Another week gone by, another assortment of five amazing things in comics I happened to notice. A quick note about how this column will handle spoilers. Naturally, I read new comics every week, but I’m going to hold off on talking about anything spoilery in anything in particular until the following week, hopefully giving everyone a chance to read all the stuff they’re worried about being spoiled for them. A good example?
1. The new status quo for Doctor Strange
When I finished Donny Cates and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s first issue of “Doctor Strange” (ably assisted by Jordie Bellaire on colors and Cory Petit on letters), I thought about Jason Aaron’s run on “Ghost Rider” or Rick Remender’s run on “Uncanny X-Force.” A writer coming in and finding an angle you never saw coming but seemed absolutely inevitable, and also the product of a completely singular voice. Reading an idea that couldn’t have come from anyone else.
I also thought about all the different, new status quos there have been for Marvel heroes over the years. Peter Parker teaching high school. The Fantastic Four getting evicted. When I turned to the last page of “Doctor Strange” #381, I felt that same buzz. Doctor Strange, apparently stripped of his Sorcerer Supremeness (I stopped after Aaron left, so I’ll take the recap page’s word for it), is now a veterinarian. It’s the kind of idea you can’t believe no one came up with before. It’s so weird and wonderful and perfect. And let’s not ignore Walta’s subtle visual redesign. Yes, sure, Loki is the Sorcerer Supreme now and I’m sure he’ll get into some wild antics but personally? I just want to see Stephen Strange deal with life among the pets and pet owners of New York City.
2. The way Chris Bachalo handles a double page spread
One of my favorite things about Chris Bachalo’s work is his approach to composition. A lot has changed about his style since I fell in love with his work on “Shade The Changing Man” a billion years ago, but one thing that has always remained interesting is his panel composition, most essentially, where he decides to cut off an image. He makes his most interesting decisions in crowded double page spreads like these, from “Spider-Man/Deadpool.” He’s not emulating any kind of traditional visual structure, even a show with unique visual compositions like “Mr. Robot” tends to keep the whole head in the frame. It’s kind of simply pure artistry without any discernible rhyme or reason, save to create compelling single frames. And the effect when over a dozen of them are laid out next to each other is Bachalo’s unique brand of controlled chaos. One of the nice byproducts of reading comics digitally is that you can see these spreads from a kind of birds-eye view, how they form a mosaic, with figures and actions disappearing in the gutter, instantly replaced with something else in the following panel. I can’t think of another artist who allows such loose interior life in such a structured framework.
3. How “Giant Days” is the best at literally everything
It’s pretty remarkable how versatile the “Giant Days” team (John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell) is. Just look at the variety of gags that are perfectly deployed in a single issue (#32 in this case) (wow, there have been thirty-two issues of this genius work) (the world can’t be all bad I guess).
A fantastical visual gag:
Perfectly rendered physical comedy:
A panel that manages to land a joke with a tiny and simple midground drawing:Continued below
Your traditional, expertly written setup/payoff gag:
“Giant Days” is the best there is at what it does: Everything.
4. The way Elizabeth Breitweiser colors a relatively normal scene
I recently caught up on “Kill or be Killed.” (It’s great but you knew that. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, topping themselves once again in a gritty and compelling narrative, blah, blah, no surprises there.) I was struck by the versatility of Elizabeth Breitweiser’s work. There are lots of pages where color is used to heighten the tension or mood, or to drive the eye in one direction or another, but every now and then there are pages like this:
The color palette is just a little washed out, and you feel like that sort of blue-green base color is permeating the entire page in subtle ways, but there’s no real prevailing mood. It feels, in a strange way, like naturalistic painting. It feels, deliberately, like a momentary breath of fresh air.
5. The cover aesthetic of DC Comics in the 1980s
When I started reading comics in the 80s, I was a Marvel guy. I dabbled in DC books here and there, but missed out on a lot. I also was just a dumb kid who didn’t think about stuff like branding or trade dress. In my later years, however, as I’ve seen certain companies pay practically no attention to what a cover or a logo or even an entire line of comics looks like (cough cough Marvel cough Seriously cough Put some effort into your logos cough cough), I’m struck by the unified vision that DC put forth in the 80s across all their books, and the unique identity it gave them.
Check out the weird color choices here for “Justice League” and “New Partners” (not to mention the primary Yellow and Red in the logo):
Or look at this razor sharp trade dress they used for Annuals:
And of course, their secret weapon was the phenomenal work of Gaspar Saladino, designer of countless instantly classic logos, but also responsible for the cover typography that pretty much defined DC Comics at the time.
Look at this tour de force (and notice that snazzy “Six Part Mini-Series” banner, just airtight):
And his work on these classics:
And when all these elements came together, the work was so unquestionably iconic that a comic like “Doom Patrol” will go out of its way to acknowledge every aspect their approach and recreate it literally down to the letter:
I don’t know ultimately how successful it was for DC at the time, since I walked past the stuff to get to Fall of the Mutants every week, but looking back, it’s a remarkable commitment to a unified and perfectly rendered brand identity.
It’s the kind of thing more publishers should emulate these days, but I don’t want to name names. At least not more than once.