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*Countdown to Infinite New Column is complete! An ode to DC’s hot new event! A redefinition of vocabulary! A batch of jokes that are already stale only two days after the book was released! A feast for April Fools young and old! GO!

And just to provide a little more info, since I’ve got some time and I‘ve been thinking more since my writing of the linked essay, the main thing that struck me about this book was how profoundly silly it was at its core. Really; the whole thing is about Blue Beetle, already used largely as a humorous character, wandering around and having the entire goddamned DC Universe ignore him because he’s such a dork.

This could work pretty well. Even as a lead-in to a humongous series of Event Miniseries.

But the writers and editors of this book don’t embrace this; indeed, they seem utterly mortified at the absurdity lurking in their story, so they do their absolute best to smother it under Regret and Angst and Gunshots and Horrid Revelations. And when you try to 'ground' a story like this, well, I start to notice stuff peeking out from under the tarp that I otherwise might not, like the questions I ask in this column. There’s jokes in this book, yes, but the jokes are rueful. There’s nostalgia for happier times, yes, but the book’s execution works double-time to pay lip-service to brighter days while the story itself maintains a permanent overcast. It’s this feeling that really gets to me regarding the book. So very determined to be serious. The Blue Beetle will be serious now. Seriously.

It’s not a disastrously awful book. It just seems so… insecure. Trying so hard to be weighty and mature. But when you try too hard, you rarely succeed. Often you look even sillier than you were to start with.

Enough. My column awaits ya.

God the Dyslexic doG #2 (of 4)

And once again, if I ever come up with a title for a comic book that’s one quarter as awesome as this, I’ll be a smiling corpse when they lower me into the ground. Indeed, merely by virtue of your hearing the title of this book, it will latch onto your brain and stick with you for weeks and months, until you suddenly find a copy on the stands and you mumble about how you’ve heard of it and you pick it up. I don’t even know if that’s the creators’ plan, but that’s how it’s gonna work for more than one reader.

God the Dyslexic doG” is the creation of longtime Disney Feature Animation layout and background artist Phillip Phillipson and his son Brian, himself a veteran of shows like “King of the Hill”, “Futurama”, “Daria”, and many others. Interestingly, despite the obvious aptitude for visual expression as present in the book’s creators, the duo has opted to largely handle the writing portions of the book (though Phillip is credited with page breakdowns). Instead, it’s much-respected comics stalwart Alex Nino who provides the art and covers; Nino’s lengthy career spans hundreds of books in his native Philippines, bushels of titles for Marvel and DC and others starting in the 1970’s, work in “Heavy Metal” and assorted literary sequential adaptations, and even a run on the Sunday “Tarzan” strip from United Features. His character art is full of loose, curvy lines, and stylized features, and his backgrounds are inky yet fragile with buildings stacked up like block constructions; to the less acclimated reader such as myself, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Ian Gibson but lighter and more flexy. His child characters exude a distinctly exaggerated feel, with wide eyes and big tears flowing in the air and feet hovering above the ground as they run; it’s the sort of thing that these days gets dubbed 'Manga style', though it’s not quite superdeformed.

The choice of artist is fitting for the fanciful, twisting story. Merely synopsizing this particular issue will still require a bit of background elaboration: we see the suicidal Bacchus, god of oh-you-know, wandering around the streets of the human world in the present day, having fled Heaven through Pandora’s Box (which, by the way, holds the secrets to time-travel). Heaven is apparently occupied by all gods that have ever been; Bacchus’ antics have somehow resulted in both his escape and the affirmation of the Mayan Calendar (expiration date: 2011) as the official time clock for humanity’s reign on Earth. All the other gods are mightily annoyed with this, and have banded together to imprison the weakened Mayan Gods and ensure that they stay weak by disrupting the belief in Mayan Gods on Earth (not that such an action will delay the now-inevitable). You see, apparently godly power in Heaven is tied to human belief on Earth; not only that, but after the end of humanity, there will be no mortals to believe in anything, so all the gods will lose their prized authority, save presumably for the Ancient One, the Creator, who’s been away for a very long time now. But the Creator’s faithful pooch has somehow been incarnated in Earthly dog form in 1911 (a full century before humanity‘s warrantee expires), where’s he’s fallen in with Dr. Ivan Pavlov, without memory of his Heavenly heritage. Or the ability to drool, which has the good Doctor mighty cheesed. I hope I have the backstory right; I haven’t gotten a copy of issue #1 yet, where much of these will hopefully be expanded upon. I did some research on the book’s site, though, which is pretty helpful, and has lots of samples of art. UPDATE 2:08 PM: And then I found this nice interview with the younger Phillipson, which fills in a lot of the holes I left.

So issue #2 jumps between Fido (not his name in the comic - he doesn‘t have one) in 1911 and Bacchus in the present day. Bacchus is tormented by visions and voices urging him to re-open Pandora’ s Box (which he has stashed away with him). In agony, he storms into the home of a popular pet psychic (hey, close enough) and her bullied dyslexic son, demanding aid. Meanwhile, back in the lab (and back a few decades), all of the other dogs decide to go through with an ancient howling-at-the-moon ritual that’ll hopefully result in a divine gift of drooling to Our Messianic Canine. Unbeknownst to them, it’s actually a Mayan ritual. Oh, and there’s a plot brewing to birth a new god for the 20th century, a more sophisticated god, a god named Dar-Win.

It’s a slightly convoluted tale, and not entirely clear with its time-jumps (from what I can gather, Heaven fis locked to the same timestream as Earth, so all of these scenes in Heaven are actually taking place in the distant past and within the 1911 side of the story), but gleefully pleased with its dimension-twisting style. Nino’s art is truly lovely, and he’s given lots of room to play with: there’s no less than six double-page splashes out of 34 pages of story (that’s ten more pages total than the average comic provides however, so the book doesn‘t read abnormally fast). And they’re great, detailed splashes too, packed with hallucinogenic imagery and wild designs; my very favorite is the second one down on the right here, depicting the joining of dog and Mayan. It’s missing a key word balloon, though, the only one on the page: the lead Mayan, reaching out to the dog, is saying “Drool, most holy one.” And that's what makes the spread. This sort of straightfaced wackiness (but secure wackiness, mind you) can be found all over the book, with Voices From Beyond literally knocking pigeons out of the sky to the earnestly friendly dialogues among dogs. It’s a welcome mood, a fun one.

It’s tough to say where the book plans to go from here; will it turn into some sort of religious allegory (hopefully a less perplexing one)? A rousing dimensional adventure? A boy-and-his-shaggy-dog saga? Bits of everything above (yeah, probably)? Whatever it is, it’s a likable book with a quietly canny sense of the absurd and gorgeously crafted visuals. Here’s the ordering info (snail-mail only but a nice discount). Sift though all that sample art and see if it looks like the thing for you.

Meat Cake #14

Wow, this and the book reviewed above really hit the spot this week. I love Dame Darcy’s work (if you’re not into this book, you might recognize her art from some “Cobweb” shorts in ABC’s “Tomorrow Stories”), and this is her home, less a one-woman comics anthology than an irregular magazine of personal interests with plenty of comics included. This issue, for instance, has a page of film reviews, grouped into categories that Darcy deems most important to fine cinema: Horses, Witches, Fashion, Fairies, and more. There’s six pages of stuff derived from her upcoming film project “Gasoline”, some of it packed with handwritten prose and spot illustrations, some of it deployed as full-page splashes with printed words atop. Not to mention the three-page educational feature on how to make assorted styles of dolls (Darcy is a successful dollmaker outside comics, btw); it felt good slipping such a book in with “Astonishing X-Men” and “Blue Beetle’s Bullet Ballet”.

But some of you may not be interested in such matters, especially if you’re not the type to share Darcy’s interests in Victorian pop culture or silent film or absurd humor (which isn‘t to say that you‘ll otherwise enjoy everything; the “Gasoline” bits really aren‘t capturing my interest), or if you can’t quite get into her unique visual style, with cute/glamorous characters and their pointy features wandering through alternately ultra-simple and heavily-detailed backgrounds, hand-printed narration drifting all over the page. It can get cluttered, even difficult to fathom, but there’s sense behind it all. Just as there’s sense to Darcy’s comics, though it might take a while to figure it out. One story purports to be a public service announcement against ‘cutting’, a habit that’s harming witches worldwide. On the very first page Darcy helpfully mentions that by ‘witches’, she really means ‘rock stars’, and then the story proceeds to have nothing at all to do with witches, rock stars, or indeed cutting, until you realize that Darcy is using ‘cutting’ as an eye-catching stand-in for depression in general, and witches (rock stars) as another word(s) for ‘individuals’. A reader of her comic, after all, is surely a rock star.

Darcy’s other stories involve the loveliest bonnet in all the land and its amazing psychic powers, a magical doll that grants wishes (“I wish I could spit candy.”), and a moody autobiographic piece about being recently evicted from her home, which suddenly transforms into a gently creepy ghost story. Most of them are highly effective, as I often find her sequential works to be. If you haven’t found this out yet, fiddle around on Darcy’s site, and see what you can see. I like this stuff.