I was teaching about what resonates in communicating a message to an audience to my students this week and one of the points they glommed onto was emotion.
At this time of year, emotions run high. Eliciting an emotional response from a viewer, reader – whatever the medium, is the most efficient and effective way to get your message across. If you have a 30 second commercial, you need to get your audience’s attention as fast as possible and whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 pages, it’s that emotionality that gets to a reader. What comics really tug at out heart strings this week? Let’s get to the list.
Books of Magic #15
I feel for Tim Hunter as both a teacher and a parent. Alone, struggling with the authority figures in his life, Tim’s life hasn’t been made better by magic and the promises it held when we first met him in the eighties have been replaced with a threatened future.
Kat Howard and Tom Fowler do an excellent job of portraying how alienated this kid is. He’s not the Tim Hunter we knew from the days of Neil Gaiman and John Bolton; this is a kid, like many of his 21st century peers are more aware of life’s pressures than their 1980’s counterparts. Kids, these days, are being taught to think more about the future and given more tools and privileges in trying to deal with them. In this case, Tim has magic and even some ability to control it. He lacks experience in knowing when to use it and that lack of understanding is what gets him into danger.
You know, it’s a pretty good analogy for today’s kids. After all, they have cell phones that give them instant communication, near-unlimited knowledge courtesy of the internet and even a greater latitude in forgoing traditional responsibilities like school. Hmmm … I might be projecting a bit there.
But in all seriousness, we allow young people to handle responsibilities when they are ready for them. Even though this doesn’t match up with real-world deadlines, they still get that degree of consideration. It’s like we want them to be aware of life’s demands but don’t really introduce the notion of consequences when they fail to live up to them.
In this issue, for instance, Tim is made aware of the dangerous attention his use of magic has brought his guardians, but he still succumbs to the temptation of using them because he feels he knows better. It’s the lack of experience and trust in those who know better than him that is at the heart of this story.
Like I said, I feel for Tim as both teacher and a parent. While that’s the emotion that’s being drawn out in this story, hopefully we’ll see more happen in this book.
The Dreaming #17
I’m feeling a little anxious about this book. While I cannot help but be mesmerized by Bilquis Evely’s stunning artwork, I have to say that I am starting to lose a bit of faith in the Lord of Dreams, who I am fully expecting to return and take his realm back. After all, we’ve been through an entire roster of supporting characters in the Dreaming, only to be met by an Artificial Intelligence that not only lacks awareness of his task but also has a lack of investment in the sanctity of the realm.
Of course, anxiety is the driving emotional force in this story as the entire human race needs to dream. When the entire knowledge of the dream realm is upended into the sleeping consciousness of humanity, there’s no predicting what the outcomes can be. However, we know that eventually the entirety of the human species will be driven insane.
It’s time for Morpheus to return. Hell, I’d even settle for Daniel at this point. However, the end of this issue sees a return of a well-known character who might be able to bring some sense and order to the realm.
It’s taken an intense amount of time to get to this point though. It’s been a bit of a wait, and while I am curious to see what Si Spurrier has in store for us next, I hope he doesn’t take too long to get there and generate an even greater sense of worry!
Doctor Strange: Surgeon Supreme #1
I have to confess to a bit of resentment this title initially instilled in me. I mean, do we really need another multiple Marvel character book?
I’m big enough to admit when I was wrong. I found I really enjoyed this book and it does answer a question about why wouldn’t Strange use his sorcerous powers to heal his hands? It’s not as if he’d want to return to his position as a surgeon once he’d seen the wonders that magic has shown him, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he might, right?
Well, Mark Waid and Kev Walker answer that question for us as Strange’s hands have been healed through the benevolence of a scheming demon and he takes on the medical cases that no-one else can handle.
My initial resentment gave way to the sensation of pleasant discovery for a number of reasons. I’m not overly familiar with Kev Walker’s work and while I enjoyed it, there was something about it that I couldn’t place. After a while I realized that it was somewhat reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s work. Of course, given that Ditko and Lee created Doctor Strange, it made sense for this first issue to have an artist on board with that type of quality.
Mark Waid is a gifted writer and this story definitely brought back more of the superhero vibe to Doctor Strange rather than his most recent work of dealing with magical threats. While I know that is his role, the appearance of the Wrecker, a classic Marvel villain, reminds us that Doctor Strange isn’t just a magician, he’s also a hero.
Family Tree #1
Jeff Lemire is good with weird, but this book, with Phil Hester, provides us with a variety of intense emotions that not only attract our attention but are ones that are really easy to relate to.
The book opens on Loretta, a single mum with two kids struggling to make ends meet on a supermarket cashier’s job and trying to reconcile her washed-up life with the demands of single parenting. Her son is typical high school trouble maker and her younger daughter is an innocent caught up in her mother’s challenges.
Already there are a plethora of emotional triggers in those sentences that would not only activate some sort of response but when you add to the fact that the town that the story is sent in seems to be caught in the grip of some sort of floral virus or plague that is focused on Loretta’s family, well, now you have a story that’s interesting.
Hester’s artwork is spidery in nature and really captures the rough essence of small-town America. It shows the reader the scathing nature of the characters in this town that time seems to have left behind and communicates the sense of futility and reluctant acceptance of the way things have to be.
East of West #45
I used to think the greatest emotion in this story is the sense of determination to see things through to the bitter end. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta have sustained this battle for domination over the leftover, ragged scraps of this alternate future Earth for the last several years and it has been a story of epic proportions.
But in that time, there has been the struggle for power – the drive to overcome your enemies and prove with a dogged desire that not only are the players capable of wining but they are worthy of it.
“We die exactly as we have lived.” That sentence starts this book and heralds this attitude. All the characters in this book, whether they are heroes or villains, all have one thing in common: the sense that their role, whether chosen or not, is the most important one on the planet and will decide the future of the planet, whether that means its salvation or destruction.
But, after all the blood and destruction, the need to restructure homes, to rebuild relationships, find what was lost comes out of the end of this story. In the end, it’s love that will outlast all of humanity’s fragile constructs and the love between a parent and their child, the patriotism for one’s country or just the love of peace – these are universal things that every person should seek for and should be present at the end of every story.
This was not the end that I foresaw for this series. However, given the nature of Jonathan Hickman’s recent commitment to The X-Men there’s no way he could sustain the intense level of storytelling this book has required while writing for Marvel. So, the war is finally ended, but in the end, it’s love that finally resonates with the reader. Great series and I’m proud to say that I have followed and collected the entire run in both hardcover editions and floppies.
The emotional roller-coaster that this book has provide to its loyal readers has to account for something this week. To mark the end of such an illustrious and highly-charged series – I don’t think there has ever been an issue that has affected me to such a degree than this one – East of West #45 is the pick of the week.
I think I’m prepared for what Hickman will do with The X-Men because I feel like I’ve done the required reading, but I don’t think that will detract from my enjoyment of it. I think there will be some emotional adjustment for me, particularly in the way that he will manage characters, but overall, it might just be what the X-Men will need. You see, Hickman’s style contains two things that readers often overlook.
The first involves an immense aptitude for the “big picture”. Hickman looks at worlds rather than teams. He will include as many mutants as he can into his writing because he creates worlds. I’ve been on record for commenting about his world-building style. I think that has to be an editorial choice in selecting him to manage this franchise. However, that type of perspective involves a degree of latitude in control. Hickman isn’t just going to manage one comic title – he will demand oversight with regards to all mutant titles. Whether it’s right or wrong, I think it’s what writing about mutants demands, but, it’s also what the entire Marvel continuum demands. Back in the eighties (early nineties) Chris Claremont wrote most of the mutant titles, so if another writer tackled a project he wasn’t assigned to, you can be assured that he had a hand in it.
The second thing that readers overlook about Hickman is that his writing is always emotionally charged. Typically, he likes to submerge his writing in powerful, primary emotional settings of loyalty, family, or personal interest. Hickman’s currency is passion, and if you want to understand his writing, then East of West is your primary reader.
I’m sorry to see this series end – not out of a typical comic reader’s bent but because like the embers of a smoldering fire, this story has reached its ultimate conclusion. The waning of a fire signifies the end of an evening and this issue signals the end of a comic that had a passionate ending.
I have reported on every issue of this comic in this column. This is a significant passing – and passion for me, but I have been privileged to sit in the wake of its flames.
May your holidays burn bright and warm with a passion that can only be surpassed by next year’s! All the best to you this season.
Until next week.