Three for Thursday: Independent Comics Review: New Brian K. Vaughan!


Every Thursday I would like to share some of my thoughts on comics released for the week. This week we look at three.

Grant Morrison’s 18 Days #1
Writer: Morrison, Grant
Artist: Kang, Jeevan
Cover Artist: Kang, Jeevan
Published by Graphic India

If you are not aware, Grant Morrison has shown a fascination with Indian mythology. We have seen him use Hindu-inspired narrative devices such as reincarnation, cosmic wheels and light versus dark in his work for Marvel and DC. He also produced Vimanarama for Vertigo back in 2005. It was a mash-up of Indian mythology and super hero themes that mostly went unnoticed. It was pretty fun though. And that title came to mind when I saw Morrison’s new comic on the shelves this week. Titled 18 Days, Morrison has taken on the heady task of telling the cosmic story of the Hindu gods and princes, introducing us to their motivations and letting us bear witness to their awesome confrontations.

I had not heard of this title prior to yesterday. But a little Googling shows that Mr. Morrison has been working with the publisher/producer Grapic India to tell the story of The Mahabharata, an Indian Epic on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey (Narratively speaking that is. The Mahabharata is about ten times longer than the Odyssey and Iliad combined!). He has been struggling to tell this story for some time too, it should be noted, having first pitched the idea of this series back in 2010. It finally became a YouTube animated series in 2013. The comic released this week appears to be the first time the series has been marketed as a comic only (If anyone knows differently please let me know!).

Not totally familiar with Hindu mythology, many of the ideas were new to me. Clearly, Morrison tried to educate those of us unfamiliar with the material, holding our hands as we wrap our heads around this battle between gods and demons. Though a touch didactic in nature, it is not off-putting. Morrison frames humanity in his story to give the reader some grounding to his cosmic tale. And his artist, Jeevan Kang, brings an animator’s sensibilities to the comic, imbuing it with a flow and cinematic feel.

I find it odd, I must admit, that this comic works as well as it does. There is no clear protagonist. Our sympathies align with the forces of light, but that is due more to the narrative bias Morrison places there. A victory by the forces of good will allow people of the future to live well. A defeat and there may be nothing at all alive. I also found myself comparing this conflict to Tolkien’s epic battles in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The sprawling battlefields, godlike beings with awesome powers going at one another and the fate of a world in the balance all contribute to this similitude.

I would recommend this comic to anyone interested in learning about Hinduism and The Mahabharata. Aside from that though, if you would like your head bent a little bit in the way only Grant Morrison seems to bend our heads, I would say this title is for you.

From the publisher:

"From legendary creator Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, Batman & Robin, The Invisibles), comes the first chapter in his newest creation. 18 Days is the story of three generations of super-warriors, meeting for the final battle of their age, a climactic war that concludes the age of the gods and begins the age of man. ‘This is not a Lord of the Rings or a Star Wars where the good guys win because they are right. The good guys in 18 Days are forced to cheat and lie and break rules to win. Although it has fantastic, mythic trappings, this is a very modern story of realpolitik and the failure of ideals in the face of harsh truth.’ – Grant Morrison. Main covers by Jeevan Kang and Mukesh Singh. Also available with Cosmic Krishna and Oracle variant covers, each limited to 1,000 copies."

We Stand On Guard #1
Writer: Vaughan, Brian K.
Artist: Skroce, Steve
Cover Artist: Skroce, Steve
Published by Image

Brian K. Vaughan has given us some rich worlds to explore in Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and of course, Saga. He has a knack for presenting incredible premises (last man on earth, ex-superhero as mayor of NYC, galactic enemies turned lovers) and grounding them with well thought out characters. He references literature and imbues his characters with unique, human, traits. In a word, I have found his stories to be delicious.

It was with this mindset that I picked up We Stand on Guard #1 this week. “Oh my goodness,” I thought. “Another Vaughan book. What a wonderful world we live in.” It advertised itself as a war story complete with robots and US-on-Canada violence. What more could a fan ask for?

Set a hundred years in the future, the comic tells the story of a girl, Amber, who survives an all-out military strike

against Canada and her hometown of Quebec. The Americans are starving for resources and an annexation of Canada aligns with their needs. They bomb the heck out the Canadians. Amber and her brother, just children, make it out to the wilderness. Years later Amber runs into a group of freedom fighters and teams up with them.

Like most of Vaughan’s previous work, the story depends on believable characterizations. He may show us half a dozen characters, but he has always worked to make them unique by making it clear each has her own motivations and desires. He has done no differently in We Stand on Guard #1. What is a bit different about this title is the artist he has chosen to work with. Save for some of Y: The Last Man, Vaughn has traditionally worked with accomplished artists. His artist for We Stand on Guard, Steve Skroce, does not fall into that category from where I am sitting. His layouts and panels are fine, but he lacks a consistency to his art that strikes me as less than masterful and somewhat distracting. I like the comic and the story in it, and Skroce’s work may end up growing on me. But as it stands, We Stand on Guard has the feel of a flawed book.

From the publisher:

"SAGA writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN teams with artistic legend and MATRIX storyboard artist STEVE SKROCE for an action-packed military thriller that will have everyone talking. 100 years from now, a heroic band of Canadian civilians must defend their homeland from invasion…by the United States of America! The hyper-detailed combat between badass freedom fighters and giant f***ing robots begins with a spectacular 40-PAGE FIRST ISSUE for the regular price of just $2.99!"

X-O Manowar #38
Writer: Venditti, Robert
Artist: Sandoval, Rafael
Cover Artist: Sandoval, Rafael
Published by Valiant

The “marriage special edition” has a long history in comics. From Reed and Sue Richards to Lois and Clark, publishers have always made a big deal about iconic comic characters delivering their wedding vows. Myself, I have always been ambivalent to the narrative (marketing) device. It seems like it’s not long before the marriage ends and the “reset” button gets pressed on the characters and their lives. Baloney on all that.

But there I was at the comic shop yesterday, picking up X-O Manowar #38. Billed as a 48-PAGE SPECTACULAR and THE WEDDING OF THE CENTURIES, you would think this might be the least likely comic for me this or any week. But it had a couple things going for it. For one, I have recently gotten on the Valiant bandwagon. The publisher has lured me into reading X-O Manowar, Ninjak, Unity and others by offering good stories backed up by competent, even fantastic, art. And for a fan used to the stylings of the Big Two publishers, Valiant’s sprawling universe offers a different feel than what I am used to. In fact, I found myself eager to read X-O Manowar #38 specifically because it was a wedding issue. I am still getting to know the Valiant universe, you see. While I have been able to slip into many of the current stories thanks to what seems to be a conscious effort on the part of the Valiant team to make their heroes and titles more accessible, there is still a lot I have yet to be exposed to. I can stand to learn more about character dynamics, how titles interconnect with others, and general histories of everything. A good old-fashioned wedding issue seemed like just what the doctor ordered.

It was everything I expected and more. That is, it was as shallow and inconsequential a story as one could hope for, while at the same time offering me the texture and background I was looking for from Valiant. Everyone who is anyone in the Valiant universe makes an appearance to see Aric of Darcia, a.k.a. X-O Manowar, wed his longtime love, Saana. What little drama the comic offers takes shape as Aric reaches out to the ghost of his first wife, asking for her blessing. The fun of the comic, though, is seeing Archer and Armstrong, Ninjak, Bloodshot and the other Valiant heroes interact. Were it Marvel or DC trying to do the same thing I know I would have gagged distastefully at the whole setup. But as these characters are so new to me, this bit of fluff was oddly satisfying.

Valiant included four short stories after the main story, shedding light, sometimes in parody, on X-O Manowar’s history. Again, being new to all things Valiant, these little stories gave me a better understanding of X-O Manowar and the universe in which he lives.

X-O Manowar #38 will never be listed as one of comics’ more important offerings. It is more or less a stand-alone brush stroke on a larger canvas. But for me — and anyone else just tuning into Valiant — it was part history lesson, part fun diversion and all Valiant.

From the publisher:

"This July, Valiant cordially invites you to the most momentous event of the summer…THE WEDDING OF X-O MANOWAR!Aric of Dacia nearly died in battle against the Armor Hunters, and watched a world end at the hands of the Dead Hand. As a king, he knows that it is his duty to marry and provide his people with an heir to protect them in the generations to come. He now makes the next step on his journey…With a guest list of the Valiant Universe’s finest, what could possibly go wrong? One hint: everything! Alien warriors, Visigoth valor, love and war collide as red-hot creators Robert Venditti (Green Lantern) and Rafa Sandoval (Ultimate Hawkeye) joins an all-star cast of special guests."

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