The mark of a good comic book is that that you keep reading even though you are in the final throes of a cold that has been forced you to consume massive quantities of Ricola, Vitamin C and orange juice for an entire week. Declan and Chang: Sweet FA wears that mark proudly when, in my feverish haze, I cracked open the latest copy of, courtesy of the Yuan Twins.
Issue #3 starts off where the last one left off with a very upset Commander Le Bevere showing up at Declan and Chang’s doorstep with a JSCO sized army to arrest them. To complicate matters, the doorstep he shows up is a transport that belongs to Luisa and Victor.
Low on ammo after their initial encounter with the Jersey Devil, Declan and Chang have to rely on their very intimidating reputation and the ability to circumcise Commander Le Bevere with an assault rifle to escape.
Although they survive the encounter, it is not without collateral damage for Luisa and Victor. While Luisa and Victor are sent off to set up the safe house, Declan and Chang go pay a visit to Captain Roscoe, who is still recovering from his injuries from their last encounter and obviously not very happy to see them because they were the ones who put him in the hospital in the first place.
They end up recruiting/kidnapping Roscoe and with his cooperation, a plan is hatched and put into play. But the results are even more disastrous as the Final Boss officially introduces himself for the first and perhaps the last time to our heroes and their compatriots. When Doc Awesome rears his ugly robotic head, it does not bode well at all. And that’s not the only introduction being made as the issue ends with a certain scantily clad predator with a Beelzebub namesake preparing to spring upon her unsuspecting prey.
Despite a busy schedule, which has included a guest spot on Arrested Development and Raising Hope, the Yuan Twins have kept up the quality of their work. The one-liners get whipped out at a fast and furious pace combined with dynamic art which creates a tremendous amount of hilarious situations. There is also a lot of tension, some of it unexpected amongst all the characters involved which shows that The Yuan Twins have a strong hand for drama.
Every cover of Declan and Chang has featured some amazing art that has foreshadowed the story of that issue. Issue #3 is no different as it indicates that Declan and Chang will be facing overwhelming odds.
What I really enjoy about the issue #3 cover is that it follows the grand tradition of Frazetta’s Conan.
As I stated before in my last entry, the first two issues were the introduction and set up. The third issue is what I would like to call “The Chickens Come Home to Roost” issue. Consequences are felt all around from the decisions everyone has made since the beginning of the series.
The obvious is the very large set of cross hairs that are now on Declan and Chang. Commander Le Bevere, who at this point must be suffering from a serious case of buyer’s remorse from hiring Declan and Chang in addition to needing a dry pair of shorts after facing a very alive and angry Captain Roscoe who Le Bevere has been attempting to “retire” since issue #1. Speaking of Captain Roscoe, it appears that he will not have to wait very long to learn the consequences of throwing in his hand with Declan and Chang. And who could forget Luisa? An example of no good deed goes unpunished. With her husband Victor by her side, Luisa came to Declan and Chang in their time of need. Her reward is that her life is completely turned upside down and is forced to face her past and a future that was stolen from her.
What makes it all the more painful is that Chang is unable to or unwilling to reciprocate and comfort her in her time of need. In fact Luisa points out that Chang’s only form of communication is through violence and shows how dysfunctional their relationship really is. It also explains why Luisa seems to have more of a rapport with Declan.
I would like to share the following quote from Peter Chung regarding his creation Aeon Flux and the backstory.
That is the deliberate aversion to provide backstory.
Because backstory is a trap.
Ambiguous? A character in a film is not someone whose background we need to know in order to consider proceeding in a relationship with him/her.
The process of discovery IS the relationship. Explain nothing. What matters is not the names of families, how many years in the future or past. What matters is the structure, the relationship of events, the thread which allows us to accept an unlikely outcome through the carefully delineated (and orchestrated) sequence of causal progression driven by character. You can transpose a good story on any setting, any era. (Shakespeare)
They way everything is unfolding is issue # 3 is unhindered by any backstory. The reader is discovering everything about the characters and their relationships to each other due to the events that are transpiring. Even Luisa’s facing her past is not a backstory because it is not for the benefit of the reader. She is dealing with her past because Declan and Chang need a new base of operations and the home where Declan and Chang raised her is the only place that is available. There is no doubt that the reader would not be so privy to Luisa’s private thoughts if she were not put in this position.
A popular tool in storytelling is a Latin term called in medias res which means “Into the middle of things”. The AV Club used that term to describe an episode of Miami Vice episode called “No Exit” which guest starred Bruce Willis as a sadistic wife beating arms dealer. Coincidentally, this was the first episode of Miami Vice I ever saw as a kid and made me into a fan. The AV club used this episode as an example of why the series was so memorable since it utilizes in medias res presenting very little information of who, what where and why, leaving the audience to figure out what is going on.
Comic books are a perfect place for in medias res due to the limitations of the medium. Larry Hama the writer of Marvel’s GIJoe and current writer of the IDW continuation is a true master of in medias res. In the original run of Marvel’s GIJoe there was an overall continuity throughout the whole series, however, each issue was a self contained story even the ones that were part of a storyline. You could jump into any issue and still be entertained without reading previous issues or future issues. Hama would structure the story so that all the elements were already available for an entertaining experience and each issue could also serve as an introduction to the series.
One of the greatest moments in comic history was the X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga. Even to this day it influences all the current slate X-Men and X-Men related titles. The unintended consequence is the popular opinion that a reader needs to read the Dark Phoenix Saga in order to fully experience the full scope of that storyline. There are is also the popular opinion that a reader not only needs to read the X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga but also everything connected to the saga including Inferno, The first 71 issues of the first volume of X-Factor, Excalibur and anything else posted on Wikipedia. This is not a unique development. There are many comic books that are crushed under the weight of their own exposition, to the point they become convoluted and unwieldy.
This is not a criticism of the Dark Phoneix Saga, in fact it deserves all the accolades it gets because it is such a powerful touchstone in comic book history that is not surprising that it is part of the X-Men landscape. But that type of legacy can be quite burdensome and leaves little elbow room for creativity. But that’s where reboots come in. All you have to do is a pull a DC 52 and start from scratch. Or start the Ultimate line that will run separately from the Marvel Universe. Or better yet, tweak the current Marvel Universe so that it reflects the Mavel Film Universe which is what they are doing now.
The Yuan Twins so far have been able to weave a deceptively simple but what is really a complex tale and they have kept it up with issue #3. So far all three issues are serving an overall storyline where even at the third issue the Macguffin is still in play but it does not dominate the plot. But the punch line is that the each issue is a story unto itself, like Larry Hama’s work on GIJo. This is two for one approach to storytelling allows the reader to get one story per issue but altogether they also experience the overall storyline.
I keep going back to the term “organic” in describing how this whole story is unfolding and this is due in part because of the in media res approach the Yuan Twins have utilized which has allowed them a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of the storyline and character development.
Instead of backstory, what we are getting is conflict which is far more rewarding. Conflict is the engine that drives any story and issue #3 has plenty to pass around. Besides the conflicts between Declan and Chang and Doc Awesome and Commander Le Bevere and Roscoe, there is the conflict between Luisa and Chang. This could have easily gone the Dark Phoenix route however, through the use of proper panel structure, lettering, great dialogue and art, those panels instantly communicate to the reader nature of their relationship.
After reading the latest issue, I went back and reread the first two and I discovered something that was quite unsettling from the first issue that also pops up in the third issue. It is actually very minor but I am not going to mention it because if it is what I think it is, it is pretty big and also I do not want to spoil it for anyone. The possibility also looms that I am wrong, which I honestly hope I am. However, just to mess with people, I have already made reference to it in this review.
From issue #1 it was supposed to be a simple story of a heist gone wrong. Instead we have ourselves political intrigue, unresolved family issues and lots of good old fashioned 1980’s violence.
Game on Yuan Twins.