Lil' reviews that are still four paragraphs long in some cases.

*I think it’s high time I did one of those posts where I review a few of the shorter, serialized comics that came out this week, mostly because I’ve been doing a lot of mentioning of titles in the shipping list feature and then never bringing them up again save for maybe one long review of one of them. So -

Gel-Coated Review Capsules

Gutsville #1 (of 6): Kind of a small triumph of visual presentation and detail-orientation over actual plot, I think. There were a lot of little things I liked about Simon Spurrier’s script, about a small society of 19th century folk that got swallowed by a whale or something and somehow sustained and mutated their religious and social functions by building a town literally in the belly of the beast, mostly involving wordplay - “The Daily Digest,” “shitward” (all sense of direction being defined by the body they inhabit, you see), the way the upper classes self-censor their language while the drunk and ‘low’ cuss freely.

All of it’s kind of energetic and cute, and does a little to bolster the actually rather rote character notes and conflicts - there’s a young man who wants to be an artist but is forced to take his father’s job of ratcatcher, he’s at the tail-end of a forbidden romance with a bright upper-class girl who’s betrothed to the vile son of the local political/religious head. There’s racial, economic and religious strife aplenty, complete with revolutionaries disguised as conservatives, and even a black woman with seemingly magical precognitive powers who’s hated and feared as a witch. Can the young ratcatcher’s father’s secret legacy be the key to freedom??

Ideas as initially familiar as those can spread out into interesting territory over the course of 100 or so pages, mind you, and it’s not that they’re necessarily unentertaining on their own - I presume Spurrier is shooting for a style of old-fashioned melodrama to bounce off the archaic social mores on display in the guts of beast, and that’s fine, although I could have stood for even more of the world-building bits. Fortunately, we all have the art of Frazier Irving to appreciate - packed full of wrinkled men strutting around an enclosed fantasy environment in tall hats and antique finery, the visual detailing can’t help but remind one of Klarion the Witch Boy, which is perfectly fine with me. Even while a chase scene deep in the entrails of the monster comes off as slightly convoluted, Irving’s art is never less than slathered with fleshy atmosphere and dynamic character actions.

And it manages to pull off the brunt of ‘selling’ the premise and keeping it interesting enough to ensure my presence for next issue. It’s telling that the weakest bit is the bonus prose mystery serial in the back, which is neither as clever as it seems to think it is, nor funny enough to land as parody, nor particularly mysterious - it’s like the prose bits from the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen miniseries, only stripped of Alan Moore’s vainglorious language styling, which is not a fine place to be.

Wisdom #6 (of 6): In which this better-than-expected MAX miniseries (the label never much more than an excuse to jack up the price by a dollar) for Marvel mutant character Pete Wisdom draws to an unexpectedly downbeat close. The running theme of Paul Cornell’s episodic script has been Great Britain’s imaginative legacy, and this closing chapter does indeed bring it to its logical conclusion, with Those Awful Martians from H.G. Wells attempting to take over our Earth as a trundling symbol for the colonialist past of England, prompting Wisdom and company to put together a crack force of all the ‘good’ bits of British culture (the Beatles! the mighty knights of Avalon!) to repel the sins of the past.

Unfortunately, this is the first issue where I get the feeling that departed art team Trevor Hairsine & Paul Neary were sort of necessary, since replacements Manuel Garcia & Mark Farmer can’t quite manage non-stop apocalyptic action with quite the same aplomb. It all culminates in a brief flurry of bringing up and dismissing possible ways out of trouble, mainly as a means of bolstering the eventual doom and gloom of Wisdom doing his duty to save the land. As a result, it both seems somewhat thematically fitting, yet directly at odds with the otherwise jaunty tone previously established, as if a ‘serious’ ending is automatically presumed to be better. Ah well, it was still a better book than many.

Madman Atomic Comics #2: Two interesting things about this issue. First is the ‘recap’ page, which actually just redisplays the complete art for issue #1, stripped of words, and set in teeny-tiny thumbnail format. I don’t know how much utility that sort of thing will have in the future, but since last issue was mainly just its own recap of prior Madman continuity anyway, it seems fitting. For now.

Second is Mike Allred's essay in the back of the issue, a freewheeling thing that bounces from answering critics of the prior issue to explaining his personal influences to launching into a good deal of political commentary, something I don't recall Allred doing much of in the past. The actual comic, on the other hand, very much feels like something from the past - Allred is right in noting that Madman has always had an existential undercurrent, but the moody cosmic trawling of this particular storyline mainly recalls the sort of whimsical-grotesque self-analysis that the author used to do in the pages of Grafik Muzik. Laura Allred's colors have grown steadily richer and slightly more subdued over the last few years, and they respond to the storytelling quite well, even as Mike's script circles around and around notions of omnipotence and inter-dimension dreaming and fiction springing to life.

Of course, if you're here to see Madman clash with brightly-colored villains in a pop color universe, you're kinda shit out of luck for now. Lord knows what an unacclimated reader will make of it all. But this particular long-term Allred fan can't help but be somewhat intrigued by this late-period swim back toward the past, more an assessment of personal themes than a catchy superhero relaunch...