This month Michelle catches up with vampires and vampire slayers with Buffy Season Nine and Angel & Faith, while Megan visits the Twilight Zone through Underwater Welder, and the trencoats-and-tentacles world of Fatale.
Welcome back to Not By Manga Alone!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine, Vol. 1 | By Joss Whedon, et al. | Dark Horse - After pretty much hating Season Eight by the end, I wasn’t sure I was going to bother with Season Nine. The completist in me couldn’t quit so easily, however, and I ended up tentatively checking out the first issue. It was loads better than anticipated, and so here we are!
This first collected volume includes the first five issues of the series, which comprise the four-issue “Freefall” arc and a oneshot entitled “Slayer, Interrupted.” The former introduces readers to Buffy’s new life in San Francisco, where she’s working as a barista and living with a couple of new roommates. Willow’s got a job as a computer programmer, and Dawn and Xander are trying to distance themselves from the supernatural element and move on with their lives. Buffy’s keen to have a normal existence, too, but soon finds herself a fugitive when some formerly vampire corpses turn up and she’s the prime suspect.
The plot here is not exactly exciting, but there are some good moments. Despite seeming somewhat younger than she did at the end of the TV series, Buffy feels more or less in character, especially when you consider that she’s finally free to act her age. At times, the dialogue seems a little too focussed on being amusing, but it’s hard to really complain about that. And if you’re a Spike fan and missed him in Season Eight, you’ll be gratified by his interaction with Buffy in these issues. You might, though, be a little bummed that Xander and Willow don’t seem to be playing much of a role in Buffy’s life these days. And you might be further bummed that Georges Jeanty’s art is still occasionally downright bad, including some abysmal renderings of Willow.
So far, Season Nine is a distinct improvement over Season Eight, but it isn’t perfect. And we haven’t even gotten to the controversial twists in the next batch of issues! Those will have to wait for next time. - Michelle Smith
Angel & Faith, Vol. 1 | By Christos Gage, et al. | Published by Dark Horse - I’ve always found Angel and Faith’s relationship to be a really interesting one. They’ve bonded over their search for atonement for past misdeeds and have seen each other at their worst. So it makes perfect sense that, after Angel does something terrible at the end of Season Eight (seriously, it’s impossible to avoid spoilers, so get out now if you don’t want to know!), Faith is the only one who cares enough about how it affects him to stay by his side.
I have to say… I really love this series. It is, by far, the best Buffy comic I’ve ever read. There are a few reasons for that. Time for a list!
It’s got a cool premise. Angel and Faith are now living in London, following up on cases from Giles’ journals. Angel has gotten it into his head that he’s going to bring Giles back to life, and Faith is torn between supporting someone who’s been there for her in some terrible moments and stopping him from committing a tremendous mistake.
Tighter focus than other Buffy comics. There’s no obligation to include half a dozen recurring characters (though a fluff piece about Harmony is included here) and therefore no grumblings when they appear to receive short shrift.
Faith is really a terrific character. She has matured so much, and has several great lines of dialogue as she confronts this realization, like, “I’m the — what? You’re kidding, right? If I’m the grownup, we’re screwed.”
The art. Hallelujah, Faith is free from the mangling inflicted upon her by Georges Jeanty. As drawn by Rebekah Isaacs, Faith not only looks as lovely as Eliza Dushku, but she’s expressive in ways Jeanty could never dream of achieving.
In short, this comic is great. Even if you hated Season Eight and even if you have no interest in Season Nine, Angel & Faith is still worth your time. - Michelle Smith
Underwater Welder | By Jeff Lemire | Top Shelf – I heard a lot about this book before I read it. That’s what happens when you go to a ook launch cold. Lemire talked a lot about process (did you know he redraws every panel, rather than scanning and editing? take note, tracers), and a lot about how hard it is to find time to work on passion projects. Underwater Welder is four years in the making. Lemire made substantial changes to the plot and character designs along the way, and it all pays off. Underwater Welder is a weirdly pretty book. It’s also a smart one, tightly written and illustrated. There are no unnecessary panels, few misfires, and no dropped threads. This is 220 pages of wrung out coming of age, through a glass darkly.
In the introduction, Damon Lindeloff says that Underwater Welder is akin to one of the great Twilight Zone episodes, and man is he right. (All the cool reviewers are saying so!) Jack, our eponymous (literal) welder, is an expectant father with daddy issues grounded in real tragedy. When Jack was a boy, his father went diving one Halloween night and never came back. Jack was left waiting, and he’s never stopped waiting. With a baby on the way, and the looming promise of being dry docked while waiting out an injury and parental leave, things come to a head. Spoiler alert! Jack goes diving, and with the help of a lost and found pocket watch, things get weird. Jack gets the time and space, in the form of an emptied out town gone moebius strip, to work out those issues. And, you know how these things work, soon enough it becomes obvious that working things out is necessary to his ever getting home. This is a really spare narrative. It feels about as long as an hour long tv episode, quickly sketched, and full of supporting characters who I wish we’d had more time with. The focus is strictly on Jack and his dad, with the slightest detour for Jack’s wife and his mother. Jack’s wife is a latter days addition–Lemire originally intended her role to be filled by a male friend–and while it’s a smart choice, I still wish she’d gotten more page time.
Fundamentally, Underwater Welder is about fathers and sons. Jack and his dad are allied actually and thematically, even with Jack’s dad dead or MIA for most of the book. They both love the water, need the water, and are disconnected from the ordinary because of it. The demands that Jack’s wife and mother put on him have some weight, but once he’s in the water, they’re lifted. But only for a while, because this is a coming of age story. Specifically a coming into fatherhood story. Jack’s task, the thing he’s got to work out during his supernatural time out, is to be the man and the father that his own father never could be, and to be the one he should and needs to be. Lemire and his wife were starting their own family while he worked on the book, and that gives the book some of its weight and purpose. Lemire is nothing like Jack, but Jack’s journey is, supernatural experiences aside, an utterly ordinary one.
At the talk, Lemire mentioned that he’s one of those artists who can’t look at old work. The increase in skill from Essex County (nominated for everything, a few years back) to Underwater Welder, is pretty obvious. It’s a tighter, prettier, and more thoughtful book. The mix of scratchy figures and wide expanses of dreamy wash are, you know, Lemire’s thing, but also a wonderfully useful tagteam for storytelling purposes. This is a book where art and layout always perfectly in tune with story. The town is characterized by claustrophobic grids of same size panels; the ocean by splash pages. It’s considered, and arresting, and makes the book an even better read. – Megan Purdy
Fatale Vol. 1 | By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips | Image – I’m a trade waiter, so I do a lot of breathless waiting. But this is a Brubaker and Phillips book, and as they say on Tumblr, my feels, let me show you them. I discovered Brubaker through Catwoman, rediscovered him through Captain America, and then, adoration cemented, I started in on his creator owned stuff. His work with Phillips is by now effortless. They’ve been teaming up regularly since 2003, when they started on Wildstorm’s (underrated and unread) superheroes-and-spies limited series Sleeper. In 2006 they gave us the critically acclaimed (and adored by Megan) crime drama Criminal, and in 2008 the superhero/pulp mashup Incognito, and now there’s Fatale.
The pitch everyone gives for this series is that Fatale is cthulhu noir, and, wow. Ok. Who needs a review, right? Trench coats and tentacles. Cthulhu noir. It’s a perfect premise, but does it work? Kind of.
Fatale Vol. 1 is strictly an introductory book, but because it’s dominated by a flashback and has an ending bereft of pressing questions, it’s hard to know where the series will go next. It’s a weak first volume that focuses on premise and feeling more than character, to the extent that it’s hard to get a handle on any of them. Will Dominic, the male lead of the flashback sequence, be back? I don’t know. Do I care about what’s going on with Nick, the male lead of the framing story? Not really. Who is Josephine, the female lead of both stories, aside from the femme fatale to end all femme fatales? I’m not sure. But so far, she’s the only character I’m interested in seeing more of. The hook here is all in the what, rather than the who.
Fatale opens with Dominic’s funeral, and Nick standing over his grave. We learn that this man’s only friend, Nick’s father, is now institutionalized. We meet Jo, a beautiful woman with a past. Nick finds an unpublished manuscript, shots are fired, the caper begins. Soon we’re thrust back in time to Dominic’s own adventure, the story on which Nick’s newfound manuscript is based, but there’s a thematic disconnect. The opening is straight up noir and with the move to Dominic’s story, there’s a sudden genre shift into a Lovecraftian thriller. Things play out for Dominic more or less as you’d expect. And the volume closes with Nick, now looking for Jo. It’s a poor introduction in the sense that it’s all introduction. The volume feels unfinished, and doesn’t stand on it’s own. The framing story drags down the flashback. The flashback doesn’t pay enough forward to make the framing story intriguing. Neither part serves the other, and the sum of it is like, ok, that was a thing that happened. And while I want to know what happens next, don’t need to know–I’m not hooked. I’ll keep reading because Brubaker and Phillips have yet to fail me, but I wonder if another reader, one who isn’t already a fan, would make the same choice. Nick and Dominic are dull everymen, and while desperate, cursed Josephine has enough ruthlessness to be interesting, I’m not sure if she’s interesting enough to to carry the book. Premise and setting are doing all the heavy lifting so far. The villain and his minions, the crooked cops, the looming horror of elder gods, face tentacles–they’re where Fatale shows real energy.
Unsurprisingly, Phillips does good. The art is stylish and expressive, and there’s not much more I can say on that subject, other than a greater visual distinction between past and present would have given Brubaker’s script some more oomph. As it is, it’s a matter of period details (clothes, buildings), rather than a sense of visual character that divide the two parts of the book.
I can recommend Fatale, but mostly on the merits of the team’s previous work, and the expectation that it’s going to get better. As it is, this volume was a bit of a disappointment. – Megan Purdy