I spend a lot of time around here digging deep into the funnybooks I read, picking out fine details and admiring craft. That can make me a tough audience. I get bored pretty quick with the same old thing, so if there aren’t those little touches to dig out, those artistic idiosyncrasies to appreciate, I’m probably not going to enjoy my reading. Here lately, though, I’ve run across a good number of comics that have been simple pleasures. Books I’ve enjoyed on the surface, sometimes with surprising intensity. So I thought I’d take some time tonight to talk about sheer, visceral pleasures…
Nemo: River of Ghosts, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
It seems odd to discuss a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book as a simple pleasure. There’s so much riffing and reference going on that it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of who this character is, or why that thing’s where it is, or how the conflation of all that stuff is so very brilliant. People have made careers (or at least supplemented them) writing on that very topic. But the Nemo books are also rip-snorting adventure yarns. They’re packed with Derring-Do…
Feats of Strength…
So, sure. One day soon I’ll sit back down with this book and the internet, poring over it to research the origins of every single one of the odd little things that rang vague bells, but that I couldn’t quite place. But in the meantime, I’ll just laugh and thrill to one of the best-crafted adventure comics I’ve read in a long time. And have a good chuckle over the genius of tying together The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil, and Vincent Price:
Multiversity: Ultra Comics, by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke
Here’s another one that begs deep reading. It’s a story about the nature of storytelling, the relationship between story, storyteller, and audience. It pulls you into its dreadful undertow and dares you (LITERALLY DARES YOU!) to keep reading, making you complicit in the plans of both the hero and the villain. On my normal artsy-fartsy level of looking at funnybooks, it’s rich stuff, ripe for analysis.
But it also pissed me off.
When the book pulled that shit on me, I nearly rebelled. I sat there for a full minute, eyebrow cocked and lip curled, thinking about going all punk rock on that sumbitch. I actually closed the comic at one point, ready to put it back in the stack and call it done, just out of spite. Then I realized how stupid that was, picked it back up, and kept reading. Only to be greeted with this:
Which is a wonderfully visceral reaction to have to a comic that is, essentially, about the act of reading. Also? THIS IS A COMIC ABOUT THE ACT OF READING! With PUNCHING! How great is that?
And, you know, it’s got Ultra the Multi-Alien in it, too. So BONUS!
They’re Not Like Us 4, by Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane
So this book is like X-Men if Professor Xavier was kind of a prick.
Well… okay. That’s a more sensational and trivializing analysis than the series deserves. It’s actually wrestling with a lot of interesting stuff about morality and consciousness, and is a pretty damned interesting read. But I got your attention, right?
Also, though… It’s totally X-Men. A smart, slick, superbly designed 21st Century sci-fi updating of X-Men. But X-Men nonetheless. I mean, it’s a book about a mysterious psychic who gathers together young people with powers and abilities that make them outcasts to those around them. He gives them code names, they all live together in a mansion, and periodically they go out and bust the heads of people whose heads need busting. But then they steal those people’s money, and leave them for dead.
That’s… pretty much where it deviates from X-Men, and gets interesting in its own right. It’s a slow burn, I’ll grant you, focused a lot more on character and philosophy than plot. But that’s a strength in my book. The plot’s unfolding slowly out of those other concerns, and by this fourth issue, we’re starting to see a dandy little mystery develop. It’s a fun read, if not actually a deep one. I don’t feel the need to analyze it, anyway. But it does leave me thinking about it afterward, and that’s a nice sort of thing for a book to do.
Gotham by Midnight 5, by Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith
This has been a fun book, but to be perfectly honest, I might not be reading it five issues in if it weren’t for the artwork of Ben Templesmith. Don’t get me wrong. Ray Fawkes’ stories have been good. Solid light horror stuff. But it’s Templesmith who puts it over the top. I love his character designs (simultaneously cartoony and cool) and the fluorescent, super-wet colors he lays down over them. It’s a treat to watch him work. And this issue? He gets to draw Batman!
But it’s Ray Fawkes who brings it home this time, with a gut-punch of an emotional intensity I really wasn’t expecting. One minute I’m chuckling over the absurdity of the Spectre’s GIANT BATTLE with the VENGEANCE-THING from SLAUGHTER SWAMP…
…and the next I’m getting choked up over one of the more touching heroic deaths I’ve read in a while. What’s even more impressive about it is that Fawkes doesn’t use the usual sudden shock reversal to pull that off. No, it’s more of an… inexorable stroll, a slow, deliberate progression to something that had to happen, but was still somehow distressing when it did. It got me, anyway, and I’m not an easy get.
Simple pleasures. That hurt.
The Wicked + The Divine 9, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Nothing simple about my enjoyment of this one, so I won’t linger on it. Except to say that this issue featured a reveal (a pretty freaking major reveal) that simultaneously shocked me, and made me want to kick myself for not suspecting it before now. Because, yes. Holy crap. That bitch was totally too one-dimensional to be anything BUT a god.
Rachel Rising 31, by Terry Moore
I’m a bit behind on this book, I’m afraid, which is why I don’t review it as often as I should. But in a column about simple funnybook pleasures, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t bring it up. Because this is a great little horror comic that off-sets its scenes of horrible bloody murder and supernatural awfulness with charmingly weird characters and a great sense of humor. It’s a joy to read no matter how dark it gets.
But it never quite crosses the line into despair on the one side, nor into cute on the other. Which is important. Because, even when I’m trying to operate in the spirit of simple enjoyment… I can’t abide cute.