Tag Archives: Social issues

Magnus: Between Two Worlds

“If they were just machines, they wouldn’t have built their own goddamn world to get away from the people who built them.”

Well, now that life is somewhat less chaotic than normal…It’s D.C. back to throw down on some books this month. First off, Dynamite’s new series, Magnus.

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Who???

Magnus was originally  a male robot fighter who was owned by Gold Key Comics and then Valiant Comics, once upon a time. Dynamite later bought the rights to the character and published a short-lived series and an event with an iteration of Magnus. With one version appearing in the current The Sovereigns event (which is very good), so comes a different version in a new ongoing; this time as a female.

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Semi-O.G. Magnus

Plot

Magnus #1, by the creative team Kyle Higgins and Jorge Fornés, takes place in 2020 New York, where relations between humans and artificial intelligence are strained due to the emerging awareness and depression of A.I. The disparity of A.I.’s “duty” to serve humanity and their developing complexity and desire for freedom  leads the A.I. to seek a world away from the real world–a safe space, if you will.

These issues are what drive the work of robot psychologist Kerri Magnus, and the mystery she is contracted to solve.

Impressions?

Kyle Higgins starts this series off in superb fashion. The first issue touches on the deep political and social issues between man and A.I. Magnus’ tense conversation with an ex-boyfriend makes obvious the prejudices humans hold of A.I. as property and as simple machines incapable of individual thought. It is an old tale that rings of real life history, but is treated well and produces interest.

Kerri Magnus is depicted well as an intermediary between the A.I. and human worlds, but it is also her history as a bounty hunter that leaves one wondering many things about the character and her motivations.

What is her skill set? What motivated Kerri to turn from her profession from hunter to helper? As we can see, Kerri is looked at with an edge of disdain by humans. This issue was rich in plot points that open up potential stories and character development all around.

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Fornés’ art works well for the surreal science fiction tone this series seems to invoke. He emotes the characters well, even the A.I. Kerri Magnus encounters. You get a sense of anger, angst, and dread from the above A.I. Eugene, but also in the frightening resolve in Frederick’s face as he makes plans to escape his masters. Aided by colorist Chris O’Halloran, Fornés crafts simple and stark contrasts between certain scenes, such as Kerri’s nightmare. It is simple, distinct and macabre.

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Verdict?

Magnus #1 is off to a very good start. Kyle Higgins and Jorge Fornés hit the ground running with interesting characters and establishing a world that, for all intents and purposes, is on the brink of political, social, and literal war. Kerri Magnus is a mysterious woman with a strong history just waiting to be told, and I am very much looking forward to what comes.

I recommend you give this series a read.

END THROWDOWN.

 

Civil War II: The Oath

“Does this world look saved?”

Welcome, this is D.C. back for a throwdown on a book that really left an impression in spite of its preceding event: Marvel’s Civil War II: The Oath.

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The Oath?

The Oath picks up after the events of Civil War II–which, honestly, I didn’t finish because the story, for all its good art, just wasn’t satisfying in terms of story. I gave up on issue #5 because of the lack of logic in events, and how you really needed to read the various tie-ins just to understand why the other characters chose the faction they chose.

This story also picks up after some key events in the Captain America: Steve Rogers series. That, I’ll write a comprehensive review of later.

Impressions?

Writer Nick Spencer appears to get a lot of flack regarding the political undertones of his scripts, and for his recent takes on both Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers. However, in The Oath, Spencer pulls out the stops when he takes the reader on a monological tour of Steve Roger’s feelings and thoughts on recent events. One of the most powerful moments already started at the beginning, when Steve beside a comatose Tony Stark and says, simply: “What a waste.”

Those simple words already lets the reader know just how this Steve thinks of Tony. From there, Steve damns not only Tony  and Captain Marvel, but the superhero community in general. It is a sentiment felt by Ms. Marvel, the Champions, and Clint Barton, but Spencer lets Steve turn what appeared to be a story similar to Civil War: The Confession into a truly damning and, worse, mocking account by Steve.

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I was left disturbed throughout the story as Steve pointed out Tony’s hubris and failure as both a hero and a man. If you know anything about the rocky road between Iron Man and Captain America, reading Cap’s opinions of Tony aren’t necessarily new. But under Nick Spencer, the altered Steve is particularly scathing–almost violent, as if he is telling Tony, “Serves you right.”

The most meaningful part of The Oath is it is hard to disagree with Steve’s sentiments. Spencer seems to take note of social media views of current Marvel and superheroes in general, as well as current social issues, and weaves it in such a way that makes Steve 100% right in his opinion. His solution to the problem, though? That is where cognitive dissonance happens.

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As if Steve’s damning and mocking of everyone he knows and how easily he rises to the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. with even more power than any director before weren’t enough, Steve ends his talk with Tony by sharing what he truly saw from Ulysses’ vision. What we see see if truly  a taste of things to come. I was simply mind-blown by Steve’s “future,” and how he saw this as a return to America’s greatness, America’s utopia. From the outside looking in, it rings too true of all horrors from history…or heroism, depending on where your loyalties lie. That is what Spencer hammers home.

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We are also left with a key comment by Steve: “I am not the man you think I am.” Is this metaphorical, or literal? Is this really a Steve Rogers whose history was altered by Kobik, or is this an alternate Steve Rogers inhabiting the 616-Steve’s body? How will Nick Spencer answer this? Rather, how well will Spencer answer this? Will this be a repeat of Captain America: Reborn, or will this be something with a little more spice?

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The beautiful pencils and vibrant colors rendered by Rod Reis (and many others) help to give this one-shot a very disturbing feel at times, while lending to the shifting flashbacks and feelings of Steve. You can’t have a disturbing voice without a disturbing face, and Spencer and work in perfect synergy to give us what Spencer has pushed since Steve Rogers #1: a subversive and conniving Rogers with the same moral fiber and convictions as the Cap everyone remembers, only twisted.

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Verdict

Civil War: The Oath contains possibly the best writing I’ve read from Nick Spencer thus far. He lays out a morally twisted Steve Rogers’ feelings and opinions bare for the reader to absorb, and what he leaves us with is dread cloaked in optimism. It was an engrossing and terrifying story made all the more disturbing by Rod Reis’ captivating art style. If Civil War II left a bad taste in your mouth, this story really turns that around in time for Marvel’s next event: Secret Empire.

HAIL HYDRA!

DC’s The Flintstones

“Yabba dabba doo.”

Hey, all, D.C. here, and I think it’s time to discuss a series after enough reads. Up today is DC Comics The Flintstones, by the creative team of Mark Russell and Steve Pugh.

When DC Comics decided to come out with an updated version of The Flintstones, the child in me couldn’t help but be intrigued. How would this be done? How would these iconic and classic characters be portrayed? What would the tone be?

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What is The Flintstones?

…If you don’t know what The Flintstones is…then you have missed something out of your childhood. It is one of the most iconic Hanna-Barbara brands ever, debuting in the ’60s and born in the same vein as the classic sitcom The Honeymooners. If you haven’t watched it…WATCH IT.

For the sake of time, I won’t address Steve Pugh’s art, which is very good. I will focus on Russell’s take.

Story?

Satire is the name of the game with The Flintstones.

Mark Russell takes a classic cartoon series and turns it on its head with an adequate modern adaptation. Written in an episodic fashion, Russell makes note of various things that are considered beneficial, yet also can breed foolishness, in our society today. Stabs are taken at innovation of technology–particularly of appliances–that can make our lives easier, yet make us more and more materialistic. Fred deals with the pressures of purchasing such costly and faulty items.

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Religion was touched on in a comedic and intriguing fashion, and again mirroring what happens now. People always want to belong somewhere, no matter how outrageous a religion or cult’s tenants appear.

Surprisingly, the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo is portrayed as a fraternity of war veterans, both of whom Fred and Barney share membership. It is a rough issue that touches on the lack of appreciation the society gives to those survivors who suffer.

At times, Russell’s satire is hilarious. Other times, it’s insight. Many times, however, it can be scathing, almost showing a disdain for our current society and its hypocrisy regarding religion, veteran care, news, elections, marriage, bullying, science, and simple human decency. There isn’t a moment this series isn’t provocative.

One last note: character development. Russell has done a superb job dabbing into the backgrounds of Fred, Wilma, and even how Bamm-Bamm was adopted by the Rubbles (a very insightful and emotional issue).Related image

Cast?

The cast is all there, which is always a good thing, and they are all portrayed very well. You can’t have The Flintstones without the big four–Fred, Wilma, Betty, and Barney–their children, Dino, and good ol’ Mr. Slate. Even the Great Gazoo shows up in issue #3, but how it comes about is very different and interesting.

One of the most commendable efforts I’d seen from Mark Russell is the background history in some of these characters that, in their own ways, answers lingering questions from the TV show itself, in addition to establishing this revisionist history.

Fred, simply put, is a shell of a man. He’s nothing like the boisterous caveman with anger issues seen from the cartoon show. Fred is neutered, but why? We see just why when the answer to his and Barney’s time as war veterans is addressed. It is reminiscent of how some vets return from war that is emotionally or physically traumatic, or any war they find themselves used as pawns in. It is in one of the meetings with war veterans that we see the origin and meaning of Fred’s catchphrase, “Yabba dabba doo.” It is nothing bombastic, but all very appropriate.

Still, Russell continually excels at showing that, despite his submissive personality, Fred is a righteous and courageous man at heart with a strong moral character in a crowd of selfish, complacent, and ignorant people.

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One of the better parts in the beginning of the series was Russell’s dabbing in Wilma’s background history and her life being the reasons behind her optimism and artistic choices. It’s something I never expected from Russell, but he made Wilma even more endearing to me. Conversely, next to nothing has been given of Wilma’s best friend, the equally vivacious Betty Rubble, but I hope that is something Russell will address in time.

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It is hard to believe, but Fred’s boss Mr. Slate is even more reprehensible under Russell’s penmanship. Slate is as selfish and flippant as they come in The Flintstones. Frustratingly, Russell writes minute moments where we see hints of Slate’s loneliness or some sort of humility in his actions; those moments are quickly dashed with a word by Slate. It makes me want to hate Slate even more, and for that, I commend Russell’s handling of the character.

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The series is still young, and I am still waiting for Russell to develop the teenage Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, as well as Betty, Dino and the Great Gazoo. The possibility of an extended cast beyond the originals would add a little more spice to this series.

Verdict?

If you haven’t dabbled in DC’s The Flintstones yet, please do. Mark Russell does an incredible job revitalizing the classic characters while addressing a plethora of topics pertinent to our social climate. Whether you think them controversial, progressive, scathing, or biased, you cannot ignore that they are both provocative and thought-provoking, and worthy of discourse after you finish each issue.

END THROWDOWN.

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The Coming of Black

Happy October, world. D.C. here to start off this month with something that garnered intense discussion.

Recently, it’s been revealed that a new miniseries by publisher Black Mask Comics will be out this coming week, called Black.

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The controversy with this kickstarted series by Kwanza Osajyefo is succinct:

“What if only black people had super powers?” You can find the article here.

With a logline like that, one might imagine the firestorm in the comic fandom–if indeed the rage is from the fandom.

On a thread tonight, I saw a large swath of comments which consisted of variations this sort: “Hypocrites,” or “If a white writer wrote this, everyone would call it racist!” or “What if the shoe was on the other foot?!” or “Garbage.”

This book, like anything controversial or other, invoked such emotion. Supporters and opponents of Black threw verbal stones at Osajyefo and at one another: racist. Racist, racist, racist.

After reading the article and the comments, my view is something like this:

Racism is a strong word to use anytime, anywhere. You have to really, really know when to use it. There are sensitive people on both sides of the argument who are too quick to call something or someone racist whenever it is something they don’t like. If you want to call something racist, you need to understand what–and most importantly why–something is racist. It’s not truth just because it comes out of your mouth or your fingers.

Using the “if a white person did this…” argument is short-sighted and, in my eyes, seeks to mitigate one’s hang ups without actual proof. To argue in such a black and white way means you disregard content and context from a historical and current events perspective.

Ignore context and history, and books like these get supplanted by less informed and less intelligent dialogue. It’s one thing to write a book like Black off as racist or bad, provided you’ve read it. But in lieu of reading and understanding the content of the story, how much information can one go off on before calling something racist, PC, pandering, or garbage? How well can you judge its merit?

Racism in media exist. Racist media does exist. Movies such as the 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” can be seen as racist. Books like 1978 The Turner Diaries can be seen as racist. Still, someone like me can see why some of those have importance. I mean, hell, “Birth of a Nation” is on the American Film Institute’s 100 top films list.

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I am a tried and true comic fan, and I find controversial topics very intriguing. If it were any other ethnicity, including white, with powers, I would still be curious to see how said group of people will use or squander their powers. I think books like this, if written well, can serve as strong, potential cautionary tales of bias, identity, conforming, social and racial tensions, prejudice, and humanity, on all sides of the coin.

Rather than cry foul or racism, I choose to read a book. Rather than be a fool and run on emotions (and Kay knows my emotions), I choose to judge a book by its content, context, and merit.

If Black, a miniseries that puts a controversial spin on superheroes and intends to address social issues that do involve black people, black sentiment, and tensions, makes you outraged, I ask: Why?

Why are you outraged? Why SHOULD you be outraged? Are you outraged at the message of the book? The content of the book? Its execution/portrayal? The very idea of the book?

Careful, though. The answers we get will tell us exactly how a dissenter thinks.

END THROWDOWN.

Alex + Ada, Vol. 1-2

“Is it still living–when you block everything out?”

Welcome, everyone. D.C. here to throw down on an interesting book I’ve been trying to get through:

Image Comics’ Alex + Ada is written and drawn by Jonathan Luna of the Luna Brothers. If you’re not familiar with the Luna Brothers, read up on their series Girls. It was a very interesting tale with very important undertones on gender differences and prejudices.

Alex + Ada is a three-volume tale of a lonely man who receives a robot as a gift. When Alex finds life with the subservient, inexpressive Ada less than idea, he meets a chat room of individuals that helps him unleash her sentience–a dangerous move in a dangerous world of anti-robot sentiment, fear, and legislation.

Highlights

The world building in Alex + Ada is touched upon well. The physical world is expressed just as well as the digital world, which has taken over. The current events of the world also helps shape the story. There is anti-robot sentiment after a robot’s slaughter  of humans some time before. And with anti-anything sentiment, there is prejudice to look into. These sorts of tales that relate to the real world appeal to me.

Alex’s own prejudices of having a personal robotic companion is hypocritical, given how his dull, lonely life is so deeply connected to technology. However, his unease of having Ada around is rooted in his own inability to live past a breakup. In essence, Alex is as much a robot as Ada, and Luna does well in addressing this aspect.

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…Not the kind of submissive I had in mind…

The art in Alex + Ada is very simple. I do feel it’s comparatively subpar, when you recognize that Luna doesn’t have much skill with differing facial expressions, or in displaying the detail you’d imagine a more technologically advanced future to have. The artistic variability is incredibly limited–save for the character designs–so it can be a bit grating if you’re very observant.

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Still, even Luna’s writing can stave off some of the stink of his art by capturing Ada’s innocence after her awakening. His writing isn’t very artistic–it’s about as simplistic as the art. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to the reader, but it is the combination of art and script that really supports this series. It really is endearing to see Ada experiencing food and sensations that we take for granted far too often and far too easily.

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While I enjoy Alex’s coming to terms with his own reservations with Ada and Ada’s innocence, affections and growth, most of the supporting cast isn’t very interesting. I’m not sure if that was Luna’s intention when he wrote this story, seeing as how the story is about Alex and Ada, but I was hoping for a more well-rounded cast of characters.

At the same time, the other sentient robots seen in the story provide some quirky, endearing, and sometimes funny insights into their world and how they see themselves, each other, and humans on both sides of the robots rights debate.

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Recap

Alex + Ada is an endearing story of a man and the android he brought to life, and the trials they must endure in a world of anti-robot rhetoric and anti-robot laws. Jonathan Luna weaves a coherent story, however simple. The art provided by Luna is nothing spectacular, but it is far from the worst art I’ve seen. I certainly enjoy Ada’s presence most of all, and the innocence she exudes throughout the tale.

In spite of the obvious lack of artistic variability, I did enjoy the story in Alex + Ada enough to want to see this through to the end. I do look forward to the third and final volume. If it leaves any impression, I shall share with you all.

END THROWDOWN.