[3 August 2010]
PopMatters Comics Editor
“The quotidian will find you out”, visionary writer William Gibson has always been keen to remind readers. Things will happen and will continue to happen. The danger of life on the cusp of the future, is that there might be no danger at all. No monsters lurking under the bed.
Gibson’s comments take on a very visceral sensation with the recent Artifacts #1. There is a preternatural crisis brewing. Strands of destiny are being drawn together. Pieces are blitzing across the board, and ancient forces have been set into motion. But this is not the same kind of ancient destiny you may have encountered in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or more recently in the Harry Potter series or the writings of Stephanie Meyer.
Instead, you’ll find something entirely different in Artifacts #1, you’ll find The Quotidian. The rise of the everyday. As the issue’s two (of the series’ presumably 13) protagonists wind their way through the streets of NYC, wearing the artifact that balances the quintessential light of the universe with the essential darkness, is really no more than any other single thing to do in the daily grind. And so too is carry the Artifact that brings judgment to all before it, the Rapture that doles out hope or despair. This 13-issue limited series already feels very much like, “remember to buy milk, pickup kitty litter and thwart evil”. This is Janis Joplin’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ rebooted for the 21st century—no more ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’, and more a case of ‘Tomorrow’s just another day for nothing left to do’.
What series-runner Ron Marz seems to have effected is rare in fiction—the reversal of the mythological. It’s not the case, with Artifacts and clearly more broadly with the Top Cow Universe, that the mythological is somehow separate, ancient or lingering or wholly alien where fantastical motifs hold sway. This is not C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Rather Top Cow Universe produces its mythological as more structural, more basic. With its workaday values intact, there is a sense that the extraordinary is very much germinal of the ordinary. And with that sense, Artifacts begins very much to read like The Lord of the Rings, a fictional condition where our own world is itself a kind of VR everting (again, a Gibson phraseology, this time from Spook Country) into Middle Earth.
Hope Moves On: Sara Pezzini’s newly-born daughter becomes crucial to tying together the disparate strands of the Top Cow Universe
Michael Broussard, Artifacts series artist, is no less skilled in conveying a radical inversion of the role of the mythological. His skill lies in effecting an archaeological reconstitution of Top Cow. Perhaps it would be too harsh to say, but not necessarily untrue, that Mark Silvestri, and by extension Top Cow, has a history of privileging an appreciation of an anatomically accurate drawing style. And although this style held in low esteem by such comics scholars as Scott McCloud (in such works as Understanding Comics), photorealist anatomy becomes a powerful tool in the hands of Broussard. Broussard produces a new logic of cuts and scrapes, of scars and bumps and bruises. Here are bodies thrown into danger, forced the edge of reason, technologically restrained (Tom Judge’s, wielder of The Rapture, escape from his stalker demon is particularly poignant in this regard), and convivially walking the kids in the park. The anatomical-realist finally begins to make sense on its own terms, in the broader context of devaluing the fantastical in the mythological. If the ancient prophesies are just an older form of workaday logic, then anatomical realism is a kind of graze anatomy, where the reader bumps up against the fully formed physical in a comicbook world.
There’s no getting around it, Ron Marz seems to have made his own wish come true. In the secretly moving part of the book, Marz’s afterword, the lead writer reminisces on Marvel, Way Back When. When the company was small enough (just a handful of heroes) to be able to tell a single story with all their characters. Spidey as panel backdrop in the pages of Fantastic Four. For Marz, some ten years down the line for Top Cow now, this is really just the beginning of telling the story. It is the story of all the characters, but also the story of the company. And ultimately it is a story worth reading.