Infinity 8: Volume Four: Symbolic Guerilla

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It’s been a while since I read any Infinity 8, but it’s the perfect series to return to after a break since each arc is a different take on the same thing. Literally.

Each arc has a different (far future) space agent who has a limited time to investigate why an intergalactic graveyard the size of Earth’s solar system is blocking the way of a giant ship.

This arc, Symbolic Guerrilla, introduces agent Patty Stardust, who’s undercover with a cult of performance artists but gets called to check out the graveyard. Meanwhile, the cult–led by sixties hippie in the future, Ron–finds out the ship is stopped and starts planning on how he’s going to exploit the situation for his–ahem, the group’s–benefit.

Patty’s Black, with a big afro–how French guy Lewis Trondheim and probably European guy Kris acknowledge people shouldn’t intrude on her wanting to touch her hair but White Americans can’t figure it out… anyway. Patty’s a fantastic lead. She’s been undercover with Ron and the Symbolic Guerrillas for five years, this mission could jeopardize it–good thing the ship’s captain is going to loop time–and she’s engaged to Ron’s stepson.

That engagement–Patty’s the stage manager, who has to do work and (presumably) stay sober, while her dude is mindbogglingly high all the time–is one of the most interesting things in the arc. Trondheim and Kris don’t dwell on the space graveyard too much. Patty sees some things, but they don’t figure into the main plot like what Ron comes across and decides to exploit. In multiple ways. With multiple terrible results.

But Patty and her love life? It adds a lot of texture to the character, who’s otherwise basically moving from action beat to action beat.

Great art from Martin Trystram. He concentrates on the psychedelic flashback aspect of the visual narrative, but doesn’t skip on the sci-fi setting. Or the ship. There are cameos from previous Infinity 8 cast members, which makes you wonder how it would all read in a sitting.

Speaking of reading… I was sort of assuming the original French publications were bigger size than the American comic format, but no. The American printings might even be a little bigger. There’s just so much little detail you want to see. Trystram packs each panel. It’s awesome.

Infinity 8 is, I guess, halfway through with Symbolic Guerrilla but thanks to the writers’ ingenuity and the consistently different, consistently fantastic art, it feels like it’s just getting started.

Also because there’s so little emphasis placed on the ship’s crisis. It’s a red herring (almost) so Trondheim and company can explore this future.

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Angola Janga

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Angola Janga is historical fiction. It falls victim to a few of the genre’s main pitfalls. Cartoonist Marcelo D'Salete has done his research, he knows all the facts. And he moves within them. With the single exception of flashing forward to modern-day, urban Brazil (which turns out to be a bad move), D’Salete does it all straight. He stays within those fact lines. And Janga suffers for it.

Also, it suffers from the translation’s subtle Kingdom of Runaway Slaves. The actual translation of the original subtitle would be something like A History of Palmares. Now, maybe Fantagraphics is thinking American audiences won’t know Palmares—it’s a quilombo or a settlement of escaped slaves in 17th century Brazil. Palmares lasted eighty-nine years before the Portuguese destroyed it.

D’Salete doesn’t do a great job, in the comic, of laying out Palmares or the kingdom. The supporting cast isn’t interchangeable because there’s not really a supporting cast. Not of the escaped slaves. There’s a bunch of Portuguese supporting players, but it’s a core group of African survivors.

The comic starts in 1673. Palmares started in 1605. So D'Salete is skipping a lot of the formative stuff, because it’s not about the formative stuff. It’s not really a “History” of Palmares. Not like you’d know anything more about the historical facts. D’Salete, as an artist, also isn’t big on aging his cast, so they never feel like living people. And D’Salete’s got a great essay about the history. Mixing text and comics might be the better way of conveying the story. Though Angola Janga’s story also falls victim to that other big historical fiction pitfall… the wrong protagonist. D’Salete picks the wrong guy to follow, even though the whole thing is structured to follow this guy. He lacks personality, even as D’Salete keeps throwing him curveballs, the protagonist never reacts in an interesting way. Meanwhile all the Portuguese get great characterizations—with a single exception, they’re all exceptionally bad people—D’Salete gives them a lot of personality. But the actual good guys, D’Salete tries to humanize them through their faults. It’s very weird.

Again, D’Salete’s sticking to the facts and his cast are historical figures but… he’s got no insight into them. Hence why a more mixed media approach might sit better. Especially given there are leaps ahead in time between every chapter and no time spent connecting to the previous one’s cliffhanger or finish.

Art-wise, D’Salete’s fine. He’s best, both in art and writing, when doing the battle sequences. They’re incredible and make you wish he just did a war comic out of it instead of the story of the settlement’s downfall. The history is full of doubt, cowardice, and betrayal. D’Salete never makes it feel melodramatic but he also never makes it compelling.

It ought to at least be compelling. The battle stuff is phenomenal; compelling. The rest is obviously interesting, but not interesting in its execution.

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