Things from other places + review.

*Vital update from yesterday - my shop got in a hot little copy of Combat Zone, and I decided to check it out (on the stand; there’s no way I’m blowing twenty smackers on it). Good news! A quick scan with my neoconometer comes up 100% clean! It actually looks like a lot of combat-chat between soldiers with things sometimes exploding toward the reader. Anyone actually purchase this thing?

*Common Sense Validated Yet Again Dept: Andy Diggle, writer of the Event-crippled Adam Strange, more-or-less confirms exactly what we’d all suspected. Just to close the book on that one; if only I’d done that around issue #5 of the miniseries. And that wasn’t the only Infinite Headache mentioned at the Rampage today, although this latter situation was hardly impossible to anticipate either.

*But if you're still in a Direct Market Mainstream mood, the ever comics-friendly (and now freshly redesigned!) The Onion AV Club has a whole lot of comics-related features readied, like a San Diego con report, feature interviews with Brian K. Vaughan and Geoff Johns, and a run-down of recent comics. I'm not a fan of Vaughan's writing, but he gives a pretty good interview:

"I genuinely am sort of an emotionally stunted man-child, so if I just write to the top of my intelligence, it sounds like a teenager. I don't have to... I remember reading an interview with [Brian Michael] Bendis where he talks about going to the mall and listening to kids, and that just sounds sort of creepy, like a pedophile thing, to me. I don't do that."

So much more sitting there for you above.

*Oh, and I got that new issue of RES (Vol. 8, No.4), The Comics and Animation Issue (oddly, they've not yet updated their site to reflect the occasion). I've not read an issue of the magazine, and my spirits sank within six pages, as they unexpectedly felt the need to explain Matthew Vescovo's extremely simple cover art, depicting a man leering over a fence, the grass indeed greener on the other side. I really didn't need an 'About the Cover' blurb to educate me as to the powerful meanings inherent to the piece; I expect nobody will, but there it is. Fortunately, I was made happy again by the doubly unexpected presence of Tom Spurgeon on the contributors page. The Comics Reporter himself presents a nice profile of Marjane Satrapi on tour in the US, and an essay on Mark Newgarden, whose career retrospective collection, We All Die Alone, is coming soon from Fantagraphics; it's basically an introduction to the man and his work.

Actually, there's the sense of an introduction around the entire issue, which strikes me as plainly targeted to a novice audience, the comics-curious. The animation content is a little deeper, with a longer article on the making of stop-motion animation, reviews of software, and various peeks into history and cutting-edge studios. In contrast, the comics bits are centered around artist profiles and analysis of their places in history. There's also non-comics/animation material scattered throughout, and the occasional reference to the issue's dvd insert, which only subscribers receive, so just try to ignore that. Still, as a comics-for-beginners presentation, they cut a wide swath and will probably hold interest. The issue is $5.95, and is on the stands now.

Hellboy: The Island #2 (of 2)

Ah, contrasts. White cover on #1, black cover on #2. Furious, feverish image and suggestion with a touch of chat in the former, a sprawling load of information with shreds of action in the latter. You might be tempted to call this issue unbalanced, but it only aims to counteract the issue before it. Yet there are similarities too; just as last issue’s cryptic dazzle provided a visual treat for everyone and a storytelling head-scratch for novices, this issue’s straightforward major plot revelations seem targeted entirely toward the Hellboy hardcore; happenings hinted at in Seed of Destruction are expanded upon, with the plot citations stretching as far forward as the recent, uncollected, and apparently difficult-to-find The Third Wish miniseries. Truly, this last one is for the die-hards, and I imagine newer readers will find much of this edition’s informational outlay beautiful yet distant, and not in the ethereal manner of last issue, but shot through with the nagging concern that less-acclimated readers are missing something. Because they are.

Yeah, this is Mignola’s last ‘full’ issue. The next of the forward-moving continuity miniseries will be Darkness Calls, with Lee Bermejo adding finished art to Mignola’s script and layouts. However, as announced this issue, there’ll also be another Mignola-written two-issue mini before that, a Hellboy tale set in the past with framing sequence art by Mignola himself, and the lion's share drawn by Richard Corben. It’s titled Makoma, or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorer’s Club on August 16, 1993. The mere thought of a Mignola/Corben teaming provides an ironclad guarantee out of this reader toward another Hellboy purchase (although I’m sure I’ll check out at least a few issues of the first Bermejo mini too). A Lobster Johnson miniseries is hinted/teased at as well; I was banking on more Amazing Screw-On Head, but maybe that'll arrive closer to the television program’s debut.

I really liked last issue, on the whole; Mignola’s dedication to his ever-tightening style is enthralling to see played out on the page, and nobody can do heavily visual pulp foreboding in quite the same way. This issue is a bit of a come-down in comparison, though still lavishly mounted. On one hand, it was disheartening to see Mignola resort to the archaic ‘witty character takes a jab at the storytelling to cover the writer’s ass’ trick (“Jeez, pal. I’ve known some guys who could talk, but you win.”), especially on a book as heavily edited and re-edited as this one. And on the other hand, it is an awfully lovely infodump, all 14 out of 30 pages of it, deployed in the same style as the folklore and myths so many Hellboy tales in the past have used as their backing. But this time, we get the story of a Spanish chaplain who learned the secrets of three golden tablets which sport the top-secret (and plot-convenient) History of Everything inscribed upon them, leading us into a summary of what’s really been going on in the semi-Christian backdrop of the Hellboy universe, with the origins of a certain portion of Hellboy’s own person thrown in for added flavor. Naturally, it’s gorgeous-looking stuff, with wispy skeletal spirits summoning tiny pops of flame and the yellow mass of the melted golden tablets matching the yellow blood of their memorizer and storyteller, the tablets internalized via color linking; such sophisticated visual-thematic cohesion is to be expected of Mignola at this point, and he absolutely does not disappoint on that front.

Honestly, he doesn’t seriously disappoint on any front, even if this issue seems a tad soggy with background info. Why begrudge the man a chance to indulge in longview noodling, here in his final full issue? When the storytelling is still this skilled? When the visuals are still this potent? It’s not every writer/artist that can take a lengthy break from producing anything beyond short stories, then return for a big finale, and still look like he’s going out at the top of his game. No, from a plot standpoint, this is not the place for a new reader to discover Hellboy. But from a purely optic position, sure. It’ll do just fine.

Of course, so will almost anything in this series.