Another one starts.

*What a big week it was.


Batman #655 (first Morrison issue, a bit too 'clear broth' for my tastes)

Meat Cake #15 (Dame Darcy - worth reading)

Shatter (new collection of the trailblazing digitally-produced action comic)

The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898-1911) (a great collection of pages from the New York World - fascinating!)

The Drifting Classroom Vol. 1 (of 11) (oh, so that's why Kazuo Umezu is considered a legend in Japan)

And don't forget my little special up at Comics Should Be Good, if you haven't already.

Almost like the week has never left.

*Updates Dept: Diamond apparently reconsiders, takes on PictureBox.

*No, really, it’s Monday already?


Skibber Bee~Bye: About time! Drawn & Quarterly finally presents a new edition of the 2000 Highwater-published graphic novel by writer/artist Ron Regé, Jr. It’s a 256-page journey into fantastic-yet-relatable images and a deeply personal iconography, by far the creator’s longest sustained single work. If you’ve enjoyed any of Regé’s works in the past and have not read this (due to, say, Highwater going under), now is your chance - check out a short preview here, and get ready to spend $19.95.

I Am Going To Be Small: A teeny tiny 384-page clump of one-page gags and strips from Jeffrey Brown, $14.00 from Top Shelf. Not much more to say - if you like the pure humor corner of the Brown bibliography, you’ll probably enjoy this. Actually, you’ll probably already have read some of this, since a bunch of it is reprinted from a minicomic of the same title that won an Ignatz in 2003.

Concrete Vol. 6: Strange Armor: Ah, here’s one I’ve been waiting for. Strange Armor represents writer/artist Paul Chadwick’s revised and expanded 192 page origin for his signature creation, Concrete, produced in 1997-98 and apparently based off of material intended for the never-produced Concrete movie. The original collection has been out of print for a long time, so it’s going to be good to have it back (so I can actually read it), despite all the colors having been stripped out and the size shrunk down. Here’s a preview, so you can enjoy the tones as well as Chadwick’s still-lovely visuals.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol. 4: Continuing the still-ongoing (in Japan) sci-fi series from Hiroki Endo; Dark Horse is apparently satisfied enough with the reception for the creator in the US that they’re prepping a release of at least two volumes of Endo’s (often excellent) short stories for release in January and April of 2007.

Q-Ko-chan Vol. 1 (of 2): A Del Rey presentation of the 2003-04 series by Ueda Hajime, the man who brought you the berserk 2000-01 manga version of the lovely anime FLCL. Tokyopop’s US edition of the manga famously outsold its original Japanese release; I can still find copies of the damned thing sitting around in chain bookstores, despite being roughly three years old. The bookstores I’ve been in have been stocking up pretty heavily on this one too, so maybe they’re hoping Hajime’s uniquely delicate-chaotic visual style can thrive apart from a cherry anime tie-in; from what I’ve read of it so far, it’s a lot more subdued that what’s on display in FLCL (which someone once described as ‘Fort Thunder manga’), so maybe wide appeal will fill in for media attachment. The plot concerns a young man who discovers a deadly alien robot that’s also a cute girl - not the freshest plot imaginable, but it’s not like FLCL sounds all that great in pure premise either. It’s pure execution (and in the end, what isn't?).

Marvel Milestones: Millie the Model & Patsy Walker: I’m sure there’s some reason why Marvel is releasing a $3.99 compilation of ‘60s and ‘70s material from the pages of Millie the Model and Defenders, but I can’t put my finger on it now. Featuring the talents of Stan Goldberg, David Kraft, and Don Perlin. Call me detail-obsessed, but when I see Marvel’s unfortunate ‘Rated A’ mark in regards to this, I find myself making erroneous assumptions about stories like How Millie First Met Chili! I can’t imagine it being that interesting.

The Punisher MAX #36: In which Enron is, in all likelihood, shot.

BPRD: The Universal Machine #5 (of 5): Hey, the last issue of this storyline. It's a good one.

The All-New Atom #2: Apparently, John Byrne is only sticking around as penciler on this fun book through issue #3, after which he’ll be replaced by Eddy Barrows. Kind of sad, as I thought his work of the first issue of this was strong (Trevor Scott will remain onboard as inker). Anyway, this one involves shambling creatures and a “Dwarfstar,” which sounds good to me.

The Creeper #1 (of 6): This also suddenly sounded good after reading the preview in Brave New World, which surprised me; it was the only piece in there besides the Atom one to really grab me, so I might look into what writer Steve Niles and artists Justiniano & Walden Wong have in store. Judging from the preview, it looks like some very straightforward, if amusing superhero origin hi-jinx, though I hope the rest of the issue gets a little more creative.

52 #13 (of 52): Reaching the quarter mark. Also featuring Kevin Nowlan (Jack B. Quick) on the back-up short.



*Moore for Nothing Dept: The ever-useful 4ColorHeroes has started up a brand-new project that will be of interest to most readers of this site: an online archive of Alan Moore’s work for the weekly UK music publication Sounds. Moore, working under the pseudonym of ‘Curt Vile,’ provided material for the paper as a writer/artist from 1979-83, including two extended features (Roscoe Moscow and The Stars My Degradation - the latter featured Steve Moore as an occasional co-writer), and none of the stuff is currently in print. But now forty individual episodes are online, and 4ColorHeroes plans to upload new ones as soon as they’re discovered. Keep checking back.

*Another avalanche of manga at the local chain bookstore snuck up on me over the last few weeks, from what I saw today. I guess that makes it a slow avalanche? Or am I just a climber that likes excuses? VIZ in particular is determined to bury me - not only have I not gotten around to picking up Death Note Vol. 6 yet, but now the fourth volumes of Golgo 13 and Naoki Urasawa’s Monster are on the shelves. And just to add insult to injury, my particular store was - gah - all sold out of Golgo (although actually I should probably be thankful that people seem to be buying it).

Del Rey also did its part in bringing about my doom, bringing not only Love Roma Vol. 3 to the table, but also the debut installment of Ueda Hajime’s Q-Ko-chan, somewhat misleadingly advertised as “From the creator of FLCL.” I’m sure that by ‘creator of FLCL,’ Del Rey actually meant ‘writer/artist of the official FLCL manga adaptation from a story by a corporate body and produced concurrently with its parent anime of the same title that was conceived by entirely different people.’ Doesn’t quite fit on the back cover, that. Still, Hajime’s spin on FLCL was batshit insane in a mostly good way (and we’re talking about an anime here that wasn’t quite the model of stability itself), so Q-Ko-chan wound up being one of the two books I actually bought.

The other? Yet another VIZ title, the debut of their latest VIZ Signature series. I did not regret the purchase.

The Drifting Classroom Vol. 1 (of 11)

This is a great comic. Sure, it might be best enjoyed by those with a yen for breathless, over-the-top fever dream plotting and big, loud satire and LOTS AND LOTS OF SCREAMING. But here, finally, every English-speaking reader can truly understand the appeal of manga legend Kazuo Umezu; he’s done it all in Japan, having become by his current age of 69 an acclaimed manga creator, television personality, music star (his band’s hit single was titled Diarrhea Pants Rock), and general all-encompassing multimedia sensation. He has awards and theme park attractions named after him. He’s had only three series released in the US: Orochi: Blood (VIZ, the final part of a much larger horror series), Scary Book (Dark Horse, a mishmash of miscellaneous horror shorts), and this, the 1972-74 hit that’s remained one of his most enduring achievements. It's often classified as 'survival horror,' and that fits, though its black-humored verve and willingness to dive right into the puberty-soaked perspective of a 12-year old makes the gore and yelling all the more fantastic(al). And I strongly doubt you will encounter better pure cartooning in anything other new releases you look at this week.

Like I mentioned before, this is loud comics. Umezu starts the book off by cranking things up to booming, even if the details of his plot don’t initially seem to warrant such intensity – young Sho Takamatsu is an active young sixth grader, prone to bouts of childish fancy and entirely longing to be treated as an adult. He pines for a “Future Car” toy (everybody ‘says’ the quotes around the term), but decides to buy his mother a lovely new watch instead, to demonstrate his maturity. Ah, but the young man’s butterfingers and the uncaring roar of city traffic make short work of the gift, plunging Sho and his mom into a wonderfully overheated war of words for the next evening and morn. “I DON’T HAVE TIME TO EAT NOW!!” screams Sho, knocking all the dishes off the kitchen table! “H-HOW DARE YOU?!” retorts Mom, but the clash is far from over.

Mom, have you seen my marbles!?

I threw them out!!

WHAT!? H-how could you!!

But nothing could prepare them for the climax:


"WH-WHAT DID YOU SAY?! How dare you talk to your mother like that?"

"You're not my mother! You had no right to go through my desk!"




Little Sho runs away, vowing never to return. We've all been there, though the sequence is so filtered through Sho's active emotions that it becomes the biggest, most melodramatic event in the sum total of human history. It's funny, even farcical, yet understanding, relatable.

All of this is enlivened greatly by Umezu’s artwork, those early ‘70s character designs almost uncanny in their generic semi-realist suppleness, yet absolutely made to work as much as possible, faces contorting just enough to achieve comedic grotesquerie and bodies flying around as if yanked by strings – I love the way Umezu draws running kids, both feet off the ground at all times with a sort of horizontal waterfall of speed lines trailing behind. It’s no surprise to discover that Umezu first found great fame as a humor cartoonist, his chops most immediately evident when he turns toward making the reader laugh, though the secret of this book is how such comedy is matched up with moments of queasy understanding as to how children perceive BIG SCREAMING MATCHES with parents, and this marriage of brash spirit and gnawing horror will provide much of the impact of the pages to follow.

You see, Sho arrives at school following his morning skirmish with Mom, and the building apparently explodes. The double-page splashes in this book are some of the best I’ve seen recently, the first one of them depicting a gargantuan “BOOM” obscuring an entire street (and the upper ¾ of the page), and the second acting as the finale to a long ‘pull-back’ from an amazed child’s eyes, as the enormity of the disaster literally fills the book. Soon, we skip back in time to view the event from inside the school with Sho, the laughter of his classmates literally vibrating around his nervous, sparkly eyes to signify the subtle build of a quake, the bit leading into one double-page splash of nervous kids (each and every one lavishly and individually caricatured), then immediately another depicting the same scene as affected by the actual explosion, a massive “RMMRRMB” bearing down on desks and causing children to tumble. Needless to say, the use of English sound effects by VIZ’s Kelle Han is excellent.

Without explanation, the who school seems to have been teleported to a strange desert dimension, though few of the campus' actual inhabitants actually know what's going on. Nuclear anxiety runs high. Teachers try to keep the kids calm, but while the first graders are more than willing to keep singing songs in the face of madness, the older children begin to riot, and the teachers learn of the horror inherent to hundreds of lil' folks suddenly gone wild with desperation. They storm the school gates, trample their fellows, kick deep, bloody grooves into an instructor's face in their hurry, and generally prove impervious to the orderly pull of good society. All that calms them down is a teacher holding a child high, and gashing the boy's arm open with broken glass.


What follows, and there's still just under half the book left, is a bombastic procession of scenes depicting the failure of social graces, and the utter inability of the adults, the authority in the building to control anything that's going on. All is witnessed by Sho: one teacher's helpless seizures, the principal's bloodied and disoriented countenance, everyone's inability to grasp what's going on, and their interest in telling lies to calm down the mob. Poor Sho is dragged into the lies as well, a situation that leads not only to physical harm, but the stinging psychological scars of learning for the first time that authority isn't always something to rely on. Sho misses his Mom, but surely her authority doesn't ring nearly as true anymore; he and the other kids may have to repeat Sho's opening disobedience over and over, just to survive.

But even holding teachers hostage at scissorpoint can't control the weird power of the alien dimension, its attributes eerie and deadly in equal measure.

It's easy to see why this work got so popular - truly, Umezu is writing directly to young minds eager to have their suspicions about authority validated, even in the midst of shocking, explicit horror (needless to say, Umezu has no qualm with killing or injuring little kids in often nasty ways - yet a scene with a little girl tumbling from the school roof is shocking mostly for its natural build, the whole thing an easy climax to what's been happening, and hardly gratuitous). I turned these pages faster than anything else I can remember, as much as I wanted to stop and admire the beauty of Umezu's craft (and never has his work looked so good, from what we've gotten over here). The book also contains valuable bonuses: a concise biography of the author by Patrick Macias, and a heavily illustrated partial bibliography that not only puts the current work into context, but even doles out information on one of the stories Dark Horse published (and if anything needs the backing of additional info, it's the context-free hodgepodge of Scary Book).

A lovely package. VIZ has got me down for another. Don't miss this when it's in any type of shop near you.


"Like rainbow tints in the spray are the hues that splash and pour from its lightning cylinders"

*This is only tangentially comics-related, but I think fans of those old-timey strips will find much to enjoy...

The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898-1911)

It was born in those days when men believed in rugged honesty, before the days of quackery and pretense, and it has kept its way unheeding and improving amid a thousand peering little imitators. It has never paid for a testimonial, never advertised cheap claptrap, nor published a misstatement of fact in order to sell itself.”

- A nostalgia-tinged advertisement for crisp, clear Ayer’s Sarsaparilla - which don’t you know is a fine ‘blood purifier’ - from the magazine section of the Sunday, April 2, 1899 edition of the New York World.

This large (13.9 x 12.6), beautiful 144-page hardcover book was first released in 2005, though I’m just getting around to it now. It is truly worth the thirty or so bucks you'll find it going for online, but don't even let the full cover price of $50 spook you away. I would advise you not to wait much longer than I did to partake of its riches - beyond the fine, rare works included from the likes of comics legends R.F. Outcault, George McManus, and George Herriman, the book is simply packed with strange innovation, curious novelty, powerful drawing, glamorous (if minuscule) prose, and the sort of effortless period flavor that can only every truly be evoked by an established popular institution of the period under study.

Said period is evident from the book’s title, though the institution deserves added explanation; you’ve doubtlessly heard of Joseph Pulitzer, and perhaps his famous newspaper the New York World, which was essentially three papers in one, boasting a Morning, Evening, and Sunday edition. The Sunday World was a street-level marvel of its day, sold on every corner of the city, sporting advanced color printing, advanced graphic capabilities, and scads of art, human interest, scandal, sensationalism, and starry-eyed futurism. It is said that in its salad days, the totality of the World was one of the two most widely read publications on the planet, the other being the Christian Bible.

Yet, in an irony only available to such a gargantuan monument to disposable virility and prolificacy, there are very few complete archives of the World available for perusal today. Throughout the 20th century, hardcopy archives of such disposable artifacts (never valued for the historic record as much as the New York Times and other, more subdued, ‘proper’ papers) were tossed out or sold for scrap in favor of b&w microfilm records - as a result, it is remarkably difficult to come by original World materials from which to conduct study, or strike higher-quality modern reproductions of its many graphic delights. The book at hand is the work of Nicholson Baker & Margaret Brentano, spouses who took it upon themselves to form the American Newspaper Repository and raise $150,000 to purchase seven thousand bundles & bound volumes of vintage American newspapers from the British Library, who were planning to dispose of much of their hardcopy stock. Included was a well-preserved stash of the World, which now resides Duke University, though before the materials left their hands Baker & Brentano took some pictures in the interests of putting together a showcase for the best of the World’s art - the present volume.

And it is gorgeous, often surprising art, usually one full World sheet provided per page, though spreads are set out over two. It's important to note up front that the book appears to be more concerned with the appreciation of graphic design and pure image splendor than providing easy reading of pages from the World; the title alone suggests this, but the notion is reinforced by the margins of image and text sometimes becoming trapped in the book's center, and the size of the text itself being a bit too small to easily peruse. This is a large book by today's standard, but it cannot quite compare to the magnitude of the actual World, which brandished its own images at roughly three times the size of what we get - if you actually want to read, say, Mark Twain's My First Lie and How I Got Out of It, or any of Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Health and Beauty Hints (a potion to stall hair loss: "Cologne, 8 oz; tincture of cantharides, 1-2 oz.; oil of English lavender, oil of rosemary, 1-2 dram each."), you'll have to squint pretty hard. Oddly, we're occasionally given a page of pure text to look at, perhaps a selection from the Want Directory, and the overall effect is one of simply admiring the amount of all those job listings rather than what's in them, though Brentano's captions usually provide a sampling of the good bits.

Such captions appear on nearly every page, and Brentano is an informed, articulate guide (co-author Baker handles the Introduction), prone to doling out little biographical sketches of many of the artists and writers employed by the World, and directing the reader to small image details and bits of business they might have missed (an ad for Atlantic Rye Whiskey positioned directly below a notice regarding a miracle Curse of Drink cure, for instance). All of the book's provided World pages are set out in chronological order along the years in the title (1911 marked the death of Pulitzer himself), allowing for both a certain historical wideview and some nice bits where succeeding pages from one edition of a certain section are provided back-to-back, to give the reader a feeling of how the actual paper flowed. But almost always are there visuals, drawings usually preferred to photographs at the time, the use of color sometimes amazingly subtle.

It's not just comics and political cartoons in here, though there's plenty of that. You'll get to enjoy the fascinating collage effects of L.L. Roush, an array of decorative features (at the height of the Spanish-American War, a full page in the Magazine Section was devoted to graphically demonstrating exactly how large the guns of the U.S. Navy where - oh, and needless to say you'd best be prepared for rampant jingoism and some ugly racial caricatures), reproductions of the latest hits in painting and fashion, innovations in night photography, and even the birth of what we'd now call 'Cine-Manga': a 1900 experiment in setting frames from a pair of Mutoscope comedies out as comic strips, complete with captions on the bottom. One gets the feeling that an awful lot of experiments were conducted in those loose days, largely because the newest technologies were still being used to build a new identity for the World, and thus everything had to be tried before a status quo could be fathomed.

There's even interactivity! Readers of the World were invited to build their own zoetrope devices (in the manner of the later, and heavily period-influenced Acme Novelty Library), sew the latest designs from included Pink Sheet patterns, clip out finger puppets of famous boxers (one illustration of which seems to result in the demonstrating hand flipping the bird to the reader), and even make use of Charles W. Saalburg's innovative process to print ink that would easily lift from the page to transform parts of thee World into paint boxes and Easter Egg patterns.

It's a world of novelty, to bring Chris Ware into it once again, the news adorned with lurid first-person accounts of suicide (via discovered death notes) and ad hoc comics with titles like "The Present Kite-Flying Craze and What May Come of It." There's all the odd sights one might expect to see, like a photo of a 25-year old Winston Churchill aiding his mother in starting a magazine, or an artist's anticipatory rendition of an upcoming airship race. An unknown artist prepares a glorious turquoise & black drawing of men from the New York Technology Club drinking Liquid Sunshine (water spiked with sulphate of quinine and radium), their cups a pure newsprint white as isolated among the deeper hues. The beauty of technology indeed, and a strong symbol of the spirit and folly to be spotted in these thankfully preserved pages.


My beautiful encounters.

*I went to a fair today. I knew it’d be a great time as soon as I saw the sign for a stand called The Unicorn’s Strawberry Shortcake Sundae, though I actually only copped a free sample of pulled pork, paid for a slice of frozen cheesecake dipped in chocolate, and had someone pour me carnival wine into a plastic cup. That’s living!

And then I saw Spidey.

I turned around at one point totally at random, and literally right there in my face was a man in a full-body Spider-Man costume. “Aaargh!” he yelled at me, and hustled away. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and there was nothing to do but stare as the webslinger leapt into his trailer with the agility of an arachnid, though that might have just been the wine and the brainfreeze from the cheesecake having a Marvel Team-Up in my skull.

The rest of the evening I kept wondering: was Spidey part of the demolition derby, or the chainsaw log-sculpturing contest? I hope it was the latter - smashing cars is fine, but there’s nothing more intimidating than a man in spandex brandishing a live chainsaw.


A nice package from AiT/Planet Lar, $14.95 for 160 b&w pages, reprinting some interesting comics from the mid-‘80s.

To be honest, a lot of the immediate interest comes from the means by which the work was created, more-or-less entirely on an early Macintosh, specks of graphic laid down via MacPaint 1.0 and spit out on a dot matrix printer, the images then colored with traditional comics separations before heading off for publication. There’s stories in the bonus material collected in this book of noted comics pros reacting with surprise to the work, even concern, though hardly anything in comics anymore is not touched by a computer – we’ve come a long way, yet the meticulous process endured to create as early a work as Shatter remains fascinating as an image of how those near the front of the technological line sought to make everything work, the smoothness and ease of tomorrow still a little bit ahead of the future’s own tools.

But beyond all that, there’s a secondary interest: as a total work, Shatter fits in with the rest of the AiT/Planet Lar line remarkably well, its high-action pop futurism more fascinated in flavoring its core mystery and spurts of violence with forward-looking idea accoutrements than delving too heavily into speculation. The exploding bugs and power suits and the obligatory femme fatale come first here; you can pick up those precognitive messages from the past at your leisure. Luckily, this is breezy, witty stuff, light enough and deftly handled in a way that the reader can feel free to sift through the shards of meaning and fixate on them in a manner that would be impossible with too much smog and slog on the page.

And they are beautiful pages, to drag things (inevitably?) back toward the visual side – Mike Saenz is responsible for all the art in here (and some of the writing), and those million blips of darkness that make up Shatter’s world still hold up as marvelously convincing today. I particularly liked the more abstract backgrounds, bustling cityscapes conveyed through nests of cubes and icon patterns and jagged lines, letters typed directly atop it all to crudely and beautifully approximate intrusive business signs. Not that such gritty shorthand is limited to inhuman things – there’s a wonderful moment early in the book where a villain gets mad, and we see a big close-up of his face, and the very skin and shadow covering him are composed of angry visual noise, as if the Mac can barely hold his rage. There’s a real sense of freewheeling experimentation to the story’s look; you’ll notice Saenz moving from technique to technique as the story continues, a middle portion of the book suddenly lunging into fuzzy photorealism, then backing away into a suddenly clean style, an approach eventually retained mainly for the female lead’s face. And Saenz wrings a lot of expression out of faces; this might be early representational ‘computer art,’ but there’s none of the stereotypical absence of character that thoughts of such things conjure. “…control is what this is all about” writer Peter Gillis reports of telling a skeptical pro at the dawn of the work, suggesting that computers are simply another tool for lively creation. I’d have thought one would need only glance at Saenz’s art to see that

Gillis is one of several folks who contribute historical comments on the work; he offers both a new reminisce and an essay from 1988 on the genesis of the material, though he did not appear to be present for several portions of the later material. Shatter was not an easy sell to the comics-buying public, as publisher First Comics debuted it in a 1985 one-shot special, and then ran it as a back-up feature in the popular series Jon Sable, Freelance for six issues, only after which it became an ongoing series. Gillis wrote the Special and the back-up, though issue #1 of the ongoing is credited primarily to Saenz, with one Mark Pierce listed under “Assist. Art/Story,” issue #2 bearing a “Script” credit for a Kenn L.D. Frandsen, backing Saenz’s “Art and Plot” (neither Pierce nor Frandsen is credited anywhere but in the individual titles of the stories themselves – the book as a whole is credited to only Gillis and Saenz). Shatter actually ran for 14 ongoing issues total, though this collection understandably stops when Saenz leaves following issue #2.

Thus, the most glaring absence from the copious retrospective features is Saenz himself, the artist not in attendance for what often seems like a party thrown in his honor. Marc Bernardin of Entertainment Weekly provides an Introduction, television producer Rick Austin chats about the progress of technology, and series editor Mike Gold fills us in on some private details (apparently Apple was eager to distance themselves from the whole affair, mortified that their business-targeted machine might become associated with something as foolish as comic books). Saenz’s pictures speak for him with the most authority.

But as I mentioned before, the plot is pretty fun. Sadr al-din Morales is a temp in a future megalopolis, filling in a privatized police position via subcontract. He calls himself Shatter, but on duty he’s Jack Scratch, the name of the man whose job he’s doing. Names don’t matter much in the future, since public identities are merely shoes to fill in the marketplace, cherry mission contracts snapped up via computerized auction and products from the past always available to eat up all that income. It’s a hankering for the long-gone Coca-Cola Classic (which wasn’t its name at that time, but bear with me) that pushes Morales/Shatter/Scratch out on the trail of a mystery woman, though eventually he’ll get tied up in a war between rebel artists and an evil corporation (of course!) that’s puzzled out a way to literally extract talent from people and make the whole concept just one more Big Mac for anyone to scarf up. But isn’t this a perfect means of redistributing power to the less privileged? Isn’t there a certain self-preserving desperation to those bold rebels?

The book toys around with these concepts, gleefully positing that pretty much nobody would behave all that well given the situation, but that’s kept at a low simmer while there’s cackling yuppie villains to defeat and double-crosses to pull off, and future plots to set up that’ll go nowhere in this book since it’s only collecting part of an ongoing series. Hey – exploding bugs! Girls in bikinis! And bunny suits! Lovely, pixilated exit wounds popping open atop people’s skulls! Shatter has things on its mind, yes, but it knows it has to entertain like hell to survive as such an odd duck, both at its genesis in the ‘80s and within its return today. Nothing wrong with that, though it’s worthwhile to emphasize that the futurism mentioned regarding the book’s plot is largely decoration, even the core theme of ‘dehumanization through instant gratification’ never quite developing beyond what’s necessary to drive the action to another set piece, and finally to a semi-stop. It’s an ongoing action comic first and everything else second, if you’re going on elements other than history and pure visuals.

But it’s a good, often funny action comic, and let’s not underestimate that art. The back of the book even includes a 12-page test-run story, bits and pieces of which got recycled into the story proper, and it’s amazing how much of Saenz’s style was already formed ahead of time. Sure, the exploding bugs would come later, replacing the test-run’s goofy attack rats, but you can’t get everything right the first time. The action fought its way up to meet and supplement the weirdness of the art, finally resulting in the sleek, light, necessary blend we can enjoy again today.


Ok, I've done my lifting for the evening.

*So I went out to see a cover band tonight with some friends. I wound up wandering backstage, since one friend knew everybody, and before I knew it I was loading drums onto vehicles. I got paid in beer, and I tried to think of it as my ‘cover performance’ of an actual stagehand. I also cut my finger on a sound case, so be aware that my very blood is in this post, dear readers.

*Holy smokes, just look at this thing.

*52 Dept: Ha ha. “Billy Batshit.” I hope you’re all following Douglas Wolk’s week-by-week blogging on 52 anyway, but I have to recommend this week’s post in particular as a nice examination of the series’ mythic/religious undercurrents.

As typical as the Black Adam ‘pushed too far - is he playing with fire?’ storyline has often been, this week has probably the best sequence we’ve gotten out of that corner of the DCU, if only for the cute work done with psycho Captain Marvel, his cornball nobility nicely pushed past the point of comfort as he staggers off a throne and starts screaming at the Seven Deadly Sins (“...you shut up now. That’s rude, Lust!”). It’s all in the service of Black Adam turning Adrianna into Isis, and while the plot itself is still refusing to head in the direction of anything interesting (will Adam be redeemed by the love of a good woman, or will she fall prey to the temptations of power - start biting your nails, readers!) it manages to flow over you with a pleasant sensation left in its wake.

Meanwhile, Montoya and the Question connect dots, Ralph’s story treads water (another confrontation with Cassie, another desire to help out), word balloons are erroneously repeated, and everything happens in one day, the time zone differences between various locations duly exploited. The story’s still 20 pages, and the back-up gets busted down to two for The Origin of Wonder Woman, in which writer Mark Waid does manage to hit all of the necessary origin highlights while artist Adam Hughes busts out one iconic image after another, along with an opening view of Our Heroine’s bust all but leaping off the page toward the reader and a little taste of the ol’ bondage. I wonder how he’ll tackle All Star Wonder Woman, where he’ll be writing too.

Meat Cake #15

I never can tell whether that title is supposed to be one word or two (and judging from their respective sites, neither can Fantagraphics or the creator), but the legal indicia says two, and I need something in life to rely on, so why not the teeny tiny words on the inside front cover.

Meat Cake is the long-running solo series from Dame Darcy, and it truly is as much of a one-person show (in both execution and spirit) as any comic I can name. Every inch of every page (there’s 32 of them, in b&w, for $3.99) screams out the persona of the author, even the bits where other people seem to be involved. In one segment a pair of additional persons, Dawn Garcia & Nora Keyes, are credited as providing bits of a conversation that wound up on the page, but we’re seeing even the words of others through Darcy’s eyes. It’s no accident that the ad page in the back is hand-drawn, or that the two pages of reader letters are written out in the same cursive that marks so much of the book - this is handmade-feeling comics, though from a prominent publisher, nothing freezer-dried or wrapped in plastic.

And that lends itself to certain risks, I suppose. Darcy writes and draws pretty much whatever she feels like; there’s recipes, illustrated prose, a one-page guide to palm reading, and strange story sketches, both comedic and dramatic. If anything, Darcy’s stories have become even more scattered and off-the-cuff since the works collected in the fine Meat Cake Companion, events occurring in a seemingly improvised fashion, sometimes involving the book’s recurring cast of characters; there’s heroine Richard Dirt and the self-descriptive Friend the Girl, having a sort of scavenger hunt among zombies, and later participating with the rest of the gang in a science fair, their antics not so much requiring any past knowledge of their exploits as drawing liberally from a well of goodwill a longtime reader might have since dug. Lots of absurd humor, yet coupled with an emphatic interest in fairytale mysticism as a means of whisking away the devils of the everyday world, the sexual exploiters and the bouts of boredom - it’s a worldview unique enough to demand experiencing, though if one doesn’t find it to their liking there’s very little else to bolster one’s interest in the book, no cunning plots or familiar comforts.

No doubt that’s the way Darcy likes it. Certain features become covered in writing, words snaking around drawings and jostling for room. There’s scads of dialogue, captions heavy with narration as images get built around them. Darcy’s art is attractive, her characters sketchy yet fully-formed, big dark eyes sparkling through an ongoing horror fable dream, the comic as a whole often looking like sheets torn from a particularly complete dream-diary sketchbook. It feels more diary than sketchbook, though - many sketchbooks say a lot about their artists, but one gets a deeper feeling of personality from stuff like this. I think it's worth looking out for.



*I’d like to dedicate today’s post to the kind, hard-working fellow who arrived very quickly to liberate my keys from the vehicle I’d locked them into this afternoon. My patent inability to manage even the most basic of my daily mental requirements made me miss out on stuff this afternoon (sorry Chris!), but it wasn’t as painful as it could have been thanks to fast action on the part of more capable hands. Also, I’m suddenly glad every gas station in the country seems to have an ATM.

Batman #655


Easily the best bit in this debut issue for the anticipated creative team of writer Grant Morrison and artist Andy Kubert involves a spin on one of those old standbys, the Joker’s famous gas. Sure, enough of it’ll have you giggling yourself all the way off to your eternal award, but it seems even once you’ve gotten yourself pumped full of a cure, you’ve still got to come down. So Commissioner Gordon winds up sitting in a hospital bed after a nasty attack, finding himself cruelly moved to laugh at the most inappropriate things, like images in the newspaper of poor folks getting their heads cut off. It’s involuntarily, yet it also presses Gordon a little closer to his inner Joker than h’d probably like - the clown prince is a consummate showman, after all, spewing out ultra-mannered supervillain dialogue while playing his tricks at the top of this story, and don’t we all see just a bit of appeal in throwing all morals to the winds of madness? Batman doesn’t even need any gas to crack exactly the same joke, and I wonder if Morrison isn't nodding toward that infamous finale to Batman: The Killing Joke; Gordon is again pushed to the brink, but some of us don’t need as much to get near that special place.

That’s the closest thing to a ‘mad idea’ present in this issue, though. I have a feeling that those readers who tend to feel that Morrison makes himself a bit too much of the focus of his superhero books - sacrificing the funnybook fundamentals in favor of a distracting display of self-attentive flourish - will find this to be the start of a Morrison run to maybe curl up to. Put simply, it’s the most subdued, straightforward superhero book Morrison has scripted by himself in years, even beating out the early issues of Guardian in (relatively) unadorned antics-in-spandex. This isn’t to say that there’s none of Morrison’s voice, as such a thing is perhaps too resounding to ever dim totally from earshot, but the wild, idiosyncratic drive that marked even as tradition-steeped a capes ‘n tights epic as the debut edition of All Star Superman is absent. We get Batman, Bat-Action, a little logical character work, a setup for a new threat, and that’s a wrap.

But isn’t it always the ‘new’ with Morrison? His fingerprints are still all over the first seven pages, so steeped his career-spanning theme of transformation: the very worst joke of all is played on Batman, as a Gotham cop posing as the Dark Knight does what Our Hero could never do, just pulling out a gun and shooting the Joker in the goddamn head already. And that’s the last of the old baddies in town, the archfoe’s body literally tossed in the garbage to mark the occasion; oh sure, we’re assured the Joker’s still breathing, just so we’re not all stunned when Magneto rises once again, but at least the thought’s in place for the writer’s run (real change might have to be left to a selection of Soldiers, as we’ve learned).

It’s a good little sequence, though it could have been better with a more distinctive artist at the helm; Kubert is decent enough at whipping up dramatic panels of faces leaning out at the reader, and his character construction is suitably-if-unspectacularly muscular, but his staging is sometimes surprisingly clumsy - that full-page splash of the Joker getting shot needs to be the most punchy moment in an opening sequence full of punches, but it’s staged in such a way that it’s genuinely difficult to make out what’s even going on without a few seconds of study, which pretty much sabotages the all-important flow of the action into its exclamation point (on my first read, it seemed like the Joker was being blasted by some out-of-panel sniper, or maybe an Akira-type orbital laser, with Batman inexplicably floating upward before him entirely healed). There’s a little stiffness in poses (Robin descending the pole), and an absence of the subtle details that distinguish the good visuals from the great - it’s telling that later on in the issue Morrison seems to be trying to set up a Batman/Bruce differing physical postures deal, in the manner of Superman/Clark in All Star Superman, but it never really lands except through Morrison’s dialogue. Kubert’s character art just can’t convey the subtleties as well.

Yet that differentiation is what Morrison tethers much of the rest of the issue to. Alfred gently informs Batman that he’s neglecting his Bruce Wayne persona, and so Batman resolves to learn again to act like a playboy, as uncomfortable as he’s become with such affectations. Truly this man as of now sees his true face as the mask, and he’s blessed in that additional dangers are lurking around the fringes, all ready to force the donning of the cape and cowl once again. Meat-and-potatoes Bat-Themes, nothing that hasn’t been gone over plenty before, though it’s enlivened a little by Morrison’s way with Alfred’s character, the occasional funny line, and the easy snapping of it all into place with the bigger Morrison picture. But I readily admit that some might find said picture big enough to blot out the scenery, so let me say there’s also evil in London, and a forgotten (or never known?) face from the past. Batman is very intense!

Batman is very Batman, as evident as Morrison’s constant concerns are. I found the book largely to be interesting in what it suggests for later by sketching out its premise - will Our Hero find he can never really blast away those old shadows? Will transformation prove to be as illusory for major superhero icons in established continuity as Morrison himself has been inferring through projects ranging from Seaguy to Seven Soldiers (the real change always on the fringes)? We’ll see. Could have used some spice, but then it’s only the first issue anyway, and Morrison has a way of ramping up the interest later on.


I'm here and elsewhere.

*Courtesy of the awesome Zack Soto in the other day’s comments section, here’s that Grant Morrison/Deepak Chopra panel from San Diego I've been babbling about. The whole one and a half hour thing, it looks like! The echo effect in the room provides some trouble, with Morrison’s accent in particular cause for some constant backtracking on my part, but hey - I’m not complaining too much at the virtual front row seat. Go look.

*Trailer up (NOT WORK SAFE) for the new Paul Verhoven film, Zwartboek - it's a Netherlands/UK/Germany co-production, and the director's big reunion with screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, who worked on many of Verhoven's earlier features like Soldier of Orange, Spetters, and Flesh + Blood. Looks like sex and violence and Nazis; might turn out to be typical, but there's always something pulsing underneath Verhoven's scenes. I also really liked the use of the song in the first ten seconds, but that's trailer talk.

*Guest Spots Dept: A little while ago, I was very graciously offered the opportunity to write a special piece for the popular blog Comics Should Be Good over at Comic Book Resources - they’re going to have a number of guests writing things for them in the future as a recurring feature, and mine is up right now, so it will serve as an amendment to today's short post. It's a little story about time, and the Punisher, and my beloved great aunt, who is probably not aware of how much she's responsible for what's up on this site every day. I hope you all find it to be to your liking!


Little things add up.

*But who can put a price on


Elephantmen #1

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe #3 (of 3), Gumby #1

Casanova #2 (it might just be coming out near you this week, so you should get it if you see it)

And there was also a very up-to-date video game review of 2001's Ico.

Such a time.

*Authorial Intent Dept:

"Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

"With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

"The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

"As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them.

"Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

"Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck

- Thomas Pynchon, apparently, on the topic of his new 992-page novel, tentatively titled Against the Day, now set for a December 5th release in the US.

*Some neat short-format tidbits


But I Like It: Yet we'll start with a new 120-page, $24.95 hardcover from Fantagraphics, collecting writer/artist Joe Sacco's music-themed early strips. You've probably already read the book's centerpiece, In the Company of Long Hair, since this is the fourth time (to my knowledge) Fantagraphics has published it - the material was first presented in Sacco's 1988-91 solo series Yahoo, then appeared in the 1995 Sacco collection War Junkie, and also popped up in Fantagraphics' most recent Sacco collection, 2003's Notes from a Defeatist. This, however, is some sort of 'extended' version, also augmented with sketches & notes, a collection of Sacco-designed German rock posters, a batch of never-collected shorts (some of which, having been created for European outlets, have never even appeared in English), and a bonus CD containing live music from the Miracle Workers, the punk band featured in the book's main story. And that main story is quite good, if you've not seen it, a funny and intense trip across Europe's music scene in the '80s, well worth a look.

Castle Waiting Vol. II #1: According to Tom Spurgeon, Fantagraphics had already moved one hundred copies of their hardcover compilation of writer/artist Linda Medley’s fantasy saga by only halfway through the San Diego show last weekend; all of those happy buyers will be doubly thrilled to pick up this week’s 64-page debut issue of the new continuation of said series. In the interests of accuracy, it’s 64 pages because it reprints the two issues omitted from the hardcover book on the grounds of their starting a new storyline - only 24 pages are thus brand-new, but the $5.95 asking price isn’t too high, and it’ll all be original to new fans anyway. Future issues will be $3.95 on a six-week schedule.

Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville #4 (of 5): Talk of six-week schedules makes for a nice contrast with this excellent and extremely intermittent Fanagraphics miniseries from writer/artist Ted Stearn; issue #1 arrived in mid-2002, back when it was conceived as only four issues. Now it’s longer, and kind of drawing near completion, and I’m certainly happy, though I have no idea if it’ll be accessible to anyone without access to the first three chapters. Pluck is a featherless chicken and Fuzz is a naïve teddy bear, and the two of them traverse a surreal world of seething house comforts and underground gladiatorial clashes, all on a quest to get by. Very funny, and genuinely involving, though you might want to start with Fanta’s 2000 Fuzz & Pluck collection to see where it all starts before sifting around for the sundry issues of this second story.

Meatcake #15: Jesus, it this ‘Fantagraphics pamphlet week’ or what? Another welcome slice of whatever from creator Dame Darcy. There’s no telling what might show up in any given issue, but fans know it will radiate with handmade letters-wrapping-into-the-margins charm, and will probably concern witches or rock stars or blood. Any issue’s a good jumping-on point here!

Bluesman Vol. 3 (of 3): The final 80-page, $8.95 installment of writer Rob Vollmar's and artist Pablo Callejo's tale of a musician's flight from the law. From NBM, which has a preview up on their site. Plenty more info on the book's homepage.

Museum of Terror Vol. 1 (of 10): If you were to name, say, five manga artists that've totally broken through into the popular consciousness of US comics readers at large, one of them would have to be Junji Ito, the writer/artist behind such horror treats as Uzumaki and Gyo. Now Dark Horse has scored the license to this career-spanning omnibus series, the first two volumes of which will be dedicated to compiling Ito's original breakthrough hit Tomie. I believe this material was released in English before about half a decade ago by Comics One, in a two-volume series simply titled Tomie and packaged as part of something called 'The Junji Ito Horror Collection.' Dark Horse's edition of this particular tome is 376 pages for $13.95. Here's a preview. The art's pretty rough compared to what would come later, but the atmosphere is still potent.

Batman #655: Hey, it’s Grant Morrison, starting up his run on the other half of the World’s Finest. The start of a multipart story with ties to Batman exploits past, but if anyone’s going to keep things equally interesting to the hardcore and the dabbler it’s going to be Morrison. Art by Andy Kubert, a talent I’ve not been all that taken with, but certainly has an audience.

Gødland #12: Last issue before the hiatus, and there’s an extra-sized 26 pages of story set aside to wrap up some of the outstanding plots, and no doubt introduce a few more. Here’s a preview - the series will resume in October.

Hawkgirl #54: So yeah, judging from the solicitation copy (screwy date and all), artist Howard Chaykin is off the book after #56, off to work on Blade at Marvel. I guess he’s still on covers, though #57’s looks weirdly hustled (that face is pretty freaky); I’ll miss him, though, as his peculiar art has been vital to the tone that writer Walter Simonson has been pursuing.

52 #12 (of 52): A new backup feature (mercifully) starts up this issue: Secret Origins, from series co-writer Mark Waid and a different guest artist every week. I’m looking forward to upcoming work from Eric Powell, Kevin Nowlan, and series cover artist J.G. Jones, but first up is Adam Hughes to join Waid on the origin of Wonder Woman. It’s surely no coincidence that Hughes has also just recently been confirmed as both writer and artist for the upcoming All Star Wonder Woman, so consider this and Castle Waiting your instant gratification for the week.

Savage Dragon #0 (of 3, technically): Ok, let’s say you used to read Savage Dragon way back in the day. Like, issue #3 of the original miniseries from back in 1992 was the first Image comic you ever owned. And you followed creator Erik Larsen into the ongoing series that directly succeeded it - the series that's still going on today. You stuck with it for a little while. You hopped back on a few times, such as when it hit #100. You still think it's a good-looking book, and that Larsen's style (he's still writer/artist) has held up quite well over the past fourteen years, but you don't buy every issue. And you certainly didn't buy that Image Comics hardcover that featured the Dragon's secret origin as the Larsen contribution. I get the feeling you still might be interested in checking out this new $1.99 pamphlet-format version of the same material, a 32-page book formatted to act as a prelude issue to that initial 1992 mini. Just for old-time curiosity's sake.


Games and Stories

*Comics ‘n Movies Dept: A nice compliment for the news that Vertigo will be putting out a $19.99 softcover version of The Fountain on October 4th: the first full trailer for the film version (due in theaters also in October), written and directed by creator Darren Aronofsky. I can’t say it drew from me the reaction it must have wanted, but maybe you’ll feel differently as you join Hugh Jackman on his journey from a 16th Century kingdom of stilted fantasy movie dialogue to our melodramatic present day (“Your wife neeeds you!”) and beyond into a magical, hairless future of bubbles and pajamas that seems to have adopted the visual design theme of ‘department store Christmas display in the midst of arson.’ Still, Aronofsky might yet do something interesting with those repeating shot setups on evidence - and even if the film fails, it has the markings of an unintentional success as high camp anyway.

*And speaking of high style filmmaking, how about reliving the glory of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the 1952 educational short Cheating? I truly love these old Centron social hygiene films, packed with real Kansas teens acting out torrid little dramas - many of them were directed by Herk Harvey of the influential 1962 B-horror classic Carnival of Souls, and evidence a certain off-the-cuff down-home aplomb. This one famously goes way over the top with the heavy shadows and schoolhouse angst, but I think it’s fitting for the world of a screwy, desperate high school kid. Everything seemed so much more dramatic to me at that age too. The bots get off some of their best cracks too, enough so to have made this sequence a classic among MST3K fans.

*This one’s for Johnny Bacardi - an 8-page preview of the new collected edition of Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman, from the pages of Epic Illustrated. Nothing like that lush, colorful early Veitch! Coming this September.

*I just don't have a lot of time anymore to play video games; I'm lucky when I can get in any spare minutes just to fire up some freeware material from the internet, let alone invest the 80 or so hours that some console RPG might demand of me. Still, I do manage to dust off the old PS2 at times to check out some title or another that's been commended to me - Chris Mautner had me try out the two Katamari Damacy games, and they were really neat (and I can still hear the theme song in my head). Plus, there's usually a game or two I bought way back when, and just never got around to playing. Hell, I still have Dreamcast (bow your heads) titles I've not totally finished with.

So a few weeks ago, I actually got around to playing something I've had for years. People online were talking about it, and I liked the demo that came in some PS2 freebie package, so I picked it up, then never so much as watched the opening cinema.


That's the title. It was rushed into US release for the Fall of 2001, enough so that the Japanese and European versions of the game are somewhat different and improved. It didn't make much of a splash, but its cult following was a ferocious one, similar in loyalty to the fandom surrounding the (short, wonderful) 2001 art-shooter Rez. The director of Ico was a fellow by the name of Fumito Ueda, whose next game, 2005's Shadow of the Colossus, would garner all sorts of critical praise for its mood, gameplay, and sophisticated grasp of moral ambiguity (which is not the same as having a badass antihero in the lead).

Ico is also a sophisticated game, though it must be said right up front that it's somewhat flawed as, well, a game. A little too much emphasis is put on action and fighting, a focus which the game's combat system simply cannot support. Often you'll be forced into confrontations with shadow demons, lengthy clashes that are rendered utterly annoying by the fact that you're given exactly two moves to use, a pair of attacks that counter the two or so stratagems employed by the enemy. And especially in the first half of the game, when you have only a stick to fight with, these monotonous skirmishes last forever, and have a way of popping up when you least want them - my eyes rolled whenever I heard enemies slithering nearby, pulling the emergency brake on the game.

Luckily, such problems aren't quite enough to dim Ico's luster. It's basically a stripped-down graphic adventure game, one with no onscreen interface whatsoever, and an inventory limited only to what your character can realistically carry in his arms. There are only three characters in the game (save for what's seen in the opening cinema), and very little dialogue. The story concerns your character, the titular Ico, a young boy born with horns on his head and thus taken to a remote castle upon his twelfth birthday for the purposes of human sacrifice. The castle is vast, mysterious, and long ago fallen into disrepair, so Ico manages to escape, eventually encountering a slightly older girl named Yorda who wields a curious magic tied to the castle's operation. Together, the two of them try to find a way out of the castle, though the evil Queen who runs the place isn't keen on the idea.

The accomplishment of Ico is twofold and connected: the game is all about escaping the castle, which means observing every detail and making every effort to gather a sense of the place, and that's really handy considering that most of the game's storytelling is pulled off through implication, details left sitting around. The castle is quite intuitively designed, puzzles naturally flowing from one room to the next; you'll get to see all of that castle, and even learn how the damn place works by the end of the game. Everything is carefully positioned so that all of the pulling of boxes and climbing of walls seems natural to the game's flow - this attention to detail even extends to the relationship between Ico and Yorda, who stick together for most of the game without talking. Why? Because they speak different languages, of course, and so it's only natural that they'd communicate in mainly the yelps and gestures that make the gameplay so easygoing.

And that gameplay - to the extent of the primary activity of puzzle-solving - is smooth as silk. Ico can run and climb almost anywhere. However, he cannot at first wield the magic that can open certain paths, so he needs Yorda with him to get anywhere. Yorda is not controlled by the player, can hardly do anything by herself, and much of the real challenge of the game thus surrounds your finding ways to make the castle's many paths simple enough for Yorda to either traverse by herself or at least get dragged through by you without too much fuss. Oh yes, much of the game is spent literally grabbing Yorda's arm and pulling her through the game. And needless to say, if you leave her alone for too long, shadow demons will swoop in and capture her and it's game over (as my brother remarked upon observing bits of the game going on, "I guess they're not shooting for a lot of female appeal here, eh?").

Sometimes you can sense the gears turning in the designers' heads. At certain points Yorda's getting captured is used as an obvious crutch to prevent you from straying too far from the path the designers want you to stick to - it's essentially a more elegant way of having your character bump up against an invisible wall at the edge of the finished game field. I can think of at least one moment where I solved a puzzle not by acting in any logical manner, but by simply 'reading' the positioning of certain items and acting in the way I'd expect a game designer would want me to act - breaks the fourth wall, but adventure games are at heart a battle of wits between the player and the designers anyway. And Ueda and crew utterly have their wits about them much of the time, the puzzles not too hard (I solved the game in about 8 hours without consulting any hints) but not a cakewalk either, not to mention always used as a means of conveying to the player the world of the game.

The graphics of Ico are quite lovely, hardly dulled at all in impact considering they're half a decade old. I can't tell you how important the look and feel of a 'world' is to a game fixated on unraveling every secret of a single environment - Ico always draws you in, inviting you to track the paths of the castle, gaze upon the light-drenched beauty of its subtle rot, and understand its very bones. If there's any feeling Ico gives off, it's ominous loveliness; if only Ico and Yorda could slow down even more and just be at peace with the power of the castle. But the ruin goes far too deep for that.

I mentioned that there's a lot of storytelling through implication here. It's not just the puzzles you need to pay attention to, it's the tenor of the voices of Yorda and the Queen in the few moments when they talk (amusingly, not only does the Queen hold all the cards as ruler of the castle, but she's even master of communication since she's the only one in the game fluent in both Ico's and Yorda's tongues), and the hallways Ico's villagefolk carry him through in the very beginning. You'll never know exactly why Ico is being sacrificed, in that the game never comes out at tells you, but you can make a very good guess by the penultimate fighting scene where several major revelations are sitting right in front of you to observe, if you care to see (it's telling that said action scene is one of the only really effective ones in the game). The same goes for Yorda's true relationship with the Queen, not to mention the particulars of why the castle is falling apart, why the Queen doesn't just up and kill you herself, why you just happen to find a very powerful weapon sitting around near the end - what seem like gameplay limitations (and, truth be told, that's exactly what they are) are neatly tucked away as part of the story, a
marvelous integration of not only puzzle solving but the very limits of puzzle solving into the plot's subtle flow.

Truly, this serves as a fine game for study, one of the few games I can think of where a second playthrough is warranted simply by the opportunity to admire how Ueda and company put the damn thing together. There's no other replay premiums (those wound up in the more complete Japanese/European version, which also added a 2 player mode and some revised, tougher puzzles), not even a cinema-viewing theater. You've got to see it all in play, in the game where it belongs. You might not even notice that the last fifteen or so minutes of gameplay is actually a recreation of the opening cinema, in all the same locations, but with Ico no longer as captive, but as rescuer. That's the kind of sly nothing-goes-to-waste aesthetic Ueda is shooting for, and it's worth pouring over again, despite its flaws. He even slips in a wonderful, playable epilogue, one that stands in clever contrast to the rest of the game in both its visual style and gameplay thrust.

It's the kind of sensitivity to presentation and smart interactive storytelling that's rarely seen in most current games (not that I'm an expert). I can see why that cult got so enthusiastic, this game from 5 years ago just as fresh a time in 2006 as when I bought the damn thing.


Oh look, the internet is working now.

*52 Dept: For those keeping track - Ralph Dibny putting a gun to his head and later scolding Booster Gold for a solid quarter-issue? Not fun. Ralph Dibny hiding in the bushes or something to accost minors while screaming “They stole my WEDDING RING!” and ripping away collectible Superman promotional buttons that seem to spontaneously expand in circumference when touched by a human hand? Fun. The big laughs came with Ralph’s weak “…oh my god… how old are you?” excuses following the attack - c’mon Elongated Man, I know they were wearing hoodies but whichever of this issue’s four credited artists drafted the sequence did you no favors by drawing them like grade schoolers in that establishing panel. Luckily, other plot elements, like the Sue revival doll, are more consistently entertaining, if only because the whole Full Bible Church of Character Revival thing keeps reminding me of something I’d see in X-Statix.

But the real point this issue is Batwoman Begins - it takes up 15 out of 20 pages, and mostly amounts to a typical superhero introduction issue with some of the exposition ends filed off. The notion of the Question driving around a van filled with files on prominent conspiracies is a great one, but it’s kind of the only flavor we get in the sequence, unless you count Montoya’s immediate sexualization of Gotham’s new female superheroine (“…that’s a Batwoman” declares Montoya in a panel prominently displaying the new sensation’s rear-end, not to be confused with the panel displaying her rear-end and breasts at the same time), which instantly casts a ‘ha ha, lesbians!’ light on the proceedings, not that the pre-introduction hype seemed to amount to much more anyway. And regardless of the characters' sexual orientations, the cheesecake served up tastes not unlike what I've had before.

And of course, we bid a fond farewell to Donna and her History of the DCU, which seemed in the beginning to at least possess some utility in keeping newish readers filled in on the most pertinent universe-shaking shitstorms the new reality could conjure as canon, but it quickly descended into a grievous morass of summary with neither utility nor (more importantly in 40 pages of talking about other comics) enthusiasm. The ending does connect into the framing sequence of Brave New World, hinting at yet another universe quake on the horizon (hell, it might be the megaplot of 52 for all I know). And the Monitor didn’t even break anything with his entrance! He should have batted that floating orb right out of the way - 'This reality shall have its exposition handled by… the Monitors!' Cue closing theme. Fade to black.

*San Diego Dept:

- All the New Line horror titles have now been announced for Wildstorm (Snakes on a Plane is apparently part of the line, by the way). Only The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has an artist, Wesley Craig. A break from Avatar’s style is strongly implied, as editor Ben Abernathy says they’ll be getting “away from the ‘slasher-gorefest’ [the films] each became in later franchise editions.” Call me crazy, but that description only strikes me as fitting the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, since Friday the 13th was always a sort of low-rent slasher machine, and A Nightmare on Elm Street was initially quite a ‘gorefest,’ albeit an effectively disturbing one. Be sure to scan the whole article for an amusing disclaimer at the end, its very presence suggesting a much deeper story bubbling underneath.

- Sort of wish I could have seen this. It went on for an hour and a half?

- In somewhat related news - Grant Morrison: whimsical jackanapes or Scottish pride crusader? Read the comments, and ponder.

- I’ll probably look into Marvel’s planned special release of the ‘lost’ Fantastic Four #102, a Lee/Kirby story that apparently wound up shelved in the midst of the pair’s deteriorating working relationship, pieces of which later got ripped up and inserted into #108 in true Roger Corman nothing-goes-to-waste fashion. Kirby completed pencils for a full issue, though, and Marvel is now going to get some inks and colors on it and have Stan Lee dialogue it anew. Note how careful editor Tom Brevoort is in detailing the recompense paid to the Kirby Estate (and Lisa Kirby, who’s also tied up in the decidedly less appealing Jack Kirby’s Galactic Bounty Hunters project at the moment); clearly Marvel is aware of potential arguments, even going so far as to conceptualize the project as a sort of educational piece, complete with an essay and the complete published FF #108 included for illumination’s sake. I’m more interested in how Marvel plans to balance the old and the new in ‘completing’ the work for publication.

- Really wishing I could have seen this. I haven’t been able to find any transcripts or recordings around. Anyone?

- Oh hey, did Bandai license Hideaki Anno’s Cutey Honey live-action movie (based on the manga/anime creation of Go Nagai) for a R1 release ? I didn’t know until now.

- Joes Casey & Kelly, Steven T. Seagle, and Duncan Rouleau have all been blogging live from the floor via Active Images' Man of Action blog. Special guests also stop by for words of wisdom.

- The Eisners got handed out. It’s the usual sprinkle of neato surprises (Geof Darrow for Best Writer/Artist!) and curious puzzlers (I’d have put money on at least one of those many Warren Ellis projects getting something, and I’d have lost it all), kneaded into a doughy mass of picks that even if I hadn‘t predicted myself still somehow resonate with familiarity. Astonishing X-Men over Fell for Best Continuing Series? I guess. Solo #5 (Darwyn Cooke) over Promethea #32 for Best Single Issue? Not too knockabout. I didn't notice until now that Best Reality-Based Work managed to wrangle in single books, an open-ended series, and an unfinished closed-ended series under its purview - might have made for a few interesting considerations, though the voters' support of the Kyle Baker and the half-done Nat Turner is evident, even if not enough to bump it over another unfinished closed-ended work, Seven Soldiers, in the more constrained Best Limited Series arena.

- And finally, while I couldn't say that Oni's scoring the license to My Name Is Earl moved me too much, I'm totally up for the official comics adaptation of Stephen Colbert’s Alpha Squad 7: Lady Nocturne: A Tek Jansen Adventure. Or it might not be an adaptation at all. Not a lot of info. Still, take that, Freddy and Jason...


Tomorrow Never Knows

Casanova #2

Apparently there was some sort of distribution foul-up, and certain stores didn’t get their copies of this second issue of the Matt Fraction/Gabriel Bá series, the first one in its official Fell-inspired 16 pages for $1.99 format. Consider this a pre-release review if you haven’t got the chance to buy it yet, but definitely buy it when you can, because this series no less fine the second time around.

Last issue’s extended length led to success in several flavors, the most immediately pertinent of which suggested that the density of the story could handily loan the abridged length of subsequent issues a feeling of fullness, of a good long read going down regardless of actual page count. Such potential is fulfilled here; I strongly doubt anyone will notice that the story they're reading is actually six pages shorter than average, so stuffed full of matter are the pages they do get. Sometimes Fraction almost sweats to include more info, certain panels relegated to providing only a character head spewing out lines and lines of text - luckily, the technique is doled out at enough of a natural pace that it seems more an integral part of the book's total style than it might in less sensitive hands.

And surely Fraction seems to be sensitive to most aspects of the book's presentation: among the backmatter extras are a full set of annotations for the issue you've just read (albeit without any page numbers directly cited). A lot of references are revealed, influences explained, themes set forth, tales of conception told, deleted sequencs described - it's quite a treat for those interested in delving deeper. But Casanova still manages to leave room for reader consideration, blanks to be filled in - one gets the feeling that Fraction understands that creations such as this are prone to affirmng alternate views of what's happening, since that's the way characters take on a life apart from their creators, a theme of this very issue.

The plot concerns Casanova's infiltration of a remote love robot production facility, powered by raw sex energy in th very air, to remove a deep-cover E.M.P.I.R.E. operative that's actually in charge of the place. The spy, an Agent Heath, has been in the shit for 15 years, and has also found the time to self-publish a 333-issue comic book series regarding the adventures of a fictionalized version of himself and espousing his personal philosophies, the lead character killed in the final issue - the creator has possibly gone mad somewhere along the way, obsessed with the interface between creator and creation, and reacts very badly indeed to being asked to leave his personal world and face the opinions of a wider society that feels it still has authority over him. And laid out that way, it all seems obvious - "Ah, Fraction's doing a Dave Sim riff."

Except, I can't really say he is. There's certainly aspects of Agent Heath that are reminiscent of Sim, little bits and pieces of information that strike me as very pertinent. And yet, Fraction seems unconcerned with providing any sort of spoof so much as blending different ingredients into what can primariy work as a cohesive story with an original character, one that participates in forwarding themes that resonate in the strata of the book's own universe. Concerns beyond that universe are kept minor, little Easter Eggs to pick up on. "Fusing all these little things together to see what the new shapes look like on the other side." So says the writer in thos annotations, Sim not mentioned at all, though Fraction does note that some of the book's references "...don't lead to anywhere, the same way that using, like, a Lee 'Scratch' Perry sample in a beat doesn't mean anything other then - hey, cool sound." If Fraction even was thinking of Dave Sim, the final book quite determinedly wants nothing to do with such real-world material other than blending it into a wider view of Big themes.

So it goes with just about everything, including another bit of bonus material, excerpts from Agent Heath's comics accompanied by a critique from some unknown reader. At one point there's a Seijun Suzuki homage, which is duly explained to be a Seijun Suzuki homage, and used for mainly the purpose of peering into Agent Heath, the character's head. Explaining him a bit. It is thus doubly amusing that the theme of the issue concerns how a creator can't really know his or her own creations, whether they be parents relating to their children, developers leading around their robots, or comics artists itching to destroy or be destroyed by their own characters. Agent Heath can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality (or maybe he can, and the fantasy world he's designed has merely abrogated the need for a straight world's agenda), but he knows that creations have a way of getting away from the people who'd you'd think would know them best. The death of the author made brutally literal.

And in the back of the comic, Fraction's annotations fittingly strive to explain, as much as any author really can.

There's a lot of fun stuff going on that doesn't relate to the main theme, of course, like the occasional bit of industry snark (Casanova, dismissing an art form: "The last comic I read, there was a lot of rape and crying. Kinda harshed by boner for fun, you know?"), or the naked fight scenes (about 1/5 of the book passes without anyone wearing anything, which I generally consider a plus), and the great sense of play artist Bá brings to everything. I could swear that the design on that floating Ruby thing is meant to be viewed successfully either upside-down or rightside-up, in the manner of something out of a Gustave Verbeek strip. The action is particularly sleek, though the whole approach is bouncy enough that it effectively takes some edge off of the book's content compression, as if to silently declare that no book this stylized could be too heavy for anyone. It works.

But more than that is working in this series. As a patchwork, it's only getting more fascinating in its drive to meld countless bits of creative periods into action stories about Time and Creation. Nothing specific, no real critique of individual works. Just the endless cascade of experience with entertainment that many of us feel throughout our lives, sewn into a Big Picture. How many pieces of prior action make up a present culture? How might swarms of different stimuli produce new buzzings in a people? Casanova opts only to look toward that grand finale of summarized recontextualization, every particular welcome to contribute. How should Paco Rabanne or the Beatles or Wilhelm Reich know what their stuff would be doing in comics? Nobody ever knows, and this book's ok with that. What is old and new, simply is.


Some stretchy stuff.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe #3 (of 3)

So yeah, the hardcover compilation of this series is supposed to be due out in October (though I didn't see it in Marvel's October solicitations); plenty of time for bookstores to give their Halloween displays thorough consideration, if the book shows up. Just in case anyone was still wondering why we’re wrapping a literary horror miniseries from Marvel in the dead heat of summer.

Steve Bissette, he of many a comics tome and film critique, has posted his own review of issue #1 up at Panel to Panel (you’ll need to click the Reviews tab) - you can tell he’s aiming for a somewhat more general audience, as he takes time out to explain exactly what a MAX book is, but he hardly skimps on the details of artist Richard Corben’s background with the horror genre and Poe in particular, even whipping up a few nice comparisons. It’s a good, informative piece, particularly fascinating in its suggestion of Corben working from different horror traditions in his different periods of Poe adaptation, the earlier fidelity of one version of The Raven (created for Warren) giving way to a new allegiance with the drive-in fuel of Roger Corman, another prominent tapper of Edgar Allan’s veins.

This final issue is no less a ‘return the speaker to its original position before exiting the grounds’ experience, transmogrifying verse and prose into grimy little shockers. Obligatory ghoulish host Uncle Deadgar (yeesh) notes that this issue bears a theme of love, though I’m at a loss as to how some of this material could possibly fit into that particular box without the most warping of contortions - there’s really no connecting fabric at all to bind the three shorts presented here, save for the most obvious aspect of all these stories being drawn by Corben and based on Poe. That’s enough for me, it’s worth mentioning.

So first we have Izrafel, a mutation of Poe’s Israfel - an expectedly vague rumination on vain mortal longing for a heavenly state of beauty - into a direct-to-dvd tale of rapsploitation pistol skirmishing among hip-hop stars. Somehow, an echo of Poe’s original theme slips through the cracks, though (as Bissette notes) the star is always Corben, every page a stanza in a sequential poem of blood and ravishingly chunky sound effects, absurd details like a circus clown popping into the smoky urban milieu. I've not seen Corben's work on the prior MAX series Cage, though I wonder if the vivid style here isn't a bit of a throwback to that earlier Marvel work, going on what I've heard of it.

Such tone is kept going in the next story, The Happiest Day, an even less solidified Poe consideration of the passing and souring of happy times, twisted into the saga of a class reuinion school shooting, a nerd's only nice memory (buying comics with his best pal, of course!) constantly smothered by its terrible surroundings. Corben's work with facial expressions here is excellent (even though everyone's way too old for a 10 year reunion), and he adds an interesting dimension to his adaptation by inserting a pair of 'blank' stanzas - pages devoted entirely to silent shooting and mayhem with no direct Poe material - to add extra anticipation to the final page/stanza drawn from the original work.

So is the true theme of this last issue modern anxieties? The scratching of (pop) cultural itches in homage to the widely-cast brooding of the good Edgar Allan? No sir - as it's always been in this series, our eyes travel wherever Poe and writers Rich Margopoulos & Rick Dahl demand prefer go, and Berenice closes the series with a final cornball throwback to the extra 'spooky' contemporary renderings of classic tales of a pulpy comics past. Now our narrator is telling his tale to the police! And he's a dentist (which is why he fixates on teeth)! And he's into drugging his cousin to bring on her trances! A few scary visions later, and all we're missing is a gasp 'n choke from the fuzz upon the final horrid reveal, and maybe a few lame puns from Uncle Deadgar to close the curtain.

Pure camp, but a fitting end for a miniseries of this kind, Corben placing an officer's bald spot in prime viewing position as we chortle ourselves done. Those teeth are scattered to and fro about the floor, just like the stories themselves, but can't you just love their white and ghastly spectrum?

Gumby #1

And just to follow all that up, Gumby. A new series from Wildcard Ink, seemingly released to celebrate the Art Clokey-created clayboy's 50th anniversary, though I don't think I'm stretching it too much to note that most Direct Market denizens are going to show up due to the creative team: writer Bob Burden (of Flaming Carrot Comics) and artist Rick Geary (of A Treasury of Victorian Murder), both of whom share only the simplified credit of Story without further compartmentalization. And isn't the 'story' of comics indeed inseparable from the visuals?

Still, if we're to fall back upon specific tasks, Carrot fans will be pleased to know that this is very much a Bob Burden script we're getting here. And not just in terms of silliness; actually, the absurdity here is slightly less overt than it is in any given Carrot comic I can think of, though we do get some odd superheroes dropping in to talk about the dangers of driving a car with toast on your antenna and so on. There's also the familiar Burden jabs as corporate homogenization (a little girl marvels over a land of imagination: "I don't see any Target stores or...") and undue pacifism (a cowardly cop flees the scene of a crime yowling "Violence only begets more violence!").

But even after that, there's a side of the writer I've not seen since the Carrot himself returned: the melancholic Burden. This is a fun little all-ages comic, but there's an unmistakable hint of sadness about it: the plot, after all, ultimately concerns young Gumby's education in how life sometimes just isn't fair, and how good deeds aren't always rewarded, even in a magic land of fun. "And a little boy has the first pang of a feeling he's never felt before." Indeed. It's similar in flavor to those old Carrot bits where he'd wander around rusty steel factories spitting out poetry for a few pages, or some of the more bittersweet issues of Mysterymen Comics, though don't misunderstand: Gumby still has faithful Pokey, and he does save the day from evil circus clowns who burn down a minimart in an attempt to shoplift booze and smokes. It's not too far removed from that old Robot Rumpus episode where our heroes destroy crazy automatons and put their heads on pikes, if I recall correctly.

Geary's art is really nice, a fine, pliable look that's enhanced by the colors of Steve Oliff & Lance Borde into the same sort of tasty display as those old foodmaking clay playsets that would have you salivating over the faux hamburgers. And there's 33 pages of story for your $3.99, so you get a goodly amount of space to watch Gumby and Pokey meet a new girl in the neighborhood, run into assorted antagonists and supporting characters, visit the fair, dance for food, transform into things, and otherwise engage in Gumbyish activities. Very low-key, but appealing. More than anything it makes you wonder where Burden is planning on going with this series, and whether the men pulling lions out of their pants will eventually overpower the bits with Gumby playing with trains in his basement and avoiding girl cooties. It's a little strange to think that as unssuming a book like this is capable of going pretty much anywhere, but there you go. Like Pokey says, "Don't worry, Kimo Sabe, we can figure it all out tomorrow!"


Animal Instincts

*Adaptation Dept: Apparently, Frank Miller is writing and directing a feature film based on The Spirit. Something tells me it and Darwyn Cooke’s upcoming comics-format revival will not be birds of a feather. “It will be much scarier than people expect,” warns Miller in Variety, all but kicking the door open for ten thousand I’m the goddamn Spirit jokes in the immediate future. I’m sure there’ll be at least a thousand whispered at Comic-Con, where there’ll be a panel featuring the ‘official’ announcement.

*And speaking of movies and Frank Miller, here’s a trailer for something called Renaissance; it’s a new French mo-cap animated film, the feature debut for director Christian Volckman, already picked up for a September limited US release by Miramax, and plainly resembling a certain prior film Miller co-directed. In fact, the first I’d heard of it was when Entertainment Weekly gave it a quick blurb in their new issue (#887), noting “Sin City should’ve looked like this.” The influence is obvious - I’ve read there’s some spot color work too - though the smoothed-over character faces (note how most of the movement in everyone’s expressions wind up being conveyed via eyes and mouth on an otherwise seemingly still countenance) and the emphasis on shooting action put me primarily in the mind of “I’d sure like to play this as a video game” rather than “Reserve my bus ticket to NYC now!” Still, might be something.

Elephantmen #1

Your first clue that creator/writer/letterer Richard Starkings is founder of a lettering/design service provider? All of the fonts used in this book, a new ongoing series from Image, are individually credited, by name. And available for ordering - it’s not just love, it’s business.

Amusingly, not as much specificity in credit is lavished upon the actual talents behind the book - the total package is simply credited to Starkings and ‘Moritat’ (actual name: Justin Norman), with the name of (José) Ladrönn laid down on the book’s two covers, to signify his own contribution to those flippable first impressions. Such a relaxed attitude is understandable after reading through the issue, though; everything between those covers resonates with a personable, idiosyncratic feel. One of the bonus features, for instance, is a two-page interview with Ladrönn concerning his relationship with his father, a Mexican shoemaker, and his childhood hanging around in the family store. There is little connection with anything going on in the book, save for the belief that the reader would like to become a little closer to the people involved. We are told that the sequential art content of any given issue will fluctuate, presumably depending on what everyone thinks is needed, though the total story page count will never drop below 22 - no need to get too rigid with these things. Same goes for whoever the main character will be, month to month; whoever is needed. This issue has two stories, a total of 26 pages for $2.99.

There are more extras: Starkings explains everyone’s role in a two-page essay in the back (Ladrönn, for instance, is also in charge of all character designs), along with his influences, his philosophy for the series, and even the property’s prior publishing history. In case you didn’t know, this book is a spin-off of the Active Images-published Hip Flask series, which has apparently been retroactively dubbed a five-issue miniseries, judging from Starkings’ comments. Unless this was announced before and I simply forgot - three issues of that book have been released since 2002, with Ladrönn as lone artist and Joe Casey offering occasional scripting assistance, though that ‘main’ series’ release schedule is so spotty that this spin-off is all but predestined to replace its parent in Direct Market primacy.

But enough about publishing - what about that philosophy? Starkings mentions as his aim “filling a series of comic books full of implausible ideas and impossible characters” and delights over the idealized vision of heroes who “carry their strength and motivation inside” and don’t resort to killing. And indeed, this first issue does sport all of the absurdity readers have come to expect from a Hip Flask book: the plot of the 22-page main story, See the Elephant, concerns an anthropomorphic trenchcoat-clad proboscid named Ebony wandering the neon urban sprawl of 2259 and getting chatted up by a sweet little girl, flashbacks to the man-beast’s personal history as a genetically-engineered killer duly evoked. Yes, there are sequences of a giant humanoid elephant tromping around North Africa in military gear, firing a huge automatic weapon at screaming tribal folk as Moritat adopts a nice Frank Miller/Lynn Varley look of jutting limbs and rich colors. There’s also the inevitable present-day concerns of adults smothering childlike innocence and hope springing eternal and all that - Starkings is an able enough dialogue writer, though he’s evidently uninterested in evading familiar sentimentality.

But none of that really conveys the particular pleasure that comes from Elephantmen, and indeed all of the Hip Flask comics I’ve read (so, all four). It’s not just the silly concepts and the emotionalism and the pretty art, it’s the unfettered drive of it all that really counts, the sheer sincerity that Starkings and company brings to a comic about humanoid hippos and rhinos traipsing around the noir future and confronting their past as soldier-killers; forget about the simple concept being implausible and impossible, it’s the way these concepts are executed that gives rise to the true boggle, particularly when Ladrönn is lavishing every page with as much grimy detail as one could never possibly imagine working in a comic about an animal detective with a punny name. Moritat here does not deviate much from the established parameters, though he brings a somewhat looser, more flexible cartoon line to the table, and gets some decent mileage out of using somewhat garish color textures to convey the artificiality of the futurist setting.

And yet, not only is the total effect pleasing, it never quite blunders into the trap that’s ensnared some recent superhero comics (and a movie): the bathos of misplaced 'sophistication,' some spandex-kissed sentinel brooding over politics or betrayal or suffering to little discernible reader/viewer benefit, and to the detriment of the storytelling on the whole. Quite a trick, considering that I'm writing about a comic featuring a giant biped elephant attempting suicide by hanging himself with a length of chain - perhaps Starkings and company have effectively insulated themselves from too much trouble by merely devising a concept that drops every story beyond the border of Silly. Peter Parker (just to toss out a random hypothetical) seriously trying to kill himself might give the reader pause to wonder if this whole thing isn't distasteful, but a talking elephant doing the same instantly slaps the reader in the face with how loopy it is, effectively covering for that queasy wave of dissonance.

Or maybe it's just the unpretentious sense of fun that snakes through everything, often laying lower than one would expect from a self-appointed 'implausible' comic, but always there. The four-page back-up story on the flip side, Just Another Guy Named Joe, is barely a vignette of walking life in a human/animal city, but happily prods at city tensions all the while, a mad-as-hell human spouting brash internal vinegar regarding those damned Unhumans, then getting comically nervous when he actually encounters the peaceable Hip Flask (rhinoceros for hire!) by chance. Not a perfect allegory - after all, the Unhumans seem to be uniformly larger and stronger than any type of human - but the play of it all is tantalizing enough that you don't mind as much as you could. That goes for the book as a whole, a nice start.