So while I’ve been vacationing and discussing the state of the funnybook business, the funnybooks themselves have been piling up. I’ve got a couple months’ worth of backlog sitting on my desk here, and it’s time to clear that out. So, without further ado… CAPSULEREVIEWSAREGO!!!
Providence 3&4, by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
As Alan Moore gets deeper into his story here, the structure of the thing becomes clear. He’s giving us a tour of Lovecraft Country, drawing connections as he goes between the various evil wizards and pagan space-god cults that dot the author’s New England landscape. As an amateur Lovecraft scholar myself, I can see where it’s all heading now, and that leaves me both excited and mildly disappointed. Excited, because it’s so much fun spotting these characters as they appear, and disappointed because much of the mystery of the thing has now been dispelled.
I suppose I’ll have to content myself with admiring Moore’s craft here, which is as always pretty damned impressive. He’s handling the gender double-speak of his closeted gay hero with aplomb, keeping the nature of his romantic entanglements obscure even in the private journal entries we’re getting in the back of each issue. He’s becoming less open, in fact, the deeper he gets into the countryside and the more he feels like an outsider.
The depths of his closeted nature become more apparent over time, as well; in issue three, we learn that he’s Jewish. Or that he has “some Jewish ancestors,” as he puts it in a flustered response to someone who “smells” it on him (the weird cannibal guy from “The Picture in the House,” for any Lovecraft aficionados reading this). That plays out in a very weird prophetic dream he has that envisions the Nazi concentration camps, conflating the gay subculture with the Jewish. “Hebrewsexuals” winding up in the showers together, that sort of thing. Brr. Nice to see that Moore hasn’t lost his ability to horrify.
Well, that wasn’t much of a “capsule,” I don’t suppose. Or, actually… Considering how much there is to talk about with Providence, maybe it is. At any rate. I’ll have to get a bit less verbose if I’m going to whittle this stack down to size…
Injection 4&5, by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey
This one continues to be a slow burn, with even the series’ first climax unfolding at a deliberate pace that accentuates the horror. Which is all good as far as I’m concerned; that’s not something you see very often anymore, and I like it. I also, increasingly, like the book’s premise: a team of geniuses let loose an AI that thinks it’s something out of British myth. Or that at least chooses to communicate as if it thinks that. Or that, maybe, actually IS something out of British myth, given a foothold in reality by the AI. Every time I decide it’s one thing, Ellis throws in something else that makes me wonder if it’s another. I like that uncertainty. Am I reading sci-fi or supernatural horror?
Or some kind of steampunk fantasy bollocks?
I don’t know, and that is a wonderful thing.
Casanova: Acedia 3&4, by Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon
As the new Casanova series unfolds, I’m slowly coming to realize that it’s a lot more complex than I initially thought. In fact, as I sat down to peruse these issues for review, it hit me that it might be time to re-read the whole thing in one go before the next issue comes out. Hmm. At any rate, these two issues deal primarily with the life of Emil Boutique, told piecemeal, jumping around as memories tend to do, filling in details as they go. But there’s a lot more going on here than I thought, and my head’s starting to spin. I was so captivated by issue four’s tale of war and refugees, for instance, that I completely forgot the cliffhanger ending of issue three.
And it doesn’t help that Fraction’s mixing and matching characters and names and concepts here, riffing back and forth on who all these people are now, and who they used to be in previous volumes, some switching sides, at least one switching genders, and others conspicuous by their absence. It’s the uncertainty again. That feeling that I’m barely keeping it together as a reader, and don’t quite actually know what’s really going on, but trusting based on past experience that it’ll all come together in the end. Knowing, in fact, that when I sit down for that re-read, that so much will come spilling out of the pages that I hadn’t seen before, hadn’t realized.
I love that feeling. This is why I read.
Mind MGMT 36/New MGMT 1, by Matt Kindt
My favorite new series of the last few years has, in spite of that cover, come to a close with an uncharacteristically… upbeat issue that sees Meru establishing a new Field Manual that stresses mental health over paranoia, and helping people rather than controlling them. It’s a bright new day… except for a queasy ending that includes a censored prediction of the reader’s own death, and might… just might… imply that this whole issue was something other than reality.
It was awesome, in other words.
Sex Criminals 11 & 12, by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
The least pornographic sex comic ever has returned from hiatus, with a new storyline in which Our Heroes go in search of other people like themselves (which is to say, people who can stop time with their genitalia). It’s an interesting change from the intensely character-driven direction the series had gone in before the break. That’s not a complaint or anything; the book’s just as good as ever, and it’s cool to see it expand its scope a bit. But now we have, like, tentacled cum angels…
…and that’s not a place I ever expected it to go.
Lazarus 18 & 19, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
I am always a bit nervous when a series starts to mess about with its status quo. “Things Fall Apart” is never as interesting for me as “How Things Work.” And at this point in Lazarus, things do seem to be falling apart far worse than I expected. Family Carlyle and Family Hock have gone to war, and the war’s not going well for the Carlyles. In part, that’s because Hock has managed to put Malcolm Carlyle, patriarch of the family, out of commission. His heirs are trying to run things in his stead, and the situation is proving that they’re not up to the task.
So that’s rather fascinating for me, from a How Thing Work perspective. In spite of all the training, all the preparation, all the hard-assed tough love Malcolm has shown for his kids… They may not have what it takes. Plus, there’s a bunch of military stuff going on. Guns are fired, Forever gets shot in the head…
…and her strike team pushes on without her in a sort of reverse parallel to what’s happening back at HQ. Of course, because Forever is the Lazarus of the title, she gets back up. But with things falling apart so very badly at home, I’m not sure how much good it’s going to do…
Phonogram: Immaterial Girl 1&2, by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
New Phonogram! New Phonogram focused on one of my least favorite Phonogram characters, mind you. But, still! New Phonogram! I have to be excited about that. This is one those series that, despite quite good word of mouth, didn’t sell well enough to support its creative team before they went off and made a name for themselves doing corporate spandex. But now they have, and now it’s back, and I couldn’t be happier.
Anyway, if you’ve never read it (and sales figures on the previous series say that’s actually kind of likely), Phonogram is about music and magic. It’s about a bunch of music scene kids who care about music scene kinds of things, and… You know, a lot of people probably hate this book, because of the kind of people it’s about. It can be a little like reading about snotty record store clerks sometimes, and that has to be a turn-off for some. I used to be a snotty record store clerk, though (kind of like how I’m a snotty funnybook reviewer now), and the thing I like about Phonogram is how very much it gets it right. How much, beneath the cool kid veneer, these characters genuinely love and care about the music. How much it means to them. How much it defines them. Because, yeah. That’s it, exactly.
Which is why, by way of getting back to the actual review, I’ve never been fond of Emily Aster, the immaterial girl of the title. There never seemed to be much to her beyond that cool veneer. She didn’t seem to actually care. I mean, I knew she must. If she didn’t, she couldn’t actually do magic. But her exterior was so very irritating that I kind of wasn’t looking forward to reading about her, even as I was chomping at the bit to get more Phonogram.
Of course, Gillen’s now digging in and getting at exactly why Emily is the way she is, and I’m as fascinated as ever. It seems she sold half of herself away for magical power.
It was the troubled, insecure, self-destructive half, of course, and (stories being stories) that half is now rearing its gothic head again. But somehow, now that we’ve met the Other Emily… mean and angry and vindictive as she is after being sold down the river into a world of music videos… I find that I actually like her better.
Not sure that’s what Gillen intended, but there you go…
The Wicked + The Divine 13 & 14, by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Hey! It’s those Gillen & McKelvie kids again! With their OTHER on-going series that probably irritates the crap out of people! I mean, it irritates the crap out of ME sometimes, and I really like it. This one’s about celebrity and death, which probably explains my irritation. Death, I’m okay with as a literary theme (#NONEMOREGOTH). But celebrity annoys the crap out of me. I just don’t care about the trappings of fame, or the problems that go along with them. I mean, sure, I’m sympathetic to the privacy concerns, and the paparazzi problem, and all that. But do I want to read about it? Not really. So yeah, this book irritates me sometimes. Or rather, maybe I don’t care about it as much as I might, as much as I want to, considering how well-done it often is. And THAT irritates me. I dunno.
What I DO know, though, is that issue 13 was kind of touching and sad, and added layers to the mystery at the heart of the series. And issue 14… Holy crap, issue 14. It’s composed entirely out of images from previous issues, cut and pasted together to tell a new story.
Or rather, to tell a remixed version of events from previous issues, filling in gaps in our knowledge and revealing new stuff. It’s the clip show raised to an art form. It’s pretty freaking cool, is what it is, a triumph of formalism that, if you weren’t paying close attention, you might not even realize was anything but a regular issue with some cool pop-art coloring choices on the flashbacks.
Nicely-done, gentlemen. Nicely-done.
Aaaaaannnnddd… Holy crap, those last two were anything but capsules. So I think that’s gonna have to do it for this week. I really hit the highlights there, too. Still… Looking at the stack, I’ve got plenty more to catch up on next time. So until then…