Oh dear! I am in hot water!

*Today was a really interesting day; I went through lot of introspection this morning as I loaded all those plastic and glass containers full of ice-cold water into the microwave so I could have something to bathe in without fear of losing any fingers. It seems the water heater in my building decided that life just wasn’t worth it anymore at some point yesterday, so I spent all of my usual blogging time heating up bowls of bathwater to dab myself with; I hadn’t the minutes to fill up the whole tub. The resulting wash felt really great, I assure you. Then I had an extra-busy day and I got home and I found out that I’m going to have to go through the same thing tomorrow because gosh darn it they’ve got to recruit a whole new water-heater from a line-up of eager water-heater potentials. I hope we select one that’s street-smart and doesn’t play by the rules but pulls through in the end. Meanwhile, I’ll be setting up my bowls of bath. Maybe I’ll fill up a big iron pail and climb in like they do in all of the redneck movies I’ve seen. I need to find one of those big brushes to use on my back…

Challengers of the Unknown #5 (of 6)

There’s a really good ending to this issue. I seriously can’t wait for the final installment of this new Howard Chaykin miniseries to arrive. The story’s getting more than a little gonzo. I mean, WOW… just the costume she’s wearing on the last few pages… you’ve really got to see it for yourself. It also amps Chaykin’s already booming commentary on the world’s ruling elite to the next level of aristocratic absurdity. It’s a perfect fit with all the better parts of this story thus far: the out-of-control Ultimate Fox News and the breathless uber-conspiracies, wedded to impeccably designed near-superhero mayhem. Oh, and the obligatory Chaykin blowjob shows up in this issue too. The gang’s all here.

Perhaps repeating things that we already know is just Chaykin’s reaction to an editorially mandated trade-centered six-issue arc. An elegant if redundant means of stretching out the story to fill those pages. Otherwise I’d have to concede that the book’s writer-artist simply doesn’t trust the audience to follow him properly; why else would Our Heroes breathlessly expound on the history of the story’s lead villain, which we've already hear in part? For what other reason would the evil lady explain the vile Hegemony company’s history of Total Life Control when we’ve already been handed more than enough information in previous issues to sift it all out for ourselves? Sure, it gives Chaykin the opportunity to finally connect the book to the previous Challengers incarnation (in a way). But it feels an awful lot like treading water.

But then comes the cliffhanger. Finally, slavery that looks good, and feels even better! The book is quickly becoming less of a satire than a shuddery socio-political fairy tale, and we’re finally in the gingerbread house, and even the oven itself looks mighty tasty.

*And while I’ve got the book open, that J.H. Williams III fellah has a lot of stuff coming up on his plate. Apparently he’s now helping Shawn McManus out on the art for “Wild Girl”, Leah Moore’s upcoming miniseries, which is now being co-written by John Reppion, unless it always was and I simply didn’t notice. Plus, he’s teaming up with Grant Morrison for the first and last bookend single issues of the big “Seven Soldiers” project (the other twenty-eight issues will be divided into seven four-issue arcs). I totally missed that announcement. Not to mention his new long-term job on Warren Ellis’ “Desolation Jones” and the final issue of “Promethea”. Quite a busy man.

Tom Strong #29

First part of a two-issue arc with Ed Brubaker on the script and Duncan Fegredo on the art. It’s probably the best of the non-Alan Moore “Tom Strong” issues thus far (interestingly, Moore gets a special 'inspiration and oversight' credit); I was pretty impressed. The story is highly reminiscent of a “Legends of the Dark Knight” arc that holds a special spot in my heart: Bryan Talbot’s “Masks”, about a mentally-diseased pauper named Bruce Wayne who’s plagued with dreams of fighting crime dressed like a bat. It seriously blew my mind as a little kid; it was the first superhero story I’d read that made me question the genre requirements and psychological gloss that trail closely behind most superhero books (especially Big Established superhero books). Viewed with older eyes, it seems like more of a typical early 90’s exercise in deconstruction, a little more concerned than it should have been with cracking the literal mystery behind the Dark Knight’s pathetic position, though nicely served by a decidedly ambiguous ending (at least in the trade collection; DC made some judicious cuts in the original serialization to eliminate the more alarming potentials of taint on one of their cherished icons). Brubaker’s story is quite reminiscent of that older story.

But as a single-issue unit, this particular installment benefits from a lengthy set-up, sending Tom and Tesla storming through a jungle and ancient ruins while battling science-villains before a measure of Doubt is added to the proceedings. Fegrado’s art deserves special mention: it’s beautifully smooth and slick, and great at handling action (and character: his Tesla is one of the few that genuinely looks like a kid). And as the action wanes and the inevitable 'Yay for Tom' celebrations begin, the art gradually becomes more shaded, more detailed. Carrie Strachan’s colors become deeper. The page resembles a pulp illustration more than a modern comic. And then *POW* Fegredo’s art is much looser and cartoony. Coupled with Strachan’s suddenly airy color, the look becomes strongly reminiscent of Guy Davis. Brubaker even throws in a joke about Tom’s word balloons, which (even in prior issues) are always a little bolder than everyone else’s. It’s a great visual trick, genuinely unexpected, which adds a lot to the story, as well-worn as the concept is. Venturing out of his universe, where he’s always the focal point of genre-splicing, Tom enters a familiar grim 'n gritty world, and it feels weirdly unique by virtue of his presence.

The Punisher #12

Well, that certainly… ended. There’s more than a little joking around at the climax of this 10,742 issue-long arc, but we could all use a laugh at this point. Frank manages to turn in a glorified cameo while the villainous cast snipes and searches, buried treasure almost at their fingertips. But fear not, friends! Everything ends on an appropriate note of waste and emptiness, which are the only feelings that I think this storyline could possibly produce in any volume. At least Frank gets to rip of someone’s right cheek with his teeth. I try to appreciate such tiny blessings.