Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Winter Soldier #2

Winter Soldier #2
Ed Brubaker , Butch Guice, Bettie Breitweiser

I've got a little theory about why I haven't read every issue of Captain America that Brubaker's written despite my love for his superhero game.  The problem is this: Ed Brubaker so consistently puts out good comics that oftentimes a fool like me begins to take them for granted.  I'm going to try to not make the same mistake with this new series because it seems to be filling a sexy, super-spy genre-sized gap in Marvel's output.  Moreover, Brubaker offers up that same kind of consistent quality that can only be found in the copy for nostalgic Chevy Truck commercials.

I lost track of most of my Marvel titles right around when Fear Itself started wrapping up, and a lot of the behind the scenes ugliness has really put me off reading much of their output (save for Daredevil and Uncanny X-Force, because, you know, duh), so I didn't really know what was going on with our buddy Bucky, but I guess he died, then he got better, and it's kept mostly a secret from everyone so that he and The Black Widow can go out and do sexy spy things together.  Specifically, they have to go out and find three other dudes that Bucky trained to be Soviet sleeper agent killers before they can be activated by bad guys and used to do bad guy things.  I'm not worried.  It's a solid premise that I'm sure Brubaker can mine for at least three arcs, and it's all there: intrigue, mystery, thoughtful internal monologues about tactical thinking, even some outlandish "a-gorilla-with-a-machine-gun-oh-shit-now-he-has-a-jet-pack?-only-in-comics!" elements are thrown in and used entirely effectively without detracting from the weight of the story,  but if it were just that, it'd be yet another Brubaker book I'd end up just taking for granted and forgetting about.  But in addition to added effort on my part to not being a chump, I'm sticking with Winter Soldier because it has a few things going for it that I think those issues of Captain America featuring Steve Rogers never did.

Firstly, KISSING!

(that one's actually from the previous issue, but just try to tell me you're mad that I made you look at that again.)

One of the more interesting things about these comics, and I guess about the character of Bucky Barnes in general is his romance with Natasha Romanoff.  When you compare it to Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter, it's pretty similar in that neither Bucky nor Steve is known for being a swingin' bachelor or anything, but the difference is that no one who reads a Captain America book gives a shit about Steve and Sharon hanging out and finishing each other's sentences.  Seventy-ish years of Captain America stories about a man who embodies the ideals of a nation have sapped out much of the potential for a sexy Captain America story, or if not the potential for one, then at least the expectations for one.

Bucky, on the other hand, gets a little more flexibility in this regard.  Since Bucky doesn't have Seventy-ish years of comics about him (and also because once he came back into comic readers' collective consciousness he came back waving a giant "EVERYTHING YOU KNEW WAS MOSTLY CORRECT BUT YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THIS" retcon banner), there are less preconceptions about what to expect from stories about him.  Maybe Marvel missed a chance to have Bucky rolling around the Marvel Universe in casual sex mode, but the direction that we've got works in both a character sense and in a "we're owned by Disney lest we forget" sense.  Bucky's a one woman guy, and that's not gonna change any time soon, it seems, so Brubaker deals with it in a way I didn't really expect.  Bucky is a monogamous James Bond, and I like that just fine.  The romance between Bucky and Natasha is written as a relationship with two mature adults who've known each other for a while and who have come to a secure understanding about their relationship and their work. True, Bucky and Natasha are both people who shit where they eat, but they're superheroes, so it works out better for them and they look better doing it than any of us could ever hope to.  What I enjoy best about these two characters is how it's clear that they're at that point in their relationship where they are completely comfortable with each other.  Except instead of staying in and marathoning Six Feet Under they quietly infiltrate a secret super-gadget auction for criminals, and instead of being cool with being in the same room while the other pees, they're cool with watching each other shoot a dude in the chest.  We don't get that a lot in comics anymore, but it's good to know that if we get tired of it, Bucky can just up and trade his memories to Mephisto for a new arm or whatever.

The other thing that is really making this book click for me is Butch Guice and Bettie Bretiweiser's art.  I think there was a recent Captain America arc that Guice worked on where he was trying out his Steranko impression, and it seems that all that practice paid off.  Winter Soldier doesn't look entirely like a Steranko rip, but you can definitely see the influence bleeding through.  We get dynamic layout ideas, panel smashing, and some effective pop-art photo collage-type things.  I think Tessa best described the look as a stack of documents strewn about a secret agent's desk.  The action scenes are cluttered with tiny, misshapen panels that are interrupted by a bigger, borderless panel of a close up of the action (usually some hapless thug getting hit in the face).  It's a mess, but it's a rewarding one as Guice has an expert grasp on the speed of the moments that each panel conveys.  Once our heads finish reeling from all the dizzying gunplay and broken noses, the comic slows down with the talky, debriefing pages (read: exposition), and thanks to Guice and Breitweister, we get to look at stuff like this instead of just nodding along:

The panels in these sequences come at a very steady, measured pace, and the colors and all that spy-jargon-secret-eyes-only text reinforce the idea that this shit goes deep, which makes dialogue that boils down to "These are these guys we are looking for.  We should probably find them because this is the premise of the series" a whole lot more lively.  The Steranko influence goes a long way, but I think Guice and Breitweister have gone a little bit further in that they're completely aware of their Steranko leanings and they fully exploit them.  There are panels that look zoomed in to the point where brush strokes and Ben-Day dots are visible, and since this is a modern comic, all instances of brush strokes Ben-Day dots are of course entirely deliberate.  It makes these scenes look like they're about to collapse all over themselves, probably under the weight of carrying around Steranko's spy-pop on their backs.

Really the only bad thing about this comic is that I can't give my money directly to Jack Kirby's grave.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The State of The Death-Ray


We haven't updated Death-Ray Ozone in a while (sorry!), but I wanted to put something here to let you know that we're both still alive and blogging.

Over the course of the last couple of months, I've found myself fairly burnt out on the usual superhero comics that we tend to cover here at Death-Ray Ozone, so I decided to take a little bit of a break to explore what else is out there.  I'm still following a few superhero books, of course, but ever since December, I guess, I've been gradually cutting them out of my weekly routine, and replacing them with a bunch of books and mini-comics and creators that had previously only existed on the fringes of my comics-reading consciousness.  It's exciting, and it's a roundabout way of introducing what's basically just going to be a "here's some stuff I've been into lately" capsule-style review post, so, hey:

Here's some stuff I've been into lately that you should probably check out sometime:

Forming by Jesse Moynihan
This was probably the best thing that I'd read in all of 2011.  I picked up a copy of the print version of Jesse Moynihan's webcomic "Forming" at BCGF, and I fell in love with this book.  It's a sci-fi/spiritual creation myth told with bright colors, casual vulgarities, and meaningful scoops of violence.  Jesse Moynihan makes the exact comics I want to see in the world.  Be sure to check out "Cosmic River" as well for further examples of the comics I want in the world.

The comics of Michael DeForge
This dude knows how to make a comicbook.  Check out his series "Lose" and all the other anthology things he's been in.  He's doing this thing with his comics where he's fucking around with his styles, trying to figure out what works best as he goes along, and it's a thrill to watch each page sort of unfold into something so warmly bizarre.  It's like remembering the painful parts of your life with equal parts whimsy and body-horror.

As far as the independent comics creators and publishing goes, I've surmised that CF is probably the punkest dude in the scene.  CF is the kind of creator that makes things with his hands.  These comics people all do, but CF makes comics with warts and gnarled teeth out for everyone to see, making things as they come, the urgency of the idea coming through each line on the page.  CF's "POWR MASTRS" series is a good place to get a look at the energy that this guy has.  It's got a sort of futuristic fantasy type of tone to it, but the real magic of the series is that you really feel like you've been dropped right into the middle of this world.  You've got questions and you feel a little sick from the trip, sure, but more than anything, you're along for the ride.

The comics of Ryan Cecil Smith
Ryan Cecil Smith is making some of the most exciting and enjoyable mini-comics out there and they all look so pretty and precious, like delicate little comicbook gems, filled with space action fun and humor.  I'm talking about his "SF" series and the accompanying "SF Supplementary Files," of course.  Ryan Cecil Smith has made an excellent scifi adventure that just revels in the overexposed tropes of the genre to such a point where it goes beyond a level of parody to reveal instead a (mostly) unironic enthusiasm for the genre.  It's most especially clear that Smith loves these genre comics when he's doing straight-up retellings of manga classics (Check out "Two Eyes of the Beautiful" and "SF Supplementary File #2A-C."), and I think that's what I like most about his work: that his excitement and love for these stories sits there on the risographed print, inviting you in to see all the good that Smith sees in stories about space cops and murderous, beauty-obsessed film queens.  He also scores bonus points for printing out his own publication of Epictetus's "The Enchiridion," because, you know, why not print out your own publication of Epictetus's "The Enchiridion?"