Monday, March 31, 2008

Funny Animal Comics 3: We3

I don't know how or why I've found myself reading so many comics that star talking animals recently, but collectively they've reinforced my feelings that there are no set boundaries when it comes how a writer wants to tell a story. Then again, when the writer is Grant Morrison, you might as well forget there were any boundaries in the first place; after all, he met Animal Man once.
With We3, Morrison is working once again with Frank Quitely (are they best friends or something?), who brings his usual unsettling, expressive, and slightly over-detailed style to this story of animal exploitation. Morrison, a vegetarian since the late 80's and strong believer in animal rights, successfully brings the callousness of military-industrial thinking to the foreground. By which I mean he made me cry. And want to see my dog.

We3's basic premise is this: the military has decided to use modified animals to replace conventional human soldiers and assassins, and the We3 team are the prototypes for this system. Weapon 1 (Bandit) is a dog, built to carry the heavy weapons and chosen to lead the team because of his intelligence and loyalty to both their masters and his teammates. Weapon 2 (Tinker) is a cat, stealthy and antisocial, but aware of who her allies are. Weapon 3 (Pirate) is a rabbit made into a demolition specialist with blinding speed.
The short version is, the senator who was backing the product gets creeped out after seeing what's been done to these animals, and orders them killed. The one good person working in the lab (the woman who cared for them and handled their education) lets them out. Then massively depressing moments, high-speed gory action, and a moderately happy ending follow.

Morrison is a master of the game, and We3 stands out even among his work. The stilted, unpronounceable speech patterns the team speak in convey more emotion than meaning, and yet the WE3 team is as characterized as any character that only got three issues. Things like 2's attempts to hide her feelings and 1's sense of responsibility (as he berates himself for everything that goes wrong) give an additional layer of tragedy to the work.
I'm not usually a fan of Quitely's style, since he tends to make the people the reader is supposed to like look creepy. However, this carries over to the animals only so far as to properly convey their suffering, while all humans should look nasty in this book.
I don't know how to close this. I could write a term paper on this comic, and it's only three issues. Read it. Buy some tissues while you're out.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Funny Animal Comics 2: Mouse Guard Fall 1152

Just as the last post in the "Funny Animal" series, I use the term in a somewhat sarcastic manner, as neither book has anything to do with the funny animal archetype other than anthropomorphism. However, nearly everything else about the two books is different. Whereas Fox Bunny Funny is some sort of ham-fisted statement about human nature, Mouse Guard is a low fantasy action epic. Starring mice, mind you.
Yes, Mouse Guard depicts a world of sapient mice, living in fortress cities. Since nearly any other animal has the physical edge over a mouse, the mice have developed a guardian force to allow for travel between cities and other elements essential for a true culture. This is the titular guard, and their trials are the focus of the series, which has a planned run of five mini-series. This one, Fall 1152, named for the season it depicts, focuses on a plot to undermine the guard and their capital city from within.
The art is an interesting balance of representational and interpretive, as most animals are show with a reasonably normal appearance, yet the cloak-wearing, sword-wielding guardsmice look perfectly natural. The landscapes and scenery are properly emotive, and there are enough visual clues to prevent character confusion, even if you only remember them as "mouse with green cloak" and "mouse with blue cloak and a stick."
The story reads like some of the better fantasy novels I've read in my lifetime, with dialogue that feels natural for the characters and their setting, and expressing the personality of individuals at the proper times. There was a decent level of worldbuilding involved in the writing, and it's never dropped on the reader in a fit of "as you know, Bob..." and there's an index at the end for details that didn't make it into the story.
In short; it's pretty, the writing is solid, and the world is never ridiculous, even though the heroes are fieldmice. There's even a few overly manly action-hero moments for nearly every main character. This is the kind of book that makes use of every vernacular use of the word "epic."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Funny Animal Comics 1: Fox Bunny Funny

Yikes. Fox Bunny Funny is literally a fifteen minute read, but since I spent that fifteen minutes, I've probably gone through about two hours just thinking about this one comic, what it means, and what it might not mean.
For starters, I have to explain the worldbuilding that Andy Hartzell put into the writing of FBF. What you have at first are two towns of the pseudo-1950's America variety, one populated by Foxes, whose culture is centered on the killing of Bunnies, and the town of Bunnies, which we readers see less of, but which seems more religious and fearful of their neighbors. No other animals seem to exist. Certain touches exist to reinforce the idea of a society based on the mannerisms of animals, for example, the Foxes use guns that have metal teeth attached to a wire, to fire and reel in their prey.
Also, there are no words. Not just that there's no dialogue, but the written languages for the Foxes is a series of pawprints, and the Bunny writings are all leaves and plants. There is no replacement for language, the characters all just pantomime their way through life. Because of that, the reading goes quickly, helped along by the simplicity of Hartzell's drawings which require little to no effort to understand.
Then there's the meaning behind the story, and that's where the house of cards gets shuffled (for the record, I'm kind of pleased with that turn of phrase). With the main character's hidden desire to become a Bunny, but forced to live as a Bunny-killing Fox, there's an attempt at a metaphor for GLBT lifestyle, but it never really catches on. With the relationship between the Foxes and Bunnies, there's an obvious race metaphor, but that falls apart at the end, much like my feelings about the book.
The main character finds himself in a city of the hedonistic 1980's sort populated by a combination of Foxes and Bunnies, who exchange fashion styles, have relationships, and consume one another's flesh. That's right; we have Bunnies that eat Bunny, Foxes that eat Fox, everyone eating carrots, some eating everything, and nobody seems to mind. The main character is then given plastic surgery to become a Bunny just as he always wanted, and the image of his bruised, slightly misshapen body as he weeps with joy is the closing image. Let's just say I had a hard time sleeping last night after seeing that bit.

So? Read it, once I return it to the library. Don't buy it until you've gone through it once. Maybe you'll get something I didn't, and you'll think I'm an idiot for not liking it. Maybe you'll find it as horrifying as I did, and one or two quick reads will be enough. Then again, you might not feel anything, in which case I envy the extra time you'll have after the read.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Webcomic Highlight: Darken

Geek culture is not one culture, per se, but rather an affiliation of subcultures. As with any subculture, the internet has become a haven for these groups to show their appreciation, and many do so in the form of webcomics. While I feel a post on webcomics in general may be forthcoming, but with this highlight, I felt the comment about culture was apt as Darken is essentially based in Dungeons and Dragons.
Written and drawn by Kate Ashwin, Darken is in interesting study in anti-heroism and anti-villainy, as the entire main cast is more concerned with their scheming than they are about morality and loyalty. To call it character driven would downplay the well-placed (and paced) action, but the interactions between the characters and their ultimate goals are what drive the reader.
The art is smooth and expressive, with some slight Japanese influence, and the coloring, when used, contributes to the mood and energy of the scene. Very rarely is it possible to confuse characters, though there are clearly some "basic" faces at use.
You don't have to know D&D, but it certainly speeds things up for new readers. Regardless, Darken uses a mixture of action, humor, strong characters, and good plotting to make a very worthwhile read.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Keeping Things Straight (Last in a Triple Post!)

I hate repeating myself. If it's not a good story, and one I really like telling, then I only want to have to go through it once. Also, if I don't repeat, then it gives people more incentive to keep listening to what I say. Ergo, this semester has been rough.
I'm a comics guy, so I talk comics with my friends. I do a comics-based radio show, so I have to fill about 2 hours each week. I have class discussions, the discussion board, and this blog. And I hate repeating myself (unless I'm proving a point).
With my friends, I don't want to bore them. In class, I think it wastes time to go over the same points again and again. With my show, I feel it would be cheating to crib ideas or materials from class, so I have to keep racking my brain to think of things I can work with.

So please, forgive me if I fall behind in a conversation every so often. I may be having deja vu.

American Born Chinese: Some Quick Thoughts

Anybody ever watch the show The Boondocks (yes, based on the newspaper comic) and get uncomfortable at how often they use a certain racial epithet? You know the one; the one I can't even bring myself to type. ABC was kind of like that for me sometimes, with cousin Chin-Kee. I found myself reading those parts kind of fast, and taking my time with the Monkey King more than any other part.
Use of caricature helped with the magical realist atmosphere of the story; I don't know if I'd have been able to deal with Chin-Kee's head popping off to reveal the Monkey King in another style. Also, the Hair of Power would not have looked right.
Did anyone else have the sensation that both Jin and Wei-Chen are essentially lost? Haven't the four years of debauchery spoiled Wei-Chen's chances of becoming an emissary since the test was a full life of goodness? And didn't Jin "forfeit his soul" to become Danny? Not to mention the problems with his grades due to the moving around...
Also, did the infliction of Chin-Kee on Jin (as Danny) seem harsh to anyone else? Sure, he needed to be taught a lesson, but there's evidence that everything he says about Chin-Kee ruining his life are true...

There's more, but like I said; quick thoughts.

Comic Corollaries: Action Figures

Okay, so maybe you don't have to like action figures if you're a comic fan, but why wouldn't you? For my money, there's something indescribably cool about having a physical representation of the characters you like. Then again, I'm not the sort to spent more than $20 on a toy, and frankly the $20 ones have to really appeal to me.
Also, for the record, they are toys to me, not collectibles, and I open them as soon as I get back to my house. I can't really fathom hunting around for just the one you wanted then leaving it on a shelf, unopened, unappreciated. For example, earlier today I finally found a 25th Anniversary G.I.Joe Destro; something I've wanted for nigh on four months now. He makes a nice addition to my desktop. It's great to be a toy fan for the sake of their aesthetic purpose, but more importantly, it lets me keep a collection of the characters I really enjoy.