Saturday, September 24, 2016

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING by Alan Moore Volume 1

"It seems where demons fail and monsters falter, angels may prevail."

I'm coming to this version of Alan Moore's the Swamp Thing without any knowledge of his original creation by Len Wein, except of course with the brief appearances he had made during the Jamie Delano for Hellblazer: John Constantine. That being said, it had been a neat introduction to a comics icon. It was a rather baffling start at first, but one that is also beguiling enough to see through its finish. 

This first volume had tons of spectacular potentials to be the masterpiece that I sure hope it would become by the next volumes. There are four volumes of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing to look forward to reading, but for now I will content myself with the fact that I was able to read this installment which wasn't anything that I expected it to be. Monster stories, especially those steeped in classical roots, have been a lost art especially with the kind of horrors my generation respond more to. 

The Swamp Thing, however, at least in this Alan Moore version, can still live up to its reputation and capture the imagination. As the titular character, he demonstrates enough grit and depth to qualify as a thing of horror that could haunt you as a reader. But he is also a misunderstood creature trying to restore his humanity, clinging to a semblance of a series of fragile connections with others who may be just as lost and desperate as he had been ever since transforming into this wretched beast he never asked for. 

It's a familiar trope and symbolism that Alan Moore, as one of the most celebrated comics writers ever, refurbishes into something uniquely intimate for readers. I for one appreciated it for its plentiful charm. Before there was a Swamp Thing, there was only a man named Alec Holland who got into an unfortunate accident as well as one who is bereaved by a wife whose loss left a decisively permanent mark on his psyche and eventual ghoulish persona. I really do not know enough of Len Wein's original version to contrast it from Alan Moore, but from what I can discern, his version of the Swamp Thing opens the possibility that perhaps Alec Holland is truly no more, and he is just a hollow shell built around the ghost of this man he is trying so hard to become. That is the core of Swamp Thing's journey as a character in this first volume; he is trying to adjust and recalibrate his sense of identity and the ultimate invalidation of it. 

Some things about his conception as the Swamp Thing were also tackled.

I don't want to give any more specific spoilers but I did enjoy the arc about Wood-Rue, and his manipulation of Swamp Thing so he can unleash his radical environmentalism villainy on every human on earth, with the false belief he is the representative of the oppressed Mother Nature. I thought this particular arc was engrossing more so because it was a good character portrait and contrast between Swamp Thing and Wood-Rue. The latter truly believes he was doing the right thing while the former rediscovers why he must evolve from a simple, negatively perceived monster, and how to do things right not because he wants to reclaim his humanity, but because one's actions already testify to his or her humanity. Swamp Thing learns this through his encounters with Wood-Rue, and by reconnecting with an old friend, Abigail.

Another thing I enjoyed the most about this volume are the illustrations done by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Some of their panels have been really creative and cool to look at, especially the full-paged panels. I thought their choices of layout and the details they put in drawing characters were a worthwhile visual adventure that complemented Moore's literary voice throughout this first volume. The colors have mostly bright hues which are a feast to the eyes. They definitely enhanced my enjoyment for the stories. 

My personal favorite is the one below:

I think it's also worth mentioning that I found an interesting allusion between this version of Swamp Thing to Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. Perhaps it's because both suffered a sense of disconnect and detachment from their previously held identities, and much like watching Capaldi Doctor find himself again as a new kind of hero in Series 8, I was also reading Swamp Thing embrace that whoever he was--that creature clinging to his lost humanity--should be left by the door for good so he can move on to better things. He and Capaldi Doctor little by little start to grow and accept that they don't have to be anyone's version of what a hero or monster people perceive to be; they only have to be what they are willing to achieve, and willing to evolve into. Abigail for me plays the companion Clara to Swamp Things's Twelfth Doctor, given that she seems to anchor him to the person he used to be (Alec Holland), while also accepting that he could never become that person again--but at least she is comforted by the knowledge her friend will be happy again, like Clara was for Twelve by Last Christmas.

That panel reminded me of the scene where Twelve asked Clara if he is a good man, and by the end of Series 8 he finally decides that he wants to be. Abigail inquiring for Swamp Thing's identity and then asking next if he is happy was a nice touch of poignancy because Swamp Thing shows her that he is content now of the creature he has decided to become from now on. Abigail is joyous as well and they celebrate it with a hug. Maybe it's really just the nerdy biases of the Doctor Who fan in me, particularly as one who adores the Twelve-Clara dynamic, but I can't help but see these similarities when I was reading this comic book.

I also think that the last arc for this volume focusing on children and fear is much like the Steven Moffat fable in Series 8 called Listen where it's a fable about fear and loneliness. In this case, the story featured here in this volume deals with a supernatural aspect and an issue concerning childhood trauma but the resolution is much the same as Listen with a few choice differences, of course. The message has a common thematic resonance between the two stories, highlighted by the fact that Swamp Thing--a supposedly thing of horrors--rises up to become the very guardian one will never expect children could have. He's just a sweetie pie, and I find him instantly endearing and I definitely hope to read more of him soon.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Y: THE LAST MAN by Brian K. Vaughan Volume 1

This comic book series has received rave reviews for its rather satirical premise concerning the idea of the extinction of all mammals with the Y chromosome, and how the female population supposedly tries to deal with this global crisis. I've been intrigued by this series for four years now, but put off reading it even after I bought an actual copy about three years ago. It's a Vertigo title which immediately guarantees it's promising. Finally, I got to read the first volume Unmanned which collected the first five issues of the series, and as much as I wasn't completely invested yet in the story and characters, I have to agree that it's  an interesting beginning.

Y: The Last Man was published in 2002 with ten volume all in all, and its official run ended by 2008. It had received and won nominations from Eisner Awards thrice. That being said, this first volume is not something I would personally consider an instant masterpiece which was okay. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes wasn't so hot either at least until The Sound of Her Wings closing issue, but that series eventually did become one as the story went on. To compare it with the other graphic novels I reviewed since last month, it's still a good entry but not something as magnificently appealing like SAGA or Sex Criminals had proven to be, whose first volumes were immediately so stellar and engrossing. 

I could even liken Y: The Last Man to Joe Hill's debut volume for Locke and Key which had all the proper elements of supernatural horror and drama and has definitely more potentials to sprout from. However, Y: The Last Man in its first volume Unmanned is off to a slow start with the build-up quite scattered among many placed and with different characters that hopefully will form a more cohesive ensemble once the plot progression settles in a more desirable and suspenseful pace. Hey, at least it wasn't The Wicked and Divine, a series I had so much hopes for but sorely let down in the end that I won't even bother posting a review about it. I also didn't bother picking up the second volume anymore because UGH.

But I digress. Illustrated by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr., penciler and inker respectively, Y the Las Man was visually efficient enough to convey the dystopic landscape of a man-less existence where women are clamoring for survival, power and politics. The tone of the narrative definitely portrays a satirical approach which calls into question and discussion the topics of female empowerment and the radical extremists who pursue a more vicious goal to assert it. Since all the male mammals including humans got wiped out, these feminazis are inclined to believe that nature has taken its course and now it's time to go Amazonian in such a ridiculously chauvinistic way that DC's counterpart of the real Amazons where Wonder Woman hails from would be ashamed to be associated with these women.

I can't help but be reminded of that last season of Veronica Mars about said feminazis becoming the villains of that supposedly empowering show. No wonder it got pulled after that season because it was extremely negative in its portrayal of feminist activists. Y: The Last Man, I feel, has a real possibility of crossing that line, but seeing as this was only the first volume and that it did last for ten more, I think I'll assume that the writer and editors of Vertigo found a balance and compromise in how they handled the feminist side of thing for this story. Here are some of the notable pages about it:

The ongoing discourse about how feminists values and other pro-women movements have been portrayed for Y: The Last Man certainly invites critical arguments from everyone who has their own opinions about it, whether affirmative or cynical. I'd rather stay away from that and simply review and appreciate this as a work of fiction, no matter how politically heated it tends to become in the later issues. Protagonist Yorick and his monkey companion Amerstad are the only male left in the world (or at least as far as we know). Yorick's mother is a congresswoman who wanted him to take his role as mankind's last chance for procreation more seriously, but Yorick is more concerned to getting back to his girlfriend he had just proposed to over a long-distance phone call to Australia before all this extinction shit went down. It's contextually hilarious but also grim.

As far as first impressions go, I am lukewarm towards Yorick. I don't find him that interesting but he is the central character in an interesting situation. I certainly hope to get to know the other female characters who show a more promising depth but whose names I can't tell you on the spot because of how little time this volume spends presenting them and how thinly the entire storyline is spread across the five issues so far. I do hope I warm up to Yorick especially even if he's such a narrow-minded fool who is more concerned about seeing his girlfriend than discover why the hell has he survived the extinction? I'd be more excited to find that out if I was Yorick, but hey, that's only because I would rather solve a good mystery over any kind of romantic ties I may have.

Get the fuck out of here, you hopeless sap!

In a nutshell, Y The Last Man shows promise. It has a puzzle that readers can solve and watch develop across its ten-volumed span, and the feminist angle is certainly worth the merit mentioning as well, but it's not the first graphic novel I will be picking up anytime soon once I finished my scheduled GNs for this year. That place still belongs to SAGA, I'm afraid.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

LOCKE AND KEY by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez Volume 1

I had a copy of the first volume of this series since two years ago, but I finally only got to read it this year. Much like the first two volumes of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' SAGA, I managed to finish this one under an hour, but it's equivocally a different experience. Granted, it was still a very good one because I was invested the entire time I read it. Writer Joe Hill brought a great horror story to life in graphic novel form with Locke and Key, there was denying it. It has all the right elements of the genre, and the storytelling is well-balanced enough to even warrant a possible movie adaptation.

I'm aware that it even got an unaired pilot which sadly never got to see the light of day. I think clips of its tailer are still available online. It's also worth noting that Joe Hill is the son of no other than prolific horror fiction writer Stephen King, and it's great to see he's following his father's steps while being completely unique on his own as a writer in the same genre. 

That being said, Locke and Key's first volume plays more of a psychological thriller in narrative with fantasy elements thrown in there as well, but I would still characterize it as a horror story because of the scope of its drama and characterization. I genuinely enjoyed this graphic novel. I wasn't exactly stimulated intellectually, but the mystery aspect of the story did get me interested enough to look forward reading the second installment of the series.

A family was recovering from a home invasion experience after the brutal murder of the father committed by the eldest son's school acquaintance. The mother, a rape survivor of the crime, decides to move her three kids to Lovecraft, Massachusetts so they can live in her late husband's family house called the Keyhouse. The three kids all try to cope from the loss of their father by dealing with conflicted feelings regarding their respective roles during the invasion. The eldest son Tyler tries to come to terms of how much of a failure he feels for perhaps indirectly causing his father's death in the first place while the daughter Kinsey suffers an identity crisis where she loses a sense of her individuality that she gradually kept shrinking away from social ties. Meanwhile, the youngest Bode finds a mysterious key that can open a door that could apparently turn him into a ghost.

What I like about this first volume is not so much as the story (which was good) but really more of the groundwork for the main characters. It's very easy to sympathize with the family as the victims of a crime, but also still view the potential growth of these characters in an objective way such as what roles they could contribute to an ongoing supernatural storyline that is still on its initial stage. Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are well-rounded enough, but both teens are still defined by their tragedies while Bode--the supposedly more central character since he was the only one aware of the supernatural (at least until we get to the end)--is not yet compelling to hold his own weight against the adult characters. I'm actually very curious about the mother Nina since she had been victimized with rape, and yet we never get to tackle this here. The first volume focused more on the kids and their inner conflicts. I think Nina may have her own issue in the next volume. I  hope that's the case.

Now, the story itself did fine on it own; the alternating scenes between the past and the present (before and after the home invasion) were well-executed, maintaining a seamless transition. The inner monologues and the dialogues never clash, and Hill truly utilized them well in establishing the conflict and building up the suspense nice and slow until the climactic events in the last two issues collected for the volume. The villains of the series are composed of the mysterious 'girl in the well' who has compelled a boy named Sam Lesser to commit horrible crimes for the sake of having a second chance to restart his life. I found Sam Lesser really fascinating as a character himself, and his antagonistic role for the story is one that is chilling yet also still sympathetic. He's a rotten egg but one whose motivation is clear, and whose methods are as methodical as they are violent. 

All in all, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft is a solid debut for the series itself. The pacing is remarkable; only a few stories I've read and reviewed are as careful and as precise as getting that perfect balance of narrative, character exposition and suspense, and the first volume of Joe Hill's Locke and Key was definitely one of them. 

I look forward to reading the next installment!