So while I've been off writing about Avengers comics for the the past four weeks, the funnybook industry had the temerity to continue releasing books! Da noive a some peeple!
But, ah well. What's a reviewer to do, except take a deep breath and bear up under their pulpy weight? So here you go: all the funnybooks for a month of Wednesdays. Or the highlights thereof, anyway...
by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
The careers of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore continue to intersect in such intricate and never-ending ways that it's starting to look deliberate. Alan Moore, for instance, recently released the debut issue of Providence, his study of the works of HP Lovecraft (it's the one non-Jonathan-Hickman comic I've written about in the last month). So of course (of course!) Grant Morrison's in the middle of a Lovecraft exploration of his own. Moore's take is deep and considered, heavily researched and long in the planning. While Morrison's, though every bit as affecting and intricately-written, feels kinda tossed off, a chaotic mixture of pop fiction and stream-of-consciousness horror.
Business as usual, then.
I joke. Lovecraft has long influenced both writers, and we're reaching a sort of cultural singularity in regards to Lovecraft's work, a point at which (nearly 100 years after his first publications) this obscure and xenophobic pulp writer's ideas have been thoroughly woven into the zeitgeist. So I found neither of these projects particularly surprising. But I have been enjoying the hell out of them. Both Moore and Morrison are out to reclaim the real horror of Lovecraft, to remind everyone that his sense of existential dread is perhaps not something we should laugh off with stuffed animal versions of his monsters. The monsters were just the glossy surface of it anyway, the rubbery lure to reel unsuspecting readers in to the contemplation of their own insignificance in the face of the vast uncaring universe.
But there, I'm reducing Lovecraft's work to academic summary, just as guilty of pastiche as the purveyors of Cthulhu Claus...
(The horror! The horror!)
...and every bit as un-scary. Morrison and Burnham are dealing in the real deal:
Gah, I say! Gah! For Morrison, the horror of the Outer Things comes down to a familiar theme for him: the negation of the self. Or, perhaps, the surrender to negativity, the inability to see the positive in the face of overwhelming darkness. That's always been part of Lovecraft's appeal, I think: his ultimate existential pessimism is strangely seductive. There's an undeniable truth to it, a sense that our own lack of importance is part of the spiritual firmament. That might be why we find Lovecraft's horror speaking so strongly to modern audiences: it cuts contrary to American exceptionalism, and the pervasive idea in our culture that everyone is special.
Now, I think that Morrison might argue that the loss of self is nothing to be afraid of, in the end. That it's the key to true ascension, and all that Eastern philosophical stuff. But in speaking to our culture, a culture that's more about the self than ever, he's dealing in images we understand. There's an emphasis on being watched (as you can see from the cover above), and that conjures up thoughts of the surveillance culture. But Morrison and Burnham have terrorist horrors and fascist kink covered, too:
(Pardon the awkward cropping. It's like somebody tossed some fascist tarot cards all over my funnybook.)
It's disjointed and disturbing, this issue, a relentless assault on sanity and basic human decency, all to a purpose we don't know or perhaps can't understand. I have no idea where it's going next, whether we'll get the cathartic release of human victory, or the devastating blow of spiritual extinction. I suspect that it'll be a bit of both, with Our Hero's “Nameless” status indicating a path to salvation through self-negation. Very Eastern. Very Morrison. Regardless, I'll be on hand to find out.
Optic Nerve 14, by Adrian Tomine
And speaking of existential horror... We've got a new book by Adrian Tomine! I joke, of course. Tomine doesn't write horror. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. But I often find his depressing, self-defeating slice of life stories far more distressing than most horror fiction. And also a lot more boring. Lovecraft's rubbery monster lure is half the fun of reading him, after all, and Tomine gives you none of that. Still, though, he sometimes finds a great hook, some odd behavior or strange dramatic situation, that makes his work compelling.
He's also damn talented, which is what got me through the lead story in this issue. It's about a teenage girl who gets interested in doing stand-up comedy, and the way her parents both encourage and caution her. The story itself is rather dull, the sort of “unlovable loser” stuff Tomine often trades in. The interest lies in what he doesn't show you, the way the family's lives unfold off-camera and impact the things we do see. I can't say I enjoyed reading it, but I do admire his craft.
This issue's back-up, though, is the sort of Tomine story I do enjoy. It's about a disaffected veteran who comes across a key to the apartment he shared with his wife before his life went to shit. Somebody else lives there now, but the locks haven't been changed, so he goes in while the current occupant is at work, just to... I don't know... recapture something of a time in his life when he was happy. Now, that's a great short story hook, one in which Tomine's trademark distant tone is put to good use.
The back-up is an older story, I believe, and it's not as well-crafted as the lead piece. But I enjoyed reading it more. It is, in fact, the sort of story that made me start picking up Optic Nerve
in the first place. So it's kind of hard for me to grade this one. I enjoyed half of it, and admired all of it. We'll let that be the grade, then, and just move on...
Crossed +100 5
by Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade
This series has, to date, seemed to be as much an outline of post-apocalyptic anarchist society as anything else. But with this issue, it's suddenly taken a rather horrifying twist, and in the process revealed itself to be instead a zombie mystery story with massive stakes. It's also taken the whole Crossed
concept of Zombies From the Id and turned it into something I find far more compelling. I'm trying to avoid too many spoilers here, so I won't say exactly what Moore does, or how he does it. But it involves a lot of pieces from previous issues falling into place, and it's pretty brilliant.
It's also got a lengthy excerpt from the diary of a serial killer who lived through the initial Crossed outbreak, which is great reading. Or at least, a mental relief from all the post-apocalyptic future-slang...
Fight Club 2 #1
by Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart
So I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't sure I was gonna, to be honest. I love the novel, love the movie, but I had questions. Is a sequel really necessary? Does Tyler Durden still make sense in 2015? Can Palahniuk even write decent comics? Hmm...
Well, I'm not so sure how necessary this is, but Palahniuk's turned in a fine funnybook script. There are some missteps. There's an early scene, for instance, in which the babysitter mistakes Our Hero for an intruder, and it either doesn't make any sense at all, or is a kind of comedy so broad and absurd that it doesn't fit the tone. But he is using the medium well to pull off the kind of storytelling tricks the book and movie are famous for. I'm particularly fond of the various inanimate objects...
(rose petals in this case)
...spilled over the pages that obscure important details.
Now, as for whether Tyler Durden is still relevant in 2015... I have heard some criticism that the book's political message is kind of silly. But that's not a criticism I have much patience for. It sounds like most of the people saying that are people who first came across Fight Club
as teenagers, and got really into Durden's philosophy. But I don't think anyone was really supposed to buy that stuff. I mean (like Lovecraft), it's seductive because there's an element of truth to it. Sometimes you do feel trapped by life and numbed by modern society. Possessions don't necessarily make you happy. But, as someone who came to Fight Club
as an adult, it just struck me as satire. A cleverly-told story about a charismatic madman. His spiel struck a chord, but I could also see that falling for it was a shade or two past ridiculous.
Which makes it great stuff for Palahniuk to revisit with a middle-aged Tyler Durden. Because, much as you might outgrow a teenage fascination with “feeling something real,” you never feel more trapped by life than when you hit middle age and realize that your youth is behind you, and you squandered it on silly things like job security and dental insurance. The whole Fight Club thing seems tailor-made for middle-aged men, in fact, much moreso than the jaded yuppies who bought into it in the novel.
I Am John's Mid-Life Crisis.
So, yeah. I think Tyler Durden IS pretty relevant in 2015. Maybe this sequel has potential, after all...
And as long as we're talking about mid-life crisis and excessive lifestyle choices...
by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle
This was the best surprise of the last month. I mean, I haven't enjoyed a James Robinson comic since he returned to the industry after a stint in Hollywood. He penned a Freddy vs Jason movie while he was there, I think, and is the screenwriter responsible for adapting Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
in such a spectacularly awful fashion. His comics work since then hasn't been a whole lot better, and I very nearly wrote this off. But Greg Hinkle's cover caught my eye, and when I gave it a flip-through, I was greeted with scenes like this one, that's so very Not Safe For Work that I'm hiding it behind the jump...
Oh, my. Being a sucker for depravity, I decided I had to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did. Because Airboy is a wonderful bit of soul-searching self-parody, the story of a burned out writer (Robinson himself) searching for inspiration in booze, drugs and sex, and dragging his hapless artist along with him. It’s great stuff, beautifully illustrated, in total poor taste, and completely hysterical.
The Wicked + The Divine 11
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Things have really started moving in this book. Rivalries have flared. Actions have been taken that can’t be taken back. And this issue sees a turn of events that makes Lucifer’s death at the end of the first arc seem tame in comparison. To say more would totally spoil it, so I’m going to shut up now. But, man. MAN.
Sandman: Overture 5
by Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III
So this book. I hate to say it, but…
Maybe it was the long time between issues…
Maybe I’ve lost the thread of the story…
Maybe it suffers in comparison to all the Alan Moore comics, and the Lovecraft stuff, and all the other great, fresh, new funnybooks it came out in the midst of…
But this one was kind of a let-down.
Still good, mind you. Just not as mind-blowingly, hasn’t-lost-a-step good as the four that came before it.
by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey
Can’t remember now if I wrote about the first issue of this. But it’s good stuff. Reminds me a bit of Ellis’ Global Frequency, but more focused. More in his new “grounded sci-fi” style, but with touches of his old “remarkable bastards” flourish. I’m wary of the remarkable bastards approach, I must admit. Read too much of it over the years. Ready for something else. This hasn’t gone over the line yet, though, so fingers are crossed.
And Declan Shalvey’s artwork on this thing is just gorgeous. So there’s that, too.
by Jason Aaron and Mike del Mundo
Buy this book on accounta it’s pretty.
(click to embiggen the pretty)
Read it on accounta it’s stupid-awesome.
(and still pretty.)
All-Star Section 8
by Garth Ennis and John McCrea
Best. Barcode Placement. Ever.
I was a big fan of Ellis and McCrea’s Hitman, which is where Section 8 comes from. A team of reject super heroes put together by Six-Pack (a guy whose super power was apparently drunkenness), they were total comedy relief characters, with names like Bueno Excellente (with the power of super-perversion), Phlegm Gem (who had weaponized loogies), and Dog Welder (who… welded dogs to people). They all died in that book’s bloody finale, getting a surprisingly touching send-off. Great book. If you haven’t read it… you should.
Anyway. This sequel plays fast and loose with those deaths. And the nature of reality. And Batman. Don’t take it seriously, is the number one thing to remember here. It ain’t great. But if you like jokes about alcoholism, and shoddy continuity, and pandering attempts at getting old fans to come back and buy new comics out of nostalgia for old favorites… This might be the book for you. If nothing else, it’s a chance to see the return of the character from whom they stole Groot’s gimmick:
And that’s worth it right there.