Gotham by Midnight, by Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith
Well, here’s a rarity for you: something interesting coming out from DC Comics! Will wonders never cease! It was the Ben Templesmith art that caught my eye, understand. I’m a big fan of his slightly cartoony, slightly terrifying figures. And of the truly madly deeply horrible things he conjures up when called upon. Which, happily, is most of the time.
Anyway. While flipping through the book in the shop, I was still a bit wary. I mean, the art might be pretty, but the story could still suck balls. Then the name of series writer Ray Fawkes clicked: this is the guy who did One Soul, the graphic novel done entirely in 9-panel grids, chronicling the lives of 18 different characters across history who each get one panel in every two-page spread. Bravado storytelling, and affecting to boot.
This isn’t as good as that.
This first issue is, at its base, largely formulaic: through the eyes of an outsider, we’re introduced to Precinct 13, home to a special investigations unit set up by Commissioner Gordon to investigate weird crime. The new guy gives Fawkes an excuse to engage in plenty of exposition to set things up and introduce the cast: a nun, a mad scientist, a psychic detective, and lead investigator Jim Corrigan (which I suppose makes this a stealth Spectre comic). There’s lots of the typical clichés this sort of story always engages in: the new guy is an internal affairs officer who can’t possibly understand the amazing disturbing shit the Precinct 13 cops get up to because they’re different and better and know what they’re doing so shut up.
Happily, though, Fawkes navigates all that bullshit ably. It was only in reconsidering the book for review that it even occurred to me that it was a formula thing at all. In part, I suppose that’s because I happen to really like that sort of thing, and in part because I happen to really like Ben Templesmith artwork, and in part because… well… I read it after Thanksgiving dinner last week, and might have been in the grips of a wee tiny turkey coma.
But I think it’s also because Fawkes handles it all really well. The case Our Heroes are investigating is genuinely weird, man, and the core cast is entertainingly cracked, and the Internal Affairs guy isn’t a cookie-cutter asshole, and oboyoboyoboy Jim fucking Corrigan, and holy wow is that Templesmith art purty, and…
I liked it. Formula and all. It’s a creative and quirky little series, the sort of thing I like the best. And hopefully, now that we’ve been introduced to everybody, the formula will drop away a bit and leave us with just the pure weirdness I sense lurking at its heart. That’s what I’ve got my fingers crossed for, anyway…
Ody-C 1, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
Psychedelic gender-bending sci-fi mythology!
A retelling of the Odyssey… IN SPACE!
What could go wrong?
Well… This first issue is perhaps a trifle more disjointed than it really ought to be. I mean, maybe I was still in the turkey coma, but… I dunno. Things didn’t hang together for me very well here. And not in a good way. Not in a “holy shit, I don’t know what’s happening but it’s awesome” kind of way, or a “this is difficult reading that’s pleasantly frothing up my brain juice” kind of way, or even a “this is an intriguing mystery” kind of way. It’s more of an “I think I’m supposed to be able to tell what’s going on here, and I’m not sure I actually can” sort of thing, and that’s the one kind of reading confusion I actually don’t like.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the comic, mind you. It’s colorful and pretty, and the storytelling smooths out a bit in the back half. Plus, it opens with this insane 8-page double fold-out thingie that’s got a SUPER-WIDESCREEN shot of the final battle of the Trojan War (the SPACE Trojan War!) on one side, and a crazy-ass timeline and map (SPACE map!) on the other. And the book honestly earns a letter grade on the balls of that publishing stunt alone.
Oh, and that “BOOBS” comment up above? It’s mostly hyperbole. I mean, there are boobs. Tons of them. Some of them are even nekkid. But it’s not some kind of cheesecake thing. It’s more in the spirit of psychedelia, and that sort of 1970s science fiction that explored sex as a futuristic concept.
So, you know: artsy boobs.
Anyway, I liked it, even with the disjointed storytelling. It’s audacious funnybooks, and I have to support that.
And we’re not going nearly fast enough to cover all the funnybooks in my stack here. Time to rectify that…
Annihilator 3, by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving
Not as good an issue as the previous one. It’s one of those difficult middle chapter things, moving the story and the characters along to where they need to be, but not as crazy or funny or entirely satisfying as the stuff around it. Still good funnybooks, though, with pretty art, neat ideas, and some good jokes.
Trees 7, by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard
I became aware, recently, that many people think this series is moving too slowly, and that it needs to get going so all the disparate characters in all the disparate locations are brought together to solve the problem of the Trees, because that’s the point of this thing, right?
Jesus, disaster movies have made us stupid.
I mean… I’m not Warren Ellis, so I can’t say for certain that’s not where he’s going with it. He could very well turn this thing around and reveal how a newly-sexually-awakened gay Chinese farmboy, a fascist gun moll turned pragmatic revolutionary, the scientist president of an African nation, and an Arctic research team are exactly the rag-tag group of heroes needed to save the Earth from the ineffable terror of… THE TREES! But if he does, I’m going to… Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Be very very surprised, I suppose. And not read anymore of it. Because that’s some stupid-ass formulaic bullshit.
This issue, however, has none of that. It’s very good, in fact, in the violent romantic socio-political way it’s been good all along. One of the better, more intelligent books on the stands right now, really. I like it a lot.
Lazarus 13, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
I’m really digging the Machiavellian turn this book has taken of late. I mean, that’s always been a part of it (a pretty big part, in fact), but the current storyline, with the heads of the various families meeting for a Conclave, has ramped that aspect of the series up nicely. It’s all power plays and back room deals and skullduggery right now, and I’m eating it up with a spoon. Great cover, too.
Mind MGMT 28, by Matt Kindt
I’m running out of superlatives to describe this series. Imaginative… spy-fi… mind-fuck… goodness. Beautiful… ugly… idiosyncratic… art. Seriously, it’s just really, really good. Read it.
Manhattan Projects 25, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
This is another series that I’ve reviewed a few too many times. I’m starting to feel like a broken record discussing it, but it continues to be funny and outrageous and good. Historical comedy and genre mash-up of a high order, even if it does get a bit too silly for my taste from time to time.
One interesting tidbit this time out, though: this is the final issue of Manhattan Projects as we’ve known it. The cast has become increasingly fractured over the last few issues, breaking off into groups and exploring their own interests, and from now on, Hickman and Pitarra will be telling those stories separately, too, in what I assume will be a series of mini-series, each focused on individual characters. I’ll miss the ensemble cast, of course. Part of the fun of this series has been seeing Einstein, Feynman, von Braun and the rest all interacting, and now that’s going away to some extent. So we shall see how that goes.
In the meantime, however, this issue rates a solid…
Prophet: Strikefile 2, by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Various Artists
Not as much fun as the first issue, I’m afraid, in spite of the awesome cover. We still get some entertainingly strange stuff here, but… Maybe one issue of the “Handbook to the Marvel Universe” version of Prophet was enough.
Powers: Bureau 12, by Bendis and Oeming
This book’s been on a roll recently, with two or three really excellent issues in a row. Lots of stuff happening, long-term storylines coming to a head, some genuinely thrilling action… It’s been fun. And now the series has hit one of those epically depressing finales Bendis and Oeming pull off from time to time, one of those points where the story’s over, Our Heroes are in very bad places, and I really have no freaking idea what’s going to happen next. That’s good serial storytelling, and I’m glad they can still pull that off this far into the run.