News You Can Use

*Manga Previews Dept: Ah, excellent. Totally unexpected, and all the more excellent for it.

Courtesy of David Welsh, it looks like Last Gasp has licensed Fumiyo Kouno’s wonderful single-volume Yuunagi no machi; Sakura no kuni, and are releasing it in November under the English title Town of evening calm, Country of cherry blossoms. This one did the rounds in scanlation form a while back, though I think only 2/3 of it was ever translated. It’s a suite of stories set in various 20th century time periods, dealing with illness and Hiroshima and sweet childish dreams and creeping death - some really moving, beguiling storytelling here, with gentle, evocative art capable of shifting from sunny, almost bigfooted artistic play to nightmare visions of sketchbook corpses choking rivers while a pair of nice kids kiss. Only $9.99, and I absolutely commend it to you.

In other news, it seems that Tanpenshu Vol. 1 (of 2), Dark Horse’s collection of short stories by Hiroki Endo (of Eden: It’s an Endless World!) , is set to come out in January. From the looks of the solicitation text there’s going to be three stories, two of which appear to be The Crows, the Girl, and the Yakuza, and For Those of Us Who Don’t Believe in God. The former is a very fine piece of lyrical, gore-spattered, gunpowder-burnt genre comics, and the latter is a decently insightful if slightly sitcommy look at young folks in a theater troupe. I hope it’s out on time!

*And since I’m in the mood for snapping up the links of others, Justin J. Fox alerts us to a new Brendan McCarthy interview, this one entirely focused on Solo #12, which I loved. If you loved it too, you’ll really want to read this, since McCarthy gets deep into the personal significance behind some of the symbols used, as well as his thoughts on what the book ought to represent as a comic in 2006; at times it’s practically a set of annotations for the book. Plus: lots of good stuff on the artist’s collaborative nature, frank comments about the parts of the issue McCarthy felt just didn’t work, and even a few hints at possible future projects - oh how I’d love to see that Spider-Man/Dr. Strange story, but yeah, this man needs his Eightball!

Interesting to hear a little more of McCarthy’s dreams for a UK comics anthology featuring all the best; I kind of feel that the original A1 filled that role for a while back in the day. I mean god, over the course of six issues - Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Jamie Hewlett, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, John Bolton, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Simon Bisley, Kevin O'Neill, Bryan Talbot, Glenn Fabry, D'Israeli, Philip Bond, James Robinson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins… Brendan McCarthy. That’s a lineup to kill for today, and I’m not even counting North Americans like Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Chadwick, Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner, Charles Vess, Michael T. Gilbert, Michael Kaluta, Bob Burden, Dean Motter, Ted McKeever, and many more. Sure, not all of them worked on full-length short stories, but it's still pretty amazing.

I think McCarthy's vision for BUGGER, SNIKT! (the name of which ought to be kept) is a bit more in line for serialized bigish works by a variety of top names, but I'd still buy the Christ out of it.


Hey, who woke me?

*Boy did I collapse in a heap last night. Anyway, there’s this post, then one later on tonight, so stay tuned to your internet machines, True Believers! And we’ll never know there'd been a delay once the trade is out.

Batman #657


Marc Singer has an interesting take on this one, the third part of four in writer Grant Morrison’s Batman & Son storyline; basically, Batman’s apparent biological child Damian (*groan*) is acting as a cruel mirror to our current Caped Crusader, all angst and venom and restlessness and cruelty and pure infernal drive. Basically, he’s a vision of Batman’s past, and not just ‘our Batman when he was a boy,’ as Alfred seems to suggest, but the grim, angry, sociopath Batman that once ran rampant through the comics; indeed, Damian is thus the Batman that Morrison, by his own assertion, set out to satirize in Arkham Asylum (obviously the success of that effort is up for grabs - to my mind, Morrison’s storytelling obfuscations served more to bolster the characterization he apparently loathed, and heaven knows Dave McKean’s artwork didn’t help the message, even as it rescued the aesthetics). An interesting take, and I’d add that Morrison is also inserting a bit of himself: Damian proves in this issue that he’s just as resourceful a plan-ahead type as the Morrisonian Batman from the pages of JLA.

Thus, while Damian’s boyish enthusiasm threatens to push Batman right back into the pit of anger (love that bit with Batman, having finally lost his patience, roaring “PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE!”), tying the conflict smoothly into Morrison’s opening everything-must-change volley of headshots and dumpster-diving, the possibility is left open that the young man might also grow up into something better. He won‘t just yet, what with dumping poor Robin off right off the head of a dinosaur in the Batcave, sending him tumbling into the glass case housing Jason Todd’s old costume, then prancing around in the top half of Jason’s old uniform, just in case things were getting too subtle. Will it take a new Joker to challenge this little hellion (hmmm), or will Batman put to rest another dark bit of the past? Now that most of the old villains are gone, it’s time to battle tougher things. Plus, I really hope that this means the only established villains Morrison is planning to use are D-listers like the Spook, whose villainous opposition to urban development is pretty hilarious, even as the conversation between his ‘henchmen’ seems old hat.

And on that note, it’s kind of unfortunate that this isn’t all that well executed a comic, truth be told. It’s not just penciller Andy Kubert (inked by Jesse Delperdang), though I did have to read through this issue's confrontation in the underground more than once just to fathom the mechanics of it; I guess the henchmen were following slowly behind the Spook while chatting, then trouble happened while they were in the antechamber to the hostage room, then Batman burst out of the hostage room to the rescue, though somehow Damian arrived between the time the goons lost sight of the Spook and Batman arrived to find the hostages? Suffice to say, all of this isn’t very well conveyed by the visuals, which make it look like Batman is sauntering in out of nowhere to develop a crucial kick. I did get the gist of the sequence, at least. On a more surface level, I’m just not a fan of Kubert’s character designs, which I expect colors some of my reaction.

But Morrison’s page-by-page plotting is also jumpy in a way that suggests it’s probably attempting to provide a compressed, speedy experience, though it feels a bit more like about half an issue’s worth of augmenting sequences have somehow gone missing. Sure, we don’t have to have an All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder style ride to the Batcave in which Our Hero and his new charge shoot the breeze for a long while, but veering wildly from ‘Batman and Damian have met’ to ‘trouble with Robin and Alfred’ to ‘oh man, maybe I do respect father after all’ to ‘that boy is too rough with crime’ to ‘time to replace you, Boy Blunder’ (not actual line) to an inferred ‘oh god please daddy accept me as yours’ makes it seem like we’re getting more of a comics-format outline or perhaps an extensive series of excerpts than a fleshed-out story. Hopefully everyone’s not going to confront Talia next issue; I can see this being a genuinely nice hook for Morrison to hang his entire run on, and the basics of Damian’s characterization are pretty good.

It gets better as it goes along, that’s for sure. Morrison’s Batman is steadily getting interesting, and surely I prefer Morrison’s grasp of superhero soap opera to the laborious, soggy approach of Brad Meltzer over in Justice League of America, but it’s still a bit haphazard for my taste.


Kept Short, Full-Sized

52 #21 (of 52)

Oh, 52 editor Stephen Wacker has left DC, in case you haven’t heard. There’s been an easy-going comment or two posted at the link, a real picnic lunch of good vibes all around. Wacker’s issues will extend up past the halfway point.

Actually, I kind of got to wondering why this issue is ‘full-sized’ while the others aren’t - that seems like the sort of thing that would happen in the actual halfway point issue, which is still a few weeks away. It does kind of shine a light on what terms like ‘full-sized’ or whatever mean for a book like 52, since there’s actually only two spare pages to throw around. Maybe a spot just happened to be scheduled in where nobody was realistically available to turn in art for the backup feature, so it was instructed that the main story should just happen to go on a bit longer? That seems feasible to me, as it’s one of the concerns that go into organizing a book like this; or maybe the team just had to roll with unexpected punches, which is another concern. Or hey, maybe everyone agree that this particular issue really needed those extra pages. Regardless, all of this goes into illustrating how important the role of the guiding hand truly is in a unique (for the English Language) series such as this.

Still, since we’re approaching the halfway mark I think I’d like to preliminarily hand out my blue ‘Most Improved Storyline’ ribbon to the ongoing saga of Ralph “No Explanations Necessary” Dibny, whom we spot in this issue have quite inexplicably burst into “The Netherplains” with his new sidekick, Dr. Fate’s Helmet, all decked out in vintage jungle exploration gear, complete with shorts. How does one choose their dress for the Netherplains?

Dr Fate’s Helmet: “Ralph, hurry up! We’ll miss our flight to the Immateria!

Ralph: “Do you think I should pack shorts? I mean, are we going to pass through Hell or anything? I hear it’s hot.”

So what we see in this issue, I think, is pretty much the way to tackle the storyline outside of its most important bits - just keep zipping back to Ralph ever other week or so, engaging in some absurd metaphysical antic or another at another spot in the DC spirit cosmology. For example, this week Ralph needs access to the underworld, so Dr. Fate’s Helmet puts the scary red demonguard to sleep and Ralph rubberizes him with Gingold and literally ties him in a knot. “…you’re going to be forced to listen to the sound of your own bones shattering, splintering and puncturing organs as you slowly stiffen up,” declares Our Hero from behind his droopy mustache, underscoring the clash between patent goofiness and Crazy! that’s given this plot virtually all of its zip. Just to underscore, the sequence then concludes with Ralph bellowing “Shuddup!” and kicking the guard down the steps to the underworld.

All we’re missing is some sort of transition to the ‘real’ world, where we see Ralph has actually been thundering around his outdoor patio and demanding the plants afford him access to Malebolge, and then a panel of Detective Chimp looking on, a single tear running down his cheek. But I think it’s best not to play all the cards so soon, as we’re still not yet halfway through.

Meanwhile, the real focus of this issue is the adventures of Lex Luthor’s terribly generic superhero team, currently the new Infinity, Inc. thanks to some canny acquisitions, a storyline which has at least now incorporated its characters’ generic nature into the plot itself (note the stunned crowd’s inability to tell anyone apart). Not that it makes this thing any less a half-baked reiteration of superheroes-as-stars observations which date back decades now. I am slightly intrigued that Luthor has been recast as, for all intents and purposes, a reality television producer, cruelly fixing lives for his nefarious purposes; I do believe reality television was one of the abandoned concepts that team writer Grant Morrison had planned to use in Seven Soldiers, so it’s possible that some of those concepts are getting a bit of air here, although the jokes are played up a bit too much (way too many panels of Luthor’s reactions at headquarters).

And it’s not that the notion of a corporate body cynically swapping around the lineup of a ‘name’ superhero team they happen to own and then viciously concocting murder schemes to goose public attention through catchy ‘event’ battles isn’t a cute one to exploit in a major DCU series of this sort, it’s just that all it’s amounting to thus far is some corny jokes, a little generic fighting (though Joe Bennett is back on pencils for this issue, so it looks better-than-average for the series), gobs of familiar melodrama, and a guest appearance by the Teen Titans. Yes, Luthor makes a comment about how glad he is that the Teen Titans have shown up to lend his revamped team credibility, but such winking metafictional trickery has gotten old as the hills for Big Two superheroes by now. A bit more will be needed, though I’ll readily say that the storyline is showing an incremental increase in potential now.

And finally - an all-new body for DCU superstar wonder hero Red Tornado!! Who knows how this story will look if extended past two pages at a time...


"Please, Mr. Crow! This is not the time for you to go into one of your long-winded screeds regarding the sand-dollar!"

Sock Monkey: The “Inches” Incident #1 (of 4)

It’s always a treat to get some new Sock Monkey, and this debut issue of the newest miniseries (as ever, from Dark Horse, 19 pages of story, $2.99) does nothing to alter that truism. Just opening the book up to see how writer/artist Tony Millionaire’s ever-lavish art fills the page is sure to sent the constant reader tippling over with joy, not that Sock Monkey has any of the conspicuous consumption of Maakies - though actually, given the plurality of approaches Millionare has explored over the series’ lifespan, it’s become a bit difficult to predict exactly what every new Sock Monkey might bring. But then, that’s half the pleasure of such hand-crafted objects.

This particular miniseries (and from the looks of it right now, it does appear to be a single, continuing story, which isn’t always a given with these comics) arrives drawing heavy inspiration from Millionaire’s own Billy Hazelnuts, his Fantagraphics graphic novel from earlier this year. The art is less heavily realist than Sock Monkey can get, strong on Millionaire’s stylized human figures and lovingly personalized drawings of mighty ships and lapping waves and beasts of the sea. A razor-toothed whale-like leviathan battles a kraken in one sequence, and it’s packed with all the winsome marine stylization one might expect from a vintage comedy adventure strip; I found Billy Hazelnuts (excellent book, by the way) to be reminiscent of the brawling antics of comedic strip action heroes like Popeye, and indeed here we have Millionaire briefly inserting a familiar-looking sailor man into the action, as part of Captain Oyster Joe’s mighty crew - they’re so mighty, that when swallowed by a sea monster they seize control of the beast and use it as a new, organic vessel, their heads peeking out the blowhole to keep their bearings straight.

You’re probably wonder how Sock Monkey fits into any of this, which is fair enough - the premise of various Sock Monkey tales tend to all be slightly different from one another, but all involve the titular animated doll and his stuffed friend Mr. Crow having curiosity-fueled adventures. Here, the boys’ ominous doll friend Inches has inexplicably spirited them off to sea, so they must make due with stealing bits and pieces of things from Oyster Joe’s ship to build a way back home. “Phantoms and specters! It’s enough to set the skin a-crawling…” mutters the superstitious Joe, though everyone eventually runs into some far more tangible trouble to deal with. There's multiple threats, whimsy and creepiness, and all the fine dialogue you've come to expect:

"I've battled mermaids, jellyfish, and giant squid! ...and I'll be hanged from the highest yardarm before I let a haunted toy monkey sail away in my best egg skillet!"

Another very nice comic for you to buy. It even sees the return of the back-up bonus page, which is always a treat. Go and read this.


Time totally conspired against me.

*So what’s the best thing about manga repackaging announcements? Old editions on sale for blowout prices! If, by chance, you haven’t yet obtained Dark Horse’s old trade paperback sized release of the Masamune Shirow series Appleseed (which, I’ll warn you in advance, isn’t finished in Japan and probably never will be), Things From Another World is now blowing out all four volumes at $3.59 each. Shriow is one of those artists that benefits greatly from having his work appear big, so you may want to jump on this before the smaller 2007 re-releases of his library hit, though if you can’t stand seeing things converted to the left-to-right reading format you should keep away.

Shirow is the first manga artist I ever consciously read as ‘manga.’ At the time I was blown away by how different it seemed from Western comics. These days I’m blown away by how different it seems from other Japanese comics.

*Speaking of Never Getting Finished Dept: Seriously though, I’ll be stunned if this shows up in the first financial quarter of 2007. Wha - no, not the Skye Runner variant cover, the one on top.

*Oh god, I'm so strapped. Reviews return tomorrow...


The system is fast like a salty slug.

*Boy I'd better hurry up with


Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #3 (of 4)

Blade #1

The Illustrated Dracula

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #8

I've got to win that bread!

*Thrilling Disc News Dept: Sorry if I’m holding up the post here folks but I simply cannot allow the 5-7 readers of mine who care about this to fall behind - new F.W. Murnau! Yes, the greatest filmmaker of the silent era may have died three quarters of a century ago, but the beauty of heretofore unavailable works hitting the public spotlight is that they’re as good as new to even most of the old movie nerd population, especially when they’ve been restored.

Hence, Flicker Alley’s restored R1 release of 1922’s Phantom, the film Murnau made right after Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror. It’s a stylized psychodrama of desire, that for a good while was feared ‘lost.’ But now it’s up for order, at a special introductory price for another week or so. Flicker Alley is a boutique distributor of silents (this is only their third release since 2002, I believe), so don’t expect to see copies flooding your local retailers; I don’t even know if the usual online places will have it for rent. Literally anything Murnau has done is worth seeing, though.

*Ok, glad that’s off my chest.


The Comics Journal #278: I believe if you’re a subscriber, you’ve already gotten to read this issue online. But anyway, this week has the new hardcopy issue, I do believe the first from new Managing Editor Michael Dean, and the feature interview is Bill Willingham. Also, an extended tribute to Jack Jackson. I’m not in this issue, by the way.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 1 (of 5?): Details are sketchy as to exactly how long this series is, which is fitting since not a lot of people seemed to know when this, Dark Horse’s inaugural English-language volume would be out anyway. From writer Eiji Ohtsuka (of the recently-licensed MPD Psycho) and artist Hosui Yamazaki, it’s about a bunch of Buddhist students who use powers to assist spirits and solve things. Lengthy preview here.

Sock Monkey: The Inches Incident #1 (of 4): Also from Dark Horse comes the latest Sock Monkey miniseries, from creator Tony Millionaire (most recently of the excellent Billy Hazelnuts). There hasn’t been a pamphlet-format miniseries for this thing in a while, the property taking on many diverse forms from illustrated prose to children’s books to the hardcover Uncle Gabby graphic novel; the quality tends to remain very high, though, and it doesn’t look like there’ll be any dip here.

Zombie #1 (of 4): Marvel’s MAX label has risen from the dead several times, so it’s fitting that it now sees its very own horror miniseries set amongst the non-superhero undead. A bank robbery leads into an encounter with flesh-eaters. This interview with writer Mike Raicht has a few preview pics attached. Certainly artist Kyle Hotz seems at home.

Batman #657: A family outing with everyone along.

The Punisher MAX #38: Blood and sand.

Albion #6 (of 6): Wow!

Eternals #4 (of 6): Oh gosh, actually I guess this things counts as a Civil War tie-in, doesn’t it? Kind of unofficially? I’m reading more of these things than I thought. Anyway, Eternals is a bit of an object lesson in how to smoothly integrate ongoing shared-universe business into your own compartmentalized story without disrupting anything too badly, so points to writer Neil Gaiman there. I’m sort of wondering where he’s going with this series, so little ground has seemingly been coved with half the book done already, but I can’t deny it’s been a hell of a lot more successful than 1602 so far - I just hope it doesn’t lunge for the ‘open’ non-ending that’s perhaps beckoning.

52 #21 (of 52): This week sees absolutely nobody fill in the backup slot, since it’s a special full-length saga. A story so big, it took two more pages to tell!

Hawkgirl #56: All good things must come to an end, and so it goes for writer Walter Simonson and artist Howard Chaykin’s universally acclaimed run on this book. Actually, Simonson is sticking around, but it won’t be the same without Chaykin, you know. At least we have this final issue to share, in which I guess a bunch of things will be wrapped up. Hey, I kept reading it!


When is a modern superhero comic not so much a modern superhero comic?

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #8

I haven’t discussed this series is quite a few issues, mainly because the book makes it a point not to leave much to discuss; if ever there’s a current Marvel superhero comic that works overtime to render itself review-proof, it’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Single-minded in its pursuit of laffs and explosions of escalating size, each and every one of the book’s two-issue storylines are somewhat easy to forget about above the din of cheery mayhem. At the conclusion of this issue, the book’s narrator apologizes to the readership for any attempts at character development that might have occurred - it’s funny, but the book seems to mean it through its execution.

This probably isn’t the best way to go in the modern Big Two superhero market.

Glancing at the latest Diamond numbers posted at ICv2 (and accepting the relative uncertainties inherent to such), the prior issue of Nextwave, #7, placed at #95 on the Top 300 charts, with 24,245 copies sold. In other words, it’s selling around or slightly above the level of one of writer Warren Ellis’ creator-owned series (by way of comparison, the most recent issue of Desolation Jones sold 17,369, and issue #5 of the lower-priced Fell moved 19,353, all of this prior to any reorders). This makes a certain amount of sense, as Nextwave is a Warren Ellis book through and through, soaked in his personal brand of humor and detached from the Marvel U at large, enough so that it very well might be functioning in the minds of readers and retailers as a de facto ‘personal’ book for Ellis, the type that tends to rarely sell as well as something like the (Ultimate) universe-established Ultimate Fantastic Four (Ellis’ last issue of which moved 71,478 copies on initial release) or the Event-in-a-bottle stylings of Ultimate Extinction (71,756). Nextwave is maybe too detached from current Marvel goings-on, too blithe in its love for individualistic detonations and yuks - as absurd as it sounds, it’s probably a bit too snappy and fight-happy to function all that well sales-wise as a contemporary Big Two superhero comic, not without a major ‘name’ character at the helm.

And thus, a disposable fight book about high-powered, corporate-owned superheroes who zip around smashing things and cracking jokes becomes not merely displaced from the current Marvel U in terms of story, but in terms of sales. Ellis’ personality is so strong in the book, it seems like the book is truly his (stripped of the benefit of owning the characters, of course), and I wonder if the market is reacting to the series in essentially that way. It will be something to see how the presumably more continuity and plot-point heavy newuniversal will do, having isolated Ellis to play in his own version of a pre-established Marvel universe.

Anyway, this was a good issue of Nextwave, a series that dips and jumps for me. It’s rather easily numbing, or repetitive (the big drawback of as simple a comedy fight book as this one), but the jokes mostly land this time. The villain of this storyline is Rorkannu, one of those cosmic-type evil entities with flames for a head, so needless to say we find out what happens if one of those suckers gets dipped in a toilet. Ellis has kind of relaxed into the use of mighty Marvel tropes, and the book currently seems less nervous about having fun with the sillier corners of the superhero mythos, in that we get to have fun without character constantly, nervously commenting on how silly such things really are instead of just letting them be silly. Rorkannu is an amusingly purple speaker (“I am Rorkannu, Master of the Dim Dimensions -- and you cannot beat me up!” - does anything sum it up better?), also prone to plugging Suicide Girls and cooking up awful golem-like monsters who love to dance and seem curiously interested in emulating human society than completely eliminating it. But it’s futile to look much deeper into anything here, such as the gradually revealed and thoroughly awful childhood of monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone:

You got your question wrong, Ellie. Come to Hate Mother now.”

Need I mention that Stuart Immonen’s art is as sleek as ever, having possibly gotten a bit better at maintaining flow throughout the long, long action sequences that are this book’s forte? I didn’t think so. I wonder if anything needs be said about Nextwave’s content, which tries so hard to be about nothing but surface? It succeeds, but its C-List superhero transparency ironically does it no favors in a market dominated by big heroes, big plotlines, and weighty intents. Its characters parade around as if homeless on the latest released cover, simultaneously voicing their defiance and begging for sweet Event dollars. They’ll have to settle for the upper reaches of Warren Ellis dollars, left to his own devices.


Going into Sunday, I don't have time for anything.

*But somehow, there's always time for pure awesome.

*If you're inspired, the whole series is here.

*It's way better than that 300 trailer that keeps getting put up and taken down and put up again; at least the second half of that promises the film might go apeshit with visual stylization to the point of outright surrealism. Nice plume of blood, and I like that a good chunk of the dialogue seems to be screamed with a manic gleam in the eye, but Christ is that overuse of slow-motion ugly...


The son of Dracul has a few portraits done.

The Illustrated Dracula

Oh, the plight of today’s Jae Lee fan. Sure, Lee might be prepping for his biggest, most visible project ever, that upcoming seven-issue Stephen King miniseries that’s actually written by Peter David, Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born, but we’re going to have to wait until February of 2007 to see the debut of that. And until then - nothing. We’ll get a free giveaway sketchbook thingy next month, sure, but beyond that there’s no comics-related work from Lee in the pipeline for 2006. Not so much as a cover. He’s shackled by the ankle to his drawing board, and there’s apparently no leaving until those last three issues are done. Even Hellshock: The Definitive Edition is on the backburner, though that thing looked to be stuck in some sort of Dynamic Forces staring contest with the American Flagg! hardcover anyway.

But the more devout of Lee’s fans need not despair, as a brand-new project is ready to roll. A real case of something old and something new, on several levels.

The Illustrated Dracula isn’t a new foray into the world of comics for publisher Penguin; their Penguin Classics line has already received much fanfare for the Graphic Classics initiative, assigning various comics folk to design new packaging for one classic work/collection or another. But now Penguin’s Viking Studio is taking things one step further, inviting comics artists to provide interior illustrations for sundry noted works. The first two specimens, this and The Illustrated Jane Eyre (art by Dame Darcy), saw official release just yesterday. New and old.

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is more than just old, or classic, it’s inescapably visible; the material being in the public domain for as long as it has, the title character and the general story outline have never had the opportunity to fade away into the mists of age as so much Victoriana has, and there’s thusly no shortage of cheap editions itching for your vampire dollar. And yet, how many people have actually sat down and read Dracula? It’s always seemed to me that the work itself occupies a unique shadow world of being both absurdly recognizable and somewhat under-read. That’s why it’s all the more important to make a deluxe current edition seem as new as possible - so many have heard of the infamous Count, and many of that many might yet be willing to get pulled into a purchase of the actual source novel, should it look tantalizing enough.

Hence, Jae Lee. So how much Jae Lee do we get?

Well hell, I might as well boil this down into numbers.

Not counting the cover piece, there are an even thirty illustrations, one for each of the book’s twenty-seven chapters (technically, Chapter XV has no illustration and Chapter XVI has two), plus a frontispiece and a concluding two-page image sequence. Of the interior illustrations, four are in color. All of the color illustrations are full-page, but nearly half of the total pieces are actually spot illustrations, thirteen out of thirty. So, often you’ll be flipping through excerpted transcripts of Dr. Van Helsing’s wax cylinder recordings (it's like my day job!), and you’ll suddenly see a wolf or a scary old man peeping out from the binding, and that will be all for the visual art portion of the chapter. Interestingly, the book is heavily front-loaded with full-page images, partially I’m sure because several especially iconic sequences take place near the beginning (the advance of the three vampire women, the bound captain of the Demeter, Renfield eating bugs), but maybe so the book might initially appear to be more lavishly filled with art than it actually is. This is a 400-page tome, nicely designed and breezily laid out (even though the illustrations often anticipate where the text has not yet gone), but there’s little denying that the whole ‘Illustrated’ thing begins to peter out after a while.

What illustrations we get are certainly nice. Lee’s visual approach, fittingly for a new packaging of old material, draws heavy inspiration from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, the famous 1922 pirate adaptation of Stoker’s book, though Lee’s Dracula is a bit more lovely than Murnau’s Orlok, the vampire’s beady red eyes sleepily sensitive, his feasting lips delicate. It’s not a text-perfect rendition - drawing in the vampire’s mustache would spoil the tone - but Lee is prepared to focus his visuals more on iconography anyway, which ties in with the notion of everyone kind of knowing what's in Dracula, even if the details are rarely perfect. Lots of rat ears and claws visible in shadow. An abundance of mist. There is more than one ominous horse. Burning orange behind a blade in the heart. And lots and lots of semi-modern stylishly gothy women dangling crosses from between their lips, bowing or reclining under frequent Lee colorist June Chung’s icy blues, vamping in black. Hell, one of them (in Chapter XXV) strikes a pose that appears to be, shall we say, in homage to an old Hellshock cover (second series, issue #3). I doubt Lee’s fans will mind; this one smiled as if he’d figured something out.

Obviously, if you already own Dracula, I don’t know how much you’d be willing to pay a $21.95 cover price for a short stack of Jae Lee drawings. It's a good-looking book. I mean, beyond the Jae Lee, it's well put together; there's a world of difference between a deluxe presentation of an old book and a bargain bin slap-job, just in terms of word crowding and parsing and the like. At the same time, I think it's a pretty natural reaction to see the term "Illustrated" in the title, and wish there was a lot more. Particularly with as little Jae Lee as we get these days. He's got to retreat back to the Dark Tower, lest the rising sun turn him to dust.

Oh wait. That's not even in this book. See what I mean?


It's freezing.

*When the hell did it get to be forty degrees out at night over here?

*Sorry gang, I have no stunning news from my wild life to regale you with. The biggest thrill of my afternoon yesterday was trying some of Ben & Jerry’s new Black & Tan ice cream, which is supposed to contain, in by far my favorite turn of phrase for the day, “real cream stout ice cream” mixed with chocolate. So, it’s like the ‘real fruit juice flavor’ that goes into the ice pops they give you in grade school then? I tried to look at the ingredients, and I guess it’s the malted milk that does the trick? The final ingredient listed is ‘carrageenan,’ which I think is something that rose out of the sea at the end of the Bible, but I’m probably wrong.

*52 Dept: Well, first things first - Kevin Nowlan is 100% awesome. His two pages in the back are maybe the best two pages this project has seen. His squinty Adam Strange is better than any squinty Adam Strange thus far, and Nowlan’s version isn’t even supposed to be blind. It’s just a really bright day in outer space, and there’s no room for a sun-blocking visor on the helmet of a man of action. I love how Nowlan’s panels are so airy, even though he nails enough of the background details that everything still seems full (just look at the living planet grasping one of those old-style rocket ships). And that last panel with Adam posing for the reader, little Aleea looking as unimpressed as can be, and wife Alanna staring directly at the reader as if to say “yeah folks, that sure was an Adam Strange origin story, wasn’t it?” It was, Alanna.

Elsewhere, in the main story, Supernova busts into the Batcave and totally looks at Batman’s stuff! Then there’s four pages of Steel gratuitously saving people from a burning building and strutting around in the nude, since one or two people were probably wondering what he’s been up to for the last few weeks. Answer: fighting fires without any pants. Then Dr. Kala “Exposition” Avasti bursts in to deliver information to Steel, as is her never-ending mission in this series. Not even concerns of medical privacy will stop this bold crusader, as has already been proven. I’d like her to ride up on a scooter delivering a crucial telegram next time.

That leaves 14 pages of Lobo, Pope of Space (who, not to be outdone, also walks around naked for a while) and his random disciples. I do like this storyline, especially when Sad Religious Dolphin speaks (penciller Chris Batista draws him/her extra sad this time) or fulfils his apostolic duties, like bringing Lobo his pants. He’s kind of the Boo Boo to Lobo’s Yogi, and they’re flying around on the magical ark to learn lessons. There’s an action scene where Animal Man SPROINGs around and Starfire sticks her butt toward the reader’s face a few times before comforting space children in ill-fitting clothes like something out of an '80s Saturday morning cartoon, in space (love the shorthand - floppy clothes equals poverty!). It’s all mildly fun, but mostly treading water. At least the explanation for where the Emerald Eye of Ekron came from was perfectly sensible.


"It Takes One to Kill One" is an awful tag line and I hope it goes away soon.

Blade #1


By the time we reach the obligatory flashback to Blade’s birth in an English cathouse in the early days of the 20th century, one in which all the ladies strut around in their undergarments even while someone is giving birth on a nearby bed, I became simultaneously impressed by artist Howard Chaykin’s aptitude for latching onto projects that would demand of him drawings of intimate apparel and awash with thoughts like ‘oh Chaykin, what have you gotten me into this time?’

It was not so much the content of the sequence, which is pre-established canon, but the abridged, lurching feel of those two pages - here’s Blade’s mom and here’s baby Blade and oh god the umbilical cord is wrapped around his neck and here’s a doctor and whoops the doctor is a vampire and now Blade’s mom is dead and lil’ Blade tumbled to the floor and is watching her and I guess the cord got unwrapped somehow and later on Wikipedia told me that the umbilical cord was responsible for passing on vampire enzymes or something, though that’s impossible to tell from the sequence as it plays out if you didn’t know that already, which sort of shoots to hell the appeal to new readers that this thing is supposed to manage. Only confusion is evoked, as well as a vague sense that the creative team is maybe trying to rush through Blade continuity so we can’t quite see how silly it is, though that makes it seem all the sillier.

Blade, the new Marvel ongoing series for that character who’s popular in movies and television and not terribly adept at holding down a comic, does not have a very good first issue on the whole. Beyond being confusing, it’s also poorly paced, and weighed down by an ill-conceived narrative approach that strives to give the reader not only a single done-in-one story every issue, but two stories: one set in the present, and one a tale of our Blade when he was a boy. Neither story is terribly complete in this issue; in the present Blade bounces around from odd event to odd event while possibly discovering some sort of conspiracy or whatnot, while in the past he discovers that he’s kind of a vampire and that killing vampires is totally rad when Howard Chaykin is drawing everyone in bowler hats and pinstripe suits. It feels that the two ends of the narrative are fighting for space, culminating in an unhappy result for both.

Oh, I think I understand what writer Marc Guggenheim (of a bunch of television shows and the Civil War issues of Wolverine) wants to do with this thing - at times, you can sense an echo of a freewheeling, serious-but-not-really action book, one thing meant to follow another in dizzy style. This issue does open, after all, with Blade shooting the right kneecap off a vampire-infected Spider-Man (the actual Spider-Man, it seems, which places this series firmly outside of current Marvel continuity), before confronting no less than Dracula, whom Chaykin costumes in a classic red and black evening dress ‘n cloak ensemble despite the story taking place in the modern day. Blade then kills hordes of vampire schoolchildren off-panel (“So do you want to tell me what happened?” “To what?” “To those kids. There were about a hundred who didn’t make it out.” “Well, there you go. They didn’t make it out.”), then discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by vampires and kills a helicarrier full of them on-panel, and then we learn that Blade’s white dad is a prominent Washington power-player and probably immortal and/or a vampire and oh the corruption runs deep, folks.

Unfortunately, any wit that’s discernible in the material comes exclusively from Chaykin’s art, which itself occasionally stumbles in terms of clarity when handling big action scenes, despite remaining simple in layout as these latter-day Chaykin supercomics tend to; the sepia-toned 'past' sequences do look nice, though, all leather and lace and clothing textures and glowy bits of red spot color. Guggenheim’s script manages mostly action-movie exclamations and purplish vampire pronouncements (“Long have I watched this one, coveted her, waiting for just the right moment… the perfect moment for the feast…”), hoping that by merely throwing clipped sequences of stuff at the reader it’ll all seem like fun. It doesn’t, and the constant alternating between past and present only serves to deflate whatever momentum is managed.

I guess if we were talking ‘latter-day Howard Chaykin art for other writers,’ I’d say this is probably more likely to please more readers than Hawkgirl, if only because the script isn’t nearly as mad and visuals quite as garish (of course, you all know how I like mad and garish things); if Guggenheim can smooth out the narrative, it’ll probably wind up a passable, mediocre superhero-flavored action book. But lord help me, I find myself waiting for that Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage miniseries, to see if Chaykin does any better in control of both the writing and art of a modern superhero franchise book.


Tricks pulled from the hat.

*In case you didn’t know yet: Kevin Huizenga’s 16-page booklet for the Center for Cartoon Studies is now available for purchase from the USS Catastrophe shop. It’s part of a catalog-wide update, so click around to see what might be good. (thanks Ingwit!)

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #3 (of 4)

This is out today. In full color, 36 pages, $3.99, from Image.

It’s the penultimate issue of the first volume of the comics spin-off of a young adult prose fantasy series, a winking revision of various and sundry Alice in Wonderland tropes; the first volume of that core series has not yet been released in the US (that’s on September 26), though it’s been around in the UK for a while. There’s also an online card game you can beta test around with and a second comics series in the works, which is not to be confused with the inevitable future miniseries for Hatter M, which is all about the adventures of Hatter Madigan, a royal bodyguard who’s searching our world for lost little Alyss, deposed heir to the throne of Wonderland. Such is the magic of the international multimedia franchise; you the reader will potentially need a map as much as any character in the saga, if only to get your bearings as to where you stand in the sprawl.

Hatter M doesn’t have as many problems as it could, considering the setup; clearly, creator Frank Beddor (who co-writes the comic with Liz Cavalier) is concerned with each segment of the project standing on its own, which is why in addition to retaining a unique tone, skewing slightly older content-wise, and flaunting the services of an instantly recognizable artist, the comic also expends a generous amount of page time on backstory: of this issue’s 32 pages of comics, no less than 18 delve into a premise-setting extended flashback. It’s all stuff you’re just going to read again if you search out the first prose book (actually, it’s stuff you’ve already read if you’ve happened to pick up the promotional giveaway Hatter M #2.5 Deep Travel Symposium), but it’s a choice that has to be made; Beddor opts for narrative self-sufficiency.

Besides, you won’t be seeing this stuff drawn by Ben Templesmith anywhere else. You probably have seen a lot of Templesmith around - his highest-profile current duties are on a different Image series, the much-noted Warren Ellis-penned ongoing Fell, though he’s also up to issue #2 (well, #3 if you count the introductory one-shot) on his solo Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse series at IDW. That’s a lot of stuff at once, and his style on this project seems a bit looser than usual, character bodies often looking like sketches washed over with color and topped off with the expectedly rounded faces. In the big flashback sequence, an action-heavy affair depicting bloody revolution in Wonderland, a fair number of panels seem to be little more than thumbnails soaked in those omnious, glowing Templesmith hues and the occasional computer blurring effect.

Mind you, this is less intrusive in a Ben Templesmith book than it’d be in something like Infinite Crisis, a series that trades in firm realist action from a visual standpoint, and Templesmith is prudent enough to restrict his use of the technique to a flashback, the flitter of memory perhaps understandably obliterating details like background and facial exactitude - but still, the reader is forced to wonder if the book would look this stripped-down in different circumstances. A big double-page center spread of gory action is haggard enough that one can only pause upon reaching it, gawking at characters staggering around in a blurry panorama, some of them detailed and some of them indistinct blobs of ink, while on the right side of the spread the artist attempts to slip in some sequential storytelling by using a table as his panel border; it really does teeter on the fence of nightmarish mental fragmentation and plain old sloppiness, the benefit of the doubt largely being extended to Templesmith due to his ability to conjure an atmosphere in which such things seem moderately fitting. But then, that is part and parcel with a distinctive artist’s approach; it doesn’t matter if it only ‘works’ for Ben Templesmith, because Ben Templesmith is the fellow drawing this comic.

Not much else happens in terms of plot; there’s less of the humor of prior issues, though Beddor and Cavalier do still manage a few kernels of corn (Madigan asks a horse he’s about to steal “Are you currently engaged?” to which the beast replies via sound effect “NEIGH!”). Despite being a dark(ish) revision of Lewis Carroll things, the premise doesn’t much shy away from its own brand of silliness, bladed hats flying about and men in bowlers transforming into beasts upon huffing Black Imagination. It’s all kind of pleasant, kind of tepid, the kind of spin-off that’s smart to tie itself down to an individualistic visual viewpoint as a means of shoring up its reason for being; there’s a good reason why Templesmith gets credited above the writers. He carries it a few steps; his fans can decide whether they want to walk it any farther.


The morning for me is the last half of the night, and I don't miss the sunrise.

*What happened last week?


Mystery in Space #1 (of 8)

Doomed #3 (horror magazine, and visual evolution)

Fun Home

The Origin of Sparky (some flavorful jams)

Plus a dvd review of Paper Rad: Trash Talking.

My sleep patterns leave me dazed all the time.

*Double Take Dept: Apparently, Grant Morrison is not writing Batman for a 4-issue stretch starting in December. Perhaps the whole ‘writing four and one quarter series at once’ thing is starting to weigh down? Or maybe Kubert is slowing up, and DC doesn’t want to risk a fill-in unless it's a total fill-in. Curious. On the plus side, looks like Doom Patrol Vol. 5: Magic Bus is coming out double-quick (January 3rd), collecting issues #51-57. On the minus side, they’ve scaled back the size a bit, leveling out the content - won’t be much room for extras in Vol. 6.

*A little slower - aren't you glad - but a few very interesting tidbits,


In the Studio: Visits With Contemporary Cartoonists: From Todd Hignite, founding editor of Comic Art, comes this huge (320 pages), profusely-illustrated (499 color images) collection/expansion of his magazine's old In the Studio feature, published by Yale University Press. I don't think $29.95 cover will be too much to spend for a suite of chats and working environment tours with Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, Robert Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Gary Panter, Seth, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware, even if you already own the half of it that showed up in Comic Art. Preview looks really sweet. Probably one of the year's bigger 'behind the comics' books.

Nog a Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psyckedooolia: Edited by Marc Bell, this new PictureBox collection represents a retrospective look at a decade of collaborative projects among a tightly-knit group of monatomic and art object oriented Canadian cartoonists. Plenty of psychedelic, underground-influenced visions and absurdist humor, I expect. A whopping 288 pages, mostly color, for $25. More info at PictureBox’s site, if you click on the Catalog tab.

C'est Bon Anthology Vol. 1: Also in collections of various artists, here’s a book-format revamp of a 2004-05 Swedish comics magazine, which itself was an extension of a 2001-04 publication simply known as C’est Bon. Cover by Brian Wood, with a roster featuring Ho Che Anderson and R. Kikuo Johnson, along with many more in its 140 pages, b&w with some color, for $21. 95. It’s worthwhile to just click around the C’est Bon Kultur site, checking out samples and gawking at things.

Following Cerebus #9: As usual, this fascinating publication, produced by Craig Miller & John Thorne, doesn’t as much directly follow Cerebus as whatever Dave Sim & Gerhard happen to be interested in. Which is why this issue sees the magazine temporarily transform into a square-bound, 60+ page, $8.95 tribute to Neal Adams. Why Neal Adams? No no - why not Neal Adams? So, plenty of Neal Adams here, and surely a bunch of Dave Sim, and maybe Gerhard, and I expect Cerebus will get discussed at some point as well.

The Looking Glass Wars: Hatter M #3 (of 4): More from one of the three titles Ben Templesmith is currently providing interior art for, this one a sidestory set in the world of Frank Beddor’s series of young adult prose novels, the first of which is set to debut in the US later this month. I’ll have a prerelease review up tomorrow.

The Quitter: Hot off the debut of the new American Splendor miniseries, Vertigo slips ya a new softcover version of the 2005 graphic novel by writer Harvey Pekar and artist Dean Haspiel, in case you’re in the mood for more spending. Contrary to what Vertigo’s site claims, it’s actually $12.99, not $104.00.

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead: Back From the Grave: Undeterred by DC’s snapping up of their New Line licenses, Avatar soldiers forth into another zone of horror, a series of official prequel comics to the landmark zombie classic. This is a 16-page color preview book, albeit one with an exclusive story, which explains why it’s only $2.99. From actual NOTLD co-writer John Russo, with the reliable Sebastian Fiumara providing the art.

Escape of the Living Dead: Airborne #1 (of 3): Meanwhile, since no zombie should stagger out alone, Avatar’s other Russo-conceived zombie series switches to Mike Wolfer for scripting, as artist Dheeraj Verma returns. A busload of hippies battles a horde of zombies in Pennsylvania’s woods, as a bloodthirsty flower-child zombie messiah emerges.

Wetworks: Worldstorm #1: Oh, surely I can’t be the only one to sense the irony in Wetworks being the first Wildstorm Universe revival title to ship, due to a different title being late. You can’t make stuff like this up. So, while the world waits on Grant Morrison and Jim Lee, the charge will be led by Mike Carey and Whilce Portacio. The preview depicts a hulking badass with miscellaneous cybernetic thingies on his face teaming up with a midriff-baring woman with a blade, so it looks like not a ton has changed since I first stared at Wetworks ads back in 1993. Everyone is wearing black leather trenchcoats! Awesome!

Blade #1: New from Marvel, the book Howard Chaykin left Hawkgirl for, though he still has an issue of that left in the pipeline to polish off the current storyline. Also featuring writer Marc Guggenheim, of CSI: Miami and the Civil War tie-in issues of Wolverine. The preview reveals a visual style even more laid-back than what we’ve seen in Hawkgirl - I suppose Chaykin is trying to develop a sleek, simpler, superhero-ready variant on his usual visual approach, though it’s not as appealing as his more feverish work to me. Still: Blade kills vampire school kids.

Dwight T. Albatross’ The Goon Noir #1 (of 3): In which Dark Horse goes the ‘all-star anthology’ route for another of their creator-owned series (see: Hellboy, Grendel). This one’s b&w, and the first issue features work by Patton Oswald & Mike Ploog, Steve Niles & Ryan Sook, Bill Morrison, and more.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #8: Honestly, I’ve completely forgotten what’s going on in this storyline - they’re all sort of a blur of explosions and quips, you know?

52 #20 (of 52): Kevin Nowlan shows up for the origin of Adam Strange, as Lobo, Pope of Space leads the faithful through the desert of stars.

Civil War #4 (of 7): Iron Man burns down Atlanta. You heard it here first.


I am a man of muscle mystery.

*Back to Basics Dept: Considering that the vast majority of my average workday consists of sitting still, looking at papers, looking at a screen, typing, and occasionally scooching my chair over to reach something on the other side of my desk, just about any activity that puts dirt behind my fingernails tends to make me feel like a rough-hewn outdoorsman. Today, for example, I replaced a headlight on my car! Oh, the joy of unscrewing those screws, unplugging that light, fitting a new light into the slot and sealing it back up again - I am now a rugged mountain lion of a feller. If you are an elk or something, you should stay away until I get back to my files.

The Origin of Sparky

I’ll confess: I only bought this $2.99, 32-page self-published pamphlet for the 4-page jam between creator Steve Peters and Dave Sim. And it’s a good one - Sim is in full-blown visual dazzle mode, busting out all kinds of stippled, cosmo-religious imagery, which joins with Peters’ own simpler style to form a sort of animation-ready creation myth, albeit one that also uses the properties of the comics page to a clever extent. Sparky, a floating half-angel, half-devil black cat archetype character, is welcomed by an angelic woman, who grips his stopwatch heart, circled by insects and demons, and transforms him into a baby, ready to be reborn betwixt the universe's good and evil. Phallic images also appear, spurting infinity. A fine jam, a really fine one.

Still, you could argue that just getting me to pick the book up makes it a ‘fine’ jam - after all, one of the natural virtues of jam-heavy comics is that it allows for a plethora of big names to pop up on the cover, all for little work on the part of said names and a low cost (if long production time) to the pamphlet’s producer. There’s lots of names in this one: Kyle Baker! Kevin Huizenga! John Porcellino! Carla Speed McNeil! James Kochalka! Alex Robinson! Zander Cannon! Roberta Gregory! Shannon Wheeler! Donna Barr! Bob Burden! Dave Sim! Yes, all of them are indeed present, though beyond Sim few of them contribute more than one panel - it doesn’t matter, as the jam gives everyone their little piece of action, their chance to steer the story.

The Pennsylvania-based Peters, also creator of the Slave Labor series Everwinds and his own Xeric-powered Awakening Comics, does try to add a bit more than jamming to the book, though much of his solo contribution amounts to little more than context and ultimately seems slightly frustrating. We see how Peters got the idea for this jam book, and how he developed the titular Sparky character, whose many secret origins form the topic of every jam (and, cleverly enough, the autobio portions of the book as well), though this story eventually peters out into nothing - I guess the existence book itself is the ‘conclusion.’ There’s a romantic subplot that appears to exist mainly to provide colorful insights into the book’s creation, but then gets a bit too much emphasis and winds up getting lost. At first, the book appears to be using pertinent jams to illustrate certain points on Peters’ story’s timeline, but that conceit is quickly abandoned. Given the appearances by characters obviously from Peters’ other comics, I expect that his whole body of work is sort of proceeding on a continuum, and it will all seem a bit clearer to constant readers.

But still: lots of jams, which means lots of improvisatory, ‘top this!’ storytelling. Sparky emerges from JFK’s blood in Dallas. Sparky dies from a lethal plop take and ascends to heaven. Sparky just wanders through a lot of crazy stuff. Many of these stories were composed at cons, and there’s a sense of too-tired-to-think random ideas at work, and some of them work better than others (you can just hear Burden’s cackling glee behind stopping a story dead in its tracks to depict Flaming Carrot thinking about eating pie), though the real fun of a jam book is tracking the procedure, and breaking it apart. It’s also generally funny stuff, with a high enough level of talent across the board that the median never dips too low. Lots of preview images can be found here.

There’s also a few unexpected extras, like sample pages from a cartooning class Peters is teaching, and a center-spread bonanza of hallucinogenic imagery from Eric Wilmoth. Peters has even composed a soundtrack for the comic, the lyrics to one tune co-written by Sim(!), and has announced an open call for 1-2 page submissions for his next book, Sparky in Love. Clearly a labor of love, and sometimes a rewarding one. Dave Sim fans won’t want to miss it, but those interested in jam comics will do well too.


There Jog, now that wasn’t so hard.

Fun Home

You have heard of this book. It will very likely emerge as the most heavily-praised original graphic novel of the year. It deserves what’s been said about it. A good deal has been said.

But I do think there is room for more discussion of the composition of the work, so vital is it to the book’s cumulative effect (of course, when is it not?). Writer/artist Alison Bechdel has not created a chronologically proceeding birth-to-maturity type of autobiographical comic, nor has she settled herself down to concocting a potpourri of amusing anecdotes and eminently relatable happenings - rather, each of the seven chapters of Fun Home constitute something of a free-standing story, all of them concerned with Bechdel’s relationship with her family, all of them eager to cite and allude to sundry works of literature, all of them freed to hop and skip across the timeline of the author’s life as a child and a young woman, the death of her father and the event’s accordant fallout a spot of cessation for time’s march. It’s ok, we can always double-back; the man’s death is evident by the close of Chapter 1, but the author’s approach allows for endless circling of major familial events and memories of days gone by.

Thus, sequentially, there is little ‘beginning’ or ‘ending’ to Bechdel’s story, only a septet of adorned reminisces, rich in intertextuality and glowing in hyperlinked self-reference. Did you know Bechdel drew the virtually the entire book from photo reference, and that many of the childhood objects and letters featured throughout were copied straight from their (archived!) originals? It shouldn’t be surprising; through its structure, Fun Home musters both classic literature and momentous familial events into a grand puzzle of being. Echoes of what was loud and vivid in one chapter can be gleaned in the next. A single anecdote is recalled a bit down the line.

The first page of the book’s story depicts Bechdel’s father balancing the young author on his feet. The last page sees him reaching out to catch her as she leaps into a pool, still young. This is not an accident. Their stories are parallels, yet mirrors - both are homosexual, but one elects to settle down into a nominally heterosexual life, to the point where the younger Bechdel ponders if she’s not merely ‘claiming’ him as a homosexual; both are artists, though one’s impulses are subsumed into home and personal decoration, while the other, er, drew the book you’re reading; both are simultaneously Daedalus and Icarus. One builds a labyrinth of personal artifice, the other a maze of memories. Both have their fallings.

But in the tricky reverse narration that implies our entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt.”

Allow me to elaborate.

Chapter 6 is titled The Ideal Husband. After reading the chapter, it is evident that this is an allusion to Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. Wilde’s play concerns the follies of an idealized domestic life, very much a status engaged by Bechdel’s comic - as early as page 17, Bechdel’s father is identified by appearance as “an ideal husband,” a sentiment the author’s (constant) narration immediately qualifies with: “But would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys?” We get back to that, at least in the context of one of the book’s reflections, in Chapter 6, pages 153-186.

As the chapter opens, young Bechdel is writing in her diary, and presents her father’s admission, when she was thirteen years old, that he was going to see a psychiatrist. Right on the next page, 154, Bechdel the narrator expresses a bit of self-consciousness: “There was a lot going on that summer. I’m glad I was taking notes. Otherwise I’d find the degree of synchronicity implausible.” It’s a jarring line, the type commonly used by an author who’s distinctly aware of his or her limitations and seeks to deter criticism via the smoke of nervous admission. But Bechdel avoids such trickery, as her entire book is notably reflexive, practically commenting on pages as soon as they’re drawn, the whole sprawling, looping thing a sort of thinking-out-loud oral storytelling excursion in pictures. Detailed, arranged pictures.

Also on page 154, we see that Bechdel’s mother is preparing for a role in a play (we’ve seen this before, page 66), Lady Bracknell in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, another work about marriage. Also, Watergate is coming to a head, and the young Bechdel is menstruating for the first time. Plus: locusts are emerging from the ground, a symbol of both plague and the onrushing of maturity. All of these themes will become prominent, and few are left unremarked upon by the author; in the context of such a work, few symbols can pass without us being told of them, and few literary references can go without explicit discussion. Again, this could easily have become irritating, or even infuriating. Again, it does not, as Bechdel has structured both the book and her very voice to forestall such a possibility. She is earnest about her introspection, and that is important.

On page 157, Bechdel and a brother stand by a maple tree in their yard and record the locusts mating via microphone and tape recorder. Documentation, maturity, the home. On page 163, we see Bechdel’s mother using a recorder to rehearse her lines (we’ve seen this before, page 132, where the tape recorder acts as a symbol for inadvertent communication, a more ‘truthful’ role to play). Documentation . On page 170, Bechdel presents her first experiences with masturbation. Maturity. On page 178, we see that a climactic storm, having blasted through the area, fells one of the maple trees and several other trees, but there is no wound to the family house. The home, damaged, yet somehow unscathed.

Working backward (since the author likes to do that too), that storm also messes up Bechdel’s mother’s thesis paper (page 177). It’s the culmination of anxiety she’s been through for the entire chapter - on page 164, Bechdel draws her own comparison between photos of her mom in everyday life, and in character as Wilde’s unflappably ruthless creation. “a Victorian dominatrix to rival Wilde himself.” But it is artifice, and not just in terms of work-related anxiety; Bechdel’s father (Old Father, Old Artificer, as Chapter 1 is titled), is at great risk in this chapter, having been caught by the police providing alcohol (and perhaps more) to a high school boy (page 161). Hence his need for counseling. Nixon and trees falling, etc.

You see how this is working out? Let me get back into page order, since Bechdel’s chapter does work well as a single story, tracking the events of that summer of age thirteen.

Speaking of artifice and maturity; on page 168, Bechdel depicts her mother’s performance in the play, immediately followed by the return of the young Bechdel’s “secretion.” On page 169, she depicts how her own diaries, that chapter-opening symbol of reliable narration, have grown increasingly unreliable with her body’s changes: she uses codes for menstruation and masturbation (“…the implosive spasm so staggeringly complete and perfect that for a few brief moments I could not question its inherent moral validity.”). On page 172, she (explicitly) connects her journalistic artifice to Nixon’s mistruths. On page 173, she (explicitly) connects Nixon’s to her father’s. And then comes the storm of pages 175-179, instantly followed on page 180 with her father’s court hearing. Helpful Bechdel provides her own comparison to Wilde’s trial (featuring Wilde’s own classicist allusions), and on page 181 depicts Nixon throwing in the towel. The tree is felled, but the house is safe.

Yet pages 182-183 show us Bechdel and a peer (herself interested in boys, which Bechdel is not), dressing as male dandies and having their own little play. They can’t keep it up for long, and Bechdel writes about it in her diary, the entry partially a lie. The whole book can be seen as a scrupulously complete collection of small lies and their uncovering. Bedchel’s very comic is her own, overriding diary, one that will now, as the product of a grown author, leave no stone unturned.

And on page 186, the chapter closes by reflecting its first image: the maturing Bechdel’s diary is open and blank:

By the end of November, my earnest daily entries had given way to the implicit lie of the blank page, and weeks at a time are left unrecorded.”

And what is unrecorded cannot be presented, not in a tome such as this, Wilde's playacting characters real enough to bear analogy to Bechdel's own world - but what is not written, is not on the page.

The entire book is like this, each of the six remaining chapters. They all stand alone, and fit together. They all cover the same general time, but different moments. The author constantly acts as her own set of SparkNotes, but again, this is not a book that could stand much more encoding. Bechdel is already fixated on assembling the bits of her life into something to talk about, and talk she does - to you. Her assemblage is often stunning, even as her visual art is strictly representational - again, it matters not with as vivid and multifaceted a gem as this one. Fun Home is both a book that tells you everything up front, then demands you dive in deeper, to uncover the whispers that only drawings and arrangements can make. Bechdel’s art and her voice are so profound, that you might initially feel intimidated - she is so very thorough and complete.

But I think it is rewarding to dig, and catalogue, and draw lines, and make your own lists.

I fear that even now I have not gotten across the humor of the work (there is a lot), or the breadth of its sweep (those James Joyce bits in Chapter 7 are killer in both standing alone and summing up the book's core themes). You'll find it all, though, now or soon, or whenever you read the book.

Some books can wait, and are just as fine later on.


You can't stop looking; you can't stop linking.

Doomed #3

Today's thing: comparisons. I got the new issue of IDW's Doomed horror comics magazine (which I've never seen on a magazine rack anywhere, but that's beside the point); that publication's always offered up a wealth of opportunities for me to dig through other comics I've got sitting around, and this issue is no different. Ashley Wood, you might know, is art director of Doomed, and offers up art for one story per issue - this time, it's an adaptation of Robert Bloch's Fat Chance (scripted by Ted Adams).

And I just so happened to score a different Wood project from the bargain bins, just a few days prior - his 4-issue run with writer Garth Ennis on Acclaim Comics' 1997 revival of Shadowman (that's issues #1-4). It's not just amazing how Wood has changed in under a decade, but how he's moved in and out of certain approaches; that Shadowman stuff is some of his earliest work in comics (I believe he got his start at 2000 AD in 1995), and his approach is uneasily positioned between trying to provide expressive mood and straightforward representation. A certain amount of Bill Sienkiewicz influence is evident, especially in those big, meaty ink lines, though I feel it didn't really become apparent until Wood pressed himself farther into the haze with his name-making run on Hellspawn, starting in 2000.

Wood seemed to feel a lot more at home in a less tangibly realist visual place, and he'd often seem to shy away from returning to a less adorned style - certainly his lamented 2002-03 Automatic Kafka, with writer Joe Casey, often seemed as uncertain as to how much abstraction would be necessary for a semi-straightforward superhero book as anything glimpsed in Shadowman, though whatever wound up on the page generally happened to be far more attractive from simple those extra years of work. But even his Casey-collaborating issues of Uncanny X-Men evidenced questions being asked behind the scenes - his first issue, #398, struggles to offer as direct a superhero action experience as it can, but by the 2001 Annual we're already deep into mood and gloomy swirl. He circles around, and swoops away, but he keeps making the effort.

Which is all a long way of observing that Wood has finally reached a perfect peace between his personal vision and a desire to offer a 'straightforward' visual experience with his stories in Doomed. I can't imagine anyone not instantly being able to tell exactly where the story is going at all times, so crystal-clear is Wood's panel-to-panel storytelling in shorts like what's provided here. It's never less than purely Wood's work either; at this point his lines and characters are so patently his that even a lack of smudges and deep hues cannot distract from his evident presence. This is Ashley Wood in broad daylight, and you can really appreciate his winsome faces (he's better with character 'acting' than you'd think) and often striking page designs (nice use of white). Fishing his prior efforts up from the deep only heightens the delight in seeing where a wandering talent might go.

Given the next story, Richard Matheson's The Children of Noah, you also have to wonder if Doomed might be serving as a vehicle for future dives into the past, once certain young artists have developed further. I recall thinking Ben Templesmith was a decent, if low-wattage Ashley Wood disciple back in the times of 30 Days of Night - indeed, Templesmith got his start in comics working on an aborted Vertigo project with Joe Casey that demanded a Wood-like visual style, and later replacing Wood himself as artist on Hellspawn. His current work shows a lot of progress toward setting out his own distinct 'look.' So I guess it's not really a bother that the look of this story's artist, Nat Jones (script by Scott Tipton), is so close to Templesmith's current style that I had to glance again at the credits, though Jones' line art is a fair bit scratchier. It's not bad, though, and we might again look upon it in a few years' time, to see where another artist has been.

Also up are F. Paul Wilson & David J. Schow adaptations, which again mix the old and the new. Wilson's Pelts is scripted by the author himself, with visuals by James Owen of Starchild fame. Some might recall Starchild from the '90s self-publishing movement spearheaded by Dave Sim, and Owen's art still owes a bit to Sim in its tight, methodical rhythms (nice grasp of bloody mayhem too). Contrast that with the Schow adaptation, Visitation, from Ivan Brandon and Andy MacDonald of NYC Mech, which seems both contemporary and classical in its sharp lines and deep shadows, drafting dark woods and ominous buildings. You'll believe Schow's story has always looked like this, though the nature of comics adaptations sometimes leads you into clashes - I recall enjoying issue #1's Eduardo Barretto-drawn adaptation of Schow's Blood Rape of the Lust Ghouls, and found myself surprised to come across an earlier adaptation of the very same story in the 1992 debut issue of the Northstar horror anthology Slash, by none other than James O'Barr of The Crow fame.

These things keep wrapping around, horror-to-horror, change-to-change. That's why I never throw anything out.


How can I thank god for Friday when I still have to go through it?

*Now beginning online serialization - Carl’s Large Story, from Marcos Pérez. It’s large, it’s Carl, and it starts from the beginning.

*One little non-comics book I’m going to be getting soon is Only Revolutions, the new hardcover epic from Mark Z. Danielewski, modest, soft-spoken author of House of Leaves, who gently sells his latest tome as “a piece that I see as written outside the present industry of academia. I don't believe there's a vocabulary yet that can adequately address what's going on. That kind of academic math doesn't exist now.” Oh, ok! It’s a teenage love story involving time-travel and cars appearing out of thin air, told through the formalist conceit of forcing the reader to turn the book upside-down and flip it over after every chapter, one side’s chapters representing the perspective of the male protagonist and the flip side’s offering the female lead’s, the book’s pages also representing a timeline that we thus necessarily traverse from both sides toward the middle, then back over stuff we’ve seen, only through a different set of eyes.

Actually, it all sort of reminds me of that issue of Promethea last year (#32), in which you had to turn the comic upside-down, read it backwards, and traverse multiple simultaneous levels of narrative, with the added fandom/collector’s impulse baiting kick of the creators requesting you physically destroy the comic and reassemble it to reveal yet another path to meaning. I wonder if the visual nature of comics, duly exploited through the more avant-garde samples of the form, are capable of imbuing readers with a sensitive visual/structural awareness that might afford them a firmer grasp of the formalist possibilities encoded within prose novels? But maybe I’m just missing everything because I’m not privy to the futuristic academic math necessary to truly fathom Mark Z. Danielewski’s cutting-edge genius!

Er, anyway I just wanted to say I enjoyed horsing around on the official site.

*52 Dept: I think the random fight with the Weather Wizard was worth it, if only so Supernova could start demanding people respect his personal space, and a random mustachioed fellow could exclaim “We‘re gonna drown!” in a heroic effort to convince us that the Weather Wizard is a real threat. The art wasn‘t pulling its weight alone this week, lord knows. Also, it’s kind of fun to see this book’s myriad plots beginning to double-up, with the Resurrection Cult subplot latching on to Supernova after last week’s Montoya/Question mash-up with Isis and Black Adam.

But obviously, most of the fun this issue involves Lobo, Pope of Space (not his real title, though it is now as far as this site’s concerned), who’s met up with a talking, floating dolphin and is preparing to lead his people on a journey to a promised land - you don’t know how much I’m hoping that the dolphin confides to someone his/her deep-seated fear of water at some point in the future. Da fug? Booster's plot also goes in a somewhat unexpected direction, leaving plenty of questions that, knowing this series, won't be addressed for another two or three weeks or so. Random supercharacter cameos, crazy happenings and curious team-ups, plot movement that sometimes seems like only the illusion of movement, hasty-looking scratched-out art - it's the 52 formula for disposable, pleasurable weekly distraction, and this week is somewhere above the median.


Jog - The Blog AV Club

Paper Rad: Trash Talking

If you’re like me, you didn’t bother waiting for any formal distributor to agree to carry Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs, the often astonishing graphic novel/art book by the collective known as Paper Rad (members: Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci, Ben Jones), opting to seek it out online by yourself. It looked too good. You can tell what I thought of it just by peeking at its positioning on my Best of 2005 list.

Since then, Paper Rad has popped up every so often in the ongoing comics discussion, often attached to some new controversy or pursuit related to pushing the boundaries in comics. Who can forget PictureBox’s clash with Diamond over whether or not to carry their various wares, including the aforementioned B.J., the situation eventually resolved via Diamond’s reconsideration of their initial rejection? Or the group’s editorial in the debut issue of the free comics magazine Comics Comics (downloadable from here - scroll down, the sidebar might be screwy), a both memorably and infuriatingly satiric piece of aesthetic/patriotic faux-grandstanding (“The irony is the 9/11 of comics came when Art Spiegelman used that Photoshop filter in his 9/11 book. Are you kidding me? I mean, do you call that experimenting? Do you think that’s helping? Honestly… Did you even play with any of the settings?”)?

And there were even curiouser issues to emerge, like the Summer 2006 release of something titled Paper Rad, B.J. & the Dogs 2 (GRAIL QUEST!), a collection of comics created by unknown artists posing as Paper Rad, but now apparently calling themselves the Paper Rad Liberation Front - the book itself is actually a rather obvious 'response' piece, a sometimes brutal rejoinder to Paper Rad's aesthetic approach.

It's rare you see that sort of thing in comics.

But then, the inexplicable never seems far from the fingers of this trio. Case in point: the new(ish) dvd Paper Rad: Trash Talking, $16, 60 minutes, from Load Records. Save for a spine notation of the disc’s title, there’s no descriptive text anyone on the case, all space surrendered to blazing color art. Open the case up and you get assaulted with yet more art, plus you get to unfold a small poster of photos and drawings. There is no legal indicia. There are no credits. There’s four chapter titles printed onto the disc itself, so there’s a little bit of guidance, but once you pop the disc in you’ll also see that there’s no menus. You’re treated to the image of a bunch of characters watching television, then an MIDI version of the Bee Gee’s Jive Talkin’ starts up, and we follow a little blob character as he struts around a city street, settles into a studio, and delivers a speech about why there’s no menu, eventually getting flustered and ranting about CD-Rom drives and instructing the viewer to install DirectX drivers before getting mad and giving up. Then the show starts, although several minutes of what follows is still labeled Intro in the chapters.

You can get a decent sense of what to expect from the program by checking out the trailer. Much of the first chapter consists of various music videos Paper Rad has created, cushioned by extensive stretches of video collage - there’s a ton of old cartoons, toy commercials, video game cutscenes, obscure children’s show footage, and seemingly ‘found’ footage fused together, most of it additionally decorated with crackling video effects, vivid colors, strobe lights, weird noise, throbbing electronic beats, and odd animated characters (both Tux Dog and Garf make special appearances). I have to wonder what viewers who don’t happen to be from the US and currently between the ages of, say, 22 and 32 will make of all this, since it’s highly specific, personal work, virtually every scrap of recontextualized detritus hailing from somewhere in the depths of the ‘80s. The cumulative effect for me was one of staggered, recalled memory, tiny blips of lights popping on in my head at the sight of each new lost consumable. And I expect that’s what Paper Rad was counting on, since their own hyperactive, neon-washed approach serves not to merely present childhood memories, but present them in the way that an adult might halfway recall during a particularly deep slumber and dreams they can never hope to fully remember.

Now you can buy them, of course. I’m not sure if they’re region protected.

Chapter 2 settles down a bit for the ‘pilot’ episode of the new Paper Rad cartoon series, Alfe, featuring the cast of many of Ben Jones’ comics. This piece is a lot more tonally contemporary, in that it seems very heavily influenced by the comedic beats of Adult Swim, especially Aqua Teen Hunger Force, though the voice acting (uncredited, naturally) seems more improvisatory. The story sees Our Heroes, Alfe, Horace, and Roba, handing around in their home because they think the world is at nuclear war. Actually, they accidentally used Magic Cards to summon an evil version of Alfe, Ralphe, who must be stopped or something. As one might expect, not a lot of adventuring takes place, though the jokes are often pretty great (better than some Aqua Teen episodes I’ve watched). And, obviously, it’s all done in Jones’ familiar swooping and circling visual style, which loans itself remarkably well to the limited animation favored by Cartoon Network after primetime. Truly, if the idea of a Ben Jones comic come to life appeals to you, there’s no more perfect place to realize your fantasies.

But Paper Rad is as much about cracked art mysticism as laughs, and the rest of the disc takes on a somewhat moodier tone. Chapter 3, Rest Stop, offers plenty more video footage, accompanied by a bizarre wordless half-story about a monstrous Janus pig (I think) lamenting his/her lack of feeling, and meeting up with a green orb that holds dance parties. It’s baffling, though a good lead-in to the wild, breathtaking chapter 4, Shape Control, which suddenly snaps into the style of pixel animation to depict a war between rival forces searching for the shape of the future of entertainment, which is all that can save the world. Is it the new U2 iPod? It is a vhs tape with rainbow blood? Is it hypnotic, looped footage of a romantic musical number from a Christian(?) kids’ puppet show? All we know is that aesthetic war and greed can only lead to broken hearts, as the end of all things is depicted via home video footage of a bunch of giggly teenage girls attempting to put on a more homemade puppet show, about lynching and racial strife, though they often get distracted to go answer the phone and stuff.

And then the characters from the beginning return to protest that they don’t understand anything. Then they find out they’ve been watching themselves the whole time. And then we find out we’ve been watching ourselves too.

And then the disc ends with the image it began on, and shuts itself off. Turn it back on, and you’ll realize the whole program has been designed as a Möbius strip.

There are no extras that I’ve found.

It's quite an experience, this short dvd, and fully worth the asking price. If you don't want to get it at the Load Records page above, Buenaventura Press has some copies too. Mediums are mediums, and comics aren't video, but Paper Rad transitions neatly from form to form, its message never less than striking.


Everyone is a child of a star once more.

Mystery in Space #1 (of 8)

Today’s DC is crazy enough about launching new projects with conspicuous tie-ins to higher-profile tentpoles and Events that it’s somewhat surprising to see this book pop out of seemingly nowhere, even though it’s a contemporary miniseries revival of a familiar vintage anthology property. Ah, but the truth comes out before long: the plot is obviously a follow-up to the Rann-Thanagar War miniseries lean-in to Infinite Crisis, and will apparently tie in with 52 at some point, though there’ll by no formal ‘crossover.’

Be sure to read everything at that link for a peek at the difficulties inherent to planning projects featuring even relatively low-profile characters in the current DCU; this series was originally conceived in part as an Adam Strange vehicle, and those bits had to be retooled for the even less-visible Captain Comet due to the former character’s participation in 52. One can’t help but be reminded of the production difficulties that bedeviled DC’s 2004 Adam Strange miniseries, which was forced midstream through some ugly plot contortions to service the arrival of the Crisis buildup, though at least here it seems the problems were worked out prior to the book starting.

All shared universe shenanigans aside, Mystery in Space does benefit from a singular creative vision at the helm: cosmic comics specialist Jim Starlin, who writes the book’s 22-page Captain Comet feature, and serves as writer/penciller/colorist for the 16-page back-up saga of the Weird, with frequent inking partner Al Milgrom. Yes, in a slight departure from the usual, this is a quasi-anthology miniseries, two serials included at an increased $3.99 tag, though the stories interconnect in this first issue, take place in the same environment, involve the same antagonists, and are set to join up again in the finale, so for all intents and purposes it’s really just one big story with different artists doing different bits. There’s actually kind of a modern-retro visual dichotomy at work, since the Captain Comet feature sports pencils by newcomer Shane Davis and inks by Top Cow veteran Matt “Batt” Banning; needless to say, DC’s yen for mid-‘90s Wildstorm/Top Cow flavored art continues unabated, which makes perfect sense when you think about how well Jim Lee has done for them (or maybe it’s psychological conditioning for the upcoming Wildstorm Universe superhero relaunch!). They do fair enough within the contours of the look, nothing that’ll convert you if you don’t like the stuff but nothing to especially piss you off, though there’s a definite sameness to some of Davis’s character expressions, especially when Captain Comet is screaming.

But let’s not get too out of bounds - this is the Jim Starlin show, featuring Jim Starlin rolling out what (from my admittedly limited study) seems to be many of his favored themes, and bringing back various pet characters (the Weird) and places (Hardcore Station). Anyone who’s read or plans to read Douglas Wolk’s examination of Starlin’s ’70s Adam Warlock stories in the new issue of Comic Art (and you really ought to belong to one of those two categories) will find much to toss around; there’s lots of talk about death, a few metaphysical confrontations, and whispers of cruel religion (the Captain Comet story is titled Eschatology). There’s even some doubling at work between the two features, with the life-lovin' Captain desperate to return to the land of the living, having been killed off in battle, and the Weird perfectly content to float around in limbo, having killed himself for the good of the world. Both wind up dragged back to the flesh, where they’ll apparently run afoul of a Scientology-like moneyed techno-religion called the Eternal Light Corporation in future issues.

The problem with this first issue, however, is that it’s already been quite handily summarized by what I’ve just written. Captain Comet and the Weird are dead, they confront spiritual matters, talk a lot, and then they come back to life while a larger plot sort of swirls around. That's all. And while it's nice that DC didn't force us all to consult Wikipedia to attain a basic level of understanding as to what's going on, the book's intense emphasis on explanation and background does feel like the reader is being asked to pay for the privilege of having other comics synopsized for them.

The Weird gets the worst of it, with Starlin burning up his entire 16 pages just summarizing the character’s origins, prior adventures, and abilities. And by that I mean the character tells us his story via copious narrative captions (at one point I counted 19 of the suckers on a single page), then spends time walking around and trying out his powers while talking aloud to himself about what he’s doing. For the entire feature. Granted, Starlin seems comfortable with this sort of approach, especially when he’s in charge of the art; he has some evident visual fun drawing page after page of symbolist energy stars swooping around in patterns, and his narration has a playfully wordy appeal, but those who’ll be turned off by clankingly artificial storytelling tropes or, to quote Mr. Wolk, “ungainly clumps of text,” are probably not going to have much fun. Captain Comet, meanwhile, has some amusingly stodgy, exclamation-laden stories to tell (“I’ll never be able to wipe those moments from the old memory bank. Nothing I could do but look on helplessly. One instant I was alive… THE NEXT I STARTED DYING!”), and yet further stories to be told about him by a golden-skinned woman and a talking bulldog, but by the time the issue is finished you’ll see why Starlin dropped in a largely unsupported flash-forward action scene onto the front of the issue: without it, there’d be virtually no action, just people talking about Captain Comet and images of burning doom and rebirth.

Not that DC’s opposed to that these days - just look at Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America #1, and it’s rending of garments over Red Tornado.

Jim Starlin doesn’t have as much time for tears, though; he wants the agony and the metamorphosis of switching from one life to another, the flaming soul and emergence from the clay (or concrete, as it is). Mystery in Space is visually caught between two worlds, but don’t forget that its script is all Starlin’s, and it’s maybe not that interested in looking very current. There’s promise here, for a reader like me that’s not read all that much of Starlin’s work, but it’ll require another issue just to fathom where the story plans to go, now that his overture of cosmic return is finished.