And the smell won't stick to your clothes either.

*Man, it sure figures. Just as soon as I put the finishing touches on my new column for the week and sent it in (I mean, literally an hour later), I receive word that Kevin Maher has gone and opened up a fresh vein in the comedy goldmine, and the whole gang is grabbing their picks. Ah well, maybe time will afford me a chance at a better comment on the situation than I'd provide otherwise. Meanwhile, this week I’ve got thoughts on terminology. Please do enjoy.

*I would be remiss to ignore a chance to introduce one of more high-profile blogs to launch in recent weeks: FLOG! The Fantagraphics blog, to be written by all sorts of Fanta folk, like President Gary Groth, Vice President Kim Thompson, Marketing/Publicity Guru Eric Reynolds, and Sales/Distribution Mastermind Gregory Zura. It’s all part of a general site revamp over at Fanta HQ; right now, Thompson is handling all the posting, with new art from Chris Ware (EDIT 6/4 3:57 PM: not from the upcoming monster hardcover “Krazy and Ignatz” omnibus, as I'd first thought, but from the first color softcover volume, coming in late summer - one of these days, I will learn to read, then watch out world!) and updates on the ever-prolific Jason. Over on the Comics Journal board, Thompson further proves himself to be a man of exquisite taste, hailing Howard Chaykin’s “Challengers of the Unknown” as “out-and-out great” (that same series showed up on this site’s list of 2004 favorites, don’t ya know) and hinting that Chaykin is “way overdue” for a big Journal interview. Hmmm…

*The new “Entertainment Weekly” (#824) gave Dan Clowes’ “Ice Haven” (a reconfigured, apparently somewhat-expanded version of “Eightball” #22) an ‘A’. Not too surprising, considering that the source material was one of Clowes’ most widely-praised books in memory; I’ll take this as meaning that the switch to landscape format hasn’t destroyed the flow of the work. No, the big surprise in this week’s issue comes from Tomer Hanuka of “Bipolar”, who contributes a truly awesome full-page introductory illustration to an unexpected feature article on the making of the 1966 trash epic, “Manos: the Hands of Fate”. Unfortunately, it’s not up on Hanuka or EW’s sites. It’s on page 47; look at it on a newsstand or something - it’s like the greatest dvd cover art “Manos” can ever hope for. Maybe someone with the issue in question and a scanner can help?

Smoke #1 (of 3)

Not a bad debut (in an extended storyline sense) by writer Alex de Campi, and certainly a welcome return to English-language comics for artist Igor Kordey. It’s a sometimes uneasy mix of action-suspense and socio-political satire, and upon reflection one realizes how well-worn some of the plot points and character types are, but it’s a fun book, one that isn’t afraid to make the reader do a bit of work, and presumes a certain level of sophistication from its audience. And Kordey, freed from the rigors of multiple monthly books, provides some real nice visuals.

I briefly considered tossing up a spoiler warning at the top of this review, since de Campi’s style of plotting puts the reviewer in a bind: part of the amusement of going through this issue is piecing together the back-story of the lead characters, which isn’t provided in a single convenient flashback or through a consistent volley of captions. Rather, de Campi forces the reader to piece together bits of memory and snatches of conversations from multiple characters at multiple points in the book to assemble the plot’s background for themselves, all while the present-day plot marches forward. I’ll try to keep the revelations to a minimum here.

Rupert Cain is a sensitive, thoughtful killing machine, trying to get by in a near-future London. An albino pretty boy, Cain spent a while excelling in the English military, hoping to work up the courage to ask his beloved to marry him, until a domestic pub bombing left his squad largely dead, and their widows uncompensated by a chilly, cash-strapped government. In retaliation, Cain did Something Bad, resulting in his current occupation as expert ‘independent’ government assassin on-call (as opposed to execution or prison - he’s just too talented an operative for that, we’re led to believe). He now lives in the degenerate walled area of Soho, happy to an extent, but when an androgynous fellow assassin named Morrison kills Cain’s old mentor, he becomes embroiled in a vile plot involving powerful men profiting from the people’s pain, and foremost among the exploiters is the wicked Minister of Defense, a Mr. Lauderdale, the very man who recommended Cain for his killer’s position in the first place.

Looking over this brief synopsis, it doesn’t sound like terribly original work. It’s not exactly groundbreaking in execution either, but it’s pulled off with wit and smarts, and an interesting focus on satire. There’s a great moment near the beginning where the wishy-washy Prime Minister, an ‘everyone’s pal’ sort of guy, attends a pheasant hunt. Being the sort of man who worries incessantly about public opinion (yet relies largely on advisors), he must be talked into taking part, then taught how to use the gun. But as he fires and fires, bird after bird dropping from the sky, heaps of dead fowl piling on the ground, he begins to grin and sweat, his drooly mouth opening into ecstasy. All of this is intermingled with Cain’s assassination of a top financier; the hired guns do the dirty work, but they’re all polite enough to announce “Assassin. Government.” to their victims before doing the deed. The politicians are the truly filthy ones, right up to the debauched party-boy King. “Is he here to give me a blowjob?” asks His Majesty, picking himself up out of a pool of vomit, about the visiting President of OPEC. “Tell him he can fuck off, then…” he burbles, after being rebuffed, the page reading like one out of the Warren Ellis handbook.

Ellis’ influence can also be sensed in the colorful future counterculture of Soho, and the hardened nobility of smart attackers working against the abuse of those in power. But de Campi offers a slightly softer characterization for the hero of the piece; her Cain genuinely wants to help people and do what’s right, and maybe make things ok again with the woman he left behind. He’s more of an immediate idealist (rather than a reluctant idealist), and he lives in a world of more pronounced comedic extremes: witness the terrorist group composed of morbidly obese persons, militantly demanding a ‘right’ to become traditionally beautiful, just as the media sells it. Occasionally de Campi gets a little too obvious; did the vapid BBC reporter really need to be named Jennie Bland, and did her name really need to be repeated over and over? And oh, I do hope that plucky young Katie Shah gets the big scoop and cuts through the media malaise!

But even then, there’s Igor Kordey to cover things up. Kordey isn’t working on a deadline of mere days anymore, and his work looks lovely, his character designs meaty and rounded, weighted, his faces expressive, lapsing into near-caricature when needed (oh that drunkard king!). He’s a good, clear storyteller, and some nice tricks are pulled off. A flashback panel of a man caught in an explosion at the bottom of a page is followed immediately of a panel of the same character, aged to the present, standing in the same position as he did before, to better aid reader familiarity. Len O’Grady provides some soft, coloring; he’s unafraid to keep things a little pale, or to leave a little white on the page. This, when coupled with Kordey’s detailed backgrounds, gives the reader a nice sense of place, of atmosphere, a dull winter among weathered trees and tired buildings. It’s a good setting for de Campi’s antic plot, effective defusing the possibility of garishness in the satire, grounding the affair in the London snow.

Looking over this work again, I was struck with how contemporary the futurism looks. The title “Smoke” refers to London’s nickname, ‘The Big Smoke’, a city that won’t remember your name in the morning, as the radio tells us. The trick of it all is that there’s little in the way of high technology - the billboards and news scrolls and traffic jams look like today’s life. And the political maneuvering fits right in too, which is plainly the point. There may be an energy crisis (a worse one than ever), there may be a sudden lack of money, but those are the key defining traits of the future in this book. There’s little typical genre futurism, not even many logical extensions of today’s technological cutting edge; the future is mostly a caricature of today. Which, again, I’m sure is the point.