Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What I Am Reading - Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canalez and Juanjo Guarnido

I love Blacksad.  This is the second Blacksad book, which collects the fourth and latest story as well as a few back up strips and an in depth write up about the artistic decisions by artist, Juanjo Guarnido.  This volume isn't quite as robust as the first volume, but it's still a great read.

What I love about this comic is that not only is it a great throwback to classic noir storytelling, but it's also a throwback to classic comic tropes in that the characters are all animal people.  Using animals in place of people is such a great technique for conveying a massive amount of information in as short a space possible.  We, as people, ascribe natural attributes to animals that are largely universal across all cultures.  By casting different animals as different characters, the reader is instantly able to infer certain characteristics, which can also then be undermined.  It's an effect that cannot be achieved by simply drawing human beings.

Anybody who likes comics, who likes to see the true artistry of the medium, must read these books.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What I Am Reading - Breathers

Breathers by Justin Madson

I met Justin a few months ago in Chicago.  He's a very nice guy.  I've seen this book talked about in a few places around the web and I'm surprised I haven't seen it talked about more because I liked it a lot. 

Breathers is is a beautiful blend of indie drama and neo noir science fiction.  The story is told in small vignettes that follow a few different characters and how they get through their lives in a world where the air is poisonous to breathe.  This comic is light on text, more focused on the character's emotional drama than it is on the storyline.  It all plays well with Madson's cartooning.  The light line work combined with the stylistically long limbs give the characters a surreal, airless feeling.  They float on the page like their float through their lives.

This is a fantastic self published book.  You can purchase the 426 page collection here.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Character Study - Wolverine

I don't think I need to bother detailing the immense popularity of Wolverine.  He's the only X-Man to sustain a solo book for 20 years, appear in multiple team books on a monthly basis, and even appear in his own feature film.  Indeed, since the success of the X-Men films in the last ten years, the entire X-Men franchise has been reconditioned to revolve around him.  It is not uncommon to see books and cartoons titled "Wolverine and the X-Men".  So, how does Wolverine relate to the sexual subtexts of the X-Men?  Interestingly enough, I think he is the epitome of sexual frustration that goes along with puberty, being an x-men, and indeed the very concept of "being a man".

The two defining aspects of Wolverine are his violence and his romantic relationships.  His character is often  presented as being an old man, a mentor, or a warrior seeking peace of mind or forgiveness.  His mutant powers give him a much longer lifespan than the average human being, or mutant for that matter.  Though he may be older than the average X-Man (in theory they are teenagers), due to his mutant powers he can still metaphorically be considered an adolescent.  Her certainly exhibits adolescent tendencies, particularly in his love life.

Wolverine is completely masculine.  He is pure machismo and has no feminine qualities, though he will periodically try to learn them.  Wolverine is born out of the no nonsense, stop pussy footing around, be a man and get things done attitude that became very popular in American heroes after the Viet Nam War.  He was used as a contrast against Cyclops, who often struggled with the weight of responsibility that came with "being a man".  Wolverine had no such struggle with the concept and this was meant to be his weakness.  He embraces his masculine qualities with joy.  He's violent, insensitive, impulsive, stubborn, and emotionally stunted.  Over the course of the years he's grown to improve or subdue some of these various qualities, but Wolverine's story of redemption is constantly struggling with these demons.

As I say, as a result of being 100% masculine, Wolverine is consistently shown to have nothing but failed long term relationships with women.  I was going to make a list of all of Wolverine's past romantic relationships, but the task proved much too difficult.  Fortunately, his vast network of fans have already compiled such a list.  Looking through the list, you will see many names you recognize.  Though the lists also contains a lot of one night stands and in some cases joke or dubious hook ups, you will notice a repeating theme with all of Wolverine's love interests, particularly with the characters from larger stories or long term relationships.  The women Wolverine loves are either killed as a result of his ties to violence, or have rejected him as a result of him being an emotionally incomplete person.

To me, this perfectly encapsulates the turmoil of a teenage boy who is growing into a man.  Wolverine's powers allow him to heal from nearly any wound.  Physically, he is a peak man, strong and confident, not conventionally handsome but containing a musky mystique about him (sorry Mr. Jackman, you're too pretty).  He endures physical pain with an amazing stoicism and repeatedly accepts the responsibility and sacrifice that is expected of him.  Unfortunately, the one wound his powers can't heal is a broken heart.  Wolverine is often in spiritual turmoil, unable or unaware of how to deal with his emotional distresses.  As a result, he is in a constant state of sexual frustration, never able to find true love.

Wolverine's failed relationships are epitomized by two characters, Mariko Yashida and Jean Grey.   Mariko became the head of a Yakuza clan after Wolverine killed her father in an attempt to prove himself worthy to wed her.  Later, Mariko was poisoned and Wolverine was forced to mercy kill her.  Wolverine can't seem to separate his violence and his romance.

Conversely, with Jean Grey, she frequently wanted nothing to do with him, despite his being overprotective of her.  Through time, they developed a deep friendship, but more often than not Jean made it clear that Wolverine was not her idea of a suitable mate and that there were better candidates around.  Yet, he still pined after her, even questioning his own sanity for doing so.

If I had to psycho analyze Wolverine, I'd say he is sexually attracted to violence, or at least incapable of separating the two in his mind.  There was a short story written and drawn by Rafael Grampa that appeared in the recent anthology Strange Tales 2.  The story, titled Dear Logan, casts Wolverine and his enemies as professional wrestlers who kill each other in the ring to the cheers of the audience.  Wolverine receives a "Dear John" letter from his lover, explaining why she is breaking up with him, namely that he is a violent person who is using her as another outlet for violence in their masochistic relationship.  It is one of the single greatest Wolverine stories I have ever read and manages to completely sum up the character in 8 pages.

Wolverine started as a fairly superficial trouble making character, but very quickly grew to the deep analysis of young men, violence, and romance that he is today.  It is no wonder that he is now the face of the franchise.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Character Sudy - Gambit

Last week I talked about the sexual subtext in popular X-Men character Rogue; and you can't talk about Rogue without then talking about Gambit.  So, let's take a look at him.  He's one of the few X-men that has held a solo series for more than 12 issues and has appeared in many cartoons and video games.  Gambit as a character never really got a chance in the movie series, largely because his role as a mysterious troublemaker is already taken by the immensely more popular character, Wolverine, which I agreed with.  I initially didn't take to Gambit when he was first introduced in 1990 because he was largely derivative of Wolverine, in that he was a mysterious character with an unknown past.  But over time, Gambit was given a more distinct personality, his powers were developed a bit more, and he began an on again off again relationship with Rogue.

I never cared for the details of Gambit's shady past and was more interested in how he acted in a group dynamic.  The pairing of Gambit and Rogue was a pretty genius idea.  In analyzing Gambit's powers and the sexual subtext within them, we can see how well they compliment each other.  Rogue and Gambit are both strong characters by themselves, but when put together they support themselves as to make stronger characters out of each of them.  In a way, they are the perfect marriage of characters, ironic given that the cyclical nature of serial comics prevents them having a literal marriage.

Gambit has the mutant ability to charge the potential energy within any object, causing it to be unstable and explode.  This is his most visually distinctive trait, though if we look further we will see the subtleties of his powers and character.

If Rogue is the character that girls want to be and all boys want to be with, then Gambit is the character that all boys want to be and all girls want to be with.  Like Rogue, Gambit has a lot of masculine and feminine qualities.  The most distinctive aspect of Gambit's personality is that he's a real ladykiller.  He's a smooth talking Romeo that all the girls swoon over, and his powers and character reflect that.  Firstly, he's a professional thief.  He steals things for a living, especially girls' hearts.  In this way he's a romanticized boyfriend for young daydreaming girls, both attentive to their needs and ready to whisk them away on a whirlwind adventure.

The other extrapolation of Gambit's sexual powers is his hypnotic charm, which causes people to be susceptible to his suggestions.  This has been explained as saying he has the ability to "charge" the energy in people's brain, causing them to like him.  We can poetically describe this as a love touch.  Tragic then, that the man that can have any girl, falls in love with the one girl he can't touch.

Gambit and Rogue's powers provide the perfect amount of tension for two star crossed lovers:  Rogue, a girl who bathes in attention but longs for a lasting physical connection, and Gambit, the man who has seen the world and sown his oats but is drawn to the girl he cannot control.  They are the pinnacle of the societal ideal of the young, naive, virgin lady, and the worldly, roguish gentleman. 

Without Rogue, Gambit's character is kind of aimless, wandering through the X-Men franchise with little purpose or ambition.  Writers will try to trade in on his mysterious back story or his villainous past, but those aspects of the character don't hold much water.  People are drawn to the romanticism and drama of sexual frustration, and Rogue fills that position perfectly.