Order comics on the internet.

*Oh that Eddie Campbell! This week’s column is in his honor, as I draw connections between his thinking about culture and the culture of sales in your local bookstore - perhaps price is the gravity that binds us to the earth, just as unique (for comics) modes of categorization is that which supports the 2006 comics economy. Chris Butcher has some related thoughts too. Give it a peek.

*Here, once more, are the links to where you can buy these books. You can have them printed (on demand) and delivered to you, or you can download them.

Cinema Detectives and Adventures From Mauretania

A lonely inspector is on a hot case - entire buildings are going missing, leaving little clue to their whereabouts. The only happiness in his day is getting to meet a famed Cinema Detective, Rosa, whom he appears to fancy. Rosa tells him of her magnificent adventures in the war. Here, the war seems to encompass Nazis and sinister Chinese murderesses. Later, we will discover that the war also stretches out into space. She soon has to leave upon reviewing the latest notes, and he stands by the window watching her, and he wonders if the buildings are dying of loneliness like him, and dropping into the Earth. He has not slept in two days.

A young man is wandering around, clad in some sort of space helmet. His name is Monitor, and we’ll eventually discover that he’s some sort of space explorer. But for now he’s stuck on Earth (his home?), and his ship is gone, and he’s drifting from job to job, sometimes seizing employment roughly, only to let it slack away. One day, he receives notification that he has somehow inherited a new home. The door is unlocked, and he makes his way through its passages to a garden, and a strange glass structure with horns atop. From there, he views his surroundings, the industry and homliness and majesty and strangeness of the city magnified from his new vantage point, and he begins to remember things, and he maybe begins a spiritual awakening.

A man’s airplane crashes in an unknown part of the world. He is taken in by a couple, and becomes a popular singer in town. He is in love with a local girl, but does nothing about it. He is concerned with the local animals, which he senses violence in. He soon encounters a space alien, who seems to think his name is James T. Kirk. Aliens are common in this world, and there’s even alien dogs (distinguishable from Earth dogs by the perfectly logical fact that they are all wearing space helmets). The alien offers him a time machine, and the pilot decides to use it, and eventually begins eavesdropping on his own past conversations with the girl - unfortunately, he appears to have dropped into a different past, a changed one, where he had the gumption to declare his love for the girl, was summarily rejected in favor of an anthropomorphic bull. He is faced with the desolation of the land, and himself. Eventually he overlaps the moment where he first went back in time. “I never saw myself again,” he remarks.

These are truly wonderful comics. I wonder if maybe they’re simply hitting me in too personal a way, if they interact too finely with my own peculiarities and worldview. Regardless, the storytelling on display is often marvelous, and the mood created by writer/artist Chris Reynolds is extremely unique, and utterly entrancing. These stories (save for two of them, which are brand-new) were produced between the years of 1985 and 1992, and appeared in the self-published titles Cinema Detectives and Mauretania Comics. These issues, having not received much attention at all outside of the UK, are extremely difficult for North American audiences to find.

But now many of the most notable shorts have been compiled into these two books, which are really one book, as little plot threads carry over from the first (also titled Cinema Detectives) to the second (Adventures From Mauretania). It’s important to note however that every story in these books essentially stands alone; Reynolds is quite adept with the short story form in comics, and most of his little glimpses into this odd world are perfectly interesting on their own. Reynolds employs tight grids, often strictly nine panels, and utilized copious narrative captions. His lines are extremely thick, character faces hewn out of great gobs and marks of black - in his rare larger panels, his work occasionally resembles that of Michael Kupperman at his most knowingly hewn and etched. Backgrounds are sometimes minimal, sometimes lovingly hatched or filled with shade. The overall visual approach is one of strong control, but attractive simplicity; there’s a lot of words in these comics, but they interact pleasingly with the visuals, as if the enigmatic landscapes that Reynolds creates (and there are a lot of landscapes) need to be filled with words, though not direct words - usually we hear only thoughts, even via omniscient narrator, as if we are allowed to see the land, and we are given the feeling of the characters, and we are asked to arrive at our own personal revelations regarding what we’re seeing out the window.

‘Windows’ are good to talk about regarding this work, as there’s an undeniably cumulative effect to Reynolds’ comics. Few among these stories (roughly eighteen of them in total, not counting miscellaneous bonus strips and cut-out activities) are very long, and all of them (as I’ve mentioned before) are self-contained - it’s like staring out into Reynolds’ universe a little bit at a time, those nine-panel grids serving as uniform windows, and then we move on to the next story, the next view. And by the end of the 100+ pages provided across these two books, we’ve really gotten a sense of what’s going on in this strange land of aliens and space helmets and detectives - we can grasp a sometimes factually contradictory but tonally seamless panorama of romantic longing and spiritual hunger, and especially the relationship of humans (and otherwise) to their land, the ground they must always walk on.

The two books are essentially divided by individual impact. Cinema Detectives is generally humorous, though no less mysterious. Indeed, the jumbo-sized opening story, concerning one Mr. Higson who discovers a briefcase that allows him to enter into the dreams of others and thusly uses it on his colleagues at the Cinema Detective agency (and what’s a ‘Cinema Detective,’ then? certainly more interesting than the average inspector!). It’s a great means of introducing us to the peculiar world of Reynolds’ characters by jumping right into their mysterious sleeping thoughts; the aforementioned Rosa dreams of putting a train back on track, an image that will appear again these stories - trains are a powerful recurring symbol in these shorts, as they represent a means of traversing the land with ease, breaking into other places and thus other consciousnesses. But Rosa can’t find the right train, eventually, and becomes lost in the snow. Other dreams feature screaming lunchmeats, or those aliens being fought. At the end of the final dream, the dreamer abandons Mr. Higson to wander an alien outpost, and take stock of the situation.

They came from outer space - to live in the older part of the city.”

It’s a type of psychogeography at work here, perhaps, the clarity of the human mind and spirit tied to the identity of the land. Several prior to me (and myself on prior occasions) have compared Reynolds with filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, in that location and nature (natural or artificial) factor into the storytelling as much as character or plot. Indeed, plot-starved readers may not be enchanted with many of these stories, though some of them form neat little allegories or commentaries (the one with the inspector and the missing buildings springs to mind). Others rely strongly on place and mood, like another Cinema Detectives yarn concerning Rosa and Monitor (characters often cross over with one another in these tales) and kidnapping and yet more vanishing buildings. Oddly, this one is a revised and abridged version of a story also featured in the back of the Penguin Books printing of Reynolds’ graphic novel (titled simply Mauretania - yes, characters from these stories show up in there too, and yes it stands alone - my review is here), evidencing Reynolds’ apparent desire to streamline his individual works to have a purpose in the context of newer packaging. It’s quite intuitive.

Adventures From Mauretania carries many of the themes of Cinema Detectives forward, and even references things mentioned in the prior book - it’s a far more melancholy affair, though, more intent on exploring aspects of the human spirit, aching and emptiness. Most evident as to that is a triptych of Monitor stories, beginning with the inheritance one mentioned above, and moving onto the space hero’s exploits as an uber-capitalist refrigeration magnate, and a ‘mine agent’ among local gold mines. This story, even more so as part of a trilogy of tales, underscores all of Reynolds’ themes, as Monitor wanders around a huge environment of mines, literal digs into the earth. He encounters mines run by humans, and mines run by aliens. Along the way, he becomes fulfilled through his relationship with the land, literally mapping the place, though all of our affairs must ultimately come to an end. There’s two standout moments in this story: there’s Monitor showing his friends the area, so enthusiastic yet aware that his friends can’t possibly share the same feeling he has invested in the place, and then there’s a dream Monitor has where he’s riding through endless hills and his dead grandfather is with him, and after a long time the dead man remarks:

That’s why it’s called the Emerald Isle.”

It’s genuinely hard for me to explain why I find this so moving, or why I’m touched by the story’s conclusion, with the mines slowly disappearing, and new buildings and town being erected, new identities for new people to project themselves onto, but the feeling of time’s passage is profound. Even in a magical-realist/sci-fi place, where even death is impermanent. In one of the book’s concluding stories, a character thought dead inexplicably returns, perhaps only because a few other characters wanted it that way. This leads to some happiness, but soon troubles arrive - romantic interests have moved on, children are gone, and folks longing for the return of those lost become paranoid that the suddenly returned will only leave them alone again. It’s maybe all an allegory for loss, for irrational attempts to reverse a permanent situation, for the destructive force of human desire. It’s nice on its own, but it draws incredible power from what we know about these characters already, marking the book as a truly impressive achievement in world-building and subtle characterization, anecdotal structure aside.

The final image we see is a silly one, of a woman arriving at a fence marked ‘New York,’ with all sorts of sagging, cardboard-looking hovels tossed around inside. “I’d somehow imagined it… you know… bigger…” she says to a man by the fence. He invites her to gaze at the city through a special glass (again with the looking out through glass!), and suddenly the city looks real, and filled. “…yes, I see it now…” she remarks. Is the reality of a place only what we put into it ourselves? Or is it our own perceptions that color for us what the land appears to be, aside from its own objective features. These questions are raised by Chris Reynolds’ work, but the answers aren’t instantly forthcoming. If we are to take anything from these marvelous little comics stories, it’s that perhaps the answer only matters in what it indicates to the individual, and their individual life with others.

These comics should not be lost again.


Large money gobbler ahead.

*Gosh I’m tired.


Nextwave #1, Blackgas #1 (of 3)

Local #3 (of 12)

Hotel Harbour View (older manga release - beautiful, sensitive tales of ultimate killers, from the team that brought you The Times of Botchan)

And a film review for the George Clooney film Good Night, and Good Luck.

I wasn’t as tired back then.

*Coming Attractions Dept: Chris Reynolds is very, very good. Remember yesterday when I provided that link to some new collections of his mid ‘80s-early ’90s comics shorts? Well I purchased them (good old instant gratification downloads!). And having finished reading both of them (Cinema Detectives and Adventures From Mauretania), $11.76 for 108 pages of comics on your computer, I’m absolutely convinced that Reynolds is a significant, sadly obscure talent, eminently worthy of rediscovery. It’s a cliché, but his work truly is unlike anything else I can think of, thick black lines filling tight grids, forming perfect little tales, tone poems and allegories and considerations, building up to a marvelous portrait of a sci-fi/magical-realist world unstuck in time, fabulously melancholic and disarmingly witty. Tomorrow’s post will be devoted exclusively to examining these works, so get out your copies of The Comics Journal #265 (for Seth’s eye-catching appreciation of many of the same works) and click on over to Marc Sobel’s review of a prior (print format) Reynolds collection at Comic Book Galaxy, because I’m taking an express train to the same nation.

*A load of things coming soon to your friendly shop. Something for everyone


Bluesman Vol. 2 (of 3): I recall picking up the first installment of this graphic novel series from writer Rob Vollmar and artist Pablo G. Callejo in 2004, based on Alan David Doane’s enthusiasm. At that time, it was published by Absence of Ink Press. Now the title has switched over to NBM Publishing, and the second third is here. It’s an intriguing look at traveling blues musicians, and their lives and situations, and the very big trouble they ultimately encounter. The prior volume ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m interested to see where it all goes. Vollmar has a nice grip on the dialogue and period detail, and Callejo’s visuals are very good, reminiscent of Spain Rodriguez at times, but uniquely rounded. NBM has also released a new edition of Vol. 1; check the official site for more details.

A Disease of Language: Those of you all stoked from reading that Eddie Campbell interview in the Journal’s most recent issue might be interested in this, a hardcover collection of Campbell’s pair of one-shot comics adaptations of Alan Moore performance pieces, The Birth Caul and Snakes & Ladders (performances of which are also available on CD, though the former is tough to find), plus the lengthy interview with Moore that Campbell conducted in the second (and final) issue of his Egomania magazine. Top Shelf is carrying it in the US. I already have this stuff in pamphlet form, and I’ll vouch that the interview is a very good one, heavily magic-focused but quite comprehensible, and fun for the casual reader. The comics are simultaneously some of Campbell’s finest visual achievements and some of Moore’s most challenging, dense writing, fixated on questions of life and death and words and mysticism (frankly, if I were to pick a Moore performance piece to take with me to a desert island, it’d be The Highbury Working, an excellent collection of anecdotes and stories centered on the titular town, uncovering its soul by poking at its secrets). Not to every taste, but impressive to all.

City of Tomorrow: Not Howard Chaykin’s best work, but a fun, fast tour of a future culled from several areas of the Chaykin catalog, buffed to a pleasing texture. I went on and on about Time2, but I actually reviewed this miniseries too at the bottom of the same post, if you want some more info.

Concrete Vol. 3: Fragile Creature: My very favorite Concrete story, now back in print at last, though shorn of its gentle, awkward, and altogether fitting original coloring job. The first proper Concrete miniseries, hailing from 1991, it’s a meandering tale of life on a movie set, with Our Hero pondering art and commerce as writer/artist Paul Chadwick explores influences ranging from Polish sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski to the live-action Masters of the Universe film. Fine, soothing comics contemplation, at a low $12.95 price.

Hellboy: Makoma, or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorers’ Club on August 16, 1993 #1 (of 2): Oh, oh the eyes are getting a little moist - it’s the first ‘post-Mignola’ Hellboy miniseries. Which doesn’t mean that Mignola is gone - actually, he’s still writing the book and drawing a framing sequence, but the lion’s share (I hope Dark Horse intended that pun) of this Africa-based adventure will be illustrated by the esteemed Richard Corben, and there’s no more natural a fit for Hellboy, I don’t think. Preview here. You want this.

The Flying Friar: Rich Johnston, pontiff of internet whispers, wrote this 48-page b&w one-shot from Speakeasy - readers of his column may or may not have noticed him mentioning it at some point in recent months. It’s a fictionalized biography of St. Joseph of Copertino, a 16th century Franciscan priest who, according to legend, could fly and perform feats of incredible strength. Johnston recasts him as something of a Catholic superhero, with art by Thomas Nachlik. Preview here, six pages. I think I recall smirking at Johnston’s prior comics effort, the Avatar miniseries Rich Johnston’s Holed Up, which never did ship its final issue - ah, but more on Avatar later.

Seven Soldiers - Bulleteer #3 (of 4): In which Alix attends a superhero convention while guarding a mermaid, meets up with a face that will prove familiar to project obsessives, and squares off with a character conclusively proven dead last issue. The preview will provide spoilers.

ABC A-Z #3 (of 6): Terra Obscura and Splash Brannigan: Ha ha ha ha haaaa, those last issues of Tom Strong and Tomorrow Stories will never ship! Never!! Well ok, for the record, Tom Strong #36 has been bumped way back to March 15, and Tomorrow Stories Special #2 is simply lost in space. Until the fated day arrives, you can read this, another Peter Hogan-written guidebook in comics form, with some lovely art by Bulleteer’s Yanick Paquette and the always-welcome Hilary Barta.

I (heart) Marvel: My Mutant Heart: February, as you all know, is the month of love and kisses, because that’s what various merchants declared it to be - I personally never kiss anyone without the go-ahead from big business, and I don’t see why anyone would act differently. So now Marvel wants in on the action, and we have a whole month of romance-themed superhero things, kind of like that (better than expected) Marvel Monsters month last year. Things kick themselves off with this compilation of three new X-Men relationship stories, one of which is written and drawn by Tim Fish of Young Bottoms in Love, revisiting the old ‘Cannonball and his rock ’n roll girlfriend’ thing from Billy the Sink era New Mutants, perhaps providing much of the attraction for otherwise uninterested persons. Also: Peter Milligan of X-Statix provides a sensual tale of Doop. Wolverine’s in there too, don’t worry.

Marvel Romance Redux: But He Said He Loved Me #1 (of 5): More merry Marvel machinations for this most melodious month. Here we have classic romance shorts, featuring the art of Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan, and Dick Giordano, with all of the word balloons cleared out and filled up with silliness courtesy of Keith Giffen, Jimmy Palmiotti, John Lustig, and Roger Langridge. Some great visuals, to be sure, and I love me that Langridge writing, but I don’t know if this’ll be worth $2.99. Also, for those of you who like their vintage love funnies untrammeled, there’s Marvel Romance, a 176-page collection of authentic pinings and dramatic collapses into waiting arms.

Rex Libris #3: Yeah, issue #1 of this ongoing series by James Turner, creator of the graphic novel Nil: A Land Beyond Belief, was too cute by one quarter (maybe one third), and I didn’t even bother with the running bottom margin commentary until after I was done. The second issue, however, kind of tightened things up, jettisoning much of the collateral and keeping the focus on the title’s fairly amusing core group of characters, including the title adventurer, a planet-hopping librarian who’ll do anything to keep the peace and retrieve overdue tomes. It was enough that I’ll maybe look into this new issue.

The Punisher MAX #30: People slammed against a shatterproof window.

Fury: Peacemaker #1 (of 6): Also from writer Garth Ennis this week, a non-MAX look at Sgt. Fury, as he battles his way through the Tunisian desert. Looks like another nice opportunity for Ennis to slip in one of those war stories he so loves, under the guise of franchise servicing. Plus, he’s reunited with Darick Robertson, who worked with him so well on The Punisher: Born, a prior tale of Marvel properties in the shit. It probably won’t give George Clooney a heart attack like Ennis’ Fury MAX apparently did, and it’s got to be better than that one issue of Ghost Rider I managed to read, right?

Frank Miller’s Robocop #9 (of 9): Well sound the goddamned trumpets - after a mere thirty months of serialization, this license/adaptation miniseries finally draws to a close with its heartwarming denouement. In case you’ve forgotten, or have just recently come of age during the release schedule, this series adapts to the comics form Frank Miller’s original screenplay for the film Robocop 2, before everything got changed (and a lot of stuff got changed). Basically it’s a hyperactive barrage of extreme violence and sledgehammer-driven socio-political satire, kind of the like Paul Verhoeven original only without all that subtlety. You recall the subtlety, right? Steven Grant handles the sequential adaptation, and Juan Jose Ryp provides fittingly wrinkly flesh art, punctuated with the thrashing and sparking of blood-stained chrome. All jokes aside, this is a pretty decent guilty pleasure, and its frequency of release averages out to around that of Planetary, so at least we’re not looking at an unprecedented situation. And lord knows it trumps the six-issue, forty-three month epic journey of Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do to the consciousness of comics assembled. Check and mate, Marvel. CHECK. AND. MATE.


One of those posts with all of the bits of stuff.

*Tom Spurgeon has some really funny stuff up today - The Five Worst “Gateway Comics,” compiling a quintet of books that absolutely should not serve as somebody’s introduction to the wondrous world of sequential art, under any circumstances. I especially enjoyed #4, company focus aside, as I clearly recall my aunt once giving my younger brother a random issue of Ghost Rider (so he wouldn’t feel ‘left out’ of my own partially relative-funded comics reading), which just so happened to be an entirely random chapter of the 17-part Marvel Midnight Sons crossover, Siege of Darkness, which ran from 1993-94. My brother, then about 8 years old, was not much of a comics reader. He was not converted on the spot.

*Purchasing Updates Dept: You might recall a piece I wrote from very nearly a year ago (and god how the time flies), on a book called Mauretania - it was written and drawn by Escape veteran Chris Reynolds, and released in 1990 by Penguin Books, the first graphic novel ever to be commissioned in the UK by a ‘major’ book publisher. Reynolds had been already been working on a self-published ongoing series titled Mauretania Comics for years at the time (it would ultimately run for 16 issues, from 1986-91), and the graphic novel served as an extension of some of his themes, notions of rationality vs. irrationality and mysterious environments hiding barely-grasped revelations. I thought it was a fascinating book, and I wasn’t alone - I heard about the book from an appreciative essay written by Seth in The Comics Journal #265, and most recently it’s been featured in Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life.

Well, now I’m pleased to note that Mauretania is back in print, and available online in a variety of formats, along with many other Reynolds works, all of them accessible through Lulu.com. You can order print versions of Mauretania, two new collections of Reynolds’ comics (Adventures From Mauretania and Cinema Detectives), and two of Reynolds’ prose novels (Cellarhead and House of the Moon Queen), or you can download PDF versions of any of them at a reduced price. This is a lot of interesting stuff in one place, and I’d certainly recommend you look into Mauretania, at least. You can also search around for the recent print collection of a trio of Reynolds tales, The Dial and Other Stories, from Kingly Books, if you’d like. Plenty of previews and links at Reynolds’ homepage.

*Watched some anime recently. Being infatuated to a degenerate degree with ’80s Japanese animation, I naturally went bonkers over the 1986 anthology ‘feature’ Neo-Tokyo, which is actually only 49 minutes long. Some of you probably got the Akira reference in the film’s title - that’s what Streamline Pictures was counting on when it gave the film that name upon its original US video release way back in the day, cashing in on the presence of Katsuhiro Otomo as director of one of the film’s segments. The actual Japanese title is Meikyû monogatari, and the project had a pretty interesting genesis, put together by co-producers Masao Maruyama and Rintaro as something of an ‘art first’ anime showcase. As a result, there’s a whole lot more attention placed on supremely dazzling visuals than deep storytelling, though as pure eye candy it’s hard to top.

Easily the most famous piece is Yoshiyaki (Ninja Scroll, Wicked City) Kawajiri’s The Running Man, which eventually turned up in edited form in front of zillions of impressionable youths courtesy of Liquid Television; it’s the one with the racecar driver in the future, who pushes his psychic-powered vehicle to the limits. That’s really all there is to it: the guy pushes himself more and more, then his car and body begin to disintegrate, and he keeps on going as all sorts of vaguely religious images flash by, spirits and the flames of hell, and his face stretching backward to horrid extremes. I get the feeling that Kawajiri’s team opted to spend most of their time on getting the flames and flying bits of metal just right, and let the rest of it sit - I can assure you, there’s an extended bit following a lick of fire bouncing around on the ground that’s just superb, no matter what you think about the rest of it.

The aforementioned Otomo actually does provide a story in his Construction Cancellation Order, a nicely satirical piece about a corporate drone sent into a remote jungle to demand a halt to an expensive, politically-sensitive building project. But the workers there are a more literal type of drone, robots, and they’re much better than humans, always continuing their work, always able to rationalize anything. Beautiful, creepy fun. Also, we get Rintaro himself (best known at the moment for Metropolis) directing a framing sequence of sorts, involving a young girl and her fat cat venturing into a labyrinth of danger and wonder. Get ready for plenty of thin beams of neon light, and lots of flickering sprays of sparkle (it’s the mid-’80s), and scenes that often don’t even try to connect to one another - it’s just one moment of shock and awe after another. At least the heroine is memorably feisty, and much more eager to live among the magical mutants and bizarre sights of the labyrinth than to return to dumb old home. If you want chin-stroking storytelling depth with your anime anthology visual aplomb, you’ll do much better with the Otomo-powered 1995 Memories (which featured Kawajiri too, albeit in a supervisory capacity). But this thing is really worth seeing.

I also caught Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which has taken almost as much criticism as Otomo’s recent Steamboy. The main complaints here seem to focus on glacial pacing and a convoluted plot. Well maybe it’s just me, but having watched Oshii’s 1991 live-action opus Stray Dogs, with its endless scenes of characters wandering through outdoor markets, and having read Masamune Shirow’s often ruthlessly opaque Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface manga (which has nothing to do with this film), I found the movie to be neither overly slow nor confusing. I bet you’ve heard about how much the characters quote famous philosophers and other personalities - that’s been kind of overstated, and it doesn’t really get in the way of the story. Now don’t take this to mean the film isn’t a bit of a challenge - it is. But not unduly so.

Really, it’s a pretty standard Mamoru Oshii-type anime film (sometimes imitated, never duplicated), loaded with luxurious shots of cities and basset hounds, with plenty of time set aside for contemplation in between sudden bursts of violent action. Things only get dicey when Oshii opts to indulge in an extended overlapping realities sequence (harkening way back to his work on 1984’s Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer), with scenes played over and over again with tiny differences each time. It fits nicely into the brain-tapping mélange of Shirow’s universe, though it’s bound to lose any viewers who haven’t surrendered their careful attention.

Naturally, it’s a gorgeous-looking thing, and the recurring motif of beasts and dolls providing Innocence in a world where there’s little need for differentiation between man and machine is a natural, logical extension of some of Shirow’s own concerns, filtered through Oshii’s highly individual worldview (and really, are there many animation filmmakers out there with as individual approach to filmmaking as Oshii?). Recommended, so long as you’re ready to keep your eyes on the screen; it won’t be tough with looks this good.


We love you, Mr. Taniguchi!

*Oh, $3.99 mall sushi - nothing beats you. Sushi should not be the province of sit-down restaurants; it’s a fast, on-the-go food, and perfect for stuffing into a box, putting on ice, and handing out to eager consumers, complete with ginger-in-a-packet, wasabi-in-a-packet, and velvety smooth Kikkoman soy sauce (and I‘ve long since made peace with the fact that I’ll be hearing that song in my head every damn time I encounter that brand of soy sauce - effective advertising!).

I topped my meal off with yet another strange candy creation, and this time Hershey’s has really gone over the top - a Hershey’s Extra Dark bar, now with almonds, blueberries, and cranberries. It’s the kind of candy that (aside from rocking you $2) comes in that really fancy gold trim packaging, built to make you feel like a high-class candy bar connoisseur indeed, even as you stuff that latest sixty-seven cent smoked salmon roll into your maw while waiting for your green tea to brew.

*X-Men Questions of Vital Import Dept: Ok, so I know Marvel collected the first six issues of Joe Casey’s run as writer on Uncanny X-Men in the Poptopia trade, and I know that they only started numbering the spines (from ‘1’) on the Uncanny collections starting with the Chuck Austin era. Did the other 9 issues of Casey’s run ever get collected? I only ask because I keep running into mention of an X-Men trade bearing the cover image of Casey’s #401, which apparently came out in 2004, though nobody appears to actually have a copy, new or used. Is it vaporware? Am I fated to scouring the back-issue bins for the rest of Casey’s run, or at least the magical moment of Eddie Campbell contributing to the X-Men mythos (that’s issue #400)?

*Hmmm, a weekend. How’s about some of that older manga?

Hotel Harbour View

I’m willing to bet that this is the first place where a lot of people heard of Jiro (spelled 'Jiroh' here) Taniguchi. Willing to tackle a diverse set of genres and subject matters with his signature detailed, realist style, the contemporary reader might know of Taniguchi from works ranging from his meditative solo book The Walking Man (Fanfare/Ponent Mon), his adorned, allegorical sci-fi collaboration with Moebius Icaro (ibooks), his multi-timeline action book with writer Kan Furuyama Samurai Legend (CPM Manga), his dense, literary, Natsuo Sekikawa-written historical fiction series The Times of Botchan (Fanfare/Ponent Mon), and his atmospheric, noir-flavored, Jinpachi Mori-written artist-as-super-assassin collection Benkei in New York (Viz).

Those last two are going to come into play here - this is also a shadowy, downbeat saga of super-assassins, with many a cigarette smoked, drink quaffed, and hat tipped. And it’s written by Botchan’s Sekikawa. But Hotel Harbour View is very different from anything else Taniguchi has been involved with, so drenched is this work in urban atmosphere and romantic decay. Obviously, Viz saw something special in the work when they released it in 1990 as part of their ‘Viz Spectrum Editions’ line; it was yet another attempt to get a hold on the US comics market, this time through deluxe, trade paperback-sized books, the production values extra high (there’s lovely transparent endpapers, a strange vinyl dust jacket, and an essay by Fred Burke - note that I think there's a 2001 reissue, and I have no idea if it has any of this stuff in it), though it’s really rather a short book, only 96 pages long.

And those pages will fly by, as so much of this book exists to set scenes, with countless detailed images of Hong Kong and Paris sights, long, wordless action scenes, with a nearly fetishistic attitude toward bullets passing through the air, the paths of these tiny projectiles followed through space and into their targets with the utmost in tactile sensation duly evoked. It’s no surprise that Harold “Doc” Edgerton’s famous 1964 Bullet Through Apple photograph is visually cited at one point - this work seeks to slow down the flightof death to its most profound component moments, those that only comics and high-speed photography can possibly isolate. But why?

There’s only two stories in Hotel Harbour View, and both of them deal explicitly with love and death, with a hearty dose of vanity on the side. Both of them also feature a super-assassin on assignment - actually, the two of them look pretty much identical, but the book seems to leave open the possibility that it’s actually two different women, so we’ll let that sit too. The femme fatale is one of the most classic of noir tropes, but Sekikawa and Taniguchi refuse to place their female lead(s) in the position of seducer, or even necessarily object of affection - she’s more of a final arbitrator of mortality, walking death personified, as all of these types of characters usually are. And there’s a good deal of action and shooting in these stories, but focusing just on that would sort of be missing the point - needless to say, though, Taniguchi does some frequently astonishing work with the shooting and running, his detail at its maximum heft, but never once overpowering character movement.

The real point is the longing of the lead characters, one male and one female, one in each story. The first story (Hotel Harbour View) follows a mystery man in Hong Kong, who is apparently a Yakuza expat, and expecting an assassin to arrive to finish him off at any time. He’s struck up a relationship with a local prostitute, and often takes pictures of her, poses only for him - he burns the shots when he’s done with them, when she‘s gone. He’s kind of a director, and an actor, and as the story goes on it’s obviously that’s he’s rehearsing for his own demise, trying to get everything perfect for a glorious, romantic final stand, something that perhaps defies the realities of his life, as if it’ll all be good if he goes out with a bang. Much of the story simply follows him on his journeys about town - there’s a fine moment where he awkwardly purchases his own coffin, or strikes up a conversation with another exiled crime cog. The mood is constantly hushed, almost soothing, which makes the concluding visual aplomb of the inevitable confrontation all the more powerful, as if the creative team truly understands that the man’s life really all comes down to this.

The other story, the two-part Brief Encounter, turns the focus to the assassin herself (or her near-twin). She’s on assignment to Paris in order to kill another super-assassin, another vain man (he can’t go into action without his hat, to cover his balding scalp), and the fellow who taught her to kill; they had a romantic relationship too, by the way. The ‘joke’ of the story (if you can call it that), is that Our Heroine isn’t bothered at all with having to kill her ex-lover; after all, business is business. It’s the fact that the man doesn’t even seem to recognize her that gets under her skin, and she soon becomes deeply depressed through the notion that she was just another stop-off in the man’s life. So she begins getting close to him (excellent scene where the characters are seen reading various bande dessinée in a bookstore, with Druillet’s Lone Sloane appearing prominently), not because she needs it to kill him, but because she wants to spark some sort of memory in him, maybe so his death will mean something more to her - again, we have something of a creator for a main character, arrangements for death.

It’s really a very sad book, for all its bloodshed and gorgeous looks - everything boils down to mortality, and it seems that the only truly wonderful thing in the world is to grasp a shred of beauty in your final breaths. Nihilistic, maybe, but great for an intoxicating, soaked reverie of a book like this. It’s a quick one, but you’ll eventually slow down to go through it all again; such is its power. I’ve heard from various sources that this book used to act as something of a ‘hook’ for those who thought they didn’t like Japanese comics - understandable, as it’s quite far from the shounen/shoujo axis of the current US scene, and Taniguchi’s art style might be seen as ‘western,’ if only through the absence of typical manga visual tropes (frankly, in this tome it’s maybe closer to those BDs in that bookstore in Paris). It can still perform such feats today, and the fact that there’s so much more Taniguchi art available for readers has done nothing to diminish its strength as a book. Absolutely worth looking for.


In living color (or its absence).

*The Digest Format is Not a Magic Bullet Dept: The situation having been brought to my attention by Dan Coyle a few days ago, I decided to inspect the freshly reissued Pocket Edition collection of John Ney Rieber’s and Jae Lee’s 2003-2004 miniseries Transformers/G.I. Joe, from the now out-of-business Dreamwave Productions. Apparently Dreamwave really wanted to court the manga market with this thing, since Lee’s art does not grace the cover; instead, we get an anime-flavored image by Dan Norton and Don Figueroa, originally used as a holofoil variant for issue #1 of the miniseries (the two artists also provided character and mecha designs for use by Lee). Actually, Lee’s name doesn’t appear on the cover either, and neither does Rieber’s, or anyone’s for that matter - the license is very much put first in the curious consumer’s mind.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this $9.95 production is maybe worth buying for the crazy Jae Lee fans out there, but not for reading - actually, the book continually teeters on the edge of utter incomprehensibility. You see, it’s all in b&w, which isn’t to say that Lee’s formerly color art is printed in b&w, but that Lee’s inked art is provided in pre-color form. And it’s quite an educational object lesson in how much an artist like Lee calibrates his personal artistic contributions to the strengths of his colorist (June Chung, who retains her colorist credit here, presumably for the cover art) - get ready for a ton of white space, patiently waiting to be filled in by textures and effects. For example, check out this page (part of a great Jae Lee art gallery), offering comparisons between the colored and b&w versions of several early pages. The b&w art in this book is almost identical to what is seen here, save for the addition of sound effects and word balloons, and some details have been obliterated, perhaps due to the shrinking of the art down to digest size.

Note how on the uncolored page 1 there’s space left in panel 3 between the pieces of the shattered wall, the white matching the sky. In the colored version, that space is filled with a more definite explosion, which was barely visible before. In this double-page spread, note how difficult it initially is to tell that the Cobra soldier is picking up the orb in panel 1 and carrying it around - you really have to squint. The color version reveals that much of the storytelling ‘weight’ of this point has been left to the colorist, the orb’s shimmer absent from the b&w art but very pronounced (even dominant) in the color image. The entire splash is thusly changed - in b&w, it seems the Cobra soldier is running around in fear, looking for a way to escape, and cruelly blocked by the large Decepticon. In color, the Cobra soldier confronts the robot, the radiance of the orb acting as a shield - perhaps the robot is lashing out in futile anger. And page 3’s image of the Decpticon breaking free from the wall that holds him is remarkably difficult to suss out, until the pure white radiance of the color version is provided. The wall matches the energy matches the uniforms matches everything, because the application of color is anticipated.

Such color does not arrive in this book, which makes things especially fun in, say, panels where characters tumble into water, since Lee often does not provide differentiation between the sky and the sea save for the tiniest of air bubbles - and why should he? The color is going to handle that. I’m certain that if Lee was specifically working for b&w, his finished inks would look quite different, but here it can’t be denied that art looks simply unfinished. Because it’s not finished. Some art will suffer less from this than Lee’s, as some artists probably don’t anticipate the application of color in quite as comprehensive a way as Lee does. And many artists don’t work on quite as sweeping, operatic a scale as Lee, and might translate a lot better to the shrunken size of the digest form; coupled with the heavy shadows of his characters and the gobs of blinding white on his pages, as well as the scale he’s working on, shrinking Lee’s art here renders it very nearly incoherent, at least as a breezy read. You’ll have to examine many pages two or three times simply to discern what’s going on. And that’s no fun.

And yet - Lee fans just might want to buy this anyway, as it provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes type look at production process of the book. Think of it as a comprehensive (albeit frustratingly shrunken) look at the artistic process rather than as a finished work; yeah, you’ll have to put up with the added sound effects, and dialogue balloons, but I bet there’ll be some interesting comparisons to make with your color trade version. Notice that I haven’t covered Rieber’s script at all, and I mean no disrespect by that - he’s done no favors here either, as difficult art damages any story. This isn’t a book to buy if you want a reading experience - by virtue of its halfway status, the attention can only be thrown upon the visuals.

Local #3 (of 12)

This is a nice issue. It seems that every new release in this series is determined to play around with a different approach to presentation - we had the repeating imagination structure of #1 and the long silent stretches of #2, and now we have a drifting mass of events floating from one member of a recently-disbanded musical quartet to the next, as all of them attempt to engage with a post-band life. And each of them illustrates a different facet of a frankly communal situation that all are submerged in, having returned to lovely Richmond, VA for a little settling down.

Involuntary narration is provided by the band’s singer/guitarist, who spends way too much of his day talking on the phone with a music journalist, who largely seems intent on relating everything going on now to the band’s past. Why did you leave Virginia? How was your sound changed? What do you think of your fans’ reactions? Writer Brian Wood quite nicely handles the tenor of the interview, the journalist adopting an apologetic stance for tough questions, gently flattering the subject to get him back on track (“Happy birthday.”) - I’ve listened to the recordings of interviews like this. The singer/guitarist thus represents the inescapable presence of what’s gone on before, (literally) stuck dealing with his and his bandmates’ own past accomplishments.

Elsewhere (as the narration continues), we have the group’s bassist/vocalist, who’s attempting to restart a relationship that got shunted aside for the sake of her art. We have the drummer, who’s dealing with the economic side of things, hawking off his old works at inflated prices (nominal series protagonist Megan makes a cameo here, and it’s nice to see that artist Ryan Kelly still has her wearing her apartment key, as covered in issue #2). And we have the (non-singing) guitarist, who’s playing a solo set at a small club. All the while, the conversational narration continues, sometimes complimenting what we see, and sometimes contrasting with it. It’s ultimately clear that the realities of the breakup situation and the ephemeral qualities of recognition are so great, that the only truly lasting pleasure comes from the act of creation itself, and only one band member is ultimately glimpsed in what can be read as a state of unrestricted happiness.

It’s a good, low-key little story, possessed with authenticity of theme, and willing to allow its themes to simmer. The space-spanning narrative structure allows for some nice local color, and Kelly continues to do a good job with the atmosphere. For bonuses, there’s the expected essays, two pages of designs and roughs, a pair of pin-ups by Richmond-connected guest artists Chris Pitzer and Rob G., and two pages of the new ‘My Local’ feature, in which readers can send in pictures and words about their own surrounding environs. Still a nice package.


A post from the world of film.

*Getting around to some movies, finally. I almost can’t believe I actually saw that which I’m about to review - it was playing at the local shoebox art house theater for roughly a month, which is quite lavish for something in such a limited space, and yet I never got around to seeing it. In a way I’m glad, since now I got to check it out on a big screen.

So, for any of you who care to comment, if I was going to push hard for a movie to go see this weekend, should it be Brokeback Mountain, The New World, or Match Point? I’m actually leaning toward The New World, as I get the dual feelings that it’s both going to work best on a big screen, and not be around for very long.

Good Night, and Good Luck.

I really enjoyed how the title of the film is explicitly a statement, complete with a period at the end. It fits the stance of the film well - I’d like to call it a ‘character drama,’ except I realize upon reflection that we really know very little about the characters therein after the credits have rolled. Oh yes, we know Edward R. Murrow was an erudite, studiously principled fellow. Not above the occasional joke, a lover of a fine cigarette (and good god does this film glamorize smoking like nothing I’ve seen in years!), and apparently possessed of a potent charisma that flowed off his camera-lit skin and saturated the entirety of the CBS News team of the early 1950’s. Yes, that’s what we’re told. But it’s not that he has an outside life or anything. It’s not that he emerges as something more complex than a sort of folk hero, the b&w texture of the screen massaging actor David Strathairn’s steely face as an eyebrow is raised, or an eyeball momentarily suggests the possibility of rolling at the increasing entertainment focus of television news - this Murrow can react, but never be cut.

Also: the film doesn’t need depth of character to accomplish what it sets out to do. This is more a fact-based political fable than any sort of biopic, saturated in lavish care for period detail and simply crazy about long stretches of newsreading (it’s ok - we’re dealing with actual newscasts), copious dollops of archival footage (for purposes of both scene-setting and condemnation), and slow pans across the halls as period jazz plays on. There’s a great moment of play near the beginning, in one of those music-filled scenes where we’re introduced to the busy environment of the story (here CBS News itself), and everybody is running around and hollering and we’re rapidly introduced to the major characters; at one point, a woman strays from her path and peers into a studio, and we discover that the jazz we’ve been hearing as the sequence’s score was actually being played in the context of the film’s reality, by a nearby music ensemble. It’s a fun moment, and evidences a canny sense of stagecraft on the part of director/co-writer George Clooney, whose prior feature Confessions of a Dangerous Mind often wandered into a “Look at me!! I can so direct!” terrain of overstated visual acrobatics. Though even that film nursed a story and a theme that complimented its director’s hungers, I must say.

This is a pretty hungry work too, but there’s a welcome level of restraint to it. Yes, it opens and closes with a keynote address Murrow gave at the a 1958 Radio-Television News Directors Association convention, the emphasized portions regarding the capacity for television to educate rather than lull obviously meant to allude to Today’s Concerns, but the meat of the film is exceedingly careful in presentation, strongly spoken but never strident, and rarely dull. This is a fairly short feature (one hour and thirty-three minutes), and it quite flew by for me; but then, Murrow’s own framing address implicitly acknowledges the need for entertainment, not asking for a coup of enlightenment in television, but merely one more day a week to exercise the potential of the medium. Surely the story is not politically ‘objective’ - one of its ongoing concerns, after all, involves the self-destructive foolishness of maintaining objectivity in the face of one side that constantly resorts to dishonesty and seat-of-power bullying tactics to advance its agenda. This does naturally raise the question of what happens in a world where every side simply cites their opponents’ lack of honesty in rendering them undeserving of objectivity, and what might happen to the resultant media reality - ah, but these are questions for the lobby afterwards.

Perhaps what the film is best at is painting a picture of total paranoia without utilizing any of the cinematic tricks and tropes of suspense. There’s no chilling music cues and a distinct lack of sweat-beaded brows, but I found the film to simply shake with edgy, jumpy energy, everyone knowing that they’re living in a time where things they didn’t know were happening in their past could rise up to strike down their entire lives’ devotion in one quick blow. There’s also the film’s omnipresent utilization of archival material; citations aren’t provided via subtitle, but I was willing to suspend my natural tendency to doubt the screen when Strathairn would read long segments of rhetoric on the air, presumably taken from actual Murrow broadcasts (I’ve since found out that at least the framing sequence speech was selectively abridged).

Even more compelling is all that stock footage, Clooney’s masterstroke arriving via the decision to allow Senator Joseph McCarthy to ‘play’ himself, the big on-air clash between him and Murrow beautifully structured though the use of control booth and on-set monitors. It even can be read as a parallel to the real CBS News team's use of footage in their programs to quietly discredit the Senator. And even then, one can argue, if the desire arises (please stay with me as I advocate for the devil) - isn’t it a bit disingenuous to provide McCarthy only the ratty, shivery realism of stock footage, its scratches and fadings and unprepared authentic period make-up and dress, while cloaking Strathaim-as-Murrow in luxurious, spotless b&w, his appearance carefully dressed in filmic ‘period’ style? Isn’t it a ploy, the filmmakers hiding behind a cloak, nodding toward authenticity of portrayal while a vastly more insidious demonization occurs, the kangaroo court of merely pitting the true McCarthy against the dramatic close-ups and prepared-for-hours magic of moviemaking?

Ha ha, of course I’m being silly - there’s actually no ‘right’ thing to do at all! If you have an actor play the character, interested parties could very easily just accuse the film of playing up the Senator’s least attractive traits (an already-popular tale Clooney has been recounting concerns one test audience member’s reaction to the film, where he or she complained via response card that the actor playing McCarthy was hamming it up, unaware that it was the authentic personage on screen). And the beauty of this film is that it understands the capacity for such attack. At one point, Murrow is dressed down by his boss - the bold newscaster makes an argument for crusading journalism, but his superior quite reasonably retorts that Murrow is thoroughly a self-censor already, selectively running stories on McCarthy’s attacks on sympathetic parties, rather than his no less untruthful assaults on actual Communist sympathizers (this is cannily set up in a throwaway line earlier in the film). And for a film so intent on maintaining its focus on the battle of Edward R. Murrow, it’s almost shocking when it pulls out a last-moment parallel between its hero and McCarthy himself - both men are left not defeated by their battle, but marginalized, Clooney (playing producer Fred Friendly) and Strathairn walking down the hall and discussing how McCarthy has not been kicked out of the Senate, but made to sit in the back, even as the two walk off to their characters’ new lives of limited television, everyone made smaller in a certain stature from the battle.

It’s a smart movie, even a wise one. Its looks are gorgeous, but it constantly works to undercut our notions of the past as a hallowed ground of idealism. A (slightly anachronistic, according to the IMBD) cigarette commercial displays an entirely self-aware attitude toward advertising, earlier than most would expect it. Newspaper columns are quoted, evidencing a very modern sentiment toward Bias! in the news media. Choices are made, options are weighed. One is impressed with the display, then they blink, and they really hope the film isn’t just making stuff up to forward its theme (for a useful compendium of criticisms, check out Jack Shafer's highly critical piece from Slate - needless to say, some stuff got puffed).

And regardless of all of that, the applause is muted. Murrow exits the podium into dead blackness and total silence. This film about him realizes that in a long-term political world, and least of all human life, there are rarely permanent victories, even in clashes as big as this one.


Wednesday is for Warren

*And it's not a bad one.

Nextwave #1

I hope it makes some people smile.”

-Warren Ellis, from today’s Bad Signal mailing, on Nextwave #1

In the same message as quoted above, writer Ellis expressed some concern as to how this new series, his latest Marvel superhero effort, will be received by fans at large. About a week ago (January 17, to be precise), Ellis was apparently even less certain, asking readers to wait until reading issue #2 before deciding whether or not to continue purchasing the book, as only the conclusion of the initial two-part storyline (the uniform length of all stories in this series) will offer the questioning reader a fully informed viewpoint. Naturally, this will deter nobody from commenting on the half of a storyline we have right now; perhaps some tonal/narrative switch-up is in store?

Regardless, as of now Nextwave is quite determinedly a comedy. There’s some action in there too, but this is probably the most predominantly comedic book Ellis has written in a long while. And the humor takes several forms: I was genuinely surprised at how antic some of this is, complete with funny props (look at that gigantic telephone!) and overtly absurd dialogue ("No no not doing this no no no run away run away this is my special run away song so I do not get killed by scary girl."). One can practically hear the snorting behind the omniscient narration ("Fin Fang Foom! Has been burning with the need to mate since 1956!"). Dirty words are blocked out by tiny skull-and-crossbones symbols. Annoying little dogs are lit aflame. It’s really quite a silly book.

Yet it’s really very much a Warren Ellis book too, which leads to both problems and rewards. Comedy isn’t the most objective thing in the world, yes, but I feel secure in declaring that Ellis is at his most amusing here when he’s willing to dive head-first into self-parody. Funny term, that - usually it’s meant in a pejorative sense, often denoting the presence of unintentional humor as summoned by a hopelessly self-fixated talent. But for intentional comedy I think it can be a worthwhile exercise, even if the risk of alienating the non-devout with opaque yuks runs higher than average; and I don’t really know if everyone will take humor out of the sight of a tough-talking badass bellowing something like:

Every day I smoke two hundred cigarettes and one hundred cigars and drink a bottle of whiskey and three bottles of wine with dinner. And dinner is meat. Raw meat. The cook serves me an entire animal and I fight it bare-handed and tear off what I want and eat it and have the rest buried. In New Jersey! For H.A.T.E.!”

But I certainly know I’ve read enough of Ellis’ work to appreciate the amping up of what some would call overly familiar characterizations. The politics are also farcical, which leads us nicely into the plot: the unpleasant Beyond Corporation, who apparently used to be a terrorist cell but are now really a very respectable corporation don’t you worry, has been using America’s formidable Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort (H.A.T.E.) division as unsuspecting distributors of Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction (“It was an open bidding process!”). H.A.T.E.’s elite anti-terrorism Nextwave squad, comprised of various and sundry lesser-used Marvel Universe personalities, takes off on its own with some nice weapons and winds up dealing with Beyond’s monkey business, like awakening Fin Fang Foom.

There’s plenty of jokes there too, though they’re of an easier type; as always, Ellis gets a bit shivery around the less gracefully-aged aspects of the Marvel U, and this time it basically comes out in the form of jokes about how silly things like Fin Fang Foom are (the purple underpants are pointed out twice). This is maybe preferable to the Ellis Ultimate approach of giving things fresh names (Finf-Ang-F’om, let’s say), but one still can’t escape the feeling that the writer is laughing at the very toys he’s merrily playing with; contrast this with the similarly (if far more explicitly) punchy, over-the-top superhero hi-jinx of James Kochalka’s Super Fuckers, which also had a lovely theme song, and one can’t help but marvel how the latter seems poised to roll in the metahuman sandbox, while the Marvel exhibit sometimes looks eager to wash its hands.

But still, this is a funny book. Stuart Immonen’s art nicely meets and enhances the tone, characters flipping thrown the air, legs flailing, when hit by villain-driven cars. The destruction is never less than poppy and crumbly, and the jut-jawed character designs are a lot of fun. Two-issue waiting period be damned; even with the occasional reason to pause, or maybe just slow down, you might be more eager to stick around for the long-run than you are with any of Ellis’ other Marvel titles. Unless, of course, it all changes next issue.

Blackgas #1 (of 3)

I hope it makes some people sick.”

-Warren Ellis, also from today’s Bad Signal, on Blackgas #1

UPDATE 1/26/05 10:06 PM: You know what really makes me sick, everyone? The fact that I'm obviously a functional illiterate and cannot properly read the credits of a comic book, which is why I switched up the names of Max (penciler) and Sebastian (ink assist) Fiumara in the following review. What a day!

I managed to score the final copy of Jacen Burrows’ ‘Gore’ variant cover (out of the 16,731 alternate covers that accompany each and every Avatar release), depicting a horde of hungry ghouls lifting a tiny Aryan-type child in the air and feasting on his dangling intestines, among other pleasantries. I win!

Positioned nicely to compliment the hyperactive Ellis-plus of Nextwave, we have the supremely straightforward first third of this new zombie miniseries. It is possible to discern Ellis’ voice flowing from some of the characters’ mouths, especially the feisty girlfriend character Soo, but otherwise this story is largely missing most of the writer’s favorite tics and techniques - instead, we’re treated to a never unpredictable but entirely capable working over of some vintage shock horror chestnuts. One gets the feeling that Ellis’ eyes are turned at least halfway to Italy - not only is the isolated atmospheric island setting and semi-historical half-explained origins of the obligatory flesh-eaters sharply reminiscent of Lucio Fulci (one hopes the old zombie-on-the-boat trick is coming soon), but some more ‘advanced’ exploitation tactics are duly explored, including some nasty up-close animal slaughter. Ellis’ use of such tropes is not as entirely gratuitous as it’d appear in the average Umberto Lenzi cannibal epic, though - the head-crushing and flesh-stripping of an atypical animal food source neatly presages all of the chowing down on human guts to come. The zombie is already in all of us, you see.

In the interests of exactitude, I should say that it’s not wholly typical zombies here, not yet - the skin-starving ghouls here can still speak coherently, though awful ichors pour from their eyes and mouth, as if their bodies are cruelly allowed not to decay while their innards melt into tar. All is nicely detailed by penciler Max Fiumara (recently of Avatar’s Nightjar), with an ‘ink assist’ by his brother Sebastian. Fiumara provides just the right shadowed visual élan to his character designs, certain panels taking on an almost Jae Lee-type ‘night-filled eyes’ quality as our hapless pair of young lovers retire to a secluded cabin in the woods to enjoy the company of one another. Oh yes, of course there’s a pair of young lovers, and of course they’re secluded when the zombie massacre begins. Really, we only see the beginning of the attack in this issue; Ellis dutifully doles out exposition and anticipatory build, with just enough grue to keep the fans in their seats, just like in the films but adapted crisply to the comics form.

True, this is all very fundamental gore horror stuff, enough so that those not attracted to the genre will have little to capture their specific attentions, popular writer or not. This is Ellis gone nearly undercover, which doesn’t equate to his talent vanishing - he manages to intuitively grasp the appeal of the subgenre, and largely plays it straight. This leaves relatively little to discuss, though a no less pleasant a time reading for it. Strange that such a turn for the upfront in genre comics creation should fit in well with a day of little changes in the new Warren Ellis books.


Thoughts as Tuesday drifts to bed...

*This Chinese food tastes plenty weird. I wonder what’s up with it.

*Ecstasy Dept: Although, I did have the most wonderful experience picking the food up. There was this old mom ‘n pop video store next door; I don’t rent a lot of movies, but I decided to go in anyway.

Oh wow.

It was perhaps my personal ideal as to what a small video store ought to be, sprung right to life in front of me. Note that my personal ideal probably has little-to-no connection to business viability or whatever. Just shelves upon shelves of faded VHS boxes, beautiful old ’80s cover art everywhere. It was one of those places where there’s a blocked-off ‘Adult’ room for the hardcore porno, but the ‘softer’ stuff, the Skinemax bait, was liberally sprinkled around by the foreign films, or even the sci-fi. There were maybe 10 anime tapes in there, and half of them looked to be from ADV’s old sex line from the ’90s. Man, you’ve come some way, ADV.

Of course, the real test is always the horror section. There was initially no discernible logic to the organization of said section (a big one), until I noted that everything was racked according to the finest gradients of transgressive appeal, the Italian gore pictures leading into the all-Japanese material, coupled with the shot-on-video affairs of the late-’80s/early-’90s, zombies here, autopsy shockers there. It was madness, but it was like I could intuitively understand the ways of stacking; it’s like everything I could expect was at the tips of my fingers. It was damn near subliminal, but I knew.

And it was enveloping. The horror section was in a corner, except the wall blocking off the (hardcore) porno section was also right there, so I was blocked on three sides with shelves, all of them horror, half of them fairly extreme, with all of the blown-out box art that the past two decades could dream up. Baroque gore scenes photographed, and presented as box art with blocky yellow titles and little additional comment. Many cases were not in English at all. Nudity was rampant, sometimes left in, sometimes scratched out from the surface of the box itself, real gritty salesmanship. Three sides. Three sides.

I actually started to get nervous, all of this stuff leering at me from everywhere but behind. It was wonderful. I kid you not - it was absolutely sublime in its intimidation. I felt like I was 10, and that my Dad would arrive in any second to yell at me for looking at the ‘bad’ horror films. I became intoxicated with nostalgia atop my already-hammering trash buzz. Fucking sublime, sublime.

I never rented anything.

But god, just being in there.

*The results of the big bad 2005 Comic Bloggers’ Poll are in, and Chris Tamarri has gotten together with Ed Cunard to offer up a little analysis of the winners and the rankings. Perhaps by virtue of my being immersed in the world of comics blogging myself, I don’t find many of the results to be terribly surprising; after all, it’s logical that you’d be able to at least expect many of these winners simply by reading through blogs, as favorites would naturally reveal themselves over the course of time. I do have to say I was a bit taken aback by the sheer size of Grant Morrison’s landslide win for Best Writer - a full 60 points ahead of his nearest competitor in a race with only 500 points available, 10 unawarded, and 76 (or so) competitors clawing for the rest. I think Ed is right on the money in noting that part of Morrison’s appeal is that everyone seems to like him for a different reason - he’s isn’t really nailed down to any one method of pleasing readers, and (more importantly) he seems successful with an inordinately large number of these methods. The reader who likes Morrison’s stuff for the humor very often likes him just as much as the reader who likes the crazy ideas.

I have to wonder if maybe part of Morrison’s appeal rises from his sheer prolificacy. It’s certainly not that bloggers keep hitting on Morrison to praise his past glories, reexamining the brilliance of Flex Mentallo over and over - the guy’s been out there pretty much every other week (sometimes even more often) for the second half of 2005 with new stuff, and I have to presume that the simple constant presence of him has bolstered his appeal to a certain degree. This would fail if the work being released was consistently bad, but having good (or at times relatively good) material coming out so very often creates something of a steady beat of attention, where bloggers who like Morrison want to keep reading his stuff and keep writing about his stuff, and are verily provided with no drought of stuff to cover.

I think some of this might relate to what Eddie Campbell mentioned in his recent interview with The Comics Journal, in his thoughts on ‘comic-book culture’ vs. ‘the graphic novel sensibility.’ Campbell felt that this was a better way to isolate the separate evolutionary models of ‘comic books’ and ‘graphic novels,’ which he feels are both fundamentally ‘comics’ (as in, visual language, sequential art), separated by matters of sensibility rather than purely formal or industrial concerns (page count, serialization, etc.) - he makes it exceedingly clear that “a failed graphic novel is a much less interesting thing than a good comic book,” and identifies himself as working in both cultures at different times. There’s little doubt in my mind that Campbell would identify concerns regarding regular periodical release and twice-monthly prolificacy as the products of ‘comic-book culture,’ the mindset that comics need even be released at a constant frequency, rather than focusing their fundamental intent on the final ‘graphic novel’ work (it ought be said that Campbell’s extended self-described ‘comic-book culture’ affair was Bacchus, one of the more frequently on-time independent releases of its day).

Morrison can be seen as deriving some of his 2005 popularity from his able straddling of both cultures. He releases things frequently, often respects established characters, loves to reference past events and aged trivia, and generally maintains a vigorous Direct Market presence. Also, he tends to carefully structure his works to provide coherency as single stories, he provides a strong authorial voice and career-spanning thematic concerns (even when working on the most venerable of superhero franchise properties), and he often works with sophisticated allusions and visual symbols. Put in short, he has the sensibility of two eras (to butcher one of Campbell's own statements), and neither overwhelms the other to a significant degree, and I think a lot of readers (I’m dealing specifically with bloggers here specifically, a disparate enough group, though it’s quite plain that Morrison’s popularity stretches well into the larger comics-reading body as well) have come to respond to that positively, albeit in often different ways.

Also: Epileptic, like, totally should have won in Best Collection of Previously Collected Material.

*And just to close out the Morrison material, here’s a nice piece by Peter Hesnel on the religious allusions present in Mister Miracle. Good food for thought.


Another week looms...

*There was a bunch of stuff, however, in


Dragon Head Vol. 1 (of 10) (good, crawly horror stuff, a manga struggle for survival in darkness and stone)

All Star Superman #2 (featuring the gender realities present within the Fortress of Solitude)

Planetary #24

Iron Man: The Inevitable #2 (of 6), X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #1 (of 5) (two ways to play with older toys)

Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle #3 (of 4)

That's all of 'em.

*Leaking Dam Dept: (EDIT 1/24/06 2:01 AM) Apparently, Grant Morrison is taking over The Authority now in addition to Wildcats. This is according to information revealed in this Wednesday's upcoming issue of Wizard (here's but one message board chatting about it). The artist will be Gene Ha of Top Ten. In other Wildstorm news, all of those Kev miniseries appear to have created some demand, as Garth Ennis is now going to write a Midnighter solo book, with Chris Sprouse of Tom Strong on art. This Wildstorm superhero revival seems to be gaining some heat...

*Again, a time of possibility


Ganges #1: Probably the least surprising paragraph in today’s post, since you all know I’ve been waiting for the latest Kevin Huizenga release, and this one’s all-new material, 32 pages of it in the lavish 8 ½” x 11” format standard to all of Fantagraphics’ Ignatz books. Here’s some general preview art, plus one of the full stories featured inside. I expect very good things from this one, and there’s really not much more to be said.

Sexy Chix: I think we’ve all retained some very special memories of the discussion that surrounded the announcement of this all-female comics anthology from Dark Horse, as well as its cover art (which now appears to have been expanded); let’s keep those special times close to ourselves as we flip through these pages, now that the book is actually out and hopefully not primed to raise a mighty “You mean this didn’t come out already?” among the interested. Such is the trouble of pre-release controversy. Full contributor list here, in an interview with editor Diana Schutz (instead of in the press release, oddly); among the formidable talents included are Colleen Coover, Carla Speed McNeil, Laurenn McCubbin, Gail Simone, Colleen Doran, Roberta Gregory, Jill Thompson, Trina Robbins, and Joyce Carol Oates. And more. Preview here, all of it from Sarah Grace McCandless’ and Joelle Jones’ story.

Borgia: Blood for the Pope: In the year and one half I’ve been running this site, I do believe this is the first time I’ve highlighted an upcoming Heavy Metal graphic album; I’ve actually flipped through the occasional issue of Heavy Metal, even when I wasn’t regularly reading comics, and sometimes found myself impressed with the contents therein. Plenty of dross, but some good tidbits. This is probably one of the better among the feature-length selections, and actually prompted me to purchase an issue of the magazine only last year - the presence of writer Alexandro Jodorowsky and artist Milo Manara caught my eye, two skilled souls indeed, and they’ve basically put together a lavish historical exploitation film on paper, chronicling the sour rise of the titular 16th century political/religious player to the head of the Catholic Church. Whippings down at the nunnery, appendages hacked off and stuffed into bags, all manner of sexual hi-jinx; you can practically see the English dubbing fluttering away from matching everyone’s lips. Here’s the 56-page hardcover album, apparently uncensored, and actually only part 1 of the saga - I believe Tome 2 was only released in Europe in recent weeks.

Warren Ellis’ Blackgas #1 (of 3): Fairly big week for Ellis debuts - this is his entry in Avatar’s ever-expanding horror spread, a classic-type tale of folks trapped on an island with a mysterious gas that’s transforming the locals into flesh-chewing thingies. In blood-red color! Sit yourself down, choose your favorite cover, and remain confident the in the probability that Ellis and Avatar will not hold anything back as far as the bleeding goes. Art by the solid Max Fiumara, though Jacen Burrows’ cover art is apparently all Avatar is previewing on their site (more covers here).

Nextwave #1: Of course, I’m sure this Ellis debut will be getting a wee bit more attention, as a whole bunch of underused characters get thrown together in a superhero fighting romp, with no storyline to last longer than two issues, if I’m remembering all this. More overtly humorous than the average Ellis book, and Stuart Immonen’s visuals look to add a nicely playful edge to the proceedings. Here’s about half the book or thereabouts in lettered and unlettered art, plus a link to that ‘theme song,’ the idea for which I must confess I laughed harder at when James Kochalka did it (my favorite was Carol Tyler’s, though).

Gødland #7 and Gødland Vol. 1: Hello, Cosmic: Wow! Now you have the rare opportunity to catch up on every single bit of a very fun series in one swing by the new comics rack. Issues #1-6 are compiled into the first trade edition of this Joe Casey/Tom Scioli excursion into cosmic adventuring and Kirby-inspired smashing - truly, this is a book that doesn’t stop moving. And then you can pick up the latest issue, to hopefully see what all that exploding head business was about. Just the right time to get onboard.

Local #3 (of 12): This time, we’re in Richmond, Virginia. Series continues to hold up. Check it out.

The Comics Journal Library Vol. 6: The Writers: Honestly, this compilation of interview material from the Journal’s copious archives is probably going to be worth the $19.95 just for the legendary Harlan Ellison chat, which got both parties in hot water with writer Michael Fleischer. Now everyone can treasure it in their home. Plus: Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, and Denny O’Neil, from all across history (EDIT 1/26/06 5:40 PM: although Mark Evanier and Mike Baron will not be appearing in this book, as Tom Spurgeon points out in the comments section directly below - their chats will be included in a future volume).


Made it by a hair.

*New column. On photographs and realist art, and 1985. All is new. And a column. Read!

*Things I Stupidly Left Off of My 2006 Anticipation List Dept: Some news just came out today that’s sure to stoke the flames burning in every artcomics enthusiast’s belly - Kramers Ergot 6 is coming your way, Summer 2006, and now it’s apparently being co-published by editor Sammy Harkham’s own Avodah Books and the increasingly visible Buenaventura Press, with Alvin Buenaventura himself signing on as assistant editor. And best of all, Buenaventura has released a tempting (though NOT SAFE FOR WORK) 10-page preview. The full contributor list has not yet been released, but the preview features work by Matthew Thurber, Helge Reumann (of Elvis Studio), Ron Rege Jr., Paper Rad, Jerry Moriarty, Tom Gauld, Vanessa Davis, Chris Cilla, and Victor Cayro (UPDATE 1/23/06 2:31 AM: and, according to Brian Nicholson in the comments section below, Shary Boyle), so I guess it’s safe to presume that they’ll all be in there. The book will be in full-color, 300+ pages, in the usual slightly oversized format, and will feature “the first English translation of an influential work of manga.” I’m hooked! Kramers Ergot 5 was the best comics anthology of 2004, hands down, and I have only the highest hopes for this latest edition.

Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle #3 (of 4)


The choice is simple. Free the bright ones or be slaves to the dark. Live and join us. Or die for Darkseid. Look for me when the roads cross.”

- Metron, to Shilo Norman, in the first issue of this miniseries

Situations recur throughout this project. The predominant theme in Seven Soldiers is transformation of the self, and it seems that each of the seven title characters arrive at their transformations in extremely similar, yet utter disparate ways, each issue’s storytelling ‘beats’ identically backing separate plot dressings. Each issue #3 features someone confronting a great, climactic challenge on their road to transfiguration: Justin’s capture by the Sheeda, the collapse of Guardian’s personal relationships, Zatanna’s stumbling onto a grand scheme that forcer her to question her young apprentice, Klarion’s realization that he must save his abandoned relations from yet another betrayer of a father figure. And accordingly, all of them are ultimately fortified and ready for betterment by the end of issue #4: Justin destroys her irrevocably lost love and proves to be quite a knight, Guardian’s faith in his own heroism is revitalized, Zatanna’s investigation into the big picture reveals almost everything she wanted to know, and Klarion defeats all anti-dads and maybe becomes a Witch Man - he even undergoes an impressive (if temporary) physical transformation in the process.

Thus, we arrive at Mister Miracle. I’m beginning to get the idea that Morrison knows this particular segment of the epic isn’t going to be overflowing with plot connections to the rest of the project (though do enjoy the special guest appearances of Guardian and Klarion, both of them as seen in their own issues #3), so he’s compensating by making the matching plot beats bigger. Shilo is not merely lost and sad at the beginning of his story, he’s a monied media superstar who can’t seem to find his place in life. He doesn’t just reach a personal crossroads in issue #2, he finds himself literally caught between a war of gods with his very personality on the line. And at the end of this issue, his challenge is far and away the most drastic of anything seen in this project: he’s blasted with the Anti-Life Equation, he’s made to beg for his life, his fame is usurped by a cynical knock-off, he’s thrashed with baseball bats, he’s doused in gasoline and lit aflame, he has certain portions of his anatomy forcibly extracted via bolt cutters - it’s really quite extreme, though I can’t say it’s all that worse in a ‘graphic violence’ sense than, say, Zor having his intestines exposed on-page in Zatanna #4. The kick is that this is the ‘hero’ of the book getting trounced in a decidedly permanent, physically destructive way.

Let me assure you, there’s not much suspense here as to the outcome - I think we can all presume that Shilo is going to do something to triumph next issue (not only because we’re aware he’s needed in Seven Soldiers #1, but because that’s how all of these miniseries end). It’s how writer Grant Morrison plans to get him there that holds my interest. Last issue, I noted that this particular appendage of the project wasn’t working all that well on its own terms; it’s gotten a little better this issue on that particular level. It’s smart of Morrison to transform the Anti-Life Equation into a state of mind, a destructive meme that paralyzes the victim into a mode of depression (not unlike that of Justin in Shining Knight #2, though her depression leads her to a crossroads rather than constituting her grand challenge) and forwards the agenda of evil. Certainly it’s no coincidence that Guardian and Klarion make their appearances during the Anti-Life sequence, both of them also caught up in their own struggles, Guardian’s significant other fighting with him, Klarion being dragged around on Melmoth business, and every one of those scenes marked off with the caption “Self = Dark Side.” It’s a great means of unifying the project’s ongoing concerns, tying this series to some superficially unattached chapters through common points of characterization. The villainy here is mainly psychological, for all the grotesque physical harms inflicted.

And then there’s the Kirby connections, that kingly credit offered in every issue. As reader RAB mentioned in the comments section of my review of issue #2 of this miniseries: “[t]he real story of Kirby's first nine issues was about this character, Scott Free, who escaped an absolutely horrific and soul-crushing childhood to become a figure of compassion and courage, and who then faced repeated threats from his past trying to drag him back down into despair.” Given this, and what I’ve learned about Kirby’s own Mister Miracle concepts, it seems that Morrison is paying a good deal of homage toward the conceptual aspects of the original character. If Scott Free’s real escape is his flight from Apokolips and his own upbringing, it makes sense that Shilo Norman’s greatest ‘escape’ is to be something similar. Indeed, he’s already managed one terrific escape in this very issue: “Behold. Unique among living creatures. Immune to the Anti-Life Equation.” If Kirby’s idea of escape was truly psychological, Morrison’s spin makes it explicitly psychological. Some have theorized that Shilo is actually still trapped in the black hole from issue #1, and that’s what’s coloring this series’ outlook on good stamped by evil - it’s a tempting theory, but I can’t sign on. I’ll agree that this Mister Miracle is still on Apokolips, but ‘Apokolips’ in this version is a state of mind to be escaped (but then, perhaps it always was?).

The life trap has you in its grip.”

And there’s only one way out…”

It’s not Metron that Shilo encounters at the end of this issue, but it’s clear that Mister Miracle will have to pull off an amazing escape to survive. First he must escape the confines of his now-crippled physical form. Then he must truly escape Apokolips, the perception of life as self-loathing, and all of the brutalities that accompany it (the inattentive conversation of the goons mutilating Shilo is a bit obvious - ha ha, they’re desensitized to violence! - but it conveys the point appropriately in the midst of a scene of a superhero having his man parts shorn). Can this material land on the non-acclimated reader? Maybe not as direct homage to Kirby, but I think the idea of ‘escape’ as a truly mental thing does register clearly in this issue, and it interacts nicely with the other character bits of the project as a whole.

Other aspects of the storytelling don’t go down as smoothly - the introduction of Shilo’s lady friend and her subsequent turn to (the) Darkside is kind of abrupt and only serves as thematic collateral. I sort of sniggered at the brief media painting of Shilo as a Tom Cruise-type suddenly eccentric superstar, though the bits about mass culture appropriating innovation and processing it into lesser commodity just seem kind of tired. The ‘glowing orb as drug abuse’ metaphor was just silly (though maybe that’s a plus…). Freddie E. Williams II’s art is an improvement on issue #2’s visuals, the plastic sheen of many characters taking on a more appropriate feel given the story’s revelations. One still can’t escape a notion of this miniseries pulling itself together almost in spite of itself, its individual parts not really holding up, but strengths ultimately overcoming weaknesses - escaping, I guess.

This is probably the most difficult of the Seven Soldiers miniseries to enjoy with immediacy, though it serves a useful purpose by coaching its progression of character transformation in cosmic terms, grand struggle and brutal violence, without toppling into obviousness. There’s not much doubt that Kirby fans might derive more pleasure from this than everyone else, though I think the rest of the readers out there will find this book to be an increasingly rewarding, if somewhat wobbly experience.


Two Roads

*Two superhero books, two takes on the halfway forgotten. Not the only two ways to go about it, and I don’t think one is inherently superior to the other. In terms of these specific books, I enjoyed them both.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #2 (of 6)

One way of going about the modern usage of ‘classic’ (don’t let that necessarily denote ‘enduring quality’) superhero characters, is the relatively straightforward invigoration of older concepts with new ideas. Characters like the Spymaster and the Living Laser don’t necessarily need to be treated with fawning reverence, but they can be reconstructed as fundamentally contemporary beings, for participation in new stories. So it goes in this Joe Casey-written miniseries, an interesting counterpoint to Iron Man’s current ongoing core series (and already released more frequently).

Warren Ellis, in the core Iron Man book, has been going about reorienting the title character to match his own retroactive origin philosophies, that technology and man can be combined to perform Good things, and that bones thrown to the forces of destruction can ultimately be outweighed by a quieter, empowered initiative for good (really, it’s the same idea that Ellis has been throwing around regarding Elijah Snow’s current motives in Planetary). To that end, the title hero is literally reconstructed in body and armament, the form now matching the function (though the originality of the specific powers granted to dear Mr. Stark is apparently up for argument). Casey takes a similar route in covering a handful of Iron Man’s villains, though his transformations have something a bit more sweeping in mind.

The Living Laser is still holed up in Stark’s labs, a specialist having been hired to make contact with his seemingly amorphous new form, unable to hold itself together as something resembling a humanoid any more. Only the magic of Telepathic Intrabeam Particle Communication can be used to reach the ghost broken out of its shell, and the results of the effort have apparently led to an all-new level of human existence, a free-floating land of sparks and glowing where the mind can truly ‘feel’ things - much to the detriment of the corporeal form, unfortunately. Frazer Irving’s lovely art (he does everything except the lettering) gets positively psychedelic in these sequences, pinks and purples and twinkling stars spread out everywhere, the color schema neatly matching some of the hues employed in the waking-world sequences, raising the question of how far these new ways of living really are from where we’re at now.

Think about it - in this issue, Tony dispatches his Iron Man armor to fight without him, and the Ghost moves freely through walls like they’re water. There’s as pronounced a sense of gradual detachment from plain old ‘human’ reality as there is in Ellis’ work, although instead of the long-range, idealistic goal of Ellis’ take on matters (which, from what we’ve seen, largely boil down to better means of surveillance, defense, and hitting bad things), Casey offers the evolving supervillain as key to no less than the doors of perception. That Stark himself seems a bit uncertain as to what to do with these discoveries (as contrasted with the devoted Dr. Dillon, unconcerned with her physical form), provides much of the suspense for me. That the (non-amorphous) villains seem intent on physical matters (either using the Laser as a weapon or toppling Stark’s corporate empire), provides all the markings of them as ‘villains’ that we need - the costumes are but a formality.

Plus, it’s a fun comic, and Casey has a great handle on the characters; the most amusing bit is actually a running gag, where Stark has to keep making excuses for missing out on witnessing the birth of the new perception because he’s otherwise occupied with Iron Man things. And I loved the Ghost’s decidedly nonchalant reaction to discovering Iron Man’s secret identity: “Stark is Iron Man? Sorry, I don’t follow celebrity gossip. Makes sense, I guess.” That Irving manages to sell the joke through Spymaster’s reaction, despite the fact that the character is wearing an expressionless mask, is the mark of a quality talent. Watch the body language of the two villains, how they’re completely set apart as individual characters, though neither of them have faces. It’s good work, supple enough to match the script’s bigger ideas, but flexible when it comes to humor. The same goes for Casey’s use of these characters; there’s lots of fun, but these things are being primed for strong, future use.

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #1 (of 5)

On the other hand, you could simply dive into burlesque, injecting heavy doses of genre comment into a cackling display of irreverence, seizing underused properties for their satirical potential. And what better venue to do it in than a revival of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s much-loved revamping of X-Force (later re-titled X-Statix). Riding a wave of relatively progressive Marvel mutant books (also featuring Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and the aforementioned Casey’s Uncanny X-Men), Milligan and Allred transformed the moribund franchise into a vehicle for laughs and sniping at everything from the tropes of superhero books to the very philosophic premise of the X-Men line. Current events got mixed in too, climaxing with an infamous aborted storyline, originally meant to involve the departed Princess Di joining the team. The book never really recovered from the subsequent backtracking and story covering.

It’s had a rest though, and now it’s kind of back - note the “X-Statix Presents” in the title, because that’s your warning that this isn’t as much an X-Statix book as a wide-focus Marvel Universe takeoff. The title heroine doesn’t even appear until the last page, with no less than Doctor Strange taking the lead for this initial chapter. It seems something is going wrong in the afterlife - a mysterious C-list villain has taken the name of the Pitiful One, and has discovered the secrets of temporary resurrection. This is significant, since resurrection in the Marvel Universe is rather common, yet highly selective. Dead villains come back all the time to bedevil their foes, yet you’d have to expect that those who’re left in history’s dustbin chafe at the situation. Thus, the likes of Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio jump at the opportunity to seize the reins of comic book revival for themselves, no longer slaves to the dictates of a cruel, impossible-to-understand fate (which is to say, writers and editorial mandates). Also along for the ride is a departed member of the X-Statix team, just to keep things on point a little.

All of this is contrasted with Doctor Strange, who’s fallen victim to an odd malaise: “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Hell, Heaven, Earth, life, death. Who cares?” It’s understandable - Milligan goes the praiseworthy route of not spelling this out, but it’s clear that the endless shocking deaths and stunning resurrections of a superhero universe have left its most attentive metaphysical denizen awfully blasé about the whole thing. I imagine he hardly blinked an eye at Hawkeye or Northstar’s deaths - how many readers did, anyway? It’s transient, this passing from the plane, and the Doctor is simply sick of it. Still - villains taking the power of writing themselves back into active continuity is a serious breach of superhero funnybook decorum, and they’ve got to be stopped. And the Doctor’s unimpressed reaction upon seeing their dirty work, heaps of corpses strewn around a U.N. building, sort of says it all: “By the waxing moons of the lilac planet… I sense a malign hand at work.” Because really, what does it matter anymore?

I hope Milligan plays around a lot more with the atmosphere of futility, as it’s something that’s been rattling around in my mind regarding superhero comics for a while. I also hope he punches those continuity nerves good and hard, playing up those things that still can’t be done in Marvel Comics - bringing back Gwen Stacy is a good start, but I don’t know if I’ll be satisfied unless Uncle Ben plays an action-packed role in the series’ climax. Milligan is even really to smash some taboos set up in his own prior works, aiming to reunite a certain long-separated couple, which should be fun. I should also mention that even with Nick Dragotta taking over on pencils, the Allred style remains dominant, Mike Allred’s inks standing out greatly (that shot of the psychiatrist’s tongue sticking out seems ripped from the early, more grotesque pages of Madman) and Laura Allred’s colors popping as always, though I have to say the book seems oddly dim, all of the images slightly soft. It’s as if the captions and word balloons are being displayed at a noticeably higher resolution than everything else. Maybe it’s just me.

Not everything works here. Doctor Strange’s ongoing struggle to make his dialogue sound more contemporary comes off as a bit much, maybe one too many self-referential spices tossed into the mix (it clashes since it really doesn’t tell us much of anything beyond signaling the writer’s distaste for such styles of dialogue). But I’m taken by what Milligan has brought to the table here, and I’m very interested in seeing what sort of resolution he reaches, if any of these characters can find something to stick with in this slippery immortal world.