All right then.

*Cinema Originals Dept: This might be something - it’s the extended trailer for Special, a 2006 indy ‘superhero’ movie from neophytes Hal Haberman & Jeremy Passmore (both of them write and direct), which apparently played at Sundance this year though I don’t believe it’s picked up a US distributer yet. It stars Michael Rapaport as a depressed man who takes an experimental antidepressant that convinces him that he’s obtained amazing abilities. Or has he really? It’s a dark comedy; I enjoyed the gradual accumulation of bruises and bumps that show on Rapaport’s body as the trailer moves onward, and the use of special effects seems nicely understated.

*This weekend is surely the time for rapid reviews of completely random comics I happened to read recently. Yes, I know one of my ‘rapid’ reviews is four paragraphs long. I like to think of them as rapids in a river, rushing forward.

Dream Police #1 (of 1): A curious 2005 one-shot from Marvel’s creator-owned line, Icon. You might know of Icon as a close-to-the-breast home for preexisting works by favored Marvel talents (Powers, Kabuki), or even a launching pad for new series by established House of Ideas favorites (the upcoming Criminal, from Ed Brubaker and his old Sleeper cohort Sean Phillips), but Dream Police doesn’t really fit into those categories - it’s a seemingly random humor book that exists with no overt connection to anything else in writer J. Michael Straczynski’s then or current slate of projects. A simple $3.99 whimsy, with art by Mike Deodato and a plot that wanders around riffing for 34 pages of story (the ads bump it up to 48) without another thought in its head.

It’s kind of nice to encounter a miscellaneous comic of this sort just laying around amidst other wide-release Direct Market offerings. Granted, I only actually paid twenty-five cents for it, but it was well worth the gumball. Really, this might be the optimal way to experience the book - fast, cheap, yet possessed of the market penetration that only a Big Two-connected book can manage. And since an isolated one-shot of this sort has little chance of being collected anytime soon, a bargain bin might be the only place to find it anymore, just one year later.

The plot is very silly, but conductive to episodic adventures of the type supplied: Joe Thursday and Frank Stanford are Dream Police, cops who prowl the hazily-defined environs of the unconscious, a mirror dimension of archetypes that seems to exist atop the waking world (or at least a US urban section thereof), yet invisible from it. They track down rogue dream imps giving nuns erotic reveries, talk negligent wisps into returning to their roles as people’s reminisces of loved ones, and even contend with ‘vivid’ dreamers, who sometimes seek to control the fabric of their imaginings to destructive purposes. Don’t go thinking there’s anything of particular nuance or depth going on, though - the focus is on light philosophy and Dragnet-derived patois and genial gags, like defeating a giant monster by causing an errant dreamer to wet the bed, an accordant unconscious river of urine sloshing into to wash away the trouble.

Maybe it’s the Dragnet connection, but it was all extremely reminiscent to me of an old Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons 5-pager from 2000 AD titled Chrono-Cops (and I notice such similarity was noted at the time of the book’s release as well), which plopped those familiar cop archetypes into a time-travel scenario and absolutely milked it for everything it had. Dream Police is a much more leisurely, indulgent pursuit, certainly less successful but under less pressure to dazzle as well, not being the product of a weekly anthology stuffed with creators. I sure liked Deodato’s art, filled with appealingly molded characters and amusing city visions, and Straczynski’s jokes landed enough to keep me smiling. Ah, such are the lessened expectations of the quarter bin! I don’t know how I’d have reacted had I shelled out four bucks for this, but that’s not the reality I faced. And as I said before, it might be the only reality for this book anymore.

Nosferatu: This one-shot, however, I got from the dollar bin - that’s still a good ways down from its cover price of $3.95 for 64 b&w pages, which is what publisher Dark Horse charged in 1991. I bought it entirely on the strength of writer/artist Philippe Druillet (Humanoids co-founder, Métal Hurlant co-creator, and author of Lone Sloane), and I was greatly impressed. Unlike with Dream Police, I’d recommend you search this one out even if it puts you out more than an individual selection off the value menu at your favorite fast-food place.

The title might suggest a vampire story to you, and indeed that’s sort of what it is - except Druillet drops his vampire into a ruinous future where there’s no maidens to feed on, no townsfolk to terrorize, and little in general to do other than sit around, forage for what little food is available, and go stir-crazy. It’s funny. Indeed, parts of it seem blocked off into three-page comedy skits, as if the work was at first serialized in tiny bursts, only to be later completed in larger portions. But this is despairing, rueful comedy, packed with bizarre and futile acts and self-laceration on the part of the title character. He avoids strange mutants called 'cripples,' attempts to find love with an abandoned sex doll, leads a group of dog-like creatures into war with a giant monster (only to run away), builds a spaceship, transforms into a robot, and quotes liberally from Charles Baudelaire, at least when he's not musing thoughts like:

"I got him! I got him! These cripples are stupid. Their name suits them well. The cripples! Ha! Ha! What am I saying? I'm the one who's stupid. I'm going to die alone. Go insane. Stupid cripples."

It's great, literate fun. And I'm sure I don't need to tell you how lovely Druillet's visuals are, a lot of fine work done with solid black shadows and slicing panel borders. There's also an essay (by 'Rodolphe') on the history of vampires in legend, literature, and F.W. Murnau's famous film. Quite a nice little package, just the thing I'm always glad to stumble upon in the bins.

Yuggoth Creatures #3 (of 3): The third and final issue of Avatar’s annual Lovecraft-inspired b&w art anthology. Not that it was meant to be an annual – actually it was conceived as a monthly, and I’m pretty sure the gargantuan gaps between issues have made the earlier chapters somewhat hard to find, though I’m not even sure you need to read prior issues to get a grip on where it’s all going. Yes, Antony Johnston’s script does move the various and sundry stories forward on a chronological line, eventually giving the reader a cook’s tour of Lovecraftian sights and names, but this is mainly a series about moments. And monsters. The overarching plot sees one Prof. Ericsson telling his life story to a Geoffrey Carlisle, a journey of 39 years that has our intrepid academic observing and fleeing from Dagon, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and all your favorite smaller beasties, over the course of five or six vignettes per issue. But it’s the monsters that matter, not the Professor, though Johnston’s writing is perfectly smooth (and probably loaded with Easter Eggs for bigger Lovecraft fans than I).

And if you happen to like Avatar’s various house artists, pretty much all of them are on hand to whip up some tentacles and jaws. This issue has Dheeraj Verma (Escape of the Living Dead), Sebastian Fiumara (Alan Moore’s Hypothetical Lizard), Mike Wolfer (the Strange Killings series), Jacen Burrows (Garth Ennis’ 303), Juan Jose Ryp (Warren Ellis’ Wolfskin), and Andres Guinaldo (Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive-In) – all six artists have also been featured in both earlier issues, where they were joined by Matt Martin (issue #1) and Wellington Alves (issue #2). I particularly enjoyed Fiumara’s gorgeously stark images, employing a charcoal-like effect that’s unlike anything else I’ve seen from him, and Ryp’s expectedly overloaded panoramas, largely used in this issue for effectively grotesque cityscapes (I always feel he works better in color, where some of the obsessive detail can be smothered into a greater overall coherency). Unfortunately, there is a certain concern for concluding the overall plot at work here that leaves some artists, most evidently Burrows, handling mostly exposition and scene-settings, which seem like a bit of a waste in a high-spirited monster-mash project like this one. Worth looking into for fans of the artists, though.

Moon Knight #1: Director’s Cut: Not really sure why I bought this one; I guess I heard enough people talking about it that I decided to give it a spin myself. Obviously it’s been a success as far as sales go – launching at 103,670 copies and still hanging on at just below 70,000, the series (now up to issue #4) is pulling in numbers previously believed unattainable for, well, something like Moon Knight. The comic itself, scripted by Charlie Huston, is an extraordinarily simple affair, fifteen out of its twenty-three story pages devoted to Moon Knight beating the shit out of criminals in a violent yet non-lethal fashion, while the character’s ongoing narration attempts to convince the reader that Moon Knight as a character and concept is really cool. Smacks a bit of desperation, but it was sort of working for me until Moon Knight compared his costume to a priest’s “investments” rather than ‘vestments’ – so is Khonshu publicly traded? Closely-held? What kind of options does Moon Knight have? Not many, actually, since the big issue-ending, series-setting twist reveals that the whole story actually took place in the fevered imaginings of a crippled, ruined Mark Spector! Wakka wakka wakka!

This version of issue #1 is also labeled a Director’s Cut, presumably because everyone involved with it dearly wishes they were working in a different medium, one that has things like ‘directors’ to work on ‘cuts.’ Not that it would have done them any good, since a Director’s Cut generally presumes that something in the work itself has been altered, which I don’t believe is the case here – we actually just get a handful of cover sketches and previews by penciler David Finch, inker Danny Miki, and colorist Frank D’Armata, plus the full issue script by Huston (which actually uses ‘vestments’ correctly, so I don’t know what the hell happened with the finished page itself). It’s always fun to read the script of a comic, if only to check out all the instructions writers try to give their artists – here, Huston sets out a neat little schema regarding levels of visual realism to employ at certain points of the book, not much of which ever comes through in the finished art, it must be said. Still, Finch’s pencils serve the majority of the material well enough: big, meaty gobs of action for a big, long fight scene. And Huston’s dialogue/narration is handled with enough skill that the blood ‘n thunder doesn’t pitter out into whining. If you’re into straight-up, grim & gritty superhero fisticuffs, you could do worse than this.