ENGL 108A Week 10: Ghost World, Hawkeye, and Disability in Comics

I really enjoyed the change of pace this week compared to our first few. Where we started off looking at some big-name, action-packed superhero comics, we’re now moving away from that fantasy world and towards one where we can be the superheroes. I love the everyday hero unit because we get to see how “normal” people and our “normal” lives are actually quite exceptional in all kinds of ways. Nobody’s life is really ordinary, and all of us can find something to relate to in these comics.

First, we looked at Ghost World. Man, that was depressing. It reminded me a lot of my own life and moving away from my life at home, coming to university and leaving behind my old self. In general it just kinda made me sad, but I loved the art style (minimal and iconic, but extremely expressive and powerful) and the writing. Great read.

Hawkeye was the highlight for me this week. I’d had a couple of opportunities to grab trades of this comic but passed it up because I wasn’t very interested in Hawkeye at the time. However, after reading even just this one issue, I’m hooked. I’ve always thought Hawkeye was by far the most relatable/personable of the Avengers, and I thought this comic (not #19 specifically, but as a whole) was really funny and entertaining because it really emphasizes this aspect of the character. I’m most familiar with the version from the movies, and scenes like the one from Age of Ultron where Hawkeye has to jog to catch up with everyone not only make the movies seem more realistic but also allow the audience to attach to/insert themselves into the world. I thought the art style was absolutely brilliant, with bold linework and minimal, generally monotone colour palettes somehow breathing a ton of life into the pages.

Finally, Dr. Gibbons’ presentation on disability was very interesting. For me, the topic is something that I had some level of awareness of but never put much thought into. I enjoyed learning about ASL, and the discussion of the Hawkeye issue was really cool. The list of disability tropes in media was probably the most interesting part to me, because it got me thinking about all of the different examples I could apply to the list – the one that came to me pretty much immediately was the movie Unbreakable, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, which fits into the “disabled = bad, able = good” category. The plot of the movie is essentially just that Willis’ character can’t be injured, he’s just invincible, and Jackson’s character is extremely frail and easily injured – one character cannot be disabled, and one character basically epitomizes disability. The movie explores how Willis’ character discovers and realizes his powers after a train crash and becomes a superhero, a good guy, while we find out that Jackson’s character is actually the bad guy. I just thought that this movie in particular captures what Dr. Gibbons was talking about quite well.

Alrighty, thanks for reading everyone, hope your end-of-term schedules aren’t too messy! Good luck on all your stuff.

Sincerely,

Dante

ENGL 108A Week 6: Planetary

First off:

Planetary was great.

I could end this there, but I think I’d be doing the book an injustice if I didn’t talk a bit about why exactly that is, so here we go.

The characters were marvelous. Never before have I seen such confident, unexcused storytelling, especially not in a comic book. For whatever reason, I’ve always taken the over-exposition of superheroes as a part of the package – everyone has a weird origin story of some kind (probably something to do with dead family), and its important to know who the character is before you can start moving. I was completely wrong, apparently. Planetary jumps right into the thick of this crazy unknown world that everyone is very familiar with except for the reader. All you know about the characters and what’s going on in the pages is exactly that: The stuff happening on the pages, right then, right there. You discover the characters through their actions, through their behavior, not through an exposition-drenched monologue at the start of the book that tells you how you’re supposed to perceive this world and its people. The reader gets to go on this ridiculous journey through a secret realm of the unseen along with Snow (who, by the way, you don’t know anything about either, but after the first issue you’re pretty sure he’s always chilly and that’s his gimmick), and you experience all of the wonder, horror, and weirdness as he does.

Aside from the character development being awesome, the characters also turned out to be really cool too once you discover who and what they are. Everyone is very interesting and has unique aspects about them (not only their powers, but also their personality traits) that make them valuable to the team or compelling to watch. When I first heard that our motley crew was a trio of a “strong lady”, a “temperature guy”, and, like the original pizza-eating turtle Donatello, a guy who “does machines”, my expectations were lowered a bit. Sure, those powers sound like they might be cool, but I was expecting this secret task force to be a bit more… Elite, y’know? Turns out all three of them are amazingly fun to read about. Their interactions with each other were funny and felt genuine, not forced, like some comics often exhibit. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and had a great time with these characters – not just the main three, but all of the supporting characters, too.

Lightning Round:

  • I thought the essences of each genre even only this first volume encompassed were captured and articulated flawlessly.
  • This is the first comic we’ve read in this course that I could easily see myself not only reading the rest of but also purchasing the physical versions of.
  • Art style bothered me a bit at first, but I came to really like it as I read. I feel like its very fitting for the story and well-coordinated, plenty of fantastic storytelling through the art alone in here.
  • Fun Fact: I’m 99.9% sure that “The Bleed” is a reference to a graphic design term, a “Bleed”. There isn’t a printer in the world that can print to the edges of a piece of paper, so what you have to do in order to get a full image is print it out on a larger piece of paper than the image and trim off the white parts – the white parts, the space between the image and the edge, is the Bleed. I think this a really cool analogy referring to the space between universes, the space between the panels in a comic, the parts outside our perception. Not entirely sure if that has story relevance, however, but the graphic designer in me was pretty happy about it.

Anyways, that’s all I’m willing to barf out for now, thank you so much for reading! Let me know what you thought about the comic, I’m really interested to hear about what other people interpreted from it and stuff.

Thanks again,

Dante Diaco

 

ENGL 108A Week 4: Black Panther

As has been and will continue to be tradition for these coming weeks, I didn’t know much about Black Panther before this week’s readings. I’m extremely excited for the upcoming film (that first trailer was amazing, super pumped) which is really cool, because most of my previous experiences with the character were quite uninteresting as he was mostly just a plot device – Wakanda and its vibranium are used pretty often in other comics and games and stuff like that – and an off-putting stereotype. The comic we read this week gave the character a much-needed refresher and an even more needed identity.

Something I found interesting about the comic was its focus on people driving the action of the comic, all of whom were characters we were actively following as the reader. As we were discussing the way Ta-Nehisi Coates wanted to emphasize the role of the people in his writing, I realized that there were also either zero or very few establishing or scenic shots throughout the books. Coates doesn’t care about the geography of Wakanda, he doesn’t care about the way it has been depicted throughout the years as being a “lush, marvelous jungle” or how it has, in the past, been intended to feel like a place away from society. Wakanda has always just been “that advanced African city”, and never a fleshed-out society. Sure, there was a bit of thought put into Wakanda’s government and the monarchy, how it interacted with the surrounding tribes, but nobody ever really cared about how Wakandans are supposed to be people too – as I said before, this place was just a plot point, part of Black Panther’s backstory and “the place with the vibranium”. Coates’ development of Wakanda as an imploding nation was excellent, and it focused on the important parts of this kind of societal collapse: The people, their feelings and emotions, their conflicts and desires. Basically I thought this was really well done and that Coates was an excellent choice to breathe some life into this character, he did an excellent job with the source material, which is pretty impressive considering his background definitely isn’t comic book writing.

Also, real quick, the art in this comic was really awesome. Excellent inks and colours by Brian Stelfreeze, he made everything look really cool. My favourite detail is probably the updated cat ears on the Black Panther costume – usually, they stick straight up like Batman’s ears do, but Stelfreeze made a great stylistic choice in letting them droop, giving them actual physics, as if they were real ears.

Thanks for reading everyone, please let me know what you thought about the book, the art, whatever you’ve got, I’d love to hear it!

Sincerely,

Dante Diaco

 

ENGL 108A Week 3: Ms. Marvel

Until this week, I knew very little about Ms. Marvel. I read Civil War II recently, and although I pretty much only actually collect Spider-Man comics, I like to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the rest of the Marvel Universe, so I was aware of Kamala Khan and the other All-New Avengers. That being said, I couldn’t say much about Kamala beyond “she has the same superhero name as this other character”. I’m a bit tentative when it comes to this new wave of heroes, mostly because I don’t like the idea of the originals being replaced. However, after learning more about what Kamala Khan represents and the ideology behind her writing, I’m a lot more open to exploring these new characters.

(Seriously, please stop trying to get rid of my favourite characters Marvel)

Ms. Marvel is a fantastic “Coming of Age” story. It begins with Kamala thinking very little of herself, resenting her strict parents and her religion, and trying to fit in with the “normal” people. But as Kamala begins to understand her powers and her responsibility with them (*insert Spider-Man quote*), she also begins to understand the world around her. She starts to realize that her parents really only want what’s best for her, and that she’s better than “normal” – she’s Kamala Khan, she’s a Muslim girl, and she can do some real good for her hometown. I think this comic does an amazing job at relating to its target audience – the kids Kamala’s age, or even just from her generation. G. Willow Wilson visibly understands what life is like for her audience, and has crafted a story that effectively empathizes with and illustrates the difficult, confusing world of recent generations. It isn’t afraid to throw punches where it needs to, either. The story could easily have gone with a more subtle and cerebral message, but Ms. Marvel is blunt and tackles the real issues that deserve to be criticized. They went all out with this comic, and it definitely paid off in the end.

The different art styles within the first and second volumes are okay, albeit mildly off-putting at times. That being said, it’s charming when it counts – I have a soft spot for Lockjaw, particularly. Yet even though it doesn’t completely vibe with me, it works for the subject matter, and I think that’s more important than specifically how it looks. The overall feeling and aesthetic of the comics work extremely well, and consistently allow the reader to communicate with Kamala’s world. I don’t have too much to say beyond that, I was not overly enthralled by the plot or anything (in fact, I thought it was pretty cliche in a few spots), but I believe the comic deserves the praise it’s received.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Dante Diaco

P.S.: Um… Did Kamala draw the lightning bolt on her costume with mustard? Like… A squirt bottle of mustard? Condiment Man would be proud, I guess.

 

 

 

ENGL 108A Week 2: All-Star Superman

I’m a big fan of the All-Star Superman animated film from 2011 (DC animated films are quite spectacular), but had never read the original book – same thing goes for The Dark Knight Returns, but that’s a post for another day – so I was excited to delve into the source material.

The main draw of All-Star Superman is that it presents the character in a new light: Superman is dying – for the first time, he’s mortal (although not in the traditional sense, as the cause for his mortality also makes him stronger than ever). In this comic, Superman is human. This Superman is a character that readers can empathize with and genuinely grow attached to. I’m not much of a Superman reader myself, but the pure concept of an invincible hero does not invite emotional attachment to create tension and drama within the story; if you know the hero is going to make it out alive anyway, you’re just turning the pages waiting for the good guy to win. There’s no drama there. The first half of All-Star Superman is dedicated to convincing the reader that Superman doesn’t make it out of this one, and I was enthralled by that looming sense of dread hanging in the air throughout these issues… Until the end of issue 6, where you find out Superman isn’t going to be dying anytime soon, at least not before 4500 A.D. That’s where the tension drops off, and its because Superman isn’t at risk anymore. I feel like the book would have been stronger if this was left to be revealed towards the end of the story.

All-Star Superman seems to be catered pretty much directly to long-time or at least seasoned Superman fans. I personally don’t know a whole lot about the character, so a lot of the references and allusions to Superman’s history and legacy were, for the most part, lost on me. Maybe that’s why I felt it was difficult to read in more than a couple spots, and maybe that’s why a few things didn’t really make any sense to me. Because I can pretty much guarantee that the book feels more cohesive and well-written if you’re an active Superman follower, I’m willing to overlook the problems writing-wise that I had with the comics. That being said there’s still stuff like Lex Luthor being allowed to have a laboratory in his prison cell (what?), or Jimmy Olsen somehow being able to fill in for Mr. Leo Quintum as director of the P.R.O.J.E.C.T. base that really threw me out of my immersion. I’m way into comics and fantasy worlds, don’t get me wrong, I love the escapism from reality, but there’s a reasonable limit for me when I see that kind of stuff in movies or comics.

Something that I originally had a problem with regarding All-Star Superman’s composition was the fact that I didn’t see much cohesion between the issues. I’ve thought about it for a while, and I think it does make sense for the book to fragment itself into an almost episodic collection of individual stories that combine to form this big celebration of Superman. Each issue deals with different messages and conflicts for Superman to deal with, and you’re left with a stunning illustration of the Kryptonian’s infinite quest for justice – at every turn, Superman does the right thing.

I’m going to finish this up before I inevitably start writing something that I wouldn’t be able to stop writing about. Brevity is key! Thank you for reading, and please let me know what you thought about the book!

Sincerely,

Dante Diaco