So it’s been a good couple of weeks for funnybooks here lately. Lots of great books well-worth discussing. But unfortunately, I’m going on vacation this week, and don’t have time to cover it all. So I’ll have to hit the highlights, centering on the Halloween-appropriate theme of blood…
The Black Monday Murders 3
by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker
I think I may have missed reviewing the second issue of this book (it’s been a difficult fall), so I’m glad to get back to it with the third. The series is living up to the potential its first issue showed, and shockingly, it’s thus far sticking to its monthly schedule. “Shockingly” because artist Tomm Coker is turning in some nicely-rendered, nicely-detailed work…
…and I’ve been sure that he would have missed a deadline by now. Not because I necessarily expect him to be slow, but because of the sheer length of each issue. These things are coming in at around 50 pages each, and even with Jonathan Hickman filling half of that with background text and his usual graphic design flourishes…
…that’s a lot of work. This issue, for instance, features 27 pages of Coker art and 20 pages of Hickman-designed text and graphics (plus the more or less static two-page “Dramatis Personae” spread). So I don’t know if Coker maybe had a head start on this, or even if he had the whole thing in the can before they went to press, but if he’s cranking it out monthly, consider me impressed.
I’m also impressed with the story, of course (pretty pictures seldom being able to overcome poor writing for me). Hickman’s story of Black Magic in High Finance is complex and gripping, and I’m enjoying the slow world-building he’s doing just as much as the drama of the murder mystery it’s built around. Granted, Hickman focuses primarily on the latter this time out, with an issue dedicated to the interrogation of Viktor Eresko.
One of the secret heads of the world, Eresko is nonetheless under suspicion for the murder of Daniel Rothschild, one of the other secret heads (that’s his body in the morgue up above). Most of the issue takes place in the interrogation room, with Hickman providing a 12-page transcript of a secretly-recorded conversation between Eresko and the attorney sent by his firm to defend him. The transcript is heavily-redacted in places, representing (I assume) non-admissible incriminating statements. Hickman plays a neat trick with it, though, giving us something that reveals more of Eresko’s true nature than anything he actually said would have done:
It’s nice set-up, too, for what follows. When Our Hero Detective Dumas asks Eresko about the runes he found at the murder scene, Eresko responds by stabbing his own hand with a pen, drawing a rune on the table with the blood, and then ordering the attorney to do something rather painful.
Yeah. It’s a shock and awe tactic, maybe intended to scare Dumas off the case’s deeper mysteries. Or maybe intended to see just how far Dumas will go in his investigations. Eresko is arrogant enough that it could be either. But it’s also a nice object lesson in exactly how ruthless the bad guys here really are, and of how little they think of the people who work for them. Because he’s doing this in front of the cops, remember. In police freaking headquarters. And he doesn’t tell the man to stop before he’s done some pretty serious damage to himself.
Is Hickman making a broader statement here about the rich and powerful? Well, yeah. Pretty obviously, I think. It’s unsubtle enough, in fact, that I’m not even sure it really qualifies as metaphor. It’s just reality with a thin veneer of fantasy laid over it. Well, okay. I doubt there are many real financial juggernauts who would beat a man near to death inside a police interrogation room and expect to get away with it. That’s the fantasy part. But the attitude, I think, is very much intended as a criticism of the super-rich. And it’s not like they haven’t earned it.
So there you go. A dash of social critique to go along with your murder and your magic and your blood. Black Monday Murders continues to be one of the most intriguing books on the stands today. Well-worth your time and money, if you’re not too squeamish.
Kill or Be Killed 3
by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser
The third issue of Brubaker and Phillips’ meditation on the vigilante genre focuses on the aftermath of bloodshed rather than the act itself. The only blood in the issue at all, in fact, is a single flashback panel to Dylan’s first victim, the guy who (maybe/possibly/probably) abused a friend of his when they were kids.
So Our Hero spends most of the issue freaking out about getting caught, and also freaking out about how he’s engaging in random acts of casual sex with his best friend Kira behind her boyfriend’s back (sometimes literally). While Brubaker hasn’t drawn a direct line between the two, I think it’s there. Not that illicit sex leads naturally to murdering pedophiles. But once you get away with one transgressive act, it’s easier to cross the line on others.
Sex is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the picture here overall, though. Two separate splash pages in this issue are devoted to the young Kira secretly watching her parents’ sex orgies.
They’re visually stunning pages, but that’s the kind of space Brubaker and Phillips don’t tend to lavish on minor points. That aspect of Kira’s childhood, Dylan thinks, lead to her dangerous sex with him. And his growing frustration with their romantic situation may be feeding the violence he finds himself getting up to.
Dylan’s also being egged on by his dreams, though, as we see in this stunningly-realized page from Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. Embiggen that sumbitch, and soak up some of its acid-trip glory…
This ability to see other people’s sins is just a fantasy, of course. But it’s a fantasy that, just a few pages later, proves (or seems to prove) eerily predictive…
…and from there, we’re off to the races.
Sheriff of Babylon 11
by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
Any discussion of comics with blood in them would be incomplete without this exploration of life in Iraq in the years following the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign. It’s a messy, painful, fascinating world that Tom King is portraying here, a world where nothing is certain and everyone has an agenda all their own. This issue, for instance, concerns a trap set for a terrorist leader in the home of an Iraqi official. But he shows up with a bomb strapped to his chest. And they’re not entirely certain that he is who he says he is. And the situation, just when it’s about to be resolved, goes to shit because the Americans burst in with their guns. People die who aren’t supposed to. The bomb’s not real. And the man who might not be who he says he is gets shot in the head. So we’ll never know.
And there’s a lot more going on here, besides. A web of relationships that complicates and informs everything happening around it, ratcheting the tension up to the breaking point. It would take a good while to unwind all of that and explain how it works, and I’m swiftly running out of time. So I’ll just say that Sheriff of Babylon is compelling fiction, set in a time and place that I don’t always find very interesting. That King has made this story so very gripping for me speaks volumes about how good it really is.