Black Panther #1, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, cover art by Brian Stelfreeze, interior art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin, lettering by Joe Sabino, design by Manny Mederos, logo by Rian Hughes. Marvel Comics, April 2016. $4.99.
Oh man, Stelfreeze and Martin’s art is gorgeous—Stelfreeze’s figures are dynamic, the compositions of each panels intriguing; Martin’s color palettes add so much mood and sense of place to each panel. Black Panther #1 isn’t an issue to read quickly; there’s a lot going on, with Coates introducing lots of setup and fascinating characters; so many intertwined conflicts of different scopes are laid out to be explored. A great first issue.
Black Panther #2, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, cover art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin, interior art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin, lettering by Joe Sabino, design by Manny Mederos, logo by Rian Hughes. Marvel Comics, May 2016. $3.99.
This issue delves further into a changing Wakanda and the various struggles that T’challa is facing: shame, rage; a myriad of complex emotions. There’s a lot going on and at times it’s difficult to keep up, but it also feels like there’s a large story going on that will take a few issues to bring into rhythm. The artwork is great; the swirls and squiggles of the two pages in T’challa’s mind are particularly interesting, a different textural landscape to illustrate the powers interfering with him.
Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises #0, created and written by Shannon Lee and Jeff Kline, cover art by Bernard Chang, interior art by Brandon McKinney and Zac Atkinson, lettering by Troy Peteri, design by Steve Blackwell. Darby Pop Publishing, May 2016. Free Comic Book Day.
Co-created by Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises is a fictional all-ages adventure comic in which Bruce Lee escapes the facility in which he was held and finds himself in the year 2012. The artwork is expressive and the story is a fun setup for the series. Some of the writing is a little too silly for my tastes, but other audiences may enjoy it more.
Lady Mechanika captures a creature terrorizing local residents, only to discover that the creature knows about her mysterious past. “The Demon of Satan’s Alley” takes up about half the issue, with the other half comprised of excerpts from Lady Mechanika volumes 1 and 2. I’ve seen Lady Mechanika around a number of times and always liked the art—it’s ornate and dynamic, and the stories and excerpts feel like fun adventure fiction. But I always find myself disappointed and troubled by visions of steampunk that reproduce colonial England, a power dynamic that’s especially apparent in the Orientalist fantasy that the preview of volume 2 shows. So, mixed feelings about Lady Mechanika.
Silk #8, written by Robbie Thompson, cover art by Yasmine Putri, interior art by Tana Ford and Ian Herring, lettering by Travis Lanham. Marvel Comics, May 2016. $3.99.
Another chapter in the Spider-Women arc—again I’m only going off the blurb in the front to bridge between the issues. This time it was a little harder to follow what was going on, but Silk #8 is still an enjoyable read. I’m really loving Tana Ford’s art, and, reading this issue right after reading Lady Mechanika—which has a bit of cheesecake design—I’m struck by how realistic Ford’s illustrations of body types are, how refreshing it is to see costumes follow how fabric actually works: no boob-socking, for example. It’s great, and I’ve really grown to appreciate Ford’s art and the expressiveness of the characters. 616!Cindy’s character also takes an interesting turn in this issue, and I’m curious to see how things work out. I may have to pull the other issues of the Spider-Women arc or wait for the trade paperback after all…
May 2016; 2,900 words. One summary: An alien that is being held captive mulls over memories while awaiting rescue. Another summary: Cannibal aliens in love! It’s difficult to try to encapsulate this story in a couple sentences though because it’s so vast in scope; neither summary really does the story justice. I will say that “The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One” isn’t for the faint of heart and was quite disturbing to me—there are detailed descriptions of vivisection and cannibalism, after all—but underneath the shock of that are grief and love and dedication, longing and stories upon stories to tell. Despite being just under 3,000 words, the story feels so much bigger, probably due to the density of the prose that works in a wonderful way to slow the pacing and allow us to focus on all the details. Worth a reread to get all the nuances in the narrative.
May 2016; 2,700 words. An experimental piece about fear of the ocean, about a mission gone wrong, about one person’s sacrifice to save their crew. The writing is beautiful and lyrical; I found myself immersed in the descriptions, allowing the language to pass over me like a bath. Khaw suggests breathing where the text says “Breathe” and I did so, finding that it had a curious effect combined with the language—where the story is more panicked, Khaw adjusts the flow of the words to be more hurried, more tense, and combined with the sparser command to breathe I found my own heart pounding as the anxiety of the scene became more palpable. Elsewhere, the regular command to breathe creates more calm, especially juxtaposed with the text; it’s an interesting effect that I enjoyed combined with the deep-sea setting. “Breathe” doesn’t feel like a gimmick; the command feels integral to the text, and didn’t feel repetitive as I was reading. Well-done.
November 2014; 3,600 words. Karitoki tries to tame a Pania, a guardian of dolphins and whales and seals, by bringing her different oils for her skin and cooking her mussels—but the Pania proves difficult to tame. Any piece that’s rich with food imagery is going to grab my interest, and Cade’s descriptions and use of language in “The Mussel Eater” are exquisite. I’m reminded pleasantly of the Five Times structure in fanfiction, and adore that I’m seeing it in original fiction as well; it works wonderfully to build the tentative relationship between Karitoki and the Pania, to draw out the characterizations and wants of each. I didn’t see the ending coming, and yet it feels like the perfect way to wrap up this lush story that teeters on the edge of wildness. Gorgeous work.
May 2016; 4,100 words. Rowan struggles to ride the bone horses that appear to corral the dead during the Dead Days. A gorgeous, slow-moving piece filled with so much sensory detail: a piece that I read more for the experience of being immersed in the world than for a story or narrative per se. The red asters, the salt, all the details of the lost things on Far Island; the mythos of a drowned island, the image of the dead communing with the living—all the choice details work together to create a bleak atmosphere dotted with moments of vibrancy, a gray-and-red palette that I found beautiful. A haunting story; I particularly loved the ending.
May 2016; 5,900 words. A first contact story and an apocalypse story rolled into one as, in one thread, the narrator struggles to survive with her children, and in another thread, the narrator discovers a horrifying misunderstanding at the core of the scientific research project she’s part of. I love this story; the pacing is perfect and led me to blaze through the story in record speed as I read on to see what was happening and why. As someone with a background in linguistics, I appreciated the details that McGuire focused on in “Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands”—there are so many aspects of language that I feel are underexplored in science fiction, and the medium through which language is transmitted is one of them. I love the dread that creeps throughout the story, the foreshadowing that leaves you wondering even as the events transpire; the structure of the story works so well for the concepts it conveys. Brilliant story.
Balin by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)
April 2016; 11,000 words. As a youth, the narrator’s father gives him a birthday gift, a mythical creature known as paoxiao. The narrator names the paoxiao Balin and soon discovers that Balin has a unique talent: imitating people’s movements perfectly. However, this talent becomes a joke as the narrator and others abuse Balin for amusement, turning him into a puppet of sorts. “Balin” is as much about the narrator as it is about the titular character: it’s a story about family, memory, relationships, and empathy; the past and the present flow between each other, creating a poignant story. The scientific grounding of the story lends realism and weight to the fantastical premise; the narrator’s character development and revelations left me tearing up at the end. A wonderful if difficult story.
May 2016; 3,500 words. Mei Fong worries whether her girlfriend Nadia will be faithful to her and returns home to her mother for help. Her mother creates an elaborate spell per Mei Fong’s request, but Mei Fong realizes that some things can’t be fixed with witchcraft. A fun story with gorgeous writing; I found my mouth watering over the descriptions of food, everything so vivid that I could practically see, smell, and taste the meals in the story. All the characters are wonderfully rendered, each with their own personality; Mei Fong’s mother in particular is a dazzling and memorable figure. I’ll definitely be revisiting this story, if not simply for Khaw’s fantastic language use: Inside, however, space arches like a cat beneath its owner’s attentions, lengthening into impossibility. Great work.
January 2015; 3,200 words. In a world where people are identified by scents, Child struggles to earn her own name and open her own perfumery. A mysterious, scentless woman visits Child, asking her to copy a smell, as well as to create a new one—this particular task is nearly impossible, but the woman is willing to pay a high price. The plot is fascinating in itself, but is secondary to me to the language, imagery, and worldbuilding in this story. The choice in detail is so specific, creating a vivid atmosphere and sensory experience that’s unlike any other story I’ve read. Gorgeous work, compelling from start to finish; I can tell that this story will linger with me for a long time.
April 2016; 12,000 words. Avery signs up for a job transporting an alien and his human translator Lionel. Along the way, her interactions with Lionel cause old memories to resurface as she questions the nature of her existence and experiences. This is such an unusual alien invasion story, a different take on first contact; what I loved in particular about “Touring with the Alien” is how a concept that was so difficult for me to comprehend initially—how can an unconscious creature be sentient?—became clear at the end; I, too, questioned with Avery whether consciousness is as important as we believe it to be. I loved Avery as a character; her development along with Lionel’s really drives the story. A fascinating read, one that also focuses on empathy and relationships.
December 2015; 7,300 words. As a child, Yuanyuan loved blowing bubbles; as she grows up, this whimsical hobby turns into a massive undertaking that may be the only way to save her drought-ravaged home. I loved the lighthearted nature of this story, how there were very real stakes at hand, but only a brief moment of tragedy—the sense of wonder that pervades throughout the story was enough to compel me to keep reading. Liu balances fantasy/magic realism and hard science to wonderful effect, creating a story that’s fun and full of verisimilitude.
Catching up on my massive comics backlog! /o\ 13 issues for review this month:
Black Canary #9, written by Matthew Rosenberg, cover art by Guillem March, interior art by Moritat and Lee Loughridge, lettering by Steve Wands. DC Comics, March 2016. $2.99.
One-shot story. Black Canary plays a private show for a young girl’s birthday, only to run into some difficulties: the attendees are all villains and assassins. A cute self-contained story that makes for a fun read.
Black Canary #10, written by Brenden Fletcher, cover art by Annie Wu, interior art by Moritat, Sandy Jarrell, and Lee Loughridge, lettering by Steve Wands. DC Comics, April 2016. $2.99.
Batgirl teams up with Dinah; while Dinah continues to search for clues about her mother, the “ninja death cult” continues to pursue Dinah in search of the Five Heavens Palm technique. Standard action-adventure issue.
Black Canary #11, written by Brenden Fletcher, cover art by Annie Wu, interior art by Sandy Jarrell, Wayne Faucher, and Lee Loughridge, lettering by Marilyn Patrizio. DC Comics, April 2016. $2.99.
Dinah reunites with the other members of Black Canary in Berlin, only to find herself facing the villain Orato in a private battle. Another standard action-adventure issue, though the ending was one that I didn’t expect—admittedly, these last couple of issues didn’t really capture my interest, and I might be dropping Black Canary after this arc concludes. The earlier issues were much stronger imo; I’m less interested in seeing yet another story about a white person guarding secret kung-fu knowledge.
Monstress #4, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda, lettering by Rus Wooten. Image Comics, March 2016. $3.99.
Gorgeous artwork from Sana Takeda as usual. This issue introduces us to more of the tensions and politics going on in the world of Monstress, as well as Maika’s very intimate struggle with the Monstrum inside her. Maika’s own fear, as well as Kippa’s terror over Maika’s uncontrolled abilities, are so palpable. A slow-moving issue that gives us fascinating glimpses into the various settings of Monstress.
Monstress #5, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda, lettering by Rus Wooten. Image Comics, April 2016. $3.99.
Every issue of Monstress feels rich and so full of worldbuilding as well as character development, and this issue is no different. Maika’s reminisces about Tuya deepen her loneliness and her need to find connection; the introduction of the Dusk Court adds another layer of intrigue to the story.
Ms. Marvel #5, written by G. Willow Wilson, cover art by David Lopez, interior art by Nico Leon and Ian Herring, lettering by Joe Caramagna. Marvel Comics, March 2016. $3.99.
I am loving Nico Leon’s artwork—it’s clean and dynamic; the results look effortless, but the scenes with crowds and multiple Kamala golems show Leon’s mastery over detail. All the characters are wonderfully expressive; G. Willow Wilson’s writing continues to be fantastic, and Kamala’s struggle to balance all her responsibilities rings with verisimilitude. I’m excited to see how this plot resolves in the next issue.
Ms. Marvel #6, written by G. Willow Wilson, cover art by David Lopez, interior art by Nico Leon and Ian Herring, lettering by Joe Caramagna. Marvel Comics, April 2016. $3.99.
What a perfect conclusion to this arc—I’m so, so glad that Ms. Marvel asked for help, and that Captain Marvel and Iron Man were both supportive with Kamala setting boundaries for herself. Wilson is so great at writing Kamala as a vulnerable teenager learning how to care for herself, and I’m so glad to see Kamala learning these lessons. Leon’s art and Herring’s colors continue to be fabulous; the wedding scene in particular sparkled with how vivid it was. A wonderful issue.
Pretty Deadly #9, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Emma Ríos and Jordie Bellaire, lettering by Clayton Cowles. Image Comics, April 2016. $3.50.
As reapers duel on the battlefield, Cyrus continues to struggle against War, who wants to take him as his own. Emma Ríos’s art never fails to be stunning. Ríos shares in common with Mike del Mundo, another favorite artist of mine, the skill of telling stories through sequential art without traditional paneling—pages 12 and 13 in particular are incredible, allowing the eye to flow from scene to scene effortlessly. Bellaire’s colors are fantastic as well, especially with War and Fear being represented by different colors: the visual effect on the page is gorgeous. When it comes to Pretty Deadly, the actual events of the issue are less important to me than how they’re told. The storytelling, both in writing and in the visuals, never fails to be atmospheric and epic. Another excellent issue.
Red Wolf #4, written by Nathan Edmonson, cover art by Jeffrey Veregge, interior art by Dalibor Talajić, José Marzan, Jr., and Miroslav Mrva, lettering by Cory Petit. Marvel Comics, March 2016. $3.99.
Deputy Ortiz and Red Wolf pursue the people suspected of attacking Sheriff Knight with rattlesnakes. What I appreciate about Red Wolf is that it’s not just action—both Deputy Ortiz and Red Wolf have their moments of character development, and, at the end of this issue, Red Wolf demonstrates his agency by choosing to pursue those who have hurt the Deputy and the Sheriff. Talajić and Marzan are fantastic at including detail in the lineart that feels effortless, and Mrva’s colors always feel harmonious and perfectly applied, each palette tailored to the mood of the scene.
Red Wolf #5, written by Nathan Edmonson, cover art by Jeffrey Veregge, interior art by Dalibor Talajić, José Marzan, Jr., and Miroslav Mrva, lettering by Cory Petit. Marvel Comics, April 2016. $3.99.
While Red Wolf and Deputy Ortiz continue to pursue their suspects, Miss Haberly puts additional pressure on Mayor Babbish for more land. This issue in particular highlights the unique way Talajić, Marzan, and Mrva handle negative space in their panels; it’s a fascinating technique used to great effect that I haven’t seen others do before. The issue itself passes by quickly, building up tension to end with the reveal of a character we haven’t seen in a while. I’m enjoying Red Wolf’s development and the growth of his partnership with Deputy Ortiz, and I’m eager to see what happens in the next issue.
Silk #6, written by Robbie Thompson, cover art by Helen Chen, interior art by Tana Ford and Ian Herring, lettering by Travis Lanham. Marvel Comics, March 2016. $3.99.
Silk and Black Cat take out the Goblin Nation. I adore how much Robbie Thompson reveals about Silk’s character and her psyche, from little details like how she doesn’t like closed doors to the bigger, heavier issues like her anger. It’s rare to see a story about an Asian-American woman struggling with anger issues, so reading Silk is always a breath of fresh air. Ford is great at rendering Silk’s angry outbursts so that they feel visceral and terrifying.
Spider-Women Alpha #1, written by Robbie Thompson, cover art by Yasmine Putri, interior art by Vanesa del Rey and Jordie Bellaire, lettering by Travis Lanham. Marvel Comics, April 2016. $4.99.
Spider-women going out for brunch! I love seeing Gwen, Jessica, and Cindy team up and support each other; Vanesa del Rey’s brushed linework works wonderfully with Jordie Bellaire’s colors. I’m not sure if I’ll pull the individual issues of the Spider-Women crossover, but this issue sets up the plot nicely and leaves me curious as to what else is going to happen.
Silk #7, written by Robbie Thompson, cover art by Yasmine Putri, interior art by Tana Ford and Ian Herring, lettering by Travis Lanham. Marvel Comics, April 2016. $3.99.
I adore Yasmine Putri’s cover art for this issue; it’s gorgeous! I’m reading this issue without having read Spider-Gwen #7, but the summary from the beginning is enough to catch me up to speed on the Spider-Women story. This is a fun issue, with Cindy discovering that Earth-65!Cindy has cut her family out of her life and become a super villain. I’m interested in seeing how Earth-65!Cindy diverged from Earth-616!Cindy; now I’m more tempted to pull the remaining issues of Spider-Women, or at least wait for the trade…
Kij Johnson’s “Coyote Invents the Land of the Dead” is a mythic tale of love and loss that I found engrossing, in part because of the strange, evocative language. Johnson plays with sound and form, and Kate Baker’s narration of the piece brings that playfulness to life. It’s an entirely different experience listening to the story than only reading it.
One part of the story that struck me was Johnson’s creation of onomatopoetic verbs to describe the sounds of the seashells (emphasis mine):
The sand around her was heaped everywhere with mounded massy dark shells, pyramided into black piles as high as her waist, and over the sand/water-whisper the piles chirked when a crawling wave touched them.
Dee pushed the shells aside with her feet as she walked, and they chunkled against one another.
It’s such an evocative shorthand, one that recurs throughout the story: chirked, chunkled, skrankles, chirking, chirpling, chinkering, chirtling, chirtle, skankling. Removing morphology like -ed and -ing and transcribing the words in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) according to my and Kate Baker’s general U.S. accents produces the following pronunciation list:1
Fricatives like <s>2 and affricates like <ch> create grating sounds, while stops like <p>, <t>, and <k> mimic the sound of seashells colliding. Also notable are the vowel choices—<i> and <a>, perhaps to mimic the ringing and clanging of the shells, like windchimes in a beach breeze.
I’m not sure what to make of the strong use of <r>, though. There was an instance of the existing onomatopoeia “chirp” in the text, so perhaps the use of <r> echoes that. <r> also lowers the vocal quality of the <i>, lending some auditory variation between words like “chirk” versus “chinker.” <l> could have a similar effect, but I can’t be sure with only this cursory analysis.
I’d love to do a more in-depth study of diction, word choice, and sound choice in this piece, as there’s such a melodic quality to it, but that amount of work as I envision it is beyond my capacity at the moment. 😅 Just thought I’d show some appreciation for the piece by pointing out a particular aspect of it that I enjoyed.
If you have any further thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments below 😄!
You don’t need to know IPA to follow along—I’m mostly tabling the pronunciations to clarifies how I’m reading them, for those who want more nuance about it. ↩
I’m using angled bracklets (<>) and spelling instead of IPA for readability among non-linguists. ↩