Recent Dorkiness

Stale Bread and Toasters: Catching Up On the Funnybooks of July

Too many comics! Too little time! FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!! Batman Inc #2, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham   The life and times of Talia al Ghul! This issue represents the kind of tight, concise storytelling that Morrison's so very good at, and so little known for. Aided and abetted by artist Chris Burnham (who visibly improves with each passing issue), Morrison gives us what might be our first genuine insight into Talia as a character. She's typically been defined through either her devotion to her father, or her love of Batman, but this issue economically develops her as someone equal to the arch-villainy she's heir to. Her neglectful upbringing under Ra's al Ghul mirrors her own rather distant attempts at parenting, and makes her rebellion against (and usurpation of) her father as inevitable as Damian's rebellion against her. So in just 20 pages, Morrison and Burnham have managed to empower Talia and give her a sad and all-too-believable Achilles' Heel all at once. More top-notch storytelling from the best mainstream super hero funnybook on the stands. 5 Stars Prophet #26, by Brandon Graham In five short issues, Brandon Graham has turned this book into one of my most eagerly-anticipated reads. And this time he does it all on his lonesome, maintaining the series' artistic air of bleak, truly alien ruin while injecting it with his own clean graffitti-inspired pen lines and skewed Suess-via-manga sensibilities. Among the bizarre wonders we're treated to this time are some bulbous critters called Orinthes, and the decidedly Kirbyesque Brainrock:

click to embiggen

The story follows what appears to be John Prophet's robot sidekick (?) as he awakens and sets out to get a message to “The Old Man,” in hopes of meeting up for purposes unknown. There's a dozen wonderfully strange concepts here, as there are in every issue, and it's another satisfying done-in-one story. And the hints we've been given about the world of Prophet (and this issue delivers wagon-loads of those) aren't just cool-but-purposefully-vague nonsense, but tiny pieces of a puzzle. So there's a larger story unfolding, piece by tantalizing piece, and Graham seems in no particular hurry to get all of it out in front of the reader. Which is fine by me, as long as the ride continues to be so enjoyable. Good as Graham's work is, though, it threatens to be overshadowed this issue by an amazing back-up story from Emma Rios. It captures the creep-out tone of the series to date, and caps it off with one of the book's major themes: the importance of food. It's also damn nifty to look at. Rios is one of my favorites of the new generation of funnybook artists, and she pulls out all the stops here:

Do yourself a favor: click to embiggen!

It's amazing stuff, not to be missed. In fact, you can read the whole thing at Comics Alliance, along with their stellar analysis of exactly why it's so very good:  http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/06/26/prophet-backup-emma-rios-image-comics-complete-story-analysis/ Anyway... Prophet! Good! Read it! 5 Stars The Manhattan Projects #4, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra If you're a fan of Jonathan Hickman's day job at Marvel, and you're not reading his independent work, I can only say that I am very sad for you. Because, while his super hero stuff is fun, it's still constrained by corporate need and editorial edict. It's on projects like this one that you realize how good he really is. Because here, he can veer wildly from borderline-comic scenes like this...

…to horrible sinking realizations that something is terribly, terribly wrong…

…all without missing a storytelling beat.

He’s aided and abetted here by the most excellent Nick Pitarra, whose alien designs above make me laugh every time I so much as glance at them, but who can also pull off subtleties like the stubble that differentiates Einstein Red and Einstein Blue in a way that goes well beyond the rose hues and the shocking cobalt blue.

Hickman and Pitarra are creating something really special here, a comic that uses the medium to good effect on a story that’s accessible while still pushing at the boundaries of what passes for narrative in genre comics. Miss it at your own risk.

5 Stars

Fatale #6, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philllips

The second story arc of Brubaker and Phillips’ horror noir moves on into the sordid world of sex, drugs, and Satanism in 1970s Hollywood. Much of the bad behavior on display in this arc, Brubaker tells us in the issue’s back matter, is based on stuff that really happened, which lends an added touch of horror to the proceedings. I knew about this stuff in theory: the curdled hedonism, the occult trappings, the drug-fueled cruelty… There’s a reason cultural conservatism bit back so strongly in the 80s, after all. But I’d dismissed this chapter in our cultural history as just a few jaded rich people seeking new thrills in a particularly silly manner. I’d never really stopped to consider the victims of it all, and so this issue draws its real power, for me, from illustrating that.

4 Stars

And now, please indulge me while I go on for far too long about a comic nobody really gives a damn about…

Dinosaurs vs Aliens, by Grant Morrison and Mukesh Singh

So this is a weird one. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of the Addams Family and Men in Black films, had a visionary idea typical of Hollywood thinking: wouldn’t it be cool if aliens fought dinosaurs?

Okay, to be fair, he actually wanted to tell a metaphorical story about manifest destiny, with the dinosaurs as Native Americans and the aliens as invading white people. Specifically, he wanted to tell the story from the perspective of an alien analogue to Kit Carson, the famous explorer and Indian fighter who came to doubt his own role in American history. Which is a bit more interesting, if also a little… problematic? Dinosaurs had brains the size of peanuts, after all. They were animals. And while that doesn’t mean that it would be okay for aliens to drive them into extinction, it also makes that Native American comparison kinda weird and wrong.

Enter Grant Morrison, who’s introduced the speculation (based on nothing but the story’s need not to insult an entire race) that dinosaurs were actually quite a bit smarter than we thought, and that they were in fact capable giving themselves tribal war paint, and of making and wearing rather elaborate decorative headwear:

Which seems highly unlikely, considering that most of them didn’t have arms, much less opposable thumbs. I mean… How the hell could that one dinosaur on the left have tied those giant-ass bones to his head? His fore-limbs are so tiny, he can’t even scratch his damn nose! Even if he got other dinosaurs to do it… How?!

So… It’s complete fantasy. But I suppose the real question is, if you can suspend your disbelief to get beyond dinosaur jewelry (which I’m not sure I can)… Is it any good? Actually, yeah. Yeah, it’s not bad. The dinosaur sequences put me in mind, on the surface at least, of Steve Bissette’s Tyrant:

Though not nearly as well-researched as Tyrant (obviously!), Dinosaurs vs Aliens still features dinosaur behavior that makes sense, and captures much of the same savagery. Which also means that, yes, there are some hella-cool dinosaur fights, and Mukesh Singh’s artwork on them is very pretty to look at:

I also like Morrison’s script. The story is narrated by the “alien Kit Carson” mentioned earlier, his musings on the whole bloody business of his race’s invasion informing and commenting on the otherwise-wordless dinosaur action. It unfortunately put me in mind of Morrison’s early work on Zoids…

…but with that perspective as a through-line, the alien sequences that make up the back half of the book are engaging in a way they might not have otherwise been. The aliens are in a desperate situation, searching for a suitable new planet and fighting for their race’s survival. Without going into too much detail… It’s them or the dinosaurs. That represents a genuine moral dilemma, and that’s the stuff drama is made of.

That drama has an unfortunate side-effect, however: the aliens are a lot easier to relate to than the dinosaurs. For all that Singh’s dinosaur drawings are awesome and all, the dinosaurs themselves don’t come off as characters in any way that makes me connect with them or want their way of life to be maintained. I don’t care how much jewelry they wear, Morrison and Singh haven’t succeeded in convincing me that they’re anything more than animals. The aliens, meanwhile, have personalities and culture and technology, and… you know… they can talk. I’m far more invested in their struggle for survival, and the horrible moral sacrifices they may have to make to attain it, than I am in the dinosaur’s battles for food and the protection of their young. So while it’s sad that those super-cool monsters have to die… In the aliens’ situation, I can’t say that I wouldn’t do exactly the same thing.

To be fair, that may be how we’re supposed to react. One of the big revelations at the end is that the dinosaurs’ craniums are positively PACKED with gray matter, meaning that they’re way smarter than the aliens thought. That could change everything about the way we see the monsters, and put us on their side in the coming war. But that revelation doesn’t work, because the readers know it going in. It’s in the plot description on the back cover, and in the introductory essays from Sonnenfeld and Morrison.

(An aside: Morrison’s introduction is frankly bizarre, with him opening up the praise cannons full-bore for his collaborators, even beyond the usual fake Hollywood bullshit. His description of Singh’s work as “incandescent” is overblown enough, but when he gushes about how good Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West movie is… I’ve gotta wonder if the whole thing’s not a joke.)

Ahem. Anyway. I knew we were supposed to be looking at really smart dinosaurs from page one, but it didn’t matter. So Morrison wound up making me an alien supporter. Which I really, really don’t think was supposed to happen.

Of course, that might change if we actually got into the war between dinosaur and alien, but we don’t. Which also kind of irks me. Near as I can tell, this is a one-shot, billed as a comics version of the film. But it’s really just a prologue, and I haven’t been able to track down much information on what’s actually going on. I spent a few minutes poking around about it on-line, and saw something about a motion comic (barf), and debate over whether the intended film will actually be made (yawn), and…

Honestly, you know what? I don’t really care enough to dig beyond that. Dinosaurs vs Aliens is a stupid idea. It’s given some weight by Morrison and Singh’s efforts, but ultimately I’ve got better things to do and better funnybooks to read. While I won’t say it was a complete waste of the 20 bucks I spent on it, I’ll be extra careful before spending any more.

Three Stars

Aaannddd… Damn. I’m still two weeks behind on reviews, and this post is long enough as it is. So I guess I’ll have to get caught up next time, when I’ll be babbling on about… Action Comics! Bulletproof Coffin! Punk Rock Jesus! Parker! Wild Children! My minor Brian Wood renaissance! And lots of other crap, I’m sure. See you then.

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About Mark Brett (418 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

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