Beating Panels #7

As is traditional, here is a shop with a pun in its name.

And here is Beating Panels, a blog about a few of this week’s comics that also has a pun in its name.

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Beating Panels #6

As is traditional, here is a shop with a pun for a name.

And here is Beating Panels, a blog about comics that has a pun for a name.

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Beating Panels #5

The rule is that if you come up with a name for something that is also a pun you must create that thing. Hence:

And also hence: Beating Panels, my thoughts on a few of this week’s comics with some pictures of the panels to accompany them, get it — panels. Genius.

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Beating Panels #4

Here is a shop with a pun in its name.

And here is this week’s instalment of Beating Panels, where I read some new comics and have extremely complicated thoughts about them.

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Beating Panels #3

It’s that time again, by which I mean it’s time for two things. Firstly: PUN BUSINESS.

Secondly: Some comics I read this week and the half-baked thoughts I had about them.

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Beating Panels #2

If you come up with a pun that would make a good name for something, you have to follow through and create that thing, no matter what. Here is an example of that rule in glorious action:

These men are the real heroes.

Which brings us to Beating Panels, which is what I call it when I read some new comics and have some thoughts about them.

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Beating Panels #1

If you come up with a pun that would make a good name for something, you have to follow through and create that thing, no matter what. Here is an example of that rule in glorious action:

Which brings us to Beating Panels, which is what I call it when I read some comics and have some thoughts about them.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1

Len Wein, Jae Lee (DC)

Like I’ve said once or twice before, filling in the gaps of a story as connected and complete as Watchmen is madness. Here’s more proof, another retelling of a chunk of backstory that the audience already knows, retold at a slower pace without adding anything of particular value while sometimes awkwardly borrowing whole chunks of dialogue from original author Alan Moore.

I’m sure he’d be flattered.

Meanwhile, in the two-pages-at-a-time pirate comic that’s been running as a backup through all of the Before Watchmen miniseries, our tormented sailor is adrift after a shipwreck, dealing with a shark and the dead body of a crewmate. Even here it’s repeating plot points from Watchmen.

Baffling.

Castle Waiting Volume 2 #17

Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)

Part of the standard advice given to fiction writers is “kill your babies” – meaning that even if you like certain ideas, if the story doesn’t need them you should cull them ruthlessly. Another part of that standard giftbox of advice is to be mean to your characters, because struggle is interesting and conflict creates drama.

Castle Waiting pokes its tongue out at such advice. The castle of the title is a safe place where refugees dramatic conflict, including several escapees from fairytales, can live in peace. It’s a place where even a nun and a demon find common ground.

 

The tone is calm, the pace is sedate. In this issue someone learns to read, gifts are given, goodbyes are said and a room is decorated. It’s as joyously domestic as every scene involving food in a Studio Ghibli movie.

I’ve enjoyed and will continue to enjoy plenty of stories in which Our Hero goes through hell, but after a while too much of that can feel like manipulation. “Here is a character whose life sucks so much that you sympathise out of pity so that I, the writer, don’t have to do any of the hard work of characterisation.” Good job, writer!

Louise Medler has written an antidote to that, showing that another way is possible. Maybe once in a while we could try raising some of our babies instead of killing them, says Castle Waiting.

DIAL H #3

China Miévelle, Mateus Santolouco (DC)

(Yep, Dial H is written by the same China Miéville who wrote King Rat, The Scar, The City & The City and so on, and could totally beat you up.)

Part of the appeal of having an entire universe full of superheroes is that the corners of that universe inevitably become full of half-baked characters, the kind you get to focus on in The Tick or Nextwave – outrageously silly creations who have probably been put to page because their creator observes the rule of following through on punning names. Dial H is full of those characters, all shouting their gloriously daft names as they appear.

 

It’s about a Joe Ordinary guy who discovers a phone booth that turns him into a superhero when he uses it, but not into the same hero each time. In the first three issues he’s transformed into a giddy variety of characters (you have no idea how much I want to see him become the ‘Shamanticore’ from a one-panel cameo in issue #2 again) while trying to protect his friend, a low-level thug whose gangmates have turned on him.

This issue sees Dial H spiral from that beginning into something deeper, more conspiratorial, full of lies and a brief diversion into the history of the telephone. (This isn’t from the comic, but did you know the original phones didn’t ring? People just had to walk past them periodically and pick them up to see if anyone was on the other end of the line. Imagine.)

Dial H could go anywhere from here. I’m convinced it’s going somewhere interesting. I say that partly because the set-up is being handled well, and partly because I really liked King Rat, The Scar and The City & The City and China Miéville could totally beat me up.

Uncanny X-Men #15

Kieron Gillen, Daniel Acuña (Marvel)

This one of those table-clearing issues where a bunch of things are set to one side in scenes that helpfully summarise previous events (those happening in the current Avengers Vs. X-Men crossover) before the places can be set and the tablecloth spread for the meal to come (a big old fight with the diabolical Mister Sinister in his underground recreation of Victorian London).

It’s building anticipation like the trilling of the treble before the bass drop comes along and melts your face off and it’s doing it with both gusto and the kind of care you associate with setting up all the pieces for the kind of sprawling board game that takes up your entire table, and now I have used three different analogies to describe this issue so I should probably stop.

I am looking forward to seeing what happens next and that is exactly what this kind of issue exists to do.

Also: The to-the-point description of Psylocke on the intro page always cracks me up.

Beating Panels #0

There’s apparently a rule that if you think up the perfect punning name for something, you have to create it. It’s the only possible explanation for this:

When I realised “Beating Panels” would be a good name for a comic book blog, I had to follow through. It’s the law. Plus, Colin Smith can’t cover everything by himself. So here is what I read this week and what I thought about it.

 

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1

J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert (DC)

You can see why DC thought Watchmen prequels were a good idea. Watchmen has so many flashbacks it’s basically pregnant with backstory, so why not go back to witness the moment of insemination? That is a terrible metaphor, I’m sorry, but as it happens it’s also a terrible idea.

Nite Owl #1 shows us young Dan Dreiberg becoming the superhero we all know and chuckle at the impotence of in Watchmen. There he’s a middle-aged schlub, a doofus in an owl costume who surprises us with his competence. Seeing young Nite Owl Batmanning it up undercuts that in an odd way.

We also see Dreiberg meeting Rorschach for the first time. Writing a broken character with hidden trauma on the verge of becoming an existential black hole like Rorschach would be a challenge. Or you could just have him say “Hurm” twice per page.

Even Charles Dickens would say this is over-reliance on a vocal tic in place of characterisation. If Dickens travelled through time to read bad superhero comics, that is.

FF #19

Jonathan Hickman, Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)

FF is not Marvel’s guide to which comics artists you should follow on Twitter (@mckelvie). It’s a Fantastic Four spin-off about the adventures of Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s genius super-kids, Valeria and Franklin, and their class of super-kid buddies. It dovetails with the regular Fantastic Four comic, showing what crazy hijinx the kids get into while, for instance, their parents are busy saving the fictional African nation of Wakanda. 

The hijinx include finding a dead body.

Because FF is the kind of comic that tells kids’ stories for an audience largely consisting of childless thirtysomethings who watch Adventure Time (i.e. me), it does this odd thing where it combines the innocence of children’s fiction with grown-up elements that only maybe Roald Dahl would get away with. It’s probably best not to dwell on that too much because FF is fun from beginning to end, and it’s not like The Hunger Games was only consumed by Authentic Young Adults so maybe we should just admit that the tropes of kids’ stories have a strong appeal for adults who like literary slumming.

Like readers of superhero comics.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 2009

Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout)

When The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen started it was about the protagonists of various Victorian-era fictions teaming up to battle villains from Victorian-era fiction – people like Dr Jekyll and the Invisible Man going up against Fu Manchu. It was a solid pulp adventure riddled with clever references to its sources.

From that beginning, it’s become an extrapolation of an entire history of Earth populated by characters from works of fiction. Now we’re up to the year 2009 in that universe, so there are cute bits of news in the background like President Palmer (from 24) blaming the recession on the Bartlett administration (from The West Wing), but promising that his taskforce will solve this problem the same way they solve every problem – in 24 hours. Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It shows up as well.

That’s just background detail, though. The actual story spends most of its time with old members of the League who’ve outlived their stories – Mina Harker from Dracula and Allan Quatermain from King Solomon’s Mines, both having drunk from the fountain of youth, accompanied by Orlando the gender-flipping immortal from Virginia Woolf’s book of the same name. Each League story after the first has followed a similar pattern, with a shrinking cast of out-of-time characters realising that the problems of each strange new era are ones they’re not equipped for.

I’m getting a bit sick of it.

To completely spoil the ending – because the Independent, Entertainment Weekly and a dozen other places have beat me to it, though stop here if you don’t want to know – the villain of Century: 2009 is Harry Potter, who is also the antichrist. He’s defeated by Mary Poppins, who is if not God then certainly a god. That is really, honestly, what happens in this book.

If you didn’t know Captain Nemo from 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, when you read the first volume of League you got to know him because he was right there in page after riveting page. But Potter and Poppins as they’re used here aren’t characters, they’re plot devices. If you’re not already invested in these specific interpretations of them – if you didn’t notice that Mary Poppins came from the sky and had limitless, reality-altering powers and think a stoner-ish, “Hey, what if…” – then this ending to Century will seem like a daft deux ex machina.

If you are the right kind of reader, I can see the appeal. Jess Nevins and the Mindless Ones are already annotating and dissecting it, because there’s certainly a lot here for the trainspotter. And if this was a buddy comedy about Malcolm Tucker and Josh Lyman, I’d probably be right there with them.