Caliban (2014) Review

Writer Garth Ennis

Art Facundo Percio

Even in the far future, corporations will develop space technology only to explore, mine and harvest needed resources for their giant corporations on Earth. This story focuses on Caliban, a transport ship which carries the miners and supplies to resource rich destinations. Although this sounds like a grand adventure of exploration, for the crew it’s mind numbingly boring blue collared job at least until the Caliban makes first contact while in warp space.

Ennis begins this new space truckers story arc with a less is more formula. We’re introduced to Nomi with the starlog Sci-Fi trope. However, instead of wasting panels on world building, and history lessons, Ennis uses Nomi’s narration to establish the tone and world this mission is set in. Garth Ennis is a master at writing tight dialogue which still adds layers of depth and personality to each of his characters, and Caliban is no exception. From using nervous stuttering, words like “stuff” to describe technological “things”, to the jokes and insults, each character is uniquely defined within a panel or two. Also, Ennis uses the lack of Alien contact since the beginning of space exploration to emphasis the isolation and mundane lifestyle of a space trucker. Not only does Ennis show the improbability of a collision in a warp zone, but also the collision involving contact with alien life only adds to the mystery of the situation.

While Garth Ennis takes a less is more approach to Sci-Fi, Facundo Percio embraces the opposite. Percio artwork is crammed into every bit of cargo space of the ship. For example, the backgrounds are heavily layered with control panels, monitors with multiple lines of code, wires falling out of each console, even the Caliban clothes are highly detailed with patches, buttons, zippers and so on. Furthermore, although the characters are expressive during conversations, their eyes quickly become lost in vacant spaced out stares which adds the feel that the crew has been on this ship for much too long. The cramped panels, the vacant stares, and the warp space collision just further the overall claustrophobia of space travel.

What is always amazing is how Garth Ennis is able to use minimalist tight dialogue and narrative and create a psychologically tense thriller which keeps you guessing what will happen next. In addition, Ennis will lace his stories with just enough hyper realism in order to establish a familiar connection, rather it be mythology, conspiracies, or quantum theory, and it just shows how much care and detailed work Garth Ennis puts into his stories. It’ll also be interesting to see how Ennis writes Shakespeare’s Tempest into this Sci-Fi mystery. Ennis combined with Percio tireless artwork are sure to give us another great psychologically and claustrophobic thriller.  Image

Advertisements

Wolverine: Smoke ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em (2014) April Fool’s Review

Image

Writer

Garth Ennis

Artist

Gabriele Dell’Otto

The issue begins with a splash page depiction of Armageddon showing Logan in a final showdown with Legion. This is apparently the result of an X Force operation gone horribly wrong. As Legion is incinerating Logan’s flesh and mind wiping his brain, Legion says, “Freud says once you experience a trauma you’re doomed to repeat it. Why do you keep coming back to life, Logan?” Jerome Otto cleverly fades the close up of Wolverine’s corpse and Legion out to a dark monochrome. Logan wakes up in a cell with who is quickly revealed to be the red-headed Typhoid Mary. After watching a feral Logan spring back to life, Wolverine’s claws pop out and leap for Mary before we can only assume Typhoid sets Wolverine on fire, for the panel shows only a close up of her eyes sparkling with fire and a scream coming from Wolverine. Otto and Ennis do an interesting job of using parallelism by showing the same awakening scene happen again. Except this time we see the close up of Mary’s eyes before Wolverine pops his claws. Instead of leaping towards her, he asks her where they are who she is and more importantly who he is. We discover this same scenario has been happening for weeks while his body has been healing.

As the story progresses, we learn that Logan’s memory only lasts as long as he is awake, and any recollections from the past are at best fading dreams or a sense of Deja vu. After Mary makes a remark about how people can’t remember their dreams in color, it begins to make sense why Ennis and Otto chose to let most of the story remain colorless except for fire and blood. Although Logan can’t remember his past, he can remember how to do the one thing he does best and they decide to use their skills together in order to escape their prison. There’s a beautiful and violent scene which perfectly illustrates this approach. As Wolverine quickly snkts and kills many guards with trained precision, Typhoid Mary begins dancing, singing, and wrapping the screaming guards in blankets of fire. Blood drips and splashes from one panel to the next sequential panel, while Mary’s burning chaos are wide blazing panels. Even the pacing of the panels shows the dichotomy between their killing rhythm. Logan’s being three slices of panels followed by Typhoid’s stretched blazing panel interconnected with Mary’s burning lyrics singing across the tops. It isn’t until Logan smells the singed hair and sizzling fat of the guards does he pause his rage to witness Typhoid Mary’s blood lust. The following splash page is practically glowing and dripping from their fire and carnage. What is also interesting about this fight is the finesse of Wolverine’s attacks and defense. Wolverine doesn’t have the option to lay unconscious from a sentinel blast and a few seconds later jump right back into the fight. Because being knocked unconscious would erase Logan’s memory, Logan no longer has the option of running at bullets and using himself as a meat shield. Instead, we’re seeing the primal as well as the trained instincts of an immortal warrior.

Although the story doesn’t have any extra layers of plot or drama, it’s stripped down make your escape has always been the most suitable for Wolverine. Unlike many other incarnations of Wolverine, this story does not apologize for Logan’s killer instinct. With the narrative and dialogues, we learn this is a story about different aspects of killers. There’s Legion who is the Righteous Killer and always believes it’s a justified or merciful kill. Or there’s Mary. Because of her abusive and tragic past, Typhoid Mary became a sociopath for catharsis and defense. Then, there’s Logan who is a Darwinian soldier who survives by drawing first blood. It isn’t nice, but Logan’s the best at it.

Furthermore, Ennis’ Max series with Punisher and Fury, Ennis has proven that he knows what grit and grime can be found underneath the killers trigger, and that’s why this issue is the antithesis of what Wolverine had become over the last decade or two. Because of Wolverine’s popularity, he has been shoved into every corner of Marvel Universe. Now, not only does Logan have a past, but also it’s a messy one. Although it was nice House of M allowed writers to dive into unexplored aspects of Wolverine, it’s about time for the genie to be put back in the bottle. Instead of turning him into some Pseudo Xavier or Nick Fury, it would be nice for writers to remember the original Wolverine archetype, the immortal unknown soldier who is the best at what he does. Hopefully, much like what Born did for Punisher, this new Wolverine one-shot could hopefully re-calibrate Wolverine for future writers.

Red Team Season One (2014) Review

redteam7658An elite team of police officers called the Red Team take the law into their own hands and begin a plan to eliminate the untouchable criminals. People familiar with Garth Ennis have probably heard this tale before and for fans of the Hard Boiled genre have also seen this reenactment. What makes this stand out is Garth Ennis confessional style of storytelling. This story is being told to anonymous interrogators. This is an interesting approach because the reader can easily slide into our surrogate interrogators. They are even asking the protagonist questions which are no doubt swimming around in our mind. Then what happen, why did they do that, what is the connection, and so on. Because the protagonists are shooting the story straight, this plot device makes the reader feel they are playing their own part in the story. Furthermore, since this is told from a confession perspective, the story becomes a slow burning character building story arc. We often see this story told from a singular perspective and the pacing is too quick to understand how or why a person who enforces the law could slip down into the lawless path. Because this is told from two point-of-views, we get to see how people can justify the end. Although the development of the story is a slow burn, the action sequences are slick and brutal. The art never allows the gore and violence to stand in the way of the movement and pacing. Regrettably, the rest of the art becomes tediously repetitive. For example, each character has a permanent scowl on their face. The background and foreground lack any clear depth and is particularly noticeable in any wide panel shots. This could easily be due to the colorist because the b&w sketches at the back of each issue show more depth and detail than their final illustration. Hopefully, in future issues this will become a little more polished. Otherwise, they should leave the comic in black and white. Although the action scenes are impressive, this is a character focused story and the lack of detail between the actions scenes makes my hands want to skip the part that makes this story unique.

Max Fury: My War Gone By (2013)

nickGarth Ennis returns to Nick Fury to deliver one of Marvel’s best Max releases. Ennis delivers a story that focuses on Nick Fury wrestling with his inner demons caused from years as a black op. The story begins in the modern day with an embittered and old Nick Fury confessing his battle scars into an old reel-to-reel recorder. Then, we’re taken to a time shortly after World War 2 where Fury believes everything started to go downhill. Shield is now just a pseudo name for CIA’s covert black ops unit. After World War 2, Fury and the readers discover that war has changed, and it’s now become a bureaucratic way of empowering various powers to be. So, a large portion of the story we see Nick Fury struggling with issues about rebels and the CIA creating unwanted revolutions, or the CIA is using the military to run drug deals in order to finance these hidden wars.

Meanwhile, there is rich character development. Garth Ennis peels back the veil and reveals Frank Castle’s motivation. All these black ops required men like Fury and Castle to shoot selected targets. This dehumanization and devalued regard for human life had blurred the lines that separate home from the war zone. When Castle returned home, all that changed was he got to select who his targets were. It’s how he made sense of the world.
frank

image

We also see Fury have a prolonged affair with a politician’s wife, Shirley DeFabio. Who is a secretary who escaped the mean streets of New York by using and manipulating men in powerful positions. Although their relationship was confined to a bedroom, they needed it so they could still feel something for another human life. However, Nick Fury knows that if he left the war zone to become domesticated he will inevitably follow Frank Castle’s suicide run. There are men who go fight in the war and come back relatively unscathed. Then there are men like Frank Castle, Nick Fury, and Barracuda, whose killer within awakens and their old self never comes back.

Although Garth Ennis has been accused of glorifying excessive violence by Stan Lee himself, it’s how he uses the violence and other mature aspects of the story that define his style. In this story in particular, he uses violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, and so on as red flags of a flawed individual. When Barracuda kicks a dead fetus at Nick Fury, it’s to horrify the readers and show how disconnected and apathetic these soldiers have become. There are graphic depictions of sex but this is the only intimacy we see throughout the whole arc. This is highlighted by when Frank Castle and Nick Fury are on a mission, and we have panels upon panels of complete silence. Garth Ennis also uses real world scenarios such as CIA and Contra forces trafficking coke for the rebels, or the CIA and Contra controversially funding and supporting freedom fighters in various Soviet controlled countries of the world. These real anecdotes pepper the story with more punch and make us question the mentality of a man who had to carry the weight of CIA’s dirty laundry.

Major praise should be given to the artist Goran Parlov for being able to hang in there for Garth Ennis. He managed to not flinch or shy away from the depictions of brutality. Also, Parlov was able to show our characters slowly age from head to toe, from a head of thick hair to thin and grey or from a perky toned body to a sagging and wrinkled sack of flesh. Although his art popped from the pages and was rich with detail, by the end the art made my hands feel dirty.

This is a great series which shows how to do a story for mature readers. It didn’t settle for merely giving the reader mature eye candy. Instead, it brought a lot of heavy political commentary to the table and spoke to the reader like they were adults.