Another week, another mess of first issues — even if one of ’em is from last week. What can I say? My LCS got shorted on the title in question and so I didn’t get a copy until this past Wednesday. But we’ll get to that in due course. First we’ve got —
Second Coming #1, by Mark Russell and Richard Pace, was originally slated to be a Vertigo title until the suits at DC got cold feet, and I’d say it’s all worked out pretty well for the creators in question given that Vertigo is being shuttered and its “new” publisher, Ahoy Comics, appears to be on something of an upward trajectory. The premise here is that bored Jesus gets sent back to Earth by an even-more-bored God and takes up residence with a painfully obvious Superman analogue for reasons that I guess will become more clear in the fullness of time. I dunno, I got a kick out of it and everything, and Pace’s workmanlike “super-hero standard” art is pretty much pitch-perfect for the material, but I guess I was hoping for something a bit more sharp and incisive from the normally-quite-reliable Russell. As is, his “peace is the answer, not violence” messaging comes off as too obvious by half and the only actually interesting character is God himself, who is portrayed as the foul-mouthed and perpetually-disappointed old curmudgeon he probably would be if, ya know, he actually existed. I’m game to give this another issue or two simply due to my confidence in the abilities of these creators, but there’s nothing in this debut installment that would compel those unfamiliar with their work to stick around for more.
Black Hammer/Justice League : Hammer Of Justice #1, co-published by Dark Horse and DC, may just be the title that finally gets me off the BH “universe” spin-off bandwagon. Black Hammer ’45 showed signs that the franchise was finally being over-extended, and this proves it, as Jeff Lemire turns in a tedious script that sees these disparate groups of heroes teamed up under the flimsiest of pretexts and relies on rapid-fire expository to dialogue to bring everyone up to speed on who his (as opposed to DC’s) characters are, while Michael Walsh does his level best to at least make things look interesting — but can only do so much in that regard when the story is strictly “been there, done that” stuff. I don’t know what I was expecting from this comic — the concept screams “obvious cash-grab” and “so crazy it just might work” in equal measure — but it’s certainly fair to say I wasn’t expecting anything this out-and-out lousy.
Batman Universe #1 is a reprint collection of the Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington Bat-stories from those giant-size “specials” that DC puts out through Wal-Mart — and since I don’t shop at Wal-Mart and never will, I hadn’t seen the stuff and decided to give this first issue a go despite its absurd five dollar cover price. Lo and behold, it wasn’t bad at all — Derington’s a natural for the Dark Knight and should probably be drawing the regular series, and Bendis actually turns in one of his most solid scripts in years, a fun all-ages Riddler yarn. The only problem here — that outrageous price. I enjoyed this a whole hell of a lot more than I was figuring to, but if subsequent issues continue to go for five bucks a pop, I’ll be sitting the rest of this thing out on principle. I dunno why DC is over-charging for a standard-length book that contains no new material apart from the cover — hell, I don’t know why they’re making any of the moves they are these days — but fuck ’em and the horse they rode in on. With no more Batman ’66 on the racks, this is precisely the sort of antidote that’s needed to the grim, overly-dour shit that the other Bat-books have devolved into, but it’s almost as if they’re determined to dare you to be stupid enough to pay too much for it. Don’t be.
Space Bandits #1, is the book from last week I less-than-subtly made reference to at the outset and is the latest from the Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix trifecta of corporate cash-gobblers — and it also continues the welcome and entirely out-of-left-field trend of these admittedly generic genre works being a hell of a lot better than they probably have any right to be. By my count, this is the fourth series that Mark Millar has cranked out since cashing in with his new paymasters, and with the exception of the risible Prodigy, they’ve all been surprisingly solid. There’s nothing new happening here, of course — two female intergalactic outlaws get screwed over by their partners/lovers, end up in jail, bust out, and join forces to get revenge on those who wronged ’em — but the dialogue and characterization are razor-sharp, the story’s just plain fun, and Matteo Scalera’s artwork is, of course, absolutely freaking gorgeous. We’re talking even more absolutely freaking gorgeous than his Black Science stuff, if you can believe that. Every instinct in my brain and body tells me not to get my hopes up, that this is just more ready-made-for- Hollywood IP, but the same was true of The Magic Order and Sharkey The Bounty Hunter, and both of those exceeded all expectations by a country mile. Or a light year. Or whatever. Here’s another, I think. I can’t believe I’m saying this — much less that I’m saying it for the third time this year — but I’m “all in” on a freaking Mark Millar comic. Hell just keeps on freezing over, it would seem.
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By turns charming, mysterious, and existentially dreadful (albeit in an understated fashion), cartoonist Lis Valasco’s newest (as far as I know) mini, The Adventures Of Moon Pie, relates the tale of her title character and his nameless (again, as far as I know) robot companion, who apparently debuted in an earlier comic, going about the admittedly laborious business of completing some sort of unexplained — perhaps even inexplicable? — mission, and finding little by way of living beings to interact with in the lush forest in which they’ve landed. Apparently, then, having a job sucks just as much for “people” from other planets as it does for those of us here.
Collecting and cataloging mushrooms for some purportedly “higher” purpose is the ostensible goal of our duo, but the long lifespan of our moon-headed protagonist (I refer to him as a “boy” in the title of this review due to his youthful appearance and vaguely adolescent attitude, but who are we kidding? For all I know he could be middle-aged or older), and the essentially endless “life”span of his homemade sidekick, cast the tedium and drudgery of the failure of imagination and will that is work in a whole new light — for most of us, our labors only seem to go on forever; for these two, they actually do.
Don’t take any of this to mean that the book itself is anything like a tough slog to get through, though — for one thing, the robot’s endless sense of curiosity and wonder is a welcome counter-point to Moon Pie’s resignation and loneliness (when he finds a skeleton and can’t tell if it’s alive or dead it’s a moment that’s bittersweet and poignant in equal measure), and the story’s brisk but delicate pacing is deftly employed to mine an admittedly simple premise for all it’s worth and then some. This may not be a “self-contained” comic per se, but it certainly reads like one.
Tell you what, though, it’s the art that’s the real star of the show here (I love it so much that I’ve included one of Valasco’s sketches with this review for fellow “process junkies”), a heady mix of classic cartoon expressiveness, delicate linework, intricate cross-hatching, and sublime use of negative space. We’re talking symphony for the eyes stuff here, folks, with just the right amount of Julia Gfrorer influence bleeding in at the margins. The story may be a short one, but you literally never want to stop looking at it.
All of which means we’re talking about a book that’s both visually and conceptually dense but never necessarily feels like it. Call that what you will : skill, craft, artistry, maybe even — hesitant as I am to “go there” — magic. What I absolutely refuse to call it, though, is work. If there’s one thing The Adventures Of Moon Pie proves beyond the shadow of a doubt (not that you ever did doubt it), that’s the ugliest four-letter word in the English language.
Take my advice — call in sick tomorrow and stay home with this unassuming little marvel of a comic.
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It’s no secret that I’ve always considered Tom Van Deusen to be one of the funniest cartoonists working today, but that’s selling him a bit short, I suppose, considering that he’s also one of the most interesting. Hiding under the modern iteration of fairly classic comic-strip style illustration that he employs is something that’s almost post-postmodern, an exploration of identity and the perception thereof that see-saws back and forth between making Van Deusen look as outrageously asinine as possible in one book (Scorched Earth), gluttonous as hell in another (EatEatEat), and good-natured-bordering-on-bemused in the next (I Wish I Was Joking). All of which leads this critic to ask the questions : Will the real Tom Van Deusen please step up? And does it even matter if he does?
His latest collection from Kilgore Books, Expelling My Truth, seems as though it may come close to answering the first query, but it goes a lot further toward answering the second — and the answer it gives is “no.”
Which isn’t meant as a criticism in the least, mind you — never knowing which Van Deusen you’re going to get is a big part of the (here’s a term I’m loathe to invoke, but damn if it doesn’t apply) charm of these purportedly “autobiographical” strips, whether we’re talking about a guy with no sense of personal boundaries whatsoever, as in the story where he asks to hold a complete stranger’s baby on the bus before getting off, walking a couple of blocks, and spying on Eddie Vedder’s house (wherein the “rock god” is getting high with a space alien), or one who isn’t above taking easy pot-shots at the pretentiousness of the art world, or one who’s as fundamentally disappointed by his lot as a workaday office drone as anyone in their right mind would be, even (maybe especially) when he’s summoned to the home of his Jeff Bezos-esque boss in order to, unbeknownst to him, talk his son out of a career as a comic book artist. They all entertain, sure — but they’re all cringe-worthy in their own way, as well. So no, it doesn’t matter which Van Deusen we’re getting, at the end of the day they’re all conscripted into service as representations in microcosm of the cartoonist’s lest-enviable personality traits.
This is a trickier thing to pull off than it sounds on paper — self-deprecation is easy enough, but to form a one-man circular firing squad in a way that eschews both irony for its’ own sake and the subtle “soft sell” of “I’m making myself look like a bad guy in order to garner sympathetic reactions of the ‘no, you’re not, I promise’ variety” takes some pretty considerable skill indeed.
Not that anyone really doubts Van Deusen’s skills at this point — his classical brush line, Jason Lutes-like usage of blacks, and clean, easy-going figure drawing belie a keen understanding of the medium, and even a fairly healthy measure of respect for its history. Re-inventing the wheel is nowhere on the radar screen, but it certainly doesn’t need to be — knowing what you’re good at and proceeding according to your self-diagnosed strengths is plenty effective, thanks, and goes some way toward lending work of this nature with a disarming quality, imbuing readers with a sense of the known and familiar before going in and shaking things up, perception-wise, on a fundamental level.
Which certainly doesn’t preclude this comic from, again, being a very fun one. But it’s “fun” with a sense of purpose, with a point of view (in fact, several of them), with a cutting edge that makes you feel decidedly uncomfortable as you chuckle out loud. I don’t know if we’re any closer to discerning the “truth” about Tom Van Deusen at the end of this book than we were at the beginning, but I’m not choosy : any of these iterations will do in a pinch and even though they’re all off-putting, they sure won’t put you off the comic itself — anything but. Expelling My Truth is thoroughly enjoyable bullshit that says quite a bit about its author even as it does its level best to conceal who he “really” is. “Unbelievably realistic” only sounds like an oxymoron. Here’s all the evidence of that you’ll ever need.
This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a buck a month. You won’t find a better value, and needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support.
For awhile there, it seemed like all we covered in this column was first issues. Then we got back into looking at minis and other self-published stuff. And now we’re whiplashing back to looking at a whole bunch of first issues again. Because I really do have this over-arching need to keep you folks off-balance, I guess. Anyway, we’ve got for of ’em to check out this week, so here we go :
Sea Of Stars #1 comes to us courtesy of Image Comics, writers Jason Aaron and Dennis (Hopeless) Hallum, and artist Stephen Green. Anybody with half a brain probably steers clear of Aaron’s creator-owned stuff at this point (what happened to Southern Bastards? Or The Goddamned?), but I have a full brain, and so I picked this up — and walked away from it pretty glad that I did. An “all-ages” sort of thing about a father-son interstellar salvage crew that becomes as physically separated as they are mentally and emotionally following the untimely passing of their wife/mother and a subsequent catastrophe that befalls their ship, this was a brisk read loaded with fun and energetic art, cool concepts, and plenty of, as the kids say, “feels.” If it sticks to a regular publication schedule, that’d be nice, as this reasonably refreshing twist on being, quite literally, “lost in space” was a nice enough way to spend 20 minutes and four dollars.
Postal : Deliverance #1 from Image and Top Cow brings us back to the so-called “Edenverse” for the first time in far too long, with creator Matt Hawkins sitting on the sidelines and handing full reins over to writer Bryan Hill and artist Raffaele Ienco. A fair amount of time appears to have passed since last we saw our principal players, but “deposed” mayor Laura looks to be having trouble keeping a low profile while on the lam, her Asperger’s-afflicted son Mark doesn’t seem to be taking too much to either assuming her former job or to marriage and fatherhood, and there’s a new bad-ass come to his “off-the-grid” colony for ex-cons determined to make his presence felt by any means necessary. Ienco’s art is stunning, the story keeps you turning the pages, and while there’s pretty much zero on offer here to entice new readers, grizzled vets such as myself are sure to have a blast with this one.
Lois Lane #1 wasn’t a comic I was expecting to pick up, much less like, but Greg Rucka can spin an espionage yarn/crime thriller like no one else not named Brubaker, and this turned out to be a timely, topical read. “Superman’s Girlfriend” is, of course, now his wife, and while she’s taking on the Trump administration (not that it’s ever explicitly named as such) over running privatized border “detention facilities” for a profit, she’s got the Rene Montoya iteration of The Question out hunting down on an even bigger lead. Artist Mike Perkins does a nice job invoking the aesthetic of Lee Bermejo with his own twist, the characterization is solid across the board, the suspense is fairly palpable — hell, this is just a really good comic. Can’t say that about too many DC titles these days.
Doom Patrol : Weight Of The Worlds, which arrives in our hands courtesy of their Young Animal imprint, is another one you can say it about, though. I thought the last run of this series devolved into utter nonsense pretty quickly, but maybe Gerard Way taking on Jeremy Lambert as co-writer helps here, since this comic has a solid core premise (the team is tooling around the cosmos in Danny the Ambulance looking to help/for trouble), a well-defined core cast of characters (with Jane running the show!), and some intriguing subplots (humanity isn’t agreeing with Cliff all that well, as it turns out). I miss Nick Derington on art, sure, but he’s still doing the covers, and James Harvey isn’t just an adequate replacement, he’s plenty awesome in his own right — just check out his multi-page homage to the famous “this would be a good death” scene from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns if you require any proof of that assertion. I wasn’t counting on this being all that great, but great it was, and I can’t wait to see where this “season” goes.
And that should about do it, apart from the customary reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You can join up for as little as a buck a month, so let’s be real here — what have you got to lose? Take moment to check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse
Billed by its creator and publisher, cartoonist Meghan Turbitt, as “the definitive guide to Star Wars by someone who has only seen the movies once for the first time last year,” the 2018 full-color mini Galactic Friends is pretty much exactly what it claims to be — which makes it the most authoritative shorthand examination of George Lucas’ non-stop license to print money that has likely ever seen the light of day.
There are blessed few outside observers to the entire Star Wars phenomenon left on the planet, of course — they’ve heard of this shit in even the most remote Mongolian steppes — so to find one is something of a rarity in and of itself; to find one possessed of a sharp wit, zero by way of preconceptions, and the ability to draw? Well, heck, that fits the dictionary definition of a “miracle” right there. Or at least a minor one. And that’s also, coincidentally enough, precisely what this comic is.
Composed primarily — okay, you got me, entirely — of simple-yet-expressive illustrations (rendered on what looks to me to be good, old-fashioned math notebook paper) with accompanying wry observations, Galactic Friends does two crucial things : takes the appeal of the franchise on which it’s commenting to be a given, yet never fully absorbs why it should be so. If you can’t respect that then you’re probably wound a little bit too tightly because, in the holistic view, there really is no particular reason why these flicks should be such a big fucking deal, is there? And I say that as someone who generally — though far from obsessively — enjoys them. They’re a juggernaut unto themselves by now, propelled forward largely by the force (as opposed to “The Force”) of their own momentum, and with no end in sight, there’s really nothing anybody can do but take ’em or leave ’em — and 99.99% of the world’s population seems happy enough to take ’em, so here we are.
So, I mean, what the hell, right? It’s not like anybody’s getting hurt or anything, but don’t hold it against someone if they fail to see what the big deal is. Turbitt at least has apparently watched ’em all, prequels and everything, and has come away from the experience with a certain amount of understanding but, to her credit, little by way of actual comprehension. And is there any particular reason why someone who didn’t grow up having this stuff mainlined into their consciousness should “get it” like a die-hard aficionado does? Of course not.
Not that any particular — or particularly gratuitous — cheap shots are taken at the films or their fans, mind you. Turbitt seems to like them all well enough, but hasn’t succumbed to the urge that so many have of viewing them as the “end all, be all” of sci-fi cinema, if not cinema in general. That perspective is a rare one, to be sure — but also an exceedingly healthy one. “That looks kinda cool, I think I’ll draw a picture of it” is actually a disarmingly refreshing approach for somebody to take vis a vis Star Wars, at least in my own humble opinion, simply because lengthy appraisals of the most useless minutiae are getting pretty well played out at this point, and were never going to “enhance the experience” for anybody in the first place. If you know a fan who needs to lighten up, in other words, point them in the direction of this comic.
And point yourself in its direction, as well, while you’re at it. The original ten dollar price point was maybe a bit steep for what you get in terms of page count, but Turbitt has it on sale for five in her online shop, and it’s certainly worth every penny of that. Imperial credits may be accepted as payment for all I know, as well. Find out by heading over to https://www.meghanturbitt.com/store/galactic-friends-1
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We’ve certainly spent a lot of time dissecting Josh and Samuel Bayer’s All-Time Comics series on this site lately, and while I’m tempted to say something along the lines of “the beatings will continue until you buy this shit,” in truth I was doing some catch-up work in order to set the stage for the second “season” of this ever-evolving concept. The “zero issue” put out last month by Floating World Comics set the table, but now that All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #1 has arrived, it’s time for the main course. So — just how tasty is it?
The first few pages — a flashback sequence illustrated by the always-sublime Gabrielle Bell that ties the events of the “prequel” comic in with the series “proper” — are one visually-delicious appetizer, that’s for sure, but for old-time readers, it’s the main 1980s-set portion of the story, drawn by trailblazing “Big Two” veteran Trevor Von Eeden, that’s going to be the main draw, and to say ol’ Trev hasn’t lost a step would be an understatement : his page layouts are as inventive as ever, his sense of dynamic flow remains unfettered, his Krigstein-esque “fine art” sensibilities still razor-sharp and employed for maximum effect.
Rising to meet the challenge thrown down by their artists, co-scripters Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons, both terrific cartoonists in their own right, go right for the jugular, imbuing this homage to the post-“Bronze Age” crossover “event” comic with deliriously OTT ultra-violence, strong broad-stroke characterization, plenty of laugh-out-loud “gallows humor,” and even a bit of logical consistency. Having introduced each of these heroes by means of their individual exploits in “season one,” here they bring them all together to take on a trio of disparate threats, and while it would be a stretch to say that the three-headed “rogues’ gallery” of The Beggar, the wonderfully-named Daylight Savings Time Killer, and the meddlesome Time Vampire Scientist represent a “unified front,” wondering just how they’ll all come together to challenge Blind Justice, Bullwhip, and Crime Destroyer is a big part of the fun here, and speaking of speculation — just where the hell is the mightiest hero in this makeshift “universe,” Atlas?
Das Pastoras’ brutally beautiful cover reflects the “grim and gritty” tone of the era in comics history this series takes place in, but don’t take that to mean there’s no contemporary sensibility at work here — blending the old and the new has been one of the project’s main goals since its inception, but there were many instances in the first six-issue run where the balance was just a bit off, resulting in a tongue-in-cheek tone that couldn’t decide if it was a tribute or a pastiche. That’s hardly an issue with this — errrmmm — issue, though, as the Joshes and their artists nail it from the outset, each individual creator lending their talents to a highly synergistic and energetic whole. These folks, in other words, are cooking with gas.
Arrrggh, again with the food metaphors. I should probably cut this short and eat dinner. But if you’re hungry for a smart, “retro”-flavored comic that knows what it’s doing — one that tips its hat to its influences without being overly beholden to them — then you’re seriously going to dig All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #1.
This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. It’s a great— and most welcome — way to help support my work, and given you can join up for as little as a dollar month, I believe invoking the term “what have you got to lose?” is in order here.
As a critic — particularly a critic of “underground” and/or “avant-garde” comics — sometimes you’re called upon to attempt to describe the utterly indescribable. This is a good thing — at the very least it expands one’s vocabulary, sometimes even one’s consciousness — but it’s by no means an easy thing. And there’s no greater challenge than attempting to convey, in terms anyone can understand, something of the unique spirit, character, and aesthetic sensibility of Mat Brinkman’s comics.
One of the co-founders of Providence’s legendary Fort Thunder cartooning collective, Brinkman himself is something of an enigma these days, having abandoned comics for music and maintaining no online presence whatsoever, but his work is just as tantalizingly mysterious, and Hollow Books’ recent re-issue — in handsome cloth-bound and foil-embossed “Museum Editons,” no less — of two of his classic comic-strip collections, Teratoid Heights and Multiforce, offers audiences new and old the ability to experience his justly-legendary creative output in a fairly accessible (if expensive) package for the first time in what seems like forever. For the sake of brevity we’re going to concentrate merely on the former book here, collecting material created and originally published between the years of 1995 and 2001, but both are essential purchases if you can fit ’em in the budget, so there’s me violating the cardinal rule of criticism by giving you the final verdict right at the outset.
Still, explaining why the work collected between these covers is so highly-regarded is my main charge here, and fair warning : it may just be beyond my meager facility with words to be able to pull it off. I’ll give it the old “college try,” rest assured, but know going in not to expect a miracle.
Brinkman himself certainly needs very few — if any — words to communicate his singular worldview, taking us on a guided tour through the caverns and hills and waterways and ever-shifting plateaus of his comprehensively-imagined environment and its even-more-comprehensively-imagined denizens by means of a viewpoint that is at once omniscient and deeply intimate, clinically removed and almost painfully personal. If a glue-huffing teen were mystically imbued with the sense of holistic purpose that’s usually the province of only the most masterful of visual storytellers, the end result might be something like this, but even then that might be a reach, as there’s quite simply nothing else “like this” at all.
Thick, inky, borderline-oppressive black linework coagulates into forms and shapes that are intensely and inherently unfamiliar, yet in no way difficult to relate to : Brinkman’s thought this world through right down to the most recognizable patterns of individual behavior and social interaction, and to construct a fully-realized society out of such a delirious mish-mash of characters conjured forth directly from the id without mediation is a staggering accomplishment in and of itself; to go one better by imbuing his creatures with an unbreakable through-line of warmth and humor is something else altogether — and “something else altogether” is as fair an “elevator pitch” summation of Teratoid Heights as I think you’re likely to find.
It’s easy to see how this work challenged an entire generation of cartoonists to “up their game” : few things are so visually literate and hitherto-unseen simultaneously; few things are grasped so easily while remaining ultimately and deliriously confounding. Threading a needle between the known and the far less so with a deceptive and illusory (but no less “real” for that fact) ease, Brinkman accentuates the essential characteristics of each polarity in a manner that draws stark contrasts between the two while moving, constantly, toward a state of unification — at the end of each strip you know and feel precisely what’s happened, but you’ll be damned if you can explain it adequately to anybody else.
Walt Kelly and Jon Lewis are every bit the influences here that fellow Fort Thunder artists C.F. and Brian Chippendale are, Brinkman zeroing in with precision on the strongest aspects of C.F. and Chippendale’s experimental, fluid visuals in order to construct the kind of “funny animal” (and, in this case, alien) pseudo-civilization (one that mirrors our own on both the micro and macro levels) of which Kelly and Lewis would be proud — and would likely recognize as being a natural outgrowth of their own artistic lineage. Did I already use the word “staggering” to describe all this? I believe I did, but nevertheless — it bears repeating.
Even taking the above into consideration, though, it can’t be stressed enough that Teratoid Heights constructs, and exists within, a category unto itself — one that actually and actively defies categorization, that quietly yet forcefully insists that you meet it on its own terms, and that rewards you for the effort you put into doing so every step of the way, from first page to last.
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With the recent — and, I must say, not too terribly surprising, all things considered — announcement that DC will be shit-canning (excuse me, “sunsetting”) their venerable “mature readers” Vertigo imprint after 26 years, I figured now might be a good time to take a look at what Vertigo alum Shelly Bond was doing with her not-exactly-new-anymore Black Crown line over at IDW —
Say good-bye to Feargal “Fergie” Feguson and the ghost who isn’t really Sid Vicious with Punks Not Dead : London Calling #5, which wraps up the second (and, I presume, final) run of writer David Barnett and artist extraordinaire Martin Simmonds’ decidedly fun little slice of occult/supernatural hijinks with plenty of “fuck you” attitude mixed in. I’m gonna miss this book, but each and every storyline comes to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion here, except perhaps for Fergie’s would-be “romance” with his high school sweetie, and they manage to pull it all off with nothing (okay, nothing else) feeling at all forced or rushed, even if it was. Standard one-sentence summation for most anything good from a mainstream publisher applies to this one : I’ve you’ve been passing on the singles, pick it up in trade. You’ll be glad you did.
And speaking of passing on singles — that’s precisely what I did with Barnett and Philip Bond’s Eve Stranger #1, but since I saw #2 on the stands this week, I said “what the hell?” and grabbed ’em both. While the premise of an amnesiac-by-design “sleeper” agent/assassin seems a bit too calculated for its own good on paper, this actually reads pretty well and you develop a genuine liking for this protagonist — maybe because we know more about her than she does about herself? I dunno, but it works, and the art is eye-catching enough in its own right, as well, even if the more “cartoony” back-up strip illustrated by Liz Prince is, in fairness, better suited to the material. Nothing terribly Earth-shattering here, but I’m curious enough to see where it all goes.
Not that I had to wait too long, of course. Eve Stranger #2 is probably best described as “more of the same,” but when that means the same as something pretty cool, who’s complaining? Some backstory vis a vis Eve’s origins, a hint of romance that just manages to avoid being creepy (how do you pursue a relationship with someone who literally starts over as a blank slate every week or so?), and a genuinely out-of-nowhere cliffhanger ending, plus another solid backup feature, make for a perfectly good — if, again, less than Earth-shattering — sophomore installment of this not-quite-too-quirky-for-its-own-good miniseries.
I guess Marilyn Manor #1 isn’t a Black Crown comic per se, but it certainly is in all but name given that Bond edited it, the thing’s loaded with BC “house ads,” and it definitely fits within the overall framework and aesthetic of the line. I also could have sworn it was solicited as a BC book, but whatever — it’s here and just carries the standard IDW label. Magdalene Visaggio is a writer whose work runs hot and cold for me, and here I’ve gotta say that her story about a bratty first daughter throwing a “rager” in the White House circa the mid-1980s is more lukewarm than anything else. Truth be told, I found her BFF/sidekick, who may or may not be possessed by the ghost of Abe Lincoln, to be a far more interesting character than the titular Marilyn herself, but I’m game to give this thing at least one more issue — more due to the impish, always-delightful art of Marley Zarcone than anything else. Not as much for her to sink her considerable (if metaphorical) teeth into here as there was in her deliriously imaginative Young Animal book Shade, The Changing Girl and its sequel, Shade, The Changing Woman, but still lots of eye candy for “art-first” readers to enjoy.
And with that another week is rounded up with just enough time left over for me to remind you that this column is, as always, “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where you can at least theoretically “enjoy” three new posts from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and movies each and every week for as little as one lousy dollar per month. Speaking of Vertigo, we’re in the midst of an extensive post-mortem/tribute to it over there, so if you’d like to join us, please break out that credit card and/or Paypal account and head over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse
Prince straddling his iconic Purple Rain motorcycle brandishing a pistol. Robin Williams in full Mrs. Doubtfire drag putting out a dude’s eye with a broomstick. A distinctly Asian-looking Michael Jordan with a basketball in one hand, a gun in the other as he prepares to Space Jam the living shit out of any interstellar baddies. Charles Bronson’s legendary vigilante Paul Kersey taking aim at axe-wielding zombies in Death Wish 4. If these images all sound infinitely more bizarre — to say nothing of more interesting — than the films to which they tie-in by the very thinnest of threads, that’s because they are.
Welcome to the sheer, balls-out insanity of Ghanaian movie posters.
When American popular culture is exported, something is always lost in translation, and thank goodness for that, because markets abroad tend to take the pablum we spew out way too literally and end up turning the dull and cynical into something fascinating and even unnerving. The disaffected youth of Norway didn’t quite catch onto the fact that the Satanic trappings attached to fourth-rate heavy metal bands like Motley Crue and Deicide were just a big put-on, and ended up creating a musical subculture that produced raw, visceral “black metal” and kids who burned Christian churches to the ground — and further afield, in Ghana, the idea of what American movies represented, combined with the small number of actual prints of said movies making the rounds there (mostly by means of local cinema clubs), resulted in even the dullest and most mediocre of celluloid offerings being gifted with the entirely unearned assumption that they must contain the most fantastical acts of brutality and debauchery one could possibly imagine.
The end result? Many of the films may not have packed much of a visceral punch, but the “homemade” posters, by local artists with colorful pseudonyms such as Heavy J, Salvation, Stoger, and Mr. Nana Aguq, certainly did.
In recent decades, the proliferation of electricity and commercial printing throughout Ghana killed off the need for these magnificently outlandish works of art, usually rendered on sewn-together empty flour sacks, but Chicago’s eclectic independent video store Odd Obsession Movies almost single-handedly resurrected the dying medium and put these Ghanaian painters back to work doing what they do best for their 2011-launched side project, the Deadly Prey Gallery. Interest in these paintings spread among connoisseurs of genuine underground art on social media and now, thanks to the riso-printing maestros at Perfectly Acceptable Press, 37 of the most singularly strange and weirdly beautiful of them are handsomely collected and presented in the pages of Deadly Prey : Hand-Painted Movie Posters From Ghana.
Crumb and Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff, Ghanaian art scholar Robert Kofi Ghartey, and Odd Obsession owner Brian Chankin all provide exemplary introductory pieces to the volume, but who are we kidding? It is the masterfully-reproduced paintings themselves that are the “selling point” here, and if the small handful represented in this review aren’t enough to convince you that you need this book in order to survive, then I don’t know what more it’s gonna take. I’ll just say that this was the best $35 I’ve spent this year (yeah, I know, it’s pricey, but still) and leave it at that. Even if it means less money for groceries, or coming up a little short on the rent, you owe it to yourself to get this thing ASAP, so quit reading my blathering — which I’m about to stop doing here in a second anyway — and head over to https://perfectly-acceptable.com/item/deadly-prey/
This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. My small-but-loyal legion of readers over there seems to dig what I’m cranking out, and given that I recently lowered the minimum tier price to just one lousy dollar per month, seriously — what have you got to lose? Needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support.
After giving you, dear readers — and myself! — a bit of a breather from all things “All-Time,” we’re back for one more round, this time putting the not-quite-first installment of “Season Two” of Josh and Samuel Bayer’s ongoing post-modern take on super-heroics under our metaphorical microscope, that being All -Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #0.
Direct “Bronze Age” call-backs are still here to be found, but you’ve gotta do a lot more digging for them as the brothers Bayer, along with new collaborator Josh Simmons and returning “usual suspects” Ken Landgraf and cover artist Das Patoras, have widened the scope of the project considerably, with the art and story this time most clearly hearkening back to the EC “hosted” horror comics of the 1950s, while the “zero issue” hustle is something straight outta the 1990s “speculator bubble” playbook.
The question, of course, is — are all of these changes for the best?
The project’s new publishing home, Floating World Comics, seems to think so, and while the complete tonal and stylistic 180 took me more than a moment to adjust to as a reader, truth be told I’m all for shattering expectations just as a matter of course. The scripting by the pair of Joshes is uneven, but keeps readers off-guard in just the right way, as narrator Time Vampire Scientist relates a story from the misty dawn of history that dovetails into what I presume to be a modern-day yarn (although the aesthetics and dialogue have a distinct Great Depression vibe to them) about a young lad who’s very nearly the victim of a shocking and harrowing crime, until he’s saved at the last moment when the scumbags who’ve set upon him are thwarted by a new (to us readers, at any rate) hero who calls himself The Red Maniac — and who’s decidedly un-heroic even by ATC standards given that he’s middle-aged, out of shape, and barely able to hold his own in a fight.
How all this fits in with the reality-shattering dawn of something called the “Zeroverse” remains anyone’s guess, at this point, but I’m game to find out not just based on evidence offered in this “zero” issue, but because I’m damn excited about what’s coming next.
Or should that be who’s coming next? No offense intended to the art of misters Simmons and Landgraf — which is actually solid “retro” stuff that’s rich in detail and imaginatively laid out and presented — but the first issue proper sees the arrival of Trevor Von Eden, one of the most groundbreaking and radical artists in DC’s 1980s stable, and someone who’s been absent from the comics scene for far too long. I’m absolutely fascinated to see how his style has changed and evolved over the decades, and to see how his always-remarkable visual storytelling skills play out in a contemporary comic (albeit one with a self-consciously nostalgic ethos).
I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in Simmons, who’s certainly one of the most distinctive voices in latter-day horror comics. The sample size we’re offered here is a small one — in fact, there are nearly as many pages of backmatter in this comic as there are of story and art — but it’s enough to hook you, even if it’s not enough to give a clear idea of why. I still read enough single-issue “floppies” to accept this as par for the course in the opening salvos of any and almost every given series, so what the hell — I can go with it here, too, and know from experience that Bayer and Simmons are skilled and smart enough to pull disparate narrative threads together in fascinating and unexpected ways.
All of which is to say — All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #0 fulfills the tasks laid out in its unwritten (and decidedly narrow) remit nicely, and does so with enough scattershot imagination to convince you that we’re probably in quite good hands here. Whether that faith is wisely placed or not is something that’ll be determined over the course of the next six issues.
This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics — and hopefully go some way toward mapping out where and how all of these things intersect, and to what effect. I recently lowered the minimum tier price to a dollar a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? Needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support, so do please give it a look.