Cannibal Holocaust

Of the animals that are killed onscreen in this film, four stand out.

There’s some sort of muskrat, early on in the film. It’s held in the palm of one character’s hand, and a pocket knife is thrust upward into its neck. It struggles for a bit, as its blood drizzles out onto the grass. Its guts are pulled out, and tossed at a group of characters to eat. The performer playing a native tribesman gleefully chows down on the raw goop. I don’t know it it’s authentic muskrat stuffing or something else.

Of course, there’s the sea tortoise. It’s pulled out of the water, and flipped onto its back. One of the actors whacks its head off with a machete, and another actor picks up the loosened skull and antically waves it around in front of the camera. The beast’s legs kick wildly, even after it is freed from its shell, its exposed innards a gelatinous sea of snowy whites and deep reds and purples, like thick cheese atop thick, overcooked pasta, ooze and water spilling from the unprotected belly, like pouring a glass of water into a napkin. Hands soon thrust into the swirled mass, organs become more distinct as they are pulled out, and the camera inevitable drifts downward to the creature’s leg, still abnormally that of a turtle, still uniquely rough, in contrast with its tumbling innards, still kicking, still kicking.

A monkey is captured by a native. Its skull is split in half horizontally with a blade. It’s very quick.

Some sort of furry pig is tied to a stake in a native village. It tries to escape, but it can’t - the rope holds fast. It rears around madly as the actors playing a film crew approach it, kick it around a bit, then blast it in the head with a shotgun, its form spasming and bucking in the dirt.

And as if directly to mock the interior monologue of the most tolerant of viewers, one of the actors faces the camera directly and babbles something like “Yeah! This happens every day in the jungle! Survival of the fittest! The strong survive!”

He’s mocking you.

Yes. You.

But that’s the kind of film this is, director Ruggero Deodato’s 1979 epic of provocation, finally available on R1 dvd in a limited-edition 11,111 copy set from Grindhouse Releasing. It's simultaneously a post-Vietnam critique of Western adventurism, an insiders-only satire of the Italian trash/art cinema tradition, the creative peak (which might actually mean the nadir) of the ‘cannibal’ Euro-horror subgenre, and perhaps the ultimate in self-loathing exploitation. It’s a common trait among exploitation pictures to decry the prurient acts they simultaneously lick their chops toward, but this one goes farther than most - it honestly seems to believe itself, to the point where it works to tear down the latex and karo anti-gloss of its peers in favor of something more immediate and punishing, placing it truly beyond the pale.

Deodato (a former assistant to Roberto Rossellini, much as Dario Argento was once a screenwriter for Sergio Leone) and fellow Italian horror vet Umberto Lenzi were the twin towers of cannibal film (Lenzi got there first with 1972’s Deep River Savages), which was something of a scorched middle ground between the zombie flick and the ‘Mondo’ film, of which more will be said later. Typically, cannibal films would meld classic jungle adventure tropes with extreme gore, as Western explorers, often stranded in the middle of nowhere, would get wrapped up in some kind of tribal business. Scenes of simulated flesh-eating were a must. As were sequences of genuine animal killing, meant to shore up the grit of the environs, and give the proceedings an air of authenticity. The most successful of these films featured exotic locations and copious use of local tribes for yet another jolt of realism. Indeed, it was the veneer of realism that would often win out in these things. There were also some bizarre genre hybrids on display, but we’re not here to discuss the likes of Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. Maybe some other time.

Deodato had done well with 1977’s Last Cannibal World (also known by catchier titles like Carnivorous or Jungle Holocaust), an especially raw, compelling specimen, concerning a Westerner lost in the wilds of South East Asia and imprisoned by natives in a magnificent system of caves. In contrast to the theatrical concessions of other genre protagonists, he spends much of the film completely naked, urinated and spat on, but shown sympathy by the obligatory Good Native Girl. He attempts to escape, but finds himself inevitably giving in to his own savage nature; he ultimately kills a tribal warrior and feasts on his body. The tribe than simply allows him to escape. He has become like them.

But by the end of the ’70s, the genre (never an extremely prolific one) was ready for a jolt, and Deodato was ready to supply it. He was ready to supply more than that, actually; informed by increasingly violent images beamed to his television, and doubtlessly aware of the nature of the lowdown cinema scene, Deodato planned to transform his next cannibal epic (and it should be noted that Deodato, like many European directors of his period and scene, was something of a jack-of-all-genre-trades - in between the two cannibal pictures I mention here, he also directed Concorde Affair, an Airport-style disaster pic, and Last Feelings, a tear-jerking youth sports drama) into a sweeping commentary on human nature and the many exploitations inherent to filmmaking.

The plot of Cannibal Holocaust can be quite neatly split into two halves. In the first part, Professor Harold Monroe (played by Robert Kerman, a prolific exploitation and porno star whose other main claim to fame is his role as male lead in Debbie Does Dallas - Kerman also had a small cameo in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, as a tugboat operator who fishes Spidey out of the river) launches an expedition to discover the whereabouts of four young documentary filmmakers who disappeared in the jungle whilst shooting their latest epic. He hires a drug-addled pair of grizzled guides, and the trio eventually captures a local tribesman as their ticket deeper into native territory. It’s fairly standard jungle hi-jinx, though spiked with some rather lovely cinematography and the occasional bizarre vision: one scene of a muscular guide, totally nude, braving native poison blow-darts while walking his prisoner along literally on a leash, seems especially subversive and fetishistic.

And, this being exploitation, attention is lavished on grotesque scenes, like a brutal native punishment for adultery, and the aforementioned muskrat killing. Natives are killed by our heroes too, as a means of incurring favor with one tribe by fighting the enemies of another. But the Professor triumphs through understanding, frolicking chastely in the buff with a bevy of native girls, and winning everyone’s trust by understanding their mindset. Eventually, it is discovered that the prior film crew are all dead, though their film is still intact, the canisters literally hung as evil magical charms from ropes around a village. The comment inherent to this image will become clearer later. Had the film simply concluded here (with requisite padding to bump it over feature-length), it would have been a typically hypocritical cannibal episode, nothing more. But there is more.

You see, even though the characters involved are American, Deodato knows that the filmmakers were shooting a ‘Mondo’ film, an Italian innovation birthed into widespread popularity in 1962 with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s Mondo Cane (which even got an Oscar nomination, albeit for Best Original Song). Mondo Cane was a strange, carefully edited exercise in structural irony, a cinema travelogue of strange customs and exotic places throughout the globe that served largely to comment upon the similarities and connections between humans all over. Some scenes were captured on-the-fly, and others were carefully staged. It was a big hit, spawning countless rip-offs (many sporting the word ‘Mondo’ prominently in the title, hence the name of the genre), scores of ‘documentaries’ packed with fakery, most of them not nearly as artistically inclined. They were shock shows masquerading as education. Perfect exploitation.

Jacopetti and Prosperi strove onward too, eventually getting into trouble with 1966’s Africa Addio, an examination of violence in that strife-sundered continent. The filmmakers were eventually accused of setting up live executions strictly for their cameras; nothing came of it, but Deodato explicitly cites the incident once the Professor returns to New York, and views portions of the dead documentary team’s prior film, ‘The Last Road to Hell,’ an Africa-set symphony of shootings and death. The Professor is told parts were staged. The film we see is composed of authentic-looking execution scenes, likely culled from news footage. After the jungle jaunt of the first half of the film, this is quite jarring, but it’s only the first of this film’s nasty tricks.

Much of the reminder of the runtime is taken up examining the dead crew’s footage. It’s faded, scratchy, shaky, and the lost-among-the-trees aesthetic has prompted more than one commentator to make comparisons with The Blair Witch Project (especially since the famous Blair Witch stick totems bear a suspicious resemblance to the tattoos worn by various natives in this film), though the non-stop mugging and identity-bending ’performances’ of the crew put me more in the mind of Grizzly Man. The crew’s journey is essentially a parallel to what we’ve seen in the first half of the film, but it’s meaner, rawer, not only in a cinematic sense (though the whole 'devolved visual quality' aspect of the proceedings makes for a nice comment of its own) but in the actions taken by the crew. They also have a guide, but he’s less prepared, and he’s bitten by a snake, and his leg needs to come off, to no avail (contrast this with the poison dart fearlessness of the Professor’s own guide). They also kill an animal, the tortoise, but Deodato keeps the focus on the writhing animal for a monstrously long time, absolutely soaking in the cruelty. Kerman has pegged Deodato as a sadist (link probably not safe for work), and seeing as he’s the one in charge of this sequence of evil filmmakers making merry of a creature’s suffering, one can only wonder what’s next.

The filmmakers here love to shoot everything (and it should be said that Deodato plays fair in these scenes - everything is set up so that one character is always 'behind the camera' to shoot the others); they’re in love with fame and becoming rich. They burn down a native village to simulate an attack by a rival tribe, trapping people in their huts (“It’s just like Cambodia!” someone comments from off-screen, in case we didn’t get it). The racism of the situation, which might have been perceptible throughout the entire film, now becomes crystal clear, with natives called ‘monkey.’ The film becomes openly satirical - the crew is shooting two of their member having sex, then the camera pulls back to reveal that they’re fucking atop the ashes of a burned-down hut, various natives watching agog in the background. They rape a woman, provoking a camera-friendly tribal retribution, the narrating crewmember unable to contain his glee at the graphic footage.

And at this point, I was flashing back to the adulterous retribution sequence in the movie’s first half, and wondering what the hell Deodato is trying to say. Ditto with a scene in which the Professor stops the film to make a little speech on the immorality of needless animal killing (!!!). It honestly seems that the film is (forgive me) devouring itself, criticizing not just violent media and cruel filmmakers, but itself, specifically. Indeed, one can see the grimy visual style of this second half as a direct response to the relative visual splendor of the film’s first half, a denial of what makes this sort of film attractive. The violence is interesting too; the gore in the first half of the film is goopy and bright red, as expected from a film of this type. The violence in the second half is frantic, obscured, with too many tight shots (those wicked filmmakers all too eager to lap up every drop), everything glimpsed through trees, flashes of red amidst the greens. Naturally, the filmmakers capture one another’s deaths, so caught up in the action they are, as the natives exact their inevitable revenge. There is no mind-blowing concluding gore scene as films of this type often have. All is cruel and brutish, and it seems that Deodato is largely attempting to simulate the barely-caught violence of the news. But really, structurally, it’s as if he’s rejecting the gloss (if you can call it that) of typical genre tropes, material this very film incorporates, replacing it with a different brand of truer killing. A type of killing then decried.

It’s weird, self-flagellating material. The mind turns back to the animals. We have one killing in the film’s first half, a killing for ‘food,’ that’s really a killing for our entertainment. We have a second killing for food in the second half of the film, a grosser, more vicious one. Then we have a native killing for food, and finally a killing for killing’s sake. But all of them are really for us, we never forget that. The director - he doesn’t forget it too. The film rejects itself, and rejects its maker, and works double-time to repel its audience, to shame them for their titillation. It’s like a higher state of exploitation, like it’s ascended beyond mortal filmic concern. The back of the box isn’t kidding when it calls it “cinematic nihilism.”

And it worked! It worked pretty well. The legends say that Cannibal Holocaust remains one of the top ten highest grossing films on Japanese box office record. It’s been whispered about by fans for years. It’s been banned everywhere. It’s been seen everywhere.

It’s not for people who don’t like animals being hurt (fascinatingly, the new R1 release offers an optional censored version of the film with all of the animal cruelty edited out - as one message board wag remarked, "Now I can finally show it to the kids!"). It’s probably not for those who aren’t ready for the expected weak dubbing and over-the-top performances inherent to Euro-cult cinema (although Kerman is really quite good). Maybe it’s not really for anyone other than experienced exploitation fans, ready to stare down the ultimate in hypocritical damn-this-planet horror thrills.

At the end of the film, the Professor walks out onto the street, wondering via voiceover who the real cannibals are.

But every voice in the film is Deodato’s, in a way. I am reminded of Last Cannibal World, the director's prior cannibal film. The hero emerges from the jungle, but he's a native now. He's eaten the flesh. He's not himself. He is part of everything that disgusted him now.

"I wonder who the real cannibals are?"


Ruggero Deodato is talking to himself.


This is the 'trick' half of the equation.

*I am ready to walk with the ghouls on Mischief Night.

A Review of My Brilliant Day

I have a recurring dream that I experience some variation of whenever I have anything pressing coming up in my life. I’m always in school, usually undergrad, and there’s this class. For some reason, it’s often Spanish; I don’t know if high school Spanish had that much of an effect on me, or if the obvious symbolism inherent to a foreign language is too easy for my lazy hack subconscious to pass up. Anyway, there’s always this class, and I’ve been missing it. More precisely, I’ve forgotten that I’m enrolled, and I always find out that a big test is coming up, and I never know how many tests or assignments I’ve already missed. These dreams always cover a good portion of the academic semester, as I continually fail to study correctly or get on top of anything.

I had that sort of dream last night, and I kept waking up, and it kept flitting back behind my eyes each and every time.

And yet, I try to cling to portions of these dreams, as there’s tiny perfect moments inside them, distillations of perfect feelings, idealizations of places and rooms and architecture. Consummate friendships and relations. Something better than truth, something perfect in the sleeping eye, to beautiful to merely imagine - it must be entered. Our dreams can usher us in. I used to dream of hotels all of time, and sometimes I still do. There were the most magnificent places. Utterly flawless environs. I’ve been in a lot of hotels and none of them really live up. But they weren’t the best hotels anyway.

So I woke up today, and I did some work, trying to get myself organized. I’m so easy to distract. After a while I figured I should wash, and then I decided to go out and buy some sustenance for the day.

Perfect sustenance includes:

1 loaf of rosemary and olive oil bread, round

1 tub of coffee

1 pint of soup, any variety

1 stack of tea bags

I didn’t have much luck with the soup. I had expected the hour we all time-traveled back through early this morning would give me the jump on soup collection, but it turns out the chicken place I visited was all out of their homemade soup already. The old man at the counter didn’t look like he’d be amused if I walked out without anything, so I ordered a chicken sandwich; he shakily wielded a large blade and chopped strips off of a random fried breast as my eyes trailed around the menu, written in gigantic letters all across the back of the wall. Dotting the space like bits of corn in chowder (HOW DID I MISS THE SOUP) were gag signs, many of them nagging wife jokes.

The old man lathered honey mustard atop the chicken bone he left inside my sandwich, no doubt as an early Mischief Night gift, and I left the place. Locating the bread was more of a success. I ate the whole loaf, and the chicken. Didn't have as much tea as I expected to.

So I went back to work and I e-mailed my partner on the project, and eventually she e-mailed me back saying that she was kind of disorganized but things were getting done, and she hoped that our meeting tomorrow wouldn’t last for more than two and ½ hours; I had not expected it to last for more than forty-five minutes, and I got really paranoid and began flipping through documentation to reassure myself that I was doing the right thing. I was, or so I still think.

I went over some of the papers I was supplied. Many of them still stank of cigarettes, and I tried to think of the people involved in their creation.

Anything to get my mind off what I was doing.

I started looking at random comics that were sitting around. I recently got all four issues of that Howard Chaykin/Russ Heath miniseries, Legend, for about $4. That’s about $20 off the cover price, which was pretty good. Comics are pretty expensive, you know.

I typed and typed, and I rustled through things, and I would up sitting around and reading most of that issue of zingmagazine I mentioned yesterday, and then I made a silly mistake on my 100+ page document and had to go over about 30 pages to correct it, and then I played on the internet and nothing really captured my attention.

And everything dragged on and now I’m writing to you, dear reader, and after I finish here I’m going to take a walk and buy some coffee, even though I have plenty sitting around in here, because really I just want to take a walk and I need the exercise and I like the coffee at the donut place. And then I’m going to come back in here and work through the night, hopefully not too much of it.

Then I meet with my partner for tomorrow. It’s Halloween tomorrow, so maybe I’ll have time for fun, in between prepping for a big meeting on Wednesday, and a bigger trip on Friday.

And Friday afternoon/evening, I guess I’ll sleep then.




*Ah, that felt good. I will have a real Halloween post up sometime tomorrow, probably after dark, ho ho!


My mood.

*Oh, hello there. I love working through the weekend and biting my nails. I have a big deadline on Halloween. Someone out there has a spooky sense of humor I guess! I think the most fun of that day will be when children arrive at my door and I have to hide because I don’t have candy to give them. Hmmm, or maybe this is an environmentally conscious way to rid myself of all this stale snack food sitting around.

*Very important question here - which dvd should I watch first? The 1943 Batman serial (you know, the one where he doesn’t care much for the Japanese) or the shiny new half-decade in the making R1 release of Cannibal Holocaust (which somehow scored a cherry spot on Borders’ official ‘New Releases’ counter, directly below The Wizard of Oz and next to Herbie: Fully Loaded)? I’m leaning toward the latter, since that’s the sort of mood I’m in after today. Either one of them would be perfect fodder for a Halloween review post. I’m also paging through the new issue of zingmagazine, that twice-yearly, thick as a Sears catalog compendium of artistic stuff. Oh, there’s lots of nice visuals, and sequential pieces that sort of resemble comics, and photos of installations and parties, and a bonus cd, and I just flipped to a random page and Robert Crumb’s name got dropped. There’s a free poster and it’s a charcoal drawing of Betty Page being hugged by a sentient plush bunny rabbit. I think. It’s pretty.

*The best comic I’ve read recently? Dan Zettwoch’s odds ’n ends compilation Schematic Comics. A big, thick 48-page collection of thrillingly designed stuff, combining an appreciation for the nuts and bolts of how things work with a disarming atmosphere of suburban living. Zettwoch’s upcoming solo book from Buenaventura Press cannot arrive soon enough. Expect a more detailed review somewhere soon, but don’t hesitate to pick this up.

*Bissette Dept: Of course, the merest mention of European gore films is enough to make me think of Steve Bissette, devout scholar of all things horror and famous comics veteran. He’s been popping up a lot lately, like in this thread on the Comics Journal board, covering his long and ultimately troubled relationship with Alan Moore; I commend to you the Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman tribute book, which features a lengthy reminisce by Bissette on he and the magus’ many collaborations. I recall it being the only piece in the book besides Dave Sim’s that didn’t offer an entirely laudatory vision of Moore, and it’s very much worth reading. Also, I hope you’ve noticed Bissette’s own blog sitting in my sidebar for the past month or so - he recently posted a nice piece on (will ya look at that?!) the new Cannibal Holocaust dvd, and how its troubled production mirrored problems faced by Bissette’s late, great Taboo anthology (also: loads of political talk, for those allergic).

*A micro-review: Marvel Monsters: Monsters on the Prowl brings the concluding score of the Marvel Monsters theme month to about 2.5 out of 4, which isn’t too bad. A full point was given to both the gleefully absurd Devil Dinosaur and the perfectly toned all-ages fun of Fin Fang Four, and half a point for this final installment, which is a decent if nondescript fight book. Steve Niles (of ten billion horror comics) scripts, adopting a somewhat amusing narrative voice for the first few pages, which then fades away into completely standard superhero conversation, the wacky banter between the Thing and the Hulk submerged under the endless monster fisticuffs. This would make a good comparison to something like Shaolin Cowboy, which was also basically nothing but fighting, but also managed to be one of the most individual, even eccentric books to see release in the last few weeks. This one has the very good Duncan Fegredo drawing some nice, old-school monsters, and that splash page with Hulk doing some heavy lifting is a fine one, but nothing else really stands out at all. Still: ok as far as monster fighting goes, nothing particularly wrong.

The Jack Kirby/Christopher Rule back-up story is a pleasing bit of pointlessness, as a bunch of seamen get shipwrecked on an island, and wander into the plot of King Kong, only with a big turtle (something is lost in the substitution). Then one of the seamen has a fantasy sequence that approximates the New York ending of King Kong, and then he and his friends escape the island and discover The Biggest Turtle Ever swimming around, and they all remark on how big it is. And then they leave. The end! What can I say? It works as a back-up.

So yeah, pretty decent theme for the month. Certainly more of a success than that which it was meant to promote, that Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos book, which has debuted to reactions that can charitably be described as mixed (the mix being composed of ‘bad’ and ‘horrible’). It’ll all make for a swell trade in a few months, especially if they retain all of the vintage stuff. And slash the price a bit.


I'm all over the place.

*UPDATE (10/29/05 1:47 PM): Now look at that; I was so all over the place that I forgot to link to this week's column, a consideration of Dave Sim's place in comics history and contract negotiations. It'd be good to check out.

*First things first (er, sort of) - I’ve gotta recommend a book I’d not heard of until I saw a stack of copies sitting around in Borders today. It’s called Manga: Masters of the Art, it’s by Timothy Lehmann, and it’s devoted entirely to ‘in the studio’ type chats with a dozen of Japan’s finest, with photographic tours of every subject’s work environment and scads of art samples. And the subjects are quite nice: readers of this site will be delighted to learn more about Jiro Taniguchi (The Walking Man, Benkei in New York), Erica Sakurazawa (Between the Sheets, Angel), Usamaru Furuya (Short Cuts, Palepoli), and especially Suehiro Maruo (Ultra-Gash Inferno, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show), though there’s plenty of other talents on display, like CLAMP and Kia Asamiya.

Maruo proves to be the most interesting interviewee, if only through his reluctance to share; he rarely offers any answers more than two sentences long, and the interviewer is ultimately forced to note that his work ‘speaks for itself.’ We do discover that Maruo is a fan of David Lynch and Luis Buñuel, loves to collect ‘60s ephemera, and titled his porno manga debut after Osamu Tezuka’s beloved Princess Knight. Furuya’s chat is also fascinating; he’s uniquely defensive about his most recent output (apparently fans don’t like it as much as his earlier stuff), he expresses an admiration for David Mazzucchelli’s work on City of Glass, and he confesses that he wrote and drew the entire 170+ page manga adaptation of Suicide Club in a single month.

A complete, untranslated manga story by Mafuyu Hiroki (a near-unknown in the US) is also included, guaranteed to put him on your personal list of manga talents to watch out for. There’s color galleries for each subject, and selected Japanese and English bibliographies all around. It’s just a lovely book, and I recommend looking through it for yourselves.

*Richard (of the brilliantly titled Richard’s Twilight Lament for Lost Buckaroos) provided me, via yesterday’s comments section, with the perfect analogy for last evening’s theatergoing experience. I saw Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046; it’s kind of a sequel to his much-loved 2000 feature, In the Mood for Love, and if that earlier work was a perfect pop single of a film, then I see 2046 as a double-decker prog rock concept album, loaded with design splendor and fantastic studio polish, the songs alternately dazzling and ponderous, a long series of vignettes half-coalescing into a single unit, themes buzzing in and out of audibility. The pretension is thick enough to spread on toast, but it makes for a fairly tasty dish, even if you've got a bellyache by the end.

This is a swaggering, overstuffed mass of a movie, bouncing around much of the 1960’s in sort-of chronological order, following the self-destructive anti-romantic lethargy of Tony Leung’s newspaper reporter/pulp fiction hack, as he bunkers down in the shabby Hong Kong-based Oriental Hotel, next to room 2046, the number carrying all sorts of symbolic weight. It’s the site of a long-lost romantic memory. It’s the final year before mainland China absorbs Hong Kong. It’s the title of a book Leung is writing, an erotic sci-fi epic that encodes his entire emotional life. It’s a mystic CGI realm where memories can be held forever, and nothing ever changes. All of these notions float around as the story vaguely organizes itself around Leung’s relationships with a quartet of women: Zhang Ziyi’s classy, hot-blooded prostitute, Gong Li’s Singapore-based master gambler (who shares the same name as Maggie Cheung’s character from In the Mood for Love), Faye Wong as the landlord’s daughter who eventually becomes Leung’s apprentice, and Carina Lau, apparently reprising her role from Kar-Wai’s 1991 Days of Being Wild, which itself later fit into In the Mood for Love. I think.

You don’t really need to have seen any of these prior films to understand 2046; for all its dreamy ambling through time and space, it’s a fully self-contained meditation on sex and solitude and the venom-tipped claws of the past, romantic heroes left but victims of a Medusa’s gaze. It’s gorgeously designed, from the swooningly lavish period costumes right down to Leung’s flawless mustache. There’s artfully poetic intertitles, ironically peppy narration, and lengthy voyages into Leung’s interior sci-fi imaginings, which can best be described as Stanley Kubrick rising from the grave to direct an R-rated adaptation of one of Osamu Tezuka’s futuristic manga about human/robot relations on a limited budget.

And as bloated as the whole thing appears to be (and, indeed, occasionally feels like), it’s largely successful in getting its points across in a consummately elegant manner. Every new encounter adds an extra dimension to Leung’s tragic wastrel, with even those initially kitschy sci-fi bits revealing themselves as an impressively potent allegory, revealing things about our narrator that he the author doesn’t seem to realize, a neat trick. And reality is purposefully glossy and numbing; Kar-Wai loves his repeating visual motifs (want a fun and creative way to shuffle off this mortal coil? down a shot every time someone takes a drag off a cigarette in slow-motion or sheds a close-up tear - the paramedics will never arrive in time) and audio cues, years blowing by to the sounds of Nat King Cole.

I’m glad I got to see thins on a big screen. Might as well fall into it, you know? It’s a handsomely mounted, artistically ambitious picture, demanding of itself both sweeping tragedy and personal contemplation, though its effect wavers between hypnosis and drowsiness. But it’s the kind of stew only a major talent can cook up, I’ll concede that.

*On the other hand, there’s a certain kind of film I can watch forever and ever, without the slightest weariness - the sort of thing that wonderful dvds are made from. Be sure you watch the trailer for some fine samples of comics’ influence on the American cinema. “Let us now make Love.”

*Mainstream Respectability Dept: You know you’ve hit it big when your style is recognizable enough to be paid homage by political activists, so surely this animated short, designed in a Sin City style, is yet more evidence of Frank Miller's continuing charge through the halls of widespread recognition. The words 'Frank Miller' may not automatically equate to 'perscription medication discounts' in my mind, but let's not underestimate the power of sequential art, or the popular films based thereon.

*The most interesting thing to me about the recent 'Stephen King to work with Marvel' announcement is Joe Quesada’s apparent admission that the book will be produced in something resembling the classic Mighty Marvel Manner (note the very careful wording in Marvel’s press release: “The comic series will mark the first time Stephen King has produced original content for an ongoing comic book project.”) - basically, Stephen King creates something resembling an original story, collaborator Robin Furth transfers the raw matter into issue-by-issue chunks, Joe Q. streamlines each of those into page outlines, Jae Lee and Richard Isanove produce the art as based on those outlines, and then a still-unnamed party adds narration and dialogue to the finished art, with King acting in a supervisory capacity. A very structured and workmanlike approach for Marvel’s surefire ‘Graphic Fiction’ (as the ads are already calling it) hit; gotta get those edges smoothed out! Still, this does put Jae Lee on the cusp of becoming one of the more visible comic artists around, which is certainly neat for longtime fans.


I've packed the bags under my eyes.

*Excuse me if everything seems kind of jumbled here; I just got back from 2046, and there’s only so much glacial rapture one can take before individual parts of the mind begin devouring one another.

Jack Cross #3

Oh come on now. I wanted to give this thing the benefit of the doubt, and it only spits in my eye. Sad.

Yeah, so this issue is almost entirely action scene after action scene, loaded with quips and posturing and all of the high-octane farting around we’ve occasionally come to expect from writer Warren Ellis. I wonder if the whole thing might have been more forgivable with more muscle in the art corner? I haven’t exactly been lauding Gary Erskine’s art in prior posts, but the opening fight scene this issue is just plain sloppy, with characters positioned mere inches away from each other yet still left unable to successfully shoot one another, would-be dynamic poses left merely flailing and awkward (with their hands constantly flying into the air and their eyes closing, Cross and his foe look to be engaging in interpretative dance), x-ray views of snapping bones so badly established and tightly blocked that they’re almost incomprehensible, and oh so much more. What the hell is even going on with story page 7? Cross starts out punching a guy in the head (we get a nice shot of his brain to... um... establish that the guy has a brain, I guess), then he knees him in the chin, then in the next panel he’s seen jumping over a table in pursuit of the same guy - where the fuck did the table come from?! And did Cross just stand back and let his foe get a head start before pursuing him again? And why are Cross’ hands occasionally as big as his skull (seriously - keep your eye on those hands)?

I don’t know. Let me reiterate that I do sort of enjoy the idea of a half-crazy government agent focusing more on internal politics than actual foreign threats, all while on the trail of Saddam Hussein’s secret complacency beam (yes, I know it’s not actually called a complacency beam, but that’s what it acts like). This issue we discover the fate of said weapon, and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d have written down had DC printed an essay quiz in the back of issue #2 reading “What happened to the complacency beam?” This all occurs on the final three pages of the issue, after a rip-snorting helicopter battle that demonstrates how chopper-mounted chain gun ammunition is powerful enough to blast air-to-air through an enemy vehicle’s windshield, yet not quite capable of tearing through the back of the hapless pilot’s seat in order to strike Our Heroes. I wish I could base my criticism on something other than picking apart the mechanics of the action scene, but that’s really all the book is bothering to produce. And it’s not even personality-driven, or weird and kicky violence - it’s just aggressively brainless dross, like the end of Ocean, or one of the weaker issues of Global Frequency. And I dropped Global Frequency after four issues.

Speaking of which, this particular storyline ends with issue #4, the next issue, and I think that’ll be about it for me. I maintain that there was potential in this thing, and I hold out some hope that next issue will provide some sort of means of holding my interest. Right now though, it’s looking like the cleanest possible means of wrapping up Cross’ internal conflict in a neat bow, with plenty of tough guy stuff added in. Maybe the book won’t keep lurching forward, seemingly unaware of the interesting stuff lurking underneath, but this issue doesn’t instill much hope.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #3 (of 5)

Ok, here’s the big trouble with this book right here. Garth Ennis thinks superheroes like The Authority are ridiculous. So he makes ludicrous, exaggerated fun of them. He also creates his own character, a lewd (yet golden-hearted) Ennis sort of protagonist. And for a while, he uses that character to make fun of superheroes like The Authority. And then he decides to use the superhero banner of The Authority to explore his own, original character’s past adventures. Left to his own devices, the humor is dialed down. The problem, however, is that the ‘ludicrously making fun of superheroes’ parts are frankly a lot more entertaining and energetic than the rather standard-issue Ennisisms of the original character’s adventures. Thus, through sheer force of his own displeasure, Ennis has inadvertently made The Authority that much better a thing for his book - it’s only really alive when they’re around. He’s reinforced the necessity of superheroics in his own superhero hate book! Now there’s some bloody irony.

This issue is practically a stand-alone adventure for Young Kev: Superkiller, and it’s telling that most of the humor arrives through the present-day framing sequence. Presumably the exploits of Kev and his team in the past will have some sort of effect on Kev’s current life, especially in regards to his relationships with his teammates, but there’s really no reason for this sort of material to be taking up a second straight issue, save for Ennis seizing the opportunity to write a fairly straightforward action thing in the middle of his Authority series, setting up a personal comfort zone in the midst of hostile territory. And it’s not bad, certainly better than last issue’s dive into Kev’s overly familiar origins. Basically, Kev and his crew are hired to knock off a quartet of extremists on both sides of the troubles over in Ireland (circa 1994); things get messy and lots of folks die. It’s pleasing enough, though it’s obviously only tangentially connected to the rest of this miniseries; I suspect that compressing this and last issue’s flashback sequences into a single unit would have done the trick without compromising the main story, though obviously I need to see the rest of the main story play out to be sure.

Still, an interesting comparison can be made with Jack Cross - Carlos Ezquerra’s art is never less than clear (‘clean’ wouldn’t be the correct term at all), the action flowing with perfect logic. There’s a nice moment of extreme gore that sort of reminded me of the earlier Punisher MAX issues; there was also a similar mist of superkiller tactics hanging over the thing, with the dark humor a bit more pronounced, and the intensity accordingly dialed down. A less intense Punisher MAX isn’t really a bad thing for the book to be, and I implore you not to think that I found this issue to be awful; it was good enough Ennis entertainment. But I just happen to like the farce a little bit more, and I notice that the humor has quieted down a bit in the last few issues, the ones that have gotten heavily into Kev’s background. The next chapter promises a return to the present, and I’m looking forward to it; it’s a special kind of comedy that has me wondering if superheroes need soar down to rescue Garth Ennis from a less amusing book.


Sterling Silver

*Well, today went better than I’d expected. Now all I need to do is sleep for 20 hours and I’ll be fresh as a daisy and ready to rumble for my thrilling weekend of additional work. Ooh! My fingertips tingled just typing those luscious words out! Well, at least I’m (finally) seeing Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 tomorrow evening, so that’s something to keep my mind off the endless email and paperwork and rocking hard like a powerful adult. Boom.

Solo #7

I’ll get my bias out of the way first - there’s basically no way I can’t respect a fellow who poses for his author’s photo in a head-to-toe cheetahman costume (it’s actually a character out of G-Men From Hell, I do believe), so headlining creator Mike Allred (utilizing the more formal ‘Michael’ here) has some big points in his favor right there. There’s also the book’s ever-shifting cover art, which has proven to be a fun distraction; pretty much every iteration of the cover is included somewhere in here, except for the infamous Adam West pose, though DC has thoughtfully archived it on their site for our collective edification. Be sure and note how the solicitation text refers to the book’s centerpiece Batman story, Batman A-Go-Go!, as something in which “…the Caped Crusader is taken on a kooky psychedelic journey.” Having finished the story in question, I can only wonder if the good folks at DC have actually read the thing; too busy swapping cover pics? Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As usual, there’s nothing particularly solo about this issue of Solo; putting Mike Allred at the helm was an immediate assurance of that, since the familiar ‘Mike Allred’ look is actually the work of Mike and Laura Allred, the latter providing absolutely essential color work. Indeed, it’s difficult for me to imagine a colorist more vital to the visual style of a penciler/inker than Laura Allred. Just look at any of the intermittent works of Mike’s that don’t sport Laura’s hues, and try to process the thing - it’s almost the output of an entirely different person. Husband and wife, the Allreds form a truly unique visual entity by marrying their individual talents; it’s not ‘solo,’ but it’s certainly singular, and it’s present throughout this entire project. The pair also co-wrote three of the six stories presented in this book, with two others scripted by Mr. Allred’s older brother Lee, working from his younger sibling’s stories. The remaining piece is written by Lee alone. All lettering is by Nate Piekos.

There’s quite a lot of superheroes in this issue; usually these books will roll out at least one obligatory short from an alternate genre, but not here. As the book’s one-page introduction mentions (translated from Bizarro), it’s a love letter to DC Comics. In particular, the valentine is intended for DC superheroes, mainly as filtered through a nostalgic lens, the tone perpetually locked into the late ’60s or thereabouts. This does, however, lead to varied approaches; there’s both fun and criticism in store, though the visual delight is always a constant, and perhaps the guiding light for those not so open to the cheesy joy of vintage DC miscellany.

The fun mostly arrives through a pair of gently tweaked comedic superhero romps. An Hour With Hourman characterizes the titular pill-popping hero as just that - a drug user, albeit an exceedingly heroic one. Having gulped down a 60-minute Miraclo Pill (the time-limited source of his amazing powers) pursuant to a false alarm, Hourman struggles to find ways to work off his buzz: “I have to burn off some of this gunk or I’m gonna pop!” He resorts to delivering pizzas, painting houses, fixing flat tires, anything to burn away that superhero time; it’s all lovingly rendered in a pale, dull palette, save for the hero himself, an impossibly rich black and gold, living in the Miraclo moment, the rest of the world struggling to catch up.

Even more bustling is Doom Patrol vs. Teen Titans, in which the Silver Age latter throw a wild rock ‘n roll party in a neglected Bruce Wayne penthouse apartment; pretty much everyone shows up, including assorted Phantom Zone personalities, half the Legion of Super-Pets, and even Mr. Terrific (yes, he of Gone and Forgotten fame), much to the chagrin of Doom Patrol, who’re just trying to get some sleep on the floor below. With the emphasis firmly planted on adolescent hi-jinx, nonsense fighting, and coy sexuality, it comes off as something of a PG-13 Super Fuckers set in the DCU. And while the time period hammering gets a bit rich (way too much “Groovy” and “Don’t blow your top” for me), the modestly executed dot coloring of one Allred perfectly compliments the other’s gorgeous character renderings, every last random guest cameo splashed across the page as if it’s their finest moment, as if we might never see them again, and they have to be loaned maximum archetypical power.

And then, there’s the long-gestating feature presentation of this book, Batman A-Go-Go!, also serving as the ‘industry comment’ portion of our program. The plot follows the beloved Adam West television incarnation of Our Hero, as he’s suddenly confronted with a changing world of race riots and ideological challenge and horribly violent crime, the specter of irrelevancy hanging over him, accompanied by a mighty temptation to become something that (not very coincidently) resembles the Caped Crusader currently gracing our comics racks; eventually, everything spirals into total bedlam, especially regarding the suddenly rebellious Burt Ward Robin, death and disgrace everywhere.

At this point, devoting a story largely to critiquing the contemporary darkening of superhero icons is getting dangerously close to becoming as hoary a cliché as the darkening itself, especially since Infinite Crisis appears to be raring to spin the good ship toward the sun once again, the pendulum swinging back as it always does. And so, Batman’s crisis of idealistic purpose (“Sink down to the criminals’ own level. Use their own ghastly methods against them. I can see it now: slicing hands with razor-sharp little batarangs. Walking out on my friends in the Justice League because it doesn’t fit with my image anymore. Being wanted by the police every bit as much as the criminals I hunt.”) feels familiar, tardy, tired; by the time Alfred cited Gardner’s On Moral Fiction and mused “Why is it the good things are never ‘real life,’ only the bad?” I was about ready for a nap.

But then, there’s zones of vigor too. The Riddler stands up for the absurdity of superheroes and their colorful foes (“We’re artists, you and me. Your game, your silly rules…”). The script slyly pins the whole disaster on (what else these days?) a Very Evil Woman. And, much like in every other story in this issue, the art carries it all through. The Allreds recognize the potent visual absurdity of plunging the pop art television Batman and his accompanying iconography into increasingly Grand Guignol scenarios, beloved supporting characters’ mutilated body parts turning up in little boxes one page away from a clash with the Human Firefly, a dreary, glassy-eyed Bruce Wayne opening up the Shakespeare bust to hit the secret button; by the time we get to the epic mass-murder/suicide finale, the drawn-on eyebrows on Batman’s cowl are comment enough - no dialogue is necessary. In this way, even the well-trodden path of advocating bright heroism in the face of a seemingly cruel reality seems scenic, the ravishingly corny final page feeling oddly earned rather than smacking of a cop-out.

There’s more in the book. A two-page New Gods strip is fun enough, and the wordless concluding childhood reverie showcases yet more visual aplomb, almost every hero who hasn’t yet appeared suddenly flying down to enhance a youthful state of mind. You sort of have to love superheroes in a way to get the most out of this; you have to be tuned into the same old-school frequency that feeds the Allreds’ tribute. Any appreciation of impossibly crisp spandex-and-capes art will lead you to raise an eyebrow at these pages, yes, even if you’re not entirely onboard the Silver Age train; there’s something to be said for pure aesthetic splendor, and there’s not much else out that’s more splendorous than this. But Mike and Laura and Lee Allred want you to fall into this book entirely. And that’ll maybe take a little extra push.


I've been curb stomped by work.

*Don’t worry, me! The pain will be over tomorrow, just in time for fresh new pain to begin! Mmmmm!

*Someone Was Bound To Try Dept: I suppose you’ve heard whispers about a certain recent online column written by Paty Cockrum, sporting some rather interesting interpretations of recent Marvel storylines and the intent of various creators. To wit:

The most recent Wolverine is the most blatant exercise in anti-Semitism and misinformation about the Holocaust storylines that has ever been printed.”


Joey the Q apparently got his nose outta joint when Arad stormed into the Marvel offices after Grant Morrison’s abortion Planet X hit the stands, totally trashing Magneto’s characterization… In typical racist form, Morrison had taken a character and made him so vile that he supposed that Magneto fans would flee the character for good. I mean… if Magneto had to be Jewish, they were gonna make him as vile as they possibly could by turning him into the very thing he hated… a crematoria-building, innocents-burning monster.”

It’s the sort of thing that one can only blink at in mild disbelief, then go off to reading something else. An answer almost seems beside the point. But Rich Johnston opts to devote much of this week’s column to rebutting these and various other claims, and it’s fairly compelling reading, when taken as sort of an Act II of a still-ongoing comics drama. Ah, Fanboy Rampage, look what happens as soon as you go away…

*Still smarting over The Intimates’ cancellation? Writer Joe Casey essentially gets interviewed on all the behind-the-scenes action by Matt Fraction in their own column this week (exquisite taste in links there too). Lots of nice tidbits are provided:

Frankly, I'm still shocked we got twelve issues out of it.”

The moment I typed "Continued" at the end of issue #8, I knew I'd personally jumped the shark on writing this series.”

As for the tone of the final issue... I guess I felt like nobody was really watching. Certainly nobody at the company I was writing it for (even one or two of the artists filling in at the end weren't really reading the scripts all that closely, resulting in a lot of post-production fixes and various art patches).

Pretty much mandatory reading for followers of the series.

*Ian has a nice post up of Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book. I just finished it myself, though it might have been better to blow through the last four or five chapters all at once; Jones plainly wants to take his story into the modern day, to add a necessary sense of finality, but he also attempts to track further progressions in the comics scene, which can’t really help but come off as a bit facile when compared with the huge detail lavished on earlier days. Basically, everything after the Comics Code gets rocketed through, mostly as a means of creating context for the ends of the lives of the book’s main subjects. And that’s ok, but it doesn’t explain why artists like Robert Crumb are suddenly brought up then dropped after a few paragraphs, relegated to ‘the times are changing’ background dressing. Still, it’s not like these younger talents were the focus of the book anyway (I did get a nice jolt when Jones refers to Bob Kane and Bill Finger as creators of Batman near the very end). It’s certainly a book worth reading for its lavish analysis of the earliest days of comics.


Against the clock as always.

*As some of you have already noted, Haloscan was on the fritz for about 15 or so hours there from last night to this afternoon; I wasn’t able to get anything posted. It seems to be working fine now though (of course, if I had checked Ken Lowery's site, I'd have figured out a different way around the problem a bit earlier).

*Which means there’s so much opportunity to talk about


Shaolin Cowboy #4

Seven Soldiers - Klarion the Witch Boy #4 (of 4)

The Intimates #12

And a little ol' feature film review for the 2004 anime Mind Game, which needs a R1 dvd release yesterday.

That is them all right.



Today at Comic Book Galaxy, we venture into the wide world of newsprint, though these particular examples are limited to only 500 copies each, come with backing from the National Endowment for the Arts, and cost $5 a pop. It’s two of the new projects out from PictureBox Inc./The Ganzfeld, Matthew Thurber’s Carrot for Girls and Marc Bell’s and Peter Thompson’s The Hobbit. See what I have to say, then at least consider checking into Thurber’s stuff.

*New To Me Dept: Since I’m all about the links here this evening, how about getting yerself a little culture by heading on over to The Library and Archives Canada for their online gallery of English-language comics? They’ve uploaded a bunch of individual issues from various eras, letters pages and all, so it’s definitely worth a look, especially if you’ve never read David Boswell’s Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman (issue #1 is up) or Chester Brown’s Louis Riel (issue #3, the ‘execution’ chapter). If nothing else, check out Dave Sim’s very first Aardvark Comment essay from Cerebus #1, a fine display of youthful uncertainty and market consideration, with added period recommendations. The Library and Archives also has a Quebecois Comics site, featuring the original French-language editions of Michel Rabagliati’s Paul in the Country (in its entirety) and Julie Doucet’s The Madame Paul Affair (an excerpt). Certainly worth clicking around in; I have no idea what’s going on in André Philibert’s Oror 1970, but it looks damn neat.

*And if that’s not enough reading for you, Rick Smith has posted the entire 2003 Shuck Unmasked collection (which he produced with Tania Menesse), collecting all six original issues of Shuck Comics, free and in color to his site. In addition, pages from the currently ongoing follow-up Shuck the Sulfurstar series will be posted each day.

Did I mention that the Finder online serialization has begun, with three of the trades already posted online in support (see the ‘Reader’s Copies’ section to the left)? That’s a whole lot of reading.

*Of course, I hear there’s also reading set to appear at the local comical shops,


Night Fisher: Whew. Talk about hype. Fantagraphics is really pushing this one hard - the comics debut of R. Kikuo Johnson, an original graphic novel about privileged, academically overachieving aimless youths in Hawaii, drifting into drugs and petty crime and generally screwing each other over. Johnson certainly has a nice visual style (plenty of free samples and strips on his site - I especially liked this one), so we’ll have to see how the execution goes. Advance word is quite good.

The Freebooters: Hey! Here’s a surprise - the second of Fantagraphics’ three hardcover collections of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Storyteller has finally arrived. Storyteller, for those not familiar, was a 1996-97 magazine-sized Dark Horse series in which Windsor-Smith serialized an entertaining trio of genre tales; none of the stories reached completion before the series was cancelled with issue #9. Then this hardcover collection series was announced, and Windsor-Smith found himself unable to complete any of the stories; the spirit of the work simply wasn’t there any more. As a result, the first hardcover, Young Gods and Friends (a Kirby-influenced romp through the mythic pantheon) became a weirdly compelling work of self-reflection, apologetic letters to Gary Groth interrupting stalled attempts to revive the story, and colorful pages trailing off into pencil sketches. Not to mention a strange party sequence, with all of the various Storyteller characters hanging around and chatting with each other, a sequence that’s apparently going to continue in this volume. The Freebooters was Windsor-Smith’s ‘barbarian’ serial (anticipated by fans who’d still recall Windsor-Smith’s work on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian), following the antics of an overweight former warrior hero, coasting on glory, and the young poet/seer that attempts to recruit him into battling an oncoming calamity. The metaphor is obvious. Don’t expect anything resembling a traditional ending, though there will be some art intended for unpublished issues, and 50 pages of new stuff. I do recall liking this serial from the five or so issues of Storyteller I hunted down the other year.

Solo #7: They made him change his cover (even though the original is still up on their site), but nothing could change his spirit! Or something. Right. Anyway, Mike Allred is up this issue, looking to be an all-DCU superhero extravaganza, with writing help from his brother Lee (who’s also a science fiction prose writer). The centerpiece is the much-mutated Batman A-Go-Go!, an evocation of what the Adam West Batman program meant to Allred while watching it as a kid, only half-comprehending its humorous intent. Probably one of my more anticipated purchases of the week.

Super F*ckers #2: Further amusing profanities from James Kochalka, now only $5 for 24 pages. Check out my review of issue #1 here. I bet I’ll laugh.

Marvel Monsters - Monsters on the Prowl #1: The final installment of this Halloween-themed monster set (gosh, I think it was all intended to promote some new book but I just… can’t seem to remember…), and it’s been batting 2 for 3 so far, so you might as well give this one a shot. It’s written by horror go-to guy Steve Niles, with art from the always-reliable Duncan Fegredo, as a group of Marvel superhero monsters (Thing, Hulk, Beast, etc.) battle pretty much ever Atlas-era beast that hasn’t yet shown up in one of these specials. The previous special (Fin Fang Four) already covered the whole ‘superheroes taking the reins from monsters’ angle already, but this might turn out swell anyhow.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #3 (of 5): Hopefully pulling back towards the funnier bits; I understand it’s nice to praise Ennis for being kind of serious with his material, but last issue really just came off as clichéd and limp for me, just as the brooding ending of the last Kev miniseries didn’t so the trick for me. I’m sure he’ll find his way back.

Jack Cross #3: This thing might go either way. It has potential. Then again, it probably has less potential than Ocean, and writer Warren Ellis still managed to sink that one (ho ho!) under climactic action movie posturing. I think this is the second-to-last issue of this arc. Time will tell.

Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays!: Oh, this one hurts. I love Winsor McCay, and I love Little Nemo, and that gigantic hardcover Little Nemo 1905-1914 collection from years back is one of my treasured books, but wow! A deluxe limited edition 100th anniversary best-of collection, 120 pages printed at a towering 16” x 23”, with meticulously restored colors and everything! As the sample included with In the Shadow of No Towers ably demonstrated, Little Nemo only gets better the bigger it’s presented. Unfortunately, I really don’t have a spare $120 to blow on stuff I already own, albeit at a reduced size. I wish I did, though.


Where did my weekend go?!

*Splendid Buzz Dept: Totally missed this, until Tom Spurgeon pointed it out: Noel Murray of The Onion AV Club says the recent Harvey Pekar/Dean Haspiel book The Quitter is so stunningly mediocre that it’s actually not worth reviewing. Hey, that’s fine. However, part of the motive also seems to rise from the fact that Murray and fellow critic Tasha Robinson “…saw no reason to put down one of our heroes in a permanent, archived way.” And I’ve gotta confess, I just can’t wrap my head around that admission; I comprehend the feeling behind it, the concept, the philosophy perhaps, but really - if a major, prominent work by a major, prominent creator isn’t very good, even if it's a creator you normally adore, and since you plainly have the means and space and opportunity to release a review, and especially if you’re going to explicitly cite the fact that you disagree with the largely positive body of reviews the work has seen thus far, wouldn’t that be a pretty clear call for a formal review stating your problems with the work? One that, say, integrates many of the concerns you’ve already listed in your blog post? I don’t know. It’s kind of a puzzling decision, given the statements.

*Since I know you’re all simply on the edges of your seats wondering - yes, I’m really enjoying Gerard Jones’s Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, which is a hugely informative, compelling read on the early history of comics, even though I do pause slightly whenever I read a particularly neat portion of the text and then turn to the source guide back only to see that it was based on a single conversation with some tangentially-related party to the action (and I pause mainly because Jones himself sometimes stops his own narrative to note when his telling is largely based on hearsay - but sometimes he doesn’t). Then again, comics history is choppy enough that such means are perhaps the only way of retaining certain things ‘for the books,’ so to speak.

Most valuable, I think, is Jones’ immersion into the culture and development of early comics publishing and distribution, an absolutely vital yet often glossed-over (or outright caricatured) facet of the development of the form; his insights into the backgrounds and personalities of the money men at what would eventually become DC Comics are sometimes revelatory, and far more even-handed (and I dare say more believable) than most accounts. There’s still some largely negative portrayals - Bob Kane and Mort Weisinger in particular are not afforded many redeeming characteristics in Jones’ telling, at leat as far as I’ve gotten with it - but mostly it’s a story of complicated human compromise, and conflicting social forces, with Jerry Siegel and Jack Liebowitz almost fated to collide through their vastly different life experiences. I’m late to reading this thing, but just in case any of you still haven’t gotten around to it, it’s pretty interesting stuff, especially from a sociological standpoint.

*I don’t have too much to say about Marvel Monsters - Fin Fang Four #1, save for the fact that it was fun and cute and offered up a nice, solid all-ages tale, which still somehow managed to get slapped with a T+ rating on the back cover, perhaps for the use of the term ‘gonads,’ or maybe due to the presence of that Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers Fin Fang Foom story from 1960, populated largely by Chinese characters with flesh the color of lemon-flavored Pez. Regardless, it was a good story to include, since it emphasizes exactly how much writer Scott Gray (though Marvel’s site and a recent interview with artist Roger Langridge suggest that Langridge was also involved in the scripting process - granted, Marvel’s site isn’t quite a paragon of accuracy, as you can see from the link) based his own characterization of Foom off of the original, in which he’s really a weary, endlessly manipulated, kind of sad character. It’s also good four laffs, as you try to figure out how a single man moving on foot could constantly outrun a gigantic beast with a leg-span of lord knows how much. I also appreciated the carefully shaded yet chillingly realistic dialogue given to the Red Forces of China: “The freedom-loving traitors must be seized and punished!” Good ol' Cold War...

The main story is a sweet little thing, light as air but successfully entertaining, and with nice messages for the kids about respecting others despite their differences and working as a team, with a sly little requiem for the age of Marvel Monsters, soon to be literally and figuratively smashed by superheroes, thrown in for the older fans. I almost wish the writer(s) had played up Reed’s friendship with Foom a bit more (it would have been really great if the two had found common ground in Foom’s Commie-smashing past, considering how Reed was characterized as being quite stridently anti-Communist at that period in comics history - I don’t know if that’s even part of Reed’s official character anymore). And naturally Langridge’s art is simply excellent, balancing action and comedy with perfect skill.

So yeah, a very good all-ages book, in that it actually has some appeal to a wide breadth of ages (though I’d say it leans toward younger readers, really), despite the mild insensitivities of the vintage material and the rating on the back cover.


Thanks, Brian...

*Vital Update Dept: The unexpected color sequence in Yotsuba&! Vol. 3 was just great; it’s exactly the sort of effortlessly cool surprise that makes any comic a little bit better. Just from flipping through this volume, it’s clear that Asagi (the oldest of the sisters living next door) is the best character in the series, followed closely by her Mom and Dad (the latter making his long-awaited debut this volume). The passive-aggressive family dynamics at work are by far the funniest things in this book, and offer a vital dose of bitterness to the book’s generally mild outlook. That said, the interactions between Yotsuba and Asagi’s mean friend are pretty great too. Sadly, with the next volume it seems the series will be all caught up to the Japanese editions, though I think the series is still being serialized monthly.

Mind Game

This is not comics; it’s an anime feature film (the official site seems to be down at the moment), from 2004. It’s also not yet licensed for home video release in the US, though it has played several North American film festivals. Most recently, it appeared to much acclaim at Montreal’s venerable Fantasia Film Festival, where it won jury awards for Best Film, Best Script, and Special Award - Visual Accomplishment; writer/director Masaaki Yuasa also tied with Gen Sekiguchi of the live-action Survive Style 5+ for Best Director. And yet, there’s not been very much discussion of the film, though what reviews there are tend to be positive (among them A.O. Scott of The New York Times, though his is a more measured critique than average). Perhaps it’s because Mind Game not only doesn’t play by the typical rules of anime genre conventions (whether the genre in question is comedy, sci-fi, etc.), it relegates its acknowledgement of such conventions to fantasy sequences flittering across the main action of the story; it’s not at all a realistically grounded film, but its flights of fantasy seem to be its very own, madly mixing looser 'alternative' cartoon styles into its frothing visual brew. Contrast this with the excellent FLCL, which was downright Morrisonian in its desire to fully integrate glorious genre pop stylings right into its personal comedy/drama.

But like FLCL, Mind Game is a truly impressive achievement, absolutely worth watching for anyone who can see it, and hopefully destined for a full-blown R1 dvd release. Technically it’s outstanding, though that’s no surprise considering its formidable pedigree. Chief animation production is by the highly-regarded Studio 4ºC, with the always-excellent Koji Morimoto (director of Beyond, the best of the shorts in The Animatrix) positioned among the animation directors. Additional animation work is supplied by such industry heavyweights as Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell, Kill Bill) and Gainax (Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL), and the popular Madhouse Studios later became involved in promotion, if not actual production. The musical side of things features contributions by both Shinichiro Watanabe (director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo) and the wonderful Yoko Kanno. And writer/director Yuasa himself previously provided the scenario, storyboards, and animation production for the cult classic Cat Soup (based on manga printed in English in the Comics Underground Japan anthology). So there’s certainly no lack of talent behind the scenes.

And yet, even with all of these formidable talents at the helm, Mind Game puts one in the mind of something entirely different, something uniquely its own. Ed Halter of The Village Voice noted a certain Ralph Bakshi vibe at work, and I must strenuously agree. Indeed, Mind Game is very similar in certain aspects to Bakshi’s 1973 feature Heavy Traffic (his best work, btw), in that both films revolve around a semi-autobiographical sad-sack novice comics artist who wanders around an often violent, hallucinatory, history-of-animation-informed environment attempting to win the heart of a top-heavy girl he knows while discovering some things about life and growing a bit as a person. Both films even sport a scene in which the young creator describes a story to another character, which is then presented to us in a different animation style than what’s come before. It’s pretty astonishing.

And yet, there’s never any distracting familiarity to Mind Game, only informed and loving homage. Mostly it’s because Yuasa (and Robin Nishi, creator of the original manga and the model for the film’s lead character) has grown up in an entirely different environment than Bakshi, and has a totally separate set of cultural/artistic references to work from. But also, it’s a matter of experience - Mind Game has some of the best in the business working at it, and it’s quite astonishing a visual achievement. The traditional animation looks great, but there’s also gorgeous cloaked 3D environments (reminiscent of those found in The Triplets of Belleville), sudden blasts of digitized live-action for character close-ups, and gorgeously encyclopedic visual citations; I can’t say I’d quite expected that extended tribute to Disney’s Fantasia to pop up, but there it was, and there’s some extraordinary bits of background business (I adored bit with the nervous gangster furiously trying to roll up his car’s window in the face of an oncoming tidal wave).

But - what’s the movie about? That is the question, eh? Actually, it’s quite beautifully structured, though not easily appreciable. The film opens with a short chase scene, setting up a meeting between our dopey manga artist lead (he’s also named ‘Nishi’) and Myon, a childhood pal he’s always had a crush on. Then, we immediately get a strange, lengthy, fragmented title sequence. The film proper then begins, as Nishi and Myon go to visit the latter’s dad’s noodle shop, manned by Myon’s older sister. Unfortunately, a mean pair of Yakuza soon arrive to extort cash, and cowardly Nishi winds up dead from a gunshot directly to his asshole (with an exit wound on the top of his head). He dies, and his spirit rises to meet an ever-shifting God, a walking omnibus of funny creature character designs.

There’s other forces at work too, though. An Astro Boy-like character (as always, Tezuka remains the real god here) is seen turning back time, and Nishi suddenly decides to make a run back to the living work, managing to defeat his own death and rescue the girls from the whole terrible scene. And then, not to spoil too much, they wind up stuck with a fourth party in A Certain Hideout.

It’s in that hideout, a dank, colorless place, where most of the rest of the film takes place. It’s a daring gamble - Yuasa seems to be intentionally making the film’s visual style as drab as possible here, so that the occasional bursts of fantasy and imagination will have that much more impact, the audience wanting to get out as much as the characters. And indeed, it’s here where the story becomes far more allegorical than before, as all four characters come to terms with their own desires, their own dreams for themselves, their own individuality. Things occasionally become outright expressionistic: a sex scene causes the characters involved to literally explode into sloshes and smears of vivid color, defying the dark environs, shapes and forms suggesting wings and tentacles. Ultimately, the film bursts into a frankly incredible final action scene, which begins as merely invigorating, then becomes entirely outrageous (one character literally has a skyscraper thrown at him), then gradually becomes mixed with and entirely replaced by fragmented visions of the characters’ futures, their potentials exploding onto the screen in defiance of logical plotting and storytelling cohesion.

And then, the fragmented title sequence is played for us again. And suddenly, it all makes perfect sense. C’mon - trust me.

I have to wonder how this project might be received by a larger audience. Surely, the film’s irony-free ‘up with people, up with life!’ denouement is very very easy to sit back and snark away at; I imagine that had the film not been crafted with such consummate technical skill that such reactions would become all but obligatory for some audiences. They probably still are. But this is an unembarrassed film, a fantasy autobiography so positive, so effervescent, that it’s almost tiring in its explosive rejection of all things self-absorbed and naval-gazing. It’s utterly admirable work, beyond being often hugely entertaining. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that an awful lot of contemporary anime is boringly derivative, flat and sleepy. But just as FLCL knocked me awake, this one utterly captured my attention, and it’ll be doing the same for quite a few people in the months to come. I hope more people see it.


The Resurrection Machine.

*Ah, nothing like the philosophy of comics Events! That's the focus of this week's column, a little slash-'n-burn comedy with dabs of historical survey. I hopes ya likes it.

*Out of Time Dept: The new comics reviews in Entertainment Weekly (#847), however, are a bit more impressed with Infinite Commentary, as reviewer Jeff Jenson notes in regards to Infinite Crisis #1: “Though the apocalyptic plot by Geoff Johns is kinda fuzzy, the exploration of superhero relevance is provocative…” He also says that the book “…is bursting with world-quaking ambition.” It gets an ‘A-’ so it fares better than Charles Burns’ Black Hole (B+), to which reviewer Abby West says “Isolation and confusion aren’t the most novel takes on adolescent life…”

Well, actually, wholly subjective ‘letter’ grades applied to entirely different genres of comics by entirely different reviewers are fundamentally worthless as instruments of comparison. We all know that. Why do I keep quoting these things? Maybe it’s because EW’s comics reviews are very rarely more than 100 words long, and the application of some kind of ‘grade’ is necessary to tease out consumer recommendations from a review space that isn’t always sufficient to support such inference on its own. Um, anyhow, elsewhere in the issue, in regards to Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards, “…you’ll wish more fiction were woven in with the science…” (Tom Russo, ‘B’), and Pyongyang author Guy Delisle “cloaks his tale with a compassionate cynicism that cushions the bleak horrors of this totalitarian Lost in Translation.” (what, you mean Delisle has a halting half-romance with a Sophia Coppola stand-in? anyway, that was from Wook Kim, ‘A-’).

Oh, but it’s hard to get too annoyed with EW, as this week also sports a 5-page feature article (also by Jensen) on the creation and legacy of Watchmen, recently named one of the 100 finest English-language novels of recent years by Time Magazine, which, coincidently, is published by the same entity that publishes EW, as well as (in a corporate wideview sense) Watchmen itself. But hey, at this point nobody’s arguing that Watchmen isn’t an important, singular work of its type, and the article does sport the full participation of both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which is always a good time. And indeed, it’s a good article when it simply sticks to Moore and Gibbons and testimony from prominent admirers (Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof probably oversteps in declaring it “probably the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced” but Joss Whedon fares better in describing the book’s utilization of genre history as “a template for examining the human condition in a way no one had seen before.” - Jude Law, Darren Aronofsky, and Richard Kelly are also noted).

Naturally, Moore himself is a treat, loudly proclaiming that “My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel,” identifying himself as a “mumbling recluse” and revealing that Ozymandias is actually a bit of a self-idealization. There’s some stuff I’d never heard of before (apparently, Moore occasionally retained Neil Gaiman for research assistance), and Moore even has some backhanded compliments for David Hayter’s recent Watchmen screenplay: “…as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen. That said, I shan’t be going to see it.” Pretty good reading.

The Intimates #12


The final issue of the sadly underrated Automatic Kafka, #9, saw the robotic title character being physically whisked out of continuity and deposited into a comics store, where he met up with Joe Casey and Ashley Wood, the creative team on the book. Casey and Wood filled him in as to the futures of his superhero teammates, and chatted a bit about the difficulties of launching new titles in current times. “Can you imagine…? Pretensions of art, sold in catalogs, listed like hair care products…” Casey explained over Kafka’s shoulder as the android superhuman flipped through a thinly-disguised Previews. There was self-depreciation too: Wood occasionally tore down art from the very pages containing him, muttering “It’s all shit…” while Casey mocked his own series-length use of cowboy comics as the sequential entertainment of choice in a world of superheroes (“Yeah, real clever, huh?”). In the end, the creative team opted to give their lead character the ultimate gift: freedom from revamping. Liberation from crossovers and future creative teams. Not comics death (bullshit that we all know it is) but true oblivion. It was an Animal Man for the 21st superhero century, where the greatest thing a creator could do for his creation now is spare him the indignity of life in the Direct Market. “…this is… better than the drugs… ever were…” Kafka sputtered as he faded into simple line art, and finally to nothing.

The Intimates, also written by Joe Casey, has exactly the same ending, only it’s totally different; Casey, in the bottom-of-the-page info scroll, even refers to this issue’s finale as the “Kafka Gambit,” though the same result is reached in a far more intuitive fashion, one better-suited for the book’s unique feel. But before we get to all that, I should note that the info scroll is very much worth reading this time (personally I always thought it was worth reading, though recent issues have seen it getting much more creative, occasionally devoting itself toward telling short side-stories or jokingly stretching itself out to extreme lengths during a decompressed fight sequence), as Casey devotes most of it to a narrative regarding the book’s creation and production. Don’t expect too much direct dirt, save for some veiled references (“As the rats jump from the sinking ship, who is left to sail the old girl home…?”) and general industry critique. You’ll learn how the title was originally supposed to be a miniseries, but got dropped onto the market as an ongoing, necessitating painful rewrites. You’ll also discover that the point of it all was (partially) to package a superhero ‘team’ book in which nothing particularly superheroic or team-like happens.

But in the story proper this issue, the kids actually do act as a unified superhero team for the first and only time. Punchy and Destra have recently discovered that something sinister is being put in the food at the Seminary, the Wildstorm Universe school for teen superheroes that much of the series has taken place inside. We never find out exactly what the secret of the food is, but the very presence of a secret itself is enough to prompt a little action, especially since it’s come out that the Devonshire Corporation, manufacturers of delicious food products everywhere, are also in bed with the Seminary via core funding. Oh, and Destra’s daddy is Devonshire’s head, which does sort of raise the question as to how much Destra really knows about everything, or at least where her original suspicions rose from. Destra is really the most interesting of this book’s characters, and a canny taboo-tweak across the current comics landscape: a haughty, privileged, savvy rich girl, who’s also a largely positive character.

So the whole gang decides that the best course of action is to use the Seminary’s amazing experimental teleportation technology to whisk themselves away to Somewhere Else. It’s a metaphor, folks - don’t ask questions like why the kids simply didn’t try and contact their friends over the summer months then decline to register for another term or perhaps simply not show up; the focus here is escape, and not just escape from school and endless supervision (Destra, at least, has an excuse to return to the Seminary - it’s revealed that her father needs to keep tabs on her and he’s got the place wired). Throughout this issue, Punchy complains that his favorite spy comic, Supersonic Espionage Boom, is unfortunately being cancelled mid-storyline (“I knew they shouldn’t have had those flop fill-ins!” shouts Punchy - Ale Garza and Carlos D’anda “drew the pictures” this issue, and they do a nice job, even if character art jumps from light and bouncy to oddly heavy at random junctures); I hadn’t realized until reading some of those old Automatic Kafka issues that Casey had pulled the same trick as he did with the cowboy comics in that prior series, and perhaps now he’s directly citing the finale to Kafka in the context of the story itself. We also get scenes from the spy comic itself, all of them meant to evoke the likes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns; the suggestion is that SEB is actually a grand masterwork of the comics form, about to be snuffed before its completion, and such gently self-aggrandizing hi-jinx fit right into Casey’s info scroll ruminations on the value of ‘cult’ comics and the ability of characters to outlive their books in the minds of readers. This will come into play later.

Meanwhile, yet another aborted Casey project is momentarily revived, as the Wildcats 3.0 version of Jack Marlowe is also on hand to both aid and hinder the kids’ mission to escape, offering them both betrayal and emotional aid. Fascinatingly, Destra at one point confronts Marlowe about how he seems like a superhero (indeed, early Image fans know him as Spartan), but doesn’t really look like one; there’s tension between two poles of Casey’s oeuvre - superhero books like Wildcats 3.0 meant to pull focus away from superhero iconography, and books like this one that positively soak in it. And then, as we reach the issue’s end, the metafiction becomes patent, as the school’s faculty must decide whether or not to hit a big green button on the teleportation system marked ‘CANCEL’ before the kids manage to escape (oh, how droll). There’s a blast of light, and suddenly they’re gone. “Teleportation or disintegration? U-decide!” bellows Casey from down below. The final page of the book is actually the final page of Supersonic Espionage Boom, as its hero escapes his exploding fortress, wondering if there’s any point to even participating in such a world. “After all, how many super secret agents does the world need…?”

I’m sure you all get the point there. Once again, a book dying from unfavorable sales affords its heroes a greater escape. This time around, it’s more elegant; Casey neatly transforms his book in its twilight hours into a little fable about escaping a controlled world, a place that probably doesn’t have many of your interests in mind. There’s superhero food vendors there, and superhero fashion designers. And it’s not very hard to see the connections between the old men walking the halls of their big lab, their Seminary, and the corporate interests that Casey sees controlling the fate of his book. “Artistic integrity vs. the bright and shiny object: no contest, my friends (the lunchbox characters almost always win out).” Thus, the kids don’t merely escape the halls of education, they escape the Direct Market, they escape the Big Two. Does it really matter, then, if it’s teleportation or disintegration? Like in Kafka, obliteration is the result either way, and a glorious result it can be.

Casey has another book going now, another superhero book. Gødland. Perhaps you’ve seen the official site? This one’s creator owned, from Image. The Wildstorm line of comics is now turning back toward classic superhero smash work, away from the likes of Wildcats 3.0, or Automatic Kafka, or even The Intimates. Conspicuous in not escaping from the Seminary is Jack Marlowe. Of course not - he’s got revamps to appear in! Grant Morrison is on his way! Hell, Morrison will probably handle the material with care. And really, Casey perhaps makes too much of his metafictional flourishes. Automatic Kafka, the teens in The Intimates - they’re company-owned. It doesn’t matter if Joe Casey or Ashley Wood or the Seminary teleportation equipment ‘removes’ them from anything. They can come back in a snap. Alan Moore’s Promethea can come back in a snap. That is nature.


Cult heroes? A cult book? Who even remembers Automatic Kafka?

Maybe that’s the secret joy of the cult book, that which Casey speaks of in his now-halted bottoms-of-the-pages. Readers can keep characters close, characters can be important, but they can fly beneath the radar, evade the resurrection machine. They can really leave, or really die.

And that. This market. That’s fucking superhuman.


Always a work in progress.

Seven Soldiers - Klarion the Witch Boy #4 (of 4)


Frazer Irving’s art on this title has really been something. Abhay noted somewhere a while back that the book’s visual execution sort of evokes a rock opera, and Marc Singer has already exposed the secret musical basis behind a character from issue #2, so you’ll forgive me for stretching the line of analysis just a bit further: the opening of this issue more than reinforces such notions, with the bound-to-the-stake Klarion (I loved Teekl’s own miniature kitty stake) about to be set aflame by a crowd, all of them pumping their fists and chanting the title of this issue, Burn, Witchboy! Burn! It’s the climactic number, you see, like the part in that one movie where Jesus is on the cross and he envisions Judas and a bunch of ladies in skull caps and white fringes dancing around in Hell (or thereabouts). Klarion doesn’t die by execution, though he does rise again, both as a de facto religious leader, and a powerfully monstrous entity of vengeance, and an adult.

But it’s not just any old adult. The Seven Soldiers project thus far has had a lot of themes running through it, as well as multiple variations on individual themes; one of the most varied and potent is the notion of transformation. It’s been present since the very beginning; Seven Soldiers #0, after all, featured one character musing “…I’ve taken this morally ambiguous urban vigilante thing about as far as I can.” That same encapsulating kick-off book briefly lunged into outright metafiction at its conclusion, with a cadre of Seven Unknown Men gathering up costume pieces for use in the miniseries to come. And throughout those subsequent chapters, we’ve (thus far) met five lead characters trapped in a state of anxiety in every issue #1. Every issue #2 (thus far) has seen four of them experience some clarifying moment (note the unifying cover motif of facial close-ups), whether it’s the death of a loved one, exposure to a new world, the recovery of lost powers, or a literal light shining down from the heavens and changing someone's costume. There’s always a gap in time at the beginning of every issue #3, during which the characters have sprung into action, and there’s always a segue into issue #4, in which the character emerges transformed, fortified, renewed, revamped. Ready to be a soldier.

Thus, one aspect of the project has been to examine both personal transformation and superhero character ‘revamping’ (transforming actions within and without the work itself, in other words); however, there’s an added complexity at work. The project might be viewed as possessing a certain distrust of ‘adulthood,’ as most vehemently expressed in Guardian #4, though also running through Klarion. The adults of Klarion’s world are shackled to a suppressive religion, the church leaders (‘adults’ of a more specialized sort) seem to be up to no good, and Klarion wants to escape, all before growing up. And even after hitting the blue rafters, he encounters children who’re sent off to the awful Red Place as soon as they are grown, in something of a twisted mirror image of Klarion’s own home situation. But Morrison understands the implications of such a course of action, and he’s not advocating that we just remain children forever; indeed, Guardian #4 is filled with suggestion as to the inevitability of maturity, but it must be maturity of the right kind. The hero must be an enlightened adult, and this journey to new, superheroic adulthood forms the core of the project’s structural makeup and schema for character development. The eager reader might even want to contrast this developmental set-up to the turgid 'maturity' of the sorts of contemporary superhero books that Morrison is prone to criticizing; these might be grown-up, but not in a pleasing way at all, and now there will be an alternative.

I’ve written before on how the ‘miniseries’ of this project don’t work all that well on their own; the concluding transformation into the enlightened adult also apparently requires a grand finale, a (non-temporal) joining of hands in the last (yet first) issue of the project. Therefore, conclusions are hard to come by. But bucking the trend a bit, Klarion ends up with something resembling a satisfying ending on its own, with Morrison keeping the series’ unique spin on the core topic at the fore for much of its run. And Irving, again, helps a lot, those little curls always spiraling on Melmoth’s devil cheeks. That particular villain wears a loudly colored coat, constantly setting him apart from the blue and white and black of both the assembled Witchfolk and his own henchmen. And he ought to be set apart; he’s the boss of the humans and the father of the Witchfolk, which nicely sets up Klarion’s final confrontation as a logical extension of the series’ initial conflict - Klarion now rebels against the ultimate adult, the ultimate bad father, and the ultimate in extra-dimensional grown-up rot. This also leaves Klarion as a child of mixed origin, shoring up the demographic construction of the Seven Soldiers leads; just as these characters are B-listers and old properties, they’re also not white males, none of them, greatly bucking the current Big Two status quo through their merely being.

But transformation and salvation are close at hand, as Klarion proceeds to fill in virtually every one of the roles he chafed against back in issue #1. By default, he’s among the leading males in the village, showing everybody the truth (though the women have their own secrets, their own powers). He essentially fills Judah’s role as Submissionary (amusingly, the religious leaders we’ve seen are here revealed to be literal automatons developed by those with true power - what’s that about the opiate of the masses?), though only to the extent that he’s a protector, transmogrifying into a delightful Go Nagai-faced (Devilman, natch) demon kitty beast, both a more obvious bit of transforming and a logical punchline to the series’ running puritans-are-pagans gag. And oh, those splashes of color! Irving also tackles the hues in this series, and he does fantastic work with the Witchfolk homeland, setting off outstanding characters with blasts of red and orange and purple. Only when Judah bleeds does he prove useful, and the colorful Klarion/Teekl Horigal thingy nicely drives Melmoth into a lowing flame state, one much like that fellow from Zatanna #1. Hmm.

Yeah, it always seems to come back to the project as a larger unit, doesn’t it? We do learn some big ‘core’ information here, specifically the secrets behind Klarion and Misty’s individual die (oooh, so is ‘chance’ really a product of hyper-intelligent design? - you still have to reach number 7 by your own initiative, though, unless you have the full pair). But this is a somewhat cleaner journey than average for this project, a bit more (dare I say it?!) standalone. Maybe that’s because Morrison has cradled one of the project’s core overarching themes in miniature form throughout the miniseries itself. Klarion goes from boy to man, but he’s an enlightened man, if still slightly sinister (but then, that’s just his upbringing - sister Beulah plainly loves nothing more than a good burning, so it’s not too surprising that Klarion/Teekl/Horigal is ever so eager to rip off some limbs). And if he ultimately swears to take action and looks toward the reader, just as Justin and Jake did in their own final issues, it at least feels like something done by his own volition, separate from the needs of his surrounding comics environs.