Of the newer Image books, I’m mostly disappointed. Except for one. The one from the new guy.
Zero revamps the ongoing series so that mechanics seep to the surface. Its single issue structure forces the plot into such a tight space, the reader has to engage the editing with the same consideration as the story beats. It’s as much about the cuts and transitions as it is the narrative communicated, so it’s become as much a dialogue with the form as it is a fun, monthly drop of escape. That’s a compelling argument for someone like myself to keep reading it. A good story always wins, yeah, but it’s the added details and contextual affects that make it potent, and Zero serves up a package rather than an elevator pitch to chew on.
Maybe it’s due to Ales Kot’s rookie status that I find Zero enticing, though. Reading these other series, like Rick Remender’s Black Science, I feel like I’m participating in a reunion tour, watching old flames try to reignite off the lighter fluid they drank long ago. Like everybody, I too was excited when guys like Fraction, Brubaker, Aaron and Remender decided to commit more time to their own ideas and walk on over to Image Comics. It seemed like they might resume what they left, Marvel never having happened, going back to something larger in possibility and scope.
It’s only proving to be the idea of a Marvel Exodus that’s compelling, though. The actual books produced from it (except Fatale, which feels like a push) read like comics written by dudes who were given a bit too much credit when stuck with corporate responsibility. On the leash of Spider-man or the Avengers, it was easier to blame those fictional concrete blocks (or the all-powerful editiorial) when those guys started to drown. But now they’re free, all other scapegoats out of the room, and we’re left, as readers, face-to-face with these major talents in their purest forms, and they’re still choking on the same water. I’m realizing, I think, that all those faults I shoved onto Iron Man and Tom Brevoort may have actually belonged to the writers in charge, and for some stupid reason that’s tough to swallow. Though, it is a bit funny.
It may seem odd for older readers, but these writers are essential to my formative years. They made their splash right as I hit the teens, and their careers progressed as I did. Books like Fear Agent or Casanova provided those initial “indie” sparks, while The Death of Captain America and other quirky Marvel books that would eventually be cult classics (Punisher War Journal) became those runs, even with their flaws, that I’d subscribe to til the end.
It all patterned out a very visceral, holy-shit-I-love-this-stuff relationship that I have with comics. There’s also the note of watching their careers take shape in a direct way. Because I heard them be the darlings of the Comics Podcasting scene, and I watched them transition from very reachable figures to the grounds of Marvel’s elite, shaking hands with Bendis. Reading their comics and experiencing their interviews was as much entertainment as it was learning about the culture and the profession, and it all bled into one, identifiable mash. I cannot read any of their works without considering broader autobiographical details, and the shadow of the Company always follows their scripts. The men and their fiction are the same, you see, and a greater feeling of youth, angst, need and wonder are implanted upon them just because I was 16 once, and that made sense.
So sadly when I read Black Science, or other Image books penned by these dudes, all that monumental bullshit comes with the ticket. That’s quite possibly why I’m so down on the book – because it’ll never live up, but there’s also a number of other objective reasons to be so. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not an all-out awful comic book. If anything, it’s another example of Dean White taking exotic line work and layouts, and applying hues that both subtly and aggressively emphasize a foundational grandness found in the work. He busts out the neon at the right times, and all the other texture he layers on the page implies a richness. The details worth loving are especially the extra flares, like when characters stand around in a room, arguing, and for some reason the tiled floor turns aqua. Those things remind you it’s tingling with life underneath, and that it’s just some unnecessary bullshit burying the spark.
The story pertains to an ensemble cast ripping through space time on an inaugural mission to map a multiverse, but that cast offers little complexity in their persons. I spent six issues with them, and they only identify as their roles – like the obsessive scientist or the war hero. In some ways, I’d even be fine with that, except Remender makes a point to really overwrite the empty, stereotypical elements of said characters in the form of monologue, and he lays them over attractive action sequences, deviating eyes in unwelcome ways. It all results in busy scenes, and the monologues arguably offset artist Matteo Scalera’s pacing because the reader can’t simply glide with the visual rhythm. You have to hold up and read about how this scientist father can’t take care of his kids, even though he’ll remind you of this nearly every issue.
An instance of a comic book writer asserting himself above the medium is this. Much of what I’ve come to understand of these characters could have been communicated by their appearances and actions, with brief use of narration or dialogue – or, by taking advantage of comics’ ability to show and tell.
I doubt Remender would purposely spit words onto Black Science’s pages out of ego. He doesn’t appear as someone willing to sacrifice a story for the spotlight. The case just seems more like habit. Like a subconscious something in him said “hey, you’re the star guy here, the creator, so your footprint should be visible.” And it’s arguable we are that subconscious come alive. You. Me. Eric Stephenson. And whoever else who’s used “Remender” as a selling point, pushing this guy into a position of mandatory attendance.
Or maybe that’s all over-thought. Maybe he actually liked what he did with it? But his overwriting undoubtedly gets in the way of a story that appears to tell itself, and I found it constantly frustrating as the death nail in a coffin no one asked for.
To give the guy some credit, the mechanism he’s built (hopping dimensions each issue, allowing for a constant change of scenery) does work to Scalera and White’s advantages. Because they can draft up whatever in 22-page increments, and the setting’s important presence naturally moves a reader’s eye first to their work , not whatever words lay on the page (hopefully).
That’s really all I can say about Black Science, though. It’s more interesting to me as an item than it is a story, though the final twist (making the villain the protagonist) did sort of win me back – even if it was way too late. He’s the one example of a character with a little more going on, and the situation will likely drum up new sorts of drama for the cast, but that’s such a TV thing to say or want.
I just don’t think I care anymore. Guys like Rick Remender told their stories a few years ago. It’s time guys like me move on and know these industry giants are out to pasture. Or, more interestingly, occupy a place that’s now a little less defined. Because I don’t know what role a comic book writer serves now. With Ales Kot, I see the writer writing page functions like pace and transitions, and collaborating with the artist on aesthetics as much as they are plot. He doesn’t section himself to one responsibility, so the role of writer is now really an androgynous thing.
It’s all slowly changing. The work and the culture. And the writers of the modern Bullpen are relics in comparison. I’m glad to see names like Remender and Fraction solidify, for the broader readership, the notion of original concepts and creative ownership. It’s certainly a way in which they’ve pushed back limitations set against this medium. I feel it’s their last defining move, though. Because the work isn’t harboring anything intense or daring, anymore. It’s only their names that demand discussion.
– – –
Yeah, I totally broke the two-book format on the second week in (I also probably just rewrote this Matt Fraction piece from a few weeks ago), but I started writing and this happened. Sorry. Next week, I don’t know what will happened, but I’ll write about some stuff. Probably comics that won’t pertain to Image, or Matt Fraction or even the printed medium. See you in 7.
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