Bob's Comics Reviews December 2009 Arrows


It's been awhile, partly because I haven't been buying as many comics. I wasn't sure about these two for a long time, but then I realized that I've re-read them several times, which is a sign of quality.

Warren Ellis & John Cassaday : Planetary

Sometime in 1999, a cranky old man named Elijah Snow— who happens to have been born on the first day of the century, and can draw the heat out of objects, freezing them— is recruited to serve on a sort of archeological superteam called Planetary. His companions are a superpowered woman named Jakita and an information specialist called the Drummer.

They don't investigate ancient cities, but "the secret history of the world"— the hidden superteams and supervillains, extraterrestrials, monsters, and wonders we know from pop culture. Along the way Snow has to figure out what exactly Planetary is and what his companions are up to. The stories are also linked by an overall narrative, Snow's struggle against the ultimate conspirators, the Four, who consider themselves superhumans with no responsibility to their fellow beings. (One of the interesting moral points Ellis raises is, if any of these wonders existed, why are the superheroes hiding it instead of using it to improve the world?)

The individual chapters revisit old comics, but always with a twist— e.g. the Four are simply the Fantastic Four, only, well, evil. Other stories are modified by this... the analog of Wonder Woman, for instance, is assassinated by the Four.

The net effect is a combination of the sense of wonder with a certain elegiac tone— the loss of innocence, perhaps. It wouldn't work if the art wasn't up to it, but fortunately Cassaday's is— Ellis is better served here than in Transmetropolitan.

In some ways Ellis is covering the same ground as Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though without the slightly twee overachievement of the latter volumes of that series. Ellis focusses on one hommage at a time, and never gets campy.

On the whole I like this better than Transmetropolitan, in fact— it doesn't have the same anarchic sass, but equally it doesn't have that semi-adolescent urge to provoke. My one complaint is that Ellis doesn't much develop the secondary characters, Jakita and the Drummer. They're colorful but you hardly ever get their point of view.

Right now only 3 of the 4 volumes are out; apparently the last will come out in February 2010.

Justin Pierce : The Non-Adventures of Wonderella
Dana interacting with hoi polloi

I got pointed to Wonderella by Lore, and it's grown on me. Pierce also plays with the archetypes of pop culture, but for pure comedy.

Wonderella herself is a second-generation superheroine, and the usual joke is that ther character is the opposite of heroic: she's selfish, rude, ditzy, and shallow. She has dysfunctional relationships with her mother (the previous Wonderella), her sidekick Rita, her sister the nature goddess Penumbra, her doctor Dr. Shark, and a messed-up love-hate relationship with her nemesis Hitlerella. If she can be convinced to leave her easy chair, Wonderella sometimes saves the day, sometimes makes a fatal and stupid mistake that leads to terrible catastrophe... fortunately for her, these are quietly reversed before the next weekly strip.

Pierce has an unusual style, without outlines, that gives his strip an elegant, distinctive look.

It doesn't always work (sometimes it's just kind of silly), but at its best it hits a high note of acerbic, amoral surrealism, one where the superheroine proposes a coffee run in the middle of a bank heist and where supervillains have to return the inflatable gorilla by seven.

Plus she's on Twitter, so you can actually interact with and/or put the moves on a fictional superheroine.

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