3.24.10 Reviews

Scalped #36 (DC/Vertigo): As if Jason Aaron didn’t make every single issue of Scalped great enough, here’s an entire issue dedicated to the character who has slowly become my favorite – Shunka. The right hand man is always more interesting to me than the guy out front in the spotlight. That’s why I loved Leo McGarry over Josiah Bartlett, and Dick Grayson over Bruce Wayne. The guy behind the guy is typically the glue that makes the place run. Davide Furno’s pencils are a delightful blend, something like Paul Pope and Danijel Zezelz all at once, that help Aaron achieve a complex “holy shit” performance. “A Fine Action Of An Honorable And Catholic Spaniard” is a phenomenal title for the issue and belies the complexity of what’s portrayed. There are intense societal and sub-cultural issues at play here. I don’t want to spoil the reveal, but we examine the capable, quiet, intense confidence of Shunka, a man who isn’t up for “a steady diet of strippers and barely legal cokeheads.” We look at minorities within minorities, examine historical gender roles (up to 7!) in Native American culture, as secrets are revealed. I personally think Shunka still has some secrets up his sleeve. I’ve felt for a while that he could be a cop, maybe a federal agent from a different agency sent in not only to take down Red Crow but also see what's up with all these crooked ass murdering FBI agents, but we’ll wait and see. At the end of the day, this issue reminds me of old school EC horror, or the early issues of DC’s House of Secrets or House of Mystery. It features a dead narrator speaking from beyond the grave about ghastly events that become an open-ended cautionary tale. The story starts at the end, rewinds hard, and then loops back to what we’ve already seen. This is an instant classic. Grade A.

Northlanders #24 (DC/Vertigo): Dave McCaig’s muted colors really help Brian Wood’s script capture the desperate collapse of a society. Part 6 of 8 in The Plague Widow explains Gunborg’s deal with the other settlement as his coup is revealed in more detail. The theme I really found compelling in this issue was Wood’s examination of the universal hope of all parents, for the future that will be inhabited by their children. That hope is something that really cannot be vanquished. I found the Boris scene quite rousing, but was pleasantly distracted by the caduceus symbol on his medical kit. That’s the winged staff with intertwined snakes on either side of it. [Brian, if you’re reading: I know that the symbol was Greek in origin and used by them and the Romans if I recall, but did they really use it up north too, or was that modern shorthand for your audience? I know you research the heck out of this book, so I’m curious about that.] In typical Wood fashion, there are some thought-provoking ideas introduced here. Is the plague of sickness the real threat, or is the greater threat the internal plague of man’s greed and betrayal? Karin’s perspective is interesting. She feels that a “loving lord” would not have spared them from the plague in the first place, but instead, killed them quickly. Jens’ demoralizing offer is a great lesson in psychological torture. Like the great storytellers, as he does in other books like DMZ, Wood understands that if you leave your characters where they’d least like to be, you can ratchet up the palpable tension to a Spinal Tap style 11 out of 10. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #522 (Marvel): Oh boy. At some point, I promise to let this go so it doesn’t border on unhealthy obsession, but for now this will serve as my official treatise on why I just can’t buy the (lack of) logic behind the return of Kitty Pryde as presented in this book. To start, here are a few facts I’ve gleaned from various sources that are generally accepted canon;

* Kitty can extend her powers to phase other people and objects. She’s able to phase at least half a dozen other people (or objects of similar mass) with her, so long as they establish and maintain physical contact with her. She can extend her phasing effect to her own clothing or any other object with mass up to that of a small truck, as long as she remains in contact with it. From this we can extrapolate that she couldn’t phase an object this large; the hull alone was repeatedly described as a mile(!) thick.

* The density of some materials (such as adamantium) can prove deleterious to her phasing, causing her to be severely disoriented or experience pain if she tries to pass through them. From this, we can certainly extrapolate that phasing through one mile of a foreign metallic substance from The Breakworld would be extremely difficult, if not flat out impossible. In fact, it was mentioned that she passed out and was unconscious inside the bullet. From this we can extrapolate that it’s a miracle she could phase the bullet even momentarily as it passed through Earth, so even if you buy that huge leap, she certainly couldn’t have sustained it.

* The use of her abilities also interferes with electrical systems (including the bioelectric systems of the human body), as she passes through by disrupting the flow of electrons from atom to atom. This typically causes machines to malfunction or be destroyed as she phases through. From this we can extrapolate that as she phased the bullet through the Earth, it would have acted like a planet-wide EMP burst, creating cataclysmic, catastrophic, end-of-days type disasters globally as it caused every single electrical device on the planet to shut down and interfere with the normal autonomic function of every single human being on the planet. Millions would have died, governments would collapse, there would be no electricity, no water delivery, the entire global financial system would implode. It would be the Stone Age.

* While phased, she is immune to most physical attacks, and has resistance to telepathy. From this we can extrapolate that Emma likely could not have communicated telepathically with her as she did over such a great distance, nor could Magneto as depicted.

* Since she is unable to breathe while phased inside an object, she can only continuously phase solid objects (as when she travels underground) as long as she can hold her breath. Most “normal” people can hold their breath for about 1 minute max. Free divers routinely hold their breath for up to 2.5 minutes with extensive training. The world record for a free diver is 9 minutes and change, after mastering a breathing technique where he built up the oxygen in his body and was able to purge carbon dioxide to stay under water longer. In any case, let’s assume Kitty is in peak physical form and can hold her breath for 2 minutes. This means she could only stay phased a maximum of 2 minutes, certainly not the months she’s been trapped in the projectile.

* As a reminder, space is a vacuum, even inside the hollow point bullet. This means that Kitty’s body would quickly be affected by hostile conditions. She is without water and food, but more importantly – oxygen to breathe and a heat source so she doesn’t freeze to death. Even if you argue that she is impervious to these needs while phased, she is not in a state of suspended animation, so her tissue would still atrophy. This has not been addressed.

* If you accept that she has been phased along with the bullet the entire time (which is a joke in my opinion), then how does Magneto use his magnetic powers on a metal bullet made of unfamiliar material from the Breakworld, while it’s phased in an intangible state and loses its metallic properties? How does Magneto use his magnetic powers on the small trace amounts of iron and other metals in her body while she’s phased in an intangible state and loses those metallic properties?

The issue itself offers the most paltry of explanations: “She kept it ghostly always and nobody ever got hurt.” That’s it?! On the plus side, I will say that Portacio’s art wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Though there were a few panels with skimpy backgrounds, it’s otherwise detailed and effective. I also enjoyed Scott playing the incident commander role and the quip of a line “Summers, be quiet. The grown-ups are talking.” Honestly, those were the only redeeming qualities in my opinion. The Science Team says they’ve been tracking the bullet “24/7.” Really? Since when? Last time we saw mention of this whole thing was the last issue of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run and at that time they’d all dismissively thrown their hands up in the air and given up hope. I’m still not exactly clear on what Magneto actually does. The bullet enters the Earth’s atmosphere, some shit flies out of his body, Kitty appears before them, and then the bullet just goes away. The End. Then we get some epilogue style scenes with Namor doing… something, and a bunch of bullshit about flowers and basketball which I really didn’t get. And what the fuck does the back up story have to do with anything? What a waste of space and an extra dollar on the price tag. If Kitty is permanently phased, then guess what? She can't eat or drink because food would literally fall through her and out of her body. She couldn’t breathe either. She couldn’t be contained in that contraption, she’d just slip through it, down through the Earth to China, and then out into space again. The science is extremely dubious, even for an X-Men book, where scientific principles are bent all the time. This was just an unmitigated disaster.

Joss Whedon, love him or hate him, created a writer’s trap that has yet to be successfully resolved. I’m all for the suspension of disbelief in my escapist fiction, so it might sound odd to be arguing these points amid a reality where there are mutants and giant Sentinels and a guy named Namor living off the coast of California aiding a man who shoots laser beams out of his eyes, but… what I require in exchange for my suspension of disbelief is some internal logic and consistency, otherwise it’s chaos, anything goes, and writers can cheat, just making things up as they go, snapping rules to suit their needs at any given moment. It sucks any dramatic tension out of a situation. Character gets shot? “Oh, btw, they put up a force field to block the bullet even though you’ve never ever seen them do that in 30 years, yeah they have that power too, because I just made it up.” If characters are portrayed one way 99% of the time, and then in that last 1% everything is thrown out the window, it’s just Matt Fraction yelling “VOODOO! MAGIC! BOOMSHAKALAKA! PHOENIX FORCE! OH YEAH, HER POWERS ARE DIFFERENT!” and that’s an extremely weak explanation that voids the unwritten agreement between him and his audience. We’re suddenly expected to accept that Kitty and Magneto have new powers I guess? Because they went into some transmeditative state? Or something? Not only does she mysteriously get these new powers without explanation at the most convenient time of her life, but she a) phases an object made of a material she can’t phase, b) phases a humongous object that is much too large for her to phase, c) stays phased exponentially longer than she ever has before, and d) somehow dodges the need for water, food, air to breathe, and a heat source in the cold vacuum of open space. On top of that, we are told these things (in an indirect, beating around the bush type manner, I might add), not shown them, which seems to violate the prime directive of graphic storytelling. On top of that, Magneto seems to be able to just “use the force” to control objects, regardless of whether or not they’re in metal form, regardless of Kitty’s imperceptibility to telepathy while phased, so yeah, I guess he got some new powers too? Bottom line, Kitty couldn’t have phased that substance, that size, for that duration – yet without phasing, she would have died from lack of food, water, air to breathe, and something to keep her warm (though I can argue the phasing wouldn’t have made her imperceptible to those needs). It’s a catch-22 that hasn’t been sufficiently addressed without huge cheats. Full stop. Grade D-.

I also picked up;

On The Odd Hours (NBM/ComicsLit): I know this will comes as a shock, but Sea Donkey did not get the new Yoshihiro Tatsumi book in, Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly). However, I did find this gem that is the third in a loose series of books co-published by the Louvre. I enjoyed the first, Glacial Period, a great deal, but somehow managed to miss the second. This one has a very intriguing premise, about a night tour at the museum when the art comes alive. The art from Eric Liberge looks breathtaking.


At 1:47 AM, Blogger Brian Wood said...

[Brian, if you’re reading: I know that the symbol was Greek in origin and used by them and the Romans if I recall, but did they really use it up north too, or was that modern shorthand for your audience? I know you research the heck out of this book, so I’m curious about that.]

Boris is not a local, but from the middle-east, and I took the informed leap that he would have acquired and carried his med kit from there. In my research, that symbol's use was widespread throughout history, not just limited to a certain place or people.


At 9:05 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for checking in. Cool. I remember you making reference that Boris was "a foreigner," but didn't know where he was from. I assumed maybe he was down in Southern Europe, but the Middle East is intriguing. I didn't know they used the caduceus symbol in so many places, always interesting to see the research!




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