I went to the comic shop for the first time in a year! Things are looking good there—the spined books are shelved by genre now. In my opinion, that’s the best way to do it. What do you think?

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Single issues, lacking spines, and thus unshelvable, are laid out on a full wall (kids’ section on a flat, wide shelf below). The covers are easily visible and free to catch the eye, unlike the place I used to go where they used sloped magazine display racks; title visible, but very little else to evaluate without reaching out to grasp’em. In this shop you, and I, can see everything the creative team and publisher chose to put on the front of the book (and that’s important, for making the decision to buy, which is a reason I dropped off from Big Two custom—covers lie a lot, there).

I walked out with four single issue comics: Kennel Block Blues, one of four in a creator owned mini-series from Ferrier, Bayliss, Metcalfe, and Bell via BOOM!, and three issues of Marvel’s The Vision by King, Walter, Bellaire, and Cowles. The latter I’ve heard non-stop good buzz on from what seems like all angles, and the previews I’d seen kept up the colour cues of the covers; the former I never heard of, but it looks like free candy.

IMG_1626

Marvel's The Vision, by King, Walter, Bellaire & Cowles

You can see a basic overlap in the appeal here: jewel toned rainbow wheels, strong use of pink, a caricatured, retro feel. I picked up Kennel Block Blues first, and maybe that tipped me on the Vision issues—they accompany it nicely, create a sort of landing pad. There’s something missing from the pallet on the Vision colours (I assume this is on purpose—it certainly builds a viable aesthetic for the themes of the book). The Jessica Jones shilling patch actually benefits the first issue visually, grounding the image like the purple dead body does for issue three. KBB’s cover is split three ways with a greater dedication to colour blocking. The blue shirt just below centre is pulled upwards by the blue above the title and weighted downwards by the darker trousers and light-again shoes, and pulls the eye from left to right by being a primary contender against the left-hand red, and a conceptual contender (but tonal conspirator) to the pink on the right. Then you take another pass as the characters on the bottom level interest you. Your eyes are all over this thing! Combine that with the confident, pliable line-work (that already shows range before the book’s even open) and Michelle Ankley‘s excellent and equally as well weighted logo, and this cover says BUY ME BUY ME FIND OUT WHAT’S INSIDE ME. So: I did.

I liked The Vision. I thought that it was good. I didn’t think it was great. Kennel Block Blues, though—great comic! Who’s a great comic! You are! You are! You’re a very good comic! Happily enough, these opinions come from very comparable reasons. The Vision doesn’t do anything new, and Kennel Block Blues does.

The Vision‘s premise is summed up very easily, and it’s so easy because it’s recognisable. “Aliens must pretend to be normative humans!” Or, “The robot thinks it’s people! And … just maybe … it is.” The creative team puts Vision in a midlife crisis, a 1950s American Dream unchanged: He’s been given a new job, and it’s basically a step down, but it looks good to outsiders, and his family has to adjust to school and social matters in a new neighbourhood. The Vision is now a father to two teen synthezoids, and husband to another one. He made his wife and he made his children and he’s Going to Make This Work, Damnit. King uses the synth-person allegory well, giving Vision’s homemade wife a psyche based on his human ex-wife Wanda’s. Vision’s own persona is and always has been a copy of Wonder Man’s; Wonder Man was Wanda’s other half before Vision was. It’s all very we-are-the-ones-who-shaped-us; it’s neat and makes good drama. The characters have emotional lives and insecurities that are well described in science fiction terms and easily understandable in human ones.

Vision-2015-001-012-e1446815722790-600x375

The Vision is a well-scripted, well structured, well-illustrated example of a number of common templates. Even if you’ve never read a cyborg story or a fish-out-of-water alien allegory, you’ve heard stories where husbands go to work and wives stay at home and kids have trouble at school. You’ve read men wondering if they really love their wife or get the respect they deserve from the world, women deciding how heavily they should rely on the men who keep them, dependent children caving under pressure from a disrupted homelife. You’re up for reading it again, sure, but maybe you don’t find it relevant enough to love it madly when you do. Being made in the image of your lover’s ex is a solid avenue of feminist cyberphilosophy, but “middle class suburban American housewives are [treated] like inauthentic copies of real people: discuss” is so old Sam Becket had to go back in time to find a woman to whom this was new. In 1991.

Marvel's The Vision, by King, Walter, Bellaire & CowlesFor me, it feels like the solid, enjoyable reading experience that Claremont kept up in X-Titles through the eighties, and I’d gladly read the rest. The dialogue is swift and diplomatic, the penciling calm, the colouring flushed and feverish. It comes to an appreciable whole. I was pretty surprised to find the series was considered a potentially ongoing one before King’s exclusive contract with DC. I was expecting a four issue mini here as well. But someday I’ll read all twelve issues, and I expect on that day, I will like them. Then I’ll do something else.

Kennel Block Blues also builds its foundation on pretty regular ground: the prison film. Much like cyborgs and feminist awakenings (keep your eye on Virgina, Vision readers), there are a lot of B-movies out there about prison. I have seen a “respectable” number of them. And Kennel Block Blues puts the hose to them. This is unmarked territory.

The first of many butterflies to chase, making an old scene new and exciting, is: the male protagonist’s tough, violent, emotionally compacted, one-armed pushup-ing cellmate isn’t often a tiny female. Mixed-gender prisons remain unusual even in speculative fiction. Mixed-gender casts that make so little a visual divide between characters with and without breasts, likewise. Second, and I strongly recommend reading the comic yourself because in my opinion the gradual understanding of what’s going on is genuinely something that will “be spoilt” for you if you keep reading—

Kennel Block Blues, one of four from Ferrier, Bayliss, Metcalfe & Bell via BOOM!

—Okay? Okay, secondly, the inmates of this story are not people being represented via the anthro/furry school of cartooning. They’re anthropomorphised animals in a kennel and the apparent prison’n’people set-up is the metaphor. This, gratifyingly, allows the allegory to shine like backlighting. Golden edges added to everything, perfect visibility, freedom from immediate, subconscious decoding of basic and obvious comparison with “real life.” The dogman is a dog; that’s why his desperation/aggression/enthusiasm/etc “makes sense.” And afterwards, if you think about it, hey, some people act pretty much that way too, and maybe they also have a reason for that in their upbringing or chemistry somewhere? Jen Lee’s work in this dogboy oeuvre is wonderful too—her free-roaming puppies are plenty different enough to these captured adult canines (and other pets) to keep the freshness on every plate.

The floating reality of a kennel humanised as a prison is punctured, alarmingly, at the end of the issue, in a similar way to the puncturing of Viv Vision at the end of that series’ first issue. These books both use the acknowledgement of their craft as a liar’s game to further their mark’s investment. Kennel Block Blues’ approach to the breaking of kayfabe is subtler, more haunting, a worry. It makes you fear for Oliver—is the prison just the first layer of his inability to see reality, the forest-sized result of his domestication? Are the cartoon musical sequences the distraction, the trees, that allow us to miss what’s “really” wrong with this nice, good dog? The Vision‘s framing device, gradually revealed as prophecy seen by a witch, is blunt, and sustains attention, but it doesn’t cut as deeply as all that.

Kennel Block Blues, one of four from Ferrier, Bayliss, Metcalfe & Bell via BOOM!

Colin Bell’s lettering should get co-credit with the rest of the diegetic production team.

Our new best friend, Oliver, suffers from extreme anxiety (whether this is kennel-situational and new, or long ingrained, is not clear) that seems to result in delusion and hallucination. Whether these are purposeful flights of imagination or uncontrolled breaks from reality, they provide more butterflies for us to chase, removing boredom and familiarity from the prison story template we’re well acquainted with. This is supported and pushed by the nature of these sequences: they’re visual for the reader, and presumably for Oliver, but they also cause him to narrate in song, which other characters register and respond to. Ferrier’s scripting uses simple rhyme, rhythm and repetition for these verses but he sticks very, very well to his metre. The brain takes the syllabic emphasis and the motion of the linework, adds the font and colouring to evaluate atmosphere, and plays the reader an internal tune. It’s an absolutely competent attempt at an unusual and rarely aced approach to comic craft—a perfect landing of an experimental punt.

Take this doggie home.