Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Shaman’s Tears #2

Shaman’s Tears #2, July 1993, Image Comics
writer/artist: Mike Grell with Brian Snoddy
colorists: Joe Chiodo, Wendy Fouts, and Fierce Colorgraphics
letterer: Steve Haynie
editor: Mike Gold

Normally, I would reserve pop culture commentary like the recent Michael Richards breakdown for my LiveJournal, but with so much of my blogging efforts dedicated to keeping the A Comic A Day challenge worthwhile, I can’t help but say something, if my opinion really matters to anyone anyway. Actually, the Richards incident is reminiscent of why I purchased Shaman’s Tears #2 in the first place – with Thanksgiving just over the horizon, I assumed this issue, boasting the cover image of a warrior Indian, would offer some insight into the origins of the beloved holiday, if only from a cultural, or racial, perspective. I mean, with a title like Shaman’s Tears, am I wrong to imagine that this issue could be about an Indian lamenting over a scattering of roadside litter? Or am I demonstrating the kind of shallow racism that has placed our beloved Kramer in the cultural crosshairs of controversy?

Either way, needless to say, this Shaman’s Tears is not about that candy wrapper you “accidentally” let fly from your car window. The protagonist of this story, the supposed “Shaman,” is an uneasy young man who is understandably hesitant to embrace his destiny as an earthen warrior. One part Hulk, one part Vixen (who?), when the kid gets knocked around by some horse thieves, he summons the various abilities of specific animals, using them in combat through the force of his indignation with unexplained skill and prowess. In the meantime, an organization called Circle Sea Enterprises wins a patent from the Supreme Court to continue their production of human/animal hybrids, a cause that has evoked animosity from the A.C.L.U. and other groups concerned with these unique creatures’ potential civil rights. One of these unique creatures, the prototype appropriately dubbed Animus, manages to break free of his cage and rip a few faces off – literally – before disappearing completely. Since those horses were apparently on their way to Circle Sea, we can assume that a Shaman vs. Animus confrontation is right around the corner. I admit, I wouldn’t mind checking that out. Since Animus is one part animal, can the Shaman tap into his skills, making the two a dead even match?

Like poor Michael Richards, this issue is pretty much all about identity. Now, I sympathize with Richards, and to understand why, read the MSN headlines about his Laugh Factory outburst: “Kramer Breakdown!” or most recently “Kramer Apologizes!” The guy isn’t Kramer. Kramer is a character Michael Richards played on television. Yet, since Seinfeld ended years ago, we’ve called him Kramer any chance we get. So, frankly, excuse him if he drops an identity slur in the height of some inexplicable rage – if he calls someone something they aren’t, despite their protests. This is one opinion, and the more I think about it, the more it’s mine. Shaman’s Tears reflects a similar dilemma, as our young hero virtually denies his heritage until the heat is on, until he has no choice but to respond and react with the kind of power that is truly, rightfully his. Grell laces this action-packed, masterfully illustrated tale with the cultural undertones that elevate the story beyond mere comic book installment, but to social fable, as most Native American myths usually are. Gulp. I hope that isn’t another rash judgment.

Interestingly, this issue is a product of those dreaded ‘90s we’ve discussed here before. In fact, in Mike Gold’s editorial essay, he exposes Image’s glittery cover gimmick trends, confessing that, following this issue’s pull-out poster cover, the rest of the series should sell based on its stunning story rather than its holo-foil packaged trickery. Although I haven’t read his Green Arrow stuff, I’ve always admired Grell’s skill from afar, recognizing his style as a hallmark for the industry, and if Shaman’s Tears is his creative A-game, it’s a shame the title didn’t surpass the mire of Image’s early days. I’d like to mention the color scheme of this issue, as well, since Gold highlights the chapter about color in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. I couldn’t help but notice a warm tone throughout the book – a heavy use of deep reds and purples. In a book with an emphasis on the earth, I would have expected cooler hues, like blue and green, maybe even with a sepia filter. Yet, the reds, like a perpetual sunset throughout the issue, subtlety establish a rage that is soon to explode through both the plot’s circumstances and the lead character’s internal conflicts. Truly, this is a well-rounded book, and if it’s collected as a graphic novel somewhere, I can see myself picked up the volume to open-mindedly absorb the whole story.

The whole story. That’s how this review began – with my half-hearted attempt to understand the origins of Thanksgiving by reading a comic book about Indians . . . maybe. What I got instead was a tale about political intrigue and cultural strife. Sound familiar, Michael Richards? I’m confident that the guy’s career isn’t over – that, after a few months’ time, he’ll emerge with material inspired by this incident, just like Paula Poundstone did a few years ago after her time in the controversial spotlight. Comics have a way of bouncing back, both the stand-up and sequential-art-riddled variety. Don’t shed a tear for Richards or Mike Grell. Like their respective characters, they have a way of beating the odds – a skill we should all be so lucky to learn.