Mr. Vertigo Reviews 47: Two Brothers; ODY-C, Vol. 1–Off to Far Ithicaa; Low Vol. 1–The Delirium Of Hope

Two BrothersTwo Brothers
Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Dark Horse Comics, 2015

Based on a novel by Milton Hatoum, Two Brothers tells the story of twin brothers Omar and Yaqub. While they are the focal point, it is really a family history which extends before the twins’ birth and beyond them to a new generation. That aspect of the tale makes it similar to the epic family histories of other great Latin American novelists like Gabriel García Márquez. The twins may look alike, but they seem to be bent on being as different from each other as possible. Their youthful competition leads to a fight in which Omar cuts Yaqub’s face, scarring him for life. It becomes an emblem for the differences between them, as well as a possible cause for aspects of Yaqub’s personality (not to mention a convenient visual cue for telling the brothers apart visually).

The brothers’ parents figure strongly in the dynamic. Father Halim never really wanted children; he is a sometimes neglectful parent who defers to Zana, his willful wife. Zana smothers the boys with her love. Omar is her favorite: he grows up a handsome rake, a ne’er-do-well who never takes up a profession of holds a proper job. Yaqub is the opposite: an intelligent, driven engineer who leaves his family home and finds success elsewhere. Family life conspires to bring the brothers back into contact periodically, which always results in further conflict rather than reconciliation.

Set in the port city of Manaus on the river bank of the Amazon, the story celebrates the beauty of Brazil and the vibrant life of its diverse population. Moon and Bá have worked successfully on a wide variety of projects, but for me they have always been at their best on their own stories set in their native country of Brazil. The Vertigo miniseries Daytripper comes closest to this one in scope, but they have previously collaborated on black and white Brazilian slice-of-life stories that are visually similar (several of them are collected in De: Tales, also published by Dark Horse). It’s tempting to look for autobiography in this book about twin brothers illustrated by twin brothers–but I think the fact that the brothers share a studio eliminates the possibility of the kind of conflict depicted here. This is ambitious, epic storytelling: some of the best that comics has to offer.

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Ody-C 1ODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa
Matt Fraction,story; Christian Ward, art & colors
Image Comics, 2015

A sci-fi retelling of the Odyssey, with almost every element of the original story turned on its head. In this version the cast is virtually all women–gods and humans alike–due to Zeus’s edict abolishing all men. She did this because of succession issues (men are trouble), which is explained during the course of this first arc. But initially the reader is just thrown into a situation where the interstellar war is over, Odyssia is finally heading home, and the gods have decided to give her a hard time. The title ODY-C is the name of her spaceship, and Ithicaa is a planet rather than an island.

Surprising how well the sea voyages translate to interstellar voyages–Fraction even has Poseidon in the same role. Bodies of water are her domain, but so is deep space. After a brief skirmish, the crew encounters the Cyclops, an epic battle which many of the crew do not survive. Damage to the ship leads them to Aeolus, a Titan with a special gift for technology. He’s also one of the few men left in the world. He installs a new drive in the ODY-C, and when Odyssia leaves him behind (instead of fulfilling the bargain she made with him), she finds herself with a fast ship–but one that behaves very differently.

This is a striking book visually. Ward uses an exaggerated, expressionistic style–the crew is depicted as diverse, normal looking women, but the gods (especially Zeus) and creatures like the Cyclops are wildly inventive. They tend to have a dissipated, obese look, with exaggerated bulges and curves. And the colors! It’s a lurid, psychedelic palette: even the dark scenes employ unusual color choices. Fraction’s writing is harder to get at first. It’s an odd combination of an imitation of epic poetry with cheeky, modern language. I’m not sure it entirely succeeds, but the story is involving enough to revisit.

Having had a good look at some translations of Homer’s poem, it appears that Fraction makes reference to the way the epic is traditionally presented, but not literally. There is no direct reference to the 24 Books (despite what Fraction said his plan was)–at least not in anything like the original order. While this story arc has an epigram like that used in the First Book, it covers far more story than that. The encounter with the Cyclops occurs in the third issue here, but was Book Nine in the poem. And Fraction numbers what I guess could be considered stanzas in his script, while the poem uses line numbers.

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Low 1Low Vol. 1: The Delirium Of Hope
Written by Rick Remender; Art by Greg Tocchini
Image Comics, 2015

The post-apocalyptic literature is vast, in prose as well as comics. So Rick Remender gets points for a truly original concept for this series. Eventually Earth’s sun will go into supernova, first irradiating the planet’s surface, then eventually consuming the planet entirely. Remender sets the story in this distant future: mankind has moved to the ocean’s depths to escape the surface radiation, waiting for probes to discover another inhabitable planet.

There’s a twist: humanity has been underwater long enough to have almost forgotten what life on the surface was like. Resources are dwindling–especially breathable air–and few still think there’s any possibility of success in finding a new planet to inhabit. The title “Low” thus has multiple meanings: it refers to the underwater depths as well as the emotionally depressed state of the survivors. Stel Caine–the scientist in charge of searching for life-supporting planets with robotic probes–is an optimist, perhaps the last human who still has hope. She pushes her her husband Johl and their children to follow her dream.

The family runs into a roadblock during Issue #1: pirates attack their submarine, kidnapping both daughters and fatally injuring Johl. The rest of the first arc mostly deals with the fallout from this event. Stel remains optimistic, and when she learns that a probe has returned to the surface she goes to retrieve it with her son Marik. When they arrive at a second underwater city long regarded as abandoned they are surprised to encounter the pirate who led the attack and killed Johl, as well as one of the lost daughters.

Tocchini’s painted art is beautiful and imaginative, so much so that it’s occasionally difficult to follow. There’s not much context for an underwater world with creatures, machines, and costumes that have never been seen before. But there’s no mistaking the broad direction of the action. The family is in peril most of the time, and the fate of humanity ultimately hangs in the balance.

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About marksullivan5

Librarian, Jazz musician, comic book fan
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