Those knee-slapping funnybooks.

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #5 (of 5)


Aw heck. You back away from the preferred six-issue miniseries format, keep things burbling along nicely, and what do you get for the fifth and final chapter? An ending that feels like the creators just ran out of room. Although I’m not even sure if another issue wouldn’t have overextended the whole thing - it’s like the individual sequences of this issue were just badly weighted, too much emphasis put on the sillier of the miniseries’ jokes when there ought to have been more work done on pulling together themes and plot strands. A trick of microcosmic configuration, perhaps?

It’s frustrating, because Peter Milligan's story had really been quite cohesive up until the end; Dr. Strange (the real star of the book) was feeling adrift, as if life and death no longer mattered in the Marvel Universe, and he then got dragged into a curious plot by a bunch of still-dead supervillains to try and artificially force a ‘revival’ into the land of the living, something that could generally only be facilitated via the collective will of the still-living (in other words, readers). But all of that stuff - and interesting stuff it was, material I’d long been tossing around in my own head - gets tossed to the side in this issue in favor of hemorrhoids jokes, go-nowhere character play (the whole bit with Ant-Man and the Piano Player had a decent punchline - the collective taste of Marvel superhero readers is somewhat suspect - but there was no reason for it to burn up three pages), and a lingering air of pointlessness to the whole affair. The Pitiful One is cast further down into Hell, though he can probably find his way back up. Dr. Strange destroys a teensy jar of the temporary life ooze Eau du Profundis, though there’s a whole river of it left, and its location doesn’t seem to be much of a mystery. The ennui of understanding the truth of life’s and death’s ephemerally in the Marvel U is slightly relieved, though I’m not even sure how - Dr. Strange kicks the Ancient One’s ass, Dead Girl kicks the Pitiful One’s ass, and then everyone feels better. The end!

Which makes some measure of sense, yes, as this is a superhero comic, but I suppose I was hoping for a bit more meat than the revelation that the Ancient One was behind Strange’s posterior problems because he was jealous. That seems like a bit of a cheat, a shortcut taken to the story’s conclusion in lieu of a more direct tackling of the story’s possibilities, something that the series seemed primed to go for in prior issues. Not that there’s a total absence of theme in this final chapter. If you look very closely at the disparate pieces of this issue, you can grasp some sort of message - certain denizens of a shared superhero universe tend to drift past their usefulness, and some dead characters are probably better off dead, as their revival could only remind us of how badly they’ve aged. With nothing of interest to do, the Ancient One tumbled down a slippery slope into pettiness and cruelty, just as how the dead Ant-Man went mad from lack of interesting things to do - their revival couldn’t possibly result in anything fortuitous, so sour have their personas become over time. Strange declines to violate the laws of life and death any further to be with Dead Girl, maybe demonstrating what certain readers ought to do - treasure their memories of passed characters from back when they were interesting, as new exploits might well wreck the charm of it all. It’s like Guy’s comment upon seeing who the Pitiful One really is: “When I was a kid, he was really something…” But that alone is no reason for the villain to return, no way.

I just wish these nebulous thoughts were better defined in the book itself. It’s a choppy, indelicate conclusion, though still capable of some nice character moments - the whole routine with Dead Girl’s true name was cute, even sweet (and of course, Dr. Strange knows that true names hold their own magic!). Nick Dragotta’s and Mike Allred’s art is as good as ever, drizzling as much love onto the rich wrinkles of the Ancient One’s face and the shimmer of Edie’s eyes as any punching sequence; Dragotta and Allred employ an interesting technique in this issue, rendering minor details of character faces and costumes in what appears to be untouched pencils, simply washed over with color. It’s something I hadn’t noticed much of in earlier installments, but I think it adds a nice richness to climactic close-ups. And on a pure design level, I simply loved Strange’s styling turtleneck on those final pages. Yeah, some of these pieces are quite good. I just wish they fit together more smoothly.

Is that asking too much from the segments of lives and deaths and lives again?

The Last Christmas #1 (of 6)

Other comedies this don’t venture quite so far into the deep questions, which in part means that they don't suffer for pulling back from the depths. For example, there’s this new miniseries released by Image, from writers Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn (the latter easily recognizable from assorted writing, acting, and stand-up comedy projects, such as Mr. Show and The Comedians of Comedy) and artists Rick Remender (pencils) & Hilary Barta (inks), seeing jolly old Santa and all of the gang caught up in a grim ’n gritty world-shattering action spectacular. Everything I’ve read online suggests it’s six issues long, though the book itself indicates only five - I’m kind of wondering if the jokes can hold out for even the lesser of those two issue counts, though I’ve seen stranger things come out of wacky high concepts.

It’s a pretty funny book, structured loosely like a merry old holiday special, complete with a talking snowman ‘host’ (voiced by Burl Ives, I guess, though I always preferred Jimmy Durante in Frosty the Snowman, even if he didn’t actually play a snowman) and chipper songs, standing in stark contrast to the details of the plot, involving the nuclear annihilation and subsequent mutation of much of humanity - Santa cares not, as good boys and girls still deserve their presents.

At least, until something goes wrong!

If you ask me, the funniest thing about this issue is how much the litany of horror that befalls Santa resembles the oft over-the-top shocks that tend to kick off a superhero comics Event miniseries. Think about it - we've got a good-hearted hero sitting in a tender, dangerous world. Suddenly, a mysterious evil appears, a worse threat than ever before, wreaking havoc with the hero's world. It knocks off some minor supporting cast members (not Dasher!) to pump up the import of the situation, though such killings pale in comparison to the big twist - the doom of A Major Character! One that sends the hero and the remaining cast spinning into the blackest depths of despair! And seeing all of this doom and gloom acted out by familiar North Pole characters acts as a nice little critique of how blood-spattered superhero sagas might look with one's head turned slightly to the side - although I'm not even sure any of this was intended by Duggan & Posehn, who seem mainly tickled by the basic premise of Santa fighting back against an ugly, fallen world.

That's pretty funny too, although this issue doesn't quite get there; we're still in the 'blackest depths of despair' part, so we get to enjoy Santa wandering around muttering like Ralph Dibny, and occasionally attempting suicide via cords of colorful lights and high-altitude leaps from the sleigh. Remender’s and Barta’s art really sells the naturally warm joviality of the characters, which makes the surrounding ugliness all the more amusing. It's kind of striking how strong Barta's inks are - I'm a fan of his work on Tomorrow Stories, and this material very much bears his stamp though he's working over the lines of Remender (whom I mostly know as a writer, his titles including Image's Sea of Red and Fear Agent). And I can't forget Michelle Madsen's hearth-warmed colors, or Geof Darrow's expectedly lovely cover.

Who knows how long this thing can hold up, though? One can't escape the feeling that this concept could get really monotonous really quickly without a deft touch, though there's nothing here that screams out the absence of such a hand behind the scenes. Good stuff so far, and let's hope for enough variation to keep it running all the way to the ready-for-December collected edition that I'm sure Image is gunning for.