Archive for April, 2013

Morning Glories, End of Season 1 (Comic Review)

(This is a review of issues 13-25 of the Image comic Morning Glories. My first review is here.)

cover to Morning Glories #17

Morning Glories

Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma’s Morning Glories completed its first “season” with issue #25, and it has definitely stayed interesting. There are some implications that it may collapsing under its own weight: The past six months have featured the first real delays so far, and there are now enough characters that Eisma’s art doesn’t manage to keep them all visually distinct. On the other hand, the story itself has held together. Given how rare it is for mysterious, twist-driven stories to work out, I’m amazed by how well this is doing. Sadly, when I look back through my comic reviews, I see that series almost never improve with time, and I’m almost always disappointed when I decide to stick with a mediocre one that shows “potential”. In this case, though, Morning Glories has definitely gotten better with time.

This is mainly due to the way Spencer handles his twist-driven storytelling. Every issue reveals more, though there are still plenty of questions, and you wouldn’t take me seriously if I tried to explain the number of secret pasts and hidden motivations in this comic. However, almost every new change is fair and consistent with previous hints. Most stories like this just feel like 100 random things that all happened to a small group of people. Here, all those events can be traced back to just a few common causes, and that makes a huge difference. As things have come to a climax, the cliché of “sorry, there’s no time to explain!” has appeared more often than I’d like. Admittedly, though, everyone who says that really is in a hurry. I am a little worried about the number of things thrown into the mix in those last few issues, but not as worried as I was about the few issues right before my last review. That time, there turned out to be reasons for everything.

Also, Spencer really can write memorable, compelling stories. I’ve been reading comics sporadically in the past several months, but it was never a problem to return to this complicated series after taking a long break. In fact, at this point the characters have broken into so many different groups that someone who is reading the issues as soon as they come out will still need to keep track of plot threads last seen a few months ago.

The overall plot moves slowly now that it’s jumping between so many people, but even that isn’t a problem. Every issue has a satisfying amount of events and new information, so it always feels like a good deal.

Morning Glories isn’t perfect, of course. Part of the reason it’s easy to remember characters is that most of them have exaggerated personalities. Also, with a series like this, how you feel about it depends largely on how excited it can make you about future issues. It definitely has me hooked now, but if it goes downhill, it will retroactively drag these issues down with it. Even so, I’ve spent much of the past few years expecting Morning Glories to jump the shark, and it’s consistently proved me wrong. This first season has been a perfect example of how to make a story full of mysteries work out. I’m ready to have faith in it.

Grade: A-

 

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We the Common (Music Review)

We the Common cover

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We the Common

Thao Nguyen has a voice that mixes simple honesty with a winking cleverness. With stripped down instrumentation and a slight reverb added to her singing, it’s attention-grabbing. Nguyen’s utter confidence and uncomplicated voice make her into an indie success story. However, on We the Common, performing as Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, she rarely sticks to that basic winning formula.

Admittedly, it would get a little repetitive if she never did more than that. The epitome of the simple folksy style that pulled me in is “Kindness Be Conceived”, a twee duet with Joanna Newsom. It’s hooky and adorable, but no one would want to listen to variations on that for a forty minutes. The best model for her would be the opening track, “We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)”. It starts and ends with Nguyen on her guitar, alternately representing a vulnerable woman and a united people (the song apparently inspired by the story of someone she met when visiting a woman’s prison). In the middle, the band joins her with a slowly building beat and a wall of sound to fortify the conviction that she presents. I want to hear more songs like that.

Otherwise, the really compelling moments come and go throughout the tracks. The Get Down Stay Down are talented and versatile, but so varied that the album has no consistency beyond Nguyen’s voice. (The band is perhaps nothing more than a rotating cast brought in to fulfill her vision, as fourteen other performers are credited, not counting the ones who contribute only background vocals.) There’s no commonality between the slow-as-molasses “Clouds For Brains” and the clanking mechanical soundscape of “City”. Elsewhere, some songs are bouncy and poppy, while others throw in a soulful saxophone or even organ. The vocals are intriguing in almost every case, and even most of the weaker songs would make me curious about the rest of the album if I heard them in isolation. Put together, though, the album only sporadically lives up to the potential that the pieces promise.

Grade: B-

 

Image Comics Capsule Reviews – Harvest and Infinite Vacation

Continuing from Wednesday’s article, here are the other two Image miniseries I finished recently.

There is no doubt that Image’s output has improved a lot in recent years, but there is a certain sameness to a lot of its comics now. Of the four stories I’m looking at this week, Multiple Warheads is the only one that didn’t feel like it was a movie pitch at some level. Maybe it wasn’t intentional in all the others; Once that approach has become the norm, you can find yourself following it even if you do just want to tell a good story. And it’s difficult to know how much to criticize this change, because the quality really is better now. It’s still a tradeoff, though, because the big comics now are slick and more predictable. We have lost something as we left behind the chaos of comics’ less commercial days.

I still liked both of the comics from last Wednesday, even if neither one thrilled me. These next two were less interesting. (Because this article is a little wordier than the previous one, I’m putting the reviews below the fold.)

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Image Comics Capsule Reviews: Happy! and Multiple Warheads

It’s time for another quick catch-up on recently completed miniseries from Image Comics. I plan to cover two today, two more in a few days, and catch up on the ongoing Morning Glories soon afterwards.


cover to Happy! #1

Happy!

Happy!

After years on an exclusive contract, the hyper-inventive Grant Morrison seemed to become a little set in his ways. For this reason, Happy!, his first non-DC work in a long time, carried a lot of expectations with it. The results are inconclusive. It’s a fun, competently-told story, but there’s no hint of deeper meaning or a long-suppressed muse bursting free.

Happy! is an especially twisted take on Morrison’s obsession with reality and fantasy crossing over. It opens with tough-talking gangsters preparing for a hit, straight out a Garth Ennis comic. It even features excellent art from Darick Robertson, who excels at this sort of gritty but amusing hyper-violence. By the end of the first issue, though, it’s taken a surprising twist. The crime story is never left behind – this is a Christmas comic reminiscent of Bad Santa in the uncomfortable way it plays with redemption – but it would be more accurate to compare it to Bad Santa Meets The Smurfs.

The first issue is the best. Morrison turns out to be good at darkly humorous crime scenes, and those early scenes with no reader expectations are thrilling. Once it settles on its protagonist and main conflict, it becomes a little more by-the-numbers. This is the sort of story where a character finds a way to look at other people’s hands in Poker, but the only way the writer knows to show him winning is to give him high hands every time. On the other hand, in a flashback to the anti-hero’s backstory, Morrison shows that clichés can be effective.

Happy! is a fun, fast read, if you’re looking for something grotesque and slightly surreal. There’s no real hook to keep you interested afterwards, though. Despite the craft it was made with, it will fade as quickly as you can read it.

Grade: B-


cover to Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity

Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads has a convoluted history: Starting out as a indie porn about an organ smuggler who steals a werewolf dick for her boyfriend, it led to an Oni Press series that never went past the introductory issue, and is now a series-of-series from Image. Despite all that, it’s not really necessary to understand any of the title’s past. This is like Graham’s classic King City, a cute story jam-packed with ideas in a science fictional setting that allows for anything Graham wants to happen. Tossed-off ideas and puns fill in all the margins, with an attitude somewhat like Groucho Marx as a sci-fi-loving graffiti artist.

In many ways, Graham’s work is a celebration of indie comics in their purest form. An uncommercial labor of love that costs less than most superhero comics but takes three times as long to read, these can be pure joy. But at this point, I’m starting to wish for some actual plot and consistency to tie it all together. In these four issues, the main couple (Sexica and Nikoli) go on a road trip past a bunch of fatal threats that never feel dangerous, and another organ smuggler named Nura (who has no connection to the others as far as I know) heads out on a mission. I wasn’t always sure what was going on other than that, but these ended right when the story seemed to start up. There may be dangerous secrets at the hotel Sexica and Nikoli are staying at, and there are some interesting side characters serving them there. But after building that up, the final issue was entirely about Nura getting in a fight that ended inconclusively. It was misleading to call this a mini-series.

Multiple Warheads is fun, but aimless. I’m really glad that Graham has started to try out other storytelling styles, such as the slightly more focused Prophet. Still, as long as he keeps comics like these as an occasional side project, I’m likely to keep up with them.

Grade: B-

 

Because April 1st is Such a Smart Day to Change Your Website…

This is just a quick note that I’ve finally updated the About Page that I threw together back when I started this blog. It’s still not great – I’d rather to put my time into the normal articles – but the page gets hits almost every day. Hopefully now I will stop cringing when I see that a new reader checked it out.