Comic Review: Outer Darkness #11

Outer Darkness #11

Image Comics

Writer: John Layman

Artist: Afu Chan

Captain Rigg and the crew of The Charon return in the latest issue of Outer Darkness. While the run has stalled out the last few issues, this newest installment breathes new life into a unique world. It’s wonderful when you stick with a comic, and it rewards you with an unforeseen twist.

Story:

In a story that lends itself so well to the episodic nature of comics, it’s a piece of irony when that aspect of the comic is the very thing that makes the run feel stale. The premise of Out Darkness is sound. It’s about a ragtag collection of hardened soldiers, wizards, and warriors, scouring the cosmos for lost souls. It easy then, for self-contained issues–beginning, middle, and end. Within this structure, the larger narrative sense is lost. Until now. For the first time in the series, Captain Rigg faces the true consequences of his actions. He knows he’s on the chopping block, but he won’t go down quietly. This issue gives readers a look at just how far Captain Rigg will go to get what he wants. It takes the series in a bold, new direction.

Outer Darkness #11

Check out my full review at sequentialplanet.com

“Joker”

It takes a certain commitment to go see Joker. Not because it’s a bad film but because viewers ask themselves a question: Do I want to spend two hours of my life watching a less good Joker than Heath Ledger? The answer is both yes, and no. Yes, because the film is like no comic book movie ever made, and No, because Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is as unrecognizable from Ledger’s Joker, as Ledger’s was from Nicholson’s. (omission: let’s all try to forget Jared Letto’s).

Simply put, there is no “living up to” needed in this film because this film is so vastly removed from the comic-book-movie genre that there’s nothing to live up to.

Before I went, I’d heard the film was “polarizing,” in its acclaim. Either you liked it, or you didn’t. There weren’t many “it was fine” verdicts out there. When we look back on what made Ledger’s performance so great, it was his mannerisms, his witticism, his always having a plan–even if he said he didn’t. Every turn of The Dark Knigh, showcased a criminal mastermind one step ahead of. . . well, everyone. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but grin as was in the theater last night. I couldn’t help but imagine a bunch of moviegoers expecting and excited to see how Joker became said mastermind. If that is what you’re hoping for, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Joker is a film. It’s not a movie. It’s not a blockbuster. It’s a surprising artistic endeavor from a director who I had little faith in (The Hangover films were… never mind). Furthermore, to take the risk a produce a piece such as this is a risk, especially when viewers hear “Joker” and think Superhero, or at the very least Supervillain. There are no fast and cut action scenes. There’s not a great clip to the narrative in which things happen to keep the audience enthralled. There are no triumphs for the titular characters. There is nothing to overcome and or redeem. There are long slow shots of a lone figure in the rain, walking a dirty street, standing in an elevator, smoking a cigarette. Everything about this film is slow. Plodding. Painful. It is awkward and weighted. It is the life of the left-behinds.

In many ways, Joker feels like a film from another era. It’s all affected, of course, as all good films are, but beyond the obvious tributes to films in the later 70s and early 80s, just the long slowness of the movie is an existential exploration of what a comic-book movie can be. There’s a spectacular scene near the middle of the film right after a life-changing event, and looking back on it, it may be my favorite scene of all, when Joker finally comes out a bit and the audience is reminded that this isn’t just a devastating look into a depressing and bleak world, no. It’s about someone who’s insane but driven insane by a system that doesn’t and can’t acknowledge his experiences as valuable or even worth noting. There’s a great breakdown of the scene here. It’s something I thought I’d never see in a comic-book movie. A man broken so thoroughly that I wasn’t just waiting for the next plot twist or fight scene or quip. Instead, I was feeling broken. Beaten. Done. I wanted to move. To dance, like Joaquin Pheonix, because in a moment like that it made sense to dance or die–and obviously the Joker can’t die. So this slow sad dance is all that is, was, and can be of the Joker before Joker exists.

A special word should be noted on the score of this film. It’s one of the best, atmospheric scores I’ve ever heard. Akin to Annihilation’s score in terms of setting mood and tone, but I wager that Joker’s score is even more existential and nihilistic.

In the end, I really loved it. I did.

It’s the first comic-book movie that was also a film. It took risks. It didn’t dumb down anything. It was high brow art with pop-culture source material and I love that shit. It’s the first comic-inspired, superhero-inspired film that made me question my own life. That shines a light on our societal issues and asks, “Who are we listening to and why?” “Who matters and why?” “Who are we and why?”

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Nobody does. The Joker certainly doesn’t, but he’ll ask the questions with a smile and a laugh.

Joker is in theaters now, and how it’s painful to watch–at times, or even often–I’d not deny yourself this viewing experience. It’s a surprise and a risk. One that’s touching and welcome.

A Rose City Comic-Con Primer

This weekend I’ll be attending Rose City Comic-Con down in Portland Oregon. As someone who came into his own nerddom late in life, this is exciting for me as I’ve never been to a comic convention before. With it comes all the staples of a comic convention, guests like movie stars, comic creators, pop culture icons, and more. However, what I’m really interested in is sitting down with some of the indie comic creators and presses and asking them some questions about the changing landscape of the industry. See, I’ll be attending RCCC as a press member of Sequential Planet. Therefore, I’ll be covering the event with an angle. How is technology changing the way people read, create, and distribute comics? Of course, anyone who reads comics knows that the internet makes buying a volume or compendium almost instantaneous, but how does this change the way presses promote their new work? How does it influence the creation process from a writer’s or artist’s perspective? What, if any, does the infinite canvas afford both comic book fans and creators? Perhaps I’ll find the answers to my questions, but perhaps not. What I’m interested in is engaging in the conversation of comics in the digital age and how the scene may change heading into the future.

Another, lighter, topic I’m interested in is the profound impact comics have on readers. I remember the first time I was flipping through the pages of a comic and it was just blowing my mind in terms of character development. The way characters just seem to naturally flow off the page, how they had real lives and complex motives and suddenly this spark came into my head and I was like, damn, these stories are serious fiction. And I mean serious in the sense that it touches on the big questions of human existence. Those questions, I’ll let you decide what those are for yourself. So, to fans and creators, I’m going to try and scrounge up some personal stories about empathy within comics, and I have an article to support the theory that comics create empathy in some pretty profound ways. It will be a fun piece, but one that hopefully is grounded in research. Of course, maybe I won’t get the ideas I think I will, and then the project will change. All I know, is I want to talk with fans and creators and understand what comics mean to them.

Follow my RCCC adventure on the Sequential Planet Instagram, starting tomorrow.