The Crisis Embrace

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 (of 2)

I don't like 3-D comics much; never have. The last time I found a 3-D segment in a comic to be really effective was in Seven Soldiers #1 -- drawn by J.H. Williams III, also variant cover artist for this book -- where it was tucked away as an Easter Egg. It was the bit where Zatanna casts a spell to resolve the plot - I tried looking at it with the red and green glasses included with this new comic, but it didn't look so good.

That's another thing I don't like: building the 3-D glasses that come with these things. It's mostly my own problem - I'm of remarkably limited manual dexterity, utterly incapable of building anything useful with my hands. I'd sure be hopeless getting things to work in a post-cataclysm wasteland (but then, I guess that's what the cache of automatic firearms is for). I suspect the problem dates back to my childhood, when I got my copy of Shadowhawk II #3, the one where you're supposed to punch out a little of the cover so you can fold it upward, creating the illusion that Shadowhawk is bending his arms in a horrible, inhuman manner to reveal his exciting secret identity just for you. I ripped that fucking cover right off. Just clean off, like I was sending that shit to be pulped. It broke me, like Bane.

Maybe that's why another J.H. Williams III comic, Promethea #32, got to me so much. That was the last issue of the series, the one where him and Alan Moore and Todd Klein and José Villarrubia create this looping comics essay about magic and storytelling, and there's two ways to read it - you can go through it as a normal comic (which involved turning the book upside-down and reading backwards like manga and all sorts of thing), then you can pull all the pages apart and paste them together into a double-sided poster that displays the text in a different way while creating a giant image. The idea was wonderful - a final issue of a comic book series that urged you to physically destroy it in order to facilitate its recreation. Hell, I can do that!

This issue demands a smaller, more typical demolition. Just punching out '4-D Overvoid Viewers,' "forged from Superman's own cosmic armor." I'm glad I didn't screw it up; Superman's cosmic armor is kinda flimsy. It's also worth nothing that I usually read a bunch of my Wednesday comics in the Wegmans parking lot -- Wegmans being a local(ish) super-grocer chain that keeps 15 types of coffee going at once and sells those melon sodas with the marble in the bottle -- so I'd probably look pretty silly holding up broken 3-D glasses to my eyes in public. Not so with whole, unmolested 3-D glasses, though, the cardboard craft labor of my own fingers - had anyone asked me then what the hell I was doing, I'd reply: "The future."

Happy as I was, I found that Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 (no '3D' in the official title) was about the same as your typical contemporary Ray Zone-powered 3-D comic. I do think the whole concept works well for a Grant Morrison-written story like this, mind you. The last time Ray Zone did funnybook 3-D was in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier - god, Alan Moore again! The pertinent segment in there saw most of the characters enter the Blazing World of collected fictions to plan their next move; not a bad place for the pages plane to drop back, although it all seemed awfully studied, in that Alan Moore way.

After all, Promethea promulgated that old idea of spacetime as a 4D system of eternal moments that our perceptions move through; so really, out there somewhere, I am reading Deathmate: Red unto perpetuity (um, as much as perpetuity exists in... that... ah, just forget it). It always seemed to me that the comics form acted as an imperfect model of spacetime, in that way, with our godly readers' eyes peeping into certain temporal zones, panels, free to move backward and forward - that final issue made the reader move in every which way, to best appreciate that nature, I thought.

Moore's whole concept of End of the World -- the lynchpin of his America's Best Comics megastory, which Promethea concluded -- relied upon the dead returning to join the living, with the latter's perceptions of spacetime evolving to join the former's, and while there was never a lot of detail as to what the implications of that actually were, it seems logical that the denizens of the comic itself had become something like the aloof gods, the readers, able to pause and glimpse the panels we always know are there, drawing the characters out so that they are like Alan Moore, and those reading comics written by him - delighted in mechanics, constructs. Looking at all the world and its glory as students. Mapping, charting, sometimes gazing into a microscope, maybe at the superhero genre, maybe at literary characters and devices. Always from Outside.

That's not Grant Morrison's take. He's Inside. He's been known to define existence as a single, massice organism, and we and all we know are within. We cannot go out. So, he dives in - many alter egos, Animal Man and all the rest, take him into the comics he writes. He can fairly be said to immerse himself in the superhero genre, fascinated with evolution from the inside - such provides the heart and triumph of All Star Superman in comparison to Moore's first twelve issues of Supreme, its apparent structural model. So when Zatanna -- herself privy to a meeting with Morrisonian overseers -- casts that big final spell, images of past issues jump out at the readers to surround them, as Zatanna's outstretched hands seem to beckon them in, to embrace them. That is Morrison's and Williams' secret 3-D, and the only goddamned comic book Easter Egg I can think of that managed to be thematically substantive.

Now we're in the middle of Final Crisis -- this being a tie-in -- and Morrison is getting ready to take his leave of superhero comics that aren't spelled 'Batman.' He's cited this particular two-issue thing as getting to the 'bedrock' of the superhero story, "and it's why I'm going to have to take a break from superhero stories for a little bit after Final Crisis." This comes after Seven Soldiers' string of ruminations on heroic evolution on the margins, and the early Final Crisis issues' subversion of that theme into Bad Evolution at the hands of wicked creators, evil winning via slither. It makes perfect sense, then, to use good ol' head-piercing 3-D to better drag the reader's eyes into this bottom-floor action, so they might seem to enter the story with Morrison at such a crucial, primal place.

It's not a terribly good comic, really. Morrison hasn't been very effective with the Superman bits in Final Crisis proper, so a lot of the characterization in here, the nuts-and-bolts motivation, feels ad hoc. He's also writing in the style of Final Crisis, which means a generally straightforward sequence of events hammered into a small, dense space, with plenty of knowing understatement. Lots of busy panels, lots of heavy information - you'd think the image of a crazy-eyed Monitor hunched over the leather-caped body of the Nazi Superman variant she's just finished sucking the blood of would score some crazy visual kick, but it's small and tossed off, seemingly to accommodate more words, more solid information. And even granting all this as a continuation of the parent book's style, Morrison also equivocates a bit by dropping in some silly Superman flourishes (see panel above) that tend to prod the book a little ways toward seeming like one of those planned two-issue All Star Superman extensions, albeit an info-heavy, somewhat dour one.

The plot sees Superman recruited to join a team of Supermen from various Earths throughout the Multiverse in order to defeat an awful threat, one that may date all the way back to the dawn of the Monitors. As such, the gang blasts all the way through to Limbo, where forgotten superhero characters stand around doing nothing (Ace the Bat-Hound cameo!), and where A Very Heavy Book sits with all possible stories recorded into it. The metaphor is obvious - enough so that by the time the Misfit Toys begin to escape ("...no, but you see, now they know something can happen [sic], they think anything can happen!"), you'll wonder if Morrison hasn't done all this before in a manner that didn't need to accommodate a turgid creator myth for the DCU's extra-godly class.

Oh, and that 3-D. It's smartly apportioned, kept to Bleed swimming and moments of reality-quaking import; I liked how the style worked as a visual segue into a flashback at the top of the issue. It never really does comic book art much justice, making non-3-D bits all shimmery and odd; I found myself taking the glasses off (careful! don't break them!) whenever I thought I didn't need them, which made my first read-through sort of a chore. I like Doug Mahnke's art fine, although he's fully into slick superhero mode here, with five inkers (himself included) seeming to press in a slightly anonymous quality. He's best with fun little details, like some guy's telescope eyes bending in different directions, one of them toward the reader - it's 3-D!!

It's okay? I was a bit bored. I wonder what sort of ground we'll hit next issue? I think I'll be ready to move on with Morrison; maybe more than ready.

I was damn happy about putting together those glasses, though. So much that I decided to drive home in them, instead of my boring prescription lenses. The cops didn't run me off the highway until I was two miles from home. I pulled myself out of the car and they began firing, without warning.

And their bullets just bounced right off.


Few bold words.



MOME Vol. 12 (Fall 2008)

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child


Faust Vol. 1 (a literary journal from Japan with a certain flavor)

at The Savage Critics!

*Not an avalanche of stuff -


Typhon Vol. 1: A new anthology of color comics, edited and published by Danny Hellman of Legal Action Comics; actually, this was started so as to be vol. 3 of that series, but things got broader and more ambitious. It's got some interesting people participating, like David Chelsea, Victor Cayro(!), Matthew Thurber, Hans Rickheit, Tobias Tak, Tim Lane, R. Sikoryak, Glenn Head and more. It's $24.95 for 192 pages. Full list of contributors and extensive preview here.

Tall Tales: Your Golden Age of Reprints nugget of the week - a $14.95, 128-page Abrams collection of MAD stalwart Al Jaffee's 1957-63 wordless strip for The New York Herald Tribune, notable for running vertically (like Japanese strips tend to) and getting some mileage from the concept. With an introduction by Stephen Colbert.

Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight: A dandy new Dark Horse hardcover, $14.95 for 104 pages, collecting possibly the most popular storyline from Chris Onstad's much-admired webcomic. Contains special added blog posts, fighter profiles and recipes after the feature presentation. Preview here, if you don't want to just scour the archives.

Barb Wire Omnibus: I remember when the Barb Wire movie came out; that was '96. Pamela Anderson. There was a big sign up at the box office screaming that BARB WIRE CONTAINS NUDITY * ID WILL BE REQUIRED, like it was pornography and we'd get to drink too. Anyway, here's every Barb Wire comic Dark Horse ever published, in case you were wondering where to get those; 320 color pages for $24.95. Looks like home.

Appleseed Vol. 3 (of 4): The Scales of Prometheus: Now smaller and right-to-left for your $14.95. This is the one where Masamune Shirow's larger story pretty much checks out in favor of obsessive tactics and near-fetishistic levels of mecha/weapons detail. Which, for some, means 216 pages of heaven. They don't draw buildings like this anymore.

Warren Ellis' Scars: A new, $17.99 printing of Ellis' police drama of morals, with artist Jacen Burrows and publisher Avatar. See also: Gravel #4, Doktor Sleepless #8.

Kick Ass #4 (of 8): While driving home today I heard people talking about the upcoming movie version of this, really laughing and having a good time with the title and Nicolas Cage's involvement. Yes, this is the fourth-ever issue of the comic book. Such is the power of Mark Millar, who also has Wolverine #68 out this week. Penciller John Romita, Jr. can also be found in Amazing Spider-Man #569. And since we're talking about This Week in Marvel here, some might be interested in writer Terry Moore's relaunch of Runaways (he's doing Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane now too; hmm), or perhaps a $17.99 softcover for The Immortal Iron Fist Vol. 2: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, rounding out the Brubaker/Fraction run (though Fraction still had a pair of solo scripts to go), or maybe even a big ol' $99.99 hardcover block of Bendis via the Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus Vol. 1, collecting all the man's stuff through issue #60.

Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft #3 (of 3): Concluding Richard Corben's transmutation of literary horror into the short stuff of old-timey comics. Have a sample.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 (of 2): Being the 40-page start of Grant Morrison's very own, very special Final Crisis tie-in, a Supermen-of-many-worlds story told in glorious 3-D, with glorious 3-D glasses included, for a glorious $4.50 cover price. Pencils by Doug Mahnke, which you can combine with J.H. Williams III's variant cover for a partial Seven Soldiers reunion (hey, Final Crisis is the place to do it). Morrison also has a 256-page, $29.99 deluxe hardcover for his venerable run on JLA this week, collecting the first nine issues and Secret Files and Origins #1, plus a $12.99 softcover for All Star Superman Vol. 1 (of 2) - is it just me, or did that take a while?

America's Best Comics Primer: This is purely anecdotal stuff here, but my local big box bookstores are fucking choked with Watchmen. I mean, stacks and stacks, copies piled up on the nice tables in front, reams of yellow and black all down the Graphic Novels shelf, sometimes with covers facing out and copies pressed eight or ten deep... it's money, that Watchmen. I have no idea if this new $4.99, 168-page softcover sampler of the first issues of Alan Moore's various latter-day science hero series (Promethea, Top Ten, Tom Strong, Tom Strong's Terrific Tales and Tomorrow Stories) was intended to capitalize on any of that, but I'm sure it won't hurt DC/Wildstorm to have another book out there with Moore's name on it, especially when it pertains to one of the few lines of comics that's been fully collected into bookstore-ready form.



A Revamp for Which Little Changes

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child

They stopped numbering them a while ago, but this is actually the 10th of NBM's collections of comics reportage from Rick Geary, a prolific cartoonist and illustrator (National Lampoon, Heavy Metal) who's been creating short and long works about murder for over 20 years. One of the earliest Fantagraphics catalogs I can recall flipping through (back when they listed a lot of books they didn't publish) had Vol. 2 of the series -- Jack the Ripper -- listed beside the brick of intimidation that was the newly-collected From Hell. Geary's book was recommended as a good alternative viewpoint; certain at the time that bigger and more visible could only possibly mean better, I wondered how such a short, small book could stack up.

Longtime readers will notice something different about this particular short, small book, an 80-page hardcover, priced at $15.95 - what was once a Treasury of Victorian Murder has now advanced into a more recently expired century. But the change in temporal venue appears to be the only major shift in Geary's work, and I think that's good, since there's not a lot of comics around like this anymore, here in 2008.

Granted, I'm not sure if concise, focused, research-heavy histories-as-comics were ever quite overwhelming in number, but Geary's wordy, illustrative approach -- a cool, just-the-facts narration running over plenty of headshots, frozen scenes and the occasional map or chart -- seems planted in an earlier era of nonfiction alternative comics, one eager to disseminate information as less a sleekly visual story than an especially intuitive essay. I suspect you can draw a fairly straight line backwards from this sort of comic, all the way through the nonfiction of the underground, ending at the influential heavy narratives of Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines at EC.

That's not to say that Geary's work clanks around, or is somehow visually deficient. It's actually very artful, given its narrative scheme, with bookending images of an airplane soaring through doodled-line clouds opening and closing the work, as if to build up Geary's art into solidification as he clears his throat, then to let it go once there's nothing left to say. They're similar images that carry different emotional charges from Geary's words - the first one showcases the might of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh's challenge of the sky and sea, a small jut of human effort piercing the vastness of its environment, while the last depicts the man's flight to spread the ashes of his mudered son over the Atlantic, his trajectory more an expression of impossible emotional isolation in the midst of the acts that built his fame.

The Lindbergh kidnapping/murder of 1932 was a very famous event concerning a very famous man - Geary could scarcely have picked a richer killing with which to start his 20th century, and he makes sure to drop in little details regarding the media frenzy that grew to accommodate public fascination with Charles Jr.'s short life even prior to his vanishing, so as to better connect such publicity practice to the present day. The artist also knows well that he's working on a settled but not uncontroversial case, and even his cover art reflects it - note that we see nothing of the kidnapper's face or gender, and that any accomplices are kept away from our eyes. Geary is used to uncertainty; really, his storytelling thrives on it, as it offers so many new strains of odd, bleak history to convey.

So Geary moves us through the general chronology, darting down side streets and pausing to duck into the past of notable figures. Someone is put to death by the state, but little is really resolved, as you might come to expect from witnessing the artist's digressions into continuing lives. Considering the density of information involved, this is a fast-reading book, and I expect that's wholly due to Geary's skill with intermingling precisely as much narration as needed at one time with descriptive/mordant/funny images, special emphasis placed on the faces of oddballs, conmen and miscellaneous uneasy folks called to play a cameo role in Big Public History.

It's not an easy type of comic to make, even among research-heavy projects. There's a great risk with this type of work in slowing the reader down past the point of boredom, or forcing the dreaded question of why this is a comic anyway. I suppose that can be answered on its face -- you can probably make the argument that comics is better equipped to act as a historical survey if only for the ease of comprehension that images teamed with words can provide -- but here there's no question that Geary's work must take this form, his careful command leading the reader easily down the winding path his narrative interests demand.

I'm not saying much here that isn't applicable to Geary's earlier books in this (extended) series, I know - that's because only the name and the murder has really changed. It's fitting that Geary's other current comics project is the ongoing Gumby series with writer Bob Burden; the latter is another artist whose vision remains very constant through years of progress, his particulars evolving and shifting as artists' works always do, yes, but his general aesthetic seeming to defy time. Geary's murders are likewise still, and, through their effective execution, become more fascinating from the pause.


Out Tomorrow; Boiled Down

MOME Vol. 12 (Fall 2008)

This newest edition of Fantagraphics' house anthology -- $14.99 for 128 b&w and color pages -- offers a few noteworthy changes to its familiar structure. For one: no interview, more comics. Lots of new cartoonists too, and not so much continuation of ongoing serials.

Actually, none of the series' continuing stories manage to continue this issue (unless you count the 'continuation' of Ray Fenwick's mostly self-contained bear gags from last time), so admirers of Tim Hensley's Wally Gropius have more waiting ahead of them, I'm afraid. Eleanor Davis is absent as well, although Al Columbia brings another of his eerie home scenes and Tom Kaczynski has a suite of one-page comics on the topic of noise, among the offerings of other established contributors.

Meanwhile, a total of four new artists appear (five if you count Kaela Graham's incidental drawings), to the expected varying effect. I've liked what I've seen of Jon Vermilyea's work so far (which is to say, Cold Heat Special #1), and this is the first I've been exposed to his characters The Breakfast Crew, a thuggish gang of healthy eating mascots rendered in a too-fun-for-comfort cartoon style, all horrible bulging eyes and disconcerting grins. It's pretty great.

I can't say as much for The New Yorker illustrator Derek Van Gieson's wordless, ink-spattered encounter between a sharp-toothed woman, a smitten photographer, various animals (anthropomorphisized and otherwise) and a link of sausages, striking as some of its panels may be, nor New York Press and Paping artist Sara Edward-Corbett's chronicle of a day-long elementary school project, which is mannered in conversation and activity to the point of being both mildly confusing and utterly weightless.

But it's the fourth fresh presence that leaves the greatest impression. Granted, I'm already familiar with the works of Belgian cartoonist/animator Olivier Schrauwen; his 2006 book My Boy was easily my favorite book from last year that I got to really really late, a visually outstanding homage to early American newspaper comics (especially the works of Winsor McCay); it's spiced with primal parental concerns, and may aim to bruise your heart, but it also functions as both a cruel subversion of those old comics' loud slapstick mechanisms -- archaic so as to convert whimsy to surreal menace -- and a critique of the racism that charges so many classic works. Top-notch stuff, and it's too bad it's never been published outside of Europe; my edition is even in English, for that extra touch of authenticity!

Schrauwen's 13-page Hair Types -- his official North American debut -- is also in English, his own; I'm not sure if he even really knows English, but he's surely grasped enough of the stiff cadence of some early American comics that he can effectively set his sparse dialogue against an approximate 'period' visual approach (he actually frays some of his lines beneath muted colors and fuzzy image reproduction) for some good humor. The story (as it is) involves a group of cartoonists working side-by-side in a stretched studio (a bit like how Jon's apartment in Garfield is nothing but a long table); we dive in and out of their works as they react to each other's personalities and projects, generally in mean or strange ways, just like real comics artists.

It's a tough one to describe, but it's very good, dissolving its droll insult comedy into a sort of dream logic study of artistic influence. It looks and feels like nothing else I can think of, but it's something I absolutely want to see more of.

On the other hand, MOME typically draws a lot of its strength from its 'obligatory lauded veteran' slot in each edition, and there's a damn good one this time around. Doubly good, it turns out, since that extra space looks to have been spent on two such famed artists, both of them L'Association founders at that.

It's pretty much good to get any damn thing from (Patrice) Killoffer too, seeing as how I can still count his English-released works on one hand. This time it's a six-page short from the pages of Lapin, an allegedly autobiographical tale in which Killoffer's spouse/significant other/one-night stand/parole officer makes the tragic mistake of complaining about her mother's bra buying habits, prompting Our Man to spin out an epic yarn of underpants-themed familial horror that culminates in eating his own shit fresh from his tighty-whities.

"I remember it real well. I still have the Taste in my mouth."

Capital T as provided, True Believer.

Yet even that can't compare to the extraordinary David B. It's no secret that the former Pierre-Francois Beauchard is one of my favorite working cartoonists; I consider his stories from vols. 3 and 4 of this anthology to be the best material it's published. With this new presentation of the 35-page The Drum Who Fell in Love, MOME has now released the entire contents of the artist's 2006 collection Le Jardin armé et autres histoires, and the world of English-language comics is better for it.

The story is a direct sequel to vol. 3's tale, The Armed Garden, and follows up on the themes of visionary religious warfare and delicate salvation active in it and vol. 4's The Veiled Prophet. The great 15th century hero Jan Zizka has died, perhaps poisoned by a prior glimpse into the chaotic origin of Creation itself (he didn't adventure small). But his Taborite followers, men dedicated to forsaking all labor and slaughtering all heretics in anticipation of the return of Christ, aren't about to let a good warrior go to waste. They have Jan Zizka's corpse skinned, and stretch the flesh to fashion a drum - when beaten, the spirit of Zizka appears to kill their foes, enflame their passions and generally drive them onward to greater battles.

Ah, but when a curious local camp girl taps the drum in secret, she discovers that the spirit of Zizka has become deeply depressed from being evoked for nothing other than bloodshed, all else forgotten upon the completion of whatever skirmish. The title's right there, so you know what happens; just as David B.'s icon-fueled visual style has riled-up soldiers transforming into drums with weapons, ducking under a thatch of spears and hooks, so does the girl writhe around with the drum in her arms and legs, losing clothes panel-by-panel as she taps out a love tune, the shadows on the instrument's face forming a pleading, unecstatic countenance.

There's no hidden mystery to David B.'s drawings, only evocative displays of gut-punch symbols as an on-page literalization of primal feelings and the mythic undercurrent of religious strife. A spear and facing cannons form an infantryman's helmeted face. A long-beaked bird devours armored men as a caption tells of heresies, like revolutions, devouring their young. And while the girl and the drum try to flee, the former's happy tunes manage to summon literal ghosts from the latter; even as bloody old politics, rhetoric, or the image of beloved conquering heroes is used for kinder means, it seems to have a way of echoing the mayhem it all inspired before. Jesus Christ appears(!) to show the way to Paradise, but one outside of its wall only leads to another outside for those who waited knee-deep in blood. Another army draws near; people will have to die again.

It's another dense, exciting work, essaying the same concerns as David B.'s two other histories with greater finality. If The Armed Garden respresented the futility of earthly heaven and the incoherence of the divine, and The Veiled Prophet depicted the substitution of one human reality with another through ideology, The Drum Who Fell in Love pushes the material into the realm of legacy, human affairs after death, and finally guides the artist's characters into a type of risen reward, though David B. is too much of a skeptic to allow any of the people we know through the garden gates - this fallen world will only win you decent bleacher seats, though freedom from the murder of the 'heroism' concept is offered as maybe prize enough.

Smart, probing, passionate work. A virtue for any incarnation of shuffled current comics.



*Sorry about the lack of posts last week; I can't review anything without an all-clear from Vatican City, and their Comcast service has been spotty of late. Still:


Batman #679

The Punisher MAX #60 (and what it means as an ending)

I guess the pope's been into superheroes?

*Looks like a certain large small publisher is getting all the stuff fired out -


Where Demented Wented: The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes: The only book you're likely to need on this man of teddy bears and oozing visions. From Fantagraphics, $22.99 for 144 pages. My review here.

Abandoned Cars: Tim Lane's carnival tent show of American interiors and environments, short stories skipping across genres, through drama and comedy, a sky of myth known to be above. Also from Fantagraphics, a $22.99 hardcover for 168 pages. My review here. Handy art-loaded interview here.

MOME Vol. 12: And here's the latest for Fantagraphics' house anthology, now shorn of interview content and dominated by great work from three men of Europe: Olivier Schrauwen, Killoffer and the great David B. It's $14.99 for 128 pages. Full review tomorrow.

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard: Oh yeah, this should be good. The first release of First Second's biggest season yet, it's a new book by Eddie Campbell & Dan Best, seeing a young man pretend to be his famous, secretly dead acrobat uncle, flying across a panorama of old-timey entertainment ephemera and strange circus life. Your $16.95 will get you 128 color pages. Big preview here.

Good-bye Marianne: A Story of Growing Up in Nazi Germany: This is a comics adaptation of a 1998 prose book by Irene N. Watts, concerning a young Jewish girl's experiences prior to her flight from Nazi Germany, one planned by her mother. Illustrations by children's book veteran Kathryn E. Shoemaker. From Tundra Books, $14.99 for 128 pages.

Herbie Archives Vol. 1: You know the Golden Age of Reprints is getting especially golden when no less than the Alan Moore-approved Fat Fury himself gets a 224-page hardcover collection. Lollies will be sucked, evil will be tromped, and the first five issues of the famed 1964-67 series will be collected along with some (all?) of the character's Forbidden Worlds shorts, which date back to '58. Writer Richard Hughes and the infamous Ogden Whitney will show you how it's done. Do note the official Dark Horse Archives price of $49.95, although it looks like they resisted the urge to slicken up the coloring too much, which is nice.

Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles: Another golden nugget - a big ol' collection of vintage newspaper comics by a guy that didn't even start the feature in question. But nobody will argue that Sickles' 1933-36 run on this John Terry-created aviation adventure strip wasn't something to catch the eye, and now the whole thing has been put together into another oversized IDW hardcover, 352 pages and $49.99, with the expected supplements.

The Myth of 8-Opus Prologue: Expanded Edition: But some reprints cover more recent material. For example, here's a new, $14.99 printing (with 20 added pages) for Gødland artist Tom Scioli's 2004 cosmic adventure graphic novel, actually the in-story beginning of a (Xeric-winning) Kirbyesque saga begun in pamphlet form in the late '90s. New material should follow.

Gravel: Never a Dull Day: Or shit, how about the entirety of Warren Ellis' and Mike Wolfer's 1999-2004 Strange(r) Kiss(es)/Killings output, 576 pages of stuff in an $89.99 Avatar hardcover, signed by both creators and limited to 2000 copies. Ellis and Avatar also have Anna Mercury #3 (of 5) this week.

Will Eisner's Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative: Here's something - an all-new softcover textbook from the late Eisner, put together from outlines prepared prior to his 2005 death, covering the meat and potatoes of how the physical form can look good on paper, for sequence. As always, a W.W. Norton publication, $22.95 for 164 pages.

Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form: Being a deluxe 9" x 9" hardcover, edited by Paul Buhle (who also provides a few essays), devoted to presenting a pictoral history of Jewish comics art, from early Yiddish newspaper strips to well beyond the birth of the comic book. From The New Press; $29.95 for 208 pages.

Tripwire 2008 Annual: The second volume of this revived yearly incarnation for editor-in-chief Joel Meadows' full-color UK magazine-about-comics. Here's the cover; $14.95 for 144 pages. Found in Diamond's incomparable Merchandise section, along with Vol. 1 of the dvd series Humiliated Housewives. Just look at this dust! You call that a quiche? I bet the Swansons' boy didn't get an "Improvement Needed" in penmanship.

MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 1: All the thrill of webcomics, on paper! A $19.95, 176-page color softcover, collecting the first six editions of DHP Online. Contains the whole of Joss Whedon's and Fábio Moon's Sugarshock! serial, plus short works by Mike Mignola & Guy Davis, Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá, Rick Geary, Peter Bagge, Adam Warren, Bob Fingerman and more.

The Sandman Presents: Dead Boy Detectives: Don't ask me why this 2001 miniseries from Ed Brubaker & Bryan Talbot is getting a $12.99 softcover collection this week, but hey - Ed Brubaker & Bryan Talbot. I recall it being a decent enough little ghostly mystery, with a running concern for how time seems to pass slower for children. It'll be a looker.

Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vol. 16 (of 18): My, we are getting close.

Air #1: The 40-page start of a new Vertigo ongoing series from G. Willow Wilson & M.K. Perker, the team behind the publisher's 2007 graphic novel Cairo. It's getting a nice push - the press materials bear the Neil Gaiman stamp of approval, invoking Rushdie, Pynchon and Eco at various points. I've read this issue, though, and I can't say I liked it much. Wilson is working in a sort of deliberately unsubtle fable of self-discovery mode, in which an acrophobic flight attendant named Blythe finds herself wowed by a handsome, ultra-cosmopolitan man-of-all-nations who's actually from no nation at all, just the type to save her from her very metaphorical fear of falling through the sky and never landing anywhere. The two wind up opposing The Etesian Front, a crew of radical anti-terrorist air security vigilantes who've actually become hijackers themselves as part of a scheme to steal a fleet of airplanes so as to patrol the sky, and... I dunno, bump other hijacked aircraft away from landmarks and/or the ground?

I mean, maybe that'll get explained later, but you can only push these metaphors so far with me before my head starts tilting back, and then I'm not even open to knowingly over-the-top romantic visions like a fresh-from-four-days'-unconsciousness hospital bed sex scene. And while I appreciate Wilson's willingness to have her major characters stand for firmly-stated ideologies, none of them quite translate to compelling personalities; even the comedy relief is bluntly direct, with a mussy-headed guy barking stuff like "Man, that is a serious bruise. You look like you've been in a mosh pit" in his first on-panel appearance. Perker doesn't aid things; he's got some decent character designs, but his visual storytelling is weak enough that a crucial visual cue that Wilson's story is entering a flashback -- the absence of a bruise on a character's head -- gets obscured by a bland medium perspective and an oddly-placed shadow, to say nothing of an action bit in which a character seems to fly around the place from poor staging. Here's a sneak peek, though; your take may be different, and it may develop into something better later on.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4: I love Michael Kupperman's work, and here's 32 more pages of awesome, funny shit. Only $4.50. Video magic here. Fantagraphics also has issue #2 of Sergio Ponchione's Grotesque and issue #3 (of 4) of Richard Sala's Delphine this week, both in the $7.95 Ignatz format.

Madman Atomic Comics #10: Allred.

Amazing Spider-Man #568: JRJR, for now.

Conan the Cimmerian #2: Corben. And Tomàs Giorello, in case you just glanced at the first page of that preview and thought "wow, Corben really has switched it up." Giorello is the series' regular artist, although right now his Conan is mostly sitting around and listening to a very long story, one that feels distinctly like a seperate project that somehow got folded into this new ongoing series, although I could easily be wrong. Timothy Truman writes it all.

Charlatan Ball #3: Did they mention Rogan Gosh last issue? Hm. Writer Joe Casey also has the new Youngblood Vol. 1: Focus Tested out this week, collecting issues #1-4 of the recent revamp into a $9.99 trade.

The Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand: What? You're already shaking in an empty bathtub from a distinct lack of Matt Fraction on this Marvel Comics superhero title? And it's not even your bathtub?! That's fucked up, friend, but here's a $3.99 book of reprints with an all-new framing sequence by Fraction and artist Kano, and it'll pep your ass right up. Speaking of pep, who wants to see Gil Kane's and Larry Hama's and Dick Giordano's and (possibly) Klaus Janson's art from Marvel Premiere #15-16 spruced up with shiny computer colors? Gaze here, if you care to.

The Punisher MAX #61: Yep, not a week has been wasted in launching this series' post-Ennis life, with Gregg Hurwitz as the lucky duck handling the direct follow-up; once his south-of-the-border tale is finished, two more prose crime specialists will take a crack via individual storylines. With art by Laurence Campbell & (colorist) Lee Loughridge, who had some striking images in The Punisher MAX Annual #1 a few months ago. Preview here, which you've seen already if you flipped to the end of issue #60. Marvel also has issue #2 of Hurwitz's Foolkiller: White Angels this week, featuring a fortuitously-timed guest appearance by... Frank Castle! There's the old synergy.

The Punisher War Journal Classic Vol. 1: But the old-school among you might rather take a $24.99 trip back to the late '80s, when a 24-year old lad by the name of Jim Lee learned the ways of punishment at the knee of Carl Potts, which sounds pretty dirty, but it's ok because they were just drawing comics about a guy shooting people and fighting Wolverine. Collects issues #1-8, so there's still a few loose stories with the original team hanging off the end. Was this the first time Lee teamed with inker Scott Williams?



Poor little Boots.

Batman #679

Even in the weaker of his recent comics, Grant Morrison typically manages to pack in at least one panel of superior fantasy glee, in which absurd, catchy notions are casually pitched out to meet with understated superhero tropes and share a laugh.

In the underwhelming Final Crisis #3, that panel saw Jay Garrick, staring into a coffee mug, sitting on a couch with his concerned wife and Barry Allen's weeping widow, his winged helmet shining in the parlor light, gravely intoning: "It's a little-known fact that death can't travel faster than the speed of light." In this newest issue of Batman, the moment arrives when a supervillain luchador in a jacket and tie strides into Arkham Asylum, gazing mildly at a scroll and offering a stern warning to his blossom-bearing gargoyle henchmen:

"Just don't let the black and red roses come into contact with one another or everyone dies."

And luckily, this isn't one of Morrison's lesser issues - it's probably the best his Batman has been since the wonderful 1990s-as-the-future-as-Hell #666, pushing Our Addled Hero to entertainingly mean places while nudging forward all of this run's special concerns.

Certainly the Knightfall allusions (speaking of the '90s) continue to stack up, with Dr. Hurt vowing to "break" Batman, while the man himself leaps around in his Zur-en-arrh costume -- which still reminds me of Azrael's armor in its color scheme, Silver Age origin or not -- thrashing villains with his trusty Bat-bat (YES) and declaring himself Batman without Bruce Wayne: a temporary, terribly badass situation that played itself out in a prior storyline with a modified Bat-logo in the upper right corner of every cover.

But while the Jean-Paul Valley replacement seemed mandated by the chase for shock money, Morrison plays the whole thing out as the latest and most extreme of all the character's contingency plans - crafting an entire break-glass-in-case-of-emergency subconcious parachute persona to take over in case Bruce Wayne's mind just happens to collapse. If Batman-the-comic can survive any tampering, it makes sense that Morrison -- eager to wrap up every last scrap of Bat-history into one long, strange story -- would have Batman-the-character cook up his own similar 'replacement' for a similarly dehabilitating occasion.

Also, beyond all the 'Batman dancing around town in a garbage bag costume and hitting people with a baseball bat' merriment, there's new hints of a certain discomfort the writer has been exhibiting with 'big' superhero plot twists - think Lex Luthor all but rolling his eyes at the Martian Manhunter's death in Final Crisis #2, while Superman prays for his swift revival. There's a fine bit in here where archfiend Dr. Hurt tries to reveal himself as -- *gasp!!* -- Thomas Wayne, Batman's beloved father, and Alfred just doesn't believe him. Not in the NOOOOOOO sense, but the 'no, that's absurd' sense, which is how that threatened twist has been treated every time it's been shockingly brought up in whatever form.

A lot of self-awareness as to what a major storyline ought to do is on display here, and a touch of mockery; surely the stage was set by that screamingly obvious segment with Random Police Officer A talking about his dear young son, only to be impaled on spears four panels later.

It's great, fast stuff, really delivering on the promise of all those earlier issues, which had a way of just seeming abridged. Put another way, at its worst, Morrison's Batman felt less like reading an actual comic than an illustrated version of Morrison's script notes and outlines for a Batman comic you'd love to see once it's actually written. For readers just stopping in, this, on the other hand, is more like Morrison excitedly telling you about his great Batman comic -- all Caliguan bad guys naming nearby fish senators, the Joker fixing his nails in the red and black pattern of life/death, joke/punchline, and the Knight and Squire rushing to the rescue -- while acting as some sweet fulfillment for devout readers. Christ, he's gonna pull it off again.


Strange and Stranger


*Most activity was on the homefront for -


Abandoned Cars (short comics by Tim Lane; drops of drama, mixed up in a smart container)

Final Crisis #3 (of 7) (how to subjugate a planet without being seen)

Tokyo Zombie (stealth manga satire, in a jugular vein)

Where Demented Wented: The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes (says it all)

*Upcoming Publications Dept: Hmm. In case you haven't heard already, it looks like Brendan McCarthy is writing and drawing a Spider-Man/Dr. Strange miniseries for 2009. And I do believe that'll be his first proper extended-length work with corporate-owned US superheroes - while I certainly enjoyed his superhero-heavy issue of Solo from 2006, that was more a hyperlinked patchwork one-off, capable of handling odd imaginings, and it'll be something to see how much room he gets to flow over a multi-issue capes 'n tights project.

I mean, I'm sure some would rather he was doing something untethered from any corporate-owned properties, although I think seeing him operate under such restraints could be interesting on its own. Or maybe I'm just the type to get enthusiastic over any new McCarthy comics at all.

*The long-awaited arrive with -


Disappearance Diary: Hell yeah - it's Fanfare/Ponent Mon week. Now's your big chance to drop $22.99 on this fascinating 200-page autobiography of Hideo Azuma, a prominent mangaka who can't help but divorce himself from home and society, even if it means living homeless in the woods. My full review is here, and a preview is here, along with handy international ordering instructions, in case your shop is fresh out. Also out is The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories, which I think (hope) was made available once before. It's an uneven but typically striking collection of Jirô Taniguchi shorts, mostly dealing with humans and nature. It's $21.99 for 240 pages; review here, preview here.

The Punisher MAX #60: In which the last shot is fired in writer Garth Ennis' character-defining tenure on the series. Dare you see the future? In commemoration of the event, Marvel is also reprinting The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, a 1995 What If...? styled one-shot that marked Ennis' first work on the character (and pivoted on a plot point later recycled in The Boys). Ennis won't be gone forever - he and Steve Dillon are set to return to their older, 'funny' version of the character for a weekly miniseries around the time the Punisher: War Zone movie is released, although I can't say I'm excited. That iteration of the character never held much interest for me, and its eventual disappearance bore some symbolism for Ennis, moving away from the snarky, slapsticky default his 'superhero' works can grow lazy from, digging deep into something cruel and complex, something that sustained a pulpy, darkly satirical world around a notoriously simple-yet-tricky character, and made corporate comics seem less a mocked source of profit than a forum for an amplified world of terrors. It will be missed.

The Black Diamond: Get in the Car and Go: A new collected edition for writer/publisher Larry Young's and artist Jon Proctor's spin around high-concept highway-of-the-future action, perspectives shifting and narrative elements detatching. I can't say it's entirely successful -- often its presentational ambition is undone by the visuals it has to work with -- but it does drive hard. More later. With an introduction by Graeme McMilliam. Big preview here. It's 144 color pages from AiT/Planet Lar, $12.95.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: This just won Best Book at the Doug Wright Awards the other day, so it's handy that Diamond is offering it again this very week. It's a "graphic memoir" of a famed Chinese entertainer and vaudeville legend, written by his great-grandaughter, Ann Marie Fleming, who previously directed a movie version of the story, and duly mixes film stills with her own drawings and additional art by Julian Lawrence to form this subsequent project. From Riverhead, $14.00 for 176 pages.

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder Vol. 1: The Lindbergh Child: Gah! It's... it's a relaunch!! Gasp and choke! Ah, but what else could writer/artist Rick Geary do - having covered every murder in the whole of the Victorian era, he was left with no choice but to plunge this entertaining series of true crime comics into the unthinkable future. It's a $15.95, 80-page hardcover from NBM, and you can view some samples here.

The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics: Another of Robinson Publishing's big bricks of genre, this time a 480-page, $17.95 collection of vice and villainy edited by Paul Gravett. With works by Dashiell Hammett & Alex Raymond (Secret Agent X-9), Mickey Spillane (Mike Lancer), Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Grist, Max Allan Collins & Terry Beatty (Ms. Tree), Enrique Abuli & Jordi Bernet (Torpedo 1936), Bernie Krigstein, Jacques Tardi, José Muñoz & Carlos Sampayo, Charles Burns and more. Preview here. Found in Diamond's easy access Merchandise section along with a $44.99 Hulk Back Buddy, which should help with the depression my back has been in lately.

Kidnapped: A 64-page, $11.95 North American release (via Tundra Books) of writer Alan Grant's and artist Cam Kennedy's 2007 comics adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, produced as part of Edinburgh's UNESCO-backed City of Literature reading effort, in which 7500 copies were given away and some of the artwork was purchased by the National Library of Scotland. I hear there were variant covers too. UNESCO loves that shit.

Mineshaft #22: The new issue of this fine labor of love from Everett Rand & Gioia Palmieri, a collection of cultural and artistic fascinations, many of them involving cartoonists from the '60s underground days. This time there's a big photo feature on female personalities of Muscle Beach in the '40s, plus a jam illustration (and dueling songs) by Kim Deitch & Jay Lynch, a letter and drawings from Robert Crumb, a humor essay by Jay Kinney, comics by Mary Fleener and Frank Stack, and more. It's 52 b&w pages for $6.95, and you can order it here if your shop doesn't have it.

Batman #679: Being part 4 (of 6) of Batman's Chemical Caper, in which the Cranked Crusader takes his battle straight to the Club of Villains, Bat-Mite at his side. Awesome preview here; I like to imagine Batman is delivering all of his dialogue in Christian Bale's Bat-voice, which he only uses while on drugs.

New X-Men by Grant Morrison Ultimate Collection Book 2 (of 3): And after you're done with Bruce, you can check this softcover out and track the similarities between Morrison's referential stories of futures hounded by pasts. It's $34.99, which is actually more than the hardcover it's based off used to be, but that's what you get for being tardy. I ought to call your home.

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #2 (of 3): Corben!

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #2 (of 5): Davis!

Welcome to Hoxford #1: This is Ben Templesmith's new series with IDW, a bloody take on institutionalization and, apparently, werewolves. It's $3.99. Bleed here.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier - The Absolute Edition: Well, um, this was supposed to contain that neato vinyl record with Alan Moore's in-story song on it, but now it doesn't. Granted, the solicitation still says it does, but I don't think anybody updated it. There also doesn't appear to be a bonus script book like the other two LoEG Absolutes, or really any bonuses at all. Um, it has a slipcase? It's bigger? It's $99.00!

500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide: Oh, this is one of those fat little books you see a lot of in the Media or Film sections of the bookstore - now comics has one, 528 pages for $24.95, courtesy of author Gene Kannenberg, Jr. and Collins Design. It's been on the big box shelves for a little while now; I guess it's all right for this sort of thing. It's split up into genre categories, with 10 'must read' works lined up first, followed by alphabetized picks that I suppose aren't quite as essential yet essential nonetheless. There's also an all-important 'rating' system of one to five stars tacked on, so as to further detail how some essentials are more essential than others, although the stars and the actual space-in-the-book rankings seem to act at cross-purposes, so that Marvel's Conan the Barbarian gets both a 'ten best' ranking for its full run and general import, while Vol. 1 of the collected editions (the specific book named) gets only two stars (if I recall correctly), and the attached review expends some space taking Barry Windsor-Smith down a peg.

It's written breezily enough, and tries to explain its machinations as best it can. I found that its brief moments of criticism sat uneasily amidst a general tone of happy advocacy (I mean, they're all essential graphic novels!), without the space needed to register as anything better than odd points of anomaly. There's a nice presence for European works, but it seems 'graphic novel'-focused surveys still don't quite have a grip on manga - I'm pretty sure I can count the included Japanese comics without the words Tezuka or Koike on their covers with my fingers (EDIT: 8/12/08 7:10 PM EST: ugh, that was hyperbolic; there's actually 31 such comics, and I don't have nearly that many appendages). And, on a more subjective level, I am hesitant around any book of this type that fills its Nonfiction section with the likes of Cancer Vixen and Drawing Comics is Easy (Except When It's Hard) while ignoring the works of Eddie Campbell, and insists that Batman: Hush is among the most vital-for-some-reason works of the superhero genre as available in a bookshelf-ready format. But hey - this is truly, completely not a book aimed at me anyway.

UPDATE 8/13/08 8:32 PM EST: Eddie Campbell clarifies.




Where Demented Wented: The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes

The quote above isn't anything Rory Hayes put in a comic. His writing doesn't quote well, prone to grammar errors and flat declaration as it is, a cadence burnt into the brain from old horrors, movies and comics, condensed and whittled into the stuff of ready recollection. There seems to be no filter.

No, all of those caps come from something Hayes said, as recorded in Bill Griffith's utterly beautiful tribute to Hayes, a two-page comic from 1980, depicting its still-young subject walking through a rainstorm on the third evening of his latest pharmaceutical binge, clutching his beloved, talking teddy bear character Pooh Rass in his arms and narrating his screenplay to the grand horror movie of his dreams, undeterred by the knife plunged into his chest and the blood soaking into his shirt. It would still be three years before Hayes died at 34, dead from drugs, still young.

Rory Hayes was an underground cartoonist in the late-'60s/early-'70s heyday of comix-with-an-x. You might call him an "artist's artist," in that his work was often unpopular with the underground readership, though Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Griffith and others were among his admirers. And if you accept the dichotomy of the underground era as split between talents who loved EC's humor comics best -- the Crumbs and Spiegelmans and such -- and those who adored the horror and fantasy and mayhem -- Greg Irons, Richard Corben -- Hayes becomes oddly miraculous, in that his own tastes sat so clearly with the latter, yet his memory rests mainly in the renown of the former.

But memory, generic memory, critical memory, history, is so damn slippery, greasing our travel back in time until we move with such velocity that our surroundings seem no more than speed lines, our perceptions limited to what narratives we are already prone to recognizing from those sequential images of artistic works we glimpse apart from the gutters of noise.

Naturally, we don't all see exactly the same thing, but I think there's a tendency toward shared assumptions - that comic books are made for the market, live and die by their success thereupon, and may later be evaluated or reevaluated in the context of that audience's gift or lack of appreciation, as tossed against the appreciation of peers or the reaction of society, or 'the form,' or 'the industry.'

Rory Hayes created two well-known comic book series. One was Bogeyman Comics, which ran for three issues (1969-70), and contained horror comics by Hayes and guests. The other was Cunt Comics, a pornographic one-off from '69 that met with nearly unbridled loathing from unacclimated readers, raised bona-fied questions among some as to the author's mental health, and actually actually set the fucking printing press on fire as its final copies promenaded into being, devouring most of Hayes' original art for the project, as if the devil himself simply had to add those pieces to his personal collection, without delay.

This book, a $22.95 softcover from Fantagraphics -- edited by Dan Nadel & Glenn Bray -- reprints what appears to be the entirety of that most ill-fated comic, along with a large portion of the Bogeyman material and various odds 'n ends, across 144 b&w and color pages. Are they good comics? Well, I can tell you I sat down hoping to merely sample a few pages, and found myself devouring the entire book in one sitting, so I suppose they worked for me, yes.

They're not 'easy' comics, in that Hayes has a way of setting up straightforward narratives -- slavishly informed by the pre-Code horror blueprint -- only to collapse them into primal sequences of stalking or terror, or crazed hallucination & revelation, like he can't wait to get to the good stuff.

The sex material rarely exceeds three or four pages in length, depicting ecstatically painful acts and mutations, severed cocks erupting from a woman's vagina to stangle her female partner, a black blob oozing out from between another woman's legs to devour a man's prick, pissing and shitting and bleeding and Charlie Brown jerking off. Hayes hadn't actually had any sex when he drew the stuff - it was all iconography, all application of the underground's most misogynistic means of assaulting politeness, all feeling, the sheer impetus of association and chemistry.

I can see Mark Beyer in Hayes' early art. I don't know what can be seen in Hayes' later, rounder, richer work. It may be folly to look for anyone but him.

Across the whole of this book, its Griffith two-pager and its Edwin "Savage Pencil" Pouncey life's summary and its [auto]biographical afterword by older brother Geoffrey Hayes, the illustrator of children's books, what emerges for me is a strong expression of the error in evaluating such comics as works in a history of capital and aesthetic influence. That is the book's character. Even its own errors -- particularly a nasty bit where a specific, much-heralded story is refered to by different titles and years of release between Pouncey's essay and the table of contents -- seem keyed toward sabotaging the impulse to catalog, the passion of collecting, the instant acknowledgement of such comics as items in competition for attention, inclusion of a handy Rory Hayes checklist notwithstanding.

What is made plain is that making comics -- even smut comics at the behest of fellows -- was always a personal satisfaction for Hayes, an artist who never used a proper pen until his publisher showed him how. I'm genuinely not sure if Hayes really cared if anyone bought his comics, although it's made clear he had a natural desire for affection, affirmation. He certainly didn't squirrel his art away -- these comics were published, after all -- but the notion remains that all of these stories would have played out in his head in much the same manner had they never gone down on paper.

The elder Hayes opines that the creation of Cunt served as a cathartic release of his demons, but simply looking at some of the younger Hayes' stories reveals an expression of a man's interior experience, as unfettered as it gets when processed through an artistic medium.

A bear lands on a weird planet, wandering through a rotten structure, encountering a dead creature that has scrawled "WE TRIED" on the floor, fleeing from a giant monster until Hayes' Bogeyman invites him into his maw for escape. A woman pumps unspecified drugs into her arm, after which a hand erupts from her skull and goblins climb out, growing to massive size, wrapping their legs around skyscrapers and screaming until everything is mad, then quiet. An ugly man has the urge to mutilate until he spies a denuded nipple, causing an eye to rip from its socket and careen through space, finally crashing into a planet of teddy bears and splitting the whole thing apart, leaving a single bear floating in the void and wondering "When in the fuck will we ever learn?"

The book's supplements bolster this curious presentation of public solitude, not necessarily defeating the possibility of comparative or historical-contextual criticism, but forcing greater attention to be paid to the work as an expression of a life's status. It is beheld, then held as beheld. It makes a wonderful companion volume to Lynda Barry's What It Is, the best comic of 2008 so far, and a mission statement for artistic creation as a purely personal act. Consider this newer book illustrative of such action, seen from several perspectives, from your own to Hayes' himself, via a 1973 interview. He has words about art-as-therapy, words about comics-as-commerce, even words about comics criticism:

"I think criticism tends to destroy more than it does to help. There's too much criticism. If people would just look at something and see it for itself. People have a really bad habit of comparing. I can look at really poorly drawn stuff and see something there."

What catches my eye is the "comparing." One better than the other. Give one a trophy, hail it. Hold it up to history, vaunt its vitality in the culture. Makes for criticism. Nothing wrong with that.

But Hayes had his mind out in space, I expect, even without the drugs. Look back to that quote in my title. Evolved into cinders from the cosmos.

He's right. Many of you I'm sure are aware that the elements that make up everything we see, and our eyes as well, originate from the heat of early stars, untold trillions of transformations, subtle and violent, resulting in the birth of that shit you took a while ago and the comic book website you're now reading. The height of your health was contained in space, your inevitable decline prenatal in outer bodies. The cinders that were Rory Hayes, three years from death, did evolve from that same place. He, immortal for now in Bill Griffith's comic, saw that.

Griffith's comic won't be around forever, obviously. Neither will this post, nor the book I'm reviewing. Nor me, nor you, nor any of the artistic works that we might appreciate in whatever manner, nor anything our species ever does in any way. In 150 or so years, every human being currently alive on this planet will be dead, and replaced by a somewhat greater number of entirely new human beings, although societies and philosophies and religions and such will endeavor to provide continuity, until they too pass, and the sun eventually eats the planet, and that, as they say, is that.

Such is this book's posture. It is not a rehabilitation of Rory Hayes' 'career' in 'comics,' because its primary mode of function is to disavow the necessity of reading his work as a part of the wider underground, and to advocate the idea of reading his work as him, as purely acts of life, as a temporary record of living in a certain time and place, as a fortunate reader's look into what a man thought, sketched out from the slowed scenery of his popular culture and his beloved teddies, his symbols and desires, so direct a comics translation as to force an evaluation of the originating tongue. It's creation we're all capable of, comics any one of us can make.

Until we're all dead. Like Rory Hayes is.


Art of Softness

Tokyo Zombie

This wasn't quite what I expected, but I'm not complaining.

It's a 160-page, $9.95 Last Gasp edition (translated by Ryan Sands and lettered/retouched by Evan Hayden, both of the blog SAME HAT! SAME HAT!) of a 1998-99 serial by Yūsaku Hanakuma, which ran in early issues of the alternative manga anthology AX. It also inspired a 2005 live-action film (note the Kazuo Umezu cameo) from writer/director Sakichi Satô, who previously adapted Hideo Yamamoto's Ichi the Killer manga for director Takashi Miike's 2001 feature. The two films also share the same lead actor, Tadanobu Asano - I expect such connections helped the later film get some attention from international horror viewers. It's due on US dvd in November.

All of that, coupled with the fact that artist Hanakuma works in the storied heta-uma ('bad-good') approach to comics and illustration, might lead you to believe you're in for some crackpot exercise in faux-naïve genre splatter. That, however, would belie some misunderstanding of how heta-uma ideally works - it's not so much about a denial of craft as a deliberate controlling of such to prevent the gloss of technical aptitude from paralyzing the 'soul' of one's drawings. Successful art of the type may seem totally unskilled on first blush, but there is an evident command of visual craft backing it up, albeit not in a way that inhibits the spirit of the drawing.

(remember, right-to-left)

As such, Hanakuma's art is dashed-off yet disarmingly cute, soft and putty-like humans walking against playset architectures, everything bolstered by an innate understanding of what makes a drawing funny. His writing is no less slippery; its tone reminded me a lot of the old Super Nintendo game Earthbound, with a quiet appreciation for situational absurdity bumping into vividly odd character humor. Better yet, it's Earthbound as a Eurosleaze horror quickie, complete with a scene of a naked zombie beauty taking hold of a hapless man's equipment, and biting it right off.

The plot concerns two men, Mitsuo and Fujio (apparently regular characters in Hanakuma's comics 'cast' in specific roles, a la Tezuka's star system), who love nothing more than practicing their jujutsu moves in the hopes of becoming masters. And when an awful fuckhead from "main office" tells them how gay those proper holds look, they think nothing of bashing his head in with a pipe and dragging the corpse up to Dark Fuji, a local mountain of garbage where people seek to lose all their troubles.

Things get bad, though, when Dark Fuji's corpses begin to rise as flesh-hungry ghouls, leading to some funny bits with nearby citizens running into the newly undead - one young punk arrives home during a gangbang, only to have a zombified friend stretch its mouth to devour his whole head while a partygoer bursts into the room, the action with his partner continuing from the standing position, shouting "What's going on in here?" Plenty of folks bitten and infected around town, including the older Mitsuo, prompting him to urge Fujio to keep training and attain that black belt rank.

And then, quite suddenly, the already loose-fitting plot leaps five years into the future, where a walled-off city seeks to maintain polite society in the middle of the zombie hellscape (much like in George Romero's later Land of the Dead), complete with the wealthy lording over slaves and holding gladiatorial human/zombie fights for their pleasure. Guess who's a skilled fighter in the pit?

Gradually, wonderfully, Tokyo Zombie drifts off into using its zombie fights as an extended metaphor for the crowd-pleasing antics of pro wrestling supplanting the subtle beauty of classical martial arts grappling, with Fujio standing as a paragon of skill hated by an audience hungry for blood and thunder, faked or not. Hanakuma is a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he invests his bad drawings with good authenticity, enough so that the zombie fights -- and what they represent -- become fascinatingly personal, all with enough room left over for nearby guards to slash a man's arm off and demonstrate the exciting art of pig surfing (stand on pig; don't fall off).

I doubt the book's climax will come as much of a surprise to anyone. But then, this is a work of moments, doled out in an easygoing manner but not necessarily easy - a critical fight sees two combatants leap to the highest level of jujutsu skill, pulling off moves that stun the connoisseurs but aggravate the rabble, which hurls trash into the ring, denouncing the match as bullshit and the participants as amateurs, loud and snarky in snorting, uncaring ignorance. It's not hard at all to see it as an even broader metaphor, one of artistic pursuit, one tailored neatly for a bad-good artist cooking up a story for the first issues of a manga anthology determined to avoid the mainstream - the culture sure won't eat them up.

But don't let my reading get in the way of the work's immediate pleasures, many of them involving heads falling off and cute piggies devouring consumer culture, the role of blood played by wild scribbles and slashes of ink. This is a fun, attractive work, even a moving one, in its loose-limbed way. You should find a copy and read it.


Kwik Thots

Final Crisis #3 (of 7)

I didn't like this as much as prior issues, although a glance around the internet suggests I'm in the minority.

And I think that's maybe a case of the comic slowly shifting gears to give due attention to certain big-time superhero megacomic aspects that don't really match up with my own tastes - I don't read a lot of these types of stories, after all, and this chapter's a bit more like a proper Event comic than usual, what with its heavier focus on recent continuity coming to a head, along with a showcase throwdown between especially punchy combatants, lots of affirmations of superhero universe bigness and maybe a few nods toward upcoming supplemental miniseries that might interest the discerning reader.

Oh, there's still some fine moments, some interesting stuff. This remains the sort of understatement-focused Big! comic that'll have the Anti-Life Equation disseminated via email spam, after which Darkseid conquers the world off-panel - so it goes with barely-seen troubles spreading until one day you stop running and look around, and everything's just awful. As the best exchange of the issue went: "Our customers expect burgers with fries. Bizarre, unsettling questions? No." But that's how it sneaks up on you! Good thing Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones have this unsettling attitude, eh readers?

Naturally, I also applauded for all the references to other comics I managed to understand, although some of them carried more weight than others; I mean, it was nice seeing Frankenstein again, but he didn't actually have much to do besides look cool and assure hopeful readers that his incarnation of the archetype hasn't been ejected into the Immateria yet.

More successful was the big bog encounter between homophobic supervillain Mike Miller (tee hee) and the costume-baring, revamp-minded Libra, a rather deliberate evocation of the Slaughter Swamp opening of Seven Soldiers #0, only with the 'creator' character slamming the hapless D-lister's new helmet onto his head and instantly imposing total subjugation. That's not how you remake a universe, but it is how you reverse the themes of an earlier work into a multiverse-shaking threat - and do note that Libra is essentially in the role of Mr. Grant Morrison!

Even better was the momentary casting of Super Young Team -- those awesomely ad hoc Japanese scenester superheroes -- as an ersatz Forever People, which seems a pretty ingenious bit of industry commentary married to in-story superhero globalization, just the sort of thing I'd expect from an omnivore of influence like Morrison. Although some of the Forever People themselves are supposed to show up later on, according to the Sketchbook... but hey, why settle on just one idea of youth?

Unfortunately, a compelling chapter didn't cohere for me. Sure, I didn't need to have read Countdown to get the basic mechanics of the Wonder Woman/Mary Marvel fight, but there's not a lot of resonance beyond the vague echo of something from somewhere else coming to a head - it's otherwise just Wonder Woman and Bad Former Heroine (amusingly dressed not unlike Oubliette from Morrison's and Jones' Marvel Boy) punching each other while an emotional hook is heavy-handedly imposed by a supporting character (from another book, I guess)mentioning how Wonder Woman totally inspires her, and then she tragically dies no more than three pages later - we know it's a sad and weighty moment, because another character mentions it.

I was sad to see the call-and-response first and last page game from the first two issues go, the big opening splash replaced by more small panels to pack in added story info. It's not all good. The Hal Jordan strand hasn't yet gone beyond 'framed man' boilerplate, I don't have nearly enough of an attachment to the Flash mythos to click with Jay and Barry and Wally all outrunning Death together, no matter how grave everyone's faces appear to be, and the Superman subplot has now gotten distractingly clumsy, with Our Hero feeling the need to announce his motivation aloud while comforting Lois in the same breath (like, 'I love you so much honey, if I so much as flinch you're dead' - jeez, Clark!), only to have another character burst in shouting "Superman! You are needed for an urgent tie-in!" Not in those words, granted.

It's still a fair enough creep forward, yeah. Just blander than before. It's kind of a thin line this project is balanced on - it's trying to be a different kind of Event comic (not your dad's crossover, as Morrison declares in his annotations to issue #1, if you bought that too), but its subtleties and soft touch do run the risk of transforming it into simply a more boring variant of the usual Event; I think this issue highlights that hazard, though maybe there's less trouble waiting those few weeks into the future.


"It's everything your grandparents ever told you - and more!"

Abandoned Cars

This should be out sometime this month, a $22.99, 168-page hardcover from Fantagraphics, collecting comics by Tim Lane. It's the first volume of a projected trilogy of story suites, seeing recurring characters sweat and stagger under the canopy of what the author calls the Great American Mythological Drama.

And if that seems like an elusive subject, don't worry - this is the type of book that's prone to explaining things. It lays its plan right out in a fake ad before the table of contents. Every story, every scrap of indicia is devoted to working that grand theme every which way. If that's not enough, there's even an author's afterword that spells it out as best it can, though Lane concedes his theme is a ghost, "an exquisite haunting, manifesting itself as an intuition more than an intellectual awareness." It strikes me as haunting in the manner of beholding a very large structure, something that gets you dizzy and panicked from merely considering its might in contrast to your known and suddenly evident delicacy.

So, all of Lane's stories are stuffed with Americana -- icons and vestiges and scenery -- and all of his characters are moved as players on a gameboard of national myth and dreaming. I can't imagine these collected works having the same impact apart from one another, although virtually all of them come from diverse sources like comics anthologies from editors Glenn Head (Hotwire Comics) and Danny Hellman (Legal Action Comics, Typhon), the St. Louis-based Riverfront Times (wherein the artist had a weekly column titled You Are Here) and Lane's own 2004-05 pamphlet series Happy Hour in America, which I admit I've never heard of until now.

They've all got a good home here - I couldn't find any design credit, but this is a very smartly arranged book, its color endpapers presenting a carnival scene, followed by total blackness (like entering a tent show), with pages then alternating between stark character portraits and the aforementioned theme-setting fake ad (all white and cars and smiles), until a carny barker appears to pitch the book's theme again (in a more allusive manner), and we're off to the stories. 'Full' comics are followed by small strips or illustrated prose vignettes, every tale isolated by black, as if new skits need to be set up, actors hurrying around while you can't see.

Lane's words and pictures provide different levels of illustration. As can be plainly seen, Lane's visuals are quite heavily influenced by those of Charles Burns (himself no stranger to odd culture), and his narratives proceed with a cadence similarly informed by caption-stuffed pre-Code horror comics. Often there's enough text-based narration that the captions sprout connecting joints so as to guide the reader's eye around the page, like natural growths prone to fusing into a solid mass. Word balloons proliferate rapidly as the visuals seem to harden; Lane does have a flatter style than Burns, one that's good for setting characters against sturdy, detailed backgrounds.

Yet Lane's stories, while leaping in tone from drama to comedy to surrealism to suspense and back again, maintain a distinctly personal focus. Everything in here is essentially a tight character study, and every character is prone to longing after things; we often don't stick around long enough to see if they get what they think they want, although their paths toward some form of personal realization are duly detailed. And sometimes there's not even much of that, although a jaunty "The End" appears at the close of each story, since our time in the tent is limited, after all.

There's an obvious conflict between these unassuming portraits and Lane's visuals, which, whle realistic, wash many panels with stark 'lighting' and present several viewpoints through dramatic perspectives; the result is a knowing juxtaposition of minor human drama and a sort of omniscient grandeur, the Drama of this Great American Myth that surrounds us all.

Lane's stories, taken one by one, vary in effectiveness. There's a fine, elliptical three-page piece in which a man in a bar converses with a guy who's maybe been sent to kill him. A seperate barroom saga explodes the place into an orgy of groping and violence, cars speeding and tree branches thrusting into people's faces as the narrator considers the white noise of his life (aand, frankly, does a good deal of explaining what the drawings are obviously showing) at a mile a minute. It feels busy, almost spoofish.

The more solidly realistic stories tend to be better when kept short, like a three-page bit with a man trying to get a woman to go home with him, becoming more obviously vulnerable as his effort wears on. Elsewhere, a six-page look at a satisfied man's dissolving marriage becomes bogged down in unwieldy narration redundant visuals, when it demands observation and nuance; its continuation later in the book offers little but tinny reversals. When Lane ventures into fantasy, he's more effective when he's funny - a two-part look at an old man's spooked life veers pleasantly from character-driven comedy to tall tale, while the story of a man wounded in love who rams into the life-affirming epiphany of a shimmering forest creature giving birth is about as clumsy as it sounds.

But then, this book's construction discourages the modular reading. Settings and words recur from tale to tale. Multi-part stories partition time periods and settings, lending the project scope. Everything, everything addresses that monster topic in its own way; it accumulates so that even a latecoming two-pager about a man's wife dying and his putting her photograph on her old chair, banal and soppy as it seems, gains some power as punctuation for more substantial looks at American longing and expectation. The same goes for a fact-based comic about Stagger Lee - alone, it presumes an affinity toward the legend surrounding the story, a mystique ineffectively conveyed through its dry recounting of events. But the whole crazy tent show at least affords you some context clues.

That's a nice Eisner touch with the rising steam up there. Cars are important to this megastory, as Lane notes in that afterword. Or how Lane shows us in a three-part autobiographical story, one of the longest in the book (and the most visually lavish), showing Our Man's attempts at hopping train cars to who knows where in 1994, at the age of 24. It's like a transforming ritual, freeing his spirit by acting iconically, melting into a cold, windy black of a train car to become the Dark Romantic, to sing with Elvis across time, to play the harmonica and face true nothing, and become dramatic like the pictures he'd later draw, and feel the passing tail of the Myth and the Drama.

Yeah, another explanation - but at least Lane fesses up to being another actor among many in this show. And then the sun comes up, and he abandons his car, to get back to the nonplussed living.

It's also just one abandoned car amidst several. Some crash. Some stall. Some get left to run. Some smash into highly symbolic pregnant animals. Some get left at the bar with your hopes for romance. "They offer only superficial and temporary answers to our needs, eventually becoming a skeletal echo of a dream you never stop paying for." Their fates, varied in texture but unified in broad drive, are like the stories in this book, brought together as something singular from sometimes unsatisfying elements. It states its intent, inward and outward; you won't mistake it for something else.


Told You I'd Be Busy

*God, for more time in the day. I should have more time this week at least.


Little Nothings Vol. 1: Curse of the Umbrella

Narcopolis #4 (of 4)

*It's not like I don't have enough things to write about, I mean.


Comics Comics #4: Another big 16-page installment of that 23" x 36" b&w newspaper tabloid from PictureBox, all about the world of funnies we hold so dear. With articles and/or comics by Frank Santoro, Tim Hodler, Dan Nadel, Sammy Harkham, Brian Chippendale, Jon Vermilyea, Dan Zettwoch, others, and me (on Crypic Wit and the comics of Gerald Jablonski). Only $2.95, and if your shop doesn't have it you can get it online.


Special Forces #3 (of 6): I've really been enjoying Kyle Baker's two-fisted blazing combat satire from Image, so it's great to see it back from hiatus. This preview instills fire in my soul. The publisher also has Jack Staff #18 from Paul Grist, making it a noteworthy week in the hearts of lovers.

Army@Love: The Art of War #1 (of 6): And in other wartime returns, this Vertigo project from Rick Veitch & (inker) Gary Erskine is back as a miniseries. It's also an Iraq satire, although its particular blend of cultural extrapolation and romance comic soap operatics is very much unlike any other series on the stands right now, or really anything else I can think of. This may be a good issue to jump in with.

Blurred Vision Vol. 4: The 229-page newest edition of a softcover anthology blending works from an experimental comics and 'fine' arts perspective. With K. Thor Jensen, Toc Fetch, Matt Madden, Andrei Molotiu (I didn't realize his Abstract Comics: An Anthology had been cleared for publication by Fantagraphics until I read his author's bio), Ethan Persoff, Tobias Tak and more. Full lineup here. Review coming soon.

Massive Swerve: I don't know a damn thing about this 96-page, $19.95 collection of comics by animator Robert Valley, but it looks slick.

Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1950s Comic: This is a $19.95 Orion hardcover from 2007 that's just making its way to Diamond-serviced shops now - 176 pages collect various strips from the vintage British comics source, including some classic Dan Dare material. Found in Diamond's extensive Merchandise section, wherein a Patlabor 2 Hellhound Model Kit challenged my notions of security in a globalized state.

Creepy Archives Vol. 1: Being the start of Dark Horse's big ol' deluxe hardcover reprint project for the venerable horror magazine. Bad news - it's at the typical $49.95 price point for Dark Horse's 'archival' hardcovers. Good news - it's bigger than average in every way, preserving the original magazine dimensions of 8 3/8" x 10 7/8" for 232 b&w pages. Contains the first five issues (1965), and the contributions of a bevy of EC and related artists, like Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Alex Toth, Joe Orlando, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow and Reed Crandall, with many stories written by Archie Goodwin (editor as of issue #4). Samples here.

The Mask Omnibus Vol. 1: Detailing classic oozing slapstick exploits by John Arcudi & Doug Mahnke, from the initial 1989 Mayhem serial through 1995's The Mask Strikes Back. Childhood fondness aspect: pertinent. I'm not sure if Mark Badger's abortive 1987 Dark Horse Presents incarnation of the character (initially created by Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson for early '80s fanzines) will be in here, but those 376 color pages will provide plenty of room. It's $24.95; preview here.

The Complete Zombies Vs. Robots: Ashley Wood. Will he ever stop? No. This week brings a $19.99, 160-page softcover collection for all of these Chris Ryall-written genre mash-up stories (thus far), including, I think, completed serial stuff intended for Wood's stalled D'Airain Aventure anthology series.

Foolkiller: Fool's Paradise: Well, it's no Omega: The Unknown in terms of verve or thoughtfulness. Actually, it pretty much ignores Steve Gerber's explicitly satiric intent altogether in favor of a dry, raised-eyebrow tone of crime comic decadence. But I did kinda dig writer Gregg Hurwitz's ultra-lurid MAX saga of doom, gloom and online gambling, and Lan Medina turns in some deluxe, men's action magazine-ready art. It's $17.99 collected, which is pretty good for a $3.99 pamphlet series. Also in bookshelf punishment this week: a new $24.99 hardcover printing of Garth Ennis' and Steve Dillon's The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank.

Crossed #0 (of 9): Speaking of Ennis, here's his newest Avatar project with frequent collaborator Jacen Burrows, a horror series in which a strange infection brings out the latent wickedness in very nearly everyone on the fucking planet. This issue #0 is your typical $1.00 Avatar prelude chapter, which the writer promises will be "all-out carnage, horror piled upon horror to the point of sensory overload." The series proper will begin in October.

Criminal 2 #4: The start of a new four-part, present day story for Ed Brubaker's and Sean Phillips' multi-perspective crime opus, this time focusing on the affairs of Tracy Lawless' comics artist friend, the man behind the beloved Frank Kafka, P.I. newspaper strip. Still 40 pages for $3.50; have a peek.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #1: The start of Terry Moore's run on this superhero-flavored high school romance title, with artist Craig Rousseau. A look. Moore's Echo #5 is also out this week.

Tor #4 (of 6): Kubert.

Punisher War Journal #22: Chaykin. I'm pretty happy to have recently gotten (cheap!) hold of four out of five issues of the old series Sword of Sorcery, which was DC's 1973 attempt to answer Marvel's Barry Windsor-Smith-powered Conan the Barbarian with adaptations of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. It's better known today as Chaykin's first 'major' comics work (with prominent contributions from Walter Simonson and Jim Starlin), and the product of a brief period in which DC attempted to marry eager young talents to regular, pulpy, non-superhero work (see also: Michael Wm. Kaluta on The Shadow, which also began in '73), with all accordant visual lapses - issue #1 sports a credit for the Crusty Bunkers (Neal Adams' irregular backing zoo crew of the day), issue #3 involved the work of "about a dozen" inkers (by writer/editor Dennis O'Neil's letters column estimate), and issue #4 had one of those dreaded deadline doom jam stories (a la Chaykin's The Scorpion #2 from '75). But man, there's some energy in there.

Infinity Inc. #12: Closing out writer Peter Milligan's well-intentioned, more interesting than not follow-up to 52 with a Final Crisis tie-in. And speaking of...

Final Crisis #3 (of 7): In which Darkseid kicks the crap out of the world. Is this gonna be an extended, DCU-wide version of the beating scene from Mister Miracle #3? Can Batman count on retaining all of his Bat-parts? Time (and, in all likelihood, internet posts) will tell. And don't miss the special 64-page, $4.99 Director's Cut edition of issue #1, in which historians on three continents work to integrate footage from newly-discovered prints so as to reestablish Carl Th. Dreyer's original vision.

Well... ok, actually it looks like some sort of annotated version of issue #1, which might turn out to be pretty neat, but god that label gets on my nerves...