Black Knight #1 (2015): Comic Review

Picture it– A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Weirdworld

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Weirdworld …

It would be interesting to compare and contrast this issue with the recent Weirdworld series from Secret Wars. It’s not just that both take place in this (relatively) new location to the Marvel Universe, but they both feature a sword-and-sorcery vibe, with a sword-slinging hero out of his element who is full of world-weary frustration. So why can you be so taken with Weirdworld, while Black Knight leaves you cold?   

For one, this series isn’t content with allowing just one or two elements to round out its narrative. There’s already two strong elements — Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, is stuck in Weirdworld for one, and for two, well, it’s Weridworld. But that’s not enough for this book. More and more things start piling up. There’s tension in the Knight’s ranks, he’s ruler of New Avalon, there’s a major mysterious enemy in the Fangs of the Serpent, the ghost of his ancestor is haunting him, he’s probably-but-maybe-not already succumbed to the curse of the Ebony Blade, and, oh yeah, the Uncanny Avengers are showing up. With all of these things happening, it’s difficult to tell which is meant to catch readers up on exposition, which is meant to be developing into our story’s central conflict, and how any of it is meant to work together.

For example, the Black Knight and a team of scouts he employs find Yet Another Weirdness— a German U-Boat atop a giant cliff, with more mystery inside. But that’s only for a couple of pages, since everyone returns to New Avalon with nary a mention at all about the submarine. I can accept random world-building strangeness like fire-breathing trolls attacking the Knight, but that’s all in context of the flow of a fight scene meant to be the action that leads into our story. Setting up the discovery of a submarine feels like it’s meant to be a dramatic narrative moment, and it’s abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced.

There are some nice choices with the art, which handles some montage of flashback, fight scenes, landscapes of wonder, and moments of reflection. There’s a darkness and heavyness to the figures and landscapes, as if shapes are defined by shadow and not simply by outline. There are times when the faces, in particular, are a bit too roughtly hewn, maybe, like when Dane Whitman’s face slightly shifts off-model, even within the same page or two. It’s pretty impressive, though, in range and with the sheer number of elements that are demanded. Another thing that’s so simple but I appreciate so much? The fact that everyone actually uses their right hand when using his weapons. That looks like I’m prejudiced against lefties, but really I’m just saying that the simple detail of right-handedness is usually guaranteed to be overlooked by artists.

The colors are well-rendered, of course, although perhaps a bit too dark to help the eye navigate at times. For example, even on the first splash page with the Black Knight and some Serpent guy in the middle of the battle, there is a sameness to the values across the page, and a subtle difference to the main characters, whereas a more dramatic spotlight could help highlight the central action. In terms sequential art, though, it’s great. Care is taken to illustrate panel-by-panel, and various scene shifts and flashbacks flow together thanks to the color design.

I do think that the Black Knight makes for a great character in this kind of story. He’s a man of science and technology (he made his own lightsaber at one point) and of specatuclarly bad decisions about his love life. Neither of these aspects of his character is touched upon, though, and instead the introduction we’re given is about how he’s just a normal guy thrust into a life of legacy, Avenger’s membership, and New Avalon. Oh yeah, and the curse of the Blade, of course. (“Of curse?”)

So, it guess it’s all just another “more is more” kind of storytelling, with too many elements competing for narrative attention, even though they are all necessary to build this new world. The result is that the stakes are not clearly defined, and the relative importance of things are confused. I like the Weirdworld setting, but I don’t feel properly introduced to it, and the setting itself isn’t allowed to come the fore with so many other things to consider. As a character study for the Black Knight, it’s fairly strong, and perhaps we’ll get to see some opportunities for more aspects to be explored. Otherwise, as of now, it’s just a pretty typical, but nicely drawn, lost-in-a-strange-world kind of story.

Black Knight #1: 
Writer: Frank Tieri; Ariist: Luca Pizzari; Color Artist: Antonio Fabela; Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino 

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The Vision #1 (2015): Comics Review

Up Next, Desperate Androids

I made an impulsive decision. Such actions are a product of the mercurial brain processing inherent to   my human nature. It led me to purchase The Vision #1, and the comicbook highly appealed to my aesthetic as well as philosophical sensibilities, thereby creating one of the most highly pleasurable reading experiences of Marvel’s recently relaunched series and subsequently engendering my social nature to desire others to replicate that experience.

In other words, I really liked this comic and highly recommend it.

Even as I browsed Comixology, I wondered if it would be a tough sell. The Vision seemed a character better fitted for the Avengers of the 70s and 80s. He formed a core part of that team precisely because of his ties to the Avengers’ history and collection of characters, but he never fit in any other context whenever someone tried to do something with him in the 90s or 00s. Not only that, but there only seemed so much that could be done with “robot stories.” We get it. We try to understand humans deal with life by seeing how a non-human character lives. It’s like a metaphor or some junk.

To use my own metaphor, these typical robot-as-humanity stories are like any standard steak dinner. But there’s a difference between a standard steak dinner, and a expertly prepared and presented gourmet dining experience, and The Vision #1 is one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had in a long time.

I had to abandon my fanboy nature to scoff at what I saw as a ham-fisted attempt to force Vision into this new status quo— the character professed to delete his emotions but also created his own sythezoid family, placing them all into suburbia. And yes, there are no big action set pieces here (well, except for that small but dramatic one) as the focus here is on how the robots/synthezoids attempt to not only make a life for themselves but also to understand what life really means.

There are so many great little touches here. The wife, Virginia, coming to terms with nuance of language when meeting neighbors, the interaction between the twins, the way the Visions have to throw out their housewarming cookies. What seemed to be a throwaway element of scene-setting, the water vase of Zenn-La, becomes a recurring motif and an important metaphor in its own right, earning the ominous final panel’s narration.

The writing is strong, with intriguing ways that foreshadowing is weaved into the narrative and the way characters are allowed to emote through their acting. The narrator seems a character in its own right, too, being casual in tone but hinting at deeper things, surely appropriate to the theme of the book.

I’ve never been so weirded out by the Vision as I’ve had in this comic. Mostly, I would have to take the other characters’ reactions in the comic for granted. I mean, I guess the Vision was supposed to be creepy because the Wasp commented on how creepy his voice sounded. When the Vision was already drawn in the same heroic manner as the other crazy four-color people around him, it didn’t seem so out of place. Here, though, the Vision and his family are quite creepy indeed. They certainly sound cold and hollow, and not just from differently-colored dialogue balloons. Their designs and layout also help reinforce their weirdness.

The Visions are first seen behind the front door, starkly incongruous in their suburban clothing and black background. The twins go to their first day of school while flying high above the scene. Their lack of pupils and facial expression is key. The juxtaposition is a bit lost as the art style gives many other characters a thick line and a stiffness that is also enjoyed by the robots, but perhaps that’s intentional. The linework overall is certainly organic more freehand; I doubt any straightedges were used. The colors, too, are soft and muted, with the washes not fully blended at times, so the colors are bold and there’s a rawness and reality to the texture. There are even subtle ways the colors/inks appear to bleed off the panels, like they’ve been hand-painted.   

Mostly, the panels and layouts are well chosen, although the perspective/placing feels too flat at times. For example, the cover would make more sense if the Visions are making portions of their bodies invisible. But they are probably meant to be phasing through the wall, meaning that they would have to be leaning forward on top of one another. The sense of three-dimensionality is all off. Similarly with the big surprise at the end of the issue, when the villain attacks. There’s a scythe coming through the wall to strike a character that doesn’t make three-dimensional sense.        

I’m very excited about this series. The foreshadowing and cliffhanger both leave me in anticipation, but I’m also hoping that much of the Vision’s history isn’t forgotten. Perhaps not, as we see the Grim Reaper isn’t ignored, and Virginia Vision is appropriately reactive that her husband is keeping a gift from his ex-wife in the living room. I also had to laugh that the Vision is upset he’s not given a staff position in the White House, since he’s still the guy who nearly took over the world at one point. Did he happen to leave that off his résumé?

It may not be attempt to reinvent the sci-fi tropes that explore humanity by telling stories of robots, but rather it’s one of the best examples of such a story type. This new setting and the new characters around him were necessary to bring the character of the Vision into the kind of story that just perfect for him. The art as well as the narrative touches work together to create a creepy kind of Vision, and one that promises some intriguing philosophical touches and pointed emotions. Very rich story potential here, in an unexpected way that yet makes perfect sense.   

The Vision #1: 
Writer: Tom King; Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta; Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire; Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles  

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