7.10.2009

Wasteland #25 Review: There’s No Such Thing As Painless Love

I’ll preface this by saying that I still don’t have a physical copy of the issue, thanks to one LCS who claims the shipment was mysteriously shorted (though the investigator in me finds that story suspect), and two others who just flat out didn’t order it because of their predilection toward peddling (only) Marvel and DC wares. Sigh. You’d think San Diego of all places would be home to some of the best shops in the nation, and while San Diegans are lucky in one respect to have quite a few to choose from, quantity certainly does not guarantee quality. It really does make me miss the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was literally surrounded geographically by good retailers, Lee’s Comics, The Isotope Lounge, Comix Experience, and Comic Relief just to name a few favorites spread from the South Bay, to The City, to the East Bay for anyone who might wish to track them down. It appears I’ll have to wait until the San Diego Con to actually purchase a copy, which I’ll most certainly do. At this point, I’d rather hand the money over directly to Oni or Antony and Chris anyway, rather than reward these pitiful retailing practices. Sure, this is a paltry act of rebellion, but it’s the principle you know! In the interim, Antony Johnston was kind enough to send me a PDF copy of the book and I couldn’t resist sharing a few thoughts as the calendar ticks down toward the end of the month. Without further ado…

Wasteland #25 (Oni Press): Aside from the obvious delight of hitting the quarter century mark with a full color issue, one of the things I noticed the most was the utter lack of exposition to be found in this title. Johnston’s story information is perfectly laced into the dialogue, and Chris backs it all up with plush and radiant pages capable of relaying the requisite emotional content. This approach to scripting rewards the faithful and observant readers, it doesn’t insult our intelligence and is a more… mature method of storytelling, I guess is what I want to say. The creative team makes an assumption that their audience possesses a basic level of inductive and deductive reasoning skills, pop culture awareness and genre sensibility, and doesn’t need everything spelled out for them like Those Other Comic Books. A great example of the expositional void is the line “Waters Meet. Halfway to sun-damned nowhere.” This is the perfectly pejorative, condescending type of thing we’d expect Sultan Ameer to say, but it works so well because it happens completely organically. A lesser writer would have plunked down a caption box that said: “Nearing the town of Waters Meet,” and then had their characters blather on about what a podunk, middle of nowhere place it was and blah, blah, blah. Johnston’s way is simpler and more elegant. Another example of crisp characterization is how the wives disdain for him comes off with lines about the Sultan, like the only thing he knows “about women is which entrance to use.” For their long awaited anniversary issue, Johnston and Mitten provide a historical tale of Sultan Ameer, trader to the core, and his unlikely association with Michael, in his friendlier and slightly more emotive days. I think there are some oblique clues here about Michael’s past (his level of prior paramilitary training in instructing the other guards perhaps) and certainly “Michael the Lost” going “Nowhere” (proper noun maybe?) is a deliberate drop that I haven’t quite cracked. If all great stories rely on a single core conceit, this one circles around loyalty and betrayal and hones in on how divisive men can become when a woman is involved. Again, the guys show off their innate ability to world-build, providing another example of the many diverse harsh realities that inhabit Wasteland. Even though I was provided a relatively low res PDF, it’s obvious that Mitten has a well thought-out sense of color application, it’s there in the beady suspicious eyes of Sultan Ameer, the thematic pairing of hushed maroon earth tones, eye popping crisp yellows to emphasize the sun, vibrant green near water’s edge, passionate crimson during arguments, dark blue for hidden quiet places, or an ethereal late night foggy return to the caravan. He really is an “artist” in the classic sense of the word, he shows off his mastery of the color wheel, using complimentary colors to play against each other (my college roommate Sean, who is a Graphic Designer, will be proud of me for that reference!). His technique in applying colors in layers to create depth or a light airy feeling is a particularly adept one. My favorite on the art side has got to be the beautiful full page spreads which could not only function as pinups, but enhance the story greatly. Johnston’s made a deliberate effort not to over-populate these pages with words, allowing the art to shine and convey story beats like entering a marketplace, a celebratory festival taking place, or the taboo sensuality of a forbidden love scene. It really requires a lot of trust in the artist's ability and restraint as a writer and responsible creative partner. Wasteland not only entertains, but functions at a more cerebral level, showing the world how great comics are made. Grade A+.

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