper route, her reaction was an aggravated “Ugh, teenagers!” Her disgust proved to be warranted, which makes me think this new batch of teens may not be the allies they’re selling themselves as. Compile that with the opening near-assault in this issue and I’d say writer Brian K. Vaughan seems to be making a point of painting teenage boys as the enemy as far as the Paper Girls universe is concerned. There’s definitely an age-related conflict at the root of the events taking place, and I’m hoping Issue #4 will deliver a little more generously with answers than with questions.

Story: Brian K. Vaughan Art: Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy in trade

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Bitch Planet Vol. 1 Review. There’s Nothing Subtle about it.

Bitch Planet Vol. 1Here’s the problem with Bitch Planet: it is really, really intimidating to write about. There’s so much going on with regards to gender politics, body image, female autonomy, voyeurism, violence against women, race relations, and the prison industrial complex, it’s nerve-wracking to even try to say everything there is to be said about it as insightfully and intelligently as it should be said. In other words, it’s pretty great.

*Minor spoilers ahead*

There’s nothing subtle about Bitch Planet, which, given the title, should come as a surprise to no one. Enjoyably in-your-face, Book One: Extraordinary Machine collects issues 1-5 which set up the first major dramatic arc of the series by introducing pivotal characters, most notably Kamau Kogo and Penny Rolle. Kam and Penny are “non compliants” – women who have been removed from society and shot into space to be contained on Bitch Planet, known formally as Auxiliary Compliance Outpost. They are in the company of a horde of other new intakes who are being punished for offenses ranging from murder and assault to disrespect and being a bad mother.

Upon being framed for the murder of a fellow inmate, former professional athlete Kam is approached by prison guard Whitney (a name I’m guessing isn’t coincidentally one letter away from “whitey”) and encouraged to form a prison-sponsored sports team as a means of reducing the severity of her sentence. Skeptical of Whitney’s motives, Kam first declines the offer but is later persuaded by her peers to go for it. And so we come to learn about the fictional competitive sport Duemila, aka Megaton, and it’s role in the prison industry.

Co-creators Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro do a killer job of bringing their feminist dystopia to life, revitalizing the prison exploitation genre while maintaining the elements of camp that historically make the genre so much fun. This is a violent, over-the-top comic that’s full of naked ladies and based on highly sexualized source material, yet manages to always make the nudity feel empowering rather than exploitive. The artists take care to depict a wide variety of body types in various states of undress and duress without being gratuitous, even in explicitly sexual situations. From Kamau’s solid, athletic build, to Penny’s hulking, rolling form, there is a broad spectrum of physical strength on frequent display. Penny in particular is Bitch Planet’s reigning heroine of body acceptance, owning who she is from the inside out and asking important questions, like “WHERE’M I S’POSED TO PUT MY TITS?” when faced with an egregiously undersized uniform. There’s just enough humor between these moments in the narrative and the Hey Kids, Patriarchy! ad pages to counter-balance the drama that naturally comes with a cast of characters that are “caged and enraged.”

Already including a prison riot, a murder, an obligatory shower scene, and a few brutal bouts of Megaton, I’m psyched to discover what future issues of Bitch Planet will offer up, especially given the heart-wrenching cliffhanger where this collection leaves off.

Story: Kelly Sue DeConnick Art: Valentine De Landro
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review

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