INDIE VIEW: ‘Marble Cake’ and ‘The No Ones’ both show darkness and light as teammates

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Marble Cake
By Scott Jason Smith
Avery Hill Publishing
A marble cake, the cookbooks remind me, is one that mixes light and dark batter to create a swirl within. It reminds me a little bit of the Taoist yin-yang symbol, just much more edible and, of course, hidden. The Yin Yang symbol represents the concept that darkness and lightness compliment each other rather than struggle, and I’d say a marble cake proves that. They’re delicious. You can’t claim otherwise because it’s not true.
In Scott Jason Smith’s graphic novel of the same name, a marble cake is what Tracy’s mom makes her every year for her birthday, and it’s as good a symbol as any for the dynamics that Smith presents. Tracy works in a grocery store, unmotivated by the way her life has turned out and spending her hours on the job studying customers and pondering their lives beyond the brief interaction she has with them. As Marble Cake unfolds, we see the things that Tracy only imagines, following many of these people and eavesdropping on intimate moments, often of conflict.
It’s a thread that Smith is winding through London, one that begins with Tracy, but also circles back around to her and then in another direction, and it’s against some of these connections that we learn more about her. She’s lonely, but not necessarily satisfied with her mating options. She’s aimless, but without any escape plan. And the people who inhabit the thread are in their own versions of the same situation. There are domestic dramas as well as mysterious disappearances, and each character’s reaction to these private problems collides with another person’s issues and reverberates down the thread.
In Smith’s world, as in our own, everyone is a product of the light and dark in their lives, and it’s this mix that decides their fates and the fates of those around them. In some ways, the book can seem like an aimless free for all, but Smith makes his depiction clear when one of the characters is shown to be obsessed with the medical melodrama Casualty. Life isn’t like a television drama — structured, with dramatic closure, just desserts, and clear boundaries between the effects of light and darkness. It unfolds in unpredictable and impossible to classify ways.

The No Ones #1
Written by Jim Krueger
Illustrated by Well-Bee
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cave Pictures Publishing

The challenge since The Watchmen has been to create superhero comics that examine something wider than the standard costumed adventures, usually in the form of a team where various members function as symbols as much as characters and they come together in service of a philosophical theme. Add to the list The No Ones, which is not the name of the team being focused on — that’s The Bastions.
The Bastions are slaves to their own fame, drowning in marketing deals and beholden to the paparazzi as their celebrity becomes interlinked with their mission as heroes and causes more than a few decisions that superhero purists would consider unethical.
This first issue is largely concerned with establishing the crass qualities of the team, as well as their dynamics, but they’re about to be faced with something worse than the terrorist attack they have to deal with in this story, an event that’s going to turn their understanding of their own purpose upside down.
This is the latest effort on Jim Krueger’s part to develop a superhero team according to modern — or more appropriately post-modern — standards, as in Project Superpowers with Alex Ross, and also The Foot Soldiers, who get name-checked in this issue, so I wonder if this title is linked with that project. Krueger’s interest in the theme is apparent, and the execution of the premise is intriguing enough — along with the game-changing twist and the grit that Norwegian artist Well-Bee — that it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on where this one is going. In this era of YouTube and Instagram celebrities where fame is seen as not only desirable, but a normal, healthy, and achievable goal — watching superheroes play through a parable about it could prove curative, among other things.

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