Tag Archives: comics

Rom, Spaceknight

10 Aug

I’m not usually a nostalgic person, or maybe I just don’t usually allow myself to indulge my nostalgic longings; I’m not sure there’s even a difference between those two options. But lately, I’ve been a little more forgiving of the urge to take a retrospective glance. Last year I more or less deconstructed a jacket the way I would have in high school, and I’ve tried to recreate, or at least to re-enjoy some experiences– like the movie Repo Man— that were important to a younger me.

Ebay makes this kind of thing ridiculously easy, so I went online and bought up a run of issues of the Rom, Spaceknight comic, which I’d read some of when they were first being published– we’re talking 83-84 here; the run I bought covered issue 50 to the final issue, issue 75, missing issue 61 but including annuals two, three, and four. So far, I’ve read issues 50-65, and the second and third annuals. I don’t mean to be too precious, but it’s those issues, written, btw, by Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, that I want to talk about here.

These issues are taken up with three storylines, and the tail-end of one more– issue 50 is the conclusion of an earlier storyline about the final fate of Clairton, WV, where our heroes (Rom, Brandy Clark/ Starshine, and sadsack superhero Vortex) and their enemies (the Dire Wraiths, a group of shapechanging, magic wielding aliens) have come to fight it out. Issue fifty, as I suggested, resolves this storyline which had been building since I don’t know when because I hadn’t been reading those issues– Vortex dies, the Wraiths are routed, sort of, and the comic takes off in another direction.

First, then, the issues I read wage war on the Dire Wraiths, with actual military troops, and Rom shifts, somewhat inelegantly, into being something like a war comic, only one fought at the level of generals and war rooms– there’s a lot of talk about strategy, and the morality of letting earth people know they are under attack. These issues, to me, are kind of the weakest of the bunch, but it’s a short lived run, maybe till about issue #53.

After that, we shift to something more like a horror of the week approach– these issues see Rom and Brandy-Starshine confront the Wraiths in more direct terms, finding them out and trying to discover their plans. Here, the storylines are good– one about an attempt to poison Canadian waters that involves Canada’s finest superteam, Alpha Flight, leads naturally into a short run that included Ant Man as Rom is shrunk down to discover the threat of the Wraith’s poisons, etc.

It’s hard to describe how slightly off-genre these are for superhero comics, because they seem to hew pretty closely to the Kung Fu/ Hulk TV show mold, but when I was first reading these stories, they did feel different than, maybe, Spider-Man, who had a consistent setting and supporting cast. These comics eschew the kind of soap operatics (mostly) that the Marvel Universe thrived on, and replaced them with an appealing sense of dread– what are those Wraiths up to? And Mantlo et al didn’t reveal all quickly or easily; the big tip off even takes a while to come, issues after a young girl, who sees her family slaughtered in front of her realizes, through some complicated plot mechanics, that she shares the thoughts of the Wraiths and therefore knows what they are up to.

The third storyline I read has its own fancy name, Worldmerge, wherein it’s revealed that the Wraith plan, after being severely weakened by the previous storylines, is a last ditch attempt to win the day, by bringing their own world into our solar system where it will displace Earth. Or something. I’m missing the first issue of this storyline (#61) but it’s magic anyhow, so it doesn’t need to make a ton of sense. By the end of this storyline, issue #65, which switches back and forth between the surface of the Earth and orbiting the planet, all the Wraiths will be neutralized. The book as a whole ends ten issues later, with Rom renouncing his spaceknight powers and role; I don’t really remember why it takes ten issues to accomplish that, but I haven’t read those issues yet.

There is so much to say about the fifteen issues I have read that I wanted to lay out these basics, which is already too long, and then I’m going to drop in some additional posts, highlighting what I liked and what challenged me in subsequent posting. So, look out…

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Ms. Marvel #3 and Islamic Art

23 May

I should say up front that I am really enjoying the new Ms. Marvel series, primarily created by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona. It’s a witty take on teen superheroes and, though most of the writing about the series deals with the Islamic angle (and I’m adding to this), I think it’s got a lot of other things going for it, too. For example, Kamala’s shapeshifting powers are visually really weird, in a way that shapeshifting hasn’t been since the earliest adventures of the Fantastic Four (I remember reading an issue of that book as a kid and being sure that Reed Richards must be the bad guy because of the way he looked squeezing through a hole where a screw had been). I didn’t read Flight, Wilson’s earlier book, but I really really like what she’s doing with this book. And I remember Alphona as the artist on Runaways, but I can’t remember ever being as impressed with his work as I am here. It’s really stand-out stuff and I hope he starts getting some recognition for the work. That said, I thought the third issue was the weakest one so far, and it also provided us with the page I want to look at in this post, which is, well, weird. Here it is, from protagonist Kamala’s trip to the Islamic Masjid of New Jersey (aka the mosque her family attends):

ms marvel mosque

 

To me, at least, this page is kind of a mess of crossed lines. The first panel, of Kamala and her friend sitting on prayer mats, should be setting us up for what’s to follow: notice the way the sides of the rugs align with the sight lines of the characters, leading directly to us, inviting is to view them straight on.

But see what happens in the next panel? The rugs have pivoted, so that now the rugs point right to left (an awkward movement, given that traditionally panels run from left to right, so our characters are blocking the forward action of the panel). Also, note how the dialogue (and characters) are aligned, so that we read Kamala’s dialogue first, though that means we read from bottom to top, again a break with convention. Finally, note the screen on the left third of the page. The screen divides the women from the men in the Masjid, though it kind of gets lost in all the other horizontal and vertical lines on the page– the edges of the rugs, essentially, swallow the screen’s form.

Skip down a panel, and what was, in the first two panels, a relatively up and down, left and right series of lines becomes diagonal. I think it might be clever that the Imam is talking to the girls who are physically behind him (and behind the screen), making the panel border between the second and third tier the screen, if it weren’t for the break from left-right to the diagonal lines of carpet. It’s a nice idea, but it’s too much for my eyes to handle.

(The last tier works fine, I think:)

So what’s happening here? Alphona is a very solid storyteller, in general, but this page is, to me, kind of a mess. But I think it’s a mess in an interesting way. No doubt Alphona is aware of the way that Islamic art, while not always condemning it, eschews representational art. In the place of portraits, Islamic (and especially Arabic expressions of it) art focus on patterns and calligraphy. And I think that’s what Alphona is trying to do here: while the eye is confused reading this panel sequentially, I do think the patterns in the panels are great, or are at least something different for a comics page. Notice the work he puts into the carpet borders, the way he stacks them in and spreads them around. It’s really nice work, and what I take as its conscious intention to honor Islamic traditions really goes a long way toward making this comic seem special, to earn its bona fides.

Even though I found this page hard to read, it really impressed me– it feels like Alphona is really trying to honor the culture he is depicting, in a sophisticated way. I’m not sure it totally works yet, but I definitely want to see him work more in this direction in the future.