We all speak so true, our eloquence so silver, our wit so gold.

*Forward Thinking Dept: Guess what just rocketed up to the top of my 2007 anticipation list? Paul Karasik’s I Will Destroy All Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks - coming soon from Fantagraphics!

Featuring “the creme of the crop” from the Golden Age enigma’s mad body of work, plus an original 16-page comic by Karasik on the topic of Hanks’ mysterious disappearance. I’m hoping for some extra biographical info - the comic book form didn’t hit it big until Hanks was over 60, and his career only lasted a few years before he vanished. He was perhaps a man of demons; according to one of his sons, Hanks was a paranoid, violent person, “the most no-good drunken bum you can find,” who once threw the boy down a flight of stairs and struck him nearly mute for half a decade. This was long before the elder Hanks entered comics, but the often cruelly furious violence of his superhero work screams of both a genre’s untamed essence and an artist’s individual vision.

You might remember Hanks from Dan Nadel’s Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969, or maybe the cover of Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, or even a certain 1983 issue of Raw (Vol. 1, #5). But these were only tastes - soon we’ll have a fuller glimpse of the man’s work. I can’t wait!

Babel #2

The newest release from L’Association co-founder David B., the continuation of his latest longform serial to be presented in English, the supplement and funhouse mirror twin to his masterful Epileptic. Issue #1 was released in the US in 2004 by Drawn & Quarterly, but this second installment arrives courtesy of Fantagraphics and their Ignatz line of deluxe pamphlets - it’s mostly the same dust jacketed, 32-page, 2-color, 8 ½” x 11” format as D&Q used for their issue, though Fanta’s book is two dollars less ($7.95), and printed on sturdier paper with somewhat larger image reproduction. Original translator Helge Dascher has been replaced with Fanta’s own Kim Thompson (who also translated Epileptic), and Paul Baresh steps in for Tom Devlin on the new English lettering.

The changes in localization personnel aren’t all that obvious from the work itself, though the continuing strip on the dust jacket seems to have now been given the broader title of Acta Zoologica, to replace issue #1’s content-specific A rooster’s tale, though I am unsure if this was a translation choice or an alteration made by David B. himself to the French original (the numbering on the strips remains unbroken - this issue giving us parts 3 and 4 - thus triggering my interest). It's something to note regardless, especially given the careful balance attained by these strips - they leave unbroken a thread of thought begun in issue #1, yet present their own self-contained story, one that still manages to capture the essence of Babel thus far. Sitting Bull is performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and is given a trained horse as a gift. Later, Sitting Bull is confronted by Indian police, and a deadly firefight erupts, claiming the aged man's life. His horse hears the gunfire, and believes itself to be participating in another show, and instantly launches into its routine of tricks and acrobatic stunts at the scene of the killing. The Indians are stunned, and believe the horse to be dancing as a means of opening the way to the afterlife for Sitting Bull - the horse is, after all, is a traditional psychopompic beast, an animal that can guide the human soul to and from the land of the dead.

It's all there. War, symbols, myth, miscommunications, mysticism, and the human struggle to make sense of what they see. That's what Babel is all about, but David B. knows that sorting it all out is no easy task. The dust jacket strips of issue #1 followed another psychopomp, the rooster, which was once placed below the bed of those suffering from epilepsy - in the past, such a malady was seen as a repeating, temporary death, the product of demons grasping the soul from beyond the mortal plane. Luckily, the bed was seen as a symbol - the frame representing the human world, the empty space below the underworld - and a rooster was thus placed below the bed to rescue the afflicted's soul from evil, and guide it back to the body and secure health. Throughout Babel, epilepsy is used as its own symbol, for the dark power of the unknown, the hand descended from above to smash our achievements and muddle our tongues, the grasp of doom that humankind can never seem to evade.

That's kind of how Epileptic went too, with its fixation on how his older brother's titular sickness held tight everything and everyone in the surrounding area - but, in spirit, the earlier book was still autobiography, albeit filtered through the dream vision of the tale's teller. Babel, on the other hand, openly resists any sort of classification. Each issue is made up of several chapters, all of them bearing some sort of banner indicating what shall be found inside ("Memories," "Night-time Conversation," "Story of Stories"), though the total effect is one of an intensely iconographic comics lecture by the author (with plenty of excursions into fable and history and dream and dialogue), maybe the only proper means of conveying his ideas: at one point, David B. quotes Jean-Luc Godard on the rise of the interplay between words and pictures in '60s society, "language in and of itself... inadequate to the task of defining the image with precision." This fits right into David B.'s thinking on how far-off peoples became known through potent photos and sensational words, the 'Cold War' hot enough for them. War is also epilepsy, and often a failure of communication - therefore, our author must communicate through the powerful means of comics. Words and pictures, working together.

Babel could only ever be a comic, from its most expansive themes right down to its basic mechanics. David B.'s visuals are chock full of what can only be done in sequential art, his vivid, bluntly-rendered characters often transformed into symbols in order to enhance what the ongoing narration is telling us - the character art is often so direct and simplified that the reader does not notice when the author occasionally resorts to simply describing what we can plainly see. His soldiers resemble ghostly magazine cartoons, his native tribes thickets of spears and sticks, and something extra can always be gleaned. But more often, David B.'s grasp of the form is outstanding, certain character poses carefully mimicked on later pages to establish recurring themes, conversations expertly paced, and grand moments of text/visual literalism judiciously dished out, fighters becoming actually wrapped up in a long caption detailing the many violent fronts of the 'Cold War' of the superpowers.

All that I've just mentioned is to be found in this issue, not just the work as a whole. It's obviously intended to be a single book in the end, the page numbering even picking up at 33 from last issue, but this particular package stands alone well, even as it halts in the middle of a story. War, as I'm sure you've noticed, is a major motif, and we get two to compare. First, there's the strange, mannered combat of the Papuans, a tribe that accepts battle largely as a means for young men to prove their power, combat reduced to nearly a game - it all becomes a symbol for the innocent play of young David B. (birth name: Pierre-François Beauchard) and his older brother Jean-Christophe. But then we move to the French conflict in Algeria, young men sent off to die over questionable goals - "You project your image everywhere" notes David B. as we glimpse a twisted, bombed-out armored wagon, and it's clear that the world's epilepsy is again ready to flare up, another temporary death for humankind, only allowed new breath in waiting for the next attack.

It's not happy material. It's hardly light, though I would not say it's difficult at all to grasp, so intuitive is David B.'s grasp of the form, and so empathetic is his authorial eye. He screams at his brother in mock combat, and he screams at walking streetlights after the sickness strikes. "I'm gonna smash everything! I'm gonna kill everyone!" That's the impulse, yes, and the author is hardly immune. But maybe we can understand through comics. Maybe language can be more potent this way. Maybe we'll have a cure for what can only be diagnosed. Maybe this time. Maybe, says David B.



Lunacy is for me.

New Avengers #21

Let’s start with the closing lines from this issue’s official “Previously in Civil War…” synopsis:

Some heroes, such as Iron Man, see this as a natural evolution of the role of super heroes in society, and a reasonable request. Others, embodied by Captain America, take umbrage at this assault on their civil liberties.”

Ha ha, cripes. Not only is the character identified with the non-registration side of Civil War a walking symbol of American values, he gets to recognize the contextually objective status of “this assault on… civil liberties” while Iron Man, on the registration side, is granted merely an opinion (“[s]ome… see this”), swiftly thereafter inferred to be faulty by the construction of the text. Whose side are you one?! Hopefully not the obviously wrong one!!

This is the first Civil War-related comic I’ve actually sat down to read. It’s also the first issue of New Avengers I’ve done anything more than flip through. I’ve not read Avengers: Disassembled, the story evidently evoked by this current New Avengers: Disassembled storyline (this is Part 1). I’d like to say the only reason I’m reading this is due to artist Howard Chaykin, dipping his feet into the Marvel pool before diving in for a September-debuting run on Blade, but actually I’m a little bit interested in how one of these tie-ins might work as divorced from the main storyline.

As it goes, it’s not at all convoluted or confusing, just kind of stolid and broody. And at times weirdly self-referential - not only does writer Brian Michael Bendis throw in a quick flashback to his updated team lined up in their glory days (this is only issue #21, after all), but there’s a moment of metafiction at the very beginning, in which Cap stares at a blank drawing board, the narration grunting:

"Just try and focus. Think of something else. Anything else. This always works. This always works. Just draw. Focus your mind on the white paper and draw something. Express yourself. You used to do this so well you could pay the bills with it. Just stop thinking about everything else."

Taken out of context, it almost seems to be trying to say something about the nature of steering one's comic through the waters of yet another Event deluge, though the rest of the book sadly doesn't back such a notion up. Actually, nothing is really backed up by this opening bit - it remains utterly disconnected from the rest of the story thematically, and it doesn't really work as a surface-appeal lead-in to the assorted flashbacks, as Cap's narration remains constant as our viewpoint wavers from present to past to present to past - it might have landed as cutesy formal play (and I like cute things) had the visual execution been a little better on a concept level (the white board leading right into homage to past comics events, the narration our clue as to the present - this would also solve the staging problem patent in everyone sneaking up on Cap out of nowhere), but it just comes off as metafiction for metafiction's sake, a whiff of misplaced sophistication.

The comic then launches into Cap fighting a whole bunch of armored government thugs, which comes off fairly well in Chaykin's hands. He's still working in the simplified layout style of his other recent superhero pieces, nothing as design-oriented or intuitive as even recent work-for-hire like Challengers of the Unknown, but well-tempered for Cap hitting things and fires igniting. Albert Deschesne's letters buzz in the background in tight formation (a classic Chaykin flourish), enveloping the characters in dizzy noise activity, though I found Dave Stewart's colors in the sequence to be a bit too subdued, as if he was attempting to add gravity to a more heavy realist visual style - I find that Chaykin's inks stand out better in their jagged bite with a more popping bright approach to hue (even at night), which Stewart does gravitate toward in later daytime pages.

Bendis' script doesn't get any brighter in tone, though, as the issue moves on, Cap escaping the killers and teaming up with the Falcon to create a new (New) Avengers. Lots of talk about What Must Be Done, lots of captions about Trust, and a confrontation with Hank Pym that I think was supposed to illustrate the 'debate' behind Civil War's political undercurrent, but actually felt like one of those old bits where the obvious villain makes a gesture toward convincing the obvious hero of the rightness of their actions, only to have said hero knock the argument right down, then fight back when the baddie resorts to treachery. It's not that I'm expecting the most polished of political comment in my Marvel U comics, but if you're going to expend pages on characters lamenting and pondering the philosophy behind the latest tentpole, you probably shouldn't have that content boil down to yet another simple good guys/bad guys clash. It just seems like turgid, unnecessary hand-wringing over the same old same old.

Still, Chaykin's art always has its pleasures. There's a great image of the Falcon lifting Cap up, that mighty shield deflecting all oncoming dangers. In hands like this, the iconography at least is sound. And Bendis has a few good lines up his sleeve: "Come on Hank, grab your stuff and a bunch of ants and let's go." But the rest of it seems as passively misconceived as that trip back to the drawing board at the top. Maybe it's just the language of the Event talking.

Hawkgirl #53

Meanwhile, the week's other Chaykin superhero book is as loony as ever. I've decided that some of such feeling comes from Chaykin's very lines, which seem more fevered and harshly rendered, maybe due to Michelle Madsen's brighter colors (and simpler flesh textures), or maybe due to Chaykin himself matching writer Walter Simonson's increasingly wild plotting. As usual, Kendra is prone to thinking many things to herself - pretty much all the exposition the additional omniscient narrator doesn't tackle - but this time everything is cut short by a gigantic fight with the weird woman who's been lurking around for the last three issues. It turns out she's a hulking killer called Khimaera who serves a gigantic cosmic labia dentata which has gotten so angry over not having fresh souls to feast on that it brands its servant with tattoos and makes her prance across rooftops in a golden thong bikini.

Also wandering around is most of the supporting cast for this storyline, including those leather-clad voodoo skinheads, rough Lieutenant Grubs and his green partner Doucette (blonde asshole Chaykin design and dark-haired hero Chaykin design, respectively), and that cowardly bank guy who totally screwed the museum. A head is ripped off right before our eyes, as is Hawkgirl's top. There's cosmic visions and barbed wire. Chaykin's layouts aren't any more complex than what's to be seen in New Avengers, but his lines seem much more powerful, Khimaera's face attaining a nearly Frank Miller level of ragged scowl as the bruises and scratches on various bodies pile up.

As you might have already guessed, this is pretty much the polar opposite of a modern 'polished' superhero comic. The narrative style is largely resistant to the status quo of trade pacing for both better and worse - stuff happens in every issue, but there's going to be plenty of repetition in the eventual trade - and the plotting seems unconcerned with anything but giving Kendra monsters and criminals to fight while building up an issue-by-issue backstory of simple greed and pulp horror malevolence. It's sometimes clumsy, and I'm sure the hard-luck heroine's inability to win decisive victories will continue to grate on some. A male supporting cast member dies to give the female hero something to fight for, though this is no more interesting in its gender roles than it would be otherwise - and besides, we are looking at a heroine in a lacy bra fighting a scary bikini monster woman to the finish.

But you know, I guess I just find the texture of it all pleasing. Something about the old-fashioned roughness of Simonson's writing and the inky drive of Chaykin's art, I think. There are better evocations of older superhero comics on the stands today, but I keep finding something to bring me back in this series, something that would almost surely vanish if the creative team was different. Even comparing this to the week's other Chaykin book, I couldn't say it was all that much better, taking both on their own merits. Yet when things are that close, I tend to side with superhero power, solid blows, haphazard fun. Call it a victory of tie breaking.


On the stands and otherwise.

*So let’s say you happened to peek at my Best of 2005 list back when I linked to it Monday night. You verified that, yes indeed, Epileptic was my #1 book of the year, and then your eyes drifted over the rest of it. What’s this at #3? Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs? What the hell is that?

Don’t sweat it! You’re not the first to ask me! It’s a beautiful, deluxe collection of comics and artworks by Ben Jones and the art collective he belongs to, Paper Rad (siblings Jacob and Jessica Ciocci round out the group - they also have a dvd out!). It’s a fine book, filled with “good laughs, compelling personalities, and a winning sense of aesthetic purpose, as if the act of creating art is not merely fun and healthy, but vital to human spirituality and the very order of the cosmos.” So I said in my piece. Tom Spurgeon also praised Jones’ work in particular as “beautiful, intuitive comics stories… shorn of all pretension” in his own Top 50 of 2005 (the book landed at #19).

I’ve not seen a copy of the book in any comics store. I ordered mine directly from PictureBox Inc. I wasn’t sure if Diamond had ever carried it, or if PictureBox honcho Dan Nadel (also author of Art out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 and co-editor of the new magazine Comics Comics) had even submitted it for distribution.

The answers can now be seen at the Comics Comics blog - it apparently wasn’t submitted to Diamond upon publication, but it later was, and the book - along with everything else PictureBox submitted for distribution - was rejected for release.

On the grounds of low quality, from what Nadel’s quoting.

Yep, according to selections from Diamond’s rejection forms as provided to Nadel, Ben Jones’ writing is “not up to comic industry standards.” Interested in Frank Santoro’s Incanto, maybe after reading Derik Badman’s laudatory review (“Like a spell it is magical, dreamlike, and affective, and reading it fills me with delight at the imagery.”)? Diamond, from what Nadel has provided of their notice, thinks the art is “too rough.” And never mind the brand-new teaming of Jones and Santoro, the 12-issue pamphlet-format miniseries Cold Heat - “The format you have chosen for your title is unpopular with collectors and retailers.” But… what about readers?!

Ok, ok - cheap shot. I know.

Hey, Diamond can reject any damn thing it wants. It can even speak in terms of what the industry (that galumphing mass of uniformity, I guess!) holds to standard. I’m just letting everyone here know where some of these acclaimed books can be found, and where they cannot. The links above will guide your hand, dear reader.

DCU: Brave New World


Once upon a time, there was an 80-page comic book called DCU: Brave New World. It was only one dollar, and served to acquaint readers to a quintet of upcoming miniseries and a single fresh ongoing book via six 11-page stories by the new creative teams. And bring back the Monitor in a four-page framing sequence. And then I got a copy and reviewed it, and stopped writing in the past tense for a few paragraphs.

Framing Sequence I: The Monitor’s clockwork orange of a satellite headquarters appears out of nowhere and smashes a plain vanilla satellite in Earth’s orbit. There are many captions about how huge Infinite Crisis was and how awesome upcoming storylines are going to be, and the pillars of creation may yet again shake and all that, but nothing on who’s paying for that satellite. Actually I hope all of the Monitor’s future appearances involve his breaking expensive things - that would be a neat character tic. Keep him away from the Wayne family china!

Martian Manhunter: This is awful. I mean that in several ways. It's already not a good sign when I initially can't even figure out what's happening on the first three pages of an 11-page story. Not in a 'the story is dropping me right into the action!' way, but a 'bad staging, lousy perspectives, poor compositional choices' manner, and the resolution as to what's happening on the last two pages is hopelessly muddled by earlier visual shortcuts and a jarring, jumpy set of flashbacks-within-flashbacks. That's just the page-to-page mechanics. I have no idea how much of this story is relying on the reader's prior knowledge of DCU happenings to bolster the premise, but once you think about it you've got a loser either way - if I'm expected to know about the Martian Manhunter's recent exploits to take anything out of the story, then it's a pretty lousy introduction to a new series to put in a sampler pamphlet. And if the story is meant to stand alone, it simply doesn't work; there's a badly-mounted chase, a hastily executed projection of the character's basic backstory, a rash of speechmaking without anything at all in the story to support its revelations in an emotional sense, and a new costume, I guess. I don't care. And I don't see how anyone not already invested in the Martian Manhunter could care. Maybe that says it all.

OMAC: This is no great shakes either, but at least Renato Guedes' art and color offer the proceedings a few good panels of heavy realist posing - the slightly stiff postures, overacted character expressions, and bleached colors bring to my mind Tony Harris' work on Ex Machina, though Guedes doesn't have quite as good a grip on the illusion-of-movement demands of action-stocked storytelling, his chase sequences kind of flat. Still, he does add as much as he could to Bruce Jones' script, which is distracting enough in its dialogue's drifting from awkward urban patois ("Kick it, we don't have much time!") to stolid superhero declarations ("They don't care about innocents!") in the same character, never mind the slapdash plotting (a great way to escape a fleet of flying robots: run around a parking garage hoping to find someone who just happened to leave their keys in the ignition!) and a general feeling of nothing gained or said whatsoever. The cherry on top is the ending, revealing that everything we've seen was just a narcotics-induced reverie - not a bad Just Say No message, if staying off the shit means avoiding stories like these for another eight issues. Awesome visual detail with that smooch, though.

Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters: Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, from ideas and concepts by Grant Morrison. Nice that Morrison is getting credit for his famous notebooks of revision - I wonder if that'll hold for the entirety of the upcoming eight-issue series? I'll have to check that on the stands, as this stuff doesn't look very good - if I gaze really hard, I can sort of make out a loud, goofy superhero satire on current events, maybe a lighter corrective to Marvel's Civil War, but there's no denying that this material is shrill and preachy, with a pretty blonde Blüdhaven survivor making eloquent statements about some War on Terror conflict while a fat, balding, smirking guy in a truck makes vaguely racist comments and mutters "There ought to be a draft" before throwing out his young passenger in retaliation for standing up to his views. Thank goodness our young friend meets up with Uncle Sam, who's all ready to go to war against Father Time, who's busy stripping away the civil liberties of those he cannot control. We know this because a character tells us point-blank, by the way. Also featuring art by Daniel Acuña that might have looked nice had the murky coloring not obscured it.

The Creeper: I did not expect this one to be the best of the lot - shows what I know. With Steve Niles on the script (and given the concept) I’d expected something along the lines of a horror-tinged superhero book, probably spiced with campy humor. Penciller Justiniano, inker Walden Wong, and colorist Chris Chuckry certainly manage to whip up the sort of sweaty, fangs-and-brimstone atmosphere I tend to associate with the writer’s projects from IDW and the like. Imagine my surprise to find a witty, clever little superhero story, lively and quick and complete - everything you need to know about the Creeper is right in here, his appeal is duly conveyed, the creative team’s overarching concept is ably transmitted, all in the form of a nice beginning-middle-end superhero tale. Basically, the story is about the Steve Ditko-created Jack Ryder, now a nasty television news pundit, a sort of liberal Sean Hannity, hosting the aptly-titled ‘You Are WRONG,’ while zipping around having fun as the cackling yellow-skinned crusader who teaches him the value of responsibility. He must prevent a senator’s assassination, escape from the all-seeing world media’s eye in time to transform, and throw the law off his tail by becoming his own personal J. Jonah Jameson, his audience rapt before his every word. Good fun, almost certainly a solid enough concept to fill out the oncoming six-issue miniseries.

The All-New Atom: This, on the other hand, seemed like the best bet going in, if only from the weight of the names on it. Written by Gail Simone, from ideas & concepts by busy Grant Morrison, with pencils by John Byrne, who does still know how to provide some pleasing action visuals for my money (he’s inked by Trevor Scott). It's still a strong introduction, much better in execution to the prior Morrison concept provided, but it'll have to settle for second best. The Atom (all-new!) is now a college boy, thrust through all manner of sci-fi troubles to test out the latest campus inventions by a troupe of eccentric professors - Our Hero ends up foiling a nefarious plot by a bunch of sub-microscopic invaders who're trying to mind-control the President's beloved dog Duster. Plenty of energetic talk of the Doughnut Model of time, and hard-light energy, and the Scottish: "It's filthy the way they prance about, sans restraining garments about the nethers." Actually, the tone of this one retains more than a whisper of a certain Scotsman's zip, though writer Simone offers plenty of playful flavoring of her own, adorning the dialogue via footnote with helpful quotes from noted historical personalities, fictional and otherwise. If any of these stores had to be made an ongoing series, I'm pretty glad it's this one. Nice start.

Trials of Shazam!: And you can't have Grant Morrison present in the background of almost a third of the book without triggering certain feelings upon the arrival of artist Howard Porter. He was the primary penciller for Morrison's JLA, and I always found his curiously modeled visuals to be more distracting than pleasurable. But a glimpse at this upcoming 12-issue miniseries reveals a very different Porter, a man of smoother lines and rich, painterly hues (he provides all visual input save for lettering). I'm not sure how such a lacquered approach might have worked in the past, but it seems fitting for this new project, looking at the Captain Marvel family from a certain mythic standpoint. Of course, writer Judd Winick doesn't provide any information beyond the most basic of setup - we get a summary of past events, then the same shadowed premise stretched out over the viewpoints of three characters. To be continued! It might be crap, but at least the art's looking fitting from here.

Framing Sequence II: The Monitor addresses the reader for a page, assuring them that there’s a “great danger” on the horizon. Then there’s a double-page splash of four additional Monitors, power-walking in circles, glaring accusingly at one another, pointing to lights, and maybe sending interdimensional YouTube links to the Watcher (that one has his back turned). Collectively, they are called - logically enough - the Monitors. And then the satellite base transforms into a disco and the Monitors debut their new music single, though that part occurred after I closed the book and shut my eyes.


Gosh, I don't have a lot of time for this.

*Short today.

*I'll cop to being amused by this short feature at The Onion AV Club, nominally a list of villains unlikely to turn up in future Superman movies, though the actual content focuses mainly on the political concerns of various eras of the comics, all of them tackled in a doggedly direct manner, perhaps somewhat similar to that of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (it's been a long time, maybe I'm misremembering); surely the $300 million (or over) Superman Returns will be keeping its aesthetic glossy and its social commentary under the cape. But silly as these old comics (and movies) are, there's a certain heart-on-their-sleeve appeal that stands out as oddly affecting to me in these days of expounding on the veiled sociopolitical implications of the latest big screen special effects smash. So often there seems to be little examination of value, and plenty of hollow political value-twirling. Tom Spurgeon has a nice little piece up on what he detects as "agenda-making and masked dialogue" concerning not only the coverage of the latest films, but the current conversation as to comics events as well.

Oh hell, maybe I'm just hankering for the return of Mark Pillow.

*My current favorite comic in the world: issue #2 of the Gilbert Hernandez-edited pamphlet-format anthology series Measles, which was published by Fantagraphics from 1998-2001. There were eight issues in total. It was intended as an all-ages showcase for assorted creators, including Hernandez himself, brothers Jaime and Mario, plus Steven Weissman, Sam Henderson Rick Altergott, Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge, Ariel Bordeaux, Johnny Ryan, Joost Swarte, and Lewis Trondheim. Quite a lineup, though it's really only one story that puts issue #2 over the top for me.

It's this great six-page The New Adventures of Venus story by Beto, in which the young title heroine and Aunt Fritz wander around a desolate old sci-fi themed amusement park, dressed in costumes for the full effect. The rest of the (sparse) crowd is in plain attire, but that doesn't quash Venus' and Fritz's fun as they activate aged talking attractions, and peek into weathered novelty houses to admire alien sculptures gone to seed. It's all really a marvel of atmosphere, Hernandez's skies overcast and grass always blowing - the reader can smell the storm coming in, even as little Venus extracts perfectly honest fun from beaten-down old things. But it's not that she's too young to see the rot - as her mother remarks at home, "Actually, when I was little that place made me so sad." It's just her personality. And you need the place to play off her personality - the story is primarily dedicated to evoking the feeling of being somewhere, and allowing the reader to plug in their own feelings and experiences to play off of what little is provided by the characters. And Hernandez's craft is too perfect to allow the delicate tone of the piece to tip too far any one way. It's all what you take out of it.

Yeah, just a really top-flight short. That's the kind of thing I dig through bargain bins hoping to find. I got that book for a quarter, and it's pleased me to no end...


Holy slop! It's another week!

*These days keep going faster and faster.


Continuity (new AiT/Planet Lar release, mostly suggesting that its creative team has the capacity to create better things in the future)

All Star Superman #4

Eternals #1 (of 6)

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #2 (of 3)

Wasteland #1 (pre-release review - new ongoing post-cataclysm adventure series from Oni, about what you'd expect)

Even when they don't feel fast.

*A few releases have snuck up on us -


Babel #2: From Fantagraphics. Book of the week, very little doubt. The latest chapter in David B.'s expansive examination of violence, history, communication, and all the world's epilepsy - it's kind of a sister work to the masterful Epileptic, but far broader in its metaphorical scope. The last issue of this (released by Drawn & Quarterly) was my #2 book of 2004. The collected Epileptic was my #1 book of 2005. Ignatz format, $7.95 for 32 pages, and I'll be stunned if it's not worth every penny.

Southland Tales Book 1 (of 3): Two Roads Diverge: A co-production of Graphitti Designs, Kevin Smith's View Askew Productions, and creator/writer Richard Kelly's Darko Entertainment, this is the 96-page, $12.95 initial chapter of a satirical sci-fi multimedia extravaganza. You might have already heard of another segment of the project, the 160-minute Kelly-directed Southland Tales movie, which was frostily received at Cannes and is now unlikely to appear in US theaters without significant edits (but at least it has a US distributor, Universal, which puts it a step ahead of the likes of Terry Gilliam's Tideland). These comics all take place prior to the film on the grand project timeline, so at least now there's plenty of room for everything to get ready. Art by Brett Weldele of AiT/Planet Lar's Couscous Express and Top Shelf's The Surrogates. Preview and info here.

Dragon Head Vol. 3 (of 10): More claustrophobia and physical/mental decay from Minetaro Mochizuki's survival horror showcase. More tunnel!

Lady Snowblood Vol. 4 (of 4): Retribution Part 2 (of 2): Obviously, Dark Horse has realized that there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ Kazuo Koike, so we get two fat books of stuff this week. First, there’s the grand finale to this 1972-73 swordfights-at-the-dawn-of-modernization saga, with Kazuo Kamimura providing elegantly cutting visuals. Our Heroine rains hell down on the villains, as the wild spirit of a tamed nation rises to lay bare the still-atrocious crimes of man, now clad in a new finery. Or at least that’s how it went in Vol. 1, and how Dark Horse suggests it’s still going in their preview - I can never keep up with all these Koike historical throat-slitters.

Path of the Assassin Vol. 1 (of 15): Serving in the Dark: But don’t fret, Goseki Kojima fans! Those rough lines also have a place this week, as the 1978-84 re-teaming of the Lone Wolf and Cub/Samurai Executioner team kicks off. Keep the former of those past exploits in mind, as writer Koike has cannily whipped up another young-old duo of fighters - Tokugawa Ieyasu, future shogun, and the legendary Hattori Hanzo, master ninja. Dark Horse has a preview for this too, but given the 38 volumes of prior work by these two, I think we all know what to expect.

Hawkgirl #53: But watch your back, Koike - Howard Chaykin also has two releases this week (albeit about 560 less pages in cumulative length)! First up, we have another installment of this series, which I still think is endearingly silly and old-fashioned, though I recognize I’m in a rather extreme minority at this point. If you like Chaykin, savor him while you can - he’s apparently still on the book through at least September, but that’s the month he’s becoming the artist for Marvel’s new Blade series, so don’t expect him to stick around much longer.

New Avengers #21: Also on tap, a special one-off teaming with Brian Michael Bendis, as this big money series launches into a spread of standalone tie-ins to Civil War. This one follows Captain America, as he fights things in an angry, Civil War-related manner. Have some b&w preview art. Clearly, Chaykin is leaping into a new phase of his career, one far more friendly to both superheroes and providing art for other writers - he’s going to have illustrated more outside scripts this year that he has in the last decade. But there’ll be some solo work too, like November’s two-issue Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage miniseries. I’m really waiting for that new Black Kiss series he’s supposed to be cooking up, myself.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Paranoid #3 (of 3): Nearing the end of the second wave of Avatar horror license books from New Line. The third wave will feature a slew of 'Fearbook' one-shots, mostly from altered creative teams, and Escape of the Living Dead's Dheeraj Verma will be stepping in for Juan Jose Ryp - writer Brian Pulido will remain on writing, the only series he'll stick with in the third wave. Be sure to check out this Verma interview at Newsarama, which is interesting in both its focus on the Indian comics scene and the artist's own perceptions, often emphasizing his interest in comics for children, though all of his English-language work has been very much for adults.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Grind #2 (of 3): It really is odd that all of these books seem to arrive in packs. I've managed to convince myself that it's a release strategy on Avatar's part, meant to diffuse the feeling of lateness surrounding these titles by putting out clumps of them at a time. I have no backing for any of these notions, sorry.

Eternals by Jack Kirby: For those wild 'n crazy Jack Kirby fans, or those who've been inspired by Neil Gaiman to spend huge stacks of dollar bills on old comics, here's a $75, 392-page hardcover collecting all 20 issues of The Eternals that Kirby made from 1976-78 (that's 19 regular issues and an annual), which I believe comprises the complete original series.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #6: I believe this thing has an initial 12-issue lifespan on it, right? It is a nice little structural gesture, then, that the conclusion to Our Heroes' big clash with H.A.T.E. itself arrives at the halfway mark. Will writer Warren Ellis be taking things in a new direction after this? Does any 'direction' really matter with this book?

Solo #11: Sergio Aragonés! Joined by regular collaborator Mark Evanier! Yes, this is guaranteed to be an amusing, good-natured outing for this not-long-for-the-world series.

52 #8 (of 52): Oh man, what’s Donna gonna tell me about this week?!

DCU: Brave New World: Ah, this one’s sure to provide fodder for future histories of the DCU, not to mention a cheap ($1 for 80 pages) lead-in to a bunch of new series. Here’s the full lineup, and a preview. “Plus, witness the shocking return of a character you never thought you'd see again!” Yeah, unless it’s the robot Shadow or Alan Moore or something, I don’t know how shocked I can be at this point.


Coming up eventually...

Wasteland #1

This is a new b&w ongoing series from Oni. The first issue is a double-sized 48 pages, priced at $2.99, and will be out in July.

It's a minimal, action-heavy piece, filling in the barest outlines of a general concept while sketching in a few characters to presumably wander across the series' post-cataclysm world through an indeterminate number of future issues. It's always interesting for me to see a publisher like Oni leaping into pamphlet-format ongoing - their current identity seems dominated by original graphic novels like Scott Pilgrim or limited series like Local or My Inner Bimbo. It's enough that I sometimes forget that Oni is publishing Queen & Country in its various comics forms - one of those projects, Queen & Country: Declassified III, actually saw an earlier pairing of the creative team for this book, writer Antony Johnston and artist Christopher Mitten.

And what those two have created is a fair enough distraction of a book, not particularly excellent in any manner, but affirmatively clear of overt failing. Just straight-up middlebrow ruined civilization fighting, no more and no less. I've no idea what's planned for future issues; Oni's solicitation insists that the series "bends genres and conventions in a way that only comics can" though this initial outlay doesn't wander much farther from post-disaster adventure wildness than its townsfolk do from their dusty village.

Naturally, there's a dusty village. There's also a mystery man who wanders in, a trader/scavenger named Michael who's prone to getting into fights with the monstrous sand-eaters that wander the outskirts of civilized places. He's a seemingly amoral, self-centered fellow, but naturally he falls in with the local healer/sheriff, Abi, and winds up standing with the good citizens as they defend their lives from an encroaching danger. There's also a strange letter promising of mythic places to find in the future, some curious high technology that appears to stand in contrast to the otherwise unsophisticated ways of the current human world, and a taste of mystic powers running through some of the cast.

All of it goes about how you'd expect - Johnston makes sure to emphasize the spiritual connection between old west yarns and post-apocalypse fictions, strange dangers and shadowed strangers and lawlessness running through both. But these genres have been so close for so long that their unity seems to go without saying, not as much a bond as a self-evident whole. Artist Mitten provides a scratchy touch, lots of white space employed to convey the the expansive nature of the environment, the action adequately handled. I enjoyed the stylized look given to Michael in full face protection gear (the same mug that Ben Templesmith plasters across the cover), a pair of yawning googly eyes floating against a black sea of hair and shade - not a bad choice of image to brand the series with, a taste of shorthand genre flavor.

I expect fans of the genre will enjoy said flavor the most, though. Wasteland is the type of comic that is sturdy enough to appeal to those who're predisposed to interest in such things, but probably won't muster enough individuality or excellence to firmly tip those on the fence over to the purchasing side. Future issues might have something else readied, but the extra space of this one only provides more room for the typical (if never impoverished) to rustle about in. Give it a look when it appears, if it sounds like your speed.


Here are many beautiful things for your weekend.

*Anime Dept: Oh YouTube, you bottomless treasure chest of excerpted beauty! Just look at what’s up there now, and NOT SAFE FOR WORK - five big bad action clips from Mad Bull 34, a 1990-92 series of four 46-50 minute OVA releases, later put out on videocassette in the US and UK by Manga Video, and widely considered to be one of the trashiest non-porno anime to ever receive a proper English-language release. It’s never appeared on R1 dvd, and I have no idea who has the license these days (it's no longer Manga). The ‘plot’ follows John ‘Sleepy’ Estes and his green partner Diazaburo ‘Eddie’ Ban, a pair of NYC cops walking the meanest beat in the history of time. Diazaburo is a good-hearted kid, always willing to play it by the book, but hulking Sleepy knows the real nature of the streets, and delivers burning hot justice from the barrel of his shotgun, at least when he’s not reading perps their rights - with his fists!! He’s also a noted wrangler of prostitutes, but don’t worry! He only uses his big pimpin’ income to fund valuable social programs! And all the people he shoots are bad. And sometimes there’s tanks and monsters and cyborgs.

The anime only managed to cover a handful of Sleepy and Diazaburo’s adventures, culled from the 1986-90 manga of the same title by Mr. Prolific himself, Kazuo Koike, with Inoue Noriyoshi on art. Scanlations are floating around of some of the earlier chapters (torrent-only at the moment, it seems), but those who’re familiar with the Koike of Crying Freeman and like will kind of know what to expect, although Mad Bull 34 pushes things so far over the top that it’s essentially farcical. Needless to say, the anime is very much toned down, despite the freedom of the OVA format, though be sure to enjoy the jaw-slackening Chinese accents of the dub. That’s entertainment!

*Michael Jackson Dept: If Sleepy isn’t to your liking, however, I guess there’s always 1985's Captain EO. Man, I never got to see that thing in its intended 3D laser light extravaganza form, and I sure hope the special out-of-screen effects covered for the rest of it, because it's pretty dull. Pretty expensive, too, at one point holding a world record for most expensive film, minute-by-minute (well over $15 million for 17 minutes, though I think the whole enhanced theatrical setup got factored into that). As far as I'm concerned it still holds the world record for fastest journey of an antic sidekick from 'sorta amusing' to 'Jesus Christ I want him fed to space bears.' Oh Hooter, won't you ever learn?! Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, co-written by George Lucas. I did kinda dig Anjelica Huston in high-camp overdrive as the main villain. The whole thing was eventually adapted to comics form in Eclipse 3-D Special #18. This is all not to be confused with the Tim Vigil comic EO, which featured a man having sex with a corpse and eating its heart. It wasn't in 3D, so it might not have as much appeal to the Captain EO fanbase.

Of more value is a later Jackson promotional effort, 1997's Ghosts, directed by Stan Winston from an idea by Stephen King. Sure, it's 40 or so minutes of songs and dances and special effects, but it's somewhat interesting for its potent defensive streak, with Jackson starring as both a misunderstood magical entertainer whom many think is creepy, and a mean Caucasian mayor who hates 'freaks.' The kids love Michael, though adults (hey, it's Mos Def!) just don't understand! In the end, everyone learns to appreciate good Mr. Jackson's talents, even if he's scary sometimes. Yes.

*Manga Dept: Who can forget Nintendo Power? Back in the day, every young NES fool would be watching their mailbox each month for a fresh dose of promotion and hype and maps and things. And comics! Everyone remembers Howard & Nester (hell, they even did a Golgo 13 takeoff), but today I know the real magic happened in issues #32-43, which featured mighty twin manga from two very different sources. First, there was Super Mario Adventures, written by none other than Kentaro Takekuma of Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga fame (the art was by Charlie Nozawa). Pretty nice.

But the real deal? The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, by the beloved Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of Cyborg 009 and many other classics. I had know idea who the guy was at the time, but boy does this stuff bring back the memories now. It seems that this material got released online in PDF form by the official Zelda site a while back, but the link above has converted it into a friendlier format.

*Critique Dept: And since I brought up old Duke Togo above, I'll finish things off here with a link to a very nice review by Keith of Teleport City, covering The Professional: Golgo 13, that 1983 anime feature (oh, how we've come full circle today!) based on the manga we all know and love. The linked piece goes into much detail regarding the film's genre antecedents (not to mention the 1977 live-action Sonny Chiba effort), and offers up some good extra info on creator Takao Saito's prior effort at adapting James Bond (loosely) to the comics form. Hell, why not look at more of Keith's reviews of vintage anime? They're nice stuff. Crusher Joe is aces, by the way.

*Deals Dept: Ah, what the hell? I'm on a roll, so I'll keep going long enough to bring you to AnimEigo's summer sale! Craploads of anime dvds for under ten bucks! Like Crusher Joe! Four hours of stuff on that one! And The Dagger of Kamui! Oh god, Arcadia of My Youth! Plus - tons of Lone Wolf & Cub and Zatoichi and Lady Snowblood films for under fifteen bucks! I think shipping is free as well (via media mail)! Pay little money for many things!


Another four from the tomb.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #2 (of 3)

Another go for this ad-free b&w Marvel MAX miniseries dedicated to horror comics adaptations of prose and poetry, the original works also presented in their entirety for easy comparison. This is far enough away from anything else Marvel is publishing that the sales of issue #1, just over 14,500 copies to the Direct Market, won’t come as all that much of a surprise, though it should be noted that had any of the smaller publishers that could conceivably have released exactly the same material actually done so, these numbers would have been rather healthy. I can imagine, for example, IDW releasing precisely the same book (minus the Haunt of Horror brand on the title), at an identical $3.99 price point - over 14,500 copies would have made this book their highest non-Transformers seller for the month. Or Dark Horse - it would have been their sixth-highest seller for the month, below assorted Conan, Star Wars, and Hellboy-related books. Not bad for Edgar Allen Poe!

Ha, of course I’m talking silly here. This book couldn’t have hoped to have done such numbers without the Marvel name and the company’s instant Direct Market appeal, hardly enough to make a blockbuster out of anything (they can’t even do that for mutant books anymore) but still of the needed potency to launch a batch of b&w horror adaptations a little higher than one can imagine it going otherwise. The most apt comparison, then, would be with the last time Marvel tried this: Stoker’s Dracula, a four-issue adaptation from Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano that debuted in October of 2004 at just over 18,000 copies (it would conclude in March of the following year at under 9000 copies of the final issue). Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe is a MAX book, however, which might have limited its grasp, plus couldn’t profit from the appeal of an old team reuniting to finish off a big project started decades before. I don’t think it’s lagging that far behind, then.

What I’m getting at is that Marvel does have the ability to get works like this a little extra push, a little more instant visibility in the Direct Market. I presume they’re also keeping an eye on bookstores - I’ve seen more than a few copies of Stoker’s Dracula floating around chain stores, and certainly the timing of this release seems primed to getting stuff out for a Halloween tie-in hardcover. People ought to be looking for this material wherever, because they’re good comics, too. That Dracula book provided a smooth, crisply-paced, faithful rendition of the original novel, charmingly rendered in a tastefully low-key ‘spooky’ manner. This series is practically the polar opposite, twisting and crunching Poe’s works into the form of unrepentantly trashy, lowdown horror shorts, the art of Richard Corben oscillating between chilly, ink-black atmosphere and lurid pulp grue.

It’s no less engaging, though, so good is Corben at what he does.

Take, for example, the adaptation of Poe’s Eulalie, the story's first page warning us "This ain't exactly your Daddy's Edgar Allen Poe--!" Sure enough, Corben and writer Rick Dahl (who once again is, for some reason, absent from the official credits in the front of the book) are more than happy to pervert Poe's short ode to love into a grossly amusing saga of an old man having a grand old time with a new blow-up doll. Needless to say, Corben gets the romantic shadow just right as Our Hero lovingly gazes into his inanimate paramour's perpetually agape mouth. The objective is pure dissonance, he words of Poe rendered delusional (though not forcedly so) by the necessary visual element. And it's funny, at least to me.

Probably a more respectable effort is the Rich Margopoulos-scripted The Tell-Tale Heart, executed by Corben as in experiment in panel-free storytelling, the whole tale told in six full-page images, the gestures of characters and the movement of sound effects and the staging of action and the positioning of captions marvelously used to direct the reader's eye easily over every display. It's enough of a visual tour de force that one almost doesn't pick up on the odd changes made to the story, for no discernible reason other than to convert it into a cornily ironic pre-Code type horror yarn, though such a move does fit in with the general drive of the series. I suppose I just find it more pleasing when Corben and company utilize a minimal source, freeing them to stretch out a little more.

For example, there's Spirits of the Dead, which in Poe's verse serves mainly to reflect upon the gnawing presence of mortality in the night. Corben's and Dahl's comic, devoting one page to each of the poem's five stanzas (plus an additional wordless page), transforms it into a Civil War-era (that's the Blue & the Gray, not Spider-Man removing Alberto Gonzales's mask) fable about dead Union troops rising to save a black comrade from the clutches of the Ku Klux Klan. Or The Lake, an ode to self-effacing solitude, converted into a saga of decayed love and decayed bodies rising up for a haunting. Camp? Yes. But in those creepy visions of Corben's art, it often seems that a hidden heart, a beating, hideous heart, is being pulled up from not merely Poe's work, but the notion of 'Poe' itself. The Poe that Corben sees in his head, death rattling all around in even the nicer poems. We can see whose name is in the title of this thing, but it's plain whose eyes we're staring through, I find myself liking the experience.


It's still forever in here.

*52 Dept: Week 7 wasn’t all that great an issue, for a number of reasons. For one thing, this issue's visuals (by current The Flash: Fastest Man Alive artist Ken Lashley and art collective ‘Draxhall’) are the first to cross the line from nondescript and somewhat awkwardly positioned to outright unattractive, with dour, stiff figures frowning their way through murky shadows and sometimes jarring perspectives. I suppose this team might have been chosen for the content of this week's story, involving a scolding Ralph Dibny popping over to Booster's for a nice round of blame and castigation. Oh, Booster gets what's coming to him this time, but it can't really resound while ensconced in a thick wrap of hammering shouts and turgid melodrama. But hey, at least we're explicitly reminded about how extremely important the unforgettable events of Identity Crisis were, eh?

Elsewhere, there's a little more interest. Montoya visits the Future Batwoman Estate for an extremely active encounter, punches flying and brows caressing as Renee's narration purrs "I could always press her buttons. And she could always press mine." It's all pretty silly, but at least silly in an engaging, punchy way. The real entertainment for me, though, still lies in Our Castaways and their adventures in Eden, now complete with sinister fruit (offered to Adam, no less) to match the serpent in the garden. It seems that time passes slower on that faraway world, allowing the creative team to cheat a little bit with their storytelling constraints. And on that note, it's still pretty neat how everyone finds ways to keep things humming along in real time, allowing characters like Montoya, who'd otherwise be up and running quickly after a big fight, to heal like actual human beings for once. It's pretty cute.

As for the story in the back, I’ll just concur with Abhay’s opinion:

Meanwhile, in the back-up feature, horrible comics are summarized by a horrible comic, creating something akin to the hall of mirror shot in the finale of Citizen Kane, if all of the mirrors were reflecting a big piece of turd instead of Charles Foster Kane. Which is what Orson Welles wanted to do in his first draft but RKO had ‘notes’ so…”


Eternals #1 (of 6)

I haven’t read any of the Jack Kirby material that this new Marvel miniseries aims to revive (although next week will bring a $75 hardcover promising to catch those of us with access to such funds up), but I’ve certainly perused some Jack Kirby revivals in my day. Most pertinent at the moment, I think, is the Grant Morrison-written Mister Miracle, part of the Seven Soldiers project, and strikingly similar to this new book. You’ve got your Kirby cosmic heroes and villains, brought down to Earth by circumstances unknown. You’ve got visions of grand war in space, contrasted against the mundane concerns of human living. You’ve got flashes of superpowers and the dazzle of media celebrity. You’ve got one hero badly hurt by sinister forces, some of which are posing as healers. You’ve even got knowing parallels drawn to Christian thought and tradition. It almost seems that Gaiman is constructing an ‘answer’ to DC man Morrison’s New Gods runaround by whipping up a reincarnation of the King’s mythic Marvel saga.

But then, I don’t know what comics Gaiman reads. I’ve certainly heard nothing on the topic ever stated by any of the primary parties. And yet - having read both, I’m compelled toward drawing comparisons, so similar are some of the surface elements, and so different what’s done with them.

It won’t come as a surprise to any that Gaiman’s book is vastly more straightforward than Morrison’s, but it’s worth emphasizing that this is a very well-constructed, carefully considered first issue, utterly attuned to the potential concerns of the audience, and carefully balanced to offer maximum access to as many as possible. At an extra-long 39 story pages, the reader gets a concise, understandable rundown of the core Eternals concept, a good variety of characters immediately set up with logical conflicts, a handful of canon tidbits that serve to directly enhance one’s understanding of said conflicts, and a broad sense of where this revamp might be going, both in terms of plot and theme. Time will tell how future issues will fill out the story - Morrison’s book improved when read as a completed whole, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this pamphlet makes for a far more intriguing and satisfying initial chapter than what was seen before.

So we’ve got characters like Ikaris and Makkari and Thena and Sersi and Druig and Sprite, all of them having filled up new roles in the human world, seemingly none of them totally aware of their identities save for Ikaris, though bits of their true personalities seem to be bubbling up. Some of them are struggling to make ends meet, while others are respected personalities or outright stars. But evil is also afoot, possibly the remaining Deviants, and eventually more than the beleaguered 'Ike' will have to realize what's going on. But for now, we learn of Sersi's business as a party planner, which is tied to some sort of scheme by Vorozheikan official Druig, which already has netted Thena, who's currently working for - Tony Stark. Yes, Gaiman is even game enough to plant this all firmly in the current Marvel U, with several references to the current Civil War served up as backing.

That's also worth noting, as Gaiman's use of Civil War isn't really concerned with the particulars of whose side Stark is on or the fallout of Spider-Man taking off his pants in front of everyone (or whatever it was he removed) - here, it's boiled down to pure political symbolism, governmental pressure on super-liberty applied via not impassioned declaration but cheese culture, reality television bent toward delivering the message of authority to the people with a spoonful of sugar. Gaiman even turns the tables in the story proper, titling the issue Intelligent Design, and slyly placing our in-continuity acceptance of the more dodgy bits of the overall concept in the context of pure devout belief.

Really! Skeptics like 'Mark Curry' are asleep to the truth within them, and dismiss true believers like 'Ike Harris' as religious nuts. They use logic to dismiss seemingly impossible things, while brushing aside the presence of miracles. But their lack of belief won't stop the creeping evil that infects this fallen world, aided by the wisdom of the glorious children of On High! Why, there's was even once the threat of a good old-fashioned Judgment Day, the Celestials ready to dump the lot of us into a regular Lake of Fire if our human ways proved too wicked. If Morrison gave Mister Miracle a Last Temptation before his escape from the Anti-Life Equation stuffed world, a personal conquest of the individual's Hell, Gaiman smartly taps in to a different brand of Christianity, the hard-preachin' fire-and-brimstone side of that other Kirby creation as the writer sees it. Another potent connection between the two and a sign of Gaiman's interest in the material. Nice Chariots of the Gods reference too.

And nice art. Penciler John Romita Jr. proves adept at both the high combat and the quiet conflicts, his lovely character art perfect for strange semi-gods itchy in human roles. There's two inkers (Danny Miki with Tim Townsend) and three colorists (Matt Hollingsworth with Dean White & Paul Mounts) credited, but nothing looks rushed or clashing, the deep, bold hues of mighty creation and the slightly dull tone of Earth life complimentary and fitting. Romita and company seem to 'get' Gaiman's story approach, and it works to the point where even the expected too-cute-by-half bits (this being a Neil Gaiman script, after all) like Sersi's meeting with Abi come off as natural looking, even if nobody can quite settle on what color the latter's underwear ought to be.

So yes, a good first issue. A strong thematic 'take' on the material, and a clever, intuitive construction. I sort of liked 1602 when it started as well, but it was never as good as this. I'll be looking forward to more.


This Book Has Not Stopped Being Good

All Star Superman #4


Though note that I’m mostly throwing up that warning because it’s certainly best to wander into this issue knowing absolutely nothing about what’s going to happen. It’s just one of those books where the sheer manic drive of it all provides a good source of the pleasure, watching writer Grant Morrison dropping Superman and company into situations, the particulars slapped together from seemingly incompatible fragments of Supercanon, yet made to work beautifully. Just seeing it all in action is almost like witnessing a supremely confident live performer go through an act, every twist and turn of the presentation not outstanding for its objective content but from the cumulative effect of the sheer occasion.

Of course, Morrison has other tricks up his sleeve for later. But primarily, this is a comic for gulping down in the parking lot, page after page flying, just so you can witness where the damned thing is going to go next. And very few of those places are necessarily new, but all of them are freshly considered, and supercharged with delight for their particular positioning. And even that kind of thing is hardly innovative, but I can’t recall seeing it pulled off better than it is here.

So what we have is the expected ‘Jimmy Olsen and his zany antics’ issue, though it’s all mixed up with a fractured Death of Superman homage, complete with an All Star version of preeminent '90s shit-for-brains behemoth Doomsday. There’s also all the usual All Star Superman themes, as set up in earlier issues, plus clever revisions and updates of smaller concepts, and even a tiny whiff of industry critique. It all absolutely shines, thanks to Morrison’s wit, his skill with quiet characterization, and penciler Frank Quitely’s often brilliantly subtle art, not that such things prevent him from cranking out a massive fight sequence when necessary.

The actual plot outline is pure Silver Age cheese, with Jimmy encountering wacky transformations on assignment for the Daily Planet, eventually meeting up with his good buddy Superman and (once again) proving his worth as a friend. I’ve really enjoyed the little tastes of All Star Jimmy as doled out in earlier issues, but this full-length adventure surpassed even my high expectations in terms of character handling: Morrison’s Jimmy is delightfully recast as a low-nutrition weekend lifestyle reporter, surely lower on the respectability totem pole than Clark Kent’s “honest-to-god, get-your-hands-dirty, old school journalism” but wildly popular, transforming Superman’s pal into a divisive geek chic star, the sort of lad who can go out in public in a sweater vest and bow tie, with impossibly elaborate and carefully molded ‘messy’ hair, and never feel like he’s anything less than tops. But one never gets the feeling that Jimmy is a posuer - he’s just confident that the world has finally gotten around to appreciating his innate value, though not all the world agrees:

I love your ‘For a Day’ columns… they take 7 minutes to read, which, quite coincidentally, is the time I, personally, require on the toilet.”

So ‘jokes’ returning character Space Wonka (ok, Director Quintum), whom, as Barbelith has already observed, hands out a veritable Golden Ticket to Jimmy, giving him free reign over that vaguely sinister sci-fi advancements lab, P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Seeing as how every time Superman gets mixed up with these folks deadly mayhem ensues, I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to expect some slow-cooking revelations to boil up around issue #10 or so. But for now, Superman winds up getting hauled out to save Jimmy, only to transform into an understandably evil opposite version of himself.

It’s kind of like Bizarro, especially the ultra-logical ‘mass murder is the opposite of a vow against killing’ Bizarro glimpsed in Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? But Morrison rebuilds the concept from the ground up by examining every aspect, positing that the opposite of Superman would also be vain, and would gradually lose strength in the clinch, and wouldn’t speak eloquently, and would cry and cower when confronted with his own mortality. And through this, Morrison slips in some great characterization (as glimpsed via mirror), revealing Superman’s inner strength in facing his series-wide glide toward doom by showing how badly his opposite acts.

This is also where Quitely absolutely shines. Pay close attention to the character art here. Not just Clark Kent’s always-excellent milquetoast sitting style, or Jimmy’s frantic leaps through the air, but the way the afflicted Superman’s cape gets caught between his legs when he lifts a car, or how it clumsily covers his shoulder after throwing said vehicle. His very poise is the opposite of Superman’s as well - he looks like how you or I would if given superpowers and made to fight, while the real Superman remains cool and calm and straightened out. It’s just superb, story-enhancing detail, above and beyond the more immediate pleasures of Quitely’s grasp of how fast Superman goes, our vision often only catching him as a red and blue bolt at the edge of a panel, his wake filling up the rest.

Anyway, Jimmy decides he needs to unleash Doomsday to stop the madness - it turns out that the monster (who has cute spine-covered word balloons to match the opposite Superman's appropriate white-letters-on-black design) was created by Superman himself as a strategy to stop him if things ever got bad. Does that cover 'bad sales' too? Soon that infamous clash is revisited, complete with a finale by the Daily Planet building, two inarticulate bruisers hitting one another and teetering on the edge of giving in to their darkest impulses. Luckily, a silly, candy-colored thing from the past arrives to symbolize enduring, old-school friendship, and everything turns out ok, Superman forced to face his mortality once again, with yet another close friend (Jimmy rather than Lois), and deep feelings are almost revealed. Jimmy's howl of "Don't let anybody see him like this! You hear me?" thus rips open for public viewing the depth of feeling possible in such excursions into kitsch.

And that's maybe Morrison's and Quitely's most exquisite achievement in this series thus far.

Oh, I should remind you that all of this is often really funny, and works perfectly as a nice done-in-one story if you've never heard of Doomsday or anything. There's lots of neat little bits, some of them almost spooky; I expect the throwaway line about guys wanting to date Jimmy is a reference to that supposed draft of a fifth Superman movie that recast Mr. Olsen as a homosexual, but it seems oddly relevant today in the wake of conversation over the 'gayness' of the actual Superman Returns. Jimmy's teasing, materialistic girlfriend provides a cute, corny set of bookends. There's more. All in 22 pages.

Some first-class superhero comics, this.


That Dream of Better Things


This original b&w graphic novel is from AiT/Planet Lar. It should be in stores tomorrow. It’s $12.95 for 104 pages.

And for the first 14 or so of those pages, I was immersed in a certain sensation, one no doubt familiar to many seasoned back-issue bin divers. There’s this sprawling semi-future city, bedecked with corporate slogans. Seemingly every blocky contour of an ominous security helicopter has been dutifully filled in, each page’s visuals cluttered with dirty skyscrapers and lurid human grotesqueries. You can’t at all call it a polished approach, but there’s a filthy immediacy to the images of heavily-armed storm troopers and pervasive advertisements for tasty peanut butter and chocolate uppers and opiates. A band of rebels takes down a delivery truck, and a firefight results in spilled guts and exploding heads. It’s like some strange, lost b&w boom project, its creative team’s heads stuffed with cyberpunk notions and bloody ambition - damn the polish! You can almost see the airbrushed color cover. There’s a scent to these things, the decaying pulp innards of it all, even when it’s new like this.

Continuity then turns into something else, basically a teen angst rendition of The Lathe of Heaven, with punk touches and a less ambitious inquiring doctor. And maybe that’s a more sophisticated route for the book to take, with its peeks into personal emotion and its themes of the subjectivity of personal reality, but I don’t think the choice pays off much. This is a frustrating book, made by people with fairly good instincts and not quite the aptitude to successfully send the thing where they seem to want it to go. I can grasp the ideas, sense the emotion behind it all, but the execution simply isn’t there, and the experience is thus unsatisfying.

The book comes from PopImage columnist Jason McNamara and artist Tony Talbert; the two had previously worked together on the self-published superhero miniseries Less Than Hero (not to be confused with the David Yurkovich collection Less Than Heroes from Top Shelf), and recently received a March 2006 Xeric Grant for their upcoming First Moon. There’s also been some interesting publicity surrounding the project, which was released in its entirety online by the publisher a ways back - this got the book a goodly amount of attention, though those who’re not inclined to put up with the bulky PDF format will probably be checking it out first on the stands of their local shop. Time will tell how this latest Larry Young strategy will pay off in terms of sales, though the publicity surrounding the event did keep the book’s title in my personal mind’s eye in the weeks leading to its release.

The story concerns young Alicia, whose dreams unfortunately affect the current of reality in the manner of a particularly cruel genie twisting wishes into curses. A school outcast and one of the only two punks in town, she dreams of romantic and erotic reverie with a privileged school hottie, but she only winds up (actually) pregnant from her unprotected (dream) activities. Later she dreams of pills that will take away her problems, and she wakes up in a pharmaceutical corporate wasteland. She nods off after witnessing police brutality, and poof - gun-toting thugs with badges rule the streets. The story is largely structured as a series of extended flashbacks, though, as Alicia relates her tale of woe to a possibly sinister Jungian psychoanalyst whose house she’s broken into. I haven’t read Ursula K. Le Guin’s somewhat similarly-premised prose book (I’ve only seen the 1980 television movie), and I don’t know if McNamara has read it either, but there does seem to be a few amusing plays on the general themes and character relationships going on between the two works, though I may just be reaching.

The problem is, the book itself is reaching toward a certain resonance that it can't quite manage. Panel-by-panel conversations are often awkwardly mounted, characters prone to spitting out their feelings in declarations of purpose, even while remaining positioned as nervous or immature. Individual situations, while surely heartfelt, are greatly prone to cliché, from the mean rich kids at school who laugh at Our Heroine's poetry and sneer at her low social position, to the wise leader of the band of impoverished street folk whom Alicia falls in with belting out lines like "The worst they can do is kill you. Once you get past that there's nothing to fear" and "If you can live for and appreciate the moments, then the big picture will end up painting itself." Needless to say, The Man soon comes cracking down, and then it's time for a little revolution on the streets.

I did like the revolution bits, let me remind you, but they're only used as fodder for Alicia's personal story, which comes off as merely clumsy and struck from well-worn materials in its totality. That everything is built from a teenager's dreams is maybe the canniest of the book's moves - how many of us wouldn't cook up a world of loving outsiders and wicked adults if our minds were let loose? But that doesn't make the story any more interesting in its presentation of a teenager's mindset, as the fragments of said consciousness are things we've all seen before, and for the most part presented better. Even Talbert's art seems to flounder in the more quiet sequences of personal agony and less fantastic street living - only in the wrinkles of a sickly future can his haggard lines really connect. Everything else seems a little tired, and there's a lot of 'everything else' here.

Still, I'll be on the lookout for First Moon, as this team does have potential. The very ending of this book is pretty effective, wrapping up writer McNamara's theme of life being constructed of personal impressions quite neatly, and with not a lack of cleverness. But you will have to sit for climactic exclamations like "You didn't make me. I'm my own person!" and a follow-up "Of course. A unique snowflake... in a uniform, doing what he's told." Eventually, I hope, that road will get less bumpy, or perhaps remain bumpy in not so basic a pattern. I wait.



*Mandatory Dept: Ok, first things first: Osamu Tezuka’s short films! Yes, the manga and anime legend made some nice cartoon shorts, and now you can watch two excellent exhibits. There’s 1984’s Jumping, and 1985’s Broken-Down Film. The latter is filled with great gags, and the former made me kind of dizzy, even at YouTube resolution, and I actually exclaimed “Holy shit!!” to my uncaring computer during the bit with the chickens. Watch them both. Tezuka is known for his fascinating experimentation in the short anime form - his most famous piece, 1987’s Legend of the Forest, told an ecological fable while visually traversing the history of world animation in 29 minutes. There’s a US videotape release of it floating around somewhere.

But if you want further instant viewing, there’s always the weird Tezuka-produced Male from 1962, and the lengthy (38 minute) Tezuka-written The Story of a Certain Street Corner from the same year. Also, I have no idea what the hell this is, but it’s goddamned awesome, so you should watch it too. Oh, just watch them all. (partially found at TCJ)

*Ok, now that we’re done with that -


Super F*ckers #277 (but really it's the third issue of James Kochalka's high-spirited teen superhero smasher - good times)

Mineshaft #17 (a magazine to seek out, loaded with stuff from many underground greats)

Ethel & Ernest (& the passage of time)

I feel so naughty breaking up my routine! Ooooooh!

*Very nice Warren Ellis interview up at Newsarama, all about the past and future of Desolation Jones. This chat stands out from the pack thanks to some fascinating information from Ellis on how each script in a given comic ought to be tailored to the specific strengths of whatever artist is attached (obviously this won’t always work in Big Two superhero comics, but all of Ellis’ examples come from his non-superhero work, so it’s useful to presume that’s where he’s coming from). Thus, if J.H. Williams III exits the book, all the scripts that have been completed for upcoming issues need to be torn apart and reassembled, as Danijel Zezelj is a totally different guy (all of this is ironic, as Jones began its life being written ‘blind,’ with no knowledge of who might be providing art).

The artist carries the load of first-impression - anyone picking up a book for the first time and seeing bad pages is going to say, ‘wow, that guy can't draw comics,’ not, ‘Jesus, the writer really screwed that page progression up,’ or ‘My God, the writer just crushed that guy into the ground with those eleven off-grid panels, seeing as the artist's not George Perez or Matt Wagner…’”

Interesting reading, and tomorrow promises a chat with Williams, looking back on his time with the book.

*Forward Thinking Dept: Three things.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier is finally set for release in October. It’s hardcover, $29.99, 208 pages, and will feature the Tijuana Bible bonus and the 3D glasses. Looks like no musical element, unfortunately.

Kramers Ergot 6 is set for August. The preview section at the Buenaventura Press site has been revised with new images, including a tasty glimpse of pre-Tezuka manga superstar Suiho Tagawa, whose works will receive a generous airing.

Alice in Sunderland, the new Bryan Talbot graphic novel, is apparently coming out February 2007, from Dark Horse in the US, and Jonathan Cape in the UK. That's from Rich Johnston, quoting Talbot himself. Be sure to read the whole thing for a nice 'yellow light' tidbit about Grant Morrison holding 52 hostage, the ransom being the eventual publication of Seaguy 2.

*Oh boy, there’s certainly enough to think about for the more immediate future…


Casanova #1: Jumbo-sized, $1.99 debut issue for Matt Fraction’s and Gabriel Ba’s new ongoing series from Image. Good, dense reading. I reviewed it here. You should buy it.

Continuity: A new urban fantasy-horror book from Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert, published by AiT/Planet Lar. Review tomorrow.

MOME Vol. 4: The Spring/Summer issue of the Fantagraphics anthology, boasting a new 30-page story from David B. I really can't rave enough about his superb story in the previous volume, a magical folk tale about religion and madness and talking geese - all the things that make comics good! This new one's called Veiled Prophet and I don't expect David B. to let anyone down. Be tantalized here. Also featuring the rest of the sick crew, as detailed here.

110 Per¢: New Top Shelf release from Tony Consiglio, "a humorous and scathing commentary on the American obsession with celebrity culture" as the publisher puts it. It's about middle-aged women obsessed with a pop group, and Consiglio comes much recommended.

I Love Led Zepplin: Says it all, eh? A collection of comics from Ellen Forney, published by Fantagraphics. I had a laugh at the preview, featuring a wide variety of personalities like Margaret Cho and Camille Paglia, and pro tips on safe toking and the successful twirling of tassels. Looks good.

The Comic Book Holocaust: Hey, I just mentioned this yesterday. It’s Johnny Ryan’s collection of sketchbook-style parodies of comics and the people who make them, from Buenaventura Press for a measly $9.95. I hear some of the jokes are dirty.

My Most Secret Desire: Freshly reworked edition of Julie Doucet's 1995 collection of dream comics, culled from the pages of her beloved Dirty Plotte series. Doucet is largely absent from the comics scene these days, though Drawn & Quarterly did release her Lady Pep art book not long ago. They're behind this one too, and fans probably won't want to miss out on this expanded tome.

Octopus Girl Vol. 2 (of 4): I’ve still not read the first installment of this Toru Yamazaki manga from Dark Horse, but I’ve been assured it’s funny, revoltingly gory anarchy from start to finish. I’ve never seen it in a bookstore, oddly.

Golgo 13 Vol. 3 (of 13): Power to the People: Oh, but I know I’ve seen this - it’s been in bookstores for weeks now. I reviewed it here, and at least half of it is delightful stuff.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vol. 3 (of 18): This has been around too, but I’ve not gotten to buying it yet. Money’s a wee bit tight, you see. If it’s anything like the last two volumes, there’ll be great suspense and probably lots of people weeping or something.

Eternals #1 (of 6): Inevitably going to be a ‘off the rack preview’ purchase, if indeed I purchase it at all. Surely we all know of this John Romita Jr. illustrated final obligation of writer Neil Gaiman’s two-series deal with Marvel. It’s based on the Jack Kirby characters, and finds Gaiman back on the familiar ground of tremendously aged secret cosmic entities confronting things about themselves, apparently after a long absence. This introductory issue is 48 pages for $3.99. The thing is, Gaiman’s hit and miss with me, and the first product of his Marvel deal, 1602, was very much a miss. I do recall sort of enjoying it for the first two issues or so, playing the ‘spot the character in ye olde garb’ game, but swiftly thereafter came the sick, sinking feeling that I’d already grasped Gaiman’s one and only idea for the book - sure enough, the rest of it was a dishwater-dull slog through ultra-typical universe-shaking superhero team-up tropes, dotted with, concededly, a couple flashes of interesting characterization, and seriously weighed down by smeary, indistinct art from Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove. Never mind the irritating non-ending, which didn’t feel like naked sequel begging so much as the creative team simply running out of pages. But hey, maybe Big Time Superheroes knocked Gaiman off balance. This is plainly more in his comfort zone, and the preview looks decent. We’ll see.

All Star Superman #4: No hesitation about this one. It’s the Jimmy Olsen issue, and I’ve really enjoyed what writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely have done with the character in his sparse appearances thus far. I hear there are many transformations and zany antics in store, so it should be well worth the usual wait. I mean, just look at this.

52 #7 (of 52): Unlike other books Grant Morrison is involved with, this series has not fallen off schedule yet.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #2 (of 3): I don’t even want to think about how this b&w Richard Corben horror showcase series is selling, even with the handy Marvel mark on it, but it’s mostly good, weird old-school grue and atmosphere, MAX rating present and accounted for. It’s better when it’s merely ‘inspired by’ Poe. This time we’ve got The Tell-Tale Heart, Spirits of the Dead, Eulalie, and The Lake. As usual, the Poe originals will also be included for you, and there’s no ads for your $3.99. Seek it out, horror fans!


All Our Paternal Definitions

*If only every post could start off with a fine tune.

*Ah, all the answers are back! Tom Spurgeon has a very special interview with Johnny Ryan up, one that’s comprised entirely of Ryan answering questions taken from Gary Groth’s infamous 1980 The Comics Journal interview with Harlan Ellison. Also included is a preview of Ryan’s upcoming The Comic Book Holocaust, a Buenaventura Press collection of single-page comics parodies that used to guarantee a multi-page ripper of a thread on the Comics Journal board whenever a new one would be published.

*Holiday Dept: Well, today was Father’s Day, as my mother made sure to inform me via telephone call at the crack of dawn (noon). She needn’t have bothered with the reminder, though, as merchants all across the land have made sure to set up at least one promotional stand hyping up the fatherliness of the occasion. Purchase Dad these great Charles Bronson dvds! Why not get Dad some delicious barbecue sauce? Nothing says ‘having sired a child’ like books on military history! The absolute best was when I was perusing the ‘DAD DAD DAD’ display at Borders, and came across a sleek new edition of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Well, my father has been meaning to finish up his conquest of the State of Chu…

Ethel & Ernest

But if we're going to talk about fathers, parents really, before the mass of consumer and popular culture, it ought to be useful to examine Raymond Briggs' 1998 graphic novel, a deceptively outlined, pointillist chronicle of the mutual life of the author's parents. Pantheon put out the current US edition in 2001, an attractive $15 softcover, and it should be easy enough to obtain. I had been told that it's quite the moving book, but my initial reading was swiftly commandeered by an acute awareness of structure, a sensation that had the curious effect of plunging me deeper into the book, rather than acting as the distancing force one might expect.

Put simply, Ethel & Ernest is almost entirely about the simple interactions of average (Nick Hornby suggests archetypical in his back cover blurb) people, remaining oddly cozy as time blasts forward, unrelenting yet difficult to feel in its passing, life recalled as a series of short events, items and properties and technologies and vivid focusing events popping to the fore as the parade of everyday existence marches forward. Almost nothing in this book is held onto for more than a pair of pages, the story split into four decade-spanning chapters, with a pair of bookending sequences added. The tome as a whole is only 104 pages long, so you can imagine how cluttered the book might become, how disjointed it potentially might feel.

But Briggs (a longtime children's storybook veteran, perhaps best known in comics for his 1982 nuclear devastation piece When the Wind Blows) understands the limits of his format, and opts to knowingly skim the surface of history - after all, how many of us truly experience more than the daintiest dab of a century's rush? The limits of the page count (and perhaps the limits of the art form) are thus folded into a successful portrait of average people perceiving things averagely. Ernest meets Ethel by chance as the latter is at work as a maid to rich ladies. Soon, she quits her job and the two are married, and they move into a fine new home with four windows in the bedroom and a separate bath and everything. They live through the '30s, and a son is born. The '40s arrive, along with the War - prior to that, they'd known Hitler only through what could be gleaned from the news. They're not political people anyway, though Ernest's brother is a Communist, and he's certainly a bit more Labour-oriented than the Churchill-admiring Ethel. But war mostly hits them when young Raymond must be spirited off to the country in the face of air raids, or when they don't have quite enough food rationed. Life goes on, though - the decades go by faster and faster.

And I mean that literally, as Briggs makes each chapter/decade shorter than the one prior, gently collapsing the ongoings of a peaceful life into briefer and briefer sets of vignettes, all of them heavy on conversations. Ethel and Ernest talk a lot in this book, their dialogues sometimes set below a page's panels for maximum space. Voice is extremely important to Briggs, as he navigates old slang and carefully apportioned inflections of pride and naiveté to arrive at what feels like lived-in chats, which go on and on, sometimes wrapping around to reprises in later years. Look at the new radio! I've heard of a washing tub that does the washing for you! People on the moon! Will you look at that? Sometimes, moments of raw emotion rumble across such personal geography - a narrowly-avoided air disaster, Ernest weeping in Ethel's arms over a nasty blaze down at the Docks, or the façade of their lovely home smashed up in the War. We see that exterior many times over the course of the book, a symbol of the consistency of life. Of the march.

It can seem superficial, like Briggs is maddeningly in refusal to look deeper into anything, lest the sweep of his book be upset. But the real power of this story derives from that very sweep, and that very 'superficiality' - life as an ever-quickening mass of swift experiences, adding up to something that we can hardly hope to grasp for ourselves. The tinny ring of idle conversation is really the stuff of so much of what we can hope to recall of ourselves, perversely more authentic then a 'proper' narrative might be. It's an approach built for shortform comics (those bursts of events and those talks hanging in the air), and Briggs' often lavish color visuals pulse with the all warmth and expression that can be injected into this timeline, his character art particularly lovely, dot eyes and lines of surprise sometimes giving way to pure iconography, a police detective's mug only a mustache below his nose. And the lettering is prone to leaping outward, balloons trembling with emotion and sentences becoming jagged with anger.

Finally, as the coda is reached, and life ends (as it must), Briggs escorts his visuals into symbolic, mystic territory, as his structures pay off in the final pages. Life slows back down, as it does in times of crisis. One parent passes away first, as it goes, and suddenly the dialogues are gone. Tiny, lonely word balloons impotently pierce large, vivid panels. And then, more death, and the symbols of the past suddenly appear in the present, an archaic form of dress inexplicably appearing on a collapsing form, the author suddenly depected as a child again, and never seen straight-on to his face for the remainder of the story, and an animal bursting out through a closed winter door into a fine garden, all to commemorate the soul's escape from the linearity of mortal time (and I'm a sucker for that image if there ever was one: Tarkovsky's dreamy The Mirror, Ridely Scott's rainy ashen future of Blade Runner - hell, it even worked in Caligula).

All there is at the end is the façade, and a tree. Things left half-noticed as our parents grow up on us.

But that is Briggs' map of conjoined lives. Fine talks, fine silly talks, and all the beauty of municipality and society as out backdrop. Is that the only way Briggs can recall his father and mother? Will we recall ours in any other way? Will we institute arcs upon them, or will we stand in the breeze of totality?

Ah, it's all valid, I expect.

It's what we bring to it, you know?

Happy long-gone Father's Day. The calendar kept on while I was typing this.