Intellectus Speculativus

Home » Posts tagged 'comics'

Tag Archives: comics

Girl Over Paris, writ. Gwenda Bond, Kate Leth; art. Ming Doyle; col. Andrew Dalhouse

After a high-profile tumble, Cirque American’s star wire walker, Jules Maroni, has a lot to prove—and her invitation to an exclusive exhibition in Paris looks to be just the opportunity to put her back on top. Unfortunately, the City of Lights glitters with distractions, including the presence of her first serious boyfriend and a mysterious figure haunting the venue.
Girl Over Paris is part of the Cirque American series, but unlike the two novels in the series, is a comic book co-written with veteran comics writer Kate Leth (of series such as the wonderful, albeit now concluded, Patsy Walker aka Hellcat from Marvel); it’s also the first time I’ve encountered Bond’s Cirque American setting.

Girl Over Paris is a compact little introduction to the world and the characters; over four issues, we only meet six people, really, plus a number of nameless fans and spectators briefly, and half of those are really just background parts to the story of Jules, her boyfriend Remy, and Remy’s sister Dita (and Dita’s girlfriend Gab). These central characters are a little thin; although Doyle’s art keeps things interesting by making sure every character’s reaction to events is clear on their faces, and even background crowds have a variety of expressions, the central cast are a little simple, even two dimensional, and Jules’ reactions are a little flat for a lot of the story. Dita is the stand-out character, the most emotionally interesting one, so it’s sad this story didn’t centre more on her.

The intense focus on such a small group means we don’t really see a lot of the world – there are hints to what goes on around this story, including black magic and curses being definitively real, but Girl Over Paris is a ghost story, and a rather good one at that. It’s not a tragedy, but has tragedy in its past; there’s a certain Phantom of the Opera vibe to elements of the story, and Bond and Leth are clearly aware of the vibes they’re playing with, using the supernatural to amplify human emotionality and exploring relationships primarily, even between characters who are fundamentally quite flat. This isn’t a comic of action so much as one of feel; Girl Over Paris isn’t flashy, but it does have a strong sense of place, reinforced by the detailed art of Doyle which puts in small details to make it clear this isn’t some fantasy Paris.

In the end, Girl Over Paris has an all-star creative team behind it, but it just doesn’t have enough substance to really make use of their talents: the hints of the levels of skill involved are there, but no one really shows their best work on this one.

If you found this review useful, please support my ability to write by contributing to my Patreon.


Love Is Love eds. Sarah Gaydos & Jamie S. Rich


The comic industry comes together in honor of those killed in Orlando. Co-published by two of the premiere publishers in comics—DC and IDW, this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talent in comics, mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today’s world. All material has been kindly donated by the writers, artists, and editors with all proceeds going to victims, survivors, and their families. Be a part of an historic comics event! It doesn’t matter who you love. All that matters is you love.
On June 12, 2016, a year ago today, a man went into a gay club in Orlando on Latin Night and shot 102 people, killing 49 of them. The outpouring of grief, solidarity, and love in the wake of the Pulse shooting was powerful and moving, and hasn’t finished yet. One of the forms that outpouring took was Marc Andreyko, a gay man and writer of queer comics including Batwoman and Manhunter, bringing together a number of luminaries of comics, and the publishing houses IDW and DC, to create Love Is Love, which came out on January 4th and immediately sold out; the second print run also sold out within days of release, but my partner managed to snag me a copy…

Love Is Love is a slightly strange thing to discuss, because I’ll be discussing personal reactions to a tragedy that shook my community to the core; but those responses need praise and criticism for the narratives they are part of and perpetuate, in some cases positively, in others less so. I won’t address every single one of the one-to-two-page contributions, but I’ll highlight the ones I find most significant in one way or another.

One of the constants of the book is direct relaying of personal reactions to the shooting. For instance, Jeff Jensen, in ‘Thoughts and Prayers: A Confession’ (illus David Lopez, lett Dezi Sienty), talks about all the actions he could have, but did not, take in the wake of the shooting, and how he only gave thoughts and prayers – a message that, had it included more ideas of concrete action, or more condemnation of failing to make prayer into action, would have worked far better. On the other hand, the untitled comic by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (illus Emma Vieceli, col Christina Strain, lett Neal Bailey) brings a humour and a pathos to reactions to the events; it records a conversation with someone’s parents, who want him, in the wake of the shooting, to be careful, be himself, be safe, be brave. It’s beautiful and heartwrenching in its truth. Matthew Rosenberg’s piece (illus Amancay Nahuelpan, col Tyler Boss, lett Ryan Ferrier) is about his reactions to being asked to contribute, as a straight white cis guy, to this anthology; his footnotes to the comic include resources to support people who AREN’T straight white cis guys in comics, and works really beautifully.

Other stories use superheroes; some do it beautifully, and thoughtfully, such as ‘Pulse Shooting: the shooter inside the club is dead’, a Batman story by Marc Guggenheim (illus Brent Peeples, col Chris Sotomayor, lett Comicraft’s John Roshnell) about the complexity of coming to easy answers in this particular case, where the shooter’s motives are such a tangle of religious fanaticism, internalised homophobia and sexual self-loathing. It’s empathetic to both shooter and victims and has a subtle balance that really strikes one. Others, such as ‘Harley and Ivy in Love is Love’ by Paul Dini (illus Bill Morrison, col Robert Stanley, lett Cipriano), simply show love, in this case queer love, as normative; it’s a single page comic that shows the compromises Harley and Ivy make for each other, the neogitations they go through, and what they do for each other, and it is beautiful. Dan Didio’s piece (illus Carlos D’Anda, lett Carlos M. Mangual) has some of that power, using DC’s queer heroes (and for once owning up to some really awful elements of DC’s past, such as Extraño) to talk about the progress made and the road yet to go… but at the same time, it serves as a reminder of just how few queer characters there are, and how few of them headline their own titles. Others are straightforwardly misjudged, such as Matt Wagner’s offering, ‘Every Little Bug’s Got A Honey To Hug’, a splash page featuring no less than three heterosexual couples, two single people, and not a single queer character, as if this was any kind of relevant statement; and Sterling Gates’ ‘Why’ (illus Matt Clark, col Mike Atiyeh, lett Saida Temofonte) is simply terrible, being far more about Supergirl and her response to this real tragedy and how it links in with the loss of Krypton than anything specific to the shooting itself.

Inevitably, there are comics that concern themselves more with guns than queers; Taran Killam’s Deathstroke one-page comic (illus Barry Crain, col Giulia Brusco, lett Joshua Cozine) manages to make the point in a humourous way directly related to the Pulse shootings and with some humour about the absurdity of the way comics treat violence. Mark Millar on the other hand has never been accused of self awareness, and his contribution (illus Piotr Kowalski, col Brad Simpson, lett Michael Heisler) is simply a lecture about the prevalence of guns in the United States, and the fact they can only be used for killing – there’s no attempt at specificity to the Pulse massacre, and indeed, it feels as if Love Is Love simply provided a Scottish man a chance to lecture Americans.

The two comics I want to draw out as uniquely moving to me, though, are first of all, Gail Simone’s beautiful contribution (illus Jim Calafiore, lett Travis Lanham, col Gabriel Cassata), which is beautifully written, slowly building up to its moment of both tragedy and resilience at the end: “You can’t stop us from dancing” comes to mean, in Simone’s hands, so much more than dancing. The other is Teddy Tenebaum’s contribution (illus Mike Huddleston, lett Corey Breen), which is about a father explaining to his child about homosexuality: it isn’t different, but because of the way it is perceived by others, it is, and the comic really draws that out and gives it power.

This barely scratches the surface of an anthology that has some really powerful, beautiful contributions, and some that were singularly misjudged, but in the end, Love Is Love is a powerful statement by the comics community, and meaningful, and beautiful. Love is, after all, love.

If you found this review useful, please support my ability to write these reviews by contributing to my Patreon.


Octavia Butler’s Kindred, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings

More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.

Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.
Earlier this week, I posted my review of Octavia Butler’s seminal 1979 novel Kindred; this is a slightly odd review because rather than talking about the work itself, I’m going to be talking about it in relation to the work of which it is an adaptation, and therefore that earlier review is a necessary read before going further.

Adapting a novel into a more visual format can be achieved in a number of ways – we’ve all seen films adapting novels: dropping subplots, complexities, changing how characters looked, or simply taking a core simple idea and mangling everything else beyond recognition (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, anyone?). Graphic novel adaptations of novels seem to fare on average better, perhaps because they have a similar length in many cases, and because they can handle non-dialogue language better; from the Manga Shakespeare series to this volume, there are a variety of approaches. Kindred takes a very direct, literal approach: almost all the words (with one clear exception) are taken directly and exactly from the novel as quotes, with occasional reordering – both narration in caption boxes, and dialogue, directly as speech. Because of the way Butler wrote, this can at times be a little odd – there’s a particular moment when Dana talks about being at a whipping being impossible to imagine just from seeing images of one, and these thoughts are captions to pictures of one, for instance. There are also occasions on which events are slightly reordered – there doesn’t seem to ever be a clear reason for the slight changes, apart from cutting a few panels out here and there by combining things, so presumably it was a space consideration, a reasonable concern given that nothing was lost.

The aforementioned clear exception is an odd one, though; it concerns one of the moments when Butler may, or may not, have been being rather subtly pointed in Kindred. A (presumably black) friend of Dana’s gives her and Kevin a blender as a wedding present in the novel; this is, perhaps, a commentary on the mixed race marriage, on the idea of “blending” races. In the adaptation, though, Duffy and Jones replace the blender with steak knives – arguably a possible foreshadowing/hindshadowing of other events, given when it’s revealed, but it seems a very strange choice of alteration when so much of the rest of the text is unchanged at all from Butler’s own words.

A graphic novel is more than just words, though, of course; it is also the art. Kindred has an art style that is often seen in the more artsy of the independent comics out there, reminiscent of Jeff Stokely’s art on The Spire. It’s not quite naturalistic without being either symbolic rather than literal or the shiny-happy people of Marvel’s house style; it’s a little rough looking, a little off normal, and I found that a little frustrating, because it never quite fitted the approach the text takes, which is totally matter of fact. There were some fantastic grace notes (near the start of the book, Dana is shelving her books after moving house, and drops some – one of which is Patternmaster, Butler’s debut novel), but overall, the art is more distancing, and reductive, than helpful.

In the end, Kindred is an amazingly powerful novel; this adaptation doesn’t quite manage to capture that power, and occasionally seems to have failed to understand how Butler accomplished it. Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant introduction is a must, though!

If you found this review useful, please support my ability to write these reviews by contributing to my Patreon.


Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond


Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight.

As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy…
Tie-in fiction is often regarded as somehow “lesser” than original fiction, and criticised as being “less imaginative” or “easier to write” than that which has to establish its own universe (although these criticisms aren’t levelled at mimetic fiction, which also doesn’t have to create its own world?); as such, tie-in writers have in the past been seen as second-rank. With luminaries and critically acclaimed authors like Tobias Buckell, Karen Traviss, Greg Bear and John Shirley writing tie-in novels (all for the Halo series), that perception is changing, and Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane: Fallout should be stacked up with those novels in demonstrating why tie-in fiction can be just as good as original-world novels.

Lois Lane: Fallout is a true Lois Lane tale; unlike many of those told in comics, Superman doesn’t feature (well, not quite), and this isn’t told in the cracks around a Superman story. Instead, Bond sets her story at a Metropolis high school, with Lois as a student attending the school; she finds ways to tie into the traditional elements of a Lois Lane story – the Daily Planet, Perry White, conflicts with her father General Lane, and of course investigative journalism that annoys the authorities – while never losing sight of the constraints she has placed herself, and her protagonist, under by making her a high school student rather than an independent adult. A consistent threat in Fallout comes from within her own family, as Lois’ disruptive presence at schools (a feature that feels reminiscent of early Buffy) leads her father, General Lane, to want to send her to a military academy.

The story is one of the military-industrial complex and how it is insinuating itself into education and into gaming culture. That might sound like both a dry subject and old hat, and indeed it has been told before in the DCU, but Bond isn’t interested in talking about America’s Army is a recruitment tool for the military or how schools are used by the military to normalise specific kinds of violence; instead, she’s interested more in military experimentation on people without proper consent, and problematic studies that cross lines between the military and education. Lois Lane: Fallout is set in a kind of cyberpunk world with virtual reality headsets and a degree of interactivity that modern gaming still doesn’t allow, and from that she has created a world where the military might exploit that in ways reminiscent of Ender’s Game; the unwitting use of children for military purposes and the idea of gaming as an analogue to, and mask for, actual warfare are both points of interest which Bond engages with in the novel, and shows Lois herself troubled by.

But this isn’t just a political novel with a dry message to send; actually, it’s not that at all. At its core, this is a high school story combined with an origin story; hence, Lois Lane: Fallout sets the stage for the Lanes to conflict over the proper use of the military, especially in an age of extraordinary individuals (the DEO doesn’t come up by name but at least a precursor organisation clearly exists) and also sets the stage for Lois to become Perry White’s star reporter at the Daily Planet, recruited straight from school thanks to exposes on the youth section of the website. It’s engaged with the changing world of the 21st Century well in that regard; Perry is worried about the newspaper dying, and thinks this online experiment will at best prolong that death, while Lois is still deeply passionate and a believer in curated news sources and trusted news organisations in a way Perry no longer can be.

It’s also, as mentioned, a high school story; Bond gives us the expected cliqueyness of American high school fiction, and turns it into something more sinister over the course of the novel, as Lois Lane: Fallout engages with ideas of groupthink, peer pressure and ostracism in literalised ways that provide metaphors for everyday experiences in the way science fiction is so often said to do; Bond is also incredibly sympathetic to her teenage cast, never treating them as stupid or immature simply because of their age, but rather giving them agency, independence and a fierce sense of individuality not yet blunted by maturity, making them read much more like real teenagers than many authors accomplish.

Occasionally, the novel can feel a little light, and its characters descend at times into tropes – the gamer crowd are social misfits who wear all-black, there’s the preppy rich kid who is actually not as rich as he seems so puts on a front which makes him unlikeable, there’s the mean headmaster who just gets in the way, et cetera; and Lois Lane: Fallout treats its themes a little simplistically, with a generally anti-authority, anti-industrial message that could do with being better thought out and more rounded than the simplistic teen rebellion it at times comes across as, but these are failure modes of good YA, rather than being alien to the genre or feeling intrusive, rather than simply a bit of a let down.

Lois Lane: Fallout may not be the best superhero story out there; after all, it’s not really a superhero story. But it is a fantastic tale told using the trappings of the DCU, and a wonderful exploration of an oft-maligned character. I recommend it.

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway


Lester Ferris, sergeant of the British Army, is a good man in need of a rest. He’s spent a lot of his life being shot at, and Afghanistan was the last stop on his road to exhaustion. He has no family, he’s nearly forty, burned out, and about to be retired.

The island of Mancreu is the ideal place for Lester to serve out his time. A former British colony in legal limbo, it is soon to be destroyed because of its very special version of toxic pollution. Of course, that also makes Mancreu perfect for shady business, hence the Black Fleet of illicit ships lurking in the bay: listening stations, offshore hospitals, money laundering operations, drug factories and deniable torture centres. None of which should be a problem, because Lester’s brief is to sit tight and turn a blind eye.

But Lester Ferris has made a friend: as brilliant, internet-addled street kid with a comic-book fixation who will need a home when the island dies – who might, Lester hopes, become an adopted son. In the name of paternal love, Lester Ferris will do almost anything. Now, as Mancreu’s small society tumbles into violence, the boy needs Lester to be more than just an observer. He needs him to be a hero.
Tigerman is the first Harkaway book I’ve read, and given the fascinating, fantastic blend of literary themes with genraic stylings (this is essentially a meditation on fatherhood and the difficulties of the father-son relationship, but also a superhero novel making reference to Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and more), it’s going to prove far from the last. That’s not to say it is without faults, but we’ll get to those!

The central figure of Tigerman is Lester Ferris, washed-up sergeant, stereotypically British abroad in some ways (the duffer making friends with the locals by a genial attitude) and in others still very much the military man (his attitude to orders, and the emphasis laid on the ways his actions fit into the role of “sergeant”). He’s a fascinating character of many layers; Harkaway doesn’t let any one layer come to the surface at the expense of all others, rather letting them mingle beautifully, but with the loneliness and its consequences (his desire to be father to the boy, his dawning realisation of his affection for Kaiko Inoue) a theme running throughout. The boy is a similarly multilayered character, and a mystery to be solved by Ferris; his seeming self-sufficiency, the mystery of whether he is actually in need of a father at all, and his strange anonymity (the only name he gives in the book is “Robin”). Unfortunately he is also a native of Macreu; this, alongside the rather two-dimensional characterisation of the rest of the indigenes, gives the impression that the people of Mancreu are mysteries to be solved by Ferris.

Tigerman compounds that with its dreadful representation of women; Kaiko Inoue is sexually interested in Ferris, highly intelligent, highly capable, and displays very little actual character; “the Witch”, the only doctor on the island, is characterised as a witch, an enigma and strange; and the only other named woman is, in fact, unable to speak and has no awareness of the world. Harkaway’s beautiful characterisation of Ferris just seems to vanish with the rest of the cast; even told from Ferris’ point of view (limited third-person), we should see more character in the Mancreux or less in the other immigrants.

The plot is part of the reason for this patchy characterisation; Tigerman relies on its mysteries to work, and while that would be fine if some of the Mancreux were strange and slightly apart from the world, that they’re all portrayed as basically impossible to understand is a real blow to the novel. Harkaway builds the superhero elements of the novel fantastically, with the development of both Tigerman’s actions and the legends they unintentionally create brilliantly portrayed, and the Black Fleet stays an invisible-but-known menacing and silent presence for most of the novel, but the elements of the plot centring on the boy or on Kaiko are simply poorly anchored.

That isn’t to deny the book readability. This is a nearly 400 page novel that has a breakneck pace and some amazingly vivid writing; the sections focused on Ferris’ actions as Tigerman, his going beyond his limits and doing almost superhuman feats, are a real joy as the prose speeds up, delving into Ferris’ mind, and his response to his own actions while also really laying down the nature of those actions as something that plugs into the same place in the mind as great comics can. Similarly, the depiction of a culture lazily existing under a threat of (induced) apocalypse so old as to have lost its terror would be fantastic if it didn’t rely on and prop up stereotypes of the global South; Harkaway writes the stereotype beautifully, but I wish he’d been willing to avert it. The twist at the close of the novel is, in hindsight, obvious but was completely unexpected to this reader, making it the best kind of twist; Harkaway laid clues down throughout Tigerman, gently and brilliantly, often without the reader realising he is even doing it, before making a fantastic reveal.

In the end, Tigerman lets itself down; slightly more depth to the characters who aren’t Ferris, and slightly less stereotypical a portrayal of the society of Mancreu, would have made Harkaway’s novel a true work of genius. As it is, it’s a very solipsistic meditation on fatherhood and a very readable, fantastic superhero thriller well-combined.