So while we were wrapping up the Dork Awards, the world went and hit me with two truly spectacular weeks for comics. Tons of crazy-good stuff has been hitting the shelves, so much that there’s no way I’m going to be able to cover it all. So tonight I’m just gonna start running, and see how far I can get…
Casanova: Acedia 1, by Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon and Michael Chabon & Gabriel Ba
CASANOVA IS BACK, MUTHAFUCKAS!!!!!
My apologies. But this is maybe my favorite new comic of the current century, and I’ve missed it terribly in the years since its third volume saw print. It’s pretty great to have it back on the stands, though my excitement is belied by the relatively quiet launch of this new volume. Not that they haven’t done advertising for it or anything. And they’ve lined up both Fabio Moon AND Gabriel Ba for art this time, doubling the pleasure, doubling the fun. And having a best-selling author contributing a back-up strip is certainly a sign that Matt Fraction means business with this thing.
That’s Michael Chabon, by the way, who’s really doing a nice job on that back-up, capturing the feel of the series at its most manic. It’s a nice counter-point to the more subdued stuff Fraction’s doing on the main story.
Because I’m talking more about tone when I say that this new series is “quiet.” The tone of this first issue is rather low-key, comparatively speaking. We open with an amnesiac Casanova Quinn, bloody and traumatized by his escape from the universe-shattering conclusion of the previous volume. He’s working as majordomo to a rich man, serving as chauffeur, managing parties, keeping tabs on guests… and occasionally killing somebody.
Still, it’s a comparatively quiet existence, with little of the wild spy-fi insanity this series is known for. But there’s no flying fortresses, sexy blue time travelers, or triple-brained genetic Buddhas here. No meta-fictional commentary or gender-bending double-blinds. Just a man without a past who loves his job.
Well, okay. There IS a squad of possibly-identical women in cubist masks trying to kill him. But they’re in a library. So they’re doing it quietly.
So, yes. CASANOVA IS BACK, MUTHAFUCKAS! And other funnybooks better start upping their game.
And speaking of books upping their game…
Nameless 1, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
Grant Morrison’s latest offering is a creepy, Lovecraftian adventure story about dreams, the occult, and outer space. So I suppose it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that it’s my favorite new Morrison book in ages. But it’s also some of the sharpest writing I’ve seen from him in a while. Not quite on the level of Pax Americana, I don’t think, but otherwise maybe the best thing he’s done since The Filth.
That’s high praise, I know, and the series as a whole may not live up to it. But this first issue is strong stuff. Moving through the first half of it, I had that wonderful, slightly adrift, slightly queasy, slightly uncertain feeling the best Morrison stuff inspires. I felt like I was missing something, like I should be putting things together better than I was. He’s dropping references to all this occult stuff that I’m just familiar enough with to understand, but not really fully grasp. It put me off-balance and, combined with all the imagery of blood and death and amphibious monsters, ratcheted my level of apprehension right the hell on up.
Which is perfect! Because this is a horror comic, dammit, and I want my horror to make me feel a little queasy and weird. And I especially love it when the form of the story, the narrative itself, works to that purpose as much as the content. That Morrison and Burnham were able to do that to me while I was sitting in a restaurant eating some souvlaki is doubly impressive: my favorite Greek greasy spoon is hardly an environment conducive to the scaries.
But I called Nameless an adventure story at the outset, and it’s that, too, with a hero who comes off as a sort of supernatural (and kinda sleazy) version of Indiana Jones. So there’s a bunch of running and jumping and hitting to go along with the amphibious horror. And as the book rumbles on, things slowly become more clear. The dream-like quality of the early pages has a very good explanation that grounds the reader just enough to make sense of things, but that still keeps those tantalizingly vague occult references tantalizingly vague.
It’s a good launch, and it has me looking forward to the rest of this series more than I have any Grant Morrison work in a long time. And considering how much I generally look forward to new Morrison comics, that’s really saying something.
The Dying & the Dead 1, by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim
Launching the same week as Casanova was the new series from Hickman & Bodenheim, which Hickman’s billing as “the final story of the greatest generation.” Which is a pretty freaking bold statement, but what the hell. This is the guy who earned Fantastic Four back its title as “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine,” so I’ll cut him some slack.
Anyway. It’s about a hero of World War II in his twilight years, taking on one last adventure on the promise that his employers will cure his wife of cancer. Lots of posturing here, lots of speeches about “men who say what they’re going to do and then do it.” Which I suppose is one way to define heroism, though I can’t help thinking that it could also be a way to describe a monster, a fanatic, or a crazy person. It’s all down to what they say they’re going to do, I suppose. Hickman’s usually good for exploring that kind of philosophical fine point, though, so I hope to see a bit of that before this series is done.
That’s all stuff that occurred to me only after reading, though. In the midst of it all, I was totally absorbed, dazzled by the world being created before my eyes. Because Our Hero’s “employers” aren’t some shadowy government agency or powerful corporation. They’re not even human. They’re… something else. What, exactly, isn’t clearly defined. They’re the basis for fairy legends, perhaps, and aliens and angels and gods. They live in an underground (other-dimensional?) netherworld, immortal and separate from humanity, interacting only when it pleases them, or when it’s necessary.
For better or worse, I eat that kind of crap up with a spoon. Hickman’s one of the better purveyors of such fantasy concepts working in the industry today, too, putting his own spin on them and making them interesting beyond the archetype.
I’m rather pleased with the artwork here, too. Bodenheim’s work is solid and imaginative, with clean bold lines and lots of detail. He excels at faces, especially weathered faces, which makes him a nice choice for a book with such an elderly protagonist. He’s also pretty good at the big fantasy tableaus, as you can see above. He previously worked with Hickman on Secret, an espionage series that seldom came out, but was always entertaining when it did.
If The Dying & the Dead comes out at the same rate… Well, it’ll probably lessen my enjoyment of the book a bit. I sometimes lost track of what was going on in Secret, a problem in a book with a plot that complex. I’ll always wait for quality, though, so we’ll see what happens.
Whoo-boy! I kinda ran off at the mouth about those, and haven’t really left myself much time for more. So let’s rattle a few off quickly here…
The 21st issue of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye finally hit the stands, featuring the Russians’ final assault on Clint’s building. Things get ugly. People die. Good comics.
Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals released its 10th issue, in which we see a bunch of vaginas, Jon tries to tell Suzy he loves her, and Our Heroes achieve a triple simultaneous orgasm and discover that not everybody goes to the Quiet in the same manner. Funny, sexy, touching, and good.
Alan Moore and John Totleben’s Miracleman 15, one of the most notorious comics of the 1980s, was reprinted last week to an unfortunate lack of impact. We’ve seen ample mass destruction in super hero comics in the nearly 30 years since this thing originally saw print, but nobody’s ever done it as well, or as hauntingly, as it’s done here.
Grant Morrison and a whole slew of artists released The Multiveristy Guidebook, featuring a great comic-within-the-comic-within-the-comic structure, like a Russian nesting doll in funnybook form. Morrison goes deep dork in this one, too, trotting out not only the Atomic Knights, but giving us a Kirby Earth that combines Kamandi, OMAC, and the New Gods all under one roof. There’s also a rundown of all 52 Earths, some of which sound amazing (Bizarro Earth! Earth 13, where everybody’s goth!) and others of which… are just forgotten old Elseworlds stories that were better-left in Prestige Format Hell.
The fifth issue of Morrison and Frazer Irving’s Annihilator came out, too, bringing us to a grand total of three Grant Morrison comics out in two weeks. An embarrassment of riches. We find out what Nomax’s real crime was here, and have the book’s cosmology spelled out for us a little better: Vada is God, Nomax is the Devil, and our world is a diseased universe that Nomax created in mockery of Vada’s good works. Nice to see Morrison being so cheery outside his corporate spandex work!
In the stunning 30th issue of Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, we learn the secret history of The Eraser (or at least have the missing pieces of it filled in around the stuff we already know). It’s the usual mix of twisty psychic spy stuff and interesting story technique that makes this book on of the best on the market today.
And… And… Good lord, there’s more. New issues of Hickman & Dragotta’s East of West, Brubaker & Epting’s Velvet (such very very beautiful art), Deconnick & DeLandro’s Bitch Planet, Fawkes & Templesmith’s Gotham by Midnight (still a pleasant surprise three issues in), Fialkov & Chamberlain’s Punks the Comic, and Stephenson & Gane’s They’re Not Like Us. Fine reads, all.
Plus! Plus! Eric Powell launched the final Goon series, Once Upon a Hard Time, and it’s taking things down a dark, dark road. AND! STRAY BULLETS IS BACK AGAIN, MUTHAFUCKAS! With the first issue of Sunshine and Roses, in which David Lapham takes us back to 1979, and an untold tale of Beth.
So, yeah. Hot damn, but that was a good two weeks! I have no idea what we’ll be talking about next time. But, holy crap, I can’t imagine there’ll be as much of it.