In today’s post: Capsule reviews of Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s The Fix #1, the first installment of Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s comics documentary Living Level-3, and Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram’s House of Penance #1.
The Fix #1 (Image Comics)
Publisher’s description: “From the creators of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man comes a story of the crooked cops, scheming mobsters, and corrupt politicians that run things—and the sex toy that can bring them all down. Oh, and the hero is a drug-sniffing beagle named Pretzels. Bad people do bad things to each other in this frenetic, outrageous, sometimes off-putting new caper! If you liked classic crime comics like Criminal and 100 Bullets we apologize in advance for letting you down!”
Proper timing is an important aspect of comedy, one that is almost as important to a comedic performance as the actual content of the material. The expert comedian can use the rhythm and tempo of delivery, extended beats, and pregnant pauses for various humorous effects. How then, to translate these elements into a comic book, a medium where the reader has much more control over the pace of the narrative compared to the audience at a live or recorded comedic performance?
Illustrator Steve Lieber, writer Nick Spencer, and letterer Nic Shaw show how it is done in The Fix #1 (Image Comics), the first issue of their new crime/heist/comedy comic. By exploiting the space within the panels as well as the space between the panels (what is referred to as “the gutter”), the creative team controls the pace of reading. This is done through a variety of techniques: a stat panel or an especially long or tall panel may be used to simulate performance comedy’s extended beat or pregnant pause, word balloons and captions may be arranged to lead the reader’s eye in such a way so as to maximize the impact of a punchline, and of course, the perspective, distance, and construction of a scene can be used to encourage the reader to let the gaze linger over certain portions of the panel. It’s all very subtle but effective stuff, honed by Lieber and Spencer over their time as collaborators on Marvel’s The Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
The Fix #1 offers a master class in pacing in comics, and is a genuinely side-splitting read besides.
Living Level-3, Vol. 1: Iraq (World Food Programme/comiXology Submit)
Commissioned by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and originally serialized in The Huffington Post, Living Level-3, Vol. 1: Iraq (available for free download on comiXology) sees the former Unknown Soldier creative team of writer Joshua Dysart and illustrator Alberto Ponticelli reunited to tell the story of a young aid worker in Northern Iraq and Syria as well as that of a Yazidi family fleeing the violence of the Da’esh (the organization the Western media has come to call IS or Islamic State).
As he did for his run on The Unknown Soldier, Dysart actually spent time visiting the setting of his comic to do volunteer work and conduct firsthand research. The result is a tale of idealism, war, and loss that will inspire, infuriate, and break the hearts of readers. Living Level-3, Vol. 1 does not shy away from showing the inhuman brutality of Da’esh, but it takes care to avoid sensationalism and neither does it frame the conflict through an overly-simplistic sectarian context or West-centric political rhetoric. By a similar token Living Level-3, Vol. 1 does not imply that there are simple solutions to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria, only that food aid is an effective way of mitigating the suffering being experienced by the Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Arabs, and Kurds who have been displaced by the fighting.
A brilliantly executed comic with a story that needs to be read by the wider world.
House of Penance #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Publisher’s description: “The Winchester House—famous for its original owner’s bizarre compulsion to incorporate a multitude of architectural curiosities. But as the bereaved Sarah Winchester’s workers toil on stairways to nothing and doors to nowhere, a mysterious stranger arrives… and he could make Sarah’s demons all too real.”
House of Penance #1 (Dark Horse Comics), by writer Peter Tomasi (Green Lantern Corps, Brightest Day) and illustrator Ian Bertram (Bowery Boys), features the story of the infamous Winchester Mystery House, retold and fictionalized in the mold of American Gothic fiction. The comic touches on the classic cornerstones of the subgenre—guilt, abhumanity, the supernatural—whilst also offering the potential for contemporary insight into America’s gun culture. Like Tomasi’s story, Bertram’s art also draws on the past—the rendering style is somewhat reminiscent of that of horror comics great Richard Corben.
There is a lot to like here: the creative team has created one of the most eerily atmospheric historical horror comics this side of Bunn and Crook’s Harrow County, and it’s definitely worth following to see if they can sustain it in subsequent issues.