Kris Mukai’s latest sees the versatile cartoonist veer into yet another direction after the grimy humor of Commuter and foraging adventure of Bibi The Witch. As the title suggests, Weeping Flower, Grows In Darkness is decidedly more ominous in tone: Young friends Eleanor and Antony wander alone in the woods among a sea of dense, shadowy flora and discover a strange white flower. There’s an undercurrent that’s not immediately readable—they talk about the disappearance of Jeremy and Lawton, although it’s initially unclear who these people are and what’s happened to them. But the presence of them—or their absence—is very real, and integral to the kids’ reactions.
As it emerges that Jeremy and Lawson are Eleanor and Antony’s respective older brothers, Mukai’s deft hint at the unsettled acrimony between the families helps illuminate unfolding events. Something has happened between the older boys that the younger children don’t seem privy to; it seems they’ve either run off together or are in trouble of some sort. The uncertainty, whispers, and lack of disclosure has seeped down to Eleanor in particular, and paired with the appearance of the strange flowers and the results of an internet search, she begins making her own connections. The manner in which little incidents or an object take on significant meaning through the eyes of specific person, reflecting the psychological state of the beholder—here, Eleanor’s growing fixation with the flowers—is strongly reminiscent of early garo (alternative manga). Mukai nails that irrational creeping tension perfectly. The projection of Eleanor’s preying thoughts and anxieties onto anything vaguely out of sync with things as they should be—even something insentient—bloats it into new and unnatural shape.
The symbolism of the flowers is more overt, too. Eleanor and Antony’s apprehension over events runs together with the changes they see in people close to them. As siblings grow up and a little apart, a confusion can manifest over altered equations and relationships, over perhaps not understanding and knowing people as well as you thought. Strange things grow when secrets are left to ferment, so when things are inexplicable within the spectrum of knowledge you possess, you look beyond to other possible explanations. The apparent lack of communication here has impacted Eleanor and Antony individually, their friendship, and their family units, leading to a pocketed isolation. To that extent the growth of the flowers also signify a fear of discovery, or growing up—to grow up and become like Jeremy and Lawson, and acquire knowledge—and a loss of innocence, becoming different and strange. To Eleanor’s mind it’s simply a matter of time before the same fate befalls her: an image mirrored in her dreams in which pink, wormy tendrils rise from abscesses in her body—the same growths she saw protruding from her vision of Lawson’s corpse.
Mukai’s cartooning is superb throughout—there is no one in comics currently who has the same command of expression, and the way she manages to tease humor while emotionally escalating the tone in another direction is exemplary. It’s a pleasure to read the work of an artist clearly growing in strength and capability with each work, and this sees Mukai take it up yet another level, reaffirming her as an indisputable contemporary talent. [Zainab Akhtar]
There are a lot of stories out there that have been done to death, but there’s something particular about “competent and troubled woman with a mysterious past and male love interest fleeing terrifying corporation/government/mob/her dad” that keeps people coming back for more. From The Fifth Element to Firefly to Nikita to Dollhouse, you can find bits and pieces of the same basic plot all over the place, and RunLoveKill #1 (Image) looks like it’s going to settle comfortably into that pastiche. Don’t let that fool you, though; this book’s got a lot going for it. Even the cover, by artist and co-writer Eric Canete, looks more like a photograph of a white-washed maquette than traditional comic art, and it stands out among a sea of color.
Inside, the first couple pages are dominated by a back and forth between sleek action sequences of a woman taking on what look like prison guards and quieter blue-toned panels of a woman playing cello. Canete does something neat with these in particular, showing the musical notes as she plays to convey a sense of progress and speed. The fights are immediately reminiscent of Æon Flux and similar animation, no huge shock there since Canete worked on the show, as well as Beware The Batman and a handful of comic titles. Leonardo Olea’s beautiful colors and his skill for lettering and design make sure it doesn’t feel too much like ground that’s already been tread visually, taking two-dimensional art and making it rich and textured. There are even lens flares, though they’re used judiciously and appropriately. A brief shot of the ocean from underwater is particularly well done.
As the story progresses, panels are full of a vaguely dystopian future-scapes, while our heroine gives little backstory in voice-over. In this way, the issue is cinematic not only in art style but also in tactics, easily turned into storyboards for a pilot episode. What could feel tired if it followed previous stories too closely becomes far more compelling as the main character, Rain, encounters other people. Her doofy would-be love interest, Deyliad, is given some of the best lines in the book. His asides and random mutterings to himself would probably get annoying if he was a real person, but he’s allowed the chance to prove his competency early on, making him more nuanced than just the comic relief. And as the issue wraps up, the feeling that Rain might be the sort of strong female character whose reliance on stereotypes leaves her anything but strong begins to fade away. RunLoveKill #1 gracefully avoids the major pitfalls that a book like this can stumble into, and that might be a direct result of Canete and co-writer Jonathan Tsuei’s relative newness to making comics. They clearly love this genre and want to do something interesting with it, and they know just enough to be dangerous but not enough to be stuck in a rut. It might not be doing anything new and revolutionary (yet), but if this genre is in your wheelhouse, you should definitely pick it up. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Romantic comedy is a genre that doesn’t get much attention in American comics, but books like Pénélope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse (First Second) show why that needs to change. Originally published in France in 2010, this graphic novel is a delightful, beautifully rendered story about a 22-year-old Parisian girl that escapes her depressing life by sparking a relationship with a reclusive author, and the growth of Zoe and Thomas’ affair over the first half of the book is so charming and rich that it makes up for the rushed, undercooked second half.
Zoe lives with a deadbeat boyfriend in a shithole of an apartment, is ogled all day at her job as a product rep at trade shows, and can’t break out of her soul-crushing routine. But everything changes when she sees a man peeking at her from behind the curtains in his apartment and decides to ask him if she can use his bathroom. Bagieu does great work highlighting the humor of this initial sighting by contrasting Zoe’s friendliness with Thomas’ horror: When she realizes she’s being watched, Zoe throws Thomas a casual wave and a smile, which he responds to with a look of pure terror.
Bagieu’s skill for facial expressions and body language makes each beat of this silent sequence read with total clarity, and her cartoonish style allows her to heighten the emotional elements of the story in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a live action. There’s so much personality and life in her characters, and that energy can also be found in Bagieu’s interpretation of the city. As striking as the establishing shots of Paris streets are, it’s the smaller details that accentuate the urban atmosphere, like shots of street vendors and break dancers, and a sequence where Zoe becomes increasingly exhausted while riding public transportation. (Crowding a small panel with faces to show the chaos of exiting a train full of people is a very effective way of capturing a situation experienced by pretty much anyone who has taken public transit at rush hour.)
Bagieu takes her time building from Zoe and Thomas’ first encounter to a full-blown romance, and the back half of the book would benefit from this slower approach. Starting with the introduction of Thomas’ ex-wife and editor Agathe, Bagieu introduces a series of complications to Zoe and Thomas’ romance that quicken the pace but lose track of the emotional through-line that makes the mismatched couple so engaging. The big plot twist regarding the reason for Thomas’ solitary lifestyle relies on the reader believing that Zoe has never heard of something called the internet, and Bagieu has to make her protagonist especially ignorant for the story to work. There’s a final reveal that turns the entire plot on its head, but it’s a flimsy ending because Bagieu doesn’t adequately lay the groundwork as she hurries through major plot points. [Oliver Sava]
So what’s all this talk about the Avengers, then? One would think they had a movie or something coming out. You know, Steed & Mrs. Peel.
Anyone writing from a week in the past can only speculate as to whether or not Avengers: Age Of Ultron will succeed. Small independent films have such a hard time gaining traction in today’s crowded marketplace! Still, one must admire Marvel’s confidence in the film, rushing to put out a movie tie-in graphic novel. It’s easy to imagine Barnes & Noble stacking Rage of Ultron (Marvel) on its “in theaters” table alongside movie-cover copies of Far From The Madding Crowd and the official novelization of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 by Alan Dean Foster. Unfortunately, any fan of the movie picking up Rage Of Ultron looking for a companion to the film will walk away confused.
With Jonathan Hickman’s Time Runs Out sucking the air out of the room for the past few months, Rick Remender’s relaunched Uncanny Avengers has flown under the radar. Part of this is due to the fact that Remender’s Axis event was a steaming hot mess. Remender’s momentum coming out of his memorable run on Uncanny X-Force dissipated as a result of months of PR missteps and an overlong time travel story that tested many readers’ patience. But Uncanny was still a readable book because—despite its bulky remit as the connective tissue between the Avengers and X-Men franchises—it was really just a refreshingly old-school Avengers book. Rage Of Ultron picks up on threads from Remender’s Axis, Uncanny, and Secret Avengers runs, but mostly hews closely to what might be called the “Classic” Avengers mode: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Vision, and the Scarlet Witch fighting the team’s greatest enemy, for all the marbles.
The problem is that after a decade and a half of gradually escalating Ultron stories—beginning with Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s “Ultron Unlimited,” moving on to Annihilation: Conquest, and most recently Age Of Ultron (the terrible crossover, not the movie)—it’s hard to think of a feasible hook that hasn’t already been sharpened. This time, Ultron is back with a scheme to turn the Earth into a world of cyborgs. That itself isn’t particularly revolutionary, but Remender chooses to focus primarily on Ultron’s family ties. Here’s the problem: The movie has effaced those ties, such that instead of having been created by Hank Pym, Ultron is now Tony Stark’s invention. The deep family ties that form the basis of Remender’s story—Ultron is Pym and the Wasp’s “son,” the Vision is their “grandson,” the Scarlet Witch had Ultron for a father-in-law, even Magneto used to be involved before Remender’s Axis (don’t ask)—will be unfamiliar and baffling to movie fans.
Still, the book does a reasonable job with its mandate of producing a sufficiently epic Ultron story, completely separate from any movie connection. Jerome Opeña has a good eye for these kinds of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink epics. Without giving anything away, the story hinges in the most literal way on Pym’s tortured relationship with his “son,” and ends on a strange, inconclusive note. Remender is surely setting up future stories, but whether or not he’ll be able to make good on this foreshadowing remains to be seen. [Tim O’Neil]