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God of Comics – The Woods #36

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 11, 2017

The Woods #36 (BOOM! Studios)

It’s funny. This comic started at about the same time I started doing God of Comics, I think. It’s been a journey – a good one, a tragic one, a path that has let those who walked it be and do many things. Secrets were revealed, possibilities explored. And now – like all the best stories – it’s coming to an end.

We’ve talked before about how good this series is. We’ve done individual issues and the series as a whole, done podcasts, articles, even live events where we’ve spoken about how cool the Woods is and why you should read it.

So, one more time: the Woods is the creation of writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas. It’s about a high school in the middle of the American wasteland being transported to some place other, a fantastic alien landscape that they have tried to navigate. The kids quickly realized that the adults in their lives did not hold the answers and that if they were to find salvation they were going to have to do it themselves.

Which is not to say that this has been easy. People have died. One of the faculty tried to enforce martial law. One of the students made deals with nations he didn’t understand and learned how small he was and how vicious he wasn’t. A genius learned the limits of his intelligence and the price of loneliness.

And one person – one single child – fought to do right by everyone, driven by guilt and fear and eventually by understanding. She’s become the hero of this piece in a way no one would have thought possible in the beginning, but the real trick for her will be going home. How does one walk out of the woods when one has been changed by them so dramatically?

The answer is a simple one: not alone.

If you look at any single issue of this comic you can see the groundwork for everything that came after it, every bit of writing James Tynion has done since. It’s emotional gut-punch after emotional gut-punch, but it also realizes that nothing ever ends. We get glimpses of story, glimpses of people – aftermath is sometimes not the end and cannot be, because what could possibly follow what came before the moment of release?

There’s no aftercare here. There is only an ending, and it is enough.

Michael Dialynas’ art was superb, a collection of weirdness that felt cohesive and ran on a logic that could be grasped if one took the time to notice all the small details. And they are worth noticing, the nuance of expression and direction of eyes, the subtle cues of body language for characters and shading in the world around them. He brought this story and everyone in it to life, gave us an entire world that was like nothing any of us could have ever expected.

Bravo, both of you. Every single issue has been a genuine pleasure.

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God of Comics – Eugenic #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 3, 2017

Eugenic #1 (BOOM! Studios)

In case it wasn’t clear, we’re kinda fans of the horror genre.

Horror as a whole slides under the radar of a lot of people, who dismiss it as meaningless drivel, but the genre as a whole speaks candidly about the era from which it comes. From fear of nuclear annihilation to crime to death, horror tackles the cold sliver that works its way into every world, every time, and it looks unblinking into the eyes of anyone that dares to look into it.

Yes, horror is scary. It’s full of dread, a sick sense that something has gone very wrong. When done well, it pokes holes in the lying morality of the world and murders the illusions we use to make ourselves feel better. Horror tackles every shadowed corner we don’t want to look at and spits at our fear of doing so. It has no time for polite society, and less for the quiet deceits we use as security blankets in our daily lives.

The trick in writing horror well is to stay true to the story and the theme. Original flavor Death Note, for example, works because the villain is the charismatic leader of his school, the well-adjusted cop’s son that everyone looks up to and expects great things from. The Netflix version fails because it takes that villain and reduces him to an outcast, then deduces him further by taking away his brilliance and agency and giving it to someone else.

It’s an excuse. It’s a lie. It’s the sort of failure you’ll never get from a story written by James Tynion IV.

James has a close relationship with horror: he’s written tales steeped in the chilling shivers from the very start. We’ve waxed long and deep on the Woods, an utter masterpiece in storytelling, but also on his work with UFOlogy, Constantine, Detective Comics, Batwoman… horror seeps its way into everything he writes, gropes with terrible intent through his stories towards the reader, and Eugenic looks to be the next step in that strange labyrinth.

Here, we are given a world ravaged by plague. People the world over are dying, helpless before a microbe that renders all humankind has wrought to nothing… until a single scientist comes up with a cure. He distributes his findings and humankind is saved, but then the people who took the cure have children and the children, well, the children are born different.

Mutants, but not the kind with powers. Disfigured and horrific, the cure has changed humanity into something it was never meant to be.

James brings artist Eryk Donovan over from his time on Constantine, inviting him to dig deep into the disturbing, the troubling, the monstrous. We’re going to get into some serious body horror here, kids, so this is not for the squeamish, but if you dig, say, American Mary, you’re going to love this.

Get in now, and remember: Happy Halloween.

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God of Comics – UFOlogy

God Of Comics, Reviews

August 10, 2015

We’ve talked about how derisive people can be when talking about genre books before. There’s a dismissive attitude when it comes to science fiction or fantasy, which has more to do with the simplicity of the critique than the simplicity of the narrative.

Sort of like what happens with comics, really.

Fantasy and science fiction drive culture forward. Fantasy attacks the rose-colored myths of nostalgia while also exploring the ethics and politics of nations and small communities. Science fiction looks at responsibility and the possibilities of technology, while also exploring the ethics and politics of self and expansive empires. Fantasy tends to look inwards, science fiction outwards. There’s a lot to be said for both.

And when one manages to combine the two, one ends up with something very much like UFOlogy.

UFOlogy is a comic book series that deals with concepts of disappointment and terror. On the surface, it’s about two children who witness an alien presence, one of whom is touched by that presence and the other of whom would like to be.

The first of our protagonists is Becky, an impossibly gifted girl who would rather live an ordinary life. She’s the old Greek ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body, but is very aware that her talents are likely to take her away from her family and home. She’s not interested in going anywhere, so she’s been careful to stifle herself, careful to be ordinary.

ufology 001

She is not amused that someone would point out to anyone how gifted she actually is.

Exceptional people often suffer; there’s a crab-bucket mentality that has been fostered by a faux-capitalist paradigm, an idea based on ripping individuals apart rather than building a better life together. Scarcity economics demands that there be only a limited amount of wealth and opportunity, and Becky is wise enough to see that trap and try to avoid it.

Better an ordinary life where no one tries to destroy her, rather than an exceptional one where people line up to drive the knives in.

Proof of concept can be found in Malcolm, the other protagonist of this story. Malcolm knows that aliens exist due to experiences he’s already had, experiences the adults in his life have lied to him about and tried to downplay. He’s devoted his life to this denied truth, though, and has suffered ostracism for it in the past and derision in the present. He is tolerated, people dismissing him as a harmless eccentric, and listen to exactly nothing of what he has to say.

The two of them know one another from school, the setting of UFOlogy being the small town of Mukawgee, Wisconsin. It’s one of those off-the-main-road places where everyone knows everyone else and gossip spreads like wildfire, those places in the United States that drift after the progress of bigger cities, but still aspire to be like the best of them.

We learn about both of these characters from the people around them: Becky hasn’t done as good a job of hiding as she’d like to think, and Malcolm is a barely accepted oddity. The former is being pressured to go live up to her potential without anyone asking about the fears that cross her, while Malcolm is politely ignored.

And then: aliens.

The aliens here are presented as something strange – they clearly have goals, but have no interest in explaining what those goals are. The changes they inflict on people are sometimes by accident and sometimes by design; they’ve impacted Malcolm already, and are the reason for his strangeness. He’s dedicated himself to knowing them, communicating with them, and when he finally comes face-to-face with them they ignore him completely.

Instead, they interact with Becky.

What? You expected aliens to speak English?

What? You expected aliens to speak English?

The person who wants them and is prepared for them, they ignore. The one that wanted to be left alone can’t be any more, as whatever the aliens have done to her has changed her in ways that only Malcolm understands. The two of them are forced to work together, and a lesser tale would focus on that difference as a point of conflict.

UFOlogy goes in a very different direction. There is a sense of disappointment from both characters, and the both have to deal with that individually. They do, come to the realization: the things they want are best found in one another rather than themselves, but they’re also able to recognize that their ideal is hell for the other person.

They rely on one another, support one another, and get ready to go out and confront the aliens and figure out what’s going on. They’re forming a fast friendship, relying on one another and the strengths they both have to offer the other, and they’re stronger for it.

Malcolm is a rebellion against the lies of the past while seeking out the truth of it. He deals with small town politics and the ethics that adults use to justify lying to children, especially when those children have been touched by things that the adults don’t understand. Malcolm looks to his family, and when they can’t give him what he needs to builds a new one, finding a sibling in Becky.

Becky looks at the cold responsibilities that come with her gifts and what the world would expect of her and says no. She wants to control her life, not be forced to live up to the expectations of those that would just as happily rip her apart. She has to wrestle with her own ethics because of this, while also rejecting the political demands of the nation-state she lives in. She looks outwards and finds nothing she wants, and seeks to deny this latest affront to her goals through kinship with the one person able to see her for who she is: Malcolm.

Neither wants what the other craves, and so they are able to see one another and help one another.

There’s a lot to be said for both.

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