HOW many hours did you sleep last night?!

*Ah, that was refreshing. We can just think of Blogger Blackout Day as something of a snow cancellation, right?

*The Onion AV Club offers up a mixed review of "Persepolis 2" noting that "As dramatic and traumatic as Satrapi finds her experiences, much of Persepolis 2 feels both self-serving and alienating." I still have yet to read it, with all the stuff I have.

*I did finish "In the Shadow of No Towers" and I felt like re-reading it, so my review will be up tomorrow, this time for keepsies.

*New comics today = new reviews for The People!

Deep Sleeper #1-4 (of 4)

As far as ‘guy discovers that he’s got the ultimate power to turn the tide in the heretofore unknown massive struggle’ books go, “Deep Sleeper” is above average. I’d gotten to the series late, just barely managed to score a copy of the “Deep Sleeper Omnibus” which collected issues #1-2 (the series had originally been published by Oni, but a dispute over media licensing rights led to the book moving to Image who put the collection out to orient new readers) just as issue #3 came out, and the concluding issue #4 was just released today. So I read the whole thing at once, and it’s a generally engaging story.

Cole Gibson is a fairly successful writer who’s work still can barely provide for his working wife and their two young kids. Cole has been having dreams about battling nightmare beasts, but his stories keep coming naturally to him; one of them involves a soldier’s ill-fated trip to a seclude monastery where people are capable of fantastic powers including astral flight and body-hopping and even combat between souls. They are dedicated to battling strange and wicked demons from beyond waking reality, who only want to bring sorrow to all. On a trip to the city, Cole is astonished to encounter a religious guru who closely resembles a young and headstrong monk from his story; this is the beginning of Cole’s awakening to both his own powers, the alternate society of dreams, and the very nature of eternity. Naturally.

Musings on the nature of the boundaries to our existence are mixed in with body-theft, alien barbarians, soul-powered reality rockets, martial-arts, and even some good old-fashioned messianic overtones. It’s all pretty fun, and genuinely interesting to read through, but does feel kind of familiar looking back on the story as a whole. Fortunately, writer Phil Hester gives Cole a decent amount of interesting psychological musing to work through, and the villain is fairly refreshing in his determination to unlock the secrets of existence in the most physical way possible. Mike Huddleston’s art is often highly reminiscent of Paul Pope, though he shows particular aptitude at drawing big scary monsters. There’s also a ton of zip-a-tone style effects and a fair stab at differentiating between simultaneous planes of reality via gray shading. It’s attractive, and sells the more fanciful aspects of the story nicely.

So like I said, it’s a good example of its type. I’ll be on the lookout for more from the team, and I may look into their existing trade “The Coffin”.

Challengers of the Unknown #1-4 (of 6)


It pretty tough writing about these 2/3 finished miniseries. It’s hard to know how much of what has been built up is a feint, a ruse. We can’t discern exactly when the truth of the matter will arise, if it ever does. Happily, that’s also a running theme through this series, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin.

Five barely individual persons of nonetheless diverse race and gender occasionally have dreams of violence and destruction. Imagine their surprise to discover that their lives are only fiction, having been created for them by Hegemony, an unsubtly named collection of elites who’ve personally written the script for most of the 20th century, war and disaster included, all in the name of keeping themselves filthy rich, unimaginably powerful, physically young, maybe immortal. They have dominated media, politics, and pop culture, and shift the opinions of millions imperceptibly at their whim. They also employ a cadre of mind-controlled killers who do the dirty work of providing the aggressions necessary to keep the people scared and grateful for security. But now, for the second time in modern history, a few of their hypnotized number have broken free.

Chaykin is not gentle with his satire; he’s so intense that he’s unlikely to change anybody’s mind about the state of media manipulation in the world today, although he’ll raise some grins from the faithful. Hegemony’s media arm, KnowNowNetNews, is a gleefully excessive parody of a certain popular cable network, with every broadcast amped up to Ann Coulter extremes (Coulter herself provides the inspiration for one of the anchors, right down to people from the other side of the political aisle calling her 'hot'), and Chaykin’s prime elite is monstrously bigoted while certainly not above employing the race card to secure her own position. Some of this is pretty funny (the news crawl at the bottom of KnowNowNetNews’ broadcast is particularly hilarious, covering stories like statues of angels springing to life in church and demanding the congregation vote Republican) while even after only four issues some of it inspires more of an 'Ok Howard, we get it' type response.

So what is the ‘unknown’ our heroes are challenging? Just the conservative agenda? The elite domination of slanted news? There’s hints in the most recent issue of a wider focus, with the quintet meeting up with another awakened agent who’s turned to serious terrorism in order to topple Hegemony; he happily compares himself to Hitler as he admits to wiping out 10,000 innocent civilians. Hey, it’s all relative, right? Our heroes can’t quite shake the feeling that there ought to be a better way than this. Oh, and just in case you didn’t get it, the awakened agent refers to his bombing target as bringing down “The Center”…

Judging from issue four, maybe Chaykin really doesn’t think we get it. Another five pages are repeating background information about the five leads which I trust most of the readership had put together in last issue’s flashback sequence. This time, Chaykin has one character narrate exactly the same stuff we saw portrayed in images in issue #3. It’s like if Morrison and Quitely had decided to show the animals escaping in “We3” and then burnt another six pages explaining exactly how they got through all those halls. It’s redundant. But it does give Chaykin an opportunity to utilize more of those matching page designs.

If there’s anything really captivating about “Challengers of the Unknown” it’s Chaykin’s sense of play with the art. The interchangeability that has been built into the lead cast is emphasized through repeating text captions, and matching panel layouts for each character’s point of view. The art and text are different, yes, but the structure is the same, just as the structure of our unconscious killers’ lives are built by an unseen hand. This effect is repeated to humorous effect (complete with slightly overheated descriptive captions) when a new group of pawns are activated to dispatch the old. Many of the battle scenes upon their escape are nicely chaotic, with sound effects tightly packed into the background as to obscure any scenery and wipe out any sense of movement, of spatial position within a scene. This is a fun book to look at, even as it techniques begin to become repetitive.

But hey, there’s still two more chapters to go. Will the Challengers embrace terrorism as a viable means of opening the people’s minds? Does Hegemony’s grasp extend farther than anyone expects? Is the ‘unknown’ a state of battle lodged between extremes? Any place other than extreme might even be an unknown state for the book’s storytelling, but at this point who knows?

The Punisher MAX #11

That was all well and good, but how about a bunch of people just getting shot? Here it is, as it always is. My prediction was a little off for this issue; most of the major villains are still alive, certainly on the way toward a massive bloodbath next issue. I’ve become more interested in Frank’s arrogant British counterpart, his sneering at idealism and his utter disdain for any soldier that sees combat as anything more than a job. His young sidekick matches their young Irish captive in the starry quality of the eye, and maybe next issue we’ll learn that the hope for the future is in our young. After Frank shoots everyone. Lots of shooting here too, although the plot continues to stay oddly still given all the dying, with many of the villains taking time out to scheme, become wistful, or wander into Grand Guignol traps (what, weren't there guards left for the captive?) while the silly plot stumbles about. I think everyone can agree that this shouldn’t have gone on for six issues.