Grown Over

Or Else #4

This one is kind of a mess, and this mess is one of a kind.

Granted, it’s just the sort of mess that I personally tend to enjoy, but it’d be nothing short of outright delusion to assume that such feelings extend to the comics reading population at large. A revised edition of material originally printed in writer/artist Kevin Huizenga’s minicomic series Supermonster (specifically issue #12, from 2001), this book is almost certain to deliver some measure of bafflement, and is likely to dissuade a few of those new readers attracted to the Huizenga oeuvre by Ganges #1, an altogether more simple (though not simplistic), emotional, and mild-natured comic. Popular too - you know you’ve ‘arrived’ when at least one well-traveled mainstream media outlet is posturing their official review of your latest work as a curative to overzealous fan reaction. There is no greater commemoration for having accomplished much today, here in our opinion-saturated instantaneous age, than the suggestion that you don’t deserve as much credit as you’ve gotten.

Saturation is an important element of this book; unlike the thought-drenched inside-outside beat of issue #2, nonetheless tethered to something resembling traditional storytelling, this one totally dispenses with any classical notion of plot or characterization. Rather, Huizenga presents a 100-page procession of events and intrusions, naturalistic observations gradually crowded out by noise and information overload - the saturation of organic and psychic nonsense into the natural world, and thus the comic itself. Titled Glenn Ganges in The Wild Kingdom, this is no simple examination of furry beasts and leafy things. Huizenga sets his sights on no less than the subjugation of natural states to the chaotic will of humankind; the cover art nicely outlines the story’s intent while winking at its limitations, in that it presents a lovely graph that can be recognized as providing a guide to all sorts of connected things, though actually grasping the details is all but impossible. It’s ok - form is function here, and style is substance (and in a medium that derives its power from the interaction between word and image, should it be anything else?), and if the book doesn’t really explain everything, its gradual surrender to madness at least makes it an intriguing case study rather than the textbook itself.

Good thing the book is pretty damn funny. Let me explain.

Following an amusing Table of Contents (which again, despite its positioning as a helpful guide to the proceedings, completely and knowingly fails to offer any help whatsoever), we get a prelude sequence that neatly encapsulates all of the book’s concerns right at the front. Glenn Ganges, noted everyman, wanders off the beaten path and into a strange zone of photographic backgrounds - basically, he enters the ‘real’ world. Peering through someone’s window, he spies an anthropomorphic bear thingy watching television. The familiar ‘Mutual of Omaha’ slogan is on the screen, immediately followed by Glenn himself, suddenly aged, standing amidst the rubble of a town, and declaring “I was saved… from my own life!” Young Glenn is horrified, and suddenly sits upright at home. It was all a dream. But his body is strangely itchy - he spies what might be the culprit, a naughty bug. He smears it against the wall, and it leaves the familiar Nike symbol with its guts. Glenn stares at his hand.

And then the proper story starts. For what it is.

Immediately, the collision of nature and decidedly unnatural human affairs is set up as a chief concern. The very juxtaposition of ‘Mutual of Omaha’ and ‘Wild Kingdom’ represents an odd clash - insurance monies being offered to provide economic security, rubbing shoulders with uncontrollable nature. The inside-back cover reflects this concern, providing an old advertisement that utilizes handy bird watching tips to sell destructive leaded gasoline. It’s clear that these two forces won’t get along well, and yet they’re smashed together. As Huizenga demonstrates with that smashed bug, the economics of human concern are in the very blood of living, nonhuman things.

The next 46 pages offer wordless vignettes following Glenn throughout his day. Huizenga’s art in these sequences is often scratchy, the grass and dirt of his earth composed of sharp jabs of ink and tight crisscrosses. It’s a normal, yet distinctly desolate surrounding, fine details like an tipped trashcan lovingly inserted. Up close, Glenn’s house plants have wilted, and he tries to eat a rotten apple, eventually throwing it to a squirrel. Later, Glenn drives to the post office, though he becomes distracted by an odd pigeon, which has gotten sick from eating chili fries dropped outside a fast food joint and is stumbling around, shitting all over the place. In a gruesome bit of suspense, the bird is ultimately crushed under the wheels of a car bearing a religious bumper sticker - the decal depicts a Jesus fish marked ‘Truth’ eating a smaller fish (with legs) marked ‘Darwin,’ human perceptions literally devouring biology. But nature sallies forth: a hawk swoops down and snatches the dead pigeon. Later at home, Glenn catches a beetle in a jar and releases it into his yard, where his housecat pounces on it. Human action thus fails to derail the patterns of consumption, merely twisting it around.

I realize that merely listing all of these little events and symbols makes the book seem hopelessly blunt in its execution. It does seem a shade overbearing once the first few readings are out of the way and you really examine it, bit by bit. I assure you though, that Huizenga’s visual skill affords this material a great deal of lyricism, his command of the comics form enough that you’ll be convinced that the whole thing would be an embarrassment in less skilled hands. From the excellent use of panels-in-panels to depict Glenn’s viewpoint, to the deployment of wide, two panel per page layouts in building suspense throughout the pigeon bit, Huizenga makes it all go down smooth.

And then, the train flies entirely off the rails, surrendering the next 33 pages to a crazed mass of miscellany, as the book is essentially taken over by advertisements of various stripes. And it’s funny, oh yes. The anthropomorphic fellow from the prelude, Uncle Animal, appears in many of these, offering delicious Mini-Wheats to cure anxiety over the war in Iraq, nanobot-powered carpet detergent to get you a great promotion, and plenty of homespun wisdom (“There are two sides to every numb nut.”). Eventually Walt Whitman shows up to sell tooth whitener, happy naked people dance in joy, people’s heads mutate in delighted pleasure, the line “I was saved from my own life!” appears multiple times in various forms, Tux Dog and a random Jason character pop up for no reason, there’s a hilarious reference to The Comics Journal, Glenn randomly flashes back to a childhood trauma, and eventually the ads start to overlap and mix into each other, the noise of consumer information becoming white - just like your teeth!

O my soul!”

The best thing since sliced balls.”

This is the language spoken, classicism turned to salesmanship. Before long we’re getting guides to the world’s fanciest pigeons, an empty, buzzword-laden monologue by Old Glenn (the end result of all this saturation?), handy guides to characters seen previously in the book (generally of little informative use, keeping up the standard), wildly complex charts, and an introduction to the works of Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck, including a long, handwritten excerpt from 1901’s The Life of the Bee. Therein, Maeterlinck ponders the unhappy ways of the natural world. “And we, who dimly gaze on these things with our own blind eyes, we know full well that it is not they alone that we cannot understand, but that before us there lies a pitiable form of the great power that quickens us also.” As Huizenga tells us, Maeterlinck examined grand human concerns through the microcosms of the bestial kingdoms; this informs Huizenga’s own view, that of the intersections of the natural and human worlds, and the state they’ve brought the whole into. By adopting the form of nonsensical, contradictory barrage, Huizenga transforms his own work into its own symbol for the falling state of being, the consciousness (and thus the reader’s view) tumbling downward, downward.

And as a little exclamation point for the whole deal, Huizenga then presents ‘Appendix A,’ in which everything melts down into a conflagration of fire and smoke - and just when it seems our problems might be small compared to the vastness of the Earth and surrounding space, the author throws in a little extra punch for an explosive conclusion that maybe sums up his wishes for humanity. Or maybe he’s just being silly.

Bounding from visual poetry to thundering absurdity, always mixing and matching the oil and water of green and gray forces, the book seems ungainly when first set down. Willfully absurd, gladly off-putting, sometimes uproarious and sometimes oblique. What is certain is that Huizenga is devoted to exploring new visual possibilities, new ways of causing in-panel realities to clash through the use of the page, the textual/iconic potential of the form. That he sets off this time to provide a holistic formal experience rather than a discernable story or vivid characters will not please everybody. But those hungry for experiments situated to break entirely out of the narrative box, to operate on a plane separate from the overwhelming norm - they will want to look into this. And that it’s done in good humor, with a keen appreciation for gags and wordplay; well hell, let it be known that this is no staid proceeding. This is comics breaking out.


Running around all day, but at least I got fed.

*Short review: X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #3 (of 5) is still aces. You should all not stop buying it.

*A tip for today’s youth, as witnessed earlier today - if you’re going to drive up to someone’s home, beep the horn and scream out the window, then peel away in a blast of burning rubber and loud music, it does sort of kill the effect when you stop for a stop sign three houses down the road. Just saying.

*MAX Dept: All-consuming darkness. Blood spraying from lips. Eyes forced out of sockets. Leering villains ripping women’s shirts off. The pervasive threat of sexual violence. The tops of heads blasted off with gunfire. Youth suicide. Environmental calamity. Waterways choked with heaps of dead fish. Angry student protests. Faces violated by snipers’ bullets. Wholesale highway slaughter. Sympathetic love interests sent off to the ER with massive injury. Countless deaths in war. Angst and urban pressure and decayed panoramas everywhere, pressing down on the saddened individual.

Nothing quite like the later issues of the Spider-Man manga by Ryoichi Ikegami!

I’ve just gotten around to reading some of these later stories, and it’s really quite a trip to see Ikegami's 'mature' style begin to seep into generally simple artwork - this stuff was created from 1970-71, when the author was primarily known as a veteran of the alternative manga magazine Garo; stuff like Crying Freeman and Sanctuary would still be years away (in an odd bit of synchronicity, there was one other Marvel superhero manga running at the same time, Hulk - written by future Ikegami collaborator Kazuo Koike, and apparently never reprinted after its initial serialization). Granted, we do have a gap of quite a few years (the mid-to-late '70s) without any of the man's work in English, including his breakthrough work on Gallant Gang, so a full analysis of his visual development isn't in the cards. But just the leaps taken across the breadth of Spider-Man is impressive enough, almost like Dave Sim going from Cerebus #1 to the opening bits of Church & State.

I don't have the partial translation of the manga that Marvel put out in pamphlet form from 1997-99, on an irregular schedule; I look over my copies of three out of the five Japanese tankoubon collections that compile the series (Vol. 1-2 and 4), using the SpiderFan.org plot summaries to guide me over the rougher story bits, since I can't read Japanese. The Marvel English-language release died at issue #31, having already skipped over several storylines (I've read one of them, and it was rather juicy), and sputtered out in the first issue of another likely questionable one. My cynicism tells me that the wholesale carnage wouldn't have been too much of a problem (after all, we just got a nice injury-to-eye bit a few months ago), though there's no damn way Spidey's gonna appear stateside in a story with naked breasts; it'd either be censorship or that particular stuff not showing up at all. Maybe sales were bad enough that Marvel decided not to bother. Plus, according to Wikipedia, Marvel was already covering up some of the graphic violence anyway.

That does put a damper on possible future releases of the material, though. It'd sure be nice in this manga-friendly climate to have a quintet of $9.95 Spidey books, tracking Ikegami's development as an artist (not to mention offering a rare glimpse at his writing abilities, though Vol. 3 saw Kazumasa Harai climb aboard as writer, making the whole thing even darker). They'll sell, though I guess some form of parental aid would be in order. But all questions of shrinkwrap aside, I wonder if Marvel will ever want such stuff readily out, given how protective they are of their prized characters in certain ways? We're a long way from 1970, I guess, and some things maybe just can't be done anymore.

*And over at the Comics Journal board, everyone is talking about their favorite dirty European cartoonists, inspired by the news that Milo Manara is going to do an X-Men book with Chris Claremont. Much chit-chat as to edits made to English language editions of Manara's work, plus Kim Thompson's official naming of Manara, Paolo (Druuna) Serpieri, the late Guido Crepax, and the late Georges Pichard as the Big Four of filthy European comics. I did enjoy Manara's work with Neil Gaiman on that Sandman: Endless Nights book, and his recent book with Alejandro Jodorowsky, Borgia: Blood for the Pope, is a good choice for those hungry for an exploitation film on paper...


Roadblocks sighted on the path to transfiguration.

*Very interesting that these two very different books, both released today, are so very much alike. It's all in the telling, of course.

All Star Superman #3


In which the superhero of the title tries gamely to use his abilities to constructive, progressive ends, even when confronted with lesser, irresponsible forces that seek only violence and selfish things. The superhero triumphs, but not entirely.

Faithful readers of this fun superhero series will be pleased to note that this latest issue does not terminate the title’s standing as a fun superhero series - actually, this is probably the most purely entertaining issue yet, certainly the funniest. It’s another spin at the old Lois ’n Clark relationship, with Superman asked to engage in great feats to ‘win’ Lois’ heart away from some powerful new suitor or two. Of course, these days Lois must initially blanch at the concept of anyone ‘winning’ a lady’s hand, but her ultimately bemused reaction to it all nicely tracks writer Grant Morrison’s own posture: sure, it’s silly, but why can’t we enjoy silly things? Especially silly things as old as this, dating back to ancient myth - as Lois herself confides, “Superman, please, we both know you’ll win any contest these losers can dream up. It’s my birthday! Have some fun.” And thus, fun is had with classic concepts.

But Superman also wants to have fun on his terms. Pay close attention in this issue; just as Superman took every opportunity possible to help people in issue #1 (even ‘bumping into’ a man while disguised as Clark Kent in order to rescue the fellow from a falling hunk of metal), here Superman exclusively uses his powers in nonviolent ways. This stands in contrast to Samson and Atlas, a pair of haughty, archetypical supermen of lore, who constantly use their own amazing powers for personal gain and combat. Thus, when Samson tosses a villain clear out into space to demonstrate his might to Lois, Superman uses his super-speed to save the baddie from certain oxygen-free doom. The rogue in question is the bead-wearing Krull, son of the brilliantly-named Dino-Czar Tyrannko, who lives at the center of the earth where tensions are high and there’s not too many backgrounds for penciler Frank Quitely to draw - it turns out the rebellious reptile was goaded into action by Samson and Atlas. Another problem soon arises when the Ultrasphinx of the First Dynasty of Atom-Hotep shows up looking for some jewels S&A jacked, again to delight Lois - the older men of steel instantly presume fighting is in the cards (why not? they started it, so they expect it!) but Superman uses his brain. Even the jewels themselves are violent - their radiation would easily kill Lois if not of the super-science of our enlightened modern man of myth.

The trouble ends thanks to thinking, and maybe Superman’s own sensitivity to his and Lois’ relationship - Lois later asks Superman what attracts him to her, but what else can as unstoppable an inquisitive force as Lois do when meeting the immovable might of the Man of Steel, but surrender to their emotions? As usual, Morrison also tosses in a lighter possible source for the riddle’s answer, just as he keeps his play with super-tropes as deft as possible. Surely the lines are better than ever; for my favorite, it has to be a tie between “I swear by the everlasting snows of Olympus, Lois Lane, you’re practically dripping allure in yon clinging garment.” and “We’ll dine al fresco on triceratops bourgignon in the twilight of the Cretaceous Era, then end the evening with drinks at the crucifixion.” There’s more great cameos by the Daily Planet gang, including the increasingly awesome Jimmy Olsen, who kills me by just standing around, so great is Quitely’s design - never mind how hairy-chested man’s man Steve Lombard looks like Ron Jeremy in profile.

And yet, there’s a definite sense of wistful resignation to it all. Superman tries to make Lois his equal for the day, but he still has to rescue her from danger. She still doesn’t quite accept the whole Clark Kent thing, and she’s clearly a bit miffed over the lack of trust on display. Superman still can’t get the big questions out. And most pertinently, he can’t even remain non-violent. In the end, he finally relents to a battle of strength with his oafish ‘rivals,’ and instantly mops the floor with them. But he stoops down to their level, to beat them their way - he does it primarily for Lois, sure, but maybe there’s some recognition here that for all the magnificent things he can manage, Superman still needs to kick a bit of ass at the end of the day.

But hey - it’s Superman, right? There’s demands on this genre!

And even if Superman doesn’t quite get what he wants, the play of kissing on the moon and rocks cracking off of invulnerable heads reacts to Superman’s good nature, a universe too sweet to not love his efforts, and thus the landscape of faces and skyscrapers speaks for itself.

Iron Man #6


In which the superhero of the title tries gamely to use his abilities to constructive, progressive ends, even when confronted with lesser, irresponsible forces that seek only violence and selfish things. The superhero triumphs, but not entirely.

Many moons after it started, writer Warren Ellis draws to a close his relaunch of the man in the metal suit. It always seemed like the most applicable vehicle amidst Marvel properties for some of Ellis’ typical concerns, and surely such notions were validated by the actual story. Much like in the world of Planetary, potentially good technologies are being put to very bad uses, and the seemingly roguish yet ultimately good-hearted hero must utilize his tremendous skill to save everything for everyone. Iron Man in particular wants to turn his weapon-developing ways toward creating things that will promote humankind rather than letting it obliterate itself more efficiently, but he’s confronted by a nasty foe who’s literally taken new technologies inside him to promote violent revenge. In response (and out of necessity), Iron Man also internalizes fresh advancements, and that leads us to this concluding issue.

It’s primarily action, which is good news for artist Adi Granov, as he’s proven himself over these six issues to be most adept at that. There’s many instances of things exploding, energy crackling, crushing blow after crushing blow, a nice little trip through a building - Iron Man is working for peace, but he’s not Superman, so he needs to fight hard. Still, he bends over backwards to not kill his foe, utterly desperate to convince himself that he hasn’t just gone and cooked up yet another means of destruction.

He might be trying to convince us too; by the end of last issue, this reader couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Tony’s nebulous chatter about higher ideals wasn’t just poking out uninterestedly from a fog of better ways to punch things. Fortunately, Ellis makes such concerns the focus of this issue, explicitly positioning the villain as Iron Man’s double, though not a funny mythological one - now that both of these contemporary men have internalized new science, they can act as symbols for the different ways in which the future can go: hateful murders or force without undue venom. Unfortunately, Iron Man can’t really help but resort to one more death, so bad has the situation gotten.

Really, Ellis is doing the very opposite of what Morrison has planned for his own costumed icon - boardroom-bound gun merchant Tony Stark uses his Iron Man armor as a type of freedom, a means of proving himself against the misunderstanding world and becoming a social beacon for a better day. Morrison’s Superman also has improvement on his mind, but it’s in the context of a world that responds well to him. Maybe like the icon itself, Superman hasn’t much to prove, so his struggle goes inward, his failures largely personal. The hazardous, violent outlook of Ellis’ and Granov’s environments don’t allow such posture, and Iron Man must suit up to go outward with his mission. There’s also a final twist in this issue, which serves mainly to pull the themes together tighter; just like in All Star Superman we have a romantic interest who, for her own reasons, plays right into the system, forcing Our Hero to set aside his progressive agenda and do what’s expected.

But hey - it’s Iron Man, right? There’s demands on this genre!

And it’s clear, then, that Iron Man doesn’t quite get what he wants; a head blown off, a corpse kicked, a flirtation snuffed, a pair of gleaming, glowing eyes staring out against a slate gray wall. The antiseptic rooms and cold motivations clash with brightness of the hero’s heart, literal yet again. He must look up, up past us readers, verbally assuring everyone that he’s still trying, and we can't see under the mask to glimpse what face he makes when he says it.


Just a few links...

*Oh Jesus sleep.

*Much more has come out regarding Tokyopop and their new distribution deal, as well as their focus on original and licensed property-based longform comics material in the digest format. If you ask me, the most intriguing part of this story is the whole 'comics based on young adult novels' aspect, which ties in quite neatly with Tokyopop's desire for secure properties to build a financial base upon, and might provide an interesting area for 'licensed' comics to make a strong expansion into (though they're not exactly pioneers, given the Hardy Boys books Lea Hernandez has worked on right off the top of my head) - certainly Tokyopop now has more muscle behind it than most. Also notable is the entirely free and easy use of the term 'manga' with no concern for the finer points of national origin; ah, the increasing generalization of a successful marketing term! As much as I'd love everyone to talk in terms of individual artistic inspirations (because, as I'm sure you all know, Osamu Tezuka, Suehiro Maruo, CLAMP, and Taiyo Matsumoto don't all work in the same visual style), the world needs that handy buzzword.

*Bookmarks Dept: Teddy Kristiansen, of House of Secrets, It’s a Bird!, and that excellent issue of Solo (#8), has just started a new blog. Currently it features art from his upcoming French graphic novel Red Diary, though material pertaining to other work is planned. Give it a look.


I'll be here all night!

*Because life never lets up!


Robot Vol. 1 (good-looking, story-light anthology of color manga and pretty drawings)

Gun Fu: Showgirls Are Forever (the return of Dave Sim to comics, and it's amusing in a very cozy way)

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (outstanding collection of French and Japanese shorts, all of them unified by more than just the titular nation - one of the best books of the year thus far)

Hawkgirl #50 (Simonson and Chaykin arrive, hands are shaken, tables are set up)

Mome Vol. 3: Winter 2006 (man, I didn't plan on reviewing all these anthologies this week - anyway, this one has great work by David B. and Kurt Wolfgang, along with other stuff of varying interest)

Getting tired already.

*Which won't do.


Or Else #4: Another release in Drawn & Quarterly’s Kevin Huizenga minicomics reprint/revision series, this time showcasing a new presentation of The Wild Kingdom from Supermonster #12. It’s 100 pages for only $5.95, and I really don’t need to tell you all again how much I like Huizenga’s work, right? I’ve been told this one sails out into some more experimental territory, with plenty of laughs to spare. Look for it.

East Coast Rising Vol. 1 (of 3): The new series from writer/artist Becky Cloonan (Demo, American Virgin), arriving courtesy of Tokyopop, who are fresh off their hot new deal with HarperCollins - it’ll involve the latter taking over the former’s distribution to the book trade, and the former producing comics adaptations of up to two dozen prose books, starting with selected works by bestselling 'young adult' author Meg Cabot. Buckle up for dozens of invigorating arguments as to the definition of ‘manga’ as a marketing and cultural signifier in the near future! But before you do that you should buy Cloonan’s book, which involves much high seas adventure, looks great, and will run you only $9.95 for 192 pages. You can access preview images from the first two chapters here, though you’ll have to register to read the entire segments.

Buddha Vol. 8 (of 8): Jetavana: In which Vertical concludes this latter-period Osamu Tezuka saga with one last crisply-designed $24.95 batch of over 350 pages. You might have seen this around already, but this Wednesday it hits the wider direct market. Unless it already did, and I just missed it. Actually, I’ve missed a lot of volumes of this thing. Next up in regards to Vertical’s manga plans is another religious-themed Tezuka epic, Ode to Kirihito, which was published in three collected volumes in Japan in 1970. Bypassing any form of serialization this time around, Vertical plans to release the whole shebang in one 800+ page brick. That’ll secure my immediate purchase; I like Tezuka’s stuff a lot, but I’ve fallen way behind on Buddha, though maybe the upcoming $15 paperback editions will be easier to collect.

Dragon Head Vol. 2 (of 10): More tunnel-trapped claustrophobia and apocalyptic teenage nerve jangling in this new installment of Minetaro Mochizuki’s excellent survival horror series. The plot concerns a trio of high school students, survivors of some sort of disaster that occurred whilst the train they were riding on passed under a mountain. Now they’re stuck in the dark, breaking down emotionally, and scraping together any means of getting by until they find a way back to the outside world. But is there a world left to return to? Good, fast reading pleasure.

Lady Snowblood Vol. 3 (of 4): Retribution Part 1: Huh. I'm used to these Kazuo Koike-written swordplay extravaganzas pushing forward for zillions of volumes each, so it's strange to note that this third release starts up the concluding storyline. Sure to be a real freakshow of action and historical tidbits, as this preview demonstrates.

The First Kingdom Vol. 2 (of 4): Taking us up to the halfway point of reprinting Jack Katz’s wildly idiosyncratic multi-generational sci-fi/fantasy magnum opus, a single work serialized over 24 issues of independently published comics from 1973-1986. Katz had been active in comics work since the mid-’40s, perhaps best known (as much as he is known) for some interestingly drafted pre-Code horror material, but it wasn’t until the post-underground days, the Direct Market in an embryonic state, that he received the inspiration for this, apparently via dream. Much more information in Derik Badman’s review of volume 1, with plenty of samples of Katz’s feverishly detailed, machine-lettering bedecked pages, which Bob Levin once described (in his fine book Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & Radicals: Essays on Cartoons and Cartoonists) as drawn “…with a consciousness that seemed to feel that the innermost circles of Hell were reserved for those who did not fill every square millimeter of their allotted space and an imagination fired by the most garish effluvia 6000 years of myth and pulp could generate…” Couldn’t hope to put it better myself!

Gødland #9: In other space-spanning news (haw haw), here’s the latest issue of this most reliable of monthly superhero reads. That’s ‘reliable’ in that it actually arrives every month, and in that it’s actually good. This issue: Basil’s delightful Spring wardrobe, and colorful lasers. Preview here.

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #3 (of 5): In which two teams of dead folk struggle to obtain a good old fashioned revival. Perfect reading to commemorate this week’s return of the Blue Beetle, even if it’s a different person or something! Well, actually you can probably just buy the debut issue of the new Blue Beetle series to accomplish that, but you should buy this book too because it is good.

Iron Man #6: In which we bid a fond farewell to writer Warren Ellis and interior artist Adi Granov; hard to believe we’ve all been together since November of 2004, back when this site was but a burbling four months of age (I’ve since moved up to drooling). Tears will be shed as Tony Stark, having internalized the power of technology to represent the benevolent potential of man/machine futurist melding, sets off to foil villainy in some manner. Rounding off ‘blast from the past week’ at Marvel, we also have another funny-new-dialogue-in-old-stories book with Marvel Romance Redux: Guys & Dolls, and a $69.99 hardcover collection of all 28 issues of the Brian Michael Bendis-scripted Alias, that What If? story included.

All Star Superman #3: I’ve heard of this book.


The Swiping Blades of Faith

Mome Vol. 3: Winter 2006

In one of many memorable passages from his book Epileptic, David B. postulates that the myriad comics he’s drawn involving warfare and grand battles act as a metaphor for the constant upheaval in his family life, courtesy of his brother’s titular disease. Naturally, the English-speaking reader living in North America cannot derive the maximum amount of impact from such considerations; we’ve never seen David B.’s warfare comics, and we thus have to temporarily accept his ponderings strictly as part of a single story universe, its cosmos contained by the covers of Pantheon’s fine collected edition. But Epileptic was an expansive autobiography, and unconcerned with remaining confined to those most immediate pages - certainly it worked very well as its own unit, but the references to its author’s acclaimed outside comics career stretched back in time in a way that only a more acclimated audience than most of us could fully appreciate.

But now the battle rages into view with the third edition of Fantagraphics’ Mome anthology, an attractive quarterly showcase for a more-or-less fixed roster of young cartooning talents, edited by Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth; I have to say ‘more-or-less,’ as this is David B.’s first appearance in the series (he’ll return for more next issue), accompanied by fellow Mome newcomer R. Kikuo Johnson of Fantagraphics’ Night Fisher. Series regulars Paul Hornschemeier, John Pham, and Sophie Crumb sit this edition out. It’s in color and b&w, 136 pages for $14.95.

Surely the main event in this edition is David B.’s story; at 36 pages it’s easily the longest story in the book, it’s placed right up front directly following the editors’ notes, plus it provides the tome’s cover art, a mighty clash between armored men, a bear, an unarmored woman, and a living, sword-wielding tree. It’s not a new story, having originally been serialized in four parts in the French anthology Lapin; the serialized structure is retained for the tale’s presentation here, though all of the chapters are place one after another. It’s titled The Armed Garden, and you have probably guess that it’s going to fill in some of those gaps left by Epileptic. Indeed, this story’s decidedly downbeat attitude toward grasping genuine peace through religion contains some fascinating echoes of the drifting of David B.’s family through a multitude of spiritual (and scientific, and psychological) ‘cures’ for their child’s condition. In both works, higher truths are sought at the behest of a difficult, socially troubling personal condition - struggle leads to momentary peace, but nothing cannot rot for too long, and then it’s back down the road.

The plot of The Armed Garden opens in 1415, with the Catholic Church pulled apart by a trio of popes - such difficult times lead to drastic action, and the rebellious rector of Prague University, Jan Hus, is burned at the stake, sparking a violent revolt in the Bohemia region. Having tasted success against the Church’s armies, and under the confident leadership of a one-eyed warrior named Jan Ziska (who carries a faithful goose around with him at all times), the rebels adopt a distinctly apocalyptic rhetoric and decide to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth via enormous slaughter of the unrighteous. Meanwhile, a Prague blacksmith receives a vision from Adam (the first man), who urges him to lead humanity back to paradise - Eve (the first woman) soon follows, feeding him apple from the Tree of Knowledge and making love to him, as all men are Adam and all women are Eve, and apparently no incest nor cuckolding can exist among the enlightened.

Needless to say, the blacksmith, Rohan, immediately rejects earthly clothing and assembles a gaggle of all-nude disciples who set out to find the lost Garden of Eden, guided by the curvature of Eve’s thighs (the metaphor for sex as a driving force cannot be more bluntly put). As luck would have it they run into Jan Ziska’s rebels along the way, whom they clash with several times. Eventually the unclothed disciples reach an island they view as Paradise, and the story suddenly takes on a more fantastic tone, with no less than the beasts of the field and the trees of the forest rising up to take arms and destroy Jan Ziska’s hordes as Paradise becomes walled, and Rohan’s people dance in a bacchanal of joy and obscenity - naturally, God’s moral Commandments are for those of the Earth, and those who reach Paradise no longer have need to feel bad about rape or killing, as they are already guaranteed almighty succor. Ah, but soon the rivers of milk and honey grow rotten and curdled, and covered with flies, and hungry beasts snap at the revelers. Eve appears to Jan Ziska and tells him that Rohan has mistaken Earth for Paradise, and that he must stop him, as all men are brothers. Fortunately, Jan Ziska’s goose companion is both capable of speech, and knows the secret paths through both the Earth and the cosmos - but curious mutations and violent icons await them, and can even the great warrior prepare himself to glimpse the truth behind all creation?

There’s an awful lot of stuff going on in only 36 pages, but fortunately it’s executed with consummate skill. Never one to stick with simple representation, David B. loads up his panels with vivid symbols, arguments between two people set before a backdrop of jagged letters going at it with swords and axes. As the plot grows more and more fantastic, David B.’s symbols gradually drift into the realm of literal representation, the abstractions of style incarnated into weird, literal combat as warriors and prophets draw closer to cosmic truths. The understanding of the facts behind the universe is thus indicated by the characters’ grasping of the artist’s (their true God’s) own visual flourishes as suddenly naturalistic elements of their world of violence. And naturally chaos reigns supreme, the Paradise of Earth revealed as a sham, a mere placebo applied to divert attention from the growing sickness - and we’re all left blind when we figure it all out. Good thing is story is often funny, and beautifully imaginative!

The rest of the anthology is hit-and-miss, though one of the ‘longer’ stories is certainly worth recommending - prior to this, I was only familiar with Kurt Wolfgang through his late ’90s minicomics parody series Low-Jinx, and while that material was good he’s certainly grown as a talent since. His 10-page Odd Petal Out is a great little short about chatty kids on the cusp of maturity walking around a grimy, litter-strewn urban environment and exchanging naturalistically vulgar words with one another. Eventually, deeper feelings sort of spill out, in spite of themselves. Wolfgang’s character art is utterly adorable, huge mouths and spherical dot eyes covering large heads on little bodies, and his environments are fully realized. There’s also a one-page Tough Skins ’77 strip, and an 11-page text interview with co-editor Groth. Less compelling is a 10-page story by Jonathan Bennett involving a young man wandering around and taking photographs, pondering via thought bubble the ephemeral state of things until the story just kind of stops. There’s a cute bit with the lead character’s wife, at least.

And then there’s the 15-page third chapter of David Heatley’s four-part serial Overpeck, which appears to be at least partially based on some of the author’s dream comics from his series Deadpan - specifically, the one with the young girl and the bestiality. There’s none of that in here, though the presence of bizarre, grotesque desire and rampant violence is quite pertinent. Nasty (yet sensitive!) kids hit a beheaded dog’s corpse with debris to try and make it bleed. A strange, witchy old woman with glowing yellow eyes kidnaps a young boy and strips him down to his underpants in a room of porno, then reminisces about a childhood loaded with incestuous rape, emotional humiliation, physical abuse, the sexual touching of infants - eventually, her house burns down. There’s also a stark-naked girl wandering around who happens upon a military facility where yet another underpants-clad young boy is being kept hidden from dangerous forces, and he preaches a message of peace as Our Heroine performs naked cartwheels into a sunny world of buzzing bees and happy airplanes. I think it all has something to do with the destructive capabilities of clinging to personal pain to the detriment of everyone around you, but even Heatley’s elegant, able use of color can’t make this seem like much more than a barrage of nonstop transgression with a cursory ‘message’ tacked on. Fairly effective as creepily personal provocation, but that’s about the only way in which it succeeds - at least for this installment. Do keep in mind, though, that I’ve not read the other two chapters of this story, and there’s still another on the way, so my viewpoint here is duly skewed and should be taken as such.

Also included is a smattering of shorter strips and stories. I really enjoyed Martin Cendreda’s handful of Matthew and Buster strips, one-page gags that go through a lot of trouble to look ravishing while delivering utterly silly jokes. The aforementioned Johnson offers up two pages of Cher Shimura ‘gag’ strips that chronicle a young woman’s seriocomic loneliness and low self-esteem; in both simple visuals and non-humor beats it reminded me enormously of Chris Ware, and there’s not really enough of it to provide any stronger feeling. Jeffrey Brown provides a fairly funny strip regarding his decidedly unglamorous experience with almost optioning Clumsy for a motion picture, and a fairly typical strip concerning lost romance and regret. Andrice Arp has a neat comics adaptation of an 18th century Philadelphia broadside. Anders Nilsen provides 4 pages of minicomics tips. And Gabrielle Bell submits a 5-page piece of light narrative experimentation, as a woman tries to tell someone over the phone about a story she’s writing, only to encounter a distinct lack of attention that somewhat relates to her own story thematically. It's diverting.

But the really good parts of this edition do stick with you, as light or incomplete (both literally and figuratively) as some of it is. Certainly I emerged from this more interested than ever in seeing more of the total picture of David B. come into view, and it was great to see how well Wolfgang is coming along. The rest of the stories in here usually bear the mark of clear potential, or at least deliver the sort of unique experience that fans of the talents within might be seeking, provided with a secure level of ability. Not all of it worked for me, but I expect there's interest in here for most.


The little hoops that life makes you jump through.

*Death’s Icy Kiss Dept: Traveling down the highway. The speed limit’s 65, so I’m doing 70. Two lanes for me to choose from’ I’m in the right. Someone else is coming up behind me on the left. I’m fiddling with the radio. I look up, and in the distance is an SUV. It’s attempting to park itself off to the shoulder.

But for some reason, it’s also going in reverse.

To be more exact, it’s going in reverse in a manner that suggests that the driver has never successfully operated a motor vehicle before, as the entire yacht-like structure is swiftly drifting out of the shoulder and back into the oncoming right lane. Where I am, doing 70.

The mind moves pretty frantically in situations like these - obviously, I’m not going to just be able to speed up and pass the damn thing out, since its bulk is filling up a quarter of the lane already. And it’s coming toward me. I can’t peel into the passing lane, since somebody else is coming up in my blind spot, trying to pass. At a total loss of what to do, I opt for the path of eminent obviousness.

I slam on the brakes as hard as I can. 70 to nothing.

My wheels roar like they shouldn’t be. I can feel the steering wheel destabilizing under my hands, pivoting back and forth and resisting my grip as I hear the rubber on the concrete below me. I have a lot of books in the back seat of my car - I’m too lazy to take them into my apartment. They all tumble forward (remember to buckle up, kids!), and their force is like thunder behind me as the car in my blind spot roars past in the left lane. I grip the wheel and turn onto the dividing line, just in time to avoid the SUV, still merrily drifting into the oncoming lane going backwards.

Smoking my way past, I try to catch a glimpse of the driver, but I can see nobody.

If there’d been someone directly behind me in my lane as well as the left one, a collision would have been guaranteed.

The obstacle now behind me, I speed back up and hope my muscles won’t numb on me from their tensing up. Another car, probably a ways behind me in the left lane, has caught up and passes me out as I continue my acceleration. Instinctively, I look into the vehicle’s window. The passenger, an elderly man, looks directly into my eyes, having probably seen the whole event from safely behind.

His arm is resting out the window. He makes a fist and knocks on the side of his car as I watch him pass..

Good luck.

*And it’s a good thing I didn’t die in a hurricane of gasoline fire and horrible, twisting metal, or I’d never be able to read these fine back-issues I purchased!

I filled in a lot of gaps today, which I didn't really expect to do. For example, I finally got one of the big missing pieces of my Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely library filled up - Vertigo's 1997 Weird War Tales #3 (of 4), which features an 9-page short story by the All Star Superman and Flex Mentallo team. It's titled New Toys, and it's basically Toy Story crossed with Paths of Glory, as action figures and dolls fight a meaningless war against one another, executing their own for desertion and the like, unaware that they are but pawns before forces they cannot comprehend - the whims of childish style. Or is it something more sinister? The art really sells it, unblinking, frozen plastic expressions locked in approximations of horror and madness. And if nothing else, Morrison and Quitely beat Team America: World Police to the explicit-sex-without-naughty-bits punch by many a year. It's worth finding, and there's also some excellent art by George Pratt in a Paul Jenkins-scripted story elsewhere in the issue.

I also managed to score the Bratpack/Maximortal Super Special #1, one of the uncollected bits of Rick Veitch's never-completed King Hell Heroica project, a nastily satirical history of superhero comics which included the books Brat Pack (yes, it's spelled with two words in its own collection, and as a single word in this Special) and The Maximortal among its projected five volumes. The Super Specials would eventually add up to form the fifth and final volume, while also filling in the gaps between the other four books in the series (The Maximortal being the first, and Brat Pack being the fourth, though the latter was actually created first - books 2 and 3 were never begun), though only two of them were ever completed, and now only exist as loose issues. The clerk patted the book as I checked it out, assuring me that it was "very interesting work." If it's anything like the two completed volumes, it'll be kind of scattershot and way over-the-top in violence and general spit 'n vinegar, but there'll be flashes of genuine greatness.

Maybe the most interesting thing about Veitch's Heroica is how the cruel early bits of it (it was begun in 1990, immersed in the post-Watchmen/The Dark Knight Returns comics landscape, though Veitch cites the underlying exploitive nature of the superhero comics industry as his main inspiration) so smoothly drift into the reconstruction mindset eventually forwarded by the like of Alan Moore - whose Supreme Veitch would contribute significantly to. And it's worth noting that Moore's initial 12-issue Supreme storyline features some rather pronounced similarities to The Maximortal toward its conclusion... I wonder if Veitch had anything to do with that? Actually, considering Veitch's acknowledgement of Moore's influence on formulating bits of the story in the back of this Special, it might be the other way around.

And speaking of the Magus, I also rounded out my collection of Avatar's Alan Moore's A Hypothetical Lizard comics adaptation. Did the fourth and final issue of that ever come out? I don't think it's ever been released - feel free to help me out if I'm wrong.


Weekend business ahead!

*New column up, featuring more thoughts on gaming and comics. I can still picture the special cubes of ice they had at that old roller skating place...

*Trailer up for the Robert Altman/P.T. Anderson/Garrison Keillor filmic extravaganza, A Prairie Home Companion. The average episode of the radio program is about 70% good, but I’ve still listened to it enough to recognize a bunch of little ‘bits’ as seen in this film. According to a few internet people who’ve already seen this, several scenes bear a pretty definite Anderson stamp, despite his understandable absence from the credits as seen in this trailer. Apparently the production design is quite resplendent. Maybe it’s the movie I’m most looking forward to at the moment, just to see what happens. I might want to see Inside Man this weekend, though - lots of really positive buzz surrounding that. I’ve pretty much decided not to see V for Vendetta - even the positive reviews indicate that I’m probably not going to like it.

I clearly recall one time walking into a gaming-heavy comics store, on what looked to me like a fairly hectic back-room dice rolling evening, and the radio in that place was blasting A Prairie Home Companion. I appreciated the dissonance. Maybe the news from Lake Wobegone gets folks pumped up?

Hawkgirl #50

Howard Chaykin! Walter Simonson! Introductions! It’s a year later! And in case you forget it’s One Year Later, and you don’t want to refer to the special logo on the front cover, don’t worry - there’s several mentions as to the temporal status of this book provided via dialogue, including one right after the book’s superhero costume quota is filled in the first five pages. For the rest of this issue, Kendra (Our Heroine) walks around exploring things in plain clothes, or at least as plain as clothes get when Howard Chaykin is adoringly filling in every last disparate pattern of lace in her top. There’s also an awesome pair of checkerboard-patterned shoes, but I’d hate to spoil all the surprises right up front.

I’ll confess to knowing next to nothing about Hawkpeople; it’s the creative team that drew me to this one, a nice pairing of old friends who still know how to support one another’s strengths. Most obviously, Chaykin keeps his layouts a bit more airy and simplified than usual, accommodating Simonson’s more traditional narrative style. There’s plenty of real live thought bubbles in this book, complete with the lead character politely explaining her powers to us while she’s doing miraculous deeds; it's the kind of stylistic flourish I can still handle when it comes to superhero comics, though I did find myself distracted when Simonson would have Kendra simply talking to herself in order to deliver exposition, sometimes drifting from dialogue balloons to thought bubbles for no apparent reason. It's not a huge deal, but I do tend to stumble over these things (even though I talk to myself in the car sometimes too).

Regarding the plot, it's pretty much all introduction save for the costumed dream sequence that opens the issue; Kendra is working as a museum administrator down in St. Roch, Louisiana, Hawkman is missing, there's mysterious killings going on that the cops just can't stop, and maybe someone's trying to kill Our Heroine. And in true Lucio Fulci style, there's something old and evil in the swampy basement. As far as introductions go, I was fairly interested and never confused. I don't know how this fits into the DCU at large, but it didn't stop me fron understanding Hawkgirl's position and her capacity for hawk-related adventures. Sometimes these new first issues just kind of have to float on the goodwill engendered by the new team, more a success of potential energy than anything.

I think I was most taken by Simonson's smooth integration of contemporary political concerns into the storyline, something I'd also have expected had Chaykin been writing - we've got Hawkgirl wandering around a barely-recovered city in Louisana, flooded after a hurricane, there's a lot of distrust regarding the effectiveness of authority and media, and the generally controlled heroine has been having bad dreams since getting home from the war. Sure, it's the Rann/Thanagar War, and I got the feeling that the hurricane is Hurricane Gloria from Seven Soldiers (I don't know if it's been mentioned in other books), but there's a clever, quiet injection of current concerns into the project that makes these greetings and overviews go down a bit more easily.


View From the Top

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

My expectations were very high for this one, and it lived right up to them. You should spend money to obtain a copy now.

Weighing in at 256 b&w pages, this all-original anthology from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is certainly their biggest project ever to see an English language release, and they’ve risen splendidly to the challenge. The premise is very simple: sixteen stories are presented in the book, eight from artists living in Japan, including co-editor Frédéric Boilet, and eight from artists assigned to visit different portions of the nation by the French Institutes and Alliances of Japan. Masanao Amano also edits, though there’s no formal ‘edited by’ credit in the book itself - this information only comes out in Boilet’s introduction, which also isn’t really an introduction but the actual email sent to contributor Étienne Davodeau inviting him to participate.

But this initial air of informal construction belies the anthology’s coherency, which is really quite astonishing considering that it’s a large international co-production involving over a dozen creators working in multiple languages; there’s no formal theme stated for the anthology, at least not beyond ‘impressions of Japan,’ but by the time one closes the book it cannot be denied that there’s a clear focus on the frailties of human endeavor before the age and power of nature. And no endeavor is frailer in these pages than that of love; over and over, stories bring up lost love, defeated love, persons searching for love, folks in love - but for how long? Oh, not every story involves such concerns - there’s tales of art, of legend, of commerce - but it’s clear that everything people do must submit to the power of inhuman demands.

Apparently a typhoon hit the islands as many of the visiting artists were present; this is mentioned time and again throughout multiple stories perhaps inadvertently creating a running motif of ambitious detoured, thus feeding into the overall feel even more. I have to wonder how much editorial guidance was exerted in these works - Boilet, at least, has proven to be quite keen with exploiting the formal properties of the comics medium, pulling off a wildly obvious yet somehow subtle narrative trick in Yukiko’s Spinach, and working the very cover design of Mariko Parade into the book itself as both a plot point and an ironic comment on the events contained therein. Not to mention the fact that Mariko Parade was essentially an odds ’n ends jumble of miscellaneous shorts (more-or-less) smoothly integrated into a single narrative by Boilet and co-writer/co-artist Kan Takahama. Regardless of how much direct fashioning was involved, this book too is quite a marvel of a single unit, best read from start to finish.

Even on a more basic level, there’s smart little relations. The stories in the book are placed in something of a geographical order, starting south in Amakusa and moving north to conclude in Sapporo. Some cities get multiple stories (naturally, Tokyo is on top, with four), though each examines a different facet of the location. Sometimes the stories relate to one another - Boilet’s story, a cute little tour of his neighborhood punctuated with a caption-based conversation with a lover, climaxes in a tour of his building. In the very next story, Fabrice Neaud (assigned to Sendai) makes a reference to Boilet’s terrace, which we have just finished ‘walking’ on in the story before. Neaud also ruminates on the nature of homosexuality in Japan - there is a matching concern voiced in Joann Sfar’s contribution, which is structured as a tour of his assigned area (also Tokyo), just like in Neaud’s contribution. It’s a disarmingly intuitive means of joining pieces of the project together as working parts of a common experience, and greatly enhances the fundamental effect of the book.

Ah, but the tome couldn’t work if those parts weren’t good on their own - luckily, there’s plenty of great stuff in here. Having gone through everything, one can perhaps sense a slight differentiation of approach between the French and Japanese creators: the former seem more occupied with formalism and differing approaches to storytelling, while the latter seem focused on delivering straightforward aesthetic experiences, their experimentation pertinent on the surface as traditional storytelling hums underneath. It’s not a dissonant effect that’s provided; rather, the work feels balanced, nourished by multiple approaches. Just by way of example The Sunflower, by Garo veteran 'Little Fish,' provides one of the more overtly ‘arty’ contributions to the volume, a wordless story of a man with a sunflower growing out of his navel, and how he and his girlfriend relate to one another. Told exclusively in unflinching six-panel grids, and somewhat obscure in its symbolism (from what I can gather, human nature - or maybe nature itself - both binds and drives apart loved ones, which puts the story right in line with the rest of the book’s contributions), it’s nonetheless a straightforward deployment of iconography. Contrast that with The Gateway, by David Prudhomme, which oscillates between balloon-clogged narrative noise, omniscient captions, snatches of imagery, a folk tale told in text by a turtle facing the reader, and traditional dialogue, all to tell the story of what happened when Prudhomme lost his shoes, though it actually provides a panoramic geographic/historical vision of Fukuoka. Just as Little Fish’s icons are a bit difficult to grasp, Prudhomme’s storytelling array gets convoluted, though the differentiation in approach is clear.

There’s a good mix of fiction, autobiography, and semi-autobiography to be found here. The ever-capable Jiro Taniguchi provides a perfectly handsome tale of longing and youthful loss in Summer Sky; the visuals are just as crystal-clear and the storytelling as immaculately polished as one would expect from Taniguchi. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Takahama provides At the Seaside, another story of disconnected romance, set in her hometown of Amakusa. Again, it’s clean, emotional work, though it’s not clear exactly how much of it is fiction anymore. The lines get particularly blurry with the likes of Emmanuel Guibert’s Shin.Ichi, apparently an illustrated prose story set among artists in 1920’s Kyoto, except the introduction tells us that it’s actually about the early years of the Atelier des Vosges workshop in France, where Guiberet worked with the likes of Boilet, Sfar, and David B. of Epileptic. And yet, Guiberet’s grasp of period detail and vivid character is so great, that one hardly has time to ponder the probably fact-based talk of people leaving their wives when enchanted with foreign lands - I’m sure the irony of the story was not lost on the author.

Other works lunge straight into their own brand of myth. I was really looking forward to Taiyo (Blue Spring) Matsumoto’s contribution, Kankichi, but it’s not what I’d expected - Matsumoto employs a loose, sketchy style devoid of panel borders to tell a folktale about an artist literally escaping the world through his art. Elsewhere, François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters of Les Cites Obscures provide a mock guidebook to Osaka 2034, loaded with all the expected architectural detail, eventually building up to a decidedly ominous denouement, again hitting on the interrelations between nature and human progress. Both stories are simple, but effective, melting easily into their respective areas through the force of fanciful storytelling.

But the very best of the stories in here afford us a simultaneous view into the land and the heart, those two core concerns of this book. I’d never even heard of Aurélia Aurita before I read this book, but her contribution, Now I Can Die!, guaranteed my attention for the future - reminiscent of Carol Tyler in both the lush curvature of her line, the lavish sketching of her environments, the expressive bounce of her expressions, and the familial-minded autobiographical frankness of her storytelling, Aurita discusses her trip in backwards order, always returning to the paraphrased exclamation of the title, eventually regressing to her tender, secret longing, and beyond the confines of her trip back into youth itself. It’s utterly beautiful work, never less than direct in its emotional strike but possessed of a great sense of structural play. More straightforward, but no less impressive, is Neaud’s contribution, The City of Trees, in which the artist walks and rides through Sendai, every sight gorgeously rendered, his narration guiding us through relationship bitterness, sociological concerns, historical information, strange happenings, and so much more. Neaud, a founder of French publisher Ego Comme X, is well-regarded for his Journal series of autobiographical comics; it’s easy to see why after viewing this intelligent, eminently crisp twenty pages - you really feel like you’ve spent time with the author, and know him.

There’s so much more. Kazuichi Hanawa presents a fine look at the legends of Sapporo, just a pinch of his grotesque flavor included. Sfar presents a quick and dirty conversation with a friend in Japan, nastily deflating cherished cultural myths left and right (especially cutting are the comments on homosexual images in Japanese media - “Chicks here fantasize about gays like they were imaginary creatures. Fairy in Japan is a girl fantasy.” - thoughts of yaoi spring readily to mind). Davodeau closes the volume with a fictional spin on what seems like a mostly true experience, telling the story from the perspective of his traveling companion, who wraps up the running theme in this concluding line regarding the tourist-surrounded Mount Showa-Shinzan, which he regards as a brother:

Some day, you’ll see, I tell him, he’s going to get rid of all that in one fell swoop. Our family is like that.”

But regarding apocalypse, the story here that will stay with me is Nicolas de Crécy’s The New Gods. A Kirby homage? No, just an adventure into Nagoya, narrated by an abstract idea. Literally. The narrator is the germination of an artistic notion de Crécy has for a money-making logo; it hangs around with its ‘manager’ for much of the story. I don’t know if the manager is supposed to be de Crécy himself, but if it is then truly it’s a staggering work of self-depreciation, the fellow depicted as an awful slob desperately trying to cheat on his wife with hot Japanese girls while doing irreparable damage to the notion of the seductive, elegant Frenchman. He and his idea maybe learn a few things along the way, lust turning imperceptibly (for the artist) into influence, the subconscious bared to us so its slow-burn revelations can be immediately transmitted to the lucky reader. The logos of juice bottles are gods to the Idea, and Japan is truly a fine shrine to polytheism. Here the land, the city, the art, the people, the observer, the unobservable - all of it mixes into a winsome, funny story, one that just refuses to fade as time passes.

That goes for so much in this fine book. The cumulative effect is enough that everything is elevated, though the highs remain strikingly high. I doubt I’ll read ten better comics this year, though I always await surprises.



*Worthwhile Activities Dept: You know what was the bee’s knees, back in 1993? The Punisher arcade game from Capcom (tons of stuff at this page). I just had the opportunity to play that thing again yesterday, and some experiences are just timeless. As the gaming-motivated among you probably know, Capcom has had a fairly extensive gaming association with Marvel, slipping superhero characters into a number of 2D fighting games, but this one is a little different; back in the early ’90s, Marvel went through a number of gaming developers to produce side-scrolling beat-‘em-up arcade games based on superhero characters, perhaps the most famous of those being the enormous X-Men: The Arcade Game (with room for six players!) from Konami (1992). There was also Captain America and The Avengers from Data East (four players, 1991), and this one - for my money, Capcom pulled it off best, and not just because they’d already mastered the superior ass-kicking button-masher style with 1989’s Final Fight.

No, their Punisher game just has a lot more personality than the rest. Clearly the Japanese design team had an absolute ball working with this material, so not only does Frank (or player 2, Nick Fury, who cares not a whit that he doesn’t fit into the plot at all, spending the entire game manfully smoking a cigar no matter how intense the action gets) face off against street punks and gangsters and the like, but also teleporting anime ninja girls, cyborgs with stretchy arms like Inspector Gadget, a pair of giant robots, and much more (aw, for all I know this stuff might have come straight from the comics - there were a lot of Punisher books out at that time with space to fill). The designs are really great, with fun animation, and there’s a ton of great weapons to pick up, ranging from the expected knives and machine guns to swords, battle axes, exploding mechanical skulls, fire extinguishers, and javelins ripped right off of handy suits of armor. And yet - Frank will only pull his gun with there’s enemies on the screen packing their own heat. What a fair-minded psychotic demon of vengeance he is!

Six stages (and I will say that it’s kind of disappointing that one of the bosses appears at the end two stages with differing color schemes and speeds - you need a longer game to get away with that trick) culminate with a throwdown versus an extra-large Kingpin, pretty much everything in his penthouse suite capable of being picked up and thrown so you can enjoy the pleasure of breaking a sofa over the king of crime’s head, or just power-slamming him into a crowd of thugs. But careful - they’ll all stop and laugh at you if the Kingpin swats you with his cane. There’s even one of those great 'Insert Coin to Continue' screens, with Microchip feverishly applying artificial respiration as the timer ticks downward - pop in a quarter, and Frank miraculously rises from the stretcher to pop in a clip and triumphantly unload a few rounds into the ceiling as Micro cheers him on.

It’s pure, fast, unadulterated mayhem, very tongue-in-cheek (Garth Ennis certainly didn’t invent that approach to the character) and attractive in that rounded cartoon 3D Capcom way. Nearly flawless quarter eater.

Gun Fu: Showgirls Are Forever

Say, it’s a super-broad comedy book sporting sunny, attractively angular art and lots of fast action with a splash of absurdity, all featuring the contribution of a seasoned writer-cum-controversial public personality whose formidable body of work is not primarily known for comedy, though it’s featured plenty of it in the past! I am, of course, referring to this latest entry in the Gun Fu mythos, a 32-page color pamphlet from Image (if, by chance, you were thinking of some other release of today, I’d have to tell you that the prop-based humor was very good, the pop culture jokes were no better coming out of Warren Ellis than anyone else, the ‘most corrupt cop ever’ routine was amusing but went on for about two pages too long, the action has not declined measurably in quality, and the best gags overall were the internet piracy crack and the Toto review on the letters page, the latter of which might not have been Ellis’s work, now that I think of it - pleasant cotton candy comics in sum). It’s the brainchild of creator/co-writer/inker Howard M. Shum (who also has an art blog), though the obvious draw in this one is co-writer Dave Sim, in his first new comics work since Cerebus. Those expecting work of searing philosophy or lengthy text-based bible analysis will come away disappointed - this is Sim at his very lightest.

I have to admit, an awful lot of the humor value in Cerebus hinged on Sim’s mastery of character art; his ability with caricature remains outstanding, even when passages from his work are read from over a decade’s time passed, and his use of physical and sound effects humor always supplemented his dialogue. Reading through the more overtly Sim-sounding bits of this book, I particularly came to miss Sim’s rightfully famous lettering - there’s actually nobody credited with lettering in this book, but an attempt is made to evoke the special quality of Sim’s material via adding boldface and underscoring to standard-looking fonts. But lines like “Whatever might the agent hev intended by such rubbish?” only make me envision how they’d have looked via the labor-intensive Sim style. Anyone who’s read enough Cerebus knows what I’m talking about, and it’s a slight distraction. This isn’t to denigrate Shum, or penciler Darryl Young, or colorist Etienne Simon, or Mystery Letterer X, who provide a poppy and fluid cartoon environment for those animation-ready designs to romp in. But Sim is so utterly attached to his (and cover contributor Gerhard’s) own visual style in my mind’s eye, it’s hard not to see things differently.

Anyway, the plot concerns secret agent Cheng Bo Sen, a Hong Kong cop turned British secret agent who inexplicably speaks in a contemporary hip-hop patios (sample: “Damn, girl. Once these shorties put eyes on me, they’ll be fightin’ to see who’ll be first to get busy wit this mack.” - honestly, the vaguely awkward cadence actually makes it all a bit more funny to me). It’s 1941, and he has to stop an evil plot by French showgirls hell-bent on attacking the USA; yes, buckle up for lots of France jokes (“The Prime Minister refers to the French only under duress or when ordering red wine at dinner.”) and plenty of silly chauvinistic laffs, much in the Cerebus mold of ‘guys are really dumb and horny and girls wish they would not be such pigs’ though I readily admit such a posture is hardly unique to Sim (and there is a co-writer here, after all), though it'd be useless to deny that such things get a special charge from this particular writer given his many statements and essays on certain matters. Can Our Hero possibly stop himself from being hypnotized by the pivoting derrieres of fascism and maybe win the heart (or something) of some lovely liberty-loathing lass?

The answer isn’t much of a surprise, nor is anything in here all that adventurous as far as comedic action goes - it's very straightforward in its jokes and confrontations, without even the measure of conceptual play (or self-parody) that Nextwave brings to the table. But it’s funny more often than not, and it looks awful pretty. Proof that there is more than one game in town as far as funny punchings and copious explosions go. Plus, the 24-page feature is supplemented by a batch of storyboards from some sort of animated project Shum is doing with Bobby Rubio (Alpha Monkey), and sparser designs from what looks like a separate animation with ‘Xav’ (Hyperkinetic). A good package for your $3.50, if you like this kind of thing.


Hey all, lots of colors.

*My luck didn’t entirely hold out, but hey - what are you going to do?

Robot Vol. 1

I’ve suddenly seen copies of this thing, a lavish, full-color oversized manga/illustration anthology popping up in several Borders locations, despite having been originally released in Summer 2005 (and having been available in chain stores then too) - it’s possible that everyone is restocking in anticipation of Vol. 2 of this series hitting stores next month, since there’s continuing serials present that few will be happy to put up with if their initial installments aren’t around.

Digital Manga Publishing has been contributing to the current manga release scene for a while now, putting out a number of apparently popular yaoi titles (as the nice little color catalog that comes shrink-wrapped in with this book proclaims, yaoi is “The girls only sanctuary,” which not only provides a neat statement of audience-courting intent, but sets their releases apart from anything actually targeted at authentic homosexual men right up front) along with some varied general choices, ranging from the execrable Twilight of the Dark Master (by Saki Okuse) to the pleasingly gonzo Bambi and her Pink Gun (by Atsushi Kaneko). Soon, they play to broaden their horizons into the Project X line of manga biographies for prominent Japanese personalities, historical-minded biographical manga for young folks (but who of any age wouldn’t want to see the story of Anne Frank as told by Astro Boy?), and high-production art books (the first of them sporting a title that really rolls off the tongue - Yoshitoshi ABe Lain Illustrations ab# rebuild an omnipresence in wired - and essentially reconfigures a 1999 art book dedicated to the much-admired ABe’s work on Serial Experiments Lain, an excellent anime television series).

This tome is actually dropped in with that lattermost group, though it is more-or-less a manga anthology, albeit not one quite in the sense that most Japanese comics are initially serialized via anthology format. Rather, this is a prestige production through and through, edited and assembled by Range Murata, a designer for animation house Studio Gonzo; apparently the project has been popular in Japan, as it’s currently up to Vol. 4, with serialized stories continuing onward and new one-shots appearing. The list of contributors is largely stable, from what I can gather, and the page count remains generally the same (this one is 164 pages). And naturally, it’s all full-color work, and particularly dazzling color work at that.

It’s also all very heavily informed by anime, which perhaps is to be expected; I’m not going to pretend that I’m hugely familiar with even a quarter of the twenty artists presented in here, though the ones I instantly recognize - Murata, ABe, and Ugetsu Hakua - are all primarily designers for animation, with some excursions into manga and doujinshi (at least that’s how it is for Abe), and I’m fairly sure that such a background is common to many of the contributors here. As one might therefore expect from a group of artists whose output largely centers around design rather than sequential storytelling, their comics gravitate toward providing candied visual fireworks rather than particularly thoughtful stories (I’ve heard similar charges levied at Image’s Flight anthology, which I also believe is heavy on animation and visual design folk), a situation no more apparent than with the handful of ongoing serials beginning.

ABe’s work was easily the one I was most interested in, the acclaimed anime series Haibane Renmei having been inspired by his doujinshi, but Wasteland is a fevered 8-page array of dungeon-crawling and yelling, with the occasional scary beast or dismemberment popping up to splash ABe’s misty visuals with slime or grue. Really, there just isn’t a lot of space for a some of these artists to get into anything more than an ass-kicking groove, the desire to provide amazing visuals in their first chapters awfully strong. I can’t think of a more visually appealing action piece than Shin Nagasawa’s Sedouka, a hefty dose of Western superhero style (the artist worked on the Wolverine: Soultaker miniseries from a while back) dripped into 8 pages of jumping and saving little girls and stuff, but positioned as yet another in a series of context-light fight scenes, the impact is definitely dulled. Of the serials, only Hiroyuki Asada’s Pez & Hot Strawberry succeeds in setting up an interesting story to follow, with a par of future steampunk drifters wandering around a pink and purple landscape, confronting a warmly decomposed strip of sepia celluloid telling of the world that came before. Style matches substance here, for a while.

As for the one-off stories, well, when they actually are stories they’re pretty neat. Murata himself provides only a series of 4 splashes that kinda-sorta constitute a vignette, and Hakua follows suit with a small batch of pretty girl pin-ups. Much more pleasing to me is the likes of Sho-u Tajima's Angels at the Planetarium, offering up a marvelously creepy b&w metaphor, concerning a young man ripping off the wings of little angels that hang around the rotting title structure in harshly-shadowed formations, all for fine profit. The page designs are distinctly Mignolaesque (the artist can current be found writing and drawing his Madara series from CMX). Suzuhito Yasuda indulges in some fun spot coloring for a cute thing titled Ebony & Ivory, and Makoto Kobayashi (of What's Michael? fame) provides some mercifully scratchy lines and earthy hues in Dragon’s Heaven, a wordless short somewhat reminiscent of Vaughn Bode. Indeed, a lot of the work here seems informed by western visual style, even to the detriment of some (not a fan of Yu Kinutani’s Angels, yet another isolated fight scene, this time distressingly similar to something one would see in the likes of Witchblade, only with non-stop crotch shots). But some, like Naruco Hanaharu, tap into a classical anime power, transforming the likes of Picnic into still frames, Cinemanga if you will, from the big-budgeted theatrical feature of their dreams. And the story, a tour of an overgrown post-civilization Shibuya, even makes me kind of want to see that movie.

More than anything, this book represents instant creative hungers being fed. All of the artists provide short statements in the back of the book (tragically, there’s no bibliographies or suggestions for future reading/viewing or anything), some of which boil down to ‘gosh, what a great chance to use my new Flash techniques!!’ There’s also a definite erotic tone pulled through, the often young-looking characters aestheticized perhaps leaving Western readers feeling, as the sociologists say, skeevy. I believe the industry term for this is moe, what I understand to be a type of subsumed sexual interest mixed with fatherly affection for young anime females - whatever it is (and you can learn your heart out over at Wikipedia), it’s all over this book, and you’d best be ready for it. Still, there’s absolutely no denying that there’s some incredible visuals in this book - eye candy enthusiasts will want to plunk down their $24.95 now, and then shell out the same price next month for Vol. 2. That occasionally we get something like Yasuto Miura’s Biting Summer Play, eight achingly beautiful watercolor pages brimming with fantasy European throwback architecture, yet hiding a core of impossible sadness and clinging, disturbing emotional decay - well - it’s kind of a bonus with things like this.


I thought it was bedtime at two this afternoon...

*And I was wrong.


Sky Ape: King of Girls

Batman: Year 100 #2 (of 4)

American Virgin #1

Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #4 (of 4)

And damn if I still am.

*Ha ha, a trade for one and all


Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators: Ah, here it is at last - Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s hotly-anticipated 256-page anthology, gathering 8 Japanese and 9 French-speaking creators to provide stories about the nation of the title, whether based on hometown experience or assigned two-week study trips. A veritable dream team of talent is present, like Moyoko Anno (Flowers and Bees, Happy Mania), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time), François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters (Les Cités Obscures - actually, I’m not sure if these two are working together or separately), Taiyo Matsumoto (Blue Spring, Black & White), Frédéric Boilet (Yukiko’s Spinach, Mariko Parade), Kan Takahama (Kinderbook, also Mariko Parade), Jiro Taniguchi (Hotel Harbour View, The Walking Man), Daisuke Igarashi (Witches), and many more. Full contributor list and art samples here - some of these talents are making their English-language debuts. I’ve spotted a few of Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s tomes in chain bookstores recently, that distribution deal apparently bearing fruit; maybe this book will get some wider exposure.

Jimbo’s Inferno: Oh boy. Comics legend Gary Panter’s oversized 2004 hardcover original Jimbo in Purgatory has become somewhat legendary in its daunting nature, mixing literary allusion, pop culture citation, wild wordplay, visual parody, teeny tiny panels packed into enormous pages, and general intellectual gamesmanship into what some dubbed “completely unreadable,” “[v]astly over-conceptualized,” and “so impossibly dense I doubt anyone with less than a Ph.D. in classical literature will be able to parse it.” And that was just Andrew Arnold. Here’s the prequel, culled from the pages of Panter’s 1995-97 Jimbo Comics series from Zongo (the short-lived alternative wing of Simpsons licensing monolith Bongo Comics), and presented in the same staggering format as that last hardcover object, 12” x 17 ¼” with fancy gold trim. It apparently follows Dante canto-by-canto, though stopping for subversion and horseplay at every opportunity. Retaling at $29.95 for 40 pages, though if it’s anything like the last one you’ll be spending at least half an hour on every page anyway. Forms kind of an unofficial triptych with Panter’s landmark 1988 collection Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise, which (as I’m required by law to inform you) contains the best drug trip sequence I’ve ever seen in a comic, plus what’s maybe my favorite 11 pages of comics ever in the infamous concluding ‘horse’ sequence.

MOME Winter 2006: The third edition of Fantagraphics’ comics anthology, featuring a complete 36-page story by the ever-excellent David B. of Epileptic fame. Also, a series of new comic strips by R. Kikuo Johnson of Night Fisher, and other stuff by the great-looking lineup as seen here.

Billy Hazlenuts: A brand-new 100-page graphic novel by Tony Millionaire, creator of Maakies and Sock Monkey, though this one’s set in a different world than everything else. The preview Tom Spurgeon posted highlighted the invitingly creepy aspects of Millionaire’s visual style, as well as his handsomely irreverent folktale-informed approach to longform storytelling. Pretty much guaranteed to delight.

Every Girl is the End of the World for Me: In which writer/artist Jeffrey Brown follows up the conclusion of his ‘Girlfriend Trilogy’ with an epilogue to said trilogy consisting of another 104 pages worth of relationship troubles, this time concerning no less than five girls in three weeks, events chronicled day-by-day. I can’t say I was very impressed with Brown’s last relationship book, AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy, which saw his style of delicate, rhythmically-structured emotional beats break down into haphazard flashes of half-vignettes from which little character could emerge; it felt simply unformed and unsatisfying. Maybe sticking to a stricter structural format will aid in this one’s cohesiveness.

Gun Fu: Showgirls are Forever: AKA - the Dave Sim issue. Sure, the Cerebus legend only co-writes this one-shot book and contributes art to the cover (along with longtime visual partner Gerhard and others - interior art is provided by creator/co-writer Howard M. Shum and Darryl Young), but everyone might still want a peek at the man’s first post-Cerebus comics project. The WWII-era plot concerns secret agent Cheng Bo Sen and his efforts to save the United States from Nazi-collaborating French showgirls. From Image. Sim has also dropped word that he’s working on a pair of new original one-shots of his own, and that’s sure to be something to see whenever it happens.

Supermarket #2 (of 4): More from this lovely-looking miniseries from Brian Wood and Kristian. If my luck holds out, I should finally get around tomorrow to that Brian Wood post I’ve been planning for a good while…

Hawkgirl #50: In which writer Walt Simonson and artist Howard Chaykin take the reins and drive the works forward by one solid year. Ian has a pre-release review up, indicating that the superhero elements are decidedly toned down (no surprise there with Chaykin involved) to emphasize suspense and horror (which naturally brings to mind Chaykin’s admission in Solo #4 that he’s never been able to manage a decent horror story - maybe with another writer at the helm?). I’ve never read a damn issue of Hawkwhatever before, but there’s no way I’m missing out with this team at the helm.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #4 (of 6): Just posting this to assure you that this series is still very good. I momentarily thought it was also going to entirely pass out the regular Iron Man series, but that one is set to finally conclude its 6-issue opening storyline after a mere sixteen months. I’ll still be there.

Nextwave #3: Which Diamond has now opted to begin calling Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (after appropriate punctuation is added, of course). This is an interesting departure from last time’s Next Wave style of title rendering, but I’m sticking with the legal indicia myself. Hey - it’d be kind of funny if Diamond just devised new ways to spell this thing every issue, leading to endless semantic confusion and general hi-jinx amongst the internet community. There should also be a laugh track to that. Never doubt my instincts.


Sunday gone away posting.

*Not much time today, busy with preparing stuff for the week. Not as busy a week as last time, but still crowded...

*No time is too late for a good Best Of list, and thus it was great to read Tom Spurgeon’s array of the 50 finest comics of 2005, posted just today. A ton of great ideas for reading exploration! Also, you all should check out his posting of Bruce Chrislip’s interview with the excellent Carol Tyler, whose short stories were collected into a recent book by Fantagraphics, Late Bloomer. Tyler's stories are always a treat, and the interview is a good one.

*Goddamn Dept: According to artist Tim Sale, DC’s creator spotlight series Solo will be cancelled soon. No word on how many issues are left in its run. If this proves true - well shit. (found at the NYC Mech board).

*What time is it?


Penance: Bad Girls 4ever!! Part 2

*First, new column. On the secret world of used manga. We are all eaters of the dead. Woo.

*Hey, a revival of Punisher: War Journal! And it's written by Matt Fraction! That sounds like something good to purchase. By sheer coincidence, I was looking through one of Jim Lee's issues of the old War Journal in a shop just today. Life trying to foreshadow, I guess.

Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #4 (of 4)


Very, very strange that I’d read this book so shortly after getting through Vampirella: The Morrison/Millar Collection, that incomplete selection of stories from Grant Morrison and Mark Millar’s late-‘90s work on the famous ‘bad girl’ character. It’s not very good - shining through is a rather distasteful aura of backward sexualization, gore and bondage blown off the charts while pleasurable sexuality or even the simple unveiling of the human form are kept squirreled away, something to trip over your toes avoiding, lest some industry lightning bolt blast you to ash.

And now comes the final issue of Bulleteer (and the third-to-last installment of the Seven Soldiers project as a whole), and it’s even titled ‘Bad Girls.’ Now that it’s all over, I can safely say that this group of issues was very similar to those of Guardian; both are largely straightforward superhero stories, both find their title characters plagued with reluctance, both shunt said title characters off to the role of observer for generous portions of the action, and both conclude with a story that chronicles a supporting cast member’s journey from childish delight into the pits of what passes for ‘realism’ in a superhero universe. The key difference is that Guardian ends up fortified and ready to take on evil more than ever after hearing the story told in his book. Alix, the star of this show, shuts the storyteller up and openly rejects participation in the overarching Seven Soldiers plot. Indeed, unlike anything else in this project so far, the transformed Alix emerges from her journey unhappy with playing the superhero at all - she has learned too much about life on the DCU fringes, and she just wants things to go the hell away.

Indeed, Alix’s special place in this project is playing the role of wild card; she was the lost original seventh soldier, having turned down Vigilante’s offer to join his crew of costumed adventurers. At the end of this issue, the risen Vigilante appears again, and extends the same offer; once again, the Bulleteer is not ready to play the game. Fascinatingly, this leaves the project’s line of transformations arguably incomplete at six (providing that Frankenstein doesn’t experience a similar crisis in a few weeks) - just the number the Sheeda want, involving the same person who broke the number of God last time! Also, it seems that Alix has something to do with the Earth’s first superhero, a plot thread which will presumably be picked up in Seven Soldiers #1, along with ten thousand other things in what’s apparently only 32 pages. Thrilling reading that one will be. UPDATE (3/19/06 7:04 PM): Reader Jamil notes in the comments section below that DC issued a cleverly-disguised update to the page count nearly two weeks ago. Seven Soldiers #1 will now be 48 pages (and $3.99), though DC has declined to put such information up on their official site.

But Alix aside, this issue is Sally Sonic’s story; being an issue of Bulleteer, it’s also loaded with commentary on superhero comics themselves, specifically the roles played by women. Sally was once a bright, good-hearted girl, who teamed up with a living teddy bear in what seems to me as the same kitschy Golden Age as inhabited by the Newsboy Army from Guardian. Much like the Newsboys’ own eternal infant, Sally never physically ‘grows up.’ Unlike Baby Brain, however, Sally does not carry the torch of heroism very far. Instead, she falls prey to the confusion of the legal system (and do note the fact that Sally’s constantly told she’s not old enough to do anything permissible that’s not salacious - little comment there), and the exploitation of super-villains. As usual, writer Morrison busts out some cute genre devices to solidify and illustrate the hazards of the age; just as the evil creator in Guardian sews the Newsboy Army suits of backward, hateful adulthood, Sally’s lover turns her on to Doctor Hyde’s Evil Serum. Cheesy superheroic shorthand? Oh yes, but like the Anti-Life Equation in Mister Miracle, it’s ultimately as much a symbol for a state of mind than anything.

Soon, Sally is performing in those superheroine ‘adult’ films glimpsed in issue #1. And having read all that Vampirella stuff just a little while ago, I couldn’t help but notice how none of the exploitive films as glimpsed here involve actual sex. It’s just women posing in tiny outfits, as bullets enticingly bounce off their half-exposed flesh. Issue #1 made mention of acid bubbling on impervious skin - it’s all violence, and here explicitly positioned as something for viewers in the DCU to service themselves to. It’s very, very much the same as that Bad Girl stuff I read, the stuff of Morrison’s I read; not even a hint of real sex can enter into the masturbatory froth of harm. But it’s clearly portrayed here as being a very unhealthy thing, even as two pretty girls duke it out in their tight costumes. It’s not being said here that attractive women leaping into action is an inherently bad thing - but such things must be matched with an interest in emotions and thoughts, lest it all spiral into adolescence, Eternal Superteens indeed, just like the orgy in Flex Mentallo.

There is a bit of missed opportunity here, however, which I think has to rest on penciler Yanick Paquette and inker Serge LaPointe; the art in this issue gets a little unclear where it really shouldn't be, specifically in regards to Sally's character design. An awful lot of the story here depends on her looking 'underage,' and she simply doesn't, even before she has any superpowers. Part of the 'appeal' of Sally, as specified by the story's villains, is that she's kept physically in a state that appears upon first glace to be below the DCU age of consent - this is also why she's constantly denied regular jobs and self-sufficiency, because she appears to be young. This raises an expectation as to the visuals that Sally actually will appear to be young to the reader, and to me the art team drops the ball. Characters say things in regards to her actually being in her twenties, but such dialogue seems absurd when she looks like that to the reader. I can imagine this issue being a lot more creepy and effective with less physically mature Sally; it's too bad - in all other aspects of this stretch of the project, penciller Paquette (who also worked with inker Michael Bair, himself a vet of Morrison's Vampirella material - oddly, Baer isn't thanked in the end-of-miniseries shoutout section, while LaPointe is) was quite an inspired pick, turning out some good work. But even the action seemed a little off in this issue, stiffness creeping in. I did enjoy the old 'smashed with a fridge, only to climb out the door' gag.

A lot is left unresolved at the end of this one. We've been exposed to plenty of critique throughout this leg of the project, and it appears that Alix has been worn down. But there's a little hope. Her little invincible mouse pal from issue #1 has pulled through. Even as she blows off Vigilante, she's about to rush Sally off to get medical care. Her unironic empathy seems to have no place in the world, but it's left open as to if her arguably negative transformation might yet be changed; as of now, she seems branded over and over as the weak link of the chain.

There's a hell of a lot left on the plate for these last two issues.