I Crush Pelvis!

July 23, 2008 at 12:50 am (Comic Books)

Goddess of War #1

 

I have something to expel: I hate “hip.” I hate any communal approval on something as good, or bad, attractive or unattractive, because these qualities matter most to the individual experiencing them and cannot be transposed into a decision made by more than one person. If this decision is made, the member of the community that has decreed something hip admits that they really are the same as their brethren, and while I can list qualities uniting men together, there is an infinite list separating them: to admit hipness is to admit sameness to a group, and to admit sameness to a group is to give up individual will and to conform to communal will, to not fully understand what makes something hip but to act in the interest of a big brother.

 

 

Consigning individual will is not always a bad thing (religion saved culture after the fall of Rome, Martin Luther King garnered all of his support for boycotts from churches, yadda yadda), and big brothers can be wonderful guardians to children who have yet to find the avarice in their coevals. But eventually one must outgrow exogenous authority and grow one’s own confidence: otherwise we are in service of an unnamed God instead of servicing ourselves.

 

Political parties and their brethren are compromises between exogenous and endogenous authority: they unite people who have found common opinions and views weaving their existence (say: women’s suffrage), and use faith, belief, in positive (well, not everytime) ways. People of a political party (hopefully) understand that they are very different people whose desires converge on one beautiful issue (getting women the right to vote!), and they motivate themselves to accomplish this goal (they did eventually!), and after that goal has been reached, they should disband. What are these wildly different people doing affiliated with each other in a world where all can vote? This is the happy ending to a political party, when unity has conquered individual greed and truly bettered the lives of a tremendous amount of people. Otherwise a force of people exists in need of control, but the commingling thread (women’s suffrage) has already been completely woven.

 

The tragedy of hipness is that it has invaded that sacred sanctum of art. The Beauteous and Sublime are stamped by a committee of Vans wearing teenagers who listen to Frank Sinatra, amazed at the blips of its original recording instead of Sinatra’s melodious voice able to hit any damn musical interval he pleases (let’s just say there was an incident recently). Hipness is the political party of art, for people who get together and want to be somebody, they listen to, eat, and put on their ears what is hip.

 

So I must start my own party, completely opposite hipness (because identity forms itself more by opposition and engative description than positive), and that party is the critical one: every work starts out with a faceless zero. We have no desire to affiliate ourselves with any artists or movements (indeed, we disparage the thought of a club! That will be our single uniting thread!), and take our time to point out the terrible detritus of such movements instead of its superb antecedents. We denounce any trend even in our work and point to the individual circumstances creating such instead of its commanalities! There is no human nature, only the nature in which humans exist!

 

And, sadly (conflict is always sad), the first opponent which this new artistically political party must take down is Laura Weinstein’s intermittently excellent comic Goddess of War #1, published by Picturebox and distributed through Diamond recently, a tremendously large (it rivals recent deluxe hardcover Storeyville in size), 32 page tome on sale for $12.95.

 

Spoilers!

 

Weinstein normally spends her time on that elusive but ubiquitous beast in comics: the low-key autobiographer, and it shows. The first moments of the comics focus on the main character not wanting to get up to go to work, emotions to which we all can relate. She then spends her time reminiscing about her younger beautiful self, emotions tow hich we all can relate.

 

This is where the comic is absolutely terrible. Weinstein has such expensive production values (the huge comic is printed on very high quality paper), and it can portray such bizarre cosmic landscapes beautifully, and, more than that, Weinstein obviously has the storytelling chops to make such an endeavor truly magical (see the watercolors on its front and back covers, the ninth page’s “Twentieth Century Goddess of War” almost page-full panel, the twelth page’s drunken stupor), but the story is more concerned about making fun of these tropes and parading its mimicry of old science fiction books. It shares not the imagination animating science fiction: only its deficiencies, and it bends over backwards to make sure you think those deficiencies are funny, too.

 

Here is why it is bad science fiction (and while a piece of art not being exactly aligned to a genre is not a determinant of bogus art in the abstract, here it is): The actual monster on the front cover is terribly unimaginative (beams coming out of a giant eye), the title page has a terrible hand drawn logo, and the normal front pages of a fantasy novel (map of its world, itemized trophy room) mock more often than amaze. Even the telling of the hero’s origin is littered with a hip swiping of science fiction tropes for our ironical enjoyment (because it’s so bad):

 

“Ooh look at me! I’m just a hot lil’ valkyrie! Even then I was obviously desatined for greatness! Look! Here’s Odin! And Gudrun! And there’s that fucking mortal Sigurd!”

 

These are here not to give us an imaginative landscape in which to play, but to give us humor that such a universal emotion (not wanting to go to work in the morning, so memories divert) can even be felt by a Goddess! I am not laughing. Perhaps deductively, I also often approach work with a smile on my face instead of a grimace. Perhaps inductively, I enjoy humor at the ludicrous tropes of genre to start with setting and visuals and end with self referential dialogue.

 

Also, the actual moments of sci-fi draftsmanship? Sometimes awesome but often uninspired. Her house is ugly, and not in a good way at all. Brunhilde burning (another terrible emotion wanting relation: “I wish I could talk to Brunhilde but she’s been burning for ages now.” Flash to someone in eternal torment) is curved triangles, outstretched arms, an open mouth, and not much else in a tiny panel. The monster that she calls (Nebulon) is a huge rock with tentacles. Its ugliness is probably intended humorously (oh, it eats universe, too), but it’s actually ugly instead of farcical, like much of the book.

 

There are great moments, too (pg. 18’s silent trek across the desert is awesome), but the comic’s tremendous production values often cram more panels onto a page instead of produce ornate million-tychs (like Chippendale’s Ninja).

 

When the comic starts an actual narrative, it gets a little better. Valerie (the Goddess) remembers a time when she spurned an ex-lover (the first, and possibly only, human she has ever been able to love) and the story recounts a tale of Americans, Mexicans, and American Indians in conflict because the Americans assume that the Indians kidnapped a son of a wealthy man, but in actuality the Mexicans have (edit 11:54 Wed: It was brought to my attention that another tribe of Indians are suggested to have kidnapped the son: Sorry!). Communications are poor to begin with but when Cochise asks a favor from his one-time lover (the pages where they first make love are actually stupendous, ably paced full paged masterpieces with no borders but a parade of sensation), he refuses her offer and she ensures that the Americans don’t receive a note

 

There is drama and tragedy, very strong human emotions available here, but only once does Weinstein ever give in to them and lets the story stop for an affecting panel (when Cochise screams out that he will win despite Valerie’s betrayal- such an ugly face, but this time it drips horror and drama). It really chugs along from scene to scene, often changing setting mid page with very little thought to pacing or drama. Each page (besides a couple stupendous ones which really deserve the book’s high production values) has about a million small panels with very little variance in size or rate. It is flaccid without thought to form (although I can’t really prove this besides all events in the story building into one another without foreshadowing or an enhanced second reading, and I have read it twice), and those are two of the worst insults I could give to a book.

 

Which is heartbreaking, because when it’s good, it’s really good. The pages of Cochise and Valerie making love are marvelous splatterings of emotion and events, following a meandering path with clouds and flowers and mountains and rivers: but the two must part, and as she flies off into the bottom right corner hoping that the two will meet soon, the background fades to black and we are back into the present.

 

Another awesome panel: when the bloodlusting Indians are preparing for war, Valerie’s skull appears above them, with hair and hands covering the entire mass of people, angling insidiously (bottom of pg. 23).

 

But when it’s bad, it’s really bad. The Americans find the note Valerie hid offering a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and only a couple panels tell this watershed moment. The same is true when Indians charge an American base and are terribly slaughtered: very little actual art is given, and it has many similar formal characteristics to every other scene in the book: square panels, of which there are many, a perspective a couple feet from the panel’s events (most bodies are waist-up with a camera set as a stable rectangle). Lots of talking heads.

 

All in all, it reads like Weinstein isn’t quite prepared to tackle fantastic action yet. While the tropes of the genre can be used for humor, an entire book out of that is bad, and while an intriguing narrative does arrive to give the book much needed direction, it still tells its story not too differently from its beginning, even when death is involved. Hopefully better things are on the horizon, because when the book is good, it really is awesome, but it has to be awesome so much more to be good. And I was so ready to like it, too.

 

 

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