All-Fights Thursday!

Ocean #5 (of 6)


That sound: the soft expelling of air. It’s not the tires going flat on this Warren Ellis sci-fi cruiser, but it’s certainly me exhaling a puff or two of letdown; just a little too familiar here near the end.

It turns out that the folks buried deep beneath the ice are none other than a slew of warlike ancient humans who ruined their own civilization and seeded the Earth for life in their own image, in hopes that one day they could return to a hospitable world. I couldn’t give you an exact title of a work in which this twist has popped up before, but I think we can all recognize it from multiple points in our shared sci-fi past. And just as these factory-fresh revelations are issued, the book suddenly plunges into saucer-flying robot-smashing action, with deadly forces threatening the Earth and baddies with big honking guns bursting into the station, and good old Inspector Kane takes up arms and prepares to dive into action to save an ally trapped behind enemy lines, so to speak. It’s like someone from off-page blew the ‘dumbass’ whistle and the whole book fell into line. Well, Chris Sprouse and Karl Story on art. The widescreen panels sure look pretty, although there’s a weird lack of tension to the robot-crushing.

And what kind of gets me is that these older plot twists Ellis is pulling in do sort of fit into what’s gone before. We’ve seen that mean Manager fellow and his minions laboring under the weight of literal corporate mind control; now the theme is expanded to include all of humankind struggling against their own barbaric genes. Humankind is thus the inheritors of an ingrained culture of violence and victory, reflected in the sprawling corporate structures Ellis dots his future Earth world with, fascinated with old weapons for new victories. Violence in the boardroom as national conquest (hey, they said that Doors controls a couple countries, right?). So it’s not that Ellis is just plopping out the old sci-fi standards all willy-nilly; there is a thematic point to it all. Which makes it all the more disappointing that this expansion on earlier thoughts rings such a cozily familiar chime, as we trip our ways toward the guns for two-fisted science action. Hey, it’s in our genes.

Astonishing X-Men #9


One moment in this issue stands out as particularly forced: Colossus is desperately trying to bust through the walls of the suddenly grumpy Danger Room to save his beloved Kitty and a slew of mutant students from certain doom. Cyclops suggests that maybe the brains of the system ought to be attacked. Grimacing, Colossus rumbles “I’ll look” and leaps right through the roof, tearing through an attic of wires like a metal man possessed. Wolverine, incomparable badass, is astounded, muttering “He’s back.”


Peter’s really back.”

That’s the last panel on the page. If only there was one more, perhaps Wolvie could have turned directly to the reader and grinned “Good thing we brought him back, eh fanboys?” with a wink of one eye and a twinkle in another. Maybe a thumbs-up.

Call me cynical or over-analytical, but this issue looks to me like a victim of ‘the creative team decided to stick around for another year and we don’t have to wrap all these subplots up in four issues anymore so let’s drop them for now and stretch out this current story idea for a few issues and see what happens’. There’s just too much haste, too little thought. A lot of time is spent trying to find the Danger Room’s electronic brain in that maze of wires I mentioned, which is apparently guarded by lasers designed by Professor X. My reaction? WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU INSTALLING KILLER LASERS IN A ROOM CHOCK FULL OF GODDAMNED WIRES?! I mean, do the wires do anything? I assume. Are they Smart Lasers? Will they know not to cut the heat to the upper-level men's room or kill the lights in the game room? I don’t know.

Also: apparently the Danger Room can take control of “anybody got a microchip in ’em,” as Wolverine muses. How? Especially with stuff like a Sentinal, half-broken, laying in a field for lord knows how long, exposed to months of rain and weather? The answer, of course, is Shi’ar technology. No further questions needed. Seriously, don’t even consider asking questions, especially at the end of this issue when Wolverine chops the Danger Room brain into deli slices only to have it magically transform into some cross between the female robot from “Metropolis” and a Predator. Is this a new character? Am I supposed to be shocked at a stunning returnof a ghost from the past? Because it sure looks to me like some damned generic tin can beamed in from nowhere for a big non-cliffhanger.

Anyway, the rest of the issue sees Kitty chatting with the Danger Room, which is apparently a beast built to kill but shackled with an external program which shuts it down if anyone is in danger of dying. But now that ex-mutant kid has killed himself inside the environment back in issue #7 which overrode the program somehow and now the Danger Room can kill and transform into shiny robots and all of its dreams will come true. It’s nonsense, but a fair excuse for John Cassaday to go apeshit with two or three big splashes of creative hellscapes, Laura Martin ably washing it out in red and gold. It’s very pretty, but in service of pretty ill-considered scripting. And I mean even by mutant superhero punch-time standards.

*Out of time. I’ll review “Meatcake” (which is way cool) tomorrow, along with some other stuff. Count down the hours!


Wait! I'm here!

*This is very close to 8:00 PM eastern. Very very close.

Concrete: The Human Dilemma #4 (of 6)

I know this project has been in development for half a decade, but I’m curious about the actual production schedule. This and last issue have covers dating from 2002. Issue #1’s cover was finished in 2001. I wonder how long the interior art took, or if the covers were created before anything else with beats from the unrefined story already in mind. Certain images from this series have haunted their creator since nearly the beginning: the cover to issue #2 hails from 1989. Perhaps writer/artist Paul Chadwick felt that he’d finally found the proper venue for placing the image in a story? Or did glimpsing that old piece, the air of longing about it, spark something in the creator’s brain?

This is a nice issue. This is the sort of thing the crew over at “Ex Machina” should be taking notes on; it’s not only a political story but a heavily debate-based political story, yet it largely comes off as natural and organic. Last issue also seemed natural enough in execution, though it was nearly overwhelmed by non-stop edutainment infobursts of stuff and stuff and stuff. This time around it surely helps that Chadwick is just as interested in the procedures behind big media debate as he is in the substantive issues under discussion. It’s not a perfect issue (which becomes particularly apparent when Chadwick turns his gaze away from the politics), but it’s a fun one.

Concrete is still bringing the message of paid sterilization to The People, but things are starting to go wrong. Many parties obstinately on his ‘side’ of the debate see the execution of the plan he’s selling as silly or counterproductive. Well-meaning (or purely mercenary) entertainers can’t help but constantly poke fun at the large, obvious, loud, constant target that old Conc has become, a big rocky Michael Moore of overpopulation. And such characteristics naturally make the former Ron Lithgow a perfect focusing nemesis for a content-craving conservative media; Concrete makes the outstanding miscalculation of allowing a stonewalling talk show host to drag out the fact that he’s pro-choice (first two trimesters only, as if that’s worth anything in a debate) and verily the grandstanding and bandwagon-hopping begins in earnest, climaxing with Ann Coulter calling for no less than Our Hero’s death, her televised face reflected in the glasses of that obsessive fellow we’ve been occasionally peeking in on throughout the miniseries. “Hmm,” he murmurs, probably putting too much exclamation onto Chadwick’s observations of news-as-entertainment. But when Conc pontificates on the superiority of Michael Medved over Rush Limbaugh as a hostile audience, or when Maureen delivers a flawless reaction to David Letterman’s special brand of humor (“That’s funny. Kind of.”), one is prone to forgive an overuse of boldface. At least in that area.

The rest of the issue doesn’t fare quite as well, as Larry’s personal life (and the book’s script) dives into some extra soapy waters, complete with such Daytime Emmy dialogue as “I want to be all of them for you. Your muse, your confidant, your Madonna, your whore,” or the Cinemax-after-11:00 PM-worthy “I can’t wait for that. I need you in me,” or even the beloved “Don’t thank me. Take me.” And that’s all before the big ‘coitus interruptus via answering-machine bombshell’ finale. Given the care Chadwick lavishes on the nitty-gritty of argumentative distortion, perhaps the melodrama as presented in these intimate character moments is more pungent than it otherwise could be in a less grounded story (this all despite the towering man of stone in the lead role).

But fizzy or canny or otherwise, it all looks gorgeous. Chadwick knows exactly how to use the page, covering sudden scene-shifts with grace and the utmost in clarity, attractively conveying feeling through total page design (witness the teeny panel of Concrete laying in the back of his truck pasted in the center of a wide overhead map of the city), and even busting out some fancy visual tricks with genuine utility: we occasionally get X-Ray glimpses literally beneath characters’ skin, visually contrasting the familiar creepiness of the human skeleton with the fantastical innards of Concrete, handily highlighting his separation from his friends and audience, until a last-panel reveal demonstrates that all the technical flair has a more immediate storytelling application as well. And this command of the medium carries Chadwick far, even over the potholes and sudden curves in his narrative.

Not just a couple things, but a couple posts:

*First things first - I really ought to get to


since I forgot them once again:

Jimbo #1-2 (not Gary Panter's most instantaneously appealing work, yet accessible and fun comics nonetheless)

Seven Soldiers - Guardian #1 (of 4)

Garth Ennis’ 303 #4 (of 6)

Ed the Happy Clown #1 (of 9) (just as good in 2005 as it was in 1984, just don't touch the pages too firmly, the delicate dears)

Mercy (generally unsuccessful J.M. DeMatteis/Paul Johnson Vertigo one-shot from 1993 that still managed to be valuable reading for me through what it evoked and reflected)

Well, that takes care of the backlog...

*I'll be updating again later today (around 7:00 or 8:00 PM eastern) with some reviewing, but in the meantime I really have to commend to you the recent issue of "Indy Magazine", which can be found in its entirety right here. In particular, there's a great two-part history of "Raw". The first part is simply co-founder Francoise Mouly relating her experiences in moving to the US, getting into the comics scene, and establishing the 'Raw' brand. The second part presents a valuable chronological survey of every issue of the hallowed publication, plus every spin-off, listings of all contributers, more history from Mouly and Art Spiegelman, and comments from several choice personalities like Kim Deitch, Chris Ware, Gary Panter, Charles Burns, and many more. And absolutely do not miss Phoebe Gloeckner's new fumetti, covering her trip to Angouleme as only she can. And hey! "Neil the Horse"! Heaps of good reads.


A New Week to Shine

*So it looks like Dark Horse is releasing a sleek-looking new “Concrete” trade this July titled “Depths”. Cheap too, at only thirteen bucks for over 200 pages. Dark Horse is being a bit coy regarding what’s exactly in the book, although the cover art depicts scenes from the 1999 “Dark Horse Presents” annual and issue #150 of the anthology proper, both of them never-collected stories. The solicitation also promises ‘early’ stories; the print status of the other trades and the size of the volume in question (coupled with some old-fashioned gut instinct) tells me that this book is essentially going to be a reprint of the long-unavailable “Short Stories 1990-1995” only updated to the present day and spiced with a few non-“Concrete” tidbits, like Chadwick’s short from the TwoMorrows anthology “Streetwise”. This would also explain why Dark Horse isn’t even listing the “Short Stories 1990-1995” book among their “Concrete” library in the back of issues of “The Human Dilemma” anymore: it‘s on the fast track to obsolescence.

*But, to tackle some more immediate concerns:


Zoot Suite: Oh boy! Is this a reprint of the Fantagraphics volume of the same name, collecting stories by Roger Langridge of “Fred the Clown” fame, with his brother Andrew on board as well? If so, you need to look into this, as it’s funny stuff, beautiful looking, and yet - strangely moving, as two men embark on a futile quest to find someone’s parked car. Great stuff (and go check out “Fred the Clown” too)!

Meat Cake #14: Double oh boy! New Dame Darcy! Her fragile, delicate lines might be an acquired taste, but it’s one I’m glad I acquired; and I know the humorous neo-Victorian folktale snigger of her stories will leave me a satisfied child. If there’s any one comic you check out on a whim this week, make it this one (and if there's any one collection you check out, make it "Zoot Suite").

Popbot Reader #1: I’ll confess to enjoying Ashley Wood’s “Popbot”, its six oversized issues thus far overloaded with creepy spoiled cheesecake art and bizarre plotting (aided at different times by Sam Kieth of “The Maxx” and T.P. Louise of Wood’s “Lore”). There’s a new short story in this volume, scripted by Adam Warren of the current “Livewires”, plus guest-star pin-ups and a feature on the making of the upcoming Popbot statue. Not so sure if it’s worth six bucks, but worth flipping though on the stands, if only to admire the design.

Concrete: The Human Dilemma #4 (of 6): Woah! Big plot twist at the end of this one! Please, please don’t tell the stunning truth!

The Goon #11: Hey, look what’s back. And starting a multi-part story too, a new innovation for this title (not that there isn’t a certain continuity anyway). The Goon and his pals travel to a parallel universe in which they participate in an extended Wally Wood homage, which sounds pretty nice. Good to have this one around again.

BPRD: The Dead #5 (of 5): And kind of good to see this one go. I think this may be it for me and “BPRD”; as lovely and perfect a Mignola replacement as Guy Davis is, John Arcudi just isn’t doing the trick with the scripts (even as only a co-writer), and barring some serious last-minute movement the whole 'Abe’s origin' tease smells like an awfully tricky means of stringing a hopeful audience through another mini without really providing the goods on that front. No thanks, guys.

Astonishing X-Men #9: While it’s never, ever, not even once lived up to the titanic volleys of praise that heralded its arrival on the scene, this book was at least decent when it began and has been slowly getting better; last issue, for instance, was a wholly pleasant no-frills superhero book, with bits of fun action and amusingly cheesy plotting and a merciful lack of bounding to the rest of the X-Universe. Will the House of M change all this, considering that the cast of this book will clearly be necessary for plot participation? Oh, probably; the real question should be ‘how bitter will the medicine taste going down?’ Or (if we were all sane) ‘when should we stop reading this book?’

Ocean #5 (of 6): One of Ellis’ better current books. Not much of a magnet for discussion (no Iron Man or Galactus, you understand) but a good little miniseries, some interesting ideas. This’ll be one of the first ones I read tomorrow.

Ultimate Secret #1 (of 4): The middle chapter in the “Ultimate Galactus” saga, the first of which was not one of Ellis’ better current books. But from some of the reactions I’ve seen, just perking up and blubbering “Gah Lak Tus” is more than enough to excuse issue after issue after issue of absurd padding, murky art, and the ultimate (hah get it?) feeling that you’ve just spent your $12 on a ruthlessly overextended issue #0, bearing little more content than something that would have been tossed into the polybag with an issue of “Hero Illustrated” for free back in the day, all to essentially advertise something else entirely (good thing I only paid $1 for most of it - thanks, Clearance Sales!). But shit, Gah Lak Tus! It’s like saying your two to three Hail Marys once you’re out of the confessional! Ellis has gone through with the Act of Contrition now, it's ok! Time to lap it up again! LAP IT UP FOLKS! LAP IT UP!!!

DC Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1: You know what? That was way too negative. I ought to fill my body with love. Pure affection for all of creation! I should take a stand right now! How will I start? How to start... I know! I’m gonna buy THIS. I’m going to make myself into part of the problem by slapping down my hard-earned $1 for 80 pages of scowling and grimacing and non-stop assurances that I’m most certainly reading mature and serious literature about everyone being mean to the Blue Beetle. I cannot wait to become one of the 200,000+ who will dive into this fine project and win DC a crowing month of bliss atop the Diamond charts. I’m quivering, gentle readers! Beads of perspiration streaming down my brow! Droplets of sweat tinged with love for comics! Love for comics! Love! LOOOOOOOOOVE!!!



(yes, I'm gonna go there)



Who knows what you can find lurking around in the nooks and crannies of recent comics past with an eye turned toward current events? Books I’d ordinarily brush over in the bargain bin suddenly become fascinating given my current mental state, nudged and prodded by action in the outside world, or at least the action that’s been classified as ‘important’ by the greater media. Thus, for half price, bringing the toll to $3, did I obtain a copy of the 1993 Vertigo Prestige Format one-shot “Mercy”, written by J.M. DeMatteis and painted by Paul Johnson, with letters by Todd Klein. And while bits and pieces of the story, flawed as they are, resemble contemporary and unavoidable happenings out in the big old world, the reader’s consciousness can’t help but drift to a (possibly imagined) earlier day of experimentation in Big Two comics, not necessarily an age of success or quality but one in which falling on your face out of misplaced ambition was a viable possibility.

Our narrator, Joshua Rose, doesn’t seem likely to ever wake from his coma, seeing as he’s been under for years now, maybe for more than a decade. Much of his time is spent as a free-floating spirit, peeking in on the human world while simultaneously being privy to visions of secret supernatural visitations, the very Forces of the Universe, made into relative flesh. I must say at the outset that Johnson’s art is a good match for this sort of set-up, seeing as how the visual style is ultimately one of straightforward representation as knowingly blurred; from across the room or on a rapid flip-through the inattentive reader might mistake this material for abstraction, but everything is at its core fairly solid and straightforwardly descriptive. There’s plenty of fleckles of paint and scratchy lines and grotesque monster designs (more on that later), but there’s far less substantive visual information presented than, say, David B. would provide in far more exacting detail; what we’re really given is some decidedly typical comic art through a glaze of painted mood, with a yen for filmic multi-exposure type splashes, all easily relatable to the non-stop narration of our bitter hero, grasping the eternal in basic human terms, with only a whiff of the intangible or abstract about it.

Josh is pretty pissed that his wife is keeping him alive, preventing him from just curling up into darkness, escaping the hatred and lies and hypocrisy and disgust and vice and flotsam that truly is the human race. But he’s become distracted in his psychic voyages; he’s become obsessed with a figure he knows as Mercy, originating in a far away zone but incarnated as a lovely young woman (who, it must be said, bears a downright familial resemblance to the title heroine of Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s much later “Promethea”). She flits around aiding various people, and Josh both adores and loathes her, deciding that her capricious attentions must be evidence of arrogance, or even cruelty; why not just cure the world, if your intentions are truly pure?! So he follows her around, determined to tear off her kindly mask and expose her as a far more devilish entity than the elements of pain she battles. Quite a bit like Lars von Trier, our Josh is.

We’re treated to three continuing vignettes as the story goes on, as Mercy battles an ooky, Giger-like monster who’s creating strife in a middle-class family, guides a terrified boy through a tribal rite-of-passage in a rainforest, and consoles a lonely old woman in the city. And plainly all of this is intended by DeMatteis as a parable for human concerns, although the execution is quite poor, often lapsing into mawkishness when not tripping over its complicated array of supernatural symbols. For example, take the scary monster that’s tormenting the middle-class family. Let’s say it’s a stand-in for all sorts of typical family concerns (probably an accumulation of assorted concerns), even though the creature is characterized as having one mind, and really hates Mercy. This doesn’t seem to relate to reality in any effective way, even on a symbolic level, unless you take the creature as representing everything Bad, although Mercy takes him out pretty easily, and certainly doesn’t seem to be standing for everything Good herself. And then, after the beast is beaten (by Mercy’s taking its own pain into her body), it’s revealed that the creature is actually the lost, tormented soul of a suicide victim, who is now free to ascend to whatever nondenominational afterlife DeMatteis has in mind. But wait; is he trying to say that bad feelings in the human world are orchestrated by the souls of the dead? I don’t think so, but he’s using the creature as both a symbol and a physical entity in its own right, with the two usages being frankly incompatible without mixing metaphors like vinegar and baking soda. I understand the intent here, but the telling of the tale is deeply confused. The other two stories approach Mercy’s adventures in different ways, with the title heroine allowing the young rainforest denizen to go through his painful and terrifying trial (it‘s for yer own good, kid!) with the promise of comfort later, and sort of standing around and allowing the old woman to help herself; a less proactive semi-deity she is in these stories. I think the point of it all is that Mercy takes many different forms and actions, because she is so vast and tough to understand, which doesn’t stop narrator Josh from trying, with DeMatteis deploying a ton of exclamation points and elaborative/stylish/pretentious use of irregular dialogue punctuation (not to mention tons of parentheses) in the narrator’s speech, making it sound like Josh is performing one of my blog entries as he voyages through eternity.

Ah, but clarification arrives at the end, as Josh realizes that Mercy has been waiting at his bedside the whole time, and that Mercy is actually embodied in his loving wife who’s been mercifully keeping him running for years and years, and thus Josh understands that Mercy is really an aspect of all of humanity (handily explaining her capriciousness though not the tricky bits with the monsters), embodied in acts of compassion. Then he either miraculously wakes up or flatlines; I honestly have no idea, it’s kind of obscured.

But as disappointing as the book is, it put me in a nostalgic mood. And I understand that nostalgia carries a certain danger, a possibility of imagining situations or even a status quo that was never fully present. But damn it, I’m looking around the current Big Two scene and I’m not seeing much room anymore for big, sloppy, metaphorical extravaganzas. Inexpensive deluxe blasts of scattershot metaphysical comment, painted up and ready to roll onto stands. “Mercy” doesn’t succeed, but it tries; it’s utterly earnest, even to a fault, and nakedly genuine in its desire to deliver a complex, positive message through the comics form with the might of a Big Company behind it. And after it drifts down, it sleeps in its Prestige bedclothes to be woken by some curious blogger as the outside world beacons for comment from days just passed.

*Memo From the Synchronicity Department: just as I wrapped up work on this review, I discovered that Rick Gebhardt at Behind the Times had reviewed this very book only two days ago; I guess the zeitgeist has not moved only one blogger in the story’s direction. Check out his review too!


A Sin on Easter Sunday.

*Yes! The Easter Bunny left me a new coffee grinder! Oh, legal addictions are truly the reason for the season!

*In the interests of spreading Easter Cheer as far and wide as possible, I have decided to offer everyone a very special Easter treat:

The First Resoundingly Negative “Sin City” Review I’ve Found!

Folks who recall the days when Christopher Allen and Abhay Khosla were doing comics columns at Movie Poop Shoot will surely remember the film-related writings of Mr. Jeffrey Wells at that same site. He’s got his own personal Internet home now, which I check out every week or so, and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t have a short “Sin City” reaction for us all to savor. No links, sadly; scroll down to the ‘Wired’ section, then check out the first 3/20/2005 entry.

Here’s a quick sample of what you’ll find:

But take no notice of anyone (Rodriguez included) calling this a film noir flick. There is real film noir -- crime movies made with a downbeat fatalistic attitude, and grounded in a reasonable facsimile of human truth -- and there is simplified noir lite for chumps.”

I suspect that when the film enters wide release there might be some interesting conversation as to how exactly the work fits into the film noir tradition. Maybe Wells himself will elaborate in a full column if the film happens to hit big. Devoted readers will recall Wells’ dislike of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which prompted a whole series of interesting writings, and plenty of angry letters itching for responses. And speaking of prompting responses:

This is noir as re-imagined by Frank Miller and digested by comic-book geeks in their 30s who live in their lonely heads and haven't gotten laid very much or gotten to know women at all.”

Note to Abhay: I thought he was gonna go for the gold there, but he stopped just short of the ‘V’ word. And no mention of our parents’ basements, from whence all of our Internet comments issue? Disgraceful!

But even Mr. Wells must concede a bit, just a bit:

That said, Sin City has some of the most beautiful black-and-white compositions I've ever seen... two hours of silvery shimmering bliss. That is, except for the tedious stuff, which is relentless.”

And there’s more (well, not too much more actually) at the above semi-link. Check it out, enjoy your holiday if you happen to celebrate it, and I’ll be back again tomorrow with more candied verbosity.


Well folks all you need is a good heavy hammer.

*Scene from a comics shop. Two kids, about eight years old, are leafing though some new books. One of them has mistaken the bags and board that the owner puts the new books in for a polybag of yore, which he’s perhaps learned about from his parents.

Ooh. You wanna get this one. It’ll be worth more money some day.”

I rolled my eyes as I continued on with my important task of cataloging all of the “Comics Greatest World” books in the quarter bin for no reason other than my personal curiosity, but I kept listening.

What do you mean?” asked the second kid.

You see the price on this one?”

Two fifty.”

Yeah, well in a bunch of years, it’ll be worth more!”

Like what?”

Like in a while, when you’re fifty, it’ll be worth SIX BUCKS!!”

I involuntarily chuckled over my issue of “King Tiger”. I take it all back. The kid was much smarter than he looked.

Ed the Happy Clown #1 (of 9)

That is a gorgeous cover. One look is not enough. Here’s a black and white version, inked in a slightly different manner than the published piece. Here’s the penciled form. That black and sepia cityscape cut in the center by a dull green phallic growth with the warm pink and brown and blonde and blue of the title character’s tiny form, hanging on near the top; it’s a fantastic image. It makes you desperately want to possess this book.

It’s a good thing that such a fine first impression is made, since immediately subsequent surface impressions won’t be as positive. I’m probably just spoiled by modern comic book paper stock, but the newsprint used for the guts of this book seem tissue-thin; I guess this is the same grade as the stuff used for “Cerebus”, but it seems even more fragile. The book is slightly smaller than the average comic. It’s only 24 pages, although since there’s no ads things do even out. Three dollars. Fortunately, upon thouroughly looking inside, there is sufficient value for your money.

I was right when I described the plan for this series the other day, but writer/artist Chester Brown’s introduction gives even more detail. Brown, you see, is working on a revised version of this story (which, as you might know, was his first longform work), to be released in a while as an original hardcover book. Or maybe not; Brown claims that “I’m not sure what I think of it at this point in time.” In order to get the ‘original’ work back in print in the meantime, this miniseries will reprint the entire contents of the 1992 edition of the “Ed the Happy Clown” collection (which is not to be confused with the smaller 1989 edition), with brand-new annotations by Brown himself in every issue, covering the entirety of the work. And that’s what’s going to provide the big draw for this new series, in my opinion.

The comics themselves this issue basically act as an appendix to Brown’s short story collection “The Little Man”, since all of them are self-contained and a few of them don’t even feature the title character. There’s six shorts, ranging in size from one to seven pages, all of them culled from the earliest minicomic version of Brown’s “Yummy Fur” in 1983-84; that seminal series eventually saw the serialization of many of Brown’s major works. But this early on, there’s a notable sense of improvisation, duly confirmed in Brown’s commentary which discusses his early attraction to surrealism. Thus, characters’ legs shatter for no reason, pygmies are dropped from airplanes to battle a rat infestation, masturbation-crazed squids squeeze scientists until their brains squirt out, an elderly janitor’s hand goes missing only to later show up under someone’s pillow, and Frankenstein’s Monster bursts in for no reason. Seriously: Brown claims he had no idea what to draw next at one point, so upon examination of his comics collection he settled on Frankenstein.

And through most of it wanders Ed, only desiring to make people happy, but usually reduced to tears by the cold, strange world. But these stories are fast and funny, and Brown’s off-the-cuff style is largely successful at providing amusing twists and queasy laffs (in one story, Ed is introduced screaming “AAAA! The void!” at off-panel horrors). And of course the art is lovely, though a bit looser than Brown’s later work (I’m not sure if much visual revision went into the 1992 book from whence this material was culled, but the look is still a lot more fluid and broadly caricature-prone than Brown circa 2005).

The annotations provide plenty of insight into Brown’s beginnings, and his feelings on an evolving approach to craft, pure ink drawings in early shorts giving way to preliminary penciled roughs in preparation for the final product. A tiny dedication at the end of one short prompts a lengthy anecdote about a fellow cartoonist friend of Brown’s who originally began the story, and how Brown (partially out of secret jealousy) convinced him to give up comics art, then began dating his girlfriend, who eventually convinced Brown to get into minicomics, which eventually brought about the fall of their own relationship as the artist’s career began to blossom. The story is funny and revealing, and it takes up enough space that Brown’s notes spill out onto the back cover until he literally runs out of room without covering the book’s last three stories. He promises to get to them next issue, and with material this strong, both vintage comics and explanatory prose, I’ll be there to see him pick things up.


I need to review my documentation...

*New column today. In commemoration of the oncoming arrival of “DC Infinite Countdown to New Year’s Rocking Crisis”, I decided to talk about minicomics. Please take this column home with you and feed it fresh water and sunshine.

*I lied a bit yesterday. I actually got three books, but I only had to pay for two of them. My shop gave me a copy of the comic-sized “The Matrix Online: The Official Magazine” #1, which was released directly by Warner Brothers (not DC, although there's an ad for the recent "Hellblazer" book "All His Engines"). Why did such a thing catch my eye, non-online gamer that I am? Interview with Paul Chadwick, of course. It’s great when the market decides to serve my current interests.

In case you didn’t know, “The Matrix Online” is the latest in a long line of time-devouring narcotic alternatives that will ruin you through your computer screen. In this one, you get to design yourself a Matrix-like character and wander around in latex fighting and talking to people and visiting places. Chadwick is the lead writer for the ongoing plot of the game, which will apparently include a whole bunch of scripted events occurring through the first year of the game’s life. Chadwick (whose interview is a very short two pages) notes that the first year will even have an overarching theme running through all events: the things people do to break peace down. There will be large mysteries to solve, and certain players will even find themselves inserted into later game-wide cut-scenes should they accomplish the correct goal at the correct time. Chadwick promises a dense overall plot, with all sorts of threads and side-stories and the like.

Really, it’s fascinating hearing him hype this game in this way, with only the slightest mention of his comics work in the introduction to the interview. The magazine as a whole is packed with profiles of beta testers, all of them identified only by their online names and game avatars. All of these people will come to know Chadwick through this game, as a controller of this fantasy community, and I suspect the vast majority will have never heard of “Concrete” or anything. But here his creations will be instantly mixed into the workings of the fans, instantly responded to, a world growing away from his control, he the god only providing sparks of presence and guiding everyone as per his Plan. Very different from comics, with such high creator control, or movies, with such constant flux and uncertainty, at least for the storyboard artist or production manager. Here, the story is fixed (well, I‘m certain the Wachowskis are working with him too), unwavering, but the meat must be provided by others from a thousand perspectives. To think like a writer in such a position, especially a writer you know from a different art form…

I imagine the money is a bit better than comics too.

*Out of time. Much driving ahead.


Time to purchase!

*IMPORTANT NOTICE: A new issue of Kevin Huizenga’s “Or Else” is out! Issue #2 of this Drawn and Quarterly production is basically a reprinting of “Gloriana”, Huizenga’s long-gone final issue (#14) of his minicomic series “Supermonster”: all 100 pages of it. It will feature new covers and a new center gatefold, although I don‘t believe any art has been redrawn, as Huizenga did for the “Supermonster“-culled material in “Or Else“ #1. Squarebound format. Only six bucks. It’s not in stores yet, but you can get it from the Catastrophe right now. I’ve not seen any of this material, so I’m very excited about this; 100 pages of Kevin H. does that to me.

*LESS IMPORTANT NOTICE: My brother informed me the other day that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman appeared to him in a dream and revealed that his next project will focus on a 19th century sword-swallower. I’m not using ‘appeared to him in a dream’ to indicate the presence of any authentic inside scoop or whatnot; I mean, he literally dreamt it, and felt the need to report this revelation to me. So I’ll just make it property of the Internet now.

Garth Ennis’ 303 #4 (of 6)

Well, this one leaves me in an interesting position. With the end of this issue I sort of know where writer Ennis is going with this story in a vague, big-picture fashion; I just don’t know what he plans to do once he’s there.

This issue begins the second half of the story, which is conveniently labeled “Part 2: Black Arrow”, a Tolkien reference. The scene has shifted to the US, though we’re still out in a desert, not the first bit of doubling to come. Here, it’s a dusty little industrial zone, where illegal immigrants work crushing hours for slave wages at a slaughterhouse called McHell (named for the popular restaurant it supplies), hopped up on drugs dealt by their boss, and prone to catastrophic injury in the jaws of killing blades. Our Russian Hero (also an illegal immigrant, you'll note) is staying quiet in a nearby Spanish-language shantytown, with a recent injury being treated by a noble doctor. The doctor's own right arm had been crippled in McHell, where his wife still works providing sexual favors to the manager in exchange for her relatives’ continued employment. Also on the scene is a major new character: Vietnam vet Sam Wallace, now a local lawman. He’s the Russian’s double, a fighter, a military man, and the Last Great American, as we’re told by the coroner, who’s apparently a certified Doctor of Exposition. Wallace keeps hauling in illegals, killed by the dangerous conditions of the slaughterhouse while in their management-provided, speed-fueled work state. But Wallace just can’t get the charges to stick. He’s also been depressed since his wife died in awful pain because they didn’t have access to affordable health care.

No, that last sentence isn’t a joke.

So let’s just say that if tomorrow the Eisners decide to debut a new category for Best Use of Subtlety, “Garth Ennis' 303” wouldn’t be an early front-runner. And yet, aside from that bit with the coroner, Ennis allows most of this stuff to be revealed without a lot of fuss or firework, even when the helpful omniscient narrator butts in to provide whatever the characters are thinking. The use of this tool distances, and makes the plot seem less shrill, more considered. The slimiest characters aren’t moustache-twirling; the plant manager comes off as kind of a tactless David Brent type, but it’s only through dispassionate revelation that his true cruelty is revealed. There’s nothing quite like last issue’s parade of vengeful Afghani women, still coated in the blood of their slaughtered children, smashing a US soldier’s head open with rocks. Here, the criticism is delivered in a more palatable fashion, by characters generally free of saintliness or venomous sneers (well, except for the crippled doctor). And future conflict is clearly set up: two military men without a proper war, hungry to fight for something true, on a collision course. How exactly this will play off the first half of the story remains to be seen; will the Spirit of America be saved? If bloody action by unkillable super-soldiers is the result, than this book might resemble Ennis’ “The Punisher: The End” most of all, acting as a gunpowder-burnt political fable, although this book will lack a canny utilization of a well-known Big Two icon’s character traits.

Jacen Burrows’ art remains quite nice, with far more distinctive character designs than he’d displayed in earlier issues (which leads me to believe that the sameness of the soldiers’ faces in Part One was intentionally used to establish a familial vibe), and some clean perspectives. I’ve heard complaints regarding the color work of Greg Waller (for Nimbus Studios), and I’ll readily concede that it’s quite texture-mad, filling in everything from wood-grain to blades of grass to strands of hair to the consistency of blood. The thing is, I don’t really notice this stuff until I look very closely, and even then it doesn’t bother me much; Waller knows how to manipulate the eye (well, my eye) so the page never looks cheap or amateurish. And it probably helps that when textures are used they’re used consistently; not too difficult a task considering the large amounts of accommodating white space Burrows uses in his black and white art. Waller’s also got a good sense for what pops on the page, and his palette is quite rich, especially considering all of the brown and gold demanded by the setting. But if you find such use of textures distracting, your mileage may vary, I admit.

And that old cliche about mileage goes for the book as a whole. I suspect some readers will find its critique of American injustice too broad, the deck stacked, the politics as exaggerated as the action of earlier issues, with guns blown right out of snipers’ hands with flawless aim. But Ennis’ drama still has me reading, if only to see where that old US spirit stands once we’ve reached the end, and which is the dragon to be slain, and who fires the Black Arrow.

Hay guyz, am I early?

*Sorry gang, I got no sleep last night and I had several long hours of non-comics writing all this morning, and then I had to drive around in cutting rain. Directly thereafter, I fell fast asleep, and while I desperately needed the rest I felt enormously guilty as I’d not even accomplished every last thing I’d set out to do in my non-comics day, let alone my blogging duties. I think I need to learn to budget my time a little better. So to sum up, I’m just getting to the computer right now just after midnight on the east coast after reading all two of my new comics for the week (no “Ed the Happy Clown”, which isn’t entirely surprising). At least it’s still yesterday for all of you out in California, so the time zones can forgive my tardiness a little (then again, if you‘re in England, it‘s getting into daybreak already).

*Noted ante-upper Tom Spurgeon presents no less than 1000 Things to Like About Comics. Frankly, I knew it would be an awesome list as soon as I saw Al Columbia's "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool" in the #16 slot (they're not ranked in order of quality); that's the Fleischer Bros. homage he did in issue #4 of "Zero Zero", which I mentioned last week. You should get that issue, you really should. Hmmm... I'm seeing a couple "Zero Zero" classics on that list, like Jeff Johnson's "No Erect Penises"...

Seven Soldiers - Guardian #1 (of 4)

And again, the ‘full’ title as presented on the cover seems to be “The Manhattan Guardian”, but the legal notes prefer simply “Guardian”, and we like to keep it legal here on this site. I liked how all of the headlines on the newspaper cover that the title character is bursting out of really do refer to stuff going on in this issue. And I’ll say no more on the old ‘modular’ structure for now, since I truly cannot imagine how this issue doesn’t sink the ‘every issue a self-contained story’ interpretation entirely. My own alternate ‘every miniseries a self-contained story’ and Matt Brady’s ‘every issue capable of being read without reading anything before’ are still at work, although I recognize that such structural concerns have become a distraction for me, hence my calling the analysis off until later.

This is pretty straightforward superhero work, with pretty straightforward superhero plotting, far more so than the last two entries in the project. The “Seven Soldiers” #0 bookend dolloped plenty of (effective) self-analysis atop the costumed action, and “Shining Knight” performed largely within the context of fantasy trappings for its introductory issue, but this one is a superhero origin book plain and simple, with the haunted protagonist getting his costume and becoming Better through the grace of powerful forces, in this case being hired by Mr. Stargard, a boy superhero-turned computerized media mogul with a hot paper to run and a happy tendency to speak in slightly knowingly melodramatic superhero comic terms like “Jettison your inner demons, Jake. There’s a nightmare on the ‘N’ line.” Jake will take the name of the paper itself, the Manhattan Guardian, and become its proactive superheroic avatar, the media striking back against Bad News. Really, the details of the Guardian’s job are the most interesting thing about the book, like the fact that a lot of New York readers, even DCU New York readers, don’t seem to take the paper seriously (devoted as it is entirely to fantastical local DCU events). Organization doesn’t seem to be Stargard’s strong suit, as some of the awesome technology he bestows on his Guardian doesn’t work yet, and his Newsboy Army doesn’t have all that much to offer (they’re certainly not “Global Frequency” here). For all the high technology, there’s a sense that the organization is still learning as it goes along, which is fun.

And that’s the most fun to be had; not to say that this issue isn’t an entertaining comic, but it’s not as strong as either prior “Seven Soldiers” book, nor any of Morrison’s recent Vertigo work. Maybe it’s the dialogue, which seems to be stretching a bit too hard for giddy ebullience (a Subway Pirate literally tears the skin off a man’s back while bellowing “Sure, all them years of gunpowder wine has me neurons knackered!”), although I‘m a bastard about forgiving silly lines in the context of, well, something like Subway Pirates. No, I think it’s the relatively pedestrian quality of the plot, which even resorts to the Guardian’s caring father-in-law being brutalized by villains and his beloved wife kidnapped by the cliffhanging end, as we all race off on the trail of underground treasure. And also, while this isn’t much of a complaint, I noticed that I could sense when Morrison was referencing older DC books; there’s one big bubble of text between the Guardian and his wife that couldn’t possibly serve any other purpose, and while I can’t say I was confused by the information, it did provide a strange jostle in the reading experience, if only for me to think to myself “Ah, so here’s where Grant throws candy to the historians in the audience.”

But if the background setting of the book’s story is more interesting than the story itself, at least such an environment is brought to our eyes by Cameron Stewart, who (with the assistance of awesomely-named colorist Moose Bauman) crafts a slightly dreary, weathered NYC, constantly overcast or raining, with even the high science halls of the Guardian building an ominous marble. Good action scenes too, and amusing designs for the Subway Pirates (the guy wearing light bulbs as earrings was particularly boss). Hey, it’s good, standard superheroics, and that’s not a bad thing, if that‘s what you‘re after.


Cash money hustle right now.

*Well, this should be easy on the wallet.


you know, just to more effectively convey the excitement of this upcoming Wednesday’s books, I think I’ll make this feature a little more specific this week; I don‘t usually buy everything I highlight in this feature, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, and often I just chat about books I feel like chatting about. While we’re at it, I also don‘t consider the comments in this section ‘reviews’, largely because they‘re too short and often I haven‘t read (nor do I ever plan to read) a quarter of the books I talk about. But just this once, I think a step away from the norm will prove useful.


Ed the Happy Clown #1 (of 9): You may have heard of this one, the first major serial to come out of Chester Brown’s classic “Yummy Fur”; the collected edition has been out of print for a while. Now it’s back, but not in an updated trade form. From what I understand, Brown is simply re-serializing the unedited version of the story in this miniseries, while simultaneously working on an updated, reworked version to go direct-to-collection. Thus, this is your last (?) shot to pick up the original version (well, aside from just buying the old trade used), although since bits and pieces from the original “Yummy Fur” serialization were dropped for the first trade version, I don’t even know which ‘original’ version we’re talking about here. Someone please correct me if I’ve gotten any of this wrong; I think this first issue will also feature an explanation by Brown, and hopefully some nice extras will be spread out across this series. This is far wilder material than what Brown’s later works might lead you to expect, so it’ll be fascinating to see how the older Brown plans to tinker with the story later on.

Seven Soldiers - Guardian #1 (of 4): Yes! The “Seaguy” team is back at it! Everyone loved “Seaguy”, right? DC really must have loved it, since despite the fact that the “Seaguy” trade was just recently released (and could presumably use some tasty cross-promotion), and despite this being the first subsequent re-teaming of writer Grant Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart, DC’s own website declines to mention poor “Seaguy” anywhere in the “Guardianhype, opting instead to mention Stewart‘s work on “Catwoman”, which does make some sense given that people actually bought that one. Maybe DC is concerned that none of their DCU readers have heard of those weird things going on at Vertigo, too… anyway, here’s an idea. Let’s all take the wonderful fantasy of additional issues of “Seaguy” and put them in the drawer now, next to the “Marvel Boy” file, so my heart won’t break anymore. Ok?

Garth Ennis’ 303 #4 (of 6): Ennis seems to have split the book in half, with the first three issues having taken place in the past, and the remainder presumably taking place in the future, as our ultra-collected Russian super-soldier (far closer to recent Russian tourist Frank Castle than many of the protagonists of Ennis’ “War Story” work, though this book at least faintly resembles both of those venerable Ennis projects) journeys off to strike a major blow, presumably against the US. The book has gotten quite good at teasing the reader with all manner of gruesome political possibilities, playing up the natural serialization down-time with questions as to how far the story is willing to go. I really don’t know where this story is planning to end up, and that’s a nice place for this type of book to be in.

And that’s all. Hmm, “Ed the Happy Clown” is only $3 too, which is kinda cheap for a D&Q book at this point. The $4 price point on Avatar’s color work is holding strong though. So yeah, $10 of comics this week. Three comics, $10.

Before tax.

Did I say this would be easy on the wallet?

Well, comparatively


The review I kept alluding to when my other computer wasn't working.

*Come! Stroll through my museum of recent history! My archives of critical potstickers, fresh from being fresh from the skillet! Get me an icebox, Madame, and a militia of wax cylinders - I have ideas to transmute!!!


Street Angel #5

Shining Knight #1 (of 4) (with a special bonus classic of surrealist film)

Mauretania (from 1990, an odd, moody comic of environment by Chris Reynolds, a unique and still little-known talent)

Bigfoot #1-2 (of 4), Wild Girl #5 (of 6)

Shaolin Cowboy Vol. 54 Issue #2 (shaping up to be a very nice little book if I do say so myself)

These are NOT wax cylinders they’re plain over-the-counter candlesticks WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO PULL, MY LEG?!

Jimbo #1-2

Ah, the imprint! Nothing in comics is more pleasurable. Marvel’s Epic. DC’s Vertigo. Dark Horse’s Legend. DC’s Helix. Marvel’s Tsunami. Malibu’s Bravura. Caliber’s Tapestry. Fantagraphics’ Monster. Each and every one of them cherished throughout the generations, their hallowed titles resounding in comics history. Today, we speak of such an imprint, one of the most curious of them all, yet among the most understandable.


An imprint of Bongo.

Bongo, as I trust most of you are aware, is the company that puts out all of those books related to “The Simpsons”. They’re still going strong today, having weathered a decade’s worth of market turbulence. “The Simpsons” as a television program is nothing if not a long-term survivor, and such a jolly attribute seems to be shared by the comics company which bears its license.

But Matt Groening was working long before the show first aired. I’m sure you know that. “Life in Hell”, his magazine/newspaper strip, had been rolling since 1978. He’d known some people in the scene at the time, the independent comics scene, which he still felt a kinship with. And now suddenly, it was 1995, and that TV show was a smash, and now he had a whole line of comics to work with. Why not provide a forum for some prime independent creators? Thus came Zongo in 1995, and among the primary creators recruited to provide material was “Raw” legend Gary Panter (for the record, the other major name was Mary Fleener, who produced two issues of her eponymous book, “Fleener”).

Panter, of course, you’ll recognize as the author of the recent, critically divisive, shoot-for-the-moon oversized hardcover medieval literature cum trash culture mash-up “Jimbo in Purgatory”. But my heart remains with his 1988 collection “Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise”, a dizzying display of shifting styles, ranging from hi-sci-fi Kirby exactitude to “Sin City”-style heavy shadow to scribbly doodling to The Greatest Drug Use Sequence In Comics History I’m Not Kidding to frankly astonishing use of flecks of orange paint (if you’ve read this book, you know exactly what I’m talking about). And all of it in service to Jimbo, Panter’s everypunk hero, wandering a future mutant world in search of whatever. Hear me gush some more right here (and damn if that post title isn‘t one of the best I‘ve ever written).

So hey, new Panter! But “Jimbo”, the pamphlet series released by Zongo, only lasted seven issues. Indeed, according to Panter himself (scroll down a bit), the book was “completely, terribly unpopular,” and by the end, only about 1000 copies of each issue were being printed. And hey, I’ll concede that Panter’s work isn’t the most immediately accessible; it takes time to absorb his mutating aesthetic, to appreciate his sense of story.

But the two issues of “Jimbo” that I managed to score, the earliest and presumably easiest to find issues, probably don’t do Panter any favors in the first impressions department. Everything in these books is rendered in Panter’s loosest, simplest, sketchiest format, although the careful eye can detect the visual style quietly growing more complex on progression through these issues. And one has to imagine that a few new readers were at least somewhat tempted to peep into this new book by this new imprint of this popular company putting out popular books, and what do they find? I can only speculate as to their reactions, but I suspect that a little “THREE BUCKS MY KID CAN DO THIS THE HELL?!” wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. None of these new readers would have had any exposure to Paner’s wide range of styles. But perhaps even if they had, Panter’s particular feel would still prove to be unpalatable to a wider audience. Perhaps this first impression only hastened the inevitable.

Regardless, we got seven issues of new Gary Panter, and these two are pretty interesting. They’re both set up as a collection of one-page strips, each with their own titles or cast listings atop, and indeed the first few pages of issue #1 do provide some seemingly unconnected gags. But gradually, characters recur. Soon, scenes are continuing from page to page, despite the presence of those individual titles. Subplots form, and cross-cutting begins, with adventures carried over from issue to issue, and it‘s possible that some of them aren‘t being presented to us in proper chronological order. A city boy, Henry Webb, goes to visit his country cousins Songy and Yoyo; this leads to a barnyard chicken genocide, a severed limb, and the eventual rising of a mighty supernatural Rooster. A young boy named Bob War falls in with Fluke, a street-toughened punk, and they try to survive in an abandoned half of a bus with a little help from Senor Groty, a friendly zombie. Meanwhile, Jimbo is captured by a roving Friend Catcher (basically an armored police vehicle) and is sent away to the Time Motel, a prison made up to resemble a suburban bourgeois comfort zone. By the end of issue #2, a genuinely complex series of stories with a large cast has been assembled, and their world has become more and more defined. Notions of security v. individualism have been raised, with social class as a backing theme. It’s involving stuff, but it requires attention, and a certain affinity for rough, squiggly lines, and a determined lack of polish.

I liked these books. I want to see where Panter goes with this material. There’s so much unanswered, so much room for expectation. Do the visuals become more refined or complex, as the strip-by-strip progression suggests? Where will Panter go with his themes? With his characters? I liked the characters a lot; apart from structural concerns, I wanted to know what the axe-wielding Rooster planned to do after finishing his beer, or how Jimbo intended to confront his next-door neighbors. Apart from the simplistic reaction I’ve described above, the reaction of that hypothetical Panter newbie flipping through these pages for the first time, perhaps there’s a different, equally damaging first impression to be given by these books. Perhaps one might stare at these doodles, and instantly deem them impenetrable Art, with that ugly, damned capital ‘A’. A neo-primitive visual exercise, or some ironic statement, or a wank of the form. This is just as wrong a path, as it obscures your view of Panter the storyteller, spinning his yarn. As short-lived as this series was, it has already succeeded in pulling me in with only two issues, and it did it through words and pictures combining to tell me a tale, and this is no unique feat among even the most ephemeral of comics imprints, but a worthy feat nonetheless.

Go hunt for these comics.


This one is good.

*Well, there’s not too much to say today about comics - at least, not 'comics' as in those pamphlets you can read and roll up into your back pocket while hopping onto your bike to head on down to the corner store and buy some peach rings with those spare nickels you got from Mr. Sherman for clearing the branches and dog flop out of his back yard while whistling “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman which has been trapped in my head with hostages for the last three days and it’s not coming out until it gets a helicopter and a helicopter’s never gonna land on my head because it’s not flat enough. No, not those 'comics'.

But we’ll cover some comics-related stuff, oh yes. Because comics are everywhere! Comics have infiltrated each and every intimate nook and privatized cranny of our Internet republic. So it’s little surprise that a whiff of comics can be smelled even here:

At the greatest place ever found.


This site is an archive of videos relating to time trials. Specifically, video game time trials. Gamers competing against one another via emulation to see who can complete a game within the fastest time possible. It’s not all amazing live skill; carefully edited save-states and slow-motion maneuvers (sped up after completion) along with carefully programmed button inputs (sometimes with two onscreen players moved at once, like a conductor heading a symphony), allow for some truly supernatural moments, but everyone here is a master at their chosen game nonetheless, believe me. All runs are recorded, with the very cream of the crop posted for everyone’s edification. There’s Genesis, Super Nintendo, and greatest of them all: dozens and dozens and dozens of vintage 8-bit NES games, played all the way through, sometimes in less than five minutes. And you’ll believe that it’s all possible, that a demigod gamer might one day descend from 8-bit heaven to perform these moves on your precious top-loading home NES counsel, the one you scored down at the firemen’s picnic that summer for $30 at the pawn shop tent.

The creators call this stuff ‘art’. They’re damn right.

Now much of this material will require you to be Torrent-capable to view, but several prime selections are available for direct download in AVI format via links to archive.org (actually, if you have another lifetime to spare you should download the entirety of the Prelinger Archives over there, but that‘s the subject of another post). I’ll just point out a few of these few fine direct downloads by name, since all of us will be able to enjoy them. The “Excitebike” video, for example, is fucking sick. All six levels in under six minutes. Amazing leaps and speed. NES speed suddenly like real speed. “A Boy and His Blob” - I was so unspeakably happy to have finally beaten this carefully designed (and highly underrated) game all by myself when I was a kid. Now, see it done in just over five and one half minutes. The more complex games take longer. “The Adventures of Bayou Billy” was a ridiculously tough game, with (badly mounted) hand-to-hand fighting, zapper interludes, and “Rad Racer”-type driving segments. This one takes close to twenty minutes. Why, there’s even glimpses of foreign material! Like the original Japanese version of the excellent “Bionic Commando”, there called “Resurrection of Hitler - Top Secret”. All Nazi references had to be cut from the US version, but they left in a stunningly gory exploding head sequence, and even tossed in the word (hide the kids’ eyes!) ‘damn’ near the ending, unheard of in the squeaky-clean Nintendo Nation. Fourteen minutes. And note that each and every entry comes with vital stats and informative notes (did the player take damage, or use warps, or exploit glitches?), and some even sport player commentary in text format.

And then, there’s Batman.

Really, I should say “Batman”, the Tim Burton movie tie-in cart from Sunsoft. A pretty well-regarded game. Ten and one third minutes. You really want this video.

Looking at the game, one’s suspicions can’t help but be aroused to the possibility that Sunsoft had a totally unrelated platform action game well into development when they scored the cherry Bat-License, and a few sprites were swapped, some cinema scenes whipped up, and viola! “Batman”! Could there be any other reason as to why Batman is largely fighting machines, and traversing through electric mazes? Why the bosses feature flying robots and glowing computer cores? Why there’s no characters from the movie or comics, save for the Joker at the very end, who by the way can now summon lightning from the heavens (that would probably spice up the comics, though)?

But actually, I like it that way. Especially in the video they’ve got posted. I like to think of it as “Grant Morrison’s Batman”. The Caped Crusader running through a wild sci-fi world, utterly in control. He doesn’t even hit his enemies if he doesn’t have to. He’s hurt once, I think, but only to lure a foe into position. Sometimes, he even fires a weapon into the darkness, knowing an enemy is coming right up at the edge of the screen. It’s because he’s prepared for every eventuality, like in the books. I bet Morrison would be ok with the Joker shooting lightning. Why should the Joker shoot lightning? No. Why shouldn’t the Joker shoot lightning? Try that on.

And then the ending. Oh boy. I forgot to mention that half the fun of these videos is finally seeing the conclusions of all those classics that were too much for you back in the day (hey there, “Milon’s Secret Castle”). Well at the end of “Batman” (eek! SPOILERS I guess!) the Grant Morrison Bats suddenly goes all Bob Kane, picking up the Joker, messily misquoting a famous line from the movie in vintage NES translation style, and then HE CHUCKS THE JOKER RIGHT OFF THE GODDAMNED ROOF! No Arkham, no tricky little tying his foot to a stone gargoyle, Batman just heaves the Joker off a fucking building to his fucking death like it’s nothing. Man, Video Game Batman is so proactive compared to Comics Batman. Just look at all the time and strain saved by Video Game Batman! And the hundreds of innocent lives too. Jason Todd would still be ripping off hubcaps with a smile on his face if only Video Game Batman had been on the scene a few years earlier.

And even then - the rest of the ending! There’s no more dialogue (mercifully). Just a long series of still shots of the Joker’s broken corpse, cutting closer and closer, until we’re staring right into his dead eyes and his soft grin. That’s all. The music cuts out. Fade to black. Credits. Perhaps Sunsoft is urging us to consider who the true madman was in this lucrative tie-in passion play.

Maybe it was us.

Us and our emulation.

More beautiful killings.

Er, anyway, it’s a really awesome site, and you need to spend forever and a day there, unless you’ve already known about it for months because I’m way behind the Internet curve. Who knows?


Darrow! There you are!

*Recipe for magic: I stumbled home at about two or three in the morning and for some unfathomable reason I couldn’t get to sleep so I started to rustle through my stacks and stacks of bargain comics that I’d bought in bulk from months back. No better time to read those fuckers than in such a state at that particular time of the evening.

You know what suddenly hit me, around the time I finally got to sleeping at 6:00AM or so? The old Fantagraphics anthology “Zero Zero”, which began in 1995 and ran for 27 pamphlet-form issues, was an amazing goddamned series. I managed to get eighteen issues of that thing for one dollar each, and there’s so much good stuff in there that never got collected into a trade or whatever that it's baffling. I guess the ‘big’ serial the book did was Richard Sala’s “The Chuckling Whatsit”, which ran for eighteen chapters, although that one did get compiled into a now out-of-print collected form (which I think Fanta is reviving this year). But far greater were such lost gems as Mack White’s “Homunculus”, an excellent blend of ancient myth and Christian iconography with bizarre sexual images and subtexts, and a quest worthy of a Cinemascope epic, with the title character searching for the lost half of his body, which provides the key to his powers as a ¼ god (you see, he used to be a full-sized man with a miniature twin growing out of his belly, but then the Evil Romans had him crucified and his mini self escaped, but now he needs to locate his big body to regain his powers, of course). It's fascinating work, and White's meaty, realist artwork makes some of the wilder creatures all the more potent, like a goddess' winged steed formed largely of living phalluses. Great work.

Then there’s Kim Deitch, who had both “The Strange Secret of Molly O’Dare” in issues #6-8 and “The Search for Smilin’ Ed” in issues #21-27 (excluding #23 and 26), providing some of the tall-tale fact-flinging action as currently seen in Deitch’s superb “The Stuff of Dreams” (which every last one of you needs to check out, two issues available, go go go). Plus, the earlier serial ties into some of Deitch’s prior work on his 1989 “Shadowland” series, although it also provides a truly satisfying stand-alone story by itself. Neither of these “Zero Zero” works (nor “Shadowland”, actually) have been collected into trade form, as far as I can tell.

And while it’s not a serialized story or anything, some of these issues have some impressive short work by the infamous and non-prolific Al Columbia, including an incredible two-color Fleischer Brothers homage in issue #4. This stuff is leaps and bounds above anything he’d done before, such as in his scratchy, shock-laden 1994-1995 two-issue series “The Biologic Show”, capturing a keen design sense and some brilliantly smooth character art. Which only makes one more anxious to see new work, which apart from his scripting work on “The Pogostick” (and from my experience, pure scripting isn’t where Columbia’s primary strengths reside), has been sadly absent.

And there’s tons more. Tons more. Gotta raise up those hopes for “Mome”…

Oh, and I didn't wake up until about 4:00 this afternoon.

Shaolin Cowboy Vol. 54 Issue #2

Yep, found it yesterday. Yep, they’re still playing that game with the title. Oddly, all they had in stock was Mike Mignola’s variant cover, so that‘s now what I own.

I’m really starting to understand the ‘Vol. 54’ in the legal print, since writer/artist Geof Darrow is plainly in no hurry to reveal any background about his title hero, leaving us to imagine a no-doubt complicated backstory with scores of prior adventures. All you need to know is that the Shaolin Cowboy rides through the world on his faithful talking donkey, Lord Evelyn Dunkirk Winnieford Esq. the Third, and confronts many many enemies that he’s made along the way. This second issue brings our opening arc to a close, and you may to surprised to realize that any sort of ‘arc’ had formed. Maybe I should say that the story here resolves itself. Yeah, that’s better.

If you’ll recall from countless reviews, issue #1 of this title featured an utterly ridiculous ten-page spread of assorted villains, which actually inspired a bit of admiration on my part at the sheer conspicuous consumption cheek of it all. This issue is not like that; in fact, it’s quite plot-heavy. The ‘plot’ is 100% nonsense, admittedly, but it’s entertaining nonsense, if maybe a little more forced than the easy-going absurdity of last issue.

As we last left Our Heroes, a whole lot of villains were dead, and a whole lot more were still alive, and a talking crab burst in to stop the issue. Here, we learn this tragic archvillain’s story. He once lived an idyllic life with his family and betrothed in a run-down restaurant’s tank, until the dark day when the Shaolin Cowboy burst in and ordered the all-you-can-eat special. The only thing on this human plane that can match the Cowboy’s martial arts skill is his appetite for discount seafood, and the Hungry Man Meal Deal soon became a crab family holocaust, with only one survivor. Thusly, this bitter crab, King Crab in fact, vowed revenge and embarked on three solid weeks of martial arts training with the Cowboy’s own former temple, who seem to really hate him. All through this narration, the long line of villains (well, the ones who aren’t dead) plead to tell their own origin stories, King Crab trips over more than a handful of factual errors in the telling of his tale (all dutifully logged by the Cowboy’s steed), many a wildly juvenile joke is told (“My lips don’t concern your ass,” declared the King - lol he’s talking about a DONKEY folks, no sweat!), several somewhat weak industry references are put forth (an “Avengers Disassembled” joke?), there’s awful puns galore, and a grown man/average-sized crab martial arts showdown brings us to the end.

This is pretty handily the best new book I got this week, and really a lot of fun, even though you can start to sense Darrow straining to be Wacky! at certain points. But even when overextended, the writing style matches Darrow’s gorgeous art perfectly, and his excellence at fight scenes is undimmed by the passage of time. Let's not forget the fine colors and letters by Peter Doherty, or the generally amusing prologue written by the Wachowski brothers (also the book's publishers). And unlike that other book Burlyman’s putting out, I didn’t feel like my intelligence was being insulted and there’s no pretension toward any freshman-year dorm room political message. No, the message of “Shaolin Cowboy” is a mature and insightful one, truly words for the sophisticated reader to savor, as articulated by the dear Lord Winnieford:

This is why I stick to processed foods… the processing plant serves as a barrier between the consumer and a potentially vengeful relative of the eaten party.”

Now that’s one to grow on.


Geof Darrow! WHERE ARE YOU?!?!

*Piping hot new column up. This time, I learn that comics creators are real people just like you and me. There’s also roman numerals, so you know it’s a classy piece of literature that will resonate throughout time. Get in on the ground floor.

*Hey! I’d not linked to the blog of Comics Journal, Comic Book Galaxy, and Movie Poop Shoot veteran Christopher Allen, a fine comics critic and writer! BUT NOW I HAVE! Go an' read.

Bigfoot #1-2 (of 4)

Nothing like slapping down a solid $8 (before tax!) for two issues worth of good mucky exploitation fun. And let’s give credit where credit’s due: IDW is clearly trying to deliver a superior product for their premium price (actually, as a bit of an aside, it’s amusing to me how much attention Marvel is currently getting regarding the twenty-five cent increase on only books squatting at the bottom tier of the pricing scale, when independent publishers like IDW and Avatar seem to be settling down on a uniform $4 price point for their color 32-page works, which perhaps signals an industry ‘standard’ alteration among even the more action/horror-minded areas of color independent publishing, to say nothing of artcomics or self-publishing - ah, but I forget, they’re not Marvel or DC). To paraphrase old (?) saying, the only comic that’s too expensive is the one that isn’t good, and IDW’s work succeeds in providing a good presentation: all of the ads are relegated to the back, the books design radiates professionalism and gloss, and there’s even bonus back-up prose fiction in every issue of this particular title. Yep, honest-to-god short stories, albeit sometimes cleverly based on other IDW series, giving it a dandy cross-pollination back-up effect. For the record, IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall’s “30 Days of Night” piece in issue #2 is much better than Dan Taylor’s ultra-generic vampire-hunting short in issue #1, though neither are particularly mind-thrashing. Still, these little stories add bits of reading time to the book and provide a fair diversion, and take the edge off the premium fee.

I’m just not entirely convinced that the main story itself is quite worth the cash, though it’s far from awful. It’s co-written by IDW stalwart Steve Niles and noted horror/exploitation film enthusiast Rob Zombie, and while both men seem to share an affinity for ye olde horror tropes mixed in with bits of humor, I’d say the slightly grittier, measurably sleazier atmosphere in this book reflects a bit more Zombie than Niles, at least in vintage grindhouse influence.

The saga begins in 1973 on a camping ground within the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Little Billy has his head filled with comics and seems perturbed at his parents’ frisky ways (“Mom! Don‘t call Dad your little baby. That‘s queer! What‘s going on here?”). But this magical and idyllic outdoors excursion comes to an appalling end when no less than the infamous Bigfoot bursts through the walls of the cabin as Billy’s folks prepare for lovemaking (amusingly, the monster brutally punishes a couple for their amorous ways, as per genre convention, except that the couple here is long-married and within a monogamous relationship - no matter to Bigfoot!). Right in front of poor Billy’s eyes, his poppa is killed in a viciously gory fashion and his mother is dragged away in her nudity to the monster’s lair for heaven knows what. Well… actually Billy does seem to know ‘what’, as he dreams of the monster having replaced his father in his tender life. As years pass, the monster continues his reign of terror, mashing teenage quad riders to hamburger and crushing local motorists under catapulted grizzly bear corpses. Only the now-grown and none-too-adjusted Billy, himself married and a father, can possibly confront the beast. Did I mention that the local sheriff seems to be covering up the monster’s activities throughout the years? And that he doesn’t seem to age over the course of three decades? And that he face sort of resembles Bigfoot’s? And that after Bigfoot’s right eye is injured the corresponding eye on the sheriff’s face is always kept in shadow except for one panel where it seems a bit more squinty than his other eye? Is the book drawing connections between two monsters, or tipping its hand a wee bit early? U, gentle readers, decide.

And that’s half of the series done with.

But it’s fun, provided that one is simpatico with the slime-ball cult horror vibe of the piece. I for one can practically hear the chintzy English dubbing over Italian lip movements while making my way through these books, and the gore/chase scenes are well-mounted and crisp. And so very much of that credit can only go to artist Richard Corben, possibly the most perfect visual choice for this material imaginable. His round, oh-so-slightly caricatured humans flee with grace and vigor from the marvelously mangy title beastie. The action is fast, with panel borders breaking down as the cast becomes more panicked, and he knows when to employ tiny touches like a barking dog’s hollow glowing dot-eyes, or neighbors peeping out the window at an unclothed housewife running from her shower. Nicely complementary hues by no less than three colorists (Martin Breccia and Nestor Pereyra across the board, and with Tom B. Long joining the squad with issue #2).

So it’s a fun, mean little monster-mash, pleasantly disreputable horror. But it’s gonna remain up to you if this sort of thing is worth the cash that IDW is asking for, not an insubstantial sum. It’s good that the book is relatively lavish, and fun, and utterly without weight, since its appearance and execution is geared toward such a scale. But the costs of fun are going up, and one should be aware of exactly what sort of fun one is expecting for their four dollars, until such a price becomes such a standard that such things are only unconsciously considered. As it is now, I liked it, hit to the pocket as it may be.

Wild Girl #5 (of 6)

The structure is maintained in this issue. I’ll grant this to “Wild Girl”: it’s intent on not stretching its plot to six issue of trade-ready material by engaging in gratuitous set-up or interminable conversation. Much of this book, especially the last three issues, involves our title heroine chatting with some animal pals, then going on some sort of mild quest (climb a structure, investigate a greenhouse, survive the sewers), always interrupted by a ravishing J.H. Williams III-illustrated interlude, then we have a tiny bit of falling action regarding the incremental progression of the larger plot. Not bad choices, but the problem is that even with such quests and journeys scattered throughout, the book still feels like it’s only biding time, though in a less explicit and arguably more attractive way than average for today’s comics.

This issue, the newly uniformed heroine is on her way to rescue her baby brother from the clutches of the assuredly wicked though barely defined Dog Man. The quickest route into action is through the sewers, so she drops in and encounters a big crocodile (alligator?), which prompts some Williams-helmed history of godly alligators (crocodiles?) in Ancient Egypt. Williams is trying out new styles every issue; this time, he seems to be channeling Moebius, with plenty of clean, precise lines, and Tony Avina’s colors lightening accordingly. Primary artist Shawn McManus has brought on an inker, Andrew Pepoy (who shares equal cover billing - nice), and there’s little change in his attractive cartoony stylings. Always a fine-looking book we’ve got.

And it’s not that writers Leah Moore and John Reppion don’t know how to craft some fun dialogue (although there’s considerably less joking around in this issue than average) or render the mythological sidebars interesting. It’s just that the overall feel of the work is one of repetition, of wheel spinning, of gaining little ground. Perhaps next issue, which presumably will have to explain the purpose/intent/methods of the lead villain while providing the big climactic conflict at the same time, shall offer a deviation from the familiar movement of half of this miniseries. Indeed, I expect it will have to, merely to provide a satisfactory conclusion to this spread-out tale.


And now, comics from a ways back.

*None of my local shops (I checked three in my crazed rush… well, one of them is only five minutes away from the other but still) had a single copy of “Shaolin Cowboy” #2. Indeed, one of them indicated that none had arrived at all in the weekly shipment. Anyone else denied their Darrow this week?


All the credit for my checking this book out goes to Seth of “Clyde Fans” fame, who caught my attention with his essay on the works of writer/artist Chris Reynolds in “The Comics Journal” #265 (the William Steig issue), in which he dubbed Reynolds “the most underrated cartoonist of the last 20 years.” It’s a safe bet that unless you read that piece in the Journal too (or saw Marc Sobel‘s review of the recent UK-published Reynolds collection “The Dial and Other Stories” over at the Galaxy), you’ve not heard of this creator. That’s understandable, since I don’t believe much of his work has been published in the US at all, save for some shorts in the third and fourth Comics Journal Specials. But this project, his longest comics story, a 1990 original graphic novel, is pretty easy to track down online for well under ten US dollars; it was released by Penguin Books in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in a prose-sized trade paperback format, smaller than average for a comics trade.

Reynolds was already a comics veteran by the time this book was released; he’d been involved with the much-admired “Escape” magazine, and had self-published his own ongoing series, “Mauretania Comics”, since 1986. The series was comprised of short stories, some of them focusing on a mysterious, sci-fi type character named Monitor, clad in a space helmet and visor and wandering around a curiously unstuck-in-time landscape. Sometimes, he’d cross over into one of the book’s other recurring features, like the Cinema Detectives, who also seem to inhabit this strange world. From what few examples of these stories I’ve managed to read, I’ve seen a lot of ‘mood’ pieces, with an emphasis on environment and place, coupled with lengthy captions, which occasionally take up over half of whichever panel they’re in. Sixteen issues of “Mauretania Comics” were produced, even after the publication of the “Mauretania” graphic novel, with the final installment appearing in 1991. Some of this stuff is reprinted in the aforementioned “The Dial and Other Stories”, which you can find out more about at the site of the publisher, Kingly Books. There’s mention on their front page of the book possibly being released in the US soon, which would be quite nice.

But I’m here to discuss the “Mauretania” graphic novel, which holds its own special place in comics history, as the first graphic novel to be commissioned in the UK by a major book publisher. It’s not a collection or a reprint of anything (although two bonus reprints of related shorts are included in the back). According to Seth, this large story (around 120 pages) actually fits into the “Mauretania Comics” ‘continuity’, but it’s very much a stand-alone work; no prior knowledge will be needed to read it. I’ve used this term before, and I’m sure I’ll use it again, but I can only say that it’s a most curious comic book. The back cover compares Reynolds to (among others) filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and I’d say that it’s an apt comment, in more ways than one.

The plot of the book, as it is, follows a young woman named Susan, recently unemployed as the firm she was working at, Fern Ltd., has gone out of business. She’s also been trying to avoid her now ex-boss, who’s been confiding a bit too much personal info with her, more than she feels comfortable with; she’s recently seen the end of a long-term relationship, and is living with her mother. On her final day of work, she decides on a whim, instead of going home, to explore along a stream that she’s often observed from her office window. In her travels, she spots a weird figure, clad in a space helmet and visor (sound familiar?), observing a nearby factory. And soon thereafter, out of the blue, she’s accepted for a position at the new agency in town, Reynal Import/Export, the most lethally boring workplace in human history. But, in an odd coincidence, her old boss has also been accepted for work there. And everyone seems to be unusually interested in what they were doing at Fern prior to its close. And why is that guy in the helmet lurking around in the building across the street, joined to Reynal by a single electrical wire?

I’m going to have to toss up a ***SPOILER*** warning now, not because I’m going to ruin the ending or anything, but because any discussion of what the book seems to be getting at requires disclosure of some plot surprises. Please skip down to where I say it‘s safe if you don‘t want to know any more, although I‘ll certainly be revealing less than what Seth did in his Journal piece.

It soon becomes evident through Susan’s poking around that Reynal is not a real business at all, but a front for the “trendy new police force” called Rational Control. Rational Control has the man in the helmet, his name not Monitor but Jimmy, under surveillance. They believe that he’s been masterminding recent business collapses, including Fern’s. Since Susan is such a master sleuth, she’s asked to contact Jimmy across the street, and gather some inside scoop on is methods. And Jimmy is awfully forthcoming with his story, revealing to Susan that he’s exploring the power of ‘nodal points’, certain places in time and space where a certain action will trigger a far greater reaction, usually somewhere away from the original action, via a chain of events. Jimmy receives information on how to exploit these nodal points from an unknown, intuitive, possibly supernatural source. For example, all he had to do was release an envelope into the wind to ensure the collapse of Fern, as the sight of the envelope had a powerful semi-conscious effect on Susan’s ex-boss, leading to the downfall of his business venture. He doesn’t quite know why he’s even been doing this; he‘s entirely a creature of intuition, his gut leading the way. He also has an obsessive-compulsive sort of habit of retracing his steps wherever he goes, which will also come into play. He’s certainly different than the agents of Rational Control, who spend so much time analyzing and investigating alternatives and dryly observing evidence that they rarely succeed in the irregular moments when they take action toward anything.

That’s the dynamic that Seth identifies as the book’s main concern: the rational v. irrational. Having now read the book myself, it’s hard to argue with such a reading. And it’s also hard to argue with Seth’s comment that Reynolds kind of stacks the deck in favor of the irrational, characterizing all of the ‘rational’ forces as barely competent starched-shirts, with the major limitation on the irrational characters being their connections to rationality, the ‘wire’ connecting Jimmy’s building to Rational Control’s. Although there’s surely room for multiple interpretations of what’s going on. Given that Jimmy is answering to unexplainable forces that ask him to do odd things in favor of change in the world, in opposition to overtly thinking things out, one can read the story as an affirmation of the power of spirituality in everyday life, and indeed as the key to rendering the world changed. Trust in chosen figures with access to higher powers, rather than in flawed human thought. As Jimmy remarks near the conclusion of the book, “The new world was made while we were there,” placing the power necessary to truly alter the would out of human grasp, or at least human understanding. Reynolds doesn’t name any particular religion or spiritual regimen, though. Indeed, most of what can be dubbed ‘supernatural’ in the story occurs with no instructions to humankind on how to access it, or anything resembling a message or dogma, or even a reassurance. It’s the unknown choosing to remain as unknown as possible. Or maybe Reynolds simply advocates a human turn away from rationality, and perhaps a trust in the world itself, or even an innate power within humankind itself, apart from the intellect and thus disconnecting the possibility of understanding it. 'Trusting in the world' seems to fit best, as Reynolds’ art emphasizes the environment his characters exist in, nature and structures, almost to the detriment of the human characters trudging atop that soil, a criticism that‘s also occasionally levied upon Tarkovsky, another artist preoccupied with spiritual concerns (not to mention the fact that Jimmy’s habit of going through curious retracings of movement at the beck and call of inexplicable forces ties him directly to the protagonist of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker“). Which isn’t to say that every character is hazily defined; Susan comes of as a likable, rounded, interesting character at least. But she’s so often a shadow or a dot or a smudge among the scenery, itself almost a person.


Check out the gallery from the site above, plus this Mauretania site, for plenty of examples of Reynolds’ visual style (and why not read an interview too?). He employs extremely thick black outlines and character features; it’s a small miracle that character expressions come off as well as they do, seeing how they’re crafted from solid blots of ink. Environmental details are filled in with thinner lines, dots and scratches. The page layouts are almost exclusively strict four-panel grids, with the occasional rectangular panel replacing the top or bottom tier. As I’ve said before, Reynolds’ work is quite verbose, with lengthy captions employing an omniscient narrator to relate the story. Sometimes, he narrates events we can plainly see. Near the beginning of the book, a caption informs us that Fern has gone out of business, followed by character remarking no more than two panel later: “Well, that looks like the end of the line for Fern Ltd.” But more often, Reynolds lets us know what his characters are thinking in a general, broad sense. He also uses thought balloons for more direct ponderings, something no longer seen very often in comics, especially ‘serious’ comics. It’s through both character information as well as Reynolds’ visual renderings that our portrait of this world is created, and it’s a full, interesting portrait. Even as the plot grows ever so slightly forced by the end, one is willing to accept more than average, because the stage has been so carefully set. And there’s moments of levity amid the wandering and pondering: a paint magnate remarks to a lunch date upon receiving a telephone call “You’ll have to excuse me. My staff say they’ve just come up with a million new colours.” And again, such things are acceptable in this world.

It’s a quiet book (yet with some many words!), and not prone to action or danger, though there’s certainly some suspense, if only in wondering how this conflict will resolve itself, with all of the players in place. I mentioned some bonus stories being offered: one of them, “Whisper in the Shadows”, which was also covered in the Seth essay, reveals the secret connection between Jimmy (who was originally a character in the Cinema Detectives wing of “Mauretania Comics”) and Monitor (who never appears in the main storyline of this book), while providing some haunting ruminations on childhood loss, with film noir touches. And an additional story, “We See Each Other” sees another meeting between Monitor and the Detectives, with a similar concern with ominous businesses and weird mental abilities. It all relates to the story proper in interesting ways, and makes one want to seek out more of Reynolds’ work, which will hopefully become more visible in the US in the near future.