Welcome to the 49th installment of Leave Your Spandex At the Door! We’re just one column away from the big five-oh. I’ll reach Johnston sooner or later.
This week I’m looking at some of Image’s best releases from the last few weeks. I’m often amazed at the great amount of quality titles to come out of Image comics the last few years, as the company has completely shifted from being a “poor man’s Marvel” spandex universe, to that place where the indie comics go when they sell well.
MORA #1 by Paul Harmon
I had no idea what to expect from this issue when I picked it up off the shelf. I was familiar with the name from some photos I had seen from the Isotope’s Image party and I recalled being impressed from the sketches Paul Harmon had don for the fans that night. The cover was also impressive, with deep imposing colours and a rather nasty looking golden-eyed witch (who is nowhere to be seen inside the first issue, mind you) holding a young girl in her arms, and looking very hungry about it.
Back in Marvel’s silver age Stan Lee used to preach that a good issue needs to grab the reader’s attention by the balls from the moment he flips the cover. Okay, maybe Uncle Stan didn’t exactly phrase it so bluntly, but that’s the gist. Paul Harmon follows that rhetoric, with the first two pages here: a scream, a full moon, a wolf-like predator and the bloody face of a dying woman: Mora. Mora’s story starts with her gruesome death and then flashes all the way back to her birth. I guess there’s not much hope for a happy ending here. Although it makes for an impressive beginning and builds a mystery around these events, this storytelling approach can easily backfire, as Mora’s fate is now sealed in the reader’s mind and the telling of her life leading up to her revealed death can unexpectedly turn into a eulogy.
To tell Mora’s story, Harmon needs to shift through a lot of exposition to set up the where and when of the unfolding events, and set the boundaries of the world these characters dwell in. Without a properly interesting narrator, this could turn into a tedious exercise, but the vessels chosen to disperse with the introductions here are anything but ordinary: two zombified anthropomorphic animals, the rabbit and the tortoise, dressed in human attire and bearing gruesome scars. The Rabbit’s eloquent and involved, yet incessant, narration is counterbalanced by Tortoise’s unfeeling monolectic comments, which arrive at appropriate intercepts to help the narration “catch its breath”.
Mora’s story is intertwined from birth with two others… lives, two character who were born in the same day/hour/moment as her: the girl Anandra and the boy lion cub, who grows up to snuff the narrators’ lives and leave them in their current zombified state. Anandra only gets minimum exposure in this first issue, which splits its focus equally between Mora and the lion cub through the first couple of years. The cub is described skillfully as a vicious creature, by showing his violent leanings and contrasting them to the normal predatory practices of his family. Although all hints point to the cub as the “villain of the piece”, Mora is also heralded as a “terrible witch” through the Rabbit’s off-hand comment, leaving Anandra as the expected moral compass of the three. Nothing shown of Mora’s childhood here serves to foreshadow at an upcoming dark turn though: a young girl neglected by her parents who are away on business, protected by an absent-minded nanny who fails to notice Mora’s magic powers beginning to awaken as she discovers a fairy creature disguised as a mouse in her house.
Paul Harmon writes, pencils, inks, colours and letters the whole issue on his own, and manages to keep a high quality on every front, an impressive feat for a first-appearing creator. His artwork perfectly matches the tone of the story and his style is well served for depicting both the innocence of the young children and the gore of the narrators and the lions hunting sequence. He manages to pull off some difficult character designs with extreme finesse, including the mouse-disguised fairy, the Frankenstein animal narrators, the eerie owl from the final pages and Mora herself as a child who posses an adorable Amelie Poulain quality whether she smiles or scoffs. As a final note, Harmon here chooses some unconventional (to my knowledge) painting tools in 4 graytone marker pens, but I can’t argue with the results which I can only compare to Tim Sale’s wash technique.
Paul Harmon was kind enough to give the Nexus the following pages from issue 1 preview art from the upcoming issue 2:
MORA #1 page 1
MORA #1 page 4
MORA #1 page 13
MORA #2 preview art 1
MORA #2 preview art 2
ULTRA #7 by Joshua and Jonathan Luna
I hate repeating myself, when I can simply use quote magic! This is what I had to say about this series in general in my Best Mature Readers titles of 2004 column: “Sex and the city starring spandex clad superheroines that punch in cards and are employed by organized superhero corporations. Three superheroine best friends get an enigmatic fortune reading, which signals a hellish week for them. The title heroine, Ultra, will meet a regular guy, but what she mistakenly thinks is love-at-first-sight will prove to be the paparazzi nightmare ending to her career and the ending of her close friendship. The Luna brothers write and draw this series, which has proven one of the most enjoyable surprise hits of the year, featuring witty dialogue, and exploring the sexy mature side of superheroics.”
In the past 6 issues, Pearl Penalosa, a.k.a. Ultra, has really been put through the wringer. Let’s make a checklist:
-what she thought was love at first sight turned out to be a front-page sex scandal
-the general public considers her a sex-addicted hussy and a pervert
-she isn’t speaking with her best friend Liv, after she insulted her to make herself feel better
-she hasn’t been able to face her other best friend, Jen, after Jen revealed her feelings for her and kissed her, and she freaked out
-both her friends apparently fell victim to an out-of-control super-powered arsonist
-her powers aren’t working properly, causing her to fall to her apparent death last issue
…and after all that grief, the curtains of the penultimate issue of Ultra pull back to reveal… all is well? When you hit rock bottom, the only way you can go is up, but in this case, Ultra manages to skyrocket herself to emotional high ground in the span of a measly 22 pages all her nasty problems start to dissolve!
Ultra wakes up in the recovery ward of the hospital, having nothing to show for her perilous battle royale last issue, other than a bad hospital haircut. She is then promptly paid a visit by Liv, in what is only the first of three major reconciliations that form the basic structure of this issue. Liv apparently shrugs off her best friend calling her a ho, and goes on to have a veritable Samantha Jones moment complete with crude penis analogies and “I love dick and am not afraid to shout it” confessions. The prude Pearl and the promiscuous Liv have been portrayed as polar opposites since the start of the series. Mid-way their friendship dynamic did a flip-flop, with Liv coming through as the constrained rational thinker and Pearl being the insensitive one who would belittle and insult her best friend because she herself was feeling hurt. In the midst of all this, the Luna brothers comment on the nature of celebrity through Liv. The public doesn’t see all aspects of a person behind the glittery fame, but only what is revealed to them, and they fill in the gaps (the unseen side of the moon) with their own interpretation. Through Pearl’s sex scandal ordeal, we see that the public image doesn’t always follow with what is behind, and we see how this also applies to Liv who had been stereotyped as the slutty bitch in our minds.
The next two reconciliations act as the framing sequence of the cover theme of this issue: the 77th Annual Superhero awards, with Pearl and Jen competing for the first award: Best Superheroine. (check out the 5-page preview below to find out the winner!). As Ultra flies on to the red carpet of the Awards ceremony, she is snubbed by the Fashion and Lifestyle reporters and gets soda bottles and shoes (?) thrown at her by the disgruntled (formerly known as adoring) fanbase. (But seriously, who would throw their shoe at someone? How are you gonna walk back home? Damn impulsive kids). In the series’s corniest scene yet, one fan raises his voice to all the shoe-throwers, pointing out the hypocrisy of putting down someone’s work because of what you know about their personal life. Two panels later and the crowd is going wild chanting “Ultra-Ultra-Ultra”! I guess that’s crowd mentality for you…
The last big face-to-face happens after the Awards ceremony is over, and Jen talks to Pearl about their unexpected kissing incident. This is the heart-to-heart that rings most true for me, as it reminds me of similar situations I’ve been in. Falling in love with your best friend has been the recipe for successful teen TV dramas for decades now, but adding in the same sex factor is guaranteed to raise the stakes for making the big blind jump and coming out with the truth. Is your friend going to freak out at the new revelation? If she does will she still remain your friend? Will things be the same? Will she be pissed at you for trying to make contact all these years? Will she feel abused by that, or empathise? And what if the on-in-a-million chance comes through? Is she closeted too? Does she love you as much as you do her? And is your bond strong enough to overcome the gender barrier? Of all the aspects of female friendship and psychology that the Luna brothers have examined during this series, the relationship between Jen and Pearl has been my favourite, and I wish even more space was devoted to its resolution here. I’m not going to reveal the final resolution here, as the preview pages generously supplied by the Luna brothers cover this scene, and finish in a great cliffhanger panel.
All in all, this issue provided a very interesting read, balancing the serious moments between the characters with the light-hearted gags that run through the whole issue. Although at some points the dialogue took some extreme turns and credibility was stretched considerably in the way some issues were too quickly resolved, you can’t argue with the heart of these scenes and their power. I can’t wait for the final issue next month, but I wish it didn’t have to be a goodbye. Through this title the Luna brothers have injected emotion and realism into the stagnating “strong woman” mythos of the Superheroine, I wish more popular writers from the big two could follow suit.
ULTRA #7 PAGE 13
ULTRA #7 PAGE 14
ULTRA #7 PAGE 15
ULTRA #7 PAGE 16
ULTRA #7 PAGE 17
This May, AdHouse Books will introduce readers to a mini-comix master who is all types of funny. The book is…
Zig Zag by J Chris Campbell
As a one-man anthology, ZIG ZAG will showcase all sorts of kooky stories including the ongoing adventures of the Attic Bugs! A quirky little romp, ZIG ZAG puts the FUN back in funny books!
The creator’s previous comic credits include Project: Superior, The 2004 SPX Anthology, Superior Showcase #0 (FCBD05) and his own publishing imprint, Wide Awake Press.
Zig Zag #1
by J Chris Campbell
32 4C & 2C pages, 6.5″ x 9.25″
$5.95 US funds
Shipping in May
DORK TOWER goes color!
Dork Tower #32: “First CONtact”
32 Pages $3.49
Written, pencilled and inked by John Kovalic
SHIPPING MAY 2005
DORK TOWER GOES FULL COLOR WITH ISSUE #32!
HUZZAH! Dork Storm Press announced that the Dork Tower comic book
will be published in full color, starting with issue #31.
“It’s a bold and stupid move,” said series creator John Kovalic. “But
after experimenting with color on issue #30, it’s hard to go back. My
name is John, and I’m addicted to color printing. Please help.”
It’s Igor vs. the Convention, and only one will survive! It’s Day One
of Mud Con, and the best-laid plans of Con chairman Igor have to
survive their first contact with reality. Say…what’s Guest of Honor
Wil Wheaton doing swinging from the light fixtures with a bottle of
Jim Beam in his hand? PLUS: “Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink” by John
Kovalic and Christopher Jones, and “Lethargic Lad” by Greg Hyland.
NOW IN FULL COLOR!
John Kovalic is the multi-award winning creator of Dork Tower, as
well as the artist behind the million-selling Apples to Apples party
game, the Munchkin card game phenomena, and many other pieces that
have entertained millions.
JOSE GARIBALDI update: JINGLE BELLE #3 ONLINE and FRANCHISE
The latest issue of Jingle Belle, Sant’s spunky teenage daughter, came out this week, and Dark Horse has made half the issue available online on their website. The issue is written by Jingle Belle creator Paul Dini with art by one of my favourite artists, Jose Garibaldi.Jose also has a new strip online on the TLC website called “FRANCHISE” that is well worth your time.
As always, I’m waiting for your comments through email or in the new official LYS@D discussion thread.
Manolis Vamvounisa.k.a. Doc Dooplove