Ganges #4 (Fantagraphics): It’s the long-awaited continuation of Kevin Huizenga’s depiction of the dreary monotony of a seemingly endless sleepless night. What he does very well is capture the uncontrollable manner in which your mind wanders through fleeting imagery, stray incomplete lines of thought, worrying about our personal calendars, ideas literally trailing off the page and into the abyss before we can fully form them, jumping in and out of focused consciousness, and he relays this dynamic in clipped panels and short bursts of sentence fragments that can only be done in this medium. There’s a smart interactivity to what we witness happening to Glenn Ganges in these pages. When Glenn reads a book to deliberately try to fall asleep, we too experience a slow, monotonous, repetitive set of panels that start to bore us. Form and function are in sync. When he flips open an old philosophy book, we see him physically attempting to navigate the mental landscape of nonsensical confusing panels, with circular, impenetrable logic. It pushes you out as a reader, deliberately so, to great intended effect. We’re actually experiencing what Huizenga wants us to feel Ganges is experiencing. There are a few things I especially like about this issue. The immaculate use of negative space. The emotional power of a few stray facial lines. The way that two semi-circles around the eye can call to mind Charlie Brown’s exasperated grief. The attempt at depicting the weird flashes of light you see when you close your eyes. The way Glenn side-scrolls his way through decision diamonds with various Y/N choices along the way. The irony of actively over-thinking the type of book he should be reading to make him drowsy, rather than just grabbing one, the active thought itself keeping him up. The way that this endless night is a little microcosm of his entire life, touching on various relationships, experiences, jobs he’s held, and books he purchased with that disposable dot com money. The sense that the he’s caught between feeling like the whole world is sleeping but him, yet the rest of the world is going on without his involvement. Lastly, there’s a particularly interesting sequence that caught me, where his wife/girlfriend calls out to him, and he basically ignores her, almost willing her back to sleep. I like the uncertainly of that moment, how we can read into it. Did he just not want to wake her? Did he want to avoid a conversation to which there was no solution? Was he embarrassed? Ashamed? I don’t have much doubt that this book will be appearing on may critics best of the year lists. It’s interesting though, that such a book could do that, when it really only delivers one singular concept, but does so in such painstaking recreation of the emotion involved. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes, what happens next, how it resolves, and if there is more messaging than just amazing craft. Grade A.
Avengers: 1959 #3 (Marvel): Chaykin’s aesthetic is so visually arresting that I think it distracts you from noticing some of the slight weaknesses of the overall package. The double entendres are a little tired, names like “Penny Panzer” are just dreadful, the Cold War era Nazi holdover antagonist is *such* an overused concept. That said, I really do enjoy the Agents of Atlas style period superhero affair. The thing has flair, throwing down those same Cold War era politics, and a whole host of elements. We get more Mystic Arts this time, and so many Marvel U seeds. There’s Howard Stark, Dormammu, Madripoor, Wakanda, Latveria, and on and on and on. Chaykin is pouring everything he can into the script, making it feel rich and dense. I admire the aggressive storytelling ambition here, but with so many balls being hurled into the air, I’m left wondering if it’ll all congeal in just two more issues. No denying the book is beautiful, but I guess I’m cautiously optimistic about everything getting resolved an a satisfying manner. Let’s go with a Grade B.
Uncanny X-Men #1 (Marvel): There’s just a couple of things I like about this book, but overall I don’t understand why it needs to exist or what position it’s exactly taking. I like that it picks up in San Francisco, with Utopia, and The Dreaming Celestial, all modern landmarks that we recognize from the X-Men mythos. I also think it’s nice that people continue to use Agent Brand and S.W.O.R.D. out of deference to Joss Whedon’s Astonishing run and the canceled-too-soon S.W.O.R.D. mini-series. It kind of reminds me how everyone still used Agent Chase and the D.E.O. in the DCU after her little series was canceled. I thought Gillen got Magneto right, his line about his brain leaking from his eye sockets felt particularly inspired by Warren Ellis and hummed with a clear voice. I appreciate that it’s trying to be bold. For example, Scott’s zinger about “We’ve always been Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Unfortunately, the familiarity I mentioned leads to contempt, because it belies the flimsy excuse the title has for existing, and the attempts at being bold aren’t terribly clear or logical. So, let’s just run down the list of problems. I don’t understand why Colossus looks like Destro, Hulks out, and turns into Juggernaut. Something to do with Fear Itself? It just plays dumb. Continuity is a mess, for example, how in the hell can Psylocke be the head of security or whatever she is on Utopia, when right now she’s being turned into one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen in Uncanny X-Force? Speaking of, does Scott still not know that X-Force exists? That’s dumb. I guess Mister Sinister is just as good as the next cheesy villain you could use, but uhh, why does he like like Punjabi Pilgrim Abe Lincoln? That’s dumb. There’s disjointed jumps in the script, some odd choices visually from Pacheco’s fairly generic art, like Emma’s fivehead, and some particularly bad San Francisco geography skills. In a lot of places, the dialogue feels extremely stiff and expository: “I will now explain blah…” “The schism with the Westchester School…” Really? Did Scott really just announce that he was going to explain why this book is supposedly important by literally name-checking the last “event” book that created it? Gross. Most importantly, I just don’t understand the plan here. Scott says everyone hates us (so nothing has changed!). So the plan then is to, umm, “be the good guys,” but still scare them too…? Huh??? How the hell will that change anyone’s perception? It just doesn’t make any sense. Scott also never sufficiently addresses Storm’s concern regarding the branding nightmare of the name “The Extinction Team.” It’s actually totally backwards. It’s really “The Survival Team.” Totally illogical. The other thing that bothered me is that the whole Schism deal was billed as this course altering showdown between Scott and Logan where everyone dramatically “picked sides” and faced off. Well, Scott said twice that he would protect Logan’s school, so how the heck are they at odds ideologically? What exactly was the big dramatic fallout here? The only thing that changed in the X-Men universe is that Logan re-opened Xavier's school. It has little bearing on anything in this book. That’s just false advertisement for the latest big event, that really changed nothing. This might as well have been Uncanny X-Men #544 or whatever the next issue was supposed to be. It’s such a flimsy raison d’etre. I’ll give Wolverine & The X-Men an issue or two because that is truly something different, a different direction, with a distinct visual style. This book, on the other hand, is just marketing shuck and jive in a visually bland style that doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of reason. Grade C+.