So... Did I say that last week saw the release of so many good funnybooks that I was worried about the rest of the month? I did? Yeah. Yeah, just forget about that...
Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes, by Grant Morrison and Chris Sprouse
I thought the first issue of Multiversity was a bit tired. We've seen so many alternate versions of so many characters in the last decade that Morrison was really going to have to pull off something spectacular to make it work. And he didn't.
This is more like it! There's so very much to like here. Morrison's created a complete world in this issue, fleshed out with a smartly-chosen collection of characters re-invented in pulp fiction style. Chief among these is Doc Fate, a mystical utopian who combines Doctor Fate with Kenneth Robeson's Doc Savage. We've also got Lady Blackhawk (leading a distaff version of the Blackhawk fighter squadron), Green Lantern Abin Sur, and villains Vandal Savage and Felix Faust. All these characters are a great fit for the more grounded heroics of the pulps. Even Doc Fate's magic is shrouded in the Eastern mysticism so prevalent in stories of the pulp era. But my favorites are the final two members of our cast. First up is Immortal Man...
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...a Silver Age character that Morrison's combined with comics' premiere caveman hero, Anthro the Caveboy. This guy's awesome for several reasons. First, if you have TOO MUCH COMICS in your head like I do, you know that both Immortal Man and Anthro have been cast as enemies of Vandal Savage before, and Morrison follows suit here. But this character's perfect for the pulp treatment, too, because he's got such a great pulpy set-up anyway: a caveman made immortal by a mysterious meteor, he walks the Earth in search of fortune and adventure.
What really makes Immortal Man shine for me here, though, is that he's essentially been made into a Howard Chaykin character. Seriously. Look at that swagger and smirk Chris Sprouse puts on him in that intro scene above. His super-pulpy narration of the issue also has that fatalistic arrogance that marks all of Chaykin's heroes, and he flirts with Lady Blackhawk in exactly the way a Chaykin character would. It's a nice pastiche, and appropriate, considering that Chaykin is pretty much the modern master of period pulp.
The other go-to guy for period funnybooks, of course, is Roy Thomas, and he's also given a nice nod here in the form of my other favorite member of the SOS: Al Pratt, the Atom. This is the original Golden Age Atom, of course, but here with a great Thomas twist: he's a devotee of a fitness program created by Iron Munro
, one of my favorite late-career Roy Thomas inventions. I like the recasting of Munro here as a Charles Atlas style super-guru, and I especially like Al Pratt's one deviation from the Munro program:
Which brings me to the meat of this issue, its thematic core: principles. What does it take to defeat the forces of the Gentry? Well, in the first issue, we saw that brute force doesn't work, and noble sacrifice only gets you turned into one of them. And here, we see heroes sacrificing their principles in the name of fighting a war. I won't go into how, exactly, but (SPOILER!) it doesn't go well for them. What will finally defeat this newest threat to the multiversal soul? If past Morrison super hero comics are anything to judge by, I'm sure it'll be something about staying true to heroism and believing in the power of something as awesomely stupid as a cartoon rabbit. But time will tell.
In the meantime, though, we've been given a master-class in world-building, a universe of conceptually-interesting heroes brought together with style and flair. This is a world I want to read more about, even as I know that further adventures completely misses the point of the thing. I've been engaged here both as an intellectual reader of fictions designed to end, and as the supreme dork who wants his next cool funnybook fix, and thematic integrity be damned. Which I guess means that I'd go down to the Gentry, just like the SOS.
I've read the haunted funnybook and failed its test.
Or maybe passed it. Hmm...
Guess we'll find out down the line.
The Wicked + the Divine 4, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
I am not remotely ready to discuss this comic on any serious level tonight, especially after dorking out over all the dorky dork stuff in Multiversity
. This one engages the other side of my head in a lot of ways. I mean, it's a story about reborn gods, so... There's a good bit of dork in it. But it's smarter than that, and cooler than that, and funnier and more true and...
Oh god. I think I've got a crush on it.
But, hey! Maybe that's the best review I could give it, anyway.
The Wicked + the Divine
: a totally crushable funnybook experience.
Trees 5, by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard
“Crush” isn't the right word for my relationship with this book. No, I think I more... admire it. You know, from a craft perspective.
You gotta love Warren Ellis, though. Renowned as one of the masters of intelligent funnybook crassness, he's now gone and given us a comic so understated that a transgender gang-bang comes off as peaceful and heartwarming rather than titillating or grotesque.
But, yes. Understated. That’s the proper word here. He’s fleshing out the world he’s creating, defining it, not by telling a single story about it, but by giving us snapshots… vignettes… of life all over the globe. It’s a new thing for Ellis, but I think I like it. I think I like it a lot. It’s not as kick-in-the-nuts funny and over the top as something like Transmetropolitan, but it’s almost like it’s fulfilling the promise of that book, delivering the very human underpinnings without the distraction of the grotesqueries. It’s more confident writing, I think, more mature. But not in that too-slick major-label-debut sort of way. More like… More like a Bill-Murray-in-Lost-in-Translation sort of way. Subtle, moving, and even more impressive because it’s so unexpected.
If that makes any sense at all.
I’m not sure it does.
Supreme: Blue Rose 3, by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay
Same here. Ellis. Understated. When that’s the last thing you’d expect. Mature but not slick. Late-career Bill Murray. If that makes sense.
Grade: Also A-
Satellite Sam 10, by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin
Speaking of books that are more subtle than you’d expect…
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(he said knowingly)
That cover does nothing (well, okay, maybe a little) to convey the contents of the comic behind it. I’ve said this before, but there’s a lot more to Satellite Sam than the garter belts and the fabulous babes. It’s also a story about the foundations of American television broadcasting and the messed up, petty people who populated it. It’s about the craft that goes into making even the most sophomoric of entertainments, and the passions of the people involved. It’s about secrets and lies and racism and addiction.
It’s a story with a large cast, told well. It trusts its readers like adults, and trusts them to follow along through sudden plot movements without hand-holding and excess exposition. It’s not afraid to give its heroes crippling flaws that make them not very nice people, and to find its villains in unlikely places.
If it sounds like I’m crushing on this book a little, too, that’s because I am. But this is not the simple crush I have on Wicked & Divine. This is an adult, full-bodied
crush that I understand all too well. It’s a crush based on admiration for the balls Matt Fraction’s shown in scripting something like this for a comics market that rewards neither subtlety nor human drama, and for the skill with which he’s doing it. It’s also based on admiration for Howard Chaykin, still a pro (and a perv) after all these years.
Seriously, though. I know I’ve made this comparison before, but I’ll keep making it til people listen: if you like Madmen, and you like funnybooks, and you’re not reading Satellite Sam… You’re doing yourself a disservice.
Stray Bullets: Killers 7, by David Lapham
There was also a new Stray Bullets last week, and it was pretty awesome, too. But I’ve run out of time, so… You know the drill here…
STRAY BULLETS, MUTHAFUCKAS!!!!!!!!!!